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Early Rollerguns, Big and Small from the United Service Agency

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popgun pete

Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2008
The United Service Agency was a spearfishing company created in France by expatriates Alexandre Kramarenko (Russia) and Charles Henry Wilen (USA) to build a product line that stemmed from their inventions of the compression spring gun and the single plane diving goggle or monogoggle in the thirties. Their spearguns were sold under the brand name "Fusil Americain" and they realised that an updated product line would bring in the customers for a sport that was still in its infancy.

They realised that although coil spring power was reliable it had its drawbacks and so designed two rubber powered efforts at the extremes, a small gun aimed at shooting lobsters and a two handled whopper for shooting anything big. These metal guns were based on the rollergun principle that made the most of the rubber that was available in those days. Fortunately we have the French patents for both of them and they can be seen below.
Spear pistol patent.jpg

United Service Agency Spear Pistol 1.jpg

United Service Agency Spear Pistol 2.jpg

Fusil Americain spear pistol R.jpg

This lobster gun is rather ingenious but entirely pointless for what it has to do, who knows how many they actually sold. Note that the band tension in the gun can be adjusted by sliding the cylindrical fore grip that moves the anchor pulley which the band wraps around after you have unscrewed the handle a few turns, then retightened it in the new position. The trigger is a pull down sear fabricated out of springy metal strip which allows everything to be made in one-piece. This would appear to be a rather flimsy arrangement which may be indicative of the power of the shot, or the lack thereof.
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The two handled whopper was not likely a big seller as it would have been an expensive gun to make and to buy. It made use of their existing spring gun handle which everyone else had copied. The top slotted barrel must have been thick in cross-section to stop it from bending under band load and it is hard to see anyone swimming with such a heavy gun for any length of time. Its claim to fame is you can use it as either a mid-handle gun or a rear handled gun with four shooting powers available. Like all spring guns it is muzzle loaded. The lever on the gun moves the rear band anchor which wraps using a horizontal pulley to give two band stretch positions and the sliding carriage that drives the spear can be latched by using either handle’s trigger mechanism which grips the spear tail. Firing from the rear handle you lock down the mid-handle trigger mechanism first using the safety button on the side of the handle which slides either up or down. A rubber bumper system reduces the noise when the sliding pusher unit slams into the muzzle. The spear pistol similarly has rubber bumpers on the side to catch the arms poking out of the side slots in the square cross-section barrel.
double handle rollergun patent.jpg

Fusil Americain roller gun.jpg

Fusil Americain double handle rollergun.jpg

Fusil Americain grip handle and roller muzzle.jpg

They don’t make them like this anymore for obvious reasons.
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Detail of Wilen's spring gun handle from their US patent. WWII was in progress in France, although the South of France was not immediately occupied by the Germans, so life went on, although not as usual. The trigger needed two fingers to pull it as this pull down sear lever design initially pushed the spear backwards against the propulsion force. Not by much, but you needed strong fingers.
Wilen's spring gun handle.jpg

Fusil Americain spring gun handle.jpg

Note the strong resemblance to Nemrod's later spring gun handle!
Nemrod spring gun handgrip LHS.jpg
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If we had the rubber power band to fit to the big rollergun this is how it would look when cocked. The band may have been a big rubber loop as it goes around the anchor pulley and the horn of the sliding shaft impeller which means it does need to be held by ferrules or knots. The Hurricane band powered roller gun dates from the same year, 1949. Replacing this band may have been a slow job seeing as it has to be threaded through the available openings in the gun. The cross bar in the spear pivots and acts as a loading bar for muzzle loading.
fusil americain rollergun with bands.jpg

It is possible that you could muzzle load the gun to the front handle mechanism and latch the spear, then have another push and send it to the rearmost handle as the spear runs right over the top of these flat trigger mechanisms, being utilized in spring guns where the coil spring travels right over the mechanism. In a spring gun the ability to lock the trigger and hence sear lever down came in handy when you pulled the long coil spring out from the muzzle end for cleaning and regreasing, an essential task for efficient gun operation. Grit and rust will increase friction in a spring gun and detract from its already meagre performance, spring guns being the least efficient of underwater weapons. They were popular when band rubber was very poor stuff compared to what we have today.
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Not to be outdone Nemrod created a similar gun called the “Catapult”, but as a means to stop the top slotted barrel folding up under band load used a top tube to brace the weapon. These guns were probably conversation pieces in their day, but may have found few willing to spearfish with one and to pay the purchase price. Patents in one country did not stop copyists in another.
Nemrod catapult.jpg
My thanks to John Warren for the photos of the large twin handle rollergun and Cyril Malzac for those of the fascinating spear pistol. These very inventive if perhaps flawed weapons would have disappeared without trace if it were not for a few examples being saved from the scrap heap or junk pile. The lack of signs of heavy use also tells us something!
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An early booklet issued by the United Service Agency which served as an advert for their equipment, La Chasse aux Poissons.


The extract from the “Compleat Goggler” shown above is from page 129 to 130. Here is the English language version of what above is in French. The hilarious nature of that book’s accounts of underwater action is apparent when you read the text.
compleat goggler page 129 to 130.png

Compleat Goggler page 131.jpg

Compleat Goggler page 133.jpg

Page 132 is just an illustration not related to the above text.
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