So That’s Where All the Weird Guns Came From

During the old unit’s first Afghanistan tour, we kept capturing, or having surrendered to us, caches of the most remarkable armaments. It didn’t take too long to figure out that there was a pattern to these things. Everything surrendered to us was either monumentally obsolete, or something for which ammunition was in constrained supply.

In other words, the local warlords (and war vassals) were fobbing us off with impressive quantities of armaments that were of no practical use to them anyway, and that were nothing but a storage problem and an “attractive nuisance,” in legal terms, that brought in thieves. All while ingratiating themselves with the new invaders, while there was still money to be made off of them. Sure, we got the occasional MANPADS or AK, but mostly, we got stuff that was granddad’s age.

And he was already dead.

But still, we marveled at all the weird weapons, many of them from the period between the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan War (1919) and the Second World War (1939). Everything from Renault FT tanks to Italian artillery to Czech ZB-26s and the bolt action rifles made everywhere from Iberia to Izhevsk showed up in our cache hauls.

And one had to ask: who was running Afghanistan’s weapons procurement in the 1920s and 1930s, Mad King Ludwig? It turns out, though, that the answer was committed to paper long ago, and by a most unlikely source: the British Conservative diplomat, Sir Samuel Hoare, Viscount Templewood. Templewood, whose contemporaries saw him as a “cold fish” in person, wrote several delightful books, including a memoir of his time as a senior diplomat from 1931 to 1940, Nine Troubled Years. In it, on pp. 123-125, he reprints a letter he wrote (in his capacity as Secretary of State for India) to then-PM Ramsay McDonald, in 1932, from the League of Nations Disarmament Conference in Geneva.

I got back from Geneva last night, very glad to have escaped from its curiously artificial and neurotic atmosphere. ….

After a short interval we all … adjourned to the Bâtiment Electoral, the grim hall in which the Disarmament Conference was to take place. …there are few more dismal buildings in Europe.

He went on at some length about the dreariness of the surroundings, and the mind-numbing boredom of the proceedings, which led to the diplomats present tuning out the droning speakers. Or bailing out of the conference completely.

Finding the proceedings very tedious, I interested myself in looking at my fellow delegates. On my left…we were seated alphabetically and I, being “India,” was with the I’s, was the representative of the Hedjaz, dressed as an Arab sheik. He was the only delegate in fancy dress.

In the front row were the Afghans. We asked the Afghans why, Afghanistan not being a member of the League [of Nations], they had come to the Disarmament Conference.

They told that they were short of arms, and that they thought that at a Disarmament Conference there would be a chance of picking up second-hand munitions cheap.

Those short paragraphs not only explain the presence of the output of what seems like all the member-states of the short-lived League in the caves and storerooms of rural ‘Stan, but many more things besides.

  1. Isn’t it just like an Afghan to attend a Disarmament Conference looking not to disarm, but to arm? Unless there was a Swiss Confederation or USA representative, the nations of the 1932 League of Nations Disarmament conference are gone, but this trait of the Afghan race abides.
  2. The Afghans obviously succeeded in their objective, even though the Disarmament Conference was a microcosm of the League of Nations (and its UN successor) in that it was a failure at promoting peace. Our stacks of Enfields, Mausers, and DP-26s tell the tale.
  3. Templewood goes on to note that the Russian delegation includes Litvinov and Karl Radek, perhaps explaining those prewar Mosins, DPs, etc.
  4. Finally, note that the nations that put their trust in diplomacy in general and the League of Nations in particular did not come out well. Ethiopia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Baltic States would all go down the tubes as the diplomats in the talking-shop complained about the insufficiently palatial palaces in which they held their useless meetings.

The failure of the League is not only evident now, it was evident then, even to some of those immersed in it. The three contemporary cartoons (two by (David?) Low) that accompany this post demonstrate that somebody had a pretty good grasp on the utility and consequences of diplomacy and the League. But it’s not there for utility; it’s a salve to the egos of the players.

 That said, as bad as the League was, at least it didn’t turn loose a legion of third-world “peacekeepers” to bugger their way through the children of war-threatened lands.

(Note: Apologies for a bit of post lag today. We’re running about two behind after some technical entanglements yesterday we’re still sorting out –Ed.)

When Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will have Exorcism

“She’s a witch! Burn her!”

As it turns out, in some places and times that has been more than just a comedy routine. Like in Salem in 1692 (although, to be a pedant about it, none of those witches were burned, all except one were hanged, and the odd man out was squished with rocks). Or in Managua, Nicaragua… today.

Vilma Trujillo Garcia, 25, suffered burns over 80% of her body during the ritual in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua.

Her husband Reynaldo Peralta Rodriguez said she had been taken to a church last week after she allegedly tried to stab people with a machete.

‘It’s unforgiveable what they did to us. They killed my wife, the mother of my two little ones,’ he said.

‘Now what am I going to tell them?’

Evangelical pastor Juan Gregorio Rocha Romero and four other people have been arrested over her death.

But Romero denied killing the mother-of-two and said Garcia had fell into the fire by herself and no-one pushed her.

He added a demon had left her body when this happened.

Human rights groups have spoken out about the death of Garcia and now want stricter laws for religious organisations in Nicaragua.

via Vilma Trujillo Garcia dies after ‘being stripped naked and thrown into fire during exorcism’ in Nicaragua | Metro News.

What did the good burghers of Managua do to deserve this? First the Somozas, then the Sandinistas, then the Contras, now the Exorcists. Not to mention, the machete-wielding witches that brought the amateur exorcist out.

Some Sense on Somali Pirates, from a Former Opponent of Theirs

This article about the Somali pirate seizure of a tanker appeared in a bit of an out-of-the-way place, but we were tipped to it — not least because the author is an old Ranger buddy with whom many a German beer was hoisted, back in the day.

“Those khat-chewing thugs are at it again,” I thought, recalling my maritime-security job almost 5 years ago off the east coast of Africa. Somali piracy, though, had seemed to have died off since then…

The online story elaborated: Pirates have hijacked an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia, Somali officials and piracy experts said Tuesday, in the first hijacking of a large commercial vessel there since 2012. … The area where the hijacking occurred is overseen by the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain. … It was not immediately clear what the pirates’ intentions are, but it may become one of the Trump administration’s first international tests.

The journalistically cautious “not immediately clear what the pirates’ intentions are” made me laugh. Intentions? Hijack then occupy (for as long as necessary) this non-US ship with grunt pirates while the clan’s CEO negotiates a high-dollar ransom of vessel, cargo, and crew—a big business deal via satphone from Mogadishu. It’s relatively easy money, too, if the targeted merchant vessel has no armed security personnel aboard.

We Americans are, I think, guilty of viewing too many world events through “It’s about US” lenses. Sure, it’s possible Somali pirates decided to test the new American president. After all, the US Navy has ships in the area….

Keep it Simple, Stupid (KISS) often has worked for me—the simplest theory often is the right one. This week’s hijack probably wasn’t about Trump; rather, Somali pirates simply saw an opportunity to score, after a long dry spell, and acted. Maybe the maritime industry had let its guard down in the HRA. You can bet DVDs of the “Captain Phillips” movie have been passed around in coastal areas of Somalia; pirates in 2017 probably won’t make the mistakes—exploited by our Navy and its SEAL marksmen—others made in 2009.

You’ll be better informed about Somali pirates and countermeasures if you Read The Whole Thing™. It’s written by a guy who’s been in those very waters on private MARSEC missions, deterring those very pirates.

What would actually work for the pirates of the 21st Century is what worked for the pirates of the 17th and 18th Centuries: a good dose of hanging at the yardarm, along with a thorough bombardment of the towns and harbors that emit them.

Pirates still are hostis humanae generis and ought to be treated that way. You don’t break a malaria epidemic by negotiating with the mosquitoes.


Any Gun > Endless Fussing About Guns > No Gun

Read the mathematical expression in the title of this post. Any questions?

Of course, there are questions. After all, what is a gun (mostly) blog but “endless fussing about guns,” eh? But what we mean is this: too much fiddling with what you carry actually detracts from your ability to get proficient with what you carry. But even fussing and fiddling with guns, holsters, etc., is better than not carrying, so it’s most important that you carry.

If you got the impression that we’re about to beat our favorite “satisficing vs. optimizing” dead horse again, you’re half right: we’re certainly not averse to giving Deceased Dobbin a few good licks with Louisville’s finestkind equine motivator. But really, to say that the endless fanboy debates about this pistol vs. that pistol miss the point is like saying that Colin Krapernick and the San Francisco 49ers missed the Super Bowl — true, but understated to the point where one’s sanity comes into question. About 99 repeating 9 percent of the stuff written on the Internet (or in print) about self-defensive pistols is nonsense, compared to the overriding primacy of following Rule Number One of Gunfights: BRING A GUN.

Note that it’s not, “Bring a Glock,” or, “Bring a pistol whose caliber begins with point-four,” or, “Bring a pistol designed by John Moses Browning because he was the last firearms designer who was not a drooling, inbred retard.” A gun. Gun, generic, one each, color optional, caliber optional, maker optional.

Pure gun-counter heresy, that.

Are some choices better than others? Yes, but mostly in the edge cases. As much as it may tempt some people (Ian?), and as brilliant as Karel Krnka was, a Roth-Steyr Repetierpistole M.07 is probably not a good choice (for one thing, rotsa ruck finding a Kydex holster). Likewise, an old Jurras Auto Mag looks totally cool, but only a fictional movie character who was six-feet-many-inches tall would actually carry one; another not-a-good-choice. Nor are many cheap pistols, although you would learn a little about firearms lethality from the following exercise:

  1. Buddy up to a homicide detective in your town (or nearest equivalent, for those of us in too small/peaceful villages to have one).
  2. Get him or her to give you the caliber, and if known, make and model of the last 10 homicide guns; 100 in Chicago, as you want a whole month’s data. (Wouldn’t work for our town; to get to 10 homicides you have to go back to the Indian massacre of sixteen-fifty-something).
  3. Our guess is that the distribution will be, in order: 9mm, .22, .380, .32, .25 .40. And the brands will include approximately zero that have fanboys.

Yet people keep asking “is this one better than that one?” Eh. Fact is, it’s not 1910 any more. Most defensive autopistols and revolvers are pretty good. Even the cheap ones are safe to shoot and usually work. Tam summed this up recently in a really good post:

“So, which do you like better? The Glock or the M&P? Which one should I buy?”

Okay, first, I don’t know that I would say I really like either of them. The Glock is a lot easier to mess around in the guts of, if that’s the sort of thing that appeals to you. As far as shooting goes, they’re pretty much of a muchness. All these plastic cop guns are, really.

“Much of a muchness”? We’ll assume she did that for effect. Still, her basic point is there, and deserves to be belabored, like the rib cage of our expired equine, pining for the corrals:

If one really sings to you, buy it, but you’re kidding yourself if you think there are vast differences in performance waiting to be unlocked in one versus another.

This is the sort of stuff that matters when you add up hundredths and tenths over the course of a ten stage match and probably doesn’t matter dick across a convenience store counter or across fifteen feet of rainy midnight parking lot.

Ding, ding, ding. Do Read The Whole Thing™; this lady shoots more pistol rounds in a year than the average infantry platoon, and between her native curiosity and magazine work shoots a very wide range of good-quality pistols. She knows whereof she speaks; respect that.

And before anyone starts talking about this military unit uses this and that agency is known to carry that, there are two or three facts about military and governmental pistol purchases to bear in mind:

  1. Other things besides raw performance matter. Costs count. Maintenance counts. Compatibility with other kit and allies’ forces counts. (Will you ever fire your pistol whilst wearing a gas mask? Or need to use some foreign nation’s ammunition because that’s all there is? One hopes not). Manufacturing offsets count. And the performance criteria are weighted by somebody and his weights he puts on the various performance measures may not be yours. 
  2. Performance results between pistols on a given test are usually very close: the SIG and Beretta entries were tied in the M9 testing; Beretta’s lower price broke the tie. FN and SIG were very close in recent testing for a Federal agency. Around 15-20 years ago, a special mission unit adopted .40 Glocks, but they only just edged out .40 Smiths, and both of those beat STI 1911s primarily on maintenance, not performance, grounds.
  3. In the military and even as a criminal investigator, your pistol is secondary to almost everything else in your job. If you’re plugging people with Ole Reliable, something has gone seriously awry with Plan A.

For a personal carry pistol, you might want to make a short list, and adopt the first gun you find that checks the few boxes, and carry it with confidence. For instance:

  1. Can I shoot it okay, and will I practice with it?
  2. Can I carry it safely and securely while wearing the clothes I usually wear, and doing the activities I usually do?
  3. Do I like it and feel good about carrying it?

If you like, we can go into the importance of each of those three points. Notice exactly zero of the have anything to do with the sorts of things that fill the pages of gun magazines, the pixels of blogs, or the vast featureless tundra of the gun webs.

See, it’s all about reflexive obedience to Rule Number One.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Camopedia

You probably didn’t know you needed a link to a wiki about camouflage uniforms patterns, etc., but if we were to give you one — this link to — do you think you can find something good to do with it?

Sorry for the brevity of this W4 this week, but, well, in the game of life vs. blog, sometimes blog goes home with the “Participant — 2d Place” trophy. On the plus side, we’re pretty much through the Ides of March without being assassinated, so we’re one up on Julius Caesar!

How Many Guns In Your “Arsenal”?

We get the impression from you guys in the comments that gun ownership among the readership ranges from zero to hundreds of firearms.

Since we’ve seen that the media counts anything more than a couple firearms as an “arsenal,” we assume most of you have an arsenal at home. But how big?  So it’s time for a poll.

How many guns have you got? free polls

You can vote with confidence, as even Super Administrator Powers can’t tell us who said what. Of course, if you spill your collection size in the comments, then everyone can see. We can’t see how that would harm you, but it’s a free country and you can keep your secrets if you like.

This should be an excellent opportunity for smart-ass comments, from those of you who are so inclined. Tomorrow sometime we’ll tell you what bracket Your Humble Blogger falls into.

Update 1 @ Midnight 15 Mar

We’ve seen some interesting comments, and over 350 poll-takers, with some in each bin but the tails having the lowest numbers. Having just found some deficiencies in the inventory, Your Humble Blogger is pretty sure he falls in right around the midpoint of the 51-100 bracket, maybe 8 or 10 above midpoint if incomplete retro AR receivers count.

Lots of respect for all — doesn’t matter how many guns you have, what matters is having the right to make the decision for yourself. Mad props to the people who keep the light burning in the jurisdictions experiencing firearms Dark Ages.

Update 2 @ Noon 16 Mar

Over 600 poll takers so far. 70-something comments, plus another handful over at the poll site. If we ever do this again, we’ll have to include Boating Mishap among the choices.

When Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will have Snow (x3)

Even a unique and special snowflake must obey the laws — of physics.

One Unique and Special Snowflake™ is bad enough, but you should see the mayhem that ensues when they all get together and gang up. And this time, we’re talking about literal snowflakes.

At least four skiers have been killed and four others injured after an avalanche in the Italian Alps, rescuers have said.

The avalanche was triggered at Plan de la Gabba around midday when a group was back-country skiing on new snow, Milan Walter of the national alpine rescue corps said.

It is thought that as many as 20 people, all foreign, may have been swept up in the avalanche and as many as four could still be missing, according to La Repubblica.

Skiers nearby were the first to intervene and raise the alarm, before digging through the snow looking for survivors, Corriere Della Sera said.

Another avalanche is thought to have struck at the same time in Colle San Carlo, involving two skiers, however neither needed rescuing.

via At least four skiers killed after avalanche in the Italian Alps | Metro News.

If you’re reading this, we survived our encounter with snow in the form of the Dread Nor’easter of ’17, and didn’t have The Big One shoveling the jeezly snow.

Which reminds us… why do weathermen and other TV empty suits exhume a lost and archaic Sea Dog accent for this one word, and this one word alone? It’s enough to make you go, “Arrrrr!” and hoist high the Jolly Roger. Really, you can’t get much more northeast than Hog Manor without going Full Downeaster, and even they don’t say Nor’east. Even when they’re fishin’ for lahbstah.

Pearl Harbor Defense — Better than it Gets Credit For?

The American side has always looked at Pearl Harbor as a terrible defeat — which it certainly was — and an embarrassing failure of defense. There were several formal investigations and uncountable books and magazine articles assailing this or that level of American preparedness. But one thing hasn’t really been given much credit, and that’s the readiness of Navy anti-air gunners. At least a skeleton crew was standing-to on each gun as the Japanese attacked, and many of them got their guns into action.

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

The second wave got a lot more resistance than the first, and that AA resistance was one of four reasons that Admiral Chuichi Nagumo gave when he turned down air element commander Mitsuo Fuchida’s entreaties for a second strike delivering a third, decisive wave:

Even in the first attack, the enemy’s antiaircraft fire had been so prompt as virtually to nullify the advantage of surprise. In a further attack, it had to be expected that our losses would increase out of all proportion to the results achievable.

Nagumo, a cautious admiral intent on preserving his own force, knew he’d gotten a tough blow in. (His other three reasons were: the first attack had done as much as could be expected, and the Japanese were up against diminishing returns; Japanese SIGINT indicated the US still had 50 large patrol or bombing planes on Oahu, and they and the unlocated submarines and carriers were a threat to the fleet; and, the Japanese lacked good aerial or submarine reconnaissance and screening.

Ironically, the subs Nagumo worried about were almost all tied up in harbor; neither they, nor Admiral Kimmel’s HQ which overlooked the sub anchorage, were attacked at all during the actual strike. The Japanese SIGINT probably overstated the presence of large US aircraft, too, as the Navy’s patrol planes were nearly zeroed out by the attack.

In the end, we’ll never know how a counterfacual would have gone. A bolder admiral would have listened to Fuchida. Would the strike have further crippled the Pacific Fleet, perhaps by damaging the subs or fuel storage that survived the initial attack? Or would it have allowed the American carriers, which had been northwest reinforcing Wake Island, to set upon Nagumo’s task force?

For years to come, historians and surviving officers (which included both Fuchida and attack-planning air staff officer Minoru Genda on the Japanese side) would debate this.

But we wonder — did those AA gunners of the morning of 7 December 41 ever get the credit that Admiral Nagumo was willing to give them? Nagumo didn’t survive the war (he committed ritual suicide as the US captured Saipan from him) to speak up for them, or for his own decisions.

Perhaps some questions are not only destined, but meant to have no answers.

Thing from the Vault: Double Barreled Percussion Pistol

Today, we have another mystery pistol, this one from the collection of Your Humble Blogger. Like all guns it comes with a story: it was a “broken gun” that was offered for sale by an Afghan villager, and it then inspired an intelligence operation that ran for some months.

It is of perceptibly higher quality than most of its contemporaries from Darra Adam Khel and other local forges, but neither the fit, the engraving nor, especially, the checkering, resemble the 19th Century British over/under pistols on which it is modeled.

Double barrel firearms offered the 19th Century combatant, or sportsman, the prospect of a second shot without having to depend on what was not yet called the New York Reload. As a result, double-barreled percussion and pinfire pistols are common, until they are eclipsed by all sizes of revolvers.

There is a trap in the grip, presumably for holding percussion caps. Its spring is broken or absent.

It is engraved with some gibberish along the top rib, possibly in an alphabet of some kind completely unknown to us. Or perhaps they are numbers,  (apologies for photo quality, and for the fact we can’t tell which side is up).

There is worn-off inscription on a silver disc on the grip. (Apologies again for poor focus).


As mentioned, it is broken and in poor condition. Some rich bluing remains. The springs are still strong and the hammers still move, but one has lost its spur, and neither sets the trigger.

There is one trigger for each lock. At least, that was the smith’s intention — neither one works properly now.

Some metal nubs near the muzzle and a partial ramrod slot underneath the pistol suggest that, at one time, this firearm featured an articulated ramrod.

Here’s the other side:

Caliber is measured at about .52-.54″ (roughly 13 mm) by caliper. There are traces of quite fast right-hand-twist rifling visible in the lower barrel, in the right light.

The grip is noticeably cruder than the rest of the gun, so it may be a replacement. But as mentioned above, the metal parts do not have the fit associated with European and American gunsmiths of this era.

It’s always interesting to speculate about the provenance and history of firearms. Our Afghan seller claimed that this pistol was “very old” and had hung on pegs on the wall of their family’s cob house “since the time of Abdurrahman Shah,” but then, Afghans do say stuff and everybody’s family, everywhere, has legends and tall tales in it.

But along with the tale told here, this pistol played a part in one story that can’t be told — not yet, and possibly not ever. So perhaps it’s a good thing that guns are mere objects, and can’t talk.

The Short Life of an Ammo Ban in National Parks

In practically his last minutes in office, political appointee Dan Ashe of the US Fish and Wildlife Service banned ordinary ammunition, not just for hunting but for all purposes including self-defense, on all federal lands.

Ashe waited until the last minute in hopes that the ban could take hold before his replacement could overturn it. (Ashe knew from the transition team that his services were no longer required, and his last day was 20th January. He has been found a job in a non-profit that does not require him to relocate from his beloved Imperial City of Washington, DC).

The ban, which took effect immediately, eliminates the use of lead-based ammunition on federal lands like national parks and wildlife refuges, as well as any other land administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The ban is expected to have a major impact on much of the hunting that takes place on federal lands across the United States as lead-based ammunition is widely legal and used throughout the country.

Ashe said the order was necessary to protect wildlife from exposure to lead.

“Exposure to lead ammunition and fishing tackle has resulted in harmful effects to fish and wildlife species,” Ashe said in his order. “According to the U.S. Geological Survey, lead poisoning is a toxicosis caused by the absorption of hazardous levels of lead in body tissues.”

Boy, are there some bureaucrats who need “a toxicosis caused by the absorption of hazardous levels of lead in body tissues,” or what? But we digress.

Ashe made a sanctimonious attempt to cloak his ban in concern for wildlife.

“Ingested lead pellets from shotgun shells have been a common source of lead poisoning in birds… The use of lead ammunition …[presents] an ongoing risk to upland or terrestrial migratory birds and other species that ingest spent shot directly from the ground or as a result of predating or scavenging carcasses that have been killed with lead ammunition and left in the field.”

via Obama Official Issues Ammunition Ban for Federal Lands on Last Day.

Unlike many Fish & Wildlife Service officials, who tend to be sportsmen from rural America, Ashe is a second-generation career bureaucrat who has never in his adult life lived outside of the National Capital Area and never held a job in the productive sector of the economy (He still hasn’t, in his new capacity as the head of the Association of Zoos, etc.)

Ashe’s 19 January order lasted all the way until 5 March… because the Senate took its time confirming current Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Zinke, who rocked the Washington press corps, not to mention the Interior bureaucracy, by riding a horse to his office on his first day, hit the Ashe ban like a .600 Nitro Express:

Ryan Zinke’s first act on his first day as interior secretary was shooting down an order signed two months ago that banned use of lead ammunition on federal land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Zinke’s order revoked a previous order requiring use of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle signed Jan. 19 by outgoing FWS Director Dan Ashe that had been criticized by some hunting and angling groups.

Zinke also signed a second order directing bureaus and agencies managing all federal land to immediately identify areas where recreation and fishing can be expanded.

Over the past eight years, Zinke said, there’s been a decrease in access to public land.

Of course, that access loss has come about at the hands of urban bureaucrats like Dan Ashe.

The horse thing matters, and the symbology is deeper than you think. Like the DC press corps, most of the employees of the Department of the Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service can’t ride a horse, and would look silly trying to mount one. Hell, most of them can’t drive a stick shift — but they know their way around the Washington Metro.

When Theodore Roosevelt created National Parks as a thing, he never imagined enormous Washington bureaucracies exerting dictatorial power over the outdoors, but staffed almost entirely by strangers to the outdoors.

Even a hagiographic press release lauding Ashe in expectation of his departure scrambles to find actual accomplishments in his nearly six years as FWS supremo. In the end, they came up with: he was good at growing the bureaucracy and expanding quotas for racial minority hiring, and was good at opposing protests on Federal land, when he didn’t agree with the protesters.