Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

Thing From the Vault: Pinfire 9mm Double Pistol; Worst Trigger Ever

In this Thing From the Vault, we have a double pistol gifted to us recently by a friend. It is a 9mm  pinfire of uncertain European (Belgian, perhaps?) make. It’s an oddity with a number of screwball design features; maybe it was French, because it has some of the sorts of quirks our long-departed Citroën had. Wait… it is Spanish, we just figured that out, and we’ll tell you why. First, a picture. (All pictures here do embiggen).


The pistol is furnished with a carved walnut grip and is finished in the white. We’ll give you a quick walk-around, starting from the hammers and proceeding clockwise. There are two single-action hammers, each with a full cock and a half-cock position. The hammers are serrated at the top of the spurs. The retractable triggers only extend at full cock; with the hammers at half-cock or at rest, they are approximately flush with the bottom of the pistol.


pinfire_pistol_3Forward of the hammers, atop the barrels, is the sight, a simple notch; there s no front sight. The sight slides and forms the safety (we’ll show you later how this works). The barrels are octagonal in section and 9mm in caliber. Beneath the barrel, the pivot screw, pivot spring and locking block are evident.

pinfire_pistol_6The main lock of the pistol shows trigger and hammer pins, and is curiously cross-hatched.

The grip is rather crudely formed to fit the decorative shape of a steel grip cap with lanyard ring.

The right barrel bears black-powder proofs from Eibar, Spain in the 19th Century.


The markings on the right side are Xº1 9,9 [an Eibar proof crest with antlers] [an Ebar black powder proof with three non-interlocking rings] and the strength of the proof, 700 Kgs (Kilograms/square centimeter pressure). The markings on the left side of the barrels are a serial number, 05435; what may be 2.2 in a lozenge shape; and CAL. 9.



The pistol must be half-cocked to be opened. With the hammers on half-cock, pushing the locking bolt from right towards left allows the barrels to be opened. No extraction is provided; the pins in the cartridges can be used for that.

Pinfire  was an early cartridge system that was quickly made obsolete by the rim- and later center-fire cartridges. There’s actually a lot to say about early cartridges (including a great three-volume work by George A. Hoyem). Pinfire allowed self-contained, more or less hermetically sealed, metallic cartridges, but they had to be inserted so that the pins fit into the slots in the barrel. The pin was like a little firing pin built into the cartridge, and activating an internal priming compound set against the inside of the cartridge case. It sure beat muzzleloading and paper and linen cartridges, but the popularity of the rimfire after 1850 consigned pinfire to the history books — and the Vault. By 1900, pinfire was a dead concept, but cartridges were made for existing firearms as late as World War II. A few die-hard enthusiasts remanufacture and reload pinfire cartridges today.

For more, including a look at the primitive safety, click on the link below.

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A Reproduction of a Vanishingly Rare SEAL Weapon

Up for sale on GunBroker (by a friend of the blog, actually) is an extremely rare Destructive Device. How rare it is, is a bit hard to pin down; there were 6, or 12, or 20, or maybe as many as 50 made, and then all or nearly all of them went to Vietnam for combat testing, and not many came back. This is what an original looks like:


We know of one at the SEAL/UDT Museum at Ft Pierce, FL, and one in an in-house display at NSWC Crane (not open to the public). Our friend examined one in the War Remnants Museum (formerly the “War Crimes Museum”) in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and one at the Washington Navy Yard, which was the basis for this accurate reproduction. The weapon in question is a SEAL-specific pump-action 40mm Grenade Launcher. Here’s the repro, sans barrel.



From the dawn of the M79, the troops wanted a multiple-shot version. The Army, though, was deep in the rabbit hole of the ill-conceived Special Purpose Infantry Weapon program and was so determined to schedule the small arms revolution, they were not interested in something so mundane as the next logical improvement of the 40mm low-pressure grenade launcher. So it was left to the SEALs to find Navy resources to make them a short run of launchers, and they did. (Some sources, like the Firearms Information File, Nazarian, and World Guns, call this, mistakenly, the EX-41, which was a different and later development. This launcher had no known name. Here’s a close-up of the action:


The launcher was built with design elements lifted from pump-action shotguns, and parts, where possible, lifted from existing weapons like the M79. The ladder sight will be familiar to anyone who’s shot the 79, china-lake-launcher-13…and it looks like there’s provision for a peep sight as well, with a guarded front sight.

china-lake-launcher-2Loading is through a trap in the bottom;

china-lake-launcher-8…the tubular magazine (which holds 3 rounds, on top of the one chambered) rides below the barrel (file photo of real China Lake launcher); china-lake-02…the stock, trigger and trigger guard all look inherited or modified from the 79, and the safety is the same tang safety (with too-sharp edges!) as the 79. china-lake-launcher-6The serials on the originals were located on the tang adjacent to the safety (original below).

china-lake-sn-002Its singular biggest weakness was that it could not feed long or odd-shaped rounds that had been developed for single-shot launchers, but it worked fine with ordinary HE and HEDP rounds. (and on the plus side, it also can’t feed high-pressure 40mm aircraft and Mk19 rounds, which is a good thing. Think kB!). From the listing:

“China Lake Pump” 40mm Grenade Launcher as used by the US Navy SEAL’s in Vietnam. A very small number of these were handmade in the machine shop at China Lake Naval Weapons Station and sent to Vietnam. Only 4 originals are KNOWN to exist, I have personally examined serial number 013 in the War Remnants Museum in Saigon. (HCMC) This is an exact replica of the originals, made from blueprints generated at great effort from the example in the Washington Navy Yard Museum, and brand new/never fired. There are only a handful of these hand built replica’s as well, one of them being owned by Kevin Dockery, the author of “Weapons of the US Navy SEAL’s”. It can be viewed in operation on Youtube by searching “China Lake Pump”. This is a rare bird by any standard.

This one has been built as a Title 1 firearm, so that one could finish it with a 37mm launcher barrel and keep it that way if so inclined. Most buyers will probably want the full-house 40mm version, and so it will transfer as Title 1, and, if if the buyer completes Form 1 with the ATF, a 40mm barrel will then be delivered to you to complete the launcher. (As it’s not presently registered as a Destructive Device, that’s how you have to do it).

This example is currently a Title 1 firearm, same as any rifle/pistol/shotgun, and will transfer as such to your FFL dealer in the same way. After receiving it you would then file a Form 1 with ATF to manufacture it as a Destructive Device. Upon receiving your approved Form 1 from ATF and providing a copy to me, the barrel and rear sight (see pic) which is in the custody of an affiliated FFL dealer, out of my possession and control, will be shipped to you free of charge. This may be your last chance to own one of these, if HRC wins the election, it is completely possible that she could issue an Executive Order to ATF not to accept further applications to make/register DD’s. If your Form 1 is in the system before that though…

It is missing one essential ingredient, a bayonet lug. But that’s the original design. (And where would you put it?)


It’s expensive. Starting bid of $9,500 with a B-I-N of $14,500. But hey, Hollywood, you know Matt Damon needs to wield this in his next action movie, in between appearances talking about how icky guns are. And you Hollywood guys can afford it: you have more money than the God you don’t believe in.


There’s a guy out there who reverse-engineered this to make an updated version. No idea if his work is involved in this particular weapon for sale, but it’s interesting either way.

A Scientist, a Fort, an Improvised Measurement

fort_prince_of_walesAt the climatology blog Watt’s Up With That, guest blogger Tim Ball has a story of how an obscure fort in remote Churchill, Manitoba on the west coast of Hudson’s Bay became the avenue for a scientific competition between France and the British Empire that shaped the world by validating Newton’s Law of Gravitation — or would have done, if the damnable instruments worked. A key player was a British scientist of unprepossessing background:

william-walesWilliam Wales (1734 – 1798), was born in Yorkshire to working class parents. He moved to London and married Mary Green, the sister of astronomer Charles Green.

He obviously showed mathematical ability because in 1765 he entered the employ of the Astronomer Royal, Sir Nevil Maskelyne. He began work on one of the two major scientific challenges of the day, the accurate determination of longitude. However, that was to become interlinked with the other challenge, testing of Newton’s Theory of Gravitation, published in 1687.

via Scientific Integrity is Constant Challenge: A Classic Historical Example | Watts Up With That?.

measuring_the_transitThere were several possible ways to do this, and the way that Sir Nevil proposed, Wales didn’t think would work. He got assigned to do it any way — he would go to Churchill, and on the other side of the world, explorer Captain James Cook would be in Tahiti, and they would observe the transit of Venus across the Sun, timing it with precision chronographs, and then by application of trigonometry, they’d have the missing ingredient to plug into Newton’s law of gravity.


Previous attempts by both European rivals had failed; the next window was 1769.

newtons_law_of_gravityThe major reason for the 1761 failure, inadequate instrumentation, was not resolved. Nobody knew this better than William Wales. In a parallel of today’s global warming fiasco, the scientists, who were effectively bureaucrats or relied on sponsorship, believed that political support and more money was the answer. So Wales faced a dilemma, keep your mouth shut and do what the King and his lackeys like Maskelyne wanted, or face incarceration and possibly even hanging.

Wales didn’t think the instruments were accurate enough.

Finally, Wales agreed to take up the challenge, but only after negotiating a generous contract that included provision for his family should he not return….

Wales knew the accurate timing was essential to success. He also knew the problems of producing an accurate chronometer. One was specially constructed, and on the Atlantic crossing, he tested it rigorously only to discover it was losing several minutes every day. It was inadequate.

They took a prefabricated observatory with them and on arrival set it up on the SE bastion of Fort Prince of Wales.

It was a working fort, and England was intermittently at war with France.

It was a working fort, and England was on a brief respite in its intermittent war with France at this time.

In the Georgian era, Wales couldn’t just send for a new chronograph from the remote wilderness of Churchill. And he couldn’t use the one the Royal Observatory had given him. He was trying to measure an angle that would turn out to be 9.57 milliradians. So what options were left?


He built a sundial. (Image at right). Archaeologists unearthed it at the Fort and it now rests in the Parks Canada museum in Churchill.

The challenge for Wales was to establish some way of determining time more accurately than with his failed chronometer. During the restoration of the Fort, a remarkable sundial was dug up at the base of the wall. They also found an iron spindle that allowed the user to turn any of 24 faces toward the Sun.

Ball and Leslie Ross were able to demonstrate that the sundial definitely was Wales’s: it contains the same exact error that is in his after-action report to Sir Nevil and the Royal Society.

In a 1984 article “Observations of the Transit of Venus at Prince of Wales’s Fort in 1769” I identified the latitude Wales had calculated for the Fort. Leslie Ross, a researcher at the National Museum of Canada, was also doing research on the sundial. He asked where I obtained the latitude. I told him it was the one Wales recorded in his journals. He said the latitude matched his calculations for the latitude of the major sundial face (June 1983 Stone sundial from Fort Prince of Wales. Research Bulletin #193). It was clear evidence that Wales made the sundial because both latitudes were different from the actual latitude by 11 minutes. I was skeptical that a sundial could be better than even a faulty chronometer, but Ross told me it could determine the time to within two minutes, which made it superior to the watch.

And the report itself says something about Wales:

On his return to England Wales … refused to submit his report. He said the results were of no value. The timing was imprecise, and the telescope optics were inadequate. Wales was finally ordered to submit a report that was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

We are fortunate he complied because Wales did not waste his time but carried out countless other experiments and made many observations. He brought the first barometers and thermometers, constructed to Royal Society specifications to northern North America. He produced an excellent instrumental record beginning in 1768. This continued after he left because he instructed the surgeon in their use.

In the end, Wales’s imperfect measurement of the transit of Venus was overtaken by better measurements, validating Newton’s law. And he resumed work on his other great challenge, measuring longitude.

Far from being angry with Wales, his peers were impressed with his integrity, and when he resumed work on the longitude problem…

Two years after his return to England, the Board of Longitude commissioned him to sail as astronomer and navigator with Captain Cook. Wales job, in association with William Bayly, was to test Kendall’s K1 chronometer based on the H4 of John Harrison.

cooks-chronometersThese superior chronometers resolved many problems, and Wales is a fine representative of the many nameless scientists who toiled (and still toil) in the shadows, gradually dragging the world of the past into a better informed future. Do Read The Whole Thing™.

And what of Fort Prince of Wales? This may have been its high point. While it had 42 guns and another battery of six more across the Churchill River, its garrison was depleted and construction ceased after 1771. During a French raid in 1782, the garrison comprised only 39 civilians, and the fort was surrendered to the French with no resistance or loss of life, and its structures and goods sacked and burned. The cannons on its walls? They never fired a shot in anger. It’s now a Canadian national park and tourist attraction… for tourists willing to travel to someplace that is still quite remote.

When You Don’t Bubba a Mosin…

…You can actually hit stuff with it… if it’s a right one.

Bog standard 91/30. Good iron sights, approved by ordnance officers of late Tsar and Lenin and Stalin (who were, not to put too fine a point on it, the same ordnance officers). Field rest. The original poster of the video writes (we have only added paragraph breaks):

The M91/30 Mosin Nagant with 7N1 ammo is a formidable long range rifle system. In this video (made available to you by popular demand) Rex Reviews demonstrates just how effective an unmodified military rifle can be in experienced hands.

This rifle is in 100% original military configuration and had NOT been equipped with any optical sights, yet it slams steel at 944 yards as easy as anything else on the shelf.

Many assume these rifle like this (purchased for under $100) must need modification to shoot well… but what many fail to realize is that these rifles were not designed by sporting companies for recreational activities, they were designed by teams of engineers with massive government resources for life-and-death purposes.

These rifles were designed to be harmonically balanced and were inspected to meet serious military manufacturing and design specifications. In a nutshell, they are ready to roll off of the shelf! Ask Simo Häyhä (the White Death) if I’m telling the truth…

It rings the bell at more meters than you’d give it credit for (and more meters that lots of people can see a man-sized target without optical aids). Lots and lots of meters. (944 yd. is 893 meters).

Why did Russia and its Soviet successor empire stick with this 19th-Century bangstick for so very long? Because it was good, in all that word means in reference to a military arm: it was simple, dependable, low-maintenance, hard-hitting, and more accurate than any but a tiny percentage of the men who carried it.

Nothing that Bubba can do to a Mosin (except, we’ll grant, scope it, where the common Soviet solution was sub-optimal) will do anything much to improve the work of those long-dead Russian designers, engineers, and craftsmen.

A Rockin’ Mystery

Here’s a video Ian did over a year ago, about a gun that was up for auction at Rock Island Auctions. It beats us with a stick, but it also beat him with a stick, which takes a little more doing. And it beat his commenters with a stick. In the end, it didn’t sell at the auction.

He said this in the text area to the video:

There isn’t much I can say about this one, as I have no idea who made it or when. What I can tell is that it is a blowback action with a rather unique “rocking block” type of bolt and what appears to be a clock style coiled flat spring for the hammer.

And elaborates on that in the video. He does do a credible job of explaining its unique method of operation. He doesn’t comment at all on markings but it looks to us like it might have some kind of proofs up above the barrel. What do you think?

Rock Island also had limited information about it, and no provenance that might help out.

Description With no markings and a unique angled slide. The pistol appears to be almost entirely handmade with a smooth unrifled barrel, hand checkered grips, hand checkered cocking piece and a hand checkered trigger. The rounded spur hammer seems to work on a simple leaf spring mechanism and is vibrantly colored from what appears to be a rudimentary heat treating process. A very interesting piece with a “rolling block” style mechanism.
Condition Very good with traces of blue finish. The balance has a mottled gray/brown patina with some light spotting and minor pitting. Grips are fair. Mechanically needs adjustment. The leaf spring for the hammer appears broken or detached.

As we said, it failed to make reserve at the auction and so was a no-sale and returned to consignor.

And as far as we know (again), nobody’s ever figured out what it was, found a related patent, or anything.

What Sank MacArthur

General Douglas MacArthur with Pipe in MouthEvery student of warfare has an opinion about Douglas MacArthur, the vain but largely successful World War II general, and most people understand the broad strokes of his career.

He was the son of a Civil War hero and general, an Academy graduate, who served as Army Chief of Staff before retiring to organize an army in the American image for the Phillipines, which were being prepared for independence. Caught flatfooted by the Japanese attacks of 8 Dec 41, MacArthur rallied his defenders, controversially escaped to Australia, pledged to return and did, in the van of an army of conquerors and liberators. Occupying Japan, he helped the Japanese reform a civil government, before the Korean war, in which he saved US and Korean forces from certain defeat, and was relieved by President Harry Truman for insubordination.

People have strong opinions on whether Truman did the right thing (not on whether Truman had the right to do that thing; as President he absolutely did). Just for one example, at one time, you could get binned on the board after otherwise completing selection to a certain special operations unit, if you answered the Truman vs. MacArthur question “wrong.” (The “right” answer was Mac).

Comes H.W. Brands in a book entitled The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War, to argue the opposite side of the proposition. In an excerpt published at, Brands argues that redacted testimony from Senate hearings makes MacArthur the odd man out in the Washington of 1951.

The MacArthur firing prompted the Democratic-led Congress to invite the general to address a joint session, which MacArthur moved to applause and tears when he declared that “old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” Among Republicans, there were murmurs of support for a MacArthur candidacy for president. The Senate’s Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committes held joint hearings, at which MacArthur detailed his disagreement with the president and claimed the backing of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for his position.

The Joint Chiefs contradicted him. The Senate hearings were closed to the public, but a transcript was released each day including all but the most sensitive comments. Omar Bradley, the chairman of the joint chiefs, flatly rejected MacArthur’s call for a wider war. “In the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this strategy would involve us in the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time and with the wrong enemy,” he said.

Bradley’s categorical conclusion proved the most compelling public statement by any official at the committee hearings. For a soldier of Bradley’s stature, with no history of politics, to contradict MacArthur so completely caused even the most ardent of MacArthur’s supporters to pause and reconsider.

Yet it was the statements that were not made public that did the real damage to MacArthur.

Brands details some of those statements, so you’ll want to Read The Whole Thing™. But the upshot was that even MacArthur’s greatest admirers in Congress…

…no longer looked to MacArthur as a credible alternative to Truman on military strategy or in politics. They eased away from the general, and because the testimony was sealed, they never said why.

And MacArthur never found out.

For a man who played at the center of politics and policy for thirty years, MacArthur never found out a lot of things. One of the problems he was blind to, thanks to his considerable loyalty down, was just how badly he was served by some of the characters that manned his G-2 shop. But that’s another story.

Was he right, or was Truman right? Consider this MacArthur quote:


The end result of his dismissal was an armistice, without a permanent peace, in Korea, in 1953. That has led to the state of prolonged indecision that has lasted from then until now — 63 years, and counting.

Why did Truman fear victory? Perhaps because neither Mac, nor any of his other generals, could give him a convincing estimate of the cost of that victory. And perhaps because they couldn’t promise him that the ensuing victory would be ours.

The Danish Navy, 1962

Even if you can’t follow the Danish narration, there is some very cool stuff in this 1962 promotional film, Det Er Nodvendig… which means, This is Necessary. The point of the film is to introduce Danes to their Navy.

One of the first cool things you will see is a flotilla of ex-Deutsche Kriegsmarine S-Boats. The boats don’t show their age at all — they were probably never this clean in their wartime existence.

Other scenes include the S-Boat crewmen introducing themselves by name and hometown, destroyer operations, coastal defense with artillery and AA, and Denmark’s famous frogmen. (The nation was once a leader in scout swimming and undersea war, but ceased operating submarines about a decade ago after nearly a century of successful sub ops).

On the other hand, the Danes maintain a robust coast defense capability, but these days it’s with missiles, not last century’s cannon.

The Pushmi-Pullyu of Pistols

47-year-old Christopher Bechtler, his two sons Augustus and Charles, and his nephew, who came to be called Christopher, Jr., emigrated to the US from the Duchy of Baden (a German principality) in 1829 (without a word of English among them, apparently) and immediately took out naturalization papers. They moved on quickly from Philadelphia, where German craftsmen were in healthy supply, and settled by the summer of 1830 in Rutherfordton, North Carolina, where there was just enough of a German community to serve as interpreters. And thereby we come to this bizarre image, from Lewis Winant’s classic Firearms Curiosa (published in five editions, all of which are textually identical as far as we know, from 1954 to 1961).


Of this pistol, Winant writes:

Some guns reveal at a glance their freakishness…. Illustration 237 is a reproduction of the frontispiece from the August, 1912, issue of Magazine of Antique Firearms. The caption for the frontispiece reads, “C. Bechtler’s Double Ender Pistol. A Southern made pistol of great rarity. Fisher collection.” An accompanying article by Dr. A. L. Fisher explains that the mainspring is the trigger guard and that this mainspring may be released by either trigger. Dr. Fisher notes that as the two hammers can not both be cocked at the same time, simultaneous murder and suicide can not be accomplished! The gun is some times known as the „Fore and Aft” and is assumed to have been made by Christopher Bechtler. Mr. Bechtler was a German gunsmith who settled in Rutherford, North Carolina, in 1829. Certainly a collector may need a second look to be sure his eyes have not deceived him, but not to decide that this is truly an oddity.

Here’s a forum post about what appears to be the same pistol, including a reprinted page from a 1955 Texas Gun Collector newsletter. The owner of that example, Harry B. Harmer of Philadelphia, thought he had the sole example (perhaps the same one Fisher described in 1912).

The gun quite caught our fancy. It’s the firearms version of the Pushmi-Pullyu, of which Hugh Lofting wrote:

Pushmi–pullyus are now extinct. That means, there aren’t any more. But long ago, when Doctor Dolittle was alive, there were some of them still left in the deepest jungles of Africa; and even then they were very, very scarce. They had no tail, but a head at each end, and sharp horns on each head. They were very shy and terribly hard to catch…. no matter which way you came towards him, he was always facing you.

Except, of course, the Pushmi-Pullyu was entirely fictional, and this pistol is entirely not. It’s two guns in one! It’s a New York Reload, 150 years before Jim Cirillo coined (or at least inspired) the term! It’s… an oddity. It’s the polar opposite of OSHA approved. We like it.

But Winant didn’t really have a handle on the maker of this gun that had the grips and barrels all confused. Well, in the 1950s, the well-respected Winant didn’t have the less-respected Intertubes. We do, which is why we know more about him than long-gone Winant (who passed away in 1963) ever did.

The Bechtler family were broadly skilled craftsmen, who were at one time or another (and often at the same time) clock and watch makers, jewelers, gold miners, operators of a private mint  that struck millions of dollars worth of gold coins, beginning almost two decades before the US Mint struck a gold $1 piece. (The Constitution bans the States from striking coins, but is silent on whether citizens can; several private mints operated in the 19th Century, and the Bechtlers’ was perhaps the most trusted).

And, of course, they were gunsmiths. About the men:

The only first-hand description of the Bechtlers comes from the journal of George W. Featherstonhaugh. He describes in some detail the Bechtlers’ mining and gun-making enterprises and the transactions between Bechtler and the customers who brought gold to him for assaying and coining. Featherstonhaugh had doubts that the mining he saw at Bechtler’s farm was likely to be productive, but he was most impressed by Bechtler’s ingenuity and honesty.

During the 1830s and 40s, they seemed to be ess known for the quantity than the ingenuity of their designs, which brings us one step closer to the pushmi-pullyu at the top of the page.

Signed Bechtler percussion pistol.

Bechtler percussion pistol. The Bechtlers customarily appear to have  marked their work “North Carolina” on the left and with the gunsmith’s name on the right. 

The Bechtlers were also known throughout North Carolina and neighboring states for manufacturing rifles and pistols. The family manufactured guns prior to coming to America and continued that trade for many years after taking up residence in North Carolina.

The quality and reliability of the Bechtlers’ guns so impressed the visiting geologist Featherstonhaugh that he purchased a rifle from the family and asked Bechtler to inlay his name with native gold. Featherstonhaugh wrote that as gunsmiths, Bechtler and his sons are “preeminent in their ingenuity: they had invented various ingenious modes of firing rifles eight times in a minute. One with a chain for sixty caps, revolving by a catch of the trigger, and was exceedingly curious. Young Bechtler fired it off several times at a target placed at a distance of one hundred and sixty-five yards, and with great success.”

In 1837, the Bechtlers took on the training of a 14-year-old apprentice to learn “the art of a gun smith,” possibly in expectation that the opening of the federal Mint in Charlotte would lead to a decline in the coining business and a renewed concentration on their gun-making business.

This fine pisrol, c.1840, is attributed to Augustus Bechtler. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Museum of History

This fine pisrol, c.1840, is attributed to Augustus Bechtler. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Museum of History

A wonderful site (especially for those with German-American connections), Immigrant Entrepreneurship, has a much more thorough bio of Christopher Bechtler, from which the following is excerpted:

On April 25, 1830, Bechtler purchased a tract of land in Rutherford County from John Bradley. Bechtler was not yet a citizen, so he could not hold title to the land. Instead, he conveyed the land to Martin Kibler, a German-American resident, to be held in trust for him until he became a citizen in July 1832. Rutherford County had a substantial number of German immigrants, and Bechtler frequently availed himself of their assistance as translators and witnesses of legal transactions. Bechtler never mastered the English language, although he could communicate tolerably well in broken English.

That is quite amazing, when you consider the Bechtlers’ success. No doubt his sons mastered English to a much greater degree, although after them we lose the trail of the family. Which is a pity, because if you’re on this site, you’re interested in the gun angle, and you wonder whether subsequent generations carried on with it.

Immigrant Entrepreneurship’s engaging bio is worth reading at length, but we’ll quote from it, about his and his sons’ gun manufacturing progress.

Bechtler did not aspire to be a mass market manufacturer. His products were high quality, finely crafted items, often custom made. The same vision guided his gunsmithing business, which evidently took place at his farm in the country. Known as a “first rate gunsmith” who produced “beautiful rifles and pistols” of innovative and sometimes curious design, Bechtler crafted repeating rifles capable of firing eight times a minute, and also made novelty items such as a “snuff box pistol,” a “walking stick rifle” and a twin-barrel pistol with the barrels facing in opposite directions. During his tour of Bechtler’s farm in 1837, Featherstonhaugh was so impressed with the firearms on display that he bought a rifle which Bechtler personally engraved with gold. Bechtler achieved local renown as a jeweler, watchmaker, and gunsmith, but the coining business he established would overshadow all of these other activities, becoming the most successful private mint in the eastern United States.

The Pushmi-Pullyu may, in fact, be that “twin-barrel pistol with the barrels facing in opposite directions” that is mentioned above. Or it may be this one, held in the Swedish Royal Armoury collection.

(sv) Slaglåsdubbelpistol, 1800-talets mitt, "Double-Ender" - (sv) Christopher Bechtler (Tillverkare, , ). Livrustkammaren. Public Domain -

(sv) Slaglåsdubbelpistol, 1800-talets mitt, “Double-Ender” – (sv) Christopher Bechtler (Tillverkare, , ). Livrustkammaren. Public Domain


The Swedish text of the Europeana page from which we drew this titles it (our meatball translation) as a “Percussion double pistol, mid-1800s, “Double-Ender”, made by Christopher Bechtler. and says:

Double gun in the form of two barrels counterposed at a 135º angle, sharply turned, smooth-bore barrels of steel, triple rings at the muzzles. One barrel forming the grip for the other. Deep pitting on both sides. Underneath each barrel is a dual-purpose hammer/hammer spring, fastened with screws at the muzzles of the barrels. Priming cap nipples screwed into the touchhole in the barrels. Between the springs, a round trigger is suspended, and catches the springs when they’re under tension.

(Some Swede will probably correct us on many errors). This gun is fascinating, because it’s the same concept but a very different form (and we think, an earlier one) than the gun in the Winant book. The Winant gun, too, though, appears to be at a 135º angle; it just has much more conventional lockwork, apart from the shared spring and interlock feature Winant describes.

But the mystery of “A Southern made pistol of great rarity,” seems to have been resolved over the last sixty years, although who knows what new facts about Christopher Bechtler and his sons and their gun enterprise will come to light next? In any event, now the restless shade of Lewis Winant can find peace — on this question, at least.

Come to WeaponsMan for the gun pictures, stay for the laying of the ghosts!

Guerrilla Recruitment Lessons from Greece in WWII

This bridge sabotage on the Gorgopotamos closed the one rail route to Greek ports for six weeks in 1942. The resistance was not directly involved, but afterward, the saboteurs stayed in Greece to form a British liaison mission.

This bridge sabotage on the Gorgopotamos closed the one rail route to Greek ports for six weeks in 1942. The resistance was not directly involved, but afterward, the saboteurs stayed in Greece to form a British liaison mission to the Free Greek underground.

In World War II, there was a moderately effective resistence in Greece, which we’ve discussed here before, and which is the subject of a 1960 monograph (then) sponsored by Special Forces, and now available online at

The resistance supported attacks by infiltrated British parties on German lines of communication to the Afrika Korps, may have tied down German and Italian forces (it’s hard to say; the Axis would have had to guard this flank of their Eastern front anyway), killed some thousands of Axis troops, and harassed the Germans particularly, both in situ and on the point of their withdrawal.

The Allied support to the resistance served several military and political purposes; one of Britain’s most careful balancing acts was fighting the Germans without giving the strongest element of the Resistance, the Communist EAM/ELAS (from its Greek acronyms), enough power to overthrow the country postwar. This was a near-run thing; in the late 1940s, the Communists fought a cruel civil war for control of the ancient land, but were defeated.

This modern picture of the bridge shows how effective a target it was.

This modern picture of the bridge shows how effective a target it was.

ELAS Communist Resistance Unit

ELAS Communist Resistance Unit

Why were the Communists the most effective guerrillas? Their experience underground was one factor, as was their skill at forming coalitions that appeared to be broad, but in which the non-Communists were window dressing or cannon fodder. (Think the Popular Front of the Spanish Civil War, or the similarly-named French government of Leon Blum).

The Communists were effective at recruiting guerrillas, and some interesting lessons were taken away by American scholars studying this war in retrospect (p.19 in the book).

The appeals used by EAM/ELAS to attract persons into its underground apparatus were based on its desire to create the broadest possible underground support structure.

  1. EAM/ELAS utilized the symbol of universal hatred: the occupiers of Greece.
  2. It suggested positive action against the symbol of hatred: resistance to the occupiers.
  3. It completely identified itself with national aims and accused all other groups of being unpatriotic, if not treasonable.
  4. It took in and gave prestige to repressed elements in the Greek population: in a patriarchal society, women and young people were low on the social totem pole. In the underground of EAM/ ELAS, both groups were welcomed.
  5. At the same time, the role of men and elders was also upheld, so that the offense to these groups from d above, was held to a minimum.
  6. Where persuasion alone did not work, EAM/ELAS did not hesitate to use force. Surprisingly enough, persons upon whom force was used appear to have often become faithful supporters of EAM/ELAS.

Let’s look at some of those points in isolation.

1-3. Symbol, Action, Aims

EAM/ELAS was well advised to dissemble about its ultimate aims. It didn’t need fighters for Communism in 1942, it needed fighters against occupation. There would be time to bring them around to Communism later. Anybody who has a political identity toxic to some of the people he needs is well advised to seek a common denominator (and the most effective common denominators are markers of racial, ethnic and national identity). Guerrillas and underground personnel tend to be young risk takers; they will rally to the standard of action, and not the banner of caution. And in defining your war aims, keep your muzzle on the 50 meter targets. Fidel Castro was always a Communist but he didn’t say so until after he won. Why? Because the Communists, too, learned from their defeat in the Greek Civil War.

Cretan resistance Andantes. The SOE used weapons supplies as a tool to maintain balance between ELAS and EDES resistance groups. Weapons are United Defense UD42 9mm SMGs.

Cretan resistance Andantes. The SOE used weapons supplies as a tool to maintain balance between ELAS and EDES resistance groups. But interrupting weapons flows for political reasons could cause bad blood. Weapons are United Defense UD42 9mm SMGs.

4-5. Recruitment of Shunned Minorities. This is classic SF doctrine, as used in Vietnam (recruiting the Montagnards, Nungs, Hoa Hao and other minorities) and, effectively, in the early period of US opposition to the Taliban (recruiting people from the non-Pathan/Pushtun majority of Afghans). There is always a backlash, as the rural Greeks had to the use of women and youth: in Vietnam, ethnic Vietnamese were alarmed by the USSF taking direct control of units of national minorities, outside RVN military and political control. And in Afghanistan, the coalition of minorities nature of the allied-with-USA Norther Alliance stirred resentment among the nation’s plurality Pushtuns and invited comparison with the Pushtun Taliban.

6. Even forced recruits could become faithful.

That last comment is very interesting and has been borne out time and again in studies of other underground groups, including insurgencies as well as criminal networks. Consider that combatants as disparate as Patty Hearst of  the Symbionese Liberation Army, most Local Force Viet Cong, and the vast numbers of Chinese “Volunteers” who threw their lives away against the final protective fires of United Nations troops in Korea, were all impressed, not volunteers. The sailors of the days in which the Royal Navy ruled the waves were largely press-ganged. Consider, even, the performance of units of originally-reluctant draftees at most of the battles since the French conceived the levée en masse as a form of military recruitment.

There’s more happening here than Stockholm Syndrome. In fact, even someone badly used by an organization and opposed to it philosophically can be turned to its ends. (This is very, very often done in espionage, and doing it is the subject of extensive recruitment tradecraft). It is better done by psychological manipulation than by any combination of carrots and sticks, but the carrots and sticks are still useful, just not primary.