It”s hard to remember now, but there was a time when Britain, England really, was a world leader in aeronautics. Once, they were manufacturing not one, but three state-of-the-art nuclear bombers, the Vickers Valiant, the Handley-Page Victor, and the last flying example, the Avro Vulcan. The Valiant was a stop-gap, in case the Victor or Vulcan, which included much risky technology like the Vulcan’s delta wing and the Victor’s scimitar planform, failed. The Victor flew for decades as a tanker, and the Vulcan was the last dedicated long-range pure bomber — nuclear and conventional — of the RAF.
If you have not seen a Vulcan fly, you still can — this summer — before the last flying example is grounded for good.
The UK tech website The Register can’t address this without Gawker-style ignorant snark:
[The Falklands War Black Buck ultra-long-distance raids were] the close of the Vulcan’s story with the RAF. And yet there was much affection for the old V-bombers, despite the fact that they had only provided a credible deterrent for a few years and had otherwise been undistinguished. This affection was nurtured by the RAF, which continued to have a taxpayer-funded Vulcan display unit until 1992 – ten years after the Vulcan retired as a fighting aircraft, almost a quarter-century after Polaris had rendered the V-force obsolete, and 32 years after the V-force had ceased to be credible in its primary mission.
Yeah, the bombers can’t get through missile defense. Pilots are obsolete. Robotic weapons are the future. Well, they were certainly the future when Sir Duncan Sandys wrote the White Paper that sounded the death knell of the British aerospace industry in 1957, and almost sixty years later, we’ve had Linebacker II and the ’67, ’70, ’73, ’82 and ’86 Middle East wars, two Arab WMD facilities erased from the map by the IDF AF despite the latest Russian/Soviet air defense gear, Desert Storm, and OIF, and today’s Sir Duncan wannabees are teling us that robotic weapons are the future.
Dude, where’s my jetpack?
After the RAF retired its Vulcan display flight, a nonprofit formed to maintain the plane in taxiable condition. (Yes, the British aero scene is so pitiful that people get excited to see vintage aircraft moving on the ground. But then, the US would never allow a nonprofit to adopt any postwar bomber, and our much larger nuclear alert force has no flying survivors, so who are we to bag on the Brits?)
Even after this the Vulcan To The Sky Trust came into being, and the old RAF display plane XH558 returned to the skies once more in 2007.
Now, however, the grand old warhorse of the skies is finally retiring for good. A group of companies that provided support and skills to keep XH558 going made the decision that they could no longer afford the costs associated with keeping the Vulcan in the air, especially as most of the parts no longer existed and airframe hours were becoming a major concern.
XH558 is not off to the scrap yard however, but to her new home at the Vulcan Aviation Academy where the next generation of engineers can learn their craft.
Until then, you can see, hear and feel XH558 in action on its UK farewell tour.
Ever heard of Bataillon Ebbinghaus? They really were a thing — briefly.
Before World War II, special operations were more the bailiwick of ad hoc, temporary elements, what the British precisely called “mobs for jobs,” than they were assignments to permanent special operations forces. A war would break out, some Robert Rogers would raise a regiment or even a company of special-purpose forces.
Purportedly von Hippel with men of Bn Ebbinghaus, Silesia 1939. Note civilian clothes, deniable weapons (ZB-26, MP.18-I), Nazi armbands.
Theodore [sic] von Hippel, a veteran of the German campaign in East Africa during the First World War, lobbied long and hard for special deep penetration units that would sabotage bridges and other communications nodes ahead of a German advance. The army allowed Hippel to form a special battalion known as the “Ebbinghaus” unit. Hippel recruited Polish-speaking Germans from either side of the border, Poles resident in Germany and Freikorps veterans. And according to some of his detractors, a fair number of petty criminals. They went into action during the German invasion of Poland in September 19391.
Von Hippel at his desk. The German Aaron Bank?
Throughout the war, German forces would use units like this, often successfully on the Eastern front. They had less success in the West, where they created a lot of confusion during the Battle of the Bulge but wound up defeated in detail. (Most of the English-speaking, American-uniformed infiltrators were captured, given a summary court-martial, and shot).
Bennighof suggests that the original Batallon Ebbinghaus from the Polish Campaign was not an unalloyed success:
Though there are some unsourced claims that the Ebbinghaus Battalion “performed magnificently” (without giving any details of this magnificence), Polish records give a much different story. The battalion assaulted the Polish factory complex at Slask in Silesia, and were intercepted by local police and army reservists. After an intense firefight, half of the saboteurs were killed2.
One online source suggests that Ebbinghaus was successful in “seizing the bridges over the Vistula” as well as the Silesian factory attack3, but there’s no way to trace it back to a primary source.
Having had their prejudices about special operations confirmed, the army high command dissolved the Ebbinghaus unit. But the Abwehr chief, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, saw an opportunity. He transferred Hippel to military intelligence and ordered him to form a new unit, the Lehr und Bau Kompagnie z.b.V. 800 (800th Special Purpose Training and Construction Company). Hippel formed the unit around the Ebbinghaus survivors at a barracks in Berlin near the Brandenburg Gate, and his company became known as the Brandenburg company.
Recruiting and training focused on language ability and cultural knowledge, to allow saboteurs to pose as enemy soldiers and civilians. Overwhelmingly, preparations focused on the Soviet Union despite Germany’s supposed alignment with the Communist state, reflecting Canaris’ virulent anti-Communism. Canaris eased Hippel aside as the unit began to show real promise4.
So by 25 Oct 39, Ebbinghaus was no more, and the unit was Brandenburg until, after the murder of its sponsor Canaris, it was converted to a conventional unit and expended in combat. Here’s another excerpt mentioning it:
The German high command allowed Hippel to form a battalion to do what he had proposed–sabotage the enemy’s ability to respond to German attacks by capturing roadways and bridges ahead of the main force and securing strategic targets before they were demolished. Known as the Ebbinghaus battalion, the battalion did a superb job in the Polish campaign, despite their excellent performance they were disband soon after. However this excellent performance didn’t fail to go unnoticed, and Admiral Canaris(who at the time was incharge of the Abwehr)gave Hippel the opportunity to form a unit like the Ebbinghaus group for the Abwehr.
On October 15, 1939, the Lehr und Bau Kompagnie z.b.V. 800 (Special Duty Training and Construction Company No. 800), which consisted primarily of the former Ebbinghaus volunteers, was officially founded in Brandenburg [an der Havel near Berlin], where it would take on the shorter name of Brandenburg Company5.
One wonders what sources lie behind the tales, and what was the (probably prosaic) origin of the original name. The only official source we have found is a photo of von Hippel with caption and a few brief paragraphs (.pdf) in the Bundesarchiv, who say the photo came from his personnel file in the archive — a file that ends with his 1943 capture in Tunisia.
One site gives Bataillon Ebbinghaus credit for “prevent[ing] the destruction of Vistula Bridges and sabotage of factories in Silesia” during the Polish campaign6.
But the naming enigma remains. Who, or what, or where was Ebbinghaus that gave this early unit its name? And where, in something as thoroughly explored as the history of Nazi special operations forces, is the history of this brief mob-for-a-job?
Here’s a publication you may not be aware of: The US Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office’s Operational Environment Watch. In effect, it’s an open-source intel briefing on military developments, intended for the professional officer but available to whomever.
This link will provide an HTML version of the current issue:
The general format is to present a foreign military news article (in translation, if necessary), and in a sidebar to offer analysis of the significanceof the article to US and NATO defense.
There is a great deal of information on Russian developments in every issue, even if it doesn’t focus on Russian doctrine like this issue does. For an example of the sort of thing we mean, the current issue reports on changes to Russian airborne forces, incorporating main battle tanks as organic elements (that will train and deploy with the paratroopers, not ad hoc attachments) for the first time. There’s an article on what might seem to be pettifogging terminological subtlety: what’s the difference between Spetsnaz and SOF?
There’s technical details also. The current issue discusses two new (?) Russian underwater weapons, the the DP-64 Nepryadva grenade launcher made by Basalt, and the Tula Instrument Design Bureau’s Active Denial System, both intended to be used against frogmen and surface swimmers.
Likewise, the March issue had details on the T-14 Armata tank (which is apparently to be produced, mostly, for export at $7.8 million each) and something new from Russia, the Ratnik integrated soldiers’ load system, comprising a drastically lightened overall load, and including the AK-12 rifle, which after a long game of financial chicken with Izmash/Kalashnikov Concern, the Russian MOD is buying, perhaps primarily to keep Kalashnikov afloat in the light of sanctions limiting their export markets.
The nature of a magazine means that long, thoughtful pieces don’t belong here, nor do very specialized ones, like a biography of Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin. In that case, there’s a brief blurb in the magazine — with a link to the longer paper on the FMSO website. (The Rogozin Bio for instance).
It’s not all-Russia-alla-time, fortunately. China, Latin America, and Central Asia get their share of coverage, Along with the hardware stuff, which is likely to be of greatest interest to readers of this blog, there’s quite a lot on diplomatic and operational developments.
“Hognose,” you are thinking, “has lost his ever-lovin’ mind.” Unless you were long in the service, in which case you will substitute a stronger term for “ever-lovin’.” Because, after all, the low-production FG42, which had a great influence on US postwar weapons development, is miles from today’s modular M4, which developed from a completely different concept, the SCHV (Small Caliber High Velocity round) and the selective-fire assault rifle.
Let’s go back to one of the earliest versions of the US reaction to captured FG42s, written by T/5 (a wartime grade for technical specialists, called “technical corporal” and paid a hair better than a “mere” corporal) John E. Holmes of the Foreign Material Branch at Aberdeen Proving Ground on 8 June 44. According to Dugelby & Stevens, this was “the first American appreciation of the FG42 to appear in print… therefore a most noteworthy document.” After describing the general arrangement, production characteristics, handling and originality vs. derivation of various FG42 features (the example(s) Holmes had was/were the “E” type or first model FG with the stamped metal butt and pistol grip), he suggests that its advantages might be well considered in future US martial-arms design:
Advantages of Design
The combination of advantageous features included in the design of this weapon has made it a very interesting piece which should be studied with future weapons in view.
The following features are suggested:
a. The method of reducing required by using buffer spring sliding shoulder stock system.
b. Reduction of muzzle climb due to the action and stock design.
c. The method of loading empty or partially empty magazines with standard rifle clips, cutting down the number of necessary magazines which must be carried.
d. High line of sight prevents distortion of target due to heat waves.
e. Folding sights prevent damage as the weapon is carried by paratroopers, or when not in use.
f. Reversible bayonet.
g. Telescopic bayonet.1
Do you see what we mean? The only ones of these that are not present in the modern infantryman’s M4 are the spring-loaded shoulder stock (not necessary on the light-recoiling 5.56mm cartridge, perhaps), and the “reversible” spike bayonet. In point of fact, the US already tried that with rod bayonets on the Springfield rifles of 1880-1888 and 1903, which were extremely unpopular with troops (and ultimately, overthrown by President Theodore Roosevelt as “as poor an invention as I ever saw,” leading to the familiar M1905 knife bayonet of the World Wars).
So no, we never adopted the FG42. But over the years, we did adopt most of its impressive features. So did almost every major military in the world. And that is why the FG42, despite having been produced in a quantity of only 8,494, maximum2, is, legitimately, considered one of the most influential weapons in history.
Dugelby, Thomas B, and Stevens, R. Blake. Death From Above: The German FG42 Paratroop Rifle. New Expanded Edition. Coburg, Ontario: Collector Grade Publications, 2007. pp. 119-120.
And, given the established subject of this blog, you know that our reference is to machine guns, not to the products of Morris Garages.
The Russo-Japanese war was the first war to introduce all the nightmares of 20th-century warfare: barbed wire entanglements, recoil-carriage artillery, and of course Mr. Maxim’s new invention, the machine gun. Apart from the MG, all of these had seen some use before. But the Russo-Japanese war fully foreshadowed the Great War to come.
Japan shares with Russia the dubious distinction of having fought the first major war of the 20th century, and the first in which machine-guns on both sides played a prominent part in significant numbers. Maxim Nordenfelt and later VSM1 supplied both protagonists – the Japanese bought four 8mm Maxims in 1893, and later nine ” New Pattern” Model 1901s; the Russian Navy bought almost 300 guns of various types between 1897 and 1904, while the Russian Army obtained perhaps as many as 1000 guns from Loewe/DWM between 1899 and 1904. Later, the Japanese switched their allegiance to the Hotchkiss, and the Mle’00 was the gun which armed most front-line units of the Japanese Army by the time of the outbreak of war with Russia.
Initially, both sides deployed their machine-guns like miniature artillery, laying down indirect fire from rear positions, over the heads of their own infantry; observers (and, just as during the American Civil War, there were many) reported that the Maxims, in particular (they were chambered for a heavier around than the Japanese Hotchkisses) were actually more effective in this role than the artillery they mimicked.
Shades of things to come; the same tactics were to be used on the Western Front during the First World War, but not at first.
More important than the role of supporting attacking infantry, though, was the machine-gun in static defence. In an engagement dear Lin Chin Pu, in January, 1905, a German observer reported:
The Japanese attacked a Russian redoubt defended by two Maxim guns. A Japanese company about 200 strong was thrown forward in skirmishing order [that is, in rough liner breast, with some space between each man]. The Russians held their fire until the range was only 300 yards and then the two machine-guns were brought into action. In less than two minutes they fired about a thousand rounds, and the Japanese firing line was literally swept away.
The propaganda of the war was one thing, the reality different (as always).
At the battle of Mukden, which began on 21 February 1905, when the Japanese attacked Russian positions over a wide front, and proceeded to encircle them, the Russians employed their Maxims in batteries of eight, with one gun undergoing overhaul for each battery in action – the defenders were expending machine gun ammunition at the height of the battle at a rate of over 200,000 rounds per day. The Japanese encirclement was completed (notwithstanding the fact that the Russians had withdrawn by then) on 10 March by which time the defenders had lost an estimated 90,000 men killed, to the attackers’ 50,000; as many as half the casualties have been attributed to machine-gun fire.
As the war in Manchuria played itself out, it became exceedingly clear to participants and observers alike that the machine-gun had come of age with a vengeance. The British observer, Sir Ian Hamilton, writing in his Staff Officer’s Scrapbook of The Russo-Japanese War, described an incident which took place the following October, after six Japanese Hotchkiss guns have been allowed to occupy high ground overlooking the Russian lines:
In less than one minute hundreds [of Russians, who were complacently eating their lunch] were killed, and the rest were flying eastwards in wild disorder. Next moment the machine-guns were switched onto the Russian firing line who, with their backs to the river and their attention concentrated on Penchiho, were fighting in trenches about half-way up the slope of the mountain. These, before they could realize what had happened, found themselves being pelted with bullets from the rear. No troops could stand such treatment for long, and in less than no time the two Brigades which had formed the extreme left were in full retreat. Altogether the six machine guns had accounted for… 1,300 Russians.
Despite Hamilton’s warnings, the British Army establishment still took little heed of the danger posed by the machine-gun; not so the German, even if the conclusions of one of its observers in Manchuria proved to be faulty:
Machine-guns are extraordinarily successful. In defence of entrenchments especially they had a most telling effect on the assailants at the moment of the assault.
But they were also of service to the attack, being extremely useful in sweeping the crest of the defenders’ parapets. As a few men can advance under cover with these weapons during an engagement, it is possible to bring them up without much loss to a decisive point.
The fire of six machine guns is equal to that of a battalion (of riflemen) and this is of enormous importance at the decisive moment and place.
Whichever of the two opponents has at his disposal the larger number of machine-guns has thereby at his command such a superiority of fire that he’s able to give an effective support to his infantry. He can occupy a considerable front with smaller groups – and economy of manpower. Infantry is thus more free to maneuver and becomes more mobile. (Emphasis Ford’s).
Both sides used their machine-guns to enfilade dead ground, and thus deny it to the enemy, with considerable success, but the Japanese went one better when they pioneered the use of indirect overhead fire to support infantry assaults. On 13 March 1905 Japanese infantry crossed a river and assaulted enemy defensive positions on the other side with comparative impunity thanks to a covering barrage from machine-guns sited 1,800m (2,000 yards) in the rear, which kept firing until the assault troops were within 40 m of the Russian trench line.2
We note that modern armies train little for that kind of MG support, but the World War I and inter-war armies trained these tasks obsessively.
Both Japan and Russia came out of the war committed to machine guns.
Vickers, Son & Maxim, the successor to Maxim Nordenfelt and the forerunner of the Vickers defense industrial combine.
This entire long excerpt comes from pp. 81-84 of Ford, Roger. The Grim Reaper: Machine-Guns and Machine-Gunners in Action. New York: Sarpedon, 1996.
We apologize for posting this one a little late. We think you’ll see why.
This revolver, in the potent .455/.476 load, might not have had many tales to tell; it was a presentation revolver, property of a British Indian Army officer, and it probably lived its life in a succession of desk drawers, fired occasionally or not at all. J. B. Woon, who was a Major in the 40th Pathans at the time of presentation (sometime around 1903 when the unit first got that name, perhaps) and who is said to have advanced to the rank of Major or Lieutenant General. It’s a certainty that Woon had some tales to tell; one of those Eminent Victorians, he surfaces in a number of books we can find thanks to the magic of Google Book Search. Or does he?
(Yes, that picture embiggens with a click).
It is, it seems, hard to tell your Woons apart, as apparently there was more than one in British Indian Army service. There was also an Edward Woon, and there may have been more than one J.B. (The British Indian Army was a post-Rebellion service. Pre-1857, the Indian Army belonged to the British East India Company. After the Sepoy Rebellion, triggered in part by the issue of paper rifle-musket cartridges the native soldiers believed to be sealed with pork fat or beef tallow, making them anathema to Moslem and Hindu alike, the Indian Army was reorganized and nationalized).
For example, is this Major-General Woon, C.B., who inspected a Royal Army Medical Corps hospital in Multan in 1908, our guy, who had become an MG and a Commander of the Order of the Bath in a few short years? Or is it another Woon, whose initials were C.B.? We’d probably need to pore over multiple musty editions of the Army List to be sure.
Here’s a reference that shows that Major General J.B. Woon was, indeed, a Commander of the Order of the Bath. We’ll transcribe the text from the Google Books page, because it’s an interesting story. It’s from the History of the 5th Gurkha Rifles2:
The Battalion went through its first Kitchener test in 1906. Lord Kitchener, then Commander-in-Chief in India, aimed at increasing the efficiency of the army in India by introducing the element of competition into the annual inspection of battalions. Under the rules framed by him all battalions carried out the same series of exercises, marks were allotted on a common basis, and the winning unit held the Chief’s challenge cup for a year.
The exercises began with a fifteen-mile march under service conditions, followed immediately by an attack on a position, the defending enemy being represented by service targets, and ball ammunition being used as a test of shooting efficiency.
A capsule biography of Woon that breaks out his Christian names and his general officer service turns up, of all places, posted by users of the Axis History Forum.
General Sir John Blaxell Woon (1855 – 1938)
1905: Promoted to Brigadier-General
1905: Commander, 6th (Abbottabad) Infantry Brigade, India
?: Promoted to Major-General
1910 – ?: Commander, 5th (Mhow) Division, India
1911: Promoted to Lieutenant-General
? – 1914: Commander, 9th (Secunderabad) Division, India
?: Promoted to General
A reply there fills in some of the gaps:
Gen Woon, John Blaxall, was born on Feb 24, 1856, not 1855. His date of death is Aug 29, 1938. He was promoted to MG in 1905, and to LTG in 1911. I have no dates for when he took over command of the 2 Indian divisions.
And another reply gets many of the remaining gaps:
General Sir John Blaxall Woon (Feb 24 1856 – Aug 29 1938)
1903: Promoted to Temporary Brigadier-General
1903: Colonel on Staff ?, India
1903: District Officer Commanding Bundelkhand District, India
1904 (or 1903): District Officer Commanding Kohat District, India
1904: Commander, Abbottabad Brigade, India
1904 (or 1905): Commander, Sirhind Brigade
1905: Promoted to Major-General
1910 – 1911: Commander, 5th (Mhow) Division, India
1911 – 1914: Commander, 9th (Secunderabad) Division, India
1911: Promoted to Lieutenant-General
1917: Promoted to General
The information is based upon London Gazette, The Times, Who’s Who 1897-1996 and Whitaker’s peerage, baronetage, knightage, and companionage.
Btw. Brigadier-Generals were by nature Temporary.
These sources seem to disagree on whether he was John Blaxall or John Blaxell Woon.
In 1905, he marched (on horse) in a massive parade at Rawalpindi as Commander of the 6th (Abbottabad, yes, that Abbottabad) Infantry Brigade. (How massive? The program of the parade claims 55,516 officers and men, 13,396 horses, 5,558 camels, (Trigger warning for Ken White): another ~9,000 mules and ponies, 146 artillery pieces, and 136 machine guns).3
As he did not retire until 1919, it’s clear that Maj. Gen. Woon did something in the Great War. The British Indian Army deployed forces to East Africa in 1914, forces that included most of Woon’s former commands, to fight the German mischief-maker von Lettow-Vorbeck. And it deployed other elements — very large elements, for it was a very large army by modern standards — to fight on the Western Front4. Where Woon went, or whether he stayed “home” to “hustle glum heroes up the line to death” is unclear.
So was Major Woon the same guy as Major General Woon? Father and Son? Uncle and Nephew? Cousins? And what happened, then, to the Major of the 40th Pathans?
And how did the Webley come to be nicely cased…
… in a presentation case with an escutcheon bearing a different set of initials (implying a different officer) and a different regiment, the British Army’s 24th Regiment of Foot (the great Zulu fighters of Ishandlwana and Rorke’s Drift legend)?
We’re itching to fly to London and start researching in the IWM. The listing for the firearm suggests that this J.B. Woon served in the 40th Pathans and later became a lieutenant general. (For those without military experience, a Lt. Gen. is three stars, one more than a Maj. Gen. Yes, this is illogical. Military tradition: deal with it).
The 40th Pathans still exists today, or at least, a successor unit does, the 16th Battalion of the Punjab Regiment in the Pakistan Army. Perhaps the relevant archives are to be found in Islamabad.
But damnation, if only the revolver could speak!
The good news, if you’ve borne with us through all that, is that the pistol is for sale. There’s a listing and even more great photographs of this unique revolver. The bad news is that the seller, Hallowell & Co. of Montana (a real wishbook if you like classic double rifles and shotguns), knows it has something rare and has priced it accordingly: $8450.
We’re familiar, here in the USA, with weapons that are shaped by US gun laws. We have a variety of weird and wonderful arms that exist only because of the Gun Control Act of 1968, the National Firearms Act of 1934, and the patchwork of implementing regulations and executive orders that have shaped the US market. In addition, state assault-weapon band have resulted in oddities like California’s “Bullet Buttons.” A wide range of legislatively-midwifed Frankenguns, from the Walther PPK/S, to short barreled rifles, to pistols with SIG braces, reflect the degree to which designers are constrained by the gun-designing impulses of American politicians and bureaucrats.
It should come as no surprise that the same thing happens in other countries with large gun markets. This case in point comes to us from Russia, where gun laws are generally stricter than in the United States. There, no one can own a pistol. Most citizens can own a shotgun; but to own a rifle you have to have owned the shotgun without incident for five years.
So here comes the VPO-208: an SKS shotgun.
Produced by Techcrim, an Izhevsk manufacturer, the .366 by Russian measure, across the lands (.375 by ours, across the grooves), is a smoothbore or near-smoothbore gun that gets the would-be gun owner into a semi-automatic, service rifle platform, while staying within the letters of Russian law.
The ammunition appears to be made from fireformed 7.62 x 39mm casings, and is available in a range of sporting projectiles, plus a shotshell variant.
It is reminiscent of such American wildcats (some of them since turned production) as the small-head .300 Whisper, .300 AAC Blackout, .338 Spectre, and the Mauser-head-sized .375 Reaper, all of which run in the AR-15 platform. It just goes to show that this kind of innovation is hardly an American monopoly.
The first table in the advert below has three columns: “Type of projectile”; “Speed, meters per second;” and “Energy, Joules”. Here’s our conversion of this table.
LSWC poly coat 13.5 grams
FMJ 11 grams
FMJ 15 grams
JSP 15 grams
As the shot of the fired JSP shows, and these velocity and energy tables suggest, it would actually be a good short-range hunting round.
The second table, with the bullet-drop diagram, is, “Velocity and Energy of Projectile, .366 TKM with 15-gram FMJ bullet”. Here’s our translation and unit conversion.
Metric (SI) Values
Bullet Drop mm
Bullet Drop in.
The problem with the gun is its accuracy, as it’s basically a smoothbore. Hyperprapor suggests that it might be minute-of-E-silhouette at 100m.
But hey, it will let some Russian guys own the rifle their nation’s color guards parade with, and even let them shoot it, all with the reduced paperwork and hassle of a shotgun; perhaps a big win for them.
There are no ballistics for the shotshell, which exists, we suspect, primarily to navigate the channels of Russian weapons law. (This law does seem somewhat liberalized since Soviet days). Techcrim’s website shows that they are very active in small-caliber (.410) shotguns and shells, which seem to have more of a following in Russia than they do here. We wonder if that’s an artifact of Russian law, too.
We saw this on r/guns, posted by our old friend hyperprapor, who notes that under Russian law “paradox rifling” is legal if it’s under 150mm long (About 5.9″). Paradox rifling is rifling that was just engraved in the last few inches of the bore of what was otherwise a shotgun, to give it some capability with a single ball or bullet. It was named by English bespoke gunmaker Holland and Holland, who adopted the patent from GV Fosbery of Webley-Fosbery fame. Westley Richards called it “Explora” but other makers seem to have stuck with the paradox name.
And this is definitely one for the “how weird does it get” file — a smoothbore SKS that is one short hop removed from the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver!
The G36 saga keeps spreading its Sturm und Drang around the fraught world of German politics.
Our good friend Nathaniel at the Firearm Blog flagged us to a Deutsche Welle report that reminded us that there have been a lot more developments in this Neverending Story. BLUF:none of those developments suggest a rapid fix for the real problem with the rifle, no more do they suggest a way to restore lost soldier confidence in the rifle, and instead they show a military-technical problem becoming a political football. And the game is world, not North American, football, which ensures it will get kicked around a lot before it gets in the goal — if it ever gets in the goal.
Here’s video from the fight that started the whole controversy:
There are several different firefights represented in that video. But near the end of the video, the narrator mentions that the men of “Golf” platoon have been in a running firefight for 9 hours. And then, as they are withdrawing under pressure, a vehicle is struck by an IED. And “several rifles fail due to overheating.”
For all that, we don’t have audio of a lot of rifles firing on full-auto. Instead, we hear single shots and occasional short, controlled, bursts, and the longer, extremely fast bursts of the high-cyclic-rate MG3 (improved MG42). We hear enough to know that these men from the 313th Parachute Infantry Battalion are stone pros. But that’s where the problems began, back in 2010: the troops began to notice that their rifles were underperforming.
Tests, which leaders probably expected to put the modern Landsers’ complaints to rest, began to bear the troop complaints out. If the barrel was heated cherry-red, accuracy declined. Two magazines on rapid semiauto fire? Accuracy declined. If the outside air temperature was more than 23ºC at sea level (about 77ºF), not very high at all, accuracy declined. HK responds: “Hey, that wasn’t the standard we had to meet with the gun, that wasn’t the original test.” True enough, as far as it goes, but that doesn’t make the rifle combat-worthy. How much does accuracy decline? Here’s a handy graphic from Reuters via DW. At 600m, at 30º, instead of hitting an enemy in the window of a building, you might hit the building:
Even at 200m, your dispersion is looking like a meter in diameter. (30ºC is about 90ºF, quite a high temperature for Europe).
18 April 15: H&K Defends the Breakdown Rifle (which only partially gets the degree to which the neologism Pannengewehr is a putdown of the company and the firearm). HK’s majority owner Andreas Heeschen told a newspaper “Anything we make is 100% combat-ready.” On the same day (different story), Spiegel reported that H&K itself conducts the official proof tests and applies the official marks itself (which is probably not the departure from the norm that the magazine’s writers think). The responsible agency, the Bundesamt für Wehrtechnik und Beschaffung (BWB), had delegated this authority to H&K based on past performance. Again, on the same date, the MOD reiterated that the rifle was only provisionally suited for use (another Spiegel story, same date), and that it “endangered the lives of German soldiers.”
Apart from HK’s bluster and threats of lawsuits, the only positive G36 story appearing in Spiegel came the next day, suggesting that the Kurds liked it, at least. And Lithuania and Latvia appear to be satisfied with their G36 purchases.
“With us there has been no trace of technical problems with the G36. On the contrary: the weapon is super”, Pesh Merga Minister Mustafa Sajid Kadir said. “It works without problems. We’d gladly have more of them.” Last year the Bundeswehr gave the Kurds, along with other weapons, 8000 G36 rifles for their fight against the “Islamic State” terrorist militia.
According to the Latvian Defense Ministry, the model used their is “significantly” different from the German variant. A spokeswoman said that there had been no problems in quite a long time..
Also, in neighboring Lithuania the affair in Germany is not in the news. The military command are “aware that there other nations have been confronted with problems with the accuracy and the robustness of certain parts of the G3, said Major General Jonas Vytautas Zukas, commander of the Lithuanian Army. But there is no thought of backing off from the rifle for that reason. Much more there are plans to order additional G36s. “These weapons meet the requirements of the Lithuanian Army.”
The Defense Minister moved decisively on 22 April when she said that the G36, as currently configured, had “no future in the Bundeswehr.”
But Soon, it was About the Cover-Up
As it became clearer that the initial heads-up about G36 problems came from a series of firefights by German paras based in the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mazar-e Sharif in north central Afghanistan in 2010, and the technical verdict on the problem was largely in during 2012, the political fallout began to raise a noise level that drowned out the voices calling for a technical fix.
Spiegel found that in 2010 and 2011, the German Special Forces Command KommandoSpezialKräfte (KSK) were already looking for a G36 replacement that would be accurate to 300m and capable of selective fire. They didn’t call it a G36 replacement, instead terming it a “close range sharpshooter rifle,” but the weapons tested tell the story: HK 416, SIG 516, Schmeisser Solid and one unnamed competitor. It was a small contract: 5,000 rifles. Spiegel writes, “Insiders suspect that the competition concealed a Ministry of Defense search for a G36 replacement.” But Spiegel can’t have it both ways: was the MOD clueless, or was it scheming? It’s illogical to suggest it was both, which the magazine at least has the decency to avoid by putting the two speculations in different stories.
Various politicians in Germany were calling for the head of Thomas de la Maizière, the Defense Minister on whose watch the problem should have surfaced, but seemed to be covered up. Others pointed to the incumbent, de la Maizière’s party colleague and replacement at MOD Ursula von der Leyen, as the necessary sacrifice. Indeed, by 20 April, days before her pronouncement that the G36 had “no future,” Spiegel was contrasting her high hopes at her swearing-in to the way the chaos of the G36 affair threatened her political career, perhaps not by getting her fired now, but by blocking any further advancement for the ambitious politician.
Competing leaks have pinned responsibility for the cover-up on de la Maizière and on von der Leyen. They describe the accuracy problem various ways: “twice as bad, three times as bad” or, chillingly, noting that with the issue firearm and ammunition combination, “a hit at combat range is not possible.” One German politician spoke up as the voice of fiscal sobriety:
In almost every armaments scandal we see the same picture: bad material was bought expensively, no one is responsible in the end, and the taxpayers have to pay.
The finance hawk? Jan van Aken of Die Linke, the rump vestige of East Germany’s communist Quislings. Van Aken is a member of the legislature’s Defense Committee.
The most recent, and damaging, release is that a former MOD official sicced a military intelligence agency on the leakers and the reporters they leak to. The Militärabschirmdienst (MAD), or Military Protective Service, is a counterintelligence agency of the Bundeswehr. The MAD appears to have drafted a plan to defend the G36, the Ministry, and HK by going on clandestine propaganda offensive against press critics. The plan was never approved, and the head of MAD transferred laterally to another job, but the scent of the problem has drawn more opposition sharks.
None of this inside-Berlin political drama has any prospect of restoring either German soldiers’ confidence in their individual weapon, or equipping them with an individual weapon in which they can have confidence. But von der Leyen will have to take measures in that direction soon. Or she will have a successor who will.
At least the Germans have alternatives. India recently gave up on the equally problematical (in different ways) home-grown INSAS rifle, and really had nothing to offer its frontline troops but old AK-47s.
We agree that this is an unhappy thing. We don’t agree that all polymer mags are created equal. (Ask any Glock owner who’s tried both Glock mags and the temptingly cheap Korean knock-offs). Even all polymer AK mags.
The Russians were the first to issue a synthetic magazine widely, and in the 1970s began producing polymer magazines with reinforcements in critical areas for the AKM and AK-74 rifles. These are the characteristic orange mags. They’re a good bit heavier than modern polymer mags, a lot heavier than US or Western-style aluminum or even steel mags, but are a lot heavier than thick-sheet Russian AK mags. Ivan’s polymer/steel composite-construction mags are about as durable as the steel mags they replaced (and significantly lighter). Collectors call these “Bakelite” mags, but the material does not appear to be Bakelite at all — it’s some other form of thermosetting; a Finnish article reprinted on a US site, minus most of its original photos unfortunately, says that it’s “fiber-reinforced phenol.” (We wonder if that’s a mistranslation that should have been phenolic instead).
To our disappointment, an unclas tech intel bulletin on the mags that we know was out there, was not available on DTIC. There is an interesting page on the net that lays out various mags for 5.45mm-class weapons, and some of that transfers to the 7.62mm versions. Anyway, we haven’t brought one of these mags to our injection-molding expert friend, but the original kind of feels like urea plastic to us. The Circle-10s are something lighter, maybe even ABS (ordinary polystyrene, like in hard-plastic toys).
The mag that disassembled itself on Lee was indeed a Bulgarian “Circle-10″ mag, a marking associated with Arsenal, and as you can see, it is by design not reinforced, neither with steel lips nor fiber reinforcement.
What makes a mag fail like this? Lee seems to think that the guilty party is leaving the mag loaded for a length of time. We have our doubts about that and would be more inclined to suspect the cumulative effects of age and ultraviolet-ray exposure (plain ordinary sunlight, which it certainly couldn’t have gotten in his safe). But the durability of different AK mags, even different Bulgarian mags, is widely variable.
We also don’t think loading only 28 rounds buys you anything. The difference in pressure is nominal. This goes back at least as far as Vietnam and was a ritual practiced by troops (although, there it was putting 18 rounds in a 20-round magazine) who were neither trained on the rifle nor given a supply of replacement magazines. It was something they did to appease the M16 Gods
The plain ugly fact is that magazines are, by design, expendable items and you need to start thinking of them that way — they’re the toilet-paper of small arms, necessary but not especially durable or reusable. And just like toilet paper, some brands are better than others. Lee, for example, probably should dump all of his circle-10s that are the same age as the one that failed, because their clock is ticking, too. Sorry to be The Bear of Bad News.
In the real world, private owners and armies alike are reluctant to purge their bad magazines because the mags represent a considerable cost — both the sunk cost that was spent on them and is lost for good, and (more germanely) the replacement cost for new mags. It is possible (although not necessarily economical or practical) to repair or overhaul metal, especially steel, magazines, but synthetic materials are harder to repair and rebuild.