Last weekend at the We Have Ways podcast’s history festival the Airborne Assault Museum brought along a very interesting piece of history – a PIAT with Arnhem provenance. The PIAT had allegedly been dropped during Operation Market Garden but not used. At some point after the battle it was discovered by locals and handed into the Doorwerth Castle Museum, the original airborne museum before it moved to the Hartenstein, and was subsequently gifted the the UK’s Airborne Assault Museum in the 1950s.
The museum believes the PIAT has much of its original paint and in general the weapon is in excellent shape. It has the earlier rear sight with two apertures for 70 and 100 yards, the later design had three – with a maximum range of 110 yards. This PIAT’s monopod could still be raised and lowered, to elevate the weapon upto 40-degrees for indirect firing.
The indirect fire quadrant sight is in good condition – complete with its spirit level. The weapon also appears to have its original white indirect fire aiming line along the top of its body and almost pristine webbing – though the butt cover is frayed which isn’t uncommon. Sadly the weapon has been deactivated so we couldn’t open up the action or cock the weapon. It seems to have been welded at the front and rear of the body.
The PIAT is in great shape, albeit deactivated, and it was a pleasure to take a look at a weapon which could be traced back to the battle. Thank you to Ramsay, Ben and Allen of the Airborne Assault Museum for allowing me to examine and film the PIAT, check out the museum’s website here.
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We’re back with another video looking at an item from the TAB reference collection – an illustrated spare parts list for the L21A1. L21A1 is the British designation for the American Browning M2 .50 cal (12.7×99mm) machine gun. A past owner has written ‘Ranging’ on the cover, perhaps suggesting this booklet specifically covered the guns used by the UK’s Royal Armoured Corps in its Centurion and Chieftain tanks.
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Check out videos on items from our reference collection here.
During the Second World War the British Home Guard were extensively issued American .30 calibre Browning M1917 machine guns. These water-cool medium machine guns contributed significant firepower to the Home Guard fighting units. They began to enter service in late 1940 and by November 1942 there were some 6,330 in service.
With so many guns in service there needed to be a way of describing, categorising and identifying the weapon’s parts so an identification list booklet was drawn up giving the American and British nomenclature for the gun’s individual parts.
The booklet draws on the US Army Ordnance Corps’ Standard Nomenclature List A5 for the American parts names. The purpose of the booklet was basically to allow soldiers familiar only with British designations to know the necessary American nomenclature for the various parts. This would have been useful for when requisitioning replacement parts.
I plan on digitising much of what is in the TAB reference collection when I have the time and funds to do so, in the meantime a PDF of the pages from this booklet is now available here. Acquisition of this parts identification list booklet was made possible by our Patreon supporters – if you’d like to join us and help us share pieces of history like this one please check out the Patreon page here.
Check out videos on items from our reference collection here.
From the late 1960s into the 1990s, Northern Ireland suffered a long period of sectarian violence, commonly known as The Troubles. Without going into too much detail about the conflict, other sources do a much better job than I can today, the violence saw Irish Republican paramilitary groups, Ulster Loyalist paramilitary groups and British security forces involved in a protracted low-level conflict with a Republican insurgency fighting not just British forces but Loyalist paramilitaries like the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). This article/video has no intention to comment on the conflict itself, merely examine a weapon produced during the period.
This copy or clone of a Sterling Mk4 / L2A3 submachine gun is believed to have been assembled by Loyalist paramilitaries although which group and its origins are unclear. Loyalist groups during the 60s and 70s tended to be less well armed and relied more heavily on improvised small arms and weapons stolen from military and police armouries and personnel than Republican groups. When tensions rose in the late 1960s, the Loyalists were largely equipped with obsolete and outdated weapons.
Sammy Duddy, a member of an early Loyalist group, the Westland Defence Association, and later a press officer for the Ulster Defence Association, recalled the dire state of their arsenal at that time:
“[…] we had no guns. The IRA had automatics [machine-guns], high-velocity sniper rifles, powerful pistols, the lot, but we had fuck all. There were virtually no guns on the Loyalist side. The only weapons we had were baseball bats and I just thought to myself, ‘what the fuck are we going to do when they [the IRA] come in with their machine-guns? Throw bats at them?’”
The Ulster Volunteer Force (or UVF) took to stealing what weapons and spare parts they could from the British military and Royal Ulster Constabulary. Weapons assembled from damaged captured Sterlings and Sterling spare parts kits became common. In this case, this weapon has a number of cannibalised original Sterling parts which have been paired with a craft-made receiver tube. From examination we can see that the weapon’s end cap has a Sterling part number stamp ‘CR110’ inside. Similarly the weapon has a factory-made plastic grip. Other factory made parts include the helically grooved bolt, the two recoil springs and the charging handle. There is also seemingly a factory-made trigger group and magazine release button. The magazine is well sized and utilises various parts from a Sterling’s magazine release including the button, an set screw and catch piece.
The trigger assembly housing is welded and ground smooth where it joins with the tube receiver. On factory-made guns there is a visible seam. The poorer quality tube steel of the receiver also appears to have drooped or bent a little around the middle of the weapon. The holes in the barrel shroud are of uniform size but they are roughly drilled and not equally spaced. At the front of the receiver we can see they have retained the barrel with a pair of large bolts, suggesting that the barrel may have been factory made too. There is now end cap catch at the rear nor provision for a folding stock either. While whoever made the receiver tube went to the trouble of added hand stops found on the actual Sterling they are clearly only lightly welded on.
Another difference is the absence of a bayonet lug on the left side of the barrel shroud, and a much cruder fixed sight sat within a U-shaped piece of metal welded to the tube receiver – to act as a front sight protector. The factory-made Sterling’s front sight is adjustable and the sight protectors are folded forward and aligned across the tube receiver. The rear sight and its protectors appears to have sheared off at some point. The only marking on the weapon, ‘29992’, is crudely electro pencilled on the top of the magazine housing, where you’d normally see markings saying ‘Sterling Mk4’ or ‘L2A3’. When that crude serial number was added is unclear. The black paint on the receiver is wearing thin and we can clearly see some file marks in places.
Hundreds of craft-made submachine guns were built to feed from Sterling and Sten magazines and there are numerous surviving examples of guns made from box tubing – often parts were clandestinely made in Northern Ireland’s factories and at shipyards like Harland & Wolf in Belfast – giving rise to the name ‘shipyard special’. Other nicknames included ‘rattlers’ and table leg guns.
The origins and story behind this particular weapon remain unknown, it is today part of a UK Ministry of Defence collection and said to have been found in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Regardless it’s a very interesting piece of clandestine engineering which shows considerable skill in its assembly. Which is unsurprising as there are numerous accounts of skilled machinists working on illegal firearms parts during the period.
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.
During my recent visit to the Cody Firearms Museum I was lucky enough to examine a number of interesting firearms (more videos soon). In this video we take a look at a Winchester Model 1905 chambered in .45 ACP.
The Model 1905 was originally designed by Thomas Crossley Johnson, as a commercial rifle chambered in either .32 or .35 Winchester Self Loading. It was the second of a series of blowback operated rifles Johnson designed between 1903 and 1910.
The origins of this gun, however, are less clear. It is part of the Cody Firearms Museum’s impressive collection and is believed to be a Winchester-made prototype. Dating the rifle is more difficult. It was originally believed to have been developed during the First World War but the Winchester Arms Collection’s records date the rifle to 1919. It has also been suggested that the conversion may have been developed by Winchester as an auxiliary arm for the US Army, as a replacement for the 1911 pistol for some troops – much along the lines of the later .30 carbine. There are no records, however, to suggest the .45 ACP Model 1905 was ever officially tested.
Herbert Houze, former curator of the Cody Firearms Museum, believed the conversion was actually developed after World War Two. No patents or Winchester documents are known to refer to it but Houze believed that one of Winchester’s engineers, Harry H. Sefried, developed the conversion as a side project with a potential aim to interest law enforcement agencies in a carbine chambered in the readily available .45 ACP round.
Taking a stock rifle a number of changes were made, the rifle was re-barrelled and rechambered for the .451-inch .45 ACP round and the bolt face was modified slightly. The 1905 originally fed from straight 5 or 10-round box magazines. In order to feed from a Colt 1911 magazine a new magazine housing was added. The curved front of the trigger guard has been machined back and is now flush with the rear of the conversion housing which appears to be integral to the lower receiver’s frame. On close inspection we can clearly see that parts have been brass brazed together around the original magazine release and inside the magazine well.
The rounded magazine housing has a new magazine release positioned at the front of the magazine, as in the 1911 and allows the magazine to be inserted at an angle. The ejection port has also been altered with an additional cut-out being made at the top to aid ejection.
Take down remains the same, with the upper and lower separating once the take down screw at the rear of the receiver is loosened. The conversion appears to be well thought out and the finish and care taken would indicate this was rifle wasn’t a rough proof of concept prototype. Sadly, there is no information on how the conversion performed.
Regardless of the origins of the conversion Winchester never offered the chambering commercially and this prototype is the only example known to exist. Today, it is held by the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West in Wyoming. The museum has just undergone a major renovation and is well worth visiting. Our special thanks to the CFM for letting us examine this rare rifle.
Herbert Houze, the former Curator of the Cody Firearms Museum who is mentioned in this article and video, recently passed away – this video is dedicated to his memory.
This week’s episode is a quick and dirty video from Matt (filmed & edited on his phone) featuring a Smith Carbine. Matt had a brief look at the carbine during the 2019 Winchester Collectors Show.
The Smith Carbine was a breechloader which saw significant use with Union forces during the US Civil War with over 30,000 being produced. Fouling issues and the use of rubber cased bullets were the rifle’s downfall. We’ll hopefully have a more in-depth video on it in the future!
The Boeing Bomarc was the world’s first long-range surface to air missile and despite its shortcomings remain in service for a decade. It was an extremely ambitious project and is a Cold War weapon that few today are familiar with.
In the late 1940s, Boeing began work on a surface to air missile – then described as a ‘pilotless interceptor’. The project was code-named MX-1599 and the Michigan Aerospace Research Center (MARC) joined Boeing to work on the programme.
The MX-1599 was to be a long-range supersonic nuclear-tipped surface to air missile (or SAM), detonated by a proximity fuse. The missile went through a number of official designations as it was developed during the 1950s – finally becoming known as the Bomarc – an acronym of Boeing and Michigan Aerospace Research Center.
The Bomarc was launched vertically using rocket boosters, before its main ramjet engines took over, enabling it to cruise at Mach 2.5 (approx. 1,920 mph). The initial Bomarc A had a range of 200 miles with an operational ceiling of 60,000 feet.
It was ground controlled using NORAD’s Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system until it neared its target, when an onboard radar, a Westinghouse AN/DPN-34 radar, took over.
The Bomarc could be tipped with either a 1,000 lb conventional high explosive or low yield W40 nuclear warhead. These were detonated by a radar proximity fuse. The W40 had a yield of up to 10 kilotons, able to destroy entire formations of aircraft.
The missile had a wingspan of just over 18 feet or 5.5metres, it was 45 feet or 13.7 metres in length and weighed approximately 16,000 lbs (7257 kg) on launch. The Bomarc’s first flight took place on 24th February, 1955.
The USAF intended to use the missile to engage incoming Soviet bomber formations and ICBMs. Originally planning for over 50 Bomarc launch sites, but only one was operational by 1959 and only eight were operational by the early 1960s. The upgraded Bomarc B was developed in the early 1960s, with an improved radar, a Westinghouse AN/DPN-53, and a greater maximum range of 430 miles, as well as a higher operational ceiling of 100,000 feet.
The Bomarc was stored horizontally in specially built semi-hardened bunkers and kept fuelled and ready to launch at a moment’s notice. When targets were detected the missile would be raised and launched vertically.
One of the dangers of keeping the missiles fuelled became clear in June 1960, when a nuclear-armed Bomarc A caught fire exploding the onboard tank and contaminated part of McGuire Air Force Base with melted plutonium. Despite this the missiles remained operational for over a decade with the first sites being deactivated in 1969 with the last stood down in 1972.
While the Bomarc missiles were the world’s first operational long-range anti-aircraft missile they were too slow to achieve operational readiness to keep pace with the rapidly changing nuclear threat – as both superpowers transitioned from bomber to ICBM-focused strategies. They were expensive to manufacture and difficult to maintain at readiness. In the late 1950s the Bomarc also embroiled in a war of words with the US Army arguing their short range Nike Hercules (SAM-A-25/MIM-14) missile was more effective. The Hercules remained in service through to the 1980s, albeit as a air defence missile – rather than targeting soviet ICBMs or bomber aircraft.
The Bomarc was an ambitious project when it began in the late 40s, but with technology and cold war nuclear strategy rapidly evolving the Bomarc was almost obsolete before it became operational. A total of 570 Bomarc missiles were built between 1957 and 1964 with the US and Canada (which led to considerable political controversy) being the only countries to deploy them.
I hope you guys enjoyed this look at the Bomarc, we’ll have a few more videos on missiles in the future.
IM-99A/B BOMARC Missile, Boeing, (source) Nuclear Weapons of the United States: An Illustrated History, J.N. Gibson, (1996) Nike Historical Society (source)
Supersonic Guardian, Boeing film, c.1960 (source)
The rifle we’re examining is one of dozens of designs sold by the Brownings to the Winchesters Repeating Arms Company during their long relationship. This design dates from the early 1890s and represents one of Browning’s numerous attempts to move away from the tube magazine-fed designs favoured by Winchester.
The prototype is based around the lever-actuated vertically sliding locking block patented by Browning in May 1884 and first used by Winchester in the Model 1886. The rifle itself is in the ‘military musket’ configuration with full-length handguards, military sights, a cleaning rod and able to mount a bayonet.
The rifle is chambered in a .45 calibre cartridge, likely .45-70, and weighs just over 9lbs. Browning patented the design of the rifle and magazine in August 1891, with the patent being granted in December (US #465339). It is attributed to John Moses Browning and his younger brother Matthew S. Browning.
The most interesting feature of the rifle is its detachable box magazine. The magazine is held in place by a spring-loaded catch at the front of the magazine which locks against a tab in the magazine’s wall.
It differs from the box magazines previously developed by James Paris Lee, which Lee begun developing in the mid-1870s (see examples listed below). It’s a simple design with a follower powered by a coil spring. The prototype mag itself is made from pressed metal and is held together with some rough welds. Unlike the magazines we’re familiar with today, the top of the Browning’s magazine is almost entirely enclosed with only a small opening at the rear. The rounds would be loaded nose-first with their rims sliding into the channel at the rear of the magazine.
The single-stack magazine appears to hold around five rounds, with Browning’s patent supporting this. The position of the magazine, in front of the action – not below it, is a hint at how it worked. An almost fully enclosed magazine does have its advantages – it would have prevented dirt from entering the mag and it also overcame the need for feed lips which were susceptible to damage, one of the elements which took Lee some time to perfect.
So How Did The Magazine Work?
There is a shoulder on the underside of the bolt which caught the rim of the cartridge which was protruding from the magazine. The bolt pulled the cartridge backwards, out of the magazine and onto a cartridge lifter. As the lever reached its full forward travel the lifter then elevated the round up into line with the breech. When the lever was cycled back again the round was pushed off the lifter and chambered, just as in a normal tube-fed Winchester. As the lever reached the end of its return travel the locking block rose to locked the action.
The prototype has a sliding safety bar that locks the lever and blocks the trigger. The trigger differs from the Model 1886 as it is integrated with the lever. In the photograph below we can see the locking block descended, with the lever forward, and the breech block to the rear with the action open. We can also see the striker assembly at the rear of the bolt. The striker cocks on closing when the lever is returned rearward.
It’s quite an exposed action, with the entire top of the action open. With the action closed in the photograph below we can see the extractor running along the right side of the bolt.
It’s clear from the design of the magazine that Browning didn’t intend the rifle to be reloaded with stripper clips, although single loading of the rifle itself (not the magazine) would have been possible. When compared to other contemporary system this would have been somewhat of a disadvantage compared to Lee’s magazine’s later loading with chargers and stripper clips. However, from examination of Browning’s 1891 patent his intention becomes clear, the patent explains that he intended for the magazine itself to be replaced:
“One magazine may be readily removed from the gun and another introduced in its place, so that the person, using the arm may have at hand several magazines to be interchanged as the cartridges from one magazine are exhausted.”
This is a concept that wouldn’t be accepted by militaries for decades. Winchester purchased the rights to the design but this was one of many designs Browning sold the company which never saw production. The design and prototype are fascinating and represent one of Browning’s lesser-known concepts.
This rifle is a unique prototype and it was a true honour to examine it. It’s now on display at the newly refurbished Cody Firearms Museum, at the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West. The new museum is phenomenal and well worth a visit. Our thanks to the museum for allowing us to film items, like this one, from the museum’s collection.
Last month while Matt was visiting the Cody Firearms Museum for their Arsenals of History Symposium he had the pleasure of meeting lots of great people from the historic firearms world. One person he met was none other than Ian of Forgotten Weapons.
Ian was kind enough to suggest doing an interview to share and highlight our work here at TAB with his subscribers. Matt discussed the idea behind TAB and some of the things that we cover.
We very much appreciate Ian’s support of our project and opportunity to chat on camera about our work. Thanks Ian!