Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Peter Laidler Armorer Articles

This is something odd: we’re linking to one thread of a forum, the Canadian-based milsurps.eh (just kidding, milsurps.com), and what’s more, it’s one thread that only has one post.

Why in the name of St. Gretzky would we do that?

Well, it’s what a post it is! The post links to more than two dozen technical articles by former British armorer, Captain Peter Laidler. If you want to know more about the Lee-Enfield, British telescopic sights, or even BREN Gun parts, Laidler’s your huckleberry:

Capt. Peter Laidler is the senior Armourer in the UK Military, now retired, but based as a Technical Officer at the UK Military Small Arms School. On behalf of MILSURPS.COM members, we’d like to publicly thank him for his support of this forum, as well the broader Lee Enfield collector community in general.

There’s a great deal of information there for those interested in British weapons development, technology and maintenance of the 20th Century. Go to the link, and start working your way through some historic British technology. Enjoy!

 

USMC IAR Reliability Testing Results

A friend of a friend of the blog FOIAd this information, which took him two requests. The first produced the Round One reliability testing, which downchecked 6 of the 10 submissions. During the first-round test and data analysis, the submissions were blinded by using a code letter ID from A through J. In the results below, the producers of the four proposals which advanced to Round Two are shown, while the downchecked candidates are still indicated only by code letter.

Ultimate winner — the HK M27 IAR, a version of the company’s HK 416 AR knock-off.

Results from Round One, in 2008:

e. All participants submitted three samples for testing.

f. Results for all Class I and II failures are listed below across all 3 UUTs from 9 of the 10 IAR Bid Samples.

  1. Colt proposal A: 60 Failures
  2. Colt proposal B: 28 Failures
  3. Competitor C: 23 Failures
  4. Competitor D: 78 Failures
  5. Competitor E: 39 Failures
  6. Competitor F: 12 Failures
  7. Heckler & Koch Defence Inc. proposal G: 27 Failures
  8. Competitor H: 124 Failures
  9. FN Herstal proposal J: 26 Failures

g. The 10th IAR Bid Sample, Competitor I, was determined unsafe for live fire due to a lack of proof marking. Live fire testing was not conducted.

Kind of a raw break for that unfortunate competitor, Code Letter I.

Note that some of the rejected proposals (C, E, F) had fewer failures than the ones that proceeded. This is presumably due to the distribution of the failures. (If you have only a few failures, but they’re take-the-gun-to-the-bench failures, that’s a whole other thing than a higher quantity of simple failures that are rectified in seconds by operator immediate action (a la SPORTS drill on the M16/M4 series).

This is the Round One definition of failures by class:

Reliability Testing

The Unit Under Test (UUT) shall have a Mean Rounds Between Failure (MRBF) of 900 for Class I and II failures combined (Threshold), 5,000 MRBF (Objective).

  1. Class I failure: A failure that may be immediately corrected by the operator within 10 seconds or less while following prescribed immediate action procedures.
  2. Class II failure: A failure that may be corrected by the operator, and that requires more than 10 seconds but not more than 10 minutes to correct (less the TM/OM defined cool down period if a hot barrel condition exists).  Only the equipment and tools issued with the weapon may be used to correct the failure.

A very similar definition of failures, with a third, more serious, class, was used for Round Two in 2009.

Reliability/Endurance Testing Mean Rounds Between Failure (MRBF)

a. Three Units Under Test (UUTs) were provided for each model under evaluation.

b. The UUT shall have a Mean Rounds Between Failure (MRBF) of 900 for Class I and II failure combined (Threshold), 5,000 (Objective). The MRBF for Class III failures shall be 15,000 (Threshold), 20,000 (Objective).

  1. Class I failure: A failure that may be immediately corrected by the operator within 10 seconds or less while following prescribed immediate action procedures.
  2. Class II failure: A failure that may be corrected by the operator, and that requires more than 10 seconds but not more than 10 minutes to correct (less the TM/OM defined cool down period if a hot barrel condition exists). Only the equipment and tools issued with the weapon may be used to correct the failure.
  3. Class III failure: A failure of a severe nature. The failure (1) can be corrected by an operator but requires more than 10 minutes; (2) cannot be corrected by an operator and requires assistance (no time limit); or (3) requires higher level of maintenance or correction by an authorized operator cannot be accomplished because of unavailability of necessary tools, equipment, or parts.

This table is taken from the FOIA release, but we have added a column identifying the firearms, which in this test were coded 09 (presuably for the fiscal year) and a letter, thus 09A, 09B, etc.

UUT

Manufacturer MRBF
Class I and II
MRBF
Class III
Estimated
Barrel Life
         

09A

Colt

952

60,000 1800
09B Colt 1,277 15,000

1400

09C

FNH USA 5,000 N/A*

5,200

09D HK USA 1,622 20,000

16,200

Some interesting results here. The FN entrant had the highest rate of relatively minor Class I and II failures, but the lowest rate — zero — of Class III failures. (That’s why it’s “N/A”. You can’t calculate an MRBF with zero failures). And the HK example was distinctly mediocre compared to these competitors, on this one measurement. Conversely, it had far and away the highest barrel life — an important statistic for the always-broke Marines.

Update

Apologies to all for leaving off the document. This was actually two separate FOIA releases, of three and two pages, but I’ve combined them into one document and OCR’d them for your convenience (well, I also OCR’d them so I could pull those quotes above).

The initial page with the ID of the requestor has been deleted as he has requested privacy.

IAR Reliability Testing FOIA Release.pdf

Brownell’s Buys: Ghost Glocks, Threaded Barrels, Aimpoint PRO

We missed a one-day-only on these Polymer80 Glock frame kits for $39.99, but at $69.99 they’re still more than half off. Frame, metal guide rails insert, jig, and cutting tools all in one handy kit. Available in black, OD, or FDE.

The only reason we didn’t buy any this time is that we still have two untouched ones (including the one in the picture) — bought for list price.  We’ll get to ’em when we get to ’em. Supposedly, there’s a new version of the G17/17L/34 size frame coming out. These frames will work in 9mm or in .357 SIG/.40 S&W so you can actually clone the Glock 17, 17L, 22, 24, 31, 34, and 35; the compact frame for the G19 size guns is not being blown out, but will still set you back $150.

The G17 etc. frames are considerably blockier than the original Glock (which is saying something), so our guess is that the new version will be closer to the Glock original, like their G19 frame is. But that’s only our guess, we have no crystal ball. These are so popular that inexpensive Glock parts kits have become nonexistent.

What goes with a ghost Glock better than a suppressor? So you’re going to need a threaded barrel (also useful for making politicians’ heads spontaneously ess-plode like Mr Creosote). Most Silencerco Glock barrels are $40 off which brings them to $150, but there’s an even better deal on the higher-priced G43 barrel, for all you wannabe silent single-stackers out there. But Silencerco threadeds are for sale for several pistols: SIG 226, S&W M&P, HKVP9, and Beretta 92/M9.

Beretta 92! We bet this breathes life into a lot of dusty M9s/ 92s out there. Don’t have an M9? We interrupt this Brownells pitch to bring you a deal on an M9 (NB, that vendor has a “mixed” reputation, and its owner has been convicted of felonies under some bizarre California laws. We’ll pass, but maybe you feel lucky… punk). OK, back to Brownells.

Our two favorite AR optics are the ACOG and the Aimpoint, and for up-close-and-personal like shooting masked teenagers in the kitchen, we’d go with Aimpoint 10 out of 10 times. Brownells has a little bit of a deal on the Aimpoint PRO (Patrol Rifle Optic); they’re throwing in a $25 Brownells gift card with each one at $437. Your net, $412, plus shipping. We paid more than that for a well-worn Comp M2 used. The PRO is half the price, roughly, of the Comp M2’s successor, the Comp M4.

The PRO includes the features we like, like crazy long battery life, a near-Ranger-proof forged case, and 6 visible and 4 IR reticle brightness settings. (That said, if you don’t have NODS or plan imminent purchase of them, don’t be a tactard: don’t pay extra for NVG compatibility). Likewise, don’t bother with Killflash unless you’re planning on going out and hunting with it (bipeds or quadrupeds, the game is the same); for plinking and home defense you’re good to go out of the box. The one accessory you might consider is a quality QD mount, if you’re in the habit of trading optics a lot.

Parker Otto Ackley Hated his Christian Name

That’s why he went by P.O. all his life. Anybody claiming to be his friend and talking about, “Parker and I…” immediately made an ass of himself to Ackley’s real friends, who were many, and influential in the small world of American firearms.

This is just one of the fascinating details we’ve learned from P.O. Ackley: America’s Gunsmith by Fred Zeglin.

In a time when college graduates and even high school graduates were rare, Ackley was a magna cum laude graduate of Syracuse University (in New York, his native state). His degree was in Agriculture, and he was a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

Why did he become a gunsmith? “During the Depression, there was nothing else to do anyway.” His college studies had made him a remarkably good potato farmer, but his potatoes found no buyers.

In 1936, he bought the Roseburg, Oregon shop of Ross King, who had in turn bought the business from the widow of his former employer in Los Angeles, Ludwig Wundhammer, arguably the first great American sporterizer of military rifles. King moved back to LA and kept gunsmithing for some years.

Ackley bought the shop sight unseen, sold the family farm, and drove to Roseburg to meet King — whose work he respected greatly — and see his new shop. He paid King $1,000 down and $1,000 over time, on a handshake. But he didn’t know barrel making, so he accepted the offer of a friend to teach him. Leaving the family in Roseburg, he spent most of 1936-37 in Cincinnati learning the trade from Fritz, last name unknown, an employee of the friend, Ben Hawkins.

Ackley built much of his own tooling. He could afford only one gun-drill, so his early barrels were all bored .22 and reamed to final size with reamers he made himself. His own rifling machine was one of the earliest button-rifling mechanisms — he claimed to have co-invented the process, although he never filed a patent on it — and an entire chapter of the book is Ackley’s own detailed technical description of this tool. Ackley wrote it for a book that was never published, and the rifling-tool chapter may be the only surviving fragment.

In that chapter, as in many other places in the book, Ackley’s wit shines through.

“P.O. said that Elmer Keith was the biggest bullshit artist in the United States, but if he said he hit something with a .44 Magnum at 1000 yards, you better believe it, ’cause he could shoot.”

“The best way to get an answer to the problem is to ask someone who has never made a barrel. They can always tell you.”

Ackley’s foundation of the school of gunsmithing at the Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado was a surprising story. Ackley left the Ogden, Utah arsenal during the war — some say, after a falling out with co-worker Elmer Keith, the story of which Zeglin was not able to establish, and unconfirmed stories about which Zeglin was unwilling to publish. He ultimately wound up in Trinidad, and, after the war, was buried in a mountain of correspondence from GIs seeking gunsmithing training under their GI Bill benefits. The college, meanwhile, was getting similar letters — thousands of them.

The gunsmithing school was a success from the start, and early students remember an unusual instructional technique: Ackley would disassemble a gun and reassemble it where students could not see it, talking them through the process. Then, in the lab, they’d have to do it themselves, forcing them to learn by doing, not monkey-see-monkey-do.

Lee Womack, one of his former students, wrote:

In spite of his 16-hour days, he was always available…. He gave freely of any information he might have. He used to say that anybody in the gun business who thought he had a trade secret was just kidding himself.

This year will be the 70th anniversary of the program, a living memorial to an interesting American craftsman.

We’ll close with a few more Ackley quotes. On bullpup actions:

My opinion of the Bull-pup idea in general would not be very complimentary, and like the man once said, “If you can’t say anything good about it, then don’t say anything at all.” Therefore, I am silent as HELL on this subject.

On relative and absolute strengths of rifle actions, something which he experimented on extensively:

[A]ny action can be blown up if you try hard enough.

On the strength of the Italian Carcano, proven in his blow-up tests:

In spite of the fact that the locking lugs looked as though you could knock them off with a tack hammer, we were unable to damage any one of the four bolts appreciably. When the actions finally let go the receiver ring flew off, but this didn’t come until we had reached loads whitch had previously blown up P-17 Enfields. I wish to point out. however, that none of this should be used to conclude that the rifle could ever be made into a desirable hunting arm because that is a fairly good definition of the word impossibility.

As you might imagine, we’re loving the book.

What’s Happening in SF Arms Today

There are a number of things going on right now, some of which may be trends.

More and Heavier Weapons

When we joined SF, while there was plenty of access to weapons that were heavier/more specialized / foreign, what an ODA carried was 12 M16A1 rifles (if we were fortunate enough to have 12 guys and zero empty slots, which happened… let’s just say, rarely). Soon, they gave us two M203s so we didn’t have to keep bumming M79s that Big Green wanted to get rid of.

Since then, the trend has been to push more and heavier weapons down to team level, giving the team increasing mission-driven options.

Background

By the start of Afghanistan, we had SOPMOD I M4A1s, two of them w/203s per ODA, 7.62mm (M24) and 12.7mm (M82A1) sniper rifles, and had just gotten M249 SAWs. We borrowed everything else or bought it out of theater-specific money: AT weapons, a full suite of suppressors, etc. (Suppressors were part of SOPMOD I but ours got stuck in the pipeline and we got 2/team after deployment).

We had claymores and toe-poppers, and in 2003 had to turn them in because some drone in the foreign service had made an unwise promise to the ghost of the least consequential Briton in history, with the possible exception of Boy George, to wit, Princess Diana.

Demolitions have become more urban-centric lately. Your average SF demo man can rig a door to blow in two seconds flat, but send him into a forest to blow down trees for an abatis, and you’ll see him sneaking peeks at reference material.

With the evolution of the war, the weapons evolved rapidly with many more versions of precision rifle appearing, the Mk17 SCAR with several barrel lengths, and variants on the M4 / Mk18. We finally got M240s, M2HBs and Mk 19s of our own, rather than borrowed from Big Green. And bigger weapons yet began to ride our vehicles, notably M134 Miniguns and some SOF-specific weapons.

Where We Are Now

The basic weapon remains the M4A1 with several different uppers available.

Changes since Your Humble Blogger retired include free-floated rails systems, much better general issue 5.56 ammunition negating the need for Mk 262 77-grain, HK grenade launchers partly replacing the Mk 19 (the HK’s a much better weapon), and Mk 44 (currently Mod 3) replacing earlier iterations of Miniguns.

Pistols are a special purchase of the Glock 19, Gen 3, with the MOS slide and the Docter optic as previously used atop some SOF ACOGS. Not all teams in all groups mount the optic, but if the loggies have done their job, they have them available.

For what it’s worth, the Dillon-made Miniguns are preferred over the original GE ones because they’re easier to handle — which is relative; it’s a very difficult and intensive weapon to maintain. “The way that GE attaches the backplate, it feels like it’s trying to rotate in your hands” said one guy who attended a maintenance school which was “nowhere near enough time” on the miniguns. The M134 nomenclature is still used, but only when the gun is mounted for aerial use (for instance, as a helo door gun). This is operator-level maintenance disassembly of a Mk 44, NSN 1005-01-576-3284:

Haven’t seen that many parts since BAR days! Note the armorer’s breakfast of champions: Starbucks, Krispy Kremes, Gatling Gun.

Contrary to normal Hollywood practice, the Mk44 is not an individual weapon for a muscle-bound refugee from WWE, but a vehicular weapon. If it has an Achilles’s Heel, it’s the electrical system. The Navy specified paper fuses, and it’s not easily to tell when a fuse is blown… the first thing an SF armorer or 18B needs to do is replace the fuses with similar value ones from the vehicle maintenance shop. Because it’s a 24v system, it adapts readily to military vehicular or aircraft electrical systems, but is harder to install in nonstandard vehicles. (It can be, and has been, done, but it’s a pain in the neck). The weapon system, complete, draws 2,500 watts of power.

After juice problems, the next most common reason for a Mk 44 going silent is ammunition exhaustion. It burns a lot of rounds at a rate of about 3,000 / min cyclic. (The rate is selectable but that’s the standards). It’s often installed in a Mk49 CROWS, which is relatively trouble-free compared to the gun itself, but can also be fired by a double spade grip on the backplate, and that’s one of the more common ways for SF to use it. Found on YouTube, SF at the range:

Basic load is a multiple of 3,000 round ready canisters. (The Vietnam-era 1,000 round cans seem to be obsolete). The cans need to be changed before you shoot up the last rounds in the approximately 14-foot long (~4m) flexible feed chute, or reload will be a slow and exacting experience, and if you are under fire your teammates will call you hurtful names.

Even as the SCAR has fallen out of a favored position as the doorkicker-gun-par-excellence, there’s word that Big Green is buying a quantity of them, and they are being relabeled the CAR because the S in SOF Combat Assault Rifle no longer applies.

SF and all ARSOF loves it when Big Green buys something that we pioneered, because it means we can get more with regular Title 10 appropriated funds and not use our MFP 11 SOF money for that. Sure, it’s all the same tax blood coming from the same taxpayer turnips, but the finite pool of SOF money has to buy everything from TF 160’s next space age flying thing to improved foreign-language training classes. As you can imagine, the fly guys and the language instructors (not to mention futuristic communications and ISR-device users) get bent out of shape when we “misuse” what they know is “their” money merely for stuff to kill the enemy with, which they point out that we can do perfectly well with two sticks of wood and 18″ of twine. So when we get guns that are shared with the big Army, it’s better for everybody: we think it often gets them better guns (they sure liked lightweight 7.62mm machine guns), and we know it gives us more cash to spend on our other priorities that are less in-demand among the general purpose forces (who have their own track record of killing the enemy, after all).

Where We’re Going

That’s anybody’s guess. Wider issue of the .300 BLK upper has been a matter of controversy inside SF — some are strong for it, some oppose it. The guys that have it have been dealing deadly execution with it. But SOCOM has reportedly solicited offers for 25 thousand .300 BLK PDW/CQC kits: with a side-folding stock and a 10-inch .300 BLK upper.

There’s no real interest in piston uppers or 416s. Fanboy stuff for the civilian tacticool community, really. Nobody’s shown us a data-driven test that documents any significant improvement. (Remember, the 416 was bought by SOF ~15-20 years ago to solve a short barrel reliability problem that’s now well-licked in DI weapons).

Magazines are prosaic but they’ve come many miles. We’ve gone from having only a couple of decent magazine choices to a great quantity of types of solid, reliable, consistent-feeding magazines. The days that you had to run steel HK mags because the issue mags sucked so bad are long behind us; even the issue mags don’t suck. The HKs are still good, but why pay the dollar and weight premium? Magpuls are good, too — the Marines are standardizing on them — and they’re not the only good polymer option.

There’s also no real interest in a reversion to 7.62 in any of the current platforms as a standard, baseline weapon. Afghanistan and Iraq/Syria are a bit unusual in offering lots of long-range engagements. Unless their predeployment training dropped the ball (which some units have managed to do), our riflemen across the board are far more lethal than the enemy anywhere inside the 800m envelope. The enemy still deploys (apart from MGs and snipers) weapons that are outranged by our rifles, mostly 7.62 x 39 weapons with short-radius open sights; the AK platform fails to exploit the accuracy potential of its cartridges.

With the war continuing, we may not see major fielding but we’re going to see lots of improved developments. We are currently in a place where some of the last decade’s developments need to be digested and promulgated. We’re not sure where the soldier of 2117 will be fighting, but the odds are pretty good he will be fighting with a weapon that launches metallic projectiles from the shoulder and weighs about 6 to 10 pounds. As has been the case since about 1617.

USMC to Issue M27 More Widely?

A dog’s-breakfast of an article at Marine Corps Times suggests that the Marines are considering issuing the M27 IAR, now issued to squad automatic riflemen, for issue to all riflemen — not all Marines, in the sense of “every Marine is a rifleman,” but to MOS 0311 Riflemen, who apparently haven’t been named Genderfluid Riflepersons yet, in a crushing blow to the one USMC initiative of late unlamented SecNav Ray Mabus.

The 0311 Rifleman, we are assured by no less an authority on all things Marine than R. Lee Ermey as Sergeant Loyce, “is the &%$ing United States Marine Corps.” Let’s pick up a few things from the article, starting with why the Marines love the IAR:

While the M249 can put more rounds downrange, the IAR allowed Marines to provide suppressive fire with greater precision, Marines said.

“It’s been almost a paradigm shift in understanding what suppression is,” 1st Lt. Tom Rigby told Marine Corps Times. “It’s always been understood by the junior Marine that volume of fire and the sound of the machine gun equaled suppression.”

For the love of God, random noise was never “suppression,” but we suppose that’s what the reporter gets for interviewing a lieutenant. “In my experience…” it’s Baby Duck’s First Day!

Only accurate fire suppresses enemy fire. This is not a new discovery… people throughout history have had better luck shooting right at the enemy than sort of at him.

What’s next, on this Baby Duck’s First Day when All Is New? The distilled wisdom of a mosquito-winged PFC, speaking from his six months’ Marine experience?

Well, funny you should mention that:

“On single-shot, you can hit 800 yards no problem,” Lance Cpl. Joshua Houck told Marine Corps Times. “I love that you can go from single shot to full auto with the flick of a switch.”

Gee, what a novel feature. The Marines never had it before… except in the M16A1. And the M2 carbine. And the Thompson Submachine Gun, designed in 1918-1919, and bought by the Marines in the twenties, for crying out loud. But you can’t expect a boot PFC to know that.

Then, on the superiority of the HK 416 (which is all the IAR is) to the M4, the authority they cite is — a long retired Army Major General, a professional camera hound who has zero combat (or even training) experience with either weapon. Seriously, look at this (emphasis ours):

The M27 that the Marine Corps currently uses for the IAR, is “hands down, the best automatic rifle in the world,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, author of the 2016 book “Scales on War: The Future of America’s Military at Risk.”

“It outclasses the M4 in every single category,” said Scales, who is not affiliated with Heckler & Koch.

FFS, it is an M4, except with two 1980s-vintage improvements, a free-floating barrel and a gas tappet system.

“The key category is reliability — particularly in dusty, sandy, muddy terrain. The HK has a solid rod system, like the AK-47.”

“Solid rod system?” Is that a thing? And no, the HK 416’s gas tappet system is nothing like the AK’s gas piston system. Unlike Scales, we have examples of both, and have shot and maintained ’em. (From a Larry Vickers video, this is the HK 416 gas system).

The M27, sold to civilians and overseas as the HK 416, uses a piston to control the function of the bolt, and that eliminates problems with gas-tube operating systems used in the M4 ­carbines and M16 rifles, according to the company’s website.

“Uses a piston to control the function of the bolt?” This is retarded, although it’s not Scales talking, but the reporter. It’s pretty clear that neither of them has the foggiest notion what goes on underneath the handguards of any modern military rifle.

But hey, Scales does step up to double down on the Full Retard:

If you have a solid rod, then the action can literally blow through things that would normally slow down a bolt action, because you’ve got more mass,” Scales said in a March 27 interview.

This is beyond being stupid about weapons… he’s galactically stupid about physics, too. Hey, we just noticed that there’s a solid rod on all our bolt actions, and you actually have to grab it and waggle it around to load a new round. That definitely slows things down.

“Whereas, the M4 has a floating bolt that’s not attached to the rod. The gas goes down a long, thin tube — and the gas itself blows against another tube on top of the bolt, which throws the bolt back instead of carrying the bolt back.”

Two little sentences, more fail than we can count. Proof positive that one can “be ‘tarded, and still live kick-ass lives.”

Now the reporter gets to to paraphrasing rather than quoting Scales, so you can’t be sure whose retardation is radiating stronger in this particular Superfund Site of a sentence:

The HK 416’s floating barrel makes it much more accurate and stable than the M4, especially in automatic fire, he said.

Aargh.

The rifle also gives troops between 100 and 150 extra meters of effective range than the M4.

Mostly, as Shawn at LooseRounds has demonstrated, because we underestimate the M4 and undertrain with it… but yeah, the longer barrel and free-floated barrel of the M27 are helpful at longer ranges. Where, alas, the terminal ballistics of the 5.56 are comparatively anemic, and where an infantry unit has much more effective weapons, something Scales would know if he were still an infantry officer and not a quote-generator-for-hire.

And let’s close the quotes with another direct quote from Scales:

“It’s the only weapon better than the AK-74, according to people I’ve talked to,” Scales said.

Oh, Lord. “People that he’s talked to.” Well, we defer to that! 

If the AK-74 is so awesome, why is Russia only exporting them to places that get them, essentially, for free, courtesy of hard-working Russian taxpayers? Has he shot an AK-74? Of course he hasn’t! He’s a general, he has people for the shooting stuff. And he talks to people, who may be complete random souls but we’ll defer to him because we are impressed with the Argument from Authority logical fallacy.

If you want to read the whole article, it’s not entirely retarded. There are quotes from Marine Commandant Neller, and those are OK. The reporter has also stealth-corrected his original error in which he said the Marines envisioned issuing the IAR to every mortarman, anti-tank infantryman, etc., while what he meant was that the Marines don’t envision issuing the rifles to infantrymen who are not MOS-designated riflemen.

Barrelmaking, a Century Past

This booklet at archive.org includes reprints of several Machinery articles from the First World War period, describing the industrial manufacture of rifle barrels at the time. The complexity of the task and its many operations are clear, plus, of course, there were various methods of cut rifling, but no other method of rifling, because button, cold forging, and electrochemical processes had yet to be applied to this task.

And before you could rifle, you must drill, which had its own problems.

The first article is on the manufacture of the Lee-Enfield barrel, and begins:

The most difficult part of a gun to make is the barrel. A knowledge of the conditions under which it will be used, a thorough acquaintance of the principles involved, and sound and accurate machinery are essential before a barrel can be made successfully.

Naturally, the sequence of operations and methods used are not identical in different factories, but there are definite stages in its manufacture which all makers must follow. After being centred, the surface of the barrel forging is rough turned to relieve it of outside strains, and briefly, the chief operations following are: drilling, finish turning, grinding outside, fine boring, rifling, lapping, screwing and chambering.

There are other operations that are only used in contingencies, for example, barrel straightening. The book is well worth the read!

Fred Ray: A Confederate Whitworth Sees Auction (Corrected)

Here’s another amazing find by Fred, in an auction catalog that AFAIK hasn’t come to Hog Manor yet in the treebark edition. but is already online. (Uh, we just realized, thanks to a comment, that while we were sleep-writing this post last night we confused Rock Island, whose catalog we do subscribe to, with James Julia, whose catalog we don’t — and probably should. The two auction houses are entirely different, and are keen competitors; both have a seemingly endless supply of historic firearms).

Auctioneer James D. Julia has a rare Confederate Whitworth up on the block. This one even has the four power Davidson telescope.

 

The brass tube Davidson scope was adjusted for elevation by turning the knurled knob on the right side of the forearm. This loosened the clamp on the left side so the 1-1/2″ bar graduated in 1/16″ increments could be raised and lowered, pivoting on the rear mount secured by the rear lock plate screw. The normal long range ladder sight could be used for normal short range shooting. There is extensive documentation on the acquisition of this rifle, along with correspondence regarding the use of these guns during the Civil War. This gun was originally found with the telescopic sight missing which was later purchased from Confederate authority Steve Mullinax and put back on the rifle according to documentation. In a 1992 letter from noted Whitworth authority John Morrow The Confederate Whitworth Sharpshooters, 1989. “The telescope mounted Whitworth ‘2nd Quality’ No. C529 Rifle” described here conforms to the specification of all the other known surviving examples of the Confederate Purchase Special Arms. Specifically, it is in the correct SN range, the simple form of the iron sights, two bbl bands, lack of a safety bolt, common breech rather than patent breech, very short muzzle projection beyond the forend cap (note that the bbl appears to have lost 3/16″ at the muzzle, it should be 33″ exactly), the method of mounting the telescope the form of the checkering and everything else about it confirm this. The total number shipped in this telescopic configuration is not known but only 8 have been traced up to this moment.” One identical to this gun, is pictured in Firearms of the Confederacy, plate XXIII and discussed on pages 27 and 28.

Fred goes on to explain what the marking “2nd Quality” on Confederate Whitworths means, and as always, Read The Whole Thing™.

Along with many photos, Julia has published a detailed provenance (.pdf) on the rifle. It goes back to its “rediscovery” in March, 1991, so you’ve got 26 years of the rifle’s over-150, and 125 or so years of mystery. Better than nothing.

Whitworths have characteristic hexagonal rifling.

At that time it was acquired by one Tom Hutchinson of Alton, Illinois, and Hutchinson immediately began a search for the just-as-impossible-to-find telescopic sight. Which he did find and have reinstalled. Whitworth military rifles with possible Confederate provenance are you-can-count-em-on-your-fingers rare, and several are missing their scopes; it’s the sort of detail collectors argue about, whether this rifle is original or restored. We would say “restored with original and correct parts,” perhaps, and that is pretty much what Mr Hutchinson, subsequent owners if any, and the James D. Julia crew have done.

That is also a solid reason why you should read every line of an auction catalog item, examine every picture, and ask questions rather than make assumptions. Sure, you may be bidding on a $300 Glock rather than a five-figure Confederate sharpshooter rifle, but it’s your money, and you earned it (we hope), and don’t want to be disappointed, surprised or definitely shocked when you open the package.

In our experiences with premier auctioneers, mostly with RIA, we’ve had a couple of positive surprises when guns were better than described, and only one negative surprise — when we didn’t look hard enough and long enough at the images, which accurately showed the poor condition of the extreme rarity we were purchasing.

Rare Firearms… An Investment?

Julia estimates that the rifle will sell for $50,000-70,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Inflation Calculator, inflation alone has raised today’s value of the $17,500 that Mr Hutchinson presumably paid to approximately $31,200, or approximately 178%. If the gun sells for low estimate, 286%; high estimate, an even 400%. That sounds great, but remember it’s over 26 years, and 178% of it is pure inflation, so your real gains are 90% to 222% over 26 years. How does that compare to the stock market?

If you invested in the S&P 500, according to this calculator, in March 1991, you would have made an annualized return of over 9.5%, and reinvesting the dividends into the account would have made a total of ~977% (540% without reinvesting). The calculator lets you calculate while accounting for inflation, and as you might expect, deflates those big numbers. Your total is only 502% and that comes to an annualized rate of return of 7.47%.

Not what Jack Madoff promised, but a pretty good example of a real-world result. But it’s more than double what the Whitworth did.  If.

If? Yes, if Julia’s estimate is right, and not the usual auctioneer lowball. Some lots do sell for under estimate — and some lots blow estimates away. We would not be shocked to see this rare rifle rocket into the six figures. If it goes for a quarter-million, as some rare, historic, and beautiful firearms have done of late, then this rare rifle has blown the stock market away. But it’s not the way to bet your retirement fund.

In general, firearms are a lousy investment. On the other hand, they’re a very financially sound piece of personal property. And on the gripping hand, something you want to buy anyway, and that will almost certainly sell for as much, if not more than you paid for it, even if it’s not the very best economic use of your money… well, things like that are rare. If you’re that guy, jump on it.

This Post Has Been Corrected

Due to operator fatigue and lack of layers and layers of editors, the original release of this post discussed Rock Island and Julia as if they were the same thing, which was probably received by both houses as an insult. (Actually, we in the collector community depend upon them both).

While correcting that error, we also decided to expand on the penultimate paragraph of the original post (the one that begins, “If? Yes, if Julia’s estimate is right…”) to include a discussion of the probability and consequences of this rifle blowing through the auction house’s $50-70k estimate.

Naturally, we regret the error, are grateful to the reader that identified it, and take pride in correcting it. A correction or clarification is always welcome in the comments.

Walking in PO Ackley’s Footsteps

In a post we wrote a couple of years ago but that never appeared on this blog (because it was never finished), we wrote about legendary 20th Century riflesmith and cartridge wildcatter Parker Otto Ackley, known to all as P.O. Ackley.

PO Ackley made an entire career of making what he called “improved” cartridges. Each of the Ackley improved cartridges was based on some mainstream cartridge but with an increased powder capacity and a sharper shoulder, which implies less taper in the body of the cartridge itself.

We described Ackley similarly in another post that did get published, in 2012. That of course understates Ackley’s career, because apart from all his cartridge wizardry, Ackley was a gunsmith, barrel maker, and a writer with a prodigious capacity for work.

in a new book by Fred Zeglin, this career is explored and evaluated, and Zeglin actually emulates some of Ackley’s famous experiments, including these on Bolt Thrust that are excerpted at GunDigest.com.

Since the post-WWII years, if not before, there has been an ongoing argument concerning whether breech thrust (bolt thrust) is reduced by the improved case design. P.O. Ackley has certainly influenced the argument. The definition of an improved case is pretty simple. The case body is blown out to minimum body taper, which is described by Ackley as 0.0075 per inch taper. Shoulder angles between 28 and 45 degrees are normally considered to be improved, although it could be argued that any shoulder sharper than the original parent case is improved. Finally, an improved design allows the firing of a factory cartridge in order to fireform the brass for the new design.

…a method of recording breech trust was necessary in order to go beyond the somewhat subjective experiments that P.O. Ackley wrote about in Handbook for Shooters and Reloaders Vol. I. There Ackley used a Model 94 Winchester because, as he stated, “We often hear that the Winchester Model 1894 action was designed for low pressures and is an action which could be described as ‘weak.’” The purpose of his experiment with the ‘94 was to prove that the improved case design minimized bolt thrust; that the brass will support and contain some pressure; that oily chambers increase bolt thrust; and finally, the notion that actions are designed for specific pressure ranges is a fallacy.

Zeglin conducted a high-tech version of Ackley’s tests, using a test fixture he developed, “a .30 caliber barrel with a universal breech plug to allow for adjustable headspace, and to accommodate the strain gauge utilized by the Pressure Trace.” He developed loads beyond the SAAMI pressure limit for the .30-30 Improved, and discovered that even with excess headspace, the Improved case stayed in place, extruding the primer instead of shearing its head off. Conclusions:

[W]as Ackley right about his findings?
Yes, but he may have missed a point or two.

Since .30-30 brass is thick and pressures are low relative to brass strength and case capacity, with most appropriate powders pressure is not a big problem. To be fair, we did find some powders that will develop pressure far beyond SAAMI levels for the .30-30 AI case. Because the brass is so thick, it actually cannot stretch and cause head separations due to excess headspace. In that respect the .30-30 is not a good choice for Ackley to prove that improved designs handle pressure better.

However, Ackley used the .30-30 because the ‘94 Winchester action had been labeled weak. In this respect, Ackley did prove that the ‘94 can handle anything the .30-30 or .30-30 AI can dish out, without any question.

Bear in mind that the action of the Winchester ’94 was labeled weak by Winchester, who wanted to upsell customers to stronger rifles, like the ’95, which could handle the big-game and service cartridges of the early 20th Century with no problems.

There’s quite bit more to it, so Read The Whole Thing™. In other things in the book there is something that made us order it: Ackley’s own, previously unpublished, description of his own home-made cut rifling machine. (See the Table of Contents left).

Like any highly specialized book, it’s expensive, and has potential to go out of print at some time in the future. That’s just life in specialty book markets.

How expensive? The list price for hardcover or eBook is $60, although at this writing Gun Digest is sweetening the deal with $10 off the hardcover edition, and free shipping. (Pity they don’t offer a deal on both. We prefer hardcover books, but you can take a Kindle or iPad into the shop without worrying about getting cutting fluid on an irreplaceable heirloom). For what it’s worth, we just ordered the hardcover.

While this book rates the full price (to us at least), Gun Digest publishing does find itself overstocked from time to time, and if you’re into gun books and willing to let price be your guide, they have Under $30 and Under $15 pages, too. Free shipping if you can run the tab to $50 — we bet you can. (Dunno what the shipping is to those of you dwelling in foreign lands).

More on the Czech/German AT Rifle

Our recent auction post reminds us that (1) we have to come up with some better way of flagging more interesting auctions and (2), and more to the point of this post, that there’s a lot of interest and misconceptions about the Czech-German AT rifle featured at one upcoming auction.

First, this 2015 post here has some background on rifle-caliber-yuuuge-case AT rifles, like the German and Polish variants, and their rounds. (This archived external page also covers the round). The Germans chambered this rifle in their standard wartime 7.92 x 94 mm P318 round, which was used in the standard German PzB 38 and 39 AT rifles. The round was capable of 4,000-plus fps from a long barrel and the most common ammo was a tungsten-cored kinetic penetrator. P.O. Ackley, eat your heart out. Barrel life was pretty short, but if you’re going to shoot a rifle at tanks, it’s not the life of the barrel that should be worrying you.

(The Russian site that cartridge picture is from appears to be down now, unfortunately).

Those rifles operated by a dropping block, like an artillery piece (or early breechloader), and their principal mechanical difference was that the PzB 39 was manually operated, replacing the “semi-automatic” (in artillery terms) automatic opening and ejecting of the PzB 38.

The Czech rifle used completely different principles, and as proposed for Czech service a different cartridge.

In fact, the Czechoslovak Army experimented with a variety of anti-tank rifles in the 1930s, as part of a campaign to improve AT defenses overall. Many Czechoslovak officers put their faith in conventional anti-tank artillery, but others pursued the AT rifle. Many versions were tested including Josef Koucky’s’ ZK 382, a bullpup repeater which fired a unique 7.92 x 145 mm round, further ZK single-shots ZK 395 (12 mm x ?) and ZK 405 (7.92 x ?), the ZK406 repeater and 407 self-loader the “Brno W,” the Janeček  9/7 and 15/11 mm Gerlach-principle squeeze bore, and several 15mm designs, including vz. 41 single shots, and a bolt-action magazine repeater which was supplied to Italy (in only 15 units) and possibly Croatia. The 15mm guns used an AP version of the 15 x 104 mm round used in the Czechoslovak vz. 60 heavy MG, produced primarily by the British under ZB license as the 15mm BESA. The Czech engineers then reworked into the vz 41 in 7.92 x 94 for the occupiers, specifically, for the SS.

During all this experimentation, Czechoslovakia was dismembered and its Czech provinces occupied. The best was the enemy of the good; nearly a decade of experimentation in AT rifles wound up yielding absolutely nothing for the Czechoslovak Army. (It was a moot point, perhaps, as despite its strengths in tanks and artillery, there was no resistance to the Nazi occupation.

Most of the elite of the Czech arms design industry worked on these rifles at one time or another. Vacláv and Emanuel Holek worked with Koucky at Zbrojovka Brno; Jiri Kyncl worked with Janeček.

By the time the SS received their rifles, they were already hopelessly outclassed by improved armor, and among Speer’s actions in his attempt to rationalize the chaos of the German and occupied territories’ arms industry was to discontinue production of the 7.92 x 94 Type 318 ammunition.

The M.PzB.SS.41 was supplied in a wooden transfer and storage crate containing the rifle, two spare barrels, and four magazine boxes containing five magazines each. There were some variations in minor features (bipod, muzzle brake) during production. Of some variants, only photographs or documents survive. We have found no reports of combat effectiveness.

All of these AT rifles are rare today, the German guns existing in single-digit quantities (the mass-produced PzB 39s were recalled during the war and converted to grenade launchers, the GrB 39).

Sources

  • Dolínek et al. Czech Firearms and Ammunition: History and Present. Prague: Radix, 1995.
  • Hoffschmidt, E.J. Know Your Anti-Tank Rifles.  Stamford, CT: Blacksmith Publishing, 1977. (A .pdf of the chapter of this out-of-print book on this rifle is attached: MPZB41 comp.pdf)
  • Šada, Dr. Col. Miroslav. Československé Ruční Palné Zbrane a Kulomety. Prague: Naše Vojsko, 2004. (pp. 139-142, 197-198).

Update

Well, this is embarrassing. Never hit “schedule” or “publish” on this one. -Nose