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The Vault

Vintage Saturday: Mitrailleuses

French troops with machine guns, circa 1915

Trigger discipline in WWI wasn’t the treated the way it is today.

From left to right, a 1914 Hotchkiss, a captured German MG08, and a 1907 St. Etienne.

Tab Clearing

A few things that have backed up and are worth sharing…

First off, I had the opportunity to be on a local radio program with my friends Karl and Aaron. It was a lot of fun, and I think it turned out to be a pretty entertaining couple hours. We discussed computer security, gun history, and answered a bunch of callers’ questions. If you’re looking for something to listen to today, you can find the show recorded and online here:

Part I – Liberty Watch
Part II – America Armed & Free

Second, an interesting set of photos I came across of arms captured in Iraq in 2003. Some is quite predictable (like rows of DShK machine guns), and some is unusual and interesting – like the Lebel, Berthier, and Roth-Steyr 1907 pistol.

Note the Roth-Steyr 1907 on the right of the cooler

Note the Roth-Steyr 1907 on the right of the cooler

Want more of that? Here’s another series of photos taken in 2004/2005 of other captured arms

And last but not least, I’m very happy to announce that I have formally joined Armament Research Services as a staff researcher. I’m excited at the prospect of doing some fun and interesting work with them in the coming year and beyond!

Slow Motion: Remington Model 11 Shotgun

Sporting shotguns are not normally something to catch my eye, but the Remington Model 11 is a bit different. It’s the first mass-produced semiauto shotgun in the world, it’s a John Browning design, and it’s a long-recoil action – all things that make it much more interesting than your average 870. So, let’s take a look at one firing at 2000 frames per second, shall we?

Jim Sullivan on the M16 in Vietnam

When I have the chance to interview Jim Sullivan, one of the original designers of the AR15, one of the subjects that came up (not surprisingly) was the record of failures of the M16 early in Vietnam. What was the cause of those problems? The full story includes several compounding issues, including a lack of issued cleaning kits and non-chrome-lined barrels. But most significant, according to Sullivan, was an inexplicable reformulation of the powder in the 5.56mm ammunition. This caused a huge increase in gas port pressure (in the order of 10,000 psi) and directly caused parts breakage and unreliable operation. Here is his description of the situation:

Jim Sullivan on the M16 in Vietnam








In an unrelated note, it has come to my attention that Apex Gun Parts has gotten their hands on a bunch of parts kits for Spanish CETME-L rifles. These were a domestic Spanish take on the H&K style roller-delayed action, in 5.56mm and using NATO standard mags. They were replaced by the G36, and there was speculation for a while about the possibility of getting kits into the US – well, Apex actually has them in hand now (sans receiver and barrel). It sounds like they have enough to make it worthwhile for parts manufacturers to develop semiauto parts and receiver flats for them (no parts are interchangeable with H&K rifles), so I already placed an order for one myself. The introductory price of $225 for a kit is pretty cheap for something that won’t come back again, and if the market develops a good build solution for them it will be a neat and unusual rifle to have!

CETME-L parts kit

Hefah Machine Gun

The Hefah machine gun was a wartime expedient British light machine gun design. It was created by a private company (the Ductile Steel Company) in 1940, in response to a generalized concern that all LMG production in the UK was concentrated at Enfield, and a successful attack on he complex there could create a huge shortage of machine guns. The Hefah design (apparently named for the firm that would eventually manufacture the few examples of the gun made, instead of the designers) appears to have been loosely based on the Lewis, but heavily modified to make it much cheaper and simpler to manufacture. For example, it used a single pivoting locking wedge, in place of the 2-lug rotating bolt of the Lewis.

For magazines, the Hefah used 100-round Bren drum magazines, which latched to the bottom of the receiver. It seems that one of the immediate problems in trials of the Hefah was a serious lack of clearance between the magazine and ground when firing from a bipod, and one can only imagine the clumsiness of magazine changes with such a system (not even considering the rather finicky nature of the Bren drums in the first place).

Hefah .303 machine gun cutaway

Hefah .303 machine gun cutaway (click to enlarge)

Information is very scarce on these guns, but it does appear that the MkV version of the gun was adopted formally in 1942 by the Royal Navy, for use as a light AA gun on small vessels. In this type of application, the impracticalities of the design would be minimized, and the simple manufacturing requirements could be met and allow the acquisition of guns otherwise unavailable to the Navy because of other more pressing demands for Brens. The gun was declared obsolete in November 1944, giving it a remarkably short service life. Presumably by 1944 the most urgent concern over LMG production had passed.

A preliminary manual for the Hefah was published in 1943 detailing disassembly and maintenance of the guns, along with showing cutaway views of the action and a dual mounting setup for naval applications. We have a scanned copy of this manual, which you can download here:

A testing report appears to also be available, and we are currently looking into getting a copy of it from a UK official archive.

Hefah V Machine Gun Preliminary Manual (English, 1943)

Hefah V Machine Gun Preliminary Manual (English, 1943)

US M3 37mm Antitank Gun (Video)

The M3 was the first real anti-tank gun adopted by the US military, and it was not formally adopted until 1940 – and was thoroughly obsolete in Europe by 1942. The initial design was based on a pair of German PAK-36 guns, but in its production guise the M3 was a much simpler gun. It used a fully manual vertically-sliding breechblock (as opposed to the German semiauto breech). It fired a 1.9 pound armor piercing projectile at 2900 fps (860g @ 885 m/s), which was able to penetrate 1-2 inches of armor at 500 yards, depending on the type of shell used and the angle of the armor.

In Europe, this gun because obsolete very quickly, although it had a useful service life in the Pacific theater. It was used against light armored vehicles, pillboxes, and even infantry (with canister shot). This was also used as armament on the M3/M5 light tank (Stuart), the M3 medium tank (Lee/Grant), the M8 Greyhound armored car, and the M6 Gun Motor Carriage. It was a simple and reliable gun, just not powerful enough for antitank service. It was replaced by a 57mm gun copied from the British, which would serve until the end of the war.

I had the chance to do some shooting with an M3 recently, and it was very pleasant to use compared to other antitank guns. From behind the shield in particular, the muzzle blast was not bad at all, and recoil was minimal (note the slight rearward roll of the gun in the video, because the skids were not used). I had not expected to do any regular-speed filming at this particular shoot, and did not bring proper camera gear – I apologize for how much noise is in the background.


Vintage Saturday: Child Labor

PPD-40 submachine guns being assembled by young girls

Child labor practices get less stringent when the Nazis are next door.

PPD-40 submachine guns being assembled by young girls.

Slow Motion: .303 Lewis Gun

A Lewis Gun, in .303 British, at 2000 frames per second:

The Lewis Gun was developed by American Isaac Newton Lewis shortly before WWI, but the US military was not interested in it (in part because of a bitter dislike between Lewis and the Chief of Army Ordnance Crozier). Lewis instead licensed production to BSA in England, and the gun because a major part of UK armament during the First World War, both in ground and aerial roles. For a more complete view of the Lewis, check out my previous video on it, with disassembly and shooting:

Updated to add:

As pointed out by Daniel Watters, General Crozier’s book about his work during WWI (which is largely a defense of his actions regarding the Lewis) is in the public domain, and can be read or downloaded free at Archive.org. A good way to see the other side of the story, for folks who are interested.

Assessment of a ZF-41 Optic

The ZF-41 was a tiny 1.5x optic made in large numbers by Germany during WWII. It is a long eye relief design, mounting over the rear sight of a K98k, and allowing unimpeded up for stripper clips for reloading. These scopes are generally though to have been complete failures, and a huge disappointment to German snipers. Well, they were disappointing to snipers – but that is because they were never intended to be used by snipers. The ZF-41 was an early example of a designated marksman’s optic – something to allow the best shot in a squad to get that little extra capability to make tricky shots. It was put into service with snipers because it was available in much greater numbers than proper 4x sniper scopes, and couple be easily added to a rifle in the field.

Karl and I took a reproduction ZF-41 and K98k, and put it through some timed tests to see just how useful or useless it really was – and we were very happily impressed at the results! The video is available this morning over at Full30.com.


The scope and mount were purchased from Numrich, where they are still available.

Movie Review: White Tiger

If you are interested in WWII tank films, you have very likely watched Fury by now. It is a technical masterpiece of material authenticity, right down to the genuine Tiger used in several scenes – no doubt about it. Unfortunately, it’s hampered by a literally ludicrous ending, in which an entire battalion of veteran Waffen-SS are unable to stop throwing themselves into machine gun fire long enough to destroy a single immobile Sherman with a Panzerfaust. Really? I’m happy to suspend disbelief when appropriate (as we will get to with White Tiger), but Fury can’t decide if it is a a gritty uber-realistic film or a goofy heroes-wiping-out-waves-of-baddies flick.

If you came out of the theater with this sort of feeling as well – or if you just enjoy good tank movies – I would suggest one you probably haven’t heard of: White Tiger (Belyy Tigr).

Hollywood, of course, produces movies as consumer products. Calculate what should net the most sales by picking the right starring names, storyline, plot elements, and so on. It’s a great formula for making lots of money. It’s not so great at producing film for the sake of film. For that, it is often better to turn to places like Russia and China (remember Assembly?).

whitetigerWhite Tiger is a surrealistic story of World War II in the East – don’t come into it expecting hardcore realism. The main character is a tanker who was basically charbroiled when his T34 was knocked out by a mysterious white Tiger that appears in seemingly-impossible places, destroys a slew of Soviet vehicles, and then disappears. To the disbelief of his doctors, the man survives his burns and heals completely. He has become seemingly impervious to harm as a result of his encounter with the Tiger, at the cost of his memory. He can remember nothing about his past or identity, but instead finds himself hearing tanks speak to him.

This mysterious Tiger continues to appear and wreak havoc, and a General orders the construction of a specially improved T34 to be crewed by the best men available with the specific mission of destroying the Tiger. The protagonist is chosen as driver/commander of the vehicle, and sets about finding and engaging an opponent that most rational officers don’t believe in.

The T34 tanks in the film are genuine, not surprisingly, but the Tiger is a built-up prop vehicle. It is reasonably well done, although not up to the standards of American films like Saving Private Ryan or Fury. But fanatical realism isn’t the point here – this film is a story and an allegory, not a special effects joyride. What is the White Tiger, and what is our driver’s connection to it? If you are looking for a war movie that requires more thinking that the typical Hollywood affair, I highly recommend this one.

It is, of course, in Russian – but you can order it on Amazon with English subtitles:

Here’s the Russian trailer: