On our return to Stately Hog Manor, after a day behind enemy lines in the halls of academe, we found a package awaiting us. Among other things it contained two volumes by Maj. Julian S. Hatcher, a trained engineer (an honor graduate of the Naval Academy) and one time head of Army small arms development. While Hatcher’s heyday was long ago (he lived from 1888 to 1963, and served from his transfer from the Navy to the Army in 1910 to medical retirement from the Army in 1946), he wrote works of a kind and quality not much produced today.
Hatcher’s books are dense, text-rich tomes with a great deal of wisdom in them, and, as befits an engineer, more than a few facts and figures. One of the books was a replacement of what is, as its subtitle claims, a standard reference: Hatcher’s Notebook: A Standard Reference for Shooters, Gunsmiths, Ballisticians, Historians, Hunters and Collectors. We had a copy, which a friend admired, and so it is now his copy, and Amazon duly sent us a new one. The second book was the lesser-known Textbook of Pistols and Revolvers, which Amazon suggested. This lesser-known work was a 1990s reprint for the Firearms Classic Library of the NRA and the National Firearms Museum. We thought the library was defunct, but it appears as a book club at that link. However, that page isn’t linked from the publisher’s main page, meaning, exactly what? We don’t know.
The Firearms Classic Library editions have a sturdy, old-fashioned leather binding with gold leaf letters and gilt-edged pages. A silk bookmark is bound in. Used ones are a good buy, usually, because they tend to be displayed more than read. (Our Pistols and Revolvers showed signs of careful use). That’s the good news. They are also facsimile editions, which is a double-edged sword. What this means is that, apart from some fresh introductory material, which is of necessity freshly typeset, the remainder of the book is reproduced by photolithography from an original book. That means that the type is murky and hard to read, and the photographs very badly reproduced. Accordingly, you are almost always better off with a first edition than with a Firearms Classic Library reprint, if your objective is to read the jeezly book. To show it off….
The major downside of these Hatcher tomes is the same thing that gives them some of their charm: their age. Textbook of Pistols and Revolvers begins with an attempt to catalog available handguns, but it was published in 1935, as an update to an earlier book published in 1927. Therefore, it’s great historical or foundational knowledge, but blind to all subsequent developments. And its historical information is mostly of the period of its authorship, because Hatcher purged the 1927 edition’s historical content to make space for more “contemporary” (1930s) content.
For example, in discussing ammunition in Pistols and Revolvers, Hatcher says that all American center-fire case are made with the primer anvil as part of the primer (which is Boxer priming, invented by the English ordnance officer Edward Boxer, although Hatcher doesn’t call it that, probably because of the purge of “less relevant” history). Conversely, he says that all European cartridges are made with the anvil as part of the cartridge case (which is Berdan priming, invented by the American gun designer and Civil War regimental commander Hiram Berdan, although Hatcher doesn’t call it that either). That was true in 1935, but is less true today as many European (especially Western European) makers have converted to Boxer priming. The two are functionally, and with modern machinery, economically equivalent, in performance, but Boxer cases are conveniently reloadable and Berdan-primed cases are not. (They can be reloaded, but it’s difficult and not especially practical).
And then there’s the statement, true enough in 1935, that pistol velocities were not enough to make the hollow-pointed or “dum-dum” bullets of the day expand much. It can’t stand as an indictment of our spare mags of Speer Law-Man 9mms, which use materials and manufacturing processes unimaginable to Hatcher.
So why read Hatcher 80 or 90 years after the fact? One reason is that some things haven’t changed, and he is a writer of rare simplicity and clarity. In Pistols and Revolvers he describes how cartridge cases are made:
In the manufacture of a pistol cartridge a sheet of brass about 1/8 of an inch thick is fed into a punch press, which first cuts out a little disc of brass and then forms it into a cup shape. These little cups are fed through successive presses, in each of which the cup is forced through a die by a steel punch in such a manner as to elongate the brass cup. When the cup is long enough to have the approximate shape of a cartridge case it is placed in another press, which flattens the head of it so ad to form a rim around it and puts a cup shaped depression in the head for the primer to fit into. The cases then nearly completed. It is afterwards trimmed to length, and the rim is turned to exact thickness and diameter on a machine similar to a lathe. A hole is also punched in the bottom of the pocket for the flash of the primer to go through. After being washed to free it from all oil and residue the case is ready to have the primer inserted.
He then goes on to explain the use of annealing to prevent the work-hardening of the initially soft brass, and gives a similarly simple and clear explanation of the production of lead bullets. We could describe that same process, but would probably be much wordier and less readable than Hatcher. (“A man’s gotta know his limitations” — Harry Callahan)
Of course, some of the anecdotes in Pistols and Revolvers will make one long for the glory days of police work. Describing the long forgotten 38 S&W Super Police cartridge, which was basically a heavy load of the nearly forgotten 38 S&W with a 200-grain bullet, he quotes this anecdote:
A policeman shot a hold-up artist in East St. Louis the other day with this Super Police. He got him square in the center of the back at 75 yards which was a darn good shot. When the corner dug the bullet out of the crook he found it more than halfway through him and flattened on the point to about the size of a quarter. This officer was certainly good. He had two hold-up artists, one of them broke and ran. Without further ceremony he cracked one over the head with his revolver took deliberate aim at the other end made it dead center bull’s-eye on him.
It’s nice(?) to see that East St. Louis hasn’t changed since 1935. But imagine the hue and cry that would ensue if a modern cop dealt with a couple of
hold-up artists disadvantaged yutes that way today.
One place where Pistols and Revolvers really comes in handy is when Hatcher includes carefully drawn chamber diagrams for now-obscure cartridges. A cast of the leade or forcing cone with a dimensionally stable medium (Brownell’s sells some good stuff but they’re on our shit list this week) and a dial indicator and you can break the code on some of those old guns with those obscure markings like “Cal. .38 ctg.” that make you go, “Oh, grreat, which one of a dozen .38s was it?” Aha, .38 Super Police.
Unlike Pistols and Revolvers, Hatcher’s Notebook is not all that well organized. But it is a rich historical source, and it contains much information of timeless value. It was, originally, Hatcher’s notes that he used while serving as an ordnance officer, and if you are interested in either US weapons of the first half of the 20th Century (Hatcher had no involvement with later weapons), or weapons design and technical information in general, you need a copy of this.
Part I begins, and ends, with information about what was clearly one of Hatcher’s great loves, the 1903 Springfield Rifle and its variants. While its early development preceded Hatcher, it was the standard issue rifle when he transferred from the Navy to the Army in 1910, and was still a standard or substitute standard weapon for most of his career. The concluding section is primary source material, a comprehensive list of Springfield receiver failures in service that produced the conventional wisdom about the unsuitability of early Springfields to be fired. (The crux of the problem is metallurgy. The Army used high carbon steel for bolts and receivers for the first 300,000-odd Springfields, and two different heat-treating methods. They changed to nickel steel for some guns in 1918, and for all bolts and receivers by 1927, so every serial number from 1,275,767 is safe, every serial number from about 800,000 (SA) or 285,507 (RIS) when the heat treating was improved is probably safe, and earlier ones are a crapshoot).
The Springfield accidents, 68 in all, were not trivial. Three soldiers lost an eye each, six more were seriously or severely injured, and 27 slightly injured. The cause of each accident varied, but a burst receiver was often caused by case-head separation, and occasionally by firing a German 7.92 x 57mm round in the Springfield’s 7.62 x 63mm chamber. (The only
In between there’s a vast quantity of often highly technical information, including practical formulae for calculating recoil impulses, muzzle energy, and other useful figures. We particularly enjoyed the description of the pros and cons of the rifling used in early and late Springfields, 1917 Enfields, and the comparison to the Metford rifling used by some Japanese rifles. There are first-hand accounts of the development of the Pedersen Device and the US Rifle M1, and a historical study of the chemistry of primers and their effect on bore corrosion.
Part II is, primarily, a concise text on exterior ballistics. Like the formulae scattered here and there in Part I, it is timeless reference material.
For another review of Hatcher’s Notebook see Ian’s review at Forgotten Weapons.com.
Bottom line is that we recommend both of these books. If you must pick one, Hatcher’s Notebook is the indispensable one. Not for nothing has it remained in print from 1947 to the present day.