Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: The Selous Scouts Home Page

Selous Scouts cap badgeWhile this website does not appear to have been updated since 2007, in other words, in eight years, it still contains a great deal of useful information.

Its owner, Troy A. Lettieri, is an Army Special Forces soldier who not only shares the usual SF fascination with Rhodesian COIN, but also has made an avocation of man-tracking, bringing him closer, perhaps, to the long-disbanded unit than he would be otherwise.

Welcome to the SELOUS SCOUTS, once the most feared counter-insurgency force on the African continent.

During the course of the war the Selous Scouts were officially credited with either directly or indirectly being responsible for 68% of all terrorist killed, while losing less than 40 scouts in the process.

With this site I tried to obtain as much information on the Scouts to give the reader hopefully clear idea of who and what the Scouts were and what they were fighting for in and around the former country of Rhodesia.

In putting this site together there is a lot of general information on many facets of this counter-insurgency conflict, so it truly becomes a site of not just the Selous Scouts but also a Rhodesian interest site.

This site should be helpful for some, due to the fact in some African countries information on the Selous Scouts and the Rhodesian/Zimbabwe War of Independence (Chimurenga War, 1966-1980) was or is BANNED!

This site is still in the working and as I find and obtain more information on the scouts, I will continually update the site as needed.


It’s a pretty good source of general information on the Scouts as well as photographs and stories, most of it pulled from period media but some of it sent in by veterans of the Scouts or other units.

Rhodesian Mine Ambush Protected Vehicles 1975-80

We’ve mentioned before that long before the US decided it needed vehicles that could survive mines (or, technically, whose crews could survive mines — one mine FOOM and anything that came on its own wheels is leaving on something else’s). the Rhodesian Army invented, developed, and mastered the concept, on a shoestring budget.

The vehicles were called Mine Ambush Protected or MAPs, and a confusing variety were improvised and made in unit workshops and national steel-working firms from about 1972 to the end of the war.

These vehicles might be entirely lost to history, if not for two things: the cruelty & corruption of the Mugabe regime which produced a global Rhodesian diaspora; and the obsessive-compulsive tendencies of combat-vehicle modelers, who pursue the most minute details with a singlemindedness that Javert himself could only envy.

Between the proud Rhodies, wherever they may fetch up these days, and the fiddly autism-spectrum anoraks who seem to breathe a heady mixture of detail and toluene, plenty of information about Rhodesian vehicles is at hand (and more is emerging regularly).

The best place to begin is wargamer John Wynne Hopkins’s page. He has done an intensive study of these vehicles.

The Problem

This photo illustrates the problem:

Mercedes 4.5 under tow

The slick-sided Mercedes 4.5 ton truck hit a land mine enroute out, and is being towed back to base. Hopkins (from whom we light-fingered the photo) explains that this is a convoy of 5 Independent Company, Rhodesian African Rifles, enroute back from a trip in support of the elections for the brief (and internationally unrecognized) compromise Zimbabwe-Rhodesia government in January 1979. Their efforts were futile: American President Jimmy Carter and British Foreign Minister Lord Carrington had agreed to support only “one man, one vote, one time” elections as demanded by the nominally Communist kleptocrats who led the two guerrilla movements.

5 Indep Coy RAR convoy forms up at Derowa Mine for ‘Muzorewa’ elections Jan 1979. … Unfortunately, one of these pookies [mine countermeasures vehicle — Ed.] could not be spared on the journey out, with the result that the 45 seen being towed hit a mine (2nd in the convoy), as did a mobile surgical unit second from back. No casualties, thank goodness, although the driver of the 45 was severely shaken – the anti-mine armour had only been fitted the day before to an almost new vehicle.

Of course the driver was shaken! The mine went off right in front of him (vehicles in Rhodesia were right-hand drive).

Anti-mine armor on vehicle chassis or floorboards was an interim step; the definitive Rhodesian vehicles were full MAPs, but there were never enough to eliminate the use of slick trucks.

There are basically two classes of Rhodesian MAPs: transport/utility vehicles, and mine-clearing vehicles.

Mine Protected Transports

As you might expect from the improvisational, highly decentralized Rhodesian Army, a wide variety of vehicles were made, with some of the more exotic and lower-density ones appearing in elite forces’ motor pools.

We despaired of ever sorting these out, but Don Blevin came to our rescue (via Hopkins) with a great chart of the main variants, based on the three chassis they were produced on: the Nissan 2-ton commercial truck, the Mercedes 4.5 ton, and the Mercedes 2.5 ton Unimog.

We joined the two sides of the drawing and cleaned it up a bit. Don Blevin illustration.

We joined the two sides of the drawing and cleaned it up a bit. Don Blevin illustration. It embiggens thunderously.

This chart makes it look nice and neat. It wasn’t, though, because there were modifications and special purpose vehicles like weapons carriers and wreckers. Here’s some more Mercedes variants (same source):


And if you have a hard time keeping the Mercedes family straight, wait till you check out the utility Unimogs.


As you’ve seen from the initial image, a truck could take a TM-46 hit and still be survivable — it was luck of the draw based on where the blast took the vehicle. The truck in that picture was probably soon repaired and back in the field.

Mine Countermeasures Vehicles

If the Navy can use minesweepers, why can’t the Army? That simple question lay at the moment of conception of the Pookie, the principal Rhodie mine countermeasures vehicle. (There were others, built on the same principle.

A somewhat forlorn Pookie on display. From a photo essay here.

A somewhat forlorn Pookie on display. From a photo walkaround by Steve Barrow here.

There were never enough to keep earthen roads open, so vehicles ran in convoys — another lift from naval experience). The Pookie’s equivalent of a naval minesweeper’s nonmagnetic hull was its very low ground pressure, too low to trigger an AT mine. It could trigger anti-personnel mines, and anti-tampering devices attached to the secondary fuze wells on AT mines.

Between 1972 and 1980, it is estimated that more than 600 people were killed and thousands more injured by landmines on hundred of kilometres of roads and runways in Rhodesia. The toll would have been much higher but for the invention of Pookie, a small detection vehicle designed to travel ahead of military and civilian convoys and light enough not to detonate anti-tank mines.

Pookie, originally designed and developed by Ernest Konschel, an engineer and farmer from Rhodesia, was constructed on a lightweight chassis and carried a one-person armour-plated cab. The cab had a V-shaped undercarriage designed to deflect any blast away from the driver and to combat centre blast mines. The wheels were positioned some distance from the cab, again to protect the driver in the event of detonation by offsetting the seat of explosion, and they were housed in Formula One racing tires, apparently bought in bulk from the South African Grand Prix. Wide with low pressure, they exert a minimum ground force. The vehicle was propelled by an engine from a Volkswagen Beetle that was capable of taking Pookie to mine detection speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour. Two drop-arm detectors were mounted left and right and equipped with a detection system that bounced magnetic waves into the ground as well as an acoustic signal to indicate metal.

On first trials, Pookie detected every metallic mine and went on to prove itself both reliable and safe. Even though Pookies did detonate anti-personnel mines and several booby-trapped anti-tank mines in action with the Rhodesian army, this was only at the cost of new wheels and rim replacements, but no serious human casualty.

Only one Pookie operator lost his life during the vehicle’s long service. His tiny cab was hit by a lucky RPG-7 shot, and his number was up. Pookies shrugged off small arms, and a tank mine detonation only disabled the vehicle, blowing off one or more sacrificial wheels, but the operator survived — shaken and temporarily deaf, usually. None of the Pookies ever ditecyly tripped a TM-46, the Soviet anti-tank mine that was the Rhodesian terrorists’ primary weapon, but they did .

The initial detector used coils that were contained in long cylinders that could be lowered parallel to the surface of the road, or raised for transport.

The Pookie Today

The source of the above quote was this feature in a counter-mining journal by Willie Lawrence, which goes into detail about how wartime Pookies have been rehabbed and updated with ground-penetrating radar for detecting the improved (if that’s the word) anti-magnetic mines that international mine-clearing groups are dealing with today.

And the concept has been extended today with countermine vehicles like the Meerkat (caution, many spammy popups at that link). But the Pookie stands out as an example of brilliant simplicity, enabled as much as its designers were restricted by the fact that the Rhodesian Army had no choice but to run lean and on a shoestring.

“The Best Portfolio They’d Ever Seen” –Bill’s 1942 semi conversion

Here’s a firearm you might not have seen, unless you’ve been to the National Firearms Museum in Virginia. It looks very familiar, at least to deer hunters of a certain vintage, but a little… well, different.

ruger savage 99 prototype left

Let’s begin by going back to the 1890s when the concept first was tried. One of the first semi-auto firearms made by John M. Browning was a semi conversion of a lever-action rifle. It proved the concept of gas-operated firearms and led directly to the Browning-designed Colt Model 1895 “potato digger.” Nearly fifty years later, the above rifle was created by a young man named Bill, using an updated version of the same concept. Here’s the other side.

ruger savage 99 prototype right

And here’s a close-up of the action and operating rod.

ruger savage 99 prototype charging handle

In 1942, Bill did the same basic thing JMB had sone — convert a lever to semi — with a Savage 99 lever gun in the deerslaying .250-3000 round. But he did it using a gas piston and operating rod similar, conceptually, to the M1 Garand. He used this as a calling card when he went to Springfield Armory and applied for a job. They called his converted Savage “the best portfolio they’d ever seen.” It’s in the National Firearms Museum now.

ruger savage 99 prototype top view

And yeah, they hired him. After the war Bill went out on his own.

You might have heard of Bill… Bill Ruger.

Ruger went on to bring new manufacturing processes and technologies into gun design; someone would probably have begun using investment castings if he hadn’t, but we probably wouldn’t have seen anything like the laminated parts of the Ruger Mark I pistol (because who has ever copied that idea?

His legacy in the gun culture is muddled, because he also became an anti-gunner, or at least an appeaser thereof. But his whole complex career began with this one carefully-finished rifle.

springfield_entranceIf you were to show up today, on the site that was once the downtown section of the Springfield Armory, with a rifle of your own invention, you’d probably be thrown in jail for years by the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. The actual Springfield Armory Museum has not one, but something like five, “Victim Disarmament Zone” and “Criminal Support Zone” stickers on it!

But in 1942, it was still an armory, still a place where guns and the manufacturing of them were designed and built. And the country had not yet lost its ever-lovin’ mind over firearms.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever: Vietnam, 1968

The Greatest Beer Run Ever? That’s what PBR calls John “Chickie” Donohue’s one-man invasion of Vietnam, using his merchant seaman’s papers, a ride as a crewman on an ancient Victory ship, and a bullshit story to visit his friends in-country: his best friend, Bobby Pappas at Long Binh; Tommy Collins, an MP in Qui Nhon; Ricky Duggan, a grunt with the 1st Cav at Quang Tri, who was out on the perimeter when Chickie showed up.

As he arrived back in Saigon after linking up with all three of his friends, he saw the sky light up, and heard with a sinking feeling that “That had to be the ammo dump at Long Binh” — right where Pappas was.

So he went back to Long Binh, where a very alive Pappas met him with a stream of invective — very welcome invective. Proof that his friend was alive.

Was it the Greatest Beer Run Ever? It has to be on the shortlist.

Exit thought: if you’re bummed out that the WWII and Korea vets in your family have passed on without telling their stories, remember that the Vietnam vets are all in their sixties and seventies now, and the actuarial tables describe the inevitability of their numbers dwindling at an increasing rate. It might be time to get Granddad or Uncle Jack on record while you still can.

How Long is an M2HB .50 Good For?

Nobody really knows, but this one came in to the Anniston Army Depot for conversion. They’d already stamped it M2A1 (as can be seen in this close-close-blow-up, along with the original maker marks of “Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Mfg Co, Hartford”) when they realized it wasn’t just any M2 heavy machine gun. It was older than the oldest one they had kept as a museum display! Serial Number 324 was probably made in 1921 or 1922, and had never been overhauled before.


The Army PR release was picked up by a site called We Are The Mighty, and from there, one of our commenters flagged us to it.

Roughly 94 years after the first production run of M2 machine guns came off the assembly line, the 324th weapon produced made it to Anniston Army Depot for overhaul and upgrade.

Cody Bryant, left, and Corby Tinney inspect the 324th M2 receiver ever produced. The weapon arrived at Anniston Army Depot to be converted to a M2A1 in May. Photo: Army Materiel Command Mrs. Jennifer Bacchus

In more than 90 years of existence, the receiver with serial number 324 has never been overhauled.

“Looking at the receiver, for its age, it looks good as new and it gauges better than most of the other weapons,” said John Clark, a small arms repair leader.


Despite the fact that the weapon still meets most specifications, it may be destined for the scrap yard.

Modifications made to the weapon in the field mean part of the receiver would have to be removed through welding and replaced with new metal, a process which usually means the receiver is scrap.

“I’d rather put this one on display than send it to the scrap yard,” said Clark, adding the weapon’s age makes it appealing as a historical artifact.

Currently, the 389th M2 is on display in the Small Arms Repair Facility. There is an approval process the older weapon would have to go through in order to be similarly displayed. Clark and Jeff Bonner, the Weapons Division chief, are researching and beginning that process.

via The Army found an M2 .50 caliber machine-gun still shooting perfectly after 90 years of service.

When you think about what has changed since 1921, two competing thoughts come to mind. This first is: it’s about time they did something about headspace and timing, long the one real anachronism of the brilliant Browning designs. And the second: while the M2HB has outlasted a half-dozen would-be replacements, what else from 1921 is still current?

Not cars. Here’s a 1921 Chevrolet:

1921 Chevrolet

Here’s another. This one’s for sale. Good luck, buyers.


Here’s the telephone company in 1921:

1921 telephone office

Winners of a “Bathing Beauties” swimsuit competition:

bathing beauties 1922

(OK, we cheated a little, the Atlantic City Bathing Beauties are from ’22).

And in 1921, the US Army took two bold moves into the future. It established a new form of mobile unit, in answer to the trench warfare of World War I: the First Cavalry Division. Yes, on horses.


And the Army introduced a new gun: Gun, Machine, .50, M2, Flexible, Heavy Barrel. While most of everything else from 1921 is as obsolete as the cavalry charge, the M2 is going to make its centenary with relatively few improvements.

Who knew it would outlast the horses?

War Song of A Century Ago

Since today is Veterans’ Day, a holiday which had its genesis in the Armistice of the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month of the Year of Our Lord 1918, dulce et decorum est to post something from the Great War.

The strike was a brainstorm of Winston Churchill’s, who was always looking at some way to break the hated and sanguinary stalemate in France and Belgium; although, after this attack failed he would be rather more reluctant to take the credit than he’d have been had it succeeded. A landing at Gallipoli on the Dardanelles Straits might have opened a sea line of communication between the Western Allies and the Russian Empire, relieving the hard-pressed Russians, and possibly knocked the Turks out of the war, weakening the Central Powers and bringing pressure to bear on the Habsburgs.

With the flower of Britain’s youth being dashed blindly against the shrapnel and Maxims on the Western Front, the bulk of the expeditionary corps consigned to the Eastern Med were antipodeans — the famed Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or ANZACs.

This song was written by Australian songsmith Marsh Little1, who’d live to see another world war. It;s a stirring, rousing march with ahead-of-its-time sound effects, including a cannonade at the beginning and shouts later on. It reportedly had a salutary effect on recruiting.

It is hard, today, not to see it through the lens of the Allied defeat and the great waste of Allied and Ottoman life that characterized the Gallipoli campaign.

Old England needs the men she breeds, there’s fighting to be done
Australians heard, and we’re prepared to help her, every one
Out from the bay, they sailed away, their pride Australia’s own
And so today they’re far away, and some  in the grave unknown.

Boys of the Dardanelles!
They faced the guns and shells!
Down in hist’ry their fame will go…

At that point, the lyrics get a bit tough for our American ears to follow.

Different versions of the song were released in Britain, the USA, and Australia; this is an American release, although the singer sounds authentically English to us. Here’s some data referring to this particular recording:

 Boys of the Dardanelles

Performers: Frederick Wheeler.
Issue Number:
Edison Blue Amberol: 2869
Edison Record: 4455
Release year: 1916
Cylinder 6562
Duration: 3:023:30

Notes: Dubbed from Edison Diamond Disc matrix 4455.
Year of release from “The Edison Phonograph Monthly,” v.14 (1916).
Edison Blue Amberol: 2869.
Baritone, orchestra accompaniment.

via “Boys of the Dardanelles” / Frederick Wheeler. | UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive.

This recording of the song is taken from an Edison cylinder in the amazing collection of the University of California at Santa Barbara. They have quite a lot of Great War music, and the American music includes both paeans to fighting (“It’s time for every boy to be a soldier”) and isolationism (“I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier!”) That last was the frequently-expressed opinion of the late Blogmother.

This song is a curious and touching side note to any study of Gallipoli. It would have been a different world, perhaps, had the attack succeeded. Imagine the tabloids cooing over the newborn grandkids of Czar Alexander IV, constitutional monarch, and history books where the Great War wrapped up in 1916, without such a bitter peace as to generate a follow-on war within 20 years.

The Australians, though, went to Gallipoli to teach Johnny Turk a lesson. Apparently Johnny was paying attention, if nobody else was — he remained neutral in World War II.


  1. It’s also credited to Australian composer Fred Whaite and lyricist Harry Webster in this short bio of Whaite. We’re not expert on Australian songwriters and can’t readily referee this dispute.

Randy Shughart Memorial M14

From the M14 Forum comes this story of one man’s attempt to replicate the firearm of the man who inspired him to serve — US Army special operations soldier Randy Shughart, MOH. Shughart and his team leader Gary Gordon committed themselves to defend a helicopter crash site in Mogadishu in October, 1993, in the certain knowledge that those at the crash scene were doomed without them — and that the imbalance in forces was so great that they were likely only adding themselves to the death toll.

Shughart Memorial Plaque

The Delta snipers’ sacrifice, as depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down, not only inspired this man to serve himself, but made him want a replica of Shughart’s M14.

Shughart Memorial M14

He didn’t start with the rifle you see here. He began with something more or less out of the box that approximated the Shughart rifle, but its approximate nature quickly came to grate on him.

I thought it was close enough to the movie prop, but as I learned more
I realized how much I missed. The scope mount is an ARMS 18 split
rail instead of a full rail, the barrel should have been a full length
22”, and I had never paid any attention to the M1907 leather sling.
Now, most people wouldn’t care about the small details. If you take
any M14 and add a red dot, it instantly becomes cool and pretty
accurate. Not much more to be done after that. But for me, this was
the rifle of choice for a childhood hero.

I wanted to honor him, and I wanted to do it by recreating the rifle
he used on his final mission. I had no idea how much time,
money, and effort this project would demand.

via NEW OP Replicating SFC Randall Shughart’s M14 – M14 Forum.

He didn’t spare the time, money and effort, even deciding that he wanted all Winchester parts for his build (complicating it and making it more expensive). He even used a rare James River Armory receiver with a rewelded Winchester heel from the M14 Forum Group Buy. We dunno what the armorers, who were building the original guns, were using but we’d guess they were either using generic GI parts, National Match where possible, or TRW parts which have a reputation of being more perfectly in-spec than Winchester or Springfield Armory parts. The fact is, the US Army has or had records of what rifle Shughart had when he and Gordon stepped off the helicopter into legend, but those records are classified and will probably be destroyed if they have not been destroyed already.

One of the most interesting parts of the journey was tracking down the correct optic. Absent the emergence of actual documentation, it seems certain that the optic Randall Shughart had on his M14 was an Aimpoint 5000.

Consequently, this rifle is as close to Shughart’s firearm as an ordinary mortal is likely to get, except perhaps for the scumbag Somali somewhere who’s trying to trade the original for a bag of khat.

Shughart Plaque 2

The rifle will be displayed in a case with the two illustrated plaques, a private tribute to a man whose sacrifice was the highest display of public virtue.

Perhaps this would be a more appropriate post on Memorial Day, than on Veterans’ Day, but the guy just finished the rifle… and yes, he will be taking it to the range.

Dahlgren and the Civil War

This is going to be a brief post, but that’s because we’re sending you to a long .pdf.

Dahlgren Model

Dahlgren Gun model by Kent Hobson. This one’s on a 360º traversing, recoiling carriage — cutting edge for 1865.

The Dahlgren guns were named for their inventor, in the naval tradition of the era a competent engineer as well as a serving naval officer. John A. Dahlgren was nearly killed by an exploding 32-pounder1 cannon.

I said, “Fire.” An unusual explosion took place instantly. The battery was filled with smoke, and a great crash of timber was heard. Behind me I heard the ground ploughed up, and of the things that fell, something grazed my heels, which afterwards proved to be a part of the breeching, a piece weighing two thousand pounds. Much stunned by the noise and the concussion, I turned to the battery. Amid the smoke, yet lifting slowly, the first object I saw was the body of the unfortunate gunner, stretched out on the deck and quite dead.

That moment of shock and chagrin in November 1849 was the impetus behind the Dahlgren gun, and Dahlgren is probably best remembered today as the name of the gun, rather than the man — even though we went on to fly a rear admiral’s flag and assault Charleston himself in the Civil War (the city held at that point).

Dahlgren concluded that the only real defense against a bursting gun was the thickness of the barrel. His genius was to lighten the gun only forward of the trunnions — the section of the barrel called the “chase” — and to have the change in sizes be turned to produce an aesthetic (and stress relieving) soda bottle shape. While a 15-inch Dahlgren would be a bit of a dog (for one thing, due to a Navy Department screw-up, the OD of the muzzle was wider than the width of the slots in the turrets of the monitors for which the guns were built. But the 9- and 11-inch Dahlgrens were vital naval and fortress weapons during the civil war — and beyond.

Dahlgren, who was held back by skeptical seniors early in his career, lived to be the skeptical senior holding back talented juniors.

The whole Dahlgren story and its context in the Civil War and beyond is recorded in a well-developed, -illustraed, and -documented couple dozen pages [.pdf] by historian Robert. J. Schneller, Jr., for the American Society of Arms Collectors. Read The Whole Thing™!


  1. A 32-pounder had a 6.4 inch bore and weighed three to four tons; the powder charge was something over five pounds of black powder.


The Fracas over Finger Grooves is Not New

Finger grooves are one of the perpetual battles of the firearms arorld. Some firearms have ’em, some don’t. And some shooters like ’em, some don’t. We propose a radical idea: whether or not you like the grooves probably depends on how the grooves fit your hand.

This all came to the fore because the new FBI solicitation demands that the next FBI pistol not have finger grooves. Some people, like the guy at pistol-training we linked to in that recent post, and Todd Green, see this as a blatant attempt to eliminate Glocks (which have grooves or bumps since Generation 3) in favor of SIGs (which do not have grooves).

This is all complicated by the fact that the ATF gives extra import “points” on the Nazi-derived1 “Sporting Purpose” test for “thumb rests” and other deformities on a grip. When the ATF drafted the checklist in 1968, a prominent thumb rest was a common characteristic of target pistols.

Typical 1960s target pistol -- a Hi Standard Supermatic Trophy with a fluted bull barrel and a prominent thumb rest. Great, unless you're left-handed.

Typical 1960s target pistol — a Hi Standard Supermatic Trophy with a fluted bull barrel and a prominent thumb rest. Great, unless you’re left-handed. (LH grips were available then ex-factory, but the factory went belly up ages ago).

Such a rest was not found on defensive pistols. (The Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 both assumed that there was no legitimacy to defensive firearms use, and only formal target shooting and hunting were legitimate justifications for owning firearms, an assumption still strong in parts of the ATF today). So it found its way onto the Sporting Purposes Checklist, and that’s why your Glock has two vestigial ears which may or may not be in your way.

Hands Come in Different Sizes

This seems obvious, but it isn’t always taken into account in product designs: human hands vary widely in size, strongly correlated with human size. Human interface designers have long known this and customarily work with hand sizes that represent from the 5th to the 95th percentile of homo sapiens. (Until recently, military equipment designers mostly worked with the 5-95 percentile male hand, which is larger than the female hand or combined male-female hand sizes). If you’re in the 1st or 99th percentile in hand size, you’re going to struggle finding the right firearm for your jewel-like or ham-sized mitts, respectively. Even if the designers used ergonomic best practices, which as we’ll see, they probably didn’t.

Firearms are more likely to be designed by an individual or small team than by a large industrial combine with a staff of human interface design specialists. This was especially true historically, where designers usually just built the gun to fit their own hands. (This makes us wonder if, for example, Ludwig Vorgrimler or someone responsible for the HK G3 safety-selector switch was double-jointed or otherwise deformed, but that’s a question for another day). As a result there are some firearms that fit only some hands out there. This is often to blame for uneven reviews of a gun: it fits one reviewer perfectly, and another poorly, leading to a cascade of performance and preference differences.

The sad thing is that all the research on hand size is out there, available to anybody to use. You don’t have to be Northrop Grumman to think about what makes a good fit for a good range of users, and you don’t have to be U-Isaac Newton to do the math required.

But as we’ll see, the debate over finger grooves has been around for a while.

Finger Grooves, 1980s

In the early 1980s, Marine Corps experimenters looking for more accuracy and range from the M16 developed the M16A2, and with it, brought the finger rest that has ever since blessed (or cursed) the AR-15 platform. The initial model was actually built up with epoxy body filler by one Marine officer to suit his hand, and then copied by Colt. And then copied by everyone else. If you like the feel of an A2 grip, you have a hand about the same size as one retired Marine. That not everyone has the same size hand is one of the reasons there are forty-elebben different AR grips on the market.

Not including, for the simple reason that manufacturers including Colt modified their A1 molds to make the A2 molds, the original A1 grip.

Finger Grooves, 1920s

Of course, the most famous 20th Century finger grooves were on the grip of the M1921 Thompson Submachine Gun, and like later ones, they were controversial. They were designed to be ergonomic, but the ergonomics of the Tommy gun don’t fit everybody,

STL Police Thompsons

But the battle over finger grooves didn’t start with John T. Thompson and his “trench broom.” We can go way, way back.

Finger Grooves, 1780s

The muskets of the world at the time of the American Revolution were more alike than they were different, because military technology tends to converge rapidly when innovations happen. The differences between the muskets of the world powers — England, France, Prussia, Spain — were more alike than different at this point. All were flintlock muzzle-loaders of ½ to ¾ inch caliber, with smoothbore barrels of forty-odd inches, and stout walnut stocks enabling usage as a pike with a fixed bayonet. The differences between them — it would have scandalized their ordnance officers, but it’s true — came down to questions of styling.

Like the finger grooves. England’s Brown Bess in all its versions and Spain’s Model 1757 didn’t have them. France’s .66 caliber Model 1777 did; this was sort of a G3 version of the 1766 and 1768 Charleville muskets. This picture of what we believe to be an Indian (dot, not feather) -made replica (from here) shows them clearly.

French 1777_11

Colonial muskets had been mostly copied from stout English models, but as the war ground on and more French aid came in, and French arms acquired by a purchasing commission led by Benjamin Franklin, American practice became to copy the more gracile French designs. The first US Musket, the Model 1795, was clearly a kissing cousin of the “G2” Model 1766, without the grooves.

In 1816, Springfield Armory improved its musket design, by more or less knocking off the ’77 French firearm. It did make one small change.

Springfield deleted the finger grooves.


  1. The Sporting Purpose test was copied into US law from the Nazi 1938 Gun Control Act by Senator Thomas Dodd, a man who appears to have been the only one to attend the Nuremberg Trials in 1946 (as an assistant prosecutor, no less) and come away with admiration for the Nazis. The Nazis, for their part, had found the test in a previous Weimar-era law, and adapted it to their own purposes. This despicable fellow was not in office when his (and Himmler’s) bill was signed into law by LBJ, because he’d been censured out of the Senate for corruption. (It was another time; that would never happen today, when they’re all crooks). His son Christopher inherited the seat and continued in his father’s anti-gun and personally corrupt tradition, until his career, too, was terminated by his corruption.

Retro Rozzers: LAPD Rampart Division, 1976

Here’s another retro cop video, this one of the LAPD Rampart Division long before the Rampart scandal. Indeed, the guy who edited the original video down to this 30 minute version notes that it was made the year after the 1970s cop-show staple Adam-12 was canceled.


Dave Skyler’s notes:


This is a Documentary filmed in 1976 at RAMPART DIVISION and aired in 1977. The TV Series ADAM-12 ended production one year earlier in 1975.

The VHS video tape copy that was uploaded to YouTube was originally :50 minutes in length and had many audio and video problems.

I took every measure to preserve the realistic authenticity of this film… then re-edited, enhanced the audio and added a low-level background soundtrack creating a newly edited :30 minute retrospect while making every attempt to maintain the original theme and intent of the Documentary intact.

Only one year after ADAM-12 left the airwaves on NBC, the LAPD looks much the same. The Sam Browne buckle belts are back with no sign of buckle-less Velcro duty belts or clamshell holsters (a few Velcro handcuff cases and keepers can be seen) worn by the officers in this Documentary and absolutely NO sign of a Matador police car…even though some will argue that the car was used in service till the early ’80s. However, try to find an LAPD AMC Matador cop car in any old news footage after 1976… you will find a flurry of Fury’s.

The full length video, in a bad video transfer with worse audio, can be found at this link.