by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

The history of airguns

Airguns as military trainers

This report covers:

  • The first trainers
  • Model trains
  • Bayonet
  • World War II
  • MacGlashan Aerial Gunnery trainer
  • Hakim
  • Quick Kill
  • What else?
  • Many connotations

I was going to report on several military trainers today and it dawned on me that maybe we don’t all think of them in the same way. What is a military trainer? Why do they exist? Or, do they have more than one purpose? Once we better understand what they are, my future reports will make more sense.

The first trainers

The earliest military trainers are probably the half-scale muskets that officers had custom-made for their sons. I mentioned this in an earlier report. They were smaller than the muskets they resembled, but very close copies. They existed for multiple purposes. First, they were to allow the boy to learn the manual of arms while holding something very heavy and real. Second, they allowed the boy to shoot with a suitably sized weapon. And finally, I believe these trainers were talismans that the fathers wanted their sons to get used to holding — like batons of office. Don’t overlook the importance of that. It’s like a cowboy father getting his son his first pair of working boots. It’s a small rite of passage.

Model trains

What do model trains have to do with guns? Not much, except the concept of train models shows us that people can enjoy the technology even when they cannot own it or use it directly. Such is the case with airguns and firearms. In World War I the public was very interested in the technology of war, though they didn’t care for the war, itself. Tinplate models of early tanks powered by clockwork mechanisms rumbled around little boys’ bedrooms. And Daisy’s Number 40 military model that came out during WW I (1916) had a bayonet and looked similar to the Springfield rifle of the day. It sold for $5 at a time when most BB guns were less than half that. Daisy thought it just looked like five dollars.

Daisy 40
Daisy’s Number 40 military model came with a bayonet and sling.

Bayonet

The Number 40 came with a blunt metal bayonet. It had a rubber tip, but could still do damage if used incorrectly. Naturally parents removed the bayonets and stored them for safekeeping, so most Number 40s today are missing them. There has been a brisk aftermarket trade in the reproduction of bayonets over the past 40 years, so it pays to know what the real deal looks like. It can double the value of a gun, while a repop just makes the gun look nicer.

World War II

Not to be outdone, Daisy made a very few Number 140 Defender BB guns in 1942. These had a bolt handle that doubled as an automatic safety, and they came with a web sling. No bayonet, though. Daisy learned their lesson years before!

I think it odd that Daisy stuck to the bolt action design, despite the tremendous national fascination with the semiautomatic Garand. But perhaps they felt that rifle was too difficult to copy at the time.

Daisy 140 Defender
Daisy’s Number 140 Defender was so realistic that it had a fake bolt handle that was an automatic safety. It also had a web sling, but no bayonet because Daisy had learned!

Both these Daisys were civilian models that sold because of their military styling. There weren’t real military trainers. No military units had them for any purpose. They just fall into the trainer category because of their appearance. So appearance is another way to categorize a military training airgun.

In writing this short explanation of airguns that are classified as military but never were, I am bypassing a good many other airguns that also look military but were made strictly for the civilian market. The Webley Mark II Service rifle that had interchangeable barrels in the 3 popular pellet calibers (.177, .22 and .25) is one example that comes to mind. In the case of the Mark II Service, even the name was suggestive of a military connection!

Webley Mark II Service
Webley Mark II Service looks military and even has the right name.

The Mark II Service cocks and fires like the Webley air pistols. It is beyond quaint-looking and has been on my bucket list for over 20 years. If I ever find one I can afford, I will do a series of reports for you.

In Germany, Haenel made their model 28 air pistol that resembles a Luger. Everyone seeing one for the first time just assumes it had a military application. I have even read articles that suggest such a use, though I have never found any evidence to support that theory.

Haenel pistol
I bought this well-worn Haenel model 28 pistol just because I liked the feel. Most people classify it as a military trainer and Luger substitute, though there is no evidence it was ever used that way.

I have owned a couple Haenel model 28s and can tell you they weigh more than the Luger they resemble. They are made from steel parts and have a heft that strongly suggests a military origin. However, as much as Haenel must have wanted that, I have never found a connection with any military activity and this air pistol.

MacGlashan Aerial Gunnery trainer

Then there are the airguns that really were built as trainers for the military. One popular model that comes up often is the MacGlashan aerial gunnery trainer used by the Army Air Corps in World War II to teach basic gunnery skills to new airmen. Designed and built by Paul MacGlashan in Long Beach, California, the MacGlashans were meant to resemble the .30 caliber Browning 1919A4 Light Machine Gun.

MacGlashan
This MacGlashan E3 is set to fire electrically.

They fired BBs automatically at a cyclic rate of 300-500 rpm, depending on the air pressure used. They could be set up to fire either manually with a realistic butterfly trigger or by electric solenoid.

MacGlashans are popular among airgun collectors because they are relatively easy to put into service. They cost very little to shoot because the ammo is BBs, which is always a plus for a full-auto gun.

MacGlashans are but one of many airgun trainers used by U.S. forces during World War II. Others, like the “Hotpoint” from the Edison General Electric Appliance Company, shot larger .375-caliber Bakelite balls that are not so easy to find today. The Hotpoint copies the popular Browning M2 heavy machine gun, and is very nearly the same size! This one is a collectible that doesn’t get used as much.

Hakim

After the war, Egypt purchased the design rights and the manufacturing tooling for the Swedish AG-42 Ljungman semiautomatic rifle. The Swedes built it in their own 6.5 Mauser caliber, but the Egyptians, having come into a host of abandoned 8mm Mauser ammo, decided to convert it to fire that round. Thus was born the gun many call the Egyptian Garand.

The Swedes sent technical personnel to Egypt to assist with the construction of the factory and possibly consult on the modification of the rifle. All I know for certain is the Hakim rifle design is advanced from the Ljungman.

In 1954 the Egyptians contracted with Anschütz to build 2800 .22-caliber underlever pellet rifle trainers for their new Hakims. They also contracted with Beretta to make a 10-shot semiautomaic .22 rimfire trainer that’s still on my bucket list. The trainer was to teach basic rifle marksmanship to soldiers without the cost of full power battle ammo.

Hakim
The Hakim trainer was made in 1954 by Anschütz. It’s a single shot underlever spring piston rifle.

Quick Kill

We shouldn’t leave this subject without mentioning the Daisy Quick Kill program of the Viet Nam War. This trainer is an example of a gun that followed a novel approach to training. Instinct Shooting has never been a military program in this country, and indeed, it isn’t one today. But in Viet Nam our soldiers were encountering ambushes unlike any they were used to.

Once they analyzed the threat, the military developed training to “beat the ‘bush.” Soldiers were trained to attack directly into the oncoming fire — a highly unnatural response, yet one that met with initial success. Instinct shooting was needed to teach the soldier to shoot without relying on his sights, which was necessary for this tactic to work.

Once the enemy recovered from the initial shock of being attacked by their targets, however, they learned to mine and boobytrap the ground between them and their targets and beating the bush turned back on the attackers. Instinct shooting training passed into history, and airgun collectors began snapping up the thousands of special Daisy model 2299 models Daisy made for this purpose.

We have just looked a a few training airguns that were used by the military. There are many more from countries around the world. And I will show you some of those in future history reports. But the question is — have we covered the subject of military trainers thoroughly yet? I think not.

What else?

There is one more category of trainer that needs to be addressed. It is those airguns that were used by the military in a semi-official role. There was no plan for them like there was for the MacGlashan and the Hakim. They simply filled a need when the military looked around for something they lacked.

We see this a lot in the rimfire world. The U.S. Army bought up tens of thousands of Mossberg bolt action target rifles when they entered WW II and discovered they hadn’t kept pace in the training rifle department. The M2 Springfield was a purpose-built target rifle built on the 1903 Springfield receiver (initially) and converted to use the much smaller .22 long rifle cartridge. The Army used the M2 and the 1922 that preceded it in the decades leading up to WW II, but when the size of the force expanded by several orders of magnitude in a short time, there weren’t enough M2s to go around. So Mossberg, who happened to have some target models that were reasonably priced, was contacted.

The British military was even farther out of touch in the target rifle department, so they tacked on thousands more sales to the U.S. Army requirements. I’m sure the management at Mossberg was dancing in the streets.

But there were no airgun trainers at this time. In the 1960s the U.S. Air Force would buy several hundred Crosman model 160s target rifles to use a trainers, but in 1941 there was nothing like that.

As long as we are talking about other military applications for airguns, though, I would be remiss if I did not point out the OSS purchase of several hundred Crosman 101 pneumatic rifles and one million rounds of .22-caliber lead balls for purposes they never revealed. Conspiracy theorists have guessed they were used for silent assassinations — the OSS being the nastier parent of the CIA.

Crosman-101
The Crosman 101 pneumatic rifle was purchased by the OSS during WW II for purposed that have never been specified.

Others have guessed the rifles were gifts for tribal chieftains in the southeast Asian jungles. They would be formidable foraging guns.

Many connotations

Today we have looked at the many different definitions of a military trainer. Now that you understand these definitions, the subject should seem easier to understand when we encounter it again.