Category Archives: Machine Guns

Brrrrrt! Legal Full-Auto-Like Firepower

Karl and Ian from Full30.com and Forgotten Weapons.com are not strangers to this site. They have something cool and new: a customized slide-fire rifle designed to make slide-firing easy as falling off a log.

(Note: link removed while we fix embed code. Bear with us!) Should be fixed now, apologies.

The company that makes their trigger, KE Arms, has since introduced its own line of complete slide-fire rifles they call the Poor Man’s SAW (minus the bipod, the importance and details of which Karl explains in the video) and several variations of parts and components. Listen carefully to Karl; he tells you what features are important, and what has and hasn’t worked, in the video. Then go forth and build your own.

Brrrrrrrrt.

Do We Need A Bigger Bullet?

Jim Schatz, former HK USA manager (during the period of peak Because-You-Suck-And-We-Hate-You customer service, actually) always has one of the most interesting presentations when he’s up at an NDIA1 conference. The slides from this years’ NDIA are up (here), and Jim’s presentation, interesting as ever, is up here (.pdf). Jim wants us launching bigger bullets, to longer ranges.

Jim’s basic beef is probably best encapsulated in this quote from an SF team sergeant:

Few enemies would even consider taking America on in a naval, air or tank battle but every bad actor with an AK will engage with U.S. forces without even a second thought.

To boil down his argument to a single-sentence thesis: The US lacks small-arms overmatch, and only changing cartridges can get it for us. He defines overmatch by effective range. As he sees it, this is what the world looks like today:

schatz_slide_overmatch_now

As a former infantryman, Jim knows that weapons don’t square off one-against-one. On the battlefield, units from corps to squad size all maneuver to bring their organic, attached and support firepower to bear on the enemy (who is doing the same, inversely). It’s a common fallacy that (for example) because every squad in the Ruritanian army has a designated marksman, our squads should have one too. (Maybe they should, but not directly because of what the Ruritanians are doing). As you can see, Jim’s focus on range leads him to pair off sniper rifles with light machine guns, weapons which have similar effective ranges for completely different reasons, even when they fire dimensionally identical ammo.

As far as his 1000m effective range of the SVD is concerned… he must have shot one?

Here is one of his proposals for overmatch. There’s a few things screwy here (the SVD has grown  an even-more-ludicrous 500m of range, to 1500m), but that’s not important. What is important is the argument that going to an Intermediate Caliber Cartridge (something like the 6.5 or 6.8 or something all new in the 6-7mm neighborhood) for rifles and to .338 for support weapons will provide significant range overmatch.

schatz_slide_overmatch_future

The increased ammo weight can be made up in part by polymer or semi-polymer (i.e. with a metallic base) cases.

Jim at least partially neutralizes the cost-in-times-of-drawdown argument by suggesting that the new weapons go only to the tip of the spear, the guys whose mission it is to produce casualties, and take and hold ground, with these weapons. That’s only about 140k actual shooters out of the much larger service. A finance clerk needs a rifle, sure, but he or she can live with the latest-but-one.

Bear in mind that the target set is also not static, while we’re developing all these new weapons the Russians, the Chinese, and even the ragtag insurgents of the world (who have definitely, like Russia, pushed more 7.62mm weapons down to squad-equivalent level than heretofore) are acting, adapting, and changing, too. We don’t need to overmatch the enemy today with the weapons we’ll have in ten years. We need to overmatch the set of weapons the enemy will have ten years from now, in ten years.

Men can disagree about how best to get there. Assuming we stick with the M16/M4 platform, Our Traveling Reporter would have us go to the 6.8 x 43. (It was news to him that the Saudi Royal Guard has adopted this platform, in LWRC carbines, or that military 6.8 is in production for export now by Federal — formerly ATK). We would probably go with the 6.5 (x38, although the length designator is seldom spoken aloud) Grendel for its lower BC and higher sectional density (=longer effective range, flatter trajectory, more energy on target). The 90 grain Federal load in the 6.8 is very effective closer in (the 6.8 was developed with SF input as a CQB cartridge).

Some current contenders --  M855A1 5.56; 6.5 Grendel; 6.8 SPC; 7.62 NATO. From an excellent article by Anthony Williams setting out the historical context.

Some current contenders — M855A1 5.56; 6.5 Grendel; 6.8 SPC; 7.62 NATO. From an excellent article by Anthony Williams setting out assault rifle ammo in historical context, including many old, obscure, and outright forgotten attempts. Shape of the 6.5 suggests a superior BC. The 6.8 is compromised by its 5.56 ancestry and packaging (bolt head size/overall length).

This is not an entirely new or novel idea. As mentioned in the caption to the photo above, British researcher Anthony Williams has a very fine article on Assault Rifle History with lots and lots of ammunition comparison photos. Back in the 1970s, a guy whose business was called Old Sarge, based in the highway intersection of Lytle, Texas, made a quantity of 6 x 45 guns and uppers. Based closely on the 5.56, these guns (most of them were built as what we’d now call carbines) were completely conventional, but like today’s 6.8 SPC the intent was to create superior terminal ballistics. We don’t know what happened to him or what seemed to be, when we stopped in, his one-man business (he talked us out of a mod he’d done for others, an M60 bipod on an XM177).

If we have a serious criticism of Schatz’s work here, it’s that its focus solely on range as an indicator of overmatch understates the problem. Hadji with his AK and mandress has a lack of fear of our troops that stems only partly from his belief that range makes him safe (and only partly from his paradise-bound indifference to being safe). His feeling of impunity stems from a belief he won’t be engaged at all, won’t be hit if engaged, and won’t be killed or suffer significantly if hit. We need to increase the certainty that our guys will fire back, not just increase our pH, and we need to increase our pK as well. The first of these is far outside the scope of weapons and ammunition design, but it is, in our view, the most serious shortfall of US and Allied forces.

We have another beef that’s not specific to this, but that arise with any attempt to pursue range or other small-arms overmatch: it never works. There are only two ways pursuit of overmatch can finish. Either your new weapon does not constitute an overwhelming advantage, or it does — in which case everybody copies it most ricky-tick. Mikhail Kalashnikov died bothered by the fact that he never got royalties on any of the millions and millions of AKs made outside of his homeland, but the guys who really got copied were the engineers who built the StG.44. (True, the AK was better adapted to Soviet expectations, traditions, manufacturing capabilities, and training modes, but it was certainly inspired, conceptually, by the first assault rifle). It was a good idea. It was exclusive to Germany for mere months (of course, that they were losing the war may be a factor, but that the war ended was certainly a factor in slowing the adoption of assault rifles in Russia (a little) and the West (a lot).

In all seriousness, if you look at the history of firearms, you see a punctuated equilibrium. For centuries the flintlock is the infantry weapon, then the percussion lock sweeps the flints away in a period of 30 years or so (faster for major powers, or anybody actively at war). Then the breechloader dethrones the percussion rifle-musket in a couple of decades… to itself be overthrown by repeaters in 10 to 20 years. Calibers go from 11-13 mm to 7-8 mm to 5-6 mm at the same time all over the world. We’ve had a very long period now of equilibrium around the SCHV (Small Caliber, High Velocity) concept. Is it time for that equilibrium to be punctuated? Schatz says yes.

Notes

  1. NDIA: National Defense Industrial Association, a trade and lobbying group for defense contractors. Formerly the American Defense Preparedness Association (when Your Humble Blogger was a member, and they were fighting a rear-guard action to preserve a defense industrial base during the Clinton disarmament/drawdown cycle), and before that the Ordnance Association.

Sources:

Daniau, Emeric. Toward a 600 M Lightweight General Purpose Cartridge. September 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/Toward%20a%20600%20m%20GP%20round.pdf ; this is a uniquely French view of this same challenge, hosted online by Anthony Williams.

Schatz, Jim. Where to Now? 3 June 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2015smallarms/17354_Schatz.pdf

Williams, Anthony. Assault Rifles and Ammunition: History and Prospects. Nov 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/Assault.htm

Williams, Anthony. The Case for a General-Purpose Rifle and Machine Gun Cartridge (GPC). Nov 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/The%20Next%20Generation.htm ; an earlier version was presented at NDIA in 2010: http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2010armament/WednesdayLandmarkBAnthonyWilliams.pdf

(Note that Williams’s work on this matter was sponsored by H&K, a fact that is not invariably disclosed in all documents but that Williams publicly discloses on his website).

 

GunLab’s Reverse Engineering

We haven’t been over there (GunLab.net) in a while, and Chuck is always up to something cool. Recently he had something nice to say about us, in a longer post on reverse-engineering; to be explicit, reverse-engineering the MP44 trunnion. But forget what he says about WeaponsMan.com, how cool is it to be making an MP.44 trunnion for (almost) the first time since a T-34 did a pivot turn on the ruins of the factory?

MP44 reverse-engineered trunnions

Here at Gun Lab we do a fair amount of reverse engineering, most of what we like to make have no drawings. However when there are drawings or solid models available we will use them. With this said I have found that most of what is available on the internet or in books is just not correct.

A case in point is the MP-44 trunnion. I have all the drawings that I have been able to find on this part, a number of different sets are out there, and when compared with the actual part have found them to be lacking. Some are just wrong and in some cases I don’t think the person has actually looked at a part.

Now, we have a set of MP.44 drawings here. We’ve actually been meaning to show a few of them to illustrate how MP.44 design features migrated into the AR-10 and thence to all its descendants. They’re terribly reproduced, no longer to scale, but they are dimensioned MP.44 drawings.

Say “Thank you,” class:

MP44_Zeichnungen.pdf

Now, you might wonder how it can be possible with apparently original (even if lousy), dimensioned drawings, you can’t just poke the numbers in and try to run the part. There are a number of reasons that you could expect drawings to diverge from shop practice. In the real world, in fact, it’s a constant battle to keep the drawings and the processes both aligned properly on the same part. In the 20th Century this got particularly bad because of engineer/draftsman/master machinist/machine operator job specialization and social stratification. Those could be four different guys whose only workshop interactions were with the adjacent guy in the org chart, and whose contacts were all correct.

There’s no way you produce stuff efficiently without the engineers going out on the shop floor, but some are loath to do that, and some shop staff are loath to have an engineer looking over their shoulders. There’s no way you produce stuff efficiently without a steel-cutter being able to walk back into the engineering spaces with a part and a problem, right to the guy who drew the drawings — but that is forbidden more often than it is allowed! So even in the best, cleanest, and least disrupted shops, lines got crossed, things fell apart, the center did not hold… wait, we got carried away there for a bit. But communications were imperfect, even in a perfect factory.

Then, add into the mix, we’re talking about the Third Reich in 1944-45. If the Germans had perfect factories, the Allies bombed them. Meanwhile, the gaping maw of the Eastern Front demanded endless human sacrifices, and in each successive draft call manufacturers could protect fewer and fewer key workers. The “fix” the government proposed for this was that they would provide labor, but that labor was at best displaced refugees from the ill-fated German settlements in the East, but more commonly slave labor from occupied nations.

Something had to go, and one of the things that went was correcting and updating drawings. Seriously, if you compare surviving German drawings to the M1 drawings, your mental picture of “German efficiency” will never recover. (Well, maybe a little when you realize that two large air forces were gamely trying to reduce German industry to the state of the Germans’ forebears in the Neander valley).

Now back to the MP-44 trunnion. We were contracted a while back with making a limited number of new trunnions for the MP-44. He sent us a very good original one and we had a poor copy of one at the shop. Using these two pieces we started the project of reverse engineering it. The easiest thing to do was look for engineer drawings off the web. These are the ones that I found.

His look like they’re from the same set we’ve got here. He has stripped them of dimensions, perhaps because he’s not working with SI (metric) dimensions, but more likely because the dimensions were not “on” compared to the physical parts he had to measure.

The measurements have been removed from these copies, however you can find them on the internet. I did use the basic drawing as a starting point. The sheets were cleaned and measurements were taken using a cmm, micrometers and pin gauges. Tolerances were set using not only the trunnion but also matching parts. When there was a doubt other parts were located to increase the measurement standards. This allowed us to come up with a reasonable solid model that we felt was accurate enough to start programing.

A CMM is a coordinate measuring machine. Think of it as a sort of 3D scanner that touches off against a part and records that position in 3D space. These can be used to gather a cloud of points, or more efficiently, to capture key dimensions.

The problem with using a CMM against a part you are re-engineering is that you’re working off one part, and you don’t know where in the tolerances that part was. (That’s also our beef with David Findlay’s excellent Firearms Anatomy books — for practical reasons, Findlay worked off a single sample of the firearm).

Given enough parts to measure, you can develop a degree of statistical certainty about where the original measurement was supposed to be. Working with most non-US products, you can also cheat a bit by knowing that engineers like to spec things in fairly round millimetric measures — dimensions that end in X.0 or X.5 millimeters, most of the time.

Anyway, here is the first post on re-engineering the MP.44 trunnion, and here is a follow-up post (in which the model turns out to need some improvement). Meanwhile lots of work improving the shop and working on GunLab’s other projects, such as the VG1-5 limited production run.

Note on an Unpleasant Subject

Technical posts like this and GunLab’s would be banned under a gag order slipped into the Federal Register by the State Department — yes, the very people who negotiated the deal to accelerate the nuclear armament of the hostage-taking terror state of Iran this week. The deadline for comments is 3rd August. As we previously wrote (more background there, at the end of a barrel-heating post):

Comments go here at Regulations.gov or by email to: DDTCPublicComments@state.govwith the subject: “ITAR Amendment—Revisions to Definitions; Data Transmission and Storage”. Ceteris paribus, this link should open in your email application with the correct subject header.

Again, there’s more at that previous post on how to comment, but at this time it’s crucial that you comment. A State Department than can censor the Internet is a State Department that has lost touch with America.

You Know You Want One. Which One?

One of the coolest guns ever let loose on an unsuspecting world was the “Schmeisser” (as the Allies called it, although Hugo Schmeisser had nothing to do with it; it did use his magazine patent) MP.38 and MP.40 submachine guns.

MP40 goepfert

Arguably the first of the second-generation submachine guns, the MPs incorporated all of the canonical 2G traits: notably folding stocks and industrial pressing and screw-machine parts for rapid manufacture. (The canonical 2G is probably the Sten, whose stock was removable, not folding, but which set records still unbeaten for economy and crudity of manufacture for a major power’s service weapon. The US 2G SMG, the M3 “Grease Gun,” was a model of fit and finish, at least as far as mass-produced pistol-caliber bullet hoses went).

The MP has a number of reasons it’s technically interesting, but its lasting appeal these days stems from three things:

  1. Someone collects anything having to do with the Third Reich, and this was a signature personal weapon of that grim regime; there is no weapon more commonly associated with the Blitzkrieg that you can hang on your wall. (Maybe a Stuka or Panzer III, if you had a really big wall?)
  2. After the war, it was (and to some extent still is) Hollywood’s go-to Bad Guy Gun. Everyone from Smersh, to KAOS, to Blofeld’s Nehru-jacketed (or were they jump-suited?) minions seems to have an MP40. They even show up in space operas and 1930s gangster films — almost always in the hands of the bad guys.

    MP40 with movie villains and Nazis (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

    MP40 with movie villains who were also Nazis (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

  3. It looks cool in that certain way of many German weapons. It has a certain Bauhaus-meets-Bridgeport, Industrial Age look to it. It is one of the most identifiable silhouettes in the firearms world, even now.

MP40 drawing

As a bonus, they fire common, readily available ammunition.

At the time, the MP. 38 was a revelation, if not a revolution. It was a stamped weapon (the receiver appears to have been pressed on a mandrel) that didn’t feel flimsy or cheesy.

What brought this to our attention is the sheer number of MPs are available on GunBroker right now. There’s usually one or two, but this week there are seven of them, most of them original, transferable, C&R guns. (Two are tube guns offered at what we think is too high of a reserve). Almost all of them are offered by Frank Goepfert (you may remember the “Colt 601″ receiver that was a mixmaster that we commented on a couple of months back. The high bidder had thought it was an authentic and complete 601, and Frank allowed him to roll the auction back — correct move in our opinion.

MP40 on Gunbroker

If we were bidding today — and we’re not — it would be this one, rather than one of Frank’s, we’d bid on. Some of his are in much nicer finish condition, but this one just seems like the best match of authenticity, vibe, accessories, and, potentially, deal. Look for it to sell in the mid teens.

A Tale of Two Temperatures

Consider this graphic. It is a somewhat crude reproduction of one in the Rheinmetall weapons design handbook. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who is unlucky at bicycles bur uncannily lucky with heiresses, thinks that we all should be criminals for discussing this online, so let’s all get our crime on and return to a subject we’ve discussed before, heat management  in automatic firearms.

temperature_over_time_mg_barrel

 

The original of this graphic is a rather dull monochrome one in the style of the rather dull, unless you are the sort of gun geek that Secretary Kerry dreams of decanting into durance vile, Rheinmetall Handbook. Our copy is the German language version, because we read po-nyemetskiy, and Amazon.com wants $300-400 for an English copy, when there is one to be had, but Amazon.de has copies of this out of print classic for about €100. (Which is going to be lunch money if they keep letting Greece set continental fiscal policy). It took us several iterations to get the slopes about right, and we got the round-count wrong: it’s supposed to be two neat Teutonic bursts of 10, and we have a rather limited and non-Aryan 8 and 9, but with that difference noted, this graphic is  close enough to discuss the phenomena at issue. Here’s what Rheinmetall says about this graphic:

The barrel of an automatic weapon is, as a consequence of the normally high rate of fire, subject to extraordinary temperature demands.

[This illustration] shows the approximate course of temperature of the inner- and outer wall of an MG barrel in two bursts of fire of 10 shots each with a pause lying in between. Feel long, or many short, bursts of fire can drive the temperature of the inner wall so high, that it has a significant influence on the material toughness and therefore on its use and employment.

In this, the cadence of fire, the number of shots in a burst, the pauses, the lengths of the pauses, and the number of bursts of fire fired rapidly one after the other, in conjunction with the thermal resistance of the barrel material and the strength of the barrel walls all play a role.

Comparable barrel-life shot counts can therefore be reached with the same firing rhythm. Often the “French anti-aircraft rhythm” is used: this is 144 shots in 12 bursts of 12 shots each, with a 2-second pause after each burst and a 20 second pause after every four [bursts]. With MG barrels, a firing rhythm of 250 rounds in numerous bursts is often used.

For testing automatic weapons and their ammunition, Rheinmetall has developed an electronic Rate and Rhythm Control Apparatus, which is described below in section 7.7 [of this book].

Measures for increasing the life expectancy of barrels include:

  • Heat-resistant materials;
  • Chroming or Nitriding the interior wall;
  • Progressive twist and rifling profile in conjunction with barrel caliber tightening.

Less effective are cooling fins and water cooling.

Barrels for MGs and machine cannon must be rapidly interchangeable.

Now, this graphic is limited in its utility because in its original version, it comes without any numbers attached (accordingly, we have eliminated from the version we show you, the numbers we used for temperature (ºC; as you might expect the Handbook exclusively uses SI units) and seconds to approximate the original. But we can draw some conclusions based on the shape and gradient of the two lines.

Our take-away is that the key point is that the baseline is higher after each burst, and that the internal temps go higher in each successive round of each successive burst. What does not show on this line is the temperature where the barrel fails. As we have seen in the M4 experiments wherein a carbine was tested to destruction, this happens at a fairly predictable and repeatable, ergo constant from an engineering point of view, temperature. As Rheinmetall points out, several roads will get you to that temperature sooner or later.

Maybe he didn’t know this, but thus is why your sergeant whacked you upside the hemmet and told you to fire shorter bursts.

Looking at the Rheinmetall data, it seems that for their test weapon, whatever it was (MG3?), the barrel recovers its temperature rather speedily after the passage of each bullet momentarily superheats it. We would attribute this to the limited ability of a small projectile’s friction to heat the much greater mass of the barrel — this is also why the internal and external temps diverge so widely. But note that the internal temp continues to ride steadily as long as a steady sequence of pause and fire is applied, and at each pause the internal and external barrel temps have diverged more widely.

The implication is that an automatic weapons barrel is going to be heated to its limits at some point, moreover, at some predictable point, in any continuous fire regime, and while some of the magic designers have used over the last century, like chrome plating and stellite liners, can give you some more rate of fire on the margins, only changing out the barrel (not usually possible in a light automatic carbine) or otherwise giving the barrel a chance to rest and recover from high temps will prevent failure.

Thus endeth the lesson. Apart from further education which may come in the comments.

 

Did The US Adopt the FG42 After All.. as the M4?

“Hognose,” you are thinking, “has lost his ever-lovin’ mind.” Unless you were long in the service, in which case you will substitute a stronger term for “ever-lovin’.” Because, after all, the low-production FG42, which had a great influence on US postwar weapons development, is miles from today’s modular M4, which developed from a completely different concept, the SCHV (Small Caliber High Velocity round) and the selective-fire assault rifle.

FG42-Right

m4a1_sopmod_rails_system_left_clear

Let’s go back to one of the earliest versions of the US reaction to captured FG42s, written by T/5 (a wartime grade for technical specialists, called “technical corporal” and paid a hair better than a “mere” corporal) John E. Holmes of the Foreign Material Branch at Aberdeen Proving Ground on 8 June 44. According to Dugelby & Stevens, this was “the first American appreciation of the FG42 to appear in print… therefore a most noteworthy document.” After describing the general arrangement, production characteristics, handling and originality vs. derivation of various FG42 features (the example(s) Holmes had was/were the “E” type or first model FG with the stamped metal butt and pistol grip), he suggests that its advantages might be well considered in future US martial-arms design:

Advantages of Design

The combination of advantageous features included in the design of this weapon has made it a very interesting piece which should be studied with future weapons in view.

The following features are suggested:

a. The method of reducing required by using buffer spring sliding shoulder stock system.

b. Reduction of muzzle climb due to the action and stock design.

c. The method of loading empty or partially empty magazines with standard rifle clips, cutting down the number of necessary magazines which must be carried.

d. High line of sight prevents distortion of target due to heat waves.

e. Folding sights prevent damage as the weapon is carried by paratroopers, or when not in use.

f. Reversible bayonet.

g. Telescopic bayonet.1

Do you see what we mean? The only ones of these that are not present in the modern infantryman’s M4 are the spring-loaded shoulder stock (not necessary on the light-recoiling 5.56mm cartridge, perhaps), and the “reversible” spike bayonet. In point of fact, the US already tried that with rod bayonets on the Springfield rifles of 1880-1888 and 1903, which were extremely unpopular with troops (and ultimately, overthrown by President Theodore Roosevelt as “as poor an invention as I ever saw,” leading to the familiar M1905 knife bayonet of the World Wars).

So no, we never adopted the FG42. But over the years, we did adopt most of its impressive features. So did almost every major military in the world. And that is why the FG42,  despite having been produced in a quantity of only 8,494, maximum2, is, legitimately, considered one of the most influential weapons in history.

Notes

  1. Dugelby, Thomas B, and Stevens, R. Blake. Death From Above: The German FG42 Paratroop Rifle. New Expanded Edition. Coburg, Ontario: Collector Grade Publications, 2007. pp. 119-120.
  2. Ibid., p. 121.

MGs in the Russo-Japanese War

And, given the established subject of this blog, you know that our reference is to machine guns, not to the products of Morris Garages.

The Russo-Japanese war was the first war to introduce all the nightmares of 20th-century warfare: barbed wire entanglements, recoil-carriage artillery, and of course Mr. Maxim’s new invention, the machine gun. Apart from the MG, all of these had seen some use before. But the Russo-Japanese war fully foreshadowed the Great War to come.

Japanese MG position

Japan shares with Russia the dubious distinction of having fought the first major war of the 20th century, and the first in which machine-guns on both sides played a prominent part in significant numbers. Maxim Nordenfelt and later VSM1 supplied both protagonists – the Japanese bought four 8mm Maxims in 1893, and later nine ” New Pattern” Model 1901s; the Russian Navy bought almost 300 guns of various types between 1897 and 1904, while the Russian Army obtained perhaps as many as 1000 guns from Loewe/DWM between 1899 and 1904. Later, the Japanese switched their allegiance to the Hotchkiss, and the Mle’00 was the gun which armed most front-line units of the Japanese Army by the time of the outbreak of war with Russia.

Initially, both sides deployed their machine-guns like miniature artillery, laying down indirect fire from rear positions, over the heads of their own infantry; observers (and, just as during the American Civil War, there were many) reported that the Maxims, in particular (they were chambered for a heavier around than the Japanese Hotchkisses) were actually more effective in this role than the artillery they mimicked.

Shades of things to come; the same tactics were to be used on the Western Front during the First World War, but not at first.

More important than the role of supporting attacking infantry, though, was the machine-gun in static defence. In an engagement dear Lin Chin Pu, in January, 1905, a German observer reported:

The Japanese attacked a Russian redoubt defended by two Maxim guns. A Japanese company about 200 strong was thrown forward in skirmishing order [that is, in rough liner breast, with some space between each man]. The Russians held their fire until the range was only 300 yards and then the two machine-guns were brought into action. In less than two minutes they fired about a thousand rounds, and the Japanese firing line was literally swept away.

The propaganda of the war was one thing, the reality different (as always).

The propaganda of the war was one thing, the reality different (as always).

At the battle of Mukden, which began on 21 February 1905, when the Japanese attacked Russian positions over a wide front, and proceeded to encircle them, the Russians employed their Maxims in batteries of eight, with one gun undergoing overhaul for each battery in action – the defenders were expending machine gun ammunition at the height of the battle at a rate of over 200,000 rounds per day. The Japanese encirclement was completed (notwithstanding the fact that the Russians had withdrawn by then) on 10 March by which time the defenders had lost an estimated 90,000 men killed, to the attackers’ 50,000; as many as half the casualties have been attributed to machine-gun fire.

As the war in Manchuria played itself out, it became exceedingly clear to participants and observers alike that the machine-gun had come of age with a vengeance. The British observer, Sir Ian Hamilton, writing in his Staff Officer’s Scrapbook of The Russo-Japanese War, described an incident which took place the following October, after six Japanese Hotchkiss guns have been allowed to occupy high ground overlooking the Russian lines:

In less than one minute hundreds [of Russians, who were complacently eating their lunch] were killed, and the rest were flying eastwards in wild disorder. Next moment the machine-guns were switched onto the Russian firing line who, with their backs to the river and their attention concentrated on Penchiho, were fighting in trenches about half-way up the slope of the mountain. These, before they could realize what had happened, found themselves being pelted with bullets from the rear. No troops could stand such treatment for long, and in less than no time the two Brigades which had formed the extreme left were in full retreat. Altogether the six machine guns had accounted for… 1,300 Russians.

Despite Hamilton’s warnings, the British Army establishment still took little heed of the danger posed by the machine-gun; not so the German, even if the conclusions of one of its observers in Manchuria proved to be faulty:

Machine-guns are extraordinarily successful. In defence of entrenchments especially they had a most telling effect on the assailants at the moment of the assault.

But they were also of service to the attack, being extremely useful in sweeping the crest of the defenders’ parapets. As a few men can advance under cover with these weapons during an engagement, it is possible to bring them up without much loss to a decisive point.

The fire of six machine guns is equal to that of a battalion (of riflemen) and this is of enormous importance at the decisive moment and place.

Whichever of the two opponents has at his disposal the larger number of machine-guns has thereby at his command such a superiority of fire that he’s able to give an effective support to his infantry. He can occupy a considerable front with smaller groups – and economy of manpower. Infantry is thus more free to maneuver and becomes more mobile. (Emphasis Ford’s).

Both sides used their machine-guns to enfilade dead ground, and thus deny it to the enemy, with considerable success, but the Japanese went one better when they pioneered the use of indirect overhead fire to support infantry assaults. On 13 March 1905 Japanese infantry crossed a river and assaulted enemy defensive positions on the other side with comparative impunity thanks to a covering barrage from machine-guns sited 1,800m (2,000 yards) in the rear, which kept firing until the assault troops were within 40 m of the Russian trench line.2

We note that modern armies train little for that kind of MG support, but the World War I and inter-war armies trained these tasks obsessively.

Both Japan and Russia came out of the war committed to machine guns.

Notes

  1. Vickers, Son & Maxim, the successor to Maxim Nordenfelt and the forerunner of the Vickers defense industrial combine.
  2. This entire long excerpt comes from pp. 81-84 of Ford, Roger. The Grim Reaper: Machine-Guns and Machine-Gunners in Action. New York: Sarpedon, 1996.

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.

MP5 SBR2

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?

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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.