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Transitional Swiss Sniper K31 Rifles (Video)

During World War II, the Swiss military experimented with two models of K31 carbine with integral optics (the K31/42 and K31/43). These were found to be not sufficient for military service, and after more experimentation and development, the ZfK-55 rifle was adopted in 1955. What we are looking at today are a pair of transitional guns from the developmental period between the two.

These two rifles came out of the SIG museum, and show a number of features with both the K31/43 and the ZfK-55. For instance, they use a prismatic scope like the K31/43, with the same type of range adjustment. However, the front end of the scope is fixed in place, where on the 43 model it could fold down for protected storage. Additionally, the scopes on these rifles are detachable, like the ZfK-55.

Unfortunately, I have no information as to the exact dates of these two transitional models, nor details on their trial and evaluation.

Vintage Saturday: Fixed Bayonets

French soldiers attacking in the Argonne in 1915

French Poilu attacking uphill in the Argonne in 1915

Travel Plans & Patreon

When I set up my Patreon funding page a while back, I needed to define a couple specific goals – you know, what do I plan to do with this money anyway? Well, what I really wanted to be able to do was start traveling to museums and private collections beyond those that I happen to be near to already. Ideally, ones all over the world. While I can bring you some amazing guns from places like Rock Island and James Julia, a great many prototypes are in museums and long-term private collections and will not be sold any time soon. In order to get my hands on them, I would need to travel to those places.

With that in mind, I set funding goals for travel in the US and travel internationally. I recently hit the US travel goal level – thanks to so many of you folks! Of course, travel isn’t something I can just do on a moment’s notice when that funding goal is reached; it takes some planning and coordination. I just wanted to take a moment to share some of what I am going to be doing now that I have the financial ability.

IMG_1915As you read this, I have just returned from a 4-day trip up to Wyoming to spend time in the Cody Firearms Museum, which houses what used to be the Winchester factory collection – a ton of fantastic prototype and development firearms. In particular, I was able to do a video (including disassembly) on the only existing example of the Burton/Winchester Light Machine Rifle – a 1917 prototype design that perfectly fits the modern definition of an assault rifle. That video will be published in a couple weeks, and the others I filmed in Cody will also be coming in the next month or two. In scheduling video publication, I am always trying to balance a desire to post more often with a desire to maintain a sustainable volume so I don’t run out of material.

I have several other US trips in the works, but I don’t want to specify exactly where so that I don’t get folks’ expectations set and then have plans fall through for any number of reasons. Many places (like the Cody museum) have far more interesting guns than I could possibly cover in a single trip, so I am always working to build relationships to allow plenty of follow-up visits. My goal from the very beginning has been to build an encyclopedia of all guns, and while that was intentionally impossibly far-reaching at the beginning, it has begun to look perhaps only extremely optimistic now. :)

If your Patreon support continues to grow, I hope to be able to start planning some international trips as well. The NFC (Pattern Room) in Leeds is an obvious destination, but there are a great many other places that have great collections of guns rarely or never seen in the US. I did take a trip to Italy earlier this month which had been in the works for a long time – it was a non-work vacation, but thanks to Patreon I was able to extend it slightly and include a visit to Beretta’s reference collection in Brescia. I got a look at several unique prototype semiauto rifles there, and you will see those videos beginning next week.

So, that is the status update for now. Thank you to everyone who contributes to that Patreon page and makes this possible!


RIA: Praga 1921 One-Handed Pocket Pistol

This cute little pocket pistol was an early project of Vaclav Holek, who would become much better known for his work with the ZB-26 light machine gun and ZH-29 rifle. It is a very small .25ACP selfloader, intended to be operated with one hand only. The trigger locks into a folded position to allow smooth carry and draw, and drops down for use then the slide is slightly retracted. The contoured cutout atop the slide allows for the use of the index finger to operate the slide. Only about 8,000 of the Praga 1921 were made – not a complete flop, but not successful enough to remain in production for long.

RIA: Beretta 1915 – the First of the Beretta Pistols

The Italian military went into WWI having already adopted a semiautomatic sidearm – the Model 1910 Glisenti (and its somewhat simplified Brixia cousin). However, the 1910 Glisenti was a very complex design, and much too expensive to be practical for the needs of the global cataclysm that was the Great War. In response to a need for something cheaper, Tulio Marengoni of the Beretta company designed the Model 1915, a simple blowback handgun chambered for the 9mm Glisenti cartridge.

Only 15,300 of the Model 1915 pistol were made, because even they proved to be a bit more than the military really needed. One of their most interesting mechanical features is a pair of manual safeties – one on the back of the frame to lock the hammer and one on the left side to block the trigger. This proved a bit redundant, and the gun overall was rather large and heavy. In 1917 a scaled-down version in .32 ACP (7.65mm) was introduced which would be produced in much larger numbers. The 1915/17 would also omit the rather unnecessary hammer safety.

It is important to note that while the 9mm Glisenti cartridge is dimensionally interchangeable with 9×19 Parabellum, pistols designed for the Glisenti cartridge should *never* be used with standard 9×19 ammunition, as it is nearly 50% more powerful than the Glisenti specs, and doing so will quickly cause damage (and potentially catastrophic failure).

RIA – Swiss Model 1893: A Mannlicher Cavalry Carbine

The Swiss were the first country to adopt a bolt action repeating rifle with their Vetterli, and followed this by changing to a straight-pull design in the 1880s. The straight-pull Schmidt-Rubin system was quite good, but one potential flaw was that it was a quite long action. This became an issue when the Swiss began looking for a short cavalry carbine variant to use, and decided that the Schmidt-Rubin action sacrificed too much potential barrel length in a short rifle.

Instead, a series of trials were held to choose a different action for the Swiss cavalry carbine, and many different companies and factories submitted designs. The winner was the Mannlicher straight-pull system, best recognized in the US today by the Austrian Steyr M95. The Swiss adopted a carbine with that exact Mannlicher bolt design as the Model 1893 – it used the same basic motion as the Schmidt-Rubin rifles but was a much more compact action.

Unfortunately, the carbines did not prove a good match for the Swiss service. Swiss troops found them to be overly complex to disassemble and insufficiently accurate (presumably they had been spoiled by the excellent performance of domestic Swiss rifles). As a result, only 8000 of the Model 1893 were purchased, and the design was deemed obsolete in 1905 and replaced by a Schmidt-Rubin design after all (these 1905 carbines are virtually nonexistent today, as almost all were modified to the later 1911 pattern).

However, the 1893 stands out as probably the highest-quality Mannlicher straight pull rifles ever made.

RIA: A Pair of Arresting Montenegrin Gasser Revolvers

This is quite the eye-catching pair of revolvers

The Model 1870 Gasser was a behemoth of a pistol designed by Leopold Gasser for the Austro-Hungarian cavalry – it was built around the 11x36mm cartridge used in their Werndl cavalry carbines. This cartridge was a middle ground between rifle and pistol; light enough to not produce punishing recoil when fired from a short and light carbine, but fairly huge for a revolver. But it was not in the hands of those cavalry troops that these guns gained their notoriety.

Instead it was during the reign of King Nicholas of Montenegro from 1910 to 1918 that they saw their prominence appear. Nicolas decreed that all his male subjects must own a Gasser-pattern revolver under penalty of law. This was ostensively a move to make the tiny Montenegrin kingdom less vulnerable to conquest by any one of its larger neighbors, but allegedly may have also had something to do with the King owning stock in the Gasser firm.

At any rate, the law called for Gasser-*pattern* guns (not necessarily the real thing), and so a substantial demand flourished for Spanish and Belgian guns of that basic design. They were made in a huge variety of flavors; solid frame and hinged, long barrels and short, and many different specific cartridges, finishes, and levels of embellishment. With every man required to own one, the revolver naturally became a status symbol, with the more well-off showing their wealth through a highly decorated sidearm.

Whether you appreciate the style of these two or not, they certainly catch the eye!

RIA: Winchester Thumb Trigger Rifle

The Winchester Thumb Trigger rifle was a very inexpensive boy’s rifle developed from the Model 1902. It is a single-shot .22 rimfire bolt action system, on which the trigger was replaced by a thumb-activated sear behind the bolt. In theory, this was to allow greater accuracy by requiring less force acting to disrupt your point of aim when firing. It was also a simpler and thus cheaper mechanism to manufacture. About 75,000 of these rifles were sold, including many exported to Australia, interestingly.

RIA: Savage Navy Revolver: Almost Double Action!

The .36 caliber Savage Navy is one of the many revolvers that saw purchase and martial use during the US Civil War – and in this case, martial use on both sides. About 13,000 Savages were bought by the Union army and navy, and another 11,000 were sold commercially. Many of those commercially-sold guns were later smuggled through the lines and used by Confederate troops.

Ultimately production of the Savage ended after 1863, because the Union opted to standardize on .44 caliber instead of the .36 caliber that Savage was tooled up to produce. The retooling costs were too high for the company to change over, so they dropped the gun from production (it was already a tough sell to the military, at 35%-50% more expensive than competing Colt and Remington revolvers).

Mechanically, the Savage has several forward-looking features – most notably its quasi-double-action system. It has a traditional trigger, and also a ring trigger just below. The ring trigger is actually a cocking lever, which both cocks the hammer and rotates the cylinder. The top trigger is then used to fire. This allows easy rapid fire without changing one’s grip to cock the action, although it requires some practice to operate smoothly and feels quite odd to someone not used to working two separate “triggers” in sequence.

RIA: Cripple Stock Shotgun

Okay, so the name may not be considered very PC today – you could also call this a cross-dominant stock. The concept was to allow a shooter to mount the gun in one shoulder but sight with their opposite eye. This was useful for cross-dominant shooters (ie, right handed but left eyed) or shooters who had suffered a crippling injury to one hand or one eye.

The craftsmanship involved in properly making such a gun is quite impressive. The frame and tang are made with a slight curve to them, and then the stock must be made paying careful attention to the direction of the wood grain, so that it can withstand the bending moment created when firing. A fantastic piece of work, and something generally restricted to the rather wealthy.