Is it 1991 again?

So three things happened over the weekend.

#1 & #2, the Navy christened two brand new Virginia-class SSN’s on the same day (Saturday) some 500 miles part when they broke bottles at Newport News for the future USS Delaware (SSN 791) at 10 a.m and at Groton for the future USS Vermont (SSN 792) at 11 a.m. Importantly, Delaware is the last of the Block III Virginia’s and Vermont is the first of the Block IVs as these boats increasingly replace the old 688s.

181020-N-LW591-159 Groton, Conn. (Oct. 20, 2018) Ship sponsor Gloria Valdez, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and Acquisitions), breaks a bottle of wine produced by a Vermont vineyard to christen the Virginia-class, fast-attack submarine Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Vermont (SSN 792), during a ceremony at Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut. PCU Vermont is the third U.S. Navy vessel to be named in honor of the state of Vermont and the 19th Virginia-class, fast-attack submarine. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Steven Hoskins/Released)

And in the “welcome to Red Storm Rising, redux:”

For the first time in nearly 30 years, a U.S. aircraft carrier entered the Arctic Circle Oct. 19 to conduct operations in the Norwegian Sea.

“Accompanied by select ships from Carrier Strike Group Eight (CSG-8), the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) traveled north to demonstrate the flexibility and toughness of U.S. naval forces through high-end warfare training with regional allies and partners. USS America (CV 66) was the last ship to operate in the area, participating in NATO exercise North Star in September 1991.”

181019-N-EA818-0127 NORWEGIAN SEA (Oct. 19, 2018) An F/A-18E Super Hornet, assigned to the “Sunliners” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 81, launches from the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). For the first time in nearly 30 years, a U.S. aircraft carrier has entered the Arctic Circle. Accompanied by select ships from Carrier Strike Group Eight (CSG- 8), Harry S. Truman traveled north to demonstrate the flexibility and toughness of U.S. naval forces through high-end warfare training with regional allies and partners. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley/Released)

HST will be taking part in Trident Juncture, which sprawls across Norway and the surrounding areas of the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea, including Iceland and the airspace of Finland and Sweden from Oct. 25 to Nov. 23.

More than 50,000 participants – including 14,000 U.S. service members – are expected to participate, utilizing approximately 150 aircraft, 65 ships, and more than 10,000 vehicles in support of the exercise.

Part of the surge is an amphibious landing in Iceland that includes Iwo Jima‘s Amphibious Ready Group:

Which was not lost on MCT:

Everything old is new again…I feel like I should be playing Harpoon, optimized for Windows 2.11.

A German Dragon, by way of Solingen, Tientsin and Canberra

From the collection of The Australian War Memorial comes this great German-made sword used by the Qi Army in the twilight of Imperial China:

Imperial German Model 1889 sword and scabbard. The grip is brown bakelite held to the tang by two steel rivets and has an oval steel pommel. The blade is a single edge, pipe back with a double edge spear point. The ricasso is stamped with E&F. HORSTER SOLINGEN and there is a leather washer where the blade meets the guard. The steel scabbard is plain with two fixed rings on a band at 50 mm and 150 mm from the throat which is held to the body by two screws. Attached to the lower ring is a chain that is connected to a broken brown leather hanger strap with a brass buckle in the center.

Founded in 1850, Hörster E. & F. Co., Solingen, made military edged weapons through WWII.

The hilt has a half basket steel guard with a Chinese dragon as the cartouche badge.

This sword was brought back from China by a member of the Victorian Naval Contingent in 1900.

Group portrait of Australian Naval Brigade who served in the Boxer Rebellion, 1900-1901

Way to fish or cut bait, HK

I love weird German pistols. There, I said it. A large part of my handgun collection are oddball Teutonic gatts to include a Lignose Einhandpistole 2A, an Ortgies (Bananafish!), a 1920 Mauser M1914 and others. Even in newer guns, such as the Walther P38 and Sig P-series, I find myself gravitating to the more curious P4 and P6 variants as they are…well..different.

And that’s the thing with HK’s Volkspistole VP9 series 9mm. While Heckler und Koch has brought out a number of different finishes (midnight bronze?) and even size variants (VP9SK, anyone?) of this polymer-framed striker-fired pistol designed by Herr Henninger over the past four years, they have all had the same funky Euro paddle-style magazine release.

Well, until now.

After teasing a push-button release for the U.S. market for over 18 months, HK finally gave the Volks what they vant and dropped this bad boy last week:

Guess I can’t love it anymore by that logic. But maybe I will as I see they are running about $550ish at retailers already.

More in my column at

Zveroboy #196

Whenever October-November starts creeping in, I find myself thinking in of the men and women of The Corvin (Kisfaludy) Passage. Those freedom fighters in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 held out against the Soviets and the country’s puppet regime in bitter street fighting that pitted a handful of insurgents with largely small arms against a modern Eastern European military force that had cut its teeth in nasty house-to-house combined arms operations a generation before.

Among the hottest parts of Budapest during the conflict was the Corvin Cinema, which was used as the headquarters of revolution leader László Iván Kovács. The narrow streets around the cinema allowed Kovacs’ 1,000~ irregulars to hold off a full Soviet mechanized infantry division, and, using Molotov cocktails and improvised anti-tank weapons, the Covin group knocked out 12 tanks including a few massive ISU-152s– itself a heavy assault gun fielded by the Soviets in the last days of WWII. Termed the zveroboy (Russian: “beast killer”) it was designed to smash through concrete bunkers and Panther/Tiger tanks with ease.

The Covin group held their position for 15 days. But one of the most iconic fixtures from Corvin captured by Western journalists covering the fighting was ISU-152 #196 and its partner, abandoned by its crew along József Boulevard.

Street fighters with PPS sub guns and swagger

It can be seen in a number of images from those days.

An M44 Mosin-armed Hungarian soldier, wearing an armband marking his defection to the anti-Communist insurgents.

A young Hungarian girl emerges from a building housing resistance fighters carrying a Mauser. 196 is a street cart

Note the knocked out T-34/85 in the right

I can’t find out what happened to #196. The Soviets likely scrapped it as to not be a lesson to those that the iron giant could be stopped by determination. That the beast-killer itself was a monster when viewed through the lens of those in Budapest.

As for the fighters, it is estimated that the three-week Revolution resulted in the combat deaths of 722 Soviet troops and some 2,500-3,000 Hungarians. To this figure can be added some 253 Hungarians executed or died in prison for their part in the Revolution.

Baltic Panzerhaubitze, fresh from staring down the Soviets and Yugoslavs

After Austria de-Anschluss’ed in 1945, their Army was no-existant for a decade until the (largely token) Bundesheer was formed in 1955. Holding a cautious neutrality during the Cold War, the ‘Heer was in large part obsolete on purpose for much of the conflict: a force in being that could provide a competent defense if invaded but not so much that neighbors would think it a threat.

Then, very rapidly after the Cold War, Yugoslavia fell literally to pieces and the series of increasingly nasty wars between its former components broke out. With the prospect that it could spill over its common border, the Austrians looked to beef up. At the same time, the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), its largest armored force post-WWII, was stood down leaving lots of surplus kit available in London. It was kismet and Vienna in 1992 bought 112 early-production (1970s) M109A2 and A3 155mm self-propelled howitzers for a song and, in conjunction with Switzerland, began a program to update these guns which the Brits were keen to be rid of as they were fielding their new L131/AS-90.

The rebuilt gun– with a longer tube to extend the range to 30km, new NORA inertial navigation system coupled with a new gun-laying system and more ammunition storage– became known as the Panzerhaubitze M109 A5Ö (PzHb M109 A5Ö) and started to be fielded in 1994. The guns were comparable to the U.S. M109A6 Paladin, although with a disco-era hull.

Austrian Panzerhaubitze M109 155 (Via Bundsheer)

Fast forward to 2017. With the Balkans settled down but the Baltics under increasing stress due to the Russian bear next door, Latvia went ahead with a deal to buy 47 of the now-surplus A5Os from Austria, many of which had been in storage for a decade.

Now, all 47 have been delivered, and for a quoted price of between €60,000 and €140,000 depending on condition per gun, is a deal.

Which goes to show that even twice-previously owned howitzers are still marketable, depending on which way the wind blows.

Latvian M109AO5 howitzer

For those stakeouts…

I ran across one of these at SHOT Show in January and it was under wraps at the time as it was still in the prototype stage but I thought it was kinda cool.

One of the newest companies to join the “not a shotgun” pistol grip firearm market, Ithaca now has their new model available in a choice of finishes and bore.

The bottom is what I think is billed as their “Patriotic” finish. I’d take the top although, with the lack of padded Shockwave grip, this bad boy is gonna smart to shoot on 3-inch 00 shells…

Offered in either 12 or 20 gauge, Ithaca says their new Stakeout II series is a Model 37 style action that pays tribute to the “classic trench guns of the past century,” but I think they should have gone with the whole stakeout gun angle as it was obvious.

At just 26.75-inches long overall, the new Ithaca features a 14-inch chrome moly barrel in a set-up pioneered by the popular Mossberg Shockwave and Remington TAC-14 in recent years.

Bad news? They want $750-$850 for it, which is about twice what the Mossy and Remmy cost, so there is that…

Anyways, more in my column at

4.5 Engage!

The Royal Navy is on point when it comes to photography lately.

For example, look at this long-exposure shot of the Type 23 Duke-class frigate HMS Argyll (F231) during a Night GUNEX as part of the recent Bersama Lima 18 exercise in the Western Pacific letting loose a star shell from her BAE 4.5 inch Mk 8 naval gun.

Her motto: Ne Obliviscaris, “Lest We Forget” and she is the third ship to carry the name in the RN since 1715.

Commissioned in 1991, the 27-year old Argyll is the oldest frigate in HMs fleet ever since HMS Cornwall, the last Type 22 frigate, retired from service on 30 June 2011 as her slightly older classmates Norfolk and Marlborough were sold to Chile in 2007-08.

But she can still rock.

The U.S. Navy and the Western Pacific

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