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Jack Warne has passed the bar

Jack Warne spent over 50 years in the gun industry across two continents. (Photo: Warne Scope Mounts)

Firearms designer and gun culture legend John “Jack” Llewellyn Warne, responsible for the birth of at least three iconic shooting industry brands, has died at age 96.

Raised in the small town of Kimba, South Australia, a 23-year-old Warne went on to found Sporting Arms Limited, best known as Sportco, in 1947. At the time, Sportco was the only private gun maker in Australia and over the next three decades produced dozens of rifle models, with Warne at the drawing board for their designs.

Of course, he would later leap the Pacific in a single bound and, with his son, found Kimber of Oregon and Warne scope mounts.

Vale, Jack. You were one of a kind.

The Last Ozzie Aardvark

Back in the 1960s, there were big plans for the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark. It was intended to arm both the U.S. Air Force and Navy as well as overseas allies as an interceptor and fighter bomber that could be used as a strategic bomber and recon plane in a pinch. Most of those roles– and users– never materialized but in the end, some 563 F/EF-111s of all kinds were produced and used by the U.S. and Royal Australian Air Forces.

Photo Courtesy of RAAF (1 Squadron F111 A8-114 near Cunningham’s Gap, Qld) F-111C

RAAF No. 1 Squadron F-111C #A8-114 near Cunningham’s Gap, Qld

While the USAF pulled the type for good in 1998, they continued to soldier on Down Under until much more recently. Flown by No. 1 and No. 6 Squadron RAAF out of Amberley, the 28 Australia-unique F-111C/RF-111C models were on the front line until 2010, arguably the most capable strike aircraft in South East Asia.

One of the more historic of the RAAF fleet was RF-111C #A8-134, which was delivered by Gen Dyn in 1973. After service as a strike bomber, in 1980 reconnaissance and tactical equipment was added to a special bay in its underbelly to turn it into a camera bird, a task it maintained until retirement on 3 December 2010.

Handover of RF-111C #A8-134 by the Royal Australian Air Force to the Memorial May 29, 2019

A8-134 has now been handed over to the Australian War Memorial and will be housed at the Treloar Technology Centre in Mitchell.

Colossus, the original

The Royal Navy has counted six warships named HMS Colossus over the centuries to include– possibly the best known among modern scholars– the Colossus-class dreadnought battleship of Jutland fame. Other famous vessels with the same name are the class-leading WWII-era light aircraft carrier that went on to be the French Indochina-era flattop Arromanches (R95), and a previous early battleship of the 1880s.

Going even further back, the first Colossus in the Royal Navy was the 74-gun Courageux-class third rate ship of the line launched at Gravesend on 4 April 1787. Fighting at the Siege of Toulon and the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, the latter one of the greatest British naval victories that no one has ever heard of, she was lost in bad weather off Samson Island in the windswept Isles of Scilly in December 1798.

Extensively salvaged in the 20th Century, divers discovered eight cannons in the 1970s and brought to the surface. Five were retained by a chap named Roger Smith, who brought them to Tasmania, Australia. One was provided to Penny Royal Gunpowder Mills where it takes part in displays.

Now, three of Smith’s guns, a 32-pdr, and two 24-pdrs, just went to auction with an estimate of between $4,000 and $5,000. Too bad it was in Australia.

Z Unit, actual

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about the suppressed M3 Grease Guns and Attack Force Z, here we see Capt. Henry William Nicholls, MC, (NX15737) of the Royal Australian Army Z Special Unit in 1945. Note his paratrooper’s “cherry beret,” and STEN gun– which was much more commonly used, along with the native Australian Owen, than the M3.

Portrait by Geoffrey Mainwaring IWM ART24249

Prior to joining the Z commandos, Nicholls served and a lieutenant with 2/1 Australian Pioneer Battalion in Benghazi and Tobruk where he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry at the age of 20. He celebrated his 21st birthday during the epic North African siege. After service in Palestine, Nicholls returned to Australia and qualified as a paratrooper with 1 Australian Parachute Battalion.

In 1943 he joined Z Special Unit. Operating in New Guinea, he led a party ashore in the Wewak area prior to its capture by 6th Australian Division and in Borneo helped recover the six survivors of the Sandakan death march.

Nicholls was discharged after the war, but in 1950, he re-joined the army to fight in Korea. As a major with the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, he was twice recommended for decoration in 1952 and 53, a ripe old man at 33.

Silent Grease

When I was a kid, I loved the early 1980s Australian action flick, Attack Force Z, which was loosely based on the Z Special Unit actions of WWII.

Sadly, and not to ruin the movie, but Z ops often turned into suicide missions in which many teams just were never heard from again. Especially great in the movie is the first few minutes, which show a Royal Australian Navy Oberon-class submarine surfacing and, decks almost awash, discharge the commandos in their boats.

Of note, the Z commandos in the movie use suppressed M3 Grease Guns to good effect. So naturally, I went all a ga-ga when I saw this in Indy last month.

More in my column at Guns.com.

What a great collection of uniforms and mustaches, 123 years ago

Members of the New South Wales Medical Staff Corps School of Instruction held on 5 & 6 May 1896 in Newcastle, Australia, showing an excellent cross-section of NSW militia uniforms in the last days of the 19th Century.

(Photo Australian Department of Defence through A.J. Withers)

They are, from the left (standing), NSW Artillery Corps Officer name unknown, Surgeon Captain J.L. Beeston, Surgeon Lieutenant F.H. Wrigley, Lieutenant G.R. Short of the NSW Artillery Corps; (seated), Surgeon Captain W. L’Estrange Eames, Surgeon Captain W.D.C. Williams and (rank not known) Nickson a surgeon in the NSW Naval Brigade. Captains Beeston and Williams and Lieutenant Short all served in the AIF, Short as a major and quartermaster in the 17th Battalion. Captain Eames commanded the Australian Voluntary Hospital (later known as No 32 Stationary Hospital) with the British Army in France.

You just thought they were preserved

A last haven for guns that would have otherwise been scrapped by authorities, an Australian firearms museum is now confronted with the possibility they may have to mutilate their own collection.

The Lithgow Small Arms Factory, which crafted Australian Lee-Enfields from 1912 into the 1950s when they switched to making inch-pattern semi-auto FAL rifles, is an icon in the country.

The Australians from the ANZACs of Gallipoli through Korea, more often than not, carried Lithgow-made Enfields, and then they switched to Lithgow made FALs…

Some two decades ago, a non-profit group turned portions of the facility into a museum to preserve both the factory and historic Australian firearms. Staffed by volunteers, they take legally in unregistered guns during national firearm amnesty periods rather than have them torched by police. “We exist for the community and display a range of artifacts of historical, educational and community value,” the museum said.

In short, they gave scarce guns a forever home.

Now, they may have to butcher their holdings– which is already under tight security controls and deactivated via trigger locks and removed firing pins– to the point that the often-rare and in many cases unique guns “will be reduced to a metal blob rather than a genuine firearm.”

The museum houses this incredibly rare No 6 Mk I Lithgow Enfield “Jungle Carbine,” one of only a handful made. It is slated to have a steel rod welded into its barrel, and that’s just for starters.

More in my column at Guns.com.

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