.22 Pistols of the Clandestine Service

November 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Trail Boss Articles, Trail Boss News

Pre-war sport model Colt Woodsmans, and WWII-era High Standards are among the greatest natural pointers in HiStdModBwithEleyStandardthe Applegate method. Their user’s attention is  “target focused,” upon the threat, watching the bad guy’s hands, evaluating whether he is friend or foe, being ready to either instantly disappear without notice, or to “shoot and scoot,”  always with emphasis on speed. We aren’t talking “first-shot-stops” here, but accurate double or triple taps delivered in two seconds or less. The gun is gripped convulsively and pointed “as naturally as if it was an extension of your finger.”

It is true that a .22 pistol isn’t first choice when expecting combat, but if combat isn’t your job, and you have other essential, dangerous tasks to perform in that  environment, the purpose of a survival gun carried by  downed aviator or clandestine operator is to neutralize immediate threats from contact to 20 feet to facilitate escape. That is all. In the words of the late Harry Archer, “If you stand and fight you’ll never live to shoot them all.” The rapidity with which it enables accurate, multiple hits, combined with low noise, minimum muzzle flash and recoil, discreet profile and minimum weight and cube of “the package” mostly compensate for its lower kinetic energy.

Israel’s Mossad is widely credited with the concept of using a .22 as an  assassin’s pistol.  They simply inherited the BerettaM70S22LR
idea from the British and improved the hardware. The Israeli’s  used a Beretta Model 70 .22 pistol that had been modified to fire low powdered ammunition so a silencer was not needed. The trigger was lightened and the gun was modified so it was very reliable during rapid fire. Since the firearm is a semi-automatic and leaves behind traceable brass after being fired, West German ammo was used which confused police for sometime.  The Armorer would remove the bullet, some of the powder then replace the bullet. The pistol was named the Aelph Weapon.

During WWII Britain’s SIS and SOE, were thoroughly trained in Fairbairn and Sykes (Shanghai Police) shooting methods. When the US entered WWII Rex Applegate became a student of Fairbairn and Sykes. He brought their techniques to Camp Richie, Maryland where they were adopted by the OSS. Applegate’s influence remained strong in the community throughout the Cold War. The boys down at “the farm” never accepted Cooper’s so-called “modern” technique of the pistol other than in the way that it was “good disinformation to have out there, serving as a distraction” from what they knew really worked. Having law enforcement magazines tout its virtues was encouraged to continually reinforce the illusion in the same way today that the canted “gangsta” grip is.

Among clandestine operators Colt Woodsmans of any barrel length were greatly prized. High Standards of that era shared the same favorable grip angle, could use Colt magazines and were more readily available.  Six inch and longer barrels provide longer sight radius which aids accurate shooting when the target is camp meat for the pot.   An expert pistol shot can bring small game to bag at 25 to 40 yards with ease.  A longer barrel increases velocity by 80-100 f.p.s., which improves hollow-point bullet performance noticeably.

Shorter 4-1/2 barrels were favored for missions where concealed carry was important.  A common carry method was muzzle-up, butt forward, with the hammer cocked and slide closed on an empty chamber.  The guns is retrieved quickly from the pocket as easily as your wallet, setting your grip the barrel behind the muzzle with thumb and forefinger of the left hand,grasping the butt  as the gun clears the coat, trigger finger extended, pointing, as the left hand sweeps the slide back against minimal resistance, against the cocked hammer (sometimes these days called “Mossad style” ) deftly releasing the slide and chambering a round as the left arm assumes the protective folded position across the chest, freeing the right (gun hand) to rapidly trigger a protective burst of fire.

An alternate carry method was the ancestor of today’s popular Desantis and Allesi pocket holsters.  Parachute riggers would sew a simple pancake design using a salvaged top cut off  an  old pair of  jump boots, lining with fabric from a GI wool shirt or nylon parachute pack fabric ,usually  with two button tabs, commonly attached inside the flight suit or coat pocket with parachute cord loops sewn into the pocket.   Harry told me he first saw this type of holster which had been worn by a member of the French Resistance. It  was sewn from an old felt hat, covered with tent canvas and used simple coat buttons to hold a FN 1922 Browning 7.65mm.

The 6 inch and longer barrels are harder to conceal, but Harry told me a common method was to drop the gun butt-first into a bag of pomes frittes (Potato Chips), or an improvised bag made from a folded copy of Pravda tucked casually under the arm.  Jim Cirrillo of the NYPD stake-out unit used this method frequently on undercover assignments, often substituting a box of Cracker Jacks, movie popcorn or the New York Post .

The High Standard B with 6-/7/8 barrel pistol shown once belonged to my boyhood friend the late Col. Gregory Kalnitzky.  Less known from his resume are his time with flying with Air America, Air Zimbabwe, and also as a bush pilot in Alaska. http://www.146thalumni.org/last_flight.htm I received the pistol from Greg’s estate, he has gotten it from a WWII vet who flew over Europe with it in his flight suit and came home from the war.   When I got the pistol it proved accurate and reliable, but was thoroughly dirty.  Detailed dis-assembly revealed at one time it had undergone complete saltwater immersion. It has been rinsed fairly promptly in fresh water, then probably doused in kerosene or Jet-A.  There was rust in crevices and blind holes, and brown residue under the grips and on concealed machined surfaces.  Exterior blue remains good, what you see here is original finish. After carding the internal rust off, installing replacement Wolfe springs, thorough cleaning, and reassembly, it resides in my “SR” where it bangs an occasional grouse, but otherwise will remain until my niece presents it to one of her kids someday.

The 4-1/2 inch Woodsman here was one of Harry’s “spares.”   Harry was a big believer in redundancy and kept duplicates of essential equipment stashed everywhere. I don’t think this gun ever went on a mission, it is too clean. It’s a “parts gun” assembled on a pre-war 1940 frame with post war slide and barrel having adjustable sights.  The target sights are nice, but lack the rugged durability I favor in a field gun, so it is a “range queen.”

My other .22s which would fit  into my “redundant ruck gun” niche include a High Standard Duramatic, a 6 inch Beretta M71 and  a 1936 Walther Olympia Jagerpistole, a WWII bring-back  which might be able to tell stories if it could talk.

C.E. “Ed” Harris is well known to readers of American Rifleman, the Gun Digest and the Cast Bullet Association’s Fouling Shot magazine. During 12 years on the Technical Staff of the National Rifle Association he was a consultant to numerous military, law enforcement and firearms industry organizations and was officially commended by the U.S. Marine Corps Development Center, Quantico, Virginia for  expert technical assistance provided during the Development and Operational Testing of the M16A2 rifle. He is a graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, holds the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Professional Development Certification in Emergency Management and for 22 years he has worked for local government in Northern Virginia.



7 Comments on ".22 Pistols of the Clandestine Service"

  1. Nutter on Tue, 10th Nov 2009 5:51 PM 

    This is the kind of thing I love to read.

  2. scatyt on Tue, 10th Nov 2009 5:52 PM 

    That was great stuff,and the reason I bought a Beretta 70S = if it good enough for the Mossad .Thank you for that write up and I look forward to more of that quality.

  3. stephen on Wed, 11th Nov 2009 11:59 AM 

    good stuff in this article. really kind an unexpected thing to find out, that a .22, had such a history in clandestine work.
    keep up the good work.

  4. Steve on Wed, 11th Nov 2009 7:04 PM 


    Again, another great article without the gunzine fluff. Do you have any info on the velocity of that Israeli Beretta? As I do not have a silenced handgun availible to me for testing, would any current commercial .22 rate as subsonic enough to equal the decibel levels with the Aelph? I was thinking that the Agulia 60 grain loading might be the slowest thing going.

  5. Ed Harris on Thu, 12th Nov 2009 6:30 AM 

    The twist of rifling in the Beretta .22 pistols is 40cm per turn, or about 15-3/4 inches. It would not stabilize the heavier 60-gr. Aguila in a barrel as short as 9cm (3.54″).

    Of current US ammunition the CCI Subsonic Hollowpoint is the closest approximation, and these rounds are more readily available, expand well in water-jugs when fired from my 4-1/2 inch Colt Woodsman, and are very accurate.

  6. Vincent saunders on Tue, 26th Jan 2010 8:25 PM 

    I have always liked the 70s Beretta concept. When I was in the Army I had 2 and practiced on the indoor Cine range with them. I enjoyed using them. Totally reflexive I guess I fired in excess of 5000 rounds through them. I have also shot a lot of kangaroos with them and they did the job nicely. A problem though is even cleaned and trialed with different ammo they weren’t 100 per cent reliable. I keep log books on my pistols.
    Please keep the Harry Archer stuff flowing. I think that he was a totally under appreciated resource.

  7. High Standard type "B" on Wed, 21st Apr 2010 10:26 AM 

    [...] Looks just like my ruck gun featured here .22 Pistols of the Clandestine Service | ShilohTV [...]

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