Category Archives: Support Weapons

Want a Project? Here’s a Half-Track that Needs Everything

Every so often, we find something at auction that cries out for just the right buyer. This early World War II halftrack is just such a case.

m2-overview

m2-6120As you can see, this M2 (serial number 6120 of about 13,500 M2s made from 1940 to 1943) is lacking all its armor aft of the A pillar, plus the windshield assembly, plus all the stuff that was attached there. It does have an intact driveline that needs maintenance but does work — pretty amazing after at least 73 years.

One of the most interesting things is the original 6-cylinder flathead motor, still trucking after all these years. If you look closely right of center, you can see the “White” script trademark cast into the engine block.

m2-motor

This picture shows the other side of the motor in its native habitat:

m2-original-motor

Reproduction and restoration parts for halftracks are available, but you see what we mean when we say this vehicle needs the right buyer. (Welding and riveting skills a plus!)

While the body is mostly missing (lets you pick your own variant, perhaps), the office looks pretty much untouched since GI Joe last turned it in.

m2-office

The M2 was used as an artillery tractor, mechanized MG squad bus, and reconnaissance track, whilst the more common M3 (~45k built) and less common International Harvester M5 and M9 (~11,000 built) were mostly used as infantry carriers. All variants of halftrack were made into specialized AA, field artillery / tank destroyer, and other special-purpose vehicles, and many of them were supplied to American allies both under Lend-Lease and postwar.

They soldiered on with Israel through the Yom Kippur War, and served in South America into the 21st Century. Bolivia still may operate some ex-Argentine models (or they may have run out of spares, always a problem for the poorest nation on the continent).

How this one wound up at a US Government auction this month, with a minimum bid of $7,000, is anybody’s guess, but there’s a hell of a story in there.

Minimum bid is $7k, and you’ll have to pay a 10% kicker and Illinois state taxes, and remove it within eight days of the auction close (which is 28 September).

M2 Half Track Truck
ITEM NUMBER 766646
LOCATION
Maywood, Illinois, United States. 60153
AUCTION DATE
Sep 28, time TBD

METER READING 41 Hours
SERIAL # M2 6120
White 6 Cylinder Engine, Manual Transmission, Stake Sides, Bench Seating, Tool Box, Additional Undercarriage Components

via Surplus M2 Half Track Truck in Maywood, Illinois, United States (GovPlanet Item #766646).

It does seem to have a second flatbed-load of bogie and idler wheels and other gear, all of which look like they could use overhaul. At that link there are over 100 photos and a video of the motor running (it’s image number 55 if you want to skip ahead in the gallery).

If you buy it, we’ll come out to Illinois and help you load it!

We’d Have Called it the Drone Dropper… or Drone-B-Gon

This anti-drone device is going viral. They’ve clickbaited it well by calling it the Skynet anti-drone rifle, and it can directionally jam the GPS signals a drone needs to navigate, and the wireless video downlink.

skynet-anti-drone-rifle-3The two white and black “barrels” are directional antennae in two separate GHz ranges. The backpack is the necessary power source. Anyone who’s got Electronic Warfare experience will tell you jamming is a power-intensive activity.

skynet-anti-drone-rifle-1If you look at all the pictures available on the company’s website, and watch the video (below), the whole thing appears to be built on a (partial? modified?) AR-15 receiver, with a standard M4 receiver extension and stock. A bit overkill for just something to hang an arduino, a transmitter, and some highly directional (< 10º) antennae on, but it kind of makes sense to give people a familiar interface, and the AR-15 is the point and click interface for the 21st Century.

Along with this video, there’s a new one showing a live test. They claim a “suppression ratio” (difference between the range from the Skynet operator to the drone and the drone controller to the drone) of 8:1, which means (thinking of power squares here) that this jammer has vastly more power than the controller.

The two signal rangess it can jam are 1.450 GHz – 1.650 GHz and 2.380 GHz – 2.483 GHz, but it can only jam one at a time. Available hacks for, for example, the DJI Phantom drone (the one in the video) can take the drone control out of the target range, and could practically be developed for the video range.

There are a few other problems with it, to wit:

  1. As a jammer, it is almost certainly illegal to use in the USA. The Federal Communications Commission takes a dim view of jamming, and has considerable technical and legal resources it deploys to punish violators.
  2. It’s only effective against some common commercial drones and is unlikely to have any impact on a more sophisticated government or military system, which is likely to use robust, high-availability communications, and have backup onboard navigation (usually inertial) that’s immune to jamming or meaconing.
  3. It requires clear line-of-sight to the drone, ergo, it’s only useful as a point-defense weapon.
  4. It requires a human operator and visibility of the target. (How would it work in the dark, against a drone deploying LLLTV? We suppose there’s a Picatinny rail upon which you can mount an image intensifier or thermal sight).
  5. It has the scent of early prototype all over it, and is a long way from a commercial product or (alternatively) a flexible R&D platform. But even experimenting with this thing brings you back around into the sights of the FCC.

Finally, this is, we think, the firm’s first video, from May.

All in all, it smells to us like a gimmick. And within the range of this thing, there are other ways to take out a drone (one lady pestered by paparazzi drones seeking spy shots of a celebrity neighbor demonstrated her wingshooting skills and blew the drone to Kingdom Come. The paparazzi boarded their Range Rover — apparently invading privacy pays well — and were last seen heading back for Gawker HQ or whatever glutinous sump whence they emerged).

This is not the only anti-drone product out there. As well as other jammers, there are counter-drone drones that ram them or drop nets or cables onto their rotors. All of them are similarly immature at present, and no one knows if they represent a real market segment or just hobbyists tinkering.

Wanna Get Your Crank On? With a Gat? (ling?)

Sure, there’s always a couple of vendors trying to sell Colt’s new-edition 1875, 1877 or 1878 Gatling Guns for prices around $50-60k. (There were eleven of them on GunBroker when we put this story to bed last night). What about those of you who jones for a Gatling, but can’t afford the price of a luxo car or SUV for it, or can’t get a decent trade for your first-born child?

Fear not, the cheapskate New Englanders at WeaponsMan.com have your back. Mission: save you money on a Wild West icon, so you can go bankrupt buying blackpowder or Cowboy Action rounds and getting your crank on.

Fun fact about Gatlings: they had been so well employed by one American officer that the US Army’s machine gunners — who were, mostly, under his sway — clung to the Gatling into the 20th Century, long after the armies of Europe and the modern armies of Asia had chosen automatic machine guns.

Item 1: Museum Quality Gatling Gun w Carriage 45LC Mag

Price: Buy it now for $18k, or make an bid on the penny auction — against the unknown reserve. No bids yet.

Gatling Portland 01

Great looking Gat(ling).

Seller’s been trying to unload this gat since 2015, at least on GunBroker and at the Portland, OR gun show. Initially he wanted $30k, then $25, and now he’s down to $18k. Ground shipping to your FFL (it’s a Title 1 firearm) is $600.

$18k too high? Let’s move on.

Item 2: Replica Gatling Gun in 45 Black Powder

Price: No Reserve sale with minimum bid of $10k, or actually $5 under that number. No bids yet.

Gatling Tucson 02

This one’s not as impressive as the $18k gun; it has a homemade-y look. But it’s $10k plus actual shipping from a gun shop in Tucson. The seller says:

Up for auction is a Modern Replica of a Gatling Gun, built in the 1980’s by a machinist who was also a civil war re-enactor.

6 barrels. Working Black Powder Gatling Gun, designed to fire cap and ball blanks only but barrels are .45 caliber and rifled.

Perfect for Recreations, Movies or Stage Prop. The gun has been a fixture in the shop for years and gets a lot of attention but it is time for us to change some of our decor so it is reluctantly for sale.

Item 3: GATLING GUN FULLY- FUNCTIONAL LIVE-FIRE 45 L.C.

Price: No Reserve sale with minimum bid of $7k, or actually $5 under that number. No bids yet.

While this is the price leader of the authentic(ish) Gatlings, it seems to be a high-quality piece with a lot of brass. The seller complicated his sale by not taking a single good picture of the whole Gatling, but there are some character-rich detail shots. The business end:

Gatling OK 04

And here’s the rear half, left side:

Gatling OK 03

The rear half, right side:

Gatling OK 01

And the forward:

Gatling OK 02

Sure, it’s not for everybody. Some guys will complain about its lack of Picatinny rails and others will turn it down because there is no place to mount a bayonet. The magazine capacity probably makes it illegal in Massachusetts, Colorado, California, and North Korea.

But it would be worth the price of the ammo (and the target frames) to crank this puppy up from time to time… maybe on the anniversary of the Little Big Horn.

But there you go — three options for less than the somewhat stiff cost of entry to the Colt Repro Gatling Club. Just the thing for getting your crank on.

And on the other hand, if you feel diffident about saving money on a 19th Century classic firearm, there are eleven Colt replicas available for up to $60k.

But if you feel diffident about saving money on anything under the sun, we don’t know what you are but you are not a cheapskate New Englander.

Silenced Enfield Obrez…? Uh, no.

Hey, what’s this? We found it on a Russian forum, and it almost looks like a suppressed version of one of those cut-down Mosin “Obrez” sawn-offs used by various  Russian mischief makers. But that can’t be what it really is. Where would Russians get a Lee Enfield (well, apart from any left behind by the Allied intervention in Archangelsk 1918-19)?

Enfield GL

A pre-World War I vintage “Sht. L.E. III” which breaks out to “Short Lee Enfield Mk III,” it says here:

Enfield GL 3

It has a King’s Crown and the cartouche ER, of Edward VII, who was King and Emperor in the first decade of the 20th Century. (He was succeeded by George V, King during the First World War).

It even looks a little like a suppressor if you take it down:

Enfield GL 4

But we’ll let you in on a secret — the muzzle end is wide open, like the X Products “Can Cannon.” That’s a clue. Know what it is yet?

Here it is in place, wrapped up:

Enfield GL 5

…and unwrapped. Got it yet?Enfield GL 6

It’s a grenade launcher for the light Universal Carrier, aka Bren-Gun Carrier, a tiny armored vehicle much used by British and Commonwealth forces and descended from the flimsy Carden-Lloyd light tanks of the 1920s. The launchers were meant to be used with blanks only to fire (as far as we know, only smoke) grenades. Depending on the Mark of the Carrier and where it was built, this launcher might have been built on any available .303 action — Enfield, Ross, or even Martini. Here’s a Martini one in context:

Carrier 010

Yes, the Bren gunner or TC served this launcher from the left seat, whilst the driver jockeyed the vehicle from the right (even in the Canadian models, made in vast quantities by Ford of Canada and still occasionally turning up rusty in a Saskatchewan wheatfield). This sketch shows you where it all goes in the Mark II carrier (this one set up for a Boys 0.55″ Anti-Tank Rifle crew).

carrier mk 2

It was a tight fit for several men and all their kit in this tiny armored fighting vehicle, and it was at the mercy of nearly anything the Germans or Italians chose to fire at it. But you go to war with the Army you have.

Puts British and Commonwealth nerve in a bit of perspective, to think of calling this “armor.” It’s at the very bottom of the mechanized war food chain.

Here are a couple of pictures of restored carriers. The firearms and helmets should give you some idea of the scale of these toy poodles of the tank world:

Enfield GL 7 enfield GL 8

After the jump, two videos of running carriers: one enthusiastically driven (he actually drifts a curve), and the New Zealanders Motor Vehicles Collectors Club in 2015, breaking an Aussie record for most running carriers at a display!

Continue reading

“Say Hello to My Little Friend!”

You too can greet people like Al Pacino, improbably cast as a youthful Marielito thug in Brian de Palma’s Scarface, did, if you drop a bit of coin on this. Actually, you can do it more quietly, because this M16A1/M203 is suppressed.“Tony Montana, political ref-oo-gee from Cuba” was many things, but quiet wasn’t one of ’em.

Jackson M16A1 01Flip side:

Jackson M16A1 02Just the thing, for when your betrayed Colombian partner wants to hold you to his interpretation of “free trade.” Along with the registered and transferable Colt M16A1 lower:

Jackson M16A1 05Which has a later Colt M4 upper on it (note the forged-in “C” below the rear sight and behind the forge’s keyhole trade mark):

Jackson M16A1 04…you also get a Colt M203, in what looks like the full-house 12″ barrel:

Jackson M16A1 06Jackson M16A1 03…but with the circa-1990s dual-purpose mount for A2 and M4. (If you buy this and just want the M16, drop us a line about the 203. Seriously). And yes, you can use the KAC SOPMOD I rail kit with this (not the bottom rail, obviously). We know ’cause that’s what we did.

But, now for the bad news. We might have been fibbing a mite about the “bit of coin” part. The stinging three $200 transfer taxes (which gives ATF three shots at delaying your transfer!) are pretty trivial in the grand scheme of things: thanks to anti-gun politicians William Hughes and Charles Rangel, who jammed through the Hughes Amendment on a bogus voice vote in the middle of the night, it’s got an asking price of forty freaking thousand dollars.

If we pay that for anything that does’t come with a deed, the lawyer and the court need to assure us that the paperwork is final and she really is out of our life for good, and has no further comebacks on us. In writing.

Jackson M16A1 07Still, it’s kind of a nice gun.

Paratroops vs. Tanks, 1945

C-47_transport_planes_release_hundreds_of_paratroopsThe little-studied and nearly forgotten last airborne operation of World War II, Operation Varsity, eventuated along the Rhine River on March 24, 1945. The participants had no way of knowing it, but they were six weeks from V-E Day and the end of the War in Europe. That end happened for many reasons, in part because the Western Allies forced the Rhine in March. (But had the Allies been held or thrown back, the Germans still would have lost, because the Red Army was coming from the East in any event).

Both sides came to the Rhine fight with Operation Market-Garden in Holland and Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein (called “The Battle of the Bulge” by the Americans in its path) in the Ardennes fresh in mind. One was an Allied fight, one a German, but both were ambitious offensives that fell far short of their goals. The American division that would be tabbed for Operation Varsity,  the 17th Airborne, had come in at the end of the Bulge to hold the cleared salient to Bastogne open, and to push the Germans back. They knew what fighting against German armored counterattacks would be like. The Germans holding their side of the river knew that the Allies had as many as four paratroop and glider divisions opposite them, and they knew just how weakened their units were by the endless meatgrinder of combat (one division was down to 4,000 men, counting walking wounded; that was about what the 17th was short after the Ardennes casualties, but the American unit got replacements).

One thing everybody knew: paratroops were overmatched by tanks. The Germans expected the Allies to land by night and planned to crush them by tanks at first light. The paratroops knew they needed to kill tanks. The problem was: it takes a hard hit by a heavy shot to kill a tank, and things that fired hard-hitting heavy shots tended to be bulky and heavy — not something you could jump out of a C-46 or C-47 with.

In the Ardennes, along Dead Man’s Ridge northwest of Bastogne, a paratroop sergeant named Isidore Jachman had engaged a German tank formation with the only organic AT weapon the airborne infantryman had, the 2.36″ (~60mm) Rocket Launcher (aka Bazooka).

M1-M1A1 2.36 inch bazooka

Jachman engaged two tanks, killing one and forcing a German retreat, but enemy fire killed Jachman, who became, posthumously, 17th’s only Medal of Honor recipient prior to Varsity. His citation:

For heroism January 04, 1945 at Flamierge, Belgium. When his company was pinned down by enemy artillery, mortar, and small arms fire, two hostile tanks attacked the unit, inflicting heavy casualties. Staff Sergeant Jachman, seeing the desperate plight of his comrades, left his place of cover and with total disregard for his own safety dashed across open ground through a hail of fire and seizing a bazooka from a fallen comrade advanced on the tanks, which concentrated their fire on him. Firing the weapon alone, he damaged one and forced both to retire. Staff Sergeant Jachman’s heroic action, in which he suffered fatal wounds, disrupted the entire enemy attack.

57mm and halftrack

57mm and halftrack prime movers.

The AT armament of the paratroops would be carried by gliders. By 1945, the inadequate 37mm gun (called by the British the two-pounder) was retired and the standard gliderborne airborne-unit AT gun was the 57mm, a good weapon for 1941 but hopeless against 1945 main battle tanks; the British users called it the six-pounder. (British and American guns had different carriages but the same tube).

In other American units, the prime mover for the 57mm AT was a half-track or a 1 1/2 ton Dodge 6×6 truck. The glider units had to make do with jeeps as prime movers. Carrying a sufficient ammo supply was a problem, and the gun and the jeep each needed their own Waco or Horsa glider.

An American AT gunner in another unit remembers this weapon:

My platoon was three 57mm Anti-Tank guns. A squad of 10 men for each gun. This gun was a reworked British “6 pounder”, so called because it fired a 6-pound projectile. Our version had good ballistics. A muzzle velocity of about 3000 fpm. It would penetrate 2 inches of armor plate and ricochet with killing velocity about 50 times. It sure didn’t look very impressive. The gunner had to kneel or sit to look though the sight.

A British 6 pounder (57mm) showing the crew's kneeling position.

A British 6 pounder (57mm) showing the crew’s kneeling position.

His crew got a lucky hit on a Panther that let them barrage the tank and drive the crew out of it.

We had gotten our kill!  That hole in their defense had to be covered by adjoining Panthers.  Later a Bazooka team got another one. …  At least we were no longer kidded about our “Little Pea Shooter”.  Most didn’t consider the 57mm much of a weapon.

The 57 had definite limits when engaging modern tanks.  But it was far more accurate and longer-ranged than the bazooka!

British forces had another option. Two batteries that airlanded on Varsity had three troops each with 6-pounders and one with 17-pounders. The 17-pounder was a high velocity 76.2mm weapon. This was, much more than its 6-pounder sibling, an effective AT weapon, but it was a lot bigger — by the time it, and its crew and prime mover were all lined up, it was a 17 thousand  pound logistical nut to crack. They could only deliver these by the gigantic General Aircraft Hamilcar glider. And glider delivery was always risky. Two Glider Pilot Regiment Sergeants, Peter Young and Neville Shaw had one of these heavy guns in a Hamilcar that didn’t get off its departure runway. Young:

Our load was a 15-hundredweight truck and a 17-pounder antitank gun, with a crew of eight soldiers, 70 rounds of ammunition, and spare petrol. The total weight was around 17,800 pounds.

We have the distinction of completing the shortest flight. On take off, the Halifax [tow plane] got into a tangle in the slipstream of the aircraft in front and cast me off. There was no choice but to put down in the overshoot. There was a spare loaded glider, but it was decided not to use this.1

Shoulder patch of the now-forgotten 17th Airborne Division.

Shoulder patch of the now-forgotten 17th
Airborne Division.

In the American forces, there was no formal anti-tank organization, unlike the British unit’s. Instead, the 17th’s 155th Anti-Aircraft Battalion picked up anti-tank duty, and the weapons to go with it. (This may have been because of the weakness of the Luftwaffe by March 1945). Oddly enough, the unit had a mix of British 6-pounders and American 57mm, but since the tubes and ammo were the same, the mixture had no practical effect.

But a new wonder weapon came to the battalion less than two weeks before showtime: the 75mm Recoilless Rifle.

Exactly two of these newfangled gadgets replaced six-pounders, one in each of two batteries. One of the crewmen, Corporal Eugene Howard, remembers:

It looked a lot like a fancy bazooka. It had a 7 foot long rifle barrel mounted on a yoke, with a pin on the bottom of the yoke to fit onto a .50-caliber machine gun tripod. The rifle weighed about 175 pounds and the tripod weighed about 65 pounds.

75mm rifle

M20 RCL sightThe gun was fitted with a new electronic sighting device that made it more accurate than the sight on the 57 mm [recoilless rifle]. In one respect it was like a bazooka: when the gun fired, a blaze of hot gases came out the rear of the gun with an equal force to the projectile coming out the muzzle. It had an effective range of about 1,500 yards.

The jeep was modified to carry the gun. The tripod mount was secured to the floor of the back section of the Jeep. A cradle for the barrel was welded to the front bumper of the jeep. One of the advantages of the gun was that it could be fired from the jeep. It could even be fired with the Jeep moving. Since we did not have to pull the 57-millimeter we would get a jeep trailer to haul ammunition. This meant we could haul more ammunition than we could for the 57-millimeter.2

Howard found the 75mm recoilless rifle worked well. The first time they were called on to use it, they killed a “self-propelled 88” (probably actually a 75mm StuG-III). Then they got the jeep into defilade, and began running the 75 against German vehicles, troops, and even an OP in a church steeple.

But that’s another story. What Howard and his gunner Pete found out was that the 75mm was an effective tank buster, within its limits, and they set a trend in paratroop AT weapons that lasted until the missile age. (Indeed, Russian and Chinese factories still produce much improved, larger caliber lightweight recoilless rifles).

Notes

  1. Wright, p. 68.
  2. Wright, p. 9.

Sources

Wright, Stephen L. The Last Drop: Operation Varsity, March 24-25, 1945. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

Why Were Cannons Bronze?

This Bronze 1857 "Napoleon" is a Steen reproduction. They didn't shine like this in field use!

This Bronze 1857 “Napoleon” is a Steen reproduction. They didn’t shine like this in field use!

Long after the Bronze Age was over for swords, knives and pole-weapon heads, the prehistoric alloy was still used for cannon. Why?

Because while iron and early, uneven-quality steel were fine for contact or melee weapons, they weren’t a sure thing for containing the violent deflagration of gunpowder that launches cannon projectiles towards one’s enemy. Bronze could be cast and machined with high consistency.

It turns out that this question has already been studied at length — and we’ll quote from a 2002 thesis by Chuck Meide at the College of William and Mary. (The whole thesis will be attached at the end of this post as a .pdf. It’s full of gems like this).

Writing at the end of the muzzle-loader era, British artillery officer Manley Dixon in 1858 summed up nicely the required material qualities necessary to create ordnance:

The material should be hard, so as not to yield too easily to the action of the ball when passing out of the bore; tenacious, so as to resist the explosive power of the Gunpowder and not to burst; and lastly, elastic, so that the particles of the material of which the Gun is composed should, after the vibration caused by the discharge, return to their original position (McConnell 1988: 15).

 Bronze and iron were the only two metals with these requisite qualities available to historic gunfounders, and bronze was long considered the superior metal for ordnance manufacture. Up until the third quarter of the sixteenth century, however, iron guns outnumbered bronze pieces, though the former were almost all wrought iron, of decidedly inferior quality. The most powerful guns had to be cast, not hand-wrought, and as cast iron guns were overly heavy or dangerously unreliable, bronze was the material of choice throughout the 16th century. Though Henry VIII’s Mary Rose (wrecked in 1545) displayed a marked diversity of bronze and iron ordnance (Guilmartin 1994: 148) by 1569 the decision was made to equip Queen Elizabeth’s navy entirely with cast bronze guns (Lavery 1987: 84).

The main disadvantage of bronze guns was their price, which was generally three to four times higher than iron guns (Cipolla 1965: 42). In 1570 England, iron ordnance cost £10 to £20 per ton while bronze cost £40 to £60. With improvements in iron casting techniques, the price of iron began to fall by the turn of the century, and the difference in cost began to steadily increase, so that by 1670 iron cost only £18 per ton, while bronze cost £150 for the same amount (Lavery 1987: 84). As the principle maritime powers continued to increase the size of their navies in the 17th century, this cost became prohibitively expensive. An example, to put this greater cost in perspective: the four small bronze cannons carried as cargo on the French ship La Belle (wrecked in Matagorda Bay, Texas in 1686) cost more to manufacture than did the entire vessel! (personal communication, John de Bry, 1996)

Not surprisingly, rulers in the first half of the 17th century began to mandate and subsidize experimentation in iron gunfounding, in order to improve the quality of iron ordnance. Other than expense, however, bronze guns were still superior to iron ones in almost every way. Bronze was stronger, withstood the shock of discharge better, and lasted longer at sea. Bronze also was easier to cast, could be re-cast, and could be easily embellished with decoration. Because of this last quality, along with their hefty price tag, bronze guns also served as status symbols, an aspect whose importance should not be overlooked in the 17th century, when capital ships represented not only the might but the prestige of the king.

Despite the fact that bronze is 20% heavier than iron, bronze guns were lighter than their counterparts because the stronger metal could be used to make thinner guns of the same caliber (Tucker 1989: 10). The dramatic weight differences between bronze and iron guns of the same caliber are illustrated in Table 1 (keeping in mind that a gun of the same size and metal could vary by as much as 2-3 hundredweight or 224-336 lbs) (Tucker 1989: 10). The reduced weight of bronze ordnance was particularly important for field artillery.

Gun Size Bronze Guns Iron Guns
Length Weight Length Weight
shot weight feet cwt lbs kg feet cwt lbs kg
42-pdr 10 66 7392 3356 75 8400 3814
32-pdr 91⁄2 54 6048 2746 91⁄2 57 6384 2898
24-pdr 10 46 5152 2339 91⁄2 49 5488 2492
18-pdr 91⁄2 40 4480 2034 91⁄2 42 4704 2136
12-pdr 91⁄2 31 3472 1576 91⁄2 36 4032 1831
9-pdr 9 28 3136 1424 9 30 3360 1525
6-pdr 9 19 2128 966 81⁄2 21 2352 1068

Table 1. Comparison of the weight of bronze and iron British naval guns, ca. 1742. Adapted from Gardiner1979: Table 8. Original source, undated table in British Admiralty records (ADM 106/3067). “cwt”=hundredweight, or 112 pounds.

One especially salient advantage was that bronze guns were less likely to break while firing, and when they did the barrel usually bulged or split open longitudinally at the breech rather than explode. When iron cannon burst they tended to shatter and fly to pieces, which caused much more catastrophic damage to nearby personnel (Tucker 1989: 10; Kennard 1986: 161; Guilmartin 1983: 563). Figure 7 illustrates the striking difference between two failed guns, one of bronze and the other of iron. Improved iron casting techniques and gun design, however, would help solve this problem, though the reinforced guns had thicker metal at the breech and reinforces, increasing their weight. While iron guns were never considered as safe as bronze pieces, by the 1630s both England and Sweden were exporting iron guns of reputable quality (Cipolla 1965: 43; Kennard 1986: 161).

bronze_vs_iron_cannon_failureFigure 7. Two guns, one bronze and one iron, that have catastrophically failed (burst). The upper gun is a bronze 6-pdr, cast by Richard Gilpin in 1756 (526 lbs/238.8 kg, 4’ 6”/1.372 m long). This English gun burst at St. Lucia in 1783, tearing open longitudinally at the first and second reinforces. Currently housed at the Museum of Artillery Rotunda, Woolwich, from McConnell 1988: Figure 15. The lower gun is all that is left of an iron cannon that exploded, with massive loss of life, while firing on English troops invading St. Augustine on 10 November 1702. Photograph by the author.

The sole disadvantage of bronze as a gunfounding material was its propensity to heat up quickly, which meant that when firing a great number of shots in continuous action it was prone to becoming soft and susceptible to sagging or other bore damage (McConnell 1988: 15). Due to the nature of 16th and early 17th century naval tactics, however, this defect was not readily apparent; by the time of the great broadside to broadside slugfests of the 18th century, ships had already exchanged their bronze guns for iron ones. It would not be until the sieges of the Peninsular campaigns of the early 19th century that this defect became widely known (Kennard 1986: 162; Fisher 1976: 279-280).

What caused bronze to finally lose its throne? First came some centuries of technological improvements, which had English and Swedish gun makers producing solid, safe iron naval guns by the time of the American Revolution.

Terrestrial artillery was another matter. Bronze first was replaced in large siege guns in the early 1800s, but the weight advantage kept bronze 6-pounders and mortars in the field for the British Army in the 1850s and 60s respectively, and the US didn’t give up the smoothbore 12-pounder bronze Napoleon until long after other armies had done so — until the 1880s, in fact.

The thesis covers all this and more (including what all the confusing traditional names for muzzle-loading bronze artillery, such as culverin and falconet, signify).

Meide2002_Bronze.pdf

 

More AT Rifles for Sale

If you missed last week’s Boys Mk.I., that’s OK, there are other anti-tank rifles on the market. Just the thing for when “they” come, although to be sure these haven’t been tested against flying saucers.

Collector weapons dealer Bob Adams (whose long dark night of ATF persecution seems to be over, in his favor) has several Anti-Tank Rifles for sale at the moment.

I: 20mm Lahti Semi-Auto: $10k

The first is a registered 20mm Lahti Model L-39:

Lahti AT Rifle

Bob writes:

Description and pictures to follow shortly. This is a live destructive device requiring a $200 transfer tax. It has a Russian Heavy Machine Gun (DShK) tripod adapted to it by the Finns during WWII. The tripod alone is rare.

All he has at the moment is the stock photo and a picture of such a weapon in use by the Finns.

II: 20mm Solothurn M/39 Model S-1000 Semi-Auto: $12k

This is the Lahti’s Swiss cousin.

solothurn AT Rifle

Bob says:

This was recently deactivated by drilling holes in the barrel. It can be re-activated by replacing the barrel and filing a Form 1 with ATF or rebarreled (or sleeved) to .50 BMG with no ATF registration.

We’re kind of doubtful a .50 x 99 conversion would be quite that easy, but people have done it.

Finally, we get to the king of beasts, historically speaking:

III: 1918 Mauser T-Gewehr: $10k with .50 BMG barrel and original barrel.

This is the original, single-shot, bolt-action Mauser anti-tank rifle, the gun that inspired the .50 Browning cartridge and machine gun. It’s set up as a shooter, but no irreversible alterations have been made to this historic piece.

Mauser T-Gewehr

The .50 barrel is mounted. The inset shows the original 13 x

Rare Mauser Tank-Gewehr 13mm WWI Anti-Tank rifle with extra .50 barrel. Rare and historic German military anti-tank rifle made in 1918 by Mauser to defeat early tanks. All matching and complete with original bipod. Very good condition with much blue & some brown patina. Very good or better original bore which can be improved. Excellent .50 Browning 45″ barrel w/scope rail installed on barrel for shooting. Original parts unaltered and complete with the original barrel! Note: ATF has ruled these are not a destructive device.

This is a close-up of the single-shot breech and the sturdy scope-mount rail as installed. As you can see, it attaches to the barrel, leaving the receiver unmarked.

Mauser T-Gewehr breech

Of these, in our opinion the one with the greatest historic significance and the best potential for appreciation is the original T-Gewehr. But all these guns are priced in Barrett territory, which makes them (in our opinion, for whatever value you may give that) underpriced.

 

Japanese Infantry Anti-Tank Weapons of WWII

500px-Naval_Ensign_of_Japan.svgRecently we’ve been talking about AT Rifles. The biggest that were deployed were the semi-auto Solothurn (used by Germany and Hungary), the comparable Lahti (Finland), in 20mm, and the daddy of them all, the 20 x 125mm Type 97 of Japan.

You don’t hear much about Japanese anti-tank warfare. In part this is because, by the time Japanese forces were about to fight Allied tanks, they were logistically starved, down to eating tree bark, and, in some of the last island campaigns, their own and American dead.

The 1200 Type 97s made were scattered across the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. You couldn’t count on a supply of special anti-tank ammunition. Anti-tank tactics, for the retreating Japanese, involved infantry swarms on isolated tanks, or use of anti-tank artillery or general purpose field guns in direct-fire AT engagements.

The Russians had already encountered (and captured) some of these weapons in the fighting at Khalkin Gol in the so-called Manchurian Incident in 1939, so they knew what to expect when they declared war on Japan in 1945. The US on the other hand did not see the weapon until late in the war (we believe, in the Philippines).

The Type 97 was a real beast, weighing 50 kilograms empty (110 lbs). There is some irony in the nation with the smallest soldiers producing the largest anti-tank rifle. The Japanese Army had a clever solution — handles clipped on to the rifle that let four men carry it, like stretcher bearers (a similar approach was used to handle heavy machine guns).

Type 97 AT Rifle with handles (image from world.guns.ru).

Type 97 AT Rifle with handles (image from world.guns.ru).

The gas-operated semi-auto rifle was fired from a bipod attached to the gas tube and a rear monopod attached to the forward end of the buttstock. It used a locking wedge to hold a bolt and carrier together initially on firing. We’ve never seen a photo with an optical sight, but there must have been one; Japan made superior optics even then, and many Japanese MGs were fitted with optical sights so it stands to reason the AT rifle would have had them.

By 1944 the AT rifle was a no-hoper in terms of engaging American tanks. But Japan’s ally, Germany, came through with samples and drawings of the Panzerschreck aka Ofenrohr anti-tank weapon. Essentially it was the US Army’s 2.36 inch rocket launcher, scaled up to 88mm bore (about 3.5″) and capable of a frontal-armor penetration and kill on most world tanks.

Japan made a modified copy of the German AT rocket launcher, which they called the Type 4 Anti-Tank Rocket Launcher. The firing mechanism was a direct copy, and the rocket and warhead were very similar, albeit scaled down to 75mm.

Japanese Type 4 70mm AT launcher 2 Japanese Type 4 70mm AT launcher

The tube was a meter and a half long (1525mm, or 61″). Fortunately, the unwieldy tube broke down into two halves for carrying. Crew drill and firing positions were very similar to that of the American or German counterparts, although the Japanese provided a bipod like the one on their light machine guns.  The sighting system was rudimentary: a rear peep sight and two front posts, one over the other, the upper post for 50 meters and the lower accounting for the rocket drop at 100 meters. The sights were welded to the left side of the tube and protruded about 2 inches to the left; the gunner took the left side and the loader the right of the weapon. As with any rocket launcher, the backblast was hazardous and the launch signature made the area of the launch a magnet for enemy suppressive fire.

This weapon, had it been issued in quantity, might have been problematic for American (and once they joined the war on Japan in the summer of ’45, Russian) tankers, except that production of the system began very late, and very few were produced (perhaps only hundreds). Those that were produced may have been retained for defense of the home islands, a defense that was canceled by the unconditional Japanese surrender to the Allied Powers. A Honshu defender who had a Type 4 was well equipped indeed, as many of his fellows had nought but lunge mines (which are exactly what they sound like) or bamboo spears. Still, he would one of millions of lives saved by the nuclear bombing and resulting cancellation of the invasion, and is probably a lucky man that he never fired a Type 4 at an American tank.

Sources

Natzvaladze, Yuri A. The Trophies of the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War. Mesa, AZ: Champlin Fighter Museum, 1996.

Popenker, Maxim. Type 97 anti-tank rifle (Japan). World.guns.ru, n.d. Retrieved from: http://world.guns.ru/atr/jap/type-97-e.html

 

 

Another American Anti-Tank Rifle — Wait, Two of Them!

No sooner had we written that the T1E1 Anti-Tank Rifle of 1940-44 was “the only US AT Rifle” when we saw another AT Rifle mentioned in passing in a very interesting Bruce Canfield article on Winchester’s Light Rifle. (Hat tip, TFB). We got the notion to look it up and found this AT Rifle… but, while it’s a Winchester Anti-Tank rifle not the one Bruce mentioned. He referred to a WWII rifle that was a scaled up version of David M. Williams’s short-stroke gas-piston action.  This is a WWI bolt gun, and a strange one it is.

The Winchester Pugsley .50 AT Rifle

pugsleys__50_winchester_at_rifle

The gun in the photo (which comes from Houze’s Winchester Repeating Arms Company, where this oddball is briefly covered on pp. 189-192) is clearly not a finished work, but a development mule.

Edwin Pugsley. Detail of photo in Houze, p. 223.

Edwin Pugsley. Detail of photo in Houze, p. 223.

The firearm was designed by Edwin Pugsley, an important designer for Winchester in the first half of the 20th Century. Pugsley did not have the celebrity profile of Williams; he seems to have been quietly productive, a kind man with a mischievous personality. He rose over the years into engineering management; Winchester’s success shows he was a good selection, even if he’ll never have a biopic, a Bureau of Prisons history, or anecdotes about threatening co-workers’ lives over professional disagreements. He did have some remarkable friends, incuding Carl Swebelius of High Standard (Winchester’s toolroom wound up making several prototypes for Swebelius on the strength of this friendship) and cartoonist Charles Addams, who modeled a recurring character in his “Addams Family” strip (which ran in the New Yorker) on his friend.

pugsley

Returning to the rifle itself, its appearance is more redolent of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, than anything you’d expect to see from Winchester. The bare finish and exposed mechanicals show that it’s a long way from being ready to go to the Western Front, and it appears to have been put away when war’s end froze it in this state of arrested development. It’s clearly meant to have a bipod or tripod. What looks like it might be cooling fins actually appears to  be a spring, associated with the gun mount, and acting to moderate recoil. Assuming the .50 round intended here was the .50 BMG, the weapon appears to have a 10-round magazine and be approximately the same size as a modern Barrett.

The pistol grip, which is styled like that of an M1911 service pistol, also serves as the operating handle: it has a 90º counterclockwise throw, then the gunner slides it back and the top-mounted magazine presents the next round. Here’s an image from the patent for this unusual feature.

pugsleys_at_rifle_patent

The tubular receiver is billet steel. The strange pistol-grip/bolt has two forward locking lugs, and aft, has two widened bearing areas that slide on the inside of the tubular receiver. The extractor seems to be modeled on Mauser practice, and the ejector appears to be welded or otherwise secured inside the left side of the receiver to eject spent casings (or unfired cartridges) out the right-side ejection port.

The quantity built cannot be many, and it does not seem to have been ready for field trials at the time development was called off. Houze’s verdict was that “The anti-tank rifle, designed in 1918 by Edwin Pugsley, is of note more for its outlandish appearance than its mechanics.”1

But wait! That leaves the Williams gun still hanging out there, and we can’t have that.

The Winchester Williams .50 AT Rifle

Williams was an interesting character, an ex-con who became a firearms designer (couldn’t happen under today’s laws; ATF would yank one’s 07 FFL for hiring him) and had his own biopic (with Jimmy Stewrt, no less). The biopic is great fun but rather disconnected from real life, and definitely all wet about Williams’s design efforts — he did not design the M1 Carbine, and was not on the team that developed it. The Carbine only uses his patented gas system. What he did design, though, was a semi- and full-automatic action that scaled rather readily from .30 carbine to .30-06 to .50 BMG, and that was ultimately developed in four versions (with few cross-version interchangeable parts, but complete commonality of design and mechanical principles).

The four versions were carbine, rifle, automatic rifle (a BAR competitor that probably deserves its own post), and anti-tank rifle, the one that concerns us today. The principal virtues of the Williams design were light weight and simplicity compared to its competitors — even its carbine version was lighter and simpler than the light, simple M1 designed by another team at Winchester, using Williams’s patented gas piston. The Winchester Automatic Rifle was pounds lighter than the BAR, and the semi-auto service rifle version lighter than the Garand. A side benefit of this light weight was reduced material requirements, perhaps not a big deal when you’re making one rifle but of national significance when you’re making millions. (World War II German and Soviet weapons-selection documents also show that those nations took material use and machine time into account when downselection options for manufacture).

So of course, we had to keep looking, and in the same book we did find the 1940 Winchester Williams Anti-Tank rifle, just as Canfield told us.

winchester_williams_at_rifle

Houze describes it as one of…

…a series of arms based upon David M. Williams’ design. While the carbine he had developed, as an alternative to the M1 carbine, was not completed until December1941, it was viewed as “unquestionably an advance on the one that was accepted.”

One of the advantages of the Williams’ design (Plates 294 and 295) was that it allowed the action to be stripped for cleaning or replacing broken parts simply by removing a bolt housing that was secured to the receiver by an interrupted thread locking ring. Williams also employed a superior lockwork than that used in either the M1 carbine or M1 rifle. Plate293
In acknowledgment of the design’s advantages, samples were made in .30carbine, .30-60 and .50 caliber.

Though Ordnance Department tests of the .30-06 rifle version demonstrated its marked superiority over the standard M1 rifle, it was to be the light machine gun and anti-tank versions that aroused the most interest. Both of the latter incorporated an ingenious device to dampen recoil. By placing two strong coil springs on either side of the barrel breech that were attached to a recoiling lug on the barrel, Williams was able to transfer a considerable amount of the recoil forces into the springs, thereby absorbing its energy. The effect of this was to reduce the general recoil of both the light machine gun and the anti-tank rifle to the point that they were essentially recoilless. This meant that both arms could be used by infantrymen without undue stress being placed upon them during firing, a major benefit from the standpoint of accuracy as well as use. However, by the time these designs were selected for any serious testing, the war was almost over.2

One of the curiosities that surfaced during this investigation was the Winchester Tank Killer.

Curiously, it was during the testing of the .50 caliber Williams anti-tank rifle that the Winchester company seriously considered entering the automotive business for the second time in its history. On this occasion, however, unlike in 1909, the company toyed with the idea of manufacturing a light armored vehicle in which the anti-tank rifle could be mounted. Based upon a surviving photograph of the Winchester “Tank Killer,” it had an overall length of approximately twelve feet and a height of four feet. The forward section of the vehicle had sloping armor, and the tracks were powered by a 1939 Chrysler Imperial engine. No record exists as to its width or crew capacity, though the size would probably have only allowed two. Other than the one built in December 1944, it is doubtful whether any others were made.3

Unfortunately, we have been unable to find a photograph of the Winchester Tank Killer. Houze notes (p. 285) that the late Lt.Col. WilliamS.Brophy had “an 8×10-inch black-and-white print of this photograph with manuscript notations of the vehicle’s specifications,” but the current whereabouts of this image is unknown. We are also still in the dark as to how many of the AT rifles were made, and when, if ever, they were tested. It seems unlikely it would have had a chance, having less power than the .60 calibre (15.2 x 114) T1E1, although certainly being lighter and more easily handled.

Notes

  1. Houze, p. 189.
  2. Houze, pp. 276-278.
  3. Houze, p. 278.

Sources

Houze, Herbert. Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Iota, WI: Krause Publications, 2004.