By Dan Shea
Long time readers of SAR know that I have traveled extensively through the Balkan region in search of modern militaria, stories and collectable firearms and accessories. In the course of this, I have struck up many friendships with Serbs and Croats, and had many a roasted pig or lamb dinner with shooting companions. It was over those dinners that they described to me their desire to form what they called "Living History".
Living History is the brainchild of several firearms enthusiasts in Serbia and Croatia, men who were raised by men who fought in the wars, then served in battle themselves. The region is steeped in martial history; from the horrific five hundred year occupation by the Turks, to the fall of the Austro Hungarian Empire, onward to the Nazi occupations and the death camps. In the modern period, the death of Tito and the inevitable fracturing of the former Yugoslavia with its incumbent tragedy and war. The Yugoslav people are certainly no stranger to sacrifice. It was no surprise to me that these men wanted to continue their tradition with arms, and to pass it on to others.
They envisioned a business enterprise, where people in wealthier counties who lived under heavy firearms regulations could come to Yugoslavia and spend a week with people who had lived the wars, who had the historical experience, and shoot the firearms they had always heard about. Those of us in the United States are fairly lucky in that we can own and fire most types of machine guns, but there are many that are extremely rare and expensive. Many you can't find any ammunition for, and firing explosive ammunition is virtually impossible outside of the military services.
The format they came up with included flying the attendees first class from major European cities such as London, Paris, Frankfurt or Zurich (You get there on your own- I suggested this to them because so many of us can use frequent flyer miles to fly to Europe), then staying at the Intercontinental Hotel Beograd, a five star hotel right across from the old city in Belgrade, Serbia. Each day, the attendees would be taken out to the ranges, and discussion with English speaking instructors about the various firearms would start. All meals would be provided, ranging from five star hotel meals to standard Serbian fare, including occasional pig and lamb roasts on the range. Historical meals would also be served on the range, like the military in the Balkans generally eats.
Their first day would start with handguns, progress to rifles and end with the submachine gun variants. Day two would be Kalashnikovs through the light machine guns including ZB26s, MG34s, MG42s and Yugo 53s. Day three is planned as PKM through DSHK 38/46. Day Four is spent on 14.5mm KPT, KT, Three barreled 20mm, BG30 automatic grenade launchers. The final day is for RPG-7, Yugo M57, LAW rockets, shoulder fired grenades and whatever else is available. Each student is allotted a certain amount of ammunition, but they will make more available on a cash or credit card basis. I personally don't think I could just fire two or three RPG-7 rounds, I would want more, and time on the triple 20mm would have to be for more than three drums. (Imagine a big smiling face at this point)
As a matter of friendship, I plan on attending their first class and helping them deal with the first group of students. I already know a few people who are signing up. After that, they will progress with classes as they fill over the next year. I see this as a wonderful opportunity for true believers of the gun culture in the Balkans to offer their expertise, experience, and unusual firearms and ammunition to the rest of the shooting community. You may have read about these weapons, you may have non firing replicas. You might even have fired a few at the range, but here is an opportunity to really go into an area that is rich with history, to meet some wonderful people, and shoot some truly rare and interesting weapons.
I have seen many "Shooting ranges" around the world. Quite frequently, the people there don't speak English, don't speak "Safety", and are using ammunition and grenades that are left over from World War II or Vietnam. I am not placing a 1968 M72 LAW rocket next to my head and touching it off, no way. I looked over the ammunition that Living History is drawing from, and it all looked clean and relatively new. That being said, there is always a risk in firing weapons, and if you go, you should be well aware of that, every bit as much as you should be aware when you go to any shooting range.
The first class is scheduled in Serbia for April 25 through 29, 2005, attendees would arrive on Sunday 24 April. Living History's fee is a relatively inexpensive $10,000 USD with a $500 deposit on booking. Of course, that is also relatively expensive as well, it all depends on your perspective and your expectations. If you expect to go to the range and pop paper all day, then it's too much money, If you expect an adventure, a trip through time to the great wars, a chance to see history, a chance to fire weapons you have only seen on television, well, then it's a bargain. I know that the people at Living History can also arrange Elk and Boar hunts in the huge ranges of the Serbian / Croatian Border, or help you find your way to other vacation adventures. This is some truly beautiful country, and the chance to explore it should not be passed up.
Small Arms Review is not involved in Living History, and neither am I, other than to help them plan what might be of interest to Americans and Europeans, and go through the first class they offer to help critique it. They discussed having a mortar and cannon class as well, but I advised they make this one the best it can be first, then see what the future brings to their "Living History". I know they discussed bringing a tank to fire the main gun, and to use as a DSHK platform, but I don't know if that is still in the plans.
I look forward to seeing those readers who want to take the trip through the first class at Living History. Dan
You can email Yelena at: hayduk1@EUnet.yu for more information.
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