Somehow I don’t think the binoculars are particularly necessary…
Somehow I don’t think the binoculars are particularly necessary…
Flamethrowers are a significant piece of military weapons history which are very widely misunderstood, as flamethrowers have never been the subject of nearly as much collector interest as other types of small arms. The US military removed its flamethrowers from inventory in 1985, and all other major national militaries have done the same. In the US, the lack of general interest led to most of the surplussed weapons being destroyed as scrap, and few survive in private collections. At the same time (and for the same reason) a great deal of the information on these weapons was also discarded and lost.
One of the people who has done a tremendous amount of work to recover practical information on historical military flamethrowers as well as restore, service, and operate them is Charlie Hobson. He has worked extensively with the US military museum system as well as the entertainment industry (if you have seen a movie of TV show using a real flamethrower, is was almost certainly done under his supervision).
Today I am discussing the basic of flamethrowers with Charlie. The goal is to provide a good baseline foundation so we can go on to look at a couple specific historical flamethrowers and understand them in context. So sit back, relax, and enjoy a chat with a man who is truly passionate about this underappreciated aspect of military history!
You can reach Charlie through his web site, www.FlamethrowerExpert.com if you are interested in the purchase, restoration, or testing of military flamethrowers. I also highly recommend his book, US Portable Flamethrowers. It covers not only the whole sequence of US flamethrowers from WWII through the 1980s, but also includes experimental models, vehicle-mounted units, and foreign designs as well.
One of the topics that has been (somewhat oddly) lacking a detailed and well-researched history is the Armalite AR-10. There was a book written by a Major Pikula many years ago, but it is really hard to find (I’ve seen it referenced, but never found a copy myself). There is the Collector Grade book on the AR-15 (The Black Rifle), but it has only a scant dozen pages on the AR-10. What we have really needed is for someone to do the research and tell the full story of the Armalite patriarch, the AR-10 – and now Joseph Putnam Evans has.
The Armalite AR-10: the World’s Finest Battle Rifle was just recently released by Collector Grade, a publisher whose name should be well-known to any arms historian or collector. Personally, I will buy and Collector Grade book sight unseen, because of their outstanding work in the past, and Evans’ volume is no disappointment. At 389 pages copiously illustrated in color, this is right in the middle of length for its type of book. I am very happy to note that it includes an index – the publisher’s apparent distaste for that tool being one of my few complaints with books from Collector Grade.
Anyway, I should be discussing the work itself, not the publisher. What Evans has done is compile a thorough and detailed history of Armalite’s work in the United States and abroad. The book begins with brothers-in-law George Sullivan and Charles Dorchester developing their “Para-Sniper”bolt action rifle and its ideas for super lightweight firearms. At the same time, Eugene Stoner was independently developing his own rifles, and the book explains the paths of both sets of projects and their ultimately serendipitous meeting at the Topanga Canyon Shooting Range.
Descriptions and histories of all the early Armalite project guns follows, including the Para-Sniper as AR-1, Stoner’s .30-06 hunting rifle M7 as the AR-3, the AR-5 Air Force survival rifle,the semiauto shotgun that was the AR-9, and others. The one that really took off, of course, was the AR-10, with a combination of a rotating bolt inspired by Melvin Johnson (whose involvement is detailed) and Stoner’s innovative idea of combining elements of a direct impingement system with a gas piston built into the bolt carrier itself. At this point we reach one of the most interesting parts of the story, to me. Between the initial prototypes and the models ultimately adopted by several militaries there was a winding path of development and change. The rifle’s original raison d’etre was a combination of very effective recoil moderation allowing controllable fire from a very light rifle. The original military prototype was a scant 7 pounds loaded – a weight considered impossible by the Ordnance Department, and yet here Armalite had done it. It was a combination of titanium, aluminum, and (against Stoner’s advice) a composite barrel that made this possible, and it was quite the eye-opener to Ordnance officers.
As always happens, of course, the design became heavier and more robust as it would its way through the testing process. I will leave the sordid detail of its US defeat to Evans, as this takes a substantial portion of the book to explain in proper detail. Ultimately, Armalite would set its sights on Holland and the Dutch firm of Artillerie Inrichtingen to produce its rifle for worldwide adoption. Enter small arms legend Sam Cummings as sales agent, and we have a fascinating story of phone calls to Castro, German WWI lances for the Sudanese Camel Corps, and much more. With each different contract came a slightly different set of customer requirements, and this led to a confusing profusion of different models and details. Evans does an excellent job of identifying, describing, and putting in context each of these different types.
The closing chapters of the book look at a number of examples of notable individual combat use of various AR-10s in conflicts around the world, from Angola and Mozambique to Cuba. Finally, the different semiauto receivers made for collectors over the decades here in the US are each briefly discussed, as are the modern iterations of the rifle, from Knight’s Armament and the new Armalite company.
Overall, Evans has presented a detailed but well-written history of the AR-10 covering all of its major developmental pathways. Even the most knowledgeable collectors will find details within that they did not previously know, and for the great majority of us the book will be massively educational. My only real critique would be that Evans is a bit heavy-handed on his praise of the rifle, especially in the early sections. He is clearly a loving fan of the gun, and it is this passion for the subject that I am sure motivated him to do the research necessary to produce this work. If he fails to always hide that passion behind dry language, I can’t really object too strenuously.
List price for The Armalite AR-10: the World’s Finest Battle Rifle is $79.95, and it can be purchased through Collector Grade directly or via Amazon. It is in print for the time being, but like all Collector Grade books (and all good juicy firearms books in general) it will eventually sell out and become both difficult and expensive to find. I would definitely recommend that anyone interested do themselves a favor and pick up a copy now, while it’s easy. This is definitely a book that has earned its place in your library.
This is a second pattern Bendix-Hyde carbine, made for the M1 Carbine trials. The first Bendix-Hyde had a number of features that Ordnance requested be changed (including a pistol grip), and this was the modified version submitted for the second round of tests. It lost out to the Winchester design, of course, which became the M1 Carbine.
I had a chance to take one apart at RIA, so I made sure to get a photo or two (click to enlarge):
In this month’s 2-Gun match, I am competing as a WWI US infantryman, with an M1917 Eddystone rifle and an M1911 pistol (both are genuine WWI-era originals). I am also using a reproduction US 1917 uniform from Mike’s Militaria. It’s a fantastic quality reproduction, made from the same patterns and materials as the originals, and custom tailored to fit. If you are looking for truly excellent reenactment gear, definitely check them out!
Ultimately I placed 50 out of 60 shooters – not bad for shooting against almost exclusively semiauto rifles! The more I shoot the M1917 rifle, the more I like it – although heavy, it is excellent in every other way. The 1911 is an iconic pistol, but does leave something to be desired. The hammer bite left my hand bloody, but it did get the job done.
Note how this, like many early flamethrowers, was a two-man affair. One carried the tanks and the other aimed and fired the projector.
Nope, it’s not mine (although I do look forward to visiting the NFC again in the future) – my friend Vic has started a video channel looking at some of the guns in the monumental National Firearms Centre (aka, the Pattern Room) collection. for his first video (with a low-quality backup camera, due to some equipment problems) he and NFC Curator Jonathan Ferguson discuss the early British selfloaders – the EM-1, EM-2, and .280 caliber FAL. I am looking forward to seeing this channel continue and grow!
One of the lessons learned by the British military in the aftermath of the Boer War was that modern Mauser rifles were superior to their Lee-action rifles and carbines. In response, British ordnance began experimenting with a Mauser-pattern rifle, ultimately finalized as the Pattern 1913. This rifle would also leave behind the obsolescent .303 rimmed cartridge, in favor of a new rimless .276 Enfield round.
The Pattern 13 rifle itself was excellent – it balanced and handled well, it had very good sights, and a smooth and fast bolt throw. However, the .276 Enfield cartridge was really more potent than it needed to be, and caused problems. The cartridge threw a 165 grain bullet at just under 2800fps, pretty close to the ballistics of today’s 7mm Remington Magnum. Loaded with Cordite propellent, this led to excessive barrel wear and unpleasant recoil, along with some parts breakage. However, as final testing was being done in the first half of 1914, the Great War broke out.
At this point, plans for using a new cartridge were abandoned. The rifle itself was redesigned in the .303 cartridge, to be manufactured in large numbers by American firms under contract. It would also be refitted for the .30-06 cartridge and used in large numbers by the American armed forces as the M1917 Enfield rifle. According to General Julian Hatcher (who ought to know), it was the best rifle of the First World War.
In 1928 and 1929, the Swiss Rheinmetall company produced about 50 examples of a toggle-locked rifle designed by Karl Heinemann. It was tested by the United States among other countries, but never found military acceptance. This particular example is a Heinemann rifle in sporting pattern, made by the Walther company. I do not know the details of Heinemann’s move from Rheinmetall to Walther, but I would guess it had to do with his early rifles’ lack of military success.
Mechanically, the gun is quite unusual and interesting, with a toggle-locked bolt and a Bang-type muzzle cup. Gas is captured in this cup when the rifle is fired, and that pressure pulls the muzzle cup forward. An operating rod runs from the muzzle back to a cam which cracks the bolt toggle open when it is pulled forward, thus unlocking the action.
The T2 submachine gun was Auto-Ordnance’s entry into the ongoing competition to replace the classic Thompson submachine gun with something more economical to produce. It was a closed-bolt, select-fire design using a progressive trigger and a tubular receiver, along with stand Thompson gun magazines. Examples were made in both 9mm and .45 ACP, but it was the .45 version that the US military tested. Ultimately is was rejected in favor of the Inland/Hyde M2 submachine gun (which looks rather similar to it) – which was in turn quickly replaced by the much simpler M3 “Grease Gun” that would truly replace the Thompson in US military hands.