Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

Footlocker Find: “Firearms Retention Authorization”

Here’s something that some of you have seen a lot of, and others have never seen: a Firearms Retention Authorization, AE Form 11, 11 JUN 69. What it is, is a “weapons card” for privately owned weapons stored in a unit arms room.

Why store weapons there? If you were a single soldier — and Your Humble Blogger was disconnecting from Plaintiff I at the creation of this card, in 1985 — you weren’t allowed to keep your guns with you. Under US Army Europe regulations — that is what the “AE” means — promulgated by the extremely anti-gun provost marshals, you had to store them in the arms room.

Gun owners hated this: it was a lead-pipe guarantee that your guns would be poorly stored, exposed to rust-inducing environments, given the gefingerpoken by anyone who had business (or a buddy) in the Arms Room, and sometimes, as happened to me at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas in 1980, shot with corrosive ammunition by some armorer buddy, and then not cleaned, destroying bores.

But armorers hated this: even, indeed, especially, those armorers who were all on the up-and-up and who wouldn’t abuse your firearms. They had their hands full doing stuff with the unit’s real weapons, like issuing them out for half the troops to fail annual qualification. (They always passed, afterwards — on paper) and trying to get the Unique and Special Snowflakes® of MI to actually clean the things afterward… not to mention monthly inventories, change of command inventories, Technical Inspection and maintenance turn-in of weapons, managing the constant personnel turmoil as disaffected soldiers left at tour- or enlistment-end and replacements came in, and they had to do it with cramped arms rooms.

Some staff sergeant showing up with two or three dozen weapons and an SF chip on his shoulder did not please the armorer, who had to book in all the hardware, find a place to store it, and listen to the sergeant complain about how previous armorers had treated the guns.

“What do you need all this [deleted] for, anyway? Nobody wants this [deleted].” After all, each of the guns needed an entry in the book, a place to be locked up, and, on exit, one of these cards went with it to prove that the t’s had been dotted and the eyes had been crossed in conformity with Army Europe writ. The Germans may have lost the war, but their Prussian rechthaberisch tendencies managed to infiltrate and undermine the Provost Marshals’ Offices. Jawohl!

This particular example records the storage of one “PRC Rifle” serial number 7114859 in the arms room of the 501st MI Battalion in Augsburg, Germany, from 1985-87. (Why was an SF guy sentenced to that place? Because he had been an MI guy before going SF. You see, MI’s personnel management was so bad that they were perennially shorthanded, and until SF Branch existed, to defend its people, no one could prevent that kind of involuntary “levy,” or transfer). For most guys, the levy came to some thankless task like recruiter or drill sergeant duty. (Although most of the guys who did drill sergeant duty came to enjoy it, even while counting the days to end of tour). But this MI assignment was horrible, the leadership rotten, the work a waste of time. We did get to improve several European languages and enjoy many aspects of assignment to Germany.

At the end of the tour, each firearm being imported into the United States had to have one of these, and either proof that it came from the USA in the first place, or an approved ATF Form 6. There are entire units of Customs MPs who do nothing but inspect personnel and their stuff, and, from what we’ve seen, help themselves to what they can.

The card still bears the marks where it was taped to the buttstock of the firearm. (We had been advised to do that to prevent the MPs “losing” the card and helping themselves to firearms). The rifle was a Chinese Type 56 SKS, one of two in Your Humble Blogger’s household goods going to and from Mitteleuropa, and at the time of acquisition something of a rarity in American hands. (Soon they would be common as grains of sand). Indeed, the initial card was drafted, “Chinese Type 56,” and the armorer wanted the cards all redone as “rifle” and “pistol” to simplify his logging them in. But the rifle itself is interesting, and if it’s the one we’re thinking of, has a great apocryphal story. Perhaps it and its SKS brother should be featured Thing From The Vault sometime.

 

More on the Origins of “Sharpshooter” with Fred Ray

Fred Ray continues to explore the origins of the term, “sharpshooter,” and we’ll suggest one small bit of evidence to support his theory:

As part of the continuing quest to find the origins of the term “sharpshooter,” I directed a query to the Museum of Military History (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum) in Vienna, Austria. The Austrians, after all, were the first to employ rifle units and true light infantry in the 18th Century, and Central Europe (the Tirol, southern Germany, and Switzerland) was the birthplace of the rifle. Their reply is worth quoting at length.

We don’t know who painted this Union sharpshooter. If you do, please let us know so we can give credit.

While they were unable to definitely say when the term “Scharfschütze” came into to use, “your assumption regarding the origins in German language and the transfer to the United States via German mercenaries in the American War of Independence seems to be totally plausible. Furthermore I’m able to confirm that the term “Scharfschütze” was established in German language long before 1795 and that it had already been employed as part of the official designation for military units before that date.”

In the military of the Hapsburg empire the term “Scharfschütze” meant those soldiers who were armed with rifles in contrast to flints [i.e. smoothbore muskets]. The origins of the employment of so called “Scharfschützen” for military purposes lie in the improvised formation of companies of professional hunters (“Jäger”) or members of shooting associations (“Schützenvereine”) in times of war. Shooting associations were sometimes called (in their own right and not to be confused with the nowadays military connotations of this term) “Scharfschützenvereine”. ….

The usage of the term “Scharfschützen” as designation for whole units is documented at least for the beginning of the 18th century (as far as I know, while there might have been even older incidents).

1st Georgia Sharpshooters, CSA. There’s a website and a book about ’em.

Do Read The Whole Thing™, because the Austrians dug deep into their archives for Fred, and traced the term Scharfschützen as a formal unit name to at least 1702, for reserve and local defense units, and to 1769 for permanent establishments. There’s quite a bit of Austrian history (which gets complex in that period) in the museum’s reply.

And our small bit of evidence: the British Army, in a great example of Churchill’s “two nations separated by a common language”, never did use the term. They had Rangers, Rifles, Fusiliers, Fencibles, and more odd names for units than you could shake a shako at. But no Sharpshooters in the British Army.

Of course, while the British were not reluctant to hire entire units of Germans, their home nation did not feature German immigration and the introduction of German culture, including riflery and decent beer. America did, and so it seems probable that one of our smaller German imports of the 19th Century was this German military term.

Berdan’s Sharpshooters, presumably at Gettysburg. More than just a primer design! Again, we don’t know the source or the artist.

Fred frequently posts interesting stuff on the Civil War blog TOCWOC. His next post after this one dealt with a couple of letters about the cruel disposal of unlawful combatants at the time. And bringing together two Civil War arms historians in one post, Fred highlights a Joe Bilby article in a great post that ranges from sniping in the Civil War to sniping today.

Let’s See Whitworths Shoot!

Last month we had a couple posts on the Sharpshooters of the Civil War, and on the Confederates’ unique Whitworth rifle.

Fred Ray, who’s written an excellent book on the Rebel Sharpshooters, sold us a copy of his book (highly recommended, and it’ll be in the next review roundup), and also linked us to a few videos of modern Whitworth shooters. Fred has forgotten more about this stuff than we’ve ever learned, so you can read what he writes with confidence.

Let’s take them in the inverse order from the way Fred posted them: hardest first. Here is a guy trying to hit a target at 1,300 yards with a Whitworth.

That kind of hit was credibly reported by both Rebel and Yankee observers of the Confederate marksmen. (The English Whitworth rifle was only used by the Confederates).

One of the real problems is seeing the target. While many of the wartime Whitworths were equipped with high-tech (for 1860!) Davidson telescopic sights… …this marksman is shooting over irons. One of the real problems at that range is seeing the target. Since more of you are familiar with more modern rifles, consider that the front sight post of an M16A1 rifle subtends just enough arc to match an E-type silhouette at 175 meters.

Another fact that should be evident is the sheer power of the Whitworth. Look at that thing kick! The recoil is visibly greater than that of an ordinary rifle-musket.

Reproduction Whitworths

The class of the repro field is the long-discontinued Parker-Hale, but they are few and far between. After Parker-Hale went the way of all flesh, there was a EurArms repro which used the Parker-Hale barrels with its own lock and stock. Here, Balázs Némeththe proprietor of CapAndBall.eu has gotten his hands on one of them, and not only fires it, but provides a good run down on its unique and remarkable technology.  “The Whitworth,” he notes, “pushed the limits of aimed fire out to 1½ miles.”

Pedersoli is making a new version of the Whitworth. It is available in Europe, but not exported to North America (yet, we hope). Here is his video rundown on the Pedersoli Whitworth. The Pedersoli has hexagonal rifling, but it’s cold hammer-forged. The rifle also has much simpler sights. He did not have a hex bullet mold, so used a .451″ cylindrical round, and still got quite good accuracy at 50 and 100 meters.

The finish on the Pedersoli rifle is, like many of their premium muzzle-loaders, very good.

His enthusiasm for these rifles, so far ahead of their peers that they seemed ahead of their time, is infectious.

Finally, here’s a special treat. It’s our friend from Cap and Ball again, but here he’s firing an original Civil War vintage American target rifle, of the sort that many sharpshooters mustered in with.

If you go to the Fred Ray post that we linked way, way up there, you’ll also see another one about the Civil War buck-and-ball cartridge — the only loading we’re aware of that has its own statue at Gettysburg. But that’s another story!

Guns and Gun Smuggling… AD 1628-29

The Plymouth Colony existed from 1620 to 1692, when it merged with the greater Massachusetts Bay (Boston) Colony.

Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony reported regularly on the progress of the Pilgrim settlement. His reports are surprisingly engaging and immediate for documents approaching 400 years of age. One problem he had to deal with would be the plot of many a Western novel or film set 150 years after his time: unscrupulous merchants arming hostile Indians.

In the meantime [wampum] makes the tribes hereabouts rich and powerful and proud, and provides them with arms and powder and shot, through the depravity of some unworthy persons, both English, Dutch, and French, and likely to be the ruin of many. Hitherto the Indians round here had no guns or other arms but their bows and arrows, nor for many years after; they scarcely dared handle guns, they were so afraid of them; and the very sight of one, though out of kilter, was a terror to them.

But the Indians to the East who had dealings with the French got guns from them, and in time our English fishermen, with equal covetousness, followed their example. But upon complaint it pleased the King’s Majesty to prohibit it by a strict proclamation, commanding that no sort of arms or munition should be traded to the Indians by His subjects.

Some three or four years before this there came over one Captain Wollaston, a man of fine qualities, with three or four others of some distinction, who brought with them a great many servants, with provisions and other necessaries to found a settlement. NOTE 1

One of Wollaston’s men was named Morton, and Bradford has nothing good to say about Morton at all; he got involved in all kinds of willful mischief, and mocked the Puritans’ austere religion, but by far his greatest transgression was arming the Indians.

In order to maintain this riotous prodigality and excess, Morton, hearing what profit the French and the fishermen had made by trading guns, powder, and shot to the Indians, began to practise it hereabouts, teaching them how to use them. Having instructed them, he employed some of them to hunt and fowl for him, until they became far more able than the English, owing to their swiftness on foot and nimbleness of body, being quick-sighted, and knowing the haunts of all sorts of game. With the result that, when they saw what execution a gun would do and the advantage of it, they were mad for them and would pay any price for them, thinking their bows and arrows but baubles in comparison.

And here I must bewail the mischief that this wicked man began in this district, and which, continued by men that should know better, has now become prevalent, notwithstanding the laws to the contrary. The result is that the Indians are stocked with all kinds of arms, — fowling-pieces, muskets, pistols, etc. They even have moulds to make shots of all sorts, — musket bullets, pistol bullets, swan and geese shot and smaller sorts. It is well known that they often have powder and shot when the English lack it and cannot get it, it having been bought up and sold to those who trade it to the Indians at a shilling per pound — for they will buy it at any price. This goes on while their neighbours are being killed by the Indians every day, or are only living at their mercy. They have even been told how gun-powder is made, and all the materials that are in it, and that they are to be had in their own land; and I am confident that if they could only get saltpeter they would make gunpowder itself. Oh, the horror of this villainy! How many Dutch and English have lately been killed by Indians, thus furnished; and no remedy is provided, — nay, the evil has increased. The blood of their brothers has been sold for profit; and in what danger all these colonies are is too well-known. Oh! that princes and parliaments would take some timely steps to prevent this mischief and to suppress it, by exemplary punishment of some of those gain-thirsty murderers, — for they deserve no better title, — before their colonies in these parts are wiped out by the barbarous savages, armed with their own weapons by these traitors to their country.

But I have forgotten myself, and have been too long on this digression; now to return. Morton having taught them the use of guns, sold them all he could spare, and he and his associates determined to send for large supplies from England, having already sent for over a score by some of the ships. This being known, several members of the scattered settlements hereabouts agreed to solicit the settlers at New Plymouth, who then outnumbered them all, to join with them to prevent the further growth of this mischief, and to suppress Morton and his associates. Those who joined in this action, and afterwards contributed to the expense of sending him to England, were from Piscataqua, Naumkeag, Winnisimmett, Weesagascusett, Nantasket, and other places where the English had settled. The New Plymouth colonists thus addressed by their messengers and letters, and weighing their reasons and the common danger, were willing to help, though they themselves had least cause for fear. NOTE 2

Appeals to the British class hierarchy, the Crown, Morton’s previous pledges of allegiance, and so forth, were unavailing.

So they saw there was no way but to take him by force. They resolved to proceed, and unanimously requested the Governor of New Plymouth to send Captain Standish and sufficient men to seize Morton. This was accordingly done; but he defended himself stiffly, closed his doors, armed his associates, and had dishes of powder and bullets ready on the table; and if they had not been overarmed with drink, more harm might have been done. They summoned him to yield, but they got nothing but scoffs from him. At length fearing they would wreck the house, some of his crew came out, — intending not to yield, but to shoot; but they were so drunk that their guns were too heavy for them. He himself, with a carbine, overcharged and almost half filled with powder and shot, tried to shoot Captain Standish; but he stepped up to him and put aside his gun and took him. No harm was done on either side, except that one of his men was so drunk that he ran his nose upon the point of a sword that some one held in front of him on entering the house; but all he lost was a little of his hot blood. Morton they took to New Plymouth, where he was kept till a ship went from the Isle of Shoals to England. NOTE 3

They wrote and sent a case against him along with him, but it had no effect; he wriggled loose and was back in the New World in a couple of years, causing further mischief.

But Bradford remembered, at the last minute, that as furious as he may have been with the shifty Morton, that was not what he was supposed to be writing about.

But I have been too long about so unworthy a person and so bad a cause. NOTE 4

The sort of weapons these were is a matter of some disagreement to Early Colonial historians. Traditionally they were assumed to be matchlock muskets and arquebuses, but more recent scholarship suggests that as early as 1620, the date of the initial landing, matchlocks were on the way out.

Matchlocks were developed in the late 15th and early 16th centuries and were often referred to as arquebuses or harquebuses, which described a fairly light weapon with a curved stock (Peterson 2000:18). As the century progressed, matchlocks developed longer barrels for greater range, power and accuracy and as a result, became heavier, to the point that true matchlock muskets required a rest be used to support the weight of the barrel for the shooter. Matchlocks were used for approximately 150 years in America but their use as the primary weapon of choice only lasted about 75 years until about 1620 when was begun to be replaced with flintlocks (Peterson 2000:19). By 1675 they had virtually disappeared. NOTE 5

While the source calls them “flintlock,” they were a variety of emerging flint technologies, mostly dog-locks, often called the English lock to distinguish from slightly different Spanish and French locks, or Dutch snapphans (transliterated to English as snaphaunce) locks. These are all slightly different flavors of the emerging flintlock. By using a flint that scraped against a steel frizzen and showered sparks into a pan of priming powder, the flintlock provided a more positive ignition and shorter lock time than the matchlock, which lowered a burning fuse or match into an open priming pan. It would reign throughout the Colonial era and into the early 19th Century, before being replaced by the even more positive and practical percussion lock or caplock.

Appearing at the same time and just after the development of the snaphaunce there were five other types of flint locks in use in the colonies. These were the English lock, the English dog lock, the Scandinavian “snaplock”, the Spanish Miquelet lock, and the true flintlock developed in France in the later seventeenth century. It is believed that the English lock quickly superseded the snaphaunce and that most of the locks found in the New World up to approximately 1625 are of this variety. The dog lock appears to have succeeded the English lock from 1625 to approximately 1675 and the flintlock supplanted the dog lock after 1675 (Peterson 2000:32).

Seven general types of firearms have been identified as being used in Plymouth Colony through a comparison of the archaeological and historical records, these are the musket, harquebus, caliver or cavalier, fowler, carbine, pistol, and the blunderbus. The musket is described as by the 1630 English Martial Arms list as a piece with a barrel four feet long, an overall length of five feet two inches and a bore of .74 caliber. A musket can be further described as a heavy military gun of the 16th to early 17th century with a matchlock. Muskets weighed approximately 16 pounds and required a forked rest to support it. NOTE 6

A dog-lock pistol attributed to Plymouth Colony gunsmith and  officer John Thompson has descended in his family and is among the early weapons documented in this PDF.

And what about the “classic” Pilgrim gun, the blunderbuss? As it happens, it was both less and more common that popular tradition, and pre-21st Century history, would have it!

The blunderbus is a weapon that has often been erroneously associated with the Pilgrims. The image of the black clad buckles on the hat and shoes wearing colonists carrying a turkey on one shoulder and a ridiculously wide mouth musket on the other has been a recurring misnomer for generations. The blunderbuss is a short arm of large caliber with a wide flaring muzzle. They were first introduced into England in the middle of the seventeenth century and were predominately equipped with flint locks. The blunderbus was used essentially in the same way as a modern shotgun by being loaded not with one large shot, but with a number of small bird or goose shot. When fired, these shot spread out in a wide spray wounding and incapacitating any enemies in front of it. This would have been a weapon well suited to the guerrilla warfare that occurred in New England during King Philips War in the 1670s. Previous researchers have stated that these arms were not used in this country before the 1700s, but they were identified in the Plymouth records. NOTE 7

Unfortunately, we don’t know what kind of arms Bradford’s bad apple, Morton, dealt to the Indians, nor what role these smuggled arms played in the many small fights and several large wars between the settlers and the Wampanoags and other native races.

It’s remarkable to find reports from what seems like the ancient past, almost 400 years ago, that speak to us in language we can clearly follow, and which make clear the very human passions and motivations of their long-dead writer; it’s even more remarkable to learn that new discoveries are being made by historians like Craig Chartier, even on matters that we thought were completely understood!

And, Chartier notes that most known early Colony Period sites have never been excavated. His own research depends primarily on period records, which have survived well. Who knows what discoveries await this century’s archaeologists?

Notes

  1. Bradford
  2. Bradford
  3. Bradford
  4. Bradford
  5. Chartier, p. 2.
  6. Chartier, pp. 3-4.
  7. Chartier, p. 4.

Sources

Bradford, William. Of Plymouth Plantation. Portcullis Books. Kindle Edition.

Chartier, Craig. Firearms in Plymouth Colony. Plymouth, MA, 2009: Plymouth Archaeological Rediscovery Project. Retrieved from: http://www.plymoutharch.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/62869457-Firearms-in-Plymouth.pdf. An earlier (2002) version is online here: http://plymoutharch.tripod.com/id71.html

Goldstein, Karin. Arms & Armor of the Pilgrims. Plymouth, MA, 2002: Pilgrim Hall Museum. Retrieved from: http://www.pilgrimhall.org/pdf/Arms_Armor_of_Pilgrims.pdf

 

 

Before Fighter Planes had MGs, One Had Two Lee-Enfields

The most impractical armament that ever took to the air probably launched with the now-forgotten plane that was the British Royal Flying Corps’s first real scout, the S.E. 2 of the fall of 1914.

All these images show the SE2 after its rebuild. The tight cowl and streamlining helped it go fast.

By 27 October, it had joined No. 3 Squadron in France as a fast scout. Initially, its only armament was a service revolver carried by the pilot. However, when it began escort duties, it was armed with two Lee-Enfield service rifles, their shoulder stocks cut off, fixed to the fuselage sides and aimed outwards at an angle to fire clear of the propeller. Firing such weapons (which were bolt action with a conventional trigger) with gloved hands in an icy slipstream must have proved very difficult and aiming could only have been a matter of luck, so it is of little surprise that no combat victories were achieved.

Only one S.E. 2 was made, but several designers at the state-owned Royal Aircraft Establishment worked to make a fast, armed scout, including Mervyn Gorman, Geoffrey de Havilland, and Henry Folland. The proposal was called the B.S. 1 (for “Bleriot Scout”; the Royal Aircraft Establishment/Factory initially labeled designs with tractor propulsion “Bleriot” after the Channel-crossing tractor designs of Louis Blériot, and its pusher-propelled aircraft “Farman” after the designs of Henry Farman. This is the source of the F.E. and B.E. terminology applied to many early British designs). By the time it was built, the one-off plane was re-coded S.E. 2.

After de Havilland survived a crash with serious injuries, it was rebuilt into the configuration shown in these pictures.

High tech, 1914. In some ways the SE2 was a couple of years ahead of its time.

While nowadays a couple of splayed Lee-Enfields seems like an irrational aircraft armament design, remember, someone had to be first, and until the Fokker Eindecker III appeared in the skies of France in 1915, nobody had really solved the problem of firing a machine gun through a propeller arc. Indeed, prior to World War I there was some debate as to whether it even made sense to arm aircraft:

The aeroplane was only adopted by the military a few years before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, principally for reconnaissance. At the time, aerial fighting was an unknown quantity, although it was clearly being considered as Flight magazine explained in its 14 February 1914 edition:

There are two schools of thought regarding fighting in the air. The one holds that if an aeroplane is to fight, it must carry a passenger, gun and ammunition. It will be so large and heavy that it will be slow, also it will lack any means of intercommunication necessary for combined action and it will be unable to come within range of a fast scout. The latter will come, get its information, and go, unmolested. It would appear that, for a time at all events, the fast scout will have the advantage. It depends largely on the number of fighting machines available. The other view is that fighting in the air must occur if results are to be obtained. Given that one side has sufficient fighting machines, it should be impossible for an unarmed scout to approach the point where it desires to glean information.

The RFC appears to have embraced both views and added to its growing fleet of general purpose aeroplanes a number of fast scouting machines. It was therefore hoped that these aircraft could evade enemy scouts as well as gather information vital to British operations. Also, it was anticipated that the armed aeroplanes would be able to protect unarmed machines as they went about their business.

The S.E. 2 was built for speed, and they actually downgraded its powerplant from 100 to 80 horsepower at one point, because of concerns it was too “hot” for ordinary pilots. The front-line life of the plane was rather short.

Only known photograph of the SE2 at the front. Unfortunately, we know of no picture showing the bizarre armament.

In March 1915, it was considered to be unfit for further active service and was returned to the Aircraft Park, and from there was sent back to England. Although as the first true scout, there was some talk of it being considered for preservation, but this did not happen and it was struck off RFC charge, its eventual fate being unrecorded.

And such was the ignominious end of the ur-father of all of the RFCs and RAF’s legendary fighter planes, the first “armed scout” to bear a British roundel in combat.

Notes

  1. Hare, p. 2-4
  2. Hare p. 6-7.

Source

Hare, Paul R. Britain’s Forgotten Fighters of the First World War. Oxford, England: Fonthill Media, 2014.

Operation Starvation: Mining in WWII, Again

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed aerial mining in war, and mentioned the Germans sinking a Russian warship in 1917 and a paper by John Chilstrom, Mines Away!, that examined mining in WWII. British and German aircraft laid copious minefields (as did ships), but the real action was in Japanese waters.

Here’s a Navy training film on the practice of aerial mine warfare in WWII, thanks to Zeno’s Warbirds (approx 17 minutes):

Now Ex Brad TC at “Bring the Heat” has taken the Chilstrom paper and riffed on it in a new direction.

One other mission the B-29s undertook is virtually forgotten today, but had an impact far out of proportion to the effort expended.

That mission was Operation Starvation, the offensive aerial mining campaign against the Japanese home waters.

A simple glance at a map shows that as an island chain, Japan is critically dependent on sea traffic to move supplies, people, and commodities. Further, virtually all of Japan’s strategic industries were almost wholly dependent on commodities that had to be imported from either the islands of the South West Pacific or from the Asian mainland. From almost the first day of the war, the US Navy had instituted an effort to deny the Japanese the use of these sea lane, primarily through its submarine force.

At the urging of ADM King, GEN Hap Arnold agreed to devote a small percentage of 20th Air Force missions to aerial mining.

Beginning on March 27, 1945, B-29s of the 313th Bombardment Wing would eventually fly 1,529 sorties in 46 missions, and lay 12,135 mines. That accounted for just under 6% of 20th AF sorties. In return, postwar survey would reveal that the mines accounted for an astonishing 670 vessels sunk or damaged, with a tonnage of 1.25 million tons. Considering the Japanese merchant fleet was estimated to have only about 2 million tons available when the campaign began, this was a stunning return on investment.

We remember we promised you a writeup on a unique German mining/dambusting effort deep inside Russia, and we’ve been continuing to work on it. This image from the US Air Force Museum is the Mk25 mine. The Mk 25 and Mk 26 were the most significant weapons in the mining of Japanese harbors, channels, and sea lanes. Together with submarine warfare they crippled the shipping-dependent island empire.

There also was some very interesting use/non-use discussions in the Korean and VN wars, and in the Korean war, the damndest job of dambusting you ever heard of. Things we’re writing for the future.

For the WWII Collector Who Has Everything

Looking for a good way to display your MG-34? Look no further, but click on over to eBay where this 1944 Schwimmwagen can be yours. A Schwimmwagen (literally “swim car”) was an amphibious version of the VW Kubelwagen utility vehicle. Both were used by the Wehrmacht in WWII, the Schwimmwagen from about 1942 to 1945. Tens of thousands were made, but few survive.

Here’s what the seller says about this vehicle:

1944 Volkswagen Schwimmwagen type 166 for sale by owner. Less than 100 miles since restoration. Needs freshening up. Ran great when I parked it in the warehouse a year ago. Needs fluids changed and a 6 volt battery to run. Comes with some spare parts and trim including a spare transmission and propeller out drive. Photos and documents of restoration done in Germany.

CA license plate    44 VW   Registration status – non – op.   No delinquent DMV fees due.
Contact: sgv57@live.com

These don’t come o the market often, and this one’s on eBay through Monday… that’s the good news.

The bad news? The asking price is $180,000.

The VW logo inside a gear? That was the logo of VW in WWII, when it was a unit of the labor-recreation entity Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) of the Reich Labor Ministry. Yes, someone went to extremes over the small details on this restoration.

Yeah, but $180,000, though.

Regardless, we still want it. Hmmm… what can we get for Small Dog MkII? And a couple safes full of guns?

But wait… then we’d need to get the MG-34, wouldn’t we?

The 5.56 Timeline is Dead! Long live the 5.56 Timeline!

Use the links on the left of the page to navigate through the many html pages of the Timeline, organized by year.

One of the key resources for anyone interested in the long process of development of the small-caliber, high-velocity concept, leading up to the American adoption of the 5.56mm M16 and M16A1 rifles in 1963, and ultimately to every major army’s basic issue rifle today, has been Daniel E. Watters’s “5.56 Timeline,” developed over a lifetime of research and published until recently on Dean Speir’s site, The Gun Zone.

Five years ago, mentioning a resurce Daniel had turned us on to, we wrote, “For an overview of M16 development with lots of good links, you can’t really beat his page at The Gun Zone,” (adding a link that is now pining for the fjords).  A year later, we mentioned it again.

By 2015, we were calling Daniel’s 5.56 Timeline “indispensable” and it truly was, so it was pretty shocking when The Gun Zone closed down, and it went off the net… for a while.

Daniel explains it as follows:

This article was originally published at The Gun Zone — The Gunperson’s Authoritative Internet Information Resource. My friend and mentor Dean Speir has graciously hosted my articles at TGZ for nearly 16 years. These articles would likely have never appeared online without his constant encouragement and assistance.

With TGZ’s closure in early 2017, Dean encouraged me to find a new home for my scholarship so it wouldn’t be lost in the dustbin of the Internet. Loose Rounds has welcomed me with open arms. In the future, I intend to expand my legacy TGZ articles and add new contributions here at Loose Rounds.

While we regret the demise of TGZ, we’re thankful that this priceless Timeline was saved.

It’s now a permanent Page at Loose Rounds.

One thing that would make this Timeline really come alive is adapting it to an actual graphical timeline. Just thinking out loud, the 5.56 Timeline would make a great application for Scott ‘s internet startup, WhenHub.

An Unwanted First for the Destroyer Okhotnik

Three Okhotnik-class Ships at Anchor, early 1900s.

The ship was patrolling an anchorage in the Baltic Sea on 26 September, 1917. The Germans had been softening up the Russian forces in the area for what both sides expected would be an offensive against the Russian-occupied seacoast. German naval air forces, which had air superiority, conducted aerial bombing from airplanes and Zeppelines. They destroyed the magazine of one shore battery with a lucky hit, a fire, and secondary detonations. German land-based naval aviation attacked Russian ships with torpedoes, and scattered mines. The torpedoes had mechanical problems; the mines, too, had yet to score.

Rendering of Okhotnik. As the photos show, the bow rake of this model is incorrect.

As luck would have it, the ill-fated Okhotnik and her ill-fated skipper, Lieutenant Second Rank V.A. Fok, went down in history as their ship went down in the Baltic, first naval vessel sunk by an air-deployed mine. And Fok went down with his ship, a testament to the collapsed discipline of the revolutionary Russian armed forces (this was the Provisional Government period).

As the Russian torpedoboat destroyer Okhotnik carried out picket duty in the manoeuvre basin near buoy number 4 on 26 September, she struck a German mine. This mine had been laid by a German aircraft and Okhotnik carried the dubious distinction of being the first warship sunk by an aerial mine. Neither the commander nor officers wished to abandon ship. Harald Graf described the situation as follows:

Soon all the boats were overflowing with sailors and nobody thought to offer the officers a place. They considered it improper to ask for a place and remained aboard the torpedoboat, silently observing the leaving of the boats. The torpedoboat sank, and soon water flooded over the deck on which the officers stood….

With Okhotnik two more officers were lost, the commander Senior Leitenant V A Fok, and Leitenant V K Panferov.1

We’re still looking for information on German air-delivered mines of WWI. But this US patent was granted in 1917.

This first effective use of aerial mines was far from the last; air-laid mines would sink hundreds of ships in the Second World War. But given the Baltic’s situation as a forgotten theater of World War One, this far-ranging and effective German air-sea campaign is practically unknown today. In a master’s thesis for the Air University in 1992, USAF Major John Chilstrom, an FB-111 and B-52 strategic bomber commander, did a deep dive into aerial mining history, but while he credited the Germans for kicking the technology off, he missed his target by one war:

In World War II, the Luftwaffe was first to lay mines from the air and first to field many of the weapon’s innovations.2

The first recorded aerial minelaylng in combat occurred on November 20. 1939, when nine Heinkel 59 floatplanes flew to the Thames Estuary. Although five turned back due to navigation difficulties, four aircraft laid seven mines that night and thirty-four more in the following two days.

However, two of the mines dropped on the third attempt fell in shallow water, enabling the British to recover examples of Germanyís “secret” weapon–the magnetic mine. “Britain had captured her biggest prize since the war began.” 3

While that could be read as giving the Germans credit only for being first in World War II,  nowhere else in the manuscript does he credit WWI with aerial mines. This is not to discredit Chilstrom’s work overall; it’s an engaging history of a little-studied aspect of World War II, and has direct applications to the future.

Notes

  1. Staff, p. ? (using an electronic copy lacking page numbers).
  2. Chilstrom, p. v.
  3. Chilstrom, p. 7.

Sources

Chilstrom, John S. (Major, USAF). Mines Away! The Significance of US Army Air Forces Minelaying in World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air University, 1992. Retrieved from: https://permanent.access.gpo.gov/websites/dodandmilitaryejournals/www.maxwell.af.mil/au/aul/aupress/SAAS_Theses/SAASS_Out/Chilstrom/chilstrom.pdf

Staff, Gary. Battle for the Baltic Islands: Triumph of the German Navy.  Barneley, S. Yorks: Pen and Sword Maritime, 2008.

Poetry Minute: An Irish Airman Foresees His Death (Yeats, 1919)

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
William Butler Yeats, published 1919

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Many people take this poem as an example of Yeats’s powerful gifts of imagination and imagery, and his ability to bring modern events into classical poetic forms. But there actually was a real Irish Airman on the poet’s mind: Robert Gregory served with the Royal Air Force Flying Corps and was killed on the Italian front in 1917. Like Yeats, Gregory came from the wealthy Anglo-Irish gentry; his mother was a friend of the poet. This is the one that is best remembered, but Yeats actually wrote several poems about Gregory’s loss; In Memory of Robert Gregory is, after An Irish Airman, the one that is most critically admired. It uses a number of literary devices but then comes back to Yeats’s assessment of Gregory, the man:

Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,
And all he did done perfectly
As though he had but that one trade alone.

Gregory was a tragic figure. A 19-victory ace, at least according to Yeats, he had received the Military Cross and the French Legion d’Honneur, and was appointed to the command of 66 Squadron, RFC. Unbeknownst to Yeats, when he was shot down and killed on 23 January 1918, he fell not at the hands of a German or Austro-Hungarian enemy but either as a result of friendly fire from a mistaken Italian ally, or otherwise accidentally (the records are not clear).

Many fans of English poetry, especially Great War poetry, know An Irish Airman Forsees His Death. Break it down into quatrains and it’s easy to memorize, a great party trick — at least, with English Lit coeds. But relatively few of them can name the Irish Airman. Now you can.

Use your knowledge wisely.