Category Archives: Crew-Served

Vintage Armored Cars (1912-80 or so)

There’s an interesting if disjointed (and sometime wrongly-captioned) photo essay on armored cars at this link:

[W]e take a look at the many different types of armoured cars that have appeared over the last one hundred years.

via Dark Roasted Blend: Impressive Vintage Armoured Cars.

The armored wheeled vehicles range from the First World War’s Bristols and Rolls-Royces, up through the Russian Civil War’s Austin-Putilov…

…and many peculiar armored reconnaissance and scout vehicles of the interwar years, World War II, and the Cold War. Heavy on Russian stuff. There’s even a shot of Stalin’s own ZIS armored limousine, which looks like a Packard for the simple reason that the financially strapped Packard firm sold the USSR a lot of the tooling.

The wartime German types, which survived at very low rates, are underrepresented, but a lot of the interwar and Spanish Civil War Soviet types are depicted, as is the wartime the BA-64, which always makes us think (1) for an armored car, that’s cute as kittens, and (2) what a horrible place to die! It had angled armor, like the contemporary German designs.

Most of these things had 12-15 mm of armor (half to three-quarters of an inch) and were barely proof against small arms and artillery wide misses. (Even against those minor battlefield threats, the pneumatic tires were vulnerable to an easy mobility kill).

An example of the kinds of subtle errors in the photo essay is its description of this early postwar Czech armored car, the Škoda PA-II “Želva”:

The post says this of it:

We’ll start with perhaps the most interesting – a streamlined armored car: “Built by Skoda in 1923 and armed with 4 Maxim MGs, this Zelva served with the Czechoslovak police, and weighed more than 7 tons”:

Actually they missed its most interesting feature, one which fascinated the Germans: it had two driver’s stations and was equally at home going either way. They also called the MGs wrong, in our humble opinion. The image on the left seems to show the characteristic long flash hider and short water jacket of the Austrian-designed Schwarzlose, a mechanically unique gun that was used by the Czechoslovak Republic for some years after independence (they even developed improvments over the wartime gun). And indeed, a better reference on the Želva online spills important details: only 12 were made, the armor peaked at under a quarter-inch, and the Czechoslovak Army rejected them… and, oh yeah, the armament was 4 each, 7.92 mm Schwarzlose vz. 07/24 machine guns. The Germans took them over and used them as radio vehicles during the war. None are believed to survive.

More on the Czech/German AT Rifle

Our recent auction post reminds us that (1) we have to come up with some better way of flagging more interesting auctions and (2), and more to the point of this post, that there’s a lot of interest and misconceptions about the Czech-German AT rifle featured at one upcoming auction.

First, this 2015 post here has some background on rifle-caliber-yuuuge-case AT rifles, like the German and Polish variants, and their rounds. (This archived external page also covers the round). The Germans chambered this rifle in their standard wartime 7.92 x 94 mm P318 round, which was used in the standard German PzB 38 and 39 AT rifles. The round was capable of 4,000-plus fps from a long barrel and the most common ammo was a tungsten-cored kinetic penetrator. P.O. Ackley, eat your heart out. Barrel life was pretty short, but if you’re going to shoot a rifle at tanks, it’s not the life of the barrel that should be worrying you.

(The Russian site that cartridge picture is from appears to be down now, unfortunately).

Those rifles operated by a dropping block, like an artillery piece (or early breechloader), and their principal mechanical difference was that the PzB 39 was manually operated, replacing the “semi-automatic” (in artillery terms) automatic opening and ejecting of the PzB 38.

The Czech rifle used completely different principles, and as proposed for Czech service a different cartridge.

In fact, the Czechoslovak Army experimented with a variety of anti-tank rifles in the 1930s, as part of a campaign to improve AT defenses overall. Many Czechoslovak officers put their faith in conventional anti-tank artillery, but others pursued the AT rifle. Many versions were tested including Josef Koucky’s’ ZK 382, a bullpup repeater which fired a unique 7.92 x 145 mm round, further ZK single-shots ZK 395 (12 mm x ?) and ZK 405 (7.92 x ?), the ZK406 repeater and 407 self-loader the “Brno W,” the Janeček  9/7 and 15/11 mm Gerlach-principle squeeze bore, and several 15mm designs, including vz. 41 single shots, and a bolt-action magazine repeater which was supplied to Italy (in only 15 units) and possibly Croatia. The 15mm guns used an AP version of the 15 x 104 mm round used in the Czechoslovak vz. 60 heavy MG, produced primarily by the British under ZB license as the 15mm BESA. The Czech engineers then reworked into the vz 41 in 7.92 x 94 for the occupiers, specifically, for the SS.

During all this experimentation, Czechoslovakia was dismembered and its Czech provinces occupied. The best was the enemy of the good; nearly a decade of experimentation in AT rifles wound up yielding absolutely nothing for the Czechoslovak Army. (It was a moot point, perhaps, as despite its strengths in tanks and artillery, there was no resistance to the Nazi occupation.

Most of the elite of the Czech arms design industry worked on these rifles at one time or another. Vacláv and Emanuel Holek worked with Koucky at Zbrojovka Brno; Jiri Kyncl worked with Janeček.

By the time the SS received their rifles, they were already hopelessly outclassed by improved armor, and among Speer’s actions in his attempt to rationalize the chaos of the German and occupied territories’ arms industry was to discontinue production of the 7.92 x 94 Type 318 ammunition.

The M.PzB.SS.41 was supplied in a wooden transfer and storage crate containing the rifle, two spare barrels, and four magazine boxes containing five magazines each. There were some variations in minor features (bipod, muzzle brake) during production. Of some variants, only photographs or documents survive. We have found no reports of combat effectiveness.

All of these AT rifles are rare today, the German guns existing in single-digit quantities (the mass-produced PzB 39s were recalled during the war and converted to grenade launchers, the GrB 39).

Sources

  • Dolínek et al. Czech Firearms and Ammunition: History and Present. Prague: Radix, 1995.
  • Hoffschmidt, E.J. Know Your Anti-Tank Rifles.  Stamford, CT: Blacksmith Publishing, 1977. (A .pdf of the chapter of this out-of-print book on this rifle is attached: MPZB41 comp.pdf)
  • Šada, Dr. Col. Miroslav. Československé Ruční Palné Zbrane a Kulomety. Prague: Naše Vojsko, 2004. (pp. 139-142, 197-198).

Update

Well, this is embarrassing. Never hit “schedule” or “publish” on this one. -Nose

For the Man who has Everything: 60MM mortar M224

When you see a 60mm mortar for sale, it’s usually the old vintage M2 or M19 that was the United States infantry’s go-to enemy grunt-whomper for decades, from the 1920s through World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and various smaller wars.

Rare picture! A TF Smith mortar crew in action 11 Jul 50. Half of the mortars in B Co had just been condemned by ordnance inspectors in Japan. They fought with them anyway [Signal Corps Photo #FEC-50-4100]

Mortars rule the battlefield; they are short-range, high-angle artillery in the hands of infantry commanders and their THOONK is one of the most reassuring, or terrifying, things you can hear on the battlefield. They are prodigious casualty-producers in the defense, but can also be (and are) carried on the offense or even on patrol. They can be fired in direct or indirect mode. “Direct” doesn’t mean straight at the target, like a rifle, given a mortar’s high trajectory. It means the gunner can see and aim at the target. In “indirect” fire the gunner is firing from behind terrain, and does not have line of sight on the target — he aims at a stake in the ground and adjusts from that position using corrections fed to him by the fire direction controller, who uses a whiz wheel or calculator that’s built of pure trigonometry. (You can do FDC doing the trig “by hand” but man, does it ever slow things down).

Mortars are generally smooth-bored and so their projectiles are generally fin-stabilized. Do not mistake this for “inaccurate”; an experienced mortar crew is capable of first-round direct fire hits anywhere in range.

There is nothing wrong with an M2 or M19. These licensed-built versions of the French Brandt-Stokes mortar differ only in that the early one has a trigger (which is good for aimed direct fire), and the later a fixed firing pin (better suited to fire for effect). They use the same ammo and the same firing tables, are simple as a hammer (although indirect fire with forward observers not in the gun-target line, and fire direction control for mortar batteries, can get complicated), and persisted for decades because they were hard to beat at their job.

But it is rare to see an M224, the widowmaker, life-taker and morale-breaker that replaced the M2/M19, on the civilian market. Here’s one:

When the USA replaced its 1950s vintage 81mm mortar with a new and better one, it seemed logical to apply that same technology to the 1920s-tech light mortar, which produced the M224, a mortar that is as easily patrolled with as the old 60 but which has the firepower, range and terminal effect of the old 81. The fixed-pin-or-trigger debate was solved by providing both and making the feature operator-selectable, so you can squeeze off single rounds in direct fire or to meet an exact  Time On Target, or you can have your well-trained crew deliver a steel rain of shells on your foes. In trigger mode, that hinged bar inside the carrying handle is your trigger… and no, Wolff does not make a spring for reduced trigger pull. Sorry ’bout that.

Even the Marines like this mortar, although they have grumbled about the lack of a thermonuclear round, and absence of a bayonet lug. (Maybe they can get HK to copy it and add the lug. Not sure if turning Oberndorf loose on nuclear physics is a good idea).

The 224s very seldom come up for sale in the civilian Destructive Device market. With the price being asked for this, it’s more likely to go to a well-heeled collector than a casual shooter. It’s a nearly complete mortar with the sight, bipod, T&E, and tube, but it doesn’t seem to have the smaller “patrol” baseplate, just the big one that changes it from an instantly-firing one-man carry to a 30-seconds-to-TOT two-man carry.

Whether those thirty seconds are a long time or not, depends entirely on whether someone is shooting at you (and who). Incoming aimed fire does weird things to time.

The seller, who’s in Oklahoma (relax, New Yorkers and San Franciscans, you’re out of mortar range), says:

This is a live 60mm M224 mortar and this a registered destructive device and will need to be transferred to an NFA dealer. Very nice overall shape and highly unusual to see this trigger fired mortar available for sale.

Ammo is also restricted by the National Firearms Act — if it’s explosive rounds. Training/practice and homegrown non-warhead rounds are fine. You can also roll your own, as the current owner says he does.

It functions well and can be shot with practice rounds or I have been using aluminum beer bottles full of plaster with 12 gauge blanks for engines.

via 60MM mortar M224 : Destructive Devices at GunBroker.com.

And then there’s the other target market — the ones who want to be ready when THEY come.

Because, really, who doesn’t want to be ready when THEY come? THOONK!

What’s after HMMWV?

Here’s a program that doesn’t seem to be a boondoggle: the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle outperforms its predecessor in the performance measures proven vital in combat: protection and mobility. And the troops seem to like it, if these interviews which appear to have taken place at the annual Association of the US Army (AUSA) show are anything to judge by.

Thanks to Our Traveling Reporter, who is traveling (as usual) and wrangling with the Dreaded French Language (which is something new), for the link.

The biggest beef we have with any of these spam cans is that you lose situational awareness while you’re in there. The Army is working on technology to get you a visual picture of your surroundings, an enhanced visual picture (drawing from everybody’s sensors so you can see through obstacles and observe things not in your line of sight), but you lose the three-dimensional and time-domain grasp of sound, smell and sensation. There’s a reason that tank commanders always risk their necks up and out of their hatches until the lead pollution, DU defilement, and VT-fuzed HE precipitation is about to get thick.

Of course, the GIs are perfectly happy. They would like it to fly. 

Maybe by century’s end?

For the Man who has Everything: RPG-7 Trainer

Ordnance.com offered this on GunBroker (it will either sell, expire or roll over to a new listing today). It’s a live RPG-7V trainer that shoots, not rocket-propelled grenades, but 7.62 x 39mm rounds. It’s regulated to shoot to the same point that the normal PG-7V grenade hits, with  tracer ammo, but it’s all-around a great procedures and marksmanship trainer for this ubiquitous AT weapon. (And anti-personnel weapon. And anti-helicopter weapon. And anti-anything-worth-shooting weapon. And we-Afghans-are-celebrating-a-wedding weapon. And… well, you get the point).

This one’s been modified a little to color within the lines of the National Firearms Act of 1934. First, it can’t load or fire a live PG-7V or other rocket-propelled grenade round, only the subcaliber device. Second, ATF interprets a subcaliber device as a “firearm,” not any specific kind of firearm… but installing it in an RPG-7V, even one that’s been modified so that it cannot fire live rounds, creates a “short barreled rifle.” (Hey, Congress writes the laws and the ATF has to work with them). This is not some experiment that they think will be approved by ATF’s Firearms Technology Branch, but they have the FTB letter.

The shipping/handling case is also a creation of Ordnance.com. It’s an elegant set-up with laser-cut foam for the launcher, subcaliber round, ammo and accessories. The Russians and Soviet satellite forces used to ship these things in wooden crates, like everything else. Russia has plenty of lumber.

This RPG-762 kit contains the following items:

RPG-762 Rocket Launcher Training Kit

  1. Aluminum hard case, with wheels
  2. RPG-7 Rocket Launcher
  3. Optical Sight with soft case
  4. Bipod assembly
  5. Sling
  6. PG-7 7.62x39mm Subcaliber Firearm
  7. 7.62mm BoreSnake bore cleaner
  8. 15 rounds of 7.62x39mm Spotter/Tracer Ammunition
  9. 30 rounds of 7.62x39mm Tracer Ammunition
  10. Letter from the BATFE which states the launcher is not a destructive device

Overall, the kit is in museum quality condition. The Bulgarian RPG-7 rocket launcher started out as a demiled unit, and we painstakingly reactivated the fire control and have restored the launcher to like-new condition. External finish is not painted, but is a beautiful and very durable glossy powder-coated finish.

The launcher is only capable of firing the PG-7 subcaliber unit, and cannot fire live rockets. The unit was evaluated by the Firearms Technology Branch of the BATF, and it is not classified as a destructive device, but rather a trigger mechanism for the subcaliber firearm. A copy of the BATF’s determination letter will be included with the sale. The subcaliber firearm, which is chambered in 7.62x39mm, is classified as a “firearm only” by the BATF, so the subcal unit must be transferred/shipped to your FFL dealer. You will then go fill out a 4473 form and pick the subcal unit up……just as you would any other regular firearm. There is no special NFA paperwork involved in the purchase or transfer of this kit.

The subcal unit has been modified to work with the launcher, and is also approved by ATF. The subcal unit is not classified as a rifle or a pistol, but just as a “firearm”. The original barrel length was less than 16-inches, so it has been permanently lengthened, so ATF would not classify the subcal unit as a short-barreled rifle, when used in conjunction with the RPG-7 launcher.

The kit is extremely fun to set-up and shoot, and is a fantastic training aid to practice firing the real RPG-7. It is also a stunning display piece, and would be a beautiful display in your office, gun store, firing range, or man cave! The rifling in the subcal unit is over-broached, which makes the grooves extra deep. This was to allow additional blow-by of the propellant gases, and gives the 7.62mm projectile the same trajectory as the real PG-7 rocket propelled grenade that the RPG-7 fires.

You have to admit, that is a solution that is at once ingenious and simple — a Russian solution an American engineer would never think of!

The optics are in beautiful condition, and the optical sight has been sighted in with the subcal unit, and is surprisingly accurate. If you click on the video link below, you can view a YouTube video of us setting up the kit and firing it…..this video will do a better job of explaining how the kit works, than our written description here, so please take a look at the video and the photos. As mentioned previously, the subcal unit will need to be shipped to your FFL dealer. The hard case, along with all of the contents will be shipped directly to you, via UPS Ground insured.

Here’s the video, that they mention above, of this exact system in action :

Just the thing for the advanced Russian small arms collector. The launcher works with the enclosed subcaliber device / dummy round exclusively, and it can be aimed with the optic (ISTR the nomenclature is RPO-7?) or with the back-up iron sights. Yes, every RPG-7 since they were introduced some 55 years ago has BUIS… Ivan had BUIS before BUIS was cool. (The prismatic optic is extremely robust, for what it’s worth).

We’re yuuuuge RPG-7 fans here. It’s a simple weapon, but a reliable, dependable, accurate and powerful one that the US still doesn’t have a real counterpart for, a half century later. We half considered just buying this thing, rather than blogging it and letting one of you guys grab it. But we’ve decided to sleep on it. (And, funny thing: this post was a hasty fill-in because the long, technical post we worked on all day yesterday was not coming together in time. Yet, we like it better than the one we worked on much longer).

Thump with TRUMP (No, this is NOT political)

Not the least bit political… this is an entirely different TRUMP. The guy getting sworn in Friday is Trump. TRUMP, all caps, means Training Re-Usable Mortar Projectile, and here you see a demonstration of unboxing a live M2 60mm Mortar, setting it up, and setting up TRUMP rounds and firing them.

The propellant and the on-target pyro charge are 20 gauge shotgun shells loaded with black powder. Strict limits on powder weights must be observed, lest your TRUMP rounds cross the threshold where they’d become unregistered Destructive Devices, a felony violation of the National Firearms Act. This limits the range of the mortar and the spectacle of the rounds’ detonation, but it can’t be helped. The mortar itself is a registered Destructive Device, and in the USA that is handled under the NFA like a machine gun or silencer would be, requiring ATF registration prior to possession, and a $200 transfer or manufacturing tax.

“Yeah, but,” we can hear you thinking out loud, “Where are you going to get a mortar?”

They’re around, but if your local gun store is fresh out, try the guys who made the video, Ordnance.Com. They have a website and a YouTube channel, but they also have M2 mortars just like this one and TRUMP rounds for sale on Gun Broker.

They also have 81mm TRUMP rounds, and older-style 60mm inert, reusable rounds. You can use the 60mm rounds in any 60mm mortar, and the 81mm rounds in any 81 or 82mm mortar.

TRUMP. Make Artillery Great Again.

Dahlgrens in the Rain

This morning, a steady drizzle fell, and it brought down many of the remaining leaves with it. It remained warm, to a welcome if unseasonable degree, and on our way from one place to another we found ourselves in the Norman Rockwell village of Hampton Falls, New Hampshire.

Like most small towns that existed in 1865, it has a Civil War memorial that has accreted memorials for various other conflicts in the following ages. It was constructed like many other memorials, with an obelisk aspiring to the clouds, and a display of forever-silenced cannon and cannonballs. Unlike many, if not most, such memorials, the cannon and pyramids of shot survived the scrap drives of WWI and WWII. The memorial is located in a small park which is home to various festivals and events during the warmer months, but adjacent to the busy north-south (appropriately enough!) Lafayette Road, named for the French volunteer’s use of the road in the 1820s to visit old friends from the Revolution. Lafayette Road is also US Highway 1, which runs in an unending ribbon of strip malls, motels and neon signs from Maine to Key West. Lafayette Road is on the left in this picture; the yellow building is on the other side of it.

hampton_falls02

Thousands of people drive by this square every day and never give it a moment of thought.

Of greatest interest to you, dear reader, may be the Dahlgrens themselves. There are four of them, and four pyramids of projectiles, evenly arrayed around the memorial, in the shadow of the flagpole (were there any sun to cast a shadow today!)

hampton_falls01

The guns appear to be in nearly new condition, although they’re filled with something — probably cement. It’s possible that they were cast at a foundry nearby, and then never delivered to the Navy due to the end of the war. It’s also possible that the Portsmouth Navy Yard had them in storage for fitting out ships. The Navy Yard is a short distance away by road or rail.

hampton_falls05

The smoothbore Dahlgren guns have a distinctive, coke-bottle shape. They are beautiful machines, and were used in shore defense installations and on seagoing vessels alike. They often had a wooden carriage that resembled the cannon carriage of the Napoleonic wars.

These iron carriages are strictly for display.

Cannon balls may have been obsolete by 1865, but they sure did stack up nice. This pyramid has layers of 25, 16, 9, 4 and 1 ball = 55 cannonballs total.

hampton_falls13Each Dahlgren Gun is engraved with its maker, its serial number, and its weight, at least to the nearest 5 lb. This one was 4500 lbs. The others were all within 10 pounds plus or minus of this one.

hampton_falls06

Why bother recording the weight? One possibility we can think of is for trim and balance calculations aboard ship. Three guns were cast by “C.A. & Cº,” and on one the maker name was not visible, but might well have been the same.

hampton_falls10

Civil War Artillery.com has a useful page about cannon manufacturers, which breaks out this abbreviation as follows:

Cyrus Alger & Co.:  Cyrus Alger, who during the War of 1812 furnished the government with shot and shell, in 1817 started South Boston Iron company which at an early date was known locally as Alger’s Foundry and later became Cyrus Alger & Co.  The Massachusetts firm was a leading cannon manufacturer and when Cyrus died in 1856, leadership was assumed by his son, Francis, who piloted the company until his death in 1864.  During the war, both Army and Navy were supplied with large numbers of weapons.  The initials “S.B.F.” (South Boston Foundry) occasionally may be found on cannon, but the signature is traditionally “C.A. & Co., Boston, Mass.” or, rarely, “C. Alger & Co., Boston, Mass.”

The Serial Numbers of the gun whose maker was invisible (perhaps underneath, or marked on the muzzle) was Nº 105. The others were Nº 155, Nº 156, and Nº 157. (Without measuring them, these appear to be 32-pounder guns, of which 383 total were made by Alger and several other founders).

This gives some support to the idea that the guns came direct from production or storage, uninstalled and unfired, to the memorial. Since Alger had been casting cannon for almost 50 years at the close of the Civil War, these numbers must be unique to Dahlgren gun production at the Alger firm’s South Boston, Mass. facility.

hampton_falls14

Today, it is a place where you can see four Dahlgren guns at once.

hampton_falls15

And numerous plaques honor the town’s many veterans, of the nation’s many wars.

hampton_falls04

Unfortunately, our shot of the Vietnam War honor roll was not successful, nor the one we took of the Civil War honor roll. It was a very different America in 1865 — the names were all English or Northwestern European, and many families sent five to eight men with the same surname to the war.

hampton_falls03

The town and the veterans’ groups cooperate to tend this little memorial well.

While the Dahlgren Gun served the Union well, and Rear Admiral Dahlgren did, also, he paid a considerable price by giving his design to the nation free of charge. The USA then not only produced some 4,700 Dahlgren guns and howitzers for American used, it furnished the design gratis to various foreign nations. Alger did pay Dahlgren a royalty of 1¢ per pound of guns cast in South Boston for foreign customers, but his widow wound up in straitened circumstances and petitioned the Congress for relief.

An Old Projectile, Some Ancient History

You never know what you’re going to find on GunBroker. We found this unusual WWI Stokes Mortar cartridge, or really, projectile; and got, thanks to the seller’s description which is reposted below, an education on the human drama of the introduction of a weapon we’ve always taken for granted, the muzzle-loading infantry mortar.

stokes01

The seller explains (edited for brevity):

This is a part of very large collection I have bought in Miami. 81 mm inert Word War I British Mortar with all original paint. Please, read the history behind this munition development and deployment. The Stokes mortar was a British trench mortar invented by Sir Wilfred Stokes KBE that was issued to the British, Commonwealth and U.S. armies, as well as the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps (CEP), during the later half of the First World War.

The 3-inch trench mortar is a smooth-bore, muzzle-loading weapon for high angles of fire. Although it is called a 3-inch mortar, its bore is actually 3.2 inches or 81 mm.

Ha! Mortarmen of the world, that number ring a bell?

Near as dammit, 81 mm.

Near as dammit, 81 mm.

Frederick Wilfred Scott Stokes – who later became Sir Wilfred Stokes KBE – designed the mortar in January 1915. The British Army was at the time trying to develop a weapon that would be a match for the Imperial German Army’s Minenwerfer mortar, which was in use on the Western Front.

Success, right? Not so fast:

Stokes’s design was initially rejected in June 1915 because it was unable to use existing stocks of British mortar ammunition, and it took the intervention of David Lloyd George (at that time Minister of Munitions) and Lieutenant-Colonel J. C. Matheson of the Trench Warfare Supply Department (who reported to Lloyd George) to expedite manufacture of the Stokes mortar.

The Stokes mortar was a simple weapon, consisting of a smooth bore metal tube fixed to a base plate (to absorb recoil) with a lightweight bipod mount. When a mortar bomb was dropped into the tube, an impact sensitive primer in the base of the bomb would make contact with a firing pin at the base of the tube, and detonate, firing the bomb towards the target.

Yes, they take shotgun primers.

Yes, they take shotgun primers.

The barrel is a seamless drawn-steel tube necked down at the breech or base end. To the breech end is fitted a base cap, within which is secured a firing pin protruding into the barrel. The caps at each end of the bomb cylinder were 81 mm diameter. The bomb was fitted with a modified hand grenade fuze on the front, with a perforated tube containing a propellant charge and an impact-sensitive cap at the rear. Range was determined by the amount of propellant charge used and the angle of the barrel.

stokes-mortar-sketch

A basic propellant cartridge was used for all firing, and covered short ranges. Up to four additional “rings” of propellant were used for incrementally greater ranges. The four rings were supplied with the cartridge and gunners discarded the rings which were not needed. One potential problem was the recoil, which was “exceptionally severe, because the barrel is only about 3 times the weight of the projectile, instead of about one hundred times the weight as in artillery. Unless the legs are properly set up they are liable to injury”.

Several other kinds of mortars were tried by the various belligerents during the Great War: breech-loading mortars, rifled mortars, spigot mortars, and the French even made compressed-air-powered mortars. But the simplicity, portability and reliability of the Stokes was the category winner. While some of the above technologies found their way into World War II weapons, the majority of mortars then and now are on the Stokes model.

stokes_mortar_trench_placement_diagram

The original Stokes had the benefits of simplicity and easy manufacturing, but it lacked things we now associate with this class of weapon: a fin-stabilized (or, in rare case, rifling-spin-stabilized) projectile for higher accuracy, a removable booster charge for selectable longer range, and sights. (You might ask, how does one use sights on a mortar or other indirect fire weapon, where by definition you can’t usually see the target? As one hears about relationships, “It’s complicated.” It would be a good subject for a later post).

stokes5

Mortars today are all descended from the humble Stokes, and they grew those capabilities mentioned above after the Armistice.

A modified version of the mortar, which fired a modern fin-stabilised streamlined projectile and had a booster charge for longer range, was developed after World War I; this was in effect a new weapon.

The projectile and all its history can be yours, if you follow the link to the GunBroker auction. For more information on the genesis of the 3-inch Stokes, including even a (grainy) picture of Stokes His Ownself, check out this great excerpt from a book by Bruce Canfield.

Why did Ordnance Hate the Lewis Gun?

After the Great War, long-serving Chief of Ordnance General William Crozier denied vehemently that his dislike of Col. Isaac N. Lewis had anything to do with Ordnance’s rejection of the Lewis Gun (which was, in fact, only partly invented, but wholly promoted, by Lewis). It is a fact that the Army rejected the Lewis several times, and that Lewis, like most American machine gun inventors, had to go to Europe to find a market for his invention. It is a fact that Crozier and his subordinates preferred their own, Springfield-Armory-built, Benet-Mercié Machine Rifle to the Lewis design.

BSA Lewis for Belgium

It is also a fact that the Lewis served satisfactorily with several nations including Britain, Russia, Belgium, and even in those US services that were reasonably remote from General Crozier’s authority, the Air Corps and the Marines and Navy.

William Crozier, Chief of Ordnance

William Crozier, Chief of Ordnance

After the war, called on the Congressional carpet, Crozier mustered the arguments of his ordnance officers and supporters. He produced a letter by Captain T.N. Gimperling, written to the Infantry Journal (but sent via Crozier, who chose at the time not to forward it). The entire letter is in Crozier’s memoir on pp.88-93. Here’s what he thinks of the Lewis:

It is our opinion that the parts of the Lewis gun are not properly finished and that they are made of a rather poor grade of material. The gun has a number of steel stamped parts, improperly heat-treated, which cause jams and a consequent inefficiency in the gun. As an example, the magazine is made of a very thin, flimsy steel stamping, toggled up with a combination of soft aluminum core and metal strips which are riveted on. This causes the magazine to be very vibrant and susceptible to the strain of feed pawl functioning. The ejector is made of a thin steel stamping, improperly heat-treated, and very often it bends, nearly always batters on the end, through bolt action, in the course of eighty to one hundred and fifty rounds. The feed pawls, stop pawls and rebound pawls seem to be made of a poor grade of steel. The gas cylinder is made of a twenty gauge mill run steel, which has been found to be full of scale pits and imperfections. We believe that the gun, as at present constructed, could be made in lots of a thousand or more, at approximately fifty or fifty-five dollars per gun, for material and labor. It is now sold to the Government for a thousand dollars.

What did Gimperling think of the Benet-Mercié?

Benet Mercie Machine Rifle, a Hotchkiss-derived oddity.

Benet Mercie Machine Rifle, a Hotchkiss-derived oddity.(Hotchkiss was another American inventor who took his wares to Europe, actually).

From the standpoint of mechanics, the Benet- Mercio gun is a masterpiece, inasmuch as the parts are finely finished and are made of excellent material and are properly treated where this is essential. The price at which the Government issues this gun is approximately $412.00, which, it is believed, would net, to a private manufacturing concern, but a fair profit over the cost of production.

The School of Musketry, too, would criticize the workmanship of the Lewis Gun, in a 7 Jan 1917 report also featured in Crozier’s book (pp. 93-95).

Thirteen Lewis guns were used in the firing. The guns were new. Except for some possible test firing not a shot had been fired from any of them prior to their use by this class. When they were received at the school it was found that several of the parts did not fit properly. This was true in particular of the joints between the barrel groups and the receiver groups. The other cases of misfit were due largely to poor workmanship and lack of finish.

When the firing of the guns began there was very little trouble with them that could not be accounted for by the fact that the personnel of the class was inexperienced and that about 3 per cent of the am- munition used was found to be faulty. After about 2,000 rounds had been fired from each gun, jams began to occur which were due to causes other than untrained personnel and defective ammunition.

By far the greater portion of jams due to defec- tive mechanism were caused by the wear of the feed operating arms and stud, the bending of the cartridge guide, and the faulty construction and bending of the magazines; and of these about one-half were due to faulty magazines.

The school also blamed the design of the Lewis for 44 broken parts, 17 worn parts (and 57 worn magazines), and 162 lost parts (!) during these tests.

Even when directed to buy the Lewis by Congress, Crozier dragged his feet, leaving American forces headed to Europe dependent on the French for small arms (as they were for artillery, another botched Ordnance responsibility).

Isaac Newton Lewis, Col., Coastal Artillery, Ret.

Isaac Newton Lewis, Col., Coastal Artillery, Ret.

Because the Ordnance Department did buy 353 Lewises originally manufactured by Savage for Canada, Lewis received substantial royalties on these guns — over $10,000. He sent a check for the full amount to Secretary of the Army Newton Baker. Crozier was furious, in part that Lewis hadn’t sent the check to him as Chief of Ordnance, and wrote Baker a memo suggesting that Lewis had an ulterior motive, and hinting that Baker should refuse the refund. Baker wrote to Lewis, enclosing Crozier’s smarmy memo, and stressing that accepting the check would not mean he was taking any side in any of the Crozier-Lewis disputes, which by this time were known to all in uniform and in Congress. It was probably Lewis’s turn to be furious, but he wrote to Baker, assuring him that his check was intended to go to the United States Treasury, as Lewis did not wish to profit by sales to the United States Government. He couldn’t resist bashing Crozier:

In the present very grave national emergency, I am directly instrumental in supplying, delivering and putting on the actual firing lines against the fighting enemies of my country more machine guns each week than the present Chief of Ordnance has supplied for the use of our own army of defence during the whole of the fourteen years that he has been in office. I have done, and am doing, this without one penny of assistance and without one word of encouragement or acknowledgment from any one connected with the Ordnance Department, and in spite of the long continued and active opposition of that Department.

Again, to Crozier’s credit, he includes the full correspondence, which reflects ill on him, in his memoir, alongside other documents that take his part. Before and after his postwar retirement as a Major General, Crozier would feel himself wronged and slandered by Lewis, and he repeatedly demanded a Court of Inquiry to, as he saw it, clear his name.

Paradoxically, the Army would adopt the operating system of the Lewis decades later. In the late 1950s, Springfield presented a machine gun called the T161 which was standardized as the M60. Springfield engineers had copied the gas operating system of the German Fallschrirmjägergewehr 42, apparently unaware that the German designers had copied it from… the Lewis Gun.

lewis-gun-op-rod

Lewis. Note op rod and bolt.

FG42. Note similar op rod and bolt (Forgotten Weapons photo).

FG42. Note similar op rod and bolt (Forgotten Weapons photo).

M60. Note op rod and bolt.

M60. Note op rod and bolt.

Here is a copy of General Crozier’s memoir, Ordnance and the World War. This was originally scanned and posted by Google, but their OCR was a mess, so we re-OCR’d it and then compressed it, reducing scan quality to 75 dpi to make a much smaller file.

ordnance_and_the_world_war_4.pdf

We’ll likely have more to say on this later.

Artillery in Iraq, August 2016

artillery-02They came out of the sky in the night, using tactics invented in Vietnam and honed by generations of artillerymen since. Mobile warfare demands mobile fire support; overnight, a barren scrap of desert becomes a counter in the Game of War, a temporary home to a battery of M777 lightweight howitzers.

The Army describes a recent (August) mission involving the establishment of a forward firebase, and execution of multiple fire missions.

“Do you have eyes on?” Joseph radios to the CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilots as they approach. Given the affirmative, he watches as they float toward the landing zone. With a dull thud and a cloud of dust the guns are released onto the ground and the CH-47s turn off into the night.

The 101st is known for air assault operations and Fort Campbell, the home of the unit, is where the Sabalauski Air Assault School resides. For the team on the ground, this operation is business as usual.

“Let’s go, let’s get a move on,” Joseph says to the gun crews. Working under the lime-green hue of their night vision goggles, they move their guns and begin setting up the systems, ensuring they are prepared to execute their upcoming fire missions.

The Soldiers work through the night, and by first light they’re ready to fire.

WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS

Staff Sgt. James Johnson, the fire direction chief for Battery C, sits in the back of his fire direction center truck looking intently at his radio, waiting for a call for fire.

“This is where the magic happens,” Johnson says as he concentrates on his console.

Observers, which can consist of assets from the ISF, unmanned aerial vehicles and other aircraft, acquire targets they need hit. Once the battalion headquarters located miles away in the tactical operations receives the data, they push it to Johnson and his team at the FDC.

“We process data,” says Johnson. “They [the artillerymen on the gun line] proceed to shoot.”

A few hundred feet away from the FDC, gun crews are moving around their guns in full kit, checking and rechecking minute details, making small adjustments, waiting to spring into action once the FDC sends a message.

Just then the radio crackles and Johnson grabs his hand mic, listening to the data. He then begins his battle drill, one he’s done many times before. Johnson sends a message to the gun line, “Gun 2, fire mission.”

Down at Gun 2, the crew, led by Staff Sgt. Johnathan Walker, springs up as the radio beeps; in seconds they are at the firing position going through their crew drill.

“Come on,” Walker yells to the crew as they prepare rounds and take their positions. “Let’s make money!”

The crew members look through the sites and adjust the gun as Walker yells the fire data. Attention to detail is critical during this mission; he must remember the data for each round his crew is going to fire.

“Fire!” yells the crew chief, and a Soldier gives the firing lanyard a slight tug. The gun responds to this small motion, shaking the earth around the position as a high explosive shell is launched.

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The next gun fires soon after and the race is on between the two gun sections, a little company competition to see who can fire rounds the fastest and most proficiently. Even working in temperatures that exceed 100 degrees, the teams are driven.

“Let’s get through this!” Walker yells as he calls off the quadrant — up and down — and deflection — left and right — for the next round. Driven by their chief, the Soldiers move faster as the mission continues.

The dash endures for a while as the guns launch round after round. Dust hangs in the air after each round is fired and sweat stings the Soldiers’ eyes. The ammo carriers are running rounds weighing over 90 pounds from the holding point to the gun, heaving the shells into the firing tube. Walker’s voice grows hoarse as he yells adjustments and commands.

Finally, the last round is reached.

“Last round,” the ammo bearer says as he walks up to Walker. With a nod, Walker gets ready for his last command of the mission.

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via The gun raid: US artillerymen support Iraqi advance on ISIL | Article | The United States Army.

And that was that. After taking fire missions from a variety of sources, the redlegs secured their guns and called the Chinooks. Where did they go?  Was it to another hasty and temporary firing position? Was it back to the FOB to rest and refit?

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There are some members of ISIL who would like to know the answers to those question. And other, former, members, who are beyond knowing.

Is artillery useful in an unconventional war? Sometimes. Sometimes it’s not just useful, but indispensable.