Early Johnson Rifle with Handguard & Bayonet Lug

 

The Johnson is already one of the 20th century’s most interesting military rifles, in terms of both design and history, and this rifle, serial number R-14, is perhaps even more interesting. Johnson’s military rifles were initially designated the Type R – for rotary magazine, it was the ‘R’ serialised rifles which were used during US military testing in 1938-40. We are most familiar with the classic handguard-less appearance of what became known as the Johnson M1941. Few examples of a Johnson with a handguard survive.

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Right-side view of the R-14 with original optional extra handguard (Matthew Moss)

The rifle was developed by Melvin Johnson, a USMC Reserve Captain, in the mid-1930s, Johnson began work on the rifle just as the M1 Garand was adopted. Johnson was granted his first patent protecting his rifle in September 1937. His rifle was tested in 1938-39 by US Army Ordnance but advanced no further than testing. Johnson lobbied politicians leading to a bill being introduced in an effort to have Johnson’s rifle adopted. On May 29th, 1940 the US Senate’s Military Affairs Committee met with Johnson and military representatives to discuss the rifle and the Bill which had been proposed, S.3983, to ‘Provide for the Adoption of the Johnson Semiautomatic Rifle as a Standard Arm of the Military’. The bill, however, led nowhere and the M1 Garand’s introduction continued.

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A Johnson M1941 (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company)

The handguard fitted to R-14 was actually an optional extra offered by Johnson Automatics. It appears to have been an attempt to address one of the main concerns raised by the US military –  the Johnson’s unsuitability for bayonet fighting. As the rifle uses a short-recoil operated action the barrel recoils about ½ inch on firing, this means that the weapon’s barrel isn’t actually fixed in place meaning when the bayonet was used the barrel moves backwards ½ inch when it contacted something or someone with enough force.

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A Johnson R-Type Rifle fitted with hanguard & M1905 bayonet (Johnson Automatics Brochure)

From the Senate Committee hearing we know that there were real concerns about the rifle’s bayonet fighting characteristics. With US Army Ordnance noting that “this rifle is very poorly suited to bayonet fighting.” Noting that the exposed barrel was too narrow to grasp properly and was also un-insulated if the barrel was hot from firing. The non-fixed, recoiling barrel was also highlighted as another ‘deficiency’. Major Grant Schlieker, the Infantry Liaison Officer at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, shared similar concerns. In addition to concerns about the lack of handguard to grasp when bayonet fighting he noted in his statement that during their testing the Johnson has struggled to cycle properly when fired at a depressed angle with a bayonet fixed and that striking something with the bayonet hard enough lead the rifle to extract and eject a chambered round.

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A closer look at the handguard (Matthew Moss)

Johnson refuted these concerns by stating that the barrel was exposed with good reason so that it could cool rapidly, suggesting that enclosed barrels like the Garand’s became too hot to grasp after sustained firing thus also making bayonet fighting difficult. Johnson also noted that a ‘Johnson Sword Bayonet’, which extended forward under the barrel from the Johnson’s normal forend had been developed to address the problem but the ergonomics and usefulness of this terrifyingly long bayonet are unclear.

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An R-type rifle fitted with the extremely long Johnson Sword Bayonet, note the large lug beneat the barrel, extending from the rifle’s handguard (Johnson’s Guns – Canfield)

You would imagine that a fixed, full-length stock with the barrel recoiling inside would have been a more elegant solution allowing the bayonet to be fixed to a nosecap rather than the barrel. But it would seem that Johnson was passionate about having the exposed barrel to allow cooling.

It is worth noting that the bayonet issued with the M1941 was the lightweight spike-type, developed in order to elevate potential issues with cycling while the bayonet was fixed.

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A close up of R-14’s markings (Matthew Moss)

A proponent of the rifle, USMC Captain, George Van Orden (who commanded the Rifle Range at the Marine Corps Barracks at Quantico) went so far as to claim that the recoiling barrel had a positive impact on bayonet fighting “a recoiling barrel can provide extra thrust in bayonet fighting, as in the case of a boxer who in striking a blow, at the moment of contact… straightens his elbow smartly.” The Johnson Automatics manual for the rifle even claimed that testing against pine board showed that “the short recoil of the barrel actually tends to increase the penetration of the bayonet.”

From the May 1940 Senate hearing records we know that the R-14 wasn’t always fitted with the barrel with the enclosed handguard. It was one of several rifles used by Captain Van Orden to test the rifle’s accuracy and there is not mention in his account of the rifle’s barrel being shrouded with a handguard. This isn’t too surprising as the Johnson’s barrel can be removed easily and readily swapped out.

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Close up of the guide collar at the rear end of the handguard (Matthew Moss)

The bayonet lug appears to be designed to mount a US Army M1905 bayonet, the sword bayonet issued with the M1903 Springfield. The assembly also has a sling swivel. R-14’s barrel is 23.75 inches long – this is a little longer than the standard 22 inch barrel, but 24 inch barrels were an option offered by Johnson Automatics. The round wooden grips panels are held in place by three pairs of slips and the nosecap and the guide collar.

Other than the forend this rifle also has a slightly different style of rear sight compared to the M1941 production rifles. The receiver markings are also simpler with calibre, patents and a plain maker’s mark, with serial number at the bottom.

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A closer look at the handguard’s nosecap and bayonet lug (Matthew Moss)

The addition of the handguard certainly does allow a greater area for the forward hand to grip the rifle. But what is less clear is the effect the added mass of the handguard, nosecap and bayonet (when mounted) had on the cycling of the gun. Logic would suggest that any weight added to the barrel would slow the its travel and potentially cause reliability issues. The handguard and bayonet would have added at least 2lbs. Sadly, I’ve been unable to find any documentary evidence to tell us how the rifle functioned with the forend. No mention of the handguard is made during the Senate committee hearing but a ‘fixed-type’ bayonet is mentioned which is described as “not in any way interfering with the recoil of the barrel.” This was presumably referring to the long Johnson Sword Bayonet. Despite them being offered as an official option it is fair to presume that the rifle would have struggled to operate properly when fitted with the handguard.

When the Johnson finally entered production it was with an exposed barrel as he intended and R-14 remains one of the few examples to have the Johnson’s optional handguard.

Many thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum for allowing us to examine and film the rifle and take a look at a rare example of the Johnson Automatics optional extra handguard.

 

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Bibliography:

Military Handbook of the Johnson Semi-Automatic Rifle (1939)

The Johnson Semiautomatic Rifle: Hearing Before the Committee on Military Affairs, United States Senate, Seventy-sixth Congress, Third Session, on S. 3983, a Bill to Provide for the Adoption of the Johnson Semiautomatic Rifle as a Standard Arm of the Military and Naval Forces, May 29, 1940 (source)

Johnson Rifles and Machine Guns: The Story of Melvin M. Johnson, Jr. and His Guns, B. Canfield (2002)

The Model of 1941 Johnson Rifle in Marine Service, B. Canfield, American Rifleman, (source)

Johnson R-14, Cody Firearms Museum, (source)


 

The Art of Persuasion – the Abram Games Exhibition

I recently had the opportunity to visit the National Army Museum in London and check out their current exhibition, The Art of Persuasion, a look at the wartime work of graphic designer Abram Games. While you may not recognise the name you will probably recognise some of his impressive and striking posters.

Games’ work is instantly arresting with an eye-catching starkness which underlines the messages he sought to convey. In the video above I aim to give a feel for the exhibition and, if you are unfamiliar with him, a feel for Games’ work.

He joined the army in 1940 and began designing posters for both military and civilian audiences in 1941. Over the next 5 years he designed over 100 posters, some of which have become iconic.

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Some of Games’ posters designed to dissuade loose talk (Matthew Moss)

Describing himself as a ‘graphic thinker’ Games used silhouettes and contrasting colour and vivid subjects. Largely self-taught Games was extremely passionate about his work and by November 1942 had been made ‘Official War Poster Artist’.

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A shot of the exhibition space showing some of the posters on display (Matthew Moss)

The exhibition not only displays his work but also explains how Games created his posters, often working from models or taking photographs of soldiers training. Some posters have his original sketches displayed next to them to show how the concepts evolved.

His posters encouraged young women to join the ATS, soldiers to volunteer for the Commandos and civilians to support the war effort. In addition to posters for the War Office, some of his most recognisable work, including the ‘Your Britain, Fight For It Now’ posters were designed for the Army Bureau of Current Affairs in an effort to raise morale and promote the idea of post war reform and progress. He also designed a series of powerful, striking posters for appeals to aid Europe’s Jews, a cause he was deeply connected to as a Jew. Games was demobilised in 1945 and enjoyed a long, successful civilian career, he died in 1996.

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Appeal posters to aid Europe’s Jews (Matthew Moss)

The National Army Museum’s exhibition works hard to give a feel for not just the work but also the man and his motivations. Games’ wartime posters are extremely, unsurprising when most were covered or torn down after a few months, so it was a rare treat to see them in person, up close you get a sense of what it would have been like to see one on a barrack wall or a billboard 75 years ago. The exhibition also had some interesting interactive elements with a touch screen allowing visitors to create their own Games-style posters and also another screen with video interviews with Games’ daughter and people who knew him talking about his work.

Games’ work are not just pieces of art but also important historical objects that can help us understand what the war was like and what motivated people to fight.

Find out more about the exhibition on the National Army Museum’s website, here.


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ArmaLite AR10 Sudanese Bayonet

We’re proud to present our very first bayonet-centric episode. Vic takes a look at a bayonet for a Sudanese contract AR-10 as part of his ongoing Surplus Zone series. While a rather rare bayonet this example has some interesting features.

In 1958 the Sudanese Military contracted with Samuel Cummings company Interarmco, to supply 2,508 AR-10 Battle Rifles. 2,500 standard rifles and 8 adapted to mount optical sights as sniper rifles.

One of the requirements for the Sudanese rifles were that they were to be able to mount bayonets, something the AR-10 did not have a capability to do in its then current form. This inability to mount a bayonet was overcome by a rather simple and ingenious addition to the rifle. A cast and machined sleeve was fitted over the barrel between front sight base/gas block and the flash hider. This was pinned to the barrel just forward of the front sight base/gas block. It had machined into the underside of the bayonet adaptor a longitudinal rail to which the bayonet could be attached. This is the same interface as seen on WWII German issued Kar98K rifles, the significance of which will become clear!

It is uncertain why Interarmco chose the design of bayonet which they did. It would have been quite an expensive and complex one to manufacture but it is obvious that it is based upon the late WWII SG-42 bayonet come utility/fighting knife. The Sudanese contract AR-10 bayonet has a more symmetrical blade than that of the SG-42 and has no ‘blood groove’ (properly known as a fuller) which hints at the fact that it is seen more of a utility knife than as a ‘cut and thrust’ fighting knife/bayonet.

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Sudanese contract AR-10 bayonet

It has been established that the SG-42 was manufactured by Waffenfabrik Carl Eickhorn in Solingen, Germany (determined by its cof marking / WaA19 inspection code), whereas the toolkit was made by Robert Klaas of Solingen (inspection code: ltk). Inside the bayonet’s grip are a number of tools which detach from the grip and can be used for rifle maintenance. The tools also include a bottle opener and a corkscrew. Inside the toolkit stored in the bayonet’s grip are a number of tools which detach from the grip and can be used for rifle maintenance. The tools also include a bottle opener and a corkscrew.

In regard to the AR-10 Sudanese bayonet, the Eickhorn company does not deny being the manufacturer of the Sudanese contract bayonet, they simply cannot confirm that they were the maker, since all relevant factory records have been lost!

In the Dutch AR-10 archives, Interarmco (i.e. Samuel Cummings) does not disclose the name of the manufacturer, but refers only (in the pertinent correspondence with A.I.) to “the Solingen manufacturer” of this knife-bayonet for the Sudanese contract.

Check out Vic’s earlier Surplus Zone videos here and his special series on the AR-10 here.


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Soviet Threat 2019: Royal Army Service Corps, 1964

Matt recently had the pleasure of attending the Autumn 2019 Soviet Threat event at the Hack Green Nuclear Bunker in Cheshire. One of the people Matt had the chance to speak to was Allen from the MECo group of collectors and reenactors.

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Allen portraying a member of the Royal Army Service Corps, c.1964 (Matthew Moss)

Allen was portraying a member of the Royal Army Service Corps, with uniform representing that of 1964, the year before the corps became the the Royal Corps of Transport. Allen was kind enough to explain his uniform and kit on camera.

Check out our earlier video with Rifleman Moore discussing his 60s PARA portrayal here.

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Winchester Model 1905 .45ACP Conversion

During my recent visit to the Cody Firearms Museum I was lucky enough to examine a number of interesting firearms (more videos soon). In this video we take a look at a Winchester Model 1905 chambered in .45 ACP.

The Model 1905 was originally designed by Thomas Crossley Johnson, as a commercial rifle chambered in either .32 or .35 Winchester Self Loading. It was the second of a series of blowback operated rifles Johnson designed between 1903 and 1910.

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Right-side profile of the converted Model 1905 (Matthew Moss)

The origins of this gun, however, are less clear. It is part of the Cody Firearms Museum’s impressive collection and is believed to be a Winchester-made prototype. Dating the rifle is more difficult. It was originally believed to have been developed during the First World War but the Winchester Arms Collection’s records date the rifle to 1919. It has also been suggested that the conversion may have been developed by Winchester as an auxiliary arm for the US Army, as a replacement for the 1911 pistol for some troops – much along the lines of the later .30 carbine. There are no records, however, to suggest the .45 ACP Model 1905 was ever officially tested.

Herbert Houze, former curator of the Cody Firearms Museum, believed the conversion was actually developed after World War Two. No patents or Winchester documents are known to refer to it but Houze believed that one of Winchester’s engineers, Harry H. Sefried, developed the conversion as a side project with a potential aim to interest law enforcement agencies in a carbine chambered in the readily available .45 ACP round.

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The carbine with the 1911 magazine removed and the bolt back (Matthew Moss)

Taking a stock rifle a number of changes were made, the rifle was re-barrelled and rechambered for the .451-inch .45 ACP round and the bolt face was modified slightly. The 1905 originally fed from straight 5 or 10-round box magazines. In order to feed from a Colt 1911 magazine a new magazine housing was added. The curved front of the trigger guard has been machined back and is now flush with the rear of the conversion housing which appears to be integral to the lower receiver’s frame. On close inspection we can clearly see that parts have been brass brazed together around the original magazine release and inside the magazine well.

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With the 1905’s upper receiver removed we can see how the 1911 magazine aligns with the bolt and breech (Matthew Moss)

The rounded magazine housing has a new magazine release positioned at the front of the magazine, as in the 1911 and allows the magazine to be inserted at an angle. The ejection port has also been altered with an additional cut-out being made at the top to aid ejection.

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With the rifle stripped down and the magazine removed we can see the conversion magazine housing, note what appears to be brass brazing (Matthew Moss)

Take down remains the same, with the upper and lower separating once the take down screw at the rear of the receiver is loosened. The conversion appears to be well thought out and the finish and care taken would indicate this was rifle wasn’t a rough proof of concept prototype. Sadly, there is no information on how the conversion performed.

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A close up of the rifle’s receiver and Colt 1911 magazine (Matthew Moss)

Regardless of the origins of the conversion Winchester never offered the chambering commercially and this prototype is the only example known to exist. Today, it is held by the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West in Wyoming. The museum has just undergone a major renovation and is well worth visiting. Our special thanks to the CFM for letting us examine this rare rifle.

Herbert Houze, the former Curator of the Cody Firearms Museum who is mentioned in this article and video, recently passed away – this video is dedicated to his memory.


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Bibliography:

‘Winchester Center Fire Automatic Rifles’ ARMAX, The Journal of the Cody Firearms Museum (Vol. III, No. 1, 1990), K.F. Schreier Jr.

My thanks to Danny Michael, the CFM’s assistant curator, for additional information from Herb Houze

 

Soviet Threat 2019: Parachute Regiment 1964 with Rifleman Moore

Matt had the pleasure of attending the Autumn 2019 Soviet Threat event at Hack Green Nuclear Bunker in Cheshire at the weekend and spoke to many of the reenactors and collectors attending the event. Check out our earlier video about the event here.

One of the people Matt had the chance to speak to was Simon of the Rifleman Moore YouTube channel. Simon is a collector of uniforms and kit and part of the MECo group of collectors and reenactors. Simon was kind enough to film a quick video with Matt and discus his kit.

At Soviet Threat he was portraying a member of the British Army’s PARA’s as they would have been dressed and equipped circa 1964 – twenty years on from Operation Market Garden, which took place 75 years ago this year.

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A full-length photo showing Simon’s portrayal of a 1960s PARA, complete with SLR (Matthew Moss)

Here’s a closer look at the deactivated L1A1 Self-loading Rifle Simon completed his portrayal of a period PARA with.

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A nice example with period-correct wooden furniture and rifle sling (Matthew Moss)
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A closer look at the rifle’s markings (Matthew Moss)

The rifle was an Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield-production L1A1, inch pattern semi-automatic adaptation of the FN FAL, manufactured in 1958, as attested to by it’s UE58 prefixed serial number.

Many thanks to Simon for taking the time to speak to us and run through his uniform and kit. Check out his channel here.

Soviet Threat 2019

This weekend I visited the Hack Green nuclear bunker in Cheshire, UK. They have a bi-annual Cold War history event called Soviet Threat where reenactors and collectors are invited down to display their kit. I had the pleasure of meeting to some really interesting people and seeing some cool vehicles and kit.

I spoke to Lucy, the Hack Green Bunker museum’s curator but sadly had some sound problems. Hopefully, we’ll get to speak to Lucy about the museum in more depth in the future! I also spoke to a number of the groups and individuals attending and we’ll have a couple more videos coming up.

Here’s some photos from the event:

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Some of the vehicles on display at Soviet Threat, including a HMMWV and a jet trainer (Matthew Moss)
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Members of Lazy Company prepare for guard duty (Matthew Moss)
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A Soviet camp display (Matthew Moss)
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A pair of East German Trabants (Matthew Moss)
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Some of the local lads from a Gulf War reenactment group (Matthew Moss)
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Some deactivated weapons from the Gulf War display (Matthew Moss)

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