Category Archives: Support Weapons

When the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace Went to War

Major General Snow after the war, with US and Allied decorations.

Major General Snow after the war, with US and Allied decorations.

It was 1918, and the organization was then known as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The very able Maj. Gen. William J Snow had just been appointed to the new position of Chief of Army Artillery. The position was desperately needed: at the US entry into the war in 1917, the Army had barely 275 officers and 5000 men in its trained artillery, yielding, apart from colonial garrisons, one understrength regiment each of light, heavy, and horse artillery. You would think that the branch would have grown as the Great War roiled Europe, but the 1917 numbers, and the situation, were practically identical to those that obtained in August 1914 when the war broke out. Snow recalled:

In 1914 the Field Artillery of the United States Regular Army consisted of 266 officers and 4,992 enlisted men organized into six regiments. This was sufficient only to provide small overseas garrisons and what might be considered “display samples” of the different classes of field artillery in the United States.

There were no mortars (in WWI, the US would consider these infantry weapons artillery, but they hadn’t got to the point of having any yet), and no echelons above the artillery regiment, which was suited to be part of no combined-arms or infantry formation larger than division. In the four-million-man army built after 1917 for the war, all these things would be rectified, but not without drama. After Snow’s appointment as the Army’s chief of cannon-cockers, he found, initially, there was no office for him in Washington. (The Pentagon, of course, was 25 years in the future). But he had brought some resourceful staff officers with him:

On my third day in office two assistants reported for duty. They were Majors Bacon and Channing, who had been on my staff at Camp Jackson. I told them to go out and hire an office and engage some clerks, while I again spent the day in the staff and supply departments. Late that afternoon they returned and told me that there was not an office to be rented in Washington but that they had secured the loan of the building occupied by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and that for my personal use Elihu Root was lending me his office!

And so it was that I began my work in the War Department in this Peace Endowment building, the Carnegie Peace people paying the rent. I always thought this quite appropriate, for certainly so far as practical results go I accomplished more to restore international peace than Mr. Carnegie ever did to maintain it.

That last was a bit of a zing, but then, as now, the peaceniks have it coming. For “peace”, most of them mean, “surrender”; and for resolving conflict, most of them take the bold approach of the ostrich of legend. Root’s Carnegie Peace office would continue to serve Snow, and by extension, the nation, even after Major General Snow had an office of his own:

The Secretary of the General Staff kept his promise in a few days he assigned me one room6 and one clerk in the War Department building. He also furnished me the money-saving rubber stamp, Office of the Chief of Field Artillery.

For some time, even after my office was well established in a suite in the State, War, and Navy Building I kept Mr. Root’s office as a place where I could worked quietly and undisturbed on knotty problems; for frequently when I arrived at my main office in the morning I found, extending down the corridor, a line of people waiting to see me.

One of the perks, if that’s the word, of being Chief of Artillery during wartime, is that inventive Americans being their high-tech solutions to you:


Of course, the Office had an Inventions Section. The American is quite prolific with ideas. One contractor thought guns and ammunition were obsolete and that what was needed was modern machinery on a large scale, so that a veritable subway could be dug under the enemy with steam shovels and the whole German army be blown up. Another man suggested a loaded club so arranged that when you hit a man over the head it would shoot him too. A very modest fellow proposed a pencil that would make its writing visible in the dark. Another had a plan for a folding bullet-proof steel umbrella. Still another suggested chemical powder to sift on one’s body to cleanse it like a bath.

And so on. These schemes poured in. And they all had to be treated with polite consideration. As an illustration, I may mention the idea of a man from the southern part of the United States, who suggested that instead of high explosive, we load a rattlesnake into each shell. We thanked him and mentioned several obvious disadvantages and invited him to communicate with us when these difficulties were solved.

That was a general with a dry sense of humor indeed. And, even then, Congressional inquiries were a bane of pre-Beltway existence:

Then there was an Information Bureau, principally for members of Congress. We took the position of never saying “You have the wrong office.” On the contrary, when a member of Congress called up about hand grenades or whatnot, we would tell him that, while this did not pertain to field artillery, we would get the information for him. We were always definite, specific, and helpful.

General Snow’s reminisces are excerpted in the January-February 1940 number of the Field Artillery Journal. They’re worth reading in depth, including his visit to the respected training expert General Morrison, who advised him, “if you value your reputation, get away from the War Department,” and his frank assessment of General Pershing’s criticism of the War Department, and Woodrow Wilson’s performance as Commander-in-Chief. Still a good read, almost a century after the events he describes. More of his memoirs were excerpted in at least one subsequent issue, perhaps more.

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.

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.


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.

It took a war to make this training photo happen

This memorable photo, by an unfortunately uncredited National Guard photographer, shows something that just plain wouldn’t have happened prior to the Global War On Tourism and its various offspring, like the unpleasantness in Iraq. It also happens to be a great photo. So after you look it over, we’ll give you the official credit line and link, tell you why it took the war to make this photo happen, and talk a little bit about the once-revolutionary 40mm high-low pressure grenade and the systems that fire it.

m203 Firing

Our caption would be: “Tooonk!”. The Army’s somewhat more prosaic one is:

Staff Sgt. Nehemiah E. Taylor, with the 298th Support Battalion, Mississippi National Guard, fires an M203 grenade launcher during the individual weapons qualification weekend at Camp McCain, Miss.

Nice shot. The muzzle gases are captured, and the round is almost frozen in time: enough so that you can see it’s a blue-plastic-capped M781 training-practice round. (The filling of this round is a Hunter Orange chalk powder, so that soldiers can mark the fall of the shot readily. M203 and other 40mm gunners improve rapidly when given the chance to live fire these rounds).

Before the war, Army practice would never have been to let a service support soldier like this live fire his M203. Soldiers didn’t even see the weapon in basic combat training, unless they were on their way to combat arms assignments. Even combat arms soldiers seldom live-fired 40 mm. Only SOF tended to get enough ammunition for a reasonable training schedule, and even those didn’t always get all the ammo they really needed. During periods of constrained budgets, it was common for entire units to just get enough of an ammunition allocation to allow each individual to fire his rifle for qualification — no additional ammo for practice.

In SF, we routinely bought our own ammunition during these periods, which was a major violation of Army regulations. The Army is very jealous about its weapons. You are not permitted to load them with your own ammunition, take them to your home, or even take them to the range in a privately owned vehicle. Of course like any other Army regulation, there is a legal way to get around or waive these regulations, but it requires the conscious and strenuous efforts of your staff judge advocate, who may or may not be interested in doing that sort of thing.

As we learned, you can even buy 40 mm training practice ammunition, but it’s rather expensive. The 40 mm warshots – HE or HEDP rounds for example – were a different matter. Each round is considered a destructive device.

The high-low ports come in several varieties, as seen here. All function similarly.

The high-low ports come in several varieties, as seen here. All function similarly.

The 40 mm design is ingenious. It’s initiated by an ordinary percussion primer, like a rifle round. Inside the casing the powder charge pressurizes a smaller, internal high-pressure chamber, with small ports to the larger casing. The ports let the high (up to 25,000 psi) pressure bleed comparatively slowly into the larger part of the casing; the low pressure area peaks at around 3,000 psi at midcase and only 1,400 or so at case mouth (See Slide 19 here). This is called the high-low pressure system and the tight containment of the high pressure lets the casing and barrel be made of lightweight materials — these days, the cases are aluminum or plastic, and the barrels generally machined aluminum forgings.

How the High-Low works.

How the High-Low works.

The initial 40mm was the break-action M79, a kissing cousin of everybody’s first H&R single-shot shotgun. The 79 had a stout stock with a thick rubber recoil pad, necessary because, while the 40 mike-mike has a soft report (Toonk!) it has a pretty beastly recoil.

The Army considered arming a soldier with an M79 suboptimal. The M79 was his primary weapon, but for close-range self-defense he was issued only an M1911 .45. So from the very beginning, they were interested in a hybrid weapon that was both a rifle and a grenade launcher. For years, this led the Army down the blind alley of the SPIW, which certainly deserves a post or post of its own. The SPIW was meant to combine a flechette firing-rifle with a multishot semiautomatic grenade launcher. It required, in engineering terms, the scheduling of too many inventions and never succeeded.

The Army’s fallback was to suggest an under-barrel weapon that would attach to the then-new M16A1 rifle. Several vendors worked on this project and Colt initially provided test versions that were used in the field as the XM148. Colt developed an improved version that responded to Army criticism of the XM148, but the improved Colt system, the CGL-5, was beaten out by a system designed by Aircraft Armaments Inc., which was type standardized as the M203. The last laugh, though, was on AAI: Colt received the contract to actually produce the AAI system.

The M203 is slowly being replaced by the improved M320 grenade launcher. As this photo shows, 203s are still in very wide use.

One last thought — Army photographers hang it out with the combat units for a SP4 or sergeant’s pay, and bring back some images that become iconic (and get ripped off and stamped with copyright attributions by Corbis or AP, but that’s another story). We’re sure this guy or gal would rather have spent that day on the range with the Mississippi Army National Guard than downrange in Anbar Province, but we think the photog deserves credit. Can anybody find out who it is? We’ll update the post.

UPDATE! 1500R 20140117

Thanks to commenter Wes, who did what we probably should have done and picked up the phone to call Camp Shelby, the photographer has been fingered. He wasn’t a PAO at all, but MAJ Andy Thaggard, the Mississippi National Guard’s Command Historian. Thanks again to Wes, to MAJ Thaggard for the fine shot, and to SSG Taylor for letting him take the picture whilst firing. “It was a good day at the range,” says the Major. Is there any other kind? –Ed.

Another Official Nomenclature Cross-Reference List

Here again the Army is trying to map the actual nomenclature used for a weapon to the Army’s preferred terms. We put up the one for the M16 series weapons back in November. Let’s play a little game: can you guess the weapon?

The Army’s terms, though, are fairly useless. They  are often generic, and don’t describe the use or purpose of a “helical compression spring” (coil spring, used several places in this weapon) or “socket head cap screw” (in this weapon, the muzzle brake screw)). The Army also officially calls some coil springs “helical compression springs” and other coil springs “compression helical springs.”

Nomenclature Cross-Reference List

Common Name Official Nomenclature
Accelerator Rifle accelerator
Adjustment turret cap Dust protective cap
Anti-reflective device Optical eyeshield
Barrel Rifle barrel
Base plate Magazine floor plate
Battery bumper Nonmetallic bumper
Bipod detent
 Headed straight pin
Bipod locking pin Quick release pin
Bipod pin Spring pin
Bipod spring Helical compression spring
Bolt Breech bolt
Bolt keeper Lock washer
Bolt latch Lock-release lever
Bolt latch spring Compression helical spring
Cam pin assembly Machine breechlock cam
Cocking lever pin Bolt carrier pin
Extension stop pin Bolt carrier pin
Extractor Cartridge extractor
Extractor plunger Cartridge extractor
Eyepiece lens cover Lens cap
Impact barrel bumper Nonmetallic bumper
Knurled lock ring Knurled plain nut
Laser filter unit Telescope light filter
Magazine catch pin Spring pin
Magazine follower Cartridge follower
Midlock pin Quick release pin
Muzzle brake screw Socket head cap screw
Muzzle brake shim Shim set
Muzzle brake washer Flat washer
Pistol grip Rifle grip
Rear lock pin Quick release pin
Rear sight scale Rear slide assembly
Scope ring assembly Telescope mount
Scope ring bolt Machine bolt
Scope ring screw Machine screw
Sear pin Bolt carrier pin
Telescope Optic mount system
Windage knob pin Spring pin
Yoke mount washer Lock washer

These things never fail to amuse us. The Army’s insistence on obsolete, pedantic, and nondescriptive language is reminiscent of the Academie Française standing boldly athwart the modernization of the French language — or trying to.

Culture moves on, and pedants can’t stop it, whether they’re wearing uniforms or mortarboards.

The weapon? The Barrett .50 Semiautomatic Rifle. This Nomenclature Cross-Reference List is from  TM9-1005-239-23&P: Technical Manual, Unit and Direct Support Maintenance Manual (Including Repair Parts and Special Tools List) for Long Range Sniper Rifle, M107 / USMC Special Application Scoped Rifle (SASR).

(Extra irony points for the Army and Marines insisting on different terminology for the same firearm).

The Economics of Combat on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Night over Laos, circa 1966. From a “Nimrod” (A-26K night interdiction aircraft) navigator’s recollections:

Back at altitude, I reflected on our situation. So far, we had made two passes, had maybe 40 to 50 rounds of 37mm, 23mm ZPU and who knows what else fired at us and had only dropped two bombs?!! Considering the fuel and ordnance load we carried, expending at this rate would have us work (and being shot at) for at least 10 passes, maybe many more if we fired the .50-caliber machine guns.

And so it was to be! This squadron’s credo was to be persistent and take the time to inflict the greatest damage on the enemy. That took patience and perseverance-and meant dodging considerable hostile fire.

Having expended all the .50-caliber ammunition, we headed home. On the way back, our FAC reported that we had destroyed several trucks and a couple of AAA positions and that we received an estimated 800 rounds of antiaircraft fire!

On the way back, an absurd conversation from the night before ran through my mind. We were marveling that our government paid us $65 a month combat pay. Now, if we flew a mission like this 25 times a month, that meant we would earn $2.60 per mission. If each mission had 10 passes over the target, that meant we would get 26 cents per pass. If on each pass they shot 50 rounds at us, that meant we would get a half cent for each shot fired at us.

Of course, the pay was even worse on Nguyen’s side of the exchange.

And combat pay is higher now. There is that.

Sometimes Nimrod was just busting trucks, economically a fool’s game. The entire COSVN (Central Office of South Vietnam) ran on some six tons of supplies a day, meaning anything more than a couple of trucks that got through was gravy. It was like dealing with a carpenter ant infestation by stepping on individual ants — the house will fall down on your ears before the bugs feel the pressure. But the ant nests were off limits until Linebacker, which was many years, and 50,000 American deaths, in the future as Nimrod worked the Trail.

Sometimes Nimrod was working in support of the SF guys who were not in Laos, officially speaking. Unofficially, or really, covertly, they were leading Lao guard forces around critical sites related to navigation, precision bombing, and signals intelligence; conducting small and stealthy (they hoped!) reconnaissance patrols and occasional Hatchet Force combat patrols under the aegis of SOG; and, sheep-dipped into the CIA, advising Vang Pao’s clandestine Meo army. SF and the Air Commandos, later renamed, as the Invader nav, Nolan Schmidt, wryly notes, because someone in the Air Force thought the name “too warlike.”

At the end of the James S. Michener novel (from the period in which he could write a prizewinning novel of reasonable length, even) The Bridges at Toko-ri, and repeated in the movie of the same title, an admiral, reflecting on the heroic deeds of a Naval Aviator and a Chief Aviation Pilot, stares into the wake of USS Boat and asks a rhetorical question: “Where do we get such men?”

To which WeaponsMan, who has never been in danger of flag rank, would add, “and why do we squander their valor so?”

But if you Read The Whole Thing™, old Invader nav Schmidt doesn’t think, and when we think about it, we don’t think, that it was all done for nothing or even for the silly geopolitical games the gormless Georgetown grads play in the NSC. It was done for the guys, whether it was the guy on your team, the guy in the other seat of the plane, or the guy who was just a sound on the radio, speaking a little more rapidly and at a higher fundamental pitch than his conversational voice.

It was never for nothing. 

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:

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.

Whose German Scientists?

The dean of our German scientists, Dr Ing Wernher von Braun.

The dean of our German scientists, Dr Ing Wernher von Braun.

In the Alistair MacLean novel Ice Station Zebra, and indeed in one of the scenes preserved in the necessarily snappier film adaptation, the British scientist (portrayed by Patrick McGoohan, not playing a spy for a change) observed:

The Russians put our camera made by our German scientists and your film made by your German scientists into their satellite made by their German scientists.

The Cold War thriller assumed facts that everybody suspected to be true, but nobody without a security clearance really knew: that Russian technology had gotten a similar boost from captive Germans as American had from acquiring Walter Dornberger and Wernher von Braun and their rocket team.

Over the years, it became possible to guess from Russian advances that we’d gotten the head start in rocket guidance and program management that led to manned space and surface-to-surface missiles. The Russians had gotten some real talent in rocket engine, jet turbine, and turboprop design (to this day, their engines generally have more thrust than their western equivalents). They also got a jump in air-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles; the Germans had operationalized the first (with which they sunk a number of Allied ships) and were close to operational on the latter at war’s end.

Fortunately, it’s no longer that necessary to guess. The National Security Agency has declassified an internal magazine article about German contributions to the Russian missile effort. Some ideas that we took away from this:

  • Ivan didn’t really trust his Germans much, and the ones taken to Russia were soon frozen out of design work and shipped home, except for guidance men, who probably took longer to develop good Russian understudies.
  • As far as we can tell, none of the Germans became naturalized Soviet citizens.
  • The use of these scientists was completely covert; the soviet public never heard their names.
  • The scientists were of more help in shaking down processes and overcoming specific logjams than in overall design. The Soviets had their own talent.

But you don’t need to take our word for it. Read The Whole Thing™: early_history_soviet_missile [.pdf]

One would assume — and the writer of the undated NSA document assumes — the the Soviets’ German scientists were pressganged into service. In fact, they seem to have been recruited, using a blandishment that the US ARmy had taken off the table for its Germans: the ability to stay in Germany. In 2003, Anatoly Zak, in Air and Space magazine, explained:

When I met [former Soviet officer Boris] Chertok in Moscow last year, …. his memory of events that took place half a century earlier was still vivid. He recalled the scramble in 1945 as he and his colleagues tried, with little success, to lure top German talent to the Soviet side. His emissaries made risky dashes into the American zone, approaching the rocket specialists with offers of hefty salaries, food rations, and—most importantly—the opportunity to stay in Germany. That was one of the few battles von Braun and his colleagues had lost in negotiating with the Americans, and the Soviet recruiting campaign appealed to the Germans’ longing to remain in their homeland.

Few took the bait. One who did was Helmut Gröttrup, a physicist by training and a top expert on the V-2’s flight control system. Historians have debated why Gröttrup turned down the offer to work in the United States, suggesting that it was a combination of his leftist views and his refusal to become a bit player on von Braun’s team. Chertok thinks the primary reason was Gröttrup’s wish—and the even stronger desire of his wife Irmgard—to stay in Germany. He doesn’t discount, however, the scientist’s left-wing politics. “He was what we would call a social democrat—definitely anti-fascist,” Chertok recalls.

The deal wasn’t kept on the Russian end, and Gröttrup and his colleagurs were spirited off to the USSR the next year. It’s interesting to compare Anatoly Zak’s post-Cold-War take to the NSA’s in-progress-look on the establishment of an institute in Belicherode (which the NSA report identifies as Institut Rabe).

At the end of World War II, German military technology was in several fields the most advanced in the world. They had world-leading small arms, tanks, aircraft, and entire new categories of guided weapons and missiles that the Allies were far from operationalizing. It did them almost no good at all. The Allies had vast quantities of stuff that was, in many cases, not as good; the German innovations were not enough to stem the logistical tide that buried the would-be  thousand-year empire. (Not that that outcome is a bad thing, considering the nature of the empire; but we’re prospecting for lessons learned here).

And what happened to the inventions? And even the inventors like Gröttrup and von Braun? If you lose the war, your enemies get them. QED.


Even if it weren’t Friday, it would be just plain wrong to mention the good Herr Doktor without sharing Tom Lehrer’s musical character study:

Air Force snubs Vietnam KIAs; vets and civilians step up

James Sizemore, RIP

James Sizemore, RIP

James Sizemore and Howard Andre were either busting trucks or supporting a SOG recon team along the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos on 8 July 1969 — the records aren’t clear — when their B-26 was hit by ground fire and went straight in. Over four decades later, their remains came home. Then came the snub: the Air Force, playing along with DC political budget games, helped the President make a few points against Congress (or is it the other way round?) by denying the two fallen heroes a fly-over at their funeral.

So, eight civilian pilots stepped up, putting up $24,000 of their own money, not to mention their own aircraft and time. And the two recovered men, once carried as MIAs, got something even the Air Force couldn’t give them now: a flyover by the same type they flew in combat, died in, and were interred in for 44 years: a B-26.  Fox’s Jennifer Griffin explains:

Howard V. Andre. That's a B-26 behind him (and Sizemore).

Howard V. Andre. That’s a B-26 behind him (and Sizemore).

[O]nce the burial was scheduled at Arlington, the Air Force told their families the U.S. government could not afford to honor the men with a traditional flyover due to budget cuts.

“Following numerous requests to volunteer units, the Air Force is unable to support the flyover request for Major Sizemore due to limited flying hours and budget constraints,” Air Force spokesman Captain Rose Richeson wrote in a statement.

Is it actually the same Air Force that produced a James Sizemore (who has several relatives who became distinguished combat aviators) and Howard Andre, that now coughs up a hairball named Rose Richeson? But some guys didn’t just bitch about it like we do around here: they did something.

This is the plane in which Sizemore and Andre lost their lives (exact tail number).

This is the plane in which Sizemore and Andre lost their lives (exact tail number). Pics from Bill Paisley’s blog, Instapinch.

That’s when a group of volunteer pilots from the non-profit Warrior Flight Team ( stepped in and agreed to fly in formation above the Arlington ceremony in their own planes, on their own dime.

Eight civilian pilots honored the veterans, arranging permission from the Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, and FAA with an aerial tribute above Washington.

They even flew a Douglas A26 Invader – the same plane that the two friends from Georgia were flying when they were shot down 44 years ago. It was flanked by 2 P51 Mustangs.

The estimated fuel cost: of fuel alone for the ceremonial flyover is more than $24,000.

“We’re here today to honor some fallen veterans,” said retired Air Force Brigadier General Jeff Johnson, who flew over Arlington as part of the ceremony. “Do I feel like those two heroes deserved a flyover? Yes, I do, and that’s why we did what did today.”

“I would hope somebody would come after me,” said [Retired Marine Lt. Col. art] Nalls [who flew an L-39 in the tribute]. That means a lot to the individual service member to know that you’re not going to be left behind.”

via Vietnam-era fliers buried side-by-side at Arlington | Fox News.

The pilots were all veterans themselves.

This is the flyover B26, painted as a WWII A26 but the same airframe.

This is the flyover B26, painted as a WWII A26 but the same airframe.

Sizemore and Andre’s wreck site was excavated, and their remains recovered, last year. A previous analysis of MIA and KIA/BNR cases prepared by the Joint Personnel Recovery Center and widely reproduced on the net tells the tale of their loss:

On 8 July 1969, Major James E. Sizemore, pilot; and Major Howard V. Andre, Jr., navigator; comprised the crew of an B26A that departed Nakhon Phanom Airfield in a flight on an evening armed reconnaissance mission. After spotting enemy personnel on the ground deep in enemy held territory, the Invader made a strafing pass on a communist target entrenched in the rugged jungle covered mountains on the north side of a mountain range. The aircraft was struck by ground fire, continued downward and exploded immediately upon impact with the ground. This region was a hotbed of communist activity with rich rice fields to the north of the enemy target. The area of loss was also surrounded by various sized villages nestled in the mountains in Xiangkhouang Province, Laos.

The crash site was located approximately 2 kilometers southeast of Ban Chaho, 3 kilometers south of Phou Khe, and 13 kilometers southwest of Ban Thuang. It was also 20 miles northeast of the major CIA facility at Long Tieng Airfield, 45 miles west of the closest point on the Lao/North Vietnamese border and 99 miles north-northeast of the Lao capital of Vientiane.

Because of the location of loss in an area under total enemy control, no ground search was possible. An electronic search, however, commenced immediately. At the time the B26A was downed, no parachutes were seen. Likewise, no emergency beepers were heard. When the formal search was terminated, both Howard Andre and James Sizemore were listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

That’s our military these days — bottomless funds for in-Beltway SES drones, for Assistant Diversity Coordinators and PR flacks, and not a dime to pay respects to the combat dead. But it’s not the first time vets have had to step up and do it ourselves.

A note on terminology: during World War II, the Army Air Corps (later Army Air Forces) distinguished between medium bombers and lighter “attack” aircraft used in such tactical roles as close air support and lines-of-communications interdiction. In the last years of the war, the Douglas A-26 Invader replaced the same company’s lighter, slower A-20 Havoc as the Army’s main twin-engine attack plane. Another airplane made by the Glenn Martin company on the other side of the country was called the B-26 Marauder. After the war, the Army (later Air Force) simplified and rationalized its fleet even as it downsized. All the Marauders, a powerful but hard-to-fly airplane, were scrapped, and the A-designation was dropped for a while. The A-26 was renumbered B-26 and served under that name in Korea and Vietnam. (It was actually brought back from the boneyard for Vietnam). As a result, even official documents are often wobbly on the nomenclature of the Douglas Invader. – Eds.

Dueling M25 / XM25 Stories

XM25-in-actionTwo different stories were making the rounds about the XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement system — AKA the 25mm smart grenade launcher — recently. One says it’s cancelled and the other says it’s about to be generally fielded: about as  far apart as two tales can get.

Story 1: it has been canc’d due to a February accident.

This is partially true. There was a mishap in which there was a double feed and that caused a primer initiation with the gun out of battery. The soldier was injured, gun destroyed. The Army pulled them all back from theater in early March and sent them back to the manufacturer, ATK (H&K and L3/IOS Brashear have also taken part in system development). The reason for doing this this was: an accident like that was supposed to be impossible, therefore they need to inspect all fielded XM25s. There were, if we recall correctly, three double feed incidents but in only this one was the GI injured (not very seriously), and in one previous one the primer and propellant fired out of battery, destroying the gun with no injuries to the GI. The February mishap happened on a training range in Afghanistan.



Prior to the accident, the gun was popular with the troops that carried it. It was hard to point to a specific combat success or even identify a single Talib whacked by it, but its capabilities have been used for suppression and to permit small patrols to break contact and continue mission. The guy who carries the XM25 carries it as his main weapon, giving up his carbine for the exotic ability to put airbursts on defiladed targets in direct fire more rapidly and precisely than mortars can.

This led to the Senate Armed Services Committee, controlled by anti-military liberals, to zero out the gun’s future budgets in a vote which made a big splash of news in June. Here’s the press release from Carl Levin, the thoroughly anti-soldier committee chair, about the wonders of this committee mark-up. And here’s what he says about the XM25, which he calls a “troubled or unnecessary program,” in it.

Cuts $69.1 million in procurement for the XM25, Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) due to system unreliability and an Army decision to reconsider other weapons available to meet its requirement for a grenade launcher system that can fire programmable air burst munitions.

Frank Gaffney saw Levin’s intentions in 2009:

The anti-military chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, has gleefully announced that he intends to strip funds for weapon systems from the budget. Likely consequence: the armed services will be unable either properly to “reset” the equipment and capabilities that have been used so intensively over the past seven years or be prepared for the next conflict. History teaches that such a posture invites foreign aggression and costs far more than is saved through short-term and short-sighted cuts.

Well, Levin is who he has always been. Can’t change that. And our democratic processes have put him in the driver’s seat on the Senate side of the military budget. So expect things to be cancelled and money to be redirected to redistributive activities. Can’t change that, either.

But this cancellation is not all that it appears. Note that, due to the snags attendant to the mishap and its investigation and any required design remediation, production in FY 14 wasn’t going to happen anyway. So this is a kind of typical Washington sham cut. Funding for RDT&E is still in place.

Thanks to Levin’s cut, there have been numerous news stories in the general and trade press — some of them just this month — declaring the gun dead. (We’re told one was in the dead-tree Aviation Week, but we can’t find it online. But the budget is far from finished, the Senate is only one house of a bicameral legislature, and who knows what strange chaos will come out of the inevitable conference committee. After all, it’s not like any of these guys are any good at budgeting.

Story 2: It’s about to go to general issue.

Now recently, the story has burbled up that the XM25′s type classification and general production and fielding was imminent. Like the above story, it’s partially true. Here’s an example of this story at The Firearm Blog, which was a snippet of a much more comprehensive article at SOFREP. And here’s a similar one at Defense Tech, and one at

All of those stories (and a number of their clones) are rewrites of an Army press release from 9 Aug 13, that the original writers did not link to for whatever reason. (TFB actually excerpted and linked the SOFREP article, which seems to have gotten the PR through the rewrite, but added lots of SOFREP’s own content). Here is the Army release so you can read it yourself, rather than us too rewriting and inadvertently transmogrifying it somehow.

Our take on it is a little different than these other respected journalists and bloggers, after going back to the Army release.

The Army said something rather different from “imminent”. They said that a year from now they may be able to go to LRIP and produce 1,100 of these things and field them to infantry and SOF. The combat units would not have them until 2015. The Army press release was 9th August, and is clearly the source for the and Defense Tech posts (they both use the quotes and attributions in the release).

So what we have here, with the best intentions, is a kind of journalistic game of Telephone with the message getting distorted a little as it’s passed along.

Low Rate Initial Production is essentially a production shakedown phase. Right now, the XM25s have been built by hand, and each very short run of prototypes has been different than the one before as both the gun and ammo makers & system integrators, ATK, and the electro-optic system makers, L3, respond to troop surveys and comments, and react to incidents, deficiencies, and maintenance difficulties. It’s one thing to make a gun in the lab, something else to make something your techs can take to the flat range and shoot, and then it’s a whole new world of hard to make something you can issue to your median Army rifleman. (Especially if your intent is to issue it to the next 11B when this one turns it in).

XM25 at a technology display.

XM25 at a technology display.

As you might imagine, being gun guys, something crafted individually by hand is crazily more expensive than something built in series production, even if the whole process is distorted by the cost-plus inflation escalators built into defense procurement regulations. So one reason the Army wants to move this along towards production is to make it “affordable”: which in this case means $35k for a gun and $55 per round. The current costs are more like mid six figures per gun and four figures per round, but then, there have never been more than a dozen or so of these hand-crafted prototypes in the field so far.

So for several reasons, LRIP is a big step up from hand-crafted prototype guns and craft-brewed ammo. At that point, you know the GI isn’t going to break it by looking at it, you’ve got the identified failure modes out of it, and you have a design that’s stable enough you can commit to producing hundreds or a thousand of. They’re not saying they’re at this point now, but they say they expect to be at this point in a year, in August 2014, which means the LRIP will happen mostly in the 2015 budget (which kicks off 1 Oct 2014). The budget the Senate is grandstanding over is the 2014 budget, which runs from 1 Oct 2013 to 30 Sep 2014.

The Army brass sniffs a little at the soldiers’ nickname for the gun: the Punisher. So who’s out of touch here, the guys who carry the thing and hope to punish the enemy with it, or the deskbound officers that fret that “punish” connotes images too atavistic for “staffs, distinguished and doddering generals, and dear little regimental officers who would be deeply concerned over their general’s bowel movements or their colonel’s piles….”

One more thing…

We would call attention to one more thing that has not been highlighted in the other stories: the XM25 is back in action in Afghanistan, with the Army reporting five guns in the field.


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:

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.