Wednesday, September 26, 2012

SteamCon is coming up! This year is "Victorian Monsters", so the weapons lecture will be everything you need to know to defeat the armies of darkness and stay alive doing it. Plus a panel on Victorian machine guns. The Gatling gun will return, and we're adding a nice shiny Maxim gun just to mix things up a bit.

Here's Gordon's complete speaking schedule:

Surviving the Steampunk Zombie Apocalypse - Friday, 5-6PM 
Weapons for Vampire Hunting: Historical & Modern Literary Views - Friday, 7-8PM
Machine Guns of the Victorian Era - Saturday, 11AM-12PM
Firearms of the Victorian Era - Sunday, 12-1PM

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows

I just watched the latest incarnation of the Sherlock Holmes saga, this in the form of the second film staring Robert Downey Jr. in the namesake roll. I had very much enjoyed the first film that he did, and this was, if anything, even better. Jude Law reprised his role as the good Doctor Watson, with a character far more capable than he is often made out to be. Most amusingly cast was Stephen Fry as Sherlock Holmes’ “older, smarter brother” Mycroft. Per the rest of the cast, they were quite competent actors all but since I hadn’t heard of any of them before I’ll pass on mentioning them, so there it is.

Since my reviews are always about the cool stuff, however, I’ll leave all that acting criticism for others (who as usual pan what I like and like what I pan, but again, there it is. They get paid for it and I don’t, so perhaps they’re on to something I’m ignorant of).

As usual, whoever does the props and armouring for these movies knows what they’re doing, and they do it well. From the credits it looks to be a lot of folks, but I give real kudo’s to whoever is actually in charge of the over-all look, be that the Director Guy Ritchie or the head of his Props department, or whoever. Everything looks great! Buildings, backgrounds, set dressing, props, weapons, clothing, background artists, you name it, and it not only was high quality, but it looked like it belonged there, and in fact looked like it grew there (even some of the clothes on some of the actors looked as though they’d been on them long enough to have enough extra passengers and life-forms to begin new planets). Well done on their part.

Minor Spoilers Ahead

Okay, the Cool Toys. They have them, and lots of them. In the first scene in which Holmes has to fight his way clear of things, one of the thugs he deals with has a nice little Webley top-break .38. Sadly (from what I could see, I could be wrong on this one) it was one of their post-WWI models of this size, but what the heck, Webley DID make such a beast in the late-1880’s, so it’s fine.

As usual, Watson is carrying his trusty Webley RIC. This being one of the later models, it was probably in .455” rather than the somewhat less powerful .450”. Speaking of Watson, there was a bit of a time disconnect going on in this film, since Watson is supposed to be fairly recently returned from Afghanistan (the 2nd Afghan War taking place between 1878 and 1880), and yet there are weapons which hadn’t been invented until the mid-1890’s, but, oh well. Most are close enough. I rather liked the little single-shot derringer which Holmes hands to him on the train, too. Looked like it was a Colt .41” rimfire, but hard to tell: still, cool.

The bad-guys on the train have, of all things, a Model 1889 Vickers-Maxim Machine Gun, in caliber .303”. How cool is that? Brass water jacket, brass receiver, lots of brass everywhere! Unfortunately the cartridges they were using in the belt were the post-1905 Mk VII Ball, rather than the Mk I Ball (black powder with a 220-grain round-nosed bullet, rather than cordite powder and 174-grain “spitzer” bullet) they should have been using. Oh well; details, details...but that's what I'm all about, so I'll mark them down on that one.

The bad-guys on the
train have one other interesting piece though, and that is their “close-in” weapon, at least the one with which they try to kill Our Heroes at close range. For whatever reason, one is carrying a Model 1887 Winchester Shotgun with a short “riot” barrel on it. What? Brit’s just don’t go for such things in shotguns. Isn’t sporting, you know, it must be a double or nothing. You might have been able to buy such a thing in Londo n, but, Goodness! Even as a murder weapon: just not done. I like them though, so it gets points from me.

I do have to take serious issue with one thing on the train though: The British “soldiers” have a nice box full of stick-mounted “Mills Bombs”, AKA hand grenades. Considering that these had gone out of fashion during the American Revolution and didn’t come back until the trenches of 1915 made such things desirable (the first ones were made from jam tins filled with artillery explosives and tied to sticks), it would be hard to imagine the British Army (or fellows posing as such) having such things in 1890. On the other hand, they’re cool and it
does keep the story moving.

Chasing around Paris is always fun, especially if you get to shoot
at folks while down in the sewers, so what else to use but a proper French military revolver? Indeed, they have them! At least Watson does, picking up a Mle. 1892 Lebel 8mm revolver up from a fellow with no further use for it, and using it to good effect. Later he somehow even gets one (or perhaps it’s another sort, but close) with ivory grips which is particularly fetching. Watson always gets the cool guns, I have t o say.

The sniper rifle belonging to the henchman of Arch-Nemisis Moriarty has exactly what one might expect of a former British soldier: a Martini-Henry, though in a somewhat smaller caliber (which is fine) than the original .577/.450 cartridge for which it was designed. It looked almost like the semi-experimental .400” cartridge that the British Army almost adopted, but chose instead to go with the more efficient .303” for their new magazine rifles in 1888. However, there is one scene in which the henchman fires off several rounds in quick succession at Watson, something which simply cannot be done successfully with a Martini-Henry. Shades of a Dallas Deer Rifle, I’m afraid.

On the other hand, the scenes in Germany are great, with plenty of cool firearms to bedazzle the e ye, from the 7.63mm Mauser “Broomhandle” pistols (AKA “C-96” after the year of introduction. See my problem here?) to the 105mm (or was it a 155mm?) Krupp artillery pieces.

There is, however,
a “minor” issue with regards to the Broomhandle Mausers. This will take awhile, so sit back and relax.

The henchman notes to Holmes that these unusual pistols are the latest thing, far more modern and thus better than the revolver he is carrying, and possesses a 10-round magazine: all well and good. Then he tosses a clip to Holmes, which h e pulls from a case of such things, to charge the Mauser. From what I could see (and I may have seen what I was expecting, too) he tossed a “charger clip”, being a thin sheet-metal piece which only holds the rim of the cartridge (which is right and proper for a Mauser C-96 ), but then they both slap the floor of the magazines of their pistols as though they had in fact placed fresh magazines into their respective pistols. So, here’s the problem. Mauser didn’t begin to manufacture a model capable of such replaceable magazines until the 1930’s, following the lead of some Spanish copyists. Much of the problem is really a problem with usage of terms. Any more these days, people interchange “clip” and “magazine”, when in fact they are very different beasts. A f irearm may in fact be able to use both, or neither, or one or the other, but they are not at all the same thing. As noted, with a Mauser the clip holds the rims of the cartridges and they are then “stripped” into place (thus sometimes being referred to as “stripper clips”). A magazine, on the other hand, holds the entire cartridge, along with several others, and may be an integral part of the firearm (as in the case of the Mauser) or may be removable, as is the case with almost all modern military firearms. Th ese are generally made of thin sheet metal and contain anywhere from five to 100 cartridges, and can be removed at will by the user. To confuse you even more, there are the “en-bloc clips” such as developed by Mannlicher and later used in the famous US M1 Garand rifle, wherein the entire clip holding the cartridges is fed into the magazine and then ejected.

With me so far? Right; so when the henchman an d Holmes slap the magazine floors of their pistols, it would do nothing other than to make
noise, and not much of a noise at that. The ONLY WAY to load a C-96 “Broomhandle” Mauser is with a stripper clip from above, with the bolt back. That’s how they were designed, and the later version was in fact capable of fully-automatic fire and usually had a 20-30 round magazine. The whole scene is to let the dolts who think that Gangsta moves are cool know that they had loaded the pistols, and then of course the henchman proceeds to turn his pistol to a 90ยบ angle and hold it at Holmes’ head, just like a Gangsta. Okay, now all the Gangsta’s in the audience know that he’s loaded his pistol and is going to shoot it. Joy.

All right, I’m done ranting. I’ll point out that Winston Churchill packed one of these cool Mauser pistols in the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. They were in fact quite popular with British officers of the day, so it’s cool that the film includes them. But, come on, at least load them properly! (Oh sorry, I said I wasn’t going to rant any more on that one. Oops.)

I think that they rather made up for it, however, with the massive use of the usually-forgotten German Gewehr (just means “rifle”) 88, usually shortened to Gew. 88 or G-88, and sometimes known as the “Commission Rifle”. As the nickname implies, it was designed by a commission, and like the commission that came up with the camel, isn’t exactly what was ordered when the Imperial German Army asked for a horse. The Germans had adopted a product of the genius of Peter Paul Mauser in 1871, and again in 1884 with the Gewehr 71/84, a modification from single-shot to magazine-fed (this magazine being of a tubular variety, under the barrel as with a Winchester). However they tired of paying Mauser the royalties on his patents and decided to go around them, using a pinch of Mauser here, a dash of Mannlicher there (it used a 5-round “en-bloc” clip) and to top it of, a strange sheet-steel barrel jacket which was supposed to dissipate heat from the barrel, but instead tended to attract moisture and cause rust. When Mauser showed up with his much-improved Model of 1898, the German Army was more than happy to put their Commission Rifles into the hands of the second-line Landswehr troops and step up to a much better rifle, one which became the standard by which all others were judged for better than 50 years. Anyway…

The poor old Gewehr 88 performs sterling service in this film, both in the hands of the good guys and the bad guys. Dr. Watson in fact manages to shoot the henchman and wound him with his at a pretty decent range, something which the rifle was well capable of. Since one of the good things about the G-88 was that it introduced the famous 8X57mm Mauser cartridge (Mauser got his revenge there, since he didn’t actually design that round. Besides, it’s really a 7.92mm, or 7.9mm according to the German Army. The 57 stands for how many millimeters long it is), a round which was destined to give birth to virtually all of the military and sporting cartridges of the 20th Century. Even the American 30-06 is a variant, as is the modern 7.62 NATO round.

At any rate, the G-88 and the 8mm cartridge proved to be quite a serviceable combination, far superior to the French 8mm Lebel which it was designed to counter. (In 1886 the French had astounded the world by introducing the first smokeless cartridge, the 8mm Lebel, along with a rifle to go with it. The cartridge was revolutionary, the rifle pedestrian with no mechanical improvement over the German 71/84, but of course the French hung on to it until almost WWII while everyone else went on to much better things, the G-88 being one of them. The Germans, being the premier chemists of the day, weren’t about to let those darned Frenchies get away with stealing a march on them, so they came up with the 8 (or 7.9)X57 cartridge, a rimless bottleneck round which, as I noted above, was the progenitor of most of the military and sporting cartridges of the 20th Century.

Both good and bad guys make excellent use of these venerable old rifles, and I’m willing to bet that this is one of the few films ever made which features them in it. You occasionally see a Broomhandle Mauser here and there (“Young Winston”, for example), or Webley RIC’s (“The Wind and the Lion”), or even 1887 Winchesters (“Terminator II”). Commission Rifles? Not so much. So that’s another point for the film.

I’m not much up on heavy artillery, so other than to say that they looked more like the WWI “Gustav” siege pieces made by Krupp than anything else, and that I think that they were designed in the 1890’s, I’ll give them a pass.

On the other hand, one of the weird “pocket artillery” pieces they used was definitely not around in the 1890’s, or even in the next decade, and that was the “Meinenwerfer” that the bad guys were using. Think “Trench Mortar” with wheels and you’ve got it. On the other hand, I doubt seriously that anyone since the making of “All’s Quiet on the Western Front” has had one in their movie, so what the heck. Maybe the TNT film “The Lost Battalion” with Rick Schroeder? Maybe not even then.

The final cool and wonderful thing is the rather odd “sub-machine gun” with which Dr. Watson arms himself in the German arms factory. What on earth it was supposed to represent is a bit of a mystery, though I have a few ideas.

To begin with, it’s obviously not firing full-sized rifle ammunition, as the top-mounted magazine (real magazine, not a clip, remember!) wasn’t nearly long enough to hold a full-caliber round. On the other hand, such a thing hadn’t been invented yet (though John M. Browning’s first experimental auto-loading pistol, in 1897 went full-auto on him when he tried it out, because he hadn’t thought of a “disconnector” which disconnects the trigger from the hammer sear. See, it’s actually easier to make a fully-automatic weapon than a semi-automatic one, so all of the laws on the books about such things are flat silly.) On the other hand, there is just possibly something that would almost fit the bill, that being…the Danish Madsen machine gun of 1902. The original patents were from 1899, so it does kind of qualify as a 19th Century machine gun, but what Dr. Watson was carrying isn’t precisely a Madsen, either. It looks like a strange bash between a Colt-Browning Model 1895 “Potato Digger” (wonderful name, what? But not something you would want to shoot off-hand), the Madsen and the Italian Villa-Perosa of 1916. Both of the later used the curved, top mounted magazines shown in the film, and the Villa-Perosa used the rather under-powered Italian 9mm rimless cartridge, but hey, it’s only a movie.

I do have to say, though, that the Madsen was one of the wonders of the world, mechanically speaking. Rather like a bumblebee, it really shouldn’t work, since the cartridge should have to “bend” to get from the magazine into the chamber. But they work like a champ, enough so that they’re still in use by Brazilian police when shooting up the slums of Rio. Talk about longevity, they haven’t made a new one since the 1940’s, but they’re still on the job.

Last but not least, I have to mention a quick cameo appearance by the immortal Gatling Gun as well, merrily firing black powder loads at our intrepid heroes. Gotta love it when a scene has firearms spanning half-a-century or more in it, all being used with equal abandon! Makes me feel all gushy inside, I must say.

All told, it’s a really good film from my perspective, with lots and lots of really cool, really arcane, weird and wonderful weaponry in it. Even the Cossack has a cool middle-Asian dagger! They trot out all sorts of unlikely and uninvented pieces for us to enjoy, very Steampunk in that regard, and quite fun. Definitely doing some “anachronisms” of technology by a few years, but it’s not a documentary, so why not? It’s fun, and definitely worth the price of admission. I know I’m planning on getting a copy when it comes out on DVD just so I can see what cool stuff is in the background that I missed!



* The last instance I can recall off-hand of their use was when an American sailor dropped one from the rigging of the Bonhomme Richard on to the deck of HMS Serapis, where it landed in a box of British hand-grenades and pretty much decided the battle. This was in 1778


Saturday, October 8, 2011

SteamCon schedule

Gordon't speaking/moderating schedule at SteamCon 3:

Friday  6-7  19th Century Submarines, Fact and Fiction (moderating)
Saturday 10-noon  19th Century Firearms (this is a "don't miss" talk)
Saturday 1-2 "Steamy Sailors" (moderating)
Sunday  11-noon "Ironclads of the Civil War and the race for Naval Domination"
Sunday  2-3 "Confederate Privateers"

Friday, January 7, 2011

True Grit

I just watched the new film "True Grit" this afternoon, and I am quite impressed with it. Not a "remake" of the 1969 John Wayne film of the same name, but rather a different adaptation of the book into film. The Coen Brothers did a remarkable job in bringing the book to life, and giving the characters a much earthier, more complex depth than the earlier film ever could have done.

Jeff Bridges as Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn does a great job of portraying a down-at-the-heels US Marshal from "Hanging Judge" Parker's court in Fort Smith Arkansas in the 1870's. Not by any means a "nice guy", but rather a former partisan ranger from the Civil War who had ridden with Quantrell at Lawrence, Kansas and probably performed some rather bloody work in the process. A man of few scruples and less patience when it comes to dealing with others of his ilk, he's a hard man, but also one who has the heart to do his absolute utmost to save the young girl's life when it's endangered. His armament of a pair of "Navy Sixes" is most interesting, being his outfit from his Civil War days carried as spares in pommel holsters on his saddle. (Of course they're not actually .36 caliber Navy Colts, but rather the larger .44 Caliber Dragoons, as they are definitely visually more impressive than the smaller, and smaller caliber, Navys.) His primary armament consists of the more modern "cartridge guns", a Colt Single Action Army revolver (probably in .45, one would imagine) and a Winchester '73 Rifle in .44 Winchester Center Fire (Colt had just begun chambering it's revolvers in .44 WCF the year before, so it's doubtful that Mr. Cogburn had managed to get his hands on one so quickly, but you never know).

Mat Damon's character, Le Boef, the Texas Ranger, is rather amusing in many ways. Dressed in rather outlandish getup for Arkansas he styles himself, rather, as a "buckskin cavalier", but is quickly put in his place by young Maddie Ross, the protagonist of the story. She points out that he looks more the "circus clown" than an officer of the law. What is quite nice about this is that he IS dressed outlandishly for that place, but it's a completely, totally period outlandishness which wouldn't have seemed nearly so out of place further West, say in the Rockies or Western Canada, but in Fort Smith Arkansas not so much. By the way, his Sharps Carbine is completely appropriate for a Texas Ranger, as they were issue pieces during the mid-1870's from the State of Texas which was using former US Cavalry weapons.

Maddie (Hailee Steinfield) of course carries her father's cap-and-ball "Colt's Dragoon", a large revolver which constituted Samuel Colt's first major commercial success in 1848-1861's production. Using the same frame as the larger Colt's Walker revolver (1847) purchased by the US Army and issued in the fading days of the Mexican War, the Dragoon is what made Colt a household name throughout the United States (though it was the smaller, handier Navy Model of 1851 which made Colt a household name throughout the world.) Never the less, it would be quite possible for Maddie to have carried such a revolver, it being her father's property, on such an occasion. Though outmoded by the more modern cartridges which had come out in the past 10 years or so prior to our story, it was still considered to be a powerful, reliable side-arm. Though somewhat slow to load due to it's use of "loose ammunition" (powder, ball and cap all placed within or on the cylinder separately) and therefore also somewhat less reliable than cartridges, it was still very much a deadly firearm, and for the first six shots the equal of anything then manufactured. Still is, in fact.

The only other firearm of note is the Remington Model of 1875 Army revolver which Ned Pepper carries. It's nice that he has emblems from playing cards on the grips, indicative of his sobriquet, "Lucky" Ned Pepper. (I also found it amusing that the actor who portrayed "Lucky" Ned Pepper shared the character's last name, he being Barry Pepper. Rather neat.) By the by, his "wooly chaps" were great! Perhaps not a common item in the Indian Territory in the 187o's (being more of a Northern Plains 1880's and later phenomenon) but from the point of view of defining the character from his comrades, quite brilliant. Besides, they LOOK very, very cool.

The horsemanship of the film wasn't too bad, and the horsemanship of Hailee Steinfield is superb. The girl can ride! Good for her, and good for the Coen Brothers for actually casting a girl who can not only act up a storm, but also ride like she was born in the saddle! Bully for them! Also the horse tack was great. Definitely of the period. Perhaps a bit new, perhaps a bit too "cowboy" for some of the characters, but definitely saddlery that was available in the time and place, and therefore further kudo's to the producers and their props and wrangler departments.

One of the things I have to also remark upon is that the shots fired SOUND like real shots being fired from a black-powder weapon, be it cap-and-ball or cartridge. The big, hollow "Whumph!" sound rather than the sharp crack of the modern smokeless blanks that had been so often used (or rather Foleyed in later) is proper, and to me at least adds a great deal to the "feel" of the film.

So there it is. An excellent film, a wonderful Western, and a great character study of people who have determination and indeed, "True Grit".



Sunday, December 5, 2010

Letter from My Grandfather, 1916

I have, among my Mother's affects, a copy of a letter which had been written by her father, Encell Mendel Tener, to his mother on April 24 1916 when he was 19 years old. He had recently joined the US Navy, and was anxious to let the folks at home know what it was like in the Navy. He had followed his Uncle Daniel Mendel into the naval service (it was Daniel who, as a sailor aboard USS Iowa had been the first to spot the Spanish fleet steaming out of Santiago Bay, Cuba on July 3, 1898). The letter itself is quite interesting, giving some details as to life aboard ship, his job and even some details as to the organization of the Navy in general. No doubt this would be classified information today, but in 1916 it was just a letter home, to let the family know what his new life was like, and how he was getting on.

Of note is that he took the entrance exam for the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, and while he did not make it in, he was rapidly promoted during the expansion of the Navy in WWI to the rank of Chief Petty Officer by the age of 21, something rarely seen even in wartime. Obviously he was a very capable young man! It's nice to know something about my own Grandfather in such a time of his life, and that he was respected and well thought of in his chosen profession.

(By the way, the USS New Jersey he speaks of is the "Old New Jersey", BB-16, launched November 10, 1904 and sunk by General Billy Mitchell's bombers in 1923. Also, I've tried to keep the spelling and punctuation as in the original document I have.)

Here's the letter:

USS New Jersey,

Navy Yard, Boston, Mass.,

April 24, 1916.

Dear Mother,

In order that I might uphold the T.L. Lucille gave you for me, I will endeavor, for the benefit of my relations who may be interesting in my life in the Navy, to give a slight description of the Navy, it’s personnel, yards, auxiliaries and maneuvers.

First of all, I will briefly mention Battleships in General. They are divided into four Divisions, viz. First, Second, Third and Fourth, and are classed according to size and age. The first Division ships are the Wyoming, the Fleet flagship, Arkansas, First Division flagship, New York and the Texas. The second Division ships are the Florida, flagship, Delaware, Utah and Michigan. The third Division ships are the New Jersey, flagship, Nebraska Which holds the Red “E” (Efficiency), Virginia and Rhode Island. The fourth Division ships are the Louisiana, flagship, Kansas and Connecticut. Some of the ships in “Ordinary Reserve” are the Georgia, Minnesota and the Mississippi, and a few of the other old rattle traps that the US boasts of as first line battleships.

The ships are very large and compact, but the 1st, 2nd, Division ships are more graceful and speedy than the 3rd and 4th Division ships.

The Arkansas mounts 14-12” guns and some 20 or more 5” secondary defense guns, besides the submerged torpedo tubes and anti air craft guns. The other big ships have the same except that they have less 12” guns than the Arkie. All the big guns are mounted in turrets, two guns in each, and the turrets extend from the main deck to the platform and splinter decks below. In the third Div. ships the guns are somewhat differently arranged, and as we carry only 4 – 12” guns which are mounted in two turrets, one for’d and one aft. The 8” guns are mounted in superposed turrets, (on top of the 12”) and in waist turrets, one on each side of the ship. We have 20 – 6” secondary defense guns and also the torpedo tubes. In the fourth Division they have no super-posed turrets and the 8” guns are mounted in two turrets, on each side of the ship.

The engines on the New Jersey are immense, they are called, Four Cylinder, Triple expansion, inverted, Reciprocating engines. The cylinder dimensions are as follows:

For’d Low Press. 44” Dia.

High 33”

Intermediate 37”

After Low 44” “,

Stroke 48”

Some engines, and their greatest speed is about 125 revs. per minute, which is a little better than 19 knots, but the highest speed we made on our last full power trial was 18.3 knots, but I hardly think she’ll ever make that again.

We are in dry dock now and you can get a very clear idea of her size when you can see all of her that is submerged when afloat; her propellers keel, keelson plates and the heavy armor, with which she is plated.

The daily routine in port for the Engineer’s Force (I will mention that of the Deck force later), begins with “Up all hammocks” at 6.45 A.M. Then breakfast at 7:30, “turn to” at 8:15 and “Knock off” at 11:30. Dinner at 12:00N. and “turn to” again at 1:15 P.M. and “knock off” at 4:00 P.M. First liberty call for Engineer’s Force at 4:30 P.M., and liberty is up at 8:00 A.M. the following morning. Supper is at 6:00 P.M. and “Hammocks” goes at 7:30. You can turn in anytime after hammocks. “First call” goes at 8:55 P.M., “Tattoo” at 9:00 P.M., and last but not least “Taps” at 9:05 P.M., ad after that all must be quiet and everybody but those on watch turned in.

The deck hands arise at the bright and early hour of 5:00 A.M., and immediately upon getting their hammocks stowed perform the arduous task of scrubbing down decks. After that is accomplished they shine bright work until time for breakfast, which is usually a frugal meal, and afterwards they perform their toilet and lounge until 8:15. Then they shine more bright work clean the compartments and clamp down (wet and mop) the decks, then shift into clean clothes for Quarters. I think I forgot to state that the Engineers who are standing auxiliary watch go to Quarters but not those who are turning to. After Quarters the “Swab” resumes his duties, which he hates and no one blames him for his is never thru. The main difference between a “swab” and one of the “Black Gang” is that the latter works hard in his allotted time, but the former never works hard and consequently is never thru. Is work all thru the day is a constant repetition of what he just did a few hours previous to that at which hs is now working, also he may be called upon at any time of the day or night to do any extra work that might happen along, but an Engineer does his four hours watch (underway) and then sleeps and eats for eight hours before he is again called on for his efforts in the propulsion of the ship.

My duties are somewhat different than any of the above. I am in the Log Room (Engineer’s Office), and the Engineer Officer has been pleased with my work and behavior and has recommended be for F1C. It was he who encouraged me to try the Annapolis exam, and since they are over, he has reinstated me in the Log Room instead of putting me below. If he is satisfied, I may say that I am, and that I will do all in my power to uphold my good record.

You have mostly heard me speak of the pleasant side of life in the Navy so far,. But now, in fairness to any make person who might hear this and take it into his head to enlist, let me speak of the other side of the life.

When you have been cruising at some seemingly foolish manouvers for a week or two, and then come into port and not get liberty, when you come into the Navy Yard and have to work from 5:30 A.M., till 3:30 A.M., the next morning to get ready for a board of inspection and survey; and have to work till 6:30 P.M. when you were supposed to go on liberty at 1:30 A.M., these all go on the wrong side of the crew’s ledger. But these are few and the least of many, but the most important of all is the bum Commissary. Oh! what meals he puts out. He is so bad that the Officer of the Deck has to inspect the messes before “Pipe Down” at every meal. It is not so bad all the time, nor in all the ships, but it is most of the time and on most of the ships all the time. The last sentence is meant for emphasis. Does it work?

Some of the most important ports of call of the fleet are New York, Boston, Phila, Norfolk, Old Point, Charlestown S.C., Portland, Santiago, Havanna, Guantanamo Bay, Culebra (U.S.W.I.) and Newport and Black Island, R.I.

We coal again tomorrow and Friday, taking on some 1500 tons of the so called “Black diamonds”. Our total coal capacity is 19,090 tons of coal, but I have seen us coal so much that the fleer plates of the firerooms were piled high with it.

I don’t know as yet how I made out in the exams, but I expect the returns from Washington in about two more weeks. I hope that they are satisfactory, because I’d hate to fail after these hard months of study.

You can see by the difference in the ink that this letter has been written in installments, but I haven’t had the time to write it all at once. The type needing cleaning and I must do that tomorrow, I cleaned the other machine completely today, taking it almost completely apart.

As we have to arise at about 4:30 A.M. tomorrow, I must turn in early tonight because it is one of our busiest days when we coal ship.

Hoping that this letter is not as bad as I think it, I say goodbye, and love to all.

Your affectionate son,


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Wolfman

We went to see the latest incarnation of "The Wolfman" the other night. Not too shabby, though I doubt that it will win any Oscars. Still, a nice little romp through late-Victorian England, complete with Scotland Yard inspectors, Gypsies, and werewolves.

There was certainly lots of nice eye-candy to be seen (and I don't mean the pretty girl, though she was certainly fetching). Among other interesting things was a nice steam-omnibus that got at least a little bit of screen time. There were also some magnificent horses, in the form of Andalusians and Friesians, all of whom were very well trained and handled. It's always nice to see such well mannered horses in films, and not having their faces torn off by idiots actors manhandling the reins. Very nice teams pulling some nice little carriages throughout the film, and a couple of gorgeous saddle horses to.

I was also quite impressed with the costuming and hair. At one point Our Hero Lawrence Talbot (played by Benicio del Toro) was wearing an out fit that I KNOW I have seen in photo's of a famous actor from the late-19th Century wearing. I can't recall if it was Oscar Wilde, Edmund Boothe or another actor, but with a velvet jacket, trilby hat and cape he was the very image of an "actor" of the era. Another excellent bit of period fashion was the doctor in the asylum, with his hair parted down the middle...all the way back to his neck. Not many people would know of that oddity of fashion, and I laud the hair designer for it.

Now for the fun part, my "What Weird Guns Did They Have?" section. I was actually pretty impressed by their armourer's choices, for the most part. Lots of Martini-Henry rifles, as would be expected, since the Martini-Henry was the primary issue service rifle for the British Army and Royal Navy during the period from 1871-1888, with issues continuing well into the 20th Century for some units. That the Metropolitan Police might actually have access to these is quite a reasonable expectation. Interestingly there were also a number of the civilian versions to be seen in the hands of various Werewolf hunters as well.

I thought it very apt that the immediate predecessor of the Martini-Henry in the British service, the Snider-Enfield, was also seen in some numbers in the film. Rifles and carbines both, again in the hands of the civilian Werewolf hunters.

The protagonist and his father of course, being gentlemen, carry their beautiful double guns. Hard to tell whether they are double rifles or double shotguns, but from the thinness of the barrels at the muzzle, I will assume them to be double shotguns. Either way, nice big hunting guns with a sufficient calibre to down most any game one could imagine. They look to be 10- or 12-bore to me, and when loaded with a solid slug (of silver, of course!) they make quite a salutary proposition for defense against a Werewolf. I couldn't tell if they were Holland and Holland, Purdy or some other of the host of superb quality gunsmiths who at one time inhabited the British Isles and produced the highest quality firearms ever made, but the under-lever actions were of the type popular in the 1870's and '80's, definitely within the time period of the rest of the material artifacts of the film.

There were also several other interesting rifles shown here and there. One looked to be either an Alexander Henry single shot or a Farqharson-action single-shot, and another oddly enough looked almost like an American Sharps. Hard to tell with only one viewing though. Maybe I'll get it on DVD when it comes out and edit things to be a bit more coherent (and accurate)!

Heros of course must also have pistols, and they were shown in some abundance and variety. One of the first to be seen is a Patrolman's revolver, an Enfield model of 1878, issued to the British Army in caliber .476. They are an odd sort of break-open design that doesn't actually break open all the way, just enough to drop out the empty rounds and ensure that the rims of the loaded rounds still within the chambers will now drop under the star ejector when it returns and jam up the piece completely. One must pull it apart again and try to pry out the loaded rounds and replace them properly in their chambers after the star ejector has returned back down to it's place before you can then reload and finally shoot the blasted piece. So make sure you fire ALL your rounds before you try to reload it.

The next pistol to be seen is a break-open Webley .455", the good old standard which served the British Army so well from the late-1880's through WWII and beyond. The one shown looked to be a Mk II, with a 6" barrel (which was actually somewhat of a rarity. Most have the 4" barrel). It's hard to tell the difference between a Mk II and the Mk's III, IV and V though, the Mk II having a slight "bump" at the top of the grip behind the hammer to keep your hand from slipping forward under recoil. In fact, I suspect that they used several of the models, because I seem to remember seeing examples both with, and without the "pawl" or bump. At any rate, they are a fine weapon, and head and shoulders above the poor old Enfield .476".

I did catch a few glimpses of a Webley RIC .450" (see my review of "Sherlock Holmes", below), but it was not featured to near the extent that the later, larger break-open Webley's were. Actually however, they were probably more likely to have been seen in the hands of both policemen and civilians in the 1880's than the .455's, but what the heck. I'm just happy to see that they were using period revolvers of the proper nationality, rather than just sticking whatever happened to be in the prop house armoury into the hands of the actors and saying "Action!".

All in all, a fun little romp. Lots of action, a fair amount of shooting, and general mayhem, with fun to be had by all. If nothing else, seeing an homage to the original "Wolfman" film complete with an actor who actually rather LOOKS like Lon Chaney Jr. is worth the price of admission.