Category Archives: Foreign and Enemy Weapons

If This Gun Could Talk: Webley & Son W.G. Presentation Revolver

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?

webley-5964-right

(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).

webley-5964-owner-marking

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.

Screenshot 2015-05-22 08.39.46

(Source; Journal of the Army Medical Corps, Volume 10, edited by William Heaton Horrocks).

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
1919: Retired

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
1919: Retired

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…

webley-5964-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)?

webley-5964-escutcheon

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.

Notes:

  1. Horrocks, William Heaton (ed.). Journal of the Army Medical Corps, Volume 10. p. 95. Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=K_k1AQAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA95&lpg=RA1-PA95&dq=Major+General+Woon&source=bl&ots=uEVa1sKhBK&sig=iuXXG4Kjd3DEWEDnxrT2DMdlP3k&hl=en&sa=X&ei=oK5eVbreKvHbsATxxoHgDQ&ved=0CDcQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=Woon&f=false
  2. Weeks, Colonel H.E. History of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles: 1858 to 1928. pp, 167-168. Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=gha-BAAAQBAJ&pg=PA167&lpg=PA167&dq=Major+General+Woon&source=bl&ots=SvYS49vf3-&sig=WXS0SQ1f2KKDvbNnAmu3fAkMT3Y&hl=en&sa=X&ei=oK5eVbreKvHbsATxxoHgDQ&ved=0CC4Q6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=Major%20General%20Woon&f=false
  3. uncredited. Programme of the Review in Honour of Their Royal Highnesses the Prince & Princess of Wales. Held at Rawal Pindi on 8th December, 1905. Retrieved from: http://www.vsdh.org/feltham/cathy_day/rawal2.htm
  4. Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Order of Battle of the British Expeditionary Force (October 1914) [summary version]. Retrieved from: http://www.cwgc.org/ypres/content.asp?id=33&menu=subsub

 

VPO-208: Russian Gunsmiths Respond to Russian Law

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.

SKS in .366Produced 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.

Projectile Type Velocity, m/s Energy, J Velocity, fps Energy, ft-lb
LSWC poly coat 13.5 grams 640 2765 2099 2039
FMJ 11 grams 700 2618 2296 1931
FMJ 15 grams 620 2883 2034 2126
JSP 15 grams 620 2883 2034 2126

Techkrim

 

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 Muzzle 50 meters 100 meters
Bullet Drop mm 0 35 125
Velocity m/s 625 570 520
Energy J 2837 2437 2028
English Values Muzzle 50m 100m
Bullet Drop in. 0 1.38 4.92
Velocity f/s 2050 1870 1706
Energy ft/lb. 2092 1797 1495

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!

G36: A Debacle, in a Fiasco, Wrapped in a Clusterbleep

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:

G36 temperature-related failure

Even at 200m, your dispersion is looking like a meter in diameter. (30ºC is about 90ºF, quite a high temperature for Europe).

The German magazine Der Spiegel (“Mirror”) has been all over this. This link should search Spiegel for “G36″ (results in German, selbstverständlich).  Here are some of the results:

At First, it Was About the Gun…

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.

How Many Rounds Does an MP5 Magazine Hold?

Is this a trick question? “Ah, tricksy is he, the Weaponsman. He’s tricksy!”

H&K's most common MP5 variant, the MP5A3.

H&K’s most common MP5 variant, the MP5A3.

Well, not really. Maybe it’s the Teutons of Oberndorf who are tricksy. But there might be more going on here than you think. Answer and explanation after the jump.

How many rounds does the factory 9mm MP5 mag hold?

pollcode.com free polls

Continue reading

Lee Williams: Down With Poly AK Mags!

Lee Williams has had it with polymer AK mags, and this is his reason:

The mag blew up while sitting unattended in Lee’s safe, and the resulting chaos was waiting for him when he opened it up.

I’m done with polymer AK mags
Posted on April 30, 2015 by Lee Williams

I had a surprise last night when I opened my safe.

The top of a loaded polymer AK mag had broken off for reasons unknown, spraying 28 loaded rounds and bits of plastic all over my safe.

The spring was sticking halfway out of the top of the mag. I found the follower behind an SKS.

via I’m done with polymer AK mags – The Gun Writer.

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.

Sometimes the Law is Not an Ass: Type 99 Escapes Torch

This is a remarkable story of how a Marine’s war trophy went from seized contraband to museum display — thanks to a change of heart by members of an ATF field office.

[A] World War II relic, which spent nearly 35 years under lock and key in the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office, has traveled its own unique path through time and has now finally made it to the Livingston County War Museum in Pontiac.

sullivans japanese Type 99

The item in question is a Japanese Type 99 light machine gun, recovered by U.S. Marine John Sullivan in the heat of battle. His daughter, Jane Sullivan-DePaoli, who was on site at the museum for the recovered artifact’s presentation, recalled the incredible events surrounding his capture of the gun from enemy forces in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

“All the men were lined up, taking fire from a pillbox,” she said, recalling her father’s story, “My dad went in the pillbox, and the gunner turned on him, but he was able to take him and his assistant out.

“After the battle, he went back and the machine gun was still there, so he took it.”

via War Museum welcomes unique weapon loan – News – Pontiac Daily Leader – Pontiac, IL – Pontiac, IL.

At the time, firearms as war trophies were not against US law, but the USMC had restrictions in place, so Sullivan and two of his buddies each took a piece of the gun home as “shrapnel.” Nobody looked too closely, and Stateside, he was able to reassemble the gun. It hung for years on the wall of his home bar — and then some non-friend of his dropped a dime to the ATF.

john_sullivan_usmcYou see, he could have registered the gun — until 1968, when the Gun Control Act clamped down on registrations of guns that had missed registration. The law directed ATF to hold an amnesty then, and thereafter more, periodic amnesties… but after the first one, the agency, whose senior leadership had come to see itself at war with the 2nd Amendment and gun owners, never held another.

The tip came in 1981, and while the ATF had its share of bullet-headed attack bots then, it was nothing like the agency of today. A Special Agent was dispatched to link up with local deputies and talk to Sullivan. They quickly decided that, even though the gun was technically contraband under Federal and Michigan law, they weren’t going to arrest the Marine hero. One of the deputies, now LaSalle County Sheriff Tom Templeton, remembers:

We talked for awhile, and John told the ATF officer and I how he got it, and recovered it from the beachhead. He said, “Do you know how many Marines were killed with that gun?” And he said “I’m the one who silenced it, I brought it back, and its mine.”

But there was that small problem of the law — the gun was illegal, and there was (and is) no way to make it legal, short of destroying it. So they took it and locked it up at the Sheriff’s Office for the next 30 years, while periodically arguing about whether to destroy it.

At the same time, the Special Agent, whose name is apparently lost to time, must have realized that, while the law made possession of this gun technically criminal, it had zero value as a crime weapon, and great historic significance. So did Templeton, whose father was a WWII veteran, and who is a veteran himself.

Recently, Templeton, the Detroit Field Office of the ATF, and Sullivan’s daughter managed to negotiate terms that brought the elderly gun to a secure glass case in the museum.

Meanwhile, the ATF had been close to approving an amnesty especially for war trophy weapons in the late oughts, until the advent of management that prioritized lobbying for new anti-gun laws, and building a case for them by arming Mexican narcotraficantes. 

But even in that environment, they managed to save Sullivan’s historically significant trophy from the torch, and put it on public display: because the guys and gals out in the Field Offices are not clones of the badge-wearing politicians at HQ.

Sometimes the law is not an ass.

Canadian Machine Gun Resto Project

Two machine guns in battered condition on a Canadian war memorial are being examined and will be cosmetically restored to their original condition — and efforts are underway to determine their true provenance and history.

Both are German MG08 guns. The one in this picture, on the south side of a roadside cenotaph in Harold, Ontario, was captured in 1918 at Arras; the hole in its water jacket may have been caused by Canadian fire. The cenotaph itself is rare: most Canadian cenotaphs list only the war dead, but this lists the returned surviving veterans as well as the fallen.

MG08, captured at Arras, 1918.

A pair of 100-year-old German guns, taken as souvenirs at the end of World War I, will be temporarily removed from the cenotaph on Highway 14 to be refurbished thanks to the efforts of the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Stirling-Rawdon Historical Society.

Silenced in 1918, the guns will never fire again says society member John Lowry, but they will be cleaned up and returned to their original colours, perhaps even solving a few mysteries along the way. Lowry explains that significant research has been done on the weapons, a pair of Maschinengewehr 08 machine guns captured by 2nd Division CEF troops at the end of the war, but there are many unanswered questions as well.

via Machine gun restoration project under way.

John Lowry and Phil Martin of the Historical Society will try to match the gun’s original color scheme — if they can determine what it is — and answer the question of what made the hole in the Arras gun. They’re also trying to find photographic evidence tying the gun’s partner to a particular location or battle.

John Lowry (l.) and Phil Martin (r.)

Lowry thinks the hole in the water jacket may have been the act of a Canadian sniper:

[T]he Arras weapon appears to have been disabled by a sniper’s shot and the restoration may lead to a conclusive answer, he adds, “if we find a .303 bullet in there.” Lowry says that the guns, capable of firing 500 rounds per minute, were water-cooled using a chamber that surrounded the barrel and marksmen would deliberately aim for it hoping to quickly overheat the weapon rendering it useless.

According to the article, trophies like this were once commonplace across Canada, but the herd — once numbering some 15,000 captured arms, originally intended to populate a grand war museum, but on the project’s cancellation scrapped or spread across the very large country — has been thinned, less by time than by WWII scrap drives.

[T]he remaining local pieces, which also include a trench mortar in Madoc and a field artillery piece in Trenton, are only a small fraction of the enemy weapons that ultimately arrived in Canada after World War I. …. A significant number, Lowry says, were scrapped during World War II, including a pair of machine guns received by the village of Stirling. The fate of a similar pair that arrived in Marmora is unknown, but they too may have been scrapped.

The Stirling Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion has raised the cost of the MG restoration. And no, they won’t be restored to firing condition — it is Canada up there, which is kind of like Massachusetts with more polite people and much better drivers.

Is This Book For Real?

tiger_tracks_faustWe’ve been reading Tiger Tracks: The Classic Panzer Memoir by Wolfgang Faust. Republished by Sprech Media, which publishes and republishes English translations of German combat memoirs of WWII (mostly), this is a 1947 memoir by a Panzer VI Tiger driver who fought on the Eastern Front, it says here. Its German title was the Wagnerian Panzerdämmerung. 

But there are a few details that give us pause. In the first place, it’s graphic to the point of gaudy. Here’s a taste:

One such tank shot at us with a maniacal speed, its tracer rounds flashing past us as we manoeuvred around it to put a shell in from its side. Our 88mm round went exactly centre, just above the snow-covered tracks. The turret hatch lifted up and detonating ammunition spiralled out into the red-tinged sky, adding to the smoke pouring across the stained, rutted snow. Even then, the driver’s hatch opened and a crew man emerged, still in his protective headgear, holding a machine pistol. He fired on us with the little gun, the bullets pattering on our front armour, until our hull MG man brought him down with a single shot. Every round had to count now, had to find its mark; while every manoeuvre and evasion used up our dwindling fuel.

I lost track of time in that fight, with my head spinning from the amphetamines and my body unaware of pain. I noticed, with a strange detachment, that the sky was whitening, and the sun was now looming over the ridge above us. It was a fierce, crimson sun, casting jagged shadows from the peaks, and lighting the scattered wrecks of panzers that burned around us. In its light, the Stalins withdrew up the slope, reversing rapidly, firing as they left. Our 75mm PAK in the bunkers caught one of them with repeated hits as it lurched backwards in the snow, smashing off the very tip of its pointed hull. The Red tank kept on reversing, with two crewmen visible inside the hull through the split-open front. Wilf was unable to resist the temptation: he fired directly into the exposed compartment. Cool as always, he had selected high-explosive, and the detonation of the shell deep inside the confined steel box blew out the driver and machine-gunner from the fractured hull, sending them cartwheeling across the snow, trailing smoke. The Stalin’s ruptured compartment became an inferno of orange flames, in which other men were visible, struggling and writhing, until the vehicle was enveloped in its own smoke.1

Driver station of the Tiger in running condition at Bovington. Note vision block (all images embiggen with a click).

Driver station of the Tiger in running condition at Bovington. Note vision block (all images embiggen with a click).

There’s a lot of writhing in flames in this book. Hits on tanks frequently let Faust (through his single vision block!) observe the deaths of the Russian or German crew inside. Hits on half-tracks (which he calls “Hanomags,” after the original manufacturer) do likewise, when they don’t blow vividly-described body parts in the air, launch vehicles in the air to land on screaming Panzer Grenadiers, or scythe heads off.

It’s all very Hollywood. One scene has German infantry struggling in neck-deep snow until an artillery shell neatly beheads them, leaving their “red spurting necks” as the only parts visible. It all seems rather over-the-top, even for the eastern front.

No doubt there was unimaginable carnage, we don’t question that. We question whether one guy could see all that carnage, although one guy could certainly see lots of carnage and imagine the details.

And there are a few oddities. He claims to be fighting JS- (or IS-)3 Stalin tanks in 1943. He just calls them “Stalins,” but its clear from the way he describes the vehicles — domed turret, and a precise description of the arrangement of the glacis armor — that he’s talking about a JS-3, not the earlier Stalin I or II tanks. (The JS-1 resembled the Tiger and other prewar and early-war tanks in its armor layout, and had a roughly square turret. The JS-2 had a turret resembling a T-34-85). Yet every reference we’ve seen suggests that Chelyabinsk Tractor Works, the Soviets’ go-to tank shop, didn’t start on the Objekt 702 project until the fall of 1944 at the earliest, and the JS-3s first showed up in combat in the Battle of Berlin, and were unknown to the Western Allies until the first Soviet victory parades.

Finally, there is an entirely implausible subplot with a captured Russian female lieutenant. Ripped right out of the movie script, that!

And yet… there are parts that ring true. There’s Faust hastily cannibalizing a vision block from a knocked-out Tiger, and detailed descriptions of the running gear and its limitations. He never drives his Tiger at an unreasonable speed — it was a slow tank, and he’s typically grinding along at  a plausible 10 or 20 km/h. For example, these sound plausible to us:

Inside our panzer, it was humid now, as the groaning transmission became hot and warmed the sealed-in air. Condensation collected on my dials, scalding oil from the transmission spat on my face, the reek of carbon monoxide made my head throb, and I almost envied our commander up in the turret, still with his head up in the morning air – despite the risk he ran of losing that clever brain to a shell or a sniper.2

This running gear layout is a Tiger II, but it gives you a sense of German practice.

This running gear layout is a Tiger II, but it gives you a sense of German practice.

Driveshafts and transmissions crowded the driver in his position in the left bow of a Tiger. And this should ring true to any former tank or mech guy:

Our Tigers were never designed to drive sustained journeys, not even on smooth city roads. The stress and wear to the running gear was too great, and the entire engine and transmission itself only lasted for 1,000 kilometres before being completely replaced. Several of our panzers were at that point now , and their crew muttered gloomily about the prospects of them finishing the journey at all without burning out or seizing up. Even the track links – those great chunks of steel weighing ten kilos each – wear quickly under the duress, and the tracks must be tightened and adjusted if the track is not to snap or become tangled on the drive wheels. The pins that hold the links together are thick metal rods, like your grandmother’s biggest knitting needle – but if one breaks, the sixty tonne panzer can be lost.3

One is left with the impression that perhaps the author is a trained Tiger driver, or at least has read his Tigerfibel closely, but has embellished his combat experience to make for a more vivid (and horrifying, and salable) book. Some years ago we reviewed very positively a book by a Soviet TC who fought on this same front in a T-34; Vassily Bryukhov’s descriptions of combat were no less vivid, but were much more credible than Faust’s.

We suspect we are not the first to have doubts about this work, and wonder if it was equally controversial when it was first published in war-wracked Germany.

UPDATES

A small note at the end of the book’s text says that “Wolfgang Faust” is a pseudonym, and the names of all others in the book have also been changed.

At book’s end, Faust is very nearly a sole survivor (his TC, a unit XO turned commander, is another). While there certainly have been sole survivors of crews, units, etc. in history, “sole survivor” is a very common claim in wannabe war stories, perhaps to explain plausibly the lack of corroborating witnesses.

A reader in Germany  tells us that there is absolutely no reference to this “classic Panzer memoir” discoverable on the German-language internet; he reminds us of the stirring Boy’s Own type tales that were printed in the pulp mag Der Landser (something like a German equivalent of The GI) during the magazine’s 1954-2013 run. (It has resurfaced as Weltkrieg, “World War”, and seems to have its roots in a wartime propaganda pulp for Hitlerjugend boys. They also were apocryphal stories, with brave heroes, minimal Nazi politics, accurate technical details and lurid combat scenes.

NOTES

  1. Faust, Wolfgang (2015-03-04). Tiger Tracks – Classic Panzer Memoir (Kindle Locations 1769-1782). Bayern Classic Publications. Kindle Edition.
  2. Ibid., Kindle Locations 59-62.
  3. Ibid., Kindle Locations 718-724.

G36: German Gun Mag Thought They Had the Answer Last Year

A German gun magazine publisher conducted an investigation of the G36 last year, with the assistance (of course) of H&K. Running online under a title that translates to the rather optimistic “Overheating Problem Cleared Up,” the short version of the article combines reporting on the alleged accuracy problem with a range report on the rifle. (Vielen Dank to the anonymous tipster who sent it to us).

Heckler-und-Koch-G36-BW

A key paragraph of the report:

For about two years, negative reports of the supposedly deficient performance of the HK G36 in combat. have been multiplying in TV und print media, such as Report Mainz, Frontal 21, Spiegel and BILD. The core of the allegations has always been that an HK G36 fired until hot will disperse its shots so widely that the enemy can no longer be safely combatted. The Bundewehr introduced a Close Combat Shot Cycle (Einsatznahen-Beschuss-Zyklus or EBZ) in March, 2012, in which the entire basic load of 150 cartridges is fired in 20 minutes. On the basis of the EBZ the manufacturer carried out in-house experiments with ten various  G36s manufactured during the years 1996 to 2008.

The article describes HK’s shock at learning that the weapon failed tests — new tests, that hadn’t been part of the firearm’s original adoption — and the range results obtained by company in those tests, and by the magazine’s shooters using a rack-grade G36 and following both slow fire and EBZ protocols.

The 134-page invesigative report by Heckler & Koch, “Assault rifle G36 Investigation of dispersion and aiming point behavior of the Weapon in Fired-Hot Condition” (Sturmgewehr G36-Untersuchung zum Streuungs- und Treffpunktverhalten der Waffe im heißgeschossenen Zustand) exactly describes the test conditions, the technical procedures and the results, which have been compiled meticulously. Certainly there is an increase in group size with forced rapid fire in shot-hot conditions, as there are with any other weapon; the HK G36 is no exception.

See what they did there? They’re not saying “our gun doesn’t do this,” after tests that show, well, that it does; they’re making a tu quoque argument: “others do it too!”

Cold bore, all was well....

Cold bore, all was well…. 10 shots in a 78mm/ roughly 3″ group

The article does go on to suggest that variable and out-of-spec bullet-jacket thicknesses, not the rifle itself, causes the dispersion problem (which they confirmed as about doubling group size when hot, from a 20 cm (~8″) group at 100m, to 40 cm (~16″)).

The original article teaser (in German) is here; or you can try your luck with a mechanically brutal Google translation auf englisch. The article reportedly appeared in the April 2014 German magazines Caliber and Visier, so we’d like a scan or .pdf if anybody has it (you can send it to hognose at networkimpossible.com). We’d also really like to have a copy of the 134-page HK report. (If you’re listening, HK USA, send us the report and we’ll do a certified translation for you for free).

Remember, by the time Caliber and Visier ran this article, the “media whirlwind” (as they call it) over the G 36 had been going on for over two years. Obviously this predates the recent results in which independent testing also showed an unacceptable increase in dispersion when the rifle was rapid-fired in hot environmental conditions. And the media whirlwind, spun up further by new revelations, shows no sign of abating.

German Sturm und Drang over G36

The German media continue to run article after article criticizing the Bundeswehr’s G36 service rifle, and the procurement process that put the H&K product into the German Landser’s hands. The rifle has been extremely controversial from its introduction, but particularly since 2011.

HK G36

Of the various charges out there now, the one that has stuck, according to reports from the field and from German news media, is that the weapon loses all accuracy when it gets hot. The dispute has multiple facets or sides, including the Bundeswehr, H&K, the MOD’s current leaders, its former leaders, opposition politicians, and the German media; each such interest seems to be at war with all the others.

Here are a few of our translations of German news-magazine and blog headlines and subheads. Note that (1) these hasty hacks aren’t official, certified translations (if you want those, they come with a bill), and (2) the articles linked are in German, of course. Some of them may have English translations: look for a small British or British&American flag icon on the website.

G36C disassembled

ITEM: Spiegel, 7 Feb 14: Problems with Bundeswehr Standard Weapon: Legislature stops procurement of G36

After even more reports on the problems of the G36 assault rifle, the Bundestag pulls the emergency brake: The Committee on Budgets has immediately canceled all further orders of the weapon.

ITEM: Spiegel, 12 Mar 14: Examination of the Bundeswehr rifle G36: Whitewash from the Ministry of Defense

A serious accusation of the House of Ursula von der Leyen: Defense Commissioner [Hellmut] Königshause accused the Ministry of attempted manipulation of an examination of the G36 assault rifle. Negative outcomes were, in Berlin, not wanted.

ITEM: Stern, 29 Nov 14: Ministry Tried to Massage Weapons Report

The Defense Ministry is reported to have tried to influence the Experts’ Report on the deficiencies of the rifle G36. Certain formularions were used to try to “retouch” the weapon’s accuracy problems.

ITEM: Spiegel, 30 Mar 15: Bundeswehr: Tests Prove Deficient Accuracy of the G36

For months, there have been doubts about the Bundeswehr’s standard rifle . Now technical tests have demonstrated that the G36 is inaccurate when it’s fired hot. Minister von der Leyen is alarmed.

ITEM: Spiegel, 31 Mar 15: Bundeswehr Rifle G36: Heckler & Koch Accuses von der Leyen of a Targeted Campaign.

The negative reports about the Sturmgewehr G36 have occasioned strong conflict between the manufacturer and the Bundeswehr. Gunmaker Heckler & Koch said it was “shocked” by the decision of Minister von der Leyen

ITEM: Stern, 1 April 15: Von der Leyen has a Commission Investigate the Rifle Problem

A commission has been assigned by Federal Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) to investigate more deeply the problems with the Sturmgewehr G36 and the consequences thereof.

ITEM: Stern, 8 Apr 15: Leadership of MOD was Already Warned in 2011

The G36, the standard rifle of the Bundeswehr, fails under heat and no longer shoots accurately. A report from the Federal Accounting Office reveals: the problem has been known for years, but has been concealed.

(Note: this is the article that occasioned HK’s “Position Paper Nº. 3″ on the G36, available from HK here).

ITEM: Stern, 12 Apr 15: Two Commissions are to Investigate the G36 Affair simultaneously.

The MOD is having the affair of the troubled Sturmgewehr G36 investigated by two Commissions simultaneously. Sie sollen nach der Vorlage eines Berichts zur Treffsicherheit der Standardwaffe der Bundeswehr am kommenden Freitag eingesetzt werden.

There are many more articles. Here, for example, is a search string that will find all of Stern’s:

http://wefind.stern.de/stern/search?query=G36+gewehr

And here is Spiegel’s:

http://www.spiegel.de/suche/index.html?suchbegriff=Gewehr+G36

What it Means So Far

In the German Armed Forces, the G36 is on the bubble, even after the military has accepted hundreds of thousands of these rifles already. The MOD is seriously considering selecting some different rifle as an interim rifle. HK thought they could lobby their way out of trouble, and they have failed; as the only likely complete solution provider inside Germany, the bad odor they are now in with the major parties (CDU, SPD, and even the anti-defense Greens) means they have an uphill fight to either prevent the replacement of the G36, or provide the substitute.

G36E

This would be a really good time for HK to engineer a solution to the high-temp accuracy problem. It’s hard to believe that their tests do not show the same thing Bundeswehr and independent tests have found, that when the gun is hot from firing it can sling bullets as much as 50 cm (half a meter, just under 20″) from point of aim at 100 meters. Cold-bore the G36 is as accurate as any 5.56mm NATO rifle and more accurate than some, but there’s clearly something off in the largely-polymer rifle’s heat management.

You may recall that the G36 forerunner considered and nearly adopted by the US Army, the XM8, also came a cropper on heat-management issues (among many others).

HK’s only winning response at this point is a reengineered G36 that handles these heat issues with aplomb. The lack of confidence in the weapon in the Bundeswehr is not strictly a Bundeswehr problem, because an abandonment of the rifle by the German Armed Forces would be such a vote of no-confidence that its foreign sales would largely evaporate. (Some units might still be moved the way many Latin American and African rifles are adopted, with transfers to numbered Swiss bank accounts).

Meanwhile, other European, especially German and part-German, arms companies are looking at what they have to fill the racks in German arms rooms. FN can offer SCARs, SIG/Sauer the 500 series, Steyr the AUG. Israel may offer the Tavor, but the odds of a European nation, especially Germany, adopting an Israeli firearm approach zero. In addition almost everybody, even HK, can offer an M16/M4 clone. Some German SOF elements already have experience with the M4A1 and HK416, and there are points of preference for those carbines over the G36K they’re supposed to be using.

The US DOD would facilitate co-production if the Bundeswehr were seriously interested in guns similar to US-pattern ones, which it’s probably not. But the service has signaled it’s going to so something, and something big, about its G36 problem.

Finally — did anyone else notice the irony that, in Germany the press is crucifying their military for shortcomings of a service rifle most of the troops are happy with, and suggesting that they just buck up and buy the foreign alternative (such as the M4), while in the US the press from time to time crucifies the military for shortcomings of a service rifle most of the troops are happy with, and suggests that they just buck up and buy the foreign alternative (such as the G36)?

(In the interests of fairness, we provide links to and translation of the most recent HK Position Papers on the G36 overleaf. Click “more” to read them. –Eds.)

Continue reading