Category Archives: Weapons Website of the Week

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week – Torpedo of Rijeka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And technical advantages he had.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Obry gyroscope

The Obry gyroscope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: The Firearm Blog

Screenshot 2014-03-26 21.10.32The Firearm Blog is an excellent place to get gun news, often news that is buried on other sites or that just isn’t found anywhere else. That’s no secret to us: search Google for “the firearm blog” and you’ll get over 100 hits, six or seven pages of them, most of those mentions being where we give Steve Johnson and his gang credit for stories we found there.

Sometimes we pass the story on. Sometimes we develop it further. Sometimes we disagree with what Steve and his writers have written, but those seven pages of Google hits tell us we keep coming back to Steve and his guys (and at least one gal, Annette Wachter).

You should, too.

Here’s what’s on there today, just on the front page:

  • A manufacturer’s release of night sights for the compact Glock 42. Tritium is your friend, although these are apparently photoluminescent (i.e., they “recharge” from being in daylight, to illuminate at night). We’ll stick with tritium, but it’s good to see a new gun getting some love from the aftermarket.
  • A report on a factory tour with the controversial Tac-Con company that makes a wildly hyped “ATF legal full auto trigger group.” We’ll probably review one of these very expensive triggers anon.
  • A shooter’s report on his first 2000 rounds through a new (well, it was when he started) FN FNS-9 longslide pistol.
  • More proof that “tactical” has gone mentally nonlinear, the “Deluxe Tactical Beer Koozie” which is a “miniature tactical vest beverage koozie.” Well, it’s meant as a gag. We think.
  • A press release on the Silencer Shop Direct program, which takes much of the NFA hassle off you — if you have a corporation or trust set up.
  • A report (lifted from Jane’s) on a Filipino purchase of $53 million worth of Remington R4s. That gets them 63,000 guns, probably select fire. These will replace the nation’s elderly M16A1s (hmmm… parts kits? We need to overturn the ATF’s barrel ban). It’ll be interesting to see if these R4s (basically, badge-engineered Bushmasters) are produced in Ilion, or if Remington assembles them in their new plant, far from Cuomostan.
  • And one that’s definitely worth linking: in the light of ATF’s shadow war on soi-disant “80% receivers” (technically, in the Bureau’s view, “receiver blanks”) and the customers who buy and complete them, Thomas Gomez of TFB posted (with the permission of Chris Garrison of Billet Rifle Systems), ATF’s Letter Of Determination as issued to Chris and BRS in February, 2013.
  • A Ruger rimfire recall. Not of interest unless you have a Ruger American Rimfire rifle, and if we own anything that ugly, it needs to have a bayonet lug and have been issued in some army. But if you have one of those homely sticks, you might need that recall info.
  • A warning about polymer-cased PCP ammo. Hey, they only tried it in two guns. Of course, it did blow up the guns, so there is that.
  • A promotional video on S&T’s (formerly Daewoo) K14 sniper rifle, a typically modern, modular gun. Here’s the video:

And there’s more stuff besides… and there will be more tomorrow. So, The Firearm Blog is a thoroughly deserving Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: When the Navy went Full Retard

“You went full retard. Never go full retard.”  – Tropical Thunder.

The Naval War College, a hermetically-sealed institution that provides everybody-passes graduate degrees to military officers, hired a guy named John Schindler out of NSA. Schindler has been defending NSA’s current policy of dropping foreign intelligence targets to concentrate on American citizens rather vigorously. His chosen battlefield is Twitter. But he can’t seem to construct an argument; he only falls back on an appeal to authority, namely, his PhD.

He has the chichi IC twitter handle of “20committee,” but he comes across as weak, defensive, and more like “20IQ.” So naturally, some bright spark has collected the very best of Schindler’s Tweets into a tumblr blog. Here’s an example of the mighty PhD’s reasoning and argumentation skills:


Now, you might think that somebody had just backed Schindler so into a corner that he lost his shit, but no, this is his usual and routine mode of argument. That’s what makes the site so entertaining.

Even funnier, he can’t seem to keep straight about what his PhD is in, specifically.

In January, it was in the 3rd Reich:


But in March, it had morphed to “History, Military History” (he must have abused himself to a Bond film in the interim):


But in November of last year? He was a PhD in, specifically, WWI history!


Back in October, he claimed it that this remarkably versatile PhD was in “European Fascism” (and he’s appealing to that authority against, among others, the author of the book, Liberal Fascism, a New York Times bestseller on the subject. If we’re going to appeal to authority, maybe we shouldn’t be relying on the PhD held by a professor at an uncompetitive school?) :


But hey, he’s not done. He makes a passive-agressive call for a bar fight:


If this insecure pussy won a bar fight, it was a juice bar of third graders. And remember, he had his PhD when he did it.

Needless to say, finding out that someone was making fun of him online made His PhDship quite… angry. (Seems to have a narrow range of emotions, this one). Apparently repeating his Tweets that make him look bad is “defamation” — so now he’s on Popehat’s $#!+ list, too.

Made us look online for his dissertation. Here’s one possibility:

A hopeless struggle: The Austro-Hungarian Army and total war, 1914-1918
by Schindler, John Richard, McMaster University (Canada), 1995, 325 pages; NN05866

According to the 2013 QS World University Rankings, McMaster doesn’t make the Top 100 worldwide or the top 5 in Canada. And oddly enough, there’s nothing about the rise of European Fascism, or the Third Reich, about it. So he was actually lying when he used his Argument from Authority to try to shut down Jonah Goldberg, for instance.

A John Richard Sherman has written a couple of books, one of them a tome praising the Navy element that does low-level collection work for NSA, and another a story of a WWI battle on the Austrian-Italian front.

Ever wonder why we don’t call PhD’s “Doctor” around here? Schindler’s one answer.

Fortunately, someone is keeping up Schindler’s List of tweets on a public tumblr site, including the intemperate ones. Watching Schindler go Full Retard (and the Navy all the more for hiring him) has next to nothing to do with weapons, but it makes a worthy W4 nonetheless, for the sheer entertainment value. Aux armes!

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: NFA Tracker

Screenshot 2014-03-13 08.19.28(Yeah, it’s Thursday. We spent all day Wednesday on planes. Line up for refunds at the refund counter).

This will be the soul of brevity, because it’s really simple. The site, NFA Tracker, is a crowdsourced source of information on how long National Firearms Act registration and transfer approvals are taking.

The NFA is the 1934 act which burdens the possession and transfer of “gangster” weapons: machine guns, short-barreled rifles, and silencers, among others. Each weapon requires a $200 transfer tax every time it changes hand, which was meant, in 1934, as a Pigovian tax that would so burden possession of these firearms as to deter it entirely. Exactly 80 years later, the burden is less a financial one, than one of inconvenience and delay: two hundred 2,014 dollars are a mere fraction of their 1934 ancestors; $200 in 1934 is equivalent to $3,500 today (according to the inflation calculator at Tim McMahon’s, which we’ve found superior to he Bureau of Labor Statistics’ version that we used to use). Well, $3,491.28 if we want to be pedantically precise, but even Tim’s inflation calculator is dealing with numbers that are, by necessity, approximations. Inflation is critical to consider in any longitudinal (i.e. over time) comparison of prices or values; inflation is how governments, deliberately or inadvertently, manipulate the value of their currencies, usually to reward spendthrifts (including governments) by disappropriating savers.

The $200 number hasn’t changed because this part of the gun culture is small, and the use of legal, registered NFA weapons is below-the-radar, so that the few politicians that care enough to either increase or decrease the burden on these few individuals. The one Congressional change to the NFA came in 1986, when the manufacture of new machine guns was banned (like all NFA laws, government entities are exempt).

ATF appears to play a game with NFA registrations. When their preferred politicians are in charge, they drag out the paperwork time until it now takes almost a year — a good 11 months — for a Form 1, Form 4 or even a Form 3 to be approved. They can’t stop following the NFA statute, but they can stage a slow-down strike, and that’s going on right now — something we can see from data. There is no place to appeal or complain to, and it’s widely believed in the community that complaints delay your registration further, getting in placed in an FU File. An organization that represents some NFA owners, the NFATCA (National Firearms Act Trade & Collectors Association), tried to work with and cozy up to the ATF on NFA issues, with the end result that the ATFs recent proposed rule burdening NFA Trusts came out with an NFATCA imprimatur on it,  a calamity from which NFATCA panjandrums backpedaled furiously.

E-filed forms go quicker, without actually going quick, but you can’t  e-file unless you are a corporation or trust. This is NFA Branch’s way of throwing a bone to those clients most likely to have a complaint heard by our coin-operated Congress. Combined with the ATF’s recent stroke-of-the-pen rewrite of the corporation and trust rules, which significantly burdens those entities, it’s all part of a master plan to deter NFA weapon and accessory ownershio.

Apparently it’s not working, as short barreled rifles and silencers are making record sales, and the ATF’s policy of deliberate slowdown is compounded by a higher workload than that to which the payroll patriots in West Virginia are accustomed. So the trend is for even longer delays ahead.

The advice that comes out of a study of NFA Tracker data, then, is to apply as early as possible so at least you’re ahead of the next guy in what’s soon going to be a year-plus-long line.

OK, where to find the data?

The basic NFA Tracker page is straightforward:

Screenshot 2014-03-13 09.35.36


While the basic page gives you a glimpse of what’s been logged lately, the real power of the site comes when you log in (free) and use the easily-overlooked tabs along the top. The two-year delay trend shows how the delay on Forms 1 and 4 exploded after November, 2012. (Did something happen in November, 2012?)

NFA Tracker 2 year delay trend


A look at the longer-term shows that the Great Delay of 2013™ is only the second such since NFA Tracker began operating. There was another Great Delay of 2010-2011™ and the trend is clear, even though the data from NFA Tracker’s early years is a bit sparse.

NFA Tracker extended delay trend

That’s what’s going on in the NFA world. Approval times have soared from three months to a year over the course of the last administration. Old-timers remember a similar delay trend, althogh it didn’t make it past nine months or so, beginning circa 1993-94, but by the mid-oughts ATF had the paperwork more or less caught up.

Naturally, as participation in NFA Tracker grows, the quality and reliability of its data also grow, something you can infer by the density of the dots on its scatter plot. We participate and strongly urge you to do so, if you’re in this market (and if not, why not?)

NFA Tracker also maintains a Facebook page that can be of some use, especially to those who use that site.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week 2014 08: “Оружейная экзотика”

Screenshot 2014-02-20 00.04.38Hey, here’s another cool Russian website, found thanks to Forgotten Weapons’ commenter Daweo. The title means, “Weapons Exotica”. Author Alexander Raigorodetskiy is a Russian (duh) writer with two interests — the sort of exotic and off-center weapons that the Forgotten Weapons readership thrives on, and aviation, especially inter-war aviation, where his interests likewise go to exotica, prototypes, and drawing-board dreams.

Anti tank riflesHe has also published two books: Anti-tank Weapons and their Derivatives, and Hybrid Jet Aircraft: At the Change of Epochs, which are available as free .pdf downloads from several links at this page (yes, the links and the books are all in Russian).

The headline below reads: Weapons Exotica: Unrealized projects, obsolete or little-known series examples of military technology.

“Оружейная экзотика”
Нереализованные проекты, опытные и малоизвестные серийные образцы военной техники

via “Оружейная экзотика”.

As you might imagine, the weapons content is much like what you get at Forgotten Weapons, once you adjust for the information coming out of St Petersburg rather than Arizona. More museum and documentation stuff, less video of actual shooting.

This Nikonov high-rate-of-fire machine gun (3000 rounds/min from two barrels) is one of the exotics that Raigorodetskiy has found:

Nikonov High Rate of Fire Machine Gun


The project, which resembles in concept both the Gast system and the Winchester double-barreled Project SALVO gun of the sixties, is a contemporary of the US SAW project, dating from the late seventies. It has a typically Russian sheet metal receiver (a la AK or PK) but the mechanism inside (visible at the link) is something else entirely.

Nikonov seems to be an unusually creative, out-of-the-box thinker as far as gun design is concerned. And Raigorodetskiy is an unusually interesting blogger.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Guardian of Valor

Screenshot 2014-02-13 01.30.58If there’s one thing that gives us the angries around here, it’s phonies. Well, sometimes, we’re not angry because they’re so pathetic that they make us laugh. But sometimes they do real damage. A lot of people who make false claims of military service do it to get elected, like Philadelphia Councilman David Oh, a phony SF soldier. Some do it to get money, or prestige. Quite a number do it to impress the chicks.

Ladies, if some guy is all SF SEAL superhero on you, take a cue from Reagan: “Trust, but verify.”

There are some common threads in phony claims. If it sounds too good to be true… if it sounds like a movie plot… if the guy says his records are classified, or burnt up… if the guy is all about his personal heroism but never mentions teammates… if none of his war stories are about something funny that happened, but instead they’re all “blood artery spurt kill death”… if he talks about medals and drops names of celebrities, but can’t tell you who his Ranger buddy/swim buddy/Robin Sage team sergeant was… if he has tales of exotic weaponry but seems ignorant of standard issue weapons… then the guy has passed the Cheech and Chong “smells like crap, tastes like crap” test. He’s crap.

Guardian of Valor busts a lot of these assclowns. Right now they’ve got:

…and that’s just the front page.

They also have positive stories about real vets. Did you know the Professor from Gilligan’s Island (well, the actor who played him, Russell Johnson, obviously) was a WWII combat airman? He was a bombardier, it says, in B-24s (so why is the picture that purports to be him in front of a B-25? The unit he was a member of, 100th BS/42nd BG, was a B-25 unit).

It’s a nice combination: raining smoke and brimstone on the teeming herds of phonies, while occasionally propping up real vets, or people who help them, for some well-deserved acclaim.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: C&Rsenal

You get the sense that the original intent of C&Rsenal was to provide information about the sort of obsolete military (mostly) arms that are available to Americans who hold a “Curio & Relics” collectors’ license. But over the years it has evolved in different directions and with different results, results that make it quite interesting.

us-rifle-m14-POV-candrsenalOne thing the site has is excellent photography. The M14 POV picture to the right is actually a reject or unfinished image, by C&Rsenal’s standards.  It’s an interesting picture that shows you the standard (as opposed to NM) sights, and a rare M14 that has the selector switch on the right-hand side.

Fun fact about the M14 in automatic mode: it’s useless, you can’t hit jack with it, and the designers knew this from the very beginning. They knew that the quadruple objectives of reducing the weight of the M1, converting to a new cartridge of equivalent power (and recoil), increasing magazine capacity, and enabling selective fire, were mutually exclusive, but they couldn’t get Army leadership to pick or prioritize them honestly. (In the end they met most of the objectives, more or less, by providing an impractical full-auto switch, that was then never installed in most M14s).

Along with the POV pictures, C&Rsenal produces “anatomy” photos: essentially an exploded-view photograph of the weapon in question. They not only do this on marquee names in the gun world, like the 1911, Nambu, and Walther P-38, but also on much less common handguns like the French M1935a, and long arms like the PPSh submachine gun. And yes, they are well worth embiggening (and they’ll sell you prints of the popular ones, t-shirts, and that sort of thing).


They’ll also walk you from the image of the whole thing to the image of the fortyeleven parts with a step-by-step disassembly guide — here’s the one for the Czech Vz 27 pistol, widely used by German police and military forces in World War II.

All in all, there’s quite a bit to see over there at C&Rsenal – far more than we can cover in a short W4, and it’s of uniformly high quality. If you haven’t been there yet, go… and we won’t be seeing you back here for a while. There’s a lot to take in.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Springfield Armory Archives

Springfield Armory historicThe story of World War II small arms production is fairly well known, the fabled “Arsenal of Democracy.” The degree to which American makers such as Winchester, Remington, and New England Westinghouse assisted allied armies in World War II with guns like the 1895 musket, Pattern 14 Enfield, and M1891 Mosin-Nagant rifle is also familiar, at least to avid students of old guns. But the immense and violent surge of production mechanization that attended the US Civil War in the North — and that laid the foundation for postwar consumer goods and machinery production — is less known. This rudely formatted, but information-dense page tells some of the story:

In retrospect, it is ironic that the North was taken so by surprise, and so unprepared for conflict. South Carolina had voted to secede on December 20th, 1860; by February 9th, 1861, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Texas had joined the new Confederacy, and elected Jefferson Davis as its President. Tension at the Armory was palpable in the early months of 1861. Yet no real call to expand production came until after the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12.

As the War Department rose from slumber, the dimensions of the crisis became clear. Col. Henry Craig, of the Ordnance Department, had inventoried only 480,687 rifles and muskets in federal arsenals as of January 21, 1861; of these 56,362 were in arsenals in Augusta, Georgia and Fayetteville, North Carolina. Ex-Secretary of War John B. Floyd had shipped 65,000 percussion muskets and 40,000 percussion conversions to Southern arsenals in late 1859, removing these arms from the northern theater and placing them in confederate hands. As Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas joined the Confederacy, still more arms werOnly 109,000 muskets were on hand at Springfield Armory at the war’s beginning; of these 23,000 were immediately shipped to New York to arm that state’s militia. The remaining 86,000 were older smoothbore muskets, caliber .69, converted to percussion.

The Union turned first to international arms markets; Col. G.L. Schuyler, of the New York sporting goods firm Schuyler, Hartley and Graham traveled to Europe as purchasing agent for the United States. The War Department intended to buy rifled arms, but as these were just being adopted for use by foreign military services, very few were available. Both Confederate and Union Army representatives ended up in competition, bidding on whatever arms were available. Large numbers of older smoothbore muskets, or otherwise inferior arms were purchased in Europe by both sides. The Union purchased nearly a million foreign arms, mostly in the early years of the war. As the war progressed, the Ordnance Department made a point of encouraging domestic self-sufficiency, and discontinued foreign purchases. Despite the low quality of many of these arms, Union purchases at least kept them from falling into Confederate hands. Of the foreign arms that entered service, only the British Enfield was in any way comparable to the Springfield rifled musket. And these rifles were not immediately on hand; the first deliveries were received late in 1861. The limited number of arms still in Union-held arsenals, along with these newly purchased foreign arms, provided the Union Army during the first year of war.

In the meantime, the War Department turned again to the old contract system. But instead of putting contracts out to bid, as required by law, the War Department apparently panicked, placing advertisements for arms and arms contractors in the spring of 1861. A number of parties answered these advertisements; over thirty contractors signed on to manufacture complete arms. The first contracts were signed in July, 1861. Most of these ‘contracts’ were simple letters of agreement, typically offered $20 each for finished arms ‘of the same pattern, and equal in quality’ to the Springfield rifled musket. This hastily conceived policy flooded the market with contracts for large numbers of arms, far in excess of the immediate needs of the Union army. Between July 1861 and July 1862 contracts were let for 1,164,000 arms. By the end of the war, that figure had risen to over one and a half million arms.

Screenshot 2014-01-22 14.02.08That’s a small excerpt from just one page discoverable in the archives and collections of Springfield Armory — online! This search page allows you to search museum collections (photos, documents, weapons) or archives (strictly documents — if this search finds a photo, it shows you only the caption).

The search is a bit chaotic; and there appears to be no hierarchical list or finding aid.

Experimental 45-70 SpringfieldAnd the search isn’t exactly Google. A search, for example, of “small caliber high velocity” produces thousands of hits because it assumes Boolean OR. (Meaning, it finds every record with any one of those words in it). But even that has serendipitious results: one of the hits on the first page was an Experimental Sopringfield .50-70 Trapdoor rifle. Seen to the left with its wooden mopdmodel, this gun worked like any other Trapdoor, but had no lockplate; the hammer, as you can see here, protrudes through a slot in the wider tang. The page notes that it is, in other respects, a standard M1868, just with this experimental breech and lock (and, obviously, stock).

The site’s utility as a timewaster from hell, then, should be pretty evident.

We’ll throw one more picture on here (it was found in the entry for US Rifle M1, Serial Number 2,000,000):


Wouldn’t it be something to be a fly on the wall for a conversation between CPT Elliott and LTC Hayes?

Now, go thee hence and educate yourself!

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Research Press (UK)

A Rigby long0-range Match muzzleloader in .45 caliber. It had this Vernier tang sight and a tangent/ladder sight, too.

Long-range heat, circa 1870: a Rigby long-range Match muzzleloader in .45 caliber. It had this Vernier tang sight and a tangent/ladder sight, too.

We tend to think of long-range shooting as a recent discovery, or if not that, at least, a post-WWII one. Todays Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week will disabuse us of that notion, for Research Press has gathered together, and continues to gather, a fascinating panoply of information about long range marksmanship and shooting technology from days gone by — days long gone by. Quite literally, days of our great- and great-great-grandfathers, in the 19th Century, when men shot at long ranges (500, 800, 1,000, even 1,200 yards) with both muzzle- and breech-loading firearms.

In the days when gunsmithing machinery was powered not by electricity but by steam boilers, waterwheels, or the sweat of the gunsmith’s own brow, a report to the head of the national rifle association reported that certain rounds were grouping in a 12″ circle at 1,000 yards. (This is an 1875 report found on the site). It’s typical of the sort of treasures to be found there. The site says:

Research Press was established in 1998 with a primary focus on publishing texts on firearms, long range target shooting and associated history.

These pages will provide news of web site updates, new publications, shooting news, events and general banter. Contibutions on related subjects are welcomed.

The site is associated with a Yahoo email group. The site’s wordpress blog does highlight new historical documents. The documents reveal much, not only about technical matters, but also about the now-moribund, but then lively, gun culture of Britain.

This gunsmith is the Fraser referred to here. Image: Research Press, from the 1882 PO directory for Edinburgh.

This gunsmith is the Fraser referred to in this story. Image: Research Press, from the 1882 PO directory for Edinburgh.

In 1881, breechloaders were a novelty in Scotland, and a contemporary news report hinted that cartridge reloading had a steep learning curve:

[A] member of the gallant band, intent upon having his cartridges properly filled and capped, borrowed the new Fraser refiller and cleared the room in order that he might not be distracted during the operation of recapping. His friends had not long gone when a report startled them, and rushing into the room they found their friend prostrate on the floor – the suddenness of the cap snapping having been sufficient to overthrow him and the machine together. It is needless to say that all had a hearty laugh at the little harmless misadventure, but the incident, humorous as it is, shows that our men require a little training in this department, for if there  is any slip here its effect must undoubtedly be felt at the target.

The most remarkable fact in this report may be that a regular newspaper, the Glasgow Herald, thought its readers wanted to know about the doings of the local target-shooting club.

Confederate Whitworth sniper rifle, C529.

Confederate Whitworth sniper rifle, C529. All Confederate rifles were Whitworth’s 2nd Quality! Few of them were bought and fewer still made it through the Union blockade.

There is an great deal of information on early precision rifles on this site. One excellent example is its coverage of the little-remembered but fascinating Whitworth rifles. Whitworths had a unique hexagonal-rifled bore that spun hexagonal-section bullets. Some Whitworths were used by the Confederate States Army; but Bill Curtis documents four fraudulent “Confederate” Whitworths. (And here is a genuine Confederate sniper Whitworth).

The site appears to be maintained by volunteers in a labor of love, rather than by professionals in a triumph of organization. And it has a feel of being British, rather than German: comfortable more than organized. So if you’re looking for something specific and don’t find it, you might just be looking in the wrong place or coming in the wrong way. (For example, the various Whitworth pages don’t link to one another).

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: PS Magazine Archives

From PS Issue 702 in 2011, a tip about the M14 EBR.

From PS Issue 702 in 2011, a tip about the M14 EBR.

PS Magazine has been the US Army’s maintenance bulletin for over 60 years, delivered every month in a comic-book format. It reaches soldiers, with corny humor and illustrations in the same styles (and sometimes by the same artists) as the super-hero comic books of the day. Indeed, one artist was comic pioneer Will Eisner.

PS magazine (which we called PM erroneously in yesterday’s teaser) was a “Post Script” to official maintenance publications, mostly Technical Manuals and Technical Orders. It contained all the little things that didn’t make it into the official pubs. Sometimes it would be new information, such as new tools or new ways of changing a tank’s spark plugs. Sometimes it would result from field input, especially questions and suggestions from operators and maintainers in the field. In other words, it was crowdsourced before crowdsourcing was cool.

Connie's sex appeal was played up, as in this 1954 illustration, until a Congresswoman wigged out.

Connie’s sex appeal was played up, as in this 1954 illustration, until a Congresswoman went high-order on the Army.

PS was a follow-on to a World War II magazine Army Motors and another from the Ordnance branch, Firepower. Initially dry text-based black & white publications, in 1942 drafted Private Eisner (who would later reach the exalted rank of Corporal) turned Army Motors into an illustrated comic, more directly speaking to America’s draft army. Eisner developed characters to personify the maintainer, Private Joe Dope, and the experts who squared Joe away, Master Sergeant Half-Mast and voluptuous Connie Rodd. Over the years, Dope dropped out (maybe he got squared away), Half-Mast lost his original last name (he was “Half-Mast McCanick” — get it?) and Connie got toned down in the late seventies, after a legendary meltdown by man-hating lesbo-feminist battleaxe Congresswoman, Bella Abzug.

At the start of the Korean War, the Army got Eisner back, but with a better deal than he’d had as a two-striper: he delivered the magazine under contract and set up a firm to also provide other publications to the Army and other users. The original 1950s PS’s bore a copyright notice assigning copyright to Eisner, licensed to the DOD. Eisner has since moved on, and passed on. But PS continues, as does its tradition of being drawn by established comic-book artists; current art director is Joe Kubert.

Trouble with an M1 cycling? Here's a vintage clue to one possible culprit.

Trouble with an M1 cycling? Here’s a vintage clue to one possible culprit.

With it’s 60-plus year run, it’s an absolute gold mine of period maintenance information, whatever period of US small arms (or vehicles, or tanks, missiles and artillery, and even aircraft) you’re interested in, whether that’s the WWII-leftover weapons of the Korean War, or the latest fielded gadgets of today.

Yesterday we teased a page on box-mag maintenance. It was from this issue: May 1964, Issue 138. LBJ was president; Jim Crow was the law (even in PS, where all the regular characters were still white); the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and all that flowed from it were still in the future. The standard US Rifle was the M14 (the National Guard had the M1). At top left, you see from a 2011 excerpt that the M14 is still with us.

Screenshot 2014-01-08 01.02.51The M16A1 generated its share of PS articles, including a 1971 Dope Sheet (right) with Connie warning GIs about how to keep 1960s A1s’ chrome-chamber and bare-bore barrels healtjy.

The most recent issue was December, 2013, Issue 733. It’s small-arms content includes something that many Beretta shooters will welcome: a guide to inspect your high-round-count M9 (works as well for any 92 variant) for cracks. (We do have one quibble: the inspection contains an error in one illustration. Can you spot it? Here’s a .pdf of just the Beretta inspection guide: Inspect M9 for Cracks 733-38-39 ).

Now, to get all available issues of this magazine, there’s not one, but two websites you need.

1. The official Army website only covers the more recent issues of the magazine. (While we’re interested in problems with early M16A1s, today’s serving soldiers aren’t). The site has a splash page for the magazine, which leads you to several pages, of which the most useful are:

  • The Archive page for 2013 (which links to the back archives from 1999).
  • Indexes to articles from 2000-20121988-1998, and from 1990-2005 (all are .pdfs). Some of these are supposed to link to the articles, but only the 2000-2012 one does; the others are still useful as finding aids for small arms articles.
  • The search page that is supposed to let you search for a text string in all the articles and issues the Army still hosts. However, it does not appear to work. (This is typical of government and Army IT and always has been — they’re far behind industry in skill and performance, and not really worthy of the combat troops. But that’s a posting for another day). Included here for completeness, and you never know: they just might fix it.

2. The PS Magazine collection at contains a very large archive of historic PS magazines. RadioNerds is an information sharing site for vintage military radio buffs. Once again there’s an overall index, with a certain amount of information on the magazine in general,  and specific indexes: 

  • by Cover page (this index is complete except for issues published between 1973 and 1990, most of which are missing).
  • by Issue Number (this index is complete with the same issues missing)
  • by “Dope Sheet,” a centerfold that ran from 1951 to 1971 (this index is complete).
  • by Technology (i.e., nomenclature, “M14″). This index is empty at this time.

At RadioNerds, each individual page (example, issue 222, May 1971, with a cover story on M16A1 cleanliness — source of the Dope Sheet above) has information about the issue (who the editor and artists were, for instance) and a link to download the whole thing as a .pdf.

One last humble request

Please enjoy these works of art, which are also primary source documents — real live history, and not boring like in school or stuffed full of “aliens” like the “history” channel! And be grateful to the Army for putting the newer issues online, and not walling them off from all y’all who pay the taxes. But please note, many of the issues include contact information for Army and joint services personnel: do not use it to contact these people. Those addresses and numbers are there for the benefit of our soldiers, who are involved in two difficult and bitter wars. (Yes, despite the press losing all interest overnight in January, 2009, and official Washington never having developed much interest in the first place, our guys and gals are still out there in the muck). Those numbers are for them, not for us. Thank you.