Saturday, April 27, 2013

British Blaster: The Enfield No. 2 Mk I

And now for something completely different!

The Enfield No. 2 Mark 1 Revolver. You were expecting Monty Python, perhaps?

I've touched on the Russian, German, and US sidearms of the 40's and 50's, but I've yet to tackle anything from Old Britannia. To borrow a phrase from our friends across the pond, this month's subject is an "interesting bit of kit". The Enfield No. 2 Mk 1 began its life after World War I. The primary British sidearm at that time was the stout Webley Mk VI revolver. Weighing in at roughly two and a half pounds, the Webley was a six shot, single/double action top-break revolver chambered in .455 Webley. The .455 Webley cartridge boasted a .454", 265 grain lead round nose projectile that moved along at a leisurely 650 fps. Yes, it was a heavy, fat, slow-moving beast of a cartridge, but it was quite effective for what it needed to do: put half-inch holes into the Hun enemy, and save the Holy Grail from Nazis.

Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. with a Webley revolver chambered in .455 Webley.

Despite the weight of the Webley, firing that large, heavy bullet meant that the shooter experienced considerable felt recoil. The British believed this to be a detriment to marksmanship training, as trainees would anticipate the recoil and flinch, spoiling the shot. Of course, this simply would not do. Gentlemen shouldn't have to deal with unwieldy, beastly firearms. Nasty loud things, make you late for luncheon and whatnot. The solution: adopt a lighter, daintier, cartridge with less recoil so that it would be easier for gentlemanly officers to shoot whilst extending their pinkies as they sipped on their Earl Grey tea and ate cucumber sandwiches.

As you can see, I'm only slightly exaggerating here. Slightly.

You can probably tell I don't think much of this decision. Instead of devoting the time and energy into training their soldiers to shoot properly, the Brits copped out by adopting a pistol which fired a less effective cartridge. Lest you think I'm being too hard on the British: they weren't the first nation to replace a powerful cartridge with a less powerful one for dubious reasons, and they surely wouldn't be the last to do so, either. At any rate, the powers that be decided that a .38 caliber type cartridge could, in theory, do an adequate amount of damage but with much less recoil than the .455. After "careful" review of the plethora of decent .38 caliber cartridges available at the time, they decided on adopting a new loading of an obsolete American cartridge: the .38 Smith and Wesson.

Left: 38 S&W. Right: 38 S&W Special.

Not to be confused with the more powerful .38 Smith and Wesson Special, the .38 Smith and Wesson was developed in 1877, and had become a popular caliber for law enforcement in the States. The British took the .38 S&W and topped it with an elongated, 200 grain lead bullet. The thinking was that such a heavy bullet would be poorly stabilized, and would have the tendency to tumble (or keyhole) in the wound cavity, thus increasing lethality. Granted, some tests on animals supported this theory, so it wasn't with complete lunacy that the British Empire adopted the  "380-200 Cartridge, Revolver Mk 1" (aka the 38/200). It loped along at 625 fps and generated a measly 180 foot pounds of energy. Do those ballistics remind you of anything? Yes, the British had just adopted a cartridge with similar performance to the infamous 38 Long Colt. Rumor has it that laughter from the Philippines was heard 'round the British Empire that day.

At any rate, Webley submitted a scaled-down variant of their successful revolver in the new 38/200 cartridge for acceptance, designated the Webley Mk IV. Here's where it gets interesting: in a legendary douche move, the British authorities took Webley's design to the government run Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, where lo and behold, they came up with a very similar, but just different enough design of their own. Webley sued (and lost), and in 1931 the Crown officially adopted the new revolver as the Enfield Revolver No. 2, Mk 1.

Ironically, The Webley Mk IV in 38/200 was fielded as a substitute when Enfield couldn't keep up with production. Karma.

As WWII loomed, the No. 2 got some revisions. In 1938, it went from a single/double action design with wooden grips to a double-action only, spurless hammered pistol with a redesigned plastic grip which supposedly gave better control. Why the switch to double action only? Rumor had it that the British Tank Corps complained about the hammer spur on the No. 2 getting caught up on things, so it was removed. The new variation was known as the No. 2 Mk I*. The double action only pull didn't help with accuracy, but as a close quarters, last ditch weapon that didn't really matter much...especially if you were in a tank. The modification also helped speed up production (believed to be the real reason for the change), and most of the existing Mk 1s were converted to the 1* design during and after the war. This was received with unfavorable reviews from the troops, so much so that some unit armorers reportedly reinstalled the single action capability.

Pure Guts : an officer goes "over the top" with his Enfield No. 2 in North Africa.

At some point, I decided I needed one of these guns, and a year or so ago I found one in an online auction. My No. 2 shows a manufacture date of 1944, and features the bobbed hammer and plastic grips. It also is marked with a little arrow indicating that at some point in its life, it went through a FTR (Factory Thorough Repair). The bore is in excellent shape with just a bit of wear, and the numbers on the frame, barrel, and cylinder all match. When I got it, it had 100% of its finish.

The original finish on these wartime pieces was a type of tough black paint known as Suncorite. Suncorite doesn't come off easy unless you have a sand blaster. Well, my revolver must not have been refinished with Suncorite when it was FTR'd, because as I was cleaning it for the first time with good old Hoppe's No. 9, the finish started dissolving before my eyes. I suspect that a cheap, enamel paint was used during the FTR instead. Anyhow, I stripped the rest of the paint off, and under that spray paint was a very nice light gray Parkerized finish.

Normally I wouldn't think of  refinishing a military weapon; it detracts from the history in my opinion. In this case, I made an exception. Nice as that gray Parkerizing was, it just didn't look right. Unfortunately, Suncorite is nasty, toxic stuff and can't be had easily, so I searched around the web and found a suitable substitute: Brownell's Baking Lacquer. For those who haven't used it, it's a bake-on epoxy type coating that's reasonably tough and mimics the original finish fairly well. Once cured, it is impervious to solvents. I have to say, it seems pretty durable so far, with just a touch of wear on the high points from holstering and honest use. Overall, I think it came out pretty nice.

My 1944 Enfield No. 2 Mk 1* with 1942 dated pistol belt and 1943 dated holster.

Say what you want to about the effectiveness of the 38/200 round, the revolver itself is a joy to shoot. It's lightweight and points well, and of course, there's very little recoil. Modern loadings of the .38 S&W feature a 145 grain lead bullet, which in my No. 2 shoots a bit low at 10 yards. The double action trigger pull is indeed stiff, but the pull is short, and it's easily ten times better than that of the Nagant.  Along with the revolver, I was able to acquire a Pattern 37 pistol belt and holster. Both were unissued and marked with wartime years. Frankly, they were harder to find than the revolver.

Though officially obsolete after the war (and unofficially obsolete before it), the No. 2 continued to serve as Her Majesty's sidearm until it was replaced by the Browning Hi-Power in the late 1960's. Many No. 2's were surplused, or sent to other parts of the former British Empire like Hong Kong, Africa, and India. Some are still in use today by their police forces. While over a quarter million were built, they aren't commonly seen these days, so if you get a chance to get your hands on a nice one, you should do so. It really is an "interesting bit of kit".

Best enjoyed with a nice cup of tea. Tea: The Soldier's Drink! (TM)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Czech it Out: The Vz.52 Pistol

I was digging around in the safe the other day, getting ready for a trip to range on a brisk Virginia winter morning. I have most of my handguns in generic, black Plano cases for storage, and they're not labeled, so finding the gun I want can be trial and error. So, I grabbed a gun case that I thought was my Colt 1911 WWI felt hefty enough, and it was a full sized pistol case. I opened it to verify and my Vz.52 was staring back at me. I realized that I hadn't shot it in a while. Then, I got to thinking that I've written a bit about the merits of 7.62 x 25mm Tokarev cartridge in the PPS-43, but that I never really talked about any of the pistols that were chambered for this interesting round. Long story short: I left the Colt at home, took the Vz.52 to the range, and when I came home I decided to Czech check this pistol off the list of guns I needed to blog about.

The Czechoslovakian VZ.52 Pistol, commonly known as the CZ-52.

Have I told you how much I miss the Cold War sometimes? I know it sounds strange, but things were simpler back then. You had the good guys (the free world), and the bad guys (everybody else). Oh well. At any rate, the Vz.52's story begins like so many other firearms of its era: in the post-WWII world. Czechoslovakia had a rough time of it during the unpleasantness with the Nazis, actually ceasing to exist as a country. Unfortunately, things didn't get better when the Red Army took Eastern Europe in 1945. It was inevitable that Czechoslovakia would fall under the Iron Curtain, though it took a little longer than expected: The communists seized power in 1948 in a bloodless coup. Though not directly influenced by Soviet Russia, the new communist government would not waste time consolidating its gains and allies.

Czechoslovakia falls. Be wary of any group that promises peace, land, and bread for all: even if they aren't lying, it comes at a heavy price.

The Cold War was in its infancy in 1948, a mere one year before the so-called Year of Shocks, but the Soviets weren't idle. They recognized the need to for communist nations to have standardized weaponry and ammunition in preparation for the inevitable WWIII, even prior to the creation of the Warsaw Pact. Czechoslovakia's sidearm at the time was the Vz.50. Designed by two brothers, Jan and Jaroslav Kratochv√≠l, the Vz.50 was chambered in .32 Auto, and was somewhat of a copy of the Walther PP series of pistols. This meant that it had all of the benefits and drawbacks of that gun: compact, but not particularly powerful. The USSR and its allies had standardized on the powerful 7.62 x 25mm Tokarev as its pistol round, but the straight blowback design of the Vz.50 was unsuitable for such a high pressure cartridge. It was obvious that a new pistol was needed.

The Vz.50. I own the later version known as the Vz.70. It's a decent pistol in its own right.

Romania, Poland, and Hungary had all solved this problem by adopting variants of the excellent Russian Tokarev TT-33 pistol, and it would have been very easy for the Czechoslovaks to do the same. But they wanted something different, something uniquely their own. Firearms manufacturing had long been a source of pride for the country: in fact, some of the finest military weapons ever made have come from Brno, Czechoslovakia. So the Kratochv√≠l brothers once again answered their country's call, and the Vz.52 was born.

Most American firearms enthusiasts know their gun design as the CZ-52, but this is a misnomer. The 'CZ' is an abbreviation for the manufacturer that produced the pistol, Ceska Zbrojovka, but the actual designation given it by the Czechoslovakian military is the Vz.52, or "model of 1952" pistol. The Vz.52 looks like something you'd expect to see in a 1950's science fiction movie. It's a very curvy, streamlined looking weapon, for a very curvy, streamlined time.

Also very curvy and streamlined: Anne Francis, starlet of 1956's sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet.

Anyhow, as I mentioned, the Vz.52 is a hefty slab of metal, weighing in around 34 oz. That's only a quarter of a pound less than the M1911, and equal in weight to the Beretta M9 that's standard issue to US forces today...but heavier than the Soviet TT-33. Compared to its counterparts in both Western and Eastern Europe, the Vz.52 was notably different in both form and function. Whereas the TT-33 used a variation of the tried-and-true Browning 1911 style lock up, and the Walther P1 a falling locking block, the Vz.52 was a completely different animal altogether: its locking system employed a barrel assembly that interfaced with the slide on a set of steel rollers. This provided a very strong lockup, more than enough to handle the pressures generated by the 7.62 x 25mm (in fact, this roller lock system was inspired from that of the famous German MG-42 machine gun, which was chambered in 8mm Mauser). Perhaps it was overkill for a pistol cartridge, but the system worked quite well.

This picture from illustrates the roller locking system.

The locking mechanism wasn't the only noteworthy thing about the Vz.52: it also had a safety decocker. Decockers weren't new, they'd been around for quite some time. However, unlike firearms such as the Walther PP or P1, the Vz.52 could either be decocked, or placed on safe with the hammer back, a la the 1911. The decocker allowed one to safely drop the hammer on a loaded round vs. having to "ride" the hammer down. The unusual part of this was that decockers were traditionally featured on single/double action pistols, but the Vz.52 was single action only. Still, it was a useful feature. In addition to the decocker/safety, the Vz.52 employed a firing pin safety block, meaning that the gun couldn't fire if you dropped it on its muzzle. This is a common safety mechanism today (though of questionable benefit), but it's worth pointing out as something that was a bit ahead of its time.

As opposed to the Soviet TT-33, which didn't even have a safety.

The Vz.52 was fed by an eight round detachable magazine with a heel release, like the Pistolet Makarova and P1 pistols. This is something you don't see in military firearms anymore. The rationale was that push-button magazine releases could be activated by mistake, causing a soldier to unknowingly drop his magazine. Without a magazine, the pistol was useless. The heel release system ensures this can't happen, but it considerably slows down the reload process, as it requires both hands to change a magazine. Both the Vz.50 and TT-33 had push-button magazine releases...go figure.

The Czechoslovaks issued the Vz.52 to both their police and military forces, where it served quietly until the 1980s, after which they were sold as surplus. When the Vz.52 was first imported into the United States in the late 1990's, some of them had been factory refurbished (denoted by a blued finish vs. a gray Parkerizing), but a great number of them were in excellent to unissued original condition. Like many Cold War weapons, most Vz.52s saw little use, and in fact, more than a few just sat in storage. According to what I've read, those unissued pistols that were stored were carefully inspected and checked for function every few years. My pistol, purchased a couple of years back from, was advertised as one of these unissued pistols. It came wrapped in plastic with a new holster, cleaning rod, a single magazine, and a lanyard.

My Vz.52 from, minus the lanyard. Where did I put that darn thing?

Honestly, the Vz.52 is not my favorite gun to shoot. The first thing you feel is the wide, but thin grip. It's certainly not the most ergonomic design in the world, and I find that the grip angle causes me to naturally shoot low with the pistol. The military-grade sights are serviceable, similar to those on the M1911, though the wider rear notch makes target acquisition a bit faster. The trigger takes getting used to. For a single action, it's fairly heavy and a touch gritty, mostly due to the design of the firing pin safety block. Yeah, I have a hard time shooting the Vz.52 accurately. It's one of those guns that really makes me focus on my technique, and that's not a bad thing: guns that are easy to shoot give one a false sense of confidence. Oh, and when you do pull the trigger...ha. You're rewarded with a loud boom and a large gout of flame from the muzzle. This thing is a fire-breather. GLOCK shooters to your left and right will ask you what you've got, and then they will ask if they can shoot it. Let them. Because secretly, GLOCK owners want to shoot real guns like real men do. And we should encourage that.

"My gun is all purple and stuff, and made of plastic! Like, wow. Also, I like unicorns!"

There's been a lot written about the strength (or lack thereof) of the Vz.52, and I won't go into that here. Suffice to say, if you shoot it with factory ammunition or properly reloaded ammo, you won't have any problems. There used to be quite a bit of surplus ammo on the market, with the Romanian stuff being very good in particular, but it has since dried up. Remember, this gun served for treat it right, it'll do its part. As for guys who try to blow stuff up to prove a point: may Allah bring you bedbugs and warts. If you want to blow up a gun on purpose, please email me instead: I will make you a counter-offer.

As I mentioned, I don't shoot my Vz.52 often, but it's a valued part of my Cold War gun collection, and it's one of those guns I'll never sell. Czechoslovakia produced around 250,000 of these pistols from 1952-1954. This puts the Vz.52 into the "not rare, but not really common either" category. If you have the opportunity to pick one up, I recommend doing so. They can still be had in nice shape in the $300 range, and that's a small price to pay for a piece of history.

Also, it really annoys this woman. Good side benefit.