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Le Français .32ACP Pistol (Video)

The Le Français was a staple of Manufrance production, being first designed in 1912 and produced until the late 1960s. This example is in .32ACP caliber, which was only made for the commercial market in the 1950s and 60s (after the cartridge was out of service with the French military and thus civilian-legal). It has a number of unusual features, including a mainspring in the grip frame with a bellcrank to operate the slide, a tip-up barrel, and full double-action-only trigger.

These were made in a multitude of variations, from .25ACP up to 9mm Parabellum, for civilian, police, and military purposes. Despite a significant total production, not many have made it to the United States, and the majority that did were very small .25ACP types.

RIA: Imperial Gewehr 71 (Video)

The Gewehr 1871 was the first rifle adopted by the newly-formed German state after its unification at the end of the Franco-Prussian War. It replaced the decades-old Dreyse needle rifles, and fired an 11x60mm black powder cartridge. It was the first significant rifle designed by the Mauser brothers, and would evolve into the iconic and ubiquitous Mauser 98 design over the years.

Prototype Italian MBT 1925 Straight-Pull Rifle (Video)

Note: This video was filmed over a year ago, but I have been holding it in anticipation of the rifle going to auction. That doesn’t seem to be happening, so I’m posting the video now.

Only three example of this 1925 prototype rifle from MBT (Metallurgica Brescia gia Tempini) were ever made, and were sent out in hopes of finding military contracts. One went to Norway, and this one went to Russia, where it was acquired by a US Lend-Lease supply pilot.

It is an straight-pull design which is very close to being a self-loading rifle (and in fact additional patents were filed in 1926 to adapt it to self-loading functionality). It uses the standard 6-round Carcano clip, and is chambered for 6.5x52mm Carcano ammunition.

After this was filmed, my friend James took it out shooting again with pre-war brass clips, and said it worked reliably – FWIW.

Viet Cong Handmade Luger Lookalike

In the continuing occasional series on crude handmade firearms, we have an entry sent to me by a reader on Facebook (thanks!). It’s a Vietnamese Luger lookalike, which was being sold by Arundel Militaria in the UK (and no, I didn’t buy it – it was already sold when I first saw it).

Vietnamese Luger lookalike

This is quite the crude pistol, but it does appear to actually have a function toggle mechanism – although I suspect it is a simple blowback action that just happens to have a joint in the bolt. There does not appear to be any recoiling section of frame or barrel, and from the look of the magazine it is probably chambered for .32 ACP.

Vietnamese Luger lookalike

Magazine – great fitting!

Actual caliber was not specified on Arundel’s listing, not was magazine capacity.

Vietnamese Luger lookalike

Rear quartering

Vietnamese Luger lookalike

Front quartering

Vietnamese Luger lookalike

Top view of the toggle mechanism

Vietnamese Luger lookalike

Feast your eyes on that checkering!

Vietnamese Luger lookalike

Right side

Stopping Tanks with Rifles?

Picture the year 1939 – lots of light tanks are out there in various armies, but there isn’t much practical experience on how to stop them in combat. The heavy anti-tank rifles pioneered at the end of WWI are an option, but perhaps it is possible to find a simpler method? An answer occurs to someone hanging about Aberdeen Proving Ground – probably someone with some with traumatic childhood memories of sticks and bicycle spokes. “Hey!” he says… “what if you jam a rifle into the idler sprockets of a tankette’s treads so it throws the track?”

Well?

“So far as it is known attempts to break or throw the tracks of light tanks or combat cars by thrusting rifle barrels between the track and the sprocket or the track and the idler have never been made at the Proving Ground.”

That can’t stand! We might have a brilliant war-winning idea here!

…or a laughable waste of perfectly good rifles. A reader on Facebook pointed me to this entry on the WorldOfTanks blog “The Chieftain’s Hatch”: Rifles vs Tanks. If you want to know how this experiment turned out, have a look! Or just take a look to see an entirely serious Aberdeen Proving Ground photo of a test rock. Yeah, a rock.

Spoiler; the tests did not go well. Don’t throw out the AT rifles just yet, guys.

 

SIG KE-9 & M29A Prototype Rifles (Video)

The SIG KE-9 and M29A were several in a series of developmental rifles made by SIG in Switzerland and designed by Pal Kiraly. These ultimately found no commercial or military sales, although the related KE-7 light machine gun did have some limited success.

Vintage Saturday: Combined Arms

US troops in the Pacific Theater with 1903 Springfields and a 1919A4 machine gun

US troops in the Pacific Theater with 1903 Springfields and a 1919A4 machine gun

I have seen this image described as being from both Burma and Okinawa – not sure myself which (if either) is correct. The array of armament present is interesting, though – a 1903A3, a 1903A4 sniper, a couple rifle grenades, and a 1919A4 machine gun. Note the presence of the bolt hold-open latch on the 1919A4 – this allowed the bolt to be locked open to improve cooling of the gun, and was removed from production in May 1943.

Edit: One commenter mentioned they had an original Signal Corps copy of this photo, with this caption on the back:

caption

SHOT Show 2016

The SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trades) Show is the annual firearms industry trade show, and I have attended it for several years. There is generally not very much there of direct relevance to the sort of historical firearms that we typically cover here, but it is an excellent opportunity to meet up with folks and there are sometimes a few interesting guns to see.

A few of the interesting items from this year…

The Polish FB Radom factory brought several different firearms which they would like to release on the American market. These include their Beryl AK, the BRS-99 submachine gun and PR-15 handgun, and their MSBS combat rifle. The MSBS is significant in being the first Polish military rifle actually designed in Poland in many decades – Poland’s army has used the AK and Mauser for most of a hundred years. The MSBS is a short stroke, rotating bolt design that looks pretty nice. It has the interesting feature of being configurable as either a standard rifle or a bullpen with the same receiver. The practical application for such a conversion is limited, but still interesting.

There are two different companies making new-production M1 Carbines right now, and I was able to speak with both of them (James River Armory and MKS Supply/Inland). I had a chance to do a bit of shooting with the Inland gun, and it seemed good (with the exception of some sketchy aftermarket magazines that caused problems). I should be getting review examples of both guns to do a bunch more shooting with, and some side by side comparison will be fun and interesting. Inland is offering a standard rifle and a paratrooper version, while James River has a slightly different standard gun (with the improved lever safety) and a T3 version with a scope mount.

And, of course, the most exciting product to me was the Sturmgewehr from HMG. Last year at the show I first spoke to Hill and Mac, and their claim of having the rifle ready in a year seemed really optimistic. But lo and behold, they arrived this year with 4 complete guns. The guns are not ready to shoot yet, as they are still in need of final tweaking and finalizing, but the progress is remarkable and the final product is definitely in sight. I stopped by their booth several times, and it usually several people deep in interested buyers. I think this rifle will be really successful. They are projecting a ship date of June, which will provide a few more months to get everything polished and finalized.

I was able to meet a lot of very cool folks who rear the web site and follow my YouTube and Full30 channels, and  that was a real pleasure. Thanks to everyone who introduced themselves!

Swedish Hamilton Trials Pistol (Video)

The Hamilton was a handgun entered into the Swedish military pistol trials of 1903, where it competed against guns like the Luger and Colt/Browning 1903. The Hamilton was a simply blowback action chambered for 6.5mm Bergmann, although it did have the interesting and unusual feature of a bolt which pivoted on a round path during recoil rather than traveling linearly.

The Hamilton’s loss in military trials to the Colt 1903 is not particularly surprising, as it was heavy, underpowered, and rather awkward to handle. It never saw commercial sale on any scale, either.

Edited to add: A Swedish collector contacted me with some addition details about the trials that the Hamilton participated in. There were more pistols entered than I had realized, including several different types of Colt and Browning designs which are easily confused. The full list of entrants is:

  • DWM Luger in .30 Luger
  • Browning M1900 in .32 ACP
  • Colt/Browning M1903 in .380 Browning Short (.380 ACP)
  • Mannlicher (presumably M1900) in 7.63mm Mannlicher
  • Mannicher carbine-pistol in 7.63mm Mannlicher
  • Hamilton in 6.5mm Bergmann
  • Browning M1903 in .380 Browning Long
  • Frommer in 8mm
  • Russian Nagant M1895 in 7.62mm Nagant
  • Swedish Nagant M1887 in 7.5mm Nagant

 

The World Standard Maxim Gun

From 1887 onward, the gun Hiram Maxim was producing was what he called the World Standard. He had finally perfected the machine gun design to his satisfaction in 1887 and with this design in hand he began to aggressively market it to the world’s militaries. One immediate complication was the ongoing shift from large caliber (typically 11mm) black powder cartridges to the new smaller-caliber smokeless rounds. Because of the significant difference in recoil characteristics between the two, adapting the gun to this new cutting-edge ammunition took more than the minor changes which had been involved in using different black powder rounds.

"World Standard" Maxim

“World Standard” Maxim on a wheeled carriage

Mainly, the issue was that the smaller and lighter bullets produced less recoil, and to the working parts of the gun had to be lightened – changes like reducing barrel diameter. With this worked out, however, Maxim was in a good position to put guns into real production – in 1888 he had formally merged his company with that of Thorsten Nordenfelt. Nordenfelt had a large factory and a well-recognized name, but his manually-operated gun was becoming obsolete. The merger between the two was actually orchestrated by Basil Zaharoff, who had been sales agent for Nordenfelt but recognized the superiority of the Maxim gun.

At any rate, the new Maxim-Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company began filling orders all over the world. The sales books from 1888 and 1889 include these contracts:

  • Austria – 131 guns
  • Imperial East Africa – 2 guns
  • British War Office – 120 guns (plus additional smaller contracts)
  • France – 32 guns
  • British North Borneo Company – 1 gun
  • British Admiralty – 5 guns
  • Netherlands – 1 gun
  • Congo – 3 guns
  • Italy – 26 guns
  • Spain – 1 gun
  • Argentina – 1 gun
  • Natal (South Africa) – 2 guns
  • Singapore – 4 guns

The price of the guns at this time varied depending on features and accessories (they were all made to order), but was typically around £200-£300, depending on volume. In 2015 US dollars, that would be approximately $30,000-$45,000 per gun. This was not cheap hardware! These small orders were enough to keep the company afloat, especially in combination with continued production of Nordenfelt guns.

This “World Standard” gun had a number of distinctive features, the most obvious being its brilliantly polished brass water jacket – as well as a number of other brass parts. Brass was easier to cast and machine, and so for complex shapes that did not have to withstand high pressure, it made a much more appealing material than steel. For this reason, the early guns used brass for the grip assembly, feed block, water jacket, and more. As the World Standard gave way to more modern versions of the gun in later years the brass would slowly disappear piece by piece.

DSCF2223

These early Maxims also had a wooden roller built into the feed block to keep the belt running smoothly. This was later dropped as being unnecessary.

The World Standard also used a different style of crank handle than we are used to seeing today, in which two flat plates slammed together when the rearward recoil of the bolt assembly was translated into rotational movement to unlock and cycle.

Note the flat-faced crank handle.

Note the flat-faced crank handle.

I had an opportunity to get a bunch of photos of an 1896-made example of the World Standard. Note that its wheeled mount was made by Vickers, Sons, & Maxim which dates it to 1897 or later – but it is the same pattern of carriage that was being made previously by Maxim-Nordenfelt.