Category Archives: weapons

A Deeper Dive on BFRs

As part of my tour of Magnum Research, I unpeeled the onion so to speak on one of their lesser-known product lines, the BFR.

Originally named Brainerd’s First Revolver, as it was invented in that Minnesota town famous for Paul Bunyon and Babe the Blue Ox, in 1999, it has always been a Magnum Research product. Even with that being said, Jim Tertin, the guy behind the high-octane wheelgun, has been with the BFR since the beginning as has his first employee, Brett Pikula, who he hired in 2001.

Specializing in rifle-caliber rounds, (think lever-gun rimmed cased behemoths like the .45-70, .444 Marlin, and .30-30 WCF), Tertin told me the logic behind using these in a single-action revolver just makes sense.

“Rifle calibers in a handgun are extremely practical for a number of reasons,” explained Tertin. “You get a lot of horsepower, and the ammo is lower-cost than the high-performance handgun ammo.” Availability is also a factor, with Tertin explaining you can get .30-30 or .444 Marlin “at any sporting goods store,” whereas something like .50 AE is a little more expensive and harder to find.

More in my column at Guns.com.

And they looked from Sim to Real Life and Couldn’t tell the Difference

Check out the bridge of the new Paolo Thaon di Revel-class multipurpose offshore ships (Pattugliatore Polivalente d’Altura, PPA) built by Fincantieri for the Italian Navy, which is currently undergoing trials and qualifications. 

The 16 planned Revels are set to replace four Soldati-class light patrol frigates and eight Minerva-class corvettes. They will clock in at 6,270 tons full load, run 469-feet overall, are designed to make 31.6 knots on a CODAG plant. The crew is 170ish, slightly less than an FFG-7 from back in the day.

It should also be pointed out that, in its heavy version, the PPAs will be pretty heavily armed, at least in comparison to American frigates, with a 5″/64 main Vulcano gun, a 76mm/62 Strales gun, 16 CAMM-ER missiles, 8 Otomat strike missiles, a pair of remote-controlled 25mm stabilized deck guns, ASW torpedo tubes, and two SH90-sized helicopters in a double hangar.

So, I Went Behind the Scenes at Magnum Research

During my summer trip to the Great North filming episodes of Select Fire for Guns.com, I spent some time at Magnum Research in Pillager, Minnesota, to see how Desert Eagles and BFRs are made.

Yup, that’s a .45-70 revolver…

Now part of the Kahr Firearms Group along with other lines such as Thompson and Auto-Ordnance, Magnum Research was established in 1980 in The Gopher State, and the company’s best-known product, the Desert Eagle, began factory production in 1984 with serial number 3,001.

Fast forward over 35 years later and the “Deagle” remains the company’s most popular firearm.

 

For more and the full factory tour, check it out at GDC. 

Happy 157th QAMR!

Queen Alexandra’s Mounted Rifles, the oldest regular force unit in the New Zealand Army, turned 157 this month.

Formed 16 September 1864 as the Alexandra Troop of the Wanganui Cavalry Volunteers, the unit’s motto is Ake Ake Kia Kaha (Forever and Ever Be Strong). First deploying overseas in the Boer Wars, they continued to be very active in both World Wars as well as in recent years. 

Hard-riding New Zealand horse soldiers guard German prisoners of war captured in Palestine near Jericho in 1918.

As noted by the Army, “QAMR has a proud tradition of Operational service from South Africa, Egypt, Greece, Crete, North Africa, Italy and, more recently, in Bosnia and Afghanistan.”

These days, they ride iron horses as they have since 1942, today forming a squadron of NZLAVs, the Kiwi version of the LAV III 6×6.

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021: Behold, the Destroyerzooka

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021: Behold, the Destroyerzooka

Here we see the Soviet Orfey (Orpheus)-class destroyer Engels (formerly Desna) with his (Russian warships are always masculine by tradition) unique stern 12-inch (305mm) Kurchevsky pattern “Dynamo-Reactive” recoilless rifle, circa the summer of 1934. A tough little ship going past his goofy one-off experimental gun, he had an interesting life.

Background

With a shredded naval list after the Russo-Japanese War, having lost two out of three fleets, the Tsarist Imperial Navy needed new ships of every stripe in the 1910s as they were facing an increasingly modern Ottoman fleet in the Black Sea as well as the Swedes (always a possible opponent) and the German juggernaut in the Baltic. Part of the naval buildout was a series of 52 destroyers derived from the Novik.

Novik was a great destroyer for 1910. At some 1,600-tons full load, he could make 37.3 knots, which is still fast for a destroyer today, and carried four twin 18-inch torpedo tubes (eight tubes total) as well as four 4-inch guns.

The follow-on Orfey-class upgrade from Novik, planned to number 23 vessels, ended up being trimmed back to just 16 due to the Great War and Russia’s series of revolutions and civil war, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Some 1,440-tons when fully loaded, the 321-foot tin cans used a plant that had two Curtis-AEG-Vulkan turbines and four Normand-Vulkan boilers on two shafts to make 32 knots, making them still very fast for the age but slightly slower than the 6-boiler/3-turbine/3-shaft plant seen in Novik. However, they carried more torpedo tubes, a total of nine, in addition to their four 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns.

Ofrey class destroyer plan. These ships, benefiting from the Russo-Japanese war experience, had double the main transverse bulkheads of pre-1904 Russian destroyers with 12 watertight sections (each with their own pumping systems) as well as individually compartmentalized boilers, hence all the funnels. The keel was made of doubled 6mm steel sheets set at angles to each other, creating a double hull of sorts. Lacking true armor, the conning tower/bridge was made of half-inch ordnance steel sheets to provide splinter and small arms protection. Interestingly, the topside radio room (one 2 kW transmitter and two receivers) and two 45-cm searchlights were fed by a separate 10kW Penta kerosene dynamo protected centrally, rather than the rest of the ship’s power which was provided by two 20 kW turbo generators.

Desna, shown here in fitting out at the Kolpino Metalworks in Petrograd (Great War-era St. Petersburg) had nine 18-inch torpedo tubes.

Closer detail on those tubes

And even closer

His initial armament, as with the rest of the class, included four long-barreled 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns, one over the bow, and three crowding her stern. These could fire a 66-pound HE or 52-pound “Diving” shell at 12 rounds per minute, providing the crew was drilled properly, to a range of 17,600 yards. Two 150-shell magazines, fore, and aft, were installed below deck. The guns were directed by a 9-foot Barr & Stroud 30x stereoscopic rangefinder of RN F.Q. 2 pattern.

Laid down in November 1914, three months into the Great War, Desna was named after the famed tributary of the Dnieper that runs through Smolensk to Kyiv.

Commissioned 16 August 1916, he was rushed into operations and famously came to the defense of the heroic but obsolete Borodino-class battleship Slava during the long-running Battle of Moon Sound, in which the Russian battlewagon gave, by all accounts, a full measure against a much larger and more powerful German force.

Slava, after the Battle of Moon Sound

Helping to evacuate Slava’s crew, Desna fired torpedoes into the stricken battlewagon to prevent it from falling into German hands. Desna’s brother, Grom, was sunk during the operation.

Caption: A newly -completed Destroyer of the improved “Novik” Type, either DESNA (1915-1941) or AZARD (1916-1919). Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1983. Catalog #: NH 94295

Same, NH 94294

Same, NH 94296

Civil War

Becoming part of the Red Baltic Fleet by default during the Russian Revolution and Civil War, Desna took part in the “Ice Campaign” during which the force broke through the frozen Baltic to escape Helsinki ahead of the Germans in April 1918.

Based at the fortress island of Kronstadt, Desna took part in operations against the British in 1918-19. (During this period, brother Gavriil helped sink HM Submarine L-55 and three British torpedo boats, while brothers Konstantin and Vladimir/Svoboda were sunk in turn by British mines. Another classmate, Kapitan Miklucha Maklai/Spartak, was captured by the British and turned over to the Estonians.)

Then, in the continued evolution of counterrevolution, Desna and company fought against the Bolsheviks in the 1921 revolt of the Red Fleet.

Rudolf Franz’s 1936 painting depicts the storming of Kronstadt by the Red Army to put down the revolt. Over a thousand were killed on both sides and an estimated 2,100 rebellious sailors were executed or disappeared into labor camps.

In part to wipe out the stain of his role in the brutally suppressed Kronstadt revolt, Desna was renamed in 1922 to Engels, celebrating the German socialist philosopher of the same name who helped develop Marxism.

An ice-bound Engels

Then came several years of lingering operations and refits, as the Soviets were cash strapped for operational funds throughout the rest of the decade. During this period, classmates Orfey and Letun, in bad technical condition after Great War damage, were broken up after the Civil war.

Dynamo-Reactive!

In 1932, Engels was refitted and rebuilt, emerging two years later with a new engineering plant as well as a new gun over his stern in place of two of his 4-inchers.

A design came from the mind of weapon engineer Leonid Kurchevsky, who was fascinated with recoilless rifles. He had spent time in Stalin’s gulag system then emerged in 1929 to catch the eye of Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the “Red Napolean” military theoretician who wanted to see Kurchevsky’s simple designs fitted on everything.

Kurchevsky and some of his recoilless rifles in the early 1930s.

The Kurchevsky gun fitted on Engels was awkward, only able to fire to port and starboard with a low train and elevation.

It fired a 660-pound shell to 14,000 yards but proved inaccurate, unreliable, and prone to malfunction. A larger 15-inch model was to be installed on a cruiser but never made it off the drawing board.

I mean, come on…

While some 2,000~ Kurchevsky guns were delivered, fitted to tanks and vehicles as well as ships, it turns out they sucked.

Via Global Security: 

Soon the “bubble” burst. It turned out that the armor-piercing shells of anti-tank DRP, even when fired at point-blank, were not able to penetrate armor thicker than 30 mm. The accuracy and range of field artillery guns do not meet the requirements at all. At the same time, the guns themselves are unreliable and unsafe during operation, there had been numerous cases of rupture of barrels during firing.

Aircraft and naval automatic cannons of the Kurchevsky caliber from 37 to 152 mm gave constant failures and delays during firing due to incomplete combustion of the nitro-fabric sleeves and the unreliable operation of the pneumatic recharge mechanism, which made this weapon absolutely not combat-ready. Soon all PDDs were removed from the troops and destroyed. By June 22, 1941, there was not a single Kurchevsky gun in service with the Red Army.

While Tukhachevsky was sacked in 1937 for other reasons and scapegoated as a Trotskyist in the Great Purge before WWII, Kurchevsky got the wrap at around the same time directly for his funky weaponry. Thrown back in the gulag the inventor was executed sometime in the late 1930s.

War, again, and again

With the Russians flexing against the Finns in the 1939-40 Winter War, Desna/Engels, his Kurchevsky gun landed, and his old 4-inchers reinstalled, bombarded Finnish positions and installations, a task for which his 9-foot draft no doubt assisted.

When the Germans invaded in 1941, Engels was used in coastal minelaying and convoy duty.

Just two weeks after Barbarossa kicked off, on 6 July, he and two other destroyers (Serditogo and Sil’nyy) clashed with two German minesweepers (M-23 and M-31) in what is known today as the Battle of the Irbensky Strait. Famed in Russian naval lore as it was the largest surface battle they fought in the Baltic in WWII; it is much less known outside of the Motherland. This is probably because all vessels involved sailed away after the engagement, a tactical draw.

Damaged extensively on 7 August 1941 by a 550-pound bomb dropped via Stuka, Engels was soon patched up and two weeks later sailed from Tallinn in occupied Estonia to Kronstadt as part of a convoy. It was on this voyage that he stumbled across a German minefield off Cape Yuminda, hitting one with his bow and shrugged it off, damage control successful. However, while the damaged destroyer was being rigged for towing by the icebreaker Oktyabr, Engels hit a second mine that exploded under her stern and triggered the aft 4-inch magazine. That was it and she rolled over and sank. 

Four days later, classmates Pobiditel/Volodarski and Azard/Artyom were lost in a similar minefield in the same Tallinn-to-Kronstadt run.

Epilogue

As with Desna/Engels, few Orfey-class destroyers made it out of WWII. Three units that survived by nature of serving with the Northern Fleet out of Murmansk and two more with the Pacific Fleet out of Vladivostok remained in service into the early 1950s but were soon discarded. The last remaining example of the class, Spartak, spent her final days in Peru’s Pacific coast as the Estonians had sold her to that Latin American country in the 1930s.

The class is remembered in some Soviet-era maritime art.

Meanwhile, a fishing net-wrapped wreck off Estonia’s Cape Yuminda, documented in 2020, could be the bones of Engels.

As for Leonid Kurchevsky, he was “rehabilitated posthumously in 1956” after the end of the Stalin regime. The next year, Marshal Tukhachevsky and his codefendants in the Purge trial were declared innocent of all charges and rehabilitated, posthumously.

Specs:


Displacement: 1,260 tons (standard) 1,440 tons (full load)
Length 321 ft 6 in
Beam 30 ft 6 in
Draught 9 ft 10 in
Machinery: 4 boilers (30,500 shp) 2 steam turbines, 2 shafts
Speed 32 knots
Range: 1,680 miles @21 knots
Complement: 150 (8 officers, 6 michman, 136 ratings)
Armament:
(1917)
4 x 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns in single unprotected mounts
1 x 40/39 Vickers AAA pom-pom anti-balloon gun
2 x Maxim machine guns (7.62×54)
9 x 18-inch torpedo tubes (3×3)
80 M1908 style sea anchor mines
10 depth charges

(1934)
1 x 12-inch recoilless rifle (experimental)
2 x 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns in single unprotected mounts
1 x 3″/28 Lender AAA
4 x 1 12.7mm/79 DK Heavy machine gun (drum fed)
9 x 18-inch torpedo tubes (3×3) with more modern 45-36Н torpedoes
2 x depth charge racks
58 mines

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The 175mm God of War, or at least Southeast Asia

Official Caption: Ready for Firing – The 30-foot tube of the 175mm gun points the direction. Its 150-pound projectile will travel up to 20 miles. Date: 1969.

That year, the Marine Corps retired the aging M53 gun and converted all the 155mm Fires batteries to 175mm Gun Batteries after the 12th Marines had enjoyed the support of Army 175s in Vietnam in 1967-68.

Note the flak vests and M1 helmets without blouses, and the on-gun rack for the M16A1s. Source: 1stMarDiv [1st Marine Division] Photog: LCpl A. C. Prentiss Defense Dept. Photo (Marine Corps)

The M107 175 mm self-propelled gun was a 28-ton beast that could move over roads at up to 50mph (in theory) and was able to hurtle 147-pound shells to 25 miles, far outclassing 155mm and 105mm pieces and rivaling the impractically large 203mm guns and naval gunfire support from 6- and 8-inch guns on cruisers and 5-inch guns from destroyers/frigates.

SGT Max Cones (gunner) fires an M107, 175mm self-propelled gun, Btry C, 1st Bn, 83rd Arty, 54th Arty Group, Vietnam, January 1968. (U.S. Army photo)

The guns could lay lots of warheads on foreheads so to speak. In 1968’s six-day Operation Thor, Marine artillery averaged 4,000 rounds per day into the target area from 155, 175, and 203mm guns, in addition to 3,300 daily naval gunfire support shells and 2,400 tons of ordnance dropped by aircraft every 24 hours.

Post-Vietnam, the Army updated their remaining M107s to 8-inch guns for use in Europe for another decade along the Fulda Gap, dubbing the new vehicle M110A2s, while the Marines went back to lighter, towed 155mm guns.

Other than use by the IDF against various neighbors and by the Iranians against the Iraqis in the 1980s, the only combat saw by the M107 was by the Army and Marines in Vietnam– where several captured in 1975 are still in arsenal storage.

Armored Recce Ridealong

In an unburnished look at what life is like in a Canadian Army reserve armoured recon (cavalry scout) unit, the service released a really well-done 15-minute short featuring a corporal in The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own) talking about a route recce excercise.

The “Dukes” of the BCR use the new Textron TAPV (Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicle), fundamentally a Canadian variant of the M1117 Armoured Security Vehicle, armed with an HK GMG 40mm grenade machine gun (C16 in Canadian parlance) and a C6 (M240) 7.62 mm GPMG coax on a remote weapon station.

“The Dukes” date back to 1883 and, currently part of the 39 Canadian Brigade Group after amalgamation with the Irish Fusiliers of Canada (The Vancouver Regiment), have battle honors for both world wars– including for Ypres, the Somme, Passchendaele, and the Falaise– and Afghanistan.

Ever Seen a General Officer Beretta?

Typically, the only way to get one of the coveted and extremely rare General Officer pistols is to become a general in the U.S. military. About that…

The Army’s General Officer Pistol program dates back to at least 1972 when the service’s Rock Island Arsenal began producing M15 pistols for general officers, a gun that led to the now-popular Officer series of M1911s.

U.S. Army issue an M15 General Officer pistol (S/N GO481). The M15 pistols were manufactured solely by Rock Island Arsenal starting in the early 1970s through approximately 1985 when the US Army adopted the Beretta M9 pistol. This gun was sold at an RIA auction a few years ago for $6,900.

Marked with serial numbers prefixed with the letters “GO,” the program switched to issuing M9 Berettas in the 1980s then in 2018, in a story I previously broke for Guns.com, to Sig Sauer M18 GO models.

Other than the special serial number range, GO models are issued for operational use and are essentially no different from standard-issue pistols. However, the average Joe can’t buy his gun when out-processing from the military, whereas generals can.

According to U.S. law, at the end of their service, generals can purchase their issued pistols, which are unfathomably rare, museum-worthy collectibles if not retained by the family. As noted by the Army, famed WWII Gens. Omar N. Bradley, George S. Patton, and Dwight D. Eisenhower all purchased their guns when they left the military

A rarity, the General Officer M9 I’ve been checking out lately was obtained directly from a retired U.S. Army general who had more than thirty years of successful military service spanning the Cold War and Desert Storm, including more than five years with the famed 82d Airborne Division.

Boom

More in my column at Guns.com. 

Czech out this interesting ‘real-steel multi-cal blaster pistol

With a “Blade Runner”/”RoboCop” futuristic aesthetic, the FK Brno PSD pistol can move seamlessly across four calibers, including the very compelling 7.5 FK.

The PSD has a slender polymer grip frame and keeps the same layout as the Field Pistol. While its price tag – MSRP of $1,650 – isn’t cheap, it is still only a fraction of the cost of the Field Pistol and even comes in a good bit less than a new Deagle. It is not that much more expensive than some polymer-framed practical/tactical guns like the $1,500 FN 509 LS Edge (which wasn’t really that nice of a gun in my opinion.)

Roughly the same size as an M1911, it has better ergonomics with a slim grip that feels more like a compact 9mm, and, due to a 5-ounce frontend compensator counterweight and a slide that is beefier at its end than its nose, is supremely balanced and light recoiling.

Plus, there is the fact that it shoots 7.5FK, 10mm Auto, .40 S&W, and 9mm, all with the same gun, promising 100-yard accuracy.

More in my column at Guns.com. 

Warning signal

Original Caption: Symbolically, there’s a warning signal against them as Marines move down the main line to Seoul. 1st MarDiv. Korea. 9/20/1950

Photog: Sgt Keating. NARA 127-N-A3206

Following the landing at Inchon and the liberation of Seoul, the First Marine Division reembarked on amphibious ships and transferred Wonson on the east coast of Korea, preparing for the advance on the Yalu. Just when the war seemed wrapped up, the Marines were hit by eight fresh divisions of Chinese “volunteers” at a place called the Chosin Reservoir.

For more information on the 1st MarDiv during the conflict, check out the Korean War Project.

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