In his first video with TAB Jack takes a look at en bloc clips, specifically double stack en blocs. Using examples from his impressive collection he discusses how en bloc clips work and takes us through their pros and cons.
He examines the ubiquitous 8-round en bloc used by the M1 Garand as well as the much rarer 10-round clip for John Pedersen’s PA rifle which was chambered in his .276 round. Finally, Jack treats us to a look at a PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle en bloc clip which holds five massive rounds of 14.5x115mm.
Huge thanks to Jack for putting this video together for us, we’re really excited to have videos from him and we’re looking forward to more from him in the future! In the mean time you can find Jack’s project Cartridge Gram over on Instagram and on Facebook. He has a wealth of great photos and information on ammunition.
The 1890s were one of John Browning’s most prolific periods, during which he developed a host of firearms which would never actually see production. Here, we’re lucky enough to be able to examine one of those prototypes that were never produced. Dating from 1892, this rifle departs from Browning’s earlier lever-action rifle designs in a number of interesting ways. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the design is its use of en bloc clips, instead of the tube magazine traditionally used by Winchester’s repeating rifles. John Browning, and his brother Matthew, filed the patent covering the design in June 1892.
The rifle is in what is typically referred to at the time as a ‘Musket’ configuration, signifying that it is a military long-arm. It has a long 32.5 inch barrel, which is held in place by two barrel bands. Overall the rifle is around 50 inches in length and weighs just over 9lbs. The rifle is chambered in a .30 calibre cartridge, likely the then new .30-40 Krag round given its proposed market. It has a ladder-style rear sight with range graduations from 100 to 1,000 yards.
Okay, let’s take a closer look at the prototype. During the 1890s Browning experimented with a series of magazine systems including an en-bloc clip system. This rifle uses a 5-round magazine which is fed from an en-bloc clip. The idea of an en-bloc clip was relatively new with Ferdinand Mannlicher patenting the idea in the 1880s and using it in his Model 1886 and 1888 rifles. It is unclear if Browning was familiar with Mannlicher’s system but the two are very similar. If you’re unfamiliar with en bloc clips it means that the cartridges are loaded into the weapon in the clip rather than stripped from the clip.
Browning’s prototype holds five rounds in its clip, which from patent drawings we can see was not reversible. Sadly, we don’t have an example of Browning’s clip to examine but his 1892 patent (see above) gives us a good idea of what it would have looked like. It clearly has a cut at the top of the clip which appears to have been used to help guide the round up into the chamber.
Rounds were pushed up into the action by a follower arm which was actuated by a v-spring located at the front of the magazine housing. The bottom of the fixed magazine housing has a cut-out corresponding to the clip to allow it to fall or be pushed clear by a new clip once it was empty.
The rifle also departs from the traditional hammer system and uses a striker-fired action. From the patent drawings we can see how the rifle’s striker worked, with a coil spring extending into the stock and a sear holding the striker to the rear. The striker is made up of two pieces with the striker hitting a long firing pin inside the bolt.
The striker has, what the patent refers to as, a ‘thumb piece’ to enable re-cocking and to indicate if its cocked or not. The striker was cocked by the cycling of the lever and held in place by the trigger sear.
The lever was held in the close position, preventing out of battery discharges, by what Browning’s patent calls a downward-projecting dog, which projected through a small hole in the trigger assembly link and locked into a catch in the front of the lever loop.
The use of a striker, rather than an exposed hammer, allows the rifle bolt’s travel to be enclosed rather than have the bolt project out of the rear of the receiver, as in previous Winchester lever-actions, we can see that this rifle’s bolt slides back at an angle partially down into the wrist of the stock. This is arguably more ergonomic and potentially helps to prevent ingress of dirt.
The first half of the lever’s travel pulls the bolt to the rear, while the second part cocks the striker. An arm extending from the lever pushed the bolt rearward until the trigger sear was engaged. In order to give the lever enough throw to open the action far enough to allow a round to be loaded the trigger mechanism has to be pivoted out of the action, much like the earlier Winchester 1886.
The bolt has a pair of trunnions which project from the sides of the bolt, these run inside longitudinal grooves either side of the receiver, while the rear of the bolt is free to angle up and down as it cycles. The action is locked by the rear of the bolt secured against the rear of the receiver, rather than with a rising locking bolt.
During the period Browning was also working on other lever action and, even more unusual, so-called pull-apart actions as well as various magazine types including a revolving magazine, stripper-clip box magazines and of course as we’ve already seen a detachable box magazine-fed rifle. The 1890s were a truly prolific period for Browning.
The design was purchased by Winchester and the Brownings’ patent was granted in November 1892. The gun, like many of Browning’s other designs of the period, never saw production. Making this rifle a rare one-of-a-kind prototype. It’s an elegant design and the action is smooth. When Winchester did finally seek to produce a military lever-action they chose another of Browning’s designs which retained his traditional rear-locking bolt, which became the Model 1895.
The Johnson is already one of the 20th century’s most interesting military rifles, in terms of both design and history, and this rifle, serial number R-14, is perhaps even more interesting. Johnson’s military rifles were initially designated the Type R – for rotary magazine, it was the ‘R’ serialised rifles which were used during US military testing in 1938-40. We are most familiar with the classic handguard-less appearance of what became known as the Johnson M1941. Few examples of a Johnson with a handguard survive.
The rifle was developed by Melvin Johnson, a USMC Reserve Captain, in the mid-1930s, Johnson began work on the rifle just as the M1 Garand was adopted. Johnson was granted his first patent protecting his rifle in September 1937. His rifle was tested in 1938-39 by US Army Ordnance but advanced no further than testing. Johnson lobbied politicians leading to a bill being introduced in an effort to have Johnson’s rifle adopted. On May 29th, 1940 the US Senate’s Military Affairs Committee met with Johnson and military representatives to discuss the rifle and the Bill which had been proposed, S.3983, to ‘Provide for the Adoption of the Johnson Semiautomatic Rifle as a Standard Arm of the Military’. The bill, however, led nowhere and the M1 Garand’s introduction continued.
The handguard fitted to R-14 was actually an optional extra offered by Johnson Automatics. It appears to have been an attempt to address one of the main concerns raised by the US military – the Johnson’s unsuitability for bayonet fighting. As the rifle uses a short-recoil operated action the barrel recoils about ½ inch on firing, this means that the weapon’s barrel isn’t actually fixed in place meaning when the bayonet was used the barrel moves backwards ½ inch when it contacted something or someone with enough force.
From the Senate Committee hearing we know that there were real concerns about the rifle’s bayonet fighting characteristics. With US Army Ordnance noting that “this rifle is very poorly suited to bayonet fighting.” Noting that the exposed barrel was too narrow to grasp properly and was also un-insulated if the barrel was hot from firing. The non-fixed, recoiling barrel was also highlighted as another ‘deficiency’. Major Grant Schlieker, the Infantry Liaison Officer at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, shared similar concerns. In addition to concerns about the lack of handguard to grasp when bayonet fighting he noted in his statement that during their testing the Johnson has struggled to cycle properly when fired at a depressed angle with a bayonet fixed and that striking something with the bayonet hard enough lead the rifle to extract and eject a chambered round.
Johnson refuted these concerns by stating that the barrel was exposed with good reason so that it could cool rapidly, suggesting that enclosed barrels like the Garand’s became too hot to grasp after sustained firing thus also making bayonet fighting difficult. Johnson also noted that a ‘Johnson Sword Bayonet’, which extended forward under the barrel from the Johnson’s normal forend had been developed to address the problem but the ergonomics and usefulness of this terrifyingly long bayonet are unclear.
You would imagine that a fixed, full-length stock with the barrel recoiling inside would have been a more elegant solution allowing the bayonet to be fixed to a nosecap rather than the barrel. But it would seem that Johnson was passionate about having the exposed barrel to allow cooling.
It is worth noting that the bayonet issued with the M1941 was the lightweight spike-type, developed in order to elevate potential issues with cycling while the bayonet was fixed.
A proponent of the rifle, USMC Captain, George Van Orden (who commanded the Rifle Range at the Marine Corps Barracks at Quantico) went so far as to claim that the recoiling barrel had a positive impact on bayonet fighting “a recoiling barrel can provide extra thrust in bayonet fighting, as in the case of a boxer who in striking a blow, at the moment of contact… straightens his elbow smartly.” The Johnson Automatics manual for the rifle even claimed that testing against pine board showed that “the short recoil of the barrel actually tends to increase the penetration of the bayonet.”
From the May 1940 Senate hearing records we know that the R-14 wasn’t always fitted with the barrel with the enclosed handguard. It was one of several rifles used by Captain Van Orden to test the rifle’s accuracy and there is not mention in his account of the rifle’s barrel being shrouded with a handguard. This isn’t too surprising as the Johnson’s barrel can be removed easily and readily swapped out.
The bayonet lug appears to be designed to mount a US Army M1905 bayonet, the sword bayonet issued with the M1903 Springfield. The assembly also has a sling swivel. R-14’s barrel is 23.75 inches long – this is a little longer than the standard 22 inch barrel, but 24 inch barrels were an option offered by Johnson Automatics. The round wooden grips panels are held in place by three pairs of slips and the nosecap and the guide collar.
Other than the forend this rifle also has a slightly different style of rear sight compared to the M1941 production rifles. The receiver markings are also simpler with calibre, patents and a plain maker’s mark, with serial number at the bottom.
The addition of the handguard certainly does allow a greater area for the forward hand to grip the rifle. But what is less clear is the effect the added mass of the handguard, nosecap and bayonet (when mounted) had on the cycling of the gun. Logic would suggest that any weight added to the barrel would slow the its travel and potentially cause reliability issues. The handguard and bayonet would have added at least 2lbs. Sadly, I’ve been unable to find any documentary evidence to tell us how the rifle functioned with the forend. No mention of the handguard is made during the Senate committee hearing but a ‘fixed-type’ bayonet is mentioned which is described as “not in any way interfering with the recoil of the barrel.” This was presumably referring to the long Johnson Sword Bayonet. Despite them being offered as an official option it is fair to presume that the rifle would have struggled to operate properly when fitted with the handguard.
When the Johnson finally entered production it was with an exposed barrel as he intended and R-14 remains one of the few examples to have the Johnson’s optional handguard.
Many thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum for allowing us to examine and film the rifle and take a look at a rare example of the Johnson Automatics optional extra handguard.
Military Handbook of the Johnson Semi-Automatic Rifle (1939)
The Johnson Semiautomatic Rifle: Hearing Before the Committee on Military Affairs, United States Senate, Seventy-sixth Congress, Third Session, on S. 3983, a Bill to Provide for the Adoption of the Johnson Semiautomatic Rifle as a Standard Arm of the Military and Naval Forces, May 29, 1940 (source)
Johnson Rifles and Machine Guns: The Story of Melvin M. Johnson, Jr. and His Guns, B. Canfield (2002)
The Model of 1941 Johnson Rifle in Marine Service, B. Canfield, American Rifleman, (source)