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The Vault

2-Gun Action Challenge with a MAS 49/56

This month I chose to shoot the 2-Gun Action Challenge Match with a French MAS 49/56, in the original 7.5×54 caliber. I really like the handling of the rifle, and I was curious to see how the sights (rear aperture and a large front post) would work in a practical setting like this competition. As it turned out, I rather like the sights, Not great for target work, but they are pretty effective for making shots like this match is designed around. I do want to see if I can improve the trigger, though, and I may look into making myself a couple extended mags from 24/29 Chatellerault mags.

As usual, my pistol was a late 1940s Argentine Ballester-Molina in .45ACP (which served me well on stage 3, compared to the folks using 9mm). Overall, I placed 28th of 47 shooters.



Reptilicus: Danish MGs in Action

Want to see more Danish machine guns (mostly Madsen LMGs, but also a couple Madsen-Saetters) in one place than you’ve ever seen before? Well, try the 1961 Danish monster flick “Reptilicus”. It’ a pretty terrible piece of cinema, but hey, where else will you find video of that many Madsens?

Note the use of the bipod as a front grip...

Note the use of the bipod as a front grip…

Madsen-Saetter mounted on a Jeep

Madsen-Saetter mounted on a Jeep

Happily, someone on YouTube has posted a version edited down to just under ten minutes in length – still more than you really need to see, but lots of footage of the Danish Army on exercise as the monster rampages (well, something like that) through Copenhagen.

Thanks to Chris for the tip!


Vintage Saturday: Assorted Machine Guns

An assortment of machine guns from the Russian civil war.

Variety is the spice of life.

An assortment of machine guns from the Russian civil war. Pretty much one of everything in there – a Russian 1905 Maxim, German MG08, Austrian Schwarzlose 07/12, Colt 1895 “Potato Digger”, M1915 Chauchat, Madsen LMG, and a Lewis gun way in the back. Thanks to Paul Scarlata for sending the photo!

Tactical and Technical Trends #49: August 1944

A little while back, I got my hands on a number of copies of Tactical and Technical Trends booklets – this was a bulletin published by the US Military Intelligence Service during WWII to keep soldiers apprised of new developments in equipment and tactics among the different combatants. A quick Google search will reveal that these documents are not difficult to find in electronic form, but I am going to post them anyway. Why? First off, because I suspect a lot of people are not aware of them. More importantly, because I think it is worth looking at them one at a time to actually take a close look at the information they contain. Takes as a whole batch, one tends to just skim over and miss a lot. And lastly, because my color scans are much nicer looking than the other copies available. :)

The first one I have is #49, from August 1944 (they were initially published biweekly, and later went to monthly).

Tactical and Technical Trends #49 - August 1944

Tactical and Technical Trends #49 – August 1944

Much of the information in these booklets covers armored vehicle, artillery, mines, and other war material not typically in line with this site (although certainly of interest to many people who would read this site). When we look at small arms content in this edition, we find a couple interesting articles:

  • US Army testing on Japanese cartridges found on Bougainville with wooden bullets, and with normal projectiles loaded backwards into cartridges (the wooden bullets were found impractical for antipersonnel use, and concluded to be grenade launching rounds, while the backwards bullets were thought to be attempts to increase lethality).
  • US Army testing of the protection afforded by Japanese armored shields for machine gun and pillbox use (they are proof against M2 ball, but could be perforated by AP out to 200 yards).


Slow Motion: Fémáru 37M

The Frommer/Femaru 37M was the last in the line of handguns designed by Rudolf Frommer. The 37M was a single-action blowback pistol chambered for .380, although it was also purchased by Germany in .32 ACP caliber (and with the addition of a manual thumb safety). It was adopted by the Hungarian military in 1937, replacing the 29M – which was mechanically basically identical but more expensive to produce. The 29M, in turn, was basically a scaled-up Frommer Lilliput.

Needham Musket Conversion

by Roger L. Papke, Handfuls of History

At the end of the American Civil War, the Union had well over a million surplus muzzle-loading rifle-muskets, all of which were obsolete since it was clear that in the future all military rifles would be breech-loaders and most likely use metal cartridges. The U.S. was not alone in this predicament; most European nations were in the same boat. Prior to the end of the American Civil war, only Prussia had standardized on breech-loading bolt-action rifles, albeit with paper cartridges and needle-fire ignition. France was committed to an arms race with Prussia, and having seen Prussia overcome Austria in the Austro-Prussian War, France also introduced their own bolt-action needle-fire Chassepot rifles in 1866.

The U.S., England, and Austria found an economically effective solution out of their firearm crisis. They adopted methods to convert muzzle-loaders to breech-loaders, allowing the reuse of existing stocks of muskets and associated spare or surplus parts. The English used the Snider conversion system on their pattern 1853 Enfields, and the Austrians produced Wanzl conversions for their Lorenz rifles. However, both the Snider and Wanzls were stop-gap solutions, soon to be replaced by new models, Martini-Henrys in Great Britain and Werndls in Austria. Only in the U.S. did the conversion models lead to the long-term production of similar new rifles.

Enfield muzzleloader

Muzzle-loading rifle-muskets like this Pattern 1853 Enfield were the donors for hundreds of thousands of cartridge conversions in the late 1860s.

Snider conversion open

The loading gate on a Snider conversion opened to the side.

Snider conversion

Snider conversion installed in the breech of a Pattern 1853 Enfield.

Trapdoor Springfield open

The “trapdoor” on the 1866 Springfield opened forward for loading.

Trapdoor Springfield

Conversion system designed by Springfield Master Armorer Erskin S. Allin installed in a Model 1861 Springfield rifle musket donor. This is a Model 1866 “Trapdoor”, which used the original barrel from the donor musket but was sleeved down to .50 caliber with renewed rifling.

Reportedly, several conversion systems were considered by the U.S. Army, including Rolling Block and Peabody mechanisms. However, I suspect that the “trapdoor” system designed by Springfield Master Armorer Erskine S. Allin always had the inside track on the U.S. trials. One alternative conversion system, which apparently was given only passing consideration, was designed by two brothers, Joseph and George Henry Needham of London, England. The rifle shown is a Needham converted rifle.

Needham with breech open

With the hammer back the gate could be swung open. You can see that the striker was pinned to the original hammer.

Needham with breech open

The loading gate of a Needham conversion was locked in the closed position by the hammer.

This early Needham conversion was installed in a rifle-musket originally made in 1863 in Norwich Connecticut.

This early Needham conversion was installed in a rifle-musket originally made in 1863 in Norwich Connecticut.

The Needham conversions were probably pretty cost effective, but the early models in particular had problems which I discovered after I obtained this example. As with any conversion the first step would have been to cut into the original sealed chamber, opening up a breech. A new chamber would have to be milled into the end of the barrel to accept a metal cartridge of the type pictured. Then a hinged breech block would be installed with a firing pin and transfer bar that could be hit with the hammer which had been modified to reach into a recess in the block. A spring was installed to pull back the pin before and after the moment when the transfer bar extension of the firing pin was struck by the hammer. On the early models, the firing pin transfer bar casting was liable to break, as occurred with this rifle. Loosening a set screw allowed the remnant of firing pin to be removed, revealing that it had broken at the point where the transfer bar once connected.

I was delighted (and frankly amazed), to discover that The Rifle Shoppe in Jones Oklahoma had listed in their catalog both “old style” and “new style” firing pins for Needham conversions! However these were not items that they had on the shelf but rather an ability to cast upon order. The waiting list was considerable, but after about 10 months I received the two casting shown in the picture with the broken original. I ordered both because at that time I did know not which was the right part for my gun. I had been in touch with Jim Burgess who had co-authored a report on Needham conversions with Marc Gorelick which was presented to the Virginia Gun Collectors Association and available on-line*. Jim had sent me a sketch of the firing pin from his gun, and it was clearly unlike mine, so I knew different versions existed.

The remnants of the original firing pin above two replacements obtained from the Rifle Shop.  The original is a better match to the “old style” pin.

The remnants of the original firing pin above two replacements obtained from the Rifle Shop. The original is a better match to the “old style” pin.

The original pin and the replacement after machining required to make it fit and function.

The original pin and the replacement after machining required to make it fit and function.

As can be seen in the picture, when I compared the broken pin to the two castings, it was apparent which was a match for mine; however, it was also apparent that the new piece was a rough casting with much more metal than would ever fit in the housing on my rifle. My blacksmith friend Steve Bloom (Iron Flower Forge) did the hand fitting to produce the finished replacement shown. There are several differences between the two styles of firing pins, and clearly they were never intended to be interchangeable. The most important difference is the new style pin is reinforced at the stop where my pin broke. The old style pin is one factor that suggests that this rifle is a very early sample of a Needham conversion, perhaps an example that led to its failure in U.S. government tests. The other factor is that the conversion was built into a rifle made by the Norwich Arms Co., one of the smaller contractors to the Union during the Civil War. The large majority of Needham conversions were built into rifles made by the Alfred Jenks & Sons firm in Bridesburg, Pennsylvania, and so are marked “Bridesburg” on the lock plate.

Needham cartridges

Needham conversions, like the very first generation 1865 Springfield conversions, used the original barrels which were bored for .58 caliber. They were chambered for the short large diameter cartridges shown. The upper cartridge in the photo is a .45-70 government cartridge used on the later Model 1873 Springfield, which were not “conversions” but new-made rifles in the pattern of the older conversions.

Bridesburg Needham conversions and the Fenian invasions of Canada

The Fenians were an Irish-American group who wanted to put pressure on Great Britain to free Ireland. They conspired to mount an invasion of Canada and occupy some territory in order to force concessions. The Fenians purchased surplus Bridesburg rifle-muskets and sent 600 armed men across the Canadian border from New York in June 1866. The small force briefly captured Fort Erie, but was readily overcome, and the men were sent back to the U.S.. Surprisingly, the Fenians were sufficiently well connected politically that they were able to recover their guns along with their freedom to try again.

However, by the time the Fenians were considering a second foray across the border in 1867, the British troops in Canada were equipped with Snider conversions of the P1853 Enfield rifle, and the Fenians knew they would be seriously outmatched with their original muzzle-loading Bridesburg muskets. Reportedly, supporters of the Fenians rented space in a Trenton, New Jersey shop, where hired English gunsmiths performed the Needham conversions on about 5,000 rifle-muskets. The Fenians launched a second invasion in May of 1870 across the Vermont border. The Canadians were forewarned and the Fenians soundly defeated. This time, the guns used in the attack were confiscated by the U.S. Army, along with additional guns that had been stored in Trenton. The army subsequently auctioned off the guns, a large number of which were purchased by the surplus dealer Schuyler, Hartley & Graham. These guns account for the majority of the Needham convertion rifles which occasionally show up for sale.



Suomi m/31 and Underbarrel Flamethrower

A Finnish reader named Ossi sent us a photo and some information on a rather outlandish Finnish weapon developed at the tail end of the Continuation War with the USSR. It was a standard m/31 Suomi submachine gun, but with the addition of an underbarrel flamethrower(!). It is not particularly uncommon historically for flamethrowers to be more or less disguised to look like regular rifles from a distance, to prevent the enemy from being able to easily spot the men with flamethrowers and concentrate fire on them. This one, however, is the only one I’m aware of where the flamethrower is attached to a fully functional firearm.

Apparently this was field tested in the summer of 1944, but never went into production. Apparently the only remaining example is on display at the Finnish Military Museum (Sotamuseo) in Helsinki.

Thanks for the cool information, Ossi!

Suomi m/31 SMF with underbarrel flamethrower

The Finns don’t mess around…

Swiss K31 Snipers (Video)

The Swiss experimented with scoped sniper rifles during World War II, and the results were the K31/42 and the K31/43. Only a couple thousand were made between the two models, and they were not considered particularly successful. Ultimately they were replaced by the ZfK-55 (a much better rifle for the purpose) a decade after the war. The two earlier versions are pretty interesting to see though – I had the chance to look at examples of both types at Simpson Ltd in Galesburg, Illinois. Here’s the video I put together on them:

Rast & Gasser M1898 for sale

After I posted my recent video on the M1898 Rast & Gasser revolver, I had a reader named Emery write me offering one he has for sale. I would love to take him up on the offer, but the gun budget just doesn’t allow it right now – so I’m passing it on to anyone in the audience who is interested. I don’t have any personal connection to the gun or seller, but I think it’s a pretty decent deal for someone who would like one of these revolvers. The story I got about it was this:

I purchased it from a local pawn shop in June 2008. The story I was told by the pawn clerk is as follows:

The person who sold it to the pawn shop got it from his Father who brought it back from “the war” (presumably WW2). He inscribed his name on both sides of the frame to identify it as his. I think his name was Anderson. The seller (the son) was leaving for Europe with the military and did not want to take it with him for fear he might be accused of stealing it from a museum. The chambers are all bright and shiny, no pitting. The bore has some pitting in the grooves but the lands are sharp and clean. The lanyard ring and nut are missing.

If you are interested, Emery is asking $350 plus shipping costs. This is a C&R gun, and must ship to a C&R licensee or regular FFL. You can reach Emery at max.headspace@yahoo.com to ask any further questions. When he tells me it is spoken for, I will take down this post.


Vintage Saturday: Captured Carbine

German soldier with R35 Lebel

German soldier with R35 Lebel Mle 1892 Berthier carbine – these were still being issued to support-type troops when WWII broke out. As you see here, some of them found their way into German service in occupied France.