Category Archives: Weapons that Made their Mark

What Did a Luger Cost? (Updated)

This Commercial Mauser Luger was made very close to these cost figures -- in 1939. From the Sturgess collection, now for sale by Jackson Armory.

This Commercial Mauser Luger was made very close to these cost figures — in 1939. From the Sturgess collection, now for sale by Jackson Armory. ($3,450!)

Well, that depends. There’s a lot of different ways to look at this question. But what we’re going to do, is look at what it cost to manufacture a Luger. As it happens, the great book Mauser Pistolen has a table of Luger production costs in 19401. From there we can calculate would it cost in 1940 dollars, and from there it’s possible to make an estimate of its production cost in 2016, in today’s dollars. Let’s start by transcribing the original document, from the collection of Mauser Pistolen co-author Jon Speed. We’ll apply our MBA-fu and a little search online to translate the quaint old German accounting terms.

Table 1: P.08 with Haenel Magazine — Full Cost Accounting

Item Item (English) Cost, 1940 RM
Werkstoff Material 1.82
2 Haenel – Mag. 2 Haenel Magazines 5.32
Summe SubTotal 7.14
Fertigungslohn Direct Labor 10.21
Werkstoffgemeinkosten @6.8% Material Overhead @6.8% 0.49
Betriebsgemeinkosten @182.7% Factory (Business) Overhead @182.7% 18.65
SubTotal SubTotal 36.49
Kostenabweichung @7.6% Cost Variance @7.6% 0.78
Summe SubTotal 37.27
Zuschlag für Ausschuss @2.2% Surcharge for Spoilage (waste/scrap) @2.2% 0.82
Herstellkosten Manufacturing Costs 38.09
Verwaltungs- u. Vertriebsgemeinkosten @3.8% Administration & Sales Costs @3.8% 1.45
Umsatzsteueuer aus RM47.10 beziehungsweise RM 47.50 @2.0% Sales tax on basis of RM 47.10 or 47.50 @2.0% 0.94
Selbstkosten per Stück Our costs per unit 40.48
Private sale cost 47.50

OK, now  convert to period dollars. UCSB Historian Harold Marcuse has posted a useful table of exchange rates here. (He also, to digress for a moment, spent a portion of last year embroiled (with some allies, like Prof. Atina Grossman of Cooper Union) in a battle of wits with the relatively unarmed Erich Lichtblau of the New York Times over fabrications and exaggerations in Lichtblau’s America-bashing “history” of the postwar area as published in a book and the Times — something that will not surprise anyone who’s read Lichtblau in any form). So what did it cost Mauser to make a Luger in 1940, converted to 1940 dollars? Marcuse’s set of tables includes two tables that cover 1940, but they agree: RM2.5 = US $1 for that year. So let’s add a  column, and see what that adds up to.

Table 2: Full Cost Accounting, RM and $US, 1940.

Item Item (English) Cost, 1940 RM Cost, 1940, USD
Werkstoff Material 1.82 0.73
2 Haenel – Mag. 2 Haenel Magazines 5.32 2.13
Summe SubTotal 7.14 2.86
Fertigungslohn Direct Labor 10.21 4.08
Werkstoffgemeinkosten @6.8% Material Overhead @6.8% 0.49 0.2
Betriebsgemeinkosten @182.7% Factory (Business) Overhead @182.7% 18.65 7.46
Summe SubTotal 36.49 14.6
Kostenabweichung @7.6% Cost Variance @7.6% 0.78 0.31
Summe SubTotal 37.27 14.91
Zuschlag für Ausschuss @2.2% Surcharge for Spoilage (waste/scrap) @2.2% 0.82 0.33
Herstellkosten Manufacturing Costs 38.09 15.24
Verwaltungs- u. Vertriebsgemeinkosten @3.8% Administration & Sales Costs @3.8% 1.45 0.58
Umsatzsteueuer aus RM47.10 beziehungsweise RM 47.50 @2.0% Sales tax on basis of RM 47.10 or 47.50 @2.0% 0.94 0.38
Selbstkosten per Stück Our costs per unit 40.48 16.19
Private sale cost 47.50 19.00

While what Mauser got from the HeeresWaffenAmt (Army Ordnance Office) for each Luger is not immediately apparent (it’s probably somewhere else in that excellent book), we know what they charged a German military or police officer seeking to privately purchase a Luger: RM 47.50 (that’s in another of Speed’s period documents on that same page). In American, $19.

These costs were reduced about one Reichsmark per unit from the previous year, but Mauser’s costs in 1936-37 were lower and highly variable over time, suggesting that the ~5% difference might just be normal variance over time. It’s surprising that you don’t see cost reductions considering that Mauser produced the Luger for about ten years, beginning in the early ’30s when they took over production from then-corporate sibling DWM in Berlin (drawings, parts, and one engineer, August Weiss, were sent to Oberndorf). Other evidence in the book suggests that Mauser had quite modern management for its day.

Well, there’s the outrageously-expensive Luger for you — compare that to the US cost for the 1911A1, about $14-15 in 1940. Adds up if you’re making hundreds of thousands of them (Mauser and DWM together produced about 2 million Lugers, according to Weiss).

Another image of that same Luger at Jackson Armory.

Another image of that same Luger at Jackson County Armory.

There are several different ways to calculate what a 1940 dollar is worth today (which was news to us, MBA and history degree and all). Marcuse also recommends the site measuringworth.com, which has this interesting discussion of which value comparison indicator is “right”. (The answer, it turns out, is “it depends.” Isn’t it always?)

Using Measuring Worth’s seven-index calculator, we get values for a 1940 dollar varying wildly from $13.40 (using the GDP deflator methodology) to $169 (using relative share of GDP).

one_1940_dollarAs it turns out, GDP deflator is a good measure of “how much it cost compared to the present cost of materials or labor”, but so are worker wages, which as you can see (for an unskilled worker) is double the CPI (reflecting a rising standard of living in the last 3/4 of a century); and relative share of GDP is a good measure of the national weight assigned to such a project.

The common Consumer Price Index which we’ve used for previous longitudinal price comparisons is close to the low end, at $16.90. A perfect methodology does not exist, but it might require us to use different metrics for different components of the Luger’s cost structure. Instead, we’ll just use the GDP Deflator and the Relative Share of GDP to get the min-max:

Table 3: Full Cost Accounting, RM and $US, 1940 and 2014

Item Item (English) Cost, 1940 RM Cost, 1940, USD Value, 2016 by GDP Deflator Value, 2016, Relative Share of GDP
Werkstoff Material 1.82 0.73 9.78 123.37
2 Haenel – Mag. 2 Haenel Magazines 5.32 2.13 28.54 359.97
Summe SubTotal 7.14 2.86 38.32 483.34
Fertigungslohn Direct Labor 10.21 4.08 54.67 689.52
Werkstoffgemeinkosten @6.8% Material Overhead @6.8% 0.49 0.2 2.68 33.80
Betriebsgemeinkosten @182.7% Factory (Business) Overhead @182.7% 18.65 7.46 99.96 1260.74
Summe SubTotal 36.49 14.6 195.64 2467.4
Kostenabweichung @7.6% Cost Variance @7.6% 0.78 0.31 4.15 52.39
Summe SubTotal 37.27 14.91 199.79 2519.79
Zuschlag für Ausschuss @2.2% Surcharge for Spoilage (waste/scrap) @2.2% 0.82 0.33 4.42 55.77
Herstellkosten Manufacturing Costs 38.09 15.24 204.22 2575.56
Verwaltungs- u. Vertriebsgemeinkosten @3.8% Administration & Sales Costs @3.8% 1.45 0.58 7.77 98.02
Umsatzsteueuer aus RM47.10 beziehungsweise RM 47.50 @2.0% Sales tax on basis of RM 47.10 or 47.50 @2.0% 0.94 0.38 5.09 64.22
Selbstkosten per Stück Our costs per unit 40.48 16.19 216.95 2736.11
Private sale cost 47.50 19.00 254.60 3211.00

We’d be very pleased to be pointed to any such cost accounting details from other nations/periods/firearms.

Updates

This post has been updated. Total Luger production has been added, and the paragraph noting that earlier costs were higher has also been inserted (Mauser Pistolen contains another, earlier cost breakdown table on p. 226 that shows these costs for the years 1936-38, with 1937 costs broken down by quarter. Plenty of data in that book for anyone interested in a deeper dive than this.

Sources

Weaver, W. Darrin, Speed, Jon, and Schmid, Walter. Mauser Pistolen. Cobourg, Ontario: Collector Grade, 2008.

Williamson, Samuel H.  Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to present. Measuring Worth, n.d. Retrieved from: https://www.measuringworth.com/uscompare/

Williamson, Samuel H. Choosing the Best Indicator to Measure Relative Worth. Measuring Worth, n.d.. Retrieved from: https://www.measuringworth.com/indicator.php

Retro Rejoice: Colt to Reissue “Collector’s Edition” M16, XM177E2

Retro heads, rejoice: You have nothing to lose but your slavish obsession with parts gathering. Because Colt, the original maker of historic firearms like the M16A1 (Colt Model 603) and XM177E2 (Model 639), has something new in the works: the Model 603. The 639. The 602. Maybe even the 601, the 605, the 608, and all those other rarities. Here’s the first two of what is promised to be a line:

colt_retro_guns

We learned this in an excited email from Shawn of LooseRounds.com this weekend, as he shared what Colt spokesmen have told him. (And the photo, a detail of which you see above). He has two posts:

Taken together, they cover most of what Colt has let out about the new vintage reissues. Here’s our distillation of it:

  1. The showing at the NRA Annual Meeting was just a tease, the “real” product intro will come at next January’s SHOT Show.
  2. Colt will make a short run, maybe as few as 1,000 pieces, of two models of these rifles every year for the next 10 years.
  3. Colt will make every effort to accurately produce the weapons as they were produced, except,
  4. They’re all going to be Title 1 firearms — no NFA weapons.
  5. The first two up are believed to be the M16A1 and XM177E2, the two key weapons of the Vietnam War.

Personally, we think this is brilliant. Guitar makers have done it for decades — we believe the first to get on the Vintage craze was Rickenbacker, whose use by the Vietnam War’s contemporaries like the Beatles and the Byrds made them a natural for vintage reissues (but it might have been Fender). Naturally other makers like Gibson and acoustic-guitar specialist Martin joined in. Soon the drum brands followed suit, and the amplifier makers, and by the time the Beatles Anthology was released in the mid-90s, a Ringo, John, Paul, or George wannabe could equip himself with everything but the talent by swiping his credit card at Manny’s or George Gruhn’s. For the guitar makers, this opened up an entire new market — aged-out rockers who had never given up their desire to sound like, say, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, could at least buy a ringer for his 12-string. Unlike today’s starving musician, the aged out former-starving-musician-of-the-70s now has the disposable income to buy the guitar he couldn’t in his Ramen Noodles days.

Your humble blogger may resemble that fictional aged-out rocker, with vintage reissues from Fender, Gibson, and Gibson’s budget brand Epiphone sharing guitar racks with real vintage instruments. (Some of which were merely “old” when put away, but emerged from storage “vintage,” like Schrödinger’s Guitar or something).

It’s not hard to conceive Colt’s marketing move as a parallel to what the guitar makers are doing. Yes, they’re still trying to reach today’s guy but they also want the dollars of the guy inspired by yesterday’s heroes. Colt, like Rickenbacker, ought to be able to survive as a nostalgia, vintage brand, but they are hoping, perhaps, to be more like Gibson — something for everybody, including the free-spending nostalgia buff.

Colt’s representatives promise attention to detail. Another photo Shawn has shows a rep holding an unfinished aluminum buttstock, as all Vietnam “submachine guns” bore (albeit coated by being dipped in vinyl acetate — it will be interesting to see how Colt handles this).  Colt has done something very similar, already, with the Colt 1903 pocket pistol; Colt also, now, stocks parts for the pistol that work in the new reissue and the originals.

We don’t know what this new Colt line is going to be called: Historic, Vintage, Reissue, Retro, or some combination, or maybe something with the model year (M16A1 Vintage ’66?) or a famous fight or hero (“Dick Meadows CAR-15”?). And that shows other paths that open up for Colt now:

  1. They can constantly tweak and reissue the reissues (Fender does this with guitars); or,
  2. They can support a two-tiered market with a standard mass-produced vintage reissue on the entry tier and perfect replicas of a specific firearm at higher tiers. But wait! They can also:
  3. Use the parts engineered for the retro clones to make new and interesting takes on modern AR15s. They could even support mass customization / personalization. The sky’s the limit.

If we have a squawk with Colt’s plans it’s the low production numbers they envision — perhaps as few as 1000 rifles of each model. That more or less ensures that they go direct to the kind of collectors that will keep them new in the box in a climate controlled vault in a salt mine somewhere deep beneath the lair of Dr. Evil.

Because we’re totally going to buy one. Of each.

Do go to Loose Rounds and read Shawn’s two posts if you’re interested in these guns.

Original and Reproduction Liberator Pistols

A few years ago — well, maybe a quarter century ago — Liberator pistols were extremely rare. Originals are still uncommon. While many thousands of the disposable firearms were made, with the intention of dropping them onto occupied territory there is little evidence any were so used.

FP-45 Liberator for Sale 2

Two things could be gained by dropping arms like this behind enemy lines: the first is that they might be used against the enemy as intended. But the second, more subtle, intent was psychological: certainly some, probably most, of the dropped weapons would fall into the hands of the enemy, inducing a great worry about partisans, perhaps even a debilitating paranoia. (There are several historical examples of faux guerrilla operations used either to bedevil enemies or to get loyal enemy leaders shot as traitors).

In the end, the US and UK conducted massive airdrops to partisans in France and Norway, but the drops were of more militarily useful American and British arms and ammunition. (There were also airdrops to “partisans” in Holland, but these turned out to be pseudo networks run by Abwehr counterintelligence. Most of the agents dropped by SOE were interrogated and shot on arrival. It’s that kind of business).

FP-45 Liberator for Sale 1

The Soviets dropped supplies to the partisans they supported in the East, but we have seen no evidence they dropped any lend-lease weapons, or were privy to the classified Liberator project — at least officially. The Liberators were sent, in small quantities, forward, to OSS elements in the China-Burma-India theater and the Mediterranean at least. None of these seem to have done anything but tinker with them, and those samples seem to have been the source of all existing free market Liberators.

Business end. Original Liberators were unrifled, unmarked, and intended to be used at contact range.

Business end. Original Liberators were unrifled, unmarked, and intended to be used at contact range.

This example is offered on GunBroker. The auction text (from the reputable collector-gun dealer, Jackson Armory) asserts that these guns were dropped to resistance elements. While we agree that they were made for that purpose, we’d need to see evidence that any were so dropped — and we haven’t seen any such evidence.

Calling the sights "rudimentary" is an insult to rudiments.

Calling the sights “rudimentary” is an insult to rudiments. (Actually, they’re more prominent than on many contemporary pistols, but any alignment they may have with the path of the unstabilized bullet is a matter of coincidence).

The sellers say this of the gun:

RARE WWII FP-45 “Liberator” .45 Pistol. Stock # MMH282805RT. No Serial #. This is a genuine (NOT a post-War reproduction) FP-45, .45acp “Liberator” pistol, a crude pistol made by the Guide Lamp Division of General Motors. These guns were air-dropped to Resistance Fighters in Europe during WWII. The all-metal pistol has lots of patina and tarnishing, the bore is dark, the action functions correctly

via Genuine WWII FP-45 “Liberator” Pistol .45acp. 45 : Curios & Relics at GunBroker.com.

The question arises is, is it genuine? Now, in 1990 the answer would have been “definitely.” It  was considered, at that time, too hard to copy, having been made by an industrial stamping process that would require very expensive dies.

Then, there were a small handful of Liberators circulating among collectors and museums — no more than a couple dozen, maybe at a stretch 100. (Some say a couple thousand, with about 300 still new in the box, but that seems astronomically high to us). These had all passed through some grey area between manufacture under US Government contract and present modern ownership without any sign of an official, legal sale; they were never sold through the NRA or DCM, unlike .45s and M1917 revolvers, but they may have been given away by officers with authority to dispose of surplus property while winding up operations. We are not lawyers here and are not about to teach a class in property law, but we’d just like to point out that many firearms passed through such a valley of shadow in their history; it doesn’t so much weaken the claim of the current owner — in our distinctly non-legal opinion — as it simply introduces a break in provenance.

Trying to prove provenance of a firearm like this, that was conceived in darkness, stockpiled by two clandestine agencies with an interregnum in between, and proceeded to the civilian market by unknown paths and in unknown hands, is a challenge like proving one’s descent from classical antiquity: the conventional wisdom is that it can’t be done. Somebody may be running around with Julius Caesar’s blood in his veins, but you can’t prove it’s you.

The risk of fakes finally arose with the production of new Liberators.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Vintage Ordnance Liberator reproductions

The makers of the reproduction, Vintage Ordnance, who actually reproduce three versions of the Liberator, including the final production version (like the original one for sale by Jackson Armory) and two engineering prototypes (!), are keenly aware of the utility of their product to fakers, and so have taken measures to make their reproduction harder to transmogrify into a fake.

Our reproduction has a rifled barrel and discrete markings to comply with Federal law and hopefully prevent it from being unscrupulously sold as an original antique. We mark the serial number on the front of the grip frame and our company information, model and caliber designation on the underside of the barrel behind the trigger guard. All characters are the minimum 1/16” high.

Some of these, like marking and rifling, are required by law; the OSS didn’t need no stankin’ laws (and the marking law didn’t come about until 1968). Other changes in the materials and manufacture of the reproduction make it, while good enough for a Hollywood close-up, different in physical properties from an original.

Liberator for Sale in the Linked Auction.

The Vintage Ordnance repro in Hollywood close-up. This one is cocked.

These measures complicate the life of any low-life intending to convert a Vintage Ordnance reproduction to a phony “authentic” Liberator (indeed, they compound his fraud with the felony of defacing a serial number), and give the inspector something to look for; but even with a seller we trust (Like Jackson Armory), we’d want a hands-on inspection before laying out $2,400 for this firearm.

Shooting a Liberator was once one of the perks of going through SF weapons school, but a funny thing happened: over the years, they all broke, and no replacements were forthcoming. (After sitting for years in a warehouse, most of the Liberators had been scrapped). The zinc alloy (Zamak-3?) cocking piece is subject to both fracture and corrosion.

Zamak cocking piece is the firearm's weak point.

Zamak cocking piece is the firearm’s weak point.

The Liberator was designed to be, literally, disposable; the intent was to fire one shot and then throw it away, in favor of whatever the fellow you shot had been carrying. If you needed to reload it, you’d better have brought your friends with their Liberators to cover you.

Breech open. Seen here on the reproduction (note telltale rifling).

Breech open. Seen here on the reproduction (note telltale rifling).

It is all at once unpleasant to fire, with tremendous muzzle blast and recoil; slow to load; inaccurate beyond contact range; and, not remotely safe. It’s not only not drop safe (indeed, it’s likely to fire if dropped in a loaded state!), but it’s also liable to fire if the cocking piece slips out of your fingers. There’s no real “safety,” you can just rotate the cocking piece to the side… it makes the “safety” of the Mosin-Nagant rifle look like something from the pages of the Journal of Contemporary Advances in Human Factors.

The way to get through a whole box of ammo with a Liberator? Bring enough friends! Or go to a busy range. Everybody wants to shoot it once.

The availability of both originals, occasionally, and reproductions make a Liberator collection something to consider. For under $5k you could have new models of each engineering version, plus an original for the authenticity cachet, and with some placards you’d have a show-winning display (if there are any shows that welcome educational displays any more).

In the end, it’s a novelty gun, a footnote to history, for the price of a nicer 1911 variant that will provide much more durability and comfort to the shooter.

A New Rifle, a Reliability Problem

question mark(Apologies to all for the premature launch of this post at 0600 this morning. It was originally supposed to go there, then it was moved to the 1100 spot but the night shift botched the job. Those responsible have been sacked. Your comments and poll elections should be preserved.-Ed.)

The rifle had been praised wildly on the occasion of its adoption. Years of testing had proven its superiority, and it offered a revolution in rifleman’s firepower. Some of the claims made for the new rifle were:

  • Greater accuracy in combat conditions;
  • a greater volume of fire, firepower equal to five of the old rifles;
  • more effective against modern threats;
  • less demanding of training time;
  • lower recoil, and negligible fatigue from firing;
  • average size of production rifle groups, 1.75″ extreme spread at 100.
  • accuracy “better than the average service rifle, compares favorably with [a customized target] rifle”; and,
  • “every organization so far equipped has submitted enthusiastic reports of their performance under all conditions…”

Despite that glowing report from the men responsible for the decision, reports began to trickle in of unusual, crippling, and intermittent stoppages, and this reinforced many servicemen in their reluctance to give up their Ol’ Betsy for this new piece of technology.

What Rifle are we Talking About Here?

 
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Answer after the jump!

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Nuclear Attack, for Real (Nagasaki)

"Bockscar" at the USAFM in Dayton, OH (it embiggens)

“Bockscar” at the USAFM in Dayton, OH (it embiggens)

This is Los Alamos National Labs’ archive film of the “Fat Man” atomic bomb as dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945. It comes to us via the Restricted Data1 channel on YouTube.

To us one of the most salient discoveries is that you can’t nuke a city without duct tape, or as we called it in the Army, “100-mile-an-hour tape.” Bockscar was probably traveling at well over 100 (over 200 in fact) indicated airspeed when it released Fat Man, but Fat Man still had the seam around his nose sealed with the ubiquitous tape. (At about 0:40 in the video).

The author of the RD Channel, Alex Wellerstein, describes it like this:

This silent film shows the final preparation and loading of the “Fat Man” bomb into “Bockscar,” the plane which dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. It then shows the Nagasaki explosion from the window of an observation plane. This footage comes from Los Alamos National Laboratory. I have not edited it in any way from what they gave me except to improve the contrast a little — it is basically “raw.” I have annotated it with some notes on the bombing and what you can see — feel free to disable the annotations if you don’t want them.

He also maintains an excellent blog, of the same title, at this location: http://blog.nuclearsecrecy.com Further details on the Nagasaki raid —  and this video — at the Nuclear Secrecy Blog. Do read the comments as, with a couple of exceptions, Alex’s blog, like this one, benefits from an informed and thoughtful commentariat.

Elsewhere on his blog, he also addressed a historical mysterywhy was Kokura, home to Kokura Arsenal known to every collector of Japanese firearms, and Fat Man’s primary target, spared; whilst Nagasaki, the secondary target, was destroyed?2

Terrain model of Kokura Arsenal, the primary target. Saved by 10/10 obscuration on the day of the raid.

Terrain model of Kokura Arsenal, the primary target. Saved by 10/10 obscuration on the day of the raid. (USAAF official via Nuclear Secrecy blog).

His cautious conclusion: while there’s a case for obscuration due to an earlier fire-bombing raid on an upwind city, and a case for deliberate obscuration by Japanese defensive measures, two of which possible measures he describes. Ultimately, he concludes:

In the end, it doesn’t really matter which of these things happened. The bare fact is that Kokura didn’t get bombed and Nagasaki did. But I find looking into these kinds of questions useful as a historian. Too often it is easy to take for granted that the explanations given in narrative works of history are “settled,” when really they are often resting on very thin evidence, thinner perhaps than the historian who writes them realizes. I don’t think we really know what happened at Kokura, and I’m not sure we ever truly will.

His first sentence reminds us of something we say to people who have disturbing memories or survivor’s guilt: “In combat, there’s no right or wrong, there’s just what happened and what you did.”

Alex’s is an elegant and responsible historical blog — much recommended.

 

More AT Rifles for Sale

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

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

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

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

Lahti AT Rifle

Bob writes:

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

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

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

This is the Lahti’s Swiss cousin.

solothurn AT Rifle

Bob says:

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

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

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

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

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

Mauser T-Gewehr

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

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

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

Mauser T-Gewehr breech

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

 

Want to Own an Antitank Rifle? Here’s a Boys!

Maybe you’re going to get a tax refund in the low five figures (if so, you need to adjust fire on your withholding or quarterlies, but roll with us here for the sake of entertainment, will you?) Let’s take a quick survey of the market for original anti-tank rifles, shall we? This will be Part 1 (because we got 1200+ words out, describing the rifle that was going to be half of the original post).

Boys .55 AT Rifle, British Design, Made in Canada 1943.

Skip Edgley in Maryland, whom we don’t know personally, but with whom we think we’d get along famously, is selling a Boys .55 Anti-Tank Rifle as made by the Canadian wartime gunmaker John Inglis & Company, marked “US Government Property” like a US Military firearm. It comes with three original mags (which come up for sale from time to time) and 200 rounds of original ammo (which is much less common).

Boys .55 left side

Yes, it’s a big beautiful doll of a weapon. Pretty much a lock that it will not fit in your existing safe. It’s a rare bolt-action, magazine-fed AT Rifle.

Boys .55 action right

The sights are offset left to clear that enormous magazine:

Boys .55 front sight

And a lot of attention was paid to recoil management:

Boys .55 rear of action

Here’s his description:

Up for bids is a British Boys Model RB MKI .55 caliber bolt-action Anti-Tank Rifle with bipod. Excellent condition, totally functional. All serial numbers match. Total of 200 original rounds, 40 sets of 5 rounds in stripper clips/bandoleers in two original wooden crates, one full and one partial. DO THE MATH! 1939 dated, original British made .55 caliber ammo is selling (WHEN YOU CAN FIND IT) for around $50.00/each. That’s $10K in just the ammo. That makes the gun cost $2K. This rifle is complete with the original front mounted bipod, three original magazines and the original muzzle break. The magazines are an original WWII British issue. Condition is excellent with 95% of the original wartime finish which has darkened from age, showing only minor edge and high spot wear overall. The bolt body retains its original factory bright finish and the various parts all show their original British proofmarks. The supple cheekpiece, front and rear pistol grips still show their original wartime finish. This is an excellent, all original example of a desirable WWII British/Canadian manufactured, U.S. Army issue Boys Anti-Tank rifle. Manufactured by Inglis of Canada.

These were bought by the United States, not for the US Army, but for Lend-Lease purposes, for Commonwealth forces and for China. As they were quickly obsoleted by improving Axis armor (and improving Allied infantry AT weapons)

This beautiful Anti Tank Rifle was designed and manufactured in Canada for the British and Commonwealth Armies. It is the most powerful rifle ever issued to any modern army. It was the infantry Anti Tank weapon of the British Forces in France and, at Dunkirk, helped to stave off the attack in the German Panzer forces, to permit the evacuation of the Allied forces. It was again prominent in holding intact the British defenses covering Egypt and the nerve center at Cairo”. The Boys Anti Tank Rifle weighs 33 lbs (including bipod) and is 63 inches long. Has three, five shot magazines in an original steel magazine box, muzzle brake, and a thick and soft recoil pad.

Gun is in MD on a Form 4. Curio and Relic. $12,000.00.

One of the reason we like Skip, even though we don’t know him, is his sense of humor (bold emphasis below is ours):

My hi-def close-up photos are part of my description. They are not taken from the Hubble or even a foot away. They might show imperfections that may or may not be apparent to the naked eye. They may also show reflections and some dust/lint that will not be included with your purchase. Please examine them closely. I attempt to list ALL imperfections in my description. Shipping includes insurance. AK & HI slightly higher. My email will not accept mail through the GB board. Please contact me directly at skip.edgley@royalelectricinc.com Plastic +3%. NO RESERVE! Thanks!

via Boys Antitank Rifle 55 Cal MKI DD WWII British : Destructive Devices at GunBroker.com.

Starting bid is $12k; because it’s > .50 caliber, this is a Form 1 Destructive Device and needs an ATF transfer. (If you’re diffident about owning an enormous AT rifle chambered for a bizarre caliber obsolete for 80 years, he’s also got a bargain-priced ($6500) Stemple Sten that will transfer on Form 1, Form 3 if you’re an appropriately-licensed SOT of course).

More pictures of the Boys Rifle are after the jump at the end of the market survey!

Coming soon (hopefully Monday!): More Vintage AT Rifles!

Bob Adams has resolved his long battle with the ATF (entirely in his favor, it seems; the ATF decided to make an example out of him for being an FFL dealing with non import marked pistols, which is perfectly legal, and, mirabile dictu, the courts followed the law). Why does this matter here? Because, along with his usual high-end collector pistols, he has a treasure trove of anti-tank rifles for sale, including some examples that even the advanced collector seldom sees. Look for them RSN (Real Soon Now®).

Click More for (duh) More!

Once again, the “excess” pictures are after the jump, for the lover of AT Rifle porn.

Continue reading

Pictorial History of the Walther P.38

Illustrated mostly with guns coming up for sale at Rock Island Auctions, most of them from the Brotherton Collection (thank you, Bear).

The 9mm Blowback MP

First, Walther tried scaling up the classic PP (Polizei Pistole) to the German 9 x 19mm service cartridge. This was called the MP (Militär Pistole) and had the problems you’d associate with making a 9mm blowback firearm. With the unlocked breech, the firearm needed a heavy slide and stiff spring to be safe (although it’s much safer to rely on bolt [slide] weight than spring tension). While you can see a touch of P.38 ancestry here, it’s mostly just a PP with thyroid issues.

Walther 9mm blowback mp

Like an Uzi as much as like Browning’s original slide patent, this massive slide. How heavy does the slide have to be? Orion’s Hammer makes use of this equation from Chinn :

bolt mass in pounds = 1.09×10-5 * bullet mass in grains * bullet velocity in fps * (diameter of bolt face / diameter of bullet base)2

To make an approximate calculation of 1.7 lbs. which is a pretty heavy slide weight, mostly well forward. (Good for bullseye accuracy in rapid fire, unlikely to be popular as a service pistol). He uses a somewhat odd 9mm load (88 grain bullet at 1600 fps) but changing the load at the same chamber pressure should, ceteris paribus, give us the same bolt weight (because any changes in weight should produce a change in velocity).

So, a blowback 9mm worked — we think the owners of any of these rare birds can shoot them with perfect safety, Walther engineers could do math — but it wasn’t optimal. Time for a new gun.

The “Hammerless” MP and AP series

This early prototype is named “Walther Armee Pistole MP” and it’s fairly close to classical P.38 form. The departures include: lack of a slide arch at the front, slide reinforcements, and a “hammerless” (really, internal hammer) design. We don’t know why Walther went with the internal hammer. They had used an internal hammer decades earlier on some of their pocket pistols, like the single-action PP forerunner Model 8, and perhaps they thought the Army did not want an external hammer (the P.08 Luger was striker-fired, and the Army’s problem with it was primarily its cost — in Reichsmarks, machine time, and materials). There are some small and subtle differences from later P.38s, also, like the checkering pattern on the grips. This image also lets you see how the proto-P38 frame retained some of the features and aesthetics of the 9mm PP-based MP.

Walther Armee Pistole MP

According to Rock Island, the pistol above is Serial Number ?? The following one is serial 044. It has taken several steps closer to the final P.38 in the shape of the slide and in some details such as the takedown latch, the bolt catch, and the grip checkering. walther armee pistole no 44

This firearm, serial number 09, we’ve already seen in an earlier post. It appears to be a cousin of #44 above, and is labeled Armee Pistole. The long barrel and stock/holster are original.

Armee pistole no 09

A “Sheet Metal” P.38? Or an Early Toolroom Prototype?

This weapon is hard to figure out. RIA describes it as a sheet metal P.38 prototype, but it has many very early features, and may be the original P.38 prototype or toolroom mule, in the white, with some parts like the slide built up from sheet or plate due to lack of forgings.

toolroom armee pistole prototype

Note that the takedown latch, sight, and safety all resemble early designs, but the slide release resembles the later design. A fascinating  one-off, whatever it is.

These weapons evolved into the P.38. First, though, they passed through the Heeres Pistol stage. This is a 1939 made HP for Sweden. It is for sale by Hallowell & Co. We’ll show you both left and right.

walther-hp-1557-left-2

In most details, this resembles the later P.38. In comparison to the earlier guns, the HP has a smooth-sided slide, and most clearly visible, an exposed hammer. The grips have the same checkering pattern as some of the prototypes, but are made of a bakelite-like thermosetting.

walther-hp-1557-right

Next we have a typical wartime P.38 (although it has an uncommon manufacturer code, 480) which is, again, for sale by Hallowell & Co. in Montana. And again, here are  both left and right.

p38--6075--left p38--6075--right

Changes are cosmetic and small, although the replacement of checkering with serrations on the takedown lever probably saved some manufacturing time. While the grooved grips that replaced the checkered ones are obvious, the much larger recess for accepting a lanyard snap is typical of the many small improvements in the wartime Walther.

The P.38 in turn evolved into the postwar P.1, which was basically a P.38 with an alloy frame. Due to loss of engineering documents, at least some parts of the P.1 were reverse engineered from production P.38s. The grips reverted to checkering. There are several versions of the P.1, and many variations of the postwar commercial P.38.

Walther also produced a modified, slightly shorter-barreled version as the P.4.

Then, finally, the P5 was the end of the line for Walther’s 1930s DA/SA tilting-locking-block design. The Walther P88 and subsequent service pistol designs used a modified Browning tipping barrel. The Walther style tipping block of course made a jump to Beretta in the M1951 and all its successors, including the M9.

 

Rock Island Auction Update – the last one, the next one

We posted, a few days ago, that Rock Island was having an auction. We didn’t get either Little Tom we planned to bid on (so we soothed ourselves with a consolation Little Tom off GunBroker; unfortunately, not a Czech one, but it’s still the same Alois Tomiška design), but a lot of other people got the firearm they wanted from the massive February 25th-28th Auction.

It looks like almost all lots sold and Rock Island is sitting on a pile of 7.3 million dollars (the bulk of which, of course, goes to the consignors). Don’t feel bad about them having to pass the money to the consignors, as they get commission on one side and buyers’ premium on the other — trust us, the fine folks at RIA are very happy this week:

We had a new record on our hands during the third day, but the unprecedented FOURTH day of firearms for auction, put it above and beyond our expectations. We have you to thank for that!

As a site that also sets records from time to time — January was our record for unique visitors at 203895, until February broke that record — despite being only 29 days — with 217158 — we know how good it feels. We’ll bid more on our next rarity, but first, here are a couple of RIA’s top -grossing firearms from this past auction.

  • Lot 544: A Colt-Vickers Model 1915 “Balloon Buster” —  $16,100 hammer price. This was an unserviceable firearm in poor condition, but NFA registered and thus restorable. Of course, good luck finding the proprietary 11mm ammunition (approximately .43). It was a special incendiary-only round that was made for splashing the Boche’s hydrogen-filled observation balloons.

Colt Vickers Balloon Buster L

  • Lot 4006: An ultra-rare Smith & Wesson .31 lever action pistol, a rare transitional firearm between Volcanic and Henry (which then would lead to Winchester). This mint-condition firearm fired the Volcanic .31 “cartridge,” which comprised a hollow bullet with powder and primer in its base. — $10,350.

S&W lever pistol

And those prices weren’t the peak at all. A couple of engraved Henry rifles went to well-heeled collectors (or maybe a really wise interior decorator?) for $23k apiece.

RIA engraved Henry

Rock Island has more auctions planned, of course. The March 25th online-only one, however, has slid to May for reasons known but to RIA. You can get on their mailing list for free (and Forgotten Weapons can get you a discount on their catalogs, which are beautiful gun wishbooks; search that site for “RIA Discount”).

The next auction that will have really primo stuff like these firearms you see here will be the April Premier Auction, which will take place 29 Apr- 1 May. Even if you don’t subscribe to their listings, you can see the 16 page teaser catalog for the April auction at the link (warning — it’s big and wants a fast computer). The cover looks like an explosion of gold and engraving, then you go inside.

  • Two pages of glory represent the 350 Winchesters in the auction (plus some Henry and Volcanic arms).
  • Two pages represent the 500-odd Colts.
  • Two more of the Bear Bretherton collection. In the days ahead, expect us to feature more of the guns from this collection. There are even two we are going to bid on. (We expect to get creamed by deeper pockets, but … we shall try… we could sell some Johnsons or something, if that doesn’t make the ATF declare us a dealer.

As we said, we’ll be featuring the Bretherton stuff in the days ahead. For now, here’s just one. 

Armee pistole no 09

Walther Armee Pistole, serial number 09. Yes, it’s a prototype or pre-production of the pistol that would become the P.38 service pistol of the Deutsche Wehrmacht — in a one off long-barreled, shoulder-stocked version. Kaiser Wilhelm and Napoleon Solo got nothing on this!

The stock is original and matching serial number: 09.

The thing is, this is not a featured or outstanding gun in the Brotherton collection. It’s unique, and historically significant, but in that collection it is absolutely typical. 

Yes, it’s going to go for something between a king’s ransom and the GDP of a small country (or a large one after an application of socialism, aka “bad luck”). That we can’t afford it is sad, but we’re just delighted to live in a world where Mr Brotherton could collect such a number and quality of important collector arms.

And hey, if we had it, we’d just shoot it anyway.

More on the Federov Automatic

V.G. Federov as a Guards Colonel in the Imperial Russian Army.

V.G. Federov as a Guards Colonel in the Imperial Russian Army. Great mustache! (He kept it as a Red Army Lt. General, too).

Gun writer extraordinaire and friend of the blog Max Popenker has a good run-down on the famous granddaddy of all assault rifles, the Federov Avtomat of 1916, over at The Firearm Blog. We recently had a post on this firearm, and either in the comments there or via email Max gave us a heads-up his TFB piece was coming. Not long ago Ian at Forgotten Weapons had an excellent video and photo post with images (including disassembly) of several of these rare birds.

Vladimir Grigoryevich Federov (Fyodorov, depending on how you transliterate his name; “Federov” seems most common, so we’re going to give up on typing it the hard way) was an interesting character. He was originally a Tsarist officer, well-trained as an engineer and a weapons designer, and worked on automatic weapons design very early.

He kept working on it very late — it was widely issued to Red units in  the Russian Civil War — and developed it into a range of weapons, including air- and water-cooled LMGs. In some of these he partnered with Degtyaryev, who would succeed him in the leadership of the arsenal.

Considering all the trauma involved in the Russian Revolution and the Civil War, the Russians maintained a remarkable consistency in their firearms development and engineering, with many of the Tsarist leaders staying on and becoming Communist leaders. Most of the arsenals stayed in Red hands, and Izhevsk was only briefly held by the Whites, and was not very productive for them while they held it. The Whites wound up in lifelong or generational exile (those who accepted Stalin-era invitations to return only regretted that error briefly), and while that deprived Russia of such aeronautical engineering talent as Sikorsky and de Seversky, Russia’s gun designers, mostly, stayed put.

The Avtomat was a short-Recoil operated firearm; two pivoting lugs on the barrel locked the bolt. The firing mechanism had an internal hammer.

One of the two pivoting locking lugs or blocks in the AF-16. Image from Forgotten Weapons.

One of the two pivoting locking lugs or blocks in the AF-16. Image from Forgotten Weapons.

It fed 6.5mm ammunition — originally, its own proprietary cartridge, but later, 6.5mm Japanese ammunition which was available in quantity — from a 25-round double-row box magazine.

Federov "Avtomat," 1916.

Federov “Avtomat,” 1916.

Rather than simply quote large sections of Max’s article, which is really excellent, we’d just as soon send you there. Instead, we’re going to give you some supplementary background on things he covers in his outstanding piece. For instance, its designer wasn’t the one who gave it its famous name. Historian Yuri Alexandrovich Natzvaladze, then Senior Curator of the St. Petersburg Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Sapper and Signal Troops wrote this:

In Russian, this sort of weaponry is generally called avtomat, the word having been derived from the Greek automatos (self-propelled). Assault rifles have automatic reloading, cocking, firing, extraction and ejection of spent shells based on the usage of powder gases’ energy.

The new weapon had originally been designated in documents and military literature as “machine rifle” or “light machine rifle.” In 1919, N. M. Filatov, the prominent Russian expert in the field, called the model an avtomat. This was how the automatic carbine designed by V. G. Federov forever acquired its short, descriptive Russian name, thus beginning a whole new class of individual infantry weapons.1

By that time, of course, the exotic, novel rifle had already been used in combat, by the so-called Special Company of the 189th (Ismailsky) Infantry Regiment on the Romanian front in January 1917. It would later see much more combat with Red units in the Civil War. (Max goes into how then-Guards Colonel Federov sided with the Bolsheviks and helped convert a gun plant in Kovrov — which had been making Madsen LMGs — to make Avtomats. 

Max’s article has some very rarely seen photographs of some of the later Avtomat successors, some of which are also found in Natzvaladze’s and Daniel Naumovich Bolotin’s works.

Notes

  1. Natzvaladze, Yuri A. The Trophies of the Red Army During the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945: Volume 1, Antitank Weapons — Aircraft Machine Guns — Assault Rifles. Mesa, Arizona: Champlin Fighter Museum, 1996. pp. 166-167.