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The Vault

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It seems that this particular pistol was originally made in Germany and shipped to China (as were so many) – but at some point the frame was rendered unusable.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:

Nazi Belt Buckle Pistol Background

Sometimes when I write a post of make a video on a particularly unusual firearm, it will result in my being contacted by someone who has a surprising amount of experience with that gun, and provides me with new information I didn’t previously have. Well, exactly that happened with the Nazi belt buckle pistol sold by RIA that I made a video of. A few days ago I got an email from a fellow who said that particular piece used to be his, and if I was interested in the full story I should give him a call. I did, of course, and the story was pretty interesting.

This fellow was a young man in the USAF stationed in Germany in the early 1990s, and I will call him M for the purposes of the story (I don’t know what US or German laws may have been bent or broken in the following events, and I don’t want to get anyone in trouble). He spent about 3 years at the Bitburg Air Force base, until it was turned over to the Germans in late 1994. During that time, he was an enthusiastic shooter, buying and selling guns and spending time at a nearby commercial German shooting range. He was a frequent and reliable customer of the range – buying guns as well as shooting time – and as the years went by the range owner came to know and trust him and they became personal acquaintances, if not friends. Well, Norbert the range owner, it seems, was something of a closet neo-Nazi and generally creepy dude. M would sometimes show up to the range at unusual times and find some pretty sketchy people there shooting things like Skorpion SMGs. M was not particularly enthusiastic to become involved in this side of Norbert’s life, but maintained the relationship because of the range availability and the neat gun deals he got in the process. When M was looking for an MP44, Norbert took him on a somewhat surreal visit to a basement where he was offered three as a package, in various states of repair.

Around 1996, Norbert offered M one of these belt buckle pistols (M was now stationed at Ramstein, but continued to patronize the same shooting range). Norbert claimed that he had been contacted by the widow of a man he used to know who had emigrated from Germany to Switzerland after the war. Norbert’s description of this man and his activities coincides very well with what is known and surmised about Louis Marquis (the man generally credited with making prototype belt buckle guns for the SS). The widow said her husband had various old stuff up in the attic which she simply wanted gone, and Norbert went to clean it out. Norbert claimed to have recovered quite a lot in that attic, including gold and a box of belt buckle pistols. Initially, Norbert offered M a 4-barrel, .22 caliber belt buckle pistol, and M thought it was very cool and had to have it. He traded Norbert a Mini-14 for it. To M’s surprise, his interest prompted Norbert to bring out the whole box of belt buckle pistols, and M wound up acquiring three more of them. In addition to the 4-barrel .22, these other ones were:

  • An aluminum, heavily engraved example with 3 barrels. M describes the mechanism as being totally different form the others. He has no photos of it, as he traded it off to a friend fairly quickly.
  • A two-barreled example in .22LR, serial number 2/C
  • A single-barrel example in 9x19mm, described to him as the prototype.

M eventually brought three of the four back into the US in a suitcase, a decision he sees in retrospect as stupid and risky considering their likely status as AOWs. He sold one and traded the other two as a pair for a fishing boat and trailer. From that entry into circulation, they have floated around the collector market with various stories and ever-increasing price tags.

In hindsight, M is pretty sure that the whole box of belt buckle pistols was actually manufactured by Norbert, the closet Nazi range owner. He says Norbert had the means, motive, and opportunity to do so and the story Norbert provided for the guns’ origin simply didn’t seem to hold water.

Now, M is just some stranger on the internet. What gives his story credence to me (aside from a totally subjective gut feeling that I believe him) is that he was able to provide me with photos he took of three of the guns back while he was stationed in Germany. First up, here is number 1L, which M believes is the exact same piece that RIA recently sold:

Belt buckle pistol s/n 1L

Front cover of s/n 1L – note that the eagle’s head and wing are broken off.

Belt buckle pistol s/n 1L

Mechanism and markings of s/n 1L

Belt buckle pistol s/n 1L

Serial number 1L open and in firing position.

Belt buckle pistol s/n 1L

Serial number 1L on M’s dresser, fitted to a belt

All of these images can be enlarged by clicking on them. If this is the same item as the recent sale, it is worth noting that the eagle has been fixed by someone between its current sale and when M sold it off. In addition, the bluing on the piece is virtually gone today, and was fairly intact when M took these photos. He describes the bluing as being of poor quality, saying that it would leave an odor on his fingers after handling and would wear off the metal easily. Do I think it’s the same piece? Yeah, I think it is. Here’s a side-by-side of the RIA sale image with one of M’s – note details like screw orientation and scratches:

Nazi belt buckle pistol comparison

Next up, the two-barrel example in .22LR:

Belt buckle pistol 2C

Serial number 2C open and in firing position

Belt buckle pistol 2C

Markings on the bottom of s/n 2C

Belt buckle pistol 2C

Front view of s/n 2C – note the different style of cover plate

The markings on this piece are clearly done in the same style as #1L, but there are a few design differences. A different type of eagle emblem is used (thicker). The cover plate is angled rather than curved, and it has a bottom side to close off the internals (1L leaves a gap at the bottom of the cover plate). The latch allowing the piece to be folded and stowed is different in design.

Finally, the alleged prototype:

"Prototype" belt buckle pistol

Front of “prototype” model. Note the different style of eagle.

"Prototype" belt buckle pistol

Single-barrel 9x19mm “prototype” model in firing position

"Prototype" belt buckle pistol

“Prototype” model in carrying position

"Prototype" belt buckle pistol

Markings on “prototype” model

This one is also given the serial number “1″ and has the same basic mechanical design as the others, but has totally different markings on the bottom. It is a single-barrel, chambered for 9x19mm. It has the same style cover plate as 1L, but a different type of eagle than either of the other examples. The belt attachments of all three are clearly all made the same way and to the same design.

To me, this story and its accompanying photos throw the balance of the evidence thoroughly into the “fake” camp for me. Nothing here constitutes proof that the real Louis Marquis didn’t actually make something similar for the SS, but this style is the most legitimate looking type I have seen, and I no longer have and belief that they might be legit. That might have been totally obvious to some people for a long time, but I have been trying to remain open to the possibility that they were real. Well, no longer.

Shooting

As an interesting epilogue, M told me about his experience shooting these. They were not 5-figure artifacts when he had them, and he was absolutely going to try shooting them! In fact, he told me in a somewhat embarrassed tone about having worn #1 around on a belt (as you see it displayed above) a few times for fun.

At any rate, he described shooting them as (and I quote here), “they didn’t work for shit.” In all three pieces, cartridges would always slide backwards, partway out of the chambers. There is no mechanism to hold them in place (I had assumed myself that the cambers would be cut tight enough to hold the lead .22 bullets in place, but they were not). He said this problem was at its worst in the 9mm model. In addition, the rimfire ones had very sharp firing pins, and M says they tended to split the case rims and jam the cartridges in place rather than fire them. He says about 1 in 4 would actually fire…and the rest would have to be rammed out with a stick (not a fun task, considering their live priming compound).

 

 

East German Mosins – or not…

One of the things that makes Mosin Nagant rifles particularly interesting to a lot of folks (myself included) is their tendentcy to appear in a vast number of conflicts all across the globe. Guns originally made in the US, France, and Russia wound up in all the Balkan nations, back in the US, Japan, Spain, Finland, and many other places. Tracing the paths some of these rifles have taken is a fascinating look back in time. Among these paths, one destination was East Germany – the DDR. For a long time, the general understanding among Mosin-Nagant collectors was that East German Mosins (as well as SKS rifles) were identified by a one-in-a-triangle marking:

triangle-1 Mosin refurb marking

Well, some research by a Russian collector named Ruslan Chumak has recently brought to light some new information about this marking and a bunch of others. In fact, it is a mark indicating that the rifle was refurbished by the 1871st ABV (Artillery Base for Ordnance) in the Moscow Military District – it has nothing to do with East Germany. It appears that the East German connection was first put in print by Lee Lapin in his Mosin-Nagant book, based on some similar marks that were used in the DDR on commercially produced guns. From there it became widely accepted, although some serious collectors remained skeptical, as rifles would occasionally surface with the /1\ marking which did not really make sense as being East German, like rifles with Balkan modifications. In addition the marking is never seen on any other known East German weapons, and it is seen on a lot of other Russian weapons (like the PPS-43).

Beyond just the /1\ marking, Mr. Chumak was able to positively identify several other arsenal refurb markings, which are commonly found on Mosins (you can download his full 480-page article in Russian here). Many of these markings have long been a mystery to collectors, and it is exciting to see them being slowly identified:

Mosin-Nagant refurb markings

Mosin-Nagant refurb markings

 

A Tour of Simpson Ltd (Video)

Simpson Ltd has been a sponsor of Forgotten Weapons for a while now – they have a great selection of interesting guns and I figured I should take an opportunity to stop by their shop and film a video tour for you:

Pecos Run-n-Gun Disappointment

As I’m sure you saw from my preview post an video, I was really excited to participate in this year’s Pecos Run and Gun in the Sun match…and it turned into a huge disappointment. Cancelled at quite literally the last minute.

I left Arizona Friday morning (along with a companion who would be filming the whole thing), and after an 8-hour drive we got into Pecos TX that evening, grabbed dinner, and retired to a hotel for the evening. The ranch where the match is held is about 25 miles out from Pecos proper, and the organizers have a guide for the convoy of shooters, which leaves Pecos at 6:30 am, sharp. I got up at 4 (2am, Arizona time), grabbed breakfast, packed out of the hotel, and got to the assembly point with plenty of time to spare. The convoy leader was there with his very cool 1967 right-hand-drive Land Rover. I was in my 4×4 Toyota pickup, as the whole southwest has become rather muddy with the remnants of a couple tropical storms coming up north from Mexico.

Pecos Run-n-Gun convoy ready to go

Pecos Run-n-Gun 2014 convoy ready to go

At 6:30 we were lined up, engines idling, and ready to go, and our convoy leader got on the phone for one last conversation with the match organizer – and then walked down the line of vehicles to tell us all that the whole thing had been cancelled. The road to the site had been overrun by a running wash of whitewater intensity. The landowner had decided it was too dangerous to have people crossing, and the whole event was dead. I stuck around for a little while in case anyone had some alternative plan, but eventually had to accept it and proceeded to make the 550-mile drive back home to Arizona. Seriously disappointing.

Was the weather the fault of the match organizers? No, of course not – and crossing flooded washes is how you get your vehicle destroyed, and occasionally lose your life. I recognize that – it’s a fact of life in the desert, and I’m not at all saying that I would have driven through if I’d had the opportunity to. What I find unfortunate it that the organizers, having known about the rain for at least a week in advance (they posted several warnings about mud ahead of time), decided to both wait until the last minute to make a decision and not make any sort of alternate plan. That gave them the best possibility of having the match take place if the road was passable by the morning of the match (and nobody would been the wiser), rather than cancel a day or two ahead and maybe have the weather clear at the last minute. That course of action, though, put all the risk on the competitors, many of whom had driven as far or farther than me to get there. If you’re going to do that, at least have some sort of alternative plan. I can understand a last-minute freak disaster cancelling an event, but this rain was a known factor for a week or more. Even a half-baked alternative of some sort would have been preferable to simply turning around and driving home. That just plain sucked.

There has not been a replacement date posted as of this writing, and given the logistical issues involved in many of the competitors making the trip, I doubt many would be able to attend a rescheduled event anyway. The implication when we were told of the cancellation was that there would be no alternate date; the event was simply not happening this year.

Hopefully the planning next year will be better, and will include some sort of backup plan. Regardless, I suspect I will choose to do something else instead.

Updated to Add 9/22:

One of the match ROs send me a handful of photos of the course and the road in (taken either Friday or Saturday – I presume Saturday). It is some truly impressive flooding (click to enlarge)!

Further Updated 9/22:

The match organizer, Smokey, sent out an email this evening explaining the timeline of events, in light of which the last-moment decision does look much more reasonable:

My thoughts on the matter began with: Competitors have already made their plans, taken off work, reserved hotels, etc…. A chance of rain does not warrant a cancellation a week in advance.

We have handled very heavy rain before, without a problem.
What we are not prepared for, and can’t prepare for, is a 50-year flood, which this is.

We drove out to the range Thursday night to double check. We were good to go. This was the last moment to cancel the event before people started driving if they were coming any real distance. The local forecast was for a 50 percent chance of rain. The forecasters was not advising the building of arcs.  I’m not going to cancel an event on a 50 percent chance of rain.

Friday morning it rained and then stopped, and we had no problems when we brought the RO convoy out to the range.

As of 1:30 pm we were on schedule, running the ROs through the course, and the sun was shining. Several unwary folks (one of my daughters included) managed a sun burn. It was muddy, but we were making it work. The draw had a couple of inches of water in it at the deepest point, except for the ditch at the bottom, which you can jump across, or almost.
So, at 1:30 there was no reason to cancel.

Then it started to rain again about 4pm.
At 6pm the rain stopped. Would the water in the draw rise significantly? We didn’t know, but if you were driving any distance, you were already in Pecos.  Why cancel then if there is a hope that the draw won’t rise too much, or if it does, it will be back down by morning, and we’ll be in business in the morning? Competitors already made the drive if it was significant. We waited. The water had come up and dropped some by 6am, but not enough, and I called it — one for safety reasons, and 2) because the same draw that cuts our course cuts the road back into town. If it was running heavy where we were, then fording the county road would be hazardous.

Vintage Saturday: (The World is) Worth Fighting For

Ernest Hemingway firing a Mosin-Nagant during the Spanish Civil War

Loading them without clips was a pain in 1938, just like today.

Ernest Hemingway on the lines with a Mosin-Nagant during the Spanish Civil War. Photo by Hemingway’s companion Robert Capa, dated November 5th, 1938. What better way to research a book than to actually join the war you are going to write about?