Jungle Factories: The Local Production Of Expedient Weapons

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Pablo Edronkin

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There are many interesting cases of more or less clandestine weapons factories and those that managed to produce useful and novel ideas in weaponry despite very difficult circumstances and scarce resources.

From typical guerrilla and terrorists organisations to armies in dire situations and individuals with entrepreneur spirit, the manufacture of weapons was never limited as most people believe to big consortiums and industrial plants with a lot of political power. Many expedient weapons constructed under extreme circumstances are improvisations. Mostly are booby traps, homemade bombs and explosives, as well as adapted ordnance that failed in the battlefield and was recycled to make improvised landmines and other unconventional explosive devices. However, in certain cases the manufacturing process goes beyond such a cycle and the results are often surprising; form such stories perhaps we could learn a little bit about how take advantage of available resources under any environmental conditions.

What these "jungle factories" deliver often is as good as what "true" industrial installations deliver to their customers. In some cases, the expediently produced items are in fact superior but this happens with less frequency, mostly because clandestine operations seldom enjoy a constant provision of quality raw materials. The ingenuity of these parallel industrial moguls sometimes is capable of true surprises: Some drug traffickers in Colombia, a few years ago, managed to construct submarines for themselves in order to transport their illegal merchandise, even surpassing the technological capability of the country, since in Colombia, officially no shipyard is capable of building undersea vessels.

In order for this to appear, some conditions must be met:

Initially, a long-term situation has to evolve in order to create a need. For example, a guerrilla army in a war would need some sort of weapons.

The scarcity of available products that meet the requirements of those needing some sort of item. The drug dealers that we mentioned certainly tried to send their illegal merchandise by air, and sea but the cost of doing so in terms of captured shipments would have been so great that they probably started about an unconventional transport and indeed, tried to shop for a submarine before attempting to build their own.

Time: Once an idea has been laid down it needs time to develop. In the case of jungle factories, the time required would generally be longer than in the regular industry due to supply difficulties related to machinery and other resources.

In this regard, a classic example is that of the Vietnam conflict. In Indochina, as the war raged on for decades, several parties involved manufactured their own weapons and gear. Some of such parties were the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai sects that designed and built handguns that while of dubious safety because of the material used, were as functional as any other firearm produced elsewhere. Interesting designs include a cloned version of the FN Browning Hi-Power and the Colt M1911, both chambered for the 9mm NATO cartridge. The inhabitants of the highlands - the Montagnards - also produced equipment to defend their own villages. In Cambodia / Kampuchea, a local design for a pistol, somewhat crude, appeared at the time and combined characteristics of French and U.S. made armament. North Vietnamese factories and their South Vietnamese allies - the Vietcong - developed somewhat more sophisticated products, like the TUL-1 machine gun.

After the Soviet Union replaced the standard RPD light machine gun that accompanied their AK series of assault rifles with a new design, the RPK which became very poplar also in the Chinese People's Army, in North Korea and other nations in the area, the North Vietnamese and VC logistics specialists were faced with a problem: The weapon excelled but they could not get it in enough numbers, so using a combination of parts from the AK rifles and recycled RPK units they developed the TUL-1 that essentially, along with the original RPD and other derivative such as the M65 produced in Yugoslavia was to the AK weapons the same as a FAP is to a FAL. The most distinctive aspect of the TUL was the use of the RPK drum magazine.

During WWII the city of St. Petersburg - Leningrad by then - was put under siege by the Germans and their Finnish allies. Te city survived for years and never fell, and locally-designed arms production took off with the production of the PPS M1943, a submachine gun that later became standard issue in the Red Army along the better-known PPSh M1941. The weapon, in turn, was later produced in Poland as the M1943/52.

Also, during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, several non-standard types of weapons were produced using even locking mechanisms from doors and boxes. Needless to say, they were not safe but could also deliver one or two shots, since some were configured as sawed-off shotguns with two barrels side by side, despite that they generally shot bullets instead of buckshot.

In South America there have been several case too and one of the most notable is that of the terrorist and guerrilla groups that operated in Argentina around 1974 and 1975. Some of these groups attempted to form a revolutionary government in the northern part of the country, in the Tucuman province. They even attempted to gain recognition by the UN as a legitimate combatant force; soon thereafter they were, however crushed and exterminated almost to the last. In their attempt they tried not only to conform a fighting force but actually some political and social institutions. Demonstrating that they were actually capable of running a government was part of their strategy to gain recognition and in such light, plus the obvious military needs that they had, a weapons factory was created. This one evolved into something that was a little bit above the usual jungle factory, and aside the rather obvious repairs on their arsenal items, they produced ammunition and ordnance, including hand grenades of their own design that were a far cry from just expedient explosives.

The famous STEN submachine gun can be considered as the ultimate jungle factory weapon because of the way in which it was conceived, the low-quality materials used in desperation and the way in which it was intended to be produced. Originally appearing in 1940 due to an urgent requirement by the British Army that had to replenish its arsenals after the initial defeat that they suffered in Europe, it was made to compete with the German MP40 in firepower at a fraction of the price. Even the decision to adopt for it the 9MM Parabellum cartridge was taken in order to use vast amounts of that ammo that had been captured in northern Africa to the Italians. The weapon received unflattering comments but it worked and as distributed to many different resistance groups in Europe and the far east. In some countries like Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, France and Poland it was produced clandestinely in local machine shops, and at the end of the war even the Germans copied and adapted it: Some of their STENs even had the same serial numbers as the British ones, while others - the most - were adapted in design to their own needs. After WWII STENs were copied and produced at least in China, Argentina, Indonesia, and Afghanistan, but there are indications that the local rebels in Chiapas, Mexico, may have used yet more STEN clones of unknown origin.

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