Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

More General Harbord for your Reading Pleasure

MG James Guthrie HarbordWe’ve before enjoyed the great prose and center-of-the-action position of World War I’s Major General James G. Harbord in the form of his (curated and edited) collection of letters to his wife at home, Leaves from the War. Harbord was a very central figure in the American participation in the war: from the start he was Chief of Staff to AEF Commander John J. Pershing; then he commanded the Marine Brigade; then he commanded the 26th Division; then the Services of Supply; the war was over.

So it was with some delight we found further Harbordiana on, made free by the relentless workings of time on the copyright laws. (The last book was so entertaining we wish there was somewhere we could PayPal a small honorarium in honor of the great man to his living posterity, if any). The description of the work on was promising:

Outline biography of Maj. Gen. James G. Harbord.–A year as chief of staff of the American expeditionary forces.–The Army as a career.–The American general staff.–A month in Belleau woods in 1918.–The dedication of Bois de Belleau.–The Chattanooga war memorial

via The American expeditionary forces; its organization and accomplishments : Harbord, James G. (James Guthrie), 1866-1947 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive.

In fact, it was a collection of speeches, something that became clear only on the reading. Had we known that we might not have clicked, for what soldier has not sat through a speech from some ancient VIP, and what speech of those has not droned on interminably in the direction of Judgment Day, with nought to show for it but the knowledge that you sat where Authority sat you and endured what you were tasked to endure.

Soldiers being soldiers, some of the recipients of these speeches, like classes at the War College, may well have felt that way, but today, from a dry page, they raise the ghost of this dead period of history and make it come alive before you. These are not the anodyne speeches that today’s enervated, deracinated, homogenized political generals and admirals read haltingly from a TelePrompTer; they’re war stories from a man who was, at one time or another, in every key seat not occupied by Pershing himself: Staff Chief, Brigade Commander, Division Commander, Commander of the Services of Supply.

You sit with Harbord and Pershing in Room 223 of the old State, War and Navy building (now the Old Executive Office Department; principally the offices of the Vice President and his staff and the First Lady’s staff, both of which staffs are larger than that with which we planned and conducted our million-man contribution to the Great War). The staff was, shall we say, select in that it was small enough to get things done, unlike today’s bloated headquarters. How small was it? Small enough to put a name to every key officer in a single paragraph.

The Field Regulations of 1914 provided for three sections of the General Staff. Majors John McA. Palmer and Dennis E. Nolan were detailed from the War Department General Staff, and from stations outside of Washington General Pershing secured Captains Hugh A. Drum, Arthur L. Conger and William O. Reed, who became members of the General Staff of the American Expeditionary Forces and joined us before departure.

Are you listening, Pentagon? General Staff for planning a war (which, by the way, we won, beating the nation that gets credit for inventing the General Staff): 1 x Colonel, 2 x Major, 3 x Captain. Six guys. There was probably more brass involved in the 2015 decision to supply that same building with tranny lavatories.

In all about fifty officers of all grades and departments, including a number of medical and other reserve officers, sailed with General Pershing for France on May 28th,1917.

Along with special staff, those fifty included prospective unit commanders.

For long after our arrival abroad requests for additional officers were grudgingly granted in the light of the numbers we had taken with us; and, in the preparation of this paper, I have read an approved history which states that General Pershing took an “ample staff” to France.

Getting some of the officers out of the States and away from their independent branches was difficult:

The myopic vision of the War Department of what lay before us in France was shown by the reluctance with which staff officers were furnished us at the beginning. Embarking for the greatest war of all time, there were some officers performing duties “too important” to admit of their being spared for a mere war.

At first, Harbord, then a colonel, was not sure Pershing, with whom he had been very friendly, but hadn’t seen since that man’s return from Mexico, wanted to see him. He was afraid that Pershing would feel that Harbord had snubbed him, by not joining the human wave of supplicants and preference-seekers that descended upon the commander-designee.

On meeting Pershing again, the friendship and working relationship were just about perfect. Pershing initially did not want Harbord for Chief of Staff, because he believed that either the Commandant or the Chief of Staff for the American Expeditionary Force in France ought to speak the French language; he was disappointed to learn that Harbord no more spoke French than he did himself.

That, in the end, didn’t matter. After considering two other, presumably Francophone, officers, Harbord’s performance in the position as an “acting” chief changed Pershing’s mind. The Language of Love was going to have to fend for itself.

Pershing never regretted that decision, and Harbord never let him down, drawing one tough task (how about an Army officer commanding a Marine Brigade!) after another. And quite a few of those stories are told in this book.

Since the speeches were often to officers or veterans, this book has more martial detail than Leaves from a War Diary, which is an edited collection of personal letters to his wife.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Winter Soldier

winter_soldier_dot_com2In early 1971, a series of strange gatherings were held by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and allied and fellow-traveler groups. In case you were curious about the orientation of these groups, they tended to include such broad-based elements as the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and were sponsored by such broad-based entities as a radical Unitarian church in LA.

OK, so maybe not so broad-based.

Although they did try to bring out active duty GIs by promising free beer and loose women, on the theory that having real draftees among them boosted their authenticity.

Their gatherings included mock “attacks” and good old Marxist/Leninist “street theater,” but the flagship enterprise of the VVAW was the Winter Soldier Investigation, an imitation court-martial in which ragged, scruffy, long-haired veterans vied with one another to tell the most over-the-top tales of atrocities and misconduct in Vietnam.

In 2004, interest in the VVAW (which still existed, in true Communist fashion, as two bitterly feuding factions, which we recall as the VVAW-Marxist/Leninist and the VVAW-Anti-Imperialist, but we might have the lefty cant wrong) rose again because of the Presidential candidacy of former VVAW figurehead John Kerry. Kerry had used the VVAW to launch himself on the trajectory that would bring him into the Senate in the Watergate Class of 1974.


At the time, Vietnam veterans and historians went looking for the original Winter Soldier documents, only to find there were very few to be found — Kerry’s minions had been buying 30-year-old copies of the Daily World and Daily Worker, and a book that was published with photographs of the young soi-disant Heroes who Spake Truth to Power.

In 2004, Scott Swett and a small team assembled all obtainable VVAW documents and records into a website, and Scott was instrumental in inspiring the formation of the Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth (later, the Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for the Truth). Mostly, this is all a footnote to history now, but the archive that Scott so painstakingly gathered over 10 years ago remains on line at

It is full of fascinating findings. The Army commissioned an actual investigation of the atrocity claims from Winter Soldier and was able to establish only one. 

More of the claims smelled bad, then and now. One SF weasel, a guy named Don Pugsley who had never deployed to combat because he was seriously injured in a helicopter crash during in-country reconnaissance training, told a story of a helicopter machine-gunning water buffalo. Placed under oath, his story withered away like the state was supposed to do under Marxism: no, he’d heard a guy talking about some U/I LTC ordering a chopper crew to shoot waterboos, which the crew then did not do. That wasn’t the way he’d told the story in Detroit, but, he wasn’t under a real oath in Detroit.

(Pugsley, the anti-military protester, would reinvent himself later as a gung-ho SF guy and join 19th Group in California, where he rose to be a company sergeant major, and, we are not making this up, a guy who consulted for Hollywood on combat. But he was still a weasel).

Another SF-claiming guy, Paul Withers, threw his medals down and said he had won:

…the Silver Star, the Distinguished [Service] Cross, nine (!) Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal for heroism, the Air Medal, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

Search of an admittedly incomplete Vietnam SF database comes up blank on Withers. Search of a complete VIetnam Army DSC database at includes no recipient named Withers.

The year after Winter Soldier Withers appeared in a Communist newspaper, making outlandish claims about his Vietnam service, he was featured in a booklet called Trail of the Poppy claiming that he’d been a drug buyer for the CIA in Laos in 1966. (The booklet was published by another Communist group; that the US was, as a matter of official policy, involved in drug trade in Vietnam was a major propaganda theme of the Soviet KGB in the 1970s).

We’re willing to take one of Withers’s statements at face value: he probably really was a drug buyer.

The exaggerated claims of evil Vietnam vets that were to become a journalism, media and entertainment staple, drew extensively on the nonsense purveyed at Winter Soldier. And Swett and others have done historians a great boon by collecting the available records, publishing them online, and leaving them up for posterity.

Cool, Your Jets

Well, actually, anybody’s jets are cool. There’s a great post on the history of the jet engine at The Arts Mechanical, including this ~45 minute History TV video.

The video is a great overview of early jet development. (Our favorite bit is Irv Culver’s practical approach to prototyping, as recounted by a junior engineer. You’ll see what we mean). The video oversimplifies the MiG-15/F-86 performance comparison, but it’s good.

Rare video of Heinkel and Caproni-Campini experimental jets is shown. (No reference to Coanda’s 1911 experiments, but you can’t have everything in 44 minutes).

The whole post, though, is a treasure trove of more information on jet development. Check out all the videos and links!

Towards the end of his post, he wonders why GE was chosen to develop the Whittle in their (now, largely abandoned) Lynn, Massachusetts plant. That question we can answer: GE was the major maker of turbosuperchargers, which we now call turbochargers, for American aircraft use. (The video addresses the turbo ancestry of jet engines, a little). Turbos were used to boost power at all altitudes, but also to “normalize” an engine, allowing the engine to produce its rated horsepower even in thin stratospheric air. (There would still be losses to the low air density, because the propeller would move fewer air molecules. Can’t supercharge that). And turbochargers require the same kind of precision manufacture of turbine wheels, bearings and ducts, and the same kind of high-temperature materials, required by turbojets. Turbocharger ancestry is particularly evident in early, centrifugal-flow turbojets.

The Lynn plant may be slowly decaying, but GE is still at the top of the turbine game. This article at MIT Technology Review describes a novel, more efficient, pressurized turbo-generator.

Everybody Loves a Baby… 1911.

Michael Bane's shot of a "real" 1911 and the Baby Rock.

Michael Bane’s shot of a “real” 1911 and the Baby Rock. This picture seems to understate the size difference.

Micro-1911s are all the rage now, as compact carry guns, and Michael Bane has got a great post on ’em on his blog. He compares in depth three .380 ACP micro-1911s, the Rock Island “Baby Rock”, the Colt “Government Model,” and the Browning 1911, and mentions at least in passing everything from the old Colt Pocket Hammerless .380 and the late lamented Llamas to the SIG Sauer P238. The post is good enough to Read The Whole Thing™… keep going or you’ll miss the zinger in the specs.

But before there was even the first Colt Mustang, before there was a Llama (the Spanish/Basque guns, not the Andean camelid), Colt made a completely different gun that has been called the Baby 1911… because it is, exactly, a scaled down 1911, in a smaller caliber. It was the Colt Model 1910 in 9.8 mm.

Colt 1910 98 RIA 01

The 1910 was Colt’s name for the pistol that the Army would adopt as the 1911. In hopes of landing European contracts, Colt made 7/8 scale 1910s in a 7/8 scale round, a proprietary 9.8 mm cartridge (also called a .38, it measured .380 across the bullet, not the .357 of typical American “.38s”). While a quantity (perhaps as few as a thousand rounds) of ammo was made, only a few guns were hand-crafted. At least two of the firearms were left in the white at Colt; one was in the Springfield Armory collection (and may still be), and one, Serial Number 4, later passed into the collection of Edward S. “Scott” Meadows, who had it professionally refinished (!). Curiously, Meadows’s book, US Military Automatic Pistols, says that only Serial Numbers 1-3 and one unnumbered piece are known. Colt 1910 98 SN 4 icollector

Colt 1910 98 RIA 02

In any event, Serial Number 4, whatever its provenance, is generally accepted as authentic, and was sold by Rock Island Auctions in September, 2012. This is the RIA description (noting that RIA later corrected the description, noting that the finish was a reblue).

The experimental Colt Model 1910 pistol was developed by Colt as a possible replacement for the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammer Pistol and to compete against Fabrique Nationale in Eastern European markets. Although Winchester manufactured several thousand rounds of 9.8 MM ammunition for the experimental pistol, it did not enter production and only five examples of this pistol were manufactured by Colt circa 1911. Four of these ultra-rare handguns are in museums and private collections. An example of a Colt Model 1910 9.8 MM Pistol is illustrated and described on pages 472-473 of “U.S. MILITARY AUTOMATIC PISTOLS 1894-1920” by Edward S. Meadows. The 9.8 MM Experimental Pistol is a scaled down copy of the very rare Colt Model 1910 .45 ACP Pistol. The slide is shorter and narrower and the 4 1/2 inch barrel has four concentric locking rings. The hammer has flat sides and a checkered spur. The slide has the early rounded rear sight. The slide stop and safety lock appear to be Colt Model 1911 Special Army components. The magazine is a modified Model 1902 Military magazine with un-marked floor plate and a full blue finish. The checkered walnut grips have small diamonds surrounding the screws and are similar to those on the Model 1911 Special Army. The pistol has the high polish Colt commercial blue finish on major components and the bright niter blue finish on the rear sight, hammer, slide lock, trigger and other small components.

As noted, RIA was contacted by a smith who noted that he had blued the gun (not “reblued” because it had never been blued. Because the slide stop and safety of the pistol-in-white shown in US Martial Handguns were also 1911 Special Army parts, this may be the same gun.

The right side of the slide is marked “AUTOMATIC COLT/CALIBRE 38 RIMLESS SMOKELESS” in two unequal lines. The left side of the slide is marked “PATENTED/APR.20.1897.SEPT.9.1902.DEC.19.1905” in a two-line block followed by “COLT’S PT. F.A.MFG. CO./HARTFORD.CT. U.S.A.” in two lines. The left side of the frame is hand-stamped with the serial number, “4” above the trigger guard. “40 CAL/MODEL” are stamped in two vertical lines beneath the slide stop; “40 CAL” is hand-stamped and “MODEL” is stamped with a single die. “RAD 40” (Research and Development) is hand-stamped vertically above the magazine release. “98” is stamped on the lower left side of the barrel chamber above the lug. The pistol is complete with two cartridges with the head-stamp “W.R.A. CO. 9.8 m/m A.C.” and a “U.MC. .38 A..C.P.” cartridge. Included with the pistol are a First Place Award from the 2007 Colt Collectors Association (CCA) Show at Reno, Nevada, a CCA 2007 Display Award, a Texas Gun Collectors Association Spring 2008 Most Historical Award, a Texas Gun Collectors Association Display Award and a notebook entitled “LOST BABY FOUND/COLT’S 9.8 m/m AUTOMATIC PISTOL” which contains the specifications of the pistol and copies of articles written about the pistol’s development.

The nice color pictures are from the Rock Island Auction and illustrate how one might never tell this pistol from a 1911, without having them side by side.

Colt 1910 and 1911 RIA

Serial Number 3 showed up in a June, 1988 American Rifleman article by William H.D. Goddard, who noted at that time only two complete guns, counting one held by Springfield that was made of parts. He did use several A-B comparison pictures.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 12.09.40 AM

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 12.09.27 AM

Goddard took an interesting view of the Colt project. In his view, it was never that serious a product for the Hartford firm; instead, it was a bargaining chip to be use to pose a credible threat to what Fabrique Nationale saw as their home market for Browning designs, Europe. Colt representative Eugene Reising (later of H&R and the Marines’ least loved weapon, ever) was  a distinguished marksman and demonstrated the pistol at Bucharest, Romania, outperforming entries from Luger, Mauser and Dreyse, as well as a hapless Steyr entry that failed immediately.

Whether the 9.8 and Reising’s trip (“nothing looked so good to him… as when the Statue of Liberty flashed into view” on his return) was a bargaining chip or not, FN executives, who’d been dragging their feet, quickly cut a new non-compete deal with Colt dividing up the world into two spheres of influence again.

The Romanians? They bought Model 1910s…FN Browning Model 1910s, a simple, sweet blowback pistol. Later, they bought Model 1922s, the same basic gun with a longer barrel and grip.

FN took a similar path to make a gun that they called the Grand Browning in a different proprietary caliber, 9.65 mm. The sources disagree about how many of them were made, but they were made in 1914 just before Herstal and Liège were overrun by the Kaiser’s merry men, which put paid to the idea of production. It is possible that the Grand Browning was another entry in the Colt vs. FN cartel wars, as the five-year agreement concluded after the Romanian competition was signed on 1 July 1912, and would have been up on 30 June 1917. As it happened, the war intervened and made a mess of all orderly arrangements to divide up arms sales.

Still, you can’t look at the 1910 and not want one, although perhaps in a more popular caliber. “We can lament that this design was not produced in quantity, as it is a most appealing size and weight,” Goddard wrote. Indeed. If anyone made them, we bet Michael Bane would race us to be first in line for one.


Not in the office at the moment, so we’ll give you .pdfs of the relevant pages of US Military Pistols and American Rifleman, June 1988. If we get to the office we’ll replace these The original .pdfs have bee replaced with OCR’d versions.

Hudson Becomes a Shorthand Writer

hudson_maximHudson Maxim was, at the turn of the last century, one of three famous Maxims: his brother invented the eponymous machine gun, and his brother’s son, Hudson’s nephew, the firearm silencer. His contribution was a smokeless powder formula, among other inventions. (He called one of his smokeless powders Maximite).

He also was a witty, engaging writer, with a profound sense of black humor. This excerpt from his 1916 Dynamite Stories tells the story of, well, we suppose you could call it a lab accident. At the end, we’ll link you to the book’s home online.

Is the story quite true as told? Well. here’s his Dedication to the book:


To the actors in the comedies and tragedies of real life presented in these stories, without whose efforts and sacrifices the stories could not have been so interesting and true, this volume is with grateful acknowledgments most respectfully dedicated. As the parts played by the actors were not rehearsed, the performances have required a little retouching in the interest of the reader, the author having subordinated history tostory rather than story to history.

Hudson M

So perhaps the story isn’t — quite — true. We promise it’s enjoyable, regardless.


In experimenting with high explosives and in their manufacture, a little absent-mindedness, a very slight lack of exact caution, a seemingly insignificant inadvertence for a moment, may cost one a limb or his life. The incident that cost me my left hand is a case in point.

On the day preceding that accident, I had had a gold cap put on a tooth. In consequence, the tooth ached and kept me awake the greater part of the night. Next morning I rose early and went down to my factory at Maxim, New Jersey. In order to test the dryness of some fulminate compound I took a little piece of it, about the size of an English penny, broke off a small particle, placed it on a stand outside the laboratory and, lighting a match, touched it off.

Owing to my loss of sleep the night before, my mind was not so alert as usual, and I forgot to lay aside the remaining piece of fulminate compound, but, instead, held it in my left hand. A spark from the ignited piece entered my left hand between my fingers, igniting the piece there, with the result that my hand was blown off to the wrist, and the next thing I saw was the bare end of the wrist bone. My face and clothes were bespattered with flesh and filled with slivers of bone. . . . The following day, my thumb was found on the top of a building a couple of hundred feet away, with a sinew attached to it, which had been pulled out from the elbow.

A tourniquet was immediately tightened around my wrist to prevent the flow of blood, and I and two of my assistants walked half a mile down to the railroad, where we tried to stop an upgoing train with a red flag. But it ran the flag down and went on, the engineer thinking, perhaps, from our wild gesticulations that we were highwaymen.

We then walked another half-mile to a farmhouse, where a horse and wagon were procured. Thence I was driven to Farmingdale, four and a half miles distant, where I had to wait two hours for the next train to New York.

The only physician in the town was an invalid, ill with tuberculosis. I called on him while waiting, and condoled with him, as he was much worse off than was I.

On arrival in New York, I was taken in a carriage to the elevated station at the Brook- lyn Bridge. On reaching my station at Eighty-fourth Street, I walked four blocks, and then up four flights of stairs to my apartments on Eighty-second Street, where the surgeon was awaiting me. It was now evening, and the accident had occurred at half-past ten o’clock in the morning. That was a pretty hard day!

As I had no electric lights in the apartments, only gas, the surgeon declared that it would be dangerous to administer ether, and that he must,therefore, chloroform me. He added that there was no danger in using chloroform, if the patient had a strong heart. Thereupon I asked him to examine my heart, since, if there should be the least danger of my dying under the influence of the anesthetic, I wanted to make my will.

“Heart!” exclaimed the surgeon, with emphasis. “A man who has gone through what you have gone through today hasn’t any heart!”

The next day I dictated letters to answer my correspondence as usual. The young woman stenographer, who took my dictation, remarked, with a sardonic smile:

“You, too, have now become a shorthand writer.”

The grim jest appealed to my sense of humor.

On the third day I was genuinely ill and had no wish to do business. Within ten days, however, I was out again, attending to my affairs.

Now, that’s a man who had a way of dealing with the aftermath of FOOM.

For that, and other stories, we recommend Dynamite Stories, whose full title is Dynamite Stories and Some Interesting Facts about Explosives. It can be downloaded in your choice of e-book format at

For those not inclined to download it, and for the entertainment of the 18C in all of us, we may occasionally excerpt one of these stories going forward.


The Problem of Busting Bombers

This B-17 made it home to England with pilot Allen Lewis still aboard. He had his crew bail out.. they all made it back to friendly lines.

This B-17G made it home to England with pilot Allyn Lewis still aboard. He had his crew bail out.. they all made it back to friendly lines. Source.

In World War II, the Giulio Douhet-inspired saying, “The bomber will always get through,” was on every set of lips in the command structure of the British and American bomber elements. What they didn’t say out loud was, “If you start off with enough bombers to saturate the defenses, and steel yourself to some staggering losses.”

Quite a few B-17s lost their noses (usually to flak, sometimes to fighters or bombs from another bomber overhead) and kept flying.

Quite a few B-17s lost their noses (usually to flak, sometimes to fighters or bombs from another bomber overhead) and kept flying.

RAF Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force did indeed take some staggering losses. The 8th had it relatively easy compared to their British cousins — and there were more killed in the 8th than in the whole United States Marine Corps in World War II. Yeah, all those bloodbaths on all those islands? The 8th got creamed worse than that. But just about always, they got through, and bombed, if not the intended target, something belonging to Jerry.

But losing the tail meant losing control. The crew had seconds only to abandon ship. None of the ten men on this B-17 did.

But losing the tail meant losing control. The crew had seconds only to abandon ship. None of the ten men on this B-17 were able to, and they joined the 8ths long honor roll.

The Germans threw everything they had at the bomber offensive, although it took them a while to get serious about it. By “everything” we mean:

  • single-engine and heavily-armed twin-engine day and night fighters, armed with a range of guns, cannons and rockets;
  • the most saturated gun air defenses the world has ever seen, with guns from light machine cannon of 20mm up to big bruisers of 105 and 128 mm (or as the German nomenclature ran, 10,5 and 12,8 cm), fighters and guns alike; all controlled by,
  • a radar and radio control network of a sophistication unequaled until the development of NORAD and SAGE in the 1950s; and finally,
  • jet and rocket planes, and developmental air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles, too late to do the Germans any good but in plenty of time to give Russian and American aeronautical engineers (and even British aeronautical engineers, which were still a world-class thing in 1945) lots of good ideas for the next arms race.

For an 8,8 cm or 10,5 cm Flakanone, or a battery, battalion or great veritable screaming forest of the guns, destroying the plane was relatively assured — hitting it, that was the hard part. The fighter drivers had the opposite problem — they could hit Lancasters, B-24s or B-17s, but more often than not they’d blow all their ammo into (or at least in the direction of) their targets, and watch the stately bombers fly on to rain death and destruction on German industries and cities. A plane couldn’t carry a bomber-busting 88, or even a 75 (they tried, with a recoilless 75. It was more trouble than it was worth). So they decided to try to teach the fighter pilot to kill, not just hit, the enemy.

"If a Fortress begins to suffer, don't yet dream of victory palms. Keep shooting! Many have come to regret celebrating too soon."

“If a Fortress begins to suffer, don’t yet dream of victory palms. Keep shooting! Many have come to regret celebrating too soon.”

horrido_schiessfibelThe mechanism for this instruction: a mock-grade-school primer, like the ones we’ve already seen for German tanks. Horrido, the Fighter’s Shooting Primer, had a cover graced with a cartoon of a smiling German FW-190 jock zeroing in on a doomed Russian in a Lavochkin. The cartoonist signed “Trautloft,” which makes us wonder if it was Luftwaffe ace Johannes Trautloft. (The internal illustrations and cartoons were done by Berlin commercial artist Thomas Abeking, a second-generation first-call illustrator for German industry at the time). The Fibel, published 23 June 1944 as Dienstvorschrift (Luft) 5001, was a tactical guide, complete with a warning: “Do Not Bring on Combat Flights!” lest the tactics, techniques and procedures inside be captured by the enemy.

Sight picture drill, using a woman.. "get closer"... then in the last image, she's homely: "Break away!" Lower, a B17. Using the wingspan to estimate distance..600m "closer in!".. 300m "open fire, still closer in"... 150m "keep shooting!"

Sight picture drill, using a woman.. “get closer”… then in the last image, she’s homely: “Break away!”
Lower, a B17. Using the wingspan to estimate distance..600m “closer in!”.. 300m “open fire, still closer in”… 150m “keep shooting!”

Written in a familiar tone with lots of cartoons, the principal parts of the book were a general discussion of air combat ballistics and marksmanship; a specific overview of the fire control systems and switchology of the two most numerous day fighters, the Me109G-6 and the Fw190A-6; and hortatory, motivational content.

Instead of a lot of instruction in air combat maneuvering, this is all about how to get hits, and enough hits to justify risking your neck approaching a formation of day bombers. The biggest “secret,” something every fighter ace had stressed since Boelcke’s Dicta of 1916: get close, don’t miss.

Closer in is 9 times more effective. "At this distance, don't shoot! Save ammo, it's very expensive." "And it's also embarrasing when one gets there" (200m) "and would really like to, but can't any more." The pilot's looking at an empty round-counter at right.

Closer in is 9 times more effective. “At this distance, don’t shoot! Save ammo, it’s very expensive.” “And it’s also embarrasing when one gets there” (200m) “and would really like to, but can’t any more.” The pilot’s looking at an empty round-counter at right.

The problem with any manual, even one as informal as this, is that tactics constantly evolve in an environment of enemy contact. This had happened with fighter tactics with, for example, the frontal attack, not discussed in the booklet, proving devastating against the F-model and earlier B-17s, which could only bring two to three guns to bear forward. The advent of the G-model with its remote-controlled chin turret , and the B-24J equipped with a full, manned gun turret in the nose, raised the risk of the frontal attack. German fighters quickly adapted to the new risk profile, changing to a preferential use of multidirectional attacks.

Note also that the mini-manual is aimed only at the individual junior pilot. There is absolutely nothing here about organizing or leading fighter combat, or operational unit tactics, something to which squadron leaders and higher officers gave much thought and discussion. It’s beyond the scope of this small attempt to increase the efficiency of the air defense of the Reich.

"What good is all the bullet spraying, if they're only hitting the general area?"

“What good is all the bullet spraying, if they’re only hitting the general area?”

As the Schießfibel was not published into a vacuum, but into a constantly changing tactical and operational environment, the historian’s question, borrowed from Mark Rylance’s character Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies, “Did it help?” can’t be quantified, or even, really, answered. So we have to answer the question of its effectiveness with an unsatisfying, inconclusive shrug. We don’t know if it did any good. We know it didn’t win the war for Nazi Germany, but by the Summer of 1944 nothing would have done Nazi Germany any good, with the possible exception of overthrowing Hitler.

Here’s a .pdf version of the Fibel for your enjoyment. We are hosting it here to spare them the bandwidth, but we found it on this Czech war-history site.

Horrido Jagers Schiessfibel.pdf


“One Last Word!” — For German Fighter Pilots, 1944

In 1944, the Germans published a breezy, cartoon-filled booklet for fighter pilots flying against hard-to-kill four-engined bombers in defense of the Reich, attempting to get the word out to that most un-bookish type. Even the title was calculated to appeal to the devil-may-care fighter jock: “Horrido! Jaegers Schießfibel” used the Luftwaffe victory exclamation, “Horrido!” (adopted from German’s remarkable 5,000-word “hunter’s language”; supposedly a prayer to the apocryphal St. Horridus, patron of hunters, and therefore the fighter arm), and presented itself as a “Fighter pilot’s” (which in German is the same word as “Hunter’s”) “primer.”


It began, and ended, on a marksmanship theme, and with a card-players’s analogy:

Hits are Trumps!

… And closed with “One Last Word!” — like an Apple keynote address, in the Steve Jobs era. (Not suggesting Jobs was a Nazi fighter pilot; just that showmanship and the arts of persuasion are eternal). Our translation of that last word, from page 34 of Horrido, is:

When you, with your combat ready machine roar through the sky, you are the lord of over 1200 hp and over the destructive effect of 60 to 80 shots per second. What sole combatant in the world has ever had at his disposal such concentrated combat power?

–None! Be proud of that!

But the Homeland has expended many thousands of hours of work, and exhausting overtime hours, in order to put such an outstanding weapon in your hands. She trusts you to employ it courageously and effectively!

Your machine has only a few seconds to be effective in aerial combat. In these seconds you have to get everything – everything, without exception – out of it. If you don’t fire accurately then, all the labor, effort and sweat of the homeland is in vain — and the enemy triumphs.

For that reason, recognize the errors you make, and drill them out by diligent practice. Hits are Trumps!

That was followed by this cartoon on p. 35, the last printed page in the document.



No one else feels like the hunter does;
Battle and victory so concentrated;
That makes us happy, proud, and glad;
Hunting, to… Horrido!

The meaning of Horrido! in this case, Victory or a Trophy.



Mr Bond, Kindly Drop the Vz.58 at Enfield…

OK, maybe they didn’t get it from Bond, even if the Czech Vz. 58P and Vz. 58V  (which we believe stand for Pechotni [Infantry] and Vysadkovy [Paratroop] fixed- and folding-stock versions) did show up in a lot of Bond movies (Roger Moore slides down a banister blasting away with one in Octopussy).

Octopussy_(090)_Vz._58 But somehow British Intelligence got hold of a couple of Vz.58s and delivered them unto the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock by mid-1966. The Small Arms Branch Testing Section received, first, a folding-stock rifle (they didn’t know its proper nomenclature) and began to prepare a report for it; for reasons they don’t share with us, it “was withdrawn and replaced with one with a fixed butt, before the Weapon Description Form had been completed…” but they continued and produced a descriptive report about the weapon by January of 1967.

Small Arms Trial Report Vz 58 RSAF Enfield Lock 1966Our best guess is that the Vzs were loaners from some third-world country that maintained good relations with the Czech export agency, and with Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But there could be some tale of derring-do to be declassified in 2066 or so.

It is almost as big a mystery, where the report went after that, although bureaucratic headers indicate that it was initiated by the Principal Inspector of Small Arms on behalf of the Director General of Artillery.

In those days, before Xerox was ubiquitous, an original was typed and a very few copies were made using mimeographs of a carbon copy of the original, and photographic prints of the photos. It was an expensive way to put a document together and naturally limited its distribution (the document was not ever classified). Per copy, Xerox was cheaper even in 1966, but RSAF Enfield probably didn’t have the capital budget (much less the foreign currency) for one, even in those days of 95% marginal taxation.

How it got in our hands is a little less mysterious: thinking we were buying a fairly rare period Xerox or offset-printed document, we bought it off eBay. To our surprise, we received this absolutely remarkable original, hand-prepared vintage document in the mail.

Unfortunately, our letter carrier rolled the stiff cardboard document into a tight tube to deliver it to Hog Manor, which did it little good. The lignin in the cheap government paper has turned the pages yellow, and somewhere over the decades the pages might have gotten wet, as they have a wavy appearance. The scanner software strives mightily to correct for that.

Vz 58 photographed from overhead

We debated what we would do with this, and ultimately decided that the very best thing to do, while we’re waiting to finish Volume I of Czech and Czechoslovak Firearms so we can start Volume II where this fits, is to share it with you. We will do a proper scan later, but an initial, nondestructive (and non-optimized) scan and OCR, accomplished with our Fujitsu SV600, is attached: RSAF SATB Small Arms Trial Report Vz58 1966.pdf

The report was, as we’ve already said, a descriptive analysis of the rifle and its associated equipment, like bayonet, cleaning equipment, and magazine.

VZ 58 left side with magazine detached

This is a crude, preliminary scan, and will have considerable distortion, as you can see in the attached images. The OCR is likely to be dodgy as well. Later, we will carefully remove the brass staples and rescan under a nonreflective glass platen, and make a new version, but for now, here’s a document we bet you haven’t seen before.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Paul Mauser Archive

mauser_archiveWe have already honored one of the creators of this site, Mauro Baudino, for his other site on the Artillery Luger. But Baudino and Gerben van Vlimmeren manage another must-view website in the shape of this delightful archive from their Belgian base. At the Paul Mauser Archive, they bring to light facts about one of the greatest minds in the history of firearms design, Paul Mauser; his designs, from the Prussian M/71 on; and the mighty company he built, which had such a profound impact on the industry that Heckler & Koch is but one secondary spin-off of the living legend that is the Mauser-Werke.

The bio of Paul Mauser alone is fascinating. I didn’t know his brother Wilhelm was his partner (European gunmaking is full of these brother acts, and Paul Mauser’s father and all of Paul’s brothers became gunsmiths, with one brother even working at Remington in Ilion, NY). Paul was the primary inventor and Wilhelm the primary contract-chaser, something he worked himself to death (literally) doing o that Waffenfabrik Mauser could succeed.

Their first factory burned down in 1874, a common hazard in 19th Century gunmaking (Colt’s burned down in 1862, for example). But they had already proven themselves indispensable to the armorers of the German principalities, and they were back in production in a few months.

The site is, in fact, so full of promise it’s a little bit disappointing that it doesn’t deliver it all at once! But Baudino and van Vlimmeren are conscious that they have a treasure trove here, and they’re taking care to see it’s properly analyzed, digitized and preserved.

Recommended without reservation, the Paul Mauser Archive.

Nuclear Attack, for Real (Nagasaki)

"Bockscar" at the USAFM in Dayton, OH (it embiggens)

“Bockscar” at the USAFM in Dayton, OH (it embiggens)

This is Los Alamos National Labs’ archive film of the “Fat Man” atomic bomb as dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945. It comes to us via the Restricted Data1 channel on YouTube.

To us one of the most salient discoveries is that you can’t nuke a city without duct tape, or as we called it in the Army, “100-mile-an-hour tape.” Bockscar was probably traveling at well over 100 (over 200 in fact) indicated airspeed when it released Fat Man, but Fat Man still had the seam around his nose sealed with the ubiquitous tape. (At about 0:40 in the video).

The author of the RD Channel, Alex Wellerstein, describes it like this:

This silent film shows the final preparation and loading of the “Fat Man” bomb into “Bockscar,” the plane which dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. It then shows the Nagasaki explosion from the window of an observation plane. This footage comes from Los Alamos National Laboratory. I have not edited it in any way from what they gave me except to improve the contrast a little — it is basically “raw.” I have annotated it with some notes on the bombing and what you can see — feel free to disable the annotations if you don’t want them.

He also maintains an excellent blog, of the same title, at this location: Further details on the Nagasaki raid —  and this video — at the Nuclear Secrecy Blog. Do read the comments as, with a couple of exceptions, Alex’s blog, like this one, benefits from an informed and thoughtful commentariat.

Elsewhere on his blog, he also addressed a historical mysterywhy was Kokura, home to Kokura Arsenal known to every collector of Japanese firearms, and Fat Man’s primary target, spared; whilst Nagasaki, the secondary target, was destroyed?2

Terrain model of Kokura Arsenal, the primary target. Saved by 10/10 obscuration on the day of the raid.

Terrain model of Kokura Arsenal, the primary target. Saved by 10/10 obscuration on the day of the raid. (USAAF official via Nuclear Secrecy blog).

His cautious conclusion: while there’s a case for obscuration due to an earlier fire-bombing raid on an upwind city, and a case for deliberate obscuration by Japanese defensive measures, two of which possible measures he describes. Ultimately, he concludes:

In the end, it doesn’t really matter which of these things happened. The bare fact is that Kokura didn’t get bombed and Nagasaki did. But I find looking into these kinds of questions useful as a historian. Too often it is easy to take for granted that the explanations given in narrative works of history are “settled,” when really they are often resting on very thin evidence, thinner perhaps than the historian who writes them realizes. I don’t think we really know what happened at Kokura, and I’m not sure we ever truly will.

His first sentence reminds us of something we say to people who have disturbing memories or survivor’s guilt: “In combat, there’s no right or wrong, there’s just what happened and what you did.”

Alex’s is an elegant and responsible historical blog — much recommended.