Category Archives: Foreign and Enemy Weapons

Errors in Firearms Materials are Nothing New

Recently, the gang at Small Arms of the World posted a World War II vintage German language weapons manual (subscription required) that focused mostly on German service submachine guns.1 The manual was developed by a retired officer, Colonel Schmitt. Col. Schmitt was a prolific author of small arms and military manuals (of the sort that might be popular with earnest young soldiers, and youth looking forward to military service). He was also the editor of a range of war maps. His materials appeared though the publishing house of R. Eisenschmidt, located on Mittelstraße 18 in Berlin NW7.

At first we thought so the introductory material would be useful in an ongoing research project on early submachineguns. Even though this is not a primary source on early SMG’s, it’s an earlier secondary source than many of the documents we’ve been working with. So we thought it might be authoritative. Indeed, it starts off making sense, and it’s chock full of interesting material; but there are enough errors to give us considerable pause. Let’s start with the sensible bit (our translation):

General Information for all MPs Found in Units

The MP is a weapon that is particularly suited for close combat.

Due to the weapon’s stability in automatic fire, a tight grouping of bursts of fire is enabled. Small targets can be engaged with good success at distances to 100 meters, and larger targets up to 200 m. Beyond 200 m distance, ammunition expenditure is unlikely to meet with success.

The low number of cartridges that can be carried by troopers, and the heavy ammunition demand in the front line, constrain the employment of the MP to snap missions at short distance and to close combat.

This is good, interesting information. But can we trust it, about the MPs that were carried in the first world war? Certainly, we want to trust it; Colonel Schmitt must surely know what he’s talking about, mustn’t he?

Very soon, we come upon information that turns out to be less than trustworthy, on the same page of this same document:

The following models are currently employed:

  • MP 18I (System Bergmann)
  • MP 28II (System Schmeisser),
  • MP Erma (System Vollmer),
  • MP 38 (smooth receiver),
  • MP 40 (receiver with flutes), and
  • MP 34 (with mounted bayonet M.95).

The MPs only fire the pistol cartridge 08 (cal. 9 mm) except the MP 34 which to date only fires the Steyr cartridge (9mm). 2

(The unusual use of superscript Roman numerals in the MP 18 and MP 28 designators is like that in Schmitt’s original).

Now, the world of early German MPs is grey enough that we can let the distinction between “System Bergmann” and “System Schmeisser” slide. (As we understand it, Schmeisser was the primary designer of both, and the magazine housings were generally marked with “Schmeissers Patent” for the double-column, single-feed magazine, but the guns were made by Bergmann).

But notice, that the good Colonel has the MP.38 and MP.40 exactly backwards. While there were many other changes between the 38 and 40, and additional running changes in production (like the two-part “safety” bolt-handle, sometimes called an MP.40 feature but actually introduced as a running change in the MP.38), one of the key improvements in the MP.40 was the lack of fluting, which allowed more rapid, less costly manufacture.

It wasn’t just a single error, for if you skip ahead to where Schmitt treats the MP.38 and .40 (as a single section of his book, which makes perfect sense given the guns’ near-identical nature)3, he makes the same error:

mp38_mis-id_d_as_mp40

The footnote (with asterisk) refers to a reference to the receiver, higher on the page, and reads, “On the MP.38, the receiver is smooth; on the MP.40 it is provided with flutes.”

We assume that Colonel Schmitt was truly an expert, and that he took good care with his manuals, which he knew would be bought and read by Wehrmacht troopers and those soon to be Wehrmacht men. But here’s an example of a mistake he made on a simple thing. It reinforces the importance or critical reading of sources, even of period sources (and even primary sources).

It’s also important to weigh the expertise of a source with the left and right limits of his knowledge… his expertise’s “range fan,” if you will. Combat soldiers may have their heads full of mistaken ideas about the development and manufacture of their weapons, and design engineers, contract managers, and hands-on manufacturing workers may be in the dark about how their products are employed in the field.

And everybody’s human, and makes mistakes. Nicht wahr, Oberst Schmitt?

This is one place where 21st Century scholarship has an edge. If poor old Schmitt made an error, by the time he heard about it R. Eisenschmidt could have printed 20,000 copies of the booklet with the error. If a blogger makes an error, he’s called out on it in the comments forthwith (don’t ask us how we know this).

Notes

1. Schmitt, Colonel. Maschinenpistolen 18I/28II/Erma/38/40/34; Leucht-Pistole, 2er Auflage: Beschreibung und Zusammenwirken der Teile, Beseitigung von hemmungine; Ausinandernehmen und Zusammensetzen; Schulschießübung. Leuchtpistole mit Munition.  (English: Submachine guns MP 18-I, MP28-II, Erma, MP 38, 40, and 34; Flare guns; 2nd Edition: Description ). Berlin, R. Eisenschmidt: 1940. Retrieved from Small Arms of the World archive (subscription required): https://www.smallarmsoftheworld.com/archive/September.2013/5dgdbf7fhpdf/R00221.pdf

2. Schmitt, op. cit., p. 5.

3. Schmitt, op. cit., p. 23. 

The US Army Always Respected the AK

That’s one major take-away from a November, 1964 Springfield Armory classified report on a Chinese Type 56 AK variant, which the Armory received in late 1963 with a request that it be examined and compared to a Soviet-made AK already in their possession for “for similar and dissimilar features of design, fabrication, workmanship and construction.” We found this document in the archives of Small Arms of the World; for subscribers to that most excellent website, it’s available at this link. If you’re not a subscriber, this would be a good time. (Note: see the update at the end of this story for a free link to the file).

Springfield was asked to examine the Chinese AK by the US Army’s technical intelligence brain trust, the Foreign Science and Technology Center. Was the Chinese AK a worthy adversary? Surely it wouldn’t be as well made as its Russian prototype, let alone its American and Western competitors. Would it?

The report included an extremely detailed comparison of Chinese to Russian parts.

The report included an extremely detailed comparison of Chinese to Russian parts, and an analysis of what the parts weighed and did.

 

This is the Soviet AK described in the report, which remains in the collection of the Springfield Armory museum. It has since acquired a sling and a later magazine.

This is the actual Soviet AK described in the report, which remains in the collection of the Springfield Armory museum. It has since acquired a sling and a later magazine.

We have traced the original Russian rifle to Springfield Armory, where it remains in the Museum collection. The Museum has recorded facts about it that were not known to the 1964 report writers. This AK was made in Tula circa 1954, and Springfield notes:

Weapon transferred to the Museum from the Aberdeen Proving Ground on 2 December 1960. At that time weapon was appraised at $250.00.

Springfield has a photo of Elena Kalashnikova (Mikhail’s daughter) at the exhibit, and the label on the exhibit says:

AK47 – During the summer of 1962 one thousand AR15 rifles were sent to the Vietnamese who liked them better than the larger and heavier M1s and B.A.R.s. A ‘system analysis’ of the AR15 and M14, based on their use in Vietnam, made extravagant claims for the AR15 and resulted in an evaluation of the two American rifles and the Soviet AK47.

The evaluation referred to is the one discussed here. Apparently the exhibit does not note (although the curators must know) that this AK is the very AK that was analyzed in the report!

The Chinese AK’s whereabouts are unknown at this writing. The Museum has a Type 56, but it’s Serial Number 11103261 and was accessioned from the Watervliet Arsenal Museum on 25 August 1972. The following picture is the image of the Type 56 from the report:

In all respects, the Chinese Type 56 turned out to be identical to the earlier Tula AK-47, apart from markings and within manugacturing tolerances.

In all respects apart from trivial wood-furniture differences and the newer, lighter magazine, the Chinese Type 56 turned out to be identical to the earlier Tula AK-47, apart from markings and within manufacturing tolerances. It’s hard to tell from this picture if the front sight guard features the Russian-style “ears” or the full hood with a light hole that became a signature of Chinese AKs. In the right-side picture, it looks like “ears” to us, and in the left-side shot, a full hood!

In the end, they concluded that there were very few differences between the machined-receiver Soviet AK, serial number AA3286K, and its Chinese clone Type 56 SN 2021164, made in factory 66. The Chinese used a solid wood buttstock instead of the Russian laminate, and made their magazine of .0275″ sheet metal instead of .036″ for the Russian, and noted that the Chinese (but presumably not the Russian) magazine was ribbed for reinforcement; this saved approximately 3 ounces weight. As the Chinese magazine illustrated is the same as the common improved Russian magazine with three reinforcing ribs on the heel of the mag (these ribs were later deleted from Chinese mags), it seems probable that this weight saving was a Russian improvement vis-a-vis the original slabsided magazine.

Given that Russian and Chinese manufacturers work in international units, the nominal gauge for the magazine’s sheet steel was probably 0.7 mm (Chinese) and 0.9 or 1.0 mm for the Russian slabsided mag. These are roughly, but not exactly, 23 gauge and 20 gauge sheet steel respectively. Thinner steel (a higher-numbered gauge) is generally easier to form as well as lighter. Other than the wood of the stock and the design of the mag, their 1960s-vintage AK from China was identical to their 1950s Russian comparison. Their parts were identical in dimensions to a few hundred-thousandths of an inch and tenths of an ounce in weight. They seemed to be made to identical plans, and within identical tolerances. There’s no indication that the Arsenal experts tried interchanging the parts, but their careful analysis implies that the parts would interchange.

They looked at the weapons in detail, and came away impressed and respectful of Russian and Chinese manufacturing.

They looked at the weapons in detail, and came away impressed and respectful of Russian and Chinese manufacturing.

The weapons were weighed empty, without mag, sling, and cleaning/toolkit (the small kit that fits in the AK’s butt trap was missing from both sample weapons). They were also weighed with empty mags and with a mag loaded with 7.62 x 39mm ammunition (the ammo used was of Finnish manufacture). The scope of the task did not include firing, to the evident disappointment of the Springfield engineers (one of their recommendations was for a follow-up live-fire; it’s unknown if it came to pass).

The comparison to American firearms did not injure the Eastern weapons. The Chinese and Russian weapons were well made and their metal parts were machined as well as an American service rifle’s parts would be. There were toolmarks visible in places where it didn’t matter, and other parts were polished to as smooth-surfaced a microfinish as Springfield itself would do. They did notice that in the fine point of anticorrosion surface finishes, the Comblock weapons came up second best: little was left of the original rust bluing on the AKs, and the bolt and bolt carrier were completely unfinished from the factory.

The reviewers also noted many of the features for which Kalashnikovs have become known over the next 50 years: robust parts; simple field-stripping into few, large assemblies; parts clearances that imply high reliability and high toleration of rude field conditions. They thought the weapon specially suitable for guerrilla and short-range, close-quarters warfare, a verdict that neither its original manufacturers nor modern experts could dispute.

One is left with the overriding impression that, while the design and manufacture of this weapon did not shake the confidence of the Armory engineers in their own organization’s craft, they did respect it as a noteworthy design of high manufacturing quality.

Also, although the report does not say this explicitly, it’s clear that the ability of the communist bloc to transfer the manufacturing technology of the AK rifle from its Russian home in Izhevsk to Factory 66 in China bespeaks a self-replicating capability of then-enemy arsenals that had a high potential to be a force multiplier for them. The 2nd Model, machined-receiver AK is not some rude Sten gun that can be produced in guerrilla workshops: its series manufacture requires quality steels and 20th Century machine tools, production engineering, and precision manufacturing and measurement techniques. We can’t tell from this single report whether the Chinese attempt to set up an AK factory in the 1950s went smoothly or suffered difficult teething troubles; we can be sure than in eight years or less any problems were fully resolved and the Chinese plant was producing firearms almost indistinguishable from their Soviet prototypes.

This original report was classified Confidential at its origin and later regraded, first Restricted (a now-long-defunct lowest level of classification) and finally Unclassified. It is no longer a secret that the USA was interested in the small arms of competitor states fifty years ago. This treasure was found by the Small Arms of the World staff in a British archive, and this sort of thing is exactly why you ought to subscribe to the site (and the related dead-tree magazines, Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal).

There were numerous other reports evaluating the AK and its ammunition in the pre-Vietnam era. We do not have copies of all; some we know only from bibliographies and reference lists in extant documents, but we’re still looking for them. Some of them included:

  • Ordnance Technical Intelligence, OIN 13042, 7 May 1956, Firing Test:, Soviet 7.62 mm Assault Rifle Kalashnikov (AK), MCN 9866.
  • Ordnance Technical Intelligence, OIN 13270, ? April 1959. Wound Ballistics Tests of the Soviet 7,62 mm Bullet, MCN 8300.
  • USATEC letter report on Comparative Evaluation of U. S. Army Rifle 7.62mm, M14; Armalite Rifle Caliber..223, AR-15: Soviet Assault Rifle AK-47; 12 Dec 62.

  • (S) Rifle Evaluation Study (U). US Army Combat Developments Command. 20 Dec 62. In this document, the CDC compared the M14, an improved squad-automatic version of the M14 developed by the US Army Infantry Board, the AR-15, the AK-47, and the vaporware Special Purpose Infantry Weapon (SPIW), and recommended M14 adoption be slowed and AR-15s be bought for units not committed to NATO. Declassified and available at DTIC.
  • (C) Exploitation Report- Comparison of 7.62mm Assault Rifles- Chinese Communist Type 56 and Soviet Model AK. (U). Springfield Armory. November 1964. That’s the document discussed in this post, declassified and available (to subscribers) at Small Arms of the World. (We strongly recommend subscribing, if you’re interested in this stuff. Many historical reports that didn’t make it to DTIC are at SAotW via the National Armories at Leeds, who kept their copies and allowed Dan Shea’s gang to digitize them). 
  • Foreign Materiel Exploitation Report- Rifle, 7.62x39mm, Type 68, Communist China. From HP White Laboratory. April 1973. This is also at Small Arms of the World archives, thanks to the Ezell archives held at National Armories. (Note, this is a large .pdf, 16.7 Mb per SAotW, and you’ll need a subscription there to get it). 

UPDATE 1702R 20140821

Ross Herman at Small Arms of the World was kind enough to post a free-access public link to the ForeignMaterial Exploitation Report. It’s here: http://www.smallarmsoftheworld.com/content/pdf/R00413.pdf

Many thanks to Ross for this. We didn’t even ask him, he just did it!

We will add this story to Best of WeaponsMan Gun Tech this evening.

A Century of Canadian Submarines

For a while there, it didn’t look like they’d make it, but our cousins to the north celebrate in August 2014 the centennial of the Canadian Submarine Force (which has had different names over the years; but what all the organizations and reorganizations have in common is Canadian crews and subsurface combat vessels). During the period Canadian naval officers call the “Decade of Darkness,” when political hostility to the sub force (and the Navy, really) combined with the budgetary realities of a nation of small population and vast coastlines, it really looked like there would be an end date to set against August, 1914. An ambitious plan to buy SSNs — nuclear boats, giving Canadians a sub-ice capability their Navy has never had — was torpedoed by budgetary realities and political opposition, either of which, alone, might have sunk it. The elderly Oberon-class subs would have been the end of the line, with submarines joining bombers, aircraft carriers, and cruisers as weapons systems the Canadian armed forces used to operate.

Instead, Canada lucked into a British policy decision that the Royal Navy would, for reasons of logistical and operational philosophy, take its sub fleet all-nuclear. And four spanking-new Upholder class modern diesel boats were being retired. The Royal Canadian Navy didn’t by any chance…? The hell they didn’t.

Of course, an immediate answer wouldn’t have been in keeping with Canadian politics, so there ensued nearly a decade of dithering (with enough drama that it actually makes an engaging book, Julie H. Ferguson’s Deeply Canadian: Subs for a New Millenium (note: the Google book link is to the 1st edition, the current Kindle edition is an improved 2nd)an excellent companion to  her Canadian sub history, Through a Canadian Periscope, which even covers Canadian proto-frogmen in the Royal Navy in WWII), but in the end, Canada said yes in 1998. They worked an incredibly clever lease-to-own deal that put the subs in Canadian hands for next to nothing: the price came in adapting the British boats to Canadian weapons and systems, which the Canadian submariners preferred. The Canadian-specific modifications have been more involved than initially appreciated, and one boat was a casualty almost immediately, spending a decade out of service after an onboard fire during its delivery voyage.

Canada’s submarine missions are familiar to any sub operator worldwide: anti-submarine warfare, anti-ship warfare, minelaying, and covert operations (including surveillance and intelligence collection, and SOF insertions, extractions and support). ASW has long been a specialty of the RCN, and her frigates and destroyers (and the large helicopters they embark) are among NATO’s best at that art. Stealthy diesel subs take that mission to another level, and their utility in special operations goes without saying.

CC1 and CC 2, lying in port.

CC1 and CC 2, lying in port.

The Royal Canadian Navy had barely stood up when the First World War forced it to dive into submarines. On 5 August 1914, the government, not of the Dominion of Canada, but of the province of British Columbia, purchased two submarines from a Seattle shipyard. The subs were given the utilitarian names: His Majesty’s Canadian Ships, CC 1 and CC 2. Since then, Canada has commissioned 13 more submarines, and Canadian officers and men served in British submarines from 1914 to 1965, as well as in the Canadian boats.

The story of the first Canadian boats is a remarkable tale. CC 1 and CC 2 were built in Seattle for the government of Chile, but the Chileans, whose government had changed since the order was placed, was reluctant to pay for them. JV Paterson, of the Seattle Construction and Drydock company, mentioned this to Canadian members when he was a guest at the establishment’s watering hole in Victoria, BC, the Union Club. The Canadians perked up: the British Commonwealth had only one elderly cruiser, HMCS Rainbow, and two armed sloops, HMS Shearwater and HMS Algerine, on the West Coast when war broke out. With the US still neutral, the German Far Eastern fleet had the Allies outgunned. Would Canada be interested…? The Canadians were, but the government in Ottawa couldn’t move quickly.

BC’s premier Sir Richard McBride was soon informed. An avalanche of telegrams ensued, involving Victoria, Ottawa, and London, but little could be accomplished in the few days remaining before the imminent outbreak of war and a resulting American embargo on the provision of war materials to combatants. In this crisis, McBride took a courageous decision to use provincial funds to get possession of the much-needed submarines before it was too late. On his own initiative he decided to advance the purchase price demanded, just over $1.1 million. This was an enormous sum, twice the annual budget for the entire RCN for 1913-1914.

There was still one more problem: the deal McBride cut with Patterson was illegal in the USA, under the terms of the American Neutrality Act. The Canadians met Paterson’s terms – twice the Chilean price, cash in advance – and spirited the boats out of Seattle in the dead of night. Paterson was good to his (expensive, it’s true) word, and traveled out on one of the boats for a hasty offshore inspection and acceptance by Canadian naval officers. The White Ensign went up, and despite the risks taken by all, the results came out well: Sir Richard McBride was reimbursed for his off-the-books expenditure of provincial cash (and a subsequent enquiry by a Royal Commission (.pdf) into “[t]erritorially widespread and voluminous accusations of wrongdoing” cleared him of any wrongdoing and commended his “patriotism, and conduct.” For his part, Paterson turned two white-elephant subs commissioned by a deadbeat buyer into a windfall for his shipyard and a $40,000 commission, a staggering sum in 1914. And the Canadian sub force, created in a special operation of sorts, was underway. With two modern subs, there was something to guard that long west coast.

From that day to this, the story of the Canadian sub fleet has been one of close scrapes, desperate straits, and challenges, and all have been met by pluck and imagination. And that’s just the budgetary and parliamentary end of it!

VADM Mark Norman, Commander of the RCN, made the following statement on the occasion of the anniversary:

For 100 years Canada has benefited from the stealth and lethality that only a submarine capability can contribute to the maritime security of a nation such as ours. As the most decisive capability in any naval fleet, submarines not only dominate the seas but provide unrivalled deterrence. The dedicated members of Canada’s ‘silent service’ operate in the most demanding and unforgiving conditions. They truly represent some of the very best of our fighting service. As we look ahead to the challenges of the coming decades, we do so in confidence, knowing that Canada has submarines. I wish all of our submariners, past, present, and future, my deepest appreciation and a heartfelt BRAVO ZULU!

The Oberons, which Canada operated from 1965-2000, were British-designed and -built boats; state of the art for 1960, they were a major British export success, with Australia, Brazil, and Chile also operating them. The Oberon has a distinct silhouette with a prow seemingly designed for surface operations, and a sonar dome or blister on top of the nose; none of the 27 is still in operation (only one was a casualty, sort of: Brazil’s Tonelero, which sank at its dock after retirement, worldwide, all are retired). Canada operated three Oberons, and received two additonal ex-RN boats, Olympus as a non-commissioned training aid, and Osiris, which was parted out to keep the three Canadian boats, HMCSes Onondaga, Okanagan, and Osiris, sailing. HMCS Ojibwa is a museum exhibit in Ontario, and Onondaga in Quebec. All Oberon operators, except now-all-nuclear Britain, now operate new classes of diesel boats.

Diesel boats are not the “obsolete technology” that Hyman Rickover would have you believe. For one thing, because they lack the nuc’s constant cooling-water requirement, they can be far more silent and stealthy. The Victorias, like the Oberons before them, were state of the art in silent running. Their stealth is also enhanced by their small size. Naturally, better stealth is better in almost all of the missions of a submarine.

HMCS Victoria. Note how much smaller she is than British or American boats.

HMCS Victoria. Note how much smaller she is than British or American boats.

The Victoria class (ex-Upholder) has had, as mentioned, seen some heavy sledding on its way to operational status. The four ships, now named after Canadian cities, are HMCS Victoria SSK 876, whose motto is “Expect no Warning,” HMCS Windsor SSK 877, “Silent Pride,” HMCS Corner Brook SSK 878, “We Rule the Sea,” and HMCS Chicoutimi SSK 879, “Maître du Domaine.” They were formerly the HMS Unseen, HMS Unicorn, HMS Ursula, and HMS Upholder, and were paid off by the Royal Navy mere years after their completion. Their Canadianization has actually taken as long or longer than their original construction; Canada insists on locally available equipment, some Canadian electronics which were developed in the Oberon-class boats, and prefers American-designed Mk48 torpedoes, also something they used in Oberon days.

Chicoutimi gets a lift. After years of repairs and refit, she commissions this year.

Chicoutimi gets a lift in 2005 or so. After years of repairs and refit, she commissions this year.

Corner Brook was damaged in an underwater grounding in 2011, and entered a drydock period this summer. Chicoutimi, the hard luck boat of the set, has not yet been commissioned in the RCN. The boat suffered an underway fire en route to Canada in 2004; an officer was killed and nine other submariners injured, and the boat was disabled and had to be towed back to England, making the journey to Canada as deck cargo on a heavy-lift ship. She was, however, repaired at the Canadian Sub Maintenance Group facility from 2010-2013, and is preparing for commissioning this year. The Canadian objective is to have three subs in commission and one in refit going forward, with bases on both Canadian coasts.

HMCS Windsor leaves Barrow, England in 2001, enroute to her new Canadian refit & mission.

HMCS Windsor leaves Barrow, England in 2001, enroute to her new Canadian refit & mission.

The Canadian subs and their crews have demonstrated remarkable capabilities; Windsor, the first to patrol, recently completed a very remarkable 174 days at sea. (Remember, these are diesel, not nuclear, boats). Windsor, in fact, only docked to repair a generator that could not be fixed at sea, or it might have accomplished the half-year. While the ships and crews have managed feats of endurance reminiscent of their allies’ nuclear boats, the diesel-electric sub, other things being equal, will always have the edge in stealth. Windsor, again, has demonstrated this by tracking an American fast-attack sub. During RIMPAC 2012, Victoria slammed a Mk 48 torpedo into a drifting target ship, the former USNS Concord, off Oahu, sending the target beneath the waves in 17 minutes. (The video below is only 2 minutes long, and silent).

Did you even know that Canada has a sub fleet? (As Ferguson writes, “Mention the Snowbirds… and they immediately know that you are talking about the Canadian air force. Mention HMCS Onondaga and you are met with a blank stare.”)

The sailors who fly Canada’s Maple Leaf (on those rare occasions they put up a flagstaff and make port) have come a long way from the sailors who raised the Dominion’s White Ensign on CC 1 a century ago, but they’re doing the tradition proud.

Cartel Grenades Explode Back into the News

Reanimated M67 training or dummy grenades recovered in Mexico.

Reanimated M67 training or dummy grenades recovered in Mexico.

From the equivalent of the “Early Bird” sent to Federal LEOs earlier this week:

MEXICAN CARTELS USING GRENADES. The International Business Times (UK) (8/18, 173K) reports that ICE officials have observed a “trend increase” in the use of grenades by Mexican drug cartels in recent months. James Phelps, an assistant professor in the Department of Security Studies and Criminal Justice at Angelo State University in Texas, is quoted saying, “The reason you’re seeing so many more [grenades] this year is because much more heavily-armed drug shipments are coming into the United States…With Border Patrol so heavily distracted doing paperwork and watching the mass flood of people coming into the country, they don’t have as much time to do what they used to do — drug interdiction.”

But wait: It’s Not News

The IBT article is here (it was linked in the original, too) but what struck us is not what’s new about this, but what isn’t. Customs and Border Patrol has been seizing grenades on the border for a long time. ATF has been tracking this since the nineties, and has been on it hot and heavy since the early oughts. We have access to a long-ago-leaked 2011 LES presentation on Mexican Drug Trafficking Organization (DTO) use of both surplus and improvised grenades.

Texas_Improvised_Grenades.pdf

One interesting thing is that not all cartels have good sources of military grenades, hence the back-up of improv ‘nades.

Slide 1

Reports indicate that Los Zetas historically try to seek grenades from sources in Guatemala, due to their control of many areas in that country. The Gulf Cartel has historically attempted to acquire their grenades from Mexican military sources, whereas the Sinaloa Cartel has sought to acquire improvised grenades.

Sinaloa was supported to that end by the ATF’s gunwalking program, which included walking grenade components, as a sideline to the main project of walking guns. The military grenades that the cartels are swapping off tend to be leftovers from 80s and 90s unrest and insurgencies in Central America, plus the Mexican military’s ongoing loyalty problems. The ATF alleges that, “90% of grenades traced in Mexico are over 20 years old.”

grenades_seized_2010But grenades walked by ATF’s cats-paw Jean Baptiste Kingery were used in 2013, along with other weapons which may or may not have been ATF-walked, to murder three officers of the Jalisco State Police in the village of Tepatitlan.  According to an ATF Significant Incident Report by liaison officer Jonathan Ortiz in the Bureau’s Mexico City office, one of ten grenades was attributed positively to Kingery by the Mexican officers, based on unspecified “evidence,” with no information on the other nine available.  Here’s the SIR:

ATF SIR Kingery Grenade 20131010.pdf

Within days of the SIR’s transmission, CBS had a story about it by then-CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson (caution, autoplay video). It was kept off the evening news, but appeared on a morning show.

More grenades. In this case a mixed bag of reanimated M26 and M67, plus some GI M67s and 40mm rounds.

More grenades, seized by Mexican cops. In this case a mixed bag of reanimated M26 and M67, plus some GI M67s and 40mm rounds.

The history of the Kingery grenades is instructive. Kingery sourced his parts in the USA, then brought them to Mexico for final assembly and delivery. He was under ATF observation (although they thought he was under their control, a very different thing), from 2004 to 2010, when he made aliyah to his Sinaloa pals. He remains in Mexico; he was arrested there but ATF and DOJ has been remarkably uninterested in extraditing him.

The grenades, like the Iron River of ATF-sourced guns, were delivered to the cartels and to Mexico with the approval of Phoenix Group VII (SA’s Voth and McAllister inter alia), and the local US Attorney and an Assistant (Dennis K. Burke and Emory Hurley). The grenade-walking was also blessed by every layer of ATF and DOJ supervision. This included the Phoenix SACs and all management levels up to then-director Kenneth Melson and AG Eric Holder. Particularly responsible, apart from Voth and McAllister, were Phoenix field division SAC Bill Newell and Current Director Byron Todd Jones participated in the planning of the gun- and grenade-walking from his position in faraway Minnesota, as a trusted intimate of Holder.

The objective of the grenade-walking seems to have been to support the gunwalking; the intent of the gunwalking was to produce a series of crimes in Mexico that would justify new anti-gun laws and new powers for the ATF in the USA. The Mexican Government maintained plausible deniability on the operation. Several ATF agents pointed out the likely result: cops being killed in the USA and in Mexico, but those named managers were indifferent to the deaths; after Border Patrol officer Brian Terry was murdered by an ATF-furnished weapon, and first dozens, then scores, then hundreds, of Mexican lawmen were slain, David Voth was “giddy” over the bloodshed.

One wonders if Voth is still giddy, as more and more Mexican law officers keep getting deadened by his work product. (Like most gunwalking figures, except for Melson and Burke, Voth was promoted to HQ after the scandal broke).

How Do the Bad Guys Reload Grenades?

They start with training grenades. These grenades resemble the real thing, but produce a loud bang and a puff of smoke and zero fragmentation.  Because they have a fuze optimized to do that, no frag material (usually), and no filling. The grenades are reusable for training by simply discarding the old fuze and introducing a new one. To prevent too-easy conversion, and give the report of the fuze someplace to go, the training ‘nades have holes in them where the factory grenade has a thick welded-on or cast-in base plug. Training grenades also lack the internal fragmentation liner of most newer grenades (on the old Mk II “pineapple” grenade, fragmentation was supposed to be promoted by the scored lines, and the training grenade is similar to the frag, except for the extra bottom hole).

improvised_cartel_grenadesA normal defensive grenade like the M67, standard from the end of Vietnam on, has fragmentation material (often in a sleeve or liner) and a filling of high explosive (for an M67, Composition B). It has a fuze that contains a percussion cap and hammer mechanism to start the fuze train going, a delay element, and then a cap, gaine or booster which detonates with enough force to produce detonation in the relatively stable explosive filler.

The cartel-improvised grenades always lack the frag sleeve, and usually substitute black powder (or another easily manufactured low-explosive improvised filling) for the HE. (Technically, the difference between LE and HE is the velocity of the detonation front: in HE it is supersonic). As a result, they’re less effective than factory grenades, and are more like offensive grenades than defensive ones. A further result is that factory grenades are preferred to improvised grenades by most cartel sicarios. 

The following picture is from al-Reuters and was one of the illustrations used by the International Business Times in the story picked up by the DHS-DOJ Early Bird. Note that along with a Smith .357 and a Tec-9, this particular cartelitito, bagged in 2012, had nine M67s, three M26s, and eight Mk IIs. Oh, and an M72A2 LAW. These weapons appear to be almost all factory, not improvised (note the safety clips on the spoons of the M67s, something rarely seen on improvised ‘nades).

weapons-seized-zetas-cartel-reutersJust to remind everybody: Mexican law enforcement thinks this kind of thing is caused by the 2nd Amendment, and if we had the strict gun bans that they have, we’d live in a paradise, like they do.

Why Is It In The News Now?

If the cartels’ ‘nades are an old story, why are they in today’s news? For instance, in:

We don’t know for sure, but this sudden reanimation of an undead necrostory from years ago suggests that its battlefield prep by regulators, the administration, and their junior varsity in the media. It suggests an anti-dummy-grenade legislative or, more likely, regulatory initiative is in the works.

The ATF has eased its focus on gunwalking, but it’s never given up its desire for more authority. So you’ll see a spate of stories like those linked above, then editorial calls to unthinking action: Act Now! For the Children! They will certainly never admit that these criminals have these weapons (all, you will note, US military issue weapons) because the US furnished weapons to nations and insurgents with rotten inventory control, and definitely don’t want to mention ATF’s role in gunning up los sicarios. They are unlikely to give up their underpants-gnome theory of criminal organization takedowns, but are still stuck on the bit where the enhanced criminal organization commits more crimes.

The “Proximity Fuzed” RPG that wasn’t

In Russia, the improved RPG-7 replaced the RPG-2 in 1961, but it took years for the improved antitank weapons to filter to the Soviet Union’s client states and it took even longer to get to Soviet-supported terrorists and insurgents, even the ones that the USSR recognized militarily, like North Vietnam. When the new AT weapon emerged, it was immediately a threat to American and Republic of Vietnam aircraft, especially low- and slow-flying helicopters.

Here’s the story of a Air Force special operations helicopter gunship pilot’s nerve-wracking experience, while covering a South Vietnamese Air Force recovery of a Vietnamese reconnaissance team. The RT came from TF3AE, the command that replaced Command and Control South in Vietnam. We draw the story from Fred Lindsey’s fantastic doorstop, Secret Green Beret Commandos in Cambodia. (We’ve mentioned the book before). You can find it on page 670-671, and it’s worth reading for the adventure of it, before we start discussing dry RPG facts.

03/26/71 Recon, TF3AE ARVN RT Rescued With Air Support by 219″ VNAF Kingbees and
20th SOS Gunships: AC CPT Charles D. Svoboda DFC (2OLC) with co-pilot LTC Harmon
Brotnov; AC CPT Jim Schuman SS.
The only details of this event are from the remembrance of CPT Svoboda’s and [his] DFC citation. In his written recollection he notes:

It was on my first week on the mission as an aircraft commander. My copilot was my brand new squadron commander, Lieutenant Colonel Brotnov, who was on the mission for the first time, and my gunners were this new “student” gunner and a highly experienced instructor gunner. Jim Schuman was flying lead, and I was flying on his wing. We were called out for
a team taking extremely heavy fire. We arrived at the location, and were briefed by the FAC on where the team was (we certainly don’t want to hit our own troops). We saw a very unfriendly situation, with a rather large landing zone, with the team on the south, and Charlie on the north. Unfortunately. Charlie was ensconced on a long, low ridge, overlooking the LZ and the team. We hated going below the enemy, as we could not fire upward through our own rotor blades. If we flew high, we were sitting ducks. If we flew low, with Charlie on a ridge, above us, we could only make short bursts of gunfire in his direction by banking the aircraft in the opposite direction, and raising the rotors above the path of our own minigun bullets.

Jim (Gunship lead) directed that we make an ‘aggressive’ entry, meaning that we would dive toward the LZ, and toward the enemy, firing rockets and miniguns at maximum rate of speed (4.000 rounds per minute). Jim was checking out a new pilot, allowing him to fly, and the new pilot lost the target, forcing his bird to cease-fire. He told me of this, and I told him that I still had the target, and would assume flight lead, so that he could then roll in on my rockets and become my wingman.

We made an aggressive dive, after which the FAC radioed “Cease Fire, you’re hitting the team.” We always feared this! Guns firing 4,000 rounds per minute each, along with rockets, can tear up a group of soldiers ferociously. And my new commander was my copilot!

I ordered both birds to cease firing, and we began flying “cold” passes over the LZ, between Charlie and the team. We did this several times, and I could see what appeared to be cigarette lighters flashing in the shadows on the ridge. I could also hear static on the radio, which we had learned was caused by the static field of many closely passing bullets. But we continued to hear explosions, with the FAC yelling for us to hold our fire. Damn it, we WERE holding our fire, and we were hanging ourselves out doing it. I spoke to Jim, and said we had better silence the ridge or it would silence us. He agreed, and despite the directives from the FAC, we shot the hell out of the ridge. But they were everywhere. As I cleared the LZ on one pass, below many of the trees, I fired a couple of rockets. One does not usually fire rockets so low, because there is no time to achieve stabilized flight, allowing one to aim. Therefore, they frequently zoom off into oblivion. But we had learned to “lob” rockets by pulling up on the collective just before firing. This would cause the rocket stabilizing fins to hit the air with an upward load, causing causing them to fly upward initially, then to arc downward because of the aerodynamic load on the fins.

My copilot appeared to be mesmerized by his first combat action, about as hectic as one could be. I called for him to flip the weapon selector switch from guns to rockets (they could not fire simultaneously, because the one trigger activated whichever weapon was selected for firing). He was frozen, so I had to take my eyes off the horizon for a millisecond and change the setting. This was hazardous because we were flying through the trees, dodging around the higher ones, trying to keep from being shot down. One minor mistake would be fatal for all. We tried to avoid passing over the same spot on succeeding passes, to keep Charlie from drawing a bead on us, but because of the ridgeline, we were forced to repeat ground tracks. We passed around one taller tree a couple of times, and I cursed the tree. On the following pass I fired a rocket to keep the bad guys’ heads down, and it knocked the tree down. Colonel Brotnov was flabbergasted, as was I. To this day I wonder if he really believes that I did that intentionally!

It turns out that the rockets into the team which were blamed on us were actually new shoulder-mounted Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG’S) being fired at us as we passed over the LZ between the team. The original RPG’s were designed for light armor and infantry, and had contact fuses. This new version was designed for helicopters, and had contact AND proximity fuses. Luckily, none must have passed close enough to us to detonate, but many passed by us, exploding among the team we were protecting. A few also exploded in the LZ, causing the tall elephant grass to catch fire. The flames were about as high as we were flying, and were spreading out in ever increasing circles. On one pass over the LZ, when I passed through the smoke, the other chopper was coming directly at us, only about 50-100 feet away, with closure speed of over 200 mph. Luckily we both broke quickly and in opposite directions, and the gunner said he thought he could reach out and touch the belly of the other chopper. Finally, the firing from Charlie cut down, and we called the slicks to come in for a pickup.

We said they would have to wait awhile because of the fires in the LZ. All of a sudden the team ran THROUGH these very high flames, leaping into the smoking ash left by the expanding fire. The slicks came in, one at a time, landed in the smoking ash, raising a huge, black ashen cloud, and picked up the team. We escorted them out of the area. Then, as the slicks headed for home, Jim and I returned to the site, expending the remainder of our rockets and ammo on the ridge line.

CPT Svoboda was an Air Force officer, a gunship pilot in the 20th Special Operations Squadron. The “slicks” were Sikorsky UH-34s, obsolete piston-powered helicopters flown by the South Vietnamese Air Force’s 219th Squadron, “King Bees.”

A gathering of SF RT guys and their air support guys is always interesting, because the aircrews think the recon teams were nuts to do what they did, but the RT guys know the copter crews were nuts to come get them.

Now, this is a very stirring story of action and audacity. You can almost smell the shellbursts of the RPGs. Thing is: RPGs don’t have proximity fuzes. (There is a Chinese “airburst” round for use against infantry, but it bounces off the ground before it detonates, and it postdates the war). So why did Captain Svoboda think they did? It goes back to a fundamental difference between the RPG-2, or B-40 as it was known to most during the Vietnam War (from the Chinese export stencil on the ammo), and the improved RPG-7. The RPG has become one of the most universal systems in war; there’s even a US-made, Westernized version we provide to allies under MAP.

But the initial mass-produced version, the Ruchnoi Protitankoviy Granatomyot-2 (“Hand AT Grenade Launcher”), was a reusable improvement of the German Panzerfaust and like its disposable ancestor, its designers’ watchword was simplicity. Indeed, US Army intelligence manuals on the Soviet Army at the time described it only as an “antitank weapon of the improved Panzerfaust type,” and lacked any photo or sketch of it.

It had no optical sights, just a flip-up pair with a front bead and rear ladder. It was a straight tube with sights and a grip piece, no shoulder rest, blast shield or cone. The RPG-2 was made in Russia from about 1948 to 1961, and in China from about 1956 to about 1970. And — important from our point of view — the warhead, which showed its later Panzerfaust ancestry, had a simple contact fuze and no self-destruct mechanism.

The RPG-7 was introduced to the Soviet Army in 1961 and into the Vietnam War sometime in 1967 or 68, although it remained outnumbered by RPG-2s until the last, 1975, offensive. It had iron and optical sights and considerably improved range (we’ve hit stationary tank-size targets on the range at 800m; practical combat range on moving armor is probably half that). Most interesting for our present purposes, the PG-7 warhead has not one, but three means of initiation:

  1. Piezoelectric contact fuze in the warhead nose (“1″ in the illustration);
  2. electric contact fuze between inner (“2″) and outer (“3″) cones of the warhead;
  3. pyrotechnic timed self-destruct mechanism (“8″).

pg-7v_of_rpg7_sect

All three fire the charge (“6″) from its base, creating a Munro Effect jet made up of hot gases and the molten copper alloy charge liner (“4″). The self-destruct mechanism detonates the round if it hasn’t hit anything in five seconds, by which time the round has covered 900-920m.

rpg7 training aid

That’s what was happening to CPT Charles Svovoda, his copilot LTC Harmon Brotnov, and his wingmen and the other US and RVN airmen on this mission. Airbursts of RPGs around them certainly seemed like the proximity fuzes they knew from enemy 37mm and 57mm anti-aircraft artillery.

It is possible that the airbursts’ threat to the rotorcraft was coincidental, but it is also possible that the NVA were deliberately using the self-destruct mechanism for its airburst effect; this is something Islamic terrorists would develop into a fine art in the nineties and the oughts, but it would certainly be consistent with what we know of the leadership and initiative of the North Vietnamese forces that they could have been doing this 20 years earlier, over Cambodia.

We can’t blame them for thinking they were facing “a new version, made for helicopters.” In any event, we concur with Fred Lindsey, who wraps up this post by quoting the citation for Svoboda’s Distinguished Flying Cross from this flight:

He was participating in aerial flight as a UH-1N helicopter Gunship Commander near Due Lap, RVN …CPT Svoboda made repeated firing passes at low level in support of a long range reconnaissance patrol which was under heavy opposing automatic weapons fire deep in hostile territory. The extremely accurate and devastating firepower from CPT Svoboda’s helicopter allowed the rescue of the entire patrol…

per Hqs 7th Air Force Orders dtd 09/24/71.

Captain Svoboda survived the war; along with the DFC, he received 10 Air Medals for combat missions in 1970 and 1971.

For more information on the RPG, look at this previous Weaponsman post, or this quite excellent history by Dan Shea in Small Arms Defense Journal. We cannot overstate the quality of the Shea article; it’s really good and accurate.

The Best Example of the Worst US Machine Gun

Technically, this isn’t exactly a US machine gun. Although it’s true that this French-made light machine gun, commonly called the Chauchat, was issued to the American Expeditionary Force when it arrived in France. It was probably the first machine gun ever designed to be manufactured cheaply and rapidly using stampings, sheet metal and steel tube, and simple screw machines with the barest minimum of time, and set-ups, executed on traditional lathes, shapers and milling machines. Many of the automotive industry techniques that were applied to the Sten and the M3 grease gun were not yet available in 1915, so the manufacturing technology that went into this gun is even more remarkable.

Chauchat 1

The evolving conventional wisdom is that the 8mm version was not all that bad; the true disaster was the American attempt to Bubba it to fire the .30-06. But the bad reputation of the Chauchat ensures one thing: you can get an example for quite short money for a transferable machine gun. This excellent-condition example is the best we have seen, and it’s on GunBroker right now with a buy-it-now of $7,500!

That is a bargain for a transferable, historically significant machine gun, and right in time for the centennial of the Great War. Here’s the other side, just to prove we’re not showing you the star’s best side:

Chauchat 2Now, the beauty of the Chauchat is kind of an acquired taste. It’s pretty rudely functional, in a way that few polished, blued, walnut-stocked service weapons of the day were. That’s one way in which this old poilu is a harbinger of modern times. But it was an early example of a shoulder-fired, bipod-equipped, single-gunner (with one a/gunner making a crew of 2) light machine gun.

The Chauchat, called by its reluctant doughboy operators the “Sho-Sho Gun,” was formally the Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1915 C.S.R.G. from the initials of the members of the committee that brought it forth. Mechanical engineer Col. Louis Chauchat and hands-on machinist Charles Sutter were the designers; Paul Ribeyrolles wasthe production engineer who prepared it for industrial mass production, and Gladiator, Ribeyrolles’s velocipede and motorcar factory in suburban Paris, was where the bulk of them were manufactured (a second factory came on line late in the war).

The Mle. 1915 was a revision of a 1907 Chauchat-Sutter design that was manufactured by more traditional methods. While France only built 100 of the Modele 1907 C-S, zero of which survive, they were able to produce hundreds of thousands of the 1915 CSRGs in two converted automotive plants, enough that they had them to spare for their Allies like Belgium and the USA, and a Chauchat diaspora carried the guns as far as Russia and Greece after the war.

It is a long-recoil design, which means that the bolt and barrel remain locked until the assembly has recoiled the entire length of the cartridge – for the 8 x 50 Lebel, 70mm or about 3 inches — and then the barrel returns forward when the bolt is held back. The empty is ejected from this rear position, the feed system (here, a 20-round, half-moon curved box magazine) pops up a fresh round, and the arrival of the barrel forward trips the release of the bolt, chambering and firing (if the trigger remains depressed) the next round. This is the system of the Browning Auto-5 shotgun and the Remington Model 8 rifle (essentially Browning’s rifle version of the same action), but the Chauchat is the only successful application to automatic weapons that we’re aware of. (This is the point in the article where Daniel E. Watters is invited to correct us if we’re wrong!). Recoil is boosted by the conical booster that many have mistaken for a flash hider; it’s actually there for the same reason the MG42 has a similarly conceived muzzle attachment. The long recoil action yields long movements of heavy parts, and therefore, potentially more dispersion than comparable weapons, at least partly offset by a lower rate of fire.

This brief video, from our friends at Forgotten Weapons, shows you the cyclic rate of an 8mm Chauchat.

The bizarre half-moon magazines, unique to the Chauchat, were required by the rimmed 8mm Lebel cartridge, which is dramatically tapered: 16mm at the rim and 8.3mm at the case mouth. Some people have concluded there is a solid type of magazine (see the one in the gun on the left side picture), and another version with large cut-outs, but in fact, all mags we’ve seen have one smooth side and one cut-out side. We don’t know whether the cut-outs were meant to lighten the mags or to allow round counting; We do know it was a rotten idea for a gun used in the gooey muck of trench warfare. But at least one intended employment of the CSRG was as a lightweight gun for aerial observers, where your fate was more likely to be a long fall, or burning to death, than mud, trench foot and typhus.

This example is also extremely well accessorized, with AA sights (visible on the gun and a spare set in the accessory shot below), and spare mags and carriers. It hasn’t been fired in years, but the seller says it worked when it last was put to the test.

Chauchat 3

The starting price of the auction is $5,750, but there’s a reserve. As mentioned above, the Buy-it-now is $7,500. Here’s the seller’s blurb:

This is a splendid condition Chauchat with numerous accessories. 8 m/m Lebel, C & R and fully transferable. Model of 1915 by C.S.R.G. 5 Magazines, Anti-Aircraft sight installed, spare set of anti-aircraft sights, very rare musette magazine bag, even more rare wooden magazine case, bipod, original sling. Can supply about 1000 rounds of ammo with gun, extra price. This is a high quality Chauchat that when last fired about 8 years ago, ran like a top. Even with English manual.

It’s really a rare chance to add a museum-worthy, historically significant firearm — the wellspring of all light machine guns and squad automatic weapons! — to your collection.

Of course, if you’re inspired with desire for one of these unusual French ticklers, but shrink from spending quite so much, there’s a less minty Chauchat that Ohio Ordnance is offering for a starting bid of $4,500 and no reserve. Certainly the minty one is the better investment-grade gun.

The seller of the minty Chauchat, WDHaskins, has quite a few other enticing rarities, including a 1909 Hotchkiss Portative (English Army version of what the US called the Benet-Mercié Machine rifle, a Japanese Lewis aerial observer’s gun, and a really nice collection of English double guns — shotguns and rifles. This link goes to all his current auctions.

 

‫Allah hu Fubar! FOOM!

Oldest trick in the guerrilla warfare book. A little something extra in the occasional mortar round, or in this case, 7.62 x 39mm cartridge.

The US did this as a psychological operation in the Vietnam War, designed to shake the NVA’s confidence in their Russian and Chinese weapons suppliers. The Germans did it to the Russians in World War II.

Now, is someone doing it to the jihadis? Or did this guy just get a bad ice cube in his cocktail of death-to-whomever this morning? We can’t say. Certainly, Comblock ammo manufacture was a bit dodgy, and some of the Arab and Iranian ammo plants make Vodka Friday at Soviet State Arsenal No. 5376 look like a routine day shift at a Swiss medical device factory.

Of course, in 2014, when your AK reverts to kit form in your very hands, somebody’s got you on GoPro or cellphone video. Smile, Hadji, you’re an intertubes celebrity. Pity he didn’t get this on Ian’s new high-speed camera.

Land of the Lost… Guns: Afghanistan

So, we saw this at Miguel’s, which led us to Fox News, which led us to the Washington Times, which still didn’t give up the primary source document. We wanted the primary source document because the numbers in the Times’s story didn’t add up.

The essential claims in these media versions of the story are:

  1. The Afghans have lost or sold off tens of thousands of the guns we gave them; and,
  2. The databases are poisoned with many duplicates; and,
  3. Most or many of the US-provided weapons were never entered in the database; therefore:
  4. Accountability for weapons in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANA/ANP) is nonexistent.

Here are the numbers as we pulled them from the report, and as the media spun ‘em:

The narrative is that the Afghan National Army has lost tens if not hundreds of thousands of small arms, and that as a result We Are Doomed. It took some doing (anyone who thinks Obamacare’s website was uniquely mishandled has spent no time among the web gardens of the .gov or .mil) but we did unearth the document.

Two Databases Stood Back-to-Back, Refusing to Say a Word…

The problem is at once more complex, more nuanced, and more interesting than that. And for gloom and doom fans, we’re probably still doomed. The bottom line is that the US’s incredibly complex and inefficient inventory systems, which famously do not talk to one another, also don’t mesh with the inventory system we provided to Afghanistan. Three completely different (and fundamentally incompatible) IT systems track US-provided small arms in OEF. Those systems include:

  • SCIP, the Security Cooperation Information Portal, used in the USA by logisticians supplying materiel to American allies worldwide.
  • OVERLORD, the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database, developed in-country by the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), the latest of several names for the US training HQ in-country.
  • CoreIMS, the Core Inventory Management System, a US-spec COTS inventory database that has been foisted off on our valiant Afghan allies.

Here’s a graphic from that famous primary source document that the Times and Fox wouldn’t show you, preferring to predigest your informational meal. (Here’s a link to the document: SIGAR 14-84.pdf. We’ve saved a copy in case the link goes  tango uniform). This shows what the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction thinks the process is:

dod_weapons_inventory_process

 

So what we have turns out to be, not vast numbers of guns vanishing as they take each step along the pipeline, but three different and incompatible databases having data that are at odds with one another.

Which database is right? Who knows? Could be any of them. Or none of them! In fact, all three databases could have wide discrepancies, and yet none of them have totals close to what actually exists in inventory.

But it turns out, if you actually read the SIGAR report instead of act like a Media Luminary and Skim Until Shocked, the auditors did that, and as it turns out, some of the numbers are before they deep-dove the data, and some of the numbers don’t represent what they appear to represent. Yes, Afghan inventories are a mess, but they’re not the mess the news stories describe. A spot check of weapons in storage at the ANA Kandahar depot, for example, found the weapons in the crates the database said they’d be in, and traced every weapon back in inventories that matched the weapons on site. A similar exercise at the ANP 22 Bunkers Depot appeared to have similar results, but the inspectors didn’t have time to complete the inspection.  True, other depots and units had more fragmentary records, and the ANA Central Supply Depot’s records were far off from what was inventoried on site. But by Afghan standards, it wasn’t all that bad.

Remember that the idea of weapons inventories was something that Afghans have never done, except when compelled by Soviet or NATO allies. That they don’t do it as well as the US DOD, while using a stack of incompatible and user-hostile systems imposed from outside, shouldn’t shock anybody.

If you’re an old Afghan hand, one fundamental error in this whole process will have jumped out at you from the very beginning: trying to impose a sophisticated Western computer system (actually, multiple systems; a fourth incompatible database called ULTRA, Universal Listing of Transactions for Record Accounting, is under construction for the ANP) on a nation of Iron Age illiterates. Illiteracy was 94% to 97% when we first went into Afghanistan (the Taliban had closed all schools except madrassas). Illiterates make weak computer operators, something that American loggies never considered for a minute before deciding to spin up the Afghans in Microsoft World. Results predictable:

According to CSTC-A officials, efforts to develop the capabilities of ANSF personnel to manage the central depots have been hindered by the lack of basic education or skills among ANSF personnel and frequent turnover of Afghan staff.

Gee, there’s a shocker. We impose US-style personnel turbulence and military bureaucracy on an ally where most of the population is illiterate and borderline innumerate, and as Wilkins Micawber might say, “results, misery.”

The Duplicate Serials Problem: Not Such a Big Deal

Then, there’s the duplicate serial numbers problem , which comes to rise for two reasons:

  1. The procurers, developers and operators of the system did not understand that different weapon makes and models may indeed use the same serial numbers, and different manufacturers may use the same serial numbers for their versions of the same firearm, and so they erred in trying to use serial number by itself as a unique key;
  2. Lack of communication between databases

Even the authors of the report don’t seem to find that their discovery of some duplicate numbers is meaningless. Here’s their table from the report:

sigar_serial_number_dupes

¡Ay, Chihuahua! (Old Afghan phrase). Yes, it’s not just an Afghan thing to have two weapons with the same serial number. Heck, the USA did it:

M1 Rifle Serial 1,608,803: these two receivers were sold by CMP at auction recently.

M1 Rifle Serial 1,628,802: these twin receivers were sold by CMP at auction recently.

Someone who knows weapons can clear these three discrepancies in about two tenths of a second. Like this:

  • DX2383 needs to be reconciled by eyes-on physical inventory, because it’s possible that this represents two different guns, but because an AMD-65 is a variant of AK-47, it’s equally possible that this is one gun described two ways. Several manufacturers made AK variants using serial numbers of this pattern, so only physical inventory can establish whether we’re talking about one gun or two here.
  • 178203 is obviously two different weapons, and a properly constructed database would not confuse an M203 with an M249 of the same serial number.
  • A598 is the very same problem, Russian-designed-weapons style.

As anyone who’s ever accounted for any significant quantity of firearms can tell you, serial numbers are only likely to be unique on a single type (i.e. make/model/caliber) of weapon made for a single customer by a single manufacturer. Now, we’re not sure what other US arms have duped serial numbers like the M1 example above. (We know M16A1 rifles and XM177 “submachine guns” had absolutely unique numbers because manufacturers had independent sN blocks).

But this duplication is spun by SIGAR, in their ignorance of firearms, as a major problem, and it is spun in turn by the media as a Chicken Little sky-is-falling moment. It’s only a problem because the database designers and auditors are ignorant of the limits of serial numbering.

We certainly admit that the SIGAR report does identify some real challenges facing Afghan services on weapons-inventory issues, and it points up the poor visibility into those issues that US service elements, including CSTC-A, have into Afghan inventories. As far as the weaknesses of Afghan inventory controls are concerned, this is news to us in which way? We were pleasantly surprised to see that some Afghan National Police elements are tracking their assigned weapons using Microsoft Excel. This means they have some literate cops, who can even use computers — that’s miles ahead of 2002, let us tell you. But the SIGAR is shocked by this, and by the fact they’re not using some high-dollar, centralized, fiddly data management system instead of Excel.

Crawl, walk, run, people. Trying to drop Afghans into RDBMS management when they not only haven’t got the hang of Excel, but are largely utterly unlettered, is asking for trouble.

One is reminded of Lawrence’s maxim not to do things for the locals, but to let them do it themselves, however imperfectly.

O.S.S. Film: Seven Weapons of the Germans

This film is dedicated to the idea that the viewer may want to operate the principal infantry weapons of the German Wehrmacht. It describes them and walks through their operation, assuming a basic familiarity with their American counterparts and keying on the differences.

In retrospect, it’s clear the USA had the advantage in three weapons in particular, the basic infantry rifle (the M1 providing superior firepower to the Karabiner 98), the pistol (1911 vs. Pistole 08) and the hand grenade (the Mk.2 delivering far more killing and wounding potential than the Stielhandgranate 24). Submachine guns were a wash, although the German provision of higher quantities as the war went on was notable; and German and US mortars were broadly equivalent, except for the 4.2″ rifled mortar which has a complicated set of pros and cons versus its German 120mm smoothbore analogue. The Germans had the edge in machine guns by any reasonable measure.

While this film is dedicated to the idea that combat soldiers should be able to pick up and employ any foreign weapon in extremis, field results were uneven. In June 1944, many Allied paratroopers picked up German weapons to supplement their own firepower or replace lost or damaged weapons. This didn’t always work well.

In combat, all senses are at work, including hearing, and the very distinct sound of a German machine gun meant that the American that grabbed one found himself drawing American fire every time he lit up. There are quite a few such stories.

In Vietnam and some of the African guerrilla wars, a clue to the origin of fire was that American and most Western tracers of the 1960s were red, and Russian and Chinese ones were green. The average war-movie watcher would never see that (because real tracers can’t be used in movie making!) but the average combat soldier will never forget it.

O.S.S. Training Film: the German Infantry Squad

By and large, all infantrymen of all nations from the era of cartridge firearms “went to the same schools.” But there are subtle national and organizational differences. This OSS-developed training film from World War II shows some of the peculiarities of German infantry tactics, as observed by American and Allied intelligence.

The OSS had a Field Photographic Branch that made a large quantity of such films, although few were in color; it was staffed, in part, with Hollywood talent on both sides of the camera. This particular film unfortunately appears truncated at both ends and we’re seeking a full version.

They mention the distinctive woodpecker sound of the MG34 (which has a rate of fire much faster than Allied weapons like the M1919, or the submachine gun carried by the German sergeant. However, they don’t call it out when it occurs. You can hear it in the soundtrack, which appears to be largely dubbed; it is the fast one, quite unmistakeable. An MG42 is about 1/4 still faster than that!

As noted by the narrator (whose voice sounds very familiar; is he one of the legions of actors who found wartime employment with Bill Donovan?), the German Wehrmacht devolved rather more command authority on sergeants than Allied armies, with the one most likely to do so being the American, and the least likely, the French and Russian, who then had little respect for NCOs. (The Russians would, in the end, achieve similar excellence by a proliferation of junior officers doing jobs the NCOs would do in the West).

German practice also was unusually fluid with respect to officer selection and promotion. An effective sergeant in 1940 might well have been an effective colonel in 1944. This happened across the German services, except for the surface ships of the Kriegsmarine, who hewed to older naval traditions. The only Allied forces that offered similar advancement to other ranks were the Allied air forces, although the US did not employ sergeant pilots at all once the war got cooking, and in the British service advancement to officer rank also depended on things beyond pure performance and leadership potential (such as perceived class).

The high flexibility of German tactics and excellent tactical leadership pushed down all the way to squad level is one reason that the Wehrmacht, man for man, outfought the much larger Allied armies until overwhelmed. Many German ideas (including the highly mobile general purpose machine gun, which enabled these flexible tactics) were adopted worldwide in, and after, the war. But the German Wehrmacht is still a wellspring of ideas for the military leader, even today.

It is tragic that such a fine force fought with such valiant tenacity in such a bad cause. But that, too, is part of the nature of war. We can admire the valor of King Leonidas and his warrior elite, without wanting to have been part of a nation that assessed every newborn for warrior potential and fed the rejects to the wolves; we can thrill to the story of Hannibal’s doomed audacity, while relieved that no one expects us to make human sacrifices to Baal; we can ride, through the magic of the written word, with Stuart or Mosby while having no truck with slavery.

In some way, the warrior and war experience is universal, and we can consider it apart from history’s judgment on the warriors’ society, a cruel, cold, dispassionate judgment that no society long can escape.

Gabriel and Savage’s Crisis in Command is a widely read professional book of the 70s and 80s that contrasted the leadership style (and results) of the Wehrmacht, with that of the United States Army in Vietnam, much to the detriment of the Americans.

Apart from the MG34, a couple of other weapons are called out in the video. The sergeant’s MP40, or, as the moviemakers call it, incorrectly, “Schmeisser,” was dismissed as a mere noisemaker, deadly only at close range.

And the Stiehlhandgranate 24 comes in for discussion. As they note, it was an offensive, concussion grenade, which served to injure personnel and destroy equipment by blast, not fragmentation (later in the war a frag sleeve was made that could be slipped over the sheet metal casing of the explosive end of the grenade).  It was an improvement of WWI grenades containing ammonium nitrate and tolite fillings inside a similar sheet metal, non-fragmentation can, and contained about a quarter-kilogram of TNT, about half the total weight of the grenade.

And the narration says, “Often six or seven of these potato mashers are tied together for a demolition charge.” The narrator is quite right; the Germans called this a Geballte Ladung, or “concentrated charge.” It was taught to engineers as well as infantry as an improvised anti-tank and anti-bunker tool.

The term geballte Ladung is also used colloquially where an English speaker would say, “a whole mess,” or perhaps, vulgarly, “a shitload,” of something.