Category Archives: Machine Guns

An MP5 Shot for How Many Rounds? 571,000. Seriously.

Most service-weapon users (meaning, the organizations, more than the men) do a really lousy job of tracking how many rounds go through their weapons. This results in things like some of the crappy-shooting old rifles units have in their arms rooms, and also in a lot of money wasted overhauling guns that aren’t really due for it yet (because maintenance is done “on schedule”), or spending a fortune on periodic inspections (so that maintenance can be done “on condition”). The average line-unit armorer is a supply clerk, trained to rack and un-rack rifles and maintain accountability; he lacks the training and inspectional technology to determine when any firearm needs to be overhauled, absent a truly egregious problem.


File photo of an MP5A3 (actually, an SBR).

And while the Army wants guns to count their own rounds, we’re not there yet. (And they haven’t yet considered the CI implications of round counters on rifles).

KSC_SWAT-LogoBut the security force at Kennedy Space Center in the 1980s did count rounds through their training weapons, and so they set, as far as anybody knows, the record for the World’s Most Used MP5. The story is told in Frank W. James’s 1996 book, Project 64: The MP5 Submachine Gun Story. (Now, unfortunately, out of print and rather pricey on the secondary market; his 2003 book on the MP5 may or may not have the same content, but it’s out of print, too). 

Depending on training demand, Serial Number 316019 fired from 3,000 to 15,000 rounds a month, every month, in its five-and-a-half-year service life, from August, 1984, to January 1990. Peak year was 1988, with a staggering 128,000 rounds going downrange from the HK subgun.

It didn’t make it all the way to its end count of 571,600 rounds with all the original parts, but it did have the original barrel — grossly out of spec, it’s true — and most major parts. The parts that failed are ones that will be familiar to anyone who’s run MP5s, and were all replaced at end-unit armorer level: firing pins and springs, extractors and springs, rollers, roller holders and pins, and various other springs, plus some parts physically damaged in training, like a handguard and a retractible (A3) stock. Some parts, like extractor springs, for example, have a wear-out schedule or recommended replacement point in HK maintenance documents, but KSC ran the guns “on condition” and went far beyond the recommended intervals before replacing these parts.

It was still working, after a fashion, in 1990, but had lost all accuracy and had headspace issues (both are probable results of the worn barrel). HK would have refurbished the gun, but it would have cost nearly as much as buying a new one, so the facility bought new guns instead.

The gun does not appear to have been fired after January 1990, but it was formally withdrawn from service in 1992.

It would be nice to say that the gun wound up going back to Oberndorf for engineers to study, or wound up in a museum in light of its very high round-count, but in fact it wound up initially being cannibalized to keep the Center’s other old MP5s running, and then being destroyed.

It was only a machine, but some of us are sentimental about our machines. We will always believe that it deserved a better end.

How Many Rounds Does an MP5 Magazine Hold?

Is this a trick question? “Ah, tricksy is he, the Weaponsman. He’s tricksy!”

H&K's most common MP5 variant, the MP5A3.

H&K’s most common MP5 variant, the MP5A3.

Well, not really. Maybe it’s the Teutons of Oberndorf who are tricksy. But there might be more going on here than you think. Answer and explanation after the jump.

How many rounds does the factory 9mm MP5 mag hold? free polls

Continue reading

Sometimes the Law is Not an Ass: Type 99 Escapes Torch

This is a remarkable story of how a Marine’s war trophy went from seized contraband to museum display — thanks to a change of heart by members of an ATF field office.

[A] World War II relic, which spent nearly 35 years under lock and key in the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office, has traveled its own unique path through time and has now finally made it to the Livingston County War Museum in Pontiac.

sullivans japanese Type 99

The item in question is a Japanese Type 99 light machine gun, recovered by U.S. Marine John Sullivan in the heat of battle. His daughter, Jane Sullivan-DePaoli, who was on site at the museum for the recovered artifact’s presentation, recalled the incredible events surrounding his capture of the gun from enemy forces in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

“All the men were lined up, taking fire from a pillbox,” she said, recalling her father’s story, “My dad went in the pillbox, and the gunner turned on him, but he was able to take him and his assistant out.

“After the battle, he went back and the machine gun was still there, so he took it.”

via War Museum welcomes unique weapon loan – News – Pontiac Daily Leader – Pontiac, IL – Pontiac, IL.

At the time, firearms as war trophies were not against US law, but the USMC had restrictions in place, so Sullivan and two of his buddies each took a piece of the gun home as “shrapnel.” Nobody looked too closely, and Stateside, he was able to reassemble the gun. It hung for years on the wall of his home bar — and then some non-friend of his dropped a dime to the ATF.

john_sullivan_usmcYou see, he could have registered the gun — until 1968, when the Gun Control Act clamped down on registrations of guns that had missed registration. The law directed ATF to hold an amnesty then, and thereafter more, periodic amnesties… but after the first one, the agency, whose senior leadership had come to see itself at war with the 2nd Amendment and gun owners, never held another.

The tip came in 1981, and while the ATF had its share of bullet-headed attack bots then, it was nothing like the agency of today. A Special Agent was dispatched to link up with local deputies and talk to Sullivan. They quickly decided that, even though the gun was technically contraband under Federal and Michigan law, they weren’t going to arrest the Marine hero. One of the deputies, now LaSalle County Sheriff Tom Templeton, remembers:

We talked for awhile, and John told the ATF officer and I how he got it, and recovered it from the beachhead. He said, “Do you know how many Marines were killed with that gun?” And he said “I’m the one who silenced it, I brought it back, and its mine.”

But there was that small problem of the law — the gun was illegal, and there was (and is) no way to make it legal, short of destroying it. So they took it and locked it up at the Sheriff’s Office for the next 30 years, while periodically arguing about whether to destroy it.

At the same time, the Special Agent, whose name is apparently lost to time, must have realized that, while the law made possession of this gun technically criminal, it had zero value as a crime weapon, and great historic significance. So did Templeton, whose father was a WWII veteran, and who is a veteran himself.

Recently, Templeton, the Detroit Field Office of the ATF, and Sullivan’s daughter managed to negotiate terms that brought the elderly gun to a secure glass case in the museum.

Meanwhile, the ATF had been close to approving an amnesty especially for war trophy weapons in the late oughts, until the advent of management that prioritized lobbying for new anti-gun laws, and building a case for them by arming Mexican narcotraficantes. 

But even in that environment, they managed to save Sullivan’s historically significant trophy from the torch, and put it on public display: because the guys and gals out in the Field Offices are not clones of the badge-wearing politicians at HQ.

Sometimes the law is not an ass.

Canadian Machine Gun Resto Project

Two machine guns in battered condition on a Canadian war memorial are being examined and will be cosmetically restored to their original condition — and efforts are underway to determine their true provenance and history.

Both are German MG08 guns. The one in this picture, on the south side of a roadside cenotaph in Harold, Ontario, was captured in 1918 at Arras; the hole in its water jacket may have been caused by Canadian fire. The cenotaph itself is rare: most Canadian cenotaphs list only the war dead, but this lists the returned surviving veterans as well as the fallen.

MG08, captured at Arras, 1918.

A pair of 100-year-old German guns, taken as souvenirs at the end of World War I, will be temporarily removed from the cenotaph on Highway 14 to be refurbished thanks to the efforts of the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Stirling-Rawdon Historical Society.

Silenced in 1918, the guns will never fire again says society member John Lowry, but they will be cleaned up and returned to their original colours, perhaps even solving a few mysteries along the way. Lowry explains that significant research has been done on the weapons, a pair of Maschinengewehr 08 machine guns captured by 2nd Division CEF troops at the end of the war, but there are many unanswered questions as well.

via Machine gun restoration project under way.

John Lowry and Phil Martin of the Historical Society will try to match the gun’s original color scheme — if they can determine what it is — and answer the question of what made the hole in the Arras gun. They’re also trying to find photographic evidence tying the gun’s partner to a particular location or battle.

John Lowry (l.) and Phil Martin (r.)

Lowry thinks the hole in the water jacket may have been the act of a Canadian sniper:

[T]he Arras weapon appears to have been disabled by a sniper’s shot and the restoration may lead to a conclusive answer, he adds, “if we find a .303 bullet in there.” Lowry says that the guns, capable of firing 500 rounds per minute, were water-cooled using a chamber that surrounded the barrel and marksmen would deliberately aim for it hoping to quickly overheat the weapon rendering it useless.

According to the article, trophies like this were once commonplace across Canada, but the herd — once numbering some 15,000 captured arms, originally intended to populate a grand war museum, but on the project’s cancellation scrapped or spread across the very large country — has been thinned, less by time than by WWII scrap drives.

[T]he remaining local pieces, which also include a trench mortar in Madoc and a field artillery piece in Trenton, are only a small fraction of the enemy weapons that ultimately arrived in Canada after World War I. …. A significant number, Lowry says, were scrapped during World War II, including a pair of machine guns received by the village of Stirling. The fate of a similar pair that arrived in Marmora is unknown, but they too may have been scrapped.

The Stirling Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion has raised the cost of the MG restoration. And no, they won’t be restored to firing condition — it is Canada up there, which is kind of like Massachusetts with more polite people and much better drivers.

Before there was “Reverse,” it was just “Engineering.”

So, let’s take a look back at something we’ve been discussing recently: reverse engineering. The term is a relatively new one, but the practice is older than engineering itself. When you get right down to it it’s just “copying.” And manufacturers have been doing that since… Well, since sometime very soon after they first started manufacturing!

Sometimes the drawings (here a Swedish BAR from come after the engineering.

Sometimes the drawings (here a Swedish BAR from come after the engineering.

Bear in mind that parts were not made from drawings until well into the 20th century. Specific jigs and measuring tools were made to ensure that parts were produced in conformance with a physical, mechanical prototype. And designers didn’t work from, or produce, drawings, at least not exclusively: a designer like John M. Browning produced a physical, working model, and brought that to his manufacturing partners. They engineered it for production. Sure, he made drawings, or had them made, but that was for patent purposes (below, right).

bar_patent_hqIn the early twentieth century, talent in gun design usually resided in a different man than talent in production engineering. (There were some who could do both, like John Garand and some of the Russian masters, like Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov, but they were rare).

So in John Browning’s day, putting any of his guns into production was, to one extent or another, an exercise in what we would today call reverse engineering. Production engineers would review the prototype, gain an understanding of its design philosophy and features from the designer, and then figure out how to mass-produce the weapons. And the World War I Browning Automatic Rifle may be the greatest reverse engineering saga you haven’t heard.

Winchester, the firm, was struggling when it was tasked to produce Browning’s new designs, the Browning Automatic Rifle and the yet-nameless .50 caliber machine gun, with priority to the auto rifle. There was only one problem: there was only one prototype or specimen BAR in the world, and Colt had it, and was re-engineering it all day long, Monday to Friday. In the spirit of wartime cooperation, Colt would let its New Haven rivals borrow the new firearm – for a weekend.

Winchester 1918 BAR

Winchester, which had seen massive orders, but incurred staggering debt in order to fulfill them, needed the order badly. They accepted what seemed to be an unreasonable offer.

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 coat factory to see the only existing model. Since the BAR was needed at Colt 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 had been completed. Production was well on 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.1

The earnings from wartime contracts, including 1917 Enfield rifles, riot guns, and the BAR, were substantial: $76 million. It wasn’t enough to retire all of Winchester’s debt, a substantial $16 million, but they were able to pay off about half of it. The company still had to reorganize and the Winchester-Bennett family wound up giving up control.

Winchester 1918 for sale by Craig Gottlieb. It has some M1918A2 parts (stocks & trigger guard with mag "ears").

Winchester 1918, once for sale (no longer) by Craig Gottlieb. It has some M1918A2 parts (stocks, flash hider, & trigger guard with mag “ears”). More images of the same gun at the link (all the M1918 photos in this post are of that firearm).

But it’s hard to beat, in the annals of reverse engineering, the one-weekend crash metrology and documentation Winchester had with the world’s only BAR before delivering it back to the Colt engineers in Hartford, and that produced the wartime BARs and led to the rifle’s future as the basis of fire in the American rifle squad, not in time for that war but in plenty of time for the next two. This is especially remarkable when you consider the sheer complexity of the BAR. It has scores and scores of parts.2 (Winchester cheated a little, for example, by using the sight they were already producing for the M1917 Enfield rifle).


The problem, of course, with two independent reverse-engineering projects? Parts from the Colt Monitor don’t interchange 100% with Winchester’s military BARs. But what do you want for two days?

Update 1000R 8 Apr 15

This post has been corrected. Several (more like twenty) unproofread dictation failures have been fixed. We’re not sure we got them all. Thanks to Ullr in the comments.

“I don’t need to check it… it was done last night, just needed the pictures.” Zug.


  1. Wilson, RL. Winchester: An American Legend. New York, 2004: Chartwell Books. p. 171.
  2. As well Hognose knows. He was sure he was going to flunk BAR in SF Light Weapons School in 1983. “Cups and cones, cups and cones….” He pulled out a pass on the BAR, but got a downcheck on the M3A1 Grease Gun, of all things (IIRC you could get two downchecks, or maybe it was three. Didn’t want to test the limits).



Transferable History

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

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

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

MP.18-I 28


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

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

MP.18-I Snail Drum 03


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

MP.18-I 06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MP.18-I 25

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

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

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

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

third drum

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

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

How Did the FG-42 Selector Work?

We were asked that yesterday and we pontifically pronounced, “it fired from the open bolt in automatic mode, and from the close bolt in semi.”

This one's an SMG Guns semi clone. Pretty, though, innit?

This one’s an SMG Guns semi clone. Pretty, though, innit? Images do embiggen with a click.

Then we rested back on our laurels as Gun Expert and —

“Well, how did they make it do that?”

“*!” Hmm… How did they? “Let me get back to you on that.”

Fortunately, several references on the shelves explain it in terms our walnut sized brain could grasp. It turns out it was very simple, when you consider how complex some of the other design options made the FG. And it imposed some trade-offs, costing the rifle significant semi-auto accuracy as the price of that mechanical simplicity. Let’s walk you through it.

It worked exactly the same on the First and Second model of the FG, by the way; so we will use images of both in this post.

FG42-0034- grip FW

This image is from a crudely DEWATted Second Model FG that was examined by Forgotten Weapons. There’s a great set of images there, and the gun’s internals are mostly present and correct.

The selector switch is on the left side of what we’d call the grip frame. (The German manuals call this part the Lager which can mean holder or receiver, too, but we’ll stick with “grip frame”). The selector swings through 180º of travel; knob forward covers an “E” for Einzelfeuer (“single fire,” semi-auto), and knob rear clicks on to “D” for Dauerfeuer, (“continuous fire,” automatic). Note that the letter that shows is the antonym of the function you get. Don’t ask us; Hermann Göring was not available to take complaints.

FG-42 exploded view

Comparing the Bedienungsanleitung (manual) image of a First Model to the photo of the second model above that, we can see how the trigger works. The trigger pivots on a pin forward of, and slightly below, the selector switch. The axis of the selector switch is also the axle of the sear (in the diagram, Part B8 Abzughebel, literally “trigger lever”). The sear nose (Fangnase, “catch nose,” B8a) is the hardened end of the sear that engages a notch (if you learned engineering English in Britain, a “bent”) in the operating rod (Verschlußführungsstück, “bolt guiding piece,” Part D10).

There are, however, two notches in the op-rod. One is towards the front end, and mostly right of center. One is towards the tail end, and mostly left of center. You can make out the two notches in this Forgotten Weapons photo.

FG42-0003_FWRotating the selector moves the sear laterally either right to align with the front-end notch, or left to align with the tail-end notch. If it aligns with the tail-end notch, a disconnector (Unterbrecher, literally “interrupter”, B9), works by disengaging the trigger from the sear until the trigger is released (i.e., normal semi-auto trigger reset). Thus the selector engages the sear nose with either the nose-end notch, which holds the op rod and bolt assembly to the rear, or the tail-end notch, which holds the op rod and firing pin only to the rear, allowing the bolt to lock fully into battery.

Releasing the trigger releases the op-rod, then. If the weapon is on full automatic, the bolt and op-rod come forward, the bolt locks, the op-rod finishes its full travel, and the firing pin initiates the cartridge. The whole thing cycles again and continues to do so until the operator releases the trigger. When he does, the bolt is held in automatic battery — to the rear.

These schematics are from Allson & Toomey's Small Arms, pp. 226-227.

These schematics are from Allsop & Toomey’s Small Arms, pp. 226-227. The depiction of the selector in these drawings is how we came to understand that the selector (“change lever” in British English) covers the appropriate letter for type of fire selected.

If the weapon is on semi (selector knob swung 180º to the front), the trigger releases the op-rod, which brings the firing pin down on the primer. The bolt then cycles, but returns to semi-auto battery, closed bolt on a live cartridge, regardless of trigger position. The disconnector rides in the notch forward of the rear notch (here “bent”) only to disconnect when in Semi.


If you’re feeling envious of FG-42s, you can buy an excellent semi repro from SMG Guns, you can pay more than a new luxury car for a transferable, or you can take the following image, a pile of steel, wood and aluminum, and a set of files and try to do what SMG did:

FG-42 Type II exploded view

It may take a while. Best of luck to you!

Now, the FG42 wasn’t the last word in open/closed bolt hybrid firing mechanisms. As mentioned, having the whole op rod and firing pin move was inimical to accuracy. This not only increased the motion of the firearm on firing, but it increased lock time substantially, giving that motion more time to work on sending your projectiles wild. But that was a tradeoff that designers at Rheinmettal accepted for their simple and reliable open/closed bolt mechanism.

As we’ve seen, waste heat is a real killer of combat weapons in automatic fire, and by extension, a potential killer of the men who fire them. Firing from an open bolt reduces the incremental temperature increase per automatic round fired, by allowing more air to circulate and more of the potential radiative area to be exposed to ambient-temperature cooling air. This has the side effect of moving the critical temperature area or point further up the barrel from its usual position 5 to 8 inches in front of the chamber.

Firing from an open bolt also prevents cook-offs. Contrary to common misconception, cook-offs are usually not instantaneous but result from a round remaining chambered in a hot barrel for some seconds or minutes. For a cook-off to be instantaneous (and risk an out-of-battery ignition) the temperature has to be extremely elevated. For a routine cook-off, which can take some time to happen, the biggest danger is that no one is expecting the weapon to fire, and people may be in an unsafe position forward of its muzzle at that point.

The FG42 was a remarkably good weapon, like many WWII German weapons. Not good enough for them to win the war, fortunately; it was the very devil to produce (ask Steve at SMG!) and was produced in the sort of numbers that would be a rounding error, or the scrappage involved in training some new line workers, in American, British or Russian production. The US produced, for example, about 40 times as many BARs as Germany produced FG42s; Russian production of the pan-fed DP28 LMG was easily double that. (German production wasn’t as dismal as you might think. They produced more rifles and carbines of all types than the USA did. But they did have a tendency to engineer something very good, and then fail to build it in numbers that would make a difference).

“The Gun is its Own Tool Kit.” — Browning ANM2

This is Your Gun pG1One sign of a gun design that is not completely thought through is a requirement for special tools for disassembly. These days, most guns are designed for disassembly without any kind of offboard tools. But this was not always the case. John M. Browning was one of the first designers to consistently design guns to be disassembled without anything special. And it was a bit of a marvel, as the tone of this excerpt from a naval aerial gunner’s manual called This is Your Gun reveals:


In an emergency, the gun can be stripped with nothing but its own parts as tools. Use the point of a cartridge or the cocking lever pin to depress the oil buffer body spring lock.

Key parts in the oil buffer assembly:

Key parts in the oil buffer assembly: Oil Buffer Body Spring Lock (14a); Accelerator Pin (13), Accelerator (12). Oil Buffer Tube Lock (11)

Use the cocking lever pin to drift out the sear stop pin and accelerator pin.

Many of the parts mentioned are in the Bolt Group. In the order that they're mentioned:

Many of the parts mentioned are in the Bolt Group. In the order that they’re mentioned:  The Cocking Lever Pin is Nº 7. The Sear Stop with the Sear Stop Pin is Nº 8. The Cocking Lever is Nº 6.


 Use the flat tip of the cocking lever as you would use a screw driver to remove and replace the sear stop, oil buffer tube lock, the cover latch spring, and cover extractor spring. Use the oil buffer tube lock to pry the handle of the trigger bar pin out of its hole in the side of the receiver.

Use the sear stop pin to drift out the belt feed pawl pin.

The Belt Feed Pawl Pin is #5 in this illustration. US Navy.

The Belt Feed Pawl Pin is #5 in this illustration. Cover Latch Spring is #8, Cover Extractor Spring #9. US Navy.

But use these methods only when absolutely necessary and take care not to damage the parts used as tools. Never use the driving spring rod assembly as a tool.

Conversely, having a gun like this that can be disassembled and reassembled in field conditions without a bench full of tools is a marker of good design. This kind of design is more commonly encountered now than it was in Browning’s day, which speaks for Browning’s lasting positive impact on firearms design.

507th Follow Up

We have a few small details to add to this morning’s 507th post.

Some bright spark at the El Paso Times requested, after hearing how the unit managed to have M16A2s, M249s and an M2 all go tango uniform in combat, something that seemed reasonable to the reporter: all the records about the weapons. We didn’t find the original article online, but believe that this repost here is authentic.

…all records and documents about the weapons that jammed during the March 23 ambush that led to the death of nine Fort Bliss soldiers were destroyed in the Iraqi attack and that there is no way to trace the weapons’ histories.

The Army, responding to an El Paso Times request under the Freedom of Information Act, said any official information about the weapons used by Fort Bliss’ 507th Maintenance Company was lost on a supply truck taken into combat.

The disclosure that the records were lost shocked, bewildered and further angered relatives of soldiers who were killed in the early morning ambush, which is among the worst losses for the U.S. military during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition to the nine Fort Bliss soldiers killed, two from the 3rd Forward Support Battalion were killed, five soldiers were wounded, and seven soldiers were taken prisoner.

“Capt. Troy King (507th commander) stated that he does not have any historical data on weapons involved in the enemy contact,” June Bates, Fort Bliss freedom of information officer, said in a written response. “He lost his motorpool truck and all documentation.”

Bates said King’s records, which were kept in the motor pool, were stored in his supply truck, which was also “involved in the enemy contact.”

This is a little bit disingenuous, because even in 2003 the 507th, like any unit, would have had a property book maintained on computer at a higher level. For example, the 507th’s superior unit would have had a computer run of all the unit’s property, which would have to be reconciled at intervals (annually, or at a change of command, or on deployment/redeployment) with the property actually on hand. Most everyone who’s served a hitch in the Army has endured a property inventory. In 2003, it would have required unit commanders and logistics officers/NCOs to work off a green-and-white-banded, impact-printed inventory. This document records every single piece of organizational property by NSN, quantity, and, in the case of sensitive and serial-numbered items like weapons and optics, serial number.

So all of the 507th’s paperwork could go up in smoke, but two pieces of information clearly at hand were the serial number inventory of the unit’s weapons as-supplied-by-higher, plus, the serial number inventory of the surviving weapons. The only thing you can’t do without the company level records is determine what individual was assigned which weapon. You might be missing nine M16A2 rifles, and know their serial numbers, but you can’t say that this one was the one used by SGT Walters and this other one was 1SG Dowdy’s. Those assignments are lost (although there’s a long-shot possibility some of the soldiers who lost their weapons but survived, the wounded and captured troopers, might actually know their rifle’s serial number. About 1 in 20 soldiers seems to memorize this).

The paper doesn’t seem to know what they were asking for, or where to get it from, or how to ask for it. Soldier-hating journalists that they were, they were looking for some “gotcha” that they didn’t get.

The El Paso Times had requested the history of 31 weapons the soldiers carried during the ambush. The request sought information about weapon repairs, the weapons’ ages, and the manufacturer and condition of each weapon assigned to the 507th soldiers involved in the attack.

The Army does not maintain longitudinal records on individual weapons at all, which may be a mistake. This is one of the reasons for the shot-counter initiatives we’ve seen in these pages several times. We’ve also seen that, while the Army insists they’re fully equivalent, an arsenal-rebuilt weapon is statistically less reliable than a new one. Those two claims are actually both true, as impossible and contradictory as that sounds. The reason is, the Army has a criterion-referenced standard for weapons that both new and rebuilt weapons must meet. But, unlike the Army’s own depots, where a reject just goes back through until it passes, it’s a big deal when a new weapon coming in from an industrial manufacturer like Colt, FNH or General Dynamics-Saco doesn’t meet standard, and it leads to some pain and suffering for the manufacturer. As a result, they inspect parts, processes and weapons to a higher standard to ensure that the low tail of the bell curve still clears the Army’s criterion.

Because personnel files were lost in the ambush and no duplicates exist, the 507th is now trying to re-create the information. Also, [Ft Bliss Spokesman Jean] Offutt said, some of the weapons the 507th used haven’t been recovered.

“But shortly before the soldiers deployed, all of the weapons were certified and serviceable,” Offutt said. “The weapons were fired on the firing range before they deployed.”

Again, all that means is that the weapons were Technically Inspected (TI’d) prior to the deployment and met in-service standards for that particular weapon. As we’ve also often stated, in-service standards are considerably lower than initial-acceptance standards, because they make allowance for wear and tear, and all the slings and arrows of field use by the American GI, which can include using a pistol for a hammer, and a rifle barrel for a pry bar. The example we use in explaining the standard is the M16A1 technical standard for group size: a new gun must meet a fairly loose specification of 4 MOA, but a gun is not taken out of service for dispersion until its groups are over 7 MOA.

Please read the comments on the earlier post. Kirk has a particularly good one, but it’s not the only good one by any means.

It’s all fine and good to practice maneuver warfare and tell yourself you’re punching through the enemy’s resistance and bypassing his pocketed troops. but if you’re going to do that, having the Tail-End Charlie of your corps movement be a combat service support unit that is completely lacking in the experience and mindset of combat arms units is not a good idea.

The soldiers of the 507th did well when you consider that they were a unit expected to be, “in the rear, with the gear,” but found themselves fighting against enemy regulars, regulars, and even tanks.

Their sacrifice was not in vain, because the Army has considerably increased weapons and combat training for support and service support soldiers since then. Today’s maintenance, supply and technical soldiers may suddenly be thrown into a fight like this, but if so, they’ll have some training to fall back on; They won’t be as far over their heads as the 507th was that day in 2003.

PPShooting Around Corners

Waffen Revue 25 - StG44If you’re the kind of gun and history geek (hey! own it) we generally attract to the blog, you’re already familiar with the Krummlauf (“crooked barrel”) attachment to the German MP.44 series assault rifles.

The Krummlauf  is well-documented in books like Small Arms of the World, surviving period documents, and that sort of thing. It was made in several versions, differing in the degree of “bend” (30, 45, and 60º IIRC) and could be used for firing from cover (down), or the whole weapon could be turned over for firing around corners (sideways). It had its own 1.5x optic, and the extended, curved barrel was both vented for relief, and rifled.

Whether it was intended for urban warfare (firing around corners in the assault), armored warfare (firing from behind cover in a halftrack) or positional warfare (firing from trenches) is a matter of speculation. The problem with this kind of specialized weapon, for the Germans or anybody, is that you only need it once in a while, but you have to carry it all the time. That is, if you’re going to have any hope of having it with you on the rare occasion when you do need it.

There’s a number of surviving Krummlauf attachments and MP44 Krummlauf hosts, at least a half dozen, with at least two on the NFA registry (there are probably more that those numbers). One was auctioned recently by Rock Island and has a very complete description, with an explanatory video by Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons, on its auction page.

grease_gun_around_corners_ps_march_52The US experimented with something similar, but vastly simpler. We deleted the German prismatic sight, and didn’t even make a complete barrel, creating something more like a bullet trough for a spray of 230-grain solids to go off in the general direction of the enemy. This has been widely reported to have been done by the OSS. The historical writeups are thinner than on the Krummlauf, but they’re there. The gun seems to have first come to public attention in the Korean War era. For example, it was featured in Popular Science magazine in March, 1952 (image left). The article suggests that the gun was meant to be used, and hints that there might have been an optic, but, “Sights are secret.” The gun was also featured in LIFE in 1953, and those photos turn up online here and there.

LIFE OSS curved barrel

But we never knew until we stumbled over it on the excellent site, that there were at least two Russian variants of the same thing for the PPSh-41, which was made in staggering quantities. Unlike the common PPSh, these variations are extremely rare, probably for the same reasons of impracticality that limited distribution of the German and American ones. The more sophisticated showed a similar design approach to the Krummlauf, with the added benefit of being easily convertible in direction. This video shows the gun:


The second was a bent-down version, called in one reference the Model 1945, that looks more like a gimmick than a real, working gun.

ppsh-45 curved

It honestly looks like someone heated and bent a regular PPSh. (As we’ve seen from our recent M4 at Wanat series, heating barrels can be A Bad Thing®).


We’d love to have the whole who-shot-John on these, but we don’t. Maybe some commenters can help.

One of the most interesting questions is this: were the American and Russian “corner guns” simply examples of convergent evolution, or did they come about after examining German Krummlauf units?

Ian notes, in his video about the Krummlauf, that the Germans tried doing an open trough like the later American Grease Gun modification, but gave it up and went with a rifled curved bore instead.