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The Vault

Apache Knuckleduster Revolver at RIA (Video)

The “Apache” was a combination knife, brass knuckles, and revolver made by several companies in Belgium and France, which became associated with a group of street thugs in Paris around the turn of the century. They were patented by a man named Louis Dolne and made in a variety of different styles, but all share the same basic mechanical features. One common misconception, I believe, is the idea that the folding blade was to be used in conjunction with the revolver. This makes basically no sense, but the blade would have had some utility if used with the brass knuckles.

This particular one is paired with a Belgian pinfire pepperbox, and available for sale at Rock Island on Friday the 20th.


Lots of New Things!

I have a number of things from the last week or so to share with folks who are interested…

First up, while I was at SHOT in Vegas, Karl and I had the chance to join Tim from the Military Arms Channel to do a bit of machine gun shooting at Battlefield Vegas. We didn’t have time to really delve into the mechanics of the guns, but it was still a fun time. I got my first chance to shoot a PM-63! Click below to see the full video:

Shooting at Battlefield Vegas

I also was invited to be a guest on the We Like Shooting podcast, along with Karl. It was interesting, as they have a panel of no less than five regular hosts – but we had a fun time talking about a wide variety of gun stuff. You can check the episode out in both audio and video format  (not much video of me though; I was having some bandwidth issues on my connection): We Like Shooting Episode 77 – Gone But Not Forgotten.

We also posted a review of the relatively new Masterpiece Arms MPAR-556 Gen II rifle. What makes it interesting to me is that it is mechanically a copy of the Leader T2 rifle, designed by Charles St. George. That rifle, in turn, is a takeoff from the Armalite AR-18, which was a design that never did all that well itself, but was the basis for more than a few designs adopted by major military forces (including the H&K G36 and the British L85/SA-80). The Leader itself was a really attractive (in my opinion, at least) approach to making a simple an inexpensive rifle that didn’t sacrifice the really important elements of a rifle. It had a reliable operating system, good aperture sights, and handled very nicely. Unfortunately, the MPAR-556 didn’t really live up to its progenitor in our testing. If you are interested, here is a whole slew of material on various elements of the story:

InRange TV formal review of the MPAR-556 (20 minutes long, with plenty of shooting, comparison with the Leader, analysis, and conclusions)

Just the split-screen match footage of Karl and I shooting the MPAR-556 against each other

Footage from when I ran a Leader T2 through the 2-Gun match back in 2013

Disassembly and explanation of the Leader T2

My interview with the Leader’s designer, Charles St. George

I should add that after the video review published, we were approached by Phil Cashin, President of Masterpiece Arms. We had a productive conversation, and he is going to resolve the problems we had with the rifle and send us a new version to try out (including a lightened handguard, I was happy to hear).

What I was not expecting to hear was that apparently it was my own video on the T2 (linked above) that was the initial inspiration for Masterpiece Arms to add the MPAR-556 to their product line! That’s pretty cool. :)

Lastly, I wanted to mention that starting tomorrow, I will be posting a series of videos on some of the guns at Rock Island’s next auction (February 19th-22nd). This is the first time I’ve done video there in association with a Regional auction, and it is worth pointing out that those work a bit differently that the Premier auctions. Most of the lots in the Regionals include multiple guns, and if you want any one of them you have to bid on the whole batch. That can be good or bad depending on the situation, but it’s something some folks might not realize at first. I should also point out that the videos will be available at Full30.com for subscribers there two days before they appear on the blog.

I should also note that a bunch of you have suggested that I look into the James D. Julia auctions, and I have. They have an auction coming up about a month after RIA’s, and I will be heading there to check out some of the guns they have. While the companies don’t always get along well with each other (they are competitors, after all), I am very happy to be working with both now, because it lets me bring you guys the treasure troves of fantastic guns that both auction houses wind up with.

Vintage Saturday: Not the Best Choice

US Doughboy with a Standard Arms Model G

Not the best choice for a repeating rifle…

A postcard photo from May 1918 (sent to me by Shane M. – thanks, Shane!). Featuring Arthur L. Potts, 103rd MG Co. 26th Division. The Standard Arms Model G rifle he’s holding was a direct competitor to the Remington Model 8 and Winchester 1905/1907 Self-Loaders – and it was a commercial flop largely due to parts breakage. It would be interesting to know the context of the photo, as these rifles were not used by the military. I have a video coming up in a couple weeks on the Model G…

Colombo Ricci Automatic Revolver

The Colombo-Ricci is (was) an automatic revolver reportedly designed in Italy around 1910, and chambered for the standard 10.4mm Italian revolver cartridge. Very little information is available on the gun, but it seems reasonable to suspect that it was developed to compete for an Italian Army service handgun contract, as trials were going on through the first decade of the 1900s (which eventually led to the adoption of the 1910 Glisenti).

Colombo-Ricci automatic revolver schematic

Colombo-Ricci automatic revolver schematic

The Colombo-Ricci is distinct from other self-cocking revolvers because it actually ejected an empty case with each shot, and also had a selectable fire control system to allow either manual or automatic operation.

The diagram above shows the internal mechanism, and we can see how the automatic operation would have worked. The diagram was printed in a Russian book, and out friend Hrachya has thoughtfully translated the text into English, which is included in full below (along with the original Russian, for folks who can read it). Basically, the gun has 4 major operating components and two springs. The leaf spring J powers the striker to actually fire cartridges, and coil spring X is the recoil spring for the automatic system. The major parts are the bolt (E), cocking lever (O – it looks like a hammer spur, but does not actually function as a hammer), primary lever (N), and secondary lever (P). Upon firing, the bolt is thrown backwards, which pushes on the primary lever N, which in turn pushes on the cocking lever. The cocking lever is connected to the frame via the secondary lever, so that the cocking lever going backward forces the secondary lever to rotate on a pivot, and this motion is resisted by the mainspring. That spring resistance (along with a lesser amount of spring resistance from the leaf striker spring) is what controls the speed of the bolt (this is a simple blowback system).

In order to switch to manual firing, a lever on the backstrap of the grip is rotated 180 degrees (upward for automatic; downward for manual). What this does is change the pivot geometry of the secondary lever such that it is effectively locked, and the bolt cannot move backward upon firing. Think of this as a toggle or knee joint, and imagine a straight line from N2 to P2. When pivot point P is behind that line, the force of firing pushes the secondary lever backward into the frame, preventing it from moving. When P is in front of the line, the force of firing breaks the joint open, allowing it to cycle and compression the coil mainspring. What the selector lever on the grip does is move the position of P just far enough forward and backward to effect that change in geometry.

A clever detail of the mechanism is the specific location of the pin connection the primary lever (N) and cocking lever (O). It is placed such that when recoil from firing pushes the bolt back, the vector of the force exerted on the cocking lever will not move the cocking lever when in manual firing mode. However, if the cocking spur is pulled manually, the force will operate the mechanism and cycle the bolt. Compare the location of the cocking spur to that line from N2 to P2 – it is behind the line, which means that exerting force on it will operate the mechanism regardless of the geometry change induced by the firing mode selector lever. Very clever!

Unfortunately, there seems to be no record of the Colombo-Ricci actually being manufactured, and I have not seen any reference to even a single prototype surviving. It certainly would be an interesting project for a mechanically-minded gunsmith!

Colombo-Ricci descriptive text

Colombo-Ricci descriptive text (in old Russian – click to enlarge)

English translation, courtesy of Hrachya:

Colombo Ricci Automatic Revolver, mod.95y.

The revolver is adapted for both automatic and conventional (when ejection, cocking and cylinder rotation are managed by shooters head) actions.

The revolver has following construction: During firing process special lever N, which rotates on axis q, is designed to receive the bolt bar E, which is thrown back along with cartridge case by the pressure of gases on case head. The lever has a hole inside it, through which leave spring J passes and applies pressure on striker F. Lever N is attached to lever O by hinge N². Lever O uses axis P¹ to connect to lever P1, which rotates on roller P2. Lever P is also connected to the upper end of spiral spring X, which receives the recoil energy. Lever P’s lug P3 rests on the special part V, which can be set to one of two positions by cam U’ and selector U. If automatic fire is needed, then selector U must be turned to upper positions. At that moment part V will be between lug P3 and grip wall B3 as shown on drawing. If non automatic action is needed, then selector U must be turned to position U². At that position lug P3 touches the grip wall of revolver.

On the drawing all parts are on ready-to-fire position and lug P3 touches part V, meaning that revolver is set for automatic fire. When shot is made, bolt bar E travels backwards, presses on lever N , and striker F presses on spring J. At same time fired case is being ejected and mainspring – cocked. As lever N rotates it forces lever P and lever O (which are attached together) also to rotate. Direction of rotation is shown on drawing by arrows. As a result of this rotation spiral spring X compresses receiving the recoil force. The energy of expanding (back) spring drives all the parts to their initial positions.

During usual (non automatic) action of revolver, lug P3 touches grip wall and position of lever P makes pivot points of levers P2, P’ and N2 misaligned (P’ lies left to P2 N2 line). At this position levers will stay still during firing and recoil energy will be received by P2 roller (which is the rotation axis for lever P). For next shot tail O’ of lever O must be pulled. As a result lever N will rotate on it’s axis q and will pull the bolt by it’s N3 lug extracting the case and cocking the striker.

Slow Motion: Steyr-Mannlicher M1905

The 1905 Steyr-Mannlicher was developed by Ferdinand Mannlicher, one of Europe’s most prolific gun designers. It uses the 7.65mm Mannlicher cartridge, which is roughly equivalent to .32 ACP, with a 10-round fixed internal magazine. The 1905 is, in my opinion, a fantastically elegant pistol, handles very well, and has minimal recoil thanks to its light cartridge. The ammunition used in this video is 1940s Argentine surplus (the single largest batch of pistols was sold to the Argentine Navy), which is known for having hard and dud primers (as you will see at the end of the video).

Mechanically, the pistol is a sort-of delayed blowback. It has a spring-loaded cam pushing against the breech that theoretically delays opening, but in practical fact it doesn’t have a significant impact. You can see how quickly the breech opens in the video…

Steyr-Mannlicher M1905 slow motion

Mexican Pieper Revolving Carbine

I often find myself answering the question, why didn’t anybody adopt a revolving rifle based on the M1895 gas-seal Nagant revolver? It does seem like a natural solution to the gas-related problems inherent to a revolving rifle, doesn’t it? Well, the answer is that at least one group did adopt just such a weapon: the Mexican Rurales (Rural Police). In the late 1890s, they bought a number of 9-shot gas-seal revolving carbines from Pieper of Belgium. The guns were chambered in 8mm Pieper, a cartridge a bit longer than 7.62mm Nagant, but with the same feature of the brass extending beyond the end of the bullet. These carbines functioned the same way as the very common 1895 revolvers, with the cylinder camming forward upon firing and the brass case forming a seal between cylinder and barrel.

I happened to find one of these carbines at the Antique Arms show in Las Vegas last weekend, and took a few photos (I apologize for the poor lighting and horrific carpet background; it was all I could find at the time). Unfortunately, this particular one has some parts either missing or broken, as the cocking and cylinder camming action were not functioning properly. However, I was able to actually handle one of these for the first time, and came away impressed by it.

The weapon as a whole is light and well balanced – it comes to the shoulder well. The cylinder opens smoothly and easily as well. As a weapon for a mounted policeman, I think it has a lot going for it. Firing one-handed would certainly be much easier than with a lever-action (the Rurales standard weapon at this time was the 1894 Winchester), with no second hand necessary to ready the carbine for a followup shot. Ultimately, I expect it was the proprietary ammunition that led to these revolving carbines being abandoned for Winchesters, and it’s hard to fault that choice for men who might easily need to acquire ammunition far from government depots.

Hopefully one of these days I will find one of these in good working order to actually try shooting!

SHOT Show Followup: Forgotten Weapons Edition

I took most of last week to head to Vegas for the annual SHOT Show, and while it is mostly a giant sea of AR15s, there were a few things there that might be of interest to folks here…

First and most exciting, I got confirmation that EL BE Tac will be importing German-made reproductions of an entire range of German WWII small arms. The first ones up will be the MP-44/StG-44 and MP-38. They are of course semiauto only, and ATF has approved the designs of both. The last remaining hurdle is approval of importation permits, which is currently in progress. Unlike the previous batch of reproduction MP-44 rifles brought in by PTR (the PTR-44), these new ones will be heat treated to modern spec to avoid breakage problems. It will also use original MP-44 magazines. The MP-38 reproduction will be closed-bolt (of course), and will be sold as a pistol with a correct length barrel and a stock fixed in the folded position. Anyone wishing to fix that will be able to file SBR paperwork and make the stock usable again.

Reproduction semiauto MP-44

Reproduction semiauto MP-44

Northridge is making polymer charger clips for the K31 and Schmidt-Rubin rifles (G1911, K11, G96/11). About time someone did this! The originals were meant to be disposable, and are remarkably difficult to find these days. The polymer ones look good, but are still prototypes (I tried hard, but couldn’t get the booth rep to let me take one to try out). They should be available in a couple months, and I will be getting a few to test out and let you know how they run. Price is planned to be $14 each or 2 for $20. That’s not much less than original, but at least they will be available…and hopefully the price will drop over time.

Northridge polymer K31 charger clip

Northridge polymer K31 charger clip

Colt is re-introducing the Model 1903 Pocket, possibly for the sole purpose of proving that they can do something like this and have it work, unlike certain other gun companies. They will be making approximately 2500 1903 pistols, including 500 in a “General’s series” which uses the original serial numbers (with a prefix to prevent counterfeiting) of the 1903s issued to General officers – each of those will come with a fact sheet about the General who originally got the pistol. The other 2000 will be identical copies of the standard 1903, available in either blued or parkerized finish. Price is about $1300. These will be made under the direction of Curt Wolf, who is responsible for the extraordinary Gatling guns currently marketed by Colt.

Colt's new Model 1903

Colt’s new Model 1903

And speaking of Remington, they had a revised version of the R51 at their booth. They claim to have fixed several issues, including tweaking the extractor design, nickle-boron coated the locking block to reduce friction, and replaced the aluminum trigger with a polymer one to prevent it from damaging the frame. What they have not done is change the fact that the action uses a steel block locking against an aluminum surface. The booth rep claimed this would not be a problem unless you shot 50,000 rounds, but we will see. No specific date when the new guns will actually be released (they are moving production facilities from Charlotte to Huntsville, and this is the explanation given for the lack of date), but vague notions of the coming fall. Hopefully someone will get one when they do (perhaps even me!), measure and document the headspace, and track/document it through something like 500 rounds of firing.

Revised prototype Remington R51 pistols

Revised prototype Remington R51 pistols



Japanese Type 97 Tank Machine Gun

While in Las Vegas last week, I stopped into Battlefield Vegas to check out some interesting machine guns (and join Tim from Military Arms Channel for a video). While there, the owner took the time to pull this Type 97 Japanese tank machine gun out of his personal collection for me to take a look at. It’s quite the cool gun, and all the more so because he also has a mounting socket for it cut out of a recovered Japanese tankette!

Japanese Type 97 tank machine gun

The Type 97 was a copy of the Czech ZB-26, and chambered for 8×57 Mauser ammunition instead of a Japanese cartridge. It was fitted with a 1.5x scope for aiming (as opposed to many other tank guns, which were simply walked onto target with tracers), and a complex stock that couple be used from the shoulder or folded out of the way when inside a vehicle. I wasn’t expecting to see one of these, and did not have a chance to do any in-depth research, so more details will follow later…

(Also, please note that the video link goes to Full30.com instead of YouTube – I am slowly transitioning my video hosting to Full30, as it is a much better provider.)

Vintage Saturday: Why They Make Tripods Like That

Waffen-SS soldier manning a Czech ZB-37 machine gun on its tripod

He’s exhausted from carrying that gun. It’s just about the heaviest MMG ever conceived, and the tripod’s no lightweight either.

Waffen-SS soldier manning a Czech ZB-37 machine gun on its tripod. Note that the articulated tripod legs have been put to good use mounting the gun up on a large rock that offers some cover to the crew.

Chinese Pistols Coming Soon!

I just recently spent some time at RIA doing video for their upcoming Regional auction, and happened to notice a batch of guns they were in the process of sorting and writing descriptions of for the April Premier auction: a whole slew of Chinese Mystery Pistols.

I really need to come up with a better name for these things, but I’m not sure what that would be at his point. They are pistols manufactured by a large number of small Chinese shops in the 1920s and 30s, and generally fall into three categories. Mechanical copies of the Mauser 1914, Mauser C96 “Broomhandle”, and Browning 1900 pistols – but their external form varies wildly. They generally have nonsensical markings; sometimes gibberish text and sometimes copies of many different European proofs marks and trademarks. I took photos of a small sampling of the batch at RIA (click on any photo to enlarge it a lot):

I will definitely be spending some time with these when I next go to RIA, and I am particularly looking forward to being able to use the high-res photos they take for the auction catalog. I would love to be able to put together a reference book or ebook on this topic. Maybe it makes me strange, but I find these designs very interesting. :)