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Vintage Saturday: Snipers in Shorts

French soldiers in Chad in 1971

French soldiers in Chad in 1971

The man in the front has an FR-F1, a French-issue sniper’s rifle roughly based on the MAS-36. The man others appear to have MAS 49/56 semiauto rifles. And of course, it wouldn’t be a desert deployment in the 70s without short-shorts!

Bjorgum 1905 Norwegian Prototype Pistol (Video)

Niels Bjorgum was a Norwegian artist-turned-gun-designer who decided to try his hand at handguns for the Norwegian military. His design work ran from 1894 until 1921 or so, starting with long guns but later turning to handguns. He was able to convince the Norwegian government to sponsor his work, largely because he was one of very few native Norwegian designers who appeared to have some potential in what would eventually be the 1914 adoption of an automatic pistol by Norway.

This gun is, I believe, a prototype of his 1905 design. It is chambered for the 7.63mm Mauser cartridge, with a clip-fed 16-round magazine in the grip, a series of interrupted threads for locking, and a rotating barrel short recoil action. It is a really remarkably light gun – so light that I would have definite reservations about shooting it out of safety concerns. When it was informally tested by a Norwegian officer, it had four various types of malfunctions over the course of 16 rounds fired – not a great record, but about as good as any of Bjorgum’s guns ever managed.

He would continue to work on several different designs until Norway adopted the Colt 1911 in 1914, at which time he switched to working on a self-loading rifle. This was quickly dismissed by Norway, and he would travel to the US during WWI in an attempt to interest the US military in it. This (predictably) also failed, and in the early 1920s Bjorgum would leave gun designing for good and return to a successful career as a painter.

Magazine for an XM19 SPIW Flechette Rifle

XM-19 magazine (right) with AR-15 magazine for scale

XM-19 magazine (right) with AR-15 magazine for scale

The XM-19 was one of a series of Special Purpose Infantry Weapon (SPIW) prototype designs in the 1960s and 70s – a project which was attempting to increase the hit probability of infantry weapons. Several different approaches were tried to this end, including firing multiple cartridges in very fast succession, firing single cartridges with multiple bullets, and firing flechette darts (both individually and in clusters). This magazine is for the XM-19, which was a weapon dating to the late 1960s. It holds 50 rounds (all of the SPIW weapons needed large magazines) and was made for the XM-645 cartridge – more on that in a moment.

Four XM-19 "Rifles"

Four XM-19 “Rifles” (Can’t really call them rifles, as they were smoothbore weapons). Image from “SPIW: The Deadliest Weapon That Never Was

The magazine is interesting in particular because of its spring. What could conceivably make a magazine spring interesting, you ask? Well:

Interior of XM19 magazine

Interior of XM19 magazine

That’s the spring – well, the two springs. They are a pair of flat metal strips rolled up like ribbons affixed to the top of the magazine body and pushing against the follower. As ammunition is loaded in and the follower is pushed down, the springs unroll and flatten out, but are always trying to roll up, thus providing the motive force to push cartridges up. Pretty neat, eh?

Top of XM19 magazine - note two rivets which attach to the magazine springs

Top of XM19 magazine – note two rivets which attach to the magazine springs

Now, the XM645 cartridge itself was a bit longer than a 5.56mm NATO cartridge, and fired a 10.2 grain flechette as at remarkable 4800 feet per second (that’s 0.66 grams at 1460m/s). The flechettes were stabilized in the barrel by a fiberglass sabot at the front, which was removed by a “stripper” device at the muzzle. This sabot and stripper created one of the problems with the XM-19…traveling at 4800 fps, the sabots were basically vaporized at the muzzle. That fiberglass vapor would often then get into the firer’s eyes and lungs causing significant irritation (and probably some sort of horrible lung cancer). For this and other reasons, the XM-19 was eventually dropped.

XM-19 magazine with a 5.56mm NATO cartridge for scale reference

XM-19 magazine with a 5.56mm NATO cartridge for scale reference

One other interesting side note of the XM-645 cartridge and XM-19 weapon was that it was a piston-primer system, which is a different way of saying primer-activated – the same mechanism as the first Garand rifle prototypes. Since the XM-19 would naturally use its own proprietary ammunition, changing it to have a moving primer would not cause logistical problems. Here are a couple views of the cartridges:


XM-645 flechette cartridge cases (Source: “SPIW: The Deadliest Weapon That Never Was“)

Note that the far right cartridge shows the primer in its fully extended (fired) position. The primer moving backwards like that provided the energy to unlock and cycle the action of the weapon. In the far left cartridge cutaway, you can see how the primer is made specifically to have this amount of movement upon firing. Unlike primer-actuated guns using standard ammunition, this cartridge incorporates an intentional limit of travel for the primer.

Here are an assortment of additional photos of the magazine:

Terni M91 Carcano Semiauto conversion (Video)

This rifle started out its life an a normal M91 Carcano long rifle, before being converted into an experimental self-loader by the Terni Arsenal. Rather than adding a gas piston to the barrel, Terni engineered a short recoil system. The barrel and bolt recoil together about a centimeter (3/8 inch) upon firing. Instead of the original bolt with two lugs and a 90-degree throw, a new 8-lug bolt was used, which only requires a slight amount of rotation to unlock. That unlocking is done by an angled wedge that the bolt travels up as it recoils rearward.

The rifle is still chambered in the original 6.5x52mm caliber, using standard 6-round Mannlicher style clips. The date of the conversion is not clear, although the base rifle was manufactured in 1908.Thanks to Beretta for graciously allowing me to have a look at this rifle!

Vietnamese Guns for Algeria

Vietnamese soldier in French service working on his MAT-49 SMG.

Vietnamese soldier in French service working on his MAT-49 SMG.

I was pointed to this interesting snippet of a document about one particular shipment of arms to the Algerian rebels fighting French colonial occupation in the 1950s – from Vietnam. Can’t say I would have thought about the Vietnamese trying export supply military aid at the time! The guns in question were French MAT-49 submachine guns, which is also an interesting detail – French guns captured in Vietnam sent to supplement the same type of French guns being captured in Algeria, while the French military with its own MAT-49s were the opposition. Makes sense, and it certainly would be convenient.

23 June 1958

Implementing instructions received from the General Military Party Committee[1] and the Ministry of Defense, the Ordnance Department arranged for a large quantity of Tulle submachine guns (weapons captured by our forces during the resistance war against the French)[2] to be wrapped and packaged so that they could be provided to the Algerian people to help them in their resistance war against the French colonialists.

This was a special, top-secret program, so the Ordnance Department arranged for it to be carried out in a very careful and secure manner. A technical team was selected to carry out this mission. This team was headed by Comrade Nguyen Quang Thanh and included Phung Thanh Toan, Ha Vien, etc.

The preservation, standardization, and wrapping of the guns was done in Warehouse 560 at Bach Mai, after which the guns were secretly transported to a staging location at Kha Lam Warehouse in Kien An to be held there for loading aboard a Polish ship that would transport them to our [Algerian] friends under the guise of commercial goods.

This plan was carried out under the guidance and close supervision of the Party Secretariat, the General Military Party Committee, and the Ministry of Defense. This operation began on 23 June and was completed on 24 July 1958, and complete safety and secrecy was maintained throughout the implementation of the plan.

Footnotes by Merle Pribbenow

[1] The General Military Party Committee (Tong quan uy) was a committee made up of a small number of members of the Communist Party Politburo that was responsible for supervising and directing the Vietnamese armed forces. This committee was headed by General Vo Nguyen Giap.

[2] The Tulle submachine gun referred to is the MAT-49, a French 9mm submachine gun that was used by the French Army during the war in Indochina. The Vietnamese captured large quantities of these weapons during the war, especially at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. The term Tulle comes from the name of the French manufacturer: Manufacture Nationale d’Armes de Tulle (MAT).

Original source: Wilson Center Digital Archive

Thompson SMG in 30 Carbine (Video)

When the US military released a request for what would become the M1 Carbine in 1940, the Auto-Ordnance Corporation offered up a Thompson submachine gun simply rechambered for the new .30 Carbine cartridge. This entailed a new magazine, a receiver modified for the longer magazine, and a new barrel and bolt face – but the other Thompson parts could remain unchanged form the standard .45 ACP models. This made the submission a pretty cheap and easy effort for Auto-Ordnance…which is a good thing, considering that it was almost assured to be rejected.

The stipulations for the new carbine included a weigh requirement of 5 pounds, and the Thompson weighed more than double that (in both .45ACP and .30 Carbine forms). Only a few were made, and the one submitted for military testing was rejected outright on the basis of weight. This example is serial number 1, and resides at the Cody Firearms Museum.

Vintage Saturday: Lined up on the Somme

French and British troops on the Somme, 1918

French and British troops on the Somme, 1918

Actions of the Somme Crossings. Men of the 20th British Division and the 22nd French Division in hastily dug rifle pits covering a road, Nesle sector, 25th March 1918.


the Frenchman in the foreground has a Modele 1892 Mosqueton, and the British man behind him has a No1 MkIII* SMLE. The machien gun in the back is a Hotchkiss 1914.

Original Source : IWM – Catalogue number: Q 10809; Colorized by Histoire de Couleurs Facebook Group.

Spanish 8×33 Mosqueton CB-51 Prototype (Video)

The Spanish military, like many others, was quite interested in developing a new semiautomatic or selective fire combat rifle after World War II. Franco’s political ties to Germany (combined with Spanish neutrality in the war) gave them unusually good access to German arms designs, and the Spanish experimented with several variations on the StG-44 in the late 1940s and 1950s. Of course, this would ultimately lead to the development and adoption of the roller-delayed CETME, but before that the intermediate cartridge idea was very much a subject of Spanish attention.

This particular rifle, designated Mosqueton CB-51, was one of those intermediate cartridge experiments. It retained the furniture and general appearance of a Mauser bolt action short rifle, but used a long stroke gas piston and rotating bolt in a self-loading action. Only 12 of these were made, although several other designs were also prototyped concurrently (including others also designated CB-51, confusingly).

Detailed Photos: Mannlicher 1901/04 Carbine

One of Ferdinand von Mannlicher’s very last firearms was an experimental 1901/04 carbine, scaled up from its original pistol cartridge to a new 7.63x32mm intermediate-sized cartridge. I had a video on one of these very scarce carbines from a previous Julia auction, and also took a bunch of detailed photos of the gun disassembled. Mechanically, the gun is an evolution of his 1896/1901 automatic pistol and the 1901 carbine made from that pistol. It locks using a short recoil action and a pivoting locking block, not terribly unlike the C96 Mauser pistol. One of the shortcomings of the 1901 carbine was that the handguard was fixed to the recoiling barrel, so that a firm grip on the handguard would cause the gun to malfunction. The 1901/04 variant of the carbine fixed that issue by connecting the front handguard to the trigger frame, which did not move during cycling.

Here are the photos:

Early Pistol Cartridges – What, When & Why?

In a recent discussion with a friend the topic of early automatic pistol cartridges came up. Specifically, looking at the context of which cartridges were actually available at which times, and how this might provide helpful context for understanding why particular cartridges were adopted (or commercially successful) or were not.I decided to see if I could put together a useful video on the subject, and this is the result.

We will look at the cartridges available prior to 1900, the ones developed or introduced between 1900 and 1904, and then a few followups which appeared between 1905 and 1910. Some cartridges became popular because of their ballistic characteristics – like the 7.63mm Mauser and the C96 “Broomhandle” – while others became popular because of the handgun much more than the cartridge itself – like the Browning 1900 and the .32ACP / 7.65mm Browning.

This is a bit of a different format from my usual video work; I hope you enjoy it!