Category Archives: Foreign and Enemy Weapons

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Peter Laidler Armorer Articles

This is something odd: we’re linking to one thread of a forum, the Canadian-based milsurps.eh (just kidding, milsurps.com), and what’s more, it’s one thread that only has one post.

Why in the name of St. Gretzky would we do that?

Well, it’s what a post it is! The post links to more than two dozen technical articles by former British armorer, Captain Peter Laidler. If you want to know more about the Lee-Enfield, British telescopic sights, or even BREN Gun parts, Laidler’s your huckleberry:

Capt. Peter Laidler is the senior Armourer in the UK Military, now retired, but based as a Technical Officer at the UK Military Small Arms School. On behalf of MILSURPS.COM members, we’d like to publicly thank him for his support of this forum, as well the broader Lee Enfield collector community in general.

There’s a great deal of information there for those interested in British weapons development, technology and maintenance of the 20th Century. Go to the link, and start working your way through some historic British technology. Enjoy!

 

Wait, French CT is Going to 7.62 x 39? Whaaaat?

This brief story suggests that the French Gendarmerie’s national CT organization, the GIGN, is replacing their HK 416s with CZ 806 Bren 2s… that’s possible.

Except that the article is quite explicit that they’re going to a new round: the Soviet 1943G 7.62 x 39 mm intermediate round. This guy:

The French National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN) has ordered a new standard issue weapon.

It has selected the Bren 2 assault rifle from Czech company CZ. The company told Shephard at the SOFINS exhibition that the GIGN has selected the 7.62 x 39 mm version of the rifle and placed an initial order for 68 units earlier in 2017.

Additional procurements are slated to take place in the near future with the aim of replacing the majority of the H&K 416s currently in service.

Supposedly, the caliber decision was made early on, before the rifle decision, and in fact, long before CZ entered the competition.

The decision to adopt the Bren 2 was the result of a process that began in 2015 after the Paris attacks in January that year. Faced with terrorists equipped with bullet-proof vests, French gendarmerie and police intervention units found that 9 mm weapons had little efficiency in such situations and that 5.56 mm ammo lacked the necessary stopping power.

The CZ spokesperson said that the GIGN identified a need for a new weapon able to fire a heavier bullet. The 7.62 x 51 mm calibre had the suitable characteristics but the weapons for this calibre were considered too heavy and bulky for efficient close-quarter combat.

Thus, GIGN decided to evaluate assault rifles chambered in the 7.62 x 39 mm calibre instead and undertook trials throughout 2015 with a variety of weapons.

The CZ 806 Bren 2 does have a French connection already. It was developed from the CZ 805 Bren with a view to the French rifle competition, but it was not ready in time. The French adopted the 416; the Czechs adopted the Bren 2 in place of the earlier Bren, and the rifle has had some export success.

But the 7.62 x 39 mm round decision rang so false to us that we initially assumed that this article was an April Fool’s Day joke. It can’t have been, though: it was published 30 March.

Not to mention, the 7.62 x 39 mm model is … well, look at it. It was spawned in the cauldrons of the five Lee Sisters: Ug, Home, Ghast, Beast, and Gnar.

Anyway, you can Read The Whole Thing™, and form your own opinion. So far we’ve found no support for this at CZ, on French government sites, or, in fact anywhere. Can anyone confirm or deny this story?

Let’s Dive Deeper on the CZ 122

One of the CZ 122 images from Pazdera’s book.

The CZ 122 we recently mentioned here is a bit of a mystery in the United States, as it was never imported here; some were brought to our friends in Canada, but only a few; and the modern rimfire pistol is not available even in Europe now. What happened?

We turned to a relatively recent book by Czech weapons historian David Pazdera, Legenda Jmeny CZ, or in English, A Legend Called CZ. This coffee table sized book is an illustrated history of CZ from the 1930s to date, with a few sparse areas and holes conforming to issues of Czech historiography, but extremely comprehensive coverage of Cold War and post-Cold War CZ products. Sure enough, Pazdera has the CZ 122 covered on pages 325-328. We were on our way out the door on a road trip and couldn’t bring Pazdera’s mighty doorstop of a book, nor had we the time to fire up the Fujitsu and scan the relevant pages properly, so we photographed the pages and précis the information here.

The CZ 122 was the product of designer Stanislav Buran, who was not actually a designer, but the head of a manufacturing engineering section. The project began in the 1990s with the idea for a “simple and cheap” .22 rimfire pistol, to plug a longstanding gap in the CZ product line. But his initial design was a far cry from the pistol that finally reached production. The CZ 94, prototyped in 1994, looked much like any of the last century or so of sporting .22 automatics, with a hint of Woodsman or Hi-Standard ancestry, and a splash of modern Eurodesign:

The CZ 94 is described by Pazdera:

It was a simple and cheap pistol of the lower sporting category, usable for fun shooting or target practice. It had a fixed barrel, and unlocked (blowback) breech, a single-action trigger mechanism and an internal striker mechanism, The  magazine capacity in the final version was 10 rounds. Particularly unusual was the magazine release on the front side of the frame inside the trigger guard.

Buran continued to develop the idea of a simple, inexpensive rimfire pistol, with the help of Vojtech Anderle. It evolved through several prototypes. One thing that changed — a lot — was the magazine catch, which first moved to the classic Euro/Hi-Standard position at the base of the grip, and then to the classic Browning position at the junction of the trigger bow and the grip frame.

As you might expect for a design that began with a manufacturing engineer, production engineering and cost control were in the design mix from the start as CZ 94:

It’s assumed that for manufacturing, a frame of aluminum alloy or plastic, of which (the plastic) another set of parts might also be made. In addition, there was also expected to be frequent application of stamped sheet-metal parts (trigger, disconnector), and parts from the Kadet small-caliber adapter (barrel, extractor, firing pin, magazine) and from the standard CZ 75 model (hammer, sear).

In 1995, the pistol was extensively redesigned by industrial designer Vojtech Anderle, who drew six sketches, from which one was selected, leading to six more design studies based on that. The final styling was incorporated into the CZ 122.

In the CZ 122, compared to the CZ 94, the angle of the grip was changed to 108º,

The frame of the new model got a slide release. For that reason, the weapon got an old-fashioned magazine release at the base of the magazine well. The barrel was pressed or molded into the frame.

Initial tests found the plastic-framed prototypes more reliable than the alloy-framed ones, but “for technological reasons” the alloy frame was selected. In 1998, designer Petr Pöschl was tasked to finalize the pistol and bring it to production.

The CZ 122 was produced from 1998 to 2002, and then again from 2004-06, but only 6,192 examples were manufactured. All have the alloy frame. The breakdown between European-mag-release and Browning-mag-release production is unclear.

Pazdera says this about the design’s benefits:

The modern design of the CZ 122 Sport Pistol was meant in part to be reminiscent of a modern service pistol, but the weapon was also able to feature a series of sporting features: fully adjustable LPA target sights, single-action trigger mechanism with an external hammer of the sporting type, and a trigger with a straight tongue and screw-adjustable travel.

If it was such a carefully designed pistol, why weren’t more of them made? The pistol performed well — usually. But it was finicky about ammo, and launched into a glutted market full of established target pistols.

The accuracy potential of the weapon was solid, for example during tests carried out during the year 1996, it was possible to achieve groups of 25 mm (tn: less than 1″) at 25m (highly dependent on the ammunition used). The weakness of the one-twenty-two was inconsistent reliability. This compared with the strong market positions of quality competitors had as a consequence unsatisfactory sales numbers, which led the Uhersky Brod company to definitively wrap up this program in the first half of the first decade of this century.

In the modern era, of course, CZ-UB is a profit-making enterprise, and a slow-selling pistol is a waste of manufacturing resources. Worse, a pistol that is prone to fits of unreliability and that is finicky about ammunition — even though that’s not a rarity in the rimfire market — risks the reputation CZ has built up for almost a century. As a result, the CZ 122 is a rarity, enjoyed by those who’ve found the right ammo, and coveted by CZ collectors.

Fred Ray: A Confederate Whitworth Sees Auction (Corrected)

Here’s another amazing find by Fred, in an auction catalog that AFAIK hasn’t come to Hog Manor yet in the treebark edition. but is already online. (Uh, we just realized, thanks to a comment, that while we were sleep-writing this post last night we confused Rock Island, whose catalog we do subscribe to, with James Julia, whose catalog we don’t — and probably should. The two auction houses are entirely different, and are keen competitors; both have a seemingly endless supply of historic firearms).

Auctioneer James D. Julia has a rare Confederate Whitworth up on the block. This one even has the four power Davidson telescope.

 

The brass tube Davidson scope was adjusted for elevation by turning the knurled knob on the right side of the forearm. This loosened the clamp on the left side so the 1-1/2″ bar graduated in 1/16″ increments could be raised and lowered, pivoting on the rear mount secured by the rear lock plate screw. The normal long range ladder sight could be used for normal short range shooting. There is extensive documentation on the acquisition of this rifle, along with correspondence regarding the use of these guns during the Civil War. This gun was originally found with the telescopic sight missing which was later purchased from Confederate authority Steve Mullinax and put back on the rifle according to documentation. In a 1992 letter from noted Whitworth authority John Morrow The Confederate Whitworth Sharpshooters, 1989. “The telescope mounted Whitworth ‘2nd Quality’ No. C529 Rifle” described here conforms to the specification of all the other known surviving examples of the Confederate Purchase Special Arms. Specifically, it is in the correct SN range, the simple form of the iron sights, two bbl bands, lack of a safety bolt, common breech rather than patent breech, very short muzzle projection beyond the forend cap (note that the bbl appears to have lost 3/16″ at the muzzle, it should be 33″ exactly), the method of mounting the telescope the form of the checkering and everything else about it confirm this. The total number shipped in this telescopic configuration is not known but only 8 have been traced up to this moment.” One identical to this gun, is pictured in Firearms of the Confederacy, plate XXIII and discussed on pages 27 and 28.

Fred goes on to explain what the marking “2nd Quality” on Confederate Whitworths means, and as always, Read The Whole Thing™.

Along with many photos, Julia has published a detailed provenance (.pdf) on the rifle. It goes back to its “rediscovery” in March, 1991, so you’ve got 26 years of the rifle’s over-150, and 125 or so years of mystery. Better than nothing.

Whitworths have characteristic hexagonal rifling.

At that time it was acquired by one Tom Hutchinson of Alton, Illinois, and Hutchinson immediately began a search for the just-as-impossible-to-find telescopic sight. Which he did find and have reinstalled. Whitworth military rifles with possible Confederate provenance are you-can-count-em-on-your-fingers rare, and several are missing their scopes; it’s the sort of detail collectors argue about, whether this rifle is original or restored. We would say “restored with original and correct parts,” perhaps, and that is pretty much what Mr Hutchinson, subsequent owners if any, and the James D. Julia crew have done.

That is also a solid reason why you should read every line of an auction catalog item, examine every picture, and ask questions rather than make assumptions. Sure, you may be bidding on a $300 Glock rather than a five-figure Confederate sharpshooter rifle, but it’s your money, and you earned it (we hope), and don’t want to be disappointed, surprised or definitely shocked when you open the package.

In our experiences with premier auctioneers, mostly with RIA, we’ve had a couple of positive surprises when guns were better than described, and only one negative surprise — when we didn’t look hard enough and long enough at the images, which accurately showed the poor condition of the extreme rarity we were purchasing.

Rare Firearms… An Investment?

Julia estimates that the rifle will sell for $50,000-70,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Inflation Calculator, inflation alone has raised today’s value of the $17,500 that Mr Hutchinson presumably paid to approximately $31,200, or approximately 178%. If the gun sells for low estimate, 286%; high estimate, an even 400%. That sounds great, but remember it’s over 26 years, and 178% of it is pure inflation, so your real gains are 90% to 222% over 26 years. How does that compare to the stock market?

If you invested in the S&P 500, according to this calculator, in March 1991, you would have made an annualized return of over 9.5%, and reinvesting the dividends into the account would have made a total of ~977% (540% without reinvesting). The calculator lets you calculate while accounting for inflation, and as you might expect, deflates those big numbers. Your total is only 502% and that comes to an annualized rate of return of 7.47%.

Not what Jack Madoff promised, but a pretty good example of a real-world result. But it’s more than double what the Whitworth did.  If.

If? Yes, if Julia’s estimate is right, and not the usual auctioneer lowball. Some lots do sell for under estimate — and some lots blow estimates away. We would not be shocked to see this rare rifle rocket into the six figures. If it goes for a quarter-million, as some rare, historic, and beautiful firearms have done of late, then this rare rifle has blown the stock market away. But it’s not the way to bet your retirement fund.

In general, firearms are a lousy investment. On the other hand, they’re a very financially sound piece of personal property. And on the gripping hand, something you want to buy anyway, and that will almost certainly sell for as much, if not more than you paid for it, even if it’s not the very best economic use of your money… well, things like that are rare. If you’re that guy, jump on it.

This Post Has Been Corrected

Due to operator fatigue and lack of layers and layers of editors, the original release of this post discussed Rock Island and Julia as if they were the same thing, which was probably received by both houses as an insult. (Actually, we in the collector community depend upon them both).

While correcting that error, we also decided to expand on the penultimate paragraph of the original post (the one that begins, “If? Yes, if Julia’s estimate is right…”) to include a discussion of the probability and consequences of this rifle blowing through the auction house’s $50-70k estimate.

Naturally, we regret the error, are grateful to the reader that identified it, and take pride in correcting it. A correction or clarification is always welcome in the comments.

So, How Many CZ Clones Are There?

Short answer — beats us with a stick. And we’ve been studying this for a while. Here is a very preliminary, rough and incomplete hack at the problem in mindmap form. As you can see, there are several ways to look at it: are the guns copies, clones, or inspired? The taxonomy is complex. Even breaking it down by nationality is difficult, as company names come and go.

It all begins with the simple CZ-75…

This looks old, but it’s a limited production CZ-75B Retro. A model that’s not on the mindmap yet, but already discontinued in the CZ-UB catalog.

…but CZ-UB alone has produced a bewildering array of versions and variations. Only some of them are listed on this mindmap, along with only some of the known clones. There are two breakdowns here, both grossly incomplete. The first is by the pistol’s legality (although as I understand it, some “licenses” are disputed). The categories are CZ products, Licensed products, unlicensed “Clones,” and unlicensed and different firearms “inspired” by the CZ-75.

As a rule of thumb, the interchangeability of parts runs in about that order: from full interchangeability to none at all.

Clones existed almost as soon as the CZ became popular, because American trade laws made COMECON (the economic equivalent of the Warsaw Pact) products hard and expensive to import. The Italian Tanfoglio TZ-75 was probably the first common CZ-like pistol most American shooters got to handle; it started as a copy of the CZ with only cosmetic changes (and full interchangeability) but has evolved over the decades into a full line, often offering versions that CZ hadn’t built yet (if they ever built them). Tanfoglio was first with out-of-the-box race guns and with compact carry CZ clones. They went through several US importers; Jim Thompson tells the early clone history in this 1997 Gun Digest article. Tanfoglio also exported parts in white and provided the basis of many a new company’s or nation’s CZ clone line startup.

 

Another way to look at the many CZ clones is by nation of production. (That’s what the blue section of the chart tries to do; it should probably be broken into a separate chart). Even here it gets cloudy, as many of the smaller clone producers are actually using partly completed receivers and other parts from CZ (rarely) or Fratelli Tanfoglio (more often).

A nation can have two competing cloners, one cloning CZs and one the divergent Tanfoglios — Turkey is an example of this. (And yes, it’s not up to date on the chart.)

This came to mind recently with a new CZ clone entering the walled garden of the Russian market. EricB at The FireArm Blog has a good introduction to this CZ clone, which is meant to keep Russians shooting in competition in the face of international sanctions that has starved them of CZs and parts and service. The sanctions-busting pistol, called the SoRatnik, resembles the CZ SP-01 but is wholly made in Russia. The prototype is a nice-looking pistol:

And it’s supposed to be part-by-part compatible with the current CZs. A dissassembled view would seem to confirm that.

North Korea and China also clone the CZ, as well as Israel, Italy, South Africa, Turkey, and others. Even England produced two clones prior to the 1996 UK handgun ban.

We’ll keep adding to the chart, but we have a sinking feeling that new manufacturers will ce coming on line, faster than we can keep track of them!

Tons of Details on German WWII MG Tripods: “Lafettes”

We can’t discuss machine guns on this site without someone — usually Kirk — reminding us that the GI M122 tripod is rudimentary junk, and the class of the tripod world was the German Lafette 42. We’d like to steer those interested in these ‘pods to the incredible Lafette 34/42 web page of “Bergflak (“Mountain AA”) who is posting his work in progress on these amazing feats of German engineering.

How complicated was it? These are the parts of the lower half of the MG.34 Lafette. (The lower half of the MG.42 version was fundamentally identical).

Not complicated enough for you? Here’s 100-odd more parts from the Oberlafette, or upper half.

But wait, there’s more! 70-something parts that comprise the T&E mechanism.

Here’s a brief blurb from Bergflak:

The MG Lafette was a pretty complicated piece of machinery for its time. Some would say “typical German over-engineering”. It contains several systems that all work together. The difference between the Lafette 34 and the Lafette 42 is mainly the cradle. The weapon mounts and the trigger mechanism are simpler on the MG42 cradle. In addition it has a different bolt box. Everything else seems to be identical.  This page will only describe the Lafette 34. The change from the Lafette 34 to the Lafette 42 will be fully dealt with on the Wartime development page. On this page I will briefly explain the function of each of the components that make up the Lafette. For an even better and deeper understanding of the components you must visit my page Extreme details or the pages about Evolution of the Lafette (when they are finished).

via MG34 Lafette construction and details.

These pages explain which each part does, and pages on the evolution of the MG-34 and MG-42 Lafettes actually are complete now. Unfortunately, the page explaining the usage and employment of these tripods is not yet complete.

The whole site is worth reading already, and it stands to reason that as more information is acquired and analyzed, the site will just keep getting better and more useful.

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!

More on the Czech/German AT Rifle

Our recent auction post reminds us that (1) we have to come up with some better way of flagging more interesting auctions and (2), and more to the point of this post, that there’s a lot of interest and misconceptions about the Czech-German AT rifle featured at one upcoming auction.

First, this 2015 post here has some background on rifle-caliber-yuuuge-case AT rifles, like the German and Polish variants, and their rounds. (This archived external page also covers the round). The Germans chambered this rifle in their standard wartime 7.92 x 94 mm P318 round, which was used in the standard German PzB 38 and 39 AT rifles. The round was capable of 4,000-plus fps from a long barrel and the most common ammo was a tungsten-cored kinetic penetrator. P.O. Ackley, eat your heart out. Barrel life was pretty short, but if you’re going to shoot a rifle at tanks, it’s not the life of the barrel that should be worrying you.

(The Russian site that cartridge picture is from appears to be down now, unfortunately).

Those rifles operated by a dropping block, like an artillery piece (or early breechloader), and their principal mechanical difference was that the PzB 39 was manually operated, replacing the “semi-automatic” (in artillery terms) automatic opening and ejecting of the PzB 38.

The Czech rifle used completely different principles, and as proposed for Czech service a different cartridge.

In fact, the Czechoslovak Army experimented with a variety of anti-tank rifles in the 1930s, as part of a campaign to improve AT defenses overall. Many Czechoslovak officers put their faith in conventional anti-tank artillery, but others pursued the AT rifle. Many versions were tested including Josef Koucky’s’ ZK 382, a bullpup repeater which fired a unique 7.92 x 145 mm round, further ZK single-shots ZK 395 (12 mm x ?) and ZK 405 (7.92 x ?), the ZK406 repeater and 407 self-loader the “Brno W,” the Janeček  9/7 and 15/11 mm Gerlach-principle squeeze bore, and several 15mm designs, including vz. 41 single shots, and a bolt-action magazine repeater which was supplied to Italy (in only 15 units) and possibly Croatia. The 15mm guns used an AP version of the 15 x 104 mm round used in the Czechoslovak vz. 60 heavy MG, produced primarily by the British under ZB license as the 15mm BESA. The Czech engineers then reworked into the vz 41 in 7.92 x 94 for the occupiers, specifically, for the SS.

During all this experimentation, Czechoslovakia was dismembered and its Czech provinces occupied. The best was the enemy of the good; nearly a decade of experimentation in AT rifles wound up yielding absolutely nothing for the Czechoslovak Army. (It was a moot point, perhaps, as despite its strengths in tanks and artillery, there was no resistance to the Nazi occupation.

Most of the elite of the Czech arms design industry worked on these rifles at one time or another. Vacláv and Emanuel Holek worked with Koucky at Zbrojovka Brno; Jiri Kyncl worked with Janeček.

By the time the SS received their rifles, they were already hopelessly outclassed by improved armor, and among Speer’s actions in his attempt to rationalize the chaos of the German and occupied territories’ arms industry was to discontinue production of the 7.92 x 94 Type 318 ammunition.

The M.PzB.SS.41 was supplied in a wooden transfer and storage crate containing the rifle, two spare barrels, and four magazine boxes containing five magazines each. There were some variations in minor features (bipod, muzzle brake) during production. Of some variants, only photographs or documents survive. We have found no reports of combat effectiveness.

All of these AT rifles are rare today, the German guns existing in single-digit quantities (the mass-produced PzB 39s were recalled during the war and converted to grenade launchers, the GrB 39).

Sources

  • Dolínek et al. Czech Firearms and Ammunition: History and Present. Prague: Radix, 1995.
  • Hoffschmidt, E.J. Know Your Anti-Tank Rifles.  Stamford, CT: Blacksmith Publishing, 1977. (A .pdf of the chapter of this out-of-print book on this rifle is attached: MPZB41 comp.pdf)
  • Šada, Dr. Col. Miroslav. Československé Ruční Palné Zbrane a Kulomety. Prague: Naše Vojsko, 2004. (pp. 139-142, 197-198).

Update

Well, this is embarrassing. Never hit “schedule” or “publish” on this one. -Nose

Arms of the Roman Legionary, 400 AD

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

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

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

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

Late Roman Missile Weapons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reconstructed plumbatae. Source.

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

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

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

Surviving plumbata head. Source.

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

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

Late Roman Close Combat Weapons

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

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

Third Century spatha. Source.

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

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

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

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

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

So That’s Where All the Weird Guns Came From

During the old unit’s first Afghanistan tour, we kept capturing, or having surrendered to us, caches of the most remarkable armaments. It didn’t take too long to figure out that there was a pattern to these things. Everything surrendered to us was either monumentally obsolete, or something for which ammunition was in constrained supply.

In other words, the local warlords (and war vassals) were fobbing us off with impressive quantities of armaments that were of no practical use to them anyway, and that were nothing but a storage problem and an “attractive nuisance,” in legal terms, that brought in thieves. All while ingratiating themselves with the new invaders, while there was still money to be made off of them. Sure, we got the occasional MANPADS or AK, but mostly, we got stuff that was granddad’s age.

And he was already dead.

But still, we marveled at all the weird weapons, many of them from the period between the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan War (1919) and the Second World War (1939). Everything from Renault FT tanks to Italian artillery to Czech ZB-26s and the bolt action rifles made everywhere from Iberia to Izhevsk showed up in our cache hauls.

And one had to ask: who was running Afghanistan’s weapons procurement in the 1920s and 1930s, Mad King Ludwig? It turns out, though, that the answer was committed to paper long ago, and by a most unlikely source: the British Conservative diplomat, Sir Samuel Hoare, Viscount Templewood. Templewood, whose contemporaries saw him as a “cold fish” in person, wrote several delightful books, including a memoir of his time as a senior diplomat from 1931 to 1940, Nine Troubled Years. In it, on pp. 123-125, he reprints a letter he wrote (in his capacity as Secretary of State for India) to then-PM Ramsay McDonald, in 1932, from the League of Nations Disarmament Conference in Geneva.

I got back from Geneva last night, very glad to have escaped from its curiously artificial and neurotic atmosphere. ….

After a short interval we all … adjourned to the Bâtiment Electoral, the grim hall in which the Disarmament Conference was to take place. …there are few more dismal buildings in Europe.

He went on at some length about the dreariness of the surroundings, and the mind-numbing boredom of the proceedings, which led to the diplomats present tuning out the droning speakers. Or bailing out of the conference completely.

Finding the proceedings very tedious, I interested myself in looking at my fellow delegates. On my left…we were seated alphabetically and I, being “India,” was with the I’s, was the representative of the Hedjaz, dressed as an Arab sheik. He was the only delegate in fancy dress.

In the front row were the Afghans. We asked the Afghans why, Afghanistan not being a member of the League [of Nations], they had come to the Disarmament Conference.

They told that they were short of arms, and that they thought that at a Disarmament Conference there would be a chance of picking up second-hand munitions cheap.

Those short paragraphs not only explain the presence of the output of what seems like all the member-states of the short-lived League in the caves and storerooms of rural ‘Stan, but many more things besides.

  1. Isn’t it just like an Afghan to attend a Disarmament Conference looking not to disarm, but to arm? Unless there was a Swiss Confederation or USA representative, the nations of the 1932 League of Nations Disarmament conference are gone, but this trait of the Afghan race abides.
  2. The Afghans obviously succeeded in their objective, even though the Disarmament Conference was a microcosm of the League of Nations (and its UN successor) in that it was a failure at promoting peace. Our stacks of Enfields, Mausers, and DP-26s tell the tale.
  3. Templewood goes on to note that the Russian delegation includes Litvinov and Karl Radek, perhaps explaining those prewar Mosins, DPs, etc.
  4. Finally, note that the nations that put their trust in diplomacy in general and the League of Nations in particular did not come out well. Ethiopia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Baltic States would all go down the tubes as the diplomats in the talking-shop complained about the insufficiently palatial palaces in which they held their useless meetings.

The failure of the League is not only evident now, it was evident then, even to some of those immersed in it. The three contemporary cartoons (two by (David?) Low) that accompany this post demonstrate that somebody had a pretty good grasp on the utility and consequences of diplomacy and the League. But it’s not there for utility; it’s a salve to the egos of the players.

 That said, as bad as the League was, at least it didn’t turn loose a legion of third-world “peacekeepers” to bugger their way through the children of war-threatened lands.

(Note: Apologies for a bit of post lag today. We’re running about two behind after some technical entanglements yesterday we’re still sorting out –Ed.)