Very Early Mars Pistol #4 at RIA

Until the midle of the 20th century, the most powerful automatic pistol made was Sir Hugh Gabbett-Fairfax’s Mars pistol. With the .45 caliber version approaching the energy of a .45 Winchester Magnum, it was quite the accomplishment for a gun designed initially in 1898! Well, RIA has a very early example of the Mars – serial number 4 – coming up for sale. This gun (chambered for the .360 Mars cartridge) has a number of features that differ from the more “typical” Mars pistols (all 80 or so that were ultimately made). These include a very long barrel, a tangent-style rear sight, and a 3-lug bolt instead of the standard 4-lug type. A very cool pistol to have a look at!


  1. The Mars sadly could not reduce the portion of mega-massive recoil transferred to one’s wrist… Honestly, I think the Krnka pistols were much better due to less emphasis on “Magnum force” and more emphasis on getting the cycle to work in a somewhat simpler manner (pushing round out of magazine instead of doing the Maxim machine gun pulling from belt approach). I do have to say that this pistol is very elegant looking for an overpowered small arm. Perhaps the extra mass of the barrel will absorb more recoil?

    Weapon of choice questionnaire, do not respond if you do not wish to do so, please do not target me with literal flak gun:

    Given a choice among the following, which would you have in an outlandish scenario where zeppelin-flying sky pirates descended on your house and you had just enough time to get to a gun in your broom closet or basement?

    1. Mars pistol of any kind
    2. Krnka action pistol (including Roth-Steyr)
    3. Mauser C96 variants including a Schnellfueur
    4. Desert Eagle
    5. Mondragon with aviator’s drum magazine
    6. ZH-29
    7. Burgess folding shotgun hidden under your jacket
    8. Duplex Garand
    9. Lahti-Saloranta M/26
    10. Breda M38 tank MG fed by box magazine
    11. Kg M/40 Knorr-Bremse LMG
    12. Nambu Type 99 LMG with scope and/or bayonet
    13. Lahti L-39 AT rifle
    14. Madsen 20mm M/38 dual-purpose gun
    15. Browning M2
    16. Screw rummaging and get the 8.8 cm Flak 18 (Sf) auf Fgst Zgkw 12t Sd.Kfz.8 “Bunkerknacker”
    17. add your favorite toys to this list!

    As I said, you do not have to respond to the questionnaire! If you are going to criticize me, please be humane about it without death threats or strongly-worded letters of disapproval (no, I am not giving you my mailing address!).

    • USMC-issue M1921A1 Thompson in .45 with a 50-round “L” drum mounted plus a spare, or a couple of 20-or-30 round “sticks”. It had a bayonet lug for the M1917 Enfield (.30-06) bayonet. (With 18-inch bladed bayonet fixed.)

      Unlike a shotgun, you’re not “five and out” on ammo, and you can engage some Mother’s Son (s) in the next room by shooting through the wall.

      The bayonet? When going through a door (preferably in low light), some smart guy tries the old “grab your gun barrel” gag, and gets a surprise. Probably losing a couple of fingers in the process. (Works on M1897 “trench guns”, too, BTW.)

      Backup; 1911A1 .45 with spare mags, Bowie knife.

      CQB is inherently messy. “In the house” work is the messiest.



    • Maybe one of those powerful early pistol, with kind of butt-stock with a medium-long barrel to turn it into a small compact semi-auto carbine able to engage to 150m-200m if the chose ammo is able of it.

      (I thing having a surplus weapons from that “Zeppelin time” with reasonable price and ammo easy to buy or to build would be a more realistic thing. Then, depending on where we live we could be stuck with a black-powder gun, rim-fire or pin-fire, and for the most lucky a repeating one.) Snyder-like conversion for carbine/rifle and an already widespread revolver from a system like Lefaucheux in Western Europe, or a cap&ball based one in the US…

      Most lucky one would be those who could access to a recently phased out armoury with latest black-powder designs and early smokeless ones.

    • While it’s probably the best choice for Zeppelin busting; given a crew of one, I’m unlikely to get off more than a couple rounds from the Flak before being overrun. Although I could then use the ‘bunkerknacker’ to make my escape, just…
      That’s okay, Zeppelins are slow too.
      Speaking of slow, if I had ‘just enough time’ to grab (and set up) a Madsen M/38, that would probably be at least 15 minutes. But I’d be very tired afterwords.
      I’d take the M2, a quicker, easier setup and still powerful enough to perforate Zeppelin armour.
      If they managed to close in anyway, I’d retreat back to the broom closet for a broom handle (with stock and box magazines), and use that for room-to-room fighting.

    • Apparently the long recoil and extra barrel mass did not take much strain off of the firer. There’s a wonderful quote on Wikipedia about the British military trials of the Mars: “No one who fired once with the pistol wished to shoot it again”

    • “17. add your favorite toys to this list!”
      Any machine gun with supply of incendiary (white phosphorus) ammunition. If possible big-bore, to stay in Zeppelin era – 11mm Vickers Machine gun. If machine gun is not a option then get .577/450 incendiary ammo and rifle to fire it.

      • Or you could get the MG 18 TuF, which was a danger to both tanks and aircraft of 1918. The 13.2 mm round would probably punch through a Kevlar vest and anyone wearing it (or maybe two guys with armor).

  2. Should be easy to make ammo for these odd-ball antiques. Find the cartridge size with Cerrosafe chamber casting alloy, order a custom die from Lee Precision, and load your own with modern powder. Don’t think I’d trust 100 year old ammo anyway.

    • Yes, you can make your own ammo (100 year old stuff would have corroded by now!). But how would it shoot? Wouldn’t you need to regulate the propellant and projectile properties so recoil doesn’t overload your wrist?

      • Just work it up in increments just so it cycles. Don’t think anyone would compete with a gun that unusual; you would sure get attention at any range though!

    • The biggest problem might be finding a “parent case” to use for the cartridge cases. As can be seen here;

      the two .45s (short and long) were almost straight-walled, while the 8.5mm and .360 were bottlenecked. The .45s most likely headspaced off the case mouth, while the other two obviously did so off the case shoulder as per the 7.63 x 25mm Mauser.

      While the .30-06 or .308 case might be satisfactory, I suspect the originals may have been based on the standard Mauser case. (7 x 57, 7.9 x 57, 7.65 x 53, etc.) They were popular with British experimenters for developing various proprietary rifle rounds in the .220in to .320in range back then, and so they are likely candidates to have been Gabbett-Fairfax’s starting point.



      • Notice the heavy crimping of cartridges used in MARS pistol, so far I know it was crucial to proper functioning of this automatic pistol, because harsh handling of cartridge by this automatic pistol.

  3. *************************************
    which would you have in an outlandish scenario where zeppelin-flying sky pirates descended on your house

    1: MacGyver = 30mm belt feed MK 108 maschinenkanone on M3 tripod with high explosive incendiary rounds 🙂

    2: fictional = panzerfaust 250 with 10 kgs thermobaric warhead 🙂

    3: old good MG.42 …

    4: PPSH 41

    • If an actual historical Zeppelin is involved, strictly speaking all I need is;

      1. (1)Rifle, SMLE, No 1 MK III*

      2. (2 5-rd stripper clips) MK 6 or MK 7 Ammunition, Incendiary, 0.303in.

      Zeppelin. Big Slow Target. Filled with hydrogen. No armor on the outer skinning or the ballonets inside same.

      Just take the shot from at least 300 yards from whatever point the Zep is directly over. You really do not want to be underneath a burning Zep coming down.



      • Careful, eon, you don’t want to follow the Hindenburg “popular myth” that anything containing gaseous hydrogen will explode when shot with bullets! Unless your ammo is totally reliable, the bullets in your clips won’t spark a thing inside the zeppelin unless you hit a structural frame! Your best bet is to ignite the zeppelin’s skin first! It’s practically rocket fuel in fabric form! Then sit back and watch the pretty fireworks, assuming you’re not letting the fireworks fall on a house (namely, your own).

        • Actually, in my persona of an aviation buff (under my real monicker) I know a thing or two about Zeps. And airplanes. And even rockets. (Yes, I have weird hobbies other than my former profession.)

          Yes, the outer skin was highly flammable. An incendiary bullet would ignite it like flash paper. That’s why I specified the MK6 or 7 0.303in, as they were designed specifically for shooting up Zeps, observation balloons (filled with town gas, generally, not raw hydrogen), and anything like a fuel tank (both were semi-AP rounds).

          Assuming the slug gets through the Zep’s internal structure (which was lightweight aluminum girders, etc., the job of which was to hold the external skinning as rigid as possible while allowing aerodynamic force flexure and to hold the “nets” which held the gasbags and kept them from rubbing against the aluminum girders), the gasbags (ballonets) themselves were made of goldbeater’s skin, which was lighter than rubber and unlike rubber of the time would hold hydrogen. (The agile little H2 molecule will go right through most types of rubber pretty fast; rubber meteorological balloons work by having an intentionally short “service life”, measure in hours or days at most.)

          Goldbeater’s skin not only won’t stop or even slow down a rifle bullet, it’s almost as flammable as the doped outer skin of the Zep.

          And once the hydrogen ignites at about 500F (the doped skin and ballonet material both burn hotter than that), and starts burning at over 2100 C (about 4700 F), there’s a very good chance that the aluminum structure itself will begin burning. Aluminum only refrains from doing so in air because of a thin layer of aluminum oxide which forms at the surface, blocking O2 from reacting with the rest of the mass. A hot enough fire will “scrub off” that oxidation layer, and you’ll have an aluminum/oxygen fire on your hands. Another term for this is “two-thirds of the thermite incendiary compound reaction”. (The other third is powdered iron.) Note that an incendiary bullet can start the Alu/O2 reaction if it hits the aluminum hard enough.

          A hydrogen-lifted LTA is basically a very large thermobaric munition waiting to go off. There really isn’t anything in it that won’t ignite when hit by an incendiary of one sort or another. And PS, the main source of non-flammable helium even today is…the state of Texas.




  4. Holy Steampunk, Batman! That Mars belongs in the next Sherlock Holmes movie. As for the Zeppelin, since I already have the components, I’m thinking “redneck rocket launcher,” or in this case, a “Southern SAM” Large acetylene bottle, adjustable I-beam ramp, add fins, servos, radio control box, Gopro camera, laptop, some road flares for sparking the hydrogen, and a sledge hammer to bust the valve off of the gas bottle for launching. (It is highly recommended that you consume copious amounts of alcohol before attempting this.) If anyone manages to survive the subsequent conflagration, I’m thinking a Louisville Slugger (or the previously mentioned sledgehammer) could take care of them.


      Being set on fire sucks. Setting off the hydrogen is easy if the road flares contact the zeppelin’s skin first, as its doping in water-resistant solution makes it rather easy to set alight. “BURN, BABY, BURN!!!”

  5. Disclaimer: The previous post was for entertainment purposes only. The poster assumes no liability for anyone attempting this stunt. 🙂

  6. Chinese Fire Arrow salvo! Small barbed pointey thing on the top end to stick into the outer covering until the NC/aluminum coating did its barbeque thing.

  7. Speaking as the scriptwriter for GUN STORIES, I’m going to say equivocally that the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver is the only sane choice for repulsing a zeppelin.

    Michael B

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