This is a section from my work in progress For Purposes of Service Test, which is a history of the U.S. Army Armor Force in World War II and its interactions with Ordnance and industry I kind of got side tracked in looking at John Browning's 37mm gun development...maybe another post...which then took me to the AAC. Over the years I have read a lot of misinformation about that organization, hopefully this clears some of it up. Enjoy, comments and corrections are welcomed. Unfortunately the footnotes don't transfer, so they are at the end. Since a lot of posts from here were of untold help I thought this would be a good place to post this.
The American Armament Corporation (AAC) of New York also offered candidates to fill the 37mm gun requirement. AAC was incorporated in New York by Alfred Joseph Miranda Jr. and his brother Ignacio on 15 December 1933 as a subsidiary of their international trading company, Miranda Brothers Incorporated, which they had formed in 1922 ostensibly to sell automotive vehicles and aircraft to South American countries. The Miranda brothers with their web of corporate contacts were some of the more colorful – and perhaps shady – characters in prewar and wartime America. They were born in Mexico in 1897 and 1898 respectively, claiming to be “descendant of early Spanish colonists in Mexico” who gave up their “hereditary Spanish title of Condé de Eras y Soto” when they became naturalized American citizens in 1930. Their father set up a Mexican export business in New York, but struggled after backing the wrong side during Mexico’s Madero Revolution in 1910. During the Great War, Alfred served with the Office of Naval Intelligence and later both brothers maintained close contact with Navy officers at home and abroad. In 1921, the brothers took over their father’s defunct business and renamed it Miranda Brothers, Inc. the next year.
The brothers got their first taste of being “merchants of death” in 1920, when a Colombian naval and military purchasing mission approached Alfred to act as a translator and agent. He put the Colombians in touch with the Driggs Ordnance Company, which specialized in building naval ordnance. In 1926, they began selling aircraft for Major Alexander P. de Seversky in Europe and Asia. By the mid-1930s AAC was closely connected with Driggs, Curtiss-Wright, Poole Engineering, and Brewster Aircraft, all of which were busily engaged in selling or attempting to sell munitions to various South American countries, including Bolivia, Chile, and Colombia, when they ran afoul of the United States Neutrality Act. In September 1934, the brothers, along with some of the other officers of their company and others from the Electric Boat Company, Driggs, Curtiss-Wright, Pratt & Whitney, United Aircraft Exports, Inc., Federal Laboratories, Inc., Lake Erie Chemical Co., and U.S. Ordnance Engineers, Inc. were called to testify before U.S. Senator Gerald Nye’s (R-ND) committee investigating the munitions industry, war profiteering, and its relationship to the U.S. entry into the great war. During his testimony, Alfred Miranda famously – or perhaps infamously – remarked regarding the use of bribery in South America, “…I guess that they have been doing business that way for a great many years, Senator. Maybe the Europeans taught them to do business that way.” In the aftermath of their testimony the brothers, along with the president of Curtiss-Wright and others, were indicted in January 1936 for violating the embargoes of Bolivia and Chile during the Chaco War. Their convictions were first overturned in lower court, but then upheld on appeal to the Supreme Court in a precedent-setting decision affirming the supremacy of the executive branch of the federal government in the conduct of foreign affairs. In February 1940, the Miranda brothers began a one-year sentence at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary.
However, their pending prison time did not prevent the brothers from pursuing business – with whoever would pay.
In March 1938, Ignacio, acting as agent for the government of Japan, contacted Seversky with an offer to buy 20 fighter-bombers through a dummy corporation set up by the Miranda’s. They aircraft were shipped to Japan later that year, but the New York Times exposed the sale, ruining Seversky’s relations with the Army Air Corps and further blackening the Miranda’s reputation.
Also in 1938, AAC completed construction of the “Tucker Tiger”, famed automotive designer Preston Tucker’s “antiaircraft combat car”. Lightly armored and armed with a 37mm automatic gun (probably the AAC-built Baldwin gun), the Tucker Tiger armored car was capable of 74 MPH – on good roads – but Ordnance turned it down after testing at Aberdeen in November 1938.
After they were released from prison in early 1941, the brothers began lobbying for a Presidential pardon, without success. However, with the world now at war, business at least was good. In 1939, Alfred had convinced Brewster Aircraft president James Work to make them exclusive agents for Brewster’s foreign business at a 12 1/2% commission rate. While selling aircraft for Brewster they also acted as agents successfully promoting Melvin Johnson’s automatic rifles and light machine guns to the Netherlands Purchasing Commission. The energetic brothers soon had orders flowing in from Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Finland, among others, but Brewster soon ran into a problem – the company could not afford to both pay the brothers and expand its limited workforce and plant capacity. Soon, the orders were backlogged and the entry of the United States into the war did little to help. Work cut the Miranda’s commission rate, but they continued to bleed capital from Brewster that was needed for expansion of the plant and workforce. Production at Brewster lagged and the Navy briefly took over the company from Work, who returned in early 1942, just in time to be the subject of lawsuits for financial mismanagement by stockholders and for back commissions owed by the Miranda brothers. The suit was settled in May 1943 and awarded the Miranda’s $4.2-million, $3.6-million of which had already been paid them as commissions. However, the Miranda’s fortunes were also waning. In 1943, an explosion destroyed the AAC ammunition plant at Derry, Pennsylvania and the government turned over control of the main AAC assembly plant at Rahway, New Jersey to Vultee Aircraft Corporation, effectively ending the company’s existence and the brothers direct involvement in the war.
The gun AAC proposed as an antitank gun apparently utilized a cartridge and projectile similar to the Ordnance-designed M2A1. It was a conventional semi-automatic, hand-loaded gun on a simple, split-trail carriage. AAC gave it the company designation of M-21 and reportedly completed 60 of them, beginning in 1937, but they were not accepted by Ordnance. Some were later sold by AAC to the Dutch Purchasing Commission in 1941.
AAC also promoted a 37mm gun design first proposed by Dr. Samuel Neal McClean, a dentist and inventor, in 1902 for the Ordnance Department. McClean’s gun was a fully-automatic, gas-operated, clip-fed weapon with a non-recoiling barrel. Unfortunately, its performance left something to be desired and after two rounds of testing Ordnance rejected it. The McClean Arms & Ordnance Company investors were so disappointed they refused to underwrite further development and the company collapsed. Undeterred, McClean joined Driggs-Seabury Company in 1909 (it became Drigg Ordnance in 1915) and continued development of his gun. In 1916, Imperial Russia, desperate for ordnance, contracted Driggs for 300 of the “improved” model McClean gun (known as the “Maklen” gun in Russia). Poole Engineering Company of Baltimore, Maryland, manufactured 268 and delivered 218. After McClean’s death in 1930, Driggs sold the rights for the McClean gun to the Miranda brother’s AAC, purportedly for $10,000. About the same time, AAC acquired the rights to the Baldwin gun from Poole and by the late 1930s was vigorously promoting themselves to the U.S. Army and foreign governments as “manufacturers of Field, Naval, Aircraft, Tank, Antiaircraft and Antitank Cannon.”.
However, while AAC photographed many prototype guns mounted on various types of carriages for its sales catalogs, it appears they manufactured relatively few actual guns. The largest order for 37mm guns filled by AAC was for the Dutch, who ordered 40 of the 50 caliber McClean guns on naval mounts on 25 September 1940 and later placed an initial order for 305 single and twin-mounted 44-caliber guns for fitting in tanks ordered from the Marmon-Herrington Company (a total of 594 guns were eventually required, see Chapter 9: Commercial Tank Designs). Nevertheless, many historians continue to conflate the Browning-Colt designed T9/M4 37mm Aircraft Cannon with the AAC guns, often stating they were designed by the “AAC Division of Oldsmobile”, when no such entity in fact existed.
Hearings Before the Special Committee Investigating the Munitions Industry, (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1934), pp. 549-552.
“A. I. Miranda Weds Miss Bayard”, The New York Times, 2 December 1973.
Hearings Before the Special Committee, p. 551; “Aviation: Mirandas to the Sidelines”, Time, 10 May 1943, p. 81. Ignacio managed a stock market account for Commander James H. Strong and in September 1938, Alfred Miranda acted as go-between for his acquaintance British Squadron Leader Frederick W. Winterbotham of RAF Intelligence in the Air Ministry, with Sidney Cotton, a British entrepreneur, in forming a company to do clandestine aerial photography of Germany. Roy C. Nesbit, Ultra Versus U-Boats: Enigma Decrypts in the National Archives, (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2008), p. 5; Hearings Before the Special Committee, p. 658.
Hearings Before the Special Committee, pp. 461, 551.
“Aviation: Mirandas to the Sidelines”, Time, 10 May 1943, p. 81.
Hearings Before the Special Committee, p. 622; see also Frank I. Schechter, Trade Morals and Regulation: The American Scene, 6 Fordham L. Rev. 190 (1937).
299 U.S. 304, United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. (No. 98), December 21, 1936.
Time, 10 May 1943, p. 82; The Baltimore [MD] Sun, 16 February 1940, p. 4.
Robert Hucker, "Seversky: Innovator and Prophet." Air Classics, 20th Anniversary Special Edition 1964–1984, 1984, pp. 70-71; James K. Libbey, Alexander P. De Seversky and the Quest for Air Power (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2013), pp. 140-142.
David Haugh, “American Armament Tucker Tiger”, Wheeled Fighting Vehicle Data Sheets, (NP: 2005).
Time, 10 May 1943, p. 82.
It was a 37 x 142R rather than a 37 x 148R.
Little is known of these guns. One, Serial #5, was discovered by a collector in the former American Armament Corporation's ammunition loading facility in Derry, Pennsylvania in 2006 and advertised for sale onlinhttp://g503.com/foru...ic.php?p=792800accessed 13 October 2017.
Chinn, Vol. I, pp. 232-237.
“AAC 37 mm Aircraft Cannon”, American Armament Corporation brochure, N. Y., Dec. 1936. AAC also advertised heavily in Army Ordnance (cf. Vol. XX, No. 118; Vol. XXI, No. 122) and in magazines (cf. a British weekly, The Aeroplane, “Artillery for the Air” (Mar. 29, 1939, p. 402)).
AAC produced at least four different 37mm cartridges: a 37 x 87R for the Puteaux/Baldwin aircraft gun, the 37 x 142 R for the antitank gun, a 37 x 178R for the 44 caliber tank gun, and a 37 x 202R for the 50 caliber antiaircraft and naval gun. Williams, “Ammunition Data Tables”.
See, among others, Robert F. Dorr, Fighting Hitler's Jets: The Extraordinary Story of the American Airmen Who Beat the Luftwaffe and Defeated Nazi Germany (Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2013), p. 36.