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RIA: Radom’s Vis 35: Poland’s Excellent Automatic Pistol

In the 1920s Poland began looking for a new standard military pistol, and tested a variety of compact .380s. The representative from FN brought along an early iteration of the High Power (along with their other entry) even though it was much too large and heavy to meet the Polish requirements. After a couple iterations of testing, it became clear to the Polish Ordnance officers that the High Power was a much more effective service pistol than the compact guns they had been instructed to look for.

Lo and behold, the ultimate choice was a domestic design based largely on the High Power (a direct deal with FN was not an option after Poland’s relationship with FN had suffered through problems with the wz.28 version of the BAR). Toss in a delay to redesign the early decocking mechanism to satisfy the Cavalry (who didn’t realize that the decocker wasn’t actually meant to be used, but rather to just add another claim to the patent), and by 1935 the pistol was finished and formally adopted.

The Vis 35 is one of the best automatic pistols of WWII in terms of both handling and quality. In total 46,000 were made pre-war for Poland’s military, and German occupation forces built another 300,000+ during the war. Today I am looking at two; a German-production 3-lever example and a later German 2-lever version.

RIA: Gewehr 29/40 Mauser

Over the next couple weeks we will be looking at several Polish firearms, and the first one is today: the G29/40. When German forces overran the arms factory in Radom, Poland, they captured in nearly completely intact. One of the guns being produced there had been the wz. 29; a Polish version of the K98k Mauser. The guns were so similar that the German occupation administration put the Steyr company in control of the plant and restarted production to use the parts that were already on hand.

The resulting rifles were designated G29/40 (29 from the Polish designation and 40 from the year German production began). They were in every way the equal of German K98k rifles, but still officially 2nd tier rifles because of their foreign origin. As a result, they were issued to branches of the German military which did not typically have high priority for new small arms, like the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe. There are several versions with different markings, which we will discuss in the video…

RIA: Porter Turret Rifle

The Porter was one of the few turret rifles ever put into serial production. Turret rifles are similar in principle to revolvers, but they is a cylinder with radial chambers (like the spokes of a wheel) instead of parallel chambers. Herein lies the potential problem: there is always a chamber pointing right back at you, the shooter. In an era of percussion guns that could occasionally chainfire, the notion of having a loaded chamber pointing at your face was less than appealing to most people. As a result, turret rifles (and pistols) never became successful designs.

The Porter, however, did see several thousand examples made. The last variant used typical percussion caps, but the first and second variants (including this second model Porter) used a quite unusual priming and firing mechanism. In addition, they and a wonderful design in which the entire side of the receiver opens up to make the action visible. This makes them much easier to understand, and very cool to look at!

RIA: An Introduction to Early Lever-Action Rifles

We’ve all seen lever action rifles galore in movies about the old west, and most of us have handled and shot a bunch of them as well. But do you know where they came from?

Today we will take a look at the first American lever-action rifle put into successful (more or less) production, the Volcanic. We will then continue to examine the 1860 Henry and the 1866 Winchester to get a foundational understanding of the development of these guns, and the interesting group of people involved with them.

RIA: Greener’s Humane Horse Killer

Humans have been killing animals for thousands of years, and with the development of the self-contained cartridge, the Greener company started making a compact and efficient Humane Horse Killer. Used by veterinarians for euthanizing creatures (versions were made for pretty much all major domesticated animals), they were made into the 1960s. This type of device is known as a “free-bullet” design because it uses a traditional cartridge, as opposed to the captive-bolt designs which maintain positive control of the lethal end of the device and retract it into the unit after firing.

This particular Greener model is one of the more commonly encountered types, as it was used by the British military (which used horses in great numbers in both World Wars) and was a standard piece of equipment for troops tasked with overseeing care of those horses.

RIA: MP3008 Sten Copy

The MP 3008, aka Gerät Neumünster, was one of two German efforts to copy the British Sten gun. The first was the Gerät Potsdam (“gerät” meaning device or project; basically project code name), which was a direct copy of the Sten distinguishable only by a marking details and a few differences in manufacturing processes. While 10,000 of those were being manufactured by Mauser, R&D engineer Ludwig Vorgrimmler was simplifying the Sten design even farther, resulting in the MP-3008.

This simplified design did away with the Sten’s barrel shroud, and used a vertical magazine well instead of the Sten’s distinctive horizontal mounting. These were the significant changes, although there was also a sling loop placed on the front of the magazine well and a few minor simplifications to the fire control parts. Unlike the Potsdam, significant variation can be found in the MP-3008 in the details of stock and grip design.

In a masterpiece of insane optimism, German official placed and order for literally a million MP-3008 submachine guns, which of course was completely insane. Manufacture was undertaken at a wide scattering of small shops, with guns being assembled by larger manufacturers from supplied parts. The total made is not known, but is probably in the range of 3000-5000. Some are marked with manufacturing codes from recognized factories, some with codes unknown, and some have no marking at all. This particular example is dewat made by “TJK” – an unknown factory.

Smoothbore Spencer: Tracing a Mystery Gun

Today’s firearm is not a normal gun; it is a conversion of a Spencer into a shotgun. My question is, what path did this weapon travel? What did it begin as, and how did it come to be in its current form?

Let’s see if we can puzzle this out looking at the evidence in the gun itself…

RIA: Russian Winchester 1895 in 7.62x54R

The Winchester 1895 was the last of Winchester’s lever-action rifles, and has an interesting place in a couple different parts of world history. On the one hand, the 1895 in .405 Winchester caliber is known as Theodore Roosevelt’s “Big Medicine” for safari hunting. On another, it was the object of the largest military lever-action purchase ever, made by the Russian Czar during World War I.

The Russian military was woefully under-equipped at the outset of WWI, and needed rifles wherever it could find them. While waiting for a contract with Remington (and later New England Westinghouse) to provide Mosin-Nagant rifles, the Czar’s military ordered 300,000 model 1895s from Winchester. These rifles were purportedly going to be available immediately form Winchester’s existing production line, although in reality it took several months before deliveries began, The rifles were modified by Winchester to accept standard Mosin-Nagant stripper clips, and were chambered for the 7.62x54R cartridge.

They saw heavy combat use, and reportedly performed well, despite the lever action system having some fundamental inferiorities compared to bolt action rifles in a military context. What made them feasible was the action designed specifically for full-power smokeless rifle ammunition and the box magazine design which avoided the potential problems of spitzer cartridges in a tube magazine.

RIA: Norwegian M1914 Kongsberg Colt (Video)

After a series of pistol trials, Norway adopted a copy of the Colt 1911 in .45 ACP as its standard service pistol in 1914. A license was purchased from FN (while under German occupation, interestingly) to produce the guns locally at Kongsberg, and production ran slowly and sporadically until German occupation in WWII. At that point, the German military decided to continue production for German use (still in .45 ACP, the only pistol in that caliber formally used by the German military).

The Norwegian m/1914 pistols are mechanically identical to the Colt 1911 with the exception of an extended slide release lever. They are also serial numbered on all major parts, unlike US pistols.

Le Français .32ACP Pistol (Video)

The Le Français was a staple of Manufrance production, being first designed in 1912 and produced until the late 1960s. This example is in .32ACP caliber, which was only made for the commercial market in the 1950s and 60s (after the cartridge was out of service with the French military and thus civilian-legal). It has a number of unusual features, including a mainspring in the grip frame with a bellcrank to operate the slide, a tip-up barrel, and full double-action-only trigger.

These were made in a multitude of variations, from .25ACP up to 9mm Parabellum, for civilian, police, and military purposes. Despite a significant total production, not many have made it to the United States, and the majority that did were very small .25ACP types.