Book Review: Testing the War Weapons

Testing the War Weapons, by Timothy Mullin I was pretty excited to dig into Tim Mullin’s Testing The War Weapons when I first got a copy of it, having already read his book on SMGs, shotguns, and machine pistols cover to cover. I quite enjoyed that volume, and I figured that this one would be better still, being twice the length (419 pages) and on a subject I have more direct experience with – rifles and light machine guns. Unfortunately, my reaction was a bit disappointing, and the book did not hold my attention as well as I had expected. I think there are several reasons for this and I’ll get into them – but I don’t want to neglect the strengths of Mr. Mullin’s work.

The variety of guns tested and evaluated here is quite impressive. They include everything from single-shot designs like the Remington Rolling Block and Martini to relatively modern selfloaders like the Beretta AR70 and Sig 550. In most cases where both full-length rifle and carbine versions of guns were used, Mullin tested both side by side, including some fairly rare carbines like the Royal Irish Constabulary Enfield. This amount of diversity really help bring perspective to the testing – and Mullin also has the experience and background to give an effective informed evaluation of a rifle in combat conditions as opposed to simple range plinking.

The biggest problem with this level of testing, I think, is that it brings to light the fact that quite a lot of combat rifles form the past 140 years are very similar in practical terms. Mullin explicitly confines his investigation to a rifle’s use in the soldier’s hands, leaving out any discussion of internal mechanics or manufacturing techniques. When viewed that way, one naturally sees bolt action battle rifles, for example, like the old European monarchy: they have different names, but the genetics are pretty darn similar. The distinctions come down to basically just what idiosyncrasies each design has. The Berthier with a screw required to remove the bolt, the rotary magazine on the Greek 03/14 Mannlicher, and a whole host of Mauser variants that vary only in barrel length and caliber. As one would expect, the difference between a Model whatever rifle and Model whatever carbine is that the carbine is lighter, handier, louder, and delivers more felt recoil. This is true whether the model in question is a Lebel, Berthier, Swedish Mauser, Krag, Spanish Mauser, Mosin-Nagant, Dutch Mannlicher, Greek Mannlicher, Enfield, Carcano, Arisaka, Belgian Mauser, Argentine Mauser, or Austrian Mannlicher. This must have put Mullin in a bit of a difficult position – it’s certainly not his fault that this is the case, but should he test each example to be thorough (and repetitive) or address them all as a basic generalization, thus leaving out lots of discussion of carbines?

The same sort of similarity shows through with self-loaders, although to a lesser extent. These look much more distinctive than bolt actions, but when you get down to a practical and objective analysis (without considering mechanism or manufacture) they are quickly reduced to a collection of just a couple elements: sights, trigger, magazine, handling, etc. Most of those are characteristics with just a few possible configurations – like post vs blade vs pyramid front sights and single-stage vs two-stage vs just-plain-lousy triggers, and trigger guards that either can or cannot accommodate a gloved finger.

Now, you may be thinking that Mullin’s subgun book was not all that much different, and you would be correct. I should recognize that I have a prejudice here, in that I’m always looking for information that is new to me. My subgun experience is pretty limited, whereas I have trigger time behind the majority of the long guns covered by Testing the War Weapons. I’m not so interested in comparing the Rasheed and the SKS, because I have examples of both and have already done so. For the person without that experience, this will be a significantly more appealing book and I should probably take my own criticism with a grain of salt.

In addition to infantry rifles, Mullin also covers sniper/marksman rifles and light machine guns here. The snipers he tests are the Czech vz.54, Mauser 98 with 1.5x forward-mounted scope, K43, HK PSG-1, P14, No4(T) Enfield, L42A1, Accuracy International, Type 97 Arisaka, Swedish M41, Mosin PU, Springfield 1903A3, M21, and M1D. The light machine guns are the FN-D, FN-MAG, ZB-26, Bren, Chauchat, MG34, MG42, Lewis, Type 11, Type 99, H&K 21, DP28/DPM, RPD, RPK, Benet-Mercie, BAR, Browning 1919, Johnson M1941, M60, and M249 Minimi. I found the machine gun discussions to be the most interesting part of the book, and was happy to see Mullin generally taking the same position on the Benet-Mercie and Chauchat that I’ve developed myself – that they aren’t nearly as bad as popular legend would suggest. He found the Japanese Type 11 to also be a surprisingly effective weapon, and I am looking forward to having the chance to get my hands on one of those to see for myself.

Overall, if you have a fair amount of experience with a diverse selection of rifles you will probably not find much new insight in this book. If you are a more novice shooter, though, or have limited access to different types of guns, this would be a good resource to give you a pretty accurate idea of what to expect.