Q&A 30: ACRs, Besas, and Czechoslovakia

Another month, another Q&A!

00:24 – Why did the British adopted the Besa?
03:51 – Reproduction French WW1 uniforms (Doursoux)
04:54 – Could the Magpul Masada/ACR worked as a replacement AR upper?
08:02 – Why are auto-ejecting magazines not popular?
11:03 – What smaller countries have impressive small arms development?
13:50 – En-bloc clips – pros? Cons? History?
18:21 – Smaller/faster cartridges in future handguns?
20:14 – How is group size measured?
24:03 – Guns with added ballast just to control recoil?
26:04 – Guns that fire open-bolt in full auto and closed-bolt on semi
29:17 – Future of the SIG 550 series in the US?
31:51 – Will there be an ebook version of Chassepot to FAMAS?
33:31 – Would the Dreyse have been good in the US Civil War?
34:19 – Memorably surprising auction prices
36:10 – How did I hurt myself on an EM2?
37:25 – Most advanced arms that could have been made ca. 1900?
40:06 – Thoughts on the Daewoo K2
41:29 – French trials of the Madsen LMG
42:01 – Lefty-friendly rifles and pistols
43:26 – British 4.85mm (The Last Enfield by Steve Raw)
44:55 – Lunch at Rock Island Auction Co
46:27 – What weapon for fighting Franco in 1936?
49:12 – What are the most interesting firearm locking and operating systems?
49:50 – What “Forgotten Weapon” do I want to see back in production?



  1. Ian, you’re killing us here..I mean,it seems like every other day it’s a book review, interview with somebody, a ” how does it work ” segment or Q&A..I tune in to see rare unusual firearms and to see how they work, not this, this is BORING..

    • I have to disagree! These segments might not be as “exciting” as the unusual gun disassembly and history, but they are every bit as interesting and informative. In short, they’re classic Ian. I, for one, enjoy his insights into books in his field and to viewer questions.

      • ln fact lan is forcing the human ability as finding interesting objects to survive his page’s day after day continuity. Fetching up histotical guns with features and demostrating in video every day should not be as 6easy as thought. Lad should need some break.

    • Wow how rude. it almost seems you are paying for this content…you don’t like it don’t see it, it’s easy. Wait for something that amuse you and post a thank you for that. It’s seems that some people doens’t remember, or knew, the times when you have to pay to have this class of quality content, like in magazines, dvds (or vhs), books…they assume that they have the right to have it all free…well, no.

    • These are actually my favorite feature of all the different types of videos he does. This format succinctly gives me just enough of a wide-ranging number of topics that I wouldn’t normally take the time to watch a video of, and also gives answers to and talks about many subjects which don’t warrant a full video but are still interesting. I do tend to listen to them while doing something else and only occasionally glance at the phone though.

  2. lnertial locking should be the most interesting. lt needs development and not forwardable in the current Civollani two step system.

  3. Why would the British Army adopt a gas-operated air-cooled Czech machine gun that could not use .303? Easy. Tank goodness for compact design (pun intended). The old reliable Vickers water-cooled gun was found problematic in turrets, particularly since the cooling water could not change out easily. Heaven forbid you from relieving yourself into the cooling jacket to replace all the lost water if the steam chest breaks! Attempting to connect the cooling jacket hoses to the vehicle’s engine radiator made things more silly! Yes, you may laugh at my mess now.

    • “water-cooled gun was found problematic in turrets, particularly since the cooling water could not change out easily.”
      Nonetheless .5″ liquid-cooled machine gun was used in some British interwar-period AFV, for example Vickers Light Tank Mk.VI (earlier variants):
      Also take loot at Polish 7TP tank – its turret was from beginning designed to hold ciężki karabin maszynowy wz. 30 which was at that time default Polish medium machine gun and water-cooled.

      As for 7,9 mm BESA in British usage, keep in mind that in second half of 1930s geopolitical situation in Europe becomes more and more tense. British forces must consider possibility that they will become side engaged in new European conflict soon. Although today, German development of mechanized (including but not limited to use of tank) warfare doctrine, might be more famous, in fact British also developed doctrine to use AFVs in mass (for more data see J.F.C. Fuller query in wikipedia), so they were aware that they might need produce a lot of them. So they will need more than a lot of tank machine gun to arm them. As situation was tense, it was logical step to take working design – ordering domestic manufacturer to develop ·303 tank machine gun might not result in properly working design ready in time. Note also than Vickers attempted to design air-cooled tank machine gun in inter-war period, see 2nd photo from top:
      which eventually was not deemed fit for adoption, but interestingly it used different (unnamed) cartridge different that ·303 – this suggest that even before BESA British seriously considered option of using different cartridge for AFV application.

    • Most obviously, because both the 7.9 x 57 and 15 x 104mm Besa were true rimless cartridges, and thus could generally be counted on to function more reliably in a machine gun than the rimmed 0.303in.

      Also, the Besas, designed around such rimless rounds that could be “rammed through” the belt rather than having to be withdrawn rearward, raised up or dropped down, and then fed around the belt, had shorter receivers and thus less “internal volume commitment” required than any HMG firing a rimmed round.

      Put simply, they took up less space inside the AFV’s turret and/or crew compartment, which was generally crowded enough “as is”.



    • Which reminds me of the Soviet wheeled Maxim which had a large diameter filling cap on pop of the jacket. Commonly thought to be for filling with snow, of which there was a lot about. But, as I recall Herb Woodend (of the Pattern Room) mentioning, there were a lot of ladies in the Red Army at that time and it was arranged thus partly for their convenience(!)

    • Several points from an old tanker
      1)The British recognized the problems with a tank Vickers in the Kaiser War and adopted a British built variant of the French Hotchkiss M1le 909 modified to fire 303R as the Hotchkiss Mk1* for armored vehicles. Guess the demand from the Infantry for Lewis Guns (eventually 36 per battalion) forced the Cavalry (Mk1) and Tanks (Mk1*) to adopt the Hotchkiss
      2) In addition to light tanks, the early cruisers and Matilda MkI mounted the Vickers. The British weren’t idiots, they put them in armored sleeves as on this Matilda
      and MkVI
      3) The 15mm BESA was used on the light tank Mk VIC and Humber Armored Car
      “A larger, heavier – at 57 kg (125 lb) – 15 mm version (also belt-fed) was developed by BSA from the Czechoslovak ZB vz.60 heavy machine gun as vehicle armament. It could be fired in semi-automatic mode as well as fully automatic. It was introduced in British service in June 1940 and was used on the Light Tank Mk VIC and on armoured cars such as the Humber Armoured Car Marks I–III. Over 3,200 15 mm Besa were manufactured until it was declared obsolete in 1949.[5]It fired a 75 gramme bullet from a 15×104 mm cartridge with a muzzle velocity of 818.3 m/s (2,685 ft/s) at a rate of 450 rounds per minute.[6] The 15 mm Besa was fed from 25-round metal belts, which limited its practical rate of fire, although the weapon was usually used for single shots as it was difficult to fire accurately in automatic.”
      There were those in the Seventies who lamenting the 15mm had been abandoned as it would have been more powerful than the 50 Cal and been a stopgap until the 30mm RARDEN was fielded

  4. Fair warning. This will be a fairly long post.

    1. The major thing which put paid to the FN-SCAR, at least in NATO service, was probably the HK-416 series. Pretty much identical in overall concept and performance, but using more AR-15 type components that were already in the logistics pipeline. All other things being equal, the “new gun” that requires the least changes to that pipeline will generally win (as with the M-14 succeeding the M-1 Garand).

    2. Auto-ejecting magazines- In actual field(combat/defense) use, if you need to reload, ideally with the pistol held upright relative to Mr. Gravity, the magazine should fall free of its own weight when you shove the magazine release in, down, or whatever.

    In range practice, I noticed officers two-handing the magazine change to avoid damaging their mags by dropping them on concrete. This was a bad habit to get into for a real encounter, so I put rubber-backed “front door” type floor mats at each station; the magazines could land on those without being dented or etc. I also encouraged the agencies to buy spare “range-only” mags for their officers’ self-loaders. I taught the Cooper method: drop the mag on the mat on the range; in a real fight, let the empties fly and don’t worry about them. Your life is worth one or two dented or dinged magazines.

    For an auto-ejector, George Nonte designed a “home workshop” mod for the 1911 or similar autos; a small horizontally-oriented V-spring under one grip panel, with a “hooked” end that bore on a small drill-rod stud in the rear side of the magazine box about 1″ above the floorplate. A square notch had to be made in the lower frame of the magazine well to allow the stud to pass.

    You shoved the mag in normally, the stud pushed the V-spring limb upward, compressing the spring. When you pushed the magazine button, the V-spring opened, throwing the mag down and out. The best thing about this in the 1911 was that mags without the stud worked normally, they just wouldn’t auto-eject, so you only had to put up with the auto-ejection function if you really wanted to. It should also work in any auto with a similar grip frame setup, i.e. the P-35, CZ-75, steel-frame Witness, etc.

    3. Pistol calibers and velocities- We’ve just about reached the limit of what can be done with conventional cartridge designs and propellant powders. We really reached it in 1963 with the introduction of the Remington XP-100 in .221 Remington Fireball, which would probably have been a better round for the FN PN-90 and Five-Seven pistol than the 5.7 x 28mm.

    Any future advances will involve a basic rethinking of what a “small arms cartridge” is. H. Beam Piper, in his Paratime Police story “The Last Enemy” (it’s online at Project Gutenberg, for free), described pistols firing ten-grain bullets at about 10,000 F/S for about 2,220 FPE (my calc). He described the result of a torso hit as virtually instantaneous death due to bullet disruption and “hydrostatic shock”. With the energy of a typical medium-caliber rifle load, I would tend to agree.

    To achieve this sort of velocity, you’d need either a monolithic-grain solid propellant (like a solid-fuel rocket), or a liquid monopropellant (like a liquid-fuel rocket). Both types have many times the energy, in terms of KCal/gm., of any sort of smokeless powder. I’d use a ceramic-lined barrel to hopefully reduce barrel erosion.

    The major problem with such a load wouldn’t be recoil so much as muzzle signature, both aural and visual. Wear your earplugs and your Joo-Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses, for sure.

    Other than that, I see the next increase in MV and decrease in caliber and projectile mass coming from mass-driver (“railgun”) technology. Which again is a basic rethinking of what a “small arm” is.

    4. Full-auto open-bolt/ semi-auto closed bolt- Other than the FG-42, I can’t think of any LMG/rifle with the open-bolt full-auto/closed-bolt semi-auto setup that ever made it to IOC. The LSW version of the SA80 fired from a closed bolt on full-auto to avoid having a different searage than the rifle version. Like most other things with the terminally screwed-up SA80 program, it pleased the bean-counters but not the squaddies who were stuck with using the blasted thing. (See the Osprey SA80 book by Neil Grant for the details.)

    5. Dreyse needle rifle in the ACW- I don’t think it would have gone over well. There were actual bolt-actions in use, such as the British Calisher & Terry, and the Greene, and even some of the “Lindner” type, all of which used a separate hammer and percussion cap. Like the Dreyse, all had problems with breech-sealing and gas blowback and were not well liked.

    Before the Civil War, the G.P. Foster Co. of Taunton MA introduced the “Klein’s Patent Needle-Fire Sporting Rifle” in .42 caliber;


    It was listed as being patented in 1849. Either it was a parallel development of the Dreyse, or “Klein” pirated the design. So the “needle rifle” really wasn’t all that big a secret, no matter what the Prussians thought.

    They later tried to relaunch it as the “Klein’s Patent Bolt-Action Sporting Rifle”, using an early centerfire metallic cartridge. It didn’t sell either.

    Mostly, I think at the time American shooters had an innate distrust of any “bolt-action”, due to both gas leakage and the potential for a bolt in the face as per the half-century later Canadian Ross. And after the Civil War, there were so many surplus arms around that a new design had little market potential, unless it was a battle-proven type like the lever-actions. It took nearly forty years for Winchester, Remington, and etc. to convince American marksmen that the bolt-action was a viable design. The Dreyse and its copies just came along too early.

    6. Turn-of-the-century weapons- the Garand could easily have been made before WW1- look at the Mexican/Swiss Mondragon self-loading rifle, which was pretty much a forerunner of the Tokarev or Simonov types of the 1930s. The Garand is considerably simpler than any of the three.

    Also note that most of John Moses Browning’s designs, whether recoil-operated or gas-operated, were “frozen”, in his mind at least, before 1910.

    Referring back to (3), even “mass-drivers” were conceived and experimented with before 1914. There really isn’t much that is new under the sun.

    7. Left-handed friendly guns- Most 19th Century designs fall into this category. Colt, Merwin & Hulbert, Remington, and S&W single-action revolvers, lever-action rifles from Winchester or etc., and pump-action rifles and shotguns are all pretty much ambidextrous. (Although I find the Colt Peacemaker and copies thereof easier to operate left-handed than with my right.) As a southpaw myself, I learned this all fairly early in life.

    Incidentally, one of the few autopistols that consistently ejects to the left is the old Walther P.38. This was apparently engineered by Walther due to complaints from the Reichswehr about ejected cases from the earlier PP hitting the guy to the shooter’s right during range practice. The P.38 consistently throws its cases to ten o’clock as seen from above, thereby annoying nobody. Unlike the structurally similar Beretta M9, that throws them straight back and not necessarily far enough up…

    8. The 4.85mm- In addition to The Last Enfield, I recommend The SA80 (Weapon Book No. 49) from Osprey by Neil Grant. Grant had extensive access to both rifles, LSWs, and personnel from Enfield in writing it, and the result is damning.

    I would point out that the SA80 in 4.85mm was designed from the outset for conversion to and production in 5.56 x 45mm, just in case NATO didn’t go for the 4.85 round. Which of course they didn’t. Since it was fundamentally a bullpupped AR-18, which was a 5.56 to begin with, this wasn’t much of a stretch.

    9. Lunch- I see Ian and I have similar tastes in sandwiches. But I like spicy brown mustard on mine. 😉

    10. Spanish Civil War- I’d count on acquiring weapons locally. Mainly, any decent rifle in 7 x 57 Mauser, and a pistol in 9 x 23 Bergmann-Bayard Long aka 9mm Largo. Both were the standard Spanish military and police calibers of the day.

    As to a semi-auto or selective-fire weapon, cutting an Italian Fascisti Bersaglieri “advisor’s” throat and liberating his Breda M1935 carbine in 7 x 57 would be an attractive option…

    11. Odd but interesting locking systems- One that I’ve always been interested in is the Hughes Lockless Rifle and Lockless Machine Gun system, developed to a DARPA project in the early 1970s. It used a sliding sleeve breech mechanism and a Plastic Cased Telescoped Ammunition (PCTA) cartridge, one of the fist such after the Dardick in the early 1960s. The main thrust of the project was increased rate of fire in full-auto mode.

    Externally, the Hughes prototypes looked remarkably like Browning Automatic Rifles, but with SMG-like “stick” magazines or a large “box magazine rather like the assault pack on an M249 of today. I’d be very interested in finding out just exactly how these things were supposed to work.

    12. “Forgotten Weapons” I’d like to see come back- First of all, the Evans Repeating Rifle, in a semi-modern “cowboy” caliber like .45 Colt or .44-40. That would be something to have at a “cowboy” two-gun match, maybe paired with an 1875 “Outlaw”(Remington clone) SA revolver in the same caliber.

    Second, a modern repro of the Spencer, in both cavalry carbine and “buffalo rifle” versions. To get around the ammunition problem, I’d like one made of high-tensile, preferably stainless steel, and chambered for either .500 S&W or .480 Ruger.

    Either one would be sort of the ultimate “Cowboy Re-enactor” rifle. The Spencer in such Magnum calibers would be a viable medium-game rifle, even today.

    That’s All, Folks!




      • Thank you!

        I notice that the cartridge shown is more a monolithic caseless type than a PCTA. Maybe they ran into the same problems with caseless propellant composition that HK did with the G11 project. Note that the cartridge outer shape does not entirely fill the “chamber”; it’s designed to optimize feeding, and of course has no role in obturation.

        Also note the artillery-type “belted” projectile. I suspect the original intent was to develop a very high RoF automatic cannon, probably for aircraft use, which would explain Hughes being involved. (Perhaps this was intended to be the 30mm cannon for the AH-64 Apache?)

        Also, the feed mechanism strongly resembles the lifter assembly typical of some tubular-magazine lever-action rifles, notably the Marlins.

        As for the sleeve setup, it reminds me distinctly of the Burt-McCollum type sleeve-valve design of the Bristol Hercules radial aircraft engine of WW2;


        A very unusual design.



  5. Couple of points, from my corner of the peanut gallery:

    First, the reason that the K1 uses the Stoner system is that the ROK Special Forces demanded a carbine after the K2 was finalized. Daewoo went back and reworked the original prototypes to meet the specified deadline, and because the Stoner system was more amenable to shortening things quickly, well… Yeah. K1 has the Stoner operating system because of a late decision to require a carbine-length weapon, and needing to meet that. The new version of the weapon for that role is actually a shortened K2, since they’ve got plenty of time to meet the design specification.

    Second, Ian’s idea that it would be possible to go back and mass-produce a modern weapon in pre-WWI days is ludicrously out of touch with the realities of factory mass-production of things. It wasn’t doable, in terms of mass production–You might have pulled off building a bunch of hand-built copies of a modern design, but you were not going to be able to replicate something like building an M16 magazine with then-extent machinery and industrial processes.

    I’ve been around the block on this issue with a couple of guys who do production engineering for mass production on a lot of this sort of thing, and they reluctantly had to agree that a mass-produced AK probably wasn’t doable up until around 1930 or so, at the earliest.

    The root problem isn’t the basic technology, it’s the precision of manufacture across thousands of units. You want to interchange magazines, you need to be able to precisely replicate those bastards, and do it affordably. We simply did not have the capacity for doing that across job lots of things to mass-issue an army until relatively recently.

    If you go back and read first-person accounts of the US Army after WWI, you’ll see guys writing up where they had to go through box after box of BAR magazines, test-feeding them all in specific guns, in order to get enough to work reliably for qualifications. Reliable BAR magazines that were consistent enough to where you could figure that 90% of them would work in the average BAR didn’t come in until the late 1920s-early 1930s, and that was specifically because of money spent to improve the machinery.

    State-of-the-art for mass production ain’t the same as state of the art for hand-building a copy of something modern. Sure, you could probably have built a Garand in 1910, but how the hell were you going to get the right steels that enabled it? The stainless steel that Garand used in his gas system didn’t even exist back then, and the basic science to copy it would have been past state-of-the-art in metallurgy.

    Hell, to be honest, mass-production of even the basic materials you’d need probably wasn’t possible, on any kind of scale. People simply do not grasp how much difference there is, and how little was known about things like heat treating. Look at the early Springfield 1903 rifles, whose metallurgy was so bad, for an example. Modern designs don’t take that sort of issue into account, in much the same way we don’t bother with adjustable headspace and timing because the industrial capacity to churn out precisely the same dimensions on the cartridges has gotten so much better. Hell, the consistency of propellants is so much higher, today, that it’s not even funny. Browning specifically designed-in a capability for adjustable timing and headspace for these reasons, and they’re considered totally superfluous needs on modern MG designs.

    Hell, the MG42 represents a quantum leap in machining and metallurgy over the pre-WWI era, simply with its barrels. Most people don’t know this, but the MG42/MG3 do not, in their original German-built varieties, need to have individually headspaced barrels, because they’re all manufactured precisely enough that they can interchange between any other MG42/MG3. The design supports that, while others such as the MAG58, do not.

    No, you’re not going to go back and dump a TDP on your state-of-the-then-art manufacturer of choice in 1890, and start churning out modern weapons. Ain’t going to work. Period.

    What might work, though, would be to take back modern design concepts, and then perhaps build limited quantities of weapons using those concepts. A STEN might be easily doable, but you’re sure as hell not going to take an AR-15, with its requirements for forged aluminum and magnafluxed bolts back to that era and be able to equip more than a palace guard. I’m not even sure they could produce something like a Garand, to be honest–People simply do not give John C. Garand enough credit for his genius at producing production machinery and workflow. The man managed to make that look so easy that even the people who were running Springfield Arsenal failed to grasp that without him, they were never going to use that same worn-out machinery to manufacture the M14.

    Clearly, what we have here is an inaccurate appreciation for the improvement in manufacturing that took place between 1900 and 1970. Modern design principles aren’t even translatable between a factory run on CNC machinery and that of a belt-operated lathe-and-craftsman paradigm.

    • Also, I want to mention (infamous) Reising sub-machine gun of WW2. There was interchangeability between parts of different examples, which resulted in additional problems with reliability among users which were not aware of that.

  6. I had to chuckle when Ian elaborated on choices of his rifle in 1936. I make it short – they were all bitch in terms of reoil. I wonder if in actual combat they were cycled as little as possible. I also remember story how anti-Franco opponents were identified and led to summary executions. After their shirt was stripped and shoulder showed fresh bruises, it was considered clear proof.

    On my last trip to range I was offered to shoot rifle in .270 Winchester. I pulled trigger on 3 shots and returned it with thanks. There was no recoil pad; just hard checkered metal surface 🙂

  7. 11:03–Czechoslovakia/ Czechia–Yes, great choice! Persuasive. Finland…OK. Maybe, oh, I don’t know…Italy! Lots of impressive and interesting arms, no? Denmark for honorable mention? I mean its not like anyone actually uses their designs for the most part, but they certainly are interesting… Switzerland too I’d add.

    If going to war in the Spanish Civil War, one should be properly limited to what was available in Iberia, no?
    If stuck there guarding the confederal Union hall early on I suppose I’d count myself lucky to have a Model 1916 bolt-action short rifle or carbine in 7x57mm Mauser or a .43 Spanish reformado Rolling block! Side-arm: A Jo-Lo-Ar pistol!

    If going to the front, I’d count myself mighty fortunate to get a Model 1926 helmet to cover up my brain housing unit, and one or another of the MP28.II copies as a SMG, or a captured Erma 1935 from the Nationalists… Jo-Lo-Ar or Modelo 1921/400 Astra pistol I’d suppose.
    If stuck with the foreign commies in the International Brigades, I’d try to ditch my Mosin-Nagant rifle for something like the Libora Fontbernat M1938 or the Star Modelo 1925 SMG… Maybe a Polish BAR? Awful heavy though… And with a Czech M30 or M32 steel helmet as the brain housing unit protector!

  8. Forgotten weapon that should come back, or even get produced for the first time in quantity? Golly, the whole list or just the top ten?

    Here’s my top three at the moment:
    3. The Beretta Model 1918/30 “syringe” self-loading 9mm carbine.
    2. French .30 U.S. carbine-caliber MAS 1949 self-loading carbine with CR-39 type under-folding stock.
    1. The Model 1875 Lee single-shot rifle (modified Peabody tilting-block operated by the hammer spur) in .45-70 or pretty much any other cartridge… Maybe .40-65 since I’m only getting older…

  9. I would really like some one to reproduce the Whitney-Howard lever action single shot in twenty two long rifle with a threaded barrel and the Stevans pocket rifle with the shoulder stock/arm brace

  10. Read Herbert McBride’s “A Rifleman Went to War” for the story of an American National Guard captain who ran away from home and joined the Canadian Army during the First World War, serving as a machine gunner and then as a sniper before being discharged due to ill health. McBride rejoined the US Army and was an instructor for the rest of the war. During the 1970’s “A Rifleman Went to War” was one of the books used by the USMC to develop their sniper program.

    McBride reported that consistent ammunition was a problem. Some ammunition lots were very consistent, some had brittle brass or large variations in muzzle velocity or excessive duds. That was just ammunition. McBride actually liked the Ross rifle for sniping, but had to use what he was issued. The heavy machine guns were all finely made–but as you went down the food chain the light machine guns varied in quality. Detachable magazines were distrusted because manufacturing tolerances for cheap magazines were not up to total interchangeability and often were not durable–with the pistol, that wasn’t as big a deal as with the rifle or machine rifle/light machine gun because pistols only got fired a few times and the owner either managed to survive–or not. Off-hand there was Alvin York taking down a squad with his .45 and Herbert McBride claiming that he fired his pistol in anger less than a dozen times, but those were really sorely-needed shots.

    Ian’s work with Project Lightning had to deal with weapons that were a century old and using modern ammunition instead of vintage ammunition–these seven guns were brought to their optimum condition and babied through a series of tests to determine how well these guns stacked up against each other. The headaches suffered getting the magazine fed weapons working were lessened by having consistent ammunition.

    The Darne aircraft machine gun and the Chauchat light machine gun (actually more of a “machine rifle” despite the weight) were not intended to give years of service–if the Darne survived five dogfights and the Chauchat survived 3 months in the trenches they had both served well. The Maxim machine gun was designed to last for decades.

    As late as the M-14 rifle project in the USA there were severe mass production problems with small arms for the military. How many civilian-market weapons are crap because of their execution? I used to own a police-surplus Mini-14 and I had to modify after-market magazines to work with the rifle–the after-market vendors didn’t match up very well. I’ve had bad M1911 magazines for the Colt Government Model.

    The mass production and machining capabilities of the years 1880 to 1920 are indeed impressive but do fall short compared to today’s standards. Building millions of rifles and pistols and hundreds of thousands of machine guns that worked–mostly–with service ammunition is nothing to be sneered at. The limitations of mass production is a major reason that the two projects post World War One armies lusted after, the self-loading service rifle and the squad automatic weapon, were such difficult projects. After looking over their conscript armies of the Great War, most armies forged ahead with producing the light machine gun at a higher priority than the self-loading rifle because the LMG promised more bang for their buck. The Type 11 and Type 96 light machine guns of Imperial Japan required lubricated cartridges–and if I remember correctly, they also required cartridges with lighter powder charges so that the guns would run more reliably and not break parts as often.

    It keeps coming down to ammunition. As late as the 1960’s semi-automatic shotguns DID have reliability issues and police chose the pump shotgun over the semi-auto for both cost reasons and reliability. A major reliability issue was the paper hulled shotgun shell. Expensive all-brass shotgun shells (the USAF did issue an all aluminum .410 bore shotgun shell for the M6 Aircrew Survival Gun) solved the reliability issue but during World War One and World War Two brass was in critical short supply and the shotgun just wasn’t an important front-line weapon. The plastic shotgun shell fixed the cost problem and was almost as durable as the all-brass hull. Military and police shotgun ammunition is almost always buckshot–just one pressure level to deal with, unlike the sport hunter–so the consistency issue allows the modern combat shotguns to be self-loaders. How feasible were all-plastic hulls in 1916?

    Given a good design, it is possible that a John M. Browning or other top gunsmith could manufacture mouse milk runs or one-off guns equal to anything on the market today. They’d have to provide sufficient magazines and repair parts–and the user would need access to a skilled gunsmith. Ammunition would be the Achilles heel.

    In the 1942 “Shooting to Live” by Fairbairn and Sykes, the authors mentioned that the ammunition purchased for use in their Colt .45 and .380 automatic pistols were of higher quality than the cartridges for their .455 revolvers and that made their automatic pistols as reliable (if not more so) than their revolvers. One issue that had to be fixed by servicing their pistol magazines every six months was that after ammunition, magazines caused most of their stoppages. Ammunition and magazine issues were two reasons why American police stuck with the revolver until the superior features of the service pistol over the service revolver in widespread issue to semi-trained personnel were undeniable.

    And then there’s the issue of safety. The Chauchat had a few features that could be dangerous to the user. Some of these safety shortcomings could be traced to design–but hasty manufacturing had a lot to do with it. Mass production isn’t easy. Even though Henry Ford simplified mass production on assembly lines to the degree humanly possible for the famous Model T and during World War Two produced thousands of B-24 bombers at Willow Run (Air Force Plant 31) and pumping out a B-24 every 58 minutes at its peak. Note that even the humble Model T is more complex than a select-fire assault rifle–let’s not even get into the complicated B-24 bomber. Note also that not all parts were made for the B-24 (or the Model T) in Ford’s plants–it was often cheaper to buy parts from other contractors and assemble everything at the plant. That goes for rifles and machine guns, too–the magazines are usually made by subcontractors, for better or worse. Ammunition isn’t made in the same factory as the guns. All that takes infrastructure and infrastructure starts with people: engineers, assembly line workers, production managers, accountants, lawyers, chemists, even the lowly janitorial service has a role in high-quality mass production.

    During World War One there was a severe shortage of trained labor and the staff required for mass production. Slave labor can do only so much–even if slave labor was used to produce Germany’s V-2 rocket and Me-262 jet interceptor during World War Two. Who will train the labor? How much training will they be able to absorb? The Front needs fighting men–but some of these were creamed off to run factories and produce improved weapons.

    Today, automation is proving the limits of “even a monkey can be trained to work on an assembly line.” Automation can do many things faster, more consistently and with fewer breakdowns than a human being–but humans are still needed in the production line. In 1914 automation was still an infant industry (there were teletype machines, typewriters, adding machines, automatic looms and other automatic processes) but not everybody could be a factory worker. The small arms industry required skilled factory workers even on the assembly line. Even when the M-14 rifle was adopted under peacetime conditions, setting up an assembly line and producing rifles took two years (adopted in 1957 and produced from 1959 to 1964, about 1.4 million units), reaching Army units in 1961 and Marine units in 1965. Fact–early M-14 rifles, like the M1903 Springfield and M1 Garand before, had teething issues and early-production rifles often didn’t meet standards off the production line or failed in service use and were scrapped. Want to talk about the longest-serving standard service rifle, the M16, and its teething issues?

    Because not only do you need a competent work force to produce small arms in mass quantities, the soldiers have to be trained on the weaponry–how to shoot it effectively, how to keep it functioning under combat conditions. Just imagine issuing the AKM assault rifle to Lee’s troops at the Battle of the Wilderness during the American Civil War–oh, Harry Turtledove did that in his “Guns of the South.” That’s another good read if you’re looking into the issue–and how Turtledove sidestepped the issues of mass producing guns and ammunition is instructive.

  11. I like Ian’s answer on “what guns would you take to Spain to fight Franco?”

    Ask me the same question and I’d need you to answer two questions:
    Who (or what) am I during that period?
    Why am I fighting on the side of the Spanish Republicans alongside the Communist International?

    Or I could have been fighting on the side of the Nationalists allied with fascists and Nazis–Franco’s boys and girls.

    Just to make sure I had identified the players correctly, I looked up the “program card:”

    The superior arms and support sent by Italy (Italy?) and Germany during the 1936 to 1939 war was one reason Franco and his military junta won. Another reason could have been that the Spanish Republicans were really bad at governing. Either way, if I were given the choice of supporting corrupt Republicans and their Communist allies or corrupt Nationalists and their Nazi and Italian allies, France and Portugal look pretty attractive as places to raise sheep! Perhaps I’ll just get a boat and go fish!

    Most people have their sides chosen for them. Why limit Ian to fighting against Franco? And who would Ian have been back then? If Ian had analogs to his current skills, would he have been more valuable as a propaganda film maker, a la photographer Robert Capa, or as front-line cannon fodder supervised by a Cheka sergeant? “Supervised” in this context means the good sergeant had a submachine gun aimed at Ian’s back and poor Ian might have a home-made pike to take on German Panzers–or assault a trench line. Remember that Ernest Hemingway covered the war from the Loyalists (Republican) perspective and wrote the novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” which was a hit 1943 Gary Cooper movie. Guerrillas Tom Wintringham (author of “New Ways of War”) and Yank Levy (author of “Guerrilla Warfare”) also fought Franco–Wintringham was a British Communist and Levy was a committed socialist.

    These “what if” questions are interesting.

    • I wouldn’t recommend fishing. Considering the number of major warships that were on “Neutrality Patrol” off the Iberian Peninsula at the time, including such monsters as HMS Hood and DKM Deutschland (later Lützow), the chances of getting PT-109’d were entirely too high, especially at night.



    • The answer to your question may be found in your comments. The reason we wouldn’t wonder what a foreign fascist “volunteer” would choose to arm himself with is that by and large they weren’t volunteers, they were agents of Hitler and Mussolini and would be equipped with the weapons their leaders were interested in testing. If there were fascists from countries other than Germany and Italy, there weren’t enough of them to stick out in historical memory like the Lincoln Brigade, who at least had enough disposable income to have a chance to do weapons shopping.

  12. 37:25 – Most advanced arms that could have been made ca. 1900?Just to play devil’s advocate:
    The Sørensen Bang rifle is 1911, yes?… Hmm…
    There was a self-loading Mannlicher rifle design. With smokeless powder, who knows? It might have been made had there been the will to do so.

    As for self-loading rifles used by militaries we have the following:
    1. 1936 adoption of U.S. rifle caliber .30 M1–John Cantius Garand–who borrowed the operating system of an op-rod/rotating bolt and en-bloc clip from the RSC 1917. Apparently a B5 Chezaud prototype had the Mannlicher-style en-bloc clip before that.
    2. 1939-1940 Fëdor Vasilievich Tokarev’s self-loader used a tilting bolt forced into the locking position by a bolt carrier, first designed by the French–in strictest secrecy–in the early 1900s.
    3. 1942 The Swedish Ljungman AG42 using the tilting-bolt and direct gas impingement first used by Rossingol in France.
    4. Zee German K43 mit retracting bolt bolt lugs/locking flaps first used by Rossingol in France in the early 1900s, before Degtyarev!, and a copy of Tokarev’s gas system.
    5. The Belgian Dieudonné Saive FN49/ SAFN in 7mm, 7.65mm, 8mm Mauser, or even U.S. .30-06 that used a tilting bolt.
    6. Belatedly, the MAS Mle. 1949 that used direct gas impingement and a tilting bolt and had been largely refined between 1938 and 1940 but was quashed by French defeat in June 1940…

    So the world’s most advanced rifle that could have conceivably been produced in 1900 would have been the “fusil mitrailleur” of Rossingol ENT B1 in 6x60mm… But as it happened, it was never produced in other than prototype form, and 7 to 10 years later, the Mondragon was patented in Switzerland!
    And France went to war with a rifle from 1886…


    • “(…)France went to war with a rifle from 1886(…)”
      Yes, but they tested in numerous prototype prototypes, see:
      Clair brothers seems to be active in area of self-loading fire-arms yet in 1890s. It is states that they made 7 x 57 military rifle but without year given.
      Anyway French reckoned need of self-loading rifle, but getting good enough working one was not simply, nonetheless they finally used in combat RSC 1917.

      I presume that there were numerous prototypes of military self-loading rifles in 1890s-1900s for example Cei-Rigotti, but few go beyond prototype stage and even if it did production was small scale. Generally there was not much motivation in military circles to pursue development of self-loading rifles – they were more interested in light machine guns – so sometimes what started as self-loading rifle, which was case with what we know as MADSEN light machine gun and which started as Forsøgsrekylgevær M.1888 see photo:
      (with gravity feed) then evolved into self-loading rifle with more typical magazine (though still top-feeding), see 1st photo from top:
      to finally evolve into light machine gun.

      Also maybe we should rather ask: which modern fire-arm could be produced using 1900 technology?

      • A good example would be the Glock pistol. If you substitute steel or aluminum alloy for the polymer frame and other such components, you realize you’re dealing with a recoil-operated, locked-breech, self-loading pistol with the searage of the Austrian Roth-Steyr M1907 automatic in 8 by 18mm Roth-Steyr, and a modified and simplified Browning-type locking system similar to that of the French MAS 1935S in 7.65 x 20mm Longue.

        Similarly, the Auto-Mag pistol, first manufactured in the early 1970s and recently reintroduced, was and is basically a combination of the Schwarzlose Standart Model 1898 action and the searage and overall ergonomics of the Grant Hammond .45 ACP prototype of 1917;


        Don’t be misled by advanced “materials technology”. Always look at the mechanism and consider it as having been built entirely of steel.



  13. Speaking of the Schwartzlose Standardt, Mr. M used to want to see that put back in production. I’d be happy with a look-alike version that shot .22, or BBs, or even Airsoft. On previous occasions he has mentioned the Burgess folding shotgun as a candidate for revival. In my case I hope some Bill Ruger imitator might look at doing the Maxim-Silverman pistol in .22: it has to be simpler than a Ruger to maufacture and perhaps ultimately cheaper — and the handling might be superb. Perhaps a Wildey Wolverine kind of construction with a one-piece polymer housing?

    Mr. M, having a lot of information in his head, forgot to mention the Johnson/Dror LMG as another open-bolt full auto/closed-bolt semi-auto design. Having just reviewed the videos of them, I see that Johnson locked the bolt open but left the hammer “free” on full-auto, and closed the bolt but locked the hammer back on semi-auto, in what seems to me a clever and efficient manner.

    I greatly enjoy the Q & As but for their excessive length; maybe they could be split into two halves sometime?

  14. Canadian army issue 303 In about 1938 my dad was given a bushel basket (literaly) of loose canadian army .303 by a quartermaster friend of his dad who had filched it in the 20’s. Apparently most of it was headstamped 1917 and would not group into a foot at a hundred yards
    The quartermaster told my dad that by 1917 most of the ammo was loaded as if it was to be used in vicker guns not lee-enfields so accuracy was not as important

  15. I appreciate the Q&A. I look forward to the next one,the week after the last. The ideas many people bring up are usually carbon copy thoughts from years past. But every so often, something neat gets brought up. Good job Ian, and crew!

  16. Clearing out my backlog, my comment is late, but what the hay …..

    I do not think piracy is a problem with your book “Chassepot to FAMAS”. For starters, the kind of people who want this book are the kind of people who will pay MSRP to support future work and reward past work. The kind of people who would pirate the e-book would never buy the physical book.

    It reminds me of piracy charges against some college student who had downloaded 20,000 full length CDs: the so-called street value was figured at $20 per CD, and if he actually had to pay that much, he would have purchased very few. The CD manufacturers and musicians did not lose $400,000 because the college student could never have bought that many, and the marginal cost from his downloading that many probably wasn’t even a penny per download.

    On a different level, a book like this will be a terrible e-book because of the pictures. I have paid for and read hundreds of e-books, and learned really quickly that if the illustrations (photos, charts, graphs, maps) mattered, the e-book was a waste of money. I don’t recall a single e-book with color pictures either; maybe they do exist, but I’ve not seen them or heard of them.

    E-book advantages are simple: better bookmarks, better searching, and no extra storage. I would love to have e-book copies of all my many physical books, simply for the searchability. But they would never be in lieu of the physical books.

    In short, an e-book of “Chassepot to FAMAS” would not cost you many sales at all.

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