Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

Bushrod Johnson was…

First, the poll. No fair Googling.

Bushrod Johnson was…
 
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Answer, after the jump.

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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.

napoleon-iii-at-paris-1867-granger

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

Fewer Gongs for Modern Marines? .

USMC EGA eagle globe and anchorIt’s definitely a common belief (although not a universal one) among the combat grunts of the ground services that that higher echelons of command have gotten, to use a word that doesn’t really fit the seriousness of the claim, stingy about awarding high valor awards, compared to the rate of awards in previous conflicts. Marine Major Christopher B. Mays puts it like this:

There is a perception by Marines that the award process is more restrictive and that fewer valor awards have been awarded in Iraq and Afghanistan than in previous wars. ….

A multitude of potential questions could be asked concerning the awarding of personal decorations for valor in combat. Is it a valid perception that the U.S. Marine Corps is more restrictive in awarding valor decorations in OIF/OEF? Is there a significant difference in the frequency of valor decorations awarded for each conflict or war during the period from WWI to the War on Terror? If so, why?

What Maj. Mays did, as you may have guessed from the tone of the above paragraphs, is analyze the “top three” awards (MOH, Navy Cross, Silver Star) longitudinally across all the Marines’ many armed conflicts from WWI to today.

In fact, the number of valor awards has declined precipitously since Vietnam, compared to a fairly stable level from WWI through Korea and the early years of Vietnam. World War I makes an interesting comparison, an indirect comparison because the Silver Star Medal was not available in World War I, because the Marines suffered just about twice as many KIA in WWI as they had done as of the study’s cut-off date in OIF/OEF, 2461 vs 1220. Yet the disparity in medals is greater — even when Silver Stars are added in, the number of top-three awards in OIF/OEF is under 40% of the number of top-two awards in WWI. MOHs are only awarded at 15%, and Navy Crosses at 8%, of the WWI rate, a disparity only partially compensated by the existence, now, of lower valor awards that were created after World War I.

USMC WWI OIF/OEF
KIA 2461 1222 49.7%
MOH 13 2 15.4%
NC 394 32 8.1%
SSM 0 127
total 407 161 39.6%

Moreover, comparing citations (which was beyond the scope of this paper), it’s hard to identify a World War I MOH or Navy Cross that can reasonably be said to merit only a Bronze Star or Silver Star.

The situation is even more disparate when you compare later wars with OIF/OEF.

USMC WWII OIF/OEF
KIA 19733 1222 6.2%
MOH 81 2 2.5%
NC 957 32 3.3%
SSM 3758 127 3.4%
total 4796 161 3.4%
USMC Korea OIF/OEF
KIA/DOW 3852 1222 31.7%
MOH 42 2 4.8%
NC 221 32 14.5%
SSM 1571 127 8.1%
total 5686 161 2.8%

We could go on, but you get the point. Either today’s Marines are considerably less nervy than their institutional (and often, the way service has come to run in families, familial) antecedents, or the Marines as an institution has lost interest in recognizing its Marines’ valor.

We, having known Marines of all these generations, except, sadly World War One, have a strong opinion on this issue, which we’ll keep to ourselves just now, because this post is about Major Mays’s research, not our opinion.

The official response from the Marine Corps Awards Branch defends the way in which it awards medals. The Marine Corps Awards Branch Head, Mr. Lee Freund stated, “A much more correct observation would be that the Marine Corps staunchly avoids inflation of valor awards and consistently seeks to ensure that the level of valor required to earn a specific valor award remains consistent with awards earned by Marines in previous conflicts.” However, the findings detailed in …[the study]… do not agree with the statements made by the head of the Awards Branch, numerically speaking. There is a disparity in the number of valor awards given during OIF/OEF when compared to all previous wars from WWI to OIF/OEF.

So why is this of interest to us? We’ve never been Marines, and we’ve never been given any high decoration. No more do we harbor any resentful feeling that we deserve one; all we did was hold up our end of the log when the duty was ours. But we think the same dynamic, whatever it may be, is at work in all services. Mays tries to understand and explain why this is happening in his Corps, but the scope of his research is necessarily limited. He suggests that a cultural change that devalues awards consequent to a general devaluing of the services may be a factor; the constant media and entertainment-culture disparagement of the military virtues may be being reflected in the services themselves.

It’s also clearly the case that the bureaucratic and administrative topheaviness of the Corps and the DOD is a factor. In World War II, paper awards recommendations handled by jack-of-all-trades unit clerks usually led to an award in weeks or months. In OIF/OEF, a dedicated computerized awards system operated by a bloated clerical establishment takes years to act, or, as is often the case, to fail to act.

But the reasons require further study, and Maj. Mays has suggested some positive research questions that future researchers can use to hammer out some answers. Fixing the problem — now that Mays has documented that there is a problem — will require command attention (if it doesn’t get it, it will get Congressional attention, and we can’t imagine any way that will make things better).

Major Christopher B. Mays has provided a valuable service to the Corps, the DOD and the nation by documenting the fact that awards incidence has declined in the current unpleasantness — some DOD officials have been inclined to pass this widespread perception off as mere whining by pampered troops and officers. If you are interested in this kind of thing, you should Read The Whole Thing™: Top 3 Valor Awards USMC ADA611586.pdf

Vietnam Sniper Study

In 1967, the Army got the idea to study whether, how, and how effectively different units were using snipers in Vietnam. They restricted this study to Army units, and conventional units at that; if SF and SOG were sniping, they didn’t want to know (and, indeed, there’s little news either in the historical record or in conversations with surviving veterans that special operations units made much use of precision rifle fire, or of the other capabilities of snipers).

Meanwhile, of course, the Marines were conducting parallel development in what would become the nation’s premier sniper capability, until the Army got their finger out in the 1980s and developed one with similar strength. The Marines’ developments are mentioned only in passing in the study.

Specific Weapons

The study observed several different sniper weapons in use:

  • ordinary M16A1 rifles with commercial Realist-made scopes. This is the same 3×20 scope made by Realist for commercial sale under the Colt name, and was marked Made in USA. (Image is a clone, from ARFCOM).

realist11

  • Winchester Model 70s in .30-06 with a mix of Weaver and Bushnell scopes, purchased by one infantry brigade;
  • two versions of the M14 rifle. One was what we’d call today a DMR rifle, fitted with carefully chosen parts and perhaps given a trigger job, and an M84 scope. The other was the larva of the M21 project: a fully-configured National Match M14 fitted with a Leatherwood ART Automatic-Ranging Telescope, which was at this early date an adaptation of a Redfield 3-9 power scope. (Image is a semi clone with a surplus ART, found on the net).

M21 ARTR

The scopes had a problem that would be unfamiliar to today’s ACOG and Elcan-sighted troopies.

The most significant equipment problem during the evaluation in Vietnam was moisture seepage into telescopes. At the end of the evaluation period, 84 snipers completed questionnaires related to their equipment. Forty-four of the snipers reported that their telescopes developed internal moisture or fog during the evaluation period. In approximately 90 percent of the cases, the internal moisture could be removed by placing the telescope in direct sunlight for a few hours.

The leaky scopes ranged from 41% of the ARTs to 62% of the Realists. The Realist was not popular at all, and part of the reason was its very peculiar reticle. How peculiar? Have a look.

Colt realist 3x20 scope reticle(A later version of this scope, sold by Armalite with the AR-180, added feather-thin crosshairs to the inverted post. The British Trilux aka SUIT used a similar inverted post, but it never caught on here).

The theory was that the post would not obscure the target, the way it would if it were bottom-up. That’s one of the ones you file away in the, “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” drawer. Theory be damned, the troops hated it.

The use of the rifles varied unit by unit.  Two units contemptuously dismissed the scoped M16s, and wouldn’t even try them (remember, this was the era of M193 ammo, rifles ruined by “industrial action,” and somewhat loose acceptance standards; the AR of 20145 is not the AR of 1965). The proto-M21s came late and not every unit got them. It’s interesting that none of the weapons really stood out, although the NATO and .30-06 guns were the ones used for the longest shots.

None of the weapons was optimum, but in the study authors’ opinion, the DMR version of the M14 was perfectly adequate and available in channels. The snipers’ own opinions were surveyed, and the most popular weapon was the M14 National Match with ART scope, despite its small sample size: 100% of the surveyed soldiers who used it had confidence in it. On the other hand, the cast scope rings were prone to breakage.

The biggest maintenance problem turned out to be the COTS Winchester 70 rifles, and the problem manifested as an absence of spare parts for the nonstandard firearm, and lack of any training for armorers.

Looking at all the targets the experimental units engaged, they concluded that a weapon with a 600 meter effective range could service 95% of the sniper targets encountered in Vietnam, and that a 1000 meter effective range would be needed to bag up to 98%. (Only one unit in the study engaged targets more distant than 1000 m at all).

Snipers were generally selected locally, trained by their units (if at all), and employed as an organic element of rifle platoons. A few units seem to have attached snipers to long-range patrol teams, or used the snipers as an attached asset, like a machine-gun or mortar team from the battalion’s Weapons Company.

An appendix from the USAMTU had a thorough run-down on available scopes, and concluded with these recommendations (emphasis ours):

Recommendations:
a. That the M-14, accurized to National Match specifications, be used as the basic sniping rifle.

b. That National Match ammunition be used in caliber 7.62 NATO.

c. That a reticle similar to Type “E” be used on telescopic sights of fixed power.

d. That the Redfield six power “Leatherwood” system telescope be used by snipers above basic unit level.

e. That the Redfield four power (not mentioned previously) be utilized by the sniper at squad level.

f. That serious consideration be given to the development of a long range sniping rifle using the .50 caliber machine gun cartridge and target-type telescope.

(NOTE: It is our opinion that the Redfield telescope sights are the finest of American made telescopes.)

Note that the Army adopted the NM M14 with ART (as the M-21 sniper system) exactly as recommended here, but that it did not act on the .50 caliber sniper system idea. That would take Ronnie Barrett to do, quite a few years later.

Rifle_M21_2

The Effects of Terrain

Terrain drives weapons employment, and snipers need, above all, two elements of terrain to operate effectively: observation and fields of fire. Their observation has to overlook enemy key terrain and/or avenues of approach. Without that, a sniper is just another rifleman, and snipers were found to be not worth the effort in the heavily vegetated southern area of Vietnam.

In the more open rice fields and mountains, there was more scope for sniper employment. But sniper employment was not something officers had been trained in or practiced.

The Effects of Leadership

In a careful review of the study, we found that the effects of leadership, of that good old Command Emphasis, were greater than any effects of equipment or even of terrain. The unit that had been getting good results with the Winchesters kept getting good results. One suspects that they’d have continued getting good results even if you took their rifles away entirely and issued each man a pilum or sarissa.

Units that made a desultory effort got crap for results. Some units’ snipers spent a lot of time in the field, but never engaged the enemy. Others engaged the enemy, but didn’t hit them, raising the question, “Who made these blind guys snipers?” Sure, we understand a little buck fever, but one unit’s snipers took 20 shots at relatively close range and hit exactly nothing. Guys, that’s not sniping, that’s fireworks. 

The entire study is a quick read and it will let you know just how dark the night for American sniping was in the mid-1960s: there were no schools, no syllabi, no type-standardized sniper weapons, and underlying the whole forest of “nos” was: no doctrine to speak of.

Vietnam Sniper Study PB2004101628.pdf

 

Forgotten Engineer: Tadeusz Felsztyn

Coat_of_arms_of_Poland-officialTadeusz Felsztyn was an ordnance officer in the Army of the Republic of Poland during that nation’s brief flowering between the power vacuum created by the fall of the absolute monarchical empires of Germany and Russia in 1918, and the rise of their absolutist and totalitarian replacements, unconstrained by the codes of noblesse oblige or considerations of Christian morality that had stayed the hand of Kaiser and Tsar. In September, 1939 the Third Reich and its mirror image, the Soviet Union, crushed Poland under the “heel of a boot stepping on a man’s face, forever,” and it became a very unhealthy place to be a Lieutenant Colonel in Polish service, and doubly so for Tadeusz Felsztyn.

The name suggests he was Jewish, which happenstance of birth marked him for murder by the Nazis; and as a Polish officer he would have been marked for murder by the Soviets (an order signed by Stalin’s own hand; unlike Hitler, he didn’t rely on middle-men to commit his atrocities, possibly because he’d already had so many of the middlemen shot).

What, exactly, Felszteyn designed is not known, but he is reported to be responsible for the remarkable 7.92mm x 107mm anti-tank rifle round, used in the Maroszek-designed Wz.35 rifle. At that time, and at the outbreak of the war, he was a lieutenant colonel and almost 45 years old (he was born Sep. 30, 1894).

We were fortunately able to learn more about him. Here is a genealogical page that clearly refers to him (Colonel, mathematician, physicist, started in Polish Army at age 23), and behold! He lived to age 69, died in Pitsford, Nortants., England, in the industrial Midlands. Later, in England, he anglicized the spelling of his name to Feldstein. He appears to have died without issue, although his siblings have survivors to this day. 

Since we know he survived the war, now, we can show that he appeared before controversial Congressional hearings on the Katyn Forest Massacre in 1952. In that appearance, he gave a brief bio, before testifying on the bullets that were used in the murders, and described how he was taken prisoner by the Soviets, and how he came to survive. The Google Books view has a small snippet of this testimony (not sure why they don’t have the whole thing, as a US government document it is in the public domain). Fortunately, Archive.org has it. Because the file at Archive.org is very large (the entire hearings run 2,300 pages! and even the Archive.org splits are 30+MB each) we have excerpted the testimony over the jump.

Felszteyn’s testimony is quite interesting (it’s also quite erroneous, in that he suggests that Geco 7.65mm Browning ammunition might have been used in Soviet issue firearms. We know now that the Soviets used German-made firearms in the Katyn murders).

Zeitschrift Schiess-u Sprengstoffwesen 1931In 1939, certain of his research appears to have been published in a German journal, by the traces available of a hardcover bound volume of the journal: Zeitschrift fur Das gesamte Schiess und Sprengstoffwesen mit der Sonderabteilung Gasschutz (Journal for the Field of Gunpowder and Explosives with section on anti-gas protection). XXXIII-XXXIV. Jahrgang. (Volume 33-34, 1938-1939). Hardcover – 1939.

(Bound volumes of this journal do turn up; they’re expensive when they do). The image to the right is from the 1931 edition. (Remarkable Art Deco typography, that).

After the war, he seems to have published many books in Polish in London (if it was not another Tadeusz Felsztyn) in the period from 1945 to 1947, and then again in the 1950s and early 60s, books on general science. He also appears to have written a history of the General Anders’s Polish Army in Exile, with which he served after being released from a Russian prison camp for that purpose. (One of the great puzzles of the Katyn massacre is why only some camps of Poles were massacred, and why some were not. The Yeltsin-era openness of some KGB/MVD/NKVD archives has turned back to Cold War stonewalling).

A Very Incomplete List of Felsztyn’s Books

  • 1945: Wiara i wiedza w świetle nowoczesnych poglądów fizycznych, which translates to Faith and knowledge in the light of modern views of physics.
  • 1957: Swiat w Oczacu Wspólczesnej Nauki which translates to The World in the Eyes of Modern Science
  • 1958: Atom W Służbie Ludzkości which translates to The Atom in the Service of Mankind.
  • 1959: Rakety i Podroze Miedsyplanetarne which translates Rockets in Interplanetary Travel.
  • 1960: Poza Czasem i Przestrzenią. Zjawiska Pozazmysłowe which translates as: Beyond Time and Space: Extrasensory Phenomena.
  • 1962: Evolusjonizm which translates to Evolutionism.

No Polish family of 1939-89 avoided tragedy. His younger brother Roman died on April 19, 1919, reportedly in battle in Lvov (L’viv), which would have made him one of the last casualties of the Polish Uprising that produced independence, or one of the first casualties of the Russo-Polish War of 1919-21, which ended in a decisive Polish victory over the Soviets’ most capable general, Mikhail Tukhachevskiy (who himself would meet a similar fate to the Polish officers captured by the Soviets in 1939 — shot in the back of the head on Stalin’s orders).

Click “more” to read Felsztyn’s testimony at the Katyn hearings.

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A Blast from the Past — Literally

FOOM!There is been few blasts like the one that blew up USS Maine in Havana harbor, on 15 February 1898, the forward magazine of the ship blew up at 9:40 PM. A crew of 355 was nearly annihilated; there were only 16 uninjured survivors, and 75 or 80 wounded ones. Because the mishap happened at night, and officers’ country was in the aft end of the ship, the officers survived at a higher rate.

1024px-Telegram_from_James_A._Forsythe_to_Secretary_of_the_Navy_-_NARA_-_300264The captain of Maine, Charles Sigsbee, sent an urgent cry for help via Capt. James Forsythe, commanding officer of the Key West naval station.

The investigation that ensued ruled that the ship was subject to an attack by a naval mine. It was only the first of many investigations, and there remains to this day no conclusion, although the balance of expert opinion seems to suggest a mishap aboard ship is more likely than Spanish hostile action. The destruction of Maine became a casus belli in the hysteria-induced Spanish-American War of 1898. Indeed, it was probably the most influential cause, or pretext, for the US to have initiated that war.

The Maine was an odd ship, but she was created in the 1880s and 1890s at an odd time in naval affairs. “Armored Cruisers” seemed to be what Navies needed, ships that could combine sail and steam — she was initially designed with three masts — and that would attack headlong. Accordingly, Maine had a ram built into her bow, and her two gun barbettes (mounted in left-front and right-rear sponsons) were arranged so that she could deliver her full “broadside” — four 10-inch guns — only straight ahead or straight behind.

Maine also had advanced armor for her day — Harvey Steel, an early form of face-hardened armor. But it took so long for America to build, launch and commission this pre-Dreadnought battleship (ships characterized by guns in sponsons and coal-fired steam piston engines) that she was, although nearly new at her sinking, soon to be obsoleted by that British revolution in naval arms.

Our interest, of course, is easily led from the 10″ main battery on down through the 1.5″ anti-torpedo-boat armaments to, inevitably, the personal weapons.

Julia Maine Recovered Lee Navy

Like every Naval vessel, Maine had some small arms lockers, and in February, 1898, they held the unusual M1895 Winchester-Lee 6mm (.236 Navy) rifle. The rifles, at least some of them, were salvaged and were sold by Francis Bannerman of Bannerman’s Island fame. Ian at Forgotten Weapons has an excellent video showcasing one of these rare rifles, now featured in a Julia auction. James Julia expects a five figure knock-down on this. Julia explains his documentation of provenance:

Also accompanied by a copy of pages 34 and 35 of a reprint of The Bannerman Catalog of July 1907. Page 35 lists the serial numbers of 54 6mm Lee Straight Pull Rifles salvaged from the USS Maine, including this exact rifle.

Julia Maine recovered Navy

It also lists the SNs of six 45 cal Springfield rifles recovered at the same time. These rifles were sold to Bannermens [sic] through the Navy Yard at New York in Jan. 1900. These 54 Lee rifles and 6 Springfield rifles are the only officially documented small arms recovered from the USS Maine although there have been one or two others that have surfaced in the last few years that were undoubtedly authentic. Regardless there are probably no more than about 60 or so of these relics in existence.

How many guns came by their pitting this honestly? No doubt someone will take great pride in adding this piece of history to his collection.

Hey, it’s just a Ka-Bar, right? An $11k Ka-Bar?

Hey, it’s just a Ka-Bar (on this day of edged weapons, which we’ve now added as a category). Just a Ka-Bar. Even if this one is a Camillus, these Marine knives are best known by the name of their original maker. They’re good, simple, sturdy, dependable and cheap field knives, much used in SF and other Army units as well as in their birthplace, the Corps. So what makes this one worth, says the auctioneer, $11k? (That’s the opening bid, for an auction opening in a few hours). It doesn’t look real special, does it?

Gagnon USMC Knife L

 

Well, what about the markings? Perhaps there’s something special there.

Gagnon USMC Knife details L

Nope. And the condition is OK, but not too special. Call it average. Well, then, if the knife is unremarkable, and its condition is just middling, it’s got to be something about the guy whose knife it is or was. 

The guy that wrote this, home from boot camp:

[I]t certainly gives you a funny feeling to know that in my hands I hold two means of killing a person…stabbing him…or shooting him…Those are the things we’re fighting for…when I was a kid I never realized that I one day would actually kill a man, as a matter of fact none of us really like the idea of killing, but if that’s the only language the Axis understand then that’s what it will have to be.

That introspective Marine was this rakish, Hollywood-handsome fellow:

Rene GagnonBut he’s famous not for motion pictures, but for a still. This still:

Mt Suribachi flag raising USMC

Joe Rosenthal’s famous flag-raising picture is a powerful symbol of the Marine Corps to this day. And Rene Gagnon of Manchester, NH, was one of the six men in that picture, raising the flag. (He’s the guy opposite the guy whose helmet is bisected by the libe of the flagpole. Gagnon’s mostly hidden, apart from his hands and one leg, but he was definitely there). He’s one of the three that survived. (His story is told, along with those of the other five, living and dead, in the bestseller Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley — a descendant of another survivor).

When Rene Gagnon passed away he left the knife to his son. The Manchester, NH Union Leader‘s Amanda Beland interviewed Rene Jr., and reports:

The Marines-issued knife belonged to Gagnon until he died at age 54 in 1979. Since then, it has officially belonged to his son, Rene Gagnon Jr.
But for Gagnon Jr., of Concord, the knife was a part of his life long before his father’s death.

“I used it growing up — in Boy Scouts, cutting things up around the house, playing cowboys and Indians, lots of ways,” he said.
Gagnon Jr. said he always expressed his fondness for the knife — which is how it came into his possession. “When I was younger, the whole time I really liked that knife and I made that clear.”

Gagnon Jr. said he decided to sell the knife now partly for financial reasons, partly because he was unsure of where it was going to end up.
“I have three daughters and a son, and it was never like ‘I like this,’ so there’s the thought of where do I leave it,” he said.

“A lot of my father’s memorabilia is in Wolfeboro (at the Wright Museum of World War II History). If there’s someone there who cares for it, then it’s not going to get lost or something.”
Gagnon Jr. said he’s aware that his father has a public persona that’s been perpetuated by interviews, books and movies. But to him, Rene Gagnon represents something much simpler.

“To the whole world, he was a hero, but to me, he was my father, just my father,” said Gagnon Jr. “I had the knife, yeah, and now someone who cares about that type of thing can have it, but I had and have my father.”

The auction house thinks the knife may bring as much as $20k. In that rarefied air, individual bidders may be competing with museums, although most military museums are much happier trading a paper tax-writeoff for “free” stuff, than laying out actual cash for exhibits.

 

Transferable History

We’ve featured an MP.18-II before, which is a later iteration of this exact same gun, with a magazine well reconfigured for straight magazines. (It led in turn to the MP.28, the Lanchester, and the Sten, by fairly direct process of derivation). But this gun, the MP.18-I, is the granddaddy of them all, and it could be yours.

MP.18-I 03It is certainly the first widely produced submachine gun, defined as a shoulder-fired infantry weapon firing a pistol cartridge with an automatic or select-fire mechanism. A blowback mechanism, it showed the way for many designs that would follow through three generations of submachine guns, until the rise of compact versions of intermediate-cartridge assault weapons would replace most of them.

Some would say it has a face only a mother could love:

MP.18-I 28

 

And it’s just as awkward looking from behind. MP.18-I 24

The drum magazine is so odd looking because it was already in production for the Lange P.08, the “Artillery” Luger. Rather than try to design a thirtyish-round magazine, the engineers at Theodor Bergmann in the weapons-manufacturing center Suhl, Germany, did what many later gun designers would do and borrowed a proven one.

MP.18-I Snail Drum 03

 

The gadget with the lever is the magazine loader, a must-have for these unique mags. Note the sleeve that fits on them for SMG use.

MP.18-I 06

Like all first-generation submachine guns the MP.18-I is made using the rifle processes of the early 20th Century. It is primarily made of steel parts machined from billet or forgings, richly blued; and the stock is solid walnut. If four years of relentless naval blockade had damaged the German Empire’s war production capabilities, this gun doesn’t show it.

The auction has a very reasonable opening bid, for what it is, but there is also a reserve. No, we don’t know what the reserve is.

As the catchy song goes, what does the ad say?

This is a really nice example of the early 9 mm German submachine gun used in WWI. MP18-1 was the first true Submachine Gun. This is not all matching, but is an excellent example with an excellent bore.

These are very rare and hard to find because most MP18’s were modified to accept the straight magazine instead of the drum magazine.

There was a show on the tube, the one with that perv guy, where they bubba’d up a later MP. 18-II to resemble this, so you might want to ensure that this is not the Bubba gun version.

It has a 1920 stamp on the receiver so it was used by the Weimar Police.

This comes with 2 drums with adapters and 1 drum loading tool. These drums are the same drums used with the Artillery Luger. This is C&R fully transferable and is currently on a form 3.

via German WWI MP18,I with 2 Drums & Loader : Machine Guns at GunBroker.com.

If you’re familiar with later German SMGs, the bolt and striker of the MP.18 look pretty familiar:

MP.18-I 25

The simplicity of this firearm was so elegantly perfect for its purpose that it spawned hundreds of work-alikes, few of which improved on its basic function (after replacing the overly complex magazine).

This may look like a lot of pictures, but there are way more at the auction link — something like 30 of them all told. You know you want to click over there anyway.

Sure, it’s more than our pickup cost, new, and it’s almost 100 years old. But on the other hand, our pickup will be worth approximately $0 in ten years, and an original MP.18-I is unlikely to lose much value. (If you buy it into a business you can even try depreciating it and see if the tax guys let you).

In case two drums aren’t enough for you, the same seller has a third, too. Without loader, but with dust cover. They’re all First Model snail drums. Annoy a totalitarian, buy a 32-round magazine.

third drum

One nice thing about this seller’s auctions is that they run for a good, long time. The MP.18 has eight days to go. (Serious bidders may not show up until close to the end. Don’t read too much into lack of bids on an auction when it still has weeks to run).

Another nice thing about these auctions? They give all of us the chance to see many rare collector pieces. We can’t own them all, but we can get eyes on them when they change hands. How cool is that?

Bureaucracy vs Mobilization

The Golan Heights saw the largest tank battles since WWII in the East.

The Golan Heights saw the largest tank battles since WWII in the East.

When Ori Orr returned to Israel after several years away, including a US staff college, just before the 1973 War, he faced cultural shock. The Israeli Army of 1967 — indeed, the whole society of 1967 — was robustly egalitarian, strikingly so by European or even American standards. A private might use his battalion or division commander’s first name; officers drove themselves and tended their own uniforms. This Army had won great victories on all fronts in 1948, 1956 and 1967, forced Egypt to knuckle under in the 1970 War of Attrition, and fully expected that if the Arabs moved in the direction of a new war, they’d get a new beating.

The Army of 1973 was complacent thanks to its long string of victories, especially the decisive win of 1967. And it had succumbed to the slow creep of bureaucracy and stratification. Senior officers had staff cars, drivers, batmen. In 1967, even cabinet ministers didn’t get such perks.  Orr didn’t think it was a change for the better. It offended his egalitarian sensibilities (he would later be a Member of the Knesset and a government minister for the small-s socialist Labor Party). In fact, he had returned to an Army that had thrown over its battle-born radical beginnings to become leadenly bureaucratic. In a very short time, the IDF would have to lose its peacetime bureaucracy.

Or die.

Emblem of the 679 Tank Brigade.

Emblem of the 679 Tank Brigade.

On the first day of the war, freshly appointed reserve tank brigade commander Orr found that he had subordinates of both the 1967 and 1973 stripes. (Note that the following is a horrible translation from Hebrew to English; the translator was ignorant of military vocabulary like “mobilization” and “armorer,” and frequently uses what Mark Twain might have called “a second approximation of the word.”)

Mickey, the adjutant officer, decided to register the men only after they were assigned a vehicle, before leaving, because he understood that there was no other way to ascertain that the men were registered in their units. This sped up the absorption process.

Mickey, for whom Orr was suitably thankful, was a 1967 officer — damn the rules, get it done. So we may digress for a moment into what they were trying to get done.

Israeli Centurion 1973An IDF reserve unit of the period was a hollow shell with a permanent, full-time cadre of four or five officers, and a handful of specialist warrant officers or NCOs. They maintained the equipment in a mobilization-ready state, in theory, and in the event of a mobilization, they planned on having two weeks’ notice to absorb reservists, shake down the unit, clear any vehicle squawks or supply shortfalls, and get ready to fight. Unlike an American Reserve or Guard unit, or a British Territorial Army unit, there weren’t regular, frequent drills, just infrequent and irregular micro-mobilizations for training. The Arab attack caught the Israelis flatfooted on a holiday, and Orr’s situation was compounded by many small ills. His unit hadn’t done training recently. It had obsolete Centurions with at-end-of-life gasoline engines and balky manual transmissions; they’d already been shifted from being parked in their tactical elements to being parked in the order they were going to the depot for a diesel and automatic shift mobility upgrade.

New to the unit, he didn’t know anybody (but thanks to the small size of the IDF Tank Corps, he’d soon find old friends). And his time in command was, when the Syrians hit a relatively miles away, measured in days (his first order had been to put the tanks back in tactical order). He approved Mickey’s quick-thinking rule-breaking. But he also had the Spirit of1973 in some of his cadre.

Tankers' individual weapons were probably, mostly, 9mm Uzi SMGs in 1973. We've been unable to find images of an IDF arms room circa '73.

Tankers’ individual weapons were probably 9mm Uzi SMGs in 1973. We’ve been unable to find images of an IDF arms room circa ’73.

While absorbing the soldiers , I hear the loud voice of an argument coming from the weaponry area. I left the dark area. The active-duty gunsmith recognized me first, and it took a little longer for the reserve soldiers until they spotted my rank. The gunsmith turned to me almost shouting, “They want to take out weapons without signing for it.” I looked at him in amazement. The world around us was trembling but I had still not managed to inculcate into the very last of the soldiers that we were at war. “Open the door and quickly give each soldier his weapon!” I ordered. At first, he looked at me in disbelief. I guess that I was the only one from whom he would have agreed to accept such a command to change the order of his universe.

One is reminded of legend of the ammunition boxes of Isandlwana. Orr didn’t make the historical reference, but he was less than thrilled with this encounter with one of the 1973 type of bureaucratic Israeli soldier.

I informed the maintenance officer of the instructions that I had given. I didn’t hide my anger at the fact that he had not managed to internalize the message to his men that we were at war, already from the afternoon. NOTE 1

Orr had his first tanks in action against the Syrians 15 hours from receiving the warning order, well short of the 24 hours thought to be the minimum, and far from the two weeks that Israeli strategists had expected their reservists to have. To accomplish that, he sent the tanks with limited ammunition — they had AT ammo but no HE, and in fact only had 2/3 of their basic load. When the commander of this element, Nitzan Yotzer, asked for more time to load his tanks, Orr told him:

Nitzan, the Syrians don’t know how much ammunition you are missing. True, we were educated that in battle, you go out when everyone is full, but there is no time. The Syrians need to see tanks shooting at them and blocking off the routes. We need to make an effort to reach you later with the ammunition. Note 2

Yotzer’s element, a few tanks and a few reconnaissance men in jeeps,  went out and ran into Syrians “east of Tel Tzabah, at the Katzbiya Junction.” The  Syrians weren’t expecting resistance so early, and Yotzer’s Centurions at least temporarily the Syrian advance at 0200 on 7 Oct 73 — just 12 hours after the attack at 1400 on the 6th, and 15 hours after the initial alert came to Orr.

They would not be out of the woods at all. The Israelis discovered, in those first hot minutes, a disturbing thing they hadn’t expected of their Arab enemies: the Syrians were not intimidated, and they had come to fight.

They wouldn’t find the next surprise just yet, because the Syrian forces here were a unit with older T-55 tanks, evenly matched to Yotzer’s old Centurions: but the Syrians’ armored elite in T-62s, unlike the Israelis, could see in the dark.

Notes

  1. Orr, Ori. Yom Kippur War: These are My Brothers. Contento De Semrik: Kindle Edition, 2013. Kindle Locations 1449-1465.
  2. Orr, Ori. Yom Kippur War: These are My Brothers. Contento De Semrik: Kindle Edition, 2013. Kindle Locations 1518-1524.

Seen For Sale: Granatenwerfer 16

So on this weeks W4, there’s an interesting ad for an interesting weapon: a Granatenwerfer 16. The Granatenwerfer 16 is an update of an earlier device (Granatenwerfer 15).  The example in the next photo is not the Sturm sales offer; this one was captured by the Australian 13th Battalion at Morcourt on 8 August 1918, during the sanguinary 1918 Somme offensive, it rests in the Australian War Memorial, and, it’s worth noting, the Sturm example is more complete and in better shape.

australian war memorial granatenwerfer

The bare gun like that leaves one puzzled at how it works, but when you see a grenade slipped over the “barrel,” which is really a “spigot,” it starts to clear up. These devices work on the unusual “spigot mortar” principle. This is most familiar to students of small arms, perhaps, from the late-WWII British PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) which used the spigot mortar principle to launch a Monroe Effect shaped charge. (If you only have reference to movies, it’s the AT weapon the paras use to defend their bridgehead in Arnhem in A Bridge Too Far).

PIAT

While the US and German forces went to rockets (and the Germans, also, to a projected grenade from inside a tube) some bright British spark remembered the spigot mortar principle from World War I (it was also used on by the WWII Brits on Naval weapons, like the Hedgehog antisubmarine weapon, and on some bizarre creations for the Home Guard).

The Blacker Bombard was one of those bizarre Home Guard weapons of World War II.

The Blacker Bombard was one of those bizarre Home Guard weapons of World War II. It never faced the Wehrmacht, fortunately for the men who crewed it.

Today, we have come to assume that the Stokes type muzzle loaded mortar is the infantry standard, and it seems always to have been. Nowadays, it is used by all the nations of the world. But in World War I, there was no assumption or guarantee that this would be the ideal, simple, cheap infantry support weapon. What soldiers did figure out very quickly is that, with enemy forces sheltered in trenches, pillboxes and other field fortifications, a small weapon that could deliver high-angle fire would be idea. This caused the development of a wide range of weapons, all around the world, from Japan’s light grenade projector that would be known to her Second World War enemies as the “knee mortar”; to a wide panoply of small pack artillery pieces, little jewels in small calibers; to the trench mortar itself… Stokes and Brandt deserve their own posts at Weaponsman.com some time soon.

But the Imperial German Army covered the dead zone between bayonet and hand-grenade range on the low end, and the danger-close limits of artillery on the high, with a special spigot mortar, which they called with the Teutonic love of compound words a Granatenwerfer — “Grenade Thrower.”

Granatenwerfer 2

This name has caused some internet sources to conclude that this threw ordinary German stick grenades, and one post that made us laugh suggested that its ammunition was the Stielhandgranate 24, as in 1924. But in fact, it shot its own ammunition. Ian at Forgotten Weapons has a post with some photographs of another example, and the German manual (a .pdf that requires you to read not only German, but the old Fraktur alphabet). There’s a post at Gunboards (you need to be a member to blow up the pictures) but at a glance this looks like the same example of this weapon that Ian had photos of.  It’s a pretty beaten-up example compared to the Sturm for-sale item.

There’s lots more information and photos at Kaiserscross.com and some history at BulgarianArtillery.it.

Here’s the text of the Sturm ad:

granatenwerfer7

For sale is a W W 1 German Granatenwerfer in mint condition. It is in it’s original factory box with all tools, spare parts, original manual, etc.

Granatenwerfer 3

 

Data plate in lid completely intact.

2 dewat projectiles included. Rebuilt / restored baseplate in perfect working condition with all data plates intact.

2 original ammo crates in excellent condition, all hardware present, working and intact. 1 crate has original paper munition label inside in perfect condition.

Granatenwerfer 4

The other crate is lined with Berlin newspaper circa 1922.

Granatenwerfer 6

Not on BATFE destructive device list, no special license or transfer fee required. Buyer responsible for pickup, too heavy to ship. Serious inquiries only, will not part out. This is a museum grade grouping that is impossible to upgrade. Payment with certified funds.

It’s one of the most complete and best ones we’ve ever seen, but like you’d expect from a museum-quality live weapon, it has a museum-worthy 6-figure price. But if you’re planning on reenacting Capporetto next year, you just might need it.

The Granatenwerfer 16 worked like this: an ordinary 7.92mm x 57mm Mauser cartridge with its bullet removed was inserted in the fragmentation grenade — way up inside the tube, there’s a sort of chamber for it. In effect, it is a blank cartridge with no crimp. The tube slips over the spigot, the face of which is a de facto breech, with a firing pin at center. The firing pin is released by a trigger. The cartridge fires, and launches the grenade… then it falls off the spigot, leaving room for the next loaded grenade.

We want it.