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Year of the Eagle

March 4, 2011

Well it’s been an aeon since I made any postings on here. Life has been cruel and kind these long, empty months, but this is not the sort of blog to wax lyrical about the intricacies of my tedious existence. Suffice it to say, I hope to make sure Forgotten Steel remains Forgotten no longer.

By way of a starting post, the new re-enacting season is soon to begin. And what a season. The return of the awesome Victory Show in September is bound to be a highlight of the year, and I wonder if anything will occur to mark the 70th anniversary of Hitler’s doomed invasion of Russia in June (!). What’s frightening however is the ever-closening approach of the major anniversaries – D-Day and Mons 2014, Waterloo annd VE Day 2015. While I’m normally slightly scornful of such events which capitalise on arbitary even-numbered anniversaries, there is something quite special about the 100th and 200th anniversaries of Mons and Waterloo that are to come. When you live the life of the military historian there is something always quite immediate about these battles, they are always close to you, but occasionally it takes an anniversary to remind how long ago it was that these events occured.

This year I’ll be out playing soldiers in the M42s and M43s of the 101st Airborne, along with the other division-strength legion of airborne re-enactors. I always swore never to don the Screaming Eagles but there is something slightly irresistable about it, I suppose because of the media saturation of that famous division. And, having watched Band of Brothers and The Pacific side by side recently, there can be no doubting which has and will continue to have more resonance on the popular imagination of the war.

My group recently completed a short film around a small-unit action of troopers from the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment in Normandy, which you can view below. You can find out more about us here

More from the CP next time

Two of the South Wales Screaming Eagles with a battle trophy


WE M1911A1 – Stripping

August 13, 2010

The following is my short guide for field stripping to clean WE’s excellent M1911A1 airsoft pistol. I love this gun, I’ve put hundreds of rounds through it in the short time I’ve owned it and it’s never failed (with the right gas!).  The main reason for me writing this guide is that the one supplied with the gun is, frankly, crap. You can also do an easy basic strip by following instructions for the real M1911A1 here

My WE M1911A1 in its box

Please note, this guide is for newbie airsofters like myself and those who like recreational airsoft shooting. It is not designed to be a terrorist training manual!

Tech Specs:

Pistol Type: M1911 – A1 Variant

Manufacturer: WE – Taiwan

Mechanism – Gas Blow-Back simulating real recoil action

Calibre: 6mm BB

Magazine Capacity: 15 rounds (6mm)

Range: About 50-70 yards effective

Stage One:

Make sure you have a nice flat, clean surface to place the pistol parts on. Make sure that the weapon is safe and unloaded and remove the magazine.

Clear, make safe and remove the magazine from M1911A1 before starting.

Stage Two:

Slowly slide the slide backwards, bringing it to just the right position as shown in the photo below. This will allow you to remove the slide lock. The illustration in the WE handbook does not point out that you have to position the slide correctly in order to remove the lock. To remove it, hold the slide in place with your right thumb and forefinger, use your right middle finger to push it from the right hand side of the pistol and pull it out with your left hand (see second photo). Sounds very fiddly but its easy to do.

This is the correct position to remove the slide lock.

Slide lock removed

Stage Three:

With the slide lock removed you can now take off the slide. Simply pull it forwards and bring it away from the handguard/trigger group area.

Remove the slide from the weapon.

The basic strip of the WE M1911A1

Stage Four:

The next step is to dissassemble the slide so you can oil the barrel. To do this, flip the slide upside down and CAREFULLY lift the recoil spring guide (the metal pole shown in the photo below). Make sure you keep a grip on the spring when you do this so you can withdraw them carefully – otherwise it will fly off into the unknown and you’ll spend the rest of the day looking for it. The best way to remove the guide is to grip it and the recoil spring with thumb and forefinger, pull up and back gently, and then pull it and the spring backwards away from the side until they are clear.

The recoil spring and spring guide are shown in this image. Remove them CAREFULLY!

The slide with the recoil spring and guide safely removed.

Once you have removed the spring and guide, pull out the guide retainer. With a real 1911, you are supposed to pull this forward to remove it, but with the WE airsoft version this impossible due to a ring around the rear end of the retainer. Simply pull it to the rear once you have removed the guide and spring.

The guide retainer removed.

Stage Five:

Finally, you need to remove the barrel. In order to do this you need to first withdraw the barrel retainer. Lift the slide up, and twist the retainer to the right, then lift it up out of the slide.

Close up of the muzzle and the barrel retainer. Twist it to the right to remove the barrel.

Once the retainer has been removed, it is is easy to simply push the barrel forwards out of the slide.

The barrel retainer removed from the slide

Removing the barrel from the WE 1911A1

Your M1911A1 is now fully field stripped and you can now give your weapon a thoroughly good clean. To put it back together, simply follow these instructions in reverse!

A field-stripped WE M1911A1 6mm Airsoft Pistol (minus the slide lock which is out of shot!)


The 100-Year Old Miracle – Mr Colt’s M1911

August 13, 2010

It seems hard to believe that in this day and age there is still in use a piece of technology that is almost one hundred years old. We live in times of constant expansion and technological advancement. The computer on which I write this blog is likely already out of date at less than 12 months old. The mp3 player you listen to on the bus or train will be replaced by something even smaller and with ten times the capacity within a frighteningly short space of time. And yet, even on the modern battlefield, where technology contains to gain ground, infantrymen are using a weapon that is older than their grandfathers – the Colt M1911 pistol.

Comparison of the two basic types of 1911

The Colt 1911 is a masterpiece of weapon design. Simple, but very effective. Firing .45-calibre ACP* ammunition, it packs a wallop not matched by the equally good Glocks and Berettas. Small wonder that it is favoured by hard-hitting forces like the US Marines and Special Forces. If you want a sidearm that will save you, the 1911 is the way to go.

This venerable gun has been in virtually every major war of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, beginning with the battlefields of World War One. The fabled WW1 Medal of Honor winner, Sergeant Alvin York, used his M1911 to save himself and his squad during his medal-winning action in the Meuse-Argonne. Today, little modified, it is carried into battle in the wild lands of Afghanistan. It is an incredible gun, the Kalashnikov of sidearms.

In a classic scene from Saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) takes on and "knocks out" a Tiger tank with his M1911A1 sidearm, my first sight as a youngster of this venerable weapon.

In the following post you can find my short field-stripping guide for the WE M1911A1 airsoft pistol, which is probably the closest I will ever get to the real thing!


The War Memorial Project

July 22, 2010

I’ve transferred all posts relating to Llanishen Local History Society’s War Memorial Project over to a new blog, Llanishen’s Fallen

On the blog I’ll be writing about the men from this Glamorganshire village – now a part of Cardiff, who fell during the Two World Wars. I am currently researching the stories of several men from the area who joined the RAF and were lost during the great bomber offensives. You can also find the current Rolls of Honour for the village on the blog.

Please take a moment to visit the blog and remember these fallen heroes.


The Glorious Stand of the Tsar’s 10th Regiment – A Fictional Battle

July 19, 2010

It was a cold autumn afternoon in the sodden fields west of Astrakhan. The rain drizzled intermittently, forcing the men to keep their locks covered. They shivered amidst the tall grass, listening intently for the sound they knew would come.

This was the famed Army of the East, commanded by General Aleksandr Melushkov. Two weeks earlier they had finally caputred the Dagestani capital of Takri after a six-month siege. The Dagestanis had proved a thorn in the side of the nascent Russian Empire, assaulting the city of Cherkassk on Christmas Day 1704 and burning it to the ground. Melushkov, the 32-year old general, who had fought previously against the Swedes, was commanded to the East by the Emperor and given the task of subduing the attacks. Raising an army of 1200 men, he set out in the summer of 1705. It was a long trek, but finally his men arrived and liberated Cherkassk following a stiff fight against the Dagestanis. After subduing the capital in the winter, Melushkov had assumed that the war was over. But rebels, and the last commander of the former Dagestani republic, known only as “Blinding Sun” was still at large. He raided Astrakhan in January 1706 and claimed it as his republic. Reluctantly, Meluskov set off from Takri and headed further east across vast Steppes. That summer, his men were crossing the vast delta west of the city, when they were intercepted by the Sun forces, all mounted on horseback.

The Russians had a trick up their sleeves. The Army had learned how to deal with cavalry thanks to a new formation, the square, which enabled it to meet any charge. The three infantry regiments – 7th and 10th Russian and 3rd Cossack, formed into three squares with Meluskov’s cavalry behind. The 7th formed square in woodland, hoping their concealed position would enable them to delay the enemy.

It did. “Blinding Sun’s” vast mounted armada, spotting the main force in the open, attempted to outflank it through the woods. They ran straight into the 7th. For 10 minutes, a time that must have seemed an eternity to the men inside the 7th’s square, wave upon wave of cavalry and dismounted infantry flowed around its position. Twice, the square was broken, swiftly to be closed again. But it became too much. As the horsemen ran out of the woods and into the waiting guns of the 3rd Cossacks, the 7th broke. Its men fled and were cut down, and the horde were unleashed. The wave crashed upon the bulwark of the 3rd Cossacks, who were hacked to pieces. Even these brave shock troops could only do so much. Barely 20 men stood when the order to retreat was sounded. Meluskhov himself entered the fray, killing scores. There was now only one effective regiment left on the field.

The glorious 10th.

The 10th was low on men. Only 102 had made it this far, following its losses in the Takri campaign. They stood stolidly in the square, watching the carnage and exchanging fire. When the Cossacks were finally broken, they advanced into the melee and caught the Dagestani force offguard. Men hacked and shot at each other at point blank range. By this time, the only mounted troops were the cavarly of “Blinding Sun” himself. They circled ominously around the outnumbered 10th, waiting for the chance to strike.

But the 10th held firm. Meluskov tried vainly to reach them, but his men broke and fled, fearing the battle lost. The ranks of the 10th dwindled, but kept fighting. Suddenly, it seemed as if the sheer force of will of this tiny Russian unit became too much. The Dagestani assaulters broke. “Blinding Sun” howled in rage, and turned his horsemen to attack the surviving Russians. But they about-faced, swung up their muskets and fired. The cavarly came crashing down. “Blinding Sun” was left alone before a thin line of men, frantically reloading their muskets. He fled towards the wood, already stinking from the hundreds of Russian and Dagestani corpses within. But he fled too late – the 10th advanced, took aim, and shot him down.

"Blinding Sun" attempting to flee, moments before he is shot down by the 10th.

Only 30 men of the 102 that entered the battle remained at its end. But they had saved the fight. A week later, they entered Astrakhan victorious, and the Dagestani empire was crushed, paving the way for Russian expansion in the East. The 10th Regiment of Foot was renamed His Majesty’s 1st Guards Regiment, and was ordered back to Moscow to prepare for the latest war against the Swedes.

But the men refused to go. They knew they were needed in the east, and for the glorious battles to come. The Army of the East had a world to conquer, and it could not do it without its bravest, strongest troops.

Glory to the 10th!


[Note: This is a write-up of a small battle I fought in Empire: Total War. As you can probably tell, I’m totally hooked again!]

An Icon of Warfare – General Thompson’s Magnificent Trench-Clearing Invention

July 14, 2010

I haven’t written much lately, either here or for my PhD. I blame this accursed heatwave we’re having here in the UK. It’s most unnatural for this time of year. I mean, in July we British should be drowning in rain, not living with wall to wall sunshine! Disgraceful.

The focus of today’s post is again another weapon that I’ve recently purchased for re-enactment events. I don’t normally like to say that I have a “favourite” gun, as its a little silly and one can never like one firearm alone. However, one particular weapon of World War II has always held a particular fascination for me ever since I first saw it on a grainy piece of war footage – the American M1 Thompson sub-machine gun.

The “Tommy gun” was a giant among sub-machine guns, both in weight and calibre. Its .45-calibre ammunition gave it a punch that was not matched by the 9mm of the German MP40 and British Sten (although you would still not want to be shot by any of them!). Bulky and heavy to carry, it was nevertheless loved by shock troops throughout the Allied armies, as well as being purloined by infantry wherever possible.

The brainchild of Major-General John T. Thompson, a veteran of the Spanish-American and Great Wars, the Thompson was envisaged as a “Trench Broom” ,designed for close-quarters combat. Thompson was unable to produce went through a number of variants during its lifetime. The initial model, 1921, was fitted with a wooden forgrip and operated from a 50-round drum magazine. This and the later M1928 were the model beloved by Chicago gangsters and put to good (or rather, bad) use by them in the Prohibition. When the military adopted the Thompson, the model was simplifed to the M1928 model which had a stick magazine and which eliminated the forgrip. The drum magazine was found to jam easily, especially if it had been heavily handled, so the 20-round stick magazine was seen as more efficient. To compensate for the barrel lift during sustained firing, a Cutts Compensator could be fitted to expel gases and keep the barrel steady.

An M1928 Thompson fitted with a 50-round drum magazine, the type beloved by Chicago gangsters

However, the Thompson was still an expensive weapon to produce, and when the US Army began to order the Thompsons in bulk upon the outbreak of World War II, the design was further simplified, leading to the produciton of the M1 Thompson. The ribbed barrel of earlier models was replaced with a flat barrel and flatter foregrip. The rear sight on this model was little more than a single piece of steel jutting up from the rear of the weapon. This was vulnerable to damage, and the bolt mechanism remained expensive and complex in comparison to German and British designs, so the M1A1 was produced with a better-protected sight and simpler design. It is the M1A1 variant that I really love, though I can’t say why, it’s just a beautifully designed gun.

I have a family link to the Thompson – in the late stages of the Italian campaign my grandfather was issued an M1A1 Thompson in place of his Short Magazine Lee-Enfield. Quite why he isn’t sure, given that he was a gunner and was unlikely to have to engage targets with such a weapon. To compound the matter, he was never issued any .45 ammunition for it, so rather than lug around an empty gun, he shoved it in an empty 3.7 tin and bunged it in the back of one of his troop’s Bedfords, where it presumably remained until the end of the war!

An M1A1 Thompson - the type issued to my grandfather

65 years on, I now own a delightful airsoft M1A1 Thompson, after being unable to resist the lure any longer. It is a superb piece of design, but is in many ways over-engineered, and lacks the simplicity of similar weapons. I find the M1A1 cumbersome to sight in comparsion to the MP40 or the Sten (although they are not exactly perfect), and the magazine release lever is way too fiddly. Why the Thompson needed to be fitted with a lever instead of a simple push button release like on most other weapons I don’t know. That said, it makes up for these small defecits with the simple punch it provides. No-one would get back up after being hit with a burst from a Thompson. I suppose, ultimately, that was why it was so damned popular.

My airsoft M1A1, an obvious replica but a lovely my (completely unbiased) opinion.


The Next Generation?

June 18, 2010

Reposted (or should that be shamelessy pillaged?) from the UK WW2 Reenacting forums, because I like it…

While there’s a lot of truth there, the gamers playing Call of Duty et alare the next generation of historians and re-enactors, so frankly anything that drops the nugget of interest in the war is a good thing, especially with the WW2 generation sadly beginning to leave us.