Friday, October 16, 2009

Five rifles meme...

I caught the tail end of Gun Nuts Radio and heard Caleb talking with Robert of Blackfork Blog about the Five Most Significant Rifles, and I thought, hey, there's an easy idea for a post...

I'll start off with the gun made by the first guy, probably a German, who realized that putting a bit of a twist on his powder-fouling grooves made the gun shoot better. Of course, those early rifles had almost no military significance. The ball needed to be virtually hammered down the barrel from the muzzle end, and so the reloading process took forever. Contrary to the mythology, "Pennsylvania Rifles" (they weren't "Kentucky Rifles" at the time,) played virtually no significant part in the War of Independence; fast-firing smoothbores fired in mass volleys ruled the battlefields of the day.

This was changed by the introduction of expanding-base "Minie balls", which enabled a new generation of "rifle muskets" to be loaded almost as rapidly as smoothbores and fired almost as accurately as earlier rifles. The most significant, and one of the earliest, was the Pattern 1853 Enfield adopted by the British army, which combined a rifled barrel, adjustable sights, and percussion ignition into a sophisticated infantry weapon.

Its time in the sun was short, however. Unlike smoothbore muzzle loaders, which dominated the world's battlefields for centuries, the muzzle-loading percussion rifle barely lasted two decades, because a German inventor named Dreyse had perfected a system that used a rotating, sliding bolt, like one used to lock a door, to close the breech of a rifle, allowing the cartridge to be inserted from the rear of the barrel. This meant that the user could reload much faster, and do it while prone or kneeling behind cover, both of which were nearly impossible with muzzle loaders. While the British and Americans were still fumbling around with the best way to convert antique sidehammer muzzle loaders into cartridge arms, the Jerries had already won three wars with the first mass-produced standard issue bolt action rifle.

The Dreyse's main handicap was the fact that it was a single shot weapon and that, being charged with black powder, the bore fouled quickly even at the modest rates of fire of which it was capable. Various magazine-fed bolt action rifles only compounded the powder-fouling problems and it wasn't until the French released the Mle.1886 Lebel that the world was introduced to the devastating firepower of rapid-fire, smokeless powder magazine-fed rifles firing high-velocity jacketed bullets.

All that remained was to automate the loading process in a shoulder-fired infantry weapon, and while several abortive attempts were made, they all fell short in reliability or ruggedness. It wasn't until the U.S. Army adopted the M1 Rifle designed by John Garand that the infantry rifle reached its modern state. While there have been changes in construction, caliber, and rate of fire since then, it is notable that every military worth mentioning on the planet is still fielding a gas-operated, self-loading, rotating bolt rifle some seventy years later. Barring a major technological breakthrough, this basic pattern may have a longer run than the smoothbore musket...

74 comments:

Bram said...

I'm not good at these debates but I will dispute your last statement. The G3 was and still is used by some respectable militaries and it is not gas operated and does not have a rotating bolt.

Caseless ammo is probably the next big leap. The G11 - the only decent prototype so far - used a rotating breech (not bolt).

Tam said...

"The G3 was and still is used by some respectable militaries and it is not gas operated and does not have a rotating bolt."

The FAL (tipping bolt) and the CETME/G3 (roller-deleayed blowback) may be looked at in retrospect as deviations from the main sequence. You'll note that the current offerings from both companies (F2000 and G36) are gas-operated/rotating-bolt designs.

Anonymous said...

Tam, from a historical perspective that has a rational basis, but I think the criteria for "Gun Nuts" was "guns I think are cool."

It's "Gun Nuts", not "Gun Historians". :-)

Shootin' Buddy

Tam said...

But those are guns I think are cool!

Anonymous said...

"But those are guns I think are cool!"

Because they all qualify for Social Security.

Shootin' Buddy

Caleb said...

You know, it would have been cool if you had called in to the show to talk about that stuff.

Just sayin'.

:)

Jeff the Baptist said...

I seem to recall Pennsylvania rifles being significant in some battles like Saratoga and Kings Mountain.

"Caseless ammo is probably the next big leap."

Doubt it. I could see polymer cased rounds within 20 years though. The military really wants them so they can drop the weight of soldiers' ammo loads.

og said...

I'd say you nailed it. As for the social security crack, well, old things are not always worse nor new things necesarily better.

Tam said...

"...some battles like Saratoga and Kings Mountain."

In some few encounters, yes.

(And King's Mountain is only called a "Battle" because it was only barely too large to be called "The Bar Fight of King's Mountain". ;) )

Jim said...

Could be Og wouldn't despise me for saying, in about 1992, that the our Oil Wars should be fought with 1903 Springfields (with A3 sights) in the desert countryside and the Thompson in sinkholes like Baghdad.

Tam said...

Meh. The stuff we have now is an improvement, much as it's like chewing on a cat turd to admit it.

Especially the Thompson; it's an elegant piece of machining, but for what it actually does, it's an oversized pig with too much lipstick. And the control layout blows.

Jim said...

Boy, I'm glad I didn't offer my REAL opinion that we shudda gone to the Mideast with brass-barrel Gatlings and high-grade Ballards.

Vaarok said...

I was horrified everybody in the chat was almost oblivious to rifles, they're all pistolshooters.

I screwed up on the call-in, but Caleb's lack of Lore goaded me into the Johnson story.

I was going to say the Chauchat deserved some respect, just because I could argue it did and it would fuel controversy and debate.

og said...

The stuff we have now is certainly better at what it was designed to do. I do wish e. Stoner had a little of jmb's soul, though.

perlhaqr said...

it is notable that every military worth mentioning on the planet is still fielding a gas-operated, self-loading, rotating bolt rifle some seventy years later

I blame NFA 1934, among other things, for this state of affairs. Aside from simply being a difficult field, working in "improving firearms" is remarkably legally restricted these days.

Hypnagogue said...

AKM gets no love, but it changed the world. And not for the better.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

Caleb if she had called into the show when would she have had TIME to discuss it? You talked about baseball for half an hour to start off.

Caleb said...

Tam likes baseball.

Plus, we talked about baseball for maybe 5 minutes. We talked about open carry for about 20.

Tam said...

"AKM gets no love..."

A gas-operated rotating-bolt smokeless powder autoloader?

I'd counter that it is evolutionary, not revolutionary. ;)

Wolfwood said...

Regarding the AK, quantity has a quality all of its own. It hasn't influenced many successors, but it has altered the way people fight.

DirtCrashr said...

Pistol shooters? Baseball???

At the Second Battle of Saratoga it is believed (with some reservations as to who actually took the shot) that a rifleman named Timothy Murphy (something of the Carlos Hathcock of his day with 42-confirmed kills), under orders from Col. Morgan climbed a small tree and made a very decisive, 330-yard shot that killed General Simon Fraser - then as Fraser's senior aid, Sir Francis Clerke arrived at his body, shot him too. Subesquently the British 24th regiment fired two ineffective volleys and broke for their camp in disorder. Burgoyne gave up his sword the a few days later.
The wacky things you learn from reading American Rifleman.

Fodder's Thompson, while a classic piece of Americana, kept having *problems* at the GBR.

jimbob86 said...

"Contrary to the mythology, "Pennsylvania Rifles" (they weren't "Kentucky Rifles" at the time,) played virtually no significant part in the War of Independence......."

The Battles at Saratoga (and the entire Brittish effort in the Northern Colonies) would have had a vastly different outcome if the Burgoyne's Officer Corps hadn't been slaughtered by "unsportsmanlike conduct" of riflemen..... calling the "Pennsylvania" rifle insignicant in the Revoloutionary War is as silly as calling the dive bomber insignificant in the Blitzkrieg.

Hypnagogue said...

Tam, I said AKM, not AK. The stamped receiver dropped the weight by 3 pounds, and dropped the cost to about $20. Suddenly every penny-ante warlord could field an infantry brigade with a lightweight select-fire rifle.

That was revolutionary. In terms of rifles built, wars fought, innocents slaughtered, the AKM is supreme. All because of that cheap, easy, stamped receiver.

Dante said...

Kinda have to go with jimbob86 on this one.

Saying that they played "virtually no significant part" is like saying the "The Bomb" played no significant part in WWII because it only won 2 battles and only in one theater.

But I do agree with out the Muskets it would have been like having only air superiority. You can bomb the snots back to the Stone Age, but without boots on the ground you've accomplished little militarily.

tomcatshanger said...

I can't decide which of your posts are most enjoyable to me, the ones where you explain the history of arms, or the ones where you talk about more recent developments, or the ones that snark at the world of stupid that we live in.

Awesome.

theirritablearchitect said...

"...'AKM gets no love...'

A gas-operated rotating-bolt smokeless powder autoloader?

I'd counter that it is evolutionary, not revolutionary. ;)"


And I'd say that the AKM was mostly an assemblage of stolen ideas (Hell, maybe even parts, too) held together with lousy rivets, poor metallurgy, inadequate machining and assembled by illiterate peasants...and it still worked! :)

Hypnagogue said...

I'm grateful I don't live in a reality where ideas can be stolen, but are instead learned.

The Garand: a 1000 yard battle rifle that cannot use optics.

aczarnowski said...

The wacky things you learn from reading American Rifleman.

That scene of Tim Murphy making multiple long shots is one of Appleseed's oral tradition stories as well.

Unfortunately, I can't say the inspiration helped me hit better during my class.

Tam said...

Hypnagogue,

You're missing my point.

Yes, the AKM has had an effect on warfare (and what an original idea if was! A stamped-receiver select-fire weapon firing an intermediate cartridge: The world had never seen anything like it before! *coughStG-44cough!* ;) )

Still, it was evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. We're still talking about self-loading Lebels, if you want to get down to brass tacks...

Will caseless ammo be the next quantum leap? Who knows? It's a race as to whether linear accelerators will overcome the energy storage problem before caseless autoloaders solve the chamber heat problem...

Ed Foster said...

Hypnogouge, I have to disagree with you.

The AK is a POS the fires regularly but poorly, with a reciever that flexes savagely on every shot. If you put the piston so far above the bolt, it induces a camming action that pushes it downward as well as backward, and something's got to give.

It works reliably only because Kalashnikov put an enourmous amount of metal in there, and, to paraphrase Stalin, mass in motion has a quality all it's own. All that metal whizzing around inside doesn't do much for the shootability either.

The AK was designed to allow poorly trained armored infantrymen the ability to dismount under fire and put out an enormous amount of suppressive fire against anti-tank weapons and their crews at ranges of 300 meters or less. Preferably much less, as the weapon simply isn't effective at more than 150 to 200 yards.

For semi-automatic work, the SKS is a far better rifle, incomparably so. At least with a European sized stock.

Go to Farmer Frank: Corn, Beans, & Brass and look at the last few entries he's made on the M-4 carbine and my commentaries.

Especially "M-4 failures again let young men die", from October 11.

My comment(s), were around the end of the "So You Say" list.

Frank's comments the following day, called "Thinking about the AR-15" were particularly cogent, and reflect what I've seen and heard in 20 years in the firearms design business.

For what it's worth, and assuming you don't dig up the commentary between Frank and I, I regard the G-3 as a bad joke that, to quote someone who had to repair them for a living, was unsafe to shoot unless it had it's primary spring replaced every 500 to 1,000 rounds, and it needed fresh and extremely clean burning ammo to function.

Again, the flimsy reciever works on the G-3 and doesn't on the AK because the G-3 functions entirely in line with the bore, like the M-16/AR-15. There's no lateral loading.

Also, the G-3 has the ergonomics of a brick and a trigger probably inferior to a medieval trebuchet.

Look at the M-1/M-14 reciever. The camming action is from the right side of the reciever. Do you think it's an accident the left side of the reciever is so massive?

Also, the solid and heavy stock on the M-1 acts as a secondary damper. Which sucks in full auto fire as it holds a lot of heat in, but for accuracy (properly bedded) it is difficult to match.


As for the M249, I never liked it, and some good ideas don't scale down well.

Or up either. Look at the navy 3 inch rapid fire gun. We used to say they put two tubes in one gun tub so that they would have a 50% chance of getting a shot off.

Check Farmer Frank's blog. A seriously bright and objective dood, and if he ever gives up sticking beans in the ground, I've got a lab spot for him in testing.

Hypnagogue said...

I'm not missing the point, I simply disagree with it. The Garand holds mythical sway, but for no good reason. It has one decent design element buried under a mountain of bad design elements. The best things we can learn from it is what to never, ever repeat.

In engineering, you must look at the whole solution. The Garand solution was expensive, heavy, overpowered, and unadaptable. It was a bad design.

If it had been made in an intermediate cartridge, select fire, fed by box magazines, and under 7 pounds, people would still be fighting wars with it. Instead, the world carries the AKM.

Will said...

Col Chinn wrote that the NFA '34 was essentially treason due to the very effective restraint of innovation from civilian gun designers. He was of the opinion that the best designers were all individual civilians, and not government committee types (reference the $billion spent to upgrade the Garand into the M14).

Bram said...

Jim, I would gladly have traded my M16A2 for a Springfield in '91. At least I would have been confident my rifle would go "bang" five times.

Jeff the Baptist said...

The Battles at Saratoga (and the entire Brittish effort in the Northern Colonies) would have had a vastly different outcome if the Burgoyne's Officer Corps hadn't been slaughtered by "unsportsmanlike conduct" of riflemen.

It would also have been very different if those riflemen hadn't been stationed with a similar number of conventional soldiers carrying smooth bore muskets. Otherwise one good charge would have driven them from the field.

In terms of military action, rifles didn't become viable as a standard issue arm until the invention of the minie ball. Prior to that they were relegated to a much smaller group of sharpshooters and skirmishers.

jimbob86 said...

"It would also have been very different if those riflemen hadn't been stationed with a similar number of conventional soldiers carrying smooth bore muskets. Otherwise one good charge would have driven them from the field."

..... and Germany would have done bupkuss if armed solely with Stukas. My point still holds that without the rifles of Daniel Morgan's men (and those of the hundreds of locals), the professionally led troops under Burgoyne would have made hash out of the few quality Continentals present.

The Colonials could kill anyone who looked important enough to rally a unit from 3 to 6 times the effective range of the Brown Besses..... after a while, I would think it would be tempting to "lose" one's epaulets, don't you think?

theirritablearchitect said...

"...I'm grateful I don't live in a reality where ideas can be stolen, but are instead learned..."

Whaddaya call lifting the entire FCG from the Garand then?

And another thing, do you not believe in intellectual property? If not, what about your grasp on the physical? I'm seeing some vacillating, I believe.

Garand overpowered? ARE YOU NUTS? Maybe a bit unwieldy, but its power is right where it should be. And as far as it being a Thousand Yard Rifle without the ability to scope it, well, I say you need better eyes, or a thwack on the head for violation of engagement protocols. Or have a visit with an M-14.

Yeesh.

Frank W. James said...

I'm not sure what the future holds for military small arms ammunition, but I seriously question if it will be the 'caseless' technology that Dynamit Nobel developed for the H&K G11. For years engineers INSIDE H&K referred to the G11 as the "...self-firing Black Forest Cuckoo clock..."

Polymer cased ammo? Perhaps, but caseless technology simply has too many drawbacks in the 'practical' sense for adaption for general use by gound pounders.

It also should be mentioned and not too many know this, but 'we' (as in the US Government) NOW own all that 'caseless' technology the Germans developed at such a huge expense and we've owned it for some time.

Why haven't we seen something from this investment? My guess is because the darn stuff is a bigger pain-in-the-ass than anyone would like to admit.

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Ed Foster said...

The third world carries the AK because it's cheap, there's a hundred million of them, and those people don't aim anyway.

Plus, when AK's break, you can throw them away and go down to the Souk with fifteen to fifty dollars and buy another. Check out Frank's blog, it's a good read.


And 500 meter firing is quite common in Afganistan (read the list of people I included in the Farmer Frank commentaries), a distance where the AK is worse than useless. In open country, even against unsupported leg infantry, an AK man isn't a soldier, he's a target.

That's why the Russians dropped the AK fifteen years ago and went to the Abakan (M-16 redux) for any of their troops who might actually have to do something other than polish boots, accept beatings, and starve.

Now to tick off Tam. A scary thought.

The Brits made no bones about the fact that their Enfield, a truely lovely weapon, was essentially a copy of the American 1841"Mississippi" rifle, modified for the then new Minie balls, something everybody was doing back then. Also, admittedly, with some influence in sights from the Whitworth target rifle.

I would have to say the Dreyse had a few other problems in addition to fouling.

The breech leaked so badly most German troops fired it from the hip, and the firing pin corroded and broke quite often, due to it's having to penetrate the entire powder charge to hit the percussion cap at the base of the bullet. Sitting out the burning of the powder with the pin exposed inside the chamber was not the happiest bit of engineering to be thought of, and was inexcusable after 1859, when S & W began peddling the modern rimfire cartridge case. The Ollie Winchester and the Swiss picked right up on it.

During the Franco-Prussian war, the French had better weapons (Chassepot and Mitraileusse), better soldiers on average, and better generals (MacMahon and others).

They also had a government that wouldn't let the generals fight, and saw most of their army frittered away in savage rear guard actions while ordered away daily from fights they could have won.

The French Poilus never forgot how MacMahon would join the rearguard units each night, eat their bread, drink their wine, sleep on the ground with them, then take up a bayonetted rifle and drive the Germans back far enough for the army to reteat a few more miles into shame.

After the war, they elected him President, and even the Communists he broke the following year would tip their hats to him and the Missus as they walked around Paris each day without a security detail.

I can see the Dreyse chasing away Austrians and Danes, but the French government defeated itself.

Still, the Dreyse was the first, if you don't count the percussion version of the Hall.

It's kind of like the definition of which propellor driven fighter plane of WWII was the best/most important.

The F4U Corsair would have shot down any other commonly produced plane of it's day, and even accounted for the occasional Mig in Korea, but it was the P-51 Mustang that got the bombers through and broke Germany, so I suppose the P-51 wins there.

It's not always the best that wins the laurels, it's the firstest, or the mostest.

DirtCrashr said...

Doesn't the Brown Bess employ caseless technology? :-)

Ed Foster said...

And how come nobody has brought out a copy of the Ferguson Rifle?

WV fumankin. A chinese dummy?

Hypnagogue said...

I have 11 patents, none of which has ever been enforceable outside of the U.S. So, no, I don't believe in intellectual property, any more than I believe in the Tooth Fairy. There ain't no such thing.

Tam said...

Ed,

"Now to tick off Tam. A scary thought."

Why would that tick me off?

Yes, there were percussion rifles before the P53, breechloaders before the Dreyse, and autoloaders before the Garand. Shit, there were breechloading smallbore repeaters before the Lebel (although none with smokeless powder of which I'm aware...)

This list isn't about THE BEST or THE WAR-WINNINGEST.

Tam said...

Hypnogogue,

"I'm not missing the point, I simply disagree with it. The Garand holds mythical sway..."

No, you continue to miss it resolutely.

Nowhere did I say that the Garand was a BETTER rifle than the AK. I'm not a big fan of the Garand design overall at all. In concept it's just too much of a straight up bolt-action with gas operation as an afterthought.

Nor did I say that the Lebel was a BETTER rifle than the G98, or that the Dreyse was a BETTER rifle than the G71 (or, indeed the Martini.) Go back and read the initial post again.

DirtCrashr said...

I'm gettin' this crazy AR vs. AK vibe over Pennsy Rifles vs. Brown Bess - from rugged vs. accurate down to the conscripted vs. citizen thing which I don't think is quite right.

faildi - see?

Anonymous said...

Well, there were lever action repeaters used in the American Civil War, and John Browning developed the BAR during W.W.I. (does full-auto disqualify it from the list?). -- Lyle

D.W. Drang said...

In no particular order:
Just because the Pennsylvania Rifle/Riflemen were significant in one or two battles--they were occasionally tactically significant--does not mean that they were critical to the outcome of the war--a strategic influence.
There is a replica, maybe more than one, Ferguson Rifle.
Just because there were problems with a design (i.e., Dreyse), does not make it any less influential. There are heretics out there who will criticize the M1 Garand because it took an en bloc rather than a stripper clip, and because "the clip makes a distinctive ringing noise when ejected, letting the bad guys know you're re-loading." The Garand was still the first effective self-loading battle rifle, and few would argue that Patton's opinion of it was incorrect.

jimbob86 said...

"I'm gettin' this crazy AR vs. AK vibe over Pennsy Rifles vs. Brown Bess ..."

It's not that at all. I just disagree with the notion (matters not whom (who?) it is held by- all due respect to Tam) that the Pennsylvania Rifle did not play a significant role in the American Revoloution. Without it, Saratoga would have been a loss, and things would have looked grim indeed for our fledgeling country. The very same country that has had more influence, politically, militarily, economically, and most importantly, scientifically, on this blue-green mudball than any other for the last 100 years.

Hypnagogue said...

You chose the Garand as one of the five most significant rifles because of the design contibution of a gas operated, rotating bolt, while ignoring the rest of it's flaws -- flaws that have relegated it to the gun safe of history.

I choose the AKM because the rifle itself has changed the face of warfare, dramatically, for the worse. Cheap enough that any poor backwater country can buy a million and slaughter their neighbors. Cheap enough that it can never be controlled. Cheap enough that it could never even be counted. Ubiquitous, and in use in every conflict in the world for the last 50 years. There has never been anything like it, and it's hard to imagine its replacement.

It's the crappiest gun I've ever fired, and I detest it. But like the flu, I'd be daft to deny the brilliance of its simplicity.

The topic was "most significant rifles", not "most significant rifle features."

Noah D said...

Okay, I'll take a stab at 5 Significant Rifles, from this not-terribly-well-read layman:

Ferguson, Chauchat, M-16, L-85, G-11.

We learn from our mistakes and failures.

Tam said...

Hypnagogue,

"You chose the Garand as one of the five most significant rifles because of the design contibution of a gas operated, rotating bolt, while ignoring the rest of it's flaws --"

Nope.

I chose it because before the Garand, self-loading rifles were seen as too finicky, bulky, inaccurate, or unreliable for general issue to infantry.

After the Garand, nobody issued manually-operated repeaters. It was the watershed; the game changer.

As others have pointed out, the Mauser was a better rifle than the Lebel and the Chassepot was a better rifle than the Dreyse. The Bleriot wat a better plane than the Wright Flyer, too, but that's immaterial, even if wing-warping biplanes have been consigned to the "hangar of history", to use a phrase at random. :p

Actually, you could have made a better argument against the Garand with one of its contemporaries: The FN-49. Except in broad conceptual outline, the Garand was a lungfish and died a quick death while the FN-49 evolved into the "Right Arm of the Free World". Only luck of the draw had the Garand fielded first.

jimbob86 said...

"Just because the Pennsylvania Rifle/Riflemen were significant in one or two battles--they were occasionally tactically significant--does not mean that they were critical to the outcome of the war--a strategic influence."

You mean to say that if Gentleman Johnny had smashed Gates at Saratoga and marched into Albany (what was to stop him?) that the Americans would have had a chance in hell of enduring yet another setback? Keep in mind that roughly 1/3 of the colonists were for the Revoloution, 1/3 nuetral, and 1/3 were Loyalists. That middle third went to whichever side looked like it would win. When Burgoyne failed so spectacularly, the Rebels got the backing of that middle 1/3 AND that of France.

Tam said...

See?

Now THIS is a guns'n'history discussion!

What historically significant rifle for bear? And what pistol in the same chambering?

jimbob86 said...

Luvs me some Military History....

DirtCrashr said...

jimbob86 - I agree with the merits of the Pennsy Rifles, I'm enjoying the vibe of Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman). His strategic deployment of apple trees was an inspiration , and later someone made a stock for a Pennsylvania-pattern rifle from the wood of a tree found in an orchard that he had planted.

By that definition, simplicity in pistols goes to the Liberator!

staghounds said...

That's exactly my list, unless I do a Caleb cheat and pick a musket- and then I'd pick any of the first arquebi (ae? buses?) which were first large proportional issue to infantry.

And there was no bar at King's mountain, it was bring your own barrel.

mustanger said...

The Battle of Kings Mountain... the mountain folks- mostly Scots and Irish- numbered 800 men armed with Pennsylvania/"Kentucky" or similar rifles. Those men were used to depending on their rifles for their families' meat. My understanding is they met the redcoats in the lower country instead of waiting till the redcoats reached their homes in the mountains between NE Georgia and what's now West Virginia. They won the battle in 30-45 minutes by decapitating the British officer corps with accurate aimed rifle fire. The enlisted Brits didn't know what to do without their chain of command.

I noticed mention of the Ferguson rifle. Major Patrick Ferguson, who designed this weapon, was KIA in that battle. IIRC, the Brits had several thousand Ferguson rifles in storage in Boston, but never fielded them. Imagine what I mess that would've made of the American side. But, until the mid-1800's, it appears rifles just didn't fit the British idea of how to make war. They even turned down the Whitworth in the 1850's.

Jenny said...

So.. the longrifle in the Revolutionary era was pretty much like carrying a bolt-action hunting rifle to war now? Excellent in its niche, but try to outfit the whole army with them and you get spanked?

(And I wanna know how Mr. B. takes the whole "Bar Fight of King's Mountain" thing. :) )

Ed Foster said...

And Johnny Appleseed's cultural forebears won the battle of Saratoga as much as Tim Murphy and Benedict Arnold.

The first thing the Brits did whenever they took over a piece of territory in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, or western France, was to force the locals to cut down all trees, stone walls over 3 feet in height, and bocage type cattle fences within 2 pounder range of a major road.

It seems the standard tactic employed by the locals was to plannish the roadside trees whenever the road went through a forest. You drop a tree at an angle across the road, then drop one opposite it, and keep the herringbone pattern going for a mile or so.

The Brits couldn't pull the trees out of the way because their interwoven neighbors held them in place. They had to go to the end of the roadblock to disassemble it.

Which meant they would have to trickle through the forest on either side, without artillery, under constant ambush from well hidden snipers.

Burgoyne's soldiers were two weeks late to the battle, and most hadn't eaten in 3 or more days. Many hadn't had water for 24 hours.

The Brits were so desperate for food they sent virtually all their able light infantry over into Vermont to steal cattle.

Unfortunately for them, the American militia screen left them blind to Stark and Sullivan's troops waiting at Bennington.

Imagine standing inside a black powder cloud for hours with an empty belly and nothing in your canteen to clear your throat.

For those who say a scratch militia has no use because it can't stand against regulars, I say "Piffle Sir". Or more, if there are no ladies around.

It can delay, sabotage, cause loss of troops to the enemy as he is forced to defend his supply lines.

It can drive in his piquets and leave him floundering in the darkness without information of where the goodguys are.

End, part one (Man's on a roll).

Ed Foster said...

Part two:

As for historically significant firearms for bear, how about a .58 Remington Zouave with 505 gr. G.I. Minie ball, and a matching .58 Dragoon horse pistol, with or without the detachable buttstock?

And Hyp, I don't think a comparison of the M-1 Garand to the AK, either technically or historically, does justice to the American product.

The only serious war ever won by AK wielding troops was VietNam, and the entire North Vietnamese army ended up dead or in POW camps after the '72 offensive, beaten by South Vietnamese armed with M-16's and M-2 carbines.

The Communists "won" several years later because the Democrats cut appropriations to the South Vietnamese in half the year after, then in half again a few months later. Try fighting a war where you have to soldier 4 months to get paid for one, burn 4 gallons of diesel to get one, shoot 4 cartridges, etc.

If not a single AK had ever made it to Somalia, Ethiopia, Columbia, whatever, pick a rathole, the results would have been the same, just carried out with Lebels, Lee-Enfields, and Winchester 94's.

The combattants might actually have been more effective. I remember back during the Biafran war, the mercenaries running the show for the locals begged for bolt action and single shot weapons to equip their people, because with them the villagers aimed.

Hypothetical case. Imagine yourself as a leg infantryman, today, in rough, open country, with no immediate air or artillery on call.

Forget the B.S. 300 yard figure General Marshall (S.L.A., not George) wrote, it was as phoney as his comment about how many men supposedly fire their weapon in combat. He basically faked the entire report, and is still quoted as a reliable source. Go figure.

Now, back to the hypothesis. You can have either an AKM or a clean, sound M-1 Garand. Which will do a better job keeping you alive in the conditions stated?

The M-1, with which you control a circle a mile across, and, with AP ammo, can easily penetrate the wheelwell of a BTR, or the AKM, which puts you on equal footing with Mahboob the camel salesman?

Using the technology of the day, specifically the MacArthur mandated 30-06 cartridge used in commonality with the '03 rifle and Browning machinegun, what other weapon could have done as well?

With what other weapon could a squad of riflemen suppress fire from a sniper at 600 yards, the longest distance Germans were trained to fire?

I agree with Tam that the M-1 was a watershed weapon, but, given the technology of the day and the mindset of the American military, I also agree with Patton that it was the best shoulder fired weapon of the war.

And by mindset, I mean that American troops were taught to hit consistantly at 600 yards, an option that was always there when needed, and one that wasn't available for Germans armed with MP44's.

Other than not having the box mag Garand wanted to add from day one, I can't find a damn thing wrong with a weapon that, more than 70 years after it's introduction, is still, by European standards, a sniping weapon.

If I were going into combat today and had my choice of weapons, it would be an M-16A4 in 6.8SPC for all around usefulness, or perhaps an M-14 for the kind of mountaintop to mountain top work my friend Bob Cromer was doing until a few months ago in Afganistan.

But I wouldn't feel undergunned in the mountain scenario with an M-1. I've shot possibles with the weapon at 600 yards, prone with a sling, and I've bench rested a good but not spectacular example of the rifle at 1,000 yards and seen 18 of 20 shots go into a torso sized group.

How well would I have done in the Boer war armed with 70+ year old technology? Say a .69 smoothbore musket against 7mm Mausers at 1,200yards? Or my .58 Zouave against an MG-42 somewhere in France in 1944?

In that open country, I'd be a hell of a lot more worried if Mr. Badguy had a Garand than an AK, and for close quarters door-kicking against people who had just pumped a syringe of adrenaline, I want a 12 gauge with a bayonet.

Michael in CT said...

Something that needs to be kept in mind when complimenting or criticizing a gun is the timeframe and tactics being used when the gun was designed. The Garand was designed between the two World Wars (in the original .276 caliber) when the perceived lessons from the First World War was that long range, aimed fire from long service professionals, was important. The AK-47 and all of it various incarnations, was designed shortly after WWII, when the standard Russian tactic was the mass attack by poorly trained conscripts at short ranges. In simpler terms, don't blame the designer for building what the government wanted, even if what the government wanted was wrong. The AK-47 is the perfect design if you are a leader who thinks his people are expendable and won't be decently trained. What we want is a gun that is as easy to carry and shoot as an M-4 carbine, as a reliable as an AK-47, has a 1000 yard range and hits the target like a 12 gauge slug, only there isn't any such thing. I believe we have essentially reached the limits of conventional firearms, yes they can be tweaked and played around somewhat, but further changes will be incremental. Really, is the Glock that much different then a Browning Hi-Power?

Michael in CT said...

Oh yes, everybody seems to have forgotten one of the great military bolt actions in history, the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield, still being used in government service (carried by the Indian police as of the Mumbai attack) over 110 years after it was first introduced. It is seeing a resurgence with the Taliban in Afghanistan, mainly because it is significantly more accurate then the AK/AKM's and at longer ranges to boot.

mustanger said...

I'm not forgetting the SMLE... it's a tough old fightin' rifle and it makes a good iron-sighted deer rifle. Mk7 ball... 174gr FMJ running +/-2440fps with a 200yd minimum sight setting. Swap the FMJ for a softpoint hunting bullet for deer. First bolt action rifle I ever had a clue about. I noticed the SMLE's and No.4's in the footage during the Mumbai attack.

Noah D said...

Okay, Ed, I have to ask a few questions.

Forget the B.S. 300 yard figure General Marshall (S.L.A., not George) wrote, it was as phoney as his comment about how many men supposedly fire their weapon in combat. He basically faked the entire report, and is still quoted as a reliable source.

Got any sources on this? I'm not calling BS, mind - I want to know more.

If I were going into combat today and had my choice of weapons, it would be an M-16A4 in 6.8SPC for all around usefulness, or perhaps an M-14

What would the first accomplish that the second couldn't?

(I find it interesting that for how the US military trains its infantry, an M-14/M1A would be (approaching) ideal...)

Robert Langham said...

Here was my list with a few notes. In historical order, the five most significant rifles.

1. Kentucky Long Rifle: Produced at the village-shop level a people's rifle featuring accuracy and establishing it as an American Tradition.

2. Trapdoor Springfield: Early and widely used metallic cartridge.

3. 98 Mauser: Bolt-action benchmark.

4. Garand: Established semi-autos as battle rifle standard.

5. M16: 40-year old revolution still continuing.

Neutrino Cannon said...

Which were the first rifles to fling spitzer jacketed bullets? A mauser of some sort?

That was a pretty important development. If the 300 meter avg max engagement figure is to be believed (and I do eagerly await Ed telling us all why it is not), then jacketed spitzer bullets were not too important to infantry rifles. I know for darn sure that they were important to machinegunning though. It would have been hard to keep no-mans land several hundred meters long, and to perform any sort of air to air gunnery without fairly aerodynamic bullets.

Jim said...

Bram: "Jim, I would gladly have traded my M16A2 for a Springfield in '91. At least I would have been confident my rifle would go "bang" five times."

I was an editor in Hartford in the very early 70s when Colt began producing the M16 in quantity, and the tales coming off the factory floor about manufacturing shortcuts, half-ass ad hoc fixes, and general corporate buggery were frightening, especially to a guy who had friends still in Viet Nam.

I was about quarter, maybe a third, serious in the crack about using Springfields in the desert. Open country, long ranges, no important expectation of banzai attacks. Not to mention the relative ease of maintenance in a world of sand and dust.

But I wasn't there, so there are a million voices more qualified than mine to advise the Joint Chiefs.

Tam said...

"Which were the first rifles to fling spitzer jacketed bullets? A mauser of some sort?"

The French replaced round-nosed Balle M with spitzer-type Balle D in 1900. The Boche followed suit in 1905, the Yanks in '06, and the Limeys in '10.

Tam said...

"2. Trapdoor Springfield: Early and widely used metallic cartridge."

I love my floptop, but by the time it was adopted in 1873, the Jerries had been using the 11mm Mauser Gewehr 71 for two years. It was also used by China, Honduras, Japan, Siam, and Uruguay, not to mention Boer and Irish guerillas. I'm not sure if the Trapdoor was ever used outside the US.

I think the most significant American rifle of that kind was probably the Remington Rolling Block.

Ed Foster said...

Noah D., I'll have to dig around, the article was a good 20 years ago, but I imagine it's still online somewhere.

From memory, the author pretty much deconstructed most of the good general's missive, including, I believe, a number of deliberate misquotes and falsified "eye witnesses". It was in one of the professional military journals, and I promise I'll work on it.

As for the capabilities of the M-16/6.8mm vs. the M14/7.62, I mentioned using the M-14 in the kind of conditions Bobby Cromer faced as a counter sniper in Afganistan.

Evidently, the large number of helicopters available has pushed a lot of the badguys up above the altitude where choppers are useful, and people like Bobby (son of my shooting buddy Bob Cromer Sr.) have to tump in from landing sites miles away and several thousand feet lower.

I was shipping lots of M-16 parts from Continental down to the Remington guys in Englishtown Kentucky, back when they took the 6.8 program over from the Army Marksmanship Unit, and they were kind enough to keep me in the loop.

The .30 Remington case was the biggest that would feed reliably through the M-16 magazine, and the .422 diameter head of the .30Rem left a decent amount of metal in the bolt face surround. The .451diameter of the Kalashnikov rim was/is pretty marginal in that respect.

I do't want to tick off any .458 SOCOM users out there, but I really would feel more comfortable with the extra steel in that area.

As a quick aside, they also developed the cartridge in 6mm, 6.5mm., 7mm, and 7.62 mm variants. The 6mm was too light, the 7mm and 7.62mm hit a bit harder up close, but lost hit probability farther out, and the 6.5 (a la Grendel) was a bit flatter but not as hard hitting. They settled on the 6.8/.277 diameter as the best tactical compromise.

The Remington plant is surrounded by beanfields, and the Remington guys were knocking bucks over consistently at 500 yards, admittedly at known yardage. I suspect that was due as much to bullet design as kinetic energy, but still...

And I really shouldn't talk about what Remington is doing to their 115 grain bullet to improve lethality, as I might end up working until I'm 95 to repay the fines, but it's really cool.

Still, the 6.8SPC is, at best, a 600/700 yard round, even for harrassing fire. The M-14, with M118 match ammo(the 173 grain boattail), doesn't go subsonic and destabilize until around 1,200 yards, so for anything short of .338 Lapua ranges it's a really great marksman's rifle.

But for bayonet to 500 meter tactical stuff and alleyways, I'd want the A4.

The only change I'd make to the weapon would be to cut a relief about 5/8th's of an inch wide and 3/4th's of an inch long under the sight, about .080 deep, so I could use the longer A-2 rear sight and get those extra 150 meters you lose on the M-4 carbine handle.

And I'm not dissing the M-14. From 300 yards to 1,000, it's still one of the best weapons in the world.

Filled with AP in an urban environment (I can get through a 20cm. cement wall with AP in 8 or 9 rounds), or having to shoot up 10 to 12 mm armor, it does things no lesser caliber rifle can.

I learned my trade on M-14 serial number TRW141270, and I still get a bit dewy-eyed when I hold one.

But for alleyways and door kicking, perhaps the M-16 has an edge in ergonomics.

Anonymous said...

OK gang, since there are FAR more well educated gunnies here than I pretend to be, does anyone have opinions about the Robinson Arms XCR? I ask because I am throwing quarters in the jar, saving up to buy one.

All comments--pro or con--gladly accepted.

Apologies to Tam, I hope this is not considered hijacking the thread--no offense intended.

cap'n chumbucket

Tam said...

"From memory, the author pretty much deconstructed most of the good general's missive, including, I believe, a number of deliberate misquotes and falsified "eye witnesses"."

IIRC, Hackworth didn't have much good to say about S.L.A. Marshall either after working with him post-Korea.

Ed foster said...

Robinson XCR? Kinda' mousey and tinny. Underwhelming actually. Get a Stag Arms, Rock River, or Bushmaster.

They're all made predominently of parts from the same factory (Continental Machine and Tool Co., I work there), and I would have a slight preference for the STAG only because it has an E.R.Shaw barrel.

The other rifles have good tubes also, but I've had a bit more luck with the Shaws. They make Remington's centerfire barrels, and anyone who can cut a tube for the 40x target rifle can cut my 6.8or 5.56 any day.

Noah D said...

Ed, thanks for the info, and I look forward to anything you find on Marshall.

The ammo development stuff is fascinating (there's so much I don't know). It reminds me that the original Brit bullpup design had something quite close to that .277, if memory serves...

When you speak of the ergonomics of the M-16 vice the M-14 for close/closer fights, would something like the Shorty/SOCOM M1A variants alleviate some of that, or is more an issue of the stock and grip?

bloody warthog said...

the 6.8 spc is a dud it is good for nothing it is no better than 5.56 nato it just costs more to shoot projectile selection is a joke 7.62x39 is way better o yeah special forces uses 6.8 can u confirm that basicaly 6.8spc has nothing over good ole 6' wound chanel creating within 300yds and over 2700fps 5.56nato cartridge notice how theres not to many people actualy suvive being shot by 5.56 and are still alive to tell about it