Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

More on Whitworth and his Rifle

Yesterday’s post on Civil War Sharpshooters was meant to be a shallow overview, but one thing leads to another, and so this morning’s scheduled post was thrown back into the sea so we can have some further discussion of this subject, and especially of the English rifle used to such great effect by the Confederates, the Whitworth.

Fred Ray, whom we cited in that post, commented and included a couple of links that may be of interest. First, he has traced the English word “sharpshooter” back to 1795.

I think the question is settled, at least as far as any reference to Christian Sharps is concerned.

http://www.brettschulte.net/CWBlog/2013/12/06/origins-of-sharpshooter/
http://www.brettschulte.net/CWBlog/2017/01/11/more-on-the-origins-of-sharpshooter/

Also check out my articles on the web site for my book, Shock Troops of the Confederacy, which deals with Confederate sharpshooters. There’s much more to them than Pat Cleburne! Couple of articles there on the killing of Gen. John ” Couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance” Sedgwick and one on Joseph Whitworth and his rifles.
http://www.cfspress.com/sharpshooters/articles.html

Fred’s Whitworth article is this one. It’s well researched and was a good read.

http://www.cfspress.com/sharpshooters/articles.html#sir_joseph_whitworth

Among the things we didn’t know about Whitworth were that he invented scraping for a flat surface; invented an early caliber, and was instrumental in standardization of threads and fasteners in Britain.

Because one good article deserves another, here’s the section on the Whitworth from Fuller & Steuart’s Firearms of the Confederacy. The Whitworth was not the only English rifle used by sharpshooters in gray, as they also made good use of Enfield and Kerr rifles, but the Whitworth is the one that has captured the imagination of historians, collectors and reenactors.

This rifle is of particular interest to students of Confederate arms, as it is believed to be the only one of the imported arms that was used exclusively by the South who used them in small numbers for arming sharpshooters. They were an accurate and powerful weapon — good for a range of half a mile and were responsible for the taking off of many a federal officer.

 

Note: all of these illustrations are pulled from the web, not from the book quoted. This Confederate Whitworth has a replaced lock, but is for sale for a LOT of money.

 

The specimen shown is marked on the lock plate Whitworth Rifle Company, Manchester and on top of the barrel Whitworth Patent.

This is a Whitworth lock; it’s not from a sharpshooter’s rifle, but from a target rifle sold by James Julia. Hammer price was $10,300 in 2014,

This is the barrel marking referenced in the text, also from the Julia target rifle.

Length of barrel, 33 inches. Total length of arm, 49 inches. The bore is hexagonal. Caliber .45, using an elongated bullet weighing 530 grains.  the twist is one in twenty inches. The arm is an exceptionally well-made piece — iron mounted throughout and besides the regular site equipment, is provided with attachments for a telescope site to be mounted on the left side of the gun. The stock is nicely checkered and the arm has all of the characteristics of the highest type sporting piece. All parts bear the serial number 554.

From the Julia target gun, period “globe” or aperture sights.

In the year 1852 when the British ordnance department conducted extensive experiments to test the comparative merits of various rifles submitted to the government they found a wide variation in the accuracy updatable. Whitworth, one of the leading technicians of the day, was commissioned to make exhaustive experiments at the cost of the Government in order to discover the best form of rifling.

This gentleman had devoted a great deal of time and study to the design and manufacture of cannon and had adopted the polygonal bore as giving the best results and decided to use this type of rifling for his small arms. The advantage of the elongated bullet had long been demonstrated but in attempting to use it in connection with the polygonal bore considerable trouble was experienced from the ball “capsizing” or “turning over”.  He became convinced that this action was due to the slow spiral and eventually after testing every graduation from one turn in seventy-eight inches to one turn in five inches found the necessary rotation to impart the required steadiness to the ball and cause it to maintain a flight parallel to its axis was best obtained at a pitch of one turn in twenty inches.

On tests before the Minister of War and many distinguished officers the Whitworth rifle of .45 caliber beat the Enfield of government factories by three to one. The mean deviation at 500 yards was four and one-half while the recorded best of any rifle previously tried was twenty-seven.

The rifle was never adopted into the Government service but 40 of them were made for the competitive shoot of 1860 for the Queen’s prize at the meeting of the [British] National Rifle Association. Plate XXIII shows an enlarged view of the bore of this arm and the machine made bullet used with it.

While the original bullet for the Whitworth rifle was hexagonal to fit the rifle bore, those used by the Confederates were for the most part cylindrical.

This is characteristic Whitworth hexagonal rifling. Also from the Julia gun.

He notes that “20 or 30” of these rifles were slipped through the blockade, and divided equally between Eastern and Western rebel forces, but Bilby thinks that a much greater number of the Whitworths must have been on hand — probably hundreds.

Fuller & Steuart also reproduce this period article:

The Richmond Daily Examiner of November 10, 1863, says:

We have a wonderful gun in our army, the Whitworth rifle. it kills it 2000 yards, more than a mile. It is no bigger than the Mississippi rifle. [US Rifle M1841 -Ed.] With a few of these rifles Longstreet shot across the Tennessee River, killing the Yankees and completely blocking the river road.

They go on to reproduce some combat tales of the rifle in action.

Sergeant Grace of the Fourth Georgia killed General Sedgwick of the Union Army with a Whitworth rifle at a range of 800 yards.

Sergeant Grace used a globe sight. Most of the Whitworths were equipped with telescope sights, but these were easily lost.

Whitworth rifles are said to have done terrible execution at Fort Wagner, Charleston.

General Cleburne, writing in 1863, said: “The fire of five Whitworth rifles appeared to do good service. Mounted men were struck it distances ranging from 700 to 1300 yards.”

Twenty men of Company F, Eighth North Carolina Regiment, were armed with Whitworth rifles with globe sights at Morris Island. South Carolina sharpshooters also had Whitworths and General Lytle is said to have been killed at Chickamauga with a bullet from a Whitworth rifle.

This is one type of False Muzzle, from another target gun (this one a Maine gun for sale by Joe Salter). It was used to ensure the bullet was started right, aligned with the bore. A False Muzzle was usually part of a target gun’s standard accessoried.

One of the great Whitworth mysteries remaining is: why did the Union never buy any? Both armies bought plenty of Enfields from Britain. But if the Union bought even a single Whitworth, no trace of the transaction has been found.

Update

We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out Fred Ray’s book on Confederate States sharpshooters. You can probably find it at your favorite online bookstore, but the promotional website has more information…

http://www.cfspress.com/sharpshooters/index.html

…and you can buy it there. (We did, hard and soft cover editions).  There seems to be more useful information on the website in terms of an errata page, and more of Fred’s articles, that extend his work, and are free to read for those of who who can’t explain to Mama $30 on another book. (“What’s wrong with reading the books you already have?” <– one downside to making an important choice based on pulchritude alone, in the bloom of youth).

Update II

We let this go live without images, in the interests of speed, but Holy-Wall-o-Text, Batman, so we’ve added some illustrations to ease the barrage on your eyes. Apologies to early readers.

Civil War Sharpshooters

They stare at us out of ancient daguerreotypes and glass negatives, or take aim in a Winslow Homer print (right): serious young men. In the photos, they’re posed in a frozen position because of the photo technology of the day, dressed in rough uniforms and clinging to a long rifle. Most of them were, like soldiers of time immemorial, youths in their teens and twenties; a few of them were wise old men in their forties and fifties. They were the sharpshooters of the Civil War. And what does that mean, exactly? Who were they?

Berdan’s US Sharp Shooters. (All images do embiggen with a click).

The case of Civil War Sharpshooters is complicated by the English language. The term “sharpshooter” has come to mean an excellent shot, especially with rifle; in modern American military usage, it is the intermediate of the three grades of marksmanship badge, from superior to inferior: Expert, Sharpshooter and Marksman. But there also was, at the time of the Civil War, an important early breechloading rifle manufactured by the firm of Christian Sharps.

So, were sharpshooters soldiers who are sharp at shooting, or soldiers who shot Sharpses? Would you believe, the answer is: both, and neither?

Yeah, that calls for an explanation.

Etymology of “Sharpshooter.”

The word actually was “culturally appropriated,” as those whacky college kids say, into English about 1800 from modern German, and is a true cognate of the German Scharfschütze. In German that term now means a good marksman, often with precision equipment, but 200 years ago in America (or 300 years ago in the German principalities) it meant troops armed with (more accurate and slower-loading) rifles, not smoothbore muskets. These troops were used as pickets and skirmishers as well as being deployed as the 18th and 19th Century equivalent of designated marksmen. They were closer to what English military practice would call rangers.

In an interesting post on the term on a the Civil War blog TOCWOC.com, Fred Ray dismisses the idea that Christian Sharps and his breechloader had anything to do with the coinage of the term:

A persistent story attaches it to Berdan’s Sharpshooters, who with their Sharps rifles were then (so the story goes) called “Sharps shooters,” and later just sharpshooters. Trouble is, it’s not true, any more than is the tale that Fighting Joe Hooker gave his name as a synonym for prostitute.

In fact, sharpshooter goes back in Germanic Europe at least as far back as the early 1700s or so, when the modern rifle-armed troops were first used in the Austrian and Prussian armies….

[W]hen Christian Sharps was born in 1811, the term had already been in use for a hundred years or so. Sharps did not patent his breech-loading design until 1848.

Interestingly, the word means the same in German and English, and appears in both Old High German and Old English. One etymologist, Carol Pozefsky, traces the English variation of the term as applied to riflemen back to 1802. My surmise, then, would be that it came into modern English by way of the 5/60th Royal Americans, a mostly-German unit raised by the British Army as a result of their experiences during the American Revolution. The 5/60th pretty much went with the practices of the German jaeger light infantry, including, one would presume, the term sharpshooter. NOTE 1

The link to Carol Pozefsky’s etymology of the word, unfortunately, breaks.

Sharpshooters as skirmishers

At the time of the US Civil War (1861-65), then, “sharpshooter” was a term of art, already of considerable antiquity, and it meant rifle units either constructed for, or at least detailed to, skirmishing duties.  “Skirmishing” is not something one sees in a modern operations order, so what was that? Basically, it meant that they screened the army, almost like foot cavalry. With the Army in a static position, they would be posted forward as checkpoints and observation points — called by the now-archaic term vedettes, which like most sharpshooter tactics of the American armies was borrowed from French chasseur doctrine and practice.

On the move, the sharpshooters would screen the van and the flanks of the army. In theory, they would use their superior skills and greater weapons effective range, if need be, to break contact and deliver the ground truth to the commander. If it sounds like the Ranger companies in the Korean War US Army, well, unit names changes but tactical principles endure. They were not meant to be the equal of a regular infantry company or regiment in the line, although sometimes they were employed that way. (Indeed, that’s what broke the Ranger companies in the Korean War).

There was little difference in the employment of sharpshooters in the Union or Rebel armies. The difference was greater, in fact, between the more important armies around Virginia, and the less well-resourced armies contesting the West. The Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia both found reason to employ sharpshooters both as skirmishers and as long-range marksmen.

Berdan’s USSS

Berdan’s Sharpshooter, Reenactor

Hiram Berdan makes an an interesting character. In Joseph Bilby’s Civil War Firearms, which has a whole chapter on sharpshooters (NOTE 2), he describes the man’s character and attainments:

Hiram Berdan, born in New York and raised in Michigan, was a talented engineer, practical scientist and inventor responsible for such diverse devices as a gold crushing machine and a mechanical bakery. In addition, he was one of the premier American rifle shots of the 1850s. Berdan’s inventive genius, applied to firearms, would secure his place in history. The burdens centerfire primer for metallic cartridges, for example, is still in use world wide. One thing Hiram Berdan was not, however, was a soldier. He was a self-promoting windbag.NOTE 3

Contemporary news page with scenes of Berdan’s sharpshooters. Man at center is not Berdan.

But the windbag, self-promoter, and worse — Bilby also calls him out for “strong reluctance to personally confront the enemy,” a toxic accusation in the world of 1860s manhood, and one that was leveled at Berdan by his contemporaries — was an excellent recruiter of superior men. He ultimately recruited two regiments, the 1st and 2nd United States Sharp Shooters, promising them Sharps rifles, and paying any man for his target rifle, if he brought it along.

The men were selected, probably, by a marksmanship test. (That’s how other sharpshooter units did it, but there’s no proof in the case of Berdan’s Sharpshooters). The standard was not too terribly high, Bilby thinks: a 10-inch group with the service rifle, at 200 yards.

Berdan changed his mind about the Sharps and decided to get his men ordinary Model 1861 Springfield rifles. These were good weapons, more appreciated than the smoothbores, 1841 rifles, or Austrian Lorenz rifles many Union units had to reckon with. But the men rejected them, holding out for the Sharpses they’d been promised. They were fobbed off for a while with Colt repeating rifles, but Colonel Ripley, the director of ordnance, ultimately relented and let Berdan order 2,000 Sharps rifles, with any surplus to be stored in Washington. (Berdan spent the rest of his time in uniform defending his spare rifles from raids by other Union officers. He would resign before war’s end, and sell carbines of his own design to the Union Army). Berdan’s Shar’s rifles came with double-set triggers, and nlike all other Sharps rifles, with a socket bayonet. (The regular Sharps bayonet was a bulky sword bayonet. The USSS troops seem to have, mostly, thrown their bayonets away in any case).

The Colt revolving rifle had the problem of all cap-and-ball revolvers: you can generate a lot of shots, briefly, but then it takes a very long time to reload. Reloading was also a problem with the telescopic-sighted 30-pound target rifles of the era, which were shot in a now-forgotten supine position; one set of sharpshooters that found themselves in close-quarters combat had to use their rifles as clubs.

Other Union Sharpshooters

Because the term “Sharpshooter” was in general use for any rifle-armed skirmisher, there were quite a number of state Sharpshooter regiments of varying quality and equipment. The Massachusetts company shown below is well-stocked with monster target rifles!

They lacked Berdan’s regiments’ unique designation and green uniforms, but had their own tales of combat. We recommend you read Bilby’s works for more detail on these guys.

Sharpshooter Weapons and Equipment

Rifles for sharpshooters were always in short supply. The Ordnance Department was loath to let sharpshooter regiments buy Sharps rifles, because every time Sharps filled a rifle order, carbine production suffered, and the Sharps was the most preferred of the many breechloading carbines used by the Union cavalry (at least until the emergence of the cartridge Henry and Spencer later in the war, which still couldn’t match the Sharps carbine for range).

The bifurcated nature of sharpshooter operations meant that sometimes a heavy target rifle was just the thing, and other times a rapid-firing carbine or other breechloader was the right weapon. The USSS wound up issuing everybody Sharps rifles and maintaining a quantity of the target rifles as organizational equipment, brought up with the supply trains and operated by the best of the best shots.

The target rifles originally were recruited into sharpshooter regiments, as it were, alongside their owners. Some regiments paid a substantial premium for a soldier to bring a suitable long-range rifle. But these rifles were problematic as each used a unique bullet mold and false muzzle (for loading) that came with it, unlike ordinary rifle-muskets or even Sharps rifles that used a manufactured paper cartridge. Accordingly, the trade-off for the target rifle’s range and precision was a much lower rate of fire. And with their weight, they were disruptive on the march.

Rebel Sharpshooters

The Confederacy, too, used sharpshooters, but they do not seem to have sustained entire organized regiments. They would stand them up and break them down. They always struggled for quality firearms; a couple of state militias had bought some Sharps rifles before the war broke out and cut off that supply.

The South did have one rifle that that the North would have envied, had its military leaders had any sense: the Whitworth. (Its designer was the same Whitworth whose patent fasteners are cursed by restorers of old British cars and aircraft).  This was a .45 caliber English rifle with a hexagonal bore. It was meant to be used with hexagonal bullets, but could also shoot a cylindrical projectile — for which, it came with a mold — accurately to 900 yards (Bilby says even to 1,500, by using expedient extensions of the sights). Moreover, it was not significantly bulkier or harder to load than an ordinary Springfield or Enfield rifle-musket. Here’s a video of a presentation on the Whitworth:

The Whitworth was sometimes used with iron sights, sometimes with a high-mounted scope, and sometimes with the side-mounted Davidson scope seen below.

A rifle was only half the equation — maybe, less than half. The human factor was key to sharpshooter success.

Where the North had Hiram Berdan, who, whatever his failings, understood marksmanship perfectly for the era, the South had a similar impresario of sharpshooting, Major General Patrick Cleburne, who lacked Berdan’s character flaws. (Notably, he was not combat-shy, which led to his death in action on 30 November 1864). Cleburne drilled his men intensively, not on the parade-ground like most of his contemporaries, but on the rifle-range, stressing both marksmanship and — something that seems otherwise absent from the literature of the war — range estimation. Where did Cleburne learn all this? Born in County Cork, Ireland, he’d been an enlisted man in the British Army before emigrating to the United States!

In fact, most units’ marksmanship, including Sharpshooter units, was pretty dreadful, on average. This was offset by the fact that commanders often closed to smoothbore ranges before engaging the enemy, anyway.

Sharpshooter Tactics, Techniques and Procedures

It is unsurprising that Rebel and Union TTPs were mirror images, as most of the leaders of the Confederate States Army grew up in the United States Army. They went to the same schools, read the same books, adapted the same tactics from the manuals of the French Chasseur à Pied and Zouave units.

Cleburne seems to have developed one tactic that the North did not use: using his men and their accurate Whitworth fire to deny the Union the service of their artillerymen. In this period, artillery generally engaged using direct fire, and that meant that the only safety for the gunners lay in the fact that their guns outranged the enemy’s small arms.

The Confederates also used the superior range and accuracy of their sharpshooters, at times, to compensate for an overall lack of firepower or general lack of ammunition: the sharpshooter as a force multiplier or economy-of-force measure, not out of intent so much as out of necessity.

By and large, sharpshooters did not use the camouflage, concealment and stalking tricks of a modern sniper, although Bilby does recount one story in which a sharpshooter learned from a Native American buddy to camouflage himself with corn stalks whilst moving through a cornfield.

Notes

  1. Ray, Fred. Origin of “Sharpshooter.” TOCWOC Blog. Retrieved from: http://www.brettschulte.net/CWBlog/2006/09/23/origin-of-sharpshooter/
  2. Bilby, pp. 103-128.
  3. Bilby, p. 105

Sources

Bilby, Joseph. Civil War Firearms: Their Historical Background, Tactical Use, and Modern Collecting and Shooting. Conshohocken, PA: Combined Publishing, 1996.

Six Millimeter Shorter Casing = $1,000 in Collector Value

This Czech vz. 52/57 rifle just sold last night on GunBroker for $1,375.00, or roughly $1,000 more than a typical vz. 52 in similar condition goes for. Where did the extra grand come from? We’ll tell you, which will require a short trip down the Warsaw Pact memory lane, and a little bit of supply and demand economics. There’s going to be some numbers, perhaps, but we will not tax anybody’s rusty math skills.

(By the way, we didn’t bid on this rifle, even though we’ve bought from this seller and were watching the auction. No reason but the sleep-intensive weekend; as a normal practice we never bid until the last minutes of the auction, and we were racked out with Small Dog Mk II when the vz. 52/57 found its new home).

Where a vz. 52/57 comes from

The Czechoslovak model 52 semiautomatic rifle is an interesting gun that borrows many manufacturing processes from the German weapons that had been made in the same factories just before. It was part of an immediate postwar reimagining of Czechoslovak small arms that produced new rifles, pistols, submachine guns, and light machine guns over a period of four years from 1948 to 1952. The firearms were initially intended to be chambered for a new 7.62 x 45 mm intermediate cartridge (rifle and MG) and the old European standard pistol round, 9 x 19 mm  (pistol and SMG).

As it happened, though, something else happened in 1948 — the Soviet-controlled Czech Communist Party overthrew the republic in a nearly bloodless coup (there were only a couple of murders and disappearances).

Within a year or two, the Czechoslovak Army was renamed the ČS People’s Army, and directed to conform to Soviet calibers. Or else! (But a resistant Czech or Slovak didn’t get shipped to Siberia… someone who didn’t suck up to the Fraternal Soviet Big Brother sufficiently went to the mines at Jachymov, to mine radioactive pitchblende with hand tools. For ten years or death, whichever comes first). Needless to say, everyone disinclined to a career-change towards uranium mining thought changing calibers was a brilliant idea.

The pistol was easily redesigned before it shipped to use the 7.62 x 25mm Russian round instead of the 9mm Parabellum, and so there were no production Model 52 pistols made (at least, initially) for the Western round. Even though the prototypes had been developed with the 9 mm, the pistol’s roller locking system was, like most such, adaptable to a wide range of loads and only a barrel swap was required. Likewise, conversion of the Sa. vz. 48 submachine gun was fairly straightforward, although with the magazine in the grip, a new, awkward grip angle was required to make the necked 7.62 feed properly.

This is one tell of a 52/57 — they wrote the nomenclature right on it.

Converting the vz. 52 rifle and the light machine gun vz. 52 to the Soviet caliber was not as easily done; some of the engineering talent in the Czechoslovak arsenals was tied up doing this until the converted rifle and companion MG rolled out in 1957, as the vz. 52/57. New production immediately converted, and sufficient existing guns were converted to arm active-duty ČSLA units, with the knowledge that a new assault rifle (the vz. 58, which was developed from the start for the Soviet M43 7.62 x 39 mm cartridge) was coming.

Another tell is the forward handguard, painted black.

Excess stocks of the old vz. 52s and their 7.62 x 45 ammunition were stored and many were exported to “fraternal socialist states” and “national liberation movements,” which is to say, guerrilla and terrorist movements worldwide. Vz. 52s turned up in Laos, Vietnam, the Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and a decade later in Africa and Central America. The global diaspora of vz. 52s and 52/57s took on a new direction with importation of surplus guns to the United States. Prior to 1990s importation, the only vz. 52s in the country were GI bringbacks from Vietnam or Grenada.

The Collector Consequences

As we mentioned, a 52/57 is worth three to four times the value of a “slick” vz. 52. We believe that this is a function of supply and demand — some factors lower the supply, and others increase the demand.

Supply Factors: We don’t have numbers at our fingertips yet, but we believe raw numbers are one factor in the higher value of the the vz. 52/57. We believe fewer were made. The vz. 52 was made in plants in Považska Bystrica (coded aym) and Uherský Brod (she); the vast majority were coded “she.”  But the vz. 52 was in production from 1952 (late; it’s a rare date code to find) through 1957. Peak production seems to have been 1955/56. The vz. 52/57 was introduced in 1957, but that’s a rare date code on that version; most are coded 58 and 59. We’ve never seen one coded 60 or later.

In addition, the vz. 52 was widely exported, especially to Cuba which demanded 100,000 of them, 400,000 spare magazines, and 4 million rounds of ammunition. The Cubans in turn re-exported the Czech weaponry to every hippie with a cause and dictator wannabe worldwide in the ’60s and ’70s; this ensured that lots of surplus vz. 52s were here and there for importers to find and pounce on in the 90s and oughts. But by the time the Czechoslovaks replaced their 52/57s with vz 58s in the early 60s, they’d been cut out of the supply chain to Cuba by their Soviet masters. The Soviets had initially approved them supplying the Cubans to provide plausible deniability of Soviet arming of the island nation; once the cat was out of the bag, there was no more need for indirection in weapons supply. Ergo, the Cubans got few if any vz. 52/57s and the smaller numbers of this model were also less available for export to the USA.

Demand Factors: One of the obvious ones is that, with the vz. 52/57 being rarer, people trying to complete a collection of Czech weapons, or semiauto service rifles, or 7.62 x 39 service rifles, need to find one and people pursuing these collector themes are competing with one another to an extent that doesn’t happen with the vz. 52. But there is also competition for the 52/57s from shooters, because 7.62 x 39 ammunition is available everywhere and relatively inexpensive, but 7.62 x 45 is unavailable, after an initial brief splash of surplus that came in with the rifles.

The magazine is also a “tell.” Only the 52/57 has this about 25º angled base. Rifles were issued with two magazines, but troops were expected to load with stripper clips. Spare magazines for either vz. 52 are rare and expensive.

Given that shooters have many 7.62 x 39 options for far less than the $1,400 of a vz. 52/57, it seems probable that the main thing driving the price difference between the 52 and the 52/57 is collector demand vs. short supply; a secondary factor is that collectors who also desire to shoot the arms in their collection will have a preference for the version that shoots common ammo.

Are these Factors Generally Applicable?

Supply and Demand is not only an important economic concept, it’s as good as a natural law. If you see a price for what seems to be a common arm, your first reaction may be that the buyer or bidders is/are on crack. But when you look closely, most of the time you will see the hidden supply and demand factors that conspire to set that price point at which the market clears. If you don’t see them, then you will be tempted to conclude that someone in the transaction is using mind-altering chemicals. However, before you commit to that as your final answer, reconsider the possibility that there are supply and demand factors that you may have overlooked.

In our case, we know from experience that we make errors in understanding firearms valuations more often that we actually encounter drug-addled collectors. After all, what collector needs a drug? You’ve got all the serotonin and endorphin jolt you can imagine when you score something rare. Like, say, a vz. 52/57.

Kyle Defoor’s Range Gun “Inventory”

For the last week-plus, top instructor Kyle Defoor has been posting his “inventory” on his Instagram account, one a day. Our Traveling Reporter, a Defoor trainee and admirer, if not outright fan, has been linking them to us, one a day, and we’ve been waiting to assemble them and give you a single overview. Here it is; this is what’s in a single top instructor’s battery these days.

His training battery comprises eight guns, some used frequently and some for special purposes. There are four ARs (all BCM, which he endorses), two Glocks, one bolt rifle (Remington 700), and one DA/SA pistol (SIG 229 Elite). For each one, he painstakingly records the details down to the scope mount and slings and holsters, and he answers some reader questions, so for any gun that interests you, go to the linked Instagram page.

The AR Rifles

They’re all from BCM, with whom Defoor is in a committed relationship, as they say. BCM also provides the iron sights for those rifles that have ’em, and Viking Tactics (VTAC) the slings. There are a selection of calibers and lengths for specific purposes.

The most-used AR is this 11.5″ 5.56 mm Short Barrel Rifle (SBR), which is used 18-20 weeks a year for both military and civilian contracts.

The accessories include interchangeable red-dot and scope optics in Bobro mounts (Aimpoint Micro T1 and US Optics SR4-C respectively), the Streamlight Protac Rail 1 with an Arisaka Defense light mount, and a Gemtech flashhider for use with the G5T. The US Optics scope is their short-range 1-4 variable, which is presently off the market as the company overhauls its short-range line; its nearest military issue equivalent is the Elcan Spectre DR, which is not continuously variable. The SR4-C is an ingenious design, with a mil reticle (several options) on the first focal plane, which keeps the mils accurate with magnification, and a 4-moa red dot on the second focal plane. (There is an excellent five-part review of this scope at the Austin Police Marksmanship Team blog. Begin with Part 2 if you’re in a hurry; Part 1 is the justification for using a scope on a patrol carbine. Then click the left arrow to read subsequent parts).

Used 18-20 weeks a year for military contractcs and for some civilian carbine classes. My scope and Aimpoint share the same mounting slot on my top rail for ease of switching depending on what the customer wants.

Note that this is the baseline AR of a pro, and it’s run on an XM177-length barrel, probably suppressed more often than not. That’s a reflection of what’s happening in special operations units, not just in the US military, but worldwide.

Here’s a longer-barreled 5.56 AR used about 6 weeks a year for military and civilian scoped rifle classes. The barrel is 16″ stainless steel with 1/8 twist rifling and a mid-length gas system. The scope is a US Optics variable 1.8-10 power in a Bobro mount.

The Gemtech suppressor he uses with this rifle is the G5T; the rest of the accessories are the same as his other ARs.

Here’s a baseline .300 Blackout gun.  It’s got a 9″ button-rifled barrel. This one is used a few times a year for “specialized military contracts,” and is set up with a Gemtech flash hider for The One silencer.

What seems to be “the usual” KD4 accessories: BCM flip-up sights; VTAC Sling;  Aimpoint Micro T1 on a Bobro Mount; Streamlight Protac Rail 1 with an Arisaka Defense light mount. One thing this carbine has got that the others haven’t is a cleaning rod secured to the rail with zip ties.

And finally, this one’s just for hunting. It’s a 16″ .300 Blackout rifle with a 1/8 button-rifled stainless barrel, and has similar accessories to the other ARs.

The scope is the US Optics variable 1-4 power Dual Focal Plane on (what else?) Bobro. Kyle says he uses it to take deer, coyote and wild boar.

The Precision Rifle

This rifle is a modified Remington 700 with a 7.62mm NATO 20″ 1/10 heavy barrel, threaded for use with the Gemtech Sandstorm suppressor.

The mods/accessories include: a KRG stock and bolt lift; VTAC Sling; US Optics 1.8-10 variable power scope, with the Horus H25 reticle, mounted in Badger rings; and the ubiquitous bipod from Harris Engineering. Defoor uses it for military contracts 4 weeks a year.

I can’t express how happy I am with the KRG stock. It makes a stock 700 about .5 MOA tighter throughout the spectrum of the caliber compared to an OEM buttstock and is LIGHT! The weight thing matters when I’m humping long distances for FTX’s and evals. Additionally, KRG has accessories that are smart, lightweight, easy to install, don’t cost an arm and a leg and work WELL! This is expected from KRG since their owner is a mil snipe with experience like myself. I have no affiliation with KRG but if you’re in the market for anything bolt gun you should give them a look before they take off and get super busy,

Listen up to that recommendation, precision shooters: Defoor has a pretty good track record at flagging the Next Cool Thing before it gets cool.

The Pistols

The fundamental pistol of Defoor’s battery is the G4 Glock 19.

His regular carry gun is used for almost all classes, and apart from his own sights and his (Raven Eidolon) or Safariland holster, the only thing not stock Glock is the barrel, a KKM.

I’ve been using match barrels in Glock pistols for over 10 years now. I started using KKM’s somewhere around 2010 or 11 — long before it become the popular barrel of choice it is now. I also used Wilson combat match barrels for Glocks back when you had to fit them. I prefer hand fitting a barrel because I can make it even more accurate.

But he recommends you be in no rush to replace the barrel:

I tell everyone my opinion is to shoot the Glock pistol stock and wait to get a match barrel when you notice groups starting to open up a bit. In my experience this happen somewhere between 80 and 100,000 rounds.

In case you were wondering why Tier 1 units that shoot obsessively day in and day out went to the Glock, a lot of the answer is packed into that paragraph above. He also points out that the match barrel is match, not magic:

A match barrel will not help you magically shoot better all of the sudden. All it does is hone good fundamentals a little more. The average difference that I have measured over tens of thousands of shooters between a stock barrel and a match barrel at 25 yards on an NRA B-8 bull is somewhere between 3-4 points or around an inch tighter- both of these metrics are with a 10 round group from the standing unsupported position.

For about four weeks a year, for certain military contracts, he uses this older G2 G19, set up with a very unusual sight: an Aimpoint Micro on a Raven Concealment Balor mount. This one has had fewer rounds through it and still has a Glock barrel.

Sometimes he’ll just mount this slide on a G19 frame that allows a weaponlight or weapon laser. Same holsters; but he has some interesting observations on the Aimpoint vs. the more common pistol red dot, the Trijicon RMR.

If you want to go the route of a red dot on a pistol using an Aimpoint Micro will give you faster results in performance than an RMR. This is due to the Aimpoint being a tube and an RMR being a flat plane red dot. I’ve had great success and starting people off with a set up like this and then transitioning them to an RMR later.

I’ve assembled dozens of guns like this one for people who are older and whose eyesight just does not allow them to shoot irons affectively anymore — it’s amazing to see the reaction of people when they can shoot and perform the way they did 40 or 50 years ago. The Micro is definitely harder to conceal and will require some adjustments of clothing and belt type, along with a quality holster like mine. Safari land 6000 series holsters can be easily modified with a Dremel to hold this set up and still maintain retention. There are multiple reasons for MIL/LE to use this setup, although I recommend to all of our clients to issue two slides; one setup like this and one with traditional sights.

Sounds like we need one of these, or a trip back to the eye surgeon. (May not be an option. Our guy, the brilliant Dr Jack Daubert of West Palm Beach, has unfortunately had to retire).

Finally, there’s the SIG 229 Elite, which is used with organizations that use SIGs, or other DA/SA guns rather than striker-fired, and that don’t have a loaner gun for Defoor to use himself while conducting training.

Nothing magical here, just a pistol. About the only unusual thing here is that he got Raven to make him a one-off holster for the gun.

I also will sometimes use this when I’m training units that shoot a Berretta 92 when they can’t supply me with one (I don’t own a 92).

And that wraps up one instructor’s training and defensive battery. Instead of having many guns (either in quantity or in battery) he has stuck to basic platforms, and plowed his efforts into training instead. There’s a lesson in that if we want to pick up on it.

Update

This post has been corrected. Kyle’s main go-to Glock 19 is a G4, not a G3 as we erroneously reported. We regret the error. -Ed.

Persistence of “Obsolete” Gun Designs: 5 Reasons

At a very well-stocked gun shop, the most expensive new firearm might be a Barrett .50 or a TrackingPoint precision guided weapon. But it might not. It might very well be a European trap or hunting shotgun, a well-decorated and supremely finished, but technologically simple double-barrel over-and-under, with lockwork a 19th Century gunsmith would have recognized.

A Luciano Bosis ‘Michelangelo’ 12-bore shotgun. From the Bosis website.

For about $600 a buyer can take home the latest high-tech defensive pistol, or for about the same price a basic clone of the high-tech defensive pistol of 1911. He’s well armed either way, but why has technology marched on in the pistol world, but stood still on the shotguns used by bird busters (of the meat and clay variety alike)?

Any rifle problem in the world from rimfire plinking to open-range elk hunting has a version of the AR that can conceivably be applied to it. But hunters still buy lots of bolt-action rifles, with bolts that owe their basic design to the 19th Century efforts of Mauser in Oberndorf.

Indeed, here in New England, the single-shot break-action firearm continues to hang on in the market; new production continues.

The firearms market, then, is unlike other markets. In 1960 only a few car models sold in the United States came with automatic transmission standard; by 1970, air conditioning was in that market position, by 1980 electronic fuel injection… but these technologies are nearly universal now. Why do “obsolete” firearms actions persist and thrive in a market that has seen centuries of innovation? Why does the innovative product take its place alongside the venerable one, and not replace it?

Here are some thoughts.

  1. In some cases, the innovative product does replace the venerable one. Consider the police revolver. 30 years ago, a mainstay of industry magazine publishers was “revolver vs. automatic for police.” Nowadays, if you brought that article to your editor, he or she would suggest you need your head examined. Many agencies don’t let a cop carry a revolver, any more, even off duty.

    One of Colt’s best loved guns isn’t even made anymore.

  2. The gun buyer is inherently conservative. It’s much easier to sell a driver on the benefits of fuel injection than it is to sell a hunter who’s perfectly happy with his .30-30 on the benefits of a funny-looking plastic and alloy semiauto. (This also hurts European makers who tend to make guns that “look funny” to Americans. Think HK’s hunting rifles of the 80s and 90s).
  3. There is a draw to history in old-fashioned firearms. We double-dog dare you to pick up a Colt SAA and not think about the Old West (even if the Old West of public memory was mostly the creation of dime novels and moviemakers). Ditto, a 1911 and World War II. For many in the shooting sports, the draw to history is personal and familial. If you were the unloved grandson who didn’t inherit Gramps’s Winchester 64, you pine for one; this seems especially true for bird hunters, almost all of whom were introduced to the sport by family.
  4. Sometimes you’re tied by rules. Nobody’s going to get to use a Saiga shotgun in a trapshoot this year. Some states’ hunting laws ban semiauto or detachable-mag-fed semi weapons, on the theory that they promote snap shooting and bad sportsmanship.
  5. Sometimes the older design is perfectly fit for the task. Evolution stops because it has reached a plateau or point of equilibrium (just as evolution of living things is currently thought to do, between incidences of salutary mutation). While many jurisdictions’ regulations restrict hunting weapon magazine capacity, there’s little impetus to change these laws because the game gets a vote, too, and it tends not to stick around when the guns open up. Hunting upland game birds, two shots is often one more than you can practically get off when the birds flush, and two is pretty much the limit. Same with bolts and hunting of ground game. Doesn’t matter if you’re belt-fed, one shot and Bambi is outa there. Likewise, if there is a better gun to teach a beginner the rudiments of safety and shooting than a break-action, exposed-hammer single shot, we surely can not think of what it is.

We’re “thinking out loud,” here, and there might be more than five reasons. We’re most partial to #5 of the explanations above. But you’re welcome to shoot holes in this theory. Are there other guns than the police revolver that have become eclipsed in living memory? The .25 Auto, perhaps… what else?

Pakistan May be Adopting a CZ Bren Variant

There is much more certainty expressed about this in the gun press in the USA than in the Pakistani or Czech media, but it looks like Pakistan may have reached an understanding with CZ-UB for a next generation military rifle.

The Paki competition has been no secret, nor has their desire (1) to make the gun locally and (2) to be free to export it. Some manufacturers have hung up on the first condition, but the second has been more problematical: who wants to compete with his own design, manufactured by well-educated and skilled, but much less expensive, Pakistani labor? In addition, Pakistan, burned before by on-again, off-again American sanctions, doesn’t trust American suppliers. Still, there have been a number of entries (alphabetically by manufacturer):

  1. Beretta ARX-200 — Beretta is hungry for a high-profile sale of its decent rifle, which has not been able to break out of the pack on the international market.  This was always considered a longshot entrant.

  2. CZ-806 Bren2 — CZ-UB has also provided a previously unseen variant, the CZ 807 in 7.62 x 39 mm, for the Type 56-2 part of the contract, and is offering the 806 in 5.56 plus a variant in 7.62 NATO with 14″ or 16″ barrel. CZ’s production costs are low enough to make the Bren very competitive. 

  3. FN-SCAR-H  — adopting this rifle would be popular with the troops, but there may be cost issues. US SOF have used it  for some years and opinions are split. FN could really use a major sale of this excellent weapon. The NATO 7.62 caliber is widely used by today’s Pakistan Army and this could directly replace the elderly G3s, whose design dates to the early 1950s (although HK roller-lock guns are still in production by POF).

  4. Kalashnikov AK-103 — Kalashnikov Concern too could use a high-profile export sale, but having been burned in the past by global copying of Soviet-era Kalashnikov weapons without bourgeois capitalist royalties, they’re reluctant to bless a lower-cost producer to export their designs. (It may come down to royalty rates — and the degree to which the famously trusting Russians trust the famously upright Pakistanis). Another plus would be that most extant accessories like magazines and pouches work fine with the updated AK. The 7.62 x 39 Bren, on the other hand, requires a new, proprietary polymer magazine (although it should fit fine in most AK mag pouches).

  5.  Zastava M21 — The Croatian bullpup, another longshot, was eliminated early, but expect the Croats to keep showing up at competitions, and tweaking their firearm based on feedback. They also submitted a conventional layout carbine in 7.62 NATO, based on the former Yugoslav M76 sniper rifle (for which they did produce 7.62 versions for export, even though the native gun was in 7.92 x 57 mm).

POF and CZ-UB have, according to Pakistani and Czech media, reached a memorandum of understanding about co-production and ultimately Pakistani production of the CZ-UB design, which has been interpreted as a signal of a CZ win in the competition, but might not be that at all, but an earlier milestone — i.e., a co-production agreement if CZ wins.

The Nature of the Competition is Unclear

While the Pakistan Army wants to replace both its G3s and its Chinese Type 56-2 AKs, what isn’t clear is whether this is one competition for one rifle, or two competitions for two rifles, in two calibers. Both of the current rifles have their fans in the South Asian nation’s forces, the AK for its compactness and doglike reliability, and the G3 for its range and ability to digest less-than-perfect ammunition. But the last matters less as POF ammo QC has improved, and the Pakistan Army is professional enough to train with whatever it gets from its lords and betters, rifle-wise.

Some sources have already reported that the CZ 807 in 7.62 x 39 has won the nod to replace the AK, and that this gives the CZ 806 in 5.56 or the future 7.62 x 51 variant the inside track to  replace the G3.

Having weapons chambered or both NATO and former ComBloc calibers has logistic consequences, but given that Pakistan can produce indigenous weapons and ammo in both calibers, it also has operational benefits. For example, Pakistani troops can interoperate with any conceivable ally (and they often do, as UN peacekeepers) without fretting about ammo supply.

The Threat Pakistan’s Generals See

While Pakistan has been engaged in bitter antiterrorist operations (and Pakistani politics is sufficiently complex that sometimes Pakistani officials find themselves on both sides of a fight), the Army’s focus is and has been since inception on war with India. Pakistan has fought major wars with India in 1947, 1965, and 1971, and limited wars in 1985 and 1999. Pakistan has also made an ally of China, with India allying with Russia, but Pakistani generals now fear a two-front war in the case of Chinese-Indian rapprochement, something made possible by Russian weakness and US abdication in the region. Thus, Pakistan weapons procurement is driven largely by the need to match India and exploit asymmetries to offset India’s demographic and economic superiority. The Pakistani service also knows its forces have come a long way since the US invaded Afghanistan next door, and would like to see their equipment improved to match — hence the timing of this planned move up from 1940s and 50s weapons designs.

For more information

The KM17s Follows the Leader

Australia, which now prides itself on being semi-auto-rifle and homicide-free, once not only designed and manufactured such rifles, but exported them. The Australian Leader rifle in 5.56 never won any contracts we’re aware of. But a quantity of them sold here, and they have won some converts. It shares some mechanical features with the Armalite AR-18 series, and seems like it could work well.

Ian did a very good video on the Leader rifle at Forgotten Weapons.

Various versions including 7.62mm and bullpup versions were tried, and a version of the bullpup went into production by Bushmaster, ending when Cerberus yanked Bushmaster’s chain. A review in a recent American Rifleman brought to our attention the re-launch of a much improved version of the bullpup as the KM17S556. Like Charles St. George of Leader nearly 40 years ago, the head of K&M Arms, Ken McAllister, envisions a whole line of these rifles; success of the 5.56 model that has been making the review circuit will enable all that.

Bullpups have been in the news a lot, thanks largely to the Israeli adoption of the modern Tavor, which has also been an export success for Israel Weapons Industries, with about 20,000 Tavors a year finding new homes in America, despite a boycott maintained by dozens of smelly campus hippies as part of the Boycott, Divestment, Stink movement. Perhaps due to rapid modification of the issue gun and the slower pace of ATF approvals, the design of the civil and military Tavors has diverged, but the rifle remains popular despite a high price. (Almost $2k before optics). Other bullpups come and go, including AUGs, MSARs (an American AUG knock-off), and two models from Kel-Tec; the compactness of the bullpup system always intrigues buyers. The original AUG and a Croatian design, as well as FN’s 5.56 and PDW bullpups, continue in military service here and there, even though Steyr seems to have thrown in the towel on bullpup designs, and is returning to a conventional layout.

The Leader of 1978 is unrecognizable in the KM17S, apart from its internals. It has a three-lug bolt, a gas tappet design (like Tokarev, Simonov, and Saive FN designs) and is designed to quickly field-strip without tools into three large assemblies.

(NRA photo)

The Leader and all its successors are designed for easy manufacture. On the Leader, the upper receiver was pressed steel. On its bullpup derivations, it’s a machined aluminum extrusion — very fast and inexpensive to produce, in quantity.

Its path from Australia to Maine to Arizona has been long and has seen many minds and hands work on it; if McAllister can produce and distribute them to the legions of bullpup fans out there, the Leader may have a new lease on life. If so, it will be an overnight success — a generation in the making.

The original inventor of the Leader was an Aussie named Charles St. George. He developed the Leader T2 in the 1970s and modified it many times with the hopes of selling it to the Australian defence (as they spell it!) forces. Many improvements were developed for the military M18, such as ambidextrous dual non-reciprocating charging handles, and persist in its descendants today. The military bought the AUG instead — Australia still manufactures a version locally —  and St. George’s bullpup version, which he called the T18, never was produced as such in quantity. Instead, he licensed it to Bushmaster, which produced it in small quantity from about 1992 to 2005. At some point in time, Leader went paws up and a small quantity of continuation T2s were made by a firm called Australian Automatic Arms; at least some of these had wood stocks in a “postban configuration” per the US 1994 gun ban law, as seen here on Forgotten Weapons. Per Ian, importation to the USA of the Leader was only about 2,000 units.

Meanwhile, McAllister had a machine shop in Chandler, Arizona, called K&M Aerospace. Apart from the custom aerospace and automotive manufacturing he did, he began to make parts to customize and improve bullpup rifles after getting hooked on the platform by a Bushmaster M17S that he picked up. His upgrades included trigger improvements, weight reductions, rails systems, even cheekpieces, and he began to manufacture replacement parts for the M17 community. From there, it seemed a short step to manufacture, although the KM17S’s path from decision to market — if it is, really, indeed on the market now that reviews are showing up — was over five years long.

The bullpup design appeals to owners who would like to have a modern rifle with a different style or flare. It has proven to be a very hard sell to armies, but there’s certainly demand for bullpup rifles out there, and K&M’s design is unique in the market in not being largely polymer. (It’s mostly steel and aluminum). The NRA found it shot 2-inch groups.

For More Information:

Steyr / Rheinmetall Enters the G36 Replacement Competition

At least three manufacturers are competing in the evolving process of selecting the Bundeswehr’s replacement for the unsatisfactory G36 individual rifle. The participants include H&K, SIG-Sauer, and Steyr, which is partnering with Rheinmetall. (Gun history buffs, Rheinmetall is huge now, but evolved from an ancient gunmaking firm… Dreyse, of Prussian needle-gun fame). Dreyse was based in Sommerda, but Rheimetall calls Düsseldorf home today.

G36: Los! (Out with it. Here a G36E clone).

The story is told at the indispensable German defense blog, Thomas Wiegold’s Augen Geradeaus! (“Eyes front!”). Our meatball translation:

On the standing theme of the G36 and future assault-rifle of the Bundeswehr, at year’s end we’ve got a new data point: Three German enterprises will compete for the provision of the new standard weapon for German armed forces. Along with Heckler & Koch, which already supplies the G36 and has had success with the HK416 in France, and the Eckernforde-based business SIG-Sauer, the German defense concern Rheinetall is stepping in — with a weapon from the Austrian manufacturer Steyr Mannlicher. The Austrians were defeated by Heckler & Koch in the competition for the new Bundeswehr rifle in the early 1990s.

(Thomas, if you read this, you’re welcome to use any part of our translation on your site, should you want to put up an English post. We know your English is good but your time is limited, and there’s great interest in the non-German-speaking world in the Bundeswehr’s decision process).

In any event, he goes on from there to quote from a story in the Vienna newspaper Kurier, which says that Steyr is developing an AUG successor called the Gewehr bei Fuß or Foot-Soldier’s Rifle. The model being offered to the Germans is called the RS556.

The Austrian journos think that Steyr lost back in 1994 because of politics — EU Brüderschaft be damned, German officials wanted German soldiers carrying German guns. With 60% of the value added in the manufacture of the proposed Bundeswehr RS556 version being Made In Germany, they think the away team has a better shot. Our translation of part of the Kurier report:

The Austrian weapons manufacturer already had a shot in Germany in 1994, when its legendary Steyr Universal Rifle AUG (Sturmgewehr 77) had the best result in tests, according to reporting at that time. Yet the German manufacturer, Heckler & Koch in Oberndorf, received the contract for 176,544 military rifles for its Sturmgewehr G36.

So what is the RS556? Essentially, it’s a reformation of the AUG’s technology into an AR-15 form factor. Indeed, at a distance, it’s hard to tell it from a SIG or a 416. So however this shakes out, the AR is going to notch up another win. From the same Kurier report:

The new RS556 indeed looks like an American weapon, but it is the further development of the Steyr Sturmgewehr 77. With just a handgrip and no tools the barrel can be changed. Ther eare three barrel lengths available, and the rifle can be employed as assault rifle, submachine gun or light machine gun according to length.

You may recall this was a selling feature of the AUG, although not one that seemed to be prized by end users. It looks like the Steyr RS556 is also fully ambidextrous.

Due to a special surface coating, the rifle also works without gun oil, which is an especially large advantage in desert operations. The gas system and the rotary-locking bolt are inherited from the earlier StG 77 (AUG).

The AUG had some success, arming Austria, Australia (in a local version; bad news for ill-educated Yanks who always confuse those entirely different countries), some of the UAE forces and (briefly, because nobody paid to maintain them) the US Immigrations & Customs Enforcement agency. (ICE now uses M4s in either semi or surplus configuration, which have mostly replaced the late lamented AUGs and the not-as-lamented MP5s).

When The Army Resisted the M16A2, Part 3 of 3

The previous two stories set the stage, for a look at a report drafted for the Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences the Army was still pursuing the “best” (an upgraded M16 meeting all Army objectives) instead of the “good” (the M16A2, which was developed and revised to meet Marine objectives). Of course, we all know the spoiler aleady: the Army accepted the Marine M16A2 as is, leaving the report as an orphaned artifact. The report is here: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a168577.pdf

Colt factory shot of the M16A2. The A2 was developed by the USMC, but was manufactured by Colt and FNMI.

This is the third of a three part series. In the first part, Thursday on WeaponsMan.com, the Army contractors noted the specific solutions implemented on the A2 and the problems the Marines solved thereby, but complained that the problems and solutions were too USMC-specific. In the second part, posted yesterday, we discussed just what they thought was wrong about the Marines’ product. In this, third, part, we’ll list the modifications that they suggested in lieu of or in addition to the A2 mods.

Most of the Army’s problems with the A2 related to the burst mechanism, and the sights, especially the complicated rear sight. (This is actually an A3/A4 or M4: note the knobs, left, for removing the carrying handle. The A2 handle was forged as part of the upper receiver.

Reliability

We should note that the Marines’ tests, as reported in this document (p,7), demonstrated significantly lower reliability, and increased fouling in the A2 compared to its older brother. These tests are suspect because the early lot of XM855 used was considered bad ammo, but the M16A1 did outperform the A2.

Thirty Ml6A1 rifles firing 26,010 rounds of M193

Failures to fire – none
Failures to feed – 3 (Not locking magazine in place)

Thirty M16A2 rifles firing 26,010 rounds of XM855

Failures to fire – 52 (27 – bad ammunition) (25 – mechnanical [sic] malfunctions)
Failures to feed – 3 (Improperly loaded magazines)

Those failures to fire that were not attributed to bad ammo were thought to be caused by the A2 trigger system’s Achilles’s heel, the burst trigger mechanism. The A2 performed even worse in a cold weather test, but again, it was with the questionable ammunition, and many of the failures to fire were also laid at the feet of the burst mechanism.

The report has an interesting discussion of the burst mechanism and its rationale in Marine, but not Army, small arms doctrine:

The M16A2 has less combat capability due to the elimination of full automatic fire. Full automatic fire enhances the ability of Army units to clear and defend buildings, to conduct final assaults on enemy positions, to defend against an enemy final assault, to conduct an ambush, to react to an enemy ambush, to engage an enemy helicopter or fast moving vehicle, etc.

While the Marines claim greater accuracy and conservation of ammunition for the 3-round burst control, no data were generated during the test to support these contentions and no supportative [sic] data are known to exist.

Also, it should be noted that room-to-room fighting was conducted with blanks, no close-in firing was conducted, no firing with short time limits was conducted, no firing at aircraft was conducted, etc. In other words, for all of the automatic/burst firing conducted during the test, a semi-automatic mode of fire would have probably resulted in a greater number of target hits.

Finally, to be given very serious consideration, is the fact that the burst control requires nine (9) new parts in the lower receiver, evidently contributing to the large number of weapon malfunctions during testing of the M16A2.

They also took issue with the heavy barrel (“heavy in the wrong place”), the twist rate (preferred 1:9), stock length increased when even the A1 stock was too long for small soldiers, and the fast twist’s incompatibility with the .22 subcaliber system. 

The article includes an extensive comparison of the pros and cons of Marine KD vs. Army Trainfire marksmanship modalities. These training differences result from the different combat envelopes for the rifleman: the Marines need to engage with rifles in the 300-to-800 meter space, because they don’t have the supporting arms that the Army can count on, at least, not in the same quantity. A unit that must fight with just its organic weapons needs to get the very most out of these weapons. The Army of 1986 did not consider a 500 or 600 meter target a primary rifle target, but a crew-served-weapons target.

In the end, the recommendations the contractors made were mostly about the sights. They put their recommendations in a table with the M16A1 and M16A2 stats. Since the latter are probably familiar to most readers, we omit them now to save time, and just show the contract recommendations.

Item Recommended
Front sight (day) Fixed blade, 0.090″
Front sight (night) Luminous dot on each sightguard
Rear Sight (day) single 2mm peep. A single elevation knob marked for 200, 250, 390, 25, 400, 500, 15, 600, 700, and 800 meters. Windage knob at rear. Each click equal to 1 MOA
Rear Sight (night) Two luminous dots on upper portion of receiver (or a single flip- up luminous dot located forward of the carrying handle) are aligned with front dots for shooting at night
Zero Recording Yes
Zero Inspection Yes
25m setting (day and night sights) Yes
Mechanical Zero Yes
250-m battlesight Yes
Firing mode Semi and Auto
Barrel 20″. Slightly heavier than A1 at receiver and mid-barrel. 1:9″ twist
Handguard Same as M16A2 except held in place with a securely fastened ring nut to provide rigidity.
Buttstock Same material as M16A2. Same length as M16A1. Option for adjustable length.

There are several interesting observations to make here. First, the contractors recommended that the Army make changes that would decrease the mechanical accuracy of the proposed M16Ax relative to the Marines’ A2. Specifically, these changes included the wider fixed front sight blade, the 1-MOA adjustments on the rear sight (A2 offers ½-MOA), and arguably the simplification of the rear sight. The trade-off was simplicity and ease of training, instead of superior bullseye performance.

Second, some of the proposals would definitely improve the utility of the firearm, including restoring the short stock, or replacing it with an adjustable one; increasing the barrel diameter towards the chamber rather than the muzzle, thus improving sustained fire accuracy and reliability; reverting to automatic fire from the burst mechanism (which also has side benefits, in improving the trigger’s feel and consistency). The night-sight proposal was truly ingenious.

Third, in some of these road-not-taken proposals, the Army was reverting to the original AR-10 design and rejecting changes that were largely imposed on the AR design by the Army in the previous decade. These include the rigid fastening of the handguard, and the fixed front sight blade.

Finally, these proposals were almost the last gasp of the iron-sighted military rifle. As this  document passed from the contracting officer to file cabinets across the service, without action, special operators were already wringing out scopes and single-point sights, and a few visionaries were already arguing that the day of the iron sight had run its three centuries, and was now at an end. A new generation of optical technology was eliminating the two objections that had kept optics off the rifles of most soldiers: less durability than irons, and slower target acquisition. Many men’s efforts went into winning over the Voices of Experience who still said “no” to anything with a lens, thanks to memories of Uncle Joe’s elk lost because his scope fogged up, or the VC that got away because somebody attached an unauthorized 4×32 Colt scope to the carrying handle of his M16.

What’s a Duffle Bag Cut?

It never occurred to us until recently that there were people in the gun culture unfamiliar with the Duffle Bag Cut, until a knowledgeable young gun guy asked us, “What’s a Duffle Bag Cut?” as we described such a cut on a Mauser that Santa brought us this year.

Some of the WeaponsMan related Christmas stuff, posing at the tree. The cut doesn’t show with the rifle at rest.

Thing is, if you grew up in collecting in the 50s, 60s or 70s, many WWI and WWII vintage long guns had this cut, and everybody knew why.

Rear side of the cut, which was done with the stock off the gun. The dual sling swivels (left side for cavalry, bottom for infantry) was often seen on Czech long arms like this early 7.92 mm vz.24.

But circumstances have changed, a lot. The military, especially the military police and the judge advocates, have fallen under the sway of gun control activists, and the guys are no longer permitted to take and keep war trophies.

Taking an enemy firearm as a trophy was widespread (and even encouraged, or at least permitted) in World War I and II and the Korean War. It came under some restrictions in Vietnam, and by the GWOT was totally and utterly banned.

Here’s the nose end of the cut. It looks like it was ineffectually (WECSOG?) glued in the past.

But during its heyday in the 20th Century, war trophy taking was a norm. The weapons were brought back by the frontline troops who took them, the rear-echelon troops who traded for them, and the MPs who confiscated them for their own personal benefit, which was definitely a thing, if you listened to the WWII guys when they were still around to talk.

There was a problem, though. A Mauser or Arisaka didn’t fit in a GI duffel bag (and often, all a troop had for luggage was a duffle bag and a field pack). Enter the Duffle Bag Cut. Someone would cut the stock where the cut would be hidden by the barrel band.

This WWII bringback in a genuine WWII duffle bag (late Great Uncle Ovide’s) shows how the cut made it possible to close the bag on a disassembled Mauser, where even the bare stock would have been several inches too long. .

A permanent alteration to a firearm usually gets collectors all wound up, but this cut now a 70-year-old marker, an authentic part of the gun’s history and the tale it would tell if it could talk. Under the barrel band, it doesn’t hurt the utility of the gun for display, and so few collectors would consider repairing the cut (although any gunsmith not of the Wile E. Coyote School of Gunsmithing could). Those WWII soldiers who brought back Mausers and Arisakas, etc., were looking to keep them as trophies, or have them sporterized as deer guns, and the last few inches of the wood was not of any use on a sporting rifle.

A Duffle Bag Cut should not be seen on a gun with import marks. Instead, it’s the second-best indicator (after military capture or bringback papers) of a GI bringback. And it’s just one more interesting little thing about our Christmas VZ.24 Mauser.

(Note: We were expecting to put the 3rd Part of our M16A2 paper analysis up at this point, but have delayed and delayed and fiddled, waiting for a resource that has been unavailable; should we get our mitts on it again, we’ll have the post Monday morning. We regret the delay. -Ed.)