Tag Archives: history

Book Review: MG34-MG42: German Universal Machineguns (Volume 1)

Another book review, this time looking at another offering from Collector Grade Publications.

This book covers the development history, manufacturing history, and use of the MG34 and MG42. It also provides a detailed account of accessories used with these weapons, as well as identifying marks and various ways to troubleshoot malfunctions. Detailed pictures of the many subvariants of these weapons are also included. There are also really cool evaluations of these weapons from both German soldiers as well as Soviet and American experts looking at captured examples.

For me, this book ended up being a mixed bag. I really liked reading about the development history of how the Germans went from the MG 08/15 to the MG34 and from there to the MG42. I also really enjoyed reading about the different tactics used. Less interesting to me was all of the various “Collectible” details, like serial numbers, identifying marks, and minor version changes. Seeing the comparative evaluations was also pretty awesome. It was nice to see German gunners complaining about the rate of ammo usage and the Americans really liking the quick change barrel mechanism, to name two examples.

I also found the accessories section to drag. Some were cool. Some were kinda lame. It’s very much encyclopedic, and often skimming is the best answer. Or having it more as a reference for looking things up in than for reading cover-to-cover.

Now, let’s talk price. I got mine for the sticker price. For me and my interests, anything much above sticker and I’m going to call this a pass. I’m happy at the sticker price. I’ll also note that Collector Grade books are a pretty solid investment in a lot of ways: the out of print ones generally command ludicrous prices in good condition. So if you’re on the fence and can be trusted to take care of your books, I’d suggest you buy it. If you end up not liking it, you won’t lose any money (and might make some) on the resale.

The Armored Cavalry Squadron

Moving up the table, Armored Cavalry units can’t use the term “battalion,” because that’s what lame units without horses in their history use. They prefer “Squadron” at that level of organization. Let’s take a look.

  • HQ & HQ Troop
  • (3) Armored Cavalry Troops
  • (1) Tank Company
  • (1) Artillery Battery

We’ve already discussed what’s in the Armored Cavalry Troop (circa 1990). Let’s look at the other components.

HQ & HQ Troop

  • Squadron HQ
    • (4) M998A1 HMMWVs
    • (2) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWVs
    • (3) M939 cargo trucks with cargo trailers
    • (1) M934 Expansible Van with trailer
    • (2) M3A2 Bradley CFV
    • (1) M113A3 APC
    • (3) M577A3 Command Vehicles
  • Troop HQ
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M939 cargo truck with water trailer
    • (1) M934 Expansible Van with trailer
  • Battalion Communications Platoon
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M934 Expansible Van with trailer
    • (1) M577A3 Command Vehicle
  • Fire Support Element
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M577A3 Command Vehicle
  • AVLB Section
    • (3) M60 AVLBs
  • Battalion Medical Platoon
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (2) M577A3 Aid Stations
    • (8) M113A3 Medevac APC
    • (2) M934 Expansible Vans with trailers
  • Battalion Support Platoon
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV with cargo trailer
    • (6) M939 cargo trucks with cargo trailers
    • (7) M977 Cargo HEMTTs
    • (8) M978 Fuel Tanker HEMTTs
    • (2) M49 tankers with tanker trailers
  • Battalion Maintenance Platoon
    • (2) Cargo HMMWVs
    • (1) Cargo HMMWV with cargo trailer
    • (2) M934 Expansible Vans with cargo trailers
    • (1) M984 HEMTT Wrecker
    • (1) M936 Wrecker
    • (3) M88A2 Armored Recovery Vehicles
    • (5) M939 Cargo Trucks with cargo trailers

Tank Company

  • Company HQ
    • (2) M1A1 Abrams MBTs
    • (1) M113A3 APC
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M939 cargo truck with water trailer
  • (3) Tank platoons, each with:
    • (4) M1A1 Abrams MBTs
  • Company Maintenance Section
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M113A3 APC
    • (2) M934 Expansible Vans with trailers
    • (1) M88A2 Armored Recovery Vehicle

Artillery Battery

  • Battery HQ
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M939 cargo truck with water trailer
    • (1) M978 Fuel Tanker HEMTT with M989 HEMAT ammunition trailer
  • Communication Section
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV with cargo trailer
  • Survey Section
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
  • (2) Firing Platoons, each with:
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M934 Expansible Van with trailer
    • (1) M577A3 Command Vehicle
    • (4) M109A6 Paladin Self Propelled Howitzers
    • (4) FAASVs
  • Fire Support Team Section:
    • (4) M981 FIST-Vs
  • Combat Observation/Lasing Team section:
    • (2) M981 FIST-Vs
  • Ammunition Section
    • (8) M977 Cargo HEMTTs
  • Battery Maintenance Section
    • (1) M113A3 APC
    • (2) M934 Expansible Vans with trailers
    • (1) M578 Light Recovery Vehicle

Some things to note. First, it interests me that the 4th company is a tank company. You can’t argue with that armor, I suppose. I’m also really happy to see that the squadron has some organic artillery capability. I rather like this idea. More artillery is always good, and I like having some always available to the squadron commander, on account of being organic to the squadron. My only complaint is a lack of any sort of anti-aircraft capability, but that’s a pretty common failing for US Army TO&Es. It’s also pretty easily fixable.

The Armored Cavalry Troop

Armored Cavalry units had an interesting table of organization that pushed combined arms. These units were designed to hit hard, and a look at a troop (company-level asset) TO&E shows that they brought a lot of firepower to battle. Each troop consisted of a headquarters section, two scout platoons, two tank platoons, a maintenance section, and a mortar section. Let’s break it down and then we’ll provide commentary.

  • Headquarters Section:
    • One M1A1 Abrams
    • One M3A2 Bradley
    • One M577 Command post
    • Three HMMWVs
    • One 5-ton truck with water tank trailer
  • Two Scout Platoons:
    • Six M3A2 Bradleys (each)
  • Two Tank Platoons:
    • Four M1A1 Abrams (each)
  • Troop Maintenance Section (18 men):
    • One M88A2 armored recovery vehicle
    • One M113A3 APC
    • Two 5-ton trucks with cargo trailers
  • Mortar Section
    • Two M106 mortar carriers

Some variation in utility vehicles can be found in tables depending on era. My primary source is Tom Clancy’s Armored Cav which is regrettably light on the details of support units in an early-90s troop.

The first thing to note is that there’s not a lot of infantry here. The M3-series Bradleys have only two dismounts a piece, which gives the troop only 24 dismountable soldiers. On the other hand, the M3s have twice the stowed ammo of an M2, so they bring lots of firepower to the table. This is also one of the few places where a platoon with six subelements (namely the M3s) can be found in an official table.

The troop also brings some form of all three elements of combined arms: infantry, armor, and artillery (the mortars). I really like that. Would that it had more infantry though. It wouldn’t be too hard to replace the scout platoons for conventional mechanized infantry platoons. While I’m talking changes, I’d prefer to replace the M106s with some sort of turreted mortar carrier like the Rak.

I’m also curious how a mechanized infantry platoon might work if it had six IFVs in it. I would probably assume a nominal organization where a “squad” is the IFV and it’s dismount team. But there are other thoughts; the US army has indicated a desire to go this way in the future with the dismounts grouping into larger squads after disembarking.

Overall though, I really like the core concept here. As always, pushing more differing vehicle types to lower levels pushes more logistics and maintenance requirements lower as well. The US Army was able to make it work, at least as long as a plausible serious threat was present. I’ll probably shamelessly crib from this all the same.

Heavy Machine Gun Platoon

While it’s not too terribly difficult to find detailed breakdowns of the regular rifle squad, it’s a lot harder to find tables for the other units. Today, we’ll take a look at the Wehrmacht’s Heavy Machine Gun Platoon, courtesy of Collector Grade’s German Universal Machineguns. A heavy MG platoon meant that its MGs all had tripods and support equipment to maximize the effectiveness of the MGs. This platoon was divided into two groups of two machine guns. The platoon had, of course, a Platoon commander, plus an additional man to take care of the horses used to transport equipment. Each of the two machine gun groups had a group leader, plus a rangefinder and a messenger.

Each machine gun group had two MG “Squads” (for want of a better term). Each squad was based around an MG34/42 and a lot of ammo. They consisted of an MG leader, the MG gunner, MG assistant gunner, and no fewer than three ammunition bearers.

The gunner carried the machine gun, with a 50 round belt in a drum attached to the machine gun, in case it had to be used before the squad got set up. The MG leader carried the MG Z sight, a 300-round ammo can, and a spare barrel. The assistant gunner carried the tripod. The three ammo bearers each carried two 300-round ammo cans, and two of them carried spare barrels.

In terms of secondary weapons, the MG Leader, Gunner, and Assistant Gunner all carried pistols. The ammo bearers each had a service rifle. The MG Group Leaders and MG Platoon Leader had a submachine gun or a pistol. Both rangefinders had pistols, and the messengers and horseman were issued service rifles.

In total, each squad carried 2,150 rounds of belted 8mm Mauser, for a total of 8,600 belted rounds per platoon.

As always, these are the “by the book” figures, and actual platoons may vary.

Book Review: US Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History

Norman Friedman has written some excellent Illustrated Design History books for several types of US Navy ships. Let’s look at one today.

Cruisers goes all the way back to early steam-powered warship designs, focusing on ships built for independent operation away from the fleet, or to screen the fleet from same. For my interests, I found it got really good once they were working on designs related to the Great War, and it stayed good until about the 1950s. At that point, missiles were “in”, and there weren’t many new cruiser designs because of the large number of existing ships to convert.

Friedman does a great job of covering various proposals, desired force structures, and treaties. Like the other Illustrated Design Histories, he traces design proposals, offering a large number of comparative characteristic tables as well as plenty of design sketches. There are also a good number of pictures which illustrate completed designs and how they were altered by war experience.

The chapters on the war experience are the best part of the book. Due to the large number of cruisers available during the Second World War, and the paucity of larger surface combatants, cruisers saw lots of combat. It’s really nice to read about design tradeoffs and expectations and then see how these worked out in actual surface actions.

The missile age eventually sees the end of the independent surface ship, at least in American design practice. As a result, there’s not much in the way of actual Cruiser designs covered; the Long Beach is featured, as are the Command Cruisers, but that’s pretty much the end of it. Being published in the mid 80s, not much is left to cover.

Note that while the ill-fated Typhon system is mentioned in depth, Aegis is covered only briefly here. It is covered in more detail, along with the Ticonderogas and Burkes in Friedman’s Destroyers: An Illustrated Design History. A review of that is forthcoming.

Now, as with any good review, let’s talk price and value. Unfortunately, this book is out of print. As such, pricing is inconsistent. In general, prices are high. A peek at Amazon as this goes to press (late November, 2018) shows a price of about $122 being the best available. Whether or not this is too much for you depends greatly on your interest. If you like Cruisers pre-1947 a lot, that’s a fair price for an out-of-print, detail-laden book. Otherwise, you may wish to watch and wait for a deal. I got my copy for just under $60, and it was in good condition. At that price, which is much closer to the print-run pricing, it’s unquestionably worth it for the student of naval history and design.

Chinook Howitzer

Back in 1972, the Advanced Concepts division of the Aircraft Weapons Division came up with a unique idea. They wanted more aerial firepower. They wanted to super size the gun in helicopter gunship. And so they worked up a proposal to put two 105mm howitzers onto a CH-47C Chinook helicopter. The two howitzers would be mounted won on each side of the fuselage, facing forward, and had an automatic loading system for the two guns. Continue reading

The SAIFV

There are two consistent complaints about the Bradley. One is that it doesn’t carry enough dismounts. The other is that it’s not well protected enough. The US Army has made several attempts to rectify both of these issues. Today, we’re going to look at an alternative design to fix the latter problem: the Special Armor IFV, which dates to around 1978. Continue reading

The 1920s Screening Force

Having finished Shelby Foote’s excellent three-volume Civil War set, I’ve switched over to some more recent naval history: A History of U.S. Cruisers, by Norman Friedman. One of the cool bits of naval history in it is a breakdown of expected US Navy fleet screening requirements, circa 1920. This posited a main body consisting of seventeen battleships and six battlecruisers. These were considered separate elements, and as such, each had its own screen. There were separate screens for dealing with submarines and dealing with torpedo-armed light assets (the so-called “attack” screen). Each force also had its own scouting assets. Let’s look at the breakdown of what they expected to need to screen the main body in a future war at sea.

TypeBattleship ScreenBattlecruiser Screen
Antisubmarine
Light Cruisers10
Destroyer Leaders21
Destroyers2412
Attack Screen
Light Cruisers11
Destroyer Leaders318
Destroyers540
Scouting Forces
Light Cruisers11
Destroyer Leaders32
Destroyers5436

Quite the force. The large number of destroyers is fascinating, as is the relatively small number of cruisers employed in the screen. Cruisers were called for elsewhere, of course. Also of note is that while the term ‘light cruisers’ appears in the plans, ‘heavy cruisers’ does not. Presumably light cruisers were cruisers that weren’t battle cruisers; questions of guns and tonnage would not be relevant until the various naval treaties of the 20s and 30s.

Witness Protection Shotgun

There are a number of shotguns released today designed to avoid classification as a “short barreled shotgun”. For our international readers, under the complicated and confusing US law, a “short barreled shotgun” has to be registered with the ATF, which means a $200 fee, fingerprints, photos, and a six month wait. But a short, “stockless” gun like the Tac-14, Shockwave or V3 Tac-13 is not legally an SBS, and so you can buy it and take it home with you immediately, with no extra fee.1

Now, lots of people will debate the utility of such a weapon. I think the utility might be best understood with a little history, not that every weapon needs to serve a practical purpose. Some guns are fun guns, and that’s awesome. But this weapon has good applications. For one, shotguns with slugs are good bear repellent, and a very compact, stockless shotgun can be strapped to or thrown in a backpack pretty easily.

What many may not know is that the US Marshals had a professional gunsmith make something an awful lot like the Tac-14 back in the 80s. They called it the Witness Protection Shotgun. Being law enforcement, the US Marshals could buy what the NFA would call “Short Barreled Shotguns” with 14″ barrels and stocks no problem. But that’s not what these were.

The Witness Protection Shotgun started life as a Remington 870. It had a 12.5″ barrel, which was as short as they could cut the 870’s barrel given how it attaches to the rest of the gun. It also had a cut, shaped, and refinished “bird’s head” grip of wood, shaped a lot like you’d see on the Tac-14. They also added a sling plate at the front, much like the Wilson Combat vertical sling plate. The idea here was to both attach a sling and provide a handstop to make sure that the support hand didn’t end up in front of the muzzle. Magazine capacity was four 2 3/4″ shells.

You may have figured out the intended role from the name. The idea was to have a tremendously powerful, concealable weapon for use in the witness protection program. With a very short barrel, no stock, and general lack of bulk that comes from a pump shotgun (as compared to say, a Colt Commando), the Witness Protection Shotgun was easy for a marshal to hide under his coat. These were popular with the US Marshals in the 80s, and then fell out of favor.

And with proper technique you won’t hit yourself in the face when shooting one either.


  1. Your mileage may vary. Some restrictions may apply if your state is run by communists. 

Whence Cometh PMAGs?

It occurred to me that there are plenty of folks who don’t understand how and why Magpul’s fantastic PMAGs became the standard magazine for AR-15 users both civilian and military. So let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

In terms of product, Magpul’s PMAGs1 hit a solid mix of reasonable price, reasonable quality, reasonable durability, and reasonable reliability of feeding (which is to say, function). They’re also pretty ubiquitous. Easy to find almost anywhere. While you can buy more durable magazines, they will cost you more. And mags that are cheaper by a large enough margin to care about don’t work as well.

Magpul wasn’t the first to come to market with a polymer magazine. Their first prototypes were made in 2006. They were among the first to come out with a polymer magazine that worked well, and they had built a customer base with some of their other quality products, like their magazine pulls (hence the company name).

Of course, the AR-15’s original magazines were made from thin aluminum. They were originally intended to be disposable after a single use, and this allowed the Armalite design team to make them very lightweight. However, the military did not go for that, and reissued magazines. Civilian shooters would also not treat aluminum magazines as disposable items either. However, the Armalite design team was not given a chance to redesign the magazines to make them more durable.

One of the things that will crop up with ‘USGI’ aluminum magazines is that the feed lips can deform, whether from being dropped or being smacked or whatever. And a property of metal is that when deformed with enough force, you’ll get “plastic deformation,” i.e. it will stay bent. If the feed lips get messed up, your mag isn’t going to work. These can be subtle problems. Your eye won’t know, but your rifle will. Like the princess and the pea.

Now, the military hates to throw things out, so mags that get bad from use and abuse (or stupid, stupid boots) are going to stick around. And civilians aren’t very likely to throw out bad mags either. They paid good money for those! That’s not to mention the affect of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which allowed the sale to non-law enforcement civilians of standard capacity magazines made before 1994. So those aluminum mags were going nowhere. And those old mags were now worth a premium, so whatever crappy mag that a guy could dig up could be resold at a significant profit. Even if the mag was beat to hell.

I still have a folder of data on my hard drive of proper feed lip dimensions and instructions for retuning feed lips to get them close to original spec so that they wouldn’t induce double feeds. Ugh. Bad memories.

After the sunset of the ban in 2004, the market exploded with manufacturers making standard capacity magazines. Of course, the nature of the aluminum USGI magazines meant that it was pretty hard for the layman to tell if the magazine was made by anyone who knew what they were doing. Substandard materials or construction methods could lead to more problems. Or more rapid onset of problems. Or not; you could just get lucky.

Enter Magpul’s PMAG. Magpul hit the market with a good design, good materials (finally–remember this wasn’t the first attempt at a polymer AR-15 magazine), and good quality control. If you bought a Magpul PMAG, it would work, unlike previous polymer magazine efforts. And you didn’t find PMAGs in a box with a bunch of other curbstomped mags at a gunshow. Even if you did, they looked distinctive. Plus, they were cheap enough to buy a lot of.

Once they got the polymer magazines working well, Magpul’s choice of material brought other benefits. Polymer doesn’t deform like aluminum does; ironically it doesn’t do “plastic deformation”. It’ll either spring back to its original shape (elastic deformation) or break. And when it breaks it’s obvious. Maybe there’s a chunk of feedlip missing. Maybe there’s a big crack down the back of the magazine. Maybe the weld split. And it’s probably going to vomit bullets all over the floor when you try to fill it.

There you have it. Why we love our PMAGs.


  1. All caps, because Magpul spells it that way. And when I say PMAG, I do mean “Magpul’s PMAG” not something else. Not the imitators. And I like Magpul a lot, so I’ll happily oblige them on their branding.