Category Archives: Foreign and Enemy Weapons

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week – Torpedo of Rijeka

Robert Whitehead was a pacifist and teetotaler, who invented a weapon that's in its second century of use and development.

Robert Whitehead was a pacifist and teetotaler, who invented the naval torpedo and sold it all around the world: a weapon now well into its second century of use and development.

Here at Weaponsman, we’ve discussed naval torpedoes before. We’ve done it in the light of early American torpedoes that have been recovered from the bottom of the sea, or otherwise rediscovered, and displayed in museums or otherwise studied. But the very first torpedo, at least the first successful one, came from the forgotten Navy of the Habsburg Empire, by way of an English inventor and entrepreneur.

Fortunately, there is a place where this early history is not only not forgotten, but preserved and memorialized, and it is present on the web at Torpedo of Rijeka, our Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week this week. It’s a website founded by enthusiasts of the first naval torpedo, and the first naval torpedo factory — in their Adriatic hometown.

When Farragut said, “Damn the torpedoes,” in the Civil War, the “torpedoes” that he referred to were what we think of today as naval mines. They were tethered to the bottom or shore, and meant to inhibit naval traffic. While mine warfare is still a very important part of naval offense and defense today, the word torpedo has come to mean an underwater projectile or missile,  self-propelled with propellers or jets, and aimed at a particular target. Torpedoes can be fired along a pre-determined course or guided in some way. This guidance today can be on-board or remote, in the latter case usually wire-guided much like an antitank missile.

The inventor of the torpedo as we know it was Robert Whitehead, a Lancashire engineer who had long worked on the Continent. He was working in Trieste, then an Austro-Hungarian seaport, when he was essentially head-hunted by another firm, and moved down the coast to Fonderia Metalli de Fiume, in a port city which has had many names and flown many flags over the centuries since Roman historians noted that a tribe of rude Celts lived on the hills and a “more civilized” tribe of mariners lived in the seaport. The Romans called it Tarsatica.  By 1856, when Whitehead and his family arrived, the city was known as Fiume in Italian (which many of the inhabitants spoke, regardless of their loyalty to the Dual Monarchy), Fiume in Hungarian (technically, it was part of the Hungary half of the Empire), Sankt Veit am Pflaum in German (the lingua franca of central Europe in those days) and Rijeka to the local Croats, who had to learn one of the other languages — or better yet, all of them — to advance in society and commerce. As an empire, Austria-Hungary was a very different concept from the nations of today; one’s ethnicity was not implicated in his political allegiance to the extent it is in the post-Fourteen Points world.

Fiume was also the location of the Austro-Hungarian Naval Academy, which like any major power’s academy not only trained future naval officers but sponsored research. This included pioneering research in photography, communications, physics, and, more to our point, remote-controlled weapons. Whitehead’s company, now yclept Stabilimento Tecnico Fiumano (Technical Establishment of Fiume), at first made high-tech machinery of the era, such as steam engines for naval ships. They were tied in tightly to the Naval Academy and the local academic community; for example, technicians at what would become the Whitehead torpedo plant provided the first experimental proof of Mach’s concept of the influence of the speed of sound on aerodynamics.

A different kind of "Coast Guard," this primitive weapon inspired the naval torpedo we know today.

A different kind of “Coast Guard,” this primitive weapon inspired the naval torpedo we know today.

By happy coincidence an officer (Commander — Fregattenkapitän – Giovanni Luppis) was struggling with a remote-controlled surface boat IED he’d invented, which he called the Coast Guard. His surface torpedo — for that is what it was — had a spring-and-clockwork mechanism and steering bridles for control from the shore, and a contact fuze for detonating if someone was lucky enough to guide it onto an enemy ship. Here was a problematic gadget, but the germ of a very good idea, and Whitehead and a talented team including his son John and his right-hand man, Anibale Plöch. Unlike many Victorian Age inventors, Whitehead seldom sought patents, preferring to maintain his technical advantages as trade secrets.

And technical advantages he had.

Whitehead's (and the world's) first torpedo, 1866.

Whitehead’s (and the world’s) first torpedo, 1866.


To make his torpedo work, Whitehead and his team had to solve several problems: propulsion, stability&control, and effect. The last of these was the easiest: a cylindrical bronze torpedo could carry sufficient explosive to sink any modern dreadnought, and, moreover, deliver it below the water line where the ship was most vulnerable. The Empire was well-stocked with talented artillerists and engineers, and neither fuzes nor explosives required research, simply development. That part was basic engineering, not science.

The true developments were propulsive and control based. Whitehead used steam for the first torpedo, and then changed to a compressed-air-powered piston engine, for more power and quicker preparation to fire. The compressed-air engines were made in a variety of designs and layouts.

Of course, the engine is only half of a naval powerplant — the other half is the propeller.  These three recovered torpedo tails tell the story of improved propellers (they also show the growing awareness of fluid dynamics. The first torpedo was sharply spiked fore and aft — by the end of the 19th century, a blunter shape with a round nose was proven to generate less hydrodynamic drag).

1868 torpedo shows pointed end and single-screw with a duct ring.

1868 torpedo shows pointed end and single-screw with a duct ring.

1884 torpedo is a little thicker and has introduced dual counterrotating props to neutralize torque.

1884 torpedo is a little thicker and has introduced dual counterrotating props to neutralize torque. The ring was found to inhibit propeller efficiency.

1898 torpedo has a more organic shape and well-uptimized counterrotating screws.

1898 torpedo has a more organic shape and well-optimized counterrotating screws.

Devices pioneered here for control were a mechanical depth control and a variety of steering gyroscopes. John Whitehead tried to develop a torpedo gyroscope but his model was a dead end. Instead, they purchased a design from former Whitehead engineer Lodovico Obry. Much of this history is recounted on the Torpedo of Rijeka website.

The Obry gyroscope

The Obry gyroscope

In the years leading up to the Great War, Whitehead’s company, Torpedofabrik Whitehead AG, was controlled by a British syndicate of the arms and engineering giants Vickers and Armstrong-Whitworth, who’d acquired it on his death in 1905 and continued torpedo development.

After the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian empire at war’s end, the factory was acquired by an influential Italian family, and its name was changed to an Italian one, but cutting-edge torpedo development for all nations resumed. The testing station on the docks had a new level built with a catapult to simulate aerial torpedo launches.

The torpedo launch test station offered a ship-launch level, and air-launch level with catapult, and an observation level.

The torpedo launch test station offered a ship-launch level, and air-launch level with catapult, and an observation level.

The plant resumed torpedo production again after being bombed by the Allies in World War II, but ceased that production in the 1960s. The physical plant and its distinctive torpedo test tower (alas, not the original from 1866 but the upgrade from the 20th Century) still exist. The enthusiasts of the Torpedo of Rijeka website hope to establish a permanent museum to their city’s most enduring export. Rijeka today is a sun-blessed city on the Adriatic coast of Croatia, and a reasonable European vacation destination.

Whitehead had a most remarkable life. His daughter Alice married the skipper of the Austrian boat that tested and validated his prototype torpedoes; his granddaughter Agnes inherited his vast fortune, and she in turn married an Austro-Hungarian minor nobleman and naval officer that she met at a sub commissioning. The officer would later command that sub and another on his way to becoming the Empire’s top-scoring submarine ace, in which career he naturally used Whitehead torpedoes to sink English and Italian vessels (including an Italian submarine, Nereida, in possibly the first sub-on-sub torpedo battle in history).

You might have heard of the guy, who later emigrated to the United States with their kids after Agnes passed away. His name was Georg, Baron von Trapp.

Volkssturm Carbines, part 2 of 2

Continued from: The Genesis of the Volkssturm Carbines. Why? published March 27, 2014. 

When we last looked at the Volkssturm carbines, it was late summer or early fall of 1944, and a handful of the guns were about to be presented to Hitler as a sort of staff decision memo by Reichsminister for Armaments and War Production, Albert Speer. The weapons included several single-shot and repeating bolt guns, and a version of the famous, if very rare, VG 1-5.

Gustloff VG 1-5 - GunLab

Purportedly after doing this, Speer wrote and transmitted the following (emphasis added):

The Reichs Minister for Armaments and War Production

TAE-no. 99 10786/44 secret

Berlin, the 5th of November 1944

Pariser Platz 3


(to: [action copies])

speer_letter_p._1Chief of the Army Arms Office, General of Artillery Leeb

Main Directorate for Weapons, Director Engineer Weissenborn

Chief of the Armaments Staff, Senior Department Head Saur

Information Copies:

Chief of Army Equipment and Commander of the Home Army, Reichsführer-SS Himmler

Chief of the High Command of the Wehrmacht, Field Marshal Keitel

Chief of the General Staff of the Army, Colonel-General Guderian

Chief of Army Equipment and Commander of Replacements, SS-Senior Colonel and Waffen-SS General Jüttner

Chief of the Army Staff at the High Command of the Wehrmacht, General of Infantry Buhle

Leader of the Party Chancellery, Reichsleiter Bormann

High Command of the Wehrmacht, Wehrmacht Leadership Staff / Organizational Office, Lt. Col of the General Staff Fett

Main Directorate of Ammunition, Consul-General Stahl

The following proposed People’s-Rifles (Volksgewehre) have been presented to the Führer

a)     Single-shot guns for normal rifle cartridge. From the firms:

  1. Appell, from Berlin-Spandau;
  2. Bergmann K.G., from Velten;
  3. Gustloff-Werke, from Suhl; and,
  4. Walther, from Zella-Mehlis.

b)    Repeaters for normal rifle cartridge. There were two of these, from the firms:

  1. Deutsche Industrie-Werke, from Berlin (with the 10-shot magazine of the K.43);
  2. Röchling (Coenders), from Wetzlar (with 5-shot loading strips).

c)     Repeaters with short cartridge 44. From the firm Deutsche Industrie-Werke, Berlin (two different versions with 30-shot magazines);

d)    Self-loader with short cartridge 44. From the firm Gustloff-Werke, Suhl (with 30-shot magazine).

speer_letter_p._2Reference: a) The Führer has rejected all Single-shots on fundamental grounds. Of them, the one from the Walther firm pleased him most.

Reference: b) and c) as a Repeater, the model of the Deutsche Industrie-Werke was recommended by Colonel-General Guderian and General Buhle, in that its manufacture is very simple and it is made up of very easily made assemblies (no forged parts, no tubular material, no deep-drawn sheet metal and large tolerances).  The Führer is in agreement with this recommendation, but he recommends shortening the barrel, if it can be done without significantly increasing recoil, and additionally improvement of the outward appearance of the weapon, such as rounding the receiver. Psychologically the Führer considers such a primitive weapon unfit for troop issue. The immediate start of manufacturing in a quantity of 400,000 to 450,000 pieces by using Air Force and Army barrels on hand, as well as available K43 magazines is directed, as long as the Army Ordnance Office (Heereswaffenamt) agrees and raises no objections. I would consider an output of 100,000 weapons in December, 1944, possible.

As an end goal, the Führer considers the People’s Rifle with the Short Cartridge 44 and a magazine of about 10 shots, which should not hinder the shooter in firing from the prone position; the long 30-shot magazine of the MP 44 is not to be used.

Reference d) the Gustloff-Werke’s self-loader is rejected by the shore by the Führer on the grounds of too-high cost, and too-high consumption of ammunition; further that the MP44 has about the same manufacturing and material requirements, and already is in mass production in very high quantities.

Heil Hitler, Speer.

Well, that’s a bit to think about. You’re welcome to check our translation; sorry about the so-so cell phone images of the documents.

The key takeaways

To us the big surprise in this document, which can scarcely be surprising to experts in the field because we found it in an old issue of the German magazine Waffen Revue, is the outright rejection of the VG 1–5, the Gustloff semi-automatic carbine for the short cartridge. Hitler’s reported strong opinions seem to be in line with those that might be held by a junior NCO of First World War vintage. His concern that the crudity of some of the proposed weapons would impinge on rifleman morale seems to be on target, as does his concern about a large box magazine and the prone position; his worry that they would blaze away and waste ammunition, less so. (For all that leaders and generals have fretted over ammunition wastage over the centuries, as each new development — breechloading cartridges, repeaters, semi-autos, select-fire — increased the grunt’s theoretical rate of fire, cases of grunts shooting their ammo stocks dry seem to be rather rare and restricted to situations in which said grunts were doomed and were being overrun, anyway. Joe Snuffy turns out to be a rational actor when his life is on the line).  It was interesting to learn that the short MP44 magazine found here and there (like the one famously photographed in an MP45 prototype) resulted not from the desire of engineers to have a short mag for testing, but from the dictator’s concern about his frontline grunts. 

Gustloff VG 1-5 repro - GunLab

It was also a surprise for us to see the production of the VG 1-5, which we’ve been watching go together over at GunLab (in-progress, above), compared with that of the MP 44, which has many more stamping steps. We can only presume that the MP44 had well-thought-out production schedules and tooling, and the simpler VG, which seems designed more with a view to cottage manufacture, didn’t.

Did Hitler Really Make These Decisions?

It’s hard to say. There’s no known document with Hitler’s signature (although after the July 20, 1944 attempt on his life, he seems to have signed fewer documents). Instead, there’s one from Albert Speer, saying, “the weapons were presented to the Führer”; “the Führer dismissed on fundamental grounds”, and so forth, but do we have anything but Speer’s word what we’re hearing is Hitler’s, and not Speer’s decision? And how much faith do we have in the integrity of Speer, the man who initiated the genre of self-serving Nazi bigwig memoirs? There are no answers to these questions; it does seem that in the higher levels of the Nazi hierarchy there was a fairly common practice of playing Führer’s-mouthpiece, with Himmler, Bormann and Göring among those who issued orders purporting to come from the mouth under the funny mustache itself.

A strong indication that this really was Hitler’s opinion is the reference to the aesthetics of the Deutsche Industrie-Werke repeater, and to the need for them to be improved if the soldier were to have confidence in his firearm. This sounds like a front-line combat veteran talking; and Hitler, whatever his faults, was such a veteran; Speer was not.

One indication that Speer may be on the level is that General Heinz Guderian, the great tank tactician, was quoted in the memo as well as an information addressee. Guderian had his own power base with Hitler, based not strictly on loyalty but on proven past performance. Would Speer have fibbed in a document Guderian might have brought up with Hitler himself? It seems unlikely. But the unlikely was an everyday occurrence in the 12 years of the Thousand-Year Empire.


Chinese 5.8 x 42 Type 95 Bullpup Rifle

Here’s a Chinese defense show from 2008 with an attractive lady interviewer asking rather incisive questions of an Army ordnance officer involved in the development of the weapon, Senior Engineer An Bao Ling, and the Chinese version of a think-tank guy, Professor Zhang Zhao Zhong.

This is a playlist that should play all three sections,

And here are all three parts individually if you want to do this the hard way.

Part 1 of 3 (7:05)

Part 2 of 3 (6:05)

Part 3 of 3 (6:00)

There are subtitles for those of us who are dumber than 1 Billion Han Chinese, including their kids and mental defectives.

While we’re impressed with the interviewer, Professor Zhong comes across as a bit of a pedant. Senior Engineer Ling, on the other hand, seems like he’d be a great guy to talk guns with at great length.

Just as many Americans assume that Russian weapons development is frozen in 1992, Americans have largely lost track of Chinese small arms development. Perhaps this is due in part to the 1989 ban on Chinese imports of civilianized weapons, leaving us with nothing newer than a Type-56 in our collections.  But the Chinese have neither stood still nor remained on their 1949-89 or so path of copying and modifying Soviet firearms. There is nothing radical about the Type 95 and its ammunition, but both are indigenous to China and world class.

The Type 95 is made in three variants: rifle, carbine and squad automatic weapon. As a bullpup design, all are compact and handy. The Chinese developed their own caliber for several reasons: they did not want to have ammunition interchangeability with potential enemies; they thought they could make a better round than either the Russian 5.45 or the American 5.56, both of which they know well; and, not least, there is a considerable amount of national pride at stake.

Development of the Type 95 began in 1989, in response to the US and USSR conversion to high velocity small caliber weapons. They began with studies, presumably paper studies of “all calibers from 5.2 to 6mm.” The objective was to make a smaller, lighter cartridge that still met or exceeded the combat effectiveness of the proven 7.62 x 39mm cartridge. The bullpup configuration was selected for the usual reasons, and extensive human interface testing was done. Troop tests involved “7 battle groups comprising 23 units” according to Ling.

While it was not designed with rail-mounted modularity in mind, the Type 95 has since been adapted to rails. From the beginning it was adaptable to day and night optics and other accessories. Along with more ordinary optics, the gun has been shown with an electro-optic CCD remote scope that lets the soldier aim and fire while keeping his head behind or under cover.

The carbine version gives up bayonet compatibility to mount a flash and sound suppressor of an improved AKSU type. The squad automatic version can feed from the normal box magazines or from a snail-type drum. The drum is steel, and loads through a hinged back, and contains a spring-release button inside and a winding key outside, exactly like the familiar Chinese AK drums.

The bayonet strongly resembles the US M9 bayonet; as you can see from Senior Engineer Ling’s Chinese version of a 1960s US Army uniform, the US is very influential on Chinese military thinking and procurement. Another accessory in common use is the Type 91 35mm grenade launcher, an underbarrel attachment resembling the US M203, and using a similar hi-low pressure system cartridge. Unlike the 203, the launcher is quick-detachable from any Type 95, and carries its own sight on its left side. Another 35mm grenade launcher, the LG-2, has grenades that resemble the Russian GL’s rebated rounds.

An export version, the Type 97, is made in 5.56mm. It can accept STANAG magazines.

Exercise for the watcher: envision the questions that, say, Katie Couric or Larry King would have asked.

If this is typical, then, we have a better news media than the Russian propaganda channel, and a worse one than the Chinese version.

Tank Go Boom

Everybody knows about RPGs — the ubiquitous Russian anti-tank weapon that began as a few improvements to the last few German Panzerfaust antitank grenade launchers, and now are one of the characteristic arms of every war large and small. But the 1950s vintage RPG-2 and its much improved 1960s scion the RPG-7 are long out of date in the service of Russia and its close allies and weapons customers; the last several AT weapons have actually contained the rocket inside the tube in the fashion of western bazookas (or the Panzerfaust’s 1944 competitor, the Panzerschreck). The current AT weapon is the RPG-29 Vampir.

This video purports to be a Syrian rebel attack on Syrian Arab Army T-72M1 tanks using an RPG-29.

The tank crews are at two very serious disadvantages here. While they’re under direct observation by the rebels (and the rebel videographers), they seem to be without infantry support. We know some tankers, and nothing gives them the heebie-jeebies like being in close terrain full of hostile infantry without any friendly grunts.

The second is that they’ve withdrawn under their armor. (As we’ll see, at least one of them didn’t have his hatch dogged down, which procedure violation saved his life). But buttoning-up means that they’re very close to being blind. If you’ve ever spent any time in a tank or AFV, the contrast between the situational awareness a TC can have when up in his hatch, and the SA he can develop while sealed in the can, is enormous.

The tanks’ lack of rifleman support is why they’re oriented the way they are. Clearly they expect trouble from the right, but the foreground tank is facing back to cover their vulnerable rears — with its own vulnerable rear backed up against a building to deny the rebels a shot. It’s a fairly good formation for taking on a thankless operation like MOUT in a main battle tank.

When the RPG-29 round hits, its first warhead of the tandem pair initiates on the rear of the engine deck, and the main shaped charge fires seemingly instantaneously. The Vampir’s warhead has over double the penetration of the common PG-7V round for the RPG-7. The crew? They stand no chance as the round ignites the tank’s ready ammunition. The temperature and pressure inside the fighting compartment (and the driver’s compartment, which is not isolated from it) are instantly more like the inside of a gun barrel than a shirtsleeve environment.

The exception is one of the turret crew, identified as the gunner by Russian analysis (a meatball machine translation of one of those analyses is here). He either bailed out or, more likely, was ejected through the above-mentioned unsecured hatch; you see him pull himself together and run off to the building on the right, the tatters of his clothes trailing behind his burnt body. And he’s the lucky one.

It will be hours before the tank is cool enough to be approached and for someone to take on the thankless, ghoulish task of removing the incinerated remains of his fellow crewmen.


The RPG-29 has a diameter of 70.2mm and, as mentioned above, a tandem warhead which defeats reactive armor. It’s scored penetrations and kills on some of the world’s best MBTs, including the M1A1 and the Challenger; it has more range, more accuracy, and more penetration than the familiar RPG-7. And it’s not the last word. The RPG-32 is an updated reusable anti tank ballistic rocket system, that offers further advantages over the RPG-29; meanwhile, a parallel line of development has produced updated disposable launchers as well. The RPG-30 is a disposable launcher with a parallel self-contained decoy to defeat active protection systems, and a tandem warhead to defeat reactive armor also.

The Genesis of the Volkssturm Carbines. Why?

Nazis: beastly but fascinating. They caused the second most trouble and death of any revolutionaries in history (the Communists have pretty much retired that trophy for all time). They spread their evil ideology from the Pyrenees to the Caucusus. And, what’s probably the biggest source of their appeal, they had spiffy uniforms (with a tip of black hat to Hugo Boss) and terrific Teutonic technology.

Gustloff VG 1-5 - GunLab

But not all their technology was world-class. As the war ground on, the Third Reich’s foothold in Europe contracted under the relentless pressure of the USSR in the East and the US and UK in the West and South, not to mention a wide range of national resistance movements and a bothersome strategic bombing campaign. Hermann Göring had planned that Operation Barbarossa would deliver the machine tools and industrial raw materials of the vast Soviet factories into his hands; instead, the Russians’ rapid dismantling and displacement of industry — tools, fixtures, workers, and all — left him empty-handed. The new war-production overlord, architect Albert Speer, pressed every industry to do more with less. (This didn’t happen only in Germany and Occupied Europe; put a “War Finish” British revolver next to a prewar example, or for that matter, compare the beautiful, polished blue on a 1930s Tokarev pistol to a crude 1944 example).

By 1944, the Germans were running out of small arms, and they couldn’t build them as fast as they were being lost. So they began considering what were the barest minimum features a firearm needed to be militarily useful. They were losing men, as well; and desperate measures were soon in hand for personnel, as well as for armaments.

Many collectors have marveled over the crude arms issued at war’s end to the Deutsche Volkssturm, and wondered what had so depressed the abilities of the Germans, supposedly Europe’s leading technologists. But in 1945 hardened Russian, American and British forces were encountering ill-fed old men and boys armed with the military equivalent of crude zip guns. Many collectors today believe these guns to have been locally ordered and produced. But they hardly made a difference to the outcome of the war.

So, why the Volkssturm guns? Why such variety and crudity? And were they centrally planned?

The short answer is this: because they needed them, because no one source could supply enough, and yes.

The Germans were caught flatfooted by their 1943 defeats, and they were desperate to arm a replacement for the armies no longer available to defend the Reich. At the war’s outset, they did not expect or plan for continued losses and resets of small arms, and small arms planners were late to learn of the late 1944 surge plan to create a nationwide militia of 6,000,000 sort-of soldiers – who were minus the 6,000,000 arms they needed to actually be soldiers.

Japan planned from early in the war to fight with limited natural resources. That’s why, for example, Japanese rifles have chrome bores: not for the durability and corrosion-resistance benefits that have made them commonplace on modern military rifles, but because their researchers found it was a less costly substitute for expensive chrome-moly steels in increasing barrel strength. The Germans, on the other hand, did not expect to be resource-constrained. They fought the war, after all, to gain resources, including Lebensraum for the German people. Even when the war began to turn against the Axis, many German managers remained in deepest denial.

But by 1944, even Hitler had a hard time deluding himself about German expansion, and his appointed war production satrap, Albert Speer, was brutally realistic about German war production.

With entire German armies in the bag in Africa and Russia, and ongoing meatgrinders in Russia and Italy, the Germans were running short of manpower even before a second major front opened in June, 1944. The plans for the Deutsche Volkssturm, a mass-levied militia, went forward briskly. While many books seem to imply that the Volkssturm was merely a locally-raised militia beholden to regional Gauleiters, the Gauleiters were responding to a framework that was produced by Speer’s, among others’, central planning.

By November 30, 1944 the Staff Leader of the Deutsche Volkssturm (the German term is Stabsführer) envisioned a force of 6,000,000 men organized in over 10,000 battalions. The units were to be levied in four tranches and armed as shown:

There was a slight problem with this, the staff director admitted, after further breaking down the numbers by particular Gau, he found that the Gaus that needed the guns the most urgently – the ones that were already invaded by the Allies, or were about to be, which two unlucky groups he called the “threatened Gaus” — had, on paper, a potential of 1,450 Volkssturm-bataillonen, yet of the needed 871,300 small arms, they had on hand only 9,690 – about two rifles per company, then.

It makes the 1942 Russian forces in Enemy at the Gates look positively lavishly equipped: why, every other or every third man had a rifle! Whether the real situation in Stalingrad got as bad for the Red Army as Enemy at the Gates’s Hollywood version portrays, the situation for the Wehrmacht and especially for the Volkssturm by the late fall of 1944 was substantially worse.

By this point, facing a deliberate attack by an American mechanized battle group or a Soviet motorized infantry battalion was hard enough for fully-equipped, valiantly-led first-line German formations. For second-liners and militiamen, it was the equivalent of suicide-by-cop. But for them to even serve as speedbumps or to fill in inactive sectors of a defensive line the Volkssturm’s old men and boys needed something.

That was the genesis of the Volkssturm arms program: to produce rapidly enough weapons to put one in the hands of each of six million cannon-fodder Volkssturmmänner.

Six German firms responded, offering nine different models, of four general types:

  • Single-shot guns that used the normal German 7.92 x 57mm cartridge. There were four of these, from: Appell; Bergmann; Gustloff-Werke; and, Walther.
  • Repeaters that used the 7.92 x 57mm round. There were two of these: one from Deutsche Industrie-Werke, which used the 10-shot detachable magazine of the K.43, and one from Röchling, which used 5-round stripper clips to reload.
  • Repeaters that used the 7.92 x 33mm short cartridge. Deutsche Industrie-Werke offered two different versions.
  • One semi-auto rifle that used the 7.92mm short cartridge. This came from the Gustloff-Werke, who hedged their bet with the single-shot turnbolt gun mentioned above. This is the famous VG 1-5, whose picture (from GunLab, where reproductions are underway) graces the top of this story.

Every one had a rough-hewn stock and rudimentary, usually fixed, sights. These rifles were demonstrated to Adolf Hitler (or maybe they weren’t, actually) in the first week of November, 1944; and Hitler reportedly made his comments, issued his guidance, and selected the weapons to be produced.

To be continued.

Inside Putin’s Disinformation Machine

The last minutes of a career in propaganda. So far.

The last minutes of a career in propaganda. So far.

You can say a lot of things about reporters, but “savvy” seldom comes to mind. Especially when reading the story of Elizabeth Wahl, an ambitious young reporter who signed on to the state-controlled Russia Today international propaganda network, which the US intelligence commuity has understood to be an operation of the FSB (Federal Security Bureau, Sluzhba Federalnaya Bezopasnosti) since its establishment.

She was shocked, shocked! that a Russian government operation went out of its way to flatter the Russian government and its various client states worldwide, mostly tin-horn dictatorships (Syria, Iran, Nork, we’re looking’ at you) and failed states. When they hired her, she was ripe for the plucking: young, not very bright but very ambitious, stuck in a dead-end job colocated with nowhere:

When RT first contacted me, I was working as a reporter and anchor 8,000 miles away on the island of Saipan, in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a 40-minute plane ride from Guam. I had been there for about two years, reporting for the local news station on topics like immigration and local political corruption. Before making the move across the globe, I had freelanced at a local news station in my home state of Connecticut, and had done several internships in broadcast news, including at NBC and Fox.

If that’s not the resume of a media lightweight, what is?

Island life was a blast, but around the time I decided I was ready to move back to the mainland, RT emailed me out of the blue. Apparently the news director had seen one of my reports—on how Saipan was preparing to handle possible radiation exposure after the Fukushima disaster—on YouTube and thought I’d be a good addition to RT.

Let’s say a few words here about how the FSB recruits, a policy that’s in a long tradition going back through FSB, SVR, KGB, MGB, MVD, NKVD, Cheka to the Tsarist Ochrana and Third Section without differences in the principles of tradecraft, although the TTPs are always evolving. (For some background on how KGB morphed into today’s FSB, this 1997 paper by Jeff Trimble [.pdf] may be useful).

The news director, who was Russian, pitched the network as an alternative news source that dared to challenge conventions.

They tuned it, in other words, to perfect pitch to appeal to shallow and insular media liberals, and their self-delusion that every one is an iconoclast in the mold of Woodward and Bernstein (whereas Woodward and Bernstein were and are dead in the mainstream of conventionality in the trade, including Bernstein’s Communist upbringing, and their reports on Watergate were not the result of hard work, but of being targeted for controlled revelations by a self-serving leaker).

The News Director of course is Russian. He is either an officer or an agent of the FSB, and his position is one where they value loyalty. His underlings, like Miss Wahl, were selected for their disloyalty – that is, to their nations. Or at least, for signs of enough ambition that they would be disloyal for a paycheck, when push came to shove.

“Question More” was the network’s slogan. During our Skype interview and on subsequent emails, there was little talk about Russia, or any indication the news would be influenced by Russian politics. I had some misgivings and asked about editorial independence. He scoffed, and asserted that the network was providing alternative news that mainstream outlets didn’t want to hear.

You notice — if you’re not the sort of naïf who was selected to report on local news based on a comely countenance and a head of hair, but who thinks what they see in you is talent — that our friend from the FSB did not answer her question. This would have been a good time to be skeptical, and she almost was:

I was a little skeptical about the whole thing, but I couldn’t find much concrete information on the Internet about the station and its mission and I didn’t know anyone who’d ever worked there. I figured there are other networks that do respected journalism while getting some form of government funding. Also, the Cold War was over. Weren’t we supposed to be mending ties? It’s not like it was North Korea.

That’s the first few yards on the rationalization treadmill for Miss Wahl.

Here was an opportunity to move to D.C. and work on stories of national and international significance. I knew my other options would likely require moving to some Podunk town to cover rescued kittens and the Fourth of July parade.

And here’s the next bit: they nakedly appealed to her ambition. Hey, it’s foreign propaganda, but they downplayed that, and it wasn’t some “Podunk town” and local news.

Maybe I ignored some red flags. Maybe I should have asked tougher questions. But from my post in the Pacific, RT looked like a good opportunity.

As you can probably tell from the heavy foreshadowing in that sentence, the bloom is off the rose for Miss Wahl, a story she tells in Politoco as  I Was Putin’s Pawn. The hammer dropped as soon as she checked in:

The top guys were all Russian, but most of my co-workers were American. Some colleagues warned me that I’d need to let go of any preconceived notions and journalistic principles.

“The top guys were all Russian.” Gee, why do you think that is?

The story’s quite good, recounting how the scales fell from Wahl’s eyes as she was expected to do propaganda pieces puffing up the “Occupy” protests — she notes that many of the protesters were unfocused hippies, something obvious to everyone who was not in the media or the service of the Russian security services, but we repeat ourselves there. After Occupy, she watched as the “news” organization took on boosting Qaddafi, Ahmadinejad, and Boy Assad, and served as a platform for 9/11 Twoofers and other conspiracy theorists.

I was disgusted and disappointed by the whitewashing of brutal dictators—and glad to be covering domestic issues. I tried to pitch stories I felt were important and underrepresented. From time to time, I would report on something I found worthwhile, and feel a little better about the cognitive dissonance I was suffering from. I went inside the country’s largest jail in Cook County, Chicago, to expose how mental health patients flooded the correctional facility, highlighted the victims of the so-called War on Drugs who were unjustly incarcerated for decades for petty drug crimes and consistently covered the Bradley Manning trial in Fort Meade, Md. But I knew the stories would only fly if they fit the network’s narrative that America is a crumbling nation plagued with problems.

One of the most interesting things is her perception of how her American colleagues treated work as the Lord Haw-Haw or Tokyo Rose of the 21st Century.

I heard colleagues repeat various justifications for continuing to work there ranging from “we’re providing a different perspective,” to “everyone has an agenda” to “it’s a job.”

Finally, she was at a point of moral crisis. Those kinds of rationalizations had no bite for her, and there was her family history:

I stopped to think about who I was and what I was doing. On my father’s side, both of my grandparents were immigrants from Hungary. My grandfather arrived in the U.S. around the end of World War II. My grandmother arrived 10 years later as a refugee from the 1956 Hungarian uprising, a nationwide revolt against Soviet forces that eventually forced Hungary into submission.

Wahl went on the air and resigned, with two sentences that slapped her employer of over two years: “I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I am proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth. And that is why, after this newscast, I am resigning.”

Since then, she’s landed no job — not even covering rescued kittens in Podunk. RT has filing cabinets full of resumes of young, pretty, ambitious and shallow reporters, just like the legitimate news agencies, and has had no problem replacing her. After all, most journalists are products of college programs where bashing America is a well-worn pathway to high grades and graduation. And the rest of the American “useful idiots” remain on the job at RT. Indeed, some pro-Putin stooges in the media have a perfect explanation for Wahl’s resignation: it’s all a neocon plot.

It’s hard to say what effect RT has on shaping opinion in the US. It’s likely a very marginal one, but that’s only one of the station’s roles. Its most committed viewers tend to be alienated young men, some of whom are always being evaluated for recruitment. Its computer servers are useful platforms for injecting software on to viewers’ PCs. It also been useful to the neo-KGB in placing Russians and foreigners well disposed to Russian propaganda themes into other media placements including CNN. These include not only on-camera talent but producers and technical people, but that’s another story for another day.

When guns are outlawed… Anglestan edition

mayor farmerIn far-off Anglestan, where guns are outlawed and everyone has moved on to the bright sunlit uplands of a gun free zone world, there’s always that 5% doesn’t get the word. For example, there’s the local politician who had the bad judgment to keep an empty old war trophy locked in a cupboard.

A Conservative former mayor and veteran army reservist has been dramatically arrested in an early-morning police raid and charged with owning a live 70-year-old Nazi wartime gun.

Officers with search dogs swooped on the home of Councillor Jonathan Farmer, 56, of Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, and seized a German Walther PPK pistol dating back to the Second World War.

Police said they were acting on a tip-off and had a warrant to search his home for firearms. He will appear in court next Monday and could face a five-year jail sentence if found guilty.

Farmer – whose wife Susanah is acting town clerk of Wisbech – has temporarily stepped down from helping to run the local army cadet force.

Yes, yes! You definitely don’t want a man with a gun involved with the local Army cadet force.

He told the Fenland Citizen: ‘It was given to me by a friend, mainly because his wife wanted it out of the house. I just kept it in a cupboard.

‘When he gave it to me, he said not to fire it because it had been deactivated. He said it would blow my hand off, so I never did and I assumed it was pretty safe.

‘But I suppose I shouldn’t have kept it. It was a sentimental thing – and it’s a beautiful piece of engineering. My life as it was has been pretty much eviscerated.’

The Walther PPK handgun was a gift to the bomb disposal expert from a British veteran of the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy in 1944.

The soldier took the deadly weapon, a much-treasured war souvenir, from a captured German officer, and Farmer – the former mayor of Wisbech – has owned it for 30 years.

Farmer was arrested on January 19, taken to a police station at Kings Lynn, Norfolk, and bailed.

Farmer served as mayor of Wisbech from 2008 to 2009 and is a member of both Tory-ruled Fenland District and Wisbech Town councils.

via Tory former mayor arrested ‘for owning a Nazi pistol from Second World given to him as a gift’ | Mail Online.

Now, to American ears, this British crusade against firearms of all kinds seems to be a bit excessive. At least they stopped doing it here after 1781, and what they do in their own backward little country is their own business, after all. But surely, this anti-gun policy, which has included a complete ban on handguns for almost 20 years, has had an effect in producing a crime free environment. Yes?

Well, there is this piece of evidence:

A man is in hospital after a ‘drive-by’ shooting where a gunman on a motorbike opened fire on a car as it crossed London’s Waterloo Bridge.

The motorbike is thought to have pulled up alongside a black Ford Focus before a pillion passenger – sitting behind the driver – shot the driver through the window.

Armed police were called to the scene and the victim, believed to be aged 22, was taken to hospital.

 (Of course the British journalists are just as careful about the facts as their American peers: a photograph accompanying the article shows a Ford Focus identified as the victim’s car. It’s white. Maybe the reporter suffers from rare black-white color blindness).


Farmer faces trial on April 22, and is looking at five years in prison (BBC version of the same story). Sebastian calls it “destruction of history,” and his comments noted that, appropriately enough for a Nazi gun, Farmer was turned in by a police informer, which is apparently a career option in modern Britain.

“Most Favoured by Terrorists and Insurgents”

sten_mk_IIThe following is the forward by Lieut. Gen. Sir Frank King KCB MBE, General Officer Commanding-In-Chief, Northern Ireland to FWA Hobart’s Pictorial History of the Sub-Machine Gun. The pictorial history dates to 1973, so it’s over 40 years old, and the submachinegun stood in a different place in history of the time. But Sir Frank’s take on it is quite idiosyncratic:

As a young officer I will remember the introduction of the first British Sub-Machine Gun – the Sten – to the British Army. It was heralded with especial ecstasy in many newly formed Battle Schools, by Senior Officers who extolled its easy production, cheapness, simplicity, and devastating firepower at short range. Indeed, there were many enthusiasts who described these advantages as decisive, and likely to change quickly the course of the war. This did not happen. The Germans possessed a similar weapon. And with its relatively short effective range the SMG became merely one of the family of arms required by infantry to cover the requirements of their particular battle field.

Notwithstanding this it had, and indeed it has, a very effective military role to play and deserves a high place in the gratings of usefulness of weapons. Above all, it is perhaps most favoured by terrorists and insurgents, particularly when operating in urban or jungle environments where its undoubted excellence as a short range and powerful destroyer is accentuated by the ease with which it can be produced or procured, concealed, distributed and used. it has deservedly earned an important place in the history of small arms

It may seem strange that the story of the Sub–Machine Gun should be related by a retired Gunner. Major Hobart saw through at an early age, the complex and at times almost ritualistic façade which obscures the relatively simple problems of field gunnery, and for many years now has devoted his considerable energy and enquiring mind to the more precise and intimate science that embraces small arms. There are few officers better suited or qualified for this task. He has produced a comprehensive, knowledgeable and authoritative history and his book must commend itself to every student of Infantry soldiers and of Small Arms design.

While the most famous 3rd-generation SMG is the UZI, the Czech Vz23-26 were arguably fielded first. This is a Vz26 (7.62x25, folding stock).

While the most famous 3rd-generation SMG is the UZI, the Czech Vz23-26 were arguably fielded first. This is a Vz26 (7.62×25, folding stock).

While we chuckled at the “terrorists and insurgents” remark, Sir Frank was on to something. For another ten or so years, terrorists very frequently appeared with submachine guns, with some favorites being the Uzi, the Vz. 61 Škorpion, and the older Czech Vz 23-26 series. But by 1973, these weapons were already on the way out, with the similarly compact but much more powerful AKM replacing them. and the fact of the matter is, insurgents are armed with whatever they can arm themselves with. The two principal sources of rhymes for insurgents are always external sponsorship, and internal battlefield recovery. In both cases the arms of the insurgents wind up looking a lot like the arms of armies; the armies of either their friends or enemies respectively.


An Olympic Note

…from John Richardson at No Lawyers, who looks back at the biathlon of 50 years ago, and sees a number of interesting firearms. In those days, he explains, biathlon was truer to its military roots: they had to shoot at ranges from 100 to 250m, five shots at each 50m increment. That pretty much compelled the use of a centerfire cartridge.

Finnish M-N M28-57

Then as now, biathlon was dominated by the Nordic nations, If you stretch the idea of Nordic to include snowbound Russia. Sweden made a number of interesting adaptations of its 6.5 x 55mm service rifles. The Soviet Union and Finland adapted the Mosin-Nagant, Finland in its native 7.62 x 54, and the USSR in a special 6.5 x 54mm caliber. The rifle shown above is a Finnish biathlon rifle of this period, built on an octagonal Mosin-Nagant receiver. You can see the Mo-Nag’s distinctive magazine just peeking out from the deep target stock.

Only in 1978 did the IOC change the rules to specify a rimfire rifle.


In 1962, or perhaps it was 1960, the Swedes came out with folding stock rifles. These were all based on military rifles; the most interesting of them was certainly the semi automatic Ljungman AG42 illustrated above, which has had its normal wooden stock replaced with the folding stock of an M45B “Carl Gustav” submachinegun. The folding stocks turned out not to be as important to the handling of a biathlete’s gun as the sling/harness, which has evolved into quite a trick piece of gear.

Despite their military routes, these rifles show just as much careful custom gunsmithing as the Anschutz and Izmash biathlon rifles of today. But 1960s athletes wouldn’t have been caught dead with sponsors’ bumper stickers on their rifles. If you’re interested in this remarkable era of biathlon in Olympiads past, take a look at John’s site, where he has a link-rich post and lots of photographs.


Imagine our surprise when we found that we, and Richardson, are not the only ones thinking of Biathlon history now. Ian McCollum (the guy behind Forgotten Weapons) has a great post on the history of the sport all the way back to its beginning as the Military Patrol team event in 1924, at The Firearm Blog. To Ian’s excellent story we’d only add that the Nordic countries continue to conduct military biathlons as training events. For example, one of the culminating exercises of the Norwegian Home Guard Ski School in Dombås is a 30 kilometer biathlon, with the service rifle (in our day, the AG3; from what we hear the Home Guard will be slow to follow the Army to the HK416, instead their AG3s have been updated with rails).

When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have bomb vests

suicide-bomber-schoolNo word on whether his last words were, “Pay attention, I’m only going to do this once.”

A group of Sunni militants attending a suicide bombing training class at a camp north of Baghdad were killed on Monday when their commander unwittingly conducted a demonstration with a belt that was packed with explosives, army and police officials said.

The militants belonged to a group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, which is fighting the Shiite-dominated army of the Iraqi government, mostly in Anbar Province. But they are also linked to bomb attacks elsewhere and other fighting that has thrown Iraq deeper into sectarian violence.

Twenty-two ISIS members were killed, and 15 were wounded, in the explosion at the camp, which is in a farming area in the northeastern province of Samara, according to the police and army officials. Stores of other explosive devices and heavy weapons were also kept there, the officials said.

Eight militants were arrested when they tried to escape, the officials said.

The militant who was conducting the training was not identified by name, but he was described by an Iraqi Army officer as a prolific recruiter who was “able to kill the bad guys for once.

via Suicide Bomb Instructor Accidentally Kills Iraqi Pupils –

Infidel! I keeeel you!

Infidel! I keeeel you!

By our math that’s 1560 or so virgins immediately required in the afterlife. Or maybe it’s goats — that translation has always been disputed.

Most young men are looking for a job with a future, so it’s puzzling that in some cultures old men can sell suicide as a career option. This is even more profoundly puzzling when you realize that the preachers of self-sacrifice never quite get around to signing up for it  These old men who, anyone can observe, extol the benefits of martyrdom without ever signing up for it themselves

Of course, some people (left) think this is not funny. But ’tis great sport to see the engineer hoist by his own petard.