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Royal Armouries... in Kentucky!

If you wanted to visit a museum that could show you the last 600 years of arms and armor, you could visit the British Royal Armouries.  They house all the cannon, pikes, armor and all matter of military thinks that the UK isn't using at the moment.  They have four convenient locations... Leeds, Ft. Nelson in Portsmouth, the Tower of London..... and Louisville, Kentucky.

picture of exhibit

Louisville Kentucky???  How did that happen?  Personally I don't know how it happened, but you can visit the Frazier Museum in downtown Louisville, (Just 3 short hours from my house... Leeds is a lot farther...) and see spectacular displays of arms and armor from Medieval Knights, through the Tudor period, and up into the 19th Century.  The displays also contain life size figures in period dress, surrounded by the arms of the time.  It is well worth the visit.  

There is also plenty of American arms from ages gone by to peak the  curiosity any one even remotely interested in martial subjects.  As the Frazier Museum's website puts it, "The Frazier’s extraordinary collection includes over 5,000 artifacts. Ranging from the foothills of Vietnam to the rolling moors of England to Louisville’s own unique story, the Frazier tells moving stories found nowhere else."  It's worth a visit, and a lot cheaper than going to England if you live in the states.

Jules Verne torpedo found by US Navy

A Howell torpedo was found by US Navy dolphins around Coronado Island, San Diego in June of 2013, while on a  mine finding exercise.  Two interesting things about that news item, for one, dolphins turn out to be a lot better at finding mines than our current technology... and the other, they found a Howell torpedo, one of only 3 known in existence.

picture of Howell torpedo

The Howell torpedo was an early competitor to the Whitehead torpedo,  but was significantly better in some ways, but had it's own limitations.  For propulsion, the Howell used a flywheel, which was spun up on board the ship before firing.  One of the benefits of the flywheel was one of the drawbacks of the Whitehead at the time, the flywheel acted as a sort of gyro, keeping the torpedo on course.  The effect on the torpedo from wave action only caused the torpedo to roll, not alter it's course, and that was compensated for by it's rudders.  Whitehead had significant problems keeping his torpedo on course, which he eventually solved by buying the rights to gyroscope gear, and suing Howell out of existence.  The Whitehead used compressed air for propulsion and was silent compared to the noisy flywheel of the Howell. However the Whitehead left a wake, that the Howell didn't.

picture of torpedo boat

In the end, only 50 Howell torpedos were built.  The US Navy dropped the Howell in favor of the Whitehead, as did most modern navies at the end of the 19th Century.  The Howell was no pushover at the time, it could run straight, had a range of 400 yards (twice the Whitehead) and carry a 100 pound warhead.  It the torpedo was fired in anger and missed it's target, a water soluble patch would dissolve over the primer, rendering the torpedo inert.  But the best part was the body of hard rolled brass, a sight appreciated by the likes of Jules Verne.

Animation  by vbbsmyt


Navy manual on the Howell torpedo

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