Saturday, October 23, 2010

Actions: Gas Operated: Gas Trap

In this post, we will study a lesser known gas-operated system known as the Gas Trap system. This was only used for a few rifles in history, but it might be well to mention it now. This system was originally invented in 1909 by Danish firearm designer, Soren Bang, and used in what is known as the Bang M1922 rifle. The Bang rifle was used by both Denmark and the United States.

A similar idea was also used in the early models of the American M1 Garand rifle, but was later dropped in favor of a long-stroke piston system, because of some problems with the gas trap mechanism. Many older M1 Garands were retrofitted to use long-stroke piston mechanisms and original rifles using gas trap actions are now very rare and are highly prized models indeed.

The third user of the Bang design was the German Gewehr 41, which was designed to the Wehrmacht's requirement that the rifle should be gas operated, but there should be no hole drilled in the barrel to tap the gases. With this very tight restriction to be met, both the manufacturers (Mauser and Walther) who submitted entries into the competition ended up using the Bang design. The Gewehr 41 was made by both Mauser and Walther and used the same caliber ammunition, but they had other different design features, to meet some of the other requirements of the Wehrmacht. The Mauser design was not as reliable as the Walther design, so the majority were made by Walther. However, the rifle is also very rare today and is very highly prized by collectors.

In all the previous gas-operated actions we've studied, there is a hole drilled into the barrel, near the breech (closed end of the barrel) or the middle of the barrel. The purpose of this hole is to tap some of the hot expanding gases leaving the rifle. This tapped gas is used to operate the mechanism that extracts the old cartridge, loads a new one and also cocks the weapon. In all the previous gas operated systems we studied, the hot expanding gases push the piston or bolt.

In a Gas Trap or Bang system, there is no hole drilled in the barrel. Instead, some of the gases are trapped by a ring-shaped cone at the end of the muzzle (the open end of the barrel). The gases expand into the gas trap and pull a piston (instead of pushing, like the other gas operated actions). Pulling this piston actuates a mechanism to extract the cartridge and reload the gun.

The idea behind this system is that the mechanism to extract and reload the cartridge starts to work only after the bullet has left the barrel. This enhances the accuracy of the weapon.

The problems with the system largely stem from the extra complexities of the gas trap. The gas trap is composed of some very precisely machined parts, which are prone to fouling and corrosion from dirty gases. This makes the system very hard to clean and maintain under normal operating conditions in the field and prone to jamming issues. In the case of the M1 Garand, there were also issues in trying to fit a bayonet on top of the gas trap. This is why the gas trap mechanism never really gained popularity.

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