Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

A Mystery Revolver with its Own Story

Long-time reader and commenter Jim Hall wonders about a revolver that is connected, one way or another, to two Vietnam veterans. “What is it?” he asks, and we have to admit we don’t know. A pistol copied from, or at least inspired by, the Colt .31 pocket revolver of 1849, with cylinder flutes like Colt introduced in 1862. We’re not experts in these, but it’s not a Colt, and it doesn’t have any visible markings.

This image has been straightened and desaturated a little to try to bring detail out.

The best thing about this mystery revolver, by far, is the story that comes with it. We’ll let Jim tell the story:

In 1971, dad had just returned from his 2nd tour in Vietnam, and was assigned as a recruiter in Kentucky. An older man walked in, asked some questions about the war, and was apparently trying to understand what happened to his son, recently KIA.

Dad took him out for a dinner, trying to calm the guy down. As they talk, the man tells him that he and his son had been into collecting antique firearms. This was the latest thing he’d found, and was supposed to be a “welcome home” gift for his son. It was obviously not needed in that role anymore, but he’d sell it and a few other odds and ends from their collection, stipulating that he only wanted them to go to another Army man, and not some idiot that would pawn it off at the first opportunity. Dad picked it up for 25 bucks, and another 20 got him an H&R single action .22/.22 magnum revolver.

The flutes in the cylinder resemble those on the Colt 1862 Police, but the 1862 Police has a rebated cylinder. Here is a pistol represented by the seller as a genuine 1862 Police. We’ll point out some differences between Jim’s mystery revolver and the typical Colt practice of the 1862.

The pistol is badly affected by wear and pitting, but still does not seem to have Colt levels of worksmanship.

Several details are clearly not Colt. One of them is a mainspring tension screw on the front strap. The screw present probably wasn’t the original (the head of the original probably was flush with the front strap), but Colt didn’t put one in this position, regardless. (Remington did).

Some of the nipples appear to have been removed or lost.

The grips of a colt are round at the butt end, and this one is squared off in cross-section. Compare the way a factory Colt interfaces with its trigger guard and grip (the ’62 higher up this post is typical) to the way this revolver does.

The Colt also has screws that also act as axles for the trigger and hammer. Compare the location of the screws on this revolver!

The trigger guard is odd and quite unlike any common Colt.

Now, the pistol that was Jim’s father’s, this heartbreaking “welcome home” gift for a kid who didn’t come home and grow old like his buddies, is Jim’s.

on my return from the sandbox, he presented it to me, along with the story behind it. looking on the net, it looks similar to early colt pocket revolvers, but there are no marks on it other than the scrollwork. it seems similar to an 1841 colt pocket revolver, and I’ve seen some pictures that look similar up until the early 1860s as well. I know it’s not worth a ton, but it’s got an interesting story and certainly is an uncommon find now.

Here’s the underbelly view. 

And here’s the overhead view. 

And a look at the backstrap. 

Finally, here’s a close-up of the right side. Yes, all these images embiggen. 

Naturally, something like this is an heirloom and not for sale. Could it ever be worth as much to anyone as it, and its back story, are to Jim?

Our first guess after looking over Jim’s pictures was that this is some kind of foreign, possibly Belgian, copy of the early Colt . It would have been made, almost certainly, before 1870. But it occurred to us that someone in the commenters may know these pistols better than we do.

We also think we might see the number “14” on the cylinder in some of the shots above.

In Memory of the Frenchmen who Died for America

The uniform Christian Pabst would have worn, assuming he was an ordinary enlisted chasseur (rifleman).

Who was Christian Pabst? He was a member of the Regiment Royal Deux-Ponts, which was raised in the French-German border provinces, and which came with Rochambeau to America in 1780. We know little of Pabst, except that he gave his life an ocean away from home, during the Yorktown campaign of 1781 — the campaign that ended British aspirations to regain control of most of British North America.

He’s one of the Frenchmen who died for you. Even if your family wasn’t here yet.

There are hundreds of others, and his name, all of their names, came to be forgotten; the graves, even those once known, neglected; and their sacrifice unmarked, not even by a cenotaph, for over 200 years.

In time, both Frenchmen and Americans who understood the importance of honoring such sacrifices knew that they had to correct this neglect. And they did, finally:

During the Bicentennial of the Battle of Yorktown in 1981, members of the French veterans’ organizations attending the celebration noted that there was an area on the battlefield where approximately 50 French soldiers were buried in an unmarked, common grave. Although this area was indicated by a cross and a plaque, none of the names of any French soldier was inscribed there. It has long been a point of cultural tradition in France that the graves of those who died serving France are marked with their names whenever possible, or that the battlefields have a memorial with their names inscribed.

At the urging of French veterans’ groups, the Ambassador of France to the United States, His Excellency M. Emmanuel de Margerie, appointed a committee to correct this oversight. It was the Committee for the Yorktown French Memorial, with Professor Andre Maman of Princeton University serving as its president.

He may have carried a musket like this 1777, or a rifle of similar vintage.

The purpose of the committee, which included both French and American members, was to create a memorial to honor all French soldiers and sailors who gave their lives in the Yorktown campaign in 1781. The memorial was to include the names of the some 600 Frenchmen* who lost their lives in this campaign, including the Yorktown siege and the naval battle of Chesapeake Bay, or the Battle of the Capes, as it is sometimes called.

The committee’s tasks included the design, approval, funding and dedication of the memorial.

The design was completed with the approval of the Ambassador and the National Park Service. Members of the French Societies of the Sons of the American Revolution, Daughters of the American Revolution and the Order of the Cincinnati as well as French veteran and cultural organizations here were engaged in fundraising to reach the goal needed to bring the project to reality. Various American hereditary and cultural societies also participated as a gesture of appreciation for the French forces joining us in those desperate days in 1781 as General Washington and the French commanders adopted the extremely risky plan which led, against all expectations, to the final great victory at Yorktown.

via French Army Casualties at Yorkown – Yorktown Battlefield Part of Colonial National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service).

Thanks to the twitter feed of Angry Staff Officer, whose blog should also be on your to-read schedule. (The best staff officers are often the angry ones, as they’re burning to be back in command). Of this Yorktown situation, he says:

It wasn’t till 1980s that the names of the French soldiers who gave their lives for our Independence were codified.

This makes me sad. Since the French gave us their land to bury our WWI dead, and took great care to honor their memory.

That’s the fact, Jack. The French who work at the cemeteries treat our dead with reverence and veneration.

Our cemeteries became almost shrines for them. While we fed ourself the narrative that we won the RevWar solo cause Merica.

We as Americans are so often that loud, boisterous, braggadocios, dudebro at the international party, making it all about us.

We forget so often our place in the world & how we got there that I sometimes think we don’t deserve all the liberties we have.

Not much to say but we agree. But then, staff officers are good at boiling down issues to a one-page decision memo; it’s what they do. (Well, part of it).

The Many Flavors of Strategic Reconnaissance

RT Asp, ready to go, 6 men. Top center is CPT Garry Robb, later Recon Co. Commander.

There’s combat reconnaissance, and there’s strategic reconnaissance.

What’s the difference, and why is one a SOF mission?

Combat reconnaissance is conducted locally by troops in contact or close to the battle area, in order to gather combat intelligence about the organization, disposition, and (ideally) intentions of the enemy. It is a standard infantry mission that every rifle unit from the fire team up can and does train on and conduct. Other branches also conduct combat reconnaissance — it;’s a major raison d’être for cavalry, and armor units often task-organize a reconnaissance element. It’s just good business. Reconnaissance elements try to be a stealthy as possible, without sacrificing mission accomplishment, and in the best cases conduct their reconnaissance covertly, undetected by the enemy. (This is very difficult to do. When the enemy’s  in range of your observations, you’re ipso facto in range of his).

Strategic reconnaissance is meant to winkle out the enemy’s organization, disposition, and (ideally) intentions from far beyond the battle area, including in his rear areas, safe areas or sanctuaries, and even his home bases and home nation. It often requires long and technical infiltrations (HALO, kayaks, scout swimming, crossing “impassible” mountains, SDVs). Some operations may be covert, some must be clandestine, and some may proceed under (in technical, tradecraft terms) cover. These technicalities are what pushes SR to SOF.

Strategic reconnaissance can be carried out, after a fashion, by aircraft, spacecraft, and drones, but so can tactical, combat reconnaissance. The initial use of aircraft in World War I was exclusively for combat intelligence, although both Germany and Britain evolved strategic aerial reconnaissance to support their early efforts at strategic bombing by the end of hostilities.

This RE. 8 was typical of Great War reconnaissance planes.

Some forms of reconnaissance, those involving your armed military personnel on, over, or under your enemy’s land, airspace or water, are violations of international law and present a potential casus belli. This type of strategic reconnaissance generally is kept on a short leash by national political authorities. For one example, during the Vietnam War, operations to penetrate North Vietnamese sanctuaries in nominally-neutral Cambodia and Laos — even reconnaissance operations — required National Command Authority (President/SECDEF) release, and in Laos, the longtime US Ambassador demanded to be notified of the insertion and extraction schedule and location of every reconnaissance team. Normally such high-ranking political officials do not concern themselves with the actions of six men led, usually, by a first- or second-enlistment sergeant; but when that sergeant is on a mission with high “International Incident” potential, all bets are off.

In the Vietnam War, one thing we did was determine the ground truth inside South Vietnam — something that the RVN would lie to each other about, never mind us longnoses — through a strategic process of area reconnaissance. The way this worked was to emplace Special Forces camps in all four military regions of South Vietnam, but especially in areas where enemy activity (combat or transit) was heavy. Each camp was manned by an A-Team, often some attachments, and a force of local combatants who were hired directly by SF, which got them higher pay than an ARVN draftee, arguably better leadership, and exemption from the RVN draft. Each team conducted reconnaissance around its camp and reported this ground truth back to Nha Trang, whence it went to RVN and US generals in Saigon and Cam Ranh Bay.

In the consolidation phase of the Afghanistan war, we did something similar, with teams sent to locations — the terminology for the locations varied, with safe house, team house, operating location and FOB all having a moment in the sun (here or there, now or then). The guys operating didn’t much care what home plate was called, as it was just a place to operate from and the unit was known by its callsign, wherever it was. (Use of 100% encrypted communications meant that awkward random callsigns could be dropped, and commanders could pick their callsigns, a temptation to grandiloquence that few commanders resisted).

Historically, there have been many brilliant reconnaissance operations that deserve deep study. One we have always admired for its practicality and daring was the Australian Coast Watchers in World War II. One-man (!) observation posts, defended and supported only by the loyalty of natives and relying on the jungle telegraph to stay ahead of Japanese patrols, kept the Allies informed of the travels of Japanese naval units and troopships, but also of the Achilles’s Heel of the Japanese Empire, merchant freighters and tankers. That information was put to work immediately to begin the long, hard work of strangling Japan.

(Interesting that earlier we wrote that it was a wartime adaptation, but actually, the site above reveals that Australian Naval Intelligence started a coast watcher network as early as 1919, and expanded it in 1935 in anticipation of hostilities. Good call).

It was a perfect example of a reconnaissance mode adapted to the enemy and the local conditions. Such a technique would not have worked as well against the Germans, given the much more built-up nature of Europe, and the deadly sophistication of Gestapo and Sicherheitsdienst radio direction-finding and cryptanalysis. In Norway, similar coast-watching by agents of the government in exile or of separate British SIS or SOE networks found transmitting very hazardous, and were forced to adopt stringent transmission security measures. (They still were usually successful, as a group, in keeping London informed of the comings and goings of the Kriegsmarine, but at the cost of several individual radiomen),

It is likely that the Japanese broke the simple Playfair cipher used by the early Coastwatchers, if they collected enough ciphertext. The IJA and especially the IJN had sophisticated signals intelligence and cryptanalysis capabilities, and broke many Allied codes and ciphers. What the Japanese didn’t seem to have was a way to operationalize this codebreaking and use it to target the Coastwatchers. Those Coastwatchers who were rolled up (usually to be murdered by the Japanese) were usually betrayed by natives, or caught by dismounted patrols.

For a strategic reconnaissance element, fixed positions can be hazardous, but so can moving. That is one reason that good, effective SR teams tend to be small. Your chance of exposure increases exponentially with each additional man in your moving element, and exposure need not be directly to the enemy, to lead the enemy to you regardless.

German Generals in WWII Led from the Front — and Paid

Generalleutnant Werner Freiherr von Fritsch, former supreme commander of the German Army (inveigled out of that position by the Nazis, even though he was a Nazi supporter himself) was KIA as an “honorary regimental colonel” of an arty regiment, during the Battle of Warsaw in 1939. Hit in the thigh by a rifle-caliber bullet, he bled out through a femoral artery wound in minutes.

Attached to this post is an intriguing report on German general officer casualties, specifically, KIAs, in World War II. It was rare for an Allied general to be killed or wounded in combat, although there were some celebrated cases, including friendly-fire air-ground incidents. The article is loosely framed as a suggestion that the Americans’ Wehrmacht-inspired AirLand Battle doctrine of the 1980s might have led to a similar result, but that has a whiff of “added this to please the war college reviewers and fake contemporary relevance” to it. The paper is predominantly historical.

The numbers don’t lie: 136 German general-officer commanders –division, corps and army levels, the equivalent of American two-star-and-up generals — were killed in action in 1939-45. Several factors led to this: the Germans’ lead-from-the-front doctrine, the personal courage of the generals concerned, the greater lethality of WWII arms than had been the case in their junior officer days’ Great War, and the German’s whole-war-long shortage of combat commanders.

Wehrmacht doctrine emphasized personal reconnaissance, the general “showing the flag” or “showing his face” to the frontmost outposts, and other examples of personal, retail leadership. Was this a cause or effect of the Germans’ reduced proliferation of command radio nets than the Western Allies? Not clear. But the German general put his life on the line with his men; naturally, the enemy was eager to collect some of these scalps.

The personal physical courage of the generals seems beyond question. Among those old enough to have served in World War I, almost all bore valor decorations from the period. Even more received valor decorations in World War II, between taking command and being slain. It stands to reason that courage increases a soldier’s exposure to enemy fire. (Not always true, as fear, panic and timidity will put your trophy in the hunter’s bag sooner than courage, real or imitation, will).

They may have gotten wrong lessons from World War I. Sure, they learned the hazards of artillery fire against fixed trench lines, but they missed the lethality of modern fires against troops in motion. The lethality of air was not on their horizon; Great War strafing was a mere nuisance compared to systematic attacks by marauding Il-2s, P-47s or Typhoons. This is considerably ironic, when one recalls that the Blitzkrieg and the ground-attack aircraft and unit were largely German inventions.

And they were highly visible targets in highly distinctive uniforms.

Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS general officers died of everything from snipers (2 each) to tank main gun fire (2 more, both facing the Soviets), and one unlucky duck drove into a friendly minefield. But the real execution was done by artillery and air, with small arms a secondary contribution via ambushes, raids and in the hands of partisans. Each fallen general caused a local but rapidly recuperable loss of command continuity, but more serious was the contribution to the initial shorthandedness in GOs.

Bear in mind that the Germans had, throughout the war, excellent junior officers and NCOs. This ameliorated the consequences of such organizational beheading.

Here are some conclusions from the historical section of the paper:

First, most of the deaths occurred from quick unexpected attacks. Air bombardments, artillery barrages, hidden minefields, snipers, and partisan attacks were quite different than the deadly but more methodical operations these men had experienced in World War I.

Second, a great many deaths occurred in vehicles moving through the battle area. Such movement attracted air attacks and set up potential ambush situations. Although the commanders had to move by vehicle to control the battlefield better, it appears most did so without an adequate escort capable of discouraging some of the attacks. Much of this movement was done in hours of very good visibility which facilitated enemy air attacks. Some of their disdain for enemy capabilities may have resulted from Luftwaffe reports of friendly air superiority or the belief that a staff car was too small a target to be effectively engaged.

Finally, throughout the war German generals retained distinctive but dangerous markings of their grade. They continued to wear distinctive uniforms and flew vehicular pennants advertising their position. Both provided target information to snipers, ambushes, and partisans.

The Germans never identified this as a problem during the war and never developed training to prepare transferred GOs for the lethal battlefield that awaited them. It was truly an examination given before the lesson.

We found the Airland Battle stuff less convincing. It’s a pretty long reach, projecting GO casualties and consequent disruptions in American units in the event of The Big One breaking out. But the author’s idea of using wartime German experience to predict US experience is interesting.

Here’s the file:

German General Officer Casualties In WW II-Major French L. MacLean.pdf

Where Treason is A-OK, and Criticism of it is Forbidden

We’re referring (and this is unlikely to shock you) to the People’s Republic of California, and specifically to the Senate of that failing State.

Legislative éminence grise Tom Hayden, perhaps best known to the general public as the former Mrs. Jane Fonda, expired in October (or, as practitioners of one of the few faiths still alive in San Francisco put it, “Satan called him home.”) And naturally his peers — we use the term advisedly — in the Senate have spent from then till now engaged in hosannas to the pulchritude and luminosity of the former violent radical turned typical grifting, grasping, greedy politician.

State Senator Janet Nguyen, who on her election was (and as far as we know, still is) the first ethnic Vietnamese state senator in any American state, was not having any of that, and she prepared a powerful statement. Here are the highlights:

I and the children of the former South Vietnam soldiers will never forget the support of former Senator Tom Hayden for the Communist government of Vietnam and the oppression by the Communist Government of Vietnam for the people of Vietnam.

After 40 years, the efforts by people like him have hurt the people of Vietnam and have worked to stop the Vietnamese refugees from coming to the United States, a free country. We will always continue to fight for freedom and human rights for the people of Vietnam.

Members, I recognize today in memory of the million of Vietnamese and the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees who died seeking freedom and democracy. … I would like to offer another historical perspective.

… I want to share what Senator Hayden meant to me and to the over 500,000 Vietnamese Americans who call California their home, as well as to the over 1 million Vietnamese Americans across the United States.

As you may be aware, Tom Hayden chose to work directly with the Communist North Vietnamese Government to oppose the efforts of United States forces in South Vietnam.

Mr. Hayden sided with a communist government that enslaved and/or killed millions of Vietnamese, including members of my own family. Mr. Hayden’s actions are viewed by many as harmful to democratic values and hateful towards those who sought the very freedoms on which this nation is founded.

…. In contrast to the great many people who fought to defend freedom and democracy, Mr. Hayden supported a Communist agenda ….

In sum: bad cess to him. Naturally, his friends and allies would not let Nguyen make that statement, but you can read it here (she got away with the introduction, in Vietnamese, before Kevin de Leon called the Senate Bouncers to give her the bum’s rush).

Hayden is especially beloved in institutional and academic Californistan — the environment that produced his modern cognate, Sulayman al-Faris, aka Abu Sulayman al-Irlandi, aka John Walker Lindh — for his “opposition to the Vietnam war.” This opposition included gathering information for the People’s Republic of Vietnam and harassing American families of prisoners of war. He first came to the public’s attention of one of the organizers of the Alinskyite attack by hippies armed with sticks, bricks and molotov cocktails on the police at the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago in 1968. Hayden himself, a physical coward, was far from the “cannon fodder” he sent in, for his objective was to provoke the police into “overreaction.”

The media, safe behind the cops, and in on Hayden’s plan, produced thousands of these images, making it look like the Chicago PD made an unprovoked attack on “protesters,” and that’s how they reported it. (It wasn’t a complete loss. A lot of deserving skulls got cracked, and a beginning news fabricator named Dan Rather got punched in his glass jaw. What’s the frequency, Kenneth?)

Hayden went on to win a mistrial as one of the Chicago Eight clown show defendants, and continued to serve the interests of Communism and foreign powers for the rest of his miserable life.


After trying to make a statement about the late Tom Hayden and his opposition to the Vietnam War, Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) was removed from the floor of the state Senate on Thursday, a tense scene that ended in a slew of angry accusations…

Nguyen, who was brought to the United States as a Vietnamese refugee when she was a child, said she wanted to offer “a different historical perspective” on what Hayden and his opposition to the war had meant to her and other refugees.

Hayden, the former state legislator who died last October, was remembered in a Senate ceremony Tuesday. ….

“I’m very sad because the very people who elected me to represent them and be their voice on the Senate floor, I wasn’t allowed to speak on their behalf,” Nguyen said later in an interview with The Times. “I was told I cannot speak on the issue at all,” she said.

The LA Times, being the LA Times, can’t even describe the sanguinary efforts of Hayden honestly. (Apart from all he did directly in Chicago and Vietnam, he also was a founder of the SDS, the “overt” political branch of the murderous Weather Underground terrorist movement).

Hayden was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and made celebrated trips to North Vietnam and Cambodia, offering to help broker a peaceful end.

via A state senator is removed from the chamber for her comments about Tom Hayden and Vietnam – LA Times.

“Broker a peaceful end,” that is probably the most dishonest phrase ever written, and it took two LA Times hacks, John Myers and Melanie Mason, to generate a lie that big. (That’s like saying the Wannsee Conference met to “broker a peaceful end” to the “Jewish Question.” It’s always peaceful if you just get on the boxcars yourself, which was always Hayden’s goal for the free people of Vietnam).

Let’s reconsider what Hayden actually did during his period of Vietnam “protest.”

On visits to Vietnam, he not only performed propaganda for his Communist masters, but worked to help Communist organs recruit propaganda mouthpieces and spies among disaffected, tortured prisoners:

Tom Hayden’s anti-war efforts included recruitment efforts of military personnel, and propaganda from release of American POWs. Whether or not Hayden and Fonda were in bed together on this one (literally and figuratively) is not clear.

His efforts (among other traitors’) were an inspiration to Vo Nguyen Giap, the military leader of North Vietnam, and extended the war, leading to over 50,000 more Americans killed. (Same page as last quote).

General Giap and the NVA viewed the Tet 1968 offensive as a failure, they were on their knees and had prepared to negotiate a surrender.

At that time, there were fewer than 10,000 U.S. casualties, the Vietnam War was about to end, as the NVA was prepared to accept their defeat.

Then, they heard Walter Cronkite (former CBS News anchor and correspondent) on TV proclaiming the success of the Tet 1968 offensive by the communist NVA. They were completely and totally amazed at hearing that the US Embassy had been overrun. In reality, The NVA had not gained access to the Embassy–there were some VC who had been killed on the grassy lawn, but they hadn’t gained access. Further reports indicated the riots and protesting on the streets of America.

According to Giap, these distorted reports were inspirational to the NVA. They changed their plans from a negotiated surrender and decided instead, they only needed to persevere….

Today, there are 58,229 names on the Vietnam Wall Memorial.

We know where we stand on this. We stand with State Senator Nguyen. Her powerful statement is available on her State Senate web page, at least for now. Who knows how long that will stand, before the Cult of Hayden burns it down?

Special Forces Losses in Southeast Asia This Week, 1957-75

We’re going to try to return to our former practice of posting this list once a week. The list was a life’s work for retired Special Forces Command Sergeant Major Reginald Manning. Reg was beloved for his sharp mind and sense of humor; among other tours he survived one at what was probably the most-bombarded SF A-Camp in the Republic of Vietnam, Katum. (“Ka-BOOM” to its inmates). As a medic, some of Reg’s duties in the camp were not a joking matter, and that’s all we’re going to say about that.

There is a key to some of the mysterious abbreviations and codes, after the list.

May God have mercy on their souls, and long may America honor their sacrifices and hold their names high in memory.









Nation, Location, Circumstances





Max P.




SVN; A-113, Mobile Guerilla Force, 5 Km SE of A-104, Ha Thanh, at OP66, Quang Ngai Prov.





John E.




SVN; A-302, Mike Force, Phuoc Long Prov., near A-341, Bu Dop




E-5 SP5

Alan C.




SVN; 4 MSFC, Can Tho, Phong Dinh Prov., by a mine





Domingo R. S.




Laos; CCN, w/ RT??, YD188011, 20k west of A Luoi





Billy E.



DNH, accident w/ weapon

Thailand; 46th SF Co, A-4634, Trang (Camp Carrow near Trang named for him.)





Robert N.




SVN; CCN, FOB1, Quang Nam Prov.





Paul M.




SVN; CCN, FOB3, RT Hawaii, Quang Tri Prov., killed by mortar round at Khe Sanh




E-5 SP5

Gerald B.




SVN; A5/214, Soui Doi, Pleiku Prov., at Mang Yang Pass





George W.




SVN; A-302, Mike Force, at A-301 Trang Sup, XT177554, unloading boobytrapped truck





Charles E.




SVN; 2 MSFC, B-20, 261 MSF Co, just outside A-244, Ben Het, Kontum Prov.





Lawrence F.




SVN; 1 MSFC, A-111, Quang Nam Prov., convoy between Da Nang and A-109, w/ Tomkins





James K.




SVN; C Co, 5th SFG, w/ ??, radio relay site w/ USMC at FSB Neville near DMZ, Quang Tri Prov.





Bobbie R.



DNH, vehicle crash

SVN; B-53, Bien Hoa Prov., S-4 NCOIC

Here is the key to the status codes for the Causes of Death or Missing in Action, and also a decoder for some of the common abbreviations:

SVN SF KIA Status Codes:

BNR – Body Not Recovered. (Known to be dead, but his body was left behind).
DOW – Died of Wounds. (At some time subsequent to the wounding, days/weeks/months).
DNH – Died Non-Hostile. (Accident, disease. There’s a couple suicides among them).
DWM – Died While Missing. (Usually implies body recovered at a different time during the war).
KIA – Killed In Action.
MIA – Missing In Action.
PFD – Presumptive Finding of Death. (This was an administrative close-out of all remaining MIAs during the Carter Administration).

Common Abbreviations

A-XXX (digits). SF A-team and its associated A-camp and area.
AATTV – Australian Army Training Team Vietnam. Their soldiers integrated with SF in VN.
BSM, SS, DSC, MOH: Awards (Bronze Star, Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross, Medal of Honor).
CCC, CCN, CCS. Command and Control (Center, North and South). Covernames for the three command and support elements of the Special Operations Group cross-border war.
MGF – Mobile Guerrilla Force, indigenous personnel led directly by US.
MSFC – Mobile Strike Force Command, indigenous personnel led directly by US. Aka Mike Force.

We’ll cheerfully answer most other questions to the best of our ability in the comments. Note that (1) it’s Reg’s list, and we can’t ask him any more, and (2) it was Reg’s war, not ours, and all our information about SF in the Vietnam war is second hand from old leaders and teammates, or completely out of secondary sources.

One Gun’s Creation Story

These days, and for most of the last century, most of the guns we know and love are the creation of a team, even when they’re generally shaped by the eye and hand of one designer. And the designer usually works for somebody — the concept is often given to the designer by non-design, non-engineer business people or representatives of end users.

Recently, we came across the Creation Story of the relatively common (about 650,000 made) CZ-27 pistol. We have known for a long time that it was a simplified version of the Josef Nickl-designed CZ-22/24 (again, fingering one designer is a simplification: remember, teams). And we knew that the main designer responsible for the changes to the firearm was František Myška (FRON-ti-shek MISH-ka). We believed the gun to be created to be a simpler, blowback pistol in 7.65mm (.32 ACP) for police use.

The story is told various ways by various credible writers. Here’s Max Popenker’s

The CZ-27 pistol was developed in around 1926 by Czech arms designer Frantisek Myska in an attempt to produce simplified version of the CZ Vz.24 pistol, chambered for less powerful 7.65×17 SR Browning ammunition (also known as .32 ACP) and suited for police and security use. It was put into production in 1927, at arms factory in Praha.

Max is generally correct there. (The pistol was made in Strakonice, not Praga (Prague), but the prewar ones are marked Praha and wartime ones, in German, Prag; that’s where corporate HQ was, even though the production line was in Strakonice, even though that wasn’t ever marked on a CZ-27 until after the war! Like in the example above. That is our one quibble with Max’s description, that, and the understated production figures. OK, two quibbles).

But Czech gunwriter Jiří Fencl, in a new-ish book on Great Czechoslovak Gun Designers, broke it down with much greater precision. Here’s a rough, on-the-fly translation of the story of the creation of the CZ-27 — as told by the designer himself!

František Myška later remembered, “In the course of the manufacture of the pistol vz. 24, one of the then-directors of the company names Beneš came to me (he was known for often happily engaging with the designers) and requested: ‘Mr. Myška, you’re a gunsmith. Could our ‘twenty-four’ be converted to the 7.65 mm cartridge?'”

“I immediately took paper and pencil, and began to draw. In recognition and consideration of the low-powered cartridge, the locking mechanism was not needed, and instead the barrel fixed in place with a pin below. The barrel chambered for 7.65mm. That also led to a smaller grip (smaller magazine). And the Pistol vzor 27 came into the world,” he concluded his tale.

Very well done.  And the workshops were able to produce the Pistol CZ model 17 continuously from the year 1927 until the year 1950.

Less well-known are the variants of this pistol adapted for a sound suppressor, and a small-caliber training version for the .22 LR cartridge.

Indeed they are less well-known! We saw a silencer version (without its original silencer) cross the auction block last year, the only one in memory; and we’ve only even seen one .22 version.

Of the major variants, the most common are the German occupation guns, which are marked in the German language (naturally), and the least common the prewar pistol. The postwar pistol is also rare, but not so rare as the 1927-37 original. The postwar pistol seen here bears different markings from prewar guns; instead of CZ being “A.S.” (roughly, “incorporated”), it’s a “Narodní Podník” (“National Enterprise,” the Communist-era organization).

One collector’s website offers photos of some examples of this firearm from throughout its history: there are prewar and postwar Czechoslovak variants, and two different wartime German variants, all of which differ only in small details, finish, and especially markings. The example shown here is from our collection and is a postwar pistol, dated 1947 (by the “47” in front of the takedown catch above); it was replaced in 1950-51 by the vz. 50 pistol, which continued to be numbered in the same series.

Footlocker Find: “Firearms Retention Authorization”

Here’s something that some of you have seen a lot of, and others have never seen: a Firearms Retention Authorization, AE Form 11, 11 JUN 69. What it is, is a “weapons card” for privately owned weapons stored in a unit arms room.

Why store weapons there? If you were a single soldier — and Your Humble Blogger was disconnecting from Plaintiff I at the creation of this card, in 1985 — you weren’t allowed to keep your guns with you. Under US Army Europe regulations — that is what the “AE” means — promulgated by the extremely anti-gun provost marshals, you had to store them in the arms room.

Gun owners hated this: it was a lead-pipe guarantee that your guns would be poorly stored, exposed to rust-inducing environments, given the gefingerpoken by anyone who had business (or a buddy) in the Arms Room, and sometimes, as happened to me at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas in 1980, shot with corrosive ammunition by some armorer buddy, and then not cleaned, destroying bores.

But armorers hated this: even, indeed, especially, those armorers who were all on the up-and-up and who wouldn’t abuse your firearms. They had their hands full doing stuff with the unit’s real weapons, like issuing them out for half the troops to fail annual qualification. (They always passed, afterwards — on paper) and trying to get the Unique and Special Snowflakes® of MI to actually clean the things afterward… not to mention monthly inventories, change of command inventories, Technical Inspection and maintenance turn-in of weapons, managing the constant personnel turmoil as disaffected soldiers left at tour- or enlistment-end and replacements came in, and they had to do it with cramped arms rooms.

Some staff sergeant showing up with two or three dozen weapons and an SF chip on his shoulder did not please the armorer, who had to book in all the hardware, find a place to store it, and listen to the sergeant complain about how previous armorers had treated the guns.

“What do you need all this [deleted] for, anyway? Nobody wants this [deleted].” After all, each of the guns needed an entry in the book, a place to be locked up, and, on exit, one of these cards went with it to prove that the t’s had been dotted and the eyes had been crossed in conformity with Army Europe writ. The Germans may have lost the war, but their Prussian rechthaberisch tendencies managed to infiltrate and undermine the Provost Marshals’ Offices. Jawohl!

This particular example records the storage of one “PRC Rifle” serial number 7114859 in the arms room of the 501st MI Battalion in Augsburg, Germany, from 1985-87. (Why was an SF guy sentenced to that place? Because he had been an MI guy before going SF. You see, MI’s personnel management was so bad that they were perennially shorthanded, and until SF Branch existed, to defend its people, no one could prevent that kind of involuntary “levy,” or transfer). For most guys, the levy came to some thankless task like recruiter or drill sergeant duty. (Although most of the guys who did drill sergeant duty came to enjoy it, even while counting the days to end of tour). But this MI assignment was horrible, the leadership rotten, the work a waste of time. We did get to improve several European languages and enjoy many aspects of assignment to Germany.

At the end of the tour, each firearm being imported into the United States had to have one of these, and either proof that it came from the USA in the first place, or an approved ATF Form 6. There are entire units of Customs MPs who do nothing but inspect personnel and their stuff, and, from what we’ve seen, help themselves to what they can.

The card still bears the marks where it was taped to the buttstock of the firearm. (We had been advised to do that to prevent the MPs “losing” the card and helping themselves to firearms). The rifle was a Chinese Type 56 SKS, one of two in Your Humble Blogger’s household goods going to and from Mitteleuropa, and at the time of acquisition something of a rarity in American hands. (Soon they would be common as grains of sand). Indeed, the initial card was drafted, “Chinese Type 56,” and the armorer wanted the cards all redone as “rifle” and “pistol” to simplify his logging them in. But the rifle itself is interesting, and if it’s the one we’re thinking of, has a great apocryphal story. Perhaps it and its SKS brother should be featured Thing From The Vault sometime.


More on the Origins of “Sharpshooter” with Fred Ray

Fred Ray continues to explore the origins of the term, “sharpshooter,” and we’ll suggest one small bit of evidence to support his theory:

As part of the continuing quest to find the origins of the term “sharpshooter,” I directed a query to the Museum of Military History (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum) in Vienna, Austria. The Austrians, after all, were the first to employ rifle units and true light infantry in the 18th Century, and Central Europe (the Tirol, southern Germany, and Switzerland) was the birthplace of the rifle. Their reply is worth quoting at length.

We don’t know who painted this Union sharpshooter. If you do, please let us know so we can give credit.

While they were unable to definitely say when the term “Scharfschütze” came into to use, “your assumption regarding the origins in German language and the transfer to the United States via German mercenaries in the American War of Independence seems to be totally plausible. Furthermore I’m able to confirm that the term “Scharfschütze” was established in German language long before 1795 and that it had already been employed as part of the official designation for military units before that date.”

In the military of the Hapsburg empire the term “Scharfschütze” meant those soldiers who were armed with rifles in contrast to flints [i.e. smoothbore muskets]. The origins of the employment of so called “Scharfschützen” for military purposes lie in the improvised formation of companies of professional hunters (“Jäger”) or members of shooting associations (“Schützenvereine”) in times of war. Shooting associations were sometimes called (in their own right and not to be confused with the nowadays military connotations of this term) “Scharfschützenvereine”. ….

The usage of the term “Scharfschützen” as designation for whole units is documented at least for the beginning of the 18th century (as far as I know, while there might have been even older incidents).

1st Georgia Sharpshooters, CSA. There’s a website and a book about ’em.

Do Read The Whole Thing™, because the Austrians dug deep into their archives for Fred, and traced the term Scharfschützen as a formal unit name to at least 1702, for reserve and local defense units, and to 1769 for permanent establishments. There’s quite a bit of Austrian history (which gets complex in that period) in the museum’s reply.

And our small bit of evidence: the British Army, in a great example of Churchill’s “two nations separated by a common language”, never did use the term. They had Rangers, Rifles, Fusiliers, Fencibles, and more odd names for units than you could shake a shako at. But no Sharpshooters in the British Army.

Of course, while the British were not reluctant to hire entire units of Germans, their home nation did not feature German immigration and the introduction of German culture, including riflery and decent beer. America did, and so it seems probable that one of our smaller German imports of the 19th Century was this German military term.

Berdan’s Sharpshooters, presumably at Gettysburg. More than just a primer design! Again, we don’t know the source or the artist.

Fred frequently posts interesting stuff on the Civil War blog TOCWOC. His next post after this one dealt with a couple of letters about the cruel disposal of unlawful combatants at the time. And bringing together two Civil War arms historians in one post, Fred highlights a Joe Bilby article in a great post that ranges from sniping in the Civil War to sniping today.

Let’s See Whitworths Shoot!

Last month we had a couple posts on the Sharpshooters of the Civil War, and on the Confederates’ unique Whitworth rifle.

Fred Ray, who’s written an excellent book on the Rebel Sharpshooters, sold us a copy of his book (highly recommended, and it’ll be in the next review roundup), and also linked us to a few videos of modern Whitworth shooters. Fred has forgotten more about this stuff than we’ve ever learned, so you can read what he writes with confidence.

Let’s take them in the inverse order from the way Fred posted them: hardest first. Here is a guy trying to hit a target at 1,300 yards with a Whitworth.

That kind of hit was credibly reported by both Rebel and Yankee observers of the Confederate marksmen. (The English Whitworth rifle was only used by the Confederates).

One of the real problems is seeing the target. While many of the wartime Whitworths were equipped with high-tech (for 1860!) Davidson telescopic sights… …this marksman is shooting over irons. One of the real problems at that range is seeing the target. Since more of you are familiar with more modern rifles, consider that the front sight post of an M16A1 rifle subtends just enough arc to match an E-type silhouette at 175 meters.

Another fact that should be evident is the sheer power of the Whitworth. Look at that thing kick! The recoil is visibly greater than that of an ordinary rifle-musket.

Reproduction Whitworths

The class of the repro field is the long-discontinued Parker-Hale, but they are few and far between. After Parker-Hale went the way of all flesh, there was a EurArms repro which used the Parker-Hale barrels with its own lock and stock. Here, Balázs Némeththe proprietor of has gotten his hands on one of them, and not only fires it, but provides a good run down on its unique and remarkable technology.  “The Whitworth,” he notes, “pushed the limits of aimed fire out to 1½ miles.”

Pedersoli is making a new version of the Whitworth. It is available in Europe, but not exported to North America (yet, we hope). Here is his video rundown on the Pedersoli Whitworth. The Pedersoli has hexagonal rifling, but it’s cold hammer-forged. The rifle also has much simpler sights. He did not have a hex bullet mold, so used a .451″ cylindrical round, and still got quite good accuracy at 50 and 100 meters.

The finish on the Pedersoli rifle is, like many of their premium muzzle-loaders, very good.

His enthusiasm for these rifles, so far ahead of their peers that they seemed ahead of their time, is infectious.

Finally, here’s a special treat. It’s our friend from Cap and Ball again, but here he’s firing an original Civil War vintage American target rifle, of the sort that many sharpshooters mustered in with.

If you go to the Fred Ray post that we linked way, way up there, you’ll also see another one about the Civil War buck-and-ball cartridge — the only loading we’re aware of that has its own statue at Gettysburg. But that’s another story!