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Book Review: M91/30 Rifles and M38/M44 Carbines in 1941-1945

M91/30 Rifles and M38/M44 Carbines in 1941-1945The full title is actually (deep breath) M91/30 Rifles and M38/M44 Carbines in 1941-1945: Accessories and Devices – History of Production, Development, and Maintenance, by Alexander Yuschenko and translated into English by Ryan Elliot. I saw this book mentioned a few weeks ago on a firearms discussion board, and figured I ought to get a copy, simply because there isn’t all that much English-language published information on the Mosin Nagant in any real depth. I didn’t really know what to expect, and what I got really blew me away.

Collecting Mosins in the US has long been rather like having a group of people exploring in the dark – where original production records on guns like the 1903 Springfield or M1 Garand are readily available to us, such data on the Mosin has been completely lacking thanks to minor political issues like the Cold War. We can only make inferences based on what we can see imported into this country, and those inferences are easily skewed by all sorts of factors. What Alexander Yuschenko has done is actually take original wartime archival documentation and distill it down into a compact and strikingly information-dense account of Mosin-Nagant development and production.

This is not just a series of tables, it is information put into context. For example, Yuschenko explains the process of Mosin production being replaced by semiauto rifle production (the AVS-36, SVT-38, and SVT-40), and then the about-face required when the SVT-40 failed to meet expectations. Not just that, but great juicy details on why the SVT-40 failed, and how troops felt about it and the Mosin comparatively. What were the causes behind inoperative rifles of both types? What were the costs of each to the Soviet government, compared to each other and the other weapons being produced? What was the distribution of the different weapons within typical Red Army units?

The main section book is organized chronologically, looking at events one year at a time. This really shows the reader how the Soviet Union’s situation changed over time, from its optimistic leap to self-loading rifles in 1940 to its desperate relocation of factory infrastructure in 1941 and 42 to its turn toward submachine guns in 1944 and 45. The development of the folding bayonet for the M44 carbine is discussed, including experimental models of M1945 Carbine. The short-lived use of socket blade bayonets is covered. Suppressors and rifle grenades launchers are covered. The entire second chapter is about accessories, like slings, ammunition pouches, and cleaning gear – this allows us to actually see such items in their full context instead of trying to guess at the provenance of random examples that happen to have been imported at one time or another.

Here are just a couple facts that I had not known:

  • In 1941 alone, the Soviet Union lose a staggering 5.5 million rifles and carbines destroyed, captured and otherwise unusable. That is 59% of all they had in inventory as of June of 1941.
  • The standard PU scope mount can actually also be used to mount a PE/PEM optic.
  • A mine detector was developed and used which mounted to the muzzle of a 91/30 rifle, using it as the handle.
  • What all those many little arsenal refurbishment marks actually indicate!

I really cannot recommend this book highly enough for anyone interested in WWII. Whether you are actual a Mosin collector yourself or just want to see a fuller picture of Soviet military history in the Great Patriotic War, Yuschenko’s work is a gold mine of information previously unknown in the English-speaking world.

Unfortunately, it appears that only one printing will be done, and at the time I am writing this the author’s web site indicates that the book is already 75% sold out. It is not available on Amazon, and must be ordered directly through the author’s website, Mosin.info. If you want a copy, I urge you to order one ASAP as I can guarantee they will not last much longer. The price is $30 plus $12 shipping for one copy of $19 shipping for two copies – and expect them to take 3 weeks or so to arrive, as they ship from Ukraine.

I hope that the author will run a second printing when this inevitably sells out, and that he will consider writing more on the subject of Soviet WWII armaments. I would love to see a similar work for any of the other weapons of the USSR!

Detailed Photos: Walther A115 No. 3

I did a video on this very interesting German prototype semiauto rifle a few weeks ago, and took one or two photographs at the same time. The genesis of the Gewehr 41 gas system is clearly visible, and it is also an interesting look at an early attempt at using primarily stamped components for a full-power rifle. Enjoy!

 

French M14 Conversion – the Gras in 8mm Lebel (Video)

The French adopted the Gras as their first mass-issued metallic cartridge rifle in 1874, replacing the needlefire 1866 Chassepot. Quite a lot of Gras rifles were manufactured, and they became a second-line rifle when the 1886 Lebel was introduced with brand-new smokeless powder and its smallbore 8mm projectile. When it became clear that the quick and decisive war against Germany was truly turning into the Great War, France began looking for ways to increase the number of modern Lebel rifles it could supply to the front.

One option that was used was to take Gras rifles from inventory and rebarrel them for the 8mm Lebel cartridge (which was based on the Gras casehead anyway). These could be issued to troops who didn’t really need a top-of-the-line rifle (like artillery crews, train and prison guards, etc). Then the Lebel rifles from those troops could be redirected to the front.

The rebarreling process was done by a number of contractors, using Lebel barrels already in mass production. The 11mm barrel from the Gras would be removed, and only the front 6 inches (150mm) or so kept. A Lebel barrel and rear sight would be mounted on the Gras receiver, and that front 6 inches of Gras barrel bored out to fit tightly over the muzzle of the new 8mm barrel. This allowed the original stock and nosecap to be used (the 8mm barrel being substantially smaller in diameter, and not fitting the stock and hardware by itself). It also allowed the original Gras bayonet to be fitted without modification, since the bayonet lug was also on that retained section of barrel. In addition, a short wooden handguard was fitted. This was designated the modification of 1914, and an “M14” was stamped on the receivers to note it.

These guns are of dubious safety to shoot, since the retain the single locking lug of the Gras, designed for only black powder pressures. However, this was deemed safe enough for the small amount of actual shooting they were expected to do.

Vintage Saturday: Liberators

An old  French couple, M. and Mme. Baloux of Brieulles-sur-Bar, France, under German occupation for four years, greeting soldiers of the 308th and 166th Infantries upon their arrival during the American advance.  November 6, 1918.

An old French couple, M. and Mme. Baloux of Brieulles-sur-Bar, France, under German occupation for four years, greeting soldiers of the 308th and 166th Infantries upon their arrival during the American advance. November 6, 1918. (click to enlarge)

This is a pretty widely-published photo, but it sure is a good one. It also shows very clearly the US’ horrible excuse for a backpack of the time. For the record, the soldier on the left has a Chauchat in 8mm Lebel (sans magazine) and the soldier on the right has an M1903 Springfield rifle.

Review: Inland Reproduction M1 Carbine

A little while back I got my hands on a T&E sample of the new reproduction Inland M1 Carbine, and have spent some time with it. I addition to regular range plinking, I used it for a 2-Gun Action Challenge Match a couple months back (video: 2-Gun – Inland M1 Carbine). I also dragged my friend Karl Kasarda into the review, because he has experience with a bunch of other M1 Carbines, including two years shooting the M1 Carbine match at Camp Perry (gold in 2006; bronze in 2007). We put together a two part review video, which you can see here:

First off, I should clarify that this gun has no direct lineage to the Inland carbines made during WWII. That Inland was a subdivision of General Motors, and these current reproductions are being sold by MKS Supply, which is a firearms distributor with no connection to GM. The Inland firearms trademark appears to have been owned by Chiappa until be recently transferred to an individual. MKS doesn’t say who makes the guns, except to refer to the Inland Manufacturing trademark name.

We had a number of problems with the gun, none of which were particularly surprising – they are issues pretty common to the M1 Carbine. My biggest question was whether the manufacturer had been able to solve the ubiquitous reliability issues of the Carbine. Even good-condition original military examples always seem to have just a little bit of unreliability. Not enough to be considered junk, but enough to convince a decent number of combat vets to look for a better weapon. Unfortunately, the new Inland guns do not appear to have fixed this, at least based on our T&E sample. I got about one malfunction per 50-round box of ammo, using S&B, Tula, and Aguila. The malfunctions were all failures to feed, which could also be attributed to bad magazines – although I had issues with all 5 magazines I used, including the one supplied with the gun. For what it’s worth, that magazine from Inland was an obvious reproduction item, finished with a pretty icky glassy black paint. Why they couldn’t spring for a real USGI magazine to ship with each gun, I don’t know.

The next issue I had with the gun was with the rear sight. Inland has three models (1944, 1945, and M1A1 Paratrooper), which all use the late style of sight which is adjustable for both windage and elevation. It is a self-contained unit mounted into a dovetail on the receiver. On this T&E gun, that unit came loose, and would slide side to side about 1/8 inch (3mm) as I was shooting. In addition, the elevation slider would sometimes move while shooting. The moving elevation slider is a well documented problem with GI carbines as well, but the loose dovetail is a concern. This combination of sight problems cost me a stage at the 2-Gun match. Interestingly, the early production M1 Carbines used a far simpler two-position L-shaped aperture sight with no option for adjustment. The US marksmanship doctrine led to its replacement with a fully adjustable design, which in my opinion is counterproductive for a gun like the M1 Carbine. This is a carbine with a very limited effective range, and a fixed rear sight would not impose any substantial hindrance to shooting it, and would also prevent the problems that manifested on this Inland gun.

Lastly, the Inland is made with all cast parts. That is not automatically a problem – casting today is a totally effective manufacturing method and (especially on an M1 Carbine) is in no way inferior to forging or machining from billet. However, Inland left casting seams on lots of exposed areas and those are frankly a bit ugly. The front sight in particular has a casting seam running right down its front surface, and in the right light it really distracts from your sight picture. For a $1100 gun, I would really like to see that sort of thing given a proper smooth finish to match the originals (which were not cast).

I did not do any accuracy testing with the Inland carbine, because I really wasn’t concerned about accuracy. It shot well enough to get good plate hits at the 2-Gun match, and that’s all I would expect or desire from an M1 Carbine.

With all this in mind, the M1 Carbine is still a really fun recreational plinker. The reliability issues are of zero concern in that context; they just mean that every once in a while you have to rack the bolt handle to chamber a round. No big deal. I have no doubt that Inland would happily repair a rear sight that came loose like mine did. The M1 Carbine is a wonderfully light and handy rifle to carry or stash in a car – there is a reason lots of support troops adored them in WWII and Korea. If you want an M1 Carbine and don’t want to worry about 75 years of wear and tear, these are quite acceptable guns. They do cost more than originals, though…at least the originals I would consider buying. You can get a shooter-grade original M1 Carbine for $800-$900, while the new Inlands appear to be selling at MSRP, for about $1100. To me, that makes an easy decision; I would rather have an original.

US M2/M2A1 Flamethrower

After a dismal first attempt at designing a flamethrower (the M1) in 1941, the US Chemical Corps along with several universities and industrial partners put in a lot of research to develop a more usable and effective flamethrower. The result was the M2, which went into production in early 1944. It would prove to be an exceptionally effective weapon in the island-hopping campaign towards the end of the war.

The M2 was arguably the best flamethrower fielded by any military during the war, with a number of excellent design features. These included:

  • A constant-pressure regulator to ensure that the range stayed the same from the first to the last shot of a tank of fuel
  • An on/off main valve easily accessible to the operator
  • A supremely waterproof and reliable pyrotechnic cartridge ignition system
  • An auto-shutoff valve which sealed at the nozzle, preventing dribble (and cutting off fuel flow should the operator lose control of the weapon)

The M2 would see service into the Vietnam War even as its successor the M9 was being issued. It was a truly outstanding design, and remains viable to this day.

Thanks to Charlie Hobson for showing us the unit and teaching me to fire it, and also thanks to Adaptive Firearms for letting us use their range facilities! For more details on this and other military flamethrowers, I recommend Charlie’s book: US Portable Flamethrowers.

BSA 1926 & 1929 Thompson SMGs

In the early days of the Thompson Submachine Gun, the Auto-Ordnance Company was looking for customers globally. General John Thompson had personally run a demonstration of the gun in England in June of 1921, which was well received militarily, if not politically. Unfortunately for Thompson, just a few weeks before the trial a plot to smuggle 500 Thompson guns to the IRA on the freighter East Side had been uncovered in New Jersey. This had the not-surprising effect of dampening British interest in working with Thompson and Auto-Ordnance.

However, the company returned to England in 1925 with an interest in licensing production to Birmingham Small Arms. The Belgian military had tested the Thompson in 1923 with favorable results, and had requested a version in 9x19mm with more rifle-like handling. In addition, other European nations looked like good potential customers. The result was the Model 1926 Thompson made by BSA, which used the standard Thompson mechanism (including the Blish lock) but with a redesigned lower and trigger assembly and traditional rifle style stock. It also featured a somewhat smaller forearm and a rear sight unprotected by any wings. Some of the 1926 guns were made with plain muzzles, but the one pictured below has a compensator – this may have been added later or may be original.

BSA Model 1926 Thompson, right

BSA Model 1926 Thompson, right (photo from HistoricalFirearms.info)

BSA Model 1926 Thompson, left

BSA Model 1926 Thompson, left (photo from HistoricalFirearms.info) – note the substantial drop to the stock.

It doesn’t appear to be known exactly how many of the Model 1926 guns were made, but it was a very small number. In January 1927, one of them was tested by the French military and performed fairly well. It fired 3500 rounds (including 2500 in fully automatic) and reportedly had only a few minor problems – despite the bolt being found to be broken in half when the gun was disassembled after the test. The rate of fire was a rather fast 1200 rounds/minute, and the French conclusion was that they were not really interested in pistol-caliber submachine guns.

Following this test (and perhaps others), some changes were made to the design, resulting in the Model 1929, also made by BSA. Where the 1926 guns had used barrels with smooth exteriors, the 1929 guns used ribbed barrels and all had Cutts-style compensators as well as protective wings to each side of the (Lyman-made) rear sights. The 1929 model was made in several different calibers, clearly intended to raise interest in different countries. The calibers include 9x23mm Bergmann, 9×19 Parabellum, .45 ACP, and 7.63mm Mauser (in addition, one gun in 7.63mm Mauser was marked .30 Mauser for the British market). It is estimated that only 10-15 of these were made in total, and about half of those remain known today. Specifically, they are:

  • #2, .45 ACP
  • #4, 9mm Bergmann
  • #7, 7.63mm Mauser
  • #8, .30 Mauser
BSA Thompsons on display

BSA Thompsons on display at the 2007 NRA Convention. The second one down is a 1926 model, followed by three 1929 models. (photo from MachineGunBoards.com)

The example in .45 ACP shows a couple variances from the others – a much heftier magazine catch and an awkward-looking reverse angle pistol grip spliced into its stock. The magazine catch makes sense given the much heavier weight of .45 ACP ammunition compared to the smaller offerings, and the gun’s ability to use drums as well as box magazines. The grip was apparently added to facilitate firing from the hip, and is actually not as uncomfortable as it appears.

Ultimately the Model 1929 fared no better than the 1926, and resulted in no contracts. I had an opportunity to examine Model 1929 #2, and took the photographs below. Unfortunately, I was not able to disassemble it for internal photos.

 

Disassembly photos: Simson Prototype Blowback 9mm

In the late 1920s, the Simson company built a handful of prototype pistols for consideration by the German military. Noises had been made about replacing the Luger with something more cost effective, and several companies moved to design options. The Simson pistol was chambered for the 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge (as the military wanted), but was a simple blowback, unlocked action. This allowed it to be cheaper to manufacture, although the military much preferred a locked action. The potential pistol replacement program quickly ended, though, with a decision to allocate funding to development of carbines and submachine guns instead.

Here is one of the 3 known surviving Simson pistols (click to enlarge any of the photos):

Please note that the magazine in these photos is actually a P08 Luger magazine modified to add a locking catch so it will lock into the Simson pistol. However, the magazine is slightly too short to function in the gun, and does not feed properly. I have not found a surviving authentic Simson magazine to photograph.

Flamethrower Q&A with Charlie Hobson

http://www.flamethrowerexpert.com

Today’s questions by timestamp are:

0:40 – After international conventions banned most flamethrower use, where and when have they still been used and why?

1:15 – What Hollywood examples are particularly realistic and which ones were the most fanciful (i.e. Aliens)?

3:02 – What was the most effective use in their history in combat?

3:55 – What is the common pressure and nozzle diameter for military flamethrowers?

4:57 – How effective were/are the use of fins inside the flow channel to create laminar flow?

6:18 – What are the chances of ignition of the fuel tank when hit by a rifle’s bullet?

7:28 – Is a flamethrower-assigned soldier expected to do field maintenance on a level on par with a gun carrying soldier? What parts of a flamethrower wear down or require repair the most?

9:44 – Did they really use flamethrowers to clear the bunkers on Omaha beach as depicted in “Saving Private Ryan”?

10:52 – Is there anyone today making true-to-spec reproductions of military flamethrowers?

12:10 – How many accidents has he witnessed?

14:07 – In field campaigns, the Pacific for instance, how did field resupply of flamethrowers work, if at all? Were individuals tanks refilled by supply folks, or were fresh tanks brought up and exchanged?

19:35 – I’d like to hear about the effects on the shooter. I heard that some men passed out because of the drop in oxygen when firing.

20:32 – If the flamethrower had not been banned under the Geneva convention in 1980, what would have been the next design evolution? For example, improved tank storage, non-pietzo ignition systems, or different fuel mixtures (such as triethyaluminium instead of more traditional gelled petroleum).

24:10 – Is there still a role for flamethrowers in modern war?

26:35 – When lighting a cigar with a flamethrower, is there a concern about leaving a poor-tasting residue on the cigar as there is with cheap butane lighters?

27:43 – What does it cost to get into one of these?

Final Prices: RIA April 2016

I always get a bunch of questions about what the various guns at auction ended up selling for, so here’s an overview for the curious: