Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

How to Sell Guns, 1947 Style

Here’s a training film from the legendary Jam Handy organization, sponsored by Remington, to prepare the salesclerks of 1947 (when the long shadow of wartime shortages still loomed) for the coming day when “merchandise will be plentiful.” Follow Bill Turner as he learns from his Better Self, from a trade show executive and from Elmer, America’s Greatest Salesman, how to sell.

That was a hell of a long time ago, 1947. Cars had yet to grow (and then outgrow) tail fins, let alone be Made in Japan. Many Americans still lived on farm and in the smallest of small towns. Consider what this video tells us about the Elmer Fudd-centric gun market of 70 years ago, and the quaint idea of guns being found in a “hardware and dry goods store”.

In those days, your gun choices were defined by your choice of field pursuit: hares or ducks? Today, you can still hunt Bugs and Daffy, but a lot of new choices are available. That’s the kind of diversity we can celebrate!

An Early Assesment of WWI Tanks

wwi_tanksWe happen to have a hard copy of this old book in the Unconventional Warfare Operations Research Reference Library (UWORRL) here, but we’re pulling this scan of Page 163 from the Library of Congress.

The document source is listed below the excerpt.

It’s interesting to us how well this newsman’s assessment from 1919 — when the din of battle had barely died out, and the grief of the survivors had hardly begun — holds up a century later.

ACTUAL battle scene (above). of French tank going into action, while behind it a line of French infantry is moving up to its support . It would be too much to say that tanks won the war, but it can safely be said that the final allied victory would have been greatly deferred had it not
been for the incalcuable service rendered by the tanks. Not only have they broken down defenses that would otherwise have been almost impregnable , but they have saved thousands of lives by screening from hostile fire the lines of infantry that followed them.
(© French Pictorial Service.)

(At left)–British armored car about to start on a reconnoissance . Note the projecting muzzles of the guns at front and on the side. The damaged cdndition of the tree trunk indicates that the woods nearby had been swept by shellfire.
(© British Official Photo from Underwood & Underwood. )

Below is a huge German tank captured by the French and repaired by them. While of enormous size, the tanks which the Germans built after the British had proved the value of that weapon were too ponderous and unwieldy to be of great service to their forces.
(© French Pictorial Service.)

via American Memory from the Library of Congress.

The last picture, a very famous picture of a German A7V in captivity, may be of a tank captured by Britons, from the graffiti upon it.

To us, the most interesting thing is the American reporters’ complete omission of the role American tanks played in the 1918 offensives; had this been more widely reported, perhaps the Tank Corps would not have had such a hiatus between 1919 and 1940. (As it is, Armor didn’t become a basic branch for US Army officers until the 1950s. That’s the US Army for you, two centuries of tradition unmarred by progress).

Source

The New York Times. The war of the nations : portfolio in rotogravure etchings : compiled from the Mid-week pictorial. New York : New York Times, Co., 1919. Retrieved from: http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/np_item.pl?collection=sgproto&agg=sgpwar&iss=19191231&page=163

PDF also available here at WeaponsMan: WWI Tanks.pdf

If You’re in Your 20s… Enjoy the Golden Age (and the CZs).

In a brief pretty much just-the-facts report on CZ-USA’s new Skorpion and Bren carbines, which followed the pistol versions to market by over a year, we saw this gem of insight, at a new site we like, 55 Grain Productions (one of the guys there is converting to CZ from Glock, so they’re men after our own heart):

15z_CZScorpionEVO3S1Carbine_R

If you’re in your 20’s reading this, consider yourself lucky. You’re in a Golden Age of firearm availability, we couldn’t get cool toys like this when I was a kid.

via 55grain Productions :: CZ launches Scorpion and Bren rifles.

A Brief Aside on Import Laws & Regulations

The import laws are profoundly irrational, and the ATF regulations implementing those laws add another layer of irrationality. (Although, in defense of the ATF, they have to work with the black letters of the statute). But by 2016, sophisticated importers like CZ-USA, FN-USA, Beretta, and others, have found work-arounds for most of the craziness in the law.

Irrationality in the application? Yes, for about a year CZ was still working to get a carbine Skorpion Evo approved, but you  could SBR a pistol on a Form 1 with no drama, just the usual ATF delay. In essence, it’s a tax of several hundred dollars (tax + cost of SBR engraving) on the guy who wants to own the semi version of the light Skorpion Evo SMG, and not wait for CZ-USA to jump through all the ATF hoops and get a 16″ rifle version approved. (In fact, we think you could always get a factory SBR on a Form 4, which were stocked for LE sales, is we’re not mistaken).

Irrationality in the law itself? Consider that one part of the two-legged law in question was called The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, and the other leg, The Gun Control Act of 1968, was also sold as a crime control measure by its sponsors.

Question for the reader: How many imported semi-auto firearms with prices in the four figures or high three figures turn up in the hands of criminals?

Question two: How many of those were acquired in lawful commerce?

Don’t take our word for it. Almost everybody knows a cop or a Fed, or will meet one. Just ask the question: what kind of guns do violent criminals get bagged with? Based on our experience asking that same question, it will boil down to, “Cheap and/or stolen handguns.”

The law seemed rational at the time, to some people, but we’ve seen it proven out as, at best, orthogonal to crime control.

Back to our Main Point: What Generation Are You in?

OK, if you’ve borne with us through the long digression on Evos and Brens and the law, let’s talk about the insight in the little quote above.

We couldn’t get cool toys like this when I was a kid

That betrays the author as someone born in the 80s or 90s, who grew up when the 1994 Federal Assault Weapon Ban cast its pall over civilians’ armament choices. Like the 1968 GCA (the term which combines the two 1968 restrictions), the 1994 law banned classes of weapons, and it also banned standard-capacity magazines, and imposed a new wave of regulations on an unwitting public, ostensibly for crime control. Its purpose shows in its Orwellian name, The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, while it was punitive to recreational firearms use,

Unlike the GCA, though, the 1994 law had a 10-year sunset clause; it vanished from the statute books in 2004, having provided a natural longitudinal experiment in what happens to Crime Control and Public Safety when you ban a class of firearms that are almost never used in crime: nothing.

The result was this: people have different experiences of the guns available, depending on when they received their youthful, formative experience.

  • 1962 ThunderbirdIf you grew up in the 1950s or 1960s, your experience was a mainstream gun culture focused on hunting and formal, bullseye target shooting; Gun Culture was Elmer Fudd Culture. NTTAWWT. There was a subculture of collectors of many different kinds, and normal firearms were available to them in shops but also from auctioneers and from mail order surplus vendors. Gun rights were only a matter of discussion towards the end of this period, and licensed concealed carriers did not exist in most states of the Union.
  • http://www.autogaleria.hu -If you grew up in the 1970s or 1980s, you grew up in a gun culture that was on the defensive  from attacks by well-organized and -funded gun-ban groups that represented a very broad sector of public opinion. But it was evolving in new ways, with increased popularity of military-style rifles, practical pistol competitions and the first three-gun competitions (which were rifle, pistol, and submachine gun), and states making the first tentative moves towards liberalized “shall issue” concealed carry regulations. These laws had always existed here and there, and Vermont had never required licenses, but the floodgates opened when Florida went shall-issue, and the gun-ban groups’ dire auguries of doom went unrealized).\
  • Corvette Z06If the 1980s was the inflection point where the allies began to advance against the anti-gun axis, the axis’s high point came in the 1990s and Oughts, with the Bush import ban of 1989 and Clinton gun ban of 1994 setting the firearms market (and firearms technology) back about a decade. But that high point was like a ballistic vertex: the anti axis had been coasting for a while, and it was all downhill from here. But if you grew up in these years, in the gun culture, you could be excused for thinking the best days were behind you.
  • 2016 Dodge ViperSo far, we don’t know what people will write about the Twenty-Teens in the warm glow of hindsight. But if you’re young today, and growing up in the gun culture, it looks to us like you’re living in a golden age.

Where we stand now is on the shoulders of giants whose names you might know, like John Moses Browning, Peace Be Unto Him, and names you might not, like Neal Knox. It is up to us to take those legacies forward, on the fronts of both technology and freedom: the better to honor those who came before us.

One last thought: we’ve used cars to mark the decades. We might have chosen better; that’s a 2016 Viper, but maybe the Viper’s more an icon of the 90s, for example. (It’s hard to think of a better marker for the tasteless 1970s than a chicken-chested ’79 Trans Am, though). But car culture people, too, have seen their fortunes wax and wane through the years. If you grew up in the 1950s and 60s, you expected every year to bring you new and better cars. In the 1970s and 80s, that was tossed on its head through a dismal succession of massive Lincoln Mark Crapboxes, chintzy Chrysler K-Cars, and BMWs that self-destructed around warranty’s end, as if there was a time bomb in there. If you grew up then, you expected that between the NHTSA, the insurance companies, and Ralph Nader, that each year’s cars would be worse than the previous one’s. Yet now, incredible machinery that sixties road-racers couldn’t have dreamed of sits in your local showroom.

And you know, a lot of the same people that tried to strangle cars with character want to take your guns away, too.

The tale of the Fyodorov Avtomat of 1916

Alexander Vershinin has a breezy article on the 1916 Avtomat of Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov, a gun generally recognized to be the first exemplar of a class that would be known as “assault rifles.” They are generally defined as being:

Fyodorov "Avtomat," 1916.

Fyodorov “Avtomat,” 1916.

  1. Shoulder-fired weapons;
  2. Firing from a detachable box magazine of 20 or more rounds;
  3. Capable of selective fire; and,
  4. Using an “intermediate” cartridge (more powerful and longer-ranging than a pistol’s, less powerful than a late 19th/early 20th-Century infantry rifle’s).
  5. And usually of an “intermediate” size between submachine guns and infantry rifles: about 30-40″ long  or roughly 1m, with a barrel of 14-20″ or 35-50 cm.

The classic Assault Rifles (MP/StG 44, AK, AR-15) all meet this standard, and the Fyodorov is close. Its cartridge, the 6.5mm Japanese cartridge, was less powerful than Russia’s standard 7.62 x 54mm rifle round, but really was a full-sized infantry cartridge.

Vershinin writes:

If the Soviet-era legend is to be believed, it was Tsar Nikolai II who hobbled Russian production of the automatic rifle from the outset.
“We don’t have enough ammunition,” he supposedly told the designer as he presented blueprints for the new weapon. But this story is far from the reality – the automatic or assault rifle was in fact developed in Russia almost entirely by lone gun enthusiasts before the 1917 Russian Revolution.

The subtext to what Vershinin is saying is that, as every Russian and student of things Russian knows that Soviet-era sources are often loaded with myth and morality stories. They’re full of mighty workers and peasants (think Stakhanov), tragic and doomed heroes (a Russian specialty, think Pavlik Morozov), and bumbling functionaries of the ancien régime, like the Tsar in the above story. It seems improbable that Nicholas would inject himself into Army ordnance decisions, but maybe he did. You didn’t need to have a Tsar to have your Army reject some progressive idea, though. The records of other countries, which had neither absolute monarchs nor revolutionaries determined to remake man himself, are full of questionable ordnance decisions, often made by some brigadier or colonel in the armaments end of the professional army.

v_g_fyodorov

This handsome, well-mustachioed gent is Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov at his military academy graduation. He’d go on to design the Avtomat, lead an arsenal for the Soviet Union (later called the Degtyaryev Plant), and write a book on weapons design & history.

The vanguard in this field was Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov, who wrote his name into the annals of gunmaking as the designer of the world’s first assault rifle.
The idea of arming infantry with rapid-fire automatic weapons was born in the upheaval of the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese war. Light machine guns had begun to appear on the frontlines and quickly demonstrated their effectiveness. If it were possible to equip each man with such a weapon, his value as a fighting unit would be multiplied manifold.

Now here Vershinin seems to be on to something. The Russo-Japanese War was a little-studied (in the West, anyway) bloodbath that saw the debut of the murderous weapons (breechloading artillery with recoil systems, machine guns, barbed-wire entanglements) that would make all three fronts of World War I into a Brueghelian nightmare.

via Fyodorov’s feat: The story of the world’s first assault rifle | Russia Beyond The Headlines.

The Avtomat was ahead of its time, but the Imperial Russian Army seemed to recognize that and equipped some units with the new weapon. It passed out of general use, but turned up in small numbers during the Russo-Finnish winter war of 1940:

Russians with Fyodorov Automat

Vershinin frames the design history — it was originally designed as a long rifle for Fyodorov’s own 6.5 mm cartridge, and only later cut down to carbine size and adapted to use stocks of captured Japanese ammo — and notes that historians today can only speculate as to why the gun went out of service. People at the time probably knew, but the Russian Empire was facing defeat, collapse, a tragic and bloody Civil War, and a destruction of archives and loss of talent to exile on a scale seldom seen. Vershinin, a historian himself, lists some of the possibilities. Perhaps some day, some archivist will find the answer, written in Fyodorov’s own hand.

The USMLM and Soviet Technology

USMLM's ex-Keitel digs in Berlin.

USMLM’s ex-Keitel digs in Berlin.

Tank and AFV News has a great article, an extended version of one that author James Warford, an expert in Soviet tanks, published in the tankers’ branch magazine, Armor. We’ve always liked tanks, as very interesting weapons and technology in their own right, even though they strike us as a pretty awful place to die. Likewise, we’ve always been interested in espionage, and this is a story of a very peculiar kind of espionage that took place under an extremely strange and historically unique set of rules of engagement on all sides.

If the intel collectors stayed within the letter of the agreement, they had near-diplomatic immunity. But then, they couldn’t always get the access they wanted to the targets they were tasked with collecting on. If they bent the rules, immunity was gone, and they could (and did) get detained, threatened, beaten up, and shot.

usmlm_potsdam_house

USMLM Potsdam House, 1964. This originally belonged to a Hohenzollern prince.

You might say Big Boy Rules were very much in effect, in the heyday of the Four Powers Military Liaison Missions.

Under the postwar Huebner-Malinin Agreement, each ally maintained a “liaison mission” in the opposing side’s zone. In no time at all, these “liaison missions” became, primarily, sanctioned — but limited — spies. (Technically, the US could maintain one in the French or British zone, and vice versa, but in fact three missions were loose in the Soviet sector, and one — the Soviet Military Liaison Mission — in the three Western Allied sectors. Berlin had originally been divided into thirds for occupation, and the US and UK gave up slices of their zones so that the French could have a sector of their own. But the three Western allies cooperated and competed in spying on the Group of Soviet Forces Germany).

A Ford Custom Sedan was the usual vehicle in the sixties, and the drivers praised its off-road ability -- as modified.

A Ford Custom Sedan was the usual vehicle in the sixties, and the drivers praised its off-road ability — as modified.

The US mission was based in a compound in Potsdam in the Soviet Sector, and in what had been a secret command post of Wehrmacht Field Marshal Keitel in Berlin. Americans being car-happy, our effort was characterized by “tours” or patrols in modified sedans or SUVs, like the 1963 Ford seen here that was used in 1963-65. A tour may have seemed aimless to the Soviet counterintelligence elements tasked with thwarting it, but each one had specific targets and a concrete plan.

 

Early USMLM plate, and new 1964-89 version, right. Yes, the mission commander had one on his personal Corvette in '64.

Early USMLM plate, and new 1964-89 version, right. Yes, the mission commander had one on his personal Corvette in ’64.

Same style plate, a couple of decades later.

Same style plate, a couple of decades later.

The military liaison mission vehicles had distinct license plates. (NATO vets will remember their SMLM card, which described what to do and what to report if you saw the Soviet mission’s vehicles).

Flogged hard, a mission vehicle lasted some 25,000 miles. A mission team was two men, an NCO driver who was proficient (ideally, natively fluent) in German, and an officer LNO who had had an extensive course in Russian (fluency would have been nice but we’re unaware of any time this happened, while native-fluent German-American drivers were common).

Just one example of how successful the “Tri-Mission” (US, British and French) efforts were over the years, and the true depths that these dedicated and courageous team members would go to gather intelligence, can be seen in their response to the Soviet Army practice of “litter-bugging.” It seems that the Soviets were notorious for throwing away valuable documents and paperwork and leaving them in un-secure trash dumps when they moved from one location to another. Going through these trash dumps had been part of USMLM operations for some time but it wasn’t until 1976 that a more formalized and intensified effort was launched. It wasn’t long before these efforts were coordinated under a program called SANDDUNE. SANDDUNE produced a wide variety of intelligence including Soviet Army unit training schedules, tank firing tables, vehicle maintenance manuals, troop rotation plans, radio call-signs and frequencies and new equipment technical documentation, to name a few.

BRIXMIS had a very similar program to SANDDUNE called Operation Tamarisk. Tamarisk was equally successful and published accounts describe BRIXMIS team members not only digging through trash dumps but also through retired latrines and sites used for medical waste disposal. The examination of medical waste sites understandably proved to be challenging for mission members. “It was an extreme strain on the boys to do that job. But it did produce what might be called surgical memorabilia which linked the stuff to (Soviet) battle wounds.”5

The Holy Grail -- imagery of the inside of the highly secret T-64A was obtained by US and British missions.

The Holy Grail — imagery of the inside of the highly secret T-64A was obtained by US and British missions.

Perhaps the most significant find to result from SANDDUNE and Tamarisk efforts over the years was made near a Soviet Army barracks at Neustrelitz, in Northern East Germany in 1981. A Tamarisk operation conducted by three BRIXMIS team members “under the noses of sleeping (Soviet) sentries,”6 produced a personal logbook. The logbook was written in Russian and included technical drawings. According to a British Military Intelligence Officer who had knowledge of what the logbook contained and who subsequently debriefed the team that discovered it, “it was (at the time) the most important thing we have had from any source for ten years.”7 The logbook contained top-secret information detailing the composition of the armor and the strengths and weaknesses of the new Soviet T-64A. The logbook also contained the same type of information regarding the even newer and more mysterious T-80B MBT

via James Warford on the USMLM and the T-64 – Tank and AFV News.

You’ve probably heard of the greatest failure of USMLM, the incident in which the LNO was shot by a sentry, and then the Soviets denied him medical treatment until he bled out. (His driver subsequently went SF).

Soviet pass for a mission vehicle.

Soviet pass for a mission vehicle.

This story, because of its location and Warford’s interests, concentrates on technical intelligence about tanks. However, the USMLM, BRIXMIS, and the FMLM all collected military intelligence of all kinds: technical intelligence, imagery, and other disciplines, sources and methods that are best left in the vault, even though the military liaison missions are no more. And they did it against all arms and services. Mission-gained intelligence could often corroborate or leverage intelligence gathered through other means, and vice versa.

Interior of the pass. It is for a 1965 Ford Custom which was assembled in Mahwah, NJ with the 4-barrel 352 cid engine -- not, as frequently reported, a hi-po engine.

Interior of the pass. It is for a 1965 Ford Custom which was assembled in Mahwah, NJ with the 4-barrel 352 cid engine — not, as frequently reported, a hi-po engine.

Naturally, the Soviet Military Liaison Mission (SMLM) was doing the exact same to the West at the exact same time. Such was the Cold War!

The reason this report’s a bit schizophrenic, with Warford’s reports of 1980s effort and our comment on how they did it in the 1960s, is because we can also provide a 1964 historical report (the source of all these black and white pictures) which has been declassified. It was an interesting year, with the Soviets shooting down two US aircraft, casualties of the Cold War who are forgotten today.

USMLM 1964 Report.pdf

Very little seems to have changed in the practices and procedures of the USMLM, except that by the mid-80s they had American sedans and also West German vehicles, including Mercedes Geländewagen SUVs.

With the loss of the Soviet satellite/slave states in Eastern Europe, this mission came to an end, and both Western and Russian spooks had to find other ways to keep tabs on one another. Of course, they did. But during the Cold War of over forty years, they ran military liaison missions in each other’s back yard!

The Fight that Ruined a New Weapon’s Reputation

The weapon was new, made of cutting-edge materials. It had demonstrated its capability in the lab and on the range, and the men had such confidence in it, that when a Laotian unit, driven out of Laos by NVA forces with tanks, begged the SF camp commander for anti-tank weapons, team sergeant Bill “Pappy” Craig (who was acting as his own weapons man, having been sent a flaky kid as a replacement who more or less defected to the NVA) gave the Laotians his two old, if proven 3.5″ rocket launchers, aka Super Bazookas. He kept the new Light Antitank Weapons for his own team.

M72LAW

He would live to regret that decision.

The time was early February, 1968, as all of South Vietnam convulsed with what the People’s Army of Viet Nam called the “General Offensive/General Uprising” and the West knows as the Tet Offensive.1 The place was the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp on Route 9, a scrawny , risky road running west past Khe Sanh, where a large Marine force was besieged on one large hill and several hill outposts.

USSF Detachments in RVN 1967Lang Vei was the northwesternmost permanent Allied presence in the Republic of Vietnam. This map of Special Forces compounds the year before the attack hints at just how far out it was — it’s the solitary little dot in Quang Tri province. The Marines at Khe Sanh were almost as isolated.

The LAW is a 66 mm weapon, as its name implies a Light Antitank Weapon, which answered the question: “What if you took the German disposable Panzerfaust concept and redeveloped it with the latest Space Age propellants, explosives, and materials — could you make a compact tank killer?”

The result was a small, environmentally sealed, extensible shipping container/launch tube that was, on its design, marginal on modern tank front turret and glacis armor, but effective on side, rear, top or bottom skins. It was effective through 360º on armor of World War II vintage tanks, still widely deployed by potential adversaries.

The LAW’s adversary that night should have been well within its capabilities, as the 1950s-vintage PT-76 light amphibious tank was never intended to slug it out with AT defenses. It was built to support river crossings — something the Soviet Army’s offensive doctrine demanded an answer for — with a better-than-nothing tank mounting a descendant of the first generation T-34’s 76mm main gun in a truncated-conical turret. The NVA also deployed a Chinese copy of the PT-76 with a domed turret like that of the T-54/55, mounting a version of the improved 85mm gun from the improved late version of the T-34; they also used T-34s themselves, but the only tanks confirmed at Lang Vei were PT-76s.

lang_vei_aftermath

Lang Vei, with three destroyed PT-76s highlighted, the next day. Central PT-76 is adjacent to destroyed TOC bunker. The two visible in the upper right were killed by James Holt’s 106mm Recoilless Rifle.

 

The PT-76 would go on to perform adequately at another SF camp, Ben Het, the next year (in the light of Lang Vei, Ben Het was reinforced by attached artillery and tanks, but one of the PT-76s actually knocked out a defending M-48 MBT before being destroyed itself). The PT-76 was also used by the Egyptian Army in the 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel.

The Lang Vei TOC bunker entrance and tower. The bulk of the TOC was underground and the roof was supported by 8x8" beams.

The Lang Vei TOC bunker entrance and tower before the attack. The bulk of the TOC was underground and the roof was supported by 8×8″ beams.

Knocked-out PT-76 and ruins of TOC the day after. The bunker was blown by the NVA after the surviving USSF escaped to the Old Camp and then out by Marine CH-46.

Knocked-out PT-76 and ruins of TOC the day after. The bunker was blown by the NVA after the surviving USSF escaped to the Old Camp and then out by Marine CH-46. The fuel drums full of rocks, from which Schungel engaged tanks coming from the left are at the left of the TOC.

This 50-odd minute documentary is rife with errors2, and omits even the names of those Green Berets that did not talk to the filmmakers, but does include a broadly accurate reenactment of the fight, and snippets of rare interviews with  SF defenders, including men from all key groups (the defenders who held out in the TOC bunker, then evaded under air-strike cover; the guys evading on top of the hill, some of whom escaped and some of whom were captured; and the guys isolated with the Laotian battalion at Old Lang Vei). The story of the fight, though is complex enough that you ought to read an overview before trying to make sense of a 50-minute video retelling, or it may confuse you.

The reputation of the LAW never recovered both from the blow of its failure at Lang Vei (it didn’t work much better at the next camp attacked by tanks, Ben Het, either), and the Army’s failure to face that failure squarely and forthrightly. Denial kept things from being resolved.

The camp itself was overrun. Of the eleven attacking PT-76s, three were left on site, destroyed by the defenders or by air; four more were blasted by air or artillery and destroyed in the immediate area. A 12th PT-76 had been caught in the open and killed by the USAF on 24 January.

Of 24 USSF on the site, 10 were killed, captured or missing, and 14 got away, all but one of them wounded. When an awards formation was held shortly afterward, only half of the survivors could stand up to get their medals.

lang_vei_survivors_decorations

ashley_moh_presentationOne posthumous medal was presented in Washington: here VP Spiro Agnew presents the award to Eugene Ashley’s widow and uncomprehending son.

 

Rich Allen, who was single, had traded places with Ashley before a fifth and final assault of their small element at the Old Camp to try to relieve the besieged new camp. Because Gene had a wife and son, Rich asked to take the more exposed front position. He was reloading his BAR — the camp had a lot of BARs — when he heard a burst go past him and mortally wound his friend.

Allen would be the only man who survived without a wound.

The Vietnamese VNSF and Montagnard CIDG strike force suffered similar casualty percentages. 209 of the Yards would be missing or killed, about 70 wounded went out with the Americans from the Old Camp, and 160 more escaped overland to the Marine base at Khe Sanh — where the Marines treated them as POWs. A SOG element at Khe Sanh was able to get them sprung and evacuated to Nha Trang.

The Marine commander at Khe Sanh, Col. David Lownds, had been lying when he’d told General Westmoreland he would reinforce Khe Sanh if it were attacked. He never had any intention of risking his men on a night movement on a road on which the NVA would certainly have prepared ambushes. He did, however, authorize his transport helicopters to pick up survivors, which the Marine crews did (amid enemy fire).

The official Army history of Special Forces in Vietnam doesn’t mention the 1968 Lang Vei battle, and dismisses the 1967 fight at the Old Camp that ultimately forced the camp to relocate, with a very few lines, and an ominous foreshadowing of the tank menace:

In I Corps on 4 May 1967 at 0330 Camp Lang Vei, Detachment A-101, Quang Tri Province, was attacked by a company-size force supported by mortars and tanks. About one platoon of Viet Cong gained entry into the camp. With the assistance of fire support from Khe Sanh, enemy elements were repelled from the camp at 0500. Two Special Forces men were killed and five wounded; seventeen civilian irregulars were killed, thirty-five wounded, and thirty-eight missing. Enemy losses were seven killed and five wounded. 3

And referring to NVA armament, to wit, tanks…

…major changes in enemy armament occurred. Introduced in quantity were tube artillery, large rockets, large mortars, modern small arms of the AK47 type, antiaircraft artillery up to 37-mm., and heavy machine guns. Tanks were employed on one occasion against the CIDG camp at Lang Vei, and others were sighted in Laos and Cambodia near the border and in South Vietnam. In central and southern South Vietnam, North Vietnamese Army replacements were used to bolster main force Viet Cong units that had lost many men.

The enemy launched his Tet offensive on 29 January 1968. This was followed by a massive buildup at Khe Sanh and the armor-supported attack that overran the camp at Lang Vei in I Corps. Pressure on CIDG camps, except for the attack on Lang Vei, was unusually light during the entire Tet offensive and for approximately sixty days thereafter.4

The tank menace had been well reported by the border camps and by the secret cross-border penetration patrols of MAC-V SOG. A Mike Force patrol had found a recently-used tank park near Lang Vei shortly before the attack. But intelligence officers dismissed the eyewitness (and in the case of some of the border camps, ear-witness) reporting, as implausible. The data conflicted with the theory, and they threw out the data.

We suppose that’s why we have intelligence officers.

In the months and the years that followed the hilltop fight, the Army made many half-hearted attempts to understand why and how the LAWs had failed. The testimony that they did fail is clear: they failed to fire, squibbed, hit the PT-76s and bounced off, hit and didn’t penetrate. And the weakest tank in the enemy inventory, a tank with a bare 15mm or so of armor, rolled over the defenses with near impunity. But most of the investigations were aimed at proving “that couldn’t have happened,” and shoring up the reputation of the M72 which had performed well in tests and poorly in combat.

The most plausible explanation is that long-term storage, careless handling while in storage (in the Army, the hard left of the bell curve goes into ammo handling), environmental problems, or the shock of parachute delivery had somehow affected the functioning of the rockets. The Lang Vei survivors reported so many diverse problems with the weapons that engineers were at a loss to duplicate the failures or even come up with an Ishikawa diagram or failure tree that plausibly explained them.

Other than the ineffective LAWs, the anti-tank weapons the defenders had included obsolete 57mm and obsolescent 106mm recoilless rifles, lightweight cannon that used the discharge of a countermass (in the case of these ones, gases through a de Laval venturi) to “punch above their weight.” The guns had been scrounged by team members and there was very little ammo for the 106s — perhaps as few as ten rounds. The recoillesses were positioned, necessarily, in fixed positions that were located before the attack and attacked. The Montagnard crews were killed or wounded. Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Schungel tried to get one of the 106 RCLs into action during the fight; another was crewed by James W. Holt, an Arkansas soldier who went missing that night while seeking more 106 ammo or LAWs (his remains were recovered in 1989, and identified only in 2015, thanks to advances in DNA technology). Holt managed to kill three PT-76s, according to a DOD POW-MIA narrative of the fight stored in the Combined Action Combat Casualty File for Lang Vei reliever (and later DNH in an air crash) Major George Quamo of MAC-V SOG.

Shortly after midnight on February 7, 1968, a combined NVA infantry-tank
assault drove into Lang Vei. Two PT-76 tanks threatened the outer
perimeter of the camp as infantry rushed behind them. SFC James W. Holt
destroyed both tanks with shots from his 106mm recoilless rifle. More
tanks came around the burning hulks of the first two tanks and began to
roll over the 104th CIDG Company's defensive positions. SSgt. Peter
Tiroch, the assistant intelligence sergeant, ran over to Holt's position
and helped load the weapon. Holt quickly lined up a third tank in his
sights and destroyed it with a direct hit. After a second shot at the
tank, Holt and Tiroch left the weapons pit just before it was demolished
by return cannon fire. Tiroch watched Holt run over to the ammunition
bunker to look for some hand-held Light Anti-tank Weapons (LAWs). It was
the last time Holt was ever seen.

But the same narrative shows that apart from the 106, the other defensive means were ineffective.

LtCol. Schungel, 1Lt. Longgrear, SSgt. Arthur Brooks, Sgt. Nikolas
Fragos, SP4 William G. McMurry, Jr., and LLDB Lt. Quy desperately tried
to stop the tanks with LAWs and grenades. They even climbed on the
plated engine decks, trying to pry open hatches to blast out the crews.
NVA infantrymen followed the vehicles closely, dusting their sides with
automatic rifle fire. One tank was stopped by five direct hits, and the
crew killed as they tried to abandon the vehicle. 1Lt. Miles R. Wilkins,
the detachment executive officer, left the mortar pit with several LAWs
and fought a running engagement with one tank beside the team house
without much success.

.... NVA sappers armed with
satchel charges, tear gas grenades and flamethrowers fought through the
101st, 102nd and 103rd CIDG perimeter trenches and captured both ends of
the compound by 2:30 a.m. Spearheaded by tanks, they stormed the inner
compound. LtCol. Schungel and his tank-killer personnel moved back to
the command bunker for more LAWs. They were pinned behind a row of dirt
and rock filled drums by a tank that had just destroyed one of the
mortar pits. A LAW was fired against the tank with no effect. The cannon
swung around and blasted the barrels in front of the bunker entrance.
The explosion temporarily blinded McMurry and mangled his hands, pitched
a heavy drum on top of Lt. Wilkins and knocked Schungel flat. Lt. Quy
managed to escape to another section of the camp, but the approach of
yet another tank prevented Schungel and Wilkins from following. At some
point during this period, McMurry, a radioman, disappeared.

The tank, which was shooting at the camp observation post, was destroyed
with a LAW.

That’s the only reference to a LAW having an effect on a tank.

Team Sfc. William T. Craig and SSgt. Tiroch had chased tanks throughout
the night with everything from M-79 grenade launchers to a .50 caliber
machine gun. After it had become apparent that the camp had been
overrun, they escaped outside the wire and took temporary refuge in a
creek bed. After daylight, they saw Ashley's counterattack force and
joined him.

And there you have it.

Signals intelligence showed that the Lang Vei defenders weren’t making it up — the attackers, too, made note of the rockets’ poor performance in their after-action reporting.

(In an interesting aside, the degree of enemy success at Lang Vei was due in part to infiltration, not unlike the insider threat our guys have faced in Afghanistan:

Subsequent intelligence and prisoner of war interrogations indicated that the attackers were aided from inside the camp by Viet Cong who had infiltrated the CIDG units, posing as recruits. One prisoner of war said that he had been contacted by the Viet Cong before the attack and directed to join the CIDG at Lang Vei in order to obtain information on the camp. After joining the CIDG, the man recruited four other civilian irregulars to assist him. One man was to determine the locations of all bunkers within the camp, the second was to report on all the guard positions and how well the posts were manned, the third was to make a sketch of the camp, and the fourth was to report on supplies brought into the camp from Khe Sanh. The Viet Cong had contacted the prisoner who was under questioning on four occasions before the 4 May attack to get the information. On the night of the attack, the prisoner of war and another CIDG man killed two of the camp guards and led the Viet Cong force through the wire and minefield defenses into the camp’s perimeter. This technique of prior infiltration was a Viet Cong tactic common to almost every attack on a camp.5

Nothing to do with LAWs or tank fighting, but … interesting).

And there the situation stood. The Army continued to buy LAWs in the hundreds of thousands, and sponsored dozens of improvements great and small. The Soviets would even make a conceptual copy, after their proxies encountered the weapon in Vietnam (where no one was impressed by it) and Angola (where it proved a surprisingly useful antipersonnel weapon, although less so than the RPG-7). The first Soviet version was the RPG-18 and it was closer to the original M72 than to the current version at the time it was introduced, the M72A2.

The LAW would later be replaced in the United States by the combination of the extremely effective Javelin fire-and-forget ATGM, and much-improved LAWs, which continued to be produced as a multipurpose light weapon after most development and production was transferred to Norwegian licensee NAMMO. The LAW is now at M72A7 and counting, but its reputation hasn’t recovered much, and SF teams have preferred to kill enemy armor long before it gets within LAW range — which new weapons like the Javelin and AT-4 make possible. When in 2003 a small Special Forces team (from the same SF Group as was engaged in Vietnam, 5th SFG(A), as it happens) found itself attacked by an Iraqi armored and mechanized force, the Green Berets destroyed so many Iraqi tanks and APCs that what had started as a ferocious attack turned into a headlong rout.

The Special Forces guys used the Javelins. The Iraqis, who fought bravely if futilely, didn’t get the chance to get within LAW range.

But to this day, nobody really trusts the LAW, even though today’s M72A7 is far more effective than its 1968 version. Why not? Lang Vei, where men who trusted the LAW were killed and captured, and the post was lost.

Notes

  1. The offensive began on the Asian lunar New Year, known as Tet in Vietnamese; the Americans had been expecting the NVA to violate the traditional holiday truce — that is, after all, what Communists do — but were taken aback by the scale and fury of the offensive, which was led in many urban locations by local Viet Cong. The offensive was a failure for the NVA — their VC guerrillas were finished as a fighting force for  the rest of the war — but was reported in the US as an NVA victory, based largely on the Saigon hotel bar rumor reporting that characterized the “new breed” of war correspondents.
  2. Errors are too many to list here, but one of the most grievous is using random tubular mock-ups in place of LAWs. They also include the statement that the NVA/VC took the US Embassy during Tet, whereas none even got inside the chancery building (between the Marine guards and responding MPs, the NVA sappers that got inside the wall of the compound were all expeditiously slain); the use of later M16A2 rifles in some scenes; the lack of description of what became of the CIDG that surrendered (they were murdered); the use of wrong vehicles such as late-1980s CUCV trucks and 1970s-vintage Dodge M880s. It appears to be based largely on Phillips’s The Night of the Silver Stars, which seems to have been written in part to rehabilitate the reputation of certain Marine officers at Khe Sanh, who did not cover themselves in glory that night
  3. Kelly, Francis J. “Splash”. Vietnam Studies: US Army Special Forces, 1961-1971, p. 110
  4. Kelly, Francis J., pp. 126-127
  5. Kelly, Francis J., p. 110

Sources

Cash, John A.. Battle of Lang Vei. Chapter from: Cash, John A., Albright, John, and Sandstrum, Allen. Seven Firefights in Vietnam . Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, US Army, 1985. Retrieved from: http://www.history.army.mil/books/vietnam/7-ff/Ch6.htm

Jones, Gregg. Last Stand at Khe Sanh. Boston: Da Capo Press, 2014.

Kelly, Francis J. “Splash”. Vietnam Studies: US Army Special Forces, 1961-1971. Washington: Department of the Army, 1972. Available at: http://www.history.army.mil/books/Vietnam/90-23/90-23C.htm

Phillips, William R. Night of the Silver Stars: The Battle of Lang Vei. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1997.

Stanton, Shelby L. Special Forces at War: An Illustrated History, Southeast Asia 1957-1975. Charlotesville: Howell Press, 1990.

Who Taught You to Walk?

Who taught you to walk? No, not simply to locomote around the house on toddler legs — who taught you to walk in the woods? Do you remember?

For some, it was your dad or uncle, on hunting trips. For others, it was probably an NCO in your first combat unit. We didn’t have a lot of hunting relatives, so when we first got to an operational unit, the NCOs there quickly determined that we needed an informal block of instruction so as not to endanger the men, the mission, and the military in general.

Learning to walk -- US Army photo of modern 25th ID soldiers.

Learning to walk — US Army photo of modern 25th ID soldiers.

Think about it. Do you remember who taught you to walk?

There’s a lot to learn. There’s how to walk slowly, and as silently as possible; how to walk as quickly as possible while still making minimum noise; and how to cover ground that might be observed, or booby-trapped.

At low speed you walk on the balls of your feet. You feel for where you will (a) have solid footing, and (b) not make noise (dry leaves, twigs). Then you slowly lower your heels, perhaps with an exaggerated supination to rollll your weight along the outside of your jungle boot. Then, perhaps, you move your other foot close into the one that is now forward, bearing your weight, before it in turn becomes the forward foot and you stretch it, ball of the foot first, towards a safe and silent touchdown.

Hollywood has made a dry twig a cliché, (well, James Fenimore Cooper beat Tinseltown to it by a century plus, but moviemakers have belabored that image even more than Cooper did). But there’s truth in the cliché: it can get you noticed, and in our world, for, say, six men on foot 1000 kilometers on the enemy side of the FLOT, stealth was life. Apart from the cinematic twig, there are other things to watch out for: dry leaves, branches that whip back into your eyes. Catching a branch with your hand is better than catching it with your face; catching it with a weapon depends on this: does it make a distinctive noise?

In M16A1 days, the telltale whack of a branch against the plastic handguards was a dead give-away, an unnatural sound. There were (are, we suppose) ways to reduce this.

You stop a lot. You stop and listen. In the jungle, in thick forest, in the city at night, in all the environments that are safest for dismounted infantry, your best sense, vision, is limited by line-of-sight issues. So your new best sense is hearing. You can’t hear the other guy making noise if you’re making noise, so periodically you stop. And you make it a long stop — because if the enemy is stopping with you, you want him to lose patience first.

It’s not paranoid. In combat, they’re really out to get you.

Then there’s how to do all these things at night. Which is different — radically different. For example, on a very dark night, the best way to tell if you’re on a trail can be to look up to see if there’s a linear gap in the trees. You learn that the branches, despite being invisible, are invariably thickest and most impenetrable nearer to the trunk… so if you see two trees ahead, split the difference to reduce contact with branches.

Then there’s the differences between walking and patrolling. And the difference between doing these things with a combat load (maybe 25 pounds in those pre-armor days) and a sustainment load (usually over 100 lbs of lightweight gear).

There’s no block of instruction, no approved lesson plan, for walking in the woods. It isn’t part of AIT, or jump school, or Ranger School, or SFQC. Somebody has to up and take you and teach you, when you don’t even know what it is you don’t know, yet.

Some of this might have been taught to the guys at the in-country recon school or the 1-0 school in Vietnam. (SF guys generally didn’t go to the Recondo school. They taught there). Before you can lead, you have to be able to move through the vegetation, call it woods, forest or jungle, without sounding like an elephant caravan. And in combat, you haven’t got time (or enough pints of blood) to learn by trial and error. Somebody’s got to teach you.

Our teacher was a brilliant staff sergeant called Terry Douglas Damm. Terry, as we called him then (he’d later go by his middle name) was a typically outsized SF personality. He was truly expert at fieldcraft… stuck in a remote area for a couple days, he’d build a two-story treehouse, a bridge across a creek, or a massive throne for himself (he was also a typically modest SF personality). He could actually make a fishhook and line, which they taught everybody in survival school, but Damm did it for fun — and he actually caught fish, which impressed the hell out of us.

He started out as a radio operator in the MI Company, after doing some tours with the Army Security Agency, including Thailand during the Vietnam unpleasantness. Later, he’d be a team sergeant, including on a scuba team at Bad Tölz. His last-before-retirement gig was teaching future officers in the ROTC sub-program at Dartmouth College, and he retired from the military in that area, working as a cop and making custom furniture.

Over the years, we lost touch with him. But you never forget the guy who taught you how to walk in the woods.

Wonder where Doug Damm is these days?

The Czech “DUO” & Z Pistol, 1938-Present

Do you think little European 6.35 mm (.25 ACP) pocket pistols are boring? Hold on while we take you on a tour through the politics of 20th Century Mitteleuropa, with our host being this unassuming .25.

SONY DSC

Czech Duo, stripped and in fairly rough shape.

Same gun, reverse. Proofed in 1941.

Same gun, reverse. Proofed in 1941.

The Duo was designed by a man with a name that resonates in Czech history – František Dušek. That is not because the 20th Century firearms entrepreneur is famous in the Czechlands, but because he shares a name with one of  the great composers of the race, the underrated Baroque-period master František Xaver Dušek, who lived in the 18th Century. Both men often see their names Germanized to Franz (Xavier) Dusek or Duschek. The Czech pronunciation is DOO-shek.

Dušek’s business started as a small gunsmith’s shop and grew into a factory in Opočno, in northeastern Bohemia near the Moravian border.

Most every place in the Czechlands has a name in Czech and a name in German, that usually differ mostly in spelling and in pronunciation details. The more notable cities have an English name, or the German name tends to be used in English. For example, Prague is the English name for the city the Czechs (and the Slovaks, during the federal period) call Praha, and the Germans and Austrians call Prag. Opočno (pronounced OH-poach-no) is one of three small towns with the name in the Czech Republic today, and comes across into German as Opotschno. (Most common English usage is the Czech name without the háček or diacritical mark over the “c,” thus, “Opocno.”)

This Duo shows the quality of finish of these firearms. It's a wartime gun, produced and proofed in 1944.

This Duo shows the quality of finish of these firearms. It’s a wartime gun, produced and proofed in 1944.

František Dušek was born in 1876 and apprenticed as a gunsmith with a firm named Hojny. Berger also says he traveled “abroad,” which suggests Germany, for manufacturing and design experience (his Czech home being at the time part of the Habsburg Empire). Long before World War I he had hung out his own shingle in Opočno.

Berger describes the growth of his firm warmly:

Old Dusek brochures gave a founding date of 1905, which is probably the year he left his apprenticeship to start on his own.

Dusek worked hard and long, as only the owner can do. He put back all profits into the business, expanding at every opportunity. Dusek was anti-military during World War I refused to make weapons or components for the Austro-Hungarian government. At that time Czechoslovakia had not yet become a country.

After World War I, Czechoslovakia became an independent country, and by the mid 1920s Dusek’s products including rifles, shotguns, air rifles and gunsmithing supplies. Do sick struggled for independence by making everything possible at his factory, not depending on outside sources. In 1925, the workforce was 36 production workers and six administrative workers.1

Along with Dušek’s own work, he did an excellent business remarketing pocket pistols from Spain. These were marked with a variety of names including Ydeal, and were sold in the Czechoslovak Republic and throughout Eastern and Central Europe. The Spanish supply dried up in the 1930s, and so Dušek designed his own pistol and began producing it. In the interim, he acquired some pistols from the Mars concern and changed the markings to call them DUOs, his own trademark — the name standing for DUšek, Opočno. Duo-marked Mars pistols are rare and are different in some design features from factory Duos. (The Mars itself is descended from the PZK and the Slavia, and features a loaded chamber indicator that the Duo does not).

Number 120305 was produced in 1945, not long before the factory was overrun.

Number 120305 was produced in 1945, not long before the factory was overrun.

This is an interesting pistol because of its place and time, not really because of its design. If you look at it, you see an ordinary European .25 pocket pistol of the sort produced in great numbers and great variety between the Alpha of John Browning and FN popularizing the small auto pistol in 1900 or so, and the Omega of postwar Europe shambling down the path of gun prohibition after World War II. Indeed, it looks like a close copy of the Browning-designed FN Model 1906 pocket pistol.

The Duo is not a true copy. The parts don’t interchange. But designer and factory owner František Dušek was inspired by the Browning-designed FN 1906 .25 in his design of the DUO. This design may have been inspired indirectly by the Browning, through the Mars/Slavia or through the Spanish eyeball copies of the Browning that Dušek imported before the Spanish Civil War cut off his supply. So you could say, in a way, that the Duo was “born in the Spanish Civil War,” but that locution might have offended old Dušek. A pacifist, he not only refused to make arms for the Austro-Hungarian Royal and Imperial Army in World War I, and likewise refused to collaborate with the Nazis when they occupied Czechoslovakia. The pistol remained in production; the Nazis simply ousted Dušek and effectively nationalized his plant.

During the Duo’s long life it has been produced in seven different countries2 — several of them without the factory moving an inch — with at least ten different marking variations. The Czech-made Duos we have seen, several dozen (wish we’d been recording serials then!) are invariably of high quality; even when the quality deteriorated during the later years of the Nazi occupation they were better guns than the Spanish ones Dušek has been selling.

The guns were a success for Dušek. They shipped from Opočno throughout Europe and the world. By 1938, his factory was the largest private gun manufacturing plant in the entire Czechoslovak Republic, as the other big names (ZB, CZ-UB) were national arsenals. But the CSR itself was on borrowed time. Throughout 1938, Nazi aggression and international spinelessness led to the dismantling of the Czechoslovak Republic piecemeal. First, they lost the border area, what the German speakers called the Sudetenland in the Munich Agreement. Then, a few months later, the Third Reich occupied the rest of Bohemia and Moravia, and placed Slovakia under the control of quislings.

In the gun factories, only the rollmarks changed (and, perhaps, some of the customers). Many Czech guns were already being marked in German for export, so it was no big deal. The pistols continued to be proofed and proofmarked to Czech standard.

The German occupation Duos were made in several marking variations, including specialty versions for specific German retailers. (This last was a continuation of prewar practice). Other makers would make their own mark on the slide, frame or trigger guard.

This is a 1942 Duo from Nolle's collection.

This is a 1942 Duo from Nolle’s collection.

There were several common holsters used with these pistols, similar to the hardshell and softshell types known by P.38 and Luger collectors. The gun tended to be used by senior and rear-echelon military and police officers, both in the Czech military and the Wehrmacht, more as a symbol of command than as any kind of a defensive pistol. As armaments go, a .25 is the original “better than nothing” firearm, with less energy than a .22 LR round, and until long after the war, only roundnose lead and roundnose FMJ were the only loads available. What they lack in firepower, though, they make up for in simplicity and reliability.

CZ Duo with Hardshell

After the war, Dušek resumed production in Opočno, and postwar guns returned fully to prewar quality. He would be ousted a second time when the Communists took over Czechoslovakia and nationalized and rationalized the gun industry. All handgun manufacture was to be centralized, and after a short further run, the tooling at Opočno was packed up.

That wasn’t the end of the Duo, though… it stayed in production, with, normal business for the Duo, new rollmarks. The factory was now a Národní Podník, “national enterprise.” Soon all handgun  production shifted to the Uhersky Brod factory, and the gun was now a “Z” with the old Zbrojovka Brno trademark, the letter Z in a circle that is, on close examination, a rifled barrel, taking the place of DUO on the grips.

 

This is a "Z" pistol made in the CZ-UB plant in 1949.

This is a “Z” pistol made in the CZ-UB plant in 1949.

Most of the Duos and Zs that were imported into the United States came in as wartime bringbacks (wartime and prewar Duos) or were imported during a brief period when Czechoslovak firearms were imported (1948-52 or so). Post-1968, they are not importable because of the Sporting Test the United States adopted from a 1938 Nazi gun law, with further restrictions by the American admirer of Nazi policing who wrote the bill, Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut.

Despite the many marking variations of the Duo, which might also be called a Z, Singer, JAGA, or Ideal, or bear the marks of a German sporting-goods store, the only substantial change before 1970 was brief availability of a longer barrel in 1938-39 or so. This longer (190mm) barrel changed the class of licensure of the firearm in the Czechoslovak Republic, and became moot when German laws supplanted Czechoslovak after the Munich Accord. (These long-barreled Duos are extremely rare in the USA; Berger describes them, but we’ve never seen one, and we suspect he never had, either; he’s working of a catalog description). Even the transfer of manufacture and trademark from Opočno as a Duo to Uhersky Brod as a “Z”, did not materially change the pistols.

Berger published photographs of Dušek’s home and the somewhat run-down original plant in Opočno, long since converted to other uses, taken in 1981.3

In 1970, the Z was redesigned to slightly modernize its shape and it was renamed Pistole Vz 70, not to be confused with the CZ Pistole VZ 70, a .32 caliber police pistol.

For all versions, disassembly for field-stripping is identical to the common M1906/1908 Browning/Colt hammerless .25.

Duos and Zs are well-made, usually well-finished guns (if not to FN standards; toolmarks are not completely polished off the frame sides, for instance). Even the occupation guns are usually safe to fire, although an example with shortened firing pin that will not engage a primer has been observed, perhaps evidence of wartime sabotage by a Czech or foreign forced laborer. The firing pin is somewhat vulnerable to failure and, unlike most center-fire guns, this pistol should not be dry-fired. (Nor should the unrelated Little Tom and CZ 36/45/92 pocket pistols).

Notes

  1. Berger, p. 77.
  2. The countries were: the Czechoslovak Republic (1918-38); the rump Czecho-Slovak 2nd Republic (minus the Sudetenland, Carpathian Ruthenia, and parts of Silesia and Slovakia), 1938-39; the Reichsprotektorat Böhmen u. Mähren, 1939-45; the 3rd Czechoslovak Republic (1945-48); the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (1948-90); the 4th Czechoslovak Republic (1990-93) and the post-Velvet-Divorce Czech Republic (1993-).
  3. Berger, p. 82.

Corrections

Multiple typographic errors, one historical error in footnote 2, and a missing sentence have been corrected. See the comments for details.

Sources

Berger, R.J. Know Your Czechoslovakian Pistols. Chino Valley, AZ: Blacksmith Corporation, 1989.

Buffaloe, Ed. “Two Czech 6.35mm Pistols”. UnblinkingEye.com, n.d. Retrieved from: http://unblinkingeye.com/Guns/2CZ25s/2cz25s.html

”Kirby the OG.” OG’s Curio and Relic Page: Czechoslovakian Firearms. Formerly at: http://www.geocities.com/kirbytheog/czech.html now defunct. Retrieved from:

“Nolle”. Nolle’s Guns: Czech Pistols. Retrieved from: http://www.nollesguns.be/Czech_pistols.htm (Flemish language).

When Government Goals Collide in the Drill Hall

The Army Reserve vacated an old Reserve Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a liberal enclave on the Seacoast that envisioned beating this bland, generic sword into a blossoming plowshare of cradle-to-grave social support.

Yes, we're talking about this building. A generic building of which literally hundreds were built nationwide to the same plan in the fifties and sixties.

Yes, we’re talking about this building. Not an eyesore, entirely, but not much better: a generic building, one of 10,000.

The “free” building could have been cashed out for light industrial use, and the cash used to pay down the town’s enormous pension shortfall. But the town pols envisioned a “senior center” in which the helpless, doomed oldsters could be properly socialized to love Big Brother to recognize their debt to the benevolent city pols, and repay them with votes forever. Or until they croak, which would realistically come first.

But it turns out that the “free” building came with strings attached. The “social good” of giving a defined constituency Free Stuff clashed with the “social good” of architectural Luddism promoted by another defined constituency, the Historical Preservation nazis.

But according to state historians, the Cottage Street property, which has been eyed for a Portsmouth senior center, has a long list of historically-significant features that should be preserved.

Now, you have already seen this building. Even if you’ve never been within 1,000 miles of Portsmouth, New Hamster. It’s a generic building of which literally hundreds were built nationwide to the exact same plan in the fifties and sixties for the Army Reserve, National Guard, and other services’ reserve components. It has very near analogues, if not exact copies, on every military base and former military base in the United States. Its flat-roofed, brick, steel-framed architecture was mirrored in tens of thousands of other period buildings — offices, warehouses, light industrial buildings, and just about every public school built from about 1950 to the rise of Brutalism about 1970 — by which time the Cold War military was contracting and the building boom over.

The New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources has published a five-page report detailing those features and a 54-page application to have the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Included on the list of historically-significant aspects of two buildings on the site are the height and mass of the buildings, the front lawn, driveway, flagpole and plantings. Interior elements of historical importance include a main corridor, classrooms, metal doors with crash bars, tile floors and plaster ceilings, according to the application.

Here’s a look at the interior of the drill hall of this architectural marvel:

doble reserve center 2

Now, were you ever a Reserve Component service member? And if you did, did you just exclaim, “Hey, that’s just like our drill hall!”? It’s exactly like the old drill hall that C 1/20th SF shared with a succession of other Guard units over the years.

We’re almost ready to rest our case without even hearing the rest of the argument from the preservationistas. But it’s funny, so we’ll get to it anon.

What the story doesn’t mention is that these things were all built to a price, and starved of maintenance. The Army Reserve ones tended to be built better than the National Guard ones, which had to be built by state-“connected” contractors and therefore had sandy concrete and mortar, and ill-fitting doors, windows and skimpy flashing on their flat roofs, but even the USAR ones are all in a shabby state by now.

What that means for Portsmouth’s plans to locate a senior center at the abandoned military center remains unknown, Elizabeth Muzzey, director of the N.H. Division of Historical Resources, said last week.

Portsmouth officials have “been working with the Army since 2005 to try and acquire the property for a senior center,” according to a city memo from December 2014 reviewed by Seacoast Sunday.

Wait — they’ve been haranguing over this for nine years? Wait, now ten years? And they still have no answers? Do these government workers (at city, State, and Federal levels) actually do anything?

Never mind. We know the answer to that.

The memo states the Army is working with the state Division of Historical Resources and the Department of Defense, “who have identified the property as potentially having character-defining characteristics (in and outside the building) they will seek to preserve through a preservation easement.”

This is exactly the sort of military property that ought to be auctioned off in a fair and transparent process, not delivered to a corrupt city government for cronies to cash in on. But having been delivered for that purpose, it’s amusing to watch the various agencies fight over this generic building, like seagulls fighting over a prize piece of fish head.

“Attempts to require future property owners to preserve features of this building will greatly inhibit the city’s ability to make this facility an attractive, inviting and successful reuse as a senior center,” according to that year-old memo.

via Doble Center’s historic character must be preserved – News – seacoastonline.com – Portsmouth, NH.

Oh, one more feature of all these 1950s and 60s white elephants: poor or no insulation (a bit of an issue at 44º north latitude), poorly fitting windows with steel frames and no designed drainage (so they’re all rusty now), window glass not up to code, no air conditioning, and a heater plant that was cheap and ineffective in 1955 and is staggeringly wasteful of energy by 2015 standards.

But hey, seniors are noted for their robust hardiness, compared to the fragility of their Unique And Special Snowflake™ grandkids these days. Granpa can put on a scarf and suck it up like generations of GIs did.

So rebuilding the “free” building into a senior center requires a complete rework of the exterior envelope of the building including some quarter to a half-million dollars’ worth of doors and windows; gutting the building for installation of modern, efficient HVAC; and years of negotiations between opposing teams of historical architecture nazis, all of whom work for government because they did not rise to the level of productively employable historians or architects.

Frédéric Bastiat said, “Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else,” and that was over 150 years ago.  In language he’d understand, Plus ça changé, plus c’est la même chose.

The Challenges of Keeping Jet History Flying

Ars Technica seems to be on its way out as a tech site, as it’s getting converged into one more dull, technically ignorant SJW platform. But there are still writers like Lee Hutchinson, who parlayed a personnel connection with pilot and aircraft manager Rick Sharpe into fantastic article on what it takes to keep ’em flying. With “’em” being the key Western and Eastern fighter jets of the Cold War and its hot outcroppings in Vietnam, Korea and the Middle East.

Sharpe exists at the vital hinge of the Collings Foundation, the Lone Star Flight Museum, and the Vietnam War Flight Museum, in each of which he has an important role.

MiG-21 UTI in the hangar. It embiggens. Lee Hutchinson Photo.

MiG-21 UTI in the hangar. The one on the tail of which Polish markings are visible, on the left, is a spare, being cannibalized for parts. This one was made in Russian and flow in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic People’s Air Force. The picture embiggens. Lee Hutchinson Photo.

And Hutchinson is a writer with a great command of imagery. Consider this lyrical description of the VWFM’s Mig-21UTI “Mongol” 2-seat trainer:

The aircraft looks like the blunt instrument it is—rough, unfinished skin, creased with irregularly spaced seams and with its rivets and bolts grimed with soot, like pockmarks. But there is a utilitarian beauty in its lines—the beauty of physics, showing how even a hammer must be streamlined in order to fly (“This is like a John Deere tractor that does Mach 2,” Sharpe joked). And even though it’s about a meter longer and wider than the A-4 Skyhawk, the MiG-21’s low and squat landing gear makes it feel far, far smaller. Standing next to the MiG-21 feels almost like standing next to a large, winged car, while the smaller A-4 towers high above your head. The MiG’s compactness is due to its function: as a “home defense” aircraft, it was above all designed to be a fast interceptor that could race to meet incoming fighters and stand them off. This meant it needed a short and stubby delta wing to meet the Mach 2 design requirement. And as it turned out, the MiG-21 was exceedingly good at shooting down other jets.

via The slowly fading art of flying—and maintaining—Cold War fighter jets | Ars Technica.

Don’t you like that? He gets the technical information out there, but in an entertaining way. Delta wings were once the state of the art, but the art moved on, leaving them as a marker of a time in aviation history. (Although technically, the MiG and the A4 Skyhawk, another old jet that the Collings Foundation operates and that is covered in depth in the article, are “tailed deltas,” an aerodynamically distinct animal). Like faceted stealth designs, or, for that matter, like the strut-supported wire-braced biplane, the delta wasn’t needed when more science was in hand, enabling more sophisticated engineering.

Another Hutchinson image, of an F-100 instrument panel. This panel has been upgraded with some civilian gear.

Another Hutchinson image, of an F-100 instrument panel. This panel has been upgraded with some civilian gear, including a modern GPS navigator and HSI, and a back-up artificial horizon.

There are many challenges in keeping a 50s-design, 70s-construction jet in the air, and they differ by nationality and type: different things ground an F4, an A4, and the MiG, but they all seem to be grounded at the moment. Fascinating, well-written article, and a moment of brightness from a declining publication.