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.
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.
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.
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.
DEAD FOOT ARMS
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
(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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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)
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 every time. 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 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 air cooled 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. AmSJ
Since World War II, America’s elite forces have used quiet firearms for missions where it pays to be silent. Sound suppressors—commonly referred known as silencers—remain in service today. What many don’t know is that U.S. commandos once carried revolvers with special cartridges designed to muffle gunshots.
In the 1960s, the AAI Corporation developed the cartridges for the U.S. Army’s and Navy’s rifles, pistols and shotguns. The U.S. Army Special Forces and Rangers tested the unique ammunition in Vietnam.
While they offered many advantages, AAI’s products failed to win any widespread acceptance in the halls of the Pentagon. The rounds were expensive and ineffective at moderate ranges.
According to a 1968 Army report on silencers, “Throughout the history of firearms, gun noise has been of considerable concern to the military.” “To the enemy, gun noise reveals presence and, often, the location of the shooter, thus resulting in a counter attack.”
To better understand how a suppressor works. In most modern firearms, the sound of the gunshot comes primarily from bottled-up gases escaping as the bullet leaves the barrel—like uncorking a bottle of champagne. A sound suppressor helps muffle the bang by trapping these fumes.
But even with these devices, the gunshot is never entirely undetectable.
In the early 1960s, Army weapon designers looked at alternatives that would completely eliminate the sound of the propellant exploding. They came up with the so-called “piston cartridges”.
How this special cartridge works
A normal cartridge contains a casing—which contains gunpowder—and a bullet wedged into an opening at the top. When the propellant detonates, the bullet explosively detaches from the casing, and goes flying through the barrel toward its target.
In a piston cartridge, the case is completely sealed. A plunger transfers the force of the explosion to the slug—like the cue ball striking another in a game of pool.
A gun shooting these types of rounds produces no muzzle flash or smoke, either.
By 1962, the Army had piston rounds available for .30-caliber rifles and .38-caliber revolvers. The ground combat branch’s Special Forces sections also planned to develop a new weapon to go along with the ammunition.
This special firearm was envisioned to provide “escape detection, terrorize the enemy, taking out enemy patrol, snipers, sabotage, reconnaissance and assassination,” according to a report from the Army’s Chief of Ordnance.
The weapon designers also felt this firearm could silently take out sensitive vehicles and gear like aircraft, missiles, radar dishes and electronics.
Above is the artists conception of this relatively crude hand cannon that looks equal parts revolver and submachine gun. The concept features a folding butt-stock and simple iron sights.
Commandos could use the special firearms to “eliminate sentries, guards, guard dogs, military and civilian personnel and collaborators,” the technical document suggests.
With all the speculation, in the end, this new revolver was used in the tunnels during the Vietnam war to hunt for the Viet Congs.
The Viet Cong dug elaborate subterranean networks to hide guerrilla fighters and supplies from American firepower.
Soldiers who volunteered to scour these amazingly complex tunnels couldn’t carry full-size M-16 rifles with them through the narrow entry points. M-1911 pistols were their only means of defense.
However, the tight passages amplified the sound of gunshots. These U.S. “tunnel rats” could quickly go deaf from firing their pistols at enemy fighters.
To try and save the soldiers’ ears, Army commanders scrounged up silenced .22-caliber handguns. The Limited War Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland also sent suppressed .38 caliber revolvers—but without any special piston rounds.
This gave the AAI Corporation a chance to to build a dedicated “tunnel weapon.”
As it turns out, the AAI’s gun was a modified .44-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver. The weapon fired piston cartridges loaded with 15 steel pellets, making it a miniature shotgun. The Army quickly sent 10 of the unique revolvers and almost 1,000 rounds of ammunition to South Vietnam for testing.
While intended for tunnel-scouting soldiers, the 23rd and 25th Infantry Divisions both handed the weapons over to their Ranger units. Special Forces soldiers reportedly got some of the guns, as well.
Units using it had successes as reported by the U.S. Army, “The tunnel weapon was found to be ideally suited for ambushes.” As originally expected, the elite troops used their silent guns on various occasions to ambush and kill enemy officers.
At the same time, AAI was offering similar ammunition to the Navy SEALs. The sailing branch purchased a stock of silent full-size, 12-gauge shells for their own experiments.
“The only sound heard when firing the silent shotgun shell was the click of the shotgun’s firing pin,” writes noted SEAL historian Kevin Dockery in Special Warfare Special Weapons. “Though the … shell was not completely silent, it made a weapon firing it very hard to hear and effectively unnoticeable.”
But the ammunition had serious restrictions. Silencers can slow bullets to varying degrees, piston cartridges launch their projectiles at even lower velocities.
How slow? AAI’s tunnel weapon—eventually renamed the Special Purpose Quiet Revolver—was useless at distances greater than 25 feet.
“There were several occasionsin which the tunnel weapon failed to incapacitate an enemy soldier after he was hit from 10 feet away,” Army evaluators reported.
“Another instances, the first round struck a large leather pocketbook, filled with papers, that was being carried across the officer’s chest,” the shooter reported. “The second round struck his stomach, knocked him over, but failed to kill him.”
The other problem with the rounds was that it was expensive to make.
“The high cost was not considered balanced by the usefulness of the round as other suppressed weapons were becoming available, and the project was shelved,” Dockery stated.
The Navy didn’t buy any more rounds from AAI, either. In 1973, the Army followed suit and canned their revolver program. “No further development was planned,” progress reports from Aberdeen declare. “Several weapons and some ammunition will be available … if a special need arises.”
Today, American commandos regularly use more technologically advanced suppressed guns, but don’t have a pressing need for the complicated piston cartridges.
Photos from SmallArmsoftheWorld.com, Pinterest
Sources: Joseph Trevithick , SEAL historian Kevin Dockery, War is Boring
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 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. 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 PISTOLrested 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. ASJ
Editor’s note: Author Frank Jardim founded Vintage Ordnance in 2008. For more on the company’s products, go to vintageordnance.com.
In this segment of WW2 firearms, two lucky shooters from Iraqveteran8888 Youtuber got a chance to fire the M3A1 “Grease Gun” and in doing so they were in awed by its raw power. Watch as they shoot this historic firearm, showcasing how forceful it still is today.
According to Wikipedia, “The original M3 was an answer to the somewhat complex design and high production cost of the M1A1 Thompson during World War II.” This ‘Grease Gun’ was made cheaper for WWII, and used actively up until Desert Storm.
Did you notice how accurate the firing was? It was by no means created for precision shooting as it’s main purpose was for area shooting.
This gun was semi accurate up to 75 yards, so if you’re looking to get your own soon be sure to shoot within this range. Chambered for the .45ACP cartridge, it is notable for its very low rate of fire – 350-400 rpm, which made it quite controllable and easy to shoot for relatively inexperienced troops.
Photo from GettyImage
Sources: Iraqveteran8888, Johnny Certo, Wikipedia, ForgottenWeapons
[su_heading size=”30″]These Facts Will Give You a Different Perspective on World War II[/su_heading]
Behind these photos are forgotten stories of soldiers and events that most would not know about. The fact is every campaign had its success and life span that took its toll on the soldier/airmen. For the survivors, it is the nightmare that most see in the dark and have provided freedom for the next following generation.
1. The Soviets were the only ones that realize just how skilled Finnish snipers were during the war, they were able to kill 40 Soviet troops for every Finnish soldier killed, that is unheard of today.
2. This photo shows the massive Japanese submarine I-401. This sub was the size of an aircraft carrier and even had three folded up bombers secured inside the sub. The mission of the submarine was to bomb the Panama Canal but instead the behemoth of a sub ended up at the bottom of the ocean.
3. Bomber crews were signed on to do 25 mission tours but what most didn’t know was that from 1942-1943 air losses were so common that it became statistically impossible for a bomber to complete a full tour.
4. German U-Boats were a terror in the seas and 795 of them were sunk during the course of the war. Records shows 40,000 men manned those subs and 75% of them lost their lives at sea.
5. For those that think being in the Air Force was better than being a grunt, listen this fact. During World War 2 you were more likely to die as a member of the U.S. Air Force than as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. Pilots were required to complete 30 missions but the odds of dying before completing those 30 missions was 71%.
6. Tracers were used to help pilots aim their shots, every fifth round was loaded with a glowing tracer. This tracer was meant to help the pilot see if they were hitting their targets. Unfortunately tracers behaved differently from the bullets, so if the tracers were on target 80% of the time, the bullets would be missing it.
7. Another sad fact about tracers was that pilots would end their rounds with several tracers as a signal to let them know they were out of ammo. Unfortunately, the enemy figured out that they were out of ammo. The pilots who stopped using tracers improved their aim and suffered fewer casualties.
8. While Japanese Kamikaze pilots flying into ships was well known, the Russians also had Kamikaze pilots who would ram themselves into German planes in midair. Some Russian pilots were quick enough to eject and survive, but the strategy wasn’t entirely effective even though able to bring down hundreds of German planes, but at the cost of a Russian pilot. Near the end of the war, Germany would adopt this strategy as well.
9. Believe it or not, Koreans were among the first German soldiers captured at Normandy. They were first forced to fight for the Japanese and then the Soviets and finally by the Germans.
10. Stanislawa Leszczyńska was a Polish midwife who managed to deliver 3,000 babies at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
11. Another horrific face when the Russians moved through open fields they would force convicts to walk ahead of the troops and tanks. This often cost the convicts their lives but it would spare the Russian army and allow them to continue to advance.
12. James Hill managed a feat that few thought imagine possible when he captured two tanks with nothing but a revolver. He attempted to capture a third tank with his trusty revolver but was wounded.
13. La femme, Roza Shanina was a Russian sniper who achieved 54 confirmed hits. She became known as “the unseen terror of East Prussia.”
[su_heading size=”30″]A War Story for the Ages.[/su_heading]
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.
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.
by Sam Morstan
Source: Owen J Baggett Wikipedia, Controversial Times