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Bringing down the house

A WWII-era staple, the M2 105mm howitzer was a handy little popgun tipping the scales at 5,000-pounds. Over 10,000 specimens were produced by 1953 when the line ended in favor of the more advanced M102 howitzer which was adopted in the 1960s.

Still, with all those M2s out there, the gun remained in active service in Vietnam and the Cold War with Guard and reserve units, only just being put to pasture for good in the 1990s when the new fangled M119 light 105 started coming online.

However, for decades they have fought another sort of “cold war,” as they have been a standard of the U.S. Forest Service who use them in avalanche control. You see the service had started using 106mm Recoilless Rifles but had three pretty stout accidents with their finicky rounds and needed something more effective– which left the old M2 (rebranded the M101 in the 1960s) as an ideal replacement.

“Howitzers have performed very well as avalanche control weapons and their users tend to be very enthusiastic about their capabilities,” reads a history from the USDA Forest Service National Avalanche Center. “They do not have a dangerous backblast, they are much less loud, and users can fire them from beneath a covered structure, protected from harsh winter elements.”

In Canadian service, the M2/M101 is known as the C3 howitzer, and 17 of them get a workout every year keeping Rogers Pass in BC open to traffic. Not bad for 70-year-old field guns.

Still clocking in wherever needed

The Browning Hi-Power was a first (and has remained a constant) love. I mean all the good parts of John Moses Browning’s 1911– single action/light trigger, all-steel construction, the simplicity of maintenance, long sight radius contributing to accuracy– while ditching the goofy barrel bushing, thinning the profile, and nearly doubling the capacity from 7+1 to 13+1.

Like my circa-1943 FN Browning Pistole 640 Hi-Power circa-1943 FN Browning Pistole 640 Hi-Power. It like lots of Winchester White Box 124 grain FMJ.

At one time or another, more than 50 countries had adopted the BHP during WWII and the Cold War. However, as lighter (polymer) and more modern (accessory rails, night sights, modular ergonomics) combat handguns have come to market since the 1980s, the old warhorse has been increasingly put to pasture.

Except in Commonwealth countries like India, Australia, and Canada, where they are still seeing regular use, even if they are a bit long in the tooth.

Canadian Browning Inglis Task Force Mali conducted small arms training near Gao, Mali Feb 2019

More in my column at

So long Canuck Sea Kings

The Sikorsky S-61, best known as the iconic SH-3 Sea King, first flew on 11 March 1959. Besides its use as the U.S. Navy’s standard SAR and ASW helicopter until it was finally replaced by the SH60/MH-60 (although the Marines of HMX-1 still use it for Marine One duties), at least 15 countries flew the big Sea King. The Royal Navy finally put the bird to pasture in 2015, leaving Canada as one of the last front-line operators.

The Canadians picked up 41 early SH-3s in 1963 as kits assembled by United Aircraft of Canada as their primary ship-borne maritime helicopter and have kept them running for 55 years. The fleet has flown in excess of 550,000 combined hours which at cruising speed of an SH-3 is roughly equivalent to flying 7,200 times around the Earth, or the equivalent of the distance from Earth to Mars.

The Canadian Armed Forces gave a final salute to the type, which they term the CH-124, in a parade held last week at CFB Esquimalt in Victoria, B.C., flown by 443 Squadron, the last operational Sea King unit the country.

“The Royal Canadian Navy has been well served by the Sea King – our longest range weapon and sensor – for decades,” said VADM M. F. Ron Lloyd, Commander of the RCN. “It was an honour to fly with the crew of Black Horse, the helicopter deployed with HMCS St. John’s, during the Sea King’s last operational deployment supporting NATO assurance measures this summer. Canada’s Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force continue to forge ahead with an exciting new chapter, marked by the first operational deployment of Avalanche, the Cyclone helicopter currently deployed on NATO operations with HMCS Ville de Quebec.”

The last overseas deployment for the Sea King came during the first half of 2018 aboard HMCS St. John’s as part of Operation Reassurance.

A mix of old and new at Connaught

This month is the annual Canadian Armed Forces Small Arms Concentration, in which some 300 shooters from Canada’s military as well as teams from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the United States are competing. First organized back in 1868, the modern event is held at the Connaught Ranges and Primary Training Centre in Ottawa and has lots of hardware on display, both old and new.

Nothing quite tells the story like this shot, showing a Canadian Forces member in CADPAT with their Colt-Canada C7A2 and Elcan sight, followed by a Britsh Army competitor in their newly-adopted Multi-Terrain Pattern (MTP) camouflage armed their likewise-new SA80A3 (L85A3) Enfield and holstered Glock 17. At the end, a Canadian Ranger with a No. 4 Lee-Enfield.

The Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, part-time soldiers who range across the country’s wildest expanses, are still outfitted with .303 Enfield rifles, although the C-19 Sako in .308 is replacing them:

(Photos: Canadian Forces)

Another classic, the Browning-Inglis Hi-Power, produced in Toronto during WWII, are also still in service with the Canadians. Note the Glock 17s used by the Brits and Dutch on the range.

British soldiers with the new and improved SA80A3, the latest version of the Enfield L85 bullpup rifle which, for better or worse, replaced the classic FAL in the 1980s.

More in my  column at


Operation Cottage at 75, or the time the Canuks were really welcome in Alaska

Here we see a well-kitted Canadian corporal, probably of the 13th Brigade (consisting of the 2/Canadian Scottish, 1/Brockville Rifles, and 1/Edmonton Fusiliers), inspecting a captured Japanese Type 96 or 99 light machine gun, on the foggy and windswept island of Kiska, in the Aleutian chain of the U.S. Territory of Alaska, 16 Aug 1943.

Note the M1 rifle in 30.06…rather than the more traditional Canadian Longbranch SMLE in .303

As a sideshow to the Battle of Midway, the Japanese occupied Kiska with 500 IJN Special Landing Force marines on 6 June 1942 and, though they reinforced the garrison with another 8,000~ sundry troops to include a mini-sub base, by 28 July 1943, they shagged ass when it appeared the U.S. was coming back to take the island in force– one of the very rare instances when the Japanese withdrew from an island rather than fight for it to the last man in the Pacific War.

Part of huge 100-ship Allied fleet at anchor in Adak Harbor in Aleutians, ready to move against Kiska (NARA/U.S. Army Air Forces/Horace Bristol)

On August 15, 1943, the U.S. 7th Infantry Division (with the 87th Mountain Rgt, which later grew into the 10th Mountain Div) and the Canadian 13th Infantry Brigade along with the joint 1st Special Service Force, landed on Kiska as part of Operation Cottage and amazingly suffered over 300 casualties in the two-day operation, from friendly fire.

Lessons learned.

Bearded Gunner’s Mate. Stands by a 20mm anti-aircraft machinegun, mounted in a shore emplacement at an advanced base in the Aleutians, circa 1942-1943. Note cigar. Photographed by Lieutenant Commander Horace Bristol. U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. .

A closer look at Canada’s most niche survival rifle

Meant primarily for emergency hunting and fending off polar bears rather than parting the hair of a Russian submariner, the C19 rifle is definitely unique to the needs of those that use it.

In the above video members of the Canadian Rangers are shown in Newfoundland meeting their newly issued .308 Win-chambered bolt guns for the first time and getting the 411 on nomenclature and the rifle’s specifics. Based on the Sako T3 CTR (Compact Tactical Rifle) with tweaks for the Rangers as they have to use their guns in whiteout conditions at -50 C weather.

The cold weather testing, by Colt Canada, who is making the C19 under license from Sako.

Said differences include an oversize bolt and trigger guard so that it can be used with heavy gloves (you don’t want to touch metal with bare hands when it’s that cold) as well as a high-viz laminated stock complete with the Ranger crest.

More on the C19 over in my column.

One heck of a RIMPAC line

(U.S. Navy photo by Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Steven Robles/Released)

“PACIFIC OCEAN (June 24, 2018) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett (DDG 104), front, participates in a photo exercise with Chilean frigate Almirante Lynch (FF-07), second, Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Ottawa (FFH 341), third, French Navy Floreal-class frigate FS Prairial (F-731), fourth, United States Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL-750), fifth, the dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE 10), sixth, and Royal Canadian Navy replenishment ship NRU Asterix (H-123). Sterett is part of Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group scheduled to participate in the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise 2018. ”

Interestingly, the newest (to naval service) of the above is the auxiliary oiler replenishment (AOR) vessel MV Asterix, a 26,000-ton Liberian-flagged commercial container ship converted and taken into service by the Royal Canadian Navy just four months ago to fill the gap left in the RCNs retirement of their 1960s-era Protecteur-class auxiliaries.

Asterix carries two CH-148 Cyclones and a number of small boats including RHIBS and LCVPs and, according to the RCN, “The vessel can carry 10,000 tons of marine fuel and over 100 tons of aviation fuel with large freshwater tanks. In addition, MV Asterix can provide a large-scale medical response with a fully fitted hospital. It also contains an emergency dormitory for up to 350 evacuees. What is more, the vessel’s galleys are well suited for major humanitarian operations. They can provide 500 cooked meals per hour.”

Asterix is planned to be under contract with Ottawa until 2021(ish) when the second of the two planned Queenston-class support ships will join the fleet.

Also, six ships from three Commonwealth Navies sailed in company across the Pacific Ocean on the way to Hawaii in a flattop-centric task force.

HMA Ships Adelaide, Melbourne, Success and Toowoomba were joined by HMCS Vancouver of the Royal Canadian Navy and HMNZS Te Mana of the Royal New Zealand Navy. The ships conducted Officer of the Watch Manoeuvres and flying operations during the transit.

Imagery by ABIS Christopher Szumlanski © Commonwealth of Australia



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