Wednesday, April 17, 2013

AN ANTI-MATERIAL RIFLE BY ANY OTHER NAME


PTRD-41 anti-tank rifle. Green recoil pad sold separately.


This video has been around for quite some time now, but I happened across it again lately and took another look. The video shows a group of terrorists (we called their dads and uncles “freedom fighters” when they were shooting at Communist soldiers in the 1980’s) trying to snipe what appear to be American military Hummers with an old WWII-vintage PTRD-41 anti-tank rifle.
           Here, take a look at the clip, and enjoy the soundtrack by the hot new Saudi band Man Suffering From Excruciating Constipation. 
  
LiveLeak.com - PTRD Anti-Tank Rifle against US Armoured Vehicles in the East



After watching this video a couple of times, I checked out the comments. They were universally scathing. Most began with something like, “Well, I’ve never been in the service, or even held a real firearm, and of course I’m still a virgin and living in my mom’s basement, but I got high score on Red Orchestra (or HALO or Call of Duty) so I know that…”
Introductory statements aside, written or unwritten, the further comments on the video could then be broken down into four groups:

1.    Those guys are friggin’ idiots! Ha-ha!
2.    They are too far away! Way out of range! Ha-ha!
3.    Anti-tank rifles are old, worthless pieces of shit and can’t hurt a tank! Ha-ha!
4.    An Apache (F16, A-10, US sniper, satellite death ray, etc.) would blow their heads off in about half a second. Ha-ha!

          Last things first, never assume that just because someone wears a towel on his head that he’s an idiot. He may be evil incarnate, but he’s not necessarily stupid. These kinds of insurgents have been running circles around some of the most powerful Western conventional military forces for decades and the fact that they’re still alive and kicking in the face of overwhelming Western firepower shows they must know something.
          Comment Number Two. This all depends. What is the maximum effective range of an idiot?
          Too many American shooters, even or perhaps especially veterans, think the world ends at 300 meters. That is all the further one is trained to shoot with an M16/M4 series rifle, that is the furthest target on the qualification range and, believe it or not, you can actually miss every 300 meter target on the course and still qualify. Besides, the whole assault rifle raison d’ĂȘtre is that, statistically, 300 meters is all the further the infantryman should ever need to shoot.
As usual, some dumb bastards up in the Hindu Kush didn’t get the message. In Afghanistan, the US Army in Helmand Province gave the figure of 500 meters for the average engagement range there, and the British reported that the majority of their firefights with insurgents in Afghanistan occurred between 300-900 meters. The idiots (ha-ha!) had figured out they were comparatively safe from return fire if they sat back out past 400 meters and pecked away at platoon-sized or smaller Coalition infantry elements with RPGs and 7.62x54R caliber weapons such as PKM machine guns, Dragunovs sniper rifles and bolt guns.
          I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to play with the M1 Garand, M1A, FAL and assorted military and sporting bolt-action rifles in a state where I don’t really have to go too far to find a place where I can shoot out a thousand meters. I still had that 300-meter M16 mentality in the back of my head when I started. Then I figured out those old rifles had sights graduated to ridiculous distances because they could shoot to those ridiculous distances. The FN FAL, for instance, whether inch-pattern or metric, has open sights graduated to 600 meters and the various DMR-type military-issue scopes designed for said rifle are graduated to the same range. I’m certainly no Alvin York or Carlos Hathcock but with the afore-mentioned equipment I can certainly ding man-sized targets with first shot hits all day long at 600 meters. A decent scoped M1A/M14 rifle in good hands can extend that range by a couple of hundred meters.
          In the video, with the camera zooming in and out and not being able to figure out something of known size in the shot to use for scale, I don’t know at what range these yahoos are shooting. Just by guess and by God I would say they’re well within a thousand meters, though.
          While the ambushers do exhibit numerous idiot traits, you’ll notice that they actually did place their ambush on a section of road that is A) straight and B) running directly towards them so they don’t have to factor in any lead, the biggest problem you would have at such ranges. I’ll even give them the benefit of the doubt and say they figured out the ranges ahead of time.
          Some idiots, I must acknowledge, really just are idiots. The sights on the PTRD are graduated in 100-meter increments out to 1,500 meters and, while not a Schmidt & Bender sniper scope by any means, are certainly more than sufficient for a target the size of a Hummer within a thousand meters. This particular idiot does not appear to be aware that his weapon even has sights. He just kind of looks down over the barrel and tries to walk his shots onto the target by adjusting the weapon a bit after each shot. If he knew something of marksmanship and actually set and used his sights, he might have been dangerous.
          Then again, I can’t say too much. Uncle Sugar himself taught me that the proper way to fire the Browning Ma Deuce .50-caliber machine gun, whether vehicle or tripod-mounted, is to hold the handles tight to your stomach, look out across the landscape, and try to walk your bursts onto the target after seeing where they impacted.
          Me being the pain in the ass that I am, I tried to argue that John Moses Browning was a pretty darn sharp ol’ boy and that he probably put that windage-and-elevation adjustable rear peep sight graduated to 2,600 yards on the top of his masterpiece for a reason. Both John and myself, apparently, are also idiots as I was never allowed to use that beautiful sight for any such silly purposes as aiming the weapon. It's just there for decoration, I guess. Maybe the Marines still use them.
At the other extreme from not using sights at all, many are the tales from Africa and the Balkans of insurgent types setting the rear sights of their Kalashnikovs to the maximum 1,000-meter setting since this “makes the bullet go further” and hence, quite logically, also “makes it more powerful.” Assuming a perfect sight picture, with the AK 7.62x39mm round’s rainbow trajectory, such a sight setting puts you 82 inches (damn near seven feet) high when shooting at a target 100 yards away. We won’t even add to that the tendency of all shooters, well-trained or otherwise, to fire high when under pressure.
          So, once again, it all depends upon the individual idiot whether the shots in the video are “way out of range” or not.
          Number Three. True, absolutely true. I’ll give ‘em that one flat out. The anti-tank rifle is worthless against tanks; the majority were obsolete against “modern” tanks by the end of 1940. Shooting an anti-tank rifle at some modern-day Chobham-armored behemoth like an Abrams, Leopard or Merkava is pissing in the wind and getting yourself killed doing it. Even the newer infantry fighting vehicles such as the Bradley, Warrior or Puma are well proofed against such weapons.
However, I couldn’t help but notice that the boys in  the video are not shooting at tanks.
For every main battle tank on the ground in any theater of war, there are literally dozens, possibly hundreds, of soft-skinned (we used to just call them trucks) and/or light armored vehicles tooling around. The American Army’s tooth-to-tail ratio is less than 10%...if you have a half a million men (and women, of course) deployed on the ground, only around 50,000 will be combat troops and the remaining 450,000 are support troops of various kinds. Keeping just all those people supplied is a Herculean labor; machines, with their voracious appetites for fuel especially, compound the problem exponentially, making the tank-to-truck tooth-to-tail ratio something else again.
BTW, if you actually knew what tooth-to-tail ratio meant, or were merely able to infer it from the context, you are not a big enough idiot to be Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
(EDITORIAL NOTE FROM BEN: Oh for Christ’s sake don’t get him started on the whole Bradley air filters in Desert Storm thing!!! This column is going to be long enough as it is!)
Anyway, all of the other non-tank vehicles mentioned above remain vulnerable to even an old-fashioned out-dated piece of crap like an anti-tank rifle, depending on the caliber.
The caliber in question here is definitely inclusive. The 14.5x114mm (.57-caliber) round, such as fired by the PTRD used by the jihadist boys in the video, is nothing to sneeze at, especially if delivered accurately by a good marksman. It has nearly twice the projectile energy of my beloved .50-caiber BMG round. The most commonly used API (Armor Piercing Incendiary) ammunition consists of a tungsten penetrator core with an incendiary compound at the base, all covered in a gliding metal jacket, and fired at a muzzle velocity of 3,300 fps. It can penetrate 30mm (1.18in) of armor plate at 500 meters…and set whatever flammable shit it contacts on fire in the process. Weapons of this caliber are still in use today the world over in the series of ZPU light anti-aircraft guns and as a turreted main gun on a wide variety of Soviet Bloc-type light armored vehicles such as the BTR and BRDM, as well as all the Red Chinese copies of same.

Top: Soviet 14.5x114mm, Bottom: American .50-BMG (12.7x99mm)
Speaking of the Communist Chinese, they are manufacturing (and happily selling to any terrorist organization with 2 yuan (roughly $28,000 US) to rub together) improved 14.5mm ammunition. Their DGJ02 version of the armor piercing discarding sabot round can penetrate 20mm (0.8in) of armor plate at 800 meters when striking at a 50-degree angle. They are also making an Armor Piercing High Explosive Incendiary round which, although primarily intended as an anti-aircraft load, can still penetrate 15mm (0.6in) of armor at 300 meters and would obviously really tear the shit out of a motor vehicle…and the people and/or supplies within…as well.
As for the PTRD, yes, it is old, it is obsolete, and it is heavy…38 pounds. Its equally old big brother, the 5-shot semiautomatic PTRS-41, weighs 46 pounds. Millions of these weapons were produced right up to the end of WWII by the Soviets; after 1945 tens of thousands were given to North Korea.
Another BTW. Did you notice the weapon itself in the video? It looks brand new; there aren’t even any scratches in the finish on the receiver. I can just imagine some bitter old Russian colonel-for-life addressing a motley-looking crowd of customers, many wearing turbans, clinging to his vodka bottle with one hand and sweeping his arm across a dimly-lit arsenal full of row after row of like-new PTRs in Commie Cosmoline somewhere in Bumfudge, Siberia, saying, “Do I hear a bid of fifty, fifty dollars apiece? Going once…going twice…”
The anti-tank rifle per se is an old and dead concept. However, when push comes to shove, it is essentially the same damn thing as our awesome new “anti material rifle”, albeit sans cool new optics and weighing a bit more. It can certainly do the same things.
As early as 1942, the Russians had already figured this out, the infantry manual of that year noting: “If no tanks and armored vehicles are present…the antitank rifles can take under fire enemy machineguns, artillery and the firing slits of bunkers and forts at a range out to 800 meters and aircraft at a range of up to 500 meters.”
During WWII, Ivan, Fritz, Tommy, Tony and Joe found all kinds of non-tank targets to engage with the anti-tank rifle…parked aircraft, sea planes, halftracks, anti-tank and artillery guns with or without armored gun shields, trucks, railroad locomotives and rolling stock, armored cars, fuel tanks, flak towers, enemy soldiers in stone buildings, sangers, or bunkers, you name it. The good soldier of any nation always finds a way to destroy what needs destroying with whatever he has at hand.
American GIs saw the need for, and then went ahead and created, heavy sniper rifles during the Korean War. Especially when the fighting stale-mated into positional warfare along the 38th Parallel, it was quickly found that the standard American .30-06 sniper rifles did not have the ability to really reach out and touch Communist troops at long range even though the environment allowed them to be plainly seen. The failing was not so much one of the rifles…M1C/D Garands and the Marines still had some Springfields…but of their ammunition. The American military saw no need for any such silly expensive thing as accurate Match-grade ammunition for snipers. Instead they got random issue of the the standard M2 ball, which fired a flat-based 150-grain bullet with a relatively poor ballistic coefficient that generally speaking couldn't hold minute-of-ChiCom much past 600 yards and whose performance could vary wildly between ammunition lots.
To top it all off, US Army marksmanship knowledge and training was even more abysmal in the early 1950’s than it was in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Those soldiers who actually could shoot, through no fault of the Army’s, usually pressed into service the venerable ol’ Ma Deuce Browning .50-caliber machine gun as a long-range heavy sniper rifle.  Various telescopic sights were jury-rigged to the top of the receiver. The Marine Corps’ 8x Unertl was the Holy Grail of optics to get a hold of back then since the Army only used Weaver and Lyman 2.5x scopes on their sniper rifles; 2.5x really doesn't buy you very much at ranges out there past 1,000 yards. The Ma Deuce has a selector on the backplate for semi-automatic fire. With the tripod legs firmly sand-bagged in place and the gun adjusted via the standard traverse-and-elevation wheels (1 click = 1 mil), GIs learned to pick off Chinese and North Korean soldiers at ranges out to 2,000 yards and beyond.


Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun being used as an improvised heavy sniper rifle, Korea, 1951.
A command report from the 24th Infantry Division, dated November 1951, was the first official comment I found on the practice.
“The .50 cal machine gun was put to a new use by elements of the 24th Division during the month. A .50 cal machine, mounted with a telescopic sight was used as a sniping weapon. The weapon was found highly effective at ranges of up to two thousand (2000) yards. In one instance three (3) Chinese were killed and three (3) wounded at a range of sixteen hundred (1600) yards.”
While the Ma Deuce is one of the finest military weapons ever made and further proof that John Browning was a super-genius, it was never designed nor intended to be a man-portable infantry weapon.
In theory, you could get four guys together and hand out (in addition to their personal weapons and gear) a receiver (60lbs), barrel (24lbs), tripod (44lbs) and a 100-round can of ammunition (also 44lbs) and then try to chase down skinny guys in sandals across the steep and rugged Korean mountains. But at least in those days even US Army brass was smart enough to figure out that you couldn’t saddle men up with half or more of their own body weight in gear and weaponry and then expect them to run down elusive light infantry in mountainous terrain at high altitudes. We had to wait for a whole new century before the Pentagon became that disconnected from reality.
So, since the Army would obviously not be forthcoming with any, GIs began to build their own man-portable .50-caliber rifles. In Korea then-CPT Bill Brophy, a champion marksman and veteran WWII mustang infantry officer turned ordnance man, quite naturally chose a captured North Korean PTRD-41 as the basis for his heavy sniper rifle. An M2 machine gun barrel, modified bipod, a Unertl scope on a home-made mount, and a butt-stock monopod with elevation adjustments taken from a 57mm recoilless rifle completed the transformation. It was a success in the field and, when taken back to the States at a later date, out-shot all of the Army’s current and proposed sniper rifles in tests. Army officialdom expressed no further interest.

 Brophy's home-made .50-caliber PTRD heavy sniper rifle in Korea.

In Taiwan, the Nationalist and Communist Chinese were facing off across the Straits of Formosa. In those straits, two tiny sandspit islands lay 1,000 meters apart, one garrisoned by a small force of Nationalists and the other by an equally small contingent of Reds, safely out of rifle range of eachother. An American advisor and gunsmith named Ralph T. Walker found some Capture of Singapore-vintage British Boys anti-tank rifles in a dusty warehouse in Taiwan, re-barreled them with American M2 MG barrels, and machined some mounts to utilize 20x spotting scopes from Japanese WWII tanks as telescopic sights. Although not allowed to test his toys personally, Walker’s creations in the hands of the Nationalist Chinese garrison on one of the tiny islands picked off a dozen or so Red soldiers from a kilometer away before everyone learned to stay hunkered down under cover during daylight hours. Army officialdom expressed no further interest.
Back on the other side of the world, at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Lt. Col. F.B. Conway had taken a WWII German Panzerbuchse PzB 39 anti-tank rifle and modified it with a Ma Deuce barrel with a bipod and a muzzle brake of his own design and a telescopic sight from a WWII German anti-tank cannon. This was replaced with an American Redfield 4-12x variable power rifle scope when that worthy proved capable of standing up to the .50-BMG’s recoil. In the wide open deserts of Fort Bliss, TX, Conway and his testers found their so-called “PzB .50” accurate against man-sized targets out to 1,400 yards and, at 2,800 yards, they were able to drop rounds through the window of an old adobe shack after a few sighting shots. I believe Conway had even developed a prototype Redfield ART (Automatic Ranging Telescope) which had a bullet drop compensator calibrated for the .50-caliber round’s trajectory. Army officialdom expressed no further interest.
All concerned could have done even better were it not for USGI .50-caliber M2 ball ammunition, which was mass produced for machine gun use, where a little slop was actually desired. And there was plenty of slop to go around. Conway mentioned a lot of US WWII-made .50-cal ammo which had cartridges that, when rolled across a flat surface, would click the tip of the bullet on the tabletop once per revolution. Army officialdom expressed no interest in better ammunition.
When Vietnam rolled around, Marines and GIs were back to using the Ma Deuce to snipe with at long ranges. Using the big Browning, Marine Corps sniper legend Gunny Carlos Hathcock set a record that stood for 35 years when he shot a VC weapons courier at a range of 2,500 yards or 1.4 miles. When it became available, the Starlight night vision scope was also soon found mounted atop the Ma Deuce for night time sniping. In this war, while the snipers still would have liked to have had a heavy sniper rifle, neither American equipment nor captured Communist stocks provided anything like an anti-tank rifle to use as a basis for such a weapon. Even the improvisers had to do without.
Not to worry! McNamara’s Whiz Kids and the military-industrial-congressional complex were stepping up to the plate. They used some old Canadian-made Boys anti-tank rifles to start with but instead of just chasing some threads and sticking a Ma Deuce barrel on it, they decided to go whole hog. They designed the smooth-bore .50-caliber Flechette Rifle, firing a hardened-steel sub-caliber finned dart at a muzzle velocity of 4,500 fps and capable of penetrating two inches of steel at 100 yards.
Alas, this performance was not of much use since you couldn’t really hit anything with it, the best group they ever managed to fire being six feet at 600 yards, aka 12 MOA. One minute of angle is considered the bare minimum for a sniper rifle…a Remington M24 sniper rifle that cannot put three test shots inside of 0.8 MOA is rejected outright.
At around the same time, American involvement in the Vietnam War ended, so the heavy sniper/anti-material rifle idea languished now that, you guessed it, Army officialdom expressed no further interest.
Enter a man named Ronnie Barrett down in Tennessee. Ronnie wasn’t an engineer or gunsmith or veteran sniper; he just knew a good idea when he saw it. In the early 1980’s, with one partner, blueprints for a new weapon he had dreamed up were drawn by hand on his kitchen table. The first prototypes were manufactured in Barrett’s single-stall gravel-floored garage. After  testing and modifications of the prototypes, the next weapon off the line became the Barrett Model 82A1, a recoil-operated semi-automatic heavy sniper rifle in .50-caliber BMG.

Barrett Model 82A1 in Iraq.
It saw action first with some of the famous SAS “SCUD Hunter” teams and the United States Marine Corps in Desert Storm. In the hands of a Marine sniper, one proved capable of knocking out a light armored personnel carrier at 1,100 meters using standard M8 Armor Piercing Incendiary ammunition. The US Army then adopted the Barrett under the long-winded nomenclature of M107 Heavy Special Application Scoped Rifle. The weapon was in huge demand and was soon in use by the military forces of some 30 countries around the world.
Barrett Firearms now has a state-of-art facility in Murfreesboro, TN which does $20 million worth of business per year and employs a hundred people. Hmmm. By God, now that I think about it, he single-handedly created more real permanent jobs than the $787 billion stimulus bill did.
Once one civilian "amateur" had built a better .50-caliber mousetrap, other civilian “amateurs” of the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association developed Match-grade .50-BMG ammunition to bring out the weapons’ full potential. In 1991, Skip Talbot used a MacMillan rifle and lathe-turned bronze Match ammunition to shoot a 4-1/2 inch group at 1,000 yards, or 0.45 MOA compared to the Whiz Kids’ 12 MOA.
Now that I think about it, I believe it was civilian “amateurs” rather than giant defense contractors requiring millions just in R & D who also gave us the Mk-19 40mm automatic grenade launcher that’s such an important part of our inventory.
One more argument against gun control.
At any rate, the heavy sniper or anti-material rifle was a stunning success and everybody wanted such a weapon. Today, anti-material rifles are made in twenty odd countries around the globe and fire cartridges ranging from .50-caliber to 20x110mm, as in 20mm cannon. They are lighter in weight, have effective new devices to tame recoil, are extremely accurate, and wear optics some poor bastard waiting at the gates to Moscow in the winter of 1941-1942 could never have dreamed of.



 Soviet PTRD anti-tank rifle circa 1941 (top) and Hungarian M3 Gepard anti-material rifle circa 1990 (bottom). Both fire the same 14.5x114mm round. With either weapon, the most critical performance issue remains operator headspace & timing.

But whether your rifle was built in 1941 or 2013, if it launches a 14.5mm API round and you can hit what you aim it, it really doesn’t make much damn difference. It can kill 2013 Joe just as dead as it killed 1942 Fritz.
The US Army was excited about the potential of the anti-material rifle against high-tech targets when they first got the Barrett back in the late 80's. “Given the key importance of several electronic devices (and particularly of C3 systems) it would not be surprising if target priorities eventually changed, the sniper being mainly tasked not with the elimination of selected individuals but rather with the neutralization of equipment such as microwave antennae, power generators and transformers, search guidance or C2, and so on.”
However, with the exception of short-lived conventional campaigns like Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, we have been fighting an enemy who doesn’t even have any of the above military hardware to target. We, on the other hand, have all kinds of cool high-tech gee-whiz stuff for him to target.
I really expect to see more of these things in the hands of jihadists the next time we go somewhere to ram our increasingly perverted form of “democracy” down somebody else's throat. In addition to two different Al Qaeda videos showing insurgents with PTRDs in Afghanistan, I found reference to the Chechens using some kind of 12.7x108mm (the Russian .50 BMG, if you will) rifle against Russian troops on two occasions.
Anti-material rifles are expensive, but this is not a big concern to insurgents. TAQ can get all the money they could ever possibly want to spend from northern Afghanistan drug lords and our good buddies the Saudis. Plus I can’t imagine countries like Iran, Red China or Azerbaijan pricing themselves out of business in selling their anti-material rifle wares to jihadists.
Not to worry. While the US Government does essentially nothing to keep jihadists from walking away with entire warehouses full of ordnance, including tens of thousands of SA-7 Grail surface-to-air missiles, and is actually still arming Al Qaeda & Friends in Syria and Libya, outlawing the .50-BMG for American citizens is very high on their priority list. I feel safer already. The question is, when civilians are no longer allowed to have firearms, who the hell is going to design our next successful infantry weapons? The military-industrial-congressional complex? The same folks who don't know what a barrel shroud is or who don't know what tooth-to-tail means? Oh boy. Can't wait. I'm just glad I'm out of the service.
As for the last point from the video, I’ll have to wait for some other time to go into why each and every infantryman in Afghanistan cannot and does not have his own personal swarm of Apaches and CAS F16s stacked up overhead just waiting to smash each and every jihadist who sticks his head above ground for more than half a second.
For those who don’t find the answer already apparent from the sarcasm alone.
 

3 comments:

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