Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

150 Years Ago Today

On this day, April 9th in 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his sword and his army to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant at the McLean house, near Appomattox Court House, Virginia. While some Confederate formations in the West would hang on for a few weeks, it was, for all intents and purposes, the end of the American Civil War.


Grant had offered Lee surrender terms, on the 7th, hoping to avoid, “the needless effusion of blood.” Lee replied that he did not consider his situation as dire as Grant seemed to think, but he, too, was opposed to “effusion of blood,” quoting Grant’s words back at him. So… what were his terms?

Grant didn’t get the letter. He was on the move, trying to cut Lee’s army off from supplies, railheads, and above all, escape to link up with Confederate forces still in the field under J.E. Johnston in North Carolina.

And the situation was indeed dire for Lee. Two entire Union armies had come together, and he was outnumbered nearly four to one. In addition, daring cavalry raids (by, among others, George Armstrong Custer) had burned some of his supply trains. One after another, Lee’s commanders told him the situation was hopeless. Their attempts to break the encirclement had failed. There was nothing left but to seek terms.

This Lee did not want to do, but the only two ends he could come to were surrender, or further defeat (and bloodshed), then surrender.

At the point, the day-old Lee letter caught up with the rapidly-moving Grant. It led to a flurried exchange of other letters, and finally, to Grant offering these terms:

April 9, 1865

General R. E. LEE:

In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th instant, I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer to be designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged; and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery, and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by U. S. authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.


Some time during this exchange of correspondence, the forces fought a small bur bitter battle with hundreds of casualties.

Lee accepted the terms and surrendered the same day. Johnston’s army would surrender before the month was out. The last sizable Confederate force in the field was the remarkable Cherokee army under General Stand Watie in Oklahoma; the Indian Confederates surrendered in June.

Grant’s terms were rather more generous than one normally sees in a surrender during a civil war, where passions are generally running high. One wonders if it were a factor in the fact that, militarily at least, the South came to terms with its defeat. It costs little enough to show the vanquished a little respect, to let him save face. That may have been Grant’s greatest contribution to the postwar peace.


Civil War Trust. Grant & Lee: The Surrender Correspondence at Appomattox. Retrieved from:

Eyewitness to History. Surrender at Appomattox, 1865. Retrieved from:

National Parks Service: Appomattox Court House. The Surrender.Retrieved from:

When Reverse Engineering goes to War, it’s “Technical Intelligence.”

Aviation Week is celebrating its 100th Anniversary over the next couple of years, and reprinting or blogging classic articles from prior years, and even from its various predecessor publications. This week they hit upon one that examines, and in part, reverse engineers, an ingenious weapons system we have mentioned before: the Japanese Type Zero Carrier Fighter.


Aviation expert Bill Sweetman sets the stage with a long and informative blog post, and then the 1945 article is broken into four .pdf files. Sweetman:

Newsprint rationing clearly wasn’t a big issue in the U.S. in May 1945, when our predecessor title Aviation published an ultra-detailed four-part dissection of Japan’s “workhorse fighter”, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, with detail that would put some homebuilt-airplane plans to shame. Neither was cultural sensitivity, as the cover wording shows.

The model examined here was the square-wingtipped, non-folding A6M2 Model 32 “Hap,” which had some tradeoffs designed to allow a more powerful engine. (It didn’t create enough speed to justify its extra weight, which shouldn’t surprise any aero engineers out there — aerodynamics are a much weightier influence on speed than horsepower).


The Zero was a design study in the combat multiplier of lightness in design, and is today a jewel worth studying and emulating by anyone who designs things and might like to make them lighter.

[T]he Navy’s requirement for speed and maneuverability comparable to emerging European designs… seemed impossible given the modest power of the biggest available engine.

What emerged was a highly refined design. Weight control was rigorous: Horikoshi wrote that “it was our policy to control anything heavier than 1/100,000th of the aircraft’s final weight”

Sweetman also notes one Zero advantage that we have mentioned before, the equivalent of 7075 Alloy, but he suggests that this wasn’t an oversight:

Aviation‘s story — quite possibly at the behest of the military — misses one key to the Zero’s success: its construction made use of high-zinc-content 7075 aluminum alloy, which had been secretly developed by Sumitomo and was significantly lighter than the 24S alloys used in the U.S. Better metals were not used worldwide until after the war.

Built-up rudder hinge bracket, where US engineers would have used a machined forging.

Built-up rudder hinge bracket, where US engineers would have used a machined forging.

US aircraft still use 2400 series alloys (as they’re numbered now, but they’re the same stuff) in skins and sheet structures, and 6061 in most things requiring plate, billet or cast parts. 7075 is used primarily in forgings. The clever Mitsubishi team under Jiro Horikoshi designed around the need for many forgings, substituting instead riveted assemblies of sheet aluminum alloy.

(Bill would probably be pleased, as he compares the sketches in the article favorably to homebuilt aircraft plans, to know that the rudder hinges and hinge brackets of our RV are built up from sheet and plate, much like some of the Zero’s brackets. So would Horikoshi, who passed away in the 1960s).

The full title and cutline of the original article is:

Design Analysis of the Zeke 32 Hamp: Presenting the 12th of our series, a profusely illustrated part-by-part examination of the Zero’s successor, showing how Jap engineers achieved unusually light structural weight without sacrificing strength.

All parts, .pdf

  1. Design Analysis of the Zeke 32, Part 1.pdf
  2. Design Analysis of the Zeke 32, Part 2.pdf
  3. Design Analysis of the Zeke 32, Part 3.pdf
  4. Design Analysis of the Zeke 32, Part 4.pdf

In addition to those four .pdfs, Sweetman’s post is definitely one where you’ll want to Read The Whole Thing™.

The scan has some issues, mostly at the edges and keeping the many figures straight and unwrinked, but it’s a great boon to everyone who studies How To Build Stuff.

And it’s a good look at a wartime case of digging into the enemy’s engineering.


Before there was “Reverse,” it was just “Engineering.”

So, let’s take a look back at something we’ve been discussing recently: reverse engineering. The term is a relatively new one, but the practice is older than engineering itself. When you get right down to it it’s just “copying.” And manufacturers have been doing that since… Well, since sometime very soon after they first started manufacturing!

Sometimes the drawings (here a Swedish BAR from come after the engineering.

Sometimes the drawings (here a Swedish BAR from come after the engineering.

Bear in mind that parts were not made from drawings until well into the 20th century. Specific jigs and measuring tools were made to ensure that parts were produced in conformance with a physical, mechanical prototype. And designers didn’t work from, or produce, drawings, at least not exclusively: a designer like John M. Browning produced a physical, working model, and brought that to his manufacturing partners. They engineered it for production. Sure, he made drawings, or had them made, but that was for patent purposes (below, right).

bar_patent_hqIn the early twentieth century, talent in gun design usually resided in a different man than talent in production engineering. (There were some who could do both, like John Garand and some of the Russian masters, like Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov, but they were rare).

So in John Browning’s day, putting any of his guns into production was, to one extent or another, an exercise in what we would today call reverse engineering. Production engineers would review the prototype, gain an understanding of its design philosophy and features from the designer, and then figure out how to mass-produce the weapons. And the World War I Browning Automatic Rifle may be the greatest reverse engineering saga you haven’t heard.

Winchester, the firm, was struggling when it was tasked to produce Browning’s new designs, the Browning Automatic Rifle and the yet-nameless .50 caliber machine gun, with priority to the auto rifle. There was only one problem: there was only one prototype or specimen BAR in the world, and Colt had it, and was re-engineering it all day long, Monday to Friday. In the spirit of wartime cooperation, Colt would let its New Haven rivals borrow the new firearm – for a weekend.

Winchester 1918 BAR

Winchester, which had seen massive orders, but incurred staggering debt in order to fulfill them, needed the order badly. They accepted what seemed to be an unreasonable offer.

In September 1917, Winchester was instructed to commence tooling up for the manufacture of the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). Edwin Pugsley, then Manufacturing engineer, went to the coat factory to see the only existing model. Since the BAR was needed at Colt during the work week, it was borrowed for a weekend, and in that time drawings were made and the project begun. By the end of December The first Winchester BAR had been completed. Production was well on by March, and by Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, Winchester had made approximately 47,000.

Winchester also had begun construction of the Browning .50-caliber machine gun and had a working model completed within about two months. That gun, however, never entered into production, because of the end of hostilities.1

The earnings from wartime contracts, including 1917 Enfield rifles, riot guns, and the BAR, were substantial: $76 million. It wasn’t enough to retire all of Winchester’s debt, a substantial $16 million, but they were able to pay off about half of it. The company still had to reorganize and the Winchester-Bennett family wound up giving up control.

Winchester 1918 for sale by Craig Gottlieb. It has some M1918A2 parts (stocks & trigger guard with mag "ears").

Winchester 1918, once for sale (no longer) by Craig Gottlieb. It has some M1918A2 parts (stocks, flash hider, & trigger guard with mag “ears”). More images of the same gun at the link (all the M1918 photos in this post are of that firearm).

But it’s hard to beat, in the annals of reverse engineering, the one-weekend crash metrology and documentation Winchester had with the world’s only BAR before delivering it back to the Colt engineers in Hartford, and that produced the wartime BARs and led to the rifle’s future as the basis of fire in the American rifle squad, not in time for that war but in plenty of time for the next two. This is especially remarkable when you consider the sheer complexity of the BAR. It has scores and scores of parts.2 (Winchester cheated a little, for example, by using the sight they were already producing for the M1917 Enfield rifle).


The problem, of course, with two independent reverse-engineering projects? Parts from the Colt Monitor don’t interchange 100% with Winchester’s military BARs. But what do you want for two days?

Update 1000R 8 Apr 15

This post has been corrected. Several (more like twenty) unproofread dictation failures have been fixed. We’re not sure we got them all. Thanks to Ullr in the comments.

“I don’t need to check it… it was done last night, just needed the pictures.” Zug.


  1. Wilson, RL. Winchester: An American Legend. New York, 2004: Chartwell Books. p. 171.
  2. As well Hognose knows. He was sure he was going to flunk BAR in SF Light Weapons School in 1983. “Cups and cones, cups and cones….” He pulled out a pass on the BAR, but got a downcheck on the M3A1 Grease Gun, of all things (IIRC you could get two downchecks, or maybe it was three. Didn’t want to test the limits).



Fight’s On, Miss Thing: J Edgar and the .357 Ban

There are two points of view on J Edgar Hoover. Viewpoint One goes like this: he was the greatest American ever, the scourge of organized crime and hostile espionage, defender of the Constitution, and the model of the incorruptible servant leader; in short, a brilliant and upright stalwart who was a bulwark of society.

And Viewpoint Two: he was a worthless bum, no better than the gangsters his G-Men used to lock up (or shoot up), corrupt as any Latin caudillo, hostile to civil liberties, and recognizing no law but his own self-interest; in short, a crooked, waspish queen who took long vacations with his “right-hand-man” in which they’d roll each other in melted butter and lick it off, or something.

J Edgar Hoover Drag

If you haven’t swung between those viewpoints, you probably haven’t read much on Hoover; the real truth of the man is probably somewhere in between, but everyone who writes about the long-dead prototype of the Beltway Insider seems to swing to one extreme or the other.

Well, let’s try an experiment and see who we can swing to Viewpoint Two today. Did you know Hoover was a Gun Banner? In fact, the evidence for that is a lot stronger than the evidence for his cross-dressing or even homosexuality (and the evidence for those is probably strong enough to convict).

Hoover and the NFA

J Edgar HooverThe National Firearms Act of 1934 was largely Hoover-promoted legislation. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the registry and ridiculous series of steps that we must jump through to own and enjoy what were scary weapons around the time FDR inherited Hoover and his blackmail files from Herbert Hoover (no relation).

Hoover considered civil liberties of all kinds to be a sort of Original Sin or fundamental flaw in the Constitution, and so he just didn’t see them as constraining him and the FBI. He was especially keen on ending the right to keep and bear arms, except as he would forbear to further narrow it, and the NFA was designed not to limit but to eliminate firearms J Edgar didn’t like, through the workings of what economists call a Pigovian tax — a tax set at such a confiscatory rate it changes the behavior of the taxed. The $200 tax of 1934 was from 20 times the least expensive NFA gun to match the cost (and essentially double it) of a premium firearm like a Thompson M1928 or a Colt Monitor, and one result was, not surprisingly, a collapse in the sales and the value of those firearms (which were now widely acquired by police forces at a fraction of the pre-Act prices, as police forces were exempt from the act). But that’s far from the only way to look at it: $200 was a serious fraction of the median household income in 1934-36, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics(.pdf).

But what Hoover wanted from the bill is not what he got. He wanted the bill to ban machine guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, destructive devices, and handguns. He thought that only people like he and his catamite1 and their merry men should be able to be trusted with them. He lost on that; he didn’t share enough compromised rent boys with enough Senators and Congressmen to keep that from being amended out.

The original text of the relevant definition in the draft Act reads (emphasis ours):

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That for the purposes of this act the term “firearm” means a pistol, revolver, shotgun having a barrel less than sixteen inches in length, or any other firearm capable of being concealed on the person, a muffler or silencer therefor, or a machine gun.2

Before the law was passed, the bolded terms had been taken out, and short-barreled rifles had been added in.

Now, frankly, if a guy wants to dress up like Lady Astor and take long vacations with his “assistant,” well, it probably wasn’t the first time the taxpayers paid for that, and probably wasn’t the latest, either. (Come to think of it, there was that ATF executive in New Orleans….) But when a guy wants to ban pistols, his swinging fist just hit our nose. Fight’s on, Miss Thing.

That wasn’t all the odious stuff that got peeled out in the sausage-making of the NFA, either. There was also an absolute import ban, unless the gun was, “…of… a type which cannot be obtained within the United States….”3 The purpose of that was as an enticement to split pro-gun and pro-liberty legislators, with those from gun-making states subject to influence by rent-seeking gunmakers.

But J. Edgar wasn’t done yet.

Hoover and the .357

In the NFA, Hoover didn’t get everything he wanted, but by destroying the then-economics of automatic weapons, he did his bit for police militarization before that was a phrase anyone would recognize. He still recognized, as police always have, that despite whatever press and activists might call criminal’s “weapons of choice” at any given point, what a criminal wanted was usually something compact and concealable, to wit, a handgun.

Having had his ass handed to him (something he might have enjoyed, if it hadn’t been figurative) on the pistol ban, he regrouped and tried again. When Smith & Wesson demonstrated their .357 Magnum, Hoover didn’t react like most cops of the day (“Want!”). Instead, he saw a Deadly Threat.

Hoover, it is widely known, received Registered Magnum #1 from Smith & Wesson on April 8, 19354. The Registered Magnum was built with a stronger frame and a longer cylinder, so that rounds could be loaded to velocities and pressures that would have been unsafe in Smith’s bread-and-butter .38 S&W Special revolvers. Smith saw it as a custom-shop rarity, for discerning pistoleros. (At that time, many police forces still carried .32 S&W or .32 Colt revolvers). The customer paid a record-setting $60 (the equivalent of over $1,000 today, in a much poorer, mostly agrarian nation) and got to specify many of the features of his firearm.5

SW Registered Magnum regmag3

“Registered” guns came with a certificate, and a matching number inside. Smith made 5,500 of them before making the .357 a more regular product; they discontinued it because of the demands of war production, and only resumed in 1948. The pistol had no model number until 1957, when it became the Model 27.

But if Smith thought they’d bought Hoover off with the pistol “REG. 1″, they were very mistaken. The FBI acquired some of the revolvers and parceled them out to HQ and field offices, but they weren’t standard. In fact, FBI standardized on the Model 10-6 in .38 Special 6.

Nope, Hoover got right to the Attorney General suggesting… what else? A ban. His first letter has yet to surface, but David Codrea posted an insightful article about a second, in which Hoover spread some apocalyptic fear of the coming of Magnum Doom to one and all. We have OCRd the letter and post it here.

Hoover .357 ban letter[.pdf]

Here are a few excerpts (edited at the ends and where ellipses show to trim some of Hoover’s characteristically ill-educated and insecure verbosity):

I advised you that I anticipated that the qualities of the Magnum cartridge and the zinc bullet would eventually be combined, thereby again increasing the velocity and penetrative ability of sidearms and their ammunition.

…[E]xperimentation is at the present time in progress, whereby the combination of the zinc bullet and the Magnum cartridge will soon be perfected. Also, that the Magnum cartridge will soon be manufactured with a metal jacket, which will again, increase its penetrative force. 

So… we haven’t yet got to where he asks for a ban, but let’s note that he wanted the AG to work with him in secrecy to develop the ban:

[T]he above information is of a confidential nature and if divulged to the public, would seriously jeopardize the possibility of obtaining additional information.

It’s all about Officer Safety, you see:

[E]ach advance in velocity and penetration renders hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment now in use by law enforcement agencies useless and obsolete. …[T]hese developments will eventually be of much greater assistance to the criminal element than to the law enforcement agencies or to the law abiding citizens.

He then has a whole section on ballistics that is almost completely wrong:

[T]he most effective pistol bullet … is the one exerting the greatest amount of shock. This [comes from] combining a heavy bullet with low velocity, … remaining in the body … thus causing the recipient to absorb the entire energy of the bullet.

He belabors the point at great length… we’ll spare you… and concludes:

The foregoing description of shock is [itended to show] that the recent developments in pistol and revolver cartridges are not of any particular advantage, other than for their penetrative force, which the higher velocities are rapidly increasing.

He noted that the Bureau’s bullet-proof shields and vests wouldn’t stop a Magnum round, a zinc bullet, let alone the two in combination. He then tells the AG, don’t sweat it, because the gun-club guys don’t care if we ban these.

It is not believed that members of the various shooting clubs and organizations would concern themselves over a curtailment of highly-powered sidearms. Additional penetration is of no value to target shooting, and i t is logical to assume that organizations promoting this sport would be in hearty accord with legislation curtailing high velocity bullets in an attempt to insure their members the continued use of target pistols.

Remember, he’d just tried and failed to ban those target pistols with the NFA. This is one of the earliest illustrations of the way a ban enthusiast is never telling the truth when he says he wants only an inch. He wants only an inch, now. 

Then, there’s the curious fact that the NRA did testify in favor of the National Firearms Act, even when it was a pistol ban. Best guess? Hoover had a line on the NRA guy’s rent boys.

Finally, Hoover flounces out with some inflammatory language, and a promise to generate some scientific-sounding bushwah that will accomplish the desired ban.

As the menacing developments of these guns depend wholly upon the breach [sic] pressure and velocity, it would not be difficult to definitely define a limitation on these two items which would permanently control the rapid advances now being made. I f you so desire, technicians of thisBureau will offer specific suggestions….7

Yes, J Edgar Hoover was trying, in shameful secret, to ban the very firearm that would spend the 1980s and 90s as synonymous with FBI, the .357 Magnum.

But then, he always was simply fabulous at “shameful secret,” wasn’t he?


  1. In fact, nobody knows if Hoover was Tolson’s catamite, or Tolson Hoover’s. Does it matter? The two corrupt old lovers are buried together.
  2. From Keep and Bear, which has the text as part of their html page, but also preserves the .pdf of the proposed bill as originally published.
  3. Same link as 2 above.
  4. The Hoover #1, serial no. 45768, is currently believed to exist but its whereabouts are not known. (Hoover was known to give firearms away; the FBI does not claim title to this pistol). Retired agent Larry Wack is seeking information, and has tracked a lot of other Hoover and Tolson guns.
  5. Most of the general early-Magnum facts are from Campbell, Dave. The History of the .357 Magum. The American Rifleman, 23 November 2010. Retrieved from:
  6. The Bureau and the Handgun. The Investigator (FBI in-house magazine), May 1982.
  7. The damning Hoover letter is housed in the Papers of Homer S. Cummings, MSS 9973, Box 103, Folder “Attorney General Personal File – Firearms and National Firearms Act 1935 May-1938 September.” Cummings was the Attorney General who received, but may not have acted on, Hoover’s ban attempt. Via David Codrea. FBI’s Hoover tried to curtail ‘highly-powered’ handgun development., 3. April 2015. Retrieved from:

Ambush is Murder: A Painful Lesson, 17 Oct 67

The Battalion Commander led two companies of the 2/28 Infantry “Black Lions,” 1st Infantry Division, on a combat patrol into area where the battalion had been making contact since three of its companies choppered into the area about a week prior. They were part of Shenendoah II, an operation to investigate reports of Viet Cong presence near Lai Khe northwest of Saigon. But what was there was not a straggling guerrilla band: it was the 271st Regiment of the 9th Division, still bearing the “VC” honorific but a full-time professional People’s Army of Viet Nam unit. In the battle, the two American companies would be ambushed by two battalions of the 271st and thoroughly defeated.

By the battle’s end, the commander, Terry de la Mesa Allen Jr., son of a World War II general, had failed to lead and was in a practical fugue state when an NVA bullet blew the top of his head off. (Despite his failure and inactivity on the battlefield, he would be posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on the strength of an entirely fictional citation. The rot in the officer corps was profound in Vietnam). His sergeant major, Francis Dowling, and operations officer Don Holleder, a former football star, their RTOs, and the attached forward observer, 2LT Harold B. Durham, Jr. (who would receive the Medal of Honor posthumously) and his RTO — in short, the entire battalion command element —  were among the 64 killed. The remaining survivors were mostly wounded. The few survivors of A Company were led by a wounded first sergeant, José Valdez; by the start of the ill-fated patrol, D Company’s command had already fallen to 2LT George Welch, who survived.

The film gives a sense of just how an ambush feels from the receiving end, if it’s a well-done ambush. By 1967 the 271st Regiment had been at war for about nine years and was the repository of a great deal of institutional knowledge about fighting. The 2/28 was manned by draftees and led by careerists.

Can Your Suppressed Pistol Beat This? 78 dB.

That’s the measured performance of this little beauty:


.32 ACP Welrod, from the collection of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum.

Vintage 1941 or so, developed by the SOE. The ASOM notes another detail, which explains the strange magazine-is-the-grip design of the Welrod (bold is ours):

A limited range, close-qurters head shot weapon, the Welrod’s main value was its level of discreetness when used. This weapon could be fired with the magazine/grip removed, in which case it did not look like a weapon at all. Using the weapon in this manner allowed operators a level of stealth necessary for operations behind enemy lines.

Internally, Welrod’s suppressor design features are typical of silencers of the time. It has a ported barrel which vents into an expansion chamber partly restricted by screen discs. Modern suppressor designers abjure these design features as archaic and backward: the ported barrel saps velocity, and the screen discs are thought to be much less effective than shaped K-baffles or other baffles.

Really? Show us the quiet, guys. Show us a centerfire single-shot suppressed pistol that can beat 78 dB. We’re not asking much in the way of accuracy — the original Welrod was intended for contact ranges, but was good for minute-of-Nazi-skull out to 20 yards or so — but let’s see more muzzle energy for less noise than the Welrod.

We’re guessing that, without going to a captive cartridge like the Tunnel Rat experimental revolver or certain Russian silent-pistol designs, you can’t get materially better than those 20th Century Britons did with the Welrod. (For all their efforts, we’ve had a hard time confirming behind-the-lines use of this system, even with so many formerly secret archives opening up lately. Anybody know different?).

True, Jesse James the motorcycle loudmouth is claiming something similar for his rifle suppressor, but when he delivers that you’ll be able to hang it up next to your jet pack in the garage where you park your flying car. He’s the Baghdad Bob of gun credibility with that one.

But you would think we would be able to excel something made before computers, finite element analysis, and 70 years of progress in understanding sound theory and in production and metallurgical technology. That we are not, generally, far beyond the status quo of 1941 speaks volumes for the ingenuity and application of those wartime engineers.

The Sword and the Story: “Go to hell!”

The Sword is ordinary enough, in its environment. For centuries US Marine officers have worn a Mameluk-styled sword, and this is one example of a Marine regulation sword, something often presented to distinguished graduates of commissioning programs or officers who distinguish themselves in some way.

Hatfield Marine Sword

It’s a beautiful sword, and the best-made ones (not the cheap Chinese repros you can buy off eBay and from junk-knife retailers) would still serve as a combat weapon, although even the Marines aren’t that traditional, and generally leave them cased or wall-hanging when they go off to cut throats, figuratively speaking that is.

This one, though, is a sword of particular distinction because it belonged to Gilbert D. Hatfield, Lt. Col., retired. What’s Hatfield famous for? Rock Island Auctions, who recently auctioned this sword as part of a lot of two, explains:

Hatfield earned his Navy Cross for his “coolness and military way of handling the situation.” What situation, you ask? He was serving in Nicaragua when Augusto Sandino, a bandit and later namesake of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, launched a pre-dawn raid on his camp with a 5:1 troop advantage. When Sandino sent a messenger to Hatfield requesting his surrender, Hatfield replied, “Marines don’t surrender. Go to hell.” Well put, Marine.

Hatfield’s Navy Cross citation (also here) is considerably more matter-of-fact in its wording:

Captain, U.S. Marine Corps
5th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Brigade (Nicaragua),
Date of Action: July 16, 1927
The Navy Cross is presented to Gilbert D. Hatfield, Captain, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty combined with coolness and excellent judgment during an attack by a superior force upon the detachment of which he was in command at Ocotal, Nicaragua, on 16 July 1927, during the progress of an insurrection in that country. Largely due to his heroism, skill and ability, Captain Hatfield’s small command succeeded in holding out against the heaviest odds.
Authority – USMC Communiqué: 0411-1-3 ACE-jfb (21 December 1927)
Born: at Monero, New Mexico
Home Town: Aztec, New Mexico

Bettez notes that Hatfield, 10 Marines, and a number of Nicaraguan Guardia1 were detached from an element that departed the provincial capital of Ocotal to attempt rescue of rumored hostages in Telpaneca. (In retrospect, the hostage rumor, which was false, may have been a Sandino ruse to draw forces out of Ocotal). The Marines had been disarming Nicaraguan regulars of any and all political tendencies in Ocotal, but they clearly didn’t weaken Sandino:

In command at Ocotal, Major Gilbert Hatfield had exchanged notes with Sandino, suggesting that the rebel leader and his followers lay down their arms. Sandino refused. Instead, at around 1:00 AM on July 16, Sandino and his men attacked. Although Hatfield’s forces were outnumbered approximately five to one, they had good defensive positions within the town and managed to hold on throughout the night. In the morning, Sandino called for Hatfield to surrender, but he refused to do so.

At approximately 10:00 AM, two planes on a scouting patrol observed the fighting in Ocotal and return to Managua to report to Major Ross “Rusty” Rowell, commander of the air squadron. Rowell relayed the news to General Feland, who has not been informed because telegraph lines from Ocotal had been cut. Finland believed that the Marines in Otol, who has limited water and ammunition, we’re in a hopeless situation and faced certain destruction. Convinced that the aviation unit represented the Ocotal garrison’s only possible salvation, Feland gave Rowell “a very general directive… to take such steps as would be most effective in succoring the besieged Marines.” In contrast to previous orders which had demanded restraint when flying missions, Feland now gave Rowell carte blanche to launch a bombing attack. Consequently, Rowell lead a five plane squadron to Ocotal to bomb the Sandino forces. Rowell’s squadron flew over Ocotal in mid afternoon and carried out repeated air attacks, using dive-bombing tactics developed by Marine Corps aviator Lawson Sanderson but never before used in war. Feland’s order resulted in what was apparently the first instance of Marine Corps close air bombing support in defense of Corps ground units.

Rowell’s air bombardment broke the back of the Sandino attack. The Marines suffered one man killed and one wounded; three Guardia [Nicaraguan loyalist force operating with the USMC – Ed.] members were wounded. Sandino’s forces experienced considerably more casualties because they had been caught out in the open by Rowell’s planes. In a handwritten letter to Major Hatfield the day after the battle, General Feland expressed regret for the loss of Private Obleski….

And what else he expressed, one needs the book, not the Google Preview, to know, alas.

Some of the political background is explained on pp. 41-42 of Gravatt. The deep reason for the American presence in Nicaragua was a Nicaraguan request that the US supervise the elections of 1928. Sandino’s rebels were attempting to sway the election with terrorism.

On July 2, 1927, Admiral Latimer ordered General Feland to disarm Sandino. Up to this time, the Marines and the Legation had considered Sandino to be only a minor nuisance, characterizing him as an ordinary outlaw (with which the Northern Departments of Nicaragua had always been plagued) or as a slightly demented Bolshevist. The confiscation of the American owned San Aldino Mine evoked the response of July the 2nd, but the belief that the Sandinistas would wither away or would eventually cross the Honduras border with as much plunder as they could carry lingered on until the 16th of July when Sandino struck the Marine Guardia Nacional garrison at Ocotal, Nueva Segovia. From then on, the Marines, the Legation, and the State Department took Sandino seriously.

Three days prior to his attack on Ocotal, Sandino, in a letter to the Marine commander of that garrison, reiterated his conditions for peace—the ouster of Diaz [then Nicaraguan president] and his replacement by a Liberal.

Hatfield was an enlisted man when he received a direct commission in the USMC Reserve (5 July 17) and then in September to the Regular USMC as a 2nd Lieutenant as the Marines expanded during the war. Given his effective combat command, looks like they promoted the right corporal.

Hatfield is buried, as are so many heroes, at Arlington. He was mentor to Naval Academy grad Steve McDonald, of McAlpin, FL, who remembers:

Arlington has Col. Gilbert D. Hatfield USMC, Navy Cross. He was my next-door neighbor as a child when he was the commanding officer of the Marine Corps Air Station, Master’s Field in Miami during the war. He was an early supporter in my going to the Naval Academy.

While at the academy, I was asked to attend his funeral at Arlington, which I did. I rode with the widow “Aunt” Carolyn in the funeral procession.


1. According to Gravatt (p.50), the Guardia’s deployment to Ocotal was its first, in “company” strength of 3 American officers and 50 Nicaraguan enlisted men.


Rock Island Auction Company blog (various)

Bettez, David J.  Kentucky Marine: Major General Logan Feland and the Making of the Modern USMC.

Gravatt, Brent L. The Marines and the Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua 1927-1932. Unpublished(?): 1973. Retrieved from:

“They wouldn’t just kill you for listening to the BBC. That’s nonsense.”

Kellner_diary_-_Apr_14_1943_radio_crimeSometimes, it’s hard for the youth of today to get their heads around the degree of criminality of the 20th century Nazi and Soviet empires. The quote in the headline of this post was uttered to me by one such young person. He just couldn’t believe that the Nazis would kill their own people for listening to the wrong radio program. But in fact, they did.

One of the remarkable documents of the Nazi era is Mein Widerstand, which can be translated as, “My Resistance,” or “My Opposition,” a thoughtful diary kept by a former Socialist Party politician, Friedrich Kellner. Kellner was from the SPD’s moderate wing, which opposed the totalitarians of international (Ernst Thälmann’s Communists, happily subordinate to Moscow) and national (Hitler’s NSDAP) flavors. The ascension to power by the Nazis in 1933 was bad news for their rivals; hotheaded Thälmann immediately called for a revolution, giving the Nazis the flimsy excuse they were looking for to sling him into jail, from which he emerged only to be transferred to Buchenwald and murdered in 1944. Kellner’s opposition was more moderate — he never called his fellows to arms — but no less heartfelt, until the Nazis applied pressure that made him, as they saw it, fall into line. (Supposedly, they made a note in his file that they’d take care of him after the war). He stopped condemning Hitler, and shut up — in public. That appeased the authoritarian Nazi state, for the time being.

But Kellner only stopped his overt agitation; internally, he seethed with hostility to the Nazi experiment, which he (a wounded WWI veteran) saw as leading Germany straight back to the disaster of war. But he’d been scared off over activity; he and his wife were investigated on, we are not making this up, suspicion of ancestral Judaism, and saved only by the fact that Germans’ fabled record-keeping showed their family’s baptisms back well into the 17th Century.

I cannot not fight the Nazis in the present,” he reasoned, “as they have the power to still my voice.” So what could he do? “[S]o I decided to fight them in the future.” Aware that authoritarian and totalitarian states try to massage their public image, he could write down and record the crimes of the Nazi regime. He began a diary, with the title Mein Widerstand, on the first day of the war in Europe, and sustained it through 10 volumes of careful, clear handwriting in watery, wartime ink. He was taking a risk, just like the above-referenced BBC listeners. He would often cut and paste headlines, stories and images from the watery, wartime propaganda in the German media into his diaries.


On April 14, 1943, he pasted the following news article, from an unknown Nazi newspaper, in his diary (our hasty translation) and commented on it. Here’s the article:

Death Penalty for Radio Criminal

Vienna, 12 April. Oskar Uebel, 47, of Vienna, was legally sentenced by the Special Court in Vienna to ten years’ imprisonment for radio crime. On the appeal of the Reich State’s Attorney, the sentence was overturned and remanded to the Special Court. As the Special Court determined in its new sentence, Uebel had listened to enemy foreign programs with numerous young men in 30 to 40 cases. The accused then spoke with them in a sense hostile to Germany. He had absolutely organized these listening and distribution sessions. The Special Court called this a particularly serious case in the sense of § 2 of  the Radio Regulation, that called for the death penalty. They therefore sentenced him to death.

The death sentence has already been carried out.

Yeah, they would kill you for listening to the BBC. (The BBC, for their part, has lifted this dreadful responsibility from their shoulders by abandoning any pretext of being pro-British, but that’s another story). Kellner’s comments were, as you might expect, nearly as horrified and disbelieving as those of my young friend.

Kellner’s diaries, which he kept in his office in a local courthouse where he was an official, would have led to the destruction of him and his family if ever exposed. Not to mention the fact that the diaries only exist today

Kellner’s diaries are now a prized possession of the family and were first displayed in 2005 at the George W. Bush presidential library at Texas A&M. Many libraries and museums have offered them a permanent home. Kellner’s grandson, Robert Scott Kellner, has translated them into English but they are, insofar as we’re aware, available only in a German edition. Pity, as Kellner’s message deserves to be heard in every language. As he told his grandson: “[W]hen evil seeks power, men and women of good will, no matter how much they love peace and hate war, must put aside their differences and stand together and fight.”

Bushrod Johnson was…

First, the poll. No fair Googling.

Bushrod Johnson was… free polls

Answer, after the jump.

Continue reading

Napoleon III was a Weapons Man

portrait_de_napoleon_iiiWell, OK. A Heavy Weapons man, perhaps — an artillerist who once sat down, while imprisoned, to  write an engaging and technical, five-volume history of artillery, with a title as comprehensive as his intent: The Past and Future of Artillery. Remembered today for little more than his army being pantsed in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Louis Napoleon was a remarkable, erudite, and intelligent fellow. When you marvel, today, at the beauty of Paris you’re marveling mostly at the nephew’s makeover of his capital city, not the works of his uncle or of the Bourbon dynasty (although Louis was careful to preserve the best of what came before). Those big “N” monograms on the bridges of the Seine? Not the victor of Borodino (pyrrhic though that victory was) and Austerlitz, and the vanquished of Waterloo; the nephew, who was captured with his army in a German encirclement, to the chagrin of all Frenchmen then and now.

Napoleon III also created the long-standing Legion d’Honneur, funding its stipends to recognized soldiers with money derived from the expropriation of the family of the Duc d’Orleans. (In 19th Century France, politics remained a contact sport).

Unfortunately for those of us who would read his whole treatise on artillery, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, as he was known at the time, did get relief from his prison stint in the 1840s and turned to the matters of state which would one day seat him on an imperial throne. He never seems to have resumed work on The Past and Future of Artillery, of which only the first volume was published.


While we’re attempting to find an digital copy of the English edition of this volume (hell, we’d take in en français, and does anybody know if any of his notes and illustrations for the subsequent volumes survive?), we can offer the preface to you.

There are some remarkable insights in this short preface. For example:

Inventions born before the time remain useless until the level of common intellects rises to comprehend them. Of what advantage could a quicker and stronger powder therefore be, when the common metal in use was not capable of resisting its action ? Of what use were hollow balls, until their employ was made easy and safe, and their explosion certain ? Or what could the rebounding range, proposed by Italian engineers in the sixteenth century, and since employed with much success by Vauban, avail, when fortification offered fewer rebounding lines than now ? How could attacks by horse-artillery, attempted in the sixteenth century, succeed, when the effects of rapidity in the movement of troops on the field of battle was so little known that the cavalry always charged at a trot ?

There is a mutual combination which forces our inventions to lean on and, in some measure, wait for each other. An idea suggests itself, remains problematical for years, even for centuries, until successive modifications qualify it for admission into the domain of real life. It is not uninteresting to trace, that powder was probably used in fireworks several centuries
before its propelling power was known, and that then some time elapsed before its application became easy or general.

Civilization never progresses by leaps, it advances on its path more or loss quickly, but regularly and gradually. There is a propagation in ideas as in men, and human progress has
a genealogy which can be traced through centuries like the forgotten sources of giant rivers.

For a man who is commonly and popularly dismissed as one of the least brilliant of the crowned heads of old Europe, those are some remarkably insightful lines.

Or consider this excerpt:

Fire-arms, like everything pertaining to humanity, did not spring up in a day. Its infancy lasted a century, and during that period it was used together with the ancient shooting instruments, over which it sometimes was victorious, but by which it was more frequently defeated.

The Preface alone makes it crystal clear that Napoleon III was a comrehensive student of artillery and arms, and the history of them; and that his lack of completion of The Past and Future of Artillery is a very great loss to all students of weapons.

Napoleon III on Artillery OCR.pdf