By Ted Avellone
Back when I was kid in the 1970s, when I used to religiously pore over every monthly issue of Guns & Ammo and Shooting Times, I vividly recall seeing little ads in the backs of those magazines which pictured a grimacing guy in a steel army helmet, with a cigar clenched in his teeth, advertising a strange looking device known as the LARC International M19-A “Annihilator,” a Freon-powered BB machine gun. To my young mind, the very thought seemed somehow impossible – and forbidden. A BB machine gun! One that fired 3,000 BB’s per minute! What a mind-blowing concept for a kid raised on toy Mattel M16 “Marauders” and “real” guns like my trusty Daisy 1894 lever action BB gun. Could this “Annihilator” be real? How many of those yellow cardboard tubes of Daisy Golden BB’s with the slip-fit black caps could a guy go through with one of THOSE things? If I remember right, the M19-A cost around $30; a hefty sum in those days. And, I wondered, was it even legal? How come I had never heard of anyone actually owning one, other than seeing them in those ads? I thought it must be a scam or something like those X-ray glasses that were also always advertised. But I was intrigued. I was pretty sure my dad would probably never go for it, and I didn’t really know what the heck a can of Freon was anyway. So the idea got shelved away along with the mail-order two-man submarine and home-built hovercraft offers I’d seen advertised.
Yet as fate unfolded, one day I opened up one of my new glossy gun magazines and among the ever-fascinating “.38 Special vs. .45” types of articles, lo and behold I found before me an actual feature article about the M19-A Annihilator! I distinctly remember the article describing how the author was testing out the performance of the gun by shooting at dragonflies, where he fantasized that the insects were enemy aircraft, referring to them as “DFBBYW”, an acronym for “Dragon Fly, Blue Body, Yellow Wings.” Most important to me though was that the article gave an undeniable legitimacy to the ads. Here in front of me was a review written by someone who actually bought one of these, and attested that it was real, and worked as advertised! It changed everything.
Fortunately for me, right about that time period my father was recognizing the depth of my passion for all things that shoot, which in turn gave him an excuse to rediscover some of the shooting interests he himself had as a younger man. So when I showed him the article and expressed my enthusiasm about it I think some of it rubbed off on him too, and to my great surprise and delight, he thought it sounded pretty neat too and we ordered one! Thinking back now, I think he may have been nearly as excited about it as I was.
While we were waiting for its arrival, to this day I vividly remember going to the Gold Triangle department store in west Ft. Lauderdale and buying a couple of cartons of BB’s as well as about six cans of automotive Freon-12 refrigerant. When we told the sales clerk what we were buying it for, he thought that we were getting the same gun he saw used in the then-recent John Wayne movie “McQ” in which there was a scene where the Duke shoots up the bad guys on a beach with what I think now must have been a MAC-10. I knew then the gun in the movie was a real machine gun, not a BB gun, but we didn’t argue with the guy and just went along with him. The idea that we were getting a BB machine gun still seemed strange, like it was illegal, or at least socially taboo in the gun world, and even the BB gun world. What would people think?
The next thing I remember, my dad and I were sitting at the workbench in the garage looking at our newly arrived M19-A right after we took it out of the box. I recall thinking that it looked – and especially felt – more like a toy than even most of my toy guns did. With no BB’s in it, it seemed as light as an empty squirt gun of similar size. It was a hollow, black plastic thing with no stock and a huge M16-like built-in carry handle on the top. The trigger was a strange affair, designed so that a trigger guard was unnecessary in that when your finger was not on the trigger it flipped up more or less flush up against the bottom of the receiver. After accidentally pulling the black plastic outer “barrel” off the front of the gun, underneath was revealed a long, thin silvery white rod. It took us a couple of moments before we realized that THAT was the actual barrel. It looked more like a bicycle spoke to me than any “machine gun” barrel. I must admit that I had my doubts about the whole thing. But that was about to drastically change.
The next day after school, and after my dad came home from work, we opened up the BB cartons and filled the M19-A’s seemingly endless BB reservoir in the back, in which the entire hollow pistol grip area filled up with several thousand BB’s, and screwed the cap back on. We grabbed a can of Freon, which we had painted black per the M19-A’s instructions, both for looks and to allow it to heat back up more quickly during firing.
We walked outside, and in a gesture too deep for me to fully fathom at the time, my dad gave me the honor of firing it first, and handed the M19-A to me. This was no small feat for him, as I remember that I could tell that he really wanted to fire it too.
I walked across the street to our usual airgun shooting area that consisted of undeveloped lots bordering a canal off the Intracoastal Waterway where we would regularly sink the empty MD2020 bottles and malt liquor cans left by people who drank and fished for mullet with cane poles along those deserted canals. As clearly as if it were yesterday, I remember plugging the Freon can into the bottom of the gun and twisting it halfway to its locked position, looking up and checking downrange, taking a deep breath in anticipation, leveling the M19-A at the trees on the other side of the canal, and pulling the trigger.
The dead silence was broken by a strange hissing, sucking sound as the M-19 swelled with life and spewed forth a glorious stream of gleaming BB’s, floating up and away, rushing from me through the balmy tropical air like a swarm of angry steel hornets, each one a golden sphere backlit from the huge low south Florida sun against the shadowy background of the Australian pines on the other side of the canal.
I was completely transfixed. It was an epiphany. My ideas about shooting had in that instant been transformed. Full auto fire was…FUN!
The M19-A consumed those first Freon cans and BB supply in no time. I’m not sure it took as long as fifteen minutes. It was all a blur after that first burst. I think I developed the first documented case of tropical frostbite of the left hand from holding on to the freezing Freon can from extended shooting sessions. With the M19-A, shooting too much had the opposite effect from too much sustained fire in a real machine gun. Instead of the gun getting too hot to hold, it got too cold. If you shot it too much too fast, eventually liquid Freon and frozen BB’s would slowly pour out of the barrel. Time never went by so slowly for me at that age as it did when waiting for the M19-A’s Freon can to warm and pressure back up enough for normal shooting to resume.
Fortunately for the earth’s ozone layer it wasn’t long before my dad rigged up a long hose onto the air compressor in the garage and fashioned an adapter to the Freon can interface so that normal compressed air could be used to power the M19-A. True sustained firing was now possible being limited only by my BB supply. This was a great breakthrough. I must have gone through 30,000 BB’s per week in the beginning. However, as memory serves, one drawback to being tethered to a semi-fixed power source was that everything within the range of the length of that hose became the de facto Target Zone for the aptly named Annihilator. When you’re shooting that many BB’s in such a relatively small area, it tends to show. Unfortunately for my mother, plants were among the most fun things to shoot. You could cut flower stalks in half, dig trenches in soft dirt, eat holes into the bark of light-skinned ornamental trees, and make every large-leafed plant look better by making millions of holes in it. Car and airplane models soon began to fall to the Annihilator’s insatiable appetite for targets. Squads of my old plastic army men were mowed down over and over until they could no longer be found. My friends and I even made some 8mm movies documenting the destructive force of the M19-A.
Every so often I would lug the wheeled Sears air compressor power source from the garage to the back yard and have the whole saltwater canal at my disposal as a target range. We lived at the end of a long canal which faced east, and the shore breeze would blow everything down into that bottleneck, so there was always all sorts of cans and bottles among the flotsam which were meat and drink to the Annihilator. Any bottle within sight was history. Even at long ranges, where the Annihilator’s accuracy and power were relatively poor, nothing made of glass could withstand the relentless rain of steel it delivered. It might take a ten second burst, but if it was made of glass, it was doomed. Considering the M19-A’s rate of fire is some 3,000 rpm, that’s 50 per second, so a ten second burst delivers about 500 BB’s. Even if 90% (450) of those miss, and half of the ones that do strike home are too weak and bounce off, that still leaves 25 glass-shattering direct hits. Sometimes the more resistant bottles would be a pure frosty white from being totally spider-webbed with fractures before a final BB of doom struck and disintegrated it into powder and it sank in a milky cloud. Up close it was simply devastating, shredding huge ragged holes in cans before they were claimed by the brown-tinted Intracoastal water. With Annihilator in hand, I owned the canal. Over the months I sunk countless tin cans and bottles. It was these early formative experiences that seemed to forever hook me on the inherent pure fun of full auto shooting.
Alas, inevitably, the M19-A was not a piece of craftsmanship that was built to last, especially if one could not resist the natural urge to jack up the air pressure supply well past the recommended maximum 60 psi. After all, hooked up to the compressor, all it took was a little turn of the regulator to make it just a little more powerful. At first, to 65 psi. Then to 70. Then to 80, and so on. When you pulled the trigger on the jacked-up M19-A, the whole gun would noticeably swell as it angrily spewed out BB’s.
I can’t really remember how long my M19-A actually remained fully operational. As the throat area of the barrel started to wear, increasingly, two BB’s would hang up, and you’d have to stop shooting and shake the gun to clear it. Over time, it eventually got so bad that shooting it was like cooking Jiffy-Pop popcorn with all the shaking & rattling action.
At some point I finally retired the M19-A to the “gun parts drawer,” which was a bottom dresser drawer full of chopped-down or broken air guns and parts which I planned to repair later or cannibalize into something fantastic one day. But, as the years passed, that day never came. Occasionally I vowed I would build a better, stronger version of the Annihilator, perhaps utilizing PVC pipe and a thick steel barrel taken from a Crossman pellet gun. The actual operating system of the Annihilator was incredibly simple. Essentially, there were two air hoses that went straight down into the pistol grip/BB reservoir which terminated just above its bottom. Out of one hose came air pressure when the trigger was pulled, and the other hose was connected to the barrel. The gap between the hoses was about an inch. So, when the trigger was pulled, air came pouring into the closed system, and the only way out was up the barrel hose and out the barrel, and since BB’s just happened to be in the way, they got swept up into the barrel pickup tube and blown out of the barrel.
I held on to the remains of my M19-A in my parts drawer all the way to about the time I left for college, and somewhere in all the flux of my living away from home, getting married, and my dad passing away, like a lot of other things, the contents of the old gun parts drawer passed into oblivion.
Fast forward to 1999. One day while sitting at work surfing the ad sections of an Internet machine gun oriented site (Tom Bowers’ “subguns.com,” familiar to many SAR readers I’m sure) for my next potential machine gun purchase, an ad suddenly jumped right out from the screen and into my brain – “New in Box M19-A Annihilator BB machine guns.” I couldn’t believe it! Long lost memories of my own M19-A came flooding back and instantly knew I had to get one. I immediately contacted the seller and he told me he had recently located about 20 of them that had been stored for over twenty years in a warehouse full of miscellaneous merchandise of some retailer that had gone out of business, and that he had bought all of them. The manufacturer, LARC International, has also long been out of business, or at least has not made Annihilators for something like 20 years. How these unique and relatively inexpensive little guns lasted this long, still new in the box, is nothing short of miraculous.
When I received my new M19-A, opening its original white cardboard packing box was like opening up a time capsule. The original instruction sheet, with parts diagrams, operation tips, and specs was inside. The gun itself was pristine, and the plastic seemed nice and supple and not stiff as I had feared it might be had it perhaps been stored in temperature extremes through the years. Some spare seals and the Freon-12 coupler were there, a device ready to accept a type of can and refrigerant that doesn’t exist anymore as R-134 is the standard consumer coolant now, which employs a completely different type of interface.
Through Internet sources I was quickly able to locate and purchase the air pressure devices, hoses and couplings I needed to allow me to adapt my SCUBA tanks as an air pressure source for my new M19-A. I cannibalized an old SCUBA first-stage regulator I bought at a pawn shop that takes the 3,000 psi from the tank to 125 psi, and then down-line from that I attached another pressure regulator I bought from a tool supply house which would take the 125 psi down to an adjusted 60 psi.
Interestingly, the M19-A’s directions instruct the user to add one quarter teaspoon of powdered graphite to a full reservoir of BB’s, something I did not remember ever doing with my first M19-A. Maybe that’s what hastened its early demise? This time around, I made sure to follow all of the directions, including the adding of powdered graphite, as well as never exceeding 60 psi.
Hooking up the air supply source to my new M19-A late one night, loading it with BB’s, and preparing to give it it’s first test burst in my front yard, I paused for a moment to reflect that the last time I did the same thing I was just a kid, and now, here I was a middle aged man with a son of my own that is almost the exact age I was when I first had an M19-A. A few moments later, I walked outside into the cool north Florida night air, leveled the M19-A to the woods in the vacant lot across the street, and I knew the second I hit that trigger and heard that old familiar hissing slurping sound and heard the BB’s ripping through the leaves in the trees, that the Annihilator was every bit as fun as it was when I was a kid.
To my delight and surprise, the M19-A “Annihilator” lives again! What a blast from the past it is. I have taken it to a couple of informal local machine gun shoots and as I predicted, everybody eventually left their real machine guns on the table and wanted to shoot the Annihilator. The other BB machine guns I have seen out there today seemed to me to be overly complicated and expensive, or inherently limited in BB capacity or power source. The SCUBA tank power system is ideal for the Annihilator, as it lasts a long time, is easily portable, and refills are fast and cost only a few dollars. Hopefully, some enterprising person will design something new along these lines. Until then, long live the Annihilator!
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V9N8 (May 2006)