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Hurricane "Carabine", the early pneumatic gun's rival

popgun pete

Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2008
2,424
432
123
Australia
#1
Spearfishing with spearguns evolved rapidly as a sport after the end of World War II when the manufacture of the necessary equipment moved onto a commercial basis from the earlier beginnings in small workshops where enthusiasts often made much of their own equipment or adapted it from items intended for other purposes.

A new French company, Hurricane, was one of the first to make a full range of moulded rubber diving products as well as a range of spearguns. Being an innovator that strove to offer different equipment to that supplied by anyone else, Hurricane made items that were engineered beyond the level normally associated with spearfishing equipment in the pursuit of solutions to what were then considered problems (the words “needlessly complicated” come to mind for some of the rubber products). One of these solutions was their range of dry spring guns which had been developed to try and eliminate two problems with that type of weapon, the first being the loss of power as the long coil spring returned to its uncompressed length in water during the shot and the weight of these spearguns which the diver had to support as the guns had negative buoyancy being little more than a long metal tube with a spring inside it with every part of the gun being flooded. The reason why I am discussing this weapon here is that the dry spring gun was a competitor to the pneumatic gun, then in its infancy, which was also a descendant of the spring gun and as a consequence they bore many similarities to each other in their function and overall layout.

The Hurricane dry spring gun idea was invented by Pierre-Andre Martineau in 1942 and was the subject of a number of successive patents where the concept was progressively refined to the form in which it was eventually produced for sale (in a 1945 patent) as the “Carabine” model which was eventually available in four different lengths. Basically the gun was of the usual compression spring gun format, but with a larger diameter barrel tube front and rear and with a cast alloy mid-handle made up in two sections. However instead of a clamshell moulding with left and right hand sides and a gasket positioned in-between them to seal the two halves together and where they gripped onto the barrel tube (his first 1942 idea which was not that practical) the production mid-handle casting had an upper receiver which mounted the front and rear barrel tubes and a lower grip section that sealed onto it with a gasket between them to keep water out of the hollow shell formed by the handle interior. The external pivoting trigger operated through a short push rod that penetrated a seal in the lower grip section in order to activate the two-piece trigger mechanism installed inside the handle interior which was intended to remain dry, however that was only true once the flooded gun had been emptied of water. The idea was that with water removed from the interior of the gun the propulsion spring was no longer affected by water drag opposing its coils expanding during the shot and the buoyancy provided by the “air bubble” inside the gun served to offset some of the weight of the gun in the water. The “Carabine” gun was never designed to be a floater as even with larger than normal barrel tubes the water displacement of the gun was too low to achieve that outcome. Unfortunately when completely flooded the gun was even heavier than usual for a spring gun thanks to all the extra metal used in its construction.

Originally Martineau intended the gun to be drained of water, which could enter the gun during muzzle loading, by raising the cocked gun horizontally above the water’s surface and operating a sprung loaded plug situated in the base of the grip handle by pulling it downwards. The “Carabine” name was actually inscribed on this round metal plug in the bottom of the handle butt, along with the words “Hurricane Sous Marine”. The hollow grip handle would thus serve as a sump or the low point in the gun through which all the water inside the gun then drained out. Once emptied of water the gun could be submerged with the proviso that the muzzle was always kept inclined slightly downwards in order to stop air bubbling out of it and water rushing in, thus in a sense the Hurricane spring gun functioned like an open bottom diving bell. Evidently this arrangement was not ideal as it would be all too easy for those who dived under to shoot their quarry to lose the air bubble if they raised the gun’s muzzle too much, as distinct from those who only shot their guns from the surface and could keep them pointing downwards. Plus increasing ambient pressure with greater depth would cause water to enter the barrel in any case as the air trapped inside the gun was being progressively compressed, which was always going to be an ongoing problem with an incompletely sealed off interior being used in these spearguns.

The “Carabine” gun was revised by eliminating the handle drain plug and converting it into a screw cap access point for lubricating the trigger mechanism, hence the external appearance remained unchanged even though the functionality had. In its place was a reciprocating pump on the rear of the gun which slid back and forth over the exterior of the rear barrel tube, the pump’s handle also serving as the pump body which breathed air through a hole in its rear end which the operator blocked off with a finger placed over it when pushing the pump handle downwards. Naturally to pump air into the gun the rear end had to be held up above the surface and the water inside the cocked gun was then displaced to flow out of the muzzle opening after passing around the spear already inside the barrel. The instructions for the gun claim that it took only two strokes of the rear pump to empty it, whether that is true or not I don’t know, but it tells us that the pump was not a surcompressor as was claimed in the gun’s advertising material. The implication that it was a surcompressor is probably an oblique reference to the then emerging pneumatic gun, with connotations of spring and air power boosting the “Carabine” gun’s performance, however the Hurricane “Carabine” was never going to be an air powered gun no matter how watertight it may have been made for one fundamental reason. The short piston pushed by the propulsion spring had the sear tooth acting on its front end rather than at the rear, so any air pressure in the gun would operate on both ends of the piston and contribute nothing to the spear propulsion. Also this piston at the front of the long coil spring carried no seals, although there was a seal at the muzzle entrance to hinder water entering the gun if the diver momentarily raised the muzzle. This rubber muzzle seal could be thought of as a precursor to a modern vacuum barrel muzzle seal as it had to have the spear shaft and shaft tail stop pass through it without sustaining any damage to its sealing lip. The idea was that air and water could be pushed outwards through this muzzle seal (when using the rear pump), but water would not enter going in the opposite direction. While the inner barrel was not under a vacuum, it was originally at atmospheric pressure or slightly above it depending on how far down in the water the muzzle projected when pumping ceased, any sealing action would be difficult to maintain at a reasonable depth when the gun was taken underwater in a dive.

Having the sear tooth hold the spear in the barrel is a direct carry over from the spring gun which operated the same way whether or not there was a piston on the nose of the coil spring, a piston being necessary if the propulsion spring diameter was much larger than the spear diameter. Interestingly spring gun barrels were then 13 mm, 12 mm and 11 mm in diameter (the Cressi “Saetta” at 17 mm diameter required a piston), which probably determined the size of future pneumatic guns as the tubing would be available with 13 mm providing the most performance from the low start pressures being used in the early pneumatic spearguns.

Well engineered and no doubt expensive both to manufacture and for customers to purchase, the Hurricane “Carabine” was produced in four different models, the “Mosquito” (no rear pump as it was virtually a short pistol), the “Baby”, the “Simoun” and the “Rafale” which was the longest model. The stated underwater ranges of these weapons were an extraordinary 4, 6, 8 and 10 metres respectively! Somehow I find those numbers very hard to believe, but at the time (late forties and fifties) the public would have little opportunity to test such claims, unless they bought a gun!

Surviving examples of the Hurricane “Carabine” are usually found in speargun collections and are often incomplete (no spear, no springs, even though it was claimed the propulsion springs were stainless or non-corroding), hence the prospect of shooting one now in order to check out the actual performance is low, but the guns certainly looked the part and would have impressed any diver who saw them due to their styling and high quality of construction. The pneumatic speargun, once perfected to achieve the reliability provided by coil spring power, would soon eclipse any spring gun by providing the same or greater performance in a much shorter package if comparable muzzle loading effort was used as the long coil spring of the spring gun was a source of considerable inefficiency and demanded a certain length to house it inside any gun.
 
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popgun pete

popgun pete

Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2008
2,424
432
123
Australia
#5
A pressure valve such as an air inlet valve for a pneumatic speargun usually has small valve seat and valve stem diameters so that the force applied to the valve stem to let air out of the gun is low despite the pressure on the other side of the valve being very high, usually hundreds of psi or tens of atmospheres. Inside the Hurricane “Carabine” the air pressure will be low, maybe a bit over one atmosphere once the inlet valve shuts at the end of the last pump stroke to drive the last of the water out of the gun with a few small air bubbles then streaming upwards from the inverted muzzle. Now the “Carabine” parts diagram shows that the inlet valve stem is the size of a medium-sized bolt and has a big biasing spring on it which seems rather odd until you realize that this spring has to stop water entering the gun from the rear end with the increasing ambient pressure at depth opening the valve and letting air out and water in. I have had this happen when a “Miniministen” that I was carrying as a spare gun lost pressure gradually through a slow leak which I knew about and when I pulled it apart to finally fix it after my last dive I found that it had a lot of water inside it. Evidently it had lost pressure completely before that dive and when I dived down each time the ambient pressure opened the inlet valve and water streamed into the gun’s interior, so much water that I could hear it sloshing around inside when I gave the gun a shake as I prepared to wash it. The inlet valve cap had been lost years ago as the bayonet type fitting used had a tendency to unlock itself as you loaded the gun against your wetsuit, so on the next shot you suddenly realised that it was missing.

The “Carabine” inlet valve spring must resist opening down to twenty metres as the brochure for the gun states that it will be watertight to that depth. As every ten metres adds another atmosphere of pressure that means the inlet valve will not open with 3 atmospheres on the exterior and maybe 1 to 1.1 atmospheres inside the gun from when it left the surface (I am referring to absolute pressure here rather than gauge pressure to avoid confusion about the pressure inside an “empty gun”). Let us say that the gun’s muzzle is projecting one metre under the surface during the pumping, then to blow air out of the muzzle it must equal a pressure of 1.1 atmospheres inside the gun at that depth for the muzzle.

My thoughts are that at twenty metres depth the air pressure inside the “Carabine” would actually be 3 atmospheres, the same as ambient pressure, as water pushed up into the barrel past the muzzle “seal” to reduce the air bubble inside the gun to a third of its original volume, however if the diver ascended without lifting the gun’s muzzle and kept it pointed downwards all the time then he would be none the wiser as the air trapped inside the gun expanded to push the water out of the gun once he reached the surface. The gun would be emptied of water as long as no air was lost from it during the dive. In fact when you think about it short of having a window to see what was going on inside the gun, or detecting a change in its apparent weight in the water, there is no way of proving such a gun remains watertight at depth. The gun always gets wet inside when it fills with water during muzzle loading, “dry” being a relative term to indicate the absence of internal flooding when the gun shoots. I suspect that many “Carabine” users were water surface based shooters, hence this type of speargun would be much easier to operate in that context and would deliver the performance benefits expected as water inside the gun could then be kept to a bare minimum.
 
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popgun pete

popgun pete

Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2008
2,424
432
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Australia
#7
Hurricane models.jpg
A forum member has measured up his "Rafale" version of the gun and I have put the dimensions on this diagram so we can get an idea of the gun's comparative size to that of other types of spearguns. The drawing is based on a 1947 Spanish patent which shows a different trigger mechanism, but I now know that is what the gun used as distinct from the mechanism shown in the 1945 French patent, although it is still the same type of "reverse" trigger mechanism. The "Rafale" was the longest model, this version being claimed to shoot 10 metres, but that is a long way even for the flying range of the shaft where it runs out of steam and flops to the bottom with a horizontal shot.
Hurricane Carabine Rafale diag R.jpg
 
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popgun pete

popgun pete

Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2008
2,424
432
123
Australia
#8
I had been sent the photos taken by Mel B and thought that he would put them up, but he has left that job to me.
Hurricane pump seal.jpg

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Hurricane piston.jpg
Hurricane rear cap.jpg
Rafale Pics 005.JPG
Rafale Pics 007.JPG
Rafale Trigger Assembly 001.JPG
Rafale Trigger Assembly 002.JPG
Rafale Trigger Parts 002.JPG

You can see as was used by the very early pneumatic guns of the period that the big pump seal is made from oiled leather. The piston bears no seals because it just sits on the nose of the long propulsion spring and the sear tooth both engages it and the spear tail when they are "docked" together in the "cocked to shoot" gun. The trigger mechanism, which sits in the one-piece handle casting, is operated by a very short push rod acting through a small seal in the front of the grip inside the trigger finger guard and now looks much simpler that the original mechanism design depicted in the patents. A noticeable change is the mechanism biasing spring no longer links the sear lever and inner trigger which would have made the lower handle difficult to remove from the upper receiver as you would have had to unhook the spring first and reassembly would have been just as difficult due to their being only a small separation where there will be a gap to work in.

The sear lever is no longer biased as the coiled propulsion spring riding over the top of it serves to hold it down until the spring compresses with the piston being pushed back at which time the seas tooth, pushed up by the top of the inner trigger rising underneath it re-engages the piston to trap the spear and piston in the gun.

A complicated and heavy gun that was very expensive in its day, it still has one secret and that is how well does it shoot. The gun held by Mel in the AUF spearfishing museum unfortunately lacks its spear and has a bend in the rear barrel which it should not have, at least not as large as can be seen here. At some time in the past the gun has had an unfortunate "accident".

Rafale Pics 003.JPG
 
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popgun pete

popgun pete

Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2008
2,424
432
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Australia
#9
The trigger mechanism as patented and then produced, remember this in 1945 and here we have the basis of the "Omer" Cayman mech long before Omer ever existed and I imagine that the line release lever synchronization with shooting the gun was all sorted out way back then, while today we have some guns that break their levers!
Rafale Trigger arrangement.gif
 
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popgun pete

popgun pete

Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2008
2,424
432
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Australia
#10
On 15th January 1947 Martineau submitted another patent application to the French Patent Office to add an improvement to the longer "Carabine" models. This took the form of closed off tubes mounted on either side of the front barrel, their claimed function to provide some offsetting buoyancy to the front of the "Carabine" gun which was nose heavy when cocked even though the dry (i.e. pumped out) interior was intended to eliminate most of the gun's weight when submerged. The other claimed benefit was that these flanking tubes were a muzzle flip suppressor as they acted as paddles increasing the drag as the gun's nose tended to lift with the shot as most guns do to a certain extent. This recoil induced muzzle lift is a consequence of the grip handle being mounted low with respect to the barrel tube axis thanks to the gasket sealing of the lower handle section which effectively pushes the whole grip lower than it would be on a standard spring gun. A factor that would ameliorate some of the rearwards recoil effect was the bulk of the guns as while weighing less thanks to being "dry" inside, or more accurately "damp" after pumping most of the water out, the mass was significantly increased due to the increased physical dimensions of the gun with it containing a lot more metal and parts. For example the barrel tubes are sized for the 19 mm OD piston and a coil spring of not much smaller OD, which is much larger than your standard spring guns used, e.g. Cressi-Sub, Mares and Fusil Americain or the "United Service Agency" as was created by Alexandre Kramarenko and Henry Wilen who were the pioneers of the compression spring powered speargun. Anyone who has read the "Compleat Goggler" by Guy Gilpatric will instantly recognize these two names as they figure prominently in that classic book which is long overdue for a reprint.
Hurricane stabilizer tubes.jpg

Ignore the trigger mechanism shown as it is merely symbolic of the gun having one as in reality such a trigger would not work as it has no locking capability.
 
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popgun pete

popgun pete

Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2008
2,424
432
123
Australia
#11
Here is a ”Hurricane” brochure/advert both in French and English where we can see exactly what the claims are for the “Carabine” dry spring guns. They are for the most part either wildly optimistic or deliberately misleading lies!

Immediately the claimed shooting ranges are seen to be beyond being optimistic, they are impossible (for straight line, horizontal shaft flight). The working course of the piston in these dry spring guns is too short to deliver the performance stated here. The reference to a “pneumatic surcompressor” is also a lie as to be a surcompressor the air pressure in the guns would need to be well above ambient pressure, but any gun you can pump up with your thumb or finger acting as a non-return valve on the hole in the rear of the pump handle can only be pumped to slightly over ambient pressure before it again equalizes with the surroundings. The lack of any seals on the sliding piston and the sear tooth acting on its leading edge make elevated pressure behind the piston impossible as any air present inside the gun barrels is always connected front and rear. The “Carabine surcompressor” is the equivalent of blowing water clear of a drinking straw placed at the bottom of the glass, excess air bubbles out and if you close the top of the straw off by placing the tip of your tongue over it then the straw’s interior stays dry, but only while the rear hole is kept blocked off. In the “Carabine” gun a one-way valve does this job, but if you lift the muzzle up past the horizontal then air will bubble out of the muzzle as water gurgles in to fill up the gun. Dive down and water will penetrate along the barrel as pressure inside the guns equalizes with pressure outside at the tip of the muzzle. Hence the “Carabine” is a type of diving bell which is open at the bottom rather than a pressure sealed gun. Many of the claims here are basically over blown BS.

No doubt “Carabine” speargun owners, having paid a lot of money for their guns, kept quiet about their disappointment, either that or their expectations were very low in the first place.
hurricane brochure BR.jpg
 
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popgun pete

popgun pete

Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2008
2,424
432
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Australia
#13
I recently recovered these photos from an old computer that had lots of historic speargun images stored on it. You can see the Hurricane "Carabine" handle parts very clearly and the quality of the manufacturing is evident in the attention to detail. These guns were very expensive when new. The reel may have been replaced as the spool is usually larger and mirrors the design of the mounting plate.
Hurricane LHS detal (pump).jpg
Hurricane RHS detail (pump).jpg
 
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popgun pete

popgun pete

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Jul 30, 2008
2,424
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Australia
#14
Here is another photo of the gun, probably a "Rafale" judging by the straight rear barrel tube and hand pump. As described earlier the hand pump is used to drive water out of the spring gun with the rear end of the gun held clear of the water after the gun has been cocked. Meanwhile any fish have hurriedly departed if this was a follow-up shot!

Hurricane with rear pumper.jpg
Hurricane Carabine Rafale diag R.jpg
 
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popgun pete

popgun pete

Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2008
2,424
432
123
Australia
#15
A contemporary brochure for the "Rafale", note that the shooting range is quoted as being 10 meters. Somehow I don't think so, although that could be how far the shaft travels before plonking on the bottom, in other words the flying range of the shaft.
Hurricane Rafale.jpg
 
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popgun pete

popgun pete

Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2008
2,424
432
123
Australia
#17
I tried to buy one of these Hurricane "Carabine" guns on eBay a few times in order to conduct shooting tests and verify the range claims, however on each occasion the gun was snapped up by speargun collectors who would pay any price and sniped my top bid with split seconds to go. Eventually I gave up as guns were pushed to US$600 plus, and that does not include shipping, by people who would pay whatever it took to win. Unfortunately their “Carabine” guns will never fire a shot as they become too valuable to risk as far as they are concerned.
 
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popgun pete

popgun pete

Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2008
2,424
432
123
Australia
#18
Well as coincidence would have it a Hurricane "Carabine" is now being sent to me for close examination and shooting tests, that is if the gun still has its original propulsion spring and is mechanically still in good order. I don't know whether it is a "Simoun" or a "Rafale". The former have a slightly inclined rear barrel tube to tuck under your arm, while the latter with an in-line rear barrel tube pass the gun butt over your shoulder so that the gun can be shot like a Bazooka.

This “Carabine” gun also has the flanking twin side tubes on the front barrel section for additional buoyancy and muzzle flip suppression. I suspect that due to the low handgrip position, which has been discussed here earlier, many of the longer Hurricane "Carabine" guns were fitted with these twin tubes as a matter of course, either that or you shot the gun two-handed.
 
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