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The Vault

Krupp 50mm Mountain Gun (Thai Model 1902)

We’re taking a look at another artillery piece today, a 50mm mountain gun made for Siam (now Thailand) by the German Krupp company. It is a relatively simple (and thus relatively inexpensive at the time) design, with no recoil mechanism or adjustable traverse:

Vintage Saturday: Cold

Finnish soldier with an LS-26 light machine gun,  1940

Finnish soldier with an LS-26 light machine gun,  1940.

Slow Motion Schwarzlose 1908

I am getting high speed footage of a bunch of interesting pistols right off the bat now that I have my Edgertronic camera, and one that has been on my list ever since I first shot it was the Schwarzlose 1908. It’s a very fast action, and my initial attempts at high speed a year or two ago didn’t turn out well.

Now, however, I have much better gear for this:

The initial footage is at 2000 fps, and then I sped it up to 3500. At that point it is starting to get a bit dark (the Arizona desert sunlight will need an artificial boost if I am to record at any higher of a frame rate, but you can get a pretty clear view of what is happening. It’s awfully crowded inside that action, and I’m really surprised that I haven’t had it malfunction on me. Counting frames of the video gives me a total cyclic rate of 0.024 seconds per shot, or (in theory) 2500 rounds per minute. Wow!

Testing the New Lightweight Rifles (1959)

Between December 1, 1958 and March 22, 1959, the ranges at the Hunter Liggett Military Reservation were the scene of an impressively comprehensive set of trials. The Army wanted to know what effect the new lightweight, high velocity rifles would have on squad organization and hit capabilities. So, they arranged four months of testing with squads of 5, 7, 9, and 11 men armed with M14 rifles, the new Armalite AR-15 rifles, and the Winchester Light Military Rifle. These squads conducted a carefully planned mixture of daytime offensive drills, daytime defensive drills, and nighttime defensive drills, while using specific fire modes (semiauto, fullauto, and specified combinations of the two).

The basic conclusion of this extended testing was that given combat loads of equal weight, 5 to 7 men with lightweight rifles had the combat effectiveness of 11 men with M14s. In addition, it was advised that the Winchester needed to be more durable and was equal in hit probability to the M14. The AR was found to need better sights, and to be equal in reliability to the M14 (remember, this is before the ball powder debacle in Vietnam). Full-auto bursts of 3-6 rounds were found to be effective and useful in both of the lightweight rifles (unlike the M14).

You can read the complete report here:

Rifle Squad Armed with a Lightweight High Velocity Rifle (English, 1959)

Rifle Squad Armed with a Lightweight High Velocity Rifle (English, 1959)

Smith-Condit Rifle

In the years prior to World War I, the US Army Ordnance Department was already investigating the possibility of adopting a self-loading service rifle, even as the 1903 Springfield rifle was being adopted. In 1904 and again in 1909, the department published the testing procedure that would be undertaken for semiauto rifles submitted for consideration. Between 1910 and 1914, seven different models were tested (not counting developments from within Springfield Armory and semiauto conversions of the 1903). These seven were the Schouboe (aka Madsen), Dreyse, Benét-Mercie, Kjellman, Bang, a design from the Rock Island Arsenal, and one from the Standard Arms Company.

The rifle submitted by Standard Arms is also known as the Smith-Condit, after its designer (Morris Smith) and the secretary of Standard Arms (W.D. Condit). The company had high hopes for its design, and had incorportated in 1907 with a million dollars of capital and purchased a factory where it planned to employ 150 workers and produce 50 rifles per day (source: The Iron Age magazine, May 23, 1907). These hopes turned rather sour when the military testing was done, though. Ultimately the design was revised into the Model G and a few thousand were sold commercially. Remaining parts were used in the Model M, which was essentially the same gun but with the self-loading mechanism replaced by a slide action.


Smith-Condit military trials rifle

Smith-Condit military trials rifle (patent drawing)

But, back to the military design – the commercial Standard Arms rifles will have an article of their own later. The military rifle was tested twice in 1910, and rejected both times, primarily because it was deemed to fragile for military service (which would seem reasonable, considering the problems that plagued the commercial guns).

Mechanically, it was a gas-operated design with a gas port a few inches shy of the muzzle and a piston running underneath the barrel. The piston split into two wings to avoid the 5-round integral magazine, and operated a tilting block which would pivot up to lock into the top of the receiver. Upon firing, the piston would force the locking block down, and then the bolt was freed to travel rearward, extracting and ejecting the spent shell and loading a new one. It was also equipped with a cutoff on the gas system, allowing it to be run as a straight-pull bolt action instead, which was a feature desired by the military. A fairly conventional by today’s standards, but a difficult design to manufacture in 1910.

There seems to be some question as to the caliber of the test guns, as different sources suggest three different calibers (and it is certainly possible that the caliber changed when the gun was re-submitted to military trials). One example sold by Cowan’s is described as being in .30-06 (nd has a military-style stock and front sight). Another one sold by Rock Island is described as being in a proprietary .30/40 Short, and a third held in the Springfield Armory collection is listed as being in 7mm. Of those three, only the Rock Island one has detailed photos:

In addition to its fragility, the rifle was found by the Ordnance Department to have too complex of a disassembly procedure, too low a rate of fire, and to not be strong enough to handle full-power military ammunition (as if any one of those wasn’t enough). Needless to say, it never went any farther with the military.

Morris Smith’s patent #817,198 (the rights to which were purchased by Standard Arms) is the basis for this design, but he had several other firearms patents from around the same time. You can see those here:

US Patent 784,966
US Patent 814,242
US Patent 817,197
US Patent 818,920

The P.08 Luger and 1860 Army in Slow Motion

With my handy new high-speed video camera, I’ve started taking some footage of interesting guns operating. First up is the Luger:

The camera will do 500 frames/sec at very high quality, and just under 18,000 frames/sec at very low quality – and there is a sliding tradeoff between the two. So my goal is to work out the best balance of speed and video quality where we can clearly see what is going on in the mechanism. The 2,000 fps clip seems to work pretty well for the Luger – rifles run a bit slower in general so they can use higher-quality video, and a few pistols (like the 1908 Schwarzlose) run faster than the Luger and need a higher frame rate to really see well. I am doing more video with the high speed camera through this week…

Updated to add a second video, of a short-barreled 1860 Army replica, also at 2000 fps:

2-Gun Action with a Remington Model 8 (Video)

For this month’s 2-Gun Action Challenge Match, I decided to shoot my Remington Model 8 in .300 Savage. It’s a semiauto sporting rifle designed by John Browning, which went into production in 1906. It’s a long-recoil action, and has pretty hefty recoil from the prone position. I incorporated use of my new GoPro and quadcopter – let me know what you think! (and yes, I am working on finding a way to get rid of the ‘copter rotor noise).

The Remington had one malfunction, which appears to have been caused by the barrel takedown screw coming loose – which was easily fixed. Other than that it ran without any trouble. The buckhorn sights were definitely better at close range than long, although my trouble making hits in stage 3 was as much due to trouble seeing the dull-colored target as with the sights.

Recoil was heavier than you would expect, for a couple reasons. The long-recoil action of the Model 8 does seem to transfer more energy to the shooter than most other types of action, for one thing (I have had many people describe the Browning Auto-5 as similarly unpleasant to shoot, and it is a very similar action). In addition, the .300 Savage is a more potent round than many people realize. I used mostly Remington 150 grain softpoints, which have a muzzle velocity of 2630 fps according to Remington. That’s only 50-100 fps below military spec 7.62mm NATO ammo, with 3 grains more bullet weight. The rifle weighs 8.25 pounds, so there isn’t much mass to help dampen the recoil. Still, it is easy enough to shoot offhand; only sitting and prone positions really hammer you.

Loading with stripper clips was pretty reasonable – not the smoothest gun out there and definitely not the worst (and in the sporting role for which it was designed, super-fast reloading is not necessary). Without a clip, it is much more of a hassle, things to the single-column magazine. Once the first round is loaded, the subsequent ones all want to roll off to one side rather than stack into the magazine. It can be done, but it takes some finesse.

The very low profile sights are a benefit to the rifle for practical use, as there are very few situations where the muzzle can fit somewhere that the sights are obscured. You can see this in stage 2, where I was able to shoot normally through a port barely more than 30mm tall. Almost everyone else had to rotate their rifles over 90 degrees to be able to see sights through that obstacle.

Overall, my only real complaint about the rifle is its excessive recoil, and that’s really not a huge problem. The Model 8 was not really cut out to be a military rifle, but it would excel in the woods (and has for more than 100 years now). if I were told that my only rifle was a Model 8, I would feel pretty comfortable taking it into almost any situation.

One last thing I want to comment on is an element of the match itself, rather than the rifle. This is July in southern Arizona, and the temperature was in the low 100s. Shooting under stress and on the timer in that kind of heat has a very real physical and psychological effect that doesn’t emerge in more relaxed settings. In those circumstances, you really do often lose focus, and lose your “edge”. Trigger control suffers, situational awareness fades, and you are much more likely to make mistakes. This hit me worse in this match than in most, and you can see it in places like the beginning of stage 4, where I forgot the stage instructions and started moving after one shot at the beginning (I was supposed to engage all three targets from each cone). Frankly, this performance degradation is part of what I find valuable in this type of competition, because if one is ever going to use a gun in a lie-or-death situation is is sure to involve a huge amount of mental and possibly physical stress. Competing in the desert sun all day is one good way to begin to simulate that type of situation and learn to function effectively in it.

That being said, I will not be sad when October rolls around and the temperatures are lower. :)


Vintage Saturday: Shaped Charge


M1944 Hungarian double AT projector

I got two warheads, one for each of ya’!

This contraption is a Hungarian M1944 (1944 Mintá = 44M) double AT Projector (dupla páncéltörövetö) aka the Buzogányvető (= the Mace). Only 700 units were made, and they served as HE/AT weapona. The warheads each hold 4.21 kg (9.27 lb) of high explosive, and the weapon could be used as a true AT weapon (the shaped charge defeated 300 mm of armor at up to 500 m) or as a sort of HE pocket howitzer (much like the original Blacker Bombard) with a range up to 1200 m. The warhead is rocket-propelled, with spin stabilization after the Nebelwerfer fashion, with angled jets around the circumference.

Thanks to Leszek for the photo and description!


Ole Krag’s Experimental Pistol: Made By Norinco

In 1908, Ole Krag (the same man associated with the Krag-Jorgensen rifle) applied for a US patent on an automatic pistol design. This design, along with many others, would be submitted to the Norwegian military pistol trials taking place around that time, and would fail to in them (the winner was the Norwegian copy of the Browning 1911, which was adopted as the M1914). Krag’s pistols never did go into serial production at the time, although he made quite a variety of prototypes. Here are a few of them:

Krag experimental pistol

A few of Ole Krag’s prototype semiauto pistols

One feature that immediately jumped out at me when I saw this photo was the use of the front of the trigger guard to rack the slide of the gun. Ever since I found myself a JoLoAr I’ve been interested in guns with that functionality. Well, when I dug up a copy of Krag’s US patent (#954,441) I found two surprises.

First, Krag put more thought and effort into single-handed operation than the other such designs that exist (like the Lignose Einhand). He was specifically incorporating the feature to simplify use of his pistol as a single-loader, which was a popular idea with many military forces at the time. One will notice magazine cutoffs on a great many service rifles from before WWI, and it was not an unknown feature on autoloading handguns as well (the Webley 1913, for example, had a second magazine catch to keep the ammunition from feeding). The Krag design did not have a way to hold a magazine in reserve, but it was intended to be as fast as possible to the shooter to use with single rounds after emptying the magazine. By requiring only one hand to both hold the gun and operate the slide, the other hand could be used to supply single cartridges quickly and easily. To supplement this, Krag incorporated a mechanism into the gun so that when the slide had locked open on an empty magazine, pulling the trigger would depress the magazine follower, thus allowing the slide to close. A second trigger pull would then fire the chambered round, which would cause the slide to lock open again.

All in all, a clever (if overly complex) solution to a problem that really was better addressed by providing more magazines to the shooter. But it was 1910 or so, and we will forgive Krag for not recognizing that (interestingly, the Krag-Jorgensen rifle is also unusually well-suited to loading single rounds). The other surprise I found in the patent is a bit perplexing. Here is the initial diagram included in the patent. Note that there appears to be a very clear hole in the bottom of the barrel, just ahead of the chamber:

Krag experimental pistol patent drawing

Krag experimental pistol patent drawing- note the gas port just ahead of the chamber.

Now, Krag’s patent description makes no mention of this gas port whatsoever. He only gives the actual operating mechanism of the gun a single sentence, which basically says that recoil energy pushes the slide back, as is well understood in pistol design (blowback operation). However, when I saw that port alongside the trigger guard racking mechanism, I immediately thought of the Norinco M77B. Released in the early 1990s and only imported into the US in small numbers before Norinco imports were restricted, it has both of these same features. Could it be that someone in Norinco stumbled on Krag’s patent and decided it would be a good gun to put into production?

Krag experimental autoloader and Norinco M77B

One of Krag’s experimental autoloaders (left) and a Norinco M77B (right)

There are a few obvious differences – the magazine release (heel for the Krag; button for the Norinco), the Krag hammer being changes to a Norinco striker, and the Norinco safety lever for example. But these are relatively superficial, and it seems like a rather unlikely coincidence that both guns would share the relatively unusual gas-delayed blowback operating mechanism and the very unusual trigger-guard-cocking device.

Since I don’t have any photo of the internals of any of Krag’s experimental pistols, the next best thing I can do is provide a bunch of photos of the inside of the M77B. If Norinco did indeed use Krag’s patent as the basis for the M77B, they did make some rational modifications to it. Most notably, the Norinco is devoid of all the extra pieces to allow a trigger pull to depress the follower and close the slide. Instead, the M77B has a very typical modern slide release lever ahead of the safety.

Since it uses a fixed barrel, disassembly of the Norinco is simple. Rotate the safety lever so it is pointing straight down (there is no marking for this position), and then pull the slide all the way back and lift it upwards off the frame. The gas-delay system is then immediately recognizable from the small gas piston fixed to the front of the slide. This piston rests in a cylinder fixed to the frame, which has a gas port leading into the barrel just ahead of the chamber. When the gun fires, high-pressure gas fills that chamber, pushing the piston forward. That forward force acts against the rearward force that would normally operate a blowback pistol, and keeps the slide safely closed until the bullet leaves the barrel and pressure levels drop. The same basic mechanism is used in the H&K P7 series, and a few other less common pistols (it was also the mechanism used in the German VG1-5 rifle). I would be very interested to see inside Krag’s actual prototypes to see if they use this system, or if these features in the patent drawing were abandoned for some other system.


US Model 45A

by Tom Laemlein

A couple of years ago, I wrote a short article for Small Arms Review magazine on the strangely futuristic “Model 45A”, which was the subject of a group of photos by a US Army photographer.  Apparently this rifle was a one-off developed by a group of Army Ordnance men stationed in the Philippines during 1945, and as bizarre as its modern features the Model 45A attracted the attention of a Signal Corps photographer.  The rifle ended up being the subject of at least two “photo-shoots” in immediate post-war Manila.

Model 45A being examined in the Manila Ordnance Technical office (October 1945)

Model 45A being examined in the Manila Ordnance Technical office (October 1945)

Although there is no way to know for sure, it is unlikely that Model 45A was actually capable of firing.  That has been the opinion of several gun writers—at least given the only evidence we have, which are the photos. Consensus of opinion on the Model 45A has been consistent in at least one aspect:  the rifle concept presents many forward-thinking ideas in small arms design.  The elusive idea of creating an infantry arm that fulfills multiple roles using the same cartridge was alive and well in 1945.

Here’s a short breakdown on what I see in this design:  The Model 45A is a modern-looking “Bullpup” design, with a noticeably long barrel.  A Browning Automatic Rifle magazine has been used and we can safely assume that the Model 45A was chambered for standard .30 caliber ammunition.  The pistol grip is futuristic looking for 1945, but the receiver cover looks rather crude and flimsy, and this is likely why the Model 45A is probably not a live gun.  The scope integrated inside the carry handle (very much reminiscent of a modern Steyr-AUG design) is unidentified.  The Model 45A is even equipped to launch the M9A1 anti-tank rifle grenade.  Produced in the Philippines, it carries with it that country’s long history of hand-made firearms and unique designs.

Model 45A, barrel being removed

Model 45A, barrel being removed

As a photo researcher, I found it quite curious that so many photos were taken of the Model 45A, and that the official captions on the Signal Corps images provided so much information (such as it was) about the rifle.  Ultimately, it had the “feel” of a marketing effort.  Apparently the Ordnance crew that developed this concept didn’t realize that any designs you come up with while in the employ of Uncle Sam are destined to be US Government property without additional compensation to the designer.  If they had dreamed of financial gain by selling the plans of the Model 45A to the Army, it never happened—and never really had any chance of happening anyway.

I find the futuristic appearance of the weapon to be particularly interesting, and the Model 45A goes to prove an important point:  American ingenuity knows no bounds!

If ever there was a “forgotten weapon” it is the Model 45A.  Maybe one of the readers of this site can share shed some more light on this fascinating concept, developed in the field all those years ago. 

Tom Laemlein runs Armor Plate Press, a military history publishing company that specializes in producing photo studies of 20th Century weapons systems. Find his work at www.armorplatepress.com.