Monthly Archives: March 2017

Wednesday Weapons Website off the Week: CounterJihad

We have found good information and argumentation on the site and its related YouTube channel. It had gone radio-silent after the election, and may be an Israeli-sponsored propaganda effort aimed at the election; despite that, it was generally right about the problems the USA has been having identifying with and targeting an enemy that has no comparable difficulty targeting us. 

If it takes a gang of lobbyists whose paychecks ultimately get accounted in shekels to wake up America, about all we can say about that its, “Thanks, Israel.”

Of course, it could be part of the legendary Russian Scheme to Elect Trump. Russia, too, has problems with jihad and is amenable to making common cause with us, within limits. (The US, you will recall, sponsored an MB takeover of Egypt, and armed MB and Al-Q related terrorist groups in Libya and Syria, after exposing the secular/liberal opposition to Qaddafi and Assad to extermination by both sides).

So is it Jerusalem? The Kremlin? Huh. Maybe it’s just a bunch of patriotic Americans. Because on the issue of the global jihad, the policy that is best for Israel or Russia — to crush it utterly — is the policy that is best for the United States. Not to mention the UK, where The Religion Of Peace™ just perpetrated its only real sacrament, murder, again this week.

From our point of view, it’s very hard to quibble with their election-time Five Point Plan, only some parts of which are being executed already (despite resistance from extremists’ friends in the Deep State, the DC nonprofit/media nexus and among the post-American legal and judiciary element). Explained in a video, complete with portentous-toned narrator:

While the website hasn’t been touched since the election (cheapskate Israelis?), the YouTube channel showed a sign of life this month, posting a new video for the first time in six months. So keep an eye on Counter Jihad. Whoever is behind it, their message is one more Americans (and other Westerners) need to see.

Shop Soulcraft

Bear with us as we talk about two disparate things — screwing up and hand tools. They both go tool in hand, er, hand in hand. And it all started in the workshop today.

We have the center section of the airplane starting to come together on a temporary table (horses and MDF) down in the gunsmiting lab. (Yes, before anyone asks: when it’s complete, it will fit out at least one of the three exits. We measured).

Ah, “measured.” What a fine and noble word that is. And what grief befalls the workman who neglects to do just that. And thereby hangs a tale. (Does a tale hang by its tail? Only its tailor knows for sure).

Over the last few nights we prepared to install the baggage compartment floors, structural parts that are fastened to a built-up section of the main spar carry-through by approximately three dozen solid rivets. After a scan of the plans, most of the rivets were emplaced as AN470AD4-8s, and four outboard rivets that went through an additional .040″ or so were emplaced as AD4-9s. These rivets are identical rivets except for the length.

There is a code to AN rivets, which is inscrutable to the uninitiated but becomes second nature after the 3,712th one you’ve driven (or maybe it’s the 882nd one you’ve drilled out because you drove it wrong). These two sizes break out as follows:

Item AN 470 AD 4 8
Meaning Army-Navy standard Standard round head rivet shank dia. 4/32″ shank length 8/16″
Item AN 470 AD 4 9
Meaning Army-Navy standard Standard round head rivet shank dia. 4/32″ shank length 9/16″

Before our European and Antipodean friends begin grumbling about the superiority of the French Revolution’s system of weights and measures (if they were going to keep something of Robespierre’s, why not the guillotine? But we digress).

The rivets were difficult to drive because the sheet metal floorboards themselves limited tool access. We drove them using teamwork and great care, worried about putting a “smile” on a rivet head and having to drill a rivet out.

Today, as we contemplated a neatly driven row of AN rivets, the Blogbrother revisited the plans page and came up with an unwelcome insight:

“Hey, I think we put in the wrong rivets.”

“Nonsense. Dash-8s, and 9s for the two outboard rivets on each side where they go through the upright, too.”

“That’s not what the plans say. Dash-9s and 10s.”

“Uh. Intercourse.”

So now we didn’t have to drill out one mashed “smiley.” Nope, we had to drill out all 36 or so rivets. Every single one is 1/16″ too short. And the part they’re embedded in is a structural part: there’s no margin for error.

We set to drilling. Which brings us to hand tools.

Our grandfather often drilled a hole with a traditional hand drill, a bit and brace, or a small thing we called a “hand drill” but have since learned is actually properly named a “pin vise.” Today, most workshops don’t have any drill but an electric drill, and usually it’s an enormous cordless monstrosity with a gigantic battery hanging off it.

Now, it’s possible to drill these rivets out with a power drill and a long (12″) bit. But this is where the voice of Gamuck speaks to us and sends us to the hand tools. For $50 you can get a collection of pin vises in various sizes, and they have a bunch of uses. (For instance, that #60 drill that the chuck of Monster Drill won’t hold? Chuck it in a small pin vise, and then chuck the pin vise in Monster Drill. If all the chucks are concentric — not always guaranteed if you buy cheap, or even if you don’t, we’ve seen Starrett pin vises that were nonconcentric or out of round — it’ll work just fine).

You should have one or two big pin vises and a set of small ones. (If you like to keep a lot of bits handy, you can use double-ended small ones, but label the GD bits). What we’ve got in the shop is just that: a large heavy pin vise (about the size of a screwdriver handle) made by General Tool, the generic name for Chinese stuff in Ace Hardware or Harbor Fright); one about the same size but very light due to a hollow handle (for storing common bits), from the Israeli firm Shaviv, one small one with a cap with a bearing, made in India, and a set of generic small pin vises with solid handles, also made in India (these are the ones ideal for chucking into the Drill Monster).

Along with these, you’d be surprised with how much metalwork you can do with a set of files and one of stones, and a hacksaw and assortment of blades. With hand tools you can feel the metal directly. Yes, you lose speed compared to power tools. But what you gain is control.

Consider our problem, a row of rivets that had to be drilled out because the shanks were all 1/16″ too short before being squeezed, but where a power drill with normal jobber-length bits would not have access. There were three ways to do this that came immediately to mind:

Name Pro Con
1: Power Tool Solution Drill Monster with 12″aviation-length bit Fastest solution High probability of enlarging or misshaping hole
2: Hand Tool Solution Drill bit in pin vise Great control at all times, low probability of overdoing it Slow as molasses
3: Hybrid solution Mark, hand drill to start hole, finish with power drill Best balance of rapid completion and no damage Slow, fiddly, lots of “paradigm shifts” for guys doing it.

Needless to say, we went with option #3. AN rivets have a tiny dimple at the center of the head, just to assist if you should have to drill the rivet out. We expanded this dimple with a center punch (another must-have tool, and one you can safely buy cheap). Five or six hits with the spring-loaded center punch made the dimple an even more prominent divot. Then, turning a #35 bit in the large, heavy pin vise, taking great care to make a good, centered cut, we cut enough of a hole in the rivet head that a carefully used aviation-length (12″) #35 drill bit in the Drill Monster would weaken the rivet enough for removal.

It’s going exactly according to plan. No parts damage, and so far all the rivets we’ve addressed are drilled through and removed, and we should finish the removal tomorrow.

And of the fact we once rived two skins on wrong, no more evidence will exist soon, except for this moldering blog post.

But no matter what you’re building, check out a variety of pin vises. They’re simple, cheap tools that are lifesavers when the hole is important enough that you want to feel it being cut.

When Guns are Outlawed… There’s an App For That!

Ah, the gig economy. You can be individual entrepreneurs, arbitraging firearms between South Carolina (where they’re mostly legal) and NYFC (where they’re mostly outlawed), and delivering them via Uber to customers.

But one thing that predates the gig economy: when you’re selling illegal stuff, one of your customers just might be an undercover cop.

And another thing that was here before the gig economy and will continue long after: the government doesn’t care how it spends its money or whether it’s achieving its ostensible ends. While a few gun sales would have been enough to bust these guys, the cop kept buying and buying and buying, ultimately paying them over $100,000 for over 100 guns. The profits they made from running guns to the NYPD were, in part, plowed back into running more guns to more criminals in New York, so NYPD was in effect financing criminals’ ability to gun up in their own five boroughs.


Who do they think they are, the ATF? Nobody’s supposed to do gunwalking, but if you have to pick an all time champion gunwalker, it’s hard to compete with ATF. They’ve set the all-time record. We hope.

Anyway, on to these low-rent Merchants of Death, NYC streetcrime variety:

Shavar Stuckey, one of the gunrunners.

Shavar Stuckey, 31, and Levon Jackson, 30, who are half-brothers, are both facing a 203-count indictment that includes charges of fourth-degree conspiracy and first, second and third-degree criminal weapons sales, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.

Is anybody ever more than a half-sibling, in the ghetto? Asking for a friend.

It’s just amazing that these guys’ various baby-daddies didn’t bring ’em up right, isn’t it?

Devon Heatley, 32, and South Carolina residents Troy Allen, 32, Shakial Shephard, 22, and Liq’uel Robinson, 19, are also facing multiple charges for allegedly supplying the firearms for Stuckey and Jackson to sell, said the DA’s office.

The South Carolina men and Heatley would purchase the guns from firearms retailers in the South then bring them to New York City by buses they would take to Chinatown, according to the indictment Stuckey and Jackson would then bring them up to Harlem and the Bronx in cabs and Ubers.

B-b-b-but, Uber bans guns. An Uber vehicle is a gun-free-zone. Unpossible!

Then again, come to think of it, NYFC is a gun-free-zone, but no one seems to have told the guns, especially the ones that are leaping into diverse young hands and urging them to acts of mayhem.

“The South Carolina residents would allegedly transport the guns to Stuckey and Jackson usually via the Chinatown bus lines and in doing so endangering the passengers, the drivers and the residents in Chinatown alike,” said Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance. “After they arrived in Lower Manhattan, it’s alleged they would hail an Uber or take a subway uptown to Stuckey and Jackson.”

LeVon Jackson, the other master-mini-mind

A backpack or briefcase full of guns is actually as inert as a bag of hammers, unless a human opens it up and actuates the firearm. So who’s endangered… and who’s grandstanding? Wait… Cyrus Vance… where have we seen that name before? Why, this CV’s dad was the Cyrus Vance who led the Carter Administration to foreign policy victories like the Iranian Islamic Revolution, and the narco-state of Panama. And the incompetent Secretary of State’s dad was the Cyrus Vance who was one of Roosevelt’s (F.D.’s) New Deal technocrats.

Between December of 2015 and March of this year, the pair sold the undercover officer 105 guns – including 75 semi-automatic pistols, 21 revolvers, 5 assault rifles, and 4 shotguns. Most of these sales took place in the detective’s car. The officer paid between $800 and $2,000 for each gun.

“I don’t know what you can say except its incredible that you can find these,” Vance said.

Actually, in the free world they’re common as the above-mentioned hammers. It’s incredible that one could be a law-enforcement official and not know that, but then again, we’re talking about a guy bred to socialism for at least three generations, and whose genes descend from the sort of intellect that thought the US’s best policy move was to encourage Khomeini to take over Iran. It’s a wonder he can use the restroom without a respite care worker.

But hey, all the guns came from gun stores out of state, right?

Of the 105 guns, 20 were reported stolen, Vance said.

via Brothers used Chinatown buses, Uber to smuggle illegal guns | New York Post.

No kidding. From whom? That’s not clear. Bet more than one is an NYPD heater.

Incidentally, what state provides the most guns traced by ATF in New York? (.pdf)  If you guessed SC, or FL, or TX, go soak your head. The right answer is New York, for the last data available (2015), 1,350 of 4,863 total traces (27.8%). South Carolina? 266 (5.5%)

New York State crime is almost entirely urban, and mostly New York City crime. 3,621 of those traces were initiated in New York City. Three-quarters. (Okay, only 74.5%, we rounded up).

While the national average time-to-crime (really, time-to-recovery) of traced firearms was 10.48 years, New York’s was 3 1/2 years higher, 14.11 years. Straw-purchased firearms like the ones discussed in the article would have been traced much less than one year after leaving the retailer.

New York State is 100% effective in hassling peaceable gun owners, but all its gun control laws produce nil effect on local crime. This is predictable by the laws of economics, specifically, how market equilibrium results from natural responses to changes in supply and demand as signaled by price.

A shortage of any good produces rising prices, which stimulates importation, manufacture (including diversion or clandestine manufacture, if legal manufacture for the market is closed off), and substitution, until the market’s equilibrium is restored at the point where the demand curve (which goes down or is “negatively sloped” on a quantity/price graph) intersects the supply curve (which goes up or is “positively sloped” with the graph). In other words, all demands are ultimately met.

General Gets Crucified, Congress Complains

Then-LTG Ron Lewis. Looks like he was a Master Aviator & combat vet before getting kicked upstairs.

Why does the military leak so badly that trusting a secret to the Pentagon is like trying to cross the Atlantic in a colander? Well, we give you Ron Lewis (Brigadier General, Retired) who has been in receipt of a number of Good Deals For Brass since making an ass out of himself on a world tour with then-Secdef Ash Carter. Carter selected Lewis as adviser for the same reason Carter did everything — affirmative action virtue signaling, which is what Carter did in lieu of leading the Department.

Lewis didn’t do anything many other officers and soldiers don’t do — got drunk, hit the whorehouses and had a few drinks (stories implied he got his ashes hauled, but that doesn’t seem to have happened), hit on the girls. Difference is, Joe Schmo gets this out of his system while he’s a 2LT or a PFC and a certain amount of juvenile carousing is excused. When you’re a fifty-something senior representative of the US military, you’re expected to conduct your whoremongering and carousing on a less-epic scale, and with an adult’s discretion.

Expectation of discretion is probably one of the greatest reason that many of the Army’s greatest combat leaders are terminal at Colonel and are never seriously considered for a star; Courtney Massengales are horrible, but only to their troops, and never embarrass their leaders. Lewis went too far and embarrassed Carter, and worse, he did it overseas, in Korea and EUCOM.

Had he been a Speedy Four working in a radio intercept battalion somewhere, he’d lose some stripes, spend a couple weeks extra duty on the First Sergeant’s $#!+ Detail Squad, and lose his clearance. The equivalent for Lewis was losing two stars — but his clearance, which is a key to cashing in through the revolving door between Pentagon and boardroom,  is inviolate, and that ticks off the reporters at Gannett:

Lewis endured a spectacular flame-out in November 2015 when he was fired from his job as the three-star officer and top military adviser to then-Defense secretary Ash Carter. Lewis had run up tabs at sex clubs on “Hooker Hill” in Seoul and Rome on his government credit card, drank excessively on a trip with Carter and had been overly friendly with young women, the Pentagon inspector general found.

“You are reprimanded for unprofessional conduct while serving in a position of great trust that impugns your personal and professional judgment,” Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn wrote in a letter to Lewis in December that was obtained by USA TODAY. “Specifically you engaged in a pattern of inappropriate behavior that included patronizing establishments of questionable character, drinking to excess in public venues, and inappropriately interacting with female civilian and military personnel.”

Carter canned him immediately, and the investigation dragged on for more than a year. The Army demoted him to one star, docked his pension by about $10,000, and filed the stinging letter of reprimand in his personnel file.

“Docked his pension” is simply the result of the demotion, it’s not an independent action. They can reduce any officer (or NCO) administratively to “the last rank in which he satisfactorily performed.”

The Army says, hey, we’re not going to strip him of clearance because Carter could have done it, but didn’t:

“Maj. Gen. Lewis was suspended from his job by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and was under investigation by the Department of Defense for nearly a year,” said Army spokesman Michael Brady. “During that time, DOD allowed him to retain his clearance. Given that DOD deemed him fit to retain his clearance, and that there were no allegations of mishandling classified materials in their investigation, the Army did, in fact, recommend he be allowed to retain a clearance. However, the decision is not the Army’s to make.”

The problem with clearances is this: they are necessary for many kinds of employment; as t hey are processed by a government organization, they are very slow, inefficient, and expensive to get; therefore, private employers want to get people the military has already spent money to clear.

It is an article of faith in the government that the clearance system is effective, yet the system, developed from an earlier British system of “positive vetting” after some damaging spy scandals, has not prevented the continuation of spy scandals or exposed any spies. It does not prevent leaking to potential enemies through the media, an act that is not taken seriously by Pentagon bureaucrats or their leaders but that has cost billions.

Perhaps everybody should surrender his clearance on leaving government employment, and let employers start everyone from zero. Your clearance ultimately belongs not to you, but to the people of the nation. Perhaps they should be easier to get — and easier to revoke.

The Army’s recommendation comes in spite of an Army policy enacted late last year that triggered the suspension of clearances for senior officers under investigation for serious misconduct. That policy stemmed from the case of then-Maj. Gen. David Haight, the so-called “Swinging General,” whose serial philandering got him fired and demoted. But he was allowed to retain his security clearance several months until USA TODAY reported on his alternative lifestyle and raised questions about his access to sensitive material.

If there’s one thing the Army doesn’t need, it’s more sexual puritanism and top-down alcohol prohibition. The Army of 1941-45 drank, caroused, and fornicated its way from Operation Torch to Hitler’s own sitting room, while our opposite numbers were fueled as much by vodka and rapine as by their understandable thirst from revenge as they drank, caroused and fornicated from their banks of the Don to their enemies drowned in the Elbe. Handshakes and toasts all around on the meeting of the two great victorious armies.

But that’s okay, that was then and this is now. And now, the Elmer Gantries of America’s ever-sanctimonious Native Criminal Class, Congress, are going to enforce the New Puritanism. Yes, a bunch of people you wouldn’t trust to valet-park your pickup truck, have decided that the Army needs to Do As I Say, Not As I Do on the subject of booze and broads.

Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California on Armed Services Committee, said she would demand an explanation from the Army for its decision on Lewis. She also raised the case of the Army’s decision in the case of retired Maj. Gen. John Custer. USA TODAY reported on March 9 that in 2011, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, his four-star commander at the time and eventual chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, intervened to have a substantiated allegation of an improper relationship stricken from the record being considered by a board reviewing Custer’s fate.

It’s the Army, and different spanks for different ranks is part of the deal. The same way that Congress members can and do diddle their pages, rip off their donors and taxpayers, and conduct themselves generally like a crew from UMass-Amherst on Spring Break, with impunity. (Anybody remember the Congressman who hit a — parked, and lighted! — Capitol Police car in the wee hours of the morning, out of his mind on illegal hard drugs, and didn’t get charged? You remember his name — Kennedy).

“If these reports are accurate, I would certainly want hear from the Army about their rationale for this recommendation,” Speier said in a statement. “The official reprimand by the Army Vice Chief states that Gen. Lewis’ conduct impugns his personal and professional judgment, bringing significant discredit to the Department. Secretary Carter agreed and fired him. If that isn’t disqualifying for a position of trust that requires a security clearance, I don’t know what is.

“Coming so soon after the revelations about Major General Custer, it appears that the Army is simply unable to hold senior officers fully accountable for their misconduct and I think we need to look more closely at why that is,” Speier said.

One interesting fact about Rep. Speier: during her run in Congress, her net worth has increased enormously. In fact, since 2008 alone it’s more than doubled, and sits somewhere in the low tens of millions, not counting her happily-enriched-by-her-service hedge-fund husband. Ah, the sacrifices they make for the three-day weeks of a public servant!

For now, the reprimand is the Army’s final word on Lewis. And it is one that dresses him down emphatically.

In it, Allyn slams Lewis for binge drinking, saying he drank “enough to impact your memory and exercise of good judgment.” Allyn cites incidents in Korea, Italy and, the worst, in Hawaii in 2015. “During this visit, after consuming an unknown amount of alcohol, you made inappropriate advances toward a female non-commissioned officer,” Allyn wrote. “Additionally, in Malaysia, witnesses observed you interacting with a subordinate female civilian in a manner inappropriate for a senior leader.”

The inspector general’s conclusions “raise serious concerns about your fitness as a senior leader in the U.S. Army, and your conduct over the period addressed by the investigation has brought significant discredit to the Department,” Allyn continued. “Although no one has questioned your competence, the investigation exposed flaws in your character.”

via Army says general’s drunken escapades shouldn’t affect his secret clearance.

Frankly, we’d rather have a guy with competence and “flaws in his character,” especially flaws as seen by Representative Gantry Speier, than some bozo who got his stars by staying clear of every fight and never offending the perpetually offended — the traditional pathway to high rank in the peacetime US Army, which is why the first 2-3 years of an American war are often spent in a quest for a general who will fight.

So, the guy goes to bars. He might even have been in a bar fight. Is that a negative? Depends.

We were hiring him to mentor Sunday School teachers, right?

On the other hand, he also knew the rules before he hopped the Ash-n-trash VIP jet to the fleshpots of Europe and Asia. So maybe he’s not the right guy to be a general, but not for the reasons that rich-makler’s-wife Jackie Speier, whose knowledge of military officers consists solely of abusing them in committee hearings, thinks.

The guy you want? It’s the guy who gets his carouse on, but uses such discretion, and inspires such intense loyalty in his men, that Elmer Gantry in his many manifestations can’t prove it and can’t solicit or suborn testimony to it.

To paraphrase Jean Lartéguy, “That is the man for whom I should like to fight.”


For anyone interested in more on Ron Lewis’s firing:

  • Jonn Lilyea at This Ain’t Hell, a superior military blog. (Reading between the lines, it looks like Lewis’s real problem was that he hit on an enlisted woman that a female military officer had already chosen as her own).
  • One of Lilyea’s commenters: “He could not have been too bright to use a government credit card in Korea and really dumb to pay the high prices at Hooker Hill when there is more cost effective pussy at the MI compound club.” D’oh! Target! Some of the other comments are worthwhile, too.
  • A more smart-ass take on Lewis’s rise and fall (attributing the rise to his youth as “a Chicago street kid”) at
  • The whole report is here (.pdf), and Lewis seems to have hanged himself. The worst of the charges seems to have been lying about using the government card. He even signed a form that he did not use the card at the off-limits Candy Bar in Itaewon, knowing that was false (!!). He used the government card in a Rome titty bar because he had no personal credit card, and his personal debit card was declined. (Suggests there’s something more there).
  • But the report does seem to confirm that what got him caught was none of this, but irritating a subordinate female officer who “asked the female enlisted Service member to leave MG Lewis’ hotel room with her, and warned MG Lewis that he was “being really stupid” and that the female enlisted Service member needed to come with her and stay in her room that night.” The enlisted woman and Lewis did not have sex, according to each of them interviewed individually.

Lesson to all: (1) don’t lie to investigators; (2) do your thinking with Head Nº 1; (3) exercise extreme caution around female subordinates — especially the ones that have a proprietary interest in your other female subordinates.

Brace for Auction!

Rock Island is up this weekend with Online Auction #2013, one day only 23 March 17. And more auctions will be following, from all the major gun-auction houses. We’ll just cover the most immediate ones here.

RIA Online #2013:  23 Mar 17

There are 683 lots currently in the auction, 243 of them containing C&R firearms and 68 antiques. Most of the offerings are common firearms with moderate collector interest, and they are expected to draw relatively reasonable prices. There are many Smith & Wesson revolvers.

There are also some oddities, like Lot 84, this “Getsem” brand trap gun. Not a recommended home security solution in 2017, and don’t even think about using it to take wildlife — the game wardens will sling you so far back in county jail the turnkeys will have to feed you with a slingshot.

Remember the mystery revolver one of our readers had, which was identified by our commenters as a Bacon revolver? Here’s Lot #165, a Bacon in considerably nicer condition.

You might want something newer, or longer (plenty of long guns), or more Teutonic (a few Lugers and Walthers)… or…. just plain weird, like Lot 479: a percussion cane gun with two Japanese-style el cheapo swords.

If you want to participate in this online-only auction, Thursday is the day, starting at 0900 Central Time. If you’re inclined to participate, we recommend that you mess around on the website, learn what the total costs will be, set your limit early, and then bid and forget it until you hear if you won.

And, here are brief blurbs on some of the other upcoming auctions, the nearest (temporally) first:

Amoskeag Auction Nº 113 : 25-26 Mar 17

These two auctions are coming right up, too. We’ve already featured some of the highlights of this auction. Bids for the Silent Auction can be received as late as Sunday 26 March. If you plan to participate, register now. Silent Auction catalog (.pdf). Live Auction catalog (.html).

James Julia “Spectacular” Auction: 11-12 Apr 17

RIA Premier Auction #70: 5-7 May 17

Unlike the utilitarian and fundamental collector pieces in the Online auction this weekend, RIA’s Premier Auctions are where the fancy stuff is, like Elvis Presley’s revolvers.

The full catalog isn’t up yet.

There are more auctions coming up… but these will have to hold you for the moment.



Too Busy To Write, Here’s Sumdood’s Video (Ian on Colt)

Here’s Ian of Forgotten Weapons with a capsule history of Colt, currently holding down the title of the Most Mismanaged Company in the Gun Racket. Seemed timely, with Colt having purged the Custom Shop lately, in an overall downturn in the industry that has seen Remington lay off a couple of hundred employees, mostly factory workers in Ilion, New York, but also including a senior executive bloodletting. Can more drama for Colt be right around the corner?

Some day, B-School students will study the machinations of the last few rounds of Colt owners… if the guys studying them aren’t law students doing a block on white-collar crime.

But through all that, the company has made some fantastic guns. As the current owners seem intent on demonstrating, there’s a lot of ruin in a great marque.

You can find Ian’s videos on YouTube, but the quality of the videos is better, and the advertisers pay him better, on You do want him to get paid, right? Any time there’s nothing happening here, go to Full30 and watch some of his videos. He needs the money!

When Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will have Skateboards

Jenkins in a family photo — safely not skateboarding.

Just about anything can kill you, but if it has wheels and you’re overconfident on it, your odds of starring in a story like this go way up.

A well-off kid from Rhode Island, dawdling through Swarthmore while checking all the SWPL boxes, skateboarded himself into eternity last weekend.

The sudden death of Sam Jenkins of Wickford, R.I., has hit the close-knit campus hard.

Jenkins, a sophomore at Swarthmore College, died Sunday after a skateboard accident on the campus’ Magill Walk Friday afternoon.

“It’s impossible, particularly in an email, to convey the depth of this loss to Sam’s family and our community,” Swarthmore president Valerie Smith wrote to the Swarthmore staff and students Sunday morning.

And what are the odds that Smith actually knew him before he wound up brain-dead and plugged into machines? Maybe it doesn’t bug other people, but it bugs us when bosses and politicians (and as a college president, Smith is arguably both) try to wrap themselves in the shroud of sorrow that belongs to family and friends.

Do you get to be a college president without learning what a dignified expression of condolence looks like? Apparently not.

Jenkins, she wrote at that time, “is in the process of passing away, which has been prolonged to fulfill Sam’s wish to serve as an organ donor.” He died later that day.

Well, hey, that’s the message of the modern liberal arts college. You’re all assemblies in the machine, and when your service life is up, perhaps a couple of your component levers and sprockets will be recycled.

The college did not provide many details on the accident, except to say that students who saw that Jenkins was hurt immediately called 911 and stayed with him while emergency personnel assisted.

Most people will do the right thing, if left alone by Authoritah. Ever notice that? There are exceptions, in low-trust communities, but most folks of all kinds are refreshingly humane and decent.

Magill is the main walk up to the college’s primary administration building. Jenkins was transported to Crozer-Chester Medical Center for surgery, and his family had been there with him since Friday, she said.

We’ve all seen kids doing life-threatening stuff on skateboards. Teens, testing their imagined immortality. Every once in a while one tests too hard. Conditions in the area were cold and icy, not good for skateboarding, unless you’re immortal.

Turns out, he wasn’t.

The sense of loss on the campus was palpable, even among students who didn’t know him.

The desire to be part of What’s Happening Now, perhaps.

“Everyone knew someone who did,” said Aru Shiney-Ajay, a freshman from Minnesota.

Okay, now we get it. Grief by proxy! Six Degrees of Dead Guy.

Jenkins was an information technology associate at Swarthmore, helping to staff the college’s Help desk. He described himself as a “designer of meaningful fun” and planned to pursue a special major in video game design, Smith wrote.

via Swarthmore mourns sudden student death.

Well, it’s serious: we’ve lost a key member of the next generation of video game designers!

Wait… is it serious?

Regardless, take care out there and wear your brain bucket, even if what’s in there is already concussed enough to think skateboarding on ice is a good course of action.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Continues to Excel

For some values of the word, “excel,” anyway. And one of the interesting things that’s happening is that not all the negative stories are true, and not all the true news is truly new. But there’s still some, because it is the VA.

Right now, the media is arrayed against the VA. (They’ll do a volte-face the moment the VA’s payroll patriots’ lifetime no-accountability jobs are threatened). But today, the media is in such a feeding frenzy that they don’t even check stories that put the VA in a bad light, and the VA’s army of scores (hundreds?) of six-figure PR flacks can’t even move themselves to defend the agency they’re overpaid to defend. (An aspect of VA underperformance that’s been undercovered is just how bad a team you get when you pay $40k/year talent $160k/year, and teach them that the paycheck is forever, and no one cares how they perform. That’s the VA’s PR people in a nutshell).

The Dilaudid and Deluded Affair

Case in point: a story making the rounds about a vet killed by VA malpractice. It’s not new news, as the vet in question, Jason Powell, died during relatively routine surgical prep in Asheville, NC on 6 Sep 2012. The family sued, and so the VA lawyered up and clammed up, before finally settling an unlawful death suit in 2015… and remaining lawyered up and clammed up.

The doctor in the case has been, in the way of all things VA, promoted.

But a look at the case makes you wonder if the guy didn’t die, not of the medication error the VA admits, but of the underlying medical condition — a perforated bowel that had been untreated for several days before presenting.

The medication error was to substitute, twice, 4 mg of Dilaudid for the scheduled 1 mg of that drug (a powerful opiate) that was being given every four hours. But the error only occurred twice, and the doctors, nurses and managers never covered it up (unusual for the VA). “Advocacy journalism” like this article, which smells as if it was spoon-fed by plaintiff’s attorneys to Nick Ochsner for WBTV (Slogan: “We’re on your side!”), does make it sound like the Dilaudid killed him. In the one deposition that Ochsner selectively presents (.pdf), the plaintiff’s attorney is really trying to get the doctor to say the Dilaudid error killed poor Powell.

But there’s a problem with that. That’s just not enough Dilaudid to kill a guy. Instead of 6 mg in 24 hours, the error gave him 10. It is enough that he was, no doubt, out of it in an opiate dream immediately after the 4 mg dose. But it seems highly improbable that it punched his ticket to eternity.

Table: acute toxicity of hydromorphone (Dilaudid). Source (.pdf).

Sometimes a fellow gets sick and dies young. Sometimes the hospital can’t catch it in time. Sometimes — often, really — a young, healthy guy doesn’t believe he’s really sick, and doesn’t present himself at the hospital until his failure to act has become their screaming emergency.

Hospitals strive to never make errors, but sometimes they do. And sometimes the errors are extremely consequential, and sometimes they’re not, but either way they’re a peg for some ambulance chaser to get his third of a settlement. Ochsner also reports that the VA has paid over half a billion in malpractice settlements since 2012…

The number of medical malpractice payments balloons to 2,483 when you look at all malpractice payments made on the VA’s behalf between 2012-2016. The total amounts to $554.19 million.

…which would make, assuming the standard 1/3 rakeoff for doing the paperwork and sitting in the depositions, that this was a transfer payment of about $185 million to the societal fleas and ticks of the legal profession.

Rather than address these points, VA Asheville’s overpaid, underworked PR flack issued a statement empty of facts and bloated with boilerplate. It’s amazing that Ochsner even bothered to put three paragraphs of it at the end of his story. Just to give you an idea what weak, warmed-over pablum it is, here’s the one that comes closest to addressing facts.

We take concerns about care seriously, and, in some cases, conduct internal reviews to ensure we provide the highest quality of care and identify opportunities for improvement. Our goal is always to do right by our Veterans.

The VA has doctors and nurses who may make the occasional error, but they sure hired a bunch of C-average English majors who do not add value to the agency.

It would not harm the hair on the head of a single veteran to let these useless people feel the cold winds of the Dreaded Private Sector. Is it time to disband this thing yet?

The Wait, Is That What “Suicide Help Line” Does? Affair

“Hey, they’re from the Government, and they’re here to help us!”

It would take the right writer to do it but it’s easy to imagine a wickedly funny story in which the purpose of a veterans’ suicide help line was to help veterans commit suicide. That’s the occasional outcome of VA’s well-funded suicide help line, which is euphemistically called the Veterans Crisis Line. (Do not call that line with any other crisis, because they think it’s a suicide line, and they’ll send a SWAT team to finalize the suicide if you hang up on them. Once you make the call, suicide is the crisis you have, whether you wanted it or not).

On 20 March, the DVA Office of Inspector General released a report of investigation into the Veterans Crisis Line. (There’s a press release and the full report, both in .pdf).

The IG has 16 new recommendations for the DVA’s Vet Crisis Line.

The last time they looked at it there were 7, over a year ago (.pdf again). They are not part of the 16 new ones, but the IG notes that no action has been taken on the last 7 squawks. As the VA OIG put it, rather mildly, “Failure to implement our previous recommendations impairs the VCL’s ability to increase the quality of crisis intervention services to veterans seeking help.”

That kind of tells you how seriously the VA takes criticism, even internal criticism. If you think all the platitudes about their mission actually mean anything to them, this would be alarming, but if you think of it as a make-work jobs program for the employees and managers, it all begins to make sense.

On the plus side, every time the Veterans Crisis Line gets it wrong, the taxpayers are saved a bunch of veterans’ health and disability expenses, so there is that.

“Welcome to the suicide help line. How can we help you kill yourself today?”

Yeah. Time to disband this thing.

The Symbolism Counts Affair

The VA, despite its army of overpaid, underworked PR payroll patriots, scored a rather gnarly own goal last week, as a recalcitrant VA hospital head refused to display the photograph of the man who’s not her president in her hospital. A photo provided by local vets was taken down. The press called this “a controversy.”

Congressman Brian Mast, an Army vet whose district is just north of the hospital and whose constituents are served there, came back with some vets and some ceremony to place photos of the President and VA Secretary. During his visit, the VAMC head made herself scarce.

As soon as Mast was gone, she ordered the portraits removed again.

It took an order from VA HQ in Washington for the pictures to be restored. Meanwhile, of course, the PR army (hardly any of whom are vets) took the part, as usual, of the VA’s employees against the VA’s victims veterans.

This occurred at the West Palm Beach VAMC, where none of the senior staff is a veteran (the VA generally accepts vets only as employees as physicians, or low-level janitorial shiftworkers).

What time is it, kids?



It could be worse. In Canada, government-employee doctors now have the power of euthanasia… which in at least some cases they’ve used to accelerate organ and tissue donations. Nice liver you’ve got there, mate. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to it.

“Rifle of Tomorrow,” As Seen Yesterday (1982)

There’s always a market for prediction about the future, and they’re always hostages to fate. So, today, we’ll open a time capsule from 1982 (specifically, from the November-December issue of the US Army’s branch magazine, Infantry, as seen at right) and see how whether one officer’s prediction panned out — or whether it just panned. Subject of prediction, or perhaps more honestly, subject of advocacy: a new rifle for the Army in the last quarter of the 20th Century.

The officer in question was a Texas Army National Guard officer named Noyes Burton Livingston III, about whom we know only that he’s still alive, was married at least three times (triumph of hope over repeated experience, or maybe he went SF), and is well-remembered as a writer for Iron Horse, a motorcycle magazine.

The United States infantryman has fought on many battlefields over the years, always doing his best on each with whatever rifle he happened to have at the time. And his potential battlefield continues to change and expand.

Through the use of thermal energy, ground surveillance radar, night vision devices, and intrusion warning systems, detection and engagement ranges are increasing in distance but decreasing in time. As a result, the U.S. infantryman will no doubt eventually get a new rifle to carry into battle — and he will need it.

So far, so good. Not a bad prediction for 1982. Indeed, the observation that “detection and engagement ranges are increasing in distance but decreasing in time,” for the grand European battle that the Army of 1982 was fixated upon, was a keen insight.

His present rifle, the M 16A1, is a good weapon. It is well made, lightweight, and accurate at battlefield ranges. It is handy to shoot, and it disassembles easily. In fact, it is almost everything a marksman or a service support soldier could ask for. Unfortunately, though, it is not designed to fill the basic requirements of the soldier who has to stake his life on it, the infantryman. So we need to begin thinking now about what kind of rifle we would like to have to replace it. We must not leave it to chance, as we have sometimes done in the past.

Of course, at that time the Army and Marines were both experimenting with new rifles, a project that would lead in less than a year to USMC and later Army adoption of the M16A2. But Livingston had no way to know that at the time.

No matter how much warfare changes, though, the infantryman’s war will still be brutal and intimate, and his rifle must be designed with that in mind. He must also believe in its capabilities and should be encouraged to use it. Besides shooting rapidly and accurately every time it is called on, an infantryman’s rifle must be able to double as a club, a spear, or a crutch. It may also have to help make a litter, form part of a hasty ladder, or scoop out a hurried fighting position. In short, it must function when everything else has failed.

That seems to sum up his requirements, and as you see, he’s putting a lot of weight on non-rifle functionality. Now he gets into specifics:

How should an infantry rifle be made to meet these high expectations? First of all, it cannot I;le encumbered with a carrying handle. We have all seen the classic example of a soldier running in training, one hand on his helmet and the other clutching his MI6 by the carrying handle, like a commuter with his lunch pail chasing a departing bus.. The handle makes the weapon easy to carry, but not easy to fire quickly.

A rifle must be built to fit naturally in a carry that lends itself to an attitude and position of readiness. The firing hand must grasp the small of the stock near the trigger, and the off hand must grab it slightly forward of its center of balance. A soldier should have to move only one hand to point and fire his weapon, not both.

He’s missing the main purpose of the “carrying handle,” which is not, mirabile dictu, to carry the firearm. It’s there to provide a home for the rear site that works with anthropometric dimensions and the desire to provide a straight-line stock.

Initial Armalite military rifle designs had ordinary drop-heel stocks, but then evolved into the straight-line stock, and the first model of what would become the AR-10 provided a front sight on a Johnson-inspired triangular base and a rear sight on an FG-42-like folding stalk. Here’s the 1944 Johnson for comparison.

The “carrying handle” was an attempt to make a virtue out of the necessity of making a more rigid rear sight base.

We ought to mention that at this particular point in time, the Army’s culture, and particularly Ranger and Infantry culture, was absolute death on slings. Why? Well, slings encourage the soldier to carry the rifle some way other than at the ready.

Of course, this fixation on ready carry suggests that every soldier is always and everywhere mere moments from a small arms engagement, and at that, so few mere moments that he would not have time to change his grip on his gun.

It also assumes that a soldier would be so suicidally stupid as to not carry the gun at the ready whilst in the presence of the enemy. But then, Infantry is primarily written and read by officers, who are aware that enlisted men are stupid, but sly and cunning, and bear considerable watching.

Likewise, while a pistol grip may be necessary for a light machinegun, it is a liability on a rifle. Given a rifle with a pistol grip, a soldier cannot drop to the ground into the prone position without removing one hand from his weapon to break his fall. If he does not use the pistol grip, but holds onto the stock to let the butt of the rifle strike the ground instead, he must release his hold before he can reach the grip and shoot. The same soldier cannot cease firing and jump up to rush forward without removing his firing hand completely from his weapon to grab the stock and push off with it. It is extremely difficult to hold onto a pistol grip and get up another way.

Once up and running, this soldier cannot fire his remaining rounds and then lunge effectively at his opponent with his bayonet, or follow up with a butt stroke, without completely losing hold of his rifle with his strongest hand. Although bayonet fighting may be a relatively small thing,when it is all an infantryman has left, it is everything, and close combat is no place for changing hands or coming in second best.

OK, he’s really stressing the heck out of the non-rifle applications of rifles, isn’t he? But we’d suppose he would argue that you can make a better club and halberd out of a rifle without compromising its rifle functionality. His rifle now looks like this:

Let’s get a little deeper into his conceptual design.


A pistol grip also discourages the use of several important shooting techniques. With such a grip, a soldier’s arm follows the angle of his firing hand when he is holding onto his rifle, causing his elbow to press against the side of his body while he fires. This eliminates the shoulder pocket that the weapon’s butt is supposed to fit into to lessen the effect of recoil, steady the weapon, and keep it from slipping off his shoulder. Without a good shoulder pocket, it is hard for a soldier to maintain a firm stock weld with his cheek, to make his head move with the rifle as it recoils, and to keep his eye aligned with the sights.

A rifle should have a semi-pistol grip to improve marksmanship and to allow the soldier to hold it while running, leaping, and crawling and still have his firing hand in position to pull the trigger. It should also have a semi-straightline stock with a raised comb. The gas cylinder and operating rod should be above the barrel to reduce muzzle climb when the rifle is fired. Because the small of the stock would drop to form the semi-pistol grip, the rifle cannot have a buffer behind the receiver as the MI6 does. There are many existing weapon designs, such as the FN-FAL, the AK, the AR18, the SiG 540, and the Valmet M62, that can be modified to fit a traditional rifle stock.

In a rifle of this type, there would be no gas tube — as in the MI6 — to blow contaminants into the rifle’s action or gas and excess lubricant into the firer’s eyes. The bolt would lock fully until it was withdrawn by the operating mechanism, instead of using a delayed blowback principle, so varying qualities of ammunition could be used.

Actually, if you want to use a wide range of ammo pressures (because the pressure is what the gun “feels”, and what influences the gun), it’s hard to beat the HK roller-delayed system. Blowback and gas-unlocked systems both have narrower ranges of impulses that they can tolerate — at least, as far as they’ve been designed so far.

The barrel would be heavy enough to support a bayonet, and its bore and chamber would be chrome-plated to resist corrosion and wear.

The rifle would share many of the beneficial features of the M16 and its contemporaries. The receiver would be split into an upper and lower group held together by takedown and pivot pins. This would allow placing the rear sight at the back of the receiver, instead of at the front, by doing away with a bolt cover like the one found on the AK. This placement would permit using a rear sight aperture and a longer sight radius.

The lower receiver group would incorporate a sturdy integral magazine well and a winter trigger guard that would swing forward against the magazine when released. It would accept MI6 aluminum or nylon magazines and would have all the weapon’s controls accessible from the firing position. The selector lever would be manipulated with the firing hand thumb, and the magazine catch button would be worked by the trigger finger. The bolt catch would be released by the thumb of the loading hand after a loaded magazine was inserted.

When the firer pulled back on the charging handle to lock the bolt to the rear, the bolt catch would be engaged with the firing hand thumb.

That would actually be an ergonomic improvement on the AR-15’s generally excellent ergs, would it not?


The upper receiver would have a covered ejection port on its right side and a charging handle fixed to the bolt carrier on its left. There would be no bolt forward assist on the receiver as the charging handle could be pushed forward to close the bolt. Placing the charging handle on the left side would allow the action to be cycled from a firing position without the firer moving his firing hand or the weapon, as must be done with the MI4 or MI6. The charging handle would be at the left front of the receiver where it would not strike the non-firing hand. Its motion would be hidden from the firer’s view by its speed and by the rear sight’s elevation drum, which would also be on the left.

The rifle would be a little longer and slightly heavier than the MI6. It should fire at a moderate cyclic rate from the closed bolt position with the bolt remaining open after the last round was ejected. Automatic fire should be limited by a 3- or 4-round burst control mechanism. It would have a concave recoil pad to hold it in place during automatic fire, and it would accept an MI6 clothespin bipod.

Heh. We see the 1980s fad of the burst control raising its ugly head. Bad substitution for training troops. The military has finally, if not completely, killed this bad idea 35 years later. Bring more fire, lest it respawn.

The new rifle’s flash suppressor, sling swivels, bayonet, bayonet—stud, and front sight assembly would be the same as those on the MI6. Its rear sight would be similar to the one on the MI4. The fiberglass stock would be made like the MI6’s, and the easily gripped triangular handguards would be held on with a slipring in the same way. The stock should not be constructed to fold or collapse because that feature would make it less rigid. In addition to the standard 20- and 30-round MI6 magazines, a short magazine that fits flush with the bottom of the magazine well should be issued for civil disturbance and ceremonial duties.

A couple of interesting ideas there, including the need for robustness of the stock. But then again, he sees it as primarily a club with a sideline in shooting, so why not? The flush magazine, delete the useless 3-round-burst, and it would even be NY/CA legal! (They’d surely find some way to ban it).

Many excellent weapons made by friendly nations, and some by not so friendly ones, are available that we can examine and test during the process of developing our own rifle. It is important to keep in mind that our rifleman does not need the most sophisticated design possible, one such as the Austrian STG 77, the French MAS, or the Swedish MKS, but he does deserve an infantry weapon that fits the conditions under which he must fight.

He makes an interesting point. In the M16A2 tests no foreign weapon was seriously compared or tested. Indeed, no systematic survey of the field has been made before any recent American small arms procurement decision.

This proposed rifle is offered to support, not replace, the squad and platoon automatic weapons. It would first serve the rifleman with aimed semiautomatic or limited burst fire, Its adoption would result from the recognition that infantry combat is more than a “mad minute” fought by individuals. An updated yet traditional rifle would reaffirm the infantryman’s role and signal a return to the tactics of soldiers fighting together. Fire superiority would become the product of superior fire by the unit, not random fire by its members.

If we begin now to plan for the rifle of the future, perhaps when the time comes for a quick decision on a replacement for our present rifle, we will have the right one waiting in the wings.

M16A1 (top) and M16A2

Well, we got the M16A2 at the time, so make of that what you will.


You can download the Army Infantry magazine for Nov-Dec 82 here, or see the archive as a whole here. However, that version is pdf image only. We have an OCRd copy of the Nov-Dec 82 issue here: NOV-DEC1982.pdf

Arms of the Roman Legionary, 400 AD

All modern armies owe something to the Legions of Ancient Rome. A fascinating book, The Last Legionary by Paul Elliott, describes, as its subtitle suggests, Life as a Roman Soldier in Britain, AD 400. 

The book combines, in the style of Christopher Matthew’s A Storm of Spears (on the Greek hoplite at war; only $1.26 at that link; previously mentioned here in comments and here), the disciplines of history, material archaeology, and “experiential archaeology” as practiced by reenactors. Where The Last Legionary is different is that its facts about the Roman military’s last years in Roman Britannia are woven into the story of an simple soldier, we guess you could say an ordinary Gaius. Gaius was born in 362 to a Roman legionary, Maritius, and his wife, and on reaching his majority was compelled to join up under the edict of Diocletian, which committed sons to their fathers’ professions. Some youths dodged the draft by cutting their thumbs off, which was discouraged initially by burning the draft dodgers and later by drafting them anyway.

Gaius was no draft dodger, and accepted his fate. He swore an oath (to Christ and the Emperor) to serve, and if need be, die for the Roman Empire. Training was harsh and hardening, including formation drill, fast marches, position and fortification construction, and plenty of physical training.

Of most interest to our readers is probably the weaponry on which Gaius was expected to gain proficiency. While the Roman Legion of Caesar’s day fought primarily close-in with spear and short sword, by the fourth century projectiles were a major part of combat. To be a properly cross-trained legionary, Gaius would have to learn to master the sling, the recurve bow, the plumbata dart, three kinds of javelin, the crossbow ,and the barbarians’ own throwing axe, as well as the classical sword, shield and spear of centuries before. Indeed, missile weapons training usually began before close-in weapons training.

Late Roman Missile Weapons

The sling was a leather or woven cup with a cord proceeding from two corners. One cord is looped around the index finger, that’s the standing end of the sling; the other is tied in a knot, which is the running end, and the slinger releases it to launch the projectile — a stone, or a lead ball — but accuracy is hard to achieve, the author has learned. Roman sources suggest a single whip round, and setting the practice targets at — wait for it — 180 meters, same as for bows. Elliott has been unable to achieve this range, with the regular sling or using one with the cords proceeding form a stick.

The recurve bow came to the Roman army from encounters with Eastern enemies so armed. Mostly these were the tribes of the East; for centuries the Romans had trouble with Scythians and Parthians, among others.

The Romans adopted the recurve bow after seeing its effect first hand, and while it only bought them parity in the East, in the West it gave them technological superiority to the “self-bow” of the Gauls and Germans.

Often the ends or “ears” of the bow was strengthened with bone laths, and the body of the bow was carefully covered with leather to protect it from moisture. Wet conditions could ruin a recurve bow, as could misuse. Leaving the bow stringed and ready for action ruins the springiness of the bow and reduces its power. Unlike the sling, specialist craftsmen were needed to make these complex weapons.

The bowstring was drawn differently in units raised and trained in the eastern and western units. Western-trained archers shot using the fingers of their strong hand; Eastern-trained archers used a thumb ring. While archers could fire at individual targets, they were often used in volley fire.

The plumbata was a recent (~4th Century) addition to the Roman grunt’s panoply. It was a lead-weighted dart, shorter than an arrow, that could be thrown by hand or launched — as far as 100 m! —  with a sling or throwing stick.

Reconstructed plumbatae. Source.

Testa by the historical research group, Comitatus, have  found that an underhand throw was by far the best method.The plumbatae can reach an impressive distance, easily exceeding 60 m, and come down vertically directly onto the heads and shoulders of the enemy.

This is a different re-enactor group throwing plumbatae. From

Another Roman name for the plumbata was the “Barb of Mars.”

Surviving plumbata head. Source.

Romans used several types of javelins, known by the names pilum, spiculum, and verutum, but while these were nominally throwing weapons, they were hard to throw accurately or any distance.

Two weapons of secondary importance were the throwing axe, adopted from some of the northern Germanic tribes, and the crossbow, which was probably developed by scaling down a siege engine, but was rather new at the time. (Elliott cites sources that make it clear that the late Roman Empire deployed this weapon, which he points out that most people associate with medieval warfare. There was more continuity between antiquity and modernity than “dark ages” historiography suggests).

Late Roman Close Combat Weapons

The two basic combat weapons of antiquity were the sword and the spear. Technology had not stood still, and the soldier who fought blue-painted Britons in Roman Britain wasn’t armed quite like his ancestor in Caesar’s legions had been.

The sword was the spatha, a longer (~700mm) sword than the classic gladius of Caesar’s age. It was originally a weapon for cavalry.

Third Century spatha. Source.

Spatha were not crude mass-produced weapons, they were carefully wrought swords, often with pattern-welded blades. These blades were formed from several iron bars, all of different carbon content, that would twisted into a screw shape and then hammered and folded repeatedly. To this strong, yet flexible, core, hardened steel cutting edges were welded. The blades are strong and beautiful, with long straight sides and sharp points. The hilts and pommels were crafted from wood, horn or bone – all organic materials. In earlier centuries, the legionary sword hung on the soldier’s right side, but in the fourth century, soldiers wore their swords on the left, traditionally the preserve of centurions and senior officers.

In man to man combat the sword was used to stab into the body of a foe, but when engaging a shielded target the long spatha could be used to reach over the Shield to strike the head or neck, the shoulders, the sword arm, or the left leg….

If the spatha was the 400 AD legionary’s offensive weapon, his tactical defensive weapon was the spear. Spears had seen a lot less technological change in the preceding 400 years, but that’s for the best of reasons: they were quite well evolved already. A single spearman on the battlefield would have been vulnerable to being flanked and defeated by more agile foes, but no army — certainly not the Romans! — fights as individuals. Attacking a unit of spear-armed Romans was a mortal-consequences game of Slap The Porcupine. Wise enemies didn’t try, and unwise ones died or wised up PDQ.

The Roman shield, on the other hand, had changed since Caesar’s day. Caesar’s legions carried a rectangular shield, that in overhead plan view had an arc to it. The late Empire infantryman had a round shield, which worked better with the long spatha.

The infantryman of 400 AD had a great many weapons to master, along with all the other soldier skills of the day. And we enjoyed learning about his training, combat, and life in general, in The Last Legionary.