Category Archives: Weapons Technology

The M16 as First Standardized

From the very beginning of M16 production, according to the preponderance of records, the Army version was the M-1 A1 with the forward assist. But the MIL-STD that included the nascent M16 for the first time, MIL-STD 635B: Military Standard, Weapons, Shoulder (Rifles, Carbines, Shotguns and Submachine Guns), covered only the M16 version.

m16_rifle_from_mil-std-635b

MIL-STD-635B was published on 7 Oct 1963. The weapon was, in this instance, the only exemplar of a new category of standard:

5.1 Detail Data for Standard Items (Standard for design and procurement)

5.1.1 Rifles

5.1.1.2 Caliber .223.

The two entries in Standard 5.1.1.2 are:

(a) RIFLE, 5.56-MM M16, FSN 1005-856-6885; and

(b) RIFLE, 5.56-MM: M16, w/e, FSN 1005-994-9136.

And the published illustration, seen above, although grainy (and distorted by the moiré patterns that result from scanning half-tone images) in the copy we examined (from, once again, the Small Arms of the World archives, for which subscription is required), is clearly an early Colt Model 601. It has several classic 601 features such as the duckbill flash suppressor, cast front sight base, and brown molded fiberglass stocks (which were factory overpainted green on most 601s, but the green paint is not evident on this one). In addition, the forging line of the magazine well appears to line up with the forging line’s continuation on the upper receiver, although this is hard to judge from the image we’ve got.

The duckbill on this example of the rifle appears to have been modified into a stepped configuration. We’re unaware of the purpose of this version of flash suppressor, if it really is a version and not just an artifact of the degradation of this image through multiple modes of reproduction. (Somewhere, there’s the original 4″ x 5″ Speed Graphic negative of this picture, and accompanying metadata about who took it, when and where — but we haven’t got it).

Shall we read what 635B said, back in 1963, about the M16?1

DESCRIPTION AND APPLICATION

The M16 rifle is a commercial lightweight, gas-operated, magazine-fed shoulder weapon designed for selective semiautomatic or full automatic fire. It is chambered for the .223 caliber cartridge and is fed by a 20-round box type magazine. It is equipped with an integral prong-type flash suppressor and fiberglass stock and handguard. A bipod, which attaches to the barrel at the front sight, is available as an accessory to the  rifle. The M16 is used by the Army and the Air Force.

PHYSICAL AND PERFORMANCE CHARACTERISTICS

Weight, without magazine:  6 lb. (approx.)

Weight of magazine, empty:  4 .7 oz.

Weight of magazine, loaded (20 rounds): 12.7 oz.

Length, overall:  39 in. (approx.).

Length, barrel with flash suppressor: 21 in.

Rate of fire: (automatic) 650 to 850 rpm.

Sight radius: 19.75in.

Trigger pull: 5.5-7.5 lb.

Type rear sight: Iron, micrometer.

Type front sight: Fixed blade.

Type of flash suppressor: Prong (integral).

Accuracy: A series of 10 rounds fired at a range of 100 yards shall be within an extreme spread of 4.8 inches.

AMMUNITION

CARTRIDGE, CALIBER .223: Ball (Full Jacketed Bullet).

This is the “Hello, world!” of the M16 in formal Military Standards. The previous long-gun MIL-STD, 635A of 2 Sep 1960, which was superseded by this version, contains no reference to the black rifle.

Observations on the Standard

A MIL-STD is supposed to be the absolute doctrinal statement of what an article of military equipment is (and that is one reason it’s fairly high-level: to allow minor changes to be made without having to rewrite the standard every time the factory or the military comes up with a minor improvement). But this standard contains both vague entries and an erroneous one, neither of which is expected.

The vague entries include the very dimensions of the rifle: its length and weight are listed as “approximate.” This hints that the standard writers may have been working off third-party data rather than their own trusted measurements.

One could quibble with the definition of the screw-on flash suppressor as “integral.” Looking at this and other MIL-STDs, it seems clear that the authors make a distinction between flash suppressors that are issued as a component of the weapon and not meant to be removed by the end user, like those of the M14 and M16, and those meant to be add-on or field-detachable accessories, like those for the M1 Carbine and M3/M3A1 submachine gun.

There are also one outright error in the standard. The sight of the M16 is described as a fixed blade; actually, it is an adjustable post. A handful of very early AR-15 prototypes may have had a fixed blade, as the original AR-10 did (well, technically, the AR-10′s is drift-adjustable for windage); but even by the time of the Project AGILE tests of AR-15s (Colt 601s) the elevation-adjustment on the front sight was standard.

Tentative Conclusions

This MIL-STD and its somewhat wobbly description of the early M16 probably resulted from the standard writers having spec sheets and no weapon, or a very early prototype, and took place before the Army won its battle to add a forward assist (as they put it, a positive bolt closing) to the firearm. (Or, conceivably, the standard-writing overlapped chronologically with this effort). Since the Standard had to wend its way through several levels of approval2 in the leisurely manner of a peacetime draft military, and needed sign-off from all the services, there appears to be a considerable lag between changes to the actual rifle and changes to the description of the rifle in the MIL-STD.

MIL-STD 635B’s description of the M16 was the supposed standard, but had little bearing on what the Army ordered and got: that was driven by the contract with Colt (and the other subcontractors), and the interplay between manufacturing personnel and the Contracting Officer’s Technical Representatives (COTRs, pronounced “CO-tars”) who were the .gov officials interfacing with them. Through these contractual interactions, and constant pressure from improvements from the ranks, the M16 would be considerably modified by the time it got its own dedicated military standard, ten years later.

Notes

1. MIL-STD-635B: Military Standard: Weapons, Shoulder (Rifles, Carbines, Shotguns and Submachine Guns).  Department of Defense. Washington, 7 Oct 1963. p. 6 et seq. Note that there were and are separate MIL-STDs for hand and shoulder weapons (handgun standard at the time was MIL-STD 1236 from 1960). Both standards were withdrawn in January, 1974 and not directly replaced. Instead, individual standards were created for specific weapons. Standard MIL-R-45587A covered the M16 and M16A1, and was issued (finally!) on 02 Mar 73.

2. The levels of approval included DOD and Service Department authorities (Army, Navy and Air Force; USMC and USCG small arms were controlled by the Navy). The standard itself was written by the Headquarters, Defense Supply Agency, Standardization Division, Washington, D.C.; the service components designated as “custodians of the standard” were, in presumed order of authority, the Army Weapons Command, the Bureau of Naval Weapons, and the Warner Robins Air Materiel Area. In the intervening 50+ years, all of these organizations have been reorganized and renamed.

Beretta’s Smart Gun for PDs, Military: iProtect Analyzed

Beretta presented a novel smart-gun concept at a recent defense expo overseas, which they called iProtect. This video shows how it works, using an RF-enabled gun with multiple sensors.

Here’s another video, with Beretta executive explaining how the gun works with the Robocop t-shirt.

You don’t have to be Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden to be a little creeped out by that.

Supposedly, the Beretta technology provides comprehensive surveillance but not control of the firearm, at least at this time. One consequence of that is that it is fail-safe: if the central office drops off the net (anyone remember the first responder commo chaos of 9/11?) the nifty features don’t work, but the gun just reverts to being a plain-vanilla PX4 Storm. This PX4i is, in fact, a PX4 with some minituarized sensors deployed in it:

iprotect_firearm_sensors

Many gun vendors and writers are appalled by this idea, but the iProtect needs to be understood, both in terms of its intended niche, and its likelihood of succeeding there. Neither indicates that Beretta intends (or has produced) a threat to civilian gun owners with this technology. More realistically, this is a technology demonstration for future potential developments in law enforcement and military weapons, rather than a practical product in 2014.

Here’s Beretta’s brochure on the technology, to give you more depth than is available in the videos, although the videos are probably a better overview of this complex and interdependent system.

How Times do Change

In 1999, when other gun makers including SIG and Colt were making balky “smart guns,” Beretta issued a manifesto denying their interest in any such thing. Beretta wrote:

Although the concept of a “smart gun” or “personalized gun” has received public attention recently, we believe that careful consideration has not been given to potentially dangerous risks associated with these concepts. In our opinion, such technology is undeveloped and unproven. In addition, Beretta strongly believes that “smart gun” technology or “personalized” guns (hereinafter also referred to as “smart gun” technology) could actually increase the number of fatal accidents involving handguns.

But that was then, this is now. 

Back in the bad old 90s, the anti-gun Clinton administration and their allies in Congress and in state legislatures were pushing hard for smart guns as a means to disarm citizens and centrally control armed police. (Some officials then and now believe that cops should lock their guns in a station arms room at shift’s end, and a few PDs actually do this). The policymakers pushing this saw technology in the automotive and computer worlds (we dunno, like the chip-in-the-key in our ’89 Corvette that used to occasionally turn on the alarm for no particular reason? that they imagined would adapt to guns, no problem. They disregarded many things, like the different volumetric envelope in a car and a gun, and made no bones about their nominal “safetyt” push really being all about citizen disarmament. A key problem with the high-tech push was that politicians have never successfully scheduled an inventiuon in the past, and they didn’t this time, either. By the time quasi-working “smart guns” were going bang six times out of ten, the would-be launch customers — various anti-gun officials of the Clinton Administration — had moved on to K Street at the change of administrations.

SIG-Sauer-P229-EPLS_001SIG’s late-90s entry, the SIG P229 EPLS, illustrated some of the problems with these arms. To be set to fire, a PIN had to be entered on a keypad on the gun’s nose, and a time period entered. So, for example, policemen would have their guns enabled only for the duration of their shifts. The pistol was not fail-safe in any way: the failure mode was that, if the electronics borked, the gun remained on the last setting indefinitely, whatever it was.

The 229 EPLS was unreliable and never went into series production; 15 or so prototypes and pre-production test articles were made, some of which may have been released to collectors according to this article at Guns and Ammo.

Colt made an effort to spin off a smart-gun subsidiary, called, we are not making this up, iColt. There is no sign of it today; Colt’s perennial dance with the threat of bankruptcy was mortal to any engineering resource-suck with such an uncertain path to returns.

The “Smart Gun” that’s in the news: Armatix iP1

Beretta’s plan for intelligent duty firearms, iProtect, is radically different from the publicity-focused smart-gun maker, Armatix. Armatix’s designer is Ernst Mauch, the prime mover of HK during its decades-long phase of HK: Because You Suck, and We Hate You hostility to nongovernmental customers, and he brings his superior, anti-customer attitude to Armatix. The company’s strategy is to have its gun mandated by authorities: it has come close in New Jersey, and one candidate in the Democrats’ Sep. 9th primary for Attorney General of Massachusetts (Warren Tolman) has promised to ban all other handguns if elected. (Yes, Massachusetts law and case law does give that official this power. No word on whether he has a stake in Armatix).

The gun itself is a poor design, kind of like some of Mauch’s later HK abortions (UMP, M8). Its reliability approaches 19th-Century lows: few reviewers have gotten through a 10-shot magazine without a failure to feed, some of which seem to relate to the magazine and in some of which the slide does not go into battery. Armatix’s idea of fail-safe electronics is this: if the electronics fail, they brick the gun, therefore it’s safe.

Because the fragile Made in Germany electronics aren’t ready for centerfire prime time, the gun will be available only in .22 long rifle for the foreseeable future. For a .22 it’s bulky, and it has only average accuracy.

Pity it doesn’t have the red HK on it. Then, at least the fanboys would buy it.

The iProtect system is not like the Armatix, or other Smart Guns

Like SIG in the 90s, Beretta began with a decent pistol and then added the electronics to it, in Beretta’s case the underrated Px4 Storm. Like SIG, there’s a bulky “light” on the rail that contains the brain. The gun is truly fail-safe: if the electronics go paws up, the gun doesn’t. In fact, the operator can dismount the “brain” at any time.

Unlike Armatix, iProtect has not been launched with noises about the authorities having an ability to remotely brick the firearm. And it does not brick itself if the battery runs down. Beretta also addressed another weakness (or at least, inconvenience) of battery-powered gear by making the black box’s battery wireless rechargeable.

The “brain” is not really the key to the system, though: the key is the Black Box’s networked communications abilities. First, it talks to the sensors on the gun itself, monitoring the position of the gun and its controls much the same way a Digital Flight Data Recorder monitors the position of an airplane’s control surfaces and flight control inputs. The brain transmits that information to a central control console. Since all of the smarts are in firmware and software, they can be updated more or less on the fly to add new capabilities (and, no doubt, to squash bugs. It’s practically impossible to write a program more useful than “Hello, world!” without introducing bugs).

 

But the gun’s communication with the central office is only part of it, because it’s also networked to a smartphone or other communications device, and to a special t-shirt that monitor’s the officer’s position, activity, and health status of the carrier (if you’ve ever worn a chest strap when exercising, you’ll get the general idea).

And a key feature of iProtect, absent from other smart guns, is geolocation. The gun knows where it is — and tells the office, many times a second. This complicates things for those criminals who would murder a cop for his gun (like Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnayev did after they bombed the Boston Marathon finish line). It’s one thing to have a gun that’s so hot it’s radioactive, but it’s a whole other game to have one that’s constantly phoning home and otherwise subject to electronic track & trace.

Of course, it also complicates things for cops who would spend their shift cooping behind a strip mall, or unofficially 10-7 at Krispy Kreme. If you’re That Guy, the relative smartness of your gun is not going to affect your police work in any way, anyway.

Problems with iProtect?

Unlike Armatix, iProtect is not a play to disarm the public; it’s a play to increase the information flow in police dispatch offices. There it runs into a problem, in US law enforcement: the Beretta system is best used by intelligent cops and intelligent, expert even, dispatchers. But many large metro departments in the USA — exactly the target market for iProtect — have upper as well as lower bounds for cop IQ. (These departments also tend to have low closure rates on cases requiring in-depth, imaginative investigations, oddly enough). But at least the typical cop is a man or woman of average smarts. The dispatchers are a different thing. It the USA it’s a low-paid, low-status occupation, and it tends to attract people who are a half-step above the welfare lines: the same sort of people who work, if that’s the word, in the DMV or other menial clerical jobs in local government. One consequence of this is the periodic dispatch scandals like this one, a rather trivial violation that went, as usual, unpunished; or this more serious one that ended with a dead caller, a fired dispatcher, and one more illustration of the sad fact that when seconds count, police are minutes away. Literally none of the dispatchers at a modern urban police department has a place in the high-tech, high-demand dispatch center envisioned by iProtect.

The 80-IQ dispatcher is a mountain that iProtect must climb if it is going to sell here in the USA — and it’s a mountain it probably can’t summit. But even the dispatcher problem is secondary to the real Achilles Heel of iProtect: it’s a proprietary, closed system. It not only works with the PX4i, it only works with the PX4i. It only works with Beretta’s own high-tech undershirt. It only works with the Beretta communications and dispatch system.  It requires the agency to recapitalize everything at once. Line cops don’t think of budgetary and logistical problems, but chiefs and commissioners spend most of their time on them.

It’s also self-evident that iProtect has no real utility at this time for the private or individual owner, or even to the rural sheriff’s office or small-town PD: it’s only of interest to large police departments, the only users that can resource it properly. (In the long run, the sheriffs of sparsely populated counties might really like the geolocation capability, though; it goes beyond geolocating the police car, something modern tech already can do, and tracks both the officer and his or her sidearm. That’s a big deal for situational awareness if you’ve got a wide open range and very few sworn officers).

So what’s the verdict?

iprotectIn sum, the iProtect system is an ingenious adaptation of modern communications technology to the police defensive-firearm sphere. It poses no direct threat to gun rights, although cops may find being monitored all the time a little creepy. (Welcome to the pilot’s world, pal). But as it sits there are obstacles to its adoption. These obstacles are organizational, cultural and financial — we don’t yet know how well the system works, but assuming arguendo that all Beretta’s claims about it are true, there don’t seem to be technical obstacles holding it back.

Like the plain old dumb guns that just sit there until animated by human will, the good or evil of a smart gun is in the intent of the mind behind it.

As Percussion Replaced Flintlock, C.F. Jones Hedged

This remarkable antique shotgun, for sale by a British dealer, recently was on GunBroker (without a bid). But it’s still for sale in England (as an antique, it’s not difficult to import). At a glance it looks like any early percussion English fowling-piece. Nice, and beautifully worked, but is it special?

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_left

 

Yeah. It is, actually. It’s such a special thing, it may be unique, at least as a survivor. It was a creature of its time, place and circumstances, soon obsolete, but still fascinating.

This is an extraordinary and rare shotgun that was made with a dual ignition system so can be regarded as the epitome of transitional shotguns. The lock features both percussion nipples and a flintlock these can be selected to fire flintlock, percussion or both by moving an interrupter switch which can isolate the platinum lined touch hole in the flash pan.

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_hi-angleWhy would a designer do this? It adds complexity and weight, violating one of the golden mantras of engineering: “Simplicate, and add lightness.” But these kinds of transitional weapons often appear at times of technological change, and usually they’re hedges against failure of the new tech.

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_top

There are good reasons a British gunmaker might hedge on the then-new percussion technology. In the early 19th Century, as percussion’s faster lock time and greater reliability caused it to quickly supplant flintlock ignition, Britain had a far-flung Empire, and caps were a new thing, and one that might be hard to come by in East Africa, Calcutta or Ceylon. Any gunsmith of the period could have converted a percussion gun back to flint as readily as most of them were converting flintlocks, but having the ability for zero-gunsmithing, near-instant flintlock reversion was a comfort for a traveling man.

It didn’t take long for percussion caps to become as common worldwide as black powder itself. They don’t require a lot of engineering expertise or complex machinery to manufacture, and the chemistry is simple. So transitional guns like this Jones shotgun became period curiosities, unable to compete with lighter all-percussion guns.

Overall length is 45″ with a barrel length of 29″ with a bore measuring .6″ so approximately 20 bore. Locks are marked “Jones” and the overall quality is excellent and the gun has not been messed around with. There is one small contemporary repair to the butt which was clearly made during its short working life but not a significant detraction to the overall appearance of the gun. The locks are fine and the bore is bright so it has been well looked after. I am tempted to shoot it myself but this is being sold as a non-firing antique. I assume that the gun was made for somebody who intended travelling overseas at the time it was made and who was concerned that he would not be able to purchase percussion caps overseas.

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid

Before you read the following, note that the British are always making fun of the German propensity for record keeping. Then read this, and grin: even the casual and slapdash British archives give up a lot about Charles Jones and his life a couple centuries back.

Charles Frederick Jones was the son of John Jones of Manor Row, Tower Hill (an armourer in the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1785-1793). Charles was born in about 1800, and in 1814 was apprenticed to John Mason. He became a Freeman of the Gunmakers Company (by patrimony?) in 1822. He was recorded in business at “Near the Helmet”, St Katherine’s, as a gun and pistol maker in 1822, and it seems his brother, Frederick William, joined him soon after the business was established. He was not recorded again until 1829 when, probably in addition to the St Katherine’s premises, he had an address in Pennington Street, Ratcliff Highway. At this time his brother left to set up his own business. In 1831 he opened a factory in Birmingham at 16 Whittall Street. In 1832 he was recorded at 26 St James’s Street. On 7 March 1833 he patented a percussion lock with a cock, tumbler and trigger made in a single curved piece (concentric sears and triggers), and a waterproof sliding cover (No. 6394 in the UK but also patented France), and on 12 June 1833 an improvement with separate triggers and sears (No. 6436). The caps of these Jones patent guns fitted on to the hammer noses and had the fulminate on the outside. This system was called centre-fire, and they struck the nipple and ignited the powder in the chamber. In 1838 Charles Jones described himself as a “Patent and General Gunmaker”, and later as a gun manufacturer. At about this time the firm had a shop at 32 Cockspur Street. There is no record of the firm in London after 1845, and the Birmingham factory may have closed in 1843, but Charles Jones was a member of the Acadamie de L’Industrie de France and the firm may have traded after 1845. Jones had premises in London and Birmingham and was appointed as Gunmaker to HRH the Prince Albert husband of Queen Victoria.

That sounds like a rare honor, but Prince Albert was an avid sportsmen and commissioned many, many pieces from many designers.

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_left_breech

The flint/percussion duality of the piece is the first thing that strikes you, but it’s not the only unusual thing about the piece. Jones was an innovative and imaginative gunmaker and others of his patents, and some nonpatented cleverness, appear in this firearm:

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_internals

Amongst a number of patents, one of Jones’ patents was for an isolation switch to waterproof a flashpan and I dare see this stunning gun is a derivative of that work. Renowned British Gunsmith Peter Dyson believes the brass bolsters were fitted because the maker was worried about sideways expansion if both methods of ignition were used simultaneously. This has not been seen on the market for decades and as a rare and possibly unique item I doubt if it will appear again for many years. If you want something exquisite and unique, this is it! A rare and significant piece.

via UNIQUE FLINTCUSSION DUAL IGNITION JONES SHOTGUN : Antique Guns at GunBroker.com.

As we mentioned, transitional weapons are not unusual. US examples include the M14 rifle, which had a selector switch that could be optionally fitted or not fitted (and usually wasn’t, as the weapon was horribly inaccurate in full-auto), and the Krag Rifle (selected because of its magazine cutoff, which turned it into the firepower equivalent of the Springfield-Allin Trapdoor it replaced). Several early semi-auto rifles were designed to function optionally as bolt-actions, and some early cartridge revolvers had optional muzzle-loading cap-fired cylinders.

These transitions and hybrids provided, among other things, a fallback if the new technology failed. They were a practical solution to a real problem — in a brief window of time.

The GunBroker auction has ended, but Pembroke Fine Arms still has the flint-percussion hybrid for sale. (it’s on the third page of 25 in the shop, and all 25 pages have good stuff on ‘em).

 

The US Army Always Respected the AK

That’s one major take-away from a November, 1964 Springfield Armory classified report on a Chinese Type 56 AK variant, which the Armory received in late 1963 with a request that it be examined and compared to a Soviet-made AK already in their possession for “for similar and dissimilar features of design, fabrication, workmanship and construction.” We found this document in the archives of Small Arms of the World; for subscribers to that most excellent website, it’s available at this link. If you’re not a subscriber, this would be a good time. (Note: see the update at the end of this story for a free link to the file).

Springfield was asked to examine the Chinese AK by the US Army’s technical intelligence brain trust, the Foreign Science and Technology Center. Was the Chinese AK a worthy adversary? Surely it wouldn’t be as well made as its Russian prototype, let alone its American and Western competitors. Would it?

The report included an extremely detailed comparison of Chinese to Russian parts.

The report included an extremely detailed comparison of Chinese to Russian parts, and an analysis of what the parts weighed and did.

 

This is the Soviet AK described in the report, which remains in the collection of the Springfield Armory museum. It has since acquired a sling and a later magazine.

This is the actual Soviet AK described in the report, which remains in the collection of the Springfield Armory museum. It has since acquired a sling and a later magazine.

We have traced the original Russian rifle to Springfield Armory, where it remains in the Museum collection. The Museum has recorded facts about it that were not known to the 1964 report writers. This AK was made in Tula circa 1954, and Springfield notes:

Weapon transferred to the Museum from the Aberdeen Proving Ground on 2 December 1960. At that time weapon was appraised at $250.00.

Springfield has a photo of Elena Kalashnikova (Mikhail’s daughter) at the exhibit, and the label on the exhibit says:

AK47 – During the summer of 1962 one thousand AR15 rifles were sent to the Vietnamese who liked them better than the larger and heavier M1s and B.A.R.s. A ‘system analysis’ of the AR15 and M14, based on their use in Vietnam, made extravagant claims for the AR15 and resulted in an evaluation of the two American rifles and the Soviet AK47.

The evaluation referred to is the one discussed here. Apparently the exhibit does not note (although the curators must know) that this AK is the very AK that was analyzed in the report!

The Chinese AK’s whereabouts are unknown at this writing. The Museum has a Type 56, but it’s Serial Number 11103261 and was accessioned from the Watervliet Arsenal Museum on 25 August 1972. The following picture is the image of the Type 56 from the report:

In all respects, the Chinese Type 56 turned out to be identical to the earlier Tula AK-47, apart from markings and within manugacturing tolerances.

In all respects apart from trivial wood-furniture differences and the newer, lighter magazine, the Chinese Type 56 turned out to be identical to the earlier Tula AK-47, apart from markings and within manufacturing tolerances. It’s hard to tell from this picture if the front sight guard features the Russian-style “ears” or the full hood with a light hole that became a signature of Chinese AKs. In the right-side picture, it looks like “ears” to us, and in the left-side shot, a full hood!

In the end, they concluded that there were very few differences between the machined-receiver Soviet AK, serial number AA3286K, and its Chinese clone Type 56 SN 2021164, made in factory 66. The Chinese used a solid wood buttstock instead of the Russian laminate, and made their magazine of .0275″ sheet metal instead of .036″ for the Russian, and noted that the Chinese (but presumably not the Russian) magazine was ribbed for reinforcement; this saved approximately 3 ounces weight. As the Chinese magazine illustrated is the same as the common improved Russian magazine with three reinforcing ribs on the heel of the mag (these ribs were later deleted from Chinese mags), it seems probable that this weight saving was a Russian improvement vis-a-vis the original slabsided magazine.

Given that Russian and Chinese manufacturers work in international units, the nominal gauge for the magazine’s sheet steel was probably 0.7 mm (Chinese) and 0.9 or 1.0 mm for the Russian slabsided mag. These are roughly, but not exactly, 23 gauge and 20 gauge sheet steel respectively. Thinner steel (a higher-numbered gauge) is generally easier to form as well as lighter. Other than the wood of the stock and the design of the mag, their 1960s-vintage AK from China was identical to their 1950s Russian comparison. Their parts were identical in dimensions to a few hundred-thousandths of an inch and tenths of an ounce in weight. They seemed to be made to identical plans, and within identical tolerances. There’s no indication that the Arsenal experts tried interchanging the parts, but their careful analysis implies that the parts would interchange.

They looked at the weapons in detail, and came away impressed and respectful of Russian and Chinese manufacturing.

They looked at the weapons in detail, and came away impressed and respectful of Russian and Chinese manufacturing.

The weapons were weighed empty, without mag, sling, and cleaning/toolkit (the small kit that fits in the AK’s butt trap was missing from both sample weapons). They were also weighed with empty mags and with a mag loaded with 7.62 x 39mm ammunition (the ammo used was of Finnish manufacture). The scope of the task did not include firing, to the evident disappointment of the Springfield engineers (one of their recommendations was for a follow-up live-fire; it’s unknown if it came to pass).

The comparison to American firearms did not injure the Eastern weapons. The Chinese and Russian weapons were well made and their metal parts were machined as well as an American service rifle’s parts would be. There were toolmarks visible in places where it didn’t matter, and other parts were polished to as smooth-surfaced a microfinish as Springfield itself would do. They did notice that in the fine point of anticorrosion surface finishes, the Comblock weapons came up second best: little was left of the original rust bluing on the AKs, and the bolt and bolt carrier were completely unfinished from the factory.

The reviewers also noted many of the features for which Kalashnikovs have become known over the next 50 years: robust parts; simple field-stripping into few, large assemblies; parts clearances that imply high reliability and high toleration of rude field conditions. They thought the weapon specially suitable for guerrilla and short-range, close-quarters warfare, a verdict that neither its original manufacturers nor modern experts could dispute.

One is left with the overriding impression that, while the design and manufacture of this weapon did not shake the confidence of the Armory engineers in their own organization’s craft, they did respect it as a noteworthy design of high manufacturing quality.

Also, although the report does not say this explicitly, it’s clear that the ability of the communist bloc to transfer the manufacturing technology of the AK rifle from its Russian home in Izhevsk to Factory 66 in China bespeaks a self-replicating capability of then-enemy arsenals that had a high potential to be a force multiplier for them. The 2nd Model, machined-receiver AK is not some rude Sten gun that can be produced in guerrilla workshops: its series manufacture requires quality steels and 20th Century machine tools, production engineering, and precision manufacturing and measurement techniques. We can’t tell from this single report whether the Chinese attempt to set up an AK factory in the 1950s went smoothly or suffered difficult teething troubles; we can be sure than in eight years or less any problems were fully resolved and the Chinese plant was producing firearms almost indistinguishable from their Soviet prototypes.

This original report was classified Confidential at its origin and later regraded, first Restricted (a now-long-defunct lowest level of classification) and finally Unclassified. It is no longer a secret that the USA was interested in the small arms of competitor states fifty years ago. This treasure was found by the Small Arms of the World staff in a British archive, and this sort of thing is exactly why you ought to subscribe to the site (and the related dead-tree magazines, Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal).

There were numerous other reports evaluating the AK and its ammunition in the pre-Vietnam era. We do not have copies of all; some we know only from bibliographies and reference lists in extant documents, but we’re still looking for them. Some of them included:

  • Ordnance Technical Intelligence, OIN 13042, 7 May 1956, Firing Test:, Soviet 7.62 mm Assault Rifle Kalashnikov (AK), MCN 9866.
  • Ordnance Technical Intelligence, OIN 13270, ? April 1959. Wound Ballistics Tests of the Soviet 7,62 mm Bullet, MCN 8300.
  • USATEC letter report on Comparative Evaluation of U. S. Army Rifle 7.62mm, M14; Armalite Rifle Caliber..223, AR-15: Soviet Assault Rifle AK-47; 12 Dec 62.

  • (S) Rifle Evaluation Study (U). US Army Combat Developments Command. 20 Dec 62. In this document, the CDC compared the M14, an improved squad-automatic version of the M14 developed by the US Army Infantry Board, the AR-15, the AK-47, and the vaporware Special Purpose Infantry Weapon (SPIW), and recommended M14 adoption be slowed and AR-15s be bought for units not committed to NATO. Declassified and available at DTIC.
  • (C) Exploitation Report- Comparison of 7.62mm Assault Rifles- Chinese Communist Type 56 and Soviet Model AK. (U). Springfield Armory. November 1964. That’s the document discussed in this post, declassified and available (to subscribers) at Small Arms of the World. (We strongly recommend subscribing, if you’re interested in this stuff. Many historical reports that didn’t make it to DTIC are at SAotW via the National Armories at Leeds, who kept their copies and allowed Dan Shea’s gang to digitize them). 
  • Foreign Materiel Exploitation Report- Rifle, 7.62x39mm, Type 68, Communist China. From HP White Laboratory. April 1973. This is also at Small Arms of the World archives, thanks to the Ezell archives held at National Armories. (Note, this is a large .pdf, 16.7 Mb per SAotW, and you’ll need a subscription there to get it). 

UPDATE 1702R 20140821

Ross Herman at Small Arms of the World was kind enough to post a free-access public link to the ForeignMaterial Exploitation Report. It’s here: http://www.smallarmsoftheworld.com/content/pdf/R00413.pdf

Many thanks to Ross for this. We didn’t even ask him, he just did it!

We will add this story to Best of WeaponsMan Gun Tech this evening.

Now We See It! Taurus 85VTA

One gimmick of the new Taurus 85VTA View, as the last word in its model name suggests, is transparency: the tiny, ultralight personal defense revolver has a clear plastic sideplate letting you see what goes on inside. The other gimmick is size and weight: it has barely any of either, thanks to judicious selection of materials and relentless trimming of its barrel and grip.

85VTA

Nope, not actual size. And if you click to embiggen, that’s way bigger than actual size….

“Trimming” may not be the word. It’s more like what’s-his-name the chain-saw movie guy was turned loose on one of Taurus’s Chief’s-Special-sized five-shot .38s, hacking off a half inch of barrel and an inch of grip.

The barrel is a mere 1.41 inches of titanium, and the cylinder is made of the same material, for some of the same reasons it made up most of the structure of the SR-71. The frame is aluminum alloy. The hammer is bobbed — the gun is double-action only — and plated with a gold-colored metal; the trigger is polished stainless steel. The sideplate, made of the same polycarbonate that’s best known by its DuPont trademark name, Lexan, seems to be more a marketing gimmick than an effort at weight reduction. The gun has no sharp or even crisp edges to flag its shape or snag on anything. The exotic materials and expected low-rate production of the revolver make for a pretty high price: an SRP of $600, and they’re trickling into shops and to online retailers with asks from a low of $500 to $585. (These may ease once the gun becomes more common),

One 85VTA View feature that doesn’t show up in any other Taurus (yet) and can’t be seen in the factory pictures is the asymmetrical curve of the gun’s Manx-cat grip. Looked at from nose- or tail-on, the grip has a bend to the left to assist concealment for a right-handed carrier. It looks awkward, but isn’t; you don’t really notice it when drawing or firing the revolver.

As a pocket pistol, it can’t be imported from Taurus’s Brazilian homeland under the Gun Control Act of 1968. Instead, it’s made in the USA, in Miami.

85VTA-2

Taurus revolvers have a reputation for being prone to wear and difficult to service when they develop the timing problems that all worn revolvers eventually do. Compounding the company’s reputation for so-so quality, Taurus has earned a poor reputation for warranty service. But no one will put thousands of rounds through one of these.

For one thing, it’s too unpleasant to shoot. The DAO trigger is okay, and the gun is more accurate than a belly gun really needs, but the barely-over-a-half-pound weight (9.4 ounces to a Chief’s Special’s 19.5) and ultra-short barrel (even the Chief’s got 1.875″ to the Taurus’s 1.4″) produce hand-hammering recoil and impressive fireballs when fired at night.

(Like a Chief’s Special, the 85VTA is not approved for .38 Special +P rounds. The Taurus manual, which is shared among all Taurus revolvers and not specific to the model, contains dire warnings of the hazards of +P ammunition, and outright forbids the use of so-called +P+ in all Taurus revolvers. Unlike the Chief’s Special, where we know of many people who have blithely ignored this restriction, we can’t imagine anyone stuffing +Ps in the featherweight Taurus).

Also, the short grip leaves you with a couple fingers of your gun hand dangling in the air, like a self-conscious bricklayer at a tea party. Not optimum when the .38 Special’s recoil slams the little Taurus into your hand whilst snapping it urgently skyward. This is one bull that has a spectacular kick on the opposite end of its horns.

If you want to develop calluses on your palms, firing a half-dozen boxes of ammo out of this in one session may or may not be easier than hard manual labor. But if you want to develop a flinch, that’s just the ticket.

So, if it’s an unpleasant beast to shoot, why make it? Ah, because someone at Taurus understands some basic home truths about carry guns:

  1. One you don’t carry is no damn good to you.
  2. The smaller and lighter, the easier it is to carry.
  3. The simpler it is, the less there is to go wrong.
  4. Most people don’t drill much with their carry or backup piece.

Gee, those imperatives almost look like they’re drawing a set of design parameters for an ultra-small, ultra-light .38 revolver, one with a simple manual of arms, and few protrusions to snag on anything.  The sights are rudimentary, but this gun was not made for pursuing X-rings, even though it’s surprisingly accurate, shot from a rest, something it will never have if it is called on to do its duty. It was meant to solve pressing social problems at contact range, and to be borne throughout the activities of daily living for 10,000 hours without intruding on the carrier’s lifestyle for even a moment.

The 85VTA View is, even to a lover of the sort of mechanism the polycarbonate sideplate displays, not an aesthete’s firearm. It is optimized for the role of daily carry (or daily backup) firearm, and the bob job applied to it, along with the homely plastic grips and industrial-grade finish, invite you to neglect it like a red-headed stepchild. Its form follows its function, and it has all the eye appeal of a garden trowel, floor jack, or Sawzall: it’s a tool.

But What’s That in the Punchbowl?

For all that, there is one detractor from Taurus’s purposeful design, and that is the lawyer-designed Taurus Security System, a key-operated hammer lock that prevents the weapon from firing when engaged. While we’ve only heard one credible report of a Taurus revolver’s lock failing, we consider any lock a Really Bad Idea. Taurus’s lock has taken a lot of criticism because S&W’s lock is really, really bad; if you spend one day a week at a range, you’ll see a Smith lock fail at least once a year, sometimes in really hazardous ways. No one should ever carry a S&W revolver with the S&W internal revolver lock for self-defense. We will faintly praise the Taurus lock in that, unlike Smith, whose then-owners had lawyers design their lock without engineering input as a wet kiss to the Clinton Administration, Taurus seems to have run their lock brainstorm through Engineering before cutting metal, making Taurus’s “rare failures” actually, you know, rare. 

The locks appeal to customers as a (pseudo) method of child-proofing guns, and are required in some anti-gun jurisdictions. One serious problem is that the locks can apply themselves (the design of the Smith lock almost guarantees this will happen in high-recoil revolvers).  Again, this is rare on Tauruses, but has happened. Note that Taurus’s lawyers, the same soulless drones who injected this bit of legal CYA into gun design, take pains to disclaim any promise that the lock will actually work. From the manual (p.14):

 

Never fully rely on any safety or security mechanism. It is not a substitute for safe and cautious gun handling. No safety or security mechanism, however positive or well designed, should be totally trusted. Like all mechanical devices, the safety or security system is subject to breakage or malfunction and can be adversely affected by wear, abuse, dirt, corrosion, incorrect assembly, improper adjustment, repair, or lack of maintenance.

Moreover, there is no such thing as a safety which is “childproof” or which can completely prevent accidental discharge from improper usage, carelessness or “horseplay”.

 

That is the company saying, “we don’t guarantee our lock will work, and we sure don’t stand behind it.” It makes you wonder what they know that you don’t know.

So, given that even Taurus doesn’t trust their lock, what use is it? We would leave that as an exercise for the reader, but first, we note that while actual failure of the lock, either “open” or “closed,” is a serious problem and one that Taurus takes pains, as we’ve just seen, to disclaim any responsibility for, it’s not the most serious or the most likely failure mode with such a lock. The most likely failure mode is either of the two human-factors failure modes that result from having the human in the loop: either leaving the gun available when you want it locked (i.e. to prevent child access) or leaving the gun locked when you want it available (in a defensive situation). Taurus wants no piece of that responsibility, either. From the manual, p. 10:

WARNING

Securing your firearm may inhibit access to it in a defense situation and result in injury or death.

So, what good is the lock?

Fortunately, it can be easily removed (and unlike the S&W abortion of a lock, which leaves an unsightly hole in the sideplate, it can be done with little trace the lock was ever there).

Note that this may become in issue if you ever find yourself in a civil suit after a defensive gun use, or especially in civil or criminal cases you may face consequent to an accidental discharge. This is very much a case where Big Boy Rules are in effect, and removing a locking mechanism, even an unsafe one like the Smith version, is one of those “catch-me, f*** me” rules: if circumstances lead some to catch you, they may well you-know-what you with the proverbial barbed-wire condom. (A healthy fear of our litigious society is why many smiths will now no longer do the once-standard safety improvements of removing the cavalry-mandated grip safety on the 1911, and brain-damaged European magazine safety on the Browning Hi-Power). Here’s Massad Ayoob on just this:

I did not remove the internal lock, for the simple reason that I’ve seen a prosecutor raise hell about a deactivated safety device when trying to establish the element of recklessness that is a key ingredient in a manslaughter conviction. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defendant was so reckless that he DEACTIVATED A SAFETY DEVICE ON A LETHAL WEAPON, and so arrogant that he thought he knew more about the gun than the factory that made it!” That’s a mountain I’d rather not have to climb in court, nor debate in front of twelve jurors selected in part by opposing counsel for their lack of knowledge of firearms.

Ayoob recommends that, if you do disable a lock, you save all the information you can find on lock failures in case you ever need to defend against that kind of thing. (If Ayoob’s case is the one I’m thinking of, it was a blocked grip safety on a 1911, but he clearly sees the same risk coming up if someone removes one of these bad revolver locks).

Apart from the lock, which at least is not as bad as Smith’s My First Gun Design version, the Taurus 85VTA View is a pretty good set-it-and-forget-it carry gun. If it did not have the lock we would recommend it for a carry or backup gun, with decent (non +P!) .38 HP loads. We would insist on the proviso that it be fired for familiarization annually and an analogous but heavier and less punishing gun be used for regular practice. We cannot recommend any firearm with a key or combination lock of any kind as a defensive weapon: it’s false security.

UPDATE

For more on just how craptastic the Smith lock is, even giving all possible sympathy to Smith, read this thorough exploration by Chris at LuckyGunner. We’re much more willing to call an Arc Light on the S&W revolver lock than Chris is, but he does hit the high points and links to some pretty credible guys (Michael Bane, Grant Cunningham, etc.) who’ve seen Smith locks do that thing they do.

The Brief Moment of the Revolving Carbine

This past weekend, the 200th anniversary of Samuel Colt’s birth (19 July 1814) was celebrated by a bunch of Connecticut arts types, in nearly gun-free Connecticut fashion. If any of these professional irony enjoyers noted the irony, they didn’t say anything about it. But that’s got us looking at some of Sam’s accomplishments, and that brought us around to one of Colt’s least successful products: revolving carbines.

In the middle of the 19th Century, the best and greatest means of rapid fire was the revolving pistol. It seems like a natural idea to extend that to a revolving rifle or carbine; and this, Sam Colt did, as early as 1839. This brief (minute and a half!) video shows an extremely rare 1839 .52 caliber Colt that actually was one of a mere 360 acquired by the US Navy, and is now in the possession of the National Firearms Museum:

This Paterson Colt carbine was made from 1838 until 1841, and apart from the Naval guns, which may have been used by the Marines at the Siege of Veracruz in the Mexican War, too late to do that version of Colt’s company any good: the Paterson firm went bankrupt, and Colt had to start over. He retained his patents, so that whatever happened to his companies, the crown jewels were safe with him and his family. (This was prescient of him, for he was to die young).

The Mexican War not only gave the Marines a new direction (the landing at Veracruz was the first of what would become a standing Leatherneck specialty, amphibious landings on defended shores), but it resuscitated Colt, due to a military order for 1,000 revolvers, which were delivered before war’s end and are known as the Colt Walker revolvers.

The refreshed Colt Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company had a new, improved carbine by 1855, incorporating all of Colt’s new patents, and was producing it, and the more popular revolving pistols, in a new Armory building that was the marvel of Hartford, in a planned industrial community on an area of reclaimed land (note the berms or dikes in the image below). The area that encompassed all of the Colt factory, its workers’ housing, and Colt’s own grande manse was officially called the “South Meadow Improvements” but came to be known as Coltsville.

colt-armory-color-retouch-H

 

The carbine had two problems, both insurmountable from the military point of view. It was very expensive (the 1855 carbines cost the military $44 each, $1,189 in 2014 dollars), and, while it was safe if loaded and fired with care, a flash-over that was not usually that big a disaster with a revolving pistol had the potential for shredding a rifleman’s support hand. If there is a right way and a wrong way to load a weapon, no organization made of humans will ever be able to train 100% of its people to do it right 100% of the time.

When the Armory burned down in 1864, a $2 million plus ($54M plus 2014) loss of inventory, machinery and jigs to Colt, of which about $1.4 million ($38M) was excess to insurance carried, the remaining plant was used to manufacture pistols exclusively; the demand for Colt revolvers was inelastic, and repeating cartridge firearms on the horizon rendered the revolving rifle or carbine obsolete. The total production of the Colt carbines was very low; the 1855 was scarcely more produced than the 1839 version.

After the Civil War, Remington produced a version of its revolver as a carbine, also finding it disappointing in sales, although not as much so as the Colt version had been.

Since the 1960s, several versions of replica Colt and Remington carbines have been made. These are more frequently collected, from what we’ve seen, than fired; used ones usually have far more handling marks than they do indicia of firing.

The great Cap and Ball Channel from Hungary has posted three great videos on two carbines, an original Colt and an Uberti copy of a Remington.

Part 1, about the Colt (~6 minutes). The music is pretty awful, especially when it isn’t ducked under the voice, but the analysis of the unique mechanics of the gun makes it well worthwhile:

Some of the unique features of this .44 caliber Colt 1855 include progressive depth rifling, and a cylinder that is rotated by a ratchet on the rear end of the cylinder pin. This gun may be a bit off the military norm, as it appears to have been a sporting gun originally sold in Europe (it bears English proofs).

Part 2, about the Uberti clone of the Remington (~3 minutes):

Part 3, both are taken to the range (yes, even the very valuable original Colt) and shot for accuracy. If you’re only going to watch one video, this is the one. It also shows loading with loose powder and conical bullets, but also with period-style paper cartridges, which is how the real Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs would have done it. (Not to mention everyone else who went to war with percussion, like the British, French and Russians in the Crimean War, all manner of 19th Century naval riflemen, and the British in the Afghan Wars). This one’s about six and a half minutes.

The Capandball.eu site and associated YouTube channel is a real find, but we didn’t want to wait for a TW3 to show it to you.  If we have any beef with the chance to watch the two percussion revolver carbines on the range, it’s that he didn’t quantify their accuracy. But they look like fun, and one’s a sample of a moment in time that will never be repeated — the other shows us that the artifacts can be repeated, even if the times can’t be.

These firearms were an interesting evolutionary dead end (sure, there are cartridge versions, even a Taurus Judge carbine, but these are dead ends, too — curiosities). They came about because they were the logical progression combining proven examples of a known technology (the percussion rifle and the percussion revolver) into a hybrid that seemed like it had a bright future. (After all, if you were a cavalryman, or a Pony Express rider, another customer for the Colt ’55, wouldn’t you rather have six shots before facing the difficulty of reloading on horseback than one?). But unbeknownst to Sam Colt, and to his designer and right-hand-man Root, a technological disruption was on its way: new cartridge repeaters were coming that would eliminate all the disadvantages of the revolver carbine.

Root kept Colt relevant with cartridge revolvers, and even before the Colt family sold the company in 1901 new managers were embracing the novelty of the automatic pistol. Like Apple 100 years later, the company had a knack for grabbing hold of a technology that was about to take off in time, before its customers even knew that that was what they would want. But you don’t get to that kind of position without tripping down a few blind alleys. And thus, we have the Colt Revolver Carbine and its clones and imitators, a novelty for collectors and curiosity seekers.

Three Contenders for the Belt (belt of 5.56 in M27 links, that is)

Here’s Jeff “Bigshooterist” Zimba on belt-fed ARs. You know you’re in for detailed, accurate information and a lot of enthusiasm when Jeff steps up to the camera. You also will get better than the usual YouTube signal-to-noise and filler-to-fact ratios with Jeff on the job:

Jeff’s just slightly mistaken about the original belt-fed, backpack AR-10: it was a pre-Colt Armalite project, and wasn’t picked up by Colt. The video he refers to was a Fairchild promotional video, and here is a version of it. We apologize for the poor quality. The belt-fed version shows up (initially, in Gene Stoner’s hands!) at about 12:30. The weapon’s belt feed does resemble the later Ciener AR-15 conversion, but uses a nondisintegrating belt feed.

Returning to Jeff Zimba’s presentation, his technical points on the Ciener conversion, which is mechanically similar to at least one of the Armalite prototypes, are accurate and informative. It had a number of features that made it rather fiddly, dependent on some design oddities, and generally flawed. Nonetheless, it worked; it could just do with some improvements. Jonathan A. Ciener has been many things in the firearms community, including an innovator; but nobody ever accused him of being keenly attuned to customer sentiment, and the modifications and improvements were left as inspirations to others.

The Valkyrie BSR Mod 1 (BSR = “Belt-fed Semi-automatic Rifle”) is fundamentally an improved Ciener mechanism. The improvements are significant in convenience and function, and Jeff explains them in great detail.

The ARES Shrike is a completely different mechanism that uses a MG-42-like feed mechanism. This gives it some significant advantages over the others. It uses standard links, feeds like every standard belt-fed out there for the last 60-plus years, and can be moved to any standard lower with only one reversible modification (unlike the surgery the Ciener and Valkyrie belts require). Unlike the Ciener and Valkyrie, it alters the AR system to be gas-tappet operated. The operator interfaces with the ARES by a folding, nonreciprocating charging handle on the left side, and an extended bolt release that is the only part that must be changed on a standard AR lower.  The ARES also has quick-change barrels, a necessity for high sustained rates of fire.

All of the weapons Jeff demonstrates also can fire from magazines. Ares Defense does make a version of their belt-fed for military and LE customers that lacks magazine feed, the AMG-1 (the version with both belt and mag feed is the AMG-2. There’s also an AMG version with the quick change barrel and tappet gas system, but mag-fed only).

Jeff doesn’t say, but the Valkyrie and ARES belt-feds are still available. Valkyrie Armament also has the modified M27 links, and belt start and stop tabs that are required by its rifle (they should work with a Ciener conversion, but we’d call Valkyrie to check, before ordering).

Hat tip, the Gun Wire.

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 GunBroker.com.

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?

Sources: 

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: http://forums.accuratereloading.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/7811043/m/589109167/

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

 

Stealth Research — Someplace You Wouldn’t Expect

500px-Naval_Ensign_of_Japan.svgWe confess, we may have cheated with that headline. Because you might expect that high-tech Japan is a place where research on stealth technology takes place. But it’s the time that’s interesting. You probably didn’t know that stealth technology was a subject of intense research by the Empire of Japan, and they even made some progress.

Almost every great power in the world, and a surprising number of secondary powers like Hungary, independently developed radar in the World War II or immediate prewar years. Since radar by definition depends upon a radio-frequency signal, scientists and engineers understood that the signal was subject to attenuation or degradation in the real world. And so some nations undertook studies of possible radar countermeasures, including the forerunners of what we now know as stealth technology.

Japanese scientists and military officers were extremely interested in methods of defeating radar. As anyone who studies the Empire of Japan comes to expect, the Army and the Navy took dramatically different approaches, and shared no information. The army tried to develop radar-defeating coatings or paints; the Navy was more interested in developing radar absorbent materials. Once Japan surrendered, American technical intelligence officers rushed to exploit

The introduction of a report by Japanese scientist I. Murakami would not be out of place in a modern engineering textbook’s introduction to stealth:

There are two methods by which reflections of radar signals from surfaces might be considerably reduced. One, by the selection of suitable surface contours in order to minimize reflection in the direction of the radar receiver. Two, by the use of absorbing layers of suitable characteristics applied to the surface exposed to the radar waves. It is understood, of course, that a combination of these two principles would produce the best results.

Basically, it is necessary that the absorbing layer have the smallest coefficient of reflection at the frequency of the radar wave. Therefore, initial research was on the method of measuring reflection coefficients at the very high frequencies of 3000 megacycles, and was followed by development of suitable absorbing materials, both experimentally and from theoretical data.

Murakami was writing about a Navy program to develop radar-defeating technologies that was sponsored  by the 2nd Naval Technical Institute and carried out by Dr Shiba of the Tokyo Engineering Institute and two contractors: Nippon Broadcasting Company and Sumitomo Electric. Murakami came up with a list of seven characteristics of the ideal radar-absorbing material. Note that his greatest concerns were logistical:

  1. Made of plentiful raw materials (a big issue in import-dependent Japan).
  2. Adaptable to mass production
  3. Easily layered onto an existing ship
  4. Mechanically strong materials without hidden weaknesses
  5. Thin and lightweight.
  6. Resistant to seawater and easily sealed/repaired,
  7. Should work just as well on “supersonic” waves (we think he means what we called “ultrasonic.”)

This well-reasoned material is found in two Air Technical Intelligence Group briefings, which we do not have, and a report by the US Naval Technical Mission to Japan from December, 1945, which we do have. It’s only 7 pages but it provides a synoptic view of the ATIG reports, saying:

Japanese research in the field of anti-radar coverings was quite intense, and and while several research products proved to be rather successful, according to the data presented, it was difficult to use in practice. Such information as was available is included in this report, and was obtained from the Air Technical Intelligence Group, which initiated the request for interrogations, data and samples. Reference is made to ATIG Reports 4153 and #114, the latter prepared for ATIG by Dr. Wilkenson, a civilian engineer associated with that group.

The two major contributions are an anti-radar paint, the work of Major K. MANO of the Tama Technical Institute, a Japanese Army research organization, and Dr. SHIBA of the Tokyo Engineering College, and absorbing materials, in rubber, for micro-waves. This last research was conducted at the direction of the 2nd Naval Technical Institute and engineered by the Nippon Broadcasting Corporation and the Sumitomo Electric Co.

Abstracts of the reports are given for their interest value. The basic reports of ATIG should be studied for complete details.

Many people assume that Japanese technology was extremely primitive compared to that of the US, but we’ve never encountered a Pacific combat vet who thought things were all so lopsided, and this report is an example of what Japan’s technical institutions were capable of.  It can be found online as a .pdf of scanned pages, or you can grab our OCR’d verson right here: USNTMJ-200B-0278-0289 Report E-06 OCR.pdf

The report includes some information on the specific compounds and formulations used for both the Navy’s radar-absorbing materials and the Army’s radar-absorbing paint. The radar paint worked when fresh, but quickly degraded and wound up flaking off.

 

Why do rifle cartridges have necks and shoulders?

Got asked this one by a novice and was blown away by the insight of naïveté. Why do rifle cartridges often have a necked-down design, while pistol and revolver cartridges are mostly straight? (Yes, there are exceptions on both sides, but the rule applies in general).

As with so many questions in the world of firearms, the answers are rooted in history, and specifically in the history of the technology. Of course, before there were cased cartridges, there were paper and cloth cartridges used with muzzleloaders and early breechloaders. And it didn’t occur to anybody to make them in any form other than cylindrical, fitting the barrel.

Fixed, cartridge ammunition came about in the second half of the 19th century, and at first the shapes of cartridges were limited by the ability to draw the brass alloys of the time. This meant things like smooth sided, balloon head cartridges. A classic example is the .45-70 used in most versions of the Springfield trapdoor.

Even it in the early days, some cartridges were tapered. Tape or had a couple of advantages. It might help some with extraction, always an issue in those days of black powder, but more importantly it let the volume of the case be increased relative to the diameter of the bullet.

The velocity and energy you can impart to a bullet is limited by the amount of powder you have to burn, and the time the bullet is contained in the barrel atop a column of expanding, burning powder.

Over the years since 1880 or so, cartridge cases have been reshaped due to advances in metallurgy, ballistics, weapons mechanisms, and military fashion, frankly.  The initial round of black-powder-era necked cases had relatively gradual transitions, oblique shoulders and long necks compared to modern cases, that offer sharper transitions, abrupt shoulders and shorter necks. Compare, for example, a .30-40 Krag rifle case and a 5.56 NATO case to see what we mean.

The gradual transition was a consequence of the brass of the day and the limits of brass-drawing technology. By the early 1900s, brass drawing had improved (compare the .30-06 to that .30-40 Krag). It has since seen many further incremental improvements.

The more abrupt shoulder offers some ballistic improvements. Gunsmith P.O. Ackley made a career of making “improved” versions of common hunting cartridges, including such originally-military cartridges as the .30-06 and the .223 (5.56mm). The improvement came by using a sharper shoulder angle to increase case capacity. (A Gun Digest article on the Ackley Improved cartridges is available at this link). Ackley’s quest for capacity (and velocity) reached a somewhat whimsical peak with the .22 Eargesplitten Loudenboomer, a .378 Weatherby Magnum necked down to .224 with a razor sharp 40º shoulder. (His goal was to make a 5,000 FPS rifle cartridge, and he fell barely short, as the loading data shows).

Ergesplitten Loudenboomer

(A guy whose name eludes the memory later broke that record by necking down a .50 BMG to .17 caliber, for a series of ballistics experiments).

Neck length is driven by several things, apart from the mechanism of the weapon and its limits on overall length of the cartridge. Those are bullet length (a longer bullet produces a superior sectional density, and was the fashion around 1880-1910), need for powder capacity, and need to grip the bullet. To load more powder in the cartridge requires that the shoulder “crowd” the bullet a little more. Short necks are the standard these days, but longer necks give much greater flexibility to ammo designers (including handloaders) to use multiple bullet weights while maintaining a bullet with a good coefficient of drag. Ceteris paribus, longer necks also have less throat erosion than shorter ones, an empirical fact that has several compering theoretical explanations, none proven as far as we know.

The degree to which the neck needs to grip the bullet depends on the use of and recoil of the weapon. Auto weapons and heavy-recoiling weapons need to have a good grip on their bullets. Absent crimping (often done for military rounds), rule of thumb is 1 bullet diameter length of neck for autoloading and military weapons. (Mechanical actions can go to a neck that’s 70-90% of bullet diameter, for rounds in the rough .30-06 class).

There is some theory on case neck angle and length by Chris Bekker at Reloader’s Nest. Chris notes some limits to the theory, in real life. There’s some math, but it’s junior high school level trig and algebra, nothing to be afraid of.