As someone who is very interested in the practical handling of old firearms, the idea of gun museums leaves me a bit conflicted. On the one hand, I am absolutely in favor of guns being preserved for posterity, and there is no better environment for that than a museum. On the other hand, once guns go into a museum they tend to be locked permanently behind glass (or worse, packed in crates in a reserve attic or basement) under institutional policies that make it impossible to fire or disassemble them. Museums tend to put guns into stasis – they continue to exist and can be seen, but one can learn little more from them at that point.
When rare and interesting guns are in private collections, they are accessible to far, far fewer people – but the people owners are often much more open to the idea of handling and firing them – and one can learn far more about a gun by actually using it than by simply looking at an example hanging on a wall. It’s a tradeoff, and there are good reasons to look to either option.
Of course, the best possible option would be for a public museum that IS actually willing to shoot parts of its collection. Believe it or not, the best example of that is the British Royal Armouries, which includes the old Pattern Room collection. They have an indoor range facility, and do fire guns from their collections from time to time. In fact, they appear to have recently gotten access to a seriously high-end slow motion camera and put it to use on some interesting guns. Very cool! Have a look:
Lewis (including use of paper confetti to show the ventilation system functioning):
Switzerland was an early adopter of the Luger pistol as a standard military sidearm, but by WWII that design was becoming obsolete and the Swiss began looking for a newer sidearm. Several lines of development were pursued, and we have examples of two of them here: the W+F Bern P43 and the SIG P44/8 (the /8 designates the single stack 8-round magazine; there was also a double stack P44/16 made).
These are both mechanically Browning short-recoil tilting barrel pistols, but they do show some significant differences, particularly in the trigger mechanisms. The P44 was developed from Charles Petter’s MAS 35A pistol adopted by the French, and it would go on to become the P47 (aka SIG P210) and the winner of the Swiss handgun trials. As the P210, it is arguably the best quality service pistol ever adopted by any military.
Edit to add: Well, I missed the boat big-time on this one! I don’t have much hands-on experience with the Browning P35 (aka GP, aka Hi-Power) and missed the clear fact that the P43 is in almost all ways a copy of that late Browning design (including the firing mechanism). Whoops!
I’m those helmets wouldn’t ever have become friendly fire magnets…
The Republic of Ireland opted to copy the German WWI Stahlhelm design rather than use British Brodie-style helmets. Until 1940, anyway, and I think it’s pretty clear why they changed. The rifle here, of course, is a MkI Boys Anti-Tank Rifle, which would prove to be passably effective only for about the first 18 months of the war in Europe.
British trials Bang Rifle, caliber .303 (photo courtesy National Firearms Centre, Leeds, UK)
One of the first semiautomatic rifles tested by the US military was a design by a Dane named Søren Hansen Bang, which was first presented to the government in 1911. The rifles used a gas trap design which would ultimately inspire many other designers include John Garand. Basically, a sliding nosecap in front of the muzzle would capture some of the gasses from firing and be pushed forward, which in turn pulled a connecting rod and caused a lever to throw the bolt backwards. Complicated enough?
Anyway, thanks to the National Firearms Centre in Leeds, we have some photos of a .303-caliber Bang rifle sent to England for British trials. I don’t know the exact date of the trials, but the NFC lists it as a model 1927 rifle.
The Scotti Model X (the X standing for the 10th year of the Italian Fascist era, or 1932) was one of a bunch of semiauto rifles tested by the Italian military during the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Scotti entry into these competitions was chambered for the 6.5mm Carcano cartridge and used standard 6-round clips, identical to the Carcano bolt action rifles. It also used sights basically identical to Carcano rifle sights. Where it was rather unusual was its open-bolt action, which is typically only used in machine guns.
Open bolt means that when the rifle is ready to fire, the bolt is locked all the way back. Upon pulling the trigger, the bolt moves forward, picking up a cartridge, chambering it, firing it by means of a fixed firing pin, and then extracting and ejecting the spent case and locking open again, ready for another shot. This system can be used with either locked or blowback actions, and the Scotti X uses a two-lug rotating bolt to lock during firing.
I will have a full video on the Scotti Model X coming later, in which I will address some issues like the difficulty of shooting accurately with an open-bolt rifle and the apparent need for lubricated ammunition in both examples of the gun that I have fired.
This isn’t really a forgotten weapon, but it is a very fun concept gun that my friend Karl put together while we have been experimenting with the Slidefire stocks. These are stocks that allow a rifle to “float”. The idea is that you hold your trigger finger in a fixed position and pull the rifle action forward. This causes you to fire the gun, and recoil then pushes the action backwards into the stock and resets the trigger until your continued forward pressure on the action pulls the trigger into your finger again. That may not make a lot of sense, but we have some slow motion footage of it working in the video below.
What makes these interesting is that by US law, a gun like this is not a machine gun, and may be owned by anyone who can legally own any typical rifle. With some experimentation, we found that single stage triggers with light pull weight make a big difference in allowing a Slidefire gun to run smoothly and easily. With this setup (and a 20″ heavy chrome-lined barrel), the gun comes remarkably close to the effectiveness of a true squad automatic weapon.
In fact, when we sent our friends at KE Arms some clips form this filming session, they thought it was a cool enough concept that they decided to build a rifle to this spec and offer it for sale. If you’re interested in having one yourself (complete with our logo on the receiver!), check it out:
I occasionally do work for Armament Research Service, and they recently published one of my pieces as Research Note #8, on the subject of self-loading rifle durability. Rifles, in general, are pretty durable items, with only a few elements subject to potentially incapacitating damage when in normal use. You can see my complete article on the subject in PDF format at the ARES site.
So a friend of mine handed my this Remington 870 Competition, and asked me if I would like to do a video on it…and my immediate thought was, why would I? The 870 is one of the most iconic and mass-produced shotguns of all time, and there really isn’t anything about them that isn’t fairly well known, right? Well, I was wrong because this wasn’t just any 870. It was an 870 Competition:
As a followup, I should say that the 870 Competition was introduced in 1981 and about 5500 were made, but I have gotten conflicting information on whether they were discontinued in 1982 or 1986, or perhaps they were all made in 1981 but it took until 1986 for them all to sell. I have a question in with Remington on that subject, but as of the time of this writing I have not gotten an answer.
Father (grandfather?) and son in Afghanistan with a Martini and an SMLE. Photo from Modern Wars Old Guns
One day the boy will inherit the SMLE, and probably go on fighting whichever country has decided to occupy Afghanistan by that time. Maybe it will be China? They haven’t taken a turn yet. Having the will and strength to fight invaders is a good thing; having to actually do it for a hundred years straight is not conducive to a healthy and prosperous society.
That said, I wouldn’t mind having one of those bandoliers myself. And who knows if the Martini is British or locally made.
I have a couple of rifles that I no longer need in the collection and might interest folks here. All prices include shipping, and the guns are all C&R eligible. No international sales – sorry. If you’d like one of them, just drop me an email at email@example.com. Thanks!