Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

Blast from the Past: “Gun Pro” Correspondence Course

(This is the latest in our promised occasional substitution of a book review for When Guns are Outlawed. Let us know if you want us to stick with this feature in the comments — Ed.).

The seller warned us that this set of booklets wasn’t in the greatest condition. But we bought it anyway, and in a week or so the 1970s-vintage Gun Pro Course from the North American School of Firearms arrived at Hog Manor. We found that the actual course volumes, each of which is a photo-reproduced, triple-punched 8½ x 11 inch booklet of anywhere from five to fifty pages, were in excellent shape; only the slipcase was really in the trashed state that the conscientious seller was so careful to describe.

Whether the course was worth the money… depends. We think the used course, once the property of one Ralph D. Davis, by his ink marks in a couple of volumes, was worth the $20 or so we paid (we don’t remember the exact amount), but in its heyday it cost a lot more. It probably wasn’t worth that.

gun_pro_ad_field_and_stream_1977It was one of a variety of correspondence courses sold out of the back pages of magazines. Both small display ads and even smaller text-only classified ads promoted these courses. An example of the display ad is seen to the right; it came from Page 90 of the July, 1977 issue of Field and Stream. Similar display ads promoted the North American School of Conservation (Page 18) which offered you “the Badge of the Future,” although we doubt anyone ever got hired as a conservation or game officer after taking this mail course, and the North American school of Animal Sciences, which asked you to “Be a Veterinary Assistant!” with a picture of a big-eyed spaniel. These ads all invited responses to the same address, which would get you an “Info Pack” or “Career Kit” — a come-on to buy the course. This would have been larded with the usual direct-mail bullshit: grandiose boasts, empty promises, probably bogus testimonials with no real names: “Bill W., Akron, Ohio.” If you bought the course, it came to you in dribbles.  We’re sure people who took this course got jobs, but we doubt anyone, ever, got hired because he or she took one of these courses.

The core promise: “Make Big Money on Guns — Be a Gun Pro!” of the ad? How can we say this politely? Manure. Yeah, we like that word. That promise was manure.

The North American Correspondence Schools had addresses in Newport Beach, California and Scranton, Pennsylvania and at some time before the Event Horizon of the Internet, they completely vanished. It is possible that they were absorbed into an existing correspondence course marketing mill, Penn-Foster. That outfit also calls Scranton home, we believe.

The general consensus online is that the course was not very good. Here’s a sample of comments:

  • On The High Road, 6 March 2010: “I took both the North American School of Firearms and NRI correspondence courses 20+ years ago. TOTAL CRAP.”
  • On HandgunForum.net, 16 May 2010: “I have taken 3 gunsmithing courses. The first one was in 1975. The school was the North American School of Firearms, Newport Beach, CA (correspondence course). This course was mentioned in the NRA Gunsmithing Guide – Updated. I found it to be geared more towards the shooter than the gunsmith. The school is no longer in existence. Last year I took a “quickie” course from Phoenix State Univ. I got what I paid for.”
  • On FirearmsTalk.com, 11 June 2010: “I’ve taken 3 correspondence/online gunsmithing courses. 1. North American School of Firearms, Newport Beach, CA (mentioned in NRA Gunsmithing Guide), Phoenix State University Gunsmith Certificate program and Ashworth College School of Gunsmithing, Norcross, GA. Best by far (in my opinion) is Ashworth College and North American School of Firearms is no longer in existence (took that course in 1975) but by far the best way to learn is thru an established shop or by going to one of the accredited schools.” (We’ll come back to that last thought in a bit. This does seem to be the same guy who left the comment above -Ed.)
  • On The Firing Line, 13 July 2011:  “I took the Penn course and the North American School of Firearms course (no longer in business). They are garbage.”

We didn’t think they were that bad. The materials are certainly biased towards the complete novice… towards Bubba the Gunsmite, if he could only read. There is an overview of the history of firearms, good enough up to 1970 or so. And some of the instruction for hands-on work is useful, at least in terms of reducing the odds you will acquire the nickname “Bubba” working on your own firearms.

For example, the booklets on repairing single- and double-action revolvers, hands-on repair of which pretty much terra incognita to us, gave a useful explanation of what the parts of a revolver mechanism do, and some explicit instructions, with illustrations, for how to replace internals to restore a revolver to a proper lock-up. It’s given us enough confidence to bid on some gunsmith specials — if they come to us broken already, we have nowhere to go but up.

Of course, the booklets are full of 1970s values: there are descriptions of how to sporterize a military rifle or customize an original Colt SAA that will make a collector from now, 40 years later, cringe. And there’s absolutely nothing about the modern sporting rifle — in 1975, your choices were Colt SP1, Ruger Mini-14, or if you hunted long and hard, maybe a Valmet M62S or an FN-FAL. Those weren’t just representative modern rifles available then — that was almost all the modern rifles available then. They were also considered a bit out there by the Fudd culture of most gun magazines — they’d get reviewed in the then-new publication Soldier of Fortune, not in Guns and Ammo or Shooting Times so much. (The American Rifleman, NRA’s only membership magazine then, and Guns magazine seemed to take more interest in military-style firearms than the other mainstream gun magazines). So this class comes from an era when a gunsmith worked predominantly on revolvers and on bolt and lever action rifles, and slide and double-barrel shotguns.

But the bottom line is this: gunsmithing is a craft, and as such you can’t learn it from books. Period, full stop. Your shelves can groan with gunsmithing volumes, but if you can’t drive a set of files like you’re the Lord of All Metals, they might as well be written in Sanskrit. You can’t learn it from DVDs, either — sorry about that, AGI. It astonishes us that people who dutifully took Driver’s Ed when they were 16 before getting their driver’s license think nothing of taking machine tools to their firearms based on some time logged on YouTube. You can do that — it’s a free country — but don’t expect professional results first time out.

Any craft can only be learned by doing, or by hands-on instruction from a master craftsman. Hands-on instruction takes a lot of the painful trial and error out of learning, but rare is the master craftsman who has the patience to instruct a novice.

At $20 or $30 on the used markets, this is a good buy. More than that and you might want to let it go. And if you really want to be a gunsmith, start talking to the local guys… maybe someone will trade instruction for some help. Good old-fashioned apprenticeship is never out of style, when your objective is master craftsmanship.

Bad Tölz as Guerrilla Base (long)

Flint Kaserne (the quad at center) and the family housing area (the apartment buildings to the left), 1950s.

Flint Kaserne (the quad at center) and the family housing area (the apartment buildings to the left), 1950s.

The lost Garden of Eden of Special Forces is the former Flint Kaserne at Bad Tölz, in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. It was built as a school for political soldiers, and during its American occupation it was a base for the guerrilla and counterguerrilla forces of Army Special Forces.

The castle-like building was built by the German Political Party Who Shall Not be Named as an officer school (Junkerschule) for the SS. The courtyard inner walls were whitewashed and decorated with Germanic pastoral murals; the building was as beautiful as its first tenants were nefarious.

Flint Kaserne in SS days

Flint Kaserne in SS days

The corridors had periodic niches, in which the officer cadets (Fähnenjunker) had racked their K98k’s, back in the day; the carved buttplate sockets were still visible. During 10th Group’s, and later 1st Battalion, 10th Group’s, tenancy (1952-1992 or so), group pictures of the officers and men hung on the walls; after 1980 or so, pointillist art by a civilian employee who shared ethnicity and name with the great Czech patriot, playwright and politician Václav Havel, also graced the walls. You could run down Havel and order prints; it was good stuff.

Was one of the SS Fahnenjunkers in this image the future Ghost?

Was one of the SS Fahnenjunkers in this image the future Ghost?

And there were two legends — the Ghost of the Hauptsturmführer, and the Possessed Desk. Sometimes the Ghost was a Sturmbannführer, depending on who was telling the story; the ranks are SS-Captain and SS-Major respectively. The story ran that staff duty officers and NCOs could hear the tap of boots in the basement corridors at night, but could never find the walking man; they could just feel a chill. The Nazi officer had, supposedly, whacked himself there in despondency at the thought of living in a world without Adolf Hitler. You can usually start a fiery argument among old Tölz hands about whether there really was a Ghost or not. Kind of like Santa Claus, he was there if you chose to believe in him.

1956 Yearbook. Before the current crest, 10th Group's unauthorized but perfect symbol was the Trojan Horse.

1956 Yearbook. Before the current crest, 10th Group’s unauthorized but perfect symbol was the Trojan Horse.

The Desk, on the other hand, was not such a benign spirit. It was a magnificent affair carved in the Black Forest style, a bit over the top for Americans, but Patton had used it, having inherited it from the SS commander, and therefore every subsequent American base commander used it. During the 1952-68 era where all of 10th Group was stationed there, the Group Commander used the desk, and there were no untoward incidents of demonic possession — that we’re aware of, anyway. After 1968, the SF unit was a smaller Battalion (it may have been called a Company in early days), commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel. He had three Companies headed by Majors, each of which could put up to six ODAs and one ODB on the ground. But this LTC was no longer the king on post. He was just the commander of a tenant unit. (It was the most important tenant unit, the next one down the totem pole being the 7th Army NCO Academy). The Community Commander was a full Colonel still, and he was always, as far as we know, an SF officer, and often a former 1st Battalion Commander.

One by one, beloved and respected former BCs came back as Community Commanders — and one by one, they seemed to undergo a remarkable transformation, going from respected special ops leaders to unhinged apparitions raving about something or other.

As near as anyone could figure out, it was the influence of the desk, which was demonically possessed.

Hey, it made as much sense as any other theory.

Recently, though, we discovered in a book1 that SF was not the first guerrilla force to be based here. In the Götterdammerung of the end of World War II, Hitler Youth gathered here to take their part in the ill-fated Werwolf movement.

Hitler Youth identity document. Fine print at the bottom says it remains property of the Youth Ministry.

Hitler Youth identity document. Fine print at the bottom says it remains property of the Youth Ministry.

Among the senior Nazi leadership, only Arthur Axmann2 spared the time and bother to prepare a detailed scheme for the period when most — or all — of Germany would be occupied. This ‘Axmann Plan’ took shape in March and April 1945, when, as a preliminary step, the headquarters of the Reich Youth Leadership was shifted from Berlin to the site of a HJ elite training school at Bad Tolz, in the Bavarian Alps. Plans were also made to preserve the ‘essence of the nation’ by moving 35,000 HJ leaders to the inaccessible hill country of southern Germany and Bohemia, whence they could maintain cohesion and harass the occupation forces. Axmann foresaw an imminent war between the Western Powers and the Soviet Union, so for him the trick of survival was to stick together until the HJ could join the Western Allies in a final campaign against the hordes from the East.

On 5 May, [Gottfried Griessmayr]  and a number of other HJ and SS leaders gathered at the town of Prachatitz [Bohemia], where they founded a rejuvenated NSDAP based upon a new ten-point program. 3

In truth, an unknown number of HJ guerrillas actually reached the southern mountains, where they were directed to carry out partisan warfare and prepare for the outbreak of a new conflict.Some officials were very enthusiastic: the Upper Bavarian HJ chief, HJ-Major-General Panzer, ‘had quite unrealistic illusions as to the effect of partisan activities against the advancing Allies.’ Tyrolean HJ leaders trusted in their ability to carry out guerrilla warfare because of their experience in underground operations prior to 1938. 4

Werwolf guidon. It's so typical of the Nazis that as their world was falling apart, they were designing snazzy insignia.

Werwolf guidon. It’s so typical of the Nazis that as their world was falling apart, they were designing snazzy insignia.

Training for this last-minute levy was carried out at a number of mountain huts: near Benediktbeuern, for example, a school for HJ special forces was set up as early as February 1945 in the Tutzingerhiitte.’ This camp was under the supervision of the SS and was manned by NCOs from Mountain Regiment 98, stationed at Garmisch. Near the end of the war, one of the trainers at the camp, Sergeant Max Reutemann, was made responsible for organizing the Benedikt- beuern Werwolf, along with a local forest ranger and HJ-Colonel Miiller from Bad Tolz. This detachment subsequently exploited the food and weapons ear- lier laid away for the personnel of the training camp. At the time of the collapse, the faculty and students of the HJ elite school at Bad Tolz also fled into the mountains in order to form a 250-man guerrilla unit, and they, too, benefited from supplies that had earlier been cached.45 HJ-Colonel Johannes List launched an identical undertaking at the hut ‘Zur Schonen Aussicht,’ near Salzburg, and SS personnel were involved in yet another, similar project at mountain cabins near Tanzstatt, in Carinthia. At Bad Reichenhall, a special school trained signals personnel withdrawn from the threatened districts in the Sudetenland and Upper Silesia. 5

After the war, the town, although not the Kaserne, of Bad Tölz was the seat of a well-financed Nazi underground, rooted in the adult leadership cadres (imagine a Scoutmaster’s evil twin) of the Hitler Youth.

With money and clear directives in hand, [former HJ-Brigadeführer Willi] Heidemann based himself in Bad Tolz, and in late April made a sound investment by buying Tessmann and Sons, a transportation company with offices throughout Germany. One of Tessmann’s managers, a member of the Allgemeine-SS named Leebens, was apparently bitter about the loss of the company’s head offices in Dresden at the time of the February 1945 phosphorous bombings, and he was happy to sell the business to Heidemann for the fire-sale price of 10,000 marks, contingent upon the stipula- tion that he himself remain a partner in the firm. Tessmann and Sons subse- quently became the basis of Heidemann’s operations, since its nature as a transport company improved Werwolf communications, and its dealings in food and coal gave it close contacts with General Patton’s lax Military Government in Bavaria. One American officer, a Captain Goodloe, was even involved in some of Heidemann’s business dealings. Simultaneously,of course, Heidemann retained liaison with Franke, and he provided a flow of funds for desperadoes throughout southern Germany. During the summer of 1945, he also proved him- self an adept businessman, and, by the end of the year, he had bought six addi- tional companies and expanded throughout the American and British zones, and into Austria. Moreover, an extensive network of contacts was built up among some of the most important names in German business, such as the Krupp fam- ily, who used their influence to smooth the way for Heidemann’s expansion into the Ruhr. Fear of the Deuxieme Bureau, notably, kept Heidemann out of the French Zone.6

Heidemann’s strength was millions of marks of former Nazi money, entrusted to him to build a clandestine organization in the American sector. He took his tasking to heart and worked on network building and underground organization, forbidding acts of sabotage or overt attacks, in order to create a sustainable, going concern. A parallel organization grew in the British sector; it was more effective at recruiting, but didn’t have Heidemann’s windfall of cash. The British-sector organization was hassled less by counterintelligence personnel or Nazi hunters than American-sector Nazis were, and Heidemann’s net went down first, despite his quickly having ingratiated himself with the occupation forces, but neither organization would survive into 1947. Griesmayr’s organization was still functional in 19477, and after 1949 he was a member of (overt?) groups called Bruderschaft (“Brotherhood”) and ANG (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Nationaler Gruppen), roughly “Working Association of National Groups”8.

For decades thereafter, Nazi undergrounds would be a sort of bogeyman, used to frighten children and make otherwise unimaginative novel and movie plots go. But they were never a real threat to do anything except keep the occasional war criminal on ice in Argentina; most of the original underground leaders, like Axmann and Heidemann, were rolled up in the immediate aftermath of the war.

We leave you with this final image, of SS-Fahnenjunker briefing back a sand-table exercise. It is a creepy image for those of us who have briefed back an ODA mission in that very same building. (Unfortunately, we struck out on an image of the Commandant’s desk. Even though we took one back in the day, and the negative did develop and all, Lord knows where it is now. Can a brother hook us up?)

This Bundesarchiv photo shows instruction at the SS Junkerschule.

This Bundesarchiv photo shows instruction at the SS Junkerschule. Change the uniforms and haircuts, and it could be ODA 122 briefing back Exercise Lions-Lowlands 88.

Notes

  1. Biddiscombe, Werwolf!. (see Sources). All references are to this edition of  this book.
  2. Artur (correct spelling) Axmann was the Reich leader of the Hitler Youth and an interesting character. He was an early Nazi party adherent, who lost an arm in infantry service on the Eastern Front in 1941. While often portrayed as a fanatical Nazi, he refused to allow the girls of the Hitler Youth’s women’s movement, the Bund Deutscher Mädel, to serve in combat at war’s end; his reasoning was that women nurture life, not death. Today’s feminists would hate him. He escaped the Führerbunker in the last days, was the witness who accurately reported the location of Martin Bormann’s dead body, and lived quietly into the 1990s.
  3. Biddiscombe, op.cit., p.77.
  4. Ibid., p.
  5. Ibid., p.
  6. Ibid., p.
  7. Ibid, p. 77n, (note on p. 340).
  8. See the two-line capsule biography of Griesmayr on the Axis History Forum: http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=129517. After 1949 little seems to be known of him, but he did co-write a book on the Hitler Youth that was published in 1964. Biddecombe erroneously suggests that his ideological tome Völkisch Ideal was never completed, but it comes up in Google Books. A currently popular author bears the same name but we do not know if he is related.

Sources

Biddiscombe, Perry. Werwolf! The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944-1946. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

 

Revenant Rifle

With the new movie, The Revenant, about to open, we found on the Contemporary Makers blog a fascinating story by Ron Luckenbill about the two identical rifles he built for the movie — in less than 60 days for both.

Revenant Rifle

Ron is justly proud of the work he’s done here.

Luckenbill Revenant 01

This is the gun that I built for Leonardo DiCaprio to use in his portrayal of Hugh Glass in The Revenant movie.  The movie will be released to the general public on Jan 8, 2016.  I have been getting a number of  request for photos of the gun, but was restricted from posting them until the movie release.

RV-03

I was contacted in July of 2014 by the prop master for the movie relative to building two guns exactly alike.  They were initially interested in an Angstadt rifle that I had on my web site, but I just sold the gun and it was no longer available.  After discussion other possible guns they decided to go with this Bucks Co gun that I had in stock.  I then built an exact duplicate and had both guns in British Columbia by the end of August.  It was exciting to be involved in a project like this.  I like many others am waiting to see the gun in the movie.  I hope it helps to raise awareness of the sport of muzzleloading.

 

Luckenbill Revenant 06

via Contemporary Makers.

Ron LuckenbillRon builds hand-crafted rifles in the 18th and early 19th Century Pennsylvania tradition. He has made a third copy, which he’s going to be offering for sale at the 18th Century Artisan Show this year. He also has a number of other fine rifles and fowling pieces, reproductions and originals, on his own website, where he shares further details of the Revenant rifle.

The gun was built on a moderately figured piece of curly maple in the classic Bucks County style.

Luckenbill Revenant 11

(Look at those stripes! If that’s moderately figured, we’d like to see what Ron calls fancy maple).

The build is based on an original which was handled and photographed by the builder. The hardware is copied from an original John Shuler, Sr. rifle. The barrel is a 44″ Colerain B weight 50 cal. While many original Bucks Co. rifles had English import locks, the original had somewhat larger than normal Germanic lock.

Luckenbill Revenant 03

I found that a Jim Chambers Golden age lock was a near match for the original. The carving of this rifle is somewhat atypical for a Bucks Co. gun in that it is a blend of both raised and incised carving, showing a decided Lehigh Co. influence.

 

Luckenbill Revenant 04

We don’t presume to be able to ID classic frontier rifles by state, let alone county. But we sure can admire this kind of work.

Luckenbill Revenant 09

We double-dog dare you to go to Ron’s website and not come away with a jones for these classic guns, a uniquely American extension of a German gunsmithing tradition (which is why they’re Pennsylvania rifles, and not New York or Massachusetts rifles; early German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania and points west). You can spend a lot on one of Ron’s creations, or one of the higher-end originals he has for sale. But he also has some reasonably priced original rifles and fowling-pieces, especially the later, percussion firearms.

He does make a very good point: given the antiquity of these guns, if you want a shooter, you’re probably better served by a replica than by an original. And given the current prices of the better mass-produced replicas, having a smith like Ron make you your own heirloom might not command the premium that it really deserves.

Wednesday Thursday Weapons Website of the Week: NYPL Public Domain

First, two apologies: one, that we’re a day late on this as a result of processing all this new data, and, two, that this W4 is so off topic that we’ve barely found anything on topic in it.

However, it’s so ineffably cool that we had to get it out to you.

We speak of the New York Public Library Public Domain photograph, image, and document collection.

True, librarians tend to be nasty, censorious SJWs that incline to banning WeaponsMan.com for whatever (ideological?) reasons under false and fabricated pretexts (Indiana Public Libraries, we’re lookin’ at you). But in this case they’ve done the public the sort of public service that makes Andrew Carnegie, wherever he is, realize that not everything he gave to libraries is a waste.

All hail the librarians of the New York Public Library system, and their techie myrmidons who brought this collection out of the stacks. It is an immense public service, not only to New York, but also to the world.

brian_foos_interface_to_nypl_pd_pagesThere are several different ways to view the collection. Brian Foo of NYPL Labs has remixed it so that you can sort by the photo or artwork’s Century Created, its Genre, its Collection, and by Color. The image to the left here is a thumbnail of his micro-thumbnails (the meta’s getting thick around here!) of some of the roughly 71,000 images created in the 19th Century.  Conversely, there are “only” 34,000 20th Century images.

This one embiggens...

This one embiggens…

The collection is also divided by sub-collections, many of them donated or bequeathed to the Public Library by lifelong collectors. Inside these collections are many gems. Given a background in Human Terrain, it was a thrill to find a book of photographs purporting to represent the races of (British Empire era) India1; we meant to find a Waziri or Adam Khel tribesman but were distracted by this photo of a very dignified member of something called the Lepcha who are noted as aboriginal, and from the mountain province of Sikkim. (Sikhim, in the period notes). This book alone would provide hours of fun, considering that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh were all part of the Empire of India at the time; many of these tribal identities are probably deracinated to some extent in today’s slightly more homogenized India and Pakistan, but the Afghan tribes are the Afghan tribes — only the firearms have changed.

Indeed, maybe this Indian isn’t here by accident. Maybe it was the fact that he’s clutching what appears to be a muzzle-loading fowler that caught our eye?

This shows, in a very scaled down image, how the library captured the whole page. So if you want to see him in detail, click the other image above.

nypl_lepcha_on_his_page

The color scale is a very, very good idea; we have to get one for when we scan old books and magazines with the Fujutsu book scanner (not every library scan seems to include this). These New York library technicians have probably forgotten more about scanning than we ever can hope to learn.

The collections include things you might expect, like , and also logical but welcome surprises, like Atlases of New York City, with over 10,000 images. If you’re an NYC or Long Island resident or native, chances are good there’s a historical map of your home here that would make a fantastic wall hanging — and since this stuff is public domain, there are no copyright questions in bringing it in to Office Monster or Kinkos and running off a copy in that size.

While we enjoyed searching through Foo’s elegant interface, looking for something on topic for a bunch of weapons geeks. We searched for Naval Gun and there were some interesting images at the result link, including this postcard of a 12″ Naval Gun firing from…?

12 inch gun postcard

But we also saw this unusual, 18th-Century-looking document. What was it?

privateer commission

The individual document page (if that doesn’t work, try this link, flagged as a permalink on the page) was primary document paydirt:

D. S., John Hanson. Countersigned by Cha. Thomson, Secy. Printed form filled in. With Naval seal attached. 1 page. Fo

The cut-off word is perhaps “folio”, referring to the size of the page. But what the document is, is a September 17, 1782, commission for a privateer.

Granting licence and authority to David Phips, commander of the Brigantine called the Hetty of the burthen of 120 tons, belonging to Elias Shipman & Co., mounting 8 carriage guns, and navigated by 35 men, to fit out the said brigantine in a warlike manner, and to attack and seize all ships and goods belonging to the King or Crown of Great-Britain.

Now, if you don’t think that’s cool, you may be on the wrong blog.

Unfortunately, we struck out on higher-resolution downloads on that page… they’re available, but they all hang. Maybe you’ll have better luck, or maybe we’ll all hang separately.

Returning to our document, it was from something enticingly titled Series IX. Lossing’s Field Book of the Revolution. You can look at the Lossing’s Field Book sub-collection (it’s from something titled the Thomas Addis Emmet Collection, 1483-1876) at this link, or you can View as Book. We haven’t done that yet, as we have a blog post to finish, and every click on this website takes us further down the rabbit hole. Well, here’s one more page from Lossing:

fort wilkinson inventory from NYPL

It’s the Return of Ordnance Stores from Fort Edward, NY, on 15 July 1777, signed by Jasper Maudle Gidley, Conductor and countersigned by one Col. Wilkinson. (The Library says “13 July,” but that seems to be an error on their part. Look at the number in the upper right area of the page very closely). Looks like they had powder, shot, cartridge paper and thread, and flints, but their muskets were in a bad way.

The search engine they use does not accept regular expressions or booleans, so, if you search for Maxim you’re going to get a ton on Maxim Gorky, even if you try Maxim -Gorky or Maxim NOT Gorky (in fact, the latter two cases get you only Maxim Gorky. And NYPL has a ton of photos of his ugly personage). You need to specify Hiram Maxim or Maxim Gun.

One more hot tip: if you’re going to download documents, don’t choose “original” size unless you’re planning on having them printed. The resolution is unbelievable, the documents are enormous, and even on a high-speed connection they take forever to download. Look at the pixel sizes available… usually the second largest numeric size is plenty big enough, if you’re not going to print with the file. (The inventory above was downloaded at the 1600px setting).

Notes

  1. According to the Library, the book is:
    Watson, J. Forbes (John Forbes) (1827-1892) (Editor)Kaye, John William, Sir (1814-1876) (Editor), The people of India : A series of photographic illustrations, with descriptive letterpress, of the races and tribes of Hindustan, originally prepared under the authority of the government of India, and reproduced … (the title trails off in the Library record). London, India Museum, 1868=1875. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/collections/people-of-india-a-series-of-photographic-illustrations-with-descriptive#/?tab=about

What’s up… not Doc, unfortunately. Not yet.

About a year ago we announced that, “A Second B-29 Nears Flight.” Here’s a bit of what we wrote (and the video we included) then, and we’ll bring you up to speed (with more video, pictures, and links) on the situation as it stands today. BLUF: Doc’s got to weather a Wichita winter, exposed to the elements, before the airplane can return to flight. For those unfamiliar with American geography and climate, Wichita is smack dab in the middle of the Great Plains, and Kansas gets plenty of snow — that, Doc can shrug off — and occasional hail during thunderstorms. Hail could set the restoration back by damaging skins and glazing.

Doc is important as only the second (potentially) airworthy example of the historic type. Like most surviving airworthy bombers, it didn’t have a harsh life in a combat zone; this particular plane served out its career as a radar trainer, before being condemned to — and miraculously, saved from — the violent death of an aerial ordnance target in an impact area.

If you’ve seen a B-29 fly in the last few decades, it’s been “FIFI,” the Commemorative Air Force’s flagship and the only surviving airworthy B-29 of some 4,000 built.

Until now. A single tatterdemalion B-29 was rescued from a China Lake impact area decades ago, and a restoration began in 2000. Now “Doc” (named after the Disney dwarf) is ready to fly. This video tells the story.

As we cited at the time, AvWeb’s Mary Grady wrote:

…the airplane will be ready for flight testing in the spring, and they are planning to fly the airplane this summer at EAA AirVenture, where it will join the B-29 Fifi. “It’s the first time in 60 years that two B-29s have been able to fly in formation together,” T.J. Norman, the restoration’s project manager, told the Wichita Eagle recently.

But as anyone who works with aircraft knows, sometimes “nearing flight” is an asymptote, and Doc missed his appointment at Oshkosh. AvWeb stayed on the story as Doc started strong, with a March rollout and a brass band, but… both the mechanics and the paperwork, with the FAA as always doing whatever they could to impede aviation, held things up. The team wants to use McConnell AFB in Kansas for the flight test program, but the USAF won’t even consider giving permission until the FAA grants an experimental Certificate of Airworthiness.

By the time of Oshkosh (July-August), it was clear Doc wasn’t going to make it. The plane looks ready to go — the pictures below show how far it’s come — but there are a million details, and no action from the FAA.

Doc then and now

Doc, a target on a range at China Lake in the 1980s. Thank St. Horrido for Navy pilots’ bad marksmanship!

Doc (asymptotically) nears completion, fall 2015.

Doc (asymptotically) nears completion, fall 2015.

By this fall it became clear that 15 years of restoration (plus three years of restoration planning before that) hadn’t quite done it and Doc was going to have to be stored for the winter.

A kickstarter campaign helped to raise money for the flight test program. They had an ambitious goal — $137,500 — for a thirty-day campaign, but they blew past it to almost $160k, thanks to over a thousand generous donors, five of whom donated $10,000 each.

By the time of the Kickstarter, the technical problems had been licked and a small army of volunteers had repaired, restored or remade the necessary parts. As project lead Jeff Turner, retired CEO of Spirit Aerosytems (the Wichita parts manufacturer created when Boeing spun off its Wichita operations), knows, the problems are now financial and management ones, not technical ones, including the thorny political problem of managing the FAA. As the team wrote on their Kickstarter site:

[T]he biggest challenge is no longer the restoration; but is funding the certification, maintenance and home base for this aircraft. … B-29 flight-testing and management is extremely expensive.

And then another problem cropped up: the hangar they’d been using, a generous in-kind donation, was sold. The new owners bought it to use it, and so Doc was wheeled out into the elements, just in time for a Wichita winter.

Docu B-29 outside at night

This picture was taken outdoors in early December and tweeted by Doc’s team, with a prayer request for mild weather.

Why don’t they just use their donated money to rent another hangar? There are no available hangars large enough on the airfield. And they can’t even ferry the plane to another airport, now that winter is upon them (starting the engines in low temperatures is very bad from a wear standpoint, and pre-heating the engines isn’t practical).

Here’s the last video update from Doc’s Friends Restoration Manager, Jim Murphy:

By the time Doc flies, as many people will have had their hands on the plane’s restoration as had their hands in building in back during World War II. You can keep up with Doc’s doings at: http://www.b-29doc.com.

Fun exit fact: one of the ladies who riveted on Doc (and hundreds of other B-29s) back in wartime also riveted on the restoration!

The Tanks of 1918

We’ve introduced before the American involvement in armored warfare in the last months of World War I. At the time we promised you a report on the battles, and a description of the hardware involved. This is the hardware post.

While American manufacturers, notably including Ford Motor Company, quickly pledged to build tanks, their industrial production had no material affect on the war; but a time tanks were coming off American production lines, the war was over. And the first American tanks were, or were intended to be, built on foreign patterns.

Renault FT17. This one is preserved at a Polish military museum, part of the global FT17 diaspora; this tanks was probably used in the Russo-Polish War.

Renault FT17. This one is preserved at a Polish military museum, part of the global FT17 diaspora; this tank was a gift from Afghanistan to Poland for Polish support. The tank may have been used in the Russo-Polish War and captured by the Soviets, then given to Afghanistan; or it could just be a tank the Kingdom of Afghanistanw bought on the world market in the 1920s or 30s. It is the 37mm, 20-caliber variant. The US Army also used these tanks, and built a copy under license.

This was because America was fresh in the war, and largely unprepared; apart from our tiny professional military caste, most Americans hadn’t even been following it very closely. There was a vague understanding of things called “tanks,” but no grasp of their design details, let alone how to build them.

That should’ve been slightly embarrassing, because the concept of the tank came from arming and armoring the American-designed Holt tractor in the first place.

With no tanks in production, the US certainly had no tank tactics or operational art, and it set out  to learn from the experienced nations that would provide the tanks: Great Britain and the Republic of France.

After over three years of war, the British and French were eager to share what they’d learned. You might think that they’d be reluctant to give up any share of their tank production to the war’s newcomer, but their problem was a mirror image of the Americans’: the Yanks had volunteers but no experience, training, or tanks, and the European Allies had too much experience, production lines producing more tanks than they could use, and a shortage of manpower after years of blind, wasteful attrition on the Western Front. Indeed, the French and especially the English hoped that the Americans would just provide them with warm bodies, to be expended as replacements in their own bled-out regiments, under the leadership of the same guys responsible for bleeding the regiments out. The US commander, General John Pershing, forcefully declined this offer every time it was made.

The Americans would fight in their own units, under their own leaders. Decision made.

Despite that one disagreement, coalition warfare went remarkably well. American tank units — once trained — worked with British Commonwealth and French units, and even incorporated, at one point, a French tank company in their task organization. At one point, this produced a moment of combat laughter when an American unit sent their valiant French interpreter to stop and redirect a supporting French tank — only to have the turret hatches clank open, and an American TC pop out — “What the hell do you want?”

This FT17 is on display in Compiègne, France. The card-suit markings were used by French and American tank units in WWI.

This FT17 is on display in Compiègne, France. The card-suit markings were used by French and American tank units in WWI. The high-contrast camouflage was intended to break up the tank’s outline, especially versus aerial reconnaissance. The TC’s ingress and egress was through the double-door hatch in the back of the turret. Most photos in this post expand with a click.

Light Tanks from France

The confusion was obvious, because the American tankers were in a French Renault FT, the light tank America adopted from France. Attempts to build this simple, light (about 7 metric tons) two-man tank in the USA bore no immediate fruit. Ford first redrew every Renault drawing and redimensioned them in Imperial units, with the predictable result that none of the Ford parts fit the Renaults, and vice versa. Even the tracks didn’t match: the French tracks were 13″ wide, and the US copy 13 3/8″. The US-designed and built Mk VIII Liberty tank was in the style of the larger British tanks, but powered by the US Liberty engine (the engine was one of the few success stories in American war production in WWI, but the tank wasn’t). In any event, mere token numbers of the American tanks got to the American Expeditionary Force by the Armistice. The hundreds of tanks actually used were all made in France.

The other side of the Compiègne tank. Note the 8mm Hotchkiss armament.

The other side of the Compiègne tank. Note the 8mm Hotchkiss armament.

The Renault FT light tank was a product of French doctrine, which emphasized small, maneuverable tanks that could act as mobile pillboxes for the infantry in the advance. France produced a couple thousand of the FT, which came in a single 8mm Hotchkiss MG version, or in a stubby 37mm L/20 cannon version (the gun barrel was only 720 mm, about 28″, long — shorter than a lot of duck guns). The USA used both versions, organized into Light Tank Companies and Light Tank Battalions, on the Western Front.

This FT was delivered to Switzerland for tests in 1921, in hopes of a sale. It is preserved today in Thun.

This FT was delivered to Switzerland for tests in 1921, in hopes of a sale. It is preserved today in Thun.

All these pictures make the size of the FT unclear — it looks pretty big. Actually, its nearest analogy might be a 1960s VW Beetle, although it’s taller. It would fit in the average garage. This maintenance photo, from tank expert Steven Zaloga’s photobucket, gives you a better idea of the sheer size, or lack of it, of the FT:

French FT17

In Wilson, this image is identified as American crewmen receiving training on the FT17 at the 311th Tank Center at Bourg, France. The men are wearing American uniforms.

This period French manual illustration doesn’t help as the poilus inside are drawn rather small. It does show the layout of the tank, though. The FT is laid out much like WWII and modern tanks — armament in a turret, engine in the back:

Renault_FT_17_sketch

There were quite a few variations of the FT17. For example, the British tank museum at Bovington preserves a prototype with a one-piece cast turret; versions exist with spoked steel idler wheels (the big wheels up front) and with built-up wooden idlers.

Cast armor was unusual in World War I. Most tanks were protected by face-hardened armor, which is obvious when you see the shattered plates of a destroyed one.

Frenh Heavy Tank. Fix this caption.

St. Chaumond Heavy Tank. The “prow” was for negotiating trenches, the main gun a French 75, the secondary armament 8mm Hotchkisses, fired by crouching soldiers who couldn’t stand up or sit down in the cramped tank.

France had made heavy tanks too, the Schneider and the St. Chaumond. In fact, France had been developing tanks for about as long as Britain had, but seems to get short shrift in English-language sources. In any event, the large French tanks were little loved by the French, and were rejected by the Yanks:

Neither vehicle could be truly classified as a tank. Instead, they were nothing more than armored artillery carriers requiring infantry skirmishers to lead them into battle, carefully marking the routes that should follow. Underpowered and lightly armored, they did poorly traveling cross-country, and their crews suffered badly if they received direct hits from artillery fire.1

The French, by late 1917, had put their faith in the light tank; while they still operated the clumsy behemoths, their production was heavily weighted to the small FT, optimized for accompanying infantry in the assault.

The Americans turned instead to Britain for heavy tanks.

Heavy Tanks from Great Britain

Britain had a completely different concept of tank warfare than France – attempts to reconcile these differences had been unsuccessful, with each nation going its own way – and their vision was of the tank going out ahead of the infantry to make a breakthrough, which infantry would then exploit. Each British tank, then, was a sort of a landship, capable of fighting independently or in conjunction with other tanks. They normally employed a team with a cannon-and-MG-armed “male” tank “married up” with an MG-only “female.” (A tank that bore both cannon and MGs? “Hermaphrodite.” Heh.) As you might expect these landships were large and well-armored and armed for the day.

bovingtons_surviving_mark_v

A rare operating survivor: Bovington’s Mark V.

British tank models were logically, if unimaginatively, numbered in sequence from the pioneering Mark I of 1915, and the two models the Americans acquired were the Mark V and the Mark V*, which Americans usually referred to in speech and even in writing as the Mark V Star. Readers familiar with British small arms of the period will recognize the * as a marker of a modification, but the Mark V* was quite a bit different from the ones which had no stars upon thars. (Apologies to Dr. Seuss. Couldn’t resist). It was longer, heavier, and improved in many small ways.

The Mark V is what you think of when you envision the classic, lozenge-shaped tank of World War I. Relatively few of these tanks survive; most of the survivors are in Ukraine, Russia or the other former Republics of the Soviet Union, and are remnants of UK/US intervention at Archangelsk, and Western support to the White Armies in the Russian Civil War. The Soviets preserved this history to a greater extent than the Americans or Britons did. For example, two Mark Vs were preserved in Luchansk, Ukraine. They were in bad shape, with battle damage, rust, e…generations of looting, more rust, and…

Surviving_Mark_V_2

…covered in grafitti (whoever Artyom is, he’s an asshat), but the tanks were removed and restored:

Restoration in Progress Mark V

…and replaced. (In he picture below, one of the restored tanks is in place, the restoration of the park is yet to get started).

Restored Lugansk TAnk

One fascinating find during the restoration: a rifle cartridge case. But it doesn’t look like a Russian 7.62 x 54R to us; it looks like a rimless case. Could this tank have belonged to the American contingent at one time? The case looks too short to be a .30-06. The button appears to be a British Army one, too. A mystery!

Mark V artifacts Lugansk

Another fascinating find: what appears to be one of the same tanks during the Civil War, captured by the White-aligned “Don Army” of rebellious Cossacks:

Mark_V_tank_of_the_Don_army_1919

Lugansk/Luhansk is in disputed territory in the Ukraine and was seized by Russian troops and Russian-controlled militia in 2014. It has been the scene of much fighting, and it’s unclear whether the monument tanks have survived. It’s the least of the many pities of that civil war, one supposes, but a pity nonetheless.

Returning to our American tankers of a century ago: as nearly as possible, American tankers tried to keep the Mark Vs and the different V*s sorted by assigning them to different Heavy Tank Companies, which were assigned to Heavy Tank Battalions.

All tanks of the period were very unreliable; for every one killed by enemy countermeasures (artillery, mines, and the Anti-Tank Rifle) literally dozens broke down or got bogged down. An important part of tank planning was the establishment of engineering organizations to recover, repair, and return to the combat force those abandoned tanks.

This artwork, The Tanks at Seicheprey by Harvey Thomas Dunn, is in the US Army collection. Dunn observed the attack depicted in this impressionistic illustration, the first day of the St. Mihiel offensive.

seicheprey-i

It’s reminiscent of this famous photo, which is often displayed divorced from the information about it. But this is actually a photo of an American tank in combat in the Great War — a very rare thing.

us_ft-17_in_combat

This photo was taken at Seicheprey. Compare the tank’s attitude to the background tank in Dunn’s illustration. But we know the unit, the 326/344th Light Tank Battalion2, and the driver, Corporal George Heesch.

All of the world’s tank types have their ancestry in these flimsy, brittle, unreliable machines.

Surviving WWI Tanks

Some tanks were produced in very low numbers, like the German A7V. Others were mass produced — there are images of production lines for the British tanks. All in all, thousands of tanks were produced, including nearly 2,000 Renault FTs and probably another 1,000 to 1,500, maybe more, of all other types combines. Yet, only a dozen or two tanks survived, not the war, but the century between then and now. 

We know of two lists of surviving Great War tanks: Dave Maynard’s which comes up as disabled due to nonpayment, and an illustrated list found on sub-pages of the Surviving Panzers page: http://the.shadock.free.fr/Surviving_Panzers.html

That includes ….

…this list of non-FT-17 type WWI tanks surviving, including reproductions: http://the.shadock.free.fr/Surviving_WW1_Tanks.pdf

…this list of FT-17s: http://the.shadock.free.fr/Surviving_FT-17.pdf

…this list of US M1917 Six Ton Tanks: http://the.shadock.free.fr/Surviving_6ton_M1917.pdf

Notes

  1. Wilson, Dale E. Treat ‘Em Rough: The Birth of American Armor, 1917-20. p. 9.
  2. Wilson, pp. 116-117, note 53, explains that Patton’s battalions were renumbered by HQ on the eve of the St. Mihiel offensive. At the time this photo was taken, in September 1918, the unit was already the 344th but the old 326th was still the name everyone was using.

Don’t Forget Forgotten Weapons…

… although, it could be called “Remembered Weapons,” because Ian remembers all the stuff that everybody else has forgotten. True, we haven’t flagged you to his site in, what, two whole days? But when he’s posting stuff like this, you need to be over there, not here. We’ll still be here posting several times a day, but trust us, you want to see these two posts, and you want to point your RSS reader at FW so you never miss stuff like this.

Item: The Grandpappy of all MGs

Every gun begins with the prototype — no, wait… Every gun begins with an idea, but it has to pass through the stage of prototype if it’s ever going to be made concrete and marketed, adopted, and/or produced. And Forgotten Weapons is starting a new series on the Maxim, the grandpappy of all machine guns, with a great post on the prototype, which is, naturally, the granddaddy of all Maxims.

maxim_1885_prototype_01_left

One of the best parts of that post is a video Ian scared up which shows the ur-Maxim’s inner cuckoo clock. It’s ingenious, but it’s fair to say that the highly developed Maxim of the First World War was vastly simplified and improved over this design.

maxim_1885_prototype_03_feed

That, of course, just makes the engineering dead ends of the prototype even more interesting. There’s a little bit of similarity to the much later aerial weapon, the Mauser revolver cannon, in that a rotary sprocket is used to lift the cartridges after they are withdrawn by an extractor from the ammunition belt.

Item: Small Arms Development, 1945-65: the Soviet View

Victory Day parade. Rather than rest on their laurels, the Soviets overhauled their weapons after World War II, and by 1965 they'd done it a second time.

Victory Day parade. Rather than rest on their laurels, the Soviets overhauled their weapons after World War II, sending these Mosins to the warehouse, and by 1965 they’d done it a second time.

Ian got hold of a fascinating primary source document: a CIA translation of a classified Soviet analysis of small arms development after World War II. Both the intent of Soviet development and the differences between Soviet and NATO small arms doctrine and development objectives are laid bare in this document (available at the link).

Our long-held thesis that Soviet developments were primarily focused on putting automatic fire in the hands of their riflemen, whereas Western forces primarily focused on aimed semi-auto fire, is borne out from the horse’s mouth, as it were. The authors of the piece, two senior Soviet officers, see, from their point of view, 1965 NATO as making a serious error in not giving their riflemen weapons that can be effective in automatic fire at close range. Of the US Army:

[E]xperience in the operation of the M14 rifle has shown that it has extremely unsatisfactory grouping capability during automatic firing, as a result of which it is assigned to US troops only in the semiautomatic variant.

…in recent years the American army has renovated nearly all of its small arms. However, it should be pointed out that with the NATO cartridge as a basis, the USA has failed to solve the problem of developing a mobile and effective automatic individual weapon that satisfies the requirements of modern combat. For this reason the Americans have taken measures to modernize the M14 rifle, to explore other rifle designs, to develop a new 5.6-mm cartridge with reduced power, and to develop a rifle that will use this cartridge.

Ivan also prized light weight in his weaponry.

With allowance made for [the Soviets not being sure what NATO armies carried as a basic load of ammunition -Ed.] the average weight load (weapon plus unit of fire of cartridges being carried) per man amounts to: in the Soviet Army — 7.2 kilograms, in the US Army — 9.3 kilograms, in the West German Army — 10.9 kilograms, and in the French Army — 8.5 kilograms,

(This is referring to the M14 version of the US Army, the one that faced Russian occupation armies in Eastern Europe directly at the time. Elsewhere in the report, they note the emergence of the M16 as something to be watched).

Judged on the basis of these data, the weaponry of the Soviet Army is the lightest. This has been achieved by the use in our army of the 7,62-mm Model 1943 cartridge and the development for it of an automatic rifle and a light machinegun, which have made it possible to substantially lighten the weight of both the individual weapon itself and also the unit of fire carried with it.

Interesting to us that no credit at all is given to the Germans for inventing the intermediate cartridge and assault rifle concept. While the CETME rifle is mentioned as the source of the German G-3, there’s no mention that the CETME itself is an adaptation of the StG.45. (That fact may have been unknown to the Russian authors).

The authors were extremely satisfied with the state of Soviet weapons, and considered their weapons superior both individually to their counterparts, and on a unit vs. unit basis.

Rare Simonov AVS-36 Sold for $5k — as Parts

We were watching this on GB, and the price just ran away from what we wanted to pay. But we wanted the gun, as longtime students of rare Soviet weapons. We’ve mentioned it before; in May, 2012, we noted that by coincidence the US and USSR both adopted semi-auto rifles in 1938, the M1 and the AVS-36. Although the AVS was not a semi-auto, but a selective-fire rifle. Built as lightly as possible, they were problematic in service, and soon supplanted by the Tokarev selective fire (AVT) and semi-auto (SVT) rifles of 1938 and 1940. The Tokarevs were practically kissing cousins of the Simonov, being the same caliber, same size in every dimension, using similar magazines and the same gas tappet system of operation with a tilting bolt locking system (a similar locking system to the BAR, SAFN-49, and FAL).

This is the kit as all laid out

This is the kit as all laid out

This particular kit is so rare — we cannot recall ever having seen another AVS for sale in the USA, period. Here’s what the seller says:

This auction is for a complete parts assembly for an extremely rare pre WWII-early WWII Soviet Russian Simonov AVS-36 rifle. This parts assembly is all complete including the torch cut receiver and original magazine. The assembly is all matching except for the magazine and the parts that are supposed to be serialized are all matching #Y4287. The parts including the stock and handguard remain in nice condition and have never been repaired or modified. Bore is fine and bright with strong rifling with a pin in the chamber area that can be removed. These rare rifles were only manufactured circa 1936-1938. The first saw actual combat use in the Battles of Khalkin Gol in 1939, also in the Finnish Winter War 1939-1940, and in limited numbers during the early days of WWII. These rifles for any reasons proved unsatisfactory in combat and were quickly superseded by the Model SVT 1938/1940 Tokarev rifles. The AVS-36 Simonov Rifles and any original parts are rarely found anywhere in the world and are extremely desirable in this country. This would be a very rare opportunity for a collector to reweld or have a dummy receiver made for a static display. If you are lucky enough to have a complete registered rifle you would have some great parts which you would never be able to find anywhere.

The Tokarev, too, would be abandoned to return to the 19th Century Mosin-Nagant, for reasons of reliability, training base, and especially, speed of manufacture, once the USSR found itself at war with a peer competitor, Nazi Germany.

Simonov’s team continued designing firearms on the same system. Scaled up, the AVS-36 action became the mighty 14.5 x 115 mm PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle. Scaled down, it became (using some of the innovations from the PTRS, like the fixed magazine), the SKS-45 carbine that is still carried with pride by Russian honor guards. CORRECTION: see UPDATE below.

The prewar Soviet semi-automatic and select-fire rifles were an attempt to increase the Soviet infantryman’s firepower based on the same intensive study of the stalemates of World War I that produced Soviet innovations in tank and airborne forces. (The Red Army was doing tank and airborne maneuvers all through the 1930s… the US Army didn’t create airborne units and tank units capable of operating independently until the 1940s, and Armor (tanks) was not a basic branch in the US Army until 1950!)

Two things strangled the Soviet rifle development. One was, as mentioned, the poor performance of the AVS in practice, especially considering its cost of manufacture (including opportunity costs). The juice wasn’t worth the squeeze; a prefect semi was better in theory than the old Mosin, but the AVS (and AVT/SVT) were demanding and troubled guns (as was the M1 on introduction), and say what you will of the 50-year-old (then) Mosin, it was thoroughly debugged. The other thing that slew semi-auto development in the late thirties was the Great Terror, during which Stalin purged all of the power centers of the Communist Party and the Soviet State, including the Red Army. The brilliant Marshal Tukhachevskiy was shot, as were most of the men he’d mentored. Essentially all of the marshals and higher generals, and most of the lower grades of general officer and colonels, were shot or stripped of rank and thrown in the Gulag, more or less contemporaneously with the short service life of the AVS-36. The men who took the reins — it was not unusual for a division or corps commander to be a lieutenant colonel — were shaken enough that they weren’t going to make waves. The M1891 was just fine for granddad’s regiment, they’d make it work in the 1940s. (And they did).

As a result, relatively few Tokarev and very few Simonov rifles were made in the first place, and the Simonovs were captured in great stands during fighting with the Japanese at Khalkin Gol on the Mongolian border, and in the Winter War with Finland (1939-40). This particular rifle is a Winter War capture. We’ve written before about Finnish captured AVS rifles (and again here); this one might even be in one of those pictures!

Due to the ATF’s interpretation of the Gun Control Act of 1968, even a rarity like this cannot be imported, under the borrowed-from-the-Nazis “sporting purpose” test. Because it has “no sporting purpose,” (and really, no interest except to a rarefied echelon of collectors) its receiver was torch cut. Fortunately, it was imported before the ATF changed their interpretation to require the destruction of barrels as well as receivers of “non-sporting” collector guns.

(Incidentally, there was a budget amendment liberating the importation of curio and relic firearms from the Nazi “sporting” test that passed the House by a wide bipartisan margin. Why didn’t it pass? Because like all the other pro-gun language in the House budget, it was stripped out by the inexplicably NRA A-rated Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Good thing you didn’t vote for a Democrat, eh, you might have gotten an anti-gun Speaker… oh, wait).

Looking at this parts kit, we can determine a few things. It is a Finnish capture. That can be determined because it has the Finnish Army property Mark, “SA,” applied to it in various places. The seller also gets the serial number wrong, because he doesn’t know the Russian Cyrillic alphabet.

Simonov AVS-36 bolt Ch Ts 287

The two Cyrillic letters in the serial number, here in the bolt carrier handle, are Ch and Ts. So the real number is Ch Ts 287.

Here’s a view of the bolt carrier and bolt. SKS owners will see things are fairly familiar.

Simonov AVS-36 bolt and carrier top

Here is the Finnish Army property mark, in this case, on the side of the magazine. AVS-36 magazines held 10 rounds of 7.62 x 57R mm ammunition.

Simonov AVS-36 SA capture mark

Here’s another view of the parts:

Simonov AVS-26 parts

And here they are, loosely assembled.

 

Simonov AVS-36 assembledThe kit does not seem to be complete. It is missing some internals, such as the hammer. One could probably adapt SKS parts, or use SKS parts as models to scale up, to make a safe, legal semi-automatic fire control group for a rebuilt rifle.

Having a receiver machined would cost in the four figures, is our best guess. And that’s after you’ve done the reverse-engineering and made the drawings. The parts of the cut receiver are some help, but they’re clearly distorted by the torch. You might be able to get a museum that has one to let you measure theirs, at least the gross external measurements. Despite the seller’s suggestion, I do not think this cut receiver is susceptible to being rewelded — better to start over from billet.

The torch cuts on the receiver parts are ugly, and look like they're through pin locations, locking areas, etc.

The torch cuts on the receiver parts are ugly, and look like they’re through pin locations, locking areas, etc.

The GB Auction page is going to stay live for a while. When it goes away, let us know, as we archived the page this time.

UPDATE

Max Popenker points out in the comments that our description of the locking system as analagous to the SKS and PTRS is not correct. Reexamination of available AVS photos shows he’s quite right, but what is the locking system of the early Simonov?

Forgotten Weapons had a February, 2014 post on the AVS, and identifies the locking method as a block that slides vertically up and down. FW linked to this forum thread at Guns.Ru that shows detail photography of a disassembled AVS, one that appears to have been deactivated in the British style, by torching the bolt head off at an angle. From this incomplete example, it looks to uslike the AVS bolt locked with two wedges emerging from the bolt, roughly similar to the locking flaps of a Degtyaryev machine gun. Is this a locking wedge? Or a safety device preventing out of battery firing?

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Demilled AVS bolt, left side. Is that a locking wedge at center? Bolt carrier at top. Bolt carrier handle on opposite side, you can see its shadow; there’s another possible “locking wedge” on the other side below the handle. Bolt face, torched off at an angle, at 9 o’clock; firing pin at 3 o’clock. Firing pin retaining pin visible just to left of pin, it runs in the slot milled in the pin).  

The thread is also useful for images of the trigger mechanism (much of which is missing from the auction rifle) and for showing the safety, which is very similar to that of the SKS.

Forgotten Machine Weapons….

Ian at Forgotten Weapons has something new set up in his office. It’s this:

Ians Vickers Diorama

He’s had the Vickers (live, naturally) for years, but the diorama is a new idea, and now he can admire his MG from his desk even when he’s not converting money into noise and smoke, with an intermediate stage as .303 and the Vickers as catalyst. He writes (at Reddit):

What do you do with a heavy machine gun during the 99.999% of the time when you’re no tout shooting it on account of ammo cost + it weighs 120 pounds? Usually it goes in a box somewhere.

I decided to make mine into a diorama, with some sandbags, WWII British entrenching tool, helmet, and rusty barbed wire. I can still take the gun down to use, but in the meantime it’s a cool display in my office!

Ian’s definitely our kind of people, and the Reddit thread is worth checking out for the long Cryptonomicon excerpt that another redditor has posted. Vickers got infrastructure. 

And in other Ian news, there’s this:

Ian goes banzai

Relax, dude. Put down the sword. The ammo delivery’s coming, it’s just delayed…. no reason to commit hara-kiri. 

Actually if he’s going to pull that look off, he needs a hachimaki across his forehead. Tenno heiko… banzai!

By the way, if you tap that vintage wood paneling just right, it plays excerpts from The White Album. Backwards. They’ve been embedded there since its first installation in a den in the summer of Altamont….

In all seriousness, for some of the finest, most engaging gun content on the web, get on over to ForgottenWeapons.com. We know most of you readers are regulars there, but if you’ve been slacking off, go catch up on the wonders of Swiss experimental open-bolt semi rifles and oddball exotica from all the countries of the world. And if you like what you see, slip him a buck or two through Patreon. (Link’s on his site).

How the M203 Got its Sights

In the beginning, as a super-duper flechette-launching grenade-launcher infantry weapon project (the Special Purpose Infantry Weapon, SPIW) collapsed, what survived was a small grenade launcher modeled on an H&R Topper single-shot shotgun with a thyroid problem. This was the M79 bloop gun so fondly remembered by Vietnam vets. The M79 was introduced in 1961 as an infantry weapon, to restore the grenade-launcher capability lost when the M14 rifle replaced M1 rifles and carbines, which could take a grenade launcher attachment. (Grenade launcher development has always lagged rifle development in the US. Early in World War II, Springfield rifles were kept in the rifle squad for grenadiers, because there was no grenade-launcher attachment for the M1 yet, five or six years after its formal adoption).

m79_grenade_launcherThe M79 became one of the signature weapons of the Vietnam War, and a skilled bloop gunner was a valued member of a combat unit. In dismounted infantry combat the M79 had some advantages and disadvantages versus the enemy counterpart, the B-40, which was the Vietnamese licensed copy of the Soviet RPG-2 antitank weapon employed as an anti-personnel weapon. The 40mm grenade warheads were superior antipersonnel rounds, being designed as antipersonnel or dual-purpose rounds (the Soviets would later bow to the widespread use of their squad AT weapon as an antipersonnel force multiplier by just about everyone who ever used it, and make fragmentation, thermobaric and other anti-personnel  rounds for the follow-on RPG-7V, but not in time to do the PAVN and VC any good). The M79 was highly effective against troops in the open, highly accurate with training and experience, and the light, compact rounds meant that the GI could carry a lot of them. It was useless against armor, but that was immaterial to the Americans in the first years of the Vietnam War (the NVA made tank attacks, finally, in 1968).

m79-3

The grenade launcher capability was much desired, as a Human Engineering Laboratory survey of Marine combat infantry man in 1967 demonstrated. Well only a few percent of them reported carrying the M 79 as their primary weapon, several commented that they wanted more M 79’s, more and 79 rounds, and a white phosphorus round for the M791.

The problem of the thing was in its very nature. Doctrinally, the grenadier’s primary weapon was the grenade launcher, and so to carry the launcher and the rounds left him with no close-in defense weapon except an M1911A1 pistol. The answer seemed logical: make a snap-on or bolt-on launcher as an accessory for the service rifle, the M16A1.

This was tried as early as 1964, when three prototypes were tested. The best of the pack seemed to be Colt’s slide-the-barrel-to-load launcher, which was developed by Colt’s Karl Lewis in a remarkable 57 days from concept to test-fire. It was combat tested in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967 as the XM148. This picture shows the XM 148 without its extended trigger.

XM148_Grenade_LauncherAs part of that test, 5th Special Forces Group received a handful of the weapons sometime in the quarter ending on 31 January 67, and had these comments:

This item was designed to be mounted under the front hand guard of the M-16 rifle. It has an extension bar attached to the right side of the weapon to bring the launcher trigger near the trigger of the rifle. 5th SFGA is presently evaluating five XM-148’s. Two are located with Project Delta, two with Project Omega and one in IV CTZ. Results to date are excellent.2

Delta and Omega were reconnaissance projects.

In testing of the XM148, it turned out to have its own set of problems vis-a-vis the familiar M79. The Army Concept Team in Vietnam reviewed the XM148 and concluded “It did not meet Army requirements in Vietnam.”

The Army went back to the drawing board. Not one, but three launchers were developed to meet this need. An unknown firm developed a pivoting barrel grenade launcher, about which we’d like to know more.

AAI (formerly Aircraft Armaments Incorporated) developed what the Army called a pump-action grenade launcher, the XM203, by 1968. It was very similar to the version that was finally adopted in 1971, with some minor improvements.

M16a2m203_afmil

M203 on a later M16A2, nearly identical to the initial M16A1 hosted XM203.

AAI also developed a futuristic launcher on a principle called the Disposable Barrel Cartridge Area Target Ammunition principle. Lacking any official nomenclature or pet name, this beast was called the DBCATA, an acronym nearly as awkward as the full name. This 40mm grenade was a case that itself formed a throwaway barrel, and was an survivor of the years of engineering overreach called the SPIW project. (The projectile was exactly the same as the M406 used in the M79, except that the rotating band was pre-cut to interface with the rifling).

DBCATA cutaway

Its Achilles Heel turned out to be that ordinary 40mm rounds could be fired in the smoothbore, unchambered barrel — not just the standard low-pressure 40mm M79/XM148/XM203 rounds, but also the high-pressure rounds used in helicopter armament and the Mk19 crew-served grenade launcher, then being developed for the Navy’s riverine force. A high-pressure round in a low-pressure launcher turned the apparatus from a grenade launcher to an instantaneous grenade.

The comparison test concluded that the XM203 was the best of the bunch, but needed two improvements and a combat test in Vietnam to confirm the Proving Ground tests. The report of the comparison test of the three contenders is full of interesting insights. For example, for all launchers, the TOONK of firing the 40 mm round came with enough recoil to bounce an M16 or XM177 bolt back out of battery. Next time Joe went to fire his rifle, he might get a click and no bang. In the end, there wasn’t really a technological solution for this, and it was managed with training.

Here’s a training video on the then-new M203… in 1971.

When the final M203 was issued, it incorporated a number of improvements from the GLAD tests, including a folding battle sight atop the M203 handguard — the only part of the break-action launcher they’d liked — and a more robust peep sight called the “quadrant sight.”

“The system,” so often derided by the field soldier, had worked as advertised, getting him an improved weapon (which remains in service to this day). Although it was developed by AAI, the production contract went (initially, and for many years) to Colt.

An ACTIV evaluation of the M203, with 500 samples, found that it was suitable for service in Vietnam. It served for many years thereafter, and is only gradually being replaced by the H&K M320. But the ACTIV evaluation, which recommended standardizing the XM203 as the M203, reached an interesting conclusion:

The battlesight and quadrant sight are useful during training, but they are not needed once the firer becomes proficient in the pointing technique.3

They further recommended deleting the removable quadrant sight.

But by then, the M203 was in full production, and units in Vietnam were clamoring for them. The quadrant sights were never deleted, and ACTIV’s conclusion is still just right: it’s very helpful to a gunner learning to system, or getting back in the groove after some time off. But once he has his 203 knack back, it’s superfluous.

Notes

  1. Tech Note 1-67.
  2. 5th SFGA quarterly report.
    The report also notes two other new arrivals in the world of small arms, including:Submachine Gun, 5.56 mm, CAR-15. This weapon is similar to the XM-16 rifle, however, it has a shorter barrel and hand guard, a telescoping butt stock, and different type of flash suppressor. It weighs 5.6 lbs., is 28 inches long with stock closed, and has a cyclic rate of fire of 750-900 rounds per minute. 5th SFGA,will evaluate 100 CAR-15’s. They will be located in each CTZ.
  3. Reid, Final Report.

Sources

HEL Staff. Tech Note 1-67: Small Arms use in Viet Nam: M14 Rifle and .45 Caliber Pistol. Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD: US Army Human Engineering Laboratories, January 1967. Retrieved from: http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=AD0649517

Keele, Eric, and Hendricks, George. Final Report on Engineer Design Test of Grenade Launcher Attachments for M16A1 Rifle (GLAD) (U). Aberdeen, Maryland, 1968: US Army Aberdeen Proving Ground. Retrieved from: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/393211.pdf

Reid, John E. Final Report: XM203 40mm Grenade Launcher Attachment Development: ACTIV Project No. ACG-14/691. Army Concept Team In Vietnam, September 1969. Retrieved from: http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=AD0860601

Uncredited. 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces. Quarterly Report for Period Ending 31 January 1967.

 

Bonus

Click “more” to see the comments combat Marines made on the 1967 Human Engineering Laboratory survey about the M79. (A lot of them apply to any grenade launcher).

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