Category Archives: Weapons

Mannlicher 1886 Rifle

In 1886 the Austro-Hungarian Army introduced a new five shot repeating rifle firing a large black powder 11.15mmx58mm rimmed round. This rifle, designed by Mannlicher, was cutting edge technology when it was purchased and used an innovative en-bloc loading system that allowed five rounds to be loaded at once, rather than individually. This dominance was to last just a year as the French introduced smokeless powder with their new Lebel rifle that made the old large bore Austrian design obsolete overnight. Today this large 11.15mm cartridge has been designated as an obsolete calibre in the UK which means that the rifles that fire it are legal to own as complete firearms with none of the butchery that deactivation normally requires.

I recently picked up one of these M1886 rifles in what was described as Grade 3 condition. I was expecting the worst but was pleasantly surprised to find that although a little rough around the edges, the rifle I received was actually in remarkably good condition for a 133 year old firearm:imageimageThis rifle is a straight pull design which means the bolt does not need to be rotated in order to charge the rifle. The bolt is just pulled straight back and then pushed forward again to chamber a fresh cartdridge, the bolt running in a milled channel at the rear of the receiver:imageNote the safety catch that blocks the bolt and prevents the rifle from firing. As the bolt is not rotated, it does not have conventional locking lugs of more modern designs, instead there is a single locking wedge on the underside of the bolt:imageThis was perfectly adequate on slow moving black power but would be a weak point when some of the rifles were converted to small bore smokeless powder cartridges. The bolt itself has a spring extractor and a central firing pin, still extant here due to its obsolete calibre status:imageCartridges were supplied in sprung metal en-bloc clips that, unlike later chargers, were held inside the rifle during firing, the clips providing the feed lips for the cartridges. The clip was inserted into the top and a sprung arm inside the rifle pushed the cartridges up from below:imageOnce the last cartridge had been chambered, the now empty clip was free to fall away out a slot in the base of the large magazine under the rifle:imageA large sight is fitted at the rear of the barrel with the sights graduated in schritt- an obsolete Austrian measure of distance equivalent to a pace. The normal ranges are marked on the left side of the sight:imageThe right side is for use with the volley sight. This was the fashionable rifle feature of late Victorian era rifles and on this case a small V-Notch sight can be pulled out the right hand side of the rear sight:imageThis is lined up with this forward pointer on the right hand side of the barrel band:imageNote also the front sling swivel, a rear swivel is fitted to the butt of the rifle:imageThe front end of the rifle incorporates a front sight blade, a bayonet lug and a stacking rod to make a rifle tee-pee with:imageThe 1886 pattern rifle was sold to a number of other countries, including Chile and I believe that this is an export pattern rifle rather than one produced for the Austro-Hungarians as it lacks the Austrian proof marks and hasn’t been upgraded to an 8x50R smokeless round which was pretty much universal for those in the service of the Habsburg empire.

Is there any link then between this rifle and the blogs usual British Empire content? Yes, although I confess it is a very tenuous link. Anecdotally,  it seems that the British volunteers to the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War were issued Mannlicher 1886 rifles to practice with before being handed more modern arms to fight the fascists with.

Whether the story s true or not I don’t know, this is however a fascinating historic rifle with a mechanically very interesting action that happily is legal to own in live condition in the UK. World Wide Arms seem to have imported a large quantity of these recently and it is from them that I obtained this rifle for what I felt was a very reasonable sum.

Browning Hi Power

Observant readers may have noticed that in some of the posts on holsters over the last few years I have been using a Browning Hi-Power to illustrate how they work. I try not to do weapons posts too often as I don’t have an unlimited supply of different deactivated guns and I want to spread them out a bit, that being said it is a long time since we last looked at a firearm on this blog and it seemed about time we looked at the Hi Power.

The Hi Power was developed in the interwar period by FN of Belgium to meet a French Army requirement. John Moses Browning started work on the pistol’s development but died before it reached its final iteration. The design was however developed and was ultimately ready for service by 1935. The French chose a different model, but it was adopted by the Belgians and was one of the most modern hand guns in service at the start of World War Two.

When Germany invaded Belgium in 1940, the designers at FN fled to England with the designs of the hi Power and after much tortuous negotiation it was agreed that a production facility would be set up in Canada by the Inglis company. Manufacture was started in 1944 and the Canadian produced for themselves, the British and received large contracts for Nationalist Chinese Forces. It is one of these Chinese contract guns we are looking at tonight:imageimageThe Hi Power is a 9mm automatic that can hold 13 rounds in its double stack magazine. The magazine is released by a button on the grip, a spring pushing the magazine down and out ready for reloading:imageThis pistol was designed as a military handgun from the start and so features a prominent lanyard loop:imageAs a Chinese contract Hi Power there are a number of distinctive features to this weapon. Firstly the rear sight is an adjustable tangent sight out to 500 yards (!):imageQuite how it was expected to hit anything at this range with a 9mm round is beyond me, but a slot was fitted to the rear to allow a shoulder stock to be fitted:imageThis was a popular feature for the Chinese who had first started using shoulder stocked pistols during the Warlord era when broom-handled Mausers were imported into the country in huge quantities with shoulder stocks to circumvent international embargos on long arms. By the Second World War most other nations had decided shoulder stocks and long range adjustable sights on a pistol were a waste of time, however they remained the preferred choice of the Chinese.

The pistol is marked along the sides of the slide, with the name of the manufacturer and Chinese characters indicating that it is the property of the Chinese Nationalist Army:imageThe opposite side of the pistol has the serial number on both the slide and the barrel:imageThe CH indicates that this pistol was produced for China and it was manufactured in August 1945. Having acquired this pistol several years ago, this example still strips down into its component parts, although the deactivation process is very obvious with the large hole cut in the breach!imageDespite being made for a Chinese contract, I doubt this pistol ever made it to China. The contract was cancelled before it was delivered (mainly because the Chinese nationalists seemed to be more interested in killing Chinese communists rather than the Japanese) and the stock of pistols was absorbed into the Canadian Army’s inventory. This example has never been upgraded or modified post war and so today is a rare piece.

SA80 Polymer Magazine

In 2011 the British Army started to upgrade the magazines soldiers were issued with for use with the SA80 rifle. Until this point the H&K steel magazine had been in service and was generally well regarded (see here). The only problem with the magazine was the materials used in its construction. Steel is heavy and new polymers were available that allowed a robust magazine to be produced with a lighter weight:imageThe government at the time sent out a press release explaining the benefits of the new magazine:

The 30-round Magpul EMAG magazine is around half the weight of a standard metal magazine and helps reduce the weight that soldiers have to carry in their kit.

Made from a polymer, the EMAG weighs 130g compared to its metal equivalent of 249g. Troops carry up to 12 magazines, so this change means each carries around one kilogramme less weight in total than before. imageAlthough it is lighter than others, the EMAG is robust; it’s durability is enhanced by an easily detachable cover to help protect against dust and sand while being carried – meaning fewer need replacing. imageA clear window in the magazine allows troops to easily monitor how much ammunition they have left, helping them ensure they have sufficient levels at critical points in battle. imageThese magazines were produced in the US for the British Army and are brand named ‘EMAG’, which is molded into the body of the magazine:imageDetails of the rounds to be used in the magazine and the manufacturers details are also included:imageThe rounds of 5.56 are fed into the top, where two feed lips ensure they are presented into the breach of the rifle correctly:imageThe plastic dustcover snaps over this to keep out dirt and debris:imageThe base plate of the magazine is removable allowing the spring and follower to be removed for cleaning:imageThe response from troops was positive:

The new magazines are a great bit of kit. The little window lets me see how many rounds I have left at a glance and it’s a lighter and more robust design. The dust cap is a useful addition in the dusty Afghan conditions as it helps keep ammo clean.image

SLR Speed Loader

Loading individual rounds into a magazine can be a long and laborious process as each round has to be taken out of a box and pressed into the box magazine one at a time. To speed this process up many militaries adopted a principle dating back to the days of the bolt action rifle, the charger. These metal strips came pre-prepared with rounds ready to be fed as a block into a magazine, rapidly speeding up the loading process. Some early automatic rifles came with charger guides built into the receivers over the magazine well, but in reality it was most likely that magazines would be loaded off of the weapon so separate charger guides needed to be developed that could be fitted to a magazine to serve the same purpose of allowing swift reloading from chargers.

The British Self Loading Rifle was no exception and a simple pressed steel guide was issued that could be slotted over the mouth of the magazine:imageThis is an unissued example and has a stores label attached, sadly any writing on this has decayed to the point of being illegible. The charger is open at the top to allow the rounds to pass through and into the body of the magazine:imageThe only markings on the charger are a stores code, manufacturer’s initials and a date:imageAs mentioned above this is an unissued example, so comes in its original waxed cardboard stores box:imageIt is cushioned inside the box from rattling around by a simple piece of corrugated card:imageMy thanks go to Major Ian Ward who very kindly let me have this one for my collection and at some point I will get out some inert rounds and a magazine and see how effective it actually is…

Two-Inch Mortar Bomb Parachutist’s Drop Case

The question of how to supply paratroopers with adequate munitions when they land in enemy territory is one that has long vexed military planners. The easiest method is to use supply containers parachute dropped alongside the men, however it is very easy for them to become separated and the last thing you want is to leave men in enemy territory, surrounded and unable to defend themselves. Carrying sufficient munitions on the body is also a possibility, but the weight and bulk of them makes landing difficult and a man who breaks his leg when he hits the ground is of no use in a battle. The British thought long and hard about how to overcome this solution and they developed a number of specialist pieces of webbing for paratroopers. These were designed to be worn on the upper thigh when jumping out of the aircraft. A quick release tab was then pulled in mid-air and the webbing pouch fell away, but was secured by a static line to the man. This then ensured he was unencumbered when he landed, but his supplies were only a piece of string away from him. We have previously looked at an example of the pouch designed for use with Sten gun magazines here. Tonight we are looking at the case issued for use with two-inch mortar bombs:imageThis webbing case is secured up the front with three hook and staple type quick release tab pull fasteners:imageInside is space to hold six two-inch mortar bombs:imageThe underside of the top flap is marked to indicate it was made by MECo in 1943:imageIt is on the rear however that things get really interesting:imageA pouch is fitted for the drop line:imageA cord was tied to the very heavy duty loop at the top, then coiled and fitted into the pocket, the other end being tied to the paratrooper. When the case was released, the cord payed out from this pouch before coming to a stop when all the cord was deployed. Four brass loops are also fitted to the rear:imageThese allowed the case to be attached to a webbing harness on the soldier’s thigh. When he pulled a quick release tab, these fastenings came undone and the pouch was free to fall. Webbing loops are fitted to the side of the case at the side of each loop as part of this securing process:imageThe frame attached to the leg was this one, the wire being the quick release pull:wiab1hIn the end these cases were dropped in favour of larger, more general purpose drop bags that allowed more than just the ammunition to be carried. Wilfred jones was a Sapper armed with a two inch mortar who parachuted into Normandy and he describes the amount of kit he had to carry:

I was the mortar bloke for the troop. I was jumping No 6 with a rifle and a two-inch mortar. In addition, I was carrying 110 rounds of .303, two pounds of PE, which is plastic explosive, two 36 grenades, one Gammon bomb and two magazines for the Bren, some two-inch mortar bombs, a change of clothes and twenty No 27 detonators and two ration packs.

SA80 SUSAT Cover

When the SA80 was introduced in the 1980s it was the first infantry rifle fielded by the British Army that came with an optical sight as standard. The SUSAT sight, standing for ‘Sight Unit, Small Arms, Trilux’ is a very robust unit and can take a lot of punishment, but it was recognised that a sight cover would be needed for use in the field just to protect the lenses of the sight from accidental damage. The first sight covers issued were made of a plain green cordua nylon, similar to the fabric used in the contemporary first issue of the PLCE web set:imageThe design of the cover is very simple, with a square profile to each end of the cover, the panels being made up of a separate piece of fabric sewn to the main body:imageA channel is sewn around the base of the cover for a cord to pass through:imageOriginally this cord would have had a plastic toggle on it, but this has been lost and the two ends just tied together:imageThe cover was placed over the sight and the cord drawn tighter to prevent it from coming off the rifle. This design was soon found to be inadequate as the covers could easily become dislodged in the field. An updated version of the sight cover was introduced with a piece of elastic around the base rather than the cord. Again this was initially made in plain green, but later versions included DPM and MTP material to match the rest of the user’s equipment. Vinyl action and hand guard covers were also produced for use with the rifles when they were used for ceremonial duties.

This sight cover does not have any visible markings on it, however they are usually stamped on the inside of the cover with an NSN number and date.

Bren Gun Sling

When first introduced in 1937 the Bren gun did not have a dedicated sling. Instead two special blackened metal spring clips were issued for use with the existing Lee Enfield Rifle sling:imageThese metal clips could then be attached to the machine gun, with the sling threaded between. Unfortunately this was quickly proved to be inadequate as the Lee Enfield Sling was only 46” wide, which made it impossible to fire the weapon with the sling over the shoulder. It was also only 1 ¼” wide which meant there was a limited amount of bearing surface on the users shoulder making it uncomfortable. As an interim measure the sling was lengthened in 1944 by cutting it and riveting in an extra piece of sling to extend it by a foot. This was clearly only a temporary expedient so in November of 1944 a new sling dedicated for use with the Bren gun was introduced:imageThis sling was made form new with a length of 58 inches and the strap has the same rolled edge as the old rifle sling, but is a little chunkier. The existing sling loops could still be fitted, the sling being folded back on itself at each end to secure them:imageThe brass fittings on the end of the sling were produced in both brass and a blackened finish, as seen here:imageWhilst officially adopted in November of 1944 there is some evidence that longer slings were available earlier in the war, with Canadian made examples being seen and reports of some snipers choosing the longer sling of the Bren gun over the standard Lee Enfield sling as it allowed them to get a better grip on their No4T rifle.

Here we see an Australian Bren gunner who has used his sling to hold the Bren gun at his hip, allowing him to walk and fire at the same time:CaptureThe weight of the Bren gun was high, but the sling allowed the soldier to carry the weapon across a variety of terrains, even for acrobatic stunts like this Canadian soldier scaling a wall on an assault course:bren01