Book Review: Testing the War Weapons

Testing the War Weapons, by Timothy Mullin I was pretty excited to dig into Tim Mullin’s Testing The War Weapons when I first got a copy of it, having already read his book on SMGs, shotguns, and machine pistols cover to cover. I quite enjoyed that volume, and I figured that this one would be better still, being twice the length (419 pages) and on a subject I have more direct experience with – rifles and light machine guns. Unfortunately, my reaction was a bit disappointing, and the book did not hold my attention as well as I had expected. I think there are several reasons for this and I’ll get into them – but I don’t want to neglect the strengths of Mr. Mullin’s work.

The variety of guns tested and evaluated here is quite impressive. They include everything from single-shot designs like the Remington Rolling Block and Martini to relatively modern selfloaders like the Beretta AR70 and Sig 550. In most cases where both full-length rifle and carbine versions of guns were used, Mullin tested both side by side, including some fairly rare carbines like the Royal Irish Constabulary Enfield. This amount of diversity really help bring perspective to the testing – and Mullin also has the experience and background to give an effective informed evaluation of a rifle in combat conditions as opposed to simple range plinking.

The biggest problem with this level of testing, I think, is that it brings to light the fact that quite a lot of combat rifles form the past 140 years are very similar in practical terms. Mullin explicitly confines his investigation to a rifle’s use in the soldier’s hands, leaving out any discussion of internal mechanics or manufacturing techniques. When viewed that way, one naturally sees bolt action battle rifles, for example, like the old European monarchy: they have different names, but the genetics are pretty darn similar. The distinctions come down to basically just what idiosyncrasies each design has. The Berthier with a screw required to remove the bolt, the rotary magazine on the Greek 03/14 Mannlicher, and a whole host of Mauser variants that vary only in barrel length and caliber. As one would expect, the difference between a Model whatever rifle and Model whatever carbine is that the carbine is lighter, handier, louder, and delivers more felt recoil. This is true whether the model in question is a Lebel, Berthier, Swedish Mauser, Krag, Spanish Mauser, Mosin-Nagant, Dutch Mannlicher, Greek Mannlicher, Enfield, Carcano, Arisaka, Belgian Mauser, Argentine Mauser, or Austrian Mannlicher. This must have put Mullin in a bit of a difficult position – it’s certainly not his fault that this is the case, but should he test each example to be thorough (and repetitive) or address them all as a basic generalization, thus leaving out lots of discussion of carbines?

The same sort of similarity shows through with self-loaders, although to a lesser extent. These look much more distinctive than bolt actions, but when you get down to a practical and objective analysis (without considering mechanism or manufacture) they are quickly reduced to a collection of just a couple elements: sights, trigger, magazine, handling, etc. Most of those are characteristics with just a few possible configurations – like post vs blade vs pyramid front sights and single-stage vs two-stage vs just-plain-lousy triggers, and trigger guards that either can or cannot accommodate a gloved finger.

Now, you may be thinking that Mullin’s subgun book was not all that much different, and you would be correct. I should recognize that I have a prejudice here, in that I’m always looking for information that is new to me. My subgun experience is pretty limited, whereas I have trigger time behind the majority of the long guns covered by Testing the War Weapons. I’m not so interested in comparing the Rasheed and the SKS, because I have examples of both and have already done so. For the person without that experience, this will be a significantly more appealing book and I should probably take my own criticism with a grain of salt.

In addition to infantry rifles, Mullin also covers sniper/marksman rifles and light machine guns here. The snipers he tests are the Czech vz.54, Mauser 98 with 1.5x forward-mounted scope, K43, HK PSG-1, P14, No4(T) Enfield, L42A1, Accuracy International, Type 97 Arisaka, Swedish M41, Mosin PU, Springfield 1903A3, M21, and M1D. The light machine guns are the FN-D, FN-MAG, ZB-26, Bren, Chauchat, MG34, MG42, Lewis, Type 11, Type 99, H&K 21, DP28/DPM, RPD, RPK, Benet-Mercie, BAR, Browning 1919, Johnson M1941, M60, and M249 Minimi. I found the machine gun discussions to be the most interesting part of the book, and was happy to see Mullin generally taking the same position on the Benet-Mercie and Chauchat that I’ve developed myself – that they aren’t nearly as bad as popular legend would suggest. He found the Japanese Type 11 to also be a surprisingly effective weapon, and I am looking forward to having the chance to get my hands on one of those to see for myself.

Overall, if you have a fair amount of experience with a diverse selection of rifles you will probably not find much new insight in this book. If you are a more novice shooter, though, or have limited access to different types of guns, this would be a good resource to give you a pretty accurate idea of what to expect.


  1. Ian .. For my two cents worth .. Kinda think a bit about what you and I have discussed and where each of us seemed to place our emphasis while looking at various weapons. I believe that is where most people settle down .. one or the other of these sides. You .. more the technical aspects. The Who, What, When, Where and How. My thoughts were and are more towards; as the author states so succinctly; “the grunts eye view”. I really do not care a lot about the type “button rifling” or “Pull through”, machine used on a particular weapon, I want to know does it or did it shoot well, what are it’s advantages and disadvantages and is / was it a dependable weapon in combat use. Repetitive in places; yes .. but so is that safe of Arisakas that may only differ in a screw thread and the character on the receiver! But I’m still fascinated with them for how well they performed. This book sure does what the author say’s his intention was in writing it .. gives a grunts eye view. Your review is great.
    PS will receive the BREN .303 first or second week of November.

  2. Thanks for the review, Ian. You know, you and a couple of your colleagues could probably do a tremendous update or revision of Mr. T. Mullin’s book…! You could post the idea on “start-up” or some similar revenue-generating donation website… A bit like this one, perhaps? Just a thought.

    One of the issues with a simple “trigger time” review, is that while this may indeed be much more than “typical plinking” sessions, these rifles are from private collectors who are averse to having their specimens put through the real rigors of faux “combat use.” No one is going to want their rifle put into a deep freeze, covered in slimy mud, inundated by a tropical downpour, held by the front sling swivel and put through a several hundred yard “low crawl,” etc. etc. These arms could be introduced to a completely new shooter to see how “intuitive” or ergonomic or “user friendly” and “soldier proof” each design is. After all, Mr. T. Mullin–and most of us–are firearms enthusiasts who are interested in the design and function, while most “users” were not.

    I’d be interested in some of the “bean counter” issues dismissed as essentially irrelevant to a “soldier’s eye” view by Mr. Mullin… How many parts total in the design? How easy and expensive to manufacture? What was the role of the weapon in a particular national military’s doctrine or so on?

    • Hi David

      What is interesting, in looking at the doctrine of the WWII and Cold War forces as expressed in manuals and so forth (and as concretely expressed as weapons orders), there’s an awful lot of similarity here.

      Any worthwhile invention, such as the SMG and light machineguns of WWI, quickly propagate. Same as the assault rifle and GPMG of World War II. The nations of the world move forward together. Some lead, some lag, but they all catch up.

      Ian’s insight that little has changed in 140 years as far as individual weapons goes is basically true. The people who designed the weapons of 1880 were as smart as the designers of today, as appreciative of ergonomics, as willing to listen to end users. You see this in weapon after weapon as it progresses from toolroom model to test article to field-issued gun.

      One thing that also has not changed is the human operator. It is hard for someone with typical good unaided vision to spot a single human and engage at ranges over 300-400 meters. That was the case in 1880 and will be the case in 2080 (there might not be any soldiers with unaided vision by then).

      Likewise, an individual weapon weighs about ten pounds, give or take a couple. A Brown Bess and an M4A1 look completely different, but they’re still about the weight a guy can carry comfortably in his hands on a long march.

      There are some long-term trends to higher velocities, smaller calibres, and increased rates of fire, that have run continuously since at least the 18th Century. But you reach diminishing returns, because the purpose of an infantry weapon is to disable enemy personnel and destroy equipment, and you need to be able to do that. And your infantryman needs to carry his ammunition.

      So you advance with the technology of projectile, propellant, and manufacturing, held back by the human factor. And in all warfare the human factor is supreme.

      Dirty little secret: no nation ever lost a war because their rifle sucked, and nobody ever won because their rifle was better. Was the M1 better than the K98k? Sure, but the M1891/30 wasn’t, and in any case the difference was small and not decisive of, or even contributory to, the margin of victory.

      • This is super write-up, Kevin. Every word just falls in. I enjoy reading it as much as the posts of the guys before you. Thanks.

  3. I got this book,
    Not very detailed rferance except black and white photos of various firearms…
    This book fature only 1.5 percent of technical details of firearms so I wont be advising you to buy it..
    There is more books out there that’s shows technical descriptions,diagrams,charts,etc…

    There is german encyclopedia of various firearms from ww2 till present day which more cooler with photos and technical descriptions..

  4. I know that picture…even though it portrays an Austrian sharpshooter, it was taken in the Dolomites – Italian Alps, not too far from my cottage, anyway I would have opted for a different title, to be: testing weapons AT war…. hi

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