Monday, 3 February 2014

The VG 1-5 / Gustloff Gerats 507

The Gustloff "VG1-5"

In the final years of WWII, the Nazi regime in Germany was desperate. Desperate for men and the weapons to arm them with. The wild successes of '39 and '40 were almost forgotten; British, American, Canadian, and free European armies had routed the Germans from Africa, tied them down in Italy, and would finally breach the Atlantic Wall. Germany's cities burned under their bombardments. Worst of all, Hitlers adventurism in Russia had ended in complete disaster, and the churning, endless tide of the Red Army advancing on The Reich marked the writing on the wall.

In October of 1944 Hitler founded the Volkssturm, or "peoples militia." Comprised of those previously considered too young, too old, or somehow invalid for service, the Volkssturm was intended to shore up Germany's defenses and help stop the Soviet advance. Volkssturm units were armed with a rag tag assortment of modern and obsolete equipment, including captured Russian, French, and Italian rifles, and even some black powder cartridge rifles ('71 Mausers). They had no uniform or insignia save a black identifying armband, and their training was brief and rudimentary.

In an effort to equip the Volkssturm with more effective weapons, several designs entered production that were developed to maximize the potential of Germany's rapidly shrinking manufacturing capacity, i.e. a lot of bang for a little buck. The Gustloff Gerats 507, or, as it is more commonly and erroneously known, the VG 1-5, is one of those designs.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

The Gustloff is a semi-automatic rifle chambered in 7.92x33 kurz, sharing ammunition and magazines with the famous and innovative StG44 assault rifle. It operates using a gas-delayed blowback system; the bolt does not lock into place and is held against the breech face only by the pressure of the recoil spring. 

VG 1-5 disassembled
Recoiling sleeve and gas rings visible

The design of the Gustloff is as simple as it is unique. Blowback systems rely entirely on the mass of the recoiling assembly as well as spring pressure to counteract the forces of the cartridge being fired and to keep it inside the chamber until pressures drop to a safe level. Practically, there are limits to the power and pressure of cartridges available to be used in such a simple system, and the 7.92x33mm kurz - a cartridge with just a bit less juice than a 7.62x39mm common the Kalashnikov & SKS rifles - is beyond them by no small measure. 

The large barrel sleeve seen above is actually part of the bolt assembly itself. It reciprocates under recoil and is actually used to charge and clear the weapon, much like a giant pistol slide. The barrel of the rifle is ported towards the muzzle area. Gas rings behind the porting and in the barrel sleeve create, in essence, an enormous piston: When the rifle is fired, gas bled off from the barrel of the rifle creates a spike in pressure inside the barrel sleeve, effectively slowing the rearward progression of the bolt in recoil. Once the bullet exits the muzzle of the gun, pressures drop, and the bolt assembly completes its recoil cycle. This is not the most effective method of retarding a blowback system, but it is probably the simplest and cheapest. By all accounts, recoil on the Gustloff was sharper than on similarly chambered rifles, though still not unmanageable. 

Some 10,000 rifles were built before the end of the war. Altogether, it was not an elegant or refined weapon, with crude, non adjustable sights mounted on a recoiling body and spartan furniture. The inability to adjust sighting for elevation in particular was relevant to its effectiveness, because the curvaceous trajectory of the kurz round meant that the rifle hit a foot high at 100 meters and almost a foot and a half low at 300.

Like most last ditch wartime innovations, the Gustloff or VG 1-5 was simply too little, too late for its developers. But it's an interesting footnote in firearms history.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Anyone need a T Gewher?

James Julia auctions has a particularly nice one up on the block. Everyone's gun collection should include a good anti-materiel rifle. 

Finding ammunition could prove to be a problem... I didn't see any 13.2mm TuF on the shelf the last time i was in my local gun store.

But then again the bang might be worth the search. And the buck.

The Quest for the Cheap 1911

Probably the ugliest single action only .45acp ever produced.
Another beauty shot of the stamped 1911
Move over, Hi-point - there's an even uglier pistol in town. I think referring to this pistol as a 1911 may be a bit of a misnomer. I doubt you could slap that slide onto a mil-spec Colt and expect it to run. And check out that custom trigger. Match grade, no doubt.

The brass framed 1911a1
Another angle of the Brass 1911 

This one is reminiscent of Confederate armories building copies of Colt and Remington revolvers using brass frames to reduce cost. There's precedent for it. Brass is slightly heavier than steel which would have both positive and negative impacts on the pistols utility and performance. 

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Huot: The Light Machine Gun that Almost Was

Timing can make all the difference between a new firearm becoming an obscure and forgotten prototype relegated to either a scrap bin or a museum, and becoming a timeless symbol of the cause and conflicts of its day.

  The Huot Automatic Rifle

Joseph Huot's ingenious and resourceful design for a Canadian machine gun was poised to become a military (and for him, commercial) success - then World War 1 ended, no one was desperate for a better automatic rifle, and his foray into the machine gun business ended with him out $30,000 of his own money - about $450,000 in today's currency.

The ingenuity of Huot's project was not in its complexity or sophistication. It worked, and it worked well - outshining its competitors in many respects - but the really fantastic thing about it was that there were already hundreds of thousands of them half built, sitting around waiting to be used for something.

While the Canadian Expeditionary Forces were desperate for more machine guns, they were equally desperate to divest themselves of the failed family of Ross rifles. The Ross is an interesting piece of history in and of itself: smooth and accurate, it would have likely enjoyed a good reputation as a sporting platform if it hadn't had the misfortune of ever encountering French mud.

The Ross mkIII

 The Ross was a straight pull design that retained rotating locking lugs - a threaded interface between bolt head and body "screws" the lugs into battery. When the action was clean, it was faster to operate than a normal bolt action rifle. Unfortunately, when it was filthy dirty in nasty trench mud, it had a tendency not to operate at all. Without going into too much detail, as the war progressed, the Canadian Expeditionary Force ditched the Ross, and re-equipped themselves with SMLE's.

Which brings us back to Joseph Huot, tinkering away in his shop in Richmond, Quebec.

The Huot Automatic Rifle is essentially a heavily modified and rebuilt Ross. Joseph Huot added a gas piston system to the left side of the rifle that acted on the bolt body, added a buffer system to cushion the recoil, and sheathed the whole reciprocating mechanism in sheet metal. The internal magazine was replaced by a 25 round drum. The stock ahead of the magazine well is pared away to accommodate a steel cooling sleeve inspired by the standard commonwealth light machine gun of the day, the Lewis gun.

The Huot (top) and the Lewis compared

The Huot gun was subjected to extensive military trials; by all accounts it performed very well, even outperforming the venerable Lewis in many side-by-side tests. It was a whopping ten pounds lighter, thus handling much faster, and it proved to be more reliable under muddy conditions than the Lewis gun, firing and feeding a wide variety of .303 British ammunition. But the real kicker was the price tag: $50. It only cost $50 to rebuild a Ross rifle into a Huot Automatic Rifle. By comparison, a new Lewis cost $1000. 

Naturally, the Huot was recommended for adoption by both the Canadians and the British, and in late 1917 individual weapons began to trickle their way over to France for field testing. Sir Arthur Currie, commander of the CEF, approved of the new weapon immensely, described them as being popular with the troops that used them, and requested an additional 5000 units. Over the next year further refinements were made to the system - and then the war ended, and the idea was dropped. 

And so the Huot Automatic Rifle did not become an icon of WWI, or Canada's war effort, or see use all through WWII as a supplement to the Bren gun. The Lewis gun did. Timing is everything.