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Tough guys - Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart

Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart was a tough guy.  He wasn't the kind of guy who would tell you he was tough, but he walked the walk.  Son of a Belgian aristocrat and an Irish mother, he ended up in an English boarding school, and after that began to attend Oxford.  The Boer War started and Wiart realized what he was going to do.  He lied his way into the British Army and never looked back.  He had suffered many wounds from 2 different wars and rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant before he even became a British citizen.

Lieutenant Colonel Adrian Carton de Wiart

He was wounded grieviously in the chest and groin in his first trip to the Boer War.  As it wasn't finished, neither was he, and he finished the war in the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards.  After shipping off to India, war beckoned again with the Dervish revolt in British Somaliland.  Joining the Camel Corps, Wiart sustained more wounds in a battle at Shimber Berris, storming a Dervish stronghold.  The wizzing of bullets sounded like a storm of bees, and De Wiart's clothes and eye were punctured.  His blood was up, and as he surged towards the fort Wiart was hit again in the same eye from close range, with the surgeon sewing him up as the battle raged around them.

While convalescing in England, he realized a bigger war was going on in Europe, one he was not to be left out of.   It took some talking, with Britain not really interested in sending one eyed officers to war,  and in 1915 headed to the Western Front.  He commanded 3 infantry battalians and a brigade during WW1, but was not one to fight behind a desk.  He participated in the battles of the Somme, Passchendaele, Cambrai and Arras, among others.  He was wounded continuously,  in every part of his body from his skull to his foot.  In later years, after falling down a flight of stairs, the doctor found numerous splinters from the first world war.  Legend has it that when a doctor wouldn't amputate his hand that he bit his own fingers off.  Tough guy.  

Carton De Wiart

He had been assigned to a mission in Poland when WW2 broke out.  He had helped organize resistance, but was soon on the run as the Nazi's gained the upper hand.  Finally getting airlifted out, he was next sent to Norway to build up a force there, and his plane was shot up while landing by German fighters.  He organized the defense as best he could, but the Germans forced him out, and his men were rescued by Lord Mountbatten (another tough guy).

In 1941, Wiart was sent to Yugoslavia to the British Mission, but his plane's engines quit over enemy territory and he ditched in the waters off Libya and he was captured by the Italians.  He wasn't one to sit in a POW camp and escaped five times, the last time gaining his freedom.  This escapee had one eye, one hand and was 61 years old in 1943.  What a guy!

Carton De Wiart

He had lots more adventures than I can address here.  Carton De Wiart didn't have to do any of this.  He was a Belgian citizen of aristocratic heritage.  He knew everyone who was anybody.  His decorations include the Victoria Cross,  The Order of the British Empire and lots more.  After living a quite full life, he finally succumbed to our eternal foe in 1963.

Book Review: The Last Enfield

When you have read "The Last Enfield" by Steve Raw, there won't be anything you didn't know about the British Army's current service rifle.  It is a somewhat sad story, much like the early M-16's travails when bean counters redesigned it, only much worse.  The M-16 survived to be possibly the best rifle in the world, but for the final version of the SA80?  In the end it seems you don't hear many complaints about it from Afghanistan any longer, and if it is finally straightened out, it is almost a shame it is about to be replaced, but with what?

Picture of book, The Last Enfield

Weapon design was changing the world over at the time, and Britain was breaking new ground with a bullpup style stamped steel rifle.  It is hard to believe they had so much trouble with it, Kalishnakov's were stamped and they were very reliable.  The Steyr Aug was a bullpup, although not stamped, and their gun was successful.   Steve follows every turn in the development, and his views as to why this happened seem to hit the mark. The rifle didn't fail because of lack of money, although in the beginning, this is what may have stumped it's development.

The story is a mixed one for the British.  On the one hand, many engineers went out on a limb trying to come up with the best compromise in weight, length, and power.  Then on the other, it seems that accountants and bureaucrats conspired to build the worst possible rifle. Add to that some intrigue with design theft from Armalite, terrible reliability in battle, and a rebuilding of the entire small arms inventory of the British Armed Forces by a German company and the result is something that you couldn't have made up.

Steve Raw is uniqely qualified to tell this story.  Not only did he spend half his life in the Royal Marines, but became an armorer, and more than that, in 1989 became head of the Armorers' Branch of the Royal Marines.  He has tapped the knowledge of many experts in the field to complete this volumn and has left no stone unturned.

But the best feature of the book would satisfy any machinery geek.  There are detailed pictures of every variant and prototype with in depth explanations of all features and modifications. (And there were lots of those!)  Included are detailed field stripping and armorer repair procedures with even the measurements for making the tooling.  Notwithstanding it's problems, this is an interesting rifle, and even though it took an incredible long time to mature, it appears to be close to what it was meant to be back in the '70's.  The rifle does seem to be incredibly vulnerable to sand and/or any other kind of environmental debris, the only advice being "Throw a bucket of oil at it every chance you get!"  

picture of British troops engaging Taliban

In the end, Steve bemoans the loss of Enfield's manufacturing and engineering talent,  expertise and facilities, despite their mistakes with the SA80.  Enfield was an entity dedicated to keeping the country in weapons, something that is now lost to fewer and larger international corporations whose interests are global in scope.  If the world goes to hell, and it has a number of times in the last 100 years, a country's weapons manufacturing and expertise need to be inside it's national borders, and answerable to the country's political leaders, or you are playing a dangerous game in a changing world. For England it may already be too late.

Published by Collector Grade Publications

July 4th, Declaring Independence from England...

Today we're celebrating independence from England.  That seems like such a long time ago, and it's not like we are adversaries with Great Britain any longer, in fact we're the best of friends.  Our enemy in 1776 doesn't exist today, and we have moved on also.  I can't imagine what it would be like here if this never happened.  For one thing, we would just be a colony of England, nothing special, but not quite an equal partner.  The unique resources of the US has changed even the people that live here and enabled them to build something unique in the world, and the world would be the poorer if it didn't exist.

Spirit of '76 painting 

 My heritage is mostly German, but somehow they seemed to spoil things for me in WW2.  You can see from this website that I am a confirmed Anglophile, but of course my loyalties reside with America first.  Our heritage doesn't go back thousands of years, but in the short time we have become the model of democracy.  England did begin things early in the game with the Magna Carta, and the English Bill of Rights in 1689, but we blasted ahead in a short time.

We do have our problems.  From the outside, we seem to have a propensity for gunning each other down, which is the case in a fringe of our society.  For the majority, though, we enjoy firearms as you would a custom car or motorcycle, which are definitely not used for driving over each other.  We do think the rest of the world should follow our example, even though our example is flawed to the point that we are closing off our borders to those who want to share our philosophies of freedom.  Our phones and email are tapped for our protection, but who protects us from the eavesdroppers?  

Notwithstanding all that, I like it here.  And thanks again to Britain for losing the war.  I know you really had your hands full with the French at the time, and weren't all that interested in us anyway, but thanks just the same.  Happy Fourth!

Cannons of Vermilion, Ohio

Vermilion Ohio stands at the south end of Lake Erie and has for generations been the place for the rich from Cleveland to play with their boats.  Vermilion has the traditional cannon on display in the town's Exchange Park in the center of town.  A handsome pair of 32 pounder Dahlgren guns, smoothbore with the anchor signifying naval use.  These two guns look brand new, and appear to have been installed around 1900, with the only source I could find specifying the guns were not used in the Civil War. This is possible, as the last Dahlgren guns were made in 1867.  

Dahlgren Gun

Dahlgren Gun

Dahlgren Gun

The real surprise was the lighthouse.  After 1877 the old wooden lighthouse was torn down, and the new one was cast out of melted down Columbiad smoothbore cannon.  That lighthouse is gone to Ontario now, but a replica iron lighthouse stands on the public beach in Vermilion.

Lighthouse

War Finish Webley

Webley and Scott had produced revolvers for the British military for a long time.  Their .455 revolvers had ruled the subcontinent of India, and taken tigers in Africa.  The .455 Webley revolver was synonymous with Officers sidearm.  Before WW1 came along, an officer could carry any sidearm he wanted, as long as it shot a service .455 round.  The First World War changed that paradigm forever, and everything got standardized, and when the war was finally over, downsized.

Webley revolver

The Webley Mk. IV was a result of many things.  Armies had got conscripted and had to be trained in a hurry, so no time for training to handle the big .455's.  A gun was needed that any young recruit could master in a hurry.  (Which means firing it without dropping it!)  The government also wanted to spend less money on purchasing arms.  Webley already had a revolver in the works that met the specifications.  The Webley Mk III in .38 S&W.  With a little work, they adapted this civilian and police revolver to look like a miniature Webley Mk. VI.  Enfield was assigned with Webley to come up with a design,  but the revolver was already done.  With the designs in hand, Enfield came up with their version, which was adopted by the government, mainly because they were already a government agency.  Webley was left holding the bag.

Webley revolver

WW2 happened along, and Enfield couldn't keep up with the demand for it's version of this little revolver.  The British government contracted for all the Mk.IVs that Webley could make,  as this turned out to be a big war.  The demand was so great that Webley had not the time to finish the revolver properly, and frankly they were embarrassed by the fact they had to leave grind and tool marks on the gun.  The obvious solution was to spell it out, and wartime Mk. IVs had War Finish stamped on the left side.  

Webley revolver

This plucky little revolver fired a .38 caliber version similar to the .38 S&W Super Police.  The round was shorter and fatter than a .38 Special, and had a special lead bullet that weighed more than the standard .38 S&W bullet, coming in at 200 grains.  Some government tests stated that the round proved to be similar in stopping power to the .455.  I would have to say any gun can kill a guy, but this bullet is no .455.  The Mk. IV is sturdy and very reliable, and it's almost impossible to wear it out.  Parts are easily available (wish that were true for Mk. VIs) but resale prices have never really caught on for this robust revolver.  If the pistol had been imported into the US after 1968 they suffer the indignity of a cross bolt safety having to be added to satisfy the BATF.  This does rather ruin the lines of a collectable gun.  This example escaped that fate.  By 1954 the British were done with revolvers, and the Browning Hi-Power became the standard British sidearm.

Webley revolveer