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Pyrotechnic Signal Pistols and Cartridges


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I thought I would start a thread on pyrotechnics and hope others can add to it. My focus is on individual type distress signals/hand projectors etc.. that were developed during WWII.

 

A basic description of pyrotechnics is the burning of fuels and compounds to produce certain visual effects. A basic history of pyrotechnics that I have found starts back just before the Civil War. The US Navy bought a patent for a distress signal for communication that came in various colors invented by a lady named Martha Coston. These signal flares were used to some effect during the Civil War. It really wasn't till the first World War that pyrotechnics were found valuable. Trench warfare brought upon the demand for better communication systems other than phone lines and semaphore flags in which flares were found very satisfactory to get the job done.

 

After the war the research and development into pyrotechnics fell. It was not until the necessities of the Second World War when the development began again. Most pyrotechnics used going into WWII were large and ship installed equipment.

 

Air Sea Rescue was the game of the day. Pyrotechnics had to be streamlined to be adequate for use by survivors.

Flares or Very signals were very ineffective at that time. The US Navy and USAAF were using road type flares that did not function well when they got wet and sometimes not at all! The other being Very pistols and Very shells but these required a good amount of space to house this tool, plus the cost was high for the production of these pistols to be a standard stocked item in all life rafts and boats.

 

A signal flare commonly used by the US Navy during the pre war and entering the war years was a called the Friction Ship Signal Light. This flare was hand held and was basically a road flare included in all life boats and carried as an individual item. These lights came in two colors red or blue, red being more attributed to emergency use. This light handle is about 5 inches long and about 4 1/2" of candle. The first picture is a drawing of an example of this particular light.

 

The next photo is a 5 minute fusee flare used by the AAC included in early back pad kits and raft kits.

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The last two posts are what was the standard for Air Sea rescue signaling for life rafts and emergency kits other than Very pistols that I hope someone else could show examples:

M-2

AN-M-8

M-9

Mark 3

M-5

for the Very pistols

 

The signal lights or flares were quickly dropped by the USN and the HC grenade was standard till late 1944 being replaced by the distress smoke hand signal AN MK-1 MOD-0. The M8 HC grenades greatest drawback was size. The Navy Bureau of Ordnance began a search for better air sea rescue signals beginning in 1942 and with the help from the company Aerial Products devised a suitable replacement originally dubbed the Mae West grenade. Original designs were of two sizes, one for life rafts and the other to be carried on the life vest. The large size was dropped in favor of the compact size.E experimental quantities were available in June 1944 with large contracts awarded in July 1944. This new smoke signal replaced all HC smoke grenades in use on life rafts and was intended to be carried as pilots personal gear. Later it was adopted by the AAF in circa Dec. 1944 adopting the new MK-1 MOD-1 smoke signal. The exact modification I do not know as the outer carton is identical. The change must be with the guts. This new signal was slightly under 4" and only 1 5/8" in diameter weighing 4 1/2 onces compared to the HC M-8's 1.68 pounds. It emitted an orange smoke which is much more visible as it contrasted the background vs. the HC M-8's grey/white had a tendency to blend in. Two were issued as personal equipment.

 

This is an example from my collection of the MK-1 MOD-1:

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In 1942 the Bureau of Ordnance developed a new Hand Projector type MK-3 to supplement Very pistol types and to be included as a standard item in life rafts and emergency equipment. This new Hand Projector is 5 5/8" in length and weighs 6.5 ounces. It fires the Mark 2 10 gauge Very signal packaged in a waterproof container with six red Very signals. This item was carried in all life rafts and emergency equipment containers such as back pad kits and was never adopted by the AAF. The shells were supplied in molded capsules of cellulose acetate taped closed and wax coated. This kit was a general stocked item beginning in Feb. 1943 and issued to individuals for carrier night operations.

 

The Mk-3 was a short lived version being replaced by the MK-4. From first glance there is no difference.The main feature variance is that the MK-3's barrel is threaded and screwed on to the base whereas the Mk-4 used lugs to secure. The other feature variance is the safety mechanism. The MK-3 has a clip attached to a lanyard and the Mk-4 has a swivel spacer.

 

Pictured is the MK-4 hand projector:

 

The Mark 2 Very signal resembles a 10 gauge shotgun shell which burns for about 7 seconds at 300 candle power with a range of about 200 feet

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Signaling was most important for Air Sea rescue work. At the time the Bureau of Ordnance was developing the MK-1 MOD-1 which was sufficient for daytime. The AAF was looking at a distress signal for nighttime. Presented to them from the Royal Air Force was their distress signal two star red Mark 1. This new signal is 5" in length 3/4" in diameter weighing 6 ounces. It worked on the same principle as the roman candle shooting out two red stars burning for 6 seconds at a height of 125 feet. Adopted by the AAF in the middle 1944 as the Distress Signal, two-star, red T-49. Later it was re-designated as the M-75. This item was supplied in AAF raft kits and replaced the 5 minute fusee in the C-1 vest also issued to individual airman.

 

In approximately April 1945 the USN adopted the signal to replace the Hand Projector and added two of these to the pilot personal equipment list. So naval airman would carry two of each MK-1 MOD-1 and M-75.

 

The M-75's come packed in a waterproof package.

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The items described so far are oriented for individual use. I have been trying to convey the evolution of personal pyrotechnics used during WWII. The HC M-8 was replaced by the MK-1 MOD-0 or 1, the Hand Projector replaced the Very pistol, then M-75 etc..

 

During 1945 it was requested that the two signals MK-1 MOD-1 and M-75 be combined. As you may of noticed earlier Naval personnel were carrying four distress signals, two day and two night. The combination was to become the MK-13 MOD-0 distress day and night signal built on the same functioning principles as the the M-75 and Mk-1 but housed in one canister. The new signal allowed the use of one signal and being able to save the other for later use. This new signal was adopted in Aug 1945 although not used during WWII. Experimental quantities did exist before hostilities ended. The MK-13 MOD-0 is 5" in length, 1 5/8" in diameter and weighs 7 ounces. This new flare replaced all previous signal devices included in aircraft, life rafts, signal kits, and personal equipment. It was essentially the end all these flares and is even being used today.

 

1945 dated examples do exist although scarce. The two in my collection are 1947 dated.

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I thought I would try and clear up the differences between the Mk-3 and 4 Hand Projectors. Unfortunately I do not have one in my collection. This is a photo from Breuninger's book with the MK-4 on the left and the MK-3 on the right, although it is stated otherwise in the book. Just an error on the editing part. From the picture you can see the main distinguishing features but what you cannot see is the threaded barrel on the Mk-3.

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I thought I would try and clear up the difference between the Mk-3 and 4 hand projector unfortunately I do not have one in my collection.This is a photo from breuningers book with MK-4 on left and MK-3 on right though it is stated otherwise in book just an error on the editing part.From the picture you can see the main distinguishing features but what you cannot see is the threaded barrel on the Mk-3

 

A point to keep in mind... If you own either of these projectors, keep it quiet and do not display them in public. Because they will accept a commercial shotgun shell, they are considered "sawed off shotguns" by the ATF. One of the guys in our living history group is a Pittsburgh homicide detective. He worked a case where a Vet used one of these projectors to shoot his boss. Besides the murder charges, he was also charged with possessing an illegal firearm.

 

That being said, I still wish I had one for my M592 display.

 

Tom thumbsup.gif

Learn to ride hard, shoot straight, dance well and so live that you can, if necessary, look any man in the eye and tell him to go to Hell! US Cavalry Manual, 1923

WWII APS

 

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**PLEASE NOTE: THIS COMMUNITY MEMBER HAS SADLY PASSED AWAY**

 

 

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Here is a pretty nice grouping of the M8 flare gun, holster and three of the scarce, double star, cartridges for the gun, all different. The smaller 3 cartridges, minus their plastic cases, are for the M4 projector mentioned earlier in this post. Btw. Anyone with the guts to fire a shotgun shell in an M4 projector, must have hands/arms of steel. The recoil would be pretty brutal.

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"No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb, bastard die for his country" George Pattons speech to the Third Army.

 

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Here is an Ground, Amber Star, Prachute, M21A1, with shipping tube. I also took a trashy one of these apart and made an inert cutaway, which is located to the right of the tube.

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"No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb, bastard die for his country" George Pattons speech to the Third Army.

 

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If you own either of these projectors, keep it quiet and do not display them in public. Because they will accept a commercial shotgun shell, they are considered "sawed off shotguns" by the ATF. Tom


Hi Tom:

I have to disagree with you on this topic. Unmodified signal projectors are not considered "firearms" by the Treasury Department. The following is an Revenue Ruling opinion from the IRS on this subject. While the opinion addresses tax issues, its reasoning is persuasive and would be hard for the BATFE to avoid. I personally would have no concerns about possessing unmodified signal projectors.

"Internal Revenue Service
Revenue Ruling
Rev. Rul. 70-10
1970-1 C.B. 227
IRS Headnote

Sales of signal pistols, rocket signals, miniflares, and cartridges for use in such devices, are not subject to the manufacturers tax.

Rev. Rul. 70-10

Advice has been requested regarding the applicability of the manufacturers excise tax imposed by section 4181 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 to sales of the articles described below.

Article 1. Signal pistols and cartridges. The signal pistols have short barrels and are designed to fire 1 or 11/2-inch signal cartridges. The 1-inch cartridges have aluminum cases and project single stars in various colors. The 11/2-inch cartridges have either aluminum or millboard cases and project single or double stars in various colors or variously colored smoke puffs.

Article 2. Rocket signals. These are hand-held warning and alerting signal devices in the shape of a cylinder measuring 13/4 by 101/2 inches, and weighing 121/2 ounces. They have a lever-firing trigger that gives instantaneous ignition and allows the device to be fired with one hand only. The device is powered by a rocket motor to a height of 1,200 feet. At this point a cartridge is ejected and exploded with a report that is audible over a wide area. The signal that follows may consist of variously colored stars, illuminating flares, or radar reflective material.

Article 3. Miniflares. A miniflare signal consists of a small, pen-sized spring-loaded projector to which a waterproof, metal cartridge is screwed. To fire, the projector is held upright, with one hand if desired. The striker is then withdrawn to its full extent by the thumb and released. The flare, of various colors, is ejected instantaneously from the cartridge to a height of about 250 feet.

Section 4181 of the Code imposes a tax upon the sale by the manufacturer, producer, or importer of pistols, revolvers, firearms (other than pistols and revolvers), shells, and cartridges.

For purposes of the tax imposed by section 4181 of the Code, section 48.4181-2 of the Manufacturers and Retailers Excise Tax Regulations defines the term "pistols" to mean small projectile firearms which have a short one-hand stock or butt at an angle to the line of bore and a short barrel, and which are designed, made, and intended to be aimed and fired from one hand. The term "firearms" means any portable weapons from which a shot, bullet, or other projectile may be discharged by an explosive. "Shells" and "cartridges" include any combination of projectile, explosive, and container which is designed, assembled, and ready for use without further manufacture in firearms, including pistols and revolvers.

The signal pistols have as their primary purpose the discharging of signal flares or smoke puffs and are not designed or sold as weapons. Thus, they are not firearms as defined in the regulations. The cartridges designed to be fired in them are not shells or cartridges within the meaning of section 4181 of the Code since they are not designed, assembled, and ready for use in firearms.

By the same rationale, the hand-held rocket signals and miniflares, being designed for signalling purposes, are neither weapons nor shells and cartridges for firearms.

Therefore, it is held that none of the articles described above is subject to the tax imposed by section 4181 of the Code when sold by the manufacturer, producer, or importer."

It is also worthwhile to know that the Remington Mark III 10 gauge Very Pistol, which actually resembles a sawed off single barrel shotgun, is no longer considered as such by the BATFE:

"Collector's Items And Classified As Curios Or Relics Under The GCA
The Bureau has determined that by reason of the date of their manufacture, value, design and other characteristics, the following firearms are primarily collector's items and are not likely to be used as weapons and, therefore, are excluded from the provisions of the National Firearms Act. Further, the Bureau has determined that such firearms are also curios or relics as defined in 27 CFR 178.11. Thus, licensed collectors may acquire, hold or dispose to them as curios or relics subject to the provisions of 18 U.S.C. Chapter 44 and 27 CFR Part 178. They are still "firearms" as defined in 18 U.S.C. Chapter 44.

Remington Flare (Very) Pistol, Mark III, 10 gauge."

Sorry to get bogged down in the legalities here, but I did not want to have collectors running out to toss these historic items in the dumpster acting under the impression that they may be illegal under Federal Law. They are not. (However, your state and local laws may be otherwise so be aware of that.)

I intend to post some of my flare guns/signal projectors and accoutrements later on. They are an interesting subject.

Regards,
Charlie Flick

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Here is a pretty nice grouping of the M8 flare gun, holster and three of the scarce, double star, cartridges for the gun, all different. The smaller 3 cartridges, minus their plastic cases, are for the M4 projector mentioned earlier in this post. Btw. Anyone with the guts to fire a shotgun shell in an M4 projector, must have hands/arms of steel. The recoil would be pretty brutal.

 

Nice addition, rambob, I am not sure when this pistol was adopted but pre-WWII. This pistol was standard issue on all bomber aircraft and used for signaling. The flare do not have much in the way of altitude and cannot really be fired effectively from the ground. For ground signaling the M-9 is used as the stars are meant to drop from aircraft. It can be fired from hand or through the fuselage on aircraft from Mount Type M-1. Attached is a picture.

 

The shells are AN-M28 to M33 burning for 7 seconds. The casings are made from aluminum, steel or plastic and can be used with the M-2 pistol. These are the only shells that can be fired through the M-2.

 

Other compatible shells for the AN-M8 pistol are the AN-M37 to M42 series and Mark-3 and Mark-4 series. These are made in the same fashion as a shotgun shell paper body with brass bottoms.

 

AAF nomenclature AN-M28 to M33 and AN-M37 to M42 series.

USN nomenclature Mark-3 and Mark-4 series.

The Mark-4 has a separate charge that releases in mid air or tracer.

 

AN-M28-33 series markings

AN-M28 RED-RED

AN-M29 YELLOW-YELLOW

AN-M30 GREEN-GREEN

AN-M31 RED-YELLOW

AN-M32 RED-GREEN

AN-M33 GREEN-YELLOW

 

AN-M37-42 series markings

AN-M37 RED-RED

AN-M38 YELLOW-YELLOW

AN-M39 GREEN-GREEN

AN-M4BTW0 RED YELLOW

AN-M41 Altitude signaling meant fuselage aluminum GREEN

AN-M42 separate GREEN YELLOW

 

MARK-3 color combinations

Marked-Remarked

YELLOW-YELLOW

GREEN-GREEN

RED-YELLOW

RED-GREEN

GREEN YELLOW

 

Mark-4 color combinations

RED-RED RED TRACER

GREEN-GREEN RED TRACER

RED-GREEN RED TRACER

RED-RED GREEN TRACER

RED-GREEN GREEN TRACER

RED YELLOW YELLOW TRACER

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Dustin, Thanks for the kind words. You are correct that these flares were designed to be shot out of an aircraft in flight, so getting altitude was not a requirement. I read that the different color combinations, gave the status of the aircraft as it was landing after a mission. The specific color combinations would alert the ground personel as to whether wounded were on board, whether there was aircraft damage, etc.

 

BTW. The M8 cartridges are indeed numbered AN-M40, AN-M41 and AN-M42 and are WWII dated 1944. Amazing I got them as a complete grouping at a local gun show for $5.00 each.

"No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb, bastard die for his country" George Pattons speech to the Third Army.

 

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Hi Tom:

 

I have to disagree with you on this topic.

 

(Remainder snipped)

 

Charlie Flick

 

Charlie,

 

Before I responded and probably stuck my foot in my mouth crying.gif , I decided to go to the horse's mouth - The ATF. Here is what I found - we are both right!

 

**********************

 

CLASSIFICATION OF GAS/FLARE GUNS WITH ANTI-PERSONNEL AMMUNITION AS DESTRUCTIVE DEVICES

Recently ATF issued ATF Ruling 95-3 holding that 37/38 mm gas/flare guns possessed with "anti-personnel" ammunition, consisting of cartridges containing wood pellets, rubber pellets or balls, or bean bags are destructive devices as, defined in the Gun Control Act and the National Firearms Act and require registration to be lawfully possessed.

 

Devices designed for expelling tear gas or pyrotechnic signals have been held to be exempt from the destructive device definition. However, when a gas/flare gun is possessed with "anti-personnel" ammunition, it is then capable of use as a weapon. Thus, it becomes a firearm and is no longer exempt from the destructive device definition.

 

Any person who will possess a gas/flare gun in combination with "anti-personnel" ammunition must register the making of a destructive device prior to the acquisition of both the gun and the "anti-personnel" ammunition. The gas/flare gun must be identified with the required markings, including serial number. Any person engaged in the business of buying and selling the combination of the gas/flare gun and "anti-personnel" ammunition must have the appropriate Federal firearms license and have paid the appropriate special (occupational) tax.

 

If you have any questions regarding this matter, the entire text of the ruling is available in the ATF Quarterly Bulletin, Volume 3, 1995, or you may contact the National Firearms Act Branch at (202) 927-8330.

 

**********************

 

So, you were right that they are exempt. I was right in my illustration of that Pittsburgh murder case in that the guy had the flare gun and "anti-personnel ammunition" in his possession at the same time, thereby changing the flare gun a NFA weapon.

 

Bottom line... Don't keep your Mk4 in the same drawer with your duck loads!

 

Tom thumbsup.gif

Learn to ride hard, shoot straight, dance well and so live that you can, if necessary, look any man in the eye and tell him to go to Hell! US Cavalry Manual, 1923

WWII APS

 

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**PLEASE NOTE: THIS COMMUNITY MEMBER HAS SADLY PASSED AWAY**

 

 

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Good point, Tom. I was not aware of that later ruling, but I guess it makes sense in a way. I suppose the message here is to stay away from trying to use signal projectors for any purpose other than what they were originally designed for. Your suggestion on storage is a valid one, too, and good advice for all. Thanks for "illuminating" this issue for us all.

 

Charlie

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Since no one has shown one so far, here is the predecessor to the MUCH more common M-8 Very pistol. This is the M-2, procured by the AAF in the 1930's. It loads from the muzzle by pressing down on the big latch above the grip area and sliding the shell in till the latch can engage the rim of the cartridge. Somewhere, besides Sweeting, I read that this was a real monster to fire. The shooter was supposed to wear heavy leather gloves. I'll bet!

 

Its age is demonstrated by the manufacturer's stamp. Tippacanoe City, OH, has, even on official maps, been called "Tipp City" for years.

 

Tom thumbsup.gif

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Learn to ride hard, shoot straight, dance well and so live that you can, if necessary, look any man in the eye and tell him to go to Hell! US Cavalry Manual, 1923

WWII APS

 

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donation2009.gifdonation2011.gif

**PLEASE NOTE: THIS COMMUNITY MEMBER HAS SADLY PASSED AWAY**

 

 

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I think everyone will like pyrotechnics. Here are is my M8 flare gun with a 1943 red/green star and a 1943 front loading red parachute flare. Did you want only WWII rounds that had not been shown? My Dad had some other flare ctgs that he brought back but I think my brother has them. All of them were the paper cased rounds.

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copdoc, the M-11 parachute flare you have pictured there can be fired by three pistols: the M-8 , M-2 and M9 hand projector and only comes in red star.

 

This is a picture of the Mark III Very pistol. A US Navy pistol carried aboard most naval aircraft in the early war, before other innovations were available, this pistol was aboard VF class aircraft being replaced by the MK-3 & 4 Hand Projector as standard emergency equipment circa 1943 but remained aboard larger aircraft (4 persons or more). It fires the Mk-2 Very signal.

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This Very pistol is the US Navy Mark-5. This pistol has a compliment of a holster and belt for Very signals (not pictured). Maybe someone here has them to post. It also fires the Mk-2 Very signal.

 

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