Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

Cartridges in Transition 1850-80

There’s a traditional understanding that weapons development moved by a sort of punctuated equilibrium through neat phases, like these for muzzleloaders:

black_powder_model

And these for cartridges:

cartridge_model

But in fact, the conversion from muzzle to breech loader was complicated by a great many factors. For one thing, until it got figured out, nobody had figured it out yet. In that little tautology is wrapped the whole conundrum of how it took about 50 to 75 years for what we now see as the obvious advantages of the centerfire, cup-primed, rimless cartridge to become the modern world standard for service arms, and to drive the earlier systems out of “professional” use, such as big-game hunting, long-range target shooting, military service, and armed self-defense. (Most police service counts in our books as armed self-defense. No officer expects to spend his day shooting people, and most of them retire without ever having done more than cover a suspect with a sidearm).

Impediments to working out “best practices” included the state of metallurgy and manufacturing at the time, the delays caused by patents and patent squabbles, and ultimately, not only the natural ignorance of what those theoretical best practices might turn out to be in practice, but unclarity on and lack of vision of the potential that cartridge firearms would bring forward. (Probably not one in a hundred early cartridge developers imagined autoloading or machine guns).

Most people informed about firearms know that rimfire rounds were developed originally by Flobert and preceded centerfire cartridges by a wide margin. But most people don’t know how similar early centerfire and rimfire cartridges were, or how many other oddball efforts came and went during the years in which those ignition systems fought it out — or why centerfire finally won.

Most people can’t name the first successful centerfire (non-revolver) repeating rifle in the United States, but when they’re told the name, it’s a name they know as an important gun: the Winchester 1873. (Earlier Winchesters, like the Henrys from which they evolved, were rimfires). The initial ’73, in what Winchester called the “Winchester .44 Model 1873 cartridge” that later became known as the .44 WCF or .44-40, was a centerfire gun but it didn’t use either Boxer or Berdan primers. It used a now-forgotten system, the Milbank primer. milbank_primed_cartridgeThe Milbank cartridge had a sheet-brass base soldered to a brass tube; at its center was a primer pocket. The primer, when unfired, had the appearance of a firing pin dent in it already. These rounds were not reliable and Winchester changed to the Boxer system, and the rest is history.

Isaac Milbank’s patent is 93,546 dated 10 Aug 69; Boxer’s is 91,818 dated 29 Jun 69 (but based on his English patent of 13 October 66), and Berdan’s was 82,587, dated 29 Sep 68.

The US Army adopted the Benet primer, an internal primer (and there were other different types of internal primers), for use in the trapdoor Springfield rifles and carbines. Externally, these cartridges have a smooth back, like rimfires. The annular crimp is a give-away.

benet_primedThe cartridges found in cavalry positions at the Battle of the Little Big Horn site were Benet-primed.

Julia-auction-Trapdoor_BigHorn_14

As long as centerfire cartridges were flimsy constructions like this, centerfire was not deploying all its arsenal against rimfire. It would be the drawn brass, thick-head cartridge that would make apparent the superiority of centerfire over rimfire, other things being equal.

The armies of Europe were moving ahead, but to single-shot rifles. Intermediate ignition systems like pinfire and needle-fire were prominent in European ordnance circles.

Other oddities like cord and wire extraction were used in some early breechloaders. In these peculiar rounds, there was no rim, but instead, as the name suggests, a cord or wire was provided for pulling the cartridge back out after firing it. The flop-ear or rabbit-ear cartridge used a piece of sheet metal as the extraction hand-hold.

The oddest, though, might have been the annular-fire cartridge. It was an egg-shaped cartridge, rounded at both ends (the front, the bullet, and the back, the rear of the case, fit into a machined chamber). The primer was in a protrusion at the cartridge’s widest point. The Crispin cartridge (shown) was an annular-fire cartridge with a flat back to its casing.crispin_cartridgeThis protrusion made extraction relatively simple. In effect, it was a rimfire cartridge with the rim around the middle — something only worthwhile as a patent end-around.

Ammunition historians tend to lump these early cartridges in together as “metallic primitives,” cousins to the non-metallic “primitives,” cartridges used with muzzleloaders. But while they’re “primitive” today, the rapid fire spray of patents in the 1850s through the 1880s show that they were the high-tech of the era.

Sources

Hoyem, George A. The History and Development of Small Arms Ammunition. Four Volumes. Seattle, WA, 1983-1999.

International Armament Association, Inc. A Cartridge Collector’s Glossary, n.d.. Retrieved from: http://cartridgecollectors.org/?page=glossary

The Volcano, Filipino Nationalism, and Tomorrow

Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, and made negotiations for the retention of Clark AB moot.

Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, and made negotiations for the retention of Clark AB moot.

Filipino President Duterte is wildly popular in one place, and wildly unpopular in another. The first is in his native country, where he has waged an unflinching war against drugs and crime — a war that has often rejected legal and human rights restraints, and that considers a dead dope dealer as big a check in the W column as one in handcuffs. The second is in the hearts and minds of the transnational elite, including the journalists and diplomats of just about the entire world, and especially with the elites’ Supreme Personality of Godhead, President Barack Obama. As a result, a number of bridges between the once inseparable allies have been set alight, and Duterte is cozying up to American rivals in the region, even appearing willing to cede Filipino claims to sovereignty (which the Philippines lack the ability to defend, anyway) in the contested Spratly Islands, which are now partly occupied by China.

Today, the crater lake of the resting volcano is a tourist stop, and these 1991 billows of ash turned out to be great fertilizer.

Today, the crater lake of the resting volcano is a tourist stop, and these 1991 billows of ash turned out to be great fertilizer — after, unfortunately, killing most everything green that was in their way.

The US military and the Filipino military, which was created in the American image, have always been closer than the societies in general. It will be a measure of President-Elect Trump’s ability to make deals, whether he is able to restore any of the former closeness between the two historic partners. Because, while Duterte and Obama have driven their nations apart from one another, the schism goes back decades, and is bigger than a couple of cults of personality. This page tells some of the diplomatic history of the US withdrawal from Clark Airfield (which was accelerated by the unexpected eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991) and Subic Bay, a departure which threw 140,000 skilled Filipino dock and aircraft-maintenance workers, and at least 20,000 skilled prostitutes, out of work.

The bases were closed, at Filipino demand, and the question became — would there be some sort of alliance and / or access agreement? At  that page, the then-ambassador remembers:

The reason I urged the Filipinos to keep our defense relationship active – this was in 1992 or early ‘93 – was that I felt that they were going to find the Chinese putting pressure on them as Beijing pressed its claims for the Spratly Islands and other areas in the South China Sea, some of which the Filipinos claimed….

The Chinese asserted their presence in this contested area in the South China Sea because of a growing nationalism, which led them to want to reinforce their territorial claims. But I also think they did it as a way of making everybody aware that the Americans were not around anymore, and that the Philippines and the other ASEAN countries would have to deal with China on their own.

I had urged Secretary Baker to take a fairly active position in response to Chinese efforts to put pressure on the Philippines and others who were our friends or allies in the region on the issue of the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

I made the argument that even if we weren’t a direct claimant to these territories ourselves, if we were not seen as supporting the interests of key allies like the Philippines, then other allies in the region who are much more important to our interests – especially Japan, which had its own territorial dispute in the East China Sea with China, and Korea – would begin to have doubts about our staying power and our value as a defense partner….

Read The Whole Thing™ (and the several other diplomatic reminisces there).

Much or the damage to US interests in the Pacific Rim has been done by two administrations that saw the “little brown guys” of the region’s many proud nations as so many infantile savages to be lectured and hectored into our superior way of doing things. This policy was not a success in 1977-80 and was even less successful in 2009-2016.

This World Airways DC-10 was destroyed by Pinatubo. More photos of the eruption here at NOAA.

This World Airways DC-10 was destroyed by Pinatubo. More photos of the eruption here at NOAA.

Back in 1991-1992, the US wanted to stay, and many Filipinos wanted the US to stay. But a combination of political weakness on both sides of the negotiation, political posturing, and political opportunism, led to a different outcome.

Right now, US-Filipino relations are in a state as ruined as Clark Air Base was in 1992. If we want to repair that damage, we need to start by listening to Duterte, and not drumming on how deplorable he and his voters are. It’s their country, they get to run it. We ought to be telling them why we should, and how we can, help them, and be honest about how that will help us.

Death of an Ambassador

adolph_spike_dubsNo, we’re not writing about Benghazi, but the last time a US Ambassador was murdered in the line of duty: Adolph “Spike” Dubs, Ambassador to Afghanistan, shot and killed on 14 February 1979. As is often the case with ambassadors in hardship posts, Dubs was not a political appointee, but a career diplomat.

Dubs had served as a Naval officer in World War II, and is interred in Arlington National Cemetery. Then-President Jimmy Carter attended the interment.

Yesterday, Wikileaks dumped a large tranche of State Department cables from 1979. These cables are marked as declassified on the site. One of these cables provides previously unknown information about the death of Dubs.

We have made the following edits:

  1. Imposed paragraph breaks
  2. Corrected some obvious typos
  3. Deleted declassification markings and page headers/footers.

We did preserve the overall headers of the two sections of the document.

Bruce Amstutz, who signed the cable, was the Deputy Chief of Mission (and became Chargé d’Affaires on Dubs’s death).

The deleted declassification header/footer was on every page, and reads:

Sheryl P. Walter Declassified/Released US Department of State EO Systematic Review 20 Mar 2014

There are many conspiracy theories about the death of Dubs, most of which ascribe his murder to the Soviets. This cable recounting ground truth as observed by an American officer on the scene, suggests that Dubs was killed either by friendly fire or by the Afghans holding him hostage during a haphazard rescue attempt by Soviet-controlled or -advised Afghan police.


CONFIDENTIAL
PAGE 01
KABUL 01470 01 OF 02 260751Z
ACTION SY-05
INFO OCT-01 ISO-00 SYE-00 /006 W ------------------041674 260752Z /34 O 260602Z FEB 79
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2460
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 1 OF 2 KABUL 1470
SY CHANNEL
FOR: DASS, CC/TAGS AND SAS
E.O. 12065: RDS 3 AND 4 2/25/85 (GOLACINSKI, ALAN B.) OR-A
TAGS: ASEC SUBJECT: KIDNAPPING AND KILLING OF AMBASSADOR DUBS: STATMENT OF HAROLD D. WANKEL, DEA OFFICER

1. (U) THE FOLLOWING IS A STATMENT OF EVENTS WITNESSED AND PARTICIPATED IN BY HAROLD D. WANKEL, REGARDING THE KIDNAPPING AND KILLING OF US AMBASSADOR ADOLPH DUBS IN KABUL, AFGHANISTAN ON FEBRUARY 14, 1979. MR. WANKEL WAS APPOINTED A SPECIAL AGENT WITH THE BNDD ON SEPTEMBER 20, 1970 AT KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI. HE SERVED THERE UNTIL JANUARY 1971 AT WHICH TIME HE WAS ASSIGNED AS A SPECIAL AGENT TO THE DETROIT OFFICE AND REMINED THERE UNTIL JANUARY 1978. IN JANUARY 1978 MR. WANKEL WAS APPOINTED THE DEA ASSISTANT COUNTRY ATTACHE TO AFGHANISTAN. ON NOVEMBER 20, 1978 MR. WANKEL WAS DESIGNATED AS THE DEA COUNTRY ATTACHE TO AFGHANISTAN, A POSITION WHICH HE CURRENTLY OCCUPIES.

2. (C) ON FEBRUARY 14, 1979, AT APPROXIMATELY 9:10 A.M. I OVERHEARD A CONVERSATION AT THE AMERICAN EMBASSY CONCERNING AMBASSADOR DUBS. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE CONVERSATION WAS THAT AMBASSADOR DUBS HAD JUST BEEN ARRESTED BY KABUL POLICE OFFICERS NEAR THE USICA OFFICES IN KABUL. IT WAS STATED THAT THE AMBASSADOR HAD BEEN STOPPED AND DETAINED BY POLICE' WHILE HE WAS BEING DRIVEN TO WORK BY HIS CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 02 KABUL 01470 01 OF 02 260751Z AFGHAN CHAUFFEUR.

3. (C) SOMETIME LATER IN THE MORNING IT WAS STATED AT THE AMERICAN EMBASSY THAT THE AFGHAN GOVERNMENT WAS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ABDUCTION OF AMBASSADOR DUBS. AT THE SAME TIME I HEARD THE RUMOR THAT TERRORISTS HAD ABDUCTEDAMBASSADOR AND TAKEN HIM TO THE KABUL HOTEL.

4. (C) AT APPROXIMATELY 11:45 A.M., WARREN MARIK, AMERICAN EMBASSY OFFICER, AND MYSELF DROVE IN MY VEHICLE TO THE AREA OF THE KABUL HOTEL. I PARKED THE CAR A BLOCK AWAY FROM THE HOTEL WHICH WAS NECISSITATED BECAUSE KABUL POLICE HAD THE KABUL HOTEL AND BORDERING STREETS CORDONED OFF. WE WALKED TO THE HOTEL WHERE WE WERE STOPPED BY POLIC AND DETAINED FOR A FEW MINUTES UNTIL OUR IDENTITIES WERE ESTABLISHED AND OUR PRESENCE IN THE HOTEL APPROVED BY OTHER AMERICAN EMBASSY OFFICERS AT THE HOTEL. OUTSIDE THE HOTEL WERE NUMEROUS POLICE OFFICERS ALONG THE SIDEWALK. I SAW THREE OFFICERS WITH AUTOMATIC RIFLES DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET ON THE BALCONY OF A BANK. THIS BALCONY WAS APPROXIMATELY THE LEVEL OF THE SECOND FLOOR OF THE HOTEL.

4. (C) WARREN MARIK AND I ENTERED THE HOTEL LOBBY AT APPROXIMATELY 12:04 P.M. A FEW MINUTES LATER MR. MARIK, MYSELF, MICHAEL MALINOWSKI AND DR. ROTZ CARRIED A MEDICAL STRETCHER UPSTAIRS (ONE FLOOR) TO A FOYER AREA LOCATED APPROIXIMATELY 75 FEET FROM ROOM 117 WHERE I WAS TOLD THE AMBASSADOR WAS BEING HELD BY TWO AFGHAN TERRORISTS BELIEVED TO BE ARMED.

5. (C) IN THE FOYER AREA WERE RSO CHARLES BOLES AND EMBASSY OFFICER BRUCE FLATIN, AS WELL AS FOUR INDIVIDUALS IDENTIFIED TO ME BY WARREN MARIK AND OTHERS, AS SOVIET ADVISORS. ONE SOVIET ADVISOR WAS TALL, APPROXIMATELY 6'2", BALDING AND WAS WEARING A BLACK TRENCH COAT. ONE OTHER ADVISOR WAS SHORT, 5'8"-5'9" AND WAS WEARING A HAT AND TRENCH COAT. OF THE OTHER TWO ADVISORS, ONE HAD SALT AND PEPPER HAIR AND THE OTHER WAS BLOND. PRESENT, IN ADDITION TO THE AMERICANS AND SOVIETS, WERE NUMBEROUS AFGHAN POLICE OFFICERS, SOME OF WHICH I KNOW PERSONALLY. AMONG THEM WERE: EXECUTIVE SECRETARY TO POLICE COMMANDANT TAROON (I DON'T KNOW HIS NAME), TAROON'S PERSONAL ENGLISH-LANGUAGE INTERPRETER (I DON'T KNOW HIS NAME. YOSUF SAHAR, CHIEF OF THE ANTI-SMUGGLING UNIT, AND GUL MOHAMMED ANDAR, CHIEF, CID, I WOULD ESTIMATE AT LEAST 20 AFGHAN OFFICIALS IN VARIOUS LOCATIONS ON THE SECOND FLOOR. THESE LOCATIONS WERE THE FOYER AREA WHERE THE AMERICANS AND ONE OR MORE SOVIETS WERE PRESENT, THE STAIRWAY LEADING TO THE LOBBY, AND THE AREA IN CLOSE PROXIMITY TO ROOM 117.

6. (C) SOME OF THE SOVIETS, AND IN PARTICULAR THE TALL BALDING INDIVIDUAL, SPENT MUCH OF THEIR TIME WALKING FROM ONE OF THE AFOREMENTIONED AREAS TO ANOTHER TO CONVERSE WITH AFGHAN POLICE ABOUT THE SITUATION. TWO OF THE SOVIETS, ONE OF WHICH WAS THE TALL BALDING ONE, WENT TO THE HOTEL FOYER WINDOW AND SURVEYED THE BANK BALCONY ACROSS THE STREET WHERE I HAD PREVIOUSLY NOTICED POLICE WITH AUTOMATIC RIFLES.

7. (C) AT SOME POINT IN TIME, I BELIEVE AROUND 12:25 P.M., I HEARD RSO BOLES TRANSMIT OVER HIS RADIO THAT THE AFGHAN POLICE HAD DECIDED TO RUSH THE ROOM IN 8-10 MINUTES. OVERHEARD ON THE RADIO AT THAT TIME WERE COMMENTS FROM THE AMERICAN EMBASSY SAYING TO THE EFFECT THAT WASHINGTON URGED NO SUCH ACTION BE TAKEN. BOLES TRANSMITTED TO THE EFFECT THAT THE AFGHANS HAD BEEN TOLD THAT BUT WERE UNDER DIFFERENT ORDERS. AT THIS TIME I NOTICED COMMANDOES IN FLACK JACKETS WITH WHAT I BELIEVE TO HAVE BEEN AK-47 RIFLES MOVE INTO POSITION NEAR THE DOOR OF 117. A PICTURE OF AMBASSADOR DUBS WAS PASSED AROUND THE SECOND FLOOR FOYER AREA AND WAS BEING STUDIED BY AFGHAN POLICE. CONFIDENTIAL

NNNN
CONFIDENTIAL
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8. (C) NEAR THIS JUNCTURE IN TIME A SMALL SLENDER INDIVIDUAL IN CUSTODY WAS SEMI-DRAGGED/MARCHED TO THE FOYER AREA. THIS PERSON HAD A BLANKET OVER HIS HEAD AND WAS BEING INTERROGATED BY SOME OF THE AFGHAN POLICE. THE CAPTIVE WAS BEING ROUGHED UP AND MAN-HANDLED BY HIS INTERROGATORS. I WAS TOLD BY AN AFGHAN THAT THIS PERSON WAS ONE OF THE TERRORISTS THAT HAD BEEN CAPTURED IN THE HOTEL. FROM BITS AND PIECES OF CONVERSATION I OVERHEARD, I WAS GIVEN TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE TERRORISTS IN ROOM 117 WANTED THE RETURN OF THEIR CAPTIVE COMRADE WITH HIS WEAPON. IT WAS FURTHER MY UNDERTANDING THAT THE AFGHAN POLICE AND SOVIET ADVISORS WERE CONTEMPLATING THE RETURN OF THE CAPTIVE TO ROOM 117 AS A RUSE TO GAIN ENTRY TO THE ROOM.

9. AT THIS TIME I OBSERVED TWO SOVIET ADVISORS WITH AN AUTOMATIC PISTOL WALK PAST THE FOYER AREA WHERE I WAS STANDING TO APOINT APPROXIMATELY 20 FEET DOWN THE HALLWAY TOWARD THE STAIRWAY. THERE I OBSERVED THEM HURRIEDLY INSPECT THE PISTOL AND WORK ON IT, EITHER TO ALTER IT SO IT WOULD NOT FUNCTION OR TO REPAIR IT SO IT WOULD FUNCTION. AFTER A FEW MINUTES THEY GAVE IT TO AN AFGHAN POLICE OFFICER WHO HURRIED BACK TO THE AREA OF ROM 117 ALONG WITH THE CAPTIVE. FOR A REASON UNKNOWN TO ME, THE CAPTIVE WAS NOT RETURNED TO ROOM 117 BUT KEPT IN THE HALLWAY.

10. AT APPROXIMATELY 12:45 P.M. A SOVIET ADVISOR WENT TO THE WINDOW OF THE SECOND FLOOR HOTEL FOYER AND REPEATEDLY HELD UP ONE HAND WIDESPREAD WHICH I TOOK TO MEAN THAT IN FIVE MINUTES THE POLICE ON THE BALCONY ACROE STREET WERE TO FIRE AT OR NEAR THE WINDOW OF ROOM 117 TO DRAW THE ATTENTION OF THE TERRORISTS WITHIN ROOM 117. AT THIS TIME SEVERAL AFGHAN POLICE ARMED AND WEARING SOME PROTECTIVE CLOTHING WERE STATIONED OUTSIDE ROOM 117.

11. (C) DUE TO THE IMMINENT ACTIONS OF THE AFGHAN POLICE, WARREN MARIK, MICHAEL MALINOWSKI AND MYSELF WERE GIVEN LAST MINUTE INSTRUCTIONS BY DR. ROTZ AS TO THE HANDLING OF AMBASSADOR DUBS AND STRETCHER IN THE LIKELY EVEN HE WAS WOUNDED IN THE UPCOMING AFGHAN POLICE RUSH OF THE ROOM.

12. (C) AT APPROXIMATELY 12:50 P.M. I SIMULTANEOUSLY HEARD WHAT I BELIEVED TO BE THE FORCED ENTRY OF ROOM 117, SHOOTING FROM THE BANK BALCONY AND FIRING FROM INSIDE THE HOTEL ROOM AREA OF AUTOMATIC RIFLES OR MACHINE GUNS. THERE WAS ONE VERY LONG BURST OF FIRE AND TWO OR THREE SHORT INTERMITTENT BURSTS. THE LAST SHORT BURST CAME FROM WITHIN THE ROOM AND APPROXIMATELY 10 SECONDS AFTER THE PRECEEDING BURST. BEFORE THE FIRING WAS OVER A SOVIET ADVISOR REAPPEARED AT THE FOYER WINDOW FACING THE BANK AND WAVED HIS ARMS IN A SIGNAL TO STOP FIRING. THE SHOOTING WAS QUITE LONG. I WOULD ESTIMATE IT LASTED 40-50 SECONDS.

13. APPROXIMATELY 30 SECONDS AFTER THE FINAL BURST OF SHOOTING, DR. ROTZ, MYSELF, WARREN MARIK AND MICHAEL MALINOWSKI RAN TO AND ENTERED ROOM 117 WITH THE STRETCHER. I OBSERVED IN THE RIGHT HAND CORNER OF THE ROOM THE AMBASSADOR SLUMPED OVER IN A CHAIR, ONE TERRORIST LAYING TO HIS RIGHT AND ONE TERRORIST LAYING ACROSS THE ROOM NEAR THE WINDOW. ALL THREE APPEARED TO BE DEAD. AMBASSADOR DUBS HAD WHAT APPEARED TO BE WOUNDS TO THE HEAD AND BODY. DR. ROTZ AND I HURRIEDLY PLACED HIM ON THE STRETCHER AND MICHAEL MALINOWSKI, WARREN MARIK AND MYSELF HURRIEDLY RAN FROM THE ROOM CARRYING THE STRETCHER WITH AMBASSADOR DUBS. WE RAN ALL THE WAY DOWNSTAIRS AND PLACED THE AMBASSADOR AND STRETCHER IN THE AMBULANCE WHICH SPAY TOWARDS THE AMERICAN DISPENSARY, DRIVEN BY RSO BOLES. DR. ROTZ AND NURSE MARJORIE YAMAMOTO ATTENDED TO THE AMBASSADOR IN THE REAR OF THE AMBULANCE.

14. (C) AT THIS TIME AFGHAN POLICE UNCEREMONIOUSLY CARRIED/ DRAGGED THE BODIES OF THE TWO TERRORISTS THAT HAD BEEN SHOT IN ROOM 117 DOWN THE STAIRS THROUGH THE HOTEL FIRST FLOOR LOBBY. ONE APPEARED TO BE MOST PROBABLY DEAD. THE CAPTURED TERRORIST WAS ALSO BROUGHT DOWNSTAIRS BY THE POLICE. THIS TERRORIST WAS KICKING AND STRUGGLING IN THE WAKE OF CASCADING BLOWS FROM THE NUMBEROUS AFGHAN POLICE OFFICERS. HE DID NOT APPEAR TO BE SERIOUSLY HURT. AT NO TIME DID I SEE A FOURTH TERRORIST EITHER ALIVE OR DEAD.

15. (C) MYSELF, WARREN MARIK AND JAY FRERES THEN WENT BACK TO THE SCENE OF THE SHOOTING. ONE AFGHAN POLICE OFFICER DRESSED IN NATIVE AFGHAN GARB APPEARED TO BE GIVING ROOM 117 A CURSORY EXAMINATION. I WENT INTO ROOM 117 WHICH WAS BY THIS TIME COVERED WITH AN INCH OF WATER FROM A RADIATOR HEATER THAT HAD BEEN RUPTURED DURING THE GUNFIRE. THERE WERE NO GUNS OR ANYTHING ELSE LAYING AROUND THAT WAS OF OBVIOUS EVIDENTIARY NATURE. I NOTICED THAT THE TOP HALF OF THE INNER DOOR, WHICH WAS GLASS, WAS APPARENTLY SHOT AND THE GLASS FRAGMENTS FOR THE MOST PART WERE IN ROOM 117 AS OPPOSED TO THE INNER HALLWAY. I ALSO NOTICED THAT IN THE CEILING AND UPPER WALL AREA WHERE AMBASSADOR DUBS WAS FOUND WERE SEVEN TO NINE BULLET PENETRATIONS. THE ANGLE THAT THESE BULLETS HAD STRUCK GAVE ME REASON TO BELIEVE THEY HAD BEEN FIRED FROM THE BANK BALCONY ACROSS THE STREET BECAUSE OF THE LOCATION OF THE BALCONY VIS-A-VIS ROOM 117.

16. (C) THE ONLY ASSUMPTIVE STATEMENT I WOULD MAKE REGARDING THE SHOOTING IS THAT I BELIEVE AMBASSADOR DUBS WAS SHOT AT THE OUTSET OF THE SHOOTING. I STATE THIS BASED THE FACT THAT AMBASSADOR DUBS WAS FOUND SEATED ON A CHAIR LOCATED AGAINST THE WALL WITHOUT ANY SIGNSTRUGGLE OR ATTEMPTS TO TAKE COVER WHICH I FEEL WOULD HAVE BEEN A NATURAL REACTION IF HE HAD NOT BEEN SHOT IMMEDIATELY WHEN THE SHOOTING BEGAN. (END OF STATEMENT)

17. (C) EMBASSY COMMENT: WE DO NOT BELIEVE IT ADVISABLE TO RELEASE THE NAMES OF AMERICAN WITNESSES AT THE KABUL HOTEL OUTSIDE OF THE DEPARTMENT. AMSTUTZ CONFIDENTIAL NNNN

 

That concludes the document. For a different American witness interview, which contradicts this one in a few places, see this interview with former Political Counselor Bruce Flatin in a foreign service officers’ informational website. (Flatin is mentioned in the above cable). The points of contradiction are minor, and probably result from the normal divergence we see between eyewitnesses, plus the fact that DEA officer Wankel’s statement was given within days of the events, and Flatin’s interview took place in 1993.

Another previously unreleased Amstutz cable describes what a Belgian bank official saw from across from the hotel and reported to the Embassy.

Particularly interesting in Flatin’s report is the mechanism of Spike Dubs’s death: “about four” .22 slugs in the brain. The Soviets and Afghans fanned the conspiracy talk by murdering the captive hostage takers, and failing to disclose evidence, including the weapons retrieved from the room where Dubs was held captive and killed.

The Amazing Persistence of Bolt Action

This winter, hunters across the northern United States are seeking their game, and a great percentage of them are carrying a rifle action that was first designed in the mid-19th Century, and more or less perfected before 1900.

This beautiful prewar Mauser-Werke single-shot .22 is a sporter on a target action.

This beautiful prewar Mauser-Werke single-shot .22 is a sporter on a target action.

It’s not just Elmer Fudd and his happy band of nimrods that cling to the bolt. Most target shooters, from rimfire competitors to 1000-yard benchrest precision paladins, fire their record groups from a bolt action. (Biathletes are a rare exception). Even the world’s militaries, most of them, find a use for bolt-action rifles, mostly as sniper systems.

The most brilliant engineers and designers the world can produce have repeatedly slain the ancient Mauser turnbolt, and laid its ghost: straight-pulls from Austria and Canada and Switzerland came and went, all the great powers tried (and most failed, except the USA and USSR) to introduce semi-auto rifles between 1918 and 1945. It was only the semiautomatic and select-fire flowering of the late 20th Century that did the action in, as a regular military arm. And yet, it keeps coming back as a sporting rifle and as a special-purpose military arm. That didn’t happen to the rolling block, the falling-block, or the lever.

Technology marches steadily on, yet the bolt action hangs in there, and even attempts to improve it are often shrugged off. If you reanimated zombie Paul Mauser and gave him a half hour to browse the rifle racks at Kittery Trading Post, he’d be screaming for the reanimation of his patent lawyers, too.

 

Mauser K98k from world-guns-ru

When Paul finalized the Gewehr 1898, the world was a different place: transport was by steam along rails, by the newfangled electric streetcars, and a few hobbyists like Benz and Ford and the Duryea brothers were tinkering with a sort of self-propelled buckboard thing. Most people were born, lived, and died on farms. Two mechanically inclined high school graduates in Dayton, Ohio, were corresponding with Octave Chanute and Samuel P. Langley, who in turn encouraged the young men; but all of them knew well enough to be circumspect about whom they told their ideas for flying machines. Oil from the ground was still replacing whale oil in lamps, and electricity was available in a few cities. The only way to change continents was by ship — steam, or sail; and the preferred way to cross continents was by the high technology of the day, steam-powered train. The other high tech, the telephone, was increasingly available, but you might have to share your line with the people in your street. For business communications, wired cable did the job, if you needed more immediacy than a letter by mail. A long laundry list of infections were still a death sentence, and a significant percentage of women still died in childbirth.

Of all those things, the one that persists is the bolt action. The bolt remains much more popular than its contemporary the lever action, or it’s near-contemporary the slide action. How come?

trg-m10-bolt-action-sniper-rifle-rifle-scope-folding-rear-stock-desert-tan

The answer is simple: it’s that good. The bolt has a number of traits that make it likely to persist for another century, absent a revolution in ammunition of the scope of the cartridge revolution itself.

  • The bolt is simple. This simplicity works several ways: in manufacture, in maintenance, and in operation.
  • The bolt is intuitive. There are no affirmative action drills to memorize. You can teach anyone to work a bolt in under a quarter of a minute. (You will take longer to teach safety and sights, of course, but the basic mechanism is natural, and has no tricks of gotchas for the novice).
  • The bolt is direct. The shooter’s hand works directly on the locking mechanism of the firearm, and the locking mechanism — the bolt — works directly on the cartridge.
  • The bolt is strong. It can, in fact, be designed and built for arbitrarily large sizes of cartridge. The highest-pressure sporting cartridges for dangerous game are at home in a bolt action, as are rounds optimized for one-mile sniping. You could make a bolt-action 155mm howitzer, if you wanted to (but it would be terribly inefficient at that scale, compared to the simple actions that artillery pieces do use). You can even argue that some of the interrupted-screw artillery breeches are really bolt actions, sort of. (We don’t argue that. We think it’s a silly argument. But you could!)
  • The bolt is safe. Nothing is easier than clearing a bolt gun, and its safe condition is obvious to all with a sight line.
  • The bolt is accurate. The simplicity and directness of the bolt lends itself to being manufactured at arbitrarily high levels of precision. Yes, many single-shot actions can also be made to high levels of precision, but…
  • The bolt is versatile. Single shot or repeater, rimfire plinker or belted-magnum Cape Buffalo dropper, annual elk gun or sniper’s office, there’s a bolt for the job.

WWI enfield sniper

  • The bolt is consistent. Whether it’s the Anschutz target rifle we shot in school days, a $250 surplus Mosin that will be under some lucky kid’s Christmas tree, the Gew 98 in the corner of the office (or its younger cousin 03A3 resting in the safe), or a McMillan-stocked Nightforce-glassed Surgeon-action .338 LM widowmaker, it operates the same way.

Like the poor, the bolts are always with us. If anything were ever to replace them, it would have to have all these virtues, or a great majority of them.

And finally, the bolt does answer the call of tradition, which looms large in the legend of the people of the gun. Even that Surgeon .338 connects you to Pegahmagabow,  Hayha, Zaitsev, Hetzenauer, Hathcock and Kyle every time you cycle the bolt. They whisper to you in the snick of the metal: you just have to listen.

A past Remington sniper success: the SF-developed M24 system

A past Remington sniper success: the SF-developed M24 system

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Firearms History

firearms_historyThis is a first-time, never-before thing: a second shot at W4 for the same website.

Why? Because Firearms History at blogspot.com has spent most of 2016 doing a deep dive into the history and technology of black powder, starting with the raw materials, and working their way up to industrial production.

A look at as much of the archive menu as we could screencap shows you what we mean. Open up these archives, go to the bottom and find “What is a Saltpeter Man?” and work your way up, if you’re at all interested in how gunpowder — original, black, gunpowder — was and is made.

firearms_history_blackpowder

It’s a priceless resource. There is no other place where all this information is available in one place. It’ll be even better if he follows up with the early history of smokeless powder, which saw simultaneous development of multiple technologies in multiple industrial nations.

PT 305 Leaves the Nest

Obviously, we picked the wrong week to go to New Orleans, because this week, PT 305 left the restoration building. (Thanks to jfre in the comments and OTR in texts for the heads-up). The Higgins-built PT Boat is a rare survivor. (Ask anyone with experience with either wooden boats in general, or Allison engines in general, to explain the miracle of something, that combined two such short-lived and low-survival-rate items, surviving to be restored, to you. We grew up with a wooden Penbo boat and are expert in hand sanding).

Yesterday, we used a photo from the National World War II museum’s website of a much earlier stage of PT-305’s restoration. At this point, they were addressing the 13 feet that previous owners had shaved off her, so that she could be an oyster boat without requiring a USCG Captain’s License (all boats >65 feet need Documentation and a licensed captain, so the poor 305 got its tail docked).

museum-restoration-pt-305

Here’s a picture from a March article, showing how much further along the restoration had gone…

pt-305-in-resto-pavilion

And the March article at Fox News included quotes from two sailors who went to war on this actual boat in 1944.

U.S. Navy Torpedoman 1st Class James Nerison was part of the PT-305 crew patrolling off the coast of Corsica in 1944 when a pair of German destroyers locked onto them. The Higgins Industries Patrol-Torpedo boats were known for their speed and maneuverability, but they were up against superior Nazi firepower.

The young sailor was referring to a 5-gallon can with chemicals that emitted smoke as a distraction. He was given the approval to toss the container over the side, and the German warships quickly started firing at it as PT-305 slipped off into the darkness.

“We got off to one side and they weren’t able to find us that night,” Nerison said.

Joseph Brannan, Lawrence Petroni, Gregory Dosch, and George Rowland relax on the bridge and chart house of PT-305. Two swasktikas represent a German Flak lighter that PT-305 sank during the Invasion of Elba in 1944, and an Italian MAS boat she sank near Leghorn, Italy in 1945. (Joseph Brannan)

Joseph Brannan, Lawrence Petroni, Gregory Dosch, and George Rowland relax on the bridge and chart house of PT-305. Two swasktikas represent a German Flak lighter that PT-305 sank during the Invasion of Elba in 1944, and an Italian MAS boat she sank near Leghorn, Italy in 1945. (Joseph Brannan)

The California native’s experience is just one of many among the 44 officers and enlisted men who called PT-305 home during World War II. Now Nerison, along with Joseph Brannan, a former 1st class gunner’s mate who also served on PT-305, hope to ride the boat once again.

A volunteer crew, which includes people from all walks of life — from students to architects — has already worked more than 100,000 hours on the project at the museum’s restoration pavilion.

Period photos guided the resto crew in painting the 305 boat to match its wartime appearance (link).

Period photos guided the resto crew in painting the 305 boat to match its wartime appearance (link).

The boat was restored, in part, with $205,000 in Kickstarter donations from people like you. It was definitely worth saving:

The battle-hardened boat, which operated in the Mediterranean along the coasts of southern France and Northern Italy, conducted more than 77 offensive patrols and operations, fought in 11 separate actions and sank three German ships during its 14-month deployment, according to the museum.

PT-305 also conducted reconnaissance missions, landed troops on occupied coasts and carried generals, making most of its movements at night underneath the cover of darkness.

“German planes would see you in the daytime and come out of nowhere and strafe you and bomb you,” Brannan, 93, told FoxNews.com.

“There were no railings on the outside of the boat and we never lost anyone,” he added.

Brannan, an Arkansas native who said he was “very excited” about the project, started serving on PT-305 in December of 1944.

In June 1945, Brannan and Nerison’s squadron [MTB Squadron 22 -ed.] returned to New York from the Mediterranean and the war ended before PT-305 could be overhauled for deployment to the Pacific.

But the boat didn’t look the same as the first time it crossed the Atlantic.

Nerison, who wanted a fix for the stuffiness of the crew’s quarters, said when the crew was based in Saint Tropez in Southern France after fighting began to subside, he managed to find some brass portholes at a boatyard.

A PT Squadron in the Med, possibly at St. Tropez.

A PT Squadron in the Med, possibly at St. Tropez.

Now, there’s a TV Series we’d watch — PT boats based in St. Tropez, tangling with German Stukas and E-Boats by day, and French women by night! Kind of like McHale’s Navy, but serious.

He asked the skipper if he could install one on each side of the boat — and the problem was solved.

“That was a modification that I don’t think any other PT boat in the Navy had at the time,” Nerison told FoxNews.com.

Following the war, the Navy burned 118 boats off the coasts of the Philippines to downsize its fleet.

Only a handful of PT boats survived – PT-305 being one of them – and it was sold as military surplus for $10 along with the rest of the squadron, the museum said.

There’s more good stuff in Norman’s article, so you know what we’re going to tell you to do next: Read The Whole Thing™!

PT-305's original flags: combat flown battle flag (top), commissioning pendant (below).

PT-305’s original flags: combat flown battle flag (top), commissioning pendant (below). donated by Mitch Cirlot, sone of the late plankowner Joe Cirlot, who was the last “original” to rotate off the boat.

A more recent story by the same Greg Norman on Fox gives an overview of the Boat’s history and restoration, and covers the boat’s transit by wide-load vehicle and barge to its new home. The video is absolutely incredible. (If it doesn’t embed here, do follow the link).

https://video.foxnews.com/v/5218639044001/

PT-305, its masts removed for transit through the streets, then went the rest of the way by barge. In the med, German barges packed with flak guns were one of its opponents!

PT-305, its masts removed for transit through the streets, then went the rest of the way to its new home by barge. In the Med, German barges packed with flak guns were one of its opponents!

PT-305 will be used in Lake Ponchartrain (a big lake north of New Orleans) to provide rides for paying passengers — as a fund-raiser for its own maintenance and operation, and for the museum. It will have its own custom boat house. There’s a launch party in March! And tours of the boat, and 90-minute rides ($350), begin in April.

pt-305-boathouse

For more on the 305 boat, there’s a category at the Museum blog, a Friends of PT-305 Newsletter you can sign up for, and its own website: PT305.org.

Hmmm… anyone up for a WeaponsMan.com trip to the launch party?

National World War II Museum

The National World War II Museum is the top attraction in New Orleans, a city that is not lacking in attractions. (We could learn a lot from the long-gone original French and creole inhabitants, who judged men by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin).

How did a WWII Museum wind up in New Orleans? It started as the National D-Day Museum, and that was because one of the key devices of the war was, as was its inventor, a New Orleans native. That invention was the LCVP, Landing Craft Vehicles and Personnel, aka the Higgins Boat(.pdf), after its inventor, Andrew Jackson Higgins, who went from running a boatyard that made work boats and yachts to running seven boatyards turning out LCVPs and PT Boats for the Navy. (New Orleans also had three more shipyards during the war, building Liberty ships).

Irony for you? Of the many thousands of LCVPs made, only a dozen or so survive, with only a couple in original and seaworthy condition. So the Museum itself displays a replica that was built by locals, including some former Higgins workers, to the original plans! On the other hand, PT 305, which is under restoration at the Museum, is an actual Higgins PT boat, one of 199. The Higgins boats were equivalent to the more common Elco boats in performance, but the Elcos looked faster. The Museum lets you watch restorations in progress (from the other side of the glass), but don’t count on anything particular happening during your visit.

museum-restoration-pt-305

The D-Day invasion depended on the Higgins boats, but then, so did every other amphibious operation in all theaters of war. So it seemed sensible to expand the Museum to cover the whole war. Go big or go home, right?

And, in fact, you can spend a day in the Museum and learn a basically straightforward overview of the war, a valuable replacement for the nonsense produced by the race/sex/class obsessed history departments of modern universities. One of the high points of the Museum is a fifty-minute documentary telling the story of America’s WWII, produced and narrated by Hollywood’s Everyman, Tom Hanks. (It’s called Beyond all Boundaries).

Another is frequent stations with short interview snippets from actual veterans. (These are vivid enough to make you long for access to the whole interview. Unfortunately, everything in the Museum seems to be optimized for the minimal attention spans of 2016).

But really, you guys want to know about the guns, right? The Museum does have displays of representative firearms of the war, some common and some rare. We didn’t see much explanation of which weapon was used when, let alone each one’s characteristics, pros and cons. But the actual guns are there to see, usually behind glass.

Here are two Japanese aerial weapons. The upper gun may look at a glance like an aerial Browning, but it’s no such thing. It’s a Japanese copy of a post-WWI-vintage Vickers aerial gun. Inside, it’s got the Maxim toggle lock.

wwii_museum-06

The fat guy in front is a 20mm Type 99 Mk I aerial cannon, a Japanese design based entirely on Oerlikon principles. It is usually seen as a flexible gun, but this one appears to be configured for fixed, forward-firing installation. It operated by blowback with advanced primer ignition (therefore, requiring a rebated cartridge). It had a low cyclic rate of fire, for an aerial gun (510 RPM) and was fed by a 60-round drum magazine.

And there are naval weapons. Here’s a torpedo in the restoration hall, although there was no information on it handy.

wwii-museum-torpedo

There are plenty of support and crew-served weapons, aircraft, and military vehicles. Among the historic cannon represented are a German 8.8 cm Flak 38 (the dreaded “88”), and this American 75 mm pack howitzer. This gun was a lightweight version of the standard US weapon derived from the World War I “French 75.” This display, with the actual artifact in front of a blown-up period photo of how it was used, was pretty typical.

wwii_museum-12

A number of these guns are still in use as saluting cannon on American bases, and Lord knows how many may still be in the arsenals of small countries.

wwii_museum-10The 75 fired several different projectiles, depending on the target. On the left, the M72 Armor Piercing Tracer (AP-T) round, a solid-shot kinetic penetrator that was only effective against thinly armored vehicles at close ranges.

On the right, the more usual 75 mm M48 HE round. The M48 weighed 18 pounds, of which about 10% — 1.75 pounds — was explosive filling.

The reason for using a smaller howitzer, rather than the 105, came down to one thing — the portability of the gun, and the ammunition. Every 105 HE round weighed around 35 pounds, for example. In a pinch, the 75 could be moved short distances by its human crew.

One remarkable feature is a submarine interactive called The Final Mission, which reproduces (in a compressed fashion) the last actions of USS Tang, America’s most successful submarine, which was a record-setter even before its fifth and final war patrol. In an intense night surface action, Tang sunk five Japanese ships — and sunk itself.

Who is the museum not for? It’s probably not the very best thing for anyone who’s already extremely well-informed about World War II — you’ll still enjoy yourself, but you won’t learn much from a presentation that of necessity hits the high notes. It will also be disappointing for anyone hoping for much about the war prior to 7 December 41. (Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no). Seriously, the war had been going for over two years in Europe, and over four in China, when the US got involved.

The Museum has a decent website, enlivened by something you seldom see, an entertaining and educational 404 page.

One last note — as the most popular attraction in a tourist-rich city, the Museum is usually packed. This is especially true when foul weather drives tourists out of the city’s usual walking environs (and off the open top deck of tour buses).

Update

Per the comments and email from Our Traveling Reporter, the restoration of PT 305 is nearly finished and the boat was transported, with great ceremony, to Lake Ponchartrain this week. We’ll try to have video for you soon. It’s way more beautiful than it could have been as a working motor torpedo or motor gun boat (many of the PTs in the Med dispensed with torpedoes, for lack of worthwhile enemy targets). Congratulations to all at the Museum, especially in the restoration shop.

The Strange Times of the “Suicide Specials”

“The poor,” the Bible advises us, “have always been with us.” And they have always had as much right to life, and as much right to protect theirs, as the rich — and perhaps,, more need to protect themselves, given that the poor workingman is economically sorted into the same neighborhood with the criminal class, crime paying rather poorly at levels below that of elective office.

A Hood Arms "Robin Hood" in .22. Not safe with modern ammunition!

A Hood Arms “Robin Hood” in .22. This is better than average condition for a Suicide Special — they are very prone to nickel flaking and rust. Not safe with modern ammunition!

In those lands and times when the crown does not forbid to the working man firearms, a large and legitimate demand arises for cheap firearms, and features of styling and gimmick are often applied that either imitate higher-quality firearms, or are flashy and appeal to people who know little about guns. In today’s environment, you have Hi-Points, Jimenezes, and to some extent Taurus firearms. Before 1968, you had cheap Spanish and other imported .25s and .32s. But in the period from approximately 1870 to 1890, you had suicide specials.

suicide-specials-websterThe term itself was coined, sources agree, by Duncan McConnell almost 70 years ago, when firearms collecting was, as always, centered on high-end guns. McConnell wrote about these guns and was the first to apply the term Suicide Specials; ten years later, in 1958, Donald B. Webster, Jr., of Bangor, Maine, published a book about them with Stackpole. Webster’s book was, he writes:

[A] culmination of over three years’ work. Most of the material has been compiled… from personal information, or information supplied by other collectors. Almost no documentary material was available, and what little there was was often found to be incorrect.

Suicide Specials are such a complex subject that this work is only an introduction…. a great deal is still unknown. Thee are a great number of problems left to confront the student of Suicide Specials, and the field is wide open.

Nowadays, of course, we have documentary evidence… even if it’s Webster, a secondary source. Webster notes that there was good reason for collectors to neglect these guns for many years: they simply weren’t that important.

A Lee Arms "Red Jacket." in .22. By far the most popular caliber for these rimfire revolvers -- it was cheapest!

A Lee Arms “Red Jacket.” in .22. By far the most popular caliber for these rimfire revolvers — it was cheapest! Engraving is common on some makes and never seen at all on others.

For one thing,Suicide Specials are unique in that they have almost no historical significance.They never won any battles, neither had they any part in the winning of any frontier, with the exception of an occasional brawl. Their only purpose was to provide a gun-toting era with concealable armament at the least possible cost.

A couple years after that, Rywell’s short pamphlet (which we just picked up for 30¢) was published. Rywell’s pamphlet is a somewhat disorganized history of Suicide Specials (which made us pull out Webster, and write this post), and a detailed history of one manufacturer, the Norwich Arms Co. of Connecticut.

This Bacon Governor was also made in Norwich.

This Bacon Governor was also made in Norwich.

After you’ve seen one or two of them, like pornography, “You’ll know ’em when you see ’em,” but the primary characteristics of a Suicide Special are:

  1. Single action revolver
  2. Solid frame, pull cylinder pin to reload. The cylinder pin is your ejector.
  3. Spur trigger
  4. Rimfire (in descending order of frequency found: .22, .32, .38, .41, .30).
  5. Nickel plated

They are often found without a maker’s name, sometimes with a brand or trade name. (The same manufacturer would sell retailers and retail chains an “exclusive” brand name, so that they needn’t fear the hardware store down the street underselling them by a penny or a dime). The brand names often are somewhat threatening, and a little optimistic, given the quality of the guns: Arbiter, Avenger, Defender, Excelsior, Faultless, Old Reliable, Penetrator, Protector, Rattler, even Terror. Everyone who has written about these at length has tried to compile a list of these fanciful brand names, and, some of them, to match names to manufacturers; and every one of them has given up. The purpose of the name, of course, was to sell the gun. (That’s unchanged. How many modern equivalents of Suicide Special customers bought a Taurus Judge?)

The other side of the "Robin Hood" shown above. There's a grand name for you.

The other side of the “Robin Hood” shown above. There’s a grand name for you.

They also tend to be cheaply made, of inferior metals and workmanship. They were made in various small factories, mostly in the Gun Valley, and these factories didn’t pay as well as Colt in Hartford, or Smith & Wesson or the national Armory in Springfield. (If the Armory had orders; if not, it laid men off and they found work in the other factories, at lower wages). Buyers of these guns were extremely price-sensitive.

Not all of them were junk: Forehand and Wadsworth of Worcester, the sons-in-law of Ethan Allen, whose production of Suicide Specials was small, made high-quality ones that Webster compares favorably to Colt pocket revolvers. The company was sold to Hopkins & Allen, which in turn sold to Marlin-Rockwell.

It is no accident that Suicide Specials appeared on the market in 1870. There were a few attempts before, but Rollin White had sold his 1855 patent on the bored-through cylinder to Smith & Wesson, which produced revolvers resembling the Suicide Special (but of higher quality) from 1858 on. Other Gun Valley makers were quick to try to imitate the Smith .22 Nº 1 and .32 Nº 2, only to learn that S&W intended to defend their patent in court. After the first couple infringers lost, the remainder settled quickly, or at least, responded positively to a Cease and Desist letter from Smith’s lawyers. But White’s basic patent expired in 1869. (That patent, by the way, is why Union cavalrymen had breechloading and even repeating cartridge carbines by 1865, but not cartridge revolvers). Thus, the explosion of Smith-alikes from 1870 onward.

White continued to contest other patents until his death in 1892. As Rywell records, it “kept him agitated.”

The small revolvers are found with five, six and seven-shot cylinders, with the lower count common in the larger calibers like .41, and the seven-shot common in .22s.

This unfortunately cut-off picture is a .32 rimfire Otis A. Smith.

This unfortunately cut-off picture is a .32 rimfire Otis A. Smith. As you can see, it’s a five-shot gun.

By 1890, the Suicide Special was too far behind the public taste, and, many municipalities and states were trying to outlaw gun-carrying. While this often was masked as a “good government” or “taming the frontier” measure, what really drove it was animus to the sort of people who bought these guns: immigrants, especially Irish, Italians and Eastern Europeans in the North, and blacks and “white trash” in the South. Most cops would not dream of enforcing local gun laws against a local, say, banker or landlord; but those guys could buy the Smith or Colt.

And this one is a "Dog," that is also marked, "Cast Steel." Or maybe that's the instruction book? If it doesn't fire, "cast" it at your assailant....

And this one is a “Dog,” that is also marked, “Cast Steel.” Or maybe that’s the instruction manual? If it doesn’t fire, “cast” it at your assailant…. The engraving and shape of the side plate mark it as a bit upscale (and is the grip ivory?). The cheapest Suicide Specials had a circular sideplate with a slot — because it doubled as the hammer screw! Here, they’re two separate parts.

And, technology had marched on. By 1890 “revolver” implied double action, and the more rapid reload of a swing-out cylinder, break-action revolver (in the small, Suicide Special follow-on type, they were called “Bulldogs”), or at the bare minumum a loading port and ejection rod arrangement like Colt’s single- and double-action revolvers of the day. In addition, foreign competitors began importing very inexpensive firearms into the USA, taking advantage of lower skilled labor costs in Europe than in Gun Valley.

While the Suicide Specials died a cold market death, a couple of the makers survived well into the 20th Century, notably Iver Johnson and Harrington & Richardson. They continued making small, cheap revolvers (and nickeling many of them) but followed the market away from the pull-pin solid frame single action. (H&R, at least, did make some pull pin revolvers into the 1970s, if not beyond). Unlike the Suicide Specials, an Iver Johnson or H&R from the 20th Century smokeless powder era is safe to shoot. (Do not be beguiled by a modern .22 fitting in a 19th-Century Suicide Special. Those two things were not made to go together).

One thing that continues to puzzle us is this: why were they all nickeled? (There are exceptions, but they are rarer than nickel guns in current production). Because the market demanded it? Because the buyers were easily gulled by shiny surfaces? Because the nickel finish would take, at least initially, more handling than traditional bluing? Because it cost less? Because it could be done with unskilled labor? Because the process was new, and created a fad? None of the sources we have read can really answer this question.

(Thanks for bearing with us on images. They’re in place now. -Ed).

Sources

Buffaloe, Ed. “Suicide Specials.” The Unblinking Eye. Retrieved from: http://unblinkingeye.com/Guns/SSs/sss.html

Rywell, Martin. The American Nickel-Plated Revolver 1870-1890: A History of and a Guide for This Classification for the Firearms Student or Collector. Harriman, Tennessee: Pioneer Press, 1960.

Uncredited. “Suicide Specials. Gun-Data.com. Retrieved from: http://gun-data.com/suicide_specials.htm

Webster, Donald B. Suicide Specials. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1960: Stackpole.

 

Another Thomas Hardy War Poem

WWIbattleAs these have been received rather well, let’s reach back across a century-plus to 1902, when Hardy was writing about the Boer War, which he (as most liberals of the day) opposed as, shall we say, an excess of the Empire. (In the United States, at the time, sympathies were also largely with the Boers as well).

The British defeated the much smaller (although equipped with higher quality arms at the squad and company level) forces of the Afrikaner settlers, only to find their foes continuing a shadow guerrilla war — which Britain then suppressed, effectively, with absolute ruthlessness. But this poem refers to the earlier, uniformed-units-on-units phase of the war, and, indeed, Hardy does what he can to universalize his sentiment.

The Man He Killed
Had he and I but met
            By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
            Right many a nipperkin!
            But ranged as infantry,
            And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
            And killed him in his place.
            I shot him dead because —
            Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
            That’s clear enough; although
            He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
            Off-hand like — just as I —
Was out of work — had sold his traps —
            No other reason why.
            Yes; quaint and curious war is!
            You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
            Or help to half-a-crown.”

Here you see him prefiguring many of the themes and poems of the next great war.

Hardy is far from the first or the last to note that, whatever disputes the nations and their elites may have, the poor bloody infantry is pretty much the same character all the world over; and the riflemen in opposing rifle platoons were more alike one another, perhaps, than either of them was like his officers, or like the politicians or nobles who sent them to war.

One is reminded of the passage in All Quiet on the Western Front, in which Paul finds himself alone in a crater in No-Man’s-Land with a Frenchman he has mortally wounded, and complains to his dying enemy, as if he could understand, “Who do they never tell us that you are men like us?”

Scrap Metal Thieves in the 10,000 Ton Range

The glorious story of the fourth ship to bear the name HMS Exeter came to an end twice — in 1942, when she went to the bottom off the Dutch East Indies with fifty men of her crew, and the survivors went into Japanese captivity (where over 150 more would be slaughtered); and again in 2016, when her wreck and war grave, rediscovered in 2008, was found to have been completely plundered by Asian metal thieves.

Exeter was not the only ship to be erased from the seabed. British destroyers HMS Electra and Encounter, Royal Dutch HMNLS De Ruyter and HMNLS Java sunk in the same battle are gone as well (although some bits of Electra remain). HMNLS Kortenaer is partly gone. The US Submarine Perch sunk in an unrelated action is gone, but is not a war grave (her whole crew escaped the fire of sinking into the frying pan of Japanese captivity); along with the two cruisers sunk at the follow-on Battle of the Sunda Strait, HMAS Perth and USS Houston, war graves for over 300 Australians and Americans respectively, which were determined by surveys in 2013 and 2015 to have been invaded and partly stripped by scrappers.

While the British losses at the Battle of the Java Sea were not trivial, the Dutch lost over 900 seamen in the battle, including the Netherlands’ last great admiral, Karel Doorman. It was a Dutch expedition to place a plaque in memory of Doorman and his men that first discovered that the ships were not there. There’s no question of a navigational error, as the indentations where the ships used to be are still there.

dutch-outrageThe Dutch, as you might imagine, are fit to be tied. (See front page at left: “Puzzle in the Java Sea,” with an artists’ rendering of the now-missing Dutch ships as of 2008).

The Indonesian response has been flippant. Indonesian Navy Spokesman Gig Jonias Mozes Sipasulta suggested that it’s the Netherlands’ own fault for not requesting that the Indonesians guard the location.

The Netherlands, the former colonial power, is little loved in Indonesia, and the majority mohammedan population does not respect the graves of infidels.

The only remaining question, at this point: were the thieves Indonesian, Chinese, or Indonesians and Chinese working together?

Exeter may be the most historic of these lost ships. She was a proud ship. Built in the 1920s under the strictures of the naval disarmament treaties of the era, the 8,400 ton cruiser was the second and last of the York class and sufficiently different from York as to be readily distinguished. In order to meet the weight strictures of the Washington and London Naval Treaties, York and Exeter dispensed with belt armor, reducing weight but increasing tophamper and rendering the ships vulnerable in a fight with peer or larger units. (It was Exeter’s fate in WWII to get into such fights).

Battle of the River Plate

Exeter was one of the three cruisers that harried DKM Graf Spee into this harbor off Montevideo, Uruguay and caused, ultimately, the scuttling of the vessel and suicide of her captain.

Exeter, the best armed and armored of the three ships opposing Graf Spee (The others were HMS Ajax and HMNZS Achilles) went toe-to-toe with the German battlecruiser and paid the price.

Exeter took a considerable beating, as seen here. German day gunnery was thought to be the best in the world, and the 100-plus hits Exeter took in barely 20 minutes proved that conventional opinion was valid. But a couple of hits from Exeter drove Graf Spee into harbor to make repairs. Believing he was bottled up — an erroneous belief, as Exeter had already decamped for the Falklands and hasty repairs of its own — the German captain, Hans Langdorff, scuttled the ship and then shot himself.

exetersdamage1939

Graf Spee remains on the bottom of the Rio Plata. Why? Uruguay and Argentina, the adjacent countries, are civilized. Indonesia? Not so much.

Battle of the Java Sea & 2nd Battle of the Java Sea

In 1941, Exeter transited the Panama Canal enroute to her new station in the Far East.

exeter-at-panama

After the Sino-Japanese war that had been percolating for years broke out into general warfare after the Japanese  became one of the ill-fated multinational ABDA (American, British, Dutch, Australian) squadron in the southwest Pacific. Exeter fought a number of actions against Japanese ships and aircraft (see below), before the Battle of the Java Sea on 27 February 1942.

In the Battle of the Java Sea, the ABDA force sortied from Surabaya on the Dutch (now Indonesian) island of Java to intercept a Japanese landing force, under the command of Admiral Doorman. The Japanese force was screened by the IJN’s surface combatants, at that stage of the war probably the best in the world, man-for-man and ship-for-ship.

The ABDA force comprised 9 cruisers, including USS Houston and  Marblehead;  HMAS Hobart; HMS Exeter, Jupiter, and Express; and Dutch DeRuyter, Java, and Piethien.  

exeter-sinks-1-mar-42Exeter was again ordered to seek repairs. She buried 14 dead at sea, and was provided with two escorting destroyers, HMS Encounter and USS Pope, and set course for Surabaya. After hasty repairs to Exeter, the same three ships headed for the Royal Navy’s docks in Ceylon, but nine Japanese warships caught up to the squadron on 1 March 42 and sent them all to the bottom. (This is called, by historians, the 2nd Battle of the Java Sea). Most of the crewmen survived, with Exeter taking the most casualties — 52, fewer than she lost at the River Plate. This photo was taken from a Japanese aircraft.

 

The ships were found in 2007 by a US/Australian and identified in 2008, and wreck archaeologists were only beginning to study the wrecks to shed light on the 1942 battles. One of the then-living HMS Exeter survivors, Fred Aindow, then 88, remembered of his station in a gun turret:

We were firing until the last moment,” he said. “I think we were the last to stop. Then it was over the side and I hung on to an oar for an hour until I was picked up. The next three years were sheer hell.

It’s great news that they’ve found Exeter. I’d like to dive down myself and get my shoes from my locker that I had only just bought.

Another, Tom Jowett, a spokesman for the Survivors’ Association:

This is great news but it is important now to make sure the wreck is properly respected.

That didn’t happen. The UK MOD, seeking to protect the ships’ locations as grave sites, shared the closely-held location with Indonesian officials, which is now looking like a rather large error and a Judas-and-Brutus level betrayal by the Indonesians.

As the ship went down, her surviving company, afloat in the water, sent up three cheers.

exeter_sinking

For the survivors, Japanese captivity killed three times the men that the sinking of their ships had done. It didn’t start off that way; Japanese captains including Shunsaku Kudo of the destroyer IJN Ikazuchi hazarded their own ships to rescue survivors; Kudo took 442 on board his own ship. But once the prisoners were transferred from the relatively cosmopolitan and chivalric Navy to the custody of the barbarous Japanese Army ashore, they were badly abused.

USS Pope’s XO, Dick Antrim, was awarded the Medal of Honor for a selfless act of heroism during captivity: as the Japanese were beating another prisoner to death, Antrim demanded that they punish him instead. The Japanese were astonished by this act, and ceased the beating, and generally seemed to respect the Americans more and abuse them less after this. Antrim is buried in Arlington… where the Indonesians can’t get to him!

Sources:

The Daily Express: http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/733462/War-graves-disturbed-Indonesia-British-ships-Battle-Java-Sea-removed

The Telegraph (destruction & desecration): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/16/dutch-probe-mystery-of-wartime-shipwrecks-that-appear-to-have-go/

The Telegraph (original discovery, survivor quotes):  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/indonesia/1975561/Wartime-naval-legend-HMS-Exeter-found-off-Java.html

WWII Today (excellent long quote from surviving Exeter officer Lt. Cmdr. George Cooper). http://ww2today.com/1st-march-1942-hms-exeters-final-battle

Reuters (Dutch irritation over missing ships, Indonesian Navy flippant comment): http://www.reuters.com/article/us-netherlands-indonesia-missing-ships-idUSKBN13D1Z5

Japan Probe (story of Captain Kudo and the Itazuki. Kudo survived the war, but his ship and most of the crew were lost later). http://www.japanprobe.com/2007/05/19/the-untold-story-of-captain-kudo-shunsaku-and-the-destroyer-ikazuchi/

Heroism of Dick Antrim: http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/rantrim.htm