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The Vault

Vintage Saturday: (not) SNLF

Japanese SNLF soldiers with SIG M1920 submachine guns

Some of the very few Japanese troops to be issued submachine guns.

Japanese SNLF marines Chinese troops with SIG M1920 submachine guns. The SIG M1920 was a licensed copy of the German MP18/I, and SIG sold them to Japan in 7.63mm Mauser caliber. They were used by the Special Naval Landing Forces, as well as Chinese troops like those pictured here. Thanks to Leszek for the photo!

Edited: Based on the comments folks more knowledgeable than I, it appears that these are Chinese puppet troops, and not Japanese forces.

Tab Clearing…

Happy Independence Day to all my American readers, and a happy Friday to everyone else! I’ve had a bunch of items come across my desk that aren’t really enough for their own posts,so I figured I’d lump a bunch of them together for you today.

1) A few days ago I spent several hours on Reddit answering all sorts of questions. It was a lot of fun (and more civil than I had expected), and the thread is still around. If you want to kill some time seeing what my opinion is on various gun things, you can browse through this: Forgotten Weapons: Ask Me Anything.

2) I have a brief video of an M18 Hellcat tank destroyer firing. I took this footage at a machine gun and cannon shoot a little while back. Didn’t have the tme or opportunity to do a more comprehensive video, but the firing alone is pretty neat (I can only wish I’d had the Edgertronic for that range day!):

3) Thank to Grant Cunningham for noticing this – British Pathé has put all their archival footage online. For those who aren’t familiar, Charles Pathé was a pioneer in motion picture technology, and the creator of the newsreel in 1908 – essentially the YouTube of its day. For more than 60 years, his company British Pathé had camera crews all over the world filming a mind-boggling array of history as it was being made. They charge for professional licensed use of the footage (and you will recognize some of the particularly significant events from TV and movie usage), but they now have the entire collection available online for free viewing. WOW!

I hardly know where to start to describe the depth of this video archive. In total it contains about 90,000 items, including things like the Hindenburg fire, Emily Davidson throwing herself under the King’s horse in 1913, Queen Victoria’s funeral, the Wright brothers’ first flight, and far more. A quick search for “rifles” turned up these two, among many others: Demonstrating the EM-2 and demonstrating the new FAL.

There is an immense amount of material here, and if you are not careful you will start watching it, and then look up and realize several days have passed.

4) One of the folks on Reddit asked me about a photo he had found of what is apparently a speedloading device for a single-shot break action shotgun. I’ve never seen it before – any thoughts?

Shotgun speedloader

5) Lastly, I just came into possession of this rifle. I know what it is – do you? :)

Not something you see every day...

Not something you see every day…


Book Review: China’s Small Arms of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War

I picked up a copy of this book a couple years ago when Bin Shih first published it, but by the time I got around to doing a review it had sold out – so I didn’t bother. Well, a seconds printing run has been made, so it seems that now would be a good time to take a closer look at it. There are very few English-language resources on Chinese WWII small arms, and this is a good one…

As I mentioned in the video, it both the English and Chinese versions (in Traditional Chinese – the Simplified Chinese version is not available in the US) are available at ChineseFirearms.com – it is a privately printed work, so that is the only source for new copies.

PPS-43 Development Memo

Today, I’m swiping another document from the cool-but-stagnant Soviet Gun Archives. This time, it’s a memo requesting the development of what would become the PPS-43:

PPS-43 development memoAs I haven’t had time to learn Russian yet, I will defer to Soviet Gun Archives for the translation:

To the deputy commander of the Red Army GAU, Major-General of Artillery, comrade Hohlov

Experience shows that the 7.62 mm DT tank machinegun does not provide sufficient volume of fire, due to its 63 round magazine and rapid heating of the barrel. It is desirable to have a belt-fed machinegun, capable of rapidly firing up to 500 rounds.

The PPSh submachinegun is a necessary weapon for tank crews, but is inconvenient to use. The disk magazine is large, and gets in the way. The stock impedes exiting the tank. It is desirable to have a submachinegun with a box magazine that holds 25-30 rounds and a folding stock, like the one on the German SMG.

I ask you to instruct Artkom to begin work on improving firearms for tank crews according to the issues noted above.

Deputy GABTU Chief, Major-General of Technical Forces, Lebedev
BTU Military Commissar, Regimental Commissar Vorobyev
That pretty much describes the PPS – take the PPSh, replace the drum with a stick mag and replace the wood fixed stock with an MP-40-style folder. In addition, we should note that the requested belt-fed replacement for the DT was also put into service in 1943, in the form of the Goryunov SG-43. The speed of their development was remarkable, considering the quality of the finished guns and the wartime environment.

Vietnam’s Overburdened M16

by Tom Laemlein

I’ve been working with Dale Dye of Warriors Inc. to put together a photo study on the infantry weapons of the Vietnam War. The conflict in Vietnam is particularly interesting for students of small arms as all of Southeast Asia became both a proving grounds for the latest infantry weapons designs as well as an international “arms bazaar”, featuring any firearm that had been made from the late 19th Century until the 1960s.

The M16 rifle made its debut during the Vietnam War and its modern design created quite a sensation. By the end of the 1960s, the M16 could found in the hands of most US troops deployed in Vietnam, and was also beginning to be issued to South Vietnamese troops (ARVN) as well. Viet Cong forces were happy to acquire as many M16s as they could capture, steal, or buy on the black market.

M16 with XM148 grenade launcher and Starlight scope

M16 with XM148 grenade launcher and Starlight scope (click to enlarge)

In my research to find photos of the small arms of the Vietnam War, I have found a large number of images of the M16. The two that make up the basis for this short article are particularly unique though, as I have never seen (or heard of) an M16 configured this way. I have photos of the M16 equipped with the XM148 grenade launcher. Similarly, I have photos of the M16 equipped with the AN/PVS-2 “Starlight” scope. But I never dreamed of putting them both on the same rifle! Someone from a US Air Force base security unit dreamt this one up in 1967. It kind of makes sense though, seeing as how the security team was unlikely to have to carry this monstrosity very far from their post. Let’s take a look at how this heavily modified (and I do mean “heavily”) M16 stacks up, weight-wise:

  • M16A1 rifle: 8.79 pounds loaded
  • XM148 grenade launcher: 3 pounds
  • AN/PVS-2 “Starlight” scope: 6 pounds

So, this M16 “fully equipped” weighs in at just about 18 pounds! Not what one would expect from a light combat rifle (called the “Mattel rifle” by many of its detractors). The bulky Starlight scope (providing ambient light amplification up to 1000x) makes the rifle lop-sided already, but I never suspected that it weighed so much. The Colt-manufactured XM148 grenade launcher “balances out” the overloaded rifle. I can only wonder how it was to handle. Maybe one of the readers may have had some experience with this combination during the Vietnam War. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

M60 and M16 (with starlgiht scope and grenade launcher)

It’s still lighter than an M60…but not by much!

Tom Laemlein runs Armor Plate Press, a military history publishing company that specializes in producing photo studies of 20th Century weapons systems.

Mosin-Nagant 91/30 PU Sniper (Video)

The Soviet Union produced more sniper rifles during WWII than any other country, and was one of very few to have a well-developed sniper program in place before the war began. Starting in the early 1930s, they developed a sniper variant of the standard M91/30 infantry rifle, with technical assistance from Germany (of all places). The early (PE) scopes had adjustable focus and 4x magnification, with a relatively large objective lens. Experience in the Spanish Civil War exposed a weakness in the adjustable focus ring of these scopes, and they were replaced by a new PEM version without that feature. By 1940, the plan was to replace the 91/30 with the new SVT-40 as the standard sniper’s rifle. This plan fell apart when the SVT rifles proved to be inferior in accuracy to the Mosins, and not capable of meeting the requirements for snipers.

In a scramble for a new solution, it as decided to just mount the PU scope onto 91/30 rifles. The PU had been designed for the SVT, as the older PEM scopes were too large to effectively mount on the Tokarev rifle. The PU was smaller, lighter, simpler, and cheaper to manufacture, and it made good sense to make use of the development work put into them. They has a smaller field of view and slightly reduced 3.5x magnification – a very pragmatic choice for a country that needed to mass produce weapons in wartime conditions. Starting in 1942, the 91/30 PU sniper rifles began flooding out of Russian factories – by the time major production ended in 1945 hundreds of thousands had been made.

The 91/30 PU was given better fit and finish than the typical 91/30 rifles produced during the war, but they are still rather cruder than the typical Western idea of the custom-made and hand-polished masterpiece sniper’s weapon. These were practical tools, and their design reflects that. Cheek welds in particular are difficult to maintain, because the comb is designed for the iron sights and no riser was provided to make up for the height of the scope. I don’t find the stock particularly ergonomic, and the triggers are not particular outstanding. On the other hand, they can survive plenty of rough handling.

Finding an original Russia PU sniper is difficult today – there are plenty of them out there, but they are hugely outnumbered by fakes. Because of the simplicity of the PU sniper and the price differential between stock rifles and snipers, a whole niche industry has developed in making them. There are new production mounts and scopes being made, and mounted to all sorts of 91/30 rifles. You may find all types of combinations of infantry rifles and ex-snipers (many PU snipers were torn down and returned to infantry configuration by the Red Army after the war), original and reproduction mounts, and original and reproduction scopes. It really take a lot of experience to distinguish the true originals, and I don’t have enough experience to write a thorough article on that (yet). However, determining the validity of the rifle itself is a bit simpler than the scopes and mounts, so here are a couple starting guidelines:

  • Any PU dated 1941 or earlier is fake. Also, any 91/30 PU with a hex receiver.
  • Any Century import with a new serial number beginning with 9130S is a reproduction. They are real Russian 91/30s, but not originally snipers.
  • A sniper made by Tula (star with an arrow in it) will have a cyrillic “СП” marking above the arsenal mark, indicating a sniper. Real ones without this mark do exist, but are very rare.
  • A sniper made by Ishevsk will have the scope serial number marked on the left side of the receiver. If there is such a number crossed out without a new one added, it means the rifle started out as a sniper, but was decommissioned by the military (ie, an “ex-sniper”). If it has a scope on it now, it was assembled a commercial seller at some point.

That being said, a reproduction 91/30PU can be a great way to get into the sniper rifle field, as long as you understand what you are getting. They are far less expensive than any type of authentic WWII sniper’s rifle, but will still give you close to the same performance as the originals, if you get a good one.

Apex Gun Parts Sale

Apex Gun Parts, one of our longtime sponsors, is having a 4th of July sale, which has already started (I suppose they are pretty excited about Independence Day – and who isn’t?). I took a look through the items they have discounted for the sale, and found a couple in particular that jumped out at me:

Surplus eastern European AK mags (7.62×39), 10 for $90. I have a ton of these, and have had excellent results with them – I have a lot more confidence in military surplus mags than modern made copies (like the South Korean AK mags). Nine bucks each is a great deal – definitely worth grabbing a pack or two to supplement your stash if you have an AK (or several).

Parts kits – they have a bunch of different types. One that I haven’t seen for a long time are M72 (the Yugoslav heavy-barrel AK) kits with intact barrels, for $285. They are very explicit that the barrels are basically trashed, but hey, for a blaster they would probably be just fine. They also have UK-59 kits (no barrels) with slings and belt boxes for $400. Not bad, for someone who wants to build their own or get a set of spares for a professionally-made semiauto or post-sample.

And one last one, just for kicks – random mag pouches 5 for $10. No choice of type, but the photo shows pouches for the HK91, Mosin-Nagant, VZ-58, and a couple types of flare pistols. If you’re like me you probably have a big box of this sort of thing, because they’re just neat. If you’re ordering something else already, why not throw in a set of these?

There are 109 items in all for sale, so head over and take a look – you might find something you didn’t know you couldn’t live without! :)

In totally unrelated news, I am hosting an “Ask Me Anything” session over on Reddit this afternoon, from 4-7pm PST. I have no idea what people will ask, but I expect it will be a fun time – if you’re interested, come join us!


Vintage Saturday: Assassination

Gavrilo Princip being arrested in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.

Gavrilo Princip being arrested in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.

Gavrilo Princip's FN 1910 used to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Gavrilo Princip’s FN 1910, used to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand (on display at the Military History Museum in Vienna)

Precisely 100 years ago today, Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip (through a rather intricate series of coincidences) managed to assassinate the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. From this localized (and botched, in many ways) event quickly grew one of the most ghastly wars in human history.

Princip was arrested on the spot, and eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison (not execution because he was under the age of 20), where he died of tuberculosis while incarcerated. No photographs exist of the assassination itself, and his pistol was initially reported as simply being a Browning. This led to news sources and artists making their own assumptions about its details. The Model 1900 was the most common Browning pistol in use at the time and many sources specified it as the specific model, creating the common believe that persists today that Princip used a 1900. In actual fact, it was a Model 1910, of which the conspirators acquired four. The one pictured above is one of the four, but it is not known which one was actually used by Princip.

Interestingly, part of the conspirators’ attempt to deflect blame from the Serbian government was to argue that the pistols were French army pistols (not commercial guns whose purchase could be tracked). This was apparently based on the fact that the slide markings were stamped in French. Not surprisingly, the argument fell flat.

Ithaca Auto & Burglar – 12ga

The Ithaca Gun Company introduced their “Auto & Burglar” model of side-by-side shotgun in 1922. This was not the only gun of its type made for the commercial market, but it was one of the better ones, and is probably the best remembered type today. The premise was simple: take a standard SxS shotgun, cut the barrels down to 10 inches (255mm) and replace the stock with a pistol grip. Presto, you have an intimidating and compact defensive weapon.

Ithaca Auto & Burglar guns, 12ga and 20ga

Early Ithaca Auto & Burglar guns, 12ga and 20ga

When introduced in 1922, there was no particular legal status for a firearm of this type, although the passage of the National Firearms Act in 1934 effectively ended their production and sale (they sold for typically about $40, and the NFA placed a $200 tax on their transfer). They actually didn’t sell all that well before the legislation – only approximately 4500 were made between 1922 and 1934, and not all of those were sold (unconfirmed rumor is that the remaining stock was sold to the UK after Dunkirk, when the British were desperate for firearms of any sort).

Two primary models of the Auto & Burglar were made, as Ithaca introduced a new SxS shotgun action in 1925 (and the Auto & Burglar was simply a conversion of standard factory actions). The early guns (1922-1925) are easily distinguished by a prominent spur on the grip, which was designed to prevent the gun from rolling in the hand upon firing. However, that spur proved to be a bit fragile, and easy to hit on things and break. When the new action was introduced in 1925, the Auto & Burglar grip was redesigned to have a much more squared-off grip, without the spur to potentially damage (it was also a less expensive grip for Ithaca to make). The barrel length was also increased to 12.2 inches (310mm) around the same time – the later style guns can be found with both long and short barrels.

Post-1925 Ithaca Auto & Burglar shotgun

Post-1925 Ithaca Auto & Burglar shotgun – note the squared-off grip

Despite these changes, the standard Auto & Burglar throughout production was chambered 20 gauge shells (2.5 inch in the early guns and 2.75 inch in that later ones), with cylinder bores and double triggers. There are a few references to .410 and 28 gauge examples, but I have been unable to find any suggestion of a 12 gauge version. That makes sense, given the punishing recoil such a gun would have – but it is odd in light of a set of photos I was recently sent by a reader (thanks, Robert!). This fellow has a pair of Auto & Burglar guns (both legally registered) which he inherited from hist grandfather. One is a standard 20 gauge example, and the other is a bona fide 12 gauge version:

Ithaca Auto & Burglar guns, 12ga and 20ga

12ga Ithaca Auto & Burglar (top) with a nickel in the chamber for size reference. Standard 20ga version below.

Since the Auto & Burglar was made from stock shotgun actions, there is no reason why a 12 gauge version could not have been easily made by special order, and that is almost certainly what happened in this case. The gun otherwise appears identical to a typical example.

Ithaca Auto & Burglar 12ga receiver

Ithaca Auto & Burglar 12ga receiver

Ithaca Auto & Burglar 20ga receiver

Ithaca Auto & Burglar 20ga receiver

The early guns are generally referred to as Model A and the later ones as Model B, although these are designations created by the collecting community and were not applied by Ithaca. Ithaca also marketed a flap holster for the gun, which is a fairly valuable accessory today. According to the catalog it was, “A special designed sole leather holster which may be attached to one’s belt or hung in a convenient place in an auto, sleeping room or bank – costs $4.00.” A couple Chicago banks were in fact some of the first buyers for these guns, as this was also prior to FDIC insurance to protect banks from robbery.

Ithaca Auto & Burglar holster

Ithaca Auto & Burglar holster – note the factory lettering on the flap.

If anyone has additional information on 12-gauge examples of the Auto & Burglar, I would be very interested to hear it!

Book Review: The Yanks Are Coming!

Most of the books I look at are primarily text-based, and today I figured we should do something a little bit different. Armor Plate Press, run by Tom Laemlein, specializes in photographic studies of various weapons (and vehicular) topics. Today’s book is The Yanks Are Coming! Firepower of the American Doughboy in World War One – a volume that appealed to me in particular because of the wide variety of gear used by American troops in that conflict (French, British, and American). Instead of researching the history and development of a particular piece of equipment, Laemlein has collected a plethora of photos of that piece of gear throughout its service use. He is clearly quite passionate about the work (publishing books came as an idea after many years of collecting photographs), and I think it adds a valuable extra dimension to a library of academic textual research.

As an example, consider the American use of shotguns for trench warfare. The evidence is quite substantial that US forces used them, between formal paper records, anecdotal troop recollections, and even German formal protest against the practice. However, in decades of searching, no photograph of one actually being used in combat has ever been found. Why not? Laemlein believes it is due to censorship – US leadership wanting to prevent German propaganda from being able to portray the US as using uncivilized weapons (whatever that means in the war that gave us poison gas and the flamethrower). It is only the search for photographs that brings this to light.

The pictures in The Yanks Are Coming! ranges from training camps to front line combat, and from candid to carefully posed. For the student of history interested in the era, it brings a touch of the human perspective to a topic so often relegated to dry text.