7 Apr 20
“The world is moving so fast that we have precious few experts on tomorrow.
All we have are experts on yesterday.”
Gyan Nagpal
First gas-operated, self-loading rifles:
In the early 1900s, Soren H Bang was a well-known Danish gun designer, and his name has been permanently attached to the superannuated “Bang Gas-Trap System” used briefly by self-loading rifles and machineguns of the first half of the Twentieth Century. There were many variations on the theme, but all are collectively called the “Bang System.”
With the invention of progressive-burning smokeless propellant by French chemist, Paul Eugène Vieille in 1884, many innovative thinkers, like Bang, saw instantly that practical self-loading firearms were now possible.
There had been many experiments with self-loading guns using black-powder cartridges, but all failed due to excessive fouling and an unsuitable pressure-curve. Even Hiram Maxim had experimented with black-powder machineguns and subsequently abandoned the project, for the foregoing reasons.
In 1909 and again in 1911, Soren Bang sent copies of rifles (chambered for 30-06) equipped with his new “gas-trap system” system to the US War Department (Springfield Armory) for testing. A sliding cap on the muzzle was pulled forward by high-pressure gas, and this force was transmitted through a wire, to a cam, that opened a rotating bolt and pulled it to the rear.
Bang’s rifles were clever, ran as advertised, but the system was delicate, complicated, and rapidly overheated. Expanding gas at the muzzle cooled too quickly, causing excessive carbon fouling, and once fouled, the system never ran reliably.
The War Department was fascinated, but uninterested!
However when the Great War ended, and John Garand began working on his own self-loading rifle, he was quickly forced to abandoned his first idea, a dubious primer-actuated system that used a moving primer as a “piston.”
The War Department had no enthusiasm for primers that, by design, backed-out!
Ordnance officers subsequently urged Garand look at Bang’s system.
He did, designed an improved iteration, and this led to an early “gas-trap version” of the Garand Rifle.”
An obvious alternative to “trapping” gas after the bullet exits the muzzle was simply to drill a hole in the barrel and tap high-pressure gas into an expansion chamber, with a piston and op-rod at the other end, all prior to the bullet exiting.
Yet, ordinance officers were reluctant to drill holes in barrels, believing such holes would quickly overheat and enlarge. That concern ultimately proved unwarranted.
So, first-production Garand rifles use a bulky “gas-trap” system on the muzzle.
Gas-trap systems were also simultaneously found on the German G41, (Gewehr 41), and the French St. Étienne Mle 1907 machine-gun.
But, the Bang System, in all its variations, never worked satisfactorily, not in Germany, nor France, nor the USA!
The Garand was changed-over to a gas-port system in 1941. What few “Gas-Trap Garands” that had been manufactured were subsequently converted to the new system.
The German G41 was quickly superceded by the gas-port G43
The French Mle 1907 was replaced with the far more reliable Hotchkiss Mle 1914
And so, the “Bang System” abruptly faded into military ordnance history, a fate shared by so many other outwardly ingenious concepts!
Soren H Bang deserves much credit as a innovative, progressive-thinking pioneer, but like so many other design geniuses, his wares enjoy scant legacy today.
“So, if you’ve a date in Constantinople
She’ll be waiting in Istanbul”
From “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” written in the 1950s by Jimmy Kennedy, music by Nat Simon. Best-known rendition is by The Four Lads, from August of 1953