CATLETTSBURG, Ky. — Antique firearms that were once the cutting edge of warfare had a chance to again demonstrate their value on the battlefield Monday during an exhibition by members of the Eastern Kentucky Military Historical Society.
With nearly 50 in attendance for the demonstration at Northeastern Kentucky Fish and Game Club, the EKMHS event brought out the big gun first, with Marshal Steen and a gun crew preparing, priming and firing a rare type of “mountain rifle.”
Steen explained the wheel-mounted, smooth-bore gun was used in places where it would have been difficult to transport traditional cannons, and had an effective range of roughly 2,500 yards. Steen and his team demonstrated the roles of the various crew members, including duties to clean the barrel of any embers or debris that might cause the big gun to accidentally misfire while being reloaded.
Steen said the civil-war era weapon was remarkably accurate, and has been proven more accurate than modern-day military cannons in side-by-side contests. The smooth-bore version of the mountain rifle was essentially as accurate as rifled-barrel versions at practical ranges, he said, explaining the rifled barrel was more accurate at greater distances not typical of civil war battles.
Turning the demonstration over to Doug Rigsby, audience members got a close look at a rare Russian PPD40 submachine gun manufactured in 1941, believed to have been recovered from German soldiers who took it from its original owners.
“It is a very rare gun. You don’t see them — a very uncommon gun,” Rigsby said, later noting the Russian submachine gun also featured a chrome-lined bore to improve efficiency. The Russian firearm used a 71-round drum magazine similar to the classic Thompson submachine gun, Rigsby said, and fired at a rate of about 100 rounds per minute.
Rigsby explained such firearms, as well as other fully-automatic weapons, are perfectly legal to own if someone has the proper license, which requires considerable time, registration with federal agencies and a set of fingerprints on file.
“What do you do with them? Have fun,” Rigsby said of the high-volume firearms he is licensed to possess.
EKMHS President Matt Potter took a walk to take his first turn aiming at the targets downrange, demonstrating the up-close use of a compact MAC-10 (Military Armament Corporation Model 10, officially the M-10) machine pistol first created for use during the Vietnam War. Returning to the standard firing line, Potter then demonstrated the accuracy of a 1918 Eddystone 30.06 rifle typical of the first world war, followed by an M1 Garand manufactured by the Springfield company during World War II.
Potter closed his portion of the exhibition by letting loose a few rounds from an M1 Carbine made by a division of General Motors that retooled it for wartime production. The carbine was typically carried by officers and paratroopers, Potter said, and was not a favorite of most American troops because it fired much smaller and less deadly rounds than the M1 Garand.
Civil War enthusiast Shawn Braden ended the day’s demonstration with a collection ranging from long rifles to short pistols, all from the days when America was at war with itself.
Braden loaded a smooth-bore rifle he said had likely been converted from an original flintlock rifle, and fired the extended weapon while bracing against a shelter pole in hopes of improving his accuracy while aiming at a jug on the far side of the target range.
Causing a visible wave of appreciation in the audience, Braden also offered a glimpse of a tiny .22 caliber pistol, explaining he had been under the impression the .22 was a modern caliber and was surprised to find the small firearm was manufactured for civilian use during the Civil War.
Monday’s demonstration was the second annual vintage firearms exhibition hosted by members of the Eastern Kentucky Military Historical Society. For more information about the group, call (606) 547-2607.