Ask the Firearms Historian

Not long after I first joined here, I did a thread entitled Ask The Australian Gun Owner, and seeing that I have a day off, I thought I’d expand upon what I started in that thread by opening a Ask The Firearms Historian thread.

Regular readers of my posts (that’s right, both of you down the back, by the window there :wink: ) are probably aware that my main interest, firearms-wise, is collectible military surplus firearms, primarily British Empire & Commonwealth military firearms from the period c.1815-1975, as well as Russian military firearms c.1870-1975.

Of course, my knowledge of guns isn’t limited exclusively to British or Russian military firearms- I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about firearms in general, although I will confess I’m not as well versed on modern hunting rifles and shotguns as I am on military firearms.

I’ve also written a number of articles for a prominent shooting magazine here in Australia (if you’re an SSAA member then you may have seen some of my work), but rather than ramble on in my OP, however, I figured it would be easier just to open the floor and go from there… so, over to you guys! :slight_smile:

What are the revolvers that our hero Brendan wields (one in each hand) in the scene on the riverboat in The Mummy?

As near as I can tell, they’re French M1874 service revolvers, which were chambered in the 11mm French Ordnance calibre, IIRC.

I own a three-triggered Heym drilling rifle. It’s a gorgeous piece, delicately engraved with gold plating on parts. My grandfather’s uncle brought it back from WWII, and it’s been passed down through the family.

I’d like to know its value for insurance purposes, but sources on Heyms are limited, and I’ve never seen another example with three triggers. Any ideas?

Here are some photos:


Heym logo
Top of lock

Triggers (Gold plated, but that doesn’t show up in the photo very well.

What, in your opinion, was the most revolutionary development in the history of the firearm, and why? And the second-most?

What is the most overrated firearm on the market, in your opinion? The most underrated?

Can you catch a bullet between your teeth?

What’s your opinion of the alleged “wandering zero” on the jungle carbine?

Know any free Colt serial number lookups?

Lissa, that’s a beautiful rifle, but I couldn’t even begin to give you an idea of a value, mainly because I’m a bit rusty on sporting guns- even antiques, alas.

I’d reccommend heading over to and asking one of the experts there… someone with more knowledge on Heym rifles should be able to help you out. Make sure you look after that gun- Drillings are usually worth a reasonable sum when they’re in as good condition as yours.

Probably the invention of the Wheel-lock, which was the first firearm that could be loaded and kept ready for use later. Match-lock firearms required the use of a burning match, which was prone to go out, difficult to light in the wet, and gave the gunner’s position away at night. It wasn’t possible to carry a matchlock gun in Condition One around with you on your travels

The invention of the metallic cartridge, no question. Without cartridges, repeating arms and magazine-fed firearms as we know them simply wouldn’t exist.

The IMI Desert Eagle is very high on the list- heavy, bulky, noisy, not all that accurate, prone to jamming, and generally expensive. They’re all Bling, and completely useless for almost anything except either administering a coup de grace to a Grizzly Bear or long-range Metallic Silhouette shooting.

Any single-shot .22 rifle. Most people see them as toys that you need to be careful with, but any experienced shooter can tell you that they’re an excellent tool for teaching gun safety, the basics of shooting, and making every shot count. Almost all of them are very accurate, rugged, and solidly made, too.

No- barring some inexplicable freakish series of coincidences or improbable events, of course.

The Lee-Enfield No 5 Mk I “Jungle Carbine” was alleged to suffer from a “Wandering Zero”, which meant that the Point of Impact for the bullets fired from it would differ each time you fired the rifle- ie, it was inaccurate.

My opinion- and the general consensus amongst Lee-Enfield collectors- is that that there’s no such problem with the No 5 Mk I. I’ve yet to encounter a first-hand example of a No 5 with this “problem”, nor have I come across any other collectors or shooters who’ve experienced it.

Basically, I’m of the opinion that the whole thing was either made up or greatly exaggerated in order to hasten the introduction of a self-loading rifle, as it looked for a short time there as if Britain might adopt the No 5 Mk I as the “Issue” rifle, and given that everyone else c. 1946 was adopting semi-auto rifles, the British soldiers didn’t- understandably- want to be stuck with a bolt action rifle when everyone else has semi-autos.

Alas, no, but I’d be very surprised if someone on Gunboards couldn’t help you out…

If (for whatever reason) you were to expect to find yourself in a post-apocalyptic Australia* and (again, for whatever reason, take your pic) you were only able to grab one gun and a box of ammo before leaving for your hideout, what would you like to be able to take with you and why?

*V8 Interceptor optional

That was unnecessarily specific, sorry. How about -
Do you research the history of individual arms as you acquire them? Any tips on doing that kind of thing?

It depends on the gun- I have an extensive reference library for British military firearms and could tell you when and where a particular gun was made, but not to which unit it was issued. I can do the same- to a lesser extent- with Russian guns.

The best advice I have is to get a good reference book and study the markings on the gun- British, Russian, and German guns have more than US guns for some reason. Things like dates can also give you ideas- a 1941 dated Russian firearm almost certainly saw combat, a 1945 dated Lee-Enfield probably not (depending on condition, of course).

Out of curiosity, what sort of gun are you trying to learn the history of?

I saw an episode of Globe Trekker awhile back and it was mentioned that (Pygmies fought off the British?*) using rifles they made out of bamboo.

(*I might have the location wrong - I watch a lot of those shows and may have mixed that up.)

At any rate, the idea of bamboo rifles interested me - how they were made and all.

Plus, do you know any other interesting/odd materials used in making firearms?

Probably a Lee-Enfield No 5 Mk I “Jungle Carbine”- they’re a bolt action rifle, built like tanks, reasonably compact, fire a fullbore cartridge, have a 10 round magazine, and can also mount a bayonet.

I’m not familiar with the story, but that doesn’t meant it didn’t happen.

Rifles in the Khyber Pass region are often made using railway lines, junked cars, and whatever other metals are lying around, with propellant for the cartridges sometimes provided by old film (nitrocellulose).

Otherwise, I’ve heard of firearms being made out of plastic, wood, ceramics… Not sure how practical they’d be, though.

Mythbusters successfully made a cannon out of a tree trunk.

I’m not a collector by any means, but I have one that my grandfather brought home from WWII. This is the first I’ve ever heard of the ‘wandering zero’. The one I have, at least, is extremely accurate, and stays so with little fuss. It ain’t pretty (it’s obvious that it’s seen bad weather and heavy combat), but it’s by far my favorite rifle, for all the reasons you mentioned.

How do you weigh in on the Ross Mk.1 used by the Canadians in WWI? I’ve read in some places that it was simply a POS, while others will admit that although it was too much of a thoroughbred for field conditions & for use by the average soldier, in skilled hands it was one of the best sniper rifles of the war.

I can’t resist butting in here to say that from what I have read, it was a very good rifle, but a terrible weapon - too vulnerable to dirt, manufacturing problems and misassembly for military use, but winning several gold medals for the Soviet Olympic teams at running deer disciplines.

Here’s one I’ve been wondering about.

During the Lewis and Clark expedition (1803-1805); they took along an “air gun” which was a novelty at the time, and apparently quite cutting edge. One historian posits that the gun was a key item for the success of the expedition because word travelled rapidly amongst the tribes in those days - and a weapon capable of firing numerous shots without being reloaded was quite different than a black powder muzzleloader.

The standard tactic with anyone up against muzzleloading firearms was to wait until your opponent has fired and then immediately attack or anyway utilize whatever advantage while your opponent is fiddling with powder, ball, patch and ramrod, etc. When Lewis demonstrated the “airgun”, it actually elicited much more excitement than would be supposed at this late date.

ANYWAY, very little is known of the weapon they actually took to the pacific and back, and the journals themselves aren’t much help, but this website claims they have discovered which model the expedition took, AND, they just happen to have the expedition piece. What do you think?

My thoughts exactly. An excellent target or range rifle, where one could keep it clean, but utterly useless in the mud, dirt, and sand of the Western Front or Palestine.

Large numbers of them were “Lost” by Canadian troops, who re-armed themselves with SMLE Mk III rifles acquired from the British (often by picking them up off the battlefield).

I have a picture (a colour photograph) of an air rifle owned by Lewis Merriweather, and it doesn’t look anything like the gun in the linked article. The picture I have (from the collection of Merrill K. Lindsay, according to the acknowledgements) shows what appears to be a Kentucky Rifle or a Jaeger Rifle with a massive bulb or globe (air cannister) mounted under the gun where the magazine would be on a modern rifle.

Air rifles were indeed in existence at the time- and arguably as effective as a conventional musket, but they were never widely adopted as they were expensive, fiddly, and “unsporting”.

As for whether or not the article’s gun is from the Lewis & Clarke expedition- there’s no way to know. That’s true of a lot of famous guns, actually- the rarities are guns such as Lawrence of Arabia’s SMLE Mk III, Ned Kelly’s Navy Colt Revolver, or Lee Harvey Oswald’s Carcano rifle, where the whereabouts and provenance are conclusively known and can be proved.

Well, the authors certainly claim that it is, due to a number of factors, they certainly seem to think so. Seems awfully convenient.