The Colt 1847 Walker revolver was a massive 4 1/2 pound handgun made for Samuel Walker of the US Mounted Rifles (he also served with the Texas Rangers) as a way to equip mounted troops with greater firepower than single-shot carbines. The Walker was the first true martial handgun made by Colt, and despite its problems (nearly a third of the guns procured by the military would be returned to Colt for repairs, and more than a few literally blew up) it would save Colt from bankruptcy after the commercial failure of his Paterson revolver of 1836.
Only 1100 of these guns were mad, 1000 for the military and a further 100 for commercial sale. The military ones were issued to 5 companied of Mounted Rifles, and can be identified by their factory unit marks for Companies A through E (this particular gun is a Company A one). Roughly half of them were delivered in time to see active use in the Mexican-American War, but all of them would see use for many years later in the hands of the US military, the Texas Rangers, the Confederate military, and in civilian hands. The design would evolve into the Colt Dragoon revolvers and ultimately lead to the 1851 Navy and 1860 Army designs – arguably the most iconic muzzle loading revolvers ever made.
Did you know that the French Army issued more than 80,000 semiautomatic rifles during WWI? They had been experimenting with a great many semiauto designs before the war, and in 1916 finalized a design for a rotating bolt, long stroke gas piston rifle (with more than few similarities to the M1 Garand, actually) which would see field service beginning in 1917. An improved version was put into production in 1918, but too late to see any significant combat use.
The RSC 1917 was not a perfect design, but it was good enough and the only true semiauto infantry rifle fielded by anyone in significant numbers during the war.
The Madsen LMG is of particular interest to me because it is both a very mechanically unusual design and also a very early successful design. Madsen light machine guns were first used in combat in the Russo-Japanese War, saw use in both World Wars, and continued to be used by various forces (the Brazilian police being a notable example) until quite recently. Mechanically, the Madsen is a falling block type of action, which allows it to use a very short receiver (since there is no need for space for a bolt to travel forward and backward). Today I figured we would spend time pulling apart a live registered Madsen (a dealer sample, unfortunately) to examine its working parts.
However, after only 800 had been sold, Colt backed out of the deal and dropped the Z40 from its catalog. Why? Because they had happened to use a Z40 as the base gun for a model “smart gun”, and the public reaction was overwhelmingly negative. In the aftermath, Colt management threw out the Z40 as the proverbial baby in the bathwater, simply because it had been tarnished by the PR of the smart gun debacle.
CZ, for its part, made a few tweaks to the design (primarily replacing the DA-only lockwork with the DA/SA system for the CZ-75) and released it on their own as the CZ-40. This particular gun at Rock Island is in fact serial number 1 of the Colt Z40…
Along with his two semiauto rifle prototypes, when White went to England for rifle testing he took along a work-in-progress light machine gun. The weapon was trsted by British officials, but found wanting – largely because it was really not a weapon ready for testing. The “LMG” White built was actually semiautomatic only, although it fired from an open bolt. It used what appears to be an early iteration of the gas system which was much more refined in his selfloading rifle, and it included no provision for using a bipod or tripod (an essential element of a light machine gun).
This toggle-locking rifle chambered for the .30-06 cartridge is the second of two rifles submitted by White for the 1930 US military trials. It was not actually tested by the US, but White did take it to the UK where it was tested in the early 1930s. British officials liked that it was a positively locked action (unlike Pedersen’s toggle rifle, which was delayed blowback), but found it too fragile for combat use.
One of the competitors against the Garand and Pedersen rifles in the 1929 and 1930 US Army trials was the White rifle. White actually submitted two rifles, but only this gas-operated design was actually tested – and it failed to make enough of an impression to move on for further testing. However, White’s gas system would come back 20 years later to be used in the M14 rifle.
A while back I put together a video on the development of the Colt/Browning 1911 pistol, and one of the missing links in that video was the Model 1909. Well, one of the 23 Model 1909 pistols is up for sale in this next Rock Island auction, so I took the opportunity to look at it more closely. The 1909 is the point where many of the distinctive elements of the 1911 first appear, including the grip safety, push-button magazine release, and the swinging link, tilting barrel operating mechanism. However, it still retains several of the elements of the early Colt/Browning pistols, like the nearly vertical grip and the lack of a thumb safety. Given that only 23 were made (and by the time the Army was actually testing them, Browning was already busy on the improved 1910 version), they are not the sort of gun you come across every day…
The Liberator is one of those interesting artifacts of WWII; an extremely simple single-shot .45 caliber pistol made by the boxcar-load (a million, specifically) with the intention of being dropped en masse across Europe to promote civilian sabotage against German occupation forces. They were manufactured by the Guide Lamp division of GM in record time – just 10-11 weeks for a literal million-gun production run. However, as they were being manufactured, shipped, and put into storage the motivation behind the project largely evaporated. British SOE ultimately decided not to distribute any in France, and only distributed a small number to partisans in Greece.
In the US, the Army stockpile of Liberators was transferred to the OSS, and a fair number were actually distributed in India, China, and the Philippine Islands – although they did not ultimately have any measurable impact on the war effort.
The Franchi SPAS-12 (Sporting Purpose Automatic Shotgun) is a dual-action police shotgun produced in Italy between 1979 and 2000, and imported into the US until 1994. It can be operated either as a semiautomatic or a manual pump action, as a way to allow rapid semiautomatic fire with buckshot or similar ammunition but also function manually with lower pressure less-lethal types of ammunition (rubber slugs, beanbags, tear gas, etc). The gun was purchased by a decent number of law enforcement agencies, but it is far better known for its use in movies and video games, where its distinctive military styling makes it very popular with designers and prop masters.
Still, there are a couple interesting elements worth looking at on the SPAS-12. For one thing, they were subject to a safety recall for a safety selector which could sometimes cause the gun to fire when being switched from safe to fire. And, of course, there is that hook thing on the stock. What’s that for, anyway? I’ll show you…