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Smoothbore Spencer: Tracing a Mystery Gun

Today’s firearm is not a normal gun; it is a conversion of a Spencer into a shotgun. My question is, what path did this weapon travel? What did it begin as, and how did it come to be in its current form?

Let’s see if we can puzzle this out looking at the evidence in the gun itself…

RIA: Russian Winchester 1895 in 7.62x54R

The Winchester 1895 was the last of Winchester’s lever-action rifles, and has an interesting place in a couple different parts of world history. On the one hand, the 1895 in .405 Winchester caliber is known as Theodore Roosevelt’s “Big Medicine” for safari hunting. On another, it was the object of the largest military lever-action purchase ever, made by the Russian Czar during World War I.

The Russian military was woefully under-equipped at the outset of WWI, and needed rifles wherever it could find them. While waiting for a contract with Remington (and later New England Westinghouse) to provide Mosin-Nagant rifles, the Czar’s military ordered 300,000 model 1895s from Winchester. These rifles were purportedly going to be available immediately form Winchester’s existing production line, although in reality it took several months before deliveries began, The rifles were modified by Winchester to accept standard Mosin-Nagant stripper clips, and were chambered for the 7.62x54R cartridge.

They saw heavy combat use, and reportedly performed well, despite the lever action system having some fundamental inferiorities compared to bolt action rifles in a military context. What made them feasible was the action designed specifically for full-power smokeless rifle ammunition and the box magazine design which avoided the potential problems of spitzer cartridges in a tube magazine.

RIA: Norwegian M1914 Kongsberg Colt (Video)

After a series of pistol trials, Norway adopted a copy of the Colt 1911 in .45 ACP as its standard service pistol in 1914. A license was purchased from FN (while under German occupation, interestingly) to produce the guns locally at Kongsberg, and production ran slowly and sporadically until German occupation in WWII. At that point, the German military decided to continue production for German use (still in .45 ACP, the only pistol in that caliber formally used by the German military).

The Norwegian m/1914 pistols are mechanically identical to the Colt 1911 with the exception of an extended slide release lever. They are also serial numbered on all major parts, unlike US pistols.

Le Français .32ACP Pistol (Video)

The Le Français was a staple of Manufrance production, being first designed in 1912 and produced until the late 1960s. This example is in .32ACP caliber, which was only made for the commercial market in the 1950s and 60s (after the cartridge was out of service with the French military and thus civilian-legal). It has a number of unusual features, including a mainspring in the grip frame with a bellcrank to operate the slide, a tip-up barrel, and full double-action-only trigger.

These were made in a multitude of variations, from .25ACP up to 9mm Parabellum, for civilian, police, and military purposes. Despite a significant total production, not many have made it to the United States, and the majority that did were very small .25ACP types.

RIA: Imperial Gewehr 71 (Video)

The Gewehr 1871 was the first rifle adopted by the newly-formed German state after its unification at the end of the Franco-Prussian War. It replaced the decades-old Dreyse needle rifles, and fired an 11x60mm black powder cartridge. It was the first significant rifle designed by the Mauser brothers, and would evolve into the iconic and ubiquitous Mauser 98 design over the years.

Prototype Italian MBT 1925 Straight-Pull Rifle (Video)

Note: This video was filmed over a year ago, but I have been holding it in anticipation of the rifle going to auction. That doesn’t seem to be happening, so I’m posting the video now.

Only three example of this 1925 prototype rifle from MBT (Metallurgica Brescia gia Tempini) were ever made, and were sent out in hopes of finding military contracts. One went to Norway, and this one went to Russia, where it was acquired by a US Lend-Lease supply pilot.

It is an straight-pull design which is very close to being a self-loading rifle (and in fact additional patents were filed in 1926 to adapt it to self-loading functionality). It uses the standard 6-round Carcano clip, and is chambered for 6.5x52mm Carcano ammunition.

After this was filmed, my friend James took it out shooting again with pre-war brass clips, and said it worked reliably – FWIW.

Viet Cong Handmade Luger Lookalike

In the continuing occasional series on crude handmade firearms, we have an entry sent to me by a reader on Facebook (thanks!). It’s a Vietnamese Luger lookalike, which was being sold by Arundel Militaria in the UK (and no, I didn’t buy it – it was already sold when I first saw it).

Vietnamese Luger lookalike

This is quite the crude pistol, but it does appear to actually have a function toggle mechanism – although I suspect it is a simple blowback action that just happens to have a joint in the bolt. There does not appear to be any recoiling section of frame or barrel, and from the look of the magazine it is probably chambered for .32 ACP.

Vietnamese Luger lookalike

Magazine – great fitting!

Actual caliber was not specified on Arundel’s listing, not was magazine capacity.

Vietnamese Luger lookalike

Rear quartering

Vietnamese Luger lookalike

Front quartering

Vietnamese Luger lookalike

Top view of the toggle mechanism

Vietnamese Luger lookalike

Feast your eyes on that checkering!

Vietnamese Luger lookalike

Right side

Stopping Tanks with Rifles?

Picture the year 1939 – lots of light tanks are out there in various armies, but there isn’t much practical experience on how to stop them in combat. The heavy anti-tank rifles pioneered at the end of WWI are an option, but perhaps it is possible to find a simpler method? An answer occurs to someone hanging about Aberdeen Proving Ground – probably someone with some with traumatic childhood memories of sticks and bicycle spokes. “Hey!” he says… “what if you jam a rifle into the idler sprockets of a tankette’s treads so it throws the track?”


“So far as it is known attempts to break or throw the tracks of light tanks or combat cars by thrusting rifle barrels between the track and the sprocket or the track and the idler have never been made at the Proving Ground.”

That can’t stand! We might have a brilliant war-winning idea here!

…or a laughable waste of perfectly good rifles. A reader on Facebook pointed me to this entry on the WorldOfTanks blog “The Chieftain’s Hatch”: Rifles vs Tanks. If you want to know how this experiment turned out, have a look! Or just take a look to see an entirely serious Aberdeen Proving Ground photo of a test rock. Yeah, a rock.

Spoiler; the tests did not go well. Don’t throw out the AT rifles just yet, guys.


SIG KE-9 & M29A Prototype Rifles (Video)

The SIG KE-9 and M29A were several in a series of developmental rifles made by SIG in Switzerland and designed by Pal Kiraly. These ultimately found no commercial or military sales, although the related KE-7 light machine gun did have some limited success.

Vintage Saturday: Combined Arms

US troops in the Pacific Theater with 1903 Springfields and a 1919A4 machine gun

US troops in the Pacific Theater with 1903 Springfields and a 1919A4 machine gun

I have seen this image described as being from both Burma and Okinawa – not sure myself which (if either) is correct. The array of armament present is interesting, though – a 1903A3, a 1903A4 sniper, a couple rifle grenades, and a 1919A4 machine gun. Note the presence of the bolt hold-open latch on the 1919A4 – this allowed the bolt to be locked open to improve cooling of the gun, and was removed from production in May 1943.

Edit: One commenter mentioned they had an original Signal Corps copy of this photo, with this caption on the back: