Saturday, August 24, 2002

It's been awhile since I took a walk down memory lane. I figured that I'd combine it with a bit of a rant. Sort of killing two birds with one post: I get to spout off on a subject that interests me while venting a bit of spleen.

Most people first learn how to shoot from a family member or trusted friend. Many women have told me that they first started because their husbands or boyfriends were involved in the sport and they wanted to participate (much to the chagrin of the aforementioned boyfriend). Many years ago I decided to learn because it became apparent to me that the only person responsible for my safety was myself, and I wanted to be prepared if the worst happened.

Since I didn't know anyone who was involved in the shooting sports I started to hang out at some local ranges, asking the guys there what the best choice was for home defense. Almost to a man they suggested this type of gun, a Colt 1911 chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. Not a shotgun, not a rifle, but a handgun. Most of them even went so far as to suggest that not only was it the best choice, but that a man armed with anything other than a 1911 was dooomed to defeat.

Strong stuff delivered with conviction. The only dissenting voice was from a fellow I met at the range who hunted black bears armed only with a .357 magnum revolver. It seems that the bears he hunted were typically 200 to 300 pounds, right around what a large man would weigh. He stated that the heavier magnum loads, such as the .44 magnum and the .454 Casull, would overpenetrate and punch straight through the bear without doing enough damage. The .357 was a perfect blend of flat trajectory for long shots along with repectable power for the kill and he couldn't see any reason why it shouldn't be the same for a man as it was for a bear. We parted company with him saying that anyone who tried to hunt bear with a .45 was a fool that wanted to get killed.

This made senses to me, especially after I took a look at the ballistics tables. But not only was this just one dissenting voice in the crowd he was obviously crazy for hunting bears armed only with a handgun!

So I bought a Colt Government Model chambered for the .45 ACP. It was more expensive than many other guns and I was hardly rich, but I just kept thinking about how anyone armed with a lesser gun was helpless when faced with a 1911. The first hint that something was wrong came when the guy behind the counter said that I had to fire 500 rounds through the gun "to smooth out the action". Otherwise the gun could jam when I needed it most. I thought at the time that he was just trying to increase his profits by getting me to buy a bunch of ammo. After all, it was a brand new gun right out of the box! The factory wouldn't have shipped the product if it still needed some work.

I went to the range to practice and related what the clerk at the gun store had said. To my surprise everybody agreed with him! They couldn't tell me why such a "quality product" needed to be smoothed out by the customer, they just asserted that it needed to be done. So I bought 10 boxes of standard ball ammunition and started to methodically burn through them.

It was on the last box when it happened, round number 460 or so. I fired at the target and saw something big fly down range. I froze, wondering what the heck happened. When I glanced at the gun I saw that the slide was locked back even though there was still some ammo left in the magazine. It seems that the front of the slide had broken off. What I had seen fly away from me was the front of the slide with the front sight, the barrel bushing, the recoil spring and the recoil spring guide.

Now I knew why everyone suggested that I fire 500 rounds through the gun before trusting it with my life. Since it had just been purchased that day (and I didn't even have time to mail the warranty card) it was still under warranty. Colt fixed it in jig time and got it back to me, no questions asked. Now wary I bought another 500 rounds of ball ammo and went to the range to fire them off. The gun worked flawlessly, no jams, stovepipes or misfeeds. Hey, things were finally looking up! I decided to shoot a box of hollowpoint defensive ammo before going home.

Except that it wouldn't feed. Heck, I had trouble even getting the first round in the chamber! Then it would jam with every shot, always with a misfeed off of the magazine. The other guys at the range noticed my difficulty and said that I couldn't shoot hollowpoints through a standard 1911. The gun had already cost more than other .45's, but now I'd have to pay several hundred dollars more and send it off to a custom gunsmith before it would work properly. With all of the money I'd have to shell out I figured that I could buy three of these for the cost of one of these.

That pretty much ended my experience with the "ultimate combat tool". I traded it in for a used S&W 439 and I never looked back. The guys at the range that had been so enthusiastic when I bought the Government Model, my new buddies, treated me like a slack jawed idiot when I showed up with the 9mm. I started to go to another range and never looked back from that decision, either.

Through the years I've owned many different types of handguns chambered for many different calibers. Except for the 1911 I've never had anyone suggest that I have to shoot 500 rounds through the gun to "smooth out the action". None of my other guns ever had any problems with hollow point ammunition. Never has any other gun I've ever owned suffered a catastrophic failure before the 500th round was fired (actually I've never had any other catastrophic failures, but then again I've never owned another Colt either).

When I started to teach basic firearm skills about ten years ago I'd always take care to avoid mentioning the 1911. I'd bring my students to a gun shop after the course so they could look at all of the choices and make a decision as to which handgun they wanted to buy. My policy is that the right gun for anyone is the one they feel most comfortable with, so I'm always careful to say nothing but good things about any type of gun the student shows an interest in. So far no one has expressed an interest in owning a 1911.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Steven Den Beste has written a few updates to the post where he discusses my Email to him. He also has another post about the T-72. I have to admit that he and the guys he quotes make a great deal of sense, so much so that I can't find anything wrong with their points. Looks like I was completely wrong.

Hey, if their stuff was this junky then maybe the U.S. should have invaded during the Cold War.

I was browsing the Yahoo! news server when I came across this editorial. The author discusses how women in Boston, where there have been a rash of assaults and murdes, have to apply for a license even to carrypepper spray.

But it's even worse than that. The police actually admit that they won't grant a concealed carry license to someone, even if they are in danger of attack.

"But what if some of those women did want to protect themselves with guns? If they walked into a police station and applied for a license to carry a firearm for their personal protection, what would happen?
''They would not be allowed to,'' says Mariellen Burns, the Boston police spokeswoman.
What if they lived in the North End and two of their friends had been raped and they were terrified they might be next?
Tough luck, says Burns. ''Living in a high-crime area is just not enough of a reason to get an unrestricted license to carry.''

Scary stuff, and I don't mean the attacks.

By the way, just a word of advice. That pepper spray stuff really doesn't work all that well, though it's better than nothing. This stuff doesn't work too bad, and it's what I give to my students who decide that firearms aren't for them. If the more effective CS or CN gas is illegal where you live, then this stuff is the only pepper spray that I could suggest. Just keep in mind that it might be a high concentration of pepper spray, but I'd still use the CN or CS spray if I had a choice.

Viktor Belenko is the Soviet pilot that defected with the MiG-25 (I mentioned the defection in this post). There's a book out that talks about Viktor and the defection. In an interview he talks about some of the things that puzzled him when he started to live in America.

"I had real fun exploring new products. I would buy, everyday, a new thing and try to figure out its function. In Russia at that time (and even today) it's hard to find canned food, good one. But everyday I would buy new cans with different food. Once I bought a can which said "dinner." I cooked it with potatoes, onions, and garlic-it was delicious. Next morning my friends ask me, "Viktor, did you buy a cat?" It was a can of chicken-based cat food. But it was delicious! It was better than canned food for people in Russia today. And I did test it. Last year I brought four people from Russia for commercial project, and I set them up. I bought nibble sized human food. I installed a pâté, and it was cat food. I put it on crackers. And they did consume it, and they liked it. So the taste has not changed. By the way, for those who are not familiar with American cat food. It's very safe; it's delicious, and sometimes it's better than human food, because of the Humane Society."

That's the nicest thing about the Humane Society I've ever heard.

Another article from Jane's Defence. This one talks about how the U.S.A.F. has ordered another 60 C-17 Globemasters, a cargo aircraft that can carry up to 85 tons.

85 tons! Holy cow, that's a bunch of beef. The 60 extra C-17's will increase the number that the Air Force has in service to 180.

The main reason that the planners in the U.S. military think that there should be more airlift available is due to the fact that Afghanistan proved that there had to be a better way to get supplies and reinforcement to the troops. Although there's already supplies ready and waiting on ships, Afghanistan is annoyingly landlocked. The Air Force is just trying to develop a way to land and supply troops inland until other routes are opened on the ground.

Jane's Defence has an article about the new Future Aircraft Carriers that the U.K. is planning on building.

Hey, nothing much new there. I talked about the Future Carriers a few weeks ago here in the Handbasket. So why mention the article at Jane's?

I just loved what they said when they were asked what the mission role of the new carriers will be.
"The CVF is to be a joint defence asset with the primary purpose of providing the UK with an expeditionary offensive air capability that has the flexibility to operate the largest possible range of aircraft in the widest possible range of roles."

Isn't that a lovely bit of verbiage? I think it means that they're not sure who they might have to fight in the future, and they don't know what they will have to fight them with, but they want to be ready to go fight when the time comes.

Sound wisdom. I wish the Royal Navy all the luck in the world with this project.

Steven Den Beste, Captain of the USS Clueless, answered a reader's query about the Russian military. I wrote some Email to Steve and gave my two cents worth. I was surprised to see that he'd written a post in response to it. After writing another Email I figured that it was an easy way to generate material for the blog, so what the heck.

WARNING This is probably going to be a Den Beste-ingly long post, so just scroll on by if the subject doesn't interest you. No hard feelings on this side of the computer and I'm glad you stopped by.

My main point was that the Soviets knew that they couldn't match the West in quality, and I mean quality of anything. Men, machines, anything. So they decided to go the quantity route. This fit right in with what they learned from WWII, where the Germans had better everything but were eventually stopped by the Russians having more. So they decided to produce weapons that were simple, robust and easy to maintain. They wouldn't be much good if the Soviets decided to invade but they'd do well enough if they were invaded themselves.

Steve doesn't think so, and he says I fell for Soviet propoganda. He points out that most of the Russian weapons have serious design flaws and even makes the claim that they'd be next to useless in combat. I'm not so sure.

In my last Email to Steve I used the example of the 1973 Yom Kippur War to point out that the Soviet equipment could be used effectively, and I mentioned the Syrian breakthrough that was only stopped by a single tank as the Syrians approached Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, I got this completely wrong. It was the IDF's headquarters at Nafah that was threatened to be overrun until a single Israeli tank managed to turn back the attack at the 11th hour. The Syrians never got past the Golan Heights, let alone near Tel Aviv. Don't ask me how, but I somehow got the 1973 war and Rommel's use of his 88's in Africa mixed up. Just goes to show that I shouldn't try and write thoughful Email while at work when we're frantically busy and I don't have time to look stuff up.

Brain farts aside I think the 1973 war does show that Soviet era equipment is useful if used correctly, something that the Arab forces had serious trouble with. One of the things that the Israeli veterans have always claimed is that they would have won even if they had switched equipment with the enemy. Superior training was the key, not superior weapons.

Another point is that even Steve admits that the Israeli's would use captured Soviet equipment, something I doubt they'd do if the equipment was really useless.

One of the examples that Steve uses to shed some light on how gawdawful the Soviet weapons are is the MiG-25 that was flown to Hakodate, Japan in 1976. He correctly points out that the MiG was a big surprise to the U.S. engineers that examined it. They found that it was riveted together, had vacuum tubes for the electronics, and had seriously strained engines. But what he doesn't mention is that the plane was the answer to a proposed bomber the U.S. was developing called the B-70. The idea was to have an interceptor that could catch the supersonic bomber and shoot it down. When the B-70 program was scrapped without any of them entering active service, the U.S.S.R. decided to hang on to what was the fastest interceptor in the world (at the time) and operate it as a recon aircraft. Although incredibly inelegant, the MiG-25 does manage to perform what it was designed to do even if it does accomplish this in a brute force kind of way.

So why is Steve so convinced that Soviet equipment is useless? I think it's because he's an engineer.

Bear with me on this for a minute. One of the major problems the Germans had during WWII was that their engineers were always reaching for that last 2% of performance. They never could just say "Good enough" and let it go, they always had to tinker. The inelegant, brute force solution was something to be avoided because it just grated on their senses too much. As James Dunnigan has pointed out in an earlier edition of this book Western military contractors would be outraged if someone suggested that they cut a few corners and sell a lower quality weapon.

The main problem I see with Soviet weapons is that the troops don't get enough training. Training is expensive and pictures of the Russian army harvesting potatoes certainly doesn't show the kind of resources needed to train anyone up to a reasonable level of skill.

But, all in all, Steve might just be right about how terrible Soviet weapons are (with the exception of the AK-47). I do have to admit that while I've fired a fair number of AK's in my time I've never tried to fight a T-72. If I ever had to go toe-to-track I'd be hoping that it would just fall apart.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Via InstaPundit comes this article about an organized group of gang-rapists in Australia who were recently sentenced to 55 years in prison. The author is outraged that some people are apologizing for the criminal's behavior because they happen to be Muslim.

I agree with the author, Mark Steyn. There's no excuse for such a crime. Just call me a uniculturalist if you want.

Monday, August 19, 2002

There was a TV show on in the 60's called The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. It was incredibly campy, detailing the adventures of a group of international secret agents devoted to stopping erstwhile super-villians. Probably because it aired at the height of the Cold War and the start of America's involvement in Viet Nam, it was the most popular TV show in the world for a few years. Now I think the most popular TV show is Baywatch (I know which link is going to generate more traffic).

The show starred Robert Vaughn as an American agent. Astounding considering the time it was on, his partner was a a Russian played by David McCallum. It's popularity was such that it spawned one spin-off and numerous imitators. Although definately marketed for the male demographic, it certainly had an effect on female fans. Heck, even the theme music that started each show was pretty cool.

So why am I writing about a 40 year old television series?

I remembered that they had some pretty neat guns in the series, mostly made up of clipping extra stuff on a standard P38. I was just looking around to see if I could find a pic of one when I came across this pic of Janet Leigh drawing a knife. Hey, I had to keep opening links after seeing that!

Now if you'll excuse me I think I'll go back to the Baywatch site.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

According to the International Chamber of Commerce (a group that promotes international trade and shipping), pirate activity is increasing almost daily in Indonesia.

According to the weekly I.C.C. Piracy Report, pirates armed with knives boarded a ship discharging cargo at Samarinda. After assaulting and overpowering the duty a/b (ie. the Able Bodied seaman on duty), the pirates stole a quantity of paint, a liferaft and another small boat that was on board. The master alerted the port authorities but received no reply.

At Lawi-Lawi, Indonesia, a group of pirates boarded a tanker discharging cargo, broke in to the ship's paint locker and made off with "ship's stores", by which I think they mean a bunch of paint. Local authorities and police were alerted but took no action.

I've mentioned before in this blog that the Indonesian authorities, maybe even the whole government, is in cahoots with the pirates. The I.C.C. makes a very good point that modern piracy is, by definition, conducted by organized crime cartels. No one else has the means to sell the enormous amount of cargo that is stolen from even one ship, or the resources to bribe officials for documents that are needed before the stolen ship can be renamed and sold. According to this report the best place to dispose of stolen merchandise/ships is China. It looks like Indonesia is trying to compete in that market, though.

But why are they stealing all of that paint? Is it just because they made the effort to board the ship and that's all they could find?

Maybe. Or maybe the crime cartels have a few stolen ships they want to repaint and sell and they don't want to buy any paint (we're not talking about some paint from a hardware store here, but expensive corrosion resistant marine paint. And keep in mind that it would take a thousand gallons or more to cover even one tanker). If they're really organized they might even be stockpiling paint so they can quickly move ships that they're planning to steal in the future. Most criminals, even organized crime organizations, don't think that far ahead. We'll wait and see if there's an increase in stolen ships and murdered crews.

The news reported today that Russia has just agreed to a $40 billion development deal with Saddam. The story also points out that "Russia maintains close ties with all three countries branded the "axis of evil" by President Bush: Iran, Iraq and North Korea."

On August 5 I wrote about Russia agreeing to build 5 nuclear power plants in Iran. At the time the Russians responded to protests from Washington by saying "The claim that the Russian Federation is collaborating with a pariah state to aid it to obtain nuclear grade weapons is insulting and shows a degree of hysteria, and ignorance, which is astonishing at these levels of management."

The U.S. has been dragging it's feet about invading Iraq, and many people are openly wondering if any invasion will ever take place. Still, it does look like the U.S. will invade sometime.

I just hope the Russians got paid in advance.

It seems that the USS Shoup has just been commisioned. Named after a Marine general that, though wounded in the leg with infection setting in, continued to carry out his duties during the assault on Tarawa Atoll in 1943. On some occasions he even deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire in an effort to move where the action was and assess the situation.

A brave man who didn't let his own personal safety affect his concern for his men. This is reflected in the Coat of Arms chosen for the ship. The motto means "Through Perseverance Comes Victory".