Category Archives: Machine Guns

Three Contenders for the Belt (belt of 5.56 in M27 links, that is)

Here’s Jeff “Bigshooterist” Zimba on belt-fed ARs. You know you’re in for detailed, accurate information and a lot of enthusiasm when Jeff steps up to the camera. You also will get better than the usual YouTube signal-to-noise and filler-to-fact ratios with Jeff on the job:

Jeff’s just slightly mistaken about the original belt-fed, backpack AR-10: it was a pre-Colt Armalite project, and wasn’t picked up by Colt. The video he refers to was a Fairchild promotional video, and here is a version of it. We apologize for the poor quality. The belt-fed version shows up (initially, in Gene Stoner’s hands!) at about 12:30. The weapon’s belt feed does resemble the later Ciener AR-15 conversion, but uses a nondisintegrating belt feed.

Returning to Jeff Zimba’s presentation, his technical points on the Ciener conversion, which is mechanically similar to at least one of the Armalite prototypes, are accurate and informative. It had a number of features that made it rather fiddly, dependent on some design oddities, and generally flawed. Nonetheless, it worked; it could just do with some improvements. Jonathan A. Ciener has been many things in the firearms community, including an innovator; but nobody ever accused him of being keenly attuned to customer sentiment, and the modifications and improvements were left as inspirations to others.

The Valkyrie BSR Mod 1 (BSR = “Belt-fed Semi-automatic Rifle”) is fundamentally an improved Ciener mechanism. The improvements are significant in convenience and function, and Jeff explains them in great detail.

The ARES Shrike is a completely different mechanism that uses a MG-42-like feed mechanism. This gives it some significant advantages over the others. It uses standard links, feeds like every standard belt-fed out there for the last 60-plus years, and can be moved to any standard lower with only one reversible modification (unlike the surgery the Ciener and Valkyrie belts require). Unlike the Ciener and Valkyrie, it alters the AR system to be gas-tappet operated. The operator interfaces with the ARES by a folding, nonreciprocating charging handle on the left side, and an extended bolt release that is the only part that must be changed on a standard AR lower.  The ARES also has quick-change barrels, a necessity for high sustained rates of fire.

All of the weapons Jeff demonstrates also can fire from magazines. Ares Defense does make a version of their belt-fed for military and LE customers that lacks magazine feed, the AMG-1 (the version with both belt and mag feed is the AMG-2. There’s also an AMG version with the quick change barrel and tappet gas system, but mag-fed only).

Jeff doesn’t say, but the Valkyrie and ARES belt-feds are still available. Valkyrie Armament also has the modified M27 links, and belt start and stop tabs that are required by its rifle (they should work with a Ciener conversion, but we’d call Valkyrie to check, before ordering).

Hat tip, the Gun Wire.

Jerry Miculek meets the Original AR-10

The ace competitive shooter briefly got hold of an original AR-10, thanks to Reed Knight of Knight’s Armament Company.

And he shoots it, a little, in this video. He records 633 RPM in a burst, which is about right. The AR-10 is much more controllable in auto fire than other 7.62 NATO firearms, but that’s only relative to such horrid muzzle-climbers as the M14, the FAL, and the G3. (What’s the worst of the bunch? The para G3A3, by miles).

The gun is a “transitional” model with mostly Portuguese features, but the charging handle resembles that used in the Sudanese gun (and is a lot like the ones on Nodak Spud’s AR-15 “prototype” upper receivers) rather than the more complicated Porto one, and the upper lacks a serial number, which all Portuguese guns had.

We’ve known about the original AR-10 for a long time, and like Jerry and Reed, we really like it for its light weight and high quality. We have a semiauto gun built with a billet alloy receiver and an original parts kit, and enjoy it a lot.

Those guns are robust military rifles, and the surviors, mostly Portuguese guns, were subjected to all kinds of abuse in the field. The sophistication of the design is indicated by the fact that the only parts that didn’t hold up were the fiberglass furniture and the barrels — a lot of ex-Porto barrels are pitted, or shot out, but others are in fine condition. The difference was probably the maintenance they got — by and large, Portugal gave these rifles to elite paratroops, which is usually a maintenance plus, but they were used far from home in African guerrilla wars, usually a maintenance minus. It’s a risky gun to buy sight unseen.

Knight is quite correct about the limited production. Artillerie Inrichtingen never earned out the money it invested in AR production, with the only two sales being the small ones to Portugal and Sudan. Its sales arm seemed to be snakebit by bad luck — for example, they negotiated a deal with the armed forces of Cuba, just before Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by Communists. The Cubans not only never paid for the few ARs delivered, they distributed them widely to guerrillas and terrorists. (Indeed, a number were recovered by Cuban-sponsored rebels in the Dominican Republic in 1965. Apart from one or two retained for Army museums, they were destroyed).

By the best estimate, a couple of thousand of original AR-10s survive in whole or in part, mostly in nations that allow or did allow conversion of full- to semi-auto weapons. A number were destroyed in Australia when that country passed several gun bans about 10 years ago. The numbers of AR-10s in the USA may be as low as a hundred registered automatic weapons, and a few hundred semis like ours. So Jerry’s right to be excited about the privilege of firing an original. It’s not like today’s nine and ten pound .308s.

Once, there were millions of original AR-10 magazines available (AI overproduced them), but Knight used them in his initial SR-25s, causing the supply to evaporate. An original magazine now is probably worth more than some guns.

The airplane that Reed Knight talks about after the range session was the Swiss-made Pilatus Porter, which Fairchild manufactured as the Fairchild Porter and, in prototype and short-run mode, as the AU-23 STOL gunship. Oddly enough, the AU-23 production tooling and rights are for sale right now. Drop us a line in comments if you’re interested and we’ll put you in touch with the sellers.

A BAR for the 21st Century

OOWLogoTheir ranks are thinning, but never was a man more loyal to his gun than the men who carried the Browning Automatic Rifle in combat, many of whom we were privileged to know and serve with.

Ohio Ordnance Works has been making new BARs for many years. The guns resemble a WWII M1918A2, and are available as either post-86 Dealer Samples or Title I semi-auto rifles for a retail price in the $4,000 to $5,000 neighborhood.

OOW hcar_2

But they’ve also been working on what they call the Heavy Counter Assault Rifle — a BAR lightened, modernized and improved almost beyond recognition. Almost 7 1/2 pounds of the original 19.4 or so have been taken off, rails and a sliding stock added, the ergonomics improved to satisfy a generation raised on highly-ergonomic ARs. Ohio Ordnance Workd has added its own custom 30-round magazines and an improved trigger.


Weight loss comes from relief machining in the receiver, a shortened barrel with lightening/cooling dimples, a polymer lower, and a hugely-simplified, hydraulic buffer (say good-bye to “cups and cones,” children). It’s suppressor-ready.

Like any OOW BAR it does not come cheap, but they’re offering a pre-production sales deal: the HCAR with many accessories for $4,700.

For more information:

(You get the impression SSD likes this thing).

SMG History on the Block: German MP18-1

Here’s a true piece of submachine gun history: a German MP.18–1 submachine gun, a very early, first-generation, Bergmann-built Hugo Schmeisser design.

MP18-1 left

Schmeisser was the son of designer Louis Schmeisser, who also worked at Bergmann and created the early Bergmann auto pistols. Hugo is one of the true greats of 20th Century weapons design in his own right, but, oddly enough, he is credited more in the popular mind for a gun he didn’t design, the MP 40, than the many guns he did, including the revolutionary MP.18. We’ll explain below how that probably came to pass.

Discounting the curious and tactically unsound Villar–Perosa, the first real submachine gun was the MP.18. (Maxim produced a model only in the late 19th Centuryl he didn’t follow up). It was blowback-operated and fired in full-automatic only (at a rather low rate of fire, thanks to heavy reciprocating parts). The weakness of the MP18, apart from its weight and cost of manufacture, was its magazine feed: it used the 32 round snail drum of the Artillery Luger. (A snail “drum” is not a true drum, exactly, but a box magazine oriented in a spiral to save space. It’s very tricky to design). The snail drum was awkward, hard to load, heavy, and made the MP18 unwieldy, but the gun still proved its worth in the hands of German Storm Troops in the last year of the Great War.

MP18-1 right

After the war, Schmeisser patented an original design for a 20-round double-column single-feed magazine and a suitable magazine housing (the patent was not filed in the USA until 1931, possibly due to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles). This gun is one of the 20-round versions.

Schmeisser US1833862-2 According to Small Arms of the World by Smith and Ezell, these guns were not new production, but were modified by Haenel, and (several other sources suggest that Bergmann lost its production facilities at war’s end, and continued only as a design shop). Some online sources assert that during the war, Schmeisser’s double-column mag had been rejected by the Army in favor of the snail drum, officially the “Trommelmagazin 08″ or TM08, that was already in production for the Artillery pistol. We haven’t seen a definitive source that says that Schmeisser’s stick mag was ready for prime time in 1918.

This gun on offer is one of those postwar MP.18-1s with the 20-round box mag.  Its condition is amazing for a nearly-century-old weapon an ocean away from its home:

MP18-1 right2

This is a excellent German MP18.1 that I have had for a long time. It is in beautiful original condition as you can see by the pictures. It is all matching except for the bolt. The bore is excellent and shiny. It has all the original finish and is NOT re-blued. The magazine housing is marked S.B.848 and the stock is marked “1920″ so I’m sure that it was used in the Weimar as a Police Weapon.

MP18-1 b

The “1920″ marking was applied to all Reichswehr (the Weimar Republic’s 100,000-man rump army) weapons when a postwar law banned automatic weapons for the general public. (This early German gun control law was to lead to greater things, but let’s not digress).

It is on a form 3 and is fully transferable on a form 4, though it can NOT be transferred on a C&R. If you have any question or need more pictures please ask.

via German MP18 1 9mm MP18-1 : Machine Guns at GunBroker.com.

The MP.18 was redesigned by Hugo Schmeisser into a slightly improved version, the MP.28, which had a selector switch. It continued in production, spawning many variants. The Schmeisser designs went on to be extremely influential, as well as to serve in many other wars, including the Spanish Civil War, the Sino-Japanese Wars leading up to World War II (including in Chinese-copy versions), and of course in World War II, where it was often found in the hands of the SS. It also inspired the British Lanchester, a fairly direct copy of the MP.28 which actually could use MP 18 and 28 box magazines, although the Lanchester also had 32 and 50 round magazines of its own. This makes the MP 18 not only the progenitor of all submachineguns, but also the granddaddy of the Sten. The Japanese Type 100 was also a modified copy of the MP.28, a weapon the Japanese had encountered in Chinese hands. The Finnish Suomi and Russian PPD also were inspired to one extent or another by the German design, and the.

Schmeisser’s box magazine design was patented, as shown above, and was widely used in subsequent guns. It’s generally accepted that the misnomer “Schmeisser” for the MP40 came about because many MP38 and MP40 magazines were marked with “Schmeisser D.R.P.” (Deutsches Reich Patent) in recognition of this patent.

The gun is extremely durable. The receiver is machined from a thick tube, unlike the thin tubes common in Second World War submachine guns. The bolt likewise is machined from a single block of steel. The weapon fires from an open bolt, automatic only, although experience makes single shots possible. The original WWI versions had no manual safety. This one has a bolt notch safety. (All open-bolt SMGs are only safe with a mag out, period, unless the safety locks the bolt forward on an empty chamber. A safety like this just instills false confidence).

MP18-1 right3

Mullin notes that, other things being equal, a full-stocked SMG always provides a better firing platform than a folding or sliding stock. We concur. Sliding stocks have had something of a renaissance due to body armor, but for the recreational shooter an early subgun like an MP.18 (or a Thompson for that matter) is a joy to shoot.

MP18-1 broken open

While the operating system of the gun was very simple, the internals were not. The bolt was driven by a telescoping spring guide/firing pin mechanism clearly antecedent to that of the later Vollmer designs that would culminate in the MP40. What killed the MP.18 and its successors in the end was the difficulty and expense of machining its solid steel parts. Second-generation submachine guns would have stamped, die-cast, and other parts taking advantage of improvements in 20th Century automotive mass-production industrial processes.

MP18-1 stripped

We’ve used more of the pictures than we usually do in these auction reports, because this is such a gorgeous, unmolested original gun. If we hadn’t just taken a huge income hit (thank you, ISIL), we’d be on this like a lawyer on an ambulance.

Because the MP.18 isn’t as sexy as later guns, it’s unlikely to be bid up anywhere near Thompson, BAR or M16 territory, and might even sell down in the Sten price range. But this gun is a true piece of history. Its next owner will have something to be proud of, and it may turn out to be a good investment. (Personally, we don’t “invest” in anything subject to corrosion, although we’ve been known to delude ourselves that we did that).

After this, you might want more information on this rare and historic firearm. There’s a minimal write-up in most editions of Small Arms of the World. In the 11th Edition it begins on p. 338. (The book, not the unrelated Small Arms of the World website. There’s probably a good writeup on the website, too, but we’ve been locked out by login problems over the last few weeks… we hope to get them resolved today. SAW’s technical staff have been very helpful). There’s a better writeup, but scarcely a thorough one, in Hobart, on pp. 116-117.

How does the MP.18 stack up today? Mullin’s verdict in The Fighting Submachine Gun: A Hands-on Evaluation was:

The M1918 feels like a good, sturdy, long-lasting weapon. It does have a few drawbacks to it (such as weight and slam-firing bolt-design defects), but once modified to a standard box design, it has all the features necessary to make an effective SMG with very few that are superfluous to the job. This is quite a compliment to those original German designers back in 1918.

Peterson (p. 151) suggests that the gun may be worth $17,000 to $22,500, depending on whether you call its condition “very good” or “excellent”; a snail-drum wartime gun would be worth only 10% more. No one has bid on this gun, at $13,500 opening bid and no reserve. What’s up with that?

Sources: 

Hobart, FWA, Pictorial History of the Sub-machine Gun

Mullin, T. The Fighting Submachine Gun: A Hands-on Evaluation.

Peterson, P. Standard Catalog of Military Firearms: The Collector’s Price and Reference Guide. 

Smith, WHB and Ezell, EC, Small Arms of the World, any edition.

A very good photo thread on the MP.18 and successors at Accurate Reloading: http://forums.accuratereloading.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/7811043/m/589109167/

Note that there are a couple of errors and unsupported statements in the photo thread.

 

Good News: ATF eForms Form 1 is back up, for Trusts & Corporations

Thompson_in_violin_caseThis is good news, and a long time coming, from lawyer David M. Goldman:

Today I received an announcement and verified that you can now process Form 1s online again. For those with a Gun Trust, you can now process these electronically again. Still no word on when Form 4s will be available to process online.

There are currently 15 legal examiners in the background investigation phase of hiring. ATF has been authorized to use overtime funding to process NFA applications and they reduced their outstanding applications by 23%. They are currently processing around 6000 applications a week and have a backlog of 62,000. This means that we might be looking at as little as 10 weeks to process applications and even quicker for electronic applications. This is a substantial decrease from the 9 -15 months we have been seeing in the past few months.

In the last 4 weeks they received 17,800 applications and processed more than 22,400 applications.

via ATF eForms adds Form 1 for Gun Trusts and time to process applications reduced. – NFA Gun Trust Lawyer Blog.

The ATF’s politically partisan managers are trying to add a mountain of inconveniences to NFA Trusts, but Trusts remain a superior way of managing your NFA firearms, and the ATF admits they will not be able to erect their Hindernisse until 2015.

So make hay while the gun shines….

For those of you owning NFA weapons as individuals, you’re missing out on some serious estate planning and legal-protection benefits.

For those of you not yet owning NFA weapons, now would be a good time. Remember, if you’d put in your Form 4 last year you might have your tax stamp (and your gun) now.

Hat tip, The Gun Wire.

World War II Orphan Needs New Home

As we’ve mentioned before, the French go their own way in firearms and have for a very long time. Their designs seldom influence other nations much, and other nations’ developments take their sweet time coming to the armies of the French Republic.

Chatallerault Mle 24-29 01

In a collector market hungry for the machine guns of the Allies and Axis alike, the guns of the two nations who managed to spend time on both sides of the war continue to underperform the market. Those nations are, of course, France and Italy. Here’s an example of the standard French light machine gun of the prewar and early war era, the Model 1924/29 as produced by the Manufacture d’Armes de Chatellerault. This particular one has been modified to 7.62mm NATO, making it an economical shooting example of a 20th-Century mag fed machine gun.

C&R French Chatellerault FM Mle 1924-29, Gun has been converted to 308 using a new barrel, magazines work perfect as is without modification, Gun runs 100%, It does need a bipod retention ring as the bipod will move forward. A Curio and Relic machine gun in 308. 3% admin fee for credit card usage.

via C&R French Chatellerault FM Mle 1924-29 : Machine Guns at GunBroker.com.

He’s asking $12,000 for it with no reserve, or a $15,000 buy-it-now. Apart from the missing bipod ring, which seems likely to be easy to fabricate, the gun also has what looks like it might be a rather bad case of old pitting on the receiver:

Chatallerault Mle 24-29 02Magazines are pretty rare, but we used to see them occasionally, and it looks like they could be fabricated without drama. Having a .308 shooter is a pretty welcome thing for many would-be MG owners, and this is a lot more affordable than a transferable M60.

The gun was rather typical of its era, and is an analog of the BAR, the BREN, the Czech VZ 26 and 30, and other magazine-fed guns, which were generally used to provide a base of fire in the rifle squad. Like most of its competitors, it was gas-operated and locked by camming a tipping bolt into a recess in the receiver. (In this case, up into the top of the receiver, a la BAR).

It did have some interesting features. The sights are offset to the left, and the rear sight is a peep with an average-sized aperture for a rifle. The straight magazines hold 25 rounds, a fairly unusual number at the time. It was an early deployment of something common on weapons today, an ejection-port dust cover. Fire control is by a small lever on the right side of the lower-receiver/pistol-grip frame for safe and fire, and by two different triggers for semi and automatic fire. The difference between the original Modèle 1924 and the improved 24/29 appears to have been only the cartridge. The original 7.5 x 58mm cartridge was shortened by 4mm to prevent accidental loading of 7.92 x 57mm ammunition, large stocks of which were, as war booty, in use by French colonial auxiliaries in the post-WWI era. The longer case wouldn’t allow the bolt of the 24/29 variant to go into battery, and therefore prevented the destroyed gun and possibly injured gunner that would result from firing the 7.92 ammo in the smaller 7.5mm bore.

While it was primarily an infantry arm, special versions, one of them the M31 with a highly unusual drum feed, served the fortress troops of the Maginot Line. Many of those guns were captured and reused by the Germans.

French forces continued to use the M24/29 worldwide even during the WWII and postwar period when they were armed primarily by Lend-Lease. It was only replaced in the 60s and 70s by the 7.5mm AAT-52 GPMG, and soldiered on longer in second-line formations.

And then, there’s that affordable 7.62 NATO MG thing. Although “affordable” is relative when the subject is NFA weapons.

Of course, there might be a downside to this: it might turn you into a collector of French guns. That’s not necessarily bad, though: it shuts up the rifle-range know-it-alls. After all, did you look at the picture and say, “Aha! The Mle 24/29 trick?” Probably not.

If you want this Chatellerault, Recon Ordnance of Wisconsin has it and a number of other unusual, exotic, and just plain uncommon weapons on Gun Broker (along with some ordinary ones).

If you want more information and pictures, try Ian and Max, both of whom have pages on this oddball exemplar of firearms history.

 

St. Louis’s M1921/27 Thompsons Going on the Block

In a thorough and well-reported article at the St Louis Courier-Dispatch’s website, STLToday, police-beat reporter Joel Currier documents how 28 early Thompsons (and one M1A1) are about to hit the market, and why.

STL Police Thompsons

The department’s Thompsons are the survivors of Prohibition-era police firepower, and they’ve been armory queens since, as near as any living cop or retiree can figure out, the 1950s.

St. Louis police took them out of service perhaps 60 years ago, but 29 are still stored in a basement bunker at the Police Academy downtown, with a 30th in the crime lab. Chief Sam Dotson and some collectors think it may be the biggest police-owned stock of Thompsons in the United States.

And it is about to go on sale.

The bottom line is that the police need money, and the St Louis Police Officers’ Union is demanding a change to .40 caliber guns.  (About 20 years too late, as other departments roll back to 9mm thanks to the development of superior rounds that have closed the terminal-ballistics gap while retaining the 9′s human-interface superiority. But hey, that’s what they want, and they went 9mm in the 1990s, a good 10-15 years behind the rest of the country. They’ll be back to 9 in 2035 or so).

Jeff Roorda, the union’s business manager, understands the lure of the Thompsons. “It’d be nice for nostalgia to have those in the police department forever,” he said. “But the more pressing need now is that officers have firepower that matches the firepower in the hands of the bad guys.”

The department plans to keep at least one of the Tommy guns as a historical piece.

The collection, which includes rare 1921 and 1927 Colts and a model made in 1942, was appraised by a local dealer in May 2012 at $770,000. Police and some collectors, however, think the stash could fetch far more. It is not clear how or when the department acquired the one newer Tommy gun.

An auction of two-dozen-plus early TSMGs will bring out the advanced collectors and the top tier of NFA dealers. The early Colt-made Thompsons have a number of features particularly desired by collectors, and also have both military and civilian (criminal and police) cultural significance. The market is distorted by the 1986 manufacture ban’s imposition of an artificial ceiling on numbers, but the low production of early Thompsons (only 15,000 by Colt), and the great numbers lost, destroyed, or exported — current US law forbids their reimportation — already imposed a much lower actual ceiling on the numbers of authentic early guns, which are the guns that collectors most desire.

These particular guns have an interesting history in St. Louis, too, as the armament of an elite police squad called the “Night Riders.” That only adds to their collector cachet.

“St. Louis was one of the few cities in America where the cops beat the hoods to the punch” by getting Tommy guns, [gangster historian Dennis Waugh] said.

Police here bought at least 75 in the 1920s for use by the “Night Riders,” an overnight motor squad that targeted bank robbers and gangsters by raiding saloons and crime hangouts. It’s unclear what happened to 45 of the guns. Police say records of the original purchases were either not kept or disappeared.

A 1921 Globe-Democrat editorial painted the Night Riders in colorful terms: “Now the citizen of evil intent, skulking down dark streets or lurking at alley mouths looking for a chance to do a little porch-climbing or flat-robbing or holding up of unaware, belated residents, is most likely to have a motor car appear mysteriously in his immediate vicinity … It is the police car against the thieves’ car, the night-riders of public security against the night-riders of violence and dark deeds.”

Fifty Tommy guns arrived for the Night Riders in October 1921, according to the Post-Dispatch, which characterized the squad’s hunt for criminals during Prohibition as “red hot.” The department bought 25 more in 1927.

Whether the guns ever killed anyone — or if they were even used on duty — is a matter of debate. The guns have been used in training sessions over the years.

In examining their armory, the police also found two Lewis guns, that appear to have been lent to the department by the FBI in the 1920s and then forgotten. The Lewis guns will not be auctioned, at least not at this time. (But they’re rarer than, and probably worth as much as, the rarest of the Thompsons).

Currier’s report is very thorough and is quite accurate about what the TSMG was, and is; you owe it to yourself (and to him for his efforts!) to Read The Whole Thing™, even though we’ve excerpted some parts of it.

Russo-Japanese Riflery

Over the century-plus since its decisive conclusion, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 has faded into obscurity, but quite undeservedly so. When it is remembered today, it is either for the brilliant Japanese naval victory at Tsushima Straits, or for President Theodore Roosevelt’s efforts in bringing about a peace treaty, efforts which brought him the Nobel Peace Prize. (In those backward days, this came to pass only after peace had been concluded between the warring parties, not in the modern fashion of participation trophies and forsworn scorekeeping. But we digress).

RussoJapaneseWar.Print

 

Setting the impact of Tsushima Straits on history aside, the War was not entirely a naval war, and the land conflict was broad, vast, and modern, in 20th Century terms: it was a massive land war in Asia featuring two Great Powers’ armies. The army of 1905, as deployed by both Russia and Japan, was the levee en masse of Napoleon supercharged with modern smokeless, small-caliber repeating rifles and breechloading, recoil-managed artillery. Along with these vast increases  in infantry and artillery firepower and lethality, the Russo-Japanese War also introduced two new complications to field fortifications: machine guns and barbed wire. The last wars of great consequence, the US Civil War (1860-65), the Lopez War of Paraguay against all its neighbors (1865-70), the Franco-Prussian War (1870), the Russo-Turkish War (1877), and the Spanish-American War (1898) had predated most of these developments, although the Russians had seen the sharp end of repeating rifles at Varna and the Americans had been given cause to reassess their choice of breech-loading rifle and had already copied the superior Mauser. But in America in 1905, the Army left barbed wire to cattlemen and were content with adapting their hand-cranked Gatling gun to newer cartridges, despite a few visionary soldiers’ experiments with Maxims, which we’ve recounted here before.

Russo-Japanese War

In addition to the armaments and their employment, which are of greatest interest to us, military-technical developments since the mid-19th Century included the telegraph, still exclusively wired, and the increased use of specialized support troops such as combat engineers. In some ways, Napoleon would have recognized these armies, drawn by horse and trailed by disease. But Napoleon would probably have grasped the tactical utility of the new weapons, and there’s evidence that not all the combatant officers did.

American soldiers were also little interested, it seems, in the doings of the great Asian empires, but not so the British. The British sent a doughty expedition of field grade and general officers to the combatants as observers, these men, men of considerable talent and accomplishments both before and after this war, wrote detailed and highly readable accounts of the efforts of both sides. We have at hand a collection of British attaché officer reports from the victorious Japanese side of the war, and it’s fortunately available to all through Google or here as a .pdf.

(stand by, we are experiencing technical difficulties loading the file).

We’re looking for the countervailing reports of the officers who traveled with the defeated Russians, and expect it, too, will be rich in insights. The books were published by the GPO in three volumes in 1908, with Volume 1 being the reports of the officers attached to the Japanese forces. It also contains, as an entirely unexpected bonus, a transcript of a lecture given by Japanese staff officers to their British counterparts.

One gets a very strong impression that the Japanese Army had its act together in ways that the Russians did not. This general operational superiority seems to be more than just the expected ability of an advancing army to hold together vis-a-vis one driven into retreat, but seems to flow from superiority in leadership, tactics, drill, and, frankly, grit. The Japanese superiority extended even into the fundamentals — such as riflery.

This excerpt comes from Page 46 of the book, and is the sixth numbered point in remarks of Lieut.-General Sir Ian Hamilton on the subject of operations along the Yalu River, or the Ya-lu as Sir Ian transcribes it:

Another marked contrast between the two armies was in their musketry. The Russians mainly used volleys, even in the confused struggle at Ha-ma-tang ; the Japanese, individual fire. It was thought that the experiences gained in the South African war had given its quietus to volley firing, but there is no doubt as to the fact, which I have had from the mouth of a divisional general, as well as from numerous junior officers. Moreover, l have satisfied myself that, whereas the artillery practice of the Russians was good as long as it lasted, the musketry was inaccurate to an extent not entirely explicable by the fact that they were attempting to fire volleys in face of combined shrapnel and individual rifle tire. This is specially interesting on account of the different principles underlying the musketry training of the respective armies.

The regulations and conduct of Russian musketry practice have been dominated for the past few years by a school of thought which is not unknown in our army. It is urged by these officers that the most practical method of instructing a. battalion is to cause it to expend the greater part of its annual allowance of ball cartridge at Field Firing at unknown distances in the open country, because it is “just like the real thing.” Their opponents, whilst admitting that a little field firing may be useful, protest that as far as instruction in marksmanship is concerned, a soldier might just as well fire blank cartridge if he does not know where his bullet has struck, or what faults he has committed in elevation or direction. As in most technical and theoretical disputes there has been much to say on either side. Now, however, we have the Russian army, which expends a. large proportion of its rounds in Held firing, meeting the Japanese army, which expends all but a. very small proportion of its ammunition on the rifle range, in the careful individual instruction of each soldier at target shooting. The Russian infantry shot badly, the Japanese infantry shot excellently.

You could sum up the entire war using that sentence as a model, just substituting any arm or service for “infantry” and the appropriate verb for “shot.” But the superiority in shooting is noted. One expects that it is rooted in Japanese superiority at even more fundamental martial arts: discipline and drill. And it always comes back to leadership. Despite its assistance from European powers (including Britain and Prussia), Japan resisted the taint of class or aristocracy and their officer selection and development was considerably more meritocratic than their counterparts’. Imperial Russia selected her officers from among an inbred and enervated aristocratic and gentry minority.

RussoJapaneseWar.Print2This had consequences on the battlefield. While the Japanese had rifle superiority overall, the Russians were not without their marksmen, and Japanese depth and sang-froid of leadership was occasionally tested by the decapitation of units by precision shooting. The overall tendency of the infantry and cavalry actions of the war seem to suggest that technology had given a boost to the defensive over the offensive art.

The reports do not mention the quality of the nations’ small arms, suggesting that the attaché officers thought them unremarkable. Indeed, the rifles were not vastly different in quality or capability from one side to the other, or from those of other Powers. Russia fielded a modern, reliable and lethal weapon in the M1891 Mosin-Nagant Rifle, and Japan had a counterpart in the Type 30 Arisaka with many borrowed Mauser design features. (Not enough to be sued by Mauser, unlike the USA). While the Japanese rifle was better, it was probably not better enough to make a difference; Russia’s World War enemies would be similarly equipped, and Russia would hold her own with the Mosin. (Special Operations Truth #1: Humans are more important than hardware. Applies to conventional operations, too). Both sides had formations still carrying previous-generation large-bore black-powder single-shot breechloaders, the Russian Berdan and Japanese Murata being similar to that generation of weapons worldwide.

The machine-gun balance was different: technically, Russia’s Maxim was arguably superior to Japan’s Hotchkiss, but Japanese officers were satisfied enough with the Hotchkiss to stick with it for 40 more years, and they either had more of them, or employed them with so much more skill that it appeared that way. Humans > Hardware, again.

James Aylmer L. ("A.L") Haldane, later Sir James GCMG KCB DSO.

James Aylmer Lowthorpe (“A.L”) Haldane 1862-1950, later Sir James AL Haldane GCMG KCB DSO.

The entire book is of great interest. This paragraph which begins on p. 60 is the redoubtable (then) Lieut-Colonel A. L. Haldane, D.S.O.’s, assessment of the problem of assaulting positions defended with wire and Maxim. (Among other Eminent Victorian achievements, Haldane helped Churchill escape during the Boer War). Ten years later, British officers, and their French and German counterparts alike would be at a similar loss for a solution to this problem; one suspects from reading the report that Japanese officers might have thought more and hoped less than the collective combat leadership of Europe 1914-18.

In the battle of Nan Shan the men of the Second Japanese Army, for the first time in their existence, found themselves opposed to barbed wire and machine guns, and in almost every succeeding engagement the main difficulty to be overcome has arisen from the presence of these two creations of modern war. No entirely satisfactory method of destroying either has yet been discovered, though artillery has, on rare occasions, been pushed sufficiently near to silence machine guns, and it is stated that bombs charged with dynamite are effective locally in breaking down wire entanglements. The matter is still engaging the earnest attention of the Japanese, and is no doubt receiving due consideration in England and India.

As a Corps commander in World War I, Haldane would still have no “entirely satisfactory method of destroying either.” Haldane also noted heavy, largely ineffectual, volley fire from the Russians. “The Japanese certainly did not fire away as many rounds as the Russians.”

RussoJapaneseWar.cartoonIt is quite an interesting book, and one is left with a profound impression that the Japanese, only 45 years from being a feudal empire without firearms or modern machinery, had built a uniformly first-rate war machine from sheer stubborn discipline and hard work, and that the Russian Army had pockets of excellence in a vast peasant mass of mediocrity (or worse). Would that impression be changed if we read the reports from the attachés to the Russian forces? Probably not. The verdict of history is that the Russians botched the war; the verdict of the Russian people was that the Russians botched the war, and it led them into revolution; and the British are likely to have had more and better officers placed in better position with the Japanese, who were closely allied with Britain at the time. It seems unlikely that the Russians would have been quite as willing to open up to foreign observers as the Japanese Army did to their distinguished British visitors.

More on Suomi Magazines

Why this post?

Max Popenker kindly corrected our error with respect to the Suomi box magazine. Because the story of Suomi magazines is interesting, we thought we’d expand on it for the assembled multitudes, rather than just type a few corrective words in the original post.

Drum Magazines

In a comprehensive history of magazines on Small Arms of the World (subscription required, and recommended), which unfortunately only takes the drum back to 1917 and not to its origins in the world of mechanical machine guns, Leszek Ehrenfeicht describes the origin of the Suomi drum:

The other variation of the true drum was a design by Oskar Alfred Östmann of the Tikkakoski Oy, manufacturer of the Aimo Johannes Lahti’s Suomi submachine gun. It has a single follower, propelled by a very strong clockwork spring; necessary to overcome the weight and friction of the 70-round content of the drum. It was less complicated than Payne’s drum, but much more susceptible to dirt; increasing the friction and raising the burden on the clockwork spring even further. Despite that, it was the most widely mass-produced submachine gun magazine of the world. What, you never heard of Mr. Östmann and his magazine? What about Comrade Shpagin and his Pepesha drum? Oh, that you know? Well, that’s the same drum. The only difference was that Finns were the first, made it in 9x19mm and paid the inventor royalties, while the Soviets copied it in 7.62x25mm and never paid a dime – but that is another story.

By “the other variation,” Ehrenfeicht means by comparison to Oscar Payne’s L and C magazines for the Thompson SMG. He classifies these as “true drums,” as compared to snail drums (essentially a single-row mag with a coiled end) and further distinguishes them from helical (Calico, Bizon) or pan (Lewis, DP) magazines by the orientation of the cartridges.

The Östmann drum was the second Suomi design, and is the most common. The first one was allowed to open, like the Thompson drum or the Chinese 75-round AK/RPK drum, to allow the cartridges to be loaded, and was more complex and less reliable than Östmann’s.

The first Suomi design was almost certainly the drum magazine shown in Aimo Lahti’s 1932 US patent, US 1,867,513. (A patent we see Max has already found and put on the world.guns.ru site’s Suomi page). The patent was also published in multiple European nations including Germany, France, Britain, Belgium and Switzerland under various numbers on behalf of the Suomi’s maker, Tikkakoski. Lahti showed diagrams for both a cylindrical feed and a spiral one in his patent, and his drum requires an internal ratchet and external wrench, or external winding ratchet also shown in the patent (this image is from the French patent, the US patent uses the same drawings separated onto two pages). Note that the Suomi itself is also patented under US 1,895,719A. (The only other US patent Lahti has is for an improved recoil-locked machine gun mechanism that apparently never saw production, unless it was in one of his AA guns: US 1,987,939).

Soumi Patent

The early drum can be seen in some photos of early Suomis. In fact, a great French history of the Suomi has photos of the drum in its rare, cylinder-feed, 40-round variant:

Suomi 40-round drum

(UPDATE: commenters A.A. and Chris Wardell have tracked the images on the French forum to the Finnish site, http://www.jaegerplatoon.net/MACHINEPISTOLS1.htm. Moreover, the text below on the M/26 that we translated from French to English seems to us to be lifted from the Jaeger Platoon site as well. We will request the site owner’s permission to use this content, but if he refuses his permission we will remove them, respecting his intellectual property).

This suggests that there never was a multi-follower, Paxton-style drum for the Suomi. (Bleg: does anybody know whence the French-speaker lifted the file? It looks like an original caption has been erased, and we’d like to give credit).

According to Frank Iannimico (same site, same login needed), the Russian PPSh submachine gun had a magazine very slightly different from the earlier, limited-production PPD-40 (the first Russian subgun to have a drum magazine. The even-rarer PPD-34 and -34/38 used curved box mags). The PPD’s original drum mag was a 73-round modification of the Suomi design, with a short “neck,” but by the time it reached production the neck was gone and the mag capacity was the final 71 rounds. The PPD and PPSh mags are identical, apart from the feed lips; one lip of the PPD’s is shorter to accommodate a protruding ejector in the receiver, and so PPD mags can be improvised from PPSh mags.

An experiment we haven’t tried is to use the Suomi drum in a PPSh or vice-versa. As the PPSh drums are a direct copy, and fed 9mm without drama in German and Finnish 9mm conversions, it’s possible, but the magazine catch appears to be in a slightly different position, requiring modification of mags, so that a truly interchangeable magazine would require a different catch.

The true origins of the “Coffin Clip”

As Max noted, the Coffin Clip originated not in Finland, but in Sweden. Ehrenfeicht again:

Another attempt at enlarging the magazine capacity was taken by Carl Schildstroem of Sweden. He designed a double compartment magazine with a single-position feed, giving, in effect, a four-row (twice the staggered row) single-position feed clip for 50 rounds. These were in fact two magazines sharing one set of magazine lips with a Schmeisser’s Cone. This magazine, called the “coffin clip” by the Finnish troops, was introduced for the Suomi SMG. It was too heavy (empty weight about 2 pounds), complicated, and failure-prone to be retained for service for any prolonged length of time. It was dropped soon after the war in favor of the wedge-shaped box. An interesting attempt at reviving the scheme was taken by the Italian company SITES for their M4 Spectre submachine gun. The M4 magazine also has a double compartment feature, but a two-position feed.

On the US Patent (2,217,848) the inventor’s name is spelled Schillstrom. It is heavy, in part because it’s built like a battleship, but our hands-on experience in firing a few hundred rounds and seeing a few thousand fired from coffin clips is that it’s actually reliable. The guns in question were very old and well-worn KP/31s that had been in use as training weapons in the US Army Special Warfare Center and School for over 30 years, and that had had some level of rebuild (as guns were refinished for the school, they got American anticorrosion finishes, in other words, parkerizing, in place of the factory bluing).

Loading the mag to capacity requires a loader or an application of physical strength using something (we used the edge of the loading table, basically a picnic table when we had more guys loading mags than we had loaders) to force the rounds down against the pressure of the followers, but not much more than an ordinary 32-round mag for a Sten or MP40 (each dual column has its own follower and spring in this design).

We did not have much luck running the coffin clips in the Swedish M45 Carl Gustav submachine gun, even though it ran flawlessly with its own 36-round wedge-section magazines. But the coffins worked fine in our sample of Suomis. Of course, our armorers had also had 30 years to fix them or cull them.

“Schmeisser’s Cone” is the term for the shape by which a dual- or multi-column box magazine squeezes the rounds into single-file for a single-position feed, because the first example was designed by Hugo Schmeisser in 1916 for an improved version of the MP. 18. It remained a toolroom experiment until after the war.

Dan Shea (same sub required) had an intermittent problem with a 50-round Suomi mag, in that he had live rounds stuck in a magazine that visually appeared clear. The Schillstrom design has three separate Schmeisser’s Cones, any one of which, or interaction between the two followers which should clear one another, might have caused Dan’s problem. (He suggests storing weapons without magazines in them, which looks less cool but is more safe).

And then there’s this oddball thing:

At first, we didn’t know what to make of it. This purported Suomi M/26 mag is for sale at GunBroker at the moment, at a very high price.

Suomi M26 mag

It is a double-feed magazine (as in the Thompson), but it’s curved like a Chauchat magazine. The claim is that it is:

[A] Finnish Suomi M/26 magazine in 7.65×22 caliber. This item shows some age and pitting but in good usuable condition. It is extremely rare.

We just don’t know enough to opine on the authenticity of this part. By 7.65 x 22, he must mean the round generally known as the 7.65 Parabellum or, in the USA, .30 Luger. The M/26 is an early, all-but-prototype Suomi.

Follow up on the Suomi M/26:

The excellent French page referenced above includes l’histoire of the Suomi, including the following:

Aimo Lathi a retravaillé son M/22…

OK, let’s do it en anglais (our translation, bearing in mind we do not do français for a living):

Aimo Lahti reworked his M.22 incorporating in it many improvements (all patented in Finland) making the submachine gun compatible with mass production.

The “konepistooliosakeyhtiö” was made by Ab Toool Oy in 100 copies, and in August 1924 the ministry of defense was interested in the submachine gun.
In February 1925, 30 examples were studied and tested by the armament commission of the MOD. The arm functioned properly, but the magazines were not interchangeable, and the barrels oxidized very rapidly.
In October 1925, the army requested 25 guns again, and 39 more in March 1936 and afterward decided to launch production of 100 examples. Most of these went to the army (60+) but some went to the Civil Guard and the border guards; conversely, very few of this series were exported (5 to Estonia). This model was called M/26.

Aimo Lahti had succeeded in his gamble: not only did his submachine gun at least as well as the Bergmann, it cost much less (2,200 finnish marks vs. 4,500).

SUOMI M/26 (7,65 Kp/26)

Caliber : 7,65 x 21 Parabellum
Length : 930mm
Barrel : 350mm
Weight : 4,18 Kg
Cyclic rate of fire : 600 cps/min
Feed : detachable box magazine, 36 cartridges
Production : around 100 examples between1925 and 1926 (in addition to test guns)

suomi M-26

The M/26 never really saw combat, as during the Second World War these guns were used by support troops behind the front.

In 1959 the 57 surviving M/26es were sold to Interarmco, something that would seem unlikely today for such a rare weapon.

Pretty neat — learned something we didn’t know previously, and found a page and a site full of new information.

Aimo Lahti

Aimo Lahti

Aimo Lahti with a Suomi KP/31.

Aimo Lahti was born 118 years ago today in Viiala, Finland. He was the greatest gun designer in Finnish history, which makes him a big frog in a pretty small pond. But he was influential far beyond the borders of his Scandinavian homeland.

As a Finnish biography by Simo Kärävä says:

Asesuunnittelija Aimo Johannes Lahti (28.4.1896 Akaan Viiala – 19.4.1970 Jyväskylä), jonka suunnittelemat aseet tulivat 1930-luvun sotilaille ja suojeluskuntalaisille sekä sotiemme veteraaneille tutuiksi usein toistuneen koura- ja olkatuntuman kautta, on jäänyt ihmeteltävän vähälle huomiolle sotia ja puolustusvoimia käsittelevässä kirjallisuudessa sekä tämän vuoksi myös melko tuntemattomaksi muille suomalaisille, sotilaita ja aseharrastajia lukuun ottamatta.

via Aimo Lahti.

Lahti-designed 20mm AA gun VKT 40.

Lahti-designed 20mm AA gun VKT 40.

Yeah, that. There’s really no run-on sentence like a run-on sentence in Finnish. Anyway, Aimo is little known in the Anglosphere, but his name rings a bell because two of his best-known guns bore his own name: the Lahti M/35 automatic pistol (also adopted in Denmark and in Sweden as the M/40) which combined the natural-pointing grip angle of the Luger with a completely different mechanism, and the Lahti M/39 semiautomatic antitank rifle, advertised for years in the pages of American Rifleman and other 1960s gun magazines. The M/39 was the object of every boy’s envy, later, even if by 1939 it was already marginal medicine on tanks. Lahti would use the same basic mechanism in the beefier VKT 40 anti-aircraft gun, usually seen as a twin mount.

He also co-designed the standard Finnish light machine gun of the Winter and Continuation Wars, the Lahti-Saloranta L/S 26. (It would be replaced by Russian DP LMGs which were captured in vast quantities). He was also responsible for some of the Finnish improvements to the Mosin-Nagant rifle, and for a modified Maxim for aerial and AA use called the VKT. All in all he designed over 50 weapons, counting designs like the M/27 rifle (a modified Mosin).

Suomi_submachine_gun_M31_1_(1)

Lahti’s most influential gun did not bear his name at all. It was the Machine Pistol (“Konepistooli” or KP) 31, the famous “Suomi” (a word which just means “Finland.”) While by 1931 this submachine gun was not entirely revolutionary, we need to bear in mind that the 1931 model was an update of a 1926 model, which in turn was an update of a 1922 run of prototypes. That makes the Suomi, for all intents and purposes, a contemporary of the early Thompson, yielding primacy only to the Thompson and the German MP18.

Like those guns, the Suomi featured sturdy, machined parts and a wooden stock and was very heavy, especially with a loaded drum magazine. The first Suomi drum was unreliable; it was replaced, while a new drum was being designed, by the four-column “casket” mag, that squeezed the four columns down to a single feeding position. The casket mag was a Suomi original that has echoes today in some Russian designs and the Surefire 60- and 100-round magazines.

Suomi 50-round Casket mag. From ARFCOM.

Suomi 50-round Casket mag. From ARFCOM.

The Russian submachine guns of the mid-20th Century all owed a great deal to the Suomi design. The PPSh drum is a rather direct copy of the second, reliable Suomi design and shares its 71-round capacity. The Soviet designers were never slow to adapt a foreign idea that could be turned to Soviet military purposes.

Sweden, which built Suomis under license, used the Suomi mags as the feed system for their indigenous submachine gun, the M45 Carl Gustav (and M45 “Swedish K” mags work in a Suomi). But that’s another post.

After the Continuation War ended in 1944, Finland was occupied by a Soviet-dominated Allied Control Commission (there were a couple of token Brits) and by Finnish communist quislings who had been indoctrinated for years in the USSR and were determined to bring the joys of the Russian Revolution to Finland. However, the Finns had hidden tens of thousands of arms, and the thought of the whole nation rising in guerrilla warfare terrified the Soviets a little and their puppets a lot. The Finnish communists reinvented themselves as a political party, competing at the ballet box, and their secret police withered away when their Soviet puppetmasters withdrew.

The spiteful Soviets, whose troops had been shot full of holes by many Lahti designs, demanded that that the Finn retire from arms design, and he did, living on a pension until 1970. His only child became a Finnish Air Force aviator and perished during the Continuation War.

There is a biography of Lahti, Aimo Lahti: Finnish Weapons Designer by Maire Vaajakallio, but it is, alas, only available in the Finnish language.