Category Archives: Machine Guns

Ordnance and the (First) World War

Note: This post was intended to be published prior to our 27 October 16 Post, Why did Ordnance Hate the Lewis Gunwhich led to General Crozier and the US Rifle, M1917 “Enfield,” on 29 October. As a result, this post is somewhat redundant and duplicative, but there is further information in it, so we are delivering it today. 

An OCR’d version of Crozier’s book, mentioned below, is available here: Ordnance and the World War 4.pdf.  -Ed.

William Crozier, Chief of Ordnance

In 1920, William Crozier wrote a fascinating book, Ordnance and the World War, about Army Ordnance in the Great War. Crozier had been the recipient of a great deal of abuse from the press, the public, and Congress; despite Congress having appropriated $12 million as early as 1916, Ordnance stuck to a leisurely peacetime schedule until long after the outbreak of the war, and Crozier’s own preferences and enmities undermined war production.

His reason for writing seems to have been, primarily, to defend himself and his branch of the Army from criticism. The criticism was mostly well deserved; it was the Army’s own fault that it had few and obsolete machine guns.

Some times it was not: the Army was expected by the public, the press and the Congress to suddenly manifest the arms of a multi-million-man force after 50 years of austerity budgets. Crozier explained:

[T]here were four subjects, viz.: rifles, machine guns, field artillery and smokeless powder, upon which criticism centered so fiercely and in regard to which misinformation was so rife that the truth really ought to be known about them; especially as they constitute the most important items in the armament of a fighting force.1

We are, perhaps, most interested in the production of small arms, rifles, pistols, and machine guns.

During the prewar years small arms were under one of several functional divisions, with each functional division having full vertically-integrated responsibility for a given class of ordnance, from conceptual design through fielding to overhaul, withdrawal and surplusing. Such coordination as was needed between, say, the makers of artillery and artillery carriages, which were separate divisions, was effectuated by the Ordnance staff or by the Chief of Ordnance himself. Nine months into the war, this wasn’t working, and they reorganized into horizontal functional divisions rather then vertical, what we might call “market,” divisions.

That is, one division, called the Engineering Division, took over the function of design of all the fighting materiel provided by the department; guns, carriages, small arms, and all the rest. Another, the Procurement Division, placed the orders and made contracts for everything. The Production Division supervised the processes of manufacture in all factories; and the Inspection Division passed upon the quality of all materiel and workmanship.2

This change had been proposed by the Top Men brought in from industry, but as it turned out, making war materiel was not quite like making corn flakes; and the principal result of the change was that there was no line of responsibility when things become unglued — which they rapidly did, with every significant project falling far behind overly optimistic projections and schedules.

Difficulties were encountered with the new arrangement. Responsibility for backwardness of output became obscure, and was almost impossible to locate. And after several months of trial the arrangement was abandoned, and the old one, in principle, restored, with some changes of assignment of work between divisions, and some creation of new divisions to meet enlarged duties; also with some arrangements for coordination between divisions, which, in peace time, the Chief of Ordnance had been able to attend to himself.3

The US entered the war with six arsenals, of which four were germane to small arms: Springfield, which concentrated on small arms; Rock Island, which made rifles among other ordnance equipment; Frankford, which produced small arms ammunition , and Picatinny, which made the smokeless powders used in ammunition great and small.4

Before the war, the arsenals had produced most of the Armed Services’ ordnance needs, and when they could not meet those needs in a single shift, they added shifts. In retrospect, this was one of the reasons that the US was so unready for wartime production. Had they met prewar peak needs by contracting with industry, the ability to surge wartime production to much greater than prewar peak needs would have been as easy as adding shifts to factories in running production. NOTE 4. Ordnance would cling to this lesson learned for many decades; it’s why they sought industrial sources in the 1950s and 60s for the M14 and M16 rifle.5

The most important weapon with which nations go to war is the infantryman’s rifle. …

The standard rifle of the American service, popularly known as the Springfield, is believed to have no superior; but our supply was entirely insufficient for the forces which we were going to have to raise. Our manufacturing capacity for the Springfield rifle was also insufficient, and could not be expanded rapidly enough for the emergency. This capacity was available at two arsenals: one at Springfield, Massachusetts, capable of turning out about a thousand rifles per day, and one at Rock Island, Illinois, which could make about five hundred per day.6

That sounds like a lot of guns, but the Mauser-Werke in Oberndorf could turn out 10,000 and even 20,000 rifles a day. Germany averaged about 10k a day for the whole duration of the war, and ended the war with vast stockpiles of rifles and not enough soldiers to carry them.7

Until September of 1916 the Springfield Armory had been, however, running far below its capacity, and the Rock Island Arsenal, or at least the rifle-making plant, was entirely shut down, due to lack of appropriation. At the end of August, 1916, there had been appropriated $5,000,000 for the manufacture of small arms, including rifles. A considerable sum of this appropriation had to be put into pistols, of which we were even shorter than we were of rifles, but the remainder was used to reopen the rifle plant at Rock Island, and to increase the output at Springfield, as rapidly as these effects could be accomplished in the stringent condition of the supply of skilled labor occasioned by the demands of the private factories making rifles for European governments. The dissipated force could not be quickly regathered.8

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Crozier’s document — which aligns largely with similarly self-serving Congressional testimony — was his defense of the charges that he and Ordnance were prejudiced against Isaac Lewis and the Lewis gun, in favor of the dreadful Hotchkiss knock-off, the Benet-Mercié Machine Rifle. But in his book,Crozier denied any animus to the Lewis’s inventor, Col. Isaac Lewis.

In the case of the Lewis gun the charge of prejudice and unfair treatment was made by Col. Isaac N. Lewis, an officer of the army, on the active list at the time when his gun was first presented to the W a r Department, and subsequently retired.

Lewis offered his gun to the Army, for free, under one condition: that it not be tested at Springfield, which made the Benet-Mercié, and would not give it a fair test.

Crozier arranged tests by Springfield Armory, and every one of these tests found that the Lewis, then serving satisfactorily in combat with various Allies, didn’t work, and the execrable Benet-Mercié was superior.

Senator Hitchcock. And you were unable to get any one to overrule Gen. Crozier?

Col.Lewis. Oh,no. He is absolutely autocratic, Gen.Crozier. You gentlemen year after year have been hearing Gen. Crozier’s testimony in regard to the ordnance conditions in the country, and you can judge better the representations he has made than I can.

The Chairman. May I ask you in a general way what is the trouble with the Ordnance Department? You are an old Ordnance officer?

Col.Lewis. No; I am an Artilleryman. I belong to the fighting branch.

Senator Hitchcock. We have inferred that, Colonel.

Col. Lewis. I am still fighting. I am sixty years old, but I am still in the ring.

Senator McKellar. That is plainly evident.

The Chairman. What is the trouble there? If there has been a fall down in this emergency, where is the trouble and what is the trouble?

Col. Lewis. It is primarily at the present time with the man who is Chief of Ordnance. There has not been a new idea or a new development in ordnance in America in fifteen years. We haven’t a new gun to-day in our coast fortifications; that is, new within fifteen years.

The Chairman. Are the methods at fault?

Col. Lewis. It is not so much Crozier as it is Crozierism thet is at fault. That is what this country is suffering from.

The Chairman. Has he developed the Ordnance Department under this present system and method

Col. Lewis (interrupting). Certainly. It is a one-man machine, Senator.

TheChairman. How long has he been connected with it?

Col.Lewis. Fifteen years — I think, sixteen years. I think he has been Chief of Ordnance sixteen years.

Crozier, to his credit, does include Lewis’s entire line of abuse of him in the book, and then counters it. Certainly Lewis exaggerates a little (it was on Crozier’s watch that the Army adopted the M1911 pistol and began examining Browning’s machine guns and BAR). But the enmity between Lewis and Crozier clearly was real.

Who was right? We note that, unlike the US Army Ordnance Department, the British, Belgian, Italian, and Russian services all made the Lewis gun work.

Sources

Crozier, William. Ordnance and the World War: A Contribution to the History of American Preparedness. New York: Scribner, 1920.

Storz, Dieter. “Rifles: Mass Production.” 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Daniel, Ute et al. Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2014-12-16. DOIhttp://dx.doi.org/10.15463/ie1418.10509. Translated by: Reid, Christopher. Retrieved from: http://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/rifles#Mass_production

Notes

  1. Crozier, p. 54.
  2. Crozier, pp. 15-16.
  3. Crozier, p. 17.
  4. Crozier,p.21.
  5. Crozier, p.22.
  6. Crozier, pp. 56-57.
  7. Storz.
  8. Crozier, pp. 56-57.
  9. Storz.

The 1885 Assault Rifle

Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher, who deserves to be better known, was born a bit too early to challenge John M. Browning for the firearms design crown of the 20th Century, but he was fully the American’s equal in ingenuity and productivity in the 19th Century. Mannlicher, an Austrian, who armed Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, and briefly Switzerland with rifles or carbines. He produced an array of interesting early semi-auto experiments on long-recoil, short-recoil, and gas principles; and he made contributions to the design of the German Model 1888 “Commission” rifle (principally a modified version of the magazine; unlike all other Mannlicher en-bloc or packet-loading clips, and like the M1 Garand clip, the Gew. 88 clip can go in either way up). Mannlicher passed away in 1903, while automatic weapons were still in their infancy, but the designs he worked on show an agile mind with a keen grasp of the engineering problems and possibilities.

Today, we’re looking at his Model 85 Automatic Rifle, which was so far ahead of its time it took ammunition about 30 years to catch up. At that, it had some one-off interesting features. At a glance, it looks a bit like a 1941 Johnson, which is not too shabby for 1885. Writing in 1946, WHB Smith had this to say:

In 1885 we find von Mannlicher producing the first of his automatic weapons a light machine gun which, considered in connection with present-day military arms, is a marvel of original design. This arm has been given very little attention by writers on firearms, but within its crude form it houses the origins of many of the basic principles which brought fame and fortune to later designers. Perhaps those designers never saw this Mannlicher of 1885, perhaps they pioneered for themselves the paths the great Austrian inventor trod long before those later men incorporated the principles in their weapons. In any event, von Mannlichees designs show the need for complete and continuing research in the field of all arms developments. Truly there is “nothing new under the sun;” and the inventor of the future may save years of time and work, and fortunes in money, by familiarizing himself with what has been done in his field by the great ones who preceded him.

Consider for a moment this light machine gun of 1885, an arm which was not successful because it was ahead of its time; because psychologically the military was not ready for it, and the metallurgist had not yet perfected the necessary steels for the arm nor the correct brass for the cartridge cases which would give the gun complete field reliability.

We would also say that it was ahead of its ammunition. It was chambered for the big fat (11 mm). blackpowder round of the Werndl rifle. (The rifle was an analog of our Allin-conversion trapdoor Springfield, and the Model 77 cartridge was a near analog of our .45-70 round, firing a .433-inch 370-grain bullet about 1,400 feet per second with 77 grains of black powder). Mannlicher had designed two rifles for this cartridge already, one with a tubular magazine, and one fed by a seven-round detachable gravity-fed magazine.

But the praise above wasn’t all Smith had to say about this gun. Next, he compared it the Browning machine guns. Bear in mind, he is writing all this circa 1945-46, and primarily for an audience that would have had a professional familiarity with the Browning 1917/1919/M2/M3 family of machine guns. .

Comparing the principles found in this arm with corresponding ones embodied in the latest U. S. Browning Machine Gun designs shows some remarkable similarities.

First, both use a short-recoil operating system. Barrel and breechblock recoil locked together until chamber pressure has dropped to safe limits; then the barrel is halted and the breech mechanism continues back to extract, eject and reload.

Second, both employ accelerators. When the barrel is halted, the accelerator is struck a sharp blow to transmit added impetus to the breech mechanism to assure proper functioning.

Third, the essential locking systems are similar. While the locks differ radically in shape and mounting, each arm nevertheless is locked by a wedge cammed up and down from below into a recess cut in the underside of the breechblock, the wedge in each case resting on an abutment in the floor of the receiver when locked.

Fourth, in principle, both use similar cocking systems. In each a pivoted finger lever has one end passing through a cut in the bolt into engagement with the striker pin acting to cock the firing mechanism by leverage during recoil.

Fifth, the positions of the operating (or recoil) springs which are mounted in the receiver to the rear of the breechlock (or bolt), are similar.

There are other resemblances; but these, as indicated in the drawings, serve to establish Mannlicher’s astonishing grasp of fundamental principles quite graphically. Several of the basic principles found in the most modern light machine guns of American and German design—notably the operating system, the action working in an extension of the barrel, mounting and positioning of parts—were originally used in this arm; while the top-mounted magazine which became a favorite in British, Japanese and Czech design in World War II was employed by Mannlicher in 1885 and even earlier.

It is believed that two prototypes of the 1885 rifle were made, one called “repeating rifle” (Repetier-Gewehr) and one “light machine gun” (Handmitrailleuse) and that neither survives today. Indeed, we were unable to find any unretouched photograph of this rifle. These drawings, from Smith, were drawn by the Steyr arsenal’s Konrad von Kromar, probably directly from Mannlicher’s original and since-lost prototypes, and were used in connection with a 1900 World’s Fair display.

Here is Smith’s detail description of the Model 85.

Model 85 Automatic Magazine rifle (and Light Machine Gun) with Recoiling Barrel and Detachable Gravity Magazine

(Automatisches Repetier-Gewehr (Handmitrailleuse) mit rückgehenden Lauf u. aufsteckbaren Magazin M. 85)

Original Caption – 
I. Right side view with gravity magazine loaded and in place.
2. Top view with action closed. This early recoil-operated, locked breech weapon was a forerunner of many of the most successful designs of light machine guns used in World War II; and first utilized basic principles later employed in many medium and heavy machine guns also

This truly remarkable weapon was introduced decades ahead of its time. Originally developed in 1883 by Mannlicher and introduced two years later as the Model 85, it was developed at a time when ammunition did not have the necessary reliability to permit of really fine automatic weapon performance. This arm was designed to handle the original Austrian Model 77 Werndl cartridge of 11-mm (.433) caliber whose characteristics have already been discussed.

This arm however anticipated many of the essential details of the successful recoil operated weapons of today.

Like the later Browning semi-automatic sporting rifles (which we know in the U.S. as the Remington Autoloading Rifle), the German light machine-guns of 1934 and 1942, and the American Johnson rifle and light machine-gun, this arm operated on the principle of a recoiling barrel floating within a barrel casing and being locked securely to the action during the moment of firing and high breech pressure.

A barrel return spring mounted around the barrel within the casing ahead of the firing chamber, and a straight-line action return spring mounted in prolongation of the bore directly behind the bolt, provided the motive power for returning the recoiling parts to firing position after they had been thrust rearward and unlocked by the recoil of the arm when fired.

The striker shaft-collar provided a front compression point for the striker spring.

The rear of the striker head was cut away from below to permit an arm of a pivoted cocking lever to rise inside the striker head much on the basic principle used in current Browning machine-guns.

The lower arm of this pivoted cocking lever rested on a slope in the receiver where it was in contact with the pivoted sear lever.

Original Caption — 1. Right side view cut away to show all details of weapon with firing chamber loaded and arm cocked ready to fire.
Pressure on the trigger will cause the trigger lever to pull down on the sear and withdraw it from the hammer-like cocking-piece within the bolt and striker. The compressed striker spring (or mainspring) will thrust the striker forward within the locked bolt to fire the cartridge. Note that the locking tongs are mounted on top of their block and lock faces on the tong are securely engaged in the corresponding under fates of the bolt. The member directly below the head of the cartridge case is the accelerator.
2. Receiver top view showing action cocked. Note that the feeding is done to the left of the line of sight. Leading finger Is gripping cartridge in feeder ready to pull it into line of forward travel of the bolt as the bolt passes to the rear to eject the cartridge case now in the chamber. This straight line system of recoil locking and operation has many points of similarity with the very latest American and European designs.

The recoil action did prove quite similar to the later Browning designs.

The Recoil Action

When the arm is ready to fire, the barrel and action are securely locked through a special “coupling tong” arrangement located below the breech. Locking recesses on the underside of the bolt are specially shaped to be engaged by the locking tongs and also to permit camming action during forward and rearward movement to unlock and lock.

At the moment of firing, the bottom tong rests on a ledge mounted in the receiver bottom plate, while the upper tong rests in a special lock cut in the underside of the breech block. The forward end of the moveable and slideable tong rests against a pivoted lever below the firing chamber as indicated in the drawings.

As the cartridge in the chamber is fired, the recoil transmitted through the head of the cartridge case to the face of the breech block starts the action to the rear. Since the units are firmly locked together, the barrel starts back against the action of its spring simultaneously with the rearward action of the breech parts.

As the rear of the tongs reaches the cam face on the supporting block, the cam surface in the bolt forces the tongs down out of engagement with the bolt locking recess.

A cam face on the front projection works against the curved lower arm of the accelerator. This pivots the upper end of the accelerator to speed up bolt travel, while the lower arm acts as a barrel stop.

The accelerator passes on its thrust to the bolt in the same general manner as the accelerator later developed by Browning for his famous U.S. .30 and 30 caliber machine-guns.

The rearward motion of the bolt forces the head of the cocking lever within it back and down (the Browning reverses this principle) so that the upper arm may guide the striker back until the sear lever drops into the cocking notch to hold it ready for the next pressure of the trigger. The rearward pull on the striker compresses the striker spring, since the front end of the spring rests on a collar midway along the striker pin. Meanwhile, the lower arm of the sear bar, which is attached to the trigger, has been drawn completely away from sear contact. The extractor in the bolt face draws the empty cartridge case back until the case hits against the ejector and is tossed out of the rifle. Meanwhile the powerful recoil spring mounted directly behind the bolt in prolongation of the bore is compressed against the rear end cap buffer.

Original caption-
1. Right side view at end of recoil stroke. The barrel mounted within its recoil easing is locked to the breech until it travels far enough to permit the locking tong to be cammed down off its block and out of engagement with the
underside of the bolt. At that time the barrel hits its stop and rearward travel Is halted. The bolt continues to the rear carrying the empty cartridge case in its face to strike against the ejector. Impetus transmitted through the pivoting accelerator hurls the bolt to the rear with added force as the barrel travel halts. The cocking fork of the cocking-piece is thrust up as it travels up its cam face; and its upper lever end seated in a notch in the striker draws the striker back to full cock much as in the present U. S. Browning machine gun. The recoil spring directly behind the bolt is compressed. Cartridges feed down the magazine by gravity, but the bolt acts on the feeder to pull a cartridge in line for feeding. Note that the sear under influence of its spring is holding the striker cocking-piece back.
2. Feeding details. The bolt is in full rear position and is pivoting the feeder with a cartridge into the feedway. The cartridge will be picked up and chambered on a forward bolt motion.

A cartridge feeds down through the gravity magazine into the feeding chamber to the left of the line of sight in tht receiver; and the final opening movement of the bolt hits against a rear section of the mechanical feed to lever a cartridge into line with the bolt ready to be picked up by the bolt for chambering as the action closes.

The recoil spring now reacts and drives the bolt assembly forward. The bolt picks up and chambers a cartridge. The cam surface on the underside of the bolt picks up the corresponding surface on the upper locking tong, and the tongs are pushed ahead and thrust up their ramp on to their locking support. The proper bolt surface hitting the accelerator on its upper face drives it forward and pivots the lower end in ready for action on the next recoil movement. The barrel return spring meanwhile has returned the barrel to full forward position. The tongs now resting on their ledge, their locking surfaces are engaged in the underside of the bolt. When the trigger is momentarily released, during semiautomatic fire, the trigger spring moves the trigger and sear lever up into position so the lever can hook into the front of the sear ready to draw it out of contact with the cocking piece to allow the firing pin to go forward for its next firing motion.

In its anticipation of the essential mechanical principles later utilized in practically every successful recoil operated weapon, this arm was a marvel of ingenuity unsurpassed in the field of automatic development. Had suitable ammunition been available and springs rather than gravity depended upon for feed, this arm might have revolutionized warfare long before World War II, at which time arms of this design were first really appreciated,

This arm was also made with a change lever permitting full automatic fire by automatically releasing the sear lever when the trigger was held back.

In this early design, von Mannlicher had solved most of the problems of light automatic weapons design before others had even begun to wrestle with these problems. But he’d invented himself out far ahead of the ammunition of his era. The coming small-caliber smokeless ammunition, more powerful and more reliable than the old Werndl rounds of the original Model 1885, would catalyze a new generation of firearms that would more than fulfill the 1885’s promise.

Two Collector Firearms: One You Can’t Buy, and One You Probably Can’t

Let’s start with the one you probably can’t buy. It’s an amnesty-registered World War II STG44 or MP44, with the usual late-war blend of blued, phosphated and in-the-white parts.

Here’s a couple of overviews of it.

You will not find a more historical 20th Century firearm, apart from one associated with a particular individual. For this is the creation that spawned the name and the category “assault rifle.”

The description reads:

STG-44 MP44 WWII bring back w/amnesty paperwork copy included in sale. this is a true unmolested survivor!! Everything origial, mint bore. Stock was serialized to gun receiver. Bolt and op-rod do not show any numbers. Also included is the original take down tool and magazine loader. We test fired this gun and it ran flawless!!!! We own it, it is in our inventory/hands.

The reason for the last sentence is simple: a lot of Class III dealers are “selling” stuff they’re merely brokering. So these guys (Recon Ordnance of Wisconsin) want serious buyers to know that they can get started on transfer paperwork straightaway once money changes hands.

So, if it’s for sale on GunBroker, why can’t you buy it? Probably, because you’re not in the market for a $32,000 gun. Yep, it’s a no-reserve auction, but that’s the minimum bid. You’d think they’d at least throw in a couple of spare magazines.

Even the hand-scratched serial number adds to this StG’s vintage appeal. But… well… $32k.

Then, there’s the one you definitely can’t buy. This is a Roth-Steyr Repetierpistole M.07, a major arm of the Austro-Hungarian forces in World War I. Partially designed by Karel Krnka, this had the distinction of being the first automatic pistol adopted by a major power, a year before Prussia and Germany followed suit with the Pistole 08 Parabellum.

This particular example is not in the best condition that collectors love, but it’s still a collector piece, still wearing its original unit disc which identifies it as Pistol 73 of (we believe the 2nd, not 11th) Landwehr Regiment. The Landwehr was an organized reserve much like today’s American National Guard.

So why can’t you buy it? Because it was taken in a gun “buyback” in Cleveland last year and destroyed as follows:

… placed into the No. 1 Basic Oxygen Furnace iron ladle and … melted by approximately 200 tons of molten iron, at temperatures of about 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. The molten iron, along with the scraps, were charged in the basic oxygen furnace to make steel which will eventually be used to manufacture cars, household appliances and other goods.

Cleveland’s Police Chief, Calvin Williams, blames guns like this and the collectors that normally trade them — ammunition for this firearm hasn’t been a mass-production item since 1944 — for crime in his city. Meanwhile, he didn’t have the back of his own cops in a 2015 incident, leading beleaguered and unsupported Cleveland cops to “go fetal” as cops in so many other cities have done, and has led to exploding homicide statistics over the last two years.

Cleveland homicides took off when Chief Williams and other leaders embraced the Black Criminals’ Lives Matter movement in 2015. 2016 isn’t over yet, but had tied 2015’s bag limit of 120 before Thanksgiving. Not one of them was shot with an 8mm Steyr round, oddly enough.

Hat tip, the irreplaceable Dean Weingarten, who wrote:

Gems like the Roth Steyr are routinely found at gun “buy backs”. They are not found in quantity, but they are found. All the more reason for private buyers to monitor these gun turn-ins, and to rescue the valuable items from the smelter.

Williams and his senior managers studiously avoid addressing the real problem in Cleveland — urban gang violence, which occasionally spills over to claim truly innocent victims — and the weak, soft prosecutors and judges that condemn good people to death annually because they’re so solicitous of the feelings of bad people. Cleveland’s homicide detectives do a great job of finding these guys, once they kill. And in almost every case, the guy has a previous violent or gun offense that ought to have had him locked up.

But why address the crime problem when you can melt down an evil deodand from the Hapsburg Empire?

Why did Ordnance Hate the Lewis Gun?

After the Great War, long-serving Chief of Ordnance General William Crozier denied vehemently that his dislike of Col. Isaac N. Lewis had anything to do with Ordnance’s rejection of the Lewis Gun (which was, in fact, only partly invented, but wholly promoted, by Lewis). It is a fact that the Army rejected the Lewis several times, and that Lewis, like most American machine gun inventors, had to go to Europe to find a market for his invention. It is a fact that Crozier and his subordinates preferred their own, Springfield-Armory-built, Benet-Mercié Machine Rifle to the Lewis design.

BSA Lewis for Belgium

It is also a fact that the Lewis served satisfactorily with several nations including Britain, Russia, Belgium, and even in those US services that were reasonably remote from General Crozier’s authority, the Air Corps and the Marines and Navy.

William Crozier, Chief of Ordnance

William Crozier, Chief of Ordnance

After the war, called on the Congressional carpet, Crozier mustered the arguments of his ordnance officers and supporters. He produced a letter by Captain T.N. Gimperling, written to the Infantry Journal (but sent via Crozier, who chose at the time not to forward it). The entire letter is in Crozier’s memoir on pp.88-93. Here’s what he thinks of the Lewis:

It is our opinion that the parts of the Lewis gun are not properly finished and that they are made of a rather poor grade of material. The gun has a number of steel stamped parts, improperly heat-treated, which cause jams and a consequent inefficiency in the gun. As an example, the magazine is made of a very thin, flimsy steel stamping, toggled up with a combination of soft aluminum core and metal strips which are riveted on. This causes the magazine to be very vibrant and susceptible to the strain of feed pawl functioning. The ejector is made of a thin steel stamping, improperly heat-treated, and very often it bends, nearly always batters on the end, through bolt action, in the course of eighty to one hundred and fifty rounds. The feed pawls, stop pawls and rebound pawls seem to be made of a poor grade of steel. The gas cylinder is made of a twenty gauge mill run steel, which has been found to be full of scale pits and imperfections. We believe that the gun, as at present constructed, could be made in lots of a thousand or more, at approximately fifty or fifty-five dollars per gun, for material and labor. It is now sold to the Government for a thousand dollars.

What did Gimperling think of the Benet-Mercié?

Benet Mercie Machine Rifle, a Hotchkiss-derived oddity.

Benet Mercie Machine Rifle, a Hotchkiss-derived oddity.(Hotchkiss was another American inventor who took his wares to Europe, actually).

From the standpoint of mechanics, the Benet- Mercio gun is a masterpiece, inasmuch as the parts are finely finished and are made of excellent material and are properly treated where this is essential. The price at which the Government issues this gun is approximately $412.00, which, it is believed, would net, to a private manufacturing concern, but a fair profit over the cost of production.

The School of Musketry, too, would criticize the workmanship of the Lewis Gun, in a 7 Jan 1917 report also featured in Crozier’s book (pp. 93-95).

Thirteen Lewis guns were used in the firing. The guns were new. Except for some possible test firing not a shot had been fired from any of them prior to their use by this class. When they were received at the school it was found that several of the parts did not fit properly. This was true in particular of the joints between the barrel groups and the receiver groups. The other cases of misfit were due largely to poor workmanship and lack of finish.

When the firing of the guns began there was very little trouble with them that could not be accounted for by the fact that the personnel of the class was inexperienced and that about 3 per cent of the am- munition used was found to be faulty. After about 2,000 rounds had been fired from each gun, jams began to occur which were due to causes other than untrained personnel and defective ammunition.

By far the greater portion of jams due to defec- tive mechanism were caused by the wear of the feed operating arms and stud, the bending of the cartridge guide, and the faulty construction and bending of the magazines; and of these about one-half were due to faulty magazines.

The school also blamed the design of the Lewis for 44 broken parts, 17 worn parts (and 57 worn magazines), and 162 lost parts (!) during these tests.

Even when directed to buy the Lewis by Congress, Crozier dragged his feet, leaving American forces headed to Europe dependent on the French for small arms (as they were for artillery, another botched Ordnance responsibility).

Isaac Newton Lewis, Col., Coastal Artillery, Ret.

Isaac Newton Lewis, Col., Coastal Artillery, Ret.

Because the Ordnance Department did buy 353 Lewises originally manufactured by Savage for Canada, Lewis received substantial royalties on these guns — over $10,000. He sent a check for the full amount to Secretary of the Army Newton Baker. Crozier was furious, in part that Lewis hadn’t sent the check to him as Chief of Ordnance, and wrote Baker a memo suggesting that Lewis had an ulterior motive, and hinting that Baker should refuse the refund. Baker wrote to Lewis, enclosing Crozier’s smarmy memo, and stressing that accepting the check would not mean he was taking any side in any of the Crozier-Lewis disputes, which by this time were known to all in uniform and in Congress. It was probably Lewis’s turn to be furious, but he wrote to Baker, assuring him that his check was intended to go to the United States Treasury, as Lewis did not wish to profit by sales to the United States Government. He couldn’t resist bashing Crozier:

In the present very grave national emergency, I am directly instrumental in supplying, delivering and putting on the actual firing lines against the fighting enemies of my country more machine guns each week than the present Chief of Ordnance has supplied for the use of our own army of defence during the whole of the fourteen years that he has been in office. I have done, and am doing, this without one penny of assistance and without one word of encouragement or acknowledgment from any one connected with the Ordnance Department, and in spite of the long continued and active opposition of that Department.

Again, to Crozier’s credit, he includes the full correspondence, which reflects ill on him, in his memoir, alongside other documents that take his part. Before and after his postwar retirement as a Major General, Crozier would feel himself wronged and slandered by Lewis, and he repeatedly demanded a Court of Inquiry to, as he saw it, clear his name.

Paradoxically, the Army would adopt the operating system of the Lewis decades later. In the late 1950s, Springfield presented a machine gun called the T161 which was standardized as the M60. Springfield engineers had copied the gas operating system of the German Fallschrirmjägergewehr 42, apparently unaware that the German designers had copied it from… the Lewis Gun.

lewis-gun-op-rod

Lewis. Note op rod and bolt.

FG42. Note similar op rod and bolt (Forgotten Weapons photo).

FG42. Note similar op rod and bolt (Forgotten Weapons photo).

M60. Note op rod and bolt.

M60. Note op rod and bolt.

Here is a copy of General Crozier’s memoir, Ordnance and the World War. This was originally scanned and posted by Google, but their OCR was a mess, so we re-OCR’d it and then compressed it, reducing scan quality to 75 dpi to make a much smaller file.

ordnance_and_the_world_war_4.pdf

We’ll likely have more to say on this later.

Wanna Get Your Crank On? With a Gat? (ling?)

Sure, there’s always a couple of vendors trying to sell Colt’s new-edition 1875, 1877 or 1878 Gatling Guns for prices around $50-60k. (There were eleven of them on GunBroker when we put this story to bed last night). What about those of you who jones for a Gatling, but can’t afford the price of a luxo car or SUV for it, or can’t get a decent trade for your first-born child?

Fear not, the cheapskate New Englanders at WeaponsMan.com have your back. Mission: save you money on a Wild West icon, so you can go bankrupt buying blackpowder or Cowboy Action rounds and getting your crank on.

Fun fact about Gatlings: they had been so well employed by one American officer that the US Army’s machine gunners — who were, mostly, under his sway — clung to the Gatling into the 20th Century, long after the armies of Europe and the modern armies of Asia had chosen automatic machine guns.

Item 1: Museum Quality Gatling Gun w Carriage 45LC Mag

Price: Buy it now for $18k, or make an bid on the penny auction — against the unknown reserve. No bids yet.

Gatling Portland 01

Great looking Gat(ling).

Seller’s been trying to unload this gat since 2015, at least on GunBroker and at the Portland, OR gun show. Initially he wanted $30k, then $25, and now he’s down to $18k. Ground shipping to your FFL (it’s a Title 1 firearm) is $600.

$18k too high? Let’s move on.

Item 2: Replica Gatling Gun in 45 Black Powder

Price: No Reserve sale with minimum bid of $10k, or actually $5 under that number. No bids yet.

Gatling Tucson 02

This one’s not as impressive as the $18k gun; it has a homemade-y look. But it’s $10k plus actual shipping from a gun shop in Tucson. The seller says:

Up for auction is a Modern Replica of a Gatling Gun, built in the 1980’s by a machinist who was also a civil war re-enactor.

6 barrels. Working Black Powder Gatling Gun, designed to fire cap and ball blanks only but barrels are .45 caliber and rifled.

Perfect for Recreations, Movies or Stage Prop. The gun has been a fixture in the shop for years and gets a lot of attention but it is time for us to change some of our decor so it is reluctantly for sale.

Item 3: GATLING GUN FULLY- FUNCTIONAL LIVE-FIRE 45 L.C.

Price: No Reserve sale with minimum bid of $7k, or actually $5 under that number. No bids yet.

While this is the price leader of the authentic(ish) Gatlings, it seems to be a high-quality piece with a lot of brass. The seller complicated his sale by not taking a single good picture of the whole Gatling, but there are some character-rich detail shots. The business end:

Gatling OK 04

And here’s the rear half, left side:

Gatling OK 03

The rear half, right side:

Gatling OK 01

And the forward:

Gatling OK 02

Sure, it’s not for everybody. Some guys will complain about its lack of Picatinny rails and others will turn it down because there is no place to mount a bayonet. The magazine capacity probably makes it illegal in Massachusetts, Colorado, California, and North Korea.

But it would be worth the price of the ammo (and the target frames) to crank this puppy up from time to time… maybe on the anniversary of the Little Big Horn.

But there you go — three options for less than the somewhat stiff cost of entry to the Colt Repro Gatling Club. Just the thing for getting your crank on.

And on the other hand, if you feel diffident about saving money on a 19th Century classic firearm, there are eleven Colt replicas available for up to $60k.

But if you feel diffident about saving money on anything under the sun, we don’t know what you are but you are not a cheapskate New Englander.

A Little More Owen Info

Here’s a 1942 British Pathé Newsreel clip on the Owen Machine Carbine in testing:

And if you need more information, a thorough Owen source document was distributed to libraries (we think, in Australia) but the post of its contents at Machine Gun Boards stands as an excellent bibliography and list of what we suppose ought to be called Owenalia.

http://www.machinegunboards.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=12765

Roland might have been a warrior from the land of the midnight sun who carried a Thompson into musical memory, but the Owen gave its name to one of the most interesting fictional characters of the new century. For that alone, we’s love the beast, but it has a lot of other qualities that inspire affection, too.

An Interesting Colorization, with Exotic Firearms!

Here’s a colorized picture of Polish Resistance fighters, in this case, fighting against the Nazi occupation. (Some survivors would fight on against the Soviet occupation for years, but the Soviets, willing to be crueler than the Nazis, defeated them in the end).

polish resisters marina amaralThe troops wear the white over red armband of the Armija Krajowa, Home Army, which under the Geneva Convention marks them as lawful combatants (not that their enemies cared). The man at left carries a Polish Radom VIS vz. 35 pistol, a 9mm that has some Browning DNA and some unique features of its own. The Germans kept it in production (and simplified it) during the war, and like the Czech CZ  27 police pistol, the bulk of production during the pistol’s entire history was Nazi production.

The man at center has a resistance-made submachine gun, the Błyskawica.

We’ve mentioned that SMG in passing before but we’re not sure we’ve gone into depth on it. Ian has, or rather published an article by Leszek Ehrenfeicht, who has. Essentially, Błyskawica was a simple, open-bolt SMG designed by novice gun designers, but trained engineers, Wacław Zawrotny (VAHT-swahv Za-VROT-nee) and Seweryn Wielanier(SEV-er-een Vee-LAN-ee-air). As Leszek recounts, it borrowed features from both Sten (whose barrels and magazines it shared) and MP40 (which inspired the dual action springs and the groove-relieved bolt, as well as the folding stock, although all of those were much simplified in the Polish firearm).

You can quibble with some of Ms Amaral’s color decisions, especially in the men’s camo jackets, but you have to be pleased at the job she has done overall.

Better yet, have a look at how she did it. Here’s a video of Brazilian artist Marina Amaral colorizing it! (Hat tip, the Daily Mail).

If you ever wondered whether all SF weapons men have a sort of mind-meld, as we were preparing this post, Our Traveling Reporter (who has sent in several great things we haven’t had time to post) sent us another link to the same picture.

Here’s what he sent us:

Warsaw insurgents Henryk Ożarek “Henio” (left) holding a Vis wz.35 Pistolet and Tadeusz Przybyszewski “Roma” (right) firing a Błyskawica submachine gun, from “Anna” Company of the “Gustav” Battalion fighting on Kredytowej-Królewska Street. 3 October 1944. The Warsaw Uprising of 1944 — a heroic and tragic 63-day struggle to liberate Warsaw from Nazi/German occupation. Undertaken by the Home Army (Armia Krajowa, AK), the Polish resistance movement, at the time Allied troops were breaking through the Normandy defences and the Red Army was standing at the line of the Vistula River. Warsaw could have been one of the first European capitals liberated; however, various military and political miscalculations, as well as global politics — played among Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) — turned the dice against it. (www.warsawuprising.com)

According to a Polish-language website about the Uprising, both of the pictured resisters survived the war as captives of the Nazis, beneficiaries of Bór-Komarowski’s negotiated deal (and of the Wehrmacht honoring the deal). “Henio” was a junior lieutenant who survived captivity in Oflag XIB’s “Zweilager” (satellite camp) at Bergen-Belsen [recorded here as a Stalag] to pass on in Warsaw in 1991, and the SMG-firing “Roma,” an enlisted man whom the database records as using the noms de guerre “Topór” and “Przemyski,” survived captivity in Stalag 344 at Lamsdorf and would pass away in Łódź in 1979.  (Oflags were prison camps for officer Prisoners of War, and Stalags were for other-ranks POWs).

The Warsaw Uprising saw considerable casualties — on both sides:

Although the exact number of casualties remains unknown, it is estimated that about 16,000 members of the Polish resistance were killed and about 6,000 badly wounded. In addition, between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish civilians died, mostly from mass executions. Jews being harboured by Poles were exposed by German house-to-house clearances and mass evictions of entire neighbourhoods. German casualties totalled over 8,000 soldiers killed and missing, and 9,000 wounded. During the urban combat approximately 25% of Warsaw’s buildings were destroyed. Following the surrender of Polish forces, German troops systematically levelled another 35% of the city block by block. Together with earlier damage suffered in the 1939 invasion of Poland and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, over 85% of the city was destroyed by January 1945, when the course of the events in the Eastern Front forced the Germans to abandon the city. (History of the Second World War, B. H. Liddell Hart)

The USAAF, RAF, RSAF and Free Polish Air Force flew several supply missions to the resisters, but the Soviets, who were hoping their former allies, the Nazis, would rid them of these uppity Poles, would not allow allied aircraft to recover in Soviet-held territory.

Amateur turned Pro: The Amazing Owen Machine Carbine

One of the most remarkable weapons of World War II (and the two or three decades beyond) was the 9mm Owen Machine Carbine, an Australian weapon that bridged the gap between cottage industry and professional production rather neatly. Designed by an amateur, it remains to this day the first and most successful Australian-designed weapon to be standard in the Australian Forces. (The follow-on F1 was a modified British Patchett/Stirling, with the magazine placed as per Owen). It was also the only weapon to come from the factory in bands of green and yellow paint.

Owen SMG

The colorized picture below from New Britain shows two Owens in their native habitat: the artist who did the colorization missed the guns’ camouflage coats! The gun is simple, reliable, and almost ideal for jungle warfare: the lack of long-range targets eliminates the cartridge’s weakness at range, and the vertically-arrayed magazine, that you think would snag on everything, is actually much more easily maneuvered than a bottom-side magazine, let alone the left-side mag of the Sten or Lanchester.

wwii colourised owens

Owens were used as late as the Vietnam War, in which the Aussies were one of only two US allies that took combat missions (the other being South Korea).

“Machine Carbine” was the British term of art for any shoulder-fired, pistol-caliber weapon, what the Yanks called a “Submachine Gun.” (Many European languages use the equivalent of “machine pistol” and “machine rifle” for pistol- and rifle-caliber automatic weapons). But the Sten and Lanchester were both known by the then-standard term,”Machine Carbine.”

The designer of the Owen was one Evelyn Owen. In his early 20s, he designed an experimental .22LR submachine gun — and then put it away, and essentially forgot about it. It was a neighbor, Vincent Wardell, who was a manager for Lysaght Newcastle Works in Port Kembla, Australia who first figured out that Owen’s prewar .22 design had some potential for a military submachine gun.

owen-precursors

Owen Precursors, Prototypes and Trials Guns 1939-41. Australian War Museum, via Forgotten Weapons.

The story of the prototype evolution of the Owen is weird, wonderful, and well told already by Ian at Forgotten Weapons, but ultimately Wardell, his brother, Owen, and some other Lysaght workers overcame obstacles from the Army (they wanted prototypes in .32 ACP, .38/200 (.38 S&W), and .45 ACP as well as 9mm) and developed a simple and highly reliable submachine gun. In fact, it was more reliable than the weapon the British urged their Australian cousins to make, the Sten.

The secret to this reliability isn’t just simplicity — a Sten is just about as simple as an Owen is, really. But the vertical arrangement of the magazine provided two great benefits: the magazine didn’t have to fight gravity, and, with the ejection port on the bottom, gravity tended to clear the chamber area out of any malejected casing or debris. You would think that the bottom-facing ejection port would be inimical to reliability, but if it had any tendency to collect jungle goop, such a tendency was offset by the breech area’s self-cleaning nature.

The magazines were made of heavier-gauge steel than Sten or MP40 magazines, in part because the ejector is simply a raised part of the rear of the magazine. But this also helps reliability.  There were two distinct Marks (Mark I and Mark I*) and many small running changes during the gun’s production run of about 45,000.

By 1942, Australia was still waiting for a Sten data package, but the Owen was crushing the Sten in trials. About this time, someone decided that each one would be painted in a disruptive green and yellow camouflage, and the first gun off the line was squirreled away for the Australian War Memorial:

owen job one

Yes, that’s the paint job they came with. On the ones that didn’t go direct to a cushy museum, the paint gets scarred and scraped very easily (as you can see starting to show in places, even on this museum queen). Note that the grips are a hard, Bakelite-like plastic, and are not painted; the buttstock is made of wood, and it is painted.

Evelyn Owen did not have the long career of his submachine gun. Sources seem unanimous that, mustered out of Australian service at war’s end, he drank himself to death in 1949. The Owen would soon after that be called on to address human-wave attacks in Korea, where it acquitted itself well.

A uniquely Australian firearm, and a rare example of an amateur-designed weapon that outperformed its professionally-designed peers.

Origins of the BAR, Part III: The BAR in WWI Combat

Val Browning with a BAR "Somewhere in France."

Val Browning with a BAR “Somewhere in France.”

The BAR was desperately sought by the AEF, and the officers of the Ordnance Corps recognized its brilliance immediately: while the equally brilliant M1917 water-cooled machine gun was subject to a degree of jiggery-pokery prior to adoption, the BAR was adopted, as is, at its very first demonstration.

But as we have seen, manufacturing took time to get started. There were drawings, and process sheets, and tools, and jigs and fixtures to prepare. John M. Browning typically worked in steel, and provided working prototypes: he never drew a set of production drawings in his life, and indeed, he is not noted for involving himself in questions of production, only of design. Therefore, the process of turning the BAR from his hand-tooled prototypes to a mass-producible arm for a citizen army took effort, which took time: about three months from contract kickoff with the outbreak of the war to first BARs with the AEF in France. Let’s go back to our expert, George Chinn:

In July 1918 the B.A.R’s arrived in France in the hands of the United States 79th Division, which was the first organization to be equipped with them and took them into action on 13 September 1918. The 80th Division was the first American Division already in France to be issued the weapons. It is an interesting fact that First Lt. Val Browning, son of the inventor, personally demonstrated the weapon against the enemy.

The B. A. R. was more enthusiastically received in Europe than the heavy water-cooled gun, and requests for purchase by all the Allied Governments were made immediately after it arrived overseas. The French Government alone asked for 15,000 to take the place of the inferior machine rifle, then being used by both French and American troops. The latter weapon was found so unreliable that many were actually thrown away by troops during action.

However, the War ended so soon after this that the bulk of the American forces were still equipped with machine guns supplied by the British and French.

While there exist some AARs praising the performance of the M1917, which went into combat about ten days later than the BAR, we’re not aware of primary source documents about the BAR’s performance. But while the contribution of a handful of BARs to the war effort might have been de minimis, the gun would embed itself in the American military postwar.

There is an interesting sidebar to the story of the BAR in France, as Tom Laemlein wrote in American Rifleman in 2012:

American divisions deployed to France after July 1, 1918 (including the 6th, 7th, 8th, 29th, 36th and 79th) carried the BAR with them. Incredibly, upon their arrival in France, most of these divisions had their BARs replaced with .30-cal. M1918 Chauchats, by order of Gen. John J. “Blackjack” Pershing. The first recorded use of the BAR was with the 79th Infantry Division, and that was not until Sept. 22, 1918, during the beginning of the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Just three other divisions would carry the BAR before the end of World War I.

General Pershing determined the best course of action would be to wait until most of the U.S. divisions could be fully equipped with BARs (and with a ready supply of the rifles and spare parts available) to gain the full advantage of deploying the new rifle. General Pershing also feared that if the BAR were deployed too quickly that the Germans would inevitably capture one, and seeing its great capability would reverse-engineer the weapon and make it their own.

Records of the Automatic Arms Section of the AEF present the status of automatic rifles in France as of Sept. 8, 1918: “At the present time 18 U.S. divisions have been equipped with the Chauchat. No more divisions will receive this weapon in the future. At the present time there are nine U.S. divisions equipped with the caliber .30 Chauchat. However this gun has proved to be not at all satisfactory, the cartridges sticking in the chamber after the gun becomes slightly hot. For this reason the gun has been issued as an emergency weapon and will be withdrawn as soon as the Browning Automatic Rifles are available. At the present time 27 U.S. divisions have been equipped with the Chauchat Auto Rifle, and two divisions with the British are using the British .303 Lewis machine guns. All divisions over and above this number have been equipped with the Browning Automatic Rifle.”

There’s even another interesting sidebar in there, relative to the Lewis gun, the British counterpart of the BAR at this time (1918). Lewis was not a Briton; he was, in fact, an American ordnance officer whose gun, due to branch politics, was never considered seriously by the US Army.

Finally, another American Rifleman story reproduces the text of a 17 September 1918 report b the Automatic Arms section of the AEF’s Engineering Division about what the report calls the “Browning Machine Rifle” or BMR, a name which apparenly didn’t stick. While the rifle had been in combat by the time, that’s not reflected in the report. A couple of interesting points:

The similarity in appearance between a B.M.R. and our service rifle is so great that when the guns are in the field that they cannot be distinguished from each other at a distance greater than 50 yds.

And the tactical employment envisioned was not the “walking fire” about which so much has been written. Instead:

The gun will be used for the most part as a rapid firing single shot weapon. It can be fired from the shoulder, kneeling or prone, the greatest accuracy, of course, being obtained in the latter position with the front of the forearm resting on some rigid body. In cases of emergency where the ammunition can be supplied, and where a large volume of fire is necessary, this gun will be fired automatically. Five hundred rounds were fired in 3½ minutes under field conditions, but this figure is a maximum for fire volume. Under ordinary conditions 300 rounds should be placed as a limit for continuous automatic fire except in cases of emergency.

Do Read the Whole Thing™. Automatic fire was envisioned as something to be used “In cases of emergency where the ammunition can be supplied, and where a large volume of fire is necessary.” That just goes to show that doctrine was evolving dynamically in 1917-18, and that it would evolve further in later years. By World War II, not only was the M1918A2 version not used “as a rapid firing single shot, weapon,” it couldn’t be: it had no semi-auto setting, and offered a low cyclic rate option in its place.

In the end, it’s impossible to avoid the thought that the BAR did achieve one very important result in World War I: it showed what was possible in wartime production.

Origins of the BAR, Part II: WWI Manufacturing

Where we left you yesterday, Colt had delivered to the Government the gages, tools and drawings for BAR (and M1917 machine gun) production. We’ll continue with Chinn’s story:

During July and August 1917, more than 2 months after our entry into the war, a survey was made of facilities and plants thought capable of turning out the water-cooled version in quantity.

Several different plants began M1917 production. Then it was the BAR’s turn.

The production of the B.A.R. followed a similar pattern. Browning carried on most of his early development on the machine rifle at the Colt’s Patent FireArmsCo. Later, Winchester gave valuable assistance in connection with the preparation and correction of the drawings, adding many refinements to the gun. Winchester was the first to start manufacture on this model. Since the work did not begin until February 1918, it was so rushed that the component part of the first 1,800 to be put out were found to be not strictly interchangeable. Production had to be temporarily halted until the required manufacturing procedures were altered to bring the weapon up to specifications. At the end of the war the Winchester Co. was producing 1300 B.A.R.’s a day. A total of 63,000 items were canceled at the time of the Armistice.

Chinn just leaves this hanging here, and doesn’t answer the obvious question: how many BARs did Winchester produce prior to the end-of-war contract cancellation? For that we have to go to a Winchester source. R.L. Wilson’s Winchester: An American Legend, which is at once a beautiful coffee-table book and a fact-packed Winchester source, says “about 47,000” in its brief paragraph on BAR manufacture (p. 171), which is worth reproducing in full:

In September, 1917, Winchester was instructed to commence tooling up for the manufacture of the Browning automatic rifle (BAR). Edwin Pugsley, then manufacturing engineer, went to the Colt factory see the only existing model. Since the BAR was needed at Colt’s during the work week, it was borrowed for a weekend, and in that time drawings were made and the project begun. By the end of December the first Winchester BAR at been completed. Production was well along by March, and by Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, Winchester had made approximately 47,000. Winchester also had begun construction of the Browning .50-caliber machine gun and had a working model completed within about two months. That gun, however, never entered into production, because of the end of hostilities.

Winchester found wartime contracting not to be the lucrative profit center it was imagined to be: the company took in vast amounts of money from Britain (for whom it made the P14 Enfield), Russia (Mosin-Nagant M1891) and US (1917 Enfield, BAR) but it sank it all into plant expansion to fulfill the contracts, and was fortunate to escape bankruptcy. It did, however, end up with greatly expanded facilities and an immeasurable increase in manufacturing know-how. Back to Chinn (p. 180-181):

The Marlin-Rockwell Corp. intended originally to use the Hopkins and Allen Co. plant for the construction of this weapon, but found that a contract for making rifles for the Belgian Government fully occupied its facilities. The corporation then acquired the Mayo Radiator Co.’s factory for use in its contract to produce the B.A.R. The first run from this source was made on 11 June 1918, and by 11 November 1918 the company was turning out 200 automatic rifles a day. The postwar cancellation was 93,000 weapons.

If Marlin’s contract was, like Winchester’s, 100,000 rifles, then Marlin turned out 7,000 BARs before the cancellation telegram arrived. (As we’ll see, this assumption is far from certain).

The Colt Co., because of the heavy demands of previous orders, produced only 9,000 B.A.R.’s. The combined daily production by all companies was 706 and a total of approximately 52,000 rifles was delivered by all sources.

Here’s where the lack of a BAR-specific book on our shelves shows. Obviously Winchester’s 47,000, Marlin’s 7,000 and Colt’s 9,000 doesn’t add up to 52,000 (more like 63,000), plus we’re doubtful that the production actually came down to round numbers like this. Somebody smarter than us has already done this research and resolved, or at least explained, these discrepancies. (Both Chinn and Wilson are well-regarded for accuracy, for what it’s worth).

Apart from the errors on the first 1,800 BARs made at Winchester, BAR production was relatively trouble-free; a more serious error in M1917 machine gun production required a doubler to be attached to the receiver, and this hand rework cost more than the actual production of the guns in the first place, a reminder of the risks inherent in modern mass production in wartime.

Tomorrow we’ll conclude this mini-series with Origins of the BAR, Part III: The BAR in WWI Combat, again quoting from Chinn.

(Note: we do have a picture for this article, but lacked time to prepare and insert it before press time. We will catch up and insert it later, if we can).