Category Archives: Machine Guns

Where RPDs are Reborn as Semis

Earlier this week, we visited Project Guns, a tanmall manufacturer in Florida and the home of an interesting project to recreate the Communist Bloc RPD light machine gun. The RPD is the 7.62 x 39 mm squad automatic weapon used by Soviet, satellite and “fraternal socialist” armies and “national liberation movements” from the 1950s through the 1970s. It’s a gas-operated, belt-fed truly light machine gun that evolved from the ancient pan-fed DP through the DPM and DP-46 from Degtyaryev; the RPD, Ruchnoi Pulemyot Degtyaryeva, was, in keeping with its intermediate cartridge, smaller, lighter, and handier.

These Project Guns RPDs are shown on the website, but have already shipped to their new owners.

These Project Guns RPDs are shown on the website, but have already shipped to their new owners. They’re all made on Polish surplus RPD kits — while the metal is in great condition, the wood varies from “new” to “pretty beat up.”

Along with Russian production, RPDs were made in China and several satellite countries. The quality of manufacture varies from nation to nation.

In recent years, there have been numerous attempts to build RPDs from demilled kits into working semi-autos. The best known is probably the Wiselite build, but there are several small shops out there, and DSA is currently shipping RPD semis.

Stan Szalkowski of Project Guns took time out of his production day — the company comprises Stan and a guy who’s his helper and understudy — to show us how he did it. When he invited us in he was test-fitting parts in one of a batch of guns nearing completion.

A semi-auto RPD approaches completion with careful hand-fitting on the gunsmith's bench. When it works and passes test-fire, it'll be blued, packed, and shipped to its proud new owner's FFL.

A semi-auto RPD approaches completion with careful hand-fitting on the gunsmith’s bench. When it works and passes test-fire, it’ll be blued, packed, and shipped to its proud new owner’s FFL.

The shop is neatly organized into three parts in an industrial zone of many small businesses. The main shop includes the desk Stan’s seldom at unless he’s on the phone to a customer or subcontractor, or designing a part or fixture in CAD (of which more later); the production benches and machinery, including manual lathes and mills, a Tormach CNC, presses, and of course, the gunsmith’s standard standbys: stones and files. Attached to the main shop is the stockroom, where the remainder of 150 RPD kits recently delivered await attention and some completed firearms for foreign destinations await the necessary paperwork drill: approval by national authorities, customs clearance and so forth. (Project Guns has a manufacturer’s license — in fact, as you go in the door, all the required licences are displayed on the wall in case officialdom ever comes looking). The third section of the company, which we didn’t personally see, is in a separate unit, and it is where the messy and noisy processes happen: test firing and hot blue. Each rifle is test fired for forty or fifty rounds into a bullet trap (and remediated if needed). The hot blue process is extremely time sensitive, if you want to avoid having the whole thing flash to rust; so the separate shops encourage concentration on the job at hand. There are assembly days and bluing days.

To rebuild an RPD, Project Guns uses their own receiver design, milled from solid 4130 steel for them by a large Florida machine shop. Stan bead-blasts the receivers, then fits the parts to them, test fires them and disassembled them for rebluing. Apart from the US-made barrels and receivers (and many small parts), each RPD is assembled with parts that came from a single demilled RPD. Each kit came from Poland individually boxed and serial numbered, and the boxes are used to keep each set of parts together along its course of modification and assembly.

A row of in-process RPDs. The nearest ones have their new, US-made chrome-lined barrels installed.

A row of in-process RPDs. The nearest ones have their new, US-made chrome-lined barrels installed.

While the cut receiver parts from the original guns can’t be reused (Stan has been down the path of receiver rebuilds before, but with hundreds of RPDs under his belt, having a custom receiver is much easier), the front sight, bipod and gas system must be removed from the stubs of the demilled barrel. The barrel stubs are also scrap.

The design of the receiver is modified so that full-automatic parts don’t fit. Neither the internals nor an unmodified trigger group housing from a full-auto RPD can go on to a Project Guns receiver. This is required for ATF compliance. The Tormach CNC comes in handy making the required cuts to modify the trigger group housing, operating rod/slide and other internals, as we’ll see when we talk about CAD below.

Here's one of the US-made barrels installed in an RPD. If you peek over to the left, you see a batch of customer guns -- Czech UK Vz.59s -- in for troubleshooting.

Here’s one of the US-made barrels installed in an RPD. If you peek over to the left, you see a batch of customer guns — Czech UK Vz.59s — in for troubleshooting.

The barrels are a story in themselves. The new barrels are US-made compliance parts, but they’re made for Project Guns by a major barrel maker: they’re chrome-lined like the originals. One problem with RPDs has been sight, barrel and gas system alignment. Some satellite nation guns, and some US semi builds, have been constructed with canted parts, which in a sight is inimical to accuracy, and in a gas system can be damaging to function. Stan has designed and built not only a special tool that ensures the perfect alignment of the parts, but also a specialty press for barrel installation that works with the tool.

Scratch-Built Custom Barrel Press. Barely visible on the right is the RPD barrel, sight and gas system alignment tool.

Scratch-Built Custom Barrel Press. Visible immediately to the left of the parts sorter on the right is the RPD barrel, sight and gas system alignment tool.

(He also uses a press that started off as a factory Harbor Freight press, but that he has extensively rebuilt, trued, and reinforced so that it actually works).

He showed us how he makes a custom tool, like the barrel/sight/gas system alignment tool, once he has it visualized in its component parts. (There are three parts to the tool: a base with a hole for the barrel and one for the mandrel, a mandrel that holds parts in alignment, and an insert that notches into the ejector cut in the barrel to ensure that everything’s directionally oriented and aligned properly). He envisions the part, and then sketches it in CAD. The program he uses is not something ridiculously expensive like CATIA, or something cutting-edge like SpaceClaim (which is a relatively reasonable $5000 or so). Instead, he used a combination of free and inexpensive PC software that meets his needs perfectly.

Initial design is done in the free application that’s downloadable from E-Machine-Shop. It also allows you to put your part out to bid. Stan has found that doing that, rather that working with shops he’s got experience with, can produce parts with so-so tolerances. But while the E-Machine Shop tool can produce a 3D file, it’s simply a drawing or representation — it’s not machine-ready.

For that, he uses Vectric’s VCarve Pro ($699 direct). We’re familiar with Vectric’s software (which is made in a confusing variety of versions, but they will help you find the right one for your application) for 2D cutting applications like laser cutting or CNC routing, but Stan uses it to generate tool paths. It accepts input for specific machine, for tool type (i.e. four flute end mill), size and, of course, feeds and speeds. Stan does these from experience, but a beginner can use feeds and speeds from Machinery’s Handbook and come out alright. In VCarve Pro, one can visualize the tool path in a simulation and correct it all on the screen before committing to metal. When the part looks like it’s being cut properly in the simulation, Stan saves the file to a thumb drive, and carries it a few feet to the Tormach.

The Tormach also comes in handy for the repetitive work involved in, for instance, modifying the trigger group housings. It repeats so well that if you design a fixture that doesn’t move when you remove and replace a part, you can set up the fixture and indicate in the first part, and then just run the Tormach and replace the parts without touching the indicator again.

Apart from parts modification, the in-house CNC is used mostly to make prototype parts and production tooling. Stan has a long-established relationship with production shops that make parts in mass quantities. These include semi-auto internals like linear hammers, small pins and dowels, muzzle nuts, and anything that’s unsat or not reusable in the basic kits.

Project Guns' small parts come from US short-run machine shops. After inspection, they go in this parts sorter for the assembly gunsmith.

Project Guns’ small parts come from US short-run machine shops. After inspection, they go in this parts sorter for the assembly gunsmith.

Stan has built and shipped 450 RPDs in the past, and notes that the quality of this batch of kits shows that they’re more well-used than the early batches, which were guns that had been stored new and never fired until they were demilled. With a new receiver and barrel, and many new small parts, and new bluing, the metal parts will look new, but some of the wood in this shipment shows that some of these guns were used hard by the Polish Army during its Warsaw Pact days. You can probably make a request for a more pristine or a more “characterful” RPD at this point, but there’s no assurance there’s any more kits to be had after these, and as they get used up your choices may dwindle.

Of the 150 kits he’s building, 100 are earmarked for United States customers and 50 are spoken for by a Canadian distributor, assuming the Canadian can get clearance from the Mounties, something he’s been working on for some time already. It’s pretty hard to imagine a collector firearm like this, essentially an expensive toy, finding a criminal use, but the mere look of it casts an icy blast of terror on hoplophobes.

Project Guns is not a retail gun dealer. If you want to get your name on the list for an RPD — they’re $2,500 a pop — it’s time now, and the gun will be delivered to your local FFL.



Perp Locked Up, Guns Remain At Large, in the Case of the Filched Firearms

500px-US-FBI-ShadedSeal.svgBecause the newspaper reporter missed it, we have to drag it out of her story for you. The Worcester, MA, Telegram: 

James Walter Morales of Cambridge was arrested without incident Wednesday night in New York by the FBI and the Nassau County Police Department, authorities said.
According to an affidavit filed in connection with the case, Mr. Morales was at the Army Reserve facility on North Lake Avenue on or about Nov. 12 to obtain copies of his discharge papers.

Want to bet it was bad, or borderline, paper?

A surveillance video from a nearby building depicts Mr. Morales spending about six hours, from 6:43 p.m. until shortly after midnight, going back and forth from his car to the armory with duffel bags. The FBI declined to comment when asked if the six M-4 rifles and 10 Sig Sauer M11 9 mm pistols that were stolen have been recovered. According to the affidavit, the M-4 rifles are capable of firing a single shot, or a three-round burst for each single pull of the trigger.

That’s the indicator that they haven’t recovered the firearms. If they had, they’d be crowing about it. Ever known the FBI to be reticent about a success? We neither. If the Bureau is being reticent, the success didn’t happen.

At the time of the theft, Mr. Morales was wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet, according to the affidavit. Investigators said he cut off the device at 8:48 a.m. Monday.

We’re getting a vibe here that he’s not one of nature’s noblemen, and when the postman comes, he’s not bringing the monthly MENSA chapter newsletter.

Authorities said Mr. Morales got into the building by breaking a window of a kitchen located near the drill room. They were able to identify the suspect through a DNA analysis of blood the thief left after he used a power saw and pry tool to cut a hole into the roof to access the gun vault.

FYI, a “drill room” or “drill hall” is a large, gymnasium-like concrete-floor area in an Army Reserve or National Guard building. It normally has a big door so large trucks can be loaded inside, and its wide floor is used as a place to hold formations during monthly training “drills.” Off the drill hall, smaller rooms are used as offices, supply rooms, and armories. The Arms Room is usually accessed through the supply room’s outer door, and is strongly vaulted and equipped with a moderately sophisticated alarm system, which regulations require to be in use at all times.

This drill hall had a de facto waiver for the alarm system during ongoing construction, which someone must have told Morales was the case. Not real bright, that.

Morales was ID’d by DNA. For decades, the military has taken a DNA swab of all personnel. The claim was that it was for battlefield ID, but the real reason was to build the FBI’s DNA database. (The same mechanism used to build a national fingerprint file). As veterans commit fewer crimes than their non-vet cohort, this tool has been limited for crimefighting, but the FBI is also attracted to its potential for population control, as they keep getting greater and greater domestic warrantless surveillance powers.

In this case, though, the DNA swab they took from Morales paid off in a crime solution — or part of one. The guns are still out there.

Investigators were able to obtain Mr. Morales’ phone number from his Facebook page. They located a second phone number for him from the Probation Department at Middlesex Superior Court. Authorities executed a search warrant to track the phone to Mr. Morales, according to the affidavit.

Is that how they got the warrant, or simply the “parallel construction”? As always in cases with Federal agencies tapped into NSA’s universal domestic surveillance, you’ll never know — even if you’re Morales’s defense attorney. (Probably a Designated Diver from the Public Defender’s Office, anyway).

It’s not like Morales is a sterling character. He’s enough of a perv that even Massachusetts has laws against him, although note they kindly enabled this crime wave by dropping his bail:

Mr. Morales was indicted by a Middlesex grand jury on May 19, on charges of aggravated rape of a child, forcible rape of a child, and indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14 (two counts). His bail was later reduced from $25,000 to $5,000. A condition of his release was that he wear an electronic monitoring device. A warrant was issued for his arrest on Nov. 16, after the Probation Department notified the Middlesex District Attorney’s office that he was not being monitored by GPS. Mr. Morales was scheduled to appear at a previously-scheduled pretrial hearing on Nov. 17.

Well, that was the day after he cut off his GPS anklet and burglarized the armory, so at least they caught the dead bracelet quickly.

Mr. Morales is expected to make an appearance Friday in U.S. District Court on Long Island and then to be taken to Worcester to face charges in U.S. District Court. He is charged with unlawful possession of a machine gun, unlawful possession of stolen firearms (two counts), and theft of government property.

via Arrest made in theft of weapons from Worcester armory – News – – Worcester, MA.

Note that the criminal-friendly MA prosecutors are already dealing him some wild cards. He stole sixteen firearms, but they’re not piling on with 16 counts. He isn’t even in court yet, and he’s already had 13 felony charges go away.

keep-calm-and-carry-a-fbi-badgeAnd he has something the FBI really wants: knowledge of where the 16 missing Army guns went.


We’ve seen the FBI’s warrant affidavit, and this story tracks it closely. We did note that the FBI agent, Colgan Norman, apparently can’t spell “hangar,”  and it made us wonder if he was one of these FBI agents (YouTube link).

MG5 Contract Document Translation

We’ve referred before to the MG5 contract document, which Nathanial F. of The Firearm Blog found and posted. This document comprises some two dozen or so questions from German parliamentarians (Bundestagabgeordnete) to the armed forces (Bundeswehr) about the MG5 contract (and a few about the G27 contract). We did a hasty translation of the first part of the document for Nathaniel, and sent it off to him, but we continued to work on the sucker and it is attached to this post.

Because any post on a gun should include pictures, here’s one showing that the MG5 is available in basic black, for those who may be diffident about the RAL 8000 earth tone color.


Can’t decide between black and baby stool brown uh, RAL 8000 earth tone? If you’re a big enough army, H&K will make you one in fashionable two-tone. (If you’re a civilian, fuggedaboudit. HK. Because you suck. And we hate you.)


The color matters, apparently, as the Bundeswehr asked the Oberndorf manufacture if they could change the color… after getting a hearty “Jawohl!” the service did a most un-Germanic dither1 and decided to leave the color as it was.


Don’t take our word for it. Here’s our translation of the whole document (which does, we suppose, make you take our word for it, literally). Further, nobody’s paying for this translation so we’re not going to guarantee it.In fact, we’re sure there’s an error or three in there somewhere, but it’s a far more accurate gist that you’ll get from a robotranslation.



  1. Come on, when Shakespeare wrote a play about a guy who dithered, did he make him a German? He did not. The Bard knew just how far he could stretch reality!

How Long is an M2HB .50 Good For?

Nobody really knows, but this one came in to the Anniston Army Depot for conversion. They’d already stamped it M2A1 (as can be seen in this close-close-blow-up, along with the original maker marks of “Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Mfg Co, Hartford”) when they realized it wasn’t just any M2 heavy machine gun. It was older than the oldest one they had kept as a museum display! Serial Number 324 was probably made in 1921 or 1922, and had never been overhauled before.


The Army PR release was picked up by a site called We Are The Mighty, and from there, one of our commenters flagged us to it.

Roughly 94 years after the first production run of M2 machine guns came off the assembly line, the 324th weapon produced made it to Anniston Army Depot for overhaul and upgrade.

Cody Bryant, left, and Corby Tinney inspect the 324th M2 receiver ever produced. The weapon arrived at Anniston Army Depot to be converted to a M2A1 in May. Photo: Army Materiel Command Mrs. Jennifer Bacchus

In more than 90 years of existence, the receiver with serial number 324 has never been overhauled.

“Looking at the receiver, for its age, it looks good as new and it gauges better than most of the other weapons,” said John Clark, a small arms repair leader.


Despite the fact that the weapon still meets most specifications, it may be destined for the scrap yard.

Modifications made to the weapon in the field mean part of the receiver would have to be removed through welding and replaced with new metal, a process which usually means the receiver is scrap.

“I’d rather put this one on display than send it to the scrap yard,” said Clark, adding the weapon’s age makes it appealing as a historical artifact.

Currently, the 389th M2 is on display in the Small Arms Repair Facility. There is an approval process the older weapon would have to go through in order to be similarly displayed. Clark and Jeff Bonner, the Weapons Division chief, are researching and beginning that process.

via The Army found an M2 .50 caliber machine-gun still shooting perfectly after 90 years of service.

When you think about what has changed since 1921, two competing thoughts come to mind. This first is: it’s about time they did something about headspace and timing, long the one real anachronism of the brilliant Browning designs. And the second: while the M2HB has outlasted a half-dozen would-be replacements, what else from 1921 is still current?

Not cars. Here’s a 1921 Chevrolet:

1921 Chevrolet

Here’s another. This one’s for sale. Good luck, buyers.


Here’s the telephone company in 1921:

1921 telephone office

Winners of a “Bathing Beauties” swimsuit competition:

bathing beauties 1922

(OK, we cheated a little, the Atlantic City Bathing Beauties are from ’22).

And in 1921, the US Army took two bold moves into the future. It established a new form of mobile unit, in answer to the trench warfare of World War I: the First Cavalry Division. Yes, on horses.


And the Army introduced a new gun: Gun, Machine, .50, M2, Flexible, Heavy Barrel. While most of everything else from 1921 is as obsolete as the cavalry charge, the M2 is going to make its centenary with relatively few improvements.

Who knew it would outlast the horses?

Rapid-Build Improvised SMG

Meet the “Table Leg Typewriter”, recently written up in The Firearm Blog, it’s a beyond-crude SMG that can be made in a few hours from common materials and (mostly) simple tools. (The exception, the one tool that requires some practice to use, is a welder).

It looks, in the diagram below, like just another Sten-alike — and it does use a Sten mag, although an alternative, apparently un-prototyped, mag design is provided — but it actually has a number of fascinating features that make it even more fit for cottage manufacture, and especially, for manufacture under conditions of pervasive surveillance, than even the robust, simple Sten.


The trade-offs, however, are rather stiff and you can expect to have problems with this thing, if you ever try to use it as a weapon. Problems like these:

  1. There are several compromises that negate the gun’s accuracy potential. In the order of their seriousness, they are the lack of a stock, the lack of any sights, and the lack of a rifled barrel.
  2. The use of screws and bolts suggests the gun has a high potential for self-disassembly.
  3. There is literally no safety designed into this weapon. That is, both “safety, n., a device on a firearm to prevent accidental discharge,” and also “safety, n., the state or status of being safe.” Both are utterly lacking here! To be safe, a blowback, open-bolt SMG needs a way to lock the bolt closed over an empty chamber, and a safety notch with the bolt back is also  a plus (this was added to the MP.38 in production, and standard on the Sten). The Table Leg Typewriter lacks a trigger guard (the trigger is a rectangular plate), and it also lacks any mechanical advantage preventing the bolt from overriding the sear (which can be seen in the drawing as a square piece with a spring putting tension on it).

The design is one of at least a dozen published in small booklets. The series is titled “Practical Scrap Metal Small Arms.” Most of them show a remarkable simplicity, even elegance, in their crudity.

For the Table Leg Typewriter, the interesting thing is the way it is built to exploit readily available structural shapes, with the absolute least requirement for tools and tooling. For instance, where a part must be thick, like the bolt, for example, it is made of multiple nested thinwall box-section tubes, with a bar welded in its center. Need to make a hole, and don’t have a milling machine? Nothing to it. Drill a series of holes, connect them with an angle grinder, and clean up. From the booklet, here’s the formation of the ejection port:


The conceptual design of the nested-tube parts may be the most interesting facet of the design, but the bog-simple (if unsafe) trigger is also interesting. The whole weapon is an example of reduction ad minimum and it illustrates the unpleasant fact, for gun controllers, that the next simplest gun to a zip gun is a zip submachine gun. No, it’s hardly a Mk.17 SCAR-H, but it’s a real, working, gun (although the prototype shown in the book allegedly has a permanently demilled barrel).

Paradoxically, such weapons are often produced where oppression is greatest; disarming Homo sapiens sapiens is a foolish, doomed venture, so long as h. sapiens retains a thinking mind and opposable thumbs.

Will a weapon like this work? That depends on how you define “work.” If you mean, “Be a good armament for some element of a national army, then, no. That’s not what this weapon is for. Even as a guerrilla or resistance arm, it really needs a stock, sights, a trigger guard and a notch safety, or your G’s are going to be self-attriting before they ever see the enemy.

But if you define “work” as “successfully fire, and serve as a better alternative to nothing when nothing is otherwise the only alternative,” then, yeah, it ought to work.

German MG5 Accuracy Issue was Barrel Changes — Updated

Bear with us a bit as we’re still sick as the proverbial dog, and translating a long document, courtesy of Nathaniel F of The Firearm Blog. Along with a couple of interesting series on oddball magazines and the mid-20th-Century Light Rifle concept (which yielded the NATO rifles of the second half of the century, until the resurgent intermediate assault rifle concept and the 5.56 cartridge replaced them), he’s also stayed on the Bundeswehr’s small arms scandals.

The base MG5 replaces the MG3 in Bundeswehr service. It's mostly a scale-up of the MG4, a successful 5.56 mm LMG.

HK’s base MG5 replaces the MG3 in Bundeswehr service. It’s mostly a scale-up of the MG4, a successful 5.56 mm LMG. It has a close resemblance to the Mk,48, a scale-up of the Mk.46 US version of the Minimi which the MG4 resembles, in design and ergonomics.

These scandals have tested the tight relationship between the Bund’s ordies and their major supplier of shootin’ irons, Heckler & Koch. The Oberndorf firm has been rocked by various accusations of a too-tight relationship with the service, which has resulted in undertested weapons that fell short of some sensible expectations, particularly in sustained accuracy with a hot gun (where the G36 rifle flags) and holding point of impact after a barrel change (where the specs were altered to meet what the 7.62mm MG5 could practically do.

It's most commonly seen in this version with a comfortable inline collapsible stock.

The HK MG5 is most commonly seen in this version with a comfortable inline collapsible stock. Any NATO optic can be attached, like the EOTech seen here..

Note that this is not a problem of precisionThe new barrel puts the bullets in as tight a group as the old one did. It is a problem of accuracy — the new group is in a new position. This is fairly normal with an MG barrel change (it’s why some MGs incorporate adjustable foresights on the barrels, so both barrels in a typical GPMG’s suite of two can be zeroed to the same point of impact). The initial specification called for a very tight 5 centimeter — two inch — shift in mean point of impact after a barrel change in semi-auto fire, and 10 cm (four inches, 4.16 if you want to be pedantic, and we do, don’t we?) in automatic fire. In the end, these numbers were not achievable, which shouldn’t shock anyone who’s ever worked with the design, maintenance, or operation of machine guns. You’re not going to get that out of anything you change barrels on without insane amounts of hand fitting, at least, for a production service firearm. You can’t get that consistency out of a Minimi/249, a 240, a PK, or a 60 or 1919 for you Old School guys.

HK MG5 in a vehicle mounted version. All images courtesy HK.

HK MG5 in a vehicle mounted version. The German service is all in for this gun. All images courtesy HK.

They changed the mean-POI-shift spec, by agreement between the ordnance officers and H&K, to 10 and 15 cm respectively — still pretty impressive numbers.

This document relates to those specs and that change. It is a series of increasingly suspicious questions put by the Bundestag, Germany’s unicameral Parliament, to the Ministry of Defense. Indeed, the suspicion towards the end of the questionnaire devolves into nearly-paranoid badgering.

HK MG5 in a solenoid-operated version for aircraft, armor, CROWS, etc.

HK MG5 in a solenoid-operated version for aircraft, armor, CROWS, etc.

We have already shared the translation of the first parts of with Nathaniel (it was only fair, as his source Axel brought him the original document), and shortly we’ll post a couple excerpts of it to this post, and attach a .pdf. Meanwhile, Nathaniel went live with a robotranslated version.


In our bozosity we looked at the sentence several times, sure we had something wrong, and sure enough published with accuracy and precision starring in a swapped places farce, like the Prisoner of Zenda. Honest, Germany only sometimes resembles Ruritania, and we only sometimes confuse the two.


This post has been updated. Some small typos have been corrected. Our original intent was to post the document here, but it will be posted later this week (there’s a lot of it to translate).


The rarest STEN variant?

It looks like an ordinary STEN at a glance, with the mag housing rotated like you can do on a Mk.II, the most common-and-garden of World War II’s most common-and-garden submachine gun. Can you pick up what’s different, yet?


Maybe if we show you t’other side?


Still looks like a bog-standard STEN… except, wait. Is that magwell welded in place, and not rotatable at all? A Sten with a vertical feed….?

What if we zoom in on the crossbolt selector? (Yes, as rough and ready as the STEN design was, from the first it incorporated selective fire. Semi-auto from an open bolt isn’t going to win you a bunch of trophies, but it works fine).


Hmmm. The semi switch is labeled…”E”? Let’s see the other side, and see what it says there.


“D” on the talk-to-a-crowd side. You’ve officially got enough clues now that you should have been shouting this thing’s name aloud.

Answer after the jump.

Continue reading

Five Rare Colt MGs on GunBroker — From One Seller!

Here’s some good Class 3 stuff from a single dealer on GunBroker. It feels like a single collection of Colt weapons being liquidated, but in any event five of the six firearms he’s offering are rare Colt machine guns. (The sixth is an ordinary Sig M400 AR).

In chronological order, they are:

Colt BAR R75A Machine Gun RARE

Here;s what the vendor says about it:

Up for bids is something you don’t see everyday. A Colt BAR R75A. Next to the Colt Monitor, it does not get more rare when it comes to BARs. This one was made with a quick change barrel, and pistol grip. It appears to be unfired! I can not guarantee that, but it is in excellent condition – especially for its age.


This weapon is in my inventory, on a form 3 ready for a fast transfer to your dealer. Can be transferred on a form 4 if purchased within PA. Will ship with one twenty round magazine. The last R75A that went up for sale 8 years ago sold for $85,000. I am starting this auction 20K below that.

We;d observe that, rare as it is, it is less in demand than a GI style BAR. It, and the FN MOdel D, are probably the best BARs for someone into the “shooting of” rather than the “history.” Of course, if this thing really is unfired, it probably won’t be shot by its new owner.

H&R M16A1 US Property Marked Machine Gun

The Pennsylvania dealer selling these weapons has a “rare” M16A1 variant — only a couple hundred thousand were made! But two other things make this A1 rare — its minty condition, and its availability as a transferable MG.

H&R M16A1

There were some 246,000 rifles made by H&R under the contract.  The serial numbers ran from 2,000,000 to 2,246,000 (approximately). Serial numbers through 2,999,999 were reserved for H&R but never used. This shows this rifle (2,244,611) to be one of the very last H&R military firearms. The numbers  Relatively few made it from GI status (as this one was, with its PROPERTY OF US GOVT rollmark) through the po-po to the NFA Registry before the 1986 cut-off on new machine guns. Here’s what the dealer says.

Up for bids is a new, unfired Harrington & Richardson M16A1. The H&R M16A1s are one of the rarer variants, and do not pop up often. Has the “Property of US” roll mark. Still has the plastic red cap on barrel. Will ship with the original twenty round magazine. Gun is in excellent condition.

The pictures (many more at the link) show that he’s not exaggerating the condition. The gun is as new in all respects, including complete lack of the usual military acceptance stamp in paint, or any indicia of an arsenal rebuild. It seems to have gone right from the Worcester, Mass. factory, to a GI warehouse, to someplace whence it could get on to the registry, without passing through the usual GI abuse.

It  was made during the single batch of contract M16A1s made by H&R during 1968-70 and appears in all respects to be a “time capsule.” Note the mix of solid and dimpled takedown pins.  It’s invisible in this picture, but in one of the others you can just make out that the upper receiver has casting flash on the front and rear outside surfaces of the carrying handle, something that is absent from Colt-made firearms.

Colt AR15 Model 639 Machine Gun New

This is a type that also exists in very small numbers on the transferable market. It is the commercial market version of the XM177E2 Submachine Gun, the most successful first-generation Colt “carbine,” and the direct forerunner of the M4 series.


The vendor says this about it:

Up for bids is a rare Colt Model 639 Machine gun with registered matching flash enhancer/suppressor. This gun is in new, unfired excellent condition. These guns don’t pop up often, especially in this condition. Would make an outstanding investment.

Colt M231 Port Firing Machine Gun NIB US Property 

This transferable rarity has not much practical use — as the later, more common, version of the M231, it’s completely without any stock (it was meant to lock into swivels in a Bradley) or sights (it’s aimed with tracers, like a fire hose). It has a fire-hose rate of fire, too.


The vendor says this about it:

Up for bids today is a rare find. A brand new Colt M231 Port Firing Gun with US Property roll mark and government inspectors mark. M231s are one of the rarest variants in the M16 platform on the NFA registry. Fires from an open bolt at around 1100 RPM! Has threads in the forearm to screw into a firing port on the side of the Bradley Assault Vehicle. This is a transferable machine gun, and a great investment. It has had one owner since it left the Colt factory. … Will ship in the original box, and a thirty round magazine.

This next picture shows a US Army acceptance stamp, missing from the M16A1 above but present on this M231. It is the white paint marking on the front of the magwell.

M231 04

For plinking, an 1100-rpm open-bolt subgun with no sights has its joys, but the earlier wire-stocked version is a little more practical (or a little less impractical, maybe). Of course, a gun like this is more likely to be kept in its unfired condition by a doting collector than taken to the range to burn off your excess Wolf 55-grain.

The M231 is a unique American combat weapon,  a true oddity that has even been phased out, almost, of mech-infantry service (most of the firing ports have been removed from the vehicles to accommodate other improvements).

Colt RO633 DOE Sub Machine Gun SMG RARE

This is another one that is extremely rare, at least, in a fully-transferable state. It’s a special ultra-compact Colt 9mm SMG made to compete with the MP5K for the affections of the tactical teams guarding sensitive nuclear site. The R0633 won out, no surprise if you’ve shot the K a lot, but was never produced in large numbers.

Colt R0633 DEA 9mm SMG

Up for bids is something you don’t see everyday. This is a factory Colt DOE 9mm RO633 sub machine gun. As you know, the RO635 is the full size SMG. There are only a few hundred transferable examples of these on the NFA registry. There are less then 6 transferable DOE RO633 examples. This is truly a rare gun, that you may never see again. Will ship with one Colt 30 round magazine and factory box.Pr maube an unfired MG is really worth 150% of what a fired example goes for?

Most of these would be a fine stand-alone centerpiece to a Colt or US martial or LE arms collection.

None of the guns (not even the M400) has drawn a bid. In our opinion, the seller has placed the opening bids too high for the market.

And for people who wonder about past GunBroker exotics posted here, that one guy is still flogging his Johnson. People must be clinging to their cash reserves in an election year.

Someone’s Flogging His Big Johnson

Of course, you can’t have it if you’re in Libya, North Korea, New York, New Jersey or Massachusetts because it’s a big assault Johnson, but what it is, is a rare Johnson LMG kit, restored onto a semi Johnson M1941 rifle receiver, producing a legal semi-auto Johnson LMG. And you can have it — if you win the auction.

big Johnson 13

Manufactured on the original Johnson 1941 semi auto receiver , using original US GI LMG parts , semi auto only . Excellent condition , park. military finish ,mint original barrel , beautiful wood furniture. Test fired only. The gun fires , extracts and reloads 100% , very accurate. The gun comes with bipod and 3 magazines. Shipping to an FFL or C&R holder. The gun will be shipped from FFL in PA.

big Johnson 02

via 1941 Johnson LMG light machine gun semi m1941 : Semi Auto Rifles at

There are a number of these around. By “a number,” though, we’re probably talking about a single digit number. The parts kits are rare, and the rifles are valuable enough to collectors that it’s hard to make the case for sacrificing one.

Johnson guns get their collector cachet from their rarity1 and their use in training and combat by elite elements including the Paramarines, the Marine Raiders, the Canadian-American First Special Service Force (all ephemeral, hostilities-only WWII units), the OSS, and Brigada 2506, the Bay of Pigs invaders. The Marines and Cubanos only used the rifles; the FSSF, only the machine guns. Any surviving Johnson has some part of this history.

Because the Johnsons were not standard arms with standard doctrinal spare parts and maintenance support, they were withdrawn and replaced with US standard rifles and auto rifles/LMGs. Carefully packed away, all of them except for probable OSS/CIA stocks were surplused after the war.

We don’t know what it will go for. The current bid in the $8k neighborhood has not met the reserve (the rifles sell for $4k and up). Some comments, and the rest of the photos, after the jump.


  1. 30,000 Johnson M1941 rifles were made, a large percentage of which survive, but only about 3,000 were machine guns according to ATF Form 2s filed by Johnson Automatics. The Johnson M1944 machine gun appears to have been produced only in prototype quantities.

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Extra: Another SA80 Chart, and the Defense Industrial Base

Here’s another SA80 chart from the aforementioned HK presentation. It was not presented because, as you can see, the legend is garbled. The numbers look a little better, but we’ll get to those after we fix the chart.



Thinking about the garble, it occurred to us that the garbled “words” had the characteristic frequency count (at a glance) of a substitution, not transposition cipher; therefore, perhaps the characters had been subjected to a Caesarian cipher like ROT-13. Why, we have no idea; this is Ernst Mauch era HK, where “you suck and we hate you” was corporate policy.

Indeed, LZ and OVZ are clearly meant to be IW and LSW, and are the letters 3 spaces further along the alphabet. We quickly built an Excel decoder1 and determined that the lines below were not Caesarian +3.  E u x q h l, for example, yields H x { t k o when subjected to +3. That can’t be it!

Changing to -3, E u x q h l decodes as B r u n e i. More like it. D o d v n d becomes A l a s k aN x z d l w breaks out as K u w a i t, and Z d u p l q v w h u (the “u” is there, it’s almost invisible against the blue background) becomes W a r m i n s t e r. Exactly where the narrative tells us the 2001 tests took place! Here’s a corrected slide.



Why HK went to NDIA with a jacked-up slide, and why they jacked it up like this, are mysteries for the ages, but we’re inclined to think that it could have been sheer bloodymindedness on the part of Powerpoint. Powerpoint has bugs on its bugs sometimes. Couple that with a presentation handed off to someone to deliver who was a gun expert, not a computer jockey, and therefore couldn’t fix it. It also could be that HK didn’t go to the show with a bad slide. It might have been perfectly fine in PowerPoint and been botched by NDIA’s or DTIC’s conversion to .pdf. A vast quantity of data is lost in this conversion every show (including every video), so it’s not hard to imagine a perfect slide from HK going garbled in this process.

In any event, we have ungarbled it for the ages, although lots of luck getting the correction back into DTIC. Not going to happen.

Now, as to the numbers in this slide, they look better than the ones previously addressed, but they’re still not good for the LSW. The rifle numbers are OK and you’d get similar numbers from anything good (yes, even AK). While the LSW numbers show that HK really worked their Teutonic tushes off to try to make a silk purse of this sow’s ear, it’s still a sow’s ear. Reliability numbers of 89 to 94 percent sound great, until you break it down to failures per magazine. Here are some reliability percentages from the HK tests; the two on the left are from the 1999 tests, the four on the right  from Alaska, Brunei, Kuwait and Warminster testing in 2001.



99 01 AK 01 Bru 01 Ku 01 Warm
96% 86% 95% 90% 89% 94% Reliability percentage
28.8 25.8 28.5 27 26.7 28.2 Average good rounds per 30-round mag
1.2 4.2 1.5 3 3.3 1.8 Average failures per 30-round mag

Is 95% reliability reliable enough for you? That best-case reliability (tested, remember, by the same guys selling the modifications to the MOD) yields three failures in every two magazines in the light support weapon L86A2.

If your car was 95% reliable, you’d be late to work three days every two months. If you still had the job after that.

It’s amazing that dogged German engineering could come so close to triumph over what we’re really hesitant to call bad design just because the “design” of the L85 was so haphazard in the first place. History records how designers like Kalashnikov and Garand and Stoner adopted and adapted parts concepts from earlier designers’ best ideas. But those guys knew what they were doing. It’s sad to see that by the 1970s, Enfield Lock was reduced to copying (and borrowing) parts from other firearms without understanding them or doing proper engineering substantiation or testing. They may not even have known what it was they didn’t know, and the proceeded to give the British Army a rifle that was so much less than such a good organization deserves. They were unskilled and unaware of it — a Dunning-Kruger index case.

It would have been something to hear the muttering in Oberndorf as various Herr Professor Doktor Dipl.Ing guys finally got a chance to examine the documents on what they were committed to re-engineer, when they realized it had never been engineered in the first place.

There is also a lesson here that goes far beyond the tragedy of the L85 or the world of small arms for that matter: it’s that there is a price for neglecting or ceding your defense industrial base. For reasons of policy and politics, Britain went in 100 years from a hotbed of firearms RDT&E, engineering and manufacture to a nation which can’t design an infantry rifle or pistol and will henceforth have to import them. Germany is very close to the same position today: their export controls and the G36 fiasco make it increasingly likely that some future German prime minister will have to go to his or her future French counterpart (Marine le Pen?) and ask to buy guns. Bismarck would be fit to be tied.


  1. To do this, convert the character to its ASCII code, with the Excel CODE() command, where the parenths are full of the cell reference you want to convert. Then you have a number to which you can apply any numeric operator — all we need here is addition and subtraction. Then take than number and convert it back to an ASCII character with the CHAR() command.