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The Vault

Vintage Saturday: War Photographer

Waffen-SS soldier with a camera, hand grenade, and captured Russian PPSh submachine gun

The parka is probably his most valuable possession.

Waffen-SS soldier in Russia with a camera, hand grenade, and captured Russian PPSh submachine gun.

Modern Take on the Sturmgewehr, and a Mile Long Shot to Kill

Two things today…

First up, I recently had a chance to tinker with a rifle made by Brethren Arms, which is in many ways the modern evolution of the StG-45 that we looked at in slow motion yesterday. They call it the BA-300, and it’s a basically an MP5 or HK53 in .300 Blackout. A very compact rifle using the roller-delayed blowback system pioneered in Mauser’s StG-45, coupled with a cartridge that is a ballistic virtual twin of the 8mm Kurz (both cartridges fire a 125 grain bullet at 2200-2250 fps). With a 9-inch barrel and suppressor, the BA300 was an absolute buttercup to shoot, even in full auto. Brethren does a great job making them, and includes some nice updates like a welded-on rail for optics and a properly-placed ambidextrous magazine release.

One of the best parts of the range trip for me was listening to Quinn talk about his guns. He is a rare combination of whip-smart engineer and experienced military veteran, and he has no illusions about the shortcomings of the H&K design (unreachable safety and mag release, awkward charging handle, heavy trigger, etc). Rather than try to defend those elements with some huffing and puffing about Teutonic infallibility, he looks at the shortcomings as opportunities to improve the guns. I think Lossnitzer and Maier would be thrilled to see their rifle still being the subject of improvements 70 years after they built the first versions of it. Anyway, you can see the full video that Karl and I did with him over at Full30:

Brethren Arms BA300 review video

Changing gears completely, the other gun I would like to touch on today is a super-heavy target rifle dating back to the Civil War. Weighing in at 37 pounds, it is a .68 caliber progressive-twist-rifled muzzleloader with an interestingly storied history. It is referenced in Charles Winthrop Taylor’s book Our Rifles on page 91. The story is that a Captain Metcalf in the Union Army used it in the Battle of Pleasant Hill in the Red River campaign of 1864 to snipe a Confederate general while he was shaving in the morning, as a range of 1 mile, 187 feet (1794 meters). This story came to the public notice when it was made into an episode of Jack Webb’s TV show “TRUE” in 1962.

Metcalf's .68 caliber Civil War sniper rifle

A still frame from TRUE showing the rifle

The rifle allegedly has a 25x telescopic sight, and Metcalf used a surveyor’s transit to precisely measure the distance to the target, and calculate the bullet drop and flight time he would have to account for.

Well, it turns out that the whole story is bogus (this article does a good job of explaining the details). Neither Metcalf (allegedly a West Point graduate) not the Confederate General he allegedly shot actually existed, and the numbers quoted by Sawyer for bullet flight time and drop are wildly implausible. HOWEVER – the rifle itself is real and has been connected to the story since at least 1944 (when Sawyer’s book was published). Its most recent known location was hanging in a bar in rural Texas, complete with plaque commemorating the Metcalf story. The bar owner died, though, and the rifle disappeared into someone else’s hands.

A friend of mine is a very highly renowned forensic ballistics expert (you may have seen him in the video I published on an original Girandoni air rifle), and he has been very interested in this rifle ever since he saw the episode of TRUE about it. He would really love to have a chance to fire it and get an idea of it’s actual capabilities. He has a doppler radar unit for tracking bullets, which allows him to track velocity and calculate exact ballistic coefficients, and this rifle would be a fantastic experiment with that equipment.

So…if anyone happens to recognize this rifle and know it’s whereabouts, could you let me know? We would really like to speak to its owner!

Slow Motion: StG-45(M)

The StG-45(M) was developed by engineers at Mauser right at the end of WWII, and its designers went on to form Heckler & Koch and this rifle was their basis for the H&K roller-delayed blowback series of weapons (HK91, HK33, HK53, HK21, MP5, etc). Twenty sets of parts for the StG-45(M) were produced at Mauser, although the war ended before any were made into complete guns (a few were finished by Allied intelligence units after the war for testing). The rifle is chambered for 8×33 Kurz, and handles extremely well.

For more information on these rifles and their development into the H&K series, check out my video “Last Ditch Innovation”:

Bommarito Rifle

The Bommarito was one of the prototype self-loading rifles presented to the US Ordnance Department during the early 1900s. It was chambered for the standard .30-06 cartridge, fed from 20-round detachable box magazines, and was invented by a man named Giuseppe Bommarito. On April 5th, 1918 the War Department allocated $2500 for its development, followed by an additional $2000 on September 28th, 1918. The investment didn’t produce a useful result, as the results of extensive testing were “unfavorable”. Its principle operating problem, apparently, was a habit of failures to extract, with a subsequent problem of the action very difficult to open manually with a stuck case in the chamber. The design was tinkered with by Major Elder (who also worked with the Rychiger rifle), but without any ultimate success.

Bommarito rifle right side

Bommarito rifle right side (click to enlarge)

Bommarito rifle left side, action open

Bommarito rifle left side, action open (click to enlarge)

The design used a short-recoil toggle lock similar to the Luger, with a recoil distance of 1.25 inches. This is a bit unusual – much longer than most short recoil designs, but not long enough to be a long-recoil system (which requires the locked recoil distance to be equal to or greater than the length of the cartridge). Because of this long recoil distance of the barrel and the size of the toggle lock arms, it was found to be a very awkward weapon to use, and liable to injure shooters’ fingers during handling.

Thanks to Miles Vining, we have a few new photos of the Bommarito tested by the Ordnance Department:


Bommarito rifle fully disassembled

Bommarito rifle fully disassembled (courtesy of the US National Archives via Miles Vining). Click to enlarge.

Bommarito rifle major components

Bommarito rifle major components (courtesy of the US National Archives via Miles Vining). Click to enlarge.

Bommarito rifle toggle

Bommarito rifle toggle (photo from Springfield Armory National Historic Site archives). Click to enlarge.

These photos make it clear how the rifle actually worked. Note how the front sight is mounted on what is actually just a barrel sleeve locked into the stock. The barrel itself travels inside that sleeve, which probably would have had adverse consequences for accuracy had the rifle progressed far enough for accuracy to be a consideration. The small diameter coil spring connects the moving barrel to the front barrel sleeve (note the small hook at the rear of the sleeve), providing the force to pull the barrel forward after each shot. This sleeve also allows the rifle to retain the look of a fixed-barrel weapon, since the moving barrel and extension are hidden under the handguard. In theory, that should also aid reliability by shielding the mechanism from ingress of dirt.

The toggle lock uses the ball at one end as a pivot point. It is set in a socket in the receiver, while its lugs lock into the square cuts in the barrel extension. The ball remains in its socket as the barrel and barrel extension move backward, which forces the toggle joint to break, and after enough travel the locking lugs disengage and the barrel is pulled forward by its return spring while toggle continues to open, to eject the empty cartridge case.

Unlike the Luger pistol and Pedersen rifle, the Bommarito version of the toggle lock appears to be relatively simple to manufacture. That is something of an accomplishment, but it doesn’t really help if the finished product isn’t practical to use…

Book Review: The K98k Rifle (Propaganda Photo Series Vol. I)

Propaganda Photo Series Volume I: The K98k RifleThere is an excellent series of books on German WWII small arms being written and published out of the Netherlands – the Propaganda Photo Series. Today I am specifically looking at Volume I, which covers the K98k rifle, but there are 8 other volumes covering everything from the Luger to German antitank weapons.

The format of these books is roughly one third history and explanation and two thirds photographs. The history of the K98k, of course, begins with the adoption of the Gewehr 98 by German states at the turn of the century. The G98 would be the mainstay of German infantry during the First World War, and the book discussed the evolution of the rifle through the WWI-era carbine variants, interwar commercial rifles, and the adoption of the K98k in 1935. It this spends several pages on the different manufacturers, and K98k use by the SS and its sniper variations.

For many people, the section on codes and markings will be particularly useful. It describes the specific manufacturer marks and inspection codes used by the different production facilities (both primary factories and subcontractors) throughout WWII. It really is quite a lot of detailed information packed into about 50 pages total, without the sort of fluff one would typically expect in a book based on photographs.

Photographs (one per page) make up the final hundred pages of the book, and they are divided into several sections based on subject matter. As extra very nice feature is that each photo is accompanied by a significant amount of caption information detailing things like the date, location, and circumstances in which it was taken, and other relevant details as appropriate. The photo sections include:

  • Training photos. These include a wide variety of troops and situations, including foreign volunteer troops, air force men in North Africa, and more.
  • Cleaning and repair. Rifles disassembled in various settings for cleaning, and one particularly neat shot of an armorer working on a rifle with several chests of rifle and machine gun parts opened around him.
  • Grenade launchers. In addition to the standard cup grenade launcher, there was also a version design specifically for paratroops, and both are included.
  • Other accessories. Several other rifle accessories show up as well – a rear sight mirror to allow an instructor to watch a student’s sight picture, a very rare cloth action cover, artillery sighting simulators using K98k actions, periscopic trench mounts for rifles, an unusual signal flare modification of a K98k, and a paratrooper with a dummy rifle in training.
  • Sniper rifles. Claw mounts, rail mounts, ZF-41 long eye relief scopes, you name it. Mostly photos taken in Russia and eastern Europe, but there is one in the Alps and one in Norway as well.
  • General photos. This section includes all manner of interested scenes. From sentries on a railroad handcart to soldiers in Africa supporting a sunshade on fixed rifle bayonets to Volkssturm on the Oder.

The photos in this book were chosen from among thousands of photos in various archives, and each one was chosen for a specific reason. Some are staged and some candid, but they all have interesting elements showing a particular moment in the history of a K98k being carried by some soldier. This is absolutely a book you can flip through every day for months and find some new detail every time.

The Propaganda Photo series are not the most comprehensive books on their subject guns, nor the most detailed. But they have an excellent balance of general history, explanation of markings and minutia, description of unusual models, and photographic evidence of how the guns were actually seen in the real world. Guus de Vries and Bas Martens are extremely knowledgeable and passionate about small arms history, and the books they have crafted reflect that knowledge and passion. You won’t go wrong adding any of them to your library.

This specific one, on the K98k, can be purchased from the US distributor directly (Casemate Publishing) or from Amazon. To order in Europe, you can use Amazon or the distributors in Germany, France, Italy, or the UK.

John Wayne’s .22 Rifle (designed by Jim Sullivan)

One of the many projects that AR-15 designer Jim Sullivan was involved in through his long career was a project to found the Wayne Repeating Arms Company (or WRA Co., not to be inadvertently confused with any other gun company with those initials). The company was backed financially by none other than John “the Duke” Wayne of movie fame, and its first product was to be a semiauto .22 rimfire rifle to compete with the Ruger 10/22. Sullivan designed the rifle and two prototypes were built in 1977 or thereabouts. Unfortunately, at this point Wayne had a falling out with his son-in-law (who was his business manager), and the new business manager who stepped in was not interested in the gun project. As a result, the funding ended and the project came to a rather abrupt end. However, Sullivan still has the two prototype rifles, and gave us a look at them. Frankly, I think they could have probably done pretty well against Ruger (especially with an association to John Wayne).

See what you think:

French Police Mini-14

Current events are not typically something that Forgotten Weapons is going to comment on, but the recent unpleasantness in France has brought to light a firearm that folks may find interesting – the Mousqueton AMD.

French police officer with a Mousqueton AMD (Mini-14)

French police officer with a Mousqueton AMD (Mini-14)

When French national police and security forces decided to replace the MAT-49 submachine gun as a standard weapon, they decided to look for a light carbine. Something less obviously military than the FAMAS was desired, and the natural choice was the Ruger Mini-14, whose slightly civilian appearance is often considered to be one of its primary strengths. Ruger licensed the design to the French, who have assembled them in-country with a few changes from the normal production model we are used to seeing here in the US.

Modified charging handle for Mousqueton AMD

Modified charging handle for Mousqueton AMD (thanks to Arnaud D. for the photo)

The guns come with rubber buttpads and sling cutouts in the stock, as well as a slightly modified style of charging handle. They remain chambered for the 5.56mm NATO cartridge (which as a military caliber is requires a license for civilian use in France). The fire control system has a selector to allow semiauto, 3-round burst, and full-auto fire, and the receiver heel is marked specifically for the French:

French Mousqueton AMD receiver markings

French Mousqueton AMD receiver markings (thanks to Arnaud D. for the photo)

“Mousqueton” is of course the French term for carbine, and the “A.M.D.” stands for Armements et Moyens de Défense which translates roughly to “defensive arms”. The “A.P.” is a property marking for the Administration Pénitentiaire, or Prison Service.

All in all, a good choice of weapon for the purpose. I don’t have any information on how they have performed in practice for French security forces, but I expect they have done the job just fine.

Vintage Saturday: Mitrailleuses

French troops with machine guns, circa 1915

Trigger discipline in WWI wasn’t the treated the way it is today.

From left to right, a 1914 Hotchkiss, a captured German MG08, and a 1907 St. Etienne.

Tab Clearing

A few things that have backed up and are worth sharing…

First off, I had the opportunity to be on a local radio program with my friends Karl and Aaron. It was a lot of fun, and I think it turned out to be a pretty entertaining couple hours. We discussed computer security, gun history, and answered a bunch of callers’ questions. If you’re looking for something to listen to today, you can find the show recorded and online here:

Part I – Liberty Watch
Part II – America Armed & Free

Second, an interesting set of photos I came across of arms captured in Iraq in 2003. Some is quite predictable (like rows of DShK machine guns), and some is unusual and interesting – like the Lebel, Berthier, and Roth-Steyr 1907 pistol.

Note the Roth-Steyr 1907 on the right of the cooler

Note the Roth-Steyr 1907 on the right of the cooler

Want more of that? Here’s another series of photos taken in 2004/2005 of other captured arms

And last but not least, I’m very happy to announce that I have formally joined Armament Research Services as a staff researcher. I’m excited at the prospect of doing some fun and interesting work with them in the coming year and beyond!

Slow Motion: Remington Model 11 Shotgun

Sporting shotguns are not normally something to catch my eye, but the Remington Model 11 is a bit different. It’s the first mass-produced semiauto shotgun in the world, it’s a John Browning design, and it’s a long-recoil action – all things that make it much more interesting than your average 870. So, let’s take a look at one firing at 2000 frames per second, shall we?