By Dan Shea
July 28th 2006
Dolf Goldsmith was born 17 August 1928 in Amsterdam, Holland. He has one younger brother, Ely, his wife, Alice Lee and two daughters Jennifer and Cathy. To most of SAR’s readers, Dolf is known either as the author of the most authoritative books ever printed on Maxim, Vickers, and Browning machine guns, or as a friend from the many shoots he has attended over the last fifty years. This interview was done after 18 days on the road in England as an SAR Expeditionary Force trip, traveling with Dolf, Robert Segel, Dr. Philip Dater, myself and my son Kyle. It was an incredible trip, gathering photos and information from museum to reference collection to firearms event. I had planned to interview Dolf over the course of the trip, but the stories kept coming, and finally in the end, we sat down in a hotel room and got down to taping some of Dolf’s adventures. Ever since I became involved in class 3 some thirty years ago, Dolf has been there. We hope you enjoy this part of the experience that is Dolf….. – Dan
SAR: Dolf, you started life in Holland before World War II?
Dolf: Yes, my father was in the Indonesian cigar wrapper business. That is the leaf of the tobacco that goes around the cigar that gives its taste; it is a specialized kind of business where he brokered that tobacco for Indonesian growers. He traveled to Indonesia, so I grew up in a family that was aware of the world. I never traveled to Indonesia until much later.
SAR: Did you have an interest in firearms when you were younger and living in Holland?
Dolf: None whatsoever. I never knew about firearms until I came into the United States at age 11. World War II was starting and my mother was American. She was born in New York, and as such my family could come to the United States. It was December 1939 when we decided to leave Holland. The Germans came in May of 1940 so it was fortuitous timing. We took a ship from Italy which was the only one we could get as it was very difficult to get passage. A lot of people were leaving in anticipation of war. It took about a week for us to get down to Italy, then we were in Italy for about a week in Genoa waiting for the ship, and then the ship crossing took about ten days.
SAR: Did you see any military buildup before you left?
Dolf: Oh yes, I saw a lot of it. My father was convinced that the Germans were going to overrun Europe because he traveled to Germany a lot as a tobacco broker and everywhere he went he saw huge columns of armored vehicles on maneuvers. Troops were everywhere and he said to himself that these people are not just carrying on maneuvers to defend themselves. They are getting ready for a major conquest. My father said that as early as 1936. Every year he traveled to Germany by automobile and every year he got a little more nervous and thought a little more about getting his family out of Europe.
SAR: So, what military activity did you see?
Dolf: Nothing in Italy but in France we did see something. The train we went on was blacked out. You see the Phony War had already started. The Phony War started when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, theoretically a state of war existed between France, Britain and Germany because of an agreement they had to help Poland in case she was attacked, but they could not do anything militarily to help Poland. Thus, the “Phony War.” Poland was clear on the other side of Europe so a state of war existed that lasted from 1939 to May, 1940 when the Germans actually attacked France, Holland and Belgium and the British had sent an expeditionary force to France. I saw plenty of preparations when we went across France. There was anti-aircraft gun with French soldiers that was hooked on to the train at the French border and taken off at the border between France and Italy. I spoke a little French and I thought I would try and practice it with the soldiers who were manning the anti-aircraft gun. It was pretty neat to be an eleven year old kid sitting on an anti-aircraft gun and talking with French soldiers traveling across France in 1939. I don’t know what kind of gun it was, but I was impressed with it. It was pretty big.
SAR: So you were moving to New York City.
Dolf: Yes, my mother’s family was there in New York, but for the first year we lived in Larchmont, NY in a kind of run down boarding house. Several very interesting things happened on the ship after we left Italy though. One nice sunny day a flight of airplanes appeared in the sky, they flew over in formation and peeled off one by one down towards our ship, and everyone got extremely nervous as they were German planes – you could see the cross on the wings. I did not know what they were but someone told me they were Stukas. There were six of them if I recall, and one after another they came down at the ship and I thought this was very exiting, though a lot of older people didn’t think it was exciting because they were frightened. They finally recognized the ship as an allied ship and not an enemy ship. They just wanted to know who it was. So they did not drop any bombs, but once they came over I waved at the last one as I stood at one part of the deck and he waved his wings back at me. I suppose I am the only guy alive who waved at a Stuka and had the pilot waggle his wings back. I was only 11 years old. The other thing that happened was that one night there was a big commotion and a submarine appeared and pointed their gun at our ship. Our ship stopped and the crew from the submarine came over to the ship, a whole crew of sailors, and they searched our ship and they found 3 people and dragged those 3 people off the ship down into the submarine. Later we found out that it was a French submarine, and the French had some kind of grudge against any Frenchman escaping from Europe to go to the United States. Apparently this must have been high level stuff, because the French went to the trouble to sending a submarine to intercept a passenger liner to take these people off. We later heard that they spent the whole war in a prison camp I think somewhere in Africa and it had been a mistake! I read about it in a newspaper regarding this exact incident, and I saw this incident with my own eyes standing right on the rail of the deck when I was eleven.
SAR: What was your impression of the United States?
Dolf: Good and bad. I had some trouble at school because I could not speak English very well and I got bullied around quite a bit by the kids because I was different. There was animosity. One day I ended up being beat up by a bunch of kids, and I got a brick and I hit the biggest one of them over the head with it and knocked him out. After that everyone left me alone.
SAR:(Laughs) That’s always been a good way to deal with bullies. If he doesn’t respect you, he’ll at least respect the brick. So where was your introduction to firearms?
Dolf: The first thing I remember was my uncle gave me a .30-30 deer hunting cartridge and at age eleven I thought that was a neat thing to have. I carried it in my pocket everywhere I went. When World War II started, I got interested in firearms just about the time of Pearl Harbor; I was just 13. The boys at the school had .22 cal. rifles, so I thought I had to get a .22. I managed working at odd jobs around the neighborhood, for which I got 25 cents an hour, and I remember buying my first .22 caliber rifle. I paid twelve dollars for it. It was a bolt action single shot and I remember getting it at Sears Roebucks. All I shot in it was .22 shorts. I remember buying them at 21 cents per box. I’d work for an hour and I could shoot 50 shots, which I thought was not too bad a deal.
SAR: So that kind of set a pattern for your life, Dolf, work for a while then shoot it up in ammo?
Dolf:(Laughs) That’s right. I have always done that!
SAR: Did you buy a lot of other guns at that point?
Dolf: No, there really were not any around and I didn’t have any money. But I did not have to buy them because we lived in upstate New York in the summers, near Lake George, and where we lived there was not a single house that did not have firearms of some sort in it. I remember my uncle had a house up there and he gave two Krags .30-40 rifles with 200 rounds of ammunition to an organization in New York to be sent to England for the Home Guard, and he got a receipt saying he would get them back after the war. Of course, he never saw them again. There were guns everywhere as there were many veterans in the area. There were people that had been in the Civil War and they had guns from the Civil War; there were a lot of Spanish American War guns, World War I stuff, it was just all over the place. There were Mausers and Krags, all the way through Springfields and .45 automatics, and lots of old revolvers. From the time I was 13 to 17, I had a chance to handle all of these.
SAR:What was your first experience with a machine gun?
Dolf: Well, it was actually two things. I had always been interested in machine guns because I am mechanically inclined and I found the mechanisms rather fascinating. But the first experience I had with a machine gun was at age 13 or 14. There were two World War I French Hotchkiss 1914 machine guns on Omnibus tripods in the town square in Whitehall NY, where we spent a lot of time and they are still there, and they are very proud of them. They used to be painted silver now they have been cleaned up and painted black. We never could take them apart as they were welded up but we got very interested in those. And then there was the Maxim.
SAR: So you were what, fourteen years old, and got your hands on a Maxim? What model?
Dolf: Yes, it was an MG08/15 Maxim at the American Legion post in Whitehall, NY, and I used to ask the Legionnaires if I could take it apart and put it back together again. They let me do this frequently. It had the correct bipod and I managed to trade them out of it, and I still have that bipod. I really liked that Maxim.
SAR: You still have the first part off the first machine gun you worked on? Outstanding, Dolf, outstanding. When did you get your first personal machine gun?
Dolf: In 1944 I went to a boarding school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania and there was a steel company there that had a huge scrap yard. That scrap yard contained wrecked airplanes and many, many British tanks that had been sent back from the fighting in North Africa. They had been wrecked and sent back to be used for steel. The ships were going overseas full, and they were coming back empty and someone had the idea that they could ship something in them, so they would send all these wrecked tanks, and airplanes for scrap metal to be used in the US. There was great need for scrap metal and these tanks were in this park in row after row, and they cut them up with torches. I remember getting the ball bearings. Nobody new that I was down there on Wednesday afternoons and, for about 3-4 hours, I would collect all those ball bearings from the tanks. Then I would take them back to the school and sell them for 10 cents each. One day I was going through these tanks, and there was a Besa machine gun still in the tank, and I just had to have that. The reason it was still in the tank was that a shell hit the turret of the tank and a piece of metal wedged against the jacket of the MG and it couldn’t be taken out. The demo crew took out a few of the parts like the pistol grip, but most of it was still there, so I went down to that scrap yard every Wednesday with a hammer and a big chisel that I borrowed from the school machine shop. I just hammered away, and the workers in the tank scrap yard were placing bets whether I would get the gun out. I remember when I finally got the Besa out, they were cutting up the tank next to it, and half the workers cheered, and gathered money from the other half of the workers. I got it for free. I had brought a golf bag with me, and put the gun in the golf bag with one club sticking out to bring it back to the school, or they might wonder why I was bringing a machine gun back to school grounds. I guess I should have kept it, but I didn’t. I was in New York City some months later where I used to go to all the guns stores. I could not buy anything but I looked at everything, and I went into this one gun store and told him about this gun, and he got really excited for it and told me he would give me twenty-five dollars for it. That was an enormous amount of money for a young kid in 1944 – that was true wealth, so I sold it. That Besa later surfaced again. It was cut and rewelded, then registered and almost completely restored by Charlie Erb. I have fired it with Charlie but I don’t know who owns it today.
SAR: So long before 1968, your first official machine gun act was to take a Besa out of a battlefield destroyed British tank, and then sell it to someone at a gun shop, and you never got to shoot it until much later when you ran into the gun again after it had been destroyed and rewelded and registered.
Dolf:(Smiles) Yes, that’s right! Sounds funny when you put it that way.
SAR: What was your second machine gun?
Dolf: The second gun was actually three M2 .50 caliber machine guns that got all twisted and wrecked in an airplane crash, and I got them out of the wing of a wrecked airplane from that same junk yard. This time I had to pay for these guns. They left them in there because the receivers were bent and the barrels were twisted but all the internal parts were in perfect order and I got those out. I don’t know what ever happened to the barrel and receivers. I might have traded them off to kids, but I kept the internal parts. One of them was not as bad as the others and I traded it for an MG08/15 to a fellow up in Connecticut, John Hintlian, who was a well known gun collector. He worked at Colt and was big into Colt stuff.
Later in the years I visited him and he just had about everything you can imagine, but it was kind of a mess, his whole house was full of stuff. That Maxim 08/15 was my first operational machine gun. I was about fifteen. It came with a lock and without a feed block, but somehow I found a feed block and the bipod that I used for it was the one I had gotten off the Legion Hall in Whitehall.
SAR: When was the first time you shot that?
Dolf: I guess about 1944. We didn’t have many cartridges. We would go out behind the school to shoot. It was hidden under the floor boards of the room in the school. The first time I shot it I had a short piece of belt and we had 10 or 15 cartridges and went out behind the school to the place we used to shoot the rifles. We figured if any one came and questioned us, we could say we are shooting these rifles real fast. We actually got that gun working and it fired maybe 10 or 15 shots, which is all that is we had anyway.
SAR:So much for gun-free school zones.
Dolf: Yes, I was sixteen then, and fascinated by guns. I was a member of the school rifle club, and I went through the whole NRA program getting the expert rifleman diploma and that was very much encouraged during WW II. They wanted as many people to know how to shoot by the time they got into the army because there was barely enough time to give everyone proper marksmanship training in the army. They highly encouraged it and just about the whole school was in the rifle training program and .22 Long Rifle Standard Velocity ammunition was supplied to the school for use in our Winchester Model 52 target rifles.
SAR:The world was a very different place then. At age sixteen, you’d left the European war area, come to New York, gotten your first gun, you’d gotten your first machine gun, and one would have to assume that it was not a registered gun at that time.
Dolf: There was a very different definition of a registered gun in the law in those days. A machine gun was not a machine gun if you did not have all the parts, so what these young chaps used to do is that one guy would keep the bolt and the other guy would keep the gun and nobody had a machine gun. The receiver being the controlled item was not yet in force until the late 1960s. A machine gun was only something that was operationally complete and the law was written to enforce the laws against criminals. They did not care about World War I souvenir machine guns: that was not something anyone worried so much about.
SAR:When was the first time you traveled outside of the US?
Dolf: I had made one trip by boat back to Holland after the war to visit our Dutch relatives. That was in 1947. In 1951, I went to work in Singapore.
SAR: Had things in Holland changed a lot?
Dolf: Not from what I remember. I do remember going to a flea market in Amsterdam and buying two World War II German helmets for .50 cents each. I thought they were pretty neat, I still have them, and they are probably worth a lot more now. In 1951 I went to work in Singapore stockpiling rubber. In the meantime I had been in the army for a couple of years.
SAR:When did you join the army?
Dolf: 1948. I was about 19. By then I also had an 08 Maxim that I found playing around in my aunt’s attic. I found an 08 Maxim in the attic, in mint condition. I asked how did you get that, how did it get there? She said it arrived one day by railroad express with a tag on it, to Amy Bassett, which was her name. The note said “For appreciation for your service in WWI.” It was a gift from the US government for her service. I wish I had kept that tag. When it arrived she was quite surprised and she had a friend carry it up to her attic for her as she had no use for it. She left it in her attic and in 1945 she promised her son he could have it. I, of course, went to the son and asked if he wanted it. He said no, that he could use a .22 rifle, so I gave him a .22 and he gave me the Maxim 08. I still have it and the MG08/15, which I registered in the 1968 Amnesty.
SAR:How many guns did you register in the 1968 Amnesty, Dolf?
Dolf: Five machine guns, and about 7 artillery pieces, a 60mm US mortar, and a British Boys Rifle. I bought that mortar from Surplus in Times Square New York for $39.95 brand new with the sight, bipod, everything complete. I put it on my shoulder and walked through New York City, right through the subways to the place I was staying, and nobody even looked at me. I got the Lahti from Val Forgette. I spent most of my weekends at Val’s place. I had three of the little 37mm Bofors guns, the wheeled ones. Serial numbers 1 and 38 that I remember.
SAR: I believe you can see number 1 at the Big Sandy Shoot in Wikieup.
Dolf: Yes, I have shot it there. I originally sold it to Fred Kasse; you see I had a problem with that gun. I had it in New York State – perfectly legal there, but I had moved to California and the ATF said, “You are living in California and you have a gun registered in New York, you can not do that, it has to be where you are living, or you must have it in a place where it is completely under your control.” That was in the early 1980s. You see, California does not allow possession of destructive devices unless you have a California state license, which is almost impossible to get. So I sold both of them. Well, I actually had 3. The other one was registered to a friend of mine and he still has that. For machine guns I registered the Maxim MG08/15, the Maxim MG08, a ZB26, a Bren, and a .30 caliber Browning water- cooled marked 1924. That was one of the Sing Sing prison guns. I sold that Browning. The Bren has an interesting story. A friend of my father’s was a coxswain on a landing craft in the Normandy Invasion on D-Day and he brought the British troops ashore during the invasion. He was walking around on the beach after he had landed his troops, preparing to go back to England. He saw the Bren gun lying on the beach. Apparently what had happened, the Bren gun team must have gotten hit and the soldiers evacuated and they left the gun there. He saw that Bren gun laying on the beach in Normandy and he said to himself, “I have a good friend who has a son who is keen on guns and he would probably like to have this.” so he carried it onto the landing craft with him. When he got back to base he took the barrel off and took the two other sections off and put them into a sea bag and he brought it home. When he came back into the states, he brought it with him and he came up to me one day in upstate NY, (I was 17 at the time) and said I have a little present for you from the war. I saw the Bren gun and I just about flipped! I could not believe my eyes. A real Bren gun, straight from the Normandy Beach, and wow, he brought it just for me! I registered that in the 1968 Amnesty.
SAR: Back to the Army, Dolf. You were about 19 years old and what was your job?
Dolf: I wanted to be involved in firearms so when we came into the reception center, we all got a test to see what job we are most suited for. I took that test and it came out at the end that I would be most suited for a chaplain’s assistant. (Everyone laughs). This is not exactly what I had in mind! I did not become a chaplain’s assistant as I don’t think they needed chaplains at that time and I ended up taking 4 months of infantry training, which was fine because I got to do a lot of shooting. I had put in for small arms mechanic to be at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds and I had listed my occupation as a gunsmith. I went into the Army and did everything possible to get to Aberdeen but the infantry training was very useful because I got to shoot all of the different guns. It was of course hard work and you would have to carry weapons a long distance. I carried a 1919A4 one day for 20 miles! A lot of people did not want the machine gunner’s job because it meant carrying a whole lot of extra stuff around. The other guys, all they had to do was carry a rifle. I wanted to shoot machine guns, so, I was happy to carry them. One of my good friends and the only other guy I ever met in the Army that was really interested in firearms was a fellow named John Blatz. He was the son of the beer brewing family that owned Blatz Beer from Milwaukee. I thought he was kidding me, but it was true, he was, and he turned out to be a good friend of Bob Faris’ during the Korean War, when they were both over in Korea. Blatz had an unusual situation in that he was about 24 and they had instituted a draft in 1949 or late ’48 and he got caught up in that draft because he hadn’t served in World War II although he was of military age. The reason he wasn’t in the Army in World War II is because he had only the sight of one eye and they turned him down every time he would try to enlist. They’d say we don’t want you and then they had this draft in 1948-49 where they decided to pick up all of the guys that had never served in World War II. He was pretty upset because he tried to go during the war, and now in peacetime they drafted him.
Lucky for him he not only got into the Ordnance School but after he finished he remained at Aberdeen to evaluate small arms from different countries. This was ordnance technical intelligence. I tried to get that too but that was not easy to get into. He stayed in the Army and went to Korea working in ordnance technical intelligence there, evaluating weapons. I saw him and he told me incredible stories about what he did over there, and there is still a Chinese T24 Maxim, buried somewhere in Seoul – I suppose there is an apartment building on it now. He said he was going to go back to Korea and get it and bring it back. He was another Maxim enthusiast. He is dead now; he had a terrible accident. We wrote a few letters but lost track of each other. One day I was talking to Bob Faris and I mentioned Blatz and Bob asked if I meant Blatz from the beer company. He laughed and said Blatz was his friend in Korea where they did a lot of shooting together. Small world in small arms.
SAR:How long were you in the Army?
Dolf: Two years. I did make it to Aberdeen for Ordnance. I worked on the firing ranges on Fort Bragg fixing all of the weapons that broke down on the range. I spent the whole summer of 1949 doing that and I enjoyed that very much. Then came the Fall and we did ordnance inspections, but they put me on details, painting the barracks and cleaning windows. I had to sit there for three days with a razor blade scraping the paint off the windows, and I said this is not what I joined the army for so I found a tank battalion that needed an armorer and I switched from ordnance to armor. That tank battalion was part of the 82nd Airborne but I never got to jump out of a plane. They turned me down for that because I was too skinny. I got out of the Army in 1950 and went to work in Singapore.
SAR:What was the company you worked for?
Dolf: It was a British Dutch trading combine called Anglo-American Corporation, but it was actually owned by Dutch and British interests jointly. They worked in Indonesian and Malaysian produce and they sold rubber, tin, lumber, and Copra. I was there about 3 years.
SAR: You spoke Dutch, English and French…
Dolf: Yes because I learned French in school. When I went into the army they gave me a test and asked if I knew any languages; I said yes, Dutch and French. They test you in those languages to see if you are really able to speak it, and they did not have anyone that could test Dutch so they got a German guy and he tested me in the Dutch language and he concluded that I could speak Dutch well enough to be qualified as a Dutch interpreter. I thought that was very funny. So, I was listed an alternative MOS as Dutch interpreter and as a French interpreter. The one time I got to use French in the army was when the French officers came to that camp and they needed someone who had a military Driver License, which I had, and they needed someone who could speak French. I drove that French General around for 3 days and what was funny was that he could speak perfect English. All I ended up doing was opening the door for him, carrying his bags, and bringing him coffee. Easy duty.
SAR: Back to Singapore…
Dolf: I flew over on the blue plane – Pan American. It took forever. It flew from New York to the West Coast, then we flew to Honolulu, then to Wake Island, then to Guam. We stayed over on Wake for a day, this was in 1951. I spent 4 hours walking around every where I could on the beaches looking for gun stuff but I did not find much. I found a shell case, cartridges, and little odds and ends that I picked up and took with me and that’s all I found. I did not find any weapons. From Guam, we flew to Singapore.
When I was there, I would get to Malaya and Indonesia some, all in connection with this business which I had joined. This was basically inspecting and organizing shipments of rubber to the US government stock pile. While I was doing that I was a member of the US Army Reserve, and they gave me clearance because this work was considered essential to the war effort.
SAR: When you were there it was called Malaya?
Dolf: Yes, and that was during the Malaya troubles. The communist rebels were fighting at that point. I even got a permit to carry a concealed weapon in Singapore. That wasn’t easy then, or today. I originally brought a .38 Smith and Wesson Military Model 15. Initially they would not give me the permit so the gun was kept at the airport by the police and I finally sold it to someone who had a permit to carry weapons. Then things got worse over there, lots of riots and attacks, so they gave me a permit to get a gun. I went to a gun store and I bought a Beretta .380.
SAR:Any experiences with machine guns while you were there?
Dolf: Yes, of course! (Dolf smiles) I used to go out and shoot the Bren guns and Vickers guns with people that I got to know in the British service. It was my first experience with Vickers guns. It was very informal; you would just show up and say, “I’d like to shoot with you guys.” They did not worry about liability. You can’t do that in America today.
I would have liked to go to Hong Kong at that time, but money was tight and I did not have vacations. I did drive up to Penang and Kuala Lumpur. I was very lucky because one time the people in front of me got shot up, and the people behind me got shot up but the rebels did not bother with us.
SAR:In that period the French were getting it on pretty hard with the Viet Minh. Did that affect the area you were at.
Dolf: Yes, I will get to that. When I was up in Malaya I always carried my little pistol with me. I don’t know what good it would have done me in ambush but at least it was better then nothing. Not too long after that our company had done so much shipping of rubber and other commodities that a Danish group offered us their agency for their work. We ended up doing an incredible amount of shipping around South East Asia, and I moved up the ladder in responsibilities. I went and inspected everything. I also went upon ships to see if the cargo was stowed the proper way. It was very interesting work, but you never got a day off because we had ships in port day-in-day.
One day we got a big contract for shipping road building machinery destined for Cambodia. We had to get it from Singapore to Cambodia, this was 1954. They said, “Dolf, you can speak French, go on up there and arrange for this stuff to get unloaded.” I went first to Thailand, then by bus to Phnom Penh, which is the capital of Cambodia where the Mekong River goes through. I had to inspect the facilities for unloading cargo and you would not believe how primitive it was. They had small cranes on little rickety wooden decks and were never used to handle anything as heavy as bulldozers and heavy machinery. I reported back that there is simply no way that this stuff can be taken off by the existing crane facilities that are at Phnom Penh. They just can’t lift that weight and if they did they would just collapse, so you can’t unload from a traditional ship along the dock. I said that I think if we put that stuff in LSTs (landing craft) we can drive it ashore. All the LSTs used in the Pacific in World War II had been bought up by Chinese small ship operators because you could buy these ships with very little money from the US government. They were all over the South China Sea so we chartered some and loaded all the heavy equipment in and sailed from Singapore through the South China Sea up the Mekong River to Phnom Penh. Unfortunately my job was done and I had gone back to Singapore and I never got to see the unloading, which I would have liked to witness.
SAR: Ever take the Singapore-Bangkok Express?
Dolf: Yes, it was absolutely unbelievable. It is the most beautiful train ride in the world. I even have some photographs that I took on that ride. That was 1954 when Dien Bien Phu and the French Mobile Force 100 massacre happened in the Ia Drang. I spent about 3 weeks in Cambodia then I went down to Saigon where I spent about 2 weeks. I had already studied Cantonese and I found out that the Chinese inhabitants of Saigon speak Cantonese, so I got along alright.
Actually, I studied Samoyed dialect. I found that very difficult but then I also practiced Cantonese. I figured that Cantonese was a language spoken all over South East Asia, generally, and I figured that was the one to learn. There were a number of things about South East Asia. I liked the beautiful French sidewalk cafes where you could sit down and have a coffee or a beer and watch the girls and their beautiful dresses – the long gown and the conical hat – I thought they were absolutely beautiful. One thing that struck me rather funny was that every French military person I saw, and they were all over of course in Saigon, was wearing a .45 on his hip. I thought they must be planning on something or other to have everybody walking around armed like that, but they were all wearing a .45. It seems like the .45 automatic was a very popular handgun with the French Military.
SAR:How about Indonesia?
Dolf: Where we were staying at in the hill country in North Bandon, one night the Indonesia army was on maneuvers and the army soldiers came in. The people working there opened the door and fed them a meal. Then the Indonesians were very polite, thanked them and then left. The Indonesian army simply took what they wanted. It is a very rough country in a way. I often walked down the street and kids would throw stones at me because they hated foreigners. The Dutch fought in Indonesia for many years trying to keep the peace, and they did not succeed. The Dutch lost and they had to get out of Indonesia
SAR:Did you see any weapons there?
Dolf: Well, every soldier had a rifle, usually an Enfield, or a Dutch Mannlicher. I didn’t see too many machine guns although I saw an Indonesian Schwarzlose. It was set up at a roadblock. I really enjoyed my time in South East Asia. I was a member of the Singapore Rifle Association and we had a rifle match every month. I shot Lee Enfields and occasionally I would shoot with the British army guys. They would invite me to go out shooting with them and I would go out there and I shot the Vickers once and the Bren 3 or 4 times. The Brens were MkIIs as I remember – no Mark Is with the sight on the side. This was around 1954. Another interesting experience in Singapore was that I knew some people in the RAF and they said they were going on a bombing raid over Malaya and asked if I would like to come along. I said sure, but they had to get some official reason for me to be there so I became “The reporter for my home town newspaper.” I did not see very much, just flying over that canopy of jungle below, and at a certain point according to directions given to them they dropped the bombs. We heard them exploding below but never saw them hit. The RAF guys said that they simply flew to the middle of the jungle where all you can see is green canopy. They never saw a target, just dropped all the bombs on a grid point and hoped for the best. This was an actual RAF bombing run against the communist rebels in the Malayan Emergency. It was kind of anti-climactic. I went back to the United States in 1955 – to California.
SAR: At this point you had not gone to China?
Dolf: No I hadn’t, but I had visited Hong Kong. I had been to Singapore, Malaya, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Borneo. I stayed in California for two years then went to Hong Kong. In California I worked for a shipping company. I had a lot of shipping experience around the world, so this new company hired me over about 20 applicants who had college, but no experience.
SAR:You owned machine guns, and lived in California?
Dolf: I did not have them in California. I kept them in New York with a friend there. In that period, all I did was rifle shooting. I did not get into machine guns in that state.
SAR: This was 1955 through 1957. Did you know any class 3 dealers or machine gun collectors?
Dolf: No, not at that point. I got to shoot a couple of times there. There was a fellow with a Browning air cooled – I don’t know whether it was registered or not – and we would take it out to a ranch to shoot. All I did was work for those two years, and then in 1957 I went to Hong Kong. I had been there earlier once on a trip when I was in Singapore. I spent about 3 weeks in Hong Kong on a vacation and I liked that place so much that I said I simply have got to work there. I wrote letters giving my resume to almost every firm in Hong Kong. I had gotten a commercial directory of them and this went on for 6 months. Finally two of them wrote me back at the same time offering me a job in import and export. I took the one with the British firm figuring that would probably be the best one to work for and I was there for almost 5 years. I was there from 1957 to 1962. I stayed in Hong Kong that whole time and only came home when my brother got married. Flew home for a few weeks and I did also take one trip home for 1 month for a vacation. It had been about 3 years. That was the standard thing. You’d work there 3 years and then you got about 2 months off. I traveled to Thailand, Burma, Pakistan and India. I was even in Iraq, and Egypt. I was a tourist at most of these places, nothing to do with firearms, just traveling through. Never saw any firearms other than those the police or military had.
SAR:How about the time you were in Hong Kong?
Dolf: The first time I was there I occasionally fired with a Hong Kong rifle association on their firing range. I was really too busy to take time out for shooting, but of course I kept up with it. I am a life member to the NRA, and the American Rifleman was regularly sent to me there. I had all of the firearm publications sent to me, but other then that I did not have much exposure. I did watch carefully for what guns people had, and visited wherever there were guns. We manufactured all kinds of things in Hong Kong that we exported and I was the assistant manager, and later the manager of the export department. I had a very small salary, but it went incredibly far because living there was so cheap. I was still a single guy too. In 1962 I left Hong Kong though not by choice. I was not born in the US and because of that I could only leave the US for 5 years and then I had to come back for at least 3 years. That was a rule they had in those days that I was not even aware of. One day I got a call from the American Consulate. They said they needed to see me about something and I went up and they read me the rule. I was going to tell them go get stuffed, but they did a nasty thing. They went and told the British immigration in Hong Kong that they were pulling my passport as of 5 years and I got a call from the immigration dept. and an official came to my office and said you will be out of Hong Kong as of the date of 5 years, or we will deport you and you’ll never be able to come back to Hong Kong again. I had no alternative but to return to the United States, much to the upset of the company that had hired me. They had expected me to do a lot of work for them and I was getting along really well.
SAR:So you returned to California or New York?
Dolf: In 1962 I went back to New York. For 3 years I worked in the import export business in New York and I was very much involved in firearms. I got to know Val Forgette quite well and many weekends I was over at his place. One day he got about 50 brass Argentine Maxims and I bought four of them for 150 dollars each. I didn’t have the 600 dollars with me to pay for them, so I said I will get that together and I will come back two weeks from now with a car and I will pick them up. On my return all the Maxims were gone. I was angry with Val and I wanted to know why he didn’t save any Maxims for me. I thought he had sold them all, but Val was so upset he could hardly talk. He had gotten in some sort of trouble and his whole inventory had been confiscated. He had done nothing wrong, but his wise guy attitude and his disposition in dealing with the government, partly Customs and partly ATF, had really ticked them off. They found that he did something wrong on paperwork somewhere along the line and they seized his whole inventory! He was cleared and he was never charged but he could never get his inventory back.
SAR:He never got those brass Maxims back?
Dolf: We heard that 50 brass Maxims went to the Smithsonian who kept some, and from the Smithsonian they distributed them to other military museums that wanted them. Some were not taken up and nobody knows what happened to them. I have heard a story they were dumped in the ocean.
SAR: What about the Ackland tripods?
Dolf: The tripods had all remained in Val’s shop where they were all piled up, and Val asked me if I wanted to buy all these tripods. There was a whole pile of them and he offered them to me for 15 dollars each. I thought that was a pretty good price, but I was living in an apartment building in New York City and I had absolutely no place to put them. My mother lived outside New York City and she absolutely and totally forbade me from putting any of my junk in her place. I later heard somewhere that Val couldn’t sell them to anybody because there weren’t any guns and he just simply junked them. Today there are brass Maxims around that don’t have tripods because of this.
SAR: What other types of firearm purchases did you make from him or things that you saw there?
Dolf: I got the Colt 1924 water-cooled Browning, and I got his ZB 26. I had already gotten the Bren, and the two Maxims. I didn’t really buy many guns from Val. I bought them from other people, and they were not dewats. I was going to buy a lot of machine guns from Val, but just as I started to buy them they had been taken away. I did go shooting with him a lot. He invited me up to his place in the country. He has a place near High Point which is near the corner of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He had a farm up there where he kept a lot of inventory too. One particular time I remember shooting a Chinese 7.92mm Bren up there. Somehow, that did not get confiscated. I always wanted it but he would not sell it to me. It was on paper of course as a live gun. He didn’t want to weld it and I did not particularly want to see it welded either. We used to shoot other things up there: revolvers, rifles, cannon, machine guns. I was up there on the night his son, Val III was born and I think he is now running a gun business in West Virginia. After my 3 years were up and I could leave the US, and I did. Now I really had the machine gun bug.
SAR: You went back to Hong Kong?
Dolf: This time to start my own import export business. This was in 1966. The first time I was in Hong Kong, I had attempted to join the Hong Kong Regiment – which is a National Guard type unit, a weekend thing, and two weeks in the summer. They had a Vickers gun platoon of six Vickers guns and I dearly wanted to join. They noted I had a lot of machine gun experience in the US army and they’d love to have me, but then they wanted me to go up to the American Consulate and get clearance. Being somewhat naïve, I went up to the American consulate and asked them if it was OK if I joined the Hong Kong Regiment. I still clearly remember the guy behind the desk at the consulate leaping out of his chair and yelling at me, “If you do anything like that and we find out about it we will see to it that you are deported!” The American government in Hong Kong had the power to go to the British authorities and say we want that man out of Hong Kong and that would be it. I learned that with these government types it was much easier to get forgiveness than it was to get permission.
SAR: So, you had flown back to Hong Kong…
Dolf: The second time I was in Hong Kong I joined the Hong Kong Auxiliary Marine Police. There, we did a heck of a lot of shooting. .50 caliber Brownings at sea, Bren guns at sea and on land, we had Sterling submachine guns and we had Smith & Wesson and Webley revolvers. I liked the Webley better. We had the M1 Carbines, Federal gas guns, Greener Riot Guns which fired shotgun shells – these were very strange. They were a single shot shotgun which was very heavily constructed with a big metal nose cone and a heavy butt. The idea was that you can batter down doors with it, so the Greener was a club as well as a gun. It had an unusual groove inside against the back of the cartridge and there were three pins that went forward. One was the firing pin and the other two pins went in that groove. The reason they had that kind of a shell was so that if some a rioter got a hold of a Greener and tried to use regular 12 gauge shells in it that didn’t have the groove around the base, his shells wouldn’t work. The pins on firing mechanism would hit the solid base and wouldn’t allow the primer to be struck by the firing pin. Greener gun ammunition with the groove around it was only sold to police; it was never made available to civilians. I found that interesting and rather unique.
SAR: How long were you in Hong Kong this time?
Dolf: Four years. And all four years I was in the Hong Kong Marine Police shooting a lot of .50 calibers and Brens. I also had a lot of friends in the Hong Kong Regiment and in the British Army, and I used to go out shooting with them. Oh, the Vickers guns they had were wonderful! I shot a Vickers for the first time in Hong Kong on my first time there. The second time around we shot the GPMG, the British version of the MAG 58. By then that was the regular machine gun of the British army. We shot the Vickers and the GPMG a lot. Heaven for a machine gunner!
SAR: South East Asia was heating up again in that period, Dolf. Did you travel around at all?
Dolf: No, things were too crazy in Vietnam; we never went anywhere except I used to go to Macau very frequently. Like any shipper in that time and place, we handled many things, but we had an export business going in firecrackers. I was chosen to be the firecracker inspector which meant going out to the islands off of Macau where they were made. I had to get a whole bunch of strings of them and lay them down on a long big square concrete platform. I had to light them off and see them all go off, then count how many were duds. There were supposed to be no more than a certain percentage of duds. I did awful lot of firecracker testing while I was in Hong Kong.
SAR: Sounds like a lot of fun, Dolf. Being paid for machine gunning out on the water off the coast of Hong Kong, firing firecrackers in Macau…
Dolf: I enjoyed it. I loved it, and as you said, I was paid to do this, too! Not only that, in the early days, I was still a single guy in Hong Kong. I hadn’t hitched up with my wife yet. I met Alice Lee when she was working in the first office that I worked in – that was 1958. She was a secretary in that British company but not in my department. We got married in 1964 in Hong Kong. I had to fly back for that. My wife worked for our new business, she worked very much in it. I had about 15 people working for me and it was quite an active thing. It wasn’t a firearms related business. We sold a lot of toys and among them were toy pistols but that’s about all.
SAR: Did you see any unusual weapons in Hong Kong other than the Greeners?
Dolf: I got to fire one round out of the Wombat – that’s the British 120mm recoilless. We sighted in with the .50 caliber spotting rifle using the short .50 caliber shells, about 4 or 5 of them till you were on target and then you engaged the target with one round from the Wombat. This was very impressive. We fired from the mainland in the new territories at targets that were on an island about 500 yards off the coast. There were very many gunnery areas like that in Hong Kong. I also fired the British 4.2 inch mortar with HE rounds. These were very impressive when they hit.
SAR: When did you leave Hong Kong this time?
Dolf: Once again I didn’t want to leave, but my father had gotten involved in a business and the business was doing very badly. He had gotten involved as a partner and was not free to devote himself to that business. So he asked me for the good of the family to please come back and take over that business and see what has to be done. The business was in California, and I came back in 1970.
SAR: You were out of the US during the 1968 Amnesty?
Dolf:(Laughs) Oh, yes, but I handled that situation quite well….
Join us in the next issue of SAR, where the interview with Dolf Goldsmith takes up at the 1968 Amnesty and continues on his adventures in the machine gun business, Hollywood, and his research for writing the books he is so famous for -Dan
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V10N4 (January 2007)|