Vic has been busy travelling around Europe with his day job and has had the opportunity to visit some surplus dealers. He’s back with a new series of videos, ‘the Surplus Zone’, he’s going to show us some of the interesting, and in some cases extremely rare, things that are sometimes available on the European surplus market.
The series will included AR-10 parts, SUSAT scopes, Italian Garand receivers and much more!
The rifle we’re examining is one of dozens of designs sold by the Brownings to the Winchesters Repeating Arms Company during their long relationship. This design dates from the early 1890s and represents one of Browning’s numerous attempts to move away from the tube magazine-fed designs favoured by Winchester.
The prototype is based around the lever-actuated vertically sliding locking block patented by Browning in May 1884 and first used by Winchester in the Model 1886. The rifle itself is in the ‘military musket’ configuration with full-length handguards, military sights, a cleaning rod and able to mount a bayonet.
The rifle is chambered in a .45 calibre cartridge, likely .45-70, and weighs just over 9lbs. Browning patented the design of the rifle and magazine in August 1891, with the patent being granted in December (US #465339). It is attributed to John Moses Browning and his younger brother Matthew S. Browning.
The most interesting feature of the rifle is its detachable box magazine. The magazine is held in place by a spring-loaded catch at the front of the magazine which locks against a tab in the magazine’s wall.
It differs from the box magazines previously developed by James Paris Lee, which Lee begun developing in the mid-1870s (see examples listed below). It’s a simple design with a follower powered by a coil spring. The prototype mag itself is made from pressed metal and is held together with some rough welds. Unlike the magazines we’re familiar with today, the top of the Browning’s magazine is almost entirely enclosed with only a small opening at the rear. The rounds would be loaded nose-first with their rims sliding into the channel at the rear of the magazine.
The single-stack magazine appears to hold around five rounds, with Browning’s patent supporting this. The position of the magazine, in front of the action – not below it, is a hint at how it worked. An almost fully enclosed magazine does have its advantages – it would have prevented dirt from entering the mag and it also overcame the need for feed lips which were susceptible to damage, one of the elements which took Lee some time to perfect.
So How Did The Magazine Work?
There is a shoulder on the underside of the bolt which caught the rim of the cartridge which was protruding from the magazine. The bolt pulled the cartridge backwards, out of the magazine and onto a cartridge lifter. As the lever reached its full forward travel the lifter then elevated the round up into line with the breech. When the lever was cycled back again the round was pushed off the lifter and chambered, just as in a normal tube-fed Winchester. As the lever reached the end of its return travel the locking block rose to locked the action.
The prototype has a sliding safety bar that locks the lever and blocks the trigger. The trigger differs from the Model 1886 as it is integrated with the lever. In the photograph below we can see the locking block descended, with the lever forward, and the breech block to the rear with the action open. We can also see the striker assembly at the rear of the bolt. The striker cocks on closing when the lever is returned rearward.
It’s quite an exposed action, with the entire top of the action open. With the action closed in the photograph below we can see the extractor running along the right side of the bolt.
It’s clear from the design of the magazine that Browning didn’t intend the rifle to be reloaded with stripper clips, although single loading of the rifle itself (not the magazine) would have been possible. When compared to other contemporary system this would have been somewhat of a disadvantage compared to Lee’s magazine’s later loading with chargers and stripper clips. However, from examination of Browning’s 1891 patent his intention becomes clear, the patent explains that he intended for the magazine itself to be replaced:
“One magazine may be readily removed from the gun and another introduced in its place, so that the person, using the arm may have at hand several magazines to be interchanged as the cartridges from one magazine are exhausted.”
This is a concept that wouldn’t be accepted by militaries for decades. Winchester purchased the rights to the design but this was one of many designs Browning sold the company which never saw production. The design and prototype are fascinating and represent one of Browning’s lesser-known concepts.
This rifle is a unique prototype and it was a true honour to examine it. It’s now on display at the newly refurbished Cody Firearms Museum, at the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West. The new museum is phenomenal and well worth a visit. Our thanks to the museum for allowing us to film items, like this one, from the museum’s collection.
Last month while Matt was visiting the Cody Firearms Museum for their Arsenals of History Symposium he had the pleasure of meeting lots of great people from the historic firearms world. One person he met was none other than Ian of Forgotten Weapons.
Ian was kind enough to suggest doing an interview to share and highlight our work here at TAB with his subscribers. Matt discussed the idea behind TAB and some of the things that we cover.
We very much appreciate Ian’s support of our project and opportunity to chat on camera abiht our work. Thanks Ian!
The Vickers Gun is an iconic weapon, developed from the Maxim and adopted by the British in 1912. It served for over 50 years in conflicts all around the world. In this video, we’re lucky enough to have Richard Fisher of the Vickers Machine Gun Collection and Research Association shows us how to disassemble a the gun and talk us through its internals.
Big thank you to Rich for taking the time to help with this video and provide the voice over explaining the process! We’ll have more videos on the Vickers Gun in the future! Check out Richard’s work over on the Vickers Machine Gun Collection and Research Association’s site here.
I’ll let Rich explain the disassembly process in real time in the video but here are a couple of photographs of the gun disassembled:
This is the gun in its fully field stripped condition, with lock still assembled, but with its fusee spring and cover off and its barrel and action removed. Just below the barrel is the feed block.
Here’s the Vickers Gun’s lock disassembled into its 14 component parts:
This photo gives us a good look inside the receiver with the barrel, action and side plates removed, The spade grip assembly simply folds down to allow the action and barrel to be slide out of the gun.
Finally, here’s the gun reassembled and ready for action.
Thanks again to Richard for his help with this video, it was great to collaborate and hopefully we’ll have more videos with Rich in the future. Please check out the Vickers Machine Gun Collection & Research Association’s site to find out more about what they do. They have some wonderful resources, including a comprehensive collection of manuals, for not just the Vickers but also the wider British Army from the past 100 years. You can also order copies of the brilliant instructional posters which were featured in the video over on the the associations website too!
What’s interesting about the concept of an Obrez or cut-down SMLE is the myth that has grown up around them. They’re often described as being used by men during trench raids or by tunnellers digging beneath No-Man’s Land. But it’s very difficult to confirm the use of cut-down rifles by tunnellers or trench raiding parties.
British tunnelling operations began in 1915, as an attempt to break the stalemate on the Western Front, with the formation of the tunnelling companies of the Royal Engineers. Tunnelling had historically been a feature of siege warfare since the medieval period and the Western Front proved no different. Occasionally, opposing tunnels may meet or a counter tunnel might break through often resulting in a short, sharp fight followed inevitably by one side blowing the other’s tunnel up. The final aim of the tunnelling was to lay massive explosive charges beneath enemy strong-points, no fewer than 19 were detonated on the 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Of course cutting down serviceable rifles was strictly prohibited and patrols were mostly issued with revolvers, grenades and knives or clubs. For tunnellers who encountered the enemy deep underground they were also normally armed with revolvers, knives and their mining tools.
The only contemporary reference of using cut-down SMLEs, that I was able to find, comes from a sketch drawn by a tunnelling officer, Major R.S.G. Stokes, who sketched a cut-down SMLE supposedly used by Canadian tunnellers near Ypres. The rifle Stokes drew had a completely exposed barrel and an added front sight post.
The rifle we’re examining differs from the truly Obrez SMLE’s we might normally imagine. The provenance and origins of this rifle are unknown but with its stock still intact it differs from others and actually, in my opinion at least, makes the rifle more user friendly. With the extra point of contact from the butt you can work the bolt faster and don’t have to lower the rifle to work the action. While the SMLE was already one of WW1’s shortest service rifles. This cut-down SMLE is about 64cm or 25 inches long, with a 4 inch barrel.
From descriptions of these subterranean fights they were short, vicious affairs which began with both sides blazing away at one another with pistols before fighting hand to hand.
Most accounts describe revolvers and pistols being the primary weapon used. Captain Basil Sawers, of the 177th Tunnelling Company, described using “little automatics which were meant to shoot where your finger pointed.” Captain Matthew Roach of the 255th Tunnelling Company personally carried two revolvers. Another account from Captain William Grant Grieve describes British tunnellers breaking into a German tunnel, “they encountered a party of Germans and immediately opened fire on them with pistols.”
From the contemporary accounts we have available it appears that immediate volume of fire was key in tunnel fights. For this double-action revolvers and small pistols like those described by Captain Sawers would have been ideal. A cut-down rifle would have been deafening and the muzzle flash would have been blinding in the confines of the tunnel.
This rifle has no sights, which while not a problem for short distances in the confines of a trench or a tunnel, anything over 25 yards is going to be challenging. Interestingly, however, who ever cut the rifle down left the long range volley peep sight in place. The rifle itself is a SMLE MkI, originally built in 1906, and as such does not have a charger bridge, which was introduced later with the MkIII, instead it has a pair of charger guides.
Despite cut-down rifles not being officially sanctioned, it is very likely that at least a small number were made – perhaps from damaged rifles which had been salvaged. How many were adapted we will probably never know.
There were of course a number of occasions when cutting down a rifle was permissible such as the use of cut-down SMLE’s as ignitors for various trench mortars like the 2in Trench mortar that we have covered previously. These ignitors are sometimes confused with unofficial cut-down rifles but the metal grip plates and threaded muzzles are the easiest way to spot them. Some SMLEs were also later adapted as smoke dischargers, one was famously used as a prop in Star Wars: A New Hope, appearing as a Jawa blaster.
An update on what Matt has been up to, where the channel is at and how YouTube finally monetised the channel (spoilers) and how it isn’t really worth it – except for the ability to add links to videos!
We’ve looked at a few cutaways in the past, today we’re going to take a look at a Lee-Enfield Rifle No.4 cutaway.
One of the main drawbacks of the venerable SMLE was that it was expensive and time consuming to manufacture. The No.4 was an attempt to address this. It evolved from the experimental No.1 MkV and MkVI which were trialled in the early 1920s. The key mechanical change was that the barrel was free-floated and had a heavier profile to deal with expansion of the stock. The No.4 also had a new rear aperture sight mounted further back on the receiver giving a better sight picture and a longer sight radius.
With this cutaway we get a look inside the butt trap, which has a pull-through and oil bottle inside, then as we move to the action we get a look at the rifle’s trigger, sear, sear spring and magazine catch. If we look closely we can see the bolt head catch. The magazine has also been cutaway, with the magazine follower spring just visible.
This cutaway rifle has had all of the wood around its receiver removed, so we can see the magazine housing floor plate and the point where the retaining screw attaches to the trunnion. As we move along we get a look inside the chamber where the outline of the cartridge neck is easy to see and we can also see the barrel’s rifling too.
Down near the muzzle the rifle’s upper retaining band and the hand guard have been cutaway to show the barrel inside. The No.4 was adopted for service officially in November 1939 and just over 4 million were made during WW2. We’ll have a full, more in-depth video on the No.4 in the future.