Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

How an Original Tiger Wound up in Fury

One of the most remarkable things about Fury is the presence of a real, running, Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger 1 on screen. This is the first time a real, live, Tiger, and not a mockup on some other chassis, a scale model, or a CGI digital emulation, was used in a feature film. Here’s a video of how a high-strung thoroughbred war machine from most of a century ago performed before the cameras:

As Tigers belonged to an empire that was crushed to rubble some 70 years ago, the few of them that have survived have mostly come to nest in museums. But one that was captured in 1942 in the Western Desert nation of Tunisia has been running (occasionally) and entertaining visitors at the Royal Armored Corps’s Tank Museum in Bovington, England for some years now. Tiger 131 was shipped to the set (along with some doting caretakers), and the Museum also provided the title character, Fury the Sherman tank.

The Museum now has a temporary exhibit dedicated to the movie, including some of the props they didn’t originally provide, and wargaming stations that let visitors get creamed by Tiger tanks themselves — at least, in the digital realm.

The Tank Museum also posted this video explaining some of the other lengths the movie makers went to, to make Fury as grimly accurate as they did.

We did note the absence of anachronisms on the screen, at least in terms of props and settings. (Some of the language and human expression is more 21st Century than 1945, but what can you do about that?) If you’re planning to see the movie (about which we remain uncharacteristically ambivalent), these videos contain no real spoilers and may help you look for details you’ll enjoy seeing.

Handgun Ownership, German Reunification, and a Unique Wall Weapon

This pretty heat-map of pinks and blues shows legal handgun ownership in today’s (well, 2013’s) Germany. What’s interesting is that you can clearly see the inter-German border that existed during the period from 1949-1992, caused when the Soviet Occupation Zone stood up as the Soviet satellite (slave) state of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and the three Western Allies’ (FR, UK, US) Occupation Zones joined as the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1989 the Soviets lost control of their East German subjects and the long process of German reunification began. Here’s the map, from a feature on the lasting divisions in unified Germany in the newspaper Die Zeit.


In the former East Germany, even though the gun laws originally followed those of East Germany, replacing the Soviet-era complete handgun ban, the limited gun culture of West Germany has not taken root. This is not entirely surprising, as many of the more malleable youth of the eastern Bundesländer have migrated West in search of jobs and adventure, and the East is heavily populated by older residents who grew up under the Hammer-and-Dividers symbol of the East German Communist party, the SED.

One wonders what happened to the inter-German border, which as late as the 1980s was characterized by guard towers, dog runs, plowed earthen areas to expose any footprints, free-fire zones, and several types of land mines (on the inner-German border only; they were removed from the Berlin Wall by 1980).


General Arrangement – Construction of the Steel Border – Plan for 1990. Confidential restricted material! (reads the German title). W. Germany on left. SM-70 mines are on the inside of the fire 3m-high fence or wall.

All East Germans living within a certain distance of the wall (100 meters, in Berlin) had to register with the Volkspolizei, and were subject to removal if background checks showed them to be insufficiently enthused by the Workers’ and Peasants’ Revolution imposed at the point of Russian bayonets. An intensive network of informants were the Vopo’s eyes and ears. Even the VoPos were kept out of the border zone, though; there were special GrenzPolizei, Border Police, selected for political reliability — and absence of any personal connection to the West or to the borderlands. Maps of the DDR were blank on the BRD side, and were even blank on the DDR side, for the last 5 kilometers from the border.1

Mines deployed along the border included a variety of Russian military types (most lifted by 1985) and a home-grown Claymore equivalent, the Splittermine 1970 or SM-70.A German legend attributed the design of the SM-70 to an SS officer intent on securing concentration camps. That’s possible, because East Germany was all about giving brutal Nazis a second chance as brutal Communists, but doesn’t seem to have documentary support.

The SM-70 contained a hollow charge of TNT, but where a typical hollow-charge weapon like an RPG’s PG-7 warhead would be lined with a copper, aluminum alloy or exotic-metal alloy lining to explosively-form a plasma armor-penetrating projectile, the SM-70’s cone comprised preformed metallic fragments. It could be fired by electrical command wire, tripwire, or both. (Tripwire installations were most common). The mines were monitored; if an SM-70 fired, a display panel would inform the guard force where to collect the dead or wounded would-be escapee.

General arrangement of an SM-70. They were typically mounted in rows of three, at ankle level, at about 1.45 m, and about 5 CM below the top of the wall or fence, on the East German side of the last wall (or chain-link or expanded-mesh fence) before freedom.

General arrangement of an SM-70. They were typically mounted in rows of three, at ankle level, at about 1.45 m, and about 5 CM below the top of the wall or fence, on the East German side of the last wall (or chain-link or expanded-mesh fence) before freedom.

The SM-70 was installed on the DDR side of the border fences. At least 60,000 SM-70s were deployed, 13,000 of them in a single 40-km long field. When the mines were tested in 1970, wildlife that were collaterally killed by the machines were left lying in the border strip as a warning to would-be “Border violators.”

This shows the innards of the SM-70 and how it works. They were never observed outside of East Germany.

This shows the innards of the SM-70 and how it works. They were never observed outside of East Germany.

The end of life of the SM-70 is to a degree uncertain. Officially, they were all removed by the end of 1984, but some seem to have persisted longer. Reportedly, they were replaced by monitoring systems that led to response by human and canine patrols. Had East Germany continued, its border authorities planned an even richer sensor environment. Given their political reliability problems with their police and military, the more they could automate the Wall, the better.

So we wondered, what has become of that death zone, that grim barrier that in practice turned an entire nation into a concentration camp? As it happens, the Germans wasted no time tearing it down, and now there is barely any remnant of it left to memorialize the hazards and the many victims of Communism’s need for captive populations.

The inter-German border was the strongest and most sophisticated of these Cold War fortifications, but some version of it did indeed extend “from Stettin on the Baltic, to Trieste on the Adriatic.” (The most futile and least well-imagined of them was further East, in Communist but anti-Soviet Albania). But they couldn’t, in the end, keep the people in and freedom out. In the end, like the Maginot Line, or Hadrian’s Wall for that matter, these walls fell less because of their own weaknesses (they had plenty; US and Allied intelligence agencies and SOF could play them like a Stradivarius), but because of the vulnerabilities in the humans that operated them.

The Die Zeit page has a video; unfortunately we can’t embed it here, but it is a Google Earth flyover of what much of the inner-German border has become: greensward, zigging and zagging along a now-erased border. Now, environmentalists are resisting redevelopment of the area, which has become host to many rare flora and fauna. Quite a remarkable thing, to those of us who looked on it, from whatever side, and expected it to be permanent.

Ozymandias was not available for comment.


1 Rottman, Gordon L. Berlin and the Intra-German Border 1961-89. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2008. pp. 37-40.

2. Rottman, op.cit., pp. 17-23.

Additional References

SM-70. Grenades, Mines and Boobytraps website. Retrieved from:

DDR Grenzsperranlagen: Grenzzaun u. Selbstschußanlage. Website. Retrieved from:

(the whole Grenzsperranlagen website is good, but it’s all in German).

Fred the Great: On Duty, and On General Order Nº1

Frederick II "The Great's" sarcophagus was hidden in a mineshaft by Nazis who feared it would be destroyed by the Allies. It wasn't (his peripatetic corpse finally was buried on his lawn where he'd originally requested -- in the 21st Century).

Frederick II “The Great’s” sarcophagus was hidden in a mineshaft by Nazis who feared it would be destroyed by the Allies. It wasn’t (his peripatetic corpse finally was buried on his lawn where he’d originally requested — in the 21st Century).

Frederick II, “the Great,” of Prussia was one of the most brilliant generals that ever lived. His strategy, his tactics, and his relative attention to logistics and mobility were all ahead of their time, and enabled the relatively small principality of Prussia to kick ass and take names all over Europe.

Frederick is also remembered for his correspondence: a witty writer, he was fortunate to live at the time of the Enlightenment, and exchanged pithy and deep letters with Voltaire. He encouraged immigration to Prussia, but particularly skilled immigration: he cared not if one was a Huguenot farmer, Jesuit scholar or a Jewish trader, but if you had something to bring to Prussia the door was open to you. At the same time he accepted Protestants fleeing Catholic pressure in some countries, and Catholics fleeing the Protestants in others — as long as they could bring something to Prussia.

He is less remembered for his artsy personality; he may indeed have been queer as a three-mark coin, and he wrote four symphonies and scores of concertos in the baroque style as well as military marches; he sponsored CPE Bach and received a sonata as a gift from Bach’s father, Johann Sebastian Bach (that’s “the” Bach to you musical ignorami). He preferred French to his native German, but was fluent in both, and functional in several other European languages.

The National Archives calls these swords of Frederick the Great, but says in the same article they were from the coronation of Frederick I.

The National Archives calls these swords of Frederick the Great, but says in the same article they were from the coronation of Frederick I, so they may predate the great general-king.

But in military arts, he is remembered for what he said as much as for what he did (which laid the groundwork for Bismarck’s unification of the German states under a Prussian king a century on).

He won battles and lost them; he came within a hair of losing Berlin to a Russian and Austrian alliance that fortuitously fell apart after the death of Elizabeth of Russia and the ascension of her nephew Peter the Great (Peter III, the not-so-great1, see the footnote and correction in comments), an admirer of Frederick, to the throne.

But he was a master of, not exactly the pithy aphorism like those for which Napoleon was deservedly legendary, but a well-turned entire paragraph, of which we have a couple of examples to offer you today.


He had this to say (in a letter to Voltaire, who was critical of Frederick’s militarism), about the military life and its attractions, or lack thereof, for him:

Do you think I take any pleasure in this dog’s life, in seeing and causing death in people unknown to me, in losing friends and acquaintances daily, in seeing my reputation ceaselessly exposed to the caprices of fortune, in spending the whole year with uneasiness and apprehension, in continually risking my life and my fortune? I certainly know the value of tranquility, the charms of society, the pleasures of life, and I like to be happy as much as anybody. Although I desire all these good things, I will not buy them with baseness and infamy. Philosophy teaches us to do our duty, to serve our country faithfully at the expense of our blood and of our repose, to commit our whole being to it.

You may believe him or not — we suspect that he took rather more pleasure in campaigning than that, at least while he was winning. We also suspect Voltaire didn’t buy it for a minute.

The next aphorism is also one that deserves reflection almost 240 years after its utterance. While today’s abstemious (sometimes to the point of asceticism) American officers revel in the purity of the Temple they have made of their bodies, Frederick’s words, from 1777, rise from his grave at Sans Souci to condemn General Order One:

It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the amount of money that goes out of the country as a consequence. Everybody is using coffee; this must be prevented. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were both his ancestors and officers. Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer, and the King does not believe that coffee-drinking soldiers can be relied upon to endure hardships in case of another war.

Yeah. What Fred said.

The only reason we haven’t actually lost yet is that the pathetic hadjis are coffee-drinkers, too.


1 Re: Peter the not-too-great, read Max’s comment and check the bios at and at Russian state-controlled broadcaster Russia Today for the short and unhappy reign of this guy, who was most important in Russian history as the way that Catherine the Great (who really was great) rose to the throne. The problem with kings and nobles is, of course, the tendency to regression to the mean (or beyond) in their posterity.

Weapon for Vampires? A stake in the heart is traditional

In Bulgaria… archaeologists are exhuming centuries old… dead vampires? Well, they’re people that someone thought were vampires… judging from their burial with a stake in the heart.

Let’s go back to a forgotten era, before vampires became sparkly, and stepped into the role once played by horses in tween girls’ fantasies; let’s go back even before that, to a time before Bram Stoker wrote Dracula and set the whole “Vampire” thing moving. Apparently, about 900 years ago villagers really believed this stuff, and staked some of the dead through their congealing hearts, like this feeling-no-pain character. The disc about where his ticker used-to-was is the butt end of an iron stake:

dead vampire

Smithsonian magazine has an entertaining article on him:

Clearly, this man’s neighbors did not trust his remains to stay put. As Nikolai Ovcharov, the archeologist in charge of the dig, told the Telegraph: “We have no doubts that once again we’re seeing an anti-vampire ritual being carried out.” At the time of the man’s death, vampires were perceived as a real threat in many Eastern European communities. People who died unusually—from suicide, for example—were sometimes staked to prevent them from coming back from the dead, the Telegraph writes.

Iron stakes and hokey religions are a pretty poor substitute for a blaster by your side, kid.

Of course, we learned of this from a typical Beastweek story, written by a professional, J-School-certified journalist, that passed through “layers and layers of editors,” that concludes (emphasis ours):

Little could the New England community ever imagine that 200 years later, vampires would be taking over the entire country—but this time on the silver screen—and that their ancestors would be swarming to get a look at these sultry modern counterparts.

Please explain your meaning of the word, “ancestors.” You appear to require its antonym.

Silly English language, it has another word for everything.

Anyway, we’ll be thinking of Old Spike tonight as we hand out candy to little vampires, etc. Our neighbors up the street put on a fantastic display of inflatable decorations — giant ghouls and devil dogs and whatnot. That brings all the kids from all over the place, and some of their parents come, apologizing. Why apologize? It’s a harmless costume holiday, and in a community  where a median home is around a half-million, nobody needs to whine about buying some extra Reese’s Pieces or what have you. (We tend to buy candy that we don’t like our ownselves… in the event of leftovers we’re less tempted to scarf it all up).

10th Legion Inscription from Destroyed Arch Found in Jerusalem

The new discovery.

The new discovery, outdoors undergoing conservation.

Israelis could be excused for not wanting anything to do with the Roman Legion X Fretensis, which occupied Judea for a long period and suppressed the Maccabee and Bar-Kochba Revolts in counterinsurgency campaigns of the type common in classical antiquity: brutal and sanguinary.

But Israeli archaeologists were thrilled to announce the rediscovery of a long-lost inscription dedicated to the Roman Emperor Hadrian by the Legion in 129 or 130 AD. The tag end of the inscription had long been known, but the upper part turned up in reused stones that had been the lintel of an arch of triumph.

To the Imperator Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus, son of the deified Traianus Parthicus, grandson of the deified Nerva, high priest, invested with tribunician power for the 14th time, consul for the third time, father of the country (dedicated by) the 10th legion Fretensis (2nd hand) Antoniniana.

via Stone engraved to Roman emperor Hadrian discovered in Jerusalem | Israel | Jewish Journal.

hadrian_statueHadrian was a remarkable emperor, known for Hadrian’s Wall in Britain and for his famous villa/palace. But his rule of the inhabitants of Judea was marked by cruel conquest. Jerusalem was destroyed, and a city named “Aelia Capitolina” built on its ruins. The arch celebrated Hadrians’ troops’ eradication of Jewish resistance; the statue of Hadrian (on the right) was also erected to celebrate this victory. It’s unknown who pulled down and broke up this statue of Hadrian; it could have been Jews getting some cultural revenge, or it could have been iconoclastic Ottomans, although iconoclasts usually destroyed the noses or faces of statues, in addition to pulling them down and breaking them up. (Will archaeologists be unearthing Lenins in 2000 years? One hopes not).

An archaeologist conserves the new-found inscription honoring Hadrian.

An archaeologist conserves the new-found inscription honoring Hadrian.

Outside of Judea, Hadrian was often viewed (including by European historians) as a model of the benevolent despot. In Judea, that was not his image, as a review of the history of the Bar-Kochba revolt indicates. After the initial, AD 70, revolt led to a Jewish defeat, Rome imposed a harsh peace, and on taking the reins of power, Hadrian cranked up the pressure on his Judean subjects, demanding they convert to Roman religion and abjure their ancient faith. Titus had already razed the Temple; Hadrian planned his city, Aelia Capitolina, with a temple to his god, Jupiter, and the Jews grudgingly accepted that — until he banned two Jewish religious practices that had long struck Romans as barbarous: castration and circumcision. (Jews do not practice castration; Hadrian may have been misinformed). That and other offenses against Jewish belief were enough to bring the Jews to the brink of revolt. In 132 AD, Roman engineers constructing the new Roman city collapsed the Tomb of Solomon, venerated by Jews as a holy place. Fuel-air mixture, meet spark. The rebellious Jews, led by Simon bar-Kochba, seized the countryside and knew better than to engage the Roman legions directly.

The rebels did not dare try to risk open confrontation against the Romans, but occupied the advantageous positions in the country and strengthened them with mines and walls, so that they would have places of refuge when hard pressed and could communicate with one another unobserved underground; and they pierced these subterranean passages from above at intervals to let in air and light.

[Cassius Dio, Roman history 69.12.3]

(Now you see where Hamas got the tunnel idea). Even sending a top general, Julius Severus, didn’t win the war; Hadrian actually had to come himself. (We have a vision of him saying, “Severus, you had one job.“)  Somewhere between four and seven Legions were deployed; one, XXII Deiotariana, vanishes from history after this war. One source suggests it was annihilated; it might also have been disgraced, or lost its eagle.

The X Legion had been through that disgrace in Parthia, after Crassus led them to defeat at Cannae (another emperor later ransomed the eagles back after an interval). So it was going to celebrate any victory it got.

Going back to Cassius Dio again (courtesy of that same source), we see that Hadrian won by a counterinsurgent campaign that resembles more closely German campaigns against Russian partisans or America’s crushing of the Indians than the kinder, gentler COIN of today.

Severus did not venture to attack his opponents in the open at any one point, in view of their numbers and their fanaticism, but -by intercepting small groups, thanks to the number of his soldiers and under-officers, and by depriving them of food and shutting them up- he was able, rather slowly, to be sure, but with comparative little danger, to crush, exhaust and exterminate them. Very few Jews in fact survived. Fifty of their most important outposts and 985 better known villages were razed to the ground. 580,000 were killed in the various engagements or battles. As for the numbers who perished from starvation, disease or fire, that was impossible to establish.

[Cassius Dio, Roman history 69.13.2-3]

The last stand of the rebels was in Betar, in the desert southwest of Judea; rather than an Alamo storm, the Romans simply starved the last of the Jewish resisters out. Tradition holds that the head of Bar-Kochba was brought to Hadrian, who said over the grisly sight, “If his God had not slain him, who could have overcome him?”

hadrian_killing_jewThere were still mopping up operations, but the war was over. Along with the new name for Jerusalem, Judea itself got a new name — Palestine. The survivors of the Jewish armies were sold into slavery or put to the sword — in this fanciful carving, by Hadrian himself.

Victorious, but weakened by Roman losses during the long campaign of no quarter, Hadrian returned to Rome.

The part of the inscription discovered by a French archaeologist in the 19th Century.

The part of the inscription discovered by a French archaeologist in the 19th Century.

After he was gone, and after the Romans were gone, someone knocked down the plaque and broke it up. A part was found the century before last by French archaeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau, and the remainder turned up on a dig this year — it had been used to pave a well. The arch-shaped lower part, the original discovery from the 1800s, is on outdoor display at the Studium Biblicum Franciscan Museum in Jerusalem.


Latin inscriptions did not fare well in Judea in the millennia that followed the retreat of Rome. Very few have survived, and to have one that is both complete and readily dated is rare indeed. Over a century passed between the discovery of the two parts of the inscription.

And enough time has passed that even the Israelis are excited about it, maybe more excited than today’s Romans.

As we used to say in 10th Group, Ave Caesar! Morituri te Salutamus.

A Bit of Cold War History

CIA SealOver at the CIA’s FOIA files, there’s a remarkable 1983 letter (.pdf) that more or less predicted the fall of the Soviet Union. Now, predicting the fall of the Soviet Union was a Cold War hobby of many people of many nationalities. Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik even wrote a book, Can the Soviet Union survive until 1984? Amalrik answered his question in the negative. He wasn’t so much wrong, as a few years ahead of the game.

A lot of people, especially among those with hands-on experience in the Soviet and slave-satellite system, predicted the fall of the USSR. But in the US intelligence community, those predictions were rare (and were resisted by the Soviet desk analysts). “Rare” is not the same thing as “nonexistent,” though, and today’s document is one of those rare exceptions.

This letter, from National Intelligence Council Vice-Chairman Herbert Meyer to the Director and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, was shocking in its prescience. He began by noting a marked uptick in violence and threats of violence in the late summer and fall of 1983: KAL 007, the Beirut bombings, the coup and US countercoup in Grenada, the now-forgotten Libyan invasion of Chad, terrorist murders of South Korean and Filipino politicians. Many of these events were aided, if not commanded, by the Soviet intelligence services.

He notes that the Soviet system was within decades of collapse, enumerates why, and points at some indicators of insecurity in the Kremlin:

Two Kremlin actions provide a good measure of Moscow’s domestic impotence. To boost the birthrate among Russian women — who average six abortions, according to recent, highly credible research — the Soviet Union has decided to offer Glory of Motherhood awards to women who bear large families. And to reform the world’s second-largest economy, Kremlin leaders last month ordered the execution, for corruption, of the poor devil who managed Gastronome Nº. 1, Moscow’s gourmet delicatessen. These feeble and pathetic actions are not those of a dynamic or even a healthy leadership responding to national emergency. They bring to mind neither Roosevelt in 1933 nor Reagan in 1981, but rather Nicholas II in 1910.

Meyer points out that Soviet officials who saw the possibility of Cold War victory slipping away — more likely fellows a few rungs down from the top, rather than the top-level leaders — might lose many of their inhibitions. Nevertheless, he considered the Cold War as good as won.

It has long been fashionable to view the Cold War as a permanent feature of global politics, when that will endure the next several generations at least. But it seems to me more likely that President Reagan was absolutely correct when he observed in his Notre Dame speech that the Soviet Union – “one of the histories saddest and most bizarre chapters” – Is entering its final pages. (We really should take up the President’s suggestion to begin planning for a post-Soviet world; the Soviet Union and its people won’t disappear from the planet, and we have not yet thought seriously about the sort of political and economic structure likely to emerge.) In short, the free world has outdistanced the Soviet Union economically, crushed it ideologically, and held it off politically. The only serious arena of competition left is military. From now on the Cold War will become more and more of a bare-knuckles street fight.

Empties back in pocket in gunfight? Urban Legend?

Bill Jordan, US Border Patrol, circa 1965.

Bill Jordan, US Border Patrol, circa 1965.

This is one of those stories that will never die, because every instructor (us, too, they said sheepishly) has found it useful as a way to hammer home the importance of training as you will fight. (We’ll quibble with some parts of that on another day: for instance, nobody should do 100% of range fires with hemmet and bodammoor, and any military unit that requires that is commanded by Simple Jack). Here’s the story, as recounted by one of our mo’ entertaining commenters:

But at a certain point, too much bad practice will get you killed.
There were always field reports of cops back in the day trained to shoot on square ranges, found dead after a gunfight as they were trying to put their ejected brass in their pockets, just like the penny-pinching departments had drilled into them at the range year after year.

It’s such a great story, that everybody who doesn’t know where it came from thinks it’s an urban legend. Massad Ayoob thought it came from cop talk about the Newhall Incident (multiple CHP killed in the 1970s). In this link Caleb mentions self-promoting assclown Dave Grossman, who is an Old Faithful of bad information, and Caleb, being a smart guy, discounts Grossman’s typically unsourced bullshit. Then, though, he paraphrases Mas citing Bill Jordan as a possible source of what he calls “anecdotal evidence from 2nd and 3rd hand parties”.

In his Handgunner article, Ayoob mentions that former Border Patrol officer Bill Jordan wrote in the 1960s of officers finding spent brass in their pockets after a gunfight with no recollection of picking it up. Unfortunately, that information is anecdotal at best, and as we’ve seen with the Newhall incident, anecdotal evidence from 2nd and 3rd hand parties isn’t reliable.

Apparently Caleb hasn’t checked the reference, which is easy enough to do. Jordan does indeed include the story in his book, No Second Place Winner, but it’s not, as Caleb seems to think, an apocryphal story. Jordan names a name and refers to a single, specific incident. So for Urban Legend hunters everywhere, here’s your chance to bag that trophy. I give you, Bill Jordan, US Border Patrol, circa 1965. We have added some paragraph breaks to introduce some desperately needed white space:

A question often asked of themselves by young officers is, “How will I comport myself in the face of fire? Will I stand up or will I break?” On the surface this would appear to be a question which can be answered only if it becomes an actuality. As a matter of fact the answer can be given with very little chance of error. Almost invariably a man, provided he does not have too much time to think, will automatically do what he has been trained to do. Again provided that his training has been thorough and intensive.

An example in support of this statement comes to my mind: A few years back a Border Patrol team became involved in a discussion with some contrabandistas in which they were considerably embarrassed by one of the smugglers holed up in some brush about 200 yards away. His presence unduly complicated the proceedings in that he was armed with a .30-30 rifle with which he was enthusiastically underscoring points in the argument made by the main group of his compatriots. The Border Patrolmen were armed only with .38 Special revolvers which put them at somewhat of a disadvantage under the circumstances. However, two of the three men applied themselves to the task of routing the nearby enemy while the senior officer, Sam McKone, took up the question of the rifleman in the brush.

They tell of a western epitaph which reads, “Here lies Tom Jones. Committed suicide by betting his pistol against a rifle at 200 yards.” This could be a normal result of such a contest, but Sam McKone is not one of the Jones boys. Among his other marksmanship awards is a gold medal declaring him to be a Distinguished Pistol Shot.

Additionally, being shot at was not a matter to distress Sam unduly, since it was not exactly a novel occurrence in his life. To make a long story short, by applying a little Kentucky windage and an educated trigger squeeze, Sam scored three hits which made the rifle shooter lose all interest in the fate of his companions and start thinking solely of his own welfare, here and hereafter.

What has all this to do with the statement that a man will do unconsciously as he was trained, provided the training was thorough and extensive? Well, after the fight someone noted that McKone’s pocket was bulging and politely inquired as to what might be spoiling the drape of his trousers. Puzzled, Sam thrust in an exploring hand. The pocket was full of fired cases. During the fight, without realizing he was doing so, McKone, an old reloader, had saved every empty!

And there you have it — the probable ur-instance of the story of the guy who saved his brass in a gunfight. And no, he didn’t wind up dead. Jordan’s book was a huge success for a shooting book, and generations of shooters have read it, and, as you can see by the excerpt, it’s entertaining to read. A lot of his ideas on revolvers and leather have fallen obsolete in the last 50 years, but a great deal of good info is in there, and it’s one of the classic books of pistol shooting.

You can find it online here, and download it in .epub (iBooks), .mobi (Kindle), or scanned, OCR’d .pdf file and a handful of other formats. The scan is of the 1977 printing of the 1965 original. It’s a very worthwhile book, even back in the seventies when we bought it for the first time.

Incidentally, in the Massad Ayoob article referenced by Caleb in the quote above, he references a “forthcoming book” on the Newhall murders by Mike Wood, which did indeed come forth, in 2013. The book is called Newhall Shooting – A Tactical Analysis: Survival Lessons from One of Law Enforcement’s Deadliest Shootings, and despite the cringe-inducing “tactical” in the title, it’s a fantastic book — and germane to this discussion.

On pages 56 and 57 of that book there is an extensive footnote about the facts of Officer Pence’s brass (which he ejected onto the ground, it was not in his pocket) and some informed speculation about how the brass-in-pocket story got started: at the same time as many Newhall-driven changes in training, CHP also changed training to eject empties onto the ground, not to save them. Here’s a tiny excerpt of a very long footnote:

In the wake of Newhall, the CHP made an intensive study of training practices and made many corrections to ensure that bad habits that would jeopardize officer safety on the street were not taught during training. One of these corrections was a requirement to eject brass onto the ground during training and to clean it up later, rather than eject it neatly into the hand and drop it into a can or a bucket, as has been the practice before. It is believed that instructors and cadets of the era may have mistakenly believed that this change in policy was due to a specific error made by Officer Pence during the fight. The myth began, and it was innocently perpetuated throughout generations of officers in the CHP and allied agencies.

Wood’s book, like Jordan’s, is outstanding, but we can’t give you a link to a free one — you’ll have to buy it like we did.

What’s this 1911-based frame… whatchamacallit?

Every once in a while, something comes along that does a pretty good Stump the Monkey on is. This is one of those. Collector/Dealer Bob Adams thinks it might have been some kind of a test fixture.

Unknown device or test fixture possibly made from a ca. 1918 Colt 1911 frame. Fitted with what appears to be a large threaded ring. Equipped with two vertical uprights at the top of the ring and a hole on the left side. The grip safety has been replaced with a solid backstrap/mainspring housing. The non-functional half slide is not original to the device. There is no longer any provision for a breech locking mechanism, nor any way to secure a slide on the rails, so it could not function as a firearm. This appears to have been an unfinished or scrap frame extensively remanufactured into some unknown device or test fixture and is not a firearm. It may have been a fixture for testing hammer fall impact, or firing pin spring strength, firing pin protusion, or ???? Any ideas?

1911 whatsit 01

via Adams Guns.

We’re not so sure about that. It looks to us like those big threads were meant to receive a big barrel, and the two blocks — rear sights? suggest it might have been a long barrel. We also note the one piece backstrap (replacing the stock 1911’s mainspring housing and grip safety) doesn’t fit entirely well:

1911 whatsit 02

Could those gaps have to do with a removable stock? Perhaps the gun was meant to have some sort of single-shot action and a Marble Game Getter style stock that clipped on here. But we think it is more likely to have been a firearm than a fixture. Bob disagrees.

What do you think?

The Afterlife of the USMC M40

The United States Marine Corps has made… we don’t want to say a “fetish,” because that word is freighted with negative connotations, but perhaps a “trademark,” of marksmanship, and Marines are resolutely old-fashioned about it. When the Army had to dig back in the doctrinal cavern for the lost beacon of sniper employment and training, in the Vietnam War and later in the 1980s, they found Marines still keeping the pilot light lit.

In the 1960s, the Marines’ sniper stick of choice was the M40, originally a bone-stock Remington 40X. The 40X was the varmint edition of the Remington 700: a little heavier, lacking the cheesy stamped “checkering” of the hunting guns, with a heavy barrel and no iron sights.  700 of these guns were bought, fitted with Redfield 3-9x variable scopes, and sent out to the sniper schools enroute to the fleet.

The M40 lasted about six years in Marine service before the Corps type-classified an upgrade M40A1. These were built by Marine armorers who had been upgrading the M40s for some time: they feature a McMillan synthetic stock and a Unertl 10X scope. The original M40s were generally rebuilt to M40A1 standards, and a later upgrade is designated M40A3. The very latest is the M40A5 and is suppressor-ready. (And more recently, Unertl scopes have started to be replaced by Schmidt and Benders). The original actions soldier on but have sometimes been rebarreled many times; several premium barrel makers have supplied Quantico here.

One historic M40 action (used in Vietnam by 103-kill sniper Chuck Mawhinney) has been restored to M40 condition and is on display in the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico, not far from the epicenter of Marine sniping at the Scout Sniper School. (Apologies to the Marines for getting any of the Marine lingo not-quite-right).

The Army’s M24 was developed in the 1980s with the proven M40 as a point of departure. The Army wanted some different things, but were very cognizant of the Marines’ experience here, and it enabled a very rapid development of a world-class sniper rifle, and the fielding of thousands of them, something that could never have been done with the AMU hand-built M21 systems.

While it’s possible, barely, to acquire an ex-Army M24, the Marines have never released even a single M40 to civilian sales. However, that has not stopped a variety of firms and individual armorers from making M40 clones to the same standard and quality of the original. The M40’s lasting appeal is that it was America’s last blued, wood-stocked, bolt-action rifle, and of course, it was made legendary in Vietnam in the hands of 8541s like Mawhinney and Carlos Hathcock.

You Know You Want One

Since you can’t get an original M40, the question becomes, which of the original-ish clones suits you?

  • Probably the class of the field is Chuck Mawhinney’s own signature model, made in a limited edition of 103 guns with a Leupold Redfield clone (Leupold acquired Redfield) for $5k. (Yes, this is an expensive area of collecting to play in, friends; quite a few versions of 1/2 minute, field-durable rifle and scope are going to cost that much).

Chuck Mawhinney Signature M40

It was introduced at the SHOT Show in 2011. According to Chuck’s website, 29 are still available. Here’s an American Rifleman article on him and his rifle. The article goes into some detail about the extent to which Remington, Riflecraft, Ltd., Leupold, Badger Ordnance, and Mawhinney cooperated to make the reproduced M40:

The rifles are more faithful to the original M40 than the first Remington reproduction, right down to the clip-loading slots in the top of the action. “The clips were useless, of course, because of the scope and mount,” Mawhinney explained, “but the slots were there on the original rifle.”

  • That earlier Remington reproduction was made for the Scout-Sniper Association in 2004, and is long gone from the new market, but occasionally turns up on the auction sites. About 1,500 were made, according to that American Rifleman article. It came in a colorful box, with a certificate of authenticity and a scout-sniper coin. It did not come with a scope or rings.

Remington Repro M40 accessories

  • The SC Rifleworks M40 was another attempted clone. It had some low-visibility improvements, like an aluminum bedding block. It is no longer in production, according to Sniper Central.

SC Rifleworks M40

  • A new entrant is the M40-66, which sells for $3,395 without scope and rings. While it is supposed to be an accurate replica of the 1966 vintage M40 (hence the name), it contains a number of departures from the original. For example, there’s a Pachmayr Decelerator buttplate instead of the original’s aluminum (not steel, as the website says) one, and a different trigger guard in blackened stainless-steel. The firm, whose principals are not identified anywhere on their website, offers a 1/2 MOA accuracy guarantee, which they say is much better than the 2 MOA of the original.



  • You can always search GunBroker for M40. Be forewarned that a lot of sellers put that (and M24) on auctions for any tactical’d-out Remington 700. But that’s where we found the images of the scout-sniper association replica.

Remington Repro M402

Go Directly to Jail: Check in at the Desk

What do you do with an old jail? Normally the answer is, “Tear the sucker down.” But that was a nonstarter in the case of Boston’s 19th-Century Charles Street Jail. Some genius had gotten the 1848 Gridley Bryant building, with its panopticon design and irregular-octagonal central atrium, declared a National Historic Landmark.

Charles Street Jail

Replaced over 20 years ago both by a more modern jail, and Boston’s current preference for not incarcerating criminals, the jail reopened in 2007 — as a hotel. The Liberty hotel, no less: you can’t make this stuff up. Zipcar interviewed a hotel executive for their website:

Now this former jailhouse smells of lilies softly wafting through the women’s restroom at the reimagined Liberty Hotel. (This, among other things, makes it especially hard to believe that you’re in a 139-year-old jail cell.) The popular hotel is a transformative example of urban adaptive reuse: reworking neglected city spaces into dynamic, modern ones.


If you’re a little spooked at the thought of sleeping in a former jail cell, you’re not alone. That’s why the developer had Buddhist monks cleanse the space before the hotel opened. According to Liberty Hotel General Manager, Rachel Moniz, “That puts people’s minds at ease right away.”

Zipcar: Who had the vision to turn a prison into a hotel?

Rachel: Dick Friedman, the developer of the hotel, is a Bostonian who would walk by as a kid and see this big wall around this building, and he just knew it was a bad place. When it [the Charles Street Jail] closed around 1990 due to the building being condemned for inhumane living conditions…the building just sat here, until he [Dick] partnered with Gary Johnson of Cambridge 7 Associates, who ultimately became the architect. They had seen the building and knew what they wanted to do from the very beginning. It’s very inspiring to look at this condemned building and imagine turning it into what it is today.

via Changing City Landscapes: How a Boston Jail Became A Luxury Hotel | Ziptopia.

It’s a pretty neat reuse of an urban landmark, but it’s not enough to get us into the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, where nothing stands in the way of the criminals (or the legislature, but we repeat ourselves) from having their way with you. They did a nice job with it, making it seem like an inviting place to stay, while preserving the charming 1848 design:

Jail atrium then and now


In an age of cookie-cutter hotels, where you only know which of the seven Hilliott brands you’ve stayed in by how much the bill says they gouged you for internet, it’s nice to see a hotel with some character for a change.

Of course, we wouldn’t need to be so adamant about preserving antebellum architecture, if the architects of today weren’t such an artless clutch of boring brutalist box builders. We mean, look at this thing: it was built with an eye to beauty, symmetry, and permanence, and it was the hoosegow. Particularly, look at the recent picture and contrast the timeless style of Bryant’s building to the utilitarian piles that loom over it.

Kind of like the difference between the designs of Beretta and Glock, actually: the newer one may have some advantages but it has no soul.

You do pay for the privilege of staying where Winter Hill Gang wise guys (and Charles Ponzi) paid their debts to society. We looked up prices for a weekend stay, and minimum price of entry was around one Glock per night, and a suite was a quality AR per — and then, you get to pay MA and Boston taxes on top of that, which alone might be more than your last hotel stay cost, total.

These days, we’ve had it with Massachusetts and avoid it insofar as possible, but how can you not love a hotel that used to hold “Yappy Hour” in its yard (yes, it was the yardbirds’ exercise yard), for cocktail seekers — and their dogs? (No, they didn’t stop, they now call this Wednesday event “Yappier Hour.”) Or that names its restaurant “Escape” (in Italian, Scampo) and its bar “Clink”?