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The Vault

BSW Prototype Gas-Operated Pistol (Video)

In 1936 or 1937, the BSW company (Berlin-Suhler Waffenwerk) produced a small number of prototype pistols for German Army trials. These trials were eventually won by the Walther P38, and for good reason in this case. The pistol BSW submitted was a gas-accellerated blowback design, with an aluminum frame, stamped slide, 13-round magazine (in 9×19), and double-action-only shrouded-hammer firing mechanism.

I had the opportunity to try shooting one of the 3 surviving examples of this pistol thanks to the generosity of a reader named Steve (thanks, Steve!). This is one of those cases where it seems that the trials board evaluating guns made the right conclusion – this pistol was finicky to disassemble, quite large, and had harsher than normal recoil because of its light weight, high bore axis, and blowback mechanism. Its 13-round magazine was a nice touch, but one of very few positive elements in the gun.

Vintage Saturday: The Mustache is Mightier than the Machine Gun

Polish soldier on the line near Gazala, Libya - February 1942

Anyone who has watched Clint Eastwood movies knows what’s coming with a squint like that.

Polish soldier on the line near Gazala, Libya – February 1942. Armed with a Browning M1919A4 and a Boys AT rifle in the truck as well.

Canada’s WWII Self-Loading Rifle Experiments

(The material for this post came primarily from a post made by Roger V. Lucy at the MilArt blog, which also has information on a couple other WWII Canadian experimental projects)

When we see rifles, typically No4 Lee Enfield rifles, marked with the name “Long Branch“, we are actually seeing the production of Small Arms Ltd. (SAL), the government-owned company which encompassed the Long Branch arsenal outside of Toronto, Canada. The arsenal is best known for its productions of rifles, but among other projects it also experimented with a series of self-loading rifle designs during World War II. None of them made it into series production, but they are interesting to see.

The 1944 SLR

These experiments began late in the war; April 1944 was when SAL started work on the first of the line. The British government was apparently interested in a self-loading rifle chambered for the 8mm Mauser cartridge (note that they were using the Czech vz37 machine gun, aka Besa, in 8mm). In response, SAL designed a rifle with a tilting bolt action along the lines of a Bren. It was ready for trials in June of 1944 – a very impressive (or perhaps hopelessly rushed) development time of just 3 months. I have no details of the trials, except a suggestion that the gun was either too heavy or had sacrificed reliability in pursuit of a lighter weight.

Prototype Canadian SLR in 8mm, 1944

Prototype Canadian SLR in 8mm, 1944.  Note that the magazine appears to be a ZB-26 type. Source: MilArt photo archives


Caliber: 7.92mm
Action: Tilting bolt
Length: 45 inches (115 cm)
Magazine capacity: 10 or 20 rounds
Bayonet: British standard No.5
Sights: Aperture

Long Branch experimental SLR testing in 1944

Testing the first SLR design. Source: MilArt photo archives

The 1945 SLR (EX-1)

After the rejection of the 1944 model of rifle and a nearly year-long delay, the rifle was redesigned in March of 1945, with this second model ready for trials in May 1945 (another remarkable 3-month development period). This model used a bolt with locking lugs at the front (as opposed to the Bren-style with a locking surface at the rear of the bolt) and apparently was significantly lightened as a result – but was also deemed overly complex and fragile when tested in August 1945. Improvements were made, and by December of 1945 the test rifle had run 800 rounds successfully.

Canadian EX1 self-loading rifle in 7.92mm

Canadian EX1 self-loading rifle in 7.92mm. Source: MilArt photo archives

At this point, the Canadian military began to express interest in the rifle, and the Director of Artillery pushed for further funding of the project. Continuing work reduced the rifle’s weight from 10 pounds to 9 (4.5 to 4 kg) and simplified its mechanism. Another trial prototype was scheduled to be ready for testing in April of 1946, but at this point the program began to be overtaken by the competition elsewhere to develop self-loading rifles.

The 1946 SLR (EX-2)

Canadian EX-2 rifle, .30 caliber.

Canadian EX-2 rifle, .30 caliber. Not sure if this is chambered for the T65 cartridge, as the magazine appears to still be of the ZB-26 pattern, longer than necessary for the T65. Source: MilArt photo archives (click to enlarge)

Another view of the EX-2 in .30 caliber, with a long action magazine. Not the similarity of the rear receiver cover to the FN-49 rifle. Source: MilArt photo archives

Another view of the EX-2 in .30 caliber, with a long action magazine. Note the similarity of the rear receiver cover to the FN-49 rifle. Source: MilArt photo archives

EX-1 rifle with 10-round long-action magazine. Source: MilArt photo archive (click to enlarge)

EX-1 rifle with 10-round long-action magazine. Source: MilArt photo archive (click to enlarge)

The Long Branch Arsenal and Small Arms Ltd. were dramatically reduced in size shortly after the war ended, and this would have led to the end of theSLR development program. It was decided to continue the work through Canadian Arsenals Ltd., which had taken over operation of the operations at Long Branch. The goal was to rechamber the rifle for the T65 cartridge being pushed by the US, and reduce the rifle’s weight to just 7 pounds (3.2kg). A select-fire option was also to be investigated. This would have conformed to the general NATO rifle program, which would focus on the EM-2, T44 (M14), and T48/FAL rifles.

Select-fire EX-2 rifle, now using a short magazine - most likely chambered for the T65 cartridge. Source: MilArt photo archive (click to enlarge)

Select-fire EX-2 rifle, now using a short magazine – most likely chambered for the T65 cartridge. Source: MilArt photo archive (click to enlarge)

Lightened version of the EX-2, using short-action magazine (probably T65 chambering). Source: MilArt photo archives (click to enlarge)

Lightened version of the EX-2, using short-action magazine and T65 cartridge. Source: MilArt photo archives (click to enlarge)

Ultimately the Canadian rifle experiments here would be overtaken by the FN-FAL and would not see any production beyond the prototype stage. Unfortunately, I do not have any more detailed information on the internals of the various iterations, nor on their trials results.

Slow Motion: Swiss LMG-25

I had a cool Swiss viewer named Bjoern kindly send me this footage of a Swiss LMG25 machine gun firing – thanks, Bjoern! These guns are very rare in the US, and the only one I’ve been able to handle was in Europe. If I can ever get my hands on one myself, I will make some video with my Edgertronic high speed camera, but this footage is a great look at the gun until that is possible.

If you are not familiar with the LMG-25, you should check out my overview video of the gun from a couple years ago:

The Lee Enfield Finally Leaves Canadian Ranger Service

As far as I have been able to tell, the Canadian Rangers are the last formal, first-world military organization still using a WWII-era bolt action rifle as a standard-issue weapon (correction – the Danish Slædepatruljen Sirius, a similar type of unit in Greenland, still uses the M1917 Enfield in .30-06). Well, until now anyway.

Who are the Canadian Rangers? They are an element of Canada’s military Reserves, tasked basically with patrolling the uninhabited areas of northern Canada (some 4 million square kilometers), providing eyes and ears to the military. The Rangers number about 5,000 men and women (many of them ethnic aborigines), and while they are not really combat forces, they are working in some extremely harsh environments, often alone, and are issued rifles for self defense while carrying out their duties. Since the force was founded in 1947, those rifles have been No4 MkI Lee Enfields – Canada’s standard service rifle at the time. Well, back in 2011 those Enfields really became a problem as spare parts inventories began to run out.

Ranger Leo McKay with his Lee Enfield (not the non-standard belt with extra mags).

Ranger Leo McKay with his Lee Enfield (not the non-standard belt with extra mags). Photo source: Torstar News Service

You may be thinking to yourself that Enfield parts are not difficult to come by, right? Lots of that stuff still out there. Well, the Rangers were maintaining a stock of 5,000+ of these rifles, and they were not being coddled. These rifles spend a lot of time being dragged around the arctic ice, muddy spring forest bogs, in lakes and rivers and streams in kayaks, canoes, and motor boats, on horseback, surrounded by ocean salt water off the coasts, and contending with the occasional angry polar bear or moose. “Spare parts” for that sort of maintenance job is a very different thing from needing to order a new extractor from Numrich or replace a cracked handguard. It really was only a matter of time before the available NOS parts supply ran out.

Not an environment for sissy people or sissy rifles!

Not an environment for sissy people or sissy rifles! (photo from the 4th Patrol’s Facebook page)

The question then became what would replace the No4 Lee-Enfield. That was a truly excellent rifle which could contend with the abuse it was subjected to by Canadian Ranger activities. After several years of looking, it appears that a tentative replacement has now been chosen: the Sako T3 CTR (Compact Tactical Rifle), with a few custom features.

Sako T3CTR as designed for the Canadian Rangers

Sako T3CTR as designed for the Canadian Rangers

The rifle is a .308 bolt action which uses detachable box magazines – it will be able to deliver basically the same amount of firepower as the Enfields. It differs form the stock Sako T3 CRT in a couple of ways – a bright laminate stock, an enlarged bolt handle and trigger guard (for use with gloves), and robust protected iron sights in addition to a scope rail. I haven’t been able to determine for sure, but it appears that scopes will not be standard issue, just iron sights.

While the design is being licensed from Sako, actual production will be done by Colt Canada. The first 125 prototype rifles have been delivered (they were made by Sako directly), and will undergo field trials with the Rangers. If all goes well, production is scheduled to begin in mid to late 2016, with an expected 6500 rifles to be made. Of course, one does have to wonder what impact Colt’s bankruptcy in the US will have on their ability to fulfill that contract, so I reached out to a spokesman at Colt Canada. They informed me that Colt Canada is wholly owned by Colt Defense, but is a self-sustaining operation in Canada. That may be PR whitewashing (if anyone has firsthand understanding of Colt Canada’s business status, please let us know in the comments below!), but if it’s true then the new owners of Colt (whoever that ends up being) will hopefully allow the Canadian division to remain healthy and produce these rifles for the Canadian Rangers.

Alas, it appears that the Canadian government will be destroying the remaining Enfields when they are replaced. Very unfortunate to lose that group of historically very cool rifles. On the other hand, it does sound like Stoeger Canada (the Canadian importer for Sako) is at least considering offering the T3 CTR with the same custom features (less the Ranger logo and possibly the exact stock color) on the civilian market. That’s not official, and I am waiting to hear back from them on the question – I will post an update when I have a firm answer from them. It would be neat to have an example of the new Rangers’ rifle…

Shooting a .276 Pedersen

Thanks to Alex C. at TheFirearmBlog, I recently had an opportunity to do some shooting with a .276 caliber Vickers-Pedersen model PB rifle. This was one of the very first rifles Vickers built when they though the Pedersen would be adopted by the US military and couple be further marketed worldwide – after only about 16 PB rifles they made some changes and started making the improved PA model instead (the two main improvements being the use of a reversible clip and the addition of a mechanism to allow ejection of a partially-full clip).

Anyway, in addition to Alex and myself, we were joined by Nathaniel F (a TFB writer) and Patrick R (from the TFBTV video channel). Between us we put about 60 rounds of original 1920s wax-lubricated Frankfort Arsenal .276 Pedersen ammo through the rifle. We both put together videos on the gun – you can see the TFBTV piece here, and mine right here:

My overall impression of the gun was very positive. I was frankly pretty surprised that the gun, the clip, and the ammunition all not only worked independently, but worked almost flawlessly together. In the 60 rounds, we had only one malfunction (aside from the trigger reset peculiarity of the gun) and that was simply the clip not fully ejecting once when empty.

The inevitably question is, should the US have chosen the Pedersen over the Garand? Hard to say, frankly, without being able to have experienced a .276 caliber Garand (and if anyone has one they would be willing to shoot, let me know!) The .276 Pedersen is a nicer gun to shoot than the .30-06 Garand, but that’s really not a fair comparison. In addition, battlefield reliability and production complexity are just as important (if not moreso) than how nice a rifle is to shoot on the square range. The Pedersen definitely seems like it would be susceptible to dirt and dust, although the Garand is too, more than most people would like to acknowledge. My gut feeling is to give the Ordnance Board the benefit of the doubt at this point (they certainly made the right decision on automatic pistols with the Browning over the Savage).

Shooting and Disassembling A.I. AR-10 rifles (Video)

I had a gun-shop-owning friend offer me a chance to do a video on a Portuguese contract AR-10 made by Artillerie Inrichtingen in the Netherlands a little while back. Unfortunately, it had just sold, and so we didn’t have an opportunity to doing any shooting with it. I put off the editing of that video for a while, and then happened to have a chance a week ago to do some shooting with a registered full-auto Sudanese contract AI AR-10. They aren’t the same gun exactly, but very close. So when I put this video together, I added in that shooting footage, so we could have the complete package. Enjoy!

For the record, I would compare a full-auto magazine dump in an early (ie, lightweight) AR-10 to these other probably-similar experiences:

  • Snorting Tabasco sauce
  • Using your shoulder to support a working jackhammer
  • Getting Tased

The design’s straight-line stock does a great job of preventing the gun from climbing, but it does nothing to mitigate the significant amount of energy being dumped into your shoulder when you unleash the full-auto switch. While I was able to keep the rifle pretty much on target, it was entirely a result of taking a sight picture before firing. Once the gun is going off, I found it impossible to do anything but hang on. I would very much like to try out some other select-fire .308 shoulder rifles (FAL, G3, M14, etc) now to get an idea of how they compare…

Also, should you find yourself visiting Tombstone Arizona, make sure to drop by Tombstone Territorial Firearms – it is a great little shop with an excellent assortment of interesting guns despite being in a small town! James (the owner) is a good guy and has been very supportive in working with us.

Vintage Saturday: Fusil d’Assaut

Very pleased with his captured rifle!

Very pleased with his captured rifle! Source: Histoire de Couleurs

A Chasseur à pied of the 19e Battalion on the road between Breteuil and Flers, Somme. 10th of April 1918. This Battalion had been on foot after heavy fighting in order to occupy the village of Grivesnes, South of Moreuil in France. The rifle next to him is a captured German Kar98A, a rifle used extensively be German assault troops because of its shorter length compared to the standard Gewehr 98.


Hatchet-Stock for a C96 Mauser

How’s this for something different…and maybe clever? I don’t have a source for these photos, and I can’t say if they date from 75 years ago or 75 days ago (although I would suspect newer rather than older). Allow me to present the C96 Hatchet-Stock!

china 007

If you’re going to carry a hatchet and a C96, why not use them together?

If you are going to pack an emergency toolkit in a car, why not fit a catch to the handle of your hatchet so it can function as a stock for a C96? The top of the hatchet head would make a decent enough buttplate, especially with that leather cover in place. Fitting them together would be as simply as salvaging the stock latch from a broken stock holster and cutting the hatchet handle to the right angle. Here in the US it would require filing SBR paperwork on the gun, but that’s not the case elsewhere in the world (and even here some people would consider this neat enough to pay the $200 tax and do anyway).

china 010

Just screw the latch to your hatchet handle…

china 009

…and you get an extra tool greater than the sum of its parts!


Testing Reproduction WWI German Trench Armor

You may recall that a week or two back I posted a video on some German trench armor at RIA. Reading up on that set of armor led me to International Military Antiques, who sells reproduction sets of the armor. I contacted them about getting a set to try some ballistic testing with Karl, and they generously sent one over. Thanks, guys!

The first thing we did was to send the bottom-most plate to an metallurgical lab in Phoenix to be analyzed. We know the properties of the original German armor thanks to a report published by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1920, and testing modern reproduction armor would be a bit pointless without knowing how it would actually compare to the original material. Our report from the lab suggested that the reproduction armor was mild low-carbon steel, with a Brinell hardness of 114. Here is the complete report:

Metallurgical report on reproduction WWI trench armor

The full testing report from METL (click to enlarge)

In contrast, the original armor appears to have had significantly more carbon content, and been surface hardened. It was a silicon-nickle steel, although those elements don’t really have anything to do with giving it hardness or other properties associated with armor – more likely that was simply what was available and would work. Here is the specific data from the Met’s 1920 book:

Metallurgical report on original WWI Germant trench armor, published 1920

Metallurgical report on original WWI Germant trench armor, published 1920 (click to enlarge)

With this in mind, it became immediately apparent that our reproduction armor would not be up to the performance of the original. However, we felt it would still be interesting to test it with a variety of cartridges, including pistol ammunition at close range. Because of the hardness differential, we could definitely conclude that any shot successfully deflected by the reproduction armor would also have been deflected by the original. So, we proceeded to use a .32ACP (a Browning 1900) and a .45ACP (a GI 1911) at about 12 yards. We also tried a .45 Colt (a reproduction Richard-Mason conversion) with an plain lead bullet, because there were some instances of Old West gunfighters using scrap steel or iron as improvised body armor, which would have been soft like this reproduction armor.

After the pistols, we tried a .30-06 (from a Springfield 1903A4) at 300 yards, since we couldn’t quite duplicate the 400-yard shot used in the original testing referenced above. I also tried an 8mm Lebel (an M16 Berthier carbine) at 50 yards, just for kicks. And then the coup de grace, a round of Soviet WWII PZ explosive observation ammunition at 50 yards. You can see our full results on video: