Category Archives: Thing from the Vault

Understanding CZ Test Targets

In accordance with longstanding European gunmaker custom, CZ ships a test target with its pistols. These seem ridiculously simple, but there are enough people asking about them in online forums that we thought we’d explain them. We usually have a few CZs with boxes and paperwork around the house…

Don’t get too excited, they’re not NIB old stock (well, most of them aren’t). (If you look real close to the right of the CZ-75 box, you can see a current CZ-UB box that almost exactly matches the black background. Adventures in photography). While we don’t have anything from the 70s or earlier represented here, we do have (oldest first):

  1. A CZ vzor 70 in 7.65 mm manufactured during the pistol’s production twilight, in 1980.
  2. A CZ-83 in 7.65 mm manufactured during the pistol’s production startup.
  3. A CZ-75 “Pre-B”, manufactured in 1987, prior to mass importation to the United States;
  4. A CZ-75 P-01, manufactured in 2015, which is typical of current CZ-UB production.

The first three pistols were manufactured during the Cold War era and the P-01 is contemporary. All four were probably scheduled for production with a view to exportation, although both the vz. 70 and the P-01 were also the standard pistols of the national police force, and when this CZ-83 was made, there was some thought that the Verejna Bezpečnost (police) would adopt it order to retain the 7.65 caliber.

It is our understanding that all targets are shot rapidly, from rest, at 25m, although only some targets are labeled with distance; and that Sellier & Bellot ball ammunition is customary.

We’ll now look at the targets in the same order. The targets are of three different types: the vz. 70 has a small polygonal aiming point inside a rectangular target area, the target used by the CZ-75 and -83 has a rectangular aiming point with the center of desired impact on its bottom edge and a circle centered on that point describing the desired impact area, and the P-01 target is a modern digital rendering of the firearm’s performance on an instrumented range.

  1. The vz.70 target is actually labeled vz.50. This makes perfect sense, as the two pistols have only cosmetic differences; most of the running changes in these small police pistols were made during the vz. 50 years. A late vz. 50 is more like a vz. 70 than it is like an early vz. 50. There are six shots on the target, one a flyer to the left. The legend at top reads: PISTOL 7.65 MODEL 50 and PISTOL NUMBER 652090. The legend on the bottom reads DATE: 29 Dec 1980; SHOOTER: Zemek (with two partial, illegible rubber stamps, one circular and one a signature), and OTK with a rubber stamp which may be the “kissing lips” we discuss below. We would welcome any insight to the meaning of the acronym OTK, but suspect it’s some type of inspector.
  2. The CZ-83 target is a CZ-75 target with the -75 legend scratched out with black ink, and a CZ-83 legend rubber-stamped in place. Whether a specific target was developed for the CZ-82/83 series is unknown; it’s possible, as this pistol has a four-digit serial number flagging it as first year production. The CZ-75 would have been the main export product of the Uhersky Brod plant when the -83 was introduced, and these targets would have been in daily use. On this target, the pre-printed CZ-75 lines (which you can read on the next target) are inked out, and a rubber stamp says Pistol čz model 83 caliber 7.65 mm. Below the inked-out CZ-75 lettering is Distance 25 m, and to the right is Pistol Number 002846. The legend on the bottom reads Date (blank) Shooter (stamp looks like JBICHR [?]), and OŘJ with a stamp we call the “kissing lips” but appears on magnification to be a blurred-out stamp that once had numbers or characters within it. It seems logical that OŘJ also refers to some inspector or inspection title, but again we do not know the Czech acronym.
  3. The target with the 1987-production CZ-75 (pre-B, which dates to 1992) is the same basic one used for the CZ-83 above, obviously without the CZ-83 adaptations. The legend inked out in the -83 target is seen to read PISTOL ČZ Model 75, Caliber 9 mm Parabellum, and the SHOOTER stamp at bottom center reads FICE[?]NC. The OŘJ stamp can be seen to be a circle with illegible characters inside (we liked it better when we thought it was kissing lips! From Moravia with love!). Seven shots appear to have hit this target, unlike the six of the two earlier ones. It is possible that this target is more “weathered” than the older CZ-83 target because the gun reached its end buyer in 1987, while the CZ-83 remained in one warehouse or another until 2017.
  4. The P-01 is a modern computerized target that depicts the fall of the shots graphically on an ordinary sheet of A4 computer paper, and contains a great deal more information than the old targets. There is no point in translating any of the Czech, as CZ-UB has helpfully done it for us. This target represents the impact of five shots by white circles. The blackened circle is the calculated center of the group.

That the new targets are labeled in English as well as Czech is a nod to CZ’s export focus these days; printing them on an ordinary A4 sheet of computer paper and generating them by computer saves time and money at a busy factory, yet gives buyers confidence that their firearm has been tested and worked. (Europeans still have to proof-test their firearms, but we suspect many American firearms leave factories without every cycling a live round).

The Cold War era targets are (sparsely) labeled in Czech only, and are printed on extremely coarse and flimsy Warsaw Pact era paper, which has, as you can see here, yellowed to one degree or other with age. They do have a certain character. If we didn’t want to keep these in the boxes the firearms came in, we might just frame them. How much of the dirt, oil etc. on these fairly dirty targets came from the range and how much from the intervening decades of handling is anyone’s guess.

All targets are serial numbered to the guns, usually with blue ballpoint ink, and have a space for the technician who fired the gun to stamp his name and the date. Both of these stamps are seldom present, but the serial number has always been.

One open question is whether targets like these were furnished with domestic police and military firearms. Our tentative hypothesis is that they were not; instead, the military (etc) acceptance stamp went on when the ordnance officer was satisfied, and there was no point in retaining a target beyond that. None of the CZs we have with Czech military or police acceptance marks came with targets, but all were used (most, well-used) when we acquired them.

Update

We thought that we’d add this: if you’re lucky enough to have a date stamp on your CZ test target, the month will be abbreviated in Czech. Here is a table of the Czech months and the standard abbreviations for those months, which CZ used on its stamps.

Czech Months

English month Česky (Czech) ČZ Abbreviation
January leden led.
February únor ún.
March březen břez.
April duben dub.
May květen květ.
June červen červ.
July červenec červen.
August srpen srp.
September září zář.
October říjen říj.
November listopad list.
December prosinec pros.

Watch out for June and July!

Thing from the Vault: Double Barreled Percussion Pistol

Today, we have another mystery pistol, this one from the collection of Your Humble Blogger. Like all guns it comes with a story: it was a “broken gun” that was offered for sale by an Afghan villager, and it then inspired an intelligence operation that ran for some months.

It is of perceptibly higher quality than most of its contemporaries from Darra Adam Khel and other local forges, but neither the fit, the engraving nor, especially, the checkering, resemble the 19th Century British over/under pistols on which it is modeled.

Double barrel firearms offered the 19th Century combatant, or sportsman, the prospect of a second shot without having to depend on what was not yet called the New York Reload. As a result, double-barreled percussion and pinfire pistols are common, until they are eclipsed by all sizes of revolvers.

There is a trap in the grip, presumably for holding percussion caps. Its spring is broken or absent.

It is engraved with some gibberish along the top rib, possibly in an alphabet of some kind completely unknown to us. Or perhaps they are numbers,  (apologies for photo quality, and for the fact we can’t tell which side is up).

There is worn-off inscription on a silver disc on the grip. (Apologies again for poor focus).

 

As mentioned, it is broken and in poor condition. Some rich bluing remains. The springs are still strong and the hammers still move, but one has lost its spur, and neither sets the trigger.

There is one trigger for each lock. At least, that was the smith’s intention — neither one works properly now.

Some metal nubs near the muzzle and a partial ramrod slot underneath the pistol suggest that, at one time, this firearm featured an articulated ramrod.

Here’s the other side:

Caliber is measured at about .52-.54″ (roughly 13 mm) by caliper. There are traces of quite fast right-hand-twist rifling visible in the lower barrel, in the right light.

The grip is noticeably cruder than the rest of the gun, so it may be a replacement. But as mentioned above, the metal parts do not have the fit associated with European and American gunsmiths of this era.

It’s always interesting to speculate about the provenance and history of firearms. Our Afghan seller claimed that this pistol was “very old” and had hung on pegs on the wall of their family’s cob house “since the time of Abdurrahman Shah,” but then, Afghans do say stuff and everybody’s family, everywhere, has legends and tall tales in it.

But along with the tale told here, this pistol played a part in one story that can’t be told — not yet, and possibly not ever. So perhaps it’s a good thing that guns are mere objects, and can’t talk.

Firepower, Pride, and Prejudice

First, relax: there will be no 19th-Century chick novels, nor any zombies, in this post. The title lead with “Firepower,” right? It’s about guns.

Guns, national pride, and racial or ethnocentric prejudice.

It’s another thing that turns up reading old, old firearms books and magazines, and if you’re old enough you can remember hearing it from gun-store counter clerks and hangers-on (then, as now, literally the worst source of firearms information this side of Hollywood, as they are just as likely to make up random stuff, and less likely to be called on it than movie directors). Hearing what? Things like:

  • “Those Jap guns are all junk and are not safe to shoot.”
  • “The Italians only expected their rifle to shoot within a couple of feet at a hundred yards.”
  • “The Japs in the Pacific –” (wait, were there Japs any other place outside of the 442nd, on our side?) “– lost because they didn’t have any good machine guns.”
  • “They forged these guns in hibachis, with child labor.”

These things are all coming to be recognized as arrant nonsense, at least in part by the emergence of specialized collectors who understand them, and publishers who release books about them. But as late as the seventies and eighties, that was the “conventional wisdom” of the countertop commandos.

Exercise for the reader: find a surviving infantry soldier or Marine from Okinawa or Iwo Jima (do it quick, as they’re fewer by the hour; that’s the human condition). Tell him that the Jap machine guns were contemptible. We will counsel you this: do not make that statement from within the radius that he can swing his walker at you. (Here’s video of a Type 99 firing its original 7.7 ammo, and a creative 7.62 x 29 hack. Note the rate of fire: the Marines sure did).

These beliefs got started for several reasons. One is that Japanese and Italian rifles were different to the familiar Springfield and the Mauser from whence its design came. These differences seemed like indicators that the Japanese and Italians didn’t know what they were doing, but if you think about it for a moment, that’s pretty illogical. What nation would consciously issue an inferior or unsafe weapon to its troops? What nation entrusts its weapons design to Bubba the Gunsmite, domestic variation? Not Japan nor Italy (both of which had robust ordnance establishments, as can be seen by their wartime ships’ and aircraft armament, and their talented engineers, as has been proven in peacetime industries postwar), but even today, Japanese and Italian firearms are considered less collectible and less valuable than their global competitors.

Original M1891 Rifle (with gain twist!) served well in WWI, and derivatives in WWII. Image from C&Rsenal’s great Carcano 91 page. It was sufficiently accurate that the Italians just issued designated marksmen select iron-sighted Carcanos — any scoped “sniper” is a postwar fake, as is any full-length rifle with a turned-down bolt.

One reason for the persistence of dislike of Japanese weapons is their relatively crude finish compared to the beautiful rust-blue of their European counterparts. But this resulted from the fact that Japan at war’s outbreak was as resource-limited as Germany was during the production of “last ditch” weapons, as Shermans and T-34s did celebratory pivot turns on former arms plants. The resource limitation drove the Japanese to innovate, for example going to chrome linings (for strength, not just corrosion resistance) and phosphate finishes (for speed of production, not just corrosion resistance) before most of the world.

Type 38 (1905) rifle and carbine, 6.5mm. Standard Japanese weapons through early WWII. Not sure where we cribbed this image from — if you know let us know so we can give credit.

Both the “weak” Arisaka and Carcano actions were modern, the Arisaka being a clear Mauser derivative and the Carcano, while a design all its own, offered such modern features as forward dual locking lugs. When introduced (1891), it was arguably the most modern rifle in the world, and like its contemporary the Mosin-Nagant it, and its 6.5 mm cartridge, was still in service at war’s end. (Which came a little earlier for Italy than for the USSR).

Italian and Japanese machine gun designs were different, but that’s not saying that they were practically or tactically inferior. The high rate of fire of the Japanese LMGs is cited in almost every American memoir of Pacific combat. The Japanese could sustain this high rate, especially with the top-mounted magazine of the Type 99. (Guns of this design are much faster to reload, by an a/gunner, than a bottom-loading gun like the BAR is by its single-man crew).

Another reason to disparage these weapons? These nations lost. (Probably not a major reason, given the fanboys of all-things-German loose in the world today. We’re reliably informed that the Third Reich fell short of the planned 1,000 years). In the case of the Italians, there’s also an impression that they lost in part because they weren’t trying terribly hard (probably true for some individuals and not for others). Collectors might want the weapons of losers, just not quitters. 

Yet another, and possibly the major, underlying reason for the belief, of course, is the residue of war-era (and “Yellow Peril”-era) racism against the Japanese, and northern European ethnocentrism against Southern Europeans in general, and Italians in particular, from the later waves of United States immigration. These expressions are less open now, but in 1976 you had no difficulty hearing negative impressions of Japanese and Italian firearms by countertop commandos, impressions that were invariably followed up by negative stereotypes (Japanese all had bad vision and made lousy shots; Italians wanted to make love, not war).

Let’s assume arguendo that there are two human phenotypes, call one “martial ardor” or “readiness to fight,” and one “strategic/conceptual ability” or “combat-oriented leadership,” that represent the scrappiness and cunning of a combatant. Let’s further assume that these phenotypes are to some degree heritable, and that there are distinct median levels in these traits in distinct groups. Let us make a fourth assumption, that the medians of these traits might be lower among the Japanese and Italian populations than among, say, Germans.

As the history of the war tells us, these two nations produced men and units that were the equal in “scrappiness” and “cunning” of any force in the world. Consider the thorough Japanese defeat of the ABDA allies in the first six months of the Pacific War, or the Italian naval special operations of the Decimo MAS, or for that matter their forerunners in the war with Austria-Hungary, the first proto-frogmen to sink a battleship. 

If you still think that these two great nations produced junk guns, try to get some trigger time on any of the Japanese LMGs, especially the Type 99; or on a Beretta M38 SMG or its derivatives (which is what the MP40 wants to be when it grows up).

And don’t let yourself believe that an enemy weapon is an inferior weapon because you think the enemy is — well, choose your favorite put-down. Because whatever your enemy is, the guys who designed his weapons probably are not.

Thing From the Vault: Pinfire 9mm Double Pistol; Worst Trigger Ever

In this Thing From the Vault, we have a double pistol gifted to us recently by a friend. It is a 9mm  pinfire of uncertain European (Belgian, perhaps?) make. It’s an oddity with a number of screwball design features; maybe it was French, because it has some of the sorts of quirks our long-departed Citroën had. Wait… it is Spanish, we just figured that out, and we’ll tell you why. First, a picture. (All pictures here do embiggen).

pinfire_pistol_1

The pistol is furnished with a carved walnut grip and is finished in the white. We’ll give you a quick walk-around, starting from the hammers and proceeding clockwise. There are two single-action hammers, each with a full cock and a half-cock position. The hammers are serrated at the top of the spurs. The retractable triggers only extend at full cock; with the hammers at half-cock or at rest, they are approximately flush with the bottom of the pistol.

pinfire_pistol_8

pinfire_pistol_3Forward of the hammers, atop the barrels, is the sight, a simple notch; there s no front sight. The sight slides and forms the safety (we’ll show you later how this works). The barrels are octagonal in section and 9mm in caliber. Beneath the barrel, the pivot screw, pivot spring and locking block are evident.

pinfire_pistol_6The main lock of the pistol shows trigger and hammer pins, and is curiously cross-hatched.

The grip is rather crudely formed to fit the decorative shape of a steel grip cap with lanyard ring.

The right barrel bears black-powder proofs from Eibar, Spain in the 19th Century.

pinfire_pistol_2

The markings on the right side are Xº1 9,9 [an Eibar proof crest with antlers] [an Ebar black powder proof with three non-interlocking rings] and the strength of the proof, 700 Kgs (Kilograms/square centimeter pressure). The markings on the left side of the barrels are a serial number, 05435; what may be 2.2 in a lozenge shape; and CAL. 9.

pinfire_pistol_10

pinfire_pistol_9

The pistol must be half-cocked to be opened. With the hammers on half-cock, pushing the locking bolt from right towards left allows the barrels to be opened. No extraction is provided; the pins in the cartridges can be used for that.

Pinfire  was an early cartridge system that was quickly made obsolete by the rim- and later center-fire cartridges. There’s actually a lot to say about early cartridges (including a great three-volume work by George A. Hoyem). Pinfire allowed self-contained, more or less hermetically sealed, metallic cartridges, but they had to be inserted so that the pins fit into the slots in the barrel. The pin was like a little firing pin built into the cartridge, and activating an internal priming compound set against the inside of the cartridge case. It sure beat muzzleloading and paper and linen cartridges, but the popularity of the rimfire after 1850 consigned pinfire to the history books — and the Vault. By 1900, pinfire was a dead concept, but cartridges were made for existing firearms as late as World War II. A few die-hard enthusiasts remanufacture and reload pinfire cartridges today.

For more, including a look at the primitive safety, click on the link below.

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Banned in Boston: Old School High Capacity Astra

The first successful repeating firearms, Colt’s, were five-shot (Paterson) and six-shot (Hartford) revolvers. Before that, double barrels and cartridge loading were the best that designers could offer in terms of firepower. Many improvements were made in the succeeding half century, from the sensible (auto pistols holding seven or eight shots, and lever and bolt repeating rifles) to the fanciful (behemoth 20-round pinfire revolvers). But state of the art in the first decade of the 20th Century was a six-shot revolver, or a pistol with, usually, a seven-shot magazine. And then, there’s this. 

Astra 100 high-cap old-school - 4

Naturally people wanted more than seven shots, even then, and this oddity is one of the attempts to meet that demand. Of course, as a semi-automatic pistol with more than 10 rounds capacity, it’s now banned in Boston (and everywhere else in Massachusetts), even though it’s about a century old — and something a wise man would be slow to start a fight with.

It’s an Astra Model 100, an early product by the Basque gunmaker that produced a wide range of guns for nearly a century, surviving a monarchy, communists, fascists, and a constitutional restoration, before finally succumbing to a combination of regulatory burden and market failure in the 1990s. The company was originally called Esperanza y Unceta after its founders, Juan Esperanza Salvador and Pedro Unceta, and used the “Astra” name as a brand. It operated in Eibar and in Guernica. Later the company would be renamed Astra, Unceta et. Cie. The last of the Unceta family managers would be murdered by Basque terrorists in 1977 and the company would decline thereafter, and fail permanently in 1998.

Here’s the other side of the same pistol.

Astra 100 high-cap old-school - 4

The pistol is marked Automatic Pistol – Astra Patent – Cal. 7.65 and chambers the .32 ACP round (7.65 mm x 17SR). The magazine holds 12 of them. Yes, the long grip is awkward. Here is the pistol compared to some more normally-sized Euro .32s we happened to have out, a Czechoslovak Praga (roughly the same size and shape as the Browning 1910) and the Mélior featured the other day (same size and shape as the Browning 1900).

Astra 100 high-cap old-school - 1

And here are the magazines. The Praga and Mélior magazines slide into each other’s mag well, but they have different modes of attachment. We’ll be covering the Praga later. As you can see, all three exactly copy the magazine angle of the 1900 Browning. The spirit of Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky (the Tom Lehrer version, not the actual mathematician) was hard at work in the European arms industry!

Astra 100 high-cap old-school - 2

The Astra is in rough cosmetic shape, but it is well endowed with more or less readable markings. Spanish pistols of the prewar era (at least) bear a “triad” of proof marks, and the ones on this pistol suggest manufacture likely before 1927, probably before 1929 and certainly before 1931 (the central proof mark bears the crown of King Alfonso, deposed in  1931). The marks can be seen on the tang below: the Spanish shield with cross and crown, the “PV” stamp (possibly a smokeless proof), and the Eibar rampant lion indicating the proof house.

Astra 100 high-cap old-school - 10

The thing hanging down behind the trigger is the safety. Here, it is in the FIRE position. Up, rotated through about 100º, it is in SAFE, and there it can lock the slide back to facilitate disassembly.

Astra 100 high-cap old-school - 12

In typical Browning fashion, the barrel rotates 90º to disconnect from the retaining lugs machined into the frame. However, we found that the slide did not come off in the usual Browning fashion, although it was possible to winkle the barrel out. (If you look very closely or blow up the picture below, you can see the lugs on the bottom near the breech end – right. Meanwhile, the muzzle end, left, has flutes, apparently to assist in rotating the barrel).

Astra 100 high-cap old-school - 16

This pistol bears the number 8862 on the frame, 862 on the slide, and what looks like 082 (or 280) on the barrel.Astra 100 high-cap old-school - 15

But the most interesting marking, by far, is the Asian ideograph markings flanking the digits “84” in that last image. Chinese, probably, but what do they say?

In the end, it’s an interesting pistol, that came to us via an auction’s bycatch. If only we could interrogate it, and learn its history! What did it do in the Civil War? How did it get to China, and what did a Chinese owner do with it?

But it will not talk. We have to be content to note that this was a credible attempt at a modern magazine capacity years before Browning and Saive did it with the Browning P35 High Power. It would hold the .32 ACP capacity crown until the brief era of the low production CZ-83 in 7.65. Untouched by greatness, the Astra 100 rests forever in the realm of firearms curiosities.

Thing from the Vault: Barnett Enfield (Real, or Darra Adam Khel?)

Some of you who have hung out with us have seen this long gun and its cousins, and heard the story of how it came to catch a C-17 ride home wearing a GI souvenir tag, and palletized in a purpose-built wood box with a number of its brethren. Exactly how and why your humble blogger became the FFL Type 02 (Pawnbroker) equivalent for a remote and allegedly Taliban-infested valley is a story to be told face to face, but suffice it now to say that such a thing happened, and a variety of antique oddities lounge about Hog Manor in consequence thereof.

afghan_enfield_01_-_16_overview

We are about the furthest thing you can imagine from expertise on British black powder guns, so our answer to the question in the title is more a matter of supposition and deduction than it is of confidence. But we believe the rifle to be a Pashtun copy, made at some unknown time by hand, probably by the gunsmiths of the Adam Khel tribe in their home city, Darra Adam Khel.

Some of the reasons are: the light-colored no-name wood of the stock; the uncertain-looking brass parts, which look more like they were cast by cottage industry than by a mid-19th Century industrial plant; the spiral seam in the barrel, where it was made by hand-forging a rectangular bar in spiral form around a mandrel; the flimsy sheet metal piece opposite the lock; the weird heads, threads and alignments of the screws.

afghan_enfield_01_-_22_spiral_seam_in_barrel

On the other hand, the engraving is clear and without misspellings. Since many Darra gunsmiths are illiterate in any language, you frequently see mirror-image letters and other wierdness in inscriptions. The lock date (1869) is much too late for a P53 Enfield, but it could be a P59, a similar musket made in smoothbore strictly for the use of native troops in British India. So it could be a P59 that has, over the last near sesquicentury, become the host to many repaired and replaced native parts.

afghan_enfield_01_-_19_lockplate_area

Click more to see some more of the uneven and sometimes crude construction, and many character-rich repairs, of this venerable firearm.

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