Live Fire: Browning M1919A4

Today’s episode is the last video of 2018, so we thought we’d end the year with a bang, literally. Earlier this year Matt had the chance to get behind an original Browning M1919A4 so we’ve put together a video showing the classic belt-fed machine gun in action with some slow motion footage thrown in!

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Browning M1919A4 (Matthew Moss)

This M1919A4 was built in 1944 at GM’s Saginaw Steering Division plant, in Saginaw Michigan. It was one of nearly half a million M1919A4s built during World War Two. In the video Matt explains a little of the gun’s history and how it worked.

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M1919A4 with its feed cover open (Matthew Moss)

This M1919 has been rechambered from the original .30-06 to 7.62x51mm NATO and uses M13 disintegrating links rather than a cloth belt or M1 disintegrating links. My thanks to Chuck and his buddy over at GunLab for letting me put several belts through his gun, it was a lot of fun.

We’ll have a full, in-depth, episode on the Browning M1919 in the future.


Thanks to everyone for watching, liking, subscribing and commenting on our videos this year, we can’t tell you how much we appreciate all the support we have received. I’m very pleased to say we reached 3,000 subscribers before the end of the year, very pleased that our community is growing! We have much more to come in 2019, and we’ll be back with regular videos in January.

The 7.92mm Kurz Rheinmetall Volkssturmgewehr

I’m very pleased to present the first of the videos filmed during my recent research trip to the US. My thanks to my friend Chuck Kramer, of the excellent GunLab blog, for his generous help and assistance making this video on a special little rifle. – Matt


The Volkssturmgewehr

By early 1945 Nazi Germany’s situation was desperate, with no real hope of victory left desperate holding actions became the order of the day.  It was hoped by many on Hitler’s staff that if they could hold back the Russian’s long enough the Western Allies would reach Berlin first. This was not to be as the Red Army was making rapid progress into German territory, covering up to 35 km a day by March 1945. Once the Soviets encircled Berlin on the 20th April there was no possibility of a surrender to the Western Allies who in reality had long since lost interest in the ‘Race to Berlin’.

While the war had seemed hopeless for many months the German High Command continued its efforts to construct a formidable defence against the oncoming Russian forces. This saw the activation of the German militias and the forming of a new corps, the Volkssturm or in English: ‘people’s storm’.  This optimistically named force made up of all men aged between 13 and 70 were called up and expected to defend their local areas, much like the British Home Guard formed in 1940.

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A well equipped, uniformed Volkssturm unit defend the banks of the Oder in this propaganda photograph, the man in the foreground holds a VG.1-5 (source)

In order to arm these men stores of older weapons were re-issued and the Volkssturm were issued Mauser G98s and old MG08s along with a large variety of captured foreign weapons which were in store including French, Polish and Russian small arms.

There were not enough modern weapons to equip the struggling regular forces let alone the newly improvised ‘volunteer’ force. As such Germany’s weapons factories were directed to create prototypes of simpler, cheaper weapons that might be mass produced quickly with minimal tooling. This project was dubbed the Primitiv-Waffen-Programm. These primitive weapons had to be made quickly with the materials at hand. This spawned a number of prototypes with varying degrees of sophistication, the so-called VolksGewehr or ‘people’s guns’. The best known of these is perhaps the Gustloff Volkssturmgewehr or MP 507 -often referred to as the VG 1-5.

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A Gustloff Volkssturmgewehr (RIA)

The Gustloff Volkssturmgewehr was undeniably the most complicated of the Primitiv-Waffen. A semi-automatic, delayed blowback operated, carbine chambered in Germany’s new intermediate 7.92x33mm Kurz cartridge. This weapon will hopefully be the topic of a future blog/video.

Rheinmetall Volkssturm Carbines

The focus of today’s blog/video, however, is another Primitiv-Waffen chambered in 7.92x33mm developed by Rheinmetall. Rheinmetall developed a series of several prototypes, the VG45 or VG3 was the only prototype to be tested, however, a stamped receiver prototype was also developed.

Formed in 1935 as Rheinmetall-Borsig AG, Rheinmetall while perhaps best known for their larger calibre guns, they also developed a number of small arms designs – including several weapons for the Volkssturm. The VG45, chambered in 7.92mm Kurz, was developed in late 1944 and according to Wolfgang Peter-Michel, in his book Volksgewehre which quotes a contemporary British report, the VG45 was somewhat similar to the Walther designed VG1 in design, but chambered in 7.92 Kurz rather than 7.92x57mm Mauser. There is only a single, grainy photograph purporting to be the VG3 (with a missing bolt), which can be seen here.

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Rheinmetall stamped Volkssturmgewehr replica (Matthew Moss)

Using a tube receiver simple forgings, spot welds and rivets the VG45’s design was utilitarian with one-piece beech wood furniture. It weighed around 6.8lbs or 3.1kg unloaded and had an overall length of 34 inches / 86cm. With a simple two lug bolt and no safety the carbine was extremely utilitarian. In October 1944, rifles from five companies were submitted in response to a call for a weapon of “simplified construction for mass production.” Rheinmetall’s design was not one of these first five designs.

However, by mid December Rheinmetall had submitted their carbine, the VG45, for testing. It reportedly performed well during testing in Kummersdorf, firing some 2,000 rounds and 20 rifle grenades successfully without major malfunctions. A report to Heinrich Himmler, dated 28th December, who had been tasked with overseeing the Volkssturm’s formation, noted that “most of the rifles’ stocks cracked when shooting the rifle grenades… the rifles are not yet [fully] examined and the current status of development do not yet permit a final test-firing.” Of the rifles submitted to testing only the designs from Mauser and Rheinmetall continued to be considered. While the VG1 and VG2 were ‘officially’ accepted Rheinmetall also received an order for 25,000 of their VG45 carbines – later referred to as the VG3.

Full scale production never began as the factory was heavily bombed in the closing stages of the war. Prototypes of the VG45 were found by the Allies when they captured the Rheinmetall plant in Sömmerda in Thuringia, central Germany. The British tested one of these rifles, marked ‘Rh Nr.4 VG45K’ on the receiver.

The British also captured another prototype 7.92mm Kurz bolt action carbine. It had a two-piece stamped receiver – welded together at the top of the receiver, with spot-welded inserts that formed the magazine housing simple two-lug bolt and a two-piece stock. It is unclear if this prototype carbine was submitted for testing. It is likely that it was still in development at the time of the December 1944 testing.

Another 7.92mm Kurz Carbine

Ermawerke, or Erfurter Maschinen- und Werkzeugfabrik GmbH, was established in Erfurt, Thuringia in the early 1920s, throughout the war they manufactured the Erma EMP, the MP38/40 and developed the prototype MP44 submachine gun. In late 1944, Erma set about developing their own entry for the Primitiv-Waffen program.

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Profile photographs of the original incomplete Ermawerke Carbine prototype, missing its bolt and reportedly with replacement more elaborate wooden furniture (Photographs originally taken by US Army)

Erma’s prototype is very similar to Rheinmetall’s stamped prototype – a small, light, bolt action carbine chambered in the 7.92x33mm cartridge and able to feed from standard 30-round Sturmgewehr magazines. Unlike the Rheinmetall’s carbines, Ermawerke’s had a rudimentary trigger block safety at the rear of the trigger guard. Erma’s rifle also went through the December 1944 tests with no function issues. It appears that very few were manufactured and that only one or two examples survived the war. One surviving carbine, said to be in Russia, is missing its bolt and has had reportedly had replacement furniture fitted.

The Ermawerke carbine also made extensive use of stampings and simple forgings with rivets used to attached crudely finished wooden furniture. The receiver is similar to a VG-2 with an ejection port on the right. It weighed 6lbs or 2.7kg and had a 16.5 inch or 42cm barrel. The original carbine reportedly had no Wehrmacht/Waffenamt (WaA) acceptance marks. In his book, Deutsche Sturmgewehre, Peter Senich suggests that an example of the rifle was tested at the US Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1945.

Shooting the Rheinmetall Volkssturm Carbine

Check out our short live fire & slow motion video with the carbine here

Rheinmetall’s stamped Volkssturm carbine used a simple two-lug rotating bolt action which was cocked on opening. It had a simple fixed rear notch sight and weighed just over 6.5lbs or 2.95kg unloaded, had a 15.45 inch or 39cm barrel and an overall length of 34 inches / 86cm. Unlike the VG45, the stamped prototype had a lever on the left side of the receiver which acted on the trigger sear to prevent it being depressed.

This video features a replica of Rheinmetall’s stamped Volkssturm carbine produced by Range Facilities (Burnham), one of a small batch made, which attempts to reproduce the original prototype. I had the opportunity to handle and fire one of the carbines. As such my appraisal of the rifle’s handling characteristics and shooting experience are based on the replica not the original. But I feel my experience with the reproduction is representative of how the original Rheinmetall carbine, and the other Primitive Waffen 7.92mm Kurz carbines might have handled.

Both the carbine and the 10-round magazine featured in the video were handmade to a high standard. There are, however, a number of key differences between the replica and the original, as described in the original British intelligence report. No markings were reported on the stamped prototype, however, the reproduction borrows markings from the VG45 and is marked ‘Rh Nr.5 VG45K‘ on the left side of the rifle. Another key difference is the addition of a utilitarian safety bar which blocked the trigger rather than a lever reported to be used by the original prototype. The replica also had a rounded bolt handle while the original is described as having a “straight and hollowed out bolt with no bolt knob, similar to the VG1. The reproduction has had a cleaning rod added beneath the barrel and its wooden furniture may also differ slightly.

The replica was very well made and care has been taken to give it a suitably aged appearance. Light and handy the carbine handled well and the 7.92x33mm Kurz chambering made it a light shooting carbine. While the replica’s bolt was a little stiff, this is probably quite representative of how the original would have handled.

The softer shooting 7.92 Kurz round certainly would have made sense for a rifle designed to be issued to poorly trained volunteer units made up of old men and young boys. The very basic rear sight necessitated the use of some Kentucky windage as the rifle shot a little low and to the left at ~70 metres. But within firing a single 10-round magazine I was able to quickly bring my shots to within a man-sized target with relative ease.

Here’s some photos of the carbine’s safety and magazine release:

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While both the VG1, VG2 and VG1-5 all entered limited production the war ended before serial production of the the VG45/VG3 could begin. Rheinmetall’s stamped prototype probably did not see official evaluations and probably only one or two were produced before the bombing and subsequent capture of the factory.

However, the various 7.92mm Kurz Volkssturm carbines and the other Primitive Waffen remain important examples of the desperate measures Nazi Germany was forced to resort to at the end of the war in an effort to equip its troops.


Specifications for Original Prototype Rheinmetall Volkssturm Carbine:

Overall Length: 88cm / 34 inches
Barrel Length: 39cm / 15.45 inches
Weight:  2.95kg / 6.5lbs
Action: bolt action
Calibre: 7.92x33mm Kurz
Feed: 10 or 30-round box magazines


Bibliography:

Desperate Measures : The last-Ditch Weapons of the Nazi Volkssturm, W.D. Weaver (2005)

Deutsche Sturmgewehre bis 1945, P. Senich (1998)

Volksgewehre: Die Langwaffen des Deutschen Volkssturms, W. Peter-Michel (2017)

Hybrid Sten

 

During our first research trip last spring I had the opportunity to examine an unusual ‘hybrid’ Sten submachine gun. The weapon combined a MkII Sten’s receiver with a MkIII’s magazine housing. Added to this was a proprietary folding stock and a new fire control group and pistol grip.

Very little is known about the hybrid Sten with Peter Laidler’s book The Sten Machine Carbine mentioning it and the later Osprey book by Leroy Thompson sharing a photograph and brief caption which calls it an “experimental version of the Mk III.” It is also unclear exactly when it was built.

Below are some photographs I took of the Sten, lets look at some of the interesting features of the Hybrid Sten.

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left side of the Sten with the stock folded flush under the receiver (Matthew Moss)

No production Variant of the Sten was fitted with an under-folding stock, the Australian Austen, however, directly copied the MP38/40. The entire weapon is covered by a layer of textured, crackle paint finish, this was commonly used on commercial Sterling Mk4 submachine guns. The weapon has a short, 3.5 inch, perforated fore-end welded onto the front of the tube receiver that appears to be from a Lanchester.

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Rear right of the weapon close up of its pistol grip, stock and trigger housing (Matthew Moss)

The under folding stock is rudimentary but effective, the butt plate swivels free but the lock up is quite secure. It uses the receiver main spring-loaded return-spring cap. The folding stock attaches to the pistol grip assembly (which can be seen detached below).

The proprietary rectangular trigger group housing brazed onto the tub receiver is unlike any other Sten and lacks a fire-selector.

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Left side of the Sten with its pistol grip and stock assembly detached (Matthew Moss)

The pistol grip itself is made from paxoline, a form of early resin plastic. The shape shape of the pistol grip does not resemble any production or prototype Sten grip. A simple hand-stop, made from a bent piece of sheet metal, has also been added in front of the weapon’s ejection port to prevent the user’s hand moving back and fingers being caught if gripped by the forend.

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Right side of the Sten with its stock unfolded (Matthew Moss)

While the origins of the hybrid Sten remain unclear I don’t believe it was an officially made prototype. While impressive it is relatively crudely assembled and does not match the Sten prototypes made by Enfield, such as the VI. Intriguingly, the magazine housing of the weapon has been stamped ‘PILOT’ below the usual ‘STEN MkIII’ stamp. I suspect that the weapon may have been put together by a unit armourer, perhaps authorised by a superior officer to suggest improvements or as an unofficial project gun.

UPDATE:  Their is some evidence emerging that this Hybrid Sten may be related to the T42 Sten prototype, part of the Sten MkIV development program. Where this hybrid fits into the story is not yet clear but the similarities are striking, when we have more information we will revisit this weapon.

Technical Specifications:

Length (with stock folded): approx. 40cm (30in)
Weight: approx. 3kg (7lb)
Barrel Length: 16cm (6.5in)
Action: Blowback
Calibre: 9x19mm
Feed: 32 round box magazine
Cyclic Rate: approx. 500 rpm


Bibliography:

The Sten Machine Carbine, P. Laidler (2000)

The Sten Gun, L. Thompson (2012)


Please do not reproduce photographs taken by Matthew Moss without permission or credit. ©The Armourer’s Bench 2018.

M45 Quadmount

 

Matt recently had the opportunity to visit the excellent Menorcan Military Museum at Es Castell, on the Spanish Balearic Island of Menorca. The museum is well worth a visit with some very rare and extremely interesting weapons on display. 

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An M45 mounted on a M16 half-track during World War Two (source)

The M45 Quadmount was developed by the W.L. Maxson Corporation for the US Army. It mounted four .50 calibre M2 Browning Heavy Machine Guns on a lightweight, rotating powered mount.  I recently had the opportunity to take a closer look at an M45 while visiting the Menorcan Military Museum.

Introduced in 1943, the M45 was capable of 360 degrees of rotation and 90 degrees of elevation. It was manned by a three man crew: two loaders, who loaded the M2 Browning’s 200-round belt drums, and a gunner.

The M45 was extremely versatile and could be mounted on a number of trailers and vehicles including the M20 and M17 trailers and the M16, M17 and M51 half-tracks.

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Diagram from the M45’s manual showing the layout and some of the Quadmount’s parts (source)

The gunner sat on a canvas seat inside the M45, between the two pairs of guns. He controlled the aiming of the guns with two control handles and aimed the M45 through a reflex sight which was mounted to a sight bar.

The M45 was powered by two 6-volt batteries and weighed approximately 2,400lb (1,090kg). The gunner was protected by an armoured plate at the front with two hinged armour plates either side of the M1X reflex sight. The M45 mounted four M2 TT (Turret Type) varriant machine guns – these were fired by solenoids. All four of the guns could be fired at once but gunners normally alternated between the upper and lower pairs in order to allow the guns to cool and loaders to replenish the drums.

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An M45 mounted on an M17 half-track during the Korean War (source)

When all the guns were fired together the M45 had an impressive rate of fire of approximately 2,300 rounds per minute. The Quadmount saw action throughout World War Two, the Korean War and in Vietnam. However, with the beginning of the jet age the M45 became increasingly obsolete in the anti-aircraft role. It continued to be used against ground targets with many mounted on vehicles to create ‘gun trucks’.

 

AUSTEN Submachine Gun

At the beginning of the Second World War the Australian Army, much like Britain, lacked a standard issue submachine gun. Following Britain’s lead a small number of Thompson submachine guns were ordered for trials purposes in early 1941. The Australian military eventually purchased 18,382 Thompson M1928A1s, however, it was realised that an indigenously produced weapon was needed.

1941 saw extensive testing and development of Evelyn Owen’s submachine gun, at the same time technical drawings for the Sten arrived from Britain. The Australian engineers that examined the Sten believed that it was too rudimentary for Australian needs. In September 1941, the Melbourne-based Die Casters Ltd. were contracted by the Ordnance Production Directorate to investigate improving the Sten. W.T. Carmichael & Sons Ltd were also interested in producing submachine guns and both Carmichael and Die Casters were contracted to produce the improved Australian Sten gun.

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Austen-armed Paratrooper from the Australian parachute battalion training centre, c.1945. The Austen’s folding stock made issue to paratroops one of the few roles that the Austen was better suited to than the Owen gun (AWM)

The Austen was based upon the MkII Sten, however, substantial changes to the design were made. These included a new folding stock based upon the German MP38/40 stock, an added forward pistol grip and a cocking handle slot which ran almost the full length of the tub receiver. This longer slot opened allowed greater ingress of mud and dirt. The most significant internal change was the use of the MP40’s bolt and telescoping return spring. The magazine housing was die cast while the rest of the weapon’s parts were stamped steel. Some aborted attempts by Die Casters Ltd to incorporate die casting production methods lead to early failures but by early 1942 the weapon was ready for production.

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A close up of the Austen’s Diecast magazine housing (RIA)

Like the Sten, the Austen was a simple blowback submachine gun, chambered in 9x19mm and feeding from a 32-round magazine which fed horizontally from the left. With its stock folded it was 52cm long and weighed 3.9kg (8.8lb) unloaded. By contrast the heavier but more reliable Owen weighed 4.2kg (9.3lb). The Austen’s fixed rear aperture sight was fixed at 100 yards.

The new folding stock increased the weight of the Austen, it was also slightly longer than ideal in order for the butt plate to clear the forward handgrip. Some troops complained that this made the weapon’s length of pull too long. In general the Austen required more parts and was more expensive and complex to manufacture. Some Sten parts were interchangeable with the Austen, as were Sten magazines. Like the Owen it appears that at least some Austens were fitted with suppressors similar to that of the Sten MkII(S) and MkVI.

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The photograph above shows Lt.Colonel Tucker, commanding officer of the 2/23 Infantry Battalion, testing a suppressed Austen in Borneo in September 1945. Note also the suppressed Owen Gun in the background (AWM)

As Australia was in desperate need of submachine guns both the Owen and Austen were ordered into production. The Austen, however, suffered from a series of delays and quality control issues. As a result only 2,100 Austens had been issued, out of over 16,000 made, to troops by early 1943. In total 19,914 Austens are thought to have been built, most of these were factory spray painted with a camouflage pattern (see image #3)  In contrast 45,400 Owen guns were produced by June 1945. The Owen was certainly favoured by troops in the field. A report written following troop trials with 300 Austens noted that the weapon’s working parts were exposed, it didn’t function as well as the Owen after submersion in mud and water, it lacked a flash-hider, its stock was too long and was less accurate than the Owen. The Owen, while heavier, was appreciated for its reliability, ergonomics and balance.

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Australian women war workers pose with an Austen (AWM)

Attempts were made to produce an improved MkII Austen, which used more die cast parts, however, this was not adopted and only 200 were made. By the end of the war the Austen had been removed from frontline service and placed in reserve. Dutch troops in the Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia) also used a number of Austens during the Netherlands’ period of decolonisation in the region between 1945-1949. The Owen Gun continued to be used into the 1960s, seeing action in Korea, Malaya and Vietnam before it was replaced by the F1 submachine gun.

Technical Specifications:

Length (stock unfolded): 73cm (29in)
Weight (unloaded): 4kg (8.8lb)
Barrel Length: 20cm (7.8in)
Action: Blowback, open bolt
Calibre: 9x19mm
Feed: 32-round box magazine
Cyclic Rate: ~500rpm


Bibliography:

‘Australian SMGs During WWII’, The Armourer, K. Driscoll

The Sten Gun, L. Thompson (2012)

Owen and Austen – The WW 2 ‘Aussie’ Machine Carbine Story, G. Barber, (source)

The Owen Gun, W. Wardman, (1991)

Patents: BESAL Light Machine Gun

On the 21st May 1943, Birmingham Small Arms Ltd.’s chief designer Henry Faulkner, along with Roger Wackrow, patented a series of features used on the BESAL light machine gun. The BESAL had begun life as a stop-gap, emergency light machine gun design which could be quickly manufactured alongside the Bren gun in the event of an imminent German invasion of Britain.

Instead, the design evolved into BSA’s attempt to have the BESAL adopted as a subsitute standard light machine gun. The images below comes from three British patents filed in May 1943 and granted in October 1945. They show the basic layout of the BESAL along with detailed drawings of the sight, universal magazine adaptor, bolt and the take down knob.

You can find our in-depth video, complete with disassembly, here.

For a more detailed history of the BESAL check out our blog on the history of the weapon.


Patents: 

‘Improvements in or relating to gas-operated automatic firearms’, GB572925, BSA, H. A. Faulkner & R.D. Wackrow, 30/10/1945, (source)

‘Improvements in or relating to automatic firearms’, GB572926, BSA, H. A. Faulkner & R.D. Wackrow, 30/10/1945, (source)

‘Improvements in or relating to automatic firearms’, GB572924, BSA, H. A. Faulkner & R.D. Wackrow, 30/10/1945, (source)

Photographs: BESAL

We were recently lucky enough to examine a 3rd Pattern BESAL light machine gun dating from c.1942.  You can check out our full-length article on the BESAL here and our video here.

Below are a some photographs I took of the BESAL showing some of the details of its design as well as its stamped and spot welded constriction:

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Left-side profile of the BESAL, note the shape of the butt is very similar to that of the earlier Lewis Gun
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BESAL with magazine removed, the weapon appears to use a standard MkII Bren non-adjustable bipod
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Like the Bren, the BESAL has a universal magazine adaptor to allow it to feed from both box and drum Bren magazines

Some close ups of the BESAL

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Top-down view of the BESAL note the offset sights
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Rivet reinforcement of the bolt’s locking recess in the top of the receiver
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Right side – The butt-retention pin can be seen just below the rear sight assembly, this pin is captive and once pulled allows the butt to come off, the bolt and pistol grip can then be removed from the weapon
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Close up of the BESAL’s barrel removal catch – rotate to the rear to remove the barrel
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BESAL’s spring-loaded magazine dust cover closed, note the magazine catch on the left
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A shot from behind the BESAL showing the rear sight and the enclosed front sight, both off set to the left

 

Our thanks to the collection that holds the BESAL, whom wish to remain anonymous, which was kind enough to allow us access to their impressive array of small arms.


All photographs taken by Matthew Moss. Please do not reproduce these images without permission or credit. © The Armourer’s Bench 2018.