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The Soviet version of the Cavalero Champion Arbalete

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popgun pete

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Jul 30, 2008
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After WWII spearfishing underwent a growth spurt in the fifties and sixties as more equipment became available, particularly with swim fins, masks and snorkels that previously did not exist in any quantities. The speargun that made the biggest change was the band-powered Champion Arbalete from Rene Cavalero that had to wait for the war to end before entering full production. This gun was light, easy to use and not hugely expensive to buy, so was a big seller and many were made under licence by other manufacturers such as Voit and US Divers.

These developments did not go unnoticed in the Soviet Union and after a short time lag a version of the gun was produced in the Arsenal factory in Ukraine. The guns were produced as the R1, followed by the shorter barrel R2 and R3 which will be discussed later. These spearguns all use the in-line pull socket head muzzles and screw ferrule ended bands that also connected at the rear to a wire wishbone mounted on the rear ferrules.

Photos below show the Soviet R handle on the left with a Champion Arbalete on the right for comparison. Note that the R handle has a line release pin added in the butt that retracts when you pull the trigger and the grip is much wider when seen from side on. The Soviet gun is a 1977 example and has never been used, being acquired from the factory as events in Ukraine took a turn for the worse, the country being attacked under the orders of Vladimir Putin.
Soviet Champion Arbalete Copy 1 R.jpg

Soviet Champion Arbalete Copy 2 R.jpg

Soviet Champion Arbalete Copy 3 R.jpg
 
The internal layout is very similar, however there are detail changes in how the sear lever connects to the trigger and there is the line release lever/pin. I expect this feature was borrowed from the Mares Juni which although the detail shapes are different is a very similar gun to the French Arbalete.
Soviet R handle lhs R.jpg

Soviet R handle rhs R.jpg

A comparison photo of the Champion Arbalete innards.
Cavalero Champion Arbalete mechanism R.jpg
 
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This is the Mares Juni which appears to be based on a chopped down rear ended version of their Mares Bess spring gun handle, but with a new trigger mechanism similar to the French Champion Arbalete, only the pivot pins are arranged vertically here instead of being horizontal. It functions in the same way as a pull down sear lever design, while also incorporating the butt mounted pin line release carried over from the Bess spring gun. Waste not, want not.
Juni handle interior R.jpg
mares juni3.jpg
 
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The Soviet R handle is quite well made, although the design appears to have been mainly changed to avoid accusations of being a direct copy. The handle has been made wider to accommodate the line release pin and that required for symmetry the other clamshell half to be made wider as well. The use of small steel pins peened into position is maybe not such a good idea where the sear lever's rear slotted tab is embedded in the matching slot in the alloy trigger. Steel can rust, but it should be remembered that most of these guns were destined for hunting in freshwater where corrosion problems are less onerous. For that matter the alloy casting handle appears to have been polished on a buffing wheel and has not been anodized as some of the buffing compound is still on the handle near the handgrip '"scales" The casting has not been fully fettled as metal flash can be seen in various locations that would usually be cut off before anodizing, but as they didn't anodize the handle and you cannot see the flash they never bothered removing it.
Soviet R  handle sear lever to trgger pin connection R.jpg

Soviet R handle cocked to shoot R.jpg

This is how the gun looks internally when ready to shoot, the sear lever acts as as a pawl jamming the shaft tail up into the sear box roof, the tooth being slightly angled to travel on an arc without pushing the spear tail backwards when you pull the trigger. Whether it achieves that depends on how well the geometry works out, plus these are not highly powered guns as they use relatively small band loads in the R2 and R3 models. This handle is actually from a R3 model of the gun.
 
Close up images of the sear lever locking onto the shaft tail and the safety cam which is a pivoting eccentric used to immobilize the trigger after the gun is cocked to shoot. Note the quirky arrangement of the biasing spring on the safety cam! And the untrimmed flash!
Soviet R handle sear tooth engagement R.jpg

Soviet R handle safety cam R.jpg
 
This is the R2 speargun, it has a white nylon socket head muzzle with two band strands and nylon rear ferrules to match with a wire wishbone. The trigger has been anodized as well as the barrel tube, but the grip handle appears to be simply polished alloy as on the R3. Why this gun looks new is because it is, being NOS. The bands only look OK as they have never been stretched, but would certainly checker and crack if any draw was applied to them.
Soviet gun R2 R.jpg

Soviet R2 grip R.jpg

Soviet R2 three quarter view R.jpg
 
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The Arsenal Factory in Ukraine has a Wikipedia article in English with a potted history of the plant.

From a directory of Soviet factory logos:

Arsenal.jpg


Russian: "Завод «Арсенал» геодезические и оптические инетрументы, объективы, зеркала, подводное ружье являлся головноышм предприятием в ПО "Арсенал", е которое также еходили Уманский завод "Вега" и Нежинский завод "Прогресс" клеймо общее для есех заводов объединения".
Rough translation: "'Arsenal' plant. Geodetic and optical instruments, mirrors, lenses, underwater guns. Was the head enterprise in the Arsenal production association, which also included the Uman Vega plant and the Nizhyn Progress plant, a mark common to all plants of the association".

DRW
 
That logo appears on a range of guns from Arsenal that have moulded plastic parts, particularly the grip handles on pneumatic guns. Plastics used were a bit different to what we see on Italian and French guns principally because they never formed pressure bulkheads using plastic, that task was left to the alloy components. The photo shown below is of the handgrip of an RPS-5 which was a short pneumatic of the mid-handle type with most of the gun behind the grip handle and a very short front barrel. These guns were most likely for low visibility shooting of an up close and personal nature which is a feature of most of their inland waters spearfishing. A long gun over a metre would be useless, so guns tend to be short.
RPS-5 nameplate R.jpg
 
Here is the handbook for the Soviet R model Arbaletes. The rear cover is blank, so was not scanned.
Soviet R model cover.jpg

Soviet R model page 1.jpg

Soviet R model page 2 and 3.jpg

Soviet R model page 4, inside rear cover.jpg


Note the handbook or passport for a gun always bears a certification and inspection stamp. This gives you the production date for each gun. The colour of the inner pages is partly due to the age of the paper and its quality, which is low.
 
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