Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Mauser Anti-tank Rifle

In today's post, we will study a special firearm that was developed during World War I. It was the world's first anti-tank rifle and it was developed by Mauser. This particular rifle was called the Mauser Tankgewehr M1918 (or Mauser T-Gewehr for short). The word Tankgewehr is German and means "tank rifle".

During World War I, the invention of the tank revolutionized modern warfare and gave British and French troops a significant advantage on the battlefield. When it was first introduced, the British Mark I tank was almost invulnerable to the ordinary rifles possessed by the German troops in the trenches. The Germans tried several tactics to neutralize British tanks.

The first attempt that the Germans made was to develop a "reversed bullet". This was simply a cartridge with the same case and bullet as the normal cartridge, but the bullet was turned backwards and extra propellant was added to the cartridge case. Since it used the same bullet and cartridge case, it could be fired by the infantry rifles that the Germans were already using. When such a cartridge was fired, the extra propellant would push the bullet at a faster speed than a normal cartridge and because the bullet was placed in backwards, the blunt end of the bullet would hit the tank first. If fired at closer ranges, the bullet would not shatter on the armor plating of the tank, but would instead penetrate it. In many cases, it would not always penetrate, but would significantly dent the tank's armor and cause shrapnel to fly in the interior compartment and kill or wound the people inside the tank. However, this cartridge was only effective at close range and because it carried extra propellant, it could damage older rifles or cause them to burst, thereby endangering its user and people around him.

The next attempt was to develop a special "K-bullet". This bullet was a 7.92x57 mm. bullet similar to what the Germans were already using at that time, but it was made with a hard tool-steel core. This meant that it could penetrate armor better than other bullet types. In fact, it had a 33% chance of penetrating 12-13 mm. thick armor plate at a range of 100 meters (330 feet). Like the reversed bullet, this could also be fired out a standard German infantry rifle. However, the K-bullet was more expensive to produce and hence was only issued to specialized snipers. Also, like the reversed bullet, the K-bullet cartridges also often damaged rifles, especially older ones and therefore wasn't very popular. In addition to this, when the British introduced the Mark IV tank during the battle of Messines Ridge, the K-bullet couldn't penetrate its thicker armor effectively.

Therefore, the Mauser factory came up with an entirely new rifle, specifically designed to fight against armored vehicles.
The Mauser T-Gewehr M1918. Click on the image to enlarge.
Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribute-Share Alike 2.0 France license by user Rama at

The Mauser Tankgewehr M1918 was developed in 1918, as the name suggests. It was a bolt-action design, using the same tried and tested Mauser M-98 action that was used in their bolt action rifles from 1898 onwards. The rifle was single-shot and rounds were loaded manually into the chamber. Sights were calibrated between 100 and 500 meters. The rifle and bipod together weighed about 18.5 kg. (or about 40 lbs.), so a two man crew was required to operate this -- a gunner and an ammunition carrier, who was also trained to fire the rifle, in case the gunner was injured.

The cartridge for this rifle was a 13.2x92 mm. cartridge, with a special hardened steel core bullet. The rifle did not have a muzzle brake and there was no recoil pad in the stock either. This meant that the rifle had a very heavy recoil and often injured the shoulder of the person firing it. Nevertheless, approximately 15,800 of these rifles were produced. Unfortunately for the Germans, this rifle came rather late in the war. Mass production of this rifle began in May 1918 and by November 1918, the end of World War I was declared.

This was the world's first anti-tank rifle and pioneered the use of other large caliber firearms in the future. We will study some of those in the following posts.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Richardson R5 Philippine Guerilla Gun

In our last post, we studied about a survival rifle that was designed for backpackers and hikers. Today, we will study an unusual firearm that was originally constructed in the jungles of the Philippines. We're talking about the Richardson R5 Philippine Guerilla Gun.

First, we will talk about an extraordinary gentleman named Iliff David Richardson, who was responsible for manufacturing and marketing this gun in the United States. Mr. Richardson originally enlisted in the US Navy as an ensign at the start of World War II and was stationed in the Philippines. His PT boat was one of the boats that was involved in the operation to evacuate General Douglas MacArthur out of the Philippines to Australia. He continued to serve on his PT boat until it was sunk by Japanese Navy float planes a month later. After this, he enlisted in the US Army and was involved in the fighting around Cebu city in the Philippines. He and a dozen other Americans attempted to escape in a native outrigger canoe to Australia, but the canoe sank in a storm and Mr. Richardson managed to reach the island of Mindanao after a long swim. There, he came into contact with Philippine resistance fighters and joined forces with them. Since he was a trained ham radio operator before the war, he was put in charge of setting up communications between the various resistance groups and allied forces in Australia and coordinating their efforts. He did this for about 3 years, until the US forces reoccupied the Philippines in late 1944. For his work in the war, General Douglas MacArthur made him a US Army Intelligence major and he had the unusual distinction of holding commissions in both the US Army and the US Navy simultaneously. His heroics came to the attention of the public towards the end of the war and Hollywood even made a movie, "American Guerilla in the Philippines", partly based on his adventures.

Iliff David Richardson in late 1944. Click on image to enlarge.

During his time with the Philippine guerillas, he noticed that they made simple firearms called Paliuntod and Paltik. These were one-shot weapons that were designed to be used to overcome an enemy soldier in a surprise attack and then take his weapon. In this, they were similar in purpose to the FP-45 Liberator pistol that we studied a couple of years ago.

A Paliuntod shotgun. Click on image to enlarge.

These weapons were originally invented and used by Filipino guerillas during the American occupation of the Philippines and continued to be used during World War II and can still be found in use currently. The shotgun above consists of a crude barrel made from a soft metal tube sliding over another tube. The user would push it forward (as shown in the image above) and load a cartridge into the back of it. The firing mechanism was extremely primitive as well. It consisted of a fixed firing pin, which was a nail that was fixed to the handle. To fire it, the user would simply slide the barrel back hard enough so that it slammed against the nail, which would detonate the cartridge and fire it. There was no rifling in the barrel and the weapon was only effective at short ranges and was mainly used to disable an enemy and take his firearm. Several guerillas who had fought with Richardson used these weapons against the Japanese.

After the war, Mr. Richardson came back to the US and found that he was regarded as a celebrity. He started a company called Richardson Industries in 1946 to manufacture the type of weapons that they used against the Japanese. He called his creation the Model R5 Philippine Guerilla gun. Compared to the guns used by the guerillas, the model R5 was made of comparatively better materials.

A basic model R5 Richardson Guerilla gun

It consists of a simple wooden stock with a guide tube attached to it. At the back of the guide tube is a fixed firing pin. The barrel is a smaller diameter steel tube with no rifling, that can slide within the guide tube. The barrel is large enough to hold a 12-gauge shotgun shell. To load this firearm, the user slides the barrel out and inserts a shell into it. Then the user slides the barrel carefully back into the guide tube. To fire the gun, the user grabs the stock with one hand and the barrel with the other hand and strongly slides the barrel backwards to slam the cartridge against the fixed firing pin, which fires the gun. Note that the only thing that holds the breech closed is the strength of the user's two arms. There are no sights on this firearm and it is only meant to be used at close ranges. The little metal piece you see where the trigger should be is actually a safety device. It is simply a metal bolt that prevents the barrel from moving backwards far enough to strike the firing pin. A more advanced model of this rifle has a lever that looks like a trigger, but the mechanism actually controls a cam that prevents the barrel from sliding forwards or backwards until the trigger is pulled. The advanced model also has a grip attached to the barrel to make slamming the barrel back easier. The basic model has only 5 parts and the advanced model has 17 parts! The stock has the name of the manufacturer ("Richardson Industries Inc., East Haven, Conn., USA"), carved on one side and the words "Philippine Guerilla Gun, Patent Pending" carved on the other side (this message is visible in the image above). The stock is made of cheap wood and there is no butt plate.

Barry from Moss Pawn and Gun demonstrating the advanced Richardson model. Courtesy Iraqveteran8888's channel.

Despite the fame of the creator, this gun never sold very well because it was very impractical to use and production stopped about one year later. The price of this gun, when it was first sold, was only $7, but it now sells as a collector's item for as much as $350-$400 today.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The AR-7 Survival Rifle

A few months ago, we had discussed the amazing Soviet Space Pistol (TP-82), which was designed to be used as a survival weapon in remote areas. In today's post, we will look at a weapon that was designed in the US for a similar purpose. We are talking about the Armalite AR-7, known these days as the Henry Survival Rifle.

The Armalite AR-7 was designed in 1958 by Eugene Stoner, the same gentleman who designed the AR-15 and M-16 rifles. The AR-7 was based on the older AR-5 which was developed as a survival weapon designed to be used by aircraft personnel and carried in emergency kits stored aboard aircraft. The AR-5 was adopted by the US air force, but they only ordered very small numbers, therefore Armalite used some of the tooling that was originally developed for the AR-5 to create the AR-7 for the civilian market. The rifle was released to the civilian market in 1959. It was meant to be used by bush pilots, backpackers, hikers and amateur explorers.

As a bare-bones survival rifle, one of the primary requirements was for the design to be light and portable. Therefore, the AR-7 was made from plastics and aluminium alloys to reduce weight. The rifle was also designed to be compact so that it could fit inside a backpack. Therefore it was designed so that the parts could be disassembled and stored inside the plastic stock!

An AR-7 stored in a disassembled state. Click on image to enlarge.

When the rifle is stowed within its stock, the whole package can float on water! This rifle is designed to use the popular .22 LR cartridge, which is the most commonly available rifle cartridge in the world. It has a semi-automatic action and can hold 8 cartridges within its magazine. The entire rifle weighs 3.5 pounds (about 1.58 kg.) The rifle is also designed to be disassembled without any tools. The stock attaches to the receiver with a long screw bolt and the barrel screws on to the receiver, both of which can be manipulated using just a person's hands.The entire rifle can be assembled or disassembled in about 30 seconds. 

An assembled AR-7 rifle. Click on image to enlarge.

The rifle was designed for an 8 round magazine originally, but there are now other magazines for it that can hold 10, 15, 25 or 50 rounds as well. Accuracy is pretty decent and it can be used to hunt small game animals.

Armalite sold the rights to the design to Charter Arms in 1973. According to some people, Charter Arms didn't manufacture their rifles with the same quality as Armalite and the rifle started to gain a bad reputation during this period. Charter Arms later sold the design to the Henry Repeating Arms company in 1980. The Henry Repeating Arms company slightly revised the design and produced a much better quality version than Charter Arms and after that, the bad reputation it had collected in the previous few years went away.

The version that is now made by Henry Arms has two 8-round magazines stored in the stock (latest versions have 3 magazines). The plastic stock is now made of ABS plastic which is tougher than the original plastic stock and does not crack easily. It is also much more water-resistant than the older stock. The receiver and barrel are coated with teflon for better corrosion resistance

An AR-7 was even featured in the James Bond movie To Russia With Love starring Sean Connery.