The Royal Armouries


The Royal Armouries in Leeds are probably the premier firearms museum in the United Kingdom.  It is a big place, and the following pictures only cover a fraction of it.  I took a lot of pictures so each one has a shortcut unlike the other features on the site.  Enjoy!

A tribute to 007 – a bit naff but it draws in the punters, I suppose.

A Colt 1911 and a Steyr-Hahn – the Steyr incorporates the intriguing rotary barrel locking principle, the Colt, hmm, well, I don’t think anyone knows much about the Colt .45<G>.  Both of these models saw action in WW1.

A 4-bore shotgun – for those around the turn of the century who considered wandering around in Africa and suffering serious pain in the shoulder was an enjoyable activity!

Adams revolver – a very nicely kept Adams percussion revolver ca. 1870

French armour – sorry, I didn’t make any notes, I think it was 15th century.

Artillery Luger – a mint condition example, ca. 1917 with buttstock.

Broomhandle Mauser – very nice example, from the Boer war with engraved buttstock, worth a few quid I suspect!

Borchardt Pistol – the first semi-automatic pistol, once again, a mint example, drool.

Bullpup Rigby Rifle – made for someone who lost an arm in WW1, no doubt worth a small fortune as well.

Dolne thingymebob – Why have one weapon when you can have three?  A vicious looking piece of equipment, ca. 1890.

The first firearms – very early handguns, surprisingly considered an advancement on the bow and arrow, due largely to their ease of use.

Armoured Elephant – an elephant with armour, just the thing for the Indian warrior.

World War 1 Enfields – A selection of Enfield rifles, note the one in the middle with the extremely rare barbed wire cutter.

Engraved Webley – This revolver set someone back a lot of money!

Webley-Fosbrey – The only semi-automatic revolver

Gatling guns – A couple of mint condition Gatlings.

Greener Prison Shotgun – Another very rare gun, chambered for a special shotgun round so that it was useless to a thief.

The Hall of Steel – A large collection of guns and armour arranged up the middle of the main staircase in the Armoury.

The Hall of Steel, again – Another view of the Hall of Steel, from the ground floor.

Enfield with Howell self-loading conversion – the most interesting Enfield in the Armoury, unfortunately the picture is a bit dim.  Essentially a hole drilled in the barrel, with a tube alongside the barrel, with a gas-operated rod attached to the bolt handle.  The gun has had a pistol grip fitted with a handguard to prevent the bolt handle from hitting the hand during cycling.  It worked, but was too impractical.

Japanese LMG – I know little about Japanese machineguns so I will not embarrass myself, although this one is interesting due to it’s method of hydraulic operation.  No wonder the Japanese lost!

Kolibri 2.7mm pistol – the smallest calibre semi-auto pistol ever made, check out the size of the ammunition!

The guns of David Kucer – miniature replicas made by Mr Kucer, worth visiting the museum just to see this exhibit, in my opinion.

Guidelamp Liberator Pistol – A single shot .45 stamped steel pistol, made to be dropped to the French resistance although none ever were, they were dropped in the Phillippines and India though.  Perhaps the only pistol ever made that could be manufactured faster than it could be reloaded!

Marlin rifle – a mint original from the late 19th century.

Mars pistol – very rare, very big, one of the first attempts at a practical semi-auto pistol design in the UK.

Minature Borchardt pistol – one of David Kucer’s guns, up close.

Modern military weapons – a selection of cast-offs from the Pattern Room.

Modern police guns – I say “modern”, but no-one uses the Sterling anymore and the Mini-14 is only a reserve weapon now as well.  For some reason they do not have an MP5 on display which has replaced both guns.

Revolvers of the Old West – A selection of mint condition guns from the days of the old west.

Samuri – not a very good picture I’m afraid, the Royal Armoury puts on shows every day to show you some aspect of military history.  This one was the dressing of the Samuri.

Schmeisser MP18 submachinegun – the first successful SMG design, from WW1, this is the Schmeisser, not the MP40!

Semi-auto hunting rifles – not sure how many people use AR-15s to hunt, but I’m not going to argue!

Sniper rifles – a display of sniper rifles.

Stgw 44 – the first true assault rifle, deployed by the Germans towards the end of WW2, many of the general features were copied in the AK-47 (Kalashnikov denies this, but I find it hard to believe).

A big tent – from the era of jousting.

Thompson SMG – a good example of a M1928 Thompson, for some reason they also have a commercial 1927 semi-auto on display.  Also note the early Colt rifle underneath it.  Worth a bit, I suspect!

Tiger attacking hunting party – a set piece depicting an Army officer on an African hunt with unforseen problems!

Soldier’s kit – what a soldier wears in the British Army nowadays.

Soldier – And another one, this time with a mannequin.  Note the AGS-17 grenade launcher in the foreground, captured in Iraq.

Vickers and Browning machineguns – as used during WW1, the Browning was known as the “Digger” because of the reciprocating bolt component which whacked back and forth under the receiver.

Webley revolver with bayonet – what this was intended for I don’t know!

.455 Webley self-loading pistol – as bought by and issued to the RAF.

Pistols of the Great War – a selection of handguns issued during World War 1, note that most of them were revolvers!

Guns of the Zulu War – A bit more effective than a spear, as the Zulus found out after the British Army adopted more effective tactics.


Morges military museum

A visit to the Swiss military museum at Morges:

While in Switzerland recently your intrepid Editor decided to visit the Swiss military museum in the town of Morges, a picturesque town not far from Lausanne.  Approximately half an hour drive from Bière, the museum is a must-see for anyone attending the Tir Fédéral.

The museum covers the whole of the history of the Swiss military, though a large segment appears to focus on the Napoleonic Wars, due to the fact that the French-speaking areas of Switzerland were annexed by Napoleon and many Swiss served in the French Army.

Below are a variety of pictures of the exhibits in the museum:

Pictured above are a selection of rifles showing the development of the Vetterli bolt-action rifle, the first bolt-action rifle issued to any army.  The rifle used a tubular magazine and fired a 10.4mm rimfire cartridge.  Below them is an 1866 Winchester rifle, fitted with a socket bayonet, a rifle used during military trials of the late 1860s.

Pictured above are modern Swiss military weapons.  At top is the SIG 57 assault rifle, chambered for the 7.5mm Swiss GP11 round, originally developed for the M1911 Schmidt-Rubin rifle.  Below that are a number of prototype rifles, the top two being developed by the Bern Ordnance factory and the two below that being the SG541 developed by SIG.  These chamber the experimental 6.45 NSK round.  This round was eventually dropped in favour of 5.56mm, called the 5.6mm Swiss in Switzerland.  This round, the GP90, although having similar ballistics to the standard 5.56mm NATO round has a lead core with a mild steel/nickel alloy jacket.  The rifle at bottom is the SIG 90 assault rifle, adopted in 1986, essentially the SG541 chambered for the GP90 round.  To the left of it are the two current issue service pistols, the elegant and costly SIG A49 9mm pistol (P210) on the left, and the more common SIG A75 (P220) which is replacing the A49.  Both are 9mm.

A selection of Swiss cavalry rifles, from when soldiers rode into war on horses.  At bottom is the Schmidt-Rubin M1889/00 cavalry rifle, of which only 7,000 were made.  However, it formed the basis for the famous K31, the standard rifle in World War 2 and perhaps the best known Swiss rifle.

A rare 1882 7.5mm cyclist’s revolver.  The Swiss Army even today still has a cyclist’s corp.  They serve primarily as an anti-tank unit.  Hence the “mountain bike”, I kid you not!  Note the large lanyard loop on the butt.

A close-up of an early production SIG 90 assault rifle, otherwise known as the SG550.  Having shot (and owned) one of these I can tell you that they are very accurate rifles.  The Swiss are very fond of target shooting and possibly this rifle makes too many concessions to sport, being heavier than most of the competition and being prone to rust.  It also is hard to clean.  However they are exceptionally reliable and robust.

A very rare Swiss contract Gatling gun.  The Swiss are among the greatest pioneers in the area of firearms.  If they haven’t designed it themselves, they will buy it themselves as soon as it hits the market!

The Swiss were also the first Army to adopt the semi-automatic pistol, Georg Luger’s famous Parabellum, way back in 1900.  First deliveries were from DWM in Germany, but later production involved the assembly of DWM parts at the Bern ordnance factory.  When World War 1 cut off the supply from Germany, Bern began making their own Lugers, eventually simplifying the design.  Shown above are the four distinct models, from the first DWM Luger to the last Bern production model.  For some reason the Swiss chose to stay with the 7.65mm Parabellum calibre right up until the adoption of the SIG P210 in 1949.  Note the 7.5mm cavalry revolver with buttstock at the bottom.

The history of the Schmidt-Rubin rifle is in this display case, these examples being based on the original 1889 design.  This was the first successful rifle to use a straight-pull bolt-action mechanism.  The top three rifles chamber the 7.5×53.5mm round, which is remarkably similar to the .30-06 used in the US Springfield and Garand rifles despite being developed more than a decade earlier.  Moving downward are later versions of the rifle chambering the 7.5x55mm GP11 round.  The middle rifle is the M1911 Schmidt-Rubin, standard issue in World War 1.

Swiss weaponry from the World War 2 period.  At the top is the prolific Karabiner 1931 or K31 Schmidt-Rubin rifle, chambered for the GP11 7.5mm round.  Note the sniper model of the Schmidt-Rubin with a remarkably advanced scope for the time.  Swiss submachineguns however were somewhat over-engineered and elaborate, the Swiss having the time to make them as they were not heavily involved in combat during the war, with the exception of shooting down some Nazi Messerschmitts!

A Swiss Maxim gun, chambered for the GP11 7.5mm round.  Maxim guns of course were responsible for a large proportion of the casualties during World War 1.  The Swiss once again showed foresight in their acquisition, though they were neutral during the war.

The history of the Swiss Army knife!  The current issue knife is on the right.  Victorinox and Wenger make this knife, it is called the “Swiss soldier’s knife” and is available at most good cutlery shops.  Note the lack of tools compared to the prolific commercial models, and the aluminium handle, more hard-wearing than the well-known red plastic grip.  The pointed tool at the bottom is not usually found on the commercial knives.  It is intended for puncturing food and ammunition cans, and for scraping carbon off difficult to reach areas of the assault rifle.

A close-up of the SIG P210, known as the A49 in Swiss military use.  Widely regarded as the best (and most costly) service pistol ever issued, and sought after by collectors and target shooters alike.  Note the design of the slide to frame fit, the slide runs inside the frame, a design feature not found on most other pistols, that contributes to the gun’s superb accuracy.  Pistols are given to officers in the Swiss military.

The current issue SIG P220, or A75 9mm pistol.  This gun was developed to replace the A49, which was simply too expensive to make.  The gun was the first to use the chamber wedge method of delayed blowback, which is exceptionally simple and cuts down greatly on the machining necessary to make the pistol.  This design feature has been widely copied, most notably by Glock and Ruger, two of the largest handgun makers in the world.  The P220 itself is a hugely successful design, over two million have been made of the different variations of it.  Another innovative design feature is the slide.  Most pistol slides are simply machined from a block of steel, but the slide of the P220 is made by shaping a piece of sheet metal over a mandrel, and then pinning a breechblock in place, greatly reducing the amount of machining necessary for production of the gun.  Most people will know of the P220 series as Mulder and Scully carry them in the X-files TV programme.

One of the most common things you will find in Swiss homes, the SIG 90 assault rifle.  The Swiss Army comprises 450,000 men who are given their service rifles and who have to complete a minimum of two weeks service each year, serving from the age of 18 until they are 50 (this age will be dropped to 45 soon).  After completing their service, the fully-automatic capability of the rifle is permanently disabled, and the rifle is given back to the former soldier who may keep it.  Soldiers are also issued a comprehensive cleaning kit, three 20-round magazines, and a “corn-beef can” of 50 rounds of 5.6mm ammunition, as well as a bayonet.  Swiss soldiers must practice their marksmanship regularly under the terms of the Obligatory Rifle Shooting Programme.  Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world, yet maintains a remarkably low homicide and armed crime rate.

The current Swiss uniform and battle kit.

Swiss Army mobilisation during World War 2.  After some early border skirmishes with the Nazis, the Swiss did allow some German troop trains to cross their country into Italy, but later closed the border.  Although some skeptics believe Germany did not invade as Switzerland was a good place to hide their gold, the thought of attempting to cross the Alps and face the most heavily armed population on Earth at the time was probably a large factor in Hitler’s thinking as well.  Documents uncovered after the war indicated that the Nazis had intended to invade Switzerland.

If you would like to visit the museum, it is located south of the Morges exit from the N1 motorway, between Lausanne and Geneva.  Follow the road signs to Morges town centre, the museum is located at the Morges Chateau.  The museum is open every day from 1:30 pm to 5 pm, except over the Christmas period.  Opening hours are longer on most weekdays and during the summer.

“Shoot twice” – the caption on a Swiss postcard of 1914, depicting a Swiss militia man being asked by the Kaiser what the Swiss would do if he sent an army of half a million Germans against the quarter million Swiss Army.

Swiss Ammunition Enterprise

Recently I was lucky enough to have a tour of the manufacturing facilities and museum of the Swiss Ammunition Enterprise, known more commonly as RUAG.

The company is divided into two separate divisions, and I visited the small arms ammunition plant in Thun.

Unfortunately I couldn’t take pictures inside the plant, but I took plenty inside the museum!  The main product made at Thun is the Swiss Army service ammunition, namely 5.6mm Swiss, although it has essentially the same dimensions as 5.56mm NATO.  This is also called GP90 by the Swiss, meaning Gewehr Patrone 90.

First I thought I’d give you a rundown on their ammo.  Originally it was adopted in 1987 as a replacement for the aging 7.5mm GP11 round used both in the Schmidt-Rubin and the Sturmgewehr 57.  Unlike NATO, the Swiss adopted an ordinary lead core projectile for their ammo.  Originally it had a nickel alloy jacket, but this was changed in 1998 to an ordinary copper jacket as it was found that the nickel jacket was wearing out barrels on the Sturmgewehr 90 too quickly.  The picture illustrates both projectiles, on top of a GP90 ammo box:

The original nickel alloy plated bullet is shown between two of the later copper jacketed bullets.  Note that the earlier bullet has an exposed lead base, while the later design has a plug in the base.  This was done apparently due to environmental concerns.

Without the steel penetrator tip of the NATO round, I doubt this bullet is as effective in terms of penetration, but it is very accurate, probably the most accurate full metal jacket 5.56mm round made.  The Swiss also use a 1 in 10 inches twist in their service rifles, rather than the NATO twist of 1/7.  This means longer barrel life, as there is less friction in the slower twist rate.  There is a theory that it will also be more lethal from the lower twist rate but Martin Fackler I think has put that one to rest (makes a difference in internal and external ballistics, but not terminal ballistics, provided the twist rate is fast enough to stabilise the bullet in flight).  In any event, I don’t think anyone has been intentionally shot with GP90 on a battlefield yet!

Some people seem to think that GP90 has a steel core.  I’m not sure where this rumour started, but it doesn’t.  It is definitely lead core, I saw the cores in the factory!  The following picture shows two partially completed bullets:

On the left is the later copper/steel (called “tombac”) jacketed bullet and on the right is an earlier nickel alloy jacketed bullet.  You can see the exposed lead core inside each jacket.  The bullet itself weighs about 63 grains, which once again indicates it has a heavy core.

SM also makes all the cartridge cases.  These are very high quality, and have a distinctive headstamp:

On the right is a fired GP90 case, the headstamp is a “T” (for Thun) above the year of manufacture, in this case “94”.  On the left is a round of commercially sold ammunition, this has a “T” above the calibre designation of “.223”.

SM doesn’t sell the GP90 ammunition on the commercial market (except to special order), although surplus GP90 is sold all over Switzerland at local rifle ranges for target practice.  They do however have a wide range of ammunition available to the general public, which you can see on their website.  They make the Blaser line of ammunition for example.  I have purchased some of their target load, the Swiss P:

It comes in the same size box as the GP90, and is even on stripper clips for the Stgw 90!  It is essentially identical to GP90 but uses the Sierra Matchking bullet instead.  At the factory I was told that they have now developed their own .223 match bullet that is more accurate than the Matchking, this I will have to try!  Even so, this stuff is the most accurate factory .223 I have ever used, more accurate even than Federal Gold Medal, although I have to admit I haven’t shot enough of both to determine if that is simply a fluke or statistically accurate.

One point: if you have thumbs strong enough to load a Stgw 90 magazine using these stripper clips you must look like King Kong!

It’s difficult to describe the plant without pictures.  Mind-blowing is not too strong a description.  Everything is automated, from melting the lead into lead cores, shaping the bullet jackets and inserting the cores and closing the bases, forming the cartridge cases, waterproofing them, loading the primers, (I was particularly impressed with the machine that seals the primer in) to putting the powder in the case, loading the bullet, pushing the completed rounds into a rack where they are then pushed onto the stripper clips, and then loaded and sealed into boxes.

The machines that make the cartridge cases were very impressive too.  There is one machine that cuts brass discs out of a sheet of brass, and then bangs them into a cup shape.  Then there are two rows of machines joined together, each row of machines is about 100 metres in length.  Essentially at one end the brass cups are poured in, then they are hammered, cleaned, hammered, cleaned and so on until at the end the last machine shoots out completed cartridge cases!  I noticed that most of the machines were made by Manurhin.

SM also makes pistol ammunition for the Swiss Army, the Pistolen Patrone 41, that was originally used in the SIG P210 (A49) pistol and currently the SIG-Sauer P220 (A75) pistol:

This is sold commercially at pistol ranges in Switzerland.  It is very accurate but also very hot, so it is not that suitable for target shooting.  Like the rifle ammunition, it used to be made with a nickel alloy jacket, but now it is copper jacketed.  It is fairly standard 124gr. FMJ, nothing to get excited about really.  Headstamps are the same as for the GP90 rifle round.  It comes in 24-round boxes, which is quite unusual, enough for three magazines worth.

Each member of the Swiss Army is issued a Stgw 90 to keep at home together with a single box of GP90 ammunition that is kept in a sealed can similar to a can of corned beef.

And onto the museum!  Unfortunately some of the best photos I took seem to have disappeared out of my camera, as they had two Stgw 90 PEs (the semi-auto version sold in gun shops) set up in the corner of the museum that I took pictures of with a novel CO2 conversion kit for indoor practice (made by a company called Waffen Furter in Olten).  More noteworthy than that were the serial numbers on the rifles: #000001 and #000002!

Given that there are a fair few photos I’ve decided to do hyperlinks to them:

A Vetterli 10.5mm bolt-action rifle, the first bolt-action rifle adopted by any Army, together with ammunition.

A selection of .22 rimfire ammunition made by SM in the past together with a SIG P210 fitted with a .22 conversion kit.

A prototype SIG SG541 assault rifle in 6.45mm NSK, the round nearly adopted instead of 5.56mm.

Not a very good picture of some Swiss service pistols.  Note the sardine can of 9mm ammunition issued to Swiss Army officers.

Boxes of various types of 5.6 ammunition, including tracer and drill.  Note the ammo can for GP90 ammunition, rarely seen.  These are all pre-production samples.

Anti-tank munitions and shaped charges made by SM.  One of SM’s specialties is making shaped charges, they hold several patents on the method of production.

Another main product for SM are hand grenades, the British Army having entered into a large contract to buy them.

Shots of various Swiss Ordnance Lugers, the Swiss were the first to adopt the Luger in 1900.  I think this is a pretty good selection of them, the Swiss using three or four distinct types up until the adoption of the SIG P210 in 1949.  Here’s another shot.

More serious ordnance, anti-tank missiles.

Plates showing penetration of the GP90 round (I think, not sure).  The top one is obviously a bit harder steel but it’s pretty serious thickness.  Note the sardine can of GP90 ammunition on the right, this is found in many Swiss homes!  The box below with the red “B” is blank ammunition.

A prototype Stgw 90, you can just about make out the different method of holding the stock closed as compared with the production model.  On the prototype the stock was locked in the closed position by clipping onto the end of the front receiver pivot pin.  If you look at the boxes of ammunition in the case, you will see the one at the front right has a diagonal stripe on it, this is tracer ammunition.

A picture of some pretty rare SMGs, including some prototypes.  The Swiss were never too keen on SMGs because it runs contrary to their philosophy of the individual marksman.  I think they were relieved when the Nazis invented the assault rifle!  Unfortunately I took a picture of an extremely rare FN FAL made in 7.5x55mm Swiss with an odd curved magazine but it didn’t come out.

My great thanks to M. Frutiger and the staff of SM for their hospitality during the visit!