Category Archives: Foreign and Enemy Weapons

SARCO has Bren Gun Kits!

SARCO is celebrating Thanksgiving with some deals, but also has dug back into the warehouse and found some Bren Gun kits. These have not been on the market much lately. The good news is that two of these old torch demils include original barrels:

SARCO Bren Mk.1 kit

SARCO Bren Mk.1 kit. Included mags not shown.

They also include some magazines and accessories, which vary by mark. For example, the Mk. I illustrated above includes five .303 magazines, and an original barrel SARCO calls “good.” On the Mk.3 kit, they rate the included barrel (a Mk. 2 and not the shorter Mk.3) “very good” and include it and five magazines (which are not shown in the kit picture).


Sarco Bren Mk.3 Kit. Included Mk.2 barrel (which does fit) and mags not shown.

The bad news? Those torch-cut receivers are almost certainly not rebuildable, at least, not economically so. If the cuts fall in critical areas of the receiver, or if there’s too much material removed, there are no easy fixes.

And any rewelded receiver must be heat-treated.

Finally, they have a true rarity, although it is barrel-less at the moment: the L4A3 7.62 NATO version. This comes with just one mag, and they’re working on having a new-production barrel which will be offered at additional cost as soon as they are available.

Bren L4A3 kit. Included magazine (1) not shown.

Bren L4A3 kit. Included magazine (1) not shown.

The reweld cautions with the other kits need to be observed here, too. In our judgment, building these guns is possible (if you’re lucky about where the cuts are) but extremely challenging and time-consuming.


Rhodesian Mine Ambush Protected Vehicles 1975-80

We’ve mentioned before that long before the US decided it needed vehicles that could survive mines (or, technically, whose crews could survive mines — one mine FOOM and anything that came on its own wheels is leaving on something else’s). the Rhodesian Army invented, developed, and mastered the concept, on a shoestring budget.

The vehicles were called Mine Ambush Protected or MAPs, and a confusing variety were improvised and made in unit workshops and national steel-working firms from about 1972 to the end of the war.

These vehicles might be entirely lost to history, if not for two things: the cruelty & corruption of the Mugabe regime which produced a global Rhodesian diaspora; and the obsessive-compulsive tendencies of combat-vehicle modelers, who pursue the most minute details with a singlemindedness that Javert himself could only envy.

Between the proud Rhodies, wherever they may fetch up these days, and the fiddly autism-spectrum anoraks who seem to breathe a heady mixture of detail and toluene, plenty of information about Rhodesian vehicles is at hand (and more is emerging regularly).

The best place to begin is wargamer John Wynne Hopkins’s page. He has done an intensive study of these vehicles.

The Problem

This photo illustrates the problem:

Mercedes 4.5 under tow

The slick-sided Mercedes 4.5 ton truck hit a land mine enroute out, and is being towed back to base. Hopkins (from whom we light-fingered the photo) explains that this is a convoy of 5 Independent Company, Rhodesian African Rifles, enroute back from a trip in support of the elections for the brief (and internationally unrecognized) compromise Zimbabwe-Rhodesia government in January 1979. Their efforts were futile: American President Jimmy Carter and British Foreign Minister Lord Carrington had agreed to support only “one man, one vote, one time” elections as demanded by the nominally Communist kleptocrats who led the two guerrilla movements.

5 Indep Coy RAR convoy forms up at Derowa Mine for ‘Muzorewa’ elections Jan 1979. … Unfortunately, one of these pookies [mine countermeasures vehicle — Ed.] could not be spared on the journey out, with the result that the 45 seen being towed hit a mine (2nd in the convoy), as did a mobile surgical unit second from back. No casualties, thank goodness, although the driver of the 45 was severely shaken – the anti-mine armour had only been fitted the day before to an almost new vehicle.

Of course the driver was shaken! The mine went off right in front of him (vehicles in Rhodesia were right-hand drive).

Anti-mine armor on vehicle chassis or floorboards was an interim step; the definitive Rhodesian vehicles were full MAPs, but there were never enough to eliminate the use of slick trucks.

There are basically two classes of Rhodesian MAPs: transport/utility vehicles, and mine-clearing vehicles.

Mine Protected Transports

As you might expect from the improvisational, highly decentralized Rhodesian Army, a wide variety of vehicles were made, with some of the more exotic and lower-density ones appearing in elite forces’ motor pools.

We despaired of ever sorting these out, but Don Blevin came to our rescue (via Hopkins) with a great chart of the main variants, based on the three chassis they were produced on: the Nissan 2-ton commercial truck, the Mercedes 4.5 ton, and the Mercedes 2.5 ton Unimog.

We joined the two sides of the drawing and cleaned it up a bit. Don Blevin illustration.

We joined the two sides of the drawing and cleaned it up a bit. Don Blevin illustration. It embiggens thunderously.

This chart makes it look nice and neat. It wasn’t, though, because there were modifications and special purpose vehicles like weapons carriers and wreckers. Here’s some more Mercedes variants (same source):


And if you have a hard time keeping the Mercedes family straight, wait till you check out the utility Unimogs.


As you’ve seen from the initial image, a truck could take a TM-46 hit and still be survivable — it was luck of the draw based on where the blast took the vehicle. The truck in that picture was probably soon repaired and back in the field.

Mine Countermeasures Vehicles

If the Navy can use minesweepers, why can’t the Army? That simple question lay at the moment of conception of the Pookie, the principal Rhodie mine countermeasures vehicle. (There were others, built on the same principle.

A somewhat forlorn Pookie on display. From a photo essay here.

A somewhat forlorn Pookie on display. From a photo walkaround by Steve Barrow here.

There were never enough to keep earthen roads open, so vehicles ran in convoys — another lift from naval experience). The Pookie’s equivalent of a naval minesweeper’s nonmagnetic hull was its very low ground pressure, too low to trigger an AT mine. It could trigger anti-personnel mines, and anti-tampering devices attached to the secondary fuze wells on AT mines.

Between 1972 and 1980, it is estimated that more than 600 people were killed and thousands more injured by landmines on hundred of kilometres of roads and runways in Rhodesia. The toll would have been much higher but for the invention of Pookie, a small detection vehicle designed to travel ahead of military and civilian convoys and light enough not to detonate anti-tank mines.

Pookie, originally designed and developed by Ernest Konschel, an engineer and farmer from Rhodesia, was constructed on a lightweight chassis and carried a one-person armour-plated cab. The cab had a V-shaped undercarriage designed to deflect any blast away from the driver and to combat centre blast mines. The wheels were positioned some distance from the cab, again to protect the driver in the event of detonation by offsetting the seat of explosion, and they were housed in Formula One racing tires, apparently bought in bulk from the South African Grand Prix. Wide with low pressure, they exert a minimum ground force. The vehicle was propelled by an engine from a Volkswagen Beetle that was capable of taking Pookie to mine detection speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour. Two drop-arm detectors were mounted left and right and equipped with a detection system that bounced magnetic waves into the ground as well as an acoustic signal to indicate metal.

On first trials, Pookie detected every metallic mine and went on to prove itself both reliable and safe. Even though Pookies did detonate anti-personnel mines and several booby-trapped anti-tank mines in action with the Rhodesian army, this was only at the cost of new wheels and rim replacements, but no serious human casualty.

Only one Pookie operator lost his life during the vehicle’s long service. His tiny cab was hit by a lucky RPG-7 shot, and his number was up. Pookies shrugged off small arms, and a tank mine detonation only disabled the vehicle, blowing off one or more sacrificial wheels, but the operator survived — shaken and temporarily deaf, usually. None of the Pookies ever ditecyly tripped a TM-46, the Soviet anti-tank mine that was the Rhodesian terrorists’ primary weapon, but they did .

The initial detector used coils that were contained in long cylinders that could be lowered parallel to the surface of the road, or raised for transport.

The Pookie Today

The source of the above quote was this feature in a counter-mining journal by Willie Lawrence, which goes into detail about how wartime Pookies have been rehabbed and updated with ground-penetrating radar for detecting the improved (if that’s the word) anti-magnetic mines that international mine-clearing groups are dealing with today.

And the concept has been extended today with countermine vehicles like the Meerkat (caution, many spammy popups at that link). But the Pookie stands out as an example of brilliant simplicity, enabled as much as its designers were restricted by the fact that the Rhodesian Army had no choice but to run lean and on a shoestring.

Ceremonial Stoners

Here’s a picture of some men with some rifles. Want to ID the men? And the rifles? We’ll give you a hint: the rifles are Stoners, as in, one of the guns Eugene Stoner designed and/of progeny thereof. The men probably are not stoners.


The picture definitely embiggens enough for you to ID the rifles (although not quite enough to read the rollmarks). Answers after the jump.

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MG5 Contract Document Translation

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

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


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


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


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



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

German MG5 Accuracy Issue was Barrel Changes — Updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


The rarest STEN variant?

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


Maybe if we show you t’other side?


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

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


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


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

Answer after the jump.

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Ave atque Vale: Flying Avro Vulcan

Even the name was over the hill: Avro, the company named for dawn-of-flight founder A.V. Roe, went the way of one firm after another: merged into a soulless, nationalized conglomerate in a series of Socialist-policy forced consolidations of the British aircraft industry. In the end, they wound up sending British aero engineering talent to Canada, and Canadian bungling (with the Canadian Avro company front and center) banked them off and down to the United States, where they were critical to the success of Apollo. The Avro Vulcan was the last of the line that began with spindly triplanes of bamboo and muslin and that rained terror and death from the night skies over Germany.

Last touchdown of the last Vulcan. Ave atque vale!

Last touchdown of the last Vulcan. Ave atque vale!

“If a single bomber gets through,” boasted Hermann Göring, today dismissed as a buffoon but a leading World War I ace, “you can call me Meier!” And a single bomber didn’t get through, but hundreds, and then a thousand — Handley-Pages and Vickers and, chief among them, Avros, every night the weather enabled flying, and some nights it really didn’t, and by day the Americans gave the repair crews and fire brigades no rest.

In the late 1940s, Britain was a nuclear power, and it had one of the world’s most powerful navies and a first-class air force. The British nuclear deterrent originally comprised a fleet of bombers, and for this purpose, three new airframes were designed, the “V-bombers,” the name redolent of V-E Day and referring to the plane’s names. Three airframes were chosen because the performance demands were so high that some of the engineering teams were taking great risks. One jet was a very conservative design (the Vickers Valiant), in case of failure of the two using radical wing planforms: the sickle-shaped “crescent wing” Handley Page Victor and the delta-winged Avro Vulcan. All three planes succeeded, but the performance of the Victor and Vulcan ensured a short life for the Valiant.

A Vulcan, as they initially flew. This is a different serial.

Vulcan VX770 was the prototype Vulcan Mk 1 and was nearly a textbook-true delta wing. It was destroyed in an airshow crash in 1958. Early Vulcans were painted gloss “anti-flash” white in anticipation of a nuclear bombing role.

The Vulcan would serve 30 years; unlike the Victor, it was adaptable to a low-level conventional bombing mission, thanks to the excessive strength of its thick wings (the Victors were converted to the tanker role and had nearly as long a career).

XH558 showing off its bomb bay and the later "kinked and drooped" wing of the B.2 variant.

XH558 showing off its bomb bay and the later “kinked and drooped” wing of the B.2 variant.

As a nuclear bomber, the Vulcan never saw combat, but in the twilight of its service two Vulcans conducted raids on the Port Stanley airfield that closed the field to modern jets. At the time, they were the longest bombing raids in world history. (they were refueled, in part, by Victors).

Then, the jets retired and the roar of their loud, inefficient turbojets was heard no more. Britain’s nuclear deterrent was under the sea, in submarines. (Land-based ballistic missile designs all went the way of most post-war British defense inventions: budgetary cancellation). Nap-of-the-earth raids could be delivered by Typhoons.

But you can’t keep a good jet down — as long as there are three critical resources: trained pilots to fly it, experienced mechanics to fix it, and parts, or producers willing to make them. And, buoyed by funds from the National Lottery and thousands of small donors, and organized by a special charitable trust established for the purpose, the Vulcan returned, first to taxi (a peculiarly British way of displaying vintage aircraft with reduced risk) and then, triumphantly, to the air. (Indeed, two other Vulcans conduct taxi runs in the summer, XL426 and XM655).

Alas, one of those critical resources is running out and Vulcan XH558 is shown, here, landing for the last time.

Organisers had kept details of the final flight secret until the last minute over fears that dangerously large crowds would throng the airport for one last chance to see the aircraft.
A final nationwide tour held earlier this month was nearly cancelled over police concerns an influx of thousands of enthusiasts turning up at once would effectively shut down the small airport.

Hundreds of thousands are believed to have glimpsed Vulcan XH558 as it spent two days doing flypasts around the country a fortnight ago.

Martin Withers, who led the 1982 Vulcan raids on the Falklands, was the pilot for the final flight.

As he prepared, he said: “Everyone asks me what is so special about this aircraft and why people love it. Really the people who fly it are the wrong people to ask. It’s such a combination of grace and beauty of just seeing this thing fly.”

“Just to see it fly along, it’s so graceful. And then that combines with the sense of power and manoeuvrability you’ve got with this aircraft and the vibrations it makes. It just seems to turn people on emotionally, they really love it.”

Former pilot Angus Laird added: “I think it’s very, very sad but we all come to a time when we stop flying. She’s an old lady now and she’s stopped at the height of her popularity, which I think is brilliant.”

via Video: Vulcan bomber touches down forever after final flight – Telegraph.

The resource that ran out wasn’t guys like Martin and Angus, who could have readily transmitted their skills and tribal knowledge to a new generation of pilots. (After all, the Shuttleworth Collection flies an Avro Triplane from circa 1909). The problem was the greying of the cadre of maintainers. These unsung “erks,” (aircraftsmen, the bottom rung of mechanic in the RAF), the “fitters” and “riggers” in British terms (powerplant and airframe mechanics respectively, in American), are the last repository of a vast corpus of tribal knowledge, call it Vulcana, perhaps, or Vulcanology. As each one passes away or becomes too infirm to work on this old dowager, vital links in the neural network of Vulcan lore and expertise disappear forever.

Nobody thought it was dangerous to fly XH558 now — well, no more dangerous than flying any other jet warplane approaching a human’s retirement age. But there was a consensus that flying her was going to get more hazardous soon. 

The roar isn’t still, though — not yet. Next year’s airshow season, she’ll be doing high-speed taxiing at her home base. And XL426 and XM655 will be taxiing again next year, too.

Pity no one thought of doing this with the B-47, B-58, or the FB-111.

When the US Attacked Paraguay

You totally knew about that, right?

In the 1840s and 50s, while the US Navy was struggling with steam, a variety of technical oddities were built, before Navy leaders figured out that screw propulsion was better than alternatives (some of which were common, like side-mounted paddle-wheels; and some of which were weird). As transitional vessels, these mid-19th-Century hybrids were still primarily sailing ships; they used the steam power to counter sail’s disadvantages and to supplement the ship’s speed; these funny looking neither-fish-nor-fowl contraptions made their best speed downwind with full sail and full steam. With sail, you could circumnavigate the globe; with steam alone, you had better know where your next coaling station was.

USS Water Witch after sidewheel conversion

USS Water Witch after sidewheel conversion

The USS Water Witch was initially one of these ships configured with weird propulsion, a set of ghastly, draggy horizontal wheels designed by a serving officer, one Lieutenant William W. Hunter,  who managed to sell this to the Army (Topographical Engineers), the Navy, and the Revenue Cutter service (future Coast Guard) on no fewer than ten vessels, all of which performed miserably. One of these was Water Witch, originally built to be a sort of aquatic Gunga Din bringing water down the Dismal Swamp Canal to troops in harbor. At that, she was a failure of a sort you didn’t think occurred until recently: the geniuses who built her designed her with a draft two feet plus deeper, and a length greater than the canal locks she was supposed to traverse. Then, the Hunter horizontal propulsive wheels could only drive her to 6.5 knots. A rebuild as the first American ship with twin screws added only a few knots.

The Water Witch goes to Paraguay — Briefly.

But after a second rebuild as a side-wheeler, and refocused on exploration voyages, the Water Witch served well. On a routine show-the-flag and survey-the-rivers mission on the South American Parana River on 1 Feb 1855, she was fired on by a Paraguayan fort. It may have been hot blood or mistaken identity, but the Paraguayans weren’t lacking in gunnery skills — they delivered substantial damage to the American ship and wounded several crewmen, one fatally. The decedent’s name doesn’t seem to have mattered much to those writing things down at the time but they mention that he was the helmsman.

The skipper of the Water Witch, Lt. Thomas Jefferson Page, demanded satisfaction from Paraguay. The Paraguayan government at the time, the nationalistic but astute Carlos Antonio López government, was not interested in parley, let alone reparations, and Page returned to the USA. It had taken him several years of the surveying journey to find himself under the Paraguayans’ guns, but he got back home in a matter of months. There he began to demand from the American public a response. Page’s story struck a chord with newspaper editors and the public, and a punitive expedition was assembled, under the command of Commodore William B. Shubrick with Page as his flag lieutenant.

Shubrick and the Punitive Expedition

William B. Shubrick (1790 - 1874), U.S. naval officer. Original print in possession of Library of Congress.

William B. Shubrick (1790 – 1874), U.S. naval officer. Original print in possession of Library of Congress.

Shubrick was a fascinating character, already almost seventy when the expedition sailed. He was from a Naval family, but a rare slave-plantation-born, Harvard-educated naval officer and a friend of the writer James Fenimore Cooper, author of frontier tales. (And, though they are all but forgotten today, Cooper wrote histories and biographies of the Navy and its officers). Shubrick had served long and with distinction in wars remembered (he fought with distinction in the War of 1812 and led the Pacific operations of the Mexican War) and wars forgotten (the Second Sumatran Expedition of 1832).

Shubrick’s flagship was the brand-new frigate USS Sabine, and its first sea cruise was to Paraguay — with 18 other US ships. Sabine bore a US diplomat, James Bowlin, whose mission was to extract three things from López:

  1. An apology;
  2. An indemnity for the family of the slain Water Witch crewman;
  3. A commercial treaty on favorable terms.

As it happened, Sabine, built for the open sea, drew too much water and stood out in the River Plate while the other 18 ships, selected for river-friendly drafts, sailed up the river to bring the message home to Asunción.  López, who had been unwilling to treat with Page (and his single, battered ship) was remarkably more diplomatic with Bowlin, who left with everything he came for, and not a shot fired.

From that day to this, the USA and Paraguay have always maintained diplomatic relations, and the last shots fired between them were those of the fort on the Parana, and the guns of the USS Water Witch, in February, 1855.


Almost every participant in this strange episode had further remarkable events ahead.

USS Water Witch returned to South American survey duty, and then was mothballed. Returned to duty, she served the Union well in the Civil War, until a daring Confederate raid by Lt. Thomas Pelot and his men boarded and captured her on the night of 3 Jun 1864. The Rebels apparently intended to use her in a special operation, but wound up burning her to prevent recapture by Sherman’s advancing army.

This picture shows Water Witch closer to her 1855 appearance with a white hull, but it's of poor quality.

This picture shows Water Witch closer to her 1855 appearance with a white hull, but it’s of lower quality. Does embiggen, though.

USS Sabine had a successful if uneventful career, and ended her days as a receiving ship in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in the 1870s.

Commodore Shubrick retired in Washington, DC, in 1861 at the age of 71. He lived another 13 years. Sadly, he seems to have left no memoirs. (His correspondence from the period of the Paraguayan Punitive Expedition survives in the National Archives, US Office of Naval Records, Records Group 45).

Shubrick William Branford signature

Thomas Jefferson Page resigned his US Navy Commission in 1861 to serve his state of Virginia, first as an artillery officer, and then from 1863 as a Confederate naval officer. He was on his way to the New World with a powerful new ironclad, CSS Stonewall, when the war ended. Refusing to surrender to the Union, he sailed to Havana and donated the ship to Spain; helped Argentina modernize her Navy, and retired to Italy for the remainder of his years. (His correspondence from the Water Witch incident is in the National Archives, in the Naval Observatory Records, Record Group 79).

Carlos Antonio López left Paraguay richer and stronger that he found it, largely through bluster leading to diplomacy, negotiation and a strategic backdown; the pattern shown here, he also replayed with Paraguay’s neighbors, especially Brazil. He also left Paraguay a considerably more damaging legacy: his son, Francisco Solano López, a man who would almost erase the nation in a quixotic war with all its neighbors at once, a war contracted to stroke López fils‘s ego and his self-image as the self-styled “Napoleon of South America”; a monster who had his mother, brothers and sisters murdered (along with most of the foreign diplomatic corps) as the paranoia that seems to attend a certain personality type overtook him. Half the population of Paraguay fell in the war, which saw even women drafted (95% of adult men perished); the native Guaraní indians were nearly exterminated; nearly half the nation’s territory was ceded to Brazil and Argentina; to this day, Paraguay has never recovered the relative prosperity it had under López pêre. 

Latins being Latins, the disastrous Francisco Solano López, who went down in a flurry of Brazilian swords screaming “I die with my country!” was posthumously elevated, beginning with propaganda during the Chaco War, to the nation’s greatest hero, and his diplomatic dad is deprecated.



Canney, Donald L. The Old Steam Navy: Volume 1: Frigates, Sloops and Gunboats, 1815-1885. Annapolis, 1990: US Naval Institute, pp. 25-40.

Hanratty, Dannin M. and Meditz, Sandra W. , eds. Paraguay: A Country Study. Washington: American University / Government Printing Office, 1988. Retrievable from:

Howard, Alexander. Cruise of the U. S. Frigate Sabine. Portsmouth, VA, 1861.: TH Godwin, pp. 9-22.

Williams, John Hoyt. The Rise and Fall of the Paraguayan Republic, 1800-1870. Austin, TX, 1979: University of Texas Press.

Combat Tricycle of a Century Past

These things look like they came out of some Hollywood prop shop for an Indiana Jones reboot. Or something like that. But they’re real, these combat tricycles, and they have a story.


While World War II is thought of as the first mobile war, and World War I is considered a static war, it was the Great War that first saw motorization used (apart from railways, of course, which were key terrain in many 19th-Century wars).

Russia had the worst roads, and the most backward motor vehicle industry, of any wartime power. No firm could mass-produce military vehicles, and so the Tsar’s needs for trucks, tractors and especially for the new category of armored vehicle were met largely with imports.

One of these hastily produced vehicles was the Filitov Tricycle Armored Car. It looks, frankly, impractical — not many three-wheeled vehicles were made between Cugnot and Reliant, and we don’t know of any others made for combat. But according to Jim Kinnear — whose real focus was on later, Soviet, armored cars –some 20 of them were made and deployed. Kinnear’s write-up of the Tricycle is confined to a single picture caption, and as far as we know, it’s the only English-language source on this combat vehicle.

The narrow wheels and tires look unsuited for rural Russian roads even today. While Kinnear notes contemporary vehicles like the Russo-Baltic Model M packed either three M1905 Maxim water-cooled machine guns, or one 37mm cannon, Filitov’s tricycle appears from the photo to be innocent of any armament, but we learn below it was, indeed, well if unconventionally armed.

The competing Russo-Baltic Model M was not without its limitations. Despite being well armed and stout enough for Russian roads, it had a top speed of only 12 mph. (Engineering always demands a trade-off!) Before the war, the Russo-Baltic company in Riga, Latvia (not then an independent nation, but occupied by the Russian Empire) was the main producer of armored cars, but its early production was probably only in the dozens. (During World War I, the factory would reiocate East, and remain part of postwar Russia). Beginning in 1913, the Russian War Office ordered many (hundreds) of armored cars from overseas makers, mostly British and German (the German orders stopped when the war began of course), and many Russian firms began designing and building in hopes of getting one of those military contracts.

Subsequent Leninist historiography has obscured some of this, but Russian capitalism in the time before the war was highly entrepreneurial and dynamic (it was the fastest-growing economy in Europe, but then, it started from behind the western powers). And Russian education, particularly in the fields we now call STEM, was first rate, which created a great bounty of imaginative engineers and led them to develop such new technologies as armored vehicles, the half-track (a Russian invention, as we’ve noted before) and large aircraft (pioneered by a Russian engineer from Kiev, Igor Sikorsky). Initially, the war provided more impetus for these concepts ahead of their time, with Sikorsky (working with that same Russo-Baltic Company!) to develop his four-engined le Grand into the Ilya Muroumetz bomber, the world’s first four-engined bomber, and the Putilov Plant (in St. Petersburg) to develop a category-breaking armored car:

Late in 1914, the Putilov Plant in St. Petersburg began production of an 8,000 kg armored car armed with a 76.2 mm field gun. The new Putilov-Garford armored car was designed by F.F. Lender, who placed the 76.2mm gun in a rear turret. This provided a good arc of fire, with additional machine gun armament being provided for close support. It was later claimed by Russia as the world’s first wheeled self-propelled gun. The Putilov Garford was built in small numbers and made a significant contribution during the First World War and the Russian Civil War, which followed the 1917 Revolution. The vehicle, with its impressive 76.2 mm armament, was often used to engage armored trains and served with the Red Army into the 1930s as a railway artillery vehicle, with its wheels converted to run on the Russian rail system.1

Kinnear goes on to describe how the environment at the time reinforced this groundbreaking spirit and produced an engineering Big Bang of sorts:

During the First World War,before the major armored car manufacturers of the 1930s became established, many enterprising private individuals also designed armored vehicles on imported chassis in an attempt to have their projects accepted for lucrative military contracts. Many Russian armored car designs developed in the period 1914-18 included innovative features which were not included in series-produced vehicles until many years later. Noteworthy developments included the engineer Poplavko’s Poplavko-Jeffery (AB-9) armored car of 1915 with its 4×4 chassis, twin engines, twin driver’s positions, five forward and five reverse gears, and 16 mm frontal armor. The Renault Mgebrov, designed in 1914 with its highly faceted armor for maximum ballistic protection and the incorporation of armored glass was also an interesting design concept. The futuristic-looking Renault Mgebrov was manufactured in small numbers from the spring of 1916. During the same period, 1915-17, N.N. Lebedenko designed several armored cars in the town of Dmitrov, near Moscow. In 1915 Colonel Gulkevitch designed a 40 tonne armored car on the imported Lombard chassis armed with a field gun intended for heavy fire support for infantry. Gulkevitch’s design was impractical and not developed beyond conceptual stage, however he was particularly interested in the advantages of half-tracks for crossing obstacles, including barbed wire defenses. He went on to significantly modify his original plans and developed his designs into the first Russian half-track armored car for which the Putilov plant provided the armored body.

Though their ideas were not generally developed beyond prototype or limited series production stage at the time, these designers would play a prominent part in the development of future series-produced armored cars, while many of the ideas, such as the twin engines used on the Poplavko-Jeffery AB-9, were to be incorporated many years later in post World War Two vehicles such as the BTR-60 APC series.2

It was during this flowering of military technology that the Filitov Tricycle was produced.

A little digging found a Czech web page which has more details from a Russian source, and a crude (Google?) machine translation into English, and more photos. The weapons (Maxim M1910 machine guns or a short-barreled 76.2 mm artillery piece) were mounted to fire to the rear.

The pictures include this side view of the MG and cannon version. The strut under the cannon version was to brace the armored car so the recoil of the gun did not flip it! It looks like there was a different chassis for the two different versions; there is certainly a different armor arrangement.

from Kolomiets and Baratinsky filatov

According to the page, which cites the work by Kolomiets and Baratinsy, Filatov (note the different spelling) was a major general in command of an officer’s school at Oranienbaum. He started the design in early 1915 and in December they produced an MG-armed prototype.

MG-armed Filatov on the range

MG-armed Filatov on the range

It says eIght production vehicles were made by May 1916, one cannon prototype (apparently the only one made), and eight more production vehicles after that. They used a variety of chassis from auto wrecks; there was no standardization and they must have been maintenance-challenged. They had 4-6 mm of armor (presumably face-hardened armor) and the MG version weighed 1.8 tonnes. The gun version was 0.8 t heavier and was thought to be impractical, hence the single prototype.

The two most salient identification features are the rear-mounted, rear-firing armament, and the large spotlights.

The prototype 76.2 mm Filatov firing. These pictures appear to be taken at the same place and time as the leading picture.

The prototype 76.2 mm Filatov firing. These pictures appear to be taken at the same place and time as the leading picture.

(It’s not clear if these are gross weights including fuel, ammo and the two-man crew, or net weights).

They don’t appear to have been used against the Germans, but perhaps in the Civil War. None are known to survive.

Finally, here is the Czech site’s version of the same photo Kinnear used. Is it a bit clearer?



  1. Kinnear, p. 7.
  2. Kinnear, pp. 7-8.


Kinnear, James. Russian Armored Cars: 1930-2000. Darlington, Maryland: Darlington Productions, 2000.

Kolomiets, M. & Baratinsky, M.: Bronjeavtomobili Ruskoj Armii 1906-1917, [Armored Cars of the Russian Army]. Technitsky Molodyezh, Moscow 2000 (via

G36 Update: H&K Reacts to Commission Reports

via Thomas Weigold’s Augen Geradeaus blog, here’s H&K’s response to this week’s commission reports. There were several reports; H&K chose, not surprisingly, to focus on the news that any deficiency in the G36 has not caused German casualties, and that troops are still fond of the embattled rifle.


G36 Rifles of BW troops during exercise Noble Jump. Photo by Thomas Wiegold.

The H&K statement was provided in a press release Thursday, per Weigold. Translation ours.

In view of the final report of the Commission to Investigate the Employment of the G36 Assault Rifle in Combat Situations issued on 14 October,  Heckler&Koch ein Anliegen festzuhalten:
We are very pleased that the soldiers questioned for the Report of the Experts’ Commission have stated unanimously, that at no time did the employment of the Assault Rifle G36 indluence the safety or self-defense ability of those soldiers.

Heckler & Koch has been a partner of the Bundeswehr for more than 50 years, and or products are in worldwide service every day. The report determined that all soldiers had and have full confidence in the G36, not least on the basis of its — even in international comparison — high reliability. The safety of the lives and health of our troops has the most supreme priority at Heckler & Koch.

The independent commission established by the Federal Ministry of Defense under the chairmanship of former Member of the Bundestag Winfried Nachtwei investigated the question of whether German soldiers had been injured or exposed to danger because of characteristics of the G36. We welcomed the establishment of an Experts’ Commission from the beginning, and are pleased that the report coming back from the interviews with soldiers tally with the positive reports that have been coming in to Heckler & Koch from service members about our products for years.

Again, this is the link to Thomas’s report in the German language. This is a link that should provide a Google translation, if you want to check ours; at press time Google Translate wasn’t working here at Hog Manor.

What we’re getting from H&K’s report and from everything else they’re saying — noting especially that the G36 passed all tests before adoption — is that they’re pleased (and a little relieved, perhaps) that nobody died because of the heating/accuracy problem — which they say nothing about, naturally. And that they feel they’ve dealt with the 50m target and are ready to take on the 500m target: who pays for remediation? H&K, rather sensibly, believes the answer is “not us” because the heat tests that the G36 fails were not part of initial adoption testing. The G36 passed every test the Bundeswehr thought to throw at it — BW leaders just didn’t ever think German troops would be dealing reams of automatic fire at an enemy in 30º C weather, and so there was no such test in the 1990s when they were shaking down the G36.

G36 temperature-related failure

You might have thought that the overheating problems that plagued the nearly-adopted US version, the H&K-produced XM8 rifle, might have shaken some Teutonic complacency, but apparently they wrote the whole thing off to American cowboy ammo-spraying tendencies.

With the humanitarian question off the table for now — nobody has died from a G36’s degraded accuracy when hot, at least, not yet — the concern for H&K (and for the Bundeswehr) has to be: what’s next? What’s next is either a fix for the G36 or an all-new rifle.

One finding of the various commissions has met with silence from Oberndorf. That is criticism of the cozy relationship between H&K and Bundeswehr ordnance officers charged with defining standards and seeing that small arms met them. The recommendation is that a third-party lab be used to keep test results at arms’ length from ordnance officials’ friendships with H&K executives. The problem with that is immediately obvious: in a middle-sized nation like Germany, with a small arms industry that is increasingly squeezed by export controls, where do you find a lab that isn’t close to one or more of the nation’s few surviving and thriving gunmakers? The probable answer is, find a lab that has no firearms experience. That decision could lead to a painful learning curve.

If you had said at any time during the 19th or 20th Century that the supposedly militaristic German race was going to screw up something as hammer-simple as buying a rifle, because, in part, they they’d driven their arms industry into deep decline, even Californians would have laughed at you, and they’ll believe anything.