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Saturday, 11 March 2017

Now For Some Strange, and Overcomplicated Implements.

Hi everyone.

This is what I've been working on writing for a few days now.  I did mention that I'd be writing about the "junk" of World War II.  And one area that was rife with that was the realm of Italian machine guns.  These are among the strangest and most awkward firearms ever designed, and as implied, it was not for the better of the Italian Army in either World War.

Granted, I'll be starting with one of the better machine guns designed in the early 20th century.  This was the Perino medium machine gun, adopted alongside some Maxim machine guns that the Italians bought prior to World War I.  It was operated by a recoiling barrel that unlocked a bell-crank operated breach, and was fed from a box of trays that contained 25 rounds of ammunition each.  As for said ammo, the gun was chambered for the standard 6.5x52mm Carcano rifle cartridge.  

The only truly "bad" feature of this weapon was that it's original version weighed 27 kg (about 60 lbs), though a lightweight 1910 version cut that figure by nearly half.  The Italian Government and Army treated the weapon with great secrecy, and that lead to it being adopted in only small numbers, no matter how effective it was.

Hence, come 1914 and just prior to Italy's entry into World War I, they were left with trying to find something that can be mass produced quickly.  The result was a machine gun designed by Italian Army Captain Bethel Abel Revelli, who also designed the Glisenti 1910 service pistol and the Villar Perosa twin barreled 9mm machine gun that was originally an aircraft weapon, but later formed the basis of Italian submachine guns from late World War I until the 1930s.

This Fiat-Revelli 1914 machine gun has numerous strange features that place it in a league of its own as far as strange weapons go.  Chambered for 6.5mm Carcano, it operated by a strange mix of short recoil and delayed blowback.  The mechanism was essentially an enlarged version of Revelli's Glisenti automatic pistol, where the barrel recoiled a very short distance until a locking block was pivoted out of the way to "unlock" the breach.  

Such an arrangement didn't allow for primary extraction (the initial unseating of the cartridge from the chamber to ease extraction), though, for its benefit, didn't use oiled ammo.  The gun had tons of entrance points for dust and grit as it was (more on that in a moment), and oiled rounds would've made those matters much worse.

Also, there was a large opening for the gun's "magazine", which had a 50 or 100 round capacity, and was sort of like 10 or 20 Carcano rifle clips welded together, and was ejected out of the right side of the weapon when emptied.  The clip arrangement wasn't very satisfactory, since the clips could be easily damaged, and left hung holes in the receiver for all matter of junk to find its way into the action.  

 Also, the Fiat-Revelli used a charging handled that was attached to the bold that cycled back and forth as the gun fired.  This ensured injury to anyone who wasn't careful of where they placed their hands on the grips while firing, and also collected dust and debris.  In any case, the gun's action was prone to jamming and stoppages.

Even with that, some examples soldiered on until the end of World War II, though some were modernized or newly built in 1935:

Things were made more chaotic interwar by everyone and their brother seemingly designing a new machine gun for the Italian Army every other week.  

One of the better ones was the Brixia 1920 medium and 1923 light machine gun.  It was "better" mostly because it was more conventional.  It was simple in mechanism and was reliable given the time it was designed.  It used a simple tilting bolt lock mechanism that the only unusual feature was a piece on it that would flip-flop back and forth to act as a bolt accelerator.  It was also fed by a simple tray in box arrangement similar to the Perino mentioned previously.

Then there was the Fiat/SAFAT 1924, 1926, and 1928 machine guns.  These were all very similar in design, differing in that the 1928 weapon was a belt fed aircraft machine gun chambered for .303 British as opposed to 6.5 Carcano.  These were improved lightweight versions of the Fiat-Revelli 1914 with improvements that improve reliability.  However, these were still heavy for "light" machine guns, were fed by strange hinged magazines that were usually reloaded by special 20 round chargers (except for the 1928 aircraft model), and were mounted on tripods.

There was also a SAFAT 1928 infantry machine gun that had a quick change barrel and an improved breach locking system.  An interesting weapon with few unusual features (aside from using a hinged magazine feed), it wasn't adopted in large numbers.

The aircraft gun didn't fare well, considering that it did tend to jam and was also criticized for it's low rate of fire and difficulties with propeller synchronization gear on fighter planes of the era, so was passed over in favor of the Breda SAFAT machine guns, which were modified Browning 1919/AN-M2 aircraft machine guns.

And now we're onto probably one of the very worst automatic weapons ever designed, even worse than the 8x50mm Lebel caliber Chauchat machine guns, and as bad as the .30-06 Springfield versions pawned off onto the US Army in World War I until replaced by the far superior Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR for short.

This is the Breda 1930 LMG.  It seems to embody almost every strange feature presented so far into one of the oddest and worst weapons ever designed.  Like the Fiat Revelli, it was once again a short recoil/delayed blowback weapon, but instead of a propping block, it was "locked" by a 5 lug rotating bolt.  It had the hinged magazine familiar by now to Italian light machine guns, poor primary extraction (which lead in this case to an oiler being gun mounted that oiled rounds when chambered), and tons of places where dust and crap can get into the weapon to jam up the works.  

In simple terms, this was a horrible weapon.  One saving grace was the quick change barrel.  But that didn't help, as unlike most air cooled machine guns that fire from an open breach (the bolt is held back between shots to promote barrel cooling), the Model 30 fired from a closed breach, which made barrel overheating much more likely to set on quickly.  Also, there was no carrying handle to carry the weapon with, which made carrying a very hot Model 30 a very interesting experience.

There was also a Breda 1924, also called the Model 5C, which differed in that it was tripod mounted with spade grips, instead of the 1930s bipod and pistol grip.  The following links will show photos and a further description of the flawed, bizarre weapon.

Next up is the Breda 1937.  This medium machine gun began as the 13.2x99mm Hotchkiss caliber Breda 1931, which itself was basically a license built Hotchkiss 1930 13.2mm heavy machine gun.  The Model 37 was a scaled down Model 31 with one rather unusual feature.

As the Model 37 was originally designed as a tank machine gun for armored vehicles such as tanks, it used a strip feed where trays contained the round, and the gun's breach mechanism had to extract a round from the tray, chamber it, fire it, and replace it back into the tray.

The breach, unlike the original Hotchkiss design, had no primary extraction, so like the Breda Model 30, had to use a cartridge oiler to ease extraction.  Though the biggest problem overall was that the strips held only 20 rounds, and the gunner had to remove the empty shell casings to re-use a tray.  

However, the Breda 37 was well liked and had a solid reputation, and some remained in service after World War II.

Finally, on the Italian end, there was the modernized Fiat-Revelli machine guns that were rebuilt or built as new from 1935.  Among the changes were a switch from water cooling to air cooling, discarding the clip feed in favor of a belt, and changing the chambering from 6.5x52mm Carcano to 8x59mm Breda (as used in the Breda M37).

You'd hope that this made for a better weapon.  It did, but not by much.  It still fired from a closed breach, like the water cooled version did.  But without water to cool the barrel, cook-off and barrel overheating became much more likely unless discipline was use while firing.  Early guns also had to have an oiler or rounds greased in the belt before insertion until the guns were upgraded with barrels with fluted chambers that eased extraction and cured the problems with stuck shell casings.  Needless to say, it didn't stick around long in the Italian Army once World War II was over.

Also, the Italian Army during both World Wars also used Maxim machine guns, Vickers-Maxim machine guns, Browning 1895 "potato digger" machine guns, all in 6.5mm Carcano.  They also used captured Austrian Schwarzlose M1907 machine guns during World War I, and also received many as war reparations afterward.  These were used as substitute standard issue medium machine guns in World War II.

In all, you can't refute that the Italian designers were trying to design the best they could with what they knew.  It's not like today where there's few truly proven ways on how automatic weapons should operate and do so reliably and without frills.  And the machine gun was still fairly new equipment and a fairly new concept back then.  So experimentation was expected.

Still, this motley, strange collection of firearms show how chaotic Italian Armed Forces ordinance was following World War I and the Fascist era.  No to mention that the Italians used numerous different rifle and machine gun calibers during this period.  Among them were:

6.5x52mm Carcano
8x50mmR Mannlicher
8x50mmR Lebel (not interchangeable with the above)
7.35x52mm Carcano
8x59mm Breda
7.7x56mmR/.303 British
And lastly, 7.92x57mm Mauser.

Just from the list of cartridge calibers I listed, you can see how hectic things were and how hard a time the ordinance men had, not to mention just the mix of different rifles and machine guns, period.

Nevertheless, this is an interesting field of study.  The Italian/Mediterranean theater or World War II is in my opinion underappreciated and understudied.  That's in spite of the fact that some of the hardest fought and desperate battles were fought in World War II.  Also, Italian fighting vehicles and aircraft are also pretty interesting, and also reflect shortcomings in what the ordinance departments thought the Italian fighting man needed during the war.  Logistics and production problems caused great ills within the Italian Armed Forces during World War II, and they suffered according at the hands of the Allies.

In spite of that, once the Italians became Allied Co-Belligerants after September of 1943, they helped push the Nazis and the German Army, and Fascist loyal to the cretin known as Benito Mussolini out of their country and did their part in liberating their nation.

This is just an interesting little list of weird and unusual items used in World War II.  For more photos and info, I have these threads:



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