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Mysterious automatic cannon

August 13 2005 at 6:50 PM

Please help ID these automatic cannon in service with the Dutch Forces in Indonesia, late 1940s.
First picture is an old friend. A group of Dutch soldiers posing with a belt fed auto-cannon (snelvuurkanon) in Medan, Sumatra, 1947. Is it ex-Japanese? From an aircraft maybe? Calibre looks like 15-20mm? (source Louis Zweers, Strijd om Deli)

Next are two pictures from a book by Van Holst Pellekaan on Dutch Navy volunteers during the Indonesian Independence War (late 1940s). Shown are two Dutch Navy patrolcraft fitted with a 3,7cm gun which seems to be automatic. It had a crew of three. What was it?

Any info appreciated,

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Maybe this?

August 13 2005, 9:21 PM 

I forgot I had this picture that someone from the States sent me last year:

AAC? These were the guys that made the Marmon-Herrington tank guns...see the MH tank pages on http://www.overvalwagen.com/tanks.html

Hans Heesakkers was looking into this I think. Were these the same guns?

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Susan Cross

Re: Maybe This?

August 14 2005, 12:09 AM 

I googled American Armament Corporation, and found out they were responsible for the M4 37mm aircraft cannon in the P-39; furthermore, these is a Paul Costner listed in the Dutch Submarine Commader's section of the Dutch Subamrine site who was "General Director Europe of the American Armaments Corporation" sometime before his death in 1931. Curiouser and curiouser.


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Susan Cross

Re: Maybe This? Addendum

August 14 2005, 1:18 AM 

I called an older gentleman I know, Gordon Douglas, who is quite knowledgeable about US ordnance, and he says it is probably the M4 P-39 gun extemporized by the USN for use on PT boats as a "barge buster". Apparently there were hundreds of these guns available c.1943, which were given a mounting that would bolt on to the foundation of a 20mm Oerlikon. M/v would be around 2200 fps with a relatively short cartridge. Gordon told me he didn't have a picture handy to send me, but thought there was one in John D. Bulkely's book "At Close Quarters", recently reissued by USNI.

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Indeed curiouser!

August 14 2005, 11:41 AM 

HI Susan,

Thanks for that info, indeed very interesting!

Meanwhile I found some more leads.

It was Bob Lamoureax who sent me the advertisment of AAC. He said they had close links with Johnson automatics. Both companies were heavily involved in arming the Dutch after 1940.

For their M-H guntanks (3-man and 4-man) hundreds of AAC 37mm cannon were needed. By mid 1941 the Netherlands Purcasing Commission had placed orders for at least 304 of those guns. Delivery would start in August 41, so several dozen might have been delivered to the Indies before March 42.
We known already that in the end many of the M-H tanks were scrapped by the US Govt, so that's one other way how these guns (which according to Hans Heesakkers were indeed dual purpose) might have become available as "barge busters". Does someone have that picture of the US PT boat?

The Dutch Navy acquired 18 Harbour Defence Motor Launches (as seen on picture number 2) from someone in Australia, I think after the war in 1945 or 46. Well, fact is they sailed them over from Sydney to Java. Were these guns on board already or fitted on arrival in Java?

On another account the NPC had received a licence for exporting 23 pieces of 37mm automatic cannon as early as 1940 (info Ness). Were these AAC guns? We don't know, only info we have is that they were 20 cal long (which seems to short for the pictures). The AAC tank guns were 44 cal I believe?

So many questions, so little time!

Kind regards,

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David Reasoner

Re: Indeed curiouser!

December 27 2009, 5:52 AM 

AAC also produced a short-barrel 37mm aircraft gun, based on an earlier Puteaux design. The following is from The Machine Gun - History, Evolution, and Development of Manual, Automatic, and Airborne Repeating Weapons by George M. Chinn, Lieutenant Colonel, USMC:

"When the mania for "shell gun" mounting in planes was at its peak on the Continent and the revival of interest in air-borne cannon made the military authorities of all countries review what armament their own air forces had available, the American Armament Co., of New York City, announced in 1933 the development of a 37-mm automatic cannon designed primarily for aviation armament.

The director of the company, Mr. I. J. Miranda, and its chief engineer, Mr. B. P. Joyce, who claimed to have designed the weapon, not only made many trips abroad to interest major powers seeking just such an automatic arm but also made many claims for their weapons that were seized upon by writers for various aviation magazines and ordnance publications. Mr. W. S. Shackleton, of London, who was the firm's foreign representative, also published numerous articles on the virtues of this 37-mm automatic aircraft cannon.

The air-cooled, clip-fed weapon used long recoil for operation, and its rate of full automatic fire was 60 shots a minute, with a ridiculously low muzzle velocity of 1,200 feet a second. This is not surprising when the mechanism is examined closely and compared with others already in existence. For, notwithstanding the manufacturing claim that the mechanism was new in principle and was designed "just for aircraft," it goes back to World War I, being nothing more or less than a conversion for air use of the Puteaux cannon developed both in the United States and abroad.

The first country to become interested in the gun was Poland. It was not impressed by the low muzzle velocity and contracted with the American Armament Co. on the condition that the speed of the projectile be substantially increased. The Polish Government posted a bond with a neutral agent equal to the cost of manufacture and demonstration of the weapon. This would be turned over to the company if the tests were successful. The agreement stipulated that muzzle velocity and ballistics would be improved. At the trials in Poland in competition with the antiquated C. O. "W. gun, then made by the Vickers Co., the English-made weapon consistently outshot the American product. It was also demonstrated that the muzzle velocity had not been increased one particle and the Poles ordered return of the bond. The next venture was with Italy with results that were comparable with the earlier failure.

About the only real accomplishment of the weapon was to mislead the American public into thinking this country had an automatic aircraft cannon that was superior to that of any other country in the world. Practically every aviation magazine or ordnance publication contained artists' conceptions of huge aircraft armed with the gun, firing both from fixed positions in the wings and in power-driven turrets. In reality, little or no improvement over the Puteaux, of which it was a close copy, can be found.

The limited number that were manufactured were made in two models, M and F. The M represented a weapon adapted for turret or movable use. The F was for fuselage or fixed installations.

To fire the American Armament cannon, the chambering of the first round requires the efforts of two men. It is a very clumsy operation since the breech must be opened by a special tool which moves the pinion on the breech operating shaft. After the cartridge is chambered, it is fired by percussion, a striker hitting the firing pin a smart blow. The barrel and its extension then recoil together a distance greater than the over-all length of the loaded round. At this time the breech is unlocked by the camming down of the lock. The barrel and breech lock start toward battery while the extractor attached to the carrier remains seared to the rear.

When the barrel assembly is a half inch from the battery position, the sear holding the carrier is released and this assembly starts home. The feed system, which holds a clip of five cartridges, consists of a recoil-operated cage which rotates to feed the rounds through an opening in the loading tray. The carrier picks up the positioned cartridge and the extractor snaps over the rim as it chambers. The final movement forward of the carrier cams up the breech lock and the weapon is ready to repeat the cycle.

After much paper promotion and exaggerated factory claims this gun disappeared from existence shortly before World War II, but not before it had caused a great deal of interest both here and abroad. It was hardly possible to find any prominent aviation magazine of the day that did not show a sketch of an American plane with this weapon in both fixed and flexible mounting.

The company manual sent to prospective customers on the care, use, and handling of the American Armament automatic cannon devoted many pages to the potentialities of its devastating fire. Particular attention was called to the ease of its operation, said to require the services of just one man. A direct quote from the booklet permits the reader to determine whether the company was really serious in describing this allegedly simple feat or whether the gunner was some form of contortionist seeking another hazardous occupation for a livelihood.

"The gunner is seated facing one side of the gun and with his eye at the sight at all times. With his left hand he operates the elevating hand wheel whilst with his right hand he traverses the piece by means of a traversing hand wheel. He fires the gun with his left foot while his right foot works the breech pedal that is used to lock the gun in traverse, releasing the right hand to feed clips of ammunition to the magazine."

Regardless of the performance of the gun, any gunner who could accomplish so many things simultaneously would have made a fortune in public exhibitions."

[linked image]

[linked image]



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December 27 2009, 3:37 PM 

Thanks David,

Very interesting!
Do you happen to know the barrel length?

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P.S. Paaskynen

Curious? How about this...

March 3 2009, 7:03 PM 

The Oldsmobile/AAC T-9 (M4) 37mm autocannon was also the chosen artillery for the Tucker Tiger tank (not actually a tank but an armoured car). It was placed in a powered turret of bullet-proof glass. The armoured car never sold, but the turret was used in heavy bombers, as well as landing craft and PT-boats (where the gun got its reputation of "barge buster").

See the picture at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preston_Tucker

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P.S. Paaskynen


March 4 2009, 11:38 AM 

After reading the messages in this thread, it seems that I may be confusing two or more gun types.

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Stellan Bojerud

US 37 mm AA-gun M 1

August 14 2005, 10:53 AM 

I have not much more to add than the 37 mm AA-gun M 1 was the US standard light AA-gun just prior to WW 2 but that these were soon replaced by the 40 mm Bofors.

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Heesakkers Hans

American Armament Corporation

August 14 2005, 11:50 AM 

25 september 1940 the Royal Dutch Navy ordered 40 37 mm guns and 80.000 rouns ammo. Costprice $848.000,=.
The guns were called "3,7 cm Semi Automatic Anti-Aircraft Gun on Naval Pedestal Mounts". All guns reached Java in time (the last approx June 1941). The guns were produced in the Rahway factory and the ammo in the Derry factory. Most if not all the guns survived the war and were re used during 1945-1950 as the main armament of the "R.P." (Regionale Patrouille)-boats.
The R.P. boats were formed by several types e.g. British Harbor Defence Motor Launches (RP 101 - 118), U.S. Higgins (RP 119-130 and 134-137).
Finally 8 Higgins and 10 H.D.M.L. were handed over to the new Indonesian Navy, most or all had the old A.A.C. 37 mm guns.
The guns were also adapted for the Marmon Herrington 3 and 4 men tanks, however none of these reached Indonesia.

All the best Hans Heesakkers

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Great info

August 14 2005, 11:56 AM 

Hi Hans, thanks for that. Solves a couple of questions!

Do you know how those 40 guns were used in 1941? Were they all placed on vessels? I noticed many NEI bases and harbours in 1942 had several 3,7cm guns in their defences.
KNIL authors never explained them, or if they did, suggested these were the old 19th century bronze guns (this fitted of course in the myth that the NEI forces were ill-equipped).

I am now tempted to assume taht (some of) these may actually have been the quite modern automatic AAC guns?

Kind regards,

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August 14 2005, 11:44 PM 

I browsed Jan Visser's site on the RNL Navy in WW2 and found out the Gouvernementsmarine had 6 ships using 2 37mm guns each. Also the 6 Alor class boats had 2 each, Nautilus had one. No reference to make or specifics of the guns. Jan?
Tarakan Naval Air and Ambon Navy bases in 1941 had 2 37mm guns each...(NICJ).
If these were indeed all AAC guns the total would be 29 37mm guns of 40 pieces....where was the rest?

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Re: 37 mm guns

August 19 2005, 6:30 PM 

The 37 mm guns carried by the Gouvernements Marine schepen were not modern guns. These were revolver guns, carried by these ships for police purposes, built before 1890!

Source: F.C. Backer Dirks "De Gouvernements marine in het voormalige Nederlands-Indiƫ 1861-1949".

PS Hans, would be most interested to know your source for the order of the 40 mm guns. I can't recall reading about these details before. Thanks ...

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Heesakkers Hans

40 mm????

August 19 2005, 8:48 PM 

Do you mean 40 pcs of the 37 mm ?? The source is a contract between AAC and NPC!

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Heesakkers Hans

Re: American Armament Corporation

August 15 2005, 4:31 PM 

1. the AAC tankguns were 37mm L44 but the naval version was 37mm L50, so the tube was 22,2 cm longer, several photographs do confirm a longer tube.
2. the naval sources say the H.D.M.L. boats were taken over from the R.N. in Singapore.
2. Dutch navy had ordered a new patrol boat, in september 1949 12 were being built in the Netherlands and were to be put in service during 1950. They were intended as military help for the new Indonesian Navy. A displacement of 245 tons, 37,5 m long, diesel engined and max speed of 12 nots. Armed with 2 .50 mg's and a 37 mm gun (the AAC most likely).
The Historical Naval section in Den Haag (The Gague) has no information concerning the pre war period, exept a copy of the contract.

All the best Hans H.

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August 15 2005, 8:27 PM 

Any idea what that gun is in the first picture? An AAC or something else?


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Heesakkers Hans

Re: tks

August 16 2005, 3:25 PM 

Not a clue at the moment!

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Heesakkers Hans

AT grenade A.A.C.

August 16 2005, 3:40 PM 

37 mm anti tank grenade, used in AAC/Marmon H. tanks Suriname. (collection H. Heesakkers)

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Tony Williams

cartridge dimensions?

March 23 2006, 7:11 AM 

Excellent photos, Mr Heesackers - I wish I had one of those rounds in my collection!

Could I ask you for a couple of favours please?

First, I would like to know the precise dimensions of the case: especially the length (minus projectile), rim diameter, and diameter of the case above the rim. I would also be interested to know more about the performance of that round, in terms of projectile weight and muzzle velocity.

Secondly, would you mind emailing me high-resolution (300 dpi) versions of those photos? I am editor of the Bulletin of ECRA (Euuropean Cartridge Research Association) - which you may know of as it is very strong in the Netherlands - and would like to feature it, as it is very uncommon.

I have been trying for a long time to obtain clear information about which AAC cartridges went with which weapons, as they produced many different versions.

Tony Williams
Military gun and ammunition website: http://www.quarry.nildram.co.uk

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