Big Bertha

Big Bertha
Circa 1940, on the streets of Rochester New York, Bertha does her work.
"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Welcome to the Abattoir of Sacred Cows

"Abattoir"; what a great word. a ten dollar word for a fifty-cent concept.
Well, we're back again with that old, bombastic, retired Gunnery Sgt. and giving him a chance to regain some ground after his shameful display on behalf of Toys For Tots back in November.

Very interesting - especially considering the almost sacred status of the BAR amongst American gun nuts and history freaks - and, one would think, the Gunny's predisposition to things American.
To have just one more mention of R. Lee Ermey check out this video where he does something similar using the Thompson and the German MP40.
Turns out, they're relatively equivalent but Ermey likes the Thompson better because it's American.
No problem with that. Be American, buy American. Besides, it shoots a bigger round.
But his final line is especially telling and may get him into hot water with his Tea-Bagger fans, the ones who are on the wrong side of the issue in Wisconsin:

American-made by union men. Urraah!

Okay, if you watched the video then you saw the British Bren pull down the pants of the BAR. But that British and Czech designed, Johnny-come-lately, superior weapon has had a few less birthdays than ole Granpa BAR.
The problem with the BAR, which Browning recognized and was unhappy with, was it's lack of sustained fire capability.
Small, unreliable magazines, a fixed barrel and no way to top off without complete removal of the mag (I think. Please correct as needed).
But, what the hell. There were no other light machine guns available to US troops when we finally got involved in helping to destroy western civilization.
Or were there?

The weapon being demonstrated by the pre-war Marine above is of course, the Lewis gun.
Although nearly everybody in the Great War used them, the US didn't - even though it's final designer, Isaac Newton Lewis, was American and they were even manufactured for the Brits by Savage Arms in Utica, NY.
Now, just to be accurate, it's not a straight-up comparison. The Lewis was only slightly better for sustained fire - a much larger magazine: 47 vs 20) rounds and a fixed - but air cooled barrel.
The cooling system is ingenious. What looks to be a water jacket is actually an aluminum shroud covering a system of fins running parallel to the barrel.
The shroud runs slightly long of the barrel so each round creates a vacuum as it passes, thus drawing a constant stream of air along the barrel.
The BAR was also lighter, around fifteen pounds vs twenty-some but a later version with a heavier, ribbed barrel ran over twenty.
The Lewis was never designed for firing from the hip while walking but could certainly have been adapted. It's just that no one had thought of that beforehand. It would certainly have been light enough - about the same weight as the Bren.
Back to why we never adopted it.
Before the war in Europe even started, the Army made it clear that they had no interest whatsoever in the Lewis.
This was nothing more than a case of pig-headed stupidity on the part of the Army Chief of Ordnance, one General William Crozier.
Seems that Lewis, a retired colonel, had pissed in Crozier's Wheaties at some time in the past so this dipshit kept the US Army from acquiring what was universally recognized as the best LMG of the war.
Even the Germans loved the Lewis. They published a manual for it so the lads could more easily use captured guns. They'd developed a respect for it early on while trampling Belgium, Lewis' first government contract.
They referred to it as "The Belgian rattlesnake".

What old Bill Crozier had for our boys instead was the notorious Chauchat.
By all accounts this wasn't a bad gun if you held your mouth just right and fired it in a NASA clean room.
It's main weaknesses were that it was shoddily constructed from poor materials and used a prize-winngly stupid magazine.
Nearly semi-circular to accommodate the oddball 8mm Lebel cartridge, it also featured open sides; probably quite effective in keeping the parapets tidy as the mags would collect any and all shit that came near them.
This was the first machine gun ever to made to be fired by one man on foot and given some better manufacturing standards and a closed magazine it would probably have been just fine.
This one seems to work okay.
A bad deal all around but Crozier was ahead of the problem. He just bought twice as many as needed.
To clear up a lose end; the Marines, not being stupid or at least not vindictively stupid had been using the Lewis as can be seen pictured above but they were forced to give them up when they got to France and had to use the Chauchat.
But, Just about too late, the BAR came along and was, of course vastly superior.
By the way, this is no slam on the BAR in any way. It was what it was, solid and reliable.
So, that's why we kept using it, even past the Korean idiocy, right?
Because, it's a hallowed, Browning design and therefore cannot be improved on.
Or can it. Every other country that manufactured it did improve on it. The Swedes came up with a quick change barrel and a pistol grip. The Poles managed to equip it with a drum magazine - and a pistol grip and the Belgians also made them with a pistol grip and replaceable barrel.
Hell, even the FBI put a damned pistol grip on it and a compensator to control barrel climb.
This is a fascinating subject, covered in detail here.
But what American gun could have replaced the BAR in WW2?
Pictured next: The Johnson light machine gun.
Lighter, around twelve pounds with a larger magazine capacity, 25 vs 20 rounds.
Capable of being topped off with the magazine remaining in the gun, using either '03 five-round clips or single rounds and with the bolt either open or closed.
It fired single rounds from a closed bolt and selective automatic, 200 to 600 rounds per minute from an open bolt.
If it had a deficiency it was the single stack magazine.

The Dutch government purchased thousands of them to use against the Japanese in the East Indies which plan went by the wayside when the government was forced to move to England.
The Johnnie Guns already delivered were returned to be held by the Marine Corps. They used them to some extent in the Pacific and traded 145 of them to the First Special Service Force for two tons of RS plastic explosive.
The Force used them in all their operations and it was the only squad level automatic weapon they did use in combat.
What made it attractive aside from its light weight was the fact that it could be broken down into three pieces none of which was over 22" long making it far more usable for parachute operations than the BAR which, by the way, means the barrel is replaceable in the bargain. The only BARs the Force issued were to headquarters and other rear elements.
No one who used the Johnson ever had any complaints with it.
The Army is stupid when it comes to defense purchasing. Look at what the BAR was (finally) replaced with - the M60 (Motto: "Not as unreliable and shitty as it used to be) and, after fifty years, they've just about gotten the M16 into a workable condition.
Speaking of the stupid, I haven't had much to report on the deep thinker from Utah as he's mostly been going on about guns where I have no argument.
But today, it's energy policy.
Ogre thinks that the US should be an oil exporter. A noble idea but believing that Americans with a surplus of oil would ever deign to sell it is about as likely as George ever unloading a surfeit of bacon. Check him out. Hell, Ermey's got twenty years on this doughboy and could kick his ass.
Nope, what would happen is that he and every body else would just buy bigger "trucks". Maybe one of those Ford F450 pickups - with a short bed and color-coordinated topper. That's what I'm talkin' about.

3 comments:

Andy said...

Well, the firing from the hip isn't exactly a comprehensive evaluation. Still wouldn't mind the gunnie's job though.
You neglected to mention that Lee Marvin did a hell of a job with the Lewis from the hip!
oh yeah, like Wiley's knife, that's a beaut!

Kevin said...

Very nice blog entry, with a few twists & additions from its parked pics origin, I believe. Nothing really meaningful to add, except a sincere thank for the Chauchat vid, quite interesting! Still have (eventually...) getting the Collector's grade book about the Chauchat in the back of my mind, but, I'm just too lazy.
One random thought, however, about the whole 'sacred' (and probably also 'shunned') cows having fimrmly entrenched themselves in the "tactical" scene, ot at least, what I'm aware of (being guilty of being as tacticool as the next guy)... I have no real first-hand experience to speak of, but, I still do have a brain, or what's left of it after years of exposure to online pr0n... and I've grown first amazed, then acceptant, I guess, of how sentimentality-based all of those 'sacred/shunned cows' are based. Weird. Not even a deep kind of sentimentality, but, I'd say, something affected (possibly not consciencously), IE, you are X, so you 'must' believe/do/act like/... Y. not even sure it's quite peers-pressure, but maybe, something more self-directed, people 'seeing' themselves in a certain way, and so 'marketing' themselves to themselves... scariest part being that it's far from being limited to the "tactical" crowd, IMHO (the other field where I've came to see it everywhere is 'opinions' and/or 'politics').

Don't know if that makes sense to you, and how that thought actually relates to your fine blog entry, but I tinkered with the idea of putting this in a comment for a while, after reading this.

FWIW.

Best,
Kevin

S O said...

About the Lewis barrel cooling (and why it wasn't used in later designs):

Post-WWI troops learned that just as with the aircraft Lewis types, the cooling installation was unneeded. It was possible to use the Lewis aircraft machineguns (no jacket) in ground combat with no greater problems than the normal ones.
The extra installation for forced air cooling was unneeded cost and weight.

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