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This is actually parts of an e-mail conversation about weapons in general. Keep in mind that my comments are based on recollections and experience and may not have any real merit.
How about the M-3, which was still the principal weapon for loaders and drivers in US tanks as late as 1979? The M-3 was designed sometime (probably around the WWII time frame), and was modified for a number of different uses over the years. I have heard that the first guns off the production line cost between $6 and $8 each. They fire .45 caliber ACP ammunition, same as the M1911A1 pistol but are, by default, full automatic. The weapon is made mainly of steel stampings but has a machined steel barrel and bolt.
30 round magazine, retractable wire stock. Without the magazine it looked a lot like a long, 3" diameter flashlight, with an aardvark nose and a hand grip. Since we have been trying to throw off our 'Britishness', the magazine was aligned with the receiver group the way that gravity intended it to be. In other words, it hung straight down from the insertion point in front of the removable (for cold weather operations) trigger guard.
I fired the M-3 on several occasions. It was interesting. Being 'blowback' operated the weight of the bolt and the freshness of the recoil springs determined the rate of fire. Well . . . there aren't any NEW M-3s, I hope, so rates of fire varied considerably. As I said, there is no semi-auto mode for the M-3. As long as the operator keeps the trigger pulled, the M-3 will "chunk . . .chunk . . .chunk" bullets in the general direction that it is pointed. There are sights but the instructors told us that we should forget about them. They said to use them like a fire hose, the way that they were designed to be used, and, after the enemy fell down, or stopped firing back, it was OK to let go of the trigger.
Unfortunately, letting go of the trigger of an M-3 only stopped it firing about 90% of the time. Sears (the device, not the store) made and tempered by the lowest bidder, during WWII, had a tendency to give in to metal fatigue. First rule on an M-3 firing range: "If your weapon doesn't stop firing when you release the trigger, don't turn around and look at me."
Seen that thing -called a grease gun, I realised it was basic when I read they fitted a cocking handle to it as an upgrade. Made me smile with that remark about not turning round - those words that strike fear along the firing line "Sarge its stuck", it used to happen with Sterlings infrequently, I was told one of our guys turned towards his sgt - he grabbed the gun and hit him, quite right too.
Used 9mm rounds, think the trigger guard folded, never messed with that, was nice and easy to clean, except the barrel - all those holes ! The butt folded for stowage which was handy - often used to nip myself folding it.
We always carried it on parades without a bayonet because of the way you ordered arms you would have made the mark of Zorro on the back of the man in front of you, that and the fact they didnt trust us with sharp objects :)
The world most agricutral.. agraicutl.... basic, I dont know you would have to look at the Sten and the russian one. PPS is it ??? Rory and Roland have you seen pictures of the Owen - very odd looking, but popular I believe ?
I must be suffering from senility again. The real point I intended to make was that the M-3 was really a very simple, although somewhat elegant, design. They were not, however, intended to stay in service for 50 years.
The most important part, naturally, was the bolt. It was machined to somewhat close tolerances and had two moving parts: the extractor pin and the extractor spring. The mass of the bolt was one of the determining factors in the cyclic rate of fire.
The bolt had a very important feature. It had a hole drilled into it about half an inch deep and slightly larger in diameter, about 3/4 of an inch from the front of the bolt. (There were machined slots in the bolt that matched up with welded-in rails in the receiver group so that the bolt could not be inserted upside down.) Since the bolt couldn't be inserted upside down, this hole was always exposed when the dust cover was open.
The M-3A1 model, the only one I ever saw, had a large dust cover over the large ejection port. The dust cover had an additional function of acting as the safety for the weapon. If the dust cover was closed, the bolt was sometimes kept from chambering and firing rounds unless the finger welded on to it's inside surface, was worn. The 'safety finger' fit into the hole in the bolt when the bolt was closed. Due to the fixed firing pin, there was no way to put the M-3 on safe with a live round in the chamber. The alternative was to cock the weapon (insert a finger tip in the hole in the bolt, pull to the rear, and hope that the sear engaged.) and close the dust cover. The sear might be expected to hold the bolt to the rear during normal use, but I think I already mentioned that the average M-3 sear has been kind of 'iffy' since the late 40's. You might think that the 'safety' finger would keep the weapon from firing if the sear either broke or was fooled by a hard rap on the weapon by something. Unfortunately, the safety fingers were made at the same time as the rest of the weapon and usually were only capable of keeping the bolt from moving to the rear. They rarely seemed to have any effect on the bolt moving towards the muzzle.
The M-3 was very popular with American SOS types during WWII because it was cheap, easy to train on, easy to clean, fired the .45 caliber ACP round which had a low muzzle velocity but still carried a lot of 'knock-down' power, (kind of like a Webley .455 but with a more capacious cartridge case) and especially because the low muzzle velocity made it easy to fit with a silencer.
I would have preferred something like the Czech Skorpion for armored vehicle crewmen, but even when I got out for good, in 1992, we didn't have that kind of relationship with the Czech's.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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