Tag Archives: Sniper

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.

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.

 

The Suppressed M16 In Vietnam & After

“With the emergence of  the M16 as the principal infantry arm of the  US ground combat forces in South Vietnam, the  major thrust of suppressor development was centered on the 5.56mm rifle.     The USAMTU had been actively involved with suppressor testing during the course of Army revaluations.     So far as the AMTU was concerned, if there were certain benefits to be gained by field use of a suppressor-equipped M16 rifle, then fitting a similar device to an accurized rifle “offered endless possibilities” for combat use in Vietnam. ”  -Senich

While suppressed guns had been used in past wars ,their use and development during the war in Vietnam was the golden age of silencers in use as  more than assassinations or sabotage special missions.     The effectiveness of  long range fire on enemy at night or day light  with out being able to determine true range or direction  can not be questioned .  The impact of the effectiveness of  knowing friendly troops have suppressor equipped rifles even has an effect to their fellow soldiers.  “ I would see these guys from time to time, they would come in just after first light and I couldn’t help thinking how damn glad I was they were on our side” To many US troops the sight of other US combat personnel with suppressed rifles made and impression.

Even though rack grade M16s with suppressors had been issued for specialized units for covert missions  and regular forces for long range  patrols, recon, and ambush missions  no official organized program existed for fielding optic equipped suppressed M16s.  Examples of M16s with optics and suppressors are seen in many pictures, but usually this was an example of individual initiative or small  units going about it in a quasi official manner.

Official documents from as early as May 1966 show that a program to field suppressed M16s to RVN  had began. The USARV submitted an ENSURE request for “silencers for the M16A1rifle.”  Even so,  it took a considerable amount of time  before examples were sent to RVN for combat testing.

Most of the examples sent to VN for testing and use are the   US Army Human Engineering Lab, Frankford Arsenal  and Scionics inc.   After testing  it was concluded that all models did reduce  a noticeable amount of muzzle noise from the M16, they all also came with issues and an increased in cleaning.

During the testing and fielding it did not take long for users to bring up the idea of sub sonic ammunition to increase the effectivness of noise reduction.   From the book by Gary Douglas , A LRRP’s Narrative.

” I let Crowe carry my M16 with silencer. We had a number of 556mm rounds bootlegged, using low velocity powder and soft lead bullets that did make the suppressor quite effective .. The lead bullets worked fine, except for the one drawback. You had to hand cycle each round. “

Of course making sub sonic ammo is well thing the means of ammo producers  or handloaders but making sub sonic ammo that would cycle the action of  the rifle is another matter Not to mention the obvious requirement for effective terminal performance and range.    One problem encountered  was with making sub sonic ammo was the now empty space inside the case.  They found quickly that if the bore was pointed down, the powder would fall to the front of the case away from the primer resulting in failure of ignition or delayed ignition.

 “A concerted effort was made to develop suitable subsonic ammunition. However, a major problem  came as a result of the reduced powder loading.  When the M16 round was down loaded there was only a small amount of powder in the case, When the weapon was angled downward the powder showed the tendacy to move forward in the case, away from the primer and ignition was either irregular or nonexistent.  I was necessary to emply filler on top of the powder charge, Numerous substance such as oatmeal, cream of wheat, and cotton were tried; all with disastrous results. After firing a few rounds the rifle gas port and suppressor became clogged with the inert filler.” Donald G Thomas  -Scionics

The method to finally cure this was to use an epoxy inserted into the case in a way that left a small central cavity for the powder.   An effective but very time consuming and expensive.  The end result being that the vast majority of suppressors used and issued during the war  were used with standard service ammunition.

By the end of the War , the Scionics MAW-A1 suppressor was the model deemed the most suitable  and durable for  use on the M16 rifle.

The suppressed M16  became a very effective tool for operations in South Vietnam, especially for small recon  teams.  My mentor served  in a ranger company on LRRP missions in the 199th Brigade and carried a suppressed  M16.   He tells of ambushing a group of Viet Cong one night while cooking their dinner.

M16 suppressed

” They were about 5o yards away and it was  almost night . They were sitting around a fire cooking and smoking dope.   One had his back to me and I shot him in the back of the head.   He immediately fell over onto the fire and  the look on the faces of his friends was pure terror. The shock of being sprayed with their buddies head, not hearing the shot  and being stoned really took its toll Then the rest of the team opened up on them “

He was made more or less the team sniper and liked the suppressor and M16 combo.  He did say that in an emergency fight  he had to fire on full auto and at a certain point the suppressor blew off the end of the barrel and “took off like a rocket”.

The Army would take some time before getting serious about suppressing  M16 family of weapons for general or sniping use.   It went on to focus on the Xm21  system and a suppressor for it.  This  combining  762mm semi auto rifles and suppressors  of course went on to be more fully realized in the M110.

The concept of the M16 with suppressor was and is just too good to die.   The military went on to field the KAC NT4 suppressor for the M4 and MK18 carbines.   The with the more perfected idea from Vietnam of the M16 with suppressor in the excellent MK12  special purposes rifle using the  Opcs inc. suppressor.  Perhaps what many user in  the Vietnam wished for.

All of the previous systems are no longer used or being phased out of  and being replaced with  newer designs.    But the AMTU’s idea of a suppressed M16 is still as valid and useful as it was in  the 60s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOT MUCH FOR FIGHTING: THE M1903 SPRINGFIELD IN WWI

NOT MUCH FOR FIGHTING: THE M1903 SPRINGFIELD

                                            OR

            HAS LOOSEROUNDS GONE TOO FAR?!

 

 

There are some US  military  fire arms that enjoy the love  and adoration  of millions of people. These guns earned a reputation from major battles and wars.   Guns that entire generations used to fight off the enemies of America large and small.  The M1 Garand, the M1911,  the M1 Carbine.  The M14…  ahem..        One of those seems to have a lure and romance about it equal to or maybe  beyond even the M1 Garand.  That being the United States Rifle, Caliber .30-06, Model 1903.  Also known as the “’03”  or  “Springfield”.

The  story of the M1903 being adopted as the US service rifle is  pretty well known to anyone who knows anything about it.  The US was not happy with the  very finely made and smooth action-ed  side loading Krag rifle and its .30-40 service round after being shot to pieces by Spanish Mausers  in the Spanish American War.  Something about being under effective long range rifle fire from the other guy while you can not return same really drives a demand for change.

The Army got together all the experts, took a look at the captured Spanish Mausers and decided  the US Army needed to be using comparable.   In fact it was so comparable that a law suit was brought about over just how comparable the 03 was to the Mauser.

After a  being adopted the M1903 had its share of problems.   A number of  Pre WW1  rifles had brittle metal and and the receivers would come apart in various uncomfortable ways while shooting. The problem was figured out and fixed eventually but it is not advised to risk shooting any “low number” M1903.

 

After getting this squared away the rifle  then went on to glory and ever lasting fame in the hands of Doughboys like  Sgt York ( maybe.. maybe not reports vary) and the USMC and its marksmanship skill.  Official accounts of Marines mowing down Germans from long range with their rifles  tell of great marksmanship with great rifles and images are every where os snipers using the  03 for the dawn of modern sniping.       Though it was  the standard service rifle it was not the most widely issued and used rifle by the troops. That was actually the M1917.  But even though the 03  was still the rifle most coveted by the US troops.  As  said by Cpl. Mike Shelton: “What we really wanted were Springfields.  They were the best rifles in the war”.

But were they?

 

The 1903 is a fine, fine rifle  with beautiful lines.  It handles like a dream compared to most of its peers and was accurate enough to be used to the US team int he Olympics.   This makes for a beautiful military bolt action rifle.

 

It has a very finely adjustable precision rear sight  and blade front sight.  When folded down the rear sight is the open V notch and very small.  When extended the rear sight has a tiny peep sight that is adjustable for windage and elevation.  The adjustment was so fine it was capable of very precise adjustments.  When using a sling  while prone on a nice sunny day  at Camp Perry a rifleman could  show what the 1903 could achieve.    The story of the Farr cup trophy and why it has that name is a great example of just what can be done with the sights of the standard M1903.

Those things  are all that great  , but not for the combat of WW1.

The  rear sight in on the front of the receiver. Too far away for best most efficient use.  Trying to look through the tiny  rear aperture was useless in low light.  And the light  didn’t have to be all that low to make it impossible to use.    The rain and mud of the trenches and battlefield could find its way into that peep.     The front sight blade was  too small and easily  damaged.  Low light also renders it difficult to see.  The front sight was so easily damaged that a thicker blade was used by the USMC and a protective hood  was used.   This did protect the front sight but it also allows a little less light  in.  It also capture mud into the hood and front sight assembly.   That being a common thing with all hooded front sights.

The rear sight’s  fine precision adjustments are just that.  Finely  made with micrometer like precision.  And slow. Very slow to use.  The marksmanship of some units like the USMC was at  a high enough standard that the rifleman could adjust their rear sight for outstanding long range precision fire on enemy infantry and machine gun positions.  But this was not  as often done as many make it seem.    Adjusting the rear sight for precise long range fire on moving targets at undetermined distance  while under rain and with  mud covered hands as artillery fell around them  made using  the long range sights a daydream for most.     The rear sight does have an open notch for faster firing and and closer range  but it is small and not easy for anyone with less than perfect vision. This sight was set for 547 yd (500 m), and was not adjustable.  Not very useful for ranges most likely encountered when  time is critical .    It also had the problem of not being well protected.   Something the sights on a battle rifle need to be in such an unforgiving environment.   Later  on the M1903A3 rifle had  a  more simple peep sight on the rear of the action closer to the eye.  The peep sight was better for most infantry engagements and was an improvement over the original.

The M1903 had a typical for it’s day safety lever.  It would be easy to complain about how slow it is to use if you need  to fire quickly  it was common.  Other Bolt action combat rifles of the day had similar systems and a few had a fast  and some what more natural  feeling system .

One  thing the military thought it needed was a magazine cut off.   This little bit of  brilliance was a lever that when activated would not allow the action to feed from the magazine. This would require you to load a single round by hand or flip it to allow magazine feed.  The idea was you would fire and load one round at a time while keeping the internal magazine in reserve for when you really needed it and had no time to single feed by hand.   This supposedly  would save ammo.    Either way it is always a dumb idea.  It was dumb when it was on the Krag and it was dumb on the 1903.  Especially since it could be unknowingly engaged.

None of  of the things certainly deal killers or mentioned are deal killers or make the rifle useless by any means.   The M1903 is a beautifully made gun and wonderfully accurate.

There is a reason for that old chestnut about service rifles from WW1. “The Germans brought a hunting rifle, the British brought a combat rifle and the US brought a target rifle.”

Now looking at the other option carried by US rifleman in WW1.  The rifle at the time not as well admire but more widely issued and used.  The M1917.

The M1917 was a rifle being made in the US for British troops in  .303.   When the US entered the war it did not have enough 1903s and there was no way to make enough in time.  The decision was made to tweak the  .303 rifle into using the .30.06 service round.   This went off easily and the gun became the M1917 and was issued.

While it is heavier, it is built like a tank.

The magazine held one more round than the M1903.   The safety was a lever on the right hand side.   Much easier to quickly disengage.

The rear sight  is positioned much closer to the eye  and has a nice peep  with a fold up sight for more precise longer range shooting.  A great feature is the huge “ears” on each side that protects the rear sights from damage,

Another  part of the M1917 that aids in fast action for combat is the action.  Unlike the M1903 the M1917 cocks on closing.  This may not seem like much  of a difference but it is.  In rapid fire  it is much easier to work the bolt and cock it while rotating the bolt down with the speed and momentum of forcing the bolt forward then turning down opposed to cocking while lifting the bolt handle.  The dog legged angled bolt handle is also very usable despite it’s oddball look.  This allows for a very fast operation.   It is also a feature of other British bolt action designs like the Lee Enfields. The MK 3 and MK 4s are very fast and smooth.   British troops famously practiced rapid long range volley fire using their rifles  and a technique of working the bolt and depressing the trigger with their bottom two fingers of the firing hand as soon as the bolt closed.   A company of British troops firing in this manner could  wreak a larger unit a long range  and was an effective way to compensate for lack of machine gun support.

The M1917 has recently started to  get the respect it deserves, it still does not have the   admiration or mythical status of the M1903.

Luckily most of the things  that make the M1903 less than idea for comabat were addressed in later models.   AS I mentioned the M1903A3  corrected the rear sight issues with a peep sight that was simple to use and  more suited for ranges most firefights  really  occur.      It wasn’t made with the same aesthetic care and old world craftsmanship as the M1903 but it worked is  really the better gun if you had to take one to war.

The M1903 served several roles in its career and is much respected.   In some of those roles it was everything you could ask and more In others not so much.     As a sniper rifle its  target rifle accuracy , handling and trim lines really made it shine.

 

 

It served as a sniper rifle  into WW2, Korea and even some in Vietnam.  The Army opted for using a  4x weaver with the M1903A4 while the USMC  adopted and used the Unertl 8x optic.  A deadly combination that  produced many  Japanese widows. As seen below a team of USMC sniper on Okinawa.

Today the Springfield still  enjoys a status as  a real classic.  A real icon of US military Arms.  It’s accuracy being the stuff of legend and its full powered 30 caliber round  will always be unquestioned in it’s ability.       But, its original classic M1903  incarnation  never saw  nearly the  amount of combat as many believe and it was certainly not the best bolt action of the war.   It wasn’t even the best Mauser action combat rifle of the war.

Just like the M14, the original issued M1903 was. not much for fighting.

 

 

 

 

Larue Tactical OBR 7.62MM Rifle .. Troubles..

Over the past few weeks, I have been helping a friend determine what the issues are with a rifle. The subject of this article is one of 8 Larue rifles purchased by a local Police SWAT Sniper team for their use. Upon receiving the 8 rifles, they experienced a lot of issues with those rifles. I was told the unit contacted the maker and explained the issues and was supposedly told something to the effect that they need to use another loading. That is, to use a 175-grain match load as opposed to the 168gr match loads they had been using. I did not make the call, nor was I even in the room to hear it. But a trusted source reports that was the guidance given to them by someone at Larue. Supposedly.

Since the switching to 175gr match ammo did not cure the issue, one of the rifles was handed off to my friend who asked me to join him in seeing if maybe it was the end user’s fault as opposed to the gun itself. Below is a reporting of what we saw for ourselves first hand over a two-week period of testing and evaluating one of the 8 rifles.

Below is a picture of the subject of our testing. The rifle was fired with and without the suppressor and with careful noting of the setting of the gas system.

After shooting the rifle, it quickly became apparent that the issues the guns were having were not user error.

About every 3rd round would get stuck in the chamber. The extractor would rip through the rim in its effort to extract and then pick up a fresh round to chamber causing a double feed.

Once the case was removed with the help of a rod, signs of pressure were obvious. Primers would be blown, or nearly blown out of the primer pocket. Even those that cycled and fired normally had signs of pressure. Brand, type and lot of ammo used made no difference.

The Larue caught in the act.

In the picture above, you can see the primer coming out of the case and the rim sheared off by the extractor.

More examples of cases that had to be cleared by a rod.

There was no predicting when it would happen except to know it would be about every 3rd or 4th round. Sometimes 7th or 9th. There was no apparent pattern or sense to it. Changing ammo brands, type or lot made no difference.

In addition to the stuck cases, the ejection pattern of the OBR was odd. Kicking cases out from 13 to 53-degrees with some going a yard away and other barely clearing the shooters firing arm when right-handed.

On the second week, we then noticed this while getting ready to put the suppressor on for another day of testing.

The staking had come loose. Obviously, this allowed the receiver extension to rotate. Not a good way to start the day.

During the 2nd week, the gun was carefully cleaned again and lubed with Slip2000EWL. Same problems. However, I did like how easy it was to clean the Larue BCG thanks to its coating,

Besides the feeding and extracting issues, the gun was every bit as accurate as I expected it to be. Using 168gr Federal Gold Medal or 175gr Gold Medal, the gun was sub-minute. The two groups below are from 100 yards. The shooting was conducted prone with bipod only while firing very rapidly. Well, as rapid as you can shoot when you must have your friend knock every 3rd or 4th case out of the chamber with a rod.

Otherwise, accuracy is exceptional. Just what I would want and expect from a Larue. I have seen many precision bolt guns that would not sustain the same level of accuracy. You can see why the Larue OBR became a favorite of sniper competitions and tactical precision rifle matches.

Thoughts on the suppressor. It was effective enough that I found it comfortable to stand behind the shooter without ear protection while in the wide open. Without the can, the Larue muzzle device was VERY blasty and loud. It is a muzzle brake after all, so that should be no shock. I found the brake to be very effective with recoil.

We did not have the ability to precisely diagnose the issues with the rifle except to know it is beyond simple user influence to fix. Add to that the 7 other guns are behaving the same way and the only conclusion is that they need to go back. I don’t want to hear any comments about “Why didn’t you call Larue?” etc. I do not work for the police agency who purchased these. I did not order them, nor do I even live in the same state as the PD who bought these sniper rifles. I was only there to take a look and to add my opinion on what could be wrong, so our betters could then determine what they wanted to do after that. The rifle’s working or not is not my problem. My tax dollars were not even used to buy them. I am writing about this only for the general interest of others and to show that even the best can turn out something with a problem every so often. So thoroughly test and check your weapon.

I hope to update on these rifles and their fate for those interested as the story continues.

If you read this and your panties are in a real twist because I dared report something I saw happen to a brand you think should have been mentioned in the Bible and you feel the need to insult me or start any ARFCOM general discussion level bullshit in the comments, I can save you the trouble right now and tell you any personal insults or attacks on my honesty or intentions will not be approved and will be deleted.

If you want to comment like an adult instead of a liberal on Election Night 2016, you are always welcome.

Vietnam Sniper Study

Today’s article is a repost  from   our  deceased friend Hognose, owner  of Weaponsman.com.  Kevin, AKA Hognose passed away last year and as an ongoing tribute to his memory and excellent work we repost the  his works to help preserve it. 

Vietnam Sniper Study

In 1967, the Army got the idea to study whether, how, and how effectively different units were using snipers in Vietnam. They restricted this study to Army units, and conventional units at that; if SF and SOG were sniping, they didn’t want to know (and, indeed, there’s little news either in the historical record or in conversations with surviving veterans that special operations units made much use of precision rifle fire, or of the other capabilities of snipers).

Meanwhile, of course, the Marines were conducting parallel development in what would become the nation’s premier sniper capability, until the Army got their finger out in the 1980s and developed one with similar strength. The Marines’ developments are mentioned only in passing in the study.

Specific Weapons

The study observed several different sniper weapons in use:

  • ordinary M16A1 rifles with commercial Realist-made scopes. This is the same 3×20 scope made by Realist for commercial sale under the Colt name, and was marked Made in USA. (Image is a clone, from ARFCOM).

realist11

  • Winchester Model 70s in .30-06 with a mix of Weaver and Bushnell scopes, purchased by one infantry brigade;
  • two versions of the M14 rifle. One was what we’d call today a DMR rifle, fitted with carefully chosen parts and perhaps given a trigger job, and an M84 scope. The other was the larva of the M21 project: a fully-configured National Match M14 fitted with a Leatherwood ART Automatic-Ranging Telescope, which was at this early date an adaptation of a Redfield 3-9 power scope. (Image is a semi clone with a surplus ART, found on the net).

M21 ARTR

The scopes had a problem that would be unfamiliar to today’s ACOG and Elcan-sighted troopies.

The most significant equipment problem during the evaluation in Vietnam was moisture seepage into telescopes. At the end of the evaluation period, 84 snipers completed questionnaires related to their equipment. Forty-four of the snipers reported that their telescopes developed internal moisture or fog during the evaluation period. In approximately 90 percent of the cases, the internal moisture could be removed by placing the telescope in direct sunlight for a few hours.

The leaky scopes ranged from 41% of the ARTs to 62% of the Realists. The Realist was not popular at all, and part of the reason was its very peculiar reticle. How peculiar? Have a look.

Colt realist 3x20 scope reticle(A later version of this scope, sold by Armalite with the AR-180, added feather-thin crosshairs to the inverted post. The British Trilux aka SUIT used a similar inverted post, but it never caught on here).

The theory was that the post would not obscure the target, the way it would if it were bottom-up. That’s one of the ones you file away in the, “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” drawer. Theory be damned, the troops hated it.

The use of the rifles varied unit by unit.  Two units contemptuously dismissed the scoped M16s, and wouldn’t even try them (remember, this was the era of M193 ammo, rifles ruined by “industrial action,” and somewhat loose acceptance standards; the AR of 20145 is not the AR of 1965). The proto-M21s came late and not every unit got them. It’s interesting that none of the weapons really stood out, although the NATO and .30-06 guns were the ones used for the longest shots.

None of the weapons was optimum, but in the study authors’ opinion, the DMR version of the M14 was perfectly adequate and available in channels. The snipers’ own opinions were surveyed, and the most popular weapon was the M14 National Match with ART scope, despite its small sample size: 100% of the surveyed soldiers who used it had confidence in it. On the other hand, the cast scope rings were prone to breakage.

The biggest maintenance problem turned out to be the COTS Winchester 70 rifles, and the problem manifested as an absence of spare parts for the nonstandard firearm, and lack of any training for armorers.

Looking at all the targets the experimental units engaged, they concluded that a weapon with a 600 meter effective range could service 95% of the sniper targets encountered in Vietnam, and that a 1000 meter effective range would be needed to bag up to 98%. (Only one unit in the study engaged targets more distant than 1000 m at all).

Snipers were generally selected locally, trained by their units (if at all), and employed as an organic element of rifle platoons. A few units seem to have attached snipers to long-range patrol teams, or used the snipers as an attached asset, like a machine-gun or mortar team from the battalion’s Weapons Company.

An appendix from the USAMTU had a thorough run-down on available scopes, and concluded with these recommendations (emphasis ours):

Recommendations:
a. That the M-14, accurized to National Match specifications, be used as the basic sniping rifle.

b. That National Match ammunition be used in caliber 7.62 NATO.

c. That a reticle similar to Type “E” be used on telescopic sights of fixed power.

d. That the Redfield six power “Leatherwood” system telescope be used by snipers above basic unit level.

e. That the Redfield four power (not mentioned previously) be utilized by the sniper at squad level.

f. That serious consideration be given to the development of a long range sniping rifleusing the .50 caliber machine gun cartridge and target-type telescope.

(NOTE: It is our opinion that the Redfield telescope sights are the finest of American made telescopes.)

Note that the Army adopted the NM M14 with ART (as the M-21 sniper system) exactly as recommended here, but that it did not act on the .50 caliber sniper system idea. That would take Ronnie Barrett to do, quite a few years later.

Rifle_M21_2

The Effects of Terrain

Terrain drives weapons employment, and snipers need, above all, two elements of terrain to operate effectively: observation and fields of fire. Their observation has to overlook enemy key terrain and/or avenues of approach. Without that, a sniper is just another rifleman, and snipers were found to be not worth the effort in the heavily vegetated southern area of Vietnam.

In the more open rice fields and mountains, there was more scope for sniper employment. But sniper employment was not something officers had been trained in or practiced.

The Effects of Leadership

In a careful review of the study, we found that the effects of leadership, of that good old Command Emphasis, were greater than any effects of equipment or even of terrain. The unit that had been getting good results with the Winchesters kept getting good results. One suspects that they’d have continued getting good results even if you took their rifles away entirely and issued each man a pilum or sarissa.

Units that made a desultory effort got crap for results. Some units’ snipers spent a lot of time in the field, but never engaged the enemy. Others engaged the enemy, but didn’t hit them, raising the question, “Who made these blind guys snipers?” Sure, we understand a little buck fever, but one unit’s snipers took 20 shots at relatively close range and hit exactly nothing. Guys, that’s not sniping, that’s fireworks. 

The entire study is a quick read and it will let you know just how dark the night for American sniping was in the mid-1960s: there were no schools, no syllabi, no type-standardized sniper weapons, and underlying the whole forest of “nos” was: no doctrine to speak of.

Vietnam Sniper Study PB2004101628.pdf

Vietnam Sniper Study

About Hognose

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

Colt Accurized Rifle HBAR ELITE CR6724

Today we are going to take a look at an AR15 made by colt that  is one of the best keep secrets in the gun world.   It’s really a shame that it’s not more well know because it is an excellent precision rifle.

If you didn’t know by the image above, this is the Colt Accurized Rifle.  Also known as the the CARA3 HBAR Elite  according to its roll mark and  Model CR6724 for everyone who works at  Colt or those of us who are obsessive enough to refer to Colts by their internal model numbers.

This may very well be the first time a lot of people will have heard of this model but the fact is, Colt has been making it since around 1997 give or take a year.  I first saw it in that years firearms catalog which I had received via the mail same as I did every year.   On it was a 10x mildot Colt brand target/tactical optic. The optic itself was from a partnership with C-more sights and that year several other Colt/C-more branded optical sights  made their debut to many of us.  The 10X colt/C-more is pictured below. The optic did not come with the rifle but the rifle did come with a B-square mount that properly attached to a picatinny rail and had the correct height  for an AR15.

I don’t own one of these optics and never got to try one but all accounts I have heard of the optic have rated it first class.  Now a days a fixed 10x would not find much favor I’m sure.

At the time, the 6724 was pushed as a factory out of the box rifle ready to go for high power.  It longer barrel perfect for attaching some of the front sights used in the national matches, and the flat top upper  to house a rear finely adjustable rear sight.  If you browse picture from back in the day, you will see a lot of rifles that look almost identical to the 6724 being used  with various sighting systems.    Of  course the ad copy also stated the rifle would make a great varminting or target rifle.  That was certainly a fact.

The barrel is a 24 inch  match stainless steel HBAR ( heavy barrel) that is a larger diameter  under the free float aluminum handgaurd tube. Along with the standard milspec testing colt does, the barrel has a 1/9 twist.  Now, this seems unfortunate now, but at the time all the mfgs making commercial ARs  really wanted to push the 1/9 twist. Bushmaster,stated in their literature selling their junk, that the 1/9 twist was superior and the 1/7 wore barrels out too fast and that it wasn’t as accurate. .. Yea…  we see how that turned out.    But that claim did take some kinda of hold obviously as we all still see cheaper guns usually almost always using the 1/9 twist.  The topic is a long  post on it’s own so i will move on.    As the 1/9 was popular among many at the time and used in high power, colt  opted to make the barrels in 1/9.  The extremely long bullets we have no didn’t really exist as well known options back then or I am sure the gun would have come with a 1/7 twist.

Now, if you are thinking that you would like to have one of these guns but would change the barrel out, hold on a second.  Over the years, ,many people have bought one of these rifles and tried 77 grain bullets in it just to see what would happen and found that it shot the 77s perfectly.  What they had no real way of knowing, and what I only found out about 10 years ago myself  from Colt employee is that the barrels are actually closer to 1/8.5 inch twist with the exact twist being a little on the  faster side.  That kind of barrel marking would have been gibberish to most buyers at the time.  Probably even now.  And it would be a lot easier and less of a headache to just stamp it 1/9.   Why they decided to split the difference between a true 1/9 and a 1/7 I have no idea, and its likely lost to time.   Point is, the gun’s barrel says 1/9 but you can shoot 77 gr bullets in it and even some of the bullets as long as the 75gr A-max .  A fellow memeber of Arfcom once told me he one his local range’s 1000 yard F-class match using the Colt CR6724 and the Hornady  75gr A-max bullets.

The muzzle of the HBAR Elite has a nice recessed target crown to help protect it from damage.  The gas block is a milpsec front sight’gas block shaved down to be low profile and it taper pinned in place.  Not screwed on or some other lousy method that is not as tough and durable.

The FF tube is smooth with grooves running some of  the length.  Not likely to get as many cool gun prom points as M-lok or keymod, but completely usable and comfortable for shooting off bags or prone with a sling.   The tube came fitted with two sling swivel studs for various styles.  The front can be used for a bipod and the read the sling.  Or you can use them to adjust how your sling fits to you when going from different formal shooting positions at a match.

The buffer is a standard rifle buffer and colt sends an “accu wedge” with each rifle.  Luckily we all now know ( I hope) that the accu wedge is worthless except for people who can’t stand things like brass marks on their brass deflector or movement of the upper/lower for cosmetic reasons.  The play of the fit of the upper and lower has 0 effect on accuracy.   The lower in this case has been fitted with the newer colt  safety selector that is capable of being switched to the opposite side for lefties.

What is a target/match gun without  a better trigger?  Well, colt has you covered there.  In a time before drop in match triggers like the SSA existed for AR15s, Colt  had the low mass match trigger that came standard in these rifles.

The trigger and pins are all stainless and while It isn’t really comparable to something like the SSA or the MBT or KAC match triggers, at the time it was like a miracle.  It was safe, tough had a faster lock time and it did reduce the trigger pull weight quite a bit.  It’s a single stage trigger and it doesn’t break like a glass rod, but it is far and away better than a milspec trigger.   At one time it was possible to buy it from colt like an accessory, but  that didn’t last long sad to say.   Before triggers like the SSA came along I would have loved to been able to use the low mass colt part in my various carbines and rifles,   Of course now you have your pick of a dozen match triggers.   Colt still sells the gun with this trigger but I think it has more to do with knowing most buyers are going to replace the trigger with a more expensive model anyway and nothing they picked would satisfy everyone.  Better for the gun to be 200 bucks cheaper than try to please everyone with whatever brand they chose.

As a side note colt did for a small run make a custom shop target rifle that was even higher quality than the 6724. It has  a full  1 inch diameter match barrel with a Jewel trigger and choate A2 stock with butt hook, hogue  firing grip.  The barrel was made by one of the big match barrel makers  at the time, either hart or douglas I forget which.  The roll mark on the lower was not the usual style but the  Sam Colt family crest “Armsmear” . Picture of the rare gun below .  Sorry to say I  not only do not own one,  but I have never seen on in person.

 

Back to the point. The  CAR-A3 comes with standard M16  bolt carrier group. Fully MPC tested and milspec.

Unlike the vast majority of it’s  “peers” at the time and even a lot now still, the key is properly staked like all colt rifles and carbines.  Being a target rifle is no excuse to cut corners.

This rifle has been fitted with the magpul PRS rifle stock and the rear monopod that fits to a 1913 rail.   The  masterpiece from magpul is a perfect  pairing with the gun and one of the few after market parts a person can get for an AR15 that actually improved its performance in some meaningful way beyond just looking cool.   The other addition is a rubber ergo grip which is preferred by my Dad.  The gun in it’s box stock form  comes with an A2 buttsock and A2 grip which are perfectly usable.  The A2 stock is lighter so I wouldn’t advise  changing it unless you have to.  Or really  really want to.

Normally this gun has an 18x Leupold target/varmint scope in a larue mount, but for testing out the optic for review and some other points, it is wearing a Night Force  5.5x-22x in a ADM mount. More on those in another post.

 

So.   It’s a match target gun that Colt also no advertises as a LE sniper solution currently so the  question is, how does it shoot?

To show the accuracy of the rifle I followed my usual habits.   I fired the gun off the bench with a rest and bags using my handloads and some  factory match ammo.   This time I am posting the  groups from 100 and 200 yards.   This is going to be a two parter and the extended range testing will be in part 2.  I have fired this gun  for years at very long range and I am saving that for a post on its own in the next week or two.

To start with, I fired the bullet the gun is mostly used to shoot since the majority of owners   think it can not handle the heavier stuff.  The 69 gr bullet is the one conventional wisdom says is the heaviest you can go in a  true 1/9 twist barrel and it be stable in all temps  and at all  reasonable velocities.    In this case it is the old reliable 69 gr Sierra match king.   The gun fires it as well as you can ask.  If it was a 9 inch of 7 inch twist either one, I can’t imagine any complaints.

Now we have the 75gr TAP round above.  Ten rounds of a bullet weight that  often works pretty well in even true 1/9 twist rifles.  The black box stuff isnt marked as match ammo per se, but it is accurate enough to nearly be match often enough.  If you do have a true 1/9 twist and wish you could use heavier bullets, give this stuff a try as the  bullet itself as a length and profile that makes it more forgiving of the slower twist.  It is good stuff and and by all accounts the bullet has good terminal performance even on wild hogs in the hundreds of pounds.

No surprise here. The tried and true  bullet and load to get the most accuracy out of an AR15.  The Sierra 53 gr flat base HP.   Match or milspec barrel and chamber.  At ranges  from 0 to 300 you can see what your gun’s barrel is made of with this load.

This is a fairly new load and bullet.  It is the new ELD bullet that has replaced the older A-max from hornady.  The 73gr bullet is still a bit long and I have my doubts about it working in a true 1/9 twist even if the weight makes it seem like it would.  it is after all the length not the weight.  I have to say I think its a lot easier to load this bullet. I always found the 75 gr A-max bullets really finicky about seating depth.

I did shoot some sierra 77gr HPBT matchkings and they shot as well as the 69s but I apparently forgot to take a picture of them.  Like an idiot .

Last we have the  twenty round group at 200 yards.   I used the 69s only because I had 20 of those left with me.  And some out there thinking of buying the gun may still have  reservations about trusting the gun to shoot the 77gr stuff.  So I wanted to show what it can do with the bullet weight that the 1/9 shooters  stick to mostly.

That is  20 rounds, with one “flyer” that the case neck had split when it fired.   I apparently let a case I had reloaded  one too many times  get into the  ammo I took with me for testing, I  make effort to stick with virgin cases or close when i shoot for groups for review but unlike obama, I am not perfect.    That is a pretty good group if I do have to say so myself.    That should make you feel not too bad about the  1/9 twist even if you won’t take my word that the colt twist is actually faster or some  gun counter expert tells you some half backed story.    I wouldn’t feel a bit shorted if this was the bullet I was actually stuck with using.

On another side note,  all the thinking about 1/9 twists got me thinking about  what bullets a person could use if denied the ability to use the 75-80gr stuff that 1/7 twist excels with.   I have started using the sierra 63 gr flat base and Berger 60gr FB HP  and some others for a future article.

 

The Colt CAR-A3 HBAR Elite   CR6724 is  an EXCELLENT precision AR15 that you can buy straight ready to go. It doesn’t have a rail or some of the other new fad  hand guard but for a gun like this, it’s not needed.  Not everything has to have a keymod or rail on it contrary to popular opinion. I like the sleek  smooth looks on this gun.  If you have to have a tactical HG and or you want to use it for LE sniping or zombies or commies or what have you, colt does make a version with a modular HG that will accept mission necessary accessories. They even make  a version with a 20 inch barrel instead of a 24 inch, which I have long though would make an excellent starting base gun for 3 gun use.

 

Part 2  will be coming and it will be about the rifle being shot for group and performance out to 300-800-1000yds  as soon as I can depending on weather or unforeseen events.

 

 

Guest Post: Brief History of Air Guns

Article submitted by Michael.

Brief History of Air Guns

Air guns have been around for about 500 years and they are a great alternative to firearms. They can be used as entertainment or for pest control and small game hunting and modern models use one of the three available types of power source: spring-piston, compressed gas, or pneumatic.

Air guns are also used in sportive competitions such as Field Target or the Olympic 10 m Rifle. They are also more powerful than airsoft weapons and use different types of pellets. I felt the need to add this explanation as many people get them confused.

Today I’ll take you on a short trip down memory lane and I’ll talk about the history of the air gun.

The beginnings

The first historical record of an air gun is dated back in 1580 and you can even see it at the Livrustkammaren Museum in Stockholm. This time is also recognized as being the start of the modern air gun.

Still, before it got to what we know today, the first models used a pump to fill the air reservoir. Until the 19th century, people used air guns to shoot large game and they even used them in warfare (take a look at the Girandoni air rifle). These guns supported a .30-.51 caliber and reached a speed of 650 to 1000 feet per second.

Given the time and the fact that firearms weren’t at their best time, air guns were considered superior. For instance, an air gun wasn’t affected by the weather (if the gun power would get wet it was rendered useless), and it was quieter so it wouldn’t disclose the shooter’s position – a feature that made them great for an armed conflict.

Time for Glory

As the air gun proved so effective in the battlefield, both France and Austria had sniper detachments equipped with air rifles. The Austrian forces even developed a weapon that was about 4ft long, weighed 10 pounds, and supported a .51 caliber, called the Girandoni air rifle. The rifle had a tubular magazine and could hold up to 22 rounds.  This gun had the power of a modern .45 ACP caliber pistol.

The Modern Times

As the firearms developed, the air rifle lost in terrain, but it’s still used for the level of energy it delivers. During the 1890s, people started using them for competitive target shooting and the sport became quite popular. Even more, over 4,000 associations and clubs were founded during this time all over Great Britain, but Birmingham was the main center.

Today we still use air guns for competitive sports and for hunting and I think it will be a long time before the air gun will be rendered obsolete.

Air guns vs. Airsoft Guns

Many people (especially beginners) tend to consider that airsoft guns and air guns are the same. While there are some similarities in design and in popularity, the two types of guns are very different.

A quick look on goog gun will tell you that airsoft weapons are safe to use in war games and even children can play with them. Well, air guns are a lot more powerful and they use metallic ammunition, not plastic pellets like airsoft models. Because of this, air guns can’t be used to shoot at people or property – they do inflict damage and can be lethal.

You should also know that both types are legal to own in most areas and they are great for practicing your shooting skills and keeping your hobby alive. Still, the history shows us that air guns were the first ones at the table.

5 Reasons for the AK’s Legendary Reliability

 

Since the untimely passing of our friend, Kevin  AKA Weaponsman, we will be running  “the best of weaponsman.com” in his memory.

 

5 Reasons for the AK’s Legendary Reliability

AK-47The Avtomat Kalashnikova obrazets 1974g and its successors have an enviable reputation for reliability, especially under adverse conditions. There are a number of reasons for this, and we’ll go into them in some depth here. First, though, let’s say what is not a cause:

  • It’s not because of blind luck.
  • It’s not because the weapon is orders of magnitude better than its worldwide competitors. Indeed, by the end of WWII a very high standard of reliability had come to be expected, and weapons that did not meet this standard were mercilessly eliminated, like the Johnson M1941 and the Tokarev SVT.
  • Mikhail KalashikovIt’s not because Kalashnikov the man had genius that was lacking in other men. His competitors in the field, from Browning, to the Mauser-werke engineers of the 1940s to Stoner, were certainly men of genius as well. (Heck, so were Tokarev and Johnson). He’d have been the first to tell you he was just a thinking engineer.
  • It’s not because of breakthroughs. Almost every feature of the AK is recycled from somewhere else. What Kalashnikov did was synthesize them in a new way.

The Kalashnikov rifle is not, in fact, a universally superior design. Compared to its worldwide competitors (the FN SAFN and FAL, the CETME and G3, the M14 and M16 series, to name the most important), it is less accurate, less flexible/adaptable, and less ergonomic than every other. It offers less practical range than any other; and at the other extreme of range, it is the worst bayonet handle. It weighs more than some, has the heaviest magazines by far, and has an inferior weight-to-firepower ratio to most. It is inaccurate from the shoulder in full-automatic fire, yet it is designed to be fired, preferentially, on full automatic.

The strengths of the AK have overcome these deficiencies to make it incredibly common worldwide. Those strengths, compared to its competitors, include a somewhat lighter weight of ammunition, a larger standard magazine, great simplicity of operation and ease of manufacture, and that vaunted reliability, perhaps its most salient characteristic.

Design features of the AK which contribute to its reliability include:

1. Simplicity

The AK is almost as simple as a hammer. It is simple to build and manufacture (we’ll go into some specifics below). It uses no space-age materials, not even any aeronautical technology, just 19th-Century steel and iron and wood. (Much later, Kalashnikovs would have composite magazines and composite furniture. The US put composite stocks on BARs by 1944, and had them ready for the M1 and M14 in the 1950s, but an AK would not have a composite stock in its home nation for another forty years). There is no advanced machinery needed to produce an AK — indeed, one can be built (and they have been built) with hand tools and no precision measuring equipment, not even a micrometer. The rifle itself has no parts that cannot be filed, ground or machined from steel, or hammered from sheet metal, or riveted or welded from parts made this way. Most auto repair shops have the tools needed to build an AK, apart from rifling the barrel; the necessary materials are in the same shop’s scrap pile.

The AK’s operating system is simple and proven, a long-stroke gas piston system and a rotating bolt. Unlike the dainty bolt of the AR system (lifted itself from the M1941 Johnson) with its 7 precision locking lugs (and one false lug on the extractor), the AK bolt has two locking lugs, oversized, overstrong, and remarkably tolerant of undersized contact patches with the locking recesses of the trunnion. (Factory AKs have wide disparities here, especially those made by some of the more slipshod non-Russian, non-Chinese factories. The guns all seem to headspace correctly, operate normally, and fire reliably).

The AK does have one part that is a highly complex weldment: the magazine. The magazine and the feed path in general is very simple, straightforward, and repeatable, which is why the mag clearly got a lot of engineering hours. Gun designer David Findlay, who’s worked at Remington, Marlin, H&R 1871, and Smith & Wesson, says**:

Feed-system design, though, is one of the most important aspects of any weapons performance. A great deal of testing must be done to ensure good performance. Small variations and subtleties in magazine dimensions can have enormous impact on gun reliability and function.

Findlay wrote these words in explaining the engineering of the feed path of the Thompson Submachine Gun, but they’re generally applicable, and go a long way to explaining why Mikhail Kalashnikov lavished so much care on the magazine design. The fact that the receiver of the AK has received many modifications, but that the only change to the magazine is in reinforcing ribs and later magazine-body materials seems to hint he got it right.

An old engineer’s quip is that the designer’s objective is to “simplicate and add lightness.” (This has been attributed, among others, to automotive engineer Colin Chapman and aerospace engineer Burt Rutan). Mikhail Kalashnikov started off by “simplicating” most of the potential for trouble out of his design. (He didn’t make “adding lightness” a priority).

2. Environmental protection

Every designer has long known that foreign matter — mud, dust, and what have you — are the bitter enemies of reliable function in the short term, and that corrosion, rust, is the long-term destroyer of gun reliability. If you examine an AK you will see that it’s hard for foreign matter to intrude into, say, a dropped rifle. The safety, modeled loosely on that of the Remington Model 8 (a Browning design), does double duty in sealing the gap between the receiver and the nonstructural receiver cover. In operation, the charging handle, which is part of the bolt carrier, reciprocates in the open slot that the safety/selector seals shut. That seal and the lack of other large entrees into the receiver keep the interior clean.

Unlike Browning or Stoner, Kalashnikov was limited by the Soviet industrial base; he couldn’t call out exotic materials or sophisticated protective treatments, so early AKs were all steel and rust blued, an attractive finish that was weak at preventing corrosion. Some critical parts, though, notably the gas port area, the gas piston, and the bore, received hard chrome plating, and the weapon is designed in such a way that rust or pitting on other parts just does not matter in terms of reliable function or accuracy. It’s not unusual to find AKs in the field with all kinds of surface rust and pitting on their exteriors, only to find that the vitals, protected by chrome plating, have held up, and the guns still shoot within the modest (and sufficient) standards of a new AK.

3. Lack of small, dainty (and fragile) parts

A field-stripped AK contains nothing you’ll need to grope for if you drop it in tall grass (or mud, or a stream) in the dark. The pieces are big and robust, deliberately so, and this philosophy extends to the internals.

heartbreak ridge AK47 2

Nothin’ dainty about it.

The story of the development of any weapon you care to name involves interesting (and sometimes distressing) breakages. The FN, for example, was prone to firing-pin failures (the answer, which took the experts of three countries to fix, was to reduce the hardness of the part, as measured on the Rockwell C scale, and to shot-peen its surfaces: problem solved). The very first AR-10 tested by the US government had a bullet emerge from the side of the barrel in testing, not exactly a confidence-builder. (They gave up on an AL alloy barrel with a steel liner, then, which neutralized the gun’s weight advantage over the extant M14). Indeed, the AR-10 had terrible problems well into its development and production, and the Portuguese were still solving problems with it during their colonial wars in the 1970s. Many of those same problems, and a set of new ones, struck during development and production of the M16. The AK presumably had problems with these, but because the information was closely held at the time, archives have not fully opened, and most of the principals passed on without leaving technical memoirs, we know about only a few of them (for example, the failure of the first model stamped receivers, which caused a change to a machined-from-billet receiver).

The internals, though, seem to have been robust from the very beginning. Kalashnikov’s point of departure was the Garand trigger group, which itself borrowed from Browning. (Stoner would choose that same point of departure). This is part of the brilliance of the design: he wasn’t inventing for the sheer joy of inventing, but to make something that worked. That means, where he didn’t have a way of doing it better than someone else, he borrowed happily.

Borrowing aside, the Kalashnikov’s departures from Garand practice (apart from those required to render the weapon selective-fire, and to improve the Garand’s sub-optimal safety) showed a lot of interest in making things sturdier. The hammer spring, for instance, is made of two wires coiled together, giving some small redundancy; it also does double-duty in the AK as the trigger return spring.

4. Minimal use of tight tolerances

There are some parts of a gun that absolutely must fight tightly to ensure accurate, safe, and yes, reliable operation. On the AK, almost all of those are permanently assembled at the factory (the barrel into the trunnion, for example). The trigger mechanism is designed with a lot of slop and play in it, which is why AKs have that typically very long, smooth trigger pull with a surprise let-off (SKSes are similar), but it isn’t that way to manage the trigger pull: it’s there so the mechanism will be positive and safe the first time and the 1,000,000th time.

The only moving parts with truly tight tolerances are the fit of the bolt lugs into the trunnion, which affects headspace. For safety and accuracy headspace has to be right on. But the non-bearing surfaces in the trunnion are opened up enough that dust and dirt has somewhere to pack into, other than interfere with the tight fight of bolt to trunnion. John Garand considered the wise use of tolerances key to the legendary reliability of the M1*. Like the AK, its only critical tolerances in the operating mechanism come from the interface of the lugs of the rotating bolt with the mating recesses of the receiver.

5. Use of very loose tolerances everywhere else

Garand deliberately eschewed the use of a bolt carrier in place of an operating rod. He considered the competing bolt carrier and tipping bolt design (as used in Tokarev, Simonov and FN rifles) more troublesome both in production and in service because they had more critical tolerances. While the AK uses a bolt carrier, its fit to the bolt and receiver is if anything even less critical and looser than Garand’s op-rod.

What Rayle (and Garand) thought of as an innate flaw in bolt-carrier vs, op-rod systems, the need for precision tolerances both on the locking/headspacing feature of the bolt and its receiver, and also on the interface of the bolt with the bolt carrier, turns out to be an innate flaw in the Browning (Tokarev, Simonov, Saive, Vervier, etc). tipping bolt. The AK’s bolt can interface with its carrier just as loosely as the M1s does with its operating rod, with no harm to the functioning of the rifle.

This is not to say that nothing on the AK is manufactured with precision. (That would be the STEN). The beauty of the AK, from an engineering design viewpoint, is that nothing is manufactured with unnecessary precision.

To Sum Up

aklgcolcopyThese things, taken together, suggest that the AK is narrowcast at its original role as a submachine gun replacement for the semi-literate peasant conscript army of a nation lacking depth in precision manufacturing. It was the perfect gun for the Red Army in World War II, even if it came a little too late. It was also, therefore, the perfect gun for the continuation Soviet Army.

Unlike the service rifles of the USA or Germany, or the first-generation battle rifles of the West in the 1950s, the AK was manufactured without an excess of precision which limited its adaptability as, say, a sniper rifle. (The AK’s then-unique use of an intermediate cartridge also did this). But it suited Soviet doctrine of mass attacks and mass fires well. Unlike the NATO rifleman, the Soviet soldier, although instructed in semiautomatic fire on ranges, was also extensively drilled in live-fire obstacle courses, and was expected to run them firing on full-automatic, from the hip. He was the heir of the submachine-gun battalions of the Battle of Berlin, and planned to fight the same way, as mechanized infantry guarding the flanks and securing the obstacle-ridden forests and towns to enable the great tank attack. Hence, the first click off safety on an AK is full-auto, contrary to every successful NATO selective-fire rifle.

The same adaptations, design decisions, and production practicality that made the AK a perfect replacement for Ivan’s retired PPSh submachine guns, made the AK a perfect weapon for terrorist groups, “national liberation” movements, and under-resourced armies of newly free colonies worldwide.

Like the Mauser before it, the AK is a universal gun. And like the Mauser, the AK will be with us until something better supplants it. And “better,” in this case, will be defined by history and by nations, not necessarily by gun experts.

 

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* John Garand’s comments come from Rayle, Roy E. Random Shots: Episodes in the Life of a Weapons Designer. 

** Findlay, David S. Firearm Anatomy: Book I: The Thompson M1A1 Submachine Gun. p. 76. San Bernardino, CA, 2013: Findlay, David S.

This entry was posted in Foreign and Enemy Weapons, GunTech, Industry, Rifles and Carbines on by .

About Hognose

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

The site owner is 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.

Our focus is on weapons: their history, effects and employment. This is not your go-to place for gun laws or gun politics; other people have that covered.

Leupold MK8 CQBSS, the best rifle optic?

Is the CQBSS the ultimate rifle scope?  No, but it is damned awesome.

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Ever since the Leupold MK8 1-8X CQBSS came out, I have been reading people sing praises of it online.

So why would someone want something like the CQBSS?

The concept is to have a single optic with the speed of a reflex sight at low magnification and the clarity, tracking, and capabilities of a sniper scope for medium to longer ranges.  This flexibility of being able to quickly switch from 1X to 8X magnification to give you the option to use the magnification best suited for the distance your shooting.  It is nice to have an optic with the intent to be able to do room clearing out to 800m shots.

Now there are a couple main versions of this scope.  One style has a Horus reticle with a 5 MOA donut that is bright for use like a reflex sight.  This version is the most expensive, and you tend not to see anyone mention what the battery life is.  The other style does not have a daylight visible illumination, and is offered in the TMR, Mildot, and CMR-W reticles.  The scope referenced here is a TMR reticle MK8.

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At 1X magnification, the TMR reticle gives you a nice clean simple crosshair you can quickly get on target.

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At 8X magnification, you have Leupold TMR reticle allowing for ranging the target in mils and holding over necessary adjustments.  Note the range finding marks below the center of the crosshair for estimating range of man or vehicle at 700-1200m.

So why wouldn’t you want a CQBSS?  First is cost, list price runs from $3,899.99 to $4,939.99.  The second is that no matter how awesome it is, it is still only an 8X magnification scope.  Many people who might want to shoot groups or shoot out to longer ranges may find them selves wanting more magnification.

The CQBSS shows up what the future of scopes is going to look like.  Just as the low magnification optics like the ACOG feel right as home on the AR15, these variable optics just feel right on the growing number of semi auto .308 rifles.  However consider these the first generation of the future combat/battle rifle optics.