Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

As Percussion Replaced Flintlock, C.F. Jones Hedged

This remarkable antique shotgun, for sale by a British dealer, recently was on GunBroker (without a bid). But it’s still for sale in England (as an antique, it’s not difficult to import). At a glance it looks like any early percussion English fowling-piece. Nice, and beautifully worked, but is it special?

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_left

 

Yeah. It is, actually. It’s such a special thing, it may be unique, at least as a survivor. It was a creature of its time, place and circumstances, soon obsolete, but still fascinating.

This is an extraordinary and rare shotgun that was made with a dual ignition system so can be regarded as the epitome of transitional shotguns. The lock features both percussion nipples and a flintlock these can be selected to fire flintlock, percussion or both by moving an interrupter switch which can isolate the platinum lined touch hole in the flash pan.

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_hi-angleWhy would a designer do this? It adds complexity and weight, violating one of the golden mantras of engineering: “Simplicate, and add lightness.” But these kinds of transitional weapons often appear at times of technological change, and usually they’re hedges against failure of the new tech.

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_top

There are good reasons a British gunmaker might hedge on the then-new percussion technology. In the early 19th Century, as percussion’s faster lock time and greater reliability caused it to quickly supplant flintlock ignition, Britain had a far-flung Empire, and caps were a new thing, and one that might be hard to come by in East Africa, Calcutta or Ceylon. Any gunsmith of the period could have converted a percussion gun back to flint as readily as most of them were converting flintlocks, but having the ability for zero-gunsmithing, near-instant flintlock reversion was a comfort for a traveling man.

It didn’t take long for percussion caps to become as common worldwide as black powder itself. They don’t require a lot of engineering expertise or complex machinery to manufacture, and the chemistry is simple. So transitional guns like this Jones shotgun became period curiosities, unable to compete with lighter all-percussion guns.

Overall length is 45″ with a barrel length of 29″ with a bore measuring .6″ so approximately 20 bore. Locks are marked “Jones” and the overall quality is excellent and the gun has not been messed around with. There is one small contemporary repair to the butt which was clearly made during its short working life but not a significant detraction to the overall appearance of the gun. The locks are fine and the bore is bright so it has been well looked after. I am tempted to shoot it myself but this is being sold as a non-firing antique. I assume that the gun was made for somebody who intended travelling overseas at the time it was made and who was concerned that he would not be able to purchase percussion caps overseas.

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid

Before you read the following, note that the British are always making fun of the German propensity for record keeping. Then read this, and grin: even the casual and slapdash British archives give up a lot about Charles Jones and his life a couple centuries back.

Charles Frederick Jones was the son of John Jones of Manor Row, Tower Hill (an armourer in the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1785-1793). Charles was born in about 1800, and in 1814 was apprenticed to John Mason. He became a Freeman of the Gunmakers Company (by patrimony?) in 1822. He was recorded in business at “Near the Helmet”, St Katherine’s, as a gun and pistol maker in 1822, and it seems his brother, Frederick William, joined him soon after the business was established. He was not recorded again until 1829 when, probably in addition to the St Katherine’s premises, he had an address in Pennington Street, Ratcliff Highway. At this time his brother left to set up his own business. In 1831 he opened a factory in Birmingham at 16 Whittall Street. In 1832 he was recorded at 26 St James’s Street. On 7 March 1833 he patented a percussion lock with a cock, tumbler and trigger made in a single curved piece (concentric sears and triggers), and a waterproof sliding cover (No. 6394 in the UK but also patented France), and on 12 June 1833 an improvement with separate triggers and sears (No. 6436). The caps of these Jones patent guns fitted on to the hammer noses and had the fulminate on the outside. This system was called centre-fire, and they struck the nipple and ignited the powder in the chamber. In 1838 Charles Jones described himself as a “Patent and General Gunmaker”, and later as a gun manufacturer. At about this time the firm had a shop at 32 Cockspur Street. There is no record of the firm in London after 1845, and the Birmingham factory may have closed in 1843, but Charles Jones was a member of the Acadamie de L’Industrie de France and the firm may have traded after 1845. Jones had premises in London and Birmingham and was appointed as Gunmaker to HRH the Prince Albert husband of Queen Victoria.

That sounds like a rare honor, but Prince Albert was an avid sportsmen and commissioned many, many pieces from many designers.

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_left_breech

The flint/percussion duality of the piece is the first thing that strikes you, but it’s not the only unusual thing about the piece. Jones was an innovative and imaginative gunmaker and others of his patents, and some nonpatented cleverness, appear in this firearm:

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_internals

Amongst a number of patents, one of Jones’ patents was for an isolation switch to waterproof a flashpan and I dare see this stunning gun is a derivative of that work. Renowned British Gunsmith Peter Dyson believes the brass bolsters were fitted because the maker was worried about sideways expansion if both methods of ignition were used simultaneously. This has not been seen on the market for decades and as a rare and possibly unique item I doubt if it will appear again for many years. If you want something exquisite and unique, this is it! A rare and significant piece.

via UNIQUE FLINTCUSSION DUAL IGNITION JONES SHOTGUN : Antique Guns at GunBroker.com.

As we mentioned, transitional weapons are not unusual. US examples include the M14 rifle, which had a selector switch that could be optionally fitted or not fitted (and usually wasn’t, as the weapon was horribly inaccurate in full-auto), and the Krag Rifle (selected because of its magazine cutoff, which turned it into the firepower equivalent of the Springfield-Allin Trapdoor it replaced). Several early semi-auto rifles were designed to function optionally as bolt-actions, and some early cartridge revolvers had optional muzzle-loading cap-fired cylinders.

These transitions and hybrids provided, among other things, a fallback if the new technology failed. They were a practical solution to a real problem — in a brief window of time.

The GunBroker auction has ended, but Pembroke Fine Arms still has the flint-percussion hybrid for sale. (it’s on the third page of 25 in the shop, and all 25 pages have good stuff on ‘em).

 

Errors in Firearms Materials are Nothing New

Recently, the gang at Small Arms of the World posted a World War II vintage German language weapons manual (subscription required) that focused mostly on German service submachine guns.1 The manual was developed by a retired officer, Colonel Schmitt. Col. Schmitt was a prolific author of small arms and military manuals (of the sort that might be popular with earnest young soldiers, and youth looking forward to military service). He was also the editor of a range of war maps. His materials appeared though the publishing house of R. Eisenschmidt, located on Mittelstraße 18 in Berlin NW7.

At first we thought so the introductory material would be useful in an ongoing research project on early submachineguns. Even though this is not a primary source on early SMG’s, it’s an earlier secondary source than many of the documents we’ve been working with. So we thought it might be authoritative. Indeed, it starts off making sense, and it’s chock full of interesting material; but there are enough errors to give us considerable pause. Let’s start with the sensible bit (our translation):

General Information for all MPs Found in Units

The MP is a weapon that is particularly suited for close combat.

Due to the weapon’s stability in automatic fire, a tight grouping of bursts of fire is enabled. Small targets can be engaged with good success at distances to 100 meters, and larger targets up to 200 m. Beyond 200 m distance, ammunition expenditure is unlikely to meet with success.

The low number of cartridges that can be carried by troopers, and the heavy ammunition demand in the front line, constrain the employment of the MP to snap missions at short distance and to close combat.

This is good, interesting information. But can we trust it, about the MPs that were carried in the first world war? Certainly, we want to trust it; Colonel Schmitt must surely know what he’s talking about, mustn’t he?

Very soon, we come upon information that turns out to be less than trustworthy, on the same page of this same document:

The following models are currently employed:

  • MP 18I (System Bergmann)
  • MP 28II (System Schmeisser),
  • MP Erma (System Vollmer),
  • MP 38 (smooth receiver),
  • MP 40 (receiver with flutes), and
  • MP 34 (with mounted bayonet M.95).

The MPs only fire the pistol cartridge 08 (cal. 9 mm) except the MP 34 which to date only fires the Steyr cartridge (9mm). 2

(The unusual use of superscript Roman numerals in the MP 18 and MP 28 designators is like that in Schmitt’s original).

Now, the world of early German MPs is grey enough that we can let the distinction between “System Bergmann” and “System Schmeisser” slide. (As we understand it, Schmeisser was the primary designer of both, and the magazine housings were generally marked with “Schmeissers Patent” for the double-column, single-feed magazine, but the guns were made by Bergmann).

But notice, that the good Colonel has the MP.38 and MP.40 exactly backwards. While there were many other changes between the 38 and 40, and additional running changes in production (like the two-part “safety” bolt-handle, sometimes called an MP.40 feature but actually introduced as a running change in the MP.38), one of the key improvements in the MP.40 was the lack of fluting, which allowed more rapid, less costly manufacture.

It wasn’t just a single error, for if you skip ahead to where Schmitt treats the MP.38 and .40 (as a single section of his book, which makes perfect sense given the guns’ near-identical nature)3, he makes the same error:

mp38_mis-id_d_as_mp40

The footnote (with asterisk) refers to a reference to the receiver, higher on the page, and reads, “On the MP.38, the receiver is smooth; on the MP.40 it is provided with flutes.”

We assume that Colonel Schmitt was truly an expert, and that he took good care with his manuals, which he knew would be bought and read by Wehrmacht troopers and those soon to be Wehrmacht men. But here’s an example of a mistake he made on a simple thing. It reinforces the importance or critical reading of sources, even of period sources (and even primary sources).

It’s also important to weigh the expertise of a source with the left and right limits of his knowledge… his expertise’s “range fan,” if you will. Combat soldiers may have their heads full of mistaken ideas about the development and manufacture of their weapons, and design engineers, contract managers, and hands-on manufacturing workers may be in the dark about how their products are employed in the field.

And everybody’s human, and makes mistakes. Nicht wahr, Oberst Schmitt?

This is one place where 21st Century scholarship has an edge. If poor old Schmitt made an error, by the time he heard about it R. Eisenschmidt could have printed 20,000 copies of the booklet with the error. If a blogger makes an error, he’s called out on it in the comments forthwith (don’t ask us how we know this).

Notes

1. Schmitt, Colonel. Maschinenpistolen 18I/28II/Erma/38/40/34; Leucht-Pistole, 2er Auflage: Beschreibung und Zusammenwirken der Teile, Beseitigung von hemmungine; Ausinandernehmen und Zusammensetzen; Schulschießübung. Leuchtpistole mit Munition.  (English: Submachine guns MP 18-I, MP28-II, Erma, MP 38, 40, and 34; Flare guns; 2nd Edition: Description ). Berlin, R. Eisenschmidt: 1940. Retrieved from Small Arms of the World archive (subscription required): https://www.smallarmsoftheworld.com/archive/September.2013/5dgdbf7fhpdf/R00221.pdf

2. Schmitt, op. cit., p. 5.

3. Schmitt, op. cit., p. 23. 

A Millennium of Burdens: What The Grunt Carried

This incredible photo essay at the Telegraph has an image with the equipment a British soldier war at a significant battle at various historical inflection points — as they put it, from Hastings to Helmand. You absolutely, positively should Read The Whole Thing™, and also go through the photo essay.

We’ll pick out one for you — the Battle of Tilbury, in 1588. (Regular readers may be more interested in the Helmand trooper’s gear, or the one from Arnhem or the Somme. We found every single one fascinating). Tilbury wasn’t actually a battle; it was an assembly of troops, in anticipation of a battle, and it is best remembered for the speech purportedly given by Queen Elizabeth I to her assembled troopers:

I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

In the end, there was no battle because the Royal Navy had thoroughly cleaned the clock of the Spanish Armada (that’s why that 1588 seemed naggingly familiar to you) and the armies of the Spanish King and the Duke of Parma were unable to land.
army-tilbury_2994165k

1588 trainband caliverman, Tilbury
1 Black woollen doublet with a leather jerkin over the top; the black cloth indicated relative wealth of the soldier
2 Venetian hose
3 Petticoat – holds the trousers up (comes from the word little coat)
4 Ruff
5 White braes – underpants- and white linen shift
6 Cabaset (helmet) with a broad rim which provided good cover to face and back of neck. The helmet has cheek pieces that fold down.
7 Copintank felt hat with African imported ostrich feathers
8 Shoes
9 Gloves
10 Piece of horn
11 Costrel – water bottle
12 Scabbards
13 Drinking tankard and earthenware pot; the stated rations for army facing Armada was two pounds of beef, two pounds of bread, a pound cheese and eight pints of beer
14 Knife and pricker – forks weren’t in wide use, although Elizabeth I was using one
15 Bowl and spoon
16 Grey woollen bag with playing cards, dice and pouch
17 Rapier
18 Side sword
19 Sword belt and pouch; hanging below is a chain with a pricker and brush for cleaning the gun
20 Powder flask for priming powder – to set the gun off with
21 Powder flask for coarser powder that would go down the barrel of the gun
22 Brown pouch with a pocket gold sundial; the mirror was attached to a cord and encased in a walnut-wood ball, stuffed with sweet-smelling herbs. Usually worn around the neck
23 Fire lighting kit including flint and striker and tinder
24 Yard of match – the cord that burns to give fire to the gun
26 Worm – for clearing blockages
27 Ramrod
28 Bag of 20 caliver lead balls
29 Caliver – before Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1559 gunsmiths around the country would make the muskets used in battle to their own specifications. The new queen insisted on standardisation, and so the 20-bore caliver was introduced
30 Money bag with gold coins

via Military kit through the ages: from the Battle of Hastings to Helmand – Telegraph.

Here is the picture with the photo key:

Tilbury_2996013b

Our biggest take-away was how little the load of the infantryman has changed through the centuries, and how brutal the actual business of ground combat always was, and still is. Few pieces of gear exist in every loadout (at least one does: every set of gear has a spoon), and the weapons provide increased range and hit probability, but the grunt’s burden is relatively constant throughout.

We suggest there may be a Law: the infantryman’s burden expands to the maximum he can bear, always and everywhere.

The photo essay begins here.

The US Army Always Respected the AK

That’s one major take-away from a November, 1964 Springfield Armory classified report on a Chinese Type 56 AK variant, which the Armory received in late 1963 with a request that it be examined and compared to a Soviet-made AK already in their possession for “for similar and dissimilar features of design, fabrication, workmanship and construction.” We found this document in the archives of Small Arms of the World; for subscribers to that most excellent website, it’s available at this link. If you’re not a subscriber, this would be a good time. (Note: see the update at the end of this story for a free link to the file).

Springfield was asked to examine the Chinese AK by the US Army’s technical intelligence brain trust, the Foreign Science and Technology Center. Was the Chinese AK a worthy adversary? Surely it wouldn’t be as well made as its Russian prototype, let alone its American and Western competitors. Would it?

The report included an extremely detailed comparison of Chinese to Russian parts.

The report included an extremely detailed comparison of Chinese to Russian parts, and an analysis of what the parts weighed and did.

 

This is the Soviet AK described in the report, which remains in the collection of the Springfield Armory museum. It has since acquired a sling and a later magazine.

This is the actual Soviet AK described in the report, which remains in the collection of the Springfield Armory museum. It has since acquired a sling and a later magazine.

We have traced the original Russian rifle to Springfield Armory, where it remains in the Museum collection. The Museum has recorded facts about it that were not known to the 1964 report writers. This AK was made in Tula circa 1954, and Springfield notes:

Weapon transferred to the Museum from the Aberdeen Proving Ground on 2 December 1960. At that time weapon was appraised at $250.00.

Springfield has a photo of Elena Kalashnikova (Mikhail’s daughter) at the exhibit, and the label on the exhibit says:

AK47 – During the summer of 1962 one thousand AR15 rifles were sent to the Vietnamese who liked them better than the larger and heavier M1s and B.A.R.s. A ‘system analysis’ of the AR15 and M14, based on their use in Vietnam, made extravagant claims for the AR15 and resulted in an evaluation of the two American rifles and the Soviet AK47.

The evaluation referred to is the one discussed here. Apparently the exhibit does not note (although the curators must know) that this AK is the very AK that was analyzed in the report!

The Chinese AK’s whereabouts are unknown at this writing. The Museum has a Type 56, but it’s Serial Number 11103261 and was accessioned from the Watervliet Arsenal Museum on 25 August 1972. The following picture is the image of the Type 56 from the report:

In all respects, the Chinese Type 56 turned out to be identical to the earlier Tula AK-47, apart from markings and within manugacturing tolerances.

In all respects apart from trivial wood-furniture differences and the newer, lighter magazine, the Chinese Type 56 turned out to be identical to the earlier Tula AK-47, apart from markings and within manufacturing tolerances. It’s hard to tell from this picture if the front sight guard features the Russian-style “ears” or the full hood with a light hole that became a signature of Chinese AKs. In the right-side picture, it looks like “ears” to us, and in the left-side shot, a full hood!

In the end, they concluded that there were very few differences between the machined-receiver Soviet AK, serial number AA3286K, and its Chinese clone Type 56 SN 2021164, made in factory 66. The Chinese used a solid wood buttstock instead of the Russian laminate, and made their magazine of .0275″ sheet metal instead of .036″ for the Russian, and noted that the Chinese (but presumably not the Russian) magazine was ribbed for reinforcement; this saved approximately 3 ounces weight. As the Chinese magazine illustrated is the same as the common improved Russian magazine with three reinforcing ribs on the heel of the mag (these ribs were later deleted from Chinese mags), it seems probable that this weight saving was a Russian improvement vis-a-vis the original slabsided magazine.

Given that Russian and Chinese manufacturers work in international units, the nominal gauge for the magazine’s sheet steel was probably 0.7 mm (Chinese) and 0.9 or 1.0 mm for the Russian slabsided mag. These are roughly, but not exactly, 23 gauge and 20 gauge sheet steel respectively. Thinner steel (a higher-numbered gauge) is generally easier to form as well as lighter. Other than the wood of the stock and the design of the mag, their 1960s-vintage AK from China was identical to their 1950s Russian comparison. Their parts were identical in dimensions to a few hundred-thousandths of an inch and tenths of an ounce in weight. They seemed to be made to identical plans, and within identical tolerances. There’s no indication that the Arsenal experts tried interchanging the parts, but their careful analysis implies that the parts would interchange.

They looked at the weapons in detail, and came away impressed and respectful of Russian and Chinese manufacturing.

They looked at the weapons in detail, and came away impressed and respectful of Russian and Chinese manufacturing.

The weapons were weighed empty, without mag, sling, and cleaning/toolkit (the small kit that fits in the AK’s butt trap was missing from both sample weapons). They were also weighed with empty mags and with a mag loaded with 7.62 x 39mm ammunition (the ammo used was of Finnish manufacture). The scope of the task did not include firing, to the evident disappointment of the Springfield engineers (one of their recommendations was for a follow-up live-fire; it’s unknown if it came to pass).

The comparison to American firearms did not injure the Eastern weapons. The Chinese and Russian weapons were well made and their metal parts were machined as well as an American service rifle’s parts would be. There were toolmarks visible in places where it didn’t matter, and other parts were polished to as smooth-surfaced a microfinish as Springfield itself would do. They did notice that in the fine point of anticorrosion surface finishes, the Comblock weapons came up second best: little was left of the original rust bluing on the AKs, and the bolt and bolt carrier were completely unfinished from the factory.

The reviewers also noted many of the features for which Kalashnikovs have become known over the next 50 years: robust parts; simple field-stripping into few, large assemblies; parts clearances that imply high reliability and high toleration of rude field conditions. They thought the weapon specially suitable for guerrilla and short-range, close-quarters warfare, a verdict that neither its original manufacturers nor modern experts could dispute.

One is left with the overriding impression that, while the design and manufacture of this weapon did not shake the confidence of the Armory engineers in their own organization’s craft, they did respect it as a noteworthy design of high manufacturing quality.

Also, although the report does not say this explicitly, it’s clear that the ability of the communist bloc to transfer the manufacturing technology of the AK rifle from its Russian home in Izhevsk to Factory 66 in China bespeaks a self-replicating capability of then-enemy arsenals that had a high potential to be a force multiplier for them. The 2nd Model, machined-receiver AK is not some rude Sten gun that can be produced in guerrilla workshops: its series manufacture requires quality steels and 20th Century machine tools, production engineering, and precision manufacturing and measurement techniques. We can’t tell from this single report whether the Chinese attempt to set up an AK factory in the 1950s went smoothly or suffered difficult teething troubles; we can be sure than in eight years or less any problems were fully resolved and the Chinese plant was producing firearms almost indistinguishable from their Soviet prototypes.

This original report was classified Confidential at its origin and later regraded, first Restricted (a now-long-defunct lowest level of classification) and finally Unclassified. It is no longer a secret that the USA was interested in the small arms of competitor states fifty years ago. This treasure was found by the Small Arms of the World staff in a British archive, and this sort of thing is exactly why you ought to subscribe to the site (and the related dead-tree magazines, Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal).

There were numerous other reports evaluating the AK and its ammunition in the pre-Vietnam era. We do not have copies of all; some we know only from bibliographies and reference lists in extant documents, but we’re still looking for them. Some of them included:

  • Ordnance Technical Intelligence, OIN 13042, 7 May 1956, Firing Test:, Soviet 7.62 mm Assault Rifle Kalashnikov (AK), MCN 9866.
  • Ordnance Technical Intelligence, OIN 13270, ? April 1959. Wound Ballistics Tests of the Soviet 7,62 mm Bullet, MCN 8300.
  • USATEC letter report on Comparative Evaluation of U. S. Army Rifle 7.62mm, M14; Armalite Rifle Caliber..223, AR-15: Soviet Assault Rifle AK-47; 12 Dec 62.

  • (S) Rifle Evaluation Study (U). US Army Combat Developments Command. 20 Dec 62. In this document, the CDC compared the M14, an improved squad-automatic version of the M14 developed by the US Army Infantry Board, the AR-15, the AK-47, and the vaporware Special Purpose Infantry Weapon (SPIW), and recommended M14 adoption be slowed and AR-15s be bought for units not committed to NATO. Declassified and available at DTIC.
  • (C) Exploitation Report- Comparison of 7.62mm Assault Rifles- Chinese Communist Type 56 and Soviet Model AK. (U). Springfield Armory. November 1964. That’s the document discussed in this post, declassified and available (to subscribers) at Small Arms of the World. (We strongly recommend subscribing, if you’re interested in this stuff. Many historical reports that didn’t make it to DTIC are at SAotW via the National Armories at Leeds, who kept their copies and allowed Dan Shea’s gang to digitize them). 
  • Foreign Materiel Exploitation Report- Rifle, 7.62x39mm, Type 68, Communist China. From HP White Laboratory. April 1973. This is also at Small Arms of the World archives, thanks to the Ezell archives held at National Armories. (Note, this is a large .pdf, 16.7 Mb per SAotW, and you’ll need a subscription there to get it). 

UPDATE 1702R 20140821

Ross Herman at Small Arms of the World was kind enough to post a free-access public link to the ForeignMaterial Exploitation Report. It’s here: http://www.smallarmsoftheworld.com/content/pdf/R00413.pdf

Many thanks to Ross for this. We didn’t even ask him, he just did it!

We will add this story to Best of WeaponsMan Gun Tech this evening.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: KFSS.ru

These scenes aren’t from Chernobyl, although they have the same air of haunted abandonment. And they’re not from Detroit, although the site makers are reminiscent of the urban ruins explorers of the Motor City. They’re from various abandoned and forgotten military bases in the former Soviet Far East.

Posters of Lenin, and placards celebrating the Warsaw Pact, that celebrated bond of Socialist fellowship that evaporated as soon as Soviet coercion was removed from the slave states of Eastern Europe. Rows of tanks, caught in the middle of repairs that didn’t come, stripped and vandalized.

abandoned tanks 206 btrz kfss.ru

The photos are from a site called KFSS.ru, and they’re why it’s the Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week, even though it has other explorations on there (for example, of coastal forts). But for us, it was the post-Soviet ruins that were mesmerizing.

If you look at only one of KFSS.ru’s explorations, the 206th BTRZ — a tank-repair site strewn with the carcasses of armored vehicles — could be the most interesting.

The unit was originally established in 1936 as the V.G. Voroshilov Repair Base for the Far East No. 77. Over the years it had many other names, but basically kept overhauling tanks for the Red, then Soviet, then Russian, army, and its final identity was the 206th Broniytankoviy Remontniy Zavod — Armored Tank Repair Factory (or Facility). When it closed, a large amount of work-in-progress vehicles, from BRDM-1 and -2 light amphibious armored reconnaissance vehicles through T-64 tanks, were left behind.

In this photo essay, as in the others, the photos are always professionally, even artistically, composed. They speak of the fascinating beauty of ruins, a beauty which has captivated men for centuries.

Sometimes, men who did their national service on these bases comment on the pages, filling in details. It is jarring to see your old base, even your old barracks, workplace, or team room, reduced to ruins — we’ve been through that ourselves (the team room has since been torn down and no trace of it remains).

Every page of KFSS introduces military archaeology that is at once familiar and exotic, like the strange tubular bunkers that once held R-5s, the Soviet Union’s first nuclear-armed missiles, and the abandoned classrooms of a radio school.

You’ll need to read Russian to get the maximum knowledge and enjoyment from this site, although Google or some other online translator can probably help. But you don’t really need to  read the words to appreciate the haunting beauty in some of these ruins.

Buildings 30 and 40 years old, probably never all that watertight to begin with, given Soviet construction standards.

A pack of cigarettes, forgotten on a shelf. A naval officer’s uniform, hanging up next to the ironing board that got it ready for a next meeting that didn’t happen.

Naval Officer's Uniform kfss-ru

Abandoned Vozdvizhenka Aerodrome, home to a fleet of Tu-223M carcasses, late of Russian Naval Aviation:

Abandoned Bomber

Some of the architecture is similar to any European or American base, and some is uniquely Soviet. A large open-span area in a maintenance hall is built with precast concrete rafters that have an arched truss cast into them, for example — an ingenious and elegant solution.

The routine junk of military living. Propaganda exhortations (Your unit – your community!) of the inoffensive kind. Key control boards. Ammo bunkers. NBC posters: what to do when the Americans nuke you.

NBC poster kfss-ru

We never did, but they tried to be ready. So did we, during the Cold War.

While most of the world’s Army, Navy and Air Force bases look much alike, only the USSR left this one signature item behind when a base closed: Lenin.

Lenin kfss-ru

 

The soldiers, sailors and airmen who traipsed through these buildings, and unwittingly, through history, by and large did their duty: their homeland wasn’t attacked again after V-E Day. Perhaps the system they served did not deserve their loyalty, but their country, and their countrymen, probably did. And the artifacts they left behind exist in the strange limbo between abandonment and archaeology.

All in favor of gun control, raise your right hand….

hitler_salutes

This guy will raise his right hand for that.

Nothing infuriates gun control proponents more, than to point out that the Nazis set great store by this means of social engineering. It infuriates them to the point that many deny it, citing Weimar gun law, which required the registration so necessary to Nazi-era confiscation, and arguing that the Jews couldn’t have defended themselves anyway, even if the Nazis hadn’t disarmed them.

But the Nazis thought they might, and so, they disarmed the Jews. It was a deliberate and discrete action, in the context of but also independent of the Nazis’ many other abuses of their Jewish countrymen. Do not take our word for it; we’re going to show you the primary documents.

After the murder of a Nazi in Paris in 1938, the Nazis seized on this as a pretext to visit a disaster upon the Jews, the so-called Crystal Night. But that was, as we know, just the beginning of the Jews’ sufferings. On 12 November 38, Goering met with a rogues’ gallery of the Third Reich (Funk, Heydrich, and others) and an insurance executive (!) to plot a means of cheating the looted Jewish merchants out of their insurance. (Minutes of the meeting in English translation). At this meeting, Heydrich suggests the first moves of the Final Solution:

In spite of the elimination of the Jew from the economic life, the main problem, namely to kick the Jew out of Germany, remains. May I make a few proposals to that effect?

The surviving transcript is not complete, but it does not mention firearms. However, the decree, issued that same day, did. Heydrich did suggest “a few proposals regarding police measures” and some of that conversation survives. This brainstorm of Reinhard Heydrich’s led to the yellow Star of David labeling German Jews (although not until 1941):

As for the isolation, I’d like to make a few proposals regarding police measures which are important also because of their psychological effect on public opinion. For example, who is Jewish according to the Nurnberg laws, shall have to wear a certain insignia. …

Goering: A uniform!
Heydrich: An insignia.

After a short diversion, Heydrich continued to propose what Jews might not, and must, do:

As an additional measure, I’d propose to withdraw from the Jews all personal papers such as permits and drivers licenses. No Jew should be allowed to own a car, neither should he be permitted to drive because that way he’d endanger German life. By not being permitted to live in certain districts, he should be furthermore restricted to move about so freely. I’d say the Royal Square in Munich, the Reichsweihestatte, is not to be entered any more within a certain radius by Jews. The same would go for establishments of culture, border fences, military installations. Furthermore, like Minister Dr. Goebbels has said before, exclusion of the Jews from public theaters, movie houses, etc.

….Many German Volksgenossen are unable to improve their health through a stay at a resort town. I don’t see why the Jew should go to these places at all. …. I’d like to propose the same thing for hospitals. A Jew shall not lie in a hospital together with Aryan Volksgenossen. The same applies to public conveyances.

Their is no discussion of firearms, but there is a discussion of how having required Jews to register assets and securities allows them to be readily expropriated.

That same day, the Verordnung zur Ausschaltung der Juden aus dem deutschen Wirtschaftsleben or Decree on the Elimination of the Jews from German Economic Life was promulgated. This banned Jews from the professions and commercial life.

The same day, 12 Nov 38, Interior Minister Hans Frick had banned “Waffen-besitz für Juden” — gun ownership for Jews. (The original actually contains two dates, 11 and 12 November. It can’t be certain from the text whether this is an error, or whether the decree was published on one day and effective the next). The decree was published in all major newspapers; We believe Steven Halbrook has a facsimile of it as printed in the Nazi Party’s own paper, the Völkischer Beobachter, and this site has it as printed in the Tages-ZeitingThe German text of the decree:

Waffenbesitz für Juden verboten

Eine Verordnung des Reichsministers

Berlin, 12. November. Amtlich wird mitgeteilt:

Nachdem der Reichsführer SS und Chef der deutschen Polizei im Reichsministerium des Innern dem jüdischen Waffenbesitz schon durch sofortige polizeiliche Anordnung schlagartig ein Ende gesetzt hatte, ist nunmehr das gesetzliche Verbot auf dem Fuße gefolgt. Der Reichsminister des Innern hat noch gestern die nachfolgende Verordnung gegen den Waffenbesitz der Juden erlassen, die schon gestern im Reichsgesetzblatt veröffentlicht wurde:

Auf Grund des Paragraphen 31 des Waffengesetzes vom 18. März 1938 (Reichsgesetzblatt 1, Seite 265) des Artikels III des Gesetzes über die Wiedervereinigung Oesterreichs mit dem Deutschen Reich vom 13. März 1938 (Reichsgesetzblatt 1, Seite 327) und des Paragraphen 9 des Erlasses des Führers und Reichskanzlers über die Verwaltung der sudetendeutschen Gebiete vom 1. Oktober 1938 (Reichsgesetzblatt 1, Seite 1331) wird folgendes verordnet:

§ 1. Juden (§ 5 der ersten Verordnung zum Reichsbürgergesetz vom 14. November 1935, Reichsgesetzblatt 1, Seite 1333) ist der Erwerb, der Besitz und das Führen von Schußwaffen und Munition sowie von Hieb- oder Stoßwaffen verboten. Sie haben die in ihrem Besitz befindlichen Waffen und Munition unverzüglich der Ortspolizeibehörde abzuliefern.

§ 2. Waffen und Munition, die sich im Besitz eines Juden befinden, sind dem Reich entschädigungslos verfallen.

§ 3. Für Juden fremder Staatsangehörigkeit kann der Reichsminister des Innern Ausnahmen von dem im § 1 ausgesprochenen Verbot zulassen. Er kann diese Befugnis auf andere Stellen übertragen.

§ 4. Wer den Vorschriften des § 1 vorsätzlich oder fahrlässig zuwiderhandelt, wird mit Gefängnis und mit Geldstrafe bestraft. In besonders schweren Fällen vorsätzlicher Zuwiderhandlung ist die Strafe Zuchthaus bis zu fünf Jahren.

§ 5. Der Reichsminister des Innern erläßt die zur Durchführung dieser Verordnung erforderlichen Rechts- und Verwaltungsvorschriften.

§ 6. Diese Verordnung gilt auch im Lande Oesterreich und in den sudetendeutschen Gebieten.

Berlin, 11. Nov. 1938.
gez. Frick.

Historischer Zeitungsartikel: Tages-Post, 12.11.1938

The English translation:

Weapons Ownership Forbidden for Jews

An Order of the State Minister

Berlin, 12. November. The following is reported officially:

After the Reichsführer SS and Chief of German Polizei in the State Ministry of the Interior  abruptly put an end to JEwish weapons ownership with an immediate police order, the legal ban henceforth follows in train. The Minister of the Interior yesterday decreed the following Order Against Weapons Ownershio for JEws, which was already published yesterday in the Reichsgesetzblatt. [The official registry of laws]:

On the Grounds of Paragraph 31 of the Gun Control Law of 18 March 1938 (Reichsgesetzblatt 1, p. 265), Article III of the Law of the Reunification of Austria with the German Empire of  13 March 1938 (Reichsgesetzblatt 1, p. 327) and Paragraph 9 of the Decree of the Führers and Reichs Chancellor on the Administration of the Sudeten German Region of 1 October 1938 (Reichsgesetzblatt 1, p. 1331) the following is ordered:

§ 1. For Jews (§ 5 the first Order of the State Citizenship Law of 14 November 1935, Reichsgesetzblatt 1, p. 1333) the acquisition, the possession and the use of firearms and ammuniyion as well as  von Schußwaffen und Munition as well as of cutting- or thrusting-weapons is forbidden. They must turn over any weapons that may be in their position to local police officials without delay.

§ 2. Weapons and ammunition, that may be found in the possession of a Jew, are forfeit to the Reich without compensation.

§ 3. For Jews of foreign citizenship, the Reichs Minister of the Interior can authorize exceptions to the ban described in § 1. He can delegate this authority.

§ 4. Anyone who violates the prescriptions of § 1 deliberately or negligently, will be punished with prison and fines. In particularly severe cases of deliberate violation, the sentence is up to five years in penitentiary.

§ 5. The Reichs Minister of the Interior will publish the necessary legal and administrative regulations to permit the application of this Order.

§ 6. This order is also effective in the provinces of Austria and in the Sudeten German areas.

Berlin, 11 Nov 1938.
Signed. Frick.

Historical news article: Tages-Post, 12.11.1938

Himmler in VB 10 Nov 38The decree that Frick was making haste to “legalize” was one already promulgated by his de jure subordinate but de facto boss, Heinrich Himmler. On 10 Nov. 38, Himmler had let his ruling — a shorter and to the point ban on Jewish self-defense — be published in the Nazi paper, Völkischer Beobachter. Halbrook reproduces this document in his book and website. This suggests that the decision to disarm the Jews was at least some days in advance of the Nazi leaders’ other punitive measures. The English translation of the brief Himmler decree:

Weapons possession by Jews forbidden

By Order of Reichsführer-SS Himmler.

Munich, 10 November (1938)

The Reichsführer-SS and Chief of the German Police has issued the following order:

For persons who are classified as Jews under the Nuremberg laws, any kind of weapons possession is forbidden. Violators will be incarcerated in concentration camps, and held for the duration of 20 years in protective custody.

There was, of course, nothing “protective” about this custody. That was merely an Nazi euphemism for a sentence to hard labor in the concentration camps. It is unknown if anyone was sentenced under this provision. Anyone who was, would almost certainly have been exterminated before the war’s end, if the mere tempo of KZ labor and privations of KZ existence didn’t kill him.

At the time of these laws, few saw the Holocaust coming — this was just another pogram in a long and sordid history of them, and no one had ever systematically tried to exterminate the Jews with all of a nation-state’s scientists and engineers at his command. So people couldn’t imagine it.

And so would this guy.

And so would this guy. Different men, same totalitarian impulse.

Jews would not be marked for extermination as a systematic matter of policy for nearly four years, not until after the notorious Wannsee Conference. But gun registration, their own law-abiding tendencies, and a hostile government had already rendered them defenseless, and when the Final Solution decision was taken, there was little left to the victims except to plan to die with whatever dignity they could muster. And so millions went, sheep to slaughter, with only a few bands of partisans here and there surviving as free agents.

So go ahead and trust the government. The Jews of Europe did.

The Best Example of the Worst US Machine Gun

Technically, this isn’t exactly a US machine gun. Although it’s true that this French-made light machine gun, commonly called the Chauchat, was issued to the American Expeditionary Force when it arrived in France. It was probably the first machine gun ever designed to be manufactured cheaply and rapidly using stampings, sheet metal and steel tube, and simple screw machines with the barest minimum of time, and set-ups, executed on traditional lathes, shapers and milling machines. Many of the automotive industry techniques that were applied to the Sten and the M3 grease gun were not yet available in 1915, so the manufacturing technology that went into this gun is even more remarkable.

Chauchat 1

The evolving conventional wisdom is that the 8mm version was not all that bad; the true disaster was the American attempt to Bubba it to fire the .30-06. But the bad reputation of the Chauchat ensures one thing: you can get an example for quite short money for a transferable machine gun. This excellent-condition example is the best we have seen, and it’s on GunBroker right now with a buy-it-now of $7,500!

That is a bargain for a transferable, historically significant machine gun, and right in time for the centennial of the Great War. Here’s the other side, just to prove we’re not showing you the star’s best side:

Chauchat 2Now, the beauty of the Chauchat is kind of an acquired taste. It’s pretty rudely functional, in a way that few polished, blued, walnut-stocked service weapons of the day were. That’s one way in which this old poilu is a harbinger of modern times. But it was an early example of a shoulder-fired, bipod-equipped, single-gunner (with one a/gunner making a crew of 2) light machine gun.

The Chauchat, called by its reluctant doughboy operators the “Sho-Sho Gun,” was formally the Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1915 C.S.R.G. from the initials of the members of the committee that brought it forth. Mechanical engineer Col. Louis Chauchat and hands-on machinist Charles Sutter were the designers; Paul Ribeyrolles wasthe production engineer who prepared it for industrial mass production, and Gladiator, Ribeyrolles’s velocipede and motorcar factory in suburban Paris, was where the bulk of them were manufactured (a second factory came on line late in the war).

The Mle. 1915 was a revision of a 1907 Chauchat-Sutter design that was manufactured by more traditional methods. While France only built 100 of the Modele 1907 C-S, zero of which survive, they were able to produce hundreds of thousands of the 1915 CSRGs in two converted automotive plants, enough that they had them to spare for their Allies like Belgium and the USA, and a Chauchat diaspora carried the guns as far as Russia and Greece after the war.

It is a long-recoil design, which means that the bolt and barrel remain locked until the assembly has recoiled the entire length of the cartridge – for the 8 x 50 Lebel, 70mm or about 3 inches — and then the barrel returns forward when the bolt is held back. The empty is ejected from this rear position, the feed system (here, a 20-round, half-moon curved box magazine) pops up a fresh round, and the arrival of the barrel forward trips the release of the bolt, chambering and firing (if the trigger remains depressed) the next round. This is the system of the Browning Auto-5 shotgun and the Remington Model 8 rifle (essentially Browning’s rifle version of the same action), but the Chauchat is the only successful application to automatic weapons that we’re aware of. (This is the point in the article where Daniel E. Watters is invited to correct us if we’re wrong!). Recoil is boosted by the conical booster that many have mistaken for a flash hider; it’s actually there for the same reason the MG42 has a similarly conceived muzzle attachment. The long recoil action yields long movements of heavy parts, and therefore, potentially more dispersion than comparable weapons, at least partly offset by a lower rate of fire.

This brief video, from our friends at Forgotten Weapons, shows you the cyclic rate of an 8mm Chauchat.

The bizarre half-moon magazines, unique to the Chauchat, were required by the rimmed 8mm Lebel cartridge, which is dramatically tapered: 16mm at the rim and 8.3mm at the case mouth. Some people have concluded there is a solid type of magazine (see the one in the gun on the left side picture), and another version with large cut-outs, but in fact, all mags we’ve seen have one smooth side and one cut-out side. We don’t know whether the cut-outs were meant to lighten the mags or to allow round counting; We do know it was a rotten idea for a gun used in the gooey muck of trench warfare. But at least one intended employment of the CSRG was as a lightweight gun for aerial observers, where your fate was more likely to be a long fall, or burning to death, than mud, trench foot and typhus.

This example is also extremely well accessorized, with AA sights (visible on the gun and a spare set in the accessory shot below), and spare mags and carriers. It hasn’t been fired in years, but the seller says it worked when it last was put to the test.

Chauchat 3

The starting price of the auction is $5,750, but there’s a reserve. As mentioned above, the Buy-it-now is $7,500. Here’s the seller’s blurb:

This is a splendid condition Chauchat with numerous accessories. 8 m/m Lebel, C & R and fully transferable. Model of 1915 by C.S.R.G. 5 Magazines, Anti-Aircraft sight installed, spare set of anti-aircraft sights, very rare musette magazine bag, even more rare wooden magazine case, bipod, original sling. Can supply about 1000 rounds of ammo with gun, extra price. This is a high quality Chauchat that when last fired about 8 years ago, ran like a top. Even with English manual.

It’s really a rare chance to add a museum-worthy, historically significant firearm — the wellspring of all light machine guns and squad automatic weapons! — to your collection.

Of course, if you’re inspired with desire for one of these unusual French ticklers, but shrink from spending quite so much, there’s a less minty Chauchat that Ohio Ordnance is offering for a starting bid of $4,500 and no reserve. Certainly the minty one is the better investment-grade gun.

The seller of the minty Chauchat, WDHaskins, has quite a few other enticing rarities, including a 1909 Hotchkiss Portative (English Army version of what the US called the Benet-Mercié Machine rifle, a Japanese Lewis aerial observer’s gun, and a really nice collection of English double guns — shotguns and rifles. This link goes to all his current auctions.

 

Khmer Rouge leaders finally face justice

One of Cambodia's many chilling memorials to KR days. From a travelogue by Lauren Irons.

One of Cambodia’s many chilling memorials to KR days. From a travelogue by Lauren Irons.

Decades after their 1970s mass murders, two Khmer Rouge leaders, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, finally were convicted for a small subset of their crimes during the Killing Fields massacres that halved the population of Cambodia in the 1970s.

The New York Times, whose editors and reporters don’t seem to remember now their paper’s support and admiration for the KR in 1973-78, has reported on the trials:

Witnesses have given harrowing testimony of being forced out of their homes and into the countryside by Khmer Rouge soldiers, denied medical care and seeing executions and other atrocities. The evacuation of Phnom Penh in April of 1975 left the capital a ghost town and portended the social fragmentation that would follow over the next three years, eight months and 20 days of Khmer Rouge rule. Families were separated, money was abolished, and the country’s population was forced into a giant, failed effort of collectivized labor.

“The heart of the Khmer Rouge crimes was the complete disregard of human costs of their revolution,” said David Chandler, a former American diplomat who served in Cambodia and is a leading historian on the Khmer Rouge atrocities. “Their vision was completely flawed and unhitched to reality.”

The trial began in 2011, more than three decades after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, a delay that was one of several factors that complicated the quest for justice.

“Justice on this scale cannot be done by any trial mechanism as far as I can see,” Mr. Chandler said.

The limited scope of the trial and verdict, which dealt only with the forced evacuations and one site where mass executions occurred, has frustrated many observers and victims, and even the staunchest supporters of the trial have been ambivalent about the process.

“We knew that the court would not resolve everything. But it was important to have the proceedings. We had to continue the search for truth,” said Youk Chhang, the founder of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an organization that has amassed a trove of documents and photographs from the Khmer Rouge era.

via 2 Senior Khmer Rouge Leaders Are Convicted in Cambodia, Decades After Rule – NYTimes.com.

It was standard New York Times (and academic) narrative in 1975 that the KR were not that bad, or, if they were that bad, that, “Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia” made them do it (this last was the position of the Times’s Sidney Shanberg). It all depended on whose ox was gored:

canon.PDF

[T]here were many times more stories and editorials by the New York Times and the Washington Post on the condition of human rights in South Korea and Chile than there were on Cambodia, Cuba, and North Korea, combined.

 

The Times, which supported Lenin, Stalin, Castro, and Cambodia’s Samphan, Chea, Ieng Sary and Pol Pot (the last two of whom cheated justice by dying in 2013 and 1998 respectively), has never, ever, faced the fact that “scientific international socialism,” like its kissing cousin “national socialism” always ends in mass murder. It is a fine thing to welcome the Times, after three decades plus, to the opposition to the Khmer Rouge, but it’s a pity it hasn’t shaken their underlying belief, nor their fundamental gullibility: they’ll fall for the next revolution, too.

The KR leaders were the Times’s kind of people: bright, highly verbal, university graduates with an internationalist outlook (most of them educated in 1950s and 60s Paris). Like the editors of the Manhattan broadsheet, they believed in central planning, big government, the subordination of the individual to the needs of the collective many.

Of course, the Times editors except themselves, and those like themselves, from such expropriation: “special ones like us” had needs, you know? And so did the Khmer Rouge.

Well, a Cambodian court has spoken, and the KR communists are officially guilty. In this day and age, a court doing the right thing, however belatedly and wherever found, is something worthy of remark. Who knows, an outbreak of journalistic integrity might follow.

Springfield Rifles: What’s the Difference?

The US model 1903 Springfield rifle was made in five major versions. New entrents to collecting American martial arms sometimes struggle to tell these very similar rifles apart, but actually it’s pretty easy. Here’s a Springfield cheat sheet to take with you to the fun show:

From GlobalSecurity.org. Note that the stock on the A3 is more commonly like the one shown on the A1.

From GlobalSecurity.org. Note that the stock on the A3 is more commonly like the one shown on the A1.

 

  • The US Rifle Model 1903 was originally made for the M1 Cal. .30-03 cartridge, and service rifles were rechambered to the improved .30-06. There were metallurgical problems with early serial number receivers and bolts, and firearms under number 800,000 from Springfield Armory and 286,596 from Rock Island Arsenal should not be fired, because those are the numbers beyond which improved heat treating methods are known to have resolved this problem. (The bolts aren’t numbered, but any bolt that has a handle “swept back” rather than bent at 90º to the bolt axis is good to go).
    This is the business end of an early (pre-1905) rod bayonet Springfield.

    This is the business end of an early (pre-1905) rod bayonet Springfield.

    A few very early models had rod bayonets, and these were mostly converted to Model 1905 16″ knife bayonets after 1905 (at the insistence, we’ve noted, of Theodore Roosevelt) so they’re extremely rare. The rear sight was a ladder sight that went through several iterations, mounted forward of the front receiver ring. It could be used as an open tangent sight or raised and elevated for volley fire to ranges of almost 3,000 yards. A variant of the 03 called the US Rifle M1903 Mark I was adapted for use with the Pedersen device. Most of these were made in 1918-1919 and they wound up issued as ordinary 1903s. They are not especially rare, but make good conversation pieces. Another rare variant (illustrated) used the Warner & Swasey telescope commonly fitted to the Benet-Mercié “automatic rifle” — it had a terrible time holding zero, but that’s what American snipers had Over There.

The rifle lasted decades more, but the sight didn't.

The rifle lasted decades more, but the sight didn’t.

  • US Rifle Model 1903A1 is identical to the 1903, except for the stock, which has a pistol grip.
  • US Rifle Model 1903A2 is another extreme rarity: a Springfield altered to be a subcaliber device for conducting direct-fire training on various artillery weapons on small arms ranges. The stock, handguards, sights were removed and the gun could be fitted into a 37 mm sleeve for use in a 37mm gun, or the 37mm adapter could in turn be fitted in a larger-caliber adapter for 75mm, 105mm or 8 inch (203mm) artillery. They were generally made from 1903s and will have the “A2″ notation hand stamped after the 1903 on the receiver ring. A brass bushing on the muzzle, just under an inch (0.994″) in diameter, adapted the bare barreled action to the adapter. A few have the A2 electro-penciled in place, it would take a Springfield expert to tell you if that’s authentic (the example Brophy shows is stamped). Most of the A2s were converted back into ordinary rifles, surplused, or scrapped at the end of the war as the Army had abandoned subcaliber artillery training.

M1903A2_Ord18292

  • US Rifle Model 1903A3 is a wartime, cost-reduced version of the 1903A1. Remington had been tooling up to make the 1903, not for the US, but in .303 for the British. WIth American reentry into the war, Remington converted back to making a simplified 1903. The A3 reverts to the straight (no pistol grip) stock, uses a stamped trigger guard, and has a ramp-mounted peep sight like the one on the M1 Carbine. This sight is simpler than the Rube Goldberg arrangement on the 1903, and actually has greater accuracy potential thanks to around 7″ greater sight radius. It is the version most commonly found on the market, and was carried by soldiers in the first months of the Pacific War, and by Marines for longer. Until a working grenade launcher was developed for the M1 and issued in late 1943, an Army rifle squad armed with M1s still had one or two grenadiers armed with M1903A3s and grenade launchers. By D-Day, most combat units had the M1 launchers. Remington (and Smith-Corona) produced 1903A3s from 1941 to February, 1944.

M1903A3 sight

  • US Rifle Model 1903A4 is a 1903A3 fitted with a Weaver 330C or Lyman Alaskan 2 ½ Power optical sight. The Weaver sight is 11 inches long and adds a half-pound to the weight of the rifle, bringing it to a still very manageable 9.7 pounds. The Lyman is a tenth of an inch shorter and a 0.2 pounds heavier (the Lyman was very rare in service compared to the Weaver). Both have an eye relief of about 3 to 5 inches. Very late in the war, the M1C came into service, but the 1903A4 was the Army’s primary sniper rifle throughout the war. Note that several vendors have made replicas of the M1903A4, some of which (like Gibbs Rifle Company’s) are clearly marked. All 1903A4s were made by Remington.

There you have it — the main variants of the Springfield Rifle in a short and digestible format.

Some thoughts on Military Traditions

SF Patch

For over 30 years this was all an SF man wore on his left shoulder — unless he was Ranger-Q’d. Vietnam SF soldiers did not get the SF Tab (they are eligible for its award, retroactively, but SF men of the 50s, 60s, 70s and start of the 80s didn’t get them at graduation).

Some military traditions come to endure for a very long time; they survive the rise and fall of units, complete service branches, and even nations and empires. Military units today conduct ceremonies and maintain traditions that date back at least to the Roman Empire.

Some of this is just transmitted in human experience, even through social and political revolutions. The French army today has some traditions that predate the revolution. The Russian army today, likewise has some traditions from the previous Soviet army, and some from the Tsarist army before that. And all are inheritors of some of the traditions of the Romans: unit standards or guidons, marching in ranks, saluting.

Then, there is the interesting comparison of the tradition that takes hold, and the tradition that fails to take hold. For example, when he was Chief of Staff, Rick Shinseki tried to get the US Army to celebrate an Army Birthday. He was mindful of the tradition of the Marine Corps Birthday, which has long taken hold of the Marine Corps, and is a reason (or an excuse, for those who need no reason) for Marines past and present to get together with their mates and celebrate their traditions of service. The imposed tradition of the Army Birthday never took hold; it was one more of the ideas you get when you not only invite the Good Idea Fairy into the conference room, you make him Chief of Staff.

Shinseki went on to head the VA, which is all you need to know about his traditions.

This weekend, we’re attending an event that is one of those organic traditions that has just grown, and has survived many decades, outliving some of the original instigators, even though it’s a very small tradition. It’s interesting because it’s unique, so far as we know, in the Special Forces and world Special Operations community.

The Team Dive started as an excuse for members of an Army Reserve Special Forces Team to get together on a non-drill weekend, catch up, and not incidentally do a dive for lobsters in the cold waters off the North Shore of Massachusetts. A number of dope deals were necessary to make this happen: they had to fix things with the Environmental Police, with the site of the dive, with the local authorities, and with the Revolutionary War fort that is absolutely closed to camping at all times, except when the Green Berets come, once a year. It’s all legal and all on the up and up (yes, the men have lobstering permits for that one weekend, and yes, they only take legal “bugs”). But it’s a minority group in the minority group, and many people who are not members went out of their way to make it the successful tradition it has now “always” been.

Some years the lobsters are plentiful. Some, they are scarce (and somebody takes the Drive of Shame to a fish market). The beer is always plentiful; as the old guys drink less, the young guys pick up the slack. The story telling is prodigious, and one of the things that makes old guys like us turn out is the grim knowledge that he who is not there to tell the story is certain to be the subject of discussion.

Nobody is sure when the Team Dive started; the best guess is sometime in the 1980s. There’s a 20-year anniversary, but it’s just the 20-year point of somebody finally keeping track. Since a typical military career is 20 years, and some guys were already retired when they came to the first one, there will be members from their 20s to their 80s, each eager to hear what’s up with the others, and to meet old friends and teammates that he hasn’t met yet.

What we think is unique is this event’s nature as a longitudinal event on a team scale. There are reasons a reserve team, not an active one, came up with this, but we know it took a lot of luck and survived many near-death experiences to be here for us today.

Your “outside” life doesn’t come in here, too much. We’ve had FBI agents and ex-cons sitting at the same table, carpenters and CFOs, teachers and technicians. Here, the stories are of night jumps and over-the-horizon swims, of violent injury and long recovery, of guns we liked and guns we respected, of the difficulty making commo when you knew the Russians could DF you in 10 seconds — and when they’d jam you sometimes, just to let you know they were on duty that night, too. There will be tales of Vietnam and Afghanistan and maybe Iraq, along with tales of the Last Good Deal in Oslo or Guayaquil or Spanish Town, Jamaica.

Some of the tales will be true, some will contain a germ of truth, and some, the listeners will listen politely to.

The tradition survived the retirement of the original members; it even survived the end of the Army Reserve Special Forces, the dissolution of the original team, ODA 111, A Co. 11th Special Forces Group, the erasure of their team house and the very street it was on from the map as the area was redeveloped. The men who served on the team when it was disbanded in 1994 found themselves, mostly, on the same new team in the Army National Guard, and so that team became the torchbearers of the tradition. By that time, someone had already figured out it was important to keep the old-timers in, and so team members from the 1960s to the 2010s were arriving from across the country last night.

Some will dive. Some will drink. Some will do both (in order, please. So far we have a perfect safety record and have one surface for every submersion).

If you wanted your team to have a team dive (or hunt, or whatever) you couldn’t just copy the way ODA 111 does it. You’d have to start, and let the tradition grow, and see where it wound up, which wouldn’t be where you expected. But it would be a good thing, as long as it did what traditions must do: percolated from bottom up, rather than be commanded from top down.