Category Archives: Weapons that Made their Mark

Lessons Learned from an ND

Everybody screws up. Almost everybody gets away with it. Here’s what happened to a guy who developed complacent gun-handling habits, and “got away with it” only thanks to blind luck in the bullet’s placement, that left him with neither fatal (if he’d hit the femoral artery) or crippling (femur and/or patella [kneecap]) wounds. We don’t have his name, so we’ll call him ND Guy.

Checking out of hospital after surgery and overnight stay, ND Guy knows he's lucky.

Checking out of hospital after surgery and overnight stay, ND Guy knows he’s lucky.

It was decent of him to share his experiences and photos (on Reddit’s /r/guns and Imgur), and the Internet being what it is, he’s been beaten up for it. We think he now (1) knows what he did wrong, and (2) is very unlikely to do it again, having been given a second chance.

I was attempting to disassemble my Glock 30 like I’ve done a thousand times before so I could install a new trigger spring. I had ejected the magazine and caught it before it fully left the gun, racked the slide to eject the round in the chamber, pulled up the the slide release pins and pulled the trigger to dry fire to remove the slide. Unfortunately for me I didn’t dry fire. I had accidentally moved the magazine back up and the lifting arm grabbed another round and chambered it. I know, I should have fully ejected the magazine before I continued but this is something I’ve done hundreds of times before without incident. But it only takes once right?
My doctor told me I was half an inch away from the lower end of my femur and my patella being entirely destroyed. This meaning I would have had a greater than 50/50 chance of my leg needing to be amputated above the knee. As it turns out though, my doctor working at a level one trauma center, told me that he’d never seen a bullet wound to the thigh/knee with as little damage as this.
All in all though, the main point of this is don’t be stupid or complacent like I was. Follow proper firearm safety protocol always, even if it seems stupid or pointless. Don’t get lazy and forgetful, because when you do accidents happen.

via Always make sure your chamber is empty NSFW : Firearms.

We have pictures of his wounds on the scene, and post-op showing two zippers in his leg, overleaf (for those of you who can’t stand the sight of blood).

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Part-Original Colt Armalite Model 601 on GunBroker

A very rare M16 variant, fully transferable, is up for auction on GunBroker. It’s the retro AR guy’s Holy Grail — an original Colt Model 601. It has a low serial number (605), meaning it was one of the first production ARs, making it a gun of notable historical significance. It’s being offered by a reputable seller (Frank Goepfert/Midwest Tactical).

That’s the good news. The bad news? It’s going to be very expensive. They’ve set a buy-it-now of $35K, and the no-reserve auction is already bid up to over $19,000 as we draft this (we suspect it will be higher yet; ordinary M16A1s bid up to this level all the time). And the ugly news? While the gun is described as original in the auction writeup, which we excerpt below, it’s not. Not even close. After the blurb, we’ll tell you what’s missing, and what’s “off” about this rifle.

Colt Armalite model 601. These were the gun that started it all. They are considered the first production M16. These primarily went to military buyers but a few were sold to LE, some of which made it into civilian hands. The 601 is the only M16 on the C and R list! The “01” would be one of my personal top picks for an NFA investment due to the limited number available, the Colt name and the fact that they are a C and R gun. The gun you are bidding on is in nice condition. We have it here on hand. The bore is good, all parts are original and the gun works perfect. The caliber for this firearm is .223. According to the ATF paperwork, Colt Ind. is the maker for this firearm. This will transfer direct to your c3 dealer tax free from our inventory on a Form 3 without delay after payment is made. This is the fastest type of transfer so approval and shipment to your ffl should not take long.

via M16 Colt Armalite Model 601 C and R : Machine Guns at GunBroker.com.

Note how the mag-well bosses in the lower receiver match the upper receiver exactly.  That is a 601 characteristic; by the 603 model (with the forward assist, the one that went to the Army for general issue in Vietnam) these did not align perfectly any more.

While this rifle clearly contains some rare and hard-to-find 601 parts, like the dimpled pins, straight ribbed magazine release and bolt release, and slightly-differently-cut 601 upper and lower receivers, it’s also got a lot of later-AR pollution on it.

The characteristic green-then-black- oversprayed brown mottled fiberglass 601 furniture appears to have been replaced with more durable, but dirt-common, M16A1 furniture.

The early-601 barrel has been replaced by a not-quite-as-rare and distinctly different 1967-vintage chrome-chamber-only M16A1 barrel, a so-called MP-C barrel, and the early barrel, FSB and flash suppressor are not included with this firearm.

This is the C that marks chrome chamber, quite rare in its own right but not correct for a 601:

The bolt carrier group has been replaced by a common M16 or AR BCG.

It’s also been refinished a later, darker shade of anodizing.

Whoever buys this will have to spend thousands (and probably take years, waiting for parts to come on the market, or for repros to be manufactured) to really own a 601 — and even then it will be a restored firearm, not an original. For example, the last set of 601 handguards we saw in really nice shape was five or six years ago, and the guy wanted $1,500 for them.

So how to appraise this semi-601? Its mixmaster status means that it’ll never have the appeal to auction with Rock Island, James D. Julia, or even Poulin unless that long and costly resto is done, and even then, some of the deepest-pocketed collectors will shy away from it (unless it’s described inaccurately or dishonestly… but now the Intertubes know that this firearm, SN 000605, was a mixmaster as of April 2015, and the Internet never forgets).

The bottom line? It is what it always is.

Caveat emptor.

Canadian Machine Gun Resto Project

Two machine guns in battered condition on a Canadian war memorial are being examined and will be cosmetically restored to their original condition — and efforts are underway to determine their true provenance and history.

Both are German MG08 guns. The one in this picture, on the south side of a roadside cenotaph in Harold, Ontario, was captured in 1918 at Arras; the hole in its water jacket may have been caused by Canadian fire. The cenotaph itself is rare: most Canadian cenotaphs list only the war dead, but this lists the returned surviving veterans as well as the fallen.

MG08, captured at Arras, 1918.

A pair of 100-year-old German guns, taken as souvenirs at the end of World War I, will be temporarily removed from the cenotaph on Highway 14 to be refurbished thanks to the efforts of the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Stirling-Rawdon Historical Society.

Silenced in 1918, the guns will never fire again says society member John Lowry, but they will be cleaned up and returned to their original colours, perhaps even solving a few mysteries along the way. Lowry explains that significant research has been done on the weapons, a pair of Maschinengewehr 08 machine guns captured by 2nd Division CEF troops at the end of the war, but there are many unanswered questions as well.

via Machine gun restoration project under way.

John Lowry and Phil Martin of the Historical Society will try to match the gun’s original color scheme — if they can determine what it is — and answer the question of what made the hole in the Arras gun. They’re also trying to find photographic evidence tying the gun’s partner to a particular location or battle.

John Lowry (l.) and Phil Martin (r.)

Lowry thinks the hole in the water jacket may have been the act of a Canadian sniper:

[T]he Arras weapon appears to have been disabled by a sniper’s shot and the restoration may lead to a conclusive answer, he adds, “if we find a .303 bullet in there.” Lowry says that the guns, capable of firing 500 rounds per minute, were water-cooled using a chamber that surrounded the barrel and marksmen would deliberately aim for it hoping to quickly overheat the weapon rendering it useless.

According to the article, trophies like this were once commonplace across Canada, but the herd — once numbering some 15,000 captured arms, originally intended to populate a grand war museum, but on the project’s cancellation scrapped or spread across the very large country — has been thinned, less by time than by WWII scrap drives.

[T]he remaining local pieces, which also include a trench mortar in Madoc and a field artillery piece in Trenton, are only a small fraction of the enemy weapons that ultimately arrived in Canada after World War I. …. A significant number, Lowry says, were scrapped during World War II, including a pair of machine guns received by the village of Stirling. The fate of a similar pair that arrived in Marmora is unknown, but they too may have been scrapped.

The Stirling Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion has raised the cost of the MG restoration. And no, they won’t be restored to firing condition — it is Canada up there, which is kind of like Massachusetts with more polite people and much better drivers.

Form 4: REJECTED.

Got that letter from the examiner. (Actually, our FFL got it some days before we did). BORK. So what’s the problem?

This is a file (factory) photo of the gun in question.

This is a file (factory) photo of the gun in question. Ours is used and was a good buy… although we’re coming up on a year without putting our mitts on it, yet.

Turns out a paperwork glitch on our end. The CLEO signature was fine, but no one put the CLEO title in the title block.

So back it goes to ATF.

The purchase (an M1 Thompson SBR by Kahr) was done in July, 2014, but we didn’t get our form to the ATF until November (that’s not ATF’s fault, but ours). So it took, from the time they’ve had the form, a hair over five months for this technical rejection. We’ll put the Chief’s title on it (they did send details on what was wrong with the Form 4 and how to fix it) and send it back, and then it goes back to the same examiner rather than wait another five months in the queue. Which is nice.

We may have the Thompson at the range one year after buying it.

Well, largely our fault for missing such an obvious detail.

How long is it taking for ATF to process these forms?

We’re going to give you an answer you’ll hate: it depends. There may be some elements of go-slow in the Administration’s approach to ATF doing its duties — certainly many of the senior personnel in ATF are anti-gun and politically partisan — but it really seems to be explained well enough by ATF’s finite number of examiners getting slammed by an explosion in quantity of NFA submissions. Here are the last two years, thanks to NFA Tracker.com (it does embiggen):

NFA Stamp Wait TimesOne of the interesting results here is the general downward trend in wait time, both for trust submissions and for paper submissions. A few outlying trust e-File submissions have gotten same-day service, and Form 4 trust submission review times have suddenly trended up in 2015. (ATF does report they’ve had some problems with badly formed trusts that were set up without a specialized attorney).

The trendlines get even more interesting if you go back to the full dataset on NFA Tracker, which takes us back to 2006, before the advent of the World’s Greatest Gun Salesman.

longterm_wait_times

Again, it embiggens if you click it. As you can see here, prior to 2009 transfers seemed to be a 30-60-90-day thing, although the data is pretty thin at that point. In January 2011, approval times started to increase rapidly until by the fall of that year, and for the next 12 months, approval times clustered close together, centered on a median of about 180 days or six months.

Then, after the 2012 elections, the delays skyrocketed again. peaking at nearly a year in the summer of 2013, and then descending.

It’s also significant, we think, that all kinds of forms and filing methods seem to have been treated similarly until around September 2013, when some (principally, e-Filed forms) began to show much more rapid adjudication than paper forms of similar type.

This data pattern looks to us more like an agency struggling to serve more customers than it has ever had to handle before, than the fruits of any kind of conspiracy.

We could simplify life for the NFA Branch and its examiners by changing the law so that SBRs, SBSes, and suppressors are handled as Title I firearms. Handling these within the strictures of the NFA does not prevent or solve crimes, after all; these weapons are little used in criminal activity, and the ones that are so used, are almost always stolen. Therefore removing these low-crimefighting-value firearms registrations from the pool would reduce the workload on the examiners and let them focus on efforts more useful to actual crimefighting.

FN Teases New Civilian Versions of Military Weapons

This press release was so tempting that we had to double check — was it really dated April 10, not April 1? Turns out, it is (well, some versions are dated April 9).

(McLean, VA – April 9, 2015) FNH USA is excited to announce that three new products, including a brand-new product line, will be making their first appearance on the FNH USA Booth #2324 at the 2015 NRA Annual Meetings in Nashville, TN. Expected to be released in the Fall of 2015 are the mil-spec FN M249S™, a semi-automatic version of the U.S. Military’s M249 SAW light machine gun and two new additions to the company’s modern sporting rifle line, the FN 15™ M4 and M16 Military Collector Series.

Are they serious?

fn_m249s

Serious as a heart attack.

Holy schnikeys, a semi-auto Minimi from none other than FN? True, we’d rather have the full-auto one (personal aside to William Hughes: may your soul’s torment in Hades never cease), but given the laws we’ve got, we’ll take it. The bad news is that, while they’re teasing the product now for a fall 2015 launch, they didn’t put a lot of prep into the website — it’s still all full of holes.

Machine Gunners Depend on Riflemen

And FN is also introducing two new “Military Collectors” versions of the M16 Rifle and M4 Carbine. These include DOD-like code labels on the magazine wells, unlike FN’s sporting AR-series guns which feature a very large FN logo on the mag well. As the press release puts it:

web_mil_coll_v2

The FN 15™ Military Collector’s Series M4 and M16 bring to market military replica rifles made to FN’s exacting specifications. The semi-automatic rifles are chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO and feature M4 -profile 16 and 20-inch 1:7” RH, button broached and chrome-lined barrels, respectively. Each UID-labeled lower receiver is equipped with an ambidextrous selector switch, just like its select-fire big brother.

The web page for the Military Collectors carbines is better fleshed out than the M249S page.

Both of these product lines will find a niche market, and they’ll also help FN manage production when faced with the herky-jerky and unreliable nature of military orders. So it’s a win for FN, for the .mil (by helping to absorb overhead that would otherwise fall on the DOD budget), and of course, for those who want to own and shoot these firearms.

We want, we think, one of each. You?

Sometimes the Worst Gun Wins, and other Lessons from History

In Smith’s The History of Military Small Arms, the author claims to see a  parallel between the introduction of the Dreyse Needle Gun and the history of military small arms in general. To wit:

Dreyse Needle Gun with fabric cartridge and projectile showing primer location at projo base. From The Firearm Blog.

Dreyse Needle Gun with fabric cartridge and projectile showing primer location at projo base. From The Firearm Blog.

When the Dreyse was introduced into the Prussian service it was a “military secret” of the first order. Like most “military secrets” it was a secret only to those naive branches of the military who never seem to be aware of what has been done in their line—those artless individuals with which every country is regularly afflicted, and who strangely enough seem to be nearly always in a position to make policy while submerging the real experts who are present in any army.1

The Dreyse shouldn’t have been a surprise to anybody, as the technology had been patented by a Swiss circa 1830, when the Prussian generals who would command Dreyse-wielding riflemen were subalterns. And while the Dreyse Needle Gun had an edge on the French Chassepot, it wasn’t that big an edge, really.

The Chassepot. Funny: the Scandinavian museum that has this one thinks it's a Dreyse.

The Chassepot. Funny: the Scandinavian museum that has this one thinks it’s a Dreyse.

The edge was that the Dreyse was able to use a metallic cartridge, even though these images show a fabric one (even though the illustration shows it with a fabric cartridge). But in the Americas, Union cavalry was armed almost exclusively with breechloaders, and in significant part with breech-loading repeaters, generally firing fixed rim- or center-fire ammunition, by war’s end. Having the Dreyse gave the Prussians a momentary advantage over the muzzleloader-toting Austrians, who soon thereafter followed such leaders as Britain (with the Snyder) and the US (with the Allin conversion) and rebuilt its muzzle-loaders into breech-loaders.

Here's another view of the Chassepot, action closed. The stylistic resemblance to the much later Mosin-Nagant repeater is eerie; did it inspire that design?

Here’s another view of a Chassepot, action closed. The stylistic resemblance to the much later Mosin-Nagant repeater is eerie; did it inspire that design?

Out in the real world, small arms development is seldom secret, and when it is, it is seldom kept secret for long. Engineering and science have long been observed to proceed, worldwide, at the same pace, and weapons of war face something akin to the evolutionary pressures faced by animals under natural selection (minus, perhaps, sexual selection, although the natural competitiveness of armies leads to a pursuit of bragging rights and pride internationally that has some parallels, but with much less power).

1898 .30-40 Krag carbine

1898 .30-40 Krag carbine

It is an interesting fact that, when two armies meet in the field, both sides are almost always convinced that their equipment is superior. When it turns out not to be for one side, an even more interesting fact is that weapons superiority is not always, or even often, decisive. No grunt came away from Cuba or Puerto Rico still believing that the .30-40 Krag, selected by the USA over the Mauser because the Krag had a simpler and easier-to-inspect magazine cut off “to save ammunition in combat,” was the superior rifle. Ordnance’s error in prioritizing that, or perhaps in accepting the priorities given to it by the generals, was clear, and the guns were scarcely still before Springfield was directed, although perhaps not in the words of a later Smith & Wesson executive, to “copy the m’f’er!”

Yet, as deficient as the US mix of Krags and trapdoors was vis-a-vis the 7mm x 57 Spanish 1893 Mauser, a technically superior rifle was not enough to make up for the many other technical and tactical deficiencies the Spaniards faced in trying to hang on to their colonies. Weapons are complex enough to present many features and capabilities, and survival-oriented officers and soldiers quickly learn to exploit their system’s strengths and overcome its weaknesses. The Germans learned to fight against the superior mobility of American and Russian tanks; the Allies learned to fight against the German’s better armor and armament. Meanwhile, a “secret” weapon is only secret until it’s used; after that, the enemy knows its effects, and his own engineers and ordnance men can figure out what the weapon was — as every nation’s scientists and engineers are at, to a first approximation, the same level of knowledge. (The classic example of the limited life of a  secret weapon is the way the Soviet Union went from ignorance of the potential for a nuclear weapon to leapfrogging US/UK development of fusion weapons in 4 years).

Napoleon’s maxim about the relative weight of the material and the moral in war is as good an explanation as any for the phenomenon: sometimes the guy with the worse gun wins.

Notes

  1. B. Smith (2013-07-13 00:00:00-05:00). The History of Military Small Arms (Kindle Locations 910-914). Kindle Edition.

 

A Blast from the Past — Literally

FOOM!There is been few blasts like the one that blew up USS Maine in Havana harbor, on 15 February 1898, the forward magazine of the ship blew up at 9:40 PM. A crew of 355 was nearly annihilated; there were only 16 uninjured survivors, and 75 or 80 wounded ones. Because the mishap happened at night, and officers’ country was in the aft end of the ship, the officers survived at a higher rate.

1024px-Telegram_from_James_A._Forsythe_to_Secretary_of_the_Navy_-_NARA_-_300264The captain of Maine, Charles Sigsbee, sent an urgent cry for help via Capt. James Forsythe, commanding officer of the Key West naval station.

The investigation that ensued ruled that the ship was subject to an attack by a naval mine. It was only the first of many investigations, and there remains to this day no conclusion, although the balance of expert opinion seems to suggest a mishap aboard ship is more likely than Spanish hostile action. The destruction of Maine became a casus belli in the hysteria-induced Spanish-American War of 1898. Indeed, it was probably the most influential cause, or pretext, for the US to have initiated that war.

The Maine was an odd ship, but she was created in the 1880s and 1890s at an odd time in naval affairs. “Armored Cruisers” seemed to be what Navies needed, ships that could combine sail and steam — she was initially designed with three masts — and that would attack headlong. Accordingly, Maine had a ram built into her bow, and her two gun barbettes (mounted in left-front and right-rear sponsons) were arranged so that she could deliver her full “broadside” — four 10-inch guns — only straight ahead or straight behind.

Maine also had advanced armor for her day — Harvey Steel, an early form of face-hardened armor. But it took so long for America to build, launch and commission this pre-Dreadnought battleship (ships characterized by guns in sponsons and coal-fired steam piston engines) that she was, although nearly new at her sinking, soon to be obsoleted by that British revolution in naval arms.

Our interest, of course, is easily led from the 10″ main battery on down through the 1.5″ anti-torpedo-boat armaments to, inevitably, the personal weapons.

Julia Maine Recovered Lee Navy

Like every Naval vessel, Maine had some small arms lockers, and in February, 1898, they held the unusual M1895 Winchester-Lee 6mm (.236 Navy) rifle. The rifles, at least some of them, were salvaged and were sold by Francis Bannerman of Bannerman’s Island fame. Ian at Forgotten Weapons has an excellent video showcasing one of these rare rifles, now featured in a Julia auction. James Julia expects a five figure knock-down on this. Julia explains his documentation of provenance:

Also accompanied by a copy of pages 34 and 35 of a reprint of The Bannerman Catalog of July 1907. Page 35 lists the serial numbers of 54 6mm Lee Straight Pull Rifles salvaged from the USS Maine, including this exact rifle.

Julia Maine recovered Navy

It also lists the SNs of six 45 cal Springfield rifles recovered at the same time. These rifles were sold to Bannermens [sic] through the Navy Yard at New York in Jan. 1900. These 54 Lee rifles and 6 Springfield rifles are the only officially documented small arms recovered from the USS Maine although there have been one or two others that have surfaced in the last few years that were undoubtedly authentic. Regardless there are probably no more than about 60 or so of these relics in existence.

How many guns came by their pitting this honestly? No doubt someone will take great pride in adding this piece of history to his collection.

Hey, it’s just a Ka-Bar, right? An $11k Ka-Bar?

Hey, it’s just a Ka-Bar (on this day of edged weapons, which we’ve now added as a category). Just a Ka-Bar. Even if this one is a Camillus, these Marine knives are best known by the name of their original maker. They’re good, simple, sturdy, dependable and cheap field knives, much used in SF and other Army units as well as in their birthplace, the Corps. So what makes this one worth, says the auctioneer, $11k? (That’s the opening bid, for an auction opening in a few hours). It doesn’t look real special, does it?

Gagnon USMC Knife L

 

Well, what about the markings? Perhaps there’s something special there.

Gagnon USMC Knife details L

Nope. And the condition is OK, but not too special. Call it average. Well, then, if the knife is unremarkable, and its condition is just middling, it’s got to be something about the guy whose knife it is or was. 

The guy that wrote this, home from boot camp:

[I]t certainly gives you a funny feeling to know that in my hands I hold two means of killing a person…stabbing him…or shooting him…Those are the things we’re fighting for…when I was a kid I never realized that I one day would actually kill a man, as a matter of fact none of us really like the idea of killing, but if that’s the only language the Axis understand then that’s what it will have to be.

That introspective Marine was this rakish, Hollywood-handsome fellow:

Rene GagnonBut he’s famous not for motion pictures, but for a still. This still:

Mt Suribachi flag raising USMC

Joe Rosenthal’s famous flag-raising picture is a powerful symbol of the Marine Corps to this day. And Rene Gagnon of Manchester, NH, was one of the six men in that picture, raising the flag. (He’s the guy opposite the guy whose helmet is bisected by the libe of the flagpole. Gagnon’s mostly hidden, apart from his hands and one leg, but he was definitely there). He’s one of the three that survived. (His story is told, along with those of the other five, living and dead, in the bestseller Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley — a descendant of another survivor).

When Rene Gagnon passed away he left the knife to his son. The Manchester, NH Union Leader‘s Amanda Beland interviewed Rene Jr., and reports:

The Marines-issued knife belonged to Gagnon until he died at age 54 in 1979. Since then, it has officially belonged to his son, Rene Gagnon Jr.
But for Gagnon Jr., of Concord, the knife was a part of his life long before his father’s death.

“I used it growing up — in Boy Scouts, cutting things up around the house, playing cowboys and Indians, lots of ways,” he said.
Gagnon Jr. said he always expressed his fondness for the knife — which is how it came into his possession. “When I was younger, the whole time I really liked that knife and I made that clear.”

Gagnon Jr. said he decided to sell the knife now partly for financial reasons, partly because he was unsure of where it was going to end up.
“I have three daughters and a son, and it was never like ‘I like this,’ so there’s the thought of where do I leave it,” he said.

“A lot of my father’s memorabilia is in Wolfeboro (at the Wright Museum of World War II History). If there’s someone there who cares for it, then it’s not going to get lost or something.”
Gagnon Jr. said he’s aware that his father has a public persona that’s been perpetuated by interviews, books and movies. But to him, Rene Gagnon represents something much simpler.

“To the whole world, he was a hero, but to me, he was my father, just my father,” said Gagnon Jr. “I had the knife, yeah, and now someone who cares about that type of thing can have it, but I had and have my father.”

The auction house thinks the knife may bring as much as $20k. In that rarefied air, individual bidders may be competing with museums, although most military museums are much happier trading a paper tax-writeoff for “free” stuff, than laying out actual cash for exhibits.

 

Hey, it’s a GI Colt .45. Wait, what?

From a few angles this gun looks like a Colt 1911:

Colt 1907 low angleBut wait… Look at that slide stop. Look at that lanyard ring. And hey, where’s the magazine catch? It’s like a 1911, and it’s chambered for .45 ACP. But it’s not a 1911. Think you know what it is? Next clue, coming up:

Colt 1907 left closeThat’s kind of a low serial number on there, Sparky. It’s got patent dates through 1905, so maybe it’s a Colt 1905. It does look like one (by the way, all these pictures embiggen with a click).

Colt 1907 leftColt 1907 right

It sure looks like a Colt 1905, but it isn’t. It’s a rarer bird entirely: one of the Colt 1907 trials guns, of which a total of 207 were assembled — 200 to meet the contractual requirements, and 7 overruns/floats (these protected Colt from being short if a few guns were screwed up during manufacture. However, some sources say only 201 1907s were assembled).

Colt 1907 .45 ACP caliber pistol. Rare model 1907 U.S. Government Contract, with factory letter. Gun has 90-93% blue on frame (Serial #96). Slide has a blue mixed with light brown patina. Grips are excellent. Frame is “K.M” marked by Major Kenneth Morton. The first 200 guns were shipped to Springfield Armory. There were 7 overrun pistols. Total of 207 guns made. This is very desirable for the Colt auto collector as well as being a martial Colt auto. Very rare Colt.

This one isn’t a GunBroker special, it’s for sale at Collectors Firearms in Houston, but the asking price suggests it’s for the advanced Colt or martial collector: $31,500.

One suspects that most of these guns survive in collections, but they seldom come out. Years ago, Rock Island Auctions sold one (#126), the auction listing of which remains online (it is kind of RIA to keep these old listings alive, and very useful to collectors, dealers and historians alike).

The Colt letter with that auction explains some of the differences and notes that the shipment of 200 pistols was sent to the Commanding Officer, Springfield Armory on 17 March 1908. Savage also submitted 200 .45 caliber pistols. They were the finalists from an earlier round of testing of a few pistols, and were enroute to Springfield on their way to field tests with Army combat-arms units.

The early 1907 round of testing also included:

  • One or more .45 Lugers. The Army had already field-tested 1,000 7.65mm Lugers. The Luger’s strengths were its reliability and ease of disassembly and reassembly without special tools. It’s disadvantages included general complexity and poor function with US made rounds, unlike the German rounds with fast-burning powder that came with the gun. With Georg Luger himself in attendance at the trials, this was the nearest runner-up to the two finalists.
  • Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver. It was reliable, but the board just didn’t like it, and it had no advantage over an automatic pistol (and some marked disadvantages, slow loading and limited capacity).
  • White-Merrill. The modified blowback system needed a gorilla’s grip to operate, and it didn’t work reliably.
  • Bergmann. For whatever reason, the samples provided didn’t work, as it wouldn’t set off a cartridge.
  • Knoble. Two versions of this oddity were sent without much in the way of instructions, and the inventor didn’t attend. So when the Army’s board of combat-arms officers and small arms experts couldn’t figure out why they weren’t working, or how to make one fire, both Knobles were set aside.

We ought to give a moment’s more consideration to the two real oddballs here, the Knobles and  the White-Merrill. Here’s the board’s explanation of its dismissal of the Knobles:

knoble_da_pistol_1907

A careful examination and several efforts to fire these weapons showed that they were so crudely manufactured as to render any test without value, smooth working being impossible. It was therefore decided that these arms would be given no further consideration by the board.

Ow. That’ll leave a mark. The Knoble did have one interesting feature — one of the two samples was double-action, edging out Walther’s “first” by some 18 years. But then, the Walther PP worked when introduced.

The gimmick of the White-Merrill was its charging lever, seen below the trigger guard. This lever was operated by the 2nd and 3rd fingers of the gripping hand. This was to optimize the pistol for cavalry use; a single-handed pistol was a big advantage to a trooper with one hand full of his mount’s reins.

white-merrill

Gimmick notwithstanding, the White-Merrill also failed basic standards of reliability.

This arm is experimental and its functioning was so unsatisfactory that the test was discontinued. The conception of a loading lever which permits loading by the pistol hand is commended, but its practical application was not entirely satisfactory.

They also looked at Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers, almost like scientific controls — a known quantity. The board decided to adopt the Colt (it became the Model 1909) revolver as a temporary stopgap, and focus on the two highest-performing trials pistols — the Colt and the Savage — for a 200-gun test under field conditions. These were the Colt 1905 Military in .45 and the Savage 1906. They wanted two improvements, though, to these pistols — a loaded-chamber indicator, and some kind of “automatic safety.” That was the genesis of the grip safety in this 1907 Colt (one of the things distinguishing it from the 1905), which was particularly desired by the cavalry branch for safety on horseback.

Savage was slow to accept the 200-pistol order, and it very nearly went to DWM/Ludwig Löwe for the Luger.

The 1907 Colt and 1907 Savage went head-to-head in field tests, with the Colt having the inside track all the way, but both companies continuing to modify and improve their designs. A few more changes produced the Colt Model 1911 and the Savage Model 1910, which met in 1911 for a final shootoff.

The past is truly a different country.

Back to the original gun that got this post started — is one of those field test guns worth over $30k? While we love it for its history, not for us at that price. But it’s a great rarity; Savage was reluctant to tool up for the 200 test pistols, but once they did, they made almost 90 overruns, so they’re actually slightly less rare than the equivalent Colt.

For whatever reason,  it’s great to live in a place and time where somebody can spend that kind of money to improve his Colt or martial pistols collection

Sources:

Note: the first one is the primary source, the board report on the initial trials. We’re very grateful to Ian for putting this online, as it lets us look at the pistol in a little more depth than we get just from a sellers’ listing. We’d really like to see the report of the field test, too — that has to be kicking around somewhere.

Chief of Ordnance. Appendix to the Annual Report of the Chief of Ordnance: Report of Board on Tests of Revolvers and Automatic Pistols. Washington, Government Printing Office: 1907. Retrieved from: http://www.forgottenweapons.com/wp-content/uploads/manuals/1907pistoltrials.pdf

McCollum, Ian. 1907 US Pistol & Revolver Trials. ForgottenWeapons.com: 27 May, 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.forgottenweapons.com/1907-us-pistol-revolver-trials/

Schreier, Philip. The 1907 Army Pistol Trials. SSUSA: February, 2001. Retrieved from: http://www.nramuseum.org/media/940450/1907%20pistol%20trials.pdf

See also the video at: Forgotten Weapons on the Development of the 1911. Weaponsman.com: 1 December, 2014. Retrieved from: http://weaponsman.com/?p=19360

 

 

Tank Turret Rotation in WWII

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

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

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

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

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

    M26_Fireball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How fast could turrets rotate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

Directorate of the Armored Forces of the Red Army. T-34 Tank Service Manual. Translator unknown. Retrieved from: http://www.allworldwars.com/T-34%20Tank%20Service%20Manual.html

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

Military Intelligence Division. Japanese Tank and Anti-Tank Warfare. Washington: War Department,  1 Aug 1945. Retrieved from: http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/wwiispec/number34.pdf (bear in mind that as a wartime intelligence document, this is not fully-processed history!)

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

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