Category Archives: Crew-Served

Archaeology Find Confirms 1777 Battle Story

Archaeologists are always surprised to find that historical information from contemporary sources, pamphlets, or news stories is confirmed by the results of a dig (probably because they read the New York Times and watch TV news and assume today’s media is fabulistic, in the tradition of yesterday’s). The latest unexpected discovery is this cannon shard which from a New Jersey dig which seems to confirm some details of the October, 1777 Battle of Red Bank, a small but dramatic Continental victory, in which attacking Hessian mercenaries suffered extreme casualties under an artillery and small arms barrage, and the American casualties were light, comprising primarily a single gun crew slain when the gun exploded.

Historians who studied the Battle of Red Bank in 1777 have long known the tragic story of an American gun crew.

It was one of several defending Fort Mercer against a much larger army of Hessian soldiers, who were trying to dislodge them and open up the Delaware River for British ships to supply the Redcoats occupying Philadelphia.

The crew loaded a massive cannon, lit the fuse, and fired – but the breech exploded, killing a dozen members of Rhode Island regiments who were manning the gun and earthworks.

The battle, while a Continental victory, took place amid a series of strategic setbacks and defeats. Washington’s objective had been to cut off Philadelphia as he had in the previous year cut off Boston and forced a British defeat, and much as later in 1776 the British had forced him out of New York. To that end, the campaign that began with the upset of Hessian forces at Princeton and Trenton in December ’76 gave way to a plan to ring Philadelphia round with a number of fortifications. But Washington was in a weak position; he had to be strong at every fort, and he just didn’t have the men. The British, on the other hand, could use the Royal Navy to bring overwhelming force to one fort at a time, as they were not placed well for mutual support.

Hessian Map of the Battle Area

Hessian Map of the Battle Area. Fort Red Bank at lower right. As was customary in the 18th Century (under Vauban’s influence), the map’s legend is in French, which both the English and German officers could understand.

The fortifications at Red Bank were part of this ring around Philadelphia, which British forces had been rolling up through the summer and fall of 1777. A fort named Fort Mifflin stood on a rather insubstantial island in the Delaware called (appropriately) Mud Island, toward the Pennsylvania side; the fort on the Jersey side (in or just south of modern Camden, NJ) was called Fort Mercer (named after Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, a doctor turned warrior who died of wounds from the Battle of Princeton in January, 1777), but not knowing that name, the British called it Red Bank. The forts guarded water obstacles, chevaux-de-frise, and covered those obstacles with the observation and fires necessary to prevent English engineers from dismantling the blockages. To achieve Lord Howe’s strategic objective of the relief of Philadelphia, these forts had to go.

It was Red Bank’s turn to be reduced by amphibious attack on 21 October 1777. The operation was a success, in that the British took the ground they sought; but it was a costly success.  First, here’s the commanding officer’s spin. This is the report of the British commander, General Sir William Howe, in a letter he wrote to Lord George Germaine from Philadelphia on 25 October 1777.

 My Lord,

The enemy having intrenched about 100 men at Red-Bank, upon the Jersey shore, some little distance above Fort Island, Colonel Donop, with three battalions of Hessian grenadiers, the regiment of Mirback, and the infantry, Chasseurs, crossed the Delaware on the 21st instant to Cooper’s Ferry, opposite to this town, with directions to proceed to the attack of that post. The detachment marched a part of the way on the same day, and on the 22nd in the afternoon was before Red Bank; Colonel Donop immediately made the best disposition, and led the troops in the most gallant manner to the assault. They carried an extensive outwork, from which the enemy were driven into an interior intrenchment, which could not be forced without ladders, being eight or nine feet high, with the parapet boarded and fraized. The detachment in moving up, and returning from, the attack, was much galled by the enemy’s gallies and floating batteries.

Colonel Donop and Lieutenant Colonel Minningerode being both wounded, the command devolved upon the Lieutenant Colonel Linsing, who after collecting all the wounded that could be brought off, marched that night about 5 miles towards Cooper’s ferry, and on the following morning returned with the detachment to camp.

Colonel Donop unfortunately had his thigh so much fractured by a musket ball, that he could not be removed; but I since I understand there are some hopes of his recovery. There were several brave Officers lost upon this occasion, in which the utmost ardour and coverage or displayed by both officers and soldiers.

Contemporary woodcut of the Battle of Red Bank.

Contemporary woodcut of the Battle of Red Bank.

On the 23rd, the Augusta, in coming up the river with some other ships of war, to engage the enemies gallies near the Fort, got a-ground and by some accident taking fire in the action, was unavoidably consumed; but I do not hear there were any lives lost. The Merlin sloop also grounded, and the other ships being obliged to remove a distance from the explosion of the Augusta, it became expedient to evacuate and burn her also.

These disappointments, however, will not prevent the most vigorous measures being pursued for the reduction of the Fort, which will give us the passage of the river.

I have the honor to be, &c.

W. Howe.

PS I have the satisfaction to enclose to your Lordship a report just received a very spirited piece of service performed by Major-General Vaughn and Sir James Wallace up the Hudson’s river.

We’d planned on stopping the excerpt here, because Vaughan’s report doesn’t bear directly on the Red Bank fight and the attempted (and ultimately successful) relief of Philadelphia by Crown forces, but we know you guys would ask, and it’s a brief report, and illuminative of Vaughan’s character so here it is:

Copy of Major General Vons report. On board the friendship, off Esopus, Friday, October 17, 10 o’clock, Morning.

Sir,
I have the honor to inform you, that on the evening of the 15th instant I arrived off Esopus; finding that the rebels had thrown up works, and had made every disposition to annoy us, and cut off every communication, I judged it necessary to attack them, the wind being at that time so much against us, we could make no way. I accordingly when did the troops, attacked their batteries, drove them from their works, spiked and destroyed their guns. Esopus being a nursery for almost every villain in the country, I judged it necessary to proceed to that town. On our approach they were drawn up with cannon, which we took, and drove them out of the place. On our entering the town they fired from their houses, which induced me to reduce the place to ashes, which I accordingly did, not leaving a house. We found a considerable quantity of stores of all kinds, which shared the same fate.

Sir James Wallace has destroyed all the shipping except an armed galley, which run up the creek, with everything belonging to the vessels in store.

Our loss is so inconsiderable, this is not at present worthwhile to mention.

I am, &c.
John Vaughn

Esopus, New York, burned by Vaughan’s forces, was the initial capital of the state in rebelliion, so Vaughan’s irritation with the town was on solid ground. The name dated to Colonial Dutch times; when the city was rebuilt it was (and is) known as Kingston, NY. The Esopus fight was much more a British victory than was Red Bank, despite Lord Viscount Howe’s spin in his report above.

christopher-greene2-largeAt Red Bank, the Hessians drew up and demanded a surrender, threatening no quarter. The militia in the fort, under the command of Colonel Christopher Greene, defied the threat and informed the Hessians that no quarter would be given to them. (In the end, it was, and the militia did not murder their prisoners).

The colonials at Red Bank retreated in good order and their primary losses were the gun crew killed by the explosion of the gun; the Hessians suffered hundreds of casualties. But Red Bank was the exception; one after another the British forces levered the Yankees out of their positions and opened the sea roads to Philadelphia.

The Reduction of Fort Mercer at Red Bank. Modern sketch from a period Hessian sketch by Capt. J. Ewald.

The Reduction of Fort Mercer at Red Bank. Modern sketch from a period Hessian sketch by Capt. J. Ewald. The New Jersey militiamen escaped to the left of this sketch (southwest) after killing and wounding 325-400 Hessians. On withdrawal, the Hessians abandoned their wounded who joined other Hessians as prisoners, also.  

Howe’s report is full of spin. He tends to minimize casualties; for example, Colonel von Donop of the Hessians was in no way on the path to recovery, and he shortly died, and while he lists officer casualties in detail he evidences little interest in enlisted casualties, especially among the German mercenaries and local auxiliaries that were the bulk of his force. And he probably knew well that the two ships he lost were lost because of Continental obstacles, and the Augusta (a 64-gun ship of the line) was burnt by American fireships.

The house the Continentals used for their headquarters and hospital, and in which von Donop was treated a prisoner, still stands and is part of the Red Bank National Historic Site. (Von Donop was removed to another house, where he expired from his wounds three days later).

There is a ghost story involving Hessians with mismatched heads.

The surviving Hessians, beaten back by musketry and cannon fire, exfiltrated overland to Woodbury, leaving their casualties behind. The question of Hessians that died with their boots (and heads) still on was one of the things that motivated the modern archaeologists, who descended on the popular park this summer, and they did find buttons and bone fragments that indicate that they may have found a mass grave of the unfortunate Germans. (More analysis of the bones is required before that can be stated as fact).

Red Bank Cannon FragmentBut the most interesting discovery is a large fragment of a cannon breech, taken as being the one that exploded during the battle (we would need to see more documents to make sure the Hessians did not capture and blow up guns also, as it could have been one of those). Still, the archaeological team was not expecting such a historic find.

In the end, Howe kept coming, and he occupied Fort Mifflin on 16 November and Fort Mercer — finally abandoned by the Americans after the fall of Mifflin — on 20 November, 1777. The defenders had bought time, bled the occupying army, and most of them had slipped away to fight another day. Before they could do that, the privations of their winter in Valley Forge lay ahead.

 

 

 

Crew Drill, Service of the Piece, M1917 Browning. With Kids.

Everyone knows you shouldn’t turn a nine-year-old (or several) loose with a submachine gun. Let alone several nine-year-olds.

Here’s one good, clean, wholesome alternative that’s fun for the whole family!

That’s the ticket. Crew drill develops physical strength, teamwork, and the most important kind of discipline kids can have, self-discipline.

Thanks to the commenter who tipped us to this, it really made our day.

The South Will Rise Again! Be Ready.

That means, keep your musket clean, powder dry, and hatchet scoured — and buy this 1851 Mountain Howitzer. If Johnny Reb comes marching up your driveway, give him a whiff of the grape!

1851 mountain howitzer firing

The gun’s a replica, but a very well made one. It has the perfect gestalt of a Civil War era artillery piece, to be sure.

 

1851 mountain howitzerAs you can see, the details, like these trunnion brackets, are visibly high quality. 1851 mountain howitzer mount

The gun is designed to be a live shooter. Here’s what the GunBroker auction says about it:

1851 Mountain Howitzer Cannon built to exact spec’s. 3″ bore. Wood is all white oak. All iron work is hand made then blued. Museum quality shootable cannon. You won’t find one nicer than this one.shipping available.

via Cannon Mountain Howitzer 1851 : Other Collectible Guns at GunBroker.com.

Like any firearm, it carries the DNA of the technology of its period. We find the details beautiful.

1851 mountain howitzer wheel

Personally, if we were preparing a redoubt for When They Come®, we’d want at least a battery of these things, but one’s a start.

These US Civil War and contemporaneous worldwide conflicts saw the last gasp of muzzle-loading, mostly smoothbore, blackpowder artillery, guns that had changed little ashore or afloat since the Napoleonic Wars or the 30 Years’ War. The Civil War saw the emergence of steel barrels, rifling as standard, and breech loading. In the next 50 years artillery would be revolutionized by the recoiling gun-carriage and much more powerful smokeless powders. By the turn of the 20th Century, guns like this would be fit only for guarding sleepy courthouses, village squares, and veterans’ halls; tens of thousands of them would be melted down in 20th Century scrap drives.

As a muzzle loader, it is considered an antique (even though it’s a recent replica). That means it’s exempt from regulation in many civilized nations (although local regulations, and regulations relative to the storage of the industrial quantities of black powder necessary to making it go bang, may be another matter entirely).

It’s not as cheap as a replica of something smaller, like an 1855 Springfield. The auction starts and $9k and buy-it-now is a stiff $14,000 or so. There is a small community of hobbyists, reenactors and dealers who trade in these remarkable pieces.

On the other hand, if you have a big family, you can develop the kids’ self-esteem by drilling them until they master period Service of the Piece drills.

And you can always be That Guy whose house people gather at on the 4th of July, just for the cannon blast. There is that.

FN Teases New Civilian Versions of Military Weapons

This press release was so tempting that we had to double check — was it really dated April 10, not April 1? Turns out, it is (well, some versions are dated April 9).

(McLean, VA – April 9, 2015) FNH USA is excited to announce that three new products, including a brand-new product line, will be making their first appearance on the FNH USA Booth #2324 at the 2015 NRA Annual Meetings in Nashville, TN. Expected to be released in the Fall of 2015 are the mil-spec FN M249S™, a semi-automatic version of the U.S. Military’s M249 SAW light machine gun and two new additions to the company’s modern sporting rifle line, the FN 15™ M4 and M16 Military Collector Series.

Are they serious?

fn_m249s

Serious as a heart attack.

Holy schnikeys, a semi-auto Minimi from none other than FN? True, we’d rather have the full-auto one (personal aside to William Hughes: may your soul’s torment in Hades never cease), but given the laws we’ve got, we’ll take it. The bad news is that, while they’re teasing the product now for a fall 2015 launch, they didn’t put a lot of prep into the website — it’s still all full of holes.

Machine Gunners Depend on Riflemen

And FN is also introducing two new “Military Collectors” versions of the M16 Rifle and M4 Carbine. These include DOD-like code labels on the magazine wells, unlike FN’s sporting AR-series guns which feature a very large FN logo on the mag well. As the press release puts it:

web_mil_coll_v2

The FN 15™ Military Collector’s Series M4 and M16 bring to market military replica rifles made to FN’s exacting specifications. The semi-automatic rifles are chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO and feature M4 -profile 16 and 20-inch 1:7” RH, button broached and chrome-lined barrels, respectively. Each UID-labeled lower receiver is equipped with an ambidextrous selector switch, just like its select-fire big brother.

The web page for the Military Collectors carbines is better fleshed out than the M249S page.

Both of these product lines will find a niche market, and they’ll also help FN manage production when faced with the herky-jerky and unreliable nature of military orders. So it’s a win for FN, for the .mil (by helping to absorb overhead that would otherwise fall on the DOD budget), and of course, for those who want to own and shoot these firearms.

We want, we think, one of each. You?

Exotic Barrels Part 1: Squeeze Bores

In 99 repeating 9% of gun barrels, the caliber is what it is, and the bullet that comes out of the barrel is the same diameter it always was, just marked by the rifling. Likewise, the rifling twist is what it is, and from the point where is picks up in the leade (forward of the chamber) to the point where the bullet exits the barrel it is constant.

Then, there are the exotics, the ones that keep 99.9% from closing the gap between there and “all.” We’re going to talk about one exotic bore, and one exotic twist, in a pair of posts: Squeeze Bore and Gain Twist. Even though the names sound dreadfully like 1970s NATO codenames for Russian anti-aircraft radars, they’re both really a thing.

Squeeze Bore

The idea behind squeeze bore is to use the power of the powder to forge the projectile down in diameter. This would, in theory, do one of two things: blow the gun to Kingdom Come, or accelerate the projectile to velocities previously unheard of. It didn’t take long for people to try to reduce this theory to practice. The 1957 edition of Naval Ordnance and Gunnery, Volume 1:  Naval Ordnance, a training manual coded NavPers 10797-A, showed five different ways to get high velocities. The first is the familiar expedient of a lighter projectile, and the second, the saboted projectile used in most tank KE rounds these days, and in the .50 SLAP (saboted light armor penetrator) round. The third example, essentially beefing the gun up to take excessive pressures, doesn’t seem very practical, and the fifth was, in 1957, science-fiction stuff but is now a pretty routine way to get longer ranges in artillery. Which leaves the fourth example, D, our squeeze-bore

CHAPTER-6-E-FIGURE6E1-PAGE-95

A very, very gradual and subtle version of squeeze bore is the choke used on some firearms. But there’s nothing subtle about true squeeze bore. The World War II German Pak 41 fired a Gerlich-designed 42mm projectile, which the barrel squeezed down to 30mm at the muzzle. At around the same time, the US developed (at Frankford Arsenal) squeeze bore M2HB barrels, which fired a special bullet that squeezed down from .50 to .30 caliber. These guns produced extremely high velocities, with kinetic energy and penetration to match.

S.PzB.41 in action (or at least, being demonstrated). Wheles were removable to lower silhouette.

S.PzB.41 in action (or at least, being demonstrated). Wheels were removable to lower silhouette. Troops show scale… this is really small for something that can ding a JS-1’s frontal armor.

Squeeze bore was primarily used experimentally in antitank weaponry. The one weapon fielded with a squeeze bore was the German Gerlich S.PzB 41. The name Schwere Panzerbüchse meant, literally, heavy anti-tank rifle, and the Germans may have seen it as a replacement for the 7.92 x 94mm PzB 39, but its lightest variant weighed around 300 lbs. It could be broken down into smaller, man-portable-for-a-short-distance, loads.

Factory photo of the stripped-down paratroop version.

Factory photo of the stripped-down paratroop version.

The effect can be approximated by firing an oversize cartridge in a smaller-caliber bore, if the throat or leade is not too tight. (If it is, you get a kB! instead). You’re more likely to get away with such an inadvertent bore squeeze if the projectile is highly malleable, like a soft lead bullet. The Gerlich system used a tungsten penetrator with an aluminum alloy jacket, including crushable skirts. The projectiles looked like this (HE/frag on the left, with a filler of phlegmatized PETN;  AP with a tungsten-carbide penetrator on the right):

28-20 squeeze bore

(source)

The S. PzB. 41 was very effective; at close range it could penetrate all mainstream Allied armor (even the KV-1 and JS-1 tanks), although its behind-armor effect was limited. The Germans were successful in making squeeze bores where other nations’ designers had failed. They mounted it on SdKfz.250 half-tracks and used it as a trailered, man-packed and airborne weapon.

A larger squeeze-bore, the Pak 41, was deployed in small numbers. The ammunition closely resembles the 28/20mm of the S.PzB.41 but is much larger: it started off at 75mm and squeezed down to 55mm. An intermediate sized version was a 4.2 cm (42mm tapering to 28mm) squeeze-bore version of the familiar Krupp 3.7cm light anti-tank gun. (German guns are described in centimeters — move the decimal point once for mm — and their squeeze-bores are known by their initial, not squeezed, caliber).

Pak 41 APBCT

Making a tapered or “squeezing” rifled bore is a challenge, if you think about it, and conventional methods of rifling such as buttons and broaches don’t adapt well to it. (Cut rifling does adapt, but at a price in complexity. But the German invention of hammer-forging barrels over a mandrel opened up mass production to squeeze bore in German plants. (A microscopic amount of taper is usually used in hammer forging, to facilitate mandrel removal. But the amount of taper in a squeeze bore is much greater).

The British made a theoretically sound and plausible attempt to work around the difficulty of drilling and rifling squeeze bores. This was a squeeze-bore muzzle attachment called the Littlejohn for the 2-pdr antitank and light-tank gun, in order to give some realistic anti-tank capability to the airborne (glider-delivered) Tetrarch light tank and various wheeled AFVs.

Littlejohn_Adaptor_Bovington

It squeezed the round after it had been spun to speed; the holes you can see were for pressure release. The Littlejohn was conceived by a Czech emigré, Frantisek Janacek (whose name means “little John”, literally) and was made for the 40mm Vickers S gun as well as for the 2-pdr. The ammunition featured a tungsten penetrator and aluminum carrier, must like  the German squeeze-bore ammo. The US also experimented with Littlejohn type adapters and projectiles, and discovered that firing the Littlejohn projectile from the gun without the adapter produced equivalent velocity improvements without compromising the ability to fire  ordinary projectiles. (In effect, this was using the lightweight projectile as in Illustration A at the top of this post, rather than a squeeze-bore as in Illustration D).

langsford_extruder_bulletsFor a while, there was a squeeze bore gun that anyone could buy. Australian gunsmith Arthur Langsford, an expert in rimfire rifles, used an extended leade or forcing cone to make rimfire guns that fired an ordinary .22 LR round and produced a high-velocity .20 or .17 elongated slug. The rifling didn’t begin until after the forcing cone. They seemed to work well, but didn’t catch on, and pressure and velocity deltas between various brands and kinds of rimfire ammunition were probably larger than anything SAAMI would ever tolerate. The Myra “Extruders” Langsford made are curiosities today.

In the end, squeeze bores were a possible tank solution at one moment in time, but their performance has been overshadowed by accurate fin-stabilized discarding sabot heavy penetrators, fired (usually) from smooth-bore guns.

Next, Gain Twist, an old idea that’s making a comeback.

Sources

Department of the Navy. Naval Ordnance and Gunnery, Volume 1: Naval Ordnance .NavPers 10797-A.  Retrieved from: http://www.eugeneleeslover.com/US-NAVY-BOOKS/1-NO-10797-A-NAVAL-ORDNANCE-AND-GUNNERY.html

Langsford’s Squeeze-Bore Rimfires.Is this Near-Forgotten Idea Too Good to Die? Guns Magazine, January 2011. pp. 18-19. Retrievable from: http://fmgpublications.ipaperus.com/FMGPublications/GUNS/GUNS0111/?page=18

(Others as linked. List not completed due to time limits).

Is a New Russian Tank 10 Feet Tall?

Not literally, of course. Being literally 10 feet tall would be quite unhealthy for a tank, a machine that lives longer on a projectile-rich battlefield if it likes to hide in defilade. But stories and artist conceptions that are spreading make the new T-14 tank and its derivatives seem unbeatable — which is probably the reason for the leaks.

T-14 tank rendering

Note that all these illustrations are computer renderings or models based entirely on speculation.

T-14 tank rendering 3

 

The extensive detail in some of the models may mask the fact that the guys doing the rendering don’t really know what the tank looks like, and so they’re applying some science fiction concepts to Russian tank design principles here. All of these renderings purport to be the T-14 (and others show a tank with a very narrow turret, like that on the M60A2 monstrosity).

Armata-MBT T-14

According to these leaks, rumors, and Russian news sites, the T-14 is the tank version of the new “Armata” vehicle platform, which will also produce SP artillery, personnel carriers, and a panoply of support vehicles. But the tank is the lead vehicle in the class. It has a crew of two or three, all of whom are positioned in the hull, but the third is a temporary stopgap and is not expected to be permanently required — two men can fight the tank, and that’s their long-term plan for a crew. The unmanned turret is remotely controlled and automatically loaded (Russian tanks have had autoloaders for around 50 years now). The turret bears a single 125mm gun, with improved computerized stabilization which has reduced the dispersion of rounds fired on the move. It still appears to have limited elevation and depression.The tank’s secondary armament is a 30mm automatic cannon, and a machine gun or unknown caliber; a remotely operated MG can, somehow, target incoming shaped charge warheads and ATGMs.

As if the 125mm gun was not a powerful thing, a 152mm-armed version is supposedly in the works.

Many of these concepts were in the US-German MBT-70 project, a project that collapsed of its own weight in ahead-of-its-time technology. But that, too, was nearly 50 years ago.

Of greater concern is that all renderings of the new tank show an angular armor arrangement, suggesting that Ivan has stolen the secret plans for, or engineered his own equivalent of, the composite armor that since its invention in the 1970s has made American and British tanks highly survivable (especially compared to their Russian peers).

NATO strategy vs. the Warsaw Pact always hinged on qualitative superiority of weapons and crews to make up for deficient numbers. Even if the T-14 is a propaganda exercise, something hardly foreign to the history of Russian arms, “quantity has a quality all its own,” and there’s little question that Russia wants to build more of these MBTs than their potential opponents, most of whom have either depressed defense spending to one percent or less of GDP, or, like the USA, larded nominal “defense” spending with massive non-military costs.

OK, so let’s look at a counterweight to some of the T-14 tank claims. We have no inside knowledge of this program or of US official studies of it, but we can apply logic and experience. Here are some facts to make you think:

  1. Current Russian tanks, much lower in high technology, cost around $2 million to produce. This is far less than a Western tank, but it does impose an upper bound on the numbers a nation can deploy.
  2. The world of Russian tanks lives in Soviet-era infrastructure that has the size and strength, and the safety margin, to support compact, 36-40 ton tanks. As the US can tell you, a 70-ton tank is a pain in the neck to move around.
  3. Chobham armor imposes size and weight burdens on a tank. You can’t get this shaped-charge-killing technology without bulking up. It also raises costs: better armor means fewer tanks.
  4. 80 years of Russian tank doctrine (and all the lessons learned from Great Patriotic War victories) enshrines the tank-led combined-arms offensive as the method of tank employment.
  5. A big gun and an autoloader come with costs. In Russian tanks, the costs are (1) fewer rounds and (2) internal ammo stowage, which, when hit, produces the familiar sparkly jet with a turret going high enough to need an FAA drone license. How many fewer rounds? The US lost 15 rounds when we upgunned the 105mm M1 to the 120mm M1A1 (55 to 40) and the Russian articles about the T-14 suggest it’s rocking only 30 rounds in the 125mm version (it’s hard to imagine a way it could go to 152mm without losing 5 or 6 of those, at least). Looking at the performance of Israeli and Syrian armor on the Golan front, and Israeli and Egyptian in Sinai, the possibility arises of a T-14 operator having to dry fire in a firefight.
  6. In fielding a tank, the tank itself is only half the problem — maybe less than half. Soviet-made tanks are rusting, deadlined, in tank parks all over the world for lack of preventive and routine maintenance. Now, the Russian Army is as capable of doing this as many other armies, but fielding a new tank is a resource stretch: all at once you have a new vehicle, new engine, new systems for mobility, armament and communications, new crew training and employment materials to develop, and crews and maintainers to train. Meanwhile, the tank strength of the Russian Army is a staggering 15,000 tanks (and 31,000 other AFVs). This means that, at best, any new tank is trickling into a military all set up to operate and maintain other stuff. None of the existing tanks can go toe-to-toe with an Abrams or Challenger; the US has over 6,000 Abramses.
  7. The Russian Army has a bad record with tank improvements. The T-90, really just a T-72 with some debugged tech from the buggy T-64 and T-80 tanks, is the most recent Russian entry, and under 1000 were built. (Next image is a photo of a T-90). Development of the so-called T-95 failed for much the same reasons that the US-German MBT-70 did, minus the international complications: too much technology to bring to fruition at once, and too little money to overcome engineering problems with profligate spending.

T-90 tank

Sure, the Russians may field the new T-14 tank in small numbers, and may continue down their chosen path of using the same chassis for a whole new family of armored vehicles. This does not make their tank units any more likely to win, across the board.

And it may not need to. Because the lesson of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 is that the technical qualities and operational capabilities of NATO armor just don’t matter in what Russia calls the “near abroad”: because NATO isn’t going to show up. At this rate, Russia could project power with 1930s-vintage BT-5s.

Napoleon III was a Weapons Man

portrait_de_napoleon_iiiWell, OK. A Heavy Weapons man, perhaps — an artillerist who once sat down, while imprisoned, to  write an engaging and technical, five-volume history of artillery, with a title as comprehensive as his intent: The Past and Future of Artillery. Remembered today for little more than his army being pantsed in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Louis Napoleon was a remarkable, erudite, and intelligent fellow. When you marvel, today, at the beauty of Paris you’re marveling mostly at the nephew’s makeover of his capital city, not the works of his uncle or of the Bourbon dynasty (although Louis was careful to preserve the best of what came before). Those big “N” monograms on the bridges of the Seine? Not the victor of Borodino (pyrrhic though that victory was) and Austerlitz, and the vanquished of Waterloo; the nephew, who was captured with his army in a German encirclement, to the chagrin of all Frenchmen then and now.

Napoleon III also created the long-standing Legion d’Honneur, funding its stipends to recognized soldiers with money derived from the expropriation of the family of the Duc d’Orleans. (In 19th Century France, politics remained a contact sport).

Unfortunately for those of us who would read his whole treatise on artillery, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, as he was known at the time, did get relief from his prison stint in the 1840s and turned to the matters of state which would one day seat him on an imperial throne. He never seems to have resumed work on The Past and Future of Artillery, of which only the first volume was published.

napoleon-iii-at-paris-1867-granger

While we’re attempting to find an digital copy of the English edition of this volume (hell, we’d take in en français, and does anybody know if any of his notes and illustrations for the subsequent volumes survive?), we can offer the preface to you.

There are some remarkable insights in this short preface. For example:

Inventions born before the time remain useless until the level of common intellects rises to comprehend them. Of what advantage could a quicker and stronger powder therefore be, when the common metal in use was not capable of resisting its action ? Of what use were hollow balls, until their employ was made easy and safe, and their explosion certain ? Or what could the rebounding range, proposed by Italian engineers in the sixteenth century, and since employed with much success by Vauban, avail, when fortification offered fewer rebounding lines than now ? How could attacks by horse-artillery, attempted in the sixteenth century, succeed, when the effects of rapidity in the movement of troops on the field of battle was so little known that the cavalry always charged at a trot ?

There is a mutual combination which forces our inventions to lean on and, in some measure, wait for each other. An idea suggests itself, remains problematical for years, even for centuries, until successive modifications qualify it for admission into the domain of real life. It is not uninteresting to trace, that powder was probably used in fireworks several centuries
before its propelling power was known, and that then some time elapsed before its application became easy or general.

Civilization never progresses by leaps, it advances on its path more or loss quickly, but regularly and gradually. There is a propagation in ideas as in men, and human progress has
a genealogy which can be traced through centuries like the forgotten sources of giant rivers.

For a man who is commonly and popularly dismissed as one of the least brilliant of the crowned heads of old Europe, those are some remarkably insightful lines.

Or consider this excerpt:

Fire-arms, like everything pertaining to humanity, did not spring up in a day. Its infancy lasted a century, and during that period it was used together with the ancient shooting instruments, over which it sometimes was victorious, but by which it was more frequently defeated.

The Preface alone makes it crystal clear that Napoleon III was a comrehensive student of artillery and arms, and the history of them; and that his lack of completion of The Past and Future of Artillery is a very great loss to all students of weapons.

Napoleon III on Artillery OCR.pdf

Most Foolhardy Round Ever?

Among the more unusual and inexplicable — ah, hell, let’s just say foolhardy — loads ever manufactured for a firearm were strangely multipurpose rounds for the German World War II anti-tank rifles. These gigantic rifles fired a kinetic energy penetrator of 7.92mm from a gigantic 94mm rimless casing at blistering speeds1. But even beyond its “pinhead” appearance, the round had a peculiar feature, that is as far as we know unique in the world of ammunition.

P318 792 x 94 from kopania-rf 2

This illustration came from the Russian site Kopania.rf, which has comprehensive coverage of variants of the 7.93 x 94 P318.

While the idea of a rifle-caliber or MG-caliber AT gun wasn’t completely off the wall — many of the major powers of Europe, and some minor ones like Poland and Spain, pursued the idea in the 1920s and 30s — the particular loading of the Germans was. To an extent, it was a fairly standard API or API-T round, with a copper jacket over a steel (or later, tungsten) penetrator. Here’s what an Allied intelligence publication had to say:

“The Germans possess gas grenades, with which their parachute troops might be equipped. Ammunition for antitank rifles, models 38 and 39, includes armor-piercing tracer bullets charged with tear gas.”2

And no, this wasn’t one of those cases where the intel weenies were chasing chimeras. There really was a tear-gas capsule in the round, just forward of the tracer mixture, set in the base of the hard metal penetrator. In packaged rounds, it’s indicated by the post-number letters “Rs” for “Reizstoff” or “Irritant agent.”

pzb392

You have to wonder: what were they thinking? “We’re going to send a little hunk of tungsten” — well, they were Germans, so they were going to send a little hunk of wolfram — “to rattle around in their tank, and then we’ll really let ’em have it: tear gas!” But that was, exactly, what they were thinking. The German ordnance officers thought the round too uncertain a tank kill, and the tear gas was one little sweetener to encourage the crew to depart their iron foxhole.

As it happened, it didn’t work. The little gas capsule usually broke off on impact and was found lying next to the tank. Sure enough, it was the steel or tungsten penetrator that did the hard work.

While this little capsule of gas may have been a technical violation of the international law of war (irritants and tear gases are a grey area), the gas aspect of the cartridge was so meager that, as far as we can tell, the Allies never uttered a word of protest, nor was there any war-crimes trials for the ordnance officers (not for this, anyway). It’s just a flaky footnote to the development of World War weapons.

The two weapons that fired this odd 7.92 x 94mm for the Deutsche Wehrmacht were the Panzerbuchse (PzB) 38 from Rheinmettal-Borsig and the PzB 39 from the Gustloff-Werke. The PzB 38 was a bit of a flop, and only 1,600 were made; they’re extremely rare today, and were problematical in the field. The weight and complexity of the PzB 38 stemmed in part from its design — unlike the WWI AT rifle, which was a scaled-up single-shot Mauser, the PzB 38 used artillery-piece design concepts — a falling block, a recoiling “carriage,” and automatic ejection.

pzb38

That’s why the Wehrmacht went so quickly from the PzB 38 to the PzB 39, which was cheaper, simpler, and more reliable — not to mention, almost 4 kilograms lighter. It dumped the recoil system and automatic breech opening — trading some punishment of the gunner, and a fast second shot, for lightness and mobility.

Surviving PzB 39s are almost as rare as PzB 38s despite much higher production, because most were converted to GrB 39s This example, SN 6242, was auctioned in 2013.

Surviving PzB 39s are almost as rare as PzB 38s despite much higher production, because most were converted to GrB 39s. Five survivors are known. This example, SN 6462, was auctioned in 2013. More images at the Auction Link.

It also wrung another 55 m/s (180 fps) out of the same cartridge. Over 30,000 of these were made, and they were deployed Army wide by Operation Barbarossa, although they never matched the intended 81 rifles per infantry division.

By midwar the 7.92  was hopeless on medium tanks, but could still penetrate light armored vehicles. You didn’t want to fire this gun at a T-34 or the frontal armor of a Sherman; it would make the guys inside mad, and then they’d want to fight. The Wehrmacht had been expecting more of the T-26s and BT-5s they faced in Spain, and the T-34 was an unpleasant shock3

A next-generation anti-tank rifle competition, calling for a semi-auto, brought forth prototypes from several firms: Mauser, Walther, Krieghoff and Gustloff. But tank armor, driven to greater thicknesses by anti-tank artillery, dimmed the prospects of the 7.92 hypervelocity round as a tank-slayer.

The Germans, facing the obsolescence of the PzB 39, had actually begun converting them to grenade launchers (Granatenbüchse 39); the GrB 39 had the standard rifleman’s cup-discharger but the larger shell meant that the wood-bullet grenade-launcher blank could drive a grenade much farther than a mere rifle could. In this capacity, the rifle soldiered on to V-E Day. This is one of those rounds, the 7.92mm Triebpatrone Granatenbüchse 318:

792x94 318TreibpG

The 7.92 x 94 wasn’t, by the way, the largest rifle-caliber round of the war. The Poles made a spectacular AT rifle in the 1930s, the Karabin Przeciwpancerny wz.35, that fired this spectacular 7.92 x 107mm round, the 7.92 DS, designed by Polish ordnance officer Tadeusz Felsztyn4 for a repeating rifle designed by Josef Maroszek. The muzzle velocity was a barrel-melting 1275 m/s (4,183 fps)5.

792x107 polish

It could penetrate even more armor at 100 and 300m than its German competitor, and was every bit as obsolete. The barrel life of these seriously oversized cartridges was, as you might expect, measured in scores or, at most, a few hundred rounds. The US experimented with AT rifles but never issued one; Britain issued the 0.55 in. Boys Anti Tank Rifle, but all were doomed by the rapid evolution of tank armor under the evolutionary pressure of world war.

The Polish round was unique among them in that it did not have a tungsten, or even steel, penetrator. While its lead-cored round could penetrate at close range because of its velocity, at longer ranges, it squashed on the outside of the armor and knocked a divot off the inside, killing the vehicle or the inhabitants with the effects of this spalling.

This image, from Williams, shows a collection of AT rifle rounds, issued and experimental.

AT Rifle Rounds

One ballistic detail about the German and Polish AT rifles — given the Mach 4 (sea level, standard day) velocity of these 7.92mm rounds, they had a very flat trajectory. That means that they didn’t need the elaborate sights of many period rifles — they were often sighted on 300 or 400 meters, and basically shot point-blank at anything on the battlefield, with no hold-over or -under, and therefore, no elevation adjustment, required.

 

Notes

  1. Depending on the rifle, its muzzle velocity was 1210 or 1265 m/s — that’s 3,970 to 4,150 fps.
  2. War Department. 1943-03 Intelligence Bulletin Vol 01 No 07. Page uncertain (repaginated electronic OCR scan).
  3. Of which, more later. We’ve come across a purported first-hand report of a first-encounter with the excellent Soviet tank, by a rare invasion survivor.
  4. Out of curiosity, we sought more information about Felsztyn. With a Jewish sounding name, and as a Polish officer, he was equally doomed whether the Nazis or the Soviets got him. What we learned deserves its own blog post!
  5. Williams, generally a solid source, says 1,220 m/s. He also gives only the lower number for the 12.7 x 94.

Sources

Hofbauer, M. Panzerfaust: WWII German Infantry AntiTank Weapons: Page 6: Tank Rifles. Archived from Geocities (defunct) in October 2009. Retrieved from: http://www.oocities.org/augusta/8172/panzerfaust6.htm

Parada, George. German Anti-Tank rifles — Panzerbüchse. AchtungPanzer.com. Retrieved from: http://www.achtungpanzer.com/german-anti-tank-rifles-panzerbuchse.htm

Popenker, Maxim. Panzerbüchse PzB-38 (Pz.B.38) and PzB-39 (Pz.B.39) anti-tank rifle (Germany).  Modern Firearms. Retrieved from: http://world.guns.ru/atr/de/pzb3-pzb39-e.html

Uncredited. The German PxB 38/39 (Panzerbuchse). Antitank.co.uk. Retrieved from: http://www.antitank.co.uk/german1.ht

United States. War Department. 1943-03 Intelligence Bulletin Vol 01 No 07. Washington, 1943.

Williams, Anthony G. An Introduction to Anti-Tank Rifle Cartridges. The Cartridge Researcher, 11/12 2004. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/ATRart.htm

Instant South American Revolution Kit

One gun jeep — looks dead butch, but needs work. (Starting/charging system has proven resistant to troubleshooting). Ian at Forgotten Weapons has reached that stage that all vintage-vehicle LTRs reach; he is so eager to be divorced from this 1946 CJ-2A Jeep (basically, a wartime Jeep with bigger headlights for the civilian market) that he’s throwing in the semi-auto 1919A4 and mount. Beats the hell out of the toaster oven they might throw in at the local Buy Here Pay Here.

Ians Gun Jeep

Where’s Dietrich and his half-tracks? Lemme at ’em!

I love old guns, but it turns out I only like the *idea* of old vehicles – not so much the actual working on them. It’s time for the Jeep to go, and free up some space in the garage for a project I will enjoy more. And what the heck, I’ll include the Browning 1919 semiauto with it.

The Jeep was basically rebuilt from the ground up, and while it isn’t a looker, it is top-notch underneath where things count.

The engine is a fully rebuilt (professionally) Studebaker Champion flat 6-cylinder, 170 cubic inches. It gives about 50% more horsepower and torque than the stock Jeep engines did, and it bolts right up to the stock transmission. That’s enough extra power that the thing can basically drive up trees, but not so much that it requires making the rest of the drivetrain beefier.

The transmission and transfer case are are the stock type (3-speed stick shift, with a 2-lever transfer case), and were both professionally rebuilt as well. The axles and diffs were in good shape, and have the original 5.38:1 gear ratio.

The ancillary equipment was all replaced or rebuilt – water pump, carburetor, radiator, radiator shroud, all the wiring, alternator, starter, and fan. It has 11″ drum brakes all around (in place of the stock 9″ ones), and a dual master brake cylinder. It also has an electric fuel pump. In addition to the stock 10-gallon gas tank, I replaced the passenger side toolbox with a second 10-gallon tank, and there is a switching valve on the dashboard so you can choose which tank to use at any given time.

The suspension was also replaced, with a set of Rancho 1″ life springs and new shocks. It has standard 16″ rims with some really cool looking narrow tires. The roll bar has the socket for the gun, and also has a gas can mount on either side, allowing you to carry a can of water and a can of gas.

via Want to buy a Jeep with a Browning 1919 on it? « Forgotten Weapons.

Don’t suppose he’d take a 1996 Impala SS in partial trade?

The counterweight to all that good stuff and sensible improvements is the dodgy electrical system. (Well, you could just paint it green, put a star on the hood, hang a Left Hand Drive placard on it and tell people it’s a British Jeep — no one would expect the electricals to work). $9,500, pick up in Tucson.

For more details (including the ones on the 1919, which is something that goes for $2k or so on its own) and to see two of Ian’s videos, one on the installation of the 1919 on the roll bar, and the other a Rat Patrol parody, or maybe tribute, go to Ze Link. But for Ian, ze voor in ze dezzert is over.

And hell, there are countries in South America that you could overthrow and govern better than the caudillo doing it now.

Wait, did we say South America?

Seen For Sale: Granatenwerfer 16

So on this weeks W4, there’s an interesting ad for an interesting weapon: a Granatenwerfer 16. The Granatenwerfer 16 is an update of an earlier device (Granatenwerfer 15).  The example in the next photo is not the Sturm sales offer; this one was captured by the Australian 13th Battalion at Morcourt on 8 August 1918, during the sanguinary 1918 Somme offensive, it rests in the Australian War Memorial, and, it’s worth noting, the Sturm example is more complete and in better shape.

australian war memorial granatenwerfer

The bare gun like that leaves one puzzled at how it works, but when you see a grenade slipped over the “barrel,” which is really a “spigot,” it starts to clear up. These devices work on the unusual “spigot mortar” principle. This is most familiar to students of small arms, perhaps, from the late-WWII British PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) which used the spigot mortar principle to launch a Monroe Effect shaped charge. (If you only have reference to movies, it’s the AT weapon the paras use to defend their bridgehead in Arnhem in A Bridge Too Far).

PIAT

While the US and German forces went to rockets (and the Germans, also, to a projected grenade from inside a tube) some bright British spark remembered the spigot mortar principle from World War I (it was also used on by the WWII Brits on Naval weapons, like the Hedgehog antisubmarine weapon, and on some bizarre creations for the Home Guard).

The Blacker Bombard was one of those bizarre Home Guard weapons of World War II.

The Blacker Bombard was one of those bizarre Home Guard weapons of World War II. It never faced the Wehrmacht, fortunately for the men who crewed it.

Today, we have come to assume that the Stokes type muzzle loaded mortar is the infantry standard, and it seems always to have been. Nowadays, it is used by all the nations of the world. But in World War I, there was no assumption or guarantee that this would be the ideal, simple, cheap infantry support weapon. What soldiers did figure out very quickly is that, with enemy forces sheltered in trenches, pillboxes and other field fortifications, a small weapon that could deliver high-angle fire would be idea. This caused the development of a wide range of weapons, all around the world, from Japan’s light grenade projector that would be known to her Second World War enemies as the “knee mortar”; to a wide panoply of small pack artillery pieces, little jewels in small calibers; to the trench mortar itself… Stokes and Brandt deserve their own posts at Weaponsman.com some time soon.

But the Imperial German Army covered the dead zone between bayonet and hand-grenade range on the low end, and the danger-close limits of artillery on the high, with a special spigot mortar, which they called with the Teutonic love of compound words a Granatenwerfer — “Grenade Thrower.”

Granatenwerfer 2

This name has caused some internet sources to conclude that this threw ordinary German stick grenades, and one post that made us laugh suggested that its ammunition was the Stielhandgranate 24, as in 1924. But in fact, it shot its own ammunition. Ian at Forgotten Weapons has a post with some photographs of another example, and the German manual (a .pdf that requires you to read not only German, but the old Fraktur alphabet). There’s a post at Gunboards (you need to be a member to blow up the pictures) but at a glance this looks like the same example of this weapon that Ian had photos of.  It’s a pretty beaten-up example compared to the Sturm for-sale item.

There’s lots more information and photos at Kaiserscross.com and some history at BulgarianArtillery.it.

Here’s the text of the Sturm ad:

granatenwerfer7

For sale is a W W 1 German Granatenwerfer in mint condition. It is in it’s original factory box with all tools, spare parts, original manual, etc.

Granatenwerfer 3

 

Data plate in lid completely intact.

2 dewat projectiles included. Rebuilt / restored baseplate in perfect working condition with all data plates intact.

2 original ammo crates in excellent condition, all hardware present, working and intact. 1 crate has original paper munition label inside in perfect condition.

Granatenwerfer 4

The other crate is lined with Berlin newspaper circa 1922.

Granatenwerfer 6

Not on BATFE destructive device list, no special license or transfer fee required. Buyer responsible for pickup, too heavy to ship. Serious inquiries only, will not part out. This is a museum grade grouping that is impossible to upgrade. Payment with certified funds.

It’s one of the most complete and best ones we’ve ever seen, but like you’d expect from a museum-quality live weapon, it has a museum-worthy 6-figure price. But if you’re planning on reenacting Capporetto next year, you just might need it.

The Granatenwerfer 16 worked like this: an ordinary 7.92mm x 57mm Mauser cartridge with its bullet removed was inserted in the fragmentation grenade — way up inside the tube, there’s a sort of chamber for it. In effect, it is a blank cartridge with no crimp. The tube slips over the spigot, the face of which is a de facto breech, with a firing pin at center. The firing pin is released by a trigger. The cartridge fires, and launches the grenade… then it falls off the spigot, leaving room for the next loaded grenade.

We want it.