The Vault

Vintage Saturday: Mountaineer

Alpine soldier with a PPSh-41 submachine gun

Join the Army; see the world (photo from

Not sure which army exactly, but he has a PPSh-41 (or copy) and plenty of rope…

Book Review: The Burgess Long Range Repeating Rifle Model 1878

Burgess Long Range Repeating Rifle Model 1878I’ve been getting curious to learn more about Andrew Burgess and his seldom-recognized guns, and took a look to see what books might be available on the subject. As it turns out, there are basically only two – one is readily available and inexpensive, and the other is out of print and costs more than I would like to spend on a book I have not been able to leaf through already.

The available volume is Dale Olson’s The Burgess Long Range Repeating Rifle Model 1878 and Other Related Stories, published just a few years ago in (appropriately) Wyoming. For the price, it is a good reference, although I suspect the unavailable book (Samuel Maxwell’s Lever Action Magazine Rifles, Derived from the Patents of Andrew Burgess) would have significantly more technical detail. This is a review of Olson’s book, but I think it is important to put it in the appropriate context. Olson’s work is approximately 160 pages long, and half of that space is used to list the serial numbers and primarily characteristics of the known surviving examples of Burgess, Kennedy, and Scharf rifles. The remaining 80 pages include biographies of Andrew Burgess, Eli Whitney, and Eli Whitney Jr. (Whitney’s factory produced Burgess rifles in several forms), a developmental history of the Burgess 1878, a brief history of the Burgess Gun Company, and anecdotes of interesting individual Burgess rifles. The most detailed of these is an extended story of a frontiersman named W.F. “Bear” Davis, who was particularly known for an incident which left his Burgess rifle with teeth marks in the forearm, Davis with a bitten hand, and a bear shot thoroughly dead.

While I wish that the book were longer, I must say that Olson did a pretty good job balancing his content between the technical, the historical, and the cultural. There is enough mechanical detail here to inform the gunsmithing types, while also having a good amount of context and background of how Burgess influenced the whole world of gunmaking at the time (and clear through the present day, really). The anecdotal recounting of varied histories of individual Burgess rifles is also appealing, although it is not what I am primarily looking for in a reference book. For the $20 cover price, it’s a good buy – especially considering the dearth of alternatives if you want information on the 1878 Burgess and its relatives.

One thing that Olson makes a good start at (although I would really like to see more detail on the subject) is giving the reader an appreciation for just how widespread Burgess’ influence was. For example, many don’t realize that when Colt stopped making the Colt-Burgess rifle and stepped up production of the Colt Lightning pump-action rifle, it was not a complete loss for Burgess – he had patents licensed for use in the Lightning. Burgess’ patents were used in Schulhof pistols, some Mannlicher rifles, and the Winchester 1893 pump shotgun to name a few. This is truly a man who deserves far more recognition than he had gotten.

Olson has apparently decided not to market his work on Amazon, but I was able to find it in stock at (which has a ton of other books that will be of interest to the collector, shooter, and historian)

Sunngård Automatic Pistol

Harald Sunngård was Norwegian inventor in the early years of the 20th century who noticed a common perceived weakness of automatic pistols: reloads under stress were often bungled by shooters, leaving them vulnerable to return fire without being able to shoot back. Doing the classic inventor thing, Sunngård figured out a solution to the problem – a two-part solution, in fact. The first part of his solution was to use a big magazine and a small cartridge, to maximize magazine capacity. The second part of his solution was to store a spare magazine right in the magazine well of the pistol for immediate use.

Sunngard automatic pistol, 6.5mm

Sunngard automatic pistol, 6.5mm

The grip of the pistol is long enough front-to-back to store two identical magazines. The front magazine sits higher than the rear one, and the boltface on the slide feeds rounds from the front magazine into the chamber. Once the front magazine is empty, the shooter ejects it, and need only slide the rear magazine into the front position (and rack the slide) to continue shooting. There is a misconception that the pistol will fire automatically from both magazines in succession, but this is not true.

In addition to having the handy spare available, Sunngard designed the magazines to hold no fewer than 25 cartridges each (in the more common 6.5mm chambering). This gave the pistol a total of 50 rounds stored on-board, which was a major point in Sunngard’s marketing.

The 6.5mm cartridge designed for the pistol had a 23mm overall length, and used a 19mm case. The projectile was a scant 28.5 grains (1.85 gram), and Sunngard claimed a muzzle velocity of just under 2000 ft/s (600 m/s) – which is almost certainly an exaggeration. There was also an 8mm version of the pistol made in much smaller numbers, which fired an equally light projectile (29gr / 1.88g), and may have gotten closer to the claimed velocity (magazines for the 8mm version held 18 rounds each).

Sunngard pistol patent drawing

Sunngard pistol patent drawing

8mm Sunngard pistol

8mm Sunngard pistol (in Koblenz museum; photo from Norsk Vapenhistorisk Selskap Nr. 143)

The process for moving the spare magazine into position is fairly well described in the patent (attached below). The main magazine catch is basically a heel release on the front edge of the magazine well, and it is pushed back in the typical manner to allow the primary magazine to be removed. Then the rear magazine is pulled slightly forward and down as if to remove it from the gun. The rear magazine is then slid forward into the front position and pushed back up to lock into place on the magazine catch. A pair of small guides (labelled “6″ in the patent drawing above) at the top of the magazine well prevent the magazine from being pushed backwards into the now-empty space for the spare magazine, and these guides are the reason the spare mag must be pulled down and then pushed back up. When initially loading the pistol, the spare magazine is inserted first, and locked back into its compartment (held up by a fixed shelf, “9″). Then the primary magazine is inserted just like in any other pistol.

Sunngard apparently tried hard to market the pistol to a variety of military forces, but found no takers. He was able to get the gun entered into the 1914 Norwegian military trials, where it was bested by the Colt 1911 (we don’t have a testing report from the trials, which would be very interesting to read). If I had to guess based on the general attitudes of the day, I would suspect that Ordnance officers found the reloading process awkward, the cartridge underpowered, and the need for a very high capacity pistol unconvincing.

Mechanically, the Sunngard is pretty simple. It uses a plain blowback action, as no locking system is necessary for its small cartridge. The barrel is fixed to the receiver, and a recoil spring is located around the barrel and inside the barrel shroud/slide.

Technical Specs

Caliber: 6.5mm (also 8mm)
Cartridge: 6.5mm Sunngard (6.5x19mm) (also 8x19mm)
Bullet weight: 28.5 gr (1.85g)
Overall length: 8.0in (203mm)
Barrel length: 6.2in (158mm)
Height: 5.3in (135mm)
Weight unloaded: 26.8oz (760g) (28oz/800g for the 8mm variant)
Weight loaded: 33.8oz (960g)


US Patent 972,087 (Harald Sunngard, “Automatic Firearm”, October 4, 1910)

Reader Questions #3: StG Bolt Markings, FG-42 Chamber, Importing Surplus Arms

I only have two questions this week – if you have something you’re curious about, don’t be shy! Email me at and ask away, so we have enough question to keep this going as a regular feature. Questions don’t have to be super exotic – remember that if you are wondering about something, there are likely a bunch of other people who would like to know the answer as well.

Question #1

First up for today is from a fellow who has a live and registered MP43 with an unusual bit of engraving on the bottom surface of the bolt (visible when looking up through the magazine well:

MP43 Bolt marked "KAPSA"

MP43 Bolt marked “KAPSA”

I showed the photo to a couple acquaintances who are generally considered experts on the MP43/44/StG44 series of rifles, and nobody was able to identify it. The overall conclusion was that it is not of WWII German origin, and likely not of any formal military origin. The word “KAPSA” isn’t something a German word, and doesn’t fit and known acronym or abbreviation used by Germany (or East Germany, post-war). In addition, the style of the engraving is much too decorative to have been a wartime element. It seems most likely that the engraving was done by an individual gunsmith in the US, although the reason  for it is not clear. Perhaps this was an owner’s name? Unfortunately, we can’t say with any degree of certainty.

Question #2

The M60 had a longer operating rod did this remove the need for the “fancy chamber” on the Fg42, if so how did SMG Guns manage to avoid said chamber without a longer action. Is there gas port enlarged i.e. to lose more gas in relation to it’s muzzle velocity or?

This was something I asked Rick at SMG when I first got my hands on one of their FG-42 rifles. When Louis Stange originally designed the gun, he had to go through some geometric gymnastics to design a special chamber that would allow the cartridge case to maintain a seal during the first bit of extraction, so as to keep the rifle from being damaged by the high-pressure gas in the chamber at that moment. SMG decided to make an attempt to redesign the action for a normal chamber, so that they could use regular barrels and also to avoid making fired brass unusable. Talking to Rick, it is clear that it wasn’t a simple or quick process to make that adaptation.

The thing to remember is that the FG-42 was developed extremely quickly, and the farther the development got, the more dire Germany’s need for the rifles. SMG had the luxury of being able to experiment with the action without the distraction of aerial bombing, They also spent more time on the reproduction than the Germans spent designing the originals – so they were able to refine it to a level that Stange and his team simply didn’t have the opportunity to get to. That process involved a lot of trial and error, and was not a single lone change or adjustment. SMG tinkered with the bolt and op-rod weights, recoil spring strength and size, firing pin strength and size, gas port size, and even more minute elements like cupping the face of the gas piston rather than having it flat. The result was an action balanced to function safely and effectively using a normal chamber and the same gas port location as on the original guns.

Questions #3

I have always been intrigued about where arms importers find all this vintage equipment. I have this image in my mind of a forgotten warehouse in a second-level European military district crammed full of dusty crates storing Cosmoline smeared rifles that have not seen the light of day in 55 years. And if it was not for the new military base commander needing more space for the latest acquisitions from the Ministry of Defense, this rusting steel warehouse and its contents would continue to sit day after day awaiting discovery.

Are there public notices in obscure military logistics publications that are issued by the foreign military authorities for approved arms importers who get to inspect and bid on all of this wonderful and musty stuff? Or is the answer something more obscure…

You have mostly the right idea, although the motive for countries to sell is more often money than lack of space. Regulations today prevent much of the type of importation that has fueled the surplus arms business here in the past, but it’s basically about knowing the right person and having money to spend. What typically happens (or happened) is that a importer would learn through a network of personal connections which government might be willing to part with some old arms for the right price, and figure out who had the authority to make a deal. Then approach that person with cash in hand and negotiate an arrangement that works for both parties.

One of the huge importers in the post-WWII era was a vet name Sam Cummings, who started InterArms, and is responsible for bringing in many of the surplus weapons we have today. Among other things, he made a deal with Spain for their entire stock of Spanish Civil War era obsolete arms. There is a book available about Cumming’s work – it’s still on my list to read, but I expect it would be of interest: Deadly Business: Sam Cummings, Interarms, and the Arms Trade. Another more recent example of this type of deal is IMA’s purchase of the Nepalese arms stockpile – dozens of truckloads of old guns, all pulled out of a 5-story, centuries-old palace in Kathmandu that had been basically abandoned as a warehouse. IMA published both a book and DVD of that story entitled Treasure is Where you Find It, which is fascinating (I would recommend the DVD over the book).

And, of course, there is always the occasional company that is importing guns for commercial sale while also being covertly run by the CIA and used to supply arms to various groups that the government wants to support without people knowing about it…like Western Arms/Winfield Arms.

German 75mm Pak-40 AT Gun (Video)

While we normally stick to small arms here, this beast of a gun was just way too impressive for me to not pay attention to. I was at a cannon and machine gun shoot just recently where some folks brought out what is (I believe) the only functional Pak-40 in the United States. And shot it.

The Pak-40 was the backbone of German antitank guns during WWII, and fired a 75mm AP shell out to an effective range of about a mile in a direct-fire role, with enough energy to defeat pretty much any Allied tank except the late-war Russian heavies. It was fairly light weight given its effectiveness, and makes one hell of a concussion when fired. So without further ado, let us take a look…

I am indebted to the owners of the gun for being exceedingly cool people, and letting me take the video footage!

Tomorrow’s Forgotten Weapon: Chiappa Triple Threat

I had the chance to play with a friend’s new Chiappa Triple Threat at the range last week, so I took the opportunity to put together a video. It was intended for a different website, but they already have someone reviewing the gun – so I figured I might as well post it here. It’s not a forgotten weapon yet, but I suspect it will be before too long. Not because the gun is bad – it’s actually quite nice as far as I could tell. But it is definitely a niche market item, and way overpriced.

Chiappa product info: Triple Threat (18.5″ barrel length)

Chiappa product info: Triple Crown (28″ barrel version)


Vintage Saturday: Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

Parabellum 1914 MG in gunnery school, Belgium, 1918

Parabellum 1914 MG in gunnery school, Belgium, 1918 (photo from Drake Goodman)

Book Review: Out of Nowhere

Out of Nowhere by Martin PeglerI have been slowly trying to improve my education on sniper rifles, with the goal of putting together a series of videos on some of the interesting historical ones I have access to. On the recommendation of a friend, Martin Pegler’s Out of Nowhere: A History of the military sniper (General Military) was one of the first reference books I picked up.

Pegler’s book is well written, engaging, and interesting. At 333 pages long, it is able to give pretty decent coverage to a long history of the subject matter. It begins with the advert of rifling itself several centuries ago and proceeds all the up to the present day (it was published in 2006). The bulk of the material is about the First and Second World Wars, of course, with additional chapters on the American Civil War, Vietnam, and the various brushfire conflicts of the Cold War. The coverage of the World Wars is broken up intelligently, with the First split into 1914-1916 and 1916-1918, as the opportunistic and ad-hoc sniping endeavors turned into formal programs with standardized (or at least less varied) equipment. The Second World War is divided into chapters on Russia, Germany on the Eastern front, the Western theater, and the Pacific theater.

What I liked about Out of Nowhere was its ability to put the overall development of military sniping into context, and to explain the ebb and flow of formal sniping programs in military service. What I found more disappointing – because of improper expectations – was the lack is serious detail on specific weapons. Pegler tells his story with anecdote and generality, and rarely with strict developmental details. In the Russian chapter, for example, one will learn about the large scale of Soviet sniper training prior to WWII, its collaboration with German optics manufacturers, its later experience testing weapons and tactics in the Spanish Civil War. The chapter continues with a brief discussion of Finnish sniper experiments, and the Russian hopes for the SVT-40, followed by the adoption of the 91/30 PU. Typical Soviet sniper tactics are discussed, along with the general training program, clothing used, daily life, and the use of female snipers. What one will not find, though, are details like the number of different types of arms fielded, or specific explanations of what led to various changes in arms or equipment.

For many readers, the focus on telling the story of “what was life like as a sniper for [country] in [particular historical period]” is probably a welcome one – and it is certainly valuable material to understand as a foundation for a deeper understanding of specific guns and their strengths, weaknesses, and historical use. It should be understood that it not a rifle collector’s reference book, though, except in pretty broad terms. It makes a fine first book on the topic, to whet the appetite for more details. Nearly every page includes pictures; some vintage scenes and some detailed shots of specific weapons, scopes, or other accessories.

Happily for us (if not Mr. Pegler), it seems to have been printed in overly optimistic quantities, and can be had on Amazon for as little as $3.22 used of $9.99 new. At that price, it should be an obvious addition to the library of any arms or shooting enthusiast.

Excellent History Podcast

I don’t have a Forgotten Weapons post for today (I apologize – a couple more weeks and we should be back to our regular schedule), but instead I’m going to give a hearty recommendation to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Podcast. His audio shows are almost more short books than podcasts, being generally 3-4 hours long, and he has a fantastic ability to really bring historic events to life. If you’re reading this blog, I think there is a very high likelihood that you will find Mr. Carlin thoroughly engaging on subjects from the staggering set of coincidences that set World War One into motion (Gavrilo Princip’s consolation sandwich) to the drama of the Germanic tribes first fighting against and then trying to rebuild the Roman empire in the West (the biker gang called Thor’s Angels).

Check them out – you won’t be disappointed.

Biography: James Paris Lee

James Paris Lee

James Paris Lee

James Paris Lee was a firearms designer whose inventions had a far greater historical significance than even most firearms enthusiasts realize. Where Lee is recognized at all, it is generally for the rifles that bear his name – the Remington-Lee, the 1895 Lee Navy, the Lee-Metford, and (of course) the Lee-Enfield. What most don’t realize is that James Lee was in fact the inventor of the detachable box magazine. His vision of the rifle magazine (and by extension, pistol magazines as well) has remained largely unchanged right up to the present day.

Lee was born on August 9th, 1831 in the southern Scottish town of Hawick to George and Margaret Lee. The family emigrated to Ontario when James was just 4 or 5 years old, and he spent his boyhood growing up in the town of Galt (now called Cambridge). James took naturally to the forests around Cambridge, as well as inheriting his father’s mechanical aptitude (the man worked as a  talented watchmaker and jeweler). What James did not inherit, it seems, was a watchmaker’s dexterity. His developmental years were rather liberally sprinkled with firearms accidents, and he is lucky to have escaped them all without any disabling injuries.

At the age of 12, Lee built his first firearm. He began with a old horse pistol from his father’s collection to get a barrel (long enough to be a rifle for a youngster of 12), and bought a piece of walnut for a penny to carve into a stock. He made a new priming pan out of a half-penny coin, and proceeded to load it up with powder, wad, and a piece of lead hammered into the shape of a bullet. What he did not recognize was than the flash hole in the horse pistol barrel was missing its bushing, and thus significantly oversized. Upon firing (which was accomplished by James aiming the gun at a tree while his brother Jack applied a match to the pan) the gun blew back rather violently, injuring James’ chin.

Not to be dissuaded, Lee continued to be an eager hunter and outdoorsman, and injured himself rather more seriously in a later adolescent camping trip. He was attempting to use some gunpowder to help ignite a campfire, and the resulting explosion left him with severe burns that took several months to recover from. Continuing his streak of bad luck (or bad choices, one might suggest), he managed to accidentally shoot himself in the heel on a hunting excursion. He was 16 years old and out hunting on a cold October day when his shotgun slipped from chilled fingers and discharged upon hitting the ground. The load of shot hit him square in the heel, and by the time he made it back to his home he was in shock and had suffered significant blood loss. That particular incident left him hospitalized for a year and a half. He would walk with a limp and a cane ever after – although his gait (and reportedly his temper) improved 50 years later when a New York doctor removed several leftover pieces of shot from his foot.

In 1848, at the age of 17 and presumably at the end of his recuperation from the wound James was apprenticed formally in his father’s watch shop, and he left a scant 2 years later to open his own shop in Chatham, Ontario. He may have been accident-prone, but he was a clever and able worker. In 1852 or 53 he met and married Caroline Chrysler, and they had a son named William in 1855. Their second son, George, was born in 1859 after the family has moved from Canada to the United States – Janesville, Wisconsin specifically. Lee never did gain US citizenship, although he reportedly did apply for it.

Lee’s first serious forays into forearms design came with the onset of the US Civil War. In 1861 he successfully developed a breech-loading conversion for the Springfield muzzle-loader, for which he was able to wrangle a 1000-unit order in 1864 from the Federal government. He collaborated with Philo Remington among others and set up a factory to produce his rifles in Milwaukee, only to have the contract cancelled with the Confederate surrender. He sued the government for $15,000 in expenses and damages, but was awarded less than half that amount (which was still better than many would-be arms manufacturers made out from the war).

However, Lee’s work with Remington was to develop into a long-time association, and he would work for Remington in Ilion, New York for many years and Remington would be the manufacturer for most of his rifle designs – but not without an initial hiccup.

Lee was awarded patent #221,328 on November 4th, 1879 for the vertical box magazine – thereby solving the serious problem of cartridge detonation in tube magazines. Lee (and other inventors) had been approached by the Sharps Rifle Company in 1876 about development of a magazine, and Lee ultimately made an agreement with them for the manufacture of his new Magazine Rifle (Model 1879). Remington at the time was focused on the Remington-Keene tube-magazine rifle for US Army trials, and presumably was not willing to split its efforts – so Lee left to work with Sharps instead. Here he worked with Hugo Borchardt (yes, that Borchardt) to improve the magazine (and Borchardt was granted a patent for magazine improvements in 1882).

The Lee Magazine Rifle was aggressively marketed by Sharps, and a contract for 300 was obtained from the US Navy. However, on October 18, 1880 the Sharps company went bankrupt, with only the first bit of work being finished on the Navy contract rifle receivers. At this point the Remington-Keene had been proven a failure in military trials, and Lee was able to return to Remington, who would produce his rifles in the US for many years to come.

Lee’s magazine was revolutionary, and virtually all existing bolt action rifles, from the Dreyse to the Murata were experimentally altered to use it. It was so influential that reportedly the Mauser company rented a room above his lodgings in a hotel across the street from Remington’s Ilion plant in order to drill a hole through the floor and spy on his work (although there appears to be no proof this was true). This interest in his magazine system saw Lee (and his wife Caroline) travel to Britain and continental Europe through the 1880s marketing guns, and these trips ultimately led to the British adoption of the Lee rifle in 1887.

Alas, Caroline fell ill and died in London in 1888, and Lee returned to New York, never to travel overseas again. The two of them had been quite close, and Lee never really recovered from her death emotionally. His own death came in 1904, at the age of 71.

James Paris Lee’s legacy lives on today in the millions of Lee-Enfield rifles manufactured on four different continents, and in the box magazine system used almost universally to this day.


Skennerton, Ian. Lee-Enfield Story. Ashmore City, Australia, 1993.

Myszkowski, Eugene. The Remington-Lee Rifle. Excalibur Publications, Latham NY, 1994.