Sunday, November 20, 2011

Yearbook 2012 CZ-USA

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Catalogue CZ-USA 2012

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Back to the Gatling

By the early 1950s, the newly formed US Air Force realized that the speed of new jet fighters had made conventional gas or recoil-operated machine guns or cannon obsolete. The General Electric Company was approached to produce a new fast-firing gun under the project name "Vulcan". Multi-barrelled weapons seemed a promising research path, since between shots the barrels would have time to cool. In trials, 19th-century Gatlings were fitted with electrical drive instead of the manually operated crank. No longer reliant on muscle power, the gun had a staggering rate of fire of about 4,000 rounds per minute.

New developments

While the Soviet PK machine gun and even the Belgian FN Minimi are significant improvements on the concept of a General-Purpose Machine Gun; the Ml34 and M61 look back to the Gatling concept.

The M60 - "The Pig"

The M60 machine gun was a weapon that seemed fine in theory but for soldiers in Vietnam terrible design defects were obvious. The bipod and the gas cylinder were permanently attached to the barrel, so quick barrel changes after firing bursts of 200 rounds proved extremely difficult during a contact. To handle the barrel, the Number 2 on the gun required a heat-protecting mitten, which was often lost on patrol or in a contact. Finally, key components in the operating group, such as the firing pin, were prone to fracturing. Unsurprisingly, the gun came to be known by frustrated soldiers in Vietnam as "the Pig'.' A lighter version of the gun, designated the M60E3, was subsequently produced but it was actually no great improvement. It did have a non-removable gas cylinder supporting the bipod, and the new barrel had a carrying handle so barrel changes were quicker and easier. However, the new lightened gun was actually less reliable; the light barrel would burn out if 200 to 300 rounds were fired on fully automatic, so it had to be changed after 100 rounds in rapid fire.

Old concepts, new designs

Originating from the MG42, the German MG3 machine gun can truly be called an old soldier in the world of small arms design. The Russian RPK-74 is in concept a 7.62mm RPK scaled down to 5.45mm ammunition. The American M60, however, was a machine gun that caused considerable problems and was therefore very unpopular with its users.

GPMG hero

At 04.45 on 27 April 1965, in Plaman Mapu, Sarawak,a position held by 34 men from the British B Company HQ 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment and a platoon of young soldiers fresh from the depot came under three attacks by a Javanese Para-Commando Regiment. Company Sergeant Major (CSM) Williams and other officers were with them, along with cooks, mortar crews and radio operators.

General-Purpose Machine Guns

The GPMG (general-purpose machine gun), which was exemplified by the MG42, would be regarded as an essential weapon by all armies after the war, and widely copied. The French had their AAT-52 and the Belgians their highly successful MAG, while the Russian belt-fed RPD LMG was a step towards the GPMG concept.

The MG42 in war

US soldiers who encountered the MG42 in the wooded cover of the bocage of Normandy in June and July 1944 said that the ripping sound of the fast-firing MG42 resembled the sound of a sheet of calico being torn apart.

Enduring designs

The German MG42 and Soviet DShk and SG43 are three machine guns that have enjoyed a remarkable operational life. The MG42 has been the basis for numerous automatic weapons and remains the touchstone for all general purpose machine guns.

Corporal Tom Hunter VC

In the last weeks of World War II on 2 April 1945, Corporal Tom Hunter's troop from 43 Royal Marine Commando came under heavy and constant fire from three German MG42s dug in close to a group of houses near to Lake Comacchio in northern Italy.

A hero's gun

The Japanese Type 96 light machine gun (LMG) drew on some of the design features of the earlier Czech ZB 26. The Bren gun, also based on the Czech ZB 26, became the British and Commonwealth section LMG in World War II. Even as late as 21 November 1965 it was the weapon with which brave junior NCOs such as L. Naik Rambahadur Limbu of the 2/10th Gurkha Rifles won the highest award for gallantry: the Victoria Cross. Another Czech weapon, the ZB vz/53, was fielded by both the Germans and the British in World War II.

SAS jeep attack

In July 1942, Major David Stirling of the British Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) decided to attack Landing Ground 21, the airfield at Sidi Haneish, Egypt, using a V-shaped formation of two columns of seven jeeps commanded by Earl George Jellicoe and Paddy Mayne, with Stirling leading. They were to drive down the runway, engaging the lines of aircraft with their Vickers K guns, a total firepower of 68. To ensure surprise, the attack would be on a night with a full moon.

SAS guns

The light .303 drum-fed Vickers-Berthier machine gun would prove an ideal weapon for the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) jeeps in World War II - armed with these machine guns they caused chaos behind German lines in North Africa and Europe. Sometimes the jeeps came under fire from German MG34s, their weapons firing almost twice as fast as the VB guns. In contrast, the Japanese Type 92 had a slow rate of fire.

Anti-aircraft ammunition

Machine guns firing rifle-calibre ammunition were only effective against low-flying aircraft if they were used en masse. Weapons such as the heavy Browning .50 and DshK1938 were capable of taking down aircraft. Yet one of the most effective features of these weapons was the deterrent value of the tracer ammunition. For the gunner, the burning tracers allowed him to correct his aim against moving targets. For the pilot of a bomb-laden aircraft diving towards a target on the ground, the sky filled with flashing tracer, which could put him off his aim. Tracers proved effective against aircraft as late as the Falklands War in 1982.

Defective designs

The Italian Mitriaglice Fiat 1914/35 has the appearence of a good medium machine gun, just as the Breda Modello 30 has the look of a good light machine gun. However, appearances can be deceptive. Both guns had some troublesome design defects that only came to light when the unfortunate soldiers were in action in the front line. The German Flugzeugmaschinen-gewehr MG 15 and 17 were tested in action in Luftwaffe bombers, before they were modified for a ground role.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Vasily Alekseyevich Degtyarev

Born on 2 January 1880 at Tula, south of Moscow, Vasily Alekseyevich Degtyarev was to become a prolific Russian weapons engineer. For this work his titles and honours would include Major General of the Engineers and Artillery Service, Doctor of Technical Sciences in 1940, and two weeks after Joseph Stalin had been awarded Hero of Socialist Labour that year, Degtyarev received the second such award in its history. Interestingly for a man so closely involved with the Soviet Union, he did not become a Communist Party member until 1941.

Light firepower

Light machine guns developed in the 1930s played a profound part in World War II, as well as in conflicts for years afterwards. The French Chatellerault was fielded by paratroops in the doomed battle of Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam in 1954, while numerous liberation armies in Africa and Asia used the Soviet-supplied DP LMG. The Czech ZB vz/26 was used by all the combatants in World War II and forms the model for the British Bren gun.

John Moses Browning

The son of a Mormon gunsmith, John Moses Browning was born in Ogden, Utah in 1855. Working with scrap metal, he produced his first gun when he was 13. At the age of 24 he patented a breech-loading single-shot rifle.

Browning and Kijiro's designs

The diversity and durability of the small arms designed by John Moses Browning are remarkable. His BAR and M1919 machine gun would see US forces through World War II and the Korean War, and in the case of the M1919, were still used by armies around the world in the 21st century. While never in the Browning league, General Kijiro Nambu was also a very talented designer, producing pistols, rifles and machine guns.

Machine gun deployment

Machine guns were deployed in three ways in World War I: direct fire, indirect fire and firing from fixed points.

World War I survivors

The heavy weight of the German MG 08/15 (a "light" machine gun) must in part have been the inspiration to produce the genuinely light MG34 and later the well-designed MG42. The American Browning M1917 would serve through two world wars, but the Browning .50 would be a true survivor; it remains in service in the 21st century.

Isaac Newton Lewis

In 1911, a serving American officer and amateur inventor, Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis, perfected a light machine gun originally designed by another American, Samuel Maclean. The American Army showed no interest in its production, so Colonel Lewis retired and moved to Belgium in January 1913, where the Belgians undertook its manufacture. Surprisingly, its calibre was 7.7mm or .303, the calibre of the standard British rifle round.

The good and the bad

The Italian Fiat-Revelli M1914 must have been a gunner's nightmare, with a complex mechanism that was prone to jamming. The unreliable French Chauchat LMG was designed by three men - Chauchat, Suterre and Riberolle - and as such has been called a gun designed by committee. The American-designed British-built Lewis gun, however, would be one of World War I's success stories.

Machine-gun tactics in World War I

In 1914 a German Army battalion had six Maxim MG Modell 1908 machine guns; in contrast, a British battalion had only two Vickers Mark 1s, or Maxims. However, from the outset of the fighting, the Germans tactically concentrated these already co¬ordinated battalion teams into batteries and thus gave the appearance, and effect, of having even more machine guns than was actually the case. They gave this impression at Loos, where German machine-gun crews opened fire at 1,400m/1,530yd on the advancing British infantry on the afternoon of 26 September 1915. They inflicted 8,000 casualties (50 per cent) on just two British New Army Divisions (21st and 24th). One German single machine-gun crew is said to have fired 12,500 rounds.

Machine gun veterans

Three machine guns that were the cornerstones of infantry operations in World War I - the Russian PM1910, British Vickers MMG and French Hotchkiss M1914 - were still in use during World War II. Indeed, the Vickers was still in use in the mid-1960s, before the British Army switched to 7.62mm NATO calibre ammunition.

Benjamin Hotchkiss

Born in Watertown, Connecticut, in 1826, Benjamin Berkeley Hotchkiss became a skilled designer in the family's engineering business, working on new weapons designs. When he failed to interest the US Government, he moved to France and set up the Hotchkiss Company in 1867.

Machine guns of World War I

Prior to World War I, Austria-Hungary had an established small arms industry in what is now the Czech Republic as well as in Austria, where it produced the Schwarzlose MG07/12 In France, Hotchkiss, a firm established by an American, produced two reliable machine guns, while the German Maschinengewehr 08 was used to great effect against British and French forces on the Western Front.

Hiram S. Maxim

Born in Sangersville, Maine, USA in 1840, Hiram Maxim became a coachbuilder in an engineering works in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. When he was 26, he obtained the first of many patents for a hair-curling iron. This was rapidly followed by a machine for producing illuminating gas and a locomotive headlamp.

The first machine guns

Hiram Maxim's invention at the close of the 19th century dominated the 20th century. Colt and Browning, two American small arms giants, combined to produce a machine gun, the Colt-Browning "Potato Digger", while the Danish produced the Madsen - significantly, the first light machine gun (LMG) - which has often been overlooked.

Torsten W. Nordenfelt

The Swedish engineer Torsten Wilhelm Nordenfelt (1842-1920) teamed up with his fellow countryman and inventor Palmcrantz to produce the M1877 25mm/1in four-barrelled semi-automatic weapon for the Royal Swedish Navy. The gun was gravity fed and fired at 120 rpm. As the Royal Navy was the largest in the world in the late 19th century, Nordenfelt set up a factory in London to supply guns. He teamed up with Maxim to produce guns that were supplied to the Ottoman and German navies. In 1906 the US Navy adopted its first light automatic anti-aircraft gun, the Maxim-Nordenfelt 1 pdr Mark 6.

Weapons of war

In the mid-19th century, weapons such as the Gatling were used in action by the Americans in the Civil War, while the French used the Montigny mitrailleuse, one of the first secret weapons, in the Franco-Prussian War. The Swedish-designed Nordenfelt was adopted by the British for use by the Royal Navy.

Billinghurst-Requa battery

Although the Gatling gun, patented on 4 November 1862, would prove a superior weapon, the Billinghurst-Requa battery, an advanced organ gun patented on 16 September 1862, predates it and is widely regarded as the first "practical" machine gun to be used during the American Civil War. It was the invention of the self-contained metal cartridge that made the organ gun (also known as the volley gun) a practical weapon. The cleverly arranged breech, which closed on a piano hinge, allowed for the ammunition strips to be loaded, fired, extracted, and reloaded quickly by the crew of three.

Early multi-shot weapons

The 18th and 19th centuries saw the first multi-shot weapons, such as the English Puckle gun. They were not machine guns, but they pointed to future wars in which heavy volumes of fire could dominate the battlefield. The industrial base of the Union forces in the American Civil War gave inventors the facilities to develop these weapons, notably the multi-barrelled Organ gun and hopper magazine-fed Agar "Coffee Mill".

Machine guns

Without the percussion cap and the self-contained round, the machine gun would never have been developed. As a minister, the Reverend Alexander Forsyth would perhaps have been horrified to discover his major part in this innovation. It was the method of ignition he invented to make wild fowling less vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather that became a key element of the machine gun. Rounds - the bullet and cartridge with its percussion cap and powder - could be fed on a belt or from a spring-loaded magazine into a rapid-firing and brutally effective weapon of war.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

SS109 ammunition

During the 1970s, NATO members signed an agreement to select a smaller-calibre cartridge to replace the 7.62mm round. While there was agreement within NATO on the 5.56mm calibre, the M193 round used by US forces was rejected in favour of the more powerful Belgian FN SS109.

Classic versus innovation

The United States' M24 sniper weapon and the Beretta SC-70/90 assault rifle are well established, classic designs. By contrast, the Barrett M82 .50in calibre rifle, known as the "Light Fifty", and the Heckler & Koch G-36 are more innovative weapons, and both have attracted great interest outside their countries of origin.


The success story of the L85A1 rifle is the compact Sight Unit Small Arms Trilux (SUSAT), developed by the Royal Armaments and Research Department (RARDE). Weighing 417g/14.5oz, it is only 14.5cm/6in long and can be fitted or removed quickly using its universal mount on rifles, machine guns and recoilless rifles. It has a magnification of x4 and a field of view of ten degrees. The sight has been adopted by several armies including those of Sweden, Oman, Spain, Cameroon and, of course, Britain.
Though the L85 rifle has been modified and improved as the L85A1, it still has its critics. Yet the x4 SUSAT sight has proved a huge success and has been adopted by other countries for their rifles.

France and Britain

While the British L96A1 PM sniper rifle enjoys an excellent reputation, this cannot be said for the L85A1 rifle - the British soldier's issue rifle. The French FAMAS has had its critics too, but it is in wider use around the world. The French FR F2 sniper rifle is well regarded, but lacks the unique features of the L96A1.

Plastic guns

Although the Germans had pioneered the use of early plastics such as Bakelite in automatic weapons prior to World War II, it was in the late 1960s that the American M16 rifle first caught the general public's attention. It used black polymers for the "furniture" (the butt and stock), where wood would traditionally have been used. Materials such as polymers and ceramics have considerable advantages over more traditional wood and steel: they do not corrode and deform in wet and humid conditions, which makes them ideal in a maritime or tropical environment; they are often lighter and actually stronger; and polymers can be cast in a colour that suits the theatre in which they are likely to be used - black, sand or olive drab.

Modern assault rifles

Modern assault rifles, such as the Austrian Steyr AUG rifle, are commonly made from polymers and GRP (glass-reinforced plastic, or fibreglass). They are made in weapons "families": individual parts are interchangeable between models, and a rifle can be converted into a light support weapon in minutes. The Israeli Galil came from a different family that took design ideas from the Finnish Valmet, which itself had adopted them from the Soviet AK-47. The Soviet AK-74 is an update on the AK-47.

М16 controversy

The first M16 rifles, issued to US troops in Vietnam in the mid-60s, were loathed because men were killed or wounded when they jammed in combat. One of the major causes for these malfunctions was that the US Army replaced the originally specified Dupont IMR powder with standard ball powder, used in 7.62 x 51mm NATO ammunition. This produced much more fouling, which rapidly caused the actions of the M16 to jam unless the weapon was cleaned thoroughly. However, the initial M16 rifles had been promoted as "low maintenance", requiring no cleaning, and therefore no cleaning kits were issued and soldiers received no instructions in weapons cleaning.

Outstanding models

The German G3 rifle is one of the small arms success stories of post-war Europe. An excellent and reliable design, the weapon has been widely exported and manufactured under licence. The American Ml6 has enjoyed even greater success, and this rifle and its derivatives are in use across most of the world. The Russian SVD's claim to fame is that it is the only semi-automatic sniper's rifle with bayonet fittings.

FN Fusil Automatique Leger

Developed by the Belgian Fabrique Nationale company, the FN FAL (Fusil Automatique Leger - light automatic rifle) is one of the most widely known rifle designs of the 20th century. Its popularity is reflected in the fact that more than 70 countries have used it and at least ten countries made it themselves.

Post-war assault rifles

In the 1950s new rifles were developed in the United States, Soviet Union and Europe. The American M14 had a short operational life, as did the Soviet SKS. The French MAS-49 soldiered on for many years, but the Belgian FN FAL was a real winner, widely built and used.

Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov

In 1938 Mikhail Kalashnikov, a self-taught inventor, joined the Soviet Army in Kiev and went to a tank mechanics school. There, among other useful tactical devices for armoured vehicles, he designed a device to count the shots fired by a tank.

The first assault rifles

In the latter years of World War II, the German small arms industry came up with the assault rifle, which fired an intermediate round - smaller than a rifle round but bigger than a pistol. This was a weapon that would change the whole philosophy of rifle design. Meanwhile, at the end of the war, the AK-47, which would become the weapon of the late 20th century, was designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Intermediate 7.92mm ammunition

During World War II, German after-action analysis in 1939-40 established that most firefights took place at comparatively short ranges, around 400m/437yd - not the 800-875m/1,005-1,100yd for which weapons such as the Kar 98K rifle had been designed.

The pressure of war

War pressures produced some very successful designs, such as the American Ml carbine; some very innovative designs, such as the German FG42; and some rugged, conventional but battle-worthy weapons, such as the British bolt-action No. 4 rifle. The German Gewehr 41, by contrast, was unreliable and too heavy to be popular.

John C. Garand

Bom on 1 January 1888 on a small farm in Quebec, Canada, John Cantius Garand was working as a floor sweeper at a Connecticut textile mill by the time he was 11, where he was fascinated with the machinery he saw around him. In his spare time, he learnt from the mechanics and by 18 he had taught himself enough to work as a machinist.

Self-loading rifles

As the prospect of World War II loomed in Europe, designers looked at systems for self-loading or semi-automatic rifles. The most famous and successful was, and remains, the US Ml Garand. However, the Soviet Tokarev 38 and 40 were imaginative designs that impressed the Germans. The French bolt-action MAS 36 would prove a rugged and reliable weapon in some of the toughest campaigns.

Marksmanship in battle

An American hero of World War I, Corporal (later Sergeant) Alvin Cullum York of the 328th Infantry was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine-gun nest during the battle of the Meuse-Argonne on 8 October 1918. Armed with the Springfield M1903 bolt-action rifle, he and his section killed 32 German soldiers and captured 132 others as well as 35 German machine guns, and took control of the fortified position.

Rifles far and wide

At the turn of the twentieth century some international rifle designs were conventional while others were innovative. The Mexican Mondragon was remarkably advanced, as was the philosophy proposed for its tactical employment. In Japan and Russia, two countries that had fought for dominance in the East, two reliable but conventional weapons, the Arisaka and the Mosin-Nagant, were produced for the infantry.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Massacre at Mons

In the hands of a trained soldier, the British Short, Magazine-Loaded Lee-Enfield was easily capable of 15 rpm of accurate fire. In the 1930s, a Small Arms School Corps Warrant Officer managed a rate of 37 rpm. This fast rate of fire proved significant in World War I.
Britain declared war on 4 August 1914 and when, by mid-August, the Belgians had been mauled by the German Army, only one intact force stood in the way of the Germans: the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The first shots fired on 23 August by the BEF were at Malplaquet. The advancing German infantrymen were pulled up short near Mons as the withering rifle fire of the British caused them heavy casualties.
Two days later at Le Cateau the story of Mons was repeated, only on a bloodier scale. Once again the Germans attacked in tightly bunched waves and again they were met with rifle fire so intense that they thought the British were equipped with machine guns.

World War rifles

The excellent bolt-action rifles produced at the close of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, such as the German Gewehr 98, British SMLE and American M1903, were used in World War I and, with some modifications, remained in service during World War II.

A Winchester by any other name

In 1848 American small arms designer Walter Hunt developed the concept of the first repeating rifle, giving it the grand name of "Rocket Ball and Volition Repeater." A lever-action, tube-loading repeater, it eventually evolved into the Winchester Model 1873. A US patent was granted in 1849 for an improved design by a machinist named Lewis Jennings and Hunt's partner George Arrowsmith.

Historic guns

The American Winchester 1873 was not the first gun bearing the Winchester name, but its popularity earned it the nickname of "The Gun That Won the West" The British Lee-Metford had only a short operational life with the British Army, while the Italian Carcano 91/94 had a long and ultimately notorious history, due to its most famous owner. On 22 November 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald used a Mannlicher-Carcano serial number C2766 with an Ordnance Optics 4x18 scope to kill the US President John R Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.

Smokeless propellants

Poudre B or poudre blanche (white powder, to distinguish it from black powder), was the first smokeless propellant, developed around 1885 by Paul Vieille. Made up from nitrocotton and ether-alcohol, unlike black powder it did not produce clouds of white smoke when it was detonated. Subsequently, the prolific Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel added to the growing list of smokeless powders a substance called ballistite.

Conversion rifles

The successful Snider P/53 was a converted rifle produced in Enfield from 1866. It was replaced by the 1871 Martini-Henry single-shot rifle, which was used by the British Army for 30 years and could truly be called the gun that served the empire. However, another conversion rifle - the American "trapdoor" Springfield - was a cost-cutting conversion that would prove unsatisfactory when tested in war.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

1849 Minie bullet

The innovative gunsmith Claude-Etienne Minie was born in 1814 in Paris. After serving as an officer in the French Army, in 1849 he developed the Minie rifle and bullet.
Inaccurately pronounced minnie and incorrectly called a ball, the bullet was a cylindro-conoidal (i.e., bullet-shaped) lead projectile fired from a muzzle-loading rifle. It was small enough to fit down the J, barrel of a rifle even when fouled with burned J powder. When the rifle was fired, expanding gases entered the bullet's hollow base, pushing the outer edges into the rifling of the barrel. Since it greatly improved the accuracy, range and rate of small-arms fire, the Minie ball was rapidly adopted by the US Army. During the American Civil War, the Minie became one of the most widely used types of ammunition by the armies of the Confederacy and the Union.

Mid-19th-century wars

Although the combatants in the American Civil War bought arms from Great Britain, such as the Whitworth .451, they also had stocks of their own weapons, such as the Model 1842 percussion musket and the Model 1865 Spencer carbine. However, it was the bullet designed by Frenchman Claude Etienne Minie that would play a major part in the war. Meanwhile in France, his fellow national Antoine Alphonse Chassepot had produced the innovative Modele 1866 breech-loading rifle.

1807 percussion cap

One of the problems of flintlock weapons was that sometimes the priming powder didn't ignite because the lock wasn't able to keep it entirely dry. The solution was found in 1807 by Alexander John Forsyth who patented a priming powder made from an unstable mix of chlorate of potash, sulphur and charcoal, which exploded when it was struck. He saw it as a useful development for sportsmen who were wild fowling on wet days. It took 30 years for the technology to be recognized and adopted by the military authorities. In the meantime, it was gradually improved by gunmakers and private individuals,who developed the copper percussion cap.

Rifles from 1800-2000

An inventive century
The mid-19th century saw two major developments in small arms technology: the Pauly cartridge and the Dreyse needle gun. Just as the percussion cap had advanced weapons technology in its day, so these two inventions would take it further and point to modern small arms of the 20th century While the British 1853 Enfield rifle did not mark any significant technological advances, it did demonstrate ruthless commercial enterprise, since the British sold it to both sides in the American Civil War.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Volley firing

Throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, when smoothbore muskets were slow to load and inaccurate, short-range volley firing was an essential tactic. A trained soldier could fire a shot about every twenty seconds but could not expect to hit a human target beyond 73m/80yd. To accommodate this limitation, infantry soldiers fired in closely disciplined volleys, in which one rank would fire while the second reloaded. The firing rank might take place from the standing or kneeling position, while reloading was conducted from a standing position. A variation of this drill had a row of kneeling men with muskets and bayonets at a 45-degree angle, presenting a formidable barrier to enemy infantry or cavalry. A volley could also be fired by all the soldiers simultaneously, producing a crushing weight of fire which would then be followed up with a bayonet charge.

The last flintlocks

The Prussian Jager rifle and the Mississippi rifle were examples of weapons built by countries that did not have a large industrial base. The British, by contrast, who were entering the Industrial Revolution, embarked on more systematic weapons production and design rationalization with their Short Land Pattern and India Pattern muskets.

Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

The wars fought by Britain and European powers against the nationalistic and ambitious French leader Napoleon Bonaparte marked a significant change in the practice of land warfare.

Art and utility

Two types of firearm used in the 19th century are at the extreme end of weapons design. The miquelet, produced in Turkey, was more a work of art than a weapon. By contrast, the Baker rifle, used by British riflemen in the Peninsula War, was a functionally efficient weapon, and the soldiers who used it were trained to make the most of its potential.

Musket drill 1764

Musket drill in the mid-18th century was based around a series of commands. On the order "Poise your Firelocks", the soldier took his musket in his right hand, and turned the lock outwards, while keeping the musket upright. He then swung the musket off his shoulder and grasped it with his left hand just above the lock with the little finger resting upon the spring, and the thumb on the stock.

Guns of the Revolution

In 1776 the United States was locked in war with Britain, the colonial power, and was desperate for muskets. In the spring of that year, the US Congress sent a secret agent to France to ask the king for help in the form of weapons, equipment and financial support. The 1766 musket, shipped over by France, would later be replaced by the home-produced US 1795 musket, made at the Springfield Armory.

Muskets in action

Infantry soldiers were armed with a musket and a bayonet. The musket was muzzle loading with a flintlock mechanism at the butt end of the barrel. The soldier's normal ammunition load was 24 cartridges. Each cartridge contained a single load of gunpowder and a spherical lead ball. When loading, the soldier ripped open the paper cartridge with his teeth and poured a small quantity of powder into the firing pan. He poured the remainder of the charge into the muzzle of the musket, followed by the cartridge paper as a wad, and poked the charge to the bottom of the barrel with the ramrod.

Three special muskets

The Kentucky rifle was made famous as the weapon carried by "Hawkeye", the colonial trapper Nathaniel Poe, in James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Last of the Mohicans. The blunderbuss was a short-range weapon that fired a load of heavy gauge shot (not scrap metal, as has been suggested). In the 18th century the British Army received the "Brown Bess" musket, a reliable weapon that would serve it well through the Napoleonic Wars and the colonial campaigns around the world.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The miquelet and flintlock

The miquelet lock was named after Catalan militia leader Miquelot de Prats. Popular in the Mediterranean area from the 16th to 19th centuries, it was a distinctive flint-on-steel ignition mechanism. The design is attributed to an anonymous Italian gunsmith working for a Madrid gunmaker, Pedro Marquart, in the mid-1570s. This prototype was refined by Madrid gunsmiths into the Spanish patilla style now commonly known as the miquelet. A distinctive Italian miquelet lock was also developed.

Tools of the trade

Men in the 17th and 18th centuries armed with muzzle loaders such as the doglock, miquelet and flintlock required a number of essential pieces of equipment in the field. These would enable them to carry gunpowder securely and maintain their weapons sufficiently when on campaign in all weather conditions.

Wheel lock and snaphance

The wheel-lock mechanism used a fluted or grooved steel wheel located above the priming pan and held under tension by a strong spring. The bock was also regulated by a spring and fitted with a piece of iron pyrite.To fire the gun, the lock was wound up with a key, then the cock was let down on the priming pan, so that the pyrite rested on the wheel. To ignite the powder in the pan, the trigger was pressed which caused the wheel to be released and spin round quickly. The sparks produced then ignited the powder. The lock was not only complicated and expensive but also prone to damage, which prevented its wider adoption. Wheel-lock and matchlock combinations were fairly common because many wheel-lock mechanisms were unreliable. Such a gun would function as a regular wheel lock, but if the wheel lock broke or malfunctioned the user would still be able to fire the gun using the matchlock.
The wheel' lock was an efficient but complex mechanism that never entirely replaced the much more basic matchlock in military use. The wheel lock was popular with aristocratic hunters and sportsmen as an obvious demonstration of their wealth.

The snaphance marked a new innovation since it used flint and steel to ignite the powder. When the trigger was pulled, the pan covering the powder opened mechanically as the flint scraped down the face of the steel to produce sparks.

Classic 16th century designs

In 1517 and 1518, the first gun-control laws were introduced by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, when he attempted to ban the manufacture or possession of matchlocks; being compact and more reliable than earlier firearms, they were seen as an ideal assassin's weapon. The matchlock nevertheless remained popular as a sporting arm and weapon. Meanwhile, the new Spanish musket became a common weapon of war for nearly a century.

Matchlock drill

In 16th-century European armies, there was a strict set of orders for firing a musket. On the command "Handle your piece',' the musketeer placed the weapon on the rest, near the point of balance. On receipt of the order "Take forth your match',' he transferred the burning match from the left hand to the right hand. On the order "Blow off your coal" he blew off any loose ash from the burning end of the slow match. On the command "Cock your match" he clamped the burning end of the slow match between the jaws of the serpentine.

16th century technology

The 16th century saw great developments in weapons technology, much of which remains in use today. These innovations included the wheel lock, which was invented around the turn of the century, although the actual inventor is unconfirmed. In addition, sights and rifling were major advances, and ensured that weapons could be aimed accurately and that the bullet had a straight flight path to the target.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

War on the North-West Frontier

A series of conflicts known as the Anglo-Afghan Wars took place during the imperialist struggle for domination in Afghanistan between Britain and the Russian Empire in the 19th century.

New users of the matchlock

The simplicity of the matchlock led to its adoption by indigenous warriors wherever it was taken by European traders and soldiers. The Japanese learned how to build matchlocks from Portuguese traders, while the Indians and Afghans adopted the technology from the British. On India's North-West Frontier, warlike tribesmen used their Jezail matchlocks, designed for easy fire from horseback, with ruthless efficiency against the British.

The gunsmith's craft

Firearms were a "must-have" weapon for the monarchs and rulers of Europe. In addition to their beautifully crafted armour and edged weapons, these leaders had firearms made to order, and gunsmiths came up with some ingenious designs that were pointers to the future. A revolving matchlock was presented to King Louis XIII of France. This gun had multiple chambers, each of which had its own priming pan. To fire it, the user rotated each chamber into place and opened the pan and fired as a conventional matchlock.

King Henry VIII of England had a custom-made breech-loading matchlock. This gun was loaded through the rear by lifting the breech block, placing the shot followed by gunpowder into the barrel and then closing the breech block. The pan was then primed and the gun fired as a conventional matchlock.

The beautifully engraved breech-loading matchlock used by Henry VIII; his crest featuring a rose can be seen on the barrel. The carefully engineered breech was designed to give an effective gas seal for the exploding powder.

The matchlock

The 15th century saw improvements in firearm design such as the matchlock, which looked less like a miniature cannon and more like our familiar rifle with a butt and trigger. Further developments in design produced the arquebus, some versions of which were fitted with snapping matchlocks or sear-lock matchlocks.

Early rifles

The first firearms developed in Europe in the 14th century were hand cannon. These crude weapons were refined during the following century through a series of modifications such as the hackbut and arquebus, some fitted with snapping matchlocks or sear-lock matchlocks. In some regions of the world, including Japan and India's North-West Frontier, matchlocks would survive for centuries, and in the hands of trained marksmen prove very effective weapons. The development of the wheel lock and snaphance in the 16th century led to the production of the flintlock, a weapon that was used until the American Civil War. During this period, sights and rifling were developed, which greatly improved the accuracy of rifles. In the 17th and 18th centuries, new technologies were introduced to allow soldiers to carry gunpowder more safely. The section also covers the muskets of the 18th century, which also saw service in the American Civil War (1861-65) and the British Army in its conquest of colonies around the world.


Firearms have exerted a fascination since medieval times, and today's weapons are more accurate and effective than the first designers could have imagined. The rifle has been developed for use both in target shooting and for hunting, while the machine gun was exclusively developed for major conflict - and has demonstrated its devastating efficiency.