Smith & Wesson’s first venture into the autoloading pistol market was done under the leadership of Joe Wesson, Daniel Wesson’s son. He was quite the automatic pistol enthusiast, and made an agreement to license patents of Liege designer Charles Clement for adaptation into a pistol for the US market.
The resulting Model 1913 featured a hinged barrel assembly for easy cleaning and a very light bolt with a mainspring disconnector, so the bolt could be cycled without fighting the recoil spring. It also had both a manual safety and a grip safety. However, its most recognized feature was the use of a proprietary .35 S&W cartridge. Despite the name, this was basically a slightly underpowered .32 ACP with a “half-mantle” bullet – the nose was jackets to prevent deformation while the bearing surface was left unjacketed to reduce barrel wear. While this was potentially quite popular, S&W’s marketing failed to properly exploit it.
The .35 S&W version of the Model 1913 saw production of about 8350 pistols between 1913 and 1921. In 1924 the design was reintroduced in a simplified form. This new model was chambered for the standard .32ACP cartridge form the get-go, and it also abandoned the manual safety and the tip-up barrel system originally licensed from Clement. It failed to gain traction, with less than a thousand guns made, and the last of them not sold until 1937.
The Little Tom pistols designed by Alois Tomiška are notable for two particular features: their unusual reloading system and for being the first commercial DAO automatic pistols. Made in both .25ACP and .32 ACP in the 1920s (the .25 versions are much more common than the .32s), these beat out the Walther PP as the first double-action automatics. Unfortunately for Tomiška, they would not prove to be nearly as popular as the Walthers, and total production was about 35,000 guns. Alois Tomiška would go on to work for the CZ factory, where he would have a hand in development of the CZ22/24/27 pistols as well as other projects.
The Model 1920 was Star’s first locked-breech pistol, basically a combination of features from the Colt 1911 and their traditional Eiber blowback .32 pistols. It was tested by the Spanish Army in 1920, with inconclusive results. The Guardia Civil, however, found it to be suitable and adopted it after those tests. Only 3850 were made and delivered to the GC before a number of design changes were requested, resulting in the Model 1921 (aka the Model A). The Star legacy would last for many decades, with the 1920’s descendants being very popular and successful guns worldwide.
The most popular shotgun made by the French Darne company was their 1897 sliding breech side-by-side, which saw sales and use worldwide. Before that, however, Darne invented a rotating breechblock system – first a series of external hammer varieties in the 1880s and then this hammerless Model 1892. It is a great example of a functional, creative, and interesting system that simply never became popular.
Spain was historically a major center of patent infringement in firearms manufacture because its patent law left open a big loophole: patents were only enforceable if the patent holder actually manufactured their guns in Spain. The major European and American firearms manufacturers were not interested in setting up plants in Spain, and so their patents were not enforced there, leaving Spanish shops and factories legally free to copy them.
One of the more successful copies was the “El Tigre“, a clone of the Winchester 1892 lever action rifle made by Garate Anitua y Cia. Ironically, Garate actually registered their own patent on the design since Winchester hadn’t bothered to, and that patent was enforced, since Garate did make the guns in Spain. Their copy was chambered for the .44-40 Winchester cartridge, known in Spain as the .44 Largo. This made it compatible with many of the revolvers in the country of American, Spanish, and Belgian origin, and thus quite popular with a wide variety of groups. Rural citizen militias and the Guardia Civil both used significant numbers of El Tigre carbines. They were also fairly popular in the United States, as the cost was substantially lower than a true Winchester. Many Hollywood films and shows used them as less expensive prop guns, especially for scenes where guns would be handled roughly.
Despite their competitive cost, the El Tigres were actually quite good guns, and served their owners well.
I have found myself in the unfortunate situation of having bought a handful of antique revolvers at auction for an acquaintance, only have him decide not to pay for them. These aren’t guns I am particularly interested in for my own collection, so I am looking to sell them to recoup my cost. They are all antiques, and do not require transfer through an FFL. US sales only, all prices include shipping. If you are interested in any, please email me at email@example.com.
1) Very odd 12-shot pinfire revolver. Brass frame, barrel, and small parts, with steel trigger and hammer. Mechanically functional. The steel parts are badly pitted and worn, while the brass appears in good condition. Marked with “1863” and an unidentified stamp on the right side of the frame and “I.D.M.” on the left side. Loading gate latch holds, but is weak.
Asking $1200. Moved to GunBroker: http://www.gunbroker.com/item/563173226
3) German-proofed 7mm pinfire revolver. Lanyard ring, fully functional. All springs work quite well. Folding trigger, DA/SA.
Asking $250. Moved to GunBroker: http://www.gunbroker.com/item/563174397
This Dutch police revolver is an interesting example of technology being used as an element of police policy and procedure. The Dutch police administration in the late 1800s/early 1900s decided that officers should carry a blank round in the first chamber of their revolvers, a tear gas round in the second chamber, and actual live bullets only in the 3rd-5th chambers. This led to a problem of ensuring that officers were able to easily confidently know which type of ammunition they were firing at any given time – what if a cylinder happened to rotate while being drawn, holstered, or otherwise handled without the officer noticing? He might fire a live round when intended to use a blank, or vice versa.
The solution was to add a large manual safety that would lock the cylinder in position, and add large marking to the outside of the first two chambers indicating which was which. Setting aside the wisdom of this sort of progressive cartridge selection, the mechanical adaptation of the police revolvers is an interesting thing to see, and one of a relatively small number of revolvers to have manual safeties.
The Evans rifle/carbine was developed in 1873 by a Maine dentist named Warren Evans. Its main innovation was a large helical magazine that held a whopping 34 cartridges of Evan’s proprietary .44 caliber cartridge. By 1877 Evans had made a number of revisions and improvements to the gun, including developing a newer and more powerful cartridge for it. This New Model “only” held 28 rounds, but was ballistically very similar to the .56 Spencer.
Evans’ rifle was a lever action design, and proved reasonably popular. Between 12,000 and 15,000 were made in total between 1874 and 1879, and testimonials were published from the likes of Kit Carson and Buffalo Bill Cody. The US Army tested the weapon but rejected it on the basis of its awkward loading procedure and failure of a dust test. Sales were made outside the US, though, including Russia, Turkey, and several South American nations.
The Steyr-Hahn is one of the less glamorized pistols used in WWI, despite being made in quite large numbers (250,000-313,000, depending on who you read). The gun is an interesting mix of features, including bits from the Roth-Steyr M1907 and the early Colt/Browning 1900/1902/1903 pistols. As the M1912, the gun was the standard pistol for the Austro-Hungarian Empire (albeit supplemented with M1907s, M1898 Rast-Gassers, and more) during the Great War. It was also purchased in quantity by Romania, Chile, and Bavaria. We will look at a couple of these variants today, and also an example of the guns converted to 9x19mm for Austrian police forces in the 1940s.
Wolfgang Riess, one of the Commandos who used these CETMEs – later to work as an H&K weapons technician. This story comes from his notes.
I was doing some reading up on the early roller-delayed rifles (in Blake Stevens’ exquisitely technical and detailed book Full Circle: A Treatise on Roller Locking) and came across this very cool story, which I wanted to share…
Spain formally adopted the CETME Model B in 1958. It was mechanically pretty much the same gun we know today as the CETME-C or G3, but still chambered for the 7.62 NATO-CETME cartridge. This was a Spanish response to the NATO cartridge requirements – it was dimensionally identical to the 7.62mm NATO but fired a 125 grain projectile at 2300 fps, rather than the 143gr @ 2790fps of the NATO standard. The Spanish saw that the standard cartridge was too powerful to be effective in a select-fire rifle, and the reduced load was developed to reduce recoil to a manageable level. This was done for only a few years, until they surrendered and adopted the Model C in 1964 using standard ammunition. The CETME-B would still use the NATO ammo, but it was rough on the guns.
Anyway, the French were busy fighting against Algerian rebels at this time, and in March 1961 a Danish freighter named the Margot Hansen was spotted by a French maritime patrol aircraft and stopped off the coast of Algeria. Upon boarding and inspection, it was discovered that the ship was carrying 200 brand new CETME-B rifles and ammunition for them, destined (illegally) to the ANL and FLN rebel groups. The arms were confiscated, of course, and put into storage at the French naval depot at Mers El Kebir. This depot held other seized weapons as well, mainly of German WWII origin – Kar 98k Mausers and StG-44 assault rifles. When the 200 CETMEs arrive, the quickly drew the attention of the French Marine Commandos who were stationed at the port.
The French at the time were using MAS 49/56 rifles, semiauto only, and with 10-round magazines. The supplementary full-auto firepower was provided by Chatellerault 24/29 light machine guns, which had 20-round box magazines (which were occasionally adapted to 49/56 rifles, but that is a different story). The Marine Commandos were very interested in this new rifle, which looked to offer the capabilities of both their rifles and LMGs in a single light package. Because they were a unit of the French Navy and the guns had been seized by the Navy and were stored in a Navy depot, the Commandos were able to requisition the guns and the seized ammo for their own use without much difficulty.
French Marine Commandos try out their CETME-B rifles in Djibouti
The one obstacle that did surface was when someone noticed that all the rifles were missing their firing pins. Why? Nobody knows for sure, but most likely because the smugglers were planning to hold them back for security or for an addition payment. It is also possible that the whole smuggling setup was actually a fake operation being run by the SDECE (French Army Intelligence), but any records that could confirm that are long since destroyed. At any rate, the Marines didn’t let a minor issue like firing pins stop them, and the depot machinists reverse engineered the design and manufactured a large supply. They were never able to get the material and heat treat quite right, and their firing pins apparently had a tendency to break frequently – so the Marines carried a bunch of spares whenever using the guns.
Another obstacle that developed was that the seized ammunition turned out to be garbage. It had been hastily made from components sent to be scrapped, and dimensions like overall length varied substantially. Some cases had no primer flash holes. Headstamps varied significantly, and were mixed within boxes. The men were able to source French-made 7.62mm ammunition, and wound up using those CETME-B rifles in active combat operations as late as 1978. Quite the colorful path for a batch of early Spanish rifles, ultimately used for decades against the very groups they were intended to aid!
How did the guns make it out of Spanish control? That’s a good question. They would have been first-line military arms at the time, not guns being surplussed or otherwise left about unattended. However, CETME was actively working with Dutch and German firms and military organizations at the time, and shipments of rifles could have been legitimately bound for either of those countries. Blake Stevens suggests one possibility for the source was such a shipment being rerouted by a man like notorious German arms smuggler Otto the Strange – although this can only be speculation.
A group of French Commandos relaxing during their campaign in Algeria. Two are armed with MAT-49 SMGs and two with seized CETME-B rifles.