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The Vault

PTRD in Ukraine

Sviatoslav sent us this photo of a 1941 PTRD in recent use in Ukraine…

1941 PTRD in use in Ukraine

Note the empty 14.5mm cartridge case under the gun.

Vintage Saturday: Pipe-Smoking Snakes

Brazilian Expeditionary Force

Mais fácil à uma cobra um cachimbo fumar, do que à FEB (para a Frente) embarcar

Troops from the BEF (Força Expedicionária Brasileira) posing for the camera, with 1908 Mauser rifles and a Hotchkiss 1922 LMG both in 7mm Mauser.

Another Chinese Pistol

Here’s another example of the inter-war Chinese pistol trade – this one from Roger Papke of Handfuls Of History. It’s interesting to note that this pistol is virtually identical in design to the one recently sold at Rock Island, but has much different markings.

Chinese mystery pistol

The construction of this piece matches in almost every detail the previously featured one, but with a different set of markings.

Chinese mystery pistol

The obvious question is, what was the relationship between the builders of this pistol and the builders of the other one? The mechanical designs are far too similar to be coincidence, but the markings don’t really have much in common. Were then manufactured in the same facility but given over to different people for marking embellishment? Were they made by the same person but at a significant time interval? Was one perhaps just a copy of the other?

Chinese pistol markings

In addition to the not-quite-symmetrical Mauser banner, this one has a plethora of Belgian “Perron” stamps, placed upside-down. The mark below, on the frame, is a Liege general proof.

Chinese pistol rear sight markings

This rear sight has numbers on it, although it is still a fake sight leaf and the numbers don’t make sense.

Chinese pistol markings

Fake proof marks on the chamber

Dreyse 1907 Slow Motion Video

The 1907 Dreyse is an early automatic pistol whose design is attributed to Louis Schmeisser. It saw fairly extensive use by the German military during World War I, and was also used by various German police organizations into the early 1930s. Overall, nearly a quarter million were manufactured.

It is a simple blowback action chambered for .32 ACP (7.65mm Browning), and not particularly comfortable. It has an awkward grip angle, awkwardly-short distance from grip to trigger, and top-heavy balance.


Rieder Automatic Rifle

I had a reader send me a link to this article, which was written in 1981 by Lt. Cdr. W.M. Bisset and published in Scientia Militaria – the South African Journal of Military Studies (vol 11, nr 3). It is available in its original PDF form for download, but I have transcribed it into HTML here for easier access.

The Reider is one of the handful of semiauto conversions of the Lee Enfield rifle that were developed in WWI and WWII – the others being the Charlton, Electrolux Charlton, Howell, and Howard Francis. Very little information is out there about these guns, and it was exciting to find this article!

The Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment

by Lt Cdr W. M. Bisset*

Mr H. J. R. Rieder

Mr H. J. R. Rieder

In March 1981, Mrs H. J. R. Rieder donated her husband’s presentation British .303 SMLE Rifle No 1 Mark III (number M-45374) with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment to the Military Museum at the Castle in Cape Town. With it were a number of photographs, letters, documents and plans concerning this once secret invention which was tested outside the Castle during the Second World War. Fortunately, the documents donated by Mrs Rieder include a list of the numbers of the 18 rifles to which Mr Rieder’s automatic attachment was fitted and it is hoped that the publication of this information will lead to the discovery of some of them and be of considerable interest to their present owners.

France surrendered on 17 June 1940 and to many a swift German victory seemed inevitable. In July 1940, Mr H. J. R. Rieder discussed the simple conversion of a standard .303 rifle to a full automatic rifle with Lt Col M. E. Ross, the Staff Officer A11 at Cape Command Headquarters in the Castle.(1) Mr Rieder, a radio and television experimenter and inventor, was employed in the Mechanician Department of the General Post Office in Cape Town. Although of German ancestry he had served in the Royal Corps of Signals during the First World War.(2)

On 22 July 1940 Mr Rieder wrote to the Officer Commanding Cape Command requesting the loan of ‘one standard service rifle for minor alterations and fitting of conversion unit for demonstration purposes only’. Mr Rieder added that the normal operation of the rifle would not be impaired and that an old used rifle would be quite adequate.

In a reply dated 3 August 1940 a Lieutenant-Colonel wrote on behalf of the Director-General of Technical Services that Mr Rieder should be asked ‘to explain the principle which he proposed to adopt and submit drawings or sketches of his design’. The writer doubted whether an automatic rifle was of much value, since none had been adopted to any great extent by any of the powers. He added that the ammunition supply was one difficulty.

On 23 September 1940 the Deputy Director of Coast Artillery, Lt Col H. E. Cilliers, authorised Mr Rieder to ‘hold in his possession one rifle Mk 111 No 45374′ for experimental purposes, but on 18 November 1940 he wrote that the Senior Stores Officer was ‘pressing for its return’ and requested a progress report.

Mr Rieder manufactured his automatic rifle attachment in his home, Windyways, 37, Upper Glengariff Road, Three Anchor Bay and was supplied with blanks with which to test it. A kingsize silencer deadened the noise which would otherwise have aroused the suspicions of the neighbours.(3) Mr P. D. Rieder, the youngest son of the inventor, recalls that his father was later granted a temporary transfer to the UDF and wore army uniform. All subsequent work on the invention took place in an upstairs workshop in the Castle and a sergeant was assigned the task of assisting Mr Rieder.(4) A detailed description of the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment and photographs of the invention were forwarded to the Senior Naval Officer, Simonstown on 2 January 1941 and to the Director-General of War Supplies, Dr H. J. van der Bijl, the following day.

A letter from the only cameraman permitted to be present, mentions that separate demonstrations for the Admiralty and Director-General of War Supplies were arranged. Fortunately, the African Film Productions cameraman, whose name is not recorded, has included the familiar stone walls of the Castle in some of the photographs of the demonstrations. The cameraman advised his General Manager on 14 January 1941 that permission for him to photograph the rifle had only been granted on condition that the company work through a Mr Wilson who was responsible for the arrangements concerning the release of the story. However, a telegram from DEOPS Pretoria to DECHIEF Cape Town dated 22 January 1941 stated that the negatives of films of the invention were being returned at once, care of Capt Stodel and that neither copies nor negatives had been made.

A .303 rifle fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment, extra handles and a larger magazine

A .303 rifle fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle
Attachment, extra handles and a larger magazine

Mr Rieder’s automatic rifle attachment made it possible for the ordinary service .303 rifle to operate as an automatic weapon by using the gas or pressure generated by the fired cartridge. Mr Rieder considered that the merits of the rifle attachment were its lightness (approximately 2.5 lbs [ed: 1.1kg]), simple construction and fitting, relative freedom from stoppages, low production costs and ease of loading. The attachment did not prevent the rifle from being used as an ordinary rifle and ‘single shots could be fired with automatic loading’.

British .303 SMLE Rifle No 1 Mark III fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment and mounted on tripod

British .303 SMLE Rifle No 1 Mark III fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment and mounted on tripod

The only disadvantage listed by Mr Rieder was overheating after about 100 rounds had been fired but this he expected to overcome. In a letter to the Director-General of War Supplies, Director-General of Technical Services and Mr Rieder dated 31 January 1941, the Officer Commanding the Technical Services Workshops at the New Drill Hall, Maj E. P. Edwards, wrote that during demonstrations the extractor and loading springs had caused problems because they were made from piano wire which did not retain the correct length and weight. ‘This problem and an incorrectly designed check spring were overcome in a new model of the attachment. Maj Edwards considered that this invention might be as free from defects as the ordinary machine gun’. Another advantage was that scarcely any oil was required and although it had a dust cover it stood up well to field conditions.

Under the heading ‘remarks’ Maj Edwards suggested that the eye-guard could be used for fitting an adjustable aperture sight to offset the possible difficulty of aligning the service sight caused by the rapid vibration of the rifle. Single shots could be fired by releasing the trigger quickly or alternatively the rifle could be brought to service conditions by closing the gas vent.

British .303 SMLE Rifle No 1 Mark III fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment and mounted on bipod

British .303 SMLE Rifles No 1 Mark III fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment and mounted on bipods

Although Maj Edwards wrote that it was essential that a type of elongated ring foresight be fitted, he pointed out that the introduction of tracer bullets (1 in 3) and using the hose pipe method would be useless because of the speed of modern enemy aircraft upon which the .303 bullet had ‘very little effect other than the moral aspect’.(5)

In a letter to OC Technical Services dated 16 June 1941 Mr Rieder requested a further extension of his temporary transfer to the Defence Department because it had proved impossible to obtain a suitable type of steel spring in the Union and this and other small improvements had impeded progress. Nonetheless, he hoped that ‘perfection would be accomplished in the near future’.

The Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment dismantled

The Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment dismantled

On 18 June 1941 Mr Rieder advised the Officer Commanding Technical Services Workshops in writing that his experiments had reached finality and that it would now be possible to complete the remaining sixteen rifles for demonstration purposes. He requested a further period of about six weeks to complete the task.

On 10 October 1944 Cdr H. S. Gracie, RN presented Mr Rieder with the first .303 rifle (Number M-45374) to be fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment on behalf of the Admiralty.(6)

Mr Rieder shows his invention to Royal Naval officers, an army officer and a civilian after a demonstration outside the Castle in Cape Town

Mr Rieder shows his invention to Royal Naval officers,
an army officer and a civilian after a demonstration
outside the Castle in Cape Town

Although three rifles fitted with Mr Rieder’s invention were sent overseas, it was never adopted.(7) Nonetheless, Mr Rieder’s ingenuity and industry in one of the darkest hours of the Second World War, deserve the highest praise. Mrs Rieder’s gift, now displayed near the scene of the two demonstrations outside the Castle and the documents and photographs relating to it, have also helped fill another gap in the history of our most important national monument.

.303 Rifles fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment

M-45374 – Obtained by Mr Rieder. Presented to Mr Rieder by the Admiralty on 10 October 1944. Now in the Military Museum The Castle.

Eighteen rifles received from SSOT

Listed as being ‘partly converted to original plan and now at Cape Town’ on 20 September 1941:

Rifles completed and converted to new plan now at Cape Town ‘Susie’. (Taken to Pretoria by McClelland). Sent to Pretoria:

Rifles Sent Overseas

Converted to original plan Converted to new plan 25.8.41 ‘Bertha’. (Taken to Pretoria by McClelland on date not recorded):

* Lt Cdr W. M. Bisset is SO Military Musea, WP Command

(1) Letter from Mr Rieder to OC Cape Command dated 22 July 1940.
(2) Information provided by Mr P. D. Rieder and obituary in The Cape Times 23 November 1954.
(3) Information provided by Mr P. D. Rieder.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Letter TSW 840/1 dated 31 January 1941.
(6) Letter from Cdr H. S. Gracie (Office of Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic) dated 10 October 1944.
(7) Letter TSW 840/1 dated 20 September 1941.

Mauser C96 with Chinese Hand-Made Frame

After posting my video of the oddball Chinese pistol in the recent RIA auction, I received a number of emails from folks with similar sorts of guns. One was from a fellow named Leonardo, who ended up with an interesting Chinese creation courtesy of Fed Ord. About 20 years ago, they were selling really junky C96 Mauser pistols imported from China – they were so beaten up that Fed Ord was selling them in bags of 5, sight unseen and as-is for very little. Well, Leonardo decided to try his luck with two bags, figuring he could probably at least assemble one working gun from each bag.

After several days soaking the guns in Marvel Mystery Oil to remove all the caked-on gunk, he found that he had 9 typical abused Broomhandles and one that was different.

Mauser C96 with Chinese replacement frame, right side

Mauser C96 with Chinese replacement frame, right side (click to enlarge)

It seems that this particular pistol was originally made in Germany and shipped to China (as were so many) – but at some point the frame was rendered unusable. Maybe it broke, maybe it was hit by a bullet, maybe it rusted away, who knows. So, its Chinese owner had a new frame made for it, by hand.

Mauser C96 with Chinese replacement frame, left side

Mauser C96 with Chinese replacement frame, left side (click to enlarge)

Markings and workmanship closeup

Markings and workmanship closeup (click to enlarge)

As Leonardo told me,

The frame on this pistol was made BY HAND. You can tell because of the tooling marks and the fact that the frame cut outs are all done by hand. Close inspection will show you that they are not straight and are not consistent. Also, several of the internal parts show the same type of material and work as well. The dead give away is the markings, total gibberish and nonsense. The metal is also a give away as the metal on the fabricated parts is slightly different and the patina on it is slightly different when you look closely at the pieces. Inside the frame the tooling marks are even cruder and easier to see that this was fabricated by hand and not machined much, if any.

I have kept it even though many of my friends have told me that it is a piece of junk. Although I haven’t shot it, it is incredibly tight and all the parts seat on it just fine. The barrel, rear sight, bolt, extractor, magazine follower, trigger, and most of the internal pieces are original and they still retain the proof marks and original serial numbers. Interesting enough, the craftsman that made the frame and other pieces went out of his way to copy the frame exactly – down to the stock connection (which works but is super tight) and the serial numbers. One of my sons nicknamed the pistol “Micky Mauser” which I think is quite accurate.

I continue to find these sorts of things coming out of inter-war China fascinating…

Austrian Rast & Gasser M1898 (Video)

The M1898 Rast & Gasser revolver was the last iteration of a series of revolvers, and was a standard Austro-Hungarian sidearm during WWI (despite the adoption of the Steyr M1912 selfloader). The M1898 an often underappreciated handgun, with a number of useful features and a very high standard of manufacturing. These features include use of the Abadie system to disconnect the hammer form the trigger when the loading gate is open, to allow much faster reloading, and a hinged sideplate for easy and complete access to the working parts. In addition, it has an 8-round cylinder, equal (or greater!) in capacity to any semiauto pistol in service during WWI and for some time thereafter.

Thanks to Larry for loaning my this example for the video!

Vintage Saturday: Colonial

Somali tribesman in Italian military service, with an M95 carbine - November 1935 (photo from <a href=

Italy issued a small number of M95 carbine (still in 8x50R) after WWI. Note the Fiat-Revelli M1914 water-cooled machine gun behind him…

(e)Book Review: Handfuls of History

A dilemma that has always existed for book authors and publishers is that adding information makes a book physically larger, and more expensive to produce. Editors have always had to make decisions balancing the added benefit of additional material (especially photographs) against the extra costs associated with making a bigger book. Not a big deal for a few photos here and there, but when you want to show all the potentially useful views of each gun in a book with a few hundred guns, you can quickly end up with something the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Our very handy digital data revolution, however, can compress all that volume of photographs down into a physical storage device the size of a thumbnail, though.

Eventually, someone will figure out a way to really capture both the large amount of textual data in a print book with the massive storage capacity of digital devices. It hasn’t been done yet (ebooks are still by and large just regular books transposed from paper to screen), but when it does we will have a transformation in scholarship and learning. While we aren’t there yet, people are slowly starting to experiment with new forms…and one of these people is Roger Papke.

Dr. Papke has produced an ebook entitled Handfuls of History – a study of firearms development from the matchlock through World War II, with a focus on handguns. It comes on a DVD disk, and comprises almost 3 GB of data, including about 4,800 high resolution photographs. The book is laid out as a series of pages each devotes to an individual firearm, with a text description and a number of photographs (the smallest pages have 10 or 12 pictures; the largest have several dozen). These pages are organized into chapters by developmental type, such as “Pinfire Pistols”, “Early Rimfire Pistols”, “Early Centerfire Pistols”, and so on. In fact, it occurred to me while reading that the basic layout is not so different from ForgottenWeapons.com itself – my web site and Dr. Papke’s book are approaching the same ultimate goal (the creation of a comprehensive firearms encyclopedia) from two slightly different angles. But, this is about Handfuls of History – so let’s get back to that subject.

You can see one sample page online – it’s about the Philadelphia Deringer, and it’s a good representative sample of what the book contains. Some pages have only a single paragraph, and others have the equivalent of several pages of text. Most are somewhere in between. These descriptions often include some interesting historical details and anecdotes, but they do fall short on mechanical detail – do not expect to learn the details of different locking systems here. The history, though, is interesting and accurate. As you can see from browsing the Table of Contents, the focus is primarily on the 1800s and early 1900s – probably because that is when most of the interesting development was going on. I have been working on learning more about revolver development in the 1800s, and I found the appendices discussing the Rollin White patent and its implications and legal morass to be particularly interesting and informative.

On a technical note, I am very impressed with the tools built into the book for manipulating photographs. Instead of simply presenting each picture at full size, or using just thumbnail links, Dr. Papke has gone to the effort of creating a handy interface. You can see it on the sample page; it allows you to set the display size of the images manually, or set them to full resolution, the size of your browser window, or open them in a new window (so you can keep one set of images open while browsing to a different page in the book). Those tools are well built and ensure that you can focus your attention on the material instead of dealing with inconveniently sized pictures.

So the question, I suppose, is whether Handfuls of History is worth purchasing for it’s $30 postpaid price. The closest traditional book to it, I think, would be Edward Ezell’s Handguns of the World, which has more or less the same area of focus, although more oriented towards military arms where Papke’s work has more coverage of earlier revolver developments. Ezell’s book (which can be had for $20 shipped through Amazon) has much more mechanical detail, but Papke’s has, of course, far more and better photographs. If I could only afford one I would choose Ezell, because of the level of technical detail he includes. But for a person who already has a few reference books Handfuls of History will make a good addition to the library, as it can provide a quantity and quality of photographs well beyond any print book.

Slow Motion: PKM Machine Gun

The PKM is not exactly a forgotten weapon, but it is a very cool one, and I had the chance to do some 2000 fps video footage of one not long ago: