Category Archives: Weapons that Made their Mark

The Walther PPK/S: Gun Built by Ban

It’s no secret that we are big fans of the Walther PPK. This pocket pistol, introduced in 1931, was a compact version of Walther’s excellent PP, whose initials stand for Police Pistol in its native German. Walther, which had previously made several models of high-quality but otherwise unremarkable small pocket pistols, introduced the PP in 1929. It was the first shot of a revolution; it became the model for most double-action/single-action auto pistols that would follow it, using a trigger bar that runs along the right side of the frame to activate its sear, and containing a then-patented decocking safety.

The PPK was the inevitable compact version; its German name, Polizei Pistole Kriminal, essentially means Detective’s Police Pistol. (You would not be the first student of German to laugh at the idea that regular beat cops are called a name that translates literally as Order Police, and detectives are Criminal Police, Kripo for short. We’ve known a few criminal police, too, but that’s what linguists call a “false cognate.” End of digression).

Even though both are pocket pistols by American standards, and were manufactured primarily in .32 ACP, the PP was normally carried by beat cops in a flap holster, and the PPK carried concealed. Both the PP and PPK were popular with German military officers, who until 1945 were allowed (and sometimes required) to privately purchase personal sidearms. Staff officers and aviators and others who didn’t really have a need to haul around a big 9mm horse pistol checked the pistol box with a little PPK. The Carl Walther firm in Zella-Mehlis, Thuringia (a suburb of the gunmaking center of Suhl), prospered.

This is an original WWII-era PPK. Note the short grip frame and the fragile wraparound grip.

This is an original WWII-era PPK. Note the short grip frame and the fragile wraparound grip. It was banned from importation to the USA in 1968, despite being an extremely rare crime gun.

The PPK was the same width as the PP, but its length (and sight radius) was reduced, and its height (and magazine size) was also reduced (the PPK held six rounds, then considered perfectly adequate). This made it as small as some of the more sloppily engineered .25s of the day. Instead of a solid backstrap with grip scales, the PPK has an open backstrap that is covered with a plastic (bakelite, originally) grip. The original grips are extremely prone to cracking and many PPKs today sport replacement or reproduction grips, but they made for a lighter and more concealable gun when new.

A number of PPs and PPKs were imported into the USA before the war, where the technical advancement of the pistol and its high price compared to domestic arms or cheap Spanish imports won it a very selective user base, and relatively few sales.

After the war, the wave of captured PPs and PPKs increased their popularity, and new ones began to be imported. With Zella-Mehlis and Suhl bombed flat and, after an American withdrawal to a mutually agreed line, behind the Iron Curtain, Walther produced guns at a former licensee in Alsace (Manurhin) beginning in 1952, and at a new factory in West Germany.

(Time for another digression of sorts. You can find pistols from 1952-1985 or so production marked Walther and marked Manurhin. The Walther marked pistols received roll marks, heat treatment of the slides, and final assembly in Ulm, Germany, and were proofed and inspected there, with German marks. The Manurhin pistols were finished, proofed and inspected in Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France, with French marks. Yet Alsace (Elsaß) was German from 1870-1918 and 1940-45 — maybe 1944. Because Walther and Manurhin used different heat treating methods, the slides of Walther pistols often don’t color-match the frames very well, and Manurhin ones match perfectly, usually).

As a result of this strange history and the usual churn of importers here in the USA, PP and PPK pistols are found with a very wide range of slide markings and proof marks, but except for 1940s production guns, which may have been sabotaged by slave labor, all are sure to be of high quality.

How a Gun Law Attacked the PPK

In the 1960s, Interarms of Alexandria, Virginia was the importer of the PP series and all was going swimmingly, until two political assassinations (Martin L. King and Robert F. Kennedy) led to a wave of gun-control legislation. American politics at the time was very different from politics today — gun control’s adherents were found in both parties, with opposition largely restricted to Southern Democrats and Western Republicans; and Democrats controlled, and had for years, both Houses of Congress and the White House. Two bills passed, the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. (So, giving bills Orwellian names is nothing new).

The new laws were supported by the NRA and American gun manufacturers, because they also gave the manufacturers something that they wanted: protectionism. It was no skin off Colt’s or Smith & Wesson’s nose if foreigners wanted to sell their cheesy little guns here, but it was a major threat to high-cost, low-quality manufacturers like Harrington & Richardson or Iver Johnson. Rather that write the transparent ban on imports the manufacturers wanted, instead imports were subjected to a Sporting Purpose test (something drawn by Connecticut Senator Thomas Dodd from Nazi and Weimar gun control laws, which he had come to admire, and placed in early drafts of the bill — before Dodd was censured by the Senate for his unrelated (we think) but legendary corruption, which would end his career this same year.

The Sporting Purpose test, as it was conceived, made it an object of US law that only hunting and organized target shooting are legitimate reasons to own firearms, and by implication, defense of self, others or property explicitly is not. As originally passed and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, these laws banned the import of military surplus weapons of all kinds (one objective of the manufacturers), and applied a “points test” to the importation of pistols. These laws have been modified by subsequent legislation (and by ATF regulation; the ATF Office of Chief Counsel holds that the “sporting purpose” test invalidates the 2nd Amendment), but the sporting purposes test and the pistol points test survive. (The law also banned the import of Class III weapons for private sale, under the sporting purposes test. The weapons in the market called “pre-May” or “pre-86″ dealer samples were brought in between October 1968 and May 19, 1986, under provisions of this law).

ATF_Form_4590_-_Factoring_Criteria_for_WeaponsThe points test was applied by ATF Form 4590. This image is a vintage form. The current version is ATF Form 5530.5.

Note that, while the ATF has taken up the cudgel of this law with great joy, the cudgel itself was crafted by the legislature, and signed into law in due course; it was upheld rapidly by 1960s liberal courts, and so only can be disposed of the same way it was spawned.

The sponsors of the law meant to come back and apply the points test to domestic production, but they never had the votes — some of the nation’s most anti-gun politicians shrank from voting to shutter factories in their home states of Massachusetts and Connecticut. (And some, like Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Dodd, who would be replaced by his equally crooked son after a brief interregnum, didn’t).

Now, the lip-service the gun bansters paid to just wanting to ban the bad guns would seem to have excepted the jewel-like PPK, but the little gun was caught on the horns of the points system. The points test counts: length, width, depth of the gun (larger is better); caliber (larger is better); target-shooting gingerbread like adjustable sights and thumb-rest grips; and safety mechanisms (more, and more fiddly, seems to please the Bubbas at Firearms Technology Branch better). The dimensional requirement from Form 4590 was (and on 5530.5 is):

The combined length and height must not be less than 10” with the height (right angle measurement to barrel without magazine or extension) being at least 4” and the length being at least 6”.

So the PP just barely sneaked through (especially in .380; the .32 version was borderline on points). But the PPK was hopeless as its overall dimensions were too small. The term used by the bansters at the time for a small handgun, implying a cheap and disposable nature, was
“Saturday Night Special,” but the application of the law didn’t affect any of the domestic shoddy pot-metal  .32S&W revolvers, but did catch the safe-as-houses PPK.

With Continued Demand for a Suddenly Banned Gun, What’s Next?

By this time, the James Bond books, favorites of the late John F Kennedy, and the hugely successful movies had given the PPK new cachet, so Interarms was sitting on a stack of wholesale orders for guns it couldn’t bring into the country. It had a few potential courses of action, not including smuggling the guns and everybody going to jail (that was ruled right out).

  • They could send the checks back to the wholesalers. If you ever met Sam Cummings of Interarms, you knew this was not on. Indeed, smuggling probably didn’t get dismissed as quickly as this approach.
  • They could make the PPK in the USA. Walther wasn’t keen on this COA, and Interarms would have been taking a huge risk even if they could talk their German partners into it. Because Dodd, LBJ and others have sworn to come back and extend the “Saturday Night Special” ban (which is how they thought of the silly points system) to domestic production. Interarms did produce PPKs in the late 1970s, as this image from a 1979 catalog shows, but by then it was clear that the “Saturday Night Special” ban threat had passed. The failure of the gun control acts to influence crime was already patent.

PPKsia79_page_3

  • Or, they could modify the PPK to pass the points test, maybe.

It turned out that modifying the PPK wasn’t all that hard. It only needed about half an inch of height to pass the points test. The vast majority of Americans preferred the .380 caliber, which gave them a little headroom, although in time . (Hint: if you just want a PPK for some fun shooting, the .32’s a lot more pleasant to fire, even though the ammo’s more expensive, usually). And the half inch was easily come by: simply adapt the PP frame to the shorter PPK slide. As a side benefit, buyers of the new version would get an extra round in their mags.

A more imaginative marketer might have tried to get a Bond tie-in, or named it after Dodd, who indirectly created it, and sent the crooked ex-Senator a penny of graft for each one, in his involuntary retirement. It would have been publicity gold, but the industry was intimidated and more shy about controversy in those days, and the launch of the gun called it the PPK/Special or PPK/S. It was a US-only model of the already venerable gun (not many pocket pistols were still popular after their 35th Anniversary. Especially in a nation still in love with revolvers). The marketing materials played up the “Special” and played down the fact that this was merely a natural reaction to a dumb law.

Typical stainless US-made PPK/S up on GunBroker right now.

Typical stainless US-made PPK/S up on GunBroker right now.

At first, to a Walther fan, the PPK/s didn’t look right. The PP was familiar; the PPK was familiar; the S looked sort of deformed. Over time it grew more common. Nowadays, people have many options of smaller, lighter guns that pack a bigger punch, so the PP series has faded from actual employment as a defensive handgun. And they’ve been produced in many more variants in Germany, France and the USA, blued, stainless, and two-tone, engraved and plated, and copied even farther afield. But of all the variations, the PPK/S was the one created by a gun ban.

How an Original Tiger Wound up in Fury

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Precision Rifle Blog

precision_rifle_blogWe don’t know how we missed this guy, PrecisionRifleBlog.com, until now. As long time readers know, we have always admired the empirical, side-by-side A-B testing, like the tests that Andrew Tuohy carried out on his own website, Vuurwapen blog, and later at the sadly moribund Lucky Gunner Labs and The Firearm Blog (just search for his name on those sites — if he did it, it’s good. He’s a young man, but he has his stuff in one bag). It reminds us of a scientific experiment. In the same vein, we have enjoyed some of the experiments that Phil Dater PhD did with barrel length, muzzle velocity, and sound pressure levels. Science FTW!

Now, wouldn’t it be neat if somebody did something like that with rifle scopes, among other precision rifle data sets? Turns out, somebody has; his name is Cal Zant and his website, Precision Rifle Blog, promises “a data-driven approach” to long-range, precision shooting. Cal delivers that, in spades. That’s why he’s the Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week.

Let’s show you one example of his coolest recent research, an incredible comparison test of high-end rifle scopes. These are the sort of scopes you’d apply to a precision rifle for target, hunting, or war.  He has conducted a well-planned and thorough battery of tests of 18 high-end scopes, side-by-side, using a pretty solid array of methodologies. Then, he ranked the scopes according to a weighting scheme that he worked out based on what respondents to a survey said was important.

best-tactical-rifle-scopes

Every step of his way, he shows his work. Disagree with his weighting scheme? All the data are there; you can draft your own and see how that changes the ranks. Some features are not important to you? Delete them from the weighting scheme and recalculate. The data are all there, and will cost you only the considerable time needed to read and consider them.

The two essential links are to the Field Test Results Summary and the Buyers Guide and Features to Look For.

But those alone don’t tell the whole story, because he’s also included in-depth links and all his methodologies. Not surprising in the STEM world, especially in engineering, the end of STEM furthest from all the theory. And even if you read all the links, you may have further questions, especially if you’re not well-versed in optics terminology. (We thought we were; the site disabused us of that notion right smartly). So he provides an extremely useful online glossary. Confused by the difference between miliradian-based (Mil) and minute-of-angle (MOA) reticles? He’s not, and you won’t be either, if you read his page on the subject. (Short version: if you’re a yards-and-inches guy, you might be happier with MOA, if you’re metricated, you’ll want a mil reticle and turrets).

You can quibble with the weighting scheme, or bellyache that your favorite scope was not included, but we’re still just struggling with the disbelief of the whole thing: that someone would do all this work for nothing but the pleasure of doing it, and then bestow it on the rest of us.

best-long-range-cartridgesAt this point, you might think that Precision Rifle is all about scopes, and it’s not. That’s just an example of what he’s got for you over there. Here’s another example — a chart from a long article on the calibers most used by National Championships’ top 50 competitive shooters. It’s interesting that the question of caliber is now down to 6 or 6½ millimeters, at least among top 50 competitors. We didn’t know that before reading it on Precision Rifle.

Go, and return smarter, grasshoppers.

The Afterlife of the USMC M40

The United States Marine Corps has made… we don’t want to say a “fetish,” because that word is freighted with negative connotations, but perhaps a “trademark,” of marksmanship, and Marines are resolutely old-fashioned about it. When the Army had to dig back in the doctrinal cavern for the lost beacon of sniper employment and training, in the Vietnam War and later in the 1980s, they found Marines still keeping the pilot light lit.

In the 1960s, the Marines’ sniper stick of choice was the M40, originally a bone-stock Remington 40X. The 40X was the varmint edition of the Remington 700: a little heavier, lacking the cheesy stamped “checkering” of the hunting guns, with a heavy barrel and no iron sights.  700 of these guns were bought, fitted with Redfield 3-9x variable scopes, and sent out to the sniper schools enroute to the fleet.

The M40 lasted about six years in Marine service before the Corps type-classified an upgrade M40A1. These were built by Marine armorers who had been upgrading the M40s for some time: they feature a McMillan synthetic stock and a Unertl 10X scope. The original M40s were generally rebuilt to M40A1 standards, and a later upgrade is designated M40A3. The very latest is the M40A5 and is suppressor-ready. (And more recently, Unertl scopes have started to be replaced by Schmidt and Benders). The original actions soldier on but have sometimes been rebarreled many times; several premium barrel makers have supplied Quantico here.

One historic M40 action (used in Vietnam by 103-kill sniper Chuck Mawhinney) has been restored to M40 condition and is on display in the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico, not far from the epicenter of Marine sniping at the Scout Sniper School. (Apologies to the Marines for getting any of the Marine lingo not-quite-right).

The Army’s M24 was developed in the 1980s with the proven M40 as a point of departure. The Army wanted some different things, but were very cognizant of the Marines’ experience here, and it enabled a very rapid development of a world-class sniper rifle, and the fielding of thousands of them, something that could never have been done with the AMU hand-built M21 systems.

While it’s possible, barely, to acquire an ex-Army M24, the Marines have never released even a single M40 to civilian sales. However, that has not stopped a variety of firms and individual armorers from making M40 clones to the same standard and quality of the original. The M40’s lasting appeal is that it was America’s last blued, wood-stocked, bolt-action rifle, and of course, it was made legendary in Vietnam in the hands of 8541s like Mawhinney and Carlos Hathcock.

You Know You Want One

Since you can’t get an original M40, the question becomes, which of the original-ish clones suits you?

  • Probably the class of the field is Chuck Mawhinney’s own signature model, made in a limited edition of 103 guns with a Leupold Redfield clone (Leupold acquired Redfield) for $5k. (Yes, this is an expensive area of collecting to play in, friends; quite a few versions of 1/2 minute, field-durable rifle and scope are going to cost that much).

Chuck Mawhinney Signature M40

It was introduced at the SHOT Show in 2011. According to Chuck’s website, 29 are still available. Here’s an American Rifleman article on him and his rifle. The article goes into some detail about the extent to which Remington, Riflecraft, Ltd., Leupold, Badger Ordnance, and Mawhinney cooperated to make the reproduced M40:

The rifles are more faithful to the original M40 than the first Remington reproduction, right down to the clip-loading slots in the top of the action. “The clips were useless, of course, because of the scope and mount,” Mawhinney explained, “but the slots were there on the original rifle.”

  • That earlier Remington reproduction was made for the Scout-Sniper Association in 2004, and is long gone from the new market, but occasionally turns up on the auction sites. About 1,500 were made, according to that American Rifleman article. It came in a colorful box, with a certificate of authenticity and a scout-sniper coin. It did not come with a scope or rings.

Remington Repro M40 accessories

  • The SC Rifleworks M40 was another attempted clone. It had some low-visibility improvements, like an aluminum bedding block. It is no longer in production, according to Sniper Central.

SC Rifleworks M40

  • A new entrant is the M40-66, which sells for $3,395 without scope and rings. While it is supposed to be an accurate replica of the 1966 vintage M40 (hence the name), it contains a number of departures from the original. For example, there’s a Pachmayr Decelerator buttplate instead of the original’s aluminum (not steel, as the website says) one, and a different trigger guard in blackened stainless-steel. The firm, whose principals are not identified anywhere on their website, offers a 1/2 MOA accuracy guarantee, which they say is much better than the 2 MOA of the original.

M40-66

 

  • You can always search GunBroker for M40. Be forewarned that a lot of sellers put that (and M24) on auctions for any tactical’d-out Remington 700. But that’s where we found the images of the scout-sniper association replica.

Remington Repro M402

Two Interesting Pistol Jams

Tam at A View from the Porch, who, thank a merciful God, is back posting (albeit with comments muzzled, which in her circumstances is understandable), earlier this month finally experienced some jams with her well-shot (and thoroughly documented) 9mm Walther PPX. Two jams in one session, actually, and both of them have some lessons for us, even though all our Walthers are so old they were made when lots of people still thought Hitler had some good ideas.

It confused us a bit because she listed the second, more interesting, jam first. We’re going to turn her order around and list them in chronological order, which is also the way they appear if you go to her blog and scroll down (way down, now, as these were posted 7 Sep 14). Our main points are: what are the causes, how do you ID and reduce the stoppage when it occurs, and what preventive methods are possible.

Jam #1: Magazine Jam-Up

Here’s Tam’s post. She notes that:

[One round in the mag] had enough friction with the side of the magazine that it bound up, and the spring and follower tried to force the bottom round past it, They were wedged tight enough that they needed to be poked out with some vigor.

ppx mag malf 2

She notes that she’s also seen a similar jam in a S&W M&P. We’ve seen this jam in a lot of double-stack mags, mostly but not all pistol mags, mostly but not all double-stack, single-feed mags. We’ve seen this a lot with M9 mags, especially el cheapo no-name aftermarket mags, but also with some issue mags. (We have not had trouble with Mec-Gar or Beretta factory mags, which we think are also Italian Mec-Gar mags produced for Beretta).

How do you recognize it?

It shows up, from behind the gun, as a stovepipe or as slide closed on an empty chamber. (Tam’s pistol stovepiped, and it was immediately obvious to her).

ppx mag malf 1As you can see, a couple of rounds have jammed in her mag, and all the rounds above that are not being fed. The “slide closed on an empty chamber” variant is particularly insidious; it’s a rare shooter who’s so attuned to the gun as to pick up a loaded chamber indicator’s failure to, well, indicate a loaded chamber. So you get click when you expect boom; an irritant at the range, but more serious if you, in the immortal phrase of unfortunately mortal, late Paul Poole, “dry fire in a firefight, mwah-hah-HAH!”

If you shoot enough to see this failure, you will come to recognize it with a glance in the magwell (neither rounds nor follower showing up between the mag’s feed lips is a dead giveaway). Note that while this exact problem is, by definition, restricted to double-stack mags, single-stack mags can have a similar problem when a round tilts “just right” and jams inside the magazine.

A loaded or partly loaded magazine in which the top round is not retained by friction, and just falls out, is also an indicator of this problem. The rounds above the jam can be easily shaken out of the mag; the rounds below are trapped behind the jam.

Immediate Action?

Recycling the slide doesn’t help, as the mag is not feeding rounds. Sometimes the jam will respond to a sharp blow on the mag base or pistol butt, but the sure-fire (no pun intended) immediate-action drill is to dump the jammed mag, check the gun is clear of loose rounds, and load a fresh mag.

Causes?

The causes can be: oversized rounds, mung (especially gritty mung) in the magazine, and bad mags. Mis-sized ammo and mung are normally hadmaidens of bottom-feeding at the ammo counter, but not always (as we’ll see).

Magazines themselves have lots of failure modes. Mags can have dents or deformities that you can’t see with the naked eye but that can be measured — and that can cause this problem. They can also have surface issues: rust and pitting on the inside of the mag can create enough friction to encourage rounds to hang up. There are things you can do to repair mags, although most smiths don’t have the tools on hand.

With magazine issues, “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action,” as our hero Auric Goldfinger amiably pointed out to his guest. For the average trigger-and-hammer-applicator, the right thing is to expend the mag as a target (so that no one can ever rely on it) and replace it with a new one, if it has done this to you three times. Untold mischief is caused in military units and police departments (especially academies or other training facilities) from bad mags that are turned back in to supply and keep circulating. Supply hates to face the fact that mags are an expendable item; every dollar spent on mags from the supply account is one that can’t be spent on other equipment. But don’t let their economy leave you with the dreaded “Dry fire in a firefight!” Poole is laughing, wherever he is, but that ain’t funny.

The feed system is a very critical part of any autoloading or automatic firearm and the best preventive measures are (1) to clean and maintain your magazines, (2) to use only high-quality mags, and (3) to weed out ruthlessly all substandard mags.

Jam #2: Magazine Jam-Up

Here’s Tam’s post. And here’s what she says about it (at somewhat greater length):

The second one was the more interesting because in the middle of a rapid-fire string, I got a dead trigger.

The slide was too far out of battery to fire, fortunately. A smart rap on the rear of the slide only succeeded in getting the case stuck further. With the assistance of an RO, the round was extracted and a quick examination of the breechface, extractor claw, feed ramp, and chamber mouth showed nothing obviously out of the ordinary.

As she quickly figured out, being a sensible and systematic troubleshooter, the trouble wasn’t the gun. Here’s what it was:

overlength_winchester_9mmSing with us, kiddies: “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong….”

The culprit is the round on the right, with a random exemplar round from the same box on the left. Now I need a good caliper to measure it. It appears almost to be roll-crimped rather than taper-crimped.

I can’t count this malfunction against the PPX, since the round was subsequently tested in my Gen 3 Glock 19 and one of my M&Ps and wouldn’t fully chamber in either.

We can’t judge it with the Mark I eyeball on that photo, although we could probably use the photogrammetry tools in photoshop or GIMP to have a hack at it. But several dimensional failures could have caused this: bad taper on the case, case length too long, bullet badly seated. Most pistol rounds headspace on the case mouth, including the 9 x 19, so odds are the case length was too long or the taper insufficient (probably the former, given the thing imitating a no-go gage in three different brands of 9mm pistol).

As a side note, this malfunction tied the gun up hard; if somebody had been shooting at me, I’d have been hosed.

This wasn’t with Acme imported-from-Bufugliland steelcase crap; it was economy bulk Winchester, but still, Winchester ammo. Name brand ammo has fewer brand rounds than budget stuff, but not zero. An occasional bad round is kind of inevitable when you produce ammo in great bulk: you can’t measure every case and every round, so you rely on statistical quality control. SQC is great stuff, but just because you have got your standard quality out to four nines to the right of the decimal point, your error rate is still nonzero. Somebody’s going to get the turkey round, and this time, it was Tam. 

How do you recognize it?

It shows up as a failure to chamber. Trying to force the slide or bolt home will either succeed in chambering the round (in effect, the gun becomes a resizing tool) or, more likely, lock the gun up tighter than the action’s ever been. (This is part of why the forward assist on the M16A1 and its successors was always a bad idea.

Immediate Action?

Recycling the slide or bolt is the only possibility, but it might require force and/or tools, especially if the gun has been forced towards battery. Take great care to prevent a negligent discharge when clearing the gun. (Be cognizant of the rules if you’re at a range, and make sure the RO knows you’re having a problem. They may have a policy you need to follow). Save the stuck round for examination. Note the lot number of the failed ammo (if it’s available) and contact the ammo manufacturer.

Causes?

This is pretty much a bad ammo thing. Relegate that lot of ammo to training only. It probably does not make sense to change ammo brands, unless your brand is “Uncle Bubba’s no-name mixed-brass reloads). Preventive measures include careful ammo selection, and, if you’re seriously expecting combat, ammo inspection (World War I fighter pilots used to do this to prevent jams of their MGs due to slapdash ammo quality). We should probably do a post on bench and field-expedient ammo inspection sometime.

Holy Fallschirm! Original FG42 falls short… of $300k. Barely.

The standount seller at the Rock Island Auction last week was the German FG42 Type II, lot number 1465. It blew through the estimate of $160-240k and was finally knocked down at $299,000. Here’s a picture (and it does embiggen).

FG42-Right

That’s plus a buyer’s premium of 15 to 17.5% (low end is cash or wire transfer; high end, credit card). Here’s the other side for you to look at, assuming you were not the guy who took it home (or will take it home sometime in 2015 when ATF completes the Form 4) for a price higher than the average house in this country.

FG42-Left

Here’s Ian from Forgotten Weapons running it down (video courtesy RIA).

The German words Ian is groping for at about 9 minutes are Einzelfeuer (single-fire; semi-auto) and Dauerfeuer (continuous fire; full-auto). The same words that lead to the S-E-D markings on a G3.

FG42 in combat 4We would just add to Ian’s history (which is spot on) that German — and Allied — airborne forces in World War II were not just parachute forces. They also were power users of a weapon whose entire history was contained in the war and a couple of postwar years: the combat glider. This German para is in front of a DFS 230 glider (we think the picture is from the rescue of Mussolini at Gran Sasso, but it could be from the Balkans).

The glider had the signal advantage that it landed all the troops together, safely, with all their stuff. German paras particularly tended to put their stuff in bundles. The bundles hung under their Ju52 jump planes and dropped with color-coded chutes: your squad’s gear had a red chute, the other platoon had a green one, that sort of thing. The parachutes were not steerable and a German para could do little to prepare to land, as his chute made a single connection between his shoulder blades. His Parachute Landing Fall was, typically, knees->elbows->face. That’ll leave a mark, and it increased the appeal of gliders.

Apart from springing  Il Duce, the most important glider ops were a strike on the Belgian fortress Eben Emael in May 1940, and an attack on the mountain hideout of Josip Broz “Tito” in 1944. The first used the same small DFS 230 gliders and was a great success. The Yugoslavian raid used larger gliders, but their quarry slipped away.

The FG42 did not have a very large effect on these combat operations, but it was just one advantage the German para tried to have on hand (in the later ops, obviously. In Belgium and Holland they had K98k rifles, and MP38s). But it remains an important part of the German paratroop legacy.

Here’s RIA’s write up:

This is just an exceptional example of a super rare late WWII Fallschirmajagergewehr FG 42 Paratrooper Rifle, with the original issue Luftwaffe marked ZF4 sniper scope and original mount. These rifles were exceptionally unique weapons that were developed by the German engineers that was way ahead of anything that the Allies had.

This rifle design married the concept of both the basic German infantry rifle with the fully automatic “light rifle” weapon, somewhat akin to our Browning BAR and later developed further by various countries in the post-War years. Some of the more notable weapon designs that used this concept were the FN/FAL and M14 rifles, which used a full sized rifle round in both the semi-automatic and fully automatic mode.FG42-8

 

 

One of the most unique aspects of this weapon was that it fired from a “closed bolt” when shooting in the semi-automatic mode and an “open bolt” in the fully automatic mode, which aided in reducing cook-offs. Some of the other easily identified characteristics of this rifle are a horizontal 20 round box magazine, a “brass deflector” on the right rear side of the receiver, a permanently attached folding bipod, and folding front and rear sights.

These rifles were developed fairly late in WWII at the direction of Herman Goring and were specifically issued to only German Paratroopers. It is estimated that only appropriately 5000 were ever manufactured with most being destroyed after the war with very few surviving intact examples know today. This example is a mid-production Second Model that has the more horizontal grip with the bakelite grip panels and laminated buttstock and two piece wooden forend.

There is a typo in that last paragraph. This rifle, which is indeed a 2nd Model, has a more vertical grip than the 1st Model, which had metal grip surfaces.

This rifle is complete with an original WWII German “Luftwaffe” issued and marked ZF4 sniper scope, with the original scope mount/ring set. The scope is a standard ZF4 scope that has been marked with a large “L” on the left side signifying it for Luftwaffe issue. The top of the receiver of these rifles were specifically machined with a long dovetail type base designed to accept the two scope rings. The rings each have a single locking lever that allowed easy installation and removal of the scope depending on the specific combat scenario; general combat or in a limited sniping role.

The top of the receiver is marked: “fzs(the wartime code for the Krieghoff Company)/FG42/02314″. The left side of the scope is marked “Gw ZF4/57309/ddx (Voigtlander & Sohns)” with the large “L” signifying Luftwaffe issue following the standard markings. This wonderful light combat rifle has the late war green/gray phosphate finish on the receiver and barrel assembly with a blue/black painted finish on the lower trigger group/housing assembly. This exceptionally scarce rifle is complete with the original ribbed compensator on the end of the barrel which installs on the same muzzle threading as the included cup-style grenade launcher, the original folding bipod, spike bayonet and one original magazine.

Condition: Excellent with 97% plus of the original WWII combination phosphate/blue type finish with minor handling/firing wear. The scope and rings are also in excellent condition with 95% of their original finish. The wooden forend and buttstock are also in excellent condition with their nice original finish with minor handling marks from light use. A few English selector markings have been hand-added to the trigger group. Truly a super rare and very unique WWII FG 42 Paratrooper Rifle with all of the extremely rare accessories!

We’re guessing that the new owner will not be taking it to the range to blow off some Yugo 7.92 x 57 corrosive any time soon. We congratulate him on his purchase (and congratulate RIA on the ~$45k buyer’s premium, plus any sales commission, they’re getting for facilitating this sale).

FG42-2

This is an incredibly historic firearm, you see. While the FG42 didn’t change the course of a single battle in a long war, it did change the course of firearms history. The US Army Ordnance Branch became infatuated with it and copied it several ways, trying to simplify it and adapt the MG42 belt feed to the FG42 operating system and design. The result was the M60.

And the designers of the M60, if they ever knew, didn’t seem to take note of the strong resemblance the FG42 receiver, bolt, and operating rod have to those of an earlier weapon: the Lewis Gun. Our assumption is that Louis Stange, looking to make a light automatic weapon, chose the most successful light automatic weapon of World War I as his point of departure. (The FG has some Lewis DNA, but it’s a far cry from a monkey-see-monkey-do copy of its WWI ancestor. Stange added numerous features, including the innovative closed-bolt-semi, open-bolt-auto operating system).

NOTE: The preceding line originally described the operating system of the FG42 backwards. It has been corrected. Thanks to Chris W. in the comments for catching the error.

Other auction results are available in RIA’s writeup. This was a quite successful auction for them, with $11.9 million in sales.

 

SPARTY, Circa World War I

This grainy, moïre-wracked image comes from American Machinist, Volume L (50) Jan-Jun, 1919.

wwi_sp_arty_experiment

It appears in the bound volume of the trade magazine on page 266, and does not seem to be referenced in the text. A few pages earlier, there’s another self-propelled artillery piece, a 9.2 inch howitzer.

wwi_sp_arty_experiment_9-2_inch

The first of these weapons, at least, is well known to specialist researchers. The Holt Tractor Company of Stockton, California made early tracked tractors for agriculture. Their initial models steered not by differential braking or power to the tracks, but by a “tiller wheel” that was mounted out in front of the machine. By World War I their ag tractors were very successful, and their engineers adapted them to military use around the time of the US’s entry into the long-running European war in 1917.

All the military tractors were experimental. The Army Ordnance Department experimented with them, but deployed none of them to France.

The versions included what may have been the first manufactured tank, and at least seven or eight iterations of the self-propelled artillery design, most of which mounted the US 75mm M1916 field gun, a variant of the French 75.

The popular Holt tractor was also adapted in Britain, experimentally, and France and Germany produced tanks based on Holt running gear. The most famous of these tanks was the German A7V, a tank that was outnumbered in German service by captured British tanks.

The Holt company is a trademark you may not recognize today, as the forerunner of a modern giant whose trademarks you definitely know. As the company was best known as the maker of the Holt’s Caterpillar Tractor, it changed its name first to Holt’s Caterpillar and finally, just to Caterpillar. So Holt’s tractor is still with us.

While Caterpillar (and small-c caterpillar) tractors would be successful as artillery prime movers, the company does not seem to have adapted their post-war tractor models into potential military sales. The engineering requirements for tank tracks and suspensions are too different from those needed for tractors, bulldozers and earth-moving equipment. And also, the US didn’t get serious about tanks until it began to seem clear that we’d need to start numbering our World Wars, so there was no money in tank development for an American firm in most of the interwar years.

Jerry Miculek and the Stoner 63

The Stoner 63 is interesting for a number of reasons. It was the Next Big Thing that Eugene Stoner did after leaving Armalite, and it had a lot of effort behind it, thanks to its sponsor, defense contractor Cadillac Gage which made, among other things, the V-100 armored car. Apart from the Stoner connection, the gun had two things that helped to build its legend. It was an early example of a modular weapons system, readily converted from box-fed rifle to carbine to belt-fed light machine gun and back again. It was such a novel idea, way back then in the Kennedy Administration, that it received US Patent 3,198,076 on 22 Mar 63. The second thing was that it was used in combat in Vietnam by the Navy SEAL teams as the Mark 23 LMG. Very few weapons are uniquely associated with specific special operations units,  but this is one.

The SEALs would probably still be using them if they could maintain them, but no one has made parts in 40 or 50 years.

The carbine configuration had an optional folding stock and a barrel that ended at the front sight base (with an M16-like birdcage flash suppressor forward of the FSB).

Unfortunately, Jerry got to light up only the rifle version, not the SEAL LMG. With barely over 3000 Stoner 63 series guns produced, and almost all of them delivered to the US military (the Marines combat tested the rifle in Vietnam before deciding to stick with the M16), there are very few Stoner 63s on the NFARTR.

To us, the most interesting part was Reed Knight’s explanation of how the conversion from rifle to Bren-like mag-fed LMG to belt-fed worked, and what economics actually drove the modularity.

Here’s a lower-quality video of an updated Stoner 63 belt-fed version firing on full auto.

Stunts like this are why most of the few Stoner 63 LMGs on the registry are badly shot-out. The barrels are close to but “not quite” like AR barrels.

Along with the rifle, carbine, and machine gun variants, which Cadillac Gage hoped to produce in larger quantities for military contracts, there were some unusual and one-off variants. This video (we’re back to professional, if weird, production now) depicts an entrant in an Air Force survival carbine competition (probably the same one that the Colt Model 608 Aviator Survival Carbine was made to contest). We’re not sure whether the competition was canceled before or after testing began, but no carbine was selected.

In the end, the whole story of the Stoner 63, except its moment of glory in the hands of the “Men with Green Faces,” as the VC labeled the SEALs, is a story of almost-was and mighta-been. There was nothing catastrophically wrong with the gun, apart from one safety problem that was fixed in the Mk 23 Mod 0 version; it (and its designer and manufacturer) just didn’t get the breaks.

You may be curious about the safety problem, so we’ll tell the story. In MG config (including LMG/auto rifle top-feed config), the Stoner 63, 63A and Mk23 all fire from an open bolt. They fire in full-auto mode only; the selector on the modular trigger group is still present, but does nothing. “Open bolt” means that the bolt is retained to the rear by the sear, and all the safety selector does is lock the sear so it can’t be withdrawn from the bolt. The trigger mechanism is attached to the receiver by front and rear pins (sort of like a roller-delayed HK). If one of the pins slips out, the trigger mechanism housing can pivot, and the sear will move out of contact with the bolt, firing the gun — and, if a belt is in place, creating a runaway gun. (This can also happen with the top-side magazine fed LMG or “automatic rifle” configuration of the Stoner). The failure mode had not occurred to anyone until it actually happened, killing a SEAL. Subsequently, modifications were designed, preventing this kind of runaway, and retrofitted to all Mk 23 LMGs in service. Civilian Stoners with the mods are referred to as Model 63A1.

When the Army was looking for a light machine gun a few years later, Cadillac Gage had exited the firearms business and ATF had overseen the destruction of their inventory. Knight’s acquired the parts and tooling and made some transferables before the NRA shut down machine gun manufacture in a tradeoff with anti-gun politicians in 1986. Knights is reported to still hold some pre-86 receivers, but there are no parts to build guns on the receivers with.

Excellent information on the Stoner 63 in all its permutations is found on “Mongo’s” web site. He’s clearly an intensive student of the arm.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Luger LP08.com

artillery_luger_siteMauro Baudino, an Italian who lives in Belgium nowadays, is an expert on the very beast we’re currently wrangling; he’s written a book on the Artillery Luger, although his book is aimed more at collectors and historians than on our current role, poor beggars trying to make the thing run like Kaiser Bill intended it to. So Mauro’s website on the Artillery, LugerLP08.com, is of great interest.

At the very beginning, it has a graphic in which a commemorative Artillery photo fades into a cut-away four-color drawing, which then cycles, and you can see the intricacies of the action — which all appear correct.

Baudino also co-wrote (with Gerben Van Vlimmeren) a book on postwar Parabellums, The Parabellum is Back: 1945-2000.  There is a website with information on this book including errata, like drawings of the magazines developed by Haenel for the French. Here’s a review of the book by Ian from Forgotten Weapons:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hztgmjJU7f4

Unfortunately, his Artillery Luger book, which is available direct from the author, is primarily in the Italian language, albeit with bilingual (Italian/English) photo captions. But the website is all in English, and quite entertaining to explore.

Adventures with Lange Pistole 08, Part 1

The Artillery Luger has been troubling us with unreliability lately, and Kid really wants to shoot it. So we have to trouble-shoot it first, and with Lugers that seems to be equal parts art, science, and Santeria. (Of the Germanic, Vulcan-logic variety, of course). We don’t think this thing will be cured with a single laying-on of hands and in a single post, but we try nonetheless. Not our hands, at least, and if we will pray for something from His hands, we’ll save that prayer for something bigger than a troublesome toggle.

File photo (source unknown) of an LP.08

File photo (source unknown) of an LP.08

(Note: we’re having trouble loading images this morning. Please stand by).

So, “Was für ein Zeug ist das?” (“What is that.. thing?” — range question)

First, let’s say a few words about what an Artillery Luger is. It was really the first Personal Defense Weapon, to use modern terminology, of the automatic-weapons era. The Germans never called it an “Artillery Luger,” by the way; they called it, with classically Teutonic lyricism, a Lange Pistole 08 or Long Pistol of 1908. The pistol had a roughly 8-inch barrel, a rear sight modeled on that of a Mauser rifle with a wildly optimistic 800-yard gradient on it, and a number of other unique parts that appear at first glance to be ordinary P.08 parts but aren’t. (One suspects that they The LP.08 also was issued with some notable accessories, including, on a 1:1 basis, a holster that was backed by a board that formed a detachable shoulder stock, making the weapon a handy carbine. The holster rig includes a shoulder strap and a pouch for two spare magazines — after 100 years, surviving holsters tend to be dry, brittle, and sometimes shrunken. The other accessory that truly completes this pre-James Bond rig is the 32-round “snail drum” magazine, which, to quibble, isn’t a true drum like that of the TSMG or PPSh, but more a coiled stick magazine. In this case, the misnomer is German in origin: they called it the Trommelmagazin 08.

“Artillery Luger with Snail Drum” is how it’s known today, andeveryone will know what you’re talking about.

The magazine and stock will fit on most Lugers, but the ATF only exempts the Artillery and Naval Lugers (and a few even rarer variants) from NFA. Attaching the stock to an ordinary P.08 is a rather serious NFA violation, “Manufacturing a short-barreled rifle,” and ATF would rather pursue that against you than try to, say, interdict instead of facilitate Mexican cartels’ gun supplies. (Cheer up: they once expected Luger owners to register the guns under NFA, or grind the stock lugs off, so on this, they’ve actually improved in the last sixty years or so). The last time an Artillery Luger was used in a crime is not recorded.

(Without the stock, the magazine merely adds weight and complicates the balance of a Luger. We’d guess that everyone in the very small minority of owners of these guns that actually shoots them tries it like that once, just to be gangsta, with nobody watching. “Look at me, I have a drum mag in my pistol, eat lead, target!” And then never does it again, because it’s murder to hit anything like that, and nothing takes the joy out of shooting as fast as missing does).

Starting in 1914 these long Lugers were issued as rifle replacements to soldiers who needed a weapon only for short-range self-defense. The first of these were the German Imperial artillery units, and that’s what gave this pistol its common name. By war’s end they were used by the first Storm Troops, small, heavily-armed units trained and equipped for rapid, mobile warfare in the trench environment, as well as their usual PDW employment. After the war, a number remained in Weimar military and police use (these will be marked with “1920” over the original date in the chamber area of the slide). A number came back to the USA as war trophies, and many more were imported and sold. Prior to 1968, the imports didn’t have to be marked by the importer, so most Artillery Lugers in the USA lack any import markings.

While Lugers were manufactured in modern factories for the time, they are a complicated and intricate mechanism, and almost all metal-on-metal interfaces on the Luger were hand-fitted. Some parts, such as the trigger mechanism, were extensively hand-fitted. This means that on a non-matching gun, you’re at the mercy of the smith who swapped the parts in the first place. Well, you hope it was a smith; if it was just a drop-in of mismatched parts, there’s still gunsmithing ahead to make the Luger run. On some guns, “matching parts” is of concern only to collectors, but on a Luger they’re a signal flag that the gun was, at one time, anyway, carefully hand-fitted.

Our copy is matching, but was long ago professionally reblued (although not a restoration), erasing much of its collector value. However, we’re less Luger snobs than Luger fans who like to shoot the Heath Robinson things, and for us it’s always been a reliable shooter — until recently. Recently it’s gotten a bit truculent about cycling.

On to Troubleshooting

There are four FIrst Things in Luger troubleshooting:

  1.  All Lugers are picky about ammunition. It was designed to work with a single cartridge, and it needs something pretty close to the original. Forget about modern bullet shapes, Georg’s design wants round nose or truncated-cone FMJ, period. (Yes, we have seen attempts at Luger feed-ramp polishing by Dremel-wielding Bubbas, and it put us in mind of the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept). It also wants good levels of chamber pressure: we’d recommend NATO 9mm over commercial SAAMI 9mm, which is a bit downloaded because of interwar rumors of feeble 9mm firearms (maybe due to some unfortunate wretch breaking a 9mm Parabellum in a Glisenti). However, we’d not recommend +P or +P+ ammunition in anything that was made when all Europe was ruled by kings. Which brings us to:
  2. All Lugers are old, and all of these particular models are 97-100 years old. Fortunately, they are made of good alloy steel, and the sort of steel they are made of is not subject to gradual weakening due to fatigue, or at least, is far less subject to it than nonferrous metals. Absent overstress, a Luger’s parts will never give out. Absent wear, they’ll always fit together right (which means lubrication is your special friend if you want to shoot one a lot). Absent corrosion, their steel parts should be strong as they were on Day 1, metallurgy of steels being what it is, but the springs may have weakened from age or overuse.
  3. As in every auto pistol, the magazine is a potential single point of failure. The Luger mag is incredibly well-designed from a functioning standpoint and is not much given to crapping out, but it can be damaged by abuse, and as #2 says, the originals are all a century or so old. P.08 mags were made up to the arrival of T-34s and Shermans atop the factories, and after the war have been made by various third parties. Aftermarket magazines are hit and miss; original magazines are superior (but expensive), if not cracked or broken.
  4. The system is complex and there are a number of places where unwelcome friction can mess up the gun’s cycle and timing. So seeking and reducing that friction can help.

And of course, the gunsmith’s version of the Hippocratic principle (“First, do no harm”) is always in mind. We try to do the minimum to the gun and avoid permanent or hard-to-reverse alterations. Because, Bubba. And the Weaponsman Principle (“Don’t be that guy.”)

It's many things, but a Luger is not simple.

It’s many things, but a Luger is not simple. This is the standard Pistole 08.

With those principles and constraints in mind, first we tried the good old GI method: how much lubricant can a firearm absorb and not be too slippery to grip? Then we wound up having an adventure simply going to the range. Turns out, Ye Olde Weaponsman’s membership in this range had lapsed. (Guns are our thing. Paperwork, not so much). Then, the old SS chose to give up its GhoSSt on the way home. Basic troubleshooting availed us not, so AAA sent a ramp truck for the last half mile, and our local carsmith is hooked it out of here yesterday. Oy. So we don’t know yet if the drench-it school of lube has made Old Unfaithful faithful again.

We kind of think not; that would be Too Easy, although the fact that the gun worked until recently suggests that it’s failing because something changed, and level and viscosity of oils is something that’s constantly changing.

So, for the time being, we went to Plan B, which is to do some mechanical training on the Luger, and look for anything anomalous (we had found nothing on the pre-range inspection). We recall thinking, “this will not end well,” but we dismissed the thought and did not go get the mismatched beater Luger instead. And we walked Kid through the intricacies of assembling and disassembling the Luger, with no more trouble than the occasional Luger part imprinting itself on the hardwood floors. He is the only kid in his high school with hands-on time with an Artillery Luger, he thinks, and he’d be the envy of all his friends if he talked about the guns we have at home, which he does not.

And at this point, we’re going to wrap for the morning, in order to get on to other things. But Kid did find an anomaly in the Luger that caused some intermittent friction. To be continued!