Category Archives: Foreign and Enemy Weapons

Toggle-Locked Orphan: the Benelli B76

If you have a well-rounded firearms education, the name Benelli needs no introduction. Now part of the Beretta family, the marque has been known for its semi-auto shotguns since its founding in 1967. But Benelli made an attempt, in the 70s and 80s, to make a NATO service pistol. It’s interesting for its unusual toggle-lock mechanism (one we missed when we covered toggle-locking), its fine Italian styling, and its relative rarity: internet forum participants, at least, think only about 10,000 were made. (We do some analysis on this claim below, and posit a lower number).

benelli b76 pistol

There were other Italian semi-autos at about the same time, like the Bernardelli P-018, competing in part for European police contracts, as many Continental police departments replaced 7.65mm service pistols during the 1970s and 80s rise of European communist terrorist groups like the Red Brigades and Baader-Meinhof Gang. But the Benelli was a unique blend of design and functionality. Arriving too late into a market saturated with double-stack double-action pistols, it might have been a killer competitor for the P1/P.38 or the Beretta M1951 twenty years earlier, but by the end of the eighties, the market was heavily oriented towards double-stack, double-action, and often, ambidextrous-control service pistols. Even European police services who had thought 8 rounds of 9mm a real fistful of firepower had moved on — and so did Benelli, retreating to a concentration on its market-leading shotguns.

Mechanics of the B76

The toggle-lock is not truly a lock in the sense of a Maxim or Luger lock, but more of a hesitation lock or delayed blowback. Other weapons have used a lever in delayed blowback, like the Kiraly submachine guns and the French FAMAS Clarión, but the Benelli one is unique. It’s described in US patent No. 3,893,369. The toggle lock or lever is #5 in the illustration below, from the patent.

US3893369-1Benelli B76

Benelli often cited the fixed barrel of its design as a contributor to superior accuracy in comparison to the generic Browning-type action.

Aesthetics & Ergonomics

The styling of the B76 is a little like its Italian contemporary, the Lamborghini Countach: angular, striking, and polarizing. You love it or hate it, or like Catullus, both at once: Idi et amo. It came in a colorful printed box, resembling consumer products of the era…

BenelliB77Pistol in box

…or in a more traditional wooden case.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The somewhat blocky slide needs to be protected by a holster with a full nose cap, if you intend to carry the B76. It’s a large pistol and it would be prone to print if you did, much like any other service pistol like the M9, the Glock 17, or various SIGs. Where the pistol comes into its own is when you handle and shoot it. The safety falls right to hand, like that of a 1911, although as a DA/SA gun it’s perfectly safe to carry hammer down on a loaded chamber. The grip angle is much like the P.08 Luger, making for a very natural pistol pointing experience. The pistol’s steel construction and roughly 1kg (2.2 lb) weight makes it comfortable and controllable to shoot. The heavily-contoured grip on the target models makes it even more so.

The guns are known for reliability and accuracy, and their small following is very enthusiastic, reminding us of the fans of the old Swiss SIG P210 pistol: the sort of machinery snobs whose garage is more accustomed to housing premium European nameplates than generic American or Japanese iron, and who not only buy premium instead of Lowe’s tools, but who can take you through their toolboxes explaining why the premium stuff is better.

Production and Variations

The Benelli company was relatively new when it designed the B76. The US Patent application for its locking mechanism dates to 1973, and the planned start of production was 1976 (that may have slipped).

There were several variants of the B76, most of them sold only in non-US markets. The B76 was the name ship of the class, if you will, but there were several variants. The B77 was a scaled-down model in .7.65 x 17SR (7.65 Browning/.32 ACP); it was a completely different gun. The B80 was a 7.65 x 22 (7.65 Parabellum/.30 Luger) variant, largely for the Italian market; only the barrel and magazine differed from the B76. The B82 was a variant in the short-lived European police caliber, 9 x 18 Ultra (sometimes reported, mistakenly, as 9×18 Makarov). In addition, there were several target pistol variants, including the B76 “Sport” with target sights, grip, longer barrel, and weights, and a similar target pistol in, of all things, .32 S&W Long called the MP3S. We’ve covered some of these exotic Benellis before, in the mistaken belief that we had brought this post live, which we hadn’t. (D’oh!)

The one modification that might have brought Benelli sales to police departments or military forces was never done, and that is to develop a double-stack magazine. A “mere” 8 rounds of 9mm was already insufficient in 1976, when many NATO armies already issued the 13-round Browning Hi-Power as their baseline auto pistol, and the novel Glock 17 coming on strong.

Benelli dropped the pistols from its catalog in 1990. The company still produces its signature shotguns and a line of high-end target pistols, and even some rifles based on the shotgun design, but its foray into the pistol market has left Benelli with bad memories, red ink and a few curiosities in the company museum. But the curious pistol buyer looking for a firearm with a difference will find here a remarkable and character-rich handgun. If you’re the sort of man who can rock an Armani suit or avoid looking ridiculous in a Countach, this might be a good companion piece.

We’ve mentioned the internet claims of production of 10,000. The highest serial number we found on the net (5462) was well below that, but we certainly don’t have a statistical grasp on production yet. With 7 known serial numbers we can make a rough calculation that there’s a 9 in 10 probability the total production is under 6400, and a 99% probability it’s under 8500. That’s assuming our rusty MBA-fu still retains its potency.

Market

No B76s are on GunBroker at this writing, and only very few — single digit quantities — have moved since 2012. The guns offered were all in very good to new-in-box condition, and they cleared the market at prices from $585 to $650. One went unsold at $565 against a reserve of $600, hinting that, despite these guns’ character and quality, there’s just not much of a market for single-stack full-size DA/SA autopistols.

For More Information

We’re seeking a better copy, but for the moment, heres a .pdf of the manual. Unfortunately, it takes greater pains to describe the mundane DA/SA trigger system than the rare, patented breech lock!

benelli_b76.pdf

The GunLab VG 1-5 Project Update

Chuck at GunLab reports on the ongoing VG 1-5 project. Pre-orders have been taken (cards not yet charged) and a list established at Allegheny Arsenal. It’s not cheap, but you’re not going to be the sixth AR in line at the range with this thing.

We’re going to catch you up on the last several VG 1-5 2015 updates, a couple of which we might have mentioned before.

Chuck had made the first few receiver reinforcement plates by hand on a finger brake. It worked but it was an ugly way of doing it, especially with hundreds of the guns spoken for by eager collectors. So he made a special pressing jig. Here it is in action:

The Magazine Release Button comprises a threaded insert riveted into a pressed dome, which is made itself from a flat laser-cut washer. Both processes are shown in the video below and explained with many photos in the appropriate GunLab post from back in January.

And so, finally, we get to the latest update, from 9 Mar 15, in which a test-mule VG 1-5 is test-fired. As Chuck writes:

We looked at everything from the barrel chamber and flutes to the firing pin length. We needed to check the recoil spring length and tension. Is the buffer spring too strong or weak? Will the fire control group work properly? All the drawings showed that everything should work but these are all questions that can only be answered during a test fire.

A problem is found, is rapidly troubleshot, and a new problem is found.

While the videos are a brief and on point, and have the advantage of motion, we strongly urge going to see the actual posts, because the many photos there and the descriptions reveal details not clarified in the videos.

We have every confidence that troubleshooting will be successful. How much confidence? Well, our VG 1-5 is on order.

There are several other cool things happening at GunLab, and they are worth checking out. (If you’re typing the address in, try to remember it’s gunlab.net. Someone has acquired the gunlab.com domain, but we don’t know who).

UPDATE

Sorry about the missing test-fire video. Should be fixed now.

Exotic Barrels Part 1: Squeeze Bores

In 99 repeating 9% of gun barrels, the caliber is what it is, and the bullet that comes out of the barrel is the same diameter it always was, just marked by the rifling. Likewise, the rifling twist is what it is, and from the point where is picks up in the leade (forward of the chamber) to the point where the bullet exits the barrel it is constant.

Then, there are the exotics, the ones that keep 99.9% from closing the gap between there and “all.” We’re going to talk about one exotic bore, and one exotic twist, in a pair of posts: Squeeze Bore and Gain Twist. Even though the names sound dreadfully like 1970s NATO codenames for Russian anti-aircraft radars, they’re both really a thing.

Squeeze Bore

The idea behind squeeze bore is to use the power of the powder to forge the projectile down in diameter. This would, in theory, do one of two things: blow the gun to Kingdom Come, or accelerate the projectile to velocities previously unheard of. It didn’t take long for people to try to reduce this theory to practice. The 1957 edition of Naval Ordnance and Gunnery, Volume 1:  Naval Ordnance, a training manual coded NavPers 10797-A, showed five different ways to get high velocities. The first is the familiar expedient of a lighter projectile, and the second, the saboted projectile used in most tank KE rounds these days, and in the .50 SLAP (saboted light armor penetrator) round. The third example, essentially beefing the gun up to take excessive pressures, doesn’t seem very practical, and the fifth was, in 1957, science-fiction stuff but is now a pretty routine way to get longer ranges in artillery. Which leaves the fourth example, D, our squeeze-bore

CHAPTER-6-E-FIGURE6E1-PAGE-95

A very, very gradual and subtle version of squeeze bore is the choke used on some firearms. But there’s nothing subtle about true squeeze bore. The World War II German Pak 41 fired a Gerlich-designed 42mm projectile, which the barrel squeezed down to 30mm at the muzzle. At around the same time, the US developed (at Frankford Arsenal) squeeze bore M2HB barrels, which fired a special bullet that squeezed down from .50 to .30 caliber. These guns produced extremely high velocities, with kinetic energy and penetration to match.

S.PzB.41 in action (or at least, being demonstrated). Wheles were removable to lower silhouette.

S.PzB.41 in action (or at least, being demonstrated). Wheels were removable to lower silhouette. Troops show scale… this is really small for something that can ding a JS-1’s frontal armor.

Squeeze bore was primarily used experimentally in antitank weaponry. The one weapon fielded with a squeeze bore was the German Gerlich S.PzB 41. The name Schwere Panzerbüchse meant, literally, heavy anti-tank rifle, and the Germans may have seen it as a replacement for the 7.92 x 94mm PzB 39, but its lightest variant weighed around 300 lbs. It could be broken down into smaller, man-portable-for-a-short-distance, loads.

Factory photo of the stripped-down paratroop version.

Factory photo of the stripped-down paratroop version.

The effect can be approximated by firing an oversize cartridge in a smaller-caliber bore, if the throat or leade is not too tight. (If it is, you get a kB! instead). You’re more likely to get away with such an inadvertent bore squeeze if the projectile is highly malleable, like a soft lead bullet. The Gerlich system used a tungsten penetrator with an aluminum alloy jacket, including crushable skirts. The projectiles looked like this (HE/frag on the left, with a filler of phlegmatized PETN;  AP with a tungsten-carbide penetrator on the right):

28-20 squeeze bore

(source)

The S. PzB. 41 was very effective; at close range it could penetrate all mainstream Allied armor (even the KV-1 and JS-1 tanks), although its behind-armor effect was limited. The Germans were successful in making squeeze bores where other nations’ designers had failed. They mounted it on SdKfz.250 half-tracks and used it as a trailered, man-packed and airborne weapon.

A larger squeeze-bore, the Pak 41, was deployed in small numbers. The ammunition closely resembles the 28/20mm of the S.PzB.41 but is much larger: it started off at 75mm and squeezed down to 55mm. An intermediate sized version was a 4.2 cm (42mm tapering to 28mm) squeeze-bore version of the familiar Krupp 3.7cm light anti-tank gun. (German guns are described in centimeters — move the decimal point once for mm — and their squeeze-bores are known by their initial, not squeezed, caliber).

Pak 41 APBCT

Making a tapered or “squeezing” rifled bore is a challenge, if you think about it, and conventional methods of rifling such as buttons and broaches don’t adapt well to it. (Cut rifling does adapt, but at a price in complexity. But the German invention of hammer-forging barrels over a mandrel opened up mass production to squeeze bore in German plants. (A microscopic amount of taper is usually used in hammer forging, to facilitate mandrel removal. But the amount of taper in a squeeze bore is much greater).

The British made a theoretically sound and plausible attempt to work around the difficulty of drilling and rifling squeeze bores. This was a squeeze-bore muzzle attachment called the Littlejohn for the 2-pdr antitank and light-tank gun, in order to give some realistic anti-tank capability to the airborne (glider-delivered) Tetrarch light tank and various wheeled AFVs.

Littlejohn_Adaptor_Bovington

It squeezed the round after it had been spun to speed; the holes you can see were for pressure release. The Littlejohn was conceived by a Czech emigré, Frantisek Janacek (whose name means “little John”, literally) and was made for the 40mm Vickers S gun as well as for the 2-pdr. The ammunition featured a tungsten penetrator and aluminum carrier, must like  the German squeeze-bore ammo. The US also experimented with Littlejohn type adapters and projectiles, and discovered that firing the Littlejohn projectile from the gun without the adapter produced equivalent velocity improvements without compromising the ability to fire  ordinary projectiles. (In effect, this was using the lightweight projectile as in Illustration A at the top of this post, rather than a squeeze-bore as in Illustration D).

langsford_extruder_bulletsFor a while, there was a squeeze bore gun that anyone could buy. Australian gunsmith Arthur Langsford, an expert in rimfire rifles, used an extended leade or forcing cone to make rimfire guns that fired an ordinary .22 LR round and produced a high-velocity .20 or .17 elongated slug. The rifling didn’t begin until after the forcing cone. They seemed to work well, but didn’t catch on, and pressure and velocity deltas between various brands and kinds of rimfire ammunition were probably larger than anything SAAMI would ever tolerate. The Myra “Extruders” Langsford made are curiosities today.

In the end, squeeze bores were a possible tank solution at one moment in time, but their performance has been overshadowed by accurate fin-stabilized discarding sabot heavy penetrators, fired (usually) from smooth-bore guns.

Next, Gain Twist, an old idea that’s making a comeback.

Sources

Department of the Navy. Naval Ordnance and Gunnery, Volume 1: Naval Ordnance .NavPers 10797-A.  Retrieved from: http://www.eugeneleeslover.com/US-NAVY-BOOKS/1-NO-10797-A-NAVAL-ORDNANCE-AND-GUNNERY.html

Langsford’s Squeeze-Bore Rimfires.Is this Near-Forgotten Idea Too Good to Die? Guns Magazine, January 2011. pp. 18-19. Retrievable from: http://fmgpublications.ipaperus.com/FMGPublications/GUNS/GUNS0111/?page=18

(Others as linked. List not completed due to time limits).

Is a New Russian Tank 10 Feet Tall?

Not literally, of course. Being literally 10 feet tall would be quite unhealthy for a tank, a machine that lives longer on a projectile-rich battlefield if it likes to hide in defilade. But stories and artist conceptions that are spreading make the new T-14 tank and its derivatives seem unbeatable — which is probably the reason for the leaks.

T-14 tank rendering

Note that all these illustrations are computer renderings or models based entirely on speculation.

T-14 tank rendering 3

 

The extensive detail in some of the models may mask the fact that the guys doing the rendering don’t really know what the tank looks like, and so they’re applying some science fiction concepts to Russian tank design principles here. All of these renderings purport to be the T-14 (and others show a tank with a very narrow turret, like that on the M60A2 monstrosity).

Armata-MBT T-14

According to these leaks, rumors, and Russian news sites, the T-14 is the tank version of the new “Armata” vehicle platform, which will also produce SP artillery, personnel carriers, and a panoply of support vehicles. But the tank is the lead vehicle in the class. It has a crew of two or three, all of whom are positioned in the hull, but the third is a temporary stopgap and is not expected to be permanently required — two men can fight the tank, and that’s their long-term plan for a crew. The unmanned turret is remotely controlled and automatically loaded (Russian tanks have had autoloaders for around 50 years now). The turret bears a single 125mm gun, with improved computerized stabilization which has reduced the dispersion of rounds fired on the move. It still appears to have limited elevation and depression.The tank’s secondary armament is a 30mm automatic cannon, and a machine gun or unknown caliber; a remotely operated MG can, somehow, target incoming shaped charge warheads and ATGMs.

As if the 125mm gun was not a powerful thing, a 152mm-armed version is supposedly in the works.

Many of these concepts were in the US-German MBT-70 project, a project that collapsed of its own weight in ahead-of-its-time technology. But that, too, was nearly 50 years ago.

Of greater concern is that all renderings of the new tank show an angular armor arrangement, suggesting that Ivan has stolen the secret plans for, or engineered his own equivalent of, the composite armor that since its invention in the 1970s has made American and British tanks highly survivable (especially compared to their Russian peers).

NATO strategy vs. the Warsaw Pact always hinged on qualitative superiority of weapons and crews to make up for deficient numbers. Even if the T-14 is a propaganda exercise, something hardly foreign to the history of Russian arms, “quantity has a quality all its own,” and there’s little question that Russia wants to build more of these MBTs than their potential opponents, most of whom have either depressed defense spending to one percent or less of GDP, or, like the USA, larded nominal “defense” spending with massive non-military costs.

OK, so let’s look at a counterweight to some of the T-14 tank claims. We have no inside knowledge of this program or of US official studies of it, but we can apply logic and experience. Here are some facts to make you think:

  1. Current Russian tanks, much lower in high technology, cost around $2 million to produce. This is far less than a Western tank, but it does impose an upper bound on the numbers a nation can deploy.
  2. The world of Russian tanks lives in Soviet-era infrastructure that has the size and strength, and the safety margin, to support compact, 36-40 ton tanks. As the US can tell you, a 70-ton tank is a pain in the neck to move around.
  3. Chobham armor imposes size and weight burdens on a tank. You can’t get this shaped-charge-killing technology without bulking up. It also raises costs: better armor means fewer tanks.
  4. 80 years of Russian tank doctrine (and all the lessons learned from Great Patriotic War victories) enshrines the tank-led combined-arms offensive as the method of tank employment.
  5. A big gun and an autoloader come with costs. In Russian tanks, the costs are (1) fewer rounds and (2) internal ammo stowage, which, when hit, produces the familiar sparkly jet with a turret going high enough to need an FAA drone license. How many fewer rounds? The US lost 15 rounds when we upgunned the 105mm M1 to the 120mm M1A1 (55 to 40) and the Russian articles about the T-14 suggest it’s rocking only 30 rounds in the 125mm version (it’s hard to imagine a way it could go to 152mm without losing 5 or 6 of those, at least). Looking at the performance of Israeli and Syrian armor on the Golan front, and Israeli and Egyptian in Sinai, the possibility arises of a T-14 operator having to dry fire in a firefight.
  6. In fielding a tank, the tank itself is only half the problem — maybe less than half. Soviet-made tanks are rusting, deadlined, in tank parks all over the world for lack of preventive and routine maintenance. Now, the Russian Army is as capable of doing this as many other armies, but fielding a new tank is a resource stretch: all at once you have a new vehicle, new engine, new systems for mobility, armament and communications, new crew training and employment materials to develop, and crews and maintainers to train. Meanwhile, the tank strength of the Russian Army is a staggering 15,000 tanks (and 31,000 other AFVs). This means that, at best, any new tank is trickling into a military all set up to operate and maintain other stuff. None of the existing tanks can go toe-to-toe with an Abrams or Challenger; the US has over 6,000 Abramses.
  7. The Russian Army has a bad record with tank improvements. The T-90, really just a T-72 with some debugged tech from the buggy T-64 and T-80 tanks, is the most recent Russian entry, and under 1000 were built. (Next image is a photo of a T-90). Development of the so-called T-95 failed for much the same reasons that the US-German MBT-70 did, minus the international complications: too much technology to bring to fruition at once, and too little money to overcome engineering problems with profligate spending.

T-90 tank

Sure, the Russians may field the new T-14 tank in small numbers, and may continue down their chosen path of using the same chassis for a whole new family of armored vehicles. This does not make their tank units any more likely to win, across the board.

And it may not need to. Because the lesson of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 is that the technical qualities and operational capabilities of NATO armor just don’t matter in what Russia calls the “near abroad”: because NATO isn’t going to show up. At this rate, Russia could project power with 1930s-vintage BT-5s.

Napoleon III was a Weapons Man

portrait_de_napoleon_iiiWell, OK. A Heavy Weapons man, perhaps — an artillerist who once sat down, while imprisoned, to  write an engaging and technical, five-volume history of artillery, with a title as comprehensive as his intent: The Past and Future of Artillery. Remembered today for little more than his army being pantsed in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Louis Napoleon was a remarkable, erudite, and intelligent fellow. When you marvel, today, at the beauty of Paris you’re marveling mostly at the nephew’s makeover of his capital city, not the works of his uncle or of the Bourbon dynasty (although Louis was careful to preserve the best of what came before). Those big “N” monograms on the bridges of the Seine? Not the victor of Borodino (pyrrhic though that victory was) and Austerlitz, and the vanquished of Waterloo; the nephew, who was captured with his army in a German encirclement, to the chagrin of all Frenchmen then and now.

Napoleon III also created the long-standing Legion d’Honneur, funding its stipends to recognized soldiers with money derived from the expropriation of the family of the Duc d’Orleans. (In 19th Century France, politics remained a contact sport).

Unfortunately for those of us who would read his whole treatise on artillery, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, as he was known at the time, did get relief from his prison stint in the 1840s and turned to the matters of state which would one day seat him on an imperial throne. He never seems to have resumed work on The Past and Future of Artillery, of which only the first volume was published.

napoleon-iii-at-paris-1867-granger

While we’re attempting to find an digital copy of the English edition of this volume (hell, we’d take in en français, and does anybody know if any of his notes and illustrations for the subsequent volumes survive?), we can offer the preface to you.

There are some remarkable insights in this short preface. For example:

Inventions born before the time remain useless until the level of common intellects rises to comprehend them. Of what advantage could a quicker and stronger powder therefore be, when the common metal in use was not capable of resisting its action ? Of what use were hollow balls, until their employ was made easy and safe, and their explosion certain ? Or what could the rebounding range, proposed by Italian engineers in the sixteenth century, and since employed with much success by Vauban, avail, when fortification offered fewer rebounding lines than now ? How could attacks by horse-artillery, attempted in the sixteenth century, succeed, when the effects of rapidity in the movement of troops on the field of battle was so little known that the cavalry always charged at a trot ?

There is a mutual combination which forces our inventions to lean on and, in some measure, wait for each other. An idea suggests itself, remains problematical for years, even for centuries, until successive modifications qualify it for admission into the domain of real life. It is not uninteresting to trace, that powder was probably used in fireworks several centuries
before its propelling power was known, and that then some time elapsed before its application became easy or general.

Civilization never progresses by leaps, it advances on its path more or loss quickly, but regularly and gradually. There is a propagation in ideas as in men, and human progress has
a genealogy which can be traced through centuries like the forgotten sources of giant rivers.

For a man who is commonly and popularly dismissed as one of the least brilliant of the crowned heads of old Europe, those are some remarkably insightful lines.

Or consider this excerpt:

Fire-arms, like everything pertaining to humanity, did not spring up in a day. Its infancy lasted a century, and during that period it was used together with the ancient shooting instruments, over which it sometimes was victorious, but by which it was more frequently defeated.

The Preface alone makes it crystal clear that Napoleon III was a comrehensive student of artillery and arms, and the history of them; and that his lack of completion of The Past and Future of Artillery is a very great loss to all students of weapons.

Napoleon III on Artillery OCR.pdf

Forgotten Engineer: Tadeusz Felsztyn

Coat_of_arms_of_Poland-officialTadeusz Felsztyn was an ordnance officer in the Army of the Republic of Poland during that nation’s brief flowering between the power vacuum created by the fall of the absolute monarchical empires of Germany and Russia in 1918, and the rise of their absolutist and totalitarian replacements, unconstrained by the codes of noblesse oblige or considerations of Christian morality that had stayed the hand of Kaiser and Tsar. In September, 1939 the Third Reich and its mirror image, the Soviet Union, crushed Poland under the “heel of a boot stepping on a man’s face, forever,” and it became a very unhealthy place to be a Lieutenant Colonel in Polish service, and doubly so for Tadeusz Felsztyn.

The name suggests he was Jewish, which happenstance of birth marked him for murder by the Nazis; and as a Polish officer he would have been marked for murder by the Soviets (an order signed by Stalin’s own hand; unlike Hitler, he didn’t rely on middle-men to commit his atrocities, possibly because he’d already had so many of the middlemen shot).

What, exactly, Felszteyn designed is not known, but he is reported to be responsible for the remarkable 7.92mm x 107mm anti-tank rifle round, used in the Maroszek-designed Wz.35 rifle. At that time, and at the outbreak of the war, he was a lieutenant colonel and almost 45 years old (he was born Sep. 30, 1894).

We were fortunately able to learn more about him. Here is a genealogical page that clearly refers to him (Colonel, mathematician, physicist, started in Polish Army at age 23), and behold! He lived to age 69, died in Pitsford, Nortants., England, in the industrial Midlands. Later, in England, he anglicized the spelling of his name to Feldstein. He appears to have died without issue, although his siblings have survivors to this day. 

Since we know he survived the war, now, we can show that he appeared before controversial Congressional hearings on the Katyn Forest Massacre in 1952. In that appearance, he gave a brief bio, before testifying on the bullets that were used in the murders, and described how he was taken prisoner by the Soviets, and how he came to survive. The Google Books view has a small snippet of this testimony (not sure why they don’t have the whole thing, as a US government document it is in the public domain). Fortunately, Archive.org has it. Because the file at Archive.org is very large (the entire hearings run 2,300 pages! and even the Archive.org splits are 30+MB each) we have excerpted the testimony over the jump.

Felszteyn’s testimony is quite interesting (it’s also quite erroneous, in that he suggests that Geco 7.65mm Browning ammunition might have been used in Soviet issue firearms. We know now that the Soviets used German-made firearms in the Katyn murders).

Zeitschrift Schiess-u Sprengstoffwesen 1931In 1939, certain of his research appears to have been published in a German journal, by the traces available of a hardcover bound volume of the journal: Zeitschrift fur Das gesamte Schiess und Sprengstoffwesen mit der Sonderabteilung Gasschutz (Journal for the Field of Gunpowder and Explosives with section on anti-gas protection). XXXIII-XXXIV. Jahrgang. (Volume 33-34, 1938-1939). Hardcover – 1939.

(Bound volumes of this journal do turn up; they’re expensive when they do). The image to the right is from the 1931 edition. (Remarkable Art Deco typography, that).

After the war, he seems to have published many books in Polish in London (if it was not another Tadeusz Felsztyn) in the period from 1945 to 1947, and then again in the 1950s and early 60s, books on general science. He also appears to have written a history of the General Anders’s Polish Army in Exile, with which he served after being released from a Russian prison camp for that purpose. (One of the great puzzles of the Katyn massacre is why only some camps of Poles were massacred, and why some were not. The Yeltsin-era openness of some KGB/MVD/NKVD archives has turned back to Cold War stonewalling).

A Very Incomplete List of Felsztyn’s Books

  • 1945: Wiara i wiedza w świetle nowoczesnych poglądów fizycznych, which translates to Faith and knowledge in the light of modern views of physics.
  • 1957: Swiat w Oczacu Wspólczesnej Nauki which translates to The World in the Eyes of Modern Science
  • 1958: Atom W Służbie Ludzkości which translates to The Atom in the Service of Mankind.
  • 1959: Rakety i Podroze Miedsyplanetarne which translates Rockets in Interplanetary Travel.
  • 1960: Poza Czasem i Przestrzenią. Zjawiska Pozazmysłowe which translates as: Beyond Time and Space: Extrasensory Phenomena.
  • 1962: Evolusjonizm which translates to Evolutionism.

No Polish family of 1939-89 avoided tragedy. His younger brother Roman died on April 19, 1919, reportedly in battle in Lvov (L’viv), which would have made him one of the last casualties of the Polish Uprising that produced independence, or one of the first casualties of the Russo-Polish War of 1919-21, which ended in a decisive Polish victory over the Soviets’ most capable general, Mikhail Tukhachevskiy (who himself would meet a similar fate to the Polish officers captured by the Soviets in 1939 — shot in the back of the head on Stalin’s orders).

Click “more” to read Felsztyn’s testimony at the Katyn hearings.

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Most Foolhardy Round Ever?

Among the more unusual and inexplicable — ah, hell, let’s just say foolhardy – loads ever manufactured for a firearm were strangely multipurpose rounds for the German World War II anti-tank rifles. These gigantic rifles fired a kinetic energy penetrator of 7.92mm from a gigantic 94mm rimless casing at blistering speeds1. But even beyond its “pinhead” appearance, the round had a peculiar feature, that is as far as we know unique in the world of ammunition.

P318 792 x 94 from kopania-rf 2

This illustration came from the Russian site Kopania.rf, which has comprehensive coverage of variants of the 7.93 x 94 P318.

While the idea of a rifle-caliber or MG-caliber AT gun wasn’t completely off the wall — many of the major powers of Europe, and some minor ones like Poland and Spain, pursued the idea in the 1920s and 30s — the particular loading of the Germans was. To an extent, it was a fairly standard API or API-T round, with a copper jacket over a steel (or later, tungsten) penetrator. Here’s what an Allied intelligence publication had to say:

“The Germans possess gas grenades, with which their parachute troops might be equipped. Ammunition for antitank rifles, models 38 and 39, includes armor-piercing tracer bullets charged with tear gas.”2

And no, this wasn’t one of those cases where the intel weenies were chasing chimeras. There really was a tear-gas capsule in the round, just forward of the tracer mixture, set in the base of the hard metal penetrator. In packaged rounds, it’s indicated by the post-number letters “Rs” for “Reizstoff” or “Irritant agent.”

pzb392

You have to wonder: what were they thinking? “We’re going to send a little hunk of tungsten” — well, they were Germans, so they were going to send a little hunk of wolfram – “to rattle around in their tank, and then we’ll really let ‘em have it: tear gas!” But that was, exactly, what they were thinking. The German ordnance officers thought the round too uncertain a tank kill, and the tear gas was one little sweetener to encourage the crew to depart their iron foxhole.

As it happened, it didn’t work. The little gas capsule usually broke off on impact and was found lying next to the tank. Sure enough, it was the steel or tungsten penetrator that did the hard work.

While this little capsule of gas may have been a technical violation of the international law of war (irritants and tear gases are a grey area), the gas aspect of the cartridge was so meager that, as far as we can tell, the Allies never uttered a word of protest, nor was there any war-crimes trials for the ordnance officers (not for this, anyway). It’s just a flaky footnote to the development of World War weapons.

The two weapons that fired this odd 7.92 x 94mm for the Deutsche Wehrmacht were the Panzerbuchse (PzB) 38 from Rheinmettal-Borsig and the PzB 39 from the Gustloff-Werke. The PzB 38 was a bit of a flop, and only 1,600 were made; they’re extremely rare today, and were problematical in the field. The weight and complexity of the PzB 38 stemmed in part from its design — unlike the WWI AT rifle, which was a scaled-up single-shot Mauser, the PzB 38 used artillery-piece design concepts — a falling block, a recoiling “carriage,” and automatic ejection.

pzb38

That’s why the Wehrmacht went so quickly from the PzB 38 to the PzB 39, which was cheaper, simpler, and more reliable — not to mention, almost 4 kilograms lighter. It dumped the recoil system and automatic breech opening — trading some punishment of the gunner, and a fast second shot, for lightness and mobility.

Surviving PzB 39s are almost as rare as PzB 38s despite much higher production, because most were converted to GrB 39s This example, SN 6242, was auctioned in 2013.

Surviving PzB 39s are almost as rare as PzB 38s despite much higher production, because most were converted to GrB 39s. Five survivors are known. This example, SN 6462, was auctioned in 2013. More images at the Auction Link.

It also wrung another 55 m/s (180 fps) out of the same cartridge. Over 30,000 of these were made, and they were deployed Army wide by Operation Barbarossa, although they never matched the intended 81 rifles per infantry division.

By midwar the 7.92  was hopeless on medium tanks, but could still penetrate light armored vehicles. You didn’t want to fire this gun at a T-34 or the frontal armor of a Sherman; it would make the guys inside mad, and then they’d want to fight. The Wehrmacht had been expecting more of the T-26s and BT-5s they faced in Spain, and the T-34 was an unpleasant shock3

A next-generation anti-tank rifle competition, calling for a semi-auto, brought forth prototypes from several firms: Mauser, Walther, Krieghoff and Gustloff. But tank armor, driven to greater thicknesses by anti-tank artillery, dimmed the prospects of the 7.92 hypervelocity round as a tank-slayer.

The Germans, facing the obsolescence of the PzB 39, had actually begun converting them to grenade launchers (Granatenbüchse 39); the GrB 39 had the standard rifleman’s cup-discharger but the larger shell meant that the wood-bullet grenade-launcher blank could drive a grenade much farther than a mere rifle could. In this capacity, the rifle soldiered on to V-E Day. This is one of those rounds, the 7.92mm Triebpatrone Granatenbüchse 318:

792x94 318TreibpG

The 7.92 x 94 wasn’t, by the way, the largest rifle-caliber round of the war. The Poles made a spectacular AT rifle in the 1930s, the Karabin Przeciwpancerny wz.35, that fired this spectacular 7.92 x 107mm round, the 7.92 DS, designed by Polish ordnance officer Tadeusz Felsztyn4 for a repeating rifle designed by Josef Maroszek. The muzzle velocity was a barrel-melting 1275 m/s (4,183 fps)5.

792x107 polish

It could penetrate even more armor at 100 and 300m than its German competitor, and was every bit as obsolete. The barrel life of these seriously oversized cartridges was, as you might expect, measured in scores or, at most, a few hundred rounds. The US experimented with AT rifles but never issued one; Britain issued the 0.55 in. Boys Anti Tank Rifle, but all were doomed by the rapid evolution of tank armor under the evolutionary pressure of world war.

The Polish round was unique among them in that it did not have a tungsten, or even steel, penetrator. While its lead-cored round could penetrate at close range because of its velocity, at longer ranges, it squashed on the outside of the armor and knocked a divot off the inside, killing the vehicle or the inhabitants with the effects of this spalling.

This image, from Williams, shows a collection of AT rifle rounds, issued and experimental.

AT Rifle Rounds

One ballistic detail about the German and Polish AT rifles — given the Mach 4 (sea level, standard day) velocity of these 7.92mm rounds, they had a very flat trajectory. That means that they didn’t need the elaborate sights of many period rifles — they were often sighted on 300 or 400 meters, and basically shot point-blank at anything on the battlefield, with no hold-over or -under, and therefore, no elevation adjustment, required.

 

Notes

  1. Depending on the rifle, its muzzle velocity was 1210 or 1265 m/s — that’s 3,970 to 4,150 fps.
  2. War Department. 1943-03 Intelligence Bulletin Vol 01 No 07. Page uncertain (repaginated electronic OCR scan).
  3. Of which, more later. We’ve come across a purported first-hand report of a first-encounter with the excellent Soviet tank, by a rare invasion survivor.
  4. Out of curiosity, we sought more information about Felsztyn. With a Jewish sounding name, and as a Polish officer, he was equally doomed whether the Nazis or the Soviets got him. What we learned deserves its own blog post!
  5. Williams, generally a solid source, says 1,220 m/s. He also gives only the lower number for the 12.7 x 94.

Sources

Hofbauer, M. Panzerfaust: WWII German Infantry AntiTank Weapons: Page 6: Tank Rifles. Archived from Geocities (defunct) in October 2009. Retrieved from: http://www.oocities.org/augusta/8172/panzerfaust6.htm

Parada, George. German Anti-Tank rifles — Panzerbüchse. AchtungPanzer.com. Retrieved from: http://www.achtungpanzer.com/german-anti-tank-rifles-panzerbuchse.htm

Popenker, Maxim. Panzerbüchse PzB-38 (Pz.B.38) and PzB-39 (Pz.B.39) anti-tank rifle (Germany).  Modern Firearms. Retrieved from: http://world.guns.ru/atr/de/pzb3-pzb39-e.html

Uncredited. The German PxB 38/39 (Panzerbuchse). Antitank.co.uk. Retrieved from: http://www.antitank.co.uk/german1.ht

United States. War Department. 1943-03 Intelligence Bulletin Vol 01 No 07. Washington, 1943.

Williams, Anthony G. An Introduction to Anti-Tank Rifle Cartridges. The Cartridge Researcher, 11/12 2004. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/ATRart.htm

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).

HK243_0002

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.

Correction

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:

http://www.hkpro.com/forum/hk-long-gun-talk/196906-hk243.html

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 GunBroker.com.

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.

Notes

  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.