This is a re-post of a piece that originally appeared on Chris Horton's Mindful Musings blog in April, 2008, the link to which is no longer functioning. In doing the previous post on "Bandoleer Miscellany," I realized that I needed to fix that problem. Here it is.
'Juden haben waffen!'
"I, myself, remained on the balcony and fired at the confused and embarrassed Germans with my Mauser. From my balcony, I could see them in all their helplessness and their loss of control. The air was full of wails and shouts. Many of them tried to run to the walls of the houses for cover but everything was barred and beyond that, death was pursuing them. In the noise, the fluster, and the cries of the wounded, we heard the astonished outcry of one of the Germans: 'Juden haben waffen! Juden haben waffen!' ('The Jews have arms!') . . .
The battle lasted for about a half an hour. The Germans withdrew and there were many corpses and wounded in the street." -- Recollection of the opening engagement on 19 April 1943 of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Haim Frymer, Jewish Fighting Organization, quoted in Resistance by Israel Gutman, New York, 1994, pp. 206-207.
"Juden haben waffen!"
Imagine the dying Nazi's surprise. 65 years ago this month, in the middle of the Holocaust, some young Jews decided to resist. In the event, the forces of the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) totaled a mere 500 combatants, armed mostly with a motley collection of pistols and revolvers with perhaps 10 to 15 rounds per man. Each fighter also was issued four or five hand grenades, mostly homemade. The ZOB also had some 2,000 Molotov cocktails, 10 rifles (including the one wielded by Haim Frymer) and one or two submachine guns that had been taken from the Germans. Yet the ZOB and another smaller group of Jewish fighters (the ZZF) inflicted significant casualties on the Nazis and held out for over a month. As Gutman's book concludes, "In the darkest hours of the Warsaw ghetto, when all hope was lost, when none had a chance to survive and the end was certain, young Jews arose to fight. They chose to die in freedom rather than cower before an overpowering enemy. They refused to surrender, preferring instead to fight to the death and thus preserve their honor even when they could no longer defend their lives."
Every American concerned about the preservation of his or her own liberty should study Dr. Gutman's work on the Uprising and consider the cruel choices forced upon the Warsaw Jews by their lack of arms. Certainly those Jews who survived the war and who wished to carve a homeland out of the British Mandate in Palestine understood the fundamental lesson of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: if you wish to be free, you must be armed, provisioned and trained to fight.
In September, 1945, Phil Alper, a young American college graduate met with a man named Haim Slavin, who had been sent to the United States by David Ben Gurion on a secret mission.
"With nothing in your hands, morale goes down fast."
Alper sat down on the only chair in the tiny room and waited expectantly to find out why he was there. His friend had left. Slavin had perched himself on the edge of the bed and was regarding him intently. Finally, speaking in hesitant English, Slavin asked Alper about himself . . . Learning that Alper was a graduate engineer, Slavin nodded his approval. That was what he needed, he said, a technical man. Alper paused, hoping to hear what sort of technical work would be expected of him, but instead Slavin began to talk about himself. He had emigrated to Palestine from Russia in 1924, he said, and gone to work for the Palestine Electric Corporation. He had been working on an isolated hydroelectric station when the Arab riots of 1929 broke out. 'We were surrounded there,' he recalled, 'maybe seven hundred people, and all our protection was six hand grenades.' Quickly taking over, Slavin sent a few men to Haifa to get pipe fittings and explosives. Then he put the men to work stuffing each two-inch pipe section with dynamite and a four-second fuse. Several hundred of the homemade hand grenades were made and distributed to the scattered farm settlements in the area. 'Of course, it was a very simple thing,' Slavin explained, 'but still, to give the people courage, it was good. If you are holding something in your hands, it can do for your courage more than anything. With nothing in your hands, morale goes down fast.' . . . Slavin's mission to the United States, he gravely told Alper, was to somehow acquire and ship to Palestine the machinery necessary to set up a small-arms industry. Then the Jews there would manufacture the weapons to protect themselves right inside the country. Slavin wanted Alper to help him get the information, the know-how . . . Alper had listened quietly to the old man's recital and he hardly knew what to say. 'I thought it was crazy,' Alper recalls. - The Pledge, Leonard Slater, New York, 1970, pp 32-34.
Crazy or not, Alper agreed to go to work for Slavin, and the machines that he helped smuggle out of the U.S. eventually were used to crank out the signature weapon of the new Israeli state: the Uzi submachine gun. How Alper and other Americans, Jewish and Gentile alike, helped procure and smuggle the sinews of war halfway across the world to the new state of Israel is the subject of Leonard Slater's equally brilliant book, The Pledge. That they were successful is a fact of history, though the odds were long and the risks were great when it was happening. Few indeed have ever heard of the private American underground effort to arms the Jews of Palestine. Slater's work is its only history, its sole valedictory.
The published histories of the Israeli struggle for nationhood would barely mention the American underground. Its members would slip back into the routine of everyday life, their exploits remembered only by themselves and their immediate colleagues of those days, whom -- in many cases -- they never saw again. . . While it was happening, nobody knew everything; everybody who got involved -- Jew, Gentile, Zionist, non-Zionist -- gave something. Thousands participated, responding unquestioningly in many small ways, feeling that they were a part of whatever it was that was going on. -- The Pledge, p. 321.
Five years, almost to the day, after the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, the independent state of Israel was declared on 14 May 1948 by men and women who had learned its bitter lessons. I was reminded of those lessons just yesterday by a simple little strip of fabricated steel. Or rather, by its absence.
"Strippers and Bandos"
"Packaging is everything." -- Mae West
So let's talk about strippers. No, I'm not talking about buxom women who take off their clothes for money. I'm talking about ammunition stripper clips, defined as follows:
Clip: (n.) A device used to rapidly load a magazine. "Clip" is often used to refer to a magazine, but this is an improper use of the term. There are two kinds of clips: Stripper clips and en bloc clips.
Stripper clip loading.
Stripper clips hold 5 to 10 rounds of ammunition by their bases. To load the magazine, the clip is placed in a guide which is either a part of the gun, or a separate guide which slips onto the magazine. Weapons which may be loaded from stripper clips include the Lee-Enfield series of rifles, Mosin-Nagant Rifles, the M1903 Springfield, and the Mauser 1898. The Steyr-Hahn M1911 and Mauser "Broomhandle" semiautomatic pistols also use stripper clips. Stripper clips are also called "chargers."
Loading a Broomhandle Mauser with stripper clip.
En bloc clips hold the cartridges together by their bases and their bodies; the clip and the rounds are inserted into the magazine as a unit. When the last round is loaded, the clip is automatically ejected from the magazine. Weapons loaded with en bloc clips include the Steyr-Mannlicher straight pull bolt action, the Mannlicher-Carcano rifles, and the US M1 Garand. (In the M1, the clip is ejected up after the last round is fired.) -- David S. Markowitz, A Glossary of Firearms Technology
Garand en bloc clip.
The en bloc clip was invented by Mannlicher in 1885. The "charger", or in modern gunnie parlance, the "stripper," was invented by Paul Mauser four years later. Prior to the removable box magazine, the stripper was the fastest way to load a repeating rifle. When packaged with other strippers in a simple cloth bandoleer, it also facilitated the distribution of ammo to troops at the point of contact. From the Battle of Bunker Hill in the American Revolution to the massacre of Durnford's Natal Native Horse cavalrymen by the Zulus at Isandlwana to the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto, ammunition availability has decided more than one battle. Even today, as fighting rages in Basra, Iraq, Malcolm Nance reports:
Roggio continues to emphasize that Sadr's forces have taken heavy casualties, and more to the point is low on ammunition. He surveys the action not only in Basra, but in Baghdad and Nasiriyah and notes that the fighting has died down. One characteristic of militia forces is that they are not configured for sustained combat. They fight with ready-use ammo and some caches. -- Malcolm Nance, Comments on the campaign against Sadr, at Small Wars Journal.
But with the invention of the stripper clip/bandoleer combination, rifle ammunition could be packed in small, portable containers (originally of wood, then of steel and today of durable plastics), transported to troops and then easily distributed to riflemen on the line. Slung over an infantryman's shoulder, bandoleers of stripper clips constitute his ready reserve of ammunition. Indeed, if but one shooter is able to cross an enemy's field of fire to get into an advantageous firing position, his buddies can keep him shooting by tossing bandos (as the Aussies call them) across the danger space. Even the appearance of the box magazine has not made obsolete the use of stripper clips, because they are still used to load the magazines before, during and after combat by means of a stripper clip guide which fits over the back of the magazine.
The U.S. military has fielded stripper clips in bandos since World War I, when the Springfield M1903 was fed with 6 pocket (two 5 round stripper clips of .30-06 per pocket) cloth bandoleers. When the Garand was adopted with its 8-round en bloc clip, the same bandoleers were used, the only difference being the shape of the cardboard insert that keeps the clips from rattling as the infantryman moves about the battlefield.
(In proof of Mae West's assertion that packaging is everything, the fact that the bolt-action Springfield, the en-bloc semi-auto Garand, the magazine fed Browning Automatic Rifle and the belt-fed M1919A4 light machine gun all used the same .30-06 caliber cartridge did not always matter to the GI combat infantryman. On Bataan in early 1942, those infantrymen who had been issued the new Garand rifle had to police the battlefield to pick up empty en bloc clips so they could be reloaded with Springfield cartridges of Great War vintage. Likewise, the tankers of the 192nd Light Tank Battalion had to save and reload the cloth belts of their co-axial and top-mounted M191A4 machine guns. In Korea, BAR men often had to strip rounds out of Garand clips and, as often, riflemen had to reload their scavenged en-bloc clips from machine gun belts or 5-round strippers. This is not something you wanted to have to do in the middle of a fight, although that often happened. As Haim Slavin told the young Phil Alper, "With nothing in your hands, morale goes down fast." And an empty rifle in the middle of a firefight is indeed "nothing in your hands." In truth, packaging IS everything.)
The M-1 Carbine, adopted in 1942, used a box magazine which was topped off by means of ammunition in stripper clips which included an integral guide which slid down to engage the back of the mag.
Once again, six-pocket bandos were used, with 2 ten-round strippers per pocket. When the M-14 was adopted, we reverted to the five round stripper clip in six-pocket bandoleers, two strippers per pocket. The bandoleers fielded with the M-16 rifle in Vietnam were seven pockets, two 10 round strippers per pocket.
M16 5.56 NATO ammunition in stripper clips and bandoleer.
Like the M-14s, each M16 bandoleer had a stripper clip guide tucked inside to facilitate loading the 20-round box magazines they used. Later, after the adoption of the 30-round box magazine for the M-16, 4-pocket (three strippers per pocket) bandoleers were issued which were larger, with a loosely-sewn string running across the bando creating what seems to be superfluous fabric of no particular use. But if you pull the white string that separates the two sections, you can then put loaded 30 round mags into the pockets instead of the stripper clips. Thoughtfully, the bandoleers even come with a black safety pin through the straps which can be used to attach your stripper clip guide to the bando and to adjust the length of the strap that goes over your shoulder.
M16 stripper clip guide, also called a "charger."
The loaded bandoleers were then packed in steel M2A1 ammunition cans (known as a "fifty cal" can) and two cans were wrapped in a wire-bound crate.
Putting ammo cans in crates is extremely helpful in storing and transporting them to soldier level. In the 90s, back when Russian and Chinese wooden ammo crates were plentiful, we used to repack the ammo in those ComBloc "tuna cans" (which were so slow and hard to open with that oversize, clunky "P-38") into U.S. "thirty cal" steel ammo cans and US M16 bandoleers. You could get 140 rounds 7.62x39 ball per bandoleer, 2 bandoleers per can, and 2 cans per crate. Total: 560 rounds per wooden crate. It was a package that was stackable in storage and easily portable but instantly available for tactical use and distribution. (We also used the 7-pocket 5.56mm bandos to hold 5-round boxes of twelve gauge buckshot and slugs -- 35 rounds per bandoleer, 70 rounds per can, 140 rounds per case. And that's about as tactical as you're going to get 12 gauge shells.)
"It's deja vu all over again."
There is a great photo of an IRA patrol in the streets of Dublin at the opening of the Irish Civil War which can be found on the cover of Tim Pat Coogan's definitive work, The IRA. It shows hard-faced men in civilian mufti -- battered fedoras and plain trench coats -- carrying .303 Short Model Lee Enfields in their hands with bandoleers of stripper-clipped ammunition across their shoulders. That's it. Just one rifle and one bandoleer per man. No uniform, no web gear, no canteen, no entrenching tool -- all the easier to shoot, scoot and dump arms, appearing in the next street as an innocent civilian. The photo reminds us of the minimal equipment necessary to equip urban guerrillas.
About two feet behind me as I type these words sits a large green memento of the days when the Clintonista Democrats called the legislative shots in this country. It is a wooden shipping container marked on each end: "20/114Kg". 20 indicates the quantity of items within. 114 kilograms was the weight. It is a Chinese SKS rifle shipping box. I use it as a book case now, but back during Sarah Brady's heady days of the Assault Weapons Ban, it was just one of hundreds of thousands of such cases flooding into this country. In a perfect example of the Law of Unintended Consequences, the American people responded to the gun controllers' high water mark by negating it with their wallets. Along with those several millions of military semi-auto rifles -- most of them SKS's -- billions of rounds of ammunition -- most of it 7.62x39 rifle ammo in 10 round SKS stripper clips -- were likewise purchased and salted away in basements, gun safes, closets, and yes, clandestine caches all over the nation.
Many aftermarket large-capacity magazines have been produced for the SKS in the intervening years, but none of them, in my experience, worked reliably. Nothing has proven as trustworthy as the original 10 round internal magazine, fed by those long curved sheet metal stripper clips as seen in the illustration above. And reliability, as much as accuracy or volume of fire, is the hallmark of an effective military semi-auto rifle. Which brings us to that old Yogi Berra observation, "It's deja vu all over again."
SKS stripper clips awaiting reloading.
Yesterday I had to go to my daughters' high school soccer game in the eastern part of Alabama. I got an early start and stopped at gun stores and military surplus stores along the way. I was looking for some small items, but I was also taking a survey -- checking the lay of the gunnie land as we find it in this turbulent political season. All along the way I asked this question: "Do you have any SKS strippers in stock?" And you know what? Nobody did. Everybody I asked had stocked them. And each and every one of them were out. "You must be the fifth or sixth guy who been in here this week looking for 'em," one store owner told me. "I can't keep 'em in stock." In the past month he's sold several hundred of the little metal strips, maybe a thousand, he said. In case your math skills are weak, that's 10,000 rounds of 7.62x39 rifle ammunition being put back -- out of just one small gun store in a sparsely populated section of Alabama. The great grandsons of yeoman farmers are buying lots of SKS and AK-47 ammunition these days and combat packing it like there's no tomorrow.
So what, you ask? Well, it's just this. You don't need stripper clips to go plink with your SKS at the range. You can feed those little Russian "Wolf pups" into the magazine one at a time from a box of twenty loosely packed rounds. You only NEED strippers with an SKS if you intend to take it and yourself into harm's way, where you will desperately need every fraction of a second you can give yourself when reloading under fire. Ten bucks will get you twenty that all these strippers are being loaded with full metal jacket ammo, carefully wrapped in silencing cardboard sleeves and loaded into bandoleers. They are being salted away in surplus GI ammo cans for "if, as and when."
Loading an SKS with stripper clip.
This is being done by Americans who instinctively know the lessons of the Warsaw ghetto without ever having read a book about it. They are girding themselves, just as the American arms underground prepared the way for the founding of the state of Israel, with the sinews of war. Robbed of a presidential candidate whom they trust with their liberties, they are voting with their wallets in the one way they know that their opinions may someday, in extremis, be heard. Distrusting the ballot box from long experience at being sold out by both parties and unable, thanks to liberal media bias, to effectively utilize either the soapbox or the newspaper box, they are turning once again -- twice now in 15 years -- to the cartridge box. In the 90's, the Clintonistas blinked. There were no more Wacos. What happens this time -- what the future will bring -- is anyone's guess. I suppose that it depends upon two things: how prepared we are and how arrogant, stupid and grasping the incoming administration is. If they aren't students of history, they may end up writhing about in fear and pain on some bloody street, screaming in shock and confusion, "Juden haben waffen!" Or words to that effect.