An Israeli LMG, Part I: The .303 Dror

The story of the Dror is a fascinating tale of clandestine arms procurement by the fledgling Israeli state. Plans covertly purchased from Johnson Automatics, redesigned to use .303 British ammunition, with a production line produced in Canada. The first prototype guns were brought down to New York for test firing (which got one of the involved parties arrested at the border, leading to a whole additional interesting story). The tooling was packaged up and shipped to Haifa, to be unpacked and turned into a working machine gun factory by none other than Israel Galili…but too late to use in the War of  Independence. And that’s without even getting into the second version in 8mm Mauser (which is a tale for our next video)!

Many thanks to the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Brussels for access to this very rare piece!

 

34 Comments

  1. I have a copy of Melvin Johnson’s book, “Rifles and Machine Guns”, bought by my father when he was a Marine in WWII. I think the print date was 1944. It does show the Johnson Model of 1944 with the double tube butt stock. The earlier Model of 1941 is shown with a wood stock.

  2. Oooooh….

    Adventures in just how badly a machine gun development project can go wrong?

    • For other example of know-how transfer far from legal see Rexim Favor
      https://guns.fandom.com/wiki/Rexim_Favor
      The Favor submachine gun was originally designed in France during World War II by Colonel Paul Favier, from which it got its name, and was apparently due to be developed at MAT before the plans were stolen. After the war, Col. Favier took the concept to Switzerland and sold it to the Swiss firm of Rexim(…)

    • I don’t think you’d want to go further, lest we get another angry set of paragraphs from Kirk.

  3. This remarkable story could be made into a fascinating movie…

    A Canadian postscript – some years ago, a quantity of Drors converted to semi auto only was imported into Canada.

  4. “Adventures in just how badly a machine gun development project can go wrong?”
    What do you expect, America’s answer to Charles Ross – Melvin Johnson (“big hat, no cattle” is how my granddad would have described him)- was involved.

    • You’ve got me thinking about some of the strange characters who got involved in gun design and development…

      It’s probably right to be deeply suspicious of the personality and mental health issues of anyone who’s taken out a patent, even more so if it was for something related to guns.

      C.H.A.F.L. Ross, and H.W.M. Gabbet-Fairfax, especially so.

      I spent far too much time in the mid and late 2000s working my way through their patents.

      looking back- I probably should have questioned my own mental health for not giving up much sooner

      I guess that at least the Ross cartridge had success in target shooting

      His personality (pretentious dick, and diletante living on inherited wealth and the rents of hard working tenants) shines through in his engineering.

      Gabbet-Fairfax’ engineering and cartridges were just nuts (IIRC, he also had patents for nut processing machines).

      Johnson, I dont know much about. Wasn’t he seriously “at variance” with the Ordnance testing and procurement people?
      A clash of unfeasibly large egos?

    • Unlike some others, Johnson’s stuff mostly worked. The First Special Service Force and the Paramarines all universally loved the Johnson LMG’s they were issued, saying they beat the BAR in every respect. The Paramarines even got some of the rifles issued to them that had been built for the Dutch East Indies, and I believe that was where Stoner got his exposure to Johnson’s design concepts.

      Then, you have the Johnson legacy, which you can see going forward into the various flavors of Armalite design. Eugene Stoner thought that Johnson had a lot of good ideas, and you can see how much he cribbed from him. If I remember right, there was even some cross-connection between the two, in the early days.

      If you go looking for “Johnsonesque” design features, they’re all over the place. How many multi-lug bolt systems are there, out there? The sheer propagation of that design feature points to a certain amount of “right” being present in Johnson’s efforts.

      I don’t think it’s fair to put him in the same category of crank as Ross and Gabbett-Fairfax, at all. If Garand hadn’t been around and done the work he did, then I think it’s fairly safe to say we likely would have fought WWII with the Johnson Rifle, and maybe the LMG. The Pedersen competitor for the M1, with its toggle-locking system, was really not a good choice for a combat weapon.

      • Pedersen’s toggle-delayed weapon wasn’t adopted because it was designed exclusively to use .276 Pedersen. Plus, while dry wax applied to cartridges helped with cycling, it was a pain in the neck if you got a batch of ammunition that lacked the wax coating. Guess how many more complications in logistics followed…

      • If I remember, one of the reasons Johnson’s rifle was rejected was that the ordnance people had doubts about the bayonet being mounted on a short recoil barrel.

      • Kirk:

        Do you know why Johnson had a thing against double column magazines? His penchant for single column mags meant that the LMG had an unfeasibly long mag for a mere 20 rounds.

        • Magazine lips.

          His magazines did not have feed lips; those were permanently machined into the receivers. The magazine insertion released the catch that held the rounds in place, and there you were.

          Johnson had been one of the guys who (per oral knowledge passed on to me; no cites for it, so your mileage may vary) who’d been tied up with trying to make the BAR magazine issue go away. As you might know, early BAR magazines were… Spotty, on feed reliability. I’ve seen accounts where the guys who were getting ready for qualification on those early guns post-WWI would have to go through crates of magazines to find ones that would be reliable and function. Johnson was involved in fixing that, and he came out of the experience with a horror of double-stack magazines with integral feed lips. Thus, the things you see in the Johnson rifle and LMG.

          • Kirk:

            Good information, thanks.

            It strikes me that Johnson would have been better advised just to develop a decent magazine. I seem to remember Ian saying once that Browning expected the BAR magazine to be treated as disposable, but Ordnance would never go along with that would they?

          • We’ve been over this ground, before, but… The problem wasn’t the magazines, per se. You could always design a good magazine that would work. What was lacking was the ability to manufacture the damn things in sufficient quantity with enough precision to do the job. By the time that problem was solved, which was right before WWII (anyone dealing with recalcitrant M1 carbine magazines might have a different opinion, but…) Johnson had already overcome it through eliminating the problem. As I remember, there’s a comment somewhere about the Johnson LMG that basically said “Magazines don’t need to be made that well; the lips are in the receiver”. It was a selling point.

            I think Johnson’s prejudices were probably valid back in the early days. Not so much with late 1930s and later technology. I’d love to know what his opinion was, later on, but I think even he recognized that he’d been overcome by events elsewhere in the manufacturing industry. You have to remember that, unlike Garand, Johnson was not a guy who did industrial engineering. He designed weapons; it was somebody else’s job to figure out how to make them. Garand was a bit of a polymath; weapons and industrial manufacturing processes were both in his wheelhouse, which is fairly uncommon. Remember, even Browning didn’t do manufacture; he left that up to his commercial partners like Winchester, Colt, and FN.

          • Kirk:

            That makes a lot of sense. Whenever someone does something which seems weird, there is normally a reason which seemed good at the time behind it. I could live with an absurdly long magazine, for instance, if the gun was absolutely reliable as a result.

          • Yeah, but you can have a double stack / double feed magazine AND feed lips machined into the receiver. See the Breda PG.

          • @ JohnK the problem of manufacturing magazines that were so well and consistently built to not have feed isues, and so cheap to be discarded on the field, was so felt that the Brits experimented with tilting magazines “a la Breda 30” for the Bren, and still in the post war years, battle rifles often had had the stripper clip guide. It was intended that the soldiers would have carried part of their ammos in those.

          • The Madsen light machine gun is the same with single stack feedlip-less magazine and the feed lips in the gun itself. The Madsen certainly worked well and had proven itself in WW1. So going for such a design was not without its merits.

        • It’s like the FG42. Hardly anyone remembers it derives from the Lewis Gun, when they talk about the M60 and its foibles.

          Most people remember only the most recent expression of a design feature/mechanism. That’s just how it goes…

          • Good point Kirk. Given how Lewis was shafted by Ordnance, you might say the M60 was his revenge on them. Shame you had to suffer.

          • I dunno that the M60 can be thought of as a “revenge” by Lewis… To my way of thinking, it’s more like the Ordnance Department revenged itself on him by turning his reasonably well-working design into an abortion of a weapon that would leave his system forever tarnished by the reputation the M60 earned.

            In other words, it wasn’t exactly a validation. It was more a corruption, an outright desecration, than anything else.

    • Apart from the easy get out that if someone can afford an ultra rare prototype Dror to shoot, then they can afford decent. 303 to feed it, rather than destroying it’s value with a bubba job.

      Probably not very easy at all to convert.

      I think the key issue would be the greater head and rim diameter of the 7.62x54R

      The Johnson is using a single stack box mag, so you cannot accommodate that taper in the manner that you can with a double stack magazine by overlapping the shoulders of the cases more than the rims

      I’m guessing that you would need a far more curved magazine than .303, to get the pressure from the followers to transfer up the column of cartridges to keep the shoulder of the top round properly supported

      The French 8mm Lebel is an even more drastic example of case head and rim size and taper

      However, the Chauchat also has a single column box magazine, and illustrates the dramatic curve that becomes necessary.

      I’m guessing that a more curved magazine is going to require a new magazine housing to match it

      You’ll also need to open up the bolt face to accommodate the wider rim.

      I don’t have reference books infront of me, but I’m guessing that the rim thickness might require a new extractor and some careful thought about modifying the breech end of the barrel to achieve head space during re-chambering

      There’s not going to be much of the original gun or its resale value left after that

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