Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

That’s not a gun, mate…

THIS is a gun.

8 bore rifleNo, it’s not a shotgun, even though its calibre is gauged in “bore” like a shotgun. But while shotguns peak out at 10-gauge for hard-core waterfowlers and 12-gauge for general sporting and self-defense use, this puppy is an 8-gauge (to be persnickety, 8-bore) rifle.

What on earth would you hunt with an 8-bore? Elephants? Why, yes. Also cape buffalo, rhino, hippo, man-eating lions and tigers, and other dangerous African and Asian game. In its day, this W.J. Jeffery double rifle was the serious hunter’s field tool. It has sight leaves for 100 and 200 yards, and fired a massive, thousand-grain .875-inch bullet from lathe-turned brass casings, propelled by black powder. It manages recoil the traditional way — by weighing 17-plus pounds. (So the next time you think some 19th-Century Great White Hunter was a pansy for having a gun bearer, pick up three M16s and walk around with ‘em in your arms all day).

8 bore with shells

Several English smiths made eight and even four bore rifles, and each maker designed his own cartridges — there’s no such animal as a standard 8-bore casing or load that could be interchanged among disparate weapons.

Large-bore black powder elephant guns are one of the many side currents in John Ross’s legendary novel of the gun culture, Unintended Consequences, which is unfortunately long out of print.

This particular 8-bore is up on GunBroker, offered by a highly reputable seller fairly local to us, but, alas, priced beyond our reach. An excerpt from the write up (there’s more, and more photos, at the link) follows.

This Jeffery double rifle in 8 Bore was made in 1893 and is, as they say, the real thing. With 24” barrels having somewhere between a 1:68” and 1:72” twist in the 11 groove rifling it’s clear that bullets between 950 and 1200 grains will be stabilized nicely at 1500 or so feet per second delivering in the neighborhood of 6800 foot pounds of energy to whatever happens to be very unlucky that day – twice.

With the Empire’s numerous (while far flung) pockets of dangerous game, the London gun makers responded to officer’s and gentleman’s requests for something of a “stopper”. So the 8 Bore was refined. Only a few makers rose to the top and Jeffery was a pioneer there.

This example features a round body Jones type under lever action which was chosen for its extreme reliability, durability and strength. The 5/8” wide rib is matted from the doll’s head to the express sight and again from the muzzle to 4-1/2” behind it. The front sight is a tapered bead of platinum while both the 50 and 200 sights have a thin platinum centerline inlay. The locks are appropriately large back action with rebounding hammers. There is tight floral engraving on the doll’s head and screw heads while the locks, guards, tangs, grip cap, forend iron and frame have a tastefully simple line bordering with subtle flourishes here and there. The stocks are beautifully figured walnut with single border checkering and the wood has that great depth that only age brings. Sling hook eyes are present on the lower barrel rib and the butt toe line. It appears that the original horn or hard rubber butt plate has been faced off to a thickness of 5/16” (5/8” at the point of the heel tang) on to which a ¾” custom pad has been glued (LOP is 13-3/8” & 14-3/8”). It weighs in at 17 pounds, one ounce. This rifle was made to put ivory on the bearer’s back and it certainly did.

via W.J. Jeffery & Co 8 Bore Double Rifle Made 1893 : Antique Guns at

By all means, Read The Whole Thing™.

We’re not even hunters, really, and are generally much more interested in combat weaponry than in hunting tackle. But this thing stirs every impulse of want in our imperfect human souls, and like the most interesting military weapons, it draws an involuntary exclamation out of us:

“The stories this gun could tell if it could talk!”

If you can afford the staggering, but probably fair, price, perhaps it will come home and talk to you.

In which we ID a gun here, ’cause comments there don’t work

So a blog, “Gears of Guns,” has an “ID that gun” post, and no one has got it yet. Geez, that’s right up our alley.

Here’s the gun:


Another view:

9A91 separated

Of course, that’s obvious, isn’t it? Maybe it isn’t, so we’ll walk you through it. Starting just forward of the cheekweld, looks like an AK receiver cover. Interesting folding charging handle. No sights, clearly meant to be used with an optic mounted on the left-side rail, and clearly meant to be used with the detachable suppressor. The grips resemble former Soviet practice; the stock current Russian. And the magazine is straight, suggesting it’s for a cartridge without a lot of taper, but the mag clearly has two different widths, so it’s for a necked cartridge, and one much longer than the pistol round you’d expect in a sub-gun sized package like this.

So, what is it? It is indeed a Russian suppressed carbine. The magazine holds 20 rounds of 9 x 39mm, which is a 7.62 x 39 case blown out to hold a 9mm cartridge. It’s generally a long, subsonic round (there are a good dozen weapons that chamber it); think of it as an analogue to the .300 Whisper. This weapon is used primarily by Russian police reaction and CT forces, by border guards, by Ministry of the Interior mobs-for-jobs, and other, mostly non-military, users. To the best of our knowledge it has not been exported.even to Russian clients in the “near abroad.”

If it has a nickname, we don’t know what it is, only its weapons-catalog nomenclature, 9A91.

So we tried to post that on the site, and he had the same Captcha bug that Forgotten Weapons used to have occasionally. Maybe a lot of others had the answers before us.

Silent sans Silencer

BobrikovSaving the man, or easing his pain, was beyond the surgeon’s art. A surviving portrait shows a man with a shaven head and large nose, peering through pince-nez glasses over a splendid mustache and small beard… having somewhat the affect of 1970s John Lennon, but his gaudy decorations are rather grander than any that man sent back to the Queen, and date the wounded man to the last age of empires.

He had been struck with handloads containing poisoned bullets, and his assailant had then killed himself. “Why? Why?” the agonized victim moaned. He had done what he thought best. One of an urban elite, placed in office by the lawful authority of his nation, he’d used a campaign of what today’s urban elites might call “common-sense gun laws” to suppress a seething native culture the elite considered retrograde but — with a firm hand — educable. He meant to stamp out a shadowy underground, the Activists, but they scored first.

He was dying. His name was Nikolai Bobrikov, and he was His Imperial Russian Majesty’s governor of the independent-minded province of Finland. After Bobrikov’s death, the province grew increasingly unsafe for His Majesty’s officers and, especially, the Finnish quislings who enabled their rule.

Assassination_of_Nicholai_BobrikovWhile Bobrikov’s assassin, Eugen Schauman, used a Browning Model 1900 handgun and bullets containing elemental mercury, a backup Activist assassin, Lennart Hohenthal, was in place that day. Hohenthal was equipped with the Activists’ secret weapon: a rifle containing cartridges specially loaded to be as nearly silent as possible. Each contained a lead ball, a primer, and a very small powder charge. The result was a weapon deadly at short range, and all but silent. With regular cartridges, Hohenthal was also capable of self-defense at longer range, if need be. Hohenthal’s backup was not needed that day. Later he would assassinate the highest-ranking Finnish quisling, the Procurator General Ekiel Soisalon-Soininen, and make an epic escape from the Ochrana, the Tsar’s cruel secret police.

Handloading of low-signature rifle cartridges has been “a doubtful bustle” in Finland since the very first years of 20th century. Amongst the first pioneers of special-purpose handloading was the very most valiant National Hero of Finland, EUGEN SCHAUMAN, who executed detestable Russian governor-general NIKOLAY BOBRIKOV with an explosive mercury-filled ? bullet from his BROWNING pistol model 1900, and committed a suicide with next two shots, in the June 1904. Schauman died instantly. Bobrikov languished many long hours, moaning in Russian: “Pochemu..? Pochemu..?” “Why..? Why..?”.

Before his death Eugen Schauman was a member of the ACTIVISTS, a troop of daring Finns who planned to release Finland from the Imperium of Russia – by fighting with firearms, if necessary. There were obtained in 1902 some Swedish 6.5 x 55 mm MAUSER/-96 rifles and as early as in 1899 the WINCHESTER Model 1894 hunting rifles of caliber .25-35 WCF, for elementary training of the riflemanship and maintaining of the marksmanship by the regular target practice, but also for elimination of the most detestable Russian officials in Finland — and their Finnish collaborators — of course. As high-ranking Russians sycophant as an Attorney General, ELIEL SOISALON-SOININEN was executed, along with some police chiefs, but all of them were eliminated with handguns. These capital punishments were executed after death of N. Bobrikov and Eugen Schauman.

Governor-general Bobrikov was fully authorized dictator in Finland since 1903. Among his very first dictations was “A Gracious Act On The Registration And License-compulsion Of The Rifled Fire-arms”. Those compulsions were applied to rifled shoulder arms only, including the “gallery rifles”, chambered for .22 BB Caps or similar pipsqueaks, known as FLOBERT rounds. Shotguns and handguns were free from registration or license-compulsion. Then-modern military rifles, like Swedish Mauser, were especially risky to possess and use on the outdoor shooting ranges.

Noise of the target practice became a problem. There were some models of the suppressors invented in 1903, but they were not yet produced, except a bulky “sound deadening device” of W.W. GREENERs “Humane Cattle-Killer”; a slaughtering tool. Logical solution was handloading of “silent without silencer” cartridges. Eugen Schauman developed them, or at least he gave information about low-noise loads with lead bullets and the “blue powder” by his letters to the activists all-round the Finland.

via Gunwriters Handloading Subsonic Cartridges, Part 2.

Reduced-charge 7.62 NATO and others, using wool wads to prevent detonation (Image: The Firearm Blog).

Reduced-charge 7.62 NATO and others, using wool wads to prevent detonation (Image: The Firearm Blog).

That page and site has a great deal more information about the “silent sans silencer” loads of Finnish freedom fighters. What ties them to Schauman, even though his ultimate deed was done with a different set of special-purpose handloads, is that he was a prolific developer of silent handloads.

They called them “kissan aivistus” or “cat’s sneeze” rounds, and each one had a primer and a greatly reduced powder charge. They were loaded with round lead balls, or with jacketed or cast bullets, sometimes reversed to fly base-first.


There is a side-benefit with some reduced loads. It is possible for a jacketed bullet to set so weakly into the rifling that matching it to the rifle afterwards is impossible. It is also possible for a cast or lightly jacketed slug to be spun so fast that it is for all intents and purposes explosive due to centrifugal force. These bullets have unconventional and clandestine warfare utility that should be obvious, and the loads require little beyond a Lee Loader (it’s actually better to only neck-resize the cartridges).

The optimum reduced load, then is a “cat’s sneeze” that is sufficiently accurate for head shots at 100 meters, functionally silent at that range,

Experimenting with such reduced charges is not without risk.

One friend and colleague of an author, a highly educated Finnish gunwriter, did not believe on warnings that the Secondary Explosion Effect (S.E.E. — also known as the Reduced-Charge Detonation) is possible with sub-minimum charges as small as 0.2 grams = 200 milligrams = 3.1 grains with a force, able to wreck a good quality .308 Winchester rifle. One full gram of the very same powder behind the same kind of bullet may be completely safe charge. The friend almost lost his eyesight, despite of the safety goggles he bore.

This can be somewhat ameliorated — to the imperfect extent that SEE is understood — by using a filler such as Dacron or wool to fill the empty space left by the reduced charge.

The specific reduced loads mentioned in the article are of but small use to us today: they rely upon powders that were available to reloaders in Europe anywhere from decades to a century ago, but the suggestion is to use very hot, fast-burning pistol powder. One would probably want to do round development with a chronograph, and in a gun one didn’t mind losing.

Schauman is an interesting character, quite legendary in Finland and quite unknown in the Anglosphere. His sister lived a long life — she was a talented painter and an art critic — and wrote a loving memoir of him, long out of print and only available in Swedish. One of the great ironies of Schauman’s rebellious, short life is that, while he is a Finnish national hero, his family spoke Swedish — and Russian, because his father, like Bobrikov, was an officer in the Imperial Russian Army.

Schauman himself was the author of the Activists’ reloading guidelines.

For the entire, wide-ranging article in three parts by Finnish gunwriter and reloading guru P.T. Kekkonen:

It is not the most logically-organized article you’ll ever read, but it is interesting.

A Scandinavian-history web page has a little more English-language information on the assassination of Bobrikov and on Eugen Schuman. Recommended by the same page is this article from the Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat (it may take some time to load, for US users) on the centenary of the 1904 assassination. Today, the present neutralist Finnish government denies its own citizens a chance to view the fatal staircase, and deprecates the memory of the once lauded Schauman.

1/7 Twist vs 1/9 vs 1/12 for 5.56

Twist Rate 3 for webThe data-based mythbuster Andrew Tuohy, of Vuurwapen Blog and LuckyGunner Labs, has some preliminary data, gotten the way he always does, on the ancient 5.56/.223 question: “which twist rate is best?”

The military changed twist rates twice, once before adoption of the AR-15 as the M16/XM16E1, and once when the M16A2 was standardized. The initial .223 prototype AR-15s were rifled at 1 turn in 14 inches. This was found to be adequate with the prospective 53/55 grain rounds in standard atmospheric conditions, but did not stabilize the projectile adequately in the denser air characteristic of some military testing requirements.

The ISO standard atmosphere is (in inches) 29.92″ of Mercury (pressure), 59 degrees F (temperature), and (humidity). Military testing requires a wide range of atmospheric conditions, notably including temperatures from -40F to +140F. The Air Force conducted arctic testing of the early AR-15s and found ball ammunition keyholing at low temperatures, so the twist rate was increased to 1:12 before the big buy got going.

For the M16A2, a new round was designed to meet a new standard. Based on an FN-designed round, the SS109, the new M855 projectile was longer and heavier with a steel penetrator. (The new NATO standard required rifle ammunition to penetrate a Russian helmet at 800m. Mind you, you’re not going to hit a Russian helmet at 800m with M855 and an iron-sighted M16A2, but that’s the standard).  The heavier, longer round required a faster spin to stabilize it — 1:7.

And since then, conventional wisdom has been that 1:7′s good for M855 and heavier match ammo, but not so good for M193 and lighter varmint rounds. The military does say it’s OK to use both 855 (and related tracers, etc) and 193 (etc) in the 1:7 barrels, but no M855 in the older 1:12 barrels… but the military sometimes has fairly loose standards of accuracy; the M16A1 couldn’t be sent to depot as long as it was accurate within 7 MOA. That’s ghastly accuracy even for a service rifle (and to be sure, most A1s shot far better than that).

Anyway, Andrew did what he usually does… dragged out to the range and tested a wide range of different ammo in different twist-rate barrels. It’s not a completely controlled, scientific test, but it’s better that what we had before, which was bupkus.

Bottom line: go ahead and get the 1:7 barrel. Meanwhile, go read about Andrew’s tests here, and drop LuckyGunner a line if you want them to sponsor more in-depth testing of this.

Bayonets have long had their enemies – and friends

We recently discussed the future, if any, of the bayonet, a circa-15th-Century invention that turned a primitive musket into an even more primitive weapon, a pike. The death of the bayonet keeps being pronounced, and somehow the thing rises up as predictably as the bitten bit actor in a summer zombie flick.

Here’s a blast from the past. See if you can date this epitaph for the bayonet:

The present service rifle has met with great approval from the Army at large…. The … bayonet with which it is equipped is considered by the Chief of Ordnance as imperfect and antiquated. it is heavy, and with its scabbard, a costly part of the soldier’s equipment, and is a needless impediment to his freedom of action and comfort on the march, and as an entrenching tool, it is a poor substitute. The bayonet has now only a very rare use and may well be dispensed with, relieving the soldier of considerable weight and inconvenience, and saving the very considerable cost.

The bayonet-basher? The US Army Chief of Ordnance, and the occasion was his annual report for fiscal year 01 — 1901, that is. (We found it on p.5 of Brophy’s The Springfield 1903 Rifles, a book that’s bringing us to a new appreciation of these 20th-Century warhorses). The “present service rifle” was the homely Krag-Jorgensen in the second-string .30-40 caliber, and as much as he praised it — he probably had to, having promulgated the thing – the Chief was knee deep in prototypes for a new rifle of Mauser pattern, to which the most recent versions also used a Mauser-type magazine. (This would, in due course, become the U.S. Rifle M1903 “Springfield.”)

rod bayonet springfieldWhile the report hints that the new Springfield would come to troops innocent of any bayonet, that’s not what actually happened. Instead of the Krag’s “antiquated, heavy” sword bayonet, early 1903s had a rod bayonet that was carried under the barrel. It was good for a rather limited manual of arms — fine for spearing, lunging, stabbing, but no good for slashing, and rather flimsy to mix it up with a traditional blade bayonet. Indeed, a previous Army flirtation with rod bayonets, which were installed on three versions of the long-serving trapdoor Springfield (models 1880, 1884 and 1888), came to an end with the issuance of the Krag in the nineties. The European powers used knife bayonets, and so would we. (We’re indebted to p. 335 et seq. in Brophy, op. cit., for all this information and that which is about to follow).

03roddetailNonetheless, the Model 1901 prototypes of the new Springfield rifle had a 29.5″ rod bayonet, of which 15″ protruded beyond the muzzle in the “fixed” position. It could also serve as a cleaning rod, which of course limited its diameter to less than .30″. The troops who tested the rifle loved the rifle, but hated the rod bayonet. The final Model 1903 shortened both the barrel and bayonet relative to the 1901, but it was still the rod. The Chief of Ordnance insisted this would solve multiple problems with scabbard noise, lost bayonets, etc.

The rod bayonet remained controversial. The following letter ended the controversy:

The Secretary of War


I must say that I think the ramrod bayonet about as poor an invention as I ever saw. As you observed, it broke short off as soon as hit with even moderate violence. It would have no moral effect and mighty little physical effect….

I wish our officers could carry rifles. If they carry any sword, they ought to carry a sword that they can cut or thrust with…. [I]t ought to be a sword that can do damage.

… This ramrod bayonet business does not make me feel that we can afford to trust too much to theory of the closest variety. I would like to have the opinon of Captain March, and then the opinion of the other military attaches who saw the fighting between the Russians and Japanese, about both the bayonet and the sword. I would also like to have the opinions of any of our officers in the Philippines who have seen the bayonet actually used.

That letter shook things up a bit — production of the rod bayonet rifle crashed to a halt within a week — and the agitation flowed downhill until a commission examined a handful of different bayonets and recommended what would become the M1905 bayonet.

1905BayonetIt was exactly like the “imperfect, antiquated and heavy” Krag bayonet — except it was six inches longer and proportionately heavier.

Who was the bayonet booster who wrote the letter that led to the beefy knife bayonet in place of the rickety rod? You may have heard of him: Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, a combat veteran himself and a man who took a keen interest in arms and in military affairs.

AR is for ARtistry, redux… Turnbull TAR-15

Back in July, 2012, we showed you the Turnbull AR-10 and expressed our admiration for the workmanship, craftmanship, that went into the rifle.

Now in February, Turnbull introduces the TAR-15 version. Like the TAR-10, the baby Turnbull AR has CNC-machined billet steel receivers (upper and lower) finished with classic color case-hardening. Some people love this look on an AR, some don’t. Here’s an eyeful for you (click to embiggen further).

TAR15 RightW

Obviously that’s an early prototype, lacking a bolt and carrier, but endowed with very fine-figured walnut. (Or maybe they got caught in the same worldwide BCG shortage that’s rumored to be strangling Colt). As is customary with Turnbull guns, there’s essentially no limit to the customization (and expense) they’ll go to for you. Every TAR-15 is a work of art, but you can negotiate with them the construction of a personal work of art.

It is, of course, contraband in New York — the state where it is made.

The best news: the base price of the TAR-15 is a very reasonable $2,495. That’s half the entry point of the much-admired TAR-10 from a few months ago. Ready to get on the list? Call Bob Chipman at (585) 657-6338 or go to the link above and email him.

AK to shovel… to AK

Michael Warren is one of those 60s perma-hippie lefty lawyer types who stays engaged with the cause du jour of the left — in this case, hostility to the second amendment and guns in general. He has bought and offered for sacrifice an AK, which will be beaten into a plowshare in accordance with one of those scriptures that cafeteria Christians and “liberation theology” types (the misguided “Jesus was the first Communist” bunch) love. A Colorado Springs lefty blog reports: antigun lawyer


Yesterday Michael Warren killed his gun.

The local attorney donated his Bulgarian-made AK-47 to the “Guns-to-Garden Tools” project. And according to the press release, the gun was chopped to bits, to be re-made in the spirit of Isaiah 2:4: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

via Recycling an AK-47 | IndyBlog.

shovel that became AKNow, Boris is not an attorney. But he spent his years growing up in exactly the society Michael Warren would like to see arise here, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to be specfic. Boris hasn’t even been able to leave the mothering strength of state socialism behind — he lives in Massachusetts today. But he does appreciate what freedom he’s got, and what freedom Warren and his likes would take from him.

So Boris beat a shovel…. into an AK. There’s a monster thread on his build on and you really should Read The Whole Thing™. But we’ll give you just a taste to whet your appetite. It began when he saw a photo from Iraq of an insurgent’s AK that had had a broken stock replaced with a shovel’s D-handle. With that in the back of his mind, he went for a drive.

When I was driving through VT backroads this fall, I stopped at a gun shop and seeing a few ARs made me feel gay enough to visit a dilapidated “antique barn” where farmers sell authentic shit from the local dump to idiot tourists. When I smelled a much stronger odor of cow shit, I saw this shovel and the image of the AK handle came to my exasperated mind. Flustered old dude was suspicious of a comrade in a BMW, on less traveled gravel roads of VT, who barely spoke English and needed a shit shovel “for my trunk” but let it go for $2. That’s the best $2 I ever spent, closely behind that one time in Montreal – but that’s another story.

Annealing shovelSo, taking the shit shovel back to his workshop, he cut off the handle to make an AK butt, which made his cat question his sanity (you have to see the pictures. You must go to the thread). Then he figured, why stop there? He took the blade of the shovel and annealed it, so that it was malleable.


AK receiver in progressAnd then beat it into an AK receiver, just like the ones from the factory, only about three times as thick and strong like tractor. He bent it using the usual AK bending jig, although he seems to have killed his hydraulic press in the process. (Stalin says: some sacrifices may be required for building of socialism). He hacked out the various openings with a plasma torch.

He had a couple of strips of shovel left over and they became the rails. An el-cheapo barrel blank was welded to the trunnion and front sight base… then he riveted the whole mess together. It looks like product of All-Union Traktor and AK Factory No. 246 on the Free Vodka Friday before May Day weekend. And he took it to the range.

complete? shit shovel AK

Boris’s complete shit shovel AK. Click to embiggen.

Where, of course, it ran like an AK.

Like we said, should Read The Whole Thing™. We have honestly only given you a taste.

So, let’s recap this little journey. We left Colorado Springs where some fat, 60s-throwback ambulance chaser was promising to have an AK beaten into a garden implement. We arrived in Massachusetts, where another guy (with a much better sense of humor, not to mention craftsmanship) actually beat a garden implement into an AK.

Odds are good that Michael Warren and Boris will never meet. (For one thing, Boris is employed in the productive economy). But not much question here, who’s the man.

Whither the Bayonet?

The bayonet had a long and interesting life, until its recent demise. But maybe its death has been announced a bit too soon.

The US Army, in a rebuke to its well-deserved reputation as “237 1/2 years of tradition untainted by progress,” in 2010 discontinued bayonet training in basic combat training, although combat units still issue the M-9 bayonet. The Marines have discontinued neither, as you might expect if you know anything about Marines (after all, they still fire a known-distance qualification not dissimilar to that in the 1913 Army Small Arms Firing Manual we’ve been plumbing for details lately).

Early history of bayonets

A British Square forms to repel Dervish attack, Sudan 1878.

A British Square forms to repel attack by the Mahdi’s Dervishes, Sudan 1878.

Before medieval troops began to carry firelocks, they were armed according to their social class. Knights had swords and lances, yeomen long- or cross-bows, and peasant levies pikes and halberds. Pikemen and halberdiers had their own formations and tactics, somewhat reminiscent of those of ancient spear-armed Greek or Roman infantry. Arming these levies with smoothbore muskets was a problem due to the long reloading time of these weapons, and the fact that reloading them required them to open formation somewhat, making the infantry element very vulnerable.

The answer was the bayonet — a spear point that could be stuck into a musket’s muzzle, converting slow-firing firearms into field-expedient pikes and restoring the bristly nature of the pike-era infantry square. The next modification of the bayonet took it off-axis from the gun and mounted it by a socket that fit around the barrel, making it possible to load and fire the rifle with bayonet fixed.

Chinese SKS bayonet imageThe socket bayonet survived into the 20th Century on the Russian Mosin-Nagant rifle, replaced only by a folding spike type when the rifle was shortened to the M44 carbine. The Chinese adapted this folding spike bayonet to itsType 56 versions of Russian SKS (after producing some SKSes with the Russian-style folding blade, see right) and AK rifles. But most of the world went to bayonets that did double duty as swords or knives, in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

A bayonet was also used as a field knife, fighting dagger, utility tool, and in the mid-20th Century, the German firm Eickhorn adapted the bayonet to be a wire cutter. The Eickhorn wire cutter never caught on, but the Russians copied the concept in the practical AKM knife-bayonet.

Other attempts to dump bayonets

There have been numerous attempts to get rid of the bayonet in history. It always keeps crawling back. The US eliminated it from the .30 M1 Carbine, or to be more precise, never designed a bayonet fixture in the first place. The light rifle was intended to be what’s called today a “personal defense weapon,” for soldiers whose main mission was something other than to close with and destroy the enemy by means of small arms fire. Weapons with that objective seldom have been fitted with bayonets. In the end, user demand required a carbine bayonet, which was retrofitted by the expedient means of a stamped barrel-band that added a bayonet lug, and a bayonet modified from the well-received M3 fighting knife. The M4 bayonet, as it was called, would be the father of all subsequent American bayonets until the M9. Versions were devised to attach to M1, M14, and M16 series weapons, and all remained a practical field knife and fighting dagger.

The British, who at one time even issued bayonets for the very short STEN gun with its nine inch barrel, also eliminated the bayonet from their L85 bullpup. The reason’s fairly obvious — a stubby gun makes a lousy bayonet handle. But no sooner had they committed to doing this, when after-action reports from the Falklands War (1982) dwelt at length on the combat effects of cold British steel, particularly on cold and distinctly non-suicidal Argentine draftees. Consequently, the L85 was redesigned to take a bayonet.

Who’s for and against bayonets?

Los Valerosos charge a Chinese position, 1951

Los Valerosos charge a Chinese position, 1951

The principal opponents of bayonets and bayonet training are defense intellectuals, and their principal point is the same one made by Army general Mark Hertling in 2010 when he eliminated bayonet training: according to Hertling, the last American bayonet charge was in Korea in 1951 (presumably Lew Millett’s MOH action).  Although the last bayonet attack of battalion size was taken by a battalion of the Puerto Rico National Guard “Los Valerosos”  in Korea in February, 1951, he’s mistaken; the Marines had several bayonet charges in Vietnam 1968, example here).

The advocates of the bayonet tend, conversely, to be combat-experienced or combat trainers. There’s no mystery why the Marines of all services have stayed closest to cold steel. The point of the bayonet is less its numerically-documented combat utility than its psychological impact. And that refers to its psychological impact both on the employers and the recipients. There is no doubt that a fixed bayonet signals intent to close with and destroy. It is a marker of resolve, and an unsubtle and direct threat. It often tips the psychological scales of an enemy vacillating between fight or flight, and opens his mind to a third notion: surrender. Absent surrender, of course, it’s still a viable killing weapon.

Bayonets today

Russian AKM bayonet -- early model with insulated medal sheath and round butt.

Russian AKM bayonet — early model with insulated medal sheath and round butt.

The Russians and those whose weapons owe much to Russian ideas continue to use bayonets. (At one point, the Chinese manufactured the AKM bayonet, but without the distinctive wire-cutter for some reason).

The first assault rifles were originally made without bayonet fixtures. While every Mauser had a bayonet lug, the MP-42 and its successors had none: rapid fire was meant to do what a bayonet had once done at close range. This is, in part, due to the earliest assault rifles’ submachine gun conceptual heritage.

A bayonet lug ws an afterthought on the original AR-10, placed there by customer demand. (AR-10 bayonets are rare and expensive collectors’ items today, but then again all AR-10 production was around six thousand units, so that’s hardly surprising). Colt learned the lesson and every Colt AR-15 had a bayonet lug integral to the front sight base, including all military M16, M16A1 and M16A2 rifles. Carbines, on the other hand, didn’t work well with the bayonet and often had the lug ground off in the factory. However, the M4 and M4A1 accept the bayonet.

M6 (M14), M7 and M9 bayonets.

M6 (M14), M7 and M9 bayonets.

The M7 bayonet in M8 sheath was standard for many years on M16 series weapons. It is the end of the line of the knife that began as the M3 fighting knife circa 1942. The M9 bayonet evolved from a monster stainless fighting knife made by former SEALS for their element. The knife was produced for a time by Buck as the Buckmaster; as much as it was loved by the SEALs, it was an object of derision among the rest of us in SOF for its size and hokey grappling points. But an adapted version of the Buckmaster, with bayonet attachments and a wirecutter arrangement copied from the Russian concept, became the M9 bayonet that is still used and issued today. The military still has stocks of M7 bayonets, and an injection-molded plastic M10 sheath has replaced the WWII-style fibergass M8.

There is another bayonet available from Colt for the M4. Like the M9, it only works on a full sized rifle or a 14.5″ barrel carbine. It i meant to be used as a field knife as well as a bayonet, and it is made under Colt license in China. We are not aware of any military element adopting these bayonets.



The venerable “E” and “F” silhouette targets

E-type Silhouette -- 1913 edition.

E-type Silhouette — 1913 edition.

Once, we were kicking a question around the team house: “What is the oldest piece of equipment still in regular use by the military?” It’s a surprising complex question. When we first looked at it, in the 1980s, there were still a number of quite-venerable items that are now gone, like the M1911A1 pistol (1926). The Army still uses canvas cots that date to the inter-war era, too, and the Lister Bag water container (circa 1917). Another suggestion: the Browning machine gun. The M2HB has been in pretty continuous service since 1921, and was finalized earlier (1919), although now the transition to the quick-change, self-headspacing barrel M2A1 is on.

Modern poly e-target

Modern poly E-target as used on Army Trainfire ranges

But let’s consider the humble Type E and Type F target silhouettes. The former represents a standing man, the latter a man in prone position. Originally made of cardboard (the manual specifies “bookbinder’s board”) or plywood, nowadays they’re made from vacuum-molded or roto-molded polyethylene. But their origins take some consderable tracking down, and we’re not sure, even though we’ve documented a century of using these targets, that we’re near their true service entry date.

In the Small Arms Firing Manual, 1913 (with Changes 1 through 20 through March 15, 1918) an appendix shows the various targets in use at the time. Targets A, B and C were bull’s-eyes, used in then-standard known-distance training and quaification (the Marines stlll swear by KD training today). But even a century ago, silhouette targets functionally identical to today’s were used in what was called “combat training,” and these included moving targets and reactive targets that dropped on impact (some of which, as we’ve already seen, were developed by Lt. Parker Hitt while he was at the School of Musketry in Monterey).

F-type silhouette, 1913 edition.

F-type silhouette, 1913 edition.

Target D was a scaled down representation of the F-type silhouette,printed on a rectangular target with scoring lines around it. The E- and F-type silhouettes were identical in dimension and arrangement to the modern ones, only the materials and the fact that they were made locally on each Army post, rather than centrally procured as is done today, were different in 1913.

In addition to the standard targets, numerous special-purpose targets are described in the manual. While “Class A” ranges were what we would today call “flat ranges,” suitable for known-distance firing and shooting the qualification tables, the manual clearly approves more of “Class B” ranges which offer “extended area and diversified terrain, and are used for combat firing.” The Class B range allowed the training designer or planner considerable scope in his selection and arrangement of targets.

Reactive target drops on a hit -- state of the art, 1913.

Reactive target drops on a hit — state of the art, 1913.

Standing type E targets might have a trapezoidal “legs” section added beneath their usual area. Targets could be rigged in a variety of ingenious mechanical ways to fall when hit, or to pop up or bob according to the commands of a range officer. Targets were placed on sledges and pulled across the line of fire, or placed on rails that could be towed forward and back by men on detail in the butts, to simulate advancing and retreating targets. Groups of targets were placed at great distance to allow units to practice high-angle volley fire, still an important training objective with the bolt-action battle rifle of the nineteen-teens. Individual targets, perhaps E-type silhouettes and perhaps more realistic profiles of a marching sentry, were placed on long  sticks and carried to and fro by the range crew. Only ingenuity and budget limited the selection of targets, and enough ingenuity could substitute for a good deal of absent budget.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the shooters of a century past were as imaginative and resourceful as the great-great-grandsons of the Great War vets are today. They might well have been more resourceful, given that they tended to come from farms in an era of “mend and make do.” We today can learn a lot from the documents they left behind for us.

The Past is Another Country: Optical sights, 100 years ago

Springfield 1903 with Telescopic Musket Sight M1913 -- currently on GunBroker.

Springfield 1903 with the zero-losing Telescopic Musket Sight M1913 by Warner & Swasey — currently on GunBroker.

For most of the 20th Century, most of the world’s militaries put great efforts into denying the superiority of optical to iron sights. There were several reasons for this iron-sight bias: first, optical sights were originally fragile, and vulnerable to failure modes that iron sights were not, such as lens breakage, reticle dislocation, and fogging. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the military is an environment where hard effort is not only celebrated, it’s almost fetishized. An optical sight seemed to make accurate shooting so easy that marksmanship trainers worldwide thought of it as “cheating.” Third, sport target shooting, which was heavily cross-pollinated with military marksmanship training then as now, had rigid equipment rules that specified iron sights.

Over the years, the technical problems were solved. The toughest and most persistent was fogging, which was solved by putting an artificial atmosphere into the scope, in place of the precipitation-capable air atmosphere of old. The manufacturer suctioned the atmosphere out of the scope, and replaced it with pure nitrogen gas — no water vapor to lead to fogging. This was done for military optics at first, especially for aeronautical ones, around the time of the Second World War. Leupold shipped the first commercial scopes with this feature in 1949; rather than a new model it was a running change in production of the 2.5x Plainsman scope.

The Warner & Swasey was a prismatic design.

The Warner & Swasey was a prismatic design.

But long before that, scopes were being used for military marksmen. In World War I, miscellaneous scopes were mounted to rifles for what the Army called “sharpshooters.” These may have included the notoriously zero-non-holding Warner & Swasey Prismatic and 5x Winchester A-5.

A 1916 article in the news magazine The Literary Digest (published 1890-1938), available online at, directly compared British and German optics, and noted that:

[T]elescopic and mirror sights are delicate and easily damaged, and are in consequence not well suited for general military use. There seems, however, no valid reason why picked shots detailed for special duty should not be provided with the most effective sights which exist, even if the rifle so fitted require special care.

Several optical sights have been devised, and some of them have done excellent service in match shooting. These may be divided into three classes — the use of lenses without any tube, as in the early aerial telescopes; the employment of lenses to give a reference-line, with or without optical aid, the so-called collimating sights; and finally, telescopes, prismatic or otherwise, complete in themselves with arrangements for elevation and deflection, and with means for ready attachment to the rifle.

The best known telescopic sight is that of Dr. Common, which he perfected in 1901; as regards principle it has not been improved on. The Zeiss prism telescope-sight [Presumably the Zeiss Zielklein -- Ed.] is really a small periscope; it has the disadvantage that considerable light is lost in the prisms, far more than in a simple telescope. In this sight, and in the similar Goerz prism-sight, means are provided for illuminating the cross-wires at night. 

The Warner & Swasey scope was calibrated to an optimistic 3,000 yards.

The Warner & Swasey scope was calibrated to an optimistic 3,000 yards.

According to a frontline veteran quoted by the magazine, this illuminated reticle provided the German sniper with a considerable tactical advantage over his British opposite number.

A 1919 article in the same magazine had, along with some descriptions of sniper tactics still in daily use and some clearly optimized for the stationary Western Front, this note about equipment:

The rifle lasted decades more, but the sight didn't.

The rifle lasted decades more, but the sight didn’t.

Snipers’ rifles were always the pick of those furnished an entire division, and were fitted with extremely complicated and accurate calibrated sights. Small telescopes, with scaled measures spaced upon them, gave the sniper the distance of an object while he sighted his weapon, and permitted him to tell within a few feet how far away his intended prey was stationed.

That sounds more like they’re talking about rangefinders, perhaps stadiametric rangefinders, than scopes. Follow that link if you can; there’s a great deal of interesting information about Great War sniper tactics in there.

Period American Army doctrine, which one expects to be backward and hidebound, turns out not to be silent on sniping and telescopic sights. Now, it’s not exactly voluble on the subject, either. In 1917-18 there was no sniper manual, just a single paragraph in the Small Arms Firing Manual, 1913 (corrected through March 15, 1918 with Changes 1 through 20).

253. TELESCOPIC SIGHTS.–To properly equip a special class of shots who, in action, may be employed as sharpshooters, the telescopic sight is adopted. These sights are supplied by the Ordnance Department at the rate of two to each company. They will be assigned to the enlisted men found best qualified to use them, and may, in the discretion of the company commander, be carried by them at inspection under arms.

Not less than four men of each company will be given a suitable amount of practice with these sights.

Occasionally you find a sight without a rifle, and a rifle without a sight (there's one of each on GB now, but the scope base would have to be fabricated).

Occasionally you find a sight without a rifle, and a rifle without a sight (there’s one of each on GB now, but the scope base would have to be fabricated).

It’s interesting that this brief doctrinal mention fails to suggest any need for special training and maintenance, and fails to note the assignment and zero of the rifle to one individual. It’s simply a shooting-prize, handed to the guys who shoot best at qualification (which, then, was known-distance bullseye shooting. Perhaps we’ll have a few more excerpts from this manual in the days ahead). There’s also no mention of the painstakingly learned two-man sniper-spotter teams, search techniques, or concealment and decoy-position tactics that are the meat of the 1919 article linked above. It’s sniping as shooting, period; something that would strike today’s school-trained sniper whether from Marine, Army, SF, or SEAL sniper school as reductive to the point of absurdity.

We’re probably going to pull another excerpt or two out of the 1913 Manual, and then put the .pdf up on here for your edification.