Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

A Poem of War, and Despair

For today’s psychologists, at least the “pop” variety, today’s psychological casualties (like the suicides we discussed a bit last Friday) are a Baby Duck world: everything is new, and nothing has come before all these novelties. This stakes a claim to a certain diagnostic power that today’s pshrinks almost certainly have not got, and at the same time, neglects a body of literature of war centuries, even millennia, old. In those old times, men as smart as we are today, and unconstrained by the straitjacket of today’s psychiatric constructs, wrestled with much the same problems.

WWIbattleThe literature of the First World War is experiencing a small bloom of appreciation, on the centennial of that conflict that imbrued a continent and decimated a generation (indeed, more than “decimated,” with that word’s ancient meaning of the slaying of one in ten, the men of the officer class, those most likely, in that era, to commit literature). Here we have Britain’s daily The Telegraph on an early poem by Wilfred Owen, one which moves us more than most of Owen’s work:

“The Dead-Beat”, one of Owen’s less well-known poems, was based on a real incident he had witnessed in France, and was the first he wrote after meeting his mentor Sassoon at Craiglockhart. The poem therefore has a strong Sassoonian influence, with a directness and bitterness untypical of Owen’s later and more subtle work.

The Dead-Beat

by Wilfred Owen

He dropped, – more sullenly than wearily,
Lay stupid like a cod, heavy like meat,
And none of us could kick him to his feet;
Just blinked at my revolver, blearily;
– Didn’t appear to know a war was on,
Or see the blasted trench at which he stared.
“I’ll do ‘em in,” he whined, “If this hand’s spared,
I’ll murder them, I will.”
A low voice said,
“It’s Blighty, p’raps, he sees; his pluck’s all gone,
Dreaming of all the valiant, that aren’t dead:
Bold uncles, smiling ministerially;
Maybe his brave young wife, getting her fun
In some new home, improved materially.
It’s not these stiffs have crazed him; nor the Hun.”
We sent him down at last, out of the way.
Unwounded; – stout lad, too, before that strafe.
Malingering? Stretcher-bearers winked, “Not half!”
Next day I heard the Doc.’s well-whiskied laugh:
“That scum you sent last night soon died. Hooray!”

via ‘The Dead-Beat’: Wilfred Owen’s poem of despair – Telegraph.

Craiglockhart War Hospital, the place at which The Dead-Beat was written or at least inspired, was a “rest home” in one of the euphemisms of the day: a nut hatch, officers, for the use of. Sassoon nicknamed it “Dottyville;” he appears to have been grateful all his life for the “treatment” he received there, which seems to have been talk therapy from WHR Rivers, whom we’ve seen on this website before.

Rivers and that entire regime were overturned in late 1917, and an attempt to treat the patients as malingerers was attempted. This failed rather spectacularly and the next regime, once again under a “modern” physician, stressed the inmates making themselves useful. From an interesting report on the hospital’s history in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine:

Perhaps [Dr Arthur John] Brock’s most important tool, both to communicate his aims to the patients and also as a form of therapy in itself, was The Hydra, the hospital magazine. The Hydra, the many-headed monster whose defeat was one of Hercules’ most difficult labours, was to provide a jokey description of the character of the hospital—the officers, or heads, being removed (or discharged) only to be replaced by new inmates. It also provided a more serious analogy for the results of poorly carried out shell-shock treatment: the resurfacing of psychological problems in different, but equally distressing and incapacitating forms. The magazine was a vehicle through which the patients could express and share their experiences, as well as learn about the hospital ethos and activities. Brock’s patient Wilfred Owen was editor of this monthly periodical for much of his time at the hospital, and had his first published poems within its pages. Indeed, Owen did not begin writing war poetry until Craiglockhart. This was due largely to his budding friendship with Siegfried Sassoon, but it was also due to Brock’s encouragement: that he direct his artistic eye over his experiences and not his fantasies, to approach a cure by functioning. Perhaps the most famous anti-war poem, “Dulce et decorum est” was written at the hospital in 1917.

Another poem in Owen's hand, with edits in Sassoon's, from Craiglockhart.

Another poem in Owen’s hand, with edits in Sassoon’s hand, from Craiglockhart.

The military established Craiglockhart with a view to saving psychological casualties and returning them fit to duty. While many of the approximately 1800 patients returned to productive life, and over 700 were passed out fit for some kind of duty, a return to fitness for combat leadership was very rare. Sassoon was one passed out fit, so was Owen; but the return to France was disastrous for both. Sassoon was wounded, not fatally, in the head and invalided back to Britain, where he tried to talk Owen out of returning to the line. Owen returned to duty with his Manchester Regiment, and was shortly thereafter killed. He received the Military Cross posthumously; most of his poems wer published only posthumously. Several of them are set in the War Requiem of composer Benjamin Britten.

Here is the citation for Owen’s Military Cross:

2nd Lt, Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, 5th Bn. Manch. R., T.F., attd. 2nd Bn.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the attack on the Fonsomme Line on October 1st/2nd, 1918. On the company commander becoming a casualty, he assumed command and showed fine leadership and resisted a heavy counter-attack. He personally manipulated a captured enemy machine gun from an isolated position and inflicted considerable losses on the enemy. Throughout he behaved most gallantly.

If that was insanity, the military forces of the world depend upon it. A short month after those heroic deeds he would be slain, on November 4th — a week before the Armistice. The net has a great deal of Owen’s and Sassoon’s poetry.

When the AR was a Novelty…

This Colt AR-15 Model 601 might have been the very one tested by American Rifleman. It's Serial Number 000115. (The stocks once wore green paint over the brown fiberglass).

This Colt AR-15 Model 601 might have been the very one tested by American Rifleman. It’s Serial Number 000115. (The stocks once wore green paint over the brown fiberglass). And yes, the picture embiggens.

The political news website The Daily Caller has an interesting reprint of the American Rifleman’s initial, 1962, review of the AR-15 rifle. Nowadays, ARs are extremely common, and most of the people who shoot them, for business or for pleasure, weren’t reading American Rifleman in 1962. In fact, most of them weren’t alive 52 years ago. So if you’re one of those Johnny-come-latelies, or if you’ve not and misplaced your copy in the last half-century, here’s a snippet of the DC’s reprint for you. (Note: for reasons explained below the excerpt, the Daily Caller links have been replaced with links to the American Rifleman version).

It was interesting, to us, that, “Many features of the AR-15 are of European origin and not generally familiar to American shooters.…” Fact is, we’ve lost sight of just how revolutionary the AR was when it first hit. Thumbing through the actual magazines, comparing them to today’s versions, brings the point home even more starkly. All the guns and activities in all the articles and ads scream: “Elmer Fudd was here!” So the bemused tone of the following time capsule from 1962 is not out of place.

The AR-15 rifle was developed by the Armalite Division of Fairchild Engine & Airplane Corp., with the great personal interest of its then President, the late Richard S. Boutelle. It is mainly a scaled-down copy of the Fairchild Armalite AR-10 rifle, which had been offered for some years in 7.62 mm NATO and other military calibers. A composite steel-aluminum barrel and a complicated flash suppressor originally used in the AR-10 proved unsuccessful. The AR-15 has an all-steel barrel and a short form of the Army-developed bar-type flash suppressor instead.

Many features of the AR-15 are of European origin and not generally familiar to American shooters, but they were already long tried and have worked out well in this case.

The AR-15 can be hinged open somewhat like a double-barrel shotgun, permitting easy bolt removal and bore inspection. This feature goes back to the Czech ZH or ZB 29 rifle. It will be recognized as a feature of the Fabrique Nationale rifle which has been adopted as standard by Belgium, Great Britain, Canada and Australia. As the T48, the FN was very thoroughly tested by the United States in competition with the Springfield-designed T44, the latter ultimately winning adoption as our M14.

The rear sight of the AR-15 is built into a fixed carrying handle, like that of the British EM 2 rifle which was considered at about the time the 7.62 mm NATO caliber was standardized, and which was even adopted for a short time by Great Britain. The ejection port is covered with a hinged lid, which keeps dirt out of the action and flies open automatically at the first shot as in the German Sturmgewehr 44.

The stock is straight, with separate hand grip. This conformation has been used in many full-automatic shoulder weapons. It brings the recoil force almost in line with the shoulder and thus helps to control the tendency to rise in full-automatic fire. It also adapts well to breech mechanisms which, like the AR-15, have a long receiver and the action spring in the buttstock.

For operation of the breech mechanism, gas is led back from a point about two-thirds up the barrel through a tube above the barrel and within the fore-end. This is much like the Swedish M42 Ljungman rifle, and the later French MAS 1944 and 1949 rifles. A gas-tube system also was used in the Swiss SK-46 rifle. The operating gas is introduced between the two parts of the bolt, forcing the head to unlock and then forcing both parts to the rear.

The gas-tube system obviously eliminates an operating rod or slide and on that account has sometimes been stated to be a material design simplification. However, eliminating the operating slide requires that the bolt be made in two parts, instead of the usual one-piece bolt, so the number of parts remains the same as before. The moving parts must be given a certain mass to carry through the cycle after the initial gas impulse, and elimination of the operating slide requires a correspondingly heavier bolt. Thus both the number of parts and their weight remain substantially the same as in other designs.

Likewise, the extensive use of aluminum has not resulted in an unusually light rifle. The AR-15 weighs nearly 1/2-lb. more than the steel Winchester rifle.

The receiver, including the carrying handle, the trigger guard and the grip, is made of aluminum alloy. The magazine also is made of aluminum alloy, as in a number of other present-day rifles. Aluminum is easily fabricated and can be anodized to a superior non-reflective and durable finish. Necessary strength is provided by a steel barrel extension into which the bolt head locks.

Stocked With Plastic

Fore-end and buttstock are of a light green plastic. This has a pleasing feel and appears to be quite successful. The fore-end stands clear of the barrel and is lined to resist barrel heat. The rear sight is a simple two-leg peep, adjustable laterally. The front sight is adjustable vertically. These adjustments are readily made with a point of a cartridge as the only tool. They are intended for zeroing only. Obviously such sights are not meant for target shooting, but they are reliable in service. Firing trial by The Rifleman staff in 1959 showed the AR-15 to be very easy and pleasant to shoot in semiautomatic fire. The inherently light recoil of the small cartridge is further reduced in effect by the straight stock. Functioning was notably positive, regular and reliable.

It’s really a good and thorough review, so Read The Whole Thing™ (link goes to the American Rifleman site).

The Colt Model 601 AR-15 that the Rifleman tested was, they noted, functionally identical to the Fairchild Armalite gun they’d tested earlier. They visited the Colt factory to see how the company was making ARs (on conventional machine tools, without much specialty equipment, although if they had to increase production they planned to retool). And the article closes with a stirring charge to the Army to stick with the (then-new, after all) M14 until the revolutionary project SALVO, “a future infantry weapon far more effective than any conventional shoulder rifle,” was ready. (That would have been a hell of a long wait).

We’re grateful to the Daily Caller for bringing this story to our attention, but we’re not too thrilled with how they delivered it. First, it’s broken into three pages (which lets them mislead their advertisers about their hit count. Lame). Next, they love pop-up ads. We will never boycott a pop-up advertiser, because we always slam the pop-up closed before their pitch can load, and we don’t think we’re the Lone Rangers on that. The vast majority of the money spent on this offensive, intrusive advertising is wasted. (If somebody does let the page load, this slimeball door-to-door-salesman approach probably actually damages the advertiser’s reputation). But most seriously, they deliver the text of the article without the illustrations.

It turns out that that’s because they lifted the article whole from the American Rifleman website, where it was recently featured on a blog page, again, without the images. We never go to the American Rifleman website; we get the magazine, but the site is incredibly crappy and disorganized, with blaring autoplay videos and all the excesses of bad 1990s web design, except maybe the [blink] tag. It was only blind luck that led us to American Rifleman’s  blog post, and we discovered that, unlike the Daily Caller knockoff, it’s all on one page, at least; and unlike most of the pages at American Rifleman (and all of the pages at Daily Caller) it’s free of hard-sell pop-up and autoplay cruft. So we went back in this post and changed the links all to the American Rifleman version except for this Hat tip to the Daily Caller. Fair play to give them that.

FBI Returns Stolen Gun

Dillinger-GunOne way guerrillas arm themselves, we’ve seen, is by relieving the authorities of their arms. This procedure is not only used by guerrillas, but also by criminals. To be sure, as we’ve seen in our series on Greek Guerrillas throughout modern history, the cutline between insurgent and outlaw is not exactly crisp and clear (think of the Mexican cartels as an even more modern example). Historically, of course, armies and police have been the gun depots not only of insurgents but also of outlaws. The gun you’re looking at here is one of these, which has criss-crossed the country in the hands of the lawless and the lawmen. The lawmen have a pretty good grip on it… now.

The case hinges on John Dillinger, a name which should need no introduction, despite Hollywood’s persistent efforts to make a hero out of this uncommon criminal. On October 13, 1933, John Dillinger and his gang hit the Auburn, Indiana police department for an assortment of short and long guns, including an M1921 Colt Thompson with a 50-round “L” drum magazine. If we’re doing the math, that was 80 years ago. (We mention that because some news media reports have said 45, 67, 50 and 77 years).

Dillinger was, all his life, a disagreeable person; he had joined the Navy at one point, but quickly deserted. Imprisoned for armed robbery in 1924, he only got paroled out in the spring of 1933, and by that fall, he arranged to break ten of his con friends out of jail. The plan went off without a hitch, but in the meantime, Dillinger had been locked up for new crimes. His gang went to the sheriff’s office where he was held and broke him out at gunpoint — murdering Sheriff Jesse Sarber in the process. Then they  knocked over the Auburn PD and several others, and many banks, and fled to Florida. In January, 1934, they returned to Indiana and bank robberies, but they went on the run after Dillinger murdered a police officer named O’Malley on January 15th. Dillinger would later say that O’Malley had it coming, for shooting at him, which is an interesting point of view.

More interesting was that the press and much of the public took Dillinger’s side; his nemeses, of course, were the banks, and in 1934 no one had much good to say about banks.

The Dillinger gang were caught by the Tucson PD  just days after leaving Indiana. While the stories about the Auburn submachine gun say that there was a gunfight, there wasn’t; the gang wss taken without a shot. They were staying at a hotel, where there was a completely unrelated fire. Gang members slipped a fireman some money to recover “heavy luggage.” Their bad luck, the jake was a fan of true-crime pulp magazines and recognized them. Police rounded them up in their new lodgings. Quite a few guns were seized, also, according to the Arizona Star:

In total, police seized three Thompson submachine guns, two Winchester rifles mounted as machine guns, five bulletproof vests and more than $25,000 in jewelry and cash, part of it taken in an East Chicago robbery.

Dillinger 1907 02

The “two Winchester rifles mounted as MGs” were presumably .351 or .401 semi-autos with Thompson-style grips and extended magazines, as made by San Antonio gunsmith Hyman Lebman. We reported on a replica of one of these Lebman guns last September; that’s the gun shown here. The Thompsons probably came from the Dillinger gang’s go-to tactic of robbing police stations. (Bold enough, but you can see there’s not much future in it).

Dillinger was extradited to Indiana to stand trial for O’Malley’s murder. (He would escape from prison… ostensibly with a gun carved of wood, or soap, but actually by application of bribes). As he and the gang had killed several Indiana cops, he was destined for Old Sparky if he hadn’t escaped. Five months later, he’d be dead, shot down by the Division of Investigation, the forerunner of the FBI. There’s no escaping from that. Three of his gang were extradited to Ohio to answer for Sarber. (Two of them, Harry Pierpont and Charles Makley, would try to escape with soap-carved guns. Makley died of wounds and Pierpont survived to be stuffed in the chair in October, 1934. The third man, Russell Clark, received a life sentence and was paroled when terminally ill in 1968; he was the last survivor of the gang). 

Back at the Tucson capture, on January 25, 1934, the Thompson was entered into evidence, and there it stayed for 32 more years, long after Dillinger was dead and his gang members were likewise, or in Clark’s case, incarcerated for good. When the Tucson PD found the nearly forgotten Tommy Gun in 1966, they transferred it to the FBI, which takes a proprietary interest in all things Dillinger — the man who did more than anyone but J. Edgar himself to build the legend of the Bureau. The FBI put it in their collection,  and displayed it publicly until 2002, when it was moved to a private museum-like historical display exclusively for Bureau senior executives.


When it saw public light again in the DeKalb County Courthouse on Thursday, the history of this police and crime gun is written all over it. The gun still bears a Tucson evidence sticker from its 1934-66 sojourn in the Southwest. It shows signs of wear and finish loss, probably due in part to the chemicals that raised fingerprints from the weapon in 1934.

A few years ago, an Auburn policeman, Sergeant Edward McDonald, began playing, “Whatever happened to….” with the Dillinger Thompson. He tracked it to its former location on display and began asking questions.

McDonald found the traces of the gun, and started the ball rolling for its return to Auburn, which happened Thursday, at the county courthouse. The department plans to put it on display — but with some security, this time.

Unfortunately, Sgt. McDonald didn’t live to see the Thompson come home. He passed away last year, while the FBI was still making arrangements to transfer the firearm.

News reports:

This Dillinger capsule bio at PBS gave us the facts on the Tucson shootout.


Sidebar: Weapons of the Greek Underground

Weapons Supply DId Limit Operations

Gardner does insist that weapons supply was a problem, or more correctly, a limitation on the growth of andartes:

It was not manpower but lack of weapons that limited the growth and size of the Greek guerrilla bands. Weaponless men were understandably reluctant to engage in guerrilla sorties and band leaders were not anxious to recruit more men than could be armed. There were, of course, a great many weapons in the hands of the mountain villagers. Many of the soldiers of the Greek Army had never been disarmed after the surrender — when news of the collapse of formal Greek resistance had reached them, many small units had merely disbanded and the men had returned to their homes carrying their arms. After the bands began operating, additional weapons were obtained by capturing or stealing them from the Italians.

Ammunition was in short supply, as the returning soldiers could carry only a limited number of rounds. Fortunately, Italian cartridges fitted the Mannlicher rifle with which the Greek Army had been equipped, and thefts from Italian stocks as well as the stripping of killed or captured Italians helped solve the ammunition problem.

In addition to Greek and Italian army rifles, the andartes carried other weapons of all sorts and descriptions, including fowling pieces, antique muzzle loaders, and ancient pistols. Most carried knives as well as firearms.

The first BLO’s [British Liaison Officers, i.e., SOE operatives] brought in a number of Sten guns and these automatic weapons were highly prized by the andartes. Later, air drops of standard British rifles were made in some quantity — eventually enough to entirely rearm the EDES and EKKA forces and to materially improve the armament of ELAS.

The guerrillas had virtually no heavy weapons, until the surrender of the Italians resulted in ELAS acquiring some mountain guns in addition to large numbers of rifles. Still later, when EDES seized a sector along the West coast of Greece, the British shipped in many mountain guns.


An Unusual Weapon

UD-42 Right Side

Along with native types, weapons filched from officers, there was at least one unusual weapon used widely in Greece, especially in Crete: the United Defense UD 42 submachine gun, generally called by the British the “Marlin” (they were made by Marlin Arms, whose markings and Connecticut address were on the receiver). The SOE men had no training with the 9mm weapon, which used 20-round magazines that could clip together back-to-back, but  the Greek partisans loved them. The following picture’s from Moss (2010) and shows three Andartes mugging with the UD 42s. According to Patrick Leigh-Fermor, the SOE officers who had such weapons left them behind with the andartes. They left another critical shortage item, also, their boots; and so arrived in Cairo barefoot and unarmed.


Acquiring Weapons from the Enemy

Recovering weapons form the enemy didn’t always mean fighting him. As we noted yesterday, the Greek Army was a regular source of partisan armaments, even as the Germans thought it was collaborating. As the exit of Italy from the war came closer in 1943, Italian officers too were playing a dangerous double game. Patrick Leigh-Fermor, in an afterword to Moss (2010), on arming up from the Italian garrison in Crete, even as the Germans raced to control the Italian arms:

To temporize, [Italian commander General] Carta felt it would be prudent to feign acceptance of the post-Armistice Fascist state; and the incipient disarming and dispersal of Italian troops slowed down. Taking advantage of this, [Lieut. Franco] Tavana [chief of Italian counterespionage who had Allied sympathies even before the Armistice] and I discussed what he could do on the side, and he was determined to smuggle all surplus arms to outlying points for local leaders to distribute at once. It was tricky, however, as the Germans were continually arriving and many of the dumps were already under their guard. During the following two days he had managed to hand over about two hundred rifles, quantities of grenades and ammunition, a couple of mortars and several light and medium machine-guns. He did most of this himself, driving trucks out after dark, dismissing the sentries—if they were still Italian—and loading up the stuff with his soldier-servant. Next day, [German general] Müller descended on Neapolis. Carta paid lip-service to the Fascist government, but challenged Müller’s right to take over Italian strong points. Müller answered—and he took little trouble to make his words ring true—that he had received instruction in direct liaison with the Italian 11th Army G.H.Q. in Athens. The interview ended badly and the two generals parted without shaking hands.

Disarmament went on. Two senior Italian Artillery officers refused to hand over their batteries and were arrested, and two battalions took to the hills where they were supported by the locals but had to come down again through lack of food. Few Italians, however, were prepared to take direct action: most of them, on hearing of the Armistice, got happily drunk because the war was over for them.

Weapons Training

Experienced guerrilla leaders know that you can’t expect the Gs to reach big army levels of weapons competence. Well, sometimes, you happen into the tribesman who has honed himself into a great shot through hunting experience, more commonly you run into the tribesman who has convinced himself he’s a great shot, without bothering to actually master the skill. The Greeks were no different from any other race of men that way. Here’s Moss (1945, p. 72), on the level of training the andartes reached:

“Any casualties?” asked Bertie.

“Four,” the major replied. “Three andartes, shot by the andartes, and one of our chaps, also shot by the andartes.”

“What about the enemy?”

“One or two, perhaps.”

“I doubt it,” said the lieutenant. “The Greeks were too busy shooting each other.”

Anyone who’s ever done FID or even a weapons-training JCET can probably sympathize. One of the real problems was the shortage of ammunition in quantities sufficient to allow marksmanship to develop. Learning to shoot requires instruction plus practice, and more practice is necessary to retain the skills learned.


Gardner, Hugh G. Guerilla and Counterguerrilla Warfare in Greece, 1941 – 1945. Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, US Army, 1962.

Moss, W. Stanley. A War of Shadows. New York: McMillan, 1952.

Moss, W. Stanley. Ill Met By Moonlight. Philadelphia: Paul Dry, 2010.

The Jurek Submachine Guns

The Jurek Model B, without its holster/stock. Click to embiggen.

The Jurek Model B, without its holster/stock. Click to embiggen.

Some time ago we featured the beautiful, P.38-derived Webley 9mm Automatic Pistol, a prototype designed by Polish immigrant to Britain Marian Jurek. In that article, we mentioned Dr Jurek’s earlier British designs, two submachine gun models. We were intensely curious about these weapons: given what we knew of Jurek’s machining skills and aesthetics, we wondered if they, too would be beautiful.

Well… ahem… at least they’re interesting. While they’re not terribly revolutionary in design, they have an interesting provenance, a couple of interesting features, and an interesting disposition.

The two guns are known today as the Model A and Model B, but these may just have been terms assigned to them by Major FWA Hobart, in his Pictorial History of the Sub-Machine Gun, from which these photos were scanned. The Jureks were among the products of an intensive spate of submachine gun design in the 1940s in England, two other products of which (the STEN and the Patchett, later Sterling, “machine carbine”), would go on to serve in large numbers. The wartime period was one of the last gasps of small arms innovation in the UK, although the 1950s would produce the EM.2 and the 1980s the problematical L85.

The 1940s saw two groups of design teams working on submachine gun projects, and the faultline of division was a national one: one group were native Britons, one comprised refugee Poles.

Jurek Model B with the holster-stock attached.

Jurek Model B with the holster-stock attached. It must have had fearsome levels of muzzle climb.

While the British Army would take the British designs more seriously, and ultimately develop one (Patchett) to replace the Sten, the Poles produced some interesting guns. A number of them incorporated a holster-stock and a magazine feed from inside the pistol grip, foreshadowing the Vz. 63 personal defense weapon. Jurek, apparently, adopted the holster-stock but not the pistol-grip magwell for his designs.

Little concrete is known about the Jurek guns, but they used a modified Sten magazine and were blowback-operated weapons, hammer-fired from a closed bolt (this was to reduce the rate of fire relative to the open-bolt advanced primer ignition (API) Sten).  According to Hobart, Jurek’s tasking was to make a submachine gun “without the safety problems of the Sten.” Those “safety problems” basically implicate the hazardous state of the gun when the bolt was forward with the magazine in place. Is something shocks, or jars, the bolt back, there is a possibility it will pick up and chamber around. And if an open bolt gun chambers a round, it fires the round, uncommanded.

Only known photo of the Jurek Model A.

Only known photo of the Jurek Model A.

If there is a surviving image of the Model A as designed, we’ve never seen it. It resembled the Model B, with a tubular receiver and a plastic pistol grip and handguard, and an elegantly curved trigger. This image shows the gun in later life, after it had a stock permanently attached (we believe by brazing) for retail sale in the USA. It also had a conventional 32-round Sten magazine adapted to it. In this configuration, it has a faint whiff of MP.38/40 about it.

Per Hobart, Jurek:

“…made a self-loading carbine which had a good performance. This gun was blowback operated with an effective range of 150 yards. 17,000 rounds were fired through the barrel which was taken originally from a Sten gun. Later it was developed to fire full automatic, but it had a rate of fire of over 1000 RPM. The gun had no fixed butt. It was carrying a steel holster, Ken discovered, which could be attached to the beer of the body to form a butt. It had a 20 round magazine.”

That is presumably the Jurek now called the Model A, of which otherwise there is such scant information. But Dr. Jurek was not done. Hobart again:

In 1945 Jurek was posted to Germany. Here he designed his second SMG. This was produced quite quickly and testing. In October 1946, Col. Shepherd sent for Jurek who reported to him at Cheshunt to demonstrate his gun. It was tested and performed well.

Here, Hobart refers to the Ordnance Board Proceeding Q4859, dated 3 January 1947.

It has certain interesting features. It was of the blowback type but had a heavy 4 ounce  spring-loaded hammer which assisted in the delay. the hammer could not fall onto the spring retracted firing pin until the breechblock was fully closed and the weak hammer spring, enclosed in the pistol grip, produced a delay at single shot which allowed the vibration caused by bolt closure to die away before firing occurred. This system produced accurate single shot fire and also a slow rate of fire at full automatic of 350 RPM. Safety could be applied with the hammer either forward or cocked. In the firing trials it was particularly successful when fired as a pistol, using only one hand. Weighing only 5 pounds 7 1/4 ounces, it showed great promise, but the board, whilst agreeing the Jurek SMG could be developed to meet the GS [General Service -- eds.] specification, considered that other SMGs underdevelopment had reached such a stage as to make it not worthwhile.

Further developments of the Jurek gun were planned, but, as it happened, never carried out. What he had next in mind was a variable rate of fire mechanism:

Jurek planned to provide an alternative rate of fire device for the SMG. The hammer, as provided, was to be changed and two hammers substituted. The inner hammer alone would fire the round when the high rate of fire of 800 RPM was required. Another Hama, sitting around the light camera, would be held back at the high rate of fire and play no part. When the low rate of 350 RPM was selected, the two hammers would be locked together and the increased mass would slow down the rate of rearward travel of the bolt; the weak spring would cause a long time lag after breech closure, before firing; and so the rate would be low.

MAJ Hobart recalls that Jurek returned to the UK where he fired competitively for England, just as he had done for Poland before the war. The UK National Archives show that he was naturalized a Briton in 1957.

When the Ordnance Board rejected Jurek’s guns, they gave them back to him, and when he returned to Britain he brought them along with him. At the time, semi automatic weapons were legal, and so he modified the guns to fire semi-only. He sold them to one of the customers of his Birmingham gunsmith shop, a Mr. Becket. Becket installed, apparently by brazing, a tubular butt stock on both guns, and fitted 32-round Sten magazines in place of Jurek’s 20-round original Becket in turn sold them to the Service Armament Company of Ridgefield, New Jersey — a company run by Val Forgett of Navy Arms fame (although Hobart didn’t make that connection, at least not in print). Jurek gave the SMG drawings away, to a Mr. Stevenson of Birmingham, Alabama.

Hobart also recounts some confusion about the barrel of the so-called Model B. It was purported to be a cut-down and bored-out Enfield barrel, but Jurek insisted it was not, and the Ordnance Board report says (per Hobart) that the newer SMG has a Sten Mk V barrel, which is at least the right caliber.

Model B prototype with a longer barrel and stock, as sold in America.

Model B prototype with a longer barrel and stock, as sold in America.

To be sold into the USA was the fate of both of the Jurek guns, and as far as we know, they’re both still somewhere in the USA, in some collector’s closet and on the NFA Registry. If you’re the collector who has one or more of these historic weapons, or Mr Stevenson’s set of the Jurek drawings, kindly drop us a line in the comments. (You do have to enter an email to make a comment, but it’s not visible to anyone but us. In fact, we can make your comment private if you like; people’s first comments are always held for moderation).


“Most Favoured by Terrorists and Insurgents”

sten_mk_IIThe following is the forward by Lieut. Gen. Sir Frank King KCB MBE, General Officer Commanding-In-Chief, Northern Ireland to FWA Hobart’s Pictorial History of the Sub-Machine Gun. The pictorial history dates to 1973, so it’s over 40 years old, and the submachinegun stood in a different place in history of the time. But Sir Frank’s take on it is quite idiosyncratic:

As a young officer I will remember the introduction of the first British Sub-Machine Gun – the Sten – to the British Army. It was heralded with especial ecstasy in many newly formed Battle Schools, by Senior Officers who extolled its easy production, cheapness, simplicity, and devastating firepower at short range. Indeed, there were many enthusiasts who described these advantages as decisive, and likely to change quickly the course of the war. This did not happen. The Germans possessed a similar weapon. And with its relatively short effective range the SMG became merely one of the family of arms required by infantry to cover the requirements of their particular battle field.

Notwithstanding this it had, and indeed it has, a very effective military role to play and deserves a high place in the gratings of usefulness of weapons. Above all, it is perhaps most favoured by terrorists and insurgents, particularly when operating in urban or jungle environments where its undoubted excellence as a short range and powerful destroyer is accentuated by the ease with which it can be produced or procured, concealed, distributed and used. it has deservedly earned an important place in the history of small arms

It may seem strange that the story of the Sub–Machine Gun should be related by a retired Gunner. Major Hobart saw through at an early age, the complex and at times almost ritualistic façade which obscures the relatively simple problems of field gunnery, and for many years now has devoted his considerable energy and enquiring mind to the more precise and intimate science that embraces small arms. There are few officers better suited or qualified for this task. He has produced a comprehensive, knowledgeable and authoritative history and his book must commend itself to every student of Infantry soldiers and of Small Arms design.

While the most famous 3rd-generation SMG is the UZI, the Czech Vz23-26 were arguably fielded first. This is a Vz26 (7.62x25, folding stock).

While the most famous 3rd-generation SMG is the UZI, the Czech Vz23-26 were arguably fielded first. This is a Vz26 (7.62×25, folding stock).

While we chuckled at the “terrorists and insurgents” remark, Sir Frank was on to something. For another ten or so years, terrorists very frequently appeared with submachine guns, with some favorites being the Uzi, the Vz. 61 Škorpion, and the older Czech Vz 23-26 series. But by 1973, these weapons were already on the way out, with the similarly compact but much more powerful AKM replacing them. and the fact of the matter is, insurgents are armed with whatever they can arm themselves with. The two principal sources of rhymes for insurgents are always external sponsorship, and internal battlefield recovery. In both cases the arms of the insurgents wind up looking a lot like the arms of armies; the armies of either their friends or enemies respectively.


21 Years Ago Today

Wounded ATF agents leave the field.

Wounded ATF agents leave the field. Waco, TX, 28 Feb 93.

A huge ATF operation in Texas was meant to get a lot of media attention. And it did, just not the way the Bureau wanted. A raid that was planned for television effect was initiated with a rattle of suppressed fire as ATF agents killed the residents’ dogs: an Alaskan Malamute bitch and her four puppies. They didn’t kill them clean, and the agonized yelps of wounded dogs would continue for several minutes. That was the opening round; supposedly, it was written into the operations order, but nobody knows for sure, for as we’ll see, the operations order did not survive.

ATF Agent, hit by friendly MP5 fire from a mortally wounded agent inside. This man survived.

ATF Agent, after breaching the window and raking the glass, remained outside. He was hit by friendly MP5 fire, possibly a dying burst from a mortally wounded agent inside. This man survived and made it back down the ladder.

Then — according to all non-ATF witnesses — the ATF opened up on the building. Few had targets; they were just blazing away at windows and walls. Sometime in these mad minutes, some dog-loving agent put the crippled dogs out of their mewling agony. The ATF kept firing for two hours, until they were out of ammunition, then pulled back. Pulling back wasn’t the right term, really; they bugged out, undisciplined, and some of their men — particularly the dead and the wounded — were left behind by the fleeing agents. The wounded and bodies would be recovered when FBI negotiators established a truce with the apocalyptic cult inside, an extremist breakaway faction of the Seventh Day Adventists.

They cult, who called themselves Branch Davidians, had been stockpiling guns. ATF agents fabricated a nonexistent “confidential source” to say they were dealing drugs, to get helicopter and heavy-weapons support from the National Guard. (Later, the FBI would use the same tactic, a phony “confidential source,” to push the Attorney General’s child-abuse button, in order to get the second, firestorm raid greenlighted). 

The cult members would almost all be killed in the later FBI raid, which involved destroying all egresses with armored vehicles, covering them with sniper fire, and launching incendiaries into the building. (Weren’t we just talking about Njal’s Saga in some other context? History repeats itself).

The surviving cultists, most of whom fled before the final holocaust, were tried for various crimes, in a courtroom in San Antonio; and while some charges stuck, all of the murder and conspiracy-to-murder charges ended in acquittal. The fact-finders, the jury, found that the killings of ATF agents were self-defense. That finding is infuriating to this day to the officers who were there in 1993.

The ATF has never forgotten. Unfortunately, they never learned either.

The ATF has never forgotten. They’ve also never really admitted how badly their centralized planning let down the four agents who were slain.

At the end of the day, 16 to 20 (sources differ) ATF agents would be wounded, some seriously, and four would be killed: in alphabetical order, their names were Conway LeBleu, Todd McKeehan, Robert Williams and Steven Willis. Some of the twenty-odd ATF casualties were caused by return fire, and some of them were caused by friendly fire. It was and remains the worst day in the history of an agency that has had a lot of bad days.

One of the problems was that none of the ATF agents were prepared to do combat trauma medicine; no provision for medical support had been made; and so many resources had been poured into setting up a press center for the post-raid press conference that the officers on the scene didn’t have any means of communication. As an agent tried, with no training and no equipment, to somehow give first aid to a critically wounded, nonresponsive brother agent, another called out to the newsman filming the scene. “Cameraman! Call an ambulance.”


Until the cameraman called, no one had alerted the county medical trauma unit. ATF senior managers had been afraid that local first responders would leak to members of the cult. The irony is rich, because there was indeed a leak. But that leak came from those same senior managers, publicity hounds who leaked the raid to television networks to make sure ATF made the evening news.

Boy howdy, did they do that.

The ATF repaid the cameraman by pointing their guns at him and threatening him. You could say they treated him like a dog, except they didn’t shoot him. 

Meanwhile, the inmates of the cult compound were on the phone to 911 trying to get them to get the ATF raiders to back off. The ATF radio van, though, was unmanned. The agents there had left it to join the firing line, and no one picked up the phone.

That very day, senior ATF managers ordered the destruction of certain evidence, including all copies of the raid plan. Video shot by ATF videographers was destroyed; the ATF tried to seize and destroy video shot by media that they’d invited to the raid. (At least one cameraman palmed the exposed tape and gave ATF a blank one, which is the only reason any visual evidence of that raid survives).

In a video recorded that evening, cult leader David Koresh said, “Hey, I’m sorry some of you guys got shot. But God’ll have to sort that out, won’t he?”

Well, by the time Koresh got there, LeBleu, McKeehan, Williams and Willis had been telling their side of the story for months. Assuming, of course, that the outlaw lawmen and the blasphemous churchman wound up in the same place.

With the destruction of vast swathes of the evidence by the agencies involved, sorting out the events of February 28, 1993 is unlikely to be very successful. One thing, though, is that no one it ATF thinks anything they did was wrong. Therefore, no measures were taken to correct any shortfalls (how could there be? There were no shortfalls!) and no one was held responsible. In ATF historiography, they were just minding their own business when waylaid by David Koresh, whom the FBI sort-of held responsible by burning his house down around his ears, while HRT snipers made sure no one got away.

A lot has been written about Waco. The best book is Dick Reavis’s The Ashes of Waco. Reavis did something nobody else did: tried to understand the cult and their theology. (It’s as bizarre as its detractors say). He also tried, in a remarkably even-handed way, to understand the ATF agents. He picked up to some degree on the vast chasm that yawns between the DC HQ panjandrums whose life is politics, and the field agents who get the smelly end of every new DC brainstorm. A lot of what is written about Waco is propaganda; Reavis’s book stands out for its careful research and mature, level tone.

In the end, apart from the dead, nobody really paid. No one was fired, demoted, or suspended. (Not that stuck, anyway). Some people call ATF all kinds of names, stormtroopers, whatever, but that sentence, “No one was fired…” tells you the reality of it: bureaucracy, armed.

We got ours for free. No wonder the factory’s on the skids.

SF Recruiting Poster pick it upIs there any headgear packed with more Francophile symbolism than the beret? The floppy wool hat was a shepherd’s cap, then the height of women’s fashion, and finally became a military “badge of courage, a mark of distinction”  (to quote John Kennedy). The beret went to war in World War II, thanks to the Resistance and the British Commandos. It was so fashionable, but even some Nazis wore them (the Panzer Corps). The French and other Continental armies adopted them later; most nations have different colors for different branches of service, but the French even have different styles of beret for many regiments (and the Foreign Legion clings to the pre-beret képi blanc). In the US Army, it was an illegal hat worn by Special Forces for nine years before being approved by Kennedy in 1961, to the everlasting vexation of the Army Institute of Heraldry. To this day, it is the only article of American military uniform ever approved directly by a president.

SF poster it says more about youAnd one time, the beret was worn only by elite forces in United States: red for paratroops, black for Rangers, and green for SF. Air Force SOF operators had blue and red ones. Even the SEALs flirted with a nonregulation ripstop camouflage one in Vietnam. The beret lost its cachet when struggling Army chief, Rick Shinseki (yes, the same bozo currently mismanaging the VA) awarded the Rangers’ black beret as a sort of social promotion to every generator mechanic and water purification specialist in the army. This drove the Rangers to a tan beret, But what it really did was make all the elite units more or less lose interest in berets entirely. Thanks to Shinseki, it was now, “a badge of mediocrity, a mark of nothing in particular.”

Meanwhile, after the Cold War ended, the conscript armies of Europe it, including France’s, converted into much smaller professional armies. The demand for berets collapsed faster than the politruk of the Third Shock Army’s hope for a retirement dacha on the Riviera. And it took a while, but France’s last beret manufacturer, a company recognized as an Enterprise du Patrimoine Vivant, or Enterprise of Living Patrimony, is on the ropes. The Chicago Trib:

PARIS — Laulhere, a 174-year-old beret- maker, is fighting to keep the quintessential French headgear French.

Laulhere became the country’s sole maker of traditional berets after it recently bought Blancq-Olibet, its only French competitor, which was almost 200 years old. Cheaper knockoffs from China, India and the Czech Republic made survival hard for local makers of berets, which have been as much a symbol of France as baguettes and Gauloises cigarettes.

Based in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, where the round and flat woolen hat was invented by shepherds to protect themselves from the Basque region’s damp, Laulhere has joined the frontlines of the battle for the “Made in France” label as foreign-made berets steal an increasing share of a shrinking market. On its website, Laulhere says: “To us ‘Made in France’ still means something.”

“There are berets and there are berets,” said Mark Saunders, the head of sales at Laulhere and an Irishman who has lived in France for over two decades. “If you don’t want to smell like a sock wearing a wet beret, only our traditional French beret doesn’t retain odors. Small details like that make a difference.”

The fight for survival by Laulhere — rescued in a purchase by French military-garment maker Cargo-Promodis with a 500,000 euro ($686,000) injection in late 2012 — tells the tale of President Francois Hollande’s competitiveness challenge. French companies struggling to compete and retain market share have contributed to the nation’s slumping economy, which barely grew after 2012 and left unemployment at a 16-year high.

via Last French beret maker fighting for survival –

Say what? Euro cradle-to-grave socialism produces a slumping economy? And France’s decades of protectionism haven’t helped? Unpossible!

Laulhere…  is banking on demand from the high end of the market to revive its fortunes after its bankruptcy in 2012.

Laulhere, which had 1.7 million euros in sales last year and didn’t make a profit, expects “to break even this year,” he said.

Ah, “break even.” Dans la belle France, they call that la victoire.

The company plans to produce 200,000 hats this year, up from 160,000 in 2013. Half of its beret production goes to armies around the world. The rest goes to the fashion industry and to traditional wearers of the headgear.

Men’s berets from Laulhere can cost anywhere from 40 euros to 75 euros, while women’s are priced between 20 euros and 95 euros. Imports can cost as little as two euros.

Get outa here. They’re having a hard time selling hundred-plus-dollar berets? When the competition sells for three bucks? How could that possibly be?

Global competition has come from berets manufacturers in China, Pakistan, India and the Czech Republic, where the company Tonak a.s. produces fashion berets for women.

Until the late 1980s, France produced several million berets each year. Sales slid for decades, with cheaper products made in Asia. The nail in the coffin came in 2001 when the French military ended conscriptions, eliminating hundreds of thousands of army orders.

The end of the draft appears to have done for their captive market. Because after all, who’s more captive than a draftee? Well, prisoners, but even in France, they don’t wear, “a mark of distinction, a badge of courage.” (By the way, where do they keep the cons, now that they tore down the Bastille and Devil’s Island is gone to weeds?)

Maybe SF needs to go to the pakol to maintain its traditions?

Maybe SF needs to go to the pakol to maintain its traditions?

It’s hard to see how Laulhere — or any other European high-cost, low-automation manufacturer — survives in a global world. The executives’ plans to take the company upmarket make as much sense as anything. Luxury goods can sell on snob appeal, and luxury sellers can successfully brand and sell handcraft work. In the luxury market, overpriced goods are valued for their sheer signaling potential. They tell people you have enough money to be careless with it. So maybe they do have a chance. It would be nice to see them succeed. But there is a faint aroma of buggy-whip about the whole thing.

Would you pay a hundred bucks for a beret? Hell, the Q course is still giving them out for “free.” That’s how we got ours. Back when it still was, “a mark of distinction, a badge of courage.”

The Parachute Infantry Regiment that didn’t fight

Hey, what have all these paratroopers got in common?

Hey, what have all these paratroopers got in common?

Even if you’ve studied all the combat operations in the European and Pacific theaters in World War II, you might not have heard of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment. That’s because the “Triple Nickel PIR” never deployed overseas; the segregated black unit was not wanted in either theater of combat. Army generals said that the problem wasn’t that the black troops wouldn’t perform; it was that white troops wouldn’t accept them.

As a result, the 555th PIR was committed not to combat, but to fight another threat: wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. It wasn’t a combat role, but the men did it, and did it well. In 1947, one of the very generals who hadn’t wanted them in 1944 forced their integration into the American airborne forces, and the name of the 555th vanished.

But [late 1SG Walter] Morris knew that, despite receiving second-class treatment, black troops were not second-rate service members—and in 1943, he was able to prove it. That year, First Sgt. Morris was assigned to lead a group of black troops at Fort Benning, where the army was training an elite new division: paratroopers. Although blacks were barred from serving, the proximity of the training field to the “colored” barracks allowed Morris to observe and learn the routines. Each day when the white trainees left the field, Morris assembled his men and put them through the rigors of paratrooper training. “They loved it,” he recalled. “They wanted to be soldiers, not servants.”

Morris in 2010 at a Pentagon ceremony honoring the 555th (D. Myles Cullen/Civ)
One day, the commander of the parachute school, Brig. Gen. Ridgley Gaither, witnessed the unauthorized training session and sent for Morris. “Who gave you permission to use my calisthenics field?” Gaither asked. “No one, sir,” replied Morris. “I just wanted to create a bit of morale and self-esteem for the men.”

via How These WWII Paratroopers Made Military History.

The story is from the tabloid Parade magazine that’s stuffed into the Sunday papers of those that still support their local anti-gun propaganda sheet. Morris passed a way a while back, in his nineties. And it was alnost accident that made him America’s first black paratrooper.

Gen. Gaither had been planning to conduct an evaluation of black paratroopers, when he saw 1DG Morris’s display of initiative and leadership. And, by the minarets of Serendip, here were a bunch of ready volunteers right in front of him: Morris’s men, who came from the all-black 92nd Infantry Division. The evaluation was a success, and led to the creation of the 555th. 1SG Morris was the first black man to pin on paratrooper wings; his descendants have continued his tradition of service to America.

Here is a short video about the 555th from a regimental website. It tells the whole history from test platoon to smoke jumpers to veteran survivors in a couple of minutes. You may wish to mute the music soundtrack (the footage was probably originally silent):

Today, the idea that black men might be unsuitable to be paratroopers is so ridiculous that it’s hard to encase within one’s living skull the bizarre notion that within within living memory, not only did some people feel that way, but many people felt that way. Enough people felt that way that American officers had real concerns about the disruption bringing the unit overseas might’ve caused. (That would not be the last time officers would underestimate the character of their men).

While the US at the time was racist from beak to tailfeathers, the Army looks pretty bad compared to the Air Corps, which committed all-black fighter and bomber units to combat in the European Theater. (The Army did commit a combat regiment of Japanese-American soldiers, the famous 442nd). And while General Gavin’s order to integrate the 555th with the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment in 1947 seems to be admirably ahead of President Truman’s 1948 desegregation order, the Army as an institution dragged its feet on desegregation. Some of the first units committed to the Korean War in 1950 were still-segregated black infantry units, that would not have existed as such if the Army had obeyed Truman’s order. As late as 1951, the Army was still drafting men with the intent of employing them in all-black segregated units. Of course, as late as the 1960s, black soldiers entered a Jim Crow world when they exited many Army bases. Times do change.

There’s nothing in the life of an infantryman that confers an advantage on one race over another. If scientists are right about the roughly 60 traits that are unevenly distributed across the races, every race gets some advantageous ones and some that are not so advantageous. (For example, blacks tend to have longer long bones and more fast-twitch muscle than, say, East Asians, giving them more sprinting speed, the combat utility of which is obvious. But East Asians do disproportionately well on the sort of time-speed-distance problems involved in shooting on the move). And these group differences, which have to do with where the median of a population is relative to another population, are tiny compared to the individual differences, which have to do with where an individual is under the bell curve that represents the population he’s a part of. In other words, knowing someone’s race doesn’t give us much practically useful information about his potential performance as a soldier (or much of anything else). It gives us some statistics and probabilities, which are useful when analyzing large groups but nearly worthless when dealing with individual human beings.

It probably has been expressed best by a legion of sergeants over the years:  “Ain’t no black soldier or white soldiers here. All I see is green soldiers.” Not the only thing where an NCO has been out way in front of society at large. The only practical way ever found to judge men’s character has been as individuals, one man at a time. Nothing else matters.

Unfortunately, the men of the 555th, like their WWII cohort, are mostly gone from us now. Fortunately they left us a lot of history; here’s the late Walter Morris’s own story from the regimental web page.

Meet the BAR – in depth with the IMT

The Institute of Military Technology (the museum that spun off from Reed Knight’s amazing collection) has produced this video on the BAR, which includes some period training film and slide footage, Reed Knight himself going over the mechanism, and… best of all! Live fire.


We may be limited in what we can write this week (especially first half…) and we owe you TW3s for the last two weeks. And last week’s Saturday Matinee. Arrgggh, that’s all we can say to that right now. And that we’ll let you know when the backdated stuff goes up. In the meantime, enjoy the BAR.