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The News

Webley's magazine cutoff

Magazine cutoffs were a staple of some 19th/20th Century military rifles. They were to be used in single shot mode, with the magazine in reserve, till some wise officer ordered them released, and then to be used as repeaters.

picture of Webley pistol


This modification apparently is not for rifles alone, as Webley automatic pistols have this feature as well, no doubt mandated by some government agency.  The system works with the magazine, which has an extra locking hole, where the magazine is not inserted all the way and locked in the second hole, keeping the bullets held in reserve and out of battery.  The slide doesn't use the magazine to lock open after firing, and the shooter has but to drop another round in that big .455 hole and continue shooting.  If repeating operation is desired, the catch is pushed and the magazine shoved home.

picture of Webley magazine


The feature does seem odd in a pistol, but it is simple and it works.  The commercial pistols seem to have this cutoff also.  The original idea of a magazine cutoff was an officer controlling the behavior of his troop of men.  In the British Army, there were few men who weren't officers and carried pistols. Very confusing.  At the time cutoffs were in vogue, the idea had some merit, as the British Army was usually a long way from home, really outnumbered, and every cartridge had to be carted the whole way on someone's back.

picture of Webley pistol


My friend Roy Shadbolt kindly sent these pictures of his .455 Webley pistol showing the magazine cutoff details.  

picture of Webley pistol

A case for the magazine cutoff

One of the main features of late 19th Century and early 20th Century military rifles was the magazine cutoff.  Repeating rifles have been plaguing logistic types since the American Civil War with the thought of expending huge amounts of ammunition.  Someone has to pay for that (you would think the Generals is charge of logistics were paying) and someone has to keep everyone supplied.  All that aside, the first use of the magazine cutoff in battle actually saved the hides of the men carrying Spencer carbines.

Picture of Spencer Carbine

I wrote about Ranald Mackenzie in an earlier post, and one of his responsibilities running the 4th US Cavalry was keeping the Commanches at bay.  Commanches were not push overs in any stretch of the imagination, and his command got tangled up in a large group of them in the Battle of Blanco Canyon.

picture of Spencer with breech open

The Indians were in no mood to settle in a reservation, and Mackenzie and the 4th Cavalry aimed to put them there.  In pursuit, the column entered Blanco Canyon and were promptly set upon by hundreds of Commanches.  One Lt. Carter fought a rear guard action while the main column sought to escape the trap.  Carter had his men close the magazine cutoff in their Spencer carbines, and had them use single shots till they were to make their break as the last of the column.  At the last moment he told his men to release the cutoff and pour it in to them.  The Indians were shattered by the volume of fire the troopers dished out.  They made their escape and the troopers only lost one man during the entire fight.

picture of Spencer Carbine

Magazine cutoff just before trigger.  This rifle sold at auction.

Lt. Carter was awarded the Medal of Honor for that action.  His quick thinking saved the day, but an action like that would not be repeated, as the cavalry was soon to give up their Spencers for Trapdoor Springfields.  As Custer was to find out, those carbines had no magazine cutoffs, as there were no magazines.  Repeating rifles would return to the cavalry, but not until the turn of the century.

picture of Carter's Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor Citation

 Second Lieutenant Carter, Robert G.

L42A1 - The last No. 4 Enfield

The last No. 4 Enfield rifle entered British Army service in  1970.  An updated version of the WW2 No. 4 sniper rifle, this last iteration was finally retired in 1985, after service in Oman, Ireland and the Falklands War.  

 pic of L42A1 Sniper Rifle

The L42A1 was one of the last arms built by Enfield Small Arms Factory before it's closure in 1988.  The caliber was updated to .308 (7.62mm) to keep up with Nato ammunition compatibility,  and there were about a thousand rifles built.  The magazine still kept 10 rounds but the shape was altered slightly.  A heavier hammer forged free-floated barrel was used with  4 grooves with a right hand twist. Enfield rifles had always suffered from the barrels being too light, but combat rifles have to make some compromises. The handguard was cut back to the middle barrel band, and the previous sniper butt stock was retained.

picture of No. 32 Scope

The standard No. 32 scope (originally developed for the Bren Gun) was modified to the trajectory of the .308 bullet and became the "Telescope, Straight Sighting, L1A1". Other variants included Parker Hale sights (L39A1) for target shooting, a police version (Enfield Enforcer) and a nicely finished civilian version (Enfield Envoy). These guns are available in the states, it has been estimated that at least half of the thousand guns are over here.  Still pretty pricy though, this example on Guns International in somewhat north of $5000.

picture of L42A1 for sale

L42A1 for sale on Guns International


Lowdown on L42A1 by Graeme Barber

Shooting up power stations

In a story that didn't receive any press (for obvious reasons), a southern California power substation was riddled with bullets for 19 minutes before authorities arrived, to find the perps gone into the night.  It happened in April last year, and wiped out 17 big transformers.  It took a month to get the substation back on line.  The only clues were some clean AK-47 brass.

picture of substation and AK-47

 Power station picture by Panther

 If AK's were the guns that were used, it bodes ill for our grid.  There seem to be plenty of malcontented groups unhappy with our electrical grid, from the darker side of environmentalism to anti government militia groups to downright Al Queda troopers.  Considering that our grid can barely stand assaults from Mother Nature, it makes you want to stock up on firewood and lentils.  And so much AK  ammunition is sold in this country that tracing it would be a nightmare.  

The bad guys, in this case as always, have the upper hand.  No one knows what these lamebrains would do till they've done it, and it does seem impossible to guard every transformer in the country.  Banning guns wouldn't help, since there all ready too many floating around.  Which means the legal ones are only the tip of the iceberg.  

The vulnerability of our grid has been focused on  cybersecurity threats so much lately, that a simple sniper attack had been overlooked.  So, was this attack proof of concept?  Or just the opening act...

Voice of America story

Virtual cockpit tour - Spad XIII

The Spad XIII was one of the better fighters in WW1, built from a French design, packing Vickers guns and up to 200 horsepower.  After 1917, German fighters began to catch up, but it was still in production at the end of the war.  

The Spad held it togther in a dive, something it's predecessor Nieuport couldn't do, shedding it's upper wing from time to time.  Eventually every French front line squadron was equipped with these planes. They were also used by the Royal Air Force's No. 23 Squadron, and the Americans.  There were plenty of notable pilots, including Georges Guynemer, Rene Fonck and even Eddie Rickenbacker.

picture of Rickenbacker's Spad

You can see one of these planes if you visit the States, at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. However, if you can't make it, you can sit in one (although virtually) on the Museum's web site.  Early aircraft are mesmerizing, as nothing is hidden, and you can see how some things evolved by comparing them to modern aircraft.  It's also amazing how well built they were, and how early on they figured out how to make something sturdy and light at the same time.  It's also refreshing not to see plastic anywhere. 

picture of Spad cockpit

The Spad's virtual cockpit