Book Review
By Dean Roxby

The World’s Assault Rifles
(second edition)
By Gary Paul Johnston
and Thomas B. Nelson
Ironside International Publishers, Inc.,
P.O. Box 1050, Lorton VA 22199-1050
Reviewed by Dean V. Roxby

This is a very large and thorough book. At over 1,200 pages, this second edition gives a detailed look at assault rifles from the world over and is a complete revision of the original 1967 edition.

The first edition was authored by the late Daniel D. Musgrave and Thomas B. Nelson. In this new edition, Mr. Nelson is joined by Gary Paul Johnston. Credit is also given to the late Dr. Edward C. Ezell. Dr. Ezell started work on the second edition along with Mr. Nelson in the late 1980s. As would be expected with a volume of this size, many other people and organizations assisted, and a long list of credits is given.

The book begins with an Introduction, followed by a one page Forward where the authors give a brief history of the assault rifle and its characteristics, and discuss past and present trends. At this point there is some debate as to the “true” definition of an assault rifle. The authors provide the “traditional” definition of what an assault rifle entails. Specifically, it should be capable of selective-fire, having a detachable box magazine, and firing an intermediate round. They then make the point that some earlier designs, such as the Browning BAR that fire a full-power round, are still assault rifles.

The main body of the book begins with Chapter 1, Assault Rifle Ammunition. This is a very thorough 36 page look at the evolution of rifle ammo, from full power bolt action infantry ammo to modern day AR ammo. Special attention is given to the German 7.92x33mm Kurz as used in the StG-44, as well as the Russian 7.62x39mm AK-47 round. A detailed history of the development and adoption of the .223 Rem/5.56x45mm NATO round is also presented. An all too brief discussion of 7x43mm (also known as the .280 British) is given. This round, far ahead of its time, was killed off by politics. Not covered in Chapter 1 is the “new” 6.8x43 SPC round, a cartridge that looks rather similar to the 60 year old 7x43mm (.280 British). The 6.8x43 SPC is covered in detail in the U.S. section, however.

Chapter 2, Assault Rifle Operating and Locking Systems, gives an explanation of the internal workings of various guns. The definitions are based on those established by Col. George M. Chinn, in his five volume set The Machine Gun (US Navy Bureau of Ordnance).

Following the first two chapters is the bulk of the book, laid out in an encyclopaedia fashion. Chapters 3 through 71 look at arms producing countries, listed alphabetically. Germany, Russia, and the United States have multiple chapters, dealing with several notable designs. The U.S. designs covered include: The BAR, including experimental prototypes; the Lewis assault rifle, a stripped down experimental version of the well-known Lewis LMG of WW1 fame; the Johnson rifle and U.S. M1 carbine. Chapter 64 covers the M1 Garand to the M14, with many experimental prototypes detailed and pictured.

Each country chapter gives in-depth details of the country’s autoloading service rifles, past and present. As noted above, there is some leeway given as to what constitutes an Assault Rifle. This book makes the point that today’s assault rifle was born out of the larger full-power semi-auto only rifles such as the Garand, SVT-40, FN-FAL, etc. While this reasoning may or may not fit with your own definition, it does serve to allow inclusion of many more firearms that otherwise would not be covered. The M1 Garand and the M14 are covered in great detail, including many obscure prototypes and variants. As well, the boundary is stretched the other direction by the inclusion of the Czech designed .17 Libra PDW, and even a mention of the U.S. WW1 era Pederson Device, as used in the M1903 bolt action rifle. There are also several pages describing and illustrating two quirky Russian underwater rifles, the APS, and the newer APD.

This book is well written, well illustrated, and thorough. While a few spelling errors were noted, the overall impression is that this is a worthy addition to the library of any serious firearms student. While there are no color photographs, the B&W photos are crisp and clear.

This book may be purchased directly from the publisher for $69.95. It is also available on disc for $20 (plus $2 shipping), or for $10 if purchased with the hardbound edition.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V17N2 (June 2013)
and was posted online on April 26, 2013


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