This rare curiosity from the captured-weapons collection at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia, may be one of the last of its kind, according to German military researcher Michael Heidler. He came across the object on a storage shelf while a curator was guiding him through the museum’s German submachine-gun holdings. But just what is this unusual artifact? Heidler’s subsequent historical detective work solved the mystery: It is an Abkomm-Lauf n/A—a small-caliber training device used by the German Imperial Navy. By inserting the barrel into a big-bore cannon, ship gunnery could be practiced using cheaper and smaller-caliber ammo, all the while preserving the bores of the valuable big-barreled guns. The Abkomm-Lauf was fashioned out of a cannibalized, obsolete Mauser Model 1871 Jäger rifle.
How this oddity ended up in the Marines’ collection is almost as interesting as the object itself. It was retrieved from the wreckage of the auxiliary cruiser Cormoran, scuttled and sunk in Guam Harbor in 1917, as the United States declared war on Germany. Captain Adalbert Zuckschwerdt opted to sink his ship rather than surrender her to the Americans. As U.S. Marines approached the vessel, the explosive charges had already been placed, and a flurry of activity was evident on deck. The first American shot fired at imperial Germany in World War I flew over the bow of the Cormoran. Collecting items and weapons blown ashore in the wake of the ship’s self-inflicted explosion, the Marines found the Abkomm-Lauf. Also salvaged from the wreckage was the ship’s bell, now housed at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland.
Know of an unusual naval artifact? Contact us at [email protected].