5.56 Timeline

Some Retro AR15

Over the last few weeks I have been snatching up some rare photos from the history of the AR15/M16 here and there. I was waiting until I had enough to share into a group. All or most of these will come up again in some future articles.

This first photo is from the ex-owner of AR15.com and now Brownells made man. Ed Sr. Holding an M16 with a first gen night vision optic with IR lamp.

Below is a gentleman shooting the rare Colt M16 sniper variant with ARTII optic.

belt fed light machine gun variant of the Colt M16
same fellow shooting a Colt 601

Rock Island Auction Article on “The Force”

Rock Island Auction is revving up for their September auction already, and they have a few blog post up today. Below is a picture I ganked from their new excellent write up on the 1st Special Service Force. This is the joint US/Canadian special operations force they cooked up in WW2. It is worth a read and it has some excellent militaria examples to go with the text. The picture below for example with this beautiful Colt M1911A1 and the fighting knife designed for and produced just for “The Force”.

The First Special Service Force: “The Devil’s Brigade”

J. W. Fecker Optics

Born in 1891, J.W. Fecker grew up in Cleveland and earned a degree in physics from Cleveland’s Case School in Applied Science in 1912. Astronomy and optical engineering were accorded special attention at this school, because its founder ( together with his friends Warner and Swasey) happened to be a serious amateur astronomer. Not surprising that the direction of J.W. Fecker’s career went in that direction.

Early catalogs refer to to his “15 years of experience “,before launching his own company, in manufacturing a long line of fire control instruments for the U.S. Army and Navy-experience which does indeed suggest other Ord. Dept. commissions awarded to W&S. ( builder of the Army’s prismatic sight for the Model 1903 Springfield.

However telescopic sight expert C.S.Lewis reported that Fecker’s last employment immediately prior to founding his Cleveland business in 1922 had been with optics giant Baush & Lomb.

“Fecker’s earliest advertisement in Arms and The Man, predecessor of American Rifleman, appearing in the August 1, 1922 issue, did not make clear , what he was prepared to offer. It suggested he was willing to build telescopic sights equipped with lenses of his own manufacture to the customer’s specification. A few issues later, readers of his small ad were presented with the briefest of descriptions of a new scope. A 3/4 inch clear aperture objective lens, 18 1/2 inches in length, 6 and 10 power. Ads after this one noted that fittings would be supplied to allow use of his new scope in all current mounts. A V pronged clamp ring for use with the V-notched Stevens or Winchester front mounts, or a “pope-style” rib for Pope and certain Stevens mounts.”

There early ads got no special attention to the new optic’s most unique feature. A sliding erector lens for distant focusing as opposed to the adjustable objective lens already familiar to optics made by Malcolm, Stevens, Winchester, and later Lyman. Fecker’s unconventional focusing adjustment because it is so much easier to manipulate from a shooting position, is usually found to be very handy to users without arms that would make them the star of a freak show. Fecker’s catalogs asserted that his method insured “increased stability of the optical system ” a claim others like John Unertl would dispute.

Fecker’s focusing/parallax adjustment differed from competitors in that it was not calibrated in yards, but by simple numerals. Each Fecker scope was individually focused at the factory for several different ranges, and the resulting numerical settings recorded with the serial number on the instruction sheet which came with each scope.

“If Fecker’s earliest ads left a good deal to the imagination the same cannot be said for the brilliant series of optics dissertations contributed by Fecker to Arms, and later Rifleman, beginning with the issue of May 1922. Curiously , “A Precise Method of Focusing Telescopic Sights,” his first article, makes no mention at all of the unique “Fecker system” of adjustment, which by then, just three months before his first ad appeared must already have been on the drawing board if not in production. Of course given delays in publishing, the article may have been submitted many months before Fecker drew up his final design.

The shooting world’s “official” recognition of the new Fecker scope came in the March 15th, 1923 issue of American rifleman. This review was extremely positive in its evaluation. E.C. Crossman, a giant and well respected gunwriter in his day for those who do not know, said “Without question the finest target telescope and mounts in existence is the Fecker 1 1/8 instrument”. This endorsement appeared in Crossman’s Small Bore Rifle Shooting published in 1927. Whelen said of the Fecker ” This is the most perfect target telescope I have ever seen”. C.S. Landis, in .22 Caliber Rifle Shooting 1932 said,” This is the finest rifle telescope made in this country, or anywhere.” The new scope was an immediate hit with anyone who could afford one.

AS mentioned above, Fecker scopes made before 1924 had to be mounted with rings made by other makers. Something John Unertl had to cope with when after working with Fecker he set up his own shop years later. By 1925 Fecker been offering a set of mounts that met his requirements for quality. They were superior to everything else on the market to deserve the claim of being “a class of their own”. Even with that there was room to improve and he did with his “Precision mount”, which he began to supply shortly after. The inventor was actually Donald A Baker. His design included the straight edge interposed between the tube and the adjustment screw , a friction click device into each thimble, and a mechanism for more accurately and securely clamping the mount to the base.These innovations eventually became the industry standard.

The pivotal event in Fecker’s life occurred in 1926. He aquired the historic John A Brashear Optics Co. of Pittsburgh. This turning point was announced with apparent pride in a special notice or the June ,American Rifleman. Founded in 1881 the Brashear works was world famous for the manufacture of astronomical telescopes, although it supplied commercial optical goods to other instrument makers, notably Warner & Swazey.

“Although few shooters would have been in position to appreciate the significance of this event, optics experts and industry insiders like Crossman, Landis and Whelen, should have recognized that rather more than a mere change of factory location had taken place.” Oddly enough no one wrote about it or seemed to have taken note. From this new location Fecker went on to make some of the most respected optics for astronomy in the world. “Fecker’s name commanded the highest international respect” but we won’t dip into that here.

Back in the shooting world, more powerful Fecker scopes were being designed for competitive shooters, and for people demanding more for the newly developed hobby of long range varmint hunting. Fecker had entered the market just a year before the official NRA sanctioning of Small Bore competition. Then in 1931 commerical production of rifles and ammo for the .22 Hornet kicked off major popular interest in high velocity varmint rounds and varmint shooting. For these shooting requirements high end optics were needed and until 1934 Fecker was the only optics maker who could satisfy the demand.

Fecker was finally challenged in 1934 by the new Lyman 1-1/8 objective lens targetsop, in 8 and 10x. This soon to be famous model was an impressive advance over the now antique instruments Lyman had acqured from Stevens and Winchester. It was hobbled by inferior mounts to the ones Fecker made, and no optically equal to the Fecker 1-1/2 inch, 16 power model of 1932. Additionally, John Unertl, hired by Fecker in 1928 after immigrating from Germany, left the company to start his own family run business in Pittsburgh. An even that seemed less worrisome to Fecker than Lyman, but time proved otherwise.

“Unertl’s departure was onlypart ofthe brain drain to be afflicting Fecker about this time. Possible more galling to Fecker was the “treason” of his chief optician Hageman, and his very able son Wray, both lured away by Lyman to design and improved internally adjustable hunting scope. Which resulted in the Lyman “Alaskan”. The hemorrhage of talent occurred at a time when many scientific commissions seemed to be coming Fecker’s way, such as a 61″ telescope for Harvard, and a planetarium for the American Museum Of Natural History.”

As time went on Fecker became less and less involved in competition shooting and the world f rifle optics, Rarely showing up at Camp Perry for the National Matches. An even John Unertl always attended and mingled with shooters. His attention was more on the large optics of astronomy , while Unertl and Lyman continued to make developments and take much more of the market share. Unertl optics becoming recognized as the leader of precision rifle optics in the shooting world.

Fecker was running full page ads in every issue of American Rifleman through July, 1956. After that, they abruptly stopped. A change in ownership had taken place. American optical was the new owner and the management of the “Fecker Division” had no interest in advising former scope customers of the transition. The new owner clearly had no interest in scopes or shooting. It’s attention was on the advanced optical and electronic systems Fecker engineers were then developing for Cold War use as aircraft and missile tracking. The reason for buying out the company in the first place.

“Gil Parsons of Parson Optical Co. who was then working as an A.O. optician about two years after this takeover in 1958 remembers the last pathetic act in the Fecker rifle scope saga: boxes of miscellaneous scope and mount parts were delivered to his plant, and all present invited to take their pick-which he, at least proceeded to do with gusto. Thus ended the Fecker target-scope story-not with a bang but a whimper. “


A few knives and firearms from the space age. Taken from a Gizmodo article not really worth reading. A few more pictures and some other items unrelated to weapons.


Model 17 “Astro” hand-wrought survival knives created by Randall Made Knives were carried by Mercury astronauts. The fixed blade knives with a large guard and a 5.5 inch blade were strong enough to pry open the capsule hatch if needed, and featured a hollow handle to store survival essentials in case the spacecraft landed in rough terrain or in Soviet territory.

Case ”Astronaut’s Knife – M-1″ machete

You can buy a replica here: Case


Astronaut Knife M-1 Commemorative Model #: 12019 Regular price $232.99

TP-82, the Soviet machete gun
The Russian Soyuz Space capsule usually has weapons in its survival kit to protect astronauts from wild animals-especially bears–if it happened to land in remote forest regions, such as Siberia. The three barrel, two-over/one-under TP-82 gun was developed specifically for the Soyuz program. One barrel is for shooting cartridges, one is for firing shotgun shells, and the third to fire flares, and the removable stock can be used as a machete. The initiator and one of the participants in its development was cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first spacewalker, who once were stranded in a remote forest for days after landing. From 1982 until 2006, cosmonauts always carried a TP-82 into space-even to ISS–hidden in the Soyuz Portable Emergency-Survival Kit.

Soviet laser pistols
Yes, these are real handheld laser weapons developed in the 1980s for cosmonauts. These futuristic pistols used pyrotechnic flashbulb ammunition, and their primary function was to disable optical sensors on enemy spacecraft or satellites. Allegedly the laser beams of these recoilless guns were energetic enough to burn through a helmet visor, or to blind anybody from 65 feet.

Emerson Specwar Knife
This folding knife was made under contract for NASA for use on Space Shuttle missions and on the ISS.

Makarov pistol
Used since 2007 because Roscosmos ran out of stock of the special ammunition for TP-82.

Eldest Son

Below is a lengthy excerpt taken from an article in a 2008 issue of American Rifleman written by Maj. John Plaster. It gives some pretty good details about the covert ammunition sabotage/boobytrap campaign used by SOG during the Vietnam War. Related pictures of SOG personnel added by me.

During the Vietnam War, the Studies And Observations Group (SOG) created an ingenious top-secret program called Project Eldest Son to wreak general mayhem and cause the Viet Cong and NVA to doubt the safety of their guns and ammunition.

The genesis of Eldest Son was the fertile mind of SOG’s commander, 1966-68, Colonel John K. Singlaub, a World War II veteran of covert actions with the Office of Strategic Services. “I was frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t airlift the ammunition we were discovering on the [Ho Chi Minh] Trail” in Laos, Singlaub explained. It was not unusual for SOG’s small recon teams – composed of two or three American Green Berets and four to six native soldiers – to find tons of ammunition in enemy base camps and caches along the Laotian highway system. But SOG teams lacked the manpower to secure the sites or carry the ordnance away. Further, it could not be burned up, and demolition would only scatter small-arms ammunition, not destroy it. “Initially I thought of just boobytrapping it so that when they’d pick up a case it would blow up,” Singlaub recalled. Then it hit him – boobytrap the ammunition itself!

Though obscure, this trick was not new. In the 1930s, to combat rebellious tribesmen in northwest India’s Waziristan – the same lawless region where Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists hide today – the British army planted sabotaged .303 rifle ammunition. Even before that, during the Second Metabele War (1896-97) in today’s Zimbabwe, British scouts (led by the American adventurer Frederick Russell Burnham) had slipped explosive- packed rifle cartridges into hostile stockpiles, to deadly effect. SOG would do likewise, the Joint Chiefs decided on August 30, 1967, but first Col. Singlaub arranged for CIA ordnance experts to conduct a quick feasibility study. A few weeks later, at Camp Chinen, Okinawa, Singlaub watched a CIA technician load a sabotaged 7.62×39 mm cartridge into a bench-mounted AK rifle. “It completely blew up the receiver and the bolt was projected backwards,” Singlaub observed, “I would imagine into the head of the firer.”

After that success began a month of tedious bullet pulling to manually disassemble thousands of 7.62 mm cartridges, made more difficult because Chinese ammo had a tough lacquer seal where the bullet seated into the case. In this process, some bullets suffered tiny scrapes, but when reloaded these marks seated out of sight below the case mouth. Rounds were inspected to ensure they showed no signs of tampering. When the job was done, 11,565 AK rounds had been sabotaged, along with 556 rounds for the Communist Bloc’s heavy 12.7 mm machine gun, a major anti-helicopter weapon.

Eldest Son cartridges originally were reloaded with a powder similar to PETN high explosive, but sufficiently shock-sensitive that an ordinary rifle primer would detonate it. This white powder, however, did not even faintly resemble gunpowder. SOG’s technical wizard, Ben Baker – our answer to James Bond’s “Q” – decided this powder might compromise the program if ever an enemy soldier pulled apart an Eldest Son round. He obtained a substitute explosive that so closely resembled gunpowder that it would pass inspection by anyone but an ordnance expert. While the AKM and Type 56 AKs and the RPD light machine gun could accommodate a chamber pressure of 45,000 p.s.i., Baker’s deadly powder generated a whopping 250,000 p.s.i.

Sabotaging the ammunition proved the easiest challenge. The CIA’s Okinawa lab also did a very professional job of prying open ammo crates, unsealing the interior metal cans and then repacking them so there was no sign of tampering. In addition to SOG sabotaging 7.62 mm and 12.7 mm rounds, these CIA ordnance experts perfected a special fuse for the Communist 82 mm mortar round that would detonate the hand-dropped projectile while inside the mortar tube, for especially devastating effect. Exactly 1,968 of these mortar rounds were sabotaged, too.

Project Eldest Son’s greatest challenge was “placement” – getting the infernal devices into the enemy logistical system without detection. That’s where SOG’s Green Beret-led recon teams came in. Since the fall of 1965, our small teams had been running deniable missions into Laos to gather intelligence, wiretap enemy communications, kidnap key enemy personnel, ambush convoys, raid supply dumps, plant mines and generally make life as difficult as possible in enemy rear areas. As an additional mission, each team carried along a few Eldest Son rounds – usually as a single round in an otherwise full AK magazine or one round in an RPD machine gun belt or a sealed ammo can – to plant whenever an opportunity arose.

When an SOG team discovered an ammo dump, they planted Eldest Son; when a SOG team ambushed an enemy patrol, they switched magazines in a dead soldier’s AK. It was critically important never to plant more than one round per magazine, belt or ammo can, so no amount of searching after a gun exploded would uncover a second round, to preclude the enemy from determining this was sabotage.

Planting sabotaged 82 mm mortar ammo proved more cumbersome because these were not transported as loose rounds, but in three-round, wooden cases. Thus, you had to tote a whole case, which must have weighed more than 25 lbs. Twice I recall carrying such crates for insertion in enemy rear areas, and to our surprise, my team once witnessed a platoon of NVA soldiers carry one away. SOG’s most clever insertion was accomplished by SOG SEALS operating in the Mekong Delta, where they filled a captured sampan with tainted cases of ammunition, shot it tastefully full of bullet holes, then spilled chicken blood over it and set it adrift upstream from a known Viet Cong village. Of course, the VC assumed the boat’s Communist crew had fallen overboard during an ambush. The Viet Cong took the ammunition, hook, line and sinker.

In Laos, American B-52s constantly targeted enemy logistical areas, which churned up sizeable pieces of terrain. SOG exploited this opportunity by organizing a special team that landed just after B-52 strikes to construct false bunkers in such devastated tracts, then “salt” these stockpiles with Eldest Son ammunition. However, on November 30, 1968, the helicopter carrying SOG’s secret Eldest Son team, flying some 20 miles west of the Khe Sanh Marine base, was hit by an enemy 37 mm anti-aircraft round, setting off a tremendous mid-air explosion. Seven cases of tainted 82 mm mortar ammunition detonated, killing everyone on board, including Maj. Samuel Toomey and seven U.S. Army Green Berets. Their remains were not recovered for 20 years.

But as a result of these cross- border efforts, Eldest Son rounds began to turn up inside South Vietnam. In a northern province, 101st Airborne Division paratroopers found a dead Communist soldier grasping his exploded rifle, while an officer at SOG’s Saigon headquarters, Captain Ed Lesesne, received the photo of a dead enemy soldier with his bolt blown out the back of his AK. “It had gone right through his eye socket,” Lesesne reported.

Boobytrapped mortar rounds took their toll, too. Twenty-Fifth Infantry Division soldiers came upon an entire enemy mortar battery destroyed – four peeled back tubes with dead gunners. In another incident, a 101st Airborne firebase was taking mortar fire when there was an odd-sounding, “boom-pff!” A patrol later found two enemy bodies beside a split mortar tube and blood trails going off into the jungle. On July 3, 1968, after an enemy mortar attack on Ban Me Thuot airstrip, nine Communist soldiers were found dead in one firing position, their tube so badly shattered that it had vanished but for two small fragments.

Boobytrapped ammunition clearly was getting into enemy hands, so it was time to initiate SOG’s insidious “black psyop” exploitation. “Our interest was not in killing the soldier that was using the weapon,” explained Colonel Steve Cavanaugh, who replaced Singlaub in 1968. “We were trying to leave in the minds of the North Vietnamese that the ammunition they were getting from China was bad ammunition.” Hopefully, this would aggravate Hanoi’s leadership – which traditionally distrusted the Chinese – and cause individual soldiers to question the reliability (and safety) of their Chinese-supplied arms and ordnance.

One Viet Cong document – forged by SOG and insinuated into enemy channels through a double-agent – made light of exploding weapons, claiming, “We know that it is rumored some of the ammunition has exploded in the AK-47. This report is greatly exaggerated. It is a very, very small percentage of the ammunition that has exploded.”

Another forged document announced, “Only a few thousand such cases have been found thus far,” and concluded, “The People’s Republic of China may have been having some quality control problems [but] these are being worked out and we think that in the future there will be very little chance of this happening.”

Under the guise of cautioning G.I.s against using enemy weapons, warnings were sent to Armed Forces Radio and TV. The civilian Stateside tabloid Army Times warned, “Numerous incidents have caused injury and sometimes death to the operators of enemy weapons,” the cause of which was, “defective metallurgy” or “faulty ammo.” The 25th Infantry Division newspaper similarly warned soldiers on July 14, 1969, that, “because of poor quality control procedures in Communist Bloc factories, many AKs with even a slight malfunction will blow up when fired.” Despite such warnings, some G.I.s fired captured arms, and inevitably one American’s souvenir AK exploded, inflicting serious (but not fatal) injuries.

By mid-1969, word about Eldest Son began leaking out, with articles in the New York Times and Time, compelling SOG to change the codename to Italian Green, and later, to Pole Bean. As of July 1, 1969, a declassified report discloses, SOG operatives had inserted 3,638 rounds of sabotaged 7.62 mm, plus 167 rounds of 12.7 mm and 821 rounds of 82 mm mortar ammunition. That fall, the Joint Chiefs directed SOG to dispose of its remaining stockpile and end the program. In November, my team was specially tasked to insert as much Eldest Son as possible, making multiple landings on the Laotian border to get rid of the stuff before authority expired.

Lacking the earlier finesse, such insertions had to have confirmed to the enemy that we were sabotaging his ammunition-but even this, SOG believed, was psychologically useful, creating a big shell game in which the enemy had to question endlessly which ammunition was polluted and which was not. The enemy came to fear any cache where there was evidence that SOG recon teams got near it and, thanks to radio intercepts, SOG headquarters learned that the enemy’s highest levels of command had expressed concerns about exploding arms, Chinese quality control and sabotage. In that sense, Project Eldest Son was a total success – but as with any such covert deception program, you can never quite be sure.