Category Archives: Historical Places

Parker Otto Ackley Hated his Christian Name

That’s why he went by P.O. all his life. Anybody claiming to be his friend and talking about, “Parker and I…” immediately made an ass of himself to Ackley’s real friends, who were many, and influential in the small world of American firearms.

This is just one of the fascinating details we’ve learned from P.O. Ackley: America’s Gunsmith by Fred Zeglin.

In a time when college graduates and even high school graduates were rare, Ackley was a magna cum laude graduate of Syracuse University (in New York, his native state). His degree was in Agriculture, and he was a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

Why did he become a gunsmith? “During the Depression, there was nothing else to do anyway.” His college studies had made him a remarkably good potato farmer, but his potatoes found no buyers.

In 1936, he bought the Roseburg, Oregon shop of Ross King, who had in turn bought the business from the widow of his former employer in Los Angeles, Ludwig Wundhammer, arguably the first great American sporterizer of military rifles. King moved back to LA and kept gunsmithing for some years.

Ackley bought the shop sight unseen, sold the family farm, and drove to Roseburg to meet King — whose work he respected greatly — and see his new shop. He paid King $1,000 down and $1,000 over time, on a handshake. But he didn’t know barrel making, so he accepted the offer of a friend to teach him. Leaving the family in Roseburg, he spent most of 1936-37 in Cincinnati learning the trade from Fritz, last name unknown, an employee of the friend, Ben Hawkins.

Ackley built much of his own tooling. He could afford only one gun-drill, so his early barrels were all bored .22 and reamed to final size with reamers he made himself. His own rifling machine was one of the earliest button-rifling mechanisms — he claimed to have co-invented the process, although he never filed a patent on it — and an entire chapter of the book is Ackley’s own detailed technical description of this tool. Ackley wrote it for a book that was never published, and the rifling-tool chapter may be the only surviving fragment.

In that chapter, as in many other places in the book, Ackley’s wit shines through.

“P.O. said that Elmer Keith was the biggest bullshit artist in the United States, but if he said he hit something with a .44 Magnum at 1000 yards, you better believe it, ’cause he could shoot.”

“The best way to get an answer to the problem is to ask someone who has never made a barrel. They can always tell you.”

Ackley’s foundation of the school of gunsmithing at the Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado was a surprising story. Ackley left the Ogden, Utah arsenal during the war — some say, after a falling out with co-worker Elmer Keith, the story of which Zeglin was not able to establish, and unconfirmed stories about which Zeglin was unwilling to publish. He ultimately wound up in Trinidad, and, after the war, was buried in a mountain of correspondence from GIs seeking gunsmithing training under their GI Bill benefits. The college, meanwhile, was getting similar letters — thousands of them.

The gunsmithing school was a success from the start, and early students remember an unusual instructional technique: Ackley would disassemble a gun and reassemble it where students could not see it, talking them through the process. Then, in the lab, they’d have to do it themselves, forcing them to learn by doing, not monkey-see-monkey-do.

Lee Womack, one of his former students, wrote:

In spite of his 16-hour days, he was always available…. He gave freely of any information he might have. He used to say that anybody in the gun business who thought he had a trade secret was just kidding himself.

This year will be the 70th anniversary of the program, a living memorial to an interesting American craftsman.

We’ll close with a few more Ackley quotes. On bullpup actions:

My opinion of the Bull-pup idea in general would not be very complimentary, and like the man once said, “If you can’t say anything good about it, then don’t say anything at all.” Therefore, I am silent as HELL on this subject.

On relative and absolute strengths of rifle actions, something which he experimented on extensively:

[A]ny action can be blown up if you try hard enough.

On the strength of the Italian Carcano, proven in his blow-up tests:

In spite of the fact that the locking lugs looked as though you could knock them off with a tack hammer, we were unable to damage any one of the four bolts appreciably. When the actions finally let go the receiver ring flew off, but this didn’t come until we had reached loads whitch had previously blown up P-17 Enfields. I wish to point out. however, that none of this should be used to conclude that the rifle could ever be made into a desirable hunting arm because that is a fairly good definition of the word impossibility.

As you might imagine, we’re loving the book.

How are Hammer Forged Barrels Made? And Why?

A European website has a reprint of an excellent article by Vern Briggs of Ruger and Professor James Higley of Purdue. We’ve discussed the various ways of rifling barrels; we thought you’d appreciate Briggs’s and Higley’s deep dive into the process and technology of the most capital-intensive form of barrelmaking, cold hammer forging. (Actually, it could be hot hammer forging just as easily, as we’ll see at the end).

They begin with a history lesson:

To speed up production, German engineers came up with the hammer forging process to pound machine gun barrels to shape from the outside in. Interestingly, Remington took the opposite approach when it perfected button rifling a few years later by forcing the rifling from the inside out. These two differences play a large part in the behavior of the two barrel types which we’ll discuss shortly.

In the aftermath of World War II, forging expertise ended up in Austria with GFM (http://www.agfm.com/ in the USA), and they have become the leading hammer forging machine manufacturer with machines dating back to 1946. European gun manufacturers began using the technology shortly after the war while American manufacturers didn’t start until the 1960s.

As far as we know, the first use of hammer forging in the USA was by TRW on the US Rifle M14 contract. TRW was selected, in part, because it wasn’t a firearms manufacturer, but instead was a maker of machinery and aeronautical and automotive parts. Ordnance officers thought that TRW might be able to bring down costs and improve quality by applying automotive mass-production technology — and that’s exactly what they did with hammer-forged barrels.

This is a big GFM rotary-forging machine with a robotic loader. GFM stands for Gesellschaft für Maschinenbau

Today, Sturm, Ruger & Company uses 6 GFM machines to make all their centerfire rifle, target rimfire, round handgun, and shotgun barrels. Remington has more GFM machines than Ruger, and other manufacturers have one or two machines each, some from other manufacturers. Hence, there are about 20 hammer forging machines actively producing barrels in the USA with none in the hands of small, custom barrel makers. The machines cost over a million dollars each, so it is no wonder only the largest firearms manufacturers have them.

Doing a little mental arithmetic, we can calculate that the sales of GFM machines to American gun makers only amounts to about $20 million over the past two decades or so, surely not enough to keep a large machinery manufacturer in business. In fact, barrel making is only a small part of GFM’s business; the automotive industry uses many of these machines, especially in Europe. American auto companies are starting to realize the benefits of hammer forging, and more and more forged car parts make their way onto the road everyday. While it won’t ever be as common as milling or turning, hammer forging has slowly become a common process in the manufacturing world.

The precision achievable with these machines is almost otherworldly.

While it seems like a rather crude process to beat the barrel down on the mandrel, the process actually requires quite a bit of finesse. Subtleties provide exceptional control of the bore and groove dimensions. For instance, the mandrel is tapered and can be moved in along the length of the barrel during forging. This provides two advantages. First, by precisely locating the mandrel in the bore, a specific bore size within 0.0001” can be obtained. Second, by adjusting the mandrel’s position during forging, the operator can create a tapered bore.

This was how the German war industries created the Gerlach taper-bore or squeeze-bore weapons during World War II. In essence, they used a tapering (but rifled!) barrel to squeeze down the driving bands on high velocity kinetic-energy rounds (with tungsten-carbide penetrators).

Here is how Daniel Defense makes an AR barrel, starting with steel rod, drilling a pilot hole, gundrilling the bore hole, then running it on the GFM machine, profiling it, chambering, etc.

One of the most interesting scenes (to us, at least) was the toolmaker using a surface grinder to reconfigure and restore the worn faces of hammers. The hammers last about 1,000 barrels before needing maintenance.

American GFM corporation links to a number of videos of these machines in operation. Here’s a sub-5-minute video of how a gigantic rotary forge machine takes a steel tube and forms it into a cannon or tank main gun barrel. It’s just like the Ruger or Daniel Defense process, except much larger — and the barrel preform is heated to roughly 2000ºF and maintained at that heat while being forged.

The Army designed and built its own machine, but it’s clearly a kissing cousin of the GFM hot-forge process.

The strengths of this process are speed and consistency. And the biggest obstacle to using this technology, of course, is the barrier to entry: such a machine is extremely expensive, even if you don’t need one big enough to work on 8″ guns.

Too Busy To Write, Here’s Sumdood’s Video (Ian on Colt)

Here’s Ian of Forgotten Weapons with a capsule history of Colt, currently holding down the title of the Most Mismanaged Company in the Gun Racket. Seemed timely, with Colt having purged the Custom Shop lately, in an overall downturn in the industry that has seen Remington lay off a couple of hundred employees, mostly factory workers in Ilion, New York, but also including a senior executive bloodletting. Can more drama for Colt be right around the corner?

Some day, B-School students will study the machinations of the last few rounds of Colt owners… if the guys studying them aren’t law students doing a block on white-collar crime.

But through all that, the company has made some fantastic guns. As the current owners seem intent on demonstrating, there’s a lot of ruin in a great marque.

You can find Ian’s videos on YouTube, but the quality of the videos is better, and the advertisers pay him better, on Full30.com. You do want him to get paid, right? Any time there’s nothing happening here, go to Full30 and watch some of his videos. He needs the money!

Arms of the Roman Legionary, 400 AD

All modern armies owe something to the Legions of Ancient Rome. A fascinating book, The Last Legionary by Paul Elliott, describes, as its subtitle suggests, Life as a Roman Soldier in Britain, AD 400. 

The book combines, in the style of Christopher Matthew’s A Storm of Spears (on the Greek hoplite at war; only $1.26 at that link; previously mentioned here in comments and here), the disciplines of history, material archaeology, and “experiential archaeology” as practiced by reenactors. Where The Last Legionary is different is that its facts about the Roman military’s last years in Roman Britannia are woven into the story of an simple soldier, we guess you could say an ordinary Gaius. Gaius was born in 362 to a Roman legionary, Maritius, and his wife, and on reaching his majority was compelled to join up under the edict of Diocletian, which committed sons to their fathers’ professions. Some youths dodged the draft by cutting their thumbs off, which was discouraged initially by burning the draft dodgers and later by drafting them anyway.

Gaius was no draft dodger, and accepted his fate. He swore an oath (to Christ and the Emperor) to serve, and if need be, die for the Roman Empire. Training was harsh and hardening, including formation drill, fast marches, position and fortification construction, and plenty of physical training.

Of most interest to our readers is probably the weaponry on which Gaius was expected to gain proficiency. While the Roman Legion of Caesar’s day fought primarily close-in with spear and short sword, by the fourth century projectiles were a major part of combat. To be a properly cross-trained legionary, Gaius would have to learn to master the sling, the recurve bow, the plumbata dart, three kinds of javelin, the crossbow ,and the barbarians’ own throwing axe, as well as the classical sword, shield and spear of centuries before. Indeed, missile weapons training usually began before close-in weapons training.

Late Roman Missile Weapons

The sling was a leather or woven cup with a cord proceeding from two corners. One cord is looped around the index finger, that’s the standing end of the sling; the other is tied in a knot, which is the running end, and the slinger releases it to launch the projectile — a stone, or a lead ball — but accuracy is hard to achieve, the author has learned. Roman sources suggest a single whip round, and setting the practice targets at — wait for it — 180 meters, same as for bows. Elliott has been unable to achieve this range, with the regular sling or using one with the cords proceeding form a stick.

The recurve bow came to the Roman army from encounters with Eastern enemies so armed. Mostly these were the tribes of the East; for centuries the Romans had trouble with Scythians and Parthians, among others.

The Romans adopted the recurve bow after seeing its effect first hand, and while it only bought them parity in the East, in the West it gave them technological superiority to the “self-bow” of the Gauls and Germans.

Often the ends or “ears” of the bow was strengthened with bone laths, and the body of the bow was carefully covered with leather to protect it from moisture. Wet conditions could ruin a recurve bow, as could misuse. Leaving the bow stringed and ready for action ruins the springiness of the bow and reduces its power. Unlike the sling, specialist craftsmen were needed to make these complex weapons.

The bowstring was drawn differently in units raised and trained in the eastern and western units. Western-trained archers shot using the fingers of their strong hand; Eastern-trained archers used a thumb ring. While archers could fire at individual targets, they were often used in volley fire.

The plumbata was a recent (~4th Century) addition to the Roman grunt’s panoply. It was a lead-weighted dart, shorter than an arrow, that could be thrown by hand or launched — as far as 100 m! —  with a sling or throwing stick.

Reconstructed plumbatae. Source.

Testa by the historical research group, Comitatus, have  found that an underhand throw was by far the best method.The plumbatae can reach an impressive distance, easily exceeding 60 m, and come down vertically directly onto the heads and shoulders of the enemy.

This is a different re-enactor group throwing plumbatae. From Roman-Artifacts.com.

Another Roman name for the plumbata was the “Barb of Mars.”

Surviving plumbata head. Source.

Romans used several types of javelins, known by the names pilum, spiculum, and verutum, but while these were nominally throwing weapons, they were hard to throw accurately or any distance.

Two weapons of secondary importance were the throwing axe, adopted from some of the northern Germanic tribes, and the crossbow, which was probably developed by scaling down a siege engine, but was rather new at the time. (Elliott cites sources that make it clear that the late Roman Empire deployed this weapon, which he points out that most people associate with medieval warfare. There was more continuity between antiquity and modernity than “dark ages” historiography suggests).

Late Roman Close Combat Weapons

The two basic combat weapons of antiquity were the sword and the spear. Technology had not stood still, and the soldier who fought blue-painted Britons in Roman Britain wasn’t armed quite like his ancestor in Caesar’s legions had been.

The sword was the spatha, a longer (~700mm) sword than the classic gladius of Caesar’s age. It was originally a weapon for cavalry.

Third Century spatha. Source.

Spatha were not crude mass-produced weapons, they were carefully wrought swords, often with pattern-welded blades. These blades were formed from several iron bars, all of different carbon content, that would twisted into a screw shape and then hammered and folded repeatedly. To this strong, yet flexible, core, hardened steel cutting edges were welded. The blades are strong and beautiful, with long straight sides and sharp points. The hilts and pommels were crafted from wood, horn or bone – all organic materials. In earlier centuries, the legionary sword hung on the soldier’s right side, but in the fourth century, soldiers wore their swords on the left, traditionally the preserve of centurions and senior officers.

In man to man combat the sword was used to stab into the body of a foe, but when engaging a shielded target the long spatha could be used to reach over the Shield to strike the head or neck, the shoulders, the sword arm, or the left leg….

If the spatha was the 400 AD legionary’s offensive weapon, his tactical defensive weapon was the spear. Spears had seen a lot less technological change in the preceding 400 years, but that’s for the best of reasons: they were quite well evolved already. A single spearman on the battlefield would have been vulnerable to being flanked and defeated by more agile foes, but no army — certainly not the Romans! — fights as individuals. Attacking a unit of spear-armed Romans was a mortal-consequences game of Slap The Porcupine. Wise enemies didn’t try, and unwise ones died or wised up PDQ.

The Roman shield, on the other hand, had changed since Caesar’s day. Caesar’s legions carried a rectangular shield, that in overhead plan view had an arc to it. The late Empire infantryman had a round shield, which worked better with the long spatha.

The infantryman of 400 AD had a great many weapons to master, along with all the other soldier skills of the day. And we enjoyed learning about his training, combat, and life in general, in The Last Legionary. 

Guns and Gun Smuggling… AD 1628-29

The Plymouth Colony existed from 1620 to 1692, when it merged with the greater Massachusetts Bay (Boston) Colony.

Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony reported regularly on the progress of the Pilgrim settlement. His reports are surprisingly engaging and immediate for documents approaching 400 years of age. One problem he had to deal with would be the plot of many a Western novel or film set 150 years after his time: unscrupulous merchants arming hostile Indians.

In the meantime [wampum] makes the tribes hereabouts rich and powerful and proud, and provides them with arms and powder and shot, through the depravity of some unworthy persons, both English, Dutch, and French, and likely to be the ruin of many. Hitherto the Indians round here had no guns or other arms but their bows and arrows, nor for many years after; they scarcely dared handle guns, they were so afraid of them; and the very sight of one, though out of kilter, was a terror to them.

But the Indians to the East who had dealings with the French got guns from them, and in time our English fishermen, with equal covetousness, followed their example. But upon complaint it pleased the King’s Majesty to prohibit it by a strict proclamation, commanding that no sort of arms or munition should be traded to the Indians by His subjects.

Some three or four years before this there came over one Captain Wollaston, a man of fine qualities, with three or four others of some distinction, who brought with them a great many servants, with provisions and other necessaries to found a settlement. NOTE 1

One of Wollaston’s men was named Morton, and Bradford has nothing good to say about Morton at all; he got involved in all kinds of willful mischief, and mocked the Puritans’ austere religion, but by far his greatest transgression was arming the Indians.

In order to maintain this riotous prodigality and excess, Morton, hearing what profit the French and the fishermen had made by trading guns, powder, and shot to the Indians, began to practise it hereabouts, teaching them how to use them. Having instructed them, he employed some of them to hunt and fowl for him, until they became far more able than the English, owing to their swiftness on foot and nimbleness of body, being quick-sighted, and knowing the haunts of all sorts of game. With the result that, when they saw what execution a gun would do and the advantage of it, they were mad for them and would pay any price for them, thinking their bows and arrows but baubles in comparison.

And here I must bewail the mischief that this wicked man began in this district, and which, continued by men that should know better, has now become prevalent, notwithstanding the laws to the contrary. The result is that the Indians are stocked with all kinds of arms, — fowling-pieces, muskets, pistols, etc. They even have moulds to make shots of all sorts, — musket bullets, pistol bullets, swan and geese shot and smaller sorts. It is well known that they often have powder and shot when the English lack it and cannot get it, it having been bought up and sold to those who trade it to the Indians at a shilling per pound — for they will buy it at any price. This goes on while their neighbours are being killed by the Indians every day, or are only living at their mercy. They have even been told how gun-powder is made, and all the materials that are in it, and that they are to be had in their own land; and I am confident that if they could only get saltpeter they would make gunpowder itself. Oh, the horror of this villainy! How many Dutch and English have lately been killed by Indians, thus furnished; and no remedy is provided, — nay, the evil has increased. The blood of their brothers has been sold for profit; and in what danger all these colonies are is too well-known. Oh! that princes and parliaments would take some timely steps to prevent this mischief and to suppress it, by exemplary punishment of some of those gain-thirsty murderers, — for they deserve no better title, — before their colonies in these parts are wiped out by the barbarous savages, armed with their own weapons by these traitors to their country.

But I have forgotten myself, and have been too long on this digression; now to return. Morton having taught them the use of guns, sold them all he could spare, and he and his associates determined to send for large supplies from England, having already sent for over a score by some of the ships. This being known, several members of the scattered settlements hereabouts agreed to solicit the settlers at New Plymouth, who then outnumbered them all, to join with them to prevent the further growth of this mischief, and to suppress Morton and his associates. Those who joined in this action, and afterwards contributed to the expense of sending him to England, were from Piscataqua, Naumkeag, Winnisimmett, Weesagascusett, Nantasket, and other places where the English had settled. The New Plymouth colonists thus addressed by their messengers and letters, and weighing their reasons and the common danger, were willing to help, though they themselves had least cause for fear. NOTE 2

Appeals to the British class hierarchy, the Crown, Morton’s previous pledges of allegiance, and so forth, were unavailing.

So they saw there was no way but to take him by force. They resolved to proceed, and unanimously requested the Governor of New Plymouth to send Captain Standish and sufficient men to seize Morton. This was accordingly done; but he defended himself stiffly, closed his doors, armed his associates, and had dishes of powder and bullets ready on the table; and if they had not been overarmed with drink, more harm might have been done. They summoned him to yield, but they got nothing but scoffs from him. At length fearing they would wreck the house, some of his crew came out, — intending not to yield, but to shoot; but they were so drunk that their guns were too heavy for them. He himself, with a carbine, overcharged and almost half filled with powder and shot, tried to shoot Captain Standish; but he stepped up to him and put aside his gun and took him. No harm was done on either side, except that one of his men was so drunk that he ran his nose upon the point of a sword that some one held in front of him on entering the house; but all he lost was a little of his hot blood. Morton they took to New Plymouth, where he was kept till a ship went from the Isle of Shoals to England. NOTE 3

They wrote and sent a case against him along with him, but it had no effect; he wriggled loose and was back in the New World in a couple of years, causing further mischief.

But Bradford remembered, at the last minute, that as furious as he may have been with the shifty Morton, that was not what he was supposed to be writing about.

But I have been too long about so unworthy a person and so bad a cause. NOTE 4

The sort of weapons these were is a matter of some disagreement to Early Colonial historians. Traditionally they were assumed to be matchlock muskets and arquebuses, but more recent scholarship suggests that as early as 1620, the date of the initial landing, matchlocks were on the way out.

Matchlocks were developed in the late 15th and early 16th centuries and were often referred to as arquebuses or harquebuses, which described a fairly light weapon with a curved stock (Peterson 2000:18). As the century progressed, matchlocks developed longer barrels for greater range, power and accuracy and as a result, became heavier, to the point that true matchlock muskets required a rest be used to support the weight of the barrel for the shooter. Matchlocks were used for approximately 150 years in America but their use as the primary weapon of choice only lasted about 75 years until about 1620 when was begun to be replaced with flintlocks (Peterson 2000:19). By 1675 they had virtually disappeared. NOTE 5

While the source calls them “flintlock,” they were a variety of emerging flint technologies, mostly dog-locks, often called the English lock to distinguish from slightly different Spanish and French locks, or Dutch snapphans (transliterated to English as snaphaunce) locks. These are all slightly different flavors of the emerging flintlock. By using a flint that scraped against a steel frizzen and showered sparks into a pan of priming powder, the flintlock provided a more positive ignition and shorter lock time than the matchlock, which lowered a burning fuse or match into an open priming pan. It would reign throughout the Colonial era and into the early 19th Century, before being replaced by the even more positive and practical percussion lock or caplock.

Appearing at the same time and just after the development of the snaphaunce there were five other types of flint locks in use in the colonies. These were the English lock, the English dog lock, the Scandinavian “snaplock”, the Spanish Miquelet lock, and the true flintlock developed in France in the later seventeenth century. It is believed that the English lock quickly superseded the snaphaunce and that most of the locks found in the New World up to approximately 1625 are of this variety. The dog lock appears to have succeeded the English lock from 1625 to approximately 1675 and the flintlock supplanted the dog lock after 1675 (Peterson 2000:32).

Seven general types of firearms have been identified as being used in Plymouth Colony through a comparison of the archaeological and historical records, these are the musket, harquebus, caliver or cavalier, fowler, carbine, pistol, and the blunderbus. The musket is described as by the 1630 English Martial Arms list as a piece with a barrel four feet long, an overall length of five feet two inches and a bore of .74 caliber. A musket can be further described as a heavy military gun of the 16th to early 17th century with a matchlock. Muskets weighed approximately 16 pounds and required a forked rest to support it. NOTE 6

A dog-lock pistol attributed to Plymouth Colony gunsmith and  officer John Thompson has descended in his family and is among the early weapons documented in this PDF.

And what about the “classic” Pilgrim gun, the blunderbuss? As it happens, it was both less and more common that popular tradition, and pre-21st Century history, would have it!

The blunderbus is a weapon that has often been erroneously associated with the Pilgrims. The image of the black clad buckles on the hat and shoes wearing colonists carrying a turkey on one shoulder and a ridiculously wide mouth musket on the other has been a recurring misnomer for generations. The blunderbuss is a short arm of large caliber with a wide flaring muzzle. They were first introduced into England in the middle of the seventeenth century and were predominately equipped with flint locks. The blunderbus was used essentially in the same way as a modern shotgun by being loaded not with one large shot, but with a number of small bird or goose shot. When fired, these shot spread out in a wide spray wounding and incapacitating any enemies in front of it. This would have been a weapon well suited to the guerrilla warfare that occurred in New England during King Philips War in the 1670s. Previous researchers have stated that these arms were not used in this country before the 1700s, but they were identified in the Plymouth records. NOTE 7

Unfortunately, we don’t know what kind of arms Bradford’s bad apple, Morton, dealt to the Indians, nor what role these smuggled arms played in the many small fights and several large wars between the settlers and the Wampanoags and other native races.

It’s remarkable to find reports from what seems like the ancient past, almost 400 years ago, that speak to us in language we can clearly follow, and which make clear the very human passions and motivations of their long-dead writer; it’s even more remarkable to learn that new discoveries are being made by historians like Craig Chartier, even on matters that we thought were completely understood!

And, Chartier notes that most known early Colony Period sites have never been excavated. His own research depends primarily on period records, which have survived well. Who knows what discoveries await this century’s archaeologists?

Notes

  1. Bradford
  2. Bradford
  3. Bradford
  4. Bradford
  5. Chartier, p. 2.
  6. Chartier, pp. 3-4.
  7. Chartier, p. 4.

Sources

Bradford, William. Of Plymouth Plantation. Portcullis Books. Kindle Edition.

Chartier, Craig. Firearms in Plymouth Colony. Plymouth, MA, 2009: Plymouth Archaeological Rediscovery Project. Retrieved from: http://www.plymoutharch.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/62869457-Firearms-in-Plymouth.pdf. An earlier (2002) version is online here: http://plymoutharch.tripod.com/id71.html

Goldstein, Karin. Arms & Armor of the Pilgrims. Plymouth, MA, 2002: Pilgrim Hall Museum. Retrieved from: http://www.pilgrimhall.org/pdf/Arms_Armor_of_Pilgrims.pdf

 

 

WWJLL? (What Would Jesus Look Like?)

He could have looked like Josephus, a Jewish rebel of 70 AD who betrayed his fellows and joined Rome (and wrote a history of the war in which he changed sides). Josephus looks like lots of modern Greeks and Jews, etc.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the broadly and deeply eclectic Lebanese-American scholar who is best known to the public, perhaps, through his Black Swan, has an interesting blast against an ahistorical view of the peoples of the Levant and the Middle East, especially the Mediterranean ones.

How did Judeans and Galileans look like at the time of Christ? Not according to your politically driven classifications; and not according to some BS in a 2001 article in Scientific American (based on “scientific” reconstruction of facial features and skin tone from … bones). And don’t assume that Jesus would have voted for neocon hawks, Salafi regime promoters, rent seeking “educated” bureaucrats and state-worshipping IYIs (intellectual yet idiots) — simply, Jesus wanted a separation of the holy and the profane, (see my article here).

No, Jesus was not a “Middle Eastern”, that is like inhabitants of the olive-oil free swath of land from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan. Near East (Eastern Mediterranean) is not the nonMediterranean or antiMediterranean Middle East (I wonder which idiot made that classification; the correct heuristic is use of olive oil). Jesus looked like a typical Mediterranean, that is, just like a Southern European, and quite standard at that, as we will see below.

Olive oil? What is this guy thinking? (And, as we often find ourselves thinking when reading him, Can we keep up?) It turns out there are two generations of hard thinking analysis behind his claim. But first, let’s let him develop the WWJLL argument for another half graf (Taleb writes in complete thoughts and in long but clear paragraphs):

The inhabitants of the cities around the Mediterranean, by his time, were already quite similar in looks, even if they didn’t speak the same languages, and (as today, in many cases) much different from those that reside say, a hundred miles inside. And we know how Western Semites looked like, which is no different from today’s Western Syrians: like Southern Europeans; like generic Roman citizens (although most Jews were technically not citizens at the time of Jesus). Strikingly, Western Syrians (a.k.a. urban Syrians) still look the same today — in my experience they are usually indistinguishable from the Ionian Greeks, Cretans, or Cypriots who are in identity politics called “white”.

Or he could have looked like Emperor Caracalla, who was part Roman, part Syrian and part Punic. Most of us have known someone who looks like this guy.

OK, so his blast at identity politics that leads his post (we picked it up below that) stands on solid ground. Historians know that the whole Med at the time of Caesar, Cleopatra, and Christ was broadly Hellenistic. Taleb posits, and history and archaeology are on his side here, that Jesus Christ may have looked like our participant in yesterday’s history lesson, Hannibal, or like any of the Syrian Emperors, even Elgalabalus (eeeew. We hope not; he’s one of those guys that makes Caligula seem not so bad).

And that olive oil thing?

I have a heuristic. If people eat the same, they look the same and use similar body language. Western Turks eat the same as Levantines, Greeks and look the same. The Middle East, say Saudi Arabia has no ratatouille, tyme, oregano, olive oil, hummus, ouzo/raki/pastis/arak, pizza (lahmajun/manousheh) etc.

Reading Taleb reminds us, if we needed to be reminded, that “the Separation of Church and State” did not spring fully formed from the brow of Jefferson or Madison, but was, in fact, the project of Christ Himself, and it did not mean the State Atheism (or its milder French or Mexican shade, Anticlericalism) it has come to mean in the West nowadays. It is in His answer to the question, “Whose face is on the denarius?“, still a much-sermonized parable even in churches that reject the message!

Attack on Pearl Harbor: Survivors Speak

Today is the 75th Anniversary of the United States’ surprise entry into World War II, by virtue of the Japanese attack on American installations in Pearl Harbor on the Island of Oahu — as mail was addressed at the time, Pearl Harbor, T.H.. The attack was quickly followed up by attacks on Wake Island and the Philippines, and on English and Dutch possessions in the Far East. Except for Wake, where the initial Jap invasion was rebuffed on December 11th, these were all resounding Japanese victories. (And they settled their score with Wake on December 23-24).

Pearl Harbor was, from the Japanese side, a brilliant air-sea coup de main that exploited Japanese superiority in discipline, ship handling, personnel selection and training and naval air innovation. Within two years all those Japanese superiorities would be reversed (except for discipline, which would become the noose by which the IJA and IJN would hang themselves). But on December 7th, that was in the unimaginable future.

Pearl Harbor was, from the American side, a shock and a calamity. Americans and Japanese each saw the other from a prism of contempt, tinged by convictions of racial superiority. Three and a half years of mutual ass-kicking across a 7,000 mile theater of war would cycle the nations’ mutual feelings through bitter hatred to, ultimately, respect. Nobody fighting them believed the Japanese to be the shifty, nearsighted creatures of propaganda. And nobody fighting them believed the Americans to be the lazy, bloated creatures of their propaganda, either.

But it all began at Pearl. Here are some oral histories from The Guys Who Were There, collected for the 70th Anniversary, five years ago (although some of the interviews are much older than that). Lead-off interviewee, Alan Sanford, was a seaman on the USS Ward, which fired the first American shots of the war. The next, Joe Morgan, was a Marine with VMU-2 and on duty at his hangar at Luke Field… it just goes on like that.

http://www.c-span.org/video/?287496-1/pearl-harbor-oral-histories-part-1

It’ll take about an hour to watch them all. Since they’re talking head interviews, you could multitask ad just listen to them, but you’d miss the facial expressions.

Along with the interview video and audio, there are some (pretty awful) transcripts, too. And here’s Part 2:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?287496-2/pearl-harbor-oral-histories-part-2

The attack on Pearl was controversial in Imperial Japanese Navy circles, unlike the attacks on Singapore, Malaya, and the Netherlands East Indies. Those attacks were central to Japan’s strategy of seizing needed resources from the southern rim of the Pacific. But could they do that alone, without making the US attack? The prevailing opinion on the Imperial General Staff was that the US would join the war if Japan attacked the colonies of England and Holland. So, therefore, those attacks should be accompanied by a pre-emptive strike on the Americans, too; to be followed by immediate peace feelers.

The minority opinion was that the US would still cling to its European focus and neutrality, even if Japan was beating the British and Dutch forces like a rented mule. Now, 75 years later, it’s only an interesting counterfactual. What happened is they attacked us, in a way that seemed particularly treacherous and enraging, and for several months they continued to beat the living Jesus out of us… and then the tide turned, and the Japanese language nearly came to be, as one American threatened, “spoken only in Hell.”

In any event, all the prattle of historians and pundits, of which there will undoubtedly be tremendous billows and blasts today, is fairly inconsequential. What is true is the voices of  these few men, those who Were There.

National World War II Museum

The National World War II Museum is the top attraction in New Orleans, a city that is not lacking in attractions. (We could learn a lot from the long-gone original French and creole inhabitants, who judged men by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin).

How did a WWII Museum wind up in New Orleans? It started as the National D-Day Museum, and that was because one of the key devices of the war was, as was its inventor, a New Orleans native. That invention was the LCVP, Landing Craft Vehicles and Personnel, aka the Higgins Boat(.pdf), after its inventor, Andrew Jackson Higgins, who went from running a boatyard that made work boats and yachts to running seven boatyards turning out LCVPs and PT Boats for the Navy. (New Orleans also had three more shipyards during the war, building Liberty ships).

Irony for you? Of the many thousands of LCVPs made, only a dozen or so survive, with only a couple in original and seaworthy condition. So the Museum itself displays a replica that was built by locals, including some former Higgins workers, to the original plans! On the other hand, PT 305, which is under restoration at the Museum, is an actual Higgins PT boat, one of 199. The Higgins boats were equivalent to the more common Elco boats in performance, but the Elcos looked faster. The Museum lets you watch restorations in progress (from the other side of the glass), but don’t count on anything particular happening during your visit.

museum-restoration-pt-305

The D-Day invasion depended on the Higgins boats, but then, so did every other amphibious operation in all theaters of war. So it seemed sensible to expand the Museum to cover the whole war. Go big or go home, right?

And, in fact, you can spend a day in the Museum and learn a basically straightforward overview of the war, a valuable replacement for the nonsense produced by the race/sex/class obsessed history departments of modern universities. One of the high points of the Museum is a fifty-minute documentary telling the story of America’s WWII, produced and narrated by Hollywood’s Everyman, Tom Hanks. (It’s called Beyond all Boundaries).

Another is frequent stations with short interview snippets from actual veterans. (These are vivid enough to make you long for access to the whole interview. Unfortunately, everything in the Museum seems to be optimized for the minimal attention spans of 2016).

But really, you guys want to know about the guns, right? The Museum does have displays of representative firearms of the war, some common and some rare. We didn’t see much explanation of which weapon was used when, let alone each one’s characteristics, pros and cons. But the actual guns are there to see, usually behind glass.

Here are two Japanese aerial weapons. The upper gun may look at a glance like an aerial Browning, but it’s no such thing. It’s a Japanese copy of a post-WWI-vintage Vickers aerial gun. Inside, it’s got the Maxim toggle lock.

wwii_museum-06

The fat guy in front is a 20mm Type 99 Mk I aerial cannon, a Japanese design based entirely on Oerlikon principles. It is usually seen as a flexible gun, but this one appears to be configured for fixed, forward-firing installation. It operated by blowback with advanced primer ignition (therefore, requiring a rebated cartridge). It had a low cyclic rate of fire, for an aerial gun (510 RPM) and was fed by a 60-round drum magazine.

And there are naval weapons. Here’s a torpedo in the restoration hall, although there was no information on it handy.

wwii-museum-torpedo

There are plenty of support and crew-served weapons, aircraft, and military vehicles. Among the historic cannon represented are a German 8.8 cm Flak 38 (the dreaded “88”), and this American 75 mm pack howitzer. This gun was a lightweight version of the standard US weapon derived from the World War I “French 75.” This display, with the actual artifact in front of a blown-up period photo of how it was used, was pretty typical.

wwii_museum-12

A number of these guns are still in use as saluting cannon on American bases, and Lord knows how many may still be in the arsenals of small countries.

wwii_museum-10The 75 fired several different projectiles, depending on the target. On the left, the M72 Armor Piercing Tracer (AP-T) round, a solid-shot kinetic penetrator that was only effective against thinly armored vehicles at close ranges.

On the right, the more usual 75 mm M48 HE round. The M48 weighed 18 pounds, of which about 10% — 1.75 pounds — was explosive filling.

The reason for using a smaller howitzer, rather than the 105, came down to one thing — the portability of the gun, and the ammunition. Every 105 HE round weighed around 35 pounds, for example. In a pinch, the 75 could be moved short distances by its human crew.

One remarkable feature is a submarine interactive called The Final Mission, which reproduces (in a compressed fashion) the last actions of USS Tang, America’s most successful submarine, which was a record-setter even before its fifth and final war patrol. In an intense night surface action, Tang sunk five Japanese ships — and sunk itself.

Who is the museum not for? It’s probably not the very best thing for anyone who’s already extremely well-informed about World War II — you’ll still enjoy yourself, but you won’t learn much from a presentation that of necessity hits the high notes. It will also be disappointing for anyone hoping for much about the war prior to 7 December 41. (Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no). Seriously, the war had been going for over two years in Europe, and over four in China, when the US got involved.

The Museum has a decent website, enlivened by something you seldom see, an entertaining and educational 404 page.

One last note — as the most popular attraction in a tourist-rich city, the Museum is usually packed. This is especially true when foul weather drives tourists out of the city’s usual walking environs (and off the open top deck of tour buses).

Update

Per the comments and email from Our Traveling Reporter, the restoration of PT 305 is nearly finished and the boat was transported, with great ceremony, to Lake Ponchartrain this week. We’ll try to have video for you soon. It’s way more beautiful than it could have been as a working motor torpedo or motor gun boat (many of the PTs in the Med dispensed with torpedoes, for lack of worthwhile enemy targets). Congratulations to all at the Museum, especially in the restoration shop.

The Strange Times of the “Suicide Specials”

“The poor,” the Bible advises us, “have always been with us.” And they have always had as much right to life, and as much right to protect theirs, as the rich — and perhaps,, more need to protect themselves, given that the poor workingman is economically sorted into the same neighborhood with the criminal class, crime paying rather poorly at levels below that of elective office.

A Hood Arms "Robin Hood" in .22. Not safe with modern ammunition!

A Hood Arms “Robin Hood” in .22. This is better than average condition for a Suicide Special — they are very prone to nickel flaking and rust. Not safe with modern ammunition!

In those lands and times when the crown does not forbid to the working man firearms, a large and legitimate demand arises for cheap firearms, and features of styling and gimmick are often applied that either imitate higher-quality firearms, or are flashy and appeal to people who know little about guns. In today’s environment, you have Hi-Points, Jimenezes, and to some extent Taurus firearms. Before 1968, you had cheap Spanish and other imported .25s and .32s. But in the period from approximately 1870 to 1890, you had suicide specials.

suicide-specials-websterThe term itself was coined, sources agree, by Duncan McConnell almost 70 years ago, when firearms collecting was, as always, centered on high-end guns. McConnell wrote about these guns and was the first to apply the term Suicide Specials; ten years later, in 1958, Donald B. Webster, Jr., of Bangor, Maine, published a book about them with Stackpole. Webster’s book was, he writes:

[A] culmination of over three years’ work. Most of the material has been compiled… from personal information, or information supplied by other collectors. Almost no documentary material was available, and what little there was was often found to be incorrect.

Suicide Specials are such a complex subject that this work is only an introduction…. a great deal is still unknown. Thee are a great number of problems left to confront the student of Suicide Specials, and the field is wide open.

Nowadays, of course, we have documentary evidence… even if it’s Webster, a secondary source. Webster notes that there was good reason for collectors to neglect these guns for many years: they simply weren’t that important.

A Lee Arms "Red Jacket." in .22. By far the most popular caliber for these rimfire revolvers -- it was cheapest!

A Lee Arms “Red Jacket.” in .22. By far the most popular caliber for these rimfire revolvers — it was cheapest! Engraving is common on some makes and never seen at all on others.

For one thing,Suicide Specials are unique in that they have almost no historical significance.They never won any battles, neither had they any part in the winning of any frontier, with the exception of an occasional brawl. Their only purpose was to provide a gun-toting era with concealable armament at the least possible cost.

A couple years after that, Rywell’s short pamphlet (which we just picked up for 30¢) was published. Rywell’s pamphlet is a somewhat disorganized history of Suicide Specials (which made us pull out Webster, and write this post), and a detailed history of one manufacturer, the Norwich Arms Co. of Connecticut.

This Bacon Governor was also made in Norwich.

This Bacon Governor was also made in Norwich.

After you’ve seen one or two of them, like pornography, “You’ll know ’em when you see ’em,” but the primary characteristics of a Suicide Special are:

  1. Single action revolver
  2. Solid frame, pull cylinder pin to reload. The cylinder pin is your ejector.
  3. Spur trigger
  4. Rimfire (in descending order of frequency found: .22, .32, .38, .41, .30).
  5. Nickel plated

They are often found without a maker’s name, sometimes with a brand or trade name. (The same manufacturer would sell retailers and retail chains an “exclusive” brand name, so that they needn’t fear the hardware store down the street underselling them by a penny or a dime). The brand names often are somewhat threatening, and a little optimistic, given the quality of the guns: Arbiter, Avenger, Defender, Excelsior, Faultless, Old Reliable, Penetrator, Protector, Rattler, even Terror. Everyone who has written about these at length has tried to compile a list of these fanciful brand names, and, some of them, to match names to manufacturers; and every one of them has given up. The purpose of the name, of course, was to sell the gun. (That’s unchanged. How many modern equivalents of Suicide Special customers bought a Taurus Judge?)

The other side of the "Robin Hood" shown above. There's a grand name for you.

The other side of the “Robin Hood” shown above. There’s a grand name for you.

They also tend to be cheaply made, of inferior metals and workmanship. They were made in various small factories, mostly in the Gun Valley, and these factories didn’t pay as well as Colt in Hartford, or Smith & Wesson or the national Armory in Springfield. (If the Armory had orders; if not, it laid men off and they found work in the other factories, at lower wages). Buyers of these guns were extremely price-sensitive.

Not all of them were junk: Forehand and Wadsworth of Worcester, the sons-in-law of Ethan Allen, whose production of Suicide Specials was small, made high-quality ones that Webster compares favorably to Colt pocket revolvers. The company was sold to Hopkins & Allen, which in turn sold to Marlin-Rockwell.

It is no accident that Suicide Specials appeared on the market in 1870. There were a few attempts before, but Rollin White had sold his 1855 patent on the bored-through cylinder to Smith & Wesson, which produced revolvers resembling the Suicide Special (but of higher quality) from 1858 on. Other Gun Valley makers were quick to try to imitate the Smith .22 Nº 1 and .32 Nº 2, only to learn that S&W intended to defend their patent in court. After the first couple infringers lost, the remainder settled quickly, or at least, responded positively to a Cease and Desist letter from Smith’s lawyers. But White’s basic patent expired in 1869. (That patent, by the way, is why Union cavalrymen had breechloading and even repeating cartridge carbines by 1865, but not cartridge revolvers). Thus, the explosion of Smith-alikes from 1870 onward.

White continued to contest other patents until his death in 1892. As Rywell records, it “kept him agitated.”

The small revolvers are found with five, six and seven-shot cylinders, with the lower count common in the larger calibers like .41, and the seven-shot common in .22s.

This unfortunately cut-off picture is a .32 rimfire Otis A. Smith.

This unfortunately cut-off picture is a .32 rimfire Otis A. Smith. As you can see, it’s a five-shot gun.

By 1890, the Suicide Special was too far behind the public taste, and, many municipalities and states were trying to outlaw gun-carrying. While this often was masked as a “good government” or “taming the frontier” measure, what really drove it was animus to the sort of people who bought these guns: immigrants, especially Irish, Italians and Eastern Europeans in the North, and blacks and “white trash” in the South. Most cops would not dream of enforcing local gun laws against a local, say, banker or landlord; but those guys could buy the Smith or Colt.

And this one is a "Dog," that is also marked, "Cast Steel." Or maybe that's the instruction book? If it doesn't fire, "cast" it at your assailant....

And this one is a “Dog,” that is also marked, “Cast Steel.” Or maybe that’s the instruction manual? If it doesn’t fire, “cast” it at your assailant…. The engraving and shape of the side plate mark it as a bit upscale (and is the grip ivory?). The cheapest Suicide Specials had a circular sideplate with a slot — because it doubled as the hammer screw! Here, they’re two separate parts.

And, technology had marched on. By 1890 “revolver” implied double action, and the more rapid reload of a swing-out cylinder, break-action revolver (in the small, Suicide Special follow-on type, they were called “Bulldogs”), or at the bare minumum a loading port and ejection rod arrangement like Colt’s single- and double-action revolvers of the day. In addition, foreign competitors began importing very inexpensive firearms into the USA, taking advantage of lower skilled labor costs in Europe than in Gun Valley.

While the Suicide Specials died a cold market death, a couple of the makers survived well into the 20th Century, notably Iver Johnson and Harrington & Richardson. They continued making small, cheap revolvers (and nickeling many of them) but followed the market away from the pull-pin solid frame single action. (H&R, at least, did make some pull pin revolvers into the 1970s, if not beyond). Unlike the Suicide Specials, an Iver Johnson or H&R from the 20th Century smokeless powder era is safe to shoot. (Do not be beguiled by a modern .22 fitting in a 19th-Century Suicide Special. Those two things were not made to go together).

One thing that continues to puzzle us is this: why were they all nickeled? (There are exceptions, but they are rarer than nickel guns in current production). Because the market demanded it? Because the buyers were easily gulled by shiny surfaces? Because the nickel finish would take, at least initially, more handling than traditional bluing? Because it cost less? Because it could be done with unskilled labor? Because the process was new, and created a fad? None of the sources we have read can really answer this question.

(Thanks for bearing with us on images. They’re in place now. -Ed).

Sources

Buffaloe, Ed. “Suicide Specials.” The Unblinking Eye. Retrieved from: http://unblinkingeye.com/Guns/SSs/sss.html

Rywell, Martin. The American Nickel-Plated Revolver 1870-1890: A History of and a Guide for This Classification for the Firearms Student or Collector. Harriman, Tennessee: Pioneer Press, 1960.

Uncredited. “Suicide Specials. Gun-Data.com. Retrieved from: http://gun-data.com/suicide_specials.htm

Webster, Donald B. Suicide Specials. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1960: Stackpole.

 

Scrap Metal Thieves in the 10,000 Ton Range

The glorious story of the fourth ship to bear the name HMS Exeter came to an end twice — in 1942, when she went to the bottom off the Dutch East Indies with fifty men of her crew, and the survivors went into Japanese captivity (where over 150 more would be slaughtered); and again in 2016, when her wreck and war grave, rediscovered in 2008, was found to have been completely plundered by Asian metal thieves.

Exeter was not the only ship to be erased from the seabed. British destroyers HMS Electra and Encounter, Royal Dutch HMNLS De Ruyter and HMNLS Java sunk in the same battle are gone as well (although some bits of Electra remain). HMNLS Kortenaer is partly gone. The US Submarine Perch sunk in an unrelated action is gone, but is not a war grave (her whole crew escaped the fire of sinking into the frying pan of Japanese captivity); along with the two cruisers sunk at the follow-on Battle of the Sunda Strait, HMAS Perth and USS Houston, war graves for over 300 Australians and Americans respectively, which were determined by surveys in 2013 and 2015 to have been invaded and partly stripped by scrappers.

While the British losses at the Battle of the Java Sea were not trivial, the Dutch lost over 900 seamen in the battle, including the Netherlands’ last great admiral, Karel Doorman. It was a Dutch expedition to place a plaque in memory of Doorman and his men that first discovered that the ships were not there. There’s no question of a navigational error, as the indentations where the ships used to be are still there.

dutch-outrageThe Dutch, as you might imagine, are fit to be tied. (See front page at left: “Puzzle in the Java Sea,” with an artists’ rendering of the now-missing Dutch ships as of 2008).

The Indonesian response has been flippant. Indonesian Navy Spokesman Gig Jonias Mozes Sipasulta suggested that it’s the Netherlands’ own fault for not requesting that the Indonesians guard the location.

The Netherlands, the former colonial power, is little loved in Indonesia, and the majority mohammedan population does not respect the graves of infidels.

The only remaining question, at this point: were the thieves Indonesian, Chinese, or Indonesians and Chinese working together?

Exeter may be the most historic of these lost ships. She was a proud ship. Built in the 1920s under the strictures of the naval disarmament treaties of the era, the 8,400 ton cruiser was the second and last of the York class and sufficiently different from York as to be readily distinguished. In order to meet the weight strictures of the Washington and London Naval Treaties, York and Exeter dispensed with belt armor, reducing weight but increasing tophamper and rendering the ships vulnerable in a fight with peer or larger units. (It was Exeter’s fate in WWII to get into such fights).

Battle of the River Plate

Exeter was one of the three cruisers that harried DKM Graf Spee into this harbor off Montevideo, Uruguay and caused, ultimately, the scuttling of the vessel and suicide of her captain.

Exeter, the best armed and armored of the three ships opposing Graf Spee (The others were HMS Ajax and HMNZS Achilles) went toe-to-toe with the German battlecruiser and paid the price.

Exeter took a considerable beating, as seen here. German day gunnery was thought to be the best in the world, and the 100-plus hits Exeter took in barely 20 minutes proved that conventional opinion was valid. But a couple of hits from Exeter drove Graf Spee into harbor to make repairs. Believing he was bottled up — an erroneous belief, as Exeter had already decamped for the Falklands and hasty repairs of its own — the German captain, Hans Langdorff, scuttled the ship and then shot himself.

exetersdamage1939

Graf Spee remains on the bottom of the Rio Plata. Why? Uruguay and Argentina, the adjacent countries, are civilized. Indonesia? Not so much.

Battle of the Java Sea & 2nd Battle of the Java Sea

In 1941, Exeter transited the Panama Canal enroute to her new station in the Far East.

exeter-at-panama

After the Sino-Japanese war that had been percolating for years broke out into general warfare after the Japanese  became one of the ill-fated multinational ABDA (American, British, Dutch, Australian) squadron in the southwest Pacific. Exeter fought a number of actions against Japanese ships and aircraft (see below), before the Battle of the Java Sea on 27 February 1942.

In the Battle of the Java Sea, the ABDA force sortied from Surabaya on the Dutch (now Indonesian) island of Java to intercept a Japanese landing force, under the command of Admiral Doorman. The Japanese force was screened by the IJN’s surface combatants, at that stage of the war probably the best in the world, man-for-man and ship-for-ship.

The ABDA force comprised 9 cruisers, including USS Houston and  Marblehead;  HMAS Hobart; HMS Exeter, Jupiter, and Express; and Dutch DeRuyter, Java, and Piethien.  

exeter-sinks-1-mar-42Exeter was again ordered to seek repairs. She buried 14 dead at sea, and was provided with two escorting destroyers, HMS Encounter and USS Pope, and set course for Surabaya. After hasty repairs to Exeter, the same three ships headed for the Royal Navy’s docks in Ceylon, but nine Japanese warships caught up to the squadron on 1 March 42 and sent them all to the bottom. (This is called, by historians, the 2nd Battle of the Java Sea). Most of the crewmen survived, with Exeter taking the most casualties — 52, fewer than she lost at the River Plate. This photo was taken from a Japanese aircraft.

 

The ships were found in 2007 by a US/Australian and identified in 2008, and wreck archaeologists were only beginning to study the wrecks to shed light on the 1942 battles. One of the then-living HMS Exeter survivors, Fred Aindow, then 88, remembered of his station in a gun turret:

We were firing until the last moment,” he said. “I think we were the last to stop. Then it was over the side and I hung on to an oar for an hour until I was picked up. The next three years were sheer hell.

It’s great news that they’ve found Exeter. I’d like to dive down myself and get my shoes from my locker that I had only just bought.

Another, Tom Jowett, a spokesman for the Survivors’ Association:

This is great news but it is important now to make sure the wreck is properly respected.

That didn’t happen. The UK MOD, seeking to protect the ships’ locations as grave sites, shared the closely-held location with Indonesian officials, which is now looking like a rather large error and a Judas-and-Brutus level betrayal by the Indonesians.

As the ship went down, her surviving company, afloat in the water, sent up three cheers.

exeter_sinking

For the survivors, Japanese captivity killed three times the men that the sinking of their ships had done. It didn’t start off that way; Japanese captains including Shunsaku Kudo of the destroyer IJN Ikazuchi hazarded their own ships to rescue survivors; Kudo took 442 on board his own ship. But once the prisoners were transferred from the relatively cosmopolitan and chivalric Navy to the custody of the barbarous Japanese Army ashore, they were badly abused.

USS Pope’s XO, Dick Antrim, was awarded the Medal of Honor for a selfless act of heroism during captivity: as the Japanese were beating another prisoner to death, Antrim demanded that they punish him instead. The Japanese were astonished by this act, and ceased the beating, and generally seemed to respect the Americans more and abuse them less after this. Antrim is buried in Arlington… where the Indonesians can’t get to him!

Sources:

The Daily Express: http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/733462/War-graves-disturbed-Indonesia-British-ships-Battle-Java-Sea-removed

The Telegraph (destruction & desecration): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/16/dutch-probe-mystery-of-wartime-shipwrecks-that-appear-to-have-go/

The Telegraph (original discovery, survivor quotes):  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/indonesia/1975561/Wartime-naval-legend-HMS-Exeter-found-off-Java.html

WWII Today (excellent long quote from surviving Exeter officer Lt. Cmdr. George Cooper). http://ww2today.com/1st-march-1942-hms-exeters-final-battle

Reuters (Dutch irritation over missing ships, Indonesian Navy flippant comment): http://www.reuters.com/article/us-netherlands-indonesia-missing-ships-idUSKBN13D1Z5

Japan Probe (story of Captain Kudo and the Itazuki. Kudo survived the war, but his ship and most of the crew were lost later). http://www.japanprobe.com/2007/05/19/the-untold-story-of-captain-kudo-shunsaku-and-the-destroyer-ikazuchi/

Heroism of Dick Antrim: http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/rantrim.htm