Colonel William S. Brophy & Sniping In The Korean War

As the Korea war rages in 1952 and A captain in IX Corps Ordnance and veteran of infantry combat during WW2  in the Pacific , William S. Brophy  recognized a total lack of US Army sniping equipment and marksmanship compared to its current and future needs.  In an effort to reverse some of this and educated units in the field he visited several units to discus with and educate the on sniping equipment and tactics.

At this time the Army had  the scoped m1 rifle as their standard sniping rifle.   This system limited the sniper to a range not much greater than 600 yards.     To demonstrate what a skilled marksman with proper equipment could do and to hopefully get the Army to pay serious attention, Captain Brophy  bought at his own cost a Winchester Model 70  “Bull gun” in ,30-06  and Unertl 10X target optic. The Winchester rifle listed as the “bull gun” was a target gun with heavy target stock and 28 inch heavy barrel.

Brophy  using his rifle and skill developed during a career in competitive shooting was able to register several Chinese communist kills.  The reaction to his ability was quick and people began to take note.   However it was still the usual position of the Army that the weapon was not durable enough for combat use.  Brophy and  the selected men who used the rifle to demonstrate  what it could do and endure did finally get the Army to seriously consider the Model 70 as a sniping arm.

Ultimately it was decided that it was not desirable to inject a special rifle into the supply system with a requirement for match ammo for it.    Oddly enough over the coming years in Vietnam match ammo which was earlier labeled too hard to supply to troops in the field was readily available to snipers so much so that not one ever said that concern for having enough match ammo never crossed their minds.

The Model 70 was not the only effort then Captain Brophy put forth to improve US Army sniper ability.  While out sniping with the Model 70, targets appeared beyond the range of even the match .30cal sniper rifle .    To remedy this Brophy had the barrel of a Browning .50cal aircraft model machine gun mounted to a Soviet PTRD 14.5mm antitank rifle.   A butt pad and bipod were also added as well as a 20x Unertl optic.

With this set up, Brophy and his team was able to make several Communists into good communists.  Hits with the 50 were recorded at ranges from 1,000 yards to 2,000.

This rifle went on to inspire several other of its types with different  barrel and scope combinations.   This attempt at a longer range sniping arm no doubt was one of the predecessors to today’s Barrett M82.  Below Brophy demonstrates one of the 50 cal rifles in Korea to higher officers.

The concept of the 50 caliber sniping rifle was further developed by the AMTU and Col. F.B Conway.  Later attempts used optics such as the ART scope system and even a Boys Antitank rifle.

And of course one of the more more famous early 50 cal sniping systems.

In these early attempts , accuracy of the ammo was the main problem holding back  the weapons.  Standard service ammo was  the only thing available for use  at the time.

Colonel Brophy passed away in 1991 and left behind an amazing record of accomplishment as a shooter, an  Army officer who served in WW2, Korea and Vietnam and writer of many definitive books on US small arms.

A BOY AND HIS RIFLE II

After college I worked for a man who really became a mentor to me when it came to precision shooting, I had been shooting for all of my life  of course, but he was the person who is responsible for most of my knowledge of precision hand loading for extreme accuracy, Bench-rest shooting, proper cleaning methods for match barrels,  a taste for vintage target /varmint rifles and optics and most of my knowledge about firearms history from  the early 1900s up until about  1990.  He had been a national bench rest shooter,  he tested prototype rifles from Ruger, was one of the testers of the rim fire ammo used by the US Olympic teams in the 70s and earl 80s and even had a few wild cats rounds to his name among  many other things.

Above is my mentor and friend shooting a heavy varmint Model 70 Winchester in .243WCF using a 12x Unertl sometimes in the  mid 80s.

I got to hear a lot of stories from his past over those years and one of my favorites is this story from his boyhood.

He grew up and lived all of his life , not including a few years in the Army with 18 months of that in Vietnam, in a small town in WV named Stollings, which is just a couple of miles from Logan, WV.  From his office window I could see the famous Blair mountain.  If you don’t know, Blair mountain is the site of the Battle of Blair Mountain.    If you don’t know about that, here is  some text about it I ganked from  Wikipedia.    My friend was also paid by the state to help identify fired cases and gun parts found on the mountain while searching it for historic items some years ago.

“The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest labor uprising in United States history and one of the largest, best-organized, and most well-armed uprisings since the American Civil War.[3] For five days from late August to early September 1921, in Logan County, West Virginia, some 10,000 armed coal miners confronted 3,000 lawmen and strikebreakers, called the Logan Defenders,[4] who were backed by coal mine operators during the miners’ attempt to unionize the southwestern West Virginia coalfields. The battle ended after approximately one million rounds were fired[5] and the United States Army intervened by presidential order”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Blair_Mountain

As a side note. Blair mountain is now history itself.  The mountain is gone since it has  been stripped mined.  Like most things in Southern WV, Logan WV in particular ,  if the local politicians  can get a kick back from it, then history be dakjed

It was a rough area in those days and was through his childhood and honestly it still is.   I live and have lived in KY my entire life, but o very close to the border of WV.  The Matewan massacre , which you may have heard about or seen the movie, happened only about 20 minutes drive from me, and the entire area was the stomping grounds of the Hatfield and McCoy feud.

I said all that so you can see how  wild the area was for some one born in  1948 and had to grow up there.   Many places in the outskirts of the town he grew up in was full of less than honest businesses.  One of those places of less than high moral standards  helped him earn money for ammo.

In Stollings at the time he was about 10 years old there was a building that was like a small hotel.  Two or three stories and multiple rooms.  The entire building was more or less a brothel.  One part was used  as a small bar.       The  occupants of the building would set any garbage out back  before some one would come collect it for disposal and this of course drew in rats from all over.    It didn’t take long for a population of rats to grow out of control.

My friend some how worked out a deal with the owner of the brothel for his services.   So, every summer day my friend would walk down to the area and wade across the little creek and  set  up on the opposite bank.  He would lay there with his Winchester model 1904 and shoot rats all day.     At the end of the day he would cross back across the creek and collect up all the dead rats. The owner would give him 25 cents for every 2 rats he killed.    He would use that money to buy  his 22 ammo and soda and snacks all summer long.

As you can imagine, he had a lot of fun with that rifle and made a lot of good memories with it.    I asked about it after hearing this story and sad to say, he told me about it’s fate.  When he went off to Vietnam,  his younger brother got it some how.  His idiot brother decided he wanted to mount a scope to it and in typical Hilljack fashion,found some kind of mount meant for side mounting to a receiver. His solution was to take nails and nail the side mount to the stock on the left side of the gun below the action.   This did exactly what you would expect it would do and split the wood and ruined the gun.   Having ruined it, the brother just tossed it into the garbage.

I have  have been on the lookout for the same model on an off over the years since he told me this story.  If I ever find one in good shape at a reasonable price I intend to buy it for him.

OPTIC OF THE WEEK WEAVER K4-F

The Weaver K4  is an optic that has been around a long time.   Today we  will take a look at the K4 F, a vintage Weaver that  was made back in the day when a rifle scope with a power much more than 4x or 6x was considered too much for anything other than match use.

The Weaver K4 was  a top end optic of its day and it is easy to see why.  It has a one piece  1 inch tube.  The  fixed power makes for simple construction with only a ring for adjusting parallax.

Later Weavers  were made with the “micro-track”  adjustment. These required the use of a coin or screw driver to adjust the optic for zeroing.   The K4 F used turrets that are finger adjustable.  The clicks are defined and audible.  Like most optics  the adjustments are in 1/4inch increments.

The cross hairs on the weaver K4-F are the fine straight cross hairs.  Hunters later developed a taste and preference the duplex cross hairs and later weavers come with the duplex.  I like the fine cross hairs myself,  but it is not the best for hunting in woods or around dawn or dusk.   The glass on this example is still clear and clean.   Of course it is not as as clear and bright as modern optics but for its age it is still outstanding.  My Dad bought another K4 in the late 70s and used it all the way up until the early 2000s.  It still sees  use on rimfire hunting rifles.

You can find the old weavers  online if you have a vintage rifle  that you want an optic for it from the same period of time  but also want one you can actually use and trust in the field, the vintage weaver is an excellent choice .

Lebman’s “BabyMachinegun” Full Auto M1911s

Is there anything the Colt Model M1911 can’t do?  I certainly don’t think so.  I’m not the only one either.  Long before the idea of the PDW ( personal defense weapon) existed for military and VIP protection, there were some men who felt that a full auto M1911 would be just the ticket.   Sad to say those men happened to be murderous bank robbers Dillinger and Lester Gillis.

The man  who provided those “baby machine guns” the  gangster was a TX gun smith named Hyman Lebman.  Lebman was a talented gun smith and  tinkerer.   He modified multiple guns for the  criminals of the day supposedly not aware of their real occupation, thinking they were newly rich oilmen.    When the FBI  attempted to apprehend those killers, firefights erupted in to now nearly legendary  events.  The Lebman “baby machineguns” were used in most and resulted in the deaths of FBI agents.

 

“My father was Hyman S. Lebman (his name was not Harold, as quoted in the article), and I worked with him from the time I was 10 years old (1937) until he developed Alzheimers in 1976. He died in 1990. He told me many stories about the customers who he later found out were John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. He thought they were charming, wealthy, oil men who were interested in guns, and even invited them to his house for his wife to make them dinner when I was about 3 or 4. Our shop had a firing range in the basement, and when he was experimenting with a Model 1911 on full automatic, the 3rd or 4th round went off directly over head, through the floor, and I was visiting above at the time. It scared him so much that he invented and installed a compensator on the muzzle to control the recoil. At one time much later, when I was visiting Washington, DC, I made an appointment with the FBI, and they were happy to bring out their collection of my dad’s guns for me to see”

 

Ahem..

Lebman developed  two models of his baby machine guns, one using the .45ACP firing government model and   one firing the Super. 38 round.

Lebman tweaked the internals  of God’s gun and made it into a full auto only machine pistol.   It didn’t take long to realize the gun firing on full auto wasn’t very useful as is so a compensator was adder  along with a fore grip. The fore grips usually being the front vertical  grip from a Thompson submachine  gun.     Some  examples used  buttstock and all guns used custom made by Lebman extended magazines.

The Super 38 was the most powerful round for semi autos in the USA at the time It was known to be able to defeat the body armor of the day and for a time before the .357magnum, was prized for its ability to penetrate  the auto bodies.   Having a compact full auto machine pistol that would  defeat body armor and the sheet metal used in the cars used by the robbers and held 22 rounds per magazine was  a huge advantage from some one constantly running from the law and ready to start a fire fight at a moments notice.  The two grips allowed tight control of the handgun, Much needed due to its high cyclic rate . Reportedly the guns will empty in a heart beat.

As I said above, the guns were part of major events in US law enforcement actions and shoot outs.   Gillis and Dillnger used the baby machine guns at the  Wisconsin shootout  during a raid on their hide  out lodge named Little Bohemia.

Lebman, even if he was nothing more than a honest man and gunsmith happy to sell his modified guns to any one with money as the law allowed,  owed his eventual downfall  to his own success and  the  1934 National Firearms Act.   Before the NFA,  it was not big deal for the unworthy peons to own , posses or make  fullauto weapons of all type.  After, well we all know the current state on that.    Because of the popularity of his guns with the top 10 on the FBI’s most wanted list and the ability of G-men to trace the serial numbers back to his shop. It didn’t take long for feds to do what the feds do best to the gun business and gun owners.    He was able to avoid spending a day  in prison after  several trials.  He went on to  continue his work as a gunsmith  while his machine guns went on to live with  the FBI.  Pictured below  is Lebman made  full auto M1911 owned and used by Dillinger . Now in the FBI vaults.

 

Interestingly at a later date, while the Army was thinking about replacing handguns  with a carbine. The M1 carbine was adopted for this role but for a time Colt submitted to the Army a  “Carbine ” M1911.     It certainly seems to have taken some inspiration from Lebman’s “baby machine gun.”

A lot more polished in design with some more care and refinement , the Colt carbine M1911  submitted to the army looks like  it was influenced by Lebman’s design.

 

 

 

 

The coolest AR rollmark.

Back in the day when we only had a handful of companies making AR15s, I remember seeing countless discussions on the gun forums over which company had the coolest rollmark.  For example some people loved the Stag logo, other people really hated it.  Some people even claimed to see the image of two touching penises in the Spikes Logo.  (I know a guy who sold all his Spikes Tactical rifles after I told him about that)

Well, I suppose this one is engraved and not a true roll mark but I think this is the coolest rollmark available on the market right now.  You can buy a buy a Colt Rifle that is marked “Property of the U.S. Govt M4A1 Carbine”

Vietnam War Individual Equipment

Will the Vietnam war ever stop being fascinating? Not to me it won’t. One of the many things  from that period that is fascinating to me is what the fellows carried and used while in the war. Not just the Special Forces,  but the regular  guy.  The equipment started out much like the gear of the past generations. Made of cotton and canvas and metal.  Then , towards then end, we started to see the first widespread use of the nylon and plastic that would be the materials of the ALICE system used all through the 1980s and most of the 90s.    Today we will take a look at two set ups used in the war and a few other things.

First we have  up a near mint set of the webgear that would have been carried by an infantryman in the US Army.  It is the M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment (LCE), also known as the Individual Load-Carrying Equipment (ILCE).  This is the system that replaced the the combat pack of WW2 and Korea and the multitude of cartridge belts used to support the older US family of weapons.  The M56 gear was developed and came out during the time the military was  going to the M14 and then on to the M16.  Because it was a time when a lot of the older legacy weapons  were still being used, the equipment was very general purpose. Especially the M56 ammo pouches.

The M56 ammo pouch  would carry a 6-pocket M1 cotton bandoleer of M1 Garand enbloc clips (8-rounds each; total of 48 rounds), 8 x M1 Garand enbloc clips (8 rounds each; total of 64 rounds), 2 x BAR magazines (20-rounds), 4 x M1 or M2 carbine magazines (30-round), 3 x 40mm M79 grenades, or 2 x M26 hand grenades plus 2 x hand grenades fastened on the sides of the case.   Then with the newer rifles it  would hold 2x M14 magazines and 3x M16 magazines.  Or so it is said it will hold only 3  mags for the M16 but it will hold 4x M16 magazines though tightly.

The belt is  is a slightly different design than the WW2 era belt but in function it is nearly identical. With the adoption of the M56 pouches, this combo did away with  the the M-1936 individual equipment belt, the M-1923 cartridge belt for the Garand , and the M-1937 cartridge belt for the  BAR.   The M56, like the older belt, also has the holes for using equipment  that attaches via the 1910 wire hangers.

The new H harness suspenders are cotton canvas with two webstraps for hanging various items from like the flashlight shown above and the  general purpose first Aid/Compass pouch on the other. The H -harness is very wide and flat and comfortable.    Out of all the older military webbing I have tried over the decades, the M56 H suspenders is the most comfortable.

The M56 canteen covers are heavy canvas with heavy wool lining. They aren’t that different  from the older covers  but use the “slide keepers of all M56 gear.  The slide keeper is now known as “ALICE clips”.   Covers held one 2 quart canteen and cup. Though they were used by special operations forces to hold rifle magazines and various grenades  in other units like MACVSOG. Those units needed to carry considerably more ammo and munitions that the average infantryman and the  M56 ammo pouches were not enough.   The canteen covers could be worn on the belt or on the field pack ( AKA butt pack) by attaching it to wide webbing straps on each side of it.  Or, they could be attached to webbing straps on the various rucksacks used in the war.  The cover was meant to be soaked in water  to help cool the water in the canteen.  This soaking and drying  faded the color and it is common to see surplus covers nearly  khaki in color from fading.

The field pack, also known as the butt pack, is the samll backpack looking bag at the center rear This pack is the M1961 pack and is and upgrade from the original M56 pack The M61 pack has a rubberized collar inside to protect the contents as well as eyelets along the outside flap  to attach more equipment.    The field pack was meant to carry the items the soldiers needed,  one day’s ration, toilet paper, socks and such.    It didn’t take long to find out that the “butt pack  ” did not hold enough.

In addition to the M56 gear  you can see the M16 bayonet with scabbard and light weight rip stop poncho attached to the bottom of the M61 field pack.  A M56 entrenching tool cover was also issued.  The shovel cover held the folding shovel and had  two grommets and strap for attaching the rifle bayonet to it to make room on the belt.   Also, a convoluted sytem of webbing straps  exists with the purpose of carrying the bed roll. I have a set but did not picture it  since putting it together is a nightmare.

Next up is  a belt worn in the early days of the war in some units  whose automatic rifleman used the M14. It   was issued to indig forces who  used the older US family of weapons from Korea nad WW2 and it was a popular choice by US Army Special forces.

Of course we are talking about the M-1937 cartridge belt for the BAR.  This one is an unissued example made during the Korean war era. This is why it is a dark shade of green instead of the OD3 mostly used during WW2.      The  BAR was popular because it would hold would hold more M16 magazines  than the M56 pouches that was standard issue.  The belt also was lined on the bottom of the magazine pouches with holes for the older 1910 wire hangers and the  webbing on the back had room for M56 canteen covers.  The top holes on the belt would also fit the M56 H-harness.

Each  cell of the BAR belt would  fit x M16 20 round magazines.  I have read many times that it is possible to get 5 mags in each pouch but I have never been able to get 5 in all of them.  It does require stretching to get it to hold  5 magazines.  It would also hold a variety of other items if desired.    One of the practices of SOG recon teams was to hang a older WW2 type canteen covers off of the lower grommets  for additional canteens or to use as munitions pouches. Using this they could carry grenades or the larger 30 round M16 magazines.   In various books about SOG, it  is noted that the canteen cover was hung on the left side for reload magazines and the right side for hand grenades.

The 1910 attachment holes also allowed for attaching more pouches like extra first aid kits from WW2, the jungle survival kit, handgun holsters or  pouches for radio antenna.  You can see int he image below the way a Special Forces SOG recon man has set up his BAR belt.   Often later int he war the SOG  troopers replaced  the H harnes and M56 web belt with the STABO  harness. The BAR belt was added  to the STABO rig.  The STABO  harness allowed a man to snap into a rope from a chopper quickly to be lifted away.

Above you can see how the older 1910 wire hangers allowed the user to  attach the older equipment like this WW2  era type first aid pouch and the  jungle first aid kit.

I have also recreated the common practice of tapping water purification tablets to the plastic USGI canteens. The M56 covers did not have the side pouch for the tablets.   Perhaps extra tablets would have been taped to the canteens anyway so as to always  have extra in a convenient spot. The covers have been painted over  for camo  sake. Which was another common thing seen done by the SOG recon units, along with uniforms and guns.   Being the BAR belt is mint I demurred from  painting it.

Another iconic piece of equipment common;y seen during the war was the now rare lightweight rucksack. The pack was originally designed for arctic use to replace the mountain rucksack. It was the first all nylon piece of equipment to be adopted by the US Army

The pack will hold more items that you can carry and most equipment the soldier did not need to immediately fight with was store on or in the rucksack. Things like  LAWS rockets,  rations, shovel, machetes, extra canteens and clothing could be places inside its main compartment of the three smaller ones outside or hung from the webbing and cargo straps on the frame.   The pack could be worn  low on the frame, in the middle or high up depending.

Of all the things my Dad spoke about using during the war, the light weight ruck, the M16 and the poncho liner was like the holy trinity to him.  For years I hear about how comfortable the curving tubular pack frame was.  Finally after 30 years I was able to track down two of these packs for him and bought both of them. He was right, the pack frame is very comfortable  when wearing it. Below you can see how the frame curved for the body.

The suspension system of straps on the frame also kept the pack off of the back and allowed air to move through to help  stop over heating. The original waist belt band is missing on this example and some one had replaced it with the ALICE pack style kidney pad at some point post war.  IF you look at the shoulder straps you can see the quick release feature. The vertical straps are cargo straps for holding  items added above the pack.

From the side you can see the webbing straps to hold addition canteens.  Both the left and right side have webbing straps for the older 1910 wire attachment or the  M56 covers with  ALICE clips.  A web strap with buckle goes around the canteen to secure it and to keep it from flopping around.   This pack was replaces later in the war with the tropical rucksack  that is the  basis for the later ALICE pack.

A pack that did serve as inspiration for the tropical  ruck was the ARVN ruck or also known as the indigenous ruck sack.    The pack was made in the US for ARV troops. It became popular with US troops who could get it  as it was a better option than the M1961 butt pack. This pack is the one seen in the movie Platoon.

The ARVN ruck used the same  X frame that was later used int he US tropical ruck .   The ARVN rucksack is a handy pack about the size of modern  assault packs.

The ARVN ruck is hard to find now a days as it was made and issued only for the military of the Republic of South Vietnam.    It was never issued to US forces for US military use.   It  was a handy little pack though and you can still see  the influence it had in later years on other packs.

 

 

What’s so special about John Moses Browning?

This post is a re post from weaponsman.com. We share it here today to honor and preserve our friend Hognose, who died last spring 

What’s so special about John Moses Browning? by Kevin O’Brien

 

Himself.

Himself.

If you take that question the wrong way, you’re thinking who is this bozo to diss Saint JMB? But we’re not putting the emphasis on the JMB side of the sentence, but the What’s so special? end. As in: we really want to know. Why is this guy head and shoulders above the other great designers of weapons history? What made him tick? What made him that way?

Browning was not a degreed engineer, but he is, to date, the greatest firearms designer who has ever lived.  Consider this: had Browning done nothing but the 1911, he’d have a place in the top rank of gun designers, ever. But that’s not all he did, by any means. If he had done nothing but the M1917 and M1919 machine guns, he’d have a place in the top ranks of designers. If he’d done nothing but the M2HB, a gun which will still be in widespread infantry service a century after its introduction, and its .50 siblings, he’d be hailed as a genius. One runs out of superlatives describing Browning’s career, with at least 80 firearms designed, almost 150 patents granted, and literally three-quarters of US sporting arms production in the year 1900 being Browning designs — before his successes with automatic guns.

He did all that and he was just getting warmed up. He didn’t live to see World War II, but if he had, he’d have seen Browning designs serving every power on both sides of the war. If an American went to war in a rifle platoon, a Sherman tank, a P-39 or P-51 or B-17, he and his unit were gunned-up by Browning. If he made it home to go hunting the season after V-J day, there were long odds that he carried a Browning-designed rifle of shotgun, even if the name on it was Remington or Winchester. Browning’s versatility was legendary: he designed .25 caliber (6.35mm) pocket pistols and 37mm aircraft and AA cannon, and literally everything in between. He frequently designed the gun and the cartridge it fired.

A lot of geniuses have designed a lot of really great guns since some enterprising Chinese fellow whose name is lost to history discovered that gunpowder and a tube closed at one end sure beats the human hand when it comes to throwing things at one’s enemies.  But nobody comes close to Browning’s level of achievement; nobody matches him in versatility.

So why him? As we put it, what’s so special? 

We think Browning’s incredible primacy resulted from several things, apart from his own innate talent and work ethic (both of which were prodigious). Those things are:

  1. He was born to the trade
  2. He was prolific: his output was prodigious
  3. He was a master of the toolroom
  4. He lived at just the right time
  5. He could inspire and lead others

Born to the Trade

John M’s father, Jonathan Browning, was, himself, a gunsmith, designer and inventor. He made his first rifle at age 13, and despite being an apprentice blacksmith, became a specialist in guns by the time he was an adult. From 1824 he had his own gunshop and smithy in Brushy Fork, Tennessee, and later would move to Illinois (Where he befriended a country lawyer named Lincoln). He joined the Mormons in Illinois and fled with them to Utah, making guns at each way station of the Mormon flight.

Jonathan Browning Revolving Repeater

Jonathan Browning Cylinder Repeater. Image from a great article on Jonathan Browning by William C. Montgomery.

Very few of Jonathan’s rifles are known to have survived, but he made two percussion repeating rifles that were, then (1820s-1842), on the cutting edge of technology. The Slide Bar Repeating Rifle  was Jonathan’s term for what is more widely called a Harmonica Gun. The gun has a slot into which a steel Slide Bar is fitted. The slide bar had, normally, five chambers; after firing a shot, the user cocked the hammer and moved the Slide Bar to the side to move the empty chamber out from under the hammer, and a loaded chamber into place. When all five chambers had been discharged, the Slide Bar was removed, and each chamber loaded from the muzzle and reprimed with a percussion cap. Jonathan Browning’s gun differed from most in that it had an underhammer, and that an action lever cammed the Slide Bar hard against the barrel to make a gas seal. He also made a larger Slide Bar available — one with 25 chambers, arguably the first high-capacity magazine.

The second Browning innovation was the Cylinder Repeating rifle. This was a revolver rifle, with the cylinder rotated by hand between shots. Like the Slide Bar gun, the cylinder was cammed against the barrel to achieve a gas seal — the parts were designed to mate in the manner of nested cones.

Young John M. Browning. From the Browning Collectors web page.

Young John M. Browning. From the Browning Collectors web page.

The designer of those mid-19th-Century attempts to harness firepower sired many children; like other early Mormons, he was a polygamist, and his three wives would bear him 22 children. From age six one of them apprenticed himself, as it were, to his father. Within a year he’d built his own first rifle. This son was, of course, John Moses Browning.

(Aside: the last gun made by Jonathan Browning was an example of his son’s 1878 single-shot high-powered rifle design, which would be produced in quantity by Winchester starting in 1883).

Malcolm Gladwell has popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of hard work to become an expert — that’s roughly five years of fulltime labor. JMB had exceeded this point before puberty.

If you aspire to breaking Browning’s records as a gun designer, you need to acknowledge that, unless you started from childhood, you’re starting out behind already.

Prolific Output

Browning worked on pistols, rifles, and machine guns. He worked on single-shot, lever, slide, and semi-automatic actions, and his semi-autos included gas-operated, recoil-operated, direct-blowback, and several types of locking mechanism. Exactly how many designs he did may not have been calculated anywhere: it’s known he designed 44 rifles and 13 shotguns for Winchester alone, a large number of which were not produced, and some of which may not have been made even as prototypes or models.

His military weapons included light and heavy infantry machine guns, aerial machineguns for fixed and flexible installations, and several iterations of the 37mm aircraft and anti-aircraft cannon, the last of which, the M9, would fire a 1-lb-plus armor-piercing shell at 3000 feet per second; an airplane was designed around it (the P39 Airacobra, marginal in US service but well-used, and well-loved, by the Soviets who received many via lend-lease). All the machine guns used by the US from squad on up in WWII and Korea were Browning designs. But these were only his most successful designs; there were others. At his peak, he may have been producing new designs at a rate of one a week. 

If you want to to be the next John Browning, you need to start designing now, and keep improving your designs and designing new ones until the day you die. (Browning died in his office in Belgium).

Master of the Toolroom

The Browning workshop, back in the day.

The Browning workshop, back in the day.

From an early age, John learned to cut, form and shape steel. This is something common to most of the gunsmiths and designers of the early and mid-20th Century — if you remember our recent feature on John Garand, the photo showed him not a a drawing board by at a milling machine.

Browning could not only design and test his own prototypes — he could also design and improve the machinery on which they’d be produced, a necessary task for the designer in his day. Nowadays, such production development is the milieu of specialized production engineers, who have more classroom training, and probably less shop-floor savvy, than Browning brought to the task.

A reproduction of Browning's workshop in the Browning Museum in Ogden, UT.

A reproduction of Browning’s workshop in the Browning Museum in Ogden, UT. (From this guy’s tour post).

In Browning’s day, processes were a little closer to hand-tooled prototype work, but it still required different kinds of savvy and modes of thinking .

If you want to be Browning, you have to master production processes, for prototypes and in series manufacturing, from the hands-on as well as the drawing-board angle. There may never again be a designer like that.

Living and Timing

John M. Browning in 1921 with Mr Burton of Winchester and the category-creating Browning Automatic Rifle.

John M. Browning in 1921 with Mr Burton of Winchester and the category-creating Browning Automatic Rifle.

John M Browning lived in just the right time: he was there at the early days of cartridge arms, when even basic principles hadn’t yet been settled and the possibilities of design were wide-open and unconstrained by prior art and customer expectation. No army worldwide, and no hunter or policeman, really had a satisfactory semi-auto or automatic weapon yet (except for the excellent Maxim)

It’s much easier to push your design into an unfulfilled requirement than it is to displace something a customer is already more or less comfortable with.

If you’re going to retire some of John M. Browning’s records, you’re going to need the right conditions and a few lucky breaks — just like he had.

Inspiration and Leadership

To read the comments of other Browning associates of the period is to see the wake of a man who was remarkable for far more than his raw genius. Browning was admired and respected, to be sure, but he was also liked. At FN in Belgium, the gunsmiths called him le maître, “the master,” and took pleasure in learning from him.

M Saive at the drawing board. Image: FN Herstal.

M Saive at the drawing board. Image: FN Herstal.

His Belgian protégé, M. Dieudonne Saive, went on to be a designer of some note himself. While he did not achieve Browning’s range of designs, he, too, is in the top rank for his work finalizing the High-Power pistol (also known as the GP or HP-35) that Browning began, and for his own SAFN-49 and FAL rifle designs, and MAG machine-gun, all of which owed something to Browning’s work as well as Saive’s own.

If you want to be the next John Moses Browning, you have to know when to step back, and how to share the burden — and the credit.

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

THE LEE-ENFIELD No4 (WW2’s BEST BOLT ACTION BATTLE RIFLE?)

Last week’s post about theM1903 and  bolt action battle rifles got some good discussion going in the comment section.  Naturally this turned to comparing and talking about more battle bolt action rifles from the two world wars.    I opinionated on what I think was the best bolt action battle rifle, the Lee Enfield  No 4.

The example shown in the No .4 MK 2, the improved and refined version made afterWW2.  But it will stand in for the older model for purposes of this article.   This one is an example of some of the last ones made.

The No. 4 is made in the British service round .i.e, the .303 British  like its past family members.  This is a rimmed bottle neck round firing a .303 diameter bullet, or 7.7mm. That is the same as the Japanese “7.7mm Jap” round.  By WW2 the standard loading for rifle use was the MK MKVII load.  This was a  174 grain  spitzer bullet with a muzzle velocity of around 2500fps.   The trick part of the projectile is this.  The front tip of the FMJ was not filled with lead. The tip was filled instead with aluminum, (  sorry ,Al-U-min-e-um for you limeys out there) or a type of plastic or a few other fillers.

 

This shifted the  center of gravity to the rear of the bullet.  When the round hit the target it it lost stability and  will yaw.  The wounding of this was  much greater than the normal ball round.  This is not the same as the ” DUM DUM” round. It would however bend or break apart.  The MKVII is also  considered very accurate, and it is or a WW2 era military service round.   There was and is a load for machine gun  use. A slightly heavier 175 grain boat tailed bullet loaded with a higher pressure. The round was made to provide the machine guns with a round that would allow for longer range more accurate fire.  It    would wear the barrel quickly due to its  powder used and bullet design.  It is safe to fire in small arms but the British Army did not allow it to be used unless in an emergency.  Of course this means rifleman quickly grabbed up all the could find to use in their rifles.

The rifle  used a detachable 10 round magazine but practice was to load with 5 round charger clips. The charger /stripper clips are very good designs and sturdy.  The rifle had the usual guide lips made into the receiver for the clips and two of them would fully load the magazine  very quickly in practiced hands. Of course you can also load from the top one round at a time by hand.  Lastly you can of course swap out magazines if you have a spare one.

The rifle is another design that cocks on closing. Some like it , some don’t.   Me and a lot of other people find it very fast.  Working the bolt for rapid fire can be done very quickly. Opening  is easier since  you are not also cocking the action  and when pushing the bolt forward, you already have the momentum and speed   going.  This allows for some rapid bolt action fire with practice. One of the things the design and the British rifleman were famous for.

The safety on the No.4 is on the left side and its a  large lever easy to get to and manipulate in all conditions.   To the rear is safe.

Forward is of course fire.

As you can see above in the picture, the gun can also be cocked by pulling on the   square notched piece on the bolt.  Though it is not recommended.  This would allow carry of a live round int he chamber without the gun cocked.  I have seen some old timers who hunted with these rifle carry them in condition 2 for hunting then reach up and cock the gun  by hand.    I have  no idea why they chose to do this

The above picture also shows the two piece design of the rifle stock. The idea of a 2 piece stock bothers a lot of people and is said to not be as strong,   In this case it is not an issue. The rifle is a combat rifle meant for the roughest of handling.   It will not give you a problem as long as you don’t get hit with an 88mm.

One of my favorite part of the No 4 is it’s sights.   Unlike the forward mounted rear sights of most of it’s peers, the Enfield has the rear sight in the right spot.

The rear sight is a  receiver aperture battle sight calibrated for 300 yd (274 m) with an additional ladder aperture sight that could be flipped up and was calibrated for 200–1,300 yd (183–1,189 m) in 100 yd (91 m) increments.   This is much faster  and easier to use than the  open V notch sight of most other country’s  battle rifles and  more accurate.  This  rear large peep  sight is much like modern combat rifles iron sights and would be very familiar and comfortable even for a user only used to  modern rifles and carbines.

Folding the sight into the up position gives you a smaller peep for more precise aiming for longer ranges. The ladder with range markings is clear and easy to read and use.   And it is in yards!! not  the system used by countries that have not been to the moon.  I have done some very accurate long range shooting using this sight on this very gun over the years.  It is not user adjustable for windage since that is set by the factory and  the rifleman was expected to hold off for any wind conditions.

The front sight is a protected blade .  Two large “ears” on each side kept it safe from being knocked off, bent or broken.  Each protective  ear was slotted to allow  in as much light on the front sight as possible

Now with all those features it is time to see what counts the most. The accuracy of the rifle.   Since this gun belongs to my brother and not myself and it is in such great condition I did not bang away with it for ours using the original service round which is corrosive.  Instead I sued a couple of handload. This was to show what it was capable of  beyond  the service round for those who may want to use it for something other than killing krauts. I did shoot some surplus MKVII loads just to see what it would do .

For the hand loaded  match ammo I shot the gun from a bench with sandbags .  Each string of fire was slow fire with time to allow the barrel to cool as I did not want the heating up of the barrel and wood to affect the gun’s potential for accuracy.    I also used the smaller peep of the long range ladder sight and was able to hold in a way to get the shots close to red dots.  This was a bit of a chore figuring out where to hold odd and then making another aiming point for precise hold off while still  hitting close to the dots.  After I finished I realized the stupidity of  going through the trouble and frustration just to be able to show nice neat photos of  groups by  the  “aiming point” when I should have just shot and took a picture of the groups where ever they happened to pint.    But I like the look of a group close to whatever was ostensibly supposed to be hit.  Anyway, I’m an idiot that worked too hard in 108 degree heat.

First 5 round  group  is  the sierra HPBT  .303 match bullet.  This was some hand loads I had made up for the gun for my brother to use at long range about 14 years ago.   You can see why the sierra match kings have long been favorites of mine.  This group was fired at 65 yards.

This next four rounds group is  the Hornady 178gr A-MAX ballistic tip bullet hand loads.  This was also fired from 65 yards.  Why only 4 rounds and not 5?   Because It was all I had left after shooting up the rest trying to figure out the hold off.

This last group is 5 rounds  was the Sierra  match King HPBTs again. This time at a full 100 yards.   This was the best group fired  at 100 yards. The rest looked  about like this or slightly bigger but in my foolish pointless quest to get the group to print close to the red dot I did not take pictures of them because they were not close enough to the red dot to suit me.   I can only the guess that the reason for this stupid temporary  obsession was the  furnace like heat and what felt like 1 million gnats in my face and the 200 percent humidity.  Mea Culpa.

I had a hand full or original MKVII British ammo left over from a batch we bought back in the mid 90s.  So i used it to  shoot 300yards to see how it did.    I didn’t shoot further because I only had  300 yards available to me where I was shooting and I also wanted to see if the  sight really was calibrated to the load as it is supposed to be.

It was!

It shot pretty good as well.   I shot two targets but this is the best of the two. I would show the other one but i do not think it is fair to the rifle because of the other  10 rounds I shot at it, 4 of those rounds had faulty primer/powder ignition.   I would fire the gun, hear the primer pop the a half second later the gun would fire.  Not very conducive of accuracy.     You can imagine how the target looked. Not to mention how nervous I started to get about  the ammo.

The gun is very accurate and it helps that it is one of those mint UF 55 rifles as they are called, brought into the US in the mid to late 90s.  My brother bought it for  the Arab Princely sum of 139 yankee green backs.   Even with years of him firing surplus corrosive ammo through it , the barrel is still capable of good accuracy though it fouls out fast from the damage he inflicted on it from not cleaning it fast enough after firing the old ammo . As you can see in the following picture  You can also see the dee, sharp lands and grooves the rifles are famous for.  The lug on the right side of the barrel is  for mounting the bayonet. Also note that the  barrel of the No.4 is heavier than the older Lee Enfields which helps it’s accuracy potential.

Several years ago when a few of us here  were on a kick to see the furthest we could shoot surplus military bolt action rifles, this rifle was able to  hold it’s own  against even a K31, which is pretty impressive as the K31 with its  GP11 service round is hard to beat . It was easy to shoot the Enfield out to 700-800 yards  from prone slinged up.

The No.4  is such a good and accurate rifle that it didn’t take much imagination to  select it and turn it into a sniper rifle.  With the addition of the No.32 optical sight and a few other  enhancements the rifle became the No. 4 Mk. I (T) sniper rifle.  The rifle used the same .303 round and it was in my opinion, arguably  the best  sniper rifle of the war.   It served on even after the adoption of the 7.62mm NATO.  Even today if  it turned up on the battlefield in the hands of a competent sniper  with fieldcraft and shooting skills it would still wreak havoc and be very effective.   By today’s concept of sniping and long range precision fire it would easily compete in the DMR role at the least. Losing out only because of its lack of semi auto fire.

 

The No 4 Enfield  is in my opinion, the best bolt action rifle used in WW2 with the No.4 MK 2 being the even more refined version.   If you can find one in good enough condition to be a shooter I give it my highest recommendation.   It served the British Empire for many years before being replaced by the FAL  but  even after that it served other nations faithfully. It is fast, easy to manipulate, durable and tough , the sights are capable of very good  precision shooting at range  and it has plenty of  power in its service round.  Even with its draw backs it was still  a battle rifle that has a record of performance any other bolt action service rifle would envy.

 

Day 4: A firearm project

Started a little firearm project.  I really shouldn’t mentioned it until it is finished.  But I thought it might be more fun to give live updates.

I ordered most everything on the June 21st.  Lets see how long it takes me to get the stuff in.  I’ll give you more details as I get the parts.

Site improvements.

Time for us to upgrade LooseRounds.com.

We have a ton of good content, we are getting close to a thousand posts. But that means that much of our best work is buried away and is hard to fine. We need to make it more visible. We need a better way to help you find the content you want to read. We also need a better way where you can comment and tell us what you think.

What do you want to see in an updated LooseRounds.com?Comment on this post with your requests and suggestions.

Oh, the issue with images not being enlargeable should be fixed going forward, but we don’t way to easily fix that in the old posts.