XF-87 Blackhawk

Development of the XF-87 began at Curtiss-Wright in 1946, it would eventually be intended to be an all-weather interceptor. The Blackhawk was developed from an earlier ground attack, tactical bomber design, the XA-43. The Blackhawk was a response to the initial specification for a jet-powered night fighter, capable of speeds up to 530 mph, issued by the US Army Air Force in August 1945.

A number of companies responded including Bell Aircraft, Consolidated-Vultee, Douglas Aircraft, Northrop, Goodyear and Curtiss-Wright. The US Army Air Force down-selected Northrop’s design – then known as the N-24 and the Curtiss-Wright design- known as the Model 29A.

Curtiss-Wright XF-87 (US Air Force)

The XP-87 had a two-man crew seated side-by-side and was powered by two pairs of Westinghouse XJ34-WE-7 turbojet engines mounted on the wings. In comparison to the sleeker Northrop design, the Blackhawk was a slightly larger, bulkier and heavier aircraft with a straight wing profile. The XJ34-WE-7 turbojets only provided 12,000 lbf and Curtiss-Wright’s test pilot B. Lee Miller described performance in initial tests as sluggish. The Blackhawk’s armament was to consist of four 20mm cannons mounted in a nose turret.

The US Army Air Force designated the Curtiss-Wright jet the XP-87, while Northrop’s N-24 became the XP-89 and full-scale models of both were ordered.

The Curtis XP-87 (Curtiss-Wright, courtesy of Mark Lane)

In June 1948 the newly formed US Air Force re-designated fighters from P to F and the XP-87 became the XF-87 when prototypes were ordered. The XF-87 made its first flight in March 1948. During subsequent flight evaluations in October 1948, the Northrop XF-89 was found to be faster than the XF-87 and the US Navy’s XF3D (Douglas F3D Skyknight). While the Blackhawk was a capable and generally satisfactory aircraft it was deemed to be underpowered. It also reportedly suffered from buffeting at relatively slow speeds.

Walter Tydon’s patent for the Blackhawk’s landing gear (US Patent Office)

Evaluators disliked the Northrop and reportedly favoured the XF-87, however, one evaluating pilot likened its handling to a medium Bomber. An improved faster and more powerful Blackhawk was planned with J47 engines from General Electric. The fate of a second prototype is unclear and sources conflict. Most sources state that the XF-87 never had its armament fitted, however, photographic evidence clearly shows an aircraft, not with a turret, but with four nose mounted guns. This aircraft may be one of the airworthy prototypes or it could be a full-scale mock up built to show the USAAF during the selection process.

Despite the trials favouring the XF-89, the USAF initially ordered 57 F-87A fighters and 30 RF-87A reconnaissance aircraft from Curtiss-Wright in June 1948. Curtis-Wright and the USAF began a publicity campaign to unveil the new fighter, even appearing on the cover of an August edition of Aviation Week and in numerous other aviation publications, but the orders were abruptly cancelled in October 1948 and the USAF moved forward the development of the Northrop XF-89 instead. Check out our video on the F-89 Scorpion linked above.

The ‘F-87’ Blackhawk on the cover of Aviation Week (courtesy of Mark Lane)

The reason for this reversal of the decision is unclear. Only minor faults had been identified during testing and the more powerful J47 engines would have greatly increased the Blackhawk’s speed. The official reason for the cancellation was reportedly a disagreement on the price of a redesigned wing profile. According to his memoir, Walter Tydon, Curtiss-Wright’s chief engineer at the time, believed that some bad blood between Curtiss-Wright’s management and the then-President Harry S. Truman may have led the F-87 contract to be cancelled. Truman was Senator for Missouri from 1935 to 1945 and during that time Tydon believed he had come into conflict with the Curtiss-Wright’s management, perhaps regarding the company’s factory in St. Louis. Without substantial archival research it is difficult to verify either the official reason or Tydon’s theory.

Another potential reason for the cancellation was raised during the Congressional Hearings regarding the B-36 Program, Congressman Charles B. Deane noted that both Curtiss-Wright and Northrop had been informed that “unless they agreed to merge with Consolidated Vultee, business would be bad for them.” The testimony before the hearing notes that Curtiss-Wright were unenthusiastic about a potential merger and this might have been why the F-87 contract was cancelled. The Secretary of the Air Force denied this, however, stating that the cancellation was the result of “operating difficulties with the experimental model of the F-87, plus increasingly satisfactory operating data on competitive all-weather fighters.”

The XF-87 Blackhawk taking off (courtesy of Mark Lane)

Sadly, the prototype XF-87 Blackhawk’s was reportedly scrapped and photographs and footage of the initial flight testing of the Blackhawk is all we have left. The loss of the interceptor contract to Northrop led to the end of Curtiss-Wright’s aircraft production, with the Blackhawk being their last fighter design.

Special thanks to Mark Lane, the grandson of Walter Tydon, Curtiss-Wright’s chief engineer, for taking the time to discuss the Blackhawk and his grandfather’s role in its design.


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Bibliography:

Saga of the P-40 and Curtiss Airplane Division: Its Rise and Demise, W. Tydon

Newest Fighter In the Skies, Aviation Week, 2 Aug. 1948

Ad featured in Army & Navy Journal, Vol. 85, No. 40, 7 Aug. 1948 (source)

Ad featured in Air Force, Vo.31, No.9, Sept. 1948 (source)

‘Investigation of the B-36 Bomber Program’, US Congressional Hearing, Aug.-Oct. 1949, (source)

Curtiss Aircraft, 1907-1947, P.M. Bowers (1987)

American Attack Aircraft Since 1926, E.R. Johnson (2008)

The Big Book of X-Bombers & X-Fighters: USAF Jet-Powered Experimental Aircraft and Their Propulsive Systems, S. Pace (2016)

Curtiss-Wright Aeroplane Factory, Missouri, National Register of Historic Places, US National Park Service (2016) (source)

The Battle of Palmdale – WW2 Drone Hellcat vs F-89 Scorpion Jet Interceptors

The Battle of Palmdale is one of those historic events that could easily spawn clickbait titles: US Navy vs US Air Force, Drone vs Manned Fighter, Runaway WW2 fighter vs Rocket-armed Jet Interceptor. None of these would be a lie! 

Artists impression of the ‘battle’ (Pageant magazine, 1957)

On 16th August, 1956 a US Navy Grumman F6F-5K Hellcat a target drone went rouge over California and the USAF scrambled a pair of Northrop F-89 Scorpions to shoot it down. The F-89s failed to down the Hellcat but did manage to start a serious wildfire. 

Check out the video below:


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Northrop F-89 Scorpion

The Northrop F-89 Scorpion is perhaps one of the lesser known American jet interceptors of the 1950s. To put the F-89 into some context its development began in 1948, intended to be an all-weather interceptor, its stable mates included the F-86 Sabre and the F-84 Thunderjet. The F-89 made its first flight in August 1948 and entered service two years later.

In August 1945 the US Army Air Force released a specification for a new jet-powered night fighter with a speed of up to 530 mph. Jack Northrop began work on a swept wing design which went on to be evaluated with entries from  Bell Aircraft, Consolidated-Vultee, Douglas Aircraft, Goodyear and Curtiss-Wright. The US Army Air Force down-selected Northrop’s design – then known as the N-24 and the Curtiss-Wright XP-87 Blackhawk.

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XF-89 Scorpion Testing at Edwards Air Force Base (USAF/US National Archives)

The Curtiss-Wright XP-87 was a slightly larger, slightly heavier aircraft with its two-man crew seated side-by-side. It was powered by two pairs of Westinghouse XJ34-WE-7 turbojet engines mounted on the wings. In comparison the Northrop design was slimmer, with sept wings and had its two Allison J35 turbojet engines buried low in its fuselage to reduce drag.

The N-24 was designated the XP-89 by the US Army Air Force and a full-scale model was ordered. Aerodynamic testing found that the swept wing was unstable in low speed and a straight, narrow profile was developed and the horizontal stabilizer and cockpit configuration was redesigned.

In 1948 the newly formed US Air Force re-designated fighters from P to F and the XP-89 became the XF-89 when prototypes were ordered. During subsequent flight evaluations the XF-89 was found to be faster than the XF-87 and the US Navy’s XF3D (Douglas F3D Skyknight). Evaluators disliked the Northrop and criticised its cockpit layout, however, the USAF moved forward with its development and scrapped the XF-87.

F-89B at Eglin Air Force Base. Note the external vibration dampeners on the horizontal stabiliser and the 6 cannons in the nose (USAF)

Testing with a second prototype continued and the engines were upgraded with a more powerful Allison J33-A-21 fitted with an afterburner, while concerns about ease of maintenance were answered by having the whole engine capable of lowering out of the fuselage. The XF-89 suffered a number of crashes during testing with a fatal crash on the 22nd February 1950, which killed flight test engineer Arthur Turton when flutter, or vibrations, in the elevator caused the tail of the aircraft to sheer off. The geometry of the rear fuselage and engine exhaust were found to be the cause and were redesigned.

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F-89 firing its 2.75in ‘Mighty Mouse’ Mk 4/Mk 40 Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (USAF/US National Archives)

Despite the fatal crash the aircraft’s flaws were addressed and production of the XF-89 was greenlit in January 1949, with a contract for 48 F-89s, worth just over $39 million, awarded in May 1949.

The F-89’s armament varied considerably during its service life. Originally it had been intended for the night fighter to have a turret with four forward-firing cannons and another 2 cannon turret firing aft. This was abandoned and the first F-89As had six forward-firing 20mm cannons and the ability to mount rocket pods carrying 16 5in rockets.

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Formation of three rocket-armed F-89Ds of the 59th Fighter Squadron (USAF/US National Archives)

The F-89A was quickly superseded by the B which had the same armaments but improved avionics. The F-89D entered service in October 1954, the D abandoned the cannons and instead had two rocket pods mounting a total of 104 smaller 2.75in ‘Mighty Mouse’ Mk 4/Mk 40 Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets.

Entering service in 1956 the F-89H was equipped with large wingtip pods that could externally carry three GAR-1/2 Falcon missiles each with 21 Mighty Mouse rockets internally. Delays refining the Hughes E-9 fire-control system meant that by the time the H entered service it was outclassed by newer, faster supersonic fighters like the F-100 Super Sabre, F-101 Voodoo and interceptors like the F-102 Delta Dagger and the F-104 Starfighter.

F-89J test firing an AIR-2 Genie tactical nuclear air-to-air rocket. The photograph was captured at the moment of firing during Test Shot John, Operation Plumbbob, 19 July, 1957 (National Nuclear Security Administration)

The F-89J, introduced in 1957, refitted the F-89D with underwing hardpoints for two MB-1 Genie nuclear armed rockets and four Falcon missiles. The J could also carry either the standard F-89D rocket/fuel pod or pure fuel tanks. 350 Js were converted from F-89Ds.

An F-89J has the distinction of being the only aircraft to fire a live MB-1 Genie during Operation Plumbbob (nuclear weapons tests) in July 1957. The MB-1 (later the AIR-2) was an air to air rocket with a 6 mile range and a 1.5 kiloton W25 nuclear warhead. It was ostensibly a tactical nuclear weapon designed to take on Soviet strategic bomber formations.

The USAF began to retire the F-89H in 1959 as more supersonic interceptors entered service and the refitted Js also began to be replaced the same year but remained in Air National Guard service for another decade.

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Flight of F-89s (USAF/US National Archives)

The F-89 is definitely a striking aircraft and a substantial number were built, 1,050 in total but they remain one of the lesser known early Cold War jet fighters. The F-89 featured in our video is an H and is on display at the Hill Aerospace Museum.


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Bibliography:

Military Aircraft of the Cold War, J. Winchester (2012)

Flying American Combat Aircraft: The Cold War, R. Higham (2005)

Early US Jet Fighters: Proposals, Projects and Prototypes, Tony Buttler (2013)

Archival footage and imagery courtesy of the USAF, the US National Archives and the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

M56 Scorpion – Lightweight Self-Propelled Gun

The need for a lightweight self-propelled anti-tank gun was identified in the late 1940s. The T101 development program took just over 5 years and $2.5 million dollars to develop what became the M56.

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Front, right view of the M56 Scorpion (Matthew Moss)

The M56 was intended to act as an airmobile support weapon for the US Army’s airborne forces that was capable of traversing muddy, marshy, sandy and snowy terrain. Airborne infantry have historically been lightly armed and sometimes struggled against enemy forces equipped with armour. Attempts to level the playing field with glider transported anti-tank guns or even super light tanks could only do so much. Airborne operations during world war two proved light tanks, like the M22 Locust, were out-gunned, under-armoured and largely useless. While light artillery proved effective it lacked mobility and while infantry anti-tank weapons like the Bazooka were extremely useful they were close quarter weapons.

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The T101 – Prototype M56 (US National Archive)

In response the US Army decided to abandon one of the points of the classic ‘iron triangle’ of armoured vehicle design all together, sacrificing protection for firepower and mobility. The unarmoured 16,000 lb (7 tonne) vehicle could be dropped from a transport plane to support paratroops and later heliborne air cav units.

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An M56 (US Army)

The M56 was developed and manufactured by the Cadillac Motor Car Division of General Motors, a pilot version was completed by 1955. The pilot model, designated the Full-Tracked Self-Proppelled Gun T101 is seen in this photograph from October 1955. When the vehicle finally entered production in 1957 it was largely identical to the T101 except for changes to the location of the radio, the design of the gun’s muzzle device, the hinged flaps on the gun shield were abandoned and the sand skirts were also abandoned. The Scorpion had no secondary armament and no armour. Protection for its 4-man crew amounted to nothing more than a gun shield, which also has a window for the driver.

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A view of the ‘fighting compartment’ of the M56, the ammunition storage rack is missing(Matthew Moss)

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View of the driver’s position (Matthew Moss)

The 90mm M54 high velocity gun was mounted on a pintle in the centre of the vehicle with the driver on the left and the vehicle commander, loader and gunner sat around the gun. The gun could be traversed 30-degrees left and right and had 10-degrees depression and up to 15-degrees  elevation. At the rear of the vehicle was an ammunition store that held 29 90mm rounds. The main ammunition used with the M54 would have been the M318 armour piercing round but it could chamber any of the other 90mm ammunition then in US service. Sadly the ammunition store and breech of the gun aren’t present on this example.

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An M56 in action, note the ammunition storage racks (US Army)

The gun’s impressive recoil, even with a pair of recuperators, hit the Scorpion and the crew manning it hard, the footage shows just how powerful the recoil was. In this contemporary footage we can see that the front wheel almost bounces off the ground. Note also the semi-automatic action that opens the breech and ejects the spent shell casing after the gun is fired.

The vehicle was powered by an air-cooled petrol engine that produced 200hp. Capable of a maximum speed of just over 28mph.

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Front, left view of the M56 (Matthew Moss)

Perhaps its most interesting feature is that it runs on four pneumatic road tyres, rather than metal road wheels, enclosed in a 20in wide track. The track was made up of two bands of rubber and steel cross pieces. There’s a sprocket at the front and an idler at the rear for tensioning the track. This configuration was chosen to reduce weight and it also minimised the ground pressure of the vehicle.

Production of the M56 ended in 1959, after around 325 had been produced. While most of these entered US service, 87 were purchased by Morocco in 1966 while a further 5 were used by the Spanish Marine Corps.

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M56s in Vietnam (US Army)

While the M56 was slightly more mobile across country, in reality it wasn’t much better than a standard jeep equipped with a M40 recoilless rifle. Despite the Scorpion’s shortcomings it remained in service into the early 1970s and saw action during the Vietnam War with the 173 Airborne Brigade, which had a company of 16 M56s. In Vietnam the more capable and better protected M551 Sheridan saw wider use and what action the Scorpions did see was largely acting in direct fire support.

Special thanks to Battlefield Vegas for allowing us to film and feature their M56.


If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters. You can also support us via one-time donations here.


Specifications:

Length: 19ft 2in / 5.8m

Height: 6ft 9in / 2m

Width: 8ft 4in / 2.5m

Weight: 7 tons

Powerplant: Continental A01-403-5 gasoline engine

Speed: ~28mph / 45km

Armour: Unarmoured

Armament: 90mm M54 Gun


Bibliography:

TM 9-1300-203, Artillery Ammunition (1967)

M50 Ontos and M56 Scorpion 1956–70: US Tank Destroyers of the Vietnam War, K.W. Estes (2016)

Airborne “Scorpion”, A. Haruk, (source)

Steyr AUG with HBAR Barrel

Sometimes all is not as it seems. That was the case when we examined this Steyr AUG. From the barrel and bipod it appeared to be an AUG in an HBAR or Heavy Barrel configuration but on closer inspection we found that it was in fact a rifle receiver, bolt and bolt assembly and chassis that had been paired with an HBAR barrel assembly.

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Vic with the Steyr ‘HBAR’ (Vic Tuff)

Ordinarily, the HBAR could be modified to fire from an open, rather than closed, bolt. This example has the standard AUG progressive trigger for semi and full-auto. It does not have the modified bolt carrier, striker or trigger mechanism.

The HBAR has a 4x optic, rather than the rifle’s 1x, while the HBAR-T can be fitted with an optic like a Kahles ZF69 6×42.

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A dedicated ‘LMG’ marked AUG stock and bolt carrier (Vic Tuff)

Adoption of the AUG HBAR does not appear to have been widespread and Steyr don’t currently list it as an option amongst their upgraded AUGs. For more Steyr we have previously examined a Steyr AUG SMG conversion and a Steyr MPi 81. We’ll take an in depth look at the AUG and AUG HBAR in the future.


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Specifications (for a standard AUG HBAR):

Overall Length: 35.5in (90cm)
Barrel Length: 24.4in (62cm)
Weight: 8.6lb (3.9kg)
Action: Gas operated, rotating bolt – the HBAR typically fires from an open bolt, but this rifle-based example fires from a closed bolt.
Capacity: 30 or 42-round box magazines
Calibre: 5.56×45mm

Madsen M50 – Live Fire

The M50 is one of the quintessential early Cold War submachine guns. Cheap, simple and utilitarian. It evolved from the earlier M46 and was developed by Dansk Industri Syndikat in Denmark. The M50 has a simple blowback action, is chambered in 9×19mm and feeds from 32-round double stack single feed magazines.

The weapon’s has a clam-shell like receiver that hinges at the rear and allows the barrel, bolt and recoil spring to be removed. The M50’s folding stock has a leather cover and while the length of pull is a little short it provides a decent cheek weld.

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Madsen M50 (Matthew Moss)

The M50 has a relatively slow rate of fire of around 500 rounds per minute which makes it very easy to make single shots while in full-auto. The sights are extremely simple with a single rear peep sight.

It has manual safety switch on the left side of the receiver which locks the sear in place and a spring-loaded grip safety just behind the magazine well. The amount of pressure needed to disengage it is minimal and a firm firing grip of the magazine is all that is needed. 

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Right side of the Madsen M50 with stock folded (Matthew Moss)

The Madsen went through a number of changes with various models having different magazine release types, selectors and manual safety positions. The M53 introduced in 1953, fed from a curved magazine and had an improved magazine release. Some models had an additional fire-selector and the safety moved back above the trigger. Some models retained the forward grip safety while others moved it to behind the pistol grip. Some patterns of M53 also had a barrel shroud for mounting a bayonet as well as added wooden panels on the pistol grip.

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Left side of the Madsen M50 with stock deployed and magazine removed, not the improved magazine release (Matthew Moss)

We’ll have a more in-depth look at the Madsen M50 in the future looking at the various models in some more detail.

Special thanks to my friend Chuck at Gunlab for letting me take a look at his M50.


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Specifications:

Overall Length: 31in w/stock deployed
Weight: ~7 lbs
Action: Blowback, open bolt
Capacity: 32-round box magazines
Calibre: 9×19mm

Hotchkiss Type Universal

 

The need for compact weapons capable of being carried with ease by troops who would be getting in and out of vehicles, jumping from planes and fighting in close quarters had been proven during World War Two.  While it may look unusual the Hotchkiss ‘Type Universel’ was an extraordinary attempt at creating an extremely compact submachine gun.

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Right-side Hotchkiss Type Universel (Matthew Moss)

Submachine guns had proven themselves to be an useful weapon during the war, their small size and high rate of fire made them invaluable, especially in close-quarter situations. The post-war French army found itself armed with a plethora of surplus submachine guns, which included: the German MP40, the British STEN and the American Thompson as well as their own pre-war MAS-38s, in 7.65x20mm Longue, which had been designed before the war. By 1946 they had already begun the process of selecting a new, more compact submachine gun. Seeking to standardise on a single weapon and calibre they selected 9x19mm and launched a programme to find a new submachine gun or Pistolet Mitrailleur.

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MAS-38 (Rock Island Auction Company)

The French War Ministry launched a call for state arsenals and civilian manufacturers, such a Hotchkiss and Gevelot/Gevarm, to submit submachine guns for trials. Hotchkiss submitted the Type 010 or Type Universel, often anglicised as Universal, despite this the guns are typically marked ‘CMH2’ – ‘Carabine Mitrailleuse Hotchkiss’.

Chambered in 9x19mm, the Hotchkiss fed from MP40-pattern magazines, used the ubiquitous blowback action, it fired from a closed bolt and had a cyclic rate of approximately 650-rounds per minute. The Hotchkiss is select fire with a push through selector that allows for semi and full-auto fire. It appears that the weapon’s only safety mechanism is to close the ejection port cover and lock the bolt in place – much like a US M3 Grease Gun.

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Right side collapsed Hotchkiss Type Universel (Matthew Moss)

Designers went to extraordinary lengths to minimise the size of the Universel. Not only did the stock fold beneath the barrel but the magazine well and magazine could be rotated forward to sit beneath the barrel with the magazine fitting between a U-shaped cut-out in the butt stock. The weapon is a curious mix of stamped metal and complex machining with a difficult to machine bolt and barrel contrasting with a stamped sheet metal lower receiver and wide stamped trigger.

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Left side collapsed Hotchkiss Type Universel (Matthew Moss)

In 1950 Hotchkiss sales material described their weapon as “the individual defense weapon meeting the requirements of the most modern Armies and Police. Folded up, it is very compact, easy to transport, conceal and parachute. It is quick to set up and comes unfolded in the form of a carabiner…”

The weapon’s pistol grip was hollow and when folding up the stock, the grip folds forward to cover the trigger. The Universel’s most interesting feature is its telescoping barrel which retracts several inches inside the receiver. These features brought the Hotchkiss’ length down from 30.6 inches (77.6cm) when the stock was extended, to 22 inches (54cm) with the stock folded, and an impressive 17.25 inches (43.5cm) when fully collapsed. The nature of how the pistol grip folded with the stock meant the weapon could not be fired with its stock collapsed. When fully collapsed the weapons’ depth was just 6 inches or 15.3cm.

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A partially collapsed Hotchkiss, with magazine in folded position and barrel extended (Royal Armouries)

To Deploy:

First we unfold the stock by pushing the knurled collar forward to unhook it from the base of the magazine well. When fully unfolded a spring detent locks into the rear of the receiver.

At the same time the pistol grip also unfolds. If we had a magazine loaded into the weapon we would deploy the barrel first – in order to allow the magazine to slide back through the magazine well and fold down to lock into position. The bolt follows the barrel forward so once the magazine is locked into position the weapon has to he be charged to chamber a round.

The collapse the weapon again, first fold the stock, then depress the lever just behind the trunnion to unlock the barrel, push the barrel assembly and bolt to the rear until it locks.

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Left side Hotchkiss Type Universel (Matthew Moss)

The Universel’s extreme compactness was both its best and worst feature, the complexity of having every protruding part fold or retract made the weapon expensive to produce. It also gave the weapon poor ergonomics with a narrow butt, an uncomfortable pistol grip and narrow sights which weren’t ideal for quick target acquisition.

The Hotchkiss was one of a whole host of compact folding submachine guns developed after World War Two. These included the MAS MLE 1948, the MAC Mle 1947 and of course the MAT-49 from French state-arsenals. The French guns were by no means the first to have folding magazines, that concept dates back to submachine guns like the SIG MKMO. Incidentally, SIG’s last developmental iteration of their submachine guns, the MP48, was also developed in the late 1940s and retained the MKMO’s folding magazine housing.

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Close up of the Hotchkiss Type Universel’s receiver (Matthew Moss)

A 2001 article from the Gazette des Armes, by Michel Malberbe, includes an account from a Legionnaire sergeant who describes using the Hotchkiss in Indochina:

“I saw for the first time the submachine gun Hotchkiss in ‘Indo’. We were responsible for the security of the RC4 [Route Coloniale 4], and the staff sent us wooden cases containing these famous submachine guns. As the documents were not very complete, our company commander… had trouble explaining how it worked. It was quite funny, because folded, this submachine gun did not look very serious. It was like a rectangular scrap metal package… We used it for the first time on the Lang Son side, during a serious collision between the Viets and a convoy… I remember that this machine worked very well. But it lacked a little precision. Anyway, it was much better than the small MAS-38 submachine gun, whose magazine always blocked [jammed] at the wrong time! On the other hand, I think I remember that the Hotchkiss did not stand up to mud and that it was misery to clean it. In addition it was quite difficult to unfold because of the buttons found everywhere. We never knew which one to press. We, in any case, always transported them in the firing position…”

While the Type Universel definitely wouldn’t win any prizes for its aesthetics, it was a ambitiously-engineered and well-built submachine gun. Despite this the design was simply too complex, as we have heard troops in the field rarely took advantage of its compact features preferring to carry the weapon at the ready. The Universel sacrificed a lot to achieve its compactness and the ergonomics of the weapon leave a lot to be desired with an extremely small butt and a hollow pistol grip that just feels wrong.

It is believed that in total just 7,000 Hotchkiss Universels were produced between 1948 and 1952. The French military rejected the Hotchkiss feeling the weapons was too complex and too expensive to manufacture. Instead, the MAT-49 submachine gun, designed by Tulle, was eventually adopted. The MAT-49 also had a folding magazine housing making it almost as compact as the Universel but without its complexities.

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Close up of right side of the Hotchkiss Type Universel’s receiver (Matthew Moss)

While it underwent some field testing with the French in Indochina no major military contracts were won but small numbers were purchased by the French police, the colonial police in Morocco and some were sold to the military of Venezuela. The Universel would be one of the last firearms produced by Hotchkiss et Cie, who had built numerous armaments for the French army during the 19th and 20th centuries, before it closed its weapons manufacturing arm in the early 1950s refocusing on automobile manufacture.

Special thanks to Battlefield Vegas for allowing us to take a look at their Hotchkiss.


If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters. You can also support us via one-time donations here.


Specifications:

Overall Length: Deployed – 30.6in (77.6cm) / Collapsed – 17.25in (43.5cm)
Barrel Length: 10.6in (27cm)
Weight: 7.6lbs (3.4kg)
Action: Blowback, closed bolt
Capacity: 32-round box magazines
Calibre: 9×19mm
Rate of Fire: ~650 rpm


Bibliography:

‘La Carabine Mitrailleuse: Hotchkiss Modele 010’, Gazette des Armes #256, R. Out

‘Carabine Mitrailleuse Hotchkiss (CMH2) Type Universel’, Gazette des Armes #321, M. Malberbe

Hotchkiss Submachine Guns, Small Arms Review, J. Huon (source)

Submachine Guns, M. Popenker & A.G. Williams (2011)

Walther P5

The Walther P5 was developed in the mid-1970s as an response to the West German police’s continued search for a 9x19mm service pistol to replace the older smaller calibre pistols then in service, like the Walther PP. It was developed to fit the new police specification for a small, handy pistol which could be brought into action quickly. Walther’s design competed against pistols from Mauser, Heckler & Koch and SIG Sauer.

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Walther P38 (Rock Island Auctions)

The P5′s design evolved from the P38, combining the lock work and dual recoil springs of the P38 (re-designated the P1 in 1963) with a shortened barrel and a full length slide. While a shortened P38k had been produced in the early 1970s, this was only an as an interim solution. The P38K retained the same slide and frame as the original P38s, but had the front sight mounted on the front strap of the frame and none of the pistol’s contours were rounded to aid drawing and returning to a holster. Only around 2,600 P38Ks were produced.

Following the attack on the 1972 Munich Olympics games West German police began the search for a new service police. Walther’s response, the P5, was introduced in 1978. The P5 is a locked-breech pistol and has double-action/single-action (DA/SA) trigger. It uses the same short-recoil operated system and locking mech as the P38. This means that the barrel and slide recoil together for a short distance before the locking block falls and allows the slide to continue moving rearward, ejecting a spent case and chambering a new round.

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Walther P5 (Matthew Moss)

Walther moved the P5’s decocker from the slide to the frame and this also served as the slide stop and slide release. I would say that the P5’s decocker is easier to operate, with a shorter length of travel, than the SIG P6’s.

Following the West German police specification Walther designed the pistol to be safely and rapidly brought into action, and as a result dispensed the manual safety. Instead, the pistol could be carried in condition two – with a round in the chamber and the hammer down. This was safely achieved by some upgrades to the P5’s hammer and firing pin. There is a small recess in the pistol’s hammer for the firing pin. The firing pin only moves into alignment with the hammer surface when the trigger is pulled.

The P5 has a 3.5 inch (9cm) barrel and fed from an 8-round, single stack, magazine with a heel release. Like the P38 the pistol ejects to the left rather than the right. The P5 has a stronger and more durable fully enclosed slide which is contoured to aid holstering. The pistol has an alloy frame, with full-length slide rails and an enlarged trigger guard for use with gloves.

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Diagram showing the P5’s parts and internal layout (Walther)

In addition to the P5, Walther also developed a compact model for plain clothes use which had a slightly shorter barrel (3.1 inches), slide and a truncated hammer. It was introduced in 1988 and had a lighter alloy frame with the P5 Compact weighing 750g (1.65lbs) rather than 795g (1.75lbs). While early production pistols retained the heel magazine release the majority had a thumb release. A small number of P5-Lang, long barrel target pistols were also produced in the late 1980s.

Disassembly is simple and comes directly from the P38. The slide is retracted a little until the barrel catch can be rotated. The slide and barrel can then be slid forward off the frame once the trigger is pulled.

The P5 proved to be an accurate and reliable pistol and once it was accepted by the police trials (along with the designs from Heckler & Koch and SIG-Sauer – the P7 and P6 respectively.) It was adopted by uniformed officers of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate’s State Police – these pistols were marked ‘BMI’ for Bundesministerium des Innern – the Federal Ministry of the Interior. This pistol is a BMI-marked gun and dates from February 1983.

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Walther P5 brochure cover (Walther)

It also became the standard issue sidearm of the Dutch police who purchased around 50,000 pistols, becoming Walther’s largest customer for the P5. The Dutch guns were later fitted with aftermarket Houge rubber grips and some changes to the hammer safety system were later made in the mid-1990s. The Dutch police retired the P5 in 2013 replacing it with the P99Q.

The P5 also saw some military sales with elements of the Portuguese Army adopting it and the P5 Compact was also adopted by the British Army. Selected in the late 1980s for issue as a personal protection side arm. It was designated the Pistol L102A1 and was extensively issued to British troops in Ireland for use while in plain clothes or off duty.

The P5 on screen: Sean Connery as James Bond in, the technically unofficial, 1983 Bond movie Never Say Naver Again. Roger Moore’s Bond also carried it in Octopussy (also in 1983)

While certainly one of Walther’s lesser known pistols the P5 is a well-made, well-designed duty pistol, with comfortable ergonomics – the fiddly magazine catch not withstanding – and the slide and decocker are very smooth to operate. The trigger pull in both the single and double action modes is also pretty good. Overall, around 100,000 pistols were produced before production came to an end in 1993.


Specifications (P5 Standard:

Overall Length: 7.1in
Barrel Length: 3.5in
Weight: 1.75lbs (795g)
Action: short-recoil with locked breech
Capacity: 8-round box magazines
Calibre: 9×19mm


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The B53 ‘Bunker Busting’ Thermonuclear Bomb

In the late 1950s the US military began development of a bomb capable of destroying deeply buried bunkers. The result was a bunker busting unguided thermonuclear bomb. Durng a visit to the Atomic Testing Museum, in Las Vegas, Matt had the chance to take a look at a decommissioned B53 up close.

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B53 on display at the Atomic Testing Museum (Matthew Moss)

The B53 is a two-stage high-yield thermonuclear weapon, designed as a bunker buster, that could deliver a massive shockwave deep underground to the deepest Soviet command and control bunkers. Developed between 1958 and 1961, the B53 was intended to combat deeply emplaced Soviet bunkers with a yield of 9 megatons. It used a highly enriched uranium core as its primary fission stage with Lithium-6 deuteride as its second stage fusion element. The warhead itself was developed from the earlier Mk46 warhead, the experimental TX-53 was tested at the Pacific Proving Grounds as part of Operation HARDTACK I, which saw no less than 35 nuclear test detonations. Codenamed HARDTAK OAK, the TX-53 was detonated aboard a floating barge on 28th June 1958, with a yield of 8.9 megatons. The detonation created a cloud 78,000 feet (23.8 km) tall.

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Cloud produced by HARDTACK OAK (Los Alamos National Laboratory Archive)

Designed to be dropped from the Strategic Air Command’s B-47, B-52 or B-58 bombers, the B53 is a gravity bomb which free fell to its target and could be air or surface detonated. The bomb itself weighed 8850 lbs or 4014kg and the casing is 12.5 feet long (3.8m) and just about 50in (1.27m) in diameter. The bomb’s outer-casing is split into a nose section, a two-piece central casing and the rear assembly with four fins which housed the parachute assembly. They were built by the Atomic Energy Commission between 1962 and 1965, over 340 bombs were built. Initially designated the Mk53 it was re-designated the B53 in 1968, when the US Air Force updated its ordnance nomenclature.

The bomb itself could be deployed in four ways: a delayed surface burst, a free fall air burst, a parachute retarded air burst (the B53 had five parachutes at the rear which can be deployed) or an immediate contact surface burst. Here we can see the panel to control the parachute deployment, with markings for safe, free fall and retard.

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Declassified general diagram showing the assemblies of the B53 (US DoD)

The B53 was obsolete in terms of its safety by the early 1980s with none of the more modern safety features such as an Enhanced Nuclear Detonation Safety (ENDS) additionally its explosive lens, consisting of a mix of RDX and TNT was not an insensitive munition – meaning it wasn’t designed to resist detonation from external stimuli or damage. The B53 also had no Fire-Resistant Pit (which prevents the spread of radioactive material in the event of a far), Permissive Action Link (which prevent unauthorised arming) or Command Disable safety measures.

B53 at the Pantex Plant in Texas about to begin the dismantling process (National Nuclear Security Administration)

Many of the B53s in US inventory were decommissioned in the mid-1980s, and by 1987 just 50 were retained in inventory. The last of these were disassembled and decommissioned by October 2011 – after being in service for 50 years. The B53 was replaced in its bunker busting role by the smaller B61 Mod 11.


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Bibliography:

Operation Hardtack I Fact Sheet, US Strategic Command Centre for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction, (source)

Operation Hardtack I 1958, US Defense Nuclear Agency, (source)

‘Scrapping the Unsafe Nuke’, Federation of American Scientists, (source)

Hardtack OAK footage courtesy of Atomicarchive

 

The Room The Nazis Surrendered In

Matt recently visited Berlin and took the opportunity to visit the German-Russian Museum in Karlshorst, the site of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender. The museum’s centrepiece is the hall in which the surrender documents were signed, restored to how it appeared at that historic moment.

The hall itself is inside what used to be the officers’ mess of the Wehrmacht’s pioneer corps training school No.1 (Pionierschule 1) which was established in 1936 in Karlshorst, an eastern suburb of Berlin. The officers’ mess building was built in the late 1930s. Later, in 1942 the school was renamed the Fortress Pioneer School (or Festungspionierschule).

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The Pioneer School’s Officers’ Mess under Soviet occupation, c.1945

During the Battle for Berlin and the Soviet push into the centre of the German capital, the school was occupied by a Soviet battalion on 23rd April. The Soviet military maintained a presence at the former pioneer school for the next 40 years, with parts used by the KGB.

After the war the building housed the Soviet Military Administration in Germany until 1949, when the German Democratic Republic was formed. Today, much of the school has been reclaimed for housing and the mess the building is home to the awkwardly named, German-Russian Museum which tells the story of WWII from the Russian perspective.

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The former Officers’ Mess today (Matthew Moss)

The surrender was signed by three representatives of the German high command, Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, Admiral Von Friedeburg and Colonel General Stumpff early on the 9th May, 1945 – in the presence of Soviet commander in chief Marshal Georgy Zhukov and Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder – Deputy Supreme Commander at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force.

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The hall in which the surrender was signed (Matthew Moss)

The initial instrument of surrender had been signed in Riems, in France, the day before but the documents were officially ratified in Berlin at 00:16, on 9th May. The Soviets believed it was more fitting that the surrender be signed in the German capital – highlighting the Soviet role in victory. The surrender ended both the last of the fighting around Berlin as well as the war in Europe.

In 1967 the Soviet Armed Forces in Berlin established the museum, then called the ‘Museum of Unconditional Surrender of Fascist Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945’, the hall was restored to look as it did on the night of the surrender.

It was a surreal experience being in a room which was witness to one of history’s most defining moment and you could certainly feel the history of the room.

You can find out more about the museum here.


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