Monthly Archives: November 2012

Last Flying B-29 Needs Our Help

As we’ve commented before, after a war, the high tech, iconic weapons of the conflict pass through a long period in which they’re “old junk” before someone realizes that they’re rare and deserving of preservation. This is what happened to the B-29 bomber, a plane once produced in such masses that a single raid by them over Tokyo once killed more people with conventional weapons than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki did.

Many ywars afterward, private enthusiasts rescued one from a Navy gun range where the swabbies had lost track of it on its way to being blown up as a target. That turned out to be the last one. (A later attempt to rescue a B-29 in Greenland failed due to one of the plane’s in-service problems — fire). That last surviving airworthy B-29, FIFI, is likely the only one that will ever fly again; a couple of dozen other airframes exist in museums, storage, and in various states of repair. but those capable of restoration to flight will likely never leave museums, and those in the hands of would-be restorers are in sad shape, mostly.

During the last airshow flight of the season, the number two engine experienced a loss of power. The crew returned safely to the airport, but it was soon determined the engine would need major repairs. At nearly $10,000 and 100 volunteer hours per hour of flight, keeping FIFI in the air is daunting.

This iconic B-29 is a traveling piece of military history. FIFI flies to air shows and tour stops all over the country giving children of all ages the sight, smells and sounds of history. These personal experiences perpetuate the spirit in which these aircraft were flown in defense of our nation –honoring the courage, sacrifice and legacy of the greatest generation. FIFI represents that generation and the best of America.

Our goal is to raise $250,000 to repair the damaged engine and to purchase a spare engine ensuring continuous operation and flight. Please help us!

Your tax deductible donation will keep FIFI flying!

via Keep FiFi Flying A2.

Scan of a page of the B-29 Gunner’s Information File showing the rear upper turret with the fairing off and breeches open. Source: twinbeech.com

The B-29 was not only a landmark weapons system in its own right, it also contained defensive systems that were milestones of technology. Instead of the manned turrets and free waist guns of the B-17, B-24 and earlier bombers, which produced massive drag while exposing gunners to the elements (-40F @ 250 kt), the -29 used a Central Fire Control system which used optical and hydraulic systems to allow fewer centrally located gunners to operate slave turrets in a shirtsleeve, pressurized, climate-controlled enviroment. Mechanical computers using adding-machine technology handled questions of parallax. This let the gunners stay inside the pressure vessel and gave the bomber more speed and altitude capability, which itself complicated Japanese interception. The Japanese pilot who struggled, alone, to the service ceiling of his plane to tangle with a formation of B-29s was either very brave or foolhardy, and everyone on both sides of the fight knew it. (Later, the defensive system would finally fall short when facing MG-15 fighter jets; in Korea, the B-29s were forced to bomb at night. But it met the initial threat for which it was designed).

Similar remote turrets were used in at least two other late-war entrants, the North American P-61 Black Widow night fighter, and the Douglas A-26 (later B-26) Invader, an ambitous project which was meant to, and ultimately did, replace the B-25 Mitchell, B-26 Marauder, and A-20 Havoc light bombers (The A/B-26 soldiered on into the 60s, serving with distinction in the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam, although by then its simplified Sperry CFC system was removed).

Ironically, the organization that operates FIFI, the Commemorative AIr Force, started almost as a joke by several Tezan pilots, was called the Confederate Air Force until the 1990s. They changed the name because deep-pocketed corporate donors’ timidity ran headlong into the poorly-educated public, most of whom learn nothing about the Confederacy except that it was racist (true) and evil (probably true, but not exactly for the reasons that are taught in schools today). The organization was never meant as a neo-Rebel or racist organization, the name was a joke, and we are officially a country that can’t take a joke these days.

In any event, when the phone doesn’t ring at the CAF these days, it’s those rich corporate donors not calling. So they’re begging for table scraps from the public. You can donate at the link if you’re so inclined; they have various chachkas they give donors of various levels, it’s just like a PBS telethon but absent the certainty of the Government stepping in to fund any shortfalls…

The CAF was vital to that critical middle period of preservation, before the public at large realized that World War II Aircraft were a vital historical resource. The lack of any equivalent organization for Cold War aircraft is part of the reason why so many of them have vanished without a trace, and so few were preserved in flying status.

Hat tip: AOPA.

There are two kinds of mystery deaths

There’s the one where no one has any idea who killed the victim, and no one even has an idea why someone might have done so. Then there’s the mystery where, if you look at the decedent’s behavior and associations, the detective’s problem is figuring out which one of the many potential suspects is the actual doer. Add in a victim who’s dumb as a box of rocks, and you have the possibility he killed himself — which is the way NYPD officers are leaning in the untimely demise of James Morris, 18.

A Brooklyn teen was found fatally shot in the head yesterday morning in what police believe was a game of Russian roulette gone wrong—but his family thinks that someone else shot him. James Morris, 18, was found dead in the bedroom of his Brownsville apartment around 3:15 a.m. Friday. Three friends who were in the room with Morris said he was showing off his gun and bragging about his mastery of the game when he accidentally killed himself. But his family is adamant that there was a fight that led to his death. And one police source told the News that it was a possibility they were looking into: “It could be a very elaborate plan to cover something up.”

via Cops Believe Brooklyn Teen Died Playing Russian Roulette, Family Thinks It Was Foul Play: Gothamist.

The Gothamist article turns out to be fundamentally plagiarized from one at the New York Daily News that has more detail:

Morris’ best friend, Patrick Roberts, was in the room during the gunplay. He called 911 when he returned home and told police the doomed teen was playing with the revolver in the minutes before the shooting, sources said

Morris pointed the gun at his pals and twice pulled the trigger. But there was nothing more than a couple of clicks.

Then he bragged about his mastery of the deadly game, spun the chambers and pointed the gun at his own head, the sources said.

“I know where the empty chambers are,” a source quoted Roberts as telling the three young men.

The handgun went off and Morris collapsed. Police later found him facedown in a pool of blood inside his bedroom.

There’s more at the News; read the whole thing. The police don’t seem to have exerted themselves overly in this case, and reading between the lines one gets the impression that they know these kids are punks, and they can go to the morgue or prison now or they can go later, but they’re surely going to go one place or another.

Now, no one expects 18-year-olds to be models of ratonal higher-order planning, but even for a teenager it should be obvious that if one wants to Play Stupid Games like that, he’s liable to Win Stupid Prizes. A .357 upside the cranium is a pretty final Stupid Prize.

And yet it’s not unusual. This summer, a bunch of kids played Russian roulette in Florida. One “won” and his father didn’t blame his friends afterward. In 2011, it was a kid named Dontae Jones (Jones did it to impress a girl on a date. He shot her and is off to prison for a couple decades. We reckon dating has changed, for this to be an alternative to dinner and a movie. One thing’s for sure: dating has changed for Dontae for a while). YouTube is full of teen Russian roulette drama clips (we’ll spare you the links). A couple of Army soldiers in Alaska did it (reminding us of a short story by Checkov) and the survivor was tried for manslaughter (that New Jersey paper covered every detail of the trial, except the final acquittal! You have to admire the media for their singleminded devotion to Narrative above truth). For the love of God, there’s an app for the iPhone.

One wonders how people who blame guns process accidents or crimes like this (people like the Mayor of New York for example, or to give him the title he actually seems to think of himself having, to judge from his disinterest in Staten Island and the Rockaways, the Mayor of Manhattan). How do they come to the conclusion that a gang of black teens playing with a gun they couldn’t buy until Age 21 in other states, or at all — legally — in New York State or City, is somehow caused by some white adult buying and responsibly using a gun in Boise or Bangor? But that seems to be what the Mayor of Manhattan thinks.

No matter how wide one casts the net of disarmament, it can’t address the underlying fact that led to the violent end of Mr Morris’s short life: stupid choices. If he did indeed shoot himself, well, playing Russian roulette is high-test stupid. But if his friends shot him, his choice of friends is also stupid. If the Mayor of Manhattan achieved his peculiar goal of a world without guns, the stupid would still be with us. Or maybe that’s almost with us: just a few steps behind.

Sucks to be him department

This was another whacking, by another mob, in another place. But you get the general idea.

It’s Russian policy to arm a number of Arab states for a future war with Israel. One of these states is Syria, which has also turned its sophisticated Russian weapons on its own citizens in a bloody civil war that has claimed at least 50,000 lives.

It’s Israeli policy that, no matter how many or how powerful the forces aligned against the Jewish state get, nobody gets to exterminate theJews. They take the pledge, “never again,” absolutely seriously. Now, no Israeli government has ever said that Israeli agencies will go so far as to assassinate her enemies, but those Merchants of Death who sell to would-be Exterminators of Jews have a remarkable propensity for turning up in out-of-the-way places with their body core at ambient temperature and many more cranial orifices than the original Designer contemplated.

Certainly, it’s in the Israeli interest to do this from time to time, whether they have done it or not. And even if they have not done it, it’s even further in the Israeli interest to leave the world suspecting them when one of their enemies actually does just step in front of a bus, have a suspiciously-timed myocardial infarction, or gets shot by a jealous husband. So, while they are one suspect, any involvement of theirs will not be claimed under any likely set of events that may play out. Being suspected and being mum about it is very useful to Jerusalem.

ANKARA — A Russian official assigned to supply military equipment to Syria has been assassinated according to media reports here.

The Turkish daily Hurriyet said Vyacheslav Trukhachev was shot dead in the Russian city of Tula by an unknown assailant.

Hurriyet, regarded as close to the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, identified Trukhachev, deputy manager of the missile manufacturer KBP, as responsible for most weapons exports to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

No claim of responsibility was issued for the killing of Trukhachev. But Syrian rebels have warned over the past four months that Russia could be targeted for its continued weapons shipments to Assad.

“Police have launched an investigation while his colleagues have called the event unexpected and mysterious,” Hurriyet said on Nov. 22.

KBP, based in Tula, has been producing and exporting a range of air defense systems. In October, air defense components flown in a Syrian Air passenger jet was intercepted over Turkey and seized by authorities.

Hurriyet said the 58-year-old Trukhachev was killed on “one of the biggest streets in Tula.” No additional details were reported.

via Supplier of arms to Syria assassinated in Russian city | World Tribune.

Another arms merchant who is alleged to have crossed Israel with fatal results is Dr Gerald Bull. Bull was shot dead with multiple .22 rounds in the back of the head, just inside the door to his apartment in Belgium. He had supplied revolutionary long-range artillery to a variaty of pariah states worldwide. That brought him legal problems with the US Government and rather more serious problems with — somebody.

Looks like the same bad news has befallen Mr Trukhachev.

The Russian news agency RIA Novosti has a lot more on his unfortunate end, including some details on the mechanics of the hit.

The body of Vyacheslav Trukhachev was found on Wednesday on a street in Tula, an arms-manufacturing city south of Moscow.

Trukhachev was headed home after work at the Instrument Design Bureau when the killer shot him in the head.

The audacious assassination took place on a busy, well-lit street at about 7:30pm local time, and was captured on a surveillance camera, police said. The killer was not wearing mask, and fled the scene immediately after killing Trukhachev.
A 9mm cartridge case was found at the scene of the murder. Investigators are now studying CCTV footage and searching for witnesses.

GSh-18. Maxim Popenker (worldguns.ru) photo.

Bear in mind that when a Russian says “9mm,” he may be referring to the 9 x 18mm round used in the Makarov and some other East European pistols. However, Trukachev’s own firm produced a “9mm” pistol that was 9 x 19 NATO, the GSh-18 (caution, page contains autoplay video spam for some no-good product). He seems to have been an air defense design guy, not a handgun guy, but media reports are sketchy, and as always with Russian material, suspect.

Trukhachev seems to have been a designer, as mentioned above, and that makes the various claims of him being involved in sales and supply of weapons somewhat unlikely.  Possible, but unlikely. That also makes him an unlikely target for assassination. But one thing you can take to the bank: the Israelis are not going to say anything. From their point of view, a little terror in the famously reckless Russian arms industry can only be a good thing.

Thanksgiving in Viet Nam

The first part of this video shows Thanksgiving dinner being delivered by 5th SFG(A) troops to the short-lived A-camp of Xom Cat, which seems to have existed from October, 1966 to March, 1967. A friend of ours was XO there and then and probably knows the camp guys in the video.

We only watched the SF part, which is the first 1:38 or so of the video, but we’re sure the rest will be worth checking out when time permits. It shows conventional guys (Marines?) at Khe Sanh.

The Army always tries to get holiday dinners out to the guys in the field, even the remote location of ODA-312 at Xom Cat in ’66. Of course, the Army then had more helicopters, and fewer VIPs using them as personal taxis, so the current guys are not as well served as their Vietnam-era grandfathers.  But don’t underestimate the resourcefulness of SF troopers in the wild. No matter how neglected they are by the rear, they live as well as they can.

Hat tip on the Xom Cat video: Dave at Ace of Spades.

The worst thing about the H&K attitude…

… is that it appears to be contagious. Maybe as these guys move around from one industry gig to another they get infected with bacillus Ariovistus or something at Hah und Kah, and then bring that elevated nose to the next gig — we dunno.

So a while back we requested some information from Beretta as the news that they had received a contract from the Army for replacement M9s circulated around the net. This is not as big a deal as some writers think — M9s wear out and need frequent replacement — but in the light of the USMC tossing the hated 9 and returning to an updated 1911, was still interesting, particularly as the reports were ambiguous about whether these are the standard M9s or the model Beretta calls the M9A1, which the Marines seems to use, but not the Army.

Back in 2011, Beretta ran the “Thank you, Seal Team Six” ad (right, expands on click) that implied the SEALs used their pistol, slightly dishonestly. It pointed out that ST6 was the first US DOD customer for the M92 series pistol (true). It didn’t mention that it was also the first customer to reject the M92 after a series of slide fractures, one of which caused serious injury when the rear half of the slide whacked the operator’s face.

The slide fracture problem was solved by a combination of metallurgy and very short life limits on slides, but Six had had enough of the M92 (which the Joint Service Small Arms Program had just selected for all services as the M9) and went to the other weapon that passed all the JSSAP tests, the SIG 226. (People forget this, but both pistols passed with roughly similar scores. The Beretta was selected on cosr grounds).

So yeah, they were the first to adopt it, and the first to dump it, and they’ve never gone back to it. Most of the frogs we know seem content with the 226, although there are pockets of preference for 1911 and Glock, and grumbles about 1980s technology. (Interesting. Apart from the stuff you clip on the rails, the M4 is mostly 1950s technology with some 60s improvements and 80s ammo, and they use that without complaining).

Anyway, the geniuses behind the ST6 ad don’t answer email or telephone messages. Nada. Zip. Negative contact this station.

Guys, we want to help you get your message out, if it’s an honest message. Not many people read this blog, but you’d be surprised who some of them are. People who can order, say, parts for Berettas. People who can influence another big buy to follow the path of the Marines or the SEALs instead of the Army’s current general satisfaction with the M9. (Hmmm.. we need to do a post on why choosing your own pistol is not like choosing the Army’s pistol for hundreds of thousands of troops. A different decision strategy works best in each case).

Anyway, when our phone doesn’t ring, that’s Beretta’s PR guy not calling back. What’s Beretta going to do as a slogan now? Because you suck. And we hate you is already taken. Maybe European Attitude, UAW Quality? 

Sunday Subtleties

Here along the rocky seacoast of New England, things aren’t happening rapidly. Change is slow in coming, and it never sweeps in without facing spirited resistance.

We’re usually part of the spirited resistance. Most of the time, we win.

Saturday Oddities and Endities

What this is

It’s time, dear readers, to go deep into the Drafts folder and unearth all the stuff we really meant to snark about, but didn’t. Yet.  The basic thing these snippets have in common is that they tickled our funny bone, poked us in the eye to the point of outrage, or somehow shifted us from our normal inter-holiday torpor.

Chicago Values

…which are basicallly violent crime, graft, nepotism and corruption. With a health dose of contempt for vets.

CHICAGO (CBS) – A former U.S. Marine, who was left in a wheelchair following his service in Afghanistan, is filing a lawsuit alleging he was injured and left soaked in his own urine after he was mistreated by airline and airport workers at O’Hare International Airport nearly two years ago.

WBBM Newsradio’s Terry Keshner reports former Marine Sgt. Joseph Smith was wounded in Afghanistan in 2004, and confined to a wheelchair.

Smith is suing Air Serv Corporation and United Airlines for $300,000 in damages, claiming an Air Serv employee carelessly dumped him out of his wheelchair at O’Hare in November 2010, after ignoring warnings a wheel had become stuck.

via Paralyzed Vet Sues Airport, Airline Workers For Mistreatment At O’Hare « CBS Chicago.

This surprises us exactly zero. O’Hare is one of America’s two Third World airline airports. (Miami is the other, but that’s thanks to the  genuine Third World people who must pass through it due to lack of direct flights between Third World destinations. Chicago has actually de-evolved, which seems to call fall for a song:

Sorry about the video’s lack of, er, video. It’s a great song and he’s a great artist. He’s a Yalie, but he’s not like all the others (as we used to say about our “dancer” girlfriends from Rick’s Lounge).

More on the Texas Guiitar Beating

A while back we had the story of a guy who wigged out and beat the pastor of his wife’s church to death with a guitar he found on the stage of the church. It was just the sort of ugly, senseless crime that finally gets the untreated mentally-ill noticed. It’s also all the proof one needs that crazy people will kill, with or without guns. A later news story filled in some blanks about the gruesome attack:

Officers arrived to see that a Mercury Grand Marquis had been driven into the north side of the church. They found John Whitaker, the church’s janitor, with a head wound and carrying a wooden board.

“I asked Whitaker what happened and he stated something about somebody going crazy and hitting him,” Chesnut detailed in the report.

Whitaker also told the officer that he needed to go into the building to get his pastor, who was lying on the floor in a room.

Rudd arrived, and both officers were positioning themselves near the church’s north entrance when Birdow suddenly opened the door, startling Chesnut.

“I drew my service weapon and ordered Birdow out of the doorway,” Chesnut stated. “Birdow looked directly at me and I observed he had blood on his hand. Birdow then went back inside the church and tried to close the door behind him, preventing our entry.

“I caught the door and entered the church to pursue Birdow.”

Birdow ran east down a hallway near where his car had crashed into the church, then entered a room with something in his hand.

Chesnut approached to find Birdow “swinging an electric guitar in a downward direction, striking a male that was lying on the floor with severe injuries to his head,” the report states.

They may find that this guy is eligible to stand trial — it’s Texas, after all, not Massachusetts where the cons all vote (and can be depended on to vote for The Party). In Texas, they like their justice two ways: regular and extra crispy. But this guy seems like a textbook case of the mentally ill violator that Clayton Cramer describes so well in My Brother Ron. (NB: Clay’s brother hasn’t whacked anybody, he’s just mentally ill).

This was, of course, a crime that might have been stopped by a defensive gun use, but none of the victims had a gun, and probably none of them imagined he needed one. If you don’t think you need a gun, consider this mental exercise: how would you fare against a nut job with an electric guitar? Or with some improvised weapon that could be made from an object between the door to your home or office, and where you’re sitting right now?

That’s why we’re sitting, armed, in one of the safest towns in America, and why we stay armed to the extent the law allows.

Another day, another nut job

This one’s from last month, but still… interesting. The only weapon involved turns out to be a dummy, as does the guy who used it… but is “dummy” the word? We are not pshrinks here, but he sure looks like a mental case.

We’ve said over and over that we do a lousy job with the mentally ill. Basically, we ignore them until their behavior becomes so hazardous and threatening that the police step in, and they wind up either going to prison or beating the rap, maybe spending a little time under medical observation but ultimately back on the treadmill again. Which only ends when their misbehavior is so bad that they wind up in prison, or shot by the cops.

This case is still percolating in the New Hampshire courts. But we can predict — rather glumly — that it will not end well. The details:

A rooming house resident accused of causing public alarm by cobbling together a homemade explosive device was arraigned Monday when a prosecutor called him a danger to himself and the public.

Nicholas Durling, 30, was living at the Brewster Street rooming house on Aug. 3 when, police said, he plugged scissors connected by wires into an electrical outlet. The surrounding Islington Street neighborhood was evacuated for hours after the device was found in a common hallway at the rooming house, police said.

In addition to local patrol officers and detectives, the state police bomb squad and Seacoast Emergency Response Team were dispatched to the scene.

Durling was arraigned Monday by video from the Rockingham County House of Corrections on felony charges of reckless conduct and “placing a simulated explosive device.” According to the court, he’s been in custody since the incident, first at the state hospital and most recently in the county jail.

Prosecutor Rena Dilando petitioned the court for Durling’s $5,000 bail to remain in effect while citing his criminal history as including convictions for interference of custody, shoplifting, multiple counts of simple assault, reckless operation, unlawful concealment, breach of bail and theft by deception. The convictions resulted in both imposed and suspended jail sentences, Dilando said.

The prosecutor also told the court that Durling had made alarming statements during the police response to the bomb scare, including saying it was his “responsibility to take people out.”

via Police: Homemade-bomb maker said it was his ‘responsibility to take people out’ | SeacoastOnline.com.

The problem is never weapons or access to weapons. The problem is always people with murder in their hearts, or like this poor guy, bats in their belfries. How do you see into a man’s heart? Good luck with that.  And how do we deal with the violently insane, or with the pre-violent insane for that matter? How do you balance the threat posed by these people with the fact that they’re human beings and have human rights?

We’re having an election this week (we’ll post a graphic on the presidential candidates’ gun policies today, also). It’s a safe bet than no candidate at any level has discussed these issues. It’s a place where government policy is very difficult to make (and maybe the best answer is to keep it decentralized at the lowest possible level) but really solving these problems could do a lot to improve quality of life for everybody. If really solving these problems is possible.  (A great, if depressing, read on the subject is Clayton Cramer’s My Brother Ron.)

Or hell, we can just blame the guns!

After writing this one, we were off to CCW/CHL class for a couple of new states that are among the 10 that only accept their own permits. Joy. There’s another thing where the politicians could improve things, but won’t. What happened to “full faith and credit?” So the blog was supposed to be on robo for the rest of the day, but this post, which concluded by telling folks that, never got posted.

Illegal Mayors Against Guns

According to the Washington Times’s Emily Miller, Mike Bloomberg seems to have gotten the acronym for his group of neo-totalitarian, anti-gun-rights mayors out of ourder. Our headline above corrects it. Seems like over a dozen of Bloomie’s closest pals have gone up the river from everything from bribery to kiddie diddling. No wonder they don’t trust you: projection.

Some folks’ Fridays are blacker than others

Here’s the Times again, reposting an ABC News story we couldn’t find on ABC News:

Two people were shot outside a Walmart in Florida today, one of a rash of fights, robberies and other incidents that have cropped up on one of the most ballyhooed shopping days of the year.

The shooting took place at a Walmart in Tallahassee about 12:30 p.m., said Dave Northway, public information officer for the Tallahassee Police Department. Investigators believe a scuffle over a parking space outside the store escalated into gunplay leaving two people shot.

Apparently all those lazy bums cruising around and around a parking lot because they don’t want to park 200 ft. away from the door are serious about wanting those close-in spots. You don’t get to be one of the 400-lb bison of “People of Walmart” fame without working at it.

And, is there anything in WalMart worth shooting anybody over?

Just because they call it “Black Friday,” that’s no reason to start acting like you’re in a rap video. It sometimes seems like all of life is an IQ test, and half of humanity is falling short of the cut-off score.

The message never got through

Here lies a pigeon, known but to God. And a mystery 70 years in the making.

They think it was in World War II. They don’t know if the message, written in blue ink and sent by homing pigeon, was a desperate combat request or a routine training evolution. Thanks to the original sender having put two Pigeon IDs on the message, they aren’t even sure what pigeon it was.

They just know the carrier pigeon never got through.

They know that because David Martin of Surrey, England found the remains of the bird in his chimney. Along with the dessicated bird, there was its message container — and a legible message. But what did it say? The text of the message was — and is — enciphered.

Unfortunately, attempts to read the enciphered message that the doomed bird carried have failed. Bletchley Park, where German codes were solved during the war and where a cryptologic museum is today, took a shot at it, and then forwarded it to the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham. GCHQ is one of the most advanced code-breaking organizations in the world, but they couldn’t crack the code.

Some time after the war, the original code- or cipher-books, no longer used with pigeon messaging obsolete, were destroyed; they still posed a significant security risk as long as any message encrypted in the cipher might still be in hostile hands.

There is much more information in this Wall Street Journal story by Cassell Bryan-Low. (It was news to us that the British used carrier pigeons in the Second World War, as it’s a technology we always associated with the First). Bryan-Low’s article also contains a link to a downloadable .pdf of the mystery message if you feel like putting your cryptological chops to the test. The Bletchley Park museum is waiting to hear from you.

The mystery of J.C. Pollock

Correction:

See the updates at the end of this post. If you don’t think you’ll make it that far, at least see the August, 2013 Update and Correction to this post! It explains how the “Pollock in SOG” story got started, and what the real facts are– Pollock himself never made such a claim. -Eds.

In the 1980s, if there was one fiction writer the guys in 10th Special Forces Group were reading, it was J.C. Pollock. After all, he was one of our own: jacket copy indicated he was former SF and a SOG veteran of Vietnam, and a member of the Special Operations Association. He surged on to the scene in 1981 with Mission: MIA, a book that addressed the then-common belief that the US had abandoned prisoners to the inhumane North Vietnamese. This belief supported dozens of movies — ranging from well-acted to dreadful — and hundreds of books, both nonfiction and fiction.

In the end, DNA technology, which replaced the haphazard “morphological estimation” (translated to Anglo-Saxon, “shape guessing”) used by the inept 1980s’ crew at the Central Identification Laboratory — Hawaii, has resolved and continues to resolve problematical MIA cases from Vietnam (and from earlier wars). The discrepancy cases are fewer and fewer. Meanwhile, declassified cable traffic seems to indicate that if Kissinger didn’t abandon POWs, it’s not because it would have bothered him to do so. The cynical acceptance of a “decent interval” promise doomed the free men of Vietnam.

Perhaps they were doomed anyway.

Anyway, Mission: MIA, which some say was the underpinning for the similarly-themed Gene Hackman/Robert Stack film Uncommon Valor (IMDB disagrees, crediting the screenplay to Joe Gayton and story to Wings Hauser, who was not credited in the film), rocketed to bestseller status and led to Pollock’s white-hot run of bestselling novels, most of which featured SF or former-SF characters. One author’s appreciation of Mission:MIA is interesting, because he clearly has little sympathy with the author or characters, but he liked the book and notes that, as fantastical as it appears now, was arguably the most realistic of the “MIA Rescue” subgenre. We agree.

Pollock’s Crossfire was uncannily close to the actual experience of a 10th Group team that was dropped inadvertently in the wrong country due to a navigational error (disclaimer: this author wrote a novel on a similar theme at the same time) in the 1980s. The names of the SF men who fight, and mostly die, in the climactic battle, were an in-joke: most of them were the recycled names of fellow SOA members and recon legends of the Vietnam War. If you weren’t in the in-group, that went over your head. But we noticed it: some of those guys were our senior sergeants at the time. His other books Payback and Centrifuge were also highly successful.

Then the bottom fell out. Our memory is shaky, but as we recall it from those pre-Internet days, the veterans community discovered that Pollock was not a SOG veteran at all. He was a legitimate Marine combat vet of Vietnam, but not a SOGgie. (The members of SOG recon teams were exclusively Army members as far as we’ve been able to document, although there were a few who were second-tour LRRPs who had not gone to SF school… as we understand it, they and some similar Vietnam guys who were at A-camps or on other projects are the only SF men to have earned the qualification in combat). Pollock’s reputation took a napalm strike.

Pollock’s excuse was that he hadn’t added those claims, a publisher’s employee, publicist, or some similar flunky, had done so. (That’s a very common blowfish’s dodge on exposure; John Giduck says the same thing about his decades of SF/Ranger/Officer speaker bios). And he faded back into the shadows. Again, this is from memory: we thought about getting a Nexis subscription just to track down the 1990s news stories on him, but the price deterred us (over $1500 a year).

It doesn’t change the fact that he was a great writer, and some years later, a curious blogger tracked him down and determined that he was now working in Hollywood (where everyone’s backstory is hogwash anyway). His credits there include the direct-t0-DVD 2006 Cuba Gooding film, End Game. The blogger followed up later with news of other books Pollock has written under the name James Elliott.

We don’t wish Pollock ill. He is a great writer, and even though he was not a member of the Regiment, he wrote about us with care and credibility. We have no idea why men with honorable, good records choose to exaggerate them (or, if his word is to be believed, allow others to exaggerate them, which is the same crime in the same degree in our book). It’s a mystery, if a tragic one.

Mission: MIA like all its genre has not stood the test of time very well, but as a period piece it is a good read, and it is the best single entertainment on the “MIA Rescue” theme. All of his books are worthwhile adventures. Pollock’s suspenseful situations and (usually) doomed heroes make for good reading.

Updates

1. There is erroneous information in this post. There’s an extensive Update and Correction that was posted 2 August 2013, but wasn’t initially linked at this post. So people have been linking and thinking that that this is not just the right story but the whole story. So click that link to see the solution to the Mystery of JC Pollock!

2. See also our review, sort of, of Centrifuge, which review is mostly a war story about what we were doing while Jim was researching the book Crossfire.

3. We regret having created an impression that Jim Pollock is in any way comparable to the award-winning phony John Giduck. Read the update for the facts about Jim’s military career, and a little more about his publishing career (which is still ongoing).

4. We hear a rumor that the out-of-print Pollock books are soon going to be back in print, which is great news for adventure readers.

Grendel: Not quite the monster they think

6.5 Grendel in the Goldilocks position between 5.56 and 7.62.

In a long and thoughtful article on the 6.5 Grendel round J. Guthrie manages to interview Bill Alexander of Alexander Arms, cover the round’s genesis (including Alexander’s and others’ input) and its military potential, and talk a little about why it’s probably the best of all intermediate cartridges to date. And ultimately, he misses why the Grendel, as great as it is, is not a US issue round.

After almost two hours of discussing the long, tortured, and circuitous development and production history of the 6.5mm Grendel, I finally came right out and asked developer Bill Alexander if he thought the Grendel would ever get a shot at replacing the much-maligned 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge.

“Who knows?” Alexander asked rhetorically, knowing there is no clear-cut, defined path to adoption by regular U.S. military units. “It’s not about good weapons and ammunition any more, it’s a political game.”

After leaving the British defense industry and setting up shop at Radford Arsenal in Virginia, Alexander spent his time designing rifles and cartridges for Americans, not studying the procurement process.

If there were a clearly defined process, it could be upset at any point by meddlesome politicians, defense department bureaucrats, or the odd general. Despite the vagaries of the military’s equipment selection process, a quick analysis shows that the 6.5 Grendel is a legitimate contender to replace the entire M4/M16A2 family of rifles, including the SDM-R and SAM-R rifles, the M14-based family of enhanced battle/squad designated marksmen rifles, and the M110 sniper/squad designated marksman rifles. And it could be accomplished with two different uppers and loads.

via 6.5mm Grendel: The Round the Military Ought to Have – Shooting Times.

First, let’s just chalk the assertion that this round could replace both the CQB 5,56 shorty and the M110 semi-automatic sniper system and everything in between at once up to what it is: a writer’s hyperbole.

The 5.56mm round has strengths and weaknesses, both actual ones (which are well understood by combat users and decisionmakers) and mythical ones (which get most of the ink in the magazines and pixels on computer screens). It scores high on portability, reliability, and accuracy in the AR platform. Its most critical real weakness is terminal ballistics, where it’s hamstrung by several factors, including

  • Light bullets which shed speed and energy and suffer from displacement due to crosswinds.
  • Bullet design to a criterion that overweighted armor penetration at extreme range, yielding “icepick wounds” at combat ranges.
  • Increasing probability of hits at greater range thanks to improved weapons, ammo, sights and training, which paradoxically means more hits at the extreme range where energy is deficient
  • Case volume and neck size which conspire to require bullets with lousy ballistic coefficients.
  • Legalistically-required use of long-obsolete full-metal-jacket projectiles.

The Grendel is a clever attempt to address these issues in an AR platform. The stout case is perfect for longer, high-BC bullets that will still have supersonic velocity and substantial energy at ranges beyond 1000m. It can probably pass NATO’s silly 800-meter obsolete-Russian-helmet test with an ordinary lead-core FMJ bullet. It can be used in an AR, but needs a special bolt and magazine.

The heavier ammunition is a serious obstacle to adoption. At the higher levels, the military art that matters is the logistician’s. More weight and bulk means more cargo planes, ships, trucks, soldiers to haul the stuff. A hundred hands pass that round along before Joe Snuffy fires it at the enemy (or at the range… or 2LT Tentpeg ND’s it into a clearing barrel).  The reason the ordies chase the chimera of caseless ammunition is the potential 50% weight reduction and some secondary packaging advantages. The infantry soldier does not care how his ammo is packaged (assuming he can open the package, unlike the 24th at Isandhlwana — which turns out to be a historical myth), but the task force J-4 most assuredly does.

The Grendel also has another issue. It gets its best performance with the Lapua Scenar 123-grain bullet. Like every cartreidge out there, to unlock its full potential meticulous handloading is required, and the next best thing is meticulous manufacture. Nothing we’ve ever seen indicates that Lake City can produce at the quality metrics Hornady, for example, makes. That’s not a rip on LC — asking Steve Hornady to produce the quantity the Army ammo plant can generate would be equally unreasonable. But it’s fair to assume a half to one MOA degradation in mass produced ammo that must meet all US and NATO standards.

Here’s another version of the Grendel origin tale, by David Fortier.

The Grendel is one of several intermediate cartridges chambered in the AR these days. The military developed in-house a different round for a different purpose. The 6.8 SPC was developed by Special Forces specifically for CQB.  The design criteria were: increased terminal effect at very short ranges, and 100% compatibility with the M4 lower receiver and magazine. So this round began as a compromise from its initiation. In the end, it failed at working from the 5.56 magazine, and like the Grendel, needs a dedicated mag to feed reliably. Like the Grendel, capacity in a mag the length of the GI 30-rounder is 25 rounds.

Its development inside SF / SOF killed the 6.8 as far as Big Green is concerned. There were plenty of “reasons,” but they were excuses. The reason was this: NIH (Not Invented Here) at Army Ordnance, which has been made to eat too many breakfasts prepared by ARSOF or even other services’ or joint SOF lately.

And the 6.5 Grendel? Technically it would be a fine infantry combat round — for a service that did not already have a round that was good enough. There are a number of problems of a non-technical nature, but the primary one is that its degree of improvement over the 5.56mm is just not enough. Secondarily, its greatest improvement comes beyond  the most common infantry engagement range of  couple of hundred meters. (Yes, engagements in desert wars are longer-range; we’re talking about historical data and all wars in all terrain, because who knows where the next war is? For infantry, 800 meters is crew-served weapons range, not rifle range).

It is a standout cartridge, a great cartridge. Its superiority vis-a-vis 5.56 is very real in every factor except two that are retrograde (weight of ammo per round, and rounds per magazine), and it really stands out in terms of long-range accuracy and kill potential. But while that may be enough to make the difference for many personal AR buyers, it’s not a radical enough improvement for the ordnance establishment to even notice — not when that establishment has spent sixty years chasing the will-o-the-wisp that is the single shoulder weapon that fires bullets (or flechettes) and grenades (or shells).

Rifles dominate the thought of small arms people, especially collectors, target shooters, and hobbyists, but they don’t dominate the battlefield in terms of casualty production. Explosive and fragmentation weapons, like artillery and mortar shells and IEDs, have been the big killer at least since World War I. (The friend of ours with the highest Afghanistan body count by far — not that anybody’s counting, but he got lucky — used a 60mm mortar in direct lay against a large assault force whose assembly area was in his field of view — and fire).

The Grendel is up against an Army that’s already made a satisficing decision for the 5.56, and is not about to revisit it with an optimizing decision for the 6.5. Not when the guys whose job it is to pick the next weapon are chasing the technologies that are the weapons of the science-fiction future — and may always be.

Meanwhile, ironically, those SF soldiers whose predecessors developed the 6.8, have discovered the joys of room clearing with a short-barreled Mk17 SCAR. “Not optimum, perhaps, but it gets the job done.” — and there is no single sentence that better defines a satisficing option. This leaves all the alternative intermediate cartridges, including the potent 6.5 Grendel and the stout 6.8 PPC, as food for a thousand future “cartridge that should have been” magazine pieces.

If there are magazines in the future, other than the kind into which one loads cartridges.