For many years after World War II, the aircraft of the war were just, “old.” In the heady Jet Age, wartime transports still had economical utility, but the combat types were quickly left behind. They were relegated to duties as instructional airframes for novice mechanics (“learn riveting on this, it’ll never fly again so you can’t screw it up”) or stuck up on plinths as gate guards, showcasing the raw roots of the world’s newest military forces. And those were the survivors: the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of warplanes built for the war ended as scrap metal in the greedy furnaces of postwar industrial recovery. The combat life of a warplane might have been 25 to 100 hours during the war, and perhaps two years from variant introduction to obsolescence; but after the war, the pace of research and development didn’t let up, and the frontline jets of 1946 were outclassed by time of the Berlin Airlift of 1949.
This devastated the world supply of WWII combat types, and entire types became extinct. Even those most historic, most pleasant to fly, most likely to wind up as a rich man’s toy, were endangered species.
In the 1970s, this began to change, as a new appreciation for the old types led to recoveries and restorations. Now, there are more Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mustangs flying than there were ten years ago, or ten years before that, or ten years before that. Even “extinct” types like the Mitsubishi A6M2 “Type 0″ carrier fighter, and the Me 262 jet, have returned to the air. This is amazing, because while the Mustang, at least, was an industrial product whose documents are widely available, some of the others, especially the British and Japanese types, were more like machines that were “hand built in quantity,” and no two are quite the same. (The engineers of Packard Motor Car Corporation traveled to England’s Rolls-Royce plant to pick up a technical data package for the Merlin aircraft engine and see how the engines were built. They were appalled, and realized that they’d have to redesign the engine for modern industrial processes, which they then did very rapidly and so successfully that some marks of Spit were adapted to the American versions of Merlin engines).
One of the guys who was part of that early wave of Spitfire appreciation was John McVicar “Jack” Malloch, a former Spitfire pilot turned aviation entrepreneur in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, which declared independence as a republic in 1965. Soon after independence, the UN placed sanctions on the Rhodesian government, and Malloch became an imaginative and effective blockade runner and sanctions buster. (He’d already had experience of clandestine aviation during the Biafra War).
And he renewed his love affair with the Spitfire. He and his team of mechanics restored Griffon-powered Spitfire Mk22 PK350, which had last flown 26 years prior. The restoration took 2 1/2 years, and saw Malloch’s initials “JMM” used as the plane’s buzz codes. When Malloch took the first flight, in March 1980, he had done high-speed taxi testing of PK 350 and had flown lots of other aircraft for thousands of hours, including some pretty hairy combat aviation (outflying MiGs in four-motored transports at treetop level, among other things). But he hadn’t flown a Spitfire in 20 years himself.
This video was produced by former Rhodesians in the Zimbabwe Air Force in 1982, after the death of Malloch in a mishap in this very Spitfire. In fact, quite a few of the long scenes of him dodging into and out of clouds in the Spit were filmed on his fatal flight on 26 March 1982. As near as anyone can tell, he entered a thunderstorm which either disoriented him or so upset the aircraft that he could not recover. He was killed instantly in a high-speed impact with the ground. Nothing of PK350 was salvageable. To date, it remains the only fully evolved late (Griffon-powered, bubble-canopy) Spitfire to be restored to flight.
Not long after the video was made, Zimbabwean president-for-ever Robert Mugabe executed the first of several purges of the air force. Over the years since, it went from a force of unquestioned competence and doubtful loyalty to Mugabe’s person, to a force of laughable incompetence but unquestionable loyalty to the dictator. Rhodesia produced men like Jack Malloch; Zimbabwe never will.
The standount seller at the Rock Island Auction last week was the German FG42 Type II, lot number 1465. It blew through the estimate of $160-240k and was finally knocked down at $299,000. Here’s a picture (and it does embiggen).
That’s plus a buyer’s premium of 15 to 17.5% (low end is cash or wire transfer; high end, credit card). Here’s the other side for you to look at, assuming you were not the guy who took it home (or will take it home sometime in 2015 when ATF completes the Form 4) for a price higher than the average house in this country.
Here’s Ian from Forgotten Weapons running it down (video courtesy RIA).
The German words Ian is groping for at about 9 minutes are Einzelfeuer (single-fire; semi-auto) and Dauerfeuer (continuous fire; full-auto). The same words that lead to the S-E-D markings on a G3.
We would just add to Ian’s history (which is spot on) that German — and Allied — airborne forces in World War II were not just parachute forces. They also were power users of a weapon whose entire history was contained in the war and a couple of postwar years: the combat glider. This German para is in front of a DFS 230 glider (we think the picture is from the rescue of Mussolini at Gran Sasso, but it could be from the Balkans).
The glider had the signal advantage that it landed all the troops together, safely, with all their stuff. German paras particularly tended to put their stuff in bundles. The bundles hung under their Ju52 jump planes and dropped with color-coded chutes: your squad’s gear had a red chute, the other platoon had a green one, that sort of thing. The parachutes were not steerable and a German para could do little to prepare to land, as his chute made a single connection between his shoulder blades. His Parachute Landing Fall was, typically, knees->elbows->face. That’ll leave a mark, and it increased the appeal of gliders.
Apart from springing Il Duce, the most important glider ops were a strike on the Belgian fortress Eben Emael in May 1940, and an attack on the mountain hideout of Josip Broz “Tito” in 1944. The first used the same small DFS 230 gliders and was a great success. The Yugoslavian raid used larger gliders, but their quarry slipped away.
The FG42 did not have a very large effect on these combat operations, but it was just one advantage the German para tried to have on hand (in the later ops, obviously. In Belgium and Holland they had K98k rifles, and MP38s). But it remains an important part of the German paratroop legacy.
Here’s RIA’s write up:
This is just an exceptional example of a super rare late WWII Fallschirmajagergewehr FG 42 Paratrooper Rifle, with the original issue Luftwaffe marked ZF4 sniper scope and original mount. These rifles were exceptionally unique weapons that were developed by the German engineers that was way ahead of anything that the Allies had.
This rifle design married the concept of both the basic German infantry rifle with the fully automatic “light rifle” weapon, somewhat akin to our Browning BAR and later developed further by various countries in the post-War years. Some of the more notable weapon designs that used this concept were the FN/FAL and M14 rifles, which used a full sized rifle round in both the semi-automatic and fully automatic mode.
One of the most unique aspects of this weapon was that it fired from a “closed bolt” when shooting in the semi-automatic mode and an “open bolt” in the fully automatic mode, which aided in reducing cook-offs. Some of the other easily identified characteristics of this rifle are a horizontal 20 round box magazine, a “brass deflector” on the right rear side of the receiver, a permanently attached folding bipod, and folding front and rear sights.
These rifles were developed fairly late in WWII at the direction of Herman Goring and were specifically issued to only German Paratroopers. It is estimated that only appropriately 5000 were ever manufactured with most being destroyed after the war with very few surviving intact examples know today. This example is a mid-production Second Model that has the more horizontal grip with the bakelite grip panels and laminated buttstock and two piece wooden forend.
There is a typo in that last paragraph. This rifle, which is indeed a 2nd Model, has a more vertical grip than the 1st Model, which had metal grip surfaces.
This rifle is complete with an original WWII German “Luftwaffe” issued and marked ZF4 sniper scope, with the original scope mount/ring set. The scope is a standard ZF4 scope that has been marked with a large “L” on the left side signifying it for Luftwaffe issue. The top of the receiver of these rifles were specifically machined with a long dovetail type base designed to accept the two scope rings. The rings each have a single locking lever that allowed easy installation and removal of the scope depending on the specific combat scenario; general combat or in a limited sniping role.
The top of the receiver is marked: “fzs(the wartime code for the Krieghoff Company)/FG42/02314″. The left side of the scope is marked “Gw ZF4/57309/ddx (Voigtlander & Sohns)” with the large “L” signifying Luftwaffe issue following the standard markings. This wonderful light combat rifle has the late war green/gray phosphate finish on the receiver and barrel assembly with a blue/black painted finish on the lower trigger group/housing assembly. This exceptionally scarce rifle is complete with the original ribbed compensator on the end of the barrel which installs on the same muzzle threading as the included cup-style grenade launcher, the original folding bipod, spike bayonet and one original magazine.
Condition: Excellent with 97% plus of the original WWII combination phosphate/blue type finish with minor handling/firing wear. The scope and rings are also in excellent condition with 95% of their original finish. The wooden forend and buttstock are also in excellent condition with their nice original finish with minor handling marks from light use. A few English selector markings have been hand-added to the trigger group. Truly a super rare and very unique WWII FG 42 Paratrooper Rifle with all of the extremely rare accessories!
We’re guessing that the new owner will not be taking it to the range to blow off some Yugo 7.92 x 57 corrosive any time soon. We congratulate him on his purchase (and congratulate RIA on the ~$45k buyer’s premium, plus any sales commission, they’re getting for facilitating this sale).
This is an incredibly historic firearm, you see. While the FG42 didn’t change the course of a single battle in a long war, it did change the course of firearms history. The US Army Ordnance Branch became infatuated with it and copied it several ways, trying to simplify it and adapt the MG42 belt feed to the FG42 operating system and design. The result was the M60.
And the designers of the M60, if they ever knew, didn’t seem to take note of the strong resemblance the FG42 receiver, bolt, and operating rod have to those of an earlier weapon: the Lewis Gun. Our assumption is that Louis Stange, looking to make a light automatic weapon, chose the most successful light automatic weapon of World War I as his point of departure. (The FG has some Lewis DNA, but it’s a far cry from a monkey-see-monkey-do copy of its WWI ancestor. Stange added numerous features, including the innovative closed-bolt-semi, open-bolt-auto operating system).
NOTE: The preceding line originally described the operating system of the FG42 backwards. It has been corrected. Thanks to Chris W. in the comments for catching the error.
Other auction results are available in RIA’s writeup. This was a quite successful auction for them, with $11.9 million in sales.
Meet al-Hurayra al-Amriki, the last bit of which means “the American.” He blew himself up in an attack on the Syrian Army in Jebel al-Arba’een in Idlib Province on 25 May 14. (Al-Hurayra, “The one with the kitten,” was one of the companions of Mohammed; al-Qaeda’s glamor shot of his suicidal namesake shows him holding a kitten, presumably his love interest).
This long video, captured by the Middle East Media Research Institute, is his “martyrdom video,” the crude mohammedan imitation of the genteel Shinto tea and saki ceremony that saw the kamikazes off. The parallels are remarkable, notably the shallowness of awareness of the propaganda-soaked suicides. Our interest is not in his reasons, nor in his message — the first is shallow, juvenile angst and gang-identification, the death-seeking of a 22-year-old going on 16; the latter the empty boasting of a child-man about to die in futile service to a lost cause and cynical leaders — but in his means. If you skip ahead to about three minutes from the end, you’ll see what’s purported to be the VBIED that he used to make an attack on Syrian government forces, and film that purports to be the explosion that may or may not have injured the Syrians, but presumably was, as SVBIEDs always are, 100% effective in punching “Abu’s” ticket. Did he see the “smile of allah” he so wished for? We’re doubtful.
An ideology that tells you, “Blowing yourself to smithereens in the hopes you indiscriminately kill somebody, practically anybody, is the path to salvation,” may be bearing a message from a supernatural being, but it ain’t God.
As he tells us, he’s the spawn of an Arab palestinian man and an Italian-American woman. Well, this neckbearded numbskull is not the worst result ever of an airheaded broad getting her multiculti mandingo on; he’ll be a forgotten footnote to these decades of barbarism.
As he doesn’t tell us, his real name was Moner Mohammed Abu-Salha. He was from Vero Beach, Florida. His father carried a Jordanian passport; his mother converted to the religion of death and barbarism, and they raised their children — including two other boys and a girl — in the ways of Mohammedanism. The father was a grocer, but the family was improvident with money and lost their home to foreclosure. Yet they managed to find money for visits to the middle east.
Moner was a loser, suspended from high school for fighting, then dropping out. He obtained a ticket-punch GED from a “school” that specializes in that kind of thing, then stumbled through three different colleges, dropping out of each without measurable achievement.
The jihadis who launched this not-so-smart bomb were smart enough to avoid any opsec violations that tell us much about the bomb and its triggering device(s). It is customary to have multiple initiators: a command initiator for the splodydope himself to pull, a remote initiator for the commanders to use if the splodydope loses his nerve or is disabled, and a dead-man switch. Judging from the fireball, there was a lot of low-grade explosive in the truck, probably a mix of ANFO and fillings melted out of ordnance (or complete shells if they were in a hurry). Other jihadi social media postings have suggested that the truck contained 17 tons of explosive, primarily artillery shells.
The vehicle is a commercial dump truck, crudely armored. It’s a good choice as it has plenty of power and a very strong frame, just the ticket for carrying the explosives and the armor. The armor appears to be mild steel plate, little respected by armor buffs, but wait… what are the steel targets at your range made out of? Exactly. This thing isn’t a tank designed to go into combat, fight, disengage and then go back later, keeping the crew safe: it’s designed to go into combat and keep the crewman alive long enough for him to trip the bang switch, or to get close enough to the enemy for his ever-helpful masters to trip the switch for him.
(These masters are surely going to shaheed themselves, surely, one of these days, just not right now).
The armor, then, is meant merely to delay the vehicle’s penetration. In front of the main front armor plate, there is an additional flat front plate, and a sort of cow-catcher plow to remove road obstacles. The heavy armor on the front indicates that they intended a straight, direct assault against their objective.
This second shot of the cow-catcher was taken as the vehicle drove off to perdition. The bags may contain explosives. The cow-catcher was rather high, probably in order to clear the unimproved roads where the vehicle started out. It appears to be welded in place. The cow-catcher also adds to the protection of the vehicle’s powerplant; a mobility kill is a mission kill against a VBIED.
The flags are those of the al-Nusra Front, one of the al-Qaeda-associated jihadi groups fighting against Bashar al-Assad. After literally years of American dithering, there are no significant anti-Assad groups left that are not also anti-American. Arming Syrian rebels now means arming American enemies. Naturally, Washington is all for it.
Visibility from inside the vehicle was poor straight ahead. The driver had a small window in the armor plate in front of him, and an even smaller one in the vertical armor plate in front of that. Standoff between the two plates provides some protection from RPGs as well. Jihadi slogans and Koran quotes painted in the cab bolster his will.
There was no armor visible on the side of the cab.
The nose was not the only vital part of the VBIED to be armored. Jihadi welders added plate to the rear wheel area and the fuel tanks, and armored the tires with big disks attached to the lug nuts. It’s impossible to tell if the steel plate alongside the nose end of the dump body is armor or trim. (The part that is forward of the slanted front of the dump body).
We are not sure what make of truck this is. We have ruled out most of the Japanese brands, Mercedes, Magirus, Renault, and Kamaz. Any ideas?
The armor shows that the enemy is a learning enemy, even if his splodydopes themselves can’t pass on their lessons learned. It’s a far cry from the SVBIED of ten years ago, which was a couple of 155 rounds in the trunk of a taxi driven by some martyrdom wannabe. But it’s not invulnerable.
Vulnerabilities of this kind of SVBIED include antitank weapons and enfilading fire. Accurate .50 M2HB or DShK fire would also be effective, even from dead ahead. If you’re operating in SVBIED country, you want to have flanking outposts on your high-speed avenues of approach, able to light up the cab of your would-be al-Jazeera star from the side. You need them on both sides, and they need aiming stakes so that they know to check fire when their fire would otherwise fall on the opposite outpost. (The enemy will be trying hard enough to kill you. Don’t do his work for him).
That an attack like this is still effective over 30 years after they did it to the USMC in Beirut shows that the attack, while easily frustrated by effective fire, can often be executed in the time it takes defenders to shake off the cobwebs. Also, too many gate posts are expected to stop an attack with a rifle or a rifle-caliber light machine gun; what happens when the attack looks like this? We’ll tell you what: your gate can’t stop the attack, not in time. Give them something that can hit a moving tank and turn it to slag… and give them no-hesitation ROE. (The enemy will probe your ROE with unarmed civilian vehicles, and then go all lawfare on you if you smoke ‘em. Smoke ‘em anyway. You’ll have sent some jihadi impersonating a civilian to the martyrdom he seeks, and your guys will not go to the martyrdom they most definitely aren’t seeking — win all round.
(You need a .mkv video player to play this. We recommend VLC).
The TSR-2 had planned capabilities than nothing in RAF service quite matches today. These inclue a design speed of Mach 1.1 at 200 feet, and Mach 2 at altitude, with a combat radius of over 1,000 nautical miles. It was designed for nuclear and conventional strikes. It had a precision strike capability 10 to 20 years ahead of the US’s developments in that genre, including capability to deliver television-guided smart weapons. It had modular reconnaissance capability, including live datalink. It was, militarily speaking, a revolution in the air.
So why did it die so early, and so hard? What killed the TSR-2?
British politics, in part. It became a football contested by the Labor and Conservative parties of the time, not on its merits but as a way to score points on the other side. It didn’t help that the plane was designed with a potential war with the USSR in mind, and Harold Wilson just couldn’t see the Soviet Union as an enemy.
Galactically bad judgment by British MOD and parliamentary leaders, going back to Sir Duncan Sandys (pronounced “Sands”) and his 1957 Defence White Paper which concluded that the manned aircraft was obsolete, and Britain henceforth would place its faith entirely in missiles and other robotic systems. Was this decision the dumbest in the history of air war — dumber than Hitler’s 1942 decision not to produce jet fighters? Unlike Hitler, Sandys was a man of generally good judgment; he had been deeply involved in the nation-saving development of Radar, and many other British technical coups of WWII. But unlike England, Germany’s aeronautical industry recovered (until pan-European consolidation, but that’s another complaint). The British leaders who actually killed off the jet, Secretary of State for Defence Denis Healey and Minister of Aviation Roy Jenkins (who later, as Home Secretary, would do his best to decriminalize crime),
Britain’s Soviet-inspired postwar industrial policy, which relied on central planning and forced consolidations in the thriving and innovative British aeronautical industry. (The one holdout against forced consolidation, Handley-Page, was forced into bankruptcy instead, and the planners counted this a victory). Thousands of aeronautical engineers and tens of thousands of skilled workers lost their jobs (perhaps a third to a half of them found new jobs in Canada or the USA. The guys who went to Canada wound up in the USA when Canada had a similar brainstroke vis-a-vis the CF-105).
The inability of the consolidated firms, wracked by personnel turbulence and culture clashes, to perform at the level of the previous, private industry. This led to the actual TSR.2 failing to meet many of its optimistic performance goals.
Further bad judgment in assigning responsibility, which left the stumbling Vickers firm (descendant, in part, of Hiram Maxim’s machine gun enterprise) in charge over the capable, proven (they designed and built the successful Canberra and Lightning jets), team from English Electric.
Still further bad judgment, in the political assignment of the untried Bristol Olympus design. All the delays, and most of the cost overruns, came from the immaturity of this powerplant.
Even further bad judgment, in making the subcontractors report to the Ministry, rather than to the prime contractor, which had no control whatsoever. This was symptomatic of Ministry micromanagement, which included delaying the project so that non-pilots could haggle over the position and labeling of instruments and switches.
Failure to plan for the normal problems found between drafting board and first flight, including engines that fell short of spec and weight gain. This left the design team and the MOD managers facing new decisions, one option of which was always to cancel the whole project.
In the end, they canceled the TSR.2, and they scrapped, burned, and shot up the airframes, tools and tooling, and burnt and shredded most of the paperwork, to make sure it did not rise from the dead to embarrass Whitehall. They also ordered that the scrapping and burning be as well publicized as possible — the broke British government managed to film the arson with color film.
And when they canceled the plane, they initially required industrial managers to keep the decision secret from their own, doomed-to-layoffs, workforces.
Why were these extreme measures taken? As with other instances where this has happened, like the cancellation of the Avro Arrow CF-105 in Canada, and the cancellation for further Republic F-105 Thunderchief acquisitions in the USA in favor of the on-paper TFX, the decisionmakers probably knew that they were screwing up. Hence, the seemingly vindictive destruction of the ability to reverse the decision — a reversal which might ding the decision-maker’s “legacy.”
Healey and Jenkins, the only men who could have issued these orders of vandalism, have made pro-forma denials ever since the initial British public reaction to the cancellation and destruction of the TSR turned out to be negative. Neither is a man of any particular demonstrated integrity (quite the contrary), but it’s anyone’s guess whether the vandal was one or both. They also canceled the nascent Harrier project (then called P.1154) on the grounds it would never fly, and canceled a transport plane. Healey would scrap new (and renewed) aircraft carriers and preside over the greatest unilateral disarmament of an undefeated nation in world history.
Had Denis Healey been in the pay of the KGB he could have done no more damage to British defense policy and strength. (The same is true of Jenkins; his junior position meant he could do less damage than Healey). The TSR cancellation, especially when coupled with the many other cancellations that came out of the 1964 Labour government, fundamentally ended a half-century of British aeronautical industry leadership, and ultimately led to the near-dissolution of the British aerospace industry.
The TSR.2 cancellation continues to have repercussions. Britain and its European defense partners are looking for a replacement for the aging Panavia Tornado jet. Rumor is they’re looking for a plane that’s supersonic on the deck, and with a 1000 nautical mile radius of action….
This footage survives because it was documenting something thought remarkable at the time — entire ordnance factories operated mostly by women. But if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may be more interested in what these British ladies are doing in the Royal Ordnance Factory at Enfield: manufacturing STEN Mk II submachine guns.
The guns and their near-cottage-industry manufacturing processes are both interesting. The guns are clearly Mk. IIs, but there appear to be two variants of the tee stock — perhaps the film crew was there at the exact moment of a running change, or perhaps the stocks came in from subcontractors and a degree of variation in appearance was the norm.
The industrial processes in use include some automatic rifling machines, but it looks like a lot of manual labor went into a STEN. It was only the el cheapo gun of legend because these ladies of Enfield were getting paid such token sums. In the short video, you’ll see brazing, welding, and hand-riveting with a hammer. There has to be a video somewhere of Guide Lamp cranking out Grease Guns, and you can imagine the automotive industry process engineers shaking their heads if they saw how a STEN went together.
Some men work in the plant, too, but the original filmmaker’s focus was on the women. Men have had held some jobs exclusively, including test-firing completed STENs, but women are doing a lot of things that they’d never have applied themselves to pre-1939. After the war, it was no longer unprecedented for women to work outside the home, even in industrial crafts, and England (and the world) never reverted to the status quo ante.
As a bonus, in keeping with the theme of women in war production, here’s a film about how they did it at the Willow Run B-24 plant (Ypsilanti, MI).
In Part 1, we describe the pistol and the principles of troubleshooting it. In Part 2, we do some mechanical training with the firearm, and learn something’s not right about it. What? Read on.
Kid’s Naïve Observations of Luger Design
It was interesting and rewarding to see how this firearm looked through a new set of eyes, coming to it with no preconceptions. In the first place, he was amazed at some of the good features of the design, considering that the gun he held in his hands was quite literally 100 years old. Georg Luger’s design has a nearly perfect grip angle, is practically compact and well-balanced, points naturally in large hands or small, and its important controls fall near enough to hand. The magazine release is of a type that Browning also used, and that has become the modern standard: the push-button set where the bow of the trigger guard joins the magazine well. True, the safety is awkwardly placed for single-handed operation. But contrary to the practice on a range, a military pistol in the field in those days was generally left on safe until combat is joined, and only taken off safe on emerging from the other end of the dark tunnel of combat alive.
Many Luger features would become standards, such as the clearly labeled safety (which says”Gesichert,” or “safe,” when activated) and the loaded chamber indicator which has visual and tactile signals of a loaded firearm. These were both novelties in 1900, when the first Lugers began to be noticed worldwide. (Luger the man had been working on improving the Borchardt action since 1895 or so).
Kid made no comments about the weapon’s secondary weakness, its sights. We expect those will come when we get the range renewal unscrewed.
But he did zero in on the gun’s achilles’s heel: its complexity. He marveled at the design decisions Georg Luger made, many of which seemed to complicate the firearm. Not knowing, yet, the Borchardt and the Luger’s prototype history, he’s in the dark about just how evolved the Luger really was. Every single change from the Borchardt to the P.08 made a gun that was more compact, more reliable, easier (although not easy) to manufacture, and better suited to the rigors of military service. The Borchardt today is a collector’s item because of its position in history, which was largely assured by the Luger, and by its rarity, which resulted, frankly, from all its problems as a practical pistol. (Remember the buyer of a Borchardt wasn’t operating in a vacuum — even on its introduction in 1893, he had many less expensive, more robust, well-proven revolvers to choose instead, and in a few years he had Mauser’s C96 as an autopistol alternative). The Luger is a collectors’ itembecause of its position in history, and despite its mass production and the survival of many thousands of examples.
But there is something Heath Robinson about the Luger’s intricate toggle, about the way its mainspring works through a system of levers and a bellcrank, about its very indirect trigger mechanism. Let’s describe that, so you get a feel for it:
The trigger moves the short arm of a lever that pivots on an axis parallel to the bore down, which moves the long arm of the lever in towards the lateral centerline of the pistol. The bearing surface of that long arm presses on a spring-loaded pin that protrudes from the nose of the sear, which is pivoted at its center on a pin arranged vertically. If the safety is on, i.e., gesichert, the sear is blocked from pivoting. If the safety is not on, the nose of the sear pivots in towards the centerline, and the tail of the sear pivots out, disengaging the bearing surface of the sear from the engagement lug on the firing pin, and releasing the firing pin to race forward under the power of its spring.
After the weapon fires, the slide and toggle recoil together until the mechanical advantage of the toggle is broken by contact with the frame’s opening ramp. As the toggle opens, a protrusion on its nose withdraws the firing pin, recompressing the spring. The spring-loaded pin in the nose of the sear acts as the disconnector.
Hey, don’t feel bad if you can’t visualize it from that. Just visualize it from this:
Yes, that’s an awesome animation. Here’s another one by the same guy. They’re over with pretty quick, so you may want to play them a few times:
There are a number of other animated Lugers out there on YouTube, thanks to the engineering drawings of the gun long having been available. (Hey, SolidConcepts, 3D Print that!).
Simple Takedown — and a Discovery
As anyone who’s handled one extensively knows, the Luger is pretty easy to take down and field strips with no tools into six mostly good-sized parts: barrel & slide unit; toggle assembly; toggle pin (best reinserted in the toggle or slide immediately, when disassembling in the field, as this is the smallest part); frame; sideplate assembly; and magazine. Assembly can be more difficult; as aircraft mechanics say, it comes apart a thousand ways, and there’s a thousand ways to put it together, but only one of those thousand methods of assembly is right. In particular, it can be tricky to get the “handlebars of the trapeze” (part 9 in the illustration below) caught just right under the “hands of the acrobat” (the bellcrank, part 23 in the illustration below).
In time, though, Kid mastered it and was happily assembling and disassembling the Luger. He knows that if you want to learn how to do something, the best way by far is by doing it — by drill. (This is part of why so many colleges do better at producing athletes than thinkers: the coaches, unlike the professors, have not lost sight of the utility of drill in human education).
(Aside: it’s amazing how the human mind works. Kid is bright, but badly dyslexic. He struggles to read, which is a challenge he’ll face all his life — they teach him some coping mechanisms, but we can’t just hand him the Sturgess book and say, “Study this.” Yet he instantly grasps the purpose and orientation of each part, and while there’s something awry in the part of his mind that tells “W” from “V”, he can look at a Luger part a year from now and say, “oh, that’s a Luger toggle pin” without the slightest difficulty, or identify a Smith from a Colt by its shape — the same shapes that bedevil him when trying to turn them into words. Hell of a thing).
Then, disaster struck. Or at least that’s what it looked like on his face. “It won’t come out!” After several frantic attempts to remove the toggle pin (part 20 in the illustration), he reluctantly handed the gun over. Didn’t want to give up. We almost hated to show him up.
But — we couldn’t get it out, either. The Luger had come apart normally. Then it went together — normally. Several times. All was copacetic. But now, it wouldn’t come apart at all. After attempting to do it with fingers, and to do it with inertia (swinging the gun by the barrel, landing a light tap on an upholstered chair arm, which should have sent the toggle pin flying), we looked around for a non-marring tool and tried the cap of a Sharpie. No joy. We actually broke the cap of the Sharpie. Ruh-roh.
OK, lets get serious. Support the receiver, orient the flanged end of the pin down, line up an unsharpened pencil (serving as a dowel) on the opposite end, and whack it.
Whack it with a mallet.
Still no joy. Even swearing at it in its native German isn’t helping. That sucker isn’t coming out. We’ve come as far as we can in the living room. (What, there are no mallets in your living room?)
Kid has a sick “I broke it” look on his face. But he didn’t; he didn’t do anything wrong. We tell him this. He does not believe, and still looks stricken.
Down to the machine shop. Teachable moment about wood in vise jaws, when to use soft and hard wood, when to use rubber (“Ah, that’s why you don’t throw away inner tubes from the bikes but bring them down here”). Teachable moment on shop philosophy. “Don’t be Bubba, we’re only custodians of these guns during our short lives on earth.” Align pin with the lasers on the drill press. (One excellent feature on an otherwise el cheapo press). Insert a dowel in the chuck and press the pin out.
We could have done it with the big press, but there’s a bunch of stuff piled on that, so we bent the “right tool for the right job” rule a little bit, but didn’t bend the Luger, which is the important thing.
One gentle cycle of the downfeed lever, and out it comes. Mechanical advantage FTW.
Minute eyeball examination of the pin. Nothing the least bit unusual about it. Nothing unusual in the holes in the receiver or toggle. A quick look with some measuring tools found nothing out of alignment (despite the bozo stunt with the chair arm).
Luger parts tend to be a very tight fit and the toggle pin is no exception. (When it is in place in the receiver, the line that separate the two is barely visible to the naked eye).
Placing the pin in the receiver and rotating it gave us our first clue: there was one point in its 360º travel where it froze up. Either the pin, or the holes, is out of round enough to be dragging, both in rotation and in attempts to withdraw the pin. Force-rotate it away from the “sticky” spot and it slides right out.
Could this intermittently sticky toggle pin be responsible for our maddeningly intermittent failures to feed in the Artillery Luger? What’s causing it, and how do we fix it without leaving Bubba prints for some future gun blogger to mock us for?
Looks like there’s going to be a Part 3. Sorry about that!
These two scanned stories about Britain’s hollow armed forces came from a retired senior special operations officer. He points out that this not only represents the reality of Britain’s weakened defenses today after decades of cuts, but that these stories could have been describing the defenses of the US during their 20th Century period of neglect between the wars — and they could be describing the future of US defense, given the rate at which were making cuts now.
ITEM: Land forces? No tanks.
There’s no typo in that. We’re just noting that the last time Britain had this few operational tanks was probably in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Cambrai in 1916. When the Kaiser’s boys had taken possession of ‘em and were trying to figure ‘em out.
To our correspondent’s commentary, we’d add only that no one ever started a war because he thought the object of his attack was too strong. Defense spending doesn’t cause wars. Weakness, on the other hand, is an invitation to war. And this looks like weakness to us:
The basic problem facing the cousins is this: you can either have a welfare state for your aging, soon-to-be-declining population, or you can have sufficient armed forces to guarantee national sovereignty. Pick one. (Note well, that in the absence of sufficient armed forces, your welfare state survives at the forbearance of your enemies).
And while we’re picking on the cousins here, our own unilateral disarmament may be behind theirs, but it’s on the same track.
ITEM: No Sailors Please, We’re British
But if the status of the British Army is weak, take a look at the Navy. We have compared the Royal Navy’s current status to its relative strength at the time of the Falklands War in the Spring of 1982 before, but this graphically makes the point. In the usual budget-cutting “do more with less… on the backs of the personnel” spirit, the RN’s reaction to not enough ships is to flog both the ships and their crews harder, with deployments now going nine months.
Our correspondent notes that the Royal Navy’s end strength is about 2/3 that of the United States Coast Guard. But the real problem is human capital: the navy’s smaller shipwise, from 85 to 34 major combatants in 30 years, but it’s so much smaller in headcount that it can’t fully crew its 34 remaining ships.
The story notes one positive development. PM David Cameron has called for commissioning a carrier into service that his Conservative party had previously slated for mothballing. Where the RN will get the officers and seamen to crew the ship up is another question. But as the story notes, the longer deployments and declining budgets are driving people out at an increasing rate, and the crews for the carriers will have to come from somewhere, perhaps causing other shortages.
The Artillery Luger has been troubling us with unreliability lately, and Kid really wants to shoot it. So we have to trouble-shoot it first, and with Lugers that seems to be equal parts art, science, and Santeria. (Of the Germanic, Vulcan-logic variety, of course). We don’t think this thing will be cured with a single laying-on of hands and in a single post, but we try nonetheless. Not our hands, at least, and if we will pray for something from His hands, we’ll save that prayer for something bigger than a troublesome toggle.
File photo (source unknown) of an LP.08
(Note: we’re having trouble loading images this morning. Please stand by).
So, “Was für ein Zeug ist das?” (“What is that.. thing?” — range question)
First, let’s say a few words about what an Artillery Luger is. It was really the first Personal Defense Weapon, to use modern terminology, of the automatic-weapons era. The Germans never called it an “Artillery Luger,” by the way; they called it, with classically Teutonic lyricism, a Lange Pistole 08 or Long Pistol of 1908. The pistol had a roughly 8-inch barrel, a rear sight modeled on that of a Mauser rifle with a wildly optimistic 800-yard gradient on it, and a number of other unique parts that appear at first glance to be ordinary P.08 parts but aren’t. (One suspects that they The LP.08 also was issued with some notable accessories, including, on a 1:1 basis, a holster that was backed by a board that formed a detachable shoulder stock, making the weapon a handy carbine. The holster rig includes a shoulder strap and a pouch for two spare magazines — after 100 years, surviving holsters tend to be dry, brittle, and sometimes shrunken. The other accessory that truly completes this pre-James Bond rig is the 32-round “snail drum” magazine, which, to quibble, isn’t a true drum like that of the TSMG or PPSh, but more a coiled stick magazine. In this case, the misnomer is German in origin: they called it the Trommelmagazin 08.
“Artillery Luger with Snail Drum” is how it’s known today, andeveryone will know what you’re talking about.
The magazine and stock will fit on most Lugers, but the ATF only exempts the Artillery and Naval Lugers (and a few even rarer variants) from NFA. Attaching the stock to an ordinary P.08 is a rather serious NFA violation, “Manufacturing a short-barreled rifle,” and ATF would rather pursue that against you than try to, say, interdict instead of facilitate Mexican cartels’ gun supplies. (Cheer up: they once expected Luger owners to register the guns under NFA, or grind the stock lugs off, so on this, they’ve actually improved in the last sixty years or so). The last time an Artillery Luger was used in a crime is not recorded.
(Without the stock, the magazine merely adds weight and complicates the balance of a Luger. We’d guess that everyone in the very small minority of owners of these guns that actually shoots them tries it like that once, just to be gangsta, with nobody watching. “Look at me, I have a drum mag in my pistol, eat lead, target!” And then never does it again, because it’s murder to hit anything like that, and nothing takes the joy out of shooting as fast as missing does).
Starting in 1914 these long Lugers were issued as rifle replacements to soldiers who needed a weapon only for short-range self-defense. The first of these were the German Imperial artillery units, and that’s what gave this pistol its common name. By war’s end they were used by the first Storm Troops, small, heavily-armed units trained and equipped for rapid, mobile warfare in the trench environment, as well as their usual PDW employment. After the war, a number remained in Weimar military and police use (these will be marked with “1920” over the original date in the chamber area of the slide). A number came back to the USA as war trophies, and many more were imported and sold. Prior to 1968, the imports didn’t have to be marked by the importer, so most Artillery Lugers in the USA lack any import markings.
While Lugers were manufactured in modern factories for the time, they are a complicated and intricate mechanism, and almost all metal-on-metal interfaces on the Luger were hand-fitted. Some parts, such as the trigger mechanism, were extensively hand-fitted. This means that on a non-matching gun, you’re at the mercy of the smith who swapped the parts in the first place. Well, you hope it was a smith; if it was just a drop-in of mismatched parts, there’s still gunsmithing ahead to make the Luger run. On some guns, “matching parts” is of concern only to collectors, but on a Luger they’re a signal flag that the gun was, at one time, anyway, carefully hand-fitted.
Our copy is matching, but was long ago professionally reblued (although not a restoration), erasing much of its collector value. However, we’re less Luger snobs than Luger fans who like to shoot the Heath Robinson things, and for us it’s always been a reliable shooter — until recently. Recently it’s gotten a bit truculent about cycling.
On to Troubleshooting
There are four FIrst Things in Luger troubleshooting:
All Lugers are picky about ammunition. It was designed to work with a single cartridge, and it needs something pretty close to the original. Forget about modern bullet shapes, Georg’s design wants round nose or truncated-cone FMJ, period. (Yes, we have seen attempts at Luger feed-ramp polishing by Dremel-wielding Bubbas, and it put us in mind of the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept). It also wants good levels of chamber pressure: we’d recommend NATO 9mm over commercial SAAMI 9mm, which is a bit downloaded because of interwar rumors of feeble 9mm firearms (maybe due to some unfortunate wretch breaking a 9mm Parabellum in a Glisenti). However, we’d not recommend +P or +P+ ammunition in anything that was made when all Europe was ruled by kings. Which brings us to:
All Lugers are old, and all of these particular models are 97-100 years old. Fortunately, they are made of good alloy steel, and the sort of steel they are made of is not subject to gradual weakening due to fatigue, or at least, is far less subject to it than nonferrous metals. Absent overstress, a Luger’s parts will never give out. Absent wear, they’ll always fit together right (which means lubrication is your special friend if you want to shoot one a lot). Absent corrosion, their steel parts should be strong as they were on Day 1, metallurgy of steels being what it is, but the springs may have weakened from age or overuse.
As in every auto pistol, the magazine is a potential single point of failure. The Luger mag is incredibly well-designed from a functioning standpoint and is not much given to crapping out, but it can be damaged by abuse, and as #2 says, the originals are all a century or so old. P.08 mags were made up to the arrival of T-34s and Shermans atop the factories, and after the war have been made by various third parties. Aftermarket magazines are hit and miss; original magazines are superior (but expensive), if not cracked or broken.
The system is complex and there are a number of places where unwelcome friction can mess up the gun’s cycle and timing. So seeking and reducing that friction can help.
And of course, the gunsmith’s version of the Hippocratic principle (“First, do no harm”) is always in mind. We try to do the minimum to the gun and avoid permanent or hard-to-reverse alterations. Because, Bubba. And the Weaponsman Principle (“Don’t be that guy.”)
It’s many things, but a Luger is not simple. This is the standard Pistole 08.
With those principles and constraints in mind, first we tried the good old GI method: how much lubricant can a firearm absorb and not be too slippery to grip? Then we wound up having an adventure simply going to the range. Turns out, Ye Olde Weaponsman’s membership in this range had lapsed. (Guns are our thing. Paperwork, not so much). Then, the old SS chose to give up its GhoSSt on the way home. Basic troubleshooting availed us not, so AAA sent a ramp truck for the last half mile, and our local carsmith is hooked it out of here yesterday. Oy. So we don’t know yet if the drench-it school of lube has made Old Unfaithful faithful again.
We kind of think not; that would be Too Easy, although the fact that the gun worked until recently suggests that it’s failing because something changed, and level and viscosity of oils is something that’s constantly changing.
So, for the time being, we went to Plan B, which is to do some mechanical training on the Luger, and look for anything anomalous (we had found nothing on the pre-range inspection). We recall thinking, “this will not end well,” but we dismissed the thought and did not go get the mismatched beater Luger instead. And we walked Kid through the intricacies of assembling and disassembling the Luger, with no more trouble than the occasional Luger part imprinting itself on the hardwood floors. He is the only kid in his high school with hands-on time with an Artillery Luger, he thinks, and he’d be the envy of all his friends if he talked about the guns we have at home, which he does not.
And at this point, we’re going to wrap for the morning, in order to get on to other things. But Kid did find an anomaly in the Luger that caused some intermittent friction. To be continued!
While the US is bumbling around, with the executive branch unable to recognize much beyond the fact that it is a problem and that we do have utterly no strategy whatsoever, our long-time key European Continental ally, Germany, is acting decisively to provide useful and practical weapons to the front lines of Western civilization: the Kurdish Pesh Merga warriors.
Arguing that fighting extremism in Iraq is defending Germany as far forward as possible, Chancellor Angela Merkel called for the provision of the weapons, not in lieu of diplomacy — “No conflict can be solved solely militarily,” she said — but because without a strengthening of the friendlies’ military situation, there will be no diplomatic option. Thst occasioned by the collapse of the Iraqi state and the growth of ISIL threatens the stability of Europe — and Germany — too. German military forces, which once staffed a Provincial Reconstruction Team and some specialist elements in Afghanistan, have long since come home, but Germany can send both obsolete and modern weapons — and is doing so. The German parliament, the Bundestag, has approved the initiative.
The first tranche of supplies, already on the way, includes 4,000 obsolete G3 rifles and a million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition. The list of the supplies made available by Germany includes:
8,000 obsolete G3 7.62mm rifles
8,000 current G36 5.56mm rifles with optics
40 obsolete MG3 (aka MG42) 7.62mm machine guns.
200 Panzerfaust 3 anti-tank recoilless weapons aiming units, with 2500 reloads (self-contained launcher tube with warhead, rocket, and countermass).
40 “heavy Panzerfausts” (possibly MATADORs).
30 MILAN ATGM launchers with 500 rockets.
8,000 obsolete P1 (Walther P.38) pistols.
10,000 hand grenades.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these weapons, apart from the fact that they’re new to the Kurds, and the operators will require training. Where that will come from is not entirely clear.
The most interesting of these weapons may be the elderly MILAN, an anti-tank weapon operated by a two-man crew. This is the European analog to (and contemporary of) the TOW missile, a second-generation ATGM that uses SACLOS (semi-automatic command to line-of-sight) guidance by wire, an improvement over first-gen joystick-guided missiles like the SS-11 and Sagger. With SACLOS, the gunner keeps the optic’s aiming point centered on the intended point of aim, and a computerized brain transmits control impulses to the missile through fine wires that trail out behind the missile. It is made by a Franco-German consortium, Euromissile; its name is a French acronym that forms a word: Missile d’Infanterie Léger Antichar, or light antitank missile; “milan” means a kite (bird of prey related to a falcon) in French. It has a range of 1 to 3 kilometers and a shaped-charge warhead of 103 to 115mm calibre, capable of defeating modern MBTs.
The missile looks a bit weird when you fire it, as the tube goes backwards even as the rocket goes forward. Here’s a shot of that in training (French MOD photo), showing the rocket, sight unit, and tube a moment after firing:
This is the MILAN gunner’s load, again from the French Army. The aiming unit is camouflaged with NATO standard camo netting:
And this is the a/gunner and his loadout. The German rig differs in detail; a German a/gunner would have a G36 and probably no rifle grenades, for instance. How the Pesh Merga will use it remains to be seen, but Mrs Merkel has complicated life for the inhabitants of ISIL’s stolen T-55s and Abramses, at least.
MILAN is also an effective bunker-buster (albeit an expensive one) and its baptism of combat was in this application, during the Falklands war of 1982.
In addition to the lethal weaponry, the Germans are providing off-road and armored vehicles, and one tank transporter. Other Western nations are also promising arms.
Merkel’s political opponents (both outside her government and inside her “grand coalition”) note that by handing these weapons to the Kurds, the Germans will cede operational control of them and risk having them turn up in black markets and in terrorist hands.
While Germany is sending weapons, not troops, it’s not exactly true that no Germans are engaged. As many as 400 nominally-German Moslems have traveled to the region to join ISIL.
Beretta presented a novel smart-gun concept at a recent defense expo overseas, which they called iProtect. This video shows how it works, using an RF-enabled gun with multiple sensors.
Here’s another video, with Beretta executive explaining how the gun works with the Robocop t-shirt.
You don’t have to be Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden to be a little creeped out by that.
Supposedly, the Beretta technology provides comprehensive surveillance but not control of the firearm, at least at this time. One consequence of that is that it is fail-safe: if the central office drops off the net (anyone remember the first responder commo chaos of 9/11?) the nifty features don’t work, but the gun just reverts to being a plain-vanilla PX4 Storm. This PX4i is, in fact, a PX4 with some minituarized sensors deployed in it:
Many gun vendors and writers are appalled by this idea, but the iProtect needs to be understood, both in terms of its intended niche, and its likelihood of succeeding there. Neither indicates that Beretta intends (or has produced) a threat to civilian gun owners with this technology. More realistically, this is a technology demonstration for future potential developments in law enforcement and military weapons, rather than a practical product in 2014.
Here’s Beretta’s brochure on the technology, to give you more depth than is available in the videos, although the videos are probably a better overview of this complex and interdependent system.
Although the concept of a “smart gun” or “personalized gun” has received public attention recently, we believe that careful consideration has not been given to potentially dangerous risks associated with these concepts. In our opinion, such technology is undeveloped and unproven. In addition, Beretta strongly believes that “smart gun” technology or “personalized” guns (hereinafter also referred to as “smart gun” technology) could actually increase the number of fatal accidents involving handguns.
But that was then, this is now.
Back in the bad old 90s, the anti-gun Clinton administration and their allies in Congress and in state legislatures were pushing hard for smart guns as a means to disarm citizens and centrally control armed police. (Some officials then and now believe that cops should lock their guns in a station arms room at shift’s end, and a few PDs actually do this). The policymakers pushing this saw technology in the automotive and computer worlds (we dunno, like the chip-in-the-key in our ’89 Corvette that used to occasionally turn on the alarm for no particular reason? that they imagined would adapt to guns, no problem. They disregarded many things, like the different volumetric envelope in a car and a gun, and made no bones about their nominal “safetyt” push really being all about citizen disarmament. A key problem with the high-tech push was that politicians have never successfully scheduled an inventiuon in the past, and they didn’t this time, either. By the time quasi-working “smart guns” were going bang six times out of ten, the would-be launch customers — various anti-gun officials of the Clinton Administration — had moved on to K Street at the change of administrations.
SIG’s late-90s entry, the SIG P229 EPLS, illustrated some of the problems with these arms. To be set to fire, a PIN had to be entered on a keypad on the gun’s nose, and a time period entered. So, for example, policemen would have their guns enabled only for the duration of their shifts. The pistol was not fail-safe in any way: the failure mode was that, if the electronics borked, the gun remained on the last setting indefinitely, whatever it was.
The 229 EPLS was unreliable and never went into series production; 15 or so prototypes and pre-production test articles were made, some of which may have been released to collectors according to this article at Guns and Ammo.
Colt made an effort to spin off a smart-gun subsidiary, called, we are not making this up, iColt. There is no sign of it today; Colt’s perennial dance with the threat of bankruptcy was mortal to any engineering resource-suck with such an uncertain path to returns.
The “Smart Gun” that’s in the news: Armatix iP1
Beretta’s plan for intelligent duty firearms, iProtect, is radically different from the publicity-focused smart-gun maker, Armatix. Armatix’s designer is Ernst Mauch, the prime mover of HK during its decades-long phase of HK: Because You Suck, and We Hate You hostility to nongovernmental customers, and he brings his superior, anti-customer attitude to Armatix. The company’s strategy is to have its gun mandated by authorities: it has come close in New Jersey, and one candidate in the Democrats’ Sep. 9th primary for Attorney General of Massachusetts (Warren Tolman) has promised to ban all other handguns if elected. (Yes, Massachusetts law and case law does give that official this power. No word on whether he has a stake in Armatix).
The gun itself is a poor design, kind of like some of Mauch’s later HK abortions (UMP, M8). Its reliability approaches 19th-Century lows: few reviewers have gotten through a 10-shot magazine without a failure to feed, some of which seem to relate to the magazine and in some of which the slide does not go into battery. Armatix’s idea of fail-safe electronics is this: if the electronics fail, they brick the gun, therefore it’s safe.
Because the fragile Made in Germany electronics aren’t ready for centerfire prime time, the gun will be available only in .22 long rifle for the foreseeable future. For a .22 it’s bulky, and it has only average accuracy.
Pity it doesn’t have the red HK on it. Then, at least the fanboys would buy it.
The iProtect system is not like the Armatix, or other Smart Guns
Like SIG in the 90s, Beretta began with a decent pistol and then added the electronics to it, in Beretta’s case the underrated Px4 Storm. Like SIG, there’s a bulky “light” on the rail that contains the brain. The gun is truly fail-safe: if the electronics go paws up, the gun doesn’t. In fact, the operator can dismount the “brain” at any time.
Unlike Armatix, iProtect has not been launched with noises about the authorities having an ability to remotely brick the firearm. And it does not brick itself if the battery runs down. Beretta also addressed another weakness (or at least, inconvenience) of battery-powered gear by making the black box’s battery wireless rechargeable.
The “brain” is not really the key to the system, though: the key is the Black Box’s networked communications abilities. First, it talks to the sensors on the gun itself, monitoring the position of the gun and its controls much the same way a Digital Flight Data Recorder monitors the position of an airplane’s control surfaces and flight control inputs. The brain transmits that information to a central control console. Since all of the smarts are in firmware and software, they can be updated more or less on the fly to add new capabilities (and, no doubt, to squash bugs. It’s practically impossible to write a program more useful than “Hello, world!” without introducing bugs).
But the gun’s communication with the central office is only part of it, because it’s also networked to a smartphone or other communications device, and to a special t-shirt that monitor’s the officer’s position, activity, and health status of the carrier (if you’ve ever worn a chest strap when exercising, you’ll get the general idea).
And a key feature of iProtect, absent from other smart guns, is geolocation. The gun knows where it is — and tells the office, many times a second. This complicates things for those criminals who would murder a cop for his gun (like Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnayev did after they bombed the Boston Marathon finish line). It’s one thing to have a gun that’s so hot it’s radioactive, but it’s a whole other game to have one that’s constantly phoning home and otherwise subject to electronic track & trace.
Of course, it also complicates things for cops who would spend their shift cooping behind a strip mall, or unofficially 10-7 at Krispy Kreme. If you’re That Guy, the relative smartness of your gun is not going to affect your police work in any way, anyway.
Problems with iProtect?
Unlike Armatix, iProtect is not a play to disarm the public; it’s a play to increase the information flow in police dispatch offices. There it runs into a problem, in US law enforcement: the Beretta system is best used by intelligent cops and intelligent, expert even, dispatchers. But many large metro departments in the USA — exactly the target market for iProtect — have upper as well as lower bounds for cop IQ. (These departments also tend to have low closure rates on cases requiring in-depth, imaginative investigations, oddly enough). But at least the typical cop is a man or woman of average smarts. The dispatchers are a different thing. It the USA it’s a low-paid, low-status occupation, and it tends to attract people who are a half-step above the welfare lines: the same sort of people who work, if that’s the word, in the DMV or other menial clerical jobs in local government. One consequence of this is the periodic dispatch scandals like this one, a rather trivial violation that went, as usual, unpunished; or this more serious one that ended with a dead caller, a fired dispatcher, and one more illustration of the sad fact that when seconds count, police are minutes away. Literally none of the dispatchers at a modern urban police department has a place in the high-tech, high-demand dispatch center envisioned by iProtect.
The 80-IQ dispatcher is a mountain that iProtect must climb if it is going to sell here in the USA — and it’s a mountain it probably can’t summit. But even the dispatcher problem is secondary to the real Achilles Heel of iProtect: it’s a proprietary, closed system. It not only works with the PX4i, it only works with the PX4i. It only works with Beretta’s own high-tech undershirt. It only works with the Beretta communications and dispatch system. It requires the agency to recapitalize everything at once. Line cops don’t think of budgetary and logistical problems, but chiefs and commissioners spend most of their time on them.
It’s also self-evident that iProtect has no real utility at this time for the private or individual owner, or even to the rural sheriff’s office or small-town PD: it’s only of interest to large police departments, the only users that can resource it properly. (In the long run, the sheriffs of sparsely populated counties might really like the geolocation capability, though; it goes beyond geolocating the police car, something modern tech already can do,and tracks both the officer and his or her sidearm. That’s a big deal for situational awareness if you’ve got a wide open range and very few sworn officers).
So what’s the verdict?
In sum, the iProtect system is an ingenious adaptation of modern communications technology to the police defensive-firearm sphere. It poses no direct threat to gun rights, although cops may find being monitored all the time a little creepy. (Welcome to the pilot’s world, pal). But as it sits there are obstacles to its adoption. These obstacles are organizational, cultural and financial — we don’t yet know how well the system works, but assuming arguendo that all Beretta’s claims about it are true, there don’t seem to be technical obstacles holding it back.
Like the plain old dumb guns that just sit there until animated by human will, the good or evil of a smart gun is in the intent of the mind behind it.