Remington’s Hybrid .303 M1903

In 1940, following the evacuation from Dunkirk the British Army was in desperate need of small arms, with over 100,000 rifles left behind in France. In dire need of rifles Britain turned to the US and its huge industrial base and approached a number of companies about tooling up to produce Lee-Enfield Rifle No.4s. Savage Arms took on one contract and projected production of 1,000 per day but establishing production of a rifle US companies didn’t have the tooling and gauges for would take time.

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Right side of the Remington (Matthew Moss)

Remington was also approached by the British Purchasing Commission and asked if they could manufacture up to 400,000 rifles. Remington estimated it would take up to 30 months to tool up for No.4 production. However, Remington believed that if they could lease the old tooling previously used at the Rock Island Arsenal to produce M1903s, from the US Government, they could tool up to produce the M1903 in just 12 months. It was suggested that the tooling be adapted to produce rifles chambered in the British .303 cartridge. Some ergonomic changes could also be made so the rifles mimicked the British No.4.

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Left side of the Remington (Matthew Moss)

 

On 12th December 1940, the British government issued a Letter of Intent to Remington for the manufacture of 500,000 rifles in .303 British. Some sources suggest the British agreed to an advanced payment of $4,000,000. Much of this covered the lease, transport and refurbishment of the M1903 tooling. The rest went on the purchase of raw materials and the necessary accessories for half a million rifles.

The tooling lease was agreed in March 1941, and the US Government also supplied 600,000 stock blanks which had been in storage in exchange for ammunition produced by Remington. With the passage of the Lend-Lease act, on 11th March, the Remington contract came under the control of the US Government, rather than a private order. Remington received the last tooling shipments from Rock Island Arsenal on 22nd April, and by the end of May had the production line up and running.

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A detail view of the rifle’s action and follower note the ‘2’ stamped on the follower (Matthew Moss)

A contract to produce the hybrid rifles at a cost of $5 per rifle was agreed in late June. Remington’s engineers began setting up the equipment and working out an ad hoc production layout that would allow 1,000+ rifles per day to be built. At least four pilot models were built, with some of these guns being sent to Britain. The rifles were reportedly received in September 1941, and following preliminary examination were described as “very successful”. Four of the rifles were distributed for further testing but by the end of 1941 the project had been abandoned.

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A close up of the adapted muzzle and foresight so the rifle could fit a No.4 bayonet (Matthew Moss)

Remington made a number of external and internal changes to approximate the British No.4. They fitted a front sight post with sight protectors which was moved further back from the muzzle to enable the rifle to mount a Rifle No.4 spike bayonet. As such the upper barrel band does not have a bayonet lug.

Many of these parts are still in-the-white, unfinished, including the barrel, barrel bands, floor plate, front sight assembly, rear sight assembly and the bolt itself. The bolt does, however, have a parkerized cocking piece.

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The rifle’s bolt (Matthew Moss)

The hybrid also moves the rear sight back onto the receiver, which necessitates a longer piece of wooden furniture covering where the M1903’s ladder sight would normally be. The style of rear sight was also changed to a two-position flip sight with apertures for 300 and 600 yards mimicking those seen on the No.4 Mk2.

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A close up of the rifle’s bolt, cocking piece (which wasn’t properly inserted) and rear sight (Matthew Moss)

 

They also redesigned the charger guide to support the Lee-Enfield-type chargers rather than the M1903 stripper clips. The bolt was adapted to work with Britain’s rimmed .303 round, with the extractor modified for the British cartridges wider, thicker rim.

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A close up of the bolt head (Matthew Moss)

The rifle did not have the Lee-Enfield’s detatchable box-magazine, instead retaining the M1903’s 5-round internal magazine. The magazine follower does not appear to have been altered either. Markings on the rifle are minimal and include a ‘7’ on the front sight post, a ‘B2’ on the bolt handle and a ‘2’ stamped on the magazine follower. No roll marks or serial numbers appear to be present.

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The faux Lee-Enfield stock with spliced in semi-pistol grip (Matthew Moss)

The rifle’s stock has also been adapted, so instead of a straight wristed-stock a piece of wood has been spliced in to create a Lee-Enfield style contour, forming a semi-pistol grip. The stock is marked with the inspector marks ‘WJS’, which indicate the stock was originally inspected by W.J. Strong and accepted between 1918 and 1921, as well as a pair of later Springfield Armory inspection cartouches: ‘SPG’ – the initials of Stanley P. Gibbs, who was an inspector at Springfield Armory between 1936-1942 and ‘GHS’ – the initials of Brigadier General Gilbert H. Stewart (GHS), Springfield’s commander in the late 1930s- early 1940s. This would suggest that the stock was refurbished at Springfield Armory before being transferred to Remington where it was subsequently adapted.

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A detail shot of the stock’s Ordnance stampings (Matthew Moss)

In August 1941, the US began its re-armament programme and in September the British contract with Remington was cancelled. At the same time production in Canada and at Savage’s J. Stevens Arms division in the US had gotten underway and it was decided that the adapted hybrid .303 M1903s developed at Remington was no longer needed. The hybrid contract was formally cancelled in December 1941, and additional .30-06 M1903s and M1917s were taken under the Lend-Lease Agreement to fulfil the needs of the Home Guard. Savage believed that they could significantly increase the number of rifles they could build per day, they managed to enter full production by the end of 1941 and by 1944 had produced well over 1 million No.4s.

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Remington went on to produce M1903s for the US military, overcoming issues with the original engineering drawings and the tooling dimensions to eventual produce 365,000 M1903s by mid-1943, before switching to production of the M1903A3 pattern and producing 707,629 rifles. In total Remington produced 1,084,079 M1903-pattern rifles during World War Two.

The Remington .303 M1903 hybrids are perhaps the rarest M1903 variant, with only a handful built. They would likely have been perfectly serviceable rifles and helped plug the desperate gap in Britain’s arsenal. Rapidly moving events ensured that these rifles became a footnote in both the Lee-Enfield and Springfield 1903’s histories.

Special thanks to both Remington and the Cody Firearms Museum for allowing us to take a look at this extremely rare rifle.


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Bibliography:

‘Production of Military Rifles by Remington Arms Company in Ilion, New York During World War II’, American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin 92:14-24, R. Marcot

The Lee-Enfield Story, I. Skennerton, (1993)

The M1903 Springfield Rifle, L. Thompson, (2013)

‘The 1903 Springfield’, HBSA UK, (source)

The Model 1903 Springfield Rife, J. Poyer, (2013)

 

 

A Walk Around the Cody Firearms Museum

Last summer I had the chance to visit the newly renovated Cody Firearms Museum. With the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic I thought now was a good time to finish my walk-around video taking a look at the new museum.

The museum has always had an extremely impressive collection of firearms and gun related artefacts, some of which we’ve been lucky enough to feature in videos, but the new museum puts more of these amazing firearms on display than ever before.

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The CFM’s new and improved ‘gun fan’ (Matthew Moss)

The $12 million renovation has also allowed the museum to become much more interactive too with working models, touch screens and shooting simulators.

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A view back through the first main gallery (Matthew Moss)

A new intuitive layout lets you explore firearm history either by chronology or by theme. In the photo above we can see some of the displays in the chronological gallery that shows the evolution of civilian and military firearms from their invention to the present.

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Some of the weapons of the West on display along with the original Winchester factory name stone (Matthew Moss)

One of the features I really liked was that many of the cases can be viewed on both sides allowing you to see all around the firearms.

Around the exhibits are touch screens where you can call up more information, first hand war stories and even animations of how various firearms work.

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A gallery full of beautifully engraved firearms including some presidential presentation pistols (Matthew Moss)

There is also a gallery of ornately decorated firearms which includes some incredible pieces.

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A detail shot from the military gallery (Matthew Moss)

Unsurprisingly, the military gallery was one of my favourite parts of the museum with dozens of guns organised by conflict and period.

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One of the cases in the military gallery (Matthew Moss)
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A look back through the recreated machine shop (Matthew Moss)

One of the best features of the original museum has also been retained, a recreation of a gun factory’s drafting room and machine shop.

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A detail shot of some of the ammunition packaging on display in the ‘general store’ (Matthew Moss)

One of the most interesting little sections is a recreation of a general store showing off some of the items that companies like Winchester made alongside their well known firearms.

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A case dedicated to experimental prototypes with the Gatling used in the initial development of the Vulcan in the foreground (Matthew Moss)

Downstairs is a space dedicated to experimental prototypes and a rolling wall of cases that include examples of hundreds of types of firearms and ammunition.

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Some of the rolling cases open in the hall dedicated to showing off as many firearms as possible (Matthew Moss)

The newly refurbished museum puts the collection front and centre in a way that will enthral the average museum-goer and satisfy any avid gun enthusiast.

You can find out more about the museum here and check out some of the firearms we have had the privilege of examining from the CFM’s collection here.


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Steyr MPi 81

Developed in the late 1960s and introduced in 1969/70 the MPi 69 was Steyr’s entry into an already crowded European submachine gun market. Heavily influenced by the Israeli Uzi it had a bolt which telescoped over the barrel and fed from a box magazine that was inserted through a magazine well-come-pistol grip.

The MPi 69 weighed 6.5lbs (2.93kg) unloaded and had a polymer lower receiver into which a stamped metal upper inserted. Unlike the Uzi it had a collapsing, rather than folding stock, similar to the M3 submachine gun’s, and was cocked not by a handle but by pulling the sling (which was acted on the bolt) to the rear.

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Steyr MPi 69 (Rock Island Auction Company)

The MPi 69 remained in production into the early 1980s when it was replaced by the improved MPi 81. Moving away from the slick-cocking ‘gimmick’ the MPi 81 had a conventional, non-reciprocating, charging handle on the left side of the receiver. The MPi’s polymer lower allows it to be a pound lighter despite being slightly longer as a result it also balances better than the standard Uzi carbine.

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Steyr MPi 69 diagram (Steyr Manual)

The MPi submachine guns fed from 25 or 32 round box magazines and both guns had a heel-type magazine release paddle in the base of the pistol grip. They also shared their magazines with the AUG 9x19mm submachine gun conversion. Check out our earlier video on the Steyr AUG conversion here.

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Steyr MPi 81 (Rock Island Auction Company)

The MPi submachine guns fire from an open bolt and had a 10in barrel and has a push through safety with settings for safe, semi and full auto and unlike the Uzi it does not have a grip safety – simplifying manufacture.

The MPi also has a progressive trigger which when set to full-auto will allow the user to fire semi when pulled to the first stage and full when pulled fully to the rear. While the MPi 69 had a cyclic rate of around 500 per minute, the MPi 81 increased this rate to ~750rpm.

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Steyr MPi 69 disassembly diagram (Steyr Manual)

The MPi can be field stripped by simply rotating the receiver end cap up 90-degrees and pulling the bolt out the rear. The gun can be further stripped but the moulded polymer lower receiver can be difficult to remove from the upper. Like the Uzi the barrel nut is unscrewed to remove the barrel.

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The MPi 81 fully disassembled (Vic Tuff)

It is unclear just how many MPi submachine guns were produced but they didn’t see any significant contracts beyond a few small sales to police forces and militaries.

The MPi 81 remained in production into the early 1990s when it was replaced by the smaller and more compact Steyr TMP in 1992. In turn the TMP design was sold to B&T a decade later.

Our thanks to the collection that let us take a look at this MPi 81 and to our friend Miles Vining for sharing some of his shooting footage of the MPi 81 with us, check out his video here and more of his work at www.silahreport.com.


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Specifications (from Steyr brochure):

Overall Length: Deployed – 26.6in (67.5cm) / Collapsed – 18.3in (46.5cm)
Barrel Length: 10.2in (26cm)
Weight (empty): 6.28lbs (2.85kg)
Action: Blowback
Capacity: 25 or 32-round box magazines
Calibre: 9×19mm
Rate of Fire: ~750 rpm


Bibliography:

Steyr MPi 69 Manual (source)

Steyr MPi 81 Manual (source)

 

MkVIII ‘International’ Heavy Tank

This is the last of our series of videos/articles on the US Tanks of WWI, you can find all episodes here.

The MkVIII Heavy Tank holds the distinction of being the result of the first successful international co-operative tank project. Developed with input from British and American designers and engineers, intended to be equipped with British weapons and an American engine, with parts made in the US and Britain and to be assembled in France – a truly international undertaking. The MkVIII, sometimes referred to as ‘The International’ or ‘Liberty Tank’, owed its basic design to earlier British heavy tanks but a number of important changes were made.

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Port side of a MK VIII heavy tank (US National Archives)

Intended for introduction in 1919, the war ended before the MkVIII could enter service and even before its French factory had been completed. It did, however, see some production and inter-war service providing the heavy tank backbone of the US’ tank force for many years.

The design evolved from work by British Lieutenant G.J Rackham with later input from American engineer Major Herbert Alden. The MkVIII heavy was very much an evolution of the earlier British rhomboid heavy tanks but Rackham and Alden made some important improvements. Chiefly the redesigning of the tank’s sponsons which housed a pair of British 6pdr guns. While the tank was a foot narrower than its predecessors, the new folding sponsons could enabled the tank to be transported more easily by rail and to also, in theory, navigate narrow spaces. Alden patented this feature in December 1918 (US #1366550). Additionally, the commander’s ‘outlook turret’ positioned on top of the tank’s turret, which had vision slits on all four sides, was also retractable. Alden’s sponsons were hinged at the front and mounted on rolling bearings so they could pivot inwards.

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Alden’s patent for his pivoting sponson (US Patent Office)

The MkVIII directly addressed several shortcomings of earlier British heavy tanks, firstly the engine was insulated in its own compartment to prevent exhaust fumes overwhelming the crew. A new ventilation system was also added with a fan keeping fumes out of the fighting compartment. Secondly, overall visibility was improved with protected vision and revolver slits and the addition of the tank’s commander’s turret.

Another important design change was the move to longer tracks, about 5 inches in length, which required a dozen less links than the MkV. Each of the links was shallowly stamped to increase its strength. In terms of armament the MkVIII was designed as solely ‘male’ – with guns in its sponsons, not machine guns – however, with a raised tower on the tanks roof this provided positions for five machine guns in hemispherical ball mounts. Two more machine guns could be mounted in the tank’s hull doors located behind the sponsons. The ammunition for the 6pdr guns was held in a central ammunition storage box but the sponsons also had shell storage space surrounding the guns themselves.

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The MkVIII’s V12 engine (US Army Preliminary Handbook for the MkVIII)

The 37 ton tank was to be powered by an American V12 aircraft petrol engine manufactured by the Liberty company. Although a cheaper, water-cooled Liberty was eventually used in the American tanks. The British developed a similar 12 cylinder engine from Ricardo. This, in theory, produced 300 horsepower with a top speed of just over 6mph and a range of just under 40 miles. The MkVIII’s engine was moved from the centre of the tank to a separate engine compartment at the rear of the tank. This not only reduced engine heat and fumes in the fighting compartment but also made communication easier. Some sources also suggest that the MkVIII was the first tank to have an electronic intercom system.

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An officer illustrates how one of the tank’s ball mounted machine guns worked – the gun itself is an M1919 tank machine gun (US Library of Congress)

The American Preliminary Handbook for the MkVIII listed the tanks as being equipped with 7 ‘Hotchkiss .303-inch machine guns’, these are likely to be Hotchkiss Portative MkI*s popular in British service. In US service, however, the tanks were likely later equipped with the new Browning M1919 Tank Machine Guns. The tank carried 182 rounds of 6pdr ammunition and an additional 26 smoke rounds as well as 21,000 rounds of machine gun ammunition to keep the 7 machine guns fed.The tank’s armour was also increased lightly from the previous MkV, with 16mm of frontal armour and between 10 and 12mm at the sides. Less vulnerable areas had armour 6mm thick.

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A partial cutaway view of the tank (US Army Preliminary Handbook for the MkVIII)

The American MkVIIIs were initially planned to be manned by an eleven-man crew made up of a driver, commander, two gunners and two loaders to man 6pdrs, four machine gunners and a mechanic. Later crew complements probably dispensed with two of the machine gunners as the US MkVIIIs operated during the inter-war period dispensed with two of the midships machine guns. The British crew was planned to be smaller with 8-men fighting the tank, made up of a driver, commander a pair of gunners and loaders for the main guns and two machine gunners who were tasked with manning the tank’s various machine guns. Impressively the 34 feet long tank also had room for as many as 22 infantry to be transported.

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A MkVIII demonstrating its power by destroying a tree during testing (US National Archives)

As an allied collaborative project the production of parts was to be a collaborative effort. Britain was to contribute armour plate, structural frame work and armament. The American contribution was to include the automotive parts including the engine, brakes, drive sprockets, gears and transmission.

The French were largely uninterested in British heavy tanks and their primary contribution to the MkVIII project was a factory site near the village of Neuvy-Pailloux, 165 miles south of Paris, in central France. Critically located well away from the fighting on a main rail route north, through Issoudun. Construction of the impressive factory appears to have begun in early 1918, with the framework of seven long production halls and the installation of a powerplant and generators and the building of railway sidings completed before the armistice in November 1918. Production barely got underway in Britain, let alone in France. Contemporary photographs taken in January 1919, by the US Army Signal Corps show the factory with its roof in various stages of completion, its shop floors unfinished and empty and open to the elements. The factory would eventually be completed and used by the French army as an artillery park and later a maintenance depot.

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The incomplete Neuvy-Pailloux factory c.1919 (US National Archives)

The oringal plan was for the tank parts to be shipped across the channel and the atlantic through France’s western coastal ports to be shipped by rail to Neuvy-Pailloux where they would be assembled into working tanks. It was envisaged that the workforce would be made up of Chinese labourers with British and American foremen and managers.

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Inside the incomplete factory (US National Archives)

As many as 3,000 tanks were planned for 1919. The British intended to build 1,450 MkVIIIs of their own use in addition to the 1,550 to be produced for general allied use. The British tank parts were to be manufactured in Manchester, by the various workshops of the Manchester Tanks Association, and in Glasgow, by the North British Locomotive Company. Mass production in Manchester never got underway and the initial British MkVIIIs were built in Glasgow – just 24 are believed to have been built, all but six of these were scrapped almost immediately. The first American tanks were assembled by the Locomobile Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. The American-assembled MkVIII completed acceptance trials in the spring of 1919. With the end of the war the US order was reduced from 1,500 to 100. 100 sets of hull components were bought from Britain and assembled with corresponding American parts at the Rock Island Arsenal.

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A US MkVIII at Camp Meade, c.1921 (US National Archives)

The MkVIII was the last of the British rhomboid heavy tanks. The handful of British MkVIIIs built never entered service but the 100 American tanks along with American built M1917s, MkV Heavies and Renault FTs brought back from France, formed the backbone of the US Tank Corps throughout the early inter-war period. The US MkVIIIs remained in use as training tanks until 1932. Today, just three are believed to survive; two in the US and one in Britain.


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Specifications:

Length: 34ft 2in / 10.4m

Height: 10ft 3in / 3.12m

Width: 12ft 4in / 3.75m

Weight: 37 tons

Powerplant: V12 Liberty or Ricardo engine

Speed: ~7mph / 11km

Armour: 6 – 16mm

Armament: Two QF 6pdr guns and seven .303 Hotchkiss Portative Mk1* or M1919 Browning Tank Machine Guns


Bibliography:

Preliminary Handbook of the Mark VIII Tank, US War Department, (November 1918) (source)

‘Tank’, H.W. Alden, US Patent #1366550, 25/01/1921 (source)

British Battle Tanks, World War I to 1939 – D. Fletcher (2016)

The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Military Vehicles, I.V. Hogg & J. Weeks (1980)

The Complete Guide to Tanks & Armoured Fighting Vehicles, G. Forty & J. Livesey, (2012)

Liberty Engine: A Technical & Operational History, R.J. Neal, (2009)

Tanks: 100 Years of Evolution, R. Ogorkiewicz (2015)

Walk Around: Donnington Castle

With many of us being stuck in COVID-19 imposed lockdowns I thought now would be a good time for a video-walk around Donnington Castle. Think of it as a virtual stroll. The 14th century castle found itself embroiled in a long siege during the English Civil War (1642–1651) with extensive earthworks built to defend the old castle.

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The approach to Donnington Castle (Matthew Moss)

Donnington Castle in Berkshire is sited at the top of a hill overlooking the River Lambourne, a mile north of Newbury. It was built by its original owner, Richard Abberbury the Elder, under a license granted by King Richard II in 1386. The castle was designed as a fortified residence with a rectangular enclosure with a three-storey round tower at each corner and two square towers midway along the longest sides. The gatehouse, the only remaining part of the castle is a three-storey rectangular building with two, four-storey, round towers flanking the entrance. The wall opposite the gatehouse bows outwards.

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Aerial view showing the outline of the castle’s walls (Matthew Prior)

The castles walls probably enclosed a hall, kitchens, storerooms and accommodation for guests with the main quarters being in the gatehouse keep. While not an elaborate, larger or militarily complex as some other castles it still imposing sight.

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The rear of the gatehouse shows the outline of former rooms which were damaged and demolished. Note the later brick used to repair some damage (Matthew Moss)
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The vaulted and corniced ceiling inside the gatehouse entrance, hinting at the castle’s role as a home more than a military position (Matthew Moss)

Both Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I visited the castle during the Tudor period.  The castle didn’t see action until the 1640s and the outbreak of the English Civil Wars (1642-1651). While the castle has been owned by a Parliamentarian family, the Royalists took control of the caste in 1643 and began fortifying it. Sir John Boys set about building elaborate star-fort defences around the original medieval castle. Boys built a set of angular trace Italienne at the considerable cost of around £1,000. Donnington Castle was one of many medieval castles that saw new life during the Civil Wars. Old castles along with churches and country houses were re-purposed and hastily defended by new earthworks.

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18th Century map showing outline of the castle’s Civil War defences

The castle’s new defences included four new bastions, with emplacements for cannon, ditches and a palisade wall. Royalist forces at the fort initially numbered just over 200 men and four cannon.  The Second Battle of Newbury was fought within sight of the castle in October 1644 and after the battle the castle’s defences were reinforced by a number of large guns left behind by King Charles’ retreating forces.

The castle itself was attacked numerous times during the war, during the second attack on the castle part of the wall was damaged. The castle had to be and had to be relieved by Royalist forces twice the final siege in March 1646 began. The castle was badly damaged after the siege with its walls and outer towers hardest hit but remained defensible. With no hope of relief the garrison surrendered and were allowed to march out with their colours.

As with so many other castles after the war Parliament voted to demolish it and only the gatehouse was left standing. It is now a scheduled monument.


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The Tank That Climbed A Mountain

In April 1919, a lone US-built M1917 light tank climbed over 11,000 feet up a mountain in Colorado. We are lucky enough to have some original photos and footage of the tank’s climb up Pikes Peak in the Rocky Mountains.

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The tank with ‘Pikes Peak or Bust’ painted on its hull (US National Archive)

Why was a tank driving up a mountain?

Simply put the expedition was a publicity stunt to help raise cash to pay off America’s war debt. By 1919 the cost of US involvement in World War One had reached $32 billion – that’s around $547 billion today.

The purpose of the stunt was to encourage Americans to purchase ‘Victory Liberty’ War Bonds which would help pay off some of the debt accrued by the war. This was the fifth, and final, round of Liberty Bond sales. The drive began in mid-April 1919, and aimed to sell $4.5 billion of government bonds.

The tank arrived in Colorado Springs at the beginning of April and on the 14th a crowd of nearly 1,000 people watched Mrs W.H.R. Stote, the chairwoman of Colorado Springs’ Victory Liberty loan committee, christened the tank ‘Little Zeb’  – after explorer Brigadier Zebulon Pike – who led an expedition that attempted to climb the mountain in 1806)

Mrs Stote reportedly declared  “I charge you with making the trip to the summit. As the Victory Loan shall not fail, you must make it to the top!” The tank’s commander Sgt. A.H. Worrell, told The Colorado Springs Gazette that he had “driven tanks over trees and trenches on the western front and I am betting we get to the top.”

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The road up to the summit of Pikes Peak, photographed in 1934 (US National Archive)

At the time the 19 mile road up to Pikes Peak was said to be the ‘World’s Highest Motor Drive’ with the summit at 14,115 feet (or 4,302m). Cpl. Howard Brewer, the tank’s driver told reporters “I know we can climb it. Given time, the tank could go to the top of the world.” In terms of publicity having the tank make it up the mountain would certainly have been quite a feat.

On the front of the tank’s hull the words ‘Pike’s Peak or bust’ were painted in white – this is a reference to a phrase coined by prospector’s during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of the 1860s.

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The tank on the road up Pikes Peak (Pikes Peak District Library)

The tank was driven by Corporal Howard Brewer and tended by a crew of mechanics and support vehicles. The road which climbed the mountain was unsurfaced and had only been completed in 1916. The tank’s ascent began on April 15, and incredibly over the next two days the tank climbed to 11,440 feet, 13 miles along the road and through several deep snow drifts, reportedly up to 20-feet tall, before a track plate snapped. After repairs the tank and support convoy pressed on – but the tank never made it to the summit. Not because of mechanical failure but unbelievably because it was needed to appear in other Colorado towns as part of the Victory Loan drive.

While the tank may not have reached the very top of the mountain, it unsurprisingly became a record breaker – setting the first elevation record for tanks. Western Union claimed that it also set a distance record for continuous distance travelled and penetrated the farthest into the snow than any other vehicle had ever done at that time of year – battling snow drifts up to 20 feet tall. While the US-built M1917 was never tested in battle the drive up the mountain proved it was a capable, hardy vehicle – demonstrating the tank’s abilities.

Bibliography:

Various photos and contemporary footage taken from the US National Archives (source)

Additional photos held by the The Manitou Springs Historical Society (source)

‘Army’s Tank Assault on Pikes Peak Was About More Than Being Macho’, The Gazette, M.L. Cavanaugh, (source)

U.S. Economy in World War I, Economic History Association, (source)


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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

 

CIS SAR-80

The SAR-80’s story begins in the early 1970s, when Frank Waters, the Sterling Armaments Company’s chief designer, began developing a 5.56x45mm rifle for sale to foreign militaries. While two initial prototypes were produced the project lapsed when Sterling secured a license to manufacture Eugene Stoner’s AR-18.

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Right-profile view of the SAR 80 (Matthew Moss)

In the late 70s the project was resurrected and in February 1977, two prototypes were sent to Chartered Industries of Singapore (CIS)[later known as ST Kinetics] who had been seeking a 5.56x45mm rifle design to produce for export to sustain production at their factory. The initial prototypes reportedly suffered issues with obturation with some cartridges and Sterling engineers worked to rectify this with another batch of half a dozen prototypes being sent to CIS in late 1977. CIS produced their first pre-production prototypes in 1978, for testing by the Singapore Army. CIS opted for a plastic buttstock and redesigned the handguards too.

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Factory brochure photo of Singaporean soldier with SAR 80 (CIS)

Initially described as the Sterling Light Automatic Rifle and later the Sterling Combat Rifle the rifle, however, as it finally entered production in 1979, it became known as the Singapore Assault Rifle 80 or the SAR-80. Some of the earlier rifles are also marked ‘Sterling Assault Rifle’.

The first SAR-80s were delivered to the Singapore Armed Forces in early 1981 for troop trials. Faults with these early production rifles included poor fit and finish and extractors which bent leading to extraction and ejection issues. Refinements made rectified these faults and subsequent production runs had improved reliability.

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Close up of the receiver, note the sliding dust cover is missing from this rifle (Matthew Moss)

The SAR-80 can be described as a clone of the Armalite AR-18 with their internal designs almost identical. The SAR-80 is gas-operated, with a short-stroke gas piston and a rotating bolt. The bolt has 7 locking lugs, the internal mechanics of the rifle are more or less identical to that of the AR-18, using dual recoil springs and a rectangular bolt carrier. The bolt geometries differ slightly to the AR-18’s and the SAR-80 also has an additional weight inside its bolt – which adds mass and helps slow the rate of fire down to around 600rpm. Like the AR-18 its charging handle is attached directly to the bolt carrier and is reciprocating.

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Frank Waters’ 1981 patent for the rifle (US Patent Office)

The rifle feeds from standard STANAG magazines and is select-fire, with a selector on the left side of the rifle and a magazine release on the right. The selector layout is modelled after the M16’s and the front handguard’s design was also influenced by the M16. The SAR-80 has simple stamped receiver, similar in profile to the AR-18’s, it has a crackle-paint finish, like that seen on the commercial Sterling Mk4 SMGs. It has a two-position folding rear peep sight and is 97cm (38in) long and weighs 3.7 kg (8.2 lb) unloaded.

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Close up of the rifle’s sights, note the rudimentary scope mounting rail (Matthew Moss)

The SAR-80 had a bayonet lug just beneath its adjustable gas block and mounted an M16-pattern bayonet, other accessories included a scope mount, bipod and a blank-firing adaptor. And of course a folding stock variant was also available.

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Graphic showing the rifle’s features from factory brochure (Matthew Moss)

I didn’t have a chance to strip the rifle but here you can see the hammer inside the receiver – its worth noting that this rifle does not have the sliding dust cover seen on other examples, and the charging handle slot is completely open.

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Left-profile view of the SAR 80 (Matthew Moss)

Developed with cost in mind, contemporary literature from CIS state an export price of around $300 per rifle, the equivalent to day of about $930. CIS produced more than 80,000 between 1980 and 1988, it saw limited service with Singapore’s military but did enjoy some export sales, with the SAR-80 used by the Central African Republic’s Gendarmerie, the Croatian Army, the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and the Slovenian Territorial Army. CIS replaced the SAR-80 with the SR-88, a rifle co-developed with Sterling as the SAR-87, but this proved unsuccessful and has since been superseded by the SAR-21 bullpup.

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Specifications (from CIS Brochure):

Overall Length: 38.25in
Barrel Length: 18.1in
Weight: 7.5 lbs
Action: Gas-operated
Capacity: 20 or 30-round box magazines
Calibre: 5.56x45mm


Bibliography:

Guns of Dagenham, P. Laidler (1995)

The World’s Assault Rifles, Thomas B. Nelson & Gary Paul Johnston (2010)

‘Firearms’, US Patent #4272902, F.E. Waters, 16 Jun. 1981, [source]

SAR 80: Singapore’s Assault Rifle, Defence Attaché, Vol. No.2 1982, I. Cohen

SAR 80 rifles and 5.56 x 45 ammunition in the Central African Republic, ARES, N.R. Jenzen-Jones (2014) [source]

SAR 80 5.56 Assault Rifle, CIS, Factory Brochure c.1982 [source]

Nock Volley Gun

Commonly referred to as Nock Guns, the seven barrel volley guns were actually designed by James Wilson. Wilson presented his design to the Board of Ordnance for testing in July 1779. Following testing at Woolwich Arsenal the Board of Ordnance decided that the guns, while of no use to the Army, might be useful aboard the Royal Navy’s ships. The volley gun’s impressive firepower could be devastating at the relatively short ranges aboard ships. The Navy had historically used blunderbusses/musketoons and the Board of Ordnance probably viewed Wilson’s gun as an advancement of this concept. London gunmaker Henry Nock was given an order for two ‘seven barrelled rifle guns’ for Admiralty testing but these proved slow to load in action and subsequent guns had smoothbore barrels.

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Right-side profile of the volley gun (Matthew Moss)

The Admiralty envisioned equipping first rate ships of the line (vessels with 75 guns or more) with 20 volley guns, while second and third rates would have 16 and 12 volley guns respectively, and frigates would carry 10 Nock guns. This represented a sizeable order. The Admiralty eventually purchased 500 guns, paying £13 per gun, to equip Royal Marines and sailors manning the fighting tops (at the top of ship’s masts). The Navy felt that the volley guns’ firepower would be useful when boarding enemy vessels or in repelling boarders by pouring down fire on enemy boarding parties.

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A close up of the gun’s muzzel-end, not also the ramrod which appears to have been lengthened at some point in its life  (Matthew Moss)

Henry Nock, better known for producing high quality duelling pistols and sporting guns, became the sole supplier of Wilson’s volley guns to the Royal Navy. The weapon’s 0.46 inch calibre outer barrels were arranged around the seventh centre barrel. The 51cm or 20in barrels were brazed together and screwed to an iron plate set into a walnut stock. The outer barrels had vents drilled through them to the central barrel while the central barrel had a vent leading from the lock. Once the flintlock ignited the powder charge in the central barrel, the surrounding barrels were ignited through the vents. As the vents had to be drilled with the barrels already brazed into position, the outer barrels all have plugged drill holes on their outer surfaces.

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A close up of the lock and the ‘H. NOCK’ makers mark (Matthew Moss)

All seven barrels fired almost at once producing significant recoil, reputedly able to dislocate shoulders. The service load was originally 2.5 drams of finer rifle powder (which I believe equals 68gr) for each barrel – totalling 476gr. Despite the gun weighing 12lbs, this did little to mitigate the weapon’s recoil and a reduced charge or 1.5 drams of standard musket powder was ordered.

The Board of Ordnance and the Admiralty granted Wilson an awarded of £400 (equal to £48,000 or $63,000 today) in May 1780. He played no further role in the testing and development of the volley gun. In 1787 the Navy ordered a further 100 guns from Nock.

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Left-side profile of the Nock Gun (Matthew Moss)

Entering service just too late for service during the American War of Independence the first reported use of the guns came with Admiral Howe’s fleet at the siege of Gibraltar in 1782. They continued to be carried aboard other vessels during the 1790s, but few accounts refer to them and little is known about their service.

Howard Blackmore suggests that naval officers, including Admiral Nelson who disliked placing marksmen in his tops, disliked the guns. There were some fears that the volley guns’ wads could set the ships sails and rigging on fire. Reputedly it was also not uncommon for some of the volley gun’s barrels to fail to ignite. As a result the guns were seldom used on board ships and removed from Royal Navy service in 1804. In 1805, Wilson, then a captain of the Marines suggested the Navy reissue the guns to the Sea Fencibles, a naval militia which helped defend the British coast, however, his recommendation was not followed up.

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The early (top) and later (bottom) patterns of Nock volley gun (Royal Armouries)

This particular example has the second pattern of lock used on the Nock guns with a smaller lock positioned a little lower on the gun. The earlier pattern was a back action lock, fitted high on the gun with the front of the lock plate in line with the side of the barrel.

The gun has a maker’s mark of ‘H. NOCK’ on the second barrel on the left and various barrel proof marks. Unlike other examples the lock itself isn’t Tower and ‘GR’/Crown cypher marked but does have the Ordnance Broad Arrow just behind the pan. Interestingly, the steel ramrod appears to have an extension brazed onto the end of it, this might indicate that the shorter rod used with the initial charge had to be extended when less powder was used for the lighter 1.5 dram load.

Why did the Nock Volley Guns fall out of favour?

As I mentioned earlier the recoil of the initial service load was significant, Howard Blackmore hypothesised that there may have also been some weakness to the lock springs leading to misfires. One key factor is that close quarters fighting aboard ships often relied on edged weapons like cutlasses, boarding axes and pikes. These paintings give us some feel for what fighting aboard a Napoleonic Man-of-War might have been like – a close, chaotic, terrifying affair.

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Boarding Party by D. Drummond, (National Maritime Museum)

While pistols were commonly used they were disposable and may not have been reloaded during a fight – more likely they were dropped or used as a club. The Nock Gun would have offered a devastating first volley, and while its 20 inch barrels would have given it better accuracy and range than a musketoon, how much of an impact a single volley of seven .32 bore projectiles would have had especially once the fighting became hand to hand is a matter for debate. At close quarters the Nock Gun quickly becomes a short, ill-balanced, 12lb club.

The Nock Volley Gun is perhaps best known for appearing in the Sharpe series of books and films as Sergeant Harper’s weapon of choice but it first appears on screen in the 1960 classic The Alamo with Richard Widmark’s Jim Bowie carrying one and more recently a fleeting, anachronistic, appearance in Master & Commander: Far Side of the World.

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Richard Widmark as Jim Bowie in The Alamo (1960) with his pretty rough mocked-up Nock Gun

Despite a relatively short and undistinguished service life the Nock Volley Guns also saw some civilian sales with a number of ornate hunting guns with wooden forends, engraving, rifling and rear leaf sights.

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A civilian Nock Volley Gun, note the rear sights, wooden forend and fine craftsmanship   (Cowan’s Auctions)

Later in 1818, Nock’s workshop manufactured a design by Artemus Wheeler, an American gun designer with a fondness for revolving guns.

Revolving Nock Carbine
A Nock-made rotating barrel carbine designed by Artemus Wheeler (Rock Island Auction Company)

Wheeler’s carbine resembles the earlier volley gun externally but is in fact a manually rotated, self-priming flintlock ‘pepperbox gun’ with six barrels arranged around a central axis. Unlike the earlier volley gun the pepperbox carbine was never trailed or purchased by the Admiralty. Henry Nock’s workshops produced approximately 655 volley guns between 1780 and 1788. The Nock Gun is a weapon that would greatly benefit from some in-depth contemporary research as the current best source is over 50 years old and relatively little is known about the gun’s service history.


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Specifications:

Calibre: .32 bore
Action: Muzzle-loading 7-barrel flintlock
Barrel  Length: 51.3cm/20in
Overall Length: 92.7cm/36.5in


Bibliography:

British Military Firearms 1650-1850, H. Blackmore (1961)