Tommy Gun – Automatic Stardom

From G.I.s to gangsters and G-Men, in both real and “reel” life, the Tommy Gun continues to make history.

Story and photos by Rob Reed

Few firearms have earned the mystique that the Thompson submachine gun has enjoyed for nearly a century. The long association that the “Tommy Gun” has had with gangsters, G-men and G.I.s has made it a movie star, a prized collectible, and an American icon.
The gun’s genesis dates back to World War I when retired General John T. Thompson sought to develop a lightweight, fast-firing rifle that U.S. troops could use as a “trench broom” to break the stalemate of trench warfare.

Thompson believed recoil or gas operated weapons were too heavy and complicated for this role and sought a new method of operation. He formed the Auto-Ordnance Company (AOC), found financial backing, and hired engineers to help develop this weapon.
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Thompson seized upon the concept of the Blish Lock, developed by John Bell Blish (a career U.S. naval officer and inventor), as the key element for the design.
The principle is that dissimilar materials adhere to each other on an inclined plane with greater force than similar materials. When work revealed that the .30-06 cartridge was too powerful for this system, the weapon was designed around the standard .45 ACP pistol round instead. In the final design, an H-shaped bronze wedge would adhere to the steel bolt to keep the breech closed until pressure dropped to a safe level.

This pre-war photo shows a cavalry soldier with a Model
1928 Thompson during a training exercise. Taken at Fort
Riley, Kansas. (U.S. ARMY)

Thompson seized upon the concept of the Blish Lock, developed by John Bell Blish (a career U.S. naval officer and inventor), as the key element for the design.
The principle is that dissimilar materials adhere to each other on an inclined plane with greater force than similar materials. When work revealed that the .30-06 cartridge was too powerful for this system, the weapon was designed around the standard .45 ACP pistol round instead. In the final design, an H-shaped bronze wedge would adhere to the steel bolt to keep the breech closed until pressure dropped to a safe level.

Oklahoma City detectives and FBI agents pose with four Thompson Submachine Guns and a Browning Auto 5 shotgun after the shootout and capture of Wilbur Underhill, the notorious “Tri-State Terror,” on Dec. 30, 1933. The man kneeling on the right is D.A. “Jelly”
Bryce, who would later become involved in as many as 19 gunfights as a famous FBI agent. (George Franklin)

The resulting weapon was dubbed the Annihilator I. This initial offering resembled later versions of the Thompson SMG, except that instead of a buttstock, it had only rear and forward pistol grips. The distinctive drum magazine also appeared for the first time. However, by the time the prototypes were ready, the war was over, and Auto-Ordnance now had to figure out how to sell a gun designed and produced for a war that had just ended.

They added a buttstock, made some minor mechanical improvements, and rechristened the weapon the “Thompson Submachine Gun.” This was the first use of what would become the standard term for a hand-held, full-auto weapon firing pistol caliber ammunition.

COLT’S MANUFACTURING COMPANY produced the Model 1921 for AOC under contract. The guns were finely machined, with rich bluing, finished walnut stocks and fully adjustable Lyman rear sights. The bolt handle was on the top of the receiver and the separate safety and selector, as well as the magazine release, were on the left side. A Model 1921 weighed almost 11 pounds unloaded and almost 15 pounds with a loaded 50 round drum magazine.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill holds a Tommy Gun in July of 1940 in Hartlepool, England, home of the RAF’s Greatham airstrip.

The 10 ½-inch barrel included machined cooling fins. In 1926, designers added a Cutts compensator as an option, and guns so equipped were called the Model 1921AC. The gun fired 230-grain .45 ACP cartridges at a cyclic rate of 800 to 900 RPM. The guns cost $225 each, with a 20-round stick mag. Optional 50-round “L” mags were available for $20 each. To give an idea of the relative expense at that time, a new Model T automobile could be purchased for about $400.

Needless to say, sales were slow. The U.S. Postal Service purchased some for the U.S. Marines to use to guard mail cars on trains. The Marines liked the gun and bought a few hundred more, and they used them to great effect in the South American “Banana Wars” of the 1920s.
The U.S. Army tested the gun, and although they found it suitable, they failed to adopt it. About 650 were sold to the Irish Republic, although U.S. Customs confiscated most of these. An estimated 150 or so did make it to the Irish Republican Army to be used in the Irish Revolution and Irish Civil War.
Auto-Ordnance sold a few guns to police agencies and to large companies worried about labor unrest. In the summer of 1921, several Model 1921s were used in West Virginia’s “Battle of Blair Mountain,” a labor dispute that escalated into an armed conflict between coal miners, the company (who used the Thompson guns), and the government.
This conflict is one of the first recorded uses of the Thompson SMG in action. However, many of the 15,000 Model 1921s manufactured by Colt remained unsold for up to two decades. In 1928 the U.S. Navy placed an order for Thompsons specifically modified to better suit their needs. The changes included a slower rate of fire and a horizontal foregrip.

Auto-Ordnance reduced the ROF to 600 to 700 RPM by adding weight to the bolt with a heavier actuator. The horizontal foregrips were installed (vertical foregrips remained an option on commercial guns) and the modified guns were remarked with an “8” stamped over the “1” in the last digit of “1921.” For that reason, collectors refer to these guns as “Model 1921/1928 Overstamp.”

DESPITE ITS MILITARY INTENT, the Tommy Gun really entered the public consciousness as a crime gun. As Prohibition-era bootleggers and gangsters sought to expand their business, protect their turf and “rub out” the competition, the Thompson was prized for its firepower and large ammo capacity.

Many shooters removed the buttstock to make the gun easier to conceal, although at a loss of accuracy. The negative perception of the Tommy Gun only worsened with the activity of Depression era criminals such as John Dillinger, “Machine Gun” Kelly and “Pretty Boy” Floyd.
High profile killings such as the February 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, in which seven men were machine-gunned in a Chicago garage, also damaged (or added to) the gun’s reputation. However, as criminals turned to the Thompson, so did the police. Many local agencies acquired Thompsons in case any state hopping “motor bandits” showed in their area.
The FBI also purchased large numbers of the Model 1928 Navy. Ironically, in some cases, these very police guns wound up arming the criminals! During John Dillinger’s famous 1934 escape from the Lake County (Indiana) jail, he stole two Thompsons that had been used by the men who were guarding him. In other cases, criminals raided police stations and National Guard armories to steal the weapons. The hysteria over the Thompson Submachine Gun was enflamed even more by magazine headlines like, “The Amazing Secret Traffic in Gang Death Machines,” and in movies such as 1932’s Scarface, a fictionalized portrayal of Al Capone, which prominently featured a Thompson in the movie poster.
This public fear led to the passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934 that required buyers pay a $200 tax on each machine gun purchase and register the weapon with the Federal government before delivery.

Soviet Naval Infantry pose with Model 1928A1 Thompsons supplied as
Lend-Lease by the U.S. during WWII. It is believed the Thompsons saw
very little use with Soviet forces due to a shortage of .45 ACP ammo.

THE START OF WORLD WAR II saved Auto-Ordnance from bankruptcy. As war clouds loomed over Europe in the late 1930s, sales to the French and British brought in much needed cash, and finally exhausted the stock of guns manufactured in 1921. The U.S. Army also belatedly realized it would need more SMGs to fight what would become a global conflict and placed large orders.

Once again, Auto-Ordnance turned to an outside manufacturer to subcontract production. This time it was the Savage Arms Company of Utica, New York (Colt wasn’t interested). As the war progressed, and orders for hundreds of thousands of guns came in, more design changes were made to meet production demands.
The military Model 1928A1 was a simplified version of the Model 1928 Navy. The highly polished blued finish was replaced with a duller blue/black finish. Other small changes included the elimination of the complex Lyman rear sight with a simple stamped “L” sight, elimination of the checkering on small parts, and elimination of the barrel cooling fins.
This was the last version that could accept a drum magazine. However, even with the changes to the Model 1928, the Thompson remained expensive and slow to produce. In a new effort to speed manufacture, Savage simplified the weapon even more. The most significant change was the elimination of the Blish Lock in favor of a straight blow back design with a cyclic rate of about 600 to 650 RPM.
Savage also eliminated the receiver cuts needed to accept the drum magazines, modified the bolt, relocated the bolt actuator to the side of the receiver, and deleted the Cutts compensator. The blued finish was replaced with Parkerization and the buttstock was permanently attached.

These modifications did speed up production and also saved the government about half of the previous $209 cost per gun. A later variant, the M1A1, eliminated the separate firing pin in favor of a pin machined on the bolt face and added protective wings for the rear sight.
The Thompson, in both 1928 and M1 variants, served in all the theaters of the war and afterward, when it was supplied as part of the lend lease program to wartime allies such as the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and China. It was especially prized for close-in fighting.
By the time the Thompson was replaced on the production lines by the cheaper M3 “Grease Gun” in February 1944, more than 1,750,000 had been manufactured, and these saw service until the end of the war.
Following World War II, the Thompson was largely withdrawn from U.S. service in favor of the M3 and full-auto M2 Carbine. U.S. forces in Korea faced Thompsons in enemy hands, which were originally provided to the Nationalist Chinese but which were incorporated into the Chinese Red Army stocks after Mao took over the country.

In turn, many G.I.s pressed recaptured Thompsons back into service. During the Vietnam War, Thompsons were supplied to South Vietnamese forces as military aid. Although production of the original Thompsons ended in 1944, the Auto-Ordnance Company (under different ownership) briefly made new production full-auto guns in the 1970s and early 1980s. The current company makes semi-auto-only versions today.
The Thompson remains one of the most collectable full-auto firearms,
with prices ranging from $15,000 for a 1970s production gun up to $45,000 or more for a Model 1921 or Model 1928. For most of us, the closest we’ll get to a Thompson is at the movies where the gangster and G.I. guns play a role on the big screen. In 2009, Johnny Depp wielded a Model 1921AC Thompson as bank robber John Dillinger, and who can forget Tom Hanks as Capt. John Miller with his M1A1 Thompson in 1998’s Saving Private Ryan? Although long out of production, the legend of the Thompson lives on.

Shielding more Than SWAT

Handheld Armor Has Come A Long Way Since Roman Times

Story by Robin Taylor

Turn on the 6 o’clock news, and eventually you’ll see a “bulletproof” shield in use. They’re standard equipment for law enforcement entry teams, but thanks to Sandy Hook, civilian-market shields now include everything from bulletproof clipboards and backpacks to full-on police-style shields. School districts in a number of states have started working shields disguised as whiteboards into their “lockdown” strategies. “For the past 15 years, most of what we’ve done is for the military,” says Emily Heinauer with Hardwire LLC ( “We armored the sides of many of the trucks going to Iraq and Afghanistan.

During that time we started making clipboards for law enforcement, and after Sandy Hook, we adapted that to bulletproof whiteboards for educational and commercial settings. Our school and home products have dual functionality as dry erase boards for daily use and ballistic protection.” A Hardwire Level IIIA whiteboard weighs less than 4 pounds, and measures 18 inches by 20 inches. While small by comparison to a fullsize shield, it sells for under $300, and it’s practical. Backpack inserts go for even less.

I did some digging into “the way of the shield” with the help of Bill Blowers of Puyallup, Wash. He serves as a police sergeant on a large regional SWAT team and is the owner of Tap- Rack Tactical ( Police departments use ballistic shields for warrant service and other calls a lot, so Blowers offered to throw me in with a dozen new SWAT officers who needed to get up to speed. Training with Blowers turned out to be one of the highlights of my year.

A BALLISTIC SHIELD ACTS like a bulletproof vest with a handle. It is rated like a vest (IIIA, III, IV), and has similar capabilities. Depending on when the shield was made, it could contain any of several fibers, including Dyneema. The hard format of the shield allows using polyethylene fibers to stabilize and protect the material from humidity, wear and UV light, making it vastly more durable. Typical examples last for decades. (Soft Kevlar armor vests degrade when exposed to moisture and UV light, and must be replaced every few years.) The typical polycarbonate view port stops bullets, helping the overall shield to absorb bullets like a sponge.

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But aren’t shields really heavy? Not anymore. The total weight of a typical IIIA shield has dropped from around 40 pounds to a little over 20, including on-board floodlights. For the officer in the field, that’s tremendous because the “shield man” does heavy, surprisingly technical work. For the home defender who isn’t built like a SWAT cop, the lighter shields offer mobility, and smaller-bodied people can use them effectively. If you’re willing to go smaller and simpler, shields can be made even lighter. What I’ll call “three-quarter-sized” 20×30-inch shields can weigh just 5.8 pounds. Drop the on-board lights, and a full-size Level IIIA model can be as light as 8.2 pounds, including a view port.

ROMAN LEGIONNAIRES LOVED THE curved-rectangle “scutum” shield for its wide arc of protection, and its ability to interlock with a neighbor’s shield to form a continuous wall. Modern shield makers have taken the hint, and by the end of our class, my group formed into miniature versions of the old Roman “tortoise” – one row of shields facing front; another laid over the top to form a roof – in order to enter stairwells or warehouses with overhead threats.

For the static defender, the curved rectangle offers a protective arc, coupled with a wide viewing area (hold your forehead against the top of the view port). In Simunition fights with my classmates, a moving shield man was terribly vulnerable to shots fired at the legs, but if he knelt and anchored his pistol’s trigger guard against the side of the shield, he offered no target at all. (Given time to prepare, police shield men strap on shin and leg protectors.) Although it lacks a view port, a 20×30 flat shield offers most of that protection at a tiny fraction of the weight and cost.

Shield bearers give up offensive potential to protect the team. It’s their partners’ job to shoot around and over the shield, while the shield bearer deals with blind corners and pointblank threats with his pistol. Done right, that buddy system is downright formidable. Done wrong, that “around and over” business can bite the shield bearer. Blowers’ agency has seen what happens when it goes bad. When one of their own fired his AR-15 with the muzzle even with the shield man’s ear, the shield man suffered permanent hearing loss. To his great credit, the shield man stayed in the fight, but was in tremendous pain. The rifle wore a standard birdcage flash hider – just imagine what damage a side-venting recoil compensator could have done. Suppressed rifles make a lot of sense for “around and over.” Sticking with pistol-caliber carbines and/or a shotgun makes good sense too.

Common shotguns lack any legal bother, put the muzzle ahead of the shield (when used properly), and pack a massive short-range punch. Love ’em or hate ’em, lasers also come into their own around a shield. Using a laser-aimed pistol, a shield man can remain totally protected by the shield and still put accurate fire on target. Instead of sticking his arm out into harm’s way to use the sights, the shield man locks the bottom of his pistol’s trigger guard against the side of the shield, aiming with the laser alone. Having a pistol on each side of the body (what Blowers calls a “Yosemite Sam rig”) gives the shield bearer the ability to rapidly switch sides as he moves. For the barricaded defender, however, complex switching is not in the cards. If our focus is to hold ground, a single laser-aimed handgun is plenty.

levelIIAShieldWHAT’LL A SHIELD STOP, you may be asking by now. All the available ballistic shields stop baseball bats, thrown rocks, knives, chemical agents and onrushing bad guys in ways that a vest just can’t. For that sort of protection, shields have no equal. However, this is a balancing act. A briefcase or clipboard shield is like a pocket pistol. It’s nobody’s first choice, and hard to use well. A full-size Level IV is like a heavy machine gun – you’ll want wheels and a pickup to move it very far. According to Blowers’ thinking, Level IIIA shields offer the best balance. They stop all common handgun and shotgun cartridges – including 12-gauge slugs. When his department decided to retire some older IIIA shields, Blowers trotted one out to the range for testing. The shield stopped everything it was rated to stop – including 12-gauge hunting slugs and a broadhead hunting arrow. The viewport took multiple .45 hits in the same spot before it finally failed. The slug pushed out a fair-size dent in the back of the shield – but it stopped it.

Most shields have a standoff device to deal with back face deformation like this; some use a pad, while others use nylon webbing. Keep in mind, shields can stop a hard impact like that without “taking the hit” on your flesh the way you would wearing a soft vest. Vest owners often wear tiny shields (“trauma plates”) to spread the blow and protect their sternum from impacts like that. But what won’t a shield stop? After that initial test, Blowers set up a mannequin wearing a IIIA vest behind the shield and fired the common 62-grain M855 “green tip” 5.56 NATO at it. The bullet punched the shield and continued through the vest, the dummy, and the IIIA vest’s back panel before drilling a hole through the support structure beyond. Yowza!

Congress decreed the mild-steel-cored M855 to be non-armor piercing through legislation, but to soft armor and light shields, it’s a major threat. Rifle ammo of any form will punch IIIA, making a chest plate mission critical equipment if that’s part of the expected fight. To stop rifle ammo, you need Level III, and common low-grade penetrators like the “green tip” demand Level IV. Such armor weighs four times as much as typical IIIA, transforming that nimble, 20-pound IIIA shield I mentioned earlier into an unwieldy 80-pound slug. Even the neat little IIIA 20x30s offered by Hardwire go to almost 20 pounds for Level III. Want Level IV in that size? Forget it.

Ballistic shields have come a long way since Roman times – this dry erase board
at a sandwich shop is actually a Level IIIA shield, and runs around $300. The
manufacturer, Hardwire, began selling them in early 2013. (HARDWIRE LLC)

WORKING WITH BLOWERS’ CREW, I learned why shield men treasure reliable super-high-capacity magazines. Take a moment and imagine reloading while holding a shield in one hand. Now try clearing a double-feed. We all did it, but it’s slow – very slow. “Take this part of the pistol and punch yourself in the thigh,” coached Blowers – pointing to the area just ahead of the rear sight, then punching himself with it. By driving the pistol hard at his thigh, the slide would “stick” against his pant leg while the frame glanced down and away, cycling the slide. Like most techniques of this sort, let me say right off: Don’t try this at home (or your home range) until you get proper training in it prior to live fire.

There are very real risks for accidental discharge (as Blowers emphasized) if you don’t perform it properly. Blowers warned us repeatedly, and emphasized indexing (keeping the trigger finger on the frame) while keeping the muzzle pointed away from yourself or others. For me, the technique worked OK on plain cloth, but worked great if I could hook my pants pocket with the rear sight. Does it work? Sure enough, during the live fire section, my trusty G17 jammed. Thanks to Blowers’ coaching, I was able to punch myself and get back in the fight in seconds.

IN THE MARKET FOR a shield after reading this article? A little shopping online gave me a wide range of bullet-resistant options. Hardwire’s “notched” 20×30-inch Level IIIA with no viewport costs just $549, about what you’d spend for a Glock or S&W M&P. A curved shield, Level IIIA with viewport, runs $1,500. A briefcase/backpack insert goes for as little as $99. Top IIIA shields meant for heavy law enforcement use run in the neighborhood of $2,500 apiece – including the floodlights and other goodies.

Realistically, a full-size shield is something like a sports car – expensive, specialized, but tremendously good at what it’s designed for. They’re not for everyone, but when it comes to “hardening” yourself or your home against serious attack, ballistic shields are the ultimate defensive accessory.

FP-45 Liberator

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


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 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.

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.
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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.

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.

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. AmSJ

Here’s Youtuber Weaponeer running the FP-45 Liberator out on the range.

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

Exploding Bullets WWII

What’s feared more than a Sniper Lurking in the Darkness?

A sniper that shoots an exploding bullet, sounds far fetched out of a James Bond movie. Exploding rounds have been around since World War II. The Germans made an 8mm rifle ammunition which exploded upon impact.
Which originally was design to help zero machine guns on an aircraft or as a replacement to tracer rounds out of a belt-fed so that you are making a bi-directional identifier from where you’re firing from.

The projectiles in the ammunition contain a charge of highly reactive phosphorus and a priming compound, and explode on impact.

Though the round was banned by the Hague Convention this didn’t stop the usage of it. During World War II both Russia and Germany were firing exploding bullets from sniper rifles. These vicious projectiles were used horrifically on human targets during the war on the eastern front.
Historians also stated that the Germans (B-Patrone rounds) were the first to authorize (order from Hitler) its snipers to use only on Russian on the eastern front. The Russians of course caught on and retaliate with its own exploding rounds (PZ rounds). Before you know it, this round became available to other troops other than the snipers. Both sides claiming the other were using it illegally first.

These exploding rounds were also used for sabotage operations which were left behind for enemy forces, generally insurgents, to find and use. It was designed to explode and destroy the weapon it is used in and perhaps injure or kill the person attempting to fire the weapon. Some exploding rounds were used to sight in guns and used in small arms exploding ammunition can include rocket-propelled grenades or mortar shells.

Inside these rounds a projectile within a projectile. A little firing pin is embedded inside of it and would strike the explosive on impact.

YouTuber The Mosin Crate gets a chance to shoot off some very old World War II exploding sniper bullets.

The German Mauser Rifle was the sniper’s choice for the German army. The 8mm rifle projectile was very lethal in the hands of a skillful sniper. Even to this day over 70 years later, these exploding bullets are not to be reckon with. The test results from Mosin Crate certainly will surprise you. Yes, these exploding bullets are the real deal.
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The folks from In Range TV also tested this exploding round against a ballistic gel.
German Round
Their findings after shooting at the thin ballistic gel from 30 meters shows the entry and exit holes were the same against a regular 196 grain ball ammo.
Russian Round
The entry was normal but the exit hole was definitely bigger than the German round.
The image below shows the results from a thicker ballistic gel.

To see the good parts to this video skip to 10:40.

M3 Grease Gun

The M3 ‘grease gun’ was a rude, crude, effective submachine gun that saw service from the Korean War through the late 1990s.

The M3 “grease gun” was one of the simplest, ugliest, and cheapest personal weapons ever fielded by the U.S. military. But, as one U.S. Marine combat veteran recalled, what this crude submachine gun lacked in looks, it more than made up for that with brutal effectiveness.

“The first time I went to use my rifle, it went ‘click’, so I busted it over a rock and picked up a dead Marine’s grease gun,” said USMC Korean War veteran Don Campbell. “I was lethal with the grease gun. It worked really well on the enemy.” Campbell made his remarks at a machine gun shoot after firing a grease gun for the first time since he served in combat over 60 years ago.

The original M3 submachine gun was commissioned shortly before the U.S. entered World War II as a replacement for the Thompson M1928 submachine gun. The Thompson, although a popular and effective weapon, was not well suited to the demands of wartime high-volume manufacturing.

Thompson production called for skilled machinists to perform many complicated machine operations and required large quantities of high grade steel. The result was a weapon that was expensive to manufacture and slow to produce. What was needed instead was barrel, bolt, and firing mechanism.

The one-piece telescoping wire stock can be removed and used as a cleaning rod, disassembly tool and, on the later M3A1 variant, as a magazine loader.

THE GREASE GUN is a compact weapon with an overall length of 29.8 inches with the stock extended and 22.8 inches with the stock collapsed. The barrel is 8 inches long. The 8.15-pound empty weight of the gun is brought up to 10.25 pounds once a loaded magazine of 30 .45 ACP rounds is inserted.

The M3 is blowback operated and fires from an open bolt. An external cocking handle is used to retract the bolt. The weapon fires fully automatic only at a listed cyclic rate of 450 rounds per minute. The ejection port cover doubles as a safety by locking the bolt in place when closed. The 30-round box magazine is a double-column, singlefeed design based on the STEN.

Personal accounts from WWII indicate the weapon was initially greeted with skepticism by many troops who were used to the more refined Thompson and the finely made M-1 Garand. The tubular sheet-metal design led to the nicknames “grease gun” and “cake decorator,” after two common implements of the day.

The grease gun’s attributes became evident in use: The weapon’s simple construction and operation made field maintenance straightforward. The gun’s relatively slow cyclic rate allowed skilled shooters to easily fire short bursts, or even single shots, to help ensure that more of the 230-grain .45 ACP rounds found the enemy.

The design was simplified even more with the M3A1 modification. The cocking handle, which had a tendency to break in use, was removed and instead a hole was drilled in the bolt. To load the gun the soldier simply inserted his finger in the hole and pulled the bolt back by hand. This model also included several other small improvements.

With the stock closed the grease gun is more compact than the Thompson. The ejection port cover acts as a safety so that, at least in theory, the gun can be carried with the magazine inserted, bolt retracted, and the cover closed. In practice, the gun was still known to fire if dropped and the ejection port cover was knocked open by the impact.

“I had an accidental discharge with my gun,” Campbell recalled. “I missed the members of my squad by 8 or 10 feet. After that they issued an order that I could only carry the grease gun when I was in front of the main line of resistance.”

I’VE HAD A CHANCE to fire the M3A1 grease gun on two separate occasions. At first glance the weapon’s appearance is off-putting. The metal is roughly finished and the welds can best be described as “functional.” The stamped-sheet metal trigger seems especially cheap.

Overall, the gun reminded me of vintage stamped tin toys from the same era. However, when I picked it up, I was surprised by the heft. Although the body is stamped sheet metal, the bolt is machined from a solid chunk of steel, and makes up a significant portion of the total weight.

The fixed sights are a simple rear peep and front post. They are
supposedly regulated at 100 yards, which I believe is optimistic for the .45 ACP cartridge. I found the M3A1 to be simple to operate. The ejection port cover is easy to manipulate and, while it seems weird to insert your finger in a hole in the bolt to cock the weapon, it does work. The magazine well is generous and the magazine locks in easily.

There is no selector, so if the dust cover is open, the weapon is ready to fire. The gun’s slow 450 rounds-per minute cyclic rate makes it easy to fire short two- or three-round bursts or even single shots. In fact, I found it harder to make myself hold down the trigger to fire long bursts than to fire short bursts.
I did find that longer bursts tended to go up and to the right, but since it was so easy to double-tap or triple-tap the target with short bursts, I didn’t see this as much of a problem. The slow rate of fire gives it a distinctive “feel” as it chugs along and it seemed as easy to use and accurate as any of the SMGs of that era.

By the end of WWII, more than 600,000 M3 and 15,000 M3A1 SMGs had been produced by GM’s Guide Lamp division. An additional 33,000 M3A1s were manufactured by the Ithaca Gun Company for use during the Korean War. Besides use by the U.S. military, the grease gun was provided to allies as military assistance.

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The weapon saw active combat service in the Greek Civil War, Korean War, and Vietnam War, among other conflicts. The grease gun was used by the U.S. as a personal weapon for armor crewman as late as the 1990s and is still in service in some parts of the world. Not a bad record for weapon that began as a wartime expedient.

Story and Photos by Rob Reed
Photos by John Bosio

SNIPERS – The Long Road to Recognition

Story by Frank Jardim

In 1944, the War Department Basic Field Manual FM 21-75, Infantry Scouting, Patrolling and Sniping defined the sniper as “… an expert rifleman, well qualified in scouting, whose duty is to pick off key enemy personnel who expose themselves. By eliminating enemy leaders and harassing the troops, sniping softens the enemy’s resistance and weakens his morale.” That definition remains consistent through the broader history of sniping, before and since, whether the weapon was a crossbow or a high-powered, telescopically sighted rifle.

Lie and wait
A sniper and spotter settling into a concealed position

The sniper is an incredibly efficient fighter, compared to the typical infantryman. Consider that in World War II, American infantry units fired 25,000 rounds to kill just one enemy soldier. By the Korean War, that figure jumped to 50,000 rounds, and the select-fire M14 and M16 infantry rifles of the Vietnam War only seem to have produced more misses, requiring the expenditure of 200,000 rounds to kill one enemy combatant. Nowadays, it’s a quarter million rounds of spraying and praying to kill a single Taliban.

By comparison, on average, a sniper requires only 1.3 bullets to kill an enemy. During the Vietnam War, it was noted on many occasions that a handful of snipers accounted for more enemy killed than the entire infantry battalion (and sometimes even regiment) they were assigned to.

It was the wildly disproportionate contribution of snipers in the Vietnam War that set the stage for the first permanent peacetime sniper training programs. The U.S. Marine Corps set theirs up first at Quantico, Va., in 1977, and the U.S. Army followed suit at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1985. Snipers were finally on the TO&E (Tables of Organization & Equipment) of combat units, which meant they would always be ready for deployment. The rigorous training programs ensured the accumulated knowledge, gained from combat experience, would be preserved and ready when it was needed.

130326-A-DK678-006Another critically important achievement of the USMC Scout Sniper and U.S. Army Sniper Schools was the creation of the U.S. military’s first purpose-built sniper rifles. Again, the USMC led the way with the M40A1 and the U.S. Army followed with the M24 Sniper Weapons System. Both were based on the Remington 700-bolt action rifle, chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO. Prior to that, snipers used standard service rifles, specially selected for their accuracy and equipped with telescopic sights or commercial, off-the-shelf sporting rifles, as was the case in the black powder era and the Vietnam War. The upside of using the standard service rifle as the basis for a sniper conversion was complete parts and ordnance maintenance support from the normal supply channels. The downside was that the most accurate service rifles were not nearly as good as the best commercially available hunting rifles. The accuracy of the service rifle was always hampered by hand guards, stacking swivels and bayonet lugs hanging off the barrel – items totally useless to a sniper.

It is ironic that a country built on a tradition of rifle marksmanship took nearly 200 years to formally embrace the sniper, the man that represents the military apex of that long tradition. In each major war, through Vietnam, our armed forces began with no snipers and had to create training programs, usually in the theater of operations, to train them on the spot. Training varied from none to good, but the typical formula that has made many a successful American sniper is a rural background with early and continuous exposure to hunting or competitive, rifle shooting.

It is ironic that a country built on a tradition of rifle marksmanship took nearly 200 years to formally embrace the sniper

Time after time, at the conclusion of the war, the sniper schools were closed and the snipers faded away. The knowledge they gained in the deadly art of hunting men faded away with them and had to be re-taught in the next war. This happened because America’s senior military leaders saw the sniper as a specialist, of small importance compared to the conventional infantry, artillery, cavalry (and later armored) forces who massively outnumbered him. From the general’s point of view, snipers didn’t win wars; huge armies did.

During the American Revolution, volunteers from the frontier colonies took their long rifles to war. No British soldier within 400 yards was safe, and 200-yard, one-shot-kills were common. Riflemen terrorized the British, on the march and in garrison, picking off officers and noncommissioned officers from hidden positions. Without any formal guidance, they were doing exactly the same mission as snipers do today, but the British had far greater respect for them than General George Washington. Slow to load and lacking the capacity for a bayonet, the rifles and the unruly men who wielded them were ill-suited to the linear tactics of the day. General Washington thought the riflemen were more trouble than they were worth and didn’t want them in the Continental Army.

Trey Dominick USMC Scout Sniper

 In the American Civil War, snipers were called sharpshooters and recruited for their marksmanship skill. The percussion-lock rifled musket and minie ball of the period greatly increased accuracy, without sacrificing speed of loading, and made the battlefield a much deadlier place. Some sharpshooters made use of early telescopic sights and many used their personal weapons in battle. The breech-loading Sharps rifle was popular among Union sharpshooters because it could be loaded lying down, behind cover. The standard muzzleloading, rifled musket required the soldier to stand up to load it, thus exposing himself to enemy fire. Confederates favored the British Whitworth rifle, when they could get it. With its unique hexagonal-shaped, fast-twisting bore, instead of conventional cut rifling, it fired a six-sided bullet accurately just over a mile. It was the first military rifle built for long range accuracy. A Confederate sharpshooter, armed with a Whitworth rifle, killed Union General John Sedgwick at the Battle of Spotsylvania from a range of 800 yards.

During WW I, the skill sets and standard operating procedures of our present-day snipers were developed and codified in no-man’s land and the trenches. By that time, the bolt-action rifle reached the pinnacle of its development as an infantry weapon. It had a five- to 10-round magazine and fired a much smaller caliber, high-velocity and aerodynamic bullet, propelled by smokeless powder, up to 3 miles.

Once he had a suitable modern weapon, the scout sniper emerged in a form identical to the present day. Now actually called a sniper, he can engage targets at 1,000 yards with more precision than luck. Whether shooting from behind or in front of friendly lines, he selects his hiding place carefully and uses camouflage to conceal himself and his spotter. He may wait for hours or days to get a shot at his target. When and if he does fire, it is rarely more than a few shots before he must move to avoid detection. (Smokeless powder makes it much more difficult for the enemy to locate his position.)

Sniper rifles are now commonly equipped with telescopic sights. Germany, thanks to their world-renowned optics industry, initially dominated the battlefield by putting 20,000 scoped rifles (some of them civilian hunting rifles) in the hands of its best marksmen. The Allied nations had to play catch up. The United States Army fielded the ungainly 6x magnification prismatic Warner & Swasey scope, mounted on the .30-06 M1903 Springfield Rifle. It looked strange and it was clumsy, but it worked. It had over twice the magnification of most scopes of the day.

PHOTO 3 Military Sniper on a rooftop
The rooftops of the buildings in Iraq and Afghanistan created some of the most intensely-hot shooting platforms which created yet another obstacle for these Snipers

By World War II, telescopic sights improved and rugged, domestically made ones with fair weather resistance, like the 2.5x-power Lyman Alaskan (military M81/M82), were mounted on the standard .30-06 M1 semiautomatic rifle. The old M1903 Springfield, with an improved 10x-power Unertl scope, served the USMC, and the simplified M1903A4, with a 2x-power M73B1 scope was a substitute standard for both services.

In World War II, the United States was almost continuously on the offensive. Both the Japanese and Germans often used snipers, suicidally, to cover their withdrawals and stall the allied advance. The greatest threat to a sniper is another sniper, so U.S. Army infantry platoons commonly designated a scout sniper in the headquarters section to be employed at the commander’s discretion.

Contrary to our image of the American sniper as a lone wolf on the battlefield, they also fought as platoons. When the Marines invaded Betio in the Tarawa Atoll on Nov. 20, 1943, Lt. William D. Hawkins led his platoon of scout snipers on a mission, far in advance of the main forces. They hunted down, and eliminated, enemy machine gunners and snipers to protect the advance of their fellow Marines at the long pier. They fought with grenades and flamethrowers, as well as precision rifle fire. Lt. Hawkins died in the battle, but his ferocity in combat earned him the Medal of Honor.

The snipers role in the Korean War bore similarities to World War I: static lines, an attrition strategy and costly frontal attacks. Once again, the precision contributions of the hastily trained snipers (now equipped with M1D sniper rifles and 2.2x-power M84 scopes) was overshadowed by the mass slaughter wrought by concentrated small arms and artillery fire. Korea was a big war fought in a small place. If machine guns had trouble stopping human-wave attacks used by the Communist Chinese, what could snipers possibly do?

The legendary Carlos Hathcock (left) in Vietnam

By contrast, snipers made undeniably significant contributions in the Vietnam War and all the wars that followed it. The nature and scale of combat changed in a manner that favored the sniper. Vietnam was a big war, but only in the aggregate. It was fought in small engagements over a large area and a long period of time. In this environment, the sniper was on more equal terms with the enemy. Combat actions in Grenada, Beirut, Iraq and Afghanistan were likewise small in scale, compared to the World Wars and Korea.

Carlos Hathcock mounted a scope on an M2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun and used it to make the longest recorded sniper kill in history.

The superior equipment, training and communication of today’s snipers makes them the deadliest warriors on the battlefield. In Vietnam in 1967, USMC scout sniper legend Carlos Hathcock mounted a scope on an M2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun and used it to make the longest recorded sniper kill in history. His 2,286-meter record stood until 2002, when a Canadian sniper broke it by 24 meters in Afghanistan using a MacMillan Tac-50 bolt-action rifle in the same caliber. Hathcock’s improvised, ultralong-range, sniping demonstration was a harbinger of things to come. In 1990 the U.S. Army purchased the .50-caliber BMG M82 Barrett, semiautomatic sniper rifle for use in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in Iraq.

Later it would be standardized as the M107. This rifle was used by Army Ranger Sgt. Bryan Kremer in Iraq, in March 2004, to make the 2,300-meter kill that now stands as the farthest for an American sniper. His was the fourth-longest kill shot in recorded history.

For the record, the credit for the farthest kill goes to British sniper Craig Harrison, who made an incredible 2,475-meter shot with an Accuracy International L115A3 rifle in .338 Lapua Magnum. The .338 Lapua round was designed to outrange the powerful .300 Winchester and extend the sniper’s lethality to 1,600 meters. Chief petty officer Chris Kyle used a McMillan Tac-338 bolt-action rifle in .338 Lapua Magnum to make his farthest kill, at 1,920 meters, against an enemy combatant about to fire an RPG at a passing American convoy.

Army Ranger Sgt. Bryan Kremer made a 2,300-meter kill in Iraq that now stands as the farthest for an American sniper.

In World Wars I and II, American snipers were expected to make 600-yard hits. This was reasonable, in light of the limitations of their service-rifle-based sniper rifles, and the ordinary ball ammunition they had to use. Today’s sniper is expected to hit the target at twice that range. The sniper’s skills remain the same, but his tools have greatly improved. Laser range finders, bipods, high-magnification scopes, night-vision scopes, match-grade ammunition, rugged specialty rifles built to take the abuse of combat and deliver competition accuracy, and excellent, often continuous communication, all contribute to getting the bullet where the sniper needs it to go, with greater accuracy than ever before possible.

The film American Sniper has grossed over $250,000,000 as of this writing, making it the most popular war film in American history. Its themes resonate with the public right now and are sure to generate an increased interest in long-range rifle marksmanship that will serve the cause of freedom well in wars to come. The film tells a slightly fictionalized account of the life of the aforementioned SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who learned to shoot as a boy in rural Texas, perhaps not unlike our sharpshooters of yore, and became one of the most successful snipers in U.S. military history, saving countless American lives on the battlefield with his shooting ability. AmSJ

President Teddy Roosevelt Loved his Suppressed Rifles

If you didn’t know, the late President Teddy Roosevelt really loved his guns for shooting, hunting and battle. He was obviously an avid user and collector. He was seriously into the Winchester lever-action rifles. Historians say his most prized was the Winchester Model 1894 chambered in .30-30, titled by Roosevelt as the “little .30”.

When this rifle was first introduced, Roosevelt tried it out and took down an antelope at approximately 190 yards. He marveled at its usefulness and called the .30-30, “Aces.” Because he was such a gun nut, he had to have this one at his Long Island home as well.

Now for his home setting Roosevelt had this rifle suppressed with a Maxim silencer. The main purpose of this “Ace” was for varminting, culling local pests on and around his property. The suppressor was for not startling his neighbors, he was being respectful.
Historians also noted that TR always shipped his suppressed Winchesters with him on hunts, mostly to kill time while at sea.
In the video you skip to 3:16 for the comments on TR suppressed rifle.

Sources: Wikipedia, NRA National Firearms Museum Youtube

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

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

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.

Marine holding Benelli M-1014
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!”

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

The Olin CAWS Spec Sheet


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.


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 military around the world, the various guns have spent far more time in Hollywood productions and video games than in actual combat. AmSJ

PPSH-41 – Iconic Ugly “Burp Gun”

Have you heard of the “Burp Gun”?, no not the Grease gun.
This Russian gun is rich with history. The sub-machinegun was used as a close-quarter gun during WWII by the Russians against the Germans.
The Russian PPSh-41 was known to many as the “Burp Gun” due to the sound it made when fired. With an incredibly high cycling rate of around 1,000 rounds per minute, this submachine gun is incredible.
The PPSH can fire from a stick magazine that holds 35 rounds or a drum magazine that holds 71 rounds. The light, recoiling cartridge allows for very controllable firing despite the high rate of fire. Misfeeding is likely to occur with more than about 65 rounds.
In addition to feed issues, the drum magazine is slower and more complicated to load with ammunition than the later 35-round box magazine that increasingly supplemented the drum after 1942. While holding fewer rounds, the box magazine does have the advantage of providing a superior hold for the supporting hand. Although the PPSh is equipped with a sliding bolt safety, the weapon’s open-bolt design still presents a risk of accidental discharge if the gun is dropped on a hard surface.

Ian from Forgotten Weapons takes this PPSH-41 for a spin, take a look.

This baby fires well at a high rate with great control, however has its problems.
As Ian stated this gun can use a stick magazine (35) and a drum (71). However, seems that the mag or drum has an issue fitting into the gun. You would have to find the gun that aligns well with the mag/drum.

Brief History
The PPSH-41 is a Soviet submachine gun designed by Georgy Shpagin as a cheap, reliable, and simplified alternative to the PPD-40.
The PPSh is a magazine-fed selective fire submachine gun using an open bolt, blowback action. Made largely of stamped steel, it can be loaded with either a box or drum magazine and fires the 7.62×25mm Tokarev pistol round.

The PPSh saw extensive combat use during World War II and the Korean War. It was one of the major infantry weapons of the Soviet Armed Forces during World War II. Around six million PPSh-41s were manufactured. This firearm was also used by the Viet Cong as late as 1970.
The development of the PPSh came partly from the Winter War against Finland, where the Finnish Army employed the Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun as a highly effective tool for close-quarter fighting in forests and built-up urban areas. Its 71-round drum magazine was later copied and adopted by the Soviets for their PPD-40 and PPSh-41 submachine guns.

The PPSh-41 is a classic example of a design adapted for mass production (other examples of such wartime design are the M3 submachine gun, MP 40, PPS submachine gun, and the Sten). Its parts (excluding the barrel) could be produced by a relatively unskilled workforce with simple equipment available in an auto repair garage or tin shop, freeing more skilled workers for other tasks.
After the German Army captured large numbers of the PPSh-41 during World War II, a program was instituted to convert the weapon to the standard German submachine gun cartridge in 9mm.
The Soviet Union also experimented with the PPSh-41 in a close air support antipersonnel role, mounting dozens of the submachine guns in forward fuselage racks on the Tu-2sh variant of the Tupolev Tu-2 bomber. Here’s Youtuber MoreFPSRussia running their fully restored PPSH-41.

Sources: Wikipedia, ForgottenWeapons

Sneaky Weapons of the Past

There are a lot of ways to win a battle at different levels, but the most effective methods involve some kind of surprise and deception. Sneak attacks go back as far as war itself, and since then man has always come up with a lot of weapons designed to deliver damage without getting caught.
In this list, we’re going to take a look at some of the coolest, scariest, and most notorious sneak attack weapons in history, focusing on attack weapons – not traps or ambush tactics.
This list of stealth weapons is meant to take out a single target in silence or wipe out whole contents in a global doomsday scenario.
Say what you will about the tactics, but one things for sure: these sneak attack weapons is not about fighting fair.

  • Horton HO 299 “Bat”
    It’s hard to believe, but this incredibly modern-looking stealth aircraft was captured by the Allies from Germany after WWII. Recently confirmed to have been built specifically for radar stealth using all-wood construction and radar-absorbing carbon glue, the crazy-fast jet-powered “Bat” never saw action.
    • U-480 Submarine
      At first glance, this German U-Boat looks like any other, which in a way already immediately classifies it as an epic sneak attack weapon. But U-480 was a stealth weapon among stealth weapons, being the first submarine in history ever to use a sound-absorbing, rubberized “anechoic” coating that made it almost invisible to sonar. Submarines still use this anechoic coating, and even 80 years later its exact composition remains classified information.

    • Poison Gun Umbrella
      Among followers of shadow wars and spy games, this KGB killing tool has reached almost mythical proportions. Using compressed air to fire a tiny pellet of ricin toxin into its victim, the umbrella gun silently stung like a bee made of doom. Its most notable victim was Bulgarian journalist Georgi Markov, though likely nobody short of Vladimir Putin truly knows the umbrella gun’s final body count.

    • Cigarette Dart Gun
      Say what you will about the KGB, but they did come up with some pretty sweet spy toys. This pack of smokes concealed a clip of cyanide-tipped darts, and could silently kill its victim from across the room.
      The one pictured was remanded to the C.I.A. by a defecting Russian spy named Nikolai Khokhlov, whose original mission was to assassinate an anti-communist agitator in Germany.

    • Lockheed RQ-170 Sentinel
      Dubbed “The Beast of Kandahar” for sightings during its initial (confirmed) combat mission, the Sentinel is a next-generation stealth drone that can get to places the Predator can’t. Right now, nobody knows exactly what the Sentinel looks like, since it’s still very much black bag. Also, it’s currently recon only. But, if drone history (and Lockheed history) teaches us anything, it’s only a matter of time before this raven grows some talons. It may have already, for all we know. Guess we’ll find out if stuff in North Korea starts mysteriously exploding.

    • V-2 Missile
      The grandfather of all ballistic missiles and space rockets, the German V-2 engineered by Wernher von Braun terrorized Londoners throughout the second half of WWII. Generally, the first warning you’d get of an incoming V-2 was when it blew up next to you.

    • MH-60 Airwolf
      If you’ve seen Zero Dark Thirty, you’re already familiar with this stealth-adapted version of the Army’s classic Black Hawk helicopter. It was famously used during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and probably would have remained a secret had one not crashed.

      Probably the coolest thing about Airwolf (apart from the name) isn’t so much its stealth skin as its rotors. Details remain black bag, but Airwolf is probably the first operational stealth helicopter to use rotors adapted in design from the wings of owls. At certain speeds, these rotors spin almost dead silent, so, an Airwolf could be landing in your front yard right now, and you’d never hear it.

    • Lipstick Gun
      Standard equipment for Natasha Romanov’s handbag, the KGB called this single-shot, 4.55-millimeter weapon “The Kiss of Death.” Yes, it really was carried by female Soviet spies on missions of seduction and assassination, but the lipstick gun’s full service record is still buried somewhere under the Kremlin.

    • Das U-Boat
      While another, very singular U-Boat makes this list on the basis of its revolutionary stealth technology, U-Boats in general were regarded at the time as one of the most dastardly sneak attack weapons ever devised. When Hitler’s “wolf packs” first began roaming the Atlantic, there was a strong movement in the naval community to make summary execution of all submariner “spies” part of the Geneva convention. Loathed, detested, and feared, U-Boat crews were considered among the most dishonorable of killers by Allied powers. At least, until the Allies got subs of their own, and universally did a 180 on the “honor” of these underwater assassins.

    • Barrett .50 Cal
      All sniper rifles are sneak attack weapons, and that certainly goes for the baddest mother of them all: the legendary M82A1 Barrett .50 cal. Introduced in 1982, the King of All Rifles fires the equally legendary BMG round, which was introduced in 1921 as a scaled-up version of the .30-06 hunting round. And the game it hunted was airplanes. The BMG went on to widespread use on fighter planes, and the Ma Deuce machine gun still in use today. Used in a bolt-action rifle like this, it’s capable of punching big holes in engine blocks from more than a mile away. The longest known confirmed hit was taken in 1967 by a Marine sniper in Vietnam, and he still holds the record at 6,558 feet. Even from that distance, the BMG doesn’t so much “kill” as “vaporize.”
      Granted, the M82 has since been replaced by the more compact XM5000, but many people would contend that the classic BMG is still the BFG to have.

    • BAE Taranis
      Also known as the “Raptor,” if you think the original name is stupid. Any resemblance to the Lockheed Sentinel is not a coincidence, since the BAE design is about five years newer and meant for exactly the same mission. Difference being, this drone was designed from the outset to carry weapons, while the Lockheed doesn’t have them yet. Probably. As of right now, the Taranis/Raptor project is just getting underway, and BAE expects to have them in operational service by 2030. At which point, there’ll probably be a million armed Sentinel IIs in the air. Still, the Brits have flown a prototype, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so good on you, chaps.

    • Reaper Drones
      The MQ-9 Reaper is the weaponized version of General Atomics’ “Predator” recon drone that’s been making headlines of late. These drones are somewhat stealthy as far as radar goes, but they usually don’t need to be. The Reaper’s big scythe is its ability to simply loiter over a target area for 24 hours or more without refueling at a stratospheric altitude of 50,000 feet. That makes it an ideal weapon for sneak attacks against people without radar or high-altitude surface to air missiles. And if one does get shot down, it’s no big deal; at a mere $12 million each, these RC aircraft are actually cheaper than some air-to-air missiles.

    • The Trojan Horse
      Probably history’s best-known secret weapon, the Trojan Horse used by Odysseus at Troy still stands as one of the most decisive military deceptions ever. Check out this clip from the movie Troy to see how it played out. It picks up at the end of a massive battle, as the “victorious” Trojans check out a little parting gift left by the “defeated” Greeks.

    • Krummlauf “Curved Barrel”
      Introduced by Germany in WWII, this curved barrel attachment for the Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle allowed soldiers to shoot around corners or from cover without exposing themselves. It was only good for about 300 rounds before the barrel overheated, warped, and failed, but one good burst might be all a soldier would need if he could catch an enemy squad unaware.

    • Silencer
      You know this list wouldn’t be complete without at least mentioning silencers. This is one of the latest generation of suppressors known as the Osprey. This modern design places most of the chamber’s volume below the barrel, which keeps the top flat (so it doesn’t interfere with the sites), reducing the weight while keeping that weight low and controllable. One of the few weapons on this list you can actually buy, provided you’ve got the right licensing for it.

  • Ninjas
    Well, yeah. Of course. Yes, a lot of the mythos of the ninja comes more from Hollywood than Japan, but these master assassins really were living weapons. In reality, most ninjas didn’t skulk around in black pajamas carrying katanas; they specialized in hiding in plain sight as servants, farmers, and household staff. They were trained to use almost anything on hand as a weapon. Today’s special forces owe a lot to the principles of Koga-Ryu ninjitsu.



Sources: IMDB, Ranker, Wikipedia, Richard Rowe