Category Archives: Foreign and Enemy Weapons

What Can Beretta’s AR Competitor, the ARX-160, Do?

Like any other gun, depends on who’s shooting it, eh? Here’s Jerry Miculek.

Your mileage may vary. (Hat tip, One of the best parts of it (for us) was at about 5:20 into the video where Jerry comes in from the rain and compares the ARX’s features to the Bushmaster ACR; IWI Tavor and the FN SCAR.  Here, Jerry’s millions of rounds of experience is interesting, although a service rifle needs to shine off the range, too. (And all of those, except the ACR, are proven military rifles; so, of course, is the competitor that Jerry admits all of these are striving to beat, the AR-15 series).

A few years ago we played around with a Beretta pistol-caliber carbine (CRX) and liked it. It took M9 magazines, which we have in great profusion, and was easy and fun to shoot, and like most Berettas throughout history, attractive to look at.

The pistol-caliber carbine was a fun plinker, but not a great defensive gun. A 5.56 will always be a better defensive round than any handgun round. And we recall thinking, “If they put some of this engineering into a 5.56 carbine, they’d be on to something.” Looks like Beretta may have been thinking along the same lines.

The Beretta is sold as the ARX-100 and the ARX-160 in 5.56 (we can’t explain the two names, although it might be European arms export laws). In addition, there are low-quality licensed .22LR knockoffs out there, which makes searching GunBroker a pain in the neck.

The ARX has some interesting features. (For another video with a review of it, check out this page, again at It’s all-ambidextrous (convertible left or right-handed), which should get a left thumb up from 10-15% of you. It has a slightly-AK-ish short-stroke piston system, but with an adjustable gas cylinder that lets you up the impulse if you have a temporary problem with anemic ammo or a fouled, sluggish gun. It has a quick-change barrel that should let you change caliber, but none of the promised conversions are shipping yet.  The box markings show that Beretta plans to ship this rifle in .300 Blackout as well.

Beretta 5.56mm ARX shows that the .300 Blackout version is coming... of course, so's Christmas.

Beretta 5.56mm ARX shows that the .300 Blackout version is coming… of course, so’s Christmas. From an over-list-price for-sale ad on GunBroker.

It also has some limitations. As Jerry notes, the flip-up sights don’t cowitness with an EOTech (they do, with an Aimpoint Comp M2). The magwell is a strict STANAG well, so it doesn’t always play nice with aftermarket magazines; specific mags that are known not to fit are Gen 3 PMags and Surefire large-caps. If you really love your X Products drum (and who doesn’t?) then you probably want to check it out before dropping coin.

In fact, however much you think you want this example of Italian style, or just to add the neutered civvy version of the current Italian Army service rifle to your collection, it might be strategically wise to hold off for a while. The current sales in GunBroker include a lot of sellers that look like they’re hoping to make above the manufacturer’s recommended list price, suggesting that pent-up supply is still excess of demand.

We do note something interesting about the Italian Army’s adoption of the ARX, and that’s that it’s one more announcement of a military power going to a compact carbine rather than a long (20″ or so) barreled rifle. The ARX comes standard with a folding and telescoping stock, so it fulfills the long-promised potential of a single weapon for crew members, technical troops, assault troops, and line infantry. This is something that’s on our mind with the USMC finally announcing that their riflemen’s M16s are going to be replaced with M4s. (They’re also replacing M16-based Designated Marksman’s Rifles, sort of, by assigning that task to the Auto Rifleman and his HK M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle).

Of course, while the Marines don’t leap till they’re sure, some armies have used carbines for a long time. Russia (then the USSR) went to a carbine in 1944 in the middle of the Great Patriotic War, replacing long rifles, and their postwar semi- and select-fire rifles were also in the compact carbine format with roughly 16-18″ barrels. Indeed, they’ve never gone back to a long barrel except for crew-served and support weapons.

In Italian service, the ARX replaces other 5.56 rifles (the AR 70 / AR 90) and also some submachine guns (PM 12S). It is part of a mix with 5.56 and 7.62mm machine guns and precision rifles.

Isn’t She a Beauty?

The girl, Maria Butina, isn’t too shabby either. More on her in a moment.


What? The beauty we were talking about is the Baby Browning in her hand. What did you mean?

Anybody who’s been in the gun world in the US in recent decades recognizes the spare, classic visual style of photographer Oleg Volk, and this is indeed Oleg’s work. (See it here on Oleg’s blog). It’s a poster meant to promote Pravo na Oruzhie, or The Right to Bear Arms, in Russia.

Ms Butina isn’t just a pretty face. She’s a founder of the Russian gun rights group of that same name, and for Russophones the website is For those of you who whose linguistic attainments don’t include Russian, they have thoughtfully provided a presentation translated into English (.pdf). The president of the organization is named Igor Shmelyev, according to the website.

The main caption of the poster reads:

Powerful, long-ranged rifles for hunting and sport — legal.
But even the weakest pistols for self-defense — banned.
Where’s the logic in that?

Russian gun laws seem rather backward to Americans, and also to Russians who are interested in shooting sports, self-defense, and gun-law liberalization. The laws, for example, forbid automatic weapons and handguns to Russian citizens. Using a firearm in self-defense is as fraught with danger as it is in the bleakest US states, like New Jersey or Massachusetts.

These laws haven’t prevented Russian criminals from arming themselves, of course. (They’re criminals. Breaking laws is all in a day’s work for them, right?). But the rights campaigners have an uphill fight in a country that trusts authority a lot, and the citizenry very little. Even when pollsters describe a very restricted right, say, restricted to military veterans and off-duty soldiers and cops, support for gun rights doesn’t break 40% — yet. But the trend is positive.

There’s a long way to go, but given that positive trend and the enthusiasm of the Right to Bear Arms folks, improvements in Russian firearms law, once impossible to consider, become more possible with every passing year.  Gun rights are human rights, and Russians ought to have them. So should every person on earth.

The Case of the Purloined Panther, and the Boosted Bronzes

Everybody in the small Baltic Sea village of Heikendorf near Kiel knew the old man was a collector. A retired financier, his name is not being reported, or it’s being reported with just a last initial, as German custom reports those under criminal charges, as “Hans-Dieter F.”  Everyone, it seems, but the German authorities. The locals knew about his Panther tank too — as recently as 1978, he’d used its go-anywhere capability to help neighbors out in a particularly bad winter, remembered as Schneekatastrophe 1978 by the Burgermeister. But the German authorities take a hard line on this type of collecting, and they sent the Bundeswehr to collect the Panther, and the man’s other treasures.

It's been a while since a German recovery vehicle crew recovered a Panther.

It’s been a while since a German recovery vehicle crew recovered a Panther.

They turned the turret around so that the long 75mm gun would be safely in the footprint of the low-boy.

They turned the turret around so that the long 75mm gun would be safely in the footprint of the low-boy.


The other treasures included a torpedo, a V-1 buzz bomb…


V1 pilotless aircraft

…and a complete 8.8CM Flak (Flugzeugabwerkanone, anti-aircraft cannon) gun (the legendary “88”,)

flak gun recovery

Ironically, it was a search for Nazi art that brought the authorities to the unnamed man’s Heikendorf door. Searchers seeking both looted art from Jewish owners (which brought them to the collection of the late Cornelius Gurlitt in Munich’s Schwabing district), and Nazi art thought to have been torn down at war’s end, have had success this year with works long thought lost. Before his passing in May, Gurlitt (whose father, art dealer to Adolf Hitler, is thought to have bought the works, often from from distressed sellers) reportedly instructed his representatives to assist in returning looted works to the descendants of their original owners. Many of Gurlitt’s works were thought lost; Matisse, Picasso, Chagall, Monet and Renoir did not appeal to Hitler, who considered modern art “degenerate,” and some of the works in the Gurlitt collection long have been considered missing and probably destroyed by art experts. German analysts continue to catalog and review the 1,280 works seized from Gurlitt’s apartment and 60 more from his Salzburg, Austria country seat.


From Gurlitt’s paintings, the investigators followed threads to plastic art, that is, sculpture. The missing sculptures were not the ones looted by the Nazis, but the ones made by Nazis (here’s an overview of top Nazi sculptors and their works). The Bronze Horses of the Nazi sculptor Josef Thorak from the grounds of the Reichstag turned up in a shed in the Palatinate.

Two recovered bronze sculptures made for Adolf Hitler's imposing Reich Chancellery that have been missing for years are stored in a police compound in the western German town of Bad Bergzabern May 22, 2015. Police said in a statement they raided 10 addresses in five states across Germany on Wednesday and were investigating eight suspects aged between 64 and 79 for holding the art works or selling them on. Josef Thorak and Arno Breker custom-made the art works for Hitler's Chancellery, which was designed by his architect Albert Speer and from which he planned to rule a Greater German Reich. After World War Two, the works were moved to a military barracks north of Berlin before disappearing in 1989. REUTERS/Staff

Larger-than-life bronze horses by Thorak in a police warehouse, Bad Bergzabern, Germany. The sculptures had been captured by the Soviet Army and were last seen in East Germany in 1989. The main damage seems to be holes that may have been used to attach lifting eyes, suggesting that the horses were removed before the Chancellery was destroyed by bombing and artillery.

Berlin, Neue Reichskanzlei (Reich Chancellery); built 1938 by Albert Speer). - Partial view of the North-Eastern facade with horse sculpture by Josef Thorak. - Photo, 1939.

Berlin, New Reich Chancellery. Built 1938 by Albert Speer, destroyed 1945. Partial view of the North-Eastern facade with horse sculpture by Josef Thorak. -Photo, 1939.

This led to at least one of Arno Breker’s signature sculptures, “The Armed Forces” (once half of a pair of “The Armed Forces” and “The Party”, about 40 tons of bronze apiece) guarded the doors of the Reichskanzlei) turned up badly damaged, reportedly having spent 50+ years in an East German scrapyard.

(Another Breker statue, the relief “The Watchmen,” was offered to collectors by the same people trying to sell some of the other Nazi art). Detectives pursuing the Breker statues discovered the North German collector —  they have been coy about where “The Armed Forces” turned up, but it was in the Kiel area — but what he was hiding in his home turned out not to be a dramatic bronze from the Nazi era.

In the end, the Panther went quietly into captivity.

In the end, the Panther went quietly into captivity. It appears to have a mix of early and late Ausf. G features — not unusual. 

Local authorities said he lived quietly, even by the standards of the quiet town.  The State’s Attorney has seized all the hardware on suspicion of violating Germany’s ultra-strict Kriegswaffenkontrollgezetz, which translates to Law for the Control of Weapons of War. Senior State’s Attorney for Kiel, Birgit Hess, is preparing possible charges.

How do you put an evidence tag on a 50-ton tank? The German answer seems to be packing tape.

How do you put an evidence tag on a 50-ton tank? The German answer seems to be packing tape.

The accused’s lawyer says it’s all a misunderstanding: “It’s demilitarized,” in accordance with the law, attorney Peter Gramsch says. So is all the other hardware.

If the attorney is right, the authorities might indeed have to return the collection to Klaus-Dieter.  These items are worth a very large sum of money, and that goes for both the weapons and the artwork. Most of them seem to have been acquired from scrapyards in legitimate purchases, but the State’s temptation to simply keep these valuables for its own museums is going to be hard to overcome.

GunLab’s Reverse Engineering

We haven’t been over there ( in a while, and Chuck is always up to something cool. Recently he had something nice to say about us, in a longer post on reverse-engineering; to be explicit, reverse-engineering the MP44 trunnion. But forget what he says about, how cool is it to be making an MP.44 trunnion for (almost) the first time since a T-34 did a pivot turn on the ruins of the factory?

MP44 reverse-engineered trunnions

Here at Gun Lab we do a fair amount of reverse engineering, most of what we like to make have no drawings. However when there are drawings or solid models available we will use them. With this said I have found that most of what is available on the internet or in books is just not correct.

A case in point is the MP-44 trunnion. I have all the drawings that I have been able to find on this part, a number of different sets are out there, and when compared with the actual part have found them to be lacking. Some are just wrong and in some cases I don’t think the person has actually looked at a part.

Now, we have a set of MP.44 drawings here. We’ve actually been meaning to show a few of them to illustrate how MP.44 design features migrated into the AR-10 and thence to all its descendants. They’re terribly reproduced, no longer to scale, but they are dimensioned MP.44 drawings.

Say “Thank you,” class:


Now, you might wonder how it can be possible with apparently original (even if lousy), dimensioned drawings, you can’t just poke the numbers in and try to run the part. There are a number of reasons that you could expect drawings to diverge from shop practice. In the real world, in fact, it’s a constant battle to keep the drawings and the processes both aligned properly on the same part. In the 20th Century this got particularly bad because of engineer/draftsman/master machinist/machine operator job specialization and social stratification. Those could be four different guys whose only workshop interactions were with the adjacent guy in the org chart, and whose contacts were all correct.

There’s no way you produce stuff efficiently without the engineers going out on the shop floor, but some are loath to do that, and some shop staff are loath to have an engineer looking over their shoulders. There’s no way you produce stuff efficiently without a steel-cutter being able to walk back into the engineering spaces with a part and a problem, right to the guy who drew the drawings — but that is forbidden more often than it is allowed! So even in the best, cleanest, and least disrupted shops, lines got crossed, things fell apart, the center did not hold… wait, we got carried away there for a bit. But communications were imperfect, even in a perfect factory.

Then, add into the mix, we’re talking about the Third Reich in 1944-45. If the Germans had perfect factories, the Allies bombed them. Meanwhile, the gaping maw of the Eastern Front demanded endless human sacrifices, and in each successive draft call manufacturers could protect fewer and fewer key workers. The “fix” the government proposed for this was that they would provide labor, but that labor was at best displaced refugees from the ill-fated German settlements in the East, but more commonly slave labor from occupied nations.

Something had to go, and one of the things that went was correcting and updating drawings. Seriously, if you compare surviving German drawings to the M1 drawings, your mental picture of “German efficiency” will never recover. (Well, maybe a little when you realize that two large air forces were gamely trying to reduce German industry to the state of the Germans’ forebears in the Neander valley).

Now back to the MP-44 trunnion. We were contracted a while back with making a limited number of new trunnions for the MP-44. He sent us a very good original one and we had a poor copy of one at the shop. Using these two pieces we started the project of reverse engineering it. The easiest thing to do was look for engineer drawings off the web. These are the ones that I found.

His look like they’re from the same set we’ve got here. He has stripped them of dimensions, perhaps because he’s not working with SI (metric) dimensions, but more likely because the dimensions were not “on” compared to the physical parts he had to measure.

The measurements have been removed from these copies, however you can find them on the internet. I did use the basic drawing as a starting point. The sheets were cleaned and measurements were taken using a cmm, micrometers and pin gauges. Tolerances were set using not only the trunnion but also matching parts. When there was a doubt other parts were located to increase the measurement standards. This allowed us to come up with a reasonable solid model that we felt was accurate enough to start programing.

A CMM is a coordinate measuring machine. Think of it as a sort of 3D scanner that touches off against a part and records that position in 3D space. These can be used to gather a cloud of points, or more efficiently, to capture key dimensions.

The problem with using a CMM against a part you are re-engineering is that you’re working off one part, and you don’t know where in the tolerances that part was. (That’s also our beef with David Findlay’s excellent Firearms Anatomy books — for practical reasons, Findlay worked off a single sample of the firearm).

Given enough parts to measure, you can develop a degree of statistical certainty about where the original measurement was supposed to be. Working with most non-US products, you can also cheat a bit by knowing that engineers like to spec things in fairly round millimetric measures — dimensions that end in X.0 or X.5 millimeters, most of the time.

Anyway, here is the first post on re-engineering the MP.44 trunnion, and here is a follow-up post (in which the model turns out to need some improvement). Meanwhile lots of work improving the shop and working on GunLab’s other projects, such as the VG1-5 limited production run.

Note on an Unpleasant Subject

Technical posts like this and GunLab’s would be banned under a gag order slipped into the Federal Register by the State Department — yes, the very people who negotiated the deal to accelerate the nuclear armament of the hostage-taking terror state of Iran this week. The deadline for comments is 3rd August. As we previously wrote (more background there, at the end of a barrel-heating post):

Comments go here at or by email to: DDTCPublicComments@state.govwith the subject: “ITAR Amendment—Revisions to Definitions; Data Transmission and Storage”. Ceteris paribus, this link should open in your email application with the correct subject header.

Again, there’s more at that previous post on how to comment, but at this time it’s crucial that you comment. A State Department than can censor the Internet is a State Department that has lost touch with America.

You Know You Want One. Which One?

One of the coolest guns ever let loose on an unsuspecting world was the “Schmeisser” (as the Allies called it, although Hugo Schmeisser had nothing to do with it; it did use his magazine patent) MP.38 and MP.40 submachine guns.

MP40 goepfert

Arguably the first of the second-generation submachine guns, the MPs incorporated all of the canonical 2G traits: notably folding stocks and industrial pressing and screw-machine parts for rapid manufacture. (The canonical 2G is probably the Sten, whose stock was removable, not folding, but which set records still unbeaten for economy and crudity of manufacture for a major power’s service weapon. The US 2G SMG, the M3 “Grease Gun,” was a model of fit and finish, at least as far as mass-produced pistol-caliber bullet hoses went).

The MP has a number of reasons it’s technically interesting, but its lasting appeal these days stems from three things:

  1. Someone collects anything having to do with the Third Reich, and this was a signature personal weapon of that grim regime; there is no weapon more commonly associated with the Blitzkrieg that you can hang on your wall. (Maybe a Stuka or Panzer III, if you had a really big wall?)
  2. After the war, it was (and to some extent still is) Hollywood’s go-to Bad Guy Gun. Everyone from Smersh, to KAOS, to Blofeld’s Nehru-jacketed (or were they jump-suited?) minions seems to have an MP40. They even show up in space operas and 1930s gangster films — almost always in the hands of the bad guys.

    MP40 with movie villains and Nazis (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

    MP40 with movie villains who were also Nazis (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

  3. It looks cool in that certain way of many German weapons. It has a certain Bauhaus-meets-Bridgeport, Industrial Age look to it. It is one of the most identifiable silhouettes in the firearms world, even now.

MP40 drawing

As a bonus, they fire common, readily available ammunition.

At the time, the MP. 38 was a revelation, if not a revolution. It was a stamped weapon (the receiver appears to have been pressed on a mandrel) that didn’t feel flimsy or cheesy.

What brought this to our attention is the sheer number of MPs are available on GunBroker right now. There’s usually one or two, but this week there are seven of them, most of them original, transferable, C&R guns. (Two are tube guns offered at what we think is too high of a reserve). Almost all of them are offered by Frank Goepfert (you may remember the “Colt 601″ receiver that was a mixmaster that we commented on a couple of months back. The high bidder had thought it was an authentic and complete 601, and Frank allowed him to roll the auction back — correct move in our opinion.

MP40 on Gunbroker

If we were bidding today — and we’re not — it would be this one, rather than one of Frank’s, we’d bid on. Some of his are in much nicer finish condition, but this one just seems like the best match of authenticity, vibe, accessories, and, potentially, deal. Look for it to sell in the mid teens.

Selection, Assessment & Training: the IJN Way

500px-Naval_Ensign_of_Japan.svgAt the dawn of World War II, Americans had extremely solid feelings of racial and national superiority. Indeed, throughout the war national propaganda featured propaganda themes that careful analysis would have shown were mutually contradictory: the Japanese were cunning, stealthy, and powerful; yet they were dimwitted, nearsighted, bucktoothed buffoons. These feelings were put to a test when are forces encountered the Imperial Japanese Navy. No one who had faced the Navy’s night gunnery or its world-class carrier pilots in those dark days of the war’s first five or six months came away thinking he’d faced a dimwitted, nearsighted, bucktoothed buffoon — if he came away with body and soul still integrated at all.

US intelligence bulletins that described Japanese ships and aircraft as inferior copies of Western types, and Japanese training methods as antiquated, cruel and stupid, producing automata who had no skills apart from blindly following orders, were exposed as a combination of wishful thinking and racial prejudice (ironically, two factors that colored Japanese intelligence as well).

"Jap Infantry Weapons." Period poster. Click to embiggen.

“Jap Infantry Weapons.” Period poster. Click to embiggen.

By 1945 we had beaten the hated Japs, but we still didn’t really understand them. One of the great miracles of human achievement is the story of how Japan could go in the matter of barely more than a century from a primitive feudal, agrarian society to a modern industrial nation that was able to equip a modern Army and Navy with effective weapons of almost entirely domestic design, and produce the men to operate these weapons. It requires considerable study; while the weapons of the IJN like its super-battleships, super-submarines and aircraft have been studied at length, less study has been given to its personnel practices. They are a synthesis of Japanese culture and worldwide best-practices of the late 19th Century, and they produced both  one of the world’s greatest naval air arms, and the flexible, imaginative infantry that bedeviled the British in Malaya, the Americans in the Philippines, and all the Allies that would fight them in New Guinea and on the island-hopping campaign.

There is a resource that will give you insight to Japanese personnel practices, if you use it, and that is a series of living history interviews by Dan King, a former diplomat who, rare among Americans, speaks and understands spoken Japanese well. King has published several books we can highly recommend, including:

  • A Tomb Called Iwo Jima: Firsthand Accounts from Japanese Survivors. Paperback. Kindle.
  • The Last Zero Fighter: Firsthand Accounts from Japanese Naval Pilots. PaperbackKindle.

Japanese combat leadership was experienced, NCO/PO leadership. Unlike officer-heavy armies of the US, Russia, or the Third World, the Japanese had very few, and very elite, officers. By “elite,” we mean that they were selected for being in the top tail of the ability distribution (cognitively and physically), and they were trained in an extremely demanding academy. But the percentage of officers was always low, and first- and second-line leaders were invariably NCOs, promoted into leadership positions (and trained for those positions) based on ability and proven performance. Mutual respect between the academy officers and the up-from-the-ranks NCOs was the vital glue that produced the remarkable combat cohesion of Japanese units.

Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero at Pearl Harbor. Illustration by Darryl Joyce. (Actually, we think he has the color wrong).

Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero at Pearl Harbor. Illustration by Darryl Joyce. (Actually, we think he has the color wrong).

An Aviator in the IJN, usually of enlisted rank and even younger than his Allied counterpart, was one of three technical specialties: pilot, navigator/observer (who in multi-crew aircraft, much like in the Luftwaffe, was more likely to be the aircraft commander than the senior pilot was), and radio operator/gunner. This technical division was much like other air arms. But Japan was unique in the degree to which it made its pilots from a raw material of unformed, almost uneducated but able youth — children, by today’s measures.

King reduces it to an aphorism:

While Western powers trained officers to be pilots, Japan primarily turned teenage boys into pilots.

From the same source (The Last Zero Fighter), here’s an overview of the many paths to flight in Imperial Japanese (Naval) service.

As there are several trails leading to the summit of Mt. Fuji, there were several paths a young man could take to the cockpit.

  1. Graduate from the naval academy, serve aboard a ship for a year, and then apply for flight school.
  2. Graduate from a university (or be enrolled in school) and join the reserves as an officer and attend pilot training. Afterwards he would return to his job, or continue with his studies.
  3. Obtain his civilian pilot license and join the reserves as an officer.
  4. Join the navy as an enlisted sailor, serve aboard a ship for a year, and then sit for an exam for admittance into Sōren preparatory flight course.
  5. As a teenager, take the entrance exam for the Navy’s Yokaren preparatory flight course. If the applicant was accepted, he was in the navy.

Each of these paths had associated hazing, harassment, and outright abuse that make their Western counterparts’ “plebe years” or “square corners” seem like kid stuff. Surviving Japanese combat pilots recount running a gantlet that transcended the metaphorical to include real physical beatings, including with swagger sticks or small versions of a baseball bat, labeled on them with the Japanese characters saying, “Bat to Instill Military Spirit.”

Each path also accelerated during the war. For instance the Yokaren course was a wartime improvisation, and Academy graduates who wanted to fly came to be spared the preliminary year aboard ship. The Soren and Yokaren courses were combined as the war ground on. (Remember, in Japan, the war started in the 1930s with the Mukden Incident; 8 December 41 (the date of the Pearl Harbor and Philippines attacks in Japan) didn’t mean a new war to Japan, just a new theater.

Each training pathway had associated cognitive and physical exams associated with it, and scores were set quite high. Despite this stringent administrative selection, each training pathway also had more (Yokaren/Soren) or less (Hiko Gakusei, the course for regular officer pilots) attrition. Those attrited were assigned according to the needs of the Navy, sometimes as non-pilot flight crew, sometimes to shipboard or land-based aviation maintenance functions, and sometimes to non-aviation sea duty ratings and assignments.

Naval officers got these cool daggers -- and the burden of command. The pilots and crewmen they commanded, including most of Japan's top aces, were kids and youths. They got the job done (this dagger sold at Cowan's auction house some years ago. Beware the many fakes).

Naval officers got these cool daggers — and the burden of command. The pilots and crewmen they commanded, including most of Japan’s top aces, were kids and youths. They got the job done (this particular dagger sold at Cowan’s auction house some years ago. Beware the many fakes).

The Yokaren course was the most “foreign” to us today, although it has some parallels to the Army’s initial entry option for Warrant Officer Flight School. The intake were secondary school students — already a small minority of Japanese youth of the 30s and 40s — who had passed the grueling exams, and they were from 15 to 20 years of age. (The Soren students were a little older, thanks to their prior Navy service). King again:

Yokaren started in June 1930 to satisfy the increasing need for pilots and observers. The Navy recruited boys of high caliber from among eighth grade graduates or above. The first Yokaren course was set up at the Oppama Airfield attached to the Yokosuka Naval Air Group. The Navy promised to give the boys their remaining middle school and higher formal education before starting their actual flight training. In addition, once they completed the course, they would be naval aviators eligible for faster promotions and higher pay than in the surface fleet. Applicants were required to be top-notch students of excellent physical condition. The Navy would not accept an applicant if he was the sole male heir. The original training period was two years and eleven months which included a 30 day experience aboard a warship.

That was all before the student started flight training! The Soren school also included a wide variety of initial academic and physical training. Soren grad Saburo Sakai remembered being taught to catch flies with his open hand, as a means of training student reflexes; others remember tumbling exercises in a sort of man-carrying gyroscopic wheel, designed to raise alertness under exotic combat flight profiles and g-loads.

The classes of the Yokaren were numbered from the first to the last… the nineteenth.

As the Japanese like to say, “It takes three years to grow a pilot.” The Navy expended a great deal of time and resources on the education and training of her teenage pilots. The aviator was akin to a bonsai tree, requiring much time and a great deal of patience to shape.

Along with the classroom education in traditional, military, and aviation subjects, future pilots were also inculcated with Japanese nationalism, fighting spirit, and socialized to the Empire’s warrior culture.

At the end of the Yokaren / Soren course, the students were classified and sent to pilot or navigator training. Still more modifications to training were required by the pressures of the war, but the Soren and Yokaren programs allowed Japan to fight its naval air battles with young pilots recruited directly from middle school, or from the ranks of loyal and proven seamen, and fight effectively with a ratio of about nine such enlisted or PO pilots for every commissioned officer — including reserve and wartime officers.

There are many more gems of knowledge about the times, administration, and the culture of the IJN in Dan King’s books. We recommend them unreservedly.

El-Bubba BHP Destined for the Smelter

You see the darndest things at a gun turn-in. Dean Weingarten at Gun Watch spotted this:

Mex BrowningIt’s a somewhat hard-done-by prewar Browning Hi-Power with gaudy Mexican jeweler’s grips, made of mother-of-pearl, engraved silver, and inlaid with Mexican designs. Not everybody’s taste, and so we tend to call the mystery smith who decorates guns like this el-Bubba. But hey, it takes all kinds to make a world, de gustibus non disputandum est, and all that.

But if this gun was somewhat abused by some prior Mexican or Mex-American owner, that’s nothing compared to what happens to it next. Dean:

This “Mexican” Browning High-Power was one of many fine firearms turned in at the Los Angeles gun “buy back” in May of 2014.  It stands out because of the custom grips, which appear to be mother of pearl, inlaid with Mexican emblems and framed in silver.

Mex Browning2

The pistol has the slide at the full rear position, yet the barrel is only showing about 5/8ths of an inch in front.  It should show about 1 3/8ths.   Look at the other side.

As Dean notes, the barrel’s in the wrong place, suggesting it was assembled by someone who didn’t understand the firearm. He speculates that that’s why this collector curio, still valuable even in its scratched, roughed-up form, was turned in.

For a $100 gift card at some schlocky merchant of Chinese self-disassembling injection-molded consumer crap.

Mex Browning3


In LA, there’s no escape for a gun like this. It’s a California “assault weapon!” Blamed for gang crime by politicians who benefit too much from criminals to bear down on them, the guns acquired at this taxpayer buy are all subject to an extrajudicial death sentence, including this 1938-vintage Hi-Power.

Heck, if they seize your 24″ rims because you were dealing crack from your Oldsmobile, at least they have the decency to file US vs. Four 24″ Wheel Rims. But guns are guilty until proven innocent, and no one is allowed to speak for their innocence.

Imagine if the people behind this turn-in had all the power they want. And thank a merciful God that you’re not getting all the government you’re paying for.

Britain, Avulcular: The Last V-Bomber Flies its Last Flights

It”s hard to remember now, but there was a time when Britain, England really, was a world leader in aeronautics. Once, they were manufacturing not one, but three state-of-the-art nuclear bombers, the Vickers Valiant, the Handley-Page Victor, and the last flying example, the Avro Vulcan. The Valiant was a stop-gap, in case the Victor or Vulcan, which included much risky technology like the Vulcan’s delta wing and the Victor’s scimitar planform, failed. The Victor flew for decades as a tanker, and the Vulcan was the last dedicated long-range pure bomber — nuclear and conventional — of the RAF.

If you have not seen a Vulcan fly, you still can — this summer — before the last flying example is grounded for good.

The UK tech website The Register can’t address this without Gawker-style ignorant snark:

[The Falklands War Black Buck ultra-long-distance raids were]  the close of the Vulcan’s story with the RAF. And yet there was much affection for the old V-bombers, despite the fact that they had only provided a credible deterrent for a few years and had otherwise been undistinguished. This affection was nurtured by the RAF, which continued to have a taxpayer-funded Vulcan display unit until 1992 – ten years after the Vulcan retired as a fighting aircraft, almost a quarter-century after Polaris had rendered the V-force obsolete, and 32 years after the V-force had ceased to be credible in its primary mission.

Yeah, the bombers can’t get through missile defense. Pilots are obsolete. Robotic weapons are the future. Well, they were certainly the future when Sir Duncan Sandys wrote the White Paper that sounded the death knell of the British aerospace industry in 1957, and almost sixty years later, we’ve had Linebacker II and the ’67, ’70, ’73, ’82 and ’86 Middle East wars, two Arab WMD facilities erased from the map by the IDF AF despite the latest Russian/Soviet air defense gear, Desert Storm, and OIF, and today’s Sir Duncan wannabees are teling us that robotic weapons are the future.

Dude, where’s my jetpack?

After the RAF retired its Vulcan display flight, a nonprofit formed to maintain the plane in taxiable condition. (Yes, the British aero scene is so pitiful that people get excited to see vintage aircraft moving on the ground. But then, the US would never allow a nonprofit to adopt any postwar bomber, and our much larger nuclear alert force has no flying survivors, so who are we to bag on the Brits?)

Even after this the Vulcan To The Sky Trust came into being, and the old RAF display plane XH558 returned to the skies once more in 2007.

Now, however, the grand old warhorse of the skies is finally retiring for good. A group of companies that provided support and skills to keep XH558 going made the decision that they could no longer afford the costs associated with keeping the Vulcan in the air, especially as most of the parts no longer existed and airframe hours were becoming a major concern.

XH558 is not off to the scrap yard however, but to her new home at the Vulcan Aviation Academy where the next generation of engineers can learn their craft.

Until then, you can see, hear and feel XH558 in action on its UK farewell tour.

via Goodbye Vulcan: Blighty’s nuclear bomber retires for the last time • The Register.

Do read all three pages, as the Vulcan’s early history is very interesting.

A Forgotten German SOF Unit

Ever heard of Bataillon Ebbinghaus? They really were a thing — briefly.

Before World War II, special operations were more the bailiwick of ad hoc, temporary elements, what the British precisely called “mobs for jobs,” than they were assignments to permanent special operations forces. A war would break out, some Robert Rogers would raise a regiment or even a company of special-purpose forces.


Purportedly von Hippel with men of Bn Ebbinghaus, Silesia 1939. Note civilian clothes, deniable weapons (ZB-26, MP.18-I), Nazi armbands.

In the gear-up to what would become World War II, the German forces took this approach in raising a unit of Polish-speaking irregulars. Writes Mike Bennighof, PhD, on a wargame page:

Theodore [sic] von Hippel, a veteran of the German campaign in East Africa during the First World War, lobbied long and hard for special deep penetration units that would sabotage bridges and other communications nodes ahead of a German advance. The army allowed Hippel to form a special battalion known as the “Ebbinghaus” unit. Hippel recruited Polish-speaking Germans from either side of the border, Poles resident in Germany and Freikorps veterans. And according to some of his detractors, a fair number of petty criminals. They went into action during the German invasion of Poland in September 19391.

Von Hippel at his desk. The German Aaron Bank?

Von Hippel at his desk. The German Aaron Bank?

Throughout the war, German forces would use units like this, often successfully on the Eastern front. They had less success in the West, where they created a lot of confusion during the Battle of the Bulge but wound up defeated in detail. (Most of the English-speaking, American-uniformed infiltrators were captured, given a summary court-martial, and shot).

Bennighof suggests that the original Batallon Ebbinghaus from the Polish Campaign was not an unalloyed success:

Though there are some unsourced claims that the Ebbinghaus Battalion “performed magnificently” (without giving any details of this magnificence), Polish records give a much different story. The battalion assaulted the Polish factory complex at Slask in Silesia, and were intercepted by local police and army reservists. After an intense firefight, half of the saboteurs were killed2.

One online source suggests that Ebbinghaus was successful in “seizing the bridges over the Vistula” as well as the Silesian factory attack3, but there’s no way to trace it back to a primary source.

Having had their prejudices about special operations confirmed, the army high command dissolved the Ebbinghaus unit. But the Abwehr chief, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, saw an opportunity. He transferred Hippel to military intelligence and ordered him to form a new unit, the Lehr und Bau Kompagnie z.b.V. 800 (800th Special Purpose Training and Construction Company). Hippel formed the unit around the Ebbinghaus survivors at a barracks in Berlin near the Brandenburg Gate, and his company became known as the Brandenburg company.

Recruiting and training focused on language ability and cultural knowledge, to allow saboteurs to pose as enemy soldiers and civilians. Overwhelmingly, preparations focused on the Soviet Union despite Germany’s supposed alignment with the Communist state, reflecting Canaris’ virulent anti-Communism. Canaris eased Hippel aside as the unit began to show real promise4.

So by 25 Oct 39, Ebbinghaus was no more, and the unit was Brandenburg until, after the murder of its sponsor Canaris, it was converted to a conventional unit and expended in combat.  Here’s another excerpt mentioning it:

The German high command allowed Hippel to form a battalion to do what he had proposed–sabotage the enemy’s ability to respond to German attacks by capturing roadways and bridges ahead of the main force and securing strategic targets before they were demolished. Known as the Ebbinghaus battalion, the battalion did a superb job in the Polish campaign, despite their excellent performance they were disband soon after. However this excellent performance didn’t fail to go unnoticed, and Admiral Canaris(who at the time was incharge of the Abwehr)gave Hippel the opportunity to form a unit like the Ebbinghaus group for the Abwehr.

On October 15, 1939, the Lehr und Bau Kompagnie z.b.V. 800 (Special Duty Training and Construction Company No. 800), which consisted primarily of the former Ebbinghaus volunteers, was officially founded in Brandenburg [an der Havel near Berlin], where it would take on the shorter name of Brandenburg Company5.

One wonders what sources lie behind the tales, and what was the (probably prosaic) origin of the original name. The only official source we have found is a photo of von Hippel with caption and a few brief paragraphs (.pdf) in the Bundesarchiv, who say the photo came from his personnel file in the archive — a file that ends with his 1943 capture in Tunisia.

One site gives Bataillon Ebbinghaus credit for “prevent[ing] the destruction of Vistula Bridges and sabotage of factories in Silesia” during the Polish campaign6.

But the naming enigma remains. Who, or what, or where was Ebbinghaus that gave this early unit its name? And where, in something as thoroughly explored as the history of Nazi special operations forces, is the history of this brief mob-for-a-job?


  1. Higgins, p. 9.
  2. Bennighof.
  3. Uncredited.
  4. Bennighof.
  5. Lew.
  6. Uncredited.



Bennighof, Mike. Retrieved from:

Bundesarchiv. Hauptmann Theodor von Hippel. Retrieved from: and:

Higgins, David R. Behind Soviet Lines: Hitler’s Brandenburgers Capture the Maikop Oilfields, 1942. Oxford, England: Osprey, 2014.

Lew, Christopher. The Brandenburg Commandos – July ’96 World War II Feature. Retrieved from:

Uncredited. The Brandenburg Commandos: Germany’s Warrior-Spies, n.d.. Retrieved from:

Various. Theodor von Hippel. Axis History Forum. Retrieved from:


The post has been edited. Thanks to a comment by our one banned commenter, an error in the date of the Higgins book has been corrected. He’s still banned though — sorry ’bout that. -Ed.


Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: FMSO OE Watch

oewatch_issue_6Here’s a publication you may not be aware of: The US Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office’s Operational Environment Watch. In effect, it’s an open-source intel briefing on military developments, intended for the professional officer but available to whomever.

This link will provide an HTML version of the current issue:

This is the static link to this month’s issue in .pdf form:

This is the repository of back issues (many other FMSO papers and publications are also at this link):

The general format is to present a foreign military news article (in translation, if necessary), and in a sidebar to offer analysis of the significance of the article to US and NATO defense.

There is a great deal of information on Russian developments in every issue, even if it doesn’t focus on Russian doctrine like this issue does. For an example of the sort of thing we mean, the current issue reports on changes to Russian airborne forces, incorporating main battle tanks as organic elements (that will train and deploy with the paratroopers, not ad hoc attachments) for the first time. There’s an article on what might seem to be pettifogging terminological subtlety: what’s the difference between Spetsnaz and SOF?

There’s technical details also. The current issue discusses two new (?) Russian underwater weapons, the the DP-64 Nepryadva grenade launcher made by Basalt, and the Tula Instrument Design Bureau’s Active Denial System, both intended to be used against frogmen and surface swimmers.

Likewise, the March issue had details on the T-14 Armata tank (which is apparently to be produced, mostly, for export at $7.8 million each) and something new from Russia, the Ratnik integrated soldiers’ load system, comprising a drastically lightened overall load, and including the AK-12 rifle, which after a long game of financial chicken with Izmash/Kalashnikov Concern, the Russian MOD is buying, perhaps primarily to keep Kalashnikov afloat in the light of sanctions limiting their export markets.

The nature of a magazine means that long, thoughtful pieces don’t belong here, nor do very specialized ones, like a biography of Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin. In that case, there’s a brief blurb in the magazine — with a link to the longer paper on the FMSO website. (The Rogozin Bio for instance).

It’s not all-Russia-alla-time, fortunately. China, Latin America, and Central Asia get their share of coverage, Along with the hardware stuff, which is likely to be of greatest interest to readers of this blog, there’s quite a lot on diplomatic and operational developments.