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The Vault

Swanström 1882 Automatic Pistol

Today’s post was written by a Swedish reader named Arne Bergkvist, about a very early Swedish automatic pistol I had not been aware of. It is particularly interesting as one of relatively few examples of self-loading firearms designed before the advent of smokeless powder. It never went into serial production, but shows plenty of ingenuity for its time. So without further ado, I’ll turn it over to Arne…

Swanström 1882 Automatic Pistol

by Arne Bergkvist

Carl Peter Swanström, born on 11 September, 1854 in Älvbacka parish just outside Karlskoga, the city where the BOFORS factory is located. Swanström was an employee from the early 1880s, first as a smith but later as foreman at the gun factory. An accident in the test department took his left arm, but the work with his automatic pistol was finished. Swanström had a grandson who immigrated to United States in the late 1920s and brought both a pistol and shotgun with him. In 1968 his widow got in contact with a well known gun collector and Luger-book author, Harry E. Jones from Torrance California. He purchased the pistol (as well as a shotgun made on the same principles), and the guns have been in the Jones family for 30-40 years now.

Swanström 1882 Automatic Pistol

Swanström 1882 Automatic Pistol, right side

Swanström 1882 Automatic Pistol

Swanström 1882 Automatic Pistol, left side

In 1999, when I for the first time could see and touch, both the pistol and the shotgun was Harry E. Jones not with us anymore. His son Mike Jones, at that time owned and maintained the collection. Harry E. Jones had under the time he owned the pistol, contacted the Army museum in Stockholm and done investigations about Swanström to get the proper information.

The Pistol
Extremely well done, handmade, with a short glance looking like a sawed of Winchester 92. The loading gate is similar as on Winchesters. The finish at the internal parts looks like a Swiss watch. By removing two screws you can divide the pistol in two parts, mechanism and grip.

Swanström broken into two main parts

Swanström broken into two main parts

After divided in two parts you can continue the dismounting by taking out the magazine unit by pulling the magazine tube forward. Now the system is open for inspection and cleaning.

Swanström with magazine tube removed

Swanström with magazine tube and grips removed. Note the lug under the muzzle to allow the barrel to recoil backwards guided by the magazine tube.

Instead of a hammer, the use of a striker take less space, and makes the mechanism behind the feeding elevator less bulky. The barrel-receiver unit will move backwards about 6.5 mm (1/4 inch) every time you pull the trigger. The bolt and barrel are locked together during this recoil by a pair of lever arms, which have square ends locking into the barrel assembly (the recesses in the bolt to fit them are located in the enlarged “bulbs” behind the chamber; see photo below) and round ends that lock into the bolt. Under the bolt on the picture below, you will see one of the locking levers. These levers are pushed open to release the bolt after recoil pushes the whole assembly back far enough. The striker is the “key” for opening the bolt. When striker passes the back part of the locking levers, they press out in the back and the hooks will fall deeper in to the bolt, unlocking from the barrel. After the front part of the levers open up the unit, the bolt continue backwards , throwing out the empty shell, picking up a new round from the elevator and is back in action again.

Swanström bolt mechanism

Swanström bolt mechanism – note the locking lever

The receiver turned up-side-down. Here you can see the square opening for the recoil hooks next to the chamber. At the front of the bolt you can see the recoil hook mounted at the bolt.

Swanström bolt mechanism

Swanström bolt mechanism

At the top of the receiver you can see the bulbs on each side of the bolt, just before the rear sight groove. The barrel is tapered with a steel front sight.

Swanström top view

Swanström top view

Technical Specs

Caliber: 7,5 mm Swiss ordnance 1882
Operating system: Short recoil
Locking system: Delayed blowback
Total length: 298 mm (11.75 in)
Total height 115 mm (4.5 in)
Barrel length 135 mm (5.3 in)
Magazine capacity:5 cartridges
Grips: Wood
Finnish: None; “in the white”
All pictures taken by Mike Jones, Torrance California USA

Slow Motion: MAS 49/56

The MAS 49/56 is a much under-rated rifle here in the US – it is extremely simple, durable, and reliable, while being shorter and lighter than it’s US contemporary, the M14.


M1942 Sosso Pistol

The Sosso was an interesting design produced experimentally by FNA Bescia in Italy in very small numbers during World War II. It was a short-recoil operated design chambered for 9x19mm, and featured a particularly unusual magazine design. Instead of using a convention spring and follow, the magazine contained what is best described as a belt-feed. A loop of chain in the magazine held 21 cartridges, and rotated one position each time the pistol was fired. This doesn’t seem to have had any particular benefit over a typical magazine (it certainly cost more to make), but it an interesting idea:

M1942 Sosso pistol magazine disassembled

M1942 Sosso pistol magazine disassembled

An example of a Sosso form the collection of Geoffrey Sturgess was sold by James Julia at auction, which gave us the opportunity to see some outstanding photos. This particular example (serial number 8A) included a holster-stock; a concept which was on its way out of popularity by the time these were being made. In addition, Julia also published an Italian-language copy of a Sosso manual, which I have not yet have the chance to translate:


M1942 Sosso pistol manual (Italian)

M1942 Sosso pistol manual (Italian)


SIG KE-7 Photos

The KE-7 was a short-recoil, open-bolt light machine gun developed by SIG Neuhausen between the World Wars. It was offered for sale in basically any cartridge a nation might request, and were sold primarily to China and Latin America. I have a full Vault page on the KE-7 with a number of manuals, and today I also have these photos, from the collection of Reed Knight:

Note that the standard magazines held 25 rounds, and this gun has an extended magazine fitted. I don’t know exactly how large it is, but I would guess 40 rounds. I have not been able to find reference to these magazines in any literature.

Arisaka With Nambu Bipod

I recently had a chance to take a look at a rifle that has been floating around the Japanese collector’s community causing grief since for at least 25 years. It is a Type 99 Arisaka, specifically a first-series Nagoya production gun, serial number 84664. What makes it unusual is that it had a Type 96 or Type 99 Nambu light machine gun bipod attached to the muzzle.

In theory, this is supposed to be an experimental rifle from Nagoya during the period when they were about to stop mounting bayonets on new-production Type 99 rifles. It is supposed to be one of several different test models made to evaluate different bipod/monopod options, which does fit the time period when this rifle was originally made. The rifle’s monopod lug was ground off of its barrel band, and the stock and handguard were cut back several inches to make space to mount the bipod. The bayonet lug on the bipod is correctly positioned, so a standard Type 30 bayonet will still fit and latch securely. The bipod and bayonet lug are numbered to match the rest of the rifle, and the dust cover and stock have been marked with characters suggesting that it is test rifle #22 from Nagoya.

Problem is, the bipod was added by a US collector in the late 70s or early 80s, not by Nagoya Arsenal. It was produced as a practical joke on another collector, and later found its way into circulation, being advertised as a real Japanese prototype. I learned this backstory from a noted collector who was offered the rifle back in the 80s, and spoke to its original creator. Unfortunately, prior to the internet it was difficult to make this sort of thing widely known, and each time someone went to sell it they had already invested in it as if it was legit, and thus wanted to recoup their money or make a nice profit on it.

Here is the rifle back in the 80s (you can tell from the couch), back when my correspondent was offered it:

Arisaka with a Nambu bipod

Note the markings in the buttstock.

Arisaka with a Nambu bipod

Bipod detail (the rifle has a muzzle cover as well – click to enlarge)

Having handled the gun, I have to say that I really liked the way it handled. The Nambu bipod is lighter than you might expect, and I think it works pretty well in this application. If I could buy this piece for the price of a well-sporterized Type 99, I would absolutely do so. But as a collector, one has to be careful to view novelties with some skepticism – just because we like something doesn’t mean it is historically legitimate. Caveat emptor, as always.



PTRD in Ukraine

Sviatoslav sent us this photo of a 1941 PTRD in recent use in Ukraine…

1941 PTRD in use in Ukraine

Note the empty 14.5mm cartridge case under the gun.

Vintage Saturday: Pipe-Smoking Snakes

Brazilian Expeditionary Force

Mais fácil à uma cobra um cachimbo fumar, do que à FEB (para a Frente) embarcar

Troops from the BEF (Força Expedicionária Brasileira) posing for the camera, with 1908 Mauser rifles and a Hotchkiss 1922 LMG both in 7mm Mauser.

Another Chinese Pistol

Here’s another example of the inter-war Chinese pistol trade – this one from Roger Papke of Handfuls Of History. It’s interesting to note that this pistol is virtually identical in design to the one recently sold at Rock Island, but has much different markings.

Chinese mystery pistol

The construction of this piece matches in almost every detail the previously featured one, but with a different set of markings.

Chinese mystery pistol

The obvious question is, what was the relationship between the builders of this pistol and the builders of the other one? The mechanical designs are far too similar to be coincidence, but the markings don’t really have much in common. Were then manufactured in the same facility but given over to different people for marking embellishment? Were they made by the same person but at a significant time interval? Was one perhaps just a copy of the other?

Chinese pistol markings

In addition to the not-quite-symmetrical Mauser banner, this one has a plethora of Belgian “Perron” stamps, placed upside-down. The mark below, on the frame, is a Liege general proof.

Chinese pistol rear sight markings

This rear sight has numbers on it, although it is still a fake sight leaf and the numbers don’t make sense.

Chinese pistol markings

Fake proof marks on the chamber

Dreyse 1907 Slow Motion Video

The 1907 Dreyse is an early automatic pistol whose design is attributed to Louis Schmeisser. It saw fairly extensive use by the German military during World War I, and was also used by various German police organizations into the early 1930s. Overall, nearly a quarter million were manufactured.

It is a simple blowback action chambered for .32 ACP (7.65mm Browning), and not particularly comfortable. It has an awkward grip angle, awkwardly-short distance from grip to trigger, and top-heavy balance.


Rieder Automatic Rifle

I had a reader send me a link to this article, which was written in 1981 by Lt. Cdr. W.M. Bisset and published in Scientia Militaria – the South African Journal of Military Studies (vol 11, nr 3). It is available in its original PDF form for download, but I have transcribed it into HTML here for easier access.

The Reider is one of the handful of semiauto conversions of the Lee Enfield rifle that were developed in WWI and WWII – the others being the Charlton, Electrolux Charlton, Howell, and Howard Francis. Very little information is out there about these guns, and it was exciting to find this article!

The Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment

by Lt Cdr W. M. Bisset*

Mr H. J. R. Rieder

Mr H. J. R. Rieder

In March 1981, Mrs H. J. R. Rieder donated her husband’s presentation British .303 SMLE Rifle No 1 Mark III (number M-45374) with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment to the Military Museum at the Castle in Cape Town. With it were a number of photographs, letters, documents and plans concerning this once secret invention which was tested outside the Castle during the Second World War. Fortunately, the documents donated by Mrs Rieder include a list of the numbers of the 18 rifles to which Mr Rieder’s automatic attachment was fitted and it is hoped that the publication of this information will lead to the discovery of some of them and be of considerable interest to their present owners.

France surrendered on 17 June 1940 and to many a swift German victory seemed inevitable. In July 1940, Mr H. J. R. Rieder discussed the simple conversion of a standard .303 rifle to a full automatic rifle with Lt Col M. E. Ross, the Staff Officer A11 at Cape Command Headquarters in the Castle.(1) Mr Rieder, a radio and television experimenter and inventor, was employed in the Mechanician Department of the General Post Office in Cape Town. Although of German ancestry he had served in the Royal Corps of Signals during the First World War.(2)

On 22 July 1940 Mr Rieder wrote to the Officer Commanding Cape Command requesting the loan of ‘one standard service rifle for minor alterations and fitting of conversion unit for demonstration purposes only’. Mr Rieder added that the normal operation of the rifle would not be impaired and that an old used rifle would be quite adequate.

In a reply dated 3 August 1940 a Lieutenant-Colonel wrote on behalf of the Director-General of Technical Services that Mr Rieder should be asked ‘to explain the principle which he proposed to adopt and submit drawings or sketches of his design’. The writer doubted whether an automatic rifle was of much value, since none had been adopted to any great extent by any of the powers. He added that the ammunition supply was one difficulty.

On 23 September 1940 the Deputy Director of Coast Artillery, Lt Col H. E. Cilliers, authorised Mr Rieder to ‘hold in his possession one rifle Mk 111 No 45374′ for experimental purposes, but on 18 November 1940 he wrote that the Senior Stores Officer was ‘pressing for its return’ and requested a progress report.

Mr Rieder manufactured his automatic rifle attachment in his home, Windyways, 37, Upper Glengariff Road, Three Anchor Bay and was supplied with blanks with which to test it. A kingsize silencer deadened the noise which would otherwise have aroused the suspicions of the neighbours.(3) Mr P. D. Rieder, the youngest son of the inventor, recalls that his father was later granted a temporary transfer to the UDF and wore army uniform. All subsequent work on the invention took place in an upstairs workshop in the Castle and a sergeant was assigned the task of assisting Mr Rieder.(4) A detailed description of the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment and photographs of the invention were forwarded to the Senior Naval Officer, Simonstown on 2 January 1941 and to the Director-General of War Supplies, Dr H. J. van der Bijl, the following day.

A letter from the only cameraman permitted to be present, mentions that separate demonstrations for the Admiralty and Director-General of War Supplies were arranged. Fortunately, the African Film Productions cameraman, whose name is not recorded, has included the familiar stone walls of the Castle in some of the photographs of the demonstrations. The cameraman advised his General Manager on 14 January 1941 that permission for him to photograph the rifle had only been granted on condition that the company work through a Mr Wilson who was responsible for the arrangements concerning the release of the story. However, a telegram from DEOPS Pretoria to DECHIEF Cape Town dated 22 January 1941 stated that the negatives of films of the invention were being returned at once, care of Capt Stodel and that neither copies nor negatives had been made.

A .303 rifle fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment, extra handles and a larger magazine

A .303 rifle fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle
Attachment, extra handles and a larger magazine

Mr Rieder’s automatic rifle attachment made it possible for the ordinary service .303 rifle to operate as an automatic weapon by using the gas or pressure generated by the fired cartridge. Mr Rieder considered that the merits of the rifle attachment were its lightness (approximately 2.5 lbs [ed: 1.1kg]), simple construction and fitting, relative freedom from stoppages, low production costs and ease of loading. The attachment did not prevent the rifle from being used as an ordinary rifle and ‘single shots could be fired with automatic loading’.

British .303 SMLE Rifle No 1 Mark III fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment and mounted on tripod

British .303 SMLE Rifle No 1 Mark III fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment and mounted on tripod

The only disadvantage listed by Mr Rieder was overheating after about 100 rounds had been fired but this he expected to overcome. In a letter to the Director-General of War Supplies, Director-General of Technical Services and Mr Rieder dated 31 January 1941, the Officer Commanding the Technical Services Workshops at the New Drill Hall, Maj E. P. Edwards, wrote that during demonstrations the extractor and loading springs had caused problems because they were made from piano wire which did not retain the correct length and weight. ‘This problem and an incorrectly designed check spring were overcome in a new model of the attachment. Maj Edwards considered that this invention might be as free from defects as the ordinary machine gun’. Another advantage was that scarcely any oil was required and although it had a dust cover it stood up well to field conditions.

Under the heading ‘remarks’ Maj Edwards suggested that the eye-guard could be used for fitting an adjustable aperture sight to offset the possible difficulty of aligning the service sight caused by the rapid vibration of the rifle. Single shots could be fired by releasing the trigger quickly or alternatively the rifle could be brought to service conditions by closing the gas vent.

British .303 SMLE Rifle No 1 Mark III fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment and mounted on bipod

British .303 SMLE Rifles No 1 Mark III fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment and mounted on bipods

Although Maj Edwards wrote that it was essential that a type of elongated ring foresight be fitted, he pointed out that the introduction of tracer bullets (1 in 3) and using the hose pipe method would be useless because of the speed of modern enemy aircraft upon which the .303 bullet had ‘very little effect other than the moral aspect’.(5)

In a letter to OC Technical Services dated 16 June 1941 Mr Rieder requested a further extension of his temporary transfer to the Defence Department because it had proved impossible to obtain a suitable type of steel spring in the Union and this and other small improvements had impeded progress. Nonetheless, he hoped that ‘perfection would be accomplished in the near future’.

The Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment dismantled

The Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment dismantled

On 18 June 1941 Mr Rieder advised the Officer Commanding Technical Services Workshops in writing that his experiments had reached finality and that it would now be possible to complete the remaining sixteen rifles for demonstration purposes. He requested a further period of about six weeks to complete the task.

On 10 October 1944 Cdr H. S. Gracie, RN presented Mr Rieder with the first .303 rifle (Number M-45374) to be fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment on behalf of the Admiralty.(6)

Mr Rieder shows his invention to Royal Naval officers, an army officer and a civilian after a demonstration outside the Castle in Cape Town

Mr Rieder shows his invention to Royal Naval officers,
an army officer and a civilian after a demonstration
outside the Castle in Cape Town

Although three rifles fitted with Mr Rieder’s invention were sent overseas, it was never adopted.(7) Nonetheless, Mr Rieder’s ingenuity and industry in one of the darkest hours of the Second World War, deserve the highest praise. Mrs Rieder’s gift, now displayed near the scene of the two demonstrations outside the Castle and the documents and photographs relating to it, have also helped fill another gap in the history of our most important national monument.

.303 Rifles fitted with the Rieder Automatic Rifle Attachment

M-45374 – Obtained by Mr Rieder. Presented to Mr Rieder by the Admiralty on 10 October 1944. Now in the Military Museum The Castle.

Eighteen rifles received from SSOT

Listed as being ‘partly converted to original plan and now at Cape Town’ on 20 September 1941:

Rifles completed and converted to new plan now at Cape Town ‘Susie’. (Taken to Pretoria by McClelland). Sent to Pretoria:

Rifles Sent Overseas

Converted to original plan Converted to new plan 25.8.41 ‘Bertha’. (Taken to Pretoria by McClelland on date not recorded):

* Lt Cdr W. M. Bisset is SO Military Musea, WP Command

(1) Letter from Mr Rieder to OC Cape Command dated 22 July 1940.
(2) Information provided by Mr P. D. Rieder and obituary in The Cape Times 23 November 1954.
(3) Information provided by Mr P. D. Rieder.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Letter TSW 840/1 dated 31 January 1941.
(6) Letter from Cdr H. S. Gracie (Office of Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic) dated 10 October 1944.
(7) Letter TSW 840/1 dated 20 September 1941.