Pearl Harbor Payback

Paul Shull: it’s december 7, 1941.

You’re a 19-year-old sailor stationed at pearl harbor, a day like any other.

Suddenly, you hear the drone of the aircraft, the air raid sirens.

Look up, and hundreds of japanese aircraft are coming straight for us.

We are under attack.

[bombs whistling] the planes obliterate the u.


Pacific fleet.

Thousands are killed.

It becomes one of the greatest military disasters in modern u.



Then america fought back.

[gunfire] through bravery, sacrifice, and an immense arsenal of firepower.

[explosions] [boom] ugh! i’m going to rebuild one of the weapons from that arsenal.

Man: light this bad boy.

[gunfire] Paul:.

That was vital in the fight against the japanese aircraft in the pacific.

I want to understand the role these types of guns played in the conflict, and in doing so, try to answer the question of how a nation went from such a devastating defeat to absolute victory.

Fire in the hole! [boom] all my life, i’ve been obsessed with military history.

But i don’t want to just read about the past.

I want to touch it, feel it.

I want my history lessons to leave a mark.

I’m paul shull, and now with the help of some incredible veterans and collectors, i’m going to try to find, fix, and fire some of history’s most amazing weapons.

[gunfire] [gun cocks] ♪ i’m starting my quest aboard the uss hornet, a world war ii aircraft carrier.

I’m here to meet a veteran who experienced first-hand the carnage at pearl harbor and the threat posed by japanese aircraft.

Mickey, i’m paul.

Mickey Ganitch: mickey ganitch here.

Paul: nice to meet you, sir.

96-year-old mickey ganitch was a sailor aboard the uss pennsylvania, a battleship sitting at dry dock the day the japanese launched their attack.

Mickey: i was there.

I was 22 years old.

We were scheduled to play the uss arizona for a fleet football championship that day.

Paul: it’s early morning, sunday, december 7, 1941.

Most sailors are just beginning their day.

Mickey is suiting up for an inter-crew football game.

Suddenly, hundreds of fighter planes and bombers appear out of the sky.

When did you understand that you guys were under attack? Mickey: we were going to leave the ship at 8 o’clock, get ready for the scrimmaging, get ready for that game.

Paul: yeah.

Mickey: the attack came, said, “ALL hands, man your battle stations.

” my battle station is up in the crow’s nest.

[gunfire] by the time i got up there, ships were burning, buildings were burning, uh.

Everybody’s shooting, planes flying all around there.

A bomb that missed me about 45 feet, it went through two decks and exploded.

[boom] it was like a nightmare, a nightmare, but it was the real thing here.

Paul: in two short hours, japan’s aerial armada levels the american naval base and surrounding airfields.

More than 21 ships are damaged or destroyed, and almost 2,400 americans are killed.

Mickey: there was nothing i could do, just look around and see the slaughter that took place.

All i could do was pray for them.

I made it.

I’m one of the lucky ones that made it.

Paul: the very next day, president roosevelt declares war.

President Roosevelt:.

To overcome this premeditated invasion, the american people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

[cheering] Paul: but with the fleet at pearl harbor reduced to ashes, how did the united states come back from such a terrible defeat to win the war in the pacific and help settle the score for men like mickey ganitch? mickey, an absolute pleasure to be with you today, sir.

Mickey: thank you.

Paul: that’s what i’m about to find out.

I’m heading to virginia to meet a man who is rebuilding a weapon key to that very victory.


Alan Hays: hey, paul! Paul: nice to meet you, man.

Alan: nice to meet you, too.

Paul: thanks for, uh, getting me up here.

Alan: you bet.

Paul: physicist alan hays is always on the lookout for a challenging project.

His latest undertaking is the resurrection to full working order of a vintage 20-millimeter anti-aircraft gun from the second world war.

That’s it.

Alan: it’s a 20-millimeter oerlikon.

Paul: developed first in germany and later in switzerland, the oerlikon anti-aircraft cannon can fire 20-millimeter high explosive rounds almost 7,000 yards.

[gunfire] following the navy’s experience at pearl harbor, it soon became a favorite among u.


Sailors in the pacific.

Why do you have an anti-aircraft gun in your garage? Alan: a man needs a project.

[laughs] i wanted to build something that no one else had.

And this is a good example of physics in motion.

Paul: how so? Alan: well, the physics of the springs, the energy required.

There’s a lot going on here that would interest a mechanical physicist.

Paul: well, it interests me.

It’s just, these are very rare pieces.

Alan: there’s probably two or three dozen in private hands.

But no one’s shooting them because they haven’t made ammunition for this gun since 1945.

Paul: these would have been ideal at pearl harbor.

Alan: there was very few in the arsenal at the time.

Paul: in 1941, the u.


Owns just 379 oerlikons.

Only two are at pearl when the japanese attack, and they’re in crates on the uss utah.

The navy is reliant on another weapon for aerial defense.

Alan: before the war, they were using.

50 caliber machine guns, so they were looking for a larger caliber gun to have the high explosive rounds.

The 20-millimeter was available.

They started producing them.

Then they went on all the ships.

A total of about 125,000 of these guns were made by the end of the war.

It made a difference, it really did, in the pacific.

About 30% of the downed aircraft are attributed to this gun.

Paul: 30%.

That figure is astounding.

But to see if it really is the gun that helped get the payback for veterans like mickey ganitch, i need to see it in action.

[gunfire] alan’s oerlikon has seen a lot of wear and tear, so, to get it firing again, we need to strip it down and check out its insides.

Alan: spring.

Oh, look at that.

That’s not supposed to be like that.

Paul: that’s not good.

Alan: no.

Paul: this is no ordinary spring.

Made of a special alloy, it is built to withstand the powerful recoil of a gun firing over 450 high explosive rounds per minute.

So we need a spring.

Alan: yes.

Now we’re gonna break down the rest of the gun.

Firing pin out.

Oh, that’s not good.

Paul: oof.

Well, this is definitely broken.

The firing pin is the heart of the gun.

Without it, the weapon is useless.

So, we need a firing pin and a spring? Alan: and a spring.

They’re fairly rare parts.

Paul: if i find the parts, can we fire it? Alan: you get the parts, we shoot the gun.

Paul: deal.

Alright, i’m on it.

I absolutely have to track these things down.

But i also want to investigate the firepower they did have at pearl harbor to see why it wasn’t enough.

So my first stop is with an incredible collector not far from alan, who owns the exact model of.

50 caliber browning machine gun that shot back that day– one i have never seen before.

Hopefully he can help me find my parts, too.

Bob? Bob Starer: that’s me.

Paul: i’m paul.

How are you, man? scientist turned gun expert bob starer runs historic arms corporation, a custom manufacturing and training facility.

He owns millions of dollars’ worth of rare weapons, which he keeps locked up and in pristine working condition.

Bob: now, paul, this is historic arms’ collection of fully automatic weapons.

It’s reputed to be the largest collection in private hands in north america.

Lots of history here.

Paul: god.

I come in here, and my breath is completely taken away, right? and.

Bob: you’re not the first one.

A lot of these things are one of a kind.

Here, let me show you something neat over here.

This is an stg 44.

This was captured by our guys in a massive battle that was held in seven days of january near wingen, france, and captured with the ss battle flag.

Paul: wow.

That’s amazing.

In 1945, as part of hitler’s last major offensive on the western front, the elite german 6th ss mountain division devastate u.


Troops defending the town of wingen-sur-moder, close to the german border.

A furious counter-offensive ensues, lasting three days.

After significant casualties, the americans finally recapture the town and this gun along with it.

This is, to say the least, is absolutely fascinating.

But it’s not the weapon i’m here to see.

Bob: this is a water-cooled.

50 caliber heavy machine gun.

Paul: awesome, awesome.

Bob: these were designed by john browning.

They were very popular right after world war i, and they were pretty much the heaviest anti-aircraft weapon we had going into world war ii.

Paul: they had these at pearl harbor? Bob: oh, yeah.

And among machine gun people, it’s become known as the “TORA, tora, TORA” gun.

Paul: as japanese planes race towards pearl harbor, the lead pilot sends a coded message, “TORA, tora, TORA,” to his superiors, confirming complete surprise has been achieved.

That phrase is now synonymous with this gun.

If this is the gun the u.


Had at pearl harbor for air defense.

Bob: yes.

Paul: i want to see what it’s capable of.

Bob: we can make that happen.


Paul: yeah.


Bob: here.

Paul: yeah.

Yeah, wow, very cool.

Ok, so what’s our plan today? Bob: we’re gonna take this m2, we’re gonna fire it at this junk automobile.

It’s not a japanese zero coming in to attack us, but it’s the same sheet metal, it’s the same glass, and it will give us some idea of the destructive power of this weapon.

Paul: but before we do that, we have a bit more work to do.

Bob: this gun was actually designed at the end of world war i, when they would fire literally 10,000 or 20,000 rounds non-stop.

Paul: oh, my god.

Bob: well, that would overheat any conventional weapon, Paul: absolutely.

Bob: so what browning did is put a water jacket on it, connected up to a pump.

Paul: to keep the gun cool, the jacket is connected to a pump that continuously circulates water around the barrel.

This allows it to sustain fire for much longer periods than the conventional air-cooled version.

[cranking] Bob: that barrel is filling up now.

Uh, here we go.

Paul: perfect.

Bob: a.

50 caliber gun is a very dangerous gun if you do it wrong because each one of those cartridges is like a hand grenade.

Okay, now, i think we want to feed it through here.

We take that.

It’s closed.

And the gun is now ready for firing.

Paul: here we go.

Time to test the firepower of the gun america had defending pearl harbor back in 1941.

Bob: get it ready to rock and roll.

[gunfire] Paul: i’m on a mission to help rebuild a wicked anti-aircraft gun from the second world war called the oerlikon.

We need a firing pin.

Alan: and a spring.

Paul: before i go hunting for the parts i need, i’m about to let loose with the same kind of.

50 caliber firepower used to shoot at the aircraft that attacked pearl harbor.

Bob: this is gonna shoot 550 rounds a minute.

You’re shooting an armor piercing ball, no tracer, no incendiary.

Paul: i want to find out what it can do to a metal frame similar to the fuselage of a japanese fighter.

Alright, here we go.

Bob: aim it right at the middle of that car door using these mechanical sights there.

Paul: we got.

Oh, i’m right there.

I’m in the zone.

♪ [firing] ho.

[gunfire] [gunfire] ha ha ha! Bob: is that a gun? Paul: that’s, that’s amazing.

Ok, um, i want to go see the mess we made.

Look at this.

Bob: talk about destruction.

Paul: oh, my god! ho! look at this seat! burn marks.


Bob: now, that’s a weapon and a half.

Paul: yes, sir.

You know, it never ceases to amaze me just what the.

50 cal is capable of.

Bob: oh, it’s one hell of a weapon, it’s powerful.

Paul: very powerful.

However, in world war ii against japanese aircraft.

Bob: well, the problem was the.

50 cal, the rounds have to actually impact on the target.

So you move forward with something like the oerlikon, then they wound up with a shroud of shrapnel, explosive, and the shrapnel would go out for 20, 30 feet.

So all you had to do was get close to the target, and you still managed to hit it.

Paul: got it.

Bob: but that’s why they transitioned from the.

50 cal, a point impact weapon, to the oerlikon that was an explosive round.

Paul: having seen bob’s collection, i know he doesn’t have an oerlikon, but it’s high time i get back on my mission.

As you know, i’m building an oerlikon right now.

Bob: you are a glutton for punishment.

Paul: i am.

Ha ha! i got to give it a try.

And i need parts.

Got any ideas? Bob: sure.

Talk to craig over at tankland.

Paul: yeah? Bob: he’s got plenty of parts for the oerlikon.

[laughs] Paul: what a great day.

Bob: great day.

Paul: take care.

Thank you so much.

I’m traveling to california to visit an incredible outdoor museum filled with vintage military vehicles.

Its official name is the american society of military history, but to insiders like bob starer, it’s called tankland.

Hey, craig.

Craig Michelson: hey, paul, how you doing? Paul: i’m good, man.

Good to see you again.

Craig: yes, sir.

Paul: this is the museum’s one-of-a-kind curator, craig michelson.

He’s spent the last 30 years restoring and preserving an amazing array of military machinery, most of which date from the second world war.

So, you know why i’m here.

Craig: i do.

Paul: we’ve got an oerlikon being built right now.

I need parts.

You got a bunch, right? Craig: i got a bunch that we put back together, and we can go take a look at them.

Paul: let’s do it.

Craig: cool.

Paul: craig, i cannot believe still how much stuff you have.

It’s overwhelming.

Craig: well, you come out, you can’t absorb everything.

There’s 180 cool things of history out here.

Paul: tankland is a testament to the industrial might of the united states during the war.

Only two short months after pearl harbor, every single automobile factory in the country has stopped making cars and is churning out military vehicles.

By war’s end, they’ve pumped out an incredible 2 million plus jeeps, trucks, and tanks.

But craig wants to show me something without wheels or tracks that was still produced in large numbers and relates directly to why i’m here.

Craig: i got you something real cool to look at.

A 40-millimeter quad.

That’s 120 rounds per gun firing at aircraft.

A lot of firepower.

Paul: and it’s huge! Craig: this one came off a battleship: the uss missouri.

Paul: this was on the missouri? Craig: yeah.

Paul: boasting 80 40-millimeter autocannons as well as 49 oerlikons, the uss missouri is a linchpin in the pacific fleet, fighting at the battles of both okinawa and iwo jima.

Life and death came through that sight.

How many fellas sat here and took things out of the air? Craig: it’s amazing.

Just think, a little 17-, 18-year-old little farm boy, now he’s sitting here, and he’s taking out kamikazes.

You know, they were on alert all the time.

Paul: the missouri is also famous as the ship on which the japanese officially surrenders, september 2, 1945.

Can you imagine the crew the day the japanese came on deck and surrendered? Craig: that is total victory.

Paul: as much as i would love to keep touring craig’s incredible collection, i am here for one thing.

Whoa, whoa, whoa.

That’s my oerlikon.

Craig: you mean “MY” oerlikon? Paul: that’s why i’m here.

Oh, mama.

Holy crap.

Dude, what a beast.

Craig: it’s, it’s a big gun.

Paul: jesus.

Craig: puts a.

50 to shame.

Paul: holy god.

What a monster.

Craig: it is a big, heavy weapon.

Paul: down to business, my friend.

Craig: ok, paul.

Paul: i need a firing pin.

Craig: okay.

Paul: and i need a spring.

Craig: well, firing pins? i don’t know.

I don’t have a firing pin from it.

Paul: the receiver on craig’s oerlikon is demilitarized, so it doesn’t contain a firing pin.

Craig: and a spring? i don’t know.

I don’t have anything really that long.

Paul: well, well, can i borrow this one? Craig: oh, hell no.

There’s a spring compressor to put this all together.

I don’t have that, and i ain’t taking this apart.

Paul: are you sure you don’t have an extra one? like, you’ve got stuff everywhere.

Craig: uh, well, i got a part manual for this thing.

Let’s look, and maybe we can come up with something.

Alright, this is all our mechanisms.

Barrel, barrel, barrel, barrel.

So we should be looking for barrel spring.

Paul: spring.

That’s recoil.

Craig: that’s a sear.

Barrel, barrel.


Paul: buffer.

Craig: look, look, look.

Barrel spring, oh.

There’s a rear, and there’s a front.

Paul: that’s the one i need.

Craig: this guy? this little short guy? i might have that damn spring.

’cause i was thinking it’s a long spring.

Paul: uh-huh.

Craig: i got a little fat short spring.

Paul: can we have a look? Craig: yeah, let’s go check it out.

Well, we might have some parts in here.

Paul: how do you find anything in here? Craig: i don’t know.

It just, it just happens.

Soldering crap.

[groans] electrical wire.

More electrical wire.

I know i’ve seen a big spring.

What the hell? what’s that? oh, dude! barrel spring, 20 or 25.

Paul: that’s it.

Craig: that’s it.

That’s what you need.

Paul: alan is going to be absolutely impressed with me.

This is great.


Craig: find a firing pin, you’ve got it.

Paul: i’m good to go.

Craig: awesome.

Paul: awesome, brother.

Craig: alright.

Paul: we’ll see you soon, man.

Craig: alright, you got it.

[closes drawer] Paul: i am now one step closer to rebuilding the oerlikon.

But before i go looking for the next part, i want to find out exactly what this gun was up against.

So i’m heading to check out one of the last surviving examples of the most feared enemy aircraft in the pacific.

Hey, rob? paul.

How you doing, man? Rob Hertberg: hey, i’m doing really well.

It’s nice to meet you.

Paul: nice to meet you.

Rob hertberg is a retired air force officer and former f16 pilot.

Rob now volunteers with the commemorative air force, a nationwide organization dedicated to restoring historic planes from the second world war.

Rob: we’ve got a hellcat, we’ve got a bearcat.

This is a dc3, also known as c47.

We’ve got a mustang and a spitfire.

I’ve got something i want to show you that i know you’re gonna like.

Paul: let’s have a look.

Rob, i know exactly what this is.

Japanese zero.

Rob: it is.

Mitsubishi a6m3 model 22 zero.

Paul: oh, my lord.

At the time of the pearl harbor attack, the japanese zero fighter is unrivaled in the sky.

Flying at over 300 miles per hour, it can unleash a devastating hail of bullets from its very own 20-millimeter autocannons.

It terrifies allied sailors in the pacific.

But it’s equally dominant in air-to-air dogfights, boasting an astonishing kill rate of 12 to 1.

Absolutely devastating.

Rob: yes, it was.

Paul: highly skilled pilots, lots of firepower, it was there at pearl harbor, kamikaze later in the war.


This is the story of the air in the pacific.

Rob: it is.

It is, paul.

Paul: does this thing fly? Rob: you’re in luck.

This is one of five flying zeros in the world.

Here’s our pilot.

This is jason.

Jason Somes: good afternoon.

Paul: jason, i’m paul.

How are you, man? Jason: jason somes.

Nice to meet you, paul.

I’m one of the lucky few that get to fly this amazing asset.

Paul: can we take it up? Jason: we can take it up, and i think rob’s gonna put you in the back of the t6 over there and you’re gonna get some air-to-air and you’ll be able to see it up close and personal today.

Paul: i’m strapping myself into a vintage t6 airplane used to train american pilots during world war ii.

We’re going head to head in a dogfight with a zero to find out why it was one of the most dangerous fighters of the war.

Paul: he’s right on our tail! Rob: and he’s kicking our ass! Craig: no way.

Paul: i’ve found the first part i need to rebuild a fearsome weapon that brought down enemy planes from the pacific skies.

Holy god.

Before i go hunting for the next one, i’m heading airborne.

Rob: you ready in the back? Paul: affirmative.

Rob: let’s do it.

Paul: i’m aboard a world war ii training aircraft known as a t6.

We’re taking to the skies for some simulated combat with one of the greatest aerial threats to the allies: the japanese zero.

We’re doing a dogfight.

Rob: here we go! there he is back there, about right 4 o’clock.

Paul: wow.

He’s got some speed.


Oh, my god.

I’ve never seen anything like this, a plane that close.

So the zero, why was it considered such a dangerous aircraft? Rob: because it had such great maneuverability, paul, and also it could go such far ranges, which were super important in the mass of the pacific ocean, to go a long way, have the fuel to do it, and then be able to fight once it got there.

Paul: true.

Rob: and not only fight, but also kick ass.

He’s moving out in front of us.

Check that out.

There he goes right over.

Paul: look at him! whoa! whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! holy crap.

Whoa! oh, my god.

Where’d he go? Rob: he’s out in front of us.

Look up in.

Paul: whoa, whoa, whoa! holy! that’s insanity.

Rob: yeah, now he’s giving you a real good look at how that zero can maneuver.

♪ Paul: oh.

Rob: look at this.

Paul: look, look at him, look at him! Rob: it’s a phenomenal moving aircraft.

Paul: the zero dominates the skies at the start of the war.

The best fighters the americans have is the f4f wildcat.

It’s a slower, heavier plane that can’t fly nearly as far as the zero.

When the wildcat enters into a dogfight with one, it’s suicide.

As we’re about to find out.

Rob: so now he’s breaking in.

I can’t turn with him.

Paul: oh, my god.

The zero is ahead and banking hard left, but our t6 is struggling to make the same tight turn.

As we break off.

Where is he? it cuts right beneath us.

Dude, he’s right on our tail.

Rob: yep, and he’s right back on our tail.

Paul: aw, [bleep] Rob: and he’s kicking our ass.

Paul: yeah.

We just got outmaneuvered.

Rob: it would be very difficult to maneuver into an offensive position against a zero.

Paul: how did the americans fight back? Rob: so now we come up with some tactics.

Okay, so this is a thach weave.

Paul: named after naval aviator jimmy thach, the thach weave is a tactical maneuver in which two fighters work in tandem to trap a zero.

Oh, my god.

Rob: alright, so here we go.

Paul: as the two planes engage the enemy, they start to make a series of tight turns, dodging enemy fire.

This weaving puts one fighter in a head-on course with the zero, giving his partner the chance of a crossing shot.

As they bob and weave, each plane is also able to watch the tail of the other to deal with any enemy planes coming from behind.


Rob: alright, as soon as we cross, we come back.

Paul: yeah.

Rob: and so now here’s the wingman, who is not getting attacked, Paul: yeah.

Rob: and now i can come and get my nose on him.

Paul: wow! Rob: and shoot him.

And i’m smoking him, i’m hitting him hard.

Paul: let those.

50s rip! Rob: and that’s off to the left and down.

Paul: jason, the zero pilot, signals we’ve nailed him in the crosshairs with a blast of white smoke.

Rob: and that’s a kill, that’s a kill on the zero.

Paul: ha ha! whoo! oh, my god.

The thach weave becomes a key tactic in taking on the seemingly invincible zero.

Rob: oh, that mitsubishi zero.

Paul: wow.

Rob: what an airplane, huh? Paul: that’s kind of getting thrown in the deep end as far as experiences are concerned.

Not only that, but it’s also given me a better understanding of why the americans needed more powerful anti-aircraft weapons for the war in the pacific.

Gentlemen, rob, thank you so much.

It was an absolute pleasure flying with you.

Rob: yeah, enjoyed that a great deal.

Jason: thanks for joining us.

Good fun.

Paul: jason, so much fun, man.

Thank you, guys.

Jason: absolutely.

Paul: it’s high time i got back to tracking down my oerlikon firing pin.

But with so few of these weapons left on the continent, i’ve got to think outside the box.

So i’m heading to check out a very special dealership back in eastern pennsylvania.

Hey, how you doing? is butch around? Man: yeah, butch is here.

Hey, butch.

Butch Steen: hey.

Paul: hey.

Butch: what can i help you with? Paul: butch, i’m paul.

Butch: hey, paul, how you doing? Paul: how are ya, man? Butch: good to meet you.

Paul: butch steen runs sarco inc.

, one of the largest suppliers of historic firearms in north america.

It is a treasure trove for collectors looking for rare weapons, parts, and equipment.

Tell me about the variety of stuff you have here.

Butch: well, we carry everything from the revolutionary period all the way to the current commercial stuff, both firearms and parts.

Paul: so speaking of parts, i’m looking for an oerlikon part.

I need a firing pin.

Butch: we can certainly go take a look in the warehouse.

I know we have some cannon stuff over there, and the oerlikon stuff’s probably mixed in.

Paul: let’s check it out.

Butch: let’s do it.

So this is one of our many warehouses.

Paul: oh, my god.

How many square feet are we talking here? Butch: this building is 14,000 square.

Between all of our warehouses, we have about 80 to 85,000 square of storage.

Paul: jesus.

You got everything here.

But with over 80,000 square feet to comb through, finding a firing pin in this place will literally be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Holy! i’m on a mission to bring a terrifying anti-aircraft gun from the second world war back to life.

I’ve come to one of the biggest historic firearms dealers in the country to find the last part i need.

Trouble is, i’ve got to find it in this place.

So, parts.

Round cam, ammo casings.

Butch: this is all cannon and machine gun here.

Paul: like there’s everything here.

Sarco is my best hope.

If i can’t find an oerlikon firing pin here, my chances of seeing this gun in action are likely up in smoke.

Butch: miscellaneous mauser barrels.

You know, a crate will come in like this with all miscellaneous parts, and we’ll have to sort it out.

Paul: m1 garand.

Butch: yeah, we got about 47,000 garand stocks and, uh, about 150 pallets of ’em.


We should be getting warm.

Paul: mg.

Butch: oh! yep, we got it.



Well, these are a little bigger than a firing pin.

Oerlikon demilled receivers cut in half.

Paul: so how many do you have? Butch: you know, we have this and probably another pallet or two kicking around somewhere.

Oh, here’s some small parts.

The oerlikon.

We could.

[metal clinking] that’s a little big for a firing pin.

There it is! Paul: okay.

This is the last part i need.

Butch: it’s the ark of the covenant.

Paul: buddy.

Butch, you’re a superstar.

Thank you so much.

Butch: you got it, man.

Paul: next time i come here, i’m gonna spend a hell of a lot more time.

Butch: my doors are open.

Paul: awesome.

♪ now that i’ve found both the firing pin and the rear spring, i’m returning to alan hays so we can get this oerlikon operational.

♪ alan! hey, buddy.

Alan: hey, man.

Paul: how are ya? Alan: doing good.

Paul: good.

Check it out.

Alan: excellent! Paul: we got a spring, we got a firing pin.

Alan: we got a gun.

Paul: we get straight to work, starting with the heart of the weapon.

Alan: like that.

Firing pin in.

Paul: the pin strikes the primer to ignite the propellant and fire the shell.

Alan: good.

Paul: okay.

Alan: hammer in.

Paul: pin.

Alan: pin goes in.

Alright, in goes the bolt.

Paul: with the firing pin secured, we move on to the rear spring.

Now, i want to move these out a little bit so we’ve got some slop.

Come to me.

Alan: alright, now we’re ready for that cotter pin to go in.

Paul: okay, up, up, just a.

Yeah, right there.

Alan: there you go.

There you go.

Paul: okay.

Alan: yep.

Alright, put the pin in.


Paul: beauty.

There we go.

Alan: put it back on the table.

[chuckles] Paul: greasy hands.

Ugh! [clank] oh.

[bleep] Alan: it’s together.

Paul: those things are not light.

What the hell are we mounting it on? Alan: uh, it’s down in the barn.

The mount weighs 900 pounds.

♪ Paul: oooh.


Alan: you alright? Paul: yeah.

I’m good.

Up a little bit.

Alan: yep, i’m alright.

I’ll give you some help.

Paul: okay.

Alan: okay.

Paul: alright.

Alan: good.

[groaning] ♪ Alan: wiggle it a little bit, wiggle it a little bit.

Paul: boom! and that is how you build an oerlikon.


We gotta fire this thing.

But we still need ammunition, and original rounds are impossible to come by.

So alan makes his own, using some pretty unorthodox techniques.

What the hell are we doing with this? Alan: well, this is what we’re gonna use as a hydraulic press to change the modern 20-millimeter brass into what looks like oerlikon brass.

Paul: wait a minute, so we’re using a log splitter to make 20-millimeter rounds? Alan: essentially, yeah.

Paul: brother, this is hillbilly engineering at its finest.

Alan: stick it in there.

Paul: no way.


Alan: and we just push it through.

Paul: okay.

[motor starts] the log splitter applies 25 tons of pressure to a modern 20-millimeter brass case.

This reshapes the diameter of the head.

That’s pretty cool.

Um, awesome.

Okay, well, now what do we do? Alan: now, once we have the right outside diameter, i have to take it to the lathe and reform the rim.

[whirring] ♪ and that’s it.


Paul: that’s awesome.

What’s next? Alan: we have to form the neck.

Paul: you ready to go? Alan: okay, push the button.

Paul: alan uses an annealing machine he built himself to soften the brass.

Paul: so, alan, i’ve got a sneaking suspicion that with a fellow like you, stamp-collecting is out of the question? Alan: i like something that goes bang.

Paul: we all do.

The softened case is then reformed at the neck, ready to take the projectile.

Alan: make sure it’s going in straight.

Paul: yep.

Alan: get a feel for it.

And then push it all the way down.

That is a completed case.

Paul: beauty.

Alan: we need to prime them next with these primers.


50 bmg? Alan: that’s correct.

Put it in the cup, put it down, find it, press it in.

That’s what it looks like.

Paul: seems easy enough.

Alan: alright.

This is a very important part.

Don’t screw it up.

Paul: alright.

Come on.


Alan: no.

You need to have the primer below the surface of the case.

If you’re not, this can cause a detonation before it’s chambered, and that’s very bad.

Paul: has something like that ever happened? Alan: that happened to me about 10 years ago.

I had one that was a little loose, primer was sticking out like this.

It exploded on me.

Piece of the case went through my hip, came out the back end.

Could have killed me.

Put me in the hospital for four days.

Not a pleasant experience.

Paul: not good.

Alan: so put it in a little deeper.

Paul: attention to detail.

Got it.

Alright, so find my groove.

The thing is these are 20-millimeter.

Alan: this is a lot of power.


50 cal is a lot of power.

This is insanity.

Alan: more than double.

Push it on in.

There you go.

Paul: okay.

Alan: see, now? it’s below flush.

Put your finger over it.

Paul: bingo.

Alan: looks good.

This is the last thing we have to do.

Put powder into the cases and put the projectile, and we’re done.

Paul: finally.

Here we go.

♪ Alan: yeah, it’s not gonna slip in.

Paul: we’re there.

Alan: right.

’cause it takes a little bit just to get it in, and then it stops.

Keep going.


Paul: there we go.

Alan: that’s it.

Paul: that’s the whole show.

Oh, wow! Alan: that is your first case.

Paul: that is.

This is my first 20-millimeter round that i have created.

It’s pretty cool.

I say we load up some ammo and get the hell out of here.

Alan: let’s do it.

Paul: let’s do it.

♪ Alan: roll forward a little bit, and then just drop it.

Paul: you know, alan, i can’t wait to find out why this was the gun they needed to get the japanese aircraft.

Alan: the only way to find out is to fire it and to compare it to what the.

50 caliber could do.

Paul: it is a hell of a lot bigger than the.

50 cal.

Sight? Alan: yes.

Paul: oh, yeah.

What’s next? Alan: look down the sight.

What do you see? Paul: ha ha ha ha.


So what do you want me to do to that plane? Alan: you’re gonna tear it up.

Paul: now that we’ve put this badass weapon back together, i am finally getting a chance to fire the only working oerlikon in north america.

This thing, over 30%, over 30% of japanese aircraft were taken out with this.

And i gotta find out why.

There is nothing light about these things.


Sir, we are good to go.

Then, just as we’re ready to fire, alan has one final surprise.

Alan: paul, this is bill long, Paul: bill, i’m paul.

Nice to meet you, sir.

Bill Long: nice to meet you.

Paul: 98-year-old bill long enlisted in the navy shortly before pearl harbor.

He was an oerlikon gunner aboard a patrol craft and was deployed to the pacific in 1942.

With your experience, how important was the oerlikon in world war ii for taking out japanese aircraft? Bill: i think it was quite important when the japanese kamikazes were coming.

These planes were coming in on the ships, and they’re firing everything under the sun.

The sky is full of shrapnel.

And they still get through.

You were hopeful that you’d get a direct hit.

And if you did, this thing would have blown them out of the sky.


Ah, yeah.

[alan laughs] Bill: now.

Paul: does this bring back some memories? Bill: oh, yeah.

Paul: feel okay? Bill: yeah, she’s heavy.


Paul: yeah.

I can’t wait.

Got my drum, got my ammo.

I’m ready to go.

Bill: i never thought i’d be hanging in this thing of one of these anymore.

Paul: yeah.

How long’s it been? Bill: oh, god.

Paul: watch your step, sir.

Bill: i’m 98.

Alan: he’s good.

Bill: okay.

Paul: where would you hit that if that was a target for you? Bill: i guess i’d pick the widest part, which is right under the pilot.

That way i’d maybe get part of the motor and might get him.

Paul: bill is right on the money here, because to mimic the impact of a genuine oerlikon explosive round, alan has rigged the plane so that if i hit that sweet spot, it goes boom.

Any pointers for me today, before i get on this thing? Bill: give it hell.

That’s all.

Just keep.

Just hold down the crank and keep firing.

Paul: you got it, okay.

So what do i got to know to shoot this thing? Alan: well, first thing is make sure it’s on safe.

Paul: we are safe.

Alan: alright.

Go ahead and loosen the mount.

Push down slight– there you go.

Get yourself comfortable, get a feel for it.

Commit to it.

Yep, just like so, put your hand on the grips.


Get a feel for it, up, down, left, right.

Paul: oh, wow.

Alan: you get the sight picture? Paul: yes.

I got it.

Alan: when you’re ready, take the safety off.

Paul: safety is off.

Gun is hot.

Alan: light this bad boy! Paul: let’s do it.

[firing] [cheering] [firing] Alan: stop.

You’re aiming real low.

You’re hitting the dirt.

Not even halfway there, you’re hitting dirt.

Paul: really? Alan: yeah.

Paul: this is a much bigger challenge than the.

50 cal.

I’m not even close to blowing this plane up, and bill does not look impressed.

This is a lot harder than i thought.

I got the tail.

Alan: a little bit.

If this is the kind of aiming you’re doing, you’d be dead at this point.

Paul: let’s waste this thing.

♪ [firing] Alan: yep.

[firing] Alan: let’s kill it! [firing] [boom] Paul: ha ha ha! oh, boy! okay.

[laughing] oh, my god.

Ha ha! that’s.


That is so much bigger than the.


It’s not the recoil.

It’s just the overall feeling of it, like ba-doof, ba-doof.

Alan: it’s a big gun.

Paul: it is a huge gun! just the blast going through the trees.

Sounds like, it sounds actually like thunder! this thing brings the thunder.


What an astoundingly powerful weapon.

Nailing this junker right where it counts, it’s not hard to imagine what real explosive rounds would do to an aircraft like a japanese zero.

♪ Alan: it does some damage.

Paul: what a great experience, and just what a great day, what a great day.

Alan: you have any more airplanes? Paul: we should find.

I wish we did! alan, thank you so much, man.

Seeing the destruction this gun can cause up close, i can see why the u.


Turned to it to take on the japanese aerial menace and deliver pearl harbor payback.

[gunfire, explosion] and the opportunity to rebuild it with alan and fire it in the presence of a veteran gunner who fought in the pacific has been awe-inspiring.

So what did you think? Bill: yeah, you did real well that time.

I think you can qualify now.

Paul: yeah.

Ha ha, qua–yes! okay, in bill’s eyes, i have made it.

Bill, thank you so much, my friend.

Bill: thank you, paul.

Paul: let’s get out of here, okay?.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *