“Wyrd biõ ful ãræd.”

Friday, December 26, 2014

Field Expedient with a Vengeance.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 the United States had sizable forces deployed in the Philippine Islands.  General MacArthur  had just over 16,000 U.S. Army troops as well as some  Army Air Corps and U.S.N. units.

U.S. Forces Philippine Islands 1941

Unfortunately, they had little in the way of modern equipment. The infantry was still using the American Enfield and the Springfield 03 as the primary shoulder weapon, and MacAurther's requests for modern tanks and artillery were turned down as current production was already committed to lend lease in Europe.

Consequently, the Japanese offensive quickly backed the American and Filipino troops into the Bataan Peninsula. When resistance was no longer practical, McArthur had already left the Philippines, and General Wainwright was forced to surrender the U.S. forces remaining.  A lot of Americans decided they didn't want to be guests of the Emperor and headed for the bush. Technically, this made them deserters from the U.S. standpoint, and the Japanese declared them bandits.

Some of the them were bandits. Some just hid out and took it easy as much as possible. Some got away to Australia in all sorts of unlikely watercraft.  Some set up guerrilla organizations and resisted the Japanese occupation.

One of the latter was a Navy Lieutenant named David Richardson.  He was a PT boat sailor, his boat was sunk by Japanese aircraft, and he eventually wound up with a guerrilla outfit run by another American. He wrote his memoirs after the war, entitled American Guerrilla in the Philippines.



It was a big seller, and was made into a movie starring Tyrone Power.



I remember seeing it a long time ago.  There is some "poetic license" in the movie. He did have a girl friend, but as soon as he could get out of the Philippines, which was 1944 as I recall, he abandoned her.

Although Tyrone Power brandishes a machete on the movie poster, Lieutenant Richardson was primarily in charge of communications equipment in his group. His war was not that up close and personal most of the time. When he did engage the Japanese, he did it in classic guerrilla fashion, sneaking up on them, shooting a few rounds off, and then running like hell.  But you know how Hollywood works, and I guess it was the same back after World War II.

I got my copy of this book on 13 December, 1980 at Camp Butler, Okinawa. I have no idea what I was doing at Camp Butler that day, since that's where the infantry was garrisoned (the Huns from the North). I was with the more gentile crowd at Camp Foster and MCAS Futema, that is to say, the  III Marine Air Wing, in the Southern part of Okinawa.

At any rate, so much for nostalgia. I was reading the book again, and I came across Richardson's description of how they made ammo for their American Enfields and Springfields.  After mid 1942 they sometimes got ammo from U.S. submarines that snuck in at night to deliver supplies. Prior to that, they had to make their own since Japanese Arisaka rifles did not use 30-06, so captured ammo was no good to them.

I had to type this out of the book and the print is tiny, so if there are any mistakes, let me know and I'll fix them.  Here are the two rifles in question:

1903 Springfield


American Enfield, P-17


"After the battle of Baybay our army's first problem - more immediate even than establishing a civil government and getting paid, was ammunition. They had shot off almost everything they had. Besides, they had been using battery separators and battery terminal lead as well as other soft metals for their bullets. With soft metal like that, you fire a few times and the rifling of the barrel fills up. Then you get a recoil that throws you ten feet.


The whole ordnance problem became my baby. I had made a deal with Colonel McLish, before leaving him, for four thousand empty 30-caliber cartridges. (Note: Richardson moved from group to group.He argued with everybody and was not overly popular with the leaders so he didn't stay with any one group long for the first part of his guerrilla "career.") We'd load them and give him back 1000 loaded cartridges in exchange.  I found a kid named Kuizon to organize an ordnance factory for us. We scrounged around and got a hand forge, some hacksaws, and a file. That was the small arms factory.

This boy Kuizon did all the experimenting. He wa about 21, the son of a pharmacist from Bato. He had never been in the Army before, but I made him a Third Lieutenant because he was so ingenious and willing.

We foraged in schoolhouses for the bullets to fill the shells. The brass curtain rods there were made of good hard metal just a little bit thicker than a .30 caliber bullet. We cut the rod up into appropriate lengths, then filed the end down to point it. There was a broken down old Springfield rifle there, and they'd stick the bullet in this, take a rod and try to ram it through. If it went, it fit. If it didn't, they'd file some more.

For the primer, we used sulfur mixed with coconut shell carbon. Later we were able to get hold of some antimony and add it to the mixture. Then it worked 80 to 90% efficiently. Our main source of powder was from Japanese sea mines that we would dismantle. We'd mix in pulverized wood to retard the burning because mine powder is too violent a propellant for rifles. It took us blowing up about five rifles - blowing off the firing pins, the extractors, and the bolts- to find that out.

All measuring was done rudely, by thumb and by guess and by God. You'd pour the powder into the cartridge with a little homemade funnel sort of thing until you thought you had enough. Then you'd put the piece off the brass curtain rod into the cartridge and crimp the cartridge round it with a pair of pliers. Presto, you had a loaded round!  Each bullet had to be tested for fit because all our cartridges had been fired once or twice or four times before. We'd load and extract each round. If the shoulder was too big, we'd crimp it down. If it was small, we would say that was fine.

Getting the right measure for the mixture was Kuizon's business. It was all trial and error. When there was an error, the cartridge would rupture in the gun. Hot gases would flash past the bolt and burn his hands. One morning he broke three rifles in succession, burning his hands three times and jolting his shoulder so badly his toes ached.

"Sir, I do not like this work, sir." he admitted finally.  " I will put the rifle on the table, sir, and test by long distance, sir."

Finally we managed to dragoon an apothecary's scales and after a few more tests "by long distance" no more rifles blew up. Using this ammunition was hard on our guns, but it worked and killed Japanese like hell.  The boys liked them because the mine powders gave the bullets so much power they never had to figure windage.

Our ordnance factory never filled more than a one room house, about twenty feet by ten. But we expanded it to make extractors, and firing pins out of such steel as we could find- usually spring steel. These weren't very successful, but they worked fine for about a dozen rounds. I put sixty soldiers to work in the ordnance plant, but the filing of the brass curtain rods to fit took so long that our production never got better than an average of 160 bullets a day."

How's that for some load data? 




25 comments:

  1. They look like books my husband and brother in law would enjoy reading. That's amazing they were able to make ammo, that's a good thing to know even if it's not perfect.

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    1. I had the same thought, Kathy. I store a lot of ammunition and I keep the components to load much more.But it would not have occurred to me to go to such lengths if I eventually ran out. For one thing, the potentially dire consequences of "experimentation" are so drummed into the reloading community that most are not all that anxious to deviate from the books.

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  2. They truly were the greatest generation. Not many today would have the knowledge or skills necessary to accomplish this today.

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    1. Jim, I agree. I know a few folks who would undertake something similar if need be, but I have a sneaking suspicion I'm not one of them.

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  3. Far out--I have that same book, Bantam edition, naturally. And I remember his talking about making the ammo just as you describe. Now I'm going to read it again.

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    1. I'm going through and reading all my old paperback books again one last time. Most of them are yellowish and crumbling at the touch now.

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  4. Wow. Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess!

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    1. I guess so. I would not have wanted to be in his shoes.

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  5. Harry as always thanks for the great story. I have missed them. I was hacked and still reeling. Merry Christmas to you the Mrs and the little ones.

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  6. Hey Rob, I went by your place and saw the notice. Sorry that happened. I hope you and your family had a great Christmas. Ours was fine.

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  7. Its the primer mix that has me intrigued. I have heard of folks repriming used 22 cases using strike anywhere match head tips as a primer compound. Slow and tedious work for sure. But to be able to produce your own primer compound out of raw elements is an appealing idea.

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    1. I keep thousands of primers, all types, so I will never be faced with having to jury rig primers. I don't have that inventive flair that would help me to make something like primers. I wish I did.

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  8. Seems like they would just use the Jap rifles and ammo instead of wasting time to get US rifles working with inferior ammo.

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    1. Indeed. Or, alternatively, the powder from the Jap cartridges probably would have worked 'as is'. The primers were Berdan, so while the primers wouldnt have worked the ompound might have been usable.

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    2. Japanese rifles were pretty hard to come by. Maybe this guys experiences were not typical, but most of his encounters with Japanese troops ended with the guerrillas running away without having accomplished much. In some cases the guerrillas threw away their own weapons so they could run faster. I only recall a couple of instances in the entire book where they were able to retain control of the site of a fight and salvage arms. One of those was were they sank a barge loaded with about 20 Japanese troops, and then had to dive to retrieve salvageable equipment. They mentioned getting some rifles but nothing about ammunition.

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  9. Hey Harry,

    (captaincrunch)


    Yeah' those guys in WW2 were some real bad asses.

    If they were still around in great numbers, there would be a lot less crap going on in the world.

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    1. True enough. But as you say, there are not many of them left. Starting to be Viet Nam veterans who are getting scarce now.

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  10. The old friend, a yellow paged tattered and crumbling book.

    I haven't read the book but I bet they did use the captured equipment, but probably never had a lot of it based on guerrilla tactics not usually leading to capturing a lot of anything at one time.

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    1. Max, they seem to have done a lot of improvisation, but their acquisition of Japanese material was pretty skimpy. In fact, based on what was said in the book, they just didn't make a really big contribution to the war effort, other than helping the Filipino's keep their spirits up with guerrilla "pin prick" raids.Lots of the guerrilla groups seem to have been much more interested in "taxing" the civilians than in encountering the Japanese. One thing the author remarked on was that when they did go out to make a rare raid, his troops, both American and Filipino, started dropping out along the way and he might wind up with 4 guys still along for the fight when he started out with twenty or so.

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  11. Holy cow! That's sure as hell not out of Hatcher's Notebooks - he would have gone nuts! (But he might have done/tried the same...)

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    1. I suppose the "necessity is the mother of invention" rule applies. Those guys were an innovative crowd, if nothing else.

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  12. The U.S. had as good equipment, better in many cases, than their attacker. Japanese infantry weapons were notoriously awful. Remember these are the folks who put a bayonet on a machine gun.

    MacArthur, who eventually did become one of the wars great generals, made enormous mistakes. In brief, when faced with an experienced opponent skilled in WW1 style German infiltration tactics, he scattered inexperienced troops all over the place, which combined with the linear doctrine of U.S. defense, guaranteed his isolated units would get outflanked and surrounded. It was only when his relatively large force was pushed into a small area of the Island that the Japanese had to slow up. But by that time he had lost much of his equipment, and air force (sitting on the ground hours after Pearl Harbor had occurred), and they were essentially starved out.

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    1. Japanese rifles were essentially as good as the bolt action rifles issued by other combatants, like the Springfield, the K98, the Mosin Nagant, and the Enfield. They may not have had the same level of fit and finish, but functionally they were good equipment. Post war tests showed that the Japanese receivers were the strongest of the war period bolt guns.

      In "Tales of the Gun", the History Channel series on firearms that you never see anymore, the narrator pointed out that Japanese troops were trained to believe that use of an edged weapon was noble, and elevated the user to a higher status. The Japanese Type 96 light machine gun did have a bayonet fitting, but that had as much to do with psychology as practicality.

      I have never been a fan of MacArthur. He left his troops, one of the very few examples in American history of that happening. The troops in the P.I. never had a chance of holding out, since they were essentially written off in "Plan Blue" before the war even began.

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  13. I saw that movie and may have read the book. The Pacific Theater was/is my favorite reading. When I was a teen, I read dozens of books about that part of the war.

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    1. It was always a special interest of mine, as my father and uncle, and other relatives, fought in that theater.

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