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The Vault

Vintage Saturday: Winter Watch

Austrian troops in the First World War, with a Steyr M95 rifle and carbine

I bet they’re pretty cold even under those fur coats (click to enlarge)

Bulgarian troops in the First World War, with fixed bayonets on a Steyr M95 rifle and carbine.

Help us fund a high-speed camera!

Thanks to everyone! We hit the full $13,000 goal, and I have placed an order for an Edgertronic high speed camera! It should arrive in 3-4 weeks. The campaign will still run until the 17th (IndieGoGo rules; I can’t end it early), and if you would like to contribute between now and then I certainly won’t object – any additional funds at this point will be put towards miscellaneous expenses of running the site (gas, ammo, extra batteries and SD cards, etc).

Funding a Good High-Speed Camera

For the last couple years, I have been doing my video work for Forgotten Weapons with a consumer-grade little camcorder and a low-end wireless microphone. It works, but the video has some room for improvement – and the audio leaves a lot to be desired. My slow motion, such as it is, has been done with a Casio Exilim, a point-and-shoot pocket camera that can go up to 240 fps at reasonable quality (but you can clearly see the graininess in that footage). At the suggestion of a couple YouTube subscribers, I decided to start a crowdfunding campaign to finance a major upgrade in camera and audio gear. I did some research, and came up with a list of what would give me the biggest improvement for the buck, and came up with a total of $7500 worth of stuff. That seemed to be a bit optimistic to fund, so I figured I would run the campaign just on my YouTube channel and not pester you guys, my core readership, with it.

Well, it has been wildly successful. I set the campaign (on IndieGoGo) to run for 30 days, and after only 48 hours I have raised more than $6500. The campaign can’t be ended early, but I can set additional fundraising goals once I meet the initial goal. If I haven’t hit that initial $7500 goal by the time this publishes, I will be very close to it I made it to the full $7500 goal last night – so I want to discuss an additional goal with you.

Once I have the new equipment in hand that I had in mind, there will be one glaring hole left in my technical capability: high speed video. High speed video has long been a field with a stark divide between the consumer-level options (very low quality once you go slower than 120 or 240 fps) and the professional gear, which can capture clear images of bullets in flight but cost literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. Today, however, there is an intermediate option on the market: the Edgertronic. This is a high-speed camera designed specifically for the high-end amateur. It can capture full 1260 x 1080 high-def footage up to 500 frames/second, and 720P high def at 700 frames per second. For the less A/V savvy, 720P is equal to my highest-quality real-time footage right now. The Edgertronic (like all high speed cameras) can capture higher frame rates as well, with a proportional drop in image quality. It maxes out at 17,700 frames per second (yowza!) with 192 x 96 pixel output. For this capability, the price is $5500. It is the only camera I can find that straddles the consumer and professional worlds, and I think it would make an amazing tool to add to the Forgotten Weapons video capabilities. Here are a couple sample videos shot with this camera…

This is a great overall idea of what the camera can do, grinding M&Ms in a coffee grinder at 700fps and 2500 fps:

An example of the higher frame rate and lower quality – a shotgun firing at 6000 fps:

A bit slower, this is a hummingbird at 500fps (make sure to set the YouTube resolution to 720 to see the best quality):

Don’t you think it would be great to be able to see some unusual firearms actions at this sort of speed? Things like Lewis Guns and all their moving parts, or a Schwarzlose 1908 blow-forward, or a belt-fed Maxim or Vickers? I think it would be an excellent tool not just to make fun-to-watch footage, but also to really show what is happening when self-loading guns cycle. If you agree, please consider heading over to my fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo and making a contribution help make this a reality! There are some perks set up there that you can take advantage of, in addition to knowing what type of great footage we will be able to get with this camera.

Book Review: Italian Small Arms of the First and Second World Wars

Good news for everyone interested in collecting Italian military firearms (yes, both of you)! Ralph Riccio has just recently published a new book on Italian Small Arms of the First and Second World Wars. Until now, there have been very limited options for English-language books on Italian guns, and Riccio’s new work is an outstanding end to that drought. It is 224 pages of very good research and even better photography, covering everything from the 1874 pattern revolver to the Breda heavy machine guns in glossy full color. So if you want to know the difference between an M91/24 and an M91/28, or what the heck the Beretta 1915, 1915-19, 1915-19 M1922, and the other early Italian pistols are, or want to see a variety of Italian experimental semiauto rifles, this is definitely the resource for you.

Copies are available for $69.99 through Schiffer – at this time it is not available through Amazon.

XM-2 Personnel Detector

40B  M16 People sniffer manpack1-67

XM-2 Personnel Detector

by Tom Laemlein

In the rather deadly game of “hide & seek” played by the US Army and the Viet Cong led to a rather bizarre technical innovation during the Vietnam War: the people sniffer. The detection technology was developed by General Electric for the US Army’s Chemical Corps. “People Sniffer” technology was based on locating hidden enemy troops by detecting the chemical traces of urine and sweat. The sweatier or more piss-soaked that the VC were, so much the better for the People Sniffer, if not so much the operator!

40A M16 people sniffer 3

M16 with the sniffer pack

The first version of the People Sniffer was the XM-2 personnel detector man-pack (also known as the E63 man-pack personnel detector). The XM-2 consisted of a backpack-mounted sensor, coupled with an air intake tube mounted on the end of a M16 rifle. Deployed during 1967, reports are that the XM-2 was often a bit too sensitive, and would only pick up the sweat odors of its user. This, coupled with the rather loud “ticka-ticka-ticka” noise that sensor made while in use rather gave the whole game away. Understandably, troops were uncomfortable carrying a heavy noisemaker into an ambush zone. So the XM-2 man-portable system gave way to the much more powerful XM-3 airborne platform, normally mounted on a helicopter. The XM-3 delivered much better results, although the Viet Cong eventually learned ways to deceive the device’s ability to detect sweat, urine and campfire smoke.

41FULL M16 1st Cav people sniffer 67

If you can find an XM-2 “personnel detector” out there somewhere, it will make a great accessory for your vintage M16A1 rifle—granted you can find one of those.

Tom Laemlein runs Armor Plate Press, a military history publishing company that specializes in producing photo studies of 20th Century weapons systems. Find his work at www.armorplatepress.com.

New Orleans Museums: WWII and Confederacy

I recently had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans, and spent some time in two different military museums there (of course!). One was the massive National World War II Museum founded by Stephen Ambrose, and the other was the much smaller and much older Confederate Memorial Hall Museum. They are virtually across the street from each other, and are both worth a visit for folks who are in the city – but they are very different places and I think the contrast is interesting.

The WWII Museum is a whole campus of buildings; 6 acres if I remember correctly. They are adding more buildings, with several new exhibit halls expected to open in the next year or two. At the moment, there are two main halls: the US Freedom Pavilion (which houses a couple vehicles and a number of aircraft) and the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. The Louisiana Memorial Pavilion is the main event, with three floors of exhibits covering the major theaters of the war. The museum was originally dedicated specifically to the D-Day invasion of Normandy, and later received congressional status as the nation’s official overall WWII museum – so the staff had quite a job in expanding the coverage from a single operation to a whole war.

WWII aircraft on display at the National WWII Museum, New Orleans.

WWII aircraft on display at the National WWII Museum, New Orleans. Multiple catwalks allow you to see the planes from above, below, and right at eye level.

The overall layout of the museum was based on Stephen Ambrose’ vision, and shows the main flow of the war in broad strokes supported by anecdotal events and associated artifacts from individual veterans. This very personal touch is a very effective way to help bring the events to life for visitors who don’t have the deep background understanding of the war that most folks reading this likely have.

Katana and helmet at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans

A Japanese soldier attacked this GI with his sword, but in the heat of the moment forgot to remove the scabbard. The dented helmet and sword were donated by the GI. (National WWII Museum; New Orleans)

Museum design in general has changed in years past, and the National WWII Museum is a picture-perfect example of the new school of museum design. It is set up for people who have little or no knowledge of the war, and guides them through from the beginning to the end like a multimedia textbook, doing its best to provide an all-encompassing understanding of “what was WWII?” Instead of focusing on the boring stuff of academic classes, like a multitude of names and dates, it conveys a more generalized feel for how the war progressed and what its impact was on both combatants and non-combatants. The artifacts on display are generally chosen for their connection to a specific individual soldier and his story, which is a nice touch. In addition, much use is made of video, both original wartime footage and oral history interviews with veterans many decades after the war. I think this type of media is an essential element in a museum of this style, as it gives the viewer a firsthand look at the events much deeper than one can get from looking at artifacts.

If I have a complaint about this museum style, though, it is the focus on events to the exclusion of artifacts. Once you are familiar with the story being presented and the personal anecdotes chosen to accompany it, there is not much more you can learn from this sort of museum – and if you are reading this web site, the chances are pretty good that you already have a much deeper understanding of WWII than the museum presents (and I should also point out that this is an American WWII museum – it only touches on areas with US activity. There is no mention of the Eastern Front, for example.). In this case, you may be interested in some of the vehicle displays (a Sherman, Jeep, Dodge 3/4 ton ambulance, Hurricane, DC-3, B17, and a few other aircraft) but you will not find very much of interest in the exhibits. You will, in fact, find the history to be rather propagandized and simplified. More than a few of the weapons on display are actually dummies, some built better than others. Actually, the most unusual and interesting (to me, anyway) firearms on display is a Japanese trainer version of the Type 96 Nambu. It is being used as a stand-in for a real Type 96, and labelled as being a blank-firing trainer pressed into service with live ammo at the end of the war (which I really doubt; it appears to be a simply blowback action that would blow itself apart on the first live round). Frankly, these are much harder to find than real Type 96s, and it was cool to see one on display.

Japanese Type 96 training machine gun

Japanese Type 96 training machine gun (National WWII Museum; New Orleans)

A perfect example of the older style of museum design is actually right across the street from the National WWII Museum campus: the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum.

Confederate Memorial Hall Civil War Museum, New Orleans

Confederate Memorial Hall Civil War Museum, New Orleans

Established way back in 1891, it is of the “piles of artifacts” school of museum design. There is some explanation of what things are, but in order to get the most out of this place you will need to do background research before you set foot in the door – and the more you know, the more you will learn here (as opposed to the WWII museum, where those who learn the most are those who enter knowing the least).

This museum is chock full of uniforms, firearms, equipment, and other assorted artifacts of the Civil War, with a strong focus on the Confederacy. It is much more densely packed than more modern museums, and frankly I like that. I wish I could have taken photos inside, but their photography policy (none at all, under any circumstances!) is rather paranoid. I

did find this photo of the main room on their own web site, though, and it gives a decent feel of the place:

confederatemuseum

There isn’t a whole lot more I can think of to say about the Confederate Memorial Hall, except that my lack of commentary is not a reflection of a sparse museum, but rather just that there isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said. If you are interested in the Civil War and the Confederacy and have the chance to visit, you should definitely do so. The admission price is $8, the staff is friendly and helpful (although not particularly knowledgeable, unless you catch the curator), and their small gift shop book store is better stocked than the WWII museum.

I suppose there is a bit of an elephant in the room with today’s political climate about the Confederacy and racism, so I should say that it is really a non-political place. Hundreds of thousands of poor bastards died fighting for the Confederacy just as hundreds of thousands of others did for the Union, and this museum is there to remember them and share their story – not to make political statements.

I have been trying to figure out a more diplomatic way to say this, and haven’t been able to, so I’ll just be blunt. Many modern museums, including the National WWII Museum, are designed for the lowest common denominator. Walk in as a completely blank slate, and you will walk out with a basic overall view of American activity in World War II. Walk in as a subject matter expert, and you will find yourself moving from room to room fairly quickly, and wrinkling your brow at some of the simplifications (and having fun spotting the dummy guns in displays). Older museums, like the Confederate Memorial Hall, don’t hold your hand – but also don’t limit what you will learn if you know what to look for. For most people, the new style will, like a textbook, deliver the most information to the greatest number…but for the people really interested in a subject the old methods are much more rewarding. So which museum should you visit? It entirely depends on who you are and what you are looking for.

 

Sedgley Glove Gun

The Sedgley Glove Gun was one of the goofiest projects actually funded by the US military during WWII. Designed for the Navy, it was basically a leather gardening glove with a single shot .38 S&W pistol attached to the back (the original patent calls for a .410 shotshell, but this was changed for unknown reasons). A plunger fired the gun, and the idea was literally that the user would make a fist and punch his adversary, shooting them in the process. Depending on which numbers you believe, somewhere between 52 and 200 of these were actually made, and there is no confirmed record of any actually being used in combat. There are suggestions that the OSS also used them, but these are also unconfirmed.

We had the privilege to examine this mint-condition example at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, and very much appreciate the opportunity!

Patent

US Patent 2,423,448 (S.M. Haight, “Fist Gun”, filed February 29, 1944)

Vintage Saturday: Trench Mag

Sentry with trench mag - September 1916

He has to stay on guard duty, so his mates came to him for the group photo (picture from Drake Goodman – click to enlarge)

German sentry in the trenches during September 1916 with a periscope and a Gewehr 98 equipped with an extended 20-round trench magazine.

Mossberg’s Combat .45

Think about the really stereotypical service pistol for the 21st century (so far) – it would be something with a polymer frame, large magazine capacity, minimum of manual controls, and a striker with a safety built into the trigger pull. Like a Glock or Springfield XD or Smith and Wesson M&P. Everyone in tune with the times seems to have come to an agreement that this is the ideal set of features for a “serious” service sidearm. Now think back to the 80s (having been born in the 80s, I’m judging the second-hand, but bear with me). What features were really desirable on service sidearms back then? Large caliber, manual safety, and stainless steel (and lots of it), right? In that case, I present a quintessential 1980s combat pistol:

Mossberg CAC-45 with instruction pamphlet

Mossberg CAC-45 with instruction pamphlet

This is the Combat Model .45, made by a company called CAC for Mossberg. It was designed by none other than Bo Clerke (of barrelmaking notoriety, as well as the .38/.45) first shown to the public at the 1979 SHOT Show. Mechanically, it is basically a 1911, with design changes made to address what were considered shortcomings in Browning’s venerable pistol. The differences are:

  • No grip safety. Instead, it has a huge beavertail to protect the shooter’s hand from the hammer.
  • Rear sight adjustable for windage by a small screw.
  • Massively extended slide release, which can be operated by the shooting thumb.
  • Safety (ambidextrous) mounted on the slide; push forward to disengage.
  • Cam slot in the barrel (like the High Power) instead of Browning’s swinging link.
  • Threaded-in barrel bushing, theoretically for improved accuracy.
  • Full-length guide rod for the recoil spring.
  • External extractor.
  • Shortened 4 inch barrel.
  • Pivoting trigger rather than Colt’s yoke type.
  • Beveled magazine well.
  • And, of course, the entire gun is made of stainless steel (all 36 ounces of it).

As you can see, many of these updates are not exactly original to this particular pistol. My Ballester-Molina incorporates several, as does the High Power (which was Browning’s follow up to the 1911, although he died before completing it). A couple anachronisms are also evident, primarily the “combat” style trigger guard spur. To quote Dr. Ralph Glaze’s article on the CAC .45 in the 1979 Guns & Ammo Annual:

Since “Combat” shooting requires the use of a two-hand hold, it has long been common practice to “square-off’ the front of the trigger guard on combat autos to· provide a steady rest for the forefinger of the non-shooting hand. The Mossberg Combat .45 not only has a square trigger guard, but also has a small hook at the bottom front of the guard to keep the finger from sliding down as a result of motion induced by recoil during rapid fire . It’s a small thing, but that little hook really works in helping to maintain a solid two-handhold.

Not exactly today’s style, eh?

Original Mossberg ad for the Combat Model .45

Original Mossberg ad for the Combat Model .45 – note the suggestion to use wadcutters, and the $350 MSRP

Since that list above of changes form the 1911 looks pretty long, we should point out the elements that were kept the same. Primarily it’s the operating mechanism. The Mossberg gun is a recoil-operated, short recoil system identical in principle to the 1911. As recoil pushes the slide backwards, the barrel is cammed downward at the chamber end, disengaging the two locking lugs from the top of the slide. The disassembly is identical in principle, with just changes to the details from the extra screwed-in bits. The magazines are also interchangeable, at least on some of them. Reportedly some were designed for a magazine with the mag catch cutout slightly higher than the 1911 standard, but some were also made to use stock 1911 mags. The standard, though, was just 6 rounds – a regular 1911 mag will stick out below the bottom of the grip.

Mossberg CAC Combat Model .45 disassembled

Mossberg CAC Combat Model .45 disassembled (photo from 1979 Guns & Ammo annual)

Mossberg planned to release the gun to commercial public sale (they went so far as to print instructions and advertising), as well as submit them to the Army for testing in the hopes of getting a contract to replace the 1911. Somewhere along the line it all went wrong, though, because only a handful were ever actually made (and the Army apparently wasn’t interested). I had the chance to inspect gun #1127, seen a writeup on #1025 (with great photos), found an auction sale of #1105, and seen photos of #1145. That suggests that serial numbers started at 1000, and something like 150 were made in total. Why the gun died on the vine so abruptly, I do not know…it could be anything from industry intrigue to a simply underestimation of production cost and market interest.

 

Technical Specs

Caliber: .45 ACP
Magazine capacity: 6+1 (some can use standard 1911 magazines)
Barrel length: 4 in (102mm)
Overall length: 7.5 in (191mm)
Weight (unloaded): 36 oz (1020g)
Action: Short recoil
Locking system: Tilting barrel
Material: Stainless steel

Photos

Here are some photos of CAC .45 number 1127 (thanks to reader Bob for letting me examine it). This example is missing its safety lever:

 

AVT-40 Testing Report

While poking around at Soviet Gun Archives (a very cool site which I wish was updated more often), I noticed this two-page memo reporting the results of an experiment modifying SVT-40 rifles to full-auto capability.

AVT-40 testing report, page 1 (Russian, 1942)

Page 1 – click to enlarge

AVT-40 testing report, page 2 (Russian, 1942)

Page 2 – click to enlarge

To put this into context, the original SVT-38 was updated based on combat experience in Finland, and the SVT-40 formally adopted on April 13, 1940. Although the rifles had some problems (field reports described them as unreliable and inaccurate in combat conditions), they were successful enough that Tokarev went on to design a select-fire variation. The changes were mostly in the trigger group, with the safety lever turned into a selector switch allowing either semi or full-auto fire. The intention was that the rifles could be used in full-auto in limited circumstances to supplement the Soviet shortage of light machine guns and submachine guns. Designated the AVT-40, these rifles went into production in May 1942 – and were taken right back out of production in the summer of 1943.

Mechanically, the SVT-40 was simply not equipped to withstand the rigors of full-auto fire. It suffered from parts breakages, as well as failures to eject, premature unlocking of the bolt, and ruptured case heads. In addition, it was found to be less accurate that the Mosin-Nagant in semiauto and less accurate than the PPSH-4 and PPS-43 in full auto. These problems are detailed in the 2-page report above. Here is a translation, again from Soviet Gun Archives (I have emphasized a couple points that jumped out at me in particular):

Conclusions on the proving ground trials of 7.62 mm automatic rifles, converted from semi-automatic rifles, with 10-15 round magazines showed that:

  1. Groups at 100 meters when firing in bursts increase by 3-3.5 times.
    At 300 meters, only 25-30% of the bullets strike a 3×3 meter target.
    At 500 meters, up to 30% of the bullets strike a 3.5-4 meter target.
    While shooting with a 15 round magazine, grouping gets worse, and it is difficult to fire while prone due to the protruding magazine.
  2. When shooting at targets, only the first bullet hits.
  3. The ability to aim is limited to 50 shots over the span of one minute. After that, the barrel overheats, and a mirage effect is achieved, which impedes aiming.
  4. The automatic rifle jams:
    1. With thick grease: 2-4% of the time
    2. With dry parts: 12-14%
    3. In dusty conditions: 14-50%
    4. While aiming up or down: 8-12%
  5. The barrel life is 6000 rounds when firing 50 rounds per minute, after which the rifle was allowed to cool. Continuous fire brings the life down to 150-200 rounds.
As a result of trials, it was concluded that:
  1. Is is not viable to create an automatic rifle from a semi-automatic one by modifying the trigger group.
  2. It is only possible to aim with such an automatic rifle when using a thickened barrel and lightened bipod.
  3. When converting a semi-automatic rifle to fully automatic by only modifying the trigger group, its combat usefulness decreases to less than that of a submachine gun.
Conclusions
  1. Due to the decreased combat usefulness, conversion of a semi-automatic rifle to a fully automatic one is not rational.
  2. In order to reach required density of fire with a high probability of hitting the target, it is better to use submachineguns, which have the advantages of simpler production, higher reliability, compactness, high magazine capacity, larger stocks of ammunition, etc.

The US military would discover this ineffectiveness of full-auto shoulder rifles about 15 years later, with the M14 debacle…