Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

The Joy of Catalogs

The catalog for the Rock Island Auctions regional auction came yesterday, and it made us think about catalogs.

catalogsOver the years, they have changed; in boyhood, there were always some kind of gun catalogs or wishbooks around. Heck, Ruger used to advertise on the back pages of comic books. Even then, there were several kinds of catalogs:

  1. The glossy, whole-line catalogs put out by manufacturers, from the prosaic (Harrington and Richardson, Marlin) to the sublime (Weatherby, Interarms);
  2. The multi-line catalogs from large dealers and wholesalers, that, if you were a kid fascinated by guns, you might get an outdated version from a friendly salesman;
  3. The sort of “catalogs” maintained by third parties that tried to catalog all available guns, which also had articles, like Gun Digest;
  4. Magazine-like “catalogs” published by magazine publishers that tried to have a photo, the basic facts, and the list price of a some thematically-organized subset of guns, like .22s. These, too, were often sweetened (or, perhaps, fattened) by articles. We remember one that showed the whole process of making .22 long rifle ammunition at the CCI plant. Even in childhood, manufacturing was fascinating. 

The problems with each of those kinds of catalogs were many. We wanted to keep them forever; more practical parents figured they had an expiration date. They also tended to encourage a deep-seated addiction that we still have today: we wanted one of each. And, the catalogs cost manufacturers a lot of money; their stockholders were not going to see any return this quarter from a 12-year-old who was pedaling home from The Gun Room with their expensive four-color glossy advertisements in the basket of his three-speed.

It was during high school that we wrote and sent off for a catalog that everyone of a certain age remembers, or at least remembers the ads for: J. Curtis Earl’s machine gun catalog. In those days, you had to write for things; nobody made long distance phone calls that he or she could avoid (they were expensive!).

The Sale Your Catalog Makes Might Not Be This Year

Memo to marketing VPs everywhere: sometimes you just have to pay it forward. And you have to have faith your company’s survival. We would totally have bought an H&R Officers’ Model trapdoor carbine, if the replica of the Indian Wars classic (and the company that made it, which went bankrupt->auction->Cerberus->Remington Outdoor and lost 95% of its product line and all its character in the process) was still around. Because of the two-page spread about it in the catalog, circa 1972. Most of the oddball .22s we wanted are long off the market, but the Ruger 10/22 we asked for for Christmas is still going strong with millions built. (We didn’t get it, by the way. The Gun Room sold Dad a Winchester 190 instead: less money. We come by being frugal New Englanders the old fashioned way, we’re born to it. The 190 was fine, for a kid).

But we’re pretty sure that Walthers and Berettas that have graced our collection have come to be there, at least in part, thank to catalog photos and copy.

FN, which has been making guns (and presumably catalogs of them) since the century before last, gets it. A few months ago they held an event at one of our local ranges, and while we missed the event they left behind plenty of cool FN rental hardware to try, and a lush supply of glossy catalogs. Naturally one followed us home in the basket of whatever we were driving. And we looked at it at great length.

In our opinion, catalogs are better than most gun mags or gun videos. (Well, especially, most gun videos). The catalog tells you two things: what the manufacturer thinks are the selling points of his guns, their natural advantages. These are the things he emphasizes in his catalog copt. And, the second thing? What he thinks are his disadvantages. Those are the things he doesn’t mention — their absence may only be obvious when you compare catalogs and see what competitors are not boasting about. Glock will never tell you (do they even print a catalog?) that you must pull the trigger to dismantle their pistols, but every striker-fired pistol that doesn’t copy that Glock feature makes sure to mention that you don’t need to pull the trigger to strip the gun. (For someone who came up in the 1911 era, the idea that you would is strange, and smells of bad design).

Catalogs Today

Today, some manufacturers or importers have turned their catalogs into profit centers by having them published by magazines and sold for $10 or so on the newsstand. We’ve got Beretta and CZ-USA catalogs like that; the 12-year-old version couldn’t have afforded them.

As the FN glossy shows, there are still catalogs aplenty. And then there’s the internet. One of the best catalogs online is Maxim Popenker’s, although its focus is primarily military arms.

And then there’s those Rock Island catalogs. We weren’t going to bid on anything, but you know, if we’re going to do that video we’ve been thinking about on Czech pistols, we really ought to have Models 24, 27 and 38 on hand.


If This Gun Could Talk: Webley & Son W.G. Presentation Revolver

We apologize for posting this one a little late. We think you’ll see why.

This revolver, in the potent .455/.476 load, might not have had many tales to tell; it was a presentation revolver, property of a British Indian Army officer, and it probably lived its life in a succession of desk drawers, fired occasionally or not at all. J. B. Woon, who was a Major in the 40th Pathans at the time of presentation (sometime around 1903 when the unit first got that name, perhaps) and who is said to have advanced to the rank of Major or Lieutenant General. It’s a certainty that Woon had some tales to tell; one of those Eminent Victorians, he surfaces in a number of books we can find thanks to the magic of Google Book Search. Or does he?


(Yes, that picture embiggens with a click).

It is, it seems, hard to tell your Woons apart, as apparently there was more than one in British Indian Army service. There was also an Edward Woon, and there may have been more than one J.B. (The British Indian Army was a post-Rebellion service. Pre-1857, the Indian Army belonged to the British East India Company. After the Sepoy Rebellion, triggered in part by the issue of paper rifle-musket cartridges the native soldiers believed to be sealed with pork fat or beef tallow, making them anathema to Moslem and Hindu alike, the Indian Army was reorganized and nationalized).


For example, is this Major-General Woon, C.B., who inspected a Royal Army Medical Corps hospital in Multan in 1908, our guy, who had become an MG and a Commander of the Order of the Bath in a few short years? Or is it another Woon, whose initials were C.B.? We’d probably need to pore over multiple musty editions of the Army List to be sure.

Screenshot 2015-05-22 08.39.46

(Source; Journal of the Army Medical Corps, Volume 10, edited by William Heaton Horrocks).

Here’s a reference that shows that Major General J.B. Woon was, indeed, a Commander of the Order of the Bath. We’ll transcribe the text from the Google Books page, because it’s an interesting story. It’s from the History of the 5th Gurkha Rifles2:

The Battalion went through its first Kitchener test in 1906. Lord Kitchener, then Commander-in-Chief in India, aimed at increasing the efficiency of the army in India by introducing the element of competition into the annual inspection of battalions. Under the rules framed by him all battalions carried out the same series of exercises, marks were allotted on a common basis, and the winning unit held the Chief’s challenge cup for a year.

The exercises began with a fifteen-mile march under service conditions, followed immediately by an attack on a position, the defending enemy being represented by service targets, and ball ammunition being used as a test of shooting efficiency.

A capsule biography of Woon that breaks out his Christian names and his general officer service turns up, of all places, posted by users of the Axis History Forum.

General Sir John Blaxell Woon (1855 – 1938)
1905: Promoted to Brigadier-General
1905: Commander, 6th (Abbottabad) Infantry Brigade, India
?: Promoted to Major-General
1910 – ?: Commander, 5th (Mhow) Division, India
1911: Promoted to Lieutenant-General
? – 1914: Commander, 9th (Secunderabad) Division, India
?: Promoted to General
1919: Retired

A reply there fills in some of the gaps:

Gen Woon, John Blaxall, was born on Feb 24, 1856, not 1855. His date of death is Aug 29, 1938. He was promoted to MG in 1905, and to LTG in 1911. I have no dates for when he took over command of the 2 Indian divisions.

And another reply gets many of the remaining gaps:

General Sir John Blaxall Woon (Feb 24 1856 – Aug 29 1938)
1903: Promoted to Temporary Brigadier-General
1903: Colonel on Staff ?, India
1903: District Officer Commanding Bundelkhand District, India
1904 (or 1903): District Officer Commanding Kohat District, India
1904: Commander, Abbottabad Brigade, India
1904 (or 1905): Commander, Sirhind Brigade
1905: Promoted to Major-General
1910 – 1911: Commander, 5th (Mhow) Division, India
1911 – 1914: Commander, 9th (Secunderabad) Division, India
1911: Promoted to Lieutenant-General
1917: Promoted to General
1919: Retired

The information is based upon London Gazette, The Times, Who’s Who 1897-1996 and Whitaker’s peerage, baronetage, knightage, and companionage.

Btw. Brigadier-Generals were by nature Temporary.

These sources seem to disagree on whether he was John Blaxall or John Blaxell Woon.

In 1905, he marched (on horse) in a massive parade at Rawalpindi as Commander of the 6th (Abbottabad, yes, that Abbottabad) Infantry Brigade. (How massive? The program of the parade claims 55,516 officers and men, 13,396 horses, 5,558 camels, (Trigger warning for Ken White): another ~9,000 mules and ponies, 146 artillery pieces, and 136 machine guns).3

As he did not retire until 1919, it’s clear that Maj. Gen. Woon did something in the Great War. The British Indian Army deployed forces to East Africa in 1914, forces that included most of Woon’s former commands, to fight the German mischief-maker von Lettow-Vorbeck. And it deployed other elements — very large elements, for it was a very large army by modern standards — to fight on the Western Front4. Where Woon went, or whether he stayed “home” to “hustle glum heroes up the line to death” is unclear.

So was Major Woon the same guy as Major General Woon? Father and Son? Uncle and Nephew? Cousins? And what happened, then, to the Major of the 40th Pathans?

And how did the Webley come to be nicely cased…


… in a presentation case with an escutcheon bearing a different set of initials (implying a different officer) and a different regiment, the British Army’s 24th Regiment of Foot (the great Zulu fighters of Ishandlwana and Rorke’s Drift legend)?


We’re itching to fly to London and start researching in the IWM. The listing for the firearm suggests that this J.B. Woon served in the 40th Pathans and later became a lieutenant general. (For those without military experience, a Lt. Gen. is three stars, one more than a Maj. Gen. Yes, this is illogical. Military tradition: deal with it).

The 40th Pathans still exists today, or at least, a successor unit does, the 16th Battalion of the Punjab Regiment in the Pakistan Army. Perhaps the relevant archives are to be found in Islamabad.

But damnation, if only the revolver could speak!

The good news, if you’ve borne with us through all that, is that the pistol is for sale. There’s a listing and even more great photographs of this unique revolver. The bad news is that the seller, Hallowell & Co. of Montana (a real wishbook if you like classic double rifles and shotguns), knows it has something rare and has priced it accordingly: $8450.


  1. Horrocks, William Heaton (ed.). Journal of the Army Medical Corps, Volume 10. p. 95. Retrieved from:
  2. Weeks, Colonel H.E. History of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles: 1858 to 1928. pp, 167-168. Retrieved from:
  3. uncredited. Programme of the Review in Honour of Their Royal Highnesses the Prince & Princess of Wales. Held at Rawal Pindi on 8th December, 1905. Retrieved from:
  4. Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Order of Battle of the British Expeditionary Force (October 1914) [summary version]. Retrieved from:


45 Years Ago: Cambodian Incursion

45 years ago this week, ARVN (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam, South Vietnam) and American forces were fighting in Cambodia. Their objectives were to disrupt PAVN (People’s Army of Viet Nam, North Vietnam) sanctuaries and base areas inside the ostensibly neutral country, to set conditions for South Vietnamese security for a “decent interval” (Kissinger’s words) after US withdrawal, and, as what today’s Kickstarter kids would call a “stretch goal,” to seize the North Vietnamese headquarters for their invasion of South Vietnam, COSVN (the Central Office for South Viet Nam).

The limited success of the operation stemmed from its limited objectives and the months that US military and political leaders spent telegraphing it before it was launched. That it was a success at all resulted from the superior combat power, mobility and logistics of the Free World forces, and the PAVN’s inability to withdraw combat units and supply dumps, even given months of notice. They did succeed in pulling back COSVN and its leaders.

Target: PAVN base areas and logistic routes in Cambodia.

Target: PAVN base areas and logistic routes in Cambodia.

Prior to 1970, Cambodia was in a unique geopolitical position. Ruled by a hereditary king (who had technically abdicated, but retained the title of Prince, and absolute power), Norodom Sihanouk, with strong Marxist (“for thee, not for me”) leanings, Cambodia was nominally neutral while aligning politically with Eurasian Marxist powers. Sihanouk effectively ceded the eastern part of his country to the PAVN; he used his port, modestly named Sihanoukville (now Kompong Som), as a secure logistics hub and sanctuary for the PAVN as well. To some extent, he was making a virtue of necessity: the tiny and ill-prepared Cambodian Armed Forces could not have disputed a yard of Cambodian territory with the PAVN successfully.

Sihanouk’s family was old, but royalty or not, his support was bird-bath deep, and his advisors worried that his frequent visits to Moscow and Beijing (where much of his support for the PAVN was coordinated), not to mention his French vacations, were vulnerabilities. Indeed, one morning in 1970 he woke up in Moscow to find he was out. (From here on he would alternate between being figurehead of governments in exile and figurehead of governments for the rest of his life, but never held real power again. His most famous and destructive alliance was with the murderous Khmer Rouge, whose atrocities shocked their PAVN sponsors as much as anybody). The Prime Minister who ousted Sihanouk, Lon Nol, was an Army General who wanted to recover Cambodian sovereignty — this led him to deal with the Americans.

NixononCambodiaGeneral Creighton Abrams, then head of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, was a tanker who saw an armored invasion as the answer to the problem of NVA infiltration and logistic routes through Cambodia, and worked hard to sell this idea in the US Government and to Lon Nol. He got a green light, but the Nixon Administration hamstrung the invasion with politically-determined limits and deadlines as bad as any with which LBJ had hobbled US forces. The incursion, Nixon announced, would neither go deeper than 15 kilometers nor stay longer than 60 days.

At that point, Lon Nol must have known he’d been betrayed by Abrams and Nixon.

The incursion ran from 30 April to 30 June. There are a number of books that recount it, especially the actions of US units; for a South Vietnamese view (with some help from Cambodian and American supporting authors) see BG Tran Dinh Tho’s The Cambodian Incursion, available in the usual low-quality microfiche scan from DTIC.

Militarily, the Incursion was a great success, until it hit its limits. It killed over 10,000 PAVN effectives and captured thousands more, including some interesting senior cadres. It captured monumental tons of equipment, enough to arm several divisions from nothing, including tens of thousands of Chinese Type 56 (SKS) carbines, new in their crates — about which we’ll be writing more, shortly. And then the Allies withdrew on schedule, leaving Cambodia with hordes of PAVN flooding back into the vacuum left behind

Politically, it was a disaster. The only permanent loss to the PAVN — apart from the dead, whom the leaders didn’t care about at all — was the Sihanoukville supply line, and they had lost that politically with the ouster of the playboy king, who was soon retired in a 60-room palace in the workers’ paradise, Pyongyang.

The North Vietnamese now redoubled their sponsorship of a rag-tag and arguably insane Marxist movement, the Khmer Rouge or “Red Cambodia.” The KR soon adopted Sihanouk, popular with the peasantry, and with massive PAVN help began to drive the infant Cambodian Army into retreat after retreat. On their victory, the KR set the all-time record for democide by percentage, murdering from a third to a half of the entire population of the country.

Meanwhile, the “anti-war” movement on American campuses, which was primarily, up to this point, an “anti-draft” movement led by spoiled, upper-class youth who feared the war, received a new breath of life. The flames of protest were fanned by dishonest, slanted and even fabricated reporting from the battlefield. (One lesson the Army took from Cambodia was rediscovering Grant’s understanding that you could not trust reporters with the freedom of the battlefield, that they were functionally enemy forces, and they needed to be contained).

But for us… we’ll get back to those SKSes in either a large or multi-part article. If you have a Cambodian SKS story, please share it in the comments.

How to Launch a Lethal Projectile?

FOOM!Western Civilization’s best answer to the question in the title has been, since approximately the return of Marco Polo to Europe with this stuff, gunpowder: that is, a chemical reaction inside a confined space with a single outlet for the projectile, and the pressure. But that’s not the only answer. And there are reasons you might not wish to use gunpowder. Chemical propellants take some engineering to be safe, reliable, and capable of being stored (the fixed round of ammunition, holding and protecting the propellant in a sealed container capable of being weatherproofed, was a great leap forward in all these areas). Chemical propellants also have thermal, visual, and audible signatures that might be undesirable in some weapons applications.

Of course, before Polo, there were already several answers to the problem, but they basically came down to muscle power, the original projectile launch method that goes back to Cain and Abel, or stored energy (which itself takes many forms: springs, elastic bands, the bent arms of a bow, or the counterweight of a trebuchet. In ancient times, man or animal muscle had to provide the energy to be stored, by stretching the band, bending the bow, or lifting the counterweight). In more recent years, other ways of “sending a message” have become possible, if not yet entirely practical: electromagnetic rail guns, or even the lensed nuclear weapons envisioned in the 1980s for the Strategic Defense Initiative.

In World War II, the OSS wanted the National Defense Research Committee (NRDC), a gathering of eggheads led by Harvard’s former head James Conant, to address the question of projectile launching, starting at first principles, with the objective of producing silent weapons. Stanley P. Lovell, a former NRDC guy who’d been transferred to OSS to help the nascent spy and sabotage agency develop the specialty equipment such missions required, drafted the initial requirement, complete with an innocuous cover name:

No. 1 – Impact Testing Machine

You are directed to study, and if possible produce, a gun having the approximate following military characteristics:

  1. Silent
  2. Flashless
  3. Muzzle velocity of 1000 ft./s.
  4. Maximum calibre bullet compatible with a, B, and C, preferably 50-calibre.
  5. Minimum reloading time, preferably under 30 seconds.

The project may conceivably eventuate as two weapons, one for relatively long-range sentry assault, the other as a personal short-range weapon. The US Armed Forces prefer the former and there are indications that our Allies wish both types of arms.

A projectile launched with those ballistic figures would have competed well with the handguns of the day. As it happened, the NRDC did a great deal of research, beginning from first principles and concluding that crossbows using energy storage in then-modern elastics might be the best answer to Requirement No. 1 and subsequent requirements. Research done, the OSS and its academic tinkerers went on to develop crossbows and other projectile throwers ranging in size from a small pistol to a mortar equivalent.

OSS William Tell

OSS William Tell “crossbow” that used many small elastics. This approach turned out to be better than one large one, or bent wood or metal.

None of these devices seems to have been used in action, and very few if any got to the field. The handful produced seemed to succumb to OSS’s celebrity culture, being demonstrated to everybody and his brother (including, one legend goes, to FDR in the Oval Office by Donovan Himself), and piled up in every intermediate headquarters of the organization to the extent that what the field got, as far as “silent” weapons are concerned, were relatively conventional pistol suppressors (2,500 fielded) and suppressed barrel units for the M3 submachine gun (5,000).

Requirement No. 1 would be coded SAC-1 for the first requirement issued by the “SAndeman Club,” a requirments committee whose full name was the “Directors’ Committee for Cooperation with Special Government Agencies.” SAC-1 would indeed produce a working, if not fielded, silent weapon, the Impact Testing Machine, Spring Type aka The Dart Thrower. SAC-14 would produce the better-known OSS firearms silencers. Other “silent, flashless weapons” included:

  • SAC-13, “Penetrometer,” a long-range crossbow.
  • SAC-36, “Tree Gun”, a silent mortar-equivalent with a planned 250-yard range;
  • SAC-46, “Flying Dragon,” which produced a CO2 pistol procured in limited numbers (it turned out to be louder than the suppressed Hi-Standard .22).

An offshoot of this research produced the Bigot dart system and actually procured 25 guns and 300 darts, almost all of which had been lost, strayed or written off by V-J Day.

The bows and projectors had fanciful names: Joe Louis, Little Joe, Big Joe, William Tell. They weren’t entirely silent, generating about 80 dB (although the protocol for measurement is unknown).

The story of the OSS Crossbows is told in The OSS Crossbows by  John W. Brunner, PhD, with copious use of original documents from the National Archives and a decent quantity and quality of illustrations (especially when considering that the archival material has partly been reduced to microfiche, which is terribly destructive of photographs). That book is the principal source of this post. The publisher, Phillips Publications of Williamstown, NJ doesn’t have a website but may answer 609-567-0695; they have published numerous high-quality histories of spy weapons and technology. The author has his own website and has a few copies of the paperback to offer; ours came from the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, NC.

A French enthusiast of crossbows built a copy of one of the larger handheld projectors, the Big Joe 5.


One wonders what could be done today, with such a general tasking as SAC-1. Certainly we have materials that were unavailable in 1942, from composites with controlled layout of reinforcements to enormously improved synthetic elastomers. The most widely issued silent weapons today are Russian and Chinese devices based on a US system designed as a Tunnel Rat weapon for the Vietnam War but then abandoned at war’s end. These weapons used chemical energy, but contain the chemical inside the cartridge or at least the weapon, with nothing being vented to the atmosphere.

The Siege of Leningrad & Shostakovich

Here’s a remarkable book review by Algus Valiunas at The Weekly Standard, about the Sieges of Leningrad — the famous 900-day one by the Nazis, and the longer and bleaker one by home-grown Soviet communists — and their relation to Dmitri Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony, named (but not by the composer!) the Leningrad. 

We found these remarkable images blurring scenes from wartime Leningrad into the same location in modern St Petersburg on English Russia.

We found these remarkable images blurring scenes from wartime Leningrad into the same location in modern St Petersburg on English Russia.

In 1942, Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, and the Cleveland Orchestra all performed the Seventh Symphony, and the crowds almost invariably went wild from political sympathy as much as from aesthetic bliss. Millions exulted at the radio broadcasts. Moynahan deals brusquely with Carl Sandburg’s braying encomium, characteristic of American excitement at the time, to “a great singing people beyond defeat or conquest”:

The music succeeded perfectly. It hid the camps and the interrogation chambers. The Soviets were not only civilized and cultured: they were also upholders of human freedom.

That is, of course, a truly Orwellian conclusion. While most of the junior officers and soldiers on either side were simple patriots or even simpler conscripts, the twin socialist ideologies Naziism and Communism were and are the path of terror and death. The winners might be different in the two regimes, but the losers are the same: the bulk of the people.

With the war’s end, no half-serious observer could be fooled any more, as Shostakovich and Leningrad slid into disgrace. The piano-playing apparatchik Andrei Zhdanov found his native city and its sometime heroes to be undemocratic stooges of the imperialist West. He fingered the writers Mikhail Zoshchenko and Anna Akhmatova as enemies of the people, and a Zhdanov flunky denounced Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, and Aram Khatchaturian as “Formalist vermin” who were conspiring to bring down the state with music insufferable to honest proletarian ears.

Another English Russia-sourced tromp l'oeil of old and new city.

Another English Russia-sourced tromp l’oeil of old and new city. Can’t quite make out what the giant poster says — death to somebody, anyway. A similar poster (same artist, perhaps) had the slogan, The Motherland Calls.

Such attentions were not limited to artists: In 1950, 2,000 Leningrad municipal and regional bureaucrats went to prison or to the wall. “The city’s proud Museum of the Siege was closed,” writes Moynahan. “The heroism of the siege itself was written off as a myth designed to denigrate the grandeur of Stalin.”

How, then, are Shostakovich’s masterwork and the Passion of Leningrad best remembered? Not a single American commentator at the time remarked that Shostakovich’s macabre rendering of malignity on the march might have represented anyone other than Adolf Hitler. But the composer would be quoted in Testimony (1979), his memoir related to musicologist Solomon Volkov, in this way: “I have nothing against calling the Seventh the Leningrad Symphony, but it’s not about Leningrad under siege; it’s about the Leningrad that Stalin destroyed and that Hitler merely finished off.”

Confession time: we love classical music, but most 20th Century music, leaves us cold (definitely including Shostakovich’s bombast). We’re more comfortable in the baroque period: steady rhythms, sensible harmonies, and predictable dynamics for the simple, military mind.

Naturally when we took the Music GRE subject exam (long since eliminated from the catalog, along with most subject GREs. we think) both the music history and the theory were about 75% 20th-Century music, including a question on Philip Glass and whole indigestible lumps of Shostakovich scores. We flunked. Fortunately we scored a face-saving ninety-something percentile on the History GRE.But we’ll never like old Dmitri, and you can’t make us.

Fortunately, Valiunas clearly loves Shostakovich, which makes him a good man to review that book, on the siege and the symphony, by Bryan Moynahan. Rather strangely for a book review, we can find no reference to the title of the book… perhaps Valiunas thinks that if you’re smart enough to read it, you’re smart enough to find it.

Sometimes the Law is Not an Ass: Type 99 Escapes Torch

This is a remarkable story of how a Marine’s war trophy went from seized contraband to museum display — thanks to a change of heart by members of an ATF field office.

[A] World War II relic, which spent nearly 35 years under lock and key in the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office, has traveled its own unique path through time and has now finally made it to the Livingston County War Museum in Pontiac.

sullivans japanese Type 99

The item in question is a Japanese Type 99 light machine gun, recovered by U.S. Marine John Sullivan in the heat of battle. His daughter, Jane Sullivan-DePaoli, who was on site at the museum for the recovered artifact’s presentation, recalled the incredible events surrounding his capture of the gun from enemy forces in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

“All the men were lined up, taking fire from a pillbox,” she said, recalling her father’s story, “My dad went in the pillbox, and the gunner turned on him, but he was able to take him and his assistant out.

“After the battle, he went back and the machine gun was still there, so he took it.”

via War Museum welcomes unique weapon loan – News – Pontiac Daily Leader – Pontiac, IL – Pontiac, IL.

At the time, firearms as war trophies were not against US law, but the USMC had restrictions in place, so Sullivan and two of his buddies each took a piece of the gun home as “shrapnel.” Nobody looked too closely, and Stateside, he was able to reassemble the gun. It hung for years on the wall of his home bar — and then some non-friend of his dropped a dime to the ATF.

john_sullivan_usmcYou see, he could have registered the gun — until 1968, when the Gun Control Act clamped down on registrations of guns that had missed registration. The law directed ATF to hold an amnesty then, and thereafter more, periodic amnesties… but after the first one, the agency, whose senior leadership had come to see itself at war with the 2nd Amendment and gun owners, never held another.

The tip came in 1981, and while the ATF had its share of bullet-headed attack bots then, it was nothing like the agency of today. A Special Agent was dispatched to link up with local deputies and talk to Sullivan. They quickly decided that, even though the gun was technically contraband under Federal and Michigan law, they weren’t going to arrest the Marine hero. One of the deputies, now LaSalle County Sheriff Tom Templeton, remembers:

We talked for awhile, and John told the ATF officer and I how he got it, and recovered it from the beachhead. He said, “Do you know how many Marines were killed with that gun?” And he said “I’m the one who silenced it, I brought it back, and its mine.”

But there was that small problem of the law — the gun was illegal, and there was (and is) no way to make it legal, short of destroying it. So they took it and locked it up at the Sheriff’s Office for the next 30 years, while periodically arguing about whether to destroy it.

At the same time, the Special Agent, whose name is apparently lost to time, must have realized that, while the law made possession of this gun technically criminal, it had zero value as a crime weapon, and great historic significance. So did Templeton, whose father was a WWII veteran, and who is a veteran himself.

Recently, Templeton, the Detroit Field Office of the ATF, and Sullivan’s daughter managed to negotiate terms that brought the elderly gun to a secure glass case in the museum.

Meanwhile, the ATF had been close to approving an amnesty especially for war trophy weapons in the late oughts, until the advent of management that prioritized lobbying for new anti-gun laws, and building a case for them by arming Mexican narcotraficantes. 

But even in that environment, they managed to save Sullivan’s historically significant trophy from the torch, and put it on public display: because the guys and gals out in the Field Offices are not clones of the badge-wearing politicians at HQ.

Sometimes the law is not an ass.

A quick bleg… Newsweek story

Ladies and gents,

We want to compare a new Jeff Stein story at Newsweek that we’re hearing about, to some older information we have handy on MAC-SOG’s failed long-duration penetration agent programs in the Vietnam War.

Screenshot 2015-05-03 09.39.44

(There’s an excellent book by Sedgewick Tourison out there already, and we have some other, less widely-published stuff in the Unconventional Warfare Operations Research Library). Stein is a serious writer and researcher who formerly wrote for more upscale outlets (Washington Post, CQ Politics, and did a number of pieces for And Magazine including a character assassination of Marty Martin, whom we knew circa 1979 before he joined the agency) and it makes us wonder if he has something more, but we’re walled out of Beastweek. Link:

If someone could be so kind as to squirt us the text of Stein’s report, we’ll compare it to Wick’s book and the other stuff we have, and see if there’s anything new there, or if it’s just the well-known case of Team Ares (despite the name, a singleton named Pham Chuyen), repackaged in Beastweek gloss and glitter. (that email’s good for anything else you want to send, please tag it WeaponsMan in the subject).

Oh yeah — hat tip. In this case, Mike Vanderboegh.


Call off the dogs! I have the story. Thanks to the reader (and friend) who was first to hit me with it.

Interesting in that Stein quotes Wick as saying something other than what Wick concluded years ago. There’s actually nothing new in the Pham Chuyen story.

It Was a Tyrannosaur-eat-Tyrannosaur World Out There

So concludes Dave Hone who studies these ancient predatory therapods. Tyrannosaurs have come into and out of academic fashion for a very long time, and just now are undergoing a scientific renaissance. And it seems that they were not always nice to one another.

Tyrannosaurid Smackdown

“You’re ugly!” “Yeah, well you’re ugly, and your momma dresses you funny!” Art by Luis Rey via the Grauniad.

In the Guardian, Dave writes to popularize his and his co-author’s findings that Daspletosaurus, a specific species of Tyrannosaur found in Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta shows fossil evidence of having been attacked by same-species animals both while alive and postmortem (living wounds show evidence of healing, post- or perimortem wounds naturally don’t). It doesn’t necessarily mean the creatures were preferentially cannibalistic; they may have fought over sexual selection, for instance. The postmortem wounds suggest the possibility of cannibalistic scavenging.

In a new paper I have published today with my co-author Darren Tanke, we describe a specimen of the tyrannosaur Daspletosaurus from Alberta, Canada that uniquely shows bites marks inflicted by other tyrannosaurs both during its life and after it had died. Daspletosaurus was nearly as large as its more famous cousin, though this animal was not fully grown and would have been around 6 m long and half a ton when it died. As with a number of other tyrannosaurs, there are numerous injuries to the skull that show signs of healing – so must have taken place while the animal was alive. These include punctures and breaks on the bones and one part at the back of the skull has actually been snapped away and the remaining piece has healed up.

The injuries are quite extensive and while perhaps not all were the result of scraps with other tyrannosaurs, clearly a number were and they were quite serious. The larger tyrannosaurs are great for this kind of study as generally the only other large carnivores in their environments were other tyrannosaurs, so it is easy to rule out other candidates as having been biting on them. In the case of Daspletosaurus, there was another tyrannosaur – Gorgosaurus, that lived alongside it and could have been responsible, but it seems more likely such a face-to-face encounter happened between two members of the same genus. Notably there are no marks on the rest of the skeleton, everything is on the head, so this does imply some kind of real fight was going on here with animals facing off or perhaps standing side by side – bite marks are typically not found on the heads of herbivores.

If you find that stuff interesting, you want to Read The Whole Thing™, naturally. But if that’s still not enough dinosaur wonkery for you, the paper that Hone and Tanke wrote is happily open to the public at PeerJ. In fact, even the review chain is public there, which is quite a decent thing.

These findings are interesting in the light of a book we’ve mentioned in theae pages, Animal Weapons by Douglas J. Emlen. One of Emlen’s conclusions is that extreme animal weapons (think a moose’s horns, or a Smilodon’s saber teeth) are likely to evolve more rapidly when they provide a reproductive advantage than when they provide a survival advantage. In other words, an advantage in competing for mates trumps an advantage in staying alive. It’s logical when you think of it; it’s the creature that produces the most offspring that has an outsized direction on the fate of the species. (We know what you’re thinking: “Oh, snap. Octomom.” Indeed). So that’s why we speculate that this face-biting may have been related to sexual competition. It is, we’ll admit, the most arrant speculation; for all we know the bite may have been some virginal tyrannosaur-ette defending her honor from a would-be sexual assault perp, which would make Daspletosaurus courtship rituals the logical starting point of your next mandatory SHARP briefing.

For an educated lay audience, the current Scientific American has a cover story on recent findings in the world of tyrannosaur species, which evolved from small but nasty man-sized critters to the fearsome and familiar T. Rex. Among the recent discoveries — a number of them had feathers, or at least downy “fluff.” We no longer subscribe to SA — too much ill-founded global-warmism and a truly antiscientific, magical-thinking approach to human cognition studies turned us off — but we did buy that issue on the newsstand. And there’s a couple or three good articles in there amid the warmistry and biology denial. Not enough to be worth resubscribing to, mind you.

Canadian Machine Gun Resto Project

Two machine guns in battered condition on a Canadian war memorial are being examined and will be cosmetically restored to their original condition — and efforts are underway to determine their true provenance and history.

Both are German MG08 guns. The one in this picture, on the south side of a roadside cenotaph in Harold, Ontario, was captured in 1918 at Arras; the hole in its water jacket may have been caused by Canadian fire. The cenotaph itself is rare: most Canadian cenotaphs list only the war dead, but this lists the returned surviving veterans as well as the fallen.

MG08, captured at Arras, 1918.

A pair of 100-year-old German guns, taken as souvenirs at the end of World War I, will be temporarily removed from the cenotaph on Highway 14 to be refurbished thanks to the efforts of the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Stirling-Rawdon Historical Society.

Silenced in 1918, the guns will never fire again says society member John Lowry, but they will be cleaned up and returned to their original colours, perhaps even solving a few mysteries along the way. Lowry explains that significant research has been done on the weapons, a pair of Maschinengewehr 08 machine guns captured by 2nd Division CEF troops at the end of the war, but there are many unanswered questions as well.

via Machine gun restoration project under way.

John Lowry and Phil Martin of the Historical Society will try to match the gun’s original color scheme — if they can determine what it is — and answer the question of what made the hole in the Arras gun. They’re also trying to find photographic evidence tying the gun’s partner to a particular location or battle.

John Lowry (l.) and Phil Martin (r.)

Lowry thinks the hole in the water jacket may have been the act of a Canadian sniper:

[T]he Arras weapon appears to have been disabled by a sniper’s shot and the restoration may lead to a conclusive answer, he adds, “if we find a .303 bullet in there.” Lowry says that the guns, capable of firing 500 rounds per minute, were water-cooled using a chamber that surrounded the barrel and marksmen would deliberately aim for it hoping to quickly overheat the weapon rendering it useless.

According to the article, trophies like this were once commonplace across Canada, but the herd — once numbering some 15,000 captured arms, originally intended to populate a grand war museum, but on the project’s cancellation scrapped or spread across the very large country — has been thinned, less by time than by WWII scrap drives.

[T]he remaining local pieces, which also include a trench mortar in Madoc and a field artillery piece in Trenton, are only a small fraction of the enemy weapons that ultimately arrived in Canada after World War I. …. A significant number, Lowry says, were scrapped during World War II, including a pair of machine guns received by the village of Stirling. The fate of a similar pair that arrived in Marmora is unknown, but they too may have been scrapped.

The Stirling Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion has raised the cost of the MG restoration. And no, they won’t be restored to firing condition — it is Canada up there, which is kind of like Massachusetts with more polite people and much better drivers.

Who’s Buried in Lt. Colley’s Grave?

This is a question that requires us to ask another question. It first came up on the website of the little town of Gray, Maine, a suburb of Portland: who is buried in the Civil War grave of Lt. Charles Colley, late of the 10th Maine volunteers? A town clerk, Debi Curry, who was an amateur genealogist, was trying to confirm a longstanding town legend.

So was one of Colley’s surviving (if distant) relatives, Mark Faunce of Limington, Maine. Faunce is Colley’s second cousin four times removed, according to a report in the Portland Press Herald.

According to the tale, Colley, a 29-year-old junior officer, died of complications from a knee wound received at the little-known battle of Cedar Mountain on 9 September 1862. He was evacuated to a large union hospital at Alexandria, Virginia, where he died on 20 September. A knee wound today is, at most, an orthopedic surgeon’s technical challenge, but in 1862 it was often a death sentence — sterile operating rooms, antibiotics, and general understanding of the germ theory of infection were all far in the future.

His grieving family arranged to bring his body home to Gray, only to find, when they opened the casket, that the body they received was not their Charles. Who was he? A perfect stranger — dressed in a uniform of Rebel grey! With no identification, nor any hope of finding the unknown Johnny Reb’s family, the unfortunate and lost man was interred in Gray’s cemetery, with a stone identifying him as “Stranger, a soldier of the late war; died 1862.” The stone was, it says, erected by the Ladies of Gray. (Maine women are tough, but that probably doesn’t mean they wielded the shovels or chipped the stone; rather, that they collected money to pay for the marker).

Stranger Grave

Stranger’s Maine headstone, about 100 feet from Colley’s. Portland Press-Herald photo.

The Gray, Maine version of the tale has Colley’s correct body showing up in Gray some weeks later, and being interred under the headstone his family had procured for the purpose. To this day, the headstones of Colley and Stranger stand near each other in the cemetery; in season, Colley’s is decorated with the national flag, and since the 1950s when a man from Georgia made the request, Stranger’s has been decorated with the national and battle flags of the Confederacy. It is a small gesture to a fallen foe, buried far from his family and his native soil.

Enter Debi and Faunce and their research. Thinking it would be interesting to find the documents of Colley’s service, they discovered something completely unexpected.

Charles H. Colley enlisted in Company B, Maine 10th Infantry Regiment on Oct 4, 1861 and was promoted to Full 2nd Lieutenant on 18 Sep 1862, just two days before he “mustered out” on September 20, 1862 at Alexandria, VA. War department records indicate that he was buried in Section A, Site 325 of Alexandria National Cemetery on the very day of his death.

And there is the question, because according to the Cemetery, that is still Colley’s last, undisturbed resting place. As far as they’re concerned, he’s in their graveyard, and they still have the stone — made postwar, of course, at the time war graves would have been marked with a wooden marker — to prove it. Debi Curry got on the phone:

Two phone calls to Alexandria National Cemetery and a return email confirm that Lieut. Colley rests at Alexandria to this day. He was not disinterred to be returned to Gray as the story tells.

Colley's Maine headstone. Portsmouth Press-Herald photo.

Colley’s Maine headstone. Portland Press-Herald photo.

Well, the same Maine officer can’t lie in two graves. He’s in one, or the other (or, possibly, neither; one gets the feeling that 1860s grave registration practices were slapdash and lackadaisical).

Does this mean that the marker placed in Gray Village Cemetery with the name Lieutenant Charles H. Colley could, in fact, be yet another unknown soldier? Or, is it simply a cenotaph? Or, perhaps there is more to this story, after all?

Oh, there’s certainly more to this story! The question is, can we find it? (A cenotaph, by the way, is a memorial marker to one or more deceased, erected in the absence of their remains; the term, like the practice, was popular in the 19th and early 20th Centuries as communities dealt with the losses of numbers of men in industrialized war on land and sea that left loved ones with no grave over which to weep).