J. Putnam Evans Thinks the AR-10 Is the World’s Best Battle Rifle
He’s got a point
by MATTHEW MOSS
In 1955, the small Californian firearms company ArmaLite unveiled one of the most defining and influential rifles of the 20th century — the AR-10.
The hard-hitting rifle would see extensive service in bitter colonial conflicts and provide the basis for the M-16, one of the most iconic rifles of all time.
But despite its importance there has been a kind of literary gap in our understanding of the AR-10. Joseph Putnam Evan’s new book The Armalite AR-10 — The World’s Finest Battle Rifle, out now from Collector Grade, aims to fill in the historical holes.
The Armalite AR-10 — The World’s Finest Battle Rifle surveys all of Armalite’s early designs, from the AR-1 to the AR-5 survival rifle and the AR-9 shotgun and finally the AR-10. The accompanying color photographs are excellent.
Evans begins by introducing the main cast of characters who were pivotal in the AR-10's development. We meet brothers-in-law George Sullivan and Charles Dorchester, who in 1952 were working on the Para-Sniper, which would eventually become the AR-1.
Serendipity brought the brothers-in-law into contact with Richard Boutelle, president of the Fairchild Engine and Aircraft Corporation, who began funding the promising designs Sullivan and Dorchester were developing.
Evans’ book recalls some fascinating anecdotes. One describes the chance meeting of Sullivan and Eugene Stoner at the Topanga Canyon Shooting Range, where the two men were both testing their respective prototypes.
Evans gives the reader some context by describing Stoner’s early designs and the influence Melvin Johnson’s — who also later join Armalite — designs would eventually have on him. Johnson’s work inspired the rotating bolt that Sullivan and Dorchester built into the AR-10.
The AR-10's other key feature is its use of the direct-impingement gas system. Evans not only explains Stoner’s version of the system, but also examines earlier firearms that used direct impingement, such as the French Rossignol B1.
Steadily and in impressive detail, the book builds the history of the AR-10’s development in its first three chapters before turning its attention to the marketing and the military testing of the rifle.
Evans devotes a whole chapter to extraordinary efforts of the legendary sales-agent Sam Cummings, who demonstrated the AR-10 around the world, from Cuba to Central America and Europe. In 1957, Armalite struck a deal with Dutch company Artillerie-Inrichtingen, which would produce the AR-10 in Europe.
While the powerful AR-10 made for impressive demonstrations, the demos resulted in only a few contracts for Armalite, the most notable of which were orders from the Sudanese and Portuguese governments.
Sadly, Evans was unable to find any surviving Sudanese veterans to discuss the AR-10’s role in the Sudanese civil war. However, he did manage to gather several Portuguese accounts of AR-10s in action in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea.
Evans does an excellent job detailing the different AR-10 models and variants and the small changes Armalite made to the gun for different contracts. He discusses everything from sling swivels and bayonets, night sights and hand guards — just the sort of detail we’ve come to expect from a Collector Grade publication.
Not only does the book have an extremely detailed contents section, as is now standard with Collector Grade books, it also boasts an extensive index — an extremely useful tool for researchers.
The book concludes by outlining the AR-10’s resurgence as a designated-marksman rifle in the armies of several of NATO countries. A section also examines Armalite’s later history, including the company’s attempts to market the AR-16 and AR-18.
Evans is an enthusiastic and genuine admirer of the AR-10 and his book is clearly a labor of love. While there may be an element of bias in his description of the AR-10 as “the greatest and most under-appreciated battle rifle ever devised,” Evans’ work demonstrates that the label might actually be true.
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