December 15th, 2016 by jhines

A War Story for the Ages.

March 31st, 1943, British India.

Headed to Pyinmana, Burma, to destroy a bridge, the American B-24 bombers were intercepted by Japanese fighter pilots.

With the plane going down and Japanese fighter pilots attacking the parachuting airmen, Owen J. Bagget did what no man had done before or since.

It must take some sharp shooting and nerves of unbending steel to keep straight aim in the face of certain death, but he managed to shoot and kill the enemy fighter pilot with none other than a .45 caliber M1911 pistol. Whether a testament to sharp shooting under pressure or the efficacy of the gun, I can’t say.

baggett

Owen fell to the earth, wounded but alive, and was captured as a POW, later freed at the end of the war. He lived to 85 years old, having reached the rank of Colonel and continued as a defense contractor, and died in 2006. His tombstone tells of his being a POW, a hero, and a father– But sadly, it doesn’t cover his badass airborne feat: being the only person to down a Japanese fighter plane with a pistol.

Whether it was true or not, its still a great story for our M1911 legacy.
baggett_tombstone

by Sam Morstan

Source: Owen J Baggett Wikipedia, Controversial Times


Posted in History Tagged with: , , ,

August 5th, 2016 by jhines

The Idea looked better on Paper

In World War Two Japan had a paratroop corps, Germany provided the technical assistance with equipment implementation in the late 1930’s. One of the methods was the use of parachute-equipped containers housing the firearms, this was dropped separately from the paratrooper. In the combat drop at Sumatra (Japanese) and Crete (Germany), both drop zones had problems of weapons containers landing far from troops, resulting being out gunned.

At the outcome the Japanese obviously thought this wasn’t a good idea, and looked at alternatives methods. One idea is to have the paratroops jump with a compact gun. This resulted in a modified Type 99 Arisaka rifle and a folding-stock version. The first proposed plan was not so good.

type99arisaka

The first proposed rifle was called Type 1, it was a Type 38 Arisaka carbine with the stock sawed off behind the trigger and had big hinge screwed into the side. The hinge used a latch and wing nut on the left side of the rifle to hold the stock in place.

foldedgun

Archives recorded that several hundred folding rifles were used for trials and performance was not very good. Such as the latch system was not very tight, stocks would wobble around, the threaded stud and wing nut would often catch on things and become damaged.

For more detail on identifying authentic examples from fakes and to see the full details on the stock mechanism, see the video below:

Source: Ian McCollum Forgotten Weapons Youtube, Wikipedia

Posted in History Tagged with: , ,

July 1st, 2016 by Sam Morstan

Building And Shooting The Vintage Ordnance Co.’s Reproduction Of The FP-45 Liberator

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRANK JARDIM

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 Vintage Ordnance Co. creates a build-it-yourself kit of the FP-45 Liberator, which cosmetically matches an original Liberator (left) well.

The Vintage Ordnance Co. creates a build-it-yourself kit of the FP-45 Liberator, which cosmetically matches an original Liberator (left) well.

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.

Attempting to build this kit based on the original Liberator’s (right) plans might prove frustrating.  Many modifications were made without documentation.

Attempting to build this kit based on the original Liberator’s (right) plans might prove frustrating. Many modifications were made without documentation.

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 closerange headshot 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.

 When building the replica FP-45, author Frank Jardim focused on using tighter tolerances and materials than the original (top) to ensure it was safe to shoot.

When building the replica FP-45, author Frank Jardim focused on using tighter tolerances and materials than the original (top) to ensure it was safe to shoot.

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!

Cosmetically, this replica has a rifled barrel and discrete markings that comply with federal law. The original does not have either.

Cosmetically, this replica has a rifled barrel and discrete markings that comply with federal law. The original does not have either.

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.

Easily understandable drawings detailed how guerilla forces were to load and unload the original FP-45, along with where to find more bullets.

Easily understandable drawings detailed how guerilla forces were to load and unload the original FP-45, along with where to find more bullets.

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.

Though distributed by the Allied forces in the European and Pacific Theaters, the FP-45 saw rare use, if much at all during the war.

Though distributed by the Allied forces in the European and Pacific Theaters, the FP-45 saw rare use, if much at all during the war.

I SHOT THE PISTOL rested for accuracy at 6 yards and later 20 with results similar to Ralph Hagan’s tests of his original gun including some random
keyholing, which he highlighted in his book The Liberator Pistol: Development, Production, Distribution. I shot two groups at each distance. Sight picture is somewhat obstructed by the guide-pin boss on the cocking piece. The cocking piece was originally designed without it. All bullets were clearly cut with rifling when recovered.

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.

The FP-45 Liberator is renowned as one of the rarest American martial handguns from WWII.

The FP-45 Liberator is renowned as one of the rarest American martial handguns from WWII.

At a hair over 1 pound, this little pistol packed a powerfully lethal punch. It took two shots to get the hang of it. An inexperienced shooter could certainly master it for closerange work with the 10 bullets provided. I can’t help but imagine that any resistance fighter who may have fought with an FP-45 must have let out a great sigh of relief as he stooped over the motionless body of his adversary, picked up their Mauser or Arizaka rifle and disappeared into the night. ASJ

 

Editor’s note: Author Frank Jardim founded Vintage Ordnance in 2008. For more on the company’s products, go to vintageordnance.com.

Posted in History Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

March 28th, 2016 by Sam Morstan

The German Mauser Karabiner 98 Kurz

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY ALEX KINCAID

“I‘ll take a semiautomatic rifle any day of the week over a bolt action, and twice on Sunday.” That’s what my husband told me when I confessed my love of the Mauser M98 bolt-action. A discussion ensued, and we were not talking hunting – we were discussing war. Our passion for rifles and history often leads to a great deal of research and conversation. Neither of us has served in the military, but the conversation thankfully extends beyond the theoretics of our living room to those who have first-hand experience to tell it how it is, or was. Speaking with veterans is an opportunity neither of us will ever turn down. Our veterans, after all, are our heroes.

The Karabiner 98 kurz, or K98k, is a bolt-action rifle chambered for the 7.92×57mm Mauser cartridge that was adopted on June 21, 1935, as the standard service rifle by the German Wehrmacht.

IT HAS BEEN MY HONOR to personally listen to tales of heroism and horror from World War II vets who have experiences ranging from retrieving the bodies of their fallen comrades on Utah Beach to fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, the final Nazi Germany offensive. I have watched one of the Chosin Few, a US Marine Corps division who fought in the Chosin Reservoir, wipe tears from his face as he divulged only a small part of his experience in Korea; a friend and firearms instructor who is a Vietnam Marine shared with me the day he almost died, and now celebrates annually; Purple Heart recipients from our recent wars in the Middle East have revealed acts of horror impossible to comprehend without experiencing them firsthand; and in addition to America’s heroes, I have also heard firsthand from those who served in the Axis military.

In all these conversations, I have never heard how any particular rifle was more responsible than another for saving or taking human life, or for winning or losing a battle. These surviving storytellers instead focus their successes on much more important phenomena: battle strategy, bravery and luck. Statistical history suggests that many soldiers never even fired their rifles in combat during WWII. Some data suggests as few as 12 percent, with arguments to the contrary, and at least one expert suggests soldiers purposefully missed their human targets. Similar studies suggest that small arms were only responsible for an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the total WWII casualties.

The K98k was one of the final developments of the Mauser line.

The K98k was one of the final developments of the Mauser line.

Statistics, however, do not stop the debates. Historians and gun enthusiasts continue to credit or blame particular rifles with winning or losing battles. Competitors challenge one another to long-distance matches with antiques, and well-known shooters film their time on the range, allegedly staging a direct comparison of era rifles to prove one is better than the other.
While these feats are interesting, and provide direct comparisons of a specific rifle feature, a complete analysis of any war rifle must take into account much more than test fires of speed and accuracy on a range. Battle rifles deserve a comparison that includes details of their intended purpose and the battle strategy for implementing that purpose. After all, isn’t a perfect rifle one that reliably performs as it was intended in an effective and efficient manner?

Weimar Eagle proofing stamp (Beschußstempel) on the author’s K98k rifle. This combination of stamps and a few other features on this rifle provide some evidence of where and when it was originally manufactured. She determined that this one is a 1939 Sauer & Sohn-manufactured rifle.

Weimar Eagle proofing stamp (Beschußstempel) on the author’s K98k rifle. This combination of stamps and a few other features on this rifle provide some evidence of where and when it was originally manufactured. She determined that this one is a 1939 Sauer & Sohn-manufactured rifle.

THE GERMAN MAUSER KARABINER 98 KURZ, or K98k, is a true phoenix from the ashes of WWI, and despite the challenges faced by its creators, it fulfilled its purpose during WWII, is respected by gun enthusiasts around the world and has served as a stable platform for the development of modern rifles for almost 100 years.
After the Great War, nations around the world realized the need to improve standard military rifles. American military planners studied the effectiveness of bolt-action  repeating rifles, and concluded there was a need to develop a semiautomatic infantry rifle. The Germans, on the other hand, were saddled with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The signing of the treaty on June 28, 1919, not only officially ended World War I, but restricted the German army to 100,000 men and forbade the country from producing military weaponry.

The famous Mauser claw extractor firmly holding the 8mm (7.92 x 57mm) round in place. This demonstrates a control-feed bolt-act ion versus an open-feed bolt action with three Nazi proofing stamps (Waffenamt stamps).

The famous Mauser claw extractor firmly holding the 8mm (7.92 x 57mm) round in place. This demonstrates a control-feed bolt-act ion versus an open-feed bolt action with three Nazi proofing stamps (Waffenamt stamps).

Those determined to re-arm a German infantry would have to do so secretly while outsmarting the Inter-Allied Military Control Commission inspectors tasked with ensuring the treaty’s terms were followed.
The Germans worked to improve upon their WWI Mauser Gewehr für Deutsche Reichspost, or Gew 98, bolt-action rifles by creating the K98k in secret manufacturing plants. The resulting surreptitious rifles were fully assembled under two floors of underwear manufacturing in Switzerland.

Alex Kincaid settles in on a target with her 1939 German Mauser Karabiner 98 kurz, manufactured by Sauer & Sohn. (OLEG VOLK)

Alex Kincaid settles in on a target with her 1939 German Mauser Karabiner 98 kurz, manufactured by Sauer & Sohn. (OLEG VOLK)

BY JUNE 21, 1935, the K98k was officially adopted as the German service rifle. Its 24-inch barrel and overall 43-inch length is much shorter than the Gew 98. Without a bayonet, ammunition or a sling the K98k weighs 8.38 pounds. With iron sights it has a 550-yard effective firing range, which is increased to over 1,000 yards when fitted with a telescopic sight. The rifle holds five 7.92x57mm Mauser cartridges (originally 197.5 grain), which can be loaded from a stripper clip or one by one.

Like a Porsche, the K98k is German perfection in design and engineering, and carries this ideal through multiple features, but its heart and soul is its Mauser M98 action. Why is the Mauser action so much better than other bolt-action systems? It exemplifies two words: strength and reliability.

One reason for the Mauser’s strength is that the bolt’s two main locking lugs were moved to the front just behind the bolt head, unlike early repeaters with only one lug or their lugs positioned at the back of the bolt. These lugs allow for higher-pressure cartridges to be fired safely, and are the reason that the Mauser system is stronger than that of the Lee-Enfield and Mosin-Nagant actions, which require some strengthening to handle the same pressure. Backing up the two front lugs, the Mauser action also includes a third safety lug at the rear of the bolt.

Not only does the Mauser action deliver the power to handle the higher caliber rounds, it also has the strength via its extractor to eject fully loaded, heavy-dud rounds everytime. Not all bolt-actions are capable of this feat, and can leave duds dancing around in the ejection port, causing jams.

AS FOR RELIABILITY, the Mauser action eliminates operator-caused malfunctions that other bolt-actions cannot, including jams due to double loading, failures to load – due to short-stroking or otherwise – and failure to eject duds and casings. It is the Mauser’s large and nearly indestructible claw extractor, which gives the action its control-feed operation, keeping the round under the control of the bolt from the moment it is stripped from the

magazine. The control feed, as opposed to push-open-feed bolt-actions, ensures that each cartridge is held to the bolt face until achieving a positive insertion into the chamber, regardless of rifle position. The Mauser action also prevents double feeds, because it is impossible to have a round in the chamber and grab a second round.
Keeping the cartridge on the bolt face until ejected also allows the shooter to reliably extract a round even if the bolt is never fully closed. If you fail to lock the bolt with a push-feed action, you can leave the round seated in the chamber, and you will have to get it to fall out or even pick it out with your fingers – not a good situation for a soldier or hunter. This task may not even be possible, depending on what is causing the malfunction in the first place.

As a primary goal for improvement to their battle rifle, the Germans sought to ensure that soldiers always loaded a new round. To enhance this feature, they developed the follower at the magazine into a bolt catch. The bolt on a Mauser action cannot be pushed forward while unloaded because the follower in the magazine pops up and blocks the bolt from going forward until it is actually reloaded (pushed down by another round). Also, due to the ejector’s location, it is impossible to short-stroke a Mauser action and close the bolt without ejecting the casing and without loading another round. By the time the bolt is far enough back to eject the empty shell, it is far enough back to grab another round while cycling it forward.

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL German production criteria, it was impossible to cheaply mass-produce K98ks. Each K98k went through an elaborate 25-hour process before it was considered perfect. The barrel was entrusted only to graduates from a special barrel-straightener’s school. It’s no wonder Germany’s unemployment rates dropped substantially after Hitler withdrew from the League of Nations (now known as the United Nations) in 1933.

The StG 44, or the Sturmgewehr 44, introduced in 1943, was the first modern assault rifle.

The StG 44, or the Sturmgewehr 44, introduced in 1943, was the first modern assault rifle.

The painstaking measures required to ensure that every part of each rifle was manufactured to perfection also required a special army of inspectors. Each had their own stamp of approval, called an Absnahmestempel (acceptance stamps), aka Waffenamt stamp. These stamps appear on multiple K98k parts as either Weimar or Nazi eagles, depending on the manufacturer and year of manufacture. Each rifle was test fired, as opposed to just spot checking and testing a single rifle per batch. A test round was even pushed backwards through the barrel and then forensically examined for any imperfections. Only after passing this arduous testing did the rifle receive the Beschußstempel, and rifles that were deemed highly accurate were fitted with telescopic sights and became sniper rifles. Despite the elaborate manufacturing and inspection process, over 2 million German soldiers were armed with K98ks by the time German forces invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. The cost of this rearmament was not cheap – over 90 billion Reichsmarks were spent between 1933 and 1937 alone.

Of course, times change, and towards the end of 1943 the German standards gave way to the greater need for mass production. Production time per rifle was reduced to as little as 14 hours. If you compare only the bolt of an early production K98k with one from a 1944 rifle, you will see that the Porsche is now compromised for production purposes and offered as a Volkswagen. The earlier bolt is beautiful and polished; the latter, simple but functional.

THE GERMANS TURNED TO alternative manufacturers later in the war – namely, their prisoners. Albert Speer implemented the supposed plenipotentiary Heinrich Himmler’s earlier request to produce arms in concentration camps. It is estimated that the camp at Buchenwald produced over 340,000 K98ks on behalf of the manufacturer Gustloff Werke. Old photographs depict prisoners at the original concentration camp of Dachau, repairing and assembling K98k rifles from components. During my visit to Dachau, there were no obvious signs of the manufacture of K98ks that once took place there. In fact, it wasn’t until after our visit that I learned Dachau prisoners had produced the means to empower their enslavers.

Due to the Germans attempting to outsmart the Treaty of Versailles’ Control Commission, deciphering the origins of a K98k can be a puzzle-solving process. Special K98ks, such as those issued to the Waffen-SS, bear unique markings. Among the 14 million K98ks produced, over 100 combinations of manufacturer code and date markings are known to exist, with new variations still being discovered.

To me and many other collectors, this is all part of the challenge of collecting historic rifles. I have been able to determine that my first K98k has a combination of Weimar Beschußstempel and Nazi eagles. The number coding, the date and the combination of eagle styles tell the rifle’s tale, and clearly identifies it as one manufactured by Sauer & Sohn in 1939. Also, part of the fun is telling a rifle’s tale post-war. K98ks were reconditioned and put to use all over the world. The Norwegian armed forces continued to use recycled K98k actions in military and civilian sniper and target rifles into the 2000s. US soldiers even encountered K98ks in Iraq. Some of them, ironically, were employed by the Israeli army, but only after stamping Israeli markings on top of the Nazi symbols.

The Maschinengewehr 34, or MG 34, is a German recoil-operated aircooled machine gun, first tested in 1929, and introduced in 1934.

The Maschinengewehr 34, or MG 34, is a German recoil-operated aircooled machine gun, first tested in 1929, and introduced in 1934.

BY FAR THE greatest critique of the K98k is its rate of fire. As with any other bolt-action, soldiers could only fire as quickly as they could operate the bolt. Critics of the German’s bolt-action-armed infantry blame Hitler for losing WWII because he refused to arm his infantry with faster, semiautomatic rifles.

When WWII began, the German infantry was not unlike other armies – armed with a mix of bolt-action rifles and some form of machine gun. Germany’s strategy for implementing these weapons differed.

They emphasized the machine gun, usually an MG-34 or an MG-42 (Maschinengewehr 34/42) as their primary infantry weapon. A German squad early in the war would have four machine guns, and after 1944 six. The K98k was only intended as the backup support to the more ominous weapon and for sniping. German battle strategy did not intend for individual soldiers to engage the enemy.

In contrast, the Allies employed machine guns as support and point defense weapons. The American’s squad-based weapons, usually Browning automatic rifles, were not comparable to the German’s belt-fed or saddle-drum magazine that could fire faster (1,200 rounds per minute) and longer. This opposite strategy left the American soldiers relying on their individual firepower. In that situation the US rifle caliber .30 M1 Garand was the “greatest battle implement ever devised,” according to General Patton, because at a minimum it equalized the American’s firepower with that of the Nazis.

Eight millimeter (7.92 x 57mm) rounds in the quick-loading stripper clip.

Both military doctrines had advantages and disadvantages. If you arm one squad with K98ks and the other with M1s or submachine guns at less than 500 yards, the soldiers with the M1s or submachine guns have the advantage. But when you add the use of a machine gun to the mix, per the German strategy, that system takes the advantage. Even in urban combat the K98k still had benefits including its powerful ammunition that was better able to penetrate walls and other cover. The Germans recognized the importance of a submachine gun and married its advantages with a higher-caliber round towards the end of the war –creating the Sturmgewehr 44 – but mass production of these new rifles was not fully accomplished before the end of the war.

TODAY, THE MAUSER M98 action remains the precision instrument in the world of bolt-actions. Almost every centerfire bolt gun today uses a Mauser M98 action and operating principles with minor differences. Quite an astounding fact, given that Peter Paul Mauser patented the M98 bolt-action design in 1895. Not only does the action live on as the old faithful and reliable of bolt-actions,it carries on as a top-of-the line luxury action as well. For a mere $12,495, the new Mauser M98 Magnum combines the strength of the ’98 action with modernized features. The Mauser action is also appreciated by elite snipers who value the first shot, guaranteed hit over faster repeat fire.

Although German WWII K98ks are highly sought after by collectors, they can still be found as foreign capture rifles imported to the US. I found mine a couple of years ago on the shelf at a Big Five Sporting Goods store for a few hundred dollars. These war relics live on as inspiration, history and as platforms for the next leap forward.
And yes, dear husband, I see your points about the semiautomatics. They certainly hold their place in both war and hunting. Finding one that provides the powerful, first-shot, reliable tack of a Mauser action is indeed possible. For three to four times the price, I might find a one to match the power and precision of a M98. ASJ

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August 6th, 2015 by Danielle Breteau

Combat Shotgun’s Identity Crisis

The Long, So-far Fruitless Quest To Build A Battle Scattergun

Story by Joseph Trevithick

The shotgun is an iconic weapon most often associated with the pump-action badassery of action films and video games. While awesome in fiction, its use in the real world is limited to close combat and breaching doors, not to mention bird and deer hunting. Despite its drawbacks, a mystique surrounds the weapon, and soldiers as well as law enforcement officers still use them. The draw of the gun is so powerful that the Pentagon has spent several decades and millions of dollars to improve on the basic design.

Modified Remington Model 870

A standard Remington Model 870, minus its barrel, that Carroll Childers modified to use a detachable magazine. (JOE TREVITHICK)

In the late 1960s, the military and private companies started tinkering with prototypes for a super shotgun. Three decades later, questions about the weapon’s purpose and practicality on the battlefield doomed the project. The proposed super shotguns were revolutionary, but perhaps to a fault.

Since World War I, scatterguns have been a fixture in American military arsenals. In the trenches, where fighting could be brutal and often hand-to-hand, the short-range idea wasn’t a problem. In World War II, individual soldiers or Marines, especially in the Pacific, carried shotguns to help clear out bunkers or break up ambushes. The same situation persisted in both Korea and Vietnam, but even throughout these eras, the US Army and Marine Corps mostly issued the weapons to military police officers on guard duty.

“The usefulness of the shotgun in combat has long been the subject of some controversy,” Carroll Childers wrote in the January-February 1981 issue of Infantry magazine. “Unfortunately, a great deal of romanticism about its use prevails.”

At the time, Childers was an engineer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., as well as an officer in the Virginia Army National Guard. In 1969, Childers started work on what he hoped would be a radical new design dubbed the special operations weapon, or SOW. Childers based his initial concept on the needs of and feedback from Navy SEAL teams and Marine reconnaissance troops. The shotgun’s features made it an attractive weapon for specialized units that often had very specific requirements.

During the Vietnam War, Marines complained about how contemporary scatterguns needed to be constantly reloaded during firefights, couldn’t reliably hit anything — let alone kill — at even modest ranges and couldn’t stand up to the abuse of a patrol, according to Childers. The SOW prototype looked fearsome and crude, but it solved many of these key problems. The gun was fully automatic and fed from a 10-round, detachable magazine. Unlike the fixed tubular designs on most shotguns of the day, a shooter with an SOW wouldn’t need to reload one shell at a time, and they could swap out ammunition types — pellets, solid slugs and more  —  with relative ease. Childers’ gun was also compact compared to the other types of firearms troops took into the Vietnamese jungle, at least in length. With its simple stock folded  —  or removed  —  the SOW was shorter than the pump-action Remington Model 870.

SOW Shotgun

In 1969, Carroll Childers, who was an engineer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., started designing a shotgun specifically tailored to the needs of special warfare teams such as the US Navy SEALs and Marine Reconnaissance. It was known simply as the special operations weapon, or SOW. (JOE TREVITHICK)

Three years after the project got under way, Dahlgren patented the SOW. That same year, Maxwell Atchisson, a former Marine and private weapons designer, introduced his Atchisson Assault Shotgun. Atchisson’s original weapon looked like an M-16 on steroids, but was clearly influenced by the same background as the SOW, and had a special recoil-absorbing system built in to make it less of a beast to shoot.

Gunnery Sgt. William Abernathy, the company first sergeant for Military Police Support Company, II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, gives instruction on how to properly load an M1014 shotgun while engaging the enemy in combat aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Aug. 28, 2010. "Make sure you put the stock firmly in your shoulder because this weapon will hurt your feelings," chuckled Abernathy.

The benelli M-1014 semiauto shotgun still has not completely replaced all of the classic-style pump shotguns. (MARINE CORPS)

When Washington signed the Paris Peace Accords with North Vietnam and began pulling troops out of Southeast Asia, any interest in either design evaporated. In the years that followed, Pentagon budgets shrank across the board.

Unlike many other projects, the post-Vietnam drawdowns couldn’t kill the SOW concept. By the end of the decade, the Pentagon had started up an overarching effort to cook up new guns across the services called the Joint Service Small Arms Program, or JSSAP. The new office declared that there was a need for an improved combat shotgun suited for military purposes.

“While the greatest threat is represented by Warsaw Pact forces in Europe, there is a growing belief that the most likely US military engagement will again involve third-world countries,” a May 1979 Pentagon memo stated. “Current shotguns are converted commercial weapons adopted under the pressure of wartime emergencies.”

If another small conflict were to break out, American troops would be in the exact same predicament they had been in Vietnam. The Pentagon felt soldiers and Marines fighting in dense wilderness or urban areas needed better guns.

The work at Dahlgren caught the eye of the JSSAP. With Childers’ experience, the Navy led the development of RHINO — repeating, handheld, improved, non-rifled ordnance.

“I wanted to keep the name SOW,  but that, being a female pig, never gained the support of those conferring program titles,” Childers wrote in a letter to Benjamin Schemmer in 1982. “RHINO was a little more catchy.” Schemmer, editor of Armed Forces Journal, had just published an article on the current state of JSSAP’s project. Childers felt the piece had fundamentally misunderstood and misrepresented
his work.

The Pentagon had hoped the end result would be a revolutionary gun, not limited like existing shotguns, but the JSSAP-sponsored plans called not just for a new gun, but new projectiles to go with it. The RHINO would spit out pellets, high-explosive grenades, signal flares, tear gas bombs and more. Troops would use the weapon for house-to-house searches, combat and standing watch.

Tank crews would trade in their old WWII-era submachine guns for these new weapons. Even better, the resulting design could replace existing survival rifles, but plans for such a broad and sweeping firearm would run into trouble. Two years after JSSAP’s memo got the RHINO project going, the office renamed it the Multipurpose Individual Weapon System. A year after that decision, the Pentagon changed the moniker again to Combat Shotgun. Each shift reflected an internal debate about just what the new guns were actually supposed to do.

By 1982, the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind., had taken over what was by then known as the Close Assault Weapon System, or CAWS. Much of the original logic for the new weapon was getting lost along the way. The CAWS requirements had largely dispensed with plans for a multi-purpose weapon. Ammunition development focused on trying to build pellet-filled shells that would be accurate at longer ranges. These new rounds would make a troop armed with the shotgun less of a liability to his comrades on a traditional battlefield, but no one had ever really expected a soldier to use the weapon in that manner anyway. “I certainly wouldn’t want an automatic shotgun,” retired Army Col. Charles Beckwith, founder of Delta Force, told Schemmer in an interview. “I’d have to have four boys along just to carry the ammunition!”

Olin CAWS

The Heckler and Koch and Olin Close Assault Weapons System (CAWS) prototype. (H&K)

The Olin CAWS Spec Sheet

(COURTESY OF H&K)

Perhaps worst of all, the whole thing was becoming a political nightmare for everyone involved. “It is important that JSSAP show some development success [on CAWS] or lose credibility as a research and development vehicle,” Ray Thorkildsen, an ordnance expert in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, wrote the same year. Thorkildsen wanted Crane to hurry up and build something. With Childers’ in-house project scrapped, private companies were eager to scoop up the now open contract.

The AAI Corporation and Heckler & Koch took the lead. Like Atchisson’s shotgun, AAI’s prototype looked and handled like a beefed-up M-16. H&K offered a more radical “bullpup” design, which had its magazine all the way in the rear. Pan Associates, a much smaller company, planned to offer an even more futuristic-looking gun called the Jackhammer, but the Pentagon demanded all manufacturers have a line of specialty ammo ready to go with their submissions.

AAI CAWS

H&K

Despite a protest to the Government Accountability Office that held up the contract, Pan gave up trying to meet the goal. Atchisson also declined. A year after Thorkildsen sent his memo, H&K finally won out. The German gun manufacturer brought in Olin to design the new all-metal shells full of shot made from a tungsten alloy.

For the next three years, the prototypes were put through their paces. The new buckshot was indeed more accurate and deadly, historian Kevin Dockery notes in his book Special Warfare Special Weapons.

But with the project’s supporters increasingly unable to explain who would use the weapons or why, the project finally came to a close. More than a decade later, JSSAP chose a conventional semiautomatic as the Pentagon’s new scattergun, but the Benelli M-1014 still hasn’t completely replaced aging pump guns.

Four years ago, the Army started buying shotguns that fit underneath standard M-4 carbines. These M-26 Modular Accessory Shotgun Systems give troops an option for breaking down doors without having to lug a whole separate weapon around. Still, private industry has refused to give up on the idea of a fully automatic shotgun. Over the years, many companies purchased the rights to Atchisson’s design. Daewoo in South Korea built a derivative of that shotgun, too, but without real interest from the Pentagon or any other militaries around the world, the various guns have spent far more time in Hollywood productions and video games than in actual combat. ASJ

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