Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

So, How Many CZ Clones Are There?

Short answer — beats us with a stick. And we’ve been studying this for a while. Here is a very preliminary, rough and incomplete hack at the problem in mindmap form. As you can see, there are several ways to look at it: are the guns copies, clones, or inspired? The taxonomy is complex. Even breaking it down by nationality is difficult, as company names come and go.

It all begins with the simple CZ-75…

This looks old, but it’s a limited production CZ-75B Retro. A model that’s not on the mindmap yet, but already discontinued in the CZ-UB catalog.

…but CZ-UB alone has produced a bewildering array of versions and variations. Only some of them are listed on this mindmap, along with only some of the known clones. There are two breakdowns here, both grossly incomplete. The first is by the pistol’s legality (although as I understand it, some “licenses” are disputed). The categories are CZ products, Licensed products, unlicensed “Clones,” and unlicensed and different firearms “inspired” by the CZ-75.

As a rule of thumb, the interchangeability of parts runs in about that order: from full interchangeability to none at all.

Clones existed almost as soon as the CZ became popular, because American trade laws made COMECON (the economic equivalent of the Warsaw Pact) products hard and expensive to import. The Italian Tanfoglio TZ-75 was probably the first common CZ-like pistol most American shooters got to handle; it started as a copy of the CZ with only cosmetic changes (and full interchangeability) but has evolved over the decades into a full line, often offering versions that CZ hadn’t built yet (if they ever built them). Tanfoglio was first with out-of-the-box race guns and with compact carry CZ clones. They went through several US importers; Jim Thompson tells the early clone history in this 1997 Gun Digest article. Tanfoglio also exported parts in white and provided the basis of many a new company’s or nation’s CZ clone line startup.

 

Another way to look at the many CZ clones is by nation of production. (That’s what the blue section of the chart tries to do; it should probably be broken into a separate chart). Even here it gets cloudy, as many of the smaller clone producers are actually using partly completed receivers and other parts from CZ (rarely) or Fratelli Tanfoglio (more often).

A nation can have two competing cloners, one cloning CZs and one the divergent Tanfoglios — Turkey is an example of this. (And yes, it’s not up to date on the chart.)

This came to mind recently with a new CZ clone entering the walled garden of the Russian market. EricB at The FireArm Blog has a good introduction to this CZ clone, which is meant to keep Russians shooting in competition in the face of international sanctions that has starved them of CZs and parts and service. The sanctions-busting pistol, called the SoRatnik, resembles the CZ SP-01 but is wholly made in Russia. The prototype is a nice-looking pistol:

And it’s supposed to be part-by-part compatible with the current CZs. A dissassembled view would seem to confirm that.

North Korea and China also clone the CZ, as well as Israel, Italy, South Africa, Turkey, and others. Even England produced two clones prior to the 1996 UK handgun ban.

We’ll keep adding to the chart, but we have a sinking feeling that new manufacturers will ce coming on line, faster than we can keep track of them!

Plus de Napoleon — Invasion of Russia

The last historical film we presented on Napoleon chronicled his rise, which was built largely on good fortune and pure nerve. Those continued to serve him in good stead, amplifying his self-regard, up until his rather irrational decision to solve Russian backsliding on alliance with him… by invading Russia, in 1812. (With Bonaparte so preoccupied in the East, Britain was able to take a decent shot at turning a war they stumbled into, into a near-run reconquest of America … but that’s another story). This French film (professionally dubbed into rosbif) is a more traditional documentary, with acted scenes separated by low-budget CGI and talking-head historians (both French and Russian ones, who have a somewhat different view). The first half of the video culminates in Napoleon’s pyrrhic victory at Borodino before Moscow. A much weakened Grande Armée then takes up lodgings in an empty Moscow… that is promptly set afire by clandestine incendiaries, sent out by Alexander I. At this point, Napoleon’s plan, to defeat the Russians and impress them into alliance, is absolutely impossible. He persists.

Here’s the second part, in case the first one doesn’t lead in automagically.

It does underestimate the now-proven effect that disease, especially typhus, had on the Grande Armee. Instead, they attribute the devastation of the army to stress and starvation.

Napoleon made several errors here:

  1. He underestimated his opponent;
  2. He underestimated the effect that disease, especially typhus, would have on the Grande Armee; 
  3. He conducted a total war with limited-war aims;
  4. He believed that a single decisive victory would end the war on his terms.
  5. When he took the enemy’s capital, he considered himself the victor, and the campaign over. To his chagrin, the Russians didn’t see it that way.
  6. When it was clear his plan had no hope, he clung grimly to it.
  7. When he finally made the call to retreat from Moscow, he made it far too late for a horse-drawn army — 19 October 1812.

Every one of those errors comes, in our opinion, from his charmed life that began when he made gambles against tall odds, and seemed charmed to win, regardless of those odds. Improbability obeys mathematical laws and cannot continue forever, even if Napoleon hadn’t been stacking the wagers on his gambles ever higher.

The biggest casualty of the ill-considered Russian Campaign may have been Napoleon’s aura of invincibility.

The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte

Here is a fantastic BBC dramatization of the rise of Napoleon as a company and field grade officer. While it’s quite possible to quibble with the historical details and dramatization of the film, and actor Tom Burke looks about as much like Napoleon as he does Shaquille O’Neal, it’s quite well done and a lot of fun. It does bring out several things about Napoleon that made him an effective leader:

  1. His technical proficiency as an artilleryman;
  2. His intellect, the principal power that set him above his peers;
  3. The general incompetence of other French Revolutionary leaders;
  4. His remarkable nerve and audacity, which led him to irrational levels of risk taking; and, finally,
  5. His damnably good luck.

The speech before the Toulon attack is as good as any in fiction — yes, including the hortatory speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V. (We couldn’t determine whether Napoleon ever said such a thing).

It’s interesting to observe the number of times Napoleon was in mortal danger, and survived. Just consider the consequences of being wounded in the 1790s, and yet the Corsican’s robust constitution and impossible luck saved him for greater things.

Was Napoleon brilliant? Or was he a monster? Could he have been both? Regardless, the legend of Napoleon begins with a young artilleryman on his way to not just one but many dates with Destiny.

Enjoy the show!

Understanding CZ Test Targets

In accordance with longstanding European gunmaker custom, CZ ships a test target with its pistols. These seem ridiculously simple, but there are enough people asking about them in online forums that we thought we’d explain them. We usually have a few CZs with boxes and paperwork around the house…

Don’t get too excited, they’re not NIB old stock (well, most of them aren’t). (If you look real close to the right of the CZ-75 box, you can see a current CZ-UB box that almost exactly matches the black background. Adventures in photography). While we don’t have anything from the 70s or earlier represented here, we do have (oldest first):

  1. A CZ vzor 70 in 7.65 mm manufactured during the pistol’s production twilight, in 1980.
  2. A CZ-83 in 7.65 mm manufactured during the pistol’s production startup.
  3. A CZ-75 “Pre-B”, manufactured in 1987, prior to mass importation to the United States;
  4. A CZ-75 P-01, manufactured in 2015, which is typical of current CZ-UB production.

The first three pistols were manufactured during the Cold War era and the P-01 is contemporary. All four were probably scheduled for production with a view to exportation, although both the vz. 70 and the P-01 were also the standard pistols of the national police force, and when this CZ-83 was made, there was some thought that the Verejna Bezpečnost (police) would adopt it order to retain the 7.65 caliber.

It is our understanding that all targets are shot rapidly, from rest, at 25m, although only some targets are labeled with distance; and that Sellier & Bellot ball ammunition is customary.

We’ll now look at the targets in the same order. The targets are of three different types: the vz. 70 has a small polygonal aiming point inside a rectangular target area, the target used by the CZ-75 and -83 has a rectangular aiming point with the center of desired impact on its bottom edge and a circle centered on that point describing the desired impact area, and the P-01 target is a modern digital rendering of the firearm’s performance on an instrumented range.

  1. The vz.70 target is actually labeled vz.50. This makes perfect sense, as the two pistols have only cosmetic differences; most of the running changes in these small police pistols were made during the vz. 50 years. A late vz. 50 is more like a vz. 70 than it is like an early vz. 50. There are six shots on the target, one a flyer to the left. The legend at top reads: PISTOL 7.65 MODEL 50 and PISTOL NUMBER 652090. The legend on the bottom reads DATE: 29 Dec 1980; SHOOTER: Zemek (with two partial, illegible rubber stamps, one circular and one a signature), and OTK with a rubber stamp which may be the “kissing lips” we discuss below. We would welcome any insight to the meaning of the acronym OTK, but suspect it’s some type of inspector.
  2. The CZ-83 target is a CZ-75 target with the -75 legend scratched out with black ink, and a CZ-83 legend rubber-stamped in place. Whether a specific target was developed for the CZ-82/83 series is unknown; it’s possible, as this pistol has a four-digit serial number flagging it as first year production. The CZ-75 would have been the main export product of the Uhersky Brod plant when the -83 was introduced, and these targets would have been in daily use. On this target, the pre-printed CZ-75 lines (which you can read on the next target) are inked out, and a rubber stamp says Pistol čz model 83 caliber 7.65 mm. Below the inked-out CZ-75 lettering is Distance 25 m, and to the right is Pistol Number 002846. The legend on the bottom reads Date (blank) Shooter (stamp looks like JBICHR [?]), and OŘJ with a stamp we call the “kissing lips” but appears on magnification to be a blurred-out stamp that once had numbers or characters within it. It seems logical that OŘJ also refers to some inspector or inspection title, but again we do not know the Czech acronym.
  3. The target with the 1987-production CZ-75 (pre-B, which dates to 1992) is the same basic one used for the CZ-83 above, obviously without the CZ-83 adaptations. The legend inked out in the -83 target is seen to read PISTOL ČZ Model 75, Caliber 9 mm Parabellum, and the SHOOTER stamp at bottom center reads FICE[?]NC. The OŘJ stamp can be seen to be a circle with illegible characters inside (we liked it better when we thought it was kissing lips! From Moravia with love!). Seven shots appear to have hit this target, unlike the six of the two earlier ones. It is possible that this target is more “weathered” than the older CZ-83 target because the gun reached its end buyer in 1987, while the CZ-83 remained in one warehouse or another until 2017.
  4. The P-01 is a modern computerized target that depicts the fall of the shots graphically on an ordinary sheet of A4 computer paper, and contains a great deal more information than the old targets. There is no point in translating any of the Czech, as CZ-UB has helpfully done it for us. This target represents the impact of five shots by white circles. The blackened circle is the calculated center of the group.

That the new targets are labeled in English as well as Czech is a nod to CZ’s export focus these days; printing them on an ordinary A4 sheet of computer paper and generating them by computer saves time and money at a busy factory, yet gives buyers confidence that their firearm has been tested and worked. (Europeans still have to proof-test their firearms, but we suspect many American firearms leave factories without every cycling a live round).

The Cold War era targets are (sparsely) labeled in Czech only, and are printed on extremely coarse and flimsy Warsaw Pact era paper, which has, as you can see here, yellowed to one degree or other with age. They do have a certain character. If we didn’t want to keep these in the boxes the firearms came in, we might just frame them. How much of the dirt, oil etc. on these fairly dirty targets came from the range and how much from the intervening decades of handling is anyone’s guess.

All targets are serial numbered to the guns, usually with blue ballpoint ink, and have a space for the technician who fired the gun to stamp his name and the date. Both of these stamps are seldom present, but the serial number has always been.

One open question is whether targets like these were furnished with domestic police and military firearms. Our tentative hypothesis is that they were not; instead, the military (etc) acceptance stamp went on when the ordnance officer was satisfied, and there was no point in retaining a target beyond that. None of the CZs we have with Czech military or police acceptance marks came with targets, but all were used (most, well-used) when we acquired them.

Update

We thought that we’d add this: if you’re lucky enough to have a date stamp on your CZ test target, the month will be abbreviated in Czech. Here is a table of the Czech months and the standard abbreviations for those months, which CZ used on its stamps.

Czech Months

English month Česky (Czech) ČZ Abbreviation
January leden led.
February únor ún.
March březen břez.
April duben dub.
May květen květ.
June červen červ.
July červenec červen.
August srpen srp.
September září zář.
October říjen říj.
November listopad list.
December prosinec pros.

Watch out for June and July!

Vintage Armored Cars (1912-80 or so)

There’s an interesting if disjointed (and sometime wrongly-captioned) photo essay on armored cars at this link:

[W]e take a look at the many different types of armoured cars that have appeared over the last one hundred years.

via Dark Roasted Blend: Impressive Vintage Armoured Cars.

The armored wheeled vehicles range from the First World War’s Bristols and Rolls-Royces, up through the Russian Civil War’s Austin-Putilov…

…and many peculiar armored reconnaissance and scout vehicles of the interwar years, World War II, and the Cold War. Heavy on Russian stuff. There’s even a shot of Stalin’s own ZIS armored limousine, which looks like a Packard for the simple reason that the financially strapped Packard firm sold the USSR a lot of the tooling.

The wartime German types, which survived at very low rates, are underrepresented, but a lot of the interwar and Spanish Civil War Soviet types are depicted, as is the wartime the BA-64, which always makes us think (1) for an armored car, that’s cute as kittens, and (2) what a horrible place to die! It had angled armor, like the contemporary German designs.

Most of these things had 12-15 mm of armor (half to three-quarters of an inch) and were barely proof against small arms and artillery wide misses. (Even against those minor battlefield threats, the pneumatic tires were vulnerable to an easy mobility kill).

An example of the kinds of subtle errors in the photo essay is its description of this early postwar Czech armored car, the Škoda PA-II “Želva”:

The post says this of it:

We’ll start with perhaps the most interesting – a streamlined armored car: “Built by Skoda in 1923 and armed with 4 Maxim MGs, this Zelva served with the Czechoslovak police, and weighed more than 7 tons”:

Actually they missed its most interesting feature, one which fascinated the Germans: it had two driver’s stations and was equally at home going either way. They also called the MGs wrong, in our humble opinion. The image on the left seems to show the characteristic long flash hider and short water jacket of the Austrian-designed Schwarzlose, a mechanically unique gun that was used by the Czechoslovak Republic for some years after independence (they even developed improvments over the wartime gun). And indeed, a better reference on the Želva online spills important details: only 12 were made, the armor peaked at under a quarter-inch, and the Czechoslovak Army rejected them… and, oh yeah, the armament was 4 each, 7.92 mm Schwarzlose vz. 07/24 machine guns. The Germans took them over and used them as radio vehicles during the war. None are believed to survive.

More on the Czech/German AT Rifle

Our recent auction post reminds us that (1) we have to come up with some better way of flagging more interesting auctions and (2), and more to the point of this post, that there’s a lot of interest and misconceptions about the Czech-German AT rifle featured at one upcoming auction.

First, this 2015 post here has some background on rifle-caliber-yuuuge-case AT rifles, like the German and Polish variants, and their rounds. (This archived external page also covers the round). The Germans chambered this rifle in their standard wartime 7.92 x 94 mm P318 round, which was used in the standard German PzB 38 and 39 AT rifles. The round was capable of 4,000-plus fps from a long barrel and the most common ammo was a tungsten-cored kinetic penetrator. P.O. Ackley, eat your heart out. Barrel life was pretty short, but if you’re going to shoot a rifle at tanks, it’s not the life of the barrel that should be worrying you.

(The Russian site that cartridge picture is from appears to be down now, unfortunately).

Those rifles operated by a dropping block, like an artillery piece (or early breechloader), and their principal mechanical difference was that the PzB 39 was manually operated, replacing the “semi-automatic” (in artillery terms) automatic opening and ejecting of the PzB 38.

The Czech rifle used completely different principles, and as proposed for Czech service a different cartridge.

In fact, the Czechoslovak Army experimented with a variety of anti-tank rifles in the 1930s, as part of a campaign to improve AT defenses overall. Many Czechoslovak officers put their faith in conventional anti-tank artillery, but others pursued the AT rifle. Many versions were tested including Josef Koucky’s’ ZK 382, a bullpup repeater which fired a unique 7.92 x 145 mm round, further ZK single-shots ZK 395 (12 mm x ?) and ZK 405 (7.92 x ?), the ZK406 repeater and 407 self-loader the “Brno W,” the Janeček  9/7 and 15/11 mm Gerlach-principle squeeze bore, and several 15mm designs, including vz. 41 single shots, and a bolt-action magazine repeater which was supplied to Italy (in only 15 units) and possibly Croatia. The 15mm guns used an AP version of the 15 x 104 mm round used in the Czechoslovak vz. 60 heavy MG, produced primarily by the British under ZB license as the 15mm BESA. The Czech engineers then reworked into the vz 41 in 7.92 x 94 for the occupiers, specifically, for the SS.

During all this experimentation, Czechoslovakia was dismembered and its Czech provinces occupied. The best was the enemy of the good; nearly a decade of experimentation in AT rifles wound up yielding absolutely nothing for the Czechoslovak Army. (It was a moot point, perhaps, as despite its strengths in tanks and artillery, there was no resistance to the Nazi occupation.

Most of the elite of the Czech arms design industry worked on these rifles at one time or another. Vacláv and Emanuel Holek worked with Koucky at Zbrojovka Brno; Jiri Kyncl worked with Janeček.

By the time the SS received their rifles, they were already hopelessly outclassed by improved armor, and among Speer’s actions in his attempt to rationalize the chaos of the German and occupied territories’ arms industry was to discontinue production of the 7.92 x 94 Type 318 ammunition.

The M.PzB.SS.41 was supplied in a wooden transfer and storage crate containing the rifle, two spare barrels, and four magazine boxes containing five magazines each. There were some variations in minor features (bipod, muzzle brake) during production. Of some variants, only photographs or documents survive. We have found no reports of combat effectiveness.

All of these AT rifles are rare today, the German guns existing in single-digit quantities (the mass-produced PzB 39s were recalled during the war and converted to grenade launchers, the GrB 39).

Sources

  • Dolínek et al. Czech Firearms and Ammunition: History and Present. Prague: Radix, 1995.
  • Hoffschmidt, E.J. Know Your Anti-Tank Rifles.  Stamford, CT: Blacksmith Publishing, 1977. (A .pdf of the chapter of this out-of-print book on this rifle is attached: MPZB41 comp.pdf)
  • Šada, Dr. Col. Miroslav. Československé Ruční Palné Zbrane a Kulomety. Prague: Naše Vojsko, 2004. (pp. 139-142, 197-198).

Update

Well, this is embarrassing. Never hit “schedule” or “publish” on this one. -Nose

Too Busy To Write, Here’s Sumdood’s Video (Ian on Colt)

Here’s Ian of Forgotten Weapons with a capsule history of Colt, currently holding down the title of the Most Mismanaged Company in the Gun Racket. Seemed timely, with Colt having purged the Custom Shop lately, in an overall downturn in the industry that has seen Remington lay off a couple of hundred employees, mostly factory workers in Ilion, New York, but also including a senior executive bloodletting. Can more drama for Colt be right around the corner?

Some day, B-School students will study the machinations of the last few rounds of Colt owners… if the guys studying them aren’t law students doing a block on white-collar crime.

But through all that, the company has made some fantastic guns. As the current owners seem intent on demonstrating, there’s a lot of ruin in a great marque.

You can find Ian’s videos on YouTube, but the quality of the videos is better, and the advertisers pay him better, on Full30.com. You do want him to get paid, right? Any time there’s nothing happening here, go to Full30 and watch some of his videos. He needs the money!

“Rifle of Tomorrow,” As Seen Yesterday (1982)

There’s always a market for prediction about the future, and they’re always hostages to fate. So, today, we’ll open a time capsule from 1982 (specifically, from the November-December issue of the US Army’s branch magazine, Infantry, as seen at right) and see how whether one officer’s prediction panned out — or whether it just panned. Subject of prediction, or perhaps more honestly, subject of advocacy: a new rifle for the Army in the last quarter of the 20th Century.

The officer in question was a Texas Army National Guard officer named Noyes Burton Livingston III, about whom we know only that he’s still alive, was married at least three times (triumph of hope over repeated experience, or maybe he went SF), and is well-remembered as a writer for Iron Horse, a motorcycle magazine.

The United States infantryman has fought on many battlefields over the years, always doing his best on each with whatever rifle he happened to have at the time. And his potential battlefield continues to change and expand.

Through the use of thermal energy, ground surveillance radar, night vision devices, and intrusion warning systems, detection and engagement ranges are increasing in distance but decreasing in time. As a result, the U.S. infantryman will no doubt eventually get a new rifle to carry into battle — and he will need it.

So far, so good. Not a bad prediction for 1982. Indeed, the observation that “detection and engagement ranges are increasing in distance but decreasing in time,” for the grand European battle that the Army of 1982 was fixated upon, was a keen insight.

His present rifle, the M 16A1, is a good weapon. It is well made, lightweight, and accurate at battlefield ranges. It is handy to shoot, and it disassembles easily. In fact, it is almost everything a marksman or a service support soldier could ask for. Unfortunately, though, it is not designed to fill the basic requirements of the soldier who has to stake his life on it, the infantryman. So we need to begin thinking now about what kind of rifle we would like to have to replace it. We must not leave it to chance, as we have sometimes done in the past.

Of course, at that time the Army and Marines were both experimenting with new rifles, a project that would lead in less than a year to USMC and later Army adoption of the M16A2. But Livingston had no way to know that at the time.

No matter how much warfare changes, though, the infantryman’s war will still be brutal and intimate, and his rifle must be designed with that in mind. He must also believe in its capabilities and should be encouraged to use it. Besides shooting rapidly and accurately every time it is called on, an infantryman’s rifle must be able to double as a club, a spear, or a crutch. It may also have to help make a litter, form part of a hasty ladder, or scoop out a hurried fighting position. In short, it must function when everything else has failed.

That seems to sum up his requirements, and as you see, he’s putting a lot of weight on non-rifle functionality. Now he gets into specifics:

How should an infantry rifle be made to meet these high expectations? First of all, it cannot I;le encumbered with a carrying handle. We have all seen the classic example of a soldier running in training, one hand on his helmet and the other clutching his MI6 by the carrying handle, like a commuter with his lunch pail chasing a departing bus.. The handle makes the weapon easy to carry, but not easy to fire quickly.

A rifle must be built to fit naturally in a carry that lends itself to an attitude and position of readiness. The firing hand must grasp the small of the stock near the trigger, and the off hand must grab it slightly forward of its center of balance. A soldier should have to move only one hand to point and fire his weapon, not both.

He’s missing the main purpose of the “carrying handle,” which is not, mirabile dictu, to carry the firearm. It’s there to provide a home for the rear site that works with anthropometric dimensions and the desire to provide a straight-line stock.

Initial Armalite military rifle designs had ordinary drop-heel stocks, but then evolved into the straight-line stock, and the first model of what would become the AR-10 provided a front sight on a Johnson-inspired triangular base and a rear sight on an FG-42-like folding stalk. Here’s the 1944 Johnson for comparison.

The “carrying handle” was an attempt to make a virtue out of the necessity of making a more rigid rear sight base.

We ought to mention that at this particular point in time, the Army’s culture, and particularly Ranger and Infantry culture, was absolute death on slings. Why? Well, slings encourage the soldier to carry the rifle some way other than at the ready.

Of course, this fixation on ready carry suggests that every soldier is always and everywhere mere moments from a small arms engagement, and at that, so few mere moments that he would not have time to change his grip on his gun.

It also assumes that a soldier would be so suicidally stupid as to not carry the gun at the ready whilst in the presence of the enemy. But then, Infantry is primarily written and read by officers, who are aware that enlisted men are stupid, but sly and cunning, and bear considerable watching.

Likewise, while a pistol grip may be necessary for a light machinegun, it is a liability on a rifle. Given a rifle with a pistol grip, a soldier cannot drop to the ground into the prone position without removing one hand from his weapon to break his fall. If he does not use the pistol grip, but holds onto the stock to let the butt of the rifle strike the ground instead, he must release his hold before he can reach the grip and shoot. The same soldier cannot cease firing and jump up to rush forward without removing his firing hand completely from his weapon to grab the stock and push off with it. It is extremely difficult to hold onto a pistol grip and get up another way.

Once up and running, this soldier cannot fire his remaining rounds and then lunge effectively at his opponent with his bayonet, or follow up with a butt stroke, without completely losing hold of his rifle with his strongest hand. Although bayonet fighting may be a relatively small thing,when it is all an infantryman has left, it is everything, and close combat is no place for changing hands or coming in second best.

OK, he’s really stressing the heck out of the non-rifle applications of rifles, isn’t he? But we’d suppose he would argue that you can make a better club and halberd out of a rifle without compromising its rifle functionality. His rifle now looks like this:

Let’s get a little deeper into his conceptual design.

TECHNIQUES

A pistol grip also discourages the use of several important shooting techniques. With such a grip, a soldier’s arm follows the angle of his firing hand when he is holding onto his rifle, causing his elbow to press against the side of his body while he fires. This eliminates the shoulder pocket that the weapon’s butt is supposed to fit into to lessen the effect of recoil, steady the weapon, and keep it from slipping off his shoulder. Without a good shoulder pocket, it is hard for a soldier to maintain a firm stock weld with his cheek, to make his head move with the rifle as it recoils, and to keep his eye aligned with the sights.

A rifle should have a semi-pistol grip to improve marksmanship and to allow the soldier to hold it while running, leaping, and crawling and still have his firing hand in position to pull the trigger. It should also have a semi-straightline stock with a raised comb. The gas cylinder and operating rod should be above the barrel to reduce muzzle climb when the rifle is fired. Because the small of the stock would drop to form the semi-pistol grip, the rifle cannot have a buffer behind the receiver as the MI6 does. There are many existing weapon designs, such as the FN-FAL, the AK, the AR18, the SiG 540, and the Valmet M62, that can be modified to fit a traditional rifle stock.

In a rifle of this type, there would be no gas tube — as in the MI6 — to blow contaminants into the rifle’s action or gas and excess lubricant into the firer’s eyes. The bolt would lock fully until it was withdrawn by the operating mechanism, instead of using a delayed blowback principle, so varying qualities of ammunition could be used.

Actually, if you want to use a wide range of ammo pressures (because the pressure is what the gun “feels”, and what influences the gun), it’s hard to beat the HK roller-delayed system. Blowback and gas-unlocked systems both have narrower ranges of impulses that they can tolerate — at least, as far as they’ve been designed so far.

The barrel would be heavy enough to support a bayonet, and its bore and chamber would be chrome-plated to resist corrosion and wear.

The rifle would share many of the beneficial features of the M16 and its contemporaries. The receiver would be split into an upper and lower group held together by takedown and pivot pins. This would allow placing the rear sight at the back of the receiver, instead of at the front, by doing away with a bolt cover like the one found on the AK. This placement would permit using a rear sight aperture and a longer sight radius.

The lower receiver group would incorporate a sturdy integral magazine well and a winter trigger guard that would swing forward against the magazine when released. It would accept MI6 aluminum or nylon magazines and would have all the weapon’s controls accessible from the firing position. The selector lever would be manipulated with the firing hand thumb, and the magazine catch button would be worked by the trigger finger. The bolt catch would be released by the thumb of the loading hand after a loaded magazine was inserted.

When the firer pulled back on the charging handle to lock the bolt to the rear, the bolt catch would be engaged with the firing hand thumb.

That would actually be an ergonomic improvement on the AR-15’s generally excellent ergs, would it not?

EJECTION

The upper receiver would have a covered ejection port on its right side and a charging handle fixed to the bolt carrier on its left. There would be no bolt forward assist on the receiver as the charging handle could be pushed forward to close the bolt. Placing the charging handle on the left side would allow the action to be cycled from a firing position without the firer moving his firing hand or the weapon, as must be done with the MI4 or MI6. The charging handle would be at the left front of the receiver where it would not strike the non-firing hand. Its motion would be hidden from the firer’s view by its speed and by the rear sight’s elevation drum, which would also be on the left.

The rifle would be a little longer and slightly heavier than the MI6. It should fire at a moderate cyclic rate from the closed bolt position with the bolt remaining open after the last round was ejected. Automatic fire should be limited by a 3- or 4-round burst control mechanism. It would have a concave recoil pad to hold it in place during automatic fire, and it would accept an MI6 clothespin bipod.

Heh. We see the 1980s fad of the burst control raising its ugly head. Bad substitution for training troops. The military has finally, if not completely, killed this bad idea 35 years later. Bring more fire, lest it respawn.

The new rifle’s flash suppressor, sling swivels, bayonet, bayonet—stud, and front sight assembly would be the same as those on the MI6. Its rear sight would be similar to the one on the MI4. The fiberglass stock would be made like the MI6’s, and the easily gripped triangular handguards would be held on with a slipring in the same way. The stock should not be constructed to fold or collapse because that feature would make it less rigid. In addition to the standard 20- and 30-round MI6 magazines, a short magazine that fits flush with the bottom of the magazine well should be issued for civil disturbance and ceremonial duties.

A couple of interesting ideas there, including the need for robustness of the stock. But then again, he sees it as primarily a club with a sideline in shooting, so why not? The flush magazine, delete the useless 3-round-burst, and it would even be NY/CA legal! (They’d surely find some way to ban it).

Many excellent weapons made by friendly nations, and some by not so friendly ones, are available that we can examine and test during the process of developing our own rifle. It is important to keep in mind that our rifleman does not need the most sophisticated design possible, one such as the Austrian STG 77, the French MAS, or the Swedish MKS, but he does deserve an infantry weapon that fits the conditions under which he must fight.

He makes an interesting point. In the M16A2 tests no foreign weapon was seriously compared or tested. Indeed, no systematic survey of the field has been made before any recent American small arms procurement decision.

This proposed rifle is offered to support, not replace, the squad and platoon automatic weapons. It would first serve the rifleman with aimed semiautomatic or limited burst fire, Its adoption would result from the recognition that infantry combat is more than a “mad minute” fought by individuals. An updated yet traditional rifle would reaffirm the infantryman’s role and signal a return to the tactics of soldiers fighting together. Fire superiority would become the product of superior fire by the unit, not random fire by its members.

If we begin now to plan for the rifle of the future, perhaps when the time comes for a quick decision on a replacement for our present rifle, we will have the right one waiting in the wings.

M16A1 (top) and M16A2

Well, we got the M16A2 at the time, so make of that what you will.

Sources

You can download the Army Infantry magazine for Nov-Dec 82 here, or see the archive as a whole here. However, that version is pdf image only. We have an OCRd copy of the Nov-Dec 82 issue here: NOV-DEC1982.pdf

Arms of the Roman Legionary, 400 AD

All modern armies owe something to the Legions of Ancient Rome. A fascinating book, The Last Legionary by Paul Elliott, describes, as its subtitle suggests, Life as a Roman Soldier in Britain, AD 400. 

The book combines, in the style of Christopher Matthew’s A Storm of Spears (on the Greek hoplite at war; only $1.26 at that link; previously mentioned here in comments and here), the disciplines of history, material archaeology, and “experiential archaeology” as practiced by reenactors. Where The Last Legionary is different is that its facts about the Roman military’s last years in Roman Britannia are woven into the story of an simple soldier, we guess you could say an ordinary Gaius. Gaius was born in 362 to a Roman legionary, Maritius, and his wife, and on reaching his majority was compelled to join up under the edict of Diocletian, which committed sons to their fathers’ professions. Some youths dodged the draft by cutting their thumbs off, which was discouraged initially by burning the draft dodgers and later by drafting them anyway.

Gaius was no draft dodger, and accepted his fate. He swore an oath (to Christ and the Emperor) to serve, and if need be, die for the Roman Empire. Training was harsh and hardening, including formation drill, fast marches, position and fortification construction, and plenty of physical training.

Of most interest to our readers is probably the weaponry on which Gaius was expected to gain proficiency. While the Roman Legion of Caesar’s day fought primarily close-in with spear and short sword, by the fourth century projectiles were a major part of combat. To be a properly cross-trained legionary, Gaius would have to learn to master the sling, the recurve bow, the plumbata dart, three kinds of javelin, the crossbow ,and the barbarians’ own throwing axe, as well as the classical sword, shield and spear of centuries before. Indeed, missile weapons training usually began before close-in weapons training.

Late Roman Missile Weapons

The sling was a leather or woven cup with a cord proceeding from two corners. One cord is looped around the index finger, that’s the standing end of the sling; the other is tied in a knot, which is the running end, and the slinger releases it to launch the projectile — a stone, or a lead ball — but accuracy is hard to achieve, the author has learned. Roman sources suggest a single whip round, and setting the practice targets at — wait for it — 180 meters, same as for bows. Elliott has been unable to achieve this range, with the regular sling or using one with the cords proceeding form a stick.

The recurve bow came to the Roman army from encounters with Eastern enemies so armed. Mostly these were the tribes of the East; for centuries the Romans had trouble with Scythians and Parthians, among others.

The Romans adopted the recurve bow after seeing its effect first hand, and while it only bought them parity in the East, in the West it gave them technological superiority to the “self-bow” of the Gauls and Germans.

Often the ends or “ears” of the bow was strengthened with bone laths, and the body of the bow was carefully covered with leather to protect it from moisture. Wet conditions could ruin a recurve bow, as could misuse. Leaving the bow stringed and ready for action ruins the springiness of the bow and reduces its power. Unlike the sling, specialist craftsmen were needed to make these complex weapons.

The bowstring was drawn differently in units raised and trained in the eastern and western units. Western-trained archers shot using the fingers of their strong hand; Eastern-trained archers used a thumb ring. While archers could fire at individual targets, they were often used in volley fire.

The plumbata was a recent (~4th Century) addition to the Roman grunt’s panoply. It was a lead-weighted dart, shorter than an arrow, that could be thrown by hand or launched — as far as 100 m! —  with a sling or throwing stick.

Reconstructed plumbatae. Source.

Testa by the historical research group, Comitatus, have  found that an underhand throw was by far the best method.The plumbatae can reach an impressive distance, easily exceeding 60 m, and come down vertically directly onto the heads and shoulders of the enemy.

This is a different re-enactor group throwing plumbatae. From Roman-Artifacts.com.

Another Roman name for the plumbata was the “Barb of Mars.”

Surviving plumbata head. Source.

Romans used several types of javelins, known by the names pilum, spiculum, and verutum, but while these were nominally throwing weapons, they were hard to throw accurately or any distance.

Two weapons of secondary importance were the throwing axe, adopted from some of the northern Germanic tribes, and the crossbow, which was probably developed by scaling down a siege engine, but was rather new at the time. (Elliott cites sources that make it clear that the late Roman Empire deployed this weapon, which he points out that most people associate with medieval warfare. There was more continuity between antiquity and modernity than “dark ages” historiography suggests).

Late Roman Close Combat Weapons

The two basic combat weapons of antiquity were the sword and the spear. Technology had not stood still, and the soldier who fought blue-painted Britons in Roman Britain wasn’t armed quite like his ancestor in Caesar’s legions had been.

The sword was the spatha, a longer (~700mm) sword than the classic gladius of Caesar’s age. It was originally a weapon for cavalry.

Third Century spatha. Source.

Spatha were not crude mass-produced weapons, they were carefully wrought swords, often with pattern-welded blades. These blades were formed from several iron bars, all of different carbon content, that would twisted into a screw shape and then hammered and folded repeatedly. To this strong, yet flexible, core, hardened steel cutting edges were welded. The blades are strong and beautiful, with long straight sides and sharp points. The hilts and pommels were crafted from wood, horn or bone – all organic materials. In earlier centuries, the legionary sword hung on the soldier’s right side, but in the fourth century, soldiers wore their swords on the left, traditionally the preserve of centurions and senior officers.

In man to man combat the sword was used to stab into the body of a foe, but when engaging a shielded target the long spatha could be used to reach over the Shield to strike the head or neck, the shoulders, the sword arm, or the left leg….

If the spatha was the 400 AD legionary’s offensive weapon, his tactical defensive weapon was the spear. Spears had seen a lot less technological change in the preceding 400 years, but that’s for the best of reasons: they were quite well evolved already. A single spearman on the battlefield would have been vulnerable to being flanked and defeated by more agile foes, but no army — certainly not the Romans! — fights as individuals. Attacking a unit of spear-armed Romans was a mortal-consequences game of Slap The Porcupine. Wise enemies didn’t try, and unwise ones died or wised up PDQ.

The Roman shield, on the other hand, had changed since Caesar’s day. Caesar’s legions carried a rectangular shield, that in overhead plan view had an arc to it. The late Empire infantryman had a round shield, which worked better with the long spatha.

The infantryman of 400 AD had a great many weapons to master, along with all the other soldier skills of the day. And we enjoyed learning about his training, combat, and life in general, in The Last Legionary. 

Colonel Cross in the State House

This splendidly-hirsute fellow is the late (very late) Colonel Edward E. Cross, valiant commander of the 5th New Hampshire in the War Between the States. (That “valiant” is not ironic; the guy led from the front, with predictable consequences).

His portrait hangs in the State House, where members of the nation’s largest state legislature and their staffers see it every day the Legislature is in session (which is too many damned days, but that’s another story). Colonel Cross was just a figure mentioned in passing to us, until we received the following in a political newsletter.

If you ever walk the hallway near the south stairwell you’ll likely notice a number of portraits of individuals from the Civil War. Among those immortalized on the wall is Col. Edward E. Cross of Lancaster, NH whose portrait is located right outside of SH 103. Before joining the army Col.Cross was a reporter for the Coos Democrat, the Cincinnati Times and even started one of the first papers in the Territory of Arizona.

Col. Cross served as the commander of the 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Regiment for three years during the Civil War. Under his command the NH “Fightin’ 5th” served with distinction in battle at Fair Oaks, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. The 5th NH Vols. were always “first to fight” and earned the unfortunate distinction of losing more soldiers in battle than any other regiment.

Not a distinction that was much sought after, we’re thinking. And we’re not going to explore too deeply what that might have to say about the leadership of Colonel Edward Cross of the Fightin’ 5th.

It was during the battle at Fredericksburg that an artillery shell “burst in front of Col. Cross, and he fell, apparently lifeless”. Col. Cross was escorted off the battlefield and later recovered in an army hospital. To commend him for his bravery the men of his unit purchased him a sword and pair of spurs from Tiffany’s in New York.

Col. Cross returned to command the NH 5th Volunteer Regiment during the Battle of Gettysburg where he was mortally wounded on July 2, 1863. Just before the fighting he reportedly yelled to Confederate General Winfield Scott “this is my last battle” as if he knew what was to come of his fate.

Something doesn’t make sense here. Winfield Scott was a Union General, the elderly hero of 1812 and the Mexican War whom Lincoln sacked in 1861 and replaced with McClellan; he wasn’t at Gettysburg. There was a Confederate general named Winfield Scott Featherston, but he doesn’t seem to have been at Gettysburg, either. But that’s what our source (not online) says.

The “my last battle,” thing, though. Uh-oh. Sounds like foreshadowing, doesn’t it?

The sword and spurs on display here at the State House are the very set that was purchased for Colonel Cross by his unit unfortunately, he was killed at Gettysburg before they could be presented to him. Next time you find yourself by the south stairwell take pause to look at the portrait of Col. Cross and read more about the life of this incredible Granite Stater.

Now, you may never find yourself by the south stairwell in the State House in Concord, New Hampshire. Why would you?

But now you know a little something about Colonel Cross. And aren’t you glad you did?