Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

Napoleonic Flintlocks Rise from Watery Grave

Napoleon & Sphinx-Jean-Léon_Gérôme_003Alexandria, Egypt, is a bustling, modern third-world city with few visible reminders of its past. But many archeological treasures in Alex have been spared the assault of the bulldozer and cement mixer — because they’re under water. This includes anything from Alexander’s time, later sculptures and other artefacts from the Ptolemaic dynasty of Hellenized Alexandria, and then, some reminders of later colonizers from the 19th and 20th Centuries.

This cannon is part of the scattered wreck of the burnt and sunken flagship L'Oriente.

This cannon is part of the scattered wreck of the burnt and sunken flagship L’Oriente.

Napoleon’s ill-fated 1798-1801 campaign in Egypt at first brought him land victories, and booty aplenty, some of which is still in Paris. But the French Navy was a perennial 2nd Place finisher vis-a-vis the Royal Navy, and in an 1801 battle at Aboukir Bay, the results were cataclysmic for the French: only recently has the sequence of the disaster, in which an anchored French squadron was caught napping by Horatio Nelson’s British fleet, been decoded from the clues available in the Frenchmen’s wrecks.

But the ship in question here is not one of the ill-fated ships of the line or frigates from the Battle of the Nile. It’s unclear whether the ship in question, yclept Le Patriot, was military or commercial, but it was probably commercial as there was another ship named Le Patriot in the French Navy — and not in Egypt. We don’t even know who sank Le Patriot What we do know is that the shipwreck on the sands of Alexandria Bay has yielded a lot of flintlock-era small arms, like this:


As you can see, the arms are somewhat the worse for wear after a couple of centuries in salt water. There may be nothing holding this flintlock pistol together but the encroachments of sea life.

Here’s a similarly rough long gun:


Russian underwater excavators, working in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, have found dozens of 18th century firearms near Alexandria’s harbour during an underwater search for sunken ships.

Divers with Napoleon guns

The weapons are believed to date back to the 18th century when Napoleon led an expedition to Egypt to protect French trade interests, undermine British access to India, and establish scientific enterprise in Egypt, Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh El Damaty said

Discovered Napoleon weapons from sunken ship Patriot by Luxor Times 2

El Damaty said the sunken French artillery was once on board “Le Patriot”, a ship in Napoleon’s fleet that sank near the eastern harbour of Alexandria.

The site lies close to Pharos Island, once the home of Alexandria’s ancient lighthouse, which was considered one of the seven ancient Wonders of the World. It was the third longest surviving ancient structure of the world, until it was destroyed by earthquakes in the first millennium. The rubble was later used by the Mamlukes to build Alexandria’s Citadel of Qaitbay.

El Damaty said the discovery opens the door for more research into this era.

For now, the artillery has been sent to the Restoration Centre at the Grand Egyptian Museum for further study and restoration, he said.

via Napoleon’s sunken artillery recovered from Alexandria harbour – Daily News Egypt.

A friend of ours who’s an archaeologist of sorts has a kind of mantra that he swears by: “There is always something left.”

French arms of the Napoleonic period were the equal of those of any other nation in the world, but like their peers, they had no corrosion protection to speak of, which makes stabilizing the recovered guns a very critical matter, or they’ll soon, if left out of water, flake away to nothing.

Road to Precision

This YouTube playlist documents at excruciating length (the whole playlist is hours long) Canadian Ryan Pahl’s four-year effort to break into F-Class high-power rifle competitive shooting.

Spoiler: in the end, he decides he just doesn’t have the resources (human or capital, we’re not really sure what his problem is) to get to the next level. So he decides to take his shooting in a different direction, at the end of the playlist. But if you hang in for the whole thing, you’ll learn a lot about rifle competitive target shooting and the level of competition that’s out there these days. You’ll also learn quite a bit about what it takes to put lead on target, when “on target” is defined as very small and quite far away.

The fact is, Ryan shot better than many elite military unit snipers, and he was still, at the end, disappointed in his performance, measured against the real high-power competition gravelbellies.

And benchrest shooters look at high-power shooters’ best groups, kind of like physicists look at psychologists — “they do interesting stuff, but is it really science?” — and they have the groups to justify that attitude.

There are two sets of things that competitors do. The first is a variety of things that actually improve shooting performance, including such things as handloading with extreme uniformity. These things are mostly unchanged from competitor to competitor and year over year. Then there are the superstitions, which do tend to change: they get swept up as enthusiasms or fads by the community for a while, then they’re all on to the next fad. But an outsider has little hope of figuring out which is which. (Best guide to a fad is the absence of a plausible physical explanation of why it helps, but that’s not perfect as some useless superstitions sound perfectly plausible).

This could be edited down into a single, shorter presentation, that would be worth buying as a DVD or download. We’ll admit we fast-forwarded past the many groups that were recorded in apparent real-time. Shooting holes in targets is one of those things that’s much more interesting when you’re doing it than when you’re watching the other guy do it.

Good luck to Ryan, and thanks for the video tour of a short career in high-power.

Why do rifle cartridges have necks and shoulders?

Got asked this one by a novice and was blown away by the insight of naïveté. Why do rifle cartridges often have a necked-down design, while pistol and revolver cartridges are mostly straight? (Yes, there are exceptions on both sides, but the rule applies in general).

As with so many questions in the world of firearms, the answers are rooted in history, and specifically in the history of the technology. Of course, before there were cased cartridges, there were paper and cloth cartridges used with muzzleloaders and early breechloaders. And it didn’t occur to anybody to make them in any form other than cylindrical, fitting the barrel.

Fixed, cartridge ammunition came about in the second half of the 19th century, and at first the shapes of cartridges were limited by the ability to draw the brass alloys of the time. This meant things like smooth sided, balloon head cartridges. A classic example is the .45-70 used in most versions of the Springfield trapdoor.

Even it in the early days, some cartridges were tapered. Tape or had a couple of advantages. It might help some with extraction, always an issue in those days of black powder, but more importantly it let the volume of the case be increased relative to the diameter of the bullet.

The velocity and energy you can impart to a bullet is limited by the amount of powder you have to burn, and the time the bullet is contained in the barrel atop a column of expanding, burning powder.

Over the years since 1880 or so, cartridge cases have been reshaped due to advances in metallurgy, ballistics, weapons mechanisms, and military fashion, frankly.  The initial round of black-powder-era necked cases had relatively gradual transitions, oblique shoulders and long necks compared to modern cases, that offer sharper transitions, abrupt shoulders and shorter necks. Compare, for example, a .30-40 Krag rifle case and a 5.56 NATO case to see what we mean.

The gradual transition was a consequence of the brass of the day and the limits of brass-drawing technology. By the early 1900s, brass drawing had improved (compare the .30-06 to that .30-40 Krag). It has since seen many further incremental improvements.

The more abrupt shoulder offers some ballistic improvements. Gunsmith P.O. Ackley made a career of making “improved” versions of common hunting cartridges, including such originally-military cartridges as the .30-06 and the .223 (5.56mm). The improvement came by using a sharper shoulder angle to increase case capacity. (A Gun Digest article on the Ackley Improved cartridges is available at this link). Ackley’s quest for capacity (and velocity) reached a somewhat whimsical peak with the .22 Eargesplitten Loudenboomer, a .378 Weatherby Magnum necked down to .224 with a razor sharp 40º shoulder. (His goal was to make a 5,000 FPS rifle cartridge, and he fell barely short, as the loading data shows).

Ergesplitten Loudenboomer

(A guy whose name eludes the memory later broke that record by necking down a .50 BMG to .17 caliber, for a series of ballistics experiments).

Neck length is driven by several things, apart from the mechanism of the weapon and its limits on overall length of the cartridge. Those are bullet length (a longer bullet produces a superior sectional density, and was the fashion around 1880-1910), need for powder capacity, and need to grip the bullet. To load more powder in the cartridge requires that the shoulder “crowd” the bullet a little more. Short necks are the standard these days, but longer necks give much greater flexibility to ammo designers (including handloaders) to use multiple bullet weights while maintaining a bullet with a good coefficient of drag. Ceteris paribus, longer necks also have less throat erosion than shorter ones, an empirical fact that has several compering theoretical explanations, none proven as far as we know.

The degree to which the neck needs to grip the bullet depends on the use of and recoil of the weapon. Auto weapons and heavy-recoiling weapons need to have a good grip on their bullets. Absent crimping (often done for military rounds), rule of thumb is 1 bullet diameter length of neck for autoloading and military weapons. (Mechanical actions can go to a neck that’s 70-90% of bullet diameter, for rounds in the rough .30-06 class).

There is some theory on case neck angle and length by Chris Bekker at Reloader’s Nest. Chris notes some limits to the theory, in real life. There’s some math, but it’s junior high school level trig and algebra, nothing to be afraid of.

What is this abortion of a firearm?

We found this ill-formed half-breed of a gun at an Iraq article at the Daily Beast, the website that’s all that’s left of Newsweek (but that still manages to employ first-rate national-security correspondent Eli Lake). Presumably, this hooded weirdo is in Iraq.


The photo is credited to Safin Hamed for AFP and would-be image monopolist Getty Images. (Nice job by Hamed on minimizing depth of field to make the weirdo pop out of the picture). But get a load of that gun!

Sure, it’s an AK. But Bubba-approved mods include an M4-style stock, some kind of plastic handguard with screwed-on Picatinny rails (attached to nothing, so they’re there simply for their hand-abrasion value), and, most bizarrely of all, a faux-M4 rear sight carrying handle. If you look at it closely, you’ll see it is not an actual M4 or M16A3/A4 handle. Behind the rear sight, the handle makes a straight drop to the gun rather than one angled about 15-20º to the rear like the M4 version. It absolutely will not cowitness with the original sights.

Anybody know what kind of carrying handle it is?

The gun is almost as weird in what is not there: the slant muzzle brake, and the pistol grip. Your guess is as good as ours why these are missing, but they both add to the AKM’s utility: Mikhail Timofeyevich and the boys put them on there for a reason.

Our best guess is that it’s a former Iraqi military weapon, discarded by or captured from one of the hundreds or thousands of Iraqi military and police personnel who al-Qaeda has captured and, subsequently, murdered. We’ve seen Iraqi weapons with the adjustable stock (something that has some utility for body-armor wearers, but the M4 has one because you can’t do a proper folding stock with a Stoner buffer), and the son-of-TAPCO crap rails systems. The muzzle nut/brake is easily lost, especially in Third inline World and irregular armies. (We imagine a Russian trooper who lost his would be subject to discipline, where an Iraqi might not).

And the pistol grip? It’s hard to imagine a pistol grip breaking off. We’ve seen three AKs that experienced a fall from jump altitude and an impact at terminal velocity — two out of three were totaled, but none lost the pistol grip. Our best speculation is that some Al-Bubba removed it before Hood Boy took it up. Perhaps he meant to replace it with a son-of-TAPCO crappy plastic one, and never got the chance before Al-Q shot him in the back of the neck.

Building an M1 with the CMP

A few times a year, the CMP holds an M1 armorer class. At the end of the class, you go home with an M1 that you assembled and that’s pretty much guaranteed to work. Assembling an M1 has a little more gunsmithing involved than the shake-the-box assembly of an AR series rifle or the “make it approximate and it’ll work” construction of an AK. There are special skills — like lapping bolt lugs — and special tools required. Here’s the end product:

Freshly Minted CMP Special M1

Fortunately, CMP has the tools, jigs, fixtures, and most of all, the tribal knowledge to not only help you get your M1 right, but also to understand it and how that clever little Acadian intended for it to work in the first place.

Unfortunately, the annual quota is opened once the dates are set, and fills up in minutes. So it seems to be an insidery thing, to which we, and probably you, are all outsidery.

Fortunately (again! It always comes back around to fortunately) for all of us, blogger Keads (whom we don’t know, but think we might like), was one of the lucky attendees, and spent some of his time not just building a sweet Service Special Grade M1, but also documenting the process in three informative and photo-rich blog posts.

  • Part One: Begins with a tour of the plant and its facilities — including pallets of ungraded, yet, M1 rifles, vast metric craptons of ammo, and , of all things, an ultra-high-tech air gun range used by Olympic hopefuls. Then it gets M1-active, with the mating of barrel to receiver and reaming the barrel to proper headspace. One of the first specialty tools, a receiver wrench, shows up here (in a reverse of AR practice, the M1’s barrel is secured in a vise, and the wrench is used on the receiver). The bolt lugs need to be lapped for proper mating with the receiver’s locking lugs. Go to Part 1.
  • Part Two: With the receiver barreled and the barrel reamed to proper headspace, it’s time to start assembling the parts that turn a barreled receiver into an M1 Rifle action. The CMP armorers assist as the students raid the parts bins for inspected and refinished parts. The op rod has a special gage for both dimension and trueness, or correct “bend.” The trigger mechanism was, to Keads, the hardest thing to assemble. The class did both early and late M1 rear sights. Finally the fully assembled M1 barreled action goes into a new walnut stock — more hand-fitting is called for.    Go to Part 2.
  • Part Three: In the conclusion of the piece, the students hit the CMP store (MOAR GUNZ!) and final-prep the rifle (in Keads’s case, redoing the trigger) for test fire. You can take your rifle home or ship it (which makes a difference to which tax, if any, you pay). Here’s a snip of what Keads had to say, in retrospect, about the whole experience:

My thanks to the Armorers John, Ryan, and Chris. My thanks as well to the person that herds the cats around the Custom Shop and made sure our paperwork was in order and all the other ancillary tasks that made sure the class went well, Deshay. …. If you desire to own one and learn more about it, I cannot say enough about this class or the CMP. They have both the passion and the knowledge of these tools and it shows. It is one thing to be a subject matter expert and another to relay that knowledge to others.

Go to Part 3.

For those that can’t attend the class, at least you can buy one of the CMP rifles.  If you do wither of those two things, of course, you may need this link afterward. Just helping ya out.


Hat tip for this story, the incomparable Tam.

Russo-Japanese Riflery

Over the century-plus since its decisive conclusion, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 has faded into obscurity, but quite undeservedly so. When it is remembered today, it is either for the brilliant Japanese naval victory at Tsushima Straits, or for President Theodore Roosevelt’s efforts in bringing about a peace treaty, efforts which brought him the Nobel Peace Prize. (In those backward days, this came to pass only after peace had been concluded between the warring parties, not in the modern fashion of participation trophies and forsworn scorekeeping. But we digress).



Setting the impact of Tsushima Straits on history aside, the War was not entirely a naval war, and the land conflict was broad, vast, and modern, in 20th Century terms: it was a massive land war in Asia featuring two Great Powers’ armies. The army of 1905, as deployed by both Russia and Japan, was the levee en masse of Napoleon supercharged with modern smokeless, small-caliber repeating rifles and breechloading, recoil-managed artillery. Along with these vast increases  in infantry and artillery firepower and lethality, the Russo-Japanese War also introduced two new complications to field fortifications: machine guns and barbed wire. The last wars of great consequence, the US Civil War (1860-65), the Lopez War of Paraguay against all its neighbors (1865-70), the Franco-Prussian War (1870), the Russo-Turkish War (1877), and the Spanish-American War (1898) had predated most of these developments, although the Russians had seen the sharp end of repeating rifles at Varna and the Americans had been given cause to reassess their choice of breech-loading rifle and had already copied the superior Mauser. But in America in 1905, the Army left barbed wire to cattlemen and were content with adapting their hand-cranked Gatling gun to newer cartridges, despite a few visionary soldiers’ experiments with Maxims, which we’ve recounted here before.

Russo-Japanese War

In addition to the armaments and their employment, which are of greatest interest to us, military-technical developments since the mid-19th Century included the telegraph, still exclusively wired, and the increased use of specialized support troops such as combat engineers. In some ways, Napoleon would have recognized these armies, drawn by horse and trailed by disease. But Napoleon would probably have grasped the tactical utility of the new weapons, and there’s evidence that not all the combatant officers did.

American soldiers were also little interested, it seems, in the doings of the great Asian empires, but not so the British. The British sent a doughty expedition of field grade and general officers to the combatants as observers, these men, men of considerable talent and accomplishments both before and after this war, wrote detailed and highly readable accounts of the efforts of both sides. We have at hand a collection of British attaché officer reports from the victorious Japanese side of the war, and it’s fortunately available to all through Google or here as a .pdf.

(stand by, we are experiencing technical difficulties loading the file).

We’re looking for the countervailing reports of the officers who traveled with the defeated Russians, and expect it, too, will be rich in insights. The books were published by the GPO in three volumes in 1908, with Volume 1 being the reports of the officers attached to the Japanese forces. It also contains, as an entirely unexpected bonus, a transcript of a lecture given by Japanese staff officers to their British counterparts.

One gets a very strong impression that the Japanese Army had its act together in ways that the Russians did not. This general operational superiority seems to be more than just the expected ability of an advancing army to hold together vis-a-vis one driven into retreat, but seems to flow from superiority in leadership, tactics, drill, and, frankly, grit. The Japanese superiority extended even into the fundamentals — such as riflery.

This excerpt comes from Page 46 of the book, and is the sixth numbered point in remarks of Lieut.-General Sir Ian Hamilton on the subject of operations along the Yalu River, or the Ya-lu as Sir Ian transcribes it:

Another marked contrast between the two armies was in their musketry. The Russians mainly used volleys, even in the confused struggle at Ha-ma-tang ; the Japanese, individual fire. It was thought that the experiences gained in the South African war had given its quietus to volley firing, but there is no doubt as to the fact, which I have had from the mouth of a divisional general, as well as from numerous junior officers. Moreover, l have satisfied myself that, whereas the artillery practice of the Russians was good as long as it lasted, the musketry was inaccurate to an extent not entirely explicable by the fact that they were attempting to fire volleys in face of combined shrapnel and individual rifle tire. This is specially interesting on account of the different principles underlying the musketry training of the respective armies.

The regulations and conduct of Russian musketry practice have been dominated for the past few years by a school of thought which is not unknown in our army. It is urged by these officers that the most practical method of instructing a. battalion is to cause it to expend the greater part of its annual allowance of ball cartridge at Field Firing at unknown distances in the open country, because it is “just like the real thing.” Their opponents, whilst admitting that a little field firing may be useful, protest that as far as instruction in marksmanship is concerned, a soldier might just as well fire blank cartridge if he does not know where his bullet has struck, or what faults he has committed in elevation or direction. As in most technical and theoretical disputes there has been much to say on either side. Now, however, we have the Russian army, which expends a. large proportion of its rounds in Held firing, meeting the Japanese army, which expends all but a. very small proportion of its ammunition on the rifle range, in the careful individual instruction of each soldier at target shooting. The Russian infantry shot badly, the Japanese infantry shot excellently.

You could sum up the entire war using that sentence as a model, just substituting any arm or service for “infantry” and the appropriate verb for “shot.” But the superiority in shooting is noted. One expects that it is rooted in Japanese superiority at even more fundamental martial arts: discipline and drill. And it always comes back to leadership. Despite its assistance from European powers (including Britain and Prussia), Japan resisted the taint of class or aristocracy and their officer selection and development was considerably more meritocratic than their counterparts’. Imperial Russia selected her officers from among an inbred and enervated aristocratic and gentry minority.

RussoJapaneseWar.Print2This had consequences on the battlefield. While the Japanese had rifle superiority overall, the Russians were not without their marksmen, and Japanese depth and sang-froid of leadership was occasionally tested by the decapitation of units by precision shooting. The overall tendency of the infantry and cavalry actions of the war seem to suggest that technology had given a boost to the defensive over the offensive art.

The reports do not mention the quality of the nations’ small arms, suggesting that the attaché officers thought them unremarkable. Indeed, the rifles were not vastly different in quality or capability from one side to the other, or from those of other Powers. Russia fielded a modern, reliable and lethal weapon in the M1891 Mosin-Nagant Rifle, and Japan had a counterpart in the Type 30 Arisaka with many borrowed Mauser design features. (Not enough to be sued by Mauser, unlike the USA). While the Japanese rifle was better, it was probably not better enough to make a difference; Russia’s World War enemies would be similarly equipped, and Russia would hold her own with the Mosin. (Special Operations Truth #1: Humans are more important than hardware. Applies to conventional operations, too). Both sides had formations still carrying previous-generation large-bore black-powder single-shot breechloaders, the Russian Berdan and Japanese Murata being similar to that generation of weapons worldwide.

The machine-gun balance was different: technically, Russia’s Maxim was arguably superior to Japan’s Hotchkiss, but Japanese officers were satisfied enough with the Hotchkiss to stick with it for 40 more years, and they either had more of them, or employed them with so much more skill that it appeared that way. Humans > Hardware, again.

James Aylmer L. ("A.L") Haldane, later Sir James GCMG KCB DSO.

James Aylmer Lowthorpe (“A.L”) Haldane 1862-1950, later Sir James AL Haldane GCMG KCB DSO.

The entire book is of great interest. This paragraph which begins on p. 60 is the redoubtable (then) Lieut-Colonel A. L. Haldane, D.S.O.’s, assessment of the problem of assaulting positions defended with wire and Maxim. (Among other Eminent Victorian achievements, Haldane helped Churchill escape during the Boer War). Ten years later, British officers, and their French and German counterparts alike would be at a similar loss for a solution to this problem; one suspects from reading the report that Japanese officers might have thought more and hoped less than the collective combat leadership of Europe 1914-18.

In the battle of Nan Shan the men of the Second Japanese Army, for the first time in their existence, found themselves opposed to barbed wire and machine guns, and in almost every succeeding engagement the main difficulty to be overcome has arisen from the presence of these two creations of modern war. No entirely satisfactory method of destroying either has yet been discovered, though artillery has, on rare occasions, been pushed sufficiently near to silence machine guns, and it is stated that bombs charged with dynamite are effective locally in breaking down wire entanglements. The matter is still engaging the earnest attention of the Japanese, and is no doubt receiving due consideration in England and India.

As a Corps commander in World War I, Haldane would still have no “entirely satisfactory method of destroying either.” Haldane also noted heavy, largely ineffectual, volley fire from the Russians. “The Japanese certainly did not fire away as many rounds as the Russians.”

RussoJapaneseWar.cartoonIt is quite an interesting book, and one is left with a profound impression that the Japanese, only 45 years from being a feudal empire without firearms or modern machinery, had built a uniformly first-rate war machine from sheer stubborn discipline and hard work, and that the Russian Army had pockets of excellence in a vast peasant mass of mediocrity (or worse). Would that impression be changed if we read the reports from the attachés to the Russian forces? Probably not. The verdict of history is that the Russians botched the war; the verdict of the Russian people was that the Russians botched the war, and it led them into revolution; and the British are likely to have had more and better officers placed in better position with the Japanese, who were closely allied with Britain at the time. It seems unlikely that the Russians would have been quite as willing to open up to foreign observers as the Japanese Army did to their distinguished British visitors.

Colt AR15 and M16 Serial Numbers, 1960-1972

Colt GX-5857

This memo’s been around as a scanned, non-OCR’d .pdf for a long time. We’ve OCR’d the PDF, and double-checked the numbers against the original data. The PDF is here:M16 Serial Number List OCR[.pdf].

The complete text is below this editorial comment. We would add the following remarks:

  • The first few Colt serial numbers (001-100) were toolroom prototypes and mules, and numbers were reused, and some were built on unnumbered receivers. Most of these were destroyed.
  • The first ~15,000 guns were, as the memo notes, marked as “Armalite AR-15″ and these weapons went to the USAF for Security Police use and for testing by the services, including the Project AGILE tests and Vietnam tests by USSF.
  • The Model 03 Army Rifle was rollmarked XM16E1 until the rifle was type standardized as M16A1 on 28 Feb 1967. (The nature of mass production being what it is, this rollmark change took place over a period of months, and is uncorrelated with any physical change to the rifle).
  • The Model 04 Air Force Rifle is rollmarked M16.
  • The 10,000 guns in the 900k range are believed to include most experimental GX guns and all XM177/E1/E2 guns. We have observed GX’s outside this range. GX’s are tool-room prototypes with a four digit number which is reportedly their master drawing. We believe that there are multiple GXs with the same number. There are also GXs that also have a serial number as well as the GX number. A lot of the GXs have serial numbers in the 14xxx range. Prior to 1969 some mil experimentals were made with no serial numbers, and there are duplicate serial numbers in this area as well.
  • The British contract guns were originally intended for special operations forces including the SAS and SBS.
  • The number that Mr Northrop did not calculate, total military Colt AR-15s and M16s plus AR-15 SP1 Sporters to the date of whenever his data cutoff was, comes to 2,778,586.

We hope this document is of use to collectors and historians. For a look at a serial number list that draws on multiple sources, see this thread at ARFCOM.–Eds.

To: W. H. Craven

From:  B. Northrop

Subject: M16 Serial Numbers

Date: February 2, 1973

In December of 1960 we started roll marking AR15 rifles. The following is a general breakdown by serial number of major types model 03, 04, SMG, model 613 and Lebanon rifles.

Starting S/N 101 through 14,484. For General Curtis LeMay (AR15).

14,500 through 14,916 for S.A.W.S. Contract (AR15)

15,000 through 99,999 for Air Force — Model 04

100,000 through 199,999 for Army — Model 03

200,000 through 202,426 for British Contract

202,447 through 379,353 for Air Force — Model 03

400,000 through 407,297 for Air Force — Model 03

500,001 through 701,100 for Army — Model 04

703,278 through 749,999 for Army — Model 04

750,000 through 752,443 for Heavy Barrel Assault

760,001 through 899,999 for Army — Model 03

900,000 through 909,999 for Commando SMG

910,000 through 1,999,999 for Army — Model 03

4,000,001 through 4,060,000 for Air Force — Model 04

4,060,001 through 4,221,800 for Army — Model 03

4,221,801 through 4,265,400 for Air Force — Model 04

4,285,401 through 4,521,000 for Army — Model 03

4,521,001 through 4,521,850 for Air Force — Model 04

4,521,851 through 4,638,400 for Army — Model 03

4,638,401 through 4,643,400 Model 613 for Malasia (5000)

4,643,401 through 4,701,400 for Army — Model 03

4,701,401 through 4,701,900. for Model 613 Commd (500)

4.781,001 through 4,844,400 for Army — Model 03

4,844,401 through 4,849,400 Model 613 for Taiwan (5000)

4,849,401 through 4,926,00 for Army — Model 03

4,926,001 through 4,928,00 Model 613 for Phillipines (2000)

4,928,000 through 4,936,400 — Model 03 Army

Serial numbers 2,000,000 – 2,999,999 were set aside for Harrington & Richardson. This company produced approximately 240,000 guns, serial numbers 2,000,000 – 2,240,000.

Serial numbers 3,000,000 – 3,999,999 were reserved for General Motors, Hydromatic Division. They produced approximately 480,000 rifles, serial numbers 3,000,000 – 3,480,000.

Colt Summary:

Model 03 Army 2,300,171
Model04 Air Force 394,855
British 2,427
AR15 (Early) 14,801
Model 613 12,500
Commando SMG 10,000
Lebanon 14,014
Others (approx.) 1,600
Heavy Barrel 2,444
Total (mil) 2,752,812
Sporters 25,774

B. Northrop


A Wild West Story, Complete with a Presentation Winchester

Hendry N. Brown, during a stint on the right side of the law. (Does embiggen a little).

Hendry N. Brown, during a stint on the right side of the law. He does look a bit charismatic to us. (Embiggens a little).

Hendry N. Brown (sometimes “Henry”) was a man who moved fluidly from one side to the other of the law, and was a character who begs to have a Western made about him. Today, Medicine Lodge, Kansas, is smack dab in the middle of the United States, but in April, 1884 it was on a steadily civilizing frontier. A rough 17 years prior, Medicine Lodge Creek had been a rude outpost where the Kiowa and Comanche signed a peace treaty with the United States, a treaty that is apparently still held in the National Archives; but in 1873 a settlement was established there, and by 1880 it had been formally incorporated. There was a downtown, with a brick courthouse, and other public buildings; and, germane to this story, a bank and a Town Marshal.

It was still a pretty rough place. The first newspaper in town, the Barber County Mail, one Cochran, had, for reasons unclear, offended the locals, and absent tar and feathers, he was coated with sorghum molasses and sandburs, and ridden out of town on a rail. Rescued by another group of townsmen, he opted to leave the town anyway and had one of them make him an offer for his business, and journalism in Medicine Lodge tragically continued. (This puts Jill Abramson’s whining about her loss of her half-million-dollar job into a certain perspective, doesn’t it?).

Brown was well known around town. After a youth spent in the company of criminals, including Billy the Kid, which gained him a certain notoriety, he had gone straight as the town Marshal of Tuscosa, Texas, and later, Caldwell, Kansas. As a lawman, he brought order to Caldwell:

While assistant marshall, Brown had numerous items appear in the newspaper attesting to his fearlessness. For a short time during October of 1882, Brown left the police force and went to the “Strip” to hunt for rustlers. After rejoining the police force in the middle of October 1882, Brown was appointed as Marshall.

How he brought order was right out of a Hollywood Western: he shot the disorderly. As the Kansas Historical Society writes,

Caldwell’s tough cowtown reputation had worsened in the months before Brown’s arrival as the city recorded four murders (all of them lawmen) and eight lynchings.

In the face of such lawlessness, Brown was a welcome addition to the town’s police force. The Caldwell Post, advocating “a little bit of fine shooting” to keep order in the town, bragged he was “one of the quickest men on the trigger in the Southwest.”

Brown shot two men dead in Caldwell’s main street in 1883, as the historical marker on the site of one of the shootings records.

Brown's Winchester's Presentation Plate. Kansas SHS. (Barely embiggens).

Brown’s Winchester’s Presentation Plate. Kansas SHS. (Barely embiggens).

Brown settled in well; he fell in love with and married a local girl. He hired an old friend, big Ben Wheeler, as Assistant Marshal. In January, 1883, the grateful townspeople presented him with an engraved (and some sources say, gold-plated) Winchester repeater. The rifle, Brown’s most prized possession, had an elliptical plate with an inscription that read:

Presented to City Marshall H.N. Brown for valuable services rendered in behalf of the Citizens of Caldwell Kas., A.N. Colson, Mayor, Dec. 1882.

Several sources suggest he actually took the Winchester along on his ill-starred expedition to Medicine Lodge.

Brown's gang of robbers, hauled back to Medicine Lodge and hobbled with ankle chains. l-r: Wesley, Brown, Smith, Wheeler. (Click to embiggen).

Brown’s gang of robbers, hauled back to Medicine Lodge and hobbled with ankle chains. l-r: Wesley, Brown, Smith, Wheeler. (Click to embiggen).

How Brown squared his life as a lawman with his return to bank robbery is unknown, or why he did it. But in a little over a year from receiving the presentation rifle, he led a robbery of the town bank in Medicine Lodge. Wheeler joined him, as did two local cowboys, William Smith and a man known variously as John Wesley and Harry Hill. Unlike Brown, none of the other three had a criminal history.

They were about to get one, but they wouldn’t have long to enjoy it.

Shortly after 9:00 a.m., during a heavy rain storm, four men rode into town from the west. There were few people on the streets and the men were able to hitch their horses to the bank coal shed. The bank had been open a short time. Mr. Geppert, the cashier, had just begun work settling the monthly accounts, while Bank President, E.W. Payne, sat at his desk writing. Three of the four members entered the bank, one going to the cashiers window and one going to the lattice door in the rear of the office. When ordered to throw up their hands, Mr. Geppert complied while Mr. Payne seized a revolver. Four shots were fired by the robbers, two were received by Mr. Geppert and one by Mr. Payne. Rev. Friedly, who was standing across the street, heard the shots and alarmed Marshall Dean, who was standing in front of Herrington’s & Smith’s grocery store. The Marshall opened fire on the robbers and they also returned shots. The robbers broke for their horses and rode out of town. In a few minutes a group of well mounted, well armed, determined men were in hot pursuit. The posse was headed by Barney O’Conner, Vernon Lytle and Wayne McKinney.

Those that remained in town rushed into the bank only to find Mr. Geppert laying dead in the vault, weltering in his blood with two holes in his chest. Mr. Payne was lying near the vault groaning with pain. The pistol ball had entered behind his right shoulder blade, probably grazing his spine. Hope for his survival was doubtful.

The Medicine Lodge bank-robber posse (This one doesn't embiggen, sorry).

The Medicine Lodge bank-robber posse (This one doesn’t embiggen, sorry).

The robbers escaped at first, but the posse quickly tracked them and surrounded them in a ravine. The entire town turned out to join the armed encirclement, and the thwarted thieves gave themselves up. The posse members were surprised to find that the robbers were men that they knew and didn’t regard as criminals, prior to that day. But the deaths of Geppert and Payne (who succumbed the next morning) changed the calculus. Both men were well-respected; Geppert left a wife and son, and Payne a wife and nine children.

The Kansas State Historical Society suggests that Brown committed the robbery because he was “living beyond his means.” According to a letter to his wife Maude, written on what he never knew would be the last day of his life, Brown’s objective was, quite baldly, to get money:

…it was all for you, my sweet wife, and for the love I have for you. … Oh, how I did hate to leave you on last Sunday eve, but I did not think this would happen. I thought we could take in the money and not have any trouble with it; but a man’s fondest hopes are sometimes broken with trouble.

Well, of course; no one ever robbed a bank for any other reason but for money, and they always think they can get away with it. Historically, most have wound up with neither money nor liberty, yet even 130 years later they still do it. And some of them have wound up dead.

Brown denied firing any shot, and said only one man fired, in his letter to his wife (transcribed completely at the link). And Wheeler is the man who fired the two shots that killed Geppert (who had his hands up!), so perhaps he also shot Payne. But the Kansas State Historical Society thinks that Brown did it. Regardless, all the robbers seem to have fired at Marshal Dean and their pursuers.

One more act in this frontier drama remained to play out. Medicine Lodge was a civilized town, a part of the United States. It had a courthouse and a judge as well as a bank and a newspaper. But its people were still rough frontiersmen, and their idea of justice was not the idea current in what was then the refined city of Philadelphia, but a rough frontier justice. Geppert was dead and Payne dying, and someone had to pay. The Caldwell Journal  — the newspaper owned by the dying Payne — wrote that, “The impression prevailed that before many hours the bodies of four murderers would swing in the soft night air.” 

A mob gathered, as Brown had feared. In the ancient pages of Tacitus, in today’s streets, and certainly in 1884 Kansas, in  a mob is a thing with a life of its own.

When the part returned to Medicine Lodge, they were placed in jail and were surrounded by a crowd of angry citizens who cried “Hang Them!”. Later that night, three shots fired rapidly broke the silence. By this signal a crowd of armed men marched to the jail and demanded the prisoners. The sheriff refused but the sheriff and the posse were overpowered and the jail doors opened. The prisoners in the cell made a sudden dash for freedom and shots rang out from everywhere. Brown ran a few steps from the jail and fell shredded with gunshots. Wheeler was then captured and was badly wounded. Smith and Wesley were captured at the jail door. Wheeler, Smith and Wesley were taken by the crowd to an Elm tree in the bottom east of town and told that it there was anything they would like to say, to say it now for their time of life was short.

At the last Wheeler showed weakness and begged for mercy. Wesley was also upset, but answered by requesting that his body be sent to friends in Vernon, Texas. When the ropes were ready they were fastened around the robbers’ necks and were tossed over a limb. In a few minutes the bodies hung swinging in the wind.

The jail where Brown and his men were held was torn down long ago, and the site redeveloped. In 2000, at least, it was the site of the 1st National Bank drive-through window.

Of course, any true weapons man will be thinking: whatever became of Brown’s prized Winchester? It was in the possession of Sheriff C.F. Rigg, who intended to dispose of it as Brown had desired — return it to his widow in Caldwell. But it was stolen from Rigg, and for a long time its whereabouts were unknown until it surfaced in the hands of a Texas collector. It came, by a circuitous route and at great expense, to the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka in 1977, where, as of 2000, it could be seen by appointment; it’s now on display in the main gallery.

And so we have one more illustration of the sad fact that crime does pay, just not in the coin the criminal intends to collect. For the four doomed robbers of Medicine Lodge didn’t get a dime from the robbery for which they threw away their lives and their previously good reputations. “The wages of sin is death,” is not only Scripture but also a fairly practical guide to the consequences of violent criminality — then, or now.

Let’s Make AK Mags

In this no-foolin’ great video, you see how AK-47 magazines are made, set to less-annoying-than-usual-for-YouTube music.

The crew file in to a hangar, which has industrial machinery set around its periphery (and is cleaner than we’d expect), and take their place at the machines. Here is the video; below it (although we really enjoyed watching this one on full screen) are the steps and the time hacks where you can see them, plus a few words on our impressions.

0:00 We start off in space and zoom in to Europe. Where are we going? East side of the Adriatic — inland — Bosnia! Northern Bosnia. (The manufacturer is the Matra Group, in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this is their promo video). Banja Luka is in the Republic of Srpska, a Serbian enclave whose origins lie in the troubles of the 1990s; The Matra Group shares an address with several other manufacturing businesses.

0:10 Workers in blue jackets file in. A sheet of metal stands waiting, ready to be fed into a press. Some wear blue baseball caps with a company logo, Kosmos (another of the businesses at this address, and possibly the parent of ). We see a brief shot of a digital readout scrolling.

0:27 Half a minute in, it’s mag-making time. Gloved workers carefully hand-feed a sheet of steel into a sheet-metal brake. It’s making the big, unwieldy sheets into strips that can easily be fed by one man into a machine.

0:50: On to a punch press. What’s it stamping out? Mag-half blanks. Here you see the classic curved shape of the AK mag for the first time, but it’s only a flat sheet.

1:10: The mag-half blanks are given a quick eyeball inspection and placed into a plastic tray. When the tray is full, they’ll go for further processing. It’s interesting just how manual the process is.

1:26: Another punch press (or maybe the same one with different dies?) is at once punching out and forming a bulge in parts that will clearly be mag followers. A worker has to feed a strip of steel by hand, and triggers the press with a foot pedal. The future followers are caught in a plastic tray, too. Note that everybody is wearing gloves — the edges of freshly stamped or punched parts are sharp! Despite the gloves, this plant would give an OSHA inspector the screaming willies.

1:47: Another press punches the holes or dimples in the sides of the follower that retain the magazine spring. (We skipped the process that bent the followers into a U shape). At 1:57, a worker gives the follower an eyeball inspection.

2:03: Next step, the blanks are carefully placed into a forming die, and the characteristic ribs of the AK mag are pressed into place. It looks like the locating pins for the die also help locate the magazine-half blank. Each die does two magazine halves simultaneously, side-by-side, a left and a right. Can’t tell from the video if there is one press that does two dies (four halves) at once, or two separate presses operating individually.

2:33: The worker removing the halves test-fits them together. From this angle it looks like there are two separate presses stamping the halves.

2:38: the halves are checked on a machined gage.

2:40: What’s this? A forge? We weren’t expecting that, but yes, a part of the AK mag is forged steel, it turns out. Workers remove a small, glowing steel billet from the furnace and place it, with tongs, into a forging die.

2:48: Wham! The part is forged. As a worker sprays and removes it, you can see it’s the tab on the back of the mag that engages the magazine catch. They dwell on this process for a while as it’s colorful and interesting.

3:00: A line of rough forgings have their final shape on the outside, but the mag-facing side has a lot off forging flash — all the mass of the billet that was surplus to the needs of the catch.

3:05: We see the first auto-fed machine, a Rube Goldberg contraption that is stamping out small blanks. These blanks will form the front magazine catch of the magazine, the point where it hooks in

3:20: Even this automated machine needs human tending. While the feed in is automatic, a worker stands by and winds up the scrap as it comes out of the machine.

3:38: Magazine lips are stamped out, fed, as usual in this factory, by hand.

4:08: The magazine rocker catch (front catch) is formed from the blanks we saw being punched out a 3:05.

4:15 (or so): The rear magazine catch forgings go into a press and have their forging flash sheared off.

4:38: A vertical milling machine, liberally spraying coolant, moves along a line of jigged magazine left-halves, surfacing them where they will fit into the rifle. The process is repeated for the right halves. We reckon the purpose of this is to ensure dimensional accuracy of the finished mag.

5:00: An enormous horizontal mill with a cutting disk trims a part to precise dimensions. Can’t make out what part this is under the coolant.

5:20: Vertical mill again. Can’t see what it’s doing at all, but it has an end-mill in it.

5:40: Spot-welding the magazine halves together. The jig, which provides rollers for the mag to move in relative to the single-point spot-welder, is ingenious.


5:42: another camera angle shows us the paired electrodes of the spot welder that welds the seam on the back of the magazine.

5:54: A single-point spot welder is used to attach: the nose cap and catch once in the frontal face of the mag (we see this operation from 4 angles); the same part, twice on each side;

6:07: Another single point welder adds the spot welds in the frontal aspect of the mag (inside the banana curve).

6:14: A special-purpose four-point spot welder welds the forged mag catch onto the rear of the mag.

6:17: Large array of bluing tanks.

6:24: freshly blued mag bodies.

6:30: We close with shots of complete mags and their components

These mags are interesting. Like Chinese magazines, but unlike most Eastern European ones, they only have two fore-and-aft reinforcing ribs at the base of the mag, and not three more ribs at the back. But unlike Chinese mags, they have the prominent back rib of all other steel AK mags.

Hat tip, Miguel, who got it from ENDO, who…

Miguel adds, à propos the mags:

Over-engineered? Yes. But they last forever. Some years back, I bought a bunch of “rescued” AK mags from the Balkan conflict, some in what appeared to be really bad shape and with dirt and even rest of vegetation inside. Some naval jelly, elbow grease and Krylon later I had a whole bunch of perfectly functioning AK mags. Only two of them were not recoverable and that was because the metal of the body was out of spec. Still I ended up with 2 spares sets of springs, followers and base plates.

We’ve had similar luck, including making a simple die to force dents out of AK mags. But it practically takes an Act of God to dent them in the first place.


Because this AM post was late going up, we’re going to hold the 1100 post until 1400 to give this one some time to be seen on top.

Seeing a Bullet’s Trace

This can be seen in some other situations. For example, .45 ACP rounds on a humid day leave a visible trace, and target and trick shooters have used that fact to help them better themselves for years. But here is a short NSSF video on using “trace” — the wake of the bullet — to spot and call a miss on a long rifle range.

For most rifle shooters, you’ll need a pretty long range (and fairly still or at least steady-state wind) to see this. The video was shot at 600 meters or so. Gusts, together with surface and obstacle friction, break up the air masses too much for this to be visible in gusty winds.

Still, it’s a neat pro trick.