Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

Retro Rozzers: Detroit PD, Circa 1952

From time to time, we’re going to look back at police work as it used to be. It seems like life was just like today, except Detroit was a big city then. This 25 minute video was made by the Jam Handy organization, the famous midcentury industrial filmmakers.

“The knights who guard the city… the guardians of the Detroit PD.”

“The most important part of the story is the selection of the men…” (and yes, then, they were all men. And apparently, all white).

“All types of firearms” — illustrated with the ubiquitous .38 special revolver. The drill team uses Springfield rifles. But “Commando practice” means riot control with shotguns.

“Modern scientific equipment” — like a spectrograph. And a “polygraph or lie detector test.” And a — we are not making this up — “Drunkometer.” (The name is printed right on the machine!)

Some things have changed, and some things haven’t — “About 20% of calls are … family trouble.”

Finally, can you imagine the people of today’s Detroit packing a football stadium to enjoy watching the DPD’s Field Day?

You Never Know What You’ll Find when You Turn Over the Rocks

In the case of Goran Olsen, a Norwegian hiking in Haukeli, on the border of Telemark and Hordaland, an outdoorsman’s paradise in a country that has plenty of them, what was under the rocks was this sword.

Norwegian viking sword find

CNN reports that he:

…stumbled across a 1,200-year-old Viking sword while walking an ancient route.

The find, which dates from approximately 750 A.D. and is in exceptionally good condition, was announced by Hordaland County Council.

County Conservator Per Morten Ekerhovd described the discovery as “quite extraordinary.”

“It’s quite unusual to find remnants from the Viking age that are so well-preserved … it might be used today if you sharpened the edge,” he told CNN.

Outdoorsman Goran Olsen made the unusual find when he stopped for a rest in Haukeli, an area known for fishing and hunting about 150 miles (250 kms) west of capital, Oslo.

The rusted weapon was lying under some rocks on a well-known path across a high mountain plateau, which runs between western and eastern Norway.

via Hiker finds 1,200-year-old Viking sword under rocks –

This story seems almost too good to be true. How many hikers, hunters, and outdoors lovers must have trod that Viking path? The Viking roads, which traveled the mountains the hard way, from crest to crest, are well known to (and widely enjoyed by) today’s Norwegians. Mr Ekerhovd thought that the sword was so well-preserved because the area alternates with being snow-covered for six months and rather dry for the rest of the year. He could only speculate on the sword’s provenance. Did it belong to a fallen traveler, taken by accident, disease or weather? Or was it somehow uprooted from a Viking burial site (they didn’t all go out to sea in flaming ships, or the museums of Norway would be missing many of their most fascinating artifacts)? It’s unlikely anyone will ever know.

Which is almost as unlikely as finding the sword in the first place.

Norwegian viking sword find 2

The sword, which was found without a handle, is just over 30 inches long (77 centimeters) and made of wrought iron. From its type, archaeologists estimate it to be from around 750 A.D. — making it approximately 1,265 years old — but warn that this is not an exact date.

Swords like this were status symbols in Viking times because of the high cost of extracting iron, Ekerhovd said, and it’s likely this blade would have belonged to a wealthy individual.

Haukeli is nearly at (just west of) the geographic center of a triangle with vertices at Bergen, Oslo, and Stavanger. In the Medieval Warm Period the Viking chiefs saw their greatest power both at home and abroad.

The sword is not what you usually think of when the term “Viking sword” is bandied about. It has a straight back and a curved point. This implies a single edge, unlike the classic double-edged Viking weapon. Indeed, Norwegian archaeologists seem to think it was a Western weapon, perhaps acquired by capture or trade, and, either way, a marker of a significant chieftain.

The best Viking swords were made of crucible steel, something that the great seafarers may have gotten from Central Asia, as it wasn’t invented in Europe until the 18th Century, and required technology capable of heating metal to 3,000ºF (about 1,700C). This is a more typical Iron Age weapon.

Next spring, there may be an archaeological expedition to the site to seek any other artifacts, or even a gravesite that is speculated to have been the source of the sword. In the meantime, the authorities have a good relationship with the metal-detector hobbyists in the area, so they expect to be notified of any finds the detectors turn up over the winter. In the meantime, the new sword will probably go to the Bergen Museum to be conserved properly, and be further studied by experts!

Thanks to the user that tipped us off about this find! And here’s a thought: how many more Viking Age swords, spears and other weapons are still out there to be found?

For More Information:

When the US Attacked Paraguay

You totally knew about that, right?

In the 1840s and 50s, while the US Navy was struggling with steam, a variety of technical oddities were built, before Navy leaders figured out that screw propulsion was better than alternatives (some of which were common, like side-mounted paddle-wheels; and some of which were weird). As transitional vessels, these mid-19th-Century hybrids were still primarily sailing ships; they used the steam power to counter sail’s disadvantages and to supplement the ship’s speed; these funny looking neither-fish-nor-fowl contraptions made their best speed downwind with full sail and full steam. With sail, you could circumnavigate the globe; with steam alone, you had better know where your next coaling station was.

USS Water Witch after sidewheel conversion

USS Water Witch after sidewheel conversion

The USS Water Witch was initially one of these ships configured with weird propulsion, a set of ghastly, draggy horizontal wheels designed by a serving officer, one Lieutenant William W. Hunter,  who managed to sell this to the Army (Topographical Engineers), the Navy, and the Revenue Cutter service (future Coast Guard) on no fewer than ten vessels, all of which performed miserably. One of these was Water Witch, originally built to be a sort of aquatic Gunga Din bringing water down the Dismal Swamp Canal to troops in harbor. At that, she was a failure of a sort you didn’t think occurred until recently: the geniuses who built her designed her with a draft two feet plus deeper, and a length greater than the canal locks she was supposed to traverse. Then, the Hunter horizontal propulsive wheels could only drive her to 6.5 knots. A rebuild as the first American ship with twin screws added only a few knots.

The Water Witch goes to Paraguay — Briefly.

But after a second rebuild as a side-wheeler, and refocused on exploration voyages, the Water Witch served well. On a routine show-the-flag and survey-the-rivers mission on the South American Parana River on 1 Feb 1855, she was fired on by a Paraguayan fort. It may have been hot blood or mistaken identity, but the Paraguayans weren’t lacking in gunnery skills — they delivered substantial damage to the American ship and wounded several crewmen, one fatally. The decedent’s name doesn’t seem to have mattered much to those writing things down at the time but they mention that he was the helmsman.

The skipper of the Water Witch, Lt. Thomas Jefferson Page, demanded satisfaction from Paraguay. The Paraguayan government at the time, the nationalistic but astute Carlos Antonio López government, was not interested in parley, let alone reparations, and Page returned to the USA. It had taken him several years of the surveying journey to find himself under the Paraguayans’ guns, but he got back home in a matter of months. There he began to demand from the American public a response. Page’s story struck a chord with newspaper editors and the public, and a punitive expedition was assembled, under the command of Commodore William B. Shubrick with Page as his flag lieutenant.

Shubrick and the Punitive Expedition

William B. Shubrick (1790 - 1874), U.S. naval officer. Original print in possession of Library of Congress.

William B. Shubrick (1790 – 1874), U.S. naval officer. Original print in possession of Library of Congress.

Shubrick was a fascinating character, already almost seventy when the expedition sailed. He was from a Naval family, but a rare slave-plantation-born, Harvard-educated naval officer and a friend of the writer James Fenimore Cooper, author of frontier tales. (And, though they are all but forgotten today, Cooper wrote histories and biographies of the Navy and its officers). Shubrick had served long and with distinction in wars remembered (he fought with distinction in the War of 1812 and led the Pacific operations of the Mexican War) and wars forgotten (the Second Sumatran Expedition of 1832).

Shubrick’s flagship was the brand-new frigate USS Sabine, and its first sea cruise was to Paraguay — with 18 other US ships. Sabine bore a US diplomat, James Bowlin, whose mission was to extract three things from López:

  1. An apology;
  2. An indemnity for the family of the slain Water Witch crewman;
  3. A commercial treaty on favorable terms.

As it happened, Sabine, built for the open sea, drew too much water and stood out in the River Plate while the other 18 ships, selected for river-friendly drafts, sailed up the river to bring the message home to Asunción.  López, who had been unwilling to treat with Page (and his single, battered ship) was remarkably more diplomatic with Bowlin, who left with everything he came for, and not a shot fired.

From that day to this, the USA and Paraguay have always maintained diplomatic relations, and the last shots fired between them were those of the fort on the Parana, and the guns of the USS Water Witch, in February, 1855.


Almost every participant in this strange episode had further remarkable events ahead.

USS Water Witch returned to South American survey duty, and then was mothballed. Returned to duty, she served the Union well in the Civil War, until a daring Confederate raid by Lt. Thomas Pelot and his men boarded and captured her on the night of 3 Jun 1864. The Rebels apparently intended to use her in a special operation, but wound up burning her to prevent recapture by Sherman’s advancing army.

This picture shows Water Witch closer to her 1855 appearance with a white hull, but it's of poor quality.

This picture shows Water Witch closer to her 1855 appearance with a white hull, but it’s of lower quality. Does embiggen, though.

USS Sabine had a successful if uneventful career, and ended her days as a receiving ship in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in the 1870s.

Commodore Shubrick retired in Washington, DC, in 1861 at the age of 71. He lived another 13 years. Sadly, he seems to have left no memoirs. (His correspondence from the period of the Paraguayan Punitive Expedition survives in the National Archives, US Office of Naval Records, Records Group 45).

Shubrick William Branford signature

Thomas Jefferson Page resigned his US Navy Commission in 1861 to serve his state of Virginia, first as an artillery officer, and then from 1863 as a Confederate naval officer. He was on his way to the New World with a powerful new ironclad, CSS Stonewall, when the war ended. Refusing to surrender to the Union, he sailed to Havana and donated the ship to Spain; helped Argentina modernize her Navy, and retired to Italy for the remainder of his years. (His correspondence from the Water Witch incident is in the National Archives, in the Naval Observatory Records, Record Group 79).

Carlos Antonio López left Paraguay richer and stronger that he found it, largely through bluster leading to diplomacy, negotiation and a strategic backdown; the pattern shown here, he also replayed with Paraguay’s neighbors, especially Brazil. He also left Paraguay a considerably more damaging legacy: his son, Francisco Solano López, a man who would almost erase the nation in a quixotic war with all its neighbors at once, a war contracted to stroke López fils‘s ego and his self-image as the self-styled “Napoleon of South America”; a monster who had his mother, brothers and sisters murdered (along with most of the foreign diplomatic corps) as the paranoia that seems to attend a certain personality type overtook him. Half the population of Paraguay fell in the war, which saw even women drafted (95% of adult men perished); the native Guaraní indians were nearly exterminated; nearly half the nation’s territory was ceded to Brazil and Argentina; to this day, Paraguay has never recovered the relative prosperity it had under López pêre. 

Latins being Latins, the disastrous Francisco Solano López, who went down in a flurry of Brazilian swords screaming “I die with my country!” was posthumously elevated, beginning with propaganda during the Chaco War, to the nation’s greatest hero, and his diplomatic dad is deprecated.



Canney, Donald L. The Old Steam Navy: Volume 1: Frigates, Sloops and Gunboats, 1815-1885. Annapolis, 1990: US Naval Institute, pp. 25-40.

Hanratty, Dannin M. and Meditz, Sandra W. , eds. Paraguay: A Country Study. Washington: American University / Government Printing Office, 1988. Retrievable from:

Howard, Alexander. Cruise of the U. S. Frigate Sabine. Portsmouth, VA, 1861.: TH Godwin, pp. 9-22.

Williams, John Hoyt. The Rise and Fall of the Paraguayan Republic, 1800-1870. Austin, TX, 1979: University of Texas Press.

The Revolt of the Majors

USAF Major's LeavesIn the 1970s, the military was still led, at the top levels, by men that had led, and on any strategic level, failed, in Vietnam. New ideas and new ways of thinking boiled up from the young warriors who had been, as it were, mining at the coal face while the guys back in the Pentagon were adjusting their sets with a 10,000 mile screwdriver. Army academics like Gabriel and Savage took the officer corps to task in books; Army leaders like Ed “Shy” Meyer and Norman “Bear” Schwarzkopf, very different men with different leadership styles and, even, different views of what had gone wrong in Southeast Asia, were advancing into important leadership positions.

These men had counterparts in the US Air Force, too. The USAF had gone into Vietnam invincible and convinced of its superiority, only to have a bad experience and come out of the war and the cuts that followed as a smaller, less respected, and at the junior levels, much wiser service. The Vietnam combat veterans, the “iron majors,” reshaped the Air Force. They did it by changing the equipment, the tactics, the training, and most of all, the culture.

"So Long, Mom, I'm off to drop the bomb, so don't wait up for me." (Actually F-15Es RTB after busting ISIL trucks. USAF photo).

“So Long, Mom, I’m off to drop the bomb, so don’t wait up for me.” (Actually F-15Es RTB after busting ISIL trucks. USAF photo).

The Revolt of the Majors is that rarity, a fun, readable PhD dissertation. It would need some editing to be published as a book, but it’s a great cultural history of the USAF from the 1950s primacy of the Strategic Air Command;  through the dislocations of the Macnamara years; the disastrous performance in Vietnam (caused, in part, by an abandonment of air-to-air training by then-Tactical Air Command head General Walter Sweeney, on the grounds of, no training meant no training accidents); and through a cast of commanders that sound like a taxonomy of leadership toxicity; to post-Vietnam recovery to something like an even keel.

You think we’re kidding about toxic leaders?

General William Momyer…had acquired his nickname “Spike” because “he could pick a fight with anybody.” … “while in Saigon Momyer banned smoking in staff meetings and “expected clean uniforms and flower beds [around the headquarters]” (p.107).

rbic” is a charitable way to describe Dixon (p. 183).

One Air Force officer who later became a four-star general noted, “[Dixon] was famous for his indiscriminate hatred.” (p. 183).

One of Dixon’s favorite threats was. “If you screw this up I’m going to burn your house down, kill your wife and family, and rape your dog.” (p.272).

Creech knew one general whose aide kept ten spare sets of eyeglasses to replace the ones he broke throwing them across the room when he was displeased. (p.273).

Many of the junior officers felt the accident rate was high because of inferior training but USAFE’s focus was “‘fly safe,’ not train realistically, while Creech was there.” (p. 275).

Despite this, the Air Force managed to pull out of both its post-Vietnam funk and the loosely-related funk that resulted from the then-latest Soviet missiles nearly triumphing over American equipment and Israeli American-influenced tactics in the Yom Kippur War.

How they did this depended on both those toxic leaders — the nasty Dixon was instrumental — and the informal “iron major network.” The ideas percolated up in an institution which is, today, all but moribund: the officers’ club.

Management experts also realize that for effective innovation the innovators need “free space for conversation” where ideas can be “bounced off” a large number of people with no stigma. There must then be open lines of communication throughout the organization so the ideas can flow freely. However, such ìfree spaces for conversationî have to fit into the work patterns of the organization, and a fighter pilot in an operational unit had his workday filled with flying, as well as briefings and debriefings, which generally took longer than the flight itself. Line pilots also had a variety of what were euphemistically called ìadditional duties,î from running the snack bar to writing effectiveness reports. The workday left no time for discussing larger issues.

Unintentionally, the Air Force had a facility and customs that allowed young officers to communicate with each other and exchange ideas in an informal way. In the afternoons after flying ended many, if not most, of the aircrews adjourned to the bar at the Officers’ Club for low priced drinks and snacks at “Happy Hour.”Here they exchanged stories, compared experiences, and engaged in discussions about what was wrong with the Air Force and how to fix it. Many of the pilots had flown in Linebacker, so the Vietnam War was one of the main topics, as was the 1973 Middle East War and the possibility of a war in Europe. One of the characteristics of this “bar talk” was that rank had no place. Anyone could have an idea, and anyone could say, “That’s BS, and hereís why.”.Senior officers who wanted to push, as opposed to discuss, their ideas or the Air Force party line simply were not included in the conversations. The Officers’ Club at Nellis, as the home of the Fighter Weapons School, was a special hotbed of new ideas, since it had not only the instructors but also students who were considered the best fighter crews in the TAF. (pp. 189-190).

It’s quite a remarkable story, and probably needs Tom Wolfe to be told any better, but it’s at its core a story of how toxic leaders and insubordinate fighter pilots combined with informal and unofficial “industry peer networks” and “free spaces for conversation” to yield a transformative experience that has influenced all subsequent generations of the Air Force, and had some interservice impact as well.

We’re still reading it, but so far, the book is highly recommended. And it’s a freebie at this link. Don’t say we never gave you nothin’.


Michel, Marshall L. The Revolt of the Majors: How the Air Force Changed after Vietnam. Unpublished PhD Dissertation. Auburn, AL: Auburn University, 2006. Retrieved from:

Five Rare Colt MGs on GunBroker — From One Seller!

Here’s some good Class 3 stuff from a single dealer on GunBroker. It feels like a single collection of Colt weapons being liquidated, but in any event five of the six firearms he’s offering are rare Colt machine guns. (The sixth is an ordinary Sig M400 AR).

In chronological order, they are:

Colt BAR R75A Machine Gun RARE

Here;s what the vendor says about it:

Up for bids is something you don’t see everyday. A Colt BAR R75A. Next to the Colt Monitor, it does not get more rare when it comes to BARs. This one was made with a quick change barrel, and pistol grip. It appears to be unfired! I can not guarantee that, but it is in excellent condition – especially for its age.


This weapon is in my inventory, on a form 3 ready for a fast transfer to your dealer. Can be transferred on a form 4 if purchased within PA. Will ship with one twenty round magazine. The last R75A that went up for sale 8 years ago sold for $85,000. I am starting this auction 20K below that.

We;d observe that, rare as it is, it is less in demand than a GI style BAR. It, and the FN MOdel D, are probably the best BARs for someone into the “shooting of” rather than the “history.” Of course, if this thing really is unfired, it probably won’t be shot by its new owner.

H&R M16A1 US Property Marked Machine Gun

The Pennsylvania dealer selling these weapons has a “rare” M16A1 variant — only a couple hundred thousand were made! But two other things make this A1 rare — its minty condition, and its availability as a transferable MG.

H&R M16A1

There were some 246,000 rifles made by H&R under the contract.  The serial numbers ran from 2,000,000 to 2,246,000 (approximately). Serial numbers through 2,999,999 were reserved for H&R but never used. This shows this rifle (2,244,611) to be one of the very last H&R military firearms. The numbers  Relatively few made it from GI status (as this one was, with its PROPERTY OF US GOVT rollmark) through the po-po to the NFA Registry before the 1986 cut-off on new machine guns. Here’s what the dealer says.

Up for bids is a new, unfired Harrington & Richardson M16A1. The H&R M16A1s are one of the rarer variants, and do not pop up often. Has the “Property of US” roll mark. Still has the plastic red cap on barrel. Will ship with the original twenty round magazine. Gun is in excellent condition.

The pictures (many more at the link) show that he’s not exaggerating the condition. The gun is as new in all respects, including complete lack of the usual military acceptance stamp in paint, or any indicia of an arsenal rebuild. It seems to have gone right from the Worcester, Mass. factory, to a GI warehouse, to someplace whence it could get on to the registry, without passing through the usual GI abuse.

It  was made during the single batch of contract M16A1s made by H&R during 1968-70 and appears in all respects to be a “time capsule.” Note the mix of solid and dimpled takedown pins.  It’s invisible in this picture, but in one of the others you can just make out that the upper receiver has casting flash on the front and rear outside surfaces of the carrying handle, something that is absent from Colt-made firearms.

Colt AR15 Model 639 Machine Gun New

This is a type that also exists in very small numbers on the transferable market. It is the commercial market version of the XM177E2 Submachine Gun, the most successful first-generation Colt “carbine,” and the direct forerunner of the M4 series.


The vendor says this about it:

Up for bids is a rare Colt Model 639 Machine gun with registered matching flash enhancer/suppressor. This gun is in new, unfired excellent condition. These guns don’t pop up often, especially in this condition. Would make an outstanding investment.

Colt M231 Port Firing Machine Gun NIB US Property 

This transferable rarity has not much practical use — as the later, more common, version of the M231, it’s completely without any stock (it was meant to lock into swivels in a Bradley) or sights (it’s aimed with tracers, like a fire hose). It has a fire-hose rate of fire, too.


The vendor says this about it:

Up for bids today is a rare find. A brand new Colt M231 Port Firing Gun with US Property roll mark and government inspectors mark. M231s are one of the rarest variants in the M16 platform on the NFA registry. Fires from an open bolt at around 1100 RPM! Has threads in the forearm to screw into a firing port on the side of the Bradley Assault Vehicle. This is a transferable machine gun, and a great investment. It has had one owner since it left the Colt factory. … Will ship in the original box, and a thirty round magazine.

This next picture shows a US Army acceptance stamp, missing from the M16A1 above but present on this M231. It is the white paint marking on the front of the magwell.

M231 04

For plinking, an 1100-rpm open-bolt subgun with no sights has its joys, but the earlier wire-stocked version is a little more practical (or a little less impractical, maybe). Of course, a gun like this is more likely to be kept in its unfired condition by a doting collector than taken to the range to burn off your excess Wolf 55-grain.

The M231 is a unique American combat weapon,  a true oddity that has even been phased out, almost, of mech-infantry service (most of the firing ports have been removed from the vehicles to accommodate other improvements).

Colt RO633 DOE Sub Machine Gun SMG RARE

This is another one that is extremely rare, at least, in a fully-transferable state. It’s a special ultra-compact Colt 9mm SMG made to compete with the MP5K for the affections of the tactical teams guarding sensitive nuclear site. The R0633 won out, no surprise if you’ve shot the K a lot, but was never produced in large numbers.

Colt R0633 DEA 9mm SMG

Up for bids is something you don’t see everyday. This is a factory Colt DOE 9mm RO633 sub machine gun. As you know, the RO635 is the full size SMG. There are only a few hundred transferable examples of these on the NFA registry. There are less then 6 transferable DOE RO633 examples. This is truly a rare gun, that you may never see again. Will ship with one Colt 30 round magazine and factory box.Pr maube an unfired MG is really worth 150% of what a fired example goes for?

Most of these would be a fine stand-alone centerpiece to a Colt or US martial or LE arms collection.

None of the guns (not even the M400) has drawn a bid. In our opinion, the seller has placed the opening bids too high for the market.

And for people who wonder about past GunBroker exotics posted here, that one guy is still flogging his Johnson. People must be clinging to their cash reserves in an election year.

Castillo de San Marcos – Medical Instruments

We’re going to take a short break from looking at the fort’s construction and history at Castillo de San Marcos in Jacksonville St. Augustine, and look at another angle, if a slightly queasy-making one: what the modern surgeon was using in the 18th Century or so. When OTR visited, a volunteer reenactor had a display of surgical instruments. Later, we’ll return to the mechanics of fort and firearm, we promise, but for now we are going to divert ourselves with a look at the instruments that might have been applied to you if you had the poor fortune to catch a musket ball, met the pointy end of a bayonet or edge of a sword, or had your butterfingered buddy drop an iron cannonball on your foot during, say, the siege of 1702.

If you need to catch up, the first part of the story covers much of the history and the approaches to the Castillo de San Marcos (later known as Fort Francis Marion in American Army hands, before reverting to its original Spanish name).

In normal circumstances, pre-1821, the Spanish military wouldn’t have treated its sick and wounded in the castle. They’d have been removed to the military hospital in town (which has also been well restored, equipped and staffed with interpreters). It’s surprising to most people, but Spanish medicine and surgery was advanced — for its day.

Bear in mind that medical science was ignorant of the germ theory of disease, of the importance of sterile conditions, and had no anesthetics (except alcohol) and no antibiotics. They had nothing to do for gas gangrene, which was a death sentence unless it was in an amputatable extremity. And no weapons, neither preventive nor curative, were at hand against endemic malaria. Yet the claim has been made that while the language, tools and skillsets of the 18th and 21st century internal-medicine physician have very few points of congruence, the historical and modern surgeons would have more common ground for discussion.

Not being surgeons, we have our doubts about that.

This is not somebody’s table at the Acme County Gun and Knife Show. These are a military surgeon’s tools; do they pass the “Common ground” test?


Either the surgeons of 1720 were much concerned with one’s fundamental orifice, or the guy who collected all this gear has some kind of anal fixation. An enema set (appears to be British origin):


And the next to those: suppositories. Eh, we’ll take our chances with the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot. To borrow a line. We’ll get to the sutures in a bit, what are those “…etal Scrapers?” “Metal Scrapers?” Wait, that’s a “c”. They can’t be fractal scrapers, can they?


Uh, no. They can’t. Yeah, this guy has issues… or maybe 18th Century surgeons did.


Arrgggh. Can we move on to some other region of diseased anatomy, please?

Thank you. The stitch kit doesn’t seem too archaic, although sterile and disposable it isn’t.


Next we’ll move on to stuff for excavating the Brain Housing Group. The thing that looks like a heavy-duty Forstner bit on the upper left in the image below isn’t too far off — it’s a trepanning saw, for making holes in the cranium. That was usually done as a last ditch attempt to reduce brain swelling and save an otherwise doomed patient. If it didn’t work, well, the guy was standing in the door anyway. Maybe there will be a better view of this tool below.


Cautery Irons were used to burn blood vessels shut during surgery. They’d be heated red hot, then jammed into the wound.


Now this is a piece of lifesaving gear that is recognizable. It uses a thumbscrew to apply pressure and it seems probable that the 18th-Century surgeon used it, primarily, during deliberate amputations.


After the jump you can see more grim instruments from bygone days, when the promise that “to cut is to cure” was much less certain than today’s well-informed surgeons can offer. Click “more” if you dare.

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Combat Tricycle of a Century Past

These things look like they came out of some Hollywood prop shop for an Indiana Jones reboot. Or something like that. But they’re real, these combat tricycles, and they have a story.


While World War II is thought of as the first mobile war, and World War I is considered a static war, it was the Great War that first saw motorization used (apart from railways, of course, which were key terrain in many 19th-Century wars).

Russia had the worst roads, and the most backward motor vehicle industry, of any wartime power. No firm could mass-produce military vehicles, and so the Tsar’s needs for trucks, tractors and especially for the new category of armored vehicle were met largely with imports.

One of these hastily produced vehicles was the Filitov Tricycle Armored Car. It looks, frankly, impractical — not many three-wheeled vehicles were made between Cugnot and Reliant, and we don’t know of any others made for combat. But according to Jim Kinnear — whose real focus was on later, Soviet, armored cars –some 20 of them were made and deployed. Kinnear’s write-up of the Tricycle is confined to a single picture caption, and as far as we know, it’s the only English-language source on this combat vehicle.

The narrow wheels and tires look unsuited for rural Russian roads even today. While Kinnear notes contemporary vehicles like the Russo-Baltic Model M packed either three M1905 Maxim water-cooled machine guns, or one 37mm cannon, Filitov’s tricycle appears from the photo to be innocent of any armament, but we learn below it was, indeed, well if unconventionally armed.

The competing Russo-Baltic Model M was not without its limitations. Despite being well armed and stout enough for Russian roads, it had a top speed of only 12 mph. (Engineering always demands a trade-off!) Before the war, the Russo-Baltic company in Riga, Latvia (not then an independent nation, but occupied by the Russian Empire) was the main producer of armored cars, but its early production was probably only in the dozens. (During World War I, the factory would reiocate East, and remain part of postwar Russia). Beginning in 1913, the Russian War Office ordered many (hundreds) of armored cars from overseas makers, mostly British and German (the German orders stopped when the war began of course), and many Russian firms began designing and building in hopes of getting one of those military contracts.

Subsequent Leninist historiography has obscured some of this, but Russian capitalism in the time before the war was highly entrepreneurial and dynamic (it was the fastest-growing economy in Europe, but then, it started from behind the western powers). And Russian education, particularly in the fields we now call STEM, was first rate, which created a great bounty of imaginative engineers and led them to develop such new technologies as armored vehicles, the half-track (a Russian invention, as we’ve noted before) and large aircraft (pioneered by a Russian engineer from Kiev, Igor Sikorsky). Initially, the war provided more impetus for these concepts ahead of their time, with Sikorsky (working with that same Russo-Baltic Company!) to develop his four-engined le Grand into the Ilya Muroumetz bomber, the world’s first four-engined bomber, and the Putilov Plant (in St. Petersburg) to develop a category-breaking armored car:

Late in 1914, the Putilov Plant in St. Petersburg began production of an 8,000 kg armored car armed with a 76.2 mm field gun. The new Putilov-Garford armored car was designed by F.F. Lender, who placed the 76.2mm gun in a rear turret. This provided a good arc of fire, with additional machine gun armament being provided for close support. It was later claimed by Russia as the world’s first wheeled self-propelled gun. The Putilov Garford was built in small numbers and made a significant contribution during the First World War and the Russian Civil War, which followed the 1917 Revolution. The vehicle, with its impressive 76.2 mm armament, was often used to engage armored trains and served with the Red Army into the 1930s as a railway artillery vehicle, with its wheels converted to run on the Russian rail system.1

Kinnear goes on to describe how the environment at the time reinforced this groundbreaking spirit and produced an engineering Big Bang of sorts:

During the First World War,before the major armored car manufacturers of the 1930s became established, many enterprising private individuals also designed armored vehicles on imported chassis in an attempt to have their projects accepted for lucrative military contracts. Many Russian armored car designs developed in the period 1914-18 included innovative features which were not included in series-produced vehicles until many years later. Noteworthy developments included the engineer Poplavko’s Poplavko-Jeffery (AB-9) armored car of 1915 with its 4×4 chassis, twin engines, twin driver’s positions, five forward and five reverse gears, and 16 mm frontal armor. The Renault Mgebrov, designed in 1914 with its highly faceted armor for maximum ballistic protection and the incorporation of armored glass was also an interesting design concept. The futuristic-looking Renault Mgebrov was manufactured in small numbers from the spring of 1916. During the same period, 1915-17, N.N. Lebedenko designed several armored cars in the town of Dmitrov, near Moscow. In 1915 Colonel Gulkevitch designed a 40 tonne armored car on the imported Lombard chassis armed with a field gun intended for heavy fire support for infantry. Gulkevitch’s design was impractical and not developed beyond conceptual stage, however he was particularly interested in the advantages of half-tracks for crossing obstacles, including barbed wire defenses. He went on to significantly modify his original plans and developed his designs into the first Russian half-track armored car for which the Putilov plant provided the armored body.

Though their ideas were not generally developed beyond prototype or limited series production stage at the time, these designers would play a prominent part in the development of future series-produced armored cars, while many of the ideas, such as the twin engines used on the Poplavko-Jeffery AB-9, were to be incorporated many years later in post World War Two vehicles such as the BTR-60 APC series.2

It was during this flowering of military technology that the Filitov Tricycle was produced.

A little digging found a Czech web page which has more details from a Russian source, and a crude (Google?) machine translation into English, and more photos. The weapons (Maxim M1910 machine guns or a short-barreled 76.2 mm artillery piece) were mounted to fire to the rear.

The pictures include this side view of the MG and cannon version. The strut under the cannon version was to brace the armored car so the recoil of the gun did not flip it! It looks like there was a different chassis for the two different versions; there is certainly a different armor arrangement.

from Kolomiets and Baratinsky filatov

According to the page, which cites the work by Kolomiets and Baratinsy, Filatov (note the different spelling) was a major general in command of an officer’s school at Oranienbaum. He started the design in early 1915 and in December they produced an MG-armed prototype.

MG-armed Filatov on the range

MG-armed Filatov on the range

It says eIght production vehicles were made by May 1916, one cannon prototype (apparently the only one made), and eight more production vehicles after that. They used a variety of chassis from auto wrecks; there was no standardization and they must have been maintenance-challenged. They had 4-6 mm of armor (presumably face-hardened armor) and the MG version weighed 1.8 tonnes. The gun version was 0.8 t heavier and was thought to be impractical, hence the single prototype.

The two most salient identification features are the rear-mounted, rear-firing armament, and the large spotlights.

The prototype 76.2 mm Filatov firing. These pictures appear to be taken at the same place and time as the leading picture.

The prototype 76.2 mm Filatov firing. These pictures appear to be taken at the same place and time as the leading picture.

(It’s not clear if these are gross weights including fuel, ammo and the two-man crew, or net weights).

They don’t appear to have been used against the Germans, but perhaps in the Civil War. None are known to survive.

Finally, here is the Czech site’s version of the same photo Kinnear used. Is it a bit clearer?



  1. Kinnear, p. 7.
  2. Kinnear, pp. 7-8.


Kinnear, James. Russian Armored Cars: 1930-2000. Darlington, Maryland: Darlington Productions, 2000.

Kolomiets, M. & Baratinsky, M.: Bronjeavtomobili Ruskoj Armii 1906-1917, [Armored Cars of the Russian Army]. Technitsky Molodyezh, Moscow 2000 (via

Walther, Before Double Action (long)

10x10_Walther-Logo_V01For most collectors, especially Americans, the concept of “Walther” begins with the innovative double-action PP (Polizei Pistole) of 1929, and then leads on through the PPK, the Olympia-Pistole of 1936, the Heeres Pistole that became the P.38, and the Walther semi-auto G41 and G43 to the modern Walther service and target firearms (and air guns, a post-WWII development). In fact, the company itself had been producing fine firearms for over 40 years before that PP revolutionized pocket pistols forever, and it had forebears that went back still further into German history.

Walther before Walther

The history of the Carl Walther company and its firearms begins, naturally enough, with Carl Walther in the 19th Century; but according to family lore, they descend from Mathias Conrad Pistor who was born in 1691 in Offenbach in the state of Hesse, and rose to be Oberzeugmeister (a wonderfully German word which means literally “Superior master of things,” but idiomatically Chief of Arsenal or Ordnance) of Hesse (whose arsenal was in Kassel). He worked in Bettenhausen  (1732-43) and established a shop known to 20th Century Walthers alliteratively as “Pistor’s Pistol Plant” in Schmalkalden, Thuringia in 1744. Pistor himself passed away in 1761, but his plant was still producing pistols in 1780, as 12 September 1780 correspondence by Goethe notes a visit in the company of the Duke of Weimar, Carl August. (The letter, alas, seems to have noted only the bare fact of the visit, so we’ll never have a description of the then high-tech plant from the greatest writer in the German language).

The location of Schmalkalden plant was ideal; there was plentiful water power and a nearby iron works that was producing hundreds of tons of iron per annum by the mid-18th Century. This was right in Thuringia’s Gun Valley. It is about 12 miles northwest of Suhl; Zella-Mehlis, which looms so large in Walther lore, is barely two miles northwest of Suhl. According to Moller, Count Carl of Hesse had established a musket factory at Schmalkalden in 1687, even before Pistor was born; this plant was idled in 1720 until Pistor re-opened it in 1745. It is unclear whether Pistor opened the plant as a private enterprise

Some Pistor pistols survive. In 1998, Christie’s notes the sale of a pair of flintlock Pistors that were possibly (but not provably) presented by Frederick the Great to Major-General Baron Christoph Hermann von Manstein, Fred the G’s adjutant and, yes, of the same Manstein clan that we watched go down to defeat before Stalingrad in The Hot Snow. The beauty of history: it all ties together. Here’s an excerpt from the listing:

A fine pair of 28-bore German silver-mounted flintlock holster pistols by Matthias Conrad Pistor of Kassel, Bettenhausen, and Schmalkalden, circa 1745.

With swamped two-stage rifled barrels inscribed ‘Lazaro Lazarino’, the breeches octagonal then polygonal and chiselled in low relief with a mask and designs of running flowers and foliage all on a punched and gilt ground, and struck with copper-lined maker’s mark (Neue Støckel 5571), silver fore-sights, engraved tangs each incorporating a silver back-sight, plain bevelled locks, lightly carved moulded figured walnut full stocks, foliate engraved shaped silver mounts, silver escutcheons each with a coat-of-arms surmounted by a ducal coronet, baluster ramrod-pipes, set triggers, horn fore-end caps, and original horn-tipped ramrods.
17½in. (44.5cm.)
The arms are those of Manstein. According to the Parke-Bernet catalogue the original owner was probably Baron Christoph Hermann von Manstein (1711-1757), who rose to be Major-General in the Prussian service and Adjutant-General to Frederick the Great, who may have presented the pistols to him.

Unfortunately, the online reproduction of the 1998 catalog listing (.pdf; will attempt to print, which you must cancel) does not include a photograph. The pistols sold for £9,200 in 1998, which was equivalent to about $15,000 at the time. A sum of $15k in 1998 is equivalent to about $22k in 2015 purchasing power,

It’s interesting to see those pistols being auctioned in 1944 by a US officer. In 1945, American GIs would occupy the Walther factory in Zella-Mehlis and loot both the production lines and Carl and Fritz Walther’s carefully assembled museum of prototypes and historical arms. Our first thought on seeing a wartime date was “looted from the museum!” but unless Lt. Col. James W. Flanagan was a time traveler, he couldn’t have sold a 1945 pick-up in April, 1944. We’d have to read the listing from the Parke-Bernet Galleries auction in 1944 to be sure.

Pistor’s sons maintained and improved the plant, and products are generally marked with the boss’s initials, first T.W. Pistor (Thomas William, 1761-1787) and B & E.W. Pistor (Bernhard and Engelhard William), from 1787 to an unknown date. According to Moller (again) and Stutzenberger, Pistor was the principal producer of muskets and of Jäger type rifles for the Hessian forces supporting George III in the American War of Independence; Moller has some production numbers from 1750-63.

Hesse-Cassel Rifle by TW Pistor, sometime between 1761 and 1787. From Bailey via Stutzenberger.

Hesse-Cassel Rifle by TW Pistor, sometime between 1761 and 1787. From Bailey via Stutzenberger.

Despite the fact that the United States forces captured thousands of these rifles and muskets and still had hundreds in inventory as of 1797, very few of these Pistor muskets and rifles survive, a mere handful. There are more in the USA than in Germany or Britain, but the worldwide total is probably barely in double digits. An unadorned Hessian rifle or musket by Pistor, therefore, especially one with Revolutionary War provenance, might sell for more than the presentation pistol set described above.

Sometime about 1800, readily accessible Pistor records peter out.

Walther before World War I

The first Walther firm, the one that operated until 1945, was founded in 1886 by Carl Walther in Zella-Mehlis, a small industrial city just outside of Suhl in Thuringia. Like Suhl, Zella-Mehlis had long been a center of weapons production, going back to the days before firearms, when such items as pikes, halberds, swords and armor were made here. Zella-Mehlis was originally two separate communities, Zella St. Blasii and Mehlis; the Walther factory was in Zella St. Blasii until the 1919 merger, and very early Walthers, like many of the pocket pistols we are about to describe, may be marked “Carl Walther Zella St. Blasii” or “Zella St. Bl.” (A firearm marked “Zella-Mehlis” is definitely post-WWI production). The church dedicated to Saint Blaise that gave the town its name still stands; weapons production, however, ended in 1945 when brief US occupation looted the inventory and museum for souvenirs, and more longstanding Soviet occupation looted the machinery and transported it to points unknown.

Despite his own Pistor provenance, Carl Walther did not try to compete with big manufacturers for military contracts. Instead, he focused on producing sporting long-arms. Walther soon had a name for making accurate target rifles. Rifle technology was undergoing a revolution at the time, with metallic cartridges replacing muzzle-loaders and the first smokeless powders coming to market.

When rifle demand was slow, a parallel line produced another modern, Steam Age wonder — mechanical adding machines. Carl’s sons came up in one side of the business or the other.

The Walther Pistols 1908-1929, By the Numbers

It was Carl’s eldest son Fritz, who had grown up in the firearms side of the business and pursued an engineering education, that first steered the company into pistol design and production. Everywhere, the FN Browning Model 1906 pocket pistol was selling at a staggering rate — perhaps half a million of them sold to middle- and upper-class Germans, and it seemed like every gentleman and lady had one in vest pocket or purse. German makers like Mauser and Walther didn’t see why all those Reichsmarks should be going down the river to Liège, and rushed competitive models into production.

The first Walther Pistol, the Model 1, entered production in 19081, in the Browning’s 6.35mm (.25 ACP) caliber.

walther model 1 and model 8

The first and the next-to-last of the pre-PP Walthers (they were a lot in a 2010 Rock Island auction). Left, the awkward Model 1, this one a 3rd Variant produced in 1914; right, the sleek (but large for 6.35/.25 ACP) Model 8. The Model 8 incorporated not one, but six new patents, including the hinged-guard takedown method that would be used in the PP.

Walther’s bread and butter had been high-tech, high-quality long guns, and at the time of the introduction of the Model 1, their flagship was a toggle-locking semiautomatic shotgun that was priced at the high end of the market and sold slowly; and their bread-and-butter products were rimfire rifles, including the KKJ (kleinkaliber Jagdrepetier, “small bore hunting repeater”). The KKJ and semi shotgun are avidly sought by Walther collectors, because the Model 1 started the company in a new direction. Walther didn’t call it the Model 1, except in retrospect; it was just the Walther “German Self-Loading Pistol, Caliber 6.35,” until the improved Model 2 came out in 1914.

The Model 1 had some unique features, and some common ones. It was striker fired with a striker system very like Browning’s as used in the Baby Browning, the 1900, and other early hammerless Browning pistols; the magazine closely resembled Browning’s; the recoil spring is under the barrel, as in some Browning designs, like the 1908 Colt .25. But the oddball slide was open-topped and -fronted; what looks like the barrel is actually a barrel sleeve, whose purpose is unclear; the trigger bar comes up diagonally under the left grip, rather than straight back as in many other designs. The takedown catch is located in the trigger guard bow at the front, which Smith suggests was copied from an earlier Steyr pistol. The recoil spring is located under the barrel (like a 1911’s or Glock’s, but much smaller!).

It was a homely pistol. But it worked, and it was popular; and the Quasimodo profile of the Model 1 was not all that unfamiliar to gun buyers, given the similarly hunchbacked FN Browning Model 1900, the pistol that launched the European auto pistol market. And the homeliness was all German. Introduced at about the same time, the Mauser Pocket Pistol 1910 was larger and perhaps a little better made. These two pistols gave Germans a home-grown alternative to the Belgian FN pistols.

The Walther Model 2 was an improved pistol. It had nicer lines, although the trigger-guard hosted disassembly catch was replaced as takedown initiator by a funny-looking knurled cap on the barrel. (This cap is often mistaken by those who do not know the guns as a thread cap for suppressor use. Nope). It features an ingenious loaded-chamber indicator: if the gun was ready to fire, the rear sight came up. If it was not, the sight subsided into the slide, providing a visual and tactile indicator of loaded status. It was introduced in 1913 or 1914, just in time for the outbreak of the war. Model 1s — retroactively numbered now, although the numbers were not marked on them — were assembled into 1915.

Internally, the Model 2 changed to an internal hammer system. From the outside, it looked like any other striker-fired small gun, but it had a hammer, a hammer-blocking safety in the convention left-rear of frame position (safe was up), and a recoil spring that wrapped around the barrel

Model 2s came in two versions — one had the loaded chamber indicator rear sight, and the other dispensed with any sights at all, having just a groove. Model 2 production ceased with the end of the war.

Model 3 was, essentially, an enlarged Model 2 in .32 ACP caliber… 7.65 mm. (7.65 x 17 SR). It was introduced within a couple of years of the Model 1’s debut  and produced up to 1918.

The Model 4 was a still larger pistol, aimed at capturing more military and police sales. It was the first Walther pistol offered in multiple calibers, something that would become standard for the company later. Its production resumed after the war.

Model 5, previously mentioned, was a follow-on for the Model 2. It was intended to be a premium pistol with a finer fit and finish (and a higher price), 6.35 mm only. It co-existed with Model 2 in the marketplace pre-1918. It was not reintroduced after the war. 

Model 6 was a unique pistol — a scaled up Model 4 for the military 9 mm Parabellum cartridge. It was taking the blowback-operated pistol to the extreme, and depended less on its heavy slide (like more recent blowback 9 mm firearms) than on a very stiff recoil spring for operation. In retrospect, Fritz Walther knew he’d taken the simple blowback system too far, and every future 9 mm Walther production or prototype pistol would have a locked breech. Surviving Model 6s are rare and when they turn up draw a premium. This one sold this month at a buy-it-now of $9,500 on GunBroker.

Walther Model 6 ght side

If there’s enough interest, we’ll do a “walk around” of the Model 6 based on that auction.

We believe (but are not certain) that the HP/AP/P.38/P.1 magazine is identical to the Model 6 magazine.

Model 7 was the last wartime Walther. It was an enlarged 6.35 mm pistol of generally the same dimensions as the Model 4 (which is more common in 7.65 mm). Its ejection port reverted to the conventional right-hand side. It had a short run — Buffaloe records the contradictory statements from the references, but they do agree on “short” — and apart from the curious Model 6, may be the most difficult Walther numbered-model pistol for a collector to find today.

After the war, the Model 8 and Model 9 defined the best pistols that Walther had yet made. The Model 8 had a new, closed-front slide that was far more attractive than the knobbly knurled nut (or sleeve, in longer-barreled pistols) at the business end of the Model 2 through 7 pistols. It resembled the nose of the Browning 1910, but instead of the Browning’s removable barrel bushing, offered a patented new way of taking down a pistol. The trigger guard was hinged where it attached to the front grip strap, and pivoted down. A lug on its forward end that retained the slide was now out of the way. With the slide in the right position fore-and-aft, its after end could be lifted out of engagement with the slide rails and slide off, forward.

Owners of later Walther pocket pistols will recognize this, of course, as the disassembly method of the PP and PPK (and the many guns they inspired, such as the Makarov PM). Indeed, apart from the single-action lockwork and enclosed hammer, the Model 8 is clearly a kissing cousin of the PP. Many of Walther’s manufacturing details would carry over from the number pistols to the later named pistols.

The Model 9 was a complete redesign of the vest pocket pistol and was, on its 1920-21 introduction, the most compact 6.35 mm pistol available in Europe. It may have been the impetus for the redesigned 1923 Baby Browning, which has a very close resemblance to it; more likely, Saïve (a Browning protégé whose point of departure was Browning’s 1906) merely responding to the same market demand as Walther. The Model 9 was a striker-fired, open-slide, spring-below-barrel pistol like the Model 1, and in stark contrast to the Models 2-7 which were internal-hammer, closed slide, spring-around-barrel designs.

The model 8 and 9 would remain in production until some time during World War II (here, too, sources disagree, with some suggesting that they were produced up until the Occupation). Whether production ended in 1940 or 1945, it’s clear that these early guns were produced alongside the later double-action firearms.

All of these early Walther pistols had a CW monogram either molded into their hard rubber or plastic grips, or on an enameled medallion on the left side (the right side bore the caliber designation). All but the earliest had a version of the familiar Walther banner trademark. The PP (1929) and subsequent designs would dispense with the monogram, using only the banner. Collectors break down all the higher production models in to “variants” or “variations,” most of which hinge only on differences in roll marks.

Apart from the Model 6, these early handguns are common enough and sufficiently low-priced to put collecting them all within the reach of anyone who really wants to.

Walther’s War (WWI) and Postwar

During the war, 7.65 mm pistols were widely used by military officers outside of the front lines, where a pistol was more an index of authority than something likely to be used to engage actual Tommies or poilus. The smaller 6.35 mm pistols were used by high-ranking and staff officers in tiny little flap holsters, just like a standard Army holster but smaller… this let a man advertise his authority and the fact that he was a gentleman, keeping his hands clean, and above expressing that authority in a brawl with commoners in the trenches. Practically speaking, if your position requires you to carry a gun but it is exceedingly unlikely you will ever use it, it makes sense to minimize the weight tugging on your belt.

The officers of Prussia and most other German Imperial states purchased their own firearms, although frontline officers might well draw Luger pistols from unit stocks and leave their privately-purchased Walthers in a trunk with their dress uniforms and swords, for their batmen to tote around.

Walther sold as many guns as they could make… as is normal always and everywhere, the wartime guns don’t show quite the finish of pre- and post-war Walthers, although there’s nothing wrong with them (Smith’s cautions notwithstanding).

While Walther continued tweaking its models during the war, the one real wartime development was the Model 6. As mentioned above, it was simply a scaled-up Model 4, which made it a large and, frankly, marginal 9 mm pistol.

Under the treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Pact German was forbidden to produce military arms, and initially the Powers forbade the production of sporting and police arms as well, so the lines were stilled. This was not the catastrophe for Carl Walther GMBH that it might have been, though, because while Carl’s son Fritz had become a firearms designer and engineer, his equally talented other sons had gone into the design and engineering of mechanical adding and calculating machines, and they were in demand both in devastated Germany and worldwide.

Pistols were also in demand, and production of civilian pistols reauthorized in 1919. This allowed Walther to revamp and streamline the production line.

As permission was granted to produce firearms for the police and the Reichswehr, a 100,000-man heavy-weapon-less rump Army permitted to Germany for, primarily, control of unrest, Walther began producing pistols for these markets again.

With the excellent Model 8 and 9 pistols, many designers and manufacturers might have rested on their laurels. And Walther produced hundreds of thousands of these pistols (the exact numbers are not known, due to lost records at the end of World War II. The records and prototypes in the Walther factory museum were also “liberated” by GIs at war’s end). But the company’s greatest triumphs lay ahead — the .22 target pistol that would become the Olympia-Modell, the PP and PPK, and the P.38. But those are all a different story.


  1. That the Model 1 launched in 1908 is Walther official history, but it is far from undisputed fact. Some put the launch in 1910 or even 1911. Walther’s objective with the 1908 claim, now largely irrelevant, may have been to wrest conclusively the claim of German pocket-pistol primacy from rival Mauser, whose pistol premiered in 1910… or 1911.
  2. Any gun a century old should be inspected by a competent gunsmith experienced in similar firearms before being fired with modern, standard-pressure ball ammunition. Yes, people do shoot + pressure hollow points in WWI Walthers, Brownings, etc. We wouldn’t, from the standpoint of the gun’s historical significance and durability. For practical duty use, new and improved guns are available in almost every niche except the vest pocket pistol, where market’s been strangled by European gun laws and an American 1968 import ban, and even there some superior pre-1968 pistols are still circulating — but even those are closing in on the half-century mark.


Buffaloe, Ed. The Walther Model 1. Unblinking Retrieved from:

Buffaloe, Ed. The Walther Models 2 and 5. Unblinking Retrieved from:

Buffaloe, Ed. The Walther Model 3. Unblinking Retrieved from:

Buffaloe, Ed. The Walther Model 4. Unblinking Retrieved from:

Buffaloe, Ed. The Walther Model 7 and 8. Unblinking Retrieved from:

Buffaloe, Ed. The Walther Model 9. Unblinking Retrieved from:

Moller, George D. American Military Small Arms, Volume 1: Colonial and Revolutionary War Arms. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2011.

Smith, W.H.B. Mauser, Walther, and Mannlicher Firearms. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1971. (n.b. This is a reprint edition combining three books; it is still in print. The Walther section was first published stand-alone in 1946 and revised circa 1962).

Stutzenberger, Fred. The Jager Rifle: Forerunner of the American Longrifle. NMLRA Muzzle Blasts, April 2014: pp. 4-11. Retrieved from:

The Rise and Fall of the Military Glider

The idea of delivering troops by parachute first took hold in World War I, although it wouldn’t be done at the time. But between the wars, something new arose as a possibility: glider delivery.

Airspeed Horsa gliders at Pegasus Bridge, 6 June 1944.

Airspeed Horsa gliders at Pegasus Bridge, 6 June 1944.

Gliders had several advantages, at that point in time. The machines themselves were cheap and fast to build, and thus expendable, like a rifleman’s parachute in wartime.  Unlike parachutes, which were prone to scattering, gliders had potential to deliver squad- and later section-sized units, intact and cohesive, into the enemy’s rear area: much less assembly required. It was believed that the pilots would need much less training than powered-plane pilots, and they could then join the fight as infantry1.

The Soviets Led the Way

As is common in weapons of war, several nations developed gliders at about the same time. But somebody had to be the absolute first, and that was the Soviets, who were also world leaders in paratroop innovation. Their first military gliders were developed in the Red Army under the brilliant and innovative Marshal Tukhachevsky, as part of a flowering of military experimentation in the USSR in the 1920s and 30s. The Soviet exercises caught the attention of the world’s militaries; the first officially-adopted military troop glider seems to have been a Russian model, the Grikhonov of 1932 (we have been unable to find an image of this aircraft).

A Gribovski G-11 glider (or replica?) maintained as a memorial to glider troops.

A Gribovski G-11 glider (or replica?) maintained as a memorial to glider troops.

Antonov AN-7 design owes a lot to prewar sailplanes.

Antonov AN-7 design owes a lot to prewar sailplanes.

But the 1930s ended badly for the USSR’s military innovators like Tukhachevsky and almost all senior officers of the Red Army, who were accused of various crimes and executed after brief and predetermined show trials.

In World War II, the Soviets built a small number of gliders of two types, the Antonov An-7 and the Gribovski G-11 (the numbers, unlike in powered Soviet aircraft, showed the plane’s capacity in armed troops).

They never did use them in a large assault, using them instead in special operations and for partisan resupply. As in other nations, glider pilots trained in typical sailplanes before flying the trucklike cargo gliders. The cargo-carrying and particularly loading capacity of these Soviet machines was badly compromised by their design; other major powers had gliders with cavernous loading doors, but the Soviet machines seemed to have small, personnel-sized hatches only.

German Gliders

German Para with FG42 in front of a DFS-230. Bundesarchiv photo.

German Para with FG42 in front of a DFS-230.  (it embiggens). Bundesarchiv photo.

The Soviets’ fellow totalitarians, the Nazis, also had a glider industry prewar, and that yielded their troop glider pilots. The glider troops came from paratroop volunteers.

The Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Segelflug was abbreviated, for reasons that seem self-evident, to DFS. The name meant German Institute for Sailing Flight and, during the Versailles Treaty years, when German production of powered aircraft, and then, powered military aircraft, was verboten, it was home to many of Germany’s most talented aeronautical engineers.

Tasked to make a military glider, DFS did what its Soviet opposite numbers had done and scaled up a tube-and-fabric sailplane design. Numbered in a series that went back to prewar research, the cargo glider had no name: it was the DFS 230. It had no cargo door, just a very small personnel door from which the troops must exit one at a time. It couldn’t carry heavy weapons — an MG-34 or a mortar, max.

Despite its limits, several special operations were executed with the DFS 230, including the seizure of Eben Emael in 1940s Low Countries campaign and the rescue of Mussolini from Gran Sasso in 1943. By using a drag chute, it could land in very small areas.

A restored DFS fuselage arrives to be displayed at Fort Eben Emael.

A restored DFS fuselage arrives to be displayed at Fort Eben Emael. German para-engineers landed on top of the fort; 78 men captured a fort manned by 1100 and removed an obstacle from the 1940 blitz.

Germany also developed large cargo gliders, one a pod-and-twin-boom arrangement from Gotha and one a gigantic vehicle carrier from Messerschmitt (Me321). Later, many of the gliders were refitted with captured French aero-engines to become somewhat under-engineered cargo planes, making up a German shortfall.

Japanese Gliders

The Japanese used gliders early in the war; Japanese airborne troops were a little-explored facet of their Asian blitzkrieg, and later, gliders were used both to supply cut-off islands and to land small commando forces on Allied-held airfields.

As was often the case, Japanese engineers were competitive even when Japanese industry struggled to keep pace. The late-war Kokusai Ku-7 glider (below) was as advanced as anything produced by the other powers.

Kokusai Ku-7_glider

Other Axis Gliders

Italy produced competitive gliders, but in very small numbers. Surviving photos show machines with clean, elegant lines, but there is scant information on them being used in World War II. And there is no information at all on gliders that may have been used by Romanian or Hungarian forces.

Western Allied Gliders

In the US and UK, special cargo and training gliders were developed. Unlike the Russian and German glider pilots, who tended to be trained in commercial sailplanes, he US quickly threw together engineless versions of light training and liaison aircraft, like the L-4 Piper Cub. Western cargo gliders had a big advantage over the Russian ones: cargo doors. For example, the tailcone and cockpit of the Airspeed Horsa both came off readily, allowing fairly heavy equipment like Jeeps, anti-tank guns, and small field pieces, to roll on and roll off. The Waco also had a hinged cockpit that swung up out of the way. Japanese and the larger German gliders were similarly equipped with opening ends, and these inspired postwar cargo planes of all nations.

Numerically, the most important glider was the WACO CG-4A. The glider could deliver a squad and its equipment, or a Jeep as seen above, or a 37mm or 57mm anti-tank gun and crew (British 2 pdr/6 pdr). The British Army, who assigned glider pilots to the Glider Pilot Regiment and expected them to fight as infantry once they landed, named their gliders with names from antiquity beginning with “H”; the WACO received the name of the Roman conqueror of southern Britain, Hadrian. It was built with scaled-up Piper Cub technology, or Fokker D-VII technology for that matter: a 4130 chromoly steel frame and glued plywood wing structure, both covered by doped cotton fabric. The cockpit had seats for side-by-side pilot and co-pilot, a luxury (or combat redundancy) most other nations’ gliders dispensed with, but was still pretty austere, and not too foreign to a Cub pilot, despite having wheels instead of sticks.

This WACO is in the Silent Wings Museum in the USA.

This detached WACO cockpit is in the Silent Wings Museum in the USA.

Allied gliders were made in part by aeronautical prime contractors, but wherever possible, by non-war-critical industries using industrial processes that did not impinge on war production. The Army Air Corps paid as little as a few thousand dollars, and as much as over $50,000, more than some powered aircraft, depending on the contractor. (The experienced airplane builders generally built more gliders for less money).

Not all the contractors got the hang of it right away. The following photo shows the Mayor of St. Louis and the head of the Robertson Aircraft Corporation and other luminaries about to take the first public flight of a Robertson-built glider in 1943. You can recognize the distinctive cockpit from the image above. A few minutes after this photo was taken, the glider crashed due to bad quality control — and the pilots and all these notables were killed. (The guy second from the right seems to have a bad feeling about this flight).

1943 glider crash

The glider troops — none of whom would have known about this accident, unless they came from St. Louis — had to have a very different kind of courage than paratroops, at least in US service. American glider riders were not volunteers, unlike paratroops, and they received no incentive pay, unlike paratroops, but no one could really argue that they were any less exposed to hazard — and they had even less control of the hazards than the jumpers did. Despite the grumbling, the glidermen saddled up for Sicily (where many of them were killed by trigger-happy Navy anti-aircraft gunners), Normandy (where planners routed the transports away from where the Navy was congregating), Market-Garden in Holland, and the operation that is still probably the largest airborne operation in history, the assault across the Rhine.

Airspeed_HorsaThe next most significant glider in the West was the Airspeed Horsa. A British-made plywood machine that was larger than the CG-4A, it could also carry heavy weapons and was involved in all the same airborne operations as the WACOs were.

It was generally shipped to its departure airfield in knocked-down condition, and then assembled there:


It also was the transport craft for two signal British special operations, one a failure and one a success: Operation FRESHMAN in Norway, and the Pegasus Bridge (as it is now called) seizure on the River Orne on the left flank of the D-Day landings. Of the FRESHMAN gliders, only one had survivors, and they were promptly murdered by the Germans pursuant to Hitler’s Commando Order.

Gliders traveled by aero-tow, usually behind transports or retired/obsolete bombers.

Gliders traveled by aero-tow, usually behind transports or retired/obsolete bombers.

Rather than teach glider pilots to do weight-and-balance calculations manually, special balances made of wood with items representing troops and cargo were issued by Allied air forces. The crews moved their mock-up “loads” around until the balance balanced, and if they did that, and loaded the glider the same way, the center of gravity would be in range.

Several special operations in the Far East, especially in the CBI, used gliders. They also used a glider recovery system that allowed transports to pick up gliders on the fly; this system was available in the European Theater but little used. The concept of US operations did not envision gliders being one-use aircraft, but that’s how it worked out in most cases.

The Twilight of the Gliders

The end of the gliders came about after the war. Airborne forces of all kinds are costly to train and equip, and only the world’s major powers kept them up at a high level, although there was a spurt of newly-decolonialized nations of the 50s and 60s establishing Airborne units, which they then neglected. Compared to gliders or helicopters, parachute troops were relatively cheap; they could jump from versatile cargo planes with many other uses.

The US kept qualifying troops on gliders — indeed, at one time in the late forties all airborne soldiers were expected to qualify as both parachutists and glidermen — until a training accident in 1947 was traced to fatigue failure of the wartime Waco airframe. Rather than face the bill for reinforcing the remaining gliders to make them safe again, the Army scrapped them.

The USAF briefly considered making a new glider, and went as far as ordering some prototypes of Michael Stroukoff’s designs for Chase Aircraft Company of Trenton, NJ, the XG-18A and the XG-20. Both had conventional cockpits in the nose, and opening tailgates in the rear for personnel or cargo. The XG-20 is shown here:


The Air Force decided to abandon the idea of gliders, and the Chase aircraft were modified into powered airplanes, the small XC-122 transport and the mid-sized C-123, which served until the 1980s in the USAF. Because Stroukoff designed the gliders without considering fuel tankage in the wings, the cargo planes carried their fuel in extended nacelles. (The only act of Medal of Honor heroism to be photographed in Vietnam was by a C-123 pilot who landed to recover an Air Force Combat Control crew who had been mistakenly landed on an overrun Special Forces camp at Kham Duc. Not many trash hauler pilots earn Medals of Honor, but that guy sure did).

Last of the Cargo Gliders: Yakovlev Yak-14. Conventional design, tricycle gear, opening nose and tail. Source: Air Enthusiast (May '72) via AviaDejaVu.Ru

Last of the Cargo Gliders: Yakovlev Yak-14, 1948. Conventional design, tricycle gear, opening nose and tail. Source: Air Enthusiast (May ’72) via AviaDejaVu.Ru

The glider was never a wonderful weapon — it was always a brilliant improvisation. Besides, helicopters were starting to show promise. Like a glider, a copter could land a group of men together. And like a glider, copters could carry significant weight of equipment.

The Soviets, who started first, are thought to have ended last, keeping some military gliders as late as 1960 to 1965. The last military glider in service, then, was likely the postwar Yak-14, shown here under tow by an Ilyushin Il-14 transport :

Yak-14 under tow by Il-14

Swan song: Yak-14 of the Czechoslovak People's Army 22nd Airborne Brigade, late 50s.

Swan song: Yak-14 of the Czechoslovak People’s Army 22nd Airborne Brigade, late 50s.

By the 1960s, the USSR had really mastered the aerial delivery of artillery and even light armored vehicles by parachute, and had a vast array of cargo aircraft, including an immense war reserve of Aeroflot planes whose crews were reserve officers and airplanes “reservists” themselves.

The Future of Gliders

It is not impossible that a glider will come back as a special operations delivery system, but one with a twist. Several firms and researchers have been examining the possibility of suborbital space insertion as a way to deliver SOF into denied areas at unprecedented speeds, with potentially global reach in 45 minutes to 2 hours of flight time. The problem is how to use such a fast glider against a sophisticated enemy — without him thinking you’re nuking him, and nuking you back preemptively?

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Retro Barrel Spreadsheet

retro_barrel_listingWe usually try to have something in here that reaches a wide audience, but this week we’re narrowcasting to our fellow Retro AR enthusiasts. In recent years, the once-rich supply of surplus M16A1 and early CAR-15 variant barrels has evaporated, largely thanks to the ATF’s beyond-the-letter-of-the-law ban on reimported surplus barrels.

There are a number of producers of allegedly retro-style barrels, although most of them have something wrong with them. Sometimes it’s something grossly cosmetic (like a barrel sold as an A1 profile, but with a .750″ diameter at the FSB). Sometimes it’s something that can interfere with function, like a misplaced gas port, or (very common on current barrels) an M4-cut barrel extension, which only looks deformed if you look in the ejection port, but causes a buildup of nasty carbon fouling in non-cut receivers.

So logging the available barrels is an idea whose time has come, even though it’s a work in progress and it shows the rather depressing state of the market.

The site is here at As the URL makes clear, it is a Google doc spreadsheet. This particular document is read-only, so you can’t download it and take it with you, but you can print it out.

The creator of the document updates it based on requests in this thread in Arfcom Retro. The reason so many grossly non-retro barrels are on the list, then, is because retro n00bs and barrel makers have sent them to that thread, and the maintainer rolls them in as he gets them.

retro_muzzle_device_listingHe doesn’t just provide barrel sources, for there is also a second tab on the spreadsheet that has a listing of more or less correct muzzle devices. We never thought we’d ever see a day when M16A1 flash suppressors were hard to find, but that day is closing in on us.

Many builders, especially first-time or one-time A1 builders, don’t want to immerse themselves in learning the minutia of a retro barrel. They just want an expert to tell them what to buy. Never fear… using this chart, an expert can do that.

To cut to the chase, for an accurate retro barrel for a 20″ A1 build, your best choices are:

  1. Brownell’s, if you want a complete assembly with FSB mounted;
  2. Green Mountain GM-M32, if you want your own;
  3. Criterion, if you want to compromise “retro” twist and chamber dimensions for higher accuracy. It is a 1:8 twist barrel with a tight “match” chamber.

You can also choose chrome lined (for retro-correctness and durability) or not lined (may be cheaper and more accurate) at several vendors.

No one catalogs a barrel that’s “correct” for a Vietnam-era XM177 / A1 / A2 or other CAR-15 carbine variant. Sorry for the blanket statement, but it’s true. There are a handful of ways to get close, and that’s as good as it gets.

For many people, the barrel’s details and even its functionality take a back seat to how it looks. Some folks want a 1:7″ or 1:8″ twist instead of the original 1:12″ to provide more projectile options. (You really only need 1:7 if you need to shoot M856 tracer ammo, otherwise 1:8″ if you’re going to shoot 75-77 grain, or 1:9″ is probably OK and even more accurate). So they will find uses for the “less correct” barrels on the list.