Whats in the Chicken Coop?
By Finn Nielsen
As a long-time collector and wheeler-dealer of military-type firearms, sometimes ‘interesting’ situations will occur that are not likely to be repeated ever again. Some years ago in the late evening, the ‘phone rang and the following conversation took place. “Hello”. “Is this Mister Nielsen?” says an old quavery voice. “Yes it is, what can I do for you?” Who is this I wonder. I am not buying any Girl Scout cookies. “I am told that you know about guns.” the old crone sounding voice goes on. “I have some in my chicken coop that I would like you to sell for me. I will reimburse you for your trouble of course.” A woman of character who knows which way is up, obviously. “You keep guns in a chicken coop? How many are there?” I respond, all the while wondering in what kind of shape these ‘Chicken Coop’ guns would be! “Oooh, I don’t know exactly, maybe you could come down and have a look for yourself?”
I am thinking that this is either a stroke of good fortune, and visions of stacks of minty items, albeit with the chicken droppings added, dance in my head, or it will be rusted junk laced with chicken dung. Full of altruism I agree and the woman gives me directions. It is about 100 miles away in a nice part of the province. A few days later (actually the next day, you don’t wait on these things because others are out there!) I pull up in front of a turn of the century gingerbread house. A short distance behind the house is the ‘Chicken Coop’. The chicken coop lady emerges from the house holding a flashlight. “Oooh you got here fast,” she says. “Let’s go look at the guns. There is no electricity but I have the flashlight.” She tells me that her husband passed away some years ago and was a big collector of guns. I am thinking it is a little careless to store them with the chickens, but, each to his own!
The small door to ‘The Coop”, could only be partially opened, so I stick my head in with the flashlight. I don’t know if you remember the answer to question, “What do you see?” when King Tut’s tomb was opened. The answer was “Wonderful things!” Well, I didn’t see ‘wonderful things’ but did see my favourite olive drab colours, muzzle brakes, wheels and gun shields! I saw CANNON! I pulled my head out and confronted the woman, “Madam, your coop is full of GUNS!” “Well,” she says, “I told you that, young man, when we spoke on the phone.” It wasn’t exactly a let down per se. It was just that it was not what I had expected, to say the least. When people say they have a gun at home, you usually assume it’s not equipped with those new pneumatic tires. “My husband liked to be exact in his descriptions” she says, a little snippily I thought. “He called them GUNS”. “Well, they surely are that” I think, all the while mulling over who I can coerce into helping me with this find. A few days later I am back with fanatics who will help for a brewski or two just to have a chance to look at the goodies and perhaps touch as well. So, what was in “The Coop”? Let me tell you - A Danish Model 35 37mm A/T cannon. There was no shield on it and it had suffered some transport damage in the past. This was the ‘door knocker’ of Wehrmacht fame. The breech mechanism was untouched and the sights were stored in ‘The Coop” with other spares in old dusty leather containers. There were two French ‘Cannon’, the 25mm Hotchkiss and another 25mm which I believe was the Model 1937, L/77. I am not sure if this was the ‘Puteaux’, seeming to recall that it was a larger calibre. The Hotchkiss is also called the Mle 1934. It was used with virtually no effect against the panzers in 1940 and was also used by British units that summer of 1940. Light and flimsy, it was easily damaged during towing and was ineffective against modern armour.
The L/77 (Puteaux?) fell into the same category as the Hotchkiss. They were used for defensive purposes in France and some were issued to third echelon units who were unlikely to see actual combat. There were more. The most interesting one was probably the Austrian Bohler. It was produced from 1935 onward and was in the more powerful 47mm calibre. It was sold all over the world, and captured Dutch guns were adopted by the Japanese for use in their sphere of influence. Its wheels were removable and this gave it a very low silhouette, a good thing too, if you are popping away at a T.34 or a Panther. Yes, both the Russkies and the Krauts used them. The Krauts got theirs from the Austrians, the Russkies seized theirs from Lithuania, who had purchased them from Austria in the thirties when they were buddies. In addition there were a few yellow painted metal boxes with French writing on them. We opened one, and lo and behold there were eight gleaming like-new 25mm shells for the Hotckiss Gun! Sixty plus years and they looked like they were made yesterday. The French never did get to unpack a lot of ammo. Oh yes, and there were the mortars. One was a German 81mm complete with the T/E mechanism and base plate, ditto for a Russian 120mm. All of these items were covered with dust and dirt, and some chicken droppings, but who cares, because underneath it all they were mostly all there and in pretty good shape, as you can see from the photographs whose quality I apologize for. I have no idea where the guns had come from. Probably from south of us during the ‘good old days’ when you could get a Lahti 20mm, with ‘the coffin’ and tools, for $99 murican dollars, not to mention a ‘doorknocker’ for not a lot more. You won’t see those days again, Boys. As we all know there are only a limited number of individuals interested in this type of thing and most others would probably not think such a ‘find’ of interest at all. I can imagine the headlines today if the Press had glommed onto it. ‘BARN ‘O DEATH’ or ‘COOP ‘O DOOM’ etc, coupled with photographs of grim faced Police Officers who are sure that certain death in a ‘hail of shells’ has just been averted, and, “see what we are up against out there” folks looks on their faces! The word ‘cache’ will occur somewhere in the write-up as well. Well, that didn’t happen, and while the drive home was ‘interesting’ no problems were encountered. Did I buy them? You bet! Selling them was much easier than I had thought it would be. I still know where the Hotchkiss is. It’s nicely restored, although I believe he is looking for tires for it. I don’t know what he did with the ‘shells’. It’s difficult to find isolated areas where the sound of a 25mm ‘Canon leger de Antichar SA-L mle. 1934.L/72’ would not be noticed and cause vehicle mounted flashing lights to approach. So, the next time the telephone rings, it might just be a person who has a ‘Chicken Coop’ with STUFF in it! Go for it.
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