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The Vault

Ole Krag’s Experimental Pistol: Made By Norinco

In 1908, Ole Krag (the same man associated with the Krag-Jorgensen rifle) applied for a US patent on an automatic pistol design. This design, along with many others, would be submitted to the Norwegian military pistol trials taking place around that time, and would fail to in them (the winner was the Norwegian copy of the Browning 1911, which was adopted as the M1914). Krag’s pistols never did go into serial production at the time, although he made quite a variety of prototypes. Here are a few of them:

Krag experimental pistol

A few of Ole Krag’s prototype semiauto pistols

One feature that immediately jumped out at me when I saw this photo was the use of the front of the trigger guard to rack the slide of the gun. Ever since I found myself a JoLoAr I’ve been interested in guns with that functionality. Well, when I dug up a copy of Krag’s US patent (#954,441) I found two surprises.

First, Krag put more thought and effort into single-handed operation than the other such designs that exist (like the Lignose Einhand). He was specifically incorporating the feature to simplify use of his pistol as a single-loader, which was a popular idea with many military forces at the time. One will notice magazine cutoffs on a great many service rifles from before WWI, and it was not an unknown feature on autoloading handguns as well (the Webley 1913, for example, had a second magazine catch to keep the ammunition from feeding). The Krag design did not have a way to hold a magazine in reserve, but it was intended to be as fast as possible to the shooter to use with single rounds after emptying the magazine. By requiring only one hand to both hold the gun and operate the slide, the other hand could be used to supply single cartridges quickly and easily. To supplement this, Krag incorporated a mechanism into the gun so that when the slide had locked open on an empty magazine, pulling the trigger would depress the magazine follower, thus allowing the slide to close. A second trigger pull would then fire the chambered round, which would cause the slide to lock open again.

All in all, a clever (if overly complex) solution to a problem that really was better addressed by providing more magazines to the shooter. But it was 1910 or so, and we will forgive Krag for not recognizing that (interestingly, the Krag-Jorgensen rifle is also unusually well-suited to loading single rounds). The other surprise I found in the patent is a bit perplexing. Here is the initial diagram included in the patent. Note that there appears to be a very clear hole in the bottom of the barrel, just ahead of the chamber:

Krag experimental pistol patent drawing

Krag experimental pistol patent drawing- note the gas port just ahead of the chamber.

Now, Krag’s patent description makes no mention of this gas port whatsoever. He only gives the actual operating mechanism of the gun a single sentence, which basically says that recoil energy pushes the slide back, as is well understood in pistol design (blowback operation). However, when I saw that port alongside the trigger guard racking mechanism, I immediately thought of the Norinco M77B. Released in the early 1990s and only imported into the US in small numbers before Norinco imports were restricted, it has both of these same features. Could it be that someone in Norinco stumbled on Krag’s patent and decided it would be a good gun to put into production?

Krag experimental autoloader and Norinco M77B

One of Krag’s experimental autoloaders (left) and a Norinco M77B (right)

There are a few obvious differences – the magazine release (heel for the Krag; button for the Norinco), the Krag hammer being changes to a Norinco striker, and the Norinco safety lever for example. But these are relatively superficial, and it seems like a rather unlikely coincidence that both guns would share the relatively unusual gas-delayed blowback operating mechanism and the very unusual trigger-guard-cocking device.

Since I don’t have any photo of the internals of any of Krag’s experimental pistols, the next best thing I can do is provide a bunch of photos of the inside of the M77B. If Norinco did indeed use Krag’s patent as the basis for the M77B, they did make some rational modifications to it. Most notably, the Norinco is devoid of all the extra pieces to allow a trigger pull to depress the follower and close the slide. Instead, the M77B has a very typical modern slide release lever ahead of the safety.

Since it uses a fixed barrel, disassembly of the Norinco is simple. Rotate the safety lever so it is pointing straight down (there is no marking for this position), and then pull the slide all the way back and lift it upwards off the frame. The gas-delay system is then immediately recognizable from the small gas piston fixed to the front of the slide. This piston rests in a cylinder fixed to the frame, which has a gas port leading into the barrel just ahead of the chamber. When the gun fires, high-pressure gas fills that chamber, pushing the piston forward. That forward force acts against the rearward force that would normally operate a blowback pistol, and keeps the slide safely closed until the bullet leaves the barrel and pressure levels drop. The same basic mechanism is used in the H&K P7 series, and a few other less common pistols (it was also the mechanism used in the German VG1-5 rifle). I would be very interested to see inside Krag’s actual prototypes to see if they use this system, or if these features in the patent drawing were abandoned for some other system.


US Model 45A

by Tom Laemlein

A couple of years ago, I wrote a short article for Small Arms Review magazine on the strangely futuristic “Model 45A”, which was the subject of a group of photos by a US Army photographer.  Apparently this rifle was a one-off developed by a group of Army Ordnance men stationed in the Philippines during 1945, and as bizarre as its modern features the Model 45A attracted the attention of a Signal Corps photographer.  The rifle ended up being the subject of at least two “photo-shoots” in immediate post-war Manila.

Model 45A being examined in the Manila Ordnance Technical office (October 1945)

Model 45A being examined in the Manila Ordnance Technical office (October 1945)

Although there is no way to know for sure, it is unlikely that Model 45A was actually capable of firing.  That has been the opinion of several gun writers—at least given the only evidence we have, which are the photos. Consensus of opinion on the Model 45A has been consistent in at least one aspect:  the rifle concept presents many forward-thinking ideas in small arms design.  The elusive idea of creating an infantry arm that fulfills multiple roles using the same cartridge was alive and well in 1945.

Here’s a short breakdown on what I see in this design:  The Model 45A is a modern-looking “Bullpup” design, with a noticeably long barrel.  A Browning Automatic Rifle magazine has been used and we can safely assume that the Model 45A was chambered for standard .30 caliber ammunition.  The pistol grip is futuristic looking for 1945, but the receiver cover looks rather crude and flimsy, and this is likely why the Model 45A is probably not a live gun.  The scope integrated inside the carry handle (very much reminiscent of a modern Steyr-AUG design) is unidentified.  The Model 45A is even equipped to launch the M9A1 anti-tank rifle grenade.  Produced in the Philippines, it carries with it that country’s long history of hand-made firearms and unique designs.

Model 45A, barrel being removed

Model 45A, barrel being removed

As a photo researcher, I found it quite curious that so many photos were taken of the Model 45A, and that the official captions on the Signal Corps images provided so much information (such as it was) about the rifle.  Ultimately, it had the “feel” of a marketing effort.  Apparently the Ordnance crew that developed this concept didn’t realize that any designs you come up with while in the employ of Uncle Sam are destined to be US Government property without additional compensation to the designer.  If they had dreamed of financial gain by selling the plans of the Model 45A to the Army, it never happened—and never really had any chance of happening anyway.

I find the futuristic appearance of the weapon to be particularly interesting, and the Model 45A goes to prove an important point:  American ingenuity knows no bounds!

If ever there was a “forgotten weapon” it is the Model 45A.  Maybe one of the readers of this site can share shed some more light on this fascinating concept, developed in the field all those years ago. 

Tom Laemlein runs Armor Plate Press, a military history publishing company that specializes in producing photo studies of 20th Century weapons systems. Find his work at www.armorplatepress.com.

Reed Knight’s Experimental 1903 Semiauto

I saw this rifle when I visited Reed Knight’s Institute of Military Technology a while back, but didn’t have a chance to examine it. Well, he took it off the wall for a video segment with Jerry Miculek, and it’s definitely worth watching:

As I recall from asking about it at the time, there is no definitive evidence of exactly who made this conversion or when it was done, although the quality of the work is excellent. Springfield Armory has documented the attempts at developing a semiauto 1903 conversion, although they may not have included designs that failed to gain enough official notice (you can read their history here, in PDF form). Of the three designs that were recorded, this could theoretically be either a Young or a Hammond (same Grant Hammond who designed an unsuccessful challenger to the M1911). The third, the Smith-Condit, is definitely not this rifle (I will be writing up an article on that design next week). I have been unable to find any description, drawing, or photo of the Young system, so I can’t comment on it. The Hammond design was patented (download the patent here), but it is difficult to say if that matches the rifle in Knight’s collection, because details often changed between patent drawing and working model, and because of the lack of mechanical detail shown in the video.

Around the turn of the century there was a tremendous amount of interest by many governments in converting bolt action rifles into semiautomatics as a way to get the new technology without having to scrap all their existing rifles and buy new ones (a similar interest existed 50 years or so earlier, to convert percussion guns to use metallic cartridges, and before that to convert flintlocks to percussion locks). Most of the attempts had about as much practicality as this one, but most did so with a rather lower standard of workmanship.

To the best of my knowledge none of these types of conversions were ever accepted and mass-produced by any government or military force as an infantry rifle (though the Australians did make a significant number of Charltons as light machine guns). Here are a few other examples of the idea that I have covered previously:

Snabb semiauto conversion

Steyr M1888/90 semiauto conversion

Howell automatic rifle

Charlton automatic rifle

Huot automatic rifle

P14 semiauto conversion


Ohio Ordnance M1918A3 Semiauto BAR (Video)

I’ve written a fair amount about the BAR, so I won’t belabor the point here – if you would like more to read, check out my general history of the BAR and comparison between the M1918 and M1918A2. What I’d like to add to that today is some video I took with an Ohio Ordnance M1918A3 semiauto-only model. Between talking about the history of the gun, its use and modifications, and then disassembling it and examining the operating mechanism, this turned into a somewhat longer video than I usually prefer – but hopefully folks will find it interesting and informative (and maybe even entertaining)…

Selling a few guns… (prices reduced a bit)

Turns out I’m going to need to upgrade my laptop in order to run good editing software for my new, higher-quality video files. So, I’m selling off a handful of guns to help finance the new computer. Full disclosure; none of these are really outstanding specimens – they all need some work or have issues. But they may resonate with some folks here.

Continue reading Selling a few guns… (prices reduced a bit)

Experimenting with the Quadcopter

My new quadcopter camera arrived a few days ago, and I’ve been getting some practice flying it and experimenting with different camera angles and type of shots. Here’s a brief compilation of the progress so far:

Vintage Saturday: Testing

West German soldier test firing an Armalite AR-10 (designated G4) during trial at Meppen in 1957

This rifle is too light and svelte. Let’s wait 50 years until it gets popular again with a couple pounds more rail.

West German soldier test firing a Dutch-made Armalite AR-10 (designated G4) during trial at Meppen in 1957. It lost out to the G1 FAL, which in turn was replaced by the H&K G3 when licensing issues developed for the FAL.

Russian RG-6 Grenade Launcher and German Repair Depot Footage

Something new and something old today…

RG-6 40mm grenade launcher

RG-6 40mm grenade launcher

From long-time contributor Hrachya, we have a Russian manual for the RG-6 grenade launcher. This is a pretty recent design, having gone into production in the 1990s. It fires the same 40mm caseless grenades used by the older GP-25 underbarrel unit found mounted on AK rifles, and has a 6-round rotary cylinder. The cylinder is manually wound up during loading, like the Manville gas gun or the modern US/South African Milkor grenade launcher. In fact, the RG-6 appears to be largely (although not entirely) copied from the Milkor. I had a chance to visit the factory where those are manufactured, and you can see the tour here:

At any rate, this RG-6 manual is all in Russia, with a handful of diagrams and photos towards the back for those of us who can’t read it. Thanks, Hrachya!

RG-6 Manual (Russian)

RG-6 Manual (Russian)

For folks who aren’t interested in something that new, I also have a neat piece of video showing artillery being repaired in a German WWI arms repair depot in 1916. Posted by the Bundesarchiv (a fantastic collection of wartime photography), it comes to us form Keith, via a post at PracticalMachinist.com.


Book Review: United States Martial Pistols and Revolvers

United States Martial Pistols and Revolvers, by Arcadi GluckmanPre-WWI American handguns are an area that I am pretty weak in, and I’m working to remedy that. One of the initial resources I picked up was Arcadi Gluckman’s United States Martial Pistols and Revolvers. Originally printed in 1939, it is a pretty good reference for the title subject – especially considering the price.

Arcadi Gluckman was a retired Colonel of the US Army, and an avowed “gun crank” (“gun nut,” we would say today) who saw a need for a good reference on American military handguns and decided to write it himself. The result was a remarkably well rounded book – each chapter includes some initial historical context, the relationship between the government and the various arms manufacturers, and then detailed information on each firearm, including dimensions and markings. The book was reprinted without significant changes through the 1960s – my 1977 copy of Flayderman’s Guide refers to it as “the basic guidebook to the field.”

The biggest shortcoming is the illustrations. The book contains 29 photographic plates (all at the end), each showing four to six different pistols. Each pistol is presented only once, so you never get to see both sides, and the pictures are black and white and fairly small. It is only because of the quality of the gun descriptions that the poor photographs are not a hindrance in trying to identify a particular piece.

The book is divided into two parts – single shot pistols and repeaters. The single shot section is further divided into chapters on flintlocks, percussion pistols, cartridge pistols, and secondary martial pistols. The first three of those are obvious (and the single shot cartridge pistol chapter is quite short, containing just three Remingtons and a single Springfield experimental model), but the fourth is worth explaining. Gluckman defines primary martial pistols as ones which were made by government arsenals or under major contract for standard issue to military forces. That, of course, leaves a great many designs made in much smaller numbers on emergency contracts, in hope of military sale, or for individual states or militias – those are the secondary martial pistols. While not of the large-scale historical importance like the standard-issue designs, those secondaries are just as interesting (often more interesting, in my opinion) to the collector and scholar. Gluckman includes more than 40 of these secondary single shot designs, including ones like the Hall breechloading pistols (both bronze and iron) and Lindsay two-shot percussion pistol. The information presented on the secondary guns is, understandably, much less detailed than that on the primary issue models.

The second section of the book, as I said, covers repeaters – revolvers and semiautomatic handguns. Let me begin by touching on the semiauto chapter. It is short, perfunctory, and really of minimal value. It has one short page each on the Grant-Hammond and Savage (more information on both is readily available on the ‘net today), and nothing on the Remington M53. The sections on the Colt 1902 and 1911 are fine, but today there are a plethora of outstanding resources on these (and the other Colt automatic variants), and Gluckman has nothing to add to them. And that’s fine, really – the reason to have this book is for its coverage of the older guns, not the semiautos.

There are two chapters on revolvers, splitting them between percussion guns and cartridge guns. The major designs (Colt and S&W) have a fair bit of information, while most of the others (several dozen of them) have about a page each. As with the first section of the book, each of those entries include mechanical specifications as well as typical markings.

Overall, I find United States Martial Pistols and Revolvers to be a good introductory reference to its subject. It provides a very useful overview of the pistol development and military use in the United States, which can be then followed up with more detailed research on individual makes and models. Without a high-altitude overview like Gluckman’s, it is difficult to know where to begin on the subject, and how much significance each particular gun should be credited with. The best part is that while it is long out of print today, there are plenty of copies available on Amazon as cheap as $5 plus shipping. At that price, there is absolutely no reason not to add this volume to your library.

North China Type 19

Many years prior to the attack on the US Navy that marks the beginning of World War II for the United States, the Empire of Japan had invaded China. This war of occupation was a massive effort on the part of Japan’s military, involving more than 2 million troops at its height. When the war spread into the Pacific in 1941, the siphoning off of seasoned troops to fight on the new front presented a significant logistical problem of the Imperial Army – how could it maintain the necessary troop strength in China while also fighting the Americans? The answer was to increase the use of native Chinese troops under a series of puppet governments – between 500,000 and 900,000 men. Many of these men were undoubtedly poorly trained and poorly equipped, but the could at least perform duties like guarding railroads, thus freeing up the more skilled and experienced Japanese troops for places they could be more effectively used.

Poorly equipped or not, these Chinese soldiers would need some sort of guns. Arms captured from the enemy Nationalists and the KMT were one way Japan could cheaply arm them, but more was required. At some point (we are not sure exactly when), five Chinese manufacturing concerns began to manufacture rifles for the Japanese to issue to Chinese troops. These rifles were basically copies of the Type 30 Arisaka carbine (aka “hook safety”) but chambered for the 8mm Mauser cartridge. The 8mm was a common cartridge in China at the time, and its use would have made good logistical sense for the Japanese to provide (the Japanese controlled arsenal at Tientsin manufactured both 6.5mm Japanese and 8mm Mauser ammunition for many years during the war).

This first set of rifles is known to the collecting community as the North China Type 30 (you can see a good set of photos of one here), although it is not known what the rifle’s official Japanese designation was – there are very few records available regarding these guns, and much of the history is supposition based on the characteristics of documented rifles. The North China Type 30 was a reasonably high quality rifle – the workmanship was not as good as the Japanese homeland arsenals, but it was not a “last ditch” rifle, so to speak. It had a flip-up ladder sight like the true Type 30, and the receiver was marked with the emblem of a cherry blossom (not the Imperial chrysanthemum). In total, an estimated 38,500 of these North China Type 30 carbines were made (all carbines; no full length rifles).

North China Type 19

North China Type 19

By 1944, it appears that the need to supply Japanese troops in northern China had become more urgent than supplying the Chinese puppet troops, and these Chinese concerns that had been making the North China Type 30 changed their tooling up to make the North China Type 19 instead. This was a more modern Type 38 copy, chambered for the 6.5mm Japanese cartridge. While 8mm was easily available in China, official Japanese Army supplies did not use it – the 6.5mm had always been the predominant cartridge used in Chinese fighting (the 7.7mm saw much more use in the Pacific than in China). Despite being copied from the Type 38 carbine, the North China Type 19 retained a distinctive “pot belly” stock design. They also had the same cherry blossom crest on the receiver, although it was now paired with a series of 5 kanji that translate to “North China Type 19″ (hoku – ushi – shiki – ichi – ku).

North China Type 19 receiver markings

Cherry blossom and “North China Type 19″ markings

While the Type 30 copies appear to have been fairly uniform in construction, the Type 19 shows significant degradation as the war neared its end. The best quality North China Type 19 rifles have flip-up ladder sights, typical sling swivels, a blued finish, and knurled safety knobs. Others, however, show all the same cost-reducing modifications that are seen on late Type 99 Arisakas. We have a set of photographs of a very late example below, which has a flat safety, crude fixed rear notch sight, wooden buttplate, no sling swivels, and overall very crude workmanship. The finish on this rifle is in fact just a coat of black paint – it is in remarkably good condition, but you can see where bits have flaked off in some of the photos.

Like some typical Arisakas, this Type 19 exhibits both a serial number on the receiver sidewall and a 3-digit assembly number on the significant parts. The serial number and assembly number are not related, and so this should not be mistaken for a mismatched gun. Here are the numbered parts on this particular example:

Little else is known about the North China Type 19, including exactly who made them and where (the best guess right now is Beijing), how many were made, who they were issued to, and so on. Considering the chaos in China from fighting the Japanese and then a civil war, it is unlikely that we will ever find definitive records on these rifles. They are quite rare in the US, and typically command substantial prices if sellers know what they are.


Allan, White, and Zelinski. The Early Arisakas. AK Enterprises, Palm Coast FL, 2006. Frank Allan also has written a massive book on the Type 38 which I have not yet acquired, but which does include a section on the North China Type 19. It can be ordered direct from the author at Castle-Thunder.com.