Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

Wanna Get Your Crank On? With a Gat? (ling?)

Sure, there’s always a couple of vendors trying to sell Colt’s new-edition 1875, 1877 or 1878 Gatling Guns for prices around $50-60k. (There were eleven of them on GunBroker when we put this story to bed last night). What about those of you who jones for a Gatling, but can’t afford the price of a luxo car or SUV for it, or can’t get a decent trade for your first-born child?

Fear not, the cheapskate New Englanders at WeaponsMan.com have your back. Mission: save you money on a Wild West icon, so you can go bankrupt buying blackpowder or Cowboy Action rounds and getting your crank on.

Fun fact about Gatlings: they had been so well employed by one American officer that the US Army’s machine gunners — who were, mostly, under his sway — clung to the Gatling into the 20th Century, long after the armies of Europe and the modern armies of Asia had chosen automatic machine guns.

Item 1: Museum Quality Gatling Gun w Carriage 45LC Mag

Price: Buy it now for $18k, or make an bid on the penny auction — against the unknown reserve. No bids yet.

Gatling Portland 01

Great looking Gat(ling).

Seller’s been trying to unload this gat since 2015, at least on GunBroker and at the Portland, OR gun show. Initially he wanted $30k, then $25, and now he’s down to $18k. Ground shipping to your FFL (it’s a Title 1 firearm) is $600.

$18k too high? Let’s move on.

Item 2: Replica Gatling Gun in 45 Black Powder

Price: No Reserve sale with minimum bid of $10k, or actually $5 under that number. No bids yet.

Gatling Tucson 02

This one’s not as impressive as the $18k gun; it has a homemade-y look. But it’s $10k plus actual shipping from a gun shop in Tucson. The seller says:

Up for auction is a Modern Replica of a Gatling Gun, built in the 1980’s by a machinist who was also a civil war re-enactor.

6 barrels. Working Black Powder Gatling Gun, designed to fire cap and ball blanks only but barrels are .45 caliber and rifled.

Perfect for Recreations, Movies or Stage Prop. The gun has been a fixture in the shop for years and gets a lot of attention but it is time for us to change some of our decor so it is reluctantly for sale.

Item 3: GATLING GUN FULLY- FUNCTIONAL LIVE-FIRE 45 L.C.

Price: No Reserve sale with minimum bid of $7k, or actually $5 under that number. No bids yet.

While this is the price leader of the authentic(ish) Gatlings, it seems to be a high-quality piece with a lot of brass. The seller complicated his sale by not taking a single good picture of the whole Gatling, but there are some character-rich detail shots. The business end:

Gatling OK 04

And here’s the rear half, left side:

Gatling OK 03

The rear half, right side:

Gatling OK 01

And the forward:

Gatling OK 02

Sure, it’s not for everybody. Some guys will complain about its lack of Picatinny rails and others will turn it down because there is no place to mount a bayonet. The magazine capacity probably makes it illegal in Massachusetts, Colorado, California, and North Korea.

But it would be worth the price of the ammo (and the target frames) to crank this puppy up from time to time… maybe on the anniversary of the Little Big Horn.

But there you go — three options for less than the somewhat stiff cost of entry to the Colt Repro Gatling Club. Just the thing for getting your crank on.

And on the other hand, if you feel diffident about saving money on a 19th Century classic firearm, there are eleven Colt replicas available for up to $60k.

But if you feel diffident about saving money on anything under the sun, we don’t know what you are but you are not a cheapskate New Englander.

Non-Factory Cutaway AR (Semi M16A2 Clone)

You don’t see many cutaways. Here’s a shot of a Colt M16A1 cutaway:

Colt M16A1 in Museum

This one was done by a little shop called Colt Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company — you may have heard of them — for a retiring worker, and resides in the Cody Museum — you may have heard of it.

So one of the ARFCOM retro heads, “Trimdad” of Oklahoma, got it into his head to do a cutaway of this: M16A2 clone with M203. By himself. With a Dremel tool. Here’s the thread.

A2 Cutaway 01

Here’s a shot to compare with the Cody Museum Colt:

A2 Cutaway 09Here’s an overview:

A2 Cutaway 03

And some close-ups. The receiver:

A2 Cutaway 04

The bolt and gas subsystem:

A2 Cutaway 05

The trigger group (note that this lacks the auto sear of the factory gun):

A2 Cutaway 07

The business end:A2 Cutaway 08

And the buttstock and its features:

A2 Cutaway 06

It all came about because he had parts for an A2 build, but not for an authentic A2 build (kind of a big deal in the retro world). As he puts it:

This one started because I had some A2 parts I was saving for a clone, but they weren’t Colt parts do I decided to sacrifice them . The upper is a dpms with a strange texture on it. The lower was a 80% A2 that braceman couldn’t sell.  The barrel is a FN that was rusted and shot out. The 203 is a Colt licensed airsoft and the rest was laying at the bottom of the parts box.

The airsoft nature of the 203 is evident on close up of its left side — you can see the circular marks from the ejector pins used in injection molding.

A2 Cutaway 02

Since these live, mostly, on the “inside” of the firearm, as it’s displayed (and it is a firearm — the lower would actually function, with a functional upper), the giveaway doesn’t really matter.

Moral of story: a Dremel does not turn you into Bubba, any more than a Glock turns you into some cop killer from Black Criminals’ Lives Matter. The tool is fine and good, but it’s what a man does with it that cements his place in the universe.

Well done, Trimdad.

He’s also done an A1. Next? Maybe an M4… complete with a sectioned ACOG, or maybe a Chinese Fake-COG. We’re guessing it’ll be awesome.

Infantry Weapons, 498,000 BC: Stone-tipped Spears

OK, this article from The Grauniad is a good three years old. But we seem to have missed it then, so there’s a good chance you missed it then, too. Let’s not miss it now! Here’s why stone-tipped spears were important: the first known spears date from 600,000 years ago, but they were just sharpened sticks. They could have been made by several arguably pre-human, protohuman or early human species, before the emergence of modern Homo sapiens or even our most recent extinct cousin, Homo neanderthalensis. Until recently, all evidence for stone-tipped spears came from the last 300,000 years and were arguably attributable to H. sapiens or to Neanderthals.

Stone-tipped-spears-008

A research dig in South Africa led then-Toronto (now Arizona State) archaeologist Jayne Wilkins to a surprising conclusion: our ancestors were making stone-tipped spears before they were even exactly “human.” First, the importance of the technology:

The invention of stone-tipped spears was a significant point in human evolution, allowing our ancestors to kill animals more efficiently and have more regular access to meat, which they would have needed to feed ever-growing brains. “It’s a more effective strategy which would have allowed early humans to have more regular access to meat and high-quality foods, which is related to increases in brain size, which we do see in the archaeological record of this time,” said Jayne Wilkins, an archaeologist at the University of Toronto who took part in the latest research.

The technique needed to make stone-tipped spears, called hafting, would also have required humans to think and plan ahead: hafting is a multi-step manufacturing process that requires many different materials and skill to put them together in the right way. “It’s telling us they’re able to collect the appropriate raw materials, they’re able to manufacture the right type of stone weapons, they’re able to collect wooden shafts, they’re able to haft the stone tools to the wooden shaft as a composite technology,” said Michael Petraglia, a professor of human evolution and prehistory at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the research. “This is telling us that we’re dealing with an ancestor who is very bright.”

It may not take a genius to make spears, but it probably took a genius to invent one.

Dating the stone tips to 500,000 years ago means that they were used on spears by the last common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals, Homo heidelbergensis. The idea that Homo heidelbergensis developed stone-tipped tools made a lot of sense, said Petraglia, because Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, which descended and split from Homo heidelbergensis around 300,000-400,000 years ago, used similar stone-tipped spear weapons.

Petraglia added that there were several other implications to the discovery thatHomo heidelbergensis had used hafting to make spears. Adding stones would not only have given our ancestors an easier way to kill prey, but also to do it from a distance. “There is a big difference between thrusting and throwing,” he said. “You can kill from a distance, maybe 10 to 30 metres away. The previous ancestors did not have that technology, so it means you are now occupying a new ecological niche, you can now take animals down more efficiently.”

Meanwhile, while the archaeologists seem to think only of the spears as hunting weapons, not as warfare tools, they theorize that hunting meat with these spears was not just an effect of rising intelligence, but a cause as well:

He added that the discovery also shed light on the development of modern human cognition. “Hominins – both Homo erectus and earlier humans – were into this meat-eating niche and meat-eating is something that is thought to be very important in terms of fuelling a bigger brain,” said Petraglia. “In terms of our evolutionary history, that’s been going on for millions of years. You have selection for a bigger brain and that’s an expensive tissue and that protein from meat is a very important fuel, essentially. If you become a killing machine, using spears, you’ve come up with a technological solution where you can be reliant on meat-eating constantly. Homo heidelbergensis is known as a big-brained hominid, so having reliable access to meat-eating is important.”

It’s a fascinating article, and deep for a newspaper (and the Grauniad of all things!). For more depth, the Science article is available to subscribers and members of the AAAS. The free teaser:

Ancient Weaponry

Hafting, which allowed projectile points to be attached to a staff, was an important technological advance that greatly increased the functionality of weapons of early humans. This technology was used by both Neandertals and early Homo sapiens and is readily seen after about 200,000 to 300,000 years ago, but whether it was used by a common ancestor or was separately acquired by each species is unclear. Supporting use by a common ancestor, Wilkins et al. (p. 942) report that stone points in a site in central South Africa were hafted to form spears around 500,000 years ago. The evidence includes damaged edges consistent with this use and marks at the base that are suggestive of hafting.

Abstract

Hafting stone points to spears was an important advance in weaponry for early humans. Multiple lines of evidence indicate that ~500,000-year-old stone points from the archaeological site of Kathu Pan 1 (KP1), South Africa, functioned as spear tips. KP1 points exhibit fracture types diagnostic of impact. Modification near the base of some points is consistent with hafting. Experimental and metric data indicate that the points could function well as spear tips. Shape analysis demonstrates that the smaller retouched points are as symmetrical as larger retouched points, which fits expectations for spear tips. The distribution of edge damage is similar to that in an experimental sample of spear tips and is inconsistent with expectations for cutting or scraping tools. Thus, early humans were manufacturing hafted multicomponent tools ~200,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Nietzsche said, “That what does not kill you, makes you stronger.” WeaponsMan.com says, “That with which you kill, makes you smarter.” If our H. erectus and heidelbergensis forbears had been vegans, we might still be apes.

Technically-minded readers will enjoy a follow-on paper from 2014 (from PLOS ONE, freely available) which explores the relative performance of hafted-stone and solid-wood spears “thrown” by a calibrated crossbow into ballistic gelatin. (This article has several fascinating aspects and deserves exploration in depth).

spear_tip_testing_equipment

Since its publication, Wilkins’s original article has been criticized as, in the words of one critical article, an “abuse of the use-wear method.” Wilkins and three co-authors defended their findings in a further follow-on paper last year, and accused their critics of “using our paper as a straw-man example of the abuse of use-wear.” As archaeology disputes go, it’s a bit heated, but they haven’t resorted to spears. Yet.

The First Czechoslovak Service Pistols. Nº1: the Praga

The earliest Czechoslovak service pistols are relative rarities that are enjoyed by advanced Czechoslovak pistol collectors. While they are rare, they were still factory produced, and enough exist that they come up from time to time. At the same time, their relative obscurity has meant that a really rare pistol can sometimes be scored for less money than you might think.

This Praga in the Springfield Armory Collection, SN 7300, shows off its lines.

This Praga in the Springfield Armory Collection, SN 7300, shows off its lines. Note the divergent angle of the front and rear grip, which makes the pistol feel awkward and point low, relative to the Browning M1910.

These two pistols are the Praga, a 7.65mm (.32) stopgap, and the Czechoslovak vz. 22, the first Czech official military service pistol. Today, we’re talking about the Praga.

Other side of Springfield's Praga, showing that this is the later model.

Other side of Springfield’s Praga, showing that this is the later model.

When Czechoslovakia was established as a result of the post-WWI collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the subsequent treaties, it had little indegenous small-arms production capability. Czech and Slovak units had fought under Russian and French command, as well as in the Austro-Hungarian Army, and so a mix of surplus European weaponry was available. Austrian rifles (Mannlicher M.95 straight-pull) and pistols (Rast & Gasser revolvers and Steyr autoloaders) were the most common, and a small subset of collecting seeks out these guns as overmarked with Czechoslovak military markings. But the Czechoslovaks continued wartime Austrian plans to establish more production facilities in the Czech lands, especially Bohemia, and private firms’ production was also exploited.

Zbrojovka Praga was the first armory established in the optimism of the new Republic, but its life was short, from 1918 to 1926, and its production consisted of a few thousands of two models of pistol.

Still, the first pistol the nascent Czechoslovak military adopted, if not entirely officially, was the Praga. It is a 7.65mm (,32 ACP) handgun of conventional blowback design, resembling the FN Browning Model 1910 in styling but quite different in manufacture, and comparatively poor in ergonomics. Some sources, including Dolínek et al., say that it was designed by Czech designer Vaclav Holek, who is definitely credited with Praga’s oddball .25; Holek would go on to greatness, but the Praga is concrete proof that in 1919, he wasn’t there yet, if indeed the design was his. Novotny also employed, at one time or another, František Myška, who would go on to design other pistols, and Karel Krnka, who already had. What role each of these took in the design is unknown. Some Pragas are marked with a patent legend, but not the patent number.

Some of these Pragas would be used by the police, and some would be purchased by the Ministry of Defense. It’s unclear now whether it was intended for them to be standard issue firearms, or whether they were bought with a view to being an interim service pistol, but they did wind up being an interim pistol, as the Czechoslovak military retained neither the pistol itself or the 7.65mm caliber.

(A previous Praga pocket pistol in 6.35mm had a folding trigger and some other highly unusual features. It was never, and was never intended to be, a service pistol; it was obviously a defensive pocket pistol. We’ll discuss that at some other time; we’re only interested in the service pistol today).

Two versions of the service Praga exist; as far as we can tell the principal difference is in the markings. The rarer first model, sometimes called the vz. 19 or Model 1919 by collectors, is marked Zbrojovka Praga on the slide in ornate cursive script; the later model has the same legend, but in block capitals. The safety on the earlier model tends to be crudely checkered and the later model machined with lines, but the parts do interchange. That said, parts including the receiver, slide, breechblock, barrel, grips, trigger and sometimes the magazine are usually numbered. Matching numbers are common.

Hogg & Weeks say this (via Springfield, with some typos corrected):

7.65mm Praga Model 1921 – The first pistol produced was the vz/21 (vz: vzor, ‘model’), a 7.65mm blowback credited to Vaclav Holek but little more than an adaptation of the 1910-type Browning. Some small changes were made; the breech block was a separate unit, inserted in the slide, while the return spring was retained by the nose of the slide instead of a barrel bush.1

We don’t have a 1910 at present, but used to, and in our opinion based on the physical manipulation of both firearms, the Praga borrows mostly styling and (we think) the 7-round .32 ACP magazine from its Belgian forbear. Even the magazine, though, is altered; it has a catch to allow you to cycle the slide with a loaded mag, without picking up a round; and the gun is hammer, not striker, fired. It lacks the Browning’s grip safety. Internally, it is more different from than similar to a 1910.

The pistol was initially touted for military or police use, 5,000 being ordered by the Czech forces when Škoda declined to co-operate. They had plain wooden grips and cursive Zbrojovka Praga on the slide; this later changed to block and specimens with the Prague police badge can be found. A commercial version appeared with block-lettered slides and moulded plastic ‘Praga’ grips. Some specimens have elongated barrels which protrude about 30mm ahead of the slide.2

Springfield thinks that the marking on the left nose of the slide of their example is a Prague police badge. Their gun is also marked with 12.4.21 on the slide which is probably an acceptance date (12 April, 1921).  Most Pragas were intended for police and military markets and thus do not have Czechoslovak proof marks. (On those that are proofed, the Prague proof house retained its Austrian-era practice of marking with proof year and sequential proof number).

While Springfield’s archivists are professionals and seldom err, they aren’t perfect; they refer to the pistol as “Manufactured by Ceska Zbrojovka, Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1921.” CZ did not yet exist in 1921, and while it would mark many pistols as made in Prague, it never made pistols there, only in Strakonice and (post-1936) Uhersky Brod. (Some pistols were made by Škoda in Pilsen, and by the Czechoslovak State Armory in Brno, but they weren’t made by CZ, either. CZ is a specific firm, not a catch-all for Czech manufacture). 

Hogg and Weeks also said this about the company:

The Praga Zbrojovka in Vršovice, in which Vaclav Holek worked on the design of pistols, offered its first pistols to the Army already in the spring of 1919. This was a 7.65 caliber pistol that was more suitable for civilian or police use, but which nevertheless was more acceptable than the 6.35mm side pistol which this firm also manufactured and later sold in the market using the designation ‘automatic Praga pistol, cal. 6.35mm, M1921.’ The ministry of National Defense ordered 5,000 Praga 7.65mm pistols as early as June 1919, even though at that time it was only testing this type and had some serious objections to the workmanship.3

Vrsovice is a neighborhood or district of Prague, so these are rare Czech guns marked “Praha” (or Prague or Prag) that were actually made in the city.

Berger made a strenuous effort to get to the bottom of these exotics, and illustrates several and describes them, but he’s cautious in his conclusions. He illustrates Nº 552, then in the collection of O. Matyska. This example is an early version proofed in 1919 with the cursive Zbrojovka Praga legend, but with the striated wooden grips he suggests may be the mark of a military pistol, and a striated, not crudely cross-checkered, safety. His example of a “late” Praga is Nº 10828, dated 1923, then in the collection of E. Macaulay. This example has the block-capital marking ZBROJOVKA PRAGA PRAHA PATENT CAL. 7.65.

Some decent photos of another example are found here

Rock Island auctioned an interesting example, Nº 8950, slathered in markings revealing its history, in 2015. It was marked with a Czech military acceptance date, plus a partial commercial proof, hinting that it had been retired and sold off, plus it bore the markings of two Czechoslovak units, the 14th Infantry Regiment, gun 216 (on the right side of the frame, crossed out…) (RIA photos used with permission).

Praga SN 8950 right

…and the 5th Artillery Regiment, gun 153 (on the left side).

Praga SN 8950 left

…and close up, you can see the artllery unit’s mark, and the military acceptance date of 5 July 1921 under the rampant lion of the Czechoslovak Republic. Unit marks are often found on the grip strap of Czechoslovak Republic firearms, and are in the format: Unit Number / Letter for Type of Unit / Sequential Firearm or Rack Number. The most common letters are “P” for Pechotny, infantry, and “D” for Delostrelecky, artillery.

Praga SN 8950 L slide

Our example is Nº 10024, and in the near future, we’ll post a more complete set of photos of it, including a field stripping. It doesn’t have the interesting unit history of Nº 8950, but it does have a military acceptance mark and apparently matching numbers. In one that’s in pretty decent shape like this, the original rust blue really shines.

praga_10024-02 praga_10024-01

One thing that only some (mostly later) examples have is the world’s most impressive lanyard lug.

praga_10024-07

We’ve literally never seen anything like it.

praga_10024-06

The Praga has some other unusual features like its elegant and manufacturing-friendly removable breechblock, and a notch in the magazine, allowing you to lock it into place, but below the level where it would actually feed rounds. (Why? Our guess is for training purposes, but it seems like an invitation to Murphy)

Dolinek et al. refer to the Praga and, later in their book, to the Praga M, which may have been a Czech designation for the later version of the pistol. But their discussion of the pistol is very brief. They have a little more to say about the company:

 The private Zbrojovka Praga s.s.r.o (Arms works Praga, a limited liability company) had a competitive lead over Zbrojovka Brno. It was founded by Česka Prumyslová Banka (the Czech Industrial Bank) before the end of World War I in Prague’s Vršovice quarter with the participation of J. Novotny, the owner of the largest gunmaking company in Prague. The factory was originally designed to manufacture hunting guns and civil pistols. However, after 1918, it specialized in military arms. The company employed many gifted designers (Holek brothers, Ing. Karel Krnka, etc.) and a skilled labor force, partly emanating from the Austrian arms works, and it was well-equipped with machinery. They principally supplied automatic pistols but they were not very widely used within the army. The financial difficulties of the company were not even resolved by its incorporation into the industrial concern of the Česka Prumyslová Banka. In the MOD’s opinion, the collapse of the firm was mainly due to an incompetent management team that was not able to introduce the rational organization of production machinery within the plant. The firm was not even saved by the sale of the license for the light machine gun Praga designed by Vaclav Holek that, in Zbrojovka Brno, was to become an ever most successful Czech weapon in the years to come. Zbrojova Praga was wound up in 1926. 4

Hogg and Weeks dismissed the company rather abruptly, suggesting that they had not personally examined Praga firearms:

Zbrojovka Praga (Prague Small Arms Company) was founded in Vrsovice in 1918 by A. Novotny, a gunmaker. He is said to have employed talented designers such as the Holek brothers, Krnka and Myška, but Praga products showed little evidence of this. Two pistol were produced, one a copy of the Browning M1910 and the other an original design of odd appearance and poor quality. Not surprisingly, the company failed to prosper and in 1926 was foreclosed by the National Bank.5

While the Praga is generally thought of as a police and commercial pistol, they were used by Czechoslovak soldiers, and unit-marked examples are not unknown. One is for sale right now on GunBroker (and probably in-shop) by Historic Firearms.

Pragas are seldom found in the USA with import marks, suggesting that they were wartime bringbacks or pre-1968 surplus.

Finally, way back near the beginning of this post, we noted that “They can sometimes be scored for less money than you think.”

pix113354542

This one, Nº 3786, recently sold on GunBroker for $501! The typical going price is well over $1,000 in 2016.

Notes

  1. Hogg & Weeks, via Springfield.
  2. Hogg & Weeks, via Springfield.
  3. Hogg & Weeks, via Springfield.
  4. Dolínek, et. al., p. 40.
  5. Hogg & Weeks, via Springfield.

Sources

Berger, R.J. Know Your Czechoslovakian Pistols. Chino Valley, AZ: Blacksmith Corporation, 1989. pp. 83-85.

Dolínek, Vladimír, Karlický, Vladimír, & Vácha, Pavel. Czech Firearms and Ammunition: History and Present. Prague: Radix, 1995.

Hogg, Ian & Weeks, John. Pistols of the World. DBI Books, Inc. Northbrook, Il. 1992. Quoted vis Springfield Armory National Historic Site: retrieved from: http://ww2.rediscov.com/spring/VFPCGI.exe?IDCFile=/spring/DETAILS.IDC,SPECIFIC=10600,DATABASE=objects,

 

A Gun We’ve Always Liked: Whitney Wolverine

This one takes us back, as a hack Freudian analyst would, to our childhood (imagine echoes: “childhood, childhood…). We never had a Whitney Wolverine, but we had this:

Zebra-IIIt was a “Zebra” toy gun that shot pellets, and it was, as you’ll see, a ringer for the style of the Whitney, except compressed to about a Walther PPK form factor — perfect for a child’s hand. The only hard part was keeping it running; every James Bond or Cops and Robbers session left you a few less pellets to the good… and God alone help you if Mom found them first, because no power on Earth would help you at that juncture.

Here’s a beautiful Whitney, from a well-written post at the Smith & Wesson Forum:

WHITNEY_WOLVERINE_BOX-SMALL

While the Zebra toy was made in uncounted millions, and clones remain in production today, the Whitney started production in 1956 — 60 years ago today! — and it was all over by 1959 with exactly 13,371 pistols made. A few were made in nickel finish with white grips, and they’re really striking:

wolverine nickel

WOLVERINE-GUNS-3-19582Whether it was the space age, futuristic styling — retro-futuristic now that we’re living in the future designer Robert Hillberg, who came from aerospace (naturally), imagined — or whether it was that it was more expensive than another elegant .22 made by a start-up, the Ruger Mark I, the bold Whitney flopped with the same guys who bought Plymouths with gigantic tail fins and push-button transmissions, and Fords with plastic bubble tops. Or it could have been the marketing and legal It might be an interesting case study for a forensic or historical MBA.

The gun itself had a decent reputation as a fun-to-shoot .22, slightly picky about ammo.

Recently, Olympic Arms produced a clone with a plastic frame. It, too, tends to like premium high-velocity ammo, and jams on el cheapo Aguila (doesn’t everything?) Reportedly, many of the Olympic parts can be refitted to repair old Whitneys.

Here’s pictures of the two, from that same forum thread:

Wolverine and OlympicOlympic Wolverine Clone

While Ruger used several techniques, including steel investment casting and build-up of parts from laminated steel sheets joined with rivets, Whitney’s gun was primarily made of steel and aluminum investment castings. As you can see in the slightly-open Olympic clone above, the breech block traveled within the frame, like the Ruger (or a Nambu, Glisenti, and many other designs down through the years).

Disassembly and reassembly of the Whitney is a challenge — it’s ridiculously easy to take to pieces, many of which come out under spring pressure and, in accordance with Murphy’s description of the universe’s fundamental physical laws, are either transformed into energy or strategically position themselves in the most inaccessible niche beneath or behind furniture or machinery. Having, once the round-up of the itinerant parts is complete, a pile of pistol parts, reverting them to a functional pistol is a degree more difficult. But no special tools are required.

One elegant feature of Whitney design is seen in the magazine. Whereas most .22 pistol mags have a button for retracting the magazine follower to ease loading, the Whitney has a hole.  It’s a perfect fit for a .22 round or casing. There’s your button!

What occasioned this post? We were working on something else, but a Redditor, rocketboy2319 (how appropriate!) posted that he’d scored this Whitney, and posted it to Imgur:

Wolverine genty used R

It’s a non-Wolverine “post trademark dispute model” — Hillberg agreed to drop the Wolverine name when Lyman pointed out that had a trademark. (He’d chosen the name because he was a Michigan fan, and you might see a little U of M symbolism in the factory box).

In the Reddit thread he notes:

It truly is [sexy]. When they pulled it out at the FFL where I had it transferred, everyone came over to check it out. Most of the guys there has only seen pictures of them. I really want one of the nickel-plated ones they made, but I’m not willing to pay $2000+ right now. Out the door with shipping from the original dealer and transfer fees this came out to $385.

Wolverine genty used

And a commenter has this helpful tip:

If you ever order magazines from Olympic, let them know that they are for a vintage Wolverine, not one of their new ones. Apparently, there is some special tweaking that they do for vintage Whitneys. The one I bought from them works like a champ.

There’s some handling wear on the alloy frame/envelope of the gun, and it shows just how well it holds up (compared to the corrosion and pitting often evident on average steel firearms of similar vintage).

(Note: With Revenge of Small Dog going on here, posting may be slow for a day or two. As the posting of today’s six AM post almost at noon ought to tell you. We’ll keep dispensing the gun crack, it’s just going to take us longer –Ed). 

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Soviet Armorer

We won’t go deep into the weeds on what you can find here. Notes of a Soviet Armorer is an occasionally-updated (last in March) detailed review of aspects of historical Soviet weapons, especially the weapons of the Great Patriotic War. He takes information from Soviet-era archival sources, and Russian-language firearms forums, and posts rare but in-depth examinations of Soviet small arms questions.

SVT sniper

We could go into greater depth, but we’ll just refer you to his post on Tokarev SVT sniper rifles, which includes serial number lists and production counts. Most “SVT snipers” in the USA or here in the West in general are fakes and forgeries, so it’s worthwhile to see what Russian sources say about these rare firearms. (The rifle and scope are relatively common. The mount? Vast majority out there are fake). He also has a post with entire photo galleries of real period photos of snipers armed with these elegant sniper rifles.

If that’s not enough for you, here’s a comprehensive examination of Soviet-era ammo pouches as used with the SVT and Mosin-Nagant rifles.

Good stuff. If you collect Russian stuff, maybe priceless.

Roman Army Personnel Management

SPQR-Milano-Galleria-Colonna-620x465The Roman Army was in many ways the model for every professional army of long-service soldiers today, and as much as things have changed, much of the Roman grunt’s life would be recognizable to today’s grunt, be he American, British, Russian or Chinese.

Whereas modern armies have regiments or brigades, the Romans had legions and auxiliary formations. A soldier tended to remain within his legion; to a point, legions promoted from within. The point was the equivalent of today’s commissioned officers, who were recruited solely from among the sons of the patrician and equestrian classes. Centurion was a crossover position, which might be filled by a long-service soldier from the plebeian order — who might then or later be elevated to the equestrian order based on his service — or might be filled by a professional officer of the equestrian order.

spqr eagle and emperorA legion was recruited, in theory at least, from Roman citizens, and auxiliaries might be trained and organized identically to the legion, but they were recruited from provincials, even freshly conquered ones. In effect, the auxiliary regiments were the Roman legions’ foreign legions! That is, at least, until recruiting fell short in the legions — then, recruiters would put the habeas grabbus on likely-looking Gauls and Germans or what have you. There was a fitness examination of a sort: Roman soldiers were expected to be at least 17 years old, 5’10” and strong, although, as ever in professional armies, the standards were observed to flex to some degree, to adapt to the available recruit pool. When recruiting was good, volunteers brought letters of recommendation from individuals known to the legion or auxiliary officers.

A recruit was given three aurei (gold coins) and swore an oath of allegiance. It was not to Rome or to some abstraction like the Empire, but personally to the Emperor; the whole Army swore the oath anew every year, and every time a new Emperor was crowned.

800px-Helmet_typ_Weissenau_01Pay varied sharply with rank. A simple soldier received 225 denarii (small copper coins, Roman pennies) a year; a centurion 5,000. Intermediate NCO ranks received other benefits. Some Latin terms translate directly as “pay and a half guy” and “double pay guy,” and there were special pays for standard bearers who bore the unit eagle or the Emperor’s portrait. In addition to pay, arms and some components of uniforms were provided. (As a rule of thumb, Legions were better armed and provisioned than Auxiliaries).

Defaulters were subjected to an escalating scheme of punishments surprisingly like the American Articles of War or Uniform Code of Military Justice, although with distinctly Roman penalties.

A minor offense might get a soldier whacked with a centurion’s staff, or he might be fined both his current pay and some of his retirement benefit. There were corporal and capital punishments for more serious offenses. There were also mass punishments: a dishonored unit might be disbanded, or decimated.

There was also a hierarchical system of honors for combat and service distinction, some stratified by rank (or by societal order), but others available to all ranks for bravery. Some of these were widely distributed post-battle, and others were very rare honors.

The retirement benefit, if a Roman gladius and pilum operator made it through his 25-year term of service, was significant: along with a lump sum of deferred pay which had been accrued during service, a retiree received a bronze tablet called a diploma militaria, which recounted his service, and if a non-citizen provincial, granted him Roman citizenship. Sometimes that citizenship grant extended to his children. (In the Republic and the early Empire, soldiers were forbidden to marry, but no one stopped them procreating). This benefit (the automatic grant of citizenship for honorable service in the auxiliary) was made moot in 212 AD, when Emperor Caracalla granted the Citizenship of Rome to all freeborn subjects of the Empire; however, retiring soldiers still received valuable considerations such as land grants.

There were three classes of discharge, and you needed the honorable discharge, missio honesta, to get that all important diploma (and citizenship). If you had been drummed out for bad conduct, cowardice, or whatever, you got the beautifully-named missio ignominiosa which was a perfect analog of today’s Dishonorable or Bad Conduct discharges. There was also an administrative discharge, missio causaria, used mostly for the wounded and ill.

Entire legions were raised far from Italy. But the usual Roman practice stationed provincial volunteers in provinces far from home, with a view to internal security. Legions were generally infantry; most Roman cavalry came from the ranks of the auxiliaries, although the auxiliaries also produced infantry formations. The Romans also had a wide range of support elements from engineers to transportation ferry and barge operators.

Whether in the legions or the auxiliary, on joining the Roman service, in a manner reminiscent of the French Foreign Legion (or more likely, the Legion Étrangère imitates the Roman practice), a provincial subject was given a Roman (Latin) name.

Source

Alcock, Joan P. A Brief History of Roman Britain: Conquest and Civilization. London, 2011: Constable and Robinson.

Why Were Little Cartridges Ever Good Enough?

Colt 1908. The kinship to the FN 1906 is obvious. Image: Adams Guns via wikipedia.

Colt 1908. The kinship to the FN 1906 is obvious (Both are Browning designs). Image: Adams Guns via wikipedia.

Today the defensive caliber argument seems to have devolved into two warring camps: those who like a small .380 or 9mm, and those who sniff at anything whose Imperial measurement does not begin at .4. So the older pocket pistols of the 20th Century, and even the police revolvers and some military pistols of the early 20th, seem inexplicable to a modern shooter.

Sure, they’re small, but so is a Seecamp .380 or a Micro Desert Eagle (both of which, completely off topic, have Czech antecedents. We’ll get back on topic, now). And the standing joke, which we believe may have originated with .45 aficionado and 10mm impresario Jeff Cooper, is, “Never shoot a man with a .32. It might make him angry, and then he’ll want to fight.”

Millions of .32s like this Iver Johnson were sold in the 20th Century. Why?

Millions of .32s like this Iver Johnson were sold in the 20th Century, mostly for defense. Why?

Yet, who ever thought it was okay for cops to walk the mean streets of New York and Chicago with a .32 Police Positive, Official Police, or M&P? Why did European cops cling to the .32 ACP well into the 1980s? Why did the Wehrmacht, of all things, reopen a conscientious objector’s closed factory so that his product, a tiny .25, could be produced — 117,000 of them — for sale to German officials?

More generally, why were micro .25s and compact .32s made and sold in the tens of millions worldwide?

First, the small size of these firearms (and their ammunition) is not just a disadvantage. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it is a boon: you carry a gun a lot more than you shoot it. In this nation of 330 million citizens and probably 3 million legitimately armed law officers and everyday concealed carriers, there are almost certainly under 300 police officers and Federal Agents who have fired their guns at suspects in more than one situation. (There wouldn’t be that many, if not for the emergence of tactical teams). The civilian who’s been involved in two defensive shootings is rare enough that we can’t think of an example — maybe you can.

Second, a small gun encourages carry. A gun that’s small and light inclines you to include it in your pocket litter or slip its holster onto your belt or waistband. Remember the first rule of gunfights: bring a gun. A small gun is, ceteris paribus, more likely to “get brung” than a big hogleg.

Third, for ex officio gun carriers, if not constrained by regulations, any gun will do. That’s why the Germans wanted all those .25s and .32s. Most cops were never going to shoot anybody, but the pistol in its flap holster was a mark of authority, like the badge. While that’s true for the National Railway Police riding the trains under Hitler, it’s also true for the large amount of American and worldwide cops who have a house-mouse assignment or are promoted to management rank.

Likewise, an officer of the vaunted German General Staff was supposed to have a pistol, but he had no serious plans to go down guns blazing like a Karl May hero, in front of a Red Army assault. The gun was a badge of office. It’s possible more officers killed themselves with their small pistols than killed a Russian, Brit or American enemy.

Fourth, there was historical precedent for small guns. As far back as a before the Civil War, Colt made its revolvers available in small and large caliber (.36 and .45). Others made .32s at this time. When Colt came out with its cartridge .32 in the 1890s, it had actually made a small, spur-trigger .22 some 20 years before that. Some people wanted a big gun, some wanted to trade off that gun’s advantages for the advantages of a small gun, and the market responded.

Fifth, the small guns were thought adequate at the time. The advent of the much more powerful smokeless powders in the late 19th Century made it possible to pack more power into a smaller gun. The NYPD did not adopt the Colt .32 at the behest of some berk ignorant of guns: Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, a lifelong gun enthusiast, drove the 1896 adoption of the New Police, a longer-barreled and square-butt version of the 1893 New Pocket revolver chambered for the .32 Colt. (Later, an improved version became the .32 Police Positive, chambered for the slightly less awful .32 S&W Long, which Colt called “.32 Police” because they wouldn’t say the two initials of their despised competitor upriver).

Colt New Pocket 32Why was a .32 adequate in 1896 but not by 1996? Certainly there have been many improvements in firearms since those beautiful little Colts left Hartford 120 years ago. Some of it may just be that more powerful handguns are available.

But another possibility is that human beings have changed. Anyone who has observed collections, for instance, of WWII uniforms notes that, compared to modern soldiers, midcentury guys were small. They were shorter and much leaner. Statistics bear this out.

The Union Army in the Civil War:

The average height of the Federal soldier was put at 5 feet, 8¼ inches.  …  Incomplete records indicate the average weight was 143¼ pounds.

That’s definitely a lot leaner (and a little shorter) than today’s median GI.

And here’s a table showing the gradual but real growth of the American soldier to 1984. (The Civil War numbers here are better supported than those in the link above). We submit that this growth has accelerated since (and note the small of the 1984 study suggests it may produce a less reliable mean than the earlier ones). Also, the Civil War measurements were taken clothed, WWI and up naked, so the differences were probably greater. Source.

Table 3-1Comparison of Some Anthropometric Characteristics of Male Soldiers in 1864, 1919, 1946, and 1984
Year of Study (n)*
Anthropometric Characteristic 1864 (23,624) 1919 (99,449) 1946 (85,000) 1984 (869)
Height (inches) 67.2 67.7 68.4 68.6
Weight (pounds) 141.4 144.9 154.8 166.8
Age (years) 25.7 24.9 24.3 26.3
Neck girth (inches) 13.6 14.2 14.5 14.5
Chest girth (inches) 34.5 34.9 36.4† 35.5
Waist girth (inches) 31.5 31.4‡ 31.3‡ 32.7
Estimated body fat (percent) 16.9 15.7 14.4 17.3
Fat-free mass (pounds) 117 122 133 138

Source: Table 3-1 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235960/

As you see, not only the overall mass of the soldier had increased by over 25 lbs, but also, over 20 of that was fat-free mass — presumably, stronger bones and thicker muscle. A 15% or more increase in musculature on the average young man makes him harder to stop and to kill, once again all other things being equal. Scientists ascribe this in part to improved nutrition as civilization’s benefits came to include refrigeration, rail transport and industrial-scale farming.

The people police may engage with, criminals, are also likely to be obese, unlike soldiers.

In Conclusion

In the last 120 years, more powerful cartridges (and more of them) have been a trend in pistols. We identify several possible reasons for this trend. But when you break it down, they basically fall into two categories:

  1. More powerful pistols are possible now, given technology’s advances in powder chemistry, metallurgy, etc.
  2. More powerful pistols are necessary now, given the increased robustness of the mean and median human target.

In addition, there’s a third factor that may outweigh these two practicalities: fashion. We won’t raise it with reference to the present time — we’ll just point out that Roosevelt’s adoption of the .32 New Police for his New York coppers in 1896 set off a preference cascade that led many big cities to .32 Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers within 10-20 years.

No sooner had the .32s graced police holsters than clamor for more powerful cartridges would set in. This led to a step up to .38, until S&W were finally convinced they had put the police firepower issue to rest for all time with the new .38 S&W Special cartridge.

But that’s another story.

With the Marines at Tarawa

This 20-minute classic documentary tells the story of the Marines’ sanguinary landing at Tarawa on 20 November 1943: from shipboard preparations, through the three-day naval and air bombardment, to the Marines’ arrival on the contested beach to the destruction of the Japanese defenders and the raising of Old Glory.

There were several islands in the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands; the Japanese concentration was on Betio (pronounced BAY-shee-oh), the southernmost and largest; the prize was an airfield the Japs were already constructing, and an atoll ideal for patrol seaplane operations. The Marines, true to their reputation (which is built in part on their actions here), made a characteristically direct assault on the most fortified of the Japanese islands, but they did land on the lagoon side, not on the southern, ocean side.

Louis Hayward directed the 20-minute short. It is rare for a wartime documentary in that it was supposedly shot entirely in color. Despite that, most of the combat footage looks like it was always B&W, and other other segments seem desaturated by time, now. With the Marines at Tarawa received the Academy Award for Best Short Documentary, 1945.

At one point, the film scans dead Japanese and the narrator says “They’re savage fighters. Their lives mean nothing to them.” This is a misunderstanding of the Japanese, perhaps, but it was certainly the conventional wisdom at the time. The widespread Japanese belief that Americans would abuse Japanese prisoners contributed to what Americans saw as Japanese fanaticism — it had a strong element of fatalism, and fear, to it.

travers pocketknifeHuman remains are still being found on Betio, now part of the independent Republic of Kiribati. Last week, fallen Marine George Harry Traver’s remains were identified — by the Boy Scout pocketknife he’d carried, a shipping-out gift from his mother.

Traver was a survivor of the Marines’ previous fight at Guadalcanal.

His case does not to be reported on the Defense Prisoner/Missing Accounting Agency website yet, but a search of the site for “Betio” reveals that since last summer, DPAA has been steadily identifying many of approximately 35 Marines whose remains were found in a previously unregistered grave in 2015 by History Flight volunteers. The deceased are all believed to have been killed in the intial landing, and on the first day of the fight for the atoll.

DPAA describes the grave and the results as follows:

In the immediate aftermath of the fighting on Tarawa, U.S. service members who died in the battle were buried in a number of battlefield cemeteries on the island. In 1946 and 1947, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio Island, but [these individuals’] remains were not recovered. On Feb. 28, 1949, a military review board declared [their] remains non-recoverable.

In June 2015, a nongovernmental organization, History Flight, Inc., notified DPAA that they discovered a burial site on Betio Island and recovered the remains of what they believed were 35 U.S. Marines who fought during the battle in November 1943. The remains were turned over to DPAA in July 2015.

DPAA is grateful to History Flight, Inc. for this recovery mission.

A previous History Flight mission recovered one Marine and four Japanese remains from a buried fighting position. DPAA surmises that the position was probably buried by the Seabees in the process of constructing the US airfield on Betio over the ruins of the Japanese one.

DPAA scientists working with the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory use mitochondrial DNA analysis and comparison to living family members in the matrilineal line, as well as comparison of preserved dental and chest x-ray images, and the full range of forensic technology, to establish the identity of found Marines.

A Little More Owen Info

Here’s a 1942 British Pathé Newsreel clip on the Owen Machine Carbine in testing:

And if you need more information, a thorough Owen source document was distributed to libraries (we think, in Australia) but the post of its contents at Machine Gun Boards stands as an excellent bibliography and list of what we suppose ought to be called Owenalia.

http://www.machinegunboards.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=12765

Roland might have been a warrior from the land of the midnight sun who carried a Thompson into musical memory, but the Owen gave its name to one of the most interesting fictional characters of the new century. For that alone, we’s love the beast, but it has a lot of other qualities that inspire affection, too.