Category Archives: Foreign and Enemy Weapons

Is the HK 293 Really Coming?

H&K, having decided that we don’t suck and they don’t hate us after all, is trying to bring a semi-automatic version of their G 36 rifle to the United States and worldwide market. To do this they have to leap two regulatory hurdles: authority to export the firearm from the Bundeskriminalamt, the “Federal Criminal Office” that manages the Federal Republic’s stringent weapons export laws, and then authority to import the weapon to the US, from the payroll patriots at the ATF.

Recently-delivered HK 243 of an overseas customer shows its G36 roots.

Recently-delivered HK 243 of an overseas customer shows its G36 roots.

It gets better, if you define “better” as a bigger headache for H&K officials: the US and German laws were written with no consideration of each other, and impose confusing, arbitrary, and contradictory requirements on someone trying to send a rifle from one nation to the other. Meanwhile, H&K officers don’t want to respawn the Ernst Mauch “Because You Suck. And We Hate You” era: they’re determined to make a gun worthy of their company’s good name, not the bowdlerized crap of the 1990s.

These incompatible laws result in H&K’s having to divide the small worldwide market for oddball >$2,000 semi rifles into two separate model numbers, the HK 243 for the rest of the world and the HK 293 for America. (Not sure which model goes to Canuckistan, if any).

As the situation stands now, the BKA has approved the German export license, but the ATF is the logjam. (It is possible that the H&K application is mired in the ATF’s newfound commitment to political partisanship). The weapon has all the same parts as the G36, but military G36 parts including barrels, trigger mechanisms, bolts and carriers don’t interchange (this is required by German law).


The standard G36 magazine is not a NATO STANAG magazine; as you can see, it has a constant curve, better for feeding than the part-curved part-straight M16-derived NATO mag. But a clever interchangeable magwell converts the G36 (or its civilian equivalents, in the picture below an HK 243) to take the NATO magazine.

HK 243 in italy

The US model would probably hit the docks in an unsalable (but legal!) configuration and then be rebuilt for 922 (r) compliance at H&K’s Newington plant (or H&K’s partners, Wilcox) in much the way that the FN SCAR-S gets a makeover at FNH USA between its Belgian factory and its American customers. The US model is likely to be as much as $1,000 more expensive than the Euro-spec gun — think of it as a hidden §922 (r) tax.

A similarly high price has hindered the widespread adoption of the FN SCAR, an excellent weapon handicapped by having its manufacturing processes dictated by lawyers and politicians.


We were remiss not to link & credit an HK Pro thread from which we drew the pictures and distilled lots of the information this thread. It is here:

No slight to the forum or its members was intended. The thread is a rich source of information (and speculation) about the 243 and 293.

Transferable History

We’ve featured an MP.18-II before, which is a later iteration of this exact same gun, with a magazine well reconfigured for straight magazines. (It led in turn to the MP.28, the Lanchester, and the Sten, by fairly direct process of derivation). But this gun, the MP.18-I, is the granddaddy of them all, and it could be yours.

MP.18-I 03It is certainly the first widely produced submachine gun, defined as a shoulder-fired infantry weapon firing a pistol cartridge with an automatic or select-fire mechanism. A blowback mechanism, it showed the way for many designs that would follow through three generations of submachine guns, until the rise of compact versions of intermediate-cartridge assault weapons would replace most of them.

Some would say it has a face only a mother could love:

MP.18-I 28


And it’s just as awkward looking from behind. MP.18-I 24

The drum magazine is so odd looking because it was already in production for the Lange P.08, the “Artillery” Luger. Rather than try to design a thirtyish-round magazine, the engineers at Theodor Bergmann in the weapons-manufacturing center Suhl, Germany, did what many later gun designers would do and borrowed a proven one.

MP.18-I Snail Drum 03


The gadget with the lever is the magazine loader, a must-have for these unique mags. Note the sleeve that fits on them for SMG use.

MP.18-I 06

Like all first-generation submachine guns the MP.18-I is made using the rifle processes of the early 20th Century. It is primarily made of steel parts machined from billet or forgings, richly blued; and the stock is solid walnut. If four years of relentless naval blockade had damaged the German Empire’s war production capabilities, this gun doesn’t show it.

The auction has a very reasonable opening bid, for what it is, but there is also a reserve. No, we don’t know what the reserve is.

As the catchy song goes, what does the ad say?

This is a really nice example of the early 9 mm German submachine gun used in WWI. MP18-1 was the first true Submachine Gun. This is not all matching, but is an excellent example with an excellent bore.

These are very rare and hard to find because most MP18’s were modified to accept the straight magazine instead of the drum magazine.

There was a show on the tube, the one with that perv guy, where they bubba’d up a later MP. 18-II to resemble this, so you might want to ensure that this is not the Bubba gun version.

It has a 1920 stamp on the receiver so it was used by the Weimar Police.

This comes with 2 drums with adapters and 1 drum loading tool. These drums are the same drums used with the Artillery Luger. This is C&R fully transferable and is currently on a form 3.

via German WWI MP18,I with 2 Drums & Loader : Machine Guns at

If you’re familiar with later German SMGs, the bolt and striker of the MP.18 look pretty familiar:

MP.18-I 25

The simplicity of this firearm was so elegantly perfect for its purpose that it spawned hundreds of work-alikes, few of which improved on its basic function (after replacing the overly complex magazine).

This may look like a lot of pictures, but there are way more at the auction link — something like 30 of them all told. You know you want to click over there anyway.

Sure, it’s more than our pickup cost, new, and it’s almost 100 years old. But on the other hand, our pickup will be worth approximately $0 in ten years, and an original MP.18-I is unlikely to lose much value. (If you buy it into a business you can even try depreciating it and see if the tax guys let you).

In case two drums aren’t enough for you, the same seller has a third, too. Without loader, but with dust cover. They’re all First Model snail drums. Annoy a totalitarian, buy a 32-round magazine.

third drum

One nice thing about this seller’s auctions is that they run for a good, long time. The MP.18 has eight days to go. (Serious bidders may not show up until close to the end. Don’t read too much into lack of bids on an auction when it still has weeks to run).

Another nice thing about these auctions? They give all of us the chance to see many rare collector pieces. We can’t own them all, but we can get eyes on them when they change hands. How cool is that?

Bureaucracy vs Mobilization

The Golan Heights saw the largest tank battles since WWII in the East.

The Golan Heights saw the largest tank battles since WWII in the East.

When Ori Orr returned to Israel after several years away, including a US staff college, just before the 1973 War, he faced cultural shock. The Israeli Army of 1967 — indeed, the whole society of 1967 — was robustly egalitarian, strikingly so by European or even American standards. A private might use his battalion or division commander’s first name; officers drove themselves and tended their own uniforms. This Army had won great victories on all fronts in 1948, 1956 and 1967, forced Egypt to knuckle under in the 1970 War of Attrition, and fully expected that if the Arabs moved in the direction of a new war, they’d get a new beating.

The Army of 1973 was complacent thanks to its long string of victories, especially the decisive win of 1967. And it had succumbed to the slow creep of bureaucracy and stratification. Senior officers had staff cars, drivers, batmen. In 1967, even cabinet ministers didn’t get such perks.  Orr didn’t think it was a change for the better. It offended his egalitarian sensibilities (he would later be a Member of the Knesset and a government minister for the small-s socialist Labor Party). In fact, he had returned to an Army that had thrown over its battle-born radical beginnings to become leadenly bureaucratic. In a very short time, the IDF would have to lose its peacetime bureaucracy.

Or die.

Emblem of the 679 Tank Brigade.

Emblem of the 679 Tank Brigade.

On the first day of the war, freshly appointed reserve tank brigade commander Orr found that he had subordinates of both the 1967 and 1973 stripes. (Note that the following is a horrible translation from Hebrew to English; the translator was ignorant of military vocabulary like “mobilization” and “armorer,” and frequently uses what Mark Twain might have called “a second approximation of the word.”)

Mickey, the adjutant officer, decided to register the men only after they were assigned a vehicle, before leaving, because he understood that there was no other way to ascertain that the men were registered in their units. This sped up the absorption process.

Mickey, for whom Orr was suitably thankful, was a 1967 officer — damn the rules, get it done. So we may digress for a moment into what they were trying to get done.

Israeli Centurion 1973An IDF reserve unit of the period was a hollow shell with a permanent, full-time cadre of four or five officers, and a handful of specialist warrant officers or NCOs. They maintained the equipment in a mobilization-ready state, in theory, and in the event of a mobilization, they planned on having two weeks’ notice to absorb reservists, shake down the unit, clear any vehicle squawks or supply shortfalls, and get ready to fight. Unlike an American Reserve or Guard unit, or a British Territorial Army unit, there weren’t regular, frequent drills, just infrequent and irregular micro-mobilizations for training. The Arab attack caught the Israelis flatfooted on a holiday, and Orr’s situation was compounded by many small ills. His unit hadn’t done training recently. It had obsolete Centurions with at-end-of-life gasoline engines and balky manual transmissions; they’d already been shifted from being parked in their tactical elements to being parked in the order they were going to the depot for a diesel and automatic shift mobility upgrade.

New to the unit, he didn’t know anybody (but thanks to the small size of the IDF Tank Corps, he’d soon find old friends). And his time in command was, when the Syrians hit a relatively miles away, measured in days (his first order had been to put the tanks back in tactical order). He approved Mickey’s quick-thinking rule-breaking. But he also had the Spirit of1973 in some of his cadre.

Tankers' individual weapons were probably, mostly, 9mm Uzi SMGs in 1973. We've been unable to find images of an IDF arms room circa '73.

Tankers’ individual weapons were probably 9mm Uzi SMGs in 1973. We’ve been unable to find images of an IDF arms room circa ’73.

While absorbing the soldiers , I hear the loud voice of an argument coming from the weaponry area. I left the dark area. The active-duty gunsmith recognized me first, and it took a little longer for the reserve soldiers until they spotted my rank. The gunsmith turned to me almost shouting, “They want to take out weapons without signing for it.” I looked at him in amazement. The world around us was trembling but I had still not managed to inculcate into the very last of the soldiers that we were at war. “Open the door and quickly give each soldier his weapon!” I ordered. At first, he looked at me in disbelief. I guess that I was the only one from whom he would have agreed to accept such a command to change the order of his universe.

One is reminded of legend of the ammunition boxes of Isandlwana. Orr didn’t make the historical reference, but he was less than thrilled with this encounter with one of the 1973 type of bureaucratic Israeli soldier.

I informed the maintenance officer of the instructions that I had given. I didn’t hide my anger at the fact that he had not managed to internalize the message to his men that we were at war, already from the afternoon. NOTE 1

Orr had his first tanks in action against the Syrians 15 hours from receiving the warning order, well short of the 24 hours thought to be the minimum, and far from the two weeks that Israeli strategists had expected their reservists to have. To accomplish that, he sent the tanks with limited ammunition — they had AT ammo but no HE, and in fact only had 2/3 of their basic load. When the commander of this element, Nitzan Yotzer, asked for more time to load his tanks, Orr told him:

Nitzan, the Syrians don’t know how much ammunition you are missing. True, we were educated that in battle, you go out when everyone is full, but there is no time. The Syrians need to see tanks shooting at them and blocking off the routes. We need to make an effort to reach you later with the ammunition. Note 2

Yotzer’s element, a few tanks and a few reconnaissance men in jeeps,  went out and ran into Syrians “east of Tel Tzabah, at the Katzbiya Junction.” The  Syrians weren’t expecting resistance so early, and Yotzer’s Centurions at least temporarily the Syrian advance at 0200 on 7 Oct 73 — just 12 hours after the attack at 1400 on the 6th, and 15 hours after the initial alert came to Orr.

They would not be out of the woods at all. The Israelis discovered, in those first hot minutes, a disturbing thing they hadn’t expected of their Arab enemies: the Syrians were not intimidated, and they had come to fight.

They wouldn’t find the next surprise just yet, because the Syrian forces here were a unit with older T-55 tanks, evenly matched to Yotzer’s old Centurions: but the Syrians’ armored elite in T-62s, unlike the Israelis, could see in the dark.


  1. Orr, Ori. Yom Kippur War: These are My Brothers. Contento De Semrik: Kindle Edition, 2013. Kindle Locations 1449-1465.
  2. Orr, Ori. Yom Kippur War: These are My Brothers. Contento De Semrik: Kindle Edition, 2013. Kindle Locations 1518-1524.

Soviet ATGMs and October, 1973 (Long)

So far in this series, we’ve looked at the development of US and Western European anti-tank guided missiles, from their origins in a German WWII design program to their introduction to combat — just in time to encounter Russian missiles designed along similar lines — in the Vietnam War. (The Russian missiles got the first kill, by a couple of weeks). Today we’ll extend the story of early ATGMs by discussing how the Russians developed their missiles, and how Russian missiles figured in Arab planning for in the Yom Kippur War (the Ramadan War, to the Arabs, and the October War to the strictly neutral) of 1973. Unlike the Vietnam offensive of 1972, where they were only locally decisive, the robotic tank-killers decided battles and nearly won the war. We’ll have more about the war in a future installment (this one is already over 2500 words — oversized for a web post).

AT-3 Sagger (this one an improved Chinese copy).

AT-3 Sagger (this one an improved Chinese copy with a much larger, stabilized sight and SACLOS guidance).

Russian Missile Development

Compared to Germany, which was  working on them in 1945, and France and the USA, which were in development from the earliest 1950s, the Soviets were a little late to wire-guided ATGM development, beginning only in the late 1950s. It’s unknown whether they had as a basis any foreign technology. Certainly they could have used captured German technology, French or American technology acquired by espionage, or they simply could have applied robust Russian engineering to problem solutions that they knew their Western rivals had already accomplished. It’s probable that all three were part of missile R&D, with the heavy lifting being done by Russian engineers. The Russian product, by 1973, was a missile that was combat-ready and had several advantages over its Western counterparts.

AT-1 Snapper live fire, somewhere in Europe. This is the BRDM-mounted version.

AT-1 Snapper live fire, somewhere in Europe. This is the BRDM-mounted version.

As with SAMs, Russian engineers passed through numerous experimental iterations of ATGMs (Anti Tank Guided Missiles), and they delivered to their Arab friends the first and third version that they operationalized. The first missile was a bit of a turkey; fired from a converted GAZ-69 jeep, the 3M6 Shmel (NATO coded, AT-1 Snapper) flew fairly slowly, had an enormous launch signature, and was vulnerable to the obvious countermeasure of blowing away the jeep and its crew, including the missile aimer who could not fire from a remote or dismounted position, but sat in a seat facing backwards looking at the target through a periscopic sight. The gunner had to continue to aim at the tank and steer the missile throughout its flight, which could be 15-20 seconds — a lifetime, literally, in armored combat.

It is very hazardous being on a tank battlefield wearing less than a tank. A cotton Army shirt, or a sheet-metal jeep, provide no protection and if that’s what you have, cover and concealment are vital. The Snapper couldn’t be fired from cover (except in its BRDM version, which put a bare 15mm of armor between the operators and the great outdoors), and it negated its own concealment by launching from the control station.

The third missile, though, the 9M14 Malyutka, better known by its NATO reporting code AT-3 Sagger was a hit, no pun intended. The Sagger, while having a great resemblance to the French missiles the Israelis had played with and a family resemblance to the Snapper, was small. It came packed in a plastic “suitcase” half of which served as the base for its simple rail launcher, and the other half as a base for its reusable sight. One man could carry one all day on his back, and two, suitcase-style, in his hands for short spurts. In true Russian tradition, the missile was sturdy and reliable, and made no superhuman demands on its operator. True, it was a MCLOS (Manual Command to Line of Sight) missile, at least in these early versions, and operator training was vital, but along with the missiles, the Soviets had developed operator and maintenance training, including mobile missile simulators that could travel with divisional logistics elements and keep operators sharp. These they furnished freely to the Egyptian and Syrian armed forces (among others). It was the Egyptians who would make the best use of these missiles.

The Sagger and the Tank Sack

Soviet doctrine had long taught the anti-tank ambush under various terms (the image-rich “tank sack” is one that springs to mind), and they’d used it deftly against the Germans, whose armored warfare worked splendidly against Russian tanks, and not so well against concealed AT guns attacking the Panzers’ vulnerable flanks.

Chinese improved Sagger live fire.

Chinese improved Sagger live fire.

The modern variation of the use of AT guns was to follow leading tanks closely with infantry antitank teams. Soviet tanks would have their flanks guarded by infantry, something comforting for any tanker, but these infantry would be well-equipped with AT weapons, principally long-range Saggers and short-range RPGs. A Sagger crewman needed intensive initial and recurrent training, and the Russians developed an innovative series of portable simulators to keep their missileers sharp without expending vast quantities of costly missiles. The well-trained Sagger crews dug in and/or located on reverse slopes, with their missiles displaced to the limit of their cords (about 15m) and only their periscopes showing. This protected them better than their unlucky mates in the Snapper jeeps.

The Soviet-designed weapons had a minimum effective range, but more to the point their maximum effective range was 3,000 meters, on the ragged edge of the effective range of the West’s 105mm tank gun. Moreover, a tank gun’s accuracy against a moving target depends on accurately ranging and leading the target, and so, a tank gun’s accuracy declines with range, and declines precipitously with range on fast-moving targets. This period US chart NOTE 2 brags up the improvement in a pH from Sherman to Pershing to M60A1 days:


But a missile under human guidance, like the Sagger, can track a moving target even if the target changes direction or speed. The general rule of thumb is that the first hit decides a tank fight; Sagger had a near 90% probability of hit at all ranges from 1,000 to 3,000 meters.



A hit gave the Sagger a very high pK as well: the warhead was among the most effective in the world at the time, penetrating the equivalent of 17″ of rolled homogeneous armor at 0º obliquity (engineering speak for “square on”). US testing of captured Saggers and computer probability analyses assigned the Sagger a .67 pK at a mean engagement range of 2,500 meters.

Combined with the T-62’s 5000+ fps tank guns for the midrange and RPGs for the knife fight, the Sagger meant a Soviet-style (including Egyptian or Syrian) antitank ambush was potentially lethal from 3,000 meters to zero.


American soldiers and engineers were very impressed with that graph.

Soviet technology made the combined arms army of 1970 very different from the victorious horde of 1945, Unlike the Western Allies, who had advanced under an umbrella of air power, the Soviets chose not to depend on their powerful Air Forces and Frontal Aviation, but to give their tank and motorized rifle units an umbrella of surface-to-air missiles overhead and a screen of anti-tank missiles to the front. They equipped every tank with night vision, choosing to spend now on active infrared rather than wait for the costs of image intensification to come down (the West, mostly, made the other choice, to delay purchases now and skip a generation of night equipment). This would also shock Israel, when her enemies (especially the Syrians, who had trained with the night sights and lights very extensively) could see at night, and their army could not. The IDF was heir to a tradition of night-fighting from 1948, and its leaders firmly believed that Arabs were too frightened and superstitious to fight at night, just as they believed that Arabs couldn’t operate and maintain sophisticated missiles.

The Sagger Countermeasures of 1973

Before the war, the Israelis didn’t take the Sagger seriously. They knew about it from desultory US reports and from occasional firings during Suez skirmishes — inconsequential firings that encouraged them to disrespect the missile. It was just one more anti-tank weapon, and when their own forces wanted anti-tank weapons, the Deputy Chief of Staff told them, “You already have the best one: a tank!” The qualitative change in the battlefield produced by a long-range, accurate, tank-killing weapon was completely unexpected.

[Military Intelligence] printed booklets about the Sagger’s characteristics based on information received from the United States, which had encountered the missile in Vietnam in 1971. The armored corps command had even developed tactics for dealing with the missile. But neither the booklets nor the suggested tactics had yet filtered down and few tank men were even aware of the Sagger’s existence.NOTE 3

How to answer the Sagger attack would become a major question for the Israelis (and by extension, for anyone who might have to fight Soviet-style forces). The US also studied this, before and after the war. While defenders worked out some countermeasures, they were imperfect; but a decade later, American tankers were still using “Sagger drills” developed by surviving Israeli tankers after their counterattack of 7 October 73 was savaged by infantry anti-tank teams using Saggers and RPGs.

Reshef’s operations officer, Lt. Pinhas Bar, who had accompanied Bardash’s force, assembled the tank commanders and explained the techniques developed in the past few hours for coping with the Sagger. Such impromptu lessons would be going on all along the front as new units took the field alongside tankers who had survived the day.

The Saggers, the “veterans” explained, were a formidable danger but not an ultimate weapon. They could be seen in flight and were slow enough to dodge. It took at least ten seconds for a missile to complete its flight—at extreme range it could be twice that—during which time the Sagger operator had to keep the target in his sights as he guided the missile by the bright red light on its tail. From the side it was easy for the tankers to see the light. As soon as anyone shouted “Missile,” the tanks were to begin moving back and forth in order not to present a stationary target. Movement would also throw up dust that would cloud the Sagger operator’s view. Simultaneously, the tank should fire in his presumed direction, which itself could be sufficient to throw him off his aim.

It was clear to the tank crews that something revolutionary was happening—as revolutionary, it seemed, as the introduction of the machine gun or the demise of the horse cavalry. Tanks, which had stalked the world’s battlefields for half a century like antedeluvian beasts, were now being felled with ease by ordinary foot soldiers. It would take time, in some cases days, before the implications of this extraordinary development would be grasped by higher command. Meanwhile, the tankers would have to figure out for themselves how to survive. NOTE 4

Most of the countermeasures relied on spotting the backblast of the launch and directing fire in that area. The US noted with alarm that the M60A1 tank needed to close to 1000-1500 meters to get its pH up to 50%, and by that point it was well within the range fan of the Sagger. 

The Sagger remains in use, here in former Yugoslavia. Note the "suitcase" halves for scale.

The Sagger remains in use, here in former Yugoslavia. Note the “suitcase” halves for scale.

Other Sagger countermeasures included laying suppressive fire on likely lurking spots, something the US Army had forgotten since World War II and Korea; exploiting terrain, or as the Army put it, “every fold of ground”; keeping formations loose and non-geometric in order to complicate a Sagger gunner’s second-choice if he lost his first target; keeping moving, or firing from hull defilade; and using infantry for close-in protection of tanks. The US had a few advantages, too: its similar suite of missiles, guns and unguided rocket AT weapons had fewer minimum-range problems and generally superior accuracy and reduced training demands.

Even after the war, the Israelis struggled to find countermeasures. Uzi Eliam remembers:

Egyptian infantry infantry forces with Saturn missiles constituted a serious threat to our tanks. Maj. Gen. Albert Mendler, commander of the Southern division (the 252nd) in the Sinai Peninsula, was hit by a Egyptian antitank missile and died of his injuries…. NOTE 5

[Deputy CGS Israel] Tal was extremely concerned about the threat of the Sagger missiles which he himself had not completely understood before the war. During the years of the War of Attrition along the Canal, our observation posts had observed closed train cars arriving at the front lines. Each time such a train car reached the position of an Egyptian military unit, a long line of soldiers would form near the door, and the soldiers would enter the car one at a time. At first, we made jokes about the train cars, referring to them as mobile sexual service units similar to the kind operated by the Syrian army before the Six-Day War. However, we quickly realized that the train cars contained training simulators for Sagger missile operators.

At R&D, we thought about different ways of addressing the threat with the American developed Mk19 40 mm grenade machine gun. This machine gun was vehicle mounted, and had a firing rate of 350 grenades a minute and a range of 1500 m. … The proposal to add the system to our armored vehicles was decisively rejected by Operations Branch Chief Tal. According to his dogma, what he called “foreign elements” could not be introduced into tank battles.

Although we started searching for a technological solution to the SAG or missile about 10 days after the outbreak of the war the moment the first missiles fell into our hands, we were unable to find a shortcut or a quick solution…. Tal now invoked his authority as Deputy CGS… [with others]… he put all his energy into finding a solution to the problem. The solution he selected involved positioning net fences and coiled barbed wire around tank encampments in order to cause early detonation of fired Sagger missiles before they hit the tanks themselves. NOTE 6.

Despite our best efforts it took more time to develop responses to the Sagger missile. Many ideas were tried… including the possibility of disrupting the missile command system in midflight, misdirecting the missile navigator, and physically obstructing the missile with a steel net in close proximity of the target. The simple Russian missile was not susceptible to our disruption efforts, and we only found a proper solution to the threat posed by the Sagger missile years later. NOTE 7.

But of course, the Russians were not sleeping, and they had better weapons on the drawing board, already. But that’s another story, perhaps for some other day.

Meanwhile their 1973-vintage missiles were a key to the Arab nations’ hopes to recover territory, and pride, lost in the calamitous defeat of 1967. That’s the next, and we think last, installment of this story, the story of early ATGMs.


  1. Eilam disagrees with this, noting that US policy was only to provide new technology to Israel once the Israelis had shown themselves capable of producing their own, in order to discourage “escalation” and an “arms race.” These are diplomatic (i.e., State Department) terms; while the US DOD then strongly slanted towards Israel, State was then (as now) a hotbed of antisemitism and anti-Israeli feeling.
  2. All these charts come from US Army, TRADOC Bulletin 1u, and were originally prepared as briefing view-graphs (powerpoint before there was powerpoint).
  3. Rabinovich, Kindle Locations 653-655
  4. Rabinovich, Kindle Locations 2092-2108.
  5. Eilam, p. 108.
  6. Eilam, pp. 138-139.
  7. Eilam, p. 148.


Kelly, Orr. King of the Killing Zone: The Story of the M1, America’s Super Tank. New York: WW Norton & Co., 1989.

Eliam, Uzi. Eliam’s Arc: How Israel Became a Military Technology Powerhouse. Sussex University Press, 2011.

Rabinovich, Abraham. The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

US Army, Training and Doctrine Command. TRADOC Bulletin 1u: Range and Lethality of US and Soviet Anti-Armor Weapons. Ft. Monroe, VA: TRADOC, 30 September 1975. Retrieved from:

Anti-Tank Missiles — America’s Early Years

We’ve discussed the original German developments on wire-guided missiles, and the way the US Army didn’t pick uo on them until it was imagining its ultimate tank-killer in the late 1950s. That missile program was rolled into one of Robert S. Macnamara’s grandiose schemes, the international MBT-70 tank, that was going to be the best tank in the world by such a margin that all NATO would adopt it. (Instead, it wound up being a bitter, painful and costly learning experience for the US and Germany).

A Note About Interational and Combination Programs

International programs always have great appeal to deskbound defense intellectuals like Macnamara. It’s an instantation of a set they can’t resist, making one general thing replace two or more specialized ones. Therefore it’s always easy to sell DOD suits on something like the M14 replacing the M1 rifle, M1 carbine, M3A1 SMG, M1918A2 automatic rifle, and M1919A6 squad machine gun, all in one fell swoop.  The problem is, of course, that the M14 was okay to replace the rifle and maybe the carbine, but couldn’t quite do what the grease gun and the BAR did, and was not even in the same game, capability-wise, as the light machine gun. This is not a criticism of the M14, it’s a criticism of the boneheaded idea that a general-purpose rifle can replace something developed for another general-purpose entirely. From the beginning the M14 was intended to replace the M3A1 as well as the M1 rifle, but it wound up being longer and bulkier than the M1, something many people don’t understand because of the M14’s clean, attractive, carbine-like lines.

While the graveyards of defense procurement are rich in “not just a toaster, but also a blender!” false starts, the problems of neither-fish-nor-fowl procurement are compounded by international programs. Now you have to deal with different requirements that are rooted in different doctrines and even concepts of war. The MBT-70 was the compromise hellchild of incompatible American and German concepts of what a tank was for. The Americans envisioned a tank so good it could fight and win despite being grossly outnumbered, and that fired missiles. The Germans, having tramped that road to its logical conclusion in WWII, wanted a tank they could afford to build in such quantity that they wouldn’t have to fight grossly outnumbered, and they saw the tank-gun-missile-launcher as the boondoggle it was. NATO politics forced both nations, whose armies had a tradition of mobile, offensive-oriented tank fighting, onto a war plan comprising static defense in place. So the best tank minds of two of the world’s top five tank-fighting nations poured themselves for years into a project whose demise was written in its congenital deformation.

As a rule of thumb, odds of failure of a given military procurement project increase by the exponent of the number of armed services involved.

Meanwhile, Back in La Belle France…

While the Americans and Germans tied themselves into knots trying to make a Ronco does-everything tank (and the Americans, to build a missile it could launch), something interesting happened in France. French engineers picked up where Dr Kramer left off with his wire-guided AT missile. Within a few years, they had a design for one that would work, and they showed it off to their allies, hoping for some help. So, about 1951, French officials showed American officers the experimental SS-10 missile. It was a small, barely man-portable or jeep-launched missile that could deliver a whopping hollow charge onto a tank with precision, given a well-trained operator.

SS-10 in US service in 1961. With its ends popped off and propped up with a built-in monopod, the box became a launcher.

SS-10 in US service in 1961. With its ends popped off and propped up with a built-in monopod, the box became a launcher.

Nord Aviation (the French manufacturer) missile ad, 1959.

Nord Aviation (the French manufacturer) missile ad, 1959. Click to embiggen.

The SS-10 incorporated Manual Command to Line of Sight or MCLOS guidance. A sodium flare in the missile’s tail let the missileer steer the weapon, which he flew onto target with a joystick. (This was generally how Kramer’s system had worked). The weapon came to American attention in 1951, according to a once-classified US history:

The French SS-10 missile evolved from the German RuhrstahZ, or X-4, a single-wing, wire-guided, roll-stabilized missile originally developed as an air-to-air missile late in World War 11. The Germans were ready to begin mass production of the Y-4 early in 1945, but their plans were interrupted by costly delays in acquir- ing suitable solid-fuel rocket engines and by the relentless bombing of research and manufacturing centers by Allied planes. Recognizing the potentialities of the X-4 as a surface-to-surface antitank weapon, the French continued-its development after the war ended.lO The resultant product was the SS-10, a ground- launched, cruciform-wing missile about 34 inches long with a 30-inch wing span. It had a gross weight of 34 pounds and carried an 8.9-pound shaped-charged warhead for an operational range of about 1,500 yards. Like the X-4, the SS-10 was an optically-guided, wire-controlled missile — features later incorporated i n the DART guided missile system.

The Ordnance Corps became interested in the SS-10 a s a potential antitank weapon late in 1951 and subsequently supported the development program with primary emphasis on procurement, test, and evaluation of the system. Early in 1952, 500 SS-10 missiles and 3 sets of ground equipment were procured from the French Government for use in evaluation tests by the Ordnance Corps at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the AFF Board No. 3 at Fort Benning, Georgia, and the U. S. Marine Corps at Quantico, Virginia. The evaluation program began in December 1952 and continued until October 1953, when it was discontinued because of unfavorable test results. Members of the AFF Board No. 3 recommended that the SS-10 missile, in its current state of development, be considered unsuitable for use by the U. S. Army, and that future French development of the missile be carefully observed with a view to reconsideration of the weapon if an improved model should be produced before a comparable American weapon became available.

Click “more” to continue with the Comparable American Weapon — a dead-end — and America’s return to French missiles for the 1960s, and developments to the early 70s.

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A Little More Info on VT Fuzes

Proximity_FuzesIn the comments, someone asked how long it took for the Russians to develop VT Fuzes, after the Rosenbergs gave them plans1. In attempting to answer this question (which we still have not done), we came across an excellent study and engineering text on VT fuze development by Dr VK Arora. Dr Arora’s book is supposedly available from the Defense Research and Development Office in India ($45 in the USA); we can’t figure out how to buy it, though. If we could, we could arbitrage them on Amazon where they’re going for $99!

Fortunately, DRDO has put the first chapter, which includes the historical stuff, on their website. The rest of the book, the real meat of it, is tech and theory that you don’t really need if you’re in it for the history. (If you do want that stuff, even $99 is a good buy).

It took the US only 2-3 years from giving the project priority to the first Aichi Val down in flames alongside USS Helena. Dr VK Arora notes that India was able to develop VT fuzes and field them for its Army’s 75-mm and 105-mm field artillery over the nine years from 1966 to 1975. However, their first successful design was tested six months after the project started.

Of course, development is eased if you, like the Russians and Indians, but unlike the original British researchers or the Americans who took up their task, know for certain that the product is indeed feasible and practical. Russia knew that, and had some plans and documentation, but were far short of the process sheets they’d need to duplicate all the industrial processes that went into the intricate fuzes.

India had more than the Russians did, with samples of British naval fuzes to study and reverse engineer. But the naval fuzes were much too large for India’s compact WWII-vintage field artillery, which included the following:

  • 75mm/L24 pack howitzers, an important mountain gun for India
  • The British Royal Ordnance Quick Firing 25-pounder (3.45″/87.6mm) gun-howitzer. These guns were colonial leftovers, and this fuze appears not to have been fielded. (Pakistan, oddly enough, still fields these geriatric guns in quantity).
  • The 105mm Indian Field Gun (a domestic development optimized for mobility in India’s varied terrain).
  • The Russian D-46 130mm gun

In addition to the Army fuzes, the same Indian labs developed fuzes for the Navy:

  • 76.2mm Naval Gun
  • 4.5″ (actually 4.45″/113 mm, a British caliber) Naval Gun.

The initial 6-month success story in 1966 was substantially simplified and sped by a thorough understanding of how earlier fuzes, including the WWII vacuum-tube fuzes, worked. The Indian effort was organized much like the American one had been, with scientists in government-funded labs working with the support of the military for testing and industry (in India’s case, nationalized industry) for production. But in the 1960s, transistors offered a way to simplify and ruggedize the fuzes further, and the Indian engineers didn’t miss their chance. In March, 1966, Dr Arora himself at the Defense Research and Development Organization…

…with a team of three other young scientists, PC Nagpal, MN Sen, GJ Chaturvedi and two technicians commenced the work on electronics of the fuze. The team developed a prototype of CW proximity fuze in three months. The fuze electronics developed consisted of a Colpitts oscillator at 220 MHz using an epoxy encapsulated RF transistor, Doppler amplifier, a Schmitt threshold circuit and a transistor switch to ignite the detonator. The fuze oscillator detector was tested for its sensitivity by using a horizontally moving aluminium reflector in the vicinity of fuze. The complete electronics was encapsulated. The oscillator was encapsulated in low density polyethylene. The remaining circuit was encapsulated in an epoxy resin. The electronics was embedded in a plastic nose cone with a metal cap on top of the nose cone which in conjunction with shell body would work as a quarter wave monopole antenna.

The first tests were simple and practical, as the American ones had been, and showed room for further ruggedization. A wax-encapsulated battery turned out to be a weak point, as did the plastic nose cone; then-novel materials such as epoxy resins and fiber-reinforced epoxy solved those problems.

As for the Russian developments? Those still need research. But it’s unlikely it took them much longer than the Indians to get up and running.


  1. Rosenberg’s VT information was sourced, we believe, from Emerson Electric, where Julius had worked. Along with the atomic information, Julius gave up all of the classified programs Emerson worked on, including the VT fuze. Julius was always the active spy of the pair, Ethel was his partner and support agent but appears never to have had direct access, although she was able to recruit her brother David Greenglass for the atomic espionage task).

PPShooting Around Corners

Waffen Revue 25 - StG44If you’re the kind of gun and history geek (hey! own it) we generally attract to the blog, you’re already familiar with the Krummlauf (“crooked barrel”) attachment to the German MP.44 series assault rifles.

The Krummlauf  is well-documented in books like Small Arms of the World, surviving period documents, and that sort of thing. It was made in several versions, differing in the degree of “bend” (30, 45, and 60º IIRC) and could be used for firing from cover (down), or the whole weapon could be turned over for firing around corners (sideways). It had its own 1.5x optic, and the extended, curved barrel was both vented for relief, and rifled.

Whether it was intended for urban warfare (firing around corners in the assault), armored warfare (firing from behind cover in a halftrack) or positional warfare (firing from trenches) is a matter of speculation. The problem with this kind of specialized weapon, for the Germans or anybody, is that you only need it once in a while, but you have to carry it all the time. That is, if you’re going to have any hope of having it with you on the rare occasion when you do need it.

There’s a number of surviving Krummlauf attachments and MP44 Krummlauf hosts, at least a half dozen, with at least two on the NFA registry (there are probably more that those numbers). One was auctioned recently by Rock Island and has a very complete description, with an explanatory video by Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons, on its auction page.

grease_gun_around_corners_ps_march_52The US experimented with something similar, but vastly simpler. We deleted the German prismatic sight, and didn’t even make a complete barrel, creating something more like a bullet trough for a spray of 230-grain solids to go off in the general direction of the enemy. This has been widely reported to have been done by the OSS. The historical writeups are thinner than on the Krummlauf, but they’re there. The gun seems to have first come to public attention in the Korean War era. For example, it was featured in Popular Science magazine in March, 1952 (image left). The article suggests that the gun was meant to be used, and hints that there might have been an optic, but, “Sights are secret.” The gun was also featured in LIFE in 1953, and those photos turn up online here and there.

LIFE OSS curved barrel

But we never knew until we stumbled over it on the excellent site, that there were at least two Russian variants of the same thing for the PPSh-41, which was made in staggering quantities. Unlike the common PPSh, these variations are extremely rare, probably for the same reasons of impracticality that limited distribution of the German and American ones. The more sophisticated showed a similar design approach to the Krummlauf, with the added benefit of being easily convertible in direction. This video shows the gun:


The second was a bent-down version, called in one reference the Model 1945, that looks more like a gimmick than a real, working gun.

ppsh-45 curved

It honestly looks like someone heated and bent a regular PPSh. (As we’ve seen from our recent M4 at Wanat series, heating barrels can be A Bad Thing®).


We’d love to have the whole who-shot-John on these, but we don’t. Maybe some commenters can help.

One of the most interesting questions is this: were the American and Russian “corner guns” simply examples of convergent evolution, or did they come about after examining German Krummlauf units?

Ian notes, in his video about the Krummlauf, that the Germans tried doing an open trough like the later American Grease Gun modification, but gave it up and went with a rifled curved bore instead.

The Mauser K98k: a Commando’s View

These days, the venerable 98 Mauser has been elevated to a mythical position among the world’s firearms. It is, many writers say, the ne plus ultra of the military turnbolt repeater. To these fans, this position is demonstrated not only by its decades of service in every corner of the world, but also by its impact on every subsequent turnbolt, from the 03 Springfield and the Arisaka Type 38 (1905), to the Remington 700, Winchester Model 70, and Weatherby Mark V, all of which took something from the German original.

Mauser K98k from world-guns-ru

Yet there is an interesting fact about the Mauser’s history: while many nations were impressed by it and adopted it, the only major one to do so was the United States, who found its Krag-Jorgensen rifles and .30-40 Government rifle cartridge woefully outclassed by the Spaniards’ 1893 Mausers in the Spanish-American War. Superior rifles didn’t save the Spanish cause, but nobody who was on those battlefields had any doubt as to who had the best rifles.

The elevation of one of the volunteer regiments’ colonels, and an avid shooter and hunter, to the Presidency (that promotion itself the product of gunshots) might have had something to do with it. The British had a similar Mauser experience in the Boer War, and were close to the adoption of a rifle with numerous Mauser features (the Pattern 13 and ’14 Enfields) when war intervened and someone in the War Office thought it the wrong time to change. So they entered the Great War wedded to the SMLE Mk. I.

Lee enfield Mk1

After the war ended, though, the British were satisfied with their SMLE. The French also didn’t think the Germans had a better rifle (even though most arms historians are pretty sure they did). Like the Americans and Russians, they were thinking about semi-autos for the future (France would later adopt an odd but serviceable turnbolt, the M1936). None of those nations came out of World War One thinking the Germans had better rifles.

And they didn’t enter — or exit – World War II thinking that, either.

Here’s a opinion worth noting from Peter Young. Who’s that? Well, to lay the whole thing out, it’s Brigadier Peter Young, DSO, MC, MA, FSA, retired. Or it was, when the wartime officer turned historian wrote the Foreword for John Weeks’s World War II Small Arms. In it, Young records being less than impressed with German rifles and riflery, even when it had its very best chance to make an impression on him:

It is interesting to see that the Germans, whose military skill is so much admired, were also capable of making mistakes. The production of the Model 98 Karabiner is a case in point. Having been missed by numerous German riflemen between 1940 and 1945, I have often wondered why the Germans, so skillful with mortar and light machine gun, we’re such rotten shots with the rifle. Well, now I know:

“Unfortunately,” the author writes (without considering my feelings!), “It was a relatively awkward rifle to shoot, and the bolt action was most disappointing. The sight radius was short, which did not make for good shooting.”


In Nº.3 Commando, which I commanded in Italy and Normandy, we were always glad to acquire Lugers or “Schmeissers”, and sometimes used the MG 34. Nobody ever bothered to keep a German rifle. The firepower of the platoon is a decisive factor in infantry combat, and by giving their men a rifle that was so much less effective than the Garand, or even the old Lee Enfield, the Germans were making life unnecessarily difficult for themselves at section level.

Now, that should put the cat among the chickens. Neither Glock nor H&K fanboys can hope to equal the shining, white-hot ardor of German WWII armament fanboys. But this is the word of one who most assuredly Was There™.

Weeks, in the book, does note the German attempts to leapfrog the 19th Century rifle: the G43, which was never built in large numbers, the MP.44, which he’s remarkably (and we think, unfairly) dismissive of, and the daddy of all German techno-fantasies, the FG.42: Weeks loves it as much as any other writer, but recognizes that its production in Wehrmacht-sized quantities was never a possibility. Even the much simpler K.98k with its decades of production engineering could never be built in quantities enough to arm Germany’s mass levies.


To some extent, what Young is describing is simply “the-devil-you-know effect”; not many Germans picked up M1s, either (although photographs indicate that it did happen). His Commandos’ taste for Lugers and MP.38/40 submachine guns may be partly explained by the British practice of being fairly stingy with the issue of the British analogues of these arms, especially the pistols.

The problem with the K.98k is, quite simply, that at the outbreak of of WWII its basic action was 40 years old, and based upon a design that was about a decade older than that. The many German experiments with upping their combat firepower at section level shows that the German Wehrmacht did indeed recognize that the shortened version of their World War I Gewehr 98 was only a stopgap when they introduced it amidst their rearmament program of 1935.

Law-Driven Innovation in NZ

We saw this very cool .22 rifle on Reddit and Imgur — but the story behind the rifle was even more interesting, to us, because it’s a tale of human adaptation to that most inhuman of human adaptations, bureaucracy.

Every jurisdiction — nation, state, province, municipality — has more or less authority to regulate guns, and that means that there’s a lot of variation worldwide. And gun enthusiasts in those countries produce innovations, sometimes, that are driven by the peculiar aspects of their national laws. Take this rimfire bolt-action from the island paradise of New Zealand (these pictures do embiggen greatly if clicked:

NZ Norinco SBR folded


OK, that’s the transport mode, with the stock collapsed. Here’s what it looks like, stock extended.

NZ Norinco SBR3

Pretty cool? Want one? Er, wait, while we digress into international gun law.

Many nations try to ban all but hunting guns, or ban handguns. (Handguns tend to be preferred by criminals, due to their concealability). In nations that ban or highly restrict handguns, there tend to be restrictions on minimum size of rifles and shotguns. The New Zealand restrictions on what is an A-License Category firearm drove the development of the rifle you see here.

The US NFA as an Example

The US has an equivalent law, and it, too, originated as an attempt to ban or highly restrict handguns. The original intent of the sponsors of the National Firearms Act of 1934 was to ban (or technically, restrict, but de facto ban with a Pigovian Tax) pistols and revolvers, as well as machine guns, silencers, and cannons. Their lawyers told them they could not structure a ban as a ban, but could slide it through as a tax measure. But their vote-counters told the New York, Chicago and Boston liberals behind the law that they’d never sell a pistol ban to representatives and senators from the West or South.

So the law passed with the machine-gun and silencer restrictions, and restrictions on short-barrel rifles and short-barrel shotguns which were originally meant to prevent outflanking the pistol ban that was deleted from the bill. (The secondary purpose of the law was to ensure that the agents of the famously corrupt Prohibition Bureau didn’t lose their government jobs, as numbers of them had some connection to a politician).

Most every American gunnie can quote you the barrel length restrictions in the NFA. Rifles must have barrels of 16″; shotguns, 18″. But there are also overall length restrictions of 26″ for both weapons. This technical distinction means it is possible to have a weapon with a perfectly legal barrel length, but given a pistol-grip or other short stock, or a bullpup configuration, the weapon is illegal. (What does ATF call a weapon like that, that cannot be a “short-barreled rifle” or “short-barreled shotgun” because, well, the barrel isn’t legally “short”? The term of art is “weapon made from a rifle”



…or “weapon made from a shotgun.”



Legally, the difference between SBR or SBS and “weapon made from” in the USA is not that great. Both a short-barreled long-gun, and a “weapon made from” a long gun, require a registration under NFA and approval and tax paid ($200) prior to manufacture. Possession of one without your legal and tax ducks in a row en avant is a major Federal felony with a decade in prison as the “prize.”

Of course, that’s US law, and New Zealand has its own.

The New Zealand Law and Its Variance from the US NFA

New Zealand is a different country, and her representatives have written, not surprisingly, entirely different laws. By and large, Kiwi laws are restrictive, comparable not to the USA in general but perhaps to the USA’s more restrictive jurisdictions, such as Massachusetts or Illinois.  Firearms of non-sporting types must be registered, and owners must be approved by the police as having a “good reason” to own that type of weapon. Self-defense is explicitly excluded as a reason.

Like there used to be in Massachusetts, there are “classes” of license, although in NZ they get quite complex:

  • Class A or “standard” license: sporting shotguns and rifles, and air guns.
  • Endorsement B: pistols for target shooting, which may be used at police-approved target shooting clubs, only
  • Endorsement C: collect pistols or “restricted” weapons, but not necessarily to shoot them
  • Endorsement E: to own and fire the dreaded “assault weapons,” which are called “Military Standard Semi Automatic (MSSA)” in Kiwi law.

An interesting peculiarity of New Zealand law is that you must be licensed to shoot these weapons even if you do not own them. Apart from some provisions for rentals by professionals, an unlicensed person may fire only Class A, sporting, arms, under the direct supervision of a licensee

Gun licenses are managed by the police. Their website says:

Someone will arrange to visit you. They will interview you and check your firearms security arrangements. They will arrange to interview your referees.

You will have difficulty being deemed ‘fit and proper’ to possess or use firearms if you have:

– a history of violence
– repeated involvement with drugs
– been irresponsible with alcohol
– a personal or social relationship with people deemed to be unsuitable to be given access to firearms
– indicated an intent to use a firearm for self-defence.

There are some bizarre requirements. For instance, if you don’t keep your firearms at home, it doesn’t matter– you still have to install a security system. (Maybe some top NZ rozzer is getting a kickback from the alarm manufacturer). But it’s their country, they set their own rules.

What the Kiwi Inventor Did and Why it’s Cool

So, our New Zealander wanted to update and improve a fairly conventional Norinco .22 sporting rifle, whilst keeping it legal on a standard “A” license. He envisioned this:

NZ Norinco SBR2



With a sliding stock to make it even more compact. (The suppressor is legal and unregulated, as near as we can tell, in his island nation. Other country, other rules). But the NZ equivalent of the US SBR law means a gun ceases to be sporting (which makes it, what? “Not cricket?”) if it’s shorter than 762 mm.

No matter how inept you are with the metric system, if you’re a gun guy who knows that .30 caliber is 7.62 mm, you ought to be able to figure out that the customizer of this gun, who goes by the Reddit handle CPT Tooks, needed to keep his gun 30 inches long (gee, even longer than our silly SBR law). But the New Zealand law has one marked superiority over the US equivalent — if the weapon can’t be fired in its retracted mode, it is only measured in the mode it can be shot in. As you can see, Tooks’s stock guards the trigger when forward. He says:

I have been working on this one for a while now. Its a suppressed .22lr with a collapsible stock. It started life as a full length Norinco JW15. My goal was to create a stock that could be as compact as possible that would not infringe the New Zealand A-Cat. rifle length law when it is folded down. As you can see when the rifle is less than legal length for a rifle in NZ (762mm) you can no longer engage the trigger. length collapsed = 470mm

That’s 18.5 inches, for all of us bitter clingers to the measurement standards of the Laws of Aethelberht.

NZ Norinco SBR

Here are some more of Tooks’s comments, edited out of the relevant Reddit thread:

I modeled the stock in CAD (Solidworks) and printed it on my 3D Printer. So I just made the stock to fit the Norinco’s action. Cut the barrel down to 7 inches, re-crowned it and made the suppressor for it. Done.

My 3D printer is an Up 2 plus, its print area is 200x200x200mm. the stock is printed in 8 parts and joined together.

The trigger slides inside the stock.

I made the suppressor as well. I printed it.

NZ has no limitations on short rifle barrels, or suppressors. He does not seem to have made the suppressor on the 3D printer, but if you look closely at the pictures of the stock, the telltale lines of additive manufacturing are given away.

I print suppressors on .22lr, .17hmr and .22mag- they are pretty big like the one on this gun but they do work great!. (ABS- If done right its easily strong enough for rim fire). I have put 500+ rounds through my mk1 model with no failure. I live in New Zealand so its not illegal to make suppressors.

He is still responding in the thread.

In the USA it’s not illegal to make suppressors, but it’s restricted. Tooks is not averse to releasing  his designs, but wants to do it in a manner that will get him paid, rather than just dumping them on the net.

Here in the USA, someone would have to convert his stock design to a weapon which is available here, as Norinco imports have been banned since 1989. The ATF interprets the SBR law differently, depending on whether the stock is folding or detachable. If a rifle has a folding stock, it is measured in the extended position, on the presumption that it is meant to be fired that way, even if it can be fired folded. That’s why an Uzi carbine with a metal stock and a 16″ barrel is a Title I firearm, and an Uzi with the same barrel and a detachable wood stock is not. (It is a Weapon Made From a Rifle). Both are about 24 ½” long. Likewise, if you rig the Uzi’s metal stock to be removable, it is no longer a Title I firearm but a Title II NFA arm.

Some states are weird about this, also. Michigan considers rifles that are operable when folded to be SBRs banned under state law if under 26″ (which includes all those Uzis). Folding stock rifles that fold to between 26″ and 30″ and are operable folded, like the AK or most folding M1 Carbines, are classed as “pistols” in that state, and must be registered if you are a resident… but in an unintended consequence of the attorney-general ruling that created this law, are legal to carry loaded, concealed, or in a car, with a pistol license from any recognized jurisdiction! Yes, in Michigan, you can’t carry a fixed-stock AR or AK loaded in your car, but if you can fold it to between 26″ and 30″ you can call it a pistol and be armed to survive in Detroit.

The Cuban Winchester

These days, with Cuba in the news and our President bowing and scraping to los hermanos pollos Castros, is a good time to reflect on the arms of the Cuban Revolution. A recent biography of one of the many tragic figures of the war, Comandante Americano William Morgan, contained a few brief paragraphs about a homemade gun, the “Cuban Winchester.”

One night, [former Second Front training officer Regino] Camacho came over to Morgan, and the two began talking. The other rebels watched as the two huddled over an old Winchester, piecing together the parts to put it back together. They had patched up their differences.

By the morning, the two had devised a homemade assault rifle. Using the frame of a 1907 Winchester and combining it with other parts, they created a base so the gun could fire with interchangeable barrels, depending on what ammo was available. They called it the Cuban Winchester.

This book (The Yankee Comandante by Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss) does have different details from other sources, but the authors have made scant attempt to document their sourcing, and no source at all is given for this. On top of that, Sallah and Weiss clearly have no interest in or understanding of firearms; a picture showing Comandante Morgan posing with his rebel girlfriend describes their arms, an M1 Thompson and an M1 Carbine, as “assault rifles.” But it interested us enough to track down other references to the Cuban Winchester, such as they are, and to tentatively conclude that the gun was a one-off for propaganda purposes.

We were able to find a video online from which we’ve taken some stills of the actual weapon. The actual video is embedded near the end of this post. (The images do embiggen but they’re originally pretty grainy scans from halftone, from Guns magazine in October, 1959[.pdf]).


Remembering something about this, we hit the Unconventional Warfare Operations Research Library, and in its needs-better-organized 3,000+ volume stacks, we found the following in Robert K. Brown’s Merc: American Soldiers of Fortune from the 1980s:

As Morgan later related in an interview with author Brown: “The Cuban Army periodically sent out two thousand to three thousand troops in offensive thrusts into the mountains to hunt us down and destroy our small bands. We were always outnumbered at least thirty to one. Some twenty or thirty of us would stay on the soldiers’ backs; we wouldn’t let them alone. As soon as one group would break off another would take up the attack. That was how we had to fight. Why? We needed the guns.”

Weapons were indeed a problem. The 26 July Movement was getting most of the foreign support going to the Cuban revolutionaries. Their public-relations personnel and contacts in the United States were better than any other group at the time. Even when weapons were shipped to the Second Front, Castro’s men frequently managed to intercept them.

Morgan found an experienced gunsmith who had seen action in the Spanish Civil War and in a number of South American revolutions and intrigues. Captain Camacho, as he was called, scrounged up welding equipment, lathes, and a forge, to set up the revolution’s army. He invented unique, effective weapons to compensate for the guerrillas’ shortfall, making them out of parts available or captured locally. An inventive genius, one of his more widely known items was called the “Cuban-Winchester” by those who used it. He used the frame of a .44 lever action Winchester rifle produced in the 1890s and combined it with parts from Winchester semi-automatic rifles, M-1 Garand rifles, and a few handmade parts. He reamed out his own barrels and, depending on what ammo was available locally, the user could select .45 ACP, U.S. .30 carbine, or 9mm caliber by switching barrels. The weapon could utilize many different types of pistol magazines, including the efficient Luger 32-round “snail drum.”

Morgan reported that this gun bad limited accuracy, but was highly regarded due to its firepower. He himself preferred British 9mm submachine guns, due to their light weight and the light weight of the 9mm ammo. During the guerrilla experiences, he noted the difference a heavier gun and ammo made when trying to move fast and far.

Morgan’s interview with Brown was previously used in a brief Guns Magazine report in October, 1959 (p. 17); Guns has put the entire issue online (.pdf), and here is the story:



PRODUCT OF CUBAN ingenuity and Yankee drive is the “Cuban Winchester,” emergency weapon of the revolution. Commandante William Morgan, an American fighting with the Revolutionary Army, thought up the idea in searching for greater firepower. Together with Captain Camacho, grizzled old gunsmith who had fought in the Spanish Civil War, the recent Venezuelan fracas and other South American scrapes, they put together 10 of the conglomerate arms pictured — prize creation of Camacho’s machine shop in the hills which also turned out grenades, machine guns, home-made cannon and anti-tank mines. It took three or four men about two weeks to complete one gun. In this little gem, the slide. recoil and trigger mechanism are a blending of M-l Carbine and handmade parts inside a Winchester .351 Self-Loading frame. The stock is whittled out by hand. Rebored interchangeable barrels allowed Morgan’s men to fire .45, 9mm, or .30 Carbine ammo, depending on what was for supper that night. Ammo capacity depended on the type of magazine used: either altered Star pistol clips or a drum.

According to Morgan, the short barrel length limited accuracy to “about 25 yards. However, it threw enough lead to allow us to even up the odds a little, as well as give confidence to the men,” the 30-year old ex-paratrooper told me. “Morgan’s combat experience included a world wide assortment of weapons, but he prefers the British Sten or improved Sterling submachine guns. He described the British weapons as having less recoil and weight yet a greater effective range than the American Thompson or M3 grease gun. “Furthermore,” he emphasized, “weight difference between 9 mm ammo and .45 makes a hell of a difference in favor of the 9mm when you’re off on a 40 mile hike in the Cuban backwoods.”


The gun is also mentioned, briefly, in Aran Shetterly’s The Americano: Fighting with Castro for Cuba’s Freedom, another bio of Morgan. Shetterly describes Morgan (pp. 160-161) as

[P]osing with a “Cuban Winchester” (a regular bolt-and-lever Winchester rifle that the weapons doctor, Regino Camacho, had turned into a semiautomatic).

Previously, Shetterly introduced Camacho (p. 56):

 Like young baseball players being handed their first uniforms, bats, and gloves, Menoyo’s men thrilled at the sight of the shipment of arms. It was an odd assortment of weapons from shady dealers and pawnshops from Miami to New Jersey. There were 50 Italian carbines, a Thompson submachine gun and two English Stens that could fire 550 rounds per minute, two Springfield rifles, a Garand, five Remington semi-automatic rifles, one M1 and two M3’s, carbines, and thousands of rounds of munition [sic]. Menoyo handled the Sten to Morgan, knowing that he was one of the few men in the group who could handle a submachine gun.

In addition to the weapons, there were tents, uniforms, knapsacks, lanterns, and other essential tools and supplies, including a few old military helmets. One of these was a big, heavy Nazi helmet that a pawnshop proprietor had tossed in with the guns. Only one young man, a country boy named Publio, had a head big enough to wear it – and he did.

Every piece of hand-me-down war refuse would find a home. The weapons that didn’t work would be investigated and retooled by a bespectacled Spanish machinist named Regino Camacho. Camacho could turn a rifle into a submachine gun, or fit the clip of an American repeating rifle into the equivalent Italian firearm.

The single “Cuban Winchester” ever seen in photos appears to have been made from a .351 Winchester 1907 semiauto, based on the photos, not a lever action. This was a simple blowback design, meant to be a less expensive competitor to Remington’s expensive Browning-designed Model 8. It is fitted with a new stock including a pistol grip, a new forearm with the operating handle relocated to the right side, a cut-down barrel, and a strange drum magazine made from the drum of a 1st Model Luger TM.08 “snail” drum, and the body of a straight magazine of some kind.

The weapon is claimed to have been made in a quantity of 10, but Morgan’s Second Front were excellent propagandists and poor narrators, so all we know for sure is that one was made. No image shows more than a single firearm.

Moreover, no picture we have shows more than one single firearm or any variation that suggests more than one existed. In addition, no photo shows anything that might be the interchangeable barrel mechanism, and all pictures appear to show the same 1st Model TM.08 snail drum, a unit that was designed for the 9mm cartridge and would not adapt well to some of the rounds claimed for the “Cuban Winchester.”

Is this, perhaps, a propaganda weapon designed to promote the 2nd Front? Or, perhaps, even, to conceal the 2nd Front’s actual weapons sources? Did it even function? In some details it resembles the gangster specials of the 1930s, like the Hyman Lebman guns made for the Dillinger gang, as recounted here in 2013.

Replica of the Hyman Lebman Dillinger Gun, which may have inspired Camacho.

Replica of the Hyman Lebman Dillinger Gun, the original of which may have inspired Camacho.

A tragic figure, Morgan was a subordinate leader to Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo in something called the Second Front of the Escambray, a revolutionary group whose opposition to Batista was grounded in Enlightenment republican thought and values, as opposed to the Movimiento 26º de Julio whose values were those of Marxism-Leninism. They quickly came into opposition with the dominant Communists after the Revolution, and tried to play double-agents between the Communist Castro brothers and Che on the one hand, and the staunchly anticommunist Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo. Morgan and Menoyo had been betrayed by the US Ambassador, who at the time was operating under the sway of Castro’s and Che’s ostensible charisma. Not knowing whether or not they could trust Morgan, Castro and Che solved the problem their usual way, having Morgan shot after their victory. His wife was allowed to emigrate to the United States in the Mariel boatlift. Menoyo escaped to the USA, but would be betrayed on a later mission to Cuba and spend decades in prison.

Despite Morgan’s boast to Brown of being an “ex-paratrooper,” he was no such thing. Morgan was an Army veteran, but as if often the case among would-be mercenaries, he was a failure as a soldier, earning only a dishonorable discharge. The state of Cuban guerrilla training in the late 1950s was such that even such an undistinguished and brief career made him a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind.

None of these books is entirely trustworthy about Morgan. The Brown book lapses into mercenary fandom, and the new biography, written by two Toledo Blade journalists, commits the usual journalistic sins; true to newsroom culture, they don’t let themselves be distracted from good storytelling by a meaningless quest for accuracy. For example, while there are multiple legends of such things as Morgan’s death, the narrative-happy journos pick the one that most serves their narrative arc, and don’t even inform their readers that there are others.

Here is the video, from JMantime, whose channel has a lot of weapons-related content. We’re not aware of any photos of the Cuban Winchester other than the handful in this video, which were all in Brown’s Guns magazine article.



Brown, Robert K., and Mallin, Jay. Merc: American Soldiers of Fortune. New York: McMillan, 1979.

Sallah, Michael, and Weiss, Mitch. The Yankee Comandante: The Untold Story of Courage, Passion, and One American’s Fight to Liberate Cuba. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2015.

Shetterly, Aran. The Americano: Fighting with Castro for Cuba’s Freedom. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2007.

Apart from the sources listed above and linked in the article, there’s a trove of Morgan-related material at, including a good bit of primary source material, and many of the Toledo Blade stories that were fleshed out into Sallah and Weiss’s book. Retrieve from: