Tag Archives: 1911

Col Owen G. Birtwistle’s Singer

Today Rock Island Auction has put up a video of their newest treasure.  The video  gives a look at very special Singer. Of course we aren’t talking about a sewing machine . we are talking about the  greatest handgun every devised.  The Model 1911.   This example is a Singer made  1911 so rare that we aren’t even sure how rare it  really is.  Reports of around only 500 made before singer stopped to make other things needed for the war effort.   Of course the war, loss, being used up and destroyed or simply mixed up with other parts have made the Singer 1911s even more rare.  One in this condition is  like a miracle.   While talking with a friend about this video and gun he submitted that the gun should even be sold.  We both agree that the gun should have been buried with it’s master.  The  gun was clearly dear to the  Colonel. Him having  kept it immaculate all those years.   It is easy for me to think it should be in the NRA museum in Fairfax or in the family still or buried with the Colonel, to perform its loyal duty by his side forever. I am a romantic like that.   But then again I like the idea of guns like this being in the public  so people can touch and handle it and interact it with real history in a tactile way.    But, no doubt some super rich collector will buy this and it will not see the light of day again until the next owner dies.   Or  maybe some not so rich  guy  will buy it ( and end up divorced for spending that much ) who can really say?    Maybe you will be that guy when the gun goes up for auction shortly.

 

Some More Vietnam USMC Sniping History

Lately  my mind has been  stuck on Vietnam war era sniper optics and rifles.  Friends keep asking me about the subject and it has come up a lot this month.    It is an evergreen topic for most people interested in US martial arms , sniping and long range shooting  anyway so I thought I would touch on it a little more today before my longer article on the Unertl 10X USMC sniper optic some times next week( hopefully).

I like to think most of our readers are already familiar with the M40 and Redfield 3x-9x optics since I’ve covered it a few times already.  When the M40 came from Remington originally the rifle. the optic and mounts were all marked with the same serial number.  Remington had very carefully zeroed the optics to as to nearly bottom out at 100 yards with only a few clicks lefter over.  This gave the scope its 40plus  minutes left over and allowed the scope to dial up to shots at 1,000 yards. Of course once the guns got to Vietnam, things got taken apart and mixed up and precious kept the scope/base/gun matching.  As a result  most of them could not be dialed up to 1,000 yards. Or much past  500 really.    Below is an example of how things got mixed up.

The Redfields were had a range finding capability. The reticle was standard crosshairs but there was also a range ladder to the right side with two extra  horizontal stadias.   As you can see below the idea was to adjust the zoom ring until the two top stadias  fit with the top on a man’s shoulders and the bottom on his belt.  The ranger scale would then show the yardage.   The redfields ranging scale and measuring stadia  worked well with the average measurements of an adult  asian male. Now if that was done on purpose  or not I have yet to find out.   One you had the range you could either dial in the DOPE ( usually never done as it took too much time) or you held off.  This system was also incorporated as part of the US Army’s  ART system used on the XM21. But that is another day.  Word has it few Marine snipers used the scope’s ranging ability very often.  The  range finding stadia and ladder  often  melted when the sun came through the objective lens after a  relatively short amount of time so care was taken to keep it covered or out of direct sun.  Because of that a lot of the scopes are minus the range finding  ability.

And here we have a picture of The Master Sniper himself  with the M40 he used on his second tour as a scout sniper.  The picture is noteworthy not only for being who it is but for he gear he is carrying.  What  Hathcock carried with  him on most missions has been recorded multiple times.   He noted many times he usually took nothing more than his rifle, binos a belt with two canteens, a pistol, a poncho ,   a knife, a compass and a bandoleer of 30cal match in cloth  bandoleer tied around his waist.  This was done in case he had to drop his pistol belt  to run, he still had “all he really needed.”  Yes, a gun and some ammo is truly the only thing Hathcock really needed if you  had the idiocy to chase him through  the countryside.   The rest he carried in his pants cargo pockets.  Here is is wearing the M56 belt with what appears to be two M56 ammo pouches, a flak vest and his  NVA pack.  I found it interesting that  Carlos appears to have a lanyard  attached to his 1911.   Hathcock wears his signature 3rd pattern  ERDL jungle fatigues and his boonie with his white feather in it laying on his back.

Here is a photo taken from where Hathcock took perhaps his record breaking 2,500 yard shot.  If you have seen this photo before else where claiming that is Hathcock in the image beside the gun, it is not .  That is SSGT Roberts, his spotter on that mission and the picture is from Carlos’ own collection so I think he knows who was in the picture.    You can see the 8x Unertl mounted to the M2 Browning he used to make his famous shot and the terrain beyond. Perfect position to make a shot like that.

Back to the 3x-9x sniper Redfield.  Few seem to know but it was also used on the M2 browning.

Back to the Unertl 8x for a bit.  The scope is forever tied to Carols in the minds of many when it comes to USMC sniping and of course the gun Carlos used in his first tour  during the time he made most of his most celebrated accomplishments of combat sniping. Below is pictured a real USMC Model 70 sniper rifle with USMC contract Unertl 8x.   I’m sure many younger people would look at that and see ancient gun tech and wonder how they did what they did with it.  Truth is even today that combo would wreak havoc  as a sniper rifle in capable hands.

The Unertl was used  on the model 70s and the M2 browning, but some imaginative snipers managed to mount it on other rifles they  wanted to snipe with.  I’m don’t think I need to say how much I would love to try that out.

The Mil-Dot reticle used by the USMC was made by Premier reticles and sent to Unertl to be installed into the Unertl 10X USMC sniper scope.    Below  is a  tray of the mildot reticles ready to be shipped out to J. Unertl.

 

Toggle-Locked Orphan: the Benelli B76

Since the passing of Hognose we have been sharing some of his best work  here at least weekly.  Since I have to spend most of the weekends  taking pictures and shooting all the guns I review  or research on the other articles I usually don’t out anything up Saturdays and Sundays.  With those two days of no new articles I have decided to make the weekend the slot for our tribute to Kevin and his work.

 

Toggle-Locked Orphan: the Benelli B76

by Kevin O’Brien

If you have a well-rounded firearms education, the name Benelli needs no introduction. Now part of the Beretta family, the marque has been known for its semi-auto shotguns since its founding in 1967. But Benelli made an attempt, in the 70s and 80s, to make a NATO service pistol. It’s interesting for its unusual toggle-lock mechanism (one we missed when we covered toggle-locking), its fine Italian styling, and its relative rarity: internet forum participants, at least, think only about 10,000 were made. (We do some analysis on this claim below, and posit a lower number).

benelli b76 pistol

There were other Italian semi-autos at about the same time, like the Bernardelli P-018, competing in part for European police contracts, as many Continental police departments replaced 7.65mm service pistols during the 1970s and 80s rise of European communist terrorist groups like the Red Brigades and Baader-Meinhof Gang. But the Benelli was a unique blend of design and functionality. Arriving too late into a market saturated with double-stack double-action pistols, it might have been a killer competitor for the P1/P.38 or the Beretta M1951 twenty years earlier, but by the end of the eighties, the market was heavily oriented towards double-stack, double-action, and often, ambidextrous-control service pistols. Even European police services who had thought 8 rounds of 9mm a real fistful of firepower had moved on — and so did Benelli, retreating to a concentration on its market-leading shotguns.

Mechanics of the B76

The toggle-lock is not truly a lock in the sense of a Maxim or Luger lock, but more of a hesitation lock or delayed blowback. Other weapons have used a lever in delayed blowback, like the Kiraly submachine guns and the French FAMAS Clarión, but the Benelli one is unique. It’s described in US patent No. 3,893,369. The toggle lock or lever is #5 in the illustration below, from the patent.

US3893369-1Benelli B76

Benelli often cited the fixed barrel of its design as a contributor to superior accuracy in comparison to the generic Browning-type action.

Aesthetics & Ergonomics

The styling of the B76 is a little like its Italian contemporary, the Lamborghini Countach: angular, striking, and polarizing. You love it or hate it, or like Catullus, both at once: Idi et amo. It came in a colorful printed box, resembling consumer products of the era…

BenelliB77Pistol in box

…or in a more traditional wooden case.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The somewhat blocky slide needs to be protected by a holster with a full nose cap, if you intend to carry the B76. It’s a large pistol and it would be prone to print if you did, much like any other service pistol like the M9, the Glock 17, or various SIGs. Where the pistol comes into its own is when you handle and shoot it. The safety falls right to hand, like that of a 1911, although as a DA/SA gun it’s perfectly safe to carry hammer down on a loaded chamber. The grip angle is much like the P.08 Luger, making for a very natural pistol pointing experience. The pistol’s steel construction and roughly 1kg (2.2 lb) weight makes it comfortable and controllable to shoot. The heavily-contoured grip on the target models makes it even more so.

The guns are known for reliability and accuracy, and their small following is very enthusiastic, reminding us of the fans of the old Swiss SIG P210 pistol: the sort of machinery snobs whose garage is more accustomed to housing premium European nameplates than generic American or Japanese iron, and who not only buy premium instead of Lowe’s tools, but who can take you through their toolboxes explaining why the premium stuff is better.

Production and Variations

The Benelli company was relatively new when it designed the B76. The US Patent application for its locking mechanism dates to 1973, and the planned start of production was 1976 (that may have slipped).

There were several variants of the B76, most of them sold only in non-US markets. The B76 was the name ship of the class, if you will, but there were several variants. The B77 was a scaled-down model in .7.65 x 17SR (7.65 Browning/.32 ACP); it was a completely different gun. The B80 was a 7.65 x 22 (7.65 Parabellum/.30 Luger) variant, largely for the Italian market; only the barrel and magazine differed from the B76. The B82 was a variant in the short-lived European police caliber, 9 x 18 Ultra (sometimes reported, mistakenly, as 9×18 Makarov). In addition, there were several target pistol variants, including the B76 “Sport” with target sights, grip, longer barrel, and weights, and a similar target pistol in, of all things, .32 S&W Long called the MP3S. We’ve covered some of these exotic Benellis before, in the mistaken belief that we had brought this post live, which we hadn’t. (D’oh!)

The one modification that might have brought Benelli sales to police departments or military forces was never done, and that is to develop a double-stack magazine. A “mere” 8 rounds of 9mm was already insufficient in 1976, when many NATO armies already issued the 13-round Browning Hi-Power as their baseline auto pistol, and the novel Glock 17 coming on strong.

Benelli dropped the pistols from its catalog in 1990. The company still produces its signature shotguns and a line of high-end target pistols, and even some rifles based on the shotgun design, but its foray into the pistol market has left Benelli with bad memories, red ink and a few curiosities in the company museum. But the curious pistol buyer looking for a firearm with a difference will find here a remarkable and character-rich handgun. If you’re the sort of man who can rock an Armani suit or avoid looking ridiculous in a Countach, this might be a good companion piece.

We’ve mentioned the internet claims of production of 10,000. The highest serial number we found on the net (5462) was well below that, but we certainly don’t have a statistical grasp on production yet. With 7 known serial numbers we can make a rough calculation that there’s a 9 in 10 probability the total production is under 6400, and a 99% probability it’s under 8500. That’s assuming our rusty MBA-fu still retains its potency.

Market

No B76s are on GunBroker at this writing, and only very few — single digit quantities — have moved since 2012. The guns offered were all in very good to new-in-box condition, and they cleared the market at prices from $585 to $650. One went unsold at $565 against a reserve of $600, hinting that, despite these guns’ character and quality, there’s just not much of a market for single-stack full-size DA/SA autopistols.

For More Information

We’re seeking a better copy, but for the moment, heres a .pdf of the manual. Unfortunately, it takes greater pains to describe the mundane DA/SA trigger system than the rare, patented breech lock!

benelli_b76.pdf

SO, WHAT DID HAPPEN TO UNERTL OPTICS?

As you may have noticed my love o vintage target/varmint weapons and optics have been on my brain recently.  Last night I got thinking about Unertl again after a friend asked me something about those old beauties and remembered some years ago there was a forum discussion some where or other about what happened. As usual with most gun forums, few of the poster new much about much and were posting all kinds of BS about Unertl and US Optics ( which did some shady stuff after Unertl went into limbo and got sued for their troubles irrespective of what you may hear otherwise) until most unexpectedly John R Unertl himself popped up to set the record straight.  I saved his comments as they were a peak into the history of a legendary firearms industry company.   I have long forgot where I got it from but a clever googler I’m sure could turn it up.  No need anyway.  I saved Unertl’s only post on the matter and the rest of the posts were nonesense. AS one forum “expert” even made the idiotic claim that the Unertls were made in a barn.. 

 

Gentlemen, Let me clear up some inaccurate or most likely a lot of bogus information out there regarding the Unertl Optical Company and make clear some facts about the rifle scopes themselves. I have the authority to discuss the intimate details of this since I AM the last John Unertl that worked at the company you are referring to.

My grandparents started the company, my parents worked at the company, I worked at the company. All of the personalities involved here were strong personalities in their own right. Each conmtrbuted to, and detracted from the business. I don’t plan on writing a book here so I will condense this discussion to it’s bare bones form. My grandmother being a company founder was quite reluctant to leave the company even though she was getting up in years.
This gradually built a resentment within my father and their relationship began to fall apart. My father John Unertl Jr., was a brilliant engineer, but frankly didn’t care much at all about ‘marketing’, relegating this to mostly bullshit.
He also had quite an abrasive side and could alienate people fairly easily. I was schooled as a mechanical engineer because that was what was expected. Going  into the late ’70’s several issues were at play. Family discord for one. Secondly I could see that my father was not doing the necessary training and improvement for future development and expansion. I elected to resign at that point and move on. I took a job with Leitz, a well known optical instrument company. We used Leitz autocollimators and related equipment in our optical testing. Ultimately I became a Division President for that organization.

When my father died, my mother (who did not have a clue about the technology here) asked if I was interested in coming back to run the company. When I went back, I saw the company in the shape I figured it would be in. Not much had changed. It would have needed a small fortune to bring it up to speed. I had neither the time, inclination, and didn’t want to make the financial
commitment. I already had another business. I must say it was a sad moment. My heart strings pulled, but the realities of the situation were compelling. I suggested to my mother to pursue other alternatives.

Enter Rocky Green. My understanding is that he had two different involvements in the company. One as a liason to an initial group of buyers. They couldn’t handle the project, so the second time around he was a principle. I met Rocky one time when he came to visit me with the 1911’s. At that point I knew they were not
going to make it building scopes. I fear that anybody who wasn’t involved directly with the company couldn’t know the painstaking manufacture and care that went into building them. They were assembled, taken down, re-assembled,, numerous times. Hand fit parts meticulously assembled by true artisans. I can only assume the guys that bought the company just figured to buy some drawings,
program a CNC machine, stamp it Unertl & watch the money roll in. Sorry, didn’t work that way. I’m not sure if any of you out there were aware we made very sophisticated optical/mechanical instrumentation, optics for military jet gunsights, fire control optics (military stuff, not firemen) and wind tunnel instrumentation. Unertl Optical was far from operating out of a barn. We made the money with the high end optics, not making scopes. The scopes were that
labor of love because that’s how the company started. The scopes had the benefit of this financing. I fear the other guys missed this key ingredient.
The Unertl employees were true atrisans that made these rifle scopes. I doubt you can find guys like this any more with this kind of skill and dedication. The marine corps sniper scope was the last offering that my father made for Rocky Green when he was still in the service. At that point our old guys started dying off, and with them closed a page in the anals of the shooting industry.

I still have the opportunity to get together with the few remaing
company people. They have all played an important part in my life and I hold  special reverence to each and every one of them. They are truly the last of abreed.

Enjoy those scopes, I would have no reservation saying they are STILL probably the best scopes out there.”

John Robert Unertl

There it is from the man himself.  I only wish he would have written a book or an article about the company in some form for posterity.

If you didn’t know, this Rocky Green fellow did market a few  M1911s made with the Unertl name on them  and they were a take on the  older USMC  used 1911s  before MARSOC. I never touched one but I did see a couple.   They were pretty meh if  you are a real 1911 guy. Around that time a few scopes trickled out.   Some years ago I got in touch with a fellow who did work at the original Unertl and had bought out the rest of the bases and accessories  that were on hand when the real Unertl closed its doors.   I regret that I have since forgot his name and lost his contact info.  I do agree with Mister Unertl.  They are pure art and they  are still some of the best optics ever made.   A man can only dream about what they would have made had the younger J. Unertl had taken over the company and expended it and moved into modern designs.   The original Unertl closed its doors in the mid 1980s.  You can see in the image below what a high grade riflescope with all the trimmings looked like.  Box included.

J. Unertl Sr.  immigrated to the US from Germany and  worked for J. W. Fecker. Fecker scopes was a company that built the highest of quality target scopes which started selling his optics in 1922.  How high quality? Well, in 1926 when a Winchester Model52 rifle cost $36 yankee greenbacks, a Fecker optic would cost from $30 to $50 yankee dollars.  You can do the math on what the equivalent to 30 dollars   in the mid 20s  would be to today.   Unertl worked there as one of Feckers most talented and skilled engineers  until leaving to start his own optics business in 1928. In the early days of the Unertl Optics Co.  J. Unertl even supplied his scopes with Fecker mounts ( or what you would think of as “rings”) until developing his own.    Below is a Fecker advertisement and you can see the resemblance.  Fecker as a rifle scope maker more or less ended July 1956 as it was bought out by some one who had no interest in shooting. The company was purchased for its advanced designs for missile tracking and guidance systems during the cold war.  As of 2002 it still exists as a division of Contraves Co.    But the story of Fecker scopes will have to wait for another day.

AS mister Unertl said above, the last Unertl to  be developed and sold  as a new design was the USMC  10X sniper scope. A very tough optic that was the first to use the Mil-dot crosshairs.  A model was also made for use on the M82, 50BMG sniper rifle.  The original was developed for use on the M40A1 sniper rile and was in use even through to the M40A3 and A5  models though it is now probably complete phased out.  The USMC sniper 10X was a fixed power scope but it had some pretty trick features, especially for its time.   I promise that there will be  a longer upcoming article about it. The 10x was much loved by  Carlos Hathcock himself as he was one of the original  testers of the optic for adoption  to be used on the M40A1.   He even told of using the scope to pound a tent stake into frozen ground one day and the scope  was unfazed. 

It is a little sad to me that today few younger shooters even know the name.  A few years ago I saw a post on TFB where one of their worthies ran into a guy who had a Unertl optic and he was shocked as he had never seen nor heard of one.  Though I would expect  that from TFB.    Unertl optics helped set many world records,m win matches and make history in wars.  All of the  who’s who, of the shooting world used Unertls and knew  John Sr. back in the day and John Sr. was very active in the shooting community. He tried to give shooters what they wanted and offered nearly anything the heart desired.  

John Unertl Sr. pictured below, top row second from left. If you know who the other famous shooters are witout me telling you I will be very impressed. You can see  how well they thought of Mr. Unertl’s  product. The picture was taken in 1948 in Johnstown, PA at an important event in precision shooting history.

A Taxonomy of Safeties

In addition to the other two posts so far today, I am sharing another one of Hognose’s posts from Weaponsman.com.  This is a repost in our ongoing commitment to honoring  our dead friend Kevin and his work.

A Taxonomy of Safeties

by   Kevin O’Bien “Hognose”

There are several kinds of safeties that are used on service weapons to ensure that only the proper and deserving people are shot. They generally interface in some way with the firing mechanism of the firearm. They may act on the trigger, the hammer or striker, or the sear, or (in some fiendishly clever arrangements) more than one of the above. It is generally thought better to positively lock the striker or firing pin than merely to lock the sear or trigger. If the mechanism fails due to parts breakage, it is easier to design a fail-safe mechanism if the striker or firing pin is immobilized.

Safeties Classified by Operator Volition

Safeties can be classified based on the degree of volition required to use them. An applied safety must be consciously put on, in most cases. An automatic safety is unconsciously applied as the pistol is taken up. Examples of automatic safeties include:

  1. the Glock Safe Action trigger and its many copies and derivatives;
  2. the grip safeties characteristic of many Browning designs, such as the M1911 .45 and the FN M1910 pocket pistol;
  3. similar grip safeties on open-bolt submachine guns such as the Madsen and the Uzi. (An open-bolt SMG poses peculiar safety problems);
  4. transfer-bars and other means to ensure a weapon can’t fire unless the trigger is pulled;
  5. mechanisms that hold a firing pin back until a weapon with a locking breech is fully in battery (the disconnector often does double-duty as this part);
  6. Firing-pin immobilizers as in the Colt Series 80 and newer M1911s (an earlier firing pin safety, the Swartz Safety, was used in commercial Colt 1911s from circa 1937 to 1940, and is used by Kimber today);
  7. A heavy, smooth trigger pull such as that on a traditional Double Action revolver or a DA/SA autopistol can prevent unintentional discharges. However, some heavy triggers (like the Glock NY2) have a bad enough effect on accuracy as to threaten bystanders with unintentional shooting.
  8. Magazine safeties, an obsolete European concept;
  9. Half-cock notches (in British/European English usage, these may be called half-cock “bents.”)

Contrasting with these automatic safeties, that do their work without conscious application by the operator, there are Applied or volitional safeties. Applied Safeties are usually classified by what part of the firing mechanism they work on, and so examples of Applied safeties break down into:

  1. Safeties that lock the trigger. The simplest of these are the crude trigger-blocking safeties on an SKS or Tokarev SVT. More complex trigger-locking safeties are found in the AR series of rifles and the FN-FAL;
  2. Safeties that lock the firing mechanism (which may be further divided into those that lock the firing pin, like the Walther P.38 or Beretta M92, and those that lock the hammer, like the US M1 Rifle, or
  3. The bolt holding notch in many 2nd-generation submachine guns. (These are reminiscent in a way of the safety of the Mosin-Nagant rifle, which requires the cocking piece to be rotated and caught in a notch). The case can be made that this is a firing mechanism lock, because the bolt with its fixed firing pin is the firing mechanism.
  4. Safeties that lock the sear. Examples include the .45 M1911, its younger brother the BHP, many other auto pistols, and most general purpose machine guns. Some require the weapon to be cocked to lock the sear, others allow locking the bolt forward (the RPD LMG and the Sterling SMG are examples of this).
  5. Safeties that disconnect the trigger from the sear. This is found in the Bren gun and many other Czech designs, historically. The ZB 26 and its derivatives were quite cunning: in one position, the selector brings the trip lever to engage the semi notch, which is in the upper side of a window in the sear. In the other position, it engages the auto notch in the lower side. In the intermediate, “safe,” position, the  trip lever clears both notches and the weapon does not fire.

Note that automatic safeties, too, can be broken down as working on the trigger, the firing mechanism, and the sear, also. So safeties can also be Classified by Operation.

Safeties Classified by Operation

It is possible to classify safeties in the first place by their means of action:

  1. Trigger safeties
  2. Firing-mechanism (striker, hammer, firing pin) safeties
  3. Sear safeties
  4. Disconnecting safeties.

This is true, obviously, for both automatic and volitional safeties, and classifying them this way puts their mode of action forward as more important than their mode of engagement, which (applied/volitional or automatic) becomes a secondary trait.

One More Trait: Must the Firearm be Cocked?

It is only possible to engage many safeties when the weapon is cocked or ready to fire (presuming a chambered round). Familiar examples include the AR series rifles and the 1911 pistol and other Browning hammer designs. Other safeties engage regardless of the energy state of the striker or hammer, for example the AK, the Remington Model 8 (a Browning-designed trigger mechanism that was deeply influential on 20th and 21st Century firearms designers, including Garand, Kalashnikov and Stoner), and the RPD light machine gun.

Combination Safeties

While a weapon may have multiple safeties that do different things (or multiple modes that engage the same safety, as in the safety lever and grip safety of early Lugers), it’s possible for a single cunningly-designed safety to disable multiple points of the firing chain at once. For instance, the Lee-Enfield safety is a model of versatility: it locks the striker, locks the bolt closed (preventing the chambering of a round), and disconnects the striker from the sear. The M1911 or Browning High-Power safety locks the slide closed as well as locks

It’s also possible for a volitional safety to be combined with other functions. The most common example of this is the combined safety/selector switch of most modern assault rifles, like the M16 or AK-47.

To Sum Up

There are a great but finite number of ways to design safety features on modern firearms. Careful study of prior art allows today’s designer truly to stand on the shoulders of the giants in the field. John Browning left no memoir or technical book, nor did John Garand, John D. Pedersen, Gene Stoner; and the many memoirs of Mikhail Kalashnikov are disappointing to the technical reader. But each of these geniuses spoke to us in the art of his designs, and they are still available for us to study and to try to read what their art is trying to tell us.

We have not, in this limited post, attempted to discuss “best practices” or the pros and cons of any individual safety design. Very often, the designer will be limited by the customer’s instructions or specifications. (For example, the grip safety of the 1911, which 1970s and 80s custom smiths often pinned in engagement as a potential point of combat failure, was requested of John M. Browning by the US Cavalry. The other military branches didn’t feel such a need, but the horse soldiers did, and Browning first added it on his .38 caliber 1902 Military pursuant to a similar request). Thus, even as a designer, your safety design decisions may not be your own.

Notes and Sources

  • This post has been modified since it was first posted, to expand it.
  • This post will be added to The Best of WeaponsMan Gun Tech.

This post owes a great deal to the following work:

Allsop, DF, and Toomey, MA. Small Arms: General Design. London: Brassey’s, 1999.

Chapter 13 is an extensive review of trigger mechanisms, including safeties, and while their classification of safeties is different from ours, their explanations are clear and concise.

Thanks to the commenters who not only recommend this long out-of-print book, but also sent us a link to a bookstore that had it (it’s a copy withdrawn from a military library, as it turns out). This out-of-print work is less technical and deep, but considerably more modern, than Balleisen; its examples are primarily British.

Kevin was a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S), and you can expect any guest columnists to be similarly qualified. He passed away early last year.

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.

 

 

 

 

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 Inland MFG Custom Carry M1911

I been waiting on this gun for a while.   After testing the Inland USGI clone M1911A1 I had  been impressed.  I had seen this model in media release material and after the performance of the stock Inland I was  really curious to see how an Inland done up as a fully modern pistol would do.

I have had this gun for nearly 6 months as I write this. I kept it and waited so long to write about it because I wanted to really be hard on it.   It is more expensive than the 1911s I usually write about.  If you have been reading this website a long time you will know that I even don’t normally go for 1911s that  start going over the 1500 dollar mark.    My philosophy with the 1911 is  less than about 800 or more than about 1600 and as a rule,  a lot of 1911s will give you one set of problems or another.   Too cheap speaks for itself.  Too high and you get into finely tuned special purpose guns that can’t take WW1 trench conditions  no matter what the maker may claim.  With a few exceptions of course.  Heirloom precision, Derr precisions,  guns that are mil spec but have something else about them that drives the price up like coatings,  engraving or rarity.   Now you may not agree with me at all and I am sure many will  but I have been using the 1911 for 30 years now and in my personal experience, 1911s that cost over 1600 dollars and are made by medium sized companies that make “custom production” 1911s , usually will give problems.   Bigger established firms can make ones that work fine and the small  artists like Jason Burton does but the in between places I pass on.    That is one man’s opinion  from experience only.

Now the Inland gun is one of those made in the middle ground  I just mentioned.  And, being  in the “custom production ” class  that sets off my 2nd warning flag.   After spending a fortune on ammo, I can say to you it’s good to go.  It  is as good as the M1911A1 USGI clone with match accuracy.

So lets get to it.

The gun is what it says and  with all the features that implies.  As seen above the frontstrap is checkered with aggressive well done checkering.  That bad camera angle makes it look uneven for some reason but its not.

main spring housing  has matching checkering and is flat and not arched.  The grip safety is the upswept beaver tail with the memory bump to insure you depress it.

You can see the single side extended safety.   I really like the part as it is close to the safety that is my personal favorite.   Just to see what would happen, I removed it and tried 5 different colt and USGI  safety locks and all dropped in place.   That is a good sign in my opinion.  I like my 1911s to  meet or approach the milspec requirement to have interchangeable parts.

The magazine well has a very slight bevel.  That is one thing I did wonder about. I am not a big fan of extended beveled wells but a to of people are.  If you buy this gun you will have to add your own.

You can see  the other features of the gun.   Competition style skeleton hammer, Match trigger that really does break like a glass road and is  lighter than my own guns. Front and rear slide serrations which I love and prefer on guns like this.  A full carry dehorning and no slip grips.  The one bad thing was it came with a full length guide rod which isn’t too bad but it was the two piece part.   I asked why it had the full length guide rod and was told the first guns didn’t and so many people complain wanting it that Inland added it to appease the complainers. That baffles me because I was under the impression it had finally fallen out of the fad but apparently there are still a lot of people that like it for its looks or because they think a custom  or competition pistol is “supposed” to have it..     I replaced the guide rod with a personally owned  GI  part after my first session shooting it.   I fired 15 wilson 10 round mags through it non stop  with no oil to see how it did and at the end noticed the two piece rod  had unscrewed itself.   Don’t use two piece full guide rods people. Barrel is the same match barrel used in the USGI model and is fitted to match spec without being over  tight.   Lastly you can see the standard ejection port work common to all modern carry guns.

Rear sight  is black novak style with a wide notch.

Front is matching flat black wider  blade.  These sights work great for me   and are fast to use.  Both can be drifted out with a punch if you want something else.   I would leave them be myself.

Now on to  how it shot.     I fired all but the last group from  sandbagged position from a bench.  Temp outside was 11 degrees.

As usual the speer ball ammo  is pretty lackluster no matter what its used in.  But I include it because it is common around here  and a lot of people buy it for plinking.

Above is the Winchester personal defense load that is basically the black talon bullet not coated black and sold every where.  It always does well  for me  and this gun was no different .

Here above we have the other NOT -black talon,  but the “ranger T”  which is a black talon +P load  in the winchester ranger police duty load. And of course for those who don’t know it is once again the black talon bullet just not black.

Best group fired with my handloaded Hornady 185 grain jacketed semi wad cutter match bullet.

Above is the most expensive group fired.   This is my carry load of  corbon 185 grain +P   solid copper hollow points.   Very accurate and effective.  I can’t recommend this load or the Barnes  version of it enough. You can also buy the same load marketed under the Colt Brand ammo I  and a various other specialty brands.

Below  is a group fired with my personal  favorite ball round, the winchester 230 FMJ which always seems a bit more accurate than other bulk buy  ball ammo for general use.

 

Lastly  we have the 100 yard long  range shot  by request.  As I mentioned before, the long range shooting  was requested by reader who was also a fellow visitor to Weaponsman’s blog who wanted to see some one  give  users an idea of what carry guns could do if  ever  the need  became a requirement  in a self defense situation or other emergency.   It instantly became a new standard policy for me to test such things.  It is something you should think about and try to test the limits of your own carry guns  and ability because it is something that very well could save your life or stop some kook like we have seen recently.

Group was fired at 100 yards. I did not use a full sand bag bench rest but I did use a support like one would use in real life.    Center of circle was  aiming point.    I used my most accurate load as a bit of a cheat and not a pure self defense or duty load.  Ideally people carrying  would  select the most accurate duty load they can regardless of intended distance they expect to shoot.   I think I can’t ask much more out of the Inland Custom carry.

 

The Inland is a 1911 I would own and use.  And you know how picky I am about my 1911s and who makes them.   Word from Inland is, some even bigger and better things are coming in their 1911s. I look forward to what is coming, I would like to tell you now but these things are not always something they are ready to share publicly without asking permission first.   But I am excited from what I hear.

The custom carry is a solid carry gun that is also competition ready.  The rep who sent it to me had been using this same model for matches for several months before I requested a sample.  You can use it for about anything you would want, I really don’t know what more to say about it. It worked. No excitement. It was as reliable as a claw hammer.    Buy with confidence .  not only can it do all those things well it can also protect  you from those damn dirty apes.

 

If you want more out of my pistol reviews please speak up.  I know reading pistol reviews can get dull  and they are the same over time.  It sometimes feels writing them is  as semi boring as reading them.  I am always looking for ideas of how to spice it up.    If you want more  video or mud tests or  further ranges shot comment below.  Tell me what you would like to see.    Nothing  pointless but anything you want to see that would help you decide if a gun is right for you or what would test its limits  please speak up.