Category Archives: Support Weapons

Rhodesian Mine Ambush Protected Vehicles 1975-80

We’ve mentioned before that long before the US decided it needed vehicles that could survive mines (or, technically, whose crews could survive mines — one mine FOOM and anything that came on its own wheels is leaving on something else’s). the Rhodesian Army invented, developed, and mastered the concept, on a shoestring budget.

The vehicles were called Mine Ambush Protected or MAPs, and a confusing variety were improvised and made in unit workshops and national steel-working firms from about 1972 to the end of the war.

These vehicles might be entirely lost to history, if not for two things: the cruelty & corruption of the Mugabe regime which produced a global Rhodesian diaspora; and the obsessive-compulsive tendencies of combat-vehicle modelers, who pursue the most minute details with a singlemindedness that Javert himself could only envy.

Between the proud Rhodies, wherever they may fetch up these days, and the fiddly autism-spectrum anoraks who seem to breathe a heady mixture of detail and toluene, plenty of information about Rhodesian vehicles is at hand (and more is emerging regularly).

The best place to begin is wargamer John Wynne Hopkins’s page. He has done an intensive study of these vehicles.

The Problem

This photo illustrates the problem:

Mercedes 4.5 under tow

The slick-sided Mercedes 4.5 ton truck hit a land mine enroute out, and is being towed back to base. Hopkins (from whom we light-fingered the photo) explains that this is a convoy of 5 Independent Company, Rhodesian African Rifles, enroute back from a trip in support of the elections for the brief (and internationally unrecognized) compromise Zimbabwe-Rhodesia government in January 1979. Their efforts were futile: American President Jimmy Carter and British Foreign Minister Lord Carrington had agreed to support only “one man, one vote, one time” elections as demanded by the nominally Communist kleptocrats who led the two guerrilla movements.

5 Indep Coy RAR convoy forms up at Derowa Mine for ‘Muzorewa’ elections Jan 1979. … Unfortunately, one of these pookies [mine countermeasures vehicle — Ed.] could not be spared on the journey out, with the result that the 45 seen being towed hit a mine (2nd in the convoy), as did a mobile surgical unit second from back. No casualties, thank goodness, although the driver of the 45 was severely shaken – the anti-mine armour had only been fitted the day before to an almost new vehicle.

Of course the driver was shaken! The mine went off right in front of him (vehicles in Rhodesia were right-hand drive).

Anti-mine armor on vehicle chassis or floorboards was an interim step; the definitive Rhodesian vehicles were full MAPs, but there were never enough to eliminate the use of slick trucks.

There are basically two classes of Rhodesian MAPs: transport/utility vehicles, and mine-clearing vehicles.

Mine Protected Transports

As you might expect from the improvisational, highly decentralized Rhodesian Army, a wide variety of vehicles were made, with some of the more exotic and lower-density ones appearing in elite forces’ motor pools.

We despaired of ever sorting these out, but Don Blevin came to our rescue (via Hopkins) with a great chart of the main variants, based on the three chassis they were produced on: the Nissan 2-ton commercial truck, the Mercedes 4.5 ton, and the Mercedes 2.5 ton Unimog.

We joined the two sides of the drawing and cleaned it up a bit. Don Blevin illustration.

We joined the two sides of the drawing and cleaned it up a bit. Don Blevin illustration. It embiggens thunderously.

This chart makes it look nice and neat. It wasn’t, though, because there were modifications and special purpose vehicles like weapons carriers and wreckers. Here’s some more Mercedes variants (same source):


And if you have a hard time keeping the Mercedes family straight, wait till you check out the utility Unimogs.


As you’ve seen from the initial image, a truck could take a TM-46 hit and still be survivable — it was luck of the draw based on where the blast took the vehicle. The truck in that picture was probably soon repaired and back in the field.

Mine Countermeasures Vehicles

If the Navy can use minesweepers, why can’t the Army? That simple question lay at the moment of conception of the Pookie, the principal Rhodie mine countermeasures vehicle. (There were others, built on the same principle.

A somewhat forlorn Pookie on display. From a photo essay here.

A somewhat forlorn Pookie on display. From a photo walkaround by Steve Barrow here.

There were never enough to keep earthen roads open, so vehicles ran in convoys — another lift from naval experience). The Pookie’s equivalent of a naval minesweeper’s nonmagnetic hull was its very low ground pressure, too low to trigger an AT mine. It could trigger anti-personnel mines, and anti-tampering devices attached to the secondary fuze wells on AT mines.

Between 1972 and 1980, it is estimated that more than 600 people were killed and thousands more injured by landmines on hundred of kilometres of roads and runways in Rhodesia. The toll would have been much higher but for the invention of Pookie, a small detection vehicle designed to travel ahead of military and civilian convoys and light enough not to detonate anti-tank mines.

Pookie, originally designed and developed by Ernest Konschel, an engineer and farmer from Rhodesia, was constructed on a lightweight chassis and carried a one-person armour-plated cab. The cab had a V-shaped undercarriage designed to deflect any blast away from the driver and to combat centre blast mines. The wheels were positioned some distance from the cab, again to protect the driver in the event of detonation by offsetting the seat of explosion, and they were housed in Formula One racing tires, apparently bought in bulk from the South African Grand Prix. Wide with low pressure, they exert a minimum ground force. The vehicle was propelled by an engine from a Volkswagen Beetle that was capable of taking Pookie to mine detection speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour. Two drop-arm detectors were mounted left and right and equipped with a detection system that bounced magnetic waves into the ground as well as an acoustic signal to indicate metal.

On first trials, Pookie detected every metallic mine and went on to prove itself both reliable and safe. Even though Pookies did detonate anti-personnel mines and several booby-trapped anti-tank mines in action with the Rhodesian army, this was only at the cost of new wheels and rim replacements, but no serious human casualty.

Only one Pookie operator lost his life during the vehicle’s long service. His tiny cab was hit by a lucky RPG-7 shot, and his number was up. Pookies shrugged off small arms, and a tank mine detonation only disabled the vehicle, blowing off one or more sacrificial wheels, but the operator survived — shaken and temporarily deaf, usually. None of the Pookies ever ditecyly tripped a TM-46, the Soviet anti-tank mine that was the Rhodesian terrorists’ primary weapon, but they did .

The initial detector used coils that were contained in long cylinders that could be lowered parallel to the surface of the road, or raised for transport.

The Pookie Today

The source of the above quote was this feature in a counter-mining journal by Willie Lawrence, which goes into detail about how wartime Pookies have been rehabbed and updated with ground-penetrating radar for detecting the improved (if that’s the word) anti-magnetic mines that international mine-clearing groups are dealing with today.

And the concept has been extended today with countermine vehicles like the Meerkat (caution, many spammy popups at that link). But the Pookie stands out as an example of brilliant simplicity, enabled as much as its designers were restricted by the fact that the Rhodesian Army had no choice but to run lean and on a shoestring.

How Long is an M2HB .50 Good For?

Nobody really knows, but this one came in to the Anniston Army Depot for conversion. They’d already stamped it M2A1 (as can be seen in this close-close-blow-up, along with the original maker marks of “Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Mfg Co, Hartford”) when they realized it wasn’t just any M2 heavy machine gun. It was older than the oldest one they had kept as a museum display! Serial Number 324 was probably made in 1921 or 1922, and had never been overhauled before.


The Army PR release was picked up by a site called We Are The Mighty, and from there, one of our commenters flagged us to it.

Roughly 94 years after the first production run of M2 machine guns came off the assembly line, the 324th weapon produced made it to Anniston Army Depot for overhaul and upgrade.

Cody Bryant, left, and Corby Tinney inspect the 324th M2 receiver ever produced. The weapon arrived at Anniston Army Depot to be converted to a M2A1 in May. Photo: Army Materiel Command Mrs. Jennifer Bacchus

In more than 90 years of existence, the receiver with serial number 324 has never been overhauled.

“Looking at the receiver, for its age, it looks good as new and it gauges better than most of the other weapons,” said John Clark, a small arms repair leader.


Despite the fact that the weapon still meets most specifications, it may be destined for the scrap yard.

Modifications made to the weapon in the field mean part of the receiver would have to be removed through welding and replaced with new metal, a process which usually means the receiver is scrap.

“I’d rather put this one on display than send it to the scrap yard,” said Clark, adding the weapon’s age makes it appealing as a historical artifact.

Currently, the 389th M2 is on display in the Small Arms Repair Facility. There is an approval process the older weapon would have to go through in order to be similarly displayed. Clark and Jeff Bonner, the Weapons Division chief, are researching and beginning that process.

via The Army found an M2 .50 caliber machine-gun still shooting perfectly after 90 years of service.

When you think about what has changed since 1921, two competing thoughts come to mind. This first is: it’s about time they did something about headspace and timing, long the one real anachronism of the brilliant Browning designs. And the second: while the M2HB has outlasted a half-dozen would-be replacements, what else from 1921 is still current?

Not cars. Here’s a 1921 Chevrolet:

1921 Chevrolet

Here’s another. This one’s for sale. Good luck, buyers.


Here’s the telephone company in 1921:

1921 telephone office

Winners of a “Bathing Beauties” swimsuit competition:

bathing beauties 1922

(OK, we cheated a little, the Atlantic City Bathing Beauties are from ’22).

And in 1921, the US Army took two bold moves into the future. It established a new form of mobile unit, in answer to the trench warfare of World War I: the First Cavalry Division. Yes, on horses.


And the Army introduced a new gun: Gun, Machine, .50, M2, Flexible, Heavy Barrel. While most of everything else from 1921 is as obsolete as the cavalry charge, the M2 is going to make its centenary with relatively few improvements.

Who knew it would outlast the horses?

Dahlgren and the Civil War

This is going to be a brief post, but that’s because we’re sending you to a long .pdf.

Dahlgren Model

Dahlgren Gun model by Kent Hobson. This one’s on a 360º traversing, recoiling carriage — cutting edge for 1865.

The Dahlgren guns were named for their inventor, in the naval tradition of the era a competent engineer as well as a serving naval officer. John A. Dahlgren was nearly killed by an exploding 32-pounder1 cannon.

I said, “Fire.” An unusual explosion took place instantly. The battery was filled with smoke, and a great crash of timber was heard. Behind me I heard the ground ploughed up, and of the things that fell, something grazed my heels, which afterwards proved to be a part of the breeching, a piece weighing two thousand pounds. Much stunned by the noise and the concussion, I turned to the battery. Amid the smoke, yet lifting slowly, the first object I saw was the body of the unfortunate gunner, stretched out on the deck and quite dead.

That moment of shock and chagrin in November 1849 was the impetus behind the Dahlgren gun, and Dahlgren is probably best remembered today as the name of the gun, rather than the man — even though we went on to fly a rear admiral’s flag and assault Charleston himself in the Civil War (the city held at that point).

Dahlgren concluded that the only real defense against a bursting gun was the thickness of the barrel. His genius was to lighten the gun only forward of the trunnions — the section of the barrel called the “chase” — and to have the change in sizes be turned to produce an aesthetic (and stress relieving) soda bottle shape. While a 15-inch Dahlgren would be a bit of a dog (for one thing, due to a Navy Department screw-up, the OD of the muzzle was wider than the width of the slots in the turrets of the monitors for which the guns were built. But the 9- and 11-inch Dahlgrens were vital naval and fortress weapons during the civil war — and beyond.

Dahlgren, who was held back by skeptical seniors early in his career, lived to be the skeptical senior holding back talented juniors.

The whole Dahlgren story and its context in the Civil War and beyond is recorded in a well-developed, -illustraed, and -documented couple dozen pages [.pdf] by historian Robert. J. Schneller, Jr., for the American Society of Arms Collectors. Read The Whole Thing™!


  1. A 32-pounder had a 6.4 inch bore and weighed three to four tons; the powder charge was something over five pounds of black powder.


The Twilight of Bronze Cannon

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!

Bronze was a very, very early weapons material, being used for swords and spears millennia before the birth of Christ. It came to be replaced in those roles by wrought (forged) iron, but would have a renaissance after the advent of gunpowder.

Why? Because until the development of steel had reached a point were cannon barrels could be made consistently of steel, bronze remained a nearly ideal cannon-barrel material, suitable to be cast and machined, and fairly durable.

As late as 1860, the metals available to the cannon foundry were cast iron, wrought (forged) iron, some primitive steel, and bronze.

Cast iron was the cheapest of these metals, and it could be used to make very large muzzle-loading cannon, if weight was not an issue. That’s because the designer could always add more thickness of iron to beef up his cannon — if it could be used. This meant that cast iron was less than ideal for field artillery, which had to be transported (usually by horse team) and emplaced in the field.

Peacemaker explosionWrought, which today we would call Forged, iron,  was a superior metal — in theory. In practice, it was hard to make. Two early forged cannon were made for USS Princeton in 1843. One, called Orator, was found to be deficient due to cracks, and was reinforced with welded-on bands for greater strength. The other, Peacemaker, was not as thoroughly tested, and during a demonstration for dignitaries on 28 Feb 1843, its breech shattered, killing a variety of people from the personal slave of President John Tyler to the Secretaries of State and the Navy. In the freak accident, the gun crew and gunnery officers of the ship (who were hands-on in service of the gun in front of the VIPs) were not seriously injured, while the fatalities were among the watching VIPs. The captain of the ship, Robert F. Stockton (who had supervised the design of the ship and the guns) was standing with the VIPs, and survived with severe injuries.

The officers and men of the Princeton were examined by a board of inquiry, and cleared. But a Congressional Committee was of the opinion that large wrought iron guns were “an unusual species of armament, attended with danger.”

Simpson reported that a scientific analysis was made of the shattered gun Peacemaker by an eminent committee from the Franklin Institute:

[The] committee reported the iron had decreased very much in strength from the long exposure to the intense heat necessary in making a gun of that size, while it was impossible to restore the fibre by hammering, the strength before and after welding being about as 6 to 5.

Looking forward in 1862, Simpson continued that paragraph:

Some guns of smaller size have been made, however, and with such success, as to render it probable that wrought iron or steel will be extensively used, especially for rifled field cannon. Pieces of this material may be made very light, but their carriages will be strained accordingly.

In fact, forging iron at that size was bleeding-edge tech in 1843, and even by the early years of the civil war, the full promise of forged and welded cannon barrels had yet to be fulfilled. (Civil War practice would become to reinforce cast cannon with welded bands). The Princeton investigation discovered that many European experiments in forged cannon had likewise failed. To complicate matters, wrought iron cannons were over six times as expensive as cast-iron.

Steel, at that time, an alloy formed by iron with certain low percentages of carbon evenly diffused throughout the alloy, was the promising “material of the future”. Simpson’s comparison noted that:

Refined steel, therefore, which has about one per cent. of carbon, is a metal that both forges and melts. Cast iron, with five per cent. of carbon, only melts, and wrought-iron, having no carbon, only forges.

Production of steel was difficult and required a cementation process with high heat in which iron took up carbon from charcoal in the absence of oxygen.  Only low quantities could be produced and not enough for mid-19th-Century martial purposes such as ship armor (called “ship cuirasses” by Simpson!) or, for our purposes, cannon. Thus, steel was not practical at the outbreak of the Civil War. That left bronze.

Bronze is copper alloyed with tin — there are now many numbered alloys, but about 10% tin was the early rule of thumb. And in many ways bronze was an ideal cannon material. The tin increased the hardness of the copper without negatively impacting its “tenacity”, in the terms of the time. Yet it was practical to cast; by happy accident, normal casting procedures produced a gun stronger in the breech than the muzzle end. And it was comparatively light in weight, making it suitable for light horse and even hand-emplaced artillery, and light guns on small vessels.

Like cast, and unlike wrought, iron, bronze could be and was recycled in the mid-19th Century cannon foundry; a failed casting was a waste of time (as we will see, quite a lot of time) and labor, but not material, as the botched casting could be readily sawn apart and remelted. .

16th Century bronze cannon foundry, Italy. Guns are not yet cast vertical. Buti, Lodovico (1550/60-1611); Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

16th Century bronze cannon foundry, Italy. Guns are not yet cast vertical. Buti, Lodovico (1550/60-1611); Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

Simpson was not blind to the mystery of using such an ancient material on what was then high-technology weaponry:

It is a singular fact, that the ancient composition of bronze has remained almost unchanged to the present day, and the metal from cannon is found to be almost identical in the proportions of copper and tin with the rude weapons of Scandinavian, Celtic, Egyptian, Greek and Roman warfare. The amount of tin in bronze varies in different countries from 9 to 12.5 parts to 100 of copper: 12.5 parts are used in this country; and in France, 11 parts is fixed by law as the proper amount.

The alloy was never uniform throughout the gun.

As with many other metallic alloys, the combination between the two metals in bronze is so imperfect, that very slight forces are sufficient to cause its separation into two or more different alloys, which, on cooling, are found to occupy different portions of the mass. In casting a gun, for example, the outside, which cools first, has a constitution different from that assigned by the proportions of the metals, as fixed for fusion. The interior, which cools last, has another, different from both, and always richer in tin. On being examined after cooling, portions at different heights are found to differ from each other; and this difference varies along the exterior and interior portions, so that no two adjacent portions have strictly the same chemical constitution; the maximum of copper being found in the exterior and breech of the gun, making these portions less flexible, and the maximum tin in the interior and higher parts.

This shows a hollow-cast iron Rodman gun, but shows the vertical orientation of period foundries' casting pits

This shows a hollow-cast iron Rodman gun, but shows the vertical orientation of period foundries’ casting pits

This metal distribution in the cast gun could produce a gun optimally strong in the right places:

Specimens taken from the top and bottom of the casting, show also a very great difference in density and tenacity, the density at the breech being much greater, and the tenacity, in one instance cited, more than double. The sinking head (which is the additional length cast on the muzzle of a gun) is, in consequence of these facts, made much longer in casting bronze guns than is otherwise necessary.

As you might imagine, a gun cast muzzle-down would, conversely, be weak where it needed to be strong. Cannon founders had worked this out empirically, long before the samples Simpson writes about were ever analyzed.

Once the gun had been cast, significant amounts of effort went into post-casting machining processes, regardless of whether the cannon was made of iron or bronze.


The Downsides of Bronze

Bronze was not without problems. It was harder to find than iron, and by the Civil War it cost as much to make a bronze field piece as it did to roll the dice on a wrought iron one — over six times the cost of cast iron. And bronze guns were life-limited. Simpson noted:

The fusibility of tin is such also as to render it liable to melt by slow degrees during the heat of a brisk cannonade, and thus bronze pieces sometimes become soft and spongy about the bore. The gases produced by the combustion of gunpowder, also produce an injurious effect upon this kind of piece by acting chemically on the bronze.

Casting a bronze piece was difficult and time consuming. The copper was melted first, which could take seven hours, and at the exact right point the tin had to be added. Too late and you had inclusions rather than a uniform-ish alloy; too soon and the tin burned off as scoria, or scale. To maintain the uniformity of the alloy, the molten bronze had to be constantly agitated, which workers did with sacrificial wooden poles (while another foundry worker skimmed the scoria and ash resulting from the poles’ combustion).

Other materials were considered for cannon manufacture in the mid-19th Century. Copper alloys with zinc were perhaps better than bronze, copper’s alloy with tin, but Simpson wrote that, “the difficulty of making this alloy, has caused its use in the manufacture of cannon to be abandoned.”

In the end, ingenuity would finally produce a working forged iron gun, the US 3-inch Ordnance Rifle of 1864. Its production was a brutal combination of fire & iron, worked by muscle, as modern reproducer of vintage artillery, Steen Cannons, notes:

[N]ew forging and welding methods brought new promise for wrought iron. A pile of wrought iron rods 7/8″ X 7/8″ X 4-1/2 feet were welded together to form a mandrel. A long bar 3/4″ X 4-1/2′ was wound spirally around this by revolving the lathe, three successive layers were thus applied to the mandrel, each layer spiraling in a direction opposite of the previous one. A thin layer of staves was applied to the outside, and a plug driven to form the breech. Welding heat was then attained and the mass was rolled out to the length of seven feet. Trunnions were welded on and the gun was bored and rifled from the solid. The 3-inch Ordnance Rifle was the second most common rifled field gun found in the Union and Confederate armies.

(Steen’s reproduction isn’t made that arduous way — they cast iron around a rifled liner!). The other common answer to the metallurgical problem was the Parrott approach, to wrap a wrought-iron band or bands around the breech of a cast iron gun for strength,

The 19th Century would see a revolution in metallurgy, rendering the state-of-the-art bronze field piece of 1860, by the 1870s, a quaint, obsolete artifact suitable only for guarding a courthouse or a village green. (Simpson probably didn’t envision either the short life of his textbook at the Academy, or its long tail of utility to us historians). But for the first half to nearly two-thirds of the century, the Bronze Age hung on in warfare.


Parmenter, William, et al. Accident on Steam-Ship “Princeton”  Report Nº 479 of the Committee on Naval Affairs, 28th Congress. Washington, 1844: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from:

Simpson, Lt. Edward. A Treatise on Ordnance and Naval Gunnery: Compiled and Arranged as a Text Book for the US Naval Academy. Second Edition. New York, 1862: Van Nostrand. Retrieved from:

For the Man who Has Everything

Or, hey, the woman. We’d like to see Tam put 1,000 rounds through this! (Although, truth be told, it’s demilled). Available for sale on a European armor and armament sales website, along with its 203 mm howitzer counterpart, the 155 mm “Long Tom” gun was the staple US military heavy piece of World War II. The seller has a French name and a French (33) telephone code.

WWII 155 mm Long Tom

Of course, moving this gun between the USA and France is possible — it’s been done before, right? — but you can’t just click the Pelican case shut and check it like a bag.

At the time the M1 gun was developed during and just after the First World War, most world armies maintained both “guns” (which shot a smaller higher-velocity projectile a longer distance at a lower angle) and “howitzers” which shot a larger, lower-velocity projectile a shorter distance at a higher angle. Later, technical improvements in howitzers would render most guns obsolete, and today, howitzers fill both roles.

Both the 155 and 203 were US improvements on foreign guns, a WWI French 155 and the WWI British 8″ howitzer. (In inches, 155 mm is a hair over 6″). The American-designed chassis had a number of improvements, including the hydraulic “equilibrators” which made up for having the gun’s pivot point so afar aft of its center of mass, and the carriage that used eight road wheels and a two-wheeled bogey or limber to support the tow end of the trails and connect to the towing pintle of the tow vehicle. The tow vehicle was either a heavy truck or a “high-speed tractor” that used light-tank running gear.

This period Popular Science article describes and illustrates some of the then-new features of the M1 “Long Tom” 155.

The seller, Jean Petit (whose name is the French opposite of Long Tom, we note) describes it like this:

Very rare and impressive piece of history, deactivated main gun, weight 14 tons, towed by High Speed tractor or 7 ton truck, Price on application, this historic artillery is properly deactivated. Also available one each deactivated heavy howitzer 203 mm version, WW2 manufactured, probably the only one’s available in this good original condition.

M Petit has a large number of other historic pieces and vehicles for sale. The European site has an extensive set of interesting classifieds.

Hat tip, Miguel at GunFreeZone.

Combat Tricycle of a Century Past

These things look like they came out of some Hollywood prop shop for an Indiana Jones reboot. Or something like that. But they’re real, these combat tricycles, and they have a story.


While World War II is thought of as the first mobile war, and World War I is considered a static war, it was the Great War that first saw motorization used (apart from railways, of course, which were key terrain in many 19th-Century wars).

Russia had the worst roads, and the most backward motor vehicle industry, of any wartime power. No firm could mass-produce military vehicles, and so the Tsar’s needs for trucks, tractors and especially for the new category of armored vehicle were met largely with imports.

One of these hastily produced vehicles was the Filitov Tricycle Armored Car. It looks, frankly, impractical — not many three-wheeled vehicles were made between Cugnot and Reliant, and we don’t know of any others made for combat. But according to Jim Kinnear — whose real focus was on later, Soviet, armored cars –some 20 of them were made and deployed. Kinnear’s write-up of the Tricycle is confined to a single picture caption, and as far as we know, it’s the only English-language source on this combat vehicle.

The narrow wheels and tires look unsuited for rural Russian roads even today. While Kinnear notes contemporary vehicles like the Russo-Baltic Model M packed either three M1905 Maxim water-cooled machine guns, or one 37mm cannon, Filitov’s tricycle appears from the photo to be innocent of any armament, but we learn below it was, indeed, well if unconventionally armed.

The competing Russo-Baltic Model M was not without its limitations. Despite being well armed and stout enough for Russian roads, it had a top speed of only 12 mph. (Engineering always demands a trade-off!) Before the war, the Russo-Baltic company in Riga, Latvia (not then an independent nation, but occupied by the Russian Empire) was the main producer of armored cars, but its early production was probably only in the dozens. (During World War I, the factory would reiocate East, and remain part of postwar Russia). Beginning in 1913, the Russian War Office ordered many (hundreds) of armored cars from overseas makers, mostly British and German (the German orders stopped when the war began of course), and many Russian firms began designing and building in hopes of getting one of those military contracts.

Subsequent Leninist historiography has obscured some of this, but Russian capitalism in the time before the war was highly entrepreneurial and dynamic (it was the fastest-growing economy in Europe, but then, it started from behind the western powers). And Russian education, particularly in the fields we now call STEM, was first rate, which created a great bounty of imaginative engineers and led them to develop such new technologies as armored vehicles, the half-track (a Russian invention, as we’ve noted before) and large aircraft (pioneered by a Russian engineer from Kiev, Igor Sikorsky). Initially, the war provided more impetus for these concepts ahead of their time, with Sikorsky (working with that same Russo-Baltic Company!) to develop his four-engined le Grand into the Ilya Muroumetz bomber, the world’s first four-engined bomber, and the Putilov Plant (in St. Petersburg) to develop a category-breaking armored car:

Late in 1914, the Putilov Plant in St. Petersburg began production of an 8,000 kg armored car armed with a 76.2 mm field gun. The new Putilov-Garford armored car was designed by F.F. Lender, who placed the 76.2mm gun in a rear turret. This provided a good arc of fire, with additional machine gun armament being provided for close support. It was later claimed by Russia as the world’s first wheeled self-propelled gun. The Putilov Garford was built in small numbers and made a significant contribution during the First World War and the Russian Civil War, which followed the 1917 Revolution. The vehicle, with its impressive 76.2 mm armament, was often used to engage armored trains and served with the Red Army into the 1930s as a railway artillery vehicle, with its wheels converted to run on the Russian rail system.1

Kinnear goes on to describe how the environment at the time reinforced this groundbreaking spirit and produced an engineering Big Bang of sorts:

During the First World War,before the major armored car manufacturers of the 1930s became established, many enterprising private individuals also designed armored vehicles on imported chassis in an attempt to have their projects accepted for lucrative military contracts. Many Russian armored car designs developed in the period 1914-18 included innovative features which were not included in series-produced vehicles until many years later. Noteworthy developments included the engineer Poplavko’s Poplavko-Jeffery (AB-9) armored car of 1915 with its 4×4 chassis, twin engines, twin driver’s positions, five forward and five reverse gears, and 16 mm frontal armor. The Renault Mgebrov, designed in 1914 with its highly faceted armor for maximum ballistic protection and the incorporation of armored glass was also an interesting design concept. The futuristic-looking Renault Mgebrov was manufactured in small numbers from the spring of 1916. During the same period, 1915-17, N.N. Lebedenko designed several armored cars in the town of Dmitrov, near Moscow. In 1915 Colonel Gulkevitch designed a 40 tonne armored car on the imported Lombard chassis armed with a field gun intended for heavy fire support for infantry. Gulkevitch’s design was impractical and not developed beyond conceptual stage, however he was particularly interested in the advantages of half-tracks for crossing obstacles, including barbed wire defenses. He went on to significantly modify his original plans and developed his designs into the first Russian half-track armored car for which the Putilov plant provided the armored body.

Though their ideas were not generally developed beyond prototype or limited series production stage at the time, these designers would play a prominent part in the development of future series-produced armored cars, while many of the ideas, such as the twin engines used on the Poplavko-Jeffery AB-9, were to be incorporated many years later in post World War Two vehicles such as the BTR-60 APC series.2

It was during this flowering of military technology that the Filitov Tricycle was produced.

A little digging found a Czech web page which has more details from a Russian source, and a crude (Google?) machine translation into English, and more photos. The weapons (Maxim M1910 machine guns or a short-barreled 76.2 mm artillery piece) were mounted to fire to the rear.

The pictures include this side view of the MG and cannon version. The strut under the cannon version was to brace the armored car so the recoil of the gun did not flip it! It looks like there was a different chassis for the two different versions; there is certainly a different armor arrangement.

from Kolomiets and Baratinsky filatov

According to the page, which cites the work by Kolomiets and Baratinsy, Filatov (note the different spelling) was a major general in command of an officer’s school at Oranienbaum. He started the design in early 1915 and in December they produced an MG-armed prototype.

MG-armed Filatov on the range

MG-armed Filatov on the range

It says eIght production vehicles were made by May 1916, one cannon prototype (apparently the only one made), and eight more production vehicles after that. They used a variety of chassis from auto wrecks; there was no standardization and they must have been maintenance-challenged. They had 4-6 mm of armor (presumably face-hardened armor) and the MG version weighed 1.8 tonnes. The gun version was 0.8 t heavier and was thought to be impractical, hence the single prototype.

The two most salient identification features are the rear-mounted, rear-firing armament, and the large spotlights.

The prototype 76.2 mm Filatov firing. These pictures appear to be taken at the same place and time as the leading picture.

The prototype 76.2 mm Filatov firing. These pictures appear to be taken at the same place and time as the leading picture.

(It’s not clear if these are gross weights including fuel, ammo and the two-man crew, or net weights).

They don’t appear to have been used against the Germans, but perhaps in the Civil War. None are known to survive.

Finally, here is the Czech site’s version of the same photo Kinnear used. Is it a bit clearer?



  1. Kinnear, p. 7.
  2. Kinnear, pp. 7-8.


Kinnear, James. Russian Armored Cars: 1930-2000. Darlington, Maryland: Darlington Productions, 2000.

Kolomiets, M. & Baratinsky, M.: Bronjeavtomobili Ruskoj Armii 1906-1917, [Armored Cars of the Russian Army]. Technitsky Molodyezh, Moscow 2000 (via

Inside the T-14 Armata

People have been wondering exactly how the crew is laid out and works together in the new Russian T-14 Armata tank. Here is an answer, as what appears to be a pick-up crew (test crew? journalists?) sets up and fires the Armata’s main armament. Some comments after the brief video.

They’re going to have to go a lot faster than this in combat, but see comments on the crew above the video. A well-drilled crew, comfortable with live-firing the tank, should slam through this. These guys are leisurely, relaxed. “Ogon?” (Fire). (pause) “Ogon!” (pause). FOOM. Those pauses go away with practice.

The high level of automation in the Armata is evident here. It’s a well-thought out tank, and with the whole crew in the same can, crew coordination is simplified. In the flight-training world, there’s a general consensus that it’s easier and more effective to teach in a side-by-side environment. Curtis LeMay himself threw a wobbler when Boeing prepared a jet for him (the XB-52) with a tandem crew as in the previous jet (B-47), and he made Boeing change it for the production jets. Putting the TC, gunner and driver side-by-side has the same benefits in a tank that it does in a jet bomber.

We’re a little concerned about the idea of touch screens in a combat vehicle. Again in aviation, we’ve discovered that two things are problems with touch-screens in aircraft. In turbulent conditions, it can be hard to hit the button you want. And worse, it’s possible to hit a button you don’t want. Now, this is not an insuperable problem. The avionics makers have worked out some solutions and/or work-arounds, including backup manual knobs, user-controllable delays on keys (i.e. you have to hold it for a half-second to activate it), and even environmentally adaptive delays (the delay increases if the accelerometers in the Air Data and Altitude/Heading Reference System see accelerations characteristic of turbulence). So if they can solve it for an airplane moving at hundreds of kilometers an hour through three-dimensionally through a moving, changing medium, the Russians can solve it for a tank juddering over the ground at a max of dozens of K and taking the occasional hit.

The touch screens of the Armata look like COTS computers running application, not a bespoke interface. This has both pros and cons, something the Russian engineers certainly understand.

Tanks normally operate best opened up and lose considerable situational awareness when combat forces them to button up. NATO tankers in particular like to fight their tanks from open cupola. But the Armata seems designed to give its TC best situational awareness when he’s reclining in his couch, not head up out of the turret. This is in keeping with Russian/Soviet tank doctrine that expects tanks to operate on a battlefield swept not only by small arms, tank, and mortar and indirect fire, but also by billowing clouds of chemical and biological weapons. In that environment, the TC in an climate-controlled compartment with the rest of his crew is miles ahead of the guy who might be out of his turret, but sweating in a MOPP4 suit and squinting through a gas mask, or in any US tank where NBC protection is an afterthought.

Finally, this is a tank that exists in platoon or maybe company strength. It’s still a test article. It could evolve in other directions. The Russians are not going to send these to their sheep-dipped units in eastern Ukraine, let alone their “USA is nutless, so we might as well” expeditionary force in Syria. When they do sell them to allies that might use them in combat — probably, Iran, and probably, soon, because they want foreign sales to subsidize Russian Army production — the allies will not get the full version. Of course, a tank that is so very dependent on software makes the production of what Soviet guys back in the day used to call their “monkey model” for export relatively easy.

It also enables a couple of logistic things that haven’t been done quite this way before. For example, Russian Army tanks could be very quickly reconfigured and flown to an ally in extremis, as the USA did with Israel in 1973, and also, Russian crews could be rapidly airlifted and fall in on an ally’s monkey-model tanks, flashing them to full Russian Army standard with a firmware upgrade. This would be an improvement on the US’s Cold War REFORGER prepositioned unit sets, by getting the allies to store, maintain and exercise the unit sets unless and until Ivan needs them.

Even if this tank is never produced in more than limited quantities, it is a revolutionary tank that must be taken seriously. We expect to see some of these concepts influencing future Western developments.

Archaeology Find Confirms 1777 Battle Story

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

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

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

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

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

Hessian Map of the Battle Area

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

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

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

 My Lord,

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

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

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

Contemporary woodcut of the Battle of Red Bank.

Contemporary woodcut of the Battle of Red Bank.

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

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

I have the honor to be, &c.

W. Howe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am, &c.
John Vaughn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a ghost story involving Hessians with mismatched heads.

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

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

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




The South Will Rise Again! Be Ready.

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

1851 mountain howitzer firing

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


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

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

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

via Cannon Mountain Howitzer 1851 : Other Collectible Guns at

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

1851 mountain howitzer wheel

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

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

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

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

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

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

ATF Shadow-Bans 40mm Practice Ammunition

Well, that’s going to make conducting our planned M203 class hard impossible. The ATF, pushing the limits of what can be done with a stroke of the pen, is declaring previously approved illumination and training-practice rounds (the orange chalk marking rounds) to be “explosives”. They’re following this up with trips out to individuals to confiscate the ammunition for their approved, stamped Destructive Device 40mm launchers, unless the owner happens to have an explosives license and an ATF-approved bunker.

M992 IR round

Ammunition they have confirmed they are confiscating is M992 infrared illumination and the M781 training practice round (seen below on the range, as featured in a story last year).

m203 Firing

The practice round has a plastic shell and contains a day-glow orange (and naturally degradable, environmentally friendly, even) chalk filling. It’s supposed to be a ballistic match for the HEDP round.

Here are some comments from an Arfcom thread on the subject. The original post:

Apparently the 40mm M992 IR flares are considered to be a explosive round. This is news to me. They got my name from the dealer I purchased them from, apparently they didn’t know either. Any one have any info on this. I’ve been googling it for a couple of hours now and can’t find anything.

He left his card on my front door. He said he was going to bring a copy of the explosives tech branch ruling.

The follow-up after the ATF visit, emphasis ours:

Ok so a update. The agent that showed up was an actual bomb tech. I surrendered the rounds under protest per the advice of a attorney. The bomb tech was a really cool guy. He agreed that it was pretty stupid and he hated to do it but he was being forced to help out with the case. He did also tell me that they had sent him out to take 40mm chalk rounds under the same case. I walked out to the truck with him and watched him place the rounds in the explosive magazine in his truck. When I told him I was surrendering the rounds under protest he looked at me and said “good I hope you can fight it and get them back because this whole situation is stupid.” I’m not sure if I will go to court over it or not. I’m not out enough money for it to be a big deal but it’s an issue that has me concerned. I know there are not enough people out there with registered DD M203’s for this case to ever become a big deal but it is really shitty that as far as I can tell all 40mm rounds are considered to be Low Explosives and can not be owned unless you have a explosive licence.

Note that the “explosives tech branch ruling” has not been furnished, although this letter is circulating. It was addressed to the original Arfcom poster’s dealer, the one that had sold him the rounds.

40mm M992 Confiscation Letter.pdf

And, a comment in the same Arfcom thread by a different user:

I just contacted my Senator and OMB concerning this. My Senator is very concerned and OMB’s response was interesting in that they say ATF is citing one section of law while ignoring others that define what makes a DD. OMB believes that ATF may be outside of the law on this and will be contacting my Senator tomorrow. After a nice discussion with an investigator there, it appears ATF is fudging the language of the applied section of code to make a determination to allow them to confiscate. The investigator with OMB believes that this may warrant action against FTB in BATFE. We shall see what happens if anything. But there is absolutely no doubt that BATFE is deliberately incorrectly interpreting the section of code and is pursuing illegal action.

Meanwhile, another user’s comments show that ATF’s capricious volte face on this ammo is having the desired chilling effect:

This is some terrible news. I just got my 40mm LMT launcher approved last month and have been looking forward to getting chalk rounds and illumination. I guess I will have to wait and see what happens next. Total bummer.

Our friends inside ATF say that the initiative was conceived and planned in the Chief Counsel’s Office. That way, managers have explained to the rank and file, they won’t have to answer questions to the public, press or Congress “because everything is under lawyer-client privilege.” They seemed to split on whether Acting Director Thomas Brandon initiated this policy or merely signed off on it. “It wasn’t his idea,” one told us flatly. “He’s not that bright. It came from the lawyers, or from DOJ through the lawyers.”

The Chief Counsel’s Office is in an unusual position in the ATF org chart, coequal on the chart (but more powerful in practice) than the Chief of Staff, and superior to the Deputy Director/Chief Operating Officer.