Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

How Many Johnsons Does One Man Need?

New Market Arms has a range of Johnson M1941 rifles including a rare tolroom prototype. A couple of them are for sale on GunBroker — thanks to commenter Josey Wales for tipping us off — and more are on the website. We want them all, but we’ve already got a couple of Johnsons, and how many does one need?

The right answer, of course, is “need doesn’t enter into it” with these rare and historic firearms.

The rarest of them is this tool room prototype, numbered S-3. (And see the GunBroker auction here).

This is a very rare, one of only six manufactured, Johnson Automatics Model 1941 Tool Room Sample Rifle in .30-06, that is still in its military configuration.

An amazing set of almost 200 photos of this rifle is available. It includes comparison between this pre-production and production Johnsons that are of great interest to all Johnson students and collectors.

An agreement was ultimately reached between Johnson Automatics and the Universal Windings Company that resulted in the establishment of the Cranston Arms Company of Cranston, Rhode Island, which would produce Johnson’s Model 1941 Rifle. Cranston Arms also produced Johnson’s Model of 1941 Light Machine Gun, which shared several design features with his semi-automatic rifle. Cranston Arms (a subsidiary of Universal Windings), Johnson Automatics, Inc. and Johnson Automatics Manufacturing Company (JAMCO) set up shot next to Universal Windings and produced its first assembly line rifle, serial number S-1 in April 1941. On April 19, 1941, the employees gathered at the factory rifle range for the first firing of serial number S-1. As Bruce Canfield states in his book, “Maynard Johnson picked up the first rifle off the line and carefully loaded it. He took aim at the target located at the other end of the 100-yard range, carefully squeezed the trigger and fired the rifle. To his astonishment, and the other witnesses’ shock and amazement, the rifle did not extract and eject the spent cartridge case and it failed to function as a semiautomatic. It is reported that Johnson nearly bit his frequently present cigar in half in irritation, frustration and rage.”

Canfield goes on to explain that the rifle could only be operated by direct manipulation of the bolt. The rifle was quickly unloaded and disassembled with all of the component parts compared against the blueprints. It was quickly discovered that Cranston Arms had failed to properly machine one of the bolt cams. The bolt was machined to specification, reinstalled into the rifle and the rifle was loaded for firing. This time Johnson’s rifle performed perfectly.

This particular rifle, Serial Number S-3, was probably manufactured the same day or within a day or two of rifle S-1 noted above. It is believed that only six of these tool room sample rifles with the “S” prefix were manufactured. The full production rifles were serial numbered in accordance with Dutch military policy, in serial numbered blocks of 9,999 rifles. The first block from serial number 0001-9999 did not have a prefix. The second block had prefix “A” and the third and final block of production had prefix “B.”

S-3 is interesting because, unlike the early R-models, it’s almost exactly like production guns. The differences are small and subtle and are detailed on the sales page,

As noted, this particular Johnson M1941 Rifle is serial number S-3 and is one of the initial tool room sample rifles manufactured by Cranston Arms. As can be clearly seen in the comparison photos, this tool room sample differed slightly from the final production model as Cranston and the Johnson team made some additional refinements prior to commencing main line production.

This rifle is in fine condition. The original barrel is in its original 22” military configuration with the sight protective ears and the bayonet lug. The front sight assembly is slightly different than production models with the machining and height of the front sight post slightly shorter on this tool room sample than the later production models. The front sight pins remain correctly staked in place and have never been removed. The barrel has 98% of its original finish. The barrel has strong rifling and a mirror bore so this will be an excellent shooting rifle. The muzzle gauges at approximately 0.5 and the muzzle crown remains perfect.

The Barrel Bushing has the correct “.30-’06” and “41” markings stamped on the face. The font is different, however, than later production rifles. Near the breech it has the “O [Gladius Sword] I” in a circle stamp found on all early Johnson 1941 Barrels. It is also correctly marked “J.A./30-06,” still crisply stamped. The Locking Bushing is in excellent condition with normal wear on the lugs. This bushing is also slightly different than production models in that the lugs here are more squared whereas the lugs on later production models were slightly rounded. The breech face remains in the white. The threads can be seen, which also differs from later production models. Both the Barrel and Locking Bushing have the matching assembly number “6664K” stamp. None of the M1941 Johnson Rifles were serial number matching so all of the Johnson 1941 Rifles will have different numbers on the bolt and barrel. The original Bayonet Lug is present. The first tool room rifle, serial number “S-1,” did not have the bayonet lug attached. It is unclear if serial number “S-2” had a bayonet lug so this could be the first of the Johnson rifles with this lug configuration.

The Receiver retains virtually all of its original parkerized finish. It has the correct “CRANSTON ARMS CO.” triangle on the right rear of the receiver. Significantly, it does not have the star stamp above the triangle. The star indicated original Dutch acceptance according to Bruce Canfield, prior to Japanese occupation of Dutch possessions in the Pacific and before these rifles were then offered to the Marine Corps. Since this was a tool room sample, it would not have received the Dutch acceptance star since it was never intended to be shipped to the Dutch. The Receiver markings are still very crisp on the top of the receiver. These markings include Johnson’s patent information, “JOHNSON AUTOMATICS” over “MODEL OF 1941,” and the manufacturer’s location, “MADE IN PROVIDENCE, R.I., U.S.” The font and size of the receiver markings are slightly different than later production models. Below that is the serial number “S-3.” All of the stampings remain crisp. The ventilated forward portion of the receiver, which becomes a ventilated top handguard, retains virtually all of its original parkerized finish.

The Rear Sight Assembly is in very fine condition and it also differs slightly from later main line production rifles. The Windage Knob is in fine condition and adjusts perfectly. The Aperture remains in its original military configuration. The Rear Sight Protective Wings retain virtually all of their original finish and differ slightly than later production models. The Rear Sight Elevator has a different font than later production models. The numbers on the right side still have the original paint that has yellowed slightly.

The original Firing Pin Stop Assembly is present and it retains all of its original blue finish. The original Firing Pin is present and it differs from later production models by slight machining differences towards the point. The Firing Pin retains virtually all of its original parkerized finish. The pin has the assembly number “J9303” on the side along with a “0” stamp towards the front. The Firing Pin Spring remains in the white.

 

The Bolt Catch Assembly is present and differs from later production models by the length of the machined channel.

This Johnson Model 1941 comes with a very rare and original Dutch Model leather sling. .

This Johnson Model 1941 Rifle also comes with an original and very rare Johnson Model 1941 Bayonet and leather scabbard.

This is an extraordinarily rare Johnson Model 1941 Tool Room Sample Rifle and is just the third of these pre-production rifles manufactured.

What is its provenance?

This rifle was purchased by an employee of Cranston Arms when the rifle was manufactured and was passed down through his family to his grandson. This rifle is in the exact condition it was when it was manufactured in 1941 and undoubtedly was fired by Maynard Johnson himself.

On the website, New Market is asking $16,000 for S-3; on GunBroker, bids in the $7,500 range did not meet reserve and it’s relisted. There is a buy-it-now of $

In addition to S-3, New Market has several more Johnsons for sale.

They do provide, with each listing, a very solid capsule history of the Johnson M1941, which appears to be a distillation of Bruce Canfield’s book (this is a good thing; we recently recommended it to specialists in a book-review roundup (Weaponsman Expert Book Reviews #5). (If you want early Johnson history beyond this, there’s more at the sales page for S-3, and of course the most comprehensive answer is the Canfield book).

The history of the Johnson 1941 Rifle, and its designer, is a very interesting one that began on the eve of WWII. The designer of the rifle was Melvin Maynard Johnson, Jr., who graduated from Harvard University and Harvard Law School. He was also an avid firearms enthusiast from a young age and, around the same time that he graduated from law school he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve. Johnson took advantage of his association with the Marine Corps to pen various articles for the Marine Corps Gazette in the early 1930s. One of his articles was a general critique of the new M1 Garand Semi-Automatic Rifle. Johnson took issue in his article with the M1s “gas trap” design and its en block clip loading design, as well as several other issues with the rifle.

Melvin Johnson began an early relationship with the United Automatic Rifles Corporation in the early 1930s, initially in his role as an attorney, and began to provide the company with mechanical and engineering work on various rifle designs. The relationship did not survive but it solidified in Johnson the desire to experiment with and develop his own weapons designs. One of his first experiments, undoubtedly as a counter to the gas operated M1 Garand design, was in recoil operated automatic weapons design. Johnson eventually partnered with Marlin Firearms to build a semi-automatic rifle and light machine gun, both of which used a vertical feed design through the use of Browning Automatic Rifle 20-round magazines. The magazines developed several problems during tests at Fort Benning but Johnson was undeterred and continued developing both weapons. This led Johnson to begin work on a rotary magazine design.

In the late 1930s, Johnson founded Johnson Automatics, Incorporated, which would be the operating entity that would own the patent rights (and hopefully obtain manufacturing rights) for all of Johnson’s weapons designs. Johnson then began a determined effort to sell his designs, and his weapons, to the US Army and Marine Corps and various countries, including Great Britain and France. The rifle design that Johnson settled on, which he felt was superior to the M1 Garand rifle, was what became his Model 1941 Rifle. This rifle had a detachable barrel, a 10-round rotary magazine, and was recoil operated. The US Army, however, had settled on the M1 Garand rifle, which was then in production at Springfield Armory. Johnson continued to believe that his rifle design was just as good as John C. Garand’s design and he began to lobby members of Congress in an attempt to reopen the weapons tests that led to the adoption of the M1. Congress eventually held several rounds of hearings and, after an additional series of “head-to-head” tests, the M1 Garand was deemed superior by the Army. This left Melvin Johnson continuing to try and win a contract from the Marine Corps, which had not formally adopted a replacement for the 1903 Rifle, and from various foreign governments. Melvin Johnson had finalized his Model 1941 design by this point and now needed the assistance of an established manufacturing business to go forward with large-scale production.

An agreement was ultimately reached between Johnson Automatics and the Universal Windings Company that resulted in the establishment of the Cranston Arms Company of Cranston, Rhode Island, which would produce Johnson’s Model 1941 Rifle. Cranston Arms also produced Johnson’s Model of 1941 Light Machine Gun, which shared several design features with his semi-automatic rifle. Only a limited number of M1941 rifles had been shipped to the Dutch in the East Indies prior to the Japanese capture of Dutch possessions in the Pacific in early 1942. Some of these rifles were ultimately captured by the Japanese near the airfield at Tarikan and the port of Balikpapan in 1942. The rest were evacuated and used by the Free Dutch forces fighting in Timor through 1943. Some of the Dutch M1941 rifles were even used for a time by Australian forces fighting in Timor. The remaining M1941 rifles were then embargoed to keep them from being sent to the East Indies and possibly captured by the Japanese.

After the United States entered the war in December 1941, demand for military arms soared. By this time, the Marine Corps had followed the Army’s lead in adopting the M1 as its standard battle rifle, but M1 production was initially unable to meet demand. In addition, much to the Marine Corps’ chagrin, the Army had first priority on available supplies and on future output from Springfield Armory and Winchester, the two manufacturers of the M1 Rifle. As a result, the Johnson M1941 rifle was adopted by the Marines for issue to Marine Raiders and to newly-formed Para-Marine airborne units (because the barrel could be removed for ease of jumping the weapon), and these rifles saw action in the Solomons campaign of 1942. As M1s became available to Marine units, the Johnson rifles were withdrawn from combat use. Only a few thousand of these arms had been procured by the U.S. government before production ended in 1944, and, in addition to their limited use with the Marine Corps, some Johnson rifles were issued to clandestine O.S.S. operatives. Because the rifle was never officially adopted by the US military, and because WWII prevented any opportunity Johnson may have had for robust foreign sales, the total number of Johnson 1941 Rifles manufactured was very small, only about 30,000. Johnson Model 1941 Rifles were serial numbered in groups of 10,000, with the first 10,000 having no prefix, the second group with prefix “A,” third group with prefix “B.”

For the tool room prototype, he provides more history.

The prices seem high to us (one of our Johnsons cost us $4k, and one $700 — decades earlier, when a 1911 was $225) but New Market has sold Johnsons they were listing for $6,250 and $7,500 recently.

When the Army Resisted the M16A2, Part 2 of 3

The M16A2 was adopted by the Marines in 1983, and then by the Army in 1986. Shortly before its adoption, an Army contract analyzed the M16A2 — and found it all wrong for  the Army. The report is here: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a168577.pdf

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

M16A1 (top) and M16A2.

As we recounted in yesterday’s post, the Army let a contract to analyze the Marines’ product-improved M16A1, originally called the M16 PIP (Product Improvement Program but in November 1983, type-classified as the M16A2. Did the A2 meet the Army’s needs for an improved rifle? The contractors recounted 17 improvements in the A2 versus the A1, and traced those improvements back to four or five fundamental goals of the Marine program: more range, accuracy and penetration at that range, more durability, and a burst-fire capability in place of the full-auto setting.

The Army contractors recognized what the USMC had done — and damned it with faint praise.

The M16A2 rifle was developed and tested by the U.S. Marine Corps. The purpose of this present analysis was to evaluate M16A2 rifle features as they relate to U.S. Army training and combat requirements. It was found that the M16A2 did not correct major shortcomings in the MI6Al and that many M16A2 features would be very problematic for the Army. Accordingly, this report provides several suggested rifle modifications which would improve training and combat performance.

The A1 shortcomings that the paper’s authors thought went unameliorated, or were worsened, by the A2 included:

  1. 25 Meter Setting: The M16A2 does not have a sight setting for firing at 25 meters, where zeroing and most practice firing occurs.
  2. Battlesight Zero: The M16A2 does not have a setting for battlesight zero, i.e., 250 meters.
  3. Aperture Size: The M16A2 probably does not have an aperture suitable for the battlesight, e.g., the single aperture used for most marksmanship training, the record fire course, the primary aperture for combat, etc. The 5mm aperture used for 0-200 meters is probably too large and the 1-3/4mm aperture used for 300-800 meters is probably too small.
  4. Sighting System: The M16A2 sighting system is too complex, i.e., elevation is changed three different ways, leaving too much room for soldier error.
  5. Sight Movement: Sight movements on the M16A2 result in changing bullet strike by different amounts; .5, 1, 1.4, and 3 minutes of angle (MOA)*. The sights intended for zeroing, .5 and 1.4 MOA, are not compatible with old Army zero targets or the new targets being fielded.
  6. Zero Recording: The M16A2 does not have a sighting system which allows for easy recording of rifle zero. Also, the zero cannot be confirmed by visual inspection.
  7. Returning to Zero: The M16A2 does not have a reliable procedure for setting an individual’s zero after changing sights for any reason, e.g., using MILES or .22 rimfire adaptors.
  8. Night Sight: The M16A2 does not have a low light level or night sight.
  9. Protective Mask Firing: The M16A2 has not been designed to aid firing while wearing a protective mask.
  10. Range Estimation: The M16A2 sight has not been designed to aid in the estimation of range

Let’s consider those, briefly. Note that every single one of those objections relates to the sights. There are no complaints about the other Marine improvements (not even the hated burst switch). Most of the sight squawks were because the sight was different from the sights of the A1, which were pretty much as Stoner, Sullivan et. al. designed them circa 1959 (the earlier AR-10 sights are different, but the later AR-15 prototypes and their descendants all used something extremely close to the M16 and M16A1 sights. (The USAF/USN M16 and the Army/Marine M16A1 differed only in the absence and presence respectively of a forward assist). Even the protective mask issue is basically a sighting problem — with the then current US M17 gas mask, the rifle had to be held canted to use carrying-handle based rear sights.

Complaints 1-5 relate only to the M16A2 sights, but 6-10 are just as applicable to the then-issued Army M16A1.

Even at the time, it was clear that optical sights were better than irons — scopes for distance and red dots for close-in work. Army special operators had already tested — on the flat range, in the tire house, and on the two-way range — such early red-dots and both-eyes-open sights such as the Single Point and the Armson Occluded Eye Gunsight (OEG). In the early 21st Century, universal optics would end the long run of the M16A2, and sweep away all these problems the 1986 Army contractors worried about. But there was no way to predict that in 1986, not with any certainty.

And that’s Part 2 of our story. Tomorrow, we’ll cover the modifications to the M16 that the authors recommended in place of the A2.

The paper is available on DTIC: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a168577.pdf.

 

When the Army Resisted the M16A2, Part 1 of 3

The M16A2 was adopted by the Marines in 1983, and then by the Army three years later, but all of its development was done, largely on a shoestring, by the Marines.

For example, the finger bump on the A2 pistol grip? The very first prototype was built up by a Marine officer on an A1 grip, using plastic wood or body filler! Most of the modifications to the A2 were aimed at:

  1. Increased practical accuracy;
  2. Increased effective range;
  3. Increased durability; and,
  4. NATO compliance (adopting a NATO round equivalent to the FN SS109 round).

In a brief overview of the service life of the M16 series for American Rifleman in June, 2012, Martin K.A. Morgan encapsulated this history well:

In November 1983, the U.S. Marine Corps adopted a product-improved version of the M16A1 chambered for the 5.56×45 mm NATO round. The new rifle was called the M16A2 and it differed significantly from its predecessor: improved rear sights, a brass deflector, a heavier barrel and 1:7-inch rifling were among the changes. The M16A2 also replaced the M16A1’s “AUTO” selector setting with a “BURST” setting delivering three rounds with every trigger pull. The Army followed the Marine Corps’ adoption of the improved rifle in March 1986 when it ordered 100,176 M16A2 rifles from Colt. In September 1988, the U.S. government placed an initial order for 266,961 M16A2s with Fabrique Nationale’s North American subsidiary, FN Mfg., Inc. of Columbia, S.C. Late the following year, when 57,000 U.S. military personnel conducted the Operation Just Cause invasion of Panama, the M16A2 was used in combat for the first time.

For practical accuracy, the A2 had new sights, with a square front post; for range, a new round with a heavier bullet, and new rifling to match; and for durability, new stocks and handguards and significant metal reinforcement in the lower receiver’s weak areas, the pivot pin bosses and buffer tower.

The rifle was not without controversy in the Army. Indeed, contractors for the Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences examined the rifle and concluded that, as their paper’s abstract notes:

[U]se of the M16A2 rifle by the Army would be extremely problematic, a-fact due, in part, to the vast differences between the marksmanship training philosophies of the Army and the Marine Corps.

(The paper is here: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a168577.pdf)

The Army had been researching improvements to the M16A1 for years, but hadn’t actually implemented any. In the foreword to the Army Research Institute paper, the word “problematic” crops up again and one gets the sense that the problem was this solution was Not Invented Here, and moreover, not developed the way the Army wanted to develop one. 

Referring to earlier research, they wrote:

A detailed evaluation of M16Al performance was conducted to determine adequacy, peculiarities, etc. The findings clearly indicated that the M16Al was an adequate combat rifle; however, many shortcomings were identified that should be addressed in a new rifle or any rifle Product Improvement Program (PIP).

They considered that the improvements in the A2, listed below, were suitable only for the peculiar circumstances of Marine Corps service.

The Marine Corps test results stated the following advantages for the PIP [Product Improvement Program -Ed.] rifle:

  • Ease of training (handling and ease of sight movement).
  • Improved safety (no hazard when adjusting elevation on the rear sight even with loaded weapon).
  • Increased effectiveness at long ranges (more hits, better accuracy, and greater penetration).
  • Improved handling characteristics and durability in hand-to-hand close combat.
  • Reduced barrel jump and muzzle climb during automatic and rapid fire.
  • Increased contrast and less glare with square front sight post.
  • Stronger, more durable and improved grasping characteristics of front handguard.
  • Stronger barrel with quicker twist to take advantage of increased effectiveness provided by new ammunition.
  • Improved sighting characteristics providing quick target acquisition for moving targets and better detection of targets in low level light conditions at close ranges, and more accurate long range fire by use of two modified rear sight apertures.
  • Increased ammunition conservation and more effective use of ammunition with burst control device.
  • Conformity to human factors standards by lengthening stock (alleviating bruised eyebrows, noses, and lips).
  • Stronger, more durable stock.
  • Stronger, more durable buttcap which also reduces slipping on the shoulder during firing.
  • More controllable and comfortable pistol grip contoured to the shape of the hand.
  • Improved brass deflector which protects left handed shooters from hot ejected brass casings.
  • Can use NATO type improved ammunition (XM855) which provides improved performance and penetration at long ranges.

The Army evaluators were impressed by that list of solutions, but thought they all traced back to four specific USMC objectives or requirements:

The above list of advantages is very impressive. It appears that the rifle meets the primary requirements stated by the Marines:

  • A sight adjustable to 800 meters.
  • A bullet with better accuracy at 800 meters and the capability to penetrate all known helmets and body armor at ranges of 800 meters.
  • A rifle with more durable plastic parts and barrel which will take a beating during bayonet training and extended field exercises.
  • The replacement of the full automatic capability with a burst mode which fires a maximum of three rounds with each pull of the trigger.

…but they thought that the requirements were too Marine-centric.

The list, however, represents the objective and subjective evaluation of Marine Corps personnel who are emphasizing the most positive aspects of rifle characteristics as they pertain to envisioned Marine Corps requirements.

This is the first of a three part series. In the second part, tomorrow on WeaponsMan.com, the Army contractors damn the A2 with faint praise and list a litany of A1 shortcomings that they believed that the A2 did not resolve. In the third part, the modifications that they suggested in lieu of or in addition to the A2 mods are enumerated.

As it was, the contracting officer’s representative approved the paper in February, 1986. In March, and probably before any of the responsible officers read the paper, the Army went ahead and adopted the M16A2, just the way the Marines had shaken it out.

That makes this paper a time capsule.

Who Doesn’t Make ARs? Not Savage (any more)

Well, not Savage any more. Numerous leaks of sales information online (the models are shown on several jobber and distributor sites already) makes it clear that new “Savage MSRs” are coming, including an AR-15 called the “MSR-15” and an AR-10 called, you guessed it, the MSR-10. Street price will run from around $700 to nearly $2,000.

All are direct-impingement operating system and there is a lot of use of Blackhawk! parts, which helps the Massachusetts company meet its price points. But surprises include non-reciprocating side charging handles on the AR-10s and a 6.5 Creedmoor chambering.

Savage MSR-15 Patrol

Specific models include the entry-level MSR-15 Patrol, the mid-length gas-system MSR-15 Recon, and MSR-10s in Hunter (carbine barrel) and Long Range (20″ rifle) trim.

Savage MSR-15 Recon

Brand MFG Part Nº UPC Model family Model Caliber Barrel Length Magazine List Price Street Price (est)
Savage 22900 0-11356-22900-7 MSR 15 Patrol .223 Wylde 16.125 30RD $852.00 $700.00
Savage 22901 0-11356-22901-4 MSR 15 Recon .223 Wylde 16.125 30RD $999.00 $800.00
Savage 22902 0-11356-22902-1 MSR 10 Hunter .308 Win 16.125 20RD $1,459.00 $1,300.00
Savage 22903 0-11356-22903-8 MSR 10 Hunter 6.5 Creedmoor 17 20RD $1,459.00 $1,300.00
Savage 22904 0-11356-22904-5 MSR 10 Long Range .308 Win 20 20RD $1,999.00 $1,850.00
Savage 22905 0-11356-22905- MSR 10 Long Range 6.5 Creedmoor 20 20RD $1,999.00 $1,850.00

Savage MSR-10 Hunter Creedmoor (.308 appears identical). Note that the image shows a conventional charging handle, although the specs and description promise a side charger.

All these models feature Blackhawk! parts, with the Patrol including “Flip-Up rear sight, M-LOK handguard, Pistol grip, 6-Position buttstock, & Blaze trigger” from the accessory maker. at the other extreme, the Long Range (for which we do not have a photo) uses the Magpul Precision Rifle Stock (PRS) Gen 3, and an M-LOK  but does retain the Blackhawk! Blaze 2-stage trigger. All the AR-10, er, MSR-10, variants, come without sights.

Barrels are finished with QPQ Melonite. At least initially, you can get any color you want, so long as it is black. Expect to see this new Savage tribe introduced at next month’s SHOT Show. A lot of SHOT new products are leaking or being teased now that Christmas is over. (The Firearm Blog is a good place to watch for them).

 

Twists of Fate, and Rifling

What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate.  -Donald J. Trump.

We’re not sure about twists of Fate, but a number of you have asked us about twists of rifling. The question usually comes in the context of AR-15 rifles and their clones, with rifling twists of 1:14. 1:12, 1:9, 1:8 and 1:7 all having been used.

Can you calculate optimum twist for a given caliber and projectile? Yes, you can. There are two equations that are commonly used, Greenhill’s and Miller’s.  Let’s start with the newer one, Miller’s, which was originally proposed in Precision Shooting in March, 2005:

http://www.jbmballistics.com/ballistics/bibliography/articles/miller_stability_1.pdf

Miller assumes a spitzer-pointed, boat-tailed projectile. In Imperial measurements:

T is twist
30 = a constant representing: standard atmospheric conditions, and a bullet speed of approximately Mach 2 (2800 fps at sea level in standard atmospherics). If you need real precision, Miller does provide more complete equations for that, but these approximations work for rifle velocities.
m = projectile mass, decimal grains
s = gyroscopic stability factor
d = diameter, decimal inches
l =  length in calibers (i.e. length is “l” times the caliber of the projo).

Greenhill’s rule dates originally to 1879, and is frequently used by gunsmiths as it is (or was. anyway) taught as part of gunsmithing school, repeated in Hatcher’s Notebook, and included in Patrick Sweeney’s rifle gunsmithing book among many others. Sir Alfred Greenhill of the Royal Armories at Woolwich developed a number of more complex equations. (More complex than Miller’s, too). But he also provided “Greenhill’s rule of thumb.” Sweeney describes this as follows:

“The length of the bullet in calibers, multiplied by the twist rate in calibers per turn, is 150.”

The constant 150 is good for velocities to about 2800 fps. For higher velocities, as often seen with small-caliber rifles, use 180.

Some notes on twist

As a rule of thumb, the more twist, the more stable the bullet. A bullet must meet a threshold of stability to be accurate. The less twist beyond minimal stability, the less accurate the bullet, in theory, but practical accuracy doesn’t drop off until a bullet is very overstabilized. In small calibers, varmint hunters will tell you a too-fast twist will cause bullets to self-destruct from centrifugal force before overspin hurts their accuracy.

You also need enough excess stability to account for atmospheric changes. As a rule, air density decreases with increased altitude above sea level, and air density decreases with rising temperatures. Less dense air needs less spin than more dense air. This is why the original AR-15 prototypes were found to lose accuracy during Arctic testing by the Air Force — important tests for guys who might have to defend ammo igloos in Iceland, antennas in Alaska, or missiles at Minot. These prototypes had barrels made by Winchester for Armalite in 1:14 twist, then the standard .22x varmint-rifle twist (no one pops prairie dogs in -20F weather). A change to 1:12 solved the problem, at least, for 53-55 grain bullets like those in what would become M193 ball ammunition. (Lighter weight tracer rounds have always been hard to stabilize and trajectory match in 5.56mm). The change to 63 grain ammunition drove the change to a 1:7 rifling twist.

These same calculations may not scale to all types of large-caliber, high-velocity artillery pieces such as tank guns. That’s because air is not truly dimensionless; air molecules don’t scale up as projectiles do. Aerodynamicists and exterior ballisticians can compensate for this scale effect by incorporating Reynolds Numbers in their calculations. For rifle ammo, it’s not necessary or useful.

For those who just want a cheat sheet

Simplified from Sweeney, Gunsmithing Rifles, pp. 109-110

5.56 and other .22 centerfires:

Bullet weight grains Twist ratio 1:inches Velocity
> 70 8 any practical
≤ 70 9 any practical
≤ 63 12 any practical
≤ 55 14 any practical
≤ 55 15 ≥ 4100 fps
≤ 55 16 ≥ 4300 fps

Note that this is really for civilian use in “normal” climactic conditions. For military purposes where you must meet a +140ºF/-40ºF standard, you should go one twist increment slower per bullet weight increment, and understand that you will lose some ability to use weights at the extremes removed from your selected optimum round. Not much of a factor in a military application, where the fewer different DODAAC codes (ammunition stock numbers), the better, as far as the logistics elements are concerned.

7.62 NATO and other .308 centerfires:

Bullet weight grains Twist ratio 1:inches Velocity
> 220 8 any practical
≤ 220 9 any practical
≤ 170 12 any practical
≤ 168 14 any practical
≤ 150 15 any practical

Note again that this is for civilian/sporting/normal-climactic-conditions use.  And that it applies to supersonic rounds only. You must redo the calculations for the slow, heavy bullets used in suppressed applications!

For those desirous of plug-in calculators:

For those desirous of more sheet music:

 

Ordnance and the (First) World War

Note: This post was intended to be published prior to our 27 October 16 Post, Why did Ordnance Hate the Lewis Gunwhich led to General Crozier and the US Rifle, M1917 “Enfield,” on 29 October. As a result, this post is somewhat redundant and duplicative, but there is further information in it, so we are delivering it today. 

An OCR’d version of Crozier’s book, mentioned below, is available here: Ordnance and the World War 4.pdf.  -Ed.

William Crozier, Chief of Ordnance

In 1920, William Crozier wrote a fascinating book, Ordnance and the World War, about Army Ordnance in the Great War. Crozier had been the recipient of a great deal of abuse from the press, the public, and Congress; despite Congress having appropriated $12 million as early as 1916, Ordnance stuck to a leisurely peacetime schedule until long after the outbreak of the war, and Crozier’s own preferences and enmities undermined war production.

His reason for writing seems to have been, primarily, to defend himself and his branch of the Army from criticism. The criticism was mostly well deserved; it was the Army’s own fault that it had few and obsolete machine guns.

Some times it was not: the Army was expected by the public, the press and the Congress to suddenly manifest the arms of a multi-million-man force after 50 years of austerity budgets. Crozier explained:

[T]here were four subjects, viz.: rifles, machine guns, field artillery and smokeless powder, upon which criticism centered so fiercely and in regard to which misinformation was so rife that the truth really ought to be known about them; especially as they constitute the most important items in the armament of a fighting force.1

We are, perhaps, most interested in the production of small arms, rifles, pistols, and machine guns.

During the prewar years small arms were under one of several functional divisions, with each functional division having full vertically-integrated responsibility for a given class of ordnance, from conceptual design through fielding to overhaul, withdrawal and surplusing. Such coordination as was needed between, say, the makers of artillery and artillery carriages, which were separate divisions, was effectuated by the Ordnance staff or by the Chief of Ordnance himself. Nine months into the war, this wasn’t working, and they reorganized into horizontal functional divisions rather then vertical, what we might call “market,” divisions.

That is, one division, called the Engineering Division, took over the function of design of all the fighting materiel provided by the department; guns, carriages, small arms, and all the rest. Another, the Procurement Division, placed the orders and made contracts for everything. The Production Division supervised the processes of manufacture in all factories; and the Inspection Division passed upon the quality of all materiel and workmanship.2

This change had been proposed by the Top Men brought in from industry, but as it turned out, making war materiel was not quite like making corn flakes; and the principal result of the change was that there was no line of responsibility when things become unglued — which they rapidly did, with every significant project falling far behind overly optimistic projections and schedules.

Difficulties were encountered with the new arrangement. Responsibility for backwardness of output became obscure, and was almost impossible to locate. And after several months of trial the arrangement was abandoned, and the old one, in principle, restored, with some changes of assignment of work between divisions, and some creation of new divisions to meet enlarged duties; also with some arrangements for coordination between divisions, which, in peace time, the Chief of Ordnance had been able to attend to himself.3

The US entered the war with six arsenals, of which four were germane to small arms: Springfield, which concentrated on small arms; Rock Island, which made rifles among other ordnance equipment; Frankford, which produced small arms ammunition , and Picatinny, which made the smokeless powders used in ammunition great and small.4

Before the war, the arsenals had produced most of the Armed Services’ ordnance needs, and when they could not meet those needs in a single shift, they added shifts. In retrospect, this was one of the reasons that the US was so unready for wartime production. Had they met prewar peak needs by contracting with industry, the ability to surge wartime production to much greater than prewar peak needs would have been as easy as adding shifts to factories in running production. NOTE 4. Ordnance would cling to this lesson learned for many decades; it’s why they sought industrial sources in the 1950s and 60s for the M14 and M16 rifle.5

The most important weapon with which nations go to war is the infantryman’s rifle. …

The standard rifle of the American service, popularly known as the Springfield, is believed to have no superior; but our supply was entirely insufficient for the forces which we were going to have to raise. Our manufacturing capacity for the Springfield rifle was also insufficient, and could not be expanded rapidly enough for the emergency. This capacity was available at two arsenals: one at Springfield, Massachusetts, capable of turning out about a thousand rifles per day, and one at Rock Island, Illinois, which could make about five hundred per day.6

That sounds like a lot of guns, but the Mauser-Werke in Oberndorf could turn out 10,000 and even 20,000 rifles a day. Germany averaged about 10k a day for the whole duration of the war, and ended the war with vast stockpiles of rifles and not enough soldiers to carry them.7

Until September of 1916 the Springfield Armory had been, however, running far below its capacity, and the Rock Island Arsenal, or at least the rifle-making plant, was entirely shut down, due to lack of appropriation. At the end of August, 1916, there had been appropriated $5,000,000 for the manufacture of small arms, including rifles. A considerable sum of this appropriation had to be put into pistols, of which we were even shorter than we were of rifles, but the remainder was used to reopen the rifle plant at Rock Island, and to increase the output at Springfield, as rapidly as these effects could be accomplished in the stringent condition of the supply of skilled labor occasioned by the demands of the private factories making rifles for European governments. The dissipated force could not be quickly regathered.8

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Crozier’s document — which aligns largely with similarly self-serving Congressional testimony — was his defense of the charges that he and Ordnance were prejudiced against Isaac Lewis and the Lewis gun, in favor of the dreadful Hotchkiss knock-off, the Benet-Mercié Machine Rifle. But in his book,Crozier denied any animus to the Lewis’s inventor, Col. Isaac Lewis.

In the case of the Lewis gun the charge of prejudice and unfair treatment was made by Col. Isaac N. Lewis, an officer of the army, on the active list at the time when his gun was first presented to the W a r Department, and subsequently retired.

Lewis offered his gun to the Army, for free, under one condition: that it not be tested at Springfield, which made the Benet-Mercié, and would not give it a fair test.

Crozier arranged tests by Springfield Armory, and every one of these tests found that the Lewis, then serving satisfactorily in combat with various Allies, didn’t work, and the execrable Benet-Mercié was superior.

Senator Hitchcock. And you were unable to get any one to overrule Gen. Crozier?

Col.Lewis. Oh,no. He is absolutely autocratic, Gen.Crozier. You gentlemen year after year have been hearing Gen. Crozier’s testimony in regard to the ordnance conditions in the country, and you can judge better the representations he has made than I can.

The Chairman. May I ask you in a general way what is the trouble with the Ordnance Department? You are an old Ordnance officer?

Col.Lewis. No; I am an Artilleryman. I belong to the fighting branch.

Senator Hitchcock. We have inferred that, Colonel.

Col. Lewis. I am still fighting. I am sixty years old, but I am still in the ring.

Senator McKellar. That is plainly evident.

The Chairman. What is the trouble there? If there has been a fall down in this emergency, where is the trouble and what is the trouble?

Col. Lewis. It is primarily at the present time with the man who is Chief of Ordnance. There has not been a new idea or a new development in ordnance in America in fifteen years. We haven’t a new gun to-day in our coast fortifications; that is, new within fifteen years.

The Chairman. Are the methods at fault?

Col. Lewis. It is not so much Crozier as it is Crozierism thet is at fault. That is what this country is suffering from.

The Chairman. Has he developed the Ordnance Department under this present system and method

Col. Lewis (interrupting). Certainly. It is a one-man machine, Senator.

TheChairman. How long has he been connected with it?

Col.Lewis. Fifteen years — I think, sixteen years. I think he has been Chief of Ordnance sixteen years.

Crozier, to his credit, does include Lewis’s entire line of abuse of him in the book, and then counters it. Certainly Lewis exaggerates a little (it was on Crozier’s watch that the Army adopted the M1911 pistol and began examining Browning’s machine guns and BAR). But the enmity between Lewis and Crozier clearly was real.

Who was right? We note that, unlike the US Army Ordnance Department, the British, Belgian, Italian, and Russian services all made the Lewis gun work.

Sources

Crozier, William. Ordnance and the World War: A Contribution to the History of American Preparedness. New York: Scribner, 1920.

Storz, Dieter. “Rifles: Mass Production.” 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Daniel, Ute et al. Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2014-12-16. DOIhttp://dx.doi.org/10.15463/ie1418.10509. Translated by: Reid, Christopher. Retrieved from: http://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/rifles#Mass_production

Notes

  1. Crozier, p. 54.
  2. Crozier, pp. 15-16.
  3. Crozier, p. 17.
  4. Crozier,p.21.
  5. Crozier, p.22.
  6. Crozier, pp. 56-57.
  7. Storz.
  8. Crozier, pp. 56-57.
  9. Storz.

The 1885 Assault Rifle

Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher, who deserves to be better known, was born a bit too early to challenge John M. Browning for the firearms design crown of the 20th Century, but he was fully the American’s equal in ingenuity and productivity in the 19th Century. Mannlicher, an Austrian, who armed Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, and briefly Switzerland with rifles or carbines. He produced an array of interesting early semi-auto experiments on long-recoil, short-recoil, and gas principles; and he made contributions to the design of the German Model 1888 “Commission” rifle (principally a modified version of the magazine; unlike all other Mannlicher en-bloc or packet-loading clips, and like the M1 Garand clip, the Gew. 88 clip can go in either way up). Mannlicher passed away in 1903, while automatic weapons were still in their infancy, but the designs he worked on show an agile mind with a keen grasp of the engineering problems and possibilities.

Today, we’re looking at his Model 85 Automatic Rifle, which was so far ahead of its time it took ammunition about 30 years to catch up. At that, it had some one-off interesting features. At a glance, it looks a bit like a 1941 Johnson, which is not too shabby for 1885. Writing in 1946, WHB Smith had this to say:

In 1885 we find von Mannlicher producing the first of his automatic weapons a light machine gun which, considered in connection with present-day military arms, is a marvel of original design. This arm has been given very little attention by writers on firearms, but within its crude form it houses the origins of many of the basic principles which brought fame and fortune to later designers. Perhaps those designers never saw this Mannlicher of 1885, perhaps they pioneered for themselves the paths the great Austrian inventor trod long before those later men incorporated the principles in their weapons. In any event, von Mannlichees designs show the need for complete and continuing research in the field of all arms developments. Truly there is “nothing new under the sun;” and the inventor of the future may save years of time and work, and fortunes in money, by familiarizing himself with what has been done in his field by the great ones who preceded him.

Consider for a moment this light machine gun of 1885, an arm which was not successful because it was ahead of its time; because psychologically the military was not ready for it, and the metallurgist had not yet perfected the necessary steels for the arm nor the correct brass for the cartridge cases which would give the gun complete field reliability.

We would also say that it was ahead of its ammunition. It was chambered for the big fat (11 mm). blackpowder round of the Werndl rifle. (The rifle was an analog of our Allin-conversion trapdoor Springfield, and the Model 77 cartridge was a near analog of our .45-70 round, firing a .433-inch 370-grain bullet about 1,400 feet per second with 77 grains of black powder). Mannlicher had designed two rifles for this cartridge already, one with a tubular magazine, and one fed by a seven-round detachable gravity-fed magazine.

But the praise above wasn’t all Smith had to say about this gun. Next, he compared it the Browning machine guns. Bear in mind, he is writing all this circa 1945-46, and primarily for an audience that would have had a professional familiarity with the Browning 1917/1919/M2/M3 family of machine guns. .

Comparing the principles found in this arm with corresponding ones embodied in the latest U. S. Browning Machine Gun designs shows some remarkable similarities.

First, both use a short-recoil operating system. Barrel and breechblock recoil locked together until chamber pressure has dropped to safe limits; then the barrel is halted and the breech mechanism continues back to extract, eject and reload.

Second, both employ accelerators. When the barrel is halted, the accelerator is struck a sharp blow to transmit added impetus to the breech mechanism to assure proper functioning.

Third, the essential locking systems are similar. While the locks differ radically in shape and mounting, each arm nevertheless is locked by a wedge cammed up and down from below into a recess cut in the underside of the breechblock, the wedge in each case resting on an abutment in the floor of the receiver when locked.

Fourth, in principle, both use similar cocking systems. In each a pivoted finger lever has one end passing through a cut in the bolt into engagement with the striker pin acting to cock the firing mechanism by leverage during recoil.

Fifth, the positions of the operating (or recoil) springs which are mounted in the receiver to the rear of the breechlock (or bolt), are similar.

There are other resemblances; but these, as indicated in the drawings, serve to establish Mannlicher’s astonishing grasp of fundamental principles quite graphically. Several of the basic principles found in the most modern light machine guns of American and German design—notably the operating system, the action working in an extension of the barrel, mounting and positioning of parts—were originally used in this arm; while the top-mounted magazine which became a favorite in British, Japanese and Czech design in World War II was employed by Mannlicher in 1885 and even earlier.

It is believed that two prototypes of the 1885 rifle were made, one called “repeating rifle” (Repetier-Gewehr) and one “light machine gun” (Handmitrailleuse) and that neither survives today. Indeed, we were unable to find any unretouched photograph of this rifle. These drawings, from Smith, were drawn by the Steyr arsenal’s Konrad von Kromar, probably directly from Mannlicher’s original and since-lost prototypes, and were used in connection with a 1900 World’s Fair display.

Here is Smith’s detail description of the Model 85.

Model 85 Automatic Magazine rifle (and Light Machine Gun) with Recoiling Barrel and Detachable Gravity Magazine

(Automatisches Repetier-Gewehr (Handmitrailleuse) mit rückgehenden Lauf u. aufsteckbaren Magazin M. 85)

Original Caption – 
I. Right side view with gravity magazine loaded and in place.
2. Top view with action closed. This early recoil-operated, locked breech weapon was a forerunner of many of the most successful designs of light machine guns used in World War II; and first utilized basic principles later employed in many medium and heavy machine guns also

This truly remarkable weapon was introduced decades ahead of its time. Originally developed in 1883 by Mannlicher and introduced two years later as the Model 85, it was developed at a time when ammunition did not have the necessary reliability to permit of really fine automatic weapon performance. This arm was designed to handle the original Austrian Model 77 Werndl cartridge of 11-mm (.433) caliber whose characteristics have already been discussed.

This arm however anticipated many of the essential details of the successful recoil operated weapons of today.

Like the later Browning semi-automatic sporting rifles (which we know in the U.S. as the Remington Autoloading Rifle), the German light machine-guns of 1934 and 1942, and the American Johnson rifle and light machine-gun, this arm operated on the principle of a recoiling barrel floating within a barrel casing and being locked securely to the action during the moment of firing and high breech pressure.

A barrel return spring mounted around the barrel within the casing ahead of the firing chamber, and a straight-line action return spring mounted in prolongation of the bore directly behind the bolt, provided the motive power for returning the recoiling parts to firing position after they had been thrust rearward and unlocked by the recoil of the arm when fired.

The striker shaft-collar provided a front compression point for the striker spring.

The rear of the striker head was cut away from below to permit an arm of a pivoted cocking lever to rise inside the striker head much on the basic principle used in current Browning machine-guns.

The lower arm of this pivoted cocking lever rested on a slope in the receiver where it was in contact with the pivoted sear lever.

Original Caption — 1. Right side view cut away to show all details of weapon with firing chamber loaded and arm cocked ready to fire.
Pressure on the trigger will cause the trigger lever to pull down on the sear and withdraw it from the hammer-like cocking-piece within the bolt and striker. The compressed striker spring (or mainspring) will thrust the striker forward within the locked bolt to fire the cartridge. Note that the locking tongs are mounted on top of their block and lock faces on the tong are securely engaged in the corresponding under fates of the bolt. The member directly below the head of the cartridge case is the accelerator.
2. Receiver top view showing action cocked. Note that the feeding is done to the left of the line of sight. Leading finger Is gripping cartridge in feeder ready to pull it into line of forward travel of the bolt as the bolt passes to the rear to eject the cartridge case now in the chamber. This straight line system of recoil locking and operation has many points of similarity with the very latest American and European designs.

The recoil action did prove quite similar to the later Browning designs.

The Recoil Action

When the arm is ready to fire, the barrel and action are securely locked through a special “coupling tong” arrangement located below the breech. Locking recesses on the underside of the bolt are specially shaped to be engaged by the locking tongs and also to permit camming action during forward and rearward movement to unlock and lock.

At the moment of firing, the bottom tong rests on a ledge mounted in the receiver bottom plate, while the upper tong rests in a special lock cut in the underside of the breech block. The forward end of the moveable and slideable tong rests against a pivoted lever below the firing chamber as indicated in the drawings.

As the cartridge in the chamber is fired, the recoil transmitted through the head of the cartridge case to the face of the breech block starts the action to the rear. Since the units are firmly locked together, the barrel starts back against the action of its spring simultaneously with the rearward action of the breech parts.

As the rear of the tongs reaches the cam face on the supporting block, the cam surface in the bolt forces the tongs down out of engagement with the bolt locking recess.

A cam face on the front projection works against the curved lower arm of the accelerator. This pivots the upper end of the accelerator to speed up bolt travel, while the lower arm acts as a barrel stop.

The accelerator passes on its thrust to the bolt in the same general manner as the accelerator later developed by Browning for his famous U.S. .30 and 30 caliber machine-guns.

The rearward motion of the bolt forces the head of the cocking lever within it back and down (the Browning reverses this principle) so that the upper arm may guide the striker back until the sear lever drops into the cocking notch to hold it ready for the next pressure of the trigger. The rearward pull on the striker compresses the striker spring, since the front end of the spring rests on a collar midway along the striker pin. Meanwhile, the lower arm of the sear bar, which is attached to the trigger, has been drawn completely away from sear contact. The extractor in the bolt face draws the empty cartridge case back until the case hits against the ejector and is tossed out of the rifle. Meanwhile the powerful recoil spring mounted directly behind the bolt in prolongation of the bore is compressed against the rear end cap buffer.

Original caption-
1. Right side view at end of recoil stroke. The barrel mounted within its recoil easing is locked to the breech until it travels far enough to permit the locking tong to be cammed down off its block and out of engagement with the
underside of the bolt. At that time the barrel hits its stop and rearward travel Is halted. The bolt continues to the rear carrying the empty cartridge case in its face to strike against the ejector. Impetus transmitted through the pivoting accelerator hurls the bolt to the rear with added force as the barrel travel halts. The cocking fork of the cocking-piece is thrust up as it travels up its cam face; and its upper lever end seated in a notch in the striker draws the striker back to full cock much as in the present U. S. Browning machine gun. The recoil spring directly behind the bolt is compressed. Cartridges feed down the magazine by gravity, but the bolt acts on the feeder to pull a cartridge in line for feeding. Note that the sear under influence of its spring is holding the striker cocking-piece back.
2. Feeding details. The bolt is in full rear position and is pivoting the feeder with a cartridge into the feedway. The cartridge will be picked up and chambered on a forward bolt motion.

A cartridge feeds down through the gravity magazine into the feeding chamber to the left of the line of sight in tht receiver; and the final opening movement of the bolt hits against a rear section of the mechanical feed to lever a cartridge into line with the bolt ready to be picked up by the bolt for chambering as the action closes.

The recoil spring now reacts and drives the bolt assembly forward. The bolt picks up and chambers a cartridge. The cam surface on the underside of the bolt picks up the corresponding surface on the upper locking tong, and the tongs are pushed ahead and thrust up their ramp on to their locking support. The proper bolt surface hitting the accelerator on its upper face drives it forward and pivots the lower end in ready for action on the next recoil movement. The barrel return spring meanwhile has returned the barrel to full forward position. The tongs now resting on their ledge, their locking surfaces are engaged in the underside of the bolt. When the trigger is momentarily released, during semiautomatic fire, the trigger spring moves the trigger and sear lever up into position so the lever can hook into the front of the sear ready to draw it out of contact with the cocking piece to allow the firing pin to go forward for its next firing motion.

In its anticipation of the essential mechanical principles later utilized in practically every successful recoil operated weapon, this arm was a marvel of ingenuity unsurpassed in the field of automatic development. Had suitable ammunition been available and springs rather than gravity depended upon for feed, this arm might have revolutionized warfare long before World War II, at which time arms of this design were first really appreciated,

This arm was also made with a change lever permitting full automatic fire by automatically releasing the sear lever when the trigger was held back.

In this early design, von Mannlicher had solved most of the problems of light automatic weapons design before others had even begun to wrestle with these problems. But he’d invented himself out far ahead of the ammunition of his era. The coming small-caliber smokeless ammunition, more powerful and more reliable than the old Werndl rounds of the original Model 1885, would catalyze a new generation of firearms that would more than fulfill the 1885’s promise.

Bargain AR Kit at Midway

At this price, this isn’t going to be premium quality, but if you’re looking for a generic M4gery and willing to build your own, Midway has a deal for you.  This is just the ticket for you  if you’ve milled out some 80% lowers and are looking for a rapid completion, and least-common-denominator parts suit you.

That said, not everybody loves this kit. While the 52 reviews in place trend high, the “most helpful negative review” is only three stars, and compares this kit unfavorably to a Bushmaster kit Midway offered before:

I expected more.

I expected more because it was an AR Stoner rifle. But what I received were less than mil spec parts such as detent pins, selector pin and springs. I was so upset with the quality of these parts that I replaced them with a parts kit. Not to mention the parts bag was open inside the shipping container it came in and you guessed it. I had to pour the parts on the table. After final assembly I was not impressed with the quality of the parts. The bolt was not smooth and the trigger was terrible. I like Midway products and like to purchase from them because I expect quality. When I received my Bushmaster kit it was packaged well and final assembly was great. It shot well and was definitely a 5 star deal. Being an AR Stoner product I expected more. That being said I will continue to buy from Midway. I won’t let one bad experience take away from other great purchases.

Personally, we don’t think the “AR Stoner” brand means anything at all. For four bills, you can’t expect anything but generic, and you may have to do some tuning after assembly. In fact, we’d probably recommend a first-time builder spend more on his parts, to eliminate possible causes of frustration. While everyone can build a good gun out of good parts, it takes experience, skill and training to build a good gun out of a mixed bag of parts, and it gets harder and more expensive when some particular parts are questionable.

The Bushmaster kit formerly offered is no longer available; Midway does offer a wide range of low-end kits from AR Stoner, Del-Ton, and DPMS. These kits generally have a 1:9 or even 1:10 barrel which is okay with 63 grain and 55 grain rounds but may not stabilize 77-grain rounds well.

Any of these kits does ship free with the code HOLIDAYSHIPPING16, a one-time use code for just about any order over $150 that’s valid through the 19th (details here).

 

Two Collector Firearms: One You Can’t Buy, and One You Probably Can’t

Let’s start with the one you probably can’t buy. It’s an amnesty-registered World War II STG44 or MP44, with the usual late-war blend of blued, phosphated and in-the-white parts.

Here’s a couple of overviews of it.

You will not find a more historical 20th Century firearm, apart from one associated with a particular individual. For this is the creation that spawned the name and the category “assault rifle.”

The description reads:

STG-44 MP44 WWII bring back w/amnesty paperwork copy included in sale. this is a true unmolested survivor!! Everything origial, mint bore. Stock was serialized to gun receiver. Bolt and op-rod do not show any numbers. Also included is the original take down tool and magazine loader. We test fired this gun and it ran flawless!!!! We own it, it is in our inventory/hands.

The reason for the last sentence is simple: a lot of Class III dealers are “selling” stuff they’re merely brokering. So these guys (Recon Ordnance of Wisconsin) want serious buyers to know that they can get started on transfer paperwork straightaway once money changes hands.

So, if it’s for sale on GunBroker, why can’t you buy it? Probably, because you’re not in the market for a $32,000 gun. Yep, it’s a no-reserve auction, but that’s the minimum bid. You’d think they’d at least throw in a couple of spare magazines.

Even the hand-scratched serial number adds to this StG’s vintage appeal. But… well… $32k.

Then, there’s the one you definitely can’t buy. This is a Roth-Steyr Repetierpistole M.07, a major arm of the Austro-Hungarian forces in World War I. Partially designed by Karel Krnka, this had the distinction of being the first automatic pistol adopted by a major power, a year before Prussia and Germany followed suit with the Pistole 08 Parabellum.

This particular example is not in the best condition that collectors love, but it’s still a collector piece, still wearing its original unit disc which identifies it as Pistol 73 of (we believe the 2nd, not 11th) Landwehr Regiment. The Landwehr was an organized reserve much like today’s American National Guard.

So why can’t you buy it? Because it was taken in a gun “buyback” in Cleveland last year and destroyed as follows:

… placed into the No. 1 Basic Oxygen Furnace iron ladle and … melted by approximately 200 tons of molten iron, at temperatures of about 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. The molten iron, along with the scraps, were charged in the basic oxygen furnace to make steel which will eventually be used to manufacture cars, household appliances and other goods.

Cleveland’s Police Chief, Calvin Williams, blames guns like this and the collectors that normally trade them — ammunition for this firearm hasn’t been a mass-production item since 1944 — for crime in his city. Meanwhile, he didn’t have the back of his own cops in a 2015 incident, leading beleaguered and unsupported Cleveland cops to “go fetal” as cops in so many other cities have done, and has led to exploding homicide statistics over the last two years.

Cleveland homicides took off when Chief Williams and other leaders embraced the Black Criminals’ Lives Matter movement in 2015. 2016 isn’t over yet, but had tied 2015’s bag limit of 120 before Thanksgiving. Not one of them was shot with an 8mm Steyr round, oddly enough.

Hat tip, the irreplaceable Dean Weingarten, who wrote:

Gems like the Roth Steyr are routinely found at gun “buy backs”. They are not found in quantity, but they are found. All the more reason for private buyers to monitor these gun turn-ins, and to rescue the valuable items from the smelter.

Williams and his senior managers studiously avoid addressing the real problem in Cleveland — urban gang violence, which occasionally spills over to claim truly innocent victims — and the weak, soft prosecutors and judges that condemn good people to death annually because they’re so solicitous of the feelings of bad people. Cleveland’s homicide detectives do a great job of finding these guys, once they kill. And in almost every case, the guy has a previous violent or gun offense that ought to have had him locked up.

But why address the crime problem when you can melt down an evil deodand from the Hapsburg Empire?

Everything Comes Full Circle: Haenel StG is Back

“So what?” you say. “It’s another AR. Yawn.”

haenel_cr223_gross_04

Ah, but whose AR? It’s the CR 223, made by CG Haenel of Suhl, who once made the MKb42(h), which then became the MP43, MP44, and StG 44. The CR 223 is made for the European market, primarily for European governmental use; we’re not expecting to see them on these shores, but it’s always interesting to see a dormant trademark wake and shake itself back into relevance.

haenel_logo_alt_01

Old Haenel Logo (pre-1945)

C.G. Haenel, the traditional manufacturer from Suhl, is now offering its own version of a semi-automatic rifle in the popular AR 15 standard. The Haenel CR223 in the .223 Rem. calibre is an indirect gas-pressure loader that is fully compatible with the basics of this class. For Key Account Manager Björn Dräger, the development is a step towards new rifle classes – at the same time the company is building on from old expertise. C.G. Haenel in Suhl developed the world’s first type 44 assault rifle in the 1940’s – a rifle that not only created this rifle class but also had a decisive influence on all subsequent constructions of the same type.

Note that there’s a hint in there of more AR-like developments to come from this revived company in the ancient gunmaking center of Suhl.

The new logo is a modernization of the old.

The new logo is a modernization of the old.

If you blow up the rifle picture, and look through the slots in the forend, the gas piston system seems to be a cousin of the HK 416’s. According to Eric B at TFB, Haenel is a subcontractor to HK for some parts.

The lower receiver appears to be milled from billet and is different from that of a 416. The rifle is also available in Simunitions “blue gun” and inert “red gun” training modes, and again per TFB, has just been adopted by the Hamburg, Germany, police. (Indeed, it was that TFB article that got us looking at Haenel).

Haenel also makes a very interesting sniper rifle, the RS8 (7.62 NATO, .300 WM) and RS9 (.338LM). The RS9 was selected as the G29 mid-range sniper rifle for the Bundeswehr this year.

This is the Compact version of the RS8, although all the RS rifles have a clear family resemblance.

It has its own action using a bolt with two flights of three lugs each.

bolt-locking-end

That bolt deserves a fair amount of study. Look at the extractor, and also note the prominent gas-relief hole. The other end of the bolt shows an interesting low-profile safety and cocking (or is it loaded?) indicator:

safety-and-cocking-indicator

If you look at the bolt from an industrial point of view, there are components of it that are expensive to make, and other parts that are made inexpensively. As much thought seems to have gone into the manufacture as into the design.

There are many variations (including an integrally suppressed one rifled for subsonic .308!), but the company seems to pride itself on a complete systems approach, delivering to the using agency a complete package from fully-accessorized hardware, to maintenance, to training.

C.G. Haenel traces its roots to 1840, when it was founded by Carl Gottlieb Haenel, a member of the (then, Royal) Prussian Rifle Commission. It made arms and bicycles. (A less odd combination than you might think. Many other companies did this in the 19th and 20th Centuries, like FN in Belgium). Haenel’s own firm made the rifle approved by that commission, and later the Imperial German Reichsrevolver, and during the First World War, the Mauser 98a rifle.

After the war, with military weapons production verboten, new engineer Hugo Schmeisser led the introduction of pocket pistols of his own design.  Schmeisser came from a gun-making family; he had worked with his father Louis at Bergmann, where he became interested in automatic weapons, and his brother, also named Louis, became the sales executive of Haenel in the 1920s. Working intitially in secrecy, Hugo developed from the MP.18 the MP.28. Unable to produce machine pistols (submachine guns) for export under the terms of Versaillles, Haenel made a small quantity for the German Polizei (making the Hamburg cop sale some 80 years later particularly fitting) and arranged to have them mass-produced for the international market by Bayard of Belgium (which had long ties to Suhl).

The firm barely survived the Depression, but Hitler’s 1934 repudiation of the Treaty of Versailles lifted the crippling restrictions on both domestic military sales and arms exports. The military ordered vast quantities of weapons. (The common Haenel Waffenamt marking is fxo). Suhl was occupied by US forces in April 1945, and handed to the USSR in June. The Soviets removed the machinery, tools, and drawings from the plant as partial payment for the German destruction of much of European Russia.

Corporate history gets vague during the period of Soviet occupation, 1945-90, but what happened was that the Haenel trademarks were at one time in use by the West German Merkel firm, mostly on air guns, while the former Haenel plant became part of the “Ernst Thälmann” weapons factory complex, and in East Germany the Haenel trademark was used on some sporting arms, including different air guns.

In 2008, the Merkel group set up a new C.G. Haenel firm in Suhl, restoring its title, trademarks and lineage, and that’s the one producing these new firearms.