This month’s featured artifact is the M8 flare pistol. The M8 Pyrotechnic Pistol was the standard 37mm signal flare launcher used by the United States Army Air Force during the Second World War. The weapon is a double-action pistol with a simple break-open breech-loading design, with a cast aluminium frame, stamped steel parts and a bakelite (plastic) grip. The two distinctive curved projections at the top are the latch for opening the breech at the rear, and a hook for securing the pistol in an aircraft. Alternatively, it could be secured by the muzzle using the four rectangular locking lugs seen on the end of the barrel if the aircraft had the appropriate mounting. The mount was really a little door that would have been fastened to the aircraft and allowed the barrel to extend through the aircraft’s outer skin. It was spring mounted to absorb the recoil.
Different colored flares would have been used by the flight crews near the airfield to communicate different types of emergencies such as: wounded aboard, radio out, gear malfunction or other types of in-flight emergencies. This would give the appropriate emergency ground crews and aircraft controllers a heads up as to what to expect when the aircraft touched down. This type of pistol could also have been used by crews during a water ditching situation to signal rescue vessels or aircraft from a life raft.
This type of pistol can be seen being used in early movies such as 12 O’Clock High and as recently as the 2014 tale of survival about Louis Zamperini titled Unbroken. Interestingly, this particular pistol has the manufacturer’s stamp of EVCC, which stood for Eureka Vacuum Cleaner Company. Eureka built these pistols under contract for the U.S. Government during the war. Eureka, like many manufacturers, had completely switched over to producing only materials for the war effort and along with the pistols made parts for B-29 bombers, C-47 transports and an automatic fire-control device, among other things.
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