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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
For my first post I have an unusual request I think is particularly well suited to the members of this forum. In the process of digging for more ancient artifacts, university students uncovered cartridge cases from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. One of the students was asked to write a paper on this modern archeology find. I am a forensic scientist by profession, but this student has asked for my help in identifying the cartridge cases. I think members of the forum can help with the largest group of cartridge cases.

The most common type of cartridge cases at the site were 8mm Mauser of Czech origin, manufactured in 1947 and 1948. The quantity suggests they were fired from a machine gun, The impression left on the primer indicates the machine gun had an unusual oval shaped firing pin I am hoping will be recognized by this group.

It is well established that the Israelis purchased large quantities of arms and ammunition from Czechoslovakia, including thousands of MG34s. However, I was able to find a picture of a MG34 breech face and it didn't seem consistent with the oval firing pin impressions. Other Czech guns like the ZB26 or VZ37 (or a Besa left behind by the Brits) are also good candidates. Really, any 8mm Mauser machine gun manufactured before 1948 is possble. I have found a few unexpected cartridge cases in the mix, so an unexpected machine gun would be no great shock.

Please take a look at the attached photo and tell me if you recognize this firing pin impression. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
 

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I don't think you will be able to identify the gun more precisely than to say that the cartridge was fired in a Czech-designed machine gun.

The ZB26, ZB30, ZB37, Bren, Besa, and probably others used a D-profiled firing pin.

M
 

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The guns listed are the only LMGs issued in any quantity that I know of that have oval firing pin tips, and all could easily have been used in that conflict. One missing example is the ZB39, which is in the same family, but unlikely to be present or in 7.92.
A primer strike impression leaves little specific detail necessary to identify the particular LMG that produced it, but from what I recall from shooting most of these guns, some have more square shapes than others. Might be a lead in that, but then again maybe not! Comparing the tips of the firing pins of each of these weapons could reveal something, possibly....

Bob Naess
 

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I would say based on the lack of ejector mark that would line up with the vertical firing pin strike, I think you can rule out the ZB26, ZB30, and Bren in 8mm. I'm not familiar enough with the ZB37 or Besa to say if the ejector nick on the lower left would be from one of them. Then again there just might not be a mark left from the ejector on this one.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Anyone have pictures of Vz37 and Vz26 bolt faces?

Thanks so much for all the replies. Though we may not be able to determine the exact model, just eliminating the MG34 is very interesting. Based on sheer numbers that was the most likely 8mm LMG.

There is a Wikipedia entry "Arms shipments from Czechoslovakia to Israel 1947-1949". The information seems credible, and cites a Czech gun magazine as its source. It lists a total delivery of 5515 Mg34 and 900 Vz37 to Israel. It also says 500 Vz26 were shipped but delivery is not confirmed in Czech sources. It is an interesting article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arms_shipments_from_Czechoslovakia_to_Israel_1947-1949

Mongo, you think like a firearms examiner! On the previously attached picture there appears to be an ejector cut-out impression running from six o'clock to the nick on the rim. It looks to me like the ejector itself hit right on the star in headstamp. I'll attach a picture of different cartridge case with ejector mark between the 2 and the 48. Anyone have pictures of Vz37 and Vz26 bolt faces? I might be able to eliminate a model based on ejector shape and position.

Also, am a right in assuming that the Czech ammo belts supplies to Israel were non-disintegrating? No links were found among the cartride cases.

Once again, thanks for the help!
 

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The ZB37 ejector is an integral part of the empty belt guide, which is a separate part mounted on the left side of the receiver opposite the feedtray. The ejector at the front bottom edge of the guide, is perpendicular to the inside of the receiver wall so it projects into the left, top side of the bolt which is cut to receive it, and it knocks the fired cases directly down through a slot in the carrier out the bottom of the receiver. From the back of the gun, the ejector projects horizontally into the top of the bolt. If the ejector were to mark the case base/rim it would leave a mark probably starting at about 11 o'clock or so on the base of the case horizontally for two or three millimeters across the face. The mark would be at a 90 degree angle to the side of the oblong primer strike of the ZB37 firing pin.
The mark at the star is one of the three stakes to anchor the primer and is not an ejector mark. The ejector would not touch that part of the case base on any of the possible LMGs.
In my experience, it is not at all a given that the ejector will leave a mark on the case. Much depends on the hardness of the brass and the recoil forces. I looked over quite a few .303 cases fired from a Bren and there was no evidence of marking by the ejector. The brass was POF .303.
The ZB37 has two rates of fire, adjustable by shortening the distance from the buffer to the back of the bolt. The higher rate might leave an imprint of the ejector on the case base, as the velocity of the bolt recoil increases, but I can't find any brass cases that I can confirm were shot from a ZB37 and not from a ZB26. I suspect the brass that I found was fired from a Chinese ZB26 as I had that out a few months ago and haven't fired any other brass cased 7.92 since then.

Both the ZB37 and BESA use continuous, non-disintegrating belts.

Bob Naess
 

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It's been too many years since I've been inside a BESA or a ZB37 to remember how the ejector is fitted, but Bob's description of the ejector arrangement in the ZB37 is consistent with the marks on these fired cases if both photographs were inverted. I didn't bother enlarging the thumbnails before, but on close examination both now clearly show a flat indent--on the second case, right over the star.

On most or all of the other Czech guns mentioned, the ejector is mounted at 12 o'clock over the chamber and any mark it leaves will be directly in line with the longitudinal axis of the primer indent.

M
 

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Both the ZB37 and BESA use continuous, non-disintegrating belts.

Bob Naess
I agree with the Zb-type gun for making those impressions. However.....I don't think it was a LMG that did it.

The lack of expended links is seriously interesting fodder for moving up the BESA possibility. As Bob points out the use of non-disintegrating feed belts is an important consideration. Almost all AFV's deigned to NOT use disintegrating links in their secondary armament(s) to avoid having them loose in the fighting compartment in the expended condition, a major crew hazard. Much thought and mechanical contrivance was used to eject the spent cartridge casings, so having loose links would have been just as bad. The easiest trick was to simply not have the guns use them, as dealing with expended lengths of non-disintegrating belt was FAR easier. Too, such loose detritus was ripe for getting into and jamming turret basket traverse and other mechanisms that existed exposed inside such fighting compartments of the period.

Add to this two other important tactical deployment factors.

One, if the expended cartridge cases were, for the sake of argument, from ANY magazine fed LMG it is highly unlikely that any single fighting engagement contact would permit the continuous emptying of feed magazines in one place to produce a prodigious quantity of fired cases laying around, before de-emplacing and moving the LMG to another fire support position. One must remember that despite the rag-tag collection of arms and armaments, the fighters and tacticians of the new IDF were made up of ex-Haganah and Irgun personnel, themselves in largest measure all recent graduates of WW II experience and no slouch to armed combat, still fresh in their minds. In short, their battlefield discipline was immensely superior to both anything fielded by any of the Arab belligerents, or the British, who could count mostly on newly conscripted fighting men in either case. In short, the IDF soldiers were wired tight and knew their way around a running gun battle far better than any Arab fighter; they would almost certainly never allow a LMG to sit in one place through dozens of magazine changes, even if they had the ammo to do it. To me that is the most important strike against an LMG being the weapon that made the pile of cases you've found. Strike one for the LMG theory.

Strike two against the LMG and the reason for making the AFV case with a vehicle mounted BESA as the source of your case pile is that there were, quite simply, a relatively larger number of ex-British AFV's mounting BESA's in the battles, on both sides, than almost all else. Egypt was equipped with freshly obtained Matilda and Cruiser light tanks, Syria, and other Arab combatants had acquired large numbers of British AFV's, as surplus or from left over vehicles from the North African campaign against the Afrika Korps. BESA's were unbelievably common in the new "Mid East" in the latter part of the 1940's. Then too, the British Peace Keeping force brought with them their own vehicles, still mounting BESA's. The IDF irrefutably also, at many points, operated numerous such vehicles as they captured a ready supply in almost every early engagement they fought. (even God knows Arabs can't drive tanks). 7.92mm BESA's were quite simply probably THE most common AFV secondary armament in the region for many, many years. In fact if you look at their logistical history, early on the Israeli's centered on the 7.92mm cartridge as much as possible for the pure sake of economy, so supporting a BESA was very do-able if captured from any source.

Combine that with the VERY common tactical deployment of an AFV as a mobile fire-support base, either for an advancing probe or covering a retreatment action, and you can easily see how a large pile of such cases would be ejected overboard onto the ground in a big pile with no other spent links, etc., before the vehicle moved on.

You might have your local people look for evidence of AFV travel in the area, it is remarkable what can survive the decades in terms of ground disturbances, even in that topography.

My vote goes to a BESA.
-TomH
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Request for expended cartridge cases

Thanks for your imput TactAdv! Further information about the excavation states that there were three circular stone formations approximately 2 meters across on a hill overlooking a valley. A total of 85 8mm Mauser cartridge cases with oval firing pin impressions were found in this area, but only a portion of the site was excavated. The position of the cartridge cases in relation to the stone formations is not well documented. The purpose of the excavation was to explore some deeply buried Assyrian ruins. The significance of the cartridge cases found near the surface was not recognized at first. They were considered trash from target shooters.

Given their protected strategic position, I still think ZB26 LMG could be a possibility. However, some of the ejector marks seem inconsistent with the descriptions of the ZB26 offered by board members. That makes me lean heavily towards the BESA/ZB37. While a vehicle mounted BESA is certainly a good possibility, the stone formations also suggest the possibility of fixed firing positions where a ZB37 or a dismounted BESA might be used.

If I could get some fired cartridge cases from a ZB37 and a ZB26 I'm pretty sure I could differentiate the two on ejector marks. If anyone has some fired cartridge cases they would like to donate, I'd be happy to send a SASE for them. Just send me a PM with your info.

Even photos of the breech faces might be enough. Anyone know a museum that would have examples of both?

Thanks again for everyone's input!
 

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I don't think it's necessary to get into extended speculation now. You have reached a dead end. It is quite clear from the visible ejector marks (once one figures out that the photos are inverted) that the ZB26/30 are ruled out. That leaves the possibilities of a BESA in an AFV or a ZB37 on a tripod, and the Israelis used both. Trying to determine which one it might have been is, in my opinion, an exercise in futility unless you also found some belts in the excavation; even then it's not conclusive as both guns could use either belt. However, the BESA really could not be effectively employed if dismounted from the vehicle, as it was very cumbersome to do so, and had no provision for a ground mount.

The BESAs were not well liked in North Africa and were replaced as quickly as possible in British service as soon as Browning .30s became available.

M
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
MG Mike, you're absolutely right about trying to differentiate the BESA from the ZB37 - it is impossible based on cartridge case class characteristiscs alone. To narrow it down to just these two (which are essentially the same gun) is interesting and historically significant.

I would like a little better documentation on the elimination of the ZB26 as part of a presentation I hope to give to a professional organization. I think I can track that down from the forensic side. The expertise of all who contributed is greatly appreciated.

I hope to share the final paper with you all when it is written. As a tease I will tell you a handful of other cartridge cases were identified from at least five other guns. These included 8mm Mauser with conventional firing pin impressions (98k rifle), 303 British (SMLE), 9mm Luger (Sten gun), 8x50R Austrian (Steyr M95), and 8mm Lebel (Lebel or Berhier). I did not expect to see those last two!
 

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gordie k wrote:

"....ovel pin hit so hard it was percing primers we had to go to a round pin to stop the prob."

Actually the shape of the firing pin, and the force of the impact really have little to do with piercing the primers. Although the oval pin will stretch the primer metal more than a round pin, the problem is the firing pin protrusion specs were not correct, and also, the metal quality and design of primers in ammo can be a problem.
Having set up quite a few Brens, ZB26s, ZB37s and ZB39s, both tuning transferable guns as well as building post-samples, I've run across the same problem. IMO, it was mostly due to the quality/nature of the ammo, but honing the firing pins and reducing the protrusion eliminated the problem. Needless to say, the oval firing pin design has been successful in these arms.

Bob Naess
 
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