Old Tech, New Tech (Syria)

Is there a computer-using gunnie anywhere who has not dreamed of doing this?

Syrian rebel with remote-control StG-44
Syrian rebel with remote-control StG-44. Note the big yellow control joystick!

Yep, an old German StG-44 mounted on a set of servomotors to allow remote control movement. Complete with firing solenoid and a remote camera mounted to the scope. Not sure how truly practical it would be with a 30-round magazine, but you could certainly stick it in places you wouldn’t want to be yourself.

That photo has made the rounds of the ‘net a few months ago, but it’s still worth reposting, I think. And while searching for some related things, I happened across this other photo:

Syrian rebel using an iPad to measure mortar angle
Syrian rebel using an iPad to measure mortar angle

Yep, they are using an iPad app to determine the angle of elevation on a mortar. The cynic in me had to wonder (having seen a lot of video of AKs being sprayed from the hip and waved around with stocks folded) if these guys realized that they could have done this with a string and a weight before they realized there was an app for it. A lot of Syrian fighters sure seem to be completely ignorant of arms handling to the point that I can see them aiming entirely by guesswork and prayer.

On the other hand, an iPad app for indirect fire control is pretty cool! Here in the US, it would take all of an hour before a couple competing coders were working up versions that you could enter your shell weight, propellant charge, and wind conditions, then mark your firing location and target in Google Maps and have the system determine the precise azimuth and elevation to set.

Come to think of it, I need an app like that to plot indirect fire with my Vickers…


  1. …just make sure you (and everyone else)are well behind hard cover before firing that one up!

    In’shala safety only works so far..

  2. Sounds like they watched the Bruce Willis version of the movie “Day Of The Jackel” and copied his remote-controlled cannon…

  3. Considering that it takes an engineer or a surveyor to use plumb lines to measure mortar elevation, I’d probably stick with the app. A plumb line used to measure angles requires another tool: a protractor, something clearly not available since grade school is out, and I doubt there’s a functioning Walmart in the immediate neighborhood! With no way to secure the protractor, the electronic approach seems better.

    As for the remote-controlled Sturmgewehr, I would advise the rebel to make his setup easy to move (shoot and then run for it). His idea is a step up from the periscope rifles of the trenches because destroying the rifle does not kill the user (unless one goes for overkill with artillery) but I would recommend finding a machine gun (preferably a heavy one) for conversion.

    • I’ll politely disagree with you about the need for a protractor,

      a tape measure or a ruler in combination with the plumb bob will do very nicely thankyou – using techniques deduced and written down by a middle eastern (and African, come to that) gentleman, several centuries before Christ – Euclid.

  4. Ian… I would be real careful about selecting the “computer coding whizzes”, you might wind up with a company like the Obama Care Software genus; you would wind up plotting your own position.

    Yes Ian… I don’t think C.S. Lewis is high on these guys reading list.

  5. The thought of thousands of STG-44s being found there and then banged up and destroyed is distressing. Neat photos though.

  6. I’m continually amazed at where old, rare weapons turn up. If that Sturmgewehr could talk! What history that thing has! If any of the brilliant readers on Forgotten Weapons has any ideas how this Stg44 got from the Wehrmacht to Syrian rebels, I’d love to hear your theories.

      • Ooops, I overlooked your comment. I agree, this is strong possibility. Yugoslavia was dealing freely without connection to Comblock.

      • Thanks for the link. The origin of existence of this weapons in Syria puzzles me too. Assuming that nobody planted them there recently, it is conceivable they came from Central Europe. CSR at that time (besides of passing lots of arms and ammo to Israel)kept in temporary use K98s but were not interested in StGs. Poland also started right off with Russians SMGs. Case in contrary was Yugoslavia, where they saw service until 60s when they were eventually replaced by domestic versions of AK.

    • Wes,

      At least 5000 StG-44s were found at the beginning of the conflict. I believe they came via eastern Europe, sold off once East Germany stopped using them.

    • My understanding is that these were East German VoPo refurbs. The Ossis used the StG well into the fifties, and then put them away for a rainy day. (The USA does the same thing. the M14s Rock Island has just (2004- ) revamped into EBRs all were overhauled and stored when the M14 was replaced by the M16 in the 1960s). At some point they dealt ’em to Syria.

      • Kevin – I realize I am getting dangerously close to “who the hell CARES?!?” territory but I have to ask – when the East Germans refurbished these StGs, were they still chambered for 7.92 Kurz or was there a switch to 7.62×39? This stuff fascinates me – thanks to everyone for indulging my quest for absurdly obscure information!

  7. My impression is that this may be part of game making them look under equipped and therefore sort of harmless. In reality I saw them (in field snapshots) equipped with real up-to-date portable missiles, equivalent to modern army’s inventories. Also, their skills are believed to be superior, honed on battlefields elsewhere (in Libya, just prior to this).

    As this may be part of see-to-believe as anything else in this world, nothing ought to be taken from phrase “necessity – mother of invention”. It’s cute.

  8. A 30,000 dollar rifle being fired by a man who will probably never make that much in his life time. Wars a funny thing.

    • A $30,000 rifle in the USA, but a $3000 rifle in EU and maybe a $300 rifle in Syria ; it’s just supply and demand.

  9. Note to the second photo:
    The development of computers owe more to artillery problems – the Rangekeepers used on warships were electromechanical computers, one of the reason to build ENIAC was to calculate artillery firing tables. Now descendant of this machines is used to solve this same problems as their ancestors.

    • Good subject to talk about. I came first to touch with this technology on WWII Yorktown parked at Patriots point in Charleston SC. Would you have some lead to more information? Thanks.

    • The first digital computer network of any size was used by the US for continental air defense and was called SAGE, the Semi Automatic Ground Environment. It was developed by MITRE Corporation, a Federally Funded Research and Development Corporation (FFRDC), and that was the basis of MITREs subsequent success in three domains: air defense (and space defense), computer networking, and integrated air traffic control systems.

      • Many of the “Century”-series of airborne manned interceptors, such as the F-102 Delta Dagger and the later F-106 Delta Dart, were integrated directly with SAGE. The creation of SAGE under the pressures of the Cold War for defence of the Continental United States is an entirely intriguing piece of history in itself.

  10. Beauty as well a rarity .. is in the eye of the beholder, as the old saying I BELIEVE GOES .. one mans junk .. another mans treasure (you get the idea) to them it is just an old weapon.

    Try not no get caught up in names when assessing by generalizing forces. We tend to put a title and generalize everything; Guerilla, Rebel, Insurgent, Terrorist, Revolution, Insurgency, Internal Defense etc. Each group can and have at any given moment evolved or devolved. There are at times in fact little commonality even within organizations. Some “insurgent” elements are adept at demolitions while other “insurgent” elements only manage to blow themselves up due to a basic lack of expertise or mental equity.
    Every “military” organization throughout history has been divided into the well trained and educated “specialists” and the “bush beaters”. In mass look and the Russian and Chinese Armies.

    • You’ve summed up several of the complexities pertaining to the civil war in Syria ( and in many other places ) very well. I also agree about the constantly-evolving dynamics, which often confuse outside observers to no end. To understand these dynamics, one has to constantly and consistently track in detail all factors and parties involved in a given situation. This takes a lot of effort, commitment and resources, not to mention the hazards of direct exposure. Few reporting organizations are prepared to go to such lengths nowadays, so we are left with news summaries and analyses that either tend to be black and white, incomplete or both. Either way, the picture as supplied to the general public becomes over-simplified and inaccurate, giving rise to the temptation to use the “labels” you mentioned.

      • Hi Earl, great to see you commenting. Yes .. it has always seemed to me we (westerners) have a absolute fear of being confused by a lot facts! And Lord help, that we must “do a detail study you say”, or “examine in detail” !!! No we just want to get the “summarized” version. National relationships are complex, and sub-national even more so and when ethnic preconditioned prejudices are overlaid; well .. it is not, and never will be, a “Simple matter …. ” of as we would like it to be. Isn’t it Strange Earl how those “spectators” to an affair always think they know exactly what those involved should certainly know and do! This has certainly been the case for me while doing a bit of as by dear wife on one occasion, called my deployments “sneaking and hiding”! //
        PS: Just received (yesterday) A beautiful Winchester-Hotchkiss Model 1 Carbine. I’ll be loading some 45-55-405′ this week.//Best//Thomas

        • Hello, Thomas :

          It’s wonderful to hear from you again. I have always respected your opinions and have little doubt that they are based on hard, real-world experience combined with an intelligent and careful examination of the facts.

          Wow — a Winchester-Hotchkiss Model 1? It just seems like yesterday that you were writing about the Model 3 that you had acquired. I wish I could have been of more help in answering your queries about field-stripping the Model 3, but I think several contributors far more knowledgeable than I am about these old guns were able to do so.

          Thanks for writing, and I’m looking forward to hearing and learning more about the Model 1.

          With Best Wishes,

          • Earl.. I so much like to converse with you .. someday some how we have to meet and just set and talk about life as we see it. The biggest question, one of many, honestly is; what am I and why am I what I am. I now have a lot of time by my self, not alone Earl, because I believe none of us are really alone, we just don’t see the one that is there, if we only ask. So I have as many “senior” folks come to a time of reflection, not great wisdom, just reflection and memories without answers. Have by chance, you ever read “A pilgrims progress” or “a pilgrims regress.”??

            Yes the 1st Model Carbine is a REAL find, and I didn’t have to mortgage the house! If you check with Ian, he can give you my email address, and I’ll send some photos. Be safe ok.//Thomas//

        • Hi, Thomas :

          Thanks so much for your 5:16 p.m. reply on Jan. 19th, and for your good wishes. They are much appreciated. I have read “A Pilgrim’s Progress”, but it was a very long time ago — you have reminded me that I really must re-read it.

          If you haven’t already read it yourself, Pierre Schoendoerffer’s “Farewell To The King” is another thinking man’s book I would highly recommend. Please let me know and I’ll send you a copy if you’d like one.

          As you suggested, I’ll check with Ian and also leave you my e-mail address. Looking forward to those photos of the 1st Model Carbine, too :).

          Take Care,

  11. Well, the string and weight requires a protractor if you want to actually measure the angle.

    In theory – though I doubt they have it – one could have a ballistics app designed for mortar use, that given the mortar and shell could be combined with the angle sensor to tell you “it’ll hit around there”.

    (And I bet a standalone electronic angle gauge would be more accurate and is far cheaper … but iPads are a common commodity, and those aren’t.)

    • The iPad though could also be programmed to take into account the number of rounds through the tube, as well as humidity, temperature and barometric pressure. You could do with an iPad what it used to take something the size of a king sized bed to do on a battleship.

      • With a suitable photogrammetry app, if you have two ipads viewing the same target from different positions, even if you have no good landmarks to measure off on google earth, you should be able to calculate the range.

        failing that, two decent sighting compasses, and the position of the two ipads would work a treat as well.

        I picked up a nice artillery clino in a rather battered box, when Myford’s lathe works liquidated:

        Cooke, Traughton & Simms, York, England.

        It measures down to about 15 seconds of angle.

        I’ve not looked into its history, I’m guessing it’s a British clone of a German clino – I got it to use when re scraping lathe beds, rather than as a historical artifact.

    • That ‘mortar’ is piece of junkyard scrap at first place. Normally, any worthy weapon of this kind has its own sight capable of measuring elevation and azimuth. This must be some really poor faction, not connected to international supply chain. After all we can see, they are not all of the same breed as they involve in clashes against each other (I do not intent to get into politics, but it ties to it).

      • DENNY .. Ah yes .. “Tribal” you say ! hahahaha some well worn sayings

        “the tail bitting the dog”
        “Biting the hand that feeds them”
        “no, of course we are not the same .. they are from another village!”
        “we MUST at times kill their children, or they will someday outnumber us!”

        Tribal warfare is a fact and part of human existence, and is still with us and that is a fact.. Political niceness be damned.

  12. Anybody remember the FADAC artillery computer of the ’70s and ’80s? It was the size of a microwave oven (a BIG one) and as reliable as a Chauchat stuffed with gummi worms. Regular Army artillery units forced to use it were CRUSHED in competitions with National Guard cannoneers using TI programmable calculators.

    I don’t doubt the wonders you could achieve in an FDC using a tablet, much less a serious engineering laptop. Likewise, I imagine an FO could do some serious damage with an Android or iPhone.

    • Chris .. your first comment … yea in 65 3/319 ARTY ABN /173rd ABN BDE(SEP) were using GFT’s and plotting charts and pins for 4.2 Mortars and M102 105’s in the FDC. 81’s used M10 PB.

      Your Second comment …They are to both

    • @ Chris Morton & Eon :

      Yes, I recall the FADAC. It was meant to provide full fire-control integration for the artillery but fell far short [ I like Chris’ “gummi worms” reference 🙂 ] due to several factors, not the least of which was that the theory ( which was basically fairly sound ) was too far ahead of the electronics technology of the time. It was replaced by the smaller and more-capable BCS ( Battery Control System ).

      TACFIRE was supposed to address the large-scale issues and introduce armored mobility for the vital FDC ( Fire Direction Center ) into the concept, but I have read that there were problems with integrating the targeting algorithms, even when linked to the BCS.

  13. from what I’ve read the remote firing St-44 might be intended to be mounted on the roof of a technical, so that would in some ways make it a touch (a touch) more practical regarding the the need to reload, rather than having to continually break cover to do so. Also, Ian raises an interesting point about the possibility of ‘insurgency management apps’ (even with legit uses, I can see them getting pulled from the legit app stores pretty quickly).

  14. These “friendly” rebels with their ww2-toys will be our next, big headache in this region for years to come.

  15. @ Denny & Daweo :

    There is also a good general overview of the types of gun directors and fire-control radars used in conjunction with different armament on USN destroyers as well as other vessels in John C. Reilly’s “United States Navy Destroyers Of World War II” ( Blandford Press, Dorset, UK ). The End Notes and Bibliography at the end of the book are a treasure trove of references that should provide plenty of interesting links for the serious researcher.

    • I have been in the “computer room” of a WWII destroyer. Walls were covered with brass gears! I do remember first time I was on a WW II ship and noticed that the driver motor on gun mount was a servo. I believe it was what is known as selsyn or synchro. Dead giveaway that aim was remotely controlled.

      • Sounds about right. You were probably in the Fire Direction Center or what is now, in modern vessels, generally referred to as the CIC ( Combat Information Center ). All that gearing would have been part of the mechanical computer systems then in service.

        Many thanks for sharing the interesting information. Do you recall which destroyer it was?

  16. One use of a servo operated machine gun is autonomous firing. East Germans had machine guns that would detect a person, aim, and fire. You can find examples of paint ball weapons operated the same way, made by amateurs. Interesting aside, having servo to fire allows one to make a semi-auto into almost a machine gun, with one keyboard command for rapid repeated fire. I don’t know how ATF would view this possibility. It looks too much like “readily converted to automatic fire” so probably banned. One can dream though.

  17. Arrows… A big crossbow, mounted on a indirect fire type mount “you know with adjustable increments, up and down, right to left etc” Then special bolts “bigger ones, think Roman siege weapons of the crossbow type” which you can set for the final trajectory i.e. T’WANG!!! WOOOSH!! T’CHINK!
    WEEEE!!!! like that… They fire as per the setting of the indirect fire mount, which could be sort of similar to a mortar and a gun. Then at a certain point “set prior to firing” a mechanical, clockwork type timer could “spring” into action and set the fins to direct the arrow on a separate trajectory to hit the target.

    The aim is to send a 4ft long bolt through a melon over a hill a mile or so away, be a laugh.

    • Should be able to do it, after a few hundred attempts, you’ll need a pen and paper a map along with the above.

      When you have…

      Move onto “bomblet” bullets, out of guns, airburst.

      Can be electronic, I don’t see why not if your high tech.

      Said wee bomb must bust the melon, be legal in the U.S surely.

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