Category Archives: Weapons that Made their Mark

Jerry Miculek meets the Original AR-10

The ace competitive shooter briefly got hold of an original AR-10, thanks to Reed Knight of Knight’s Armament Company.

And he shoots it, a little, in this video. He records 633 RPM in a burst, which is about right. The AR-10 is much more controllable in auto fire than other 7.62 NATO firearms, but that’s only relative to such horrid muzzle-climbers as the M14, the FAL, and the G3. (What’s the worst of the bunch? The para G3A3, by miles).

The gun is a “transitional” model with mostly Portuguese features, but the charging handle resembles that used in the Sudanese gun (and is a lot like the ones on Nodak Spud’s AR-15 “prototype” upper receivers) rather than the more complicated Porto one, and the upper lacks a serial number, which all Portuguese guns had.

We’ve known about the original AR-10 for a long time, and like Jerry and Reed, we really like it for its light weight and high quality. We have a semiauto gun built with a billet alloy receiver and an original parts kit, and enjoy it a lot.

Those guns are robust military rifles, and the surviors, mostly Portuguese guns, were subjected to all kinds of abuse in the field. The sophistication of the design is indicated by the fact that the only parts that didn’t hold up were the fiberglass furniture and the barrels — a lot of ex-Porto barrels are pitted, or shot out, but others are in fine condition. The difference was probably the maintenance they got — by and large, Portugal gave these rifles to elite paratroops, which is usually a maintenance plus, but they were used far from home in African guerrilla wars, usually a maintenance minus. It’s a risky gun to buy sight unseen.

Knight is quite correct about the limited production. Artillerie Inrichtingen never earned out the money it invested in AR production, with the only two sales being the small ones to Portugal and Sudan. Its sales arm seemed to be snakebit by bad luck — for example, they negotiated a deal with the armed forces of Cuba, just before Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by Communists. The Cubans not only never paid for the few ARs delivered, they distributed them widely to guerrillas and terrorists. (Indeed, a number were recovered by Cuban-sponsored rebels in the Dominican Republic in 1965. Apart from one or two retained for Army museums, they were destroyed).

By the best estimate, a couple of thousand of original AR-10s survive in whole or in part, mostly in nations that allow or did allow conversion of full- to semi-auto weapons. A number were destroyed in Australia when that country passed several gun bans about 10 years ago. The numbers of AR-10s in the USA may be as low as a hundred registered automatic weapons, and a few hundred semis like ours. So Jerry’s right to be excited about the privilege of firing an original. It’s not like today’s nine and ten pound .308s.

Once, there were millions of original AR-10 magazines available (AI overproduced them), but Knight used them in his initial SR-25s, causing the supply to evaporate. An original magazine now is probably worth more than some guns.

The airplane that Reed Knight talks about after the range session was the Swiss-made Pilatus Porter, which Fairchild manufactured as the Fairchild Porter and, in prototype and short-run mode, as the AU-23 STOL gunship. Oddly enough, the AU-23 production tooling and rights are for sale right now. Drop us a line in comments if you’re interested and we’ll put you in touch with the sellers.

Holstered gun fires itself? How is this even possible?

ND-shot-in-footThat’s the way the AP, no doubt retyping a press release as is their usual wont, reports it:

A South Florida police officer is recovering after his holstered gun fired while he was chasing suspected thieves, wounding him in the leg.

Authorities said Monday that Officer Joel Basque of the Sweetwater Police Department was responding to a report of shoplifters at the Dolphin Mall near Miami. Basque and another officer tried to chase down the four suspects, who fled in different directions. They did catch one 18-year-old man.

via South Florida officer shot with own holstered gun.

But he has company walking the Limp of Shame, as a Columbus, Ohio cop also managed to shoot himself with a holstered gun on the way to work this morning.

Police say the officer was struck in the leg by a bullet around 6 a.m. in northwest Columbus, near I-270 and 33.

“He was on his way to work, was in uniform and the way our duty belts fit, if you have a car with leather seats, you won’t want to wear the duty belt while driving – because it will really mark up your vehicle. So a lot of officers will just take the belt off and put it on the seat or the floor,” said Sgt. Rich Weiner of the Columbus Police Department.

Weiner adds that the weapon – a Smith & Wesson MP40 – did not have a safety.

The Columbus officer, an 18-year veteran of the force, drove himself to the hospital and was not expected to stay there overnight. If he was not violating department policy, he won’t be disciplined for the ND.

We’ve heard of a few freak accidents with Glocks (and such Glocklike pistols as S&W M&P’s) and the pull-tabs on jackets, but the first incident was in South Florida in July — nobody’s wearing a jacket unless he’s a gangster trying to conceal a Desert Eagle or something. And we’ve heard of some accidents involving exposed-trigger and other badly designed holsters (cough Serpa cough). But generally it takes an application of force to the bang switch to produce a bang (and, in this case, a limping, and we suspect cursing, policeman).

We understand that the reporter in the first story wrote, “his holstered gun fired.” (The second story’s reporter got it right, describing what happened as the unlucky officer, “accidentally shooting himself.” True, that). Now, reporters may believe that holstered guns can just up and fire themselves, given the general level of hoplodementia in the trade, and the fact that what they think is the great education they got in J-School was shallow, narrow, and tendentious. Reporters can believe dumb crap like that, but for those of us in the physical world where Newton’s Laws remain, well, laws, guns don’t exercise their own designs on their own volition.

If they did, they’d probably clean themselves, like cats.

SMG History on the Block: German MP18-1

Here’s a true piece of submachine gun history: a German MP.18–1 submachine gun, a very early, first-generation, Bergmann-built Hugo Schmeisser design.

MP18-1 left

Schmeisser was the son of designer Louis Schmeisser, who also worked at Bergmann and created the early Bergmann auto pistols. Hugo is one of the true greats of 20th Century weapons design in his own right, but, oddly enough, he is credited more in the popular mind for a gun he didn’t design, the MP 40, than the many guns he did, including the revolutionary MP.18. We’ll explain below how that probably came to pass.

Discounting the curious and tactically unsound Villar–Perosa, the first real submachine gun was the MP.18. (Maxim produced a model only in the late 19th Centuryl he didn’t follow up). It was blowback-operated and fired in full-automatic only (at a rather low rate of fire, thanks to heavy reciprocating parts). The weakness of the MP18, apart from its weight and cost of manufacture, was its magazine feed: it used the 32 round snail drum of the Artillery Luger. (A snail “drum” is not a true drum, exactly, but a box magazine oriented in a spiral to save space. It’s very tricky to design). The snail drum was awkward, hard to load, heavy, and made the MP18 unwieldy, but the gun still proved its worth in the hands of German Storm Troops in the last year of the Great War.

MP18-1 right

After the war, Schmeisser patented an original design for a 20-round double-column single-feed magazine and a suitable magazine housing (the patent was not filed in the USA until 1931, possibly due to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles). This gun is one of the 20-round versions.

Schmeisser US1833862-2 According to Small Arms of the World by Smith and Ezell, these guns were not new production, but were modified by Haenel, and (several other sources suggest that Bergmann lost its production facilities at war’s end, and continued only as a design shop). Some online sources assert that during the war, Schmeisser’s double-column mag had been rejected by the Army in favor of the snail drum, officially the “Trommelmagazin 08″ or TM08, that was already in production for the Artillery pistol. We haven’t seen a definitive source that says that Schmeisser’s stick mag was ready for prime time in 1918.

This gun on offer is one of those postwar MP.18-1s with the 20-round box mag.  Its condition is amazing for a nearly-century-old weapon an ocean away from its home:

MP18-1 right2

This is a excellent German MP18.1 that I have had for a long time. It is in beautiful original condition as you can see by the pictures. It is all matching except for the bolt. The bore is excellent and shiny. It has all the original finish and is NOT re-blued. The magazine housing is marked S.B.848 and the stock is marked “1920″ so I’m sure that it was used in the Weimar as a Police Weapon.

MP18-1 b

The “1920″ marking was applied to all Reichswehr (the Weimar Republic’s 100,000-man rump army) weapons when a postwar law banned automatic weapons for the general public. (This early German gun control law was to lead to greater things, but let’s not digress).

It is on a form 3 and is fully transferable on a form 4, though it can NOT be transferred on a C&R. If you have any question or need more pictures please ask.

via German MP18 1 9mm MP18-1 : Machine Guns at

The MP.18 was redesigned by Hugo Schmeisser into a slightly improved version, the MP.28, which had a selector switch. It continued in production, spawning many variants. The Schmeisser designs went on to be extremely influential, as well as to serve in many other wars, including the Spanish Civil War, the Sino-Japanese Wars leading up to World War II (including in Chinese-copy versions), and of course in World War II, where it was often found in the hands of the SS. It also inspired the British Lanchester, a fairly direct copy of the MP.28 which actually could use MP 18 and 28 box magazines, although the Lanchester also had 32 and 50 round magazines of its own. This makes the MP 18 not only the progenitor of all submachineguns, but also the granddaddy of the Sten. The Japanese Type 100 was also a modified copy of the MP.28, a weapon the Japanese had encountered in Chinese hands. The Finnish Suomi and Russian PPD also were inspired to one extent or another by the German design, and the.

Schmeisser’s box magazine design was patented, as shown above, and was widely used in subsequent guns. It’s generally accepted that the misnomer “Schmeisser” for the MP40 came about because many MP38 and MP40 magazines were marked with “Schmeisser D.R.P.” (Deutsches Reich Patent) in recognition of this patent.

The gun is extremely durable. The receiver is machined from a thick tube, unlike the thin tubes common in Second World War submachine guns. The bolt likewise is machined from a single block of steel. The weapon fires from an open bolt, automatic only, although experience makes single shots possible. The original WWI versions had no manual safety. This one has a bolt notch safety. (All open-bolt SMGs are only safe with a mag out, period, unless the safety locks the bolt forward on an empty chamber. A safety like this just instills false confidence).

MP18-1 right3

Mullin notes that, other things being equal, a full-stocked SMG always provides a better firing platform than a folding or sliding stock. We concur. Sliding stocks have had something of a renaissance due to body armor, but for the recreational shooter an early subgun like an MP.18 (or a Thompson for that matter) is a joy to shoot.

MP18-1 broken open

While the operating system of the gun was very simple, the internals were not. The bolt was driven by a telescoping spring guide/firing pin mechanism clearly antecedent to that of the later Vollmer designs that would culminate in the MP40. What killed the MP.18 and its successors in the end was the difficulty and expense of machining its solid steel parts. Second-generation submachine guns would have stamped, die-cast, and other parts taking advantage of improvements in 20th Century automotive mass-production industrial processes.

MP18-1 stripped

We’ve used more of the pictures than we usually do in these auction reports, because this is such a gorgeous, unmolested original gun. If we hadn’t just taken a huge income hit (thank you, ISIL), we’d be on this like a lawyer on an ambulance.

Because the MP.18 isn’t as sexy as later guns, it’s unlikely to be bid up anywhere near Thompson, BAR or M16 territory, and might even sell down in the Sten price range. But this gun is a true piece of history. Its next owner will have something to be proud of, and it may turn out to be a good investment. (Personally, we don’t “invest” in anything subject to corrosion, although we’ve been known to delude ourselves that we did that).

After this, you might want more information on this rare and historic firearm. There’s a minimal write-up in most editions of Small Arms of the World. In the 11th Edition it begins on p. 338. (The book, not the unrelated Small Arms of the World website. There’s probably a good writeup on the website, too, but we’ve been locked out by login problems over the last few weeks… we hope to get them resolved today. SAW’s technical staff have been very helpful). There’s a better writeup, but scarcely a thorough one, in Hobart, on pp. 116-117.

How does the MP.18 stack up today? Mullin’s verdict in The Fighting Submachine Gun: A Hands-on Evaluation was:

The M1918 feels like a good, sturdy, long-lasting weapon. It does have a few drawbacks to it (such as weight and slam-firing bolt-design defects), but once modified to a standard box design, it has all the features necessary to make an effective SMG with very few that are superfluous to the job. This is quite a compliment to those original German designers back in 1918.

Peterson (p. 151) suggests that the gun may be worth $17,000 to $22,500, depending on whether you call its condition “very good” or “excellent”; a snail-drum wartime gun would be worth only 10% more. No one has bid on this gun, at $13,500 opening bid and no reserve. What’s up with that?


Hobart, FWA, Pictorial History of the Sub-machine Gun

Mullin, T. The Fighting Submachine Gun: A Hands-on Evaluation.

Peterson, P. Standard Catalog of Military Firearms: The Collector’s Price and Reference Guide. 

Smith, WHB and Ezell, EC, Small Arms of the World, any edition.

A very good photo thread on the MP.18 and successors at Accurate Reloading:

Note that there are a couple of errors and unsupported statements in the photo thread.


Learning the RPG-7

Obsolete (or at least obsolescent) in Russian service, the RPG-7 continues to serve with scores and scores of armies worldwide. Every Afghan armed force, regular or irregular, since about 1980, has used this versatile and powerful weapon.

This DOD B-roll video shows Marines training members of the Afghan National Army in the loading and firing of the RPG on 24 August 2011.  This was a train-the-trainer event; the Afghans in this video were being trained as small arms assistant instructors.

The Afghans are speaking Dari, not Pushtu. They’re firing with iron sights, not the optic (the optic takes days to train. Even the iron sights have two settings, normal and low-temperature [sub 0ºC]), and they’re using OG-7V HE/Frag warheads. This is that bad boy, in promotional makeup:


The rough midpoint of the rocket (that shiny band) is where it initiates. The firing pin of the RPG-7 is located on the ventral side of the weapon; the hammer strikes it in the “up” direction and it strikes an initiating primer. Since the primer is in only one position around the 360º circumference of the booster, the round is provided with a small lug (the “indexing lug”) that fits into a notch in the muzzle (the “indexing notch”). An RPG round that is not fully indexed and seated will not fire. The fins are contained inside the booster charge, This very nice 3D render of one of the RPG files available at “Turbo Squid,” a 3D file vendor, shows you how the fins work. It doesn’t include the safety pin and removable cap, both of which need to be taken off (as you can see in the B-roll of training video).


The firing sequence and performance of this round, in all but terminal effect, apes the more common PG-7 or PG-7V warhead, the twin-conical HEAT warhead. The booster charge (section III in the cutaway PG-7V image below) expels the OG-7 from the tube at 117 m/sec (384 fps) in a tenth of a second, by which time it has traveled 11 meters (~36 feet). The booster charge is routed through a de Laval nozzle or venturi that equalizes the pressure of the gases exiting the rear of the tube with the recoil from the grenade being expelled from the front — making, in an in-spec RPG, the recoil functionally zero. At the 11-meter point the rocket sustainer (II in the cutaway) fires and propels the warhead section, hitting a peak velocity of 294 m/sec (965 fps) until it hits the target, or if it finds no target or other object or surface, until 5 seconds have elapsed. At 5 seconds, the round is 900 meters (~2950 feet) from launch, and it self-destructs.

The round is stabilized by spring-out fins hinged inside Section III (the fins are shown stowed as 17). These fins are also beveled on one side of their leading edges to provide stabilizing spin in addition to the aerodynamic stability the fins supply. In addition, a small group of secondary fins (19) provides spin even during the in-tube boost.


Here is B-Roll of an interview with one of the Marines, Sgt. Christopher Samples.He explains what the training meant to achieve, and the roles of the gunner and a/gunner in an RPG crew. “It’s commonly used, but it’s commonly misused, as well. Once they learn how to effectively use it, it can be used against the enemy.”

In this interview, ammo tech Corporal Ryan McCarthy explains how the RPG works, according to his own understanding, and what he’s looking for: “Safety. Safety, safety, safety!”

And here is the finished, journalistic product, blending excerpts from the two interviews and the range fire on 24 August 11.

The RPG is a really, really outstanding weapon, and it fits in a sweet spot of direct-fire AT and AP support weaponry that’s really missing in the US infantry squad. Instead, we have more riflemen, and additional-duty weapons like the AT-4. The RPG is cheaper and reusable, and it has a range advantage over most US disposable non-guided weapons. Its effective anti-tank range is about double that of the AT-4, and the disposable AT-4 costs $1,500 a round.

History of the Weapon

The evolutionary history of the RPG is fascinating. The Soviets began by copying a weapon they’d felt the sharp end of: the German Panzerfaust. There were many versions of this disposable AT weapon available, and by war’s end the Germans were evolving this weapon in the direction of a reusable tube. It was the Panzerfaust that originated the grenade-launch boost and rocket sustainer operating system, and the weapon evolved rapidly under the pressures of mechanized warfare. Early Panzerfäuste had a mere 30 meter range, demanding bravery, or recklessness, from a rifleman under the pressure of hordes of T-34s or Shermans. And the warheads were marginal, at least on the well-protected T-34. By 1945 most of the initial weaknesses had been allayed by the intense development taking place behind the lines, and the industrial and R&D plant fell into Russian hands.

Unlike the USA, where captured German scientists and engineers came to be trusted, with many staying on as employees and seeking American citizenship, the Soviets, who suffered terribly at German hands, never trusted the Germans and held them in rigid captivity. As quickly as possible, they transitioned German projects, including rockets, guided AA missiles, and turbine engines as well as AT weapons, to Soviet design bureaux and shut the Germans out, generally releasing them back in the USSR’s occupied zone of Germany.

The Soviet engineers proved to be quick and imaginative. They continued to improve the Panzerfaust operating system. It is generally believed that a Soviet-produced version of the late-war Panzerfaust 250 was given limited issue as the Ручной Противотанковый Гранатомёт Ruchnoy Protitankovniy Granatomet or RPG-1. A Soviet-improved version was widely issued as the RPG-2 in the later 1940s, as part of the systematic re-equipment of the Soviet Army that also saw new rifles, machine guns, and soon, tanks in service.

The limits of the RPG-2 led to the larger, heavier, more solid, and tactically longer-ranged and more accurate RPG-7 in 1961, and the versatility of the RPG-7 has kept it on the world’s front lines to this day. While most of the world knows about the remarkable longevity of the Kalashnikov rifle, its AT counterpart is just as ubiquitous, and won’t be going away any time soon. (In fact, a US firm makes a modified version for Foreign Military Sales).

The RPG has come a long way from its origins as a copy of a last-ditch throwaway weapon of the Nazi empire. Indeed, it has outlived the other empire that bore it, and stands like a monument to good incremental/iterative design. Weapons themselves have no ideology; they’re just tools, and can be used for good or for ill. This one endures because the RPG-7 version is a superior design that fits a unique tactical niche.

Building an M1 with the CMP

A few times a year, the CMP holds an M1 armorer class. At the end of the class, you go home with an M1 that you assembled and that’s pretty much guaranteed to work. Assembling an M1 has a little more gunsmithing involved than the shake-the-box assembly of an AR series rifle or the “make it approximate and it’ll work” construction of an AK. There are special skills — like lapping bolt lugs — and special tools required. Here’s the end product:

Freshly Minted CMP Special M1

Fortunately, CMP has the tools, jigs, fixtures, and most of all, the tribal knowledge to not only help you get your M1 right, but also to understand it and how that clever little Acadian intended for it to work in the first place.

Unfortunately, the annual quota is opened once the dates are set, and fills up in minutes. So it seems to be an insidery thing, to which we, and probably you, are all outsidery.

Fortunately (again! It always comes back around to fortunately) for all of us, blogger Keads (whom we don’t know, but think we might like), was one of the lucky attendees, and spent some of his time not just building a sweet Service Special Grade M1, but also documenting the process in three informative and photo-rich blog posts.

  • Part One: Begins with a tour of the plant and its facilities — including pallets of ungraded, yet, M1 rifles, vast metric craptons of ammo, and , of all things, an ultra-high-tech air gun range used by Olympic hopefuls. Then it gets M1-active, with the mating of barrel to receiver and reaming the barrel to proper headspace. One of the first specialty tools, a receiver wrench, shows up here (in a reverse of AR practice, the M1′s barrel is secured in a vise, and the wrench is used on the receiver). The bolt lugs need to be lapped for proper mating with the receiver’s locking lugs. Go to Part 1.
  • Part Two: With the receiver barreled and the barrel reamed to proper headspace, it’s time to start assembling the parts that turn a barreled receiver into an M1 Rifle action. The CMP armorers assist as the students raid the parts bins for inspected and refinished parts. The op rod has a special gage for both dimension and trueness, or correct “bend.” The trigger mechanism was, to Keads, the hardest thing to assemble. The class did both early and late M1 rear sights. Finally the fully assembled M1 barreled action goes into a new walnut stock — more hand-fitting is called for.    Go to Part 2.
  • Part Three: In the conclusion of the piece, the students hit the CMP store (MOAR GUNZ!) and final-prep the rifle (in Keads’s case, redoing the trigger) for test fire. You can take your rifle home or ship it (which makes a difference to which tax, if any, you pay). Here’s a snip of what Keads had to say, in retrospect, about the whole experience:

My thanks to the Armorers John, Ryan, and Chris. My thanks as well to the person that herds the cats around the Custom Shop and made sure our paperwork was in order and all the other ancillary tasks that made sure the class went well, Deshay. …. If you desire to own one and learn more about it, I cannot say enough about this class or the CMP. They have both the passion and the knowledge of these tools and it shows. It is one thing to be a subject matter expert and another to relay that knowledge to others.

Go to Part 3.

For those that can’t attend the class, at least you can buy one of the CMP rifles.  If you do wither of those two things, of course, you may need this link afterward. Just helping ya out.


Hat tip for this story, the incomparable Tam.

Colt AR15 and M16 Serial Numbers, 1960-1972

Colt GX-5857

This memo’s been around as a scanned, non-OCR’d .pdf for a long time. We’ve OCR’d the PDF, and double-checked the numbers against the original data. The PDF is here:M16 Serial Number List OCR[.pdf].

The complete text is below this editorial comment. We would add the following remarks:

  • The first few Colt serial numbers (001-100) were toolroom prototypes and mules, and numbers were reused, and some were built on unnumbered receivers. Most of these were destroyed.
  • The first ~15,000 guns were, as the memo notes, marked as “Armalite AR-15″ and these weapons went to the USAF for Security Police use and for testing by the services, including the Project AGILE tests and Vietnam tests by USSF.
  • The Model 03 Army Rifle was rollmarked XM16E1 until the rifle was type standardized as M16A1 on 28 Feb 1967. (The nature of mass production being what it is, this rollmark change took place over a period of months, and is uncorrelated with any physical change to the rifle).
  • The Model 04 Air Force Rifle is rollmarked M16.
  • The 10,000 guns in the 900k range are believed to include most experimental GX guns and all XM177/E1/E2 guns. We have observed GX’s outside this range. GX’s are tool-room prototypes with a four digit number which is reportedly their master drawing. We believe that there are multiple GXs with the same number. There are also GXs that also have a serial number as well as the GX number. A lot of the GXs have serial numbers in the 14xxx range. Prior to 1969 some mil experimentals were made with no serial numbers, and there are duplicate serial numbers in this area as well.
  • The British contract guns were originally intended for special operations forces including the SAS and SBS.
  • The number that Mr Northrop did not calculate, total military Colt AR-15s and M16s plus AR-15 SP1 Sporters to the date of whenever his data cutoff was, comes to 2,778,586.

We hope this document is of use to collectors and historians. For a look at a serial number list that draws on multiple sources, see this thread at ARFCOM.–Eds.

To: W. H. Craven

From:  B. Northrop

Subject: M16 Serial Numbers

Date: February 2, 1973

In December of 1960 we started roll marking AR15 rifles. The following is a general breakdown by serial number of major types model 03, 04, SMG, model 613 and Lebanon rifles.

Starting S/N 101 through 14,484. For General Curtis LeMay (AR15).

14,500 through 14,916 for S.A.W.S. Contract (AR15)

15,000 through 99,999 for Air Force — Model 04

100,000 through 199,999 for Army – Model 03

200,000 through 202,426 for British Contract

202,447 through 379,353 for Air Force – Model 03

400,000 through 407,297 for Air Force – Model 03

500,001 through 701,100 for Army — Model 04

703,278 through 749,999 for Army — Model 04

750,000 through 752,443 for Heavy Barrel Assault

760,001 through 899,999 for Army — Model 03

900,000 through 909,999 for Commando SMG

910,000 through 1,999,999 for Army – Model 03

4,000,001 through 4,060,000 for Air Force — Model 04

4,060,001 through 4,221,800 for Army – Model 03

4,221,801 through 4,265,400 for Air Force — Model 04

4,285,401 through 4,521,000 for Army – Model 03

4,521,001 through 4,521,850 for Air Force — Model 04

4,521,851 through 4,638,400 for Army – Model 03

4,638,401 through 4,643,400 Model 613 for Malasia (5000)

4,643,401 through 4,701,400 for Army – Model 03

4,701,401 through 4,701,900. for Model 613 Commd (500)

4.781,001 through 4,844,400 for Army – Model 03

4,844,401 through 4,849,400 Model 613 for Taiwan (5000)

4,849,401 through 4,926,00 for Army – Model 03

4,926,001 through 4,928,00 Model 613 for Phillipines (2000)

4,928,000 through 4,936,400 — Model 03 Army

Serial numbers 2,000,000 – 2,999,999 were set aside for Harrington & Richardson. This company produced approximately 240,000 guns, serial numbers 2,000,000 – 2,240,000.

Serial numbers 3,000,000 – 3,999,999 were reserved for General Motors, Hydromatic Division. They produced approximately 480,000 rifles, serial numbers 3,000,000 - 3,480,000.

Colt Summary:

Model 03 Army 2,300,171
Model04 Air Force 394,855
British 2,427
AR15 (Early) 14,801
Model 613 12,500
Commando SMG 10,000
Lebanon 14,014
Others (approx.) 1,600
Heavy Barrel 2,444
Total (mil) 2,752,812
Sporters 25,774

B. Northrop


A Wild West Story, Complete with a Presentation Winchester

Hendry N. Brown, during a stint on the right side of the law. (Does embiggen a little).

Hendry N. Brown, during a stint on the right side of the law. He does look a bit charismatic to us. (Embiggens a little).

Hendry N. Brown (sometimes “Henry”) was a man who moved fluidly from one side to the other of the law, and was a character who begs to have a Western made about him. Today, Medicine Lodge, Kansas, is smack dab in the middle of the United States, but in April, 1884 it was on a steadily civilizing frontier. A rough 17 years prior, Medicine Lodge Creek had been a rude outpost where the Kiowa and Comanche signed a peace treaty with the United States, a treaty that is apparently still held in the National Archives; but in 1873 a settlement was established there, and by 1880 it had been formally incorporated. There was a downtown, with a brick courthouse, and other public buildings; and, germane to this story, a bank and a Town Marshal.

It was still a pretty rough place. The first newspaper in town, the Barber County Mail, one Cochran, had, for reasons unclear, offended the locals, and absent tar and feathers, he was coated with sorghum molasses and sandburs, and ridden out of town on a rail. Rescued by another group of townsmen, he opted to leave the town anyway and had one of them make him an offer for his business, and journalism in Medicine Lodge tragically continued. (This puts Jill Abramson’s whining about her loss of her half-million-dollar job into a certain perspective, doesn’t it?).

Brown was well known around town. After a youth spent in the company of criminals, including Billy the Kid, which gained him a certain notoriety, he had gone straight as the town Marshal of Tuscosa, Texas, and later, Caldwell, Kansas. As a lawman, he brought order to Caldwell:

While assistant marshall, Brown had numerous items appear in the newspaper attesting to his fearlessness. For a short time during October of 1882, Brown left the police force and went to the “Strip” to hunt for rustlers. After rejoining the police force in the middle of October 1882, Brown was appointed as Marshall.

How he brought order was right out of a Hollywood Western: he shot the disorderly. As the Kansas Historical Society writes,

Caldwell’s tough cowtown reputation had worsened in the months before Brown’s arrival as the city recorded four murders (all of them lawmen) and eight lynchings.

In the face of such lawlessness, Brown was a welcome addition to the town’s police force. The Caldwell Post, advocating “a little bit of fine shooting” to keep order in the town, bragged he was “one of the quickest men on the trigger in the Southwest.”

Brown shot two men dead in Caldwell’s main street in 1883, as the historical marker on the site of one of the shootings records.

Brown's Winchester's Presentation Plate. Kansas SHS. (Barely embiggens).

Brown’s Winchester’s Presentation Plate. Kansas SHS. (Barely embiggens).

Brown settled in well; he fell in love with and married a local girl. He hired an old friend, big Ben Wheeler, as Assistant Marshal. In January, 1883, the grateful townspeople presented him with an engraved (and some sources say, gold-plated) Winchester repeater. The rifle, Brown’s most prized possession, had an elliptical plate with an inscription that read:

Presented to City Marshall H.N. Brown for valuable services rendered in behalf of the Citizens of Caldwell Kas., A.N. Colson, Mayor, Dec. 1882.

Several sources suggest he actually took the Winchester along on his ill-starred expedition to Medicine Lodge.

Brown's gang of robbers, hauled back to Medicine Lodge and hobbled with ankle chains. l-r: Wesley, Brown, Smith, Wheeler. (Click to embiggen).

Brown’s gang of robbers, hauled back to Medicine Lodge and hobbled with ankle chains. l-r: Wesley, Brown, Smith, Wheeler. (Click to embiggen).

How Brown squared his life as a lawman with his return to bank robbery is unknown, or why he did it. But in a little over a year from receiving the presentation rifle, he led a robbery of the town bank in Medicine Lodge. Wheeler joined him, as did two local cowboys, William Smith and a man known variously as John Wesley and Harry Hill. Unlike Brown, none of the other three had a criminal history.

They were about to get one, but they wouldn’t have long to enjoy it.

Shortly after 9:00 a.m., during a heavy rain storm, four men rode into town from the west. There were few people on the streets and the men were able to hitch their horses to the bank coal shed. The bank had been open a short time. Mr. Geppert, the cashier, had just begun work settling the monthly accounts, while Bank President, E.W. Payne, sat at his desk writing. Three of the four members entered the bank, one going to the cashiers window and one going to the lattice door in the rear of the office. When ordered to throw up their hands, Mr. Geppert complied while Mr. Payne seized a revolver. Four shots were fired by the robbers, two were received by Mr. Geppert and one by Mr. Payne. Rev. Friedly, who was standing across the street, heard the shots and alarmed Marshall Dean, who was standing in front of Herrington’s & Smith’s grocery store. The Marshall opened fire on the robbers and they also returned shots. The robbers broke for their horses and rode out of town. In a few minutes a group of well mounted, well armed, determined men were in hot pursuit. The posse was headed by Barney O’Conner, Vernon Lytle and Wayne McKinney.

Those that remained in town rushed into the bank only to find Mr. Geppert laying dead in the vault, weltering in his blood with two holes in his chest. Mr. Payne was lying near the vault groaning with pain. The pistol ball had entered behind his right shoulder blade, probably grazing his spine. Hope for his survival was doubtful.

The Medicine Lodge bank-robber posse (This one doesn't embiggen, sorry).

The Medicine Lodge bank-robber posse (This one doesn’t embiggen, sorry).

The robbers escaped at first, but the posse quickly tracked them and surrounded them in a ravine. The entire town turned out to join the armed encirclement, and the thwarted thieves gave themselves up. The posse members were surprised to find that the robbers were men that they knew and didn’t regard as criminals, prior to that day. But the deaths of Geppert and Payne (who succumbed the next morning) changed the calculus. Both men were well-respected; Geppert left a wife and son, and Payne a wife and nine children.

The Kansas State Historical Society suggests that Brown committed the robbery because he was “living beyond his means.” According to a letter to his wife Maude, written on what he never knew would be the last day of his life, Brown’s objective was, quite baldly, to get money:

…it was all for you, my sweet wife, and for the love I have for you. … Oh, how I did hate to leave you on last Sunday eve, but I did not think this would happen. I thought we could take in the money and not have any trouble with it; but a man’s fondest hopes are sometimes broken with trouble.

Well, of course; no one ever robbed a bank for any other reason but for money, and they always think they can get away with it. Historically, most have wound up with neither money nor liberty, yet even 130 years later they still do it. And some of them have wound up dead.

Brown denied firing any shot, and said only one man fired, in his letter to his wife (transcribed completely at the link). And Wheeler is the man who fired the two shots that killed Geppert (who had his hands up!), so perhaps he also shot Payne. But the Kansas State Historical Society thinks that Brown did it. Regardless, all the robbers seem to have fired at Marshal Dean and their pursuers.

One more act in this frontier drama remained to play out. Medicine Lodge was a civilized town, a part of the United States. It had a courthouse and a judge as well as a bank and a newspaper. But its people were still rough frontiersmen, and their idea of justice was not the idea current in what was then the refined city of Philadelphia, but a rough frontier justice. Geppert was dead and Payne dying, and someone had to pay. The Caldwell Journal  — the newspaper owned by the dying Payne — wrote that, “The impression prevailed that before many hours the bodies of four murderers would swing in the soft night air.” 

A mob gathered, as Brown had feared. In the ancient pages of Tacitus, in today’s streets, and certainly in 1884 Kansas, in  a mob is a thing with a life of its own.

When the part returned to Medicine Lodge, they were placed in jail and were surrounded by a crowd of angry citizens who cried “Hang Them!”. Later that night, three shots fired rapidly broke the silence. By this signal a crowd of armed men marched to the jail and demanded the prisoners. The sheriff refused but the sheriff and the posse were overpowered and the jail doors opened. The prisoners in the cell made a sudden dash for freedom and shots rang out from everywhere. Brown ran a few steps from the jail and fell shredded with gunshots. Wheeler was then captured and was badly wounded. Smith and Wesley were captured at the jail door. Wheeler, Smith and Wesley were taken by the crowd to an Elm tree in the bottom east of town and told that it there was anything they would like to say, to say it now for their time of life was short.

At the last Wheeler showed weakness and begged for mercy. Wesley was also upset, but answered by requesting that his body be sent to friends in Vernon, Texas. When the ropes were ready they were fastened around the robbers’ necks and were tossed over a limb. In a few minutes the bodies hung swinging in the wind.

The jail where Brown and his men were held was torn down long ago, and the site redeveloped. In 2000, at least, it was the site of the 1st National Bank drive-through window.

Of course, any true weapons man will be thinking: whatever became of Brown’s prized Winchester? It was in the possession of Sheriff C.F. Rigg, who intended to dispose of it as Brown had desired — return it to his widow in Caldwell. But it was stolen from Rigg, and for a long time its whereabouts were unknown until it surfaced in the hands of a Texas collector. It came, by a circuitous route and at great expense, to the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka in 1977, where, as of 2000, it could be seen by appointment; it’s now on display in the main gallery.

And so we have one more illustration of the sad fact that crime does pay, just not in the coin the criminal intends to collect. For the four doomed robbers of Medicine Lodge didn’t get a dime from the robbery for which they threw away their lives and their previously good reputations. “The wages of sin is death,” is not only Scripture but also a fairly practical guide to the consequences of violent criminality — then, or now.

What’s a WWII Carbine worth?

T3 Carbine serial numberWell, maybe about a grand or so. What if it has a low serial number? And is in really good condition. Well, that elevates the price a little.

What if it’s an M3 with sniper scope? Well, a lot more. For one thing, the M3s were all select-fire — a selective-fire M2 carbine, on the National Firearms Registry and Tracking Record database (in other words, civilian-transferable) is worth quite a bit, maybe $10k.

With the M3 infrared sniper-scope, then, the price ascends; it’s now a rare and historic weapon (the second night vision system used in combat, and the first American one, and the first US production system).


But what if it’s a T3, not an M3, one of the original run of a very short number of experimental, prototypical systems? Then… the sky’s the limit. We have now launched from the pinnacle of rare and historic weapon into the stratosphere of extremely rare collection centerpiece, and the price must rise accordingly. (This T3, also, appears to be semi-auto only, simplifying transfer and possession — some states still ban private ownership of Class III toys).

T3 Carbine with Scope Left

But what if it’s the prototype, complete with provenance from the inventor and a ton of information about the thing? We have now rocketed from extremely rare collection centerpiece into the rarefied interstellar space of unique historic museum piece, and you can expect that if you bid for this gun at Rock Island’s upcoming auction, you’ll be bidding against some pretty big museums. Not to mention the first rank of US Martial Arms collectors.

Here’s how Rock Island Auctions describes the piece (paragraph breaks added, and a couple of obvious typos fixed — grammatical howlers were left alone as an exercise for the reader):

This is the Original Inland Division T3 Carbine serial number 00306 along with the Prototype M2 Infrared Sniper scope that was used by Mr. William Garstang in 1943/44 when he developed this system for the US Army. There is solid supporting documentation, original letters and photographs of Mr. Garstang and his wife holding this exact T3 Carbine/M2 Sniper scope set-up in their house when he was working on this design, that authenticates this entire lot.

The T3 Carbines were developed and produced on an extremely limited basis with less than 1000 total ever made in their own serial number range. As all carbine collectors know 99.9% of all these carbines were demilitarized after WWII, with the only true examples known to have survived having been retained by either the Inland Division or Winchester factories as display models. One or two may have been retained by the optical companies.

This one being the original T3 carbine/M2 Sniper scope set-up remained in Mr. Garstang’s personal possession while he worked on the design in 1944 and then after WWII until 1976 when he sold it. The documentation that accompanies this lot are letters from Mr. Garstang to one of the past owners briefly explaining how he had this weapon along with a discussion about an article he wrote in 1946 for the Electronics Laboratories, Inc. company newsletter, “The Electronic Beacon”. This article discussed his involvement with the design work and specifically listing the serial number of this carbine. Also accompanying this lot is a copy of the magazine that shows Mr. Garstang on the cover as well as several pictures on the inside with him at his company in 1945/46 showing several civilian and military officials when he demonstrated this design.

Also accompanying this lot is a copy of the December 1946 issue of “Mechanics Illustrated” which has another article by Mr. Garstang about his small electronic company and work he did during WWII and in the post war years, with a mention of his numerous electronic patents (over 50) he held. This article also shows his wife holding this carbine and M2 scope setup in their home.

These T3 carbines were specifically designated to be used with the M2 Infrared Sniper Scope. This was the original “see in the night” design on which all following night vision devices were based. These T3 carbines and infrared sniper scopes saw service towards the end of WWII especially on Luzon and Okinawa.

The primary difference between a T3 carbines and a standard M1 carbine is that the T3 carbines had a one piece integral scope base brazed and pinned on top of the receiver. This integral base may have been one of the primary reasons for the removal and demilitarization of this model from Army inventory as it was later replaced by the standard M3 Infrared Sniper scope conversion package, with the separate long mounting bar. This allowed all standard carbines to be converted for use of the infrared system and then back into a standard M1 carbine.

This one-piece integral scope mount forced a relocation of the nomenclature and serial number from the top of the receivers to the right rear side of the receiver. This carbine has the following markings; top of the barrel “INLAND MFG. DIV./GENERAL MOTORS” and the right side of the receiver “U.S. CARBINE/CAL. 30 T3″. The top rear portion of the receiver heel is marked “INLAND DIV/0306″.

The carbine still retains all of its original issue parts, and factory parkerized finish. Some of the noted parts are a type three barrel band with bayonet lug, a flat blue bolt, the magazine release with only a single capital letter “M” on the side, a parkerized trigger and a parkerized unmarked push button safety. The carbine is fitted with a late four rivet hand guard and a super rare all original T3 carbine stock. The stock has the Inland “IO” proof in the sling slot with a large crossed cannon ordnance cartouche on the right side of the butt stock. The left side of the stock has been correctly modified and is fitted with the original “silent” on-off switch as designed by Mr. Garstang for the T3 carbine. The carbine has an original T3 stock that has the large squared off bulbous forend where the original M2 Infrared lamp and pistol grip assembly is mounted.

The M2 electronic telescope or sniper scope that is mounted on top does not carry a nomenclature plate (which would be correct for this model being a prototype, prior to full production) and is only marked with “D-5637-7-1″ on the underside of the body of the scope.

In addition to the items noted above, this lot contains the following additional original accessories: the original M2 power pack and M2 battery for this model (uncharged brand new) an original hand-held, “snooper-scope” pistol grip mount assembly, an original first pattern green plastic/rubberized designed backpack/carrying pouch with original 1936 straps that carries the power pack and battery, (this is not the later black rubberized backpack), an original green canvas carrying case to carry the carbine with the scope and emitter lamp when installed on the carbine, an original spare electron tube (still in the original WWII box), for the electronic telescope an original WWII green canvas web belt with double M1 carbine magazine pouch with two magazines, an original M4 M1 Carbine bayonet and scabbard made by A.C.C., an original T-23 designated M1 carbine flash hider, marked “Hider-Flash-T23/Carbine/CAL.-30″, a super rare field recharging cable that allows the power pack battery to be charged by Jeep battery, a super rare electron tube, removal tool, and an original (unaltered) hard back War Department Technical manual (TM 5-9341) dated June 1945 showing complete operation of the M2 scope, with disassembly procedures wiring diagrams etc. still marked secret and signed by William Garstang on the back cover.

To adequately store and show this rare carbine and scope set-up, the previous owner purchased a small steamer trunk with metal corners and edges that he had converted to a complete “turn-key” display set up. Inside is a custom designed storage areas made from oak that has compartments for the T3 carbine, M2 telescope and lamp/pistol grip assembly, and all the aforementioned accessories all packed inside the trunk.

RIA sees this going for $35,000 to $65,000, and who are we to disagree? (That sum does not include a “buyer’s premium” of 17.5%, which goes to the house). In our past experience, Rock Island, like most auctioneers, tends to understate probable selling prices slightly, especially on exotic lots; this encourages more bids and, in the end, gets the house and the consignor the best possible price, and helps those of us interested in the market understand it. (All markets run on pure information).

T3 Sniperscope Display

The condition of the T3 set is described as follows:

Excellent plus, totally original overall. The T3 carbine retains 99% correct original parkerized finish with only slight wear on the correct blue bolt from cycling the action. The stock and hand guard are also excellent plus, showing only minor handling marks in a few areas with clear sharp cartouche and proofs.

The mounted infrared lamp and pistol assembly and the actual electronic M2 telescope are also like new showing 99% original finish with minor edge and high spot wear. All the various accessories; M4 bayonet and scabbard, web belt and magazine pouch etc. are all excellent. The magazines and pictures are all original and also excellent.

This carbine (00306) and its attached original prototype M2 scope, being the prototype “rig” used for development of the infrared M2 program would be the first successful infrared weapon system in history, put into production, making carbine 00306 and its scope the “first of the first” infrared weapon system in history. The M1 infrared scope program plagued by design and technical problems was rolled into the M2 program and never reached full production stage. This significant example of World War II history best exemplifies our technological edge over our enemies and is worthy of being in the Smithsonian Museum!

Here’s RIA’s Kevin Hogan’s preview of the auction as a whole:

There are hundreds of sporting arms, 250 US martial arms including, for example, five Johnson M1941 rifles and an original USMC 1903A1 sniper rig, 175 German weapons, including at least three MP43/44s and a Himmler inscribed presentation Walther PP, and numerous weapons from other nations, including an extremely rare (in the USA) Izhevsk Dragunov SVD. There are also some fine edged weapons, if you roll that way (and we do).

There also seem to be none of the “five rifles with a mix of junk and jewels” that we’ve noticed at some earlier auctions. In most cases, where a lot comprises a pair of weapons, it’s a logical pair. All in all it looks like a great auction.

When the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace Went to War

Major General Snow after the war, with US and Allied decorations.

Major General Snow after the war, with US and Allied decorations.

It was 1918, and the organization was then known as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The very able Maj. Gen. William J Snow had just been appointed to the new position of Chief of Army Artillery. The position was desperately needed: at the US entry into the war in 1917, the Army had barely 275 officers and 5000 men in its trained artillery, yielding, apart from colonial garrisons, one understrength regiment each of light, heavy, and horse artillery. You would think that the branch would have grown as the Great War roiled Europe, but the 1917 numbers, and the situation, were practically identical to those that obtained in August 1914 when the war broke out. Snow recalled:

In 1914 the Field Artillery of the United States Regular Army consisted of 266 officers and 4,992 enlisted men organized into six regiments. This was sufficient only to provide small overseas garrisons and what might be considered “display samples” of the different classes of field artillery in the United States.

There were no mortars (in WWI, the US would consider these infantry weapons artillery, but they hadn’t got to the point of having any yet), and no echelons above the artillery regiment, which was suited to be part of no combined-arms or infantry formation larger than division. In the four-million-man army built after 1917 for the war, all these things would be rectified, but not without drama. After Snow’s appointment as the Army’s chief of cannon-cockers, he found, initially, there was no office for him in Washington. (The Pentagon, of course, was 25 years in the future). But he had brought some resourceful staff officers with him:

On my third day in office two assistants reported for duty. They were Majors Bacon and Channing, who had been on my staff at Camp Jackson. I told them to go out and hire an office and engage some clerks, while I again spent the day in the staff and supply departments. Late that afternoon they returned and told me that there was not an office to be rented in Washington but that they had secured the loan of the building occupied by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and that for my personal use Elihu Root was lending me his office!

And so it was that I began my work in the War Department in this Peace Endowment building, the Carnegie Peace people paying the rent. I always thought this quite appropriate, for certainly so far as practical results go I accomplished more to restore international peace than Mr. Carnegie ever did to maintain it.

That last was a bit of a zing, but then, as now, the peaceniks have it coming. For “peace”, most of them mean, “surrender”; and for resolving conflict, most of them take the bold approach of the ostrich of legend. Root’s Carnegie Peace office would continue to serve Snow, and by extension, the nation, even after Major General Snow had an office of his own:

The Secretary of the General Staff kept his promise in a few days he assigned me one room6 and one clerk in the War Department building. He also furnished me the money-saving rubber stamp, Office of the Chief of Field Artillery.

For some time, even after my office was well established in a suite in the State, War, and Navy Building I kept Mr. Root’s office as a place where I could worked quietly and undisturbed on knotty problems; for frequently when I arrived at my main office in the morning I found, extending down the corridor, a line of people waiting to see me.

One of the perks, if that’s the word, of being Chief of Artillery during wartime, is that inventive Americans being their high-tech solutions to you:


Of course, the Office had an Inventions Section. The American is quite prolific with ideas. One contractor thought guns and ammunition were obsolete and that what was needed was modern machinery on a large scale, so that a veritable subway could be dug under the enemy with steam shovels and the whole German army be blown up. Another man suggested a loaded club so arranged that when you hit a man over the head it would shoot him too. A very modest fellow proposed a pencil that would make its writing visible in the dark. Another had a plan for a folding bullet-proof steel umbrella. Still another suggested chemical powder to sift on one’s body to cleanse it like a bath.

And so on. These schemes poured in. And they all had to be treated with polite consideration. As an illustration, I may mention the idea of a man from the southern part of the United States, who suggested that instead of high explosive, we load a rattlesnake into each shell. We thanked him and mentioned several obvious disadvantages and invited him to communicate with us when these difficulties were solved.

That was a general with a dry sense of humor indeed. And, even then, Congressional inquiries were a bane of pre-Beltway existence:

Then there was an Information Bureau, principally for members of Congress. We took the position of never saying “You have the wrong office.” On the contrary, when a member of Congress called up about hand grenades or whatnot, we would tell him that, while this did not pertain to field artillery, we would get the information for him. We were always definite, specific, and helpful.

General Snow’s reminisces are excerpted in the January-February 1940 number of the Field Artillery Journal. They’re worth reading in depth, including his visit to the respected training expert General Morrison, who advised him, “if you value your reputation, get away from the War Department,” and his frank assessment of General Pershing’s criticism of the War Department, and Woodrow Wilson’s performance as Commander-in-Chief. Still a good read, almost a century after the events he describes. More of his memoirs were excerpted in at least one subsequent issue, perhaps more.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week – Torpedo of Rijeka

Robert Whitehead was a pacifist and teetotaler, who invented a weapon that's in its second century of use and development.

Robert Whitehead was a pacifist and teetotaler, who invented the naval torpedo and sold it all around the world: a weapon now well into its second century of use and development.

Here at Weaponsman, we’ve discussed naval torpedoes before. We’ve done it in the light of early American torpedoes that have been recovered from the bottom of the sea, or otherwise rediscovered, and displayed in museums or otherwise studied. But the very first torpedo, at least the first successful one, came from the forgotten Navy of the Habsburg Empire, by way of an English inventor and entrepreneur.

Fortunately, there is a place where this early history is not only not forgotten, but preserved and memorialized, and it is present on the web at Torpedo of Rijeka, our Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week this week. It’s a website founded by enthusiasts of the first naval torpedo, and the first naval torpedo factory — in their Adriatic hometown.

When Farragut said, “Damn the torpedoes,” in the Civil War, the “torpedoes” that he referred to were what we think of today as naval mines. They were tethered to the bottom or shore, and meant to inhibit naval traffic. While mine warfare is still a very important part of naval offense and defense today, the word torpedo has come to mean an underwater projectile or missile,  self-propelled with propellers or jets, and aimed at a particular target. Torpedoes can be fired along a pre-determined course or guided in some way. This guidance today can be on-board or remote, in the latter case usually wire-guided much like an antitank missile.

The inventor of the torpedo as we know it was Robert Whitehead, a Lancashire engineer who had long worked on the Continent. He was working in Trieste, then an Austro-Hungarian seaport, when he was essentially head-hunted by another firm, and moved down the coast to Fonderia Metalli de Fiume, in a port city which has had many names and flown many flags over the centuries since Roman historians noted that a tribe of rude Celts lived on the hills and a “more civilized” tribe of mariners lived in the seaport. The Romans called it Tarsatica.  By 1856, when Whitehead and his family arrived, the city was known as Fiume in Italian (which many of the inhabitants spoke, regardless of their loyalty to the Dual Monarchy), Fiume in Hungarian (technically, it was part of the Hungary half of the Empire), Sankt Veit am Pflaum in German (the lingua franca of central Europe in those days) and Rijeka to the local Croats, who had to learn one of the other languages — or better yet, all of them — to advance in society and commerce. As an empire, Austria-Hungary was a very different concept from the nations of today; one’s ethnicity was not implicated in his political allegiance to the extent it is in the post-Fourteen Points world.

Fiume was also the location of the Austro-Hungarian Naval Academy, which like any major power’s academy not only trained future naval officers but sponsored research. This included pioneering research in photography, communications, physics, and, more to our point, remote-controlled weapons. Whitehead’s company, now yclept Stabilimento Tecnico Fiumano (Technical Establishment of Fiume), at first made high-tech machinery of the era, such as steam engines for naval ships. They were tied in tightly to the Naval Academy and the local academic community; for example, technicians at what would become the Whitehead torpedo plant provided the first experimental proof of Mach’s concept of the influence of the speed of sound on aerodynamics.

A different kind of "Coast Guard," this primitive weapon inspired the naval torpedo we know today.

A different kind of “Coast Guard,” this primitive weapon inspired the naval torpedo we know today.

By happy coincidence an officer (Commander — Fregattenkapitän – Giovanni Luppis) was struggling with a remote-controlled surface boat IED he’d invented, which he called the Coast Guard. His surface torpedo — for that is what it was — had a spring-and-clockwork mechanism and steering bridles for control from the shore, and a contact fuze for detonating if someone was lucky enough to guide it onto an enemy ship. Here was a problematic gadget, but the germ of a very good idea, and Whitehead and a talented team including his son John and his right-hand man, Anibale Plöch. Unlike many Victorian Age inventors, Whitehead seldom sought patents, preferring to maintain his technical advantages as trade secrets.

And technical advantages he had.

Whitehead's (and the world's) first torpedo, 1866.

Whitehead’s (and the world’s) first torpedo, 1866.


To make his torpedo work, Whitehead and his team had to solve several problems: propulsion, stability&control, and effect. The last of these was the easiest: a cylindrical bronze torpedo could carry sufficient explosive to sink any modern dreadnought, and, moreover, deliver it below the water line where the ship was most vulnerable. The Empire was well-stocked with talented artillerists and engineers, and neither fuzes nor explosives required research, simply development. That part was basic engineering, not science.

The true developments were propulsive and control based. Whitehead used steam for the first torpedo, and then changed to a compressed-air-powered piston engine, for more power and quicker preparation to fire. The compressed-air engines were made in a variety of designs and layouts.

Of course, the engine is only half of a naval powerplant — the other half is the propeller.  These three recovered torpedo tails tell the story of improved propellers (they also show the growing awareness of fluid dynamics. The first torpedo was sharply spiked fore and aft — by the end of the 19th century, a blunter shape with a round nose was proven to generate less hydrodynamic drag).

1868 torpedo shows pointed end and single-screw with a duct ring.

1868 torpedo shows pointed end and single-screw with a duct ring.

1884 torpedo is a little thicker and has introduced dual counterrotating props to neutralize torque.

1884 torpedo is a little thicker and has introduced dual counterrotating props to neutralize torque. The ring was found to inhibit propeller efficiency.

1898 torpedo has a more organic shape and well-uptimized counterrotating screws.

1898 torpedo has a more organic shape and well-optimized counterrotating screws.

Devices pioneered here for control were a mechanical depth control and a variety of steering gyroscopes. John Whitehead tried to develop a torpedo gyroscope but his model was a dead end. Instead, they purchased a design from former Whitehead engineer Lodovico Obry. Much of this history is recounted on the Torpedo of Rijeka website.

The Obry gyroscope

The Obry gyroscope

In the years leading up to the Great War, Whitehead’s company, Torpedofabrik Whitehead AG, was controlled by a British syndicate of the arms and engineering giants Vickers and Armstrong-Whitworth, who’d acquired it on his death in 1905 and continued torpedo development.

After the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian empire at war’s end, the factory was acquired by an influential Italian family, and its name was changed to an Italian one, but cutting-edge torpedo development for all nations resumed. The testing station on the docks had a new level built with a catapult to simulate aerial torpedo launches.

The torpedo launch test station offered a ship-launch level, and air-launch level with catapult, and an observation level.

The torpedo launch test station offered a ship-launch level, and air-launch level with catapult, and an observation level.

The plant resumed torpedo production again after being bombed by the Allies in World War II, but ceased that production in the 1960s. The physical plant and its distinctive torpedo test tower (alas, not the original from 1866 but the upgrade from the 20th Century) still exist. The enthusiasts of the Torpedo of Rijeka website hope to establish a permanent museum to their city’s most enduring export. Rijeka today is a sun-blessed city on the Adriatic coast of Croatia, and a reasonable European vacation destination.

Whitehead had a most remarkable life. His daughter Alice married the skipper of the Austrian boat that tested and validated his prototype torpedoes; his granddaughter Agnes inherited his vast fortune, and she in turn married an Austro-Hungarian minor nobleman and naval officer that she met at a sub commissioning. The officer would later command that sub and another on his way to becoming the Empire’s top-scoring submarine ace, in which career he naturally used Whitehead torpedoes to sink English and Italian vessels (including an Italian submarine, Nereida, in possibly the first sub-on-sub torpedo battle in history).

You might have heard of the guy, who later emigrated to the United States with their kids after Agnes passed away. His name was Georg, Baron von Trapp.