Category Archives: Support Weapons

A Little More Info on VT Fuzes

Proximity_FuzesIn the comments, someone asked how long it took for the Russians to develop VT Fuzes, after the Rosenbergs gave them plans1. In attempting to answer this question (which we still have not done), we came across an excellent study and engineering text on VT fuze development by Dr VK Arora. Dr Arora’s book is supposedly available from the Defense Research and Development Office in India ($45 in the USA); we can’t figure out how to buy it, though. If we could, we could arbitrage them on Amazon where they’re going for $99!

Fortunately, DRDO has put the first chapter, which includes the historical stuff, on their website. The rest of the book, the real meat of it, is tech and theory that you don’t really need if you’re in it for the history. (If you do want that stuff, even $99 is a good buy).

It took the US only 2-3 years from giving the project priority to the first Aichi Val down in flames alongside USS Helena. Dr VK Arora notes that India was able to develop VT fuzes and field them for its Army’s 75-mm and 105-mm field artillery over the nine years from 1966 to 1975. However, their first successful design was tested six months after the project started.

Of course, development is eased if you, like the Russians and Indians, but unlike the original British researchers or the Americans who took up their task, know for certain that the product is indeed feasible and practical. Russia knew that, and had some plans and documentation, but were far short of the process sheets they’d need to duplicate all the industrial processes that went into the intricate fuzes.

India had more than the Russians did, with samples of British naval fuzes to study and reverse engineer. But the naval fuzes were much too large for India’s compact WWII-vintage field artillery, which included the following:

  • 75mm/L24 pack howitzers, an important mountain gun for India
  • The British Royal Ordnance Quick Firing 25-pounder (3.45″/87.6mm) gun-howitzer. These guns were colonial leftovers, and this fuze appears not to have been fielded. (Pakistan, oddly enough, still fields these geriatric guns in quantity).
  • The 105mm Indian Field Gun (a domestic development optimized for mobility in India’s varied terrain).
  • The Russian D-46 130mm gun

In addition to the Army fuzes, the same Indian labs developed fuzes for the Navy:

  • 76.2mm Naval Gun
  • 4.5″ (actually 4.45″/113 mm, a British caliber) Naval Gun.

The initial 6-month success story in 1966 was substantially simplified and sped by a thorough understanding of how earlier fuzes, including the WWII vacuum-tube fuzes, worked. The Indian effort was organized much like the American one had been, with scientists in government-funded labs working with the support of the military for testing and industry (in India’s case, nationalized industry) for production. But in the 1960s, transistors offered a way to simplify and ruggedize the fuzes further, and the Indian engineers didn’t miss their chance. In March, 1966, Dr Arora himself at the Defense Research and Development Organization…

…with a team of three other young scientists, PC Nagpal, MN Sen, GJ Chaturvedi and two technicians commenced the work on electronics of the fuze. The team developed a prototype of CW proximity fuze in three months. The fuze electronics developed consisted of a Colpitts oscillator at 220 MHz using an epoxy encapsulated RF transistor, Doppler amplifier, a Schmitt threshold circuit and a transistor switch to ignite the detonator. The fuze oscillator detector was tested for its sensitivity by using a horizontally moving aluminium reflector in the vicinity of fuze. The complete electronics was encapsulated. The oscillator was encapsulated in low density polyethylene. The remaining circuit was encapsulated in an epoxy resin. The electronics was embedded in a plastic nose cone with a metal cap on top of the nose cone which in conjunction with shell body would work as a quarter wave monopole antenna.

The first tests were simple and practical, as the American ones had been, and showed room for further ruggedization. A wax-encapsulated battery turned out to be a weak point, as did the plastic nose cone; then-novel materials such as epoxy resins and fiber-reinforced epoxy solved those problems.

As for the Russian developments? Those still need research. But it’s unlikely it took them much longer than the Indians to get up and running.


  1. Rosenberg’s VT information was sourced, we believe, from Emerson Electric, where Julius had worked. Along with the atomic information, Julius gave up all of the classified programs Emerson worked on, including the VT fuze. Julius was always the active spy of the pair, Ethel was his partner and support agent but appears never to have had direct access, although she was able to recruit her brother David Greenglass for the atomic espionage task).

The M3 Medium Tank’s Fixed Machine Guns

Back in the Secondary Armament discussion, one of the commenters reminded us that early marks of the M3 Medium Tank had fixed forward-firing machine guns. That’s quite true.

This illustration shows the initial design layout for armament in the M3 Medium Tank.


There’s a sponson-mounted, 75mm M2 cannon, a high-velocity 37mm (called by the British a 2-pdr) which was still believed to be better medicine for enemy tanks (by 1941 it was already obsolete), no coaxial MG, a commander’s MG in a turret-on-a-turret (a recurring American design theme) and two  fixed forward-firing machine guns.

Like the wedding-cake turret stack, which returned to American tanks in the postwar M48 and M60 tanks (mostly out of NBC concerns), the forward-firing fixed MGs were once standard American design language. Britain and Russia had also built multi-turreted, landship-style tanks in the interwar years, but had given it up by 1941. But nobody else went all-in for fixed MGs.

While the idea of machine guns that the driver could aim by aiming the tank sounds a bit like the forward-firing guns that interrupter/synchronizer gears made possible on airplanes, the problem was that, unlike an airplane, a tank crawls in a 2-dimensional environment whose third dimension is dictated entirely by the terrain, making it impossible to aim the guns in elevation. Thus, they were nothing but useless noisemakers.

Making enough noise has never been a tanker’s problem.


Nonetheless, the US medium and light tanks of the interwar period all had a couple of fixed forward-firers, and these persisted into the M3 light tank (in the image above, you can see a ghosted MG, just left of drawing center; one was located in each sponson) and the M3 medium. They were often deleted in the field and not included in later production units of these tanks.

One of the It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time file.

The M3 Medium, an interim, stopgap tank, is remembered today largely for its failings and as a stepstone on the way to the superior all-round Sherman. Its suspension was noisy by tank standards, its riveted armor prone to launching rivets around the inside of the tank under fire, its very high profile rendered a hull-down position an impossibility and gave even the most nearsighted German a target he could scarcely miss. It had no fume extraction, so filled with toxic fumes during combat — there are plenty of pictures of British crews running the tanks and even fighting with the large side doors open, both for ventilation and because there was no other way to get rid of fired shell casings.

But when the first M3s arrived in the Western Desert, the British tankers loved them. It was significantly faster than any British tank, far more reliable mechanically (especially compared to the British Crusader tank), had a more powerful gun than any British tank, and had a large, comfortable (by 1942 tank standards), interior, with copious stowage space.

But they never did make use of those fixed machine guns.

Tank Secondary Armament Through the Years

While we’re talking tanks — we’ve recently covered armor protection in WWII and rates of turret traverse, and the technical considerations that went into them — let’s talk a little about secondary armament.

Most tanks have had, since the 1930s, a main gun that’s primarily designed to fire anti-tank ammunition, but is also capable of firing high-explosive general-purpose shells, and secondary armament of machine guns. This has come to be accepted as the norm, but it wasn’t always so.

The first tanks deployed by the British Army in 1915-16 were laid out differently from modern tanks. Their automotive equipment (a Ricardo engine and drivetrain) was contained with most of the crew between the tracks, which wrapped around the periphery of the lozenge-shaped tank. Armament was exiled to sponsons which hung off the sides of the tank, outboard of the tracks. These tanks came in “male” and “female” versions, which was defined by their armament. The “male” tank had a small artillery piece in the front of each sponson, and a machine gun in the rear; the “females” had machine-guns all around and were intended to provide support against close-in infantry for the male tanks.

Later, Germany’s first real production tank, the Panzer I, was armed only with machine guns (initially, 2 x MG.13, later 1 x MG.34), as were some inter-war light tanks of Britain, America and Russia, and even the first version of the US M2 Medium Tank, America’s most important inter-war tank. But at the war’s outbreak, and through to war’s end, most tanks were conceptually similar to modern tank: a main gun, a coaxial machine gun that shared the main gun’s aiming systems, and one or more guns atop the turret for antiaircraft use. (One thing WWII tanks almost all did have, which now almost no tanks have, is a bow machine gun aimed by a crewman sitting beside the driver. This gun station was deleted from postwar tanks worldwide).

Secondary Armament Trends as Illustrated by the US Example

The trend in the 1930s and 1940s was for fewer machine guns. This photo from Aberdeen Proving Ground’s museum shows what we believe to be one of only two surviving M2 Medium Tanks (an M2A1). Apart from its primitive, riveted hull of face-hardened armor (a weakness that would persist into the early models of its replacement, the M3), you can see four of its seven fixed machine gun positions in this view.



Each sponson, at the four corners of the fighting compartment, hosted an M1919 Browning machine gun. In addition, two more MGs were fixed to fire forward through the glacis — you see their places left and right of the national insignia. A co-ax in the turret brought the 1919 count to seven; with two AA machine guns added, which could be on the turret or firing through roof hatches in the main-hull fighting compartment, this late-1930s monstrosity could have nine MGs on board, plus the puny 37mm (1.5″) main gun.

Here’s an interior shot (from this page) of the back of the other surviving M2A1’s fighting compartment, showing the two aft sponson MGs, and one AA MG. These rear guns had a unique special-purpose application on the M2: they could be fired at 45-degree “bullet deflectors” above and behind the rear fenders, and would deflect the stream of bullets down — this was to help the tank to kill any infantry it rolled over in trenches.


Seven to nine machine guns are a lot of secondary armament, and one of the problems with that is that it required a large crew to run all the guns. The M2 required a crew of at least 6, although internet sources are all over the ballpark with claims from 4 to 9.

M3 with 6 of its crew in North Africa

M3 with 6 of its crew in North Africa

The M3 that replaced it (called “Grant” and “Lee” by the British, depending on which turret the tank had) had more firepower (a 75mm gun based on the old “French 75″ that was the cornerstone of American gunnery, set in a right-side superstructure sponson) and fewer machine guns (only 2, a co-ax in the 37mm turret and an MG in a small commander’s turret in US-turret versions or an AA/GP flexible gun with the British turret). It got by with a crew of 6 (UK) or 7 (US, adding a Radio Operator). And the M4, which had replaced the M3 by early 1944, went to war with only 3 machine guns (bow, co-ax, and AA/GP atop the turret) and a crew of 5.

There were real benefits to a smaller crew. These were primarily logistical. If you could save one man from a crew, you could get a bonus 16-20% more crews from the same number of recruits, and have to supply proportionally less water, food, and all items for which headcount is a cost driver, to any given number of tanks or tank units. But there is also a benefit in that a smaller crew makes for easier intracrew communication and coordination.


The colorful (if over-compressed in the copy) summer, 1941 propaganda video, The Tanks Are Coming, celebrates American tanks, and includes the M2 Medium; M2, and M3, Light tanks; and White armored scout cars. (Unfortunately, it’s too big a file to embed here, so we’ll just send you to the page).

Note at the 8 minute mark some of the simulators used to train tank gunners, including a sort of air-driven tommy gun and a “wobble platform” designed to make gunners proficient in firing the main armament from a tank moving cross-country. Later in the video, they show an incredible new vehicle, the “Blitz Buggy” — we’ve come to know it in the decades since as the Jeep!

You can see the M3 tank (in the version the British called the “Lee”) in the 1943 movie Sahara with Humphrey Bogart.

The Importance of Secondary Armament in Combat

While much of tank training and gunnery tables assume tank-versus-tank combat, much of armor strategy involves hitting the enemy with your tanks where his tanks are not. That’s where secondary armament comes to the fore. Machine guns are necessary in this tank-vs-enemy-logistical-trains and rear-echelon-units warfare; they are what takes a tank breakthrough of the enemy’s hard-shell combat line and turn it into a rout.

The next most important use of the secondary armament is in tank-vs-tank or combined arms combat, in keeping hunter-killer groups of infantry of one’s own and one’s unit’s tanks. In the Pacific, for example, both Japanese and American tanks were more likely to be lost to infantry attacks than to tanks or dedicated anti-tank artillery. Infantry methods of tank-killing ranged from prying a hatch open and shooting the crew to, later in the war, specially developed infantry anti-tank weapons with hollow-charge warheads.

Finally, the armor branch, perhaps because they are a more-technical crowd, less shy of innovation than the tradition-bound infantry, have been a proving ground for new machine-gun concepts over the years. Some, like the US M73 and M219, were complete failures, as was the attempt to adapt the M60 to tank use. But the M1 tank’s adoption of the superior M240 machine gun laid the groundwork for that gun to replace the M60 for the infantry, for which blessing every grunt ought to buy the next tanker he meets a beer.

Tank Turret Rotation in WWII

a rollin foxholeLet’s adumbrate about tanks again. Fascinating things, although we always took Willie and Joe’s words to heart: a movin’ foxhole attracks th’ eye. (Alas, the only version of that classic we could find does not embiggen). Anyway, our interest has been more, shall we say, historical curiosity than professional.

To put it another way, we’re all about studying them, but we’re just as glad we spent our career under the sky and stars rather than under some inches of cold-rolled.

The nature of tank war is the nature of all war, in general, with some specialized details particularly adapted to the idea of fighting a mobile machine, and units of these mobile machines.

In armored warfare as in any other, the ability to fire the first shot is the guarantor of life. The ways you can get the first shot include:

  1. Seeing the enemy first. This has some impact on tank equipment as well as tactics. Some tanks are ill-equipped for observation in a 360º plane, making them very vulnerable for an off-axis attack. Of course, the crews train to fight the tank they have, and will develop methods to minimize this weakness.


    T26 Pershing named “Fireball”. The 88mm mantlet penetration killed the tank and two of the five crew. Germany, 1945. They probably did not see the Tiger 100m ahead that hit them, but they were backlit by a fire. The Tiger also hit their muzzle brake with another shot.

  2. Concealment and firing from ambush. As many an infantry school instructor has crowed to students at once excited and aghast: “Ambush is murder and murder is fun!” This rewards a tank that can fire from concealment, without making a lot of noise that alerts the enemy’s dismounted scouts, without a lot of movement to betray the position. In addition, there are great advantages in the defense to be able to fire from a hull-down position. (And to a small turret, which complicates the enemy’s target solution).
  3. Outranging the enemy through superior accuracy or terminal ballistics. The components of accuracy are optic, gunner, gun, and integration. While it’s obviously important to hit the enemy first, it’s also important not to hit the enemy at a range beyond that where you can kill him. Otherwise, you’ve exposed yourself and blown your first-shot advantage for nothing.
  4. Getting on target faster. Here optics — including a good field of view for the gunner — and superior speed and control of main gun aim are the objective. If your turret slews very fast, that’s good, but not if the fast slew can’t produce fine control.
  5. Having more tanks, so that the enemy was servicing another target when your first shot kills him. This is a production and reliability play, but also rewards commanders for ingenuity in bringing their forces to bear in greater numbers at a decisive point.

The next best way to win the fight was having the first effective shot because your tank was harder to hit (or, harder to kill). This is clearly a less desirable position to be in than the one where you drop your tungsten calling card into the enemy’s brisket when he still was unaware you were there.

By World War II (and still today, apart from some unusual vehicles in both cases) the design of a tank was stabilized as a rear-engine vehicle with a rotating armored turret carrying primary and (most) secondary armament. The gun was placed on target in elevation by the gunner raising or lowering the barrel, and in azimuth by the gunner (with direction and sometimes assistance from the commander) slewing the turret.

Caught in the open: fate of many a tank and crew.

Caught in the open: fate of many a tank and crew.

In a textbook illustration of the principle of convergent evolution, WWII tanks of all nations were more alike than they were different. But different nations’ main battle tanks rotated their turrets differently — and some were effective despite a much slower rotation than their peers, which seems illogical.

  • British and Russian tanks rotated electrically. If you ever owned a ’60s British car, you have to have some sympathy for the grimy crews and mechanics struggling to keep the ancestor of Lucas electrics humming. British tanks used spade grips for the controls to rotate the turret. The British had a mode switch which let the gunner control traverse on a “coarse” or “fine” setting. The T-34 used electric for coarse and manual for fine traverse. The T-34/76 used separate wheels for electric and manual, attached to the same traversing gear. In the T-34/85, though, the same handle was used as a lever for electrical control and a crank for manual — ingenious! Rather than explain a T-34’s system, which used the same controls for manual and electric traverse, we’ll let the Military Veterans Museum show you in this 1-minute video:

  • Germans used a hydraulic system, driven by power take-off from the main engine. This was a mechanically simple and reliable system, but it had a key deficiency, as we’ll see. The Germans used foot pedals to slew the turret — left pedal went left, right pedal, obviously, right. The gun was then laid with final precision using a manual handwheel.
  • American tanks used a hydraulic system, but drove it electrically. Instead of a PTO from the main powerplant, like a tractor, the hydraulic system was energized by a pump driven by an electrical motor. Also, only the Americans applied stabilization gyroscopes to tank main armament, beginning with the M4 Sherman (on the early Sherman, in elevation only). This gave the tank a rudimentary shoot-on-the-move capability, and perhaps more usefully in tank fighting, reduced the amount of displacement needed to get on target after moving. When hydraulic system production threatened to constrain tank production, some American tanks were fitted with an electrical system also. The electrical substitute system was designed to have similar performance. American tanks used hand controls to slew the turret, and a foot pedal to fire the armament.
  • Most Japanese tanks had manual traverse only. Indeed, some light tanks and tankettes simply had a machine gun turret where the gunner moved the turret by leaning on the machine gun! While Japanese artillery and naval guns often featured bicycle pedals for traverse, the larger tanks had crank wheels to traverse the turret for coarse position. For fine position, the gun itself usually had a few degrees of traverse, and separate hand wheels. While Japanese naval optics led the world, their tank and AT optics lagged, as did most other aspects of tank development. Late in the war, electric traverse was incorporated in the Chi-Ha and Chi-Nu tanks; early Chi-Has, the bulk of those encountered by the Allies, were manually operated.
  • Some early and light tanks of many nations had manual rotation, and almost all power-rotating turrets had manual as a back-up. For example, the Panther had not only the gunner’s fine-tuning handwheel, required because of the lack of precision in the hydraulic system, but also a hand-lever for the gunner and a separate wheel for the loader. Having backups like this was important, because reliability of the systems on WWII tanks was not all that great. Engines, which were often modified or derived from aviation engines, lasted a few hundred hours before an overhaul was required, and hydraulic or electric motors were scarcely more durable. The tanks used at the peak of the war in Europe were war babies, designed once combat was underway and designed and manufactured with all due haste. They hadn’t had a long debugging cycle. Wartime memoirs are full of tales of operating with one or more systems degraded.

While in theory any system can be engineered to give you any rate of rotation, the German approach of shaft-driven hydraulics had a weakness: the turret could only power-traverse if the main engine was running. For the fuel-critical Germans, this was always a problem. This approach also meant that the speed of rotation depended on engine speed. You only got full-speed rotation at full throttle; at anything less, it was degraded.

How fast could turrets rotate?

The vaunted Panther tank had, in its first iteration (Panther Ausführung D), one of the slowest-turning turrets in the war, taking a full minute to traverse 360º. The gearing on the turret was changed in the Ausf. A, the next version, and all subsequent Panthers, giving the tank a competitive 15-second full-circle. But that didn’t last; a November, 1943 decision to govern the engine to a lower max RPM reduced slew rate to 18 seconds on Panthers from that point forward — if the crews didn’t learn about and adjust the governors. This was done to try to increase engine reliability: more Panthers were being lost to breakdowns than to Allied gunfire.

What’s interesting is that even though the early Panther turret was quite slow, it was still fast enough to track all but the fastest-moving tanks. All greater speed than a circle-a-minute buys, then, is ability to change targets, or get on a sighted target, faster.

The American system spun a Sherman turret 360º in fifteen seconds, too. The system in the M36 tank destroyer had the same performance, also. (Not surprising as the automotive  gear in the tank destroyers was lifted from the Shermans).

The undisputed slewing champ of WWII tanks was the Russian T-34, which could bring its turret all the way around in 12 seconds.

We couldn’t find any credible information on the slew or traverse rate of Japanese tanks.

The final lesson in all of this brings us back to convergent evolution: despite the different approaches taken by the major tank producers of the era, their performance was roughly similar (excluding the lagging Japanese, who deemphasized tank development and production because of their limited production capacity, and overwhelming naval requirements).


Directorate of the Armored Forces of the Red Army. T-34 Tank Service Manual. Translator unknown. Retrieved from:

Green & Green, Panther: Germany’s Quest for Combat Dominance. pp. 107-120.

Military Intelligence Division. Japanese Tank and Anti-Tank Warfare. Washington: War Department,  1 Aug 1945. Retrieved from: (bear in mind that as a wartime intelligence document, this is not fully-processed history!)

Zaloga, Steven J. Japanese Tanks 1939-45. Oxford, England: Osprey, 2011.

Zaloga, Steven J. M4 Sherman vs. Type 97 Chi-Ha. Oxford, England: Osprey, 2012.

The cat, or the importance of the smallest indicators

It is a tradition in the great militaries of the world that between wars, sniping becomes a neglected art. It’s neglected because it’s hard, because training for it is costly, and because the principal product of your snipers, actionable intelligence, is little appreciated in the peace time army.

The following story from the First World War illustrates all the reasons this art should not be neglected.

—————————————— I ——————————————

THE two snipers of the Royal Midlandshires, the shooter and the observer, were comfortably in their post. The shooter was longing for a cigarette, which regulations forbade lest the enemy – two hundred yards away – should see the smoke issuing from the concealed loophole; but the observer, Private William Entworth, was studying the parapet opposite.

Suddenly he spoke: “Line of water-tower. Red sandbag. Left. Two feet.”

WWI enfield sniper

Pattern 14 Enfield rifles were adapted with telescopic sights for British snipers. The British program was a reaction to German sniper successes. This rifle was sold by a British dealer recently.

Saunders’ eyes picked up the water-tower in the distance, ranged to the parapet, found the red sandbag, then swung to the left of it. Yes, something moving. He cuddled the stock of his rifle, and brought the pointer in the telescope to bear. Then slowly he began to squeeze the trigger.

“Don’t shoot.”

Entworth was only just in time.

“Why not, ole son?”

sleeping cat“It’s only a cat.”

“A ’Un cat! ’Ere goes.”

“Come off it. If you get shootin’ cats outer this post Mr. Nowell’ll – Besides, it’s rather a nice-lookin’ cat. Tortoiseshell colour. We ’ad one in Ferrers Street ’e reminds me of. … There, ’e’s climbin’ up on the bloomin’ parados, curlin’ round and goin’ to sleep just as if there wasn’t no war. Shall I enter ’im?”

“Wot’s the good?”

“Dunno. Shows we was awake. ‘Time 11.25 Ac. Emma. Cat (tortoiseshell) at K 22.C.35.45. Action taken: None.’” So wrote Private Entworth with laborious pencil. As he finished a voice sounded outside.

“Who’s in there?”

“Private Entworth. Private Saunders.”

“Shut the loopholes. I am coming in.”

“Well, seen anything?” questioned Mr. Nowell, the Sniping and Intelligence Officer of the Battalion.

“They’ve been working on the post at K.22. D.85.60.”

“Seen any Huns?”

“Only a cat, sir. I’ve entered it in the log-book. It’s sunning itself on the parados now, sir. Line of water-tower. Red sandbag.”

“Yes, I have it,” said Nowell, who had taken the telescope.

“Shall I shoot ’im, sir?”

“Why should you?”

“’E probably kills rats and makes life brighter-like for the ’Un, sir, by so doing. There’s a glut o’ rats on this sector, sir.”

british_unit_war_diary_page_wwi“The cat looks very comfortable. No, don’t shoot, Saunders. Entworth, give me that log-book.” The officer turned over the pages. “I wonder if anyone has ever seen that cat before? Hullo, yes. Private Scroggins and Lance-Corporal Tew two days ago in the afternoon. Here’s the entry: ‘3.40 pip emma K.22.C.35.40. Cat on parados.’”

Nowell’s eyes showed a gleam of interest. “Note down whenever you see that cat,” said he.

“Yes, sir.”

“And keep a bright look-out.”

“Yes, sir.” Once more the loopholes were shut, and Nowell, lifting the curtain at the back of the Post which prevented the light shining through, went out. His steps died away along the trench-boards.

“Think we’ll see it in ‘Comic Cuts’” (the universal B.E.F. name for the Corps Intelligence Summary). “‘At K.22.C.35.45, a tortoiseshell-coloured he-cat.’ I don’t think!” said Saunders.

“Shouldn’t wonder. The cove wot writes out ‘Comic Cuts’ must ’a bin wounded in the ’ed early-on. Sort o’ balmy ’e is.”

—————————————— II ——————————————

Meantime we must follow Mr. Nowell down the trench. He was full of his thoughts and almost collided round a corner with a red-hatted Captain.

“Sorry, sir,” said he, saluting.

“Righto! my mistake. Can you tell me where I shall find the I.S.O. of this battalion?” asked the Staff Officer.

“My name’s Nowell, sir. I am the Sniping and Intelligence Officer.”

“Good. I’m Cumberland of Corps Intelligence.” Nowell looked up with new interest. He had heard of Cumberland as a man of push and go, who had made things hum since he had come to the Corps a few weeks back.

“Anything you want?” continued Cumberland. “You’ve been sending through some useful stuff. I thought I’d come down and have a talk.”

Nowell led the way to his dug-out. He had suffered long from a very official Corps Intelligence G.S.O., whom Cumberland had just replaced. Under the old regime it never really seemed to matter to the

This RE. 8 was typical of Great War reconnaissance planes.

This RE. 8 was typical of Great War reconnaissance planes.

Higher Intelligence what anyone in the battalion did, but now Cumberland seemed to take an interest at once. After a quarter of an hour’s talk Cumberland was taking his leave. “Well,” said he, “anything you want from Corps, don’t hesitate to ask. That’s what we’re there for, you know. Sure there isn’t anything?” “As a matter of fact there is, but I hardly like to ask you.” “Why not? “It’s such a long shot, sir.” “Well, what is it?” “I’d like aeroplane photos taken of K.22 squares C. and D. opposite here. New photographs, sir.” Cumberland was about to ask a question, but looking up he caught the slight flush of colour that had risen in Nowell’s face. “Righto,” he said easily. “We rather pride ourselves on quick work with aeroplane photos up at Corps. I’ll have the squares taken to-morrow morning if visibility is pukka. And the finished photos will be in your hands by five o’clock. Good afternoon.” Cumberland strode along the trench, and Nowell stood staring after him.

“Never asked me what I wanted ’em for,” he muttered. “Taken in the morning; in my hands by afternoon. Why, in old Baxter’s time such efficiency would have killed him of heart-disease. Well, let’s hope that cat’s playing the game, and not leading a poor forlorn British Battalion Intelligence Officer to make a fool of himself.”

—————————————— III ——————————————

The next afternoon the aeroplane photos duly arrived, together with a note from Cumberland:

“Dear Nowell,

“Am sending the photographs of K.22.C. and D. taken to-day, also some I have looked out of the same squares which were taken six weeks ago. It would appear from a comparison that a good deal of work has been put in by the Hun round C.3.5. It looks like a biggish H.Q. I have informed C.R.A. who says it will be dealt with at 3 pip emma to-morrow, 18th inst.

“C. Cumberland,

“Capt. G.S.”

—————————————— IV ——————————————

It is five minutes to three on the following day, and the bright sun which has shone all the morning has worked round behind the British position.

In the morning two gunner F.O.O.’s have visited the trenches, compared certain notes with Mr. Nowell, and gone back to their Observation Posts on the higher ground. Nowell himself has decided to watch events from the O.P. in which was laid the first scene of this history. He hurries along to it, and calls out: “Who’s in there?”

“Private Saunders. Private Entworth, sir.”

“Shut the loopholes. I’m coming in.” He goes in.

6_inch_30_cwt_howitzer_muzzle_view_IWM_Duxford“Move along, Entworth, and I’ll sit beside you on the bench and observe with my own glass. Get yours on to the spot where the cat was. Got it? Right. Two batteries of 6-inch Hows. are going to try and kill that cat, Entworth, in a minute and a half from now. Zero at three o’clock. Nice light, isn’t it?” At these words of Nowell’s several thoughts, mostly connected with his officer’s sanity, flashed through Entworth’s rather slow brain, but long before they were formulated Nowell rapped out:

“Here they come.”

Sounds just like half a dozen gigantic strips of silk being torn right across the sky were clearly audible in the Post. At the same instant through the watching glasses heaps of earth, tin, a stove-pipe, were hurled into the air. There were other grimmer objects, too, as the shells rained down.

Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Nowell having gone, Private Entworth was speaking, though his eye was still glued to his glass.

“Direct’it right off and right into a nest of ’Uns. There was ’ole’Uns and bits of ’Uns in the air, I tell yer, Jim Saunders. Loverly shooting, ’twas! I doubt there’s anything at C.35.45. left alive. There is, tho’! By ––– there is! There goes that ruddy-coloured cat over the parados like a streak, and what ’o! for Martinpunch!”

—————————————— V ——————————————

And finally an extract from “Comic Cuts,” the Corps Intelligence Summary of the next day:

“A cat having been observed by our snipers daily sleeping on the parados of a supposedly disused enemy trench at K.22.C.3.4. it was deduced from the regularity of its habits that the cat lived near-by, and – owing to the fact that the German trenches at this point are infested by rats – probably in a dug-out occupied by enemy officers. Aeroplane photographs were taken which disclosed the existence of a hitherto unlocated enemy H.Q., which was duly dealt with by our Artillery.”

Hesketh-Prichard, H. (2012-07-01). Sniping in France: With Notes on the Scientific Training of Scouts, Observers, and Snipers (Kindle Locations 1760-1833). Tales End Press. Kindle Edition.

About Sniping, a Few Observations

  • Sniping is ultimately a psychological operation.
  • This is not the best-known sniper memoir (that would be MacBride’s, probably) but as Hesketh-Price stood up and ran the sniper school, it carries considerable weight.
  • As this story shows, the whole book is well written and is a fun, fast read.
  • This story is the best capsule illustration we know of why a sniper’s greatest worth to you is not in his trigger pulling — however good he is at that.
  • Count on the British to have no qualms about blowing large quantities of “Huns” away, but take delight in the survival of the little Hun cat.

The British only developed a sniper school and culture under pressure from German snipers. Like most democracies, Britain would let this tribal knowledge fade out during periods of protracted peace. And have to learn it all over again under pressure from German snipers within a couple decades.

What’s “RHA” in Penetration Specifications?

Anti-tank, anti-armor, and armor-piercing ammunition needs to have a specification describing its penetration. Now, any scientific test would be buried in disclaimers and details. What muzzle velocity, what distance, what angle, what atmospheric conditions. But there are certain norms.  It’s customary to convert ambient temperature and pressure during the test to an international standard atmosphere, 59ºF and 29.95 inches of mercury. It’s customary to convert slanted armor to its thickness equivalent along the axis of the shot. And it’s customary to describe penetration as distance, millimeters or inches, in a specific medium, RHA.

The Armor of this Russian T-34/76, with armor thickness and obliquity noted. All armor was RHA.

The Armor of this Russian T-34/76, with armor thickness and obliquity noted. On this specific model, nearly all armor was RHA (the 52mm thick turret front may have been cast).

RHA is Rolled Homogeneous Armor and it’s the most common of three types of steel armor that was commonly used in World War II. The others were Cast Homogeneous Armor and Face-Hardened Armor. In general RHA was the gold standard at the time, with CHA and FHA used for specific purposes. There are some terminological differences, of course: the British called RHA machineable armour, because it could be practically cut with machine tools; FHA was very difficult to cut on its armored face, due to heat-treating giving it a very hard, but brittle if overstressed, surface. RHA, conversely, is strong but ductile, which enables it to shuck off more and harder hits. The British breakout of FHA, which Americans call face-hardened armor, is flame-hardened armour.

Panther mantlet penetrated by US 90mm gun in Aberdeen testing.

CHA Panther mantlet penetrated by US 90mm gun at 800m in Aberdeen testing. Only some guns and some specific projectiles could penetrate here.

The US transitioned to mostly RHA early, as did the USSR (all T-34 hulls were entirely RHA, and both RHA weldments and CHA castings were used for turrets). British and German tank production started the war using face-hardened armor, and changed midwar. All armies used cast homogeneous armor for some purposes. For example, the Germans used it in the commander’s cupola and in the mantlet or gun shield of all Panzer V Panther tanks. The US made Shermans with cast turrets and with both cast hulls and welded RHA hulls.  The initial Panther model, Ausführung D, was made with face-hardened armor for the hull and turret (apart from the two cast parts mentioned above). In July 1943, they changed to RHA for the glacis (the upper front plate), and a year later they began using RHA on the sides.

As a rule of thumb, RHA is the best of these steel armors, with the best protection from penetrating and HE attacks, but it has some deficiencies. It is hard to form in anything but flat plates. CHA can be cast in almost any shape.

Heat treating is used to bring RHA to a specific hardness. The hardness of steel armor is measured on the Brinell hardness scale. As a general rule, the thicker the armor the lower the Brinell scale value, and therefore hardness of the metal, will be. The FHA plates of WWI armored vehicles, which were 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, had a Brinell hardness of 420-650. The RHA for the WWII generation vehicles ranged from 220-390 or so. For example, these are the German specified values (for both RHA and CHA):

Thickness Range (mm) Brinell Hardness







The reason for this decline in hardness with increase in thickness was the state of the production art, and it was fairly universal across the belligerents’ RHA armor. The Russians’ armor was the hardest by Brinell measurement.

Penetration of a Panther glacis. This may have been FHA, judging from the Greens' analysis of these Aberdeen tests.

Penetration of a Panther glacis. This may have been FHA, judging from the Greens’ analysis of this series of Aberdeen tests.

FHA was hardened to a higher level (Brinell in the 500 range), but only a few mm deep. The idea was to have more resistance to penetration on the surface, but more ductility in the rest of the armor to prevent brittleness and fractures, or spalling of chunks off the inside of the armor. Spalling was the kill mechanism of the British HESH (High Explosive Squash Head) round of late-war was designed to produce. The US later produced a version called HE-Plastic or HE-P.

The more you study armor penetration, the stranger it gets. For example, a long rod penetrator like the APFSDS rounds used in modern tank guns can actually perforate armor thicker than it can penetrate, by causing failure in the armor plate; it can also perforate the armor deeper, through that failure mechanism. That’s completely counterintuitive, but penetration and perforation curves from live testing demonstrate it.

Late in the war, shaped-charge warheads became a problem. Using WWII-era understanding of lining materials and explosives, effective shaped charges tended to be larger than most tank main gun calibers. Instead, they were deployed by short-range rockets like the German Panzerschreck and the US 2.36″ rocket launcher, and other infantry weapons, such as Russian drogue grenades, the British PIAT and the Japanese lunge mine (which is exactly what it sounds like, a shaped charge on a stick for a suicidal human attack on tanks. They were used on Okinawa and were made in the hundreds of thousands for the anticipated defense of the home islands).


Penetration curves like this are typical of kinetic-energy penetrators, like these US 90mm shot types. Shaped charges do not depend on kinetic energy for their penetration, and thus, their effect on target is range-independent, as long as the delivery system can deliver the shaped charge to the target. The same shaped charge will work the same in a 3000-m ATGM or at the end of a 1.5 meter lunge mine.

The hardness of armor had much less influence on shaped charge penetration. But as a shaped charge has an optimum standoff distance, detonating it early reduces its ability to burn its way through armor. This led to various kinds of appliqué armor, some factory and some improvised. The Germans were a step ahead here. They had already added stand-off plates called Schürzen to many combat vehicles (including the Panzer III, IV and Panther) as a countermeasure against Russian anti-tank rifles. The Schürzen were homogeneous, but not very hard — only Brinell 105 or so. Schürzen were ineffective against conventional tank and antitank guns, but would sometimes fragment or deflect the steel or tungsten-cored 14.5mm Russian anti-tank rifle projectile, which otherwise could penetrate the side armor of those tanks at close ranges (~100m). The effectiveness of Schürzen against shaped-charged warheads was an unexpected but welcome bonus.

As we said, armor penetration is a weird science. The Schürzen, for instance, had almost zero effectiveness against the 14.5 if struck absolutely square on, at a 90º angle, but got much more effective as the angle increased even a few degrees.


Farrand, Magness, and Burkins. Definition and Uses of RHA Equivalences for Medium Caliber Targets. Interlaken, Switzerland: 19th International Symposium of Ballistics, 7–11 May 2001. Retrieved from:   (That site has the whole proceedings of the symposium).

Green, Michael & Gladys. Panther: Germany’s Quest for Combat Dominance. Botley, Oxford: Osprey, 2012.  (A very worthwhile book, rich in technical detail, with excellent notes and index and a wealth of photographs).

Uncredited, Armor-Piercing Ammunition for Gun, 90-MM, M3. Washington: Office Of The Chief Of Ordnance, January 1945. Retrieved from:  (Lone Sentry is a former W4, and is highly recommended for this sort of period material).

Numerous other sources were used en passant but the bulk of the information in this post is from Farrand et. al. and the Greens.

Weapons Term that Stumped Us: “Pronock”?

We don’t often run into a word referring to weapons that’s completely unfamiliar to us. Even more rarely, we can’t even track the word down. That’s what happened to us in reviewing a 1952 document by the Operations Research Office, a now-defunct FFRDC1 operated by the US Army at the time.

Even generals got in on the tank killing. Of course, this one wound up a POW, out doing a corporal's job with a bazooka.

Even generals got in on the tank killing. Of course, this one wound up a POW, out doing a corporal’s job with a bazooka.

The document reviews the performance of US tanks and tank units in the first year of the Korean War. It was originally classified as SECRET, and the second of two volumes does not seem to have survived. The lost (?) second volume comprised Appendix K to the fundamental document: surveys of some 239 North Korean T-34 tanks examined by American ordnance experts. Fortunately, some conclusions from those surveys made it into the first volume.

But the original document is full of fascinating insights. One of them was that napalm was hugely successful against Nork T-34/85s, and was potentially a threat to American tanks. Napalm is mentioned nearly 60 times in the 308-page report. The mechanism of destruction wasn’t completely certain, but it appeared to be that the nape set the tanks’ solid rubber road wheels on fire, and the burning wheels got hot enough to cook off the rounds in the tanks’ sponsons. FOOM! End of tank, or as tankers say now, “catastrophic loss.” In 1952, the term was “loss, unrecoverable.” That described the situation where the burnt-out hull was here, the insinerated turret was there, and both of them had small, carbonized cinders of what had been the crewmen.

Unknown what killed this tank, but napalm is a possibility. It appears to be buttoned up, but still burning. Tough luck for the Norks inside.

Unknown what killed this tank, but napalm is a possibility. It appears to be buttoned up, but still burning. Tough luck for the Norks inside.

On the basis of limited evidence, air attack accounted for 40 percent of all enemy tank losses in Korea, and 60 percent of all enemy tank losses caused by UN weapons.

On the basis of limited evidence, napalm was the most effective antitank air weapon thus far used in Korea. (p.2).

The difference between all enemy tank losses, and enemy tank losses caused by UN weapons is presumably the same thing that caused a lot of US/UN losses: mechanical failure. A table on p. 36 bears this out, and is discussed on p. 35:

On the basis of this record, the greatest single cause of loss in NK T34’s would seem to be UN air attack, which accounted for 102 out of 239, or about 43 percent of the total losses.

Napalm appears to be the most effective weapon of all, accounting for 60, or about 23 percent of the total count. Abandonments, in most instances without any visible evidence of cause, accounted for 59, almost another 25 percent of the total count. Tank fire was the third largest single cause, knocking out 39 tanks, or about 16 percent. (p. 35).

This led to a discussion of napalm’s effects:

Napalm as a weapon to defeat armor must be given rather special consideration. It is essentially a weapon of an accidental nature. With the possible exception of the relatively rare occurrence of a direct hit, napalm does not of itself destroy or seriously damage a tank. However, it is fully capable of starting a chain of events which may bring about the loss of the vehicle. A napalm bomb, if a hit is registered sufficiently close to the tank, will splash its burning fluid on the tank. Because of the fire, the crew may suffer burns or be induced to abandon the tank. However from the prisoner of war interrogations it appears that tank crews usually had sufficient time to get clear before the fire had spread (see Appendix D). However, the abandonment of the tank ultimately led to its destruction, for the napalm from the first or successive strikes had sufficient time to ignite the rubber on the road wheels, heat the ammunition to the point of detonation, and set fire to the fuel. Any or all of these factors brought about the loss of the tank. (p. 37).

Amplified, and considered in terms of US tanks in this partly redundant passage:

From a general examination of US tanks, the Air Force Operations Analysis tests of napalm against T34 tanks (FEAF Operationr Analysis Office Memo No. 27, prepared jointly with Deputy for Operational Engineering, FEAF, 30 October 1950) and the ORO tank survey (see Appendix K), it is belleved that napalm- caused tank fires are essentially “accidental” in nature, i.e.,
the napalm itself does not have enough energy to set ammunition or fuel afire by bating a tank, but it does have enough effect to set afire rubber bogie wheels , which In turn can fire the tank bilge or amnunition and thus kill the tank. Also, napalm entering through the air intake of a tank can set the bilge afire, again firing ammunition and killing the tank. It appears that both of these “accidents” can be eliminated by minor tank redesign or by fire extinguishing techniques. (p. 59).

Not clear what killed these tanks, but our guess is that the Nork crewman in the foreground suffered a terminal case of amall-arms projectile sickness.

Not clear what killed these tanks, but our guess is that the Nork crewman in the foreground suffered a terminal case of amall-arms projectile sickness.

The USSR may conclude on the basis of the Korean campaign that napalm is a very effective antitank weapon. This possible conclusion can be vitiated by minor redesign of US tanks to reduce effectiveness of “accidental” fires. In future attack on Soviet-manufactured tanks, napalm may remain effective, but the types of fluid filler–such as “G” agents, chlorine trifluoride, or pronock — in improved napalm-type tanks may be even more effective. (p. 60).

There’s the word “pronock.” What is it?

But first, let’s continue our digression into the Korean War tank effectiveness report. The unexpected effects of nape on tanks got the ORO thinking. Some of the thoughts probably explain why the report was classified so highly in the first place:

On the basis of the burning of the rubber on tank road wheels with napalm, resulting in the destruction of the tank, tanks appear vulnerable to 40-kt atomic-weapons attack up to a distance of 2,500 yards on a clear day, and 2,000 yards on a hazy day. (p.3).

Er… yeah. T-34s were vulnerable to destruction by nuking. We’ll accept that.

Original caption: Napalm Bomb Victims.  Mute testimony of accuracy of close support missions flown by Fifth Air Force fighters are these Red Korean tanks, blasted out of the path of advancing 24th Infantry Division units near Waegwan, Korea. AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM#:  77799 AC

Original caption: Napalm Bomb Victims. Mute testimony of accuracy of close support missions flown by Fifth Air Force fighters are these Red Korean tanks, blasted out of the path of advancing 24th Infantry Division units near Waegwan, Korea.

And then there was a list of things that the US ought to develop, based on combat experience with tanks in Korea:

Support a vigorous and expanded research and development program to provide a balanced family of antitank weapons without, however, either overemphasizing or neglecting the role of heavy gun tanks such aa the US T43. This program should emphasize:

a. Development of an effective long-range antitank gun for use by the infantry. This gun should be capable of being moved over rough and unfavorable terrain, preferably in a light, highly mobile vehicle.

That, of course, is the paragraph that gave birth (by a circuitous route, it’s true) to the US M40 106mm recoilless rifle. The M40’s immediate ancestor, the M27, would be rushed to Korea and tested in combat.

b. Development of a family of lethal, influence-fused antitank mines s with sterilizing and arming devices, suitable for remining by rockets, artillery, and air.

Simultaneous development of corresponding mine-detection &vclearing devices.

That stands to reason.

d. Research and development on new types, of air and ground munitions utilizing liquid fillers, such as napalm, chlorine trifluoride, pronock, and G-agents.

That’s the strange use of the strange word, “pronock.” What is it? Napalm is well known. G-agents are nerve agents originally developed by the Germans: Tabun, Soman, Sarin, and Cyclosarin, known in the US/NATO coding system as GA, GD, GB and GF respectively.

Chlorine trifluoride is less well-known, but was a remarkable German “twofer” that produced both incendiary and toxic effects, and that was produced by the Third Reich’s chemical-warfare directorate as “N-stoff” or “Substance N.” The incendiary effect of ClF3 is pretty remarkable — it’s hypergolic not only with normal fuels, but also with water. And it can set asbestos on fire. It does bad things to human beings. It’s never actually been used in warfare (or in most other applications) because containing and handling it is a challenge; Rocketdyne once developed rocket engines that used this stuff as oxydizer with Hydrazine Hydrate as fuel. Hydrazine (N2H4), another Nazi product (as the fuel in the mixture “C-stoff”) used in the V1 and Me163, still has some uses (in the ACES ejection seat, IIRC), but is itself among the nastier things in the hazmat catalogue.

For completeness’s sake, the last of the list of recommendations:

e. Continued development of special amunition, such as shaped-charge and squash-head ammunition, together with improved bazookas and recoilless rifles.

But what in the name of science is “pronock?” It clearly is something that can be used as a tank filler, like napalm, like chlorine trifluoride, like the G-agents. And something that, like those substances, one would rather not have fall on him. Beyond that, we’re stumped. Google was not our friend, either.


Looking for some photos of tank kills definitely attributed to napalm, we found this period article on napalm in Korea which depicts — unfortunately, in a very horribly reproduced half-tone — one of the tests of napalm on a captured T-34. It also describes the thickened gasoline’s composition, and effects on the enemy:

Red tankmen weren’t afraid of diving planes at first, their tough armor would repel 20 mm fire, it was hard to hit the maneuvering tank with rockets, and bombs had to be right on to kill a tank. Napalm was another story. Pilots drop the fire bombs short from low altitude, let it skip to the target. Accuracy is not at a premium. The napalm bomb will cover a pear-shaped area 275 feet long and 80 feet wide. A solid sheet of 1500° fire envelops everything , Killing personnel, exploding ammunition. It is not a flash fire like gasoline alone would be but clings and burns and burns.

… As fast as the Reds moved in tanks to stop the retreat, napalm was dropped on them. They ran out of tanks and weight of phases of the war have seen far fewer communist tanks in action.

The article noted two indirect effects of napalm on the enemy: tanks would be found with the crews inside, unmarked but dead of suffocation, the napalm fires having stolen the very oxygen from the air they breathed. And the psychological effects of the weapon induced many surrenders.


1. FFRDC: Federally Funded Research and Developmant Corporation. The most famous are probably RAND, which was sponsored by the USAF. The ORO was an Army/Johns Hopkins lashup, that the Army grew tired of and pulled the plug on in the 1960s.

How an Original Tiger Wound up in Fury

One of the most remarkable things about Fury is the presence of a real, running, Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger 1 on screen. This is the first time a real, live, Tiger, and not a mockup on some other chassis, a scale model, or a CGI digital emulation, was used in a feature film. Here’s a video of how a high-strung thoroughbred war machine from most of a century ago performed before the cameras:

As Tigers belonged to an empire that was crushed to rubble some 70 years ago, the few of them that have survived have mostly come to nest in museums. But one that was captured in 1942 in the Western Desert nation of Tunisia has been running (occasionally) and entertaining visitors at the Royal Armored Corps’s Tank Museum in Bovington, England for some years now. Tiger 131 was shipped to the set (along with some doting caretakers), and the Museum also provided the title character, Fury the Sherman tank.

The Museum now has a temporary exhibit dedicated to the movie, including some of the props they didn’t originally provide, and wargaming stations that let visitors get creamed by Tiger tanks themselves — at least, in the digital realm.

The Tank Museum also posted this video explaining some of the other lengths the movie makers went to, to make Fury as grimly accurate as they did.

We did note the absence of anachronisms on the screen, at least in terms of props and settings. (Some of the language and human expression is more 21st Century than 1945, but what can you do about that?) If you’re planning to see the movie (about which we remain uncharacteristically ambivalent), these videos contain no real spoilers and may help you look for details you’ll enjoy seeing.

About that Keene, NH Bearcat

This is Keene's Bearcat. There are many like it, but this one is Keene's. Without its Bearcat, Keene is useless. Without Keene, the Bearcat is useless...

This is Keene’s Bearcat. There are many like it, but this one is Keene’s. Without its Bearcat, Keene is useless. Without Keene, the Bearcat is useless…

Keene, New Hampshire, is a sleepy college town, left-leaning as NH goes, and the subject of a great outcry two years ago because the police purchased (or rather, had your Federal taxes buy, so maybe “requisitioned”) a Lenco Bearcat armored personnel carrier. We were part of that outcry.

Keene’s justification for the vehicle was that they needed it to defend large gatherings, like the Pumpkin Festival.

This made the entire town the laughingstock of the Western World, and parts of the Old World stretching back to the furthest conquests of Alexander the Great (we concluded, “Somewhere in North Waziristan, Gulbuddin Hekmatayar is laughing his ass off at us.” back in 2012).

Before we bring the story up to date, note that a large number of the inmates of Keene are college students at Keene State, the designated Party School of the NH System. That helps to explain What Happened Next.

So how do the people of Keene demonstrate how the police in their leafy burb don’t need any riot control vehicle? By rioting, naturally.

At the freaking Pumpkin Festival.

We are Not Making This Up®. We’d be ready to go back to that 2012 post and eat our pixels, but…

We just got done talking to a Keene cop, and they used all their resources to control the riot, except one. Which one? You got it: the Bearcat.

A perfect chance to grind patchouli-scented hippies (not to mention drunks in their fourth sophomore year) under the Bearcat’s run-flat tires, and they go all restraint, like. Lord love a duck.

Somewhere in North Waziristan, Gulbuddin Hekmatayar is laughing his ass off at us.

(Not Making This Up® is a registered trademark of Dave Barry. Used without permission -Ed).


The Randall Knife

Singer-Songwriter Guy Clark with “The Randall Knife.”

It’s a kind of talking blues/folk/country thing, sentimental if not schmaltzy; not entirely to our taste, but the subject matter redeems it. You know there was a Randall knife in Clark’s house. You know he  knows the feel of the Randall in his hand.

You know his father was, by God, a man.


A man can make up a song, but he couldn’t make up this song out of whole cloth.

The Randall wasn’t an SF knife, before Vietnam. Since then, it has been, and both Randall Made Knives and Special Forces have benefited by the partnership. Sure, there’s now the Yarborough knife for SF grads (old-timers who are SF-Q’d can get them, too, although it’s a hair more complicated because your bona fides has to be checked).

It was just one of those things, like a Seiko or Rolex watch. Like owning a car that would go unreasonably fast, and getting a reputation for going unreasonably fast in it.  Like having access to a veritable petting zoo of the world’s most famous firearms, and still buying your own to plug real or imagined “training gaps.”