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Astra Model 900

The Astra 900 was a pistol developed to take advantage of a large Chinese demand for semiauto pistols with shoulder stocks, following on the massive sales of the Mauser C96 “Broomhandle” in that country. In the 1920s and 30s, civil war in China drove a huge market in arms, but international treaty had prohibited the importation of military arms. One loophole in the accords, however, was that stocked pistols (including fully automatic stocked pistols) were not considered military arms.

Mauser led the sales to China, but several Spanish companies jumped into the market as well, and the Astra 900 was a well made and reasonably popular gun.The semiauto 900 was chambered for 7.63mm Mauser (like the C96), and about 21,000 were made from 1928 into the 1930s. A series of improved designs followed, with the 901 (select-fire), 902 (select-fire with a fixed 20-round magazine), 903 (select-fire with detachable magazines), and 904/Model F (select-fire with detachable magazines and a rate-reducing mechanism).

MP-44 – The German Sturmgewehr

The MP-43 (which is mechanically identical to the MP-44 and StG-44; the differences are the subject for another video later) is a tilting bolt rifle with a long stroke gas piston. It was manufactured primarily from complex sheet steel stampings, as a way to minimize the amount of high-quality and thus difficult to acquire steels needed for its construction. The rifle is heavy by today’s standards, but remarkably ergonomic (except for the metal handguard, when heats up quickly). Its sights come right up to the eye when shouldering the rifle, and it disassembles quickly and easily.

It really is one of the best small arms developed during World War II.

The Sturmgewehr was the result of a German intermediate cartridge development program that began in the mid-1930s. It was sidelined for a period as the focus of German Ordnance shifted to full-power rifles in 8x57mm with telescopic sights, but as the German fighting in Russia became more desperate, many Ordnance officers realized that the greater firepower offered by the Sturmgewehr concept was one of the few options that might be able to allow depleted German units to effectively hold ground against Russian attacks.

To this end, the guns were issued primarily in the East, with whole companies being equipped in order to focus a maximum amount of firepower, rather than spreading the new rifles piecemeal across all units. Ultimately, of course, this was insufficient to prevent the growing Soviet advance – but for the individual German soldier, an MP-43/44/StG-44 would have been a much more comforting weapon than a Kar98k Mauser!

Scoped C96 Conehammer Carbine

This scoped C96 carbine is serial number 12 of the original run of just 30 large-ring C96 carbines. It has the long barrel and detachable stock (in place of the standard pistol grip) of the C96 carbine. The most obvious feature, however, is the telescopic sight mounted on the piece. This was not installed by the Mauser factory, but was added around the time the carbine was originally purchase. The scope and mounts are of the same vintage as the gun (right around 1900).

The scope mount is a quick-detachable claw style typical of German sporting arms, and it fits the C96 carbine quite well. The eye relief and scope height both fit nicely with the stock position, and I expect this would be a very nice and comfortable piece to shoot.

In many ways, this reflects the same type of use we see today with pistol-caliber carbines and low-power compact optics. People assume that tactical is a new thing, but it really isn;t – they just did it more stylishly a hundred years ago.

Vietnamese Crude 1911 Copy

This is an example of a craft-made pistol captured in Vietnam and brought back to the US. While many Vietnamese fighters were supplied with good-quality weapons from other nations (primarily Chinese-made AK and SKS rifles), weapons are virtually never in sufficient supply for guerrilla-type forces and that forces improvisation. In this case, some Vietnamese hops tried to fabricate copies of American weapons – in this case a 1911 pistol.

This pistol was clearly made by someone who did not fully understand its mechanical elements. The safety, for example, is fixed solidly in place, and neither moves nor would function as a safety if it did move. Interestingly, under the left grip panel is an out-of-battery safety that was not used in the 1911 itself, but is common to other similar pistols – and it is constructed in such as way as to not actually function.

The most significant functional concern with this pistol is that it has no locking system, and functions simply as a blowback pistol. This is seen in other insurgent-type arms as well, like the Spanish Civil War Izard. This would quickly batter itself to pieces if used, as the slide and spring are definitely too light to safely fire its .45ACP ammunition.

USMC Winchester Model 70 Sniper

This Winchester M70 was a rifle owned by the Captain of the Camp Pendleton rifle team, and as such it is an excellent authentic example of the US sniper rifle of the early Vietnam era. It is chambered for the .30-06 cartridge, with a Winchester heavy target barrel and shorter stock. The scope is a 14x Unertl – quite high magnification, considering that the most recent official issue sniper rifle at the time was the M1D with a 2.2x scope. These rifles were used in a quasi-official capacity in Vietnam, and would ultimately evolving into the official M40 and M40A1 sniper rifles.

Chinese Type 56 Milled AK

One of the most common types of AK rifle in existence today is the Chinese Type 56 in its several variations, although very few of those rifles are in the United States in authentic full-auto form. This particular one was captured by a US soldier in the Vietnam War, who brought it back and registered it, making it a fully transferrable gun.

The Chinese received the technical package for the AK (and also the SKS, among other weapons) from the Soviet Union in the 1950s, as part of the USSR’s policy of providing military and technical aid to other nations sympathetic to the Communist cause (although a rift would grow between the USSR and China later). China would manufacture tens of millions of AK rifles, both of this milled receiver type (the Type 3 style) and the later stamped AKM pattern. The standard fixed-stock rifles like this one were fitted with under-folding spike bayonets. Folding stocked types were also made, both underfolding (Type 56-1) and side folding (Type 56-2). These weapons have become extremely prolific, and can be found in virtually any significant international conflict zone to this day.

M1D Sniper Garand

The M1D was the final adopted form of John Garands sniper M1 rifle, originally the M1E8. It was intended to be a kit issued in the field to add optical sights to any rifle deemed worthy, and retained that capability in a slightly different form than originally intended. Garland’s initial plan was to design a sleeve that could fit over the barrel of a rifle, with a scope mounting bracket – the final production version instead used a new whole barrel with the scope mount integrally attached. However, this new barrel was still a part easily installed by a field armorer.

The scope was offset to the left of the receiver so as not to interfere with the Garand’s clip loading, and issued with a leather cheek pad to give the shooter’s cheek weld a matching offset to the left. The scope used with the M1D was the M84, a 2.2x optic with a simple vertical post reticle and hinger metal covers to protect the windage and elevation adjustment knobs. Accuracy of the M1D was not substantially different from regular M1 rifles, with its advantage coming from magnified optics rather than improved mechanical accuracy.

The M1D was adopted too late to see significant service in the Korean War, and would serve until replaced by the M14 and M40 rifles.

Benke-Thiemann Folding Luger Holster

While most major pistols made before the 1930s had some type of shoulder stock available as an option, the Luger had much more variety of stocks than most others. In addition to the several types of wooden stocks made on military contract, there were also several commercial types of folding stocks made. One of these was the Benke-Thiemann, originally designed by Hungarian Josef von Benke and improved by Georg Thiemann.

This stock was made of sheet metal stampings, and attached by replacing the grip panels of a Luger pistol. When folded, the stock added remarkably little size to the gun, and could still be fired, albeit with a somewhat awkward grip. This was done by cleverly designing the stock to consist of two layers of material which overlaid each other when folded, but then could be held end to end when extended, providing a stock of surprisingly usable length and sturdiness. A single spring-loaded latch was employed to lock the stock in both the folded and extended position.

Ultimately the stock failed to be a commercial success, probably due to costs and worldwide economics in the 1920s when it was developed. Only a few hundred were made, although the serial numbers all have leading zeroes to accommodate an anticipated production in the tens of thousands.

MC-1952 Marine Corps Sniper Garand

The MC-1952 was a variation on the M1C Garand sniper rifle, adopted by the US Marine Corps in 1952. The Marines were not satisfied with the low magnification of the Lyman scopes on the Army M1C, and after some experimentation they adopted their own version of the rifle using a 4x scope made by Kollmorgan (commercially sold as the Bear Cub). This scope had a larger tube and lenses, and offered both greater magnification and superior light gathering capabilities. It also was fitted with windage and elevation dials far better for precision shooting that the Lyman had, with clearly audible and tangible clicks.

The MC-1952 was only made and used in small numbers, but it remains an interesting showcase of the difference in approaches to sniping between the US Army and US Marine Corps.

North Korean Type 58 Milled AK

North Korea was one of several recipients of Soviet military technological aid during the Cold War, being provided the design package and manufacturing assistance for both the SKS and AK-47 rifles. The AK was adopted by North Korea in 1958, in the Type 3 milled-receiver style. This was just shortly before the Soviet Union would introduce its stamped-receiver AKM, having spent nearly 10 years developing and perfecting the sheet metal fabrication expertise required (the original stamped-receiver AK-47 was a failure in mass production).

North Korea only produced something on the order of 50,000 Type 58 AKs – a substantial number of guns, although quite small in comparison to most other AK variants produced worldwide. They have found their way into numerous conflicts worldwide, but very few are registered and transferrable in the US, making this one quite the rare example.