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Who Dares Wins: 22 SAS and the Pebble Island Raid by WILL DABBS

Desolate and remote, the Falkland Islands have been held by the British since the early nineteenth century.

8,000 miles South of the UK and 400 miles east of Argentina lie the Falklands Islands. The UK has held possession of the Falklands since 1833, and the islands are liberally populated with British subjects, some three thousand or so by 2006.

The Falkland Islands should be a fairly cold but idyllic place. However, folks have been squabbling over these barren rocks for centuries.

Starting with British Captain John Strong in 1690, various despots, regents, and tin pot administrators alternately claimed, occupied, or stole this desolate piece of dirt. At 4,700 square miles, the Falklands enjoyed a fair amount of space. However, its brutal Southern latitude made it an inhospitable sort of place. One of the first commercial endeavors back in the early 19th century actually involved the exploitation of feral cattle.

Margaret Thatcher wasn’t called the Iron Lady for nothing.

Now fast forward to 1982, and the nearby Argentines had their sights set on the windswept rocks of the Falkland Islands. The British had long since passed the apogee of their remarkable empire. Perhaps they wouldn’t notice if Argentina’s military junta government dispatched a few thousand troops to snatch up the Falklands. Sadly, Argentina’s Leopoldo Galtieri woefully underestimated the Iron Lady’s resolve. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was having none of that.

Buildup for War

The British Harrier jump jet was a capable and effective air superiority fighter when deployed against 1980’s-era Argentinian air assets. However, they still needed all the help they could get.

With 8,000 miles of open ocean across which to stage a proper response, the Brits knew that air superiority during the upcoming amphibious counter-invasion was going to be critical. British Sea Harriers would bear the brunt of the air-to-air responsibilities. However, every Argentine airplane that could be neutralized was one less that the Harrier drivers would have to burn out of the sky.

The Argentine-manufactured IA 58 Pucara was a twin-turboprop Close Air Support aircraft.
The Beechcraft T-34 Turbo Mentor was an armed version of a two-seat military training plane.

On the Northern aspect of the western Falklands chain lies Pebble Island. This forsaken spit of dirt was home to some twenty-five English subjects and another 2,500 very English sheep. Since the Argentine invasion, the Pebble Island Aerodromo Auxiliar Calderon airfield also housed six FMA IA 58 Pucara twin-engine turboprop ground attack aircraft, four T-34 Turbo Mentor counterinsurgency attack planes, and a single Coast Guard Skyvan transport. Servicing, supporting, and defending these eleven aircraft were about 150 Argentine Marines and aviation personnel.

The Plan

22 SAS laid the basis for modern Special Operations back during World War 2. LTC Stirling is shown here alongside some of his boys in North Africa.

22 Special Air Service Regiment was the foundation of the world’s modern Special Operations units. 22 SAS hearkens back to the Second World War and its first flamboyant commander, LTC Archibald David Stirling. Stirling’s mob of misfits tormented the Nazis from North Africa across Italy and occupied France. Subsequent generations of SAS men were shooting and scooting back when special operating wasn’t cool. In 1982 D Squadron 22 SAS Regiment stood ready to visit their own unique brand of chaos upon the Argentines.

The Klepper canoe is a non-metallic collapsible boat that breaks down into two man-portable components.

The plan was audacious. After an eyes-on recce conducted by Boat Troop of D Squadron 22 SAS via Klepper canoe, it was determined that there were severe headwinds near the target area. This would ultimately limit the amount of time the commandos could spend on the objective. The operational objectives were therefore reduced from the destruction of the garrison to simply neutralization of the aviation assets.

The Mission

The Westland Sea King HC4 was used for combat assault operations.

On the night of 14 May 1982, forty-five SAS D Squadron operators inserted via two Westland Sea King HC4 helicopters under cover of darkness. A single HC4 has the capacity to lift up to 28 combat-equipped troops. Members of the aforementioned Boat Troop provided approach navigation.

The SAS always had a fondness for the M203 grenade launcher as shown here in the hands of this modern-day re-enactor.

The SAS strike force landed six clicks from the airfield and unloaded some one hundred L16 81mm mortar bombs, demo charges, and a buttload of L1A1 66mm LAWs (Light Anti-tank Weapons). The SAS operators carried American-made M16 rifles along with a disproportionate number of M203 grenade launchers.

The capacity to march extreme distances while carrying ridiculously heavy loads is the bread and butter of the British SAS.

SAS operators are notorious for their simply breathtaking capacity to tab. Tab is short for Tactical Advance to Battle. This is British slang for a forced march across hostile terrain. The SAS assault force successfully infiltrated the airfield, avoiding the Argentine sentries on duty. They eventually set charges on seven of the Argentine aircraft without being detected.

The 22 SAS operators destroyed or disabled all of the combat aircraft on the airfield.

On cue, the SAS operators blew the charges and opened up on the parked aircraft with small arms and LAW rockets. At the same time, naval gunfire from the British destroyer HMS Glamorgan joined in targeting the nearby fuel stores and ammo dump. The preponderance of their ordnance expended, the SAS raiders exfilled to the PZ (Pickup Zone) where they were extracted by the waiting Sea Kings to the HMS Hermes.

The Weapons

The L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle was the standard Infantry weapon of the UK Armed Forces during the Falklands war.

The standard British Army rifle at the time of the Falklands War was the L1A1 SLR (Self-Loading Rifle). This Anglicized FN FAL was used across Her Majesty’s armed forces. However, the SAS opted for the US M16 for its lightweight and high-capacity magazines. Today’s SAS operators wield Canadian-made versions of the M4 Carbine made by Diemaco.

The British SAS appreciated the modest weight and superb maneuverability of the US M16 rifle.

The M16 has served in sundry guises for more than half a century in the US military and should be established dogma to anybody frequenting GunsAmerica. The M203 was the only component of the US Army’s long-running 1960’s-era Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW) program to see adoption. Pronounced “Spew,” the SPIW had to have the coolest acronym in modern military history.

The under-barrel M203 grenade launcher adds a significant indirect fire capability to the individual trooper.

First adopted in 1969, the M203 fired the same 40x46mm grenade as did the standalone M79 break-open grenade launcher. The M203 mounted underneath a standard M16 and allowed the grenadier ready access to an automatic rifle in addition to the single-shot grenade launcher.

The M433 HEDP (High Explosive Dual-Purpose) round fired by the M203 has an effective casualty radius of five meters and will penetrate two inches of rolled homogenous steel armor.

The 40mm grenades fired by these weapons operate on the High-Low Propulsion System first developed by the Germans during World War 2. The Germans referred to this concept as the “Hoch-und-Niederdruck System,” and it allows a relatively-heavy, low-velocity round to be safely fired via a handheld weapon.

The disposable L1A1 LAW is a relatively lightweight anti-armor weapon that is also useful against fixed fortifications and material.

The L1A1 LAW is a single-shot disposable 66mm unguided antitank weapon. Originally an American contrivance, the US designation was the M72. The solid rocket motor was developed in 1959 at Redstone Arsenal, and the M72 first saw service in 1963. The M72 replaced both the M31 HEAT (High Explosive Antitank) rifle grenade and the cumbersome M20A1 Super Bazooka.

The aluminum inner tube of the L1A1 LAW telescopes into the fiberglass outer shell.

The L1A1 LAW consists of a telescoping aluminum tube within an external fiberglass cylinder with pop-up front and rear sights. When collapsed and sealed the LAW is waterproof. A percussion cap firing mechanism ignites the rocket, and a mechanical setback safety built into the warhead does not arm the piezoelectric detonator until the rocket has accelerated out of the tube.

The spring-loaded cover drops away when the rear cap is pivoted open.
The spring-loaded sights deploy when the LAW is extended for use. The black rubber device in the middle is the trigger bar. The manual firing mechanism on the far right is pulled forward to arm the rocket.

To fire the L1A1 LAW you pull the safety pin and remove the spring-loaded back cover. This allows the front cover to drop away as well, while the rear cover pivots down to serve as a shoulder brace. Grip the front and back of the weapon and extend it briskly. This movement releases the spring-loaded front and rear sights to deploy. Put the weapon on your shoulder, pull the striker handle forward to arm the mechanism, point the thing at something you dislike, and squeeze the trigger bar.

There is a great deal of violence inherent in firing a LAW rocket. This thing veritably explodes off your shoulder.
Care must be exercised to avoid the backblast area upon firing.

Firing the LAW is nothing like the movies. The entirety of the solid rocket motor is consumed prior to the rocket’s leaving the launch tube, and the open back of the tube makes the LAW essentially recoilless. The backblast, however, is subsequently ferocious.

The fins remain folded until the rocket leaves the launch tube.

Once the weapon is fired, six folding fins deploy to stabilize the rocket in flight. Muzzle velocity is 475 feet per second, and the thing makes a simply incredible racket.

The LAW is a proven and effective weapon system.

Max effective range is 200 meters, and later versions of the standard HEAT warhead will burn through about 12 inches of rolled homogenous steel armor. The LAW rockets used in the Pebble Island raid weighed about 8 pounds and cost about $750 apiece. Though augmented in US service in 1987 by the Swedish AT-4, the LAW remains in use around the world today.

The Rest of the Story

Subsequent aerial reconnaissance verified the destruction of all Argentine aircraft on the airfield.

As a result of intense shelling by the HMS Glamorgan the defending Argentines remained under cover for the most part throughout the raid. Presuming the attack to be the opening salvoes in a general invasion, the Argentine commander ordered the runway destroyed. The Argentines detonated prepositioned area denial charges underneath the runway and cratered it. Shrapnel from these charges injured one of the SAS operators. The Argentinian commander was subsequently killed by British small arms fire during the attack.

The tactical aircraft on Pebble Island were all rendered unusable for the duration of the Falklands War.

The original plan had the assault force redirecting their fire on the Argentinian garrison after ensuring the destruction of the attack aircraft. However, after exfilling the wounded man the ground force commander made the decision to return to the Hermes. This on-the-spot decision no doubt ultimately saved a great many lives.

The Pebble Island raid accomplished its primary objective without loss of life among the British attackers.

The Pebble Island raid accounted for all eleven aircraft as well as the ammo and fuel dump and was considered a rousing success. Considering that destroying airfields full of Axis aircraft during WW2 was considered a bit of an SAS specialty, the Pebble Island raid seemed fitting.

CPT Gavin John Hamilton commanded the ground element during the Pebble Island raid. Killed in action less than a month later, he was 29 years old.

Sadly, CPT Gavin John Hamilton, the ground force commander, was killed three weeks later while on a covert reconnaissance mission some forty miles behind Argentine lines. Colonel Juan Ramon Mabragana, the commander of the Argentine Commando unit that killed CPT Hamilton, later described him as “the most courageous man I have ever seen.”

The British SAS is justifiably viewed as one of the world’s premiere Special Operations units.

Who Dares Wins.

Brutally selected and exquisitely well-trained, 22 SAS is the tip of the spear.
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All About Guns Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad

Mitch WerBell: You Couldn’t Make This Stuff Up by WILL DABBS

Mitch WerBell was a larger-than-life character from beginning to end.

The son of a Czarist-era Imperial Russian cavalry officer, Mitch WerBell III suffered from a deplorable excess of personality. WerBell’s life reflected the synergistic combination of an audacious will, an insatiable thirst for chaos, a truly gifted mechanical insight, and some fortuitous timing. The cumulative result was adventure beyond the capacity of normal folk to comprehend.

John Singlaub was a legend in the early days of American Special Operations.

In 1942 WerBell joined the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, and was dispatched to the Pacific to coordinate underground operations against the Japanese. While operating covertly in China alongside the likes of John Singlaub, WerBell was once paid with a five-pound bag of pure opium. After the war WerBell returned to Athens, Georgia, to dabble in advertising.

Hiram Percy Maxim, the inventor of the first commercially-viable sound suppressor for a firearm, had some truly epic hair. I suspect he used this ample coif to conceal his massive accessory brain pack.

Wearing a tie and advertising sundries for a department store ill-suited the former special operator, so WerBell closed his PR firm to start building sound suppressors. Hiram Percy Maxim had patented and marketed the first commercially successful sound suppressors for firearms soon after the turn of the century. Such trinkets saw sporadic use during WW2, but the state of the art was rudimentary by modern standards. WerBell’s suppressor designs laid the foundation for the remarkable devices available to US shooters today.

SIONICS

With the benefit of hindsight, these early SIONICS rifle cans were really unduly complicated.

Werbell’s suppressor company was called SIONICS. This stood for “Studies In the Operational Negation of Insurgents and Counter-Subversion.” His first efforts orbited around suppressing the M16 rifle.

There are more than two million sound suppressors in the NFRTR (National Firearms Registry and Transfer Record) today. Mitch WerBell blazed the trail.

The state of the art as regards materials science and engineering has advanced substantially since the 1960s. Nowadays if you want to eat at the cool kids’ table at your local firing range you need to have something stubby, round, and sinister hanging off the snout of your favorite black rifle. Back then, however, sound suppressors for high-velocity rifles were radical things indeed.

Mitch WerBell strived mightily to sell his products to the US Army. Here he is shown demonstrating one of his suppressed rifles to a group of Special Forces soldiers.
The patented “WerBell Relief Valve” was intended to help vent high-pressure muzzle gases. In practical use, the spring in this device frequently lost its temper at high round counts.

In addition to their M16 offerings, WerBell also built cans for bolt-action rifles as well as the M14SS-1, a suppressor for the M14 battle rifle. WerBell was ultimately credited with 25 separate suppressor designs as well as the “WerBell Relief Valve,” a nifty little trinket designed to vent high-pressure gases. WerBell also pioneered the use of exotic materials like titanium in sound suppressors, something that is quite commonplace today.

Gordon Ingram was a gifted gun designer.

In 1967 WerBell formed a partnership with Gordon Ingram, the father of the M10 submachine gun. They melded WerBell’s sound suppressor technology and Ingram’s tiny little inexpensive submachine guns into something even greater. The M1911A1 pistols then in US service were getting long in the tooth. WerBell and Ingram envisioned tens of thousands of Ingram submachine guns stacked in US Army arms rooms around the world. With visions of fat government contracts aplenty, they went to work marketing these things.

Mitch WerBell had a gift for getting people to do things he wanted.

Mitch WerBell was a player blessed with some seriously magnetic charisma. Most spies are like that. WerBell secured 29 investors at $7 million apiece to capitalize his enterprise under the umbrella of Quantum Ordnance Bankers. He eventually merged Quantum with SIONICS to create the Military Armament Corporation. Thus the MAC10 was born.

The Gun

Rap stars seem terribly angry most of the time. This is the rapper MACK 10.

The term MAC10 eventually made it into the English lexicon. The American rapper Dedrick D’Mon Rolison adopted the stage name “Mack 10” and parlayed himself into a brand that eventually sold 11 million records. The term “MAC10,” however, was never an official moniker used by the Military Armament Corporation in their promotional efforts.

The Ingram Model 6 was a fairly conventional .45ACP submachine gun with some unusually advanced features.

Gordon Ingram was a World War 2 veteran with a knack for engineering. His first modestly successful submachinegun design was the Ingram M6. Launched in 1949, the Model 6 looked like a Thompson SMG in dim light but was built around an inexpensive drawn steel receiver. The M6 included a novel two-stage selector in the trigger. Like the Steyr AUG assault rifle, an abbreviated pull on the trigger produced semiauto fire, while a full pull was rock and roll. Alas, the planet was covered in a thin patina of WW2-surplus SMGs at the time, and commercial sales were disappointing.

The Ingram M10 was a radically compact submachine gun.

Ingram developed the M10 in the late 1960s. His mission was to create an efficient and compact SMG using advanced mass production techniques. The upper and lower receivers of the M10 were pressed out of sheet steel stock. The bolt, trunnion, and fire control parts required machining, but the gun was exceptionally cheap to produce in quantity.

The 9mm M10 is shown on the left alongside its smaller sibling the .380ACP M11.

Original M10’s were available in both 9mm and .45ACP using a common lower receiver. The magazine wells were unique to each gun. Ingram subsequently scaled down the M10 to fire .380ACP and titled it the M11. The .45ACP M10 cycled at 1090 rpm, the 9mm version ran at around 1250, and the M11 fired at a blistering 1500 rpm.

The folding stock on the MAC SMG’s served more like a stabilizing brace in actual use. This is the .380ACP M11.

The folding stock on the MAC guns has been rightfully maligned, but it yet remains better than nothing. Deployment involves squeezing the butt assembly and rotating it down before extending the twin struts. On the tiny M11, in particular, the stock is too short for anyone beyond about the 7th grade. However, the thing still serves much the same purpose as might a Pistol Stabilizing Brace today and is moderately effective as a result.

LTC Bob Brown of Soldier of Fortune Magazine is shown here wielding a sound-suppressed .45ACP M10 SMG. He carries a .380ACP M11 in a hip holster as a sidearm.

The real magic back in the 1970s was the sound suppressor. .45ACP and .380ACP are both naturally subsonic, so sound-suppressed MACs in these calibers were relatively quiet. The 9mm version was still pretty loud in the absence of expensive subsonic ammunition. The sound suppressor also gave the operator something handy upon which to cling while unleashing chaos.

The nylon front hanger strap, shown here mounted on an M11 SMG, was better than nothing.

Ingram designed a nylon strap that served as a forward handhold. Mine has a .380-caliber hole shot through it from one fateful day when I was running my M11 one-handed. For reasons I have never understood, Ingram used extremely coarse threads to interface his guns with WerBell’s cans. Care must therefore be exercised lest the suppressor loosens in use. I have partially gutted a MAC10 can myself by inadvertently allowing the suppressor to unscrew a bit on the range.

The M10 SMG weighed about as much as a full-sized M16A1 rifle but was much more compact.

The M10 weighed 6.26 pounds empty. This is almost as heavy as an unadorned M16A1 rifle. However, all the MAC SMGs were indeed preternaturally small.

The Hard Sell

US troops flocked to see WerBell’s little buzz guns in action, but relatively few were sold.

WerBell toured Vietnam with his suppressors and Ingram’s SMG’s in tow trying to sell American combat commanders on his exotic weapons. While the novelty of the things created ample buzz, the innate impracticality of the guns prevented truly widespread sales. Special Forces units got their hands on a few, but the vision of tens of thousands of M10’s stamped with “US Government Property” on the side never materialized.

The sound suppressor was an integral part of the MAC SMG package. When the State Department forbade sales of suppressors outside the US a major source of revenue evaporated. This still is taken from the John Wayne cop classic McQ. In the movie, the Duke actually swapped magazines when he should have.

The real nail in the coffin was a US government ban on the export of sound suppressor technology. The suppressor was a major selling point for these guns, and an inability to supply suppressors just castrated the potential international market. With Uncle Sam tepid and rich oil sheiks off the menu, the Military Armament Corporation imploded.

The Rest of the Story

WerBell’s counterterrorism school trained CIA operators, private security officers, Special Ops soldiers, and gung ho private citizens.

While the Military Armament Corporation was not the cash cow WerBell had hoped, that doesn’t mean the former-spy sat idle. WerBell developed a training center that offered an 11-week course on counterterrorism techniques. He also developed Defense Systems International, a company that brokered weapons.

Rafael Trujillo, the dictator in the Dominican Republic also known as El Jefe, was an inveterate butcher.

Throughout it all, Mitch WerBell got into all manner of mischief. In the 1950’s he provided military guidance to the Batista regime in Cuba as well as Rafael Trujillo, the dictator-in-residence in the Dominican Republic. In 1966 WerBell planned and organized Operation Nassau. This op involved an armed invasion of Haiti by disaffected Haitian exiles against Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. As invasions go this one was unique in that it was rumored to have been financially supported by CBS News. CBS naturally got exclusive rights to film the whole thing. The FBI broke up the whole sordid mob before D-Day. WerBell avoided being charged with whatever it is somebody gets charged with when he aspires to overthrow an impoverished Caribbean nation state.

Omar Torrijos, the dictator who ruled Panama for 13 years, carried the grandiose title of “Maximum Leader of the Panamanian Revolution.”

The hits just keep coming. WerBell dabbled in a tidy little insurrection in the Bahamas as well as another in Panama. His attempted coup in Panama against their dictator Omar Torrijos fizzled in 1973, but Torres died in a plane crash under suspicious circumstances five years later. In 1979 WerBell publicly asserted that Coca-Cola had paid him $1 million to provide security for their executives in Argentina, a claim Coke denied.

Gerry Hemming was a certifiable lunatic. He and Mitch WerBell were said to be thick as thieves.

There were allegations that WerBell had been present at the site of the JFK assassination on November 22, 1963. He was tied to marijuana smuggling alongside Gerry Hemming, another larger-than-life character and CIA asset tied to Cuban insurrection and Lee Harvey Oswald. WerBell plotted a coup in Guatemala in 1982 that also failed.

Larry Flynt was the psychotic nutjob who helmed the Hustler porn empire.

The weirdest of the lot was a rumored hit sponsored by Larry Flynt, the lunatic publisher of Hustler Magazine. Flynt purportedly paid WerBell $1 million to kill Hugh Hefner, Frank Sinatra, Bob Guccione, and Walter Annenberg. All four men were apparently considered threats to Flynt’s porn empire. A copy of the check from Flynt was eventually made public, but WerBell died a month after receiving it.

Mitch WerBell died suddenly at age 65 mere days after a party with his employer Larry Flynt. While the timing was suspicious, WerBell had led a hard life. Perhaps his number was just up.

There were subsequent allegations that Flynt had poisoned WerBell with digoxin at a cocktail party at Flynt’s LA estate. WerBell, then 65 and working as a security consultant for Flynt, died several days later at the UCLA Medical Center. The details will likely never be known for sure, but Mitch WerBell was undeniably one serious piece of work.

The MAC M10 submachine gun was one of the most compact SMGs ever produced.
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A Victory! Good News for a change! Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad I am so grateful!! Leadership of the highest kind Manly Stuff One Hell of a Good Fight Our Great Kids The Green Machine This great Nation & Its People War Well I thought it was neat!

CSM Franklin (Doug) Miller

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Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad Interesting stuff Some Red Hot Gospel there!

I always listen when this guy has something to say

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Alvin York: Conscientious Objector to War Hero

Alvin York collage with photos and clippings

In the late 1880s, the lives of settlers on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee had changed little since before the Revolution. Lofty mountains, bridgeless streams, and unpaved roads had isolated the mountain folk from the affairs of the outside world for over a century. Their education and smarts came not from books and “larning,” but from their intimate knowledge of the rugged outdoors. Fiercely independent and self-reliant, they made do with whatever nature and the good Lord provided.

Alvin Cullum York was brought up in these backwoods, where hard work on the homestead made for robust constitutions and where stealth and expert marksmanship in the wilderness were vital for fetching wild game for food sport.

Born on December 13, 1887, Alvin and his ten siblings were raised in a two-room log cabin in Pall Mall, Tennessee, within spitting distance of the Kentucky state line.1 There, in the sun-drenched valley of Three Forks of the Wolf River, the Yorks tended to their seventy-five-acre farm, “part level and part hilly,” where they grew corn and raised chickens, hogs and a few cows for their subsistence.2 To make ends meet, his father, William, worked as a blacksmith, setting up shop in a mountain cave near their home. His mother, Mary, would do chores at neighbor’s homes, sometimes accepting old clothes as payment, which she would mend and alter for the children.3

Alvin York wooden country homeYork family log cabin.  From Cowan, Sergeant York and his People, 33.Alvin York walking down country roadValley of the Three Forks O’ the Wolf. From Cowan, Sergeant York and his People, 89.

Schools in the remote mountain regions were scarce and poorly funded, not that it mattered much for the older children had to help harvest the crops as a matter of priority. In the winter, keeping school open was impractical as many of the children had to travel long distances and lacked warm clothes and proper shoes. The one-room schoolhouse in Pall Mall was open for only 2 ½ summer months a year; Alvin attended three weeks a year for five years, receiving the equivalent of a second-grade education.4 

Alvin picked up hunting skills from his father and his grit from stories of “fightin’ men” like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Andrew Jackson. For Alvin, hunting was not just a skill but an art. A man had to become intimately acquainted with his rifle’s parts, meticulous with its care, and familiar with its “temperament,” whether its fire would lean left or right or if the sun or the wind, dry or damp days would affect its performance. As an experienced hunter, Alvin could read and interpret signs left by wild animals, blend into the woodlands, and remain motionless while stalking his prey. At local shooting matches, with his old muzzle-loading “hog rifle,” he “could bust a turkey’s head at most any distance” and “knock off a lizard’s or a squirrel’s head from that far off that you could scarcely see it.”5

When his father died in 1911, York went “hog wild,” cussing and gambling and drinking moonshine, the latter often in challenges where the winner was the last man standing. He found himself in trouble with the law on more than one occasion.6 Although he never shunned his responsibilities at home, his sinful ways caused his ma many a sleepless night in prayer. In her quiet manner, she begged her son to change. As a Christian woman, she knew that his sins were wasting his life and destroying his chances for salvation. As a mother, she feared for his personal safety each time he went past the front gate.

Alvin, now twenty-seven years old, began to assess his life and often went into the mountains to pray and ask God to help him fight his demons. He started attending the Wolf River Church where a saddlebag preacher’s sermons further enlightened Alvin to a life of righteousness. His growing fondness for Gracie, a local beauty thirteen years his junior and devout Christian, boosted his motivation to change. 7 On January 1, 1915, York swore off his vices and joined the Church of Christ in Christian Union. A fundamentalist sect, it opposed all forms of violence and advocated a strong pacifist philosophy which York adopted. 8 Now a devout Christian, his new-found beliefs were about to be tested.

Hints of War

On April 6, 1917, the United States of America formally declared war on the German Empire when German U-boats attacked U.S. ships in the Atlantic. Word got around Pall Mall about the escalating war, but little was understood about its causes, our involvement, or its objectives. “I knowed big nations were fighting, but I didn’t know for sure how many and which ones…I had no time nohow to bother much about a lot of foreigners quarreling and killing each other over there in Europe.”9

On May 18, the U.S. government enacted a law requiring that all able-bodied men between the ages of twenty-one to thirty-one register for the draft. York reluctantly registered on June 5 but attempted to gain status as a conscientious objector. Three separate requests for exemption from selective service, including one from his pastor and mentor, Rosier Pile, were summarily denied by the local and district boards. Their reasoning was that the church had “no especial [sic] creed except the Bible, which its members interpret for themselves…”10

Alvin York and men standing against wood houseFentress County recruits, November 15, 1917. Alvin York is fourth from left.
From Hogue, History of Fentress County, xiii.

Throughout his time at Camp Gordon, York was deeply torn between the pacifist teachings of his church and a moral obligation to serve his country. He received counseling from his superiors, Captain Edward Danforth and Major Gonzalo Edward Buxton.11 They managed to convince York to reconsider his role in the Army by referencing chapters from the Bible regarding war and sacrifice. After spending a few days home while on leave, the young private returned to camp, convinced that serving his country was God’s will.12

York was assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 328th Infantry, 82nd “All American” Division on February 1, 1918, and trained at Camp Gordon in Chamblee, Georgia, just northeast of Atlanta. Not surprisingly, he qualified as a sharpshooter when he was able to hit eight out of ten moving targets at 600 yards.13

Over There

The 328th Infantry shipped out from New York and arrived in Liverpool, England, on May 16, 1918, then moved on to Southampton, England, and Le Havre, France, where they landed on May 21, 1918. At Le Havre, their U.S. model of 1917 .30 cal. rifles were exchanged for British Mark III Lee-Enfield rifles, but they were able to keep their 1911 Colt .45 pistols.14 One month later, an assumption that the 82nd Division would be attached to British troops in the region of Picardy was overturned, and the 82nd was instead ordered to Toul. With that, the Lee-Enfield rifles, along with other armaments, were returned to the British and the U.S. model of 1917 Enfield bolt-action rifles were reissued.15

Alvin York Enfield rifleU.S. rifle cal .30, model of 1917 Enfield most likely used by Alvin York. Manufacturer: Eddystone.
Courtesy Missouri Historical Society.
British SMLE .303 rifleBritish Mark III Lee-Enfield Rifle. Courtesy National Army Museum, London.

By then, the war along the Western Front had become a bloody stalemate with heavy fighting along a series of trenches stretching from the English Channel to the Swiss Alps. Reinforced by the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), the Allies went on the offensive trying to break through German defenses in northern France.

From Le Havre, the 82nd Division traveled east by train and on foot, past idyllic small towns and serene countrysides, a cruel paradox of what was to come.  On June 26 near Rambucourt, York heard the first sounds of gunfire “jes like the thunder in the hills at home.” At Mont Sec, bullets whizzed past “like a lot of mad hornets or bumblebees when you rob their nests.” Here he was placed in charge of an automatic weapons squad and shot French Chauchat machine guns, which he described as being heavy, clumsy, inaccurate, and noisy. “They weren’t near as good as the sawed-off shotguns,” he’d say.16 In September, York was promoted to corporal just before his regiment seized the town of Norroy.17

In the Valley of Death
map of meuse-argone offensive1st Division Meuse-Argonne Offensive map compiled by American Battle
Monuments Commission, 1937. Click map to enlarge.

On October 7, 1918, the 1st Battalion, 328th Infantry was ordered to take Hill 223, a strategic position just three kilometers southeast of their main objective: the Decauville rail line. This mission came during a critical phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive as American and French troops attempted to achieve the breakthrough that could end the war.18

On the night of October 7, York and the men of the 2nd Battalion watched and waited from the main road between Varennes and Fléville for their turn to continue the assault beyond Hill 223. At 0300 hours, bogged down by heavy rains and mud, fatigued from a sleepless night, hampered by a trek devoid of light except for the glow of gunfire hailing down around them, the troops slogged towards the hill amid utter chaos.

“Lots of men were killed by the artillery fire. And lots were wounded. The woods were all mussed up and looked as if a terrible cyclone done swept through them. But God would never be cruel enough to create a cyclone as terrible as that Argonne battle. Only man would ever think of doing an awful thing like that.”

At 0610 hours, York’s battalion along with three other companies of the 328th Infantry, pushed off Hill 223 with fixed bayonets. The advance was to be preceded by a rolling barrage of artillery fire that never came.19

As the troops raced downhill and charged across the 500-yard valley, now exposed with the light of dawn, an explosion of gunfire erupted from the heights above. “We had to lie down flat on our faces and dig in. And there we were out there in the valley all mussed up and unable to get any further with no barrage to help us, and that-there machine-gun fire and all sorts of big shells and gas cutting us to pieces.”

Alvin York Meuse-Argonne hill 223Valley just west of hill 223 across which York and the 2nd Battalion attacked on the morning of October 8, 1918.
From Candler, History of Three Hundred Twenty-Eighth Infantry, 60.

The first wave of men had been decimated by the Germans, and now York’s battalion lay pinned down, able to move but a few feet at a time. Something had to be done, but a frontal attack was out of the question.

When platoon sergeant Harry Parsons realized that the thrust of the machine gun fire came from a ridge to the left, he ordered Sergeant Bernard Early to lead Corporals York, Savage, and Cutting and three squads totaling thirteen men, to silence the machine gun nest on the ridge. Seventeen soldiers stealthily climbed up the left flank, concealed by the thick undergrowth, slipped deep into German lines and encircled the enemy gunners from the rear. While chasing the first two enemy soldiers they encountered, the squads stumbled upon a German headquarters with fifteen to twenty unsuspecting soldiers and officers from the 120th Württemberg Landwehr Regiment in conference.20 Caught completely off guard, the Germans surrendered. While the prisoners were being searched, enemy gunners situated on the ridge above the camp turned their machine guns around and swept the open space, instantly killing six American soldiers, including Corporal Savage, and wounding three. Among the wounded were Sergeant Early and Corporal Cutting. Corporal York was now in charge with just seven men under his command.

The onslaught of machine gun fire from above was relentless and destructive. The German prisoners had hit the ground and the Americans had shielded themselves between them, some of the privates managing to get off a shot or two.21 York was caught out in the open about twenty-five yards below the machine gun line near the ridge, his men and the German POWs huddled behind him.  Each time a German soldier raised his head, York would “tech him off,” just like he did at the turkey shoots back home.

Alvin York brown colt pistol 

Colt .45 government model of 1911. Garry James, American Rifleman.

At some point, York stood up and began to shoot his rifle offhand. His weapon was getting hot and he was running out of ammunition. So when a German officer led a counter-attack with six of his men charging towards York with fixed bayonets, York drew his Colt .45 automatic and, from back to front, shot each one, a practice he picked up at wild turkey shoots in Pall Mall. The idea was to hit the rear soldiers first so that the remainder would not see their comrade fall and fire at him. “It was either them or me and I’m a-telling you I didn’t and don’t want to die nohow if I can live,” he said.

Falling back on his hunting experience in Tennessee, York continued to methodically pick off German soldiers one by one, each time hollering for them to give up.  Alarmed by the number of troops being shot dead and their shattered morale, the German commander, Lieutenant Paul Jürgen Vollmer, shouted out in English offering to surrender his troops.22 As the Germans began to emerge from the upper trenches, one fellow hid a grenade in his raised hand, which he threw at York but missed, hitting another prisoner. York reflexively shot him, and there was no further trouble.

York ordered the eighty to ninety prisoners to form two lines and had them carry Sergeant Early on a stretcher. Using them as cover, York placed Vollmer in front of him with his pistol trained on his back and the other two German officers on either side of him. Seeing that York was considering which way to go, Vollmer suggested to turn down a gully, but York quickly figured it was a trap and decided to go in the opposite direction. Since York and his men had captured the rear German line, they inevitably ran into the first line of enemy trenches. He succinctly told Vollmer to order them to surrender or he would blow the commander’s head off, and they did, joining the lines of POWs headed to the command post.23

York and his men marched the prisoners from one command headquarters to another against his men’s better judgement, until the captives were finally accepted at division headquarters in Varennes, a distance of 10 ½ kilometers. Altogether, York killed 20-25 enemy soldiers, neutralized thirty-five machine guns, and captured 132 German soldiers, though he was quick to reject full credit for the extraordinary success of his mission. “There were others in that fight besides me… I’m a-telling you, they’re entitled to a whole heap of credit. It isn’t for me, of course, to decide how much credit…But jes the same, I’m a-telling you, a heap of those boys were heroes, and America ought to be proud of them.”

His actions enabled the 328th Infantry Regiment to advance across the valley and capture the strategic Decauville Railroad. With their Army on the verge of total collapse and the Central Powers facing defeat on all fronts, Germany agreed to an armistice with the Allies on November 11, 1918, bringing the war to an end.

“I jes want to go home.”

Alvin C. York was promoted to the rank of sergeant on November 1, 1918. He received numerous American and foreign awards, including the highest recognition that could be bestowed upon a U.S. soldier, the Congressional Medal of Honor. French General and Supreme Allied Commander, Ferdinand Foch, commented to York, “What you did was the greatest thing accomplished by any private soldier of all the armies of Europe.”

When York returned to the United States, he found that he had become a national celebrity. It was all so overwhelming for the humble hero, but all he really wanted was to go home. He received offers from Hollywood and Broadway to adapt his life story into a movie and numerous endorsement deals and public appearances worth tens of thousands of dollars. York chose not to capitalize on his newfound fame. He once famously stated “This uniform ain’t for sale.” Instead he dedicated himself to his family and a number of charitable causes. He became a proponent for veterans’ rights, education, and economic development for his impoverished community. Seeking to raise money to help build a bible school, York finally gave his blessing for Hollywood to produce a film based on his life story. In 1941, Sergeant York was released in theaters, starring Gary Cooper in the title role that would earn him an Academy Award. It was the highest grossing film of the year, inspiring young Americans across the country to enlist in the U.S. armed forces during World War II.24

On September 2, 1964, Alvin C. York passed away at a veterans’ hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, at the age of 76. He is currently buried at the Wolf River Cemetery in his hometown of Pall Mall, Tennessee, next to his wife, Gracie, who passed away twenty years later.

Alvin C. York has maintained the status of an American folk hero whose story still resonates with Americans to this day. His heroism in battle, his legendary sharpshooting skills, his underprivileged upbringing, his faith in a higher power, his sense of patriotic duty, and his humble nature all contributed to the legend that is Sergeant York. His story is regarded as one of the most inspirational American success stories, and he has been memorialized as one of the greatest heroes in the long history of the United States Army.

Enfield vs Springfield Rifle Debate

Much discussion has centered around whether York used a 1903 Springfield or a 1917 Enfield rifle during the war. WW I munitions data presented by Assistant Secretary of War, Benedict Crowell, concluded that 12-15% of rifles issued were Springfield guns but the vast majority were 1917 Enfields.25

Alvin York Springfield rifle with ammunitionU.S. rifle cal .30, model of 1903 Springfield. Twelve to fifteen percent of rifles issued to WW I soldiers were Springfields. Wikimedia

In his diary, York did not specify the type of rifle he used. Per Colonel Buxton, the 82nd Division was issued 1917 Enfields.26 In 2005, writer Garry James documented a conversation he had with York’s son, Andrew, who stated that his father had somehow switched his 1917 Enfield for a 1903 Springfield because the Enfield “had a peep sight with which York had difficulty leading a target.” Another individual commented on a forum that Andrew York told him that when his father’s unit reached the front, they were given a choice of one of the surplus ’03 Springfields, and that York switched, in part, because “the notched rear sight and post or blade front sight” were virtually the same as on his old muzzleloader. On both occasions, Andrew incorrectly stated that his father trained stateside on the ’03 Springfield and that these were replaced with Eddystones at Le Havre (Woodsrunner 38 second entry). A third forum commentator who also met Andrew York questioned Andrew’s knowledge base on the subject. (See Scott in Indiana). Regardless of which rifle he used, Alvin York’s extraordinary feat is well documented and undeniable.

Video
Words spoken by York voiceover actor are directly from his diary. Great short film with some actual war footage.

 

Sources

[1] Sam K. Cowan, Sergeant York and his People (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1922), 147. Alvin York, His Own Life Story and War Diary, Tom Skeyhill, ed. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1930), 18, 122. Albert Ross Hogue, History of Fentress County, Tennessee: The Old Home of Mark Twain’s Ancestors (Nashville: Williams Printing Co., 1916), ix-xiv. Eventually, William York built an addition to the cabin separated from the main living area by a breezeway described as a “dogtrot;” see “York’s Early Life,” Tennessee Virtual Archive, and John Perry, Sergeant York (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 9.

[2] Cowan, Sergeant York, 105-106.

[3] David D. Lee, Sergeant York: An American Hero (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1985), 4. York, His Own Life Story, 125.

[4] Cowan, Sergeant York, 169-170. York, His Own Life Story, 123-124. The one-room schoolhouse held pupils ages six to twenty.

[5] York, His Own Life Story, 133-134.

[6] Ibid., 132.

[7] Ibid., 141-145. Lee, Sergeant York: An American Hero, 8-10. It has been reported that the untimely death of York’s friend, Everett Delk, was one of his prime reasons for changing his life in 1917. However, author Tom Skeyhill, who interviewed York in 1927 for his book, His Own Life Story and War Diary, stated, “…and that was when he [York] learned that I had interviewed Everett Delk, his pal of “hog-wild days” to which Alvin responded, “Everett must’ve told you God plenty.” (York, 33) After he changed his ways and joined the church, York mentions that Everett or Marion would tempt him to join them for parties but he would refuse (York, 146.) On Find a Grave, there is a record of an Elijah Everett Delk from Fentress County, 1894-1928.

[8] Mark Sidwell, “The Churches of Christ in Christian Union: A Fundamentalism File Research Report,” Bob Jones University Mack Library, (Feb. 16, 2004): 1-3.

[9] York, His Own Life Story, 149-150.

[10] Ibid., 156-163.

[11] York erroneously referred to Major Buxton’s first name as George, an understandable assumption since Buxton always used the initial G. See Ned Buxton, “Sergeant York’s Major,” No Greater Calling, July 13, 2006.

[12] “Conscience Plus Red Hair Are Bad for Germans.” Literary Digest 61, no. 11 (June 14, 1919): 46. George Pattullo, “The Second Elder Gives Battle,” Saturday Evening Post 191, no. 43 (April 26, 1919): 3. York, His Own Life Story, 172-176.

[13] Cowan, Sergeant York, 242.

[14] York, His Own Life Story, 194, 230. Official History of 82nd Division of American Expeditionary Forces 1917-1919, G. Edward Buxton, Jr., ed. (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1919), 3, 11. Center of Military History, United States Army in the World War 1917-1919: Training and Use of American Units With the British and French Volume 3 (Washington D.C.: Gov’t Printing Office, 1989 Reprint), pg. 51, para 1a,b,e. Leo P. Hirrel, Supporting the Doughboys: U.S. Army Logistics and Personnel During WW I (Fort Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2017), 21.  “Weapons of the Western Front: Rifles,” National Army Museum (UK), accessed April 1, 2019. Bruce Canfield, “The U.S. Model of 1917 Rifle, American Rifleman, July 19, 2018. The U.S. was so unprepared for war that drill training at Camp Gordon began with wooden guns (Buxton 3, 226. Hirrel 21).

[15] Buxton, Official History of 82nd Division, 12.

[16] York, His Own Life Story, 201.

[17] Ibid., 209.

[18] Scott Candler, History Three Hundred Twenty-Eighth Infantry, Eighty-Second Division, American Expeditionary Forces, United States Army, (Atlanta: Foote & Davies Co., 1920), 43-65.

[19] Ibid., 217-220. Buxton, Official History of 82nd Division, 51-59.

[20] York, His Own Life Story, 224. Lee, Sergeant York: An American Hero, 31-33.

[21] York, His Own Life Story: 246, 256, 264.

[22] Lee, Sergeant York: An American Hero, 36.

[23] York, His Own Life Story, 229-231.

[24] Michael E. Birdwell, Celluloid Soldiers: The Warner Bros. Campaign Against Nazism 1934-1941 (NY: NYU Press, 1999), 107-110.

[25] Benedict Crowell, America’s Munitions 1917-1918: Report of Benedict Crowell, the Assistant Secretary of War, Director of Munitions (Washington D.C.: Govt. Printing Office, 1919) 183.

[26] Buxton, Official History of 82nd Division, 3.

Categories
All About Guns Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad

Pablo’s Hippos: The Death of the Most Dangerous Man in the World by WILL DABBS

Hippos are not indigenous to Colombia. However, this South American country now has a healthy population of the rotund beasts. How they got there is a most fascinating tale.

There are an estimated 120 African hippos loose in Colombia’s labyrinthine waterways today. The name hippopotamus has Greek origins. Literally translated the word means, “river horse.” The animal’s genus is Hippopotamidae.

Hippos account for a shocking lot of human carnage in Africa.

Hippos are omnivores, meaning they eat most anything they can catch. A fully grown male hippopotamus can weigh upwards of 3,300 pounds. Hippos look sweet and cuddly. They’re not. An adult hippo can run at 30 mph and is legendarily mean-tempered. Hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa, accounting for some 500 dead Africans per annum.

In the absence of natural predation hippos are thriving in Colombia.

Around the world hippos are considered threatened. However, the hippos in Colombia have no natural predators and are breeding like enormous toothy bunnies. If active culling is not introduced the population should reach 1,400 animals by 2034.

This is a hippo being castrated. There is quite literally not enough money on the planet to get me to try to cut the balls off of a hippopotamus.

A handful of big males have been castrated and released thus far, but, as one might imagine, this is a fairly onerous chore. It apparently costs around $50,000 to castrate a single hippo. Considering the technical challenges it still seems to me that professional hippo castrators are grossly underpaid.

This guy was personally responsible for introducing the hippopotamus to Colombian waterways. It turns out he did quite a lot of other shady stuff as well.

These 120 animals all descended from a single male and three female specimens purchased in New Orleans in the late 1980s by Pablo Escobar. When he wasn’t collecting exotic animals, Escobar ran the Medellin cartel, the most ruthless and successful of the sundry Colombian drug organizations. How the world rid itself of Pablo is a story most sordid.

The Man

Young Pablo looks like a pretty normal kid. He wasn’t. This guy was the agent of chaos.

Pablo Escobar was born in December of 1949 in Rionegro, Antioquia, Colombia, the third of seven children. His dad was a farmer and his mom an elementary school teacher. Some people are born with a sweet tooth or a proclivity for sports. Pablo Escobar was born without a conscience.

Pablo Escobar was just a bad egg. He was out running criminal hustles while his classmates were muddling through seventh grade.

As a teenager, Escobar would steal gravestones and sand them down flat for resale. He made money in high school by selling counterfeit high school diplomas. Escobar and his buddies stole cars, smuggled cigarettes, and peddled fake lottery tickets. In the early 1970s, Pablo kidnapped a local Medellin executive and returned him in exchange for a $100,000 ransom. This was clearly where the real money was. By his 26th birthday, Pablo Escobar had three million dollars in a local bank.

This palatial estate was home to the world’s richest drug lord.
Not just everybody feels that they need their own private bull ring. Pablo Escobar, however, was most definitely not just everybody. Note the three adult African elephants in the paddock to the lower right.

Seeing the meteoric rise in demand for cocaine in the US, Escobar organized to meet it. By the early 80’s Pablo was seriously rich. He bought 7,000 acres of prime land in Antioquia for $63 million and built Hacienda Napoles, his luxury estate. The facility included a bull ring, an ample lake, a sculpture garden, and a functioning zoo. That’s where the hippos came from.

When the Colombian Supreme Court stood poised to decide a case that Escobar disliked he simply had half of the justices killed.

When he felt threatened Pablo took human life with wanton abandon. In 1985 the Colombian Supreme Court was reconsidering the extradition treaties between Colombia and the United States. Escobar was displeased, so he bankrolled an attack on the court that ultimately killed fully half of the Supreme Court justices.

Behold Pablo Escobar, altruistic man of the people. In reality this guy was an inveterate butcher.

On the surface Escobar maintained a Robin Hood-style life, giving generously to local charities and infrastructure projects. Such generosity bought him the loyalty of locals that was to be invaluable later while he was on the run. However, along the way, he also murdered some 4,000 people.

Pablo Escobar kept a small army of armed psychopaths employed.

Some of his targets were police officials he had terminated via professional sicarios (hitmen). He undertook a sprawling bombing campaign as well. Eventually, Escobar successfully lobbied the Colombian Constituent Assembly to amend the Constitution to prevent extradition to the United States. With this legislative adjustment in the bag, Pablo Escobar surrendered to authorities along with a pledge to desist all criminal activity.

This is La Catedral, the luxury prison Pablo Escobar built for himself. However, when he was threatened with transfer to a proper penitentiary he beat feet.

Escobar was remanded to a luxury prison of his own construction called La Catedral. This facility included a football pitch, a bar, a Jacuzzi, a giant dollhouse, and a waterfall. However, it became obvious that Escobar was still running his cartel’s activities while technically incarcerated, so he was ordered moved to a more conventional facility. On July 22, 1992, Escobar escaped during the transfer.

The Hunt

The Search Bloc hit teams were trained by the finest shooters in the world.

A dedicated unit of Colombian special operators called the Search Bloc was formed for the sole purpose of hunting down Pablo Escobar. The Search Bloc enjoyed the support of the US Joint Special Operations Command. Delta and DevGru instructors trained the Search Bloc in advanced close combat techniques.

As the noose tightened around Escobar he grew ever more erratic and paranoid.

In addition to the Search Bloc, Escobar was hounded by a vigilante mob known as Los Pepes. This was short for Los Peseguidos por Pablo Escobar or “People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar.” These guys were flat-out terrifying. Before the dust settled they had murdered some 300 of Pablo’s associates to include his lawyer and a variety of family members. They also destroyed a great deal of the Medellin cartel’s physical property.

After all the grandeur and opulent excesses, Pablo Escobar died like an animal.

By early December 1993, Pablo Escobar had been on the run for sixteen months. Guided by dedicated direction finding assets tracking his radio phone, the Search Bloc closed in on the flat where he was hiding out. Eight Search Bloc operators stormed the apartment with ample backup troops pulling up in support. Escobar and his bodyguard, nicknamed “The Lemon,” piled out a back window and fled across the rooftops. Both men were cut down like dogs. When the Search Bloc shooters got to his body they found Pablo Escobar, the richest most powerful criminal in the world, dead from a gunshot wound to the right ear.

The Guns

An ignominious end for the world’s most powerful drug lord.

This resulted in quite the famous photograph that showed the Search Bloc operators posing around Escobar’s cooling corpse like some recently-bagged whitetail. Studying this photo demonstrates an eclectic array of small arms. As their operations were brief, frenetic, and typically executed in heavily built-up areas, weapon and ammo commonality would not be as important as might be the case in an austere field environment away from resupply.

The Israeli Galil is a heavy but undeniably effective combat weapon.

The rank and file shooters carried license-produced Israeli Galil assault rifles made in Colombia by INDUMIL. First fielded in 1972, the Galil was a hybrid design that incorporated the action of the AKM, the 5.56mm chambering of the M16, and the side-folding buttstock of the FN FAL. The first prototypes were actually built on milled Valmet receivers illicitly smuggled into Israel during the developmental process.

The Mini-Uzi runs like a chipmunk on crack. It is, however, more controllable than the comparably-proportioned 9mm MAC10.

One shooter carries what looks like a Mini-Uzi. Introduced to Israeli Special Forces troops in 1954, the full-sized stamped steel 9mm Uzi submachine gun helped carry the fledgling Jewish state through some of its darkest days immediately after independence. The Mini-Uzi utilizes the same fire controls and magazine but is markedly more compact. It also sports a spunkier 950+ rpm rate of fire as a result.

The Colt Model 653 saw some use with the US Army Rangers in the era preceding the widespread issue of the M4 Carbine.

One Colombian operator carries a Model 653 Colt Commando assault rifle. A precursor to the modern M4, the Model 653 features a thin-profile 14.5-inch barrel and standard round handguards. His 653 sports a pair of magazines taped side by side.

What do you guys think this is? I’m a bit vexed.

The shooter in the foreground confounded me. At first brush, I thought his rifle was perhaps a chopped FN FAL. The dual magazines appear to be .30-caliber, and the side-folding stock looks about right. However, there appears to be a charging handle of some sort on the right, and the front sight/gas block arrangement doesn’t seem quite right for an FAL. If nothing else the FAL has its charging handle on the left. What do you think? Post your thoughts in the comments section below, and let’s figure this out together.

The Rest of the Story

It ultimately cost him his soul, but Pablo Escobar was an undeniable force of nature.

At the apex of his power, Pablo Escobar’s Medellin drug cartel was bringing in $420 million per week, or around $6 million each day. With a net worth of about $25 billion, Escobar was one of the richest men on the planet. In the late 1980’s he offered to pay off Colombia’s $10 billion national debt in exchange for exemption from any extradition treaties with the US. In 1992 while on the run with his family Pablo actually physically burned $2 million in cash keeping his daughter warm.

It’s tough to visualize how much money Pablo Escobar made off of the illicit drug trade. He wrote off the equivalent of one-fifth of Colombia’s national debt every year just to leakage.

Escobar had more cash money than he could ever spend. He stashed it in warehouses and buried it in fields. Around 10% or $2.1 billion was written off annually as misplaced, destroyed by the weather, or eaten by rats.

Escobar bought himself a surprising lot of goodwill given his psychotic propensities.

Escobar built local hospitals, housing projects, and soccer stadiums for the poor of Medellin. He was elected to the Colombian Congress in 1982 but forced out by a justice minister who exposed his illegal dealings. Escobar had the minister killed.

If Pablo couldn’t buy his way out of trouble he blasted his way out.

Escobar’s solution to his life’s many challenges was summed up in his motto “Plata o Plumo.” This literally translates to “Silver or Lead.” If he could not bribe his way to a solution then he had those responsible killed. In 1989 his cartel planted a bomb on board an aircraft carrying a suspected informant. 100 people perished in the crash.

Whoever fired the fatal shot really doesn’t make much difference. In the end Pablo Escobar died as flamboyantly as he lived.

Pablo Escobar died the day after his 44th birthday. To this day nobody is really sure who fired the fatal shot. However, his son Juan Pablo reported later that his dad had told him many times that he would never allow himself to be captured alive. Should his arrest be imminent his plan was to shoot himself through his right ear. Escobar’s recently-fired SIG SAUER handgun was indeed found on the roof alongside his body when the Search Bloc reached his corpse.

Mark Bowden, the author of Blackhawk Down, wrote a superb book about the hunt for Pablo Escobar. It’s a compelling read.
Categories
All About Guns Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad Soldiering War

Miracle at Mirbat: When an SAS Operator Singlehandedly Held Off an Army with a Howitzer by WILL DABBS

This disheveled-looking gent was a stone-cold warrior.

Talaiasi Labalaba was born on July 13, 1942, in Vatutu Village in Nawaka, Nadi, on the island of Fiji. Fiji is an island country in Melanesia in the South Pacific roughly 1,100 miles northeast of New Zealand. Fiji is actually an archipelago of more than 330 islands, 220 of which are currently uninhabited. Tourism and sugar-cane are the primary industries. As of 1970, Fiji became a fully independent sovereign state within the British Commonwealth of Nations. Beginning in WW2, Fiji’s relationship with the British Empire meant that native Fijians could serve in the British military.

The 22d SAS wrote the book on modern special operations.

Labalaba spent his childhood on an island and craved adventure. He initially enlisted with the Royal Ulster Rifles and also served with the Royal Irish Rangers. Eventually, Labalaba volunteered for Selection for the 22d Special Air Service.

The Setting

Oman enjoys some of the most desolate terrain on the planet.

In the summer of 1972 Oman was in chaos. Sharing borders with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Yemen, the Omani Sultanate was allied with the British in a fight for its life against Marxist rebels. A small contingent of nine SAS operators was assigned to assist with Omani security as part of the British Army Training Team at Mirbat. Their year-long deployment was part of Operation Jaguar. This nine-man team was short and was soon to rotate home.

The PFLOAG were the resident Marxist freedom fighters. At the height of the Cold War they were generously supplied by both the Soviets and the Chinese.

Opposing this small contingent was the PFLOAG. This mouthful of word salad stands for the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf. Locals just called them the Adoo.

The SAS BATT House and surrounding structures were fairly defensible. However, they were remote, primitive, and far from support.

The SAS BATT House stood overlooking the approaches to Jebel Ali, itself a strategically critical piece of dirt leading to the major port of Mirbat. The PFLOAG rebels knew that to take Mirbat they would first have to take Jebel Ali. Before they could get to Jebel Ali they had to neutralize the nine Brits at the SAS BATT House.

The SAS BATT House was a genuine fortress, though of archaic construction and modest dimensions.

The BATT House was itself a fairly impressive fortification. Manning the fort as well as the surrounding encampment were another 25 Omani policemen and some 30 Balochi Askari along with one local firquat irregular. The Balochi Askari were members of the Pakistani diaspora serving in an administrative military capacity. The firqua were members of the Omani loyalist militia.

A single Ma Deuce .50-caliber machine-gun served as the primary heavy weapon atop the SAS BATT House. The M2 can feed from either the right or the left.

Arrayed against this Neapolitan band was some 300-400 heavily-armed and dedicated PFLOAG Marxist fighters. At the BATT House, the SAS troops were armed primarily with L1A1 SLR rifles and a single M2 .50-caliber machinegun along with a 60mm mortar. The Adoo packed AK47 rifles, RPG7’s, and mortars along with ample ammunition courtesy of their Soviet and Chinese benefactors.

This is the interior SAS BATT House. It was ultimately to host an absolutely epic showdown.

July 19, 1972, was the day the Brits were to rotate home. At 0600 that morning, CPT Mike Kealy, the 23-year-old commander of the SAS contingent, observed what he thought to be a deployed patrol of loyal Omanis now returning to base. These Omanis had been picketed to warn of approaching Adoo forces. Once he realized how substantial this force was, however, he appreciated that his patrol had surely been killed. He then ordered his men to open fire. The SAS troops did just that but found that the Adoo forces were infiltrating via gullies beyond the effective range and penetration of their SLRs. At that point, the BATT House began receiving accurate and effective mortar and RPG fire. CPT Kealy contacted his higher headquarters in Um al Quarif and requested reinforcements.

The Fight

Here we see SGT Labalaba seated behind the garrison 25-pounder artillery piece in more peaceful times.

It soon became obvious that the small SAS force was in grave danger of being overwhelmed. However, located some 800 meters distant at a smaller fortification was a single British 25-pounder artillery piece along with an ample supply of ammunition. SGT Talaiasi Labalaba struck out alone across 800 meters of flat open desert to reach the howitzer. The accumulated Adoo insurgents opened up on him with their AK rifles.

The British 25-pounder is a massive crew-served artillery piece. SGT Labalaba proved that it could be run by one man in a pinch.

The typical crew for a 25-pounder is six. This multipurpose Quick-Firing gun fired separate ammunition consisting of a projectile loaded first followed by a cartridge case containing between one and three bags of propellant. Running the gun accurately, efficiently, and well is an art that requires extensive cultivated teamwork and training. On this fateful day, SGT Labalaba was managing the big 3,600-pound gun alone.

This is the control center of the British 25-pounder field gun. Eventually, the PFLOAG guerrillas hit SGT Labalaba despite the splinter shield.

During the course of several hours, SGT Labalaba poured high explosive rounds into the attacking communist guerrillas, frequently averaging one round per minute. However, the sheer force of numbers was overwhelming him. Eventually, the attacking Adoo troops got an AK round past the splinter shield on the gun and struck SGT Labalaba in the face. Now badly wounded, he radioed back to the BATT House with an update. Despite the horrific nature of his injury SGT Labalaba continued firing the howitzer, sighting directly through the bore at the approaching guerillas. However, he was badly hurt and losing blood. SGT Labalaba was now struggling to operate the heavy gun alone.

This is SGT Labalaba and Trooper Takavesi training local forces on the 25-pounder in quieter times. Labalaba is on the left.

CPT Kealy requested a volunteer to assist SGT Labalaba and Trooper Sekonaia Takavesi, a fellow Fijian, answered the call. Under covering fire from the BATT House Takavesi made the long 800-meter run to the artillery emplacement unscathed. Once there he engaged approaching Adoo fighters with his SLR and attempted to address SGT Labalaba’s injury as best he could. Together the two men continued to work the 25-pounder, pouring HE rounds onto the maniacal communist attackers.

The Gun

Early Marks of the British 25-pounder did not have a muzzle brake.

Developed in 1940, the 25-pounder was an 87.6mm multipurpose artillery piece combining both high-angle and direct-fire capabilities. Ultimately produced in six Marks, the 25-pounder was highly mobile for its day despite its nearly two-ton all-up weight. The gun was used throughout the Commonwealth, and ammunition remains in production at the Pakistani Ordnance Factories today.

The combination of separate bagged charges along with a brass cartridge case resulted in a great deal of versatility as well as a prodigious rate of fire.

The 25-pounder used separate bagged charges that could be cut as necessary to produce an accurate fall of shot at various ranges. A subsequent “Super” charge was also developed that required the addition of a muzzle brake to the gun for safe operation. Most British charges for the gun were cordite-based.

The British developed an array of rounds to support their versatile 25-pounder field gun.
Here we see British troops loading propaganda leaflets into rounds for their 25-pounder guns in 1945.

In addition to high explosive, smoke, and chemical shells, the 25-pounder could also fire a curious shaped-charge warhead as well as a 20-pound APBC (Armor Piercing Ballistic Cap) round also designed for antitank use. Antitank rounds were employed in the direct-fire mode using Super charge loads. In addition to these conventional applications, the 25-pounder could also fire foil “window” that mimicked the return of an aircraft on radar as well as shells containing propaganda leaflets. These leaflet shells were employed toward the end of WW2 to convince the Germans to surrender.

The Rest of the Story

With the attacking PFLOAG troops now at very close range, SGT Labalaba began to ready a modest Infantry mortar.

Now under dire threat of being overrun, SGT Labalaba retrieved a small Infantry mortar kept at the artillery firing point. This stubby high-angle weapon would be more effective now that the attacking troops were in so close. As he moved to set the mortar up for firing he caught a second round to the neck and bled out.

Throughout the engagement, SAS troopers battled the attacking guerrillas with their SLR individual weapons.

By now Takavesi had also taken a round through the shoulder and was grazed by another across the back of his head. Despite his injuries, he duly reported the situation back by radio and continued to engage the approaching guerillas with his SLR.

The PFLOAG guerrillas were amply supplied with Combloc AKM rifles. They used them to good effect against the beleaguered SAS outpost.

In response, CPT Kealy and another SAS trooper named Thomas Tobin also ran the gauntlet to the artillery firing point. When they arrived they found that Trooper Takavesi had been hit a third time, this time by an AK round through his abdomen. Now having closed to within-hand grenade range, the PFLOAG troops showered the emplacement with grenades, only one of which detonated.

Strikemaster attack jets ultimately stemmed the assault. Subsequent helicopter-borne reinforcement by additional SAS troops stabilized the situation.

During the fight, Trooper Tobin reached across the body of SGT Labalaba and caught an AK round to the face that blew away much of his jaw, leaving him mortally wounded. Just when the situation seemed darkest, a flight of BAC Strikemaster attack jets from the Omani Air Force arrived on station and opened up on the communist rebels. One of the jets suffered battle damage from ground fire and had to return to base, but rocket and cannon fire from the remaining element ultimately broke the back of the assault.

SGT Labalaba was ultimately buried back at Hereford.

When Trooper Toobin was hit he reflexively aspirated a chunk of his own splintered tooth. This fragment subsequently set up a lung infection that later killed him in hospital. Sekonaia Takavesi was medically evacuated and recovered. SGT Talaiasi Labalaba received a posthumous Mention in Dispatches. SGT Labalaba is buried at St Martin’s Church at Hereford in England. He was 30 years old when he was killed.

This is the very gun used by SGT Labalaba now on display at the Royal Artillery Museum.

The 25-pounder gun SGT Labalaba used in Oman is currently on display at the Firepower Museum of the Royal Artillery at the former Royal Arsenal at Woolwich in England. The engagement outside Mirbat was intentionally underreported by the Omani and British governments at the time. SAS involvement in Oman was a sensitive issue, and no one wanted undue official attention. SGT Labalaba’s comrades have lobbied ever since that he should posthumously receive the Victoria Cross for his selfless actions in Oman that day.

SGT Labalaba has since been memorialized both in Fiji as well as in Hereford at SAS headquarters.

In October of 2018 Prince Harry formally dedicated a bronze likeness of SGT Labalaba at the Nadi International Airport in Fiji commemorating his exceptional bravery. Another statue occupies a place of honor at SAS HQ as well. Tom Petch, a British filmmaker and himself a former SAS operator is currently producing a feature movie about SGT Labalaba and the Battle of Mirbat.

SGT Talaiasi Labalaba, shown here along with a pair of local Omani children, was a genuine hero of the highest order.
Roger Cole was one of the other SAS troopers fighting alongside SGT Labalaba that day in Oman. Those SAS guys do often sport some of the most epic whiskers.
Trooper Cole eventually wrote a book about the Battle of Mirbat titled “SAS Operation Storm: Nine Men Against Four Hundred.” He is seen here holding one of the 25-pounder shells used in the battle.
Trooper Takavesi (left) ultimately recovered despite his grievous wounds and returned to the SAS BATT House at Mirbat with his friend and fellow SAS Mirbat veteran Roger Cole shown here.
Categories
Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad

AN INSIDE LOOK AT THE ELMER KEITH MUSEUM HERE’S YOUR ONLY CHANCE TO SEE THE EXHIBITS FROM THE NOW-CLOSED MUSEUM DEDICATED TO HISTORY’S MOST INFLUENTIAL HANDGUNNER WRITTEN BY JEFF “TANK” HOOVER

Here’s Elmer sitting behind his desk. When you pushed a button,
he’d turn around and start talking to you, telling stories.

The famous #5 of which “The Last Word” was written in
Rifleman, April 1929 issue.

Elmer tested and wrote about all guns. Here’s his Century Arms .45-70 revolver.

One of many 4″ Model 29s Elmer owned with his trademark steer-head ivory stocks.

 

Lately, I’ve been getting my Elmer on. Yup! Been reading up and researching the Grand Old Man of Handgunning. Up until seven years ago, there was a place that paid homage to Elmer Keith. For you youngsters never hearing of him, I don’t fault you. You’ve been neglected by your elders, or school system, so I’ll step up and tell you a little about Elmer.

Afterwards, I suggest you hunt up any book, magazine, or computer writing by him and get yourself intimately acquainted with his works, thoughts and readings.

It’s been said Elmer spoke the original thoughts and all others have simply regurgitated his words in one form or another. Thinking about it, it’s not too far from the truth. Elmer had his hand in, or made mention of, just about everything pertaining to the gun world.

With no formal education, Elmer had great instincts and understanding. He didn’t just concentrate on one discipline either, he knew how to shoot, load or discuss anything pertaining to sixguns, autoloaders, black powder rifles, revolvers, shotguns and paper-patched lead bullets for Sharps single-shots rifles. If it went bang, Elmer knew how to shoot and handload for it.

He was a great outdoorsman, outfitter and packer. He guided hunters for years, up until age 50, and knew the life cycle, food habitat and environment of every critter living in his area. He’s responsible, or planted the seed, for such things as the .357, .44 and .41 Magnums, the S&W model 29 and 57, Ruger Flat Top and Super Blackhawk .44 Magnums, the Winchester model 70 rifle, and the .338 Winchester Magnum, to name just a few things.

Elmer’s matching pair of S&W Model 57 4″ revolvers.

Here’s Elmer packing out a ram in the rugged country of Idaho. Notice his simple pack-board.

Elmer and his brother Silas with two mule deer. Elmer took his with a Sharps rifle.

The Museum

 

With much help from our own John Taffin, Cabelas in Boise, Idaho carved a niche in their store to house the Elmer Keith Museum. I knew about it and wanted to go for years. I finally got the opportunity when I went out to visit my buddies Dick Thompson and Steve Call. I was fortunate to make the journey on two occasions.

For those knowing who Elmer was, it was a breathtaking experience to see his pictures, game heads and yes, firearms, of the famous gun writer. As time went on, the family wanted to liquidate the assets, and had everything auctioned off. Sadly, this forced the closure of the museum.

A rack of Elmer’s rifles. Second from top is his famous .400 Whelen, a gift from Jim Howe’ of Griffin & Howe.

Another rack of rifles. The bottom rifle was Jim Corbett’s .450-400 double rifle,
a major-league cool factor! Below it is the leather case it came with

Above the Corbett rifle is Elmer’s Sharps .45-100-550 rifle. Need I say more?

Some of Elmer’s trophies.

Some fine sheep he took!

A trio of mulies the master took.

Second Chance

 

So, for those of you who never had the opportunity, I figured I’d share my pictures with you, to get some insight into one of the pioneers of shooting, hunting and the development of handguns, rifles and cartridges. I hope you enjoy visiting with Elmer. It was something to see in person.

More importantly, I hope I’ve lit a spark for you to continue reading, researching and replicating some of the loads, guns, holsters or hunts Elmer experienced.

It’s fun walking alongside the footprints of our founders, and who knows, you just may learn something along the way.

Categories
Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad Leadership of the highest kind Manly Stuff One Hell of a Good Fight Soldiering Stand & Deliver The Green Machine This great Nation & Its People War

Meet Sergeant Major Payne:

He’s a senior NCO in the Delta Force. SGM Payne enlisted in 2002, serving as a sniper in the 75th Ranger Regiment until 2007, when he joined the Delta Force.

(SGM Payne in Afghanistan)

In 2015, then-SFC Payne’s unit was deployed to Iraq to help combat ISIS. His unit advised and trained the newly formed Kurdish Counter Terrorist Group. One day, fresh graves are seen outside of a known ISIS prison. The joint team is given the green light.

Payne’s team arrives with the CTG at night time. Upon arrival, they’re hit with volleys of gunfire. The Kurds not having conducted any operations before, are nervous and don’t move forward. The Deltas lead the way, giving their friends courage to press forward. Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler is killed leading his comrades into battle.

Meanwhile, SFC Payne and his team press into the building. They reach a bolted door that holds in the Iraqi hostages. The team attempts to break it, but there is too much fire coming their way. Payne braves the fire and breaks the bolt. The joint team then starts getting all of the hostages out. As the firefight continues, ISIS terrorists start setting off bomb vests, causing fires which cripple the building’s stability. After securing multiple hostages, they move outside.

(Then-SFC Payne, left or center)

However, plenty of hostages are left. SFC Payne keeps moving back inside to make sure no man is left behind. By doing so, he is risking getting crushed or burnt to death. At one point, a tired hostage believes he is going to die in the fire and can no longer walk to the outside. Payne helps him up and gets him outside.

Overall, due to then-SFC Payne’s actions, over 75 Iraqis are rescued. At first, he is awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest American military award. However, on September 11, 2020, SGM Payne was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military award in the US.

(President Trump awarding SGM Payne the MoH)

Categories
Gear & Stuff Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad

Some really nasty stuff from the Past

“Greek Fire being deployed against the enemies of  Eastern Rome”

Tanks and rifles sure are scary and lethal, so is mustard or chlorine gas. When it comes to creating weapons to annihilate adversaries, we sure can count on how the ancient people effectively forged some of the most formidable and fearsome weapons they had used. Some of them even became the foundation of how our munitions and equipment were developed. With that, here are some of history’s feared and hottest weapons during their time.

 Greek Fire
Grenades filled with liquid fire and caltrops from the fortress of Chania 10th and 12th centuries
Grenades filled with liquid fire and caltrops from the fortress of Chania 10th and 12th centuries.

Don’t you just hate it when you accidentally burn yourself by touching hot surfaces? Then you’ll despise the incendiary weapon used by the Eastern Roman Empire in ca. 672. Called the Greek fire, this flame-throwing weapon was what the Byzantine navy typically used during naval battles to burn down enemy ships and effectively provided them with advantages that resulted in military victories. What was truly remarkable about this Greek fire was that it could be ignited even in contact with water, and the victims would continue to burn even while on water.

The Byzantines, later on, developed this weapon by using pressurized nozzles to project the liquid onto the enemy ships, much more like an ancient version of our flamethrower. The formula for this formidable weapon was unsurprisingly a closely guarded state secret, although there were speculations and debate on what it was. The proposal included a mixture of pine resin, naphtha, quicklime, calcium phosphide, sulfur, and or niter.

Greek fire was no doubt a concoction of destruction, but that did not make the Byzantine navy untouchable. Soon, the Muslim navies found ways to defend themselves from it, either by staying out and away from its effective range or by shielding themselves with felt or hides soaked in vinegar.

 

The Man Catcher

The man catcher. (Royal Armoury,

What’s left to do when your castle was in the middle of being besieged by horse-riding enemy forces? For the people of 18th century Europe, they could snare these attackers by catching them like fishes while they were on their horses. The weapon used was the man catcher, also known as catchpole, which consisted of a pole that was mounted with a two-pronged head. The prongs were both semi-circular in shape and had a spring-loaded “door” on the front that allowed the ring to pass around a man-sized cylinder and the victim’s head trapped. And so they would use this man catcher to fish a person from horseback and then drag him to the ground where he could be pinned to either be turned into a prisoner or helplessly killed. On some occasions, it was also used to pin down and contain violent prisoners.

Other countries like Japan also had their own version called sodegaramitsukubo, and sasumata that were used during law enforcement in Edo-era. The difference was that the sasumata, for instance, had its forked head used to trap down the victim’s neck, legs, arms, or joints.

                 Morning Star
Morning star at the torture museum in Freiburg im Breisgau.

A popular one, the morning star, was like the more evil brother of the mace. Its design was crude and simple: a stick made of either metal or wood topped with a metal ball laced with spikes and blades. This weapon became popularly used by soldiers in the 14th century, particularly in Germany, where it was popularly called Morgenstern. It was used typically by aiming at the heads and faces of foes, which didn’t sound much, but imagine being hit with a heavy ball of spikes on the nose and on your whole face. It could also be used to take enemies down by aiming it at the legs and knees instead. It is sometimes confused with mace, but the main differentiating factor between the two was that the spikes of the morning star, at most, had flanges or small knobs.

Traditionally, it was used by cavalry and infantry units, with the horsemen being given a version that had a shorter shaft. All in all, there were three types of this weapon that varied in terms of workmanship quality. The first one was well-crafted for military use and was given to professional soldiers. The second was simpler and was hand-cut by peasant militiamen, and the spikes were sometimes made from nails. The third was short shafted and made of metal and ornamented with gold and silver for decorative purposes.