Category Archives: Crew-Served

Tank Go Boom

Everybody knows about RPGs — the ubiquitous Russian anti-tank weapon that began as a few improvements to the last few German Panzerfaust antitank grenade launchers, and now are one of the characteristic arms of every war large and small. But the 1950s vintage RPG-2 and its much improved 1960s scion the RPG-7 are long out of date in the service of Russia and its close allies and weapons customers; the last several AT weapons have actually contained the rocket inside the tube in the fashion of western bazookas (or the Panzerfaust’s 1944 competitor, the Panzerschreck). The current AT weapon is the RPG-29 Vampir.

This video purports to be a Syrian rebel attack on Syrian Arab Army T-72M1 tanks using an RPG-29.

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=a9e_1360208817

The tank crews are at two very serious disadvantages here. While they’re under direct observation by the rebels (and the rebel videographers), they seem to be without infantry support. We know some tankers, and nothing gives them the heebie-jeebies like being in close terrain full of hostile infantry without any friendly grunts.

The second is that they’ve withdrawn under their armor. (As we’ll see, at least one of them didn’t have his hatch dogged down, which procedure violation saved his life). But buttoning-up means that they’re very close to being blind. If you’ve ever spent any time in a tank or AFV, the contrast between the situational awareness a TC can have when up in his hatch, and the SA he can develop while sealed in the can, is enormous.

The tanks’ lack of rifleman support is why they’re oriented the way they are. Clearly they expect trouble from the right, but the foreground tank is facing back to cover their vulnerable rears — with its own vulnerable rear backed up against a building to deny the rebels a shot. It’s a fairly good formation for taking on a thankless operation like MOUT in a main battle tank.

When the RPG-29 round hits, its first warhead of the tandem pair initiates on the rear of the engine deck, and the main shaped charge fires seemingly instantaneously. The Vampir’s warhead has over double the penetration of the common PG-7V round for the RPG-7. The crew? They stand no chance as the round ignites the tank’s ready ammunition. The temperature and pressure inside the fighting compartment (and the driver’s compartment, which is not isolated from it) are instantly more like the inside of a gun barrel than a shirtsleeve environment.

The exception is one of the turret crew, identified as the gunner by Russian analysis (a meatball machine translation of one of those analyses is here). He either bailed out or, more likely, was ejected through the above-mentioned unsecured hatch; you see him pull himself together and run off to the building on the right, the tatters of his clothes trailing behind his burnt body. And he’s the lucky one.

It will be hours before the tank is cool enough to be approached and for someone to take on the thankless, ghoulish task of removing the incinerated remains of his fellow crewmen.

RPG-29_USGov

The RPG-29 has a diameter of 70.2mm and, as mentioned above, a tandem warhead which defeats reactive armor. It’s scored penetrations and kills on some of the world’s best MBTs, including the M1A1 and the Challenger; it has more range, more accuracy, and more penetration than the familiar RPG-7. And it’s not the last word. The RPG-32 is an updated reusable anti tank ballistic rocket system, that offers further advantages over the RPG-29; meanwhile, a parallel line of development has produced updated disposable launchers as well. The RPG-30 is a disposable launcher with a parallel self-contained decoy to defeat active protection systems, and a tandem warhead to defeat reactive armor also.

The only failure is the failure to tripod

Sorry about the title. In-joke. But hey, there’s a new tripod in town, and it works with the M2HB and M2A1 machine guns and also the Mk19 grenade launcher. This is kind of big news, because the M3 it replaces was type-classified in 1934. FDR was president, most of the world’s fighter planes were canvas-covered biplanes, and the armed services were roiled with debate over whether such newfangled ideas as multiengine bomber aircraft, tank and motorized forces making independent breakthroughs, and aircraft carriers would ever really catch on.

The Spanish Civil War, where all those things except carriers would get a thorough shakedown, was in the future. So was the Italian campaign in Abyssinia. Most of the babies born in 1934 are now on the Social Security Death List… so maybe it’s time for the venerable M3 tripod to join them. The new ‘pod is called the M205 and it borrows a couple of ideas from foreign tripods, plus a few twists of its own, to save 16 pounds.

At 34 pounds, the new M205 is 16 pounds lighter than the 50-pound M3 Tripod. The tripod also has an integrated Traverse & Elevation (T&E) mechanism that allows faster, more accurate target engagement. Soldiers can even operate the T&E with one hand to make bold or fine adjustments. There’s also an adjustable traverse limit stop, which controls left and right fields of fire. The T&E’s clear, readable scales enable the operator to quickly establish a fighting position’s field of fire limits with a properly annotated range card. The lightweight pintle also allows greater weapon elevation and depression than the M3 pintle and the tripod has a built-in pintle storage slot to prevent loss when stowed.

The tripod appears to be sturdier than the heavier one it replaces. The new T&E is similar to the one on the new M192 tripod used with rifle-caliber MGs, and it lets you aim the gun more precisely, more rapidly, over a wider range, and — a great boon to everyone who positions machine guns — lets you quickly set left and right limits.

A machine gun with a T&E and a scope is a weapon capable of sniping, as Carlos Hathcock proved in Vietnam. A better tripod and T&E, coupled with the new self-headspacing M2A1 gun, answers a lot of the beefs that soldiers have had with Ma Deuce for almost 100 years.

The M205’s design makes it a very stable platform, which is a key factor for accurate engagements and conserving ammunition. The front leg rotates in 6 degree increments and, combined with the adjustable rear legs, can accommodate all types of terrain. There are also spades on all three feet, which allow the tripod to dig into dirt and sand while firing.

The rotation of the front leg and the extensible rear legs will look familiar to anyone who’s ever set up a PK tripod. The M205 looks a lot better built and more smoothly functioning. It remains to be seen how well it holds up.

SGT Gary Huerta, E FSC, 1-41 INF, 3/1AD, also attended the “New Equipment Training” event. With his seven years of service in the Infantry, Huerta appreciates the big improvements in the tripod’s weight reduction and portability. When stowed, the tripod collapses to 46 inches long, and is just 8 inches high and 12 inches wide – less than 50 percent of the M205’s deployed height and width.

“The M205 has more moving parts, but is pretty strong and portable,” said Huerta. “The M3 would flop around on you when you needed to carry it. That doesn’t happen with the M205.”

The Army will be replacing all M3 tripods over the next several years beginning with near-term deployers. In the coming months, more M205 fieldings are scheduled at installations such as Fort Campbell, Fort Hood, Fort Carson, Fort Richardson, and Fort Riley.

via “Ma Deuce” Gets a New Stand.

Some folks may point out that the old tripod was perfectly functional. And indeed, it was; these new ‘pods just provide some incremental benefits, and nothing really big — except for that one thing.

That one thing is the weight reduction. Any time you can take 16 pounds off a grunt’s back, you shouldn’t let the opportunity slide.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Coastal Defense Study Group

We haven’t covered coastal defenses a lot around here, just made one trip (by bicycle, even, that’s how lazy we are) to a Base-End Station that survived from its pre-WWII utility because it was recycled for other uses. The station, a tall concrete tower, survived first as an element of the national air defense system when we had one, and then, when we didn’t, really, as a means for the state to lay a scope on inshore fishermen to ensure compliance with a Federal near-ban n their livelihood, and finally by local gendarmes to keep a beady eye on coastal motorists and radio in the descriptions of the inevitable summer boozers and road ragists. The base-end station towers existed to serve the big guns that were aimed at deterring the approach of enemy warships. The guns themselves had a technology all their own.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 11.46.59 PM

Not many sites like that have survived, and the survival of others, such as battery installations, comes more because they are made of thousands of tons of reinforced concrete, and not the cheap stuff used in East Asian bridges and the foundation of your crackerbox home, than because anyone is attached to their historical mission. The mission was aborted — the United States Army closed its last installations in 1950, 63 years ago, and our coasts are now defended by little more than the SIG pistols on the hips of the Coast Guard. Because it’s been a very long time since coast artillery was taken seriously, most tribal knowledge about the system, from “what was in these gun positions” to “how did a crew serve a large gun” to “how did the interlocking means of coastal defense work?” has been lost.

The Coast Defense Study Group is striving to save the information and coordinate local groups trying to save the sites. Many of the sites are threatened because they are, by definition, sited on prime oceanside or ocean-view real estate, prime enough that the difficulty of demolishing structures built to go toe-to-toe with DKM Bismarck or IJN Yamato can be overcome by sufficient density of cubic dollars.

You see, at one time the US had a comprehensive system of coast defense installations, both minefields (about which information is scarce even today), and artillery. Indeed, not just “at one time,” but at most times of tension and war, and quite a few times of peace, between Colonial times and that 1950 cut-off date (or the date in 1943 when, realizing that the Axis was not going to be bombarding our shores any time soon, the US began mothballing installations and sending Coast Artillery officers and men to the infantry), the Coast Artillery stood guard against enemy ships and aircraft. (Not submarines. Indeed, it was useless against U-boats, one of the facts that hastened Coast Artillery’s end).

The US had three major spasms of fort-building in the Age of Sail, and then renewed activity in the Civil War (which you will remember, began with the bombardment of a coast defense site) and again in the 20th Century, when reinforced concrete offered and ability to fight modern ships with breechloading guns, which the old brick and stone forts could not have done. All these installations are documented to one extent or another at CDSG.

There is information on how the sites observed, tracked, targeted and hit enemy ships. There is information about training and housing of officers and men. There is information about the guns themselves, those fascinating guns, “disappearing” mounts, and equipment, that drew us to the site, as well as maps of locations. (No range fans, unfortunately, at least not that we could find). The communications and drills are explained. Manuals and other period documents are carefully scanned and mounted on the site.

Oozlefinch_coat_of_armsAnd then there is the curious mythical bird, the Oozlefinch. You see, CDSG also looks into the culture of the Coast Artillery, and the branch had its own mythical bird. The Oozlefinch was first sighted by a Coast Artillery officer circa 1905 — it was large and had large eyes remarkably resembling the dual objective lenses of an artillery optical rangefinder. (The officer may have been somewhat the worse for drink). The oozlefinch was flightless, or, in some versions of the legend, flew backwards. It appeared on many Coast Artillery informal graphics and documents, had a statue erected in its honor, and was the mascot of the Gridiron Club at Fort Monroe, VA (the former home of the Coast Artillery branch and school). The motto is intended to mean, “What the hell do we care?” but probably would have confused a Roman — or a Pope. The Oozlefinch survives as a mascot of Air Defense Artillery, a branch which did not exist in 1905.

Apart from the site, there’s a quarterly Journal and a quarterly newsletter, annual Conferences, and occasional tours of fortification sites. The Group also publishes (and republishes) modern and period books on coast defenses. They provide a number of informative .pdfs on site, for which they ask a small donation.

The Group studies seacoast fortifications worldwide, apparently, but seems to concentrate on the United States Coast Artillery (which was itself worldwide, or at least Pacific-wide, with extensive installations in the Phillipines, Hawaii, Panama, and a few in the Caribbean).

All in all, if you’re curious about big guns and their technology, the CDSG is worth a visit. If you’re a fan, membership is probably worth it.

Special Bonus W4 for European Readers

Alberto Tabone intends to explore surviving European island fortifications and produce video documentaries thereof. His site is Battleship Islands and his first (and to date only) video is about the English Channel island of Alderney, fortified by Britain in the Victorian Age and by Germany in World War II. Because Alderbey was never attacked in WWII and was surrendered intact, many of the German concrete works still stand. In some case, Alberto has used computer graphics to insert removed gun turrets, etc. as he guides you on a tour of the site. We recommend this only to Europeans not because it’s not interesting to the rest of the world, but because the DVD is region-locked and requires a European (Region 2) or regionless DVD player to view.

Battleship Islands is a good counterpart for CDSG.

Littlefield’s Tank Collection going two ways

This interwar Vickers Mark VI tank, an extremely  rare survivor of a model used by many nations, is likely to be auctioned.

This interwar Vickers Mark VI tank, an extremely rare survivor of a British commercial model used by many nations, is likely to be auctioned. To its left (right in the pic) and behind it (left in the pic) are equally rare Panzer I and IV tanks from Germany. Image: MVTF.

The largest private collection of tanks and armored vehicles in the world is being broken up. It’s being transferred from the current foundation managing it, the Military Vehicle TEchnology Foundation, to the Collings Foundation, well known through its living-history displays of World War II and later aircraft. Collings plans to cherry-pick the best and most historic 1/3 of the vehicles and dump the rest in an August, 2014 auction.

If, as planned, the 160 unwanted vehicles raise $10 million, Collings will build a museum to house the 80 survivors.

The collection was built by former HP executive Jacques Littlefield over a long period. He began in 1975 with a White M3A1 Scout Car, a flimsily-armored vehicle used in World War II reconnaissance units in Europe. Along with tanks, armored cars and artillery pieces from World War I to the present day, his collection harbors the only SCUD missile and transporter-erector-launcher vehicle set in private hands in the USA.

Until now, the $30 million fleet of tanks has been refurbished and housed in seven storage sheds on a family estate up a winding, forested road above Silicon Valley; they are visited only under privately arranged tours.

But in a deal inked on July 4 and announced Monday in honor of Veteran’s Day, the 240 pieces have been signed over to The Collings Foundation, which preserves historical military aircraft and now plans to add a new military vehicle museum at its Stow, Mass., headquarters.

Foundation director Rob Collings said the organization hopes to raise $10 million to build the museum by auctioning 160 of the military vehicles in August 2014. Eventually he hopes visitors can learn U.S. history through a chronological walk past the remaining 80 historic military vehicles.

“They’ll start in the World War I trenches and go forward through time,” he said.

The collection was assembled by Jacques Littlefield, a Stanford University graduate who left Hewlett Packard in the 1970s to focus on collecting and restoring military vehicles.

via Silicon Valley tank collection heading east.

The collection is currently open to the public and researchers by arrangement via the MVTF website; it’s housed in a series of gigantic barns on a Littlefield property. There is a little information on the website also, including a teaser page with a few photographs from the restoration of the collection’s extremely rare surviving Panther Ausf. A.

A long video about some even longer guns

For some time (we first teased it way back in July) we’ve been promising a report on Gerald Bull’s contributions to ballistic science, and his very big gun designs, with emphasis on his 1960s Project HARP, which bid fair to put a satellite in orbit — from a cannon.

This 48-minute TV show is a fair overview of very big guns whose writers obviously hit hard on one of the references we’re using, Bull’s work on the Kaiser-Wilhelmgeschutz of World War I fame. (Not much question about it — they show the book cover in the video). It’s a hard book to find, and expensive when you find it. It’s highly technical (with a lot of ‘sheet music’) and in our view worth every penny.

Bull was reportedly working on a second volume, covering WWII German advances in the state of the art (several of which are shown here), at the time of his death. He carried his manuscript among other papers in his case, which was taken by his murderers and has never surfaced. If it wasn’t immediately destroyed, it likely gathers dust in the vaults of some intelligence agency even now. Unfortunately for students of artillery, Bull’s manuscript is unlikely to see light again: to produce it now would label the agency which has it as the perpetrator of Bull’s murder.

The video’s non-Bull content includes the Krupp 42cm (420mm or 16.5″) howitzer of World War I, “Big Bertha”; the Wilhelmgeschutz, or “Paris Gun”; the WWII German developments that included the 60 cm (600mm or 24″) mortar Karl and the amazing 80 cm (800mm, 31.5″) tail gun Schwerer Gustav, the remarkable Hockdruckpumpe or V-3 “centipede” multichamber gun, and America’s nuclear cannon.

Its Bull-related content includes not only crisp and rare footage of HARP and the Iraqi Project Babylon and Baby Babylon guns, but a sketchy overview of his contributions to Austrian, South African, Chinese and ultimately worldwide 155 mm guns, and his revolutionary invention, the base-bleed shell, explained with a simple and correct graphic. The talking heads include Bull’s frequent collaborator Charles Murphy, his son Michael, and the late Ian Hogg, as well as the author of one of the three Bull biographies.

Here’s a bonus video, a German newsreel of some of the World War II German guns. Some of this footage, minus the bombastic German music and voiceover, is used in the above documentary, also. But this is original, period content:

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=183_1243099583

To return to the original video and Bull: the video makes a clearer and more concise run at his history and character than we do in our draft article which we’ve been promising for ages now. What we do have that the video does not is more technical information. Bull did some very particular things to make a 16″ gun shoot to the edge of space, and he documented most of them in either academic papers, many of which we have, or his own book.

Hat tip for the original video to Joe in the Comments to last week’s TW3.

Marines Let ‘em Rip

These Marines are Military Police stationed on Okinawa (would Marines say aboard Okinawa?):

A Marine MP crew lets rip with an M240B. USMC photo by LCPL Brandon Suhr.

A Marine MP crew lets rip with an M240B. M249. USMC photo by LCPL Brandon Suhr.

CORRECTION: The MG in the picture above is a 5.56mm M249. We originally misidentified it — following the original PR — as an M240. Yeah, that’s a pretty embarrassing screw-up, and for the Marine photog in question, but he’s just a Lance and we’re supposed to be the freaking weapons experts around here… d’oh!  The article below has been thoroughly edited, extended and corrected. Added content is underlined. We will now beat our face, and then beat our boots just for Airborne variety. -Eds.

Marine MPs on Oki recently trained with crew-served weapons, including (among others) the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, being supplanted in the Marine rifle squad by the M27 IAR, and the excellent M240, the infantry company’s all-purpose MG.

 

The M249 is the US variation on the FN Minimi. Unlike its bigger brother, there are some more significant changes in the design between the US and original version. The Marines have never been thrilled with it as a squad automatic weapon, preferring a true, magazine-fed auto rifle. The issues with the M24 which they finally adopted in the form of the M27 — a Marine-spec HK416 — in 2010. Selection and procurement of the M27 took five years of RDT&E beginning with several (primarily) commercial, off the shelf ARs. For a while at least, infantry companies equipped with the M27 will also have 9 M249s available, but the IAR is a better fit for Marine infantry doctrine and is getting good reviews from field Marines. For one thing, it’s a lot lighter than the 22-lb. M249.

The M240 is the US version of the venerable, proven and excellent all-round FN-MAG general purpose machine gun, which the US finally adopted to correct the 1950s error that rejected this weapon in favor of the inferior M60. The name MAG stands for Mitrailleuse À Gaz, “Gas-Operated MG” in the gun’s native Walloon (French). There are several versions, but the current M240B is somewhat typical of current ground forces weapons. It’s light, for a 7.62mm MG. (There’s even a lighter, titanium-receiver version, the M240L, which has a shorter service life). It’s very reliable.  Before the 240B, the Marines converted tank guns as the M240G. (In the armor world, the reliable 240 was a quantum leap in reliability over the alternatives that preceded or competed with it, including a dreadful tanker version of the M60 and the Rube Goldberg M37). The Army never used the 240G; it’s never been as tight with a taxpayer dollar as its Marine brethren.

The M240, in all its versions, is actually a great-grandson of John Moses Browning. To make the MAG, Browning’s Belgian co-worker and protégé, Dieudonné Saive, took the tipping bolt and op-rod of the BAR and flipped it over so that, instead of locking into a recess in the top of the receiver, it locked into the bottom — freeing the top for a belt-feed mechanism which Saive, no casual reinventor of wheels, lifted from the German MG-42. The MAG was a great success; even nations that passed on the companion FAL rifle bought MAGs. Even the US finally climbed on board the MAG train.

The US belt is a "disintegrating" type, made of individual links that come apart when the cartridge is pushed out.

The US standard belt is a “disintegrating” type, made of individual links that come apart when the cartridge is pushed out. This is a belt 

The US made one error when converting the MAG to the 240. They eliminated the satin-chromed interior of the gun, which added strength and durability and makes a Belgian-made MAG a joy to clean. But other than that, it’s the good old MAG; parts interchange, and have the same Nato Stock Numbers. It’s never happened yet, but if we need a part, we can get it from the Danes or Brits, or vice versa. It will even feed NATO’s other standard belt, the nondisintegrating, reusable type used by German machine guns and preferred by Germany and Italy. If it’s NATO ammo in a belt, the MAG will eat it without a murmur.

There was a time when MPs didn’t do a lot of heavy weapons training, and support and service-support troops in general never took up these weapons. As the press release from which we lifted these great photos makes clear, today’s MPs train with the full spectrum of crew-served guns: M249, M240, M2HB, and Mk19. Not just MPs; this is increasingly common for even service-support troops, who might find themselves on a gun on an FOB’s perimeter wall or a truck’s weapons station, and it’s as true for the Army and other services which deploy to Derkaderkastan as it is for these Marines.

The key to proficiency is practice. These Marines are getting there.

The key to proficiency is practice. These Marines are getting there.

This wasn’t always the case. In the 1980s it wasn’t unusual for a roomful of soldier, even NCO, students to contain exactly zero who knew how to load, unload, and maintain the crew-served guns of the day, the M60 and M2HB. The peacetime services (especially the Army) tend to elevate other priorities over combat skills — until the next war happens, and you have a 507th Maintenance Company that shows you why even rear-echelon techs and clerks need to have firepower and the skills to make it run.

Now if they only could get out from under the small minds fixated on safety glow belts…

 

BROWNING 1917A1 semi on GunBroker

1917Browning_GunBrokerWhy do they call it GunBroker? Because if we keep buying Guns there, we’ll definitely be Broker. Here’s one that won’t be following us home, but the temptation is strong: (we hear that Recon Ordnance has some 1919A4s in stock, but not on their seldom-updated website)

NO RESERVE auction for Browning Water-cooled 1917 A1 semi in 30-06 caliber. BEST BROWNING ON GUNBROKER!! This is a 100% functioning firearm. This is a complete package for the range and needs nothing but ammo. This gun is a brand new setup and is in MUSEUM QUALITY!! This package comes with original tripod and wooden box, 4 belts, water condensing can, original water hose. All you need is ammo, I will offer the winner the option to buy up to 4,000 rounds of surplus ammo for .65 cents a round. This is not no cheap home build and is period correct. This setup will make a great addition to any serious collector or shooter. Payment must be sent in the form of Postal money order, Buyer pays the actual shipping. Please ask any questions before bidding, all sales are FINAL. We also have this item for sale locally so we reserve the rights to cancel this auction at any time.

1917 Browning

via BROWNING Water cooled 1917A1 1917 A1 / RARE / NR : Semi Auto Rifles at GunBroker.com.

Before putting it on GB, he dangled it on 1919A4.com for $6k, which happens to be his Buy It Now on GB. We suppose he has to unload it under the New York SAFE Act. Pity. It is a strange state indeed where ownership of a mid-four-figure historical curiosity marks you as a target for the legal system, while that same legal system will not keep axe murderers and baby rapers locked up. But hey, that’s what New York voted for; may their chains hang loose.

1917 Browning03

Now, if $5-6k for a 1917 is a bit too stiff for you, we hear a rumor (and that’s all it is at this point) that Jerry at Recon Ordnance has a batch of semi 1919A4s, which are thousands less expensive (if less “classic” than the original WWI through Guadalcanal Browning), and these are not on Recon Ord’s indifferently updated website. Or you can get a parts kit on GB here (building this into a working semi is not a trivial job).

And if $6k is too chicken-feedy for your champagne tastes, what does a “real” 1917 or 1919 sell for? Well, back in 2009, a guy was asking $30k for a full-auto DLO transferable 1917 at 1919A4.com with a great pile of accessories and doodads:

1917 gun
1917a1 tripod
military canvas cradle cover
Brass 1918 Belt loading machine with chest
several wood ammo boxes
Anti aircraft sights with mounts and leather carry case
Zeiss indirect fire scope system with case and mount
Several cloth belts
Many links
calibers 8mm and 30-06
spare barrels
water can and condensing hose
military MG oil cans
and a mess of 8mm yugo linked ammo that can go with it for 20 cents a round, but only to the buyer of this package.

That deal (if that was indeed a deal?) is now undoubtedly long gone. But very many Browning MGs  were made, and parts and semiauto builds continue to be imported and produced.

The 1917 is machined with some care as this intricate rear sight shows:

1917 Browning02

Craftsmanship in steel and bronze, that. The Browning machine guns are among the greatest ever invented, much simpler, more easily served and serviced, and more reliable than the British and American Maxims and French Hotchkisses they replaced in US service. (Even Britain adopted the Browning for aircraft in WWII, although the aerial Browning has some mission-driven differences from its ground-forces sibling). And the full-auto 1917 has all the advantages of water cooling. (On a semi gun, it’s more a matter of styling). Most of these guns work with cloth or disintegrating-link metal belts. If you do use the old M1 or M2 links with a Browning, direction of feed is important: the two-loop end of a link goes first (otherwise it will intermittently jam. The lead tab, now seldom seen, fits in between those two loops to reinforce the need to feed the belt the right way.

Here’s why we’ve had no Bull this week…

Gerald Bull and a 16" smoothbore gun in his Vermont-Quebec compound, mid 1960s.

Gerald Bull and a 16″ smoothbore gun in his Vermont-Quebec compound, mid 1960s. Click to embiggen.

“But gentlemen,” you say, “you’ve had plenty of bull. We’re hip deep in it out here!” No, no. We mean Bull with a capital B, Gerald V. Bull and his Project HARP space gun, to be precise.

The reason is: we got deep into the research. We read many of his papers, some of which are in DTIC and some of which required us to buy seminar proceedings (cha chingg) and individual AIAA papers (cha chingg! again); we reread the two Bull biographies that we had in the Unconventional Warfare Operations Research Library again, and we ordered — and just received — the only volume of Bull and Murphy’s planned three-volume masterwork on extreme artillery, which covers the Paris Guns (Wilhelmgeschütze of World War I) and Project HARP. The book is new in wrap and was very expensive; the print run was short and most of them were taken by Bull himself to use as gifts, and the whereabouts of that stock are unknown.

We also made contact serendipitously with a long time acquaintance who knows the grounds of Bull’s abandoned compound on the Vermont – Canadian border, particularly on the North Troy, Vermont side. And we’re trying to get permissions from landowners and multiple jurisdictions for a site visit. That bit is complicated.

Finally, we’ve taken a bit of a sidetrack into Bull’s development of conventional artillery with highly unconventional properties, thanks to his perfection of the Extended Range Full Bore Base Bleed projectile. We were fortunate to find a document in which Bull recounts the technical history of that development; it was an invited talk at an artillery conference not long before his murder. That led us to some related patents.

The downside is this: we now have material and notes enough to write a book, but there’s undoubtedly too little interest in a technical book, and there are three generally non-technical biographies already. At some point, we whittle it down to a blog post or two.

What we’re getting into in Syria….

A French soldier holds an SA-7 Strela (Grail) tube in Mali.

A French soldier holds an SA-7 Strela (Grail) tube in Mali. Click to enlarge. Image: French Army.

…is about what we got into in Libya. By waiting until the tiny sliver of the opposition that had something in common with American values had been exterminated by the ruthless regime, and until the only functional opposition remaining was hard-core Islamist, we’re going to be sending arms that will be used against Americans and our allies, not only by these groups and all their islamist-warrior pals, but also by moslem terrorists.

The unintended consequences of the foreign policy of dithering-away-any-advantage in Libya are what our allies, the French, are dealing with in Mali, and it’s pretty ugly. Qaddhafi’s tens of thousands of MANPADS are turning up in terrorist hands in the poor, bedraggled, and now war-torn African nation. So far, nos amis have captured a launch tube, a battery, and several copies of an Arabic-language manual covering all the major Russian MANPADS. A story based on AP reporting:

The manual… adds to evidence for the weapon found by French forces during their land assault in Mali earlier this year, including the discovery of the SA-7′s battery pack and launch tube, according to military statements and an aviation official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment.

The knowledge that the terrorists have the weapon has already changed the way the French are carrying out their five-month-old offensive in Mali. They are using more fighter jets rather than helicopters to fly above its range of 1.4 miles (2.3 kilometers) from the ground, even though that makes it harder to attack the jihadists. They are also making cargo planes land and take off more steeply to limit how long they are exposed, in line with similar practices in Iraq after an SA-14 hit the wing of a DHL cargo plane in 2003.

Header of Page 313 (start of the SA-7 section) of the captured manual.

Header of Page 313 (start of the SA-7 section) of the captured manual.

The Malian terrorists, “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” as they style themselves, were training international terrorists to attack aircraft with the SA-7 missile. The elderly SA-7 was ineffective against military aircraft even in the 1980s, and so it’s probable that this training was intended to facilitate terror attacks on civil jetliners.

In Timbuktu, SA-7 training was likely part of the curriculum at the ‘Jihad Academy’ housed in a former police station, said Jean-Paul Rouiller, director of the Geneva Center for Training and Analysis of Terrorism, one of three experts who reviewed the manual for AP. It’s located less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the Ministry of Finance’s Budget Division building where the manual was found.

Neighbors say they saw foreign fighters running laps each day, carrying out target practice and inhaling and holding their breath with a pipe-like object on their shoulder. The drill is standard practice for shoulder-held missiles, including the SA-7.

Here’s the manual in question: http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/_international/_pdfs/al-qaida-papers-dangerous-weapon.pdf

The manual does note that the weapon has a secondary military use, even if it does not destroy many aircraft. It does change their flight profiles, causing them to fly higher and degrading air support to ground troops.

 

Rare Survivor: Coast Artillery Base-End Station

pulpit rock towerOne of the things on the schedule today is a very rare opportunity to visit a normally closed fortification. The tower was used as a “base-end station” for the Coast Artillery guns that secured Portsmouth Harbor. In World War II, the naval shipyard built scores of submarines, and early in the war a number of gun batteries were set up as part of the port’s defenses against surface ships and enemy aircraft.

Base-End Stations were used, two each, to triangulate the location of enemy ships. Each Base-End station had a plotting room (the team maintained its sync with the other station and the gun batteries with audible bells that sounded at intervals and were connected together by phone lines) and one or more sighting decks. Each sighting deck had one telescope for azimuth and a separately-operated one for elevation.

Base End Station plotting diagramThis particular tower had three different missions: the roof housed an Anti-Aircraft Intelligence Battery, the next deck down was a Base-End Station for a 90mm Anti Torpedo Boat Battery, and the next deck down from that was a Base-End Station for Battery Seaman, which housed two 16″ guns. The guns never fired a shot in anger; in fact, they only fired once, when they first came on line, and they never shot again. The guns themselves are long gone, but the fortifications that housed Battery Seaman’s guns still remain, decaying and decrepit. Along with the many batteries around the harbor, there were 14 Base-End stations of several different designs. Some have been demolished, some have been assimilated into beach houses, and this one at Pulpit Rock is the only one still in public hands.

DPFLate in the war, it was clear that American shipyards were not going to be attacked by the receding Axis’s surface ships. Many of the Coast Artillery men were hastily retrained as riflemen and sent to bleeding infantry units as replacements. After the war, the towers and other fortifications struggled to find a raison d’être. Many were on private land that had been seized for the duration, and became white elephants that their private owners could neither use practically nor destroy economically. Some were used as hosts for radar stations during the development of the Air Defense Command’s Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (the first real computer network), but that testing was over by the end of the Eisenhower Administration. The Pulpit Rock tower was used to observe unlawful fishing by New Hampshire Fish and Game until the early 1970s; now the agency would like to unburden itself of the old white elephant, but the town of Rye (in which it is located) is leery of taking it over on cost and liability grounds.

So the long term viability of the tower is far from assured — all the more reason to go see it on one of the semiannual public tours.