Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

Independence Day

This is a lithograph of the original Declaration of Independence. If you want a copy to show off, this is the one -- it's a huge file (National Archives and Records Administration).

This is a lithograph of the original Declaration of Independence. If you want a copy to show off, this is the one — it’s a huge file (National Archives and Records Administration).

On this day in 1776, our forefathers — for they were our spiritual fathers, even if our blood was still barefoot in peat bogs, hayfields, grape arbors, cotton fields, and various other places of agricultural toil — published their signature of a unilateral Declaration of Independence, and fired a shot across the bow of the most powerful man in the world, George III.

The American rebels would have been middle-class artisans and gentry in Georgian England. If even one had the taint or tincture of noble blood, he kept that fact to himself; instead of being known by the ranks to which they were born, Americans then were known by their accomplishments: professions, mostly.

Some were distinguished lawyers, in a time when that was not a risible phrase. Some were artisans who had grown from being the man who made useful things, to being the employer of men who made useful things to their design. Some were traders; some were planters; one was an internationally-renowned polymath, a man without peer in his age — or any other.

In England, they would have been expected to bow to George III, and many of them would have been expected to tug their forelocks and avert their eyes from various of his inbred vassals.

In England, to defy that one man was a crime without equal, and the punishments prescribed for it were barbarous, and, indeed, cruel and unusual. Not only would the disrespector of George’s august personage be subject to a brutal and inhumane form of killing, but the crime would be visited upon his entire family by Writ of Attainder: titles, if any, attainted and forfeit; real estate forfeit to the Crown; any other property expropriated for the benefit of the King; the children of the malefactor forever to wear their parent’s disgrace like an indelible Mark of Cain through “corruption of blood,” leaving the traitor’s descendants forever unfit to own real property, sign contracts, or better their station in any way: it reduced his progeny to penury in perpetuity. (In practice, this usually drove such disinherited and ruined offspring out of England to seek their fortune elsewhere).

Needless to say, not many in England chose to defy George III.

Many consequences follow from the fact that many in England’s colonies did. By and large, they did not originally seek “independence”: while rebels had been fighting the King’s governors off and on for years, they argued that it was because they were trying to secure for themselves the Rights of Englishmen.

And this is the original Declaration, showing the ravages of time. But this is the document with the original signatures, not the copies most have come to know. (NARA).

And this is the original Declaration, showing the ravages of time. But this is the document with the original signatures, not the copies most have come to know. (NARA).

That sounded perfectly reasonable, unless and until one did the math. And George III could do math. And he understood, as Franklin had earlier written, that given the expected normal growth in the New World, the time would come when there were more Englishmen in the Colonies than in England. And that meant that Britain could never admit colonial representatives into Parliament, without running the risk that one day, the balance of power in Britain would be — outside Britain.

George III, like his predecessors and most of the other members of the British ruling class, was unwilling to accept this risk. In 150 years of English colonization, no American districts had been drawn for Commons, and no American had been ennobled to sit in the House of Lords.

The Colonies had been very lucrative for British industry, but defending them on land and sea was a ruinous drain upon the treasury, and in recent years attempts to impose taxation had been met with resistance. The British thought their position eminently reasonable, and they were shocked when the resistance coalesced into armed resistance. But even such examples of armed resistance as the Colonial militia seizing the Crown’s Court House in Worcester (September, 1774), the two-time seizure and looting of the armory at Fort William and Mary (December, 1774), essentially bloodless defeats for the British Army, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord (April, 1775), which was anything but bloodless, didn’t really shock the complacent, global British empire. After all, they had dealt with fractious colonial subjects worldwide for centuries.

England was not at war, yet. A few regiments of Redcoats were the only ones who knew there was a war. (Sound familiar, fellow GWOT vets?)

But the powerful language of the Declaration of Independence, its tone, alternately sorrowful and magisterial, and the irreparable split it heralded with the Crown and its institutions? That got the King’s, the Government’s, attention.

The Declaration’s text is posted below. Please read it, including especially the litany of “injuries and usurpations” that follows the 2nd paragraph. (We’ve rendered those as bulleted, but of course they’re not in the original. Source).

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

  • He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
  • He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
  • He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
  • He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
  • He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
  • He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
  • He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
  • He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
  • He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
  • He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
  • He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
  • He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
  • He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

  • He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
  • He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
  • He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
  • He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
  • He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
Georgia:

Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton

Column 2
North Carolina:

William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn

South Carolina:

Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton

Column 3
Massachusetts:

John Hancock

Maryland:

Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia:

George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Column 4
Pennsylvania:

Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross

Delaware:

Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean

Column 5
New York:

William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

Column 6
New Hampshire:

Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple

Massachusetts:

Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:

Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery

Connecticut:

Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott

New Hampshire:

Matthew Thornton

SMG History on the Block: German MP18-1

Here’s a true piece of submachine gun history: a German MP.18–1 submachine gun, a very early, first-generation, Bergmann-built Hugo Schmeisser design.

MP18-1 left

Schmeisser was the son of designer Louis Schmeisser, who also worked at Bergmann and created the early Bergmann auto pistols. Hugo is one of the true greats of 20th Century weapons design in his own right, but, oddly enough, he is credited more in the popular mind for a gun he didn’t design, the MP 40, than the many guns he did, including the revolutionary MP.18. We’ll explain below how that probably came to pass.

Discounting the curious and tactically unsound Villar–Perosa, the first real submachine gun was the MP.18. (Maxim produced a model only in the late 19th Centuryl he didn’t follow up). It was blowback-operated and fired in full-automatic only (at a rather low rate of fire, thanks to heavy reciprocating parts). The weakness of the MP18, apart from its weight and cost of manufacture, was its magazine feed: it used the 32 round snail drum of the Artillery Luger. (A snail “drum” is not a true drum, exactly, but a box magazine oriented in a spiral to save space. It’s very tricky to design). The snail drum was awkward, hard to load, heavy, and made the MP18 unwieldy, but the gun still proved its worth in the hands of German Storm Troops in the last year of the Great War.

MP18-1 right

After the war, Schmeisser patented an original design for a 20-round double-column single-feed magazine and a suitable magazine housing (the patent was not filed in the USA until 1931, possibly due to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles). This gun is one of the 20-round versions.

Schmeisser US1833862-2 According to Small Arms of the World by Smith and Ezell, these guns were not new production, but were modified by Haenel, and (several other sources suggest that Bergmann lost its production facilities at war’s end, and continued only as a design shop). Some online sources assert that during the war, Schmeisser’s double-column mag had been rejected by the Army in favor of the snail drum, officially the “Trommelmagazin 08″ or TM08, that was already in production for the Artillery pistol. We haven’t seen a definitive source that says that Schmeisser’s stick mag was ready for prime time in 1918.

This gun on offer is one of those postwar MP.18-1s with the 20-round box mag.  Its condition is amazing for a nearly-century-old weapon an ocean away from its home:

MP18-1 right2

This is a excellent German MP18.1 that I have had for a long time. It is in beautiful original condition as you can see by the pictures. It is all matching except for the bolt. The bore is excellent and shiny. It has all the original finish and is NOT re-blued. The magazine housing is marked S.B.848 and the stock is marked “1920″ so I’m sure that it was used in the Weimar as a Police Weapon.

MP18-1 b

The “1920″ marking was applied to all Reichswehr (the Weimar Republic’s 100,000-man rump army) weapons when a postwar law banned automatic weapons for the general public. (This early German gun control law was to lead to greater things, but let’s not digress).

It is on a form 3 and is fully transferable on a form 4, though it can NOT be transferred on a C&R. If you have any question or need more pictures please ask.

via German MP18 1 9mm MP18-1 : Machine Guns at GunBroker.com.

The MP.18 was redesigned by Hugo Schmeisser into a slightly improved version, the MP.28, which had a selector switch. It continued in production, spawning many variants. The Schmeisser designs went on to be extremely influential, as well as to serve in many other wars, including the Spanish Civil War, the Sino-Japanese Wars leading up to World War II (including in Chinese-copy versions), and of course in World War II, where it was often found in the hands of the SS. It also inspired the British Lanchester, a fairly direct copy of the MP.28 which actually could use MP 18 and 28 box magazines, although the Lanchester also had 32 and 50 round magazines of its own. This makes the MP 18 not only the progenitor of all submachineguns, but also the granddaddy of the Sten. The Japanese Type 100 was also a modified copy of the MP.28, a weapon the Japanese had encountered in Chinese hands. The Finnish Suomi and Russian PPD also were inspired to one extent or another by the German design, and the.

Schmeisser’s box magazine design was patented, as shown above, and was widely used in subsequent guns. It’s generally accepted that the misnomer “Schmeisser” for the MP40 came about because many MP38 and MP40 magazines were marked with “Schmeisser D.R.P.” (Deutsches Reich Patent) in recognition of this patent.

The gun is extremely durable. The receiver is machined from a thick tube, unlike the thin tubes common in Second World War submachine guns. The bolt likewise is machined from a single block of steel. The weapon fires from an open bolt, automatic only, although experience makes single shots possible. The original WWI versions had no manual safety. This one has a bolt notch safety. (All open-bolt SMGs are only safe with a mag out, period, unless the safety locks the bolt forward on an empty chamber. A safety like this just instills false confidence).

MP18-1 right3

Mullin notes that, other things being equal, a full-stocked SMG always provides a better firing platform than a folding or sliding stock. We concur. Sliding stocks have had something of a renaissance due to body armor, but for the recreational shooter an early subgun like an MP.18 (or a Thompson for that matter) is a joy to shoot.

MP18-1 broken open

While the operating system of the gun was very simple, the internals were not. The bolt was driven by a telescoping spring guide/firing pin mechanism clearly antecedent to that of the later Vollmer designs that would culminate in the MP40. What killed the MP.18 and its successors in the end was the difficulty and expense of machining its solid steel parts. Second-generation submachine guns would have stamped, die-cast, and other parts taking advantage of improvements in 20th Century automotive mass-production industrial processes.

MP18-1 stripped

We’ve used more of the pictures than we usually do in these auction reports, because this is such a gorgeous, unmolested original gun. If we hadn’t just taken a huge income hit (thank you, ISIL), we’d be on this like a lawyer on an ambulance.

Because the MP.18 isn’t as sexy as later guns, it’s unlikely to be bid up anywhere near Thompson, BAR or M16 territory, and might even sell down in the Sten price range. But this gun is a true piece of history. Its next owner will have something to be proud of, and it may turn out to be a good investment. (Personally, we don’t “invest” in anything subject to corrosion, although we’ve been known to delude ourselves that we did that).

After this, you might want more information on this rare and historic firearm. There’s a minimal write-up in most editions of Small Arms of the World. In the 11th Edition it begins on p. 338. (The book, not the unrelated Small Arms of the World website. There’s probably a good writeup on the website, too, but we’ve been locked out by login problems over the last few weeks… we hope to get them resolved today. SAW’s technical staff have been very helpful). There’s a better writeup, but scarcely a thorough one, in Hobart, on pp. 116-117.

How does the MP.18 stack up today? Mullin’s verdict in The Fighting Submachine Gun: A Hands-on Evaluation was:

The M1918 feels like a good, sturdy, long-lasting weapon. It does have a few drawbacks to it (such as weight and slam-firing bolt-design defects), but once modified to a standard box design, it has all the features necessary to make an effective SMG with very few that are superfluous to the job. This is quite a compliment to those original German designers back in 1918.

Peterson (p. 151) suggests that the gun may be worth $17,000 to $22,500, depending on whether you call its condition “very good” or “excellent”; a snail-drum wartime gun would be worth only 10% more. No one has bid on this gun, at $13,500 opening bid and no reserve. What’s up with that?

Sources: 

Hobart, FWA, Pictorial History of the Sub-machine Gun

Mullin, T. The Fighting Submachine Gun: A Hands-on Evaluation.

Peterson, P. Standard Catalog of Military Firearms: The Collector’s Price and Reference Guide. 

Smith, WHB and Ezell, EC, Small Arms of the World, any edition.

A very good photo thread on the MP.18 and successors at Accurate Reloading: http://forums.accuratereloading.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/7811043/m/589109167/

Note that there are a couple of errors and unsupported statements in the photo thread.

 

A Little Gun with Big Consequences

His last words were, “It is nothing.” But he was terribly wrong.

Even as badly maintained and pitted as it is, this FN M1910 Browning in .380 ACP has the classic lines John M. Browning designed into it over a century ago. It’s still a not-bad choice for a backup or concealed carry pistol, although most of them are in the hands of collectors. Not many collectors would want one in as terrible and pitted condition as this one, but then, this is not just “one.” It’s “the” pistol that fired the shots that ended the Age of Kings, mortally wounding Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Dual Monarchy and his wife Sophie.  That assassination, by a Bosnian Serb pan-Slavic nationalist named Gavrilo Princip, led Austria to threaten Serbia (which had sponsored the assassination, providing this gun and other arms) with invasion. The Austrian threat produced a Russian counterthreat, a German counter-counterthreat, and Franco-British agreement to stand by their treaty obligations to Russia — if it came to that.

Gavrilo Princips Browning 1910

In the end, as we all know, it did come to that, to the detriment of nations and of generations.

Franz Ferdinand was an important figure. For one thing, the Emperor and King, Franz Josef, was old and unwell, and FF was his designated heir (he himself came to the position through tragedy, when the then-heir, his cousin Rudolf, committed suicide in 1889). From then, Franz Ferdinand was ready to take the reins. No one in the Habsburg court had thought out the fate of the monarchy beyond that, except that Franz Ferdinand’s and Sophie’s children were not eligible — their marriage was a love match between unequals, and so morganatic, a dynastic term meaning the kids’ blood was permanently attainted with the non-royalness of Sophie. It was only after the murder of FF and Sophie that Franz Josef began preparing Franz Ferdinand’s nephew Charles, who had been enjoying himself as an Army officer, for national leadership. They didn’t have long, as Franz Josef passed away in 1916, catapulting Charles onto the dual throne. All these consequences from a few pistol shots!

The murder is described in a book called Sarajevo, quoted at length in Wikipedia:

One bullet pierced Franz Ferdinand’s neck while the other pierced Sophie’s abdomen. … As the car was reversing (to go back to the Governor’s residence because the entourage thought the Imperial couple were unhurt) a thin streak of blood shot from the Archduke’s mouth onto Count Harrach’s right cheek (he was standing on the car’s running board). Harrach drew out a handkerchief to still the gushing blood. The Duchess, seeing this, called: “For Heaven’s sake! What happened to you?” and sank from her seat, her face falling between her husband’s knees.

Harrach and Potoriek … thought she had fainted … only her husband seemed to have an instinct for what was happening. Turning to his wife despite the bullet in his neck, Franz Ferdinand pleaded: “Sopherl! Sopherl! Sterbe nicht! Bleibe am Leben für unsere Kinder! – Sophie dear! Don’t die! Stay alive for our children!” Having said this, he seemed to sag down himself. His plumed hat … fell off; many of its green feathers were found all over the car floor. Count Harrach seized the Archduke by the uniform collar to hold him up. He asked “Leiden Eure Kaiserliche Hoheit sehr? – Is Your Imperial Highness suffering very badly?” “Es ist nichts. – It is nothing.” said the Archduke in a weak but audible voice. He seemed to be losing consciousness during his last few minutes, but, his voice growing steadily weaker, he repeated the phrase perhaps six or seven times more.

A rattle began to issue from his throat, which subsided as the car drew in front of the Konak bersibin (Town Hall). Despite several doctors’ efforts, the Archduke died shortly after being carried into the building while his beloved wife was almost certainly dead from internal bleeding before the motorcade reached the Konak.

It took about a month of cabled threats and ultimata, and then it was game on. Game would stay on for the next four-plus years, ending with Northern France and Belgium in ruins, Russia in an unholy revolution that brought forth a new Dark Age across Eurasia, Britain and Germany spent, with the cream of their youth interred in distant fields — if their remains were found at all. The last unconstrained kings in Europe were gone, Nicholas II and his whole family shot down like dogs, and Wilhelm II and his whole family in comfortable, if bitter, exile. Accidental king Charles I of Austria-Hungary died shortly after his family’s exile to Portugal.

But hey, the Serbs got their Serbian-dominated pan-Slavic Balkan nation.

Princip didn’t live to see it. He died soon after being sentenced to 20 years (the enlightened Habsburg were soft on crime, especially when committed by yout’s — Princip was 20), of complications from TB.

In the end, of course, Yugoslavia was short-lived, as nations go. It would be torn apart by civil war started by another malignant Serb, but that’s another story. (And against those two monsters, the Serbs did give us Nikola Tesla, so their accounts balance, unless you ask Edison).

The murder weapon fell, with a collection of Franz Ferdinand and Sophia artifacts and ephemera, into the hands of a priest, who dreamed of helping Austria-Hungary establish a museum in the memory of the murdered royal. But he hadn’t reckoned on Austria-Hungary and the dual monarchy themselves falling to the continental cataclysm that would extinguish as many hopes as it did lives over the next years. On his death, it passed to his order, and a group of Catholic monks had no real use for it, and no idea of how to get rid of it, so they hung on to it until quite recently. They didn’t take care of it, and it rusted deeply and badly. In time, the religious order passed the old father’s Franz Ferdinand collection to a museum in Vienna, perhaps fulfilling some portion of the late priest’s earthly desire.

There is something that draws one’s eyes to this Browning. It’s just a gun, just a tool. But the unintended consequences of the few shots this old gun fired should remind all of us never to shoot without due consideration.

One wonders what Gavrilo Princip would say about that.

Hat tip, John Richardson, who said:

If you don’t think the .380 Auto aka 9mm Browning isn’t a powerful round, show me another pistol cartridge that was used to start a world war. For it was with a FN Model 1910 chambered in .380 Auto (or 9mm Browning to be more precise) that Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg 100 years ago today in Sarajevo.

via No Lawyers – Only Guns and Money.

Why SOG RTs Ran Without Medics

SF_CrestIn our review of Gentle Propositions by JS Economos, we mentioned in passing that one of the myriad details Economos got right was, “why not many medics ran recon.” This stirred a little discussion in the comments, with Medic 09 (a former IDF medic) asking:

[Y]ou piqued my curiosity to ask for a spoiler (as a once-recon-medic from elsewhere): why don’t (didn’t) many medics do recon? I suspect today things are different?

Vietnam SF vet Tom Schultz replied:

In response to Medico 09 can only remark on my unit at my time. (VN68) Medics in too short supply and bluntly had skills and training too valuable to be risked on a recon team. Nothing to complete a successful recon requires any medical training. We had no shortage of a medics volunteering to do so but they ere always turned down. When the shit hit the fan, though they were the first on the ‘go get ‘em’ chopper.

That was more or less what Economos had said, and we elaborated (some typos corrected):

As Tom has already noted, medics were in short supply in SF in Vietnam, including in SOG. Medics were needed in several critical missions, including in the dispensary at the FOB (generating healthy teams to launch on recon was the main mission of the FOBs), as “chase medic” on helicopters (having an SF medic on the bird saved many a life), or sometimes standing “bright light” alert (although this last was often done by Recon Teams without medics).

SF Medics were not only in short supply in SOG, but in every time period in SF history. The reason is the medic course (once 91BxS, now 18Dx) is the longest and hardest MOS course in Group, not excepting the officer course (actually one of the easier MOS phases) or the operations and intelligence course (now the 18F intel course) which has usually been reserved for soldiers who already have a base SF MOS. The medic course is ~18 months long (and always was) and is demanding in terms of intellect required, effort required, and ability to master specific skills. SF guys are all special (it says so right on their uniform shoulders now!) but the docs are really special.

Now under the Joint SOF Medic Training schema all SOF medics get trauma medicine equivalent to the SF medic’s. But the SF guy also gets communicable disease, epidemiology, and many other specialties that are required in the UW environment and not in direct ground combat. Most every medic will treat a combat wound, but the SF guy also has to diagnose and treat cholera!

Secret CommandosAgain, that’s based not so much on what Economos wrote but on what we’ve heard from scores of guys who were there running recon, and that’s why it impressed us that Economos, who as far as we know is not an SF, let alone SOG, vet, knew that.

But we happened to get even more corroboration, from someone who should know: LTC (Ret). Fred S. Lindsey. Lindset has written a remarkably thorough book, one of the life’s work variety, about CCS, called Secret Green Beret Commandos in Cambodia. Here’s what Lindsey (whom we don’t know personally) says about medics and RTs, after introducing the CCS Medical Section and its duties to care for the roughly 1,000 men of the FOB and the indigenous men’s family members:

We are fortunate to have SGT. Don McIver’s fine memory to describe the details of the medical staff and the facilities. He notes the following upon his arrival in late July 69. “Changes in the mission and responsibilities of the medics had changed in recent months. Two medics were KIA on recon missions, at least one of which involved the medic serving on a recon team. It was SFC Jerry Shriver’s team that was wiped out in Cambodia on 24 April and medic SGT Ernest C. Jamison was KIA on that mission. Only three weeks later on 23 May, another medic, SGT Howard S. Hill, was KIA on another mission. Word came down from the Tactical Operations Center (TOC): no more medics on Recon; they are too valuable and too few. In a sense this was correct. Medical Specialist training lasted 42 weeks with tactics and techniques phase 1 and phase 2 adding another four weeks onto each end of the training cycle. Weapons, Communications, Operations and Intelligence, Engineers: each of these MOS-specific courses lasted 16 to 18 weeks plus the T&T’s tacked on. Less than a third of medics who started the course finished including those who may have been “recycled” to begin a particular course of study again and to graduate with the next class. It was estimated in 1968 that it cost $130,000 to training SF medic! In my experience, I was in the Army for 18 months before finally completing my training – Basic through the Q Course – before being assigned to the 7th Group.” ….

“With only nine medics and the prohibition against medics going on Recon missions, medical supervisor SFC [Jerry L.]Prentner begin reorganizing the medical clinic, commonly called the dispensary, and medic duties…. Schedules were made to allow medics to serve in three equal capacities: (1) Dispensary duty including sick call, emergencies, and patient treatment and ward supervision; (2) ground operations with the two company-sized Hatchet Forces (one with Montagnard troops, the other with Cambodians); (three) flying Chase Medic for either the MLSN or MLSS [Mission Launch Site North/South -Ed.]. The Chase Medic rode in the first evacuation helicopter or Slick, because that helicopter usually picked up the wounded. Those assigned North typically flew out of BMT [Ban Me Thuot --Ed.]. Those assigned South would stay at the MLSS at Quan Loi for periods of the week to a month or more. That’s where we earned our “air miles” for Air Medals (if we were counting!), inserted and pulled out Recon teams on “hot” and “cold” extractions, and got our “emergency medical treatment” experience treating the wounded. No lack of excitement for the medics!”

Lindsey notes that the Chase Medics on the helicopters often deserved, but seldom received, valor awards. Here’s his explanation:

Our medics were unbelievably heroic and professionally qualified. I would not have hesitated to have them remove my appendix, if the case warranted. Their heroics in the field, especially in the Chase Medic role, were very impressive. Unfortunately and shamefully, our medics did not get nearly the valor award recognition that they deserve. CCS was very poor in this regard, including when I was the CO. We were just so damn busy fighting the war over a 200+ mile border frontage. Always a fire to put out or crash to recover. Part of that problem was that the aviators seldom knew who the SF guy was riding along with them. They wrote up all the crewmembers for tons of awards that were well deserved, but very seldom a recommendation for the Chase Medic. That was most often done by the Launch Officer who was on the forward support site (FSS) duty that day, who rode along in the C&C ship. Likewise, the medic seldom knew who the pilots and gunners were in their chopper. Everyone rotated. Though belated and insufficient, we hope that our book will help give them proper recognition.

As you might surmise, we find Lindsey’s book a treasure trove of valuable information. There is a great deal of errata to the book posted at http://www.ccs-sog.org/, also.

Napoleonic Flintlocks Rise from Watery Grave

Napoleon & Sphinx-Jean-Léon_Gérôme_003Alexandria, Egypt, is a bustling, modern third-world city with few visible reminders of its past. But many archeological treasures in Alex have been spared the assault of the bulldozer and cement mixer — because they’re under water. This includes anything from Alexander’s time, later sculptures and other artefacts from the Ptolemaic dynasty of Hellenized Alexandria, and then, some reminders of later colonizers from the 19th and 20th Centuries.

This cannon is part of the scattered wreck of the burnt and sunken flagship L'Oriente.

This cannon is part of the scattered wreck of the burnt and sunken flagship L’Oriente.

Napoleon’s ill-fated 1798-1801 campaign in Egypt at first brought him land victories, and booty aplenty, some of which is still in Paris. But the French Navy was a perennial 2nd Place finisher vis-a-vis the Royal Navy, and in an 1801 battle at Aboukir Bay, the results were cataclysmic for the French: only recently has the sequence of the disaster, in which an anchored French squadron was caught napping by Horatio Nelson’s British fleet, been decoded from the clues available in the Frenchmen’s wrecks.

But the ship in question here is not one of the ill-fated ships of the line or frigates from the Battle of the Nile. It’s unclear whether the ship in question, yclept Le Patriot, was military or commercial, but it was probably commercial as there was another ship named Le Patriot in the French Navy — and not in Egypt. We don’t even know who sank Le Patriot What we do know is that the shipwreck on the sands of Alexandria Bay has yielded a lot of flintlock-era small arms, like this:

napoleon_pistol

As you can see, the arms are somewhat the worse for wear after a couple of centuries in salt water. There may be nothing holding this flintlock pistol together but the encroachments of sea life.

Here’s a similarly rough long gun:

napoleon_musket

Russian underwater excavators, working in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, have found dozens of 18th century firearms near Alexandria’s harbour during an underwater search for sunken ships.

Divers with Napoleon guns

The weapons are believed to date back to the 18th century when Napoleon led an expedition to Egypt to protect French trade interests, undermine British access to India, and establish scientific enterprise in Egypt, Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh El Damaty said

Discovered Napoleon weapons from sunken ship Patriot by Luxor Times 2

El Damaty said the sunken French artillery was once on board “Le Patriot”, a ship in Napoleon’s fleet that sank near the eastern harbour of Alexandria.

The site lies close to Pharos Island, once the home of Alexandria’s ancient lighthouse, which was considered one of the seven ancient Wonders of the World. It was the third longest surviving ancient structure of the world, until it was destroyed by earthquakes in the first millennium. The rubble was later used by the Mamlukes to build Alexandria’s Citadel of Qaitbay.

El Damaty said the discovery opens the door for more research into this era.

For now, the artillery has been sent to the Restoration Centre at the Grand Egyptian Museum for further study and restoration, he said.

via Napoleon’s sunken artillery recovered from Alexandria harbour – Daily News Egypt.

A friend of ours who’s an archaeologist of sorts has a kind of mantra that he swears by: “There is always something left.”

French arms of the Napoleonic period were the equal of those of any other nation in the world, but like their peers, they had no corrosion protection to speak of, which makes stabilizing the recovered guns a very critical matter, or they’ll soon, if left out of water, flake away to nothing.

Stealth Research — Someplace You Wouldn’t Expect

500px-Naval_Ensign_of_Japan.svgWe confess, we may have cheated with that headline. Because you might expect that high-tech Japan is a place where research on stealth technology takes place. But it’s the time that’s interesting. You probably didn’t know that stealth technology was a subject of intense research by the Empire of Japan, and they even made some progress.

Almost every great power in the world, and a surprising number of secondary powers like Hungary, independently developed radar in the World War II or immediate prewar years. Since radar by definition depends upon a radio-frequency signal, scientists and engineers understood that the signal was subject to attenuation or degradation in the real world. And so some nations undertook studies of possible radar countermeasures, including the forerunners of what we now know as stealth technology.

Japanese scientists and military officers were extremely interested in methods of defeating radar. As anyone who studies the Empire of Japan comes to expect, the Army and the Navy took dramatically different approaches, and shared no information. The army tried to develop radar-defeating coatings or paints; the Navy was more interested in developing radar absorbent materials. Once Japan surrendered, American technical intelligence officers rushed to exploit

The introduction of a report by Japanese scientist I. Murakami would not be out of place in a modern engineering textbook’s introduction to stealth:

There are two methods by which reflections of radar signals from surfaces might be considerably reduced. One, by the selection of suitable surface contours in order to minimize reflection in the direction of the radar receiver. Two, by the use of absorbing layers of suitable characteristics applied to the surface exposed to the radar waves. It is understood, of course, that a combination of these two principles would produce the best results.

Basically, it is necessary that the absorbing layer have the smallest coefficient of reflection at the frequency of the radar wave. Therefore, initial research was on the method of measuring reflection coefficients at the very high frequencies of 3000 megacycles, and was followed by development of suitable absorbing materials, both experimentally and from theoretical data.

Murakami was writing about a Navy program to develop radar-defeating technologies that was sponsored  by the 2nd Naval Technical Institute and carried out by Dr Shiba of the Tokyo Engineering Institute and two contractors: Nippon Broadcasting Company and Sumitomo Electric. Murakami came up with a list of seven characteristics of the ideal radar-absorbing material. Note that his greatest concerns were logistical:

  1. Made of plentiful raw materials (a big issue in import-dependent Japan).
  2. Adaptable to mass production
  3. Easily layered onto an existing ship
  4. Mechanically strong materials without hidden weaknesses
  5. Thin and lightweight.
  6. Resistant to seawater and easily sealed/repaired,
  7. Should work just as well on “supersonic” waves (we think he means what we called “ultrasonic.”)

This well-reasoned material is found in two Air Technical Intelligence Group briefings, which we do not have, and a report by the US Naval Technical Mission to Japan from December, 1945, which we do have. It’s only 7 pages but it provides a synoptic view of the ATIG reports, saying:

Japanese research in the field of anti-radar coverings was quite intense, and and while several research products proved to be rather successful, according to the data presented, it was difficult to use in practice. Such information as was available is included in this report, and was obtained from the Air Technical Intelligence Group, which initiated the request for interrogations, data and samples. Reference is made to ATIG Reports 4153 and #114, the latter prepared for ATIG by Dr. Wilkenson, a civilian engineer associated with that group.

The two major contributions are an anti-radar paint, the work of Major K. MANO of the Tama Technical Institute, a Japanese Army research organization, and Dr. SHIBA of the Tokyo Engineering College, and absorbing materials, in rubber, for micro-waves. This last research was conducted at the direction of the 2nd Naval Technical Institute and engineered by the Nippon Broadcasting Corporation and the Sumitomo Electric Co.

Abstracts of the reports are given for their interest value. The basic reports of ATIG should be studied for complete details.

Many people assume that Japanese technology was extremely primitive compared to that of the US, but we’ve never encountered a Pacific combat vet who thought things were all so lopsided, and this report is an example of what Japan’s technical institutions were capable of.  It can be found online as a .pdf of scanned pages, or you can grab our OCR’d verson right here: USNTMJ-200B-0278-0289 Report E-06 OCR.pdf

The report includes some information on the specific compounds and formulations used for both the Navy’s radar-absorbing materials and the Army’s radar-absorbing paint. The radar paint worked when fresh, but quickly degraded and wound up flaking off.

 

The old V3-position of Hermes-Lampaden

V3 luxemborg

This appears to be of the Ardennes type but it may have been a test unit in Miedzyzdroje, Poland.

One of the most interesting weapons of World War II was the V-3, the little-known third Nazi “vengeance weapon.” It was an ultra-long-range cannon that used multiple breeches or powder-chambers, fired in order as a projectile shot down the barrel, right as it passed each chamber, to overcome the limits of standard artillery. It fired a subcaliber “arrow-shot” (Pfeilgeschuss) and was expected to hit London, accurately, from mainland France.

A site at Mimoyecques, France was the main location for the V-3. Over fifty tubes were planned for this weapon at this site, but the site was destroyed by bombardment by the RAF, using gigantic Tallboy bombs. As a result, the V-3, the “London Gun,” never fired a shot at England.

A German-language web page on the V-3 site at Hermes-Lampaden adds to our knowledge of this odd weapon’s history, because the Hermes-Lampaden V3s were fired in anger, at the allied-held city of Luxembourg. The website provides us with a launch pad to look at this weird weapon.

In 1942 engineer August Coenders, Chief Engineer of the Röchling firm, began to research the idea of the multi-chamber cannon, an idea in existence since the 19th Century. With the multi-chamber cannon principle, side-mounted propulsion-charge chambers were added to a cannon barrel, chambers whose propulsion charges were detonated after the projectile had passed them by, and which therefore brought higher velocities.

Coenders developed a multi-chamber cannon in 1942 under the cover name “High Pressure Pump. Soldiers nicknamed it, due to its unusual form for a cannon, “Tausendfüssler” meaning “Millipede,” or “Fleißiges Lieschen”, meaning, approximately, “Busy Lizzie.” The Nazis named it, in their taxonomy, V3, for the third operational “Vengeance Weapon.” The maker of the barrel sections for the piece was the firm Röchling Steel Works in Völklingen, Saarland, with finishing (final machining?) at Wetzlar.  The arrow-shaped, two meter long projectiles (150 mm caliber) which were designated “Rö Be 42″ were also developed by Röchling.

via V3-Stellung bei Hermeskeil-Lampaden.

Coenders developed versions of his very long, fin-stabilized sub-caliber shell for conventional artillery also — his big idea was to increase penetration by increasing sectional density, and it can be argued that his research led, after the war, to the common APFSDS (Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot) round that tanks these days fire at enemy tanks.

The V-3 version of the Coenders round weighed 40 kilograms, of which 7-9 were explosive. It was 100mm with fixed tail fins and used front sabots and a rear sabot/obturator to fit in the HDP’s 150mm bore. The round left the muzzle at about 1050 meters/sec (3445 fps), almost instantly shedding its sabots, at least according to the drawings. Other sources suggest that the round barely broke 3,000 fps in combat applications).

v3ammo

The Mimoyecques installation was destroyed by the RAF’s legendary 617 Squadron in July, 1944, and then soon afterwards overrun. But as the site explains (in the German; translation is ours with notes [in brackets], or you can try the goog thing):

After the Allies captured the Channel coast near Mimoyecques in September 1944, the plan to bombard London with up to 50 HDPs from the bunkers had to be abandoned.  SS-Gruppenführer [~Colonel] [Hans] Kammler, to who the Vengeance Weapons detachments were subordinate, wanted to prove the combat suitability of the V3 beyond question, and sought from Hitler the permission to employ the HDP against the City of Luxembourg during the Ardennes Offensive [Battle of the Bulge].

To this end two shortened versions of the HDP with the designation LRK 15 F 58 (Langrohrkanone) [Long Barrel Cannon] were emplaced in Ruwertal near Hermeskeil-Lampaden. They were put into action by the Firts Battery of the Army Artillery Detachment 705. [This unit was an independent artillery unit that was under the command of the Kammler-controlled Vengeance Division (Division zur Vergeltung)]. The emplacement of the first gun took from 28 Nov 44 to 23 Dec 44, the second needed a little more time. Two steel guns were erected, which were positioned on a wooden substructure. The wooden substructure was half buried in the slope. The barrel elevation was 34°. This shortened version of the High Pressure Pump was no more than 50 m long and was fitted out with 12 side chambers attached at right angles. The cannons had a range of up to 60 km with a dispersion of up to 4 km.

That’s a pretty large group; an online angular size calculator tells us it’s 3.8 degrees, or 229 minutes of arc/angle. We suppose that if your target is, as was the norm for V-weapons, “minute of major metropolitan area,” that accuracy was acceptable.

The Mimoyecques guns had been meant to be 150m long and range 165km; the whole battery was supposed to be capable of firing 300 shells an hour on London. One gun intended for Mimoyecques provided some parts for both Hermeskeil-Lampaden guns, except that the Mimoyecques guns had the auxiliary chambers aligned in herringbone fashion, and the H-L guns had them set orthogonal to the gun’s bore.

The H-L guns, illustrated in this 26 Nov 44 drawing, were set at 34º and were made up of 13 straight sections and 12 cross-sections (where the chambers attached), and they hoped to deliver 3-4 shots per hour.

V3 plan

The V3 bombardment of Luxembourg was irritating and frightening, but of no military consequence. The pair of V-3s fired a total of 183 rounds, of which only 44 were confirmed as hits in the target area.  It’s uncertain whether it was the rounds on target, or the 139 that landed somewhere off target, that killed 10 people and wounded 25 — a pretty pathetic result. The guns were dismantled in February 1945 when the Germans withdrew from the area; the second gun was not taken out of action until the US Army was closing in. In 1945, parts of four HDPs were found at the Röchling plant, and removed to the USA for testing. They were subsequently scrapped.

Here are some links in English on the V3:

The 1911 in .38 Special

There’s a post at The Firearm Blog where one of the regular contributors, Nicholas C, is intrigued by a gun that a customer brought in to his shop: a Colt 1911 National Match in .38 Special. He couldn’t even find ammo to fit it as regular .38 Special defense rounds wouldn’t go in. We explain what it is, and why.

As you can see it looks just like any other target 1911 of the period (and that word “target” has real meaning here):

Colt38special

The give-aways of a 1960s-70s target gun include the adjustable sights, the marking “National Match” (this gun predates the Series 70 Gold Cup), the adjustable trigger and the target grips. If you look closely at the gun, you notice that the toolmarks are less prominent and the polish and blue better done than a bog-standard Colt.

It was definitely made as a factory .38 Special target gun. The barrel is marked with NM and .38 Special, and as you can see, so is the slide:

Colt38special2

 

There’s always something good at The Firearm Blog. It is rare for them to have an article so incomplete as this one, but then, by 2014 standards this fifty-year-old relic is a forgotten and obsolete gun.

“Automatic .38 Special Mid Range?” What’s that? Well, it’s a clue to what goes in the gun and what it’s for. These Colts were made for one purpose only: bullseye target shooting. At the time, it was the most popular pistol sport by far, and the rules required shooters to shoot in several calibers: .22 Rimfire, Centerfire, and .45. (In addition, a “Service Pistol” category requires you to use, naturally, a service pistol which then meant a 1911. Now you can use a 1911 or M9 in Service Pistol).

“Centerfire” was loosely defined but a minimum of .32. A low-recoiling round was best for rapid fire accuracy, and by the 1950s the hot ticket had become Colt or Smith revolvers in .38 Special, firing low-energy cylindrical lead “wadcutter” bullets. These bullets come out of a 4.5″ barrel at about 710 fps, compared to the 920 or so of old GI .38 FMJ ball. But they’re manufactured for consistency (although, most of the serious bullseye shooters handloaded for more consistency, even then).

Colt38special-mag

The wadcutter ammo was once extremely common and popular. It’s still produced, but has been overshadowed in the market by FMJ for practice and  hollow points for defense. And other sports have taken most of the popularity away from bullseye. For example, the only wadcutters LuckyGunner has in stock right now are Fiocchi; but this page of Remingtons that are out of stock has some pictures showing what the rounds look like. The idea was that the truncated, sharp-edged (for a bullet, anyway) bullet neatly punched holes in paper, making scoring certain.

In the 1960s or so, the .45 auto began evolving into a superior target pistol and replacing the revolvers previously used. Likewise, .22 auto pistols like the Colt Woodsman and High Standard series replaced the Smiths and Colts on the firing line, and shooters began asking for a .38 automatic pistol. The .38 Super didn’t have the accuracy potential of the .38 Special, given the tools of the time, so the question was: can a smith do the impossible, and make a 1911, of all things, feed rimmed-case, flat-faced wadcutter ammo?

The first to respond were custom gunsmiths, who built guns using 1911 frames and custom barrels, and fabricated their own magazines. See, you couldn’t make a 1911 feed .38 special ball, because the rounds would be too long to fit in the factory magwell. But wadcutters solve that problem: they don’t extend beyond the length of the case, so if you can get them to feed, problem solved.

colt_gold_cup_manualArguably the first to make a working .38 Special 1911 was Jim Clark, Sr. of Clark Custom Guns (currently run by Jim Jr., a talented smith and competitor in his own right). Clark Sr. was a lifelong competitor, and he built .38 Specials from Colt .38 Supers with a lot of custom work.  The magazine, like Colt’s later mag, is sufficient to accommodate a bullseye stage — five rounds.

He did not try to maintain trade secrets, and it does not seem that Colt paid him when they began producing the National Match .38 pistols. However, the Colt is very different from the Clark! The Clark retains the locked-breech Browning design, and the Colt uses a slightly retarded blowback (via a floating chamber). In addition to the standard National Match and Gold Cup .38s, there are some handbuilt AMU .38s made for the Army Marksmanship Units that were, as we understand it, prototypes for the .38 National Match.

Smith & Wesson also made a very heavily reworked version of their Model 19 39 (corrected typo -Ed.) as a five-shot .38 Special semiauto target pistol, the Model 52,  at around this same time for this same reason.

In time the National Match was replaced by the Gold Cup Series 70 in .38 Special. (See manual cover at right). These guns remain in demand by the dwindling number of bullseye shooters, and by Colt and target-shooting collectors.  The Colt that was brought into Nicholas’s shop is a valuable rarity that is probably worth several thousand dollars if auctioned. (These are never seen with a spare mag, and a mag from a parted gun is worth many hundreds). We hope Nicholas sees this and can contact the owner (whose father’s gun it was) and hook him up with some wadcutters. The guns are world-class in accuracy, and that makes them a thrill to shoot, whether you’re trying to murder an X-ring for Master, or splitting crab apples in the north forty.

Building an M1 with the CMP

A few times a year, the CMP holds an M1 armorer class. At the end of the class, you go home with an M1 that you assembled and that’s pretty much guaranteed to work. Assembling an M1 has a little more gunsmithing involved than the shake-the-box assembly of an AR series rifle or the “make it approximate and it’ll work” construction of an AK. There are special skills — like lapping bolt lugs — and special tools required. Here’s the end product:

Freshly Minted CMP Special M1

Fortunately, CMP has the tools, jigs, fixtures, and most of all, the tribal knowledge to not only help you get your M1 right, but also to understand it and how that clever little Acadian intended for it to work in the first place.

Unfortunately, the annual quota is opened once the dates are set, and fills up in minutes. So it seems to be an insidery thing, to which we, and probably you, are all outsidery.

Fortunately (again! It always comes back around to fortunately) for all of us, blogger Keads (whom we don’t know, but think we might like), was one of the lucky attendees, and spent some of his time not just building a sweet Service Special Grade M1, but also documenting the process in three informative and photo-rich blog posts.

  • Part One: Begins with a tour of the plant and its facilities — including pallets of ungraded, yet, M1 rifles, vast metric craptons of ammo, and , of all things, an ultra-high-tech air gun range used by Olympic hopefuls. Then it gets M1-active, with the mating of barrel to receiver and reaming the barrel to proper headspace. One of the first specialty tools, a receiver wrench, shows up here (in a reverse of AR practice, the M1′s barrel is secured in a vise, and the wrench is used on the receiver). The bolt lugs need to be lapped for proper mating with the receiver’s locking lugs. Go to Part 1.
  • Part Two: With the receiver barreled and the barrel reamed to proper headspace, it’s time to start assembling the parts that turn a barreled receiver into an M1 Rifle action. The CMP armorers assist as the students raid the parts bins for inspected and refinished parts. The op rod has a special gage for both dimension and trueness, or correct “bend.” The trigger mechanism was, to Keads, the hardest thing to assemble. The class did both early and late M1 rear sights. Finally the fully assembled M1 barreled action goes into a new walnut stock — more hand-fitting is called for.    Go to Part 2.
  • Part Three: In the conclusion of the piece, the students hit the CMP store (MOAR GUNZ!) and final-prep the rifle (in Keads’s case, redoing the trigger) for test fire. You can take your rifle home or ship it (which makes a difference to which tax, if any, you pay). Here’s a snip of what Keads had to say, in retrospect, about the whole experience:

My thanks to the Armorers John, Ryan, and Chris. My thanks as well to the person that herds the cats around the Custom Shop and made sure our paperwork was in order and all the other ancillary tasks that made sure the class went well, Deshay. …. If you desire to own one and learn more about it, I cannot say enough about this class or the CMP. They have both the passion and the knowledge of these tools and it shows. It is one thing to be a subject matter expert and another to relay that knowledge to others.

Go to Part 3.

For those that can’t attend the class, at least you can buy one of the CMP rifles.  If you do wither of those two things, of course, you may need this link afterward. Just helping ya out.

 

Hat tip for this story, the incomparable Tam.

St. Louis’s M1921/27 Thompsons Going on the Block

In a thorough and well-reported article at the St Louis Courier-Dispatch’s website, STLToday, police-beat reporter Joel Currier documents how 28 early Thompsons (and one M1A1) are about to hit the market, and why.

STL Police Thompsons

The department’s Thompsons are the survivors of Prohibition-era police firepower, and they’ve been armory queens since, as near as any living cop or retiree can figure out, the 1950s.

St. Louis police took them out of service perhaps 60 years ago, but 29 are still stored in a basement bunker at the Police Academy downtown, with a 30th in the crime lab. Chief Sam Dotson and some collectors think it may be the biggest police-owned stock of Thompsons in the United States.

And it is about to go on sale.

The bottom line is that the police need money, and the St Louis Police Officers’ Union is demanding a change to .40 caliber guns.  (About 20 years too late, as other departments roll back to 9mm thanks to the development of superior rounds that have closed the terminal-ballistics gap while retaining the 9′s human-interface superiority. But hey, that’s what they want, and they went 9mm in the 1990s, a good 10-15 years behind the rest of the country. They’ll be back to 9 in 2035 or so).

Jeff Roorda, the union’s business manager, understands the lure of the Thompsons. “It’d be nice for nostalgia to have those in the police department forever,” he said. “But the more pressing need now is that officers have firepower that matches the firepower in the hands of the bad guys.”

The department plans to keep at least one of the Tommy guns as a historical piece.

The collection, which includes rare 1921 and 1927 Colts and a model made in 1942, was appraised by a local dealer in May 2012 at $770,000. Police and some collectors, however, think the stash could fetch far more. It is not clear how or when the department acquired the one newer Tommy gun.

An auction of two-dozen-plus early TSMGs will bring out the advanced collectors and the top tier of NFA dealers. The early Colt-made Thompsons have a number of features particularly desired by collectors, and also have both military and civilian (criminal and police) cultural significance. The market is distorted by the 1986 manufacture ban’s imposition of an artificial ceiling on numbers, but the low production of early Thompsons (only 15,000 by Colt), and the great numbers lost, destroyed, or exported — current US law forbids their reimportation — already imposed a much lower actual ceiling on the numbers of authentic early guns, which are the guns that collectors most desire.

These particular guns have an interesting history in St. Louis, too, as the armament of an elite police squad called the “Night Riders.” That only adds to their collector cachet.

“St. Louis was one of the few cities in America where the cops beat the hoods to the punch” by getting Tommy guns, [gangster historian Dennis Waugh] said.

Police here bought at least 75 in the 1920s for use by the “Night Riders,” an overnight motor squad that targeted bank robbers and gangsters by raiding saloons and crime hangouts. It’s unclear what happened to 45 of the guns. Police say records of the original purchases were either not kept or disappeared.

A 1921 Globe-Democrat editorial painted the Night Riders in colorful terms: “Now the citizen of evil intent, skulking down dark streets or lurking at alley mouths looking for a chance to do a little porch-climbing or flat-robbing or holding up of unaware, belated residents, is most likely to have a motor car appear mysteriously in his immediate vicinity … It is the police car against the thieves’ car, the night-riders of public security against the night-riders of violence and dark deeds.”

Fifty Tommy guns arrived for the Night Riders in October 1921, according to the Post-Dispatch, which characterized the squad’s hunt for criminals during Prohibition as “red hot.” The department bought 25 more in 1927.

Whether the guns ever killed anyone — or if they were even used on duty — is a matter of debate. The guns have been used in training sessions over the years.

In examining their armory, the police also found two Lewis guns, that appear to have been lent to the department by the FBI in the 1920s and then forgotten. The Lewis guns will not be auctioned, at least not at this time. (But they’re rarer than, and probably worth as much as, the rarest of the Thompsons).

Currier’s report is very thorough and is quite accurate about what the TSMG was, and is; you owe it to yourself (and to him for his efforts!) to Read The Whole Thing™, even though we’ve excerpted some parts of it.