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Bergmann Simplex Pocket Pistols (Video)

The Bergmann 1896 Number 2 pistol was a relatively successful compact pocket gun for its day, but quickly became obsolete as semiautomatic handguns developed and improved. Bergman and his chief engineer Schmeisser spent the late 1890s developing and improved version of the Bergmann automatics, pitting into two distinct lines of development. One was the Number 5 (1897) locked breech pistol for military service, which would evolve into the reasonable successful Model 1910. The other was the Number 6 (circa 1899) which would become the Simplex.

The Simplex was a compact simple blowback pistol firing a proprietary 8x18mm cartridge slightly less powerful than the .32 ACP. It used a detachable magazine of 5, 8, or 10 rounds and shared the basic aesthetic lines of the 1897 and 1903 Bergmann pistols, albeit smaller and cheaper. However, the Simplex was in direct competition with the FN/Browning 1900, which was a spectacularly successful and popular design. The Bergmann Simplex was unable to effectively, and only about 4000 were made in total before it was dropped form production.

There are two basic variations of the Simplex, and we have one of each in this video. The early guns have the magazine release located on the front of the magazine well, and the late pattern guns have a more modern style of magazine release button on the side of the frame above the trigger.

Turner Semiauto SMLE Conversion (Video)

Russell Turner was a Pennsylvania gunsmith and inventor who developed this semiautomatic conversion of an SMLE bolt action rifle circa 1940. It was intended for trial and potential sale to the Canadian military, as it would allow them to retrofit existing rifles into semiautomatic configuration and still use existing supplies of .303 British ammunition. Rather than try to devise a reliable system to rotate the original Enfield bolt, Turner replaced the bolt entirely, using instead a side-tilting design much like what he used in his M1 Carbine trials rifle for the US military. This was coupled with a long stroke gas piston and a hammer firing trigger mechanism.

Reportedly the rifle was tested by Canadian authorities, and performed quite well, with the adjustable gas system allowing it to function reliably even in temperatures of 25 below zero (where the Garand, tested alongside, experienced problems). However, Turner’s rifle was deemed to complex for military adoption.

That decision against the rifle was probably the right one for Canada, although Turner’s conversion is one of the better semi auto bolt acton conversions I have handled. It was remarkably non-awkward – that may not sound like much to crow about, but it sets a pretty high standard for this type of rifle.

Beautiful Breechloading Wheellock (Video)

Most people think that breechloading arms began with the development of paper or brass cartridges, but this is not strictly true. While not common before that period, there were gunsmiths here and there experimenting with breechloading systems hundreds of years before they became commonplace. The British Ferguson rifle is an example of one that did see some limited production, but even earlier we see examples like this gorgeously embellished 1625 wheel lock. It uses a simple steel cartridge case that would be pre-loaded with powder and ball, and then dropped in through the Snider-style trap door at the breech of the rifle. It is also equipped with relatively nice sights for the time and double set triggers – whoever commissioned this weapon was clearly a serious firearms enthusiast!

You can see another very similar example here – note that it was missing the cartridge which I did not recognize at the time, but you can see the notch where the cartridge’s indexing pin would fit.

Note: The gun in this video was pulled from the RIA auction after I did my video – not sure why, but probably a conflict with the consignor over value estimate.

Chinese C96 “Wauser” Broomhandle

The C96 Mauser was a very popular handgun in China in the 1920s and 30s, which naturally led to a substantial number of domestically-produced copies of it. These ran the full range of quality, from dangerous to excellent. This particular example falls into the middle, appearing to be a pretty fair mechanical copy of the C96 action . However, it does exhibit classic Chinese misspelled markings – the workers who made these guns often did nor actually read English (or German), and made best-guess attempts at copying the markings on authentic firearms. The result was sometimes something like the Wauser.

Collier Flintlock Revolvers (Video)

Elisha Collier is probably the best-known name in flintlock revolvers – to the extent that any flintlock revolvers are well known. Because of the great cost and required skill to manufacture a functional repeating flintlock handgun without modern machine tools, these weapons were never common, but they were made by a number of gunsmiths across Europe. Collier and a fellow American gunsmith named Artemis Wheeler developed this particular type (the specific contributions of each party are not known), and Collier patented it in England in 1818. He proceeded to market the guns, which appear to have been made for him under contract by several high-end British gunsmiths (including Rigby and Nock).

Collier made three different basic types of guns. They share the main feature of a revolving cylinder which must be indexed manually between shots (seeing them while traveling in India was reportedly the inspiration for Samuel Colt’s idea to connect the mechanical functions of hammer and cylinder to invent the single action revolver). The first two patterns of Collier are flintlocks, differing in lock and cylinder design, as well as having slightly different mechanisms to self-prime. The third pattern was actually made as percussion guns, as Collier’s guns were being made right at the end of the flintlock period and the dawn of the percussion cap. In total, 350-400 guns were made, including 50-100 bought by the British military for use in India.

First Pattern Musket: https://www.rockislandauction.com/detail/69/220
Second Pattern Rifle: https://www.rockislandauction.com/detail/69/3165
Second Pattern Pistol: https://www.rockislandauction.com/detail/69/1114

Turner Light Rifle Prototype (2nd Model)

Russell turner was a gunsmith and inventor in Pennsylvania who submitted a rifle design to the US Light Rifle trials (which would culminate in the adoption of Winchester’s design as the M1 Carbine). Turner’s entry into the first trial was a distinctive piece with a tubular metal stock and hand guard. This was criticized by the testing board, and his followup rifle in the second trial instead used traditional wooden furniture.

Unfortunately for Turner, the ammunition he was initially supplied for his development was loaded with IMR 4227 powder, and the ammunition used in the trials was a second lot made instead with Hercules 2400. While the two lots had the same maximum pressure, they had different burn rates and pressure curves and the trial ammunition did not run reliably in Turner’s rifle. Turner had not bee informed of this change, much to his disgust – he claimed that it would have been simple to adjust his rifle’s gas port location to work with the trials ammunition, and said that the gun ran perfectly with the ammunition he was supplied.

The Turner rifle is a pretty simple and handy design. It uses a long stroke gas piston and a side-locking tilting bolt, somewhat like the Czech ZH-29. It has a very simple trigger mechanism, and weighs in at 5.25 pounds unloaded. The safety copies that of the M1 Garand in operation, and the sights are a simple fixed aperture and front post. Had it not been for the pressure curve issues, it could have potentially been a real contender for adoption in my opinion.

Movie Review: Anthropoid

new-poster-anthropoidThe 2016 movie Anthropoid has gotten some negative reviews for failing to be properly cinematic and was a pretty unspectacular performer in box office receipts since its release in August – but I found it to be an emotionally powerful film deserving of deep reflection.

Anthropoid is the story of the Czech Resistance operation of the same name, the plot to assassinate Reinhart Heydrich in Prague in May of 1942. Heydrich was the number three man in the NAzi hierarchy, and had gone to Prague to pacify the Czech population, which he accomplished with brutal effectiveness. The government in exile in London, in cooperation with British SOE (Special Operations Executive) dropped a number of agents back into the county, including two men with orders to assassinate Heydrich – men named Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš (played by Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan).

It was not difficult to predict that an attempt to assassinate an officer of Heydrich’s stature would incur a merciless retaliation, and the moral dilemma of the operation  can go all the way back to the order to undertake the mission. Did the Czech government truly believe that the assassination would bring tangible benefit to the war effort, or did they want to justify their position to the British and Allies at the expense of the Czech civilians who would suffer the brunt of the reprisals? That question remains open to debate, but it brings up a question not often considered in the portrayal of resistance movements like that of the Czechs.

The individual courage and dedication required to execute an operation like Anthropoid are enormous – the chances of success are always lower than one would like, and the risk of capture, torture, and death extremely high. And yet, in many ways those risks pale in comparison to the threat of collective responsibility and reprisals against an entire civilian population. The two assassins with the Sten and the homemade grenade were not risking their own lives, but in fact taking an action that would result in the deaths of literally thousands of their countrymen and women, including the complete razing of the village of Lidice. Do they bear the guilt for this, or does it rest solely on the Germans who ordered it? None of us would probably lay the blame on the assassins, and yet they must struggle with the decision themselves. If they do nothing, Heydrich will be reassigned elsewhere, and leave Prague and Czechoslovakia in relative peace – and yet he undoubtedly deserves death and they have been ordered to deliver it to him. The men have families in the city, and know that their loved ones will surely be the first to be executed should they be found out.

In the film we see the two assassins grappling with these crushing decisions in a way few other movies have been willing to show. Anthropoid is in fact quite remarkably true to the actual history, in most cases down to the slight details. It maintains this authenticity probably at its own expense, as many potential audiences (and critics) are put off by inconvenient truth. I, however, found it to be a profoundly moving account of the actions of a group of heroic men and women. I would strongly recommend it to anyone with an interest in understanding the truth about resistance against occupiers, and the burdens carried by those who take on that duty.


The memorial to the men who died in the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Prague

Tolkien’s Service Revolver

From The Guardian:

The Webley Mk VI was the standard issue gun for British servicemen at the outbreak of the war. In 1996, Tolkien’s family gave the gun to the Imperial War Museum during a firearms amnesty in the UK, following the Dunblane school massacre, in which 16 children and one adult were killed. As a signalman, Tolkien took charge of communications for his battalion; it is not known if he used the weapon in battle.

Garth continued: “An Oxford-educated man, he went to war alongside labourers and miners, like Bilbo among the dwarves. He saw and probably experienced war trauma – and Frodo’s psychological journey is remarkably like the ones described by war writers such as Siegfried Sassoon. Tolkien witnessed pitiable waste of life in the mud, which shaped his famous Dead Marshes scene, where bodies of warriors appear like ghosts in the marsh pools. His passions were medieval, but his work was a response to indelible experience.”

“He also said that Sam Gamgee, in The Lord of the Rings, was ‘a reflexion of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognised as so far superior to myself’.”

Read the whole story: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/12/jrr-tolkien-gun-first-world-war-manchester

Vintage Saturday: AR10 in Angola

Portuguese Para in Angola

Portuguese Para in Angola

From the look in his eyes, he knows you will burn down a village to get one of those rifles.

Note the integral bipod on the AR-10 (A Portuguese m961 model).

Astra Model F (Video)

The Astra Model F was the final evolution of the Astra 900, a C96 Mauser lookalike. The Model F used detachable magazines and was select-fire, with a very effective rate reducing mechanism in the grip. It was adopted by the Guardia Civil in 1934, and 1,126 of the guns were produced in 1935.

Of those guns, 950 were delivered to the G.C. in June and the remaining guns remained at the factory, where most were seized by the Euzkadian government in August and September of 1936, with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Unlike most of the Astra 900 series, the Model F was made in 9mm Largo. The Model F also used its own proprietary magazine (made in 10- and 20-round sizes), not interchangeable with either the Astra 903 or the Mauser Schnellfeuer.