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RIA: Japanese ZH-29 Copy by Tokyo Gas & Electric

The Japanese military experimented with self-loading rifle designs through the 1930s, and had 4 major rifles in testing during that period. One was a new design by Kijiro Nambu, one was a Pedersen copy made by the Tokyo Army Arsenal, one was a gas operated toggle locking rifle by the Nippon Special Steel company, and the fourth was this, a ZH-29 copy made by Tokyo Gas & Electric. TG&E was a major industrial concern that made all manner of products, and they chose to copy the ZH-29 for Army rifle trials. However, it appears that while their manufacturing quality was quite good, they lacked the firearms design expertise on staff to fix the problems the rifle was found to have.

Specifically, their ZH-29 suffered from substantially inferior accuracy. It seems that no significant changes were made between the first and second major trials (1932 and 1935), and when the accuracy problems appeared unchanged in 1935, they were dropped from competition. Only a handful of these rifles were ever made, between 10 and 25.

There are a number of differences between the TG&E rifle and the original Czech ZH-29. The most significant of these is a separate non-reciprocating bolt handle on the TG&E rifle, where the Czechs fixed the handle directly to the bolt carrier body. The Japanese rifle was chambered in 6.5x50SR, of course, and used a new magazine not compatible with the Czech type. The trigger group was also redesigned somewhat, although not in a fundamental way.

RIA: Little All Right

Aren’t these 19th century little pocket pistols cute? This is another palm-type hideout gun, named the “Little All Right” and patented in 1876. It’s actually a pretty basic revolver mechanism, just put into an unusual style of body with a strange trigger. It holds 5 rounds of .22 Short, and fires double action. Only a few hundred (perhaps a thousand) were made, which is understandable once you handle one. While the gun is small, the reach to the trigger is actually quite long, and the trigger itself is rather heavy. That combination would actually make it a bit difficult to shoot. It also forces you to wrap your hand around the cylinder gap, which couldn’t be too pleasant when shooting.

RIA: 2nd Model Smith-Jennings Rifle

The Smith-Jennings rifles are one of the evolutionary steps towards the revolutionary Henry and Winchester lever-action rifles. Here is the rifle that brought together the ideas of Hunt (who invented the rocket ball cartridge) and Jennings with the men who would go on to develop the gun into its final form – Henry, Smith, and Wesson.

RIA: Himmler Presentation Sauer 38H for Snipers

Note: I debated whether or not to use the Nazi flag in the thumbnail image, and opted to put it in there because it was in fact the German flag when this pistol was made. It is a powerful symbol, but hiding the symbol does not do anything to change the history that has occurred, and I decided it was better to acknowledge it than to hide it.

Anyway, this pistol on display here is a Sauer model 38H (a much more common pistol in German WWII service than many people realize) that was made specially as a presentation piece. Heinrich Himmler presented these pistols to snipers who had killed 100 enemy soldiers – other prizes were offered for 50 (a leave from the front and a nice watch) and 150 (a hunting trip with Himmler himself). For 100, it appears that a sniper was given a choice of binoculars, hunting rifle, or these pistols.

How many were actually made and how many were actually awarded is not clear. The serial number of known examples are in a range from 475396 (which is this one) to 475409. Clearly, they were all made in once batch and then awarded as Himmler saw fit. An interesting artifact of the Nazi Party’s interaction with the German military!

RIA: Beretta 1918/30 Semiauto Carbine

The Model 1918/30 is a semiauto-only carbine made by Beretta in between the early Model 1918 submachine guns and the excellent Model 38 family. It was marketed (well, sold) primarily to security and police forces, for whom the semiautomatic limitation was not a particular hindrance. It is chambered for the 9mm Glisenti cartridge, which is dimensionally identical to 9×19 Parabellum but more lightly loaded.

Mechanically the carbine is a simple blowback design, and very light and handy. It has a rather short barrel (12.5 inches), but has been exempted from the NFA regulations on short-barreled rifles. Magazines were made in 12- and 25-round capacities (the one seen here is a 25-rounder).

RIA: Barrett M82A1

The story of the development of the Barrett M82 .50 BMG semiauto rifle is really a neat story – much more interesting than most people probably expect, and reminiscent of many firearms development stories of the 1800s. Ronnie Barrett was working as a photographer in the late 70s, and became interested (perhaps obsessed?) with the idea of a semiauto .50 caliber rifle after a photo session with a Vietnam War jungle patrol boat (which was armed with a pair of M2 .50 caliber machine guns). At the time, the only civilian options for the .50 BMG cartridge were conversions of WWII antitank rifles like the Boys and PTRD.

Barrett, with basically no formal engineering background, sketched up a design and approached some machine shops for advice and assistance. He started working in his garage, and after a couple years had a function prototype completed. He sold the rifles commercially at gun shows and through publications like Shotgun News until making his first military sale in 1989, to the Swedish government. The following year he received an order from the US military, and sales took off from there.

Contrary to common expectation, the Barrett M82A1 is not really a “sniper” rifle – as a semiautomatic design with a recoil-operated action it’s potential accuracy is much less than that of a bolt action precision rifle – and this is amplified by the lack of a precision .50 BMG cartridge in US military service. In practice, the M82A1 will shoot about 3 MOA with normal ball ammunition, and about 1.5-2 MOA with good handloads. It is used primarily as an EOD rifle to detonate heavy-walled unexploded shells at a safe distance, and as an anti-material rifle to attack light vehicles and infrastructure at a long distance. These are relatively large targets, which require the large payload of a .50 BMG projectile but not the extreme accuracy of a true “sniper’s” rifle.

RIA: Semiauto FAMAS

The French FAMAS was one of the first bullpup rifles to be adopted and built in large numbers by a military power. It was adopted by France in 1978 at right about the same time as the Steyr AUG was being adopted by the Austrian military. Bullpup rifles offered a short overall length without sacrificing barrel length, an advantage that seemed quite valuable for troops who were to spend significant amounts of time in vehicles, where space is at a premium. In French service, the FAMAS was also made the formal replacement for both the MAS-49/56 rifle and the MAT-49 submachine gun, thanks to its compact nature.

The FAMAS is interesting mechanically, as it is one of very few production delayed-blowback rifle designs (the other common one being the CETME/HK series). The FAMAS uses a lever-delaying system, which allows a very simple bolt and action mechanism. The F1 model (adopted by the French Army and still in use today, making up the bulk of FAMAS production) has a 1:12″ twist to its rifling, effectively limiting it to 55 grain projectiles – and it also requires steel-cased ammunition to run reliably. The G2 variant (adopted in 1995 by the French Navy) changed to a 1:9″ twist, introduced a full-hand trigger guard, and also uses NATO standard AR15 magazines instead of the proprietary 25-round magazine of the F1.

In the late 1980s a small number of semiauto FAMAS rifles were made by St Etienne and imported into the US by Century. Most people say 100-125 rifles, although serial number suggest this may have actually been 225-250 rifles. Regardless, they are quite scarce and expensive today.

Pedersen Device: Spring Offensive of 1919 Briefing!

Welcome to your briefing on the new equipment we are issuing for the Spring Offensive of 1919. With this new secret weapon, we can finally push the Germans out of France and end the war!

Vintage Saturday: Short-Lived Nation

Biafran troops, circa 1968

Biafran troops, circa 1968

The Republic of Biafra was supported by Czechoslovakia during its brief existence, and the men here are equipped with a Czech ZB-53 machine gun and what appears to be a CZ-47 or CZ-247 submachine gun.

M1915 Villar Perosa Video

The Villar Perosa is one of the first small machine guns developed and used by a military force. It was designed in Italy and introduced in 1915 as an aircraft weapon, to be used in a flexible mount by an airplane’s observer. The gun consists of two independent firing actions mounted together. Each fires from an open bolt as a rate of 1200-1500 rounds/minute, feeding from a 25 round magazine of 9mm Glisenti cartridges. This allowed the maximum possible volume of fire in an aerial combat situation, where in 1915 ballistic power was not particularly important.

As aircraft armaments improved and synchronized, belt-fed machine guns became practical, the Villar Perosa was quickly made obsolete in aerial use. The Italian military experimented with several applications of the weapon in ground combat, including slings and belt fittings for marching fire, tripods, mounts with integral armor shields, and bicycle mounts. None of these proved particularly successful, as the elements that made the gun well adapted to early aerial use (high rate of fire with a small cartridge) made it relatively ineffective for infantry use.

Ultimately, the best use of the Villar Perosa was to break them up and convert the actions into shoulder-fired submachine guns. Designs to do this were developed by both the Beretta company and Villar Perosa themselves, and in 1918 these guns entered service at the same approximate period as the first German MP-18 submachine guns. Because of this recycling, intact M1915 Villar Perosa guns are quite rare today.