Thursday, February 25, 2010

Weird guns- Device "D"

I seem to have a special liking for the Cold War- era equipment of the Soviet Spetsnaz. The items are all rugged, simple, and effective. They usually don't win any points for aesthetics, but hey, they don't make them for sitting around and looking pretty.

On to Device "D". The basic plan in the event of a conventional WWIII was that many highly trained and fairly independent Spetsnaz teams would infiltrate NATO lines and do as much damage as possible, preferably to high value targets. Fuel and ammunition dumps, Command and Control sites, Radar installations and aircraft on the ground were high on the list. Above all, missile sites, whether they be anti-air, tactical, or medium range nuclear weapons would be the target of the Spetsnaz teams. As all of those targets are lightly armored, Soviet planners decided that a 30mm grenade would be sufficient to destroy or severely damage them. A combined high explosive and incendiary warhead would be able to destroy or disable a large variety of targets.

Device "D" without grenade cup launcher, bipod, and butt stock

To maximize the tactical surprise of the attack and increase the chances of success (and escape), it was decided the new grenade launcher would be sound and flash suppressed. To make the weapon more versatile, It was also given an armor piercing, internally silenced 9mm round to be used against enemy personnel. The firearm itself is a fairly crude, single shot, bolt action pistol. To achieve the maximum range and accuracy, the user needs to use the bipod and and the holster can be attached to use as a butt stock in the manner of the Mauser C96. When in grenade launch mode, a cup is attached to the muzzle and the grenade is loaded from the front. There is a manual extractor for unloading any unfired grenades and the grenade sight is attached to the left side of the weapon. Range is stated to be about 300m. The 9mm AP round is said to be able to penetrate 5mm of mild steel at 100 meters but the bullet is very heavy and slow at about about 430 grains and 830 FPS. It achieves its penetrative power by virtue of its dense steel construction. The (9x93mm) noiseless cartridge is similar to the 7.62x63mm noiseless cartridge we have already discussed. It has a thick steel case with a small charge of powder and a piston which pushes the projectile out of the case and then captures the excess gases, which is the cause of most the gunshot report and muzzle flash. The PMAM "Mundshtuck" cartridge has a push rod which transfers the energy of the piston to the muzzle-loaded grenade, seen below.

PMAM 30mm HE/Incindiary grenade and noiseless cartridge

PFAM 9x93mm AP cartridge

Victoria Cross- Able Seacat Simon

I read about a military working dog in Afghanistan that received the Dickin Medal, also known as the Animal Victoria Cross. Reading a little more, I learned about Simon. I think working dogs are great, but I like cats better. If you don't like cats, go to hell.

In 1948, a sailor named George Hickbottom picked up a starving cat in on docks of Hong Kong. he brought the approximately 1 year old cat onto his ship, the HMS Amethyst. Seaman Hickinbottom smuggled Simon aboard and he soon settled in to his new military life, and made himself popular by waging war on the rats that infested the lower decks. As typical with cats, he had no sense of propriety, and became famous for sleeping in the Captain's hat and leaving dead rats in the bunks of his favorite sailors. Simon became the mascot of the ship and stayed on even after the Captain left. The new Captain, Bernard Skinner, was ordered to take the ship up the Yangtze River to Nanking to replace the ship stationed there. On the way, the Amethyst was fired on by Communist Chinese artillery batteries. One of the first shots struck the Captain's cabin and severely wounding Simon. He was able to crawl onto the deck and was rushed to the medical bay where he was treated for burns and had four pieces of shrapnel removed but was not expected to survive the night. Just like any good alley cat, he pulled through and was soon back on duty, exterminating the rats that had invested the ship while it was anchored in the Yangtze River. He was also credited with raising the morale of the sailors on board with his antics and good nature.

Simon soon became a celebrity following the end of the "Yangtze Incident" and was the subject of many stories in the British and International news. He was awarded the Dickin Medal, also known as the the Animal Victoria Cross and also received the Amethyst Campaign medal, the Blue Cross, and the rank of "Able Seacat". he received so much mail that Lt. Stuart Hett was given the title of "cat officer" and the duty of dealing with all of his mail. Simon was presented with honor at all of the Amethyst's ports of call on the cruise back to England.

Sadly, Simon was subject to the quarantine regulations for all animals entering the UK and died of a viral infection caused by his shell wounds. Hundreds of people, including the entire crew of HMS Amethyst attended his funeral in Ilford in East London. His gravestone reads:

MAY 1948 — SEPTEMBER 1949

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Military Technology: Less Lethal Weapons

Since military forces around the world are forced into peacekeeping and anti-riot duties more each year, there has been a surge of interest in Less Lethal weapon technology. Notice that I did not mention anything about non lethal weapons. That is because any weapon, be it a pistol, nightstick, Taser, beer bottle or stick has the potential to cause a fatal injury. To think otherwise is to have a very imperfect understanding of human anatomy, weapons, or both.
OK. Now that we have that out of the way, We can continue.

First up, we have an update on an old favorite of law enforcement. For years police have used "bean bag" shotgun rounds to subdue dangerous suspects without risking the officers' life. These bean bags are 2"x2" bags full of steel shot. I imagine that their impact on ones torso would be quite uncomfortable. However, there are some limitations of the classic bean bag round. After firing, the bag unfolds and flies through the air face-on, making it rather inaccurate and limiting its range to less than 30 feet or so. One solution to this is the new Home Defender Superstar ammunition from Lightfield Less Lethal. The projectile most resembles a small kush ball. Since it is more or less round, it cuts through the air much better, giving it some additional range, up to 15 yards. The projectiles weigh 75 grains, which by the way is heavier than most 5.56mm bullets. Muzzle velocity is 650 FPS, which is well below just about firearm, but not by too much. Many .45ACP loads top out at about 850 FPS. So this thing would, in all likelihood, knock the living shit out of you. Lightfield does state that the user must only target large muscle groups in the abdomen and below and that the minimum engagement distance with this load is 2 yards, so obviously the star is able to cause significant injuries if used incorrectly.

Next up we have the newest offering from Taser. This is the Taser X3 , which offers 3 shots of CO2-fired darts capable of delivering a shock that completely overrides the target's nerve system to force them to cease resistance. The Taser also features a conventional contact stun gun, and has a Warning Arc feature designed to increase compliance. Another way to say that is to let the subject know that if he doesn't stop whatever he is doing, he is going to get tased.(bro) The X3 also has a focused beam flashlight and dual sighting laser, adjustable for standard or long range rounds. In addition to its features that mostly enable the user to have an easier time of shocking the crap out of someone, the X3 also has a log that records every time the weapon is activated and therefore gives (legal) protection to the firer and the target. The last of the safety systems is a anti-felon system, designed to deter misuse by criminals. The AFID includes bar-coded serialization of each cartridge and disperses confetti-like ID tags upon firing. There is also a colored visual display to indicate the mode, battery level and so forth.

Last on today's list is the FN 303 Less Lethal Launcher. It was developed from a paintball gun to fire a variety of munitions. It fires from a 15 round rotary magazine and is powered by a removable tank of CO2.

The 303 can be mounted under an assault rifle like the M16 or be used with its own butt stock and sights. The idea is to give the police officer or soldier the ability to use a less lethal system but have the protection of a conventional firearm as well. there are four main types of ammunition for the 303. The most common is the training load which is a .68 caliber, bismuth weighted, non-toxic glycol ball that weighs about 8.5 grains. The OC or Oleoresin capsicum load is an orange dyed, glycol base mixed with 10% OC. This is pretty much the same as most pepper sprays and can be used in a riot or armed suspect arrest. there are also two marking loads, one with permanent paint and the other with a washable dye, that is used in riot and demonstration situations to mark violent protesters and such for law enforcement to apprehend or keep an eye on. The muzzle velocity of all loads is about 280 FPS, which makes it a lot safer than firearm based weapons. The 303 has a longer range than most other less lethal systems, but the effectiveness of it is somewhat lower. While is is probably much safer than any "rubber bullet" or other old-style anti-riot weapons, it has already caused a death when a passerby was hit in the eye and killed in Boston in 2004.

  • Weight: 5lbs (Stand Alone), 4.9 (Undercarriage)
  • Length: 29" (Stand Alone), 17.7" (Undercarriage)
  • Projectile Weight: 8.5gr
  • Mag Capacity: 15 round
  • Propulsion Method: Compressed Air (canister contained)
  • Effective Range: 100 Meters

Camouflage- Factory Scale

Way back before GPS and flawless maps of virtually the entire surface of the earth, it could be very difficult to fly to another country and bomb the hell out of a specific target. Even if you had a good idea where it was, it could be difficult to locate from the air, many bombing runs were flown at medium to high altitude to better avoid anti aircraft machine guns and artillery.

When the United States entered WWII, there was great fear of a Japanese attack on the West Coast and its invaluable military infrastructure. One important site was the Lockheed Aircraft factory in Burbank, California. The Lockheed Vega factory was located next to Burbank's Union Airport, which it had purchased prior to the outbreak of the war. This factory was ultimately where almost 20,000 aircraft were produced for the war effort. Most notably, they produced 9,000 of the P-38 Lightning, the best fighter of the entire war. They also built 2,750 B-17 Flying Fortresses under license from Boeing. So it was pretty important. The decision was made to take steps to protect the entire site from air attack. Rather than take the conventional route and reinforce buildings, construct bunkers and ring the area with dozens of anti-aircraft guns, they decided to camouflage the entire factory so that it would be unable to be located from the air. This way any enemy reconnaissance would be unable to pinpoint the exact site of the factory complex.

Lockheed's Burbank Factory

The same area after the camouflage had been completed

The camouflage scheme devised was nothing short of genius. The entire factory, including the parking lots, outbuildings and everything was covered in a gigantic burlap tarp painted to give the impression of a rural neighborhood. There were rubber cars set, up, fake roads and houses. The illusion was finished with hundreds of fake trees and shrubs. The trees and shrubs were created from chicken wire treated with an adhesive and covered with feathers to provide a leafy texture.

The difference in perspective for pilots flying several thousand feet up completed erased the difference of a few feet from the ground to the top of the tarp

Whether the ruse would have been effective is an interesting question. Certainly if the Japanese were to discover through spies the nature of the disguise, it may have been totally ineffective. But a single recon plane, or a bomber group at 20,000 feet trying to defend its self from fighters and avoid ground fire might well miss it. Since this was well before many of today's navigation methods and visual identification was the only method available, it could have made all the difference of there had aver been an air raid.To me it just represents some of the amazing innovation, creativity, and effort that was what made the difference in many ways during the largest and most terrible war that history has seen.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Atlas V Sonic Boom

Here is a cool video sent in by a loyal reader of the Sonic Boom coming off an Atlas V rocket being launched.

Medal of Honor- LTC Aquilla James Dyess, USMC Reserve


Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

Born: 11 January 1909, Augusta, Ga.

Appointed from: Georgia.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines (Rein), 4th Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces during the assault on Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, 1 and 2 February 1944.

Undaunted by severe fire from automatic Japanese weapons, Lt. Col. Dyess launched a powerful final attack on the second day of the assault, unhesitatingly posting himself between the opposing lines to point out objectives and avenues of approach and personally leading the advancing troops. Alert, and determined to quicken the pace of the offensive against increased enemy fire, he was constantly at the head of advance units, inspiring his men to push forward until the Japanese had been driven back to a small center of resistance and victory assured. While standing on the parapet of an antitank trench directing a group of infantry in a flanking attack against the last enemy position, Lt. Col. Dyess was killed by a burst of enemy machine gun fire. His daring and forceful leadership and his valiant fighting spirit in the face of terrific opposition were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

I learned about LTC Dyess when I visited the Augusta, GA Museum of History a few months ago. There is a display set up to honor him and his family donated his Medal of Honor to the museum.

XB-70 Valkyrie

In my opinion, this is one of the most interesting-looking bombers to ever fly, the XB-70 Valkyrie, designed by North American Aviation. It was intended to be a supersonic, nuclear- armed, deep penetration bomber. It was designed way back when military planners thought that the B-52 would be retired by the late 1960s. (They were way wrong and the common belief is that the last pilot of the B-52 has not yet been born.)

The Valkyrie was designed to fly at or above 70,000 feet and at speeds up to Mach 3 to avoid being targeted by interceptor fight aircraft, the only effective way of defending against high altitude bombers at the time of the XB-70's design. Only two were ever built and the program was canceled in 1961 when it became apparent that the new surface to air missiles made high altitude attack untenable. This was most evident when the U-2 "Dragon Lady" piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 by a volley of SA-2 Guideline missiles. The Valkyrie was later used for high speed and altitude testing, and some of their technology resurfaced in the B-1 Lancer and SR-71 Blackbird.

3 views of the XB-70

The Valkyrie was an advanced design, making use of honeycombed steel and titanium to combat the high temperatures that the airframe reached at supersonic speeds. The XB-70 was built around a large delta wing, common in designs of the time, and used supersonic technologies from the Mach 3 Navajo. One of its most interesting features is the use of compression lift. This created a shock wave below the aircraft that would increase the lift of the wing by 5%, giving the Valkyrie greater ceiling, range, and efficiency. The compression lift was generated by a wedge on the engine inlets. The design of the Valkyrie was different from almost every other aircraft in its time, in that the outer sections of the wing was hinged so that it could be pivoted down up to 65 degrees. The effect was to increase the directional stability of the the XB-70 when it was traveling at supersonic speeds and strengthen the effect of the compression lift. When the wingtips were pointed down, more of the shock wave would be trapped under the wings, increasing the lift.

General characteristics

Data from USAF XB-70 Fact sheet


Early designs featured wing tip fuel tanks that could be jettisoned with the wing tips

Sadly, one of the XB-70s was lost in a terrible collision between the Valkyrie and a F-104 Starfighter in 1966. The F-104 pilot and the co-pilot of the XB-70 were killed and the pilot of the Valkyrie severely injured by the clamshell escape pod that closed on his left arm as he ejected.

XB-70 Valkyrie seconds after impact with a F-104 Starfighter

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Guns of Bonnie and Clyde

Despite what nice people would like, everyone else is always fascinated by the guns of the famous criminals. Two of the most famous criminals in history were Bonnie and Clyde Barrow. During the "Public Enemy Era" criminals were looked at in a different way by many of the people who had been victimized and impoverished by the rich bankers and the emerging powerful corporations. Many people saw them as people driven to the edge that were only taking back what was stolen from them and striking back at a society and Government that let the Depression cause so much harm to so many. The interest that still exists for people like Bonnie and Clyde cannot be denied. They were known to be quite skilled with their weapons, and unlike most criminals, they practiced with them and maintained them. They are considered to be responsible for the deaths of at least 9 law enforcement officers and and unknown number of civilians.

Just some of the weapons carried by Bonnie and Clyde the day they were killed

The most famous firearm of the 1930s was without a doubt the Thompson submachine gun. While it was favored by many of the famous gangsters, Clyde Barrow was known to prefer the .30-06 Browning Automatic Rifle, a much more powerful gun capable of powering through walls, bullet proof vests, and even the heavy steel of 1930's automobiles. At least one of the BARs owned by Clyde Barrow was cut down on the barrel and stock to make it more maneuverable for the mounted and urban combat that was so common for the Depression era bank robbers. Another famous weapon of the pair was the sawed-off Browning Semi Auto shotgun. The Browning Auto 5, as it is known, was considered the best semi automatic shotgun design until the rise of the truly modern Benelli and Beretta designs in the last 15 or so years. Loaded with 00 Buckshot, it is capable of discharging 40 .32 caliber lead pellets in about 2 seconds. This would be absolutely devastating for anything in its path, out to about 75 yards. The Barrows were also said to favor the Colt 1911 .45 automatic, a pistol that is still among the most favored by people who know firearms. They were also known to use the common .32 and .380 version of the Colt 1903 Pocket.Hammerless. Many of the weapons used by the pair were taken from Police Officers and police stations. Several BARs were taken in a raid on the National Guard Armory in Enid, Oklahoma.

Bonnie Parker with the cut-down Browning semi-automatic shotgun

When Bonnie and Clyde were killed on May 23, 1934 by Texas and Louisiana police officers, their Ford V8 was filled with:

Three .30 caliber. Browning Automatic Rifles
One 20 gauge “sawed-off” shotgun
One 10 gauge “sawed-off” shotgun
One .32 caliber Colt automatic pistol
One .380 caliber Colt automatic pistol
One Colt .45 caliber “Double Action” revolver
Seven M1911 .45 caliber automatic pistols
One-hundred rounds on machine gun clips
Three-thousands rounds of ammunition

That arsenal would be envied by most any gun collector today. It is as much or more ammunition than the terrorists that perpetrated the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 had.
There are some of military units in the world today that don't have that much firepower. but as you can see, it didn't help them much in the end. On the day of the ambush, Bonnie and Clyde never even got off a shot.

Bonnie and Clydes' bullet-riddled Ford Model B V8

Monday, February 8, 2010

Armored Vehicles: Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV)

This is a new, experimental vehicle for the USMC. It is known as the Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV). Hopefully it will get some awesome, mean-ass name soon. Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments. It is based on a M1 Abrams Tank chassis. Its purpose is to clear the route for other allied vehicles and troops. In many ways, it is the the Marines' answer to the threat that is posed by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and mines, which have been the greatest cause of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The M1 series of tanks, with its heavily armored underbody, is probably the most mine resistant vehicle in the current US arsenal and the ABV will probably be the best of the series in that respect.

To clear and combat hidden explosives the Assault Breacher is equipped with a variety of systems, such as a full-width mine plow, two linear demolition charges, and a lane-marking system. The crew cabin is covered in reactive armor to provide additional protection against modern RPGs and guided anti-tank missiles. The vehicle mounts a M2HB .50 caliber machine gun in a remote station for defense against infantry and light vehicles and the turret has been replaced with a reinforced steel superstructure. There are also smoke and chaff grenade launchers that cover the front arc of the vehicle. You have to give it some points for looking mean too. I mean look at this thing. It looks like it eats refrigerators.

The Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV) operates as part of the combined arms task force and is assigned to and employed by Combat Engineers. It is meant to breaching capability to the assault force of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF). It is fast and mobile enough to keep up with the tanks, APCs and other vehicles. In addition to IEDs and mines, the ABV will likely be able to destroy many types of static obstacles such as sand berms, barricades, and so forth. I sure as hell wouldn't stand in front of it. The ABV will be able to clear a lane that is wide enough for the assault forces and will be operated by a two-man crew with an option for remote control. The Assault Breacher will allow assault units to move rapidly through mine fields and trapped roads, destroying the enemies' ability to make use of obstacles and IEDs to slow or trap and have an opportunity to mass fires or establish defenses.

The linear demolition charges are known as theM58 Mine Clearing Line Charge (MICLIC).
It is fired via rocket toward an enemy mine field and is filled with explosives. The idea is that the blast and concussion of the charges will set off all the mines, leaving a clear path 8 by 100 meters long through the field. It makes a huge explosion and is reportedly one of the loudest weapons used by anyone. It contains 5 pounds of C4 explosive per linear foot and is 350 feet long. That is 1750 pounds of C4. You could probably destroy a few blocks of houses with that much explosive.

ABV firing a mine clearing charge

Monday, February 1, 2010

Weird Guns - Colt Defender Mark I

I found these two photos a while back, but haven't posted them because I wanted to find more information on them so that I would sound smarter. This is the Colt Defender Mark I, an eight barrel, 20 gauge shotgun, chambered for 3 inch magnums. Now, I shall copy paste that last sentence so the awesomeness can fully soak into you.

This is the Colt Defender Mark I, an eight barrel, 20 gauge shotgun, chambered for 3 inch magnums.


The Colt Defender was designed by a man named Robert Hillberg in 1967 and was an outgrowth of an earlier weapon called the Liberator. They were both intended as weapons to arm a resistance, guerrilla, or insurgent force. As this was the Cold War era, the enemies these people would be fighting are assumed to be the forces of World Communism. There were some simple criteria for the weapons. They needed to be very inexpensive, easy to operate and maintain, and have a good first shot hit probability and a good first hit kill probability. Hillberg felt that a shotgun was good for all of these criteria. They are relatively simple and cheap to manufacture, when using a load like buckshot, they are both easy to use and very lethal at short range. Both the Liberator and Defender were intended to be used by forces with little or no training and so long range shots were not a part of its design. An interesting feature of the design is that the weapon is able to fire like a semi-automatic manner, without having the mechanically complexity (and inherent occasional failures) of most semi auto designs. Like the Liberator before it, the Defender possessed semi-automatic like fire without the complexity of the semi-automatic gun. It was extremely simple to operate and very robust. Hillberg believe that the double action trigger mechanism was ideal for law enforcement applications, as it minimized familiarity and training requirements.

While he believed the initial concept was good, Hillberg tried to increase its appeal with some modifications. The chambering was reduced from 12 gauge to 20 gauge 3 inch magnum so that the weapon could be more easily controlled and smaller. The design was finalized to have eight 12 inch barrels around a central axis. The trigger is of a double action design. It was slightly less than 18 inches overall and weighed over 8 pounds. It was coated with an epoxy finish and was mainly constructed of aluminum with steel parts for high stress areas.

The Defender Mark I was offered in four configurations: The first was a simplified one, with no special features. The second version had a barrel selector that allowed the operator to choose any one of the eight barrels to fire. In theory, this would allow the user to have the weapon loaded with different types of ammunition like less lethal rounds and to choose the most appropriate loading. The third version had a canister of tear gas mounted in the space between the barrels, activated by a trigger in the foregrip. The final version had both the barrel selector and the tear gas canister.

When Hillberg brought the weapon to Colt, they were fairly impressed by the design, but decided to perform some marketing survey of some police departments. It received pretty positive reviews, especially for its volume of fire. One can certainly understand that the amazingly ferocious appearance of the weapon was appreciated as well. Unfortunately, the weapon was shelved by Colt around 1971 as the national recession and end of US involvement in the Vietnam made made Colt think that there would not be a sufficient market for the weapon.

The Defender was maybe the most "different" shotgun designs ever invented. In many ways, Robert Hillberg deserves praise for simply "thinking out of the box". It is compact, mechanically simple, very cheap to produce, extremely powerful and they had a pretty good reputation for reliability.

SOCOM in Afghanistan

I don't have much information on this picture, but I thought it was amazing. Click on it to see the hi-res version. It is a Special Operations team being inserted to a mountaintop via UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter in somewhere in Afghanistan. I hope it wasn't very windy that day, but I am willing to bet it was.

This Day in History- February 1

On this day, the 1st of February in 1968, a very famous photograph was taken in South Vietnam. Probably the most iconic photo of the Vietnam War, even more so than the My Lai photo.

What photograph am I speaking of?

On this day, the chief of police in Saigon, Nguyen Ngoc Loan, executed a captured Viet Cong officer with a pistol shot to the head. For those of you who don't know, there is no real debate about who the man getting shot was. He was captured fighting in civilian clothes, and was by definition, a spy and saboteur.

Australian Gun Identification Chart

There has been a lot in the "Firearms Media" about Australia and their efforts to eradicate private ownership of firearms. Many people seem to believe that crime has increased since the ban has been enacted. I just find the idea of all those beautiful old Enfields being crushed and burned so sad. I would be happy to buy them straight from the Australian Government for $180.00 a piece, they could spend the money on gun control efforts. Everyone would be happy. Other than the Australian former gun owners.