Walther PPK

Modern PPK variants are finished in a traditional deep blue or stainless steel.

The Compact Pistol That Shook, Not Stirred

Produced: 1930–Present

Pocket pistols first appeared in Walther’s product line in 1908, making them one of the very first firearm companies to manufacture small, compact pistols. That DNA has always been entwined in all Walther pistols, especially in the svelte-looking PPK.

In 1931-1932 Walther followed the Model PP with the smaller Model PPK. Although some sources claimed that the “K” in the pistol’s designation refers to kurtz (German for “short,” as in Police Pistol Short), most favor kriminal as the more correct choice. The designation Polizei Pistole Kriminal thus indicates the pistol’s intended use by the Kripo or Kriminal Polizei, the detective branch of the German police. At 6.1 inches in overall length and 1.25 pounds, the Model PPK was essentially a smaller Model PP with a shorter grip and slide and a 3.4-inch barrel. It was offered in the same calibers as its larger predecessor. Walther also eliminated the Model PP’s metal back strap and instead manufactured the Model PPK with a comfortable one-piece wraparound plastic grip. Owing to the PPK’s shortened grip, its magazine accepted seven cartridges rather than the Model PP’s eight. The shorter grip also necessitated the addition of a plastic extension to the magazine base for the shooter’s little finger-a feature found on some Model PPs.

Walther manufactured approximately 150,000 Model PPKs during the Nazi era. The small pistol became a favored sidearm of the civilian police and the notorious Gestapo-the Nazi secret police. High-ranking Nazi officials and military officers also considered smaller sidearms more prestigious than the larger service pistols and purchased numbers of engraved Model PPKs as personal status symbols. Some PPKs manufactured for Nazi Party officials were embellished with special grips molded with the Nazi eagle and swastika motif or party insignia stamped on their slides. The Model PPK played a role in hastening the end of World War II when, on 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler committed suicide with his engraved, gold-plated model in his bunker in Berlin as Russian troops closed in.

Today steel stampings are common, and the PPK is iconic. The pistol is still extremely popular today with law enforcement agencies as a backup gun and civilians holding concealed carry permits. The German military used it extensively during World War II, and Ian Fleming armed his famous spy character, James Bond, with the PPK. The PPK’s size, caliber, simple controls, ease of use, and the pistol’s relentless reliability make it a benchmark in compact pistols. All compact pistols manufactured since owe many design characteristics to the PPK.

The compact PPK pistol uses a simple blow back operating system and features a traditional DA/SA trigger; a single stack magazine with a thin grip, a barrel fixed to the frame, exposed hammer, and decocking lever are some of the other features. Some magazines also include a floor plate with a finger rest. The checkered plastic grips of the pistol form the pistol’s back strap. Old school for sure, but ever so effective. A trademark feature of the PPK is the decocking safety lever. With the hammer cocked all the way back the safety is rotated downward, decocking the hammer and allowing it to fall against the decocking lever. This model also has loaded chamber indicators that can be seen and felt in the dark if need be, telling the user a round is in the chamber. Models are available in a matte stainless steel finish or a traditional deep blue.

The PPK/S is mechanically the same as the PPK but uses a longer full metal frame that holds 7+1 rounds, of .380 ammo. PPK/S models mate a PP frame to a PPK slide to meet United States firearms importation guidelines set down by the Gun Control Act of 1968. The PP, PPK, and PPK/S family of pistols are some of the most popular and successful small pistols ever designed.

During World War II the PPK was issued to numerous German military and police forces. Adolf Hitler is purported to have committed suicide with a PPK in his bunker stronghold in Berlin as the Allies and Soviets entered the city.

The PPK inspired other small pistol designs like the Soviet Makarov, Bersa Thunder 380 from Argentina, the Hungarian FEG PA-63, and more. Though smaller and lighter polymer-frame pistols have taken away market share, the PPK’s influence and notoriety was sealed when Ian Fleming issued the PPK to his secret agent character, James Bond, in his series of spy novels. PPK has been licensed by Manurhin in France, and it is now licensed by Smith & Wesson. Originals were made in Zella-Mehlis, Germany.

Specifications

CALIBER: .22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP; .380

BARREL LENGTH: 3.3 inches

OA LENGTH: 6.1 inches

WEIGHT: 21 ounces (unloaded)

STOCK: Checkered plastic

SIGHTS: Fixed notch rear/blade front

ACTION: Straight blow back, semiautomatic

FINISH: Deep blue or stainless (later variants)

CAPACITY: 8+1 (.22 LR), 7+1 (.32 ACP), 6+1 (.380)

Walther Brings Sexy Back

Postscript: The PK380 is built with a polymer frame and steel slide and barrel. The first thing you will notice when you pick up the PK380 is how good the grip feels in your hand. From a petite female to hulking brute, the PK380 feels right in anyone’s hand and it naturally points. A finger rest is built into the magazine floor plate so your little finger—if you have a big hand—does not dangle off the bottom of the grip. The PK380 is angular and aggressive looking. The controls consist of an ambidextrous safety mounted on the slide near the thumb of either a right- or left-handed shooter. Flip it up to fire the gun, rotate it down to put it on safe. The magazine release is also ambidextrous and built into the trigger guard so it is easy to release the magazine with whatever hand you shoot with. The trigger is traditional DA/SA meaning the first shot is first DA (double-action) requiring more effort to press the trigger, then once the round is fired the action goes into SA (single-action) which requires a lot less effort to press the trigger. The Walther PK380 is a provocative and inviting compact pistol.

While other pistol manufacturers have gone the micro design route, building .380 pistols that are small and ultra concealable, the PK380 is slightly larger though still very compact.

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Late 19th Century Infantry Firepower

A French officer, Colonel Ardant du Picq, more than most, perceived that the high rates of fire and long range of modern weapons meant that close-order battle was no longer possible:

Ancient combat was fought in groups close together, within a small space, in open ground, in full view of one another, without the deafening noise of present-day arms. Men in formation marched into an action that took place on the spot and did not carry them thousands of feet away from the starting point. The surveillance of the leaders was easy, individual weakness was immediately checked. General consternation alone caused flight.

Today fighting is done over immense spaces, along thinly drawn out lines broken every instant by the accidents and obstacles of terrain. From the time the action begins, as soon as there are rifle shots, the men spread out as skirmishers, or, lost in the inevitable disorder of rapid march, escape the supervision of their commanding officers. A considerable number conceal themselves, they get away from the engagement and diminish by just so much the material and moral effect and confidence of the brave ones who remain. This can bring about defeat.

He drew the conclusion that the old ways of the close-order battle must be replaced, arguing that

Combat requires today, in order to give the best results, a moral cohesion, a unity more binding than at any other time. It is as true as it is clear, that, if one does not wish bonds to break, one must make them elastic in order to strengthen them.

His tactical conclusion was that infantry should fight in open order in which they could maximise the effectiveness of their weapons and take shelter from enemy fire:

Riflemen placed at greater intervals, will be less bewildered, will see more clearly, will be better watched (which may seem strange to you), and will consequently deliver a better fire than formerly.

He had seen men under fire, understood their actions, and argued that their instinct to seek shelter from the firestorm was right, but that it needed to be controlled and organised:

Why does the Frenchman of today, in singular contrast to the [ancient] Gaul, scatter under fire? His natural intelligence, his instinct under the pressure of danger causes him to deploy. His method must be adopted … we must adopt the soldier’s method and try to put some order into it.

Du Picq, who was killed in 1870 at the very start of the Franco-Prussian War, offered a brilliant analysis of the problems posed by the new firepower. But European powers found their way to a solution to the problem via hard experience, particularly in the wars of German unification which pitted Prussia against Austria (1866) and France (1870–1). In 1815 Germany had become a confederation of thirty-nine individual states and cities, dominated by Prussia in the north and Austria in the south. The year 1848 raised the prospect of a full union of the German people, and while Austria and Prussia united against the spectre of liberalism, they became rivals for leadership in Germany. The subsequent tensions were inevitably of deep concern to France whose rulers feared a strong state on their eastern frontier. Under Bismarck, Prussian Minister-President after 1862, Prussia played the national card. In 1866 the tensions between Prussia and Austria broke into war.

The Prussian military system had been thoroughly reformed after Napoleon had crushed it at Jena in 1806. The crucial development was the growth of a Great General Staff, embodied in law in 1814. Bright officers were selected to what was effectively a military brotherhood, charged with continuous study of the art of war and the drawing up and review of plans. Essentially a managerial system, in the long run it proved brilliantly suited to control large complex armies. Because it was successful in the wars of 1866 and 1870–1 the General Staff developed enormous prestige and decisive influence in military affairs. General Staff officers formed specialised groups, such as that dealing with railways, and were skilful at spotting ways in which new technology could be adapted for military use. Ultimately every general in command of an army had a chief of staff who had a right of appeal if he did not like his superior’s plans. To prevent these officers losing touch with military reality they were rotated through regular periods of service in line regiments. The Prussian General Staff presided over an army of 300,000 raised by a highly selective form of conscription. These were backed up by 800,000 reserves, each of whom at the age of 32 passed into the militia or Landwehr which would only be called up in emergency. In 1859 Prussia had tried to move to support Austria against France, but mobilisation had been a fiasco. As a result the General Staff paid careful attention to the use of railways to get troops quickly to the front. At the same time reserve and regular battalions were firmly attached to local military districts so each got to know the other.

In 1866 the tensions between Prussia and Austria over the leadership of Germany led to war. Prussia had only half the population of its adversary and the Austrians had a long-service conscript army of 400,000 which, in theory, could strike first into enemy territory. But the Austrian army could not concentrate quickly because its units were used for internal security, scattered in such a way that the men were always strangers to the people whom they garrisoned. Prussia thus had time to summon its reserves and to take the initiative under Helmuth von Moltke. Moreover, the Austrian advantage in numbers was partially nullified because Prussia allied with Italy, forcing Austria to dispatch an army there. In Italy in 1859 Austrian forces had failed to implement firepower tactics, and had been overwhelmed by direct (and very costly) French attacks. They were now armed with a good muzzle-loading Lorenz rifle, but thought that they should hold their troops together in large units that were trained to deliver bayonet charges. Also, aware of the inadequacy of their cannon in Italy, the Austrians had bought excellent rifled breech-loading artillery.

Moltke sent three armies along five railways to attack Austria through Bohemia, with the intention of concentrating them against the enemy’s main force. In the event, two of these armies confronted the Austrians in their strong and partly fortified position at Sadowa/Königgrätz on 3 July 1866. Each side had about 220,000 men. Fighting was ferocious but the Prussians held on until their third army arrived to bring victory. Prussian infantry tactics were the revelation of Sadowa. In 1846 the Prussian army had adopted a breech-loading rifle, the Dreyse needle-gun. This had a potential firing rate of about five shots per minute and it could be loaded and fired from the prone position. The Dreyse was scorned by other armies: it lacked range because the gas seal on the breech was inadequate and it was feared that such a high rate of fire would encourage soldiers to waste their ammunition before charging the enemy, so overburdening supply lines. At Sadowa the Austrian artillery did much damage, but the rapid fire of the Dreyse at close range cut down the Austrians whose forces were gathered in large close-order units highly vulnerable to this kind of firestorm. The British Colonel G.F.R. Henderson commented that the Prussians did not charge with the bayonet until the enemy had been destroyed by musketry: ‘The Germans relied on fire, and on fire alone, to beat down the enemy’s resistance: the final charge was a secondary consideration altogether.‘

Important as the Dreyse was, the real key to victory was tactical and organisational. Moltke, like Clausewitz, understood the fluidity of battle and the problem of control:

Diverse are the situations under which an officer has to act on the basis of his own view of the situation. It would be wrong if he had to wait for orders at times when no orders can be given. But most productive are his actions when he acts within the framework of his senior commander’s intent.

He developed what would later be called the doctrine of mission tactics (Auftragstaktik), under which subordinate officers, even down to platoon level, were instructed in the intentions of the overall commander, but left to find their own way of achieving this end. At Sadowa the Prussians made their infantry firepower count by closing with the enemy in forest land where the strong Austrian artillery could not bear upon them. This enabled them to shoot into the packed Austrian ranks as their junior officers led them around the enemy flanks. Fire and movement was the solution to the conundrum so ably propounded by du Picq.

This was possible because junior officers in the Prussian army were thoroughly trained, and understood the need to accept responsibility for the progress of their soldiers, and staff officers rotated through the fighting units communicated what senior commanders wanted. In addition, at the core of the Prussian army was an excellent corps of long-term NCOs well able to support their officers. At Sadowa the Austrians suffered 6,000 dead, over 8,000 wounded and about the same number missing, and conceded 22,000 prisoners. The Prussians lost 2,000 dead and 6,000 wounded. Austria made peace almost immediately and Prussia took over all the north German states, enormously enhancing her military capability. The obvious lesson of Sadowa was firepower. The Austrian Field Marshal Hess articulated another very clearly: ‘Prussia has conclusively demonstrated that the strength of an armed force derives from its readiness. Wars now happen so quickly that what is not ready at the outset will not be made ready in time … and a ready army is twice as powerful as a half-ready one.‘ Strike first would become an article of faith amongst the general staffs of Europe in the years down to 1914.

The rise of Prussia threatened the France of Napoleon III. The nephew of the great Napoleon had taken advantage of the turbulence of the Second Republic to seize power and declare the Second Empire in 1852. He stood, above all, for the dominance of France in European affairs. The Prussian victory in l866 was therefore a blow to the very foundations of the regime, and all parties in French public life thereafter regarded war with Prussia as inevitable. This focused attention on the French army, a long-term conscript body very like the Austrian but with far more fighting experience. However, it lacked a reserve force, while French officers and NCOs enjoyed low pay and status and suffered a constipated promotion system. There was a General Staff, but its officers formed a tiny elite who had little to do with the army as a whole. At all levels there was an absence of initiative, partly because Napoleon, though lacking real military grasp, cultivated the ‘Napoleonic myth’ of the heroic and omnipotent leader.

In reaction to Sadowa the French adopted a new breech-loading rifle, the chassepot. This had an excellent breech mechanism which doubled both the rate of fire and, at 1,200 metres, the effective range of the Dreyse. Remarkably the mitrailleuse, a crude machine-gun, was developed, but it was surrounded by such tight security that the troops were never able to integrate it into their tactics. Because these weapons were costly, the smooth-bore Napoleon cannon of 1859 remained the dominant artillery piece. In 1868 legislation was passed to create a reserve whose members would ultimately pass into a territorial militia, the garde mobile. But Napoleon was unpopular, the Legislative Assembly obstructed the law and so the system was barely operating by 1871.

The French decided that tactically the new weapons favoured the defensive, so they grouped soldiers in large solid units to produce massive firepower, denying any flexibility to local commanders and laying units open to the risk of being outflanked; indeed, the French system was highly centralised and dependent on the will and capacity of the emperor. Even worse, despite bellicose intentions and pronouncements, no real plans were made for war against Prussia. This negated the key advantage of a standing army, that it could strike first before an enemy dependent on conscription could gather his forces. Moreover, the French army was very dispersed. Its troops were used for internal security, so units were spread out and not allowed to serve in their areas of origin.

When war came in 1871 the French planned to mobilise and concentrate their armies on the frontier at Metz and Strasbourg, but Staff planning was hopeless. Choked roads and railways and poor attention to logistics turned this process into a nightmare. At the end of July, when Napoleon arrived at Metz to assume command, barely 100,000 of 150,000 troops had arrived, and only 40,000 of 100,000 had reached Strasbourg. The reserve system worked so slowly that there was no support for the regulars, while the garde mobile was wholly untrained, unequipped and, in places, openly disloyal. Supplies of bread and other essentials failed, while there was indiscipline and even explicit grumbling against the regime. But perhaps the key factor in spreading demoralisation was that in the absence of plans Napoleon was vacillating.

The French had originally projected a thrust into the sensitive junction between north and south Germany. Then the notion of a defensive stance to repel a Prussian attack came to the fore. The hope of Austrian intervention, perhaps supported by the south German states who loathed Prussia, led to the establishment of strong forces at Strasbourg. This force, under Marshal Maurice MacMahon, was rather cut off by the Vosges mountains from Napoleon’s main force around Metz. It was unclear to Napoleon’s senior commanders which, if any, of these options, none of which had been properly thought through and planned, was to be taken. Such hesitancy quickly communicated itself to the soldiers, for armies are highly sensitive to this kind of doubt. Here, then, was an army without a strategy, led by a vacillating ruler tormented by painful illness but keenly aware that his regime needed military success.

By contrast, the Prussians were devout believers in speed and their planning enabled Moltke to deliver three armies to the frontier where French inaction permitted them to organise themselves at leisure. They were backed up by a steady flow of reserves, so that Prussian forces quickly outnumbered the French. The process of concentration was by no means perfect, and moving troops and supplies away from the railhead caused congestion. For both armies the frontier with its hills and rivers posed considerable problems. Moltke directed his superior forces to converge on the French. Since Sadowa he had systematised tactics so that the standard attack force was now the 250-man company. Moreover, Moltke had noted the heavy losses inflicted upon his infantry by Austrian artillery, and had bought Krupp rifled guns. There was uncertainty about how best to deploy these, but they were mostly brought up close to the front to support the infantry. Late on in the Sadowa battle the Austrians had launched a charge of their heavy cavalry to cover their retreat, but it was cut to pieces by rifle fire. As a consequence the Prussian cavalry was now trained very thoroughly for an active role in reconnaissance which it discharged very effectively.

The first encounter of the war, at Wissembourg on 4 August 1870, set the pattern. The Crown Prince of Prussia with 60,000 men and 144 guns bumped into a single division of 8,000 French with twelve guns, well entrenched and sheltered by the buildings of the town. Frontal attacks against intense fire from the chassepots of the well-entrenched French infantry cost the Prussians dearly. However, Prussian artillery moved up to blast the French positions; the few and outranged French guns could make no reply. This enabled the Prussian infantry to work around the French flanks and to force a retreat. But against a single division, the Prussians suffered 1,500 casualties, almost as many as against a vast Austrian army at Sadowa, though they inflicted 2,000. Ultimately they were victorious in five major battles. The failure of French command is all too evident, in that even on the one occasion they were not outnumbered, they still failed to win.

It cannot be said that the generalship on either side was of a very high standard. At Gravelotte on 18 August 30,000 Prussians attacked rows of trenches rising to St Privat: they advanced in what was virtually an eighteenth-century formation, a thin skirmish line succeeded by half-battalions backed up in a third line by massed battalions. Too many senior officers were just plain old-fashioned or distrusted the new methods of Auftragstaktik, which Moltke had applied at Sadowa. Within minutes of launching their assault they had lost 5,000 men. Gradually small units under junior officers fanned out, extending and thinning the line of attack, while twenty-six field artillery batteries bombarded the French positions which were seized at a cost of 8,000 casualties. Some 70 per cent of German casualties were caused by rifle fire, but about the same proportion of French casualties were inflicted by explosive shell. The French never really adapted their tactics to the aggressive Prussian artillery attack. Their commanders were hamstrung by tight central control and reluctant to take any initiative which at times could have snatched victory. At Mars-la-Tour on 18 August General Cissey saw an opportunity to destroy the Prussians and ordered his men into columns of attack but they refused, reflecting their distrust of the high command which had failed to develop sensible methods of attack.

The Prussians isolated Napoleon III and his army in Metz, then arrived before Paris on 19 September where Napoleon had been overthrown and Gambetta had formed a new French Government of National Defence which refused to surrender. As a result the city was bombarded and after the capitulation of Metz on 29 October, a close siege was set. Large numbers of French reservists had never reached the active front. Concentrated on the Loire, they threatened the Prussian army there, and even managed to reconquer Orléans on 10 November. But ultimately Paris starved and on 28 January 1871 an armistice was agreed which led to peace. The new Republic tried to wage a people’s war by calling every man to arms, and the Prussians suffered some casualties from a motley assortment of francs-tireurs, civilians, deserters and irregulars, who sniped at the invaders. But the French people saw no point in continuing a lost war, and refused to support it, so a guerrilla war never developed.

The Franco-Prussian War effected a dramatic change in the balance of power in Europe, symbolised by the proclamation at Versailles of the German Empire on 18 January 1871. The new Reich now became the dominant European power. This was apparently a triumph for the professionalism of the Prussian army and its aggressive tactics. On the face of it a well-trained European army had shown twice within five years that it could bring war to a rapid and successful conclusion. The role of the General Staff had been vital and as a result it was widely copied. But the logistical problems of the German army in 1866 and 1871 had been quite substantial and soldiers had often ended up foraging, with evil results for the countryside at their mercy. But these wars were fought close to bases on a continent with good communications and over short periods of time.

ZB37 Medium Machine-Gun

An interesting photograph showing a Waffen-SS machine-gun crew with a Czech ZB37 machine gun mounted on a tripod. It was a simple, reliable and robust weapon with a quick-change capability for overheated barrels; it was widely exported and was used in British armoured vehicles as the BESA. It was also offered with a sustained fire tripod and provided with a sufficient supply of full magazines and spare barrels. The tripod could also be adapted for an AA role.

In about 1921 Vaclav Holek. the chief designer of Ceskoslovenska Zbrojovka, became interested in machine guns and eventually designed a gas-operated light gun, the Praga Model 1924, which was then improved to become the ZB26. This weapon had a long finned barrel with an ingenious quick release latch which allowed a hot barrel to be removed and a fresh one fitted in a few seconds; a long gas cylinder through which a piston acted on the breech block, tilting the rear end up to lock into the receiver; and an overhead box magazine. Very small improvements, added as experience was gained, resulted in the ZB27 and ZB30 models, and all were extremely successful, being adopted by no less than 24 countries. Probably the most famous and most widely used of this series was the British Bren gun. Holek then designed a medium machine gun for tank use, in which the principle of differential locking was modified; the gun was gas operated but the barrel and working parts were allowed to recoil and the cartridge was fired during the counter-recoil movement. This meant that the explosion of the cartridge had to arrest the forward movement before it could begin the recoil stroke, and in this way the effective recoil blow on the gun mounting was reduced. The design was adopted into the Czech Army as the ZB37, a tripod-mounted and belt-fed infantry gun. It was also taken into use by the British Army as a tank gun where it was known as the BESA. Holek’s 15mm ZB60 was also called the BESA in Britain.

Description

The ZB37 is a gas operated, air-cooled, belt fed, selective fire, weapon that fires from an open bolt. The barrel is heavily finned and can be changed quickly to provide sustained firepower. It is fitted with a conical flash hider and a carrying handle.


The action of the gun is a gas-operated system with a long-stroke gas piston located below the barrel. The gas block is fitted with a four-position gas regulator. Locking is similar to that of ZB26 – the rear end of breech-block is raised to engage a locking shoulder made in the roof of the receiver. Tipping of the breech-block is controlled by a cam-shaped projection and cuts made on the bolt carrier / gas piston extension. The action of the ZB37 is unusual in two ways. First, it has a rate-of-fire regulator in the form of a spring-loaded buffer which can be set in the path of the recoiling bolt group or brought out of action by switching a lever located at the left side of the receiver. When the buffer is out of action (swung up and out of the way of the bolt group), the bolt group can recoil the full distance back, which results in a longer operating cycle and a lower cyclic rate of fire. Once the buffer is lowered, it limits the recoil path of the bolt group, and the buffer spring uses the energy of the recoiling bolt to send it forward faster than usual, thus resulting in an increased rate of fire. The second unusual feature of the gun is that the receiver, which houses the barrel, gas drive and bolt group, is permitted to recoil within the outer housing of the weapon, against its own return spring. This spring is located above the receiver, just behind the feed unit. This buffered system is designed to decrease the vibration and peak recoil transferred to the mounting, particularly since the gun fires just before the recoiling mass returns to battery, which softens the recoil blow.
The ZB37 uses belt feed, from non-disintegrating steel belts which are fed from the right side only. The feed is of the single-stage, push-through type.
The trigger unit is mounted in a separate housing below the receiver, which also serves as the cocking mechanism. It houses a sear system, a thumb trigger (which also serves as a safety and fire mode selector), and dual folding grips. To cock the weapon, a release lever is pressed, and the entire trigger housing is slid forward. Once the bolt carrier is engaged by the sear, the trigger unit is pulled back until it is locked in its rearward position. The trigger is of round shape, and has a radial projection which serves as a safety and fire mode-selector (gun can fire either single shots or bursts). The dual grips can be folded vertically for compact storage, or set horizontally, or turned further down at approximately 45*, to better suit the firing position or the preferences of the shooter. The grips are also used to cycle the trigger unit and thus cock the gun.
Standard sights are of open type, with an adjustable rear sight mounted on the receiver and front sight mounted on the barrel. Ring-type AA sights and telescopic sights were available as options.
The ZB37 was issued with tripods of several designs, but all were made to the same high standards as the weapon itself and, again like the weapon, were rather complicated and expensive to make, although comfortable to use. The tripods were adjustable for height, so the gunner could adopt a prone or sitting position, or could provide high-angle AA fire.

M-16 Fiasco in Vietnam or Not?!


In January, the South Vietnamese army, equipped with M-14s, was defeated at Ap Bac by Vietcong carrying AKs. The reports of this automatic weapon’s devastating effects worried U.S. commanders. It was becoming clear that an automatic weapon was crucial for winning in Vietnam because of a new pattern of warfare starting to emerge. Confrontations often consisted of what were termed “meeting engagements,” in which jungle patrols from both sides found themselves unexpectedly face-to-face, and the side that could pump out the most rounds in the shortest amount of time won the skirmish. The M-14 was no match for the AK in these close-quarter encounters.

Again, U.S. military planners were caught unprepared for a different kind of warfare that took place in dense jungles against an enemy that you could not track in advance. Superior airpower was often ineffective, so battles would come down to the infantryman carrying the best weapon for the environment. The United States lagged.

On November 2, 1963, South Vietnamese generals assassinated President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother and advisor, Ngo Dinh Nhu. Diem was a heavy-handed dictator whose regime so enraged the majority Buddhist population that monks set themselves on fire in the street to protest their oppression. The Kennedy administration expressed shock at the public immolations and dismay at the assassinations, but did nothing to discourage the generals’ actions. At the time of Diem’s death, the United States had about sixteen thousand advisors in South Vietnam. Now, with Diem gone, and American casualties beginning to mount, the nation was getting sucked into a larger combat role as the South Vietnamese government foundered and a string of corrupt generals ruled the country.

Only three weeks after Diem’s death, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson soon escalated his predecessor’s policies. In August 1964, Pentagon officials said that U.S. warships had been attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin by North Vietnamese patrol boats. These attacks prompted Congress to give President Johnson a free hand in Vietnam, through the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This incident was later revealed to be a fabrication of the administration. No matter. The war was now in full swing and Special Forces, CIA operatives, and other elite units received the AR-15 to help counterbalance the AK.

Still, most U.S. forces were issued the M-14, and General William Westmoreland, who took command in Vietnam in June 1964, replacing General Paul Harkins, held a meeting of his commanders in Saigon in November 1965 to discuss how poorly the weapons fared against the AK. Congressional hearings held years later noted that GIs were buying black-market AR-15s for $600, compared to a list price of $100.

Back home, more testing of the M-16 continued, but McNamara was in a rush and so was Westmoreland. More than a hundred thousand M-16s were ordered by summer 1966. By October, however, some unexpected reports came in.

M-16s were jamming in combat.

American soldiers were found dead with their rifles in mid-breakdown. They were trying to undo the cause of the misfire while under attack.

Morale plunged as many soldiers felt they could not trust their weapon. Some anecdotal reports indicated that as many as half of M-16s were prone to jamming, but this number was probably too high. The real number was irrelevant, because soldiers never knew if their own weapon would perform as expected, and so every rifle was suspect. As the Vietcong learned of these problems, they were less in awe of the weapon. The sight of the “black rifle,” as the Vietcong had dubbed it in the early days, was now less threatening, and it empowered them. Reports indicated that Vietcong stripped dead GIs of their AR-15s and other equipment but were purposely leaving behind the M-16s.

Although the army tried to minimize the public relations fall-out, reports reached Congress through the parents of men serving in Vietnam as well as from soldiers themselves who felt they had been betrayed. Small-town newspapers ran letters from local soldiers about the failing new rifle. National media also covered the story. Soldiers and their parents inundated congressional representatives with letters and phone calls, and they wanted answers. With more and more Americans uneasy about the nation’s growing role in Vietnam, Congress began an investigation in May 1967. Under Democrat Richard Ichord from Missouri, a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee shed public light for the first time on the inner workings of the Ordnance Department and its archaic method of developing small arms.

The subcommittee called hundreds of witnesses, including Macdonald, Stoner, and other representatives of Colt, who testified about their shabby treatment by the army. Military personnel described how the Ordnance Department tested rifles, although many stated they did not recall the fine technical details of the M-16 program. One of the most dramatic moments in the hearings came when a letter from a soldier was entered into the record. This poignant letter read in part, “Before we left Okinawa, we were all issued this new rifle, the M-16. Practically every one of our dead was found with his rifle torn down next to him where he had been trying to fix it.”

The subcommittee visited Vietnam to interview soldiers firsthand. They heard stories about how men routinely took AKs off of enemy dead and used them instead of their M-16s. This practice had became so commonplace that soldiers in the field officially were banned from using AKs, because those rifles’ distinctive sound attracted friendly fire. In the heat of a close-quarters jungle firefight, American soldiers had little to go on to identify enemy positions other than the sound of their weapons. The other reason the AK was banned was that carrying it further stigmatized the M-16. In defiance, many soldiers still carried AKs. Indeed, special covert units of the military and CIA were sanctioned to carry AKs on their secret missions because of the weapon’s reliability.

In his best-selling book Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts, Colonel David H. Hackworth told the story of bulldozers during a base construction project uncovering a buried Vietcong soldier and his AK. Hackworth yanked the weapon out of the mud and pulled back the bolt. “Watch this,” he said. “I’ll show you how a real infantry weapon works.” With that he fired off thirty rounds as if the rifle had been cleaned that morning instead of being buried for a year. “This was the kind of weapon our soldiers needed and deserved, not the M-16 that had to be hospital cleaned or it would jam,” he wrote.

The Ichord hearings continued through the summer. In October 1967 the Special Subcommittee on the M-16 Rifle Program issued a six-hundred-page report highly critical of the Ordnance Department in general and its handling of the development of the M-16 program in particular.

The culprit, it turns out, wasn’t the gun but the ammunition, and it was the result of a bad decision by Ordnance. The report concluded that the M-16s jammed because the Ordnance Department insisted on changing the cartridge propellant from extruded or stick-type powder to ball-type powder, which tended to leave a residue in the rifle after repeated firing. Although both powders are made of the same components, stick powders are shaped like tiny cylinders, extruded, and cut to length. Ball powders are extremely small spheres of propellant. One major difference is that stick powders rely primarily on the grain size and surface area to control the burn rate. Ball powders rely more on a slow-burning covering and need a hotter primer to ignite.

Stoner specified that stick powder be used in his weapon, and it is not fully understood why Ordnance insisted on changing his recommendation. The subcommittee noted that the army had a cozy relationship with Olin Mathieson, the ball-powder manufacturer, which may have influenced the decision to change powders. The subcommittee also noted that because of the powder change, mechanical modifications had to be made to the M-16, and these last-minute changes may also have hurt its performance.

These revelations finally killed the Springfield Armory. After almost two hundred years of operation, it was closed by McNamara at year’s end.

The M-16 controversy was not over, however. Although Congress cited the change in powder as the reason for jamming, not everyone was satisfied. Some ballistics experts contended that the jamming was due to barrel corrosion from humid jungle conditions. This may well have been true, and would have indicted the Ordnance Department even more, because it understood the detrimental affects of barrel corrosion on M1 rifles from fighting in the Pacific during World War II. Ordnance knew that the cure was to chrome-plate the barrel, standard procedure for the AK.

Another contributing factor to jamming was that the army did not issue gun cleaning kits to troops, which gave the impression that the weapon never needed cleaning. Why the kits were not issued also was never made clear. Only speculation exists. One explanation was that McNamara’s Whiz Kids wanted to save money; another is that the Ordnance Department wanted the M-16 to fail; other speculation hinged on an overconfidence in the weapon itself.

Perhaps all three reasons played a role, but the reputation of the M-16 was irrevocably sullied. Even after these issues were addressed and the M-16 proved itself a formidable weapon, it was too late. Its main rival the AK was perceived by many as the world’s best infantry weapon, and the one that could beat the West’s best offering. It was low-tech Soviet style versus high-tech U.S. style, and the Communists won the war of perception, especially among third world nations whose leaders were carefully watching the conflict.

By 1973, the U.S. presence in Vietnam was winding down, with soldiers officially withdrawing in March after reaching a peak of 535,000 in 1966. Without a decisive Western victory, U.S. combatants left Southeast Asia, including Cambodia and Laos. Vietnam fell to North Vietnamese troops in 1975 as the last Americans and many Vietnamese evacuated the country. Stunning television shots of desperate people clinging to helicopters taking off from Saigon building roofs only served to raise the stock of Communist fighters and their AKs.

To this day, one of the most contentious arguments in military circles is, “Which is the better weapon, the M-16 or the AK?” The argument will never be resolved, and it is moot. The AK’s reputation as the underdog’s weapon was born in the rice paddies of Vietnam, given a boost by an unwitting U.S. military.

The lesson of Vietnam is that determined soldiers with simple, reliable arms can beat a well-trained military force despite its sophisticated weapons, like the M-16. In the years that followed the Vietnam War, the larger-than-life AK spread around the globe, giving power and prestige to ad hoc armies, thugs, and terrorists who would change the face of the world forever.

THE MINIÉ BALL

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Martini-Henry. Lubricated minié balls.

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The percussion cap was a dramatic step forward, but within a short time after its development an even greater invention made the musket into a much more deadly weapon with greater range and accuracy, and it doomed the smoothbore musket forever.

The new development began in 1823 in India when a British officer, Captain John Norton, noticed something strange. The Indian natives used a tube for projecting darts at their enemies, and when they got ready to fire, they began by blowing into the barrel. He discovered that they were doing this to create a foam that would fill the barrel and effectively seal it, so that when the dart was shot, the force on it would be much greater.

In 1836 a London gunsmith improved on Norton’s idea by inserting a wooden plug in the base of the bullet so it would expand when shot. This helped, but the real advance came when a French army captain, Claude Minié, improved the design using a hollow cylindrical base. The bullet was now cone-shaped, similar to our modern bullets. So, even though it was called a Minié ball, it was not shaped like a ball. At first the Minié ball had a round cup in the base, and when the powder exploded the cup forced the lead outward to fill the barrel. What was particularly important about this was that the bullet was now fitting snugly into any rifled grooves that were in the barrel.4

Spiraling rifled grooves had been used for years, but for a snug fit, which was required, the bullet had to be slightly larger than the interior of the barrel, and it had to be pounded down to a position just above the powder, and this was a slow process. The Minié ball, on the other hand, could just be dropped into the barrel, and this was much faster. And as the Minié bullet caught the grooves as it exited it was forced into a spin, and as a result, it left the barrel with a very high spin rate.

To see why a spinning bullet was so revolutionary, we have to look at the physics of a spinning object. When an object of any type rotates, it rotates around an axis, and this axis of rotation acquires a special status. In the case of a bullet in flight (shot from a rifle) there are two motions we have to consider: its translational motion (that gives it its trajectory) and its rotational motion. It has both at the same time, in the same way a curving baseball does. A pitcher purposely gives a baseball a spin to curve its path so that it is more difficult for a batter to hit.

How do we deal with a spinning object? First of all, it’s easy to see that it spins about an imaginary line called its rotational axis, and we refer to its spin rate as its angular speed (or angular velocity, for a particular direction). Speed of rotation is usually measured as so many revolutions per minute (rpm). Scientists also use another unit, which is particularly convenient in physics. To define it we first have to define what is called the radian; it is 360°/2π, which is approximately 57°. The unit, radians per second, is commonly used in physics.

So what does it take to set an object in rotational motion—in other words, to make it spin? It obviously takes a force. This takes us back to the concept of inertia. Remember that according to Newton’s first law, an object in motion remains in uniform motion with a constant speed in a straight line unless acted upon by a force. In short, a body in motion has inertia, and it takes a force to overcome this inertia. Inertia is therefore a kind of “unwillingness” to change. In the same way, a spinning body has rotational inertia, and it prefers to maintain this inertia. In effect, it takes a force to change it. In the case above, however, we are dealing with a rotational motion, so the force is a rotational force, and we refer this force as torque. (You apply torque every time you turn a doorknob or open a jar.)

If we look at a spinning disk, however, it’s easy to see that the “linear speed” (e.g., feet per second) across the disk varies. The speed at a point near the edge is obviously greater than the speed at a point near the center. This means that for a spinning object the speed at various points throughout the object increases as the distance from the spin axis increases. Because of this, ordinary (or linear) force f, and rotational force, or torque, which we denote by τ, are related. This can be expressed as τ = f × r.

Getting back to rotational inertia, it’s easy to show that a spinning object prefers to maintain a spin in a particular direction. Assume you have a bicycle wheel with a handle on its axis so that you can hold on to it with your hands. If you set the wheel spinning, then try to twist it, you will find that it’s very difficult to turn. In short, the wheel wants to keep spinning in the same direction. This means that a bullet spinning around an axis along its elongated shape, and traveling in a certain direction, prefers to maintain this direction. Spin therefore “stabilizes” a bullet in flight. As it turns out, it also decreases the effect the air around it has on it (i.e., air resistance). Because of this, the Minié ball was much more accurate and had a greater range.

It’s important to note that applying torque to a nonrotating object gives it an angular acceleration, where units of angular acceleration are radians/sec2. And again, the relationship between linear and angular acceleration is given by the formula α = a/r, where α is angular acceleration and a is linear acceleration. Finally, in the same way that we have linear momentum, we also have angular momentum, and the conservation principle: the total angular momentum of an isolated system remains constant.

With a rifle that has four to eight spiral turns down the interior of its barrel, a Minié bullet will exit with a spin of up to twenty thousand revolutions per second, which gives it tremendous stability compared to the nonspinning spherical ball used in muskets.

LUFTFAUST

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‘Lufthaus B’

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The Luftfaus in a transport case with preloaded ammunition cartridges. ‘Lufthaus B’

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The rounds were fired in two stages with a 0.2 second gap between salvos. ‘Lufthaus B’

In 1945 the Luftfaust was designed by ‘Hugo Schneider’ of Leipzig and by the end of that year the German army were ready to field test the weapon system. The early version ‘Luftfaus A’ had only four shorter barrels however in this article we will be looking at the ‘Lufthaus B’

One thing that cannot be denied is the fact that the German military during World War II managed to develop a significant number of weapons that were precursors to many of the most impressive weapon technologies of modern warfare today. One of those weapons, the Luftfaust, was a precursor to the MANPADS, or MAN Portable Air Defense System, weapons like the Stinger, Blowpipe, or Strella. The Luftfaust, or “Air Fist”, was a recoilless shoulder-fired, rocket-propelled anti- aircraft weapon developed during the last year of the war, with large orders placed that would have marked a significant change in German weapons technologies had the war lasted another year or two. If the war had lasted into 1947, German troops would have been armed with Stg. 44’s and a variety of rocket-propelled heavy support weapons, eliminating the need for most grenades, mortars, and machine guns.

There were two versions of the Luftfaust developed. The first version was the Luftfaust-A. This weapon consisted of a bundle of four launch tubes, each capable of launching a small 2 cm diameter rocket fitted with a 90 gram projectile with a 19 gram explosive warhead. Fired in salvo, these little rockets reached a maximum velocity of 380 m/s. Unfortunately, test firings showed that while the rockets had sufficient range, they did not have sufficient dispersal inside a target kill circle to be effective against aircraft.

This lead to the Luftfaust-B, which used longer launch tubes and more of them. The Luftfaust-B mounted nine launch tubes, each 1.5 meters long, with the entire launcher assembly weighing in at 6.5 kg. When fired, the nine rounds would launch in a salvo, 0.2 seconds between each round, allowing them to form a 60 meter diameter kill pattern at a range of 500 meters, sufficient to shoot down aircraft of the day. Though heavy, the weapon produced no discernible recoil, and was fired much like a bazooka or panzerschrek, with the rear part simply laying on the shoulder.

Production of the Luftfaust-B began in March, 1945, with an order for 10,000 launch units and 4 million rocket rounds to fire through them. However, as the war concluded, only 80 were in service, being tested in combat field trials before official adoption occurred.

A weapon similar to the Luftfaust was developed as well. For ground attack aircraft, they developed the Fliegerfaust, or “Airplane Fist”. This was a hefty 6-barrelled launcher designed for mounted under the wings of aircraft. It fired six 3 cm rockets in salvo, fitted with warhead manufactured from the ammunition of the Maschinenkanone MK108, a 330 gram projectile filled with 75 grams of explosives.

While this weapon never advanced past trials, it did inspire the Hand-Fohn. This was a bundle of three launch tubes designed to fire the 7.3cm Raketen-Sprenggranate 4609, a 3.2kg rocket with a 300 gram explosive warhead, capable of attaining a speed of 360 m/s. Again, these weapon never reached the prototype stage.

All three anti-aircraft systems relied on the concept of using terminally fuzed warheads to fill a 20 to 40 meter diameter sphere with sufficient shrapnel to damage or down a plane at 500 to 600 meters range.

The Fliegerschreck
The Fliegerschreck was by the end of the war almost ready for field trials and was to use a new form of ammunition that could be used by the Panzerschreck, which enabled the Panzerschreck to be used for both the anti aircraft and anti tank roles.
The new ammunition was to contain an explosive charge and 144 small incendiary sub munitions that would be fitted to a standard rocket motor. The new warhead was ready in 1945 however none were ever issued to front line troops.
The Fliegerschreck would incorporate a new AA sighting system similar to that used by the MG 42 Machine gun
References
World War II Data Book Hitler’s Secret Weapons 1933-1945 -ISBN 1906626871

THE DEVELOPMENT AND INFLUENCE OF FIREARMS

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After countless unsuccessful experiments, lethal accidents and ineffective trials, firearms research and techniques gradually improved, and chroniclers report many types of guns—mainly used in siege warfare—with numerous names such as veuglaire, pot-de-fer, bombard, vasii, petara and so on. In the second half of the 14th century, firearms became more efficient, and it seemed obvious that cannons were the weapons of the future. Venice successfully utilized cannons against Genoa in 1378. During the Hussite war from 1415 to 1436, the Czech Hussite rebels employed firearms in combination with a mobile tactic of armored carts (wagenburg) enabling them to defeat German knights. Firearms contributed to the end of the Hundred Years’ War and allowed the French king Charles VII to defeat the English in Auray in 1385, Rouen in 1418 and Orleans in 1429. Normandy was reconquered in 1449 and Guyenne in 1451. Finally, the battle of Chatillon in 1453 was won by the French artillery. This marked the end of the Hundred Years’ War; the English, divided by the Wars of the Roses, were driven out of France, keeping only Calais. The same year saw the Turks taking Constantinople, which provoked consternation, agitation and excitement in the whole Christian world.

In that siege and seizure of the capital of the Eastern Roman empire, cannon and gunpowder achieved spectacular success. To breach the city walls, the Turks utilized heavy cannons which, if we believe the chronicler Critobulos of Imbros, shot projectiles weighing about 500 kg. Even if this is exaggerated, big cannons certainly did exist by that time and were more common in the East than in the West, doubtless because the mighty potentates of the East could better afford them. Such monsters included the Ghent bombard, called “Dulle Griet”; the large cannon “Mons Berg” which is today in Edinburgh; and the Great Gun of Mohammed II, exhibited today in London. The latter, cast in 1464 by Sultan Munir Ali, weighed 18 tons and could shoot a 300 kg stone ball to a range of one kilometer.

A certain number of technical improvements took place in the 15th century. One major step was the amelioration of powder quality. Invented about 1425, corned powder involved mixing saltpeter, charcoal and sulphur into a soggy paste, then sieving and drying it, so that each individual grain or corn contained the same and correct proportion of ingredients. The process obviated the need for mixing in the field. It also resulted in more efficient combustion, thus improving safety, power, range and accuracy.

Another important step was the development of foundries, allowing cannons to be cast in one piece in iron and bronze (copper alloyed with tin). In spite of its expense, casting was the best method to produce practical and resilient weapons with lighter weight and higher muzzle velocity. In about 1460, guns were fitted with trunnions. These were cast on both sides of the barrel and made sufficiently strong to carry the weight and bear the shock of discharge, and permit the piece to rest on a two-wheeled wooden carriage. Trunnions and wheeled mounting not only made for easier transportation and better maneuverability but also allowed the gunners to raise and lower the barrels of their pieces.

One major improvement was the introduction in about 1418 of a very efficient projectile: the solid iron shot. Coming into use gradually, the solid iron cannonball could destroy medieval crenellation, ram castle-gates, and collapse towers and masonry walls. It broke through roofs, made its way through several stories and crushed to pieces all it fell upon. One single well-aimed projectile could mow down a whole row of soldiers or cut down a splendid armored knight.

About 1460, mortars were invented. A mortar is a specific kind of gun whose projectile is shot with a high, curved trajectory, between 45° and 75°, called plunging fire. Allowing gunners to lob projectiles over high walls and reach concealed objectives or targets protected behind fortifications, mortars were particularly useful in sieges. In the Middle Ages they were characterized by a short and fat bore and two big trunnions. They rested on massive timber-framed carriages without wheels, which helped them withstand the shock of firing; the recoil force was passed directly to the ground by means of the carriage. Owing to such ameliorations, artillery progressively gained dominance, particularly in siege warfare.

Individual guns, essentially scaled down artillery pieces fitted with handles for the firer, appeared after the middle of the 14th century. Various models of portable small arms were developed, such as the clopi or scopette, bombardelle, baton-de-feu, handgun, and firestick, to mention just a few.

In purely military terms, these early handguns were more of a hindrance than an asset on the battlefield, for they were expensive to produce, inaccurate, heavy, and time-consuming to load; during loading the firer was virtually defenseless. However, even as rudimentary weapons with poor range, they were effective in their way, as much for attackers as for soldiers defending a fortress.

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The harquebus was a portable gun fitted with a hook that absorbed the recoil force when firing from a battlement. It was generally operated by two men, one aiming and the other igniting the propelling charge. This weapon evolved in the Renaissance to become the matchlock musket in which the fire mechanism consisted of a pivoting S-shaped arm. The upper part of the arm gripped a length of rope impregnated with a combustible substance and kept alight at one end, called the match. The lower end of the arm served as a trigger: When pressed it brought the glowing tip of the match into contact with a small quantity of gunpowder, which lay in a horizontal pan fixed beneath a small vent in the side of the barrel at its breech. When this priming ignited, its flash passed through the vent and ignited the main charge in the barrel, expelling the spherical lead bullet.

The wheel lock pistol was a small harquebus taking its name from the city Pistoia in Tuscany where the weapon was first built in the 15th century. The wheel lock system, working on the principle of a modern cigarette lighter, was reliable and easy to handle, especially for a combatant on horseback. But its mechanism was complicated and therefore expensive, and so its use was reserved for wealthy civilian hunters, rich soldiers and certain mounted troops.

Portable cannons, handguns, harquebuses and pistols were muzzle-loading and shot projectiles that could easily penetrate any armor. Because of the power of firearms, traditional Middle Age weaponry become obsolete; gradually, lances, shields and armor for both men and horses were abandoned.

The destructive power of gunpowder allowed the use of mines in siege warfare. The role of artillery and small firearms become progressively larger; the new weapons changed the nature of naval and siege warfare and transformed the physiognomy of the battlefield. This change was not a sudden revolution, however, but a slow process. Many years elapsed before firearms became widespread, and many traditional medieval weapons were still used in the 16th century.

One factor militating against artillery’s advancement in the 15th century was the amount of expensive material necessary to equip an army. Cannons and powder were very costly items and also demanded a retinue of expensive attendant specialists for design, transport and operation. Consequently firearms had to be produced in peacetime, and since the Middle Ages had rudimentary ideas of economics and fiscal science, only a few kings, dukes and high prelates possessed the financial resources to build, purchase, transport, maintain and use such expensive equipment in numbers that would have an appreciable impression in war.

Conflicts with firearms became an economic business involving qualified personnel backed up by traders, financiers and bankers as well as the creation of comprehensive industrial structures. The development of firearms meant the gradual end of feudalism. Firearms also brought about a change in the mentality of combat because they created a physical and mental distance between warriors. Traditional mounted knights, fighting each other at close range within the rules of a certain code, were progressively replaced by professional infantrymen who were anonymous targets for one another, while local rebellious castles collapsed under royal artillery’s fire. Expensive artillery helped to hasten the process by which central authority was restored.