Clandestine weapons like the World War II FP-45 pistol, later dubbed the Liberator by the Office of Strategic Services in 1944, have always intrigued me. It remains the rarest of American martial handguns from the conﬂict, with original examples usually starting in the $1,500 range for rusty, damaged pieces and the best examples, with their impossibly rare waxed shipping boxes, bringing over $7,000. Myths and misinformation hide the pistol’s real story; they weren’t wildly inaccurate junk guns that exploded after a few shots, and they were never tossed out of airplanes over occupied Europe en masse.
THE FP-45 PISTOL was inexpensive by design. Constructed mostly of welded, stamped sheet metal parts with a die-cast zinc cocking piece, each gun cost the federal government a bit over $2, boxed for delivery with 10 rounds of .45 ACP ammunition. Only 5 inches long and weighing a pound, this single-shot pistol was conceived as an instrument of chaos in the darkest times of the war. The idea seems to have originated with a Polish military attaché in March of 1942. His request for assistance with arming resistance ﬁghters in Nazi-occupied areas was important enough that it reached the attention of the American assistant chief of staff for intelligence (G-2) of the War Department General Staff. In a little over two weeks, the Joint Psychological Warfare Committee completed a detailed plan of action and recommended urgent implementation, which was supported by Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall.
They recommended a light, simple, inexpensive, powerful handgun that could be dropped from aircraft – or other distribution methods they might contrive to suit the circumstances – to litter the countryside of occupied nations. Once delivered in theater, these little handguns would subject the enemy’s garrison troops to great mental anguish because even though they would ﬁnd some of the weapons, they would never know how many they didn’t ﬁnd. Hopefully, their anxiousness would be heightened by some fatal close range head shot casualties too. The expectation was that at least some of the weapons would be found by those intrepid souls who dared to resist the yoke of totalitarian rule forced on them by Germany and Japan.
SIX MONTHS LATER on August 21, 1942, one million FP-45 pistols had been completed. The FP designation stood for “ﬂare projector,” and was part of a subterfuge to mislead enemy spies. Manufacturing was done in total secrecy at General Motor’s Guide Lamp factory in Anderson, Ind. The assembly work took an astonishing 11 weeks. Three hundred employees worked around the clock to put together the 23 individual parts that made up each pistol in an average of 6.6 seconds. It took them less time to assemble it than it took the average shooter to load and ﬁre the weapon. It was a manufacturing tour de force, and Guide Lamp would later receive the contract to make the M3 submachine gun, which also utilized efficient welded sheet-metal stampings.
WITH 100 BOXCARS OF FP-45S at the Allies’ disposal, differences of agreement, some political and some practical, arose about how to best utilize them. In the end, the majority of the pistols were destroyed, but a signiﬁcant number – perhaps 383,000 – were at least sent to active theaters of war with no record of their return.
General Dwight Eisenhower, Allied commander in the European theater, got 500,000 FP-45s. He felt that air dropping them wasn’t a practical use of his precious air resources that were better utilized dropping bombs on the enemy. Contrary to the tales of mass airdrops, usually involving second-hand oral history from some now-deceased relative who did it, there is no written evidence showing that the FP-45 was ever distributed in any signiﬁcant quantity in France.
Ralph Hagen, in the research for his superb book The Liberator Pistol, collected and conducted many interviews with key people involved in American-, British- and even German-military intelligence and clandestine operations from the time, as well as accounts from French resistance ﬁghters. None of them could support anything other than a token distribution in the theater, if that!
Of the half-million weapons sent to England, less than 1,000 guns were sent to Sweden, and some small unknown quantity was issued for the D-Day operation. There is also one known veteran account of an FP-45 being used by a 101st Airborne paratrooper at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. He stated that he was given the pistol and an orange ﬂare cartridge to signal his position to armored American units trying to relieve the surrounded soldiers.
More of Eisenhower’s 500,000 FP45s went to the British War Office than anywhere else. The 30,000 they received went to the Suez, India and Gibraltar. What happened to them there is not known. This is the case with most of the pistols sent into the active theaters of the time. Once they arrived, any written record of how they were ultimately used has yet to be found and probably no longer exists.
IN THE PACIFIC THEATER, General Douglas MacArthur was much more interested in the FP-45 pistol than his European counterpart. MacArthur requested and received 50,000 guns in total, which he appears to have made use of. Unlike the other theaters of war, there is solid written evidence that the pistols were distributed in the ﬁeld. MacArthur himself indicated in a report that he had used the ﬁrst 8,000 guns to arm native villagers in the Solomon Islands of Tulagi and Guadalcanal. American veterans returned home from this area with souvenir FP-45s.
The pistols were clearly used by the Philippine guerillas, and I have personally found original guns there. Some were delivered by submarine. Others may have arrived by airdrop, though the complexity of ﬁnding anything airdropped into the jungle suggests that wasn’t likely. Airdrops on the coastline, however, were made.
The second largest shipment of guns from America numbered 200,000 and was delivered to Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, in July of 1944. Forty thousand went on to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and another 44,000 to Burma. The rest were destroyed after the war.
The third largest shipment was 100,000 guns destined for Jorhat, India, in August of 1943. Their ultimate destination was China. There is evidence that the pistols did make it into the hands of the locals, guerillas and bandits alike, but exactly how many will never be known. The only recorded image of an FP45 pistol in theater during World War II shows the pistol in the waistband of an Asian man in Kunming, China.
In July of 1944, another shipment of 40,000 was delivered in Algiers, Algeria, and some of these guns are known to have made their way to guerilla operations in Greece.
THE NUMBER OF FP-45 pistols actually used to ﬁre a shot in anger is a matter of speculation only. Guerillas can’t be faulted for poor record keeping. It’s probably pretty hard to write a report with a Nazi or Japanese patrol hot on your trail. But for most of my adult life I’ve wondered what it was like to shoot an FP-45. If I was a Greek partisan in Thrace, or a Philippine guerilla in Luzon in 1943, could I actually make a one-shot kill with this clumsy-looking gun? I decided to make a replica of the Liberator.
The motto of Vintage Ordnance Co. LLC is “Just like the originals, only better,” and if there was ever an antique gun that could stand to be better, it’s the FP-45. From an engineering and design standpoint, the FP-45 is brilliant. However, in the assembly department it’s often pretty sloppy. Many are quick to call the original guns junk, but I disagree. The original guns were at least as good as they needed to be and probably a little better. By the spring of 1942, the Axis powers had already conquered most of Europe and Asia. There was certainly no time to waste making the FP-45 a masterpiece of ﬁt and ﬁnish. It was actually the ﬁrst mass-produced US military small arm made of spot-welded, sheet-metal stampings. They may not have looked all that great, but apparently they all ﬁred. According to the project managers, every one of the million units built in the summer
of 1942 was test ﬁred for inspection.
In creating the Vintage Ordnance Co. replica, I worked from the original plans and corrected against the actual pistol. The existing plans alone were not enough to build an accurate replica. Inconsistencies between the ﬁnished product and the plans were often dissimilar, which was typical due to the urgency of production. Often, design adjustments were made on the factory ﬂoor and never recorded on the drawings. Guide Lamp only expected their FP-45 to have a 50-round usable life, which was plenty for its intended purpose. Collectors today would ﬁnd that unacceptable. The “Better than the originals” objectives of my project centered on using stronger, tighter tolerances, materials, precisely controlled welding and accurate headspace. All of those improvements ensured my reproduction FP-45 was strong and safe to shoot without the built-in expectation of failure that makes ﬁring an original a fool’s errand.
I made the barrel, tube strap (breech ring) and cover slide (breech block) out of 1050 medium-carbon cold-rolled steel for greater strength. It’s the same steel Browning Automatic Riﬂe receivers were made of. I tightened the chamber tolerances to meet commercial standards and addressed the terrible headspace problems of the original that allowed them to batter themselves apart under repeated ﬁring. Also, my reproduction zinc cocking piece is cast from a denser alloy for greater strength.
Cosmetically, the replicas differed from the originals in a few ways: the reproduction has a riﬂed barrel and discrete markings to comply with federal law, and hopefully prevent it from being unscrupulously sold as an original antique. I marked the serial number on the front of the grip frame and company information, model and caliber designation on the underside of the barrel behind the trigger guard. All characters are the minimum 1/16 inch high.
In the course of prototype testing, I ﬁred over 100 rounds over numerous sessions. It took a day to recover enough from the pounding this little pistol gave me to go at it again and ﬁnish the testing. These marathon ﬁring sessions with high-pressure .45 ACP 230-grain loads were the most unpleasant experience in my 30-plus years of shooting. The recoil is very stout for sure, but it is aggravated by the small grips and the grip angle. In my hand, I found that I had to angle my wrist upward to the limit of its range of motion to get proper sight alignment. I simply can’t hold the pistol tightly enough to prevent it from snapping my wrist back past that limit. I didn’t feel it so much in the ﬁrst 10 rounds, but it got progressively more painful to shoot the pistol.
Another recoil characteristic was the tendency for the Liberator’s zinc cocking piece to move backward against the spring pressure, causing the point of the guide pin to stick in either the right or left side of the tube strap. This expedites reloading, but I have no reason to believe that it was an intentional design feature. Some ultrafast video recording showed that the cocking piece’s rotation under recoil appeared to be caused by the back of it hitting the shooter’s hand.
At 6 yards I found the pistol to shoot approximately 9½ to 10 inches above the point of aim and slightly to the right. Both groups were 3¼ minute of angle, which is certainly suitable for the pistol’s intended purpose. With a few practice shots, a partisan or guerilla ﬁghter could easily get a feel for the Kentucky windage required to put the bullet on target. I found that I could consistently burst gallon jugs of water with a one-hand hold before the recoil got the better of me.
At 20 yards, the point of impact was about 30 inches high and groups tripled in size from 8½ to 14½ inches despite my best efforts. This was clearly beyond the useful range of the original weapon, so it comes as no surprise that the replica performed in a similar manner. A target pistol this is not. The FP-45s trigger pull is not conducive to good accuracy. They take a lot of squeeze to move the cocking piece back and get the connector cammed off the sear. I measured it between 10 and 11 pounds.
Editor’s note: Author Frank Jardim founded Vintage Ordnance in 2008. For more on the company’s products, go to vintageordnance.com.
One tangible connection to the human cost of the Civil War can be found in the Frazier History Museum in Louisville, Ky., in the form of a beautifully engraved Henry repeating rifle, serial number 19. The original owner was Connecticut native George Dennison Prentis, who was the editor of the Louisville Journal from 1830 to 1860 and a staunch abolitionist. After succession, he was an outspoken advocate of the Union even though his newspaper was absorbed by the pro-Confederate Louisville Morning Courier. On July 14, 1862, he wrote a report for the newspaper that praised the Henry.
“It behooves every loyal citizen to prepare himself upon his own responsibility with the best weapon of defense that can be obtained. And certainly the simplest, surest and most effective weapon that we know of, the weapon that can be used with the most tremendous results in case of an outbreak or invasion, is one that we have mentioned recently upon two or three occasions, the newly invented rifle of Henry.”
It is very likely that his Henry was a gift from the manufacturer. The Connecticut-based New Haven Arms Company hoped to make the Henry the standard-issue rifle of the Union Army and sought favorable endorsements in hopes of securing government contracts. As a matter of fact, a similar engraved rifle was presented to President Abraham Lincoln.
Ultimately, 1,731 Henry rifles were sold to the US Government for a $63,943 (about $50 each). Far more (approximately 10,000) were bought by individuals and state regiments like the 66th and 7th Illinois and the 97th Indiana. The rifles were highly prized on the battlefield. Confederates described the Henry as “that darn Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week.”
THE PROGENITOR of the Winchester repeaters, the Henry was a technological marvel in its time. It fired a .44-caliber, self-contained, metallic, rim-fire primed cartridge. The magazine held 15 shots, and one more could be loaded in the chamber, giving it more firepower than any other rifle on the battlefield. It was accurate by the standards of the day too, equipped as it was with a graduated ladder rear sight. Army tests showed it could keep 100 percent of its shots inside a 25-inch circle at 500 yards and a 48-inch circle at 1,000. Bullet weights were either 200 or 216 grains over 26 to 28 grains of black powder, giving it a muzzle velocity of 1,125 feet per second and a muzzle energy of 568 foot pounds. Ballistically it was between today’s .44 Special and .44-40 WCF of the same bullet weight, which leads me to wonder how much energy it had left at 200 yards, much less either of the Army test ranges. Compared to the standard rifled musket of the era, the .44 Henry was a pipsqueak, and that insured it would never be selected for general issue to troops. However, at ranges of less than 100 yards the Henry’s accuracy and power were perfectly adequate, and its speed and firepower proved devastating to the enemy in close combat.
THE HISTORY OF GEORGE PRENTIS’S Henry rifle is not a happy one. Though he supported the Union, his two sons, William Courtland and Clarence J., believed in the merits of the Confederate cause and actually fought for the South. William took his father’s rifle to war and died leading his troops in the Battle of Augusta, Ky., on September 18, 1862. The rifle and the sad news made their way back home to George. The Henry left his home again, for the last time, when his remaining son joined the Confederate cause. Reaching the rank of colonel, Clarence survived the war and his father pleaded that he be shown clemency. The rifle never came home. Hidden by Confederate soldiers, it was rediscovered a century later in a Memphis, Tenn. basement. ASJ
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap] first encountered the Chiappa Little Badger single-shot, I pegged it as a survival rifle. It comes in basic black, either in 22LR or 22WMR, both of which are fine for small game. With an overall length of 31 inches, it is already small, but it also folds over and onto itself, creating an extremely compact triangle about 16.5 inches tall and 8 inches across the base. It weighs less than 3 pounds, making it only slightly heavier than large center-fire pistols.
The Little Badger’s overall design principal is minimalistic. The Chiappa engineers gave the little gun everything it needs but resisted the temptation to load it down with things it didn’t.
For example, it has no foregrip other than four 4-inch pieces of Picatinny tactical rail attached to the flats of the barrel shroud. They form a good gripping surface and give the shooter a place to mount a 4X scope and perhaps a tactical light for hunting nocturnal creatures, like raccoons and opossums. If you mount a scope, the factory offers a horizontal bar you can attach to the grooved thumb portion of the hammer that lets you cock it from either side of the scope. Also, there is no safety other than a half-cock notch on the hammer. A survival rifle should be rugged, and mechanically simple. The Little Badger fits the bill.
The factory sights are M1 Carbine-style fixed front with an adjustable rear. The large knob allows for precise click adjustments for windage, and elevation is adjusted using a sliding rear aperture that has six different positions, four of which are numbered, but this slide can easily be pushed out of place if you aren’t careful. The sights, like the rail, ammunition holder and buttplate, are made of plastic, which didn’t appeal to me, but this is not an expensive rifle with an MSRP of $225, and they worked fine. My only concern is that they might not prove durable enough for long-term field use. Then again, my testing was not destructive and these parts might prove fully adequate. The rifle’s receiver, barrel shroud and trigger guard are made of hard zinc alloy. The hammer, trigger, action-release lever, extractor, all the screws and pins, barrel and wire buttstock are made of steel.
The wire buttstock was surprisingly comfortable, and its length and comb height can be adjusted to a limited degree by loosening the screws that hold the left and right sides of the receiver, pulling the upper and lower legs of the stock in or out, and then retightening. I found that my eye naturally lined up with the sights, so I didn’t change a thing.
During accuracy testing, I shot from a sandbag rest at 25 yards. To get shots on my point of aim, I set the elevation slide to “2.” My best results came from Winchester 22LR, 36-grain, copper-plated hollow points, which turned out an average group size of 1.42 inches and an average velocity of 1,199 feet per second, measured 12 feet from the muzzle. A close second was the Federal Lightning 22LR 40-grain, solid lead bullet, which turned out groups averaging 1.54 inches and an average velocity of 1,204 fps. I experimented by plinking with a mixed bag of loose ammo that I had accumulated over the years and found that the rifle seemed to shoot quite well overall. I started to feel as though I couldn’t miss with it, which I credit to an excellent trigger. This is a survival rifle with a target rifle’s trigger. It breaks crisply at just under 5 pounds. Tin cans, milk jug caps, broken PEZ dispensers and squirrels, beware! There is a new sheriff in town and it is a Little Badger.
I had a lot of fun shooting this rifle. In the process of evaluating it, I concluded that this is a great rifle to teach youngsters to shoot with. Its small scale and light weight made it easy for them to hold. It is a single shot, which takes a lot of the is-that-magazine-empty anxiety out of the instructional process. Using the round ammo holder in the stock, young students feel they have responsibility for their rounds, and allows you to visually keep track of it so no one ends up having unauthorized ammo for show-and-tell back at school. We all know these days that that will lead to expulsion from school for the student, and potential life imprisonment for you.
In many respects, this rifle is a reincarnation of the old Quackenbush and other youth bicycle rifles. Inexpensive, small, light, collapsible for easy transport and intended for fun wherever a kid’s (or grown-up’s) feet might pedal them, this type of rifle was very popular around 1900. The Little Badger even comes with its own light nylon backpack carrying case, adorned with a Little Badger head. The Chiappa Little Badger is a kid-sized gun that any boy or girl could easily learn to shoot with, and then keep for the rest of their lives. ASJ
Author’s note: You can get more information on this and other Chiappa products at Chiappafirearms.com
Exclusive interview by Frank Jardim
Caylen Wojcik was a U.S. Marine Corps scout sniper for eight years as a trainer and warrior. He served as the chief sniper in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II, conducting 100 sniper missions until he was seriously wounded during Operation Phantom Fury. He returned to training duties during his recovery and now works in the private sector for Magpul Industries as its director of training of Precision Rifle Operations. He is a man who knows what it’s like to be behind a sniper rifle in battle. I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions.
Frank Jardim You’ve spent a good deal of your life preparing snipers for battle and being a sniper in battle. What do you think is important for people to know about snipers?
Caylen Wojcik It doesn’t take long for commanders to identify the extreme effectiveness and lethality of a well-trained and equipped sniper on the battlefield. I think with the duration of our current conflict that snipers will ultimately benefit, for many years to come, as their effectiveness on the battlefield is solidified, without question. It’s important to understand that not everyone can become a sniper. Snipers aren’t cut from a “sniper cloth,” nor do they magically acquire skills with an application of “sniper dust.” Being a sniper requires more than just marksmanship skills. Snipers are highly intelligent, extremely resourceful, incredibly disciplined and above all, undeniably passionate about the science and art of sniping. Those traits cannot be cultivated. The skills, however, can be cultivated and honed through effective training. It’s important to remember that snipers’ continue to be effective problem solvers on the battlefield.
FJ How do you explain the relative celebrity of present-day snipers compared to those from previous wars, when they remained virtually unknown outside of their units and the shooting community? (I don’t recall anybody making a movie about Carlos Hathcock.)
CW In terms of factual events, the only movie I’ve seen (or know of) about a sniper besides American Sniper is Enemy at the Gates, which was a rendition of the Soviet sniper Vasily Zeytsev, who was a Russian hero of WWII, and was incredibly lethal during the Battle of Stalingrad. Snipers pride themselves on being silent professionals, as their passion for the job is enough for personal satisfaction. Very few snipers, if any, will actively seek out recognition for their accomplishments, as it usually finds them.
FJ Were snipers used as effectively as they could have been in the units you fought with? Did commanders understand how to deploy expert riflemen?
CW Sniper employment is a steep learning curve for both the sniper and the commander, especially if it’s their first time around in combat. Commanders in the past had very little, if any, training in how to employ snipers on the battlefield. Young snipers, learning sniper employment on a fundamental level at the Scout/Sniper Basic Course, need to be excellent communicators of their capabilities and limitations with their supported unit commanders. In my experience, once we got the major bugs worked out and both the commander and sniper understood each other, things went smoothly and effectively. Having been at war for the past 13 years, there are many seasoned commanders and snipers who are passing on those lessons learned to make both sides run more smoothly.
FJ Have the current infantry rifles and training helped or hurt basic combat marksmanship among typical soldiers?
CW I’m not currently on active duty, nor have I been since the Marine Corps adopted the ACOG as their primary sighting device on the service rifle. Several of my peers are now Marine gunners who are directly responsible for the development of that system and they speak highly of the increased average qualification scores. The addition of requiring Marines to qualify on combat marksmanship is also a huge step forward from my time when only known distance rifle qualification was scored. More emphasis on close-quarters marksmanship and weapons manipulation was definitely required to adapt to our modern battlefield. ASJ
The Army’s best combat pump shotgun is back: Inland’s reissue of Ithaca’s M37 Trench Gun.
Two top-shelf Ohio-based firearms manufacturers have partnered to bring collectors and shooters a fine reissue – I hesitate to call it a replica – of the vintage U.S. Army Ithaca M37 Trench Gun.
This retro military model is made by the Upper Sandusky-based Ithaca Gun Company for their Dayton neighbor, Inland Manufacturing. The latter is best known for their excellent reproductions of World War II M1 carbines.
The American martial tradition is no stranger to shotguns. Militiamen employed fowling pieces in battle during the Revolutionary War, and the Confederate Cavalry wielded sawed-off shotguns in the Civil War.
It was during World War I that you might say the Army got serious about shotguns. It was, after all, the biggest war they had fought to date. Close combat in the trenches, and especially night fighting, favored the massive firepower of fast-shooting pump shotguns.
Each 00 buckshot round blasted out nine .33 caliber pellets, increasing the chances of a lethal hit on the enemy. WWI trench guns could shoot exceptionally fast because they lacked a trigger disconnector.
This allowed them to fire with every pump of the action as long as the trigger was held back continuously. Today we would regard this as a safety flaw, but to the doughboy standing in an enemy trench in 1918, that extra bit of speed was regarded as an edge.
The Germans hated facing shotguns, and even filed a formal complaint that using shotguns was a violation of the rules of civilized warfare – to no avail. The trench gun was born. While it distinguished itself in battle, the trench gun was by no means a common frontline weapon. Records suggest that fewer than 40,000 were procured during the war, compared to more than 2,500,000 service rifles.
WHAT DISTINGUISHED THE
military trench gun, with its 20-inch barrel and cylinder bore, from the era’s civilian riot gun (what we would today call a tactical shotgun) was the military’s addition of a barrel heat shield, bayonet lug and sling swivels.
The 16-inch M1917 Enfield bayonet could be fitted to the muzzle, and the heat shield on the barrel was added to allow the soldier to safely grip the hot barrel during bayonet fighting. The riot gun was made for civilian troubles and the trench gun for war.
In WWI, civilian riot versions of Winchester Models 1897 and 1912 and the Remington Model 10 were modified as trench guns. In WWII, shotguns from quite a few other manufacturers were procured to meet the pressing needs of a much bigger war.
The standard models were all pump action: the Winchester M12 and M31, Remington M31, Stevens M520, and rarest of all (with less than 1,500 produced), the Ithaca M37. Still, it wasn’t enough, and the venerable Winchester M97 joined other pump and even semiauto models from Stevens, Savage and Remington to arm American soldiers for rear-area guard duty and combat action on the front lines.
Since these weapons were obtained directly from civilian manufacturers, they were usually finished in the same blued steel as civilian models. Combat use of the shotgun in WWII was largely a Pacific Theater affair, where the dense jungles and close-range encounters favored its strengths. Both United States Marine Corps and Army infantry units equipped the point man of patrols with a trench gun, and Marine units institutional memory of the trench gun’s role in fighting the Japanese in the jungles in WWII was carried over into our next jungle war against the Communist forces in Vietnam 20 years later.
By the mid 1960s, military stocks of trench guns and their M1917 bayonets were running low and new contracts were let for both. The guns came from Stevens (M77E), Ithaca (M37) and Winchester (Models 1200 and 870). The majority of these new shotguns were in the riot configuration. Trench guns from the Vietnam era are quite rare.
Those Ithaca M37 trench guns that were delivered were virtually identical to the WWII model, differing in their markings and their parkerized finish. The Stevens M77E was the most commonly issued shotgun in the Vietnam era, followed by the Ithaca M37.
THE MODEL 37 WAS BASED on John Moses Browning’s improvements of an old Remington design when Ithaca introduced it in 1937. It was a fine sporting shotgun, and proved to be an excellent combat shotgun.
It was the lightest shotgun in the American arsenal, at least a pound less than its peers, with the exception of the graceful Winchester M12, which was still half a pound heavier. The M37 was a couple lighter than the old M97.
Despite being light, it was very strong and well suited to the battlefield. The top and sides of the Model 37 receiver have no openings, so the action is much easier to keep clean because nothing can fall into it from above. Because it loads and ejects from the bottom, it was essentially ambidextrous.
It was also exceptionally strong. The inverted “U” design of the receiver protected the shooter from injury in the event of a case rupture and the barrel attached to the milled steel receiver by means of an interrupted thread like a cannon breech.
They were built to last generations, and can take a beating better than any other pump shotgun. In fact, the huge Los Angeles and New York City Police Departments eventually adopted this model for use.
During the Vietnam War, the Ithaca M37’s performance and reliability earned it the reputation for being the best combat shotgun in the Army’s arsenal.
INLAND MANUFACTURING’S reissue of the M37 trench gun has all the quality and ambiance of an original gun without the multithousand dollar price tag. Since it is actually made by Ithaca, the quality of manufacture is superb. Collectors of martial shotguns should not sweat buckshot worrying that these trench guns will be passed off as originals.
Though they are marked “RLB” with an Ordnance Corps flaming bomb on
the left side of the receiver like WWII era trench guns, the marks are not stamped in the metal like the originals are. Furthermore, the guns are marked with Inland’s name on the receiver and other historically incongruous laser engravings on the barrel indicating manufacture in Lower Sandusky, Ohio. Other differences include a 3-inch chamber instead of 2¾-inch, and, perhaps the most obvious marking never encountered on a vintage gun – the admonition “READ OWNERS MANUAL.”
As if that isn’t enough, you should know by now that WWII-era trench guns were blued, not parkerized. I guess an unscrupulous seller might change the barrel and claim this was a WWII-era M37 refurbished for use in Vietnam, but they can’t get around those receiver markings without a lot of metal work.
The reissue’s stocks are natural oiled walnut like the original military guns. The heat shield, brass front sight bead and bayonet lug look great too. I tested an original M1917 bayonet and it was a perfect fit. The slide release is on the right front side of the trigger guard. Unlike a Remington 870 or Mossberg 500, it requires very little motion to actuate.
The safety is a sliding push button type at the rear of the trigger guard. The action is smooth and solid with no ricketiness in it. In fact, the whole gun feels immensely solid. It weighs only 6 pounds, 11 ounces, but it feels like you could butt stroke an enemy senseless with it. Unlike the original gun, it will not fire continuously if pumped while the trigger is held back. Surely you had to see that coming.
Shooting the M37, you do sense its light weight in the felt recoil. The butt plate is just thin hard rubber so your shoulder gets it all. The 2¾-inch Winchester Super X and Federal Premium 00 buckshot I tested recorded average velocities of 1,242 feet per second and 1,243 fps, respectively, out of the M37’s 20-inch barrel. (Both were advertised at 1,325 fps.) The Federal Premium was much more consistent in shot to shot velocity with a standard deviation of 17 to Winchester’s 89.
Velocity was recorded at 15 feet from the muzzle with an excellent and very reasonably priced Competition Electronics PRO CHRONO digital chronograph I got from Brownell’s to replace the one I foolishly loaned to a friend who, unbeknownst to me, turned out to be a cold-blooded killer of chronographs. This one I’m keeping close hold on.
I SHOT MY TEST PATTERNS standing, offhand, at 25 yards, a range I thought would reasonably simulate a jungle encounter based on my limited experience hiking Bataan Peninsula jungle trails in the Philippine Islands.
I shot five-round test strings. That is actually all the M37 can hold if you fill the magazine and put one in the chamber. The early 1940s was not the era of high-capacity shotgun magazines. When you consider that the military rifles used by most nations at that time typically held only five rounds, a five-shot trench gun doesn’t seem that bad.
I chose standard 2¾-inch, nine-pellet loads to simulate the old brass cased military M19 loads used before plastic shells became common in the 1960s. My target was 22 inches wide by 25 inches high with a 3-inch aiming point. The cylinder bore (no choke of any kind) threw lethal patterns every time, but rarely did all nine pellets hit the target every time.
The Winchester Super X put 34 out of 45 pellets (75 percent) on the target. The Federal Premium put 37 of 45 pellets (82 percent) on the target. Both loads shot about 9 inches above the point of aim. The Winchester load seemed to pattern a bit more random than the Federal Premium, but, aimed at the enemy’s belt buckle, both would deliver devastating multiple hits to the upper body. As for the pellets that didn’t hit my generously wide 22-inch sheet, they could easily have hit another enemy soldier.
Broad patterns can cause collateral damage in a civilian encounter, but in wartime the ability to hit multiple targets with a single round is a good thing. While I see Inland’s M37 Trench Gun as aimed for the collector and historic military reenactor market, you wouldn’t be underarmed using it for personal defense. If they could fight their way through a few major wars, they’ll undoubtedly do fine after the EMP apocalypse.
The M37 shoots well, is virtually foolproof, and that 3-inch chamber opens up a lot of modern lethal and nonlethal load options. If short 12-gauge rounds will feed reliably, that might be one way to increase the M37’s magazine capacity. I know these mini-shells are made by Aguila, Herter’s and Nobel Sport, but could not get any in time to test the gun for this article.
If the M37 has a flaw, it is that in its trench gun configuration, it can’t be taken down without a screwdriver. The heat shield needs to be removed before the barrel can be rotated the necessary ¼ turn to dismount. In addition, you can’t take apart the receiver of any M37 without a long straight screwdriver to remove the bolt that holds the butt stock on.
That bolt is inside the buttstock, accessible only after removing the buttplate. On the upside, you don’t really need to take it apart to clean it. The only dirt you’re likely to get in it is some carbon from your smoking shells as they are ejected.
By design, it is a clean action. The online advertised retail price
for this top quality reissue of the M37 Trench Gun is about $1,200. That might seem like a lot to some. It’s more than your typical used civilian Ithaca Model 37, but thousands less than any M37 Trench Gun. One thing is unmistakable when you handle and shoot it. It is made as well as any gun can be made, and your great grandchildren will still be shooting it. For more info, visit inland-mfg.com or call them at (877) 425-4867.
Story and photos by Frank Jardim
[su_dropcap style=”light”]T[/su_dropcap]he acronym CMP stands for Civilian Marksmanship Program, and if it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been around for 114 years. Once a government-funded program administered by the U.S. Army, it was reformed as a private, self-supporting, nonproﬁt in 1996. Its core mission is instructing the citizenry, and particularly the nation’s youth, in the principles of safe ﬁrearms handing and cultivating the knowledge and skills required for precision shooting.
Great shooting requires practice, and the CMP promotes that through their support of 5,000 local aﬃliated shooting clubs and state organizations that run CMP-sanctioned courses and competitive shooting matches across the country. That amounts to over 1,400 sanctioned matches a year attended by more than 10,000 shooters. The CMP codiﬁed the competition rules and trains and certiﬁes the range oﬃcers who run the matches. They also train and certify master instructors who teach thousands of new shooters each year using CMP course materials in more than 100 sponsored clinics nationwide.
Through their online Competition Tracker system, they maintain the match scores for every shooter in every CMP competition, as well as a listing of all upcoming matches, making it easy for shooters to ﬁnd out when and where they can compete, register for those matches, and track their progress up to the national level.
Reﬂecting its military roots, high-power military service riﬂe and service pistol competitions have always been a major component of the CMP. However, they are by no means the whole show. To paraphrase the American poet Walt Whitman, “The CMP is large. It contains multitudes.” Today, its 30 instructional and competitive programs also include air and .22 rimﬁre pistols and riﬂes.
AN EMPHASIS ON PRECISION marksmanship is the common element is all CMP matches. These are not running-and-gunning, action-style, three-gun, speed or steel matches. CMP competitors shoot traditional bull’s-eye targets at speciﬁc distances from established positions (prone, sitting, kneeling and standing), usually with iron sights. Sometimes riﬂe shooters can use a sling.
Not to diminish the challenges of other shooting sports, which often pose a high level of diﬃculty in other methods and techniques, but the CMP fosters in its competitors
a great deal of personal discipline and technical knowledge.
The CMP high-power riﬂe competition, for example, with its 200-, 300- and 600-yard stages, allows shooters the chance to develop their understanding of some of the most diﬃcult (and interesting) technical aspects of shooting. To put the bullet in the X ring, the shooter needs to understand trajectory, adjust the sights for the bullet’s drop, evaluate the wind speed and direction to calculate the required amount of windage compensation, and deal with any heat mirage that may blur the view of the distant target.
Akin to the “World Series” of shooting sports, the CMP holds their National Matches every summer at Camp Perry, Ohio. Bordering Lake Erie, the Camp Perry ranges are considered by many to be the largest and best in the county. Among the 6,000 participants from all the CMP disciplines, you will always ﬁnd America’s ﬁnest military and civilian marksmen.
The National Matches, a tradition at Camp Perry since 1907, also include top quality training seminars for novice and advanced shooters. A newcomer to competitive shooting could attend a one- or two-day CMP– USAMU (U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit) Small Arms Firing School for riﬂe or pistol (or both) and learn the basics of ﬁrearms safety and marksmanship on the spot.
I HAD THE CHANCE TO TALK with CMP’s Mark Johnson to get the scoop on what accomplishments he was most excited about this year. Johnson is not the type of chief operating oﬃcer to sit behind a desk all day, evidenced by the fact that we talked by phone as he was driving back from a CMP competition in Oklahoma.
While he paid respectful homage to the National Matches, which he refers to as the CMP’s “crowning jewel,” it was the growth and success of the Junior Air Riﬂe Camp that he seemed to ﬁnd most exhilarating. These weeklong summer camps are held around the country with a goal to teach 9- to 12-year-olds safety and marksmanship lessons of universal value. Participants bring their own equipment and the fee is a nominal $285 per youth and $50 for their adult coach. As of this writing, 14 of the 16 camps are already full.
You might be surprised to learn that the most popular competitive shooting sport among precollege boys and girls is three-position air riﬂe shooting. Its growth shows no sign of slowing down, so this particular competition is helping to develop our next generation of marksmen.
But just because kids love it doesn’t make it a kid’s sport. The 10-meter, three-position (prone, kneeling and standing) competition is also an international sport and an Olympic event. In fact, those Junior Air Riﬂe camps that Johnson is so proud of boast multiple Olympian alumni, and two medalists, including 2016 Gold Medal winner Ginny Thrasher (see American Shooting Journal, September 2016).
The CMP actually sanctions two classes of air riﬂe competitions for juniors that diﬀer only in the equipment needed. Sporting Air Riﬂe competition uses basic target riﬂes that cost $105 to $525 and requires no specialized shooting clothing. Precision Air Riﬂe uses Olympicgrade guns that cost $850 to $1,275 and require the full complement of target shooting clothes and accessories. By the way, those prices are from the CMP online store and represent a discounted cost only available for qualiﬁed club members.
Apparently, kids are having some success convincing their parents to let them give the less costly Sporting Air Riﬂe a try (or perhaps it’s the other way around), as it has become a major entry point into competitive shooting for them. Three-Position Air Riﬂe can be a life-long hobby and college students can compete in NCAA matches or via Junior ROTC programs as well.
Another thing Johnson was really proud of was the CMP’s new Talladega Marksmanship Park in Talladega, Alabama. This is the third, and by far the largest, modern instructional range facility they have constructed, and it is the most technologically advanced in the world. The two others are 80-port indoor air riﬂe ranges at their Camp Perry, Ohio, and Anniston, Alabama, locations, where they also operate retail stores.
THE NEW MARKSMANSHIP PARK is huge, covering 500 acres, with riﬂe, pistol and shotgun ranges. At maximum capacity it could accommodate 3,000 shooters at once, and transportation around the ranges is provided.
The facility includes a 13,000-square-foot clubhouse with classrooms, lounge, and a Creedmoor Sports Pro Shop. Inside, visitors can follow the progress of competitors on monitors if the Alabama heat or humidity gets to be too much for them.
The park has an amazing combination 200-, 300- and 600yard riﬂe ranges, a 100-yard multipurpose range and a 50-yard pistol range, all equipped with state of the art Kongsberg Target System (KTS) electronic targets and scoring monitors which detect, record and display every round the shooter ﬁres. This means you can maximize your shooting practice time because you don’t ever have to leave the ﬁring line to change targets. You don’t even need a spotting scope. And, for fans of shotgun sports, there are trap, sporting clays and ﬁve-stand courses.
The facility plays host to the whole gamut of CMP Games and matches, including the popular GSM (Garand, Springﬁeld, Vintage Military) matches where shooters use as-issued historic riﬂes. The CMP knows there’s more to shooting than just the black bull’s-eyes, so you’ll also ﬁnd a wide variety of popular action shooting sports like 3-Gun, Steel Challenge and IDPA. Even better, Marksmanship Park is open to the public and charges only $20 to shoot all day.
Over the years, the CMP had often made surplus military riﬂes and ammunition available to qualiﬁed club members at reasonable prices. In fact, if you have ever heard that you could get a surplus M1 Garand riﬂe directly from the government, that’s part of the CMP program. At this point, however, virtually all of those M1 riﬂes and carbines, M1903 Springﬁeld and M1917 Enﬁeld riﬂes are sold out.
The good news is the proﬁts from the sale of those historic riﬂes funded an endowment that will keep the CMP in operation, training new generations of marksman, for the foreseeable future.
In light of the recent shift in political control since the last election, I asked Johnson if there might be some possibility of more M1 riﬂes turning up. He told me that had I asked that question six months ago, the answer would be no. But since then, one of the last great stockpiles of M1s, currently held by the Philippine government, just might be making its way home from the islands.
So keep your ﬁngers crossed, and get yourself involved with the CMPaﬃliated club in your area. Only qualiﬁed club members will be able to buy these riﬂes should they become available. “How do I qualify,” you ask? It’s very simple. Just join a CMPaﬃliated club and shot in a CMPsanctioned match.
You can ﬁnd vast amounts of additional information about the CMP and its great programs when you visit TheCMP.org. ASJ
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]L[/su_dropcap]ew Grasser is a Marine Corps veteran who owns and operates Tactical Brass Recovery (TBR) in New Salisbury, Ind. He’s spent a lot of time watching spent cases eject from AR-platform riﬂes, AK-47s, SCARs and even TAVOR bullpups and tactical shotguns. He has tested scores of riﬂes and ammunition types and recorded the results, noting what is consistent, what is variable and what is bizarrely rare. He’s even made high-speed video recordings of ejecting cases so he can study their movements in slow motion.
He’s done all this research to design and build the brass catcher he wished he had during his active-duty days. The TBR Operator Model is the culmination of years of research and experimentation, and is far and away the best designed and most practical brass catcher I have ever seen.
The Operator Model retails for $220, which may seem like a lot of money. However, in testing I found its features were exceptional. For one thing, it actually catches the brass. I don’t mean some of the brass. I mean it catches all of the brass, and not just a magazine’s worth. The bag capacity is 150 5.56mm cases or 75 7.62x51mm cases. In addition, it not only catches the spent cases, but also holds them captive in the lower part of the bag, keeping them out of the action where they could cause a jam. The top of the catcher is designed with enough depth to prevent the newly ejected case from bouncing right back into the riﬂe’s action. It also has an inner fabric curtain that eﬀectively prevents the brass in the bag from slipping out the way it came in, even if the riﬂe is tilted or manipulated on the run.
AS THE NAME SUGGESTS, military and law enforcement applications were foremost in Grasser’s mind during product development. The unit is light but exceptionally rugged. The hinged, ⅛-inch-thick anodized aluminum frame serves as the rigid mounting point to attach the unit to the riﬂe and support the bag. The bag itself is made of heavy canvas that won’t melt like nylon bags. It has a zipper in the bottom to empty it.
The bag comes in 16 colors, including most common modern camouﬂage schemes. Laser-cut ABS plastic parts support and reinforce the bag and mate it closely to the receiver. The ﬁt is close, but it doesn’t come in contact with your riﬂe’s receiver very much, and the ABS plastic is much less likely to damage the ﬁnish where it does. The whole device is rigid, yet ﬂexible. If you were to fall and mash this catcher between your riﬂe and a hard place, there’s enough give in the aluminum and plastic components that isn’t likely to damage, or even scratch, anything. The unit is assembled with 18-8 stainless-steel button head screws and nyloc locking nuts. It weighs only 12 ounces.
It mounts to the front handguard on the right Picatinny rail section via an American Defense-made quick-release throw-lever. It locks securely and won’t come loose unless you press the release bar in the lever and rotate it 180 degrees. You can take it on and oﬀ in less than a second. Once on, the catcher is held in place with a ﬁve-position, tensioned, ball-detent locking hinge of Grasser’s own design. This might seem like overkill, but it conveniently allows for a choice of positions to facilitate storage of the weapons equipped with the bag in vehicles, racks or cabinets.
TO USE THE BAG, you pivot it against the receiver and fold up the plastic top of the bag so the scissor arms on each side are fully extended. The tension on the elbow of the scissor arms comes from a nyloc nut. I expect that as the joint wears, it would be a simple thing to tighten it up with a partial twist of that nut. It is elegant in its simplicity. I was able to keep my ejection port cover closed with the Operator Model attached; but whether you can or can’t do the same will depend on your handguard.
The ABS plastic top of the brass catcher is cut with a honeycomb pattern to provide strength and rigidity while allowing the shooter (or range oﬃcer) a clear view of the action and chamber at all times while the catcher is in place. An important added beneﬁt of this honeycombed lid is that gases from ﬁring are continuously vented up and out of the bag. A solid bag or box would capture the gases and force them to vent back into the action and along the side of the receiver where they could get into the shooter’s face and optics.
The virtue of a product that actually delivers on its promises should appeal to you, whether you are a Special Response Team oﬃcer who doesn’t want his team members falling on his ﬁred cases during a hot building entry, a competitive shooter, or a reloader who simply wants to recover all your brass.
For more information, you can visit the TBR website at TacticalBrassRecovery.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (502) 716-8405. ASJ