Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

WWII Base of Fire: BAR vs MG.34

Here’s Art Alphin, then at West Point, presenting a video for the cadets (and for all of us) comparing the weapon the US Army and Marine rifle squad used as a base of fire, the M1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle, to its Wehrmacht counterpart, the MG34 general purpose machine gun.

The two weapons are technically different, of course, with the BAR more akin to the ZB 26 / ZB 30 LMGs that the German forces used as substitute standard. But they’re also tactically different, and Alphin covers that.

The MG34 barrel swap in the range-test in the video was triggered by the extractor ripping apart a casing. A failure like that in the BAR would down the gun until the residue of the case could be removed by other means. In the MG34, it simply means you have to do the barrel swap sooner (and your assistant gunner needs to get the ruptured case out before the other barrel gets too hot.

Which was better? As an infantry officer or NCO, it didn’t matter. Because your side only had one, and that was the one you had. And it was up to you to deploy it tactically in a way that best exploited its characteristics.

A great deal of discussion in the gun world is tribal/fanboy posturing, reminiscent of the hot-rodder t-shirts that were popular with grade school boys in the 1960s: “Chevies Eat Fords” or vice versa. An infantryman does not have the luxury of preference. He gets the bayonet handle the Republic/King/Commissar has provided for him, and he might as well like it because the decision is out of his hands just as much as the rifle is in them.

But even if he doesn’t like it, he has to use it. Sometimes his really will be better. Sometimes it won’t. And either way, it doesn’t matter. Good leadership with crap weapons beats good weapons with crap leadership.

Looking at the guns from a logistician’s point of view, the BAR wins. It burns less ammo, requires a smaller fire team, get by without belted ammunition. And, as complicated as it is (soldiers of a certain vintage, or who cycled through Light Weapons or 18B school,  will remember “cups and cones!”), it’s still much simpler to machine and assemble than the fiendishly complicated parts of the MG34.

That may explain why, despite the recognized high quality of the MG34, nobody really used it after 1945, and why the most successful post-war GPMG was based on its arch-rival, the BAR.

When Every Man Was in the Militia and Had to Buy a Gun

Collectors Firearms Montenegrin GasserIt actually happened, but we’re not thinking about the Colonial American militia.

It happened in 20th-Century Europe. And it was made to happen in an obscure country by an even more obscure King who was, in Conan the Barbarian fashion, king by his own hand.

The interesting character in question was one Nikola Petrović, who had become Prince (Knjaz, pronounced KNEE-ahs)  of the Ruritanian postage-stamp principality of Montenegro (in Montenegrin, Crna Gora) at age 19 in 1860, when his uncle, Knjaz Danilo I, fell to assassins (a drearily typical occupational hazard for Balkan princes).

The Montenegrin flag carried at the battle of Vučji Do in 1877.

The Montenegrin flag carried at the battle of Vučji Do in 1877. If the Turks had fired all those shots at the Montenegrins instead of at the flag, might they have won?

Danilo himself was a fascinating character who, after a power struggle, became bishop-prince of what was then an ecclesiastical state, and then essentially defrocked himself and secularized Montenegro, becoming the first secular Knjaz. Danilo was a warrior prince who spent much of his life engaged in combat with the former colonial power, the Ottoman empire. He was also a tyrant, if a benevolent one, who centralized power in a state that had been feudal almost to the point of tribal in its internal structure.

For whatever reason — online sources and old encyclopedias have the facts, not the reasons — a young noble named Todor Kadić of the Bjelopavlići shot Danilo dead in 1860. (Possible reasons include internal politics, a family dispute, political intrigue — Austria-Hungary may have procured the murder — and a persistent rumor that Danilo had cuckolded Kadić. Danilo is like that guy in a murder mystery, where every other character has a motive).  Danilo’s only child, a daughter named Olga, had recently died, so succession fell to his young nephew. To the surprise of everyone, young Nikola had a talent for leadership. .

Battle of Vučji Do, one of Nikola's many fights wih the Ottomans.

Battle of Vučji Do, one of Nikola’s many fights wih the Ottomans.

Knjaz Nikola, who was called in English Prince Nicholas, was an educated, westernized youth who wished to modernize and westernize his all-but-tribal people. But first he had to fight several wars of national survival with the former colonial power, the Ottoman empire.

He also had to keep the Bjelopavlići, who didn’t like him much more than they had his uncle, and many other independent-minded mountain tribesmen, in line. Bjelopavlići conspirators carried out a series of terrorist bombings, and then their noses were out of joint when Nikola’s government found, tried, and convicted the bombers.

Nicholas I of MontenegroHaving secured the survival of his nation, in 1910, Nikola made it a Kingdom, and himself the first (and, as it turns out, only) King. By now he was’t a kid anymore — he was a man of full years, fifty years of them as ruler.

The essential problem of Montenegro’s leaders was always how to encourage nationalism over clan loyalty, while retaining nationalism on the Montenegrin level, without seeing it subsumed in pan-Slavic identification.

At that time, the new King declared that, much as in other nations with militia laws, like Switzerland or the USA, every able-bodied man was a member of the militia. That was not a controversial or unusual idea, especially in a country that faced a hostile frontier.

Collectors Firearms Montenegrin GasserAnd then he went a step further: as a militia member, every man needed to own and carry a service pistol, namely, a Montenegrin 11.75mm 1870/74 revolver as made by the firm of L. Gasser in Vienna.

This idea was, you might imagine, popular among the young men of the nation and many of the revolvers were sold; yet they did seem to damp down some of the tribal friction that always occurs when young men in groups encounter one another. Long before Robert Heinlein, Montenegrins discovered that an armed society is a polite society.

The firearm is a period-typical large-caliber double-action, gate-loaded (and manually-ejected) revolver, with a somewhat anachronistic open-top frame, and the rear sight mounted forward of the cylinder. It is the forerunner of the improved solid-frame Rast & Gasser which became the Austro-Hungarian service revolver. Ammunition hasn’t been available anywhere since 1945, but it could be handcrafted.

These revolvers, like early European cartridge revolvers in general, have a weak and shallow market in North America, rather like other European avocations, say Märklin trains or professional soccer. But, as is the case with many firearms, the history is interesting, both the history of the gun and the history of the nation that spawned it.

Collectors Montenegrin Engraving

The revolver in this article is for sale by Collectors Firearms at this link. Montenegrin Gassers are found in a wide range of conditions and decorations; Montenegrins seem to have liked to bling-up their sidearms, and lavishly decorated and even bejeweled Gassers (the last perhaps Ottoman influence?) turn up. Almost all of them have some engraving.

Collectors Montenegrin N! CartoucheAuthentic Montenegrin Gassers are marked with the cartouche of King Nicholas, a crown over N1. In this pistol, it’s just forward of the rear sight on top of the frame where the barrel screws in (see above).

This pistol is in excellent condition for a Montenegrin Gasser. The stories it could tell, if only it could talk!

And could you ever pick it up without thinking of King Nikola, who thought he would keep his little country safe by encouraging revolver ownership?

Oh, yeah — what happened to King Nicholas? He fought alongside Serbia in 1914, and was defeated by Austria-Hungary, signing a peace treaty in 1916. His throne was lost in 1918 when Montenegro merged into the new state of the South Slavs, Yugoslavia. He himself died of natural causes, in comfortable exile on the Côte d’Azur.

And Montenegro? After an eventful period as one of the constituent Republics of Yugoslavia, it’s independent again, although it aligns closely with Serbia. But, no king, and alas, no mandatory revolvers.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Hungarian Police (Archive)

During the years of the Hungarian quisling regime, 1948-56 and 1956-90, the highly militarized Hungarian Police (Magyar Rendor) published a small magazine, containing photos of cops just doing their thing, marching up and down the square, demanding to see the peasants’ papers, and suppressing dissent.

hungarian police 50The magazine Hungarian Police had some teething problems, of the sort that go with writing and publishing anything in a police state. The first editor was, after a few months, taken out and walked through a show trial before being shot. But a new editor was found… in time, personnel actions came to be made without recourse to a firing squad.

The magazine’s photo archive has been posted online, with minimal (and Hungarian-language) captions.

Hungarian sources pose particular linguistic challenges. While we can read most European languages, the Baltic States, Finland… and Hungary, have jawbreaker tongues that are not as closely related to one another as the Romance, Germanic, and Slavic languages of the rest of the Old World. Even the Google Translate of Hungarian sources is rough, and, to make matters worse, the archive page is not one in which Google Translate can follow the links.

Still, we can figure parts of it out. Here are policemen recovering a cache of Mauser rifles.

hungarian police 87

And these images show a “rural identity check.” This is the dreaded moment when the regime’s facilitator demands, “Papers, please!” or just plain, “Papers!” The guys with armbands are a civilian police auxiliary — dependable Communists playing goon-for-the-day.

hungarian police volunteers paper checks 2 hungarian police volunteers paper checks hungarian police volunteersOther pictures reveal details about the activities and dress and equipment of the uniformed police (if the secret police had a house magazine, its photo archive has not surfaced. But if they had a house magazine, they’d probably have been a bust as a secret police).

From the same story on identity checks in a rural area, have a look at the policeman’s holster in the next two pictures.

hungarian police note holster hungarian police note holster 2

It’s hard to tell what sort of pistol he has in there, but it seems probable that it’s a Hungarian-made Tokarev, because the holster resembles other Tokarev holsters (including the cleaning rod storage, etc.).

What is interesting is what the armament says about the expectations of the Hungarian Police. The lack of long arms, and the classically European flap holsters, as much as the cop’s body language, suggests that these cops are not expecting trouble. The pistol is not there because they’re expecting to shoot people, or compel people at gunpoint; it’s a badge of office, no more.

That’s very interesting, because these photographs ran, and probably were taken, short months before Hungary convulsed in the Revolution of October 1956.

In any event, you’ll probably find something interesting in the Magyar Rendor archives — this week’s Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week.

The Militia Drills (Picture post) Part 2 of 2

Continuing yesterday’s Guest Post from Our Traveling Reporter, 4 July 2016, at the Constitution Center and Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Yesterday, we showed a little of the militia and a Colonial surgeon lecturer/reenactor. Today, we have some more of the reenactors and some of the sights of Independence Hall.

When OTR is traveling, figures he’d turn up in Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, on the anniversary of its signing. (Well, actually some of the signatures went on as early as 2 July, and others were added weeks later, but we can’t take the whole summer off for Independence Day, much as we’d like to).

Know Your Enemy: The Grinning Grenadier

This happy gentleman wears the scarlet coat of a British regular, withe the orange facings of the 35th Regiment of Foot, and the insignia of the Regiment’s Grenadier Company.

grinning_grenadier_1

Is the Grinning Grenadier the anachronism, or is it the stuff behind him? Let’s have him against a more period-correct background. Almost but not quite:

grinning_grenadier_3

Grenadiers were the elite of 18th-Century Tommies; they were selected as much for an imposing presence as anything, a presence magnified by the tall shako.

grinning_grenadier_2

A lot of life as a British grenadier was spent on the cleanliness and polish of all that gear.

The Friendly Forces

The bulk of the reenactors seemed to belong to the well-organized 6th Pennsylvania Regiment, based here.  (Isn’t this just the sort of thing you can have in a big city like Philadelphia, and can’t in a small, thinly-settled state like New Hampshire?). This flag looks suspiciously modern.

6th_pennsylvania_regiment

Here are a couple of members of the 6th. They seem to be enjoying themselves just as much as the Grinning Grenadier. Do chicks dig a guy in a Continental uniform?

6th_pa_regiment_troops

Not sure what outfit these characters were with. Are they fife-and-drum men? The one in the foreground seems to be an officer, note the epaulets. They don’t seem to have the combat kit the grunts do:

unk troops poss 6th paVarious logistical things were happening in the background.

pa_6th_hq_tent_maybe

This fellow (and camp follower?) represent the 3rd Pennsylvania Light Infantry. (Remember, 240 years ago or today, when they sign you up for “light infantry,” it’s not your pack but your armament and support they’re talking about).

3rd_pa_light_infantry_regiment

This strikes us as a headquarters tent.

6th_pa_reenactors_meet_public

Some everyday artifacts from the life of a soldier on campaign:pa_6th_stuff

(The button on the hat — the hat is the thing that looks like a skunk in a cookpot — tells you which Pennsylvania regiment this is).

Then as now, troops lived in a tent city. Hey, dude, where’s the MWR tent?continental_army_tent_city

The Setting

From here, you can see Independence Hall

independence_hall_long

More closely framed it looks like this.

independence_hall_close

…or this… (looks like they were setting up for a band concert and fireworks).

independence_hall_close_low

Its most famous artifact? This one.

liberty_bell

OTR explored some of the many memorials around here. You see, very historic Washington Square was laid out by Benjamin Franklin, himself…

washington_square

…but during the war, the British drove the Continental Congress out of Philadelphia, and while they occupied the city, they treated their Continental prisoners poorly (which was fairly standard for the era). Many died and were buried in unmarked graves right here.

memorial_to_dead_prisoners

Along with that memorial, there is one to all who, while fighting for the light of liberty, died in darkness. It also notes that American soldiers are buried in quantity in this hallowed ground. Amen.

memorial_01

And that one sarcophagus there holds the mortal remains of one Revolutionary War soldier, shriven in honor by his countrymen, with a face and a name known only to God.

unknown

OTR remains on assignment. OTR is always on assignment.

 

Not Your Uncle Joe’s Webley

Even though it’s a perfectly ordinary Webley & Scott Mark IV, this is not your Uncle Joe’s Webley. That’s why the opening bid at auction is a stiff $1,850 — several times what your plain, average Mark IV goes for.

Foss Webley 04

But this is not Uncle Joe’s plain, average Webley. That is, of course, unless your Uncle Joe was the late Joe Foss, WWII hero, Governor of SD, and former NRA President.

Foss Webley 01

Let’s zoom in on that certificate:

Foss Webley 02

A Webley & Scott Ltd Mark lV revolver in caliber 38 S&W with papers from the collection of Joe Foss who was a Ace fighter pilot in world war ll, medal of honor recipient and former Governor of South Dakota among other achievements and the certificate comes with the gun. Condition of metal is very good with fading military finish and shows a couple pitting areas. Grips are original and excellent. The barrel is 5 inches and has a bright sharp bore and it comes with the original holster. This is a true collectors dream.

via Webley & Scott Ltd Mark lV revolver cal 38 S&W : Curios & Relics at GunBroker.com.

Technically, it’s in .38/200, but that’s just British English for .38 S&W. It means a .38 caliber bore with a 200-grain bullet.

Kind of amazing to think that today, a Briton could not own this long-obsolete artifact from his own national heritage, but that’s laws for you.

Foss Webley 03

These things are a hoot to shoot and have a certain Olde English, “Dr Watson, did you bring your revolver?” feel to them. Actually, any tip-up revolver is a blast; well can we recall the first time a spray of ejected cases made us giggle out loud.

The Mk IV has an interesting history. From 1887 to after World War I, Webleys in .455 were made and issued to British soldiers in Marks I to VI. After the war, they wanted a smaller pistol, and so Webley took the mighty .455 and scaled the whole gun down to the .38 S&W. (They had previously done a similar job, for police, which they called the Mk. III .38 Calibre). Thus, in a quintessentially British way, the Webley Mk. VI is older than the Webley Mk. IV.

Foss Webley 05Instead of issuing the new Webley, though, the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield began producing a modified copy instead. Webley sued, but lost, and was out of the service revolver business until the war broke out, whereupon they had all the contracts they could handle. All surviving .38/200 Webleys, of the rough half-million produced, date from the war years.

Foss Webley 06After the war, the Webley revolver lasted a long time in British service because of official parsimony. Not only did the War Office not want  to spend the money on new sidearms, they didn’t spend any money on training ammunition, either, so the revolvers never wore out.

They were finally surplused in the 1950s and 60s after being replaced by a version of the Browning Hi-Power.

A Webley is a historic arm and would be a proud addition to any collection. A Webley that had been held by Joe Foss? (Here is a pretty decent capsule bio of Foss, explaining why he’s famous). Foss was an amazing character, who after a day of defending Guadalcanal in an F4F Wildcat, would take a rifle and hunt Japanese soldiers in the field — until his CO found out and put the brakes on his nocturnal poaching.

 

The Militia Drills (Picture Rich post) Part 1 of 2

Another photo report from Our Traveling Reporter. 4 July 2016, at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

Militia 01

Let’s close in and see what they’re up to. Looks like they’re doing musket drill with some new recruits (on the left)

Militia 02

Looks like they’re hiring! Hey, like Secretary of State John Kerry says, you can stay in college and get a degree and a job, or drop out and get stuck in Valley Forge. Here’s one type of recruiting poster as used then, the kind a local printer (like Ben Franklin?) would run off for the colonel or recruiting officer of the regiment. But as you can see, this one is a bit more current.

Militia 00

And here’s a hand-lettered version, complete with period orthography and abbreviations.

Militia 08

Where’s General Washington when the nation needs him? (Probably about to be replaced on the quarter and dollar by a Transgendered Asian or Pacific Islander, the way things are going).

There’d be no .mil in militia if you didn’t have inspections. Time for junk on the bunk! (And since a blanket is your bunk…). One suspects it wasn’t quite this clean on campaign, but if one of these modern reenactors tried getting period-correct funky at home his wife would hit him with the garden hose. Or a period-correct cast iron fry pan.

Militia 03

Here’s another campaigner’s junk:

militia_04

The smoothbore muskets of the era could deliver much more rapid fire than period rifles, and that was good enough at combat ranges which were typically under 200 yards. They were also practical bayonet handles. Remember, the pike as a weapon of war was still a living memory around the time of the Founding.

The regiment has a surgeon, who explains his dark arts (in the light of the intervening 240 years’ medical advances) in a scheduled presentation.

Militia 05

There were two paths to becoming a surgeon in the 18th Century: you became a doctor by going to barber college or by apprenticing yourself to a surgeon for six to eight years.

A musket ball hitting flesh, the regimental surgeon says, is like “a rock hitting water.”  (OTR was impressed by the quality of his terminal-ballistics knowledge). Frequently the musket ball killed the man it hit, leaving him no need for the surgeon. The surgical patient was the guy behind him. Teeth, pocket change, and bone became secondary projectiles.

The wound produces a fluid called onset.(?) It is tissue rejection. (? Hey, that’s what was in OTR’s notes. Sometimes he gets telegraphic).

In the middle ages you would hack multiple people with the same sword in combat and do the same thing; Shakespeare mentions it.

The bayonet was a key weapon. Only the tip of the bayonet was sharpened… the three channels of the spike bayonet ripped the wound open.

militia_06

If the victim survived the bayonet wound then he usually developed a fistula. Antiseptic precautions were unknown.

Revolutionary War surgeons sorted wounds into three classes:

  1. Incised wounds were cuts, as from a sword, etc
  2. Penetrating wounds were holes, as caused by the bayonet. And..
  3. Shattering wounds were the ruination left behind by a musket ball

While the surgeon’s art of 1776 appears primitive today, combat life saving was really rudimentary, and surgery was only used if there was some chance of saving the patient. For many wounded, rudimentary palliative care was all that they could expect.

Surgical instruments. Linen bandages in foreground.

Surgical instruments. Linen bandages in foreground.

Given a potentially survivable wound, a solution of salt and vinegar was used to clean the wound, which was then stitched with a needle and horse hair. The rate of infection must have been staggering.

According to OTR, the surgeon provided “the best explanation of tension pneumothorax I ever heard.” But that doesn’t mean that he could have done anything about it. In 1776, a patient with pneumothorax was expectant, and was set aside to die quietly — within the hour.

Other end of the surgeon's display. Femoral splint in front of bone saw and trepan. No, they didn't clean their instruments between patients.

Other end of the surgeon’s display. Femoral splint in front of bone saw and trepan. No, they didn’t clean their instruments between patients.

Here the surgeon is using a trepan or trephine. It is essentially a hole saw made to remove a section of the cranial vault, to relieve intracranial pressure. Then and now, it is a high-risk operation.

militia_07

General surgeons then used, and modern neurosurgeons still use, the rule of the palm: you cannot remove more skull than the area of your palm, or “the oatmeal will spill out.”

Some of the doctor’s internal medicine tools, on a portable field desk.

Militia 10

 

Bleeding was a key therapy at the time. They took six pints of blood out of George Washington, over two days!l

 

One thing they could do: amputate. Here, the doctor re-enactor walks the audience through how it would be done.

militia_12

And that’s all for today. Tomorrow, a look at some of the reenactor portrayals, and some of the historical markers and sights in the area.

Troy XM177E2 Shipping…? Extensive UPDATE

Troy XM177 AR15 MagIt looks like the firearm we’ve mentioned before is shipping, at least to writers. Guns & Ammo’s “Book of the AR-15” magazine has it on the cover and has a review inside, beginning on Page 6, with an interesting combination of insightful points and egregious errors.

The magazine’s on newsstands now; we bought it at the Walmart in Big City.

We’ll try to elaborate on this post later today, but first shot suggests:

  1. Steve Troy has really put a lot of work into making an accurate repro of the classic MACV-SOG recon trooper’s personal weapon. In fact, there’s so much work this really has to be a limited production product.
  2. There are some hidden improvements that improve the function of the firearm compared to its historical prototype. For instance, it has 1:7 rifling and M4 feed ramps.

Let’s elaborate on both of those points first, then we’ll get to the “egregious errors”.

Details of the Troy XM177E2

Receiver: We assumed that Troy would be cutting some kind of deal with Nodak Spud for the company’s perfect A1-style receivers. It turns out that Troy is taking a modern M4 style lower and reprofiling it to A1 shape. This requires the later-production reinforcements to be removed, particularly from the pivot pin bosses and the buffer tower area. If you’re not going to run a bayonet assault course with this XM177E2, and we can guarantee you’re not, you’re unlikely to see failure there. (In many years of using A1s with this same lower, we never saw a failure of a receiver, except in a rifle that fell 800 feet (or maybe 1250, it might have been before we lowered static-line jump altitudes in the late eighties) and hit like 6.6 lbs of bricks. We did see a lot of A1 barrels bent.

The rifle naturally differs in marking detail from original XM177s, which were made by Colt. The trademarks and name and address are Troy’s, not Colt’s. Apart from that, though, they’re marked in as retro a style as one might ask, including US GOVERNMENT PROPERTY, SAFE / SEMI / AUTO markings and even a small “ring” that creates the illusion of an auto sear pin. To prevent owners from being jacked up by uninformed cops and agents, the shelf area is blocked, and a note that the rifle is REPLICA and SEMI-AUTO ONLY is placed on the receiver top, where it’s only visible when the takedown pin is punched out and the upper and lower receivers separated. That does mean that this firearm is an unsuitable host for a drop-in auto sear, but a DIAS is a rare thing these days.

Barrel: The barrel is claimed to be a perfect external match for the XM177E2 profile, except that it is ¾” longer, to allow a pinned and welded false moderator to make the barrel assembly legal Title 1 firearm length. The bayonet lug is ground off (as it was on original E2s). It’s impossible to tell from the available photos whether the profile just behind the moderator is correct (there should be a slight thickening here, as there is just behind the flash hider of an A1). The article says in different places that the front sight is an A1 and an A2 type. (The A1 is round in cross-section and tapered with five points of adjustment, the A2 is square-sectioned with four). The rear sight is an A1 type with A2 aperture.

Stocks: Here some of the most remarkable work was done: the six-hole early Colt handguard halves are reproduced, from the photos, accurately, and the plastic-covered aluminum alloy stock, long a sought-after part for retro-AR builders, has been duplicated. It’s unlikely that the plastic is the original vinyl acetate, and more likely it is a modern polymer (more easily handled, with fewer HAZMAT constraints), but the article only says “polymer.” The pistol grip is an original surplus M16A1 part (used).

Performance: In their testing, it was a 2½ inch gun over 5-shot groups at 100 yards. This far exceeds the military specification but it’s not great for a modern carbine. It’s adequate for most things you’d hunt with an AR, and perfectly fine for home defense, but most Troy XM177E2 buyers are buying for the nostalgia vibe more than as practical shooters. It’s not a dreadful choice as your only AR (especially if you’re buying in the context of a US martial rifle collection)

Disclaimer: Troy contributes $50 from each XM177E2 sale to the Special Forces Association and the Special Operations Association. Your humble blogger is a full life member of both organizations. Troy’s generosity to these groups has not influenced our opinion of its rifle — as we have yet to handle one, we’ll form that opinion when we do — but we are thankful for the company’s support of Special Operations veterans.

Tentative Conclusion: It’s an interesting rifle and we’re going to look for one to try out. We’re really interested in comparing it to the forthcoming Colt version. Competition should improve the breed!

Errors in the Article

We hate errors, but we make them as much as the next guy, so we understand how they get out there. Still, the sheer quantity of them in the Book of the AR-15 article was a disappointment. For example, it suggests that 55-grain bullets didn’t work well with 12-inch rifling; it’s actually the 63-grain M855, plus any heavier bullet like common 75 and 77 grain match ammo, that isn’t stabilized by 1-in-12 rifling. (The faster rifling in this rifle works well with all ammunition weights, so it’s something of a moot point).

For another example, it suggests the original XM177s did not have chrome-lined barrels (they did). It also elides the various dead-end forerunners of the XM177E2, including not only the first two 177 types, but also Colt’s Models 605, 607 and 608, all of which contributed to the definitive carbine design. The article is correct, however, to note that this original firearm was the forerunner of just about every short and adjustable AR derivative in military and civilian use today.

 

On Independence

declaration_of_independenceWho could like a guy who did this?

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

The buccaneer in question was not Blackbeard or Jean Lafitte, or even the fictional Captain Jack Sparrow, but the very real and personally well-mannered King George III, and the plundering and ravaging was one line item in an exhaustive catalog of “repeated injuries and usurpations…. Oppressions” that were assembled by Thomas Jefferson and  the drafters of the Declaration of Independence, and engrossed by the clean hand of an assistant to Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress. (It was probably Timothy Matlack, but there’s no solid proof).

Young people today are no longer taught to read script, let alone appreciate Matlack’s fine hand (assuming, of course, it was his).

declaration_piracy

The Declaration did not kick off a war: the war had been underway since 1775, and in a couple of prefatory incidents, 1774. But it was an important document, for it enumerated why and to what end the colonists were raising arms against the mother country.

The list of oppressions in the Declaration is long and at times infuriating. There are items there that are considerably worse than anything Americans complain about today: say what you will about the Beltway but it hasn’t plundered our coasts and burnt our towns. Yet. (Commercial fishermen may give you an alternative view on the coast-plundering, to be sure). But other items on the Declaration read as if they could have been written today.

Who do you think has more representation in Washington, you, or al-Baghdadi, the soi-disant Caliph of ISIL? It’s not even close, you know. Baghdadi has CAIR, he has K Street, he has armies soulless, stateless, rootless lawyers and lobbyists who are anyone’s for a dollar.

But we can’t swap them for 1776’s “swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.” A Georgian tax collector, who might have been tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail, was a mosquito compared to the officers a distant and indifferent capital now spouts in a relentless cascade to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

We can, however, read the words of the original declaration and see a little about its history, marvel at the gifts and efforts of its authors, and redouble our efforts to be worthy of theirs.

We can, even, make that an Independence Day tradition. To read the Declaration on this day neither picks your pocket nor breaks your leg, as Thomas Jefferson might say.

Update

Legal scholar (especially on the 2nd Amendment) David Kopel has an interesting article on the philosophical antecedents of the Declaration of Independence at the Volokh Conspiracy at the Washington Post (which, apart from Volokh’s brilliant little corner, is turning into Buzzfeed Lite under Bezos, isn’t it?)

Arms of the Stormtroopers

No, we’re not talking about the combat lemmings in low-budget plastic suits in the Star Wars movies. We’re talking about the original item — the Stormtroopers of the German Empire in the Great War.

georg ehmig stosstrupp

We’re working our way through the excellent book Sturmtruppen by Spanish historian Ricardo Recio Carmona (translated to English by Gustavo Cano Muñoz and edited by Tyler Baldwin). This is a new book, published by Andrea Press in 2014, and it’s a richly illustrated and extensively documented survey of something every history buff thinks he knows.

Historical Background

The conventional story goes something like this:

After years of stalemate, the Germans developed Sturmtruppen in 1918, small, heavily armed detachments who operated independently and used stealth and infiltration tactics to surprise the enemy, and concentrated firepower to overwhelm him locally on contact.

And as remarkable as that development would be, it’s not exactly what happened. Carmona documents that, while Sturmtruppen had evolved to that level by 1918, to the point where even the Allies figured them out, they had been formed and deployed, if partly on an ad hoc basis, more or less continuously since 1914.

A fine point of German terminology is that Stosstruppen (Shock Troops) were strictly ad hoc, and temporary, but Sturmtruppen (Assault Troops) might equally be temporary “mobs for jobs” or permanent units. While assault troops might have been tasked to fight, they had a second, equally important role, which was to teach storm troops tactics to regular army formations.

Hptm. Willi Rohr

Hptm. Willi Rohr

The first such formal, permanent unit was probably Hauptmann Willi Martin Ernst Rohr, whose Sturmabteilung Rohr stood up in his Guards regiment in 1915. This was revolutionary in the German service, which entered the war committed, as its enemies and allies all were, to a line formation, whose only difference from the formations of Waterloo a century earlier was a little more open deployment, as a nod — an ineffectual nod — to the firepower of repeating rifles, machine guns and recoil-compensated quick-firing artillery.

Carmona notes that the characteristics of a Sturmtrupp operation, technically and tactically, included:

  1. Task organization, including assault and support elements;
  2. Selection of the men by the officer in charge;
  3. A rehearsal (or rehearsals) in a safe area configured to replicate the mission objective;
  4. Leaders’ reconnaissance to pinpoint infiltration points and routes;
  5. A precise schedule of execution with specific time hacks;
  6. Pre-arranged artillery and mortar support (not preparation);

In addition, surviving documents and memories make it plain that Sturm- and Stosstrupp leaders conducted very modern-seeming patrol inspections and troop-leading procedures that would not be out of place in a modern Army, and they began doing this from 1914. All the combatants were shocked by the terrifying effectiveness of modern 20th Century armaments, but the Germans did something about it. The French, British, and Russians just kept trying to logistically manage the battlefield in such a way that they’d deploy more human chests than the Germans could deploy bullets or artillery fragments.

Armaments of the Stormtroopers

The term Sturmtrupp was first used in connection with flamethrower detachments in 1914, and that offensive spirit was thought to reside in such units as well as in the new technical elite of tank operators, and the ancient light infantry of southern Germany, the Mountain Troops.

But most Sturm- u. Stosstruppen were armed with infantry weapons — just more of them. The principal weapon became the hand-grenade, a weapon that in 1914 was only in engineers’ inventory, not infantry. Period photos of a Sturm- u. Stosstruppler always show him well-endowed with ‘nades.

German Stosstrupp 3

German hand grenades came in offensive (blast only, no fragments, for use by troops in the open) and defensive (fragmentation, for use by troops under cover) varieties. The reason for taking cover when throwing a frag grenade is that it can produce casualties beyond its typical throwing range! Beyond that distinction, German ‘nades were produced in four broad types and many specific models. The types were ball grenades, disc grenades, egg grenades, and stick grenades.

German Stosstrupp

The ball grenade M1913 was the only grenade produced at the beginning of the war, and was produced originally only for sappers. It was a serrated iron-cased fragmentation grenade in the style of many other nations’ grenades, except that it was truly spherical, not at all ellipsoid. It had a pull wire on its fuze on top, which started a 5-7 second delay. (A second prewar version with a clockwork fuze was not produced after the war started). It would be redesigned during the war, to simplify manufacturing, but the replacements were called both M1913 Neuer Art (“new type”) and M1915.

This collection of Great War grenades came from a collector forum. German grenades in it include: 3. German M1915 Kugel grenade fragments 4. German M1915 Discushandgranate 5. German M1915 Kugel grenade, friction fuse 6. German m1913 Kugel grenade, friction fuse 7. Mauser T-Geweher round 8. German flechette 9. German Eier grenade with transit plug 10. German Eier grenade with standard friction fuse 11. German Eier grenade with friction fuse 12. German Eier grenade with M1917 friction fuse 13. German Stielhandgranate M1917 14. German Stielhandgranate M1916 15. German 1914 rifle grenade with transit plug

This collection of Great War grenades came from a collector forum. German grenades in it (all left of the center of the image) include:
3. German M1915 Kugel grenade fragments
4. German M1915 Discushandgranate
5. German M1915 Kugel grenade, friction fuse
6. German m1913 Kugel grenade, friction fuse
7. Mauser T-Geweher round
8. German flechette
9. German Eier grenade with transit plug
10. German Eier grenade with standard friction fuse
11. German Eier grenade with friction fuse
12. German Eier grenade with M1917 friction fuse
13. German Stielhandgranate M1917
14. German Stielhandgranate M1916
15. German 1914 rifle grenade with transit plug

The disc grenade was uniquely Imperial German and was fuzed to detonate on impact with the ground. It came in three different models: a sheet steel offensive grenade of 100-110 mm diameter; a cast iron defensive grenade of 80 mm diameter; and a catapult-launched Schleuder-Diskushandgranate that could be launched further.

The egg grenade was a latecomer, introduced in 1917. In continuously improved versions, it would remain in German service to 1945, but at the time it was a simple attempt to make a grenade that cost less and used fewer resources than the stick grenade. It had a time fuze and 32 grams of black powder.

The stick grenade, called by English-speaking troops the German “potato masher” from its resemblance to the household implement, is the grenade most people today associate with Germans, although many nations used stick grenades. Most stick grenades were offensive grenades with 200+ grams of explosive inside a thin sheet cover. The original M1915 had a time fuze initiated by pulling a wooden knob that formed the base of the stick. Apparently due to accidents, this was replaced by a pull cord that was protected by a screw-off protective cap in the M1916 and M1917 models. At some point, these grenades were available with impact as well as time fuzes.

Center, upper: Stielhandgranate 15. Center, lower: SHG 17 (pull cord extended). The grenade on the right is Austrian.

Center, upper: Stielhandgranate 15. Center, lower: SHG 17 (pull cord extended). The grenade on the right is Austrian.

In addition to these factory grenades, Sturmtruppen had a variety of improvised and field-expedient grenades, often made right behind the front in engineers’ workshops, especially in the 1914-15 period. Grenades were also combined into a Geballte Ladung with six extra heads, detonated sympathetically, arrayed around the one on the stick, or made into a Gestreckte Ladung by placing grenade heads at about 10-15 cm apart along a wooden lath or stick. (This seems to be intended to be an improvised Bangalore torpedo).

German Stosstrupp 4

Sturmtruppen carried lots of grenades, and the number rose as the war continued. A trooper might have felt well-armed with two or three grenades in 1915, but by 1917 he would want saddle-bags around his shoulders with three or four stick grenades on each side, and a few egg grenades in his pocket as backup. Some troopers were designated grenade-throwers, and they might have an assistant who carried a whole pack of ‘nades.

Firearms carried tended to be Mauser 98 carbines and numerous pistols. By 1918, the Sturmtrupp table of organization and equipment specified the new MP 18/1 submachine gun for all officers and NCOs and 10% of troops, but the firearm was never produced in such quantity.

And, of course, machine guns and mortars were used from the German trenches in support of Sturmtrupp attacks.

Ernst_Jünger_WW1

Jünger mid-war. He went on to be one of only 11 company commanders among the 700 recipients of the Pour le Mèrite, and to survive the war and become an important literary and philosophical figure in Germany.

Carmona quote a German officer, Ernst Jünger, on his armaments before leading a Stosstrupp (edited for clarity):

… across my chest, two sandbags, each containing four stick grenades, impact fuses on the left, delay on the right; in my right tunic pocket, a Pistol 08 [Luger] on a long cord; in my right trouser pocket, a little Mauser pistol; in my left tunic pocket, five egg grenades; in my left trouser pocket, luminous compass and whistle; in my belt, spring hooks for pulling out the pins, plus knife and wire cutters.

He was prepared for all eventualities, with his home address in a wallet in one pocket, and a flask of cherry brandy in another, and his Trupp removed unit identifying insignia from their uniforms and went “sterile.”

Grenades are one of those unglamorous weapons that gets short shrift between the wars, only to come into great demand “when the guns begin to shoot.”

Sturmtruppen is a well-researched and documented look at the German tactical revolution of WWI and will get you thinking about the profound impact these tactics have had on warfare today.

It’s made us want to read Carmona’s thesis which was on the quartermaster service of the Blue Division, Franco’s volunteers with the Germans on the Eastern Front, even if we have to read it en español. And it’s also made us want to read Jünger’s Storm of Steel, which has been translated into English.

Sources:

Carmona, Ricardo Recio. Sturmtruppen: WWI German Stormtroopers (1914-1918). Madrid, 2014: Andrea Press

Jünger, Ernst. Im Stahlgewittern. Berlin, 1920: E.S. Mittler und Sohn. Available online at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34099

Numerous other Jünger works are available at Archive.org.

Oddball Auction: The Iron Duck

In the M16A1-era Army, we often encountered a training aid like this, but we never encountered one just like this. The one that we encountered was the “rubber duck”: a dummy M16A1 or, later, M16A2 made by overmolding a solid rubber lower and stocks over a deadlined barrel or barreled upper. In this way, the Army recycled scrap M16 parts to make training aids for those evolutions in which a rifle was either certain to be messed up, or at high risk of damage or loss.

Iron Duck02

These training aids were made by a shop on the post that could turn out all kinds of interesting things, everything from a very convincing looking AT-3 Sagger missile pack to the not-quite-exact training aid one used to learn how to set timers on an atomic demolition munition. In our day, it was called TASC, the Training and Audiovisual Support Center, and it had all kinds of cool stuff you could sign out and play with, er, conduct “Army training, sir!” with. 

Iron Duck03

The auction was closing as we pulled it up, so the link won’t last (never mind, it’s been relisted). But it says this is no rubber duck, but an iron duck. If so, it’s the only one we’ve ever seen.

Cast Iron M16 dummy rifle. This is a cast iron training rifle made by TAD CS training Aids of Georgia. It is a very cool piece that must have been used at FT. Benning at some point though information on this particular item and the company that made it is scarce. Very cool and heavy piece of equipment.

via Cast Iron M16 dummy rifle : Other Collectibles at GunBroker.com.

The “company” is not a company, but obviously a newer name for TASC. TASC used to put its name (and sometimes its on-base phone number) on the rubber ducks this same way. TAD is the newer (1990s?) Army term for “Training Aids and Devices”.

Iron Duck03

As you can see, it appears to have a real (and no doubt u/s, if you could somehow detach it) barrel and front sight base.

Iron Duck07

On rubber ducks, you could actually fix a bayonet, although we’re not sure why you’d want to.

One difference from the rubber duck is that this is kind of crudely molded. With the rubber ducks, you can actually read the serial number of the M16A1 that was used for a pattern. On this one, not so much.

Iron Duck04

What an iron (or aluminum, maybe?) duck would be useful for is hard to say. Training people to surface dive and recover a rifle in the water, maybe?

All in all, a fun wall hanger for the Retro Black Rifle guy. Here we are still weeping over our auction success last week, so we’re reluctant to bid.