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BREN, is that you?

Of course, whenever one says the name, BREN, one thinks of the famous Czech-British (Brno-Enfield) light machine gun that served the Allies well during WWII– and the British Army well into the 1980s.

The more classic BREN gun was a thing of beauty. 

However, in more recent years, CZ has been making the Bren 2, a design that has been well-received in Central Europe. Available over here as a pistol, the gun was introduced on the consumer market in a carbine format last month and I caught one at SHOT Show while in Vegas.

Derived from the company’s select-fire Bren 2, a modular combat rifle in the same vein as the FN SCAR, Remington/Bushmaster ACR (nee Magpul Masada), Radom FB MSBS Grot and Serbu Diabolus, the Czech-made gun uses a carbon-fiber lower and stock mated to a lightweight aluminum upper.

The new CZ Bren 2 Ms Carbine

More in my column at Guns.com 

Great War Gatling guns?

Although Dr. Richard Gatling’s early hand-cranked “battery guns” had been introduced as far back as 1862, for the first 15 years of their existence they were bulky and used a series of unshielded barrels to produce their fire. Round were fed loosely into a hopper and the weapon could produce a (theoretical) rate of fire of about 600 rounds per minute, although due to jams and gas issues, it was typically closer to 200 and often could not be maintained.

Early Gatling guns, such as this .58-caliber RF 1862 model, with a half-dozen 33-inch barrels, had a rate of fire of 600 rpm, an overall length of 64-inches and a weight, with carriage and limber, of about 630 pounds, unloaded. (Photo: Springfield Armory National Historic Site)

By 1866, Colt took over making Dr. Gatling’s guns and won the first large U.S. Army contract for the devices, one they were eager to keep by introducing upgraded generations. By 1873-ish, the caliber had switched to .45-70 Government and short-barreled “Camel” guns were being produced, which were much more maneuverable.

They called it a Camel gun for a reason…

In 1877, Colt introduced a new model that enclosed not only the barrels but also the breech section in a bronze housing covered by a front plate through which the muzzles protruded. Further, the crank could be rotated to a more ergonomic rear position and, through use of a 40-round Bruce vertical feed mechanism which could be topped off, the rate of fire really jumped to well over 1,000 rounds per minute as the gun in a 10-barreled format, fired 10 rounds with each turn of the crank. Best yet, the smaller 5-barreled gun, when used on a tripod, only weighed 90-pounds.

In an Army test of a prototype gun, one of the Bulldogs fired 1,000 rounds in 79 seconds— which is amazing even by today’s standards– and scored 996 hits on target at a range of 500 yards. Uncle Sam bought 17 Bulldogs for the Army as well as others for the Navy and the model proved popular in overseas sales as well.

An M1883 Colt Gatling gun in .45-70 with a 104-round Accles magazine

While more modern autoloading machine guns replaced Gatlings in U.S. service, some were still seeing combat in China and the Philippines in the early 1900s.

The M1893 Gatling, the first chambered in .30-40 Krag. This wonder, fitted with 10 31-inch octagon barrels, could let those big buffalo-killer sized rounds rip at 525 rounds per minute, which would produce a giant billow of burnt black powder in the process. Weighing in at 200-pounds (sans bipod) this thing was a beast to run but had all the bells and whistles of a modern Gatling design including the Murphy Stop and the Bruce Feed.

9th U.S. Infantry Gatling gun detachment in the court of the Forbidden City, Peking, China 1900 Boxer rebellion LC-USZ62-137103 1874

Gatling guns trained on the Filipinos, near Manila, Philippine Islands Nov 25 1899 LC-USZ62-136148 1893 models

Further, Gatlings were only fully retired by the U.S. Army after 1914, not a bad run considering only about 500~ in 20 different marks were acquired between 1866 and 1904.

U.S. Army/Navy Colt Gatlings acquired, model, caliber and number:

M1866 .50-70 (50 Army)
M1871-.50-70 (10 Army)
M1874 Camel .45-70 (56 Army)
M1875 Long .45-70 (44 Army)
M1875 Camel.45-70 (4 Army)
M1875 Navy .45-70 (10 Navy)
M1876 Long .45-70 (19 Navy)
M1877 Bulldog .45-70 (17 Army)
M1879 .45-70 (32 Army)
M1881 .45-70 (27 Army)
M1883 .45-70 (40 Army)
M1885 .45-70 (21 Army)
M1886 .45-70 (20 Army)
M1887 .45-70 (20 Army)
M1889 .45-70 (18 Army)
M1891 .45-70 (17 Army)
M1892 .45-70 (18 Army)
M1893 .30-40 Krag (18 Army).
M1895 .30-40 (84 Army).
M1903 .30-06 Spfd (21)
In 1907, about 175 older Gatlings (M1895/1893/1892/1891/1889/1887/1886 models) were rechambered for .30-06.

The below unit return, from the 136th Company (Mine), U.S. Army Coastal Artillery, stationed at Fort Hancock, New Jersey, details they were still practicing with their .30-caliber Gatlings as late as October 1914. It would have been interesting to imagine them repelling an assault by the Kaiser’s infantrymen with such gear.

Indian Enfields see their last hurrah

Police in Northern India last week said farewell to a historic infantry rifle that has served them for generations– the .303-caliber Lee-Enfield.

Police for the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which counts roughly 200 million inhabitants, sent their Enfields off after using them for a final time in the country’s 71st Republic-Day Parade in late January, according to local reports. The force used 45,000 vintage Enfields, the agency’s standard-issue rifle since 1947. The historic bolt-action rifle will be replaced with domestically-made INSAS and inch-pattern FAL variants.

The below shows Uttar Pradesh police with their Enfields at last year’s RP Day parade.

“This (.303) rifle is a fantastic weapon and has served us brilliantly in various operations in the past,” police director-general Bijaya Kumar Maurya told AFP. “But it being a bolt action weapon with low magazine capacity, it was time for a change. Its production has also discontinued so there was all the more need for an upgrade.”

Although replaced, the Uttar Pradesh rifles will not be completely retired, they are reportedly being sent to the Indian Ordnance Factory at Ishapore to be re-worked into riot guns.

Going back to the old Magazine-Lee-Enfield of 1895, the Indians have used the venerable .303 for over 120 years in one form or another. In fact, starting in the 1930s Rifle Factory Ishapore (RFI) in the Bengal region made first 10-round MK. III* SMLEs then later what they termed Rifle 2/2A, a 7.62 NATO Enfield with a 12-round magazine in the 1960s and 1970s. Several thousand were imported to the U.S. in the late 1990s and sold for about $150.

An RFI (Ishapore) 2A1, note the longer 12-round magazine. These were made until 1975, possibly the last SMLE in factory production

I used to have an “Ishy” for several years and passed it on down the road to a friend. Of course, now I have regrets over that choice.

Nonetheless, I do still have an RFI-marked WWII-era Enfield P-1944 Jungle Bayonet with the late-war square pommel.

It is a beautiful bayonet with remnants of a white “drill purpose” mark around the band

The park is great on the blade and it is very tight. I would doubt it was ever used for anything except parade

Marked with King George VI’s cipher (GR) it has an RFI stamp and April 1944 production date.

As well as a DP stamp, which was likely applied in the 1946-47 era when these “ugly” square pommel bayonets were reclassified as second-line items.

Perhaps, with these stocks of vintage guns removed from service, we may see another wave of relic Enfields and their accessories wash up on our shores.

29 Years Ago Today: Chopper Popper

On 6 February 1991, during the “Shock and Awe” of Desert Storm, Capt. Robert R. Swain, Jr., of the Louisiana-based 706th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in the Air Force Reserve’s 926th Tactical Fighter Group, was zooming around performing “battlefield interdictions” in his OA–10A Thunderbolt II over central Iraqi-occupied Kuwait.

“As I was leaving the target area after dropping six 500-pound bombs and firing my two Maverick missiles at tanks, I noticed two black dots running across the desert,” Swain said in a 1991 interview published in Air Force magazines. “They weren’t putting up any dust, and yet they were moving fast over the ground.”

It turned out those little black dots were Iraqi Bo-105s, little German-made light observation helicopters which could carry a centerline 20mm cannon or a series of rocket pods.

These guys…

“On the first pass, I tried to shoot an AIM-9 heat-seeking missile, but I couldn’t get it to lock-on [the target],” said Shaw. “So, on the second pass, I fired a long burst of 30 millimeter from the cannon [GAU-8], and the helicopter looked like it had been hit by a bomb. We tried to identify the type of [helicopter] after we were finished, but it was just a bunch of pieces.”

Shaw’s OA-10, 77-0205, would be dubbed the Chopper Popper, complete with a very Lousiana-like nose-art in honor of the 926th’s “Fighting Cajuns.”

It was the first air-to-air kill in the A-10s history. It would not be the last as another A-10A, flown by Capt. Todd Sheehy of the 10th TFW would splash a Soviet-made Iraqi Mi-8 helicopter with its GAU-8 30mm cannon on 15 February.

Shaw, a USAF Academy alumni (Class of 1979) who had switched to flying A-10s in the reserves after his active duty stint was over, went back to pushing tin as a commercial airline pilot but remained a “weekend warrior” flying not only Warthogs but also C-5s, retiring in 2011 as a full colonel in command of the 439th Airlift Wing, logging over 3,500 hours with the Air Force.

His old unit, the 926th, was deactivated in 2006. 

As for Chopper Popper, SN 77-0205, it was retired and placed on display at the Academy on 1 November 1993, with Shaw’s AFRES markings. It remains standing guard at Thunderbird Airmanship Overlook, South Gate.

Warship Wednesday Feb. 5, 2020: Witness to the Sunrise

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time 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, Feb. 5, 2020: Witness to the Sunrise

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 63918

Here we see the wreck of the battleship USS Arizona (BB-39), burned out and sunk in Pearl Harbor on 10 December 1941, three days after she was destroyed during the 7 December Japanese raid. In the background is the light cruiser USS Saint Louis (CL-49), in the center, and, to the left, the old USS Baltimore (ex-Cruiser No. 3), which had been laid down some 50 years previously. Baltimore was unique in the fact that she had been ringside for the expansion of Japanese naval power in her lifetime.

A British design from Armstrong, the warship that would become the fourth USS Baltimore was the third modern protected cruiser built for the U.S. Navy, following in the wake of near-sister USS Charleston (C-2) and the one-off USS Newark (C-1).

Built at William Cramp and Sons, Philadelphia for a cost of $1,325,000, Baltimore was laid down 5 May 1887 and commissioned into the fleet 7 January 1890. Some 327-feet long and tipping the scales at 4,400-tons, she was reasonably fast, at 21-knots, had a smattering of armor that ranged from 2-to-4-inches, and toted a decent armament for her size: a quartet of 8-inch guns and another half-dozen 6-inch guns as well as smaller anti-boat guns and a brace of early torpedo tubes.

U.S.S. Baltimore en route to G.A.R. encampment, Boston, with President Harrison on board LOC

Baltimore In New York Harbor, with the Statue of Liberty in the right distance, circa 1890 during the Hudson-Fulton Exhibition NH 69174

Baltimore In New York Harbor 1890 NH 61696

Her first mission, after shakedown, was to carry the body of Swedish steam engine pioneer John Ericsson from New York back to Stockholm for interment. The Navy carried the body of the man who sketched out the design of the USS Monitor with a Swedish flag hoisted on every ship of the squadron.

Baltimore leaving New York Harbor on 23 August 1890, en route to return the remains of John Ericsson to Sweden. USS Boston is in the left-center, flying the Swedish ensign from her mast peak. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 69176

This event was turned into a painting in 1898.

“The White Squadron’s Farewell Salute to the Body of John Ericsson, New York Bay, August 23, 1890”. Oil on canvas, 36″ by 54″, by Edward Moran (1829-1901), signed and dated by the artist, 1898. It depicts USS Baltimore (Cruiser # 3) departing New York Harbor to return the remains of John Ericsson to his native Sweden. Note the Swedish ensign flying from the ship’s foremast. Painting in the U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection. Gift of Paul E. Sutro, 1940. KN-10851 (Color).

Returning to the East Coast after a series of European stops and port calls to show the flag, Baltimore was dispatched to join the South Pacific Station in 1891. There, while in Valparaíso, Chile to protect U.S. interests during the tension caused by the Chilean revolution, a group of sailors on Libo at a local saloon were attacked by a local mob, leaving one bluejacket, coal heaver William Turnbill, dead and another 17 injured.

Attack on American sailors at Valparaíso 1891

The resulting incident and investigations were later made right through diplomatic channels and a monument erected and indemnity paid.

Meanwhile, Baltimore became a standard fixture in the Pacific and was reassigned even further West to join the Asiatic Squadron in 1893, becoming squadron flagship of RADM Joseph S. Skerrett on her arrival.

Baltimore anchored at Yokohama, Japan, 1894, while serving as flagship of the Asiatic Station. Donation of Rear Admiral Ammen C. Farenholt, USN (MC), 1933.NH 56326

It was while in Japanese waters that the tensions between that Empire and old Imperial China boiled over into outright war over then nominally independent Korea. Baltimore was in the thick of it, cruising the waters between the two battle lines, observing the war and protecting American interests. A detailed account at the NHHC, taken largely from her deck logs, makes for interesting reading. This included landing and marching 21 Marines in combat order more than 30 miles overland to Seoul, then in the Hermit Kingdom, to guard the legation compound.

After the war ended in 1895, Baltimore was sent back to the West Coast for overhaul and, by late 1897 was back with the fleet, ultimately sailing from Hawaii as the chances of war with Spain escalated. She joined Commodore George Dewey’s squadron in Hong Kong on 22 April 1898 on the eve of the conflict, where she was hastily repainted in haze gray and made ready for battle.

Just a week later, on 1 May, she steamed into Spanish-held Manila Bay just behind Dewey’s flagship, USS Olympia, and soon was engaging both shore batteries vessels of the Royal Spanish Navy.

Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898. With Manila, Philippines, in the top center, and the Spanish fleet in the upper right, the U.S. Navy ships listed descending on the left to bottom are Colliers; USS McCullough; USS Petrel; USS Concord; USS Boston; USS Raleigh; USS Baltimore; and USS Olympia – signaling “Remember the Maine.” Color lithograph by Rand McNally. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Hit by enemy shells at least five times during the action, Baltimore nonetheless suffered “no serious injury to any officer or man,” in the battle. She then went on to spend most of the next year convoying troop and supply transports, providing naval gunfire support to U.S. troops, and bombarding Filipino insurgents throughout the Philippines.

By 1901, she was sent back to the states for overhaul at the New York Navy Yard.

Baltimore Underway in New York Harbor, circa 1903. The Statue of Liberty is dimly visible in the right distance. NH 83962

By 1904, after stints in the Caribbean and Med, she was back on Asiatic Station, where she once again kept tabs on the Japanese fleet as the growing force pounded not one but two of the Tsar’s modern squadrons down under the waves.

Baltimore’s crew, hard-serving volunteers sandwiched between the age of the wood-and-sail Navy and the age of the new steel-and-steam fleet, were captured in time in several period photos between 1904 and 1906.

Baltimore’s Marine Guard in heavy marching order, during her Asiatic Fleet deployment, circa 1904-1906. They were equipped for winter expeditionary party duty, with horseshoe rolls containing their blankets rolled in rubber ponchos. They are armed with Krag-Jorgenson rifles (M1898) and bayonets and wear woven double loop cartridge belts. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Collection of Capt. Nathan Sargent. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 95652)

Two Chief Petty Officers enjoy a game of Acey-Deucy on deck, circa 1904-06. The man at left wears an Ex-Apprentice’s figure-eight knot badge on his right sleeve. Note coiled fire hose and sewing machine in the background. Copied from the USS Baltimore album, page 42. NH 101372

The Wireless Office and Operators, circa 1904-1906. Note the early radio equipment and the rating badge of the First-Class Electrician’s Mate seated in the center. NH 101374

Local peddlers on board the cruiser, at Tangier, Morocco, circa May 1904. Note the adjustable boat cradles overhead, and ventilation fittings in the hammock stowage bulwark at left. NH 101338

Crewmen pose with cleaning equipment, circa 1904-1906. About half of these men appear to be smoking pipes. Copied from the USS Baltimore album, page 28. NH 101345

Sailors and Marines from the ship’s crew at the rifle range, Auckland, New Zealand, circa 1904-1906. Copied from the USS Baltimore album, page 47. NH 101377

Ping-Pong gunnery sighting practice on one of the ship’s three-inch rapid-fire guns, circa 1904-1906. Copied from the USS Baltimore album, page 47. NH 101373

In 1907, Baltimore, pushing twenty years on her hull, was sent back to the U.S. where she spent the next several years in training, receiving ship and reserve roles. By 1913, with much more modern cruisers joining the fleet, the aging Baltimore was rerated as a minelayer, converted to carry up to 180 mines.

Her 1914 Janes entry, where she is listed on a page titled “Old Second Class Cruisers” 

When the Great War swept across the planet, Baltimore was brought back from ordinary and spent much of 1915 and 1916 in mining experiments and training with the fleet, voyaging from New England to the Caribbean and back.

USS Baltimore (Minelayer, originally Cruiser # 3). In Hampton Roads, Virginia, 10 December 1916 NH 54427

USS Baltimore (Minelayer, originally Cruiser # 3). In Hampton Roads, Virginia, 10 December 1916 NH 54427

Once the U.S. entered the conflict in 1917, Baltimore became the flag of RADM Joseph Strauss, Commander, Mine Force, and, along with the converted cruiser USS San Francisco, and steamers-turned-minelayers USS Roanoke, USS Candaiga, USS Shawmut; USS Quinnebaugh, USS Housatonic, USS Canonicus, USS Aroostook, and USS Saranac, would sortie across the Atlantic to sew the Great North Sea Mine Barrage. An idea of then Asst. SECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt, the immense mine battery was kicked off by Baltimore on the night of 13/14 April 1918.

Before the end of the war, the Mine Force dropped 70,177 mines into the North Sea and surrounding waters, many under Baltimore’s watchful eyes. At least 900 were carried there in her own holds. Much more on this period is documented in the ship’s DANFS entry. 

Mine handling operations onboard Baltimore, 1920. Note what appears to be a mine elevator at left. Donation of Cmdr. Christopher Noble, USN (Retired), February 1967. NH 56330

By the end of WWI, Baltimore was back in U.S. waters and in late 1919 was ordered, once again, to join the Pacific fleet. She spent the remainder of her active career operating from San Francisco, and she was placed out of commission there on 15 September 1922, after 32 years’ service.

With what appears to be a minesweeper moored alongside to starboard, ex-Baltimore lies off Ford Island awaiting disposition, 21 September 1939; less than two years later, the veteran of the Battle of Manila Bay would witness the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-410165

Stricken from the Navy list on 14 October 1937, she was sent to Hawaii where she spent the next half-decade as a hulk at Pearl Harbor. Her name was recycled for the heavy cruiser USS Baltimore (CA-68), which was laid down 26 May 1941, and her bell, silver service, and relics removed.

Unmanned and forgotten, she was just off Battleship Row when the Japanese rounded Diamondhead on 7 December 1941. The old cruiser was sold in February 1942 for scrap, after which she had much of her upper structure removed for recycling, then her hull was towed out to sea and scuttled on 22 September 1944 off the south shore of Oahu in 537 meters of water.

The Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) has extensively documented her wreck site, now studded with sea life.

Her bell is currently on display at the Independence Seaport Museum.

Baltimore is, of course, remembered in maritime art.

USS Baltimore (C 3) artwork by an unknown artist. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 56328

USS Baltimore (Cruiser # 3) at right Chromolithograph by Armstrong & Company, after a watercolor by Fred S. Cozzens, published in Our Navy Its Growth and Achievements, 1897. It depicts Baltimore departing New York harbor to carry the remains of John Ericsson to his native Sweden, in August 1890. At left, flying the Swedish flag at her forepeak and firing a salute, is USS Boston. Collection of Captain Glenn Howell, USN, 1974. NH 334-KN

The “Battleship” Baltimore in Stockholm Harbor by Anders Zorn

Since 1980, the name Baltimore was carried by a Los Angeles-class attack submarine (SSN-704) which was decommissioned 1998. Hopefully, the Navy will name a 7th Baltimore soon.

Specs:

Drawing courtesy of Robert Jensen via Navsource http://www.navsource.org/archives/04/c3/c3.htm

Displacement 4,413 tons
Length: 327 feet 6 inches
Beam: 48 feet 7½ Inches
Draft: 19 feet 6 inches
Maximum draft fully loaded:23 feet, 11 ½ inches
Propulsion: Horizontal triple-expansion engines, 10,064 hp. 2 shafts, four double-ended cylindrical boilers
Speed: 21.5 knots
Coal bunker capacity: 1,143.87 tons
Normal coal supply: 400 tons
Coal endurance at 10 knots: 7,212 nautical miles
Armor: 4″ steel on the slopes, deck; 3″ Conning tower, 2”-gun protection.
Compliment: 36 Officers and 350 Enlisted Men (as designed)
Armament: (as-built)
4 x 8″/35cal breechloading guns
6 x 6″/30cal breechloading guns
4 x 6 pounder (57mm) rapid-fire guns
2 x 3 pounder (47mm) rapid-fire guns
2 x 1 pounder (37mm) rapid-fire guns
4 x 37 mm Hotchkiss revolving cannon
Two Gatling Guns
One 3-inch field piece (for landing parties).
Five 14″ torpedo tubes
Armament: (1914)
12 x 6″/40
4 x 6 pounders
180 mines

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

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I’m a member, so should you be!

Hearts of Oak

With this month containing Valentine’s Day, this seemed appropriate.

“Hearts of Oak,” A British Jack Tar in landing kit, with a Lee type rifle, circa the early 1900s.

Color-tinted postcard, with a patriotic poem, published by Millar & Lang, Glasgow & London. Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 100803-KN

“They swear they’ll invade us, these terrible foes,

They frighten our women, our children, and beaus;

But should their flat bottoms in darkness get o’er,

Still Britons they’ll find to receive them onshore.” 

 

Revisiting the old ways, in a new way

One curious thing I have seen in my time in the gun world, which only dates back to the early 1980s, is that mass-produced polymer and machine-fitted modern production techniques have earnestly replaced more, um, vintage methods of craftsmen making firearms out of steel and wood.

However, it seems that in recent years there has been a return of sorts to a more nostalgic era of gun craft, with hand-fitted steel-framed firearms returning to the market. For instance, look at the Laugo Alien, the Dan Wesson DWX, and Beretta 92X Performance.

The Dan Wesson DWX is part CZ 75, part M1911, and all hand-fit competition gun

With that in mind, I was pleased to see Walther’s new Meister Manufaktur line of semi-custom Q5 Steel Frame Match pistols at SHOT Show last month.

The four Q5 Match SF models in the Walther Meister Manufaktur series include the Patriot, Black Tie, Arabesque, and Black Diamond. (Photo: Walther)

All will feature a blend of performance upgrades to include a Tenifer nitride treated barrel, slide, steel-frame, and magazine base plate. Going past this, there is a performance series flat-face trigger, one-piece wrap-around aluminum grip machined from a solid block of aerospace-grade aluminum alloy and the magazine base plate machined from a solid block of pure steel.

The Black Tie uses a Stinox coating to give the custom Q5 a satin finish. A black serrated target front sight and adjustable match rear sight are integrated into the slide, a feature standard across the line. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

More in my column at Guns.com. 

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