Gangster Gats: The Battle of Barrington

It was just like Jimmy Cagney. I never seen nothing like it. That fellow just kept a-coming right at them two lawmen, and they must have hit him plenty, but nothing was going to stop that fellow.

– Robert Hayford, eyewitness to the “Battle of Barrington” (1934)

In late 1934, former Dillinger-Nelson Gang member Lester “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis – “Public Enemy No. 1” at the time – was finally chased down by the Division of Investigation (the future FBI) north of Chicago, in what would become the “Battle of Barrington.”

The events that unfolded that day would put any action picture to shame – oddly, they have never been properly covered on film, despite several movie dramatizations. Neither Don Siegel’s Baby Face Nelson (1957), Mervyn Leroy’s The FBI Story (1959), Scott Levy’s Baby Face Nelson (1996), or Michael Mann’s Public Enemies (2009) make a credible attempt at depicting what actually happened – with only Leroy even trying to stick to the most basic facts.

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Tactical Shooting: Public Enemies

Gentlemen, shortly you will be provided Thompson submachine guns, BARs, and uh, .351 Winchester semiautomatic rifles. We are pursuing hardened killers. It will be dangerous.

– Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Melvin Purvis in Public Enemies (2009)

Michael Mann’s Public Enemies (2009) is but the latest effort to bring the life of infamous bank robber John “Johnnie” Dillinger on the silver screen. It follows his exploits between autumn 1933 and summer 1934, but really concentrates on his affair with gun moll M. Evelyn “Billie” Frechette. As in many other Mann movies, the law enforcement side receives almost equal attention, here in the shape of Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Melvin Purvis. While Mann undertook extraordinary effort to bring the time to life through clothing, automobiles, firearms, and locations, he stuck less rigidly to the historical facts, including the timeline. Events have been moved forward or backward, people have been omitted or changed, etc. It has to be understood that Public Enemies is not really a historical film at all, unlike Bryan Burrough’s meticulously researched book Public Enemies (2004), on which it is based. It is still an excellent movie, not the least because of its awesome score and of course its actors, including Johnny Depp as Dillinger, Christian Bale as Purvis, and Stephen Graham as “Baby Face Nelson.”

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Tactical Shooting: Heat

Drop of a hat, these guys will rock and roll.

‒ Vincent Hanna in Heat (1995)

Michael Mann’s Heat (1995) was one of the most important inspirations for GURPS Tactical Shooting. The epic intertwined story of a gang of bank robbers and the LAPD detectives hunting them has everything that makes a film great ‒ compelling story, great actors,  articulate dialogue, awesome action, perfect music, cool props. Both the bank robbers led by Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and the police detectives led by Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) display believable gun handling, with many scenes being excellent.

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Gangster Gats: Dillinger-Nelson Gang

… one bullet-proof vest, one loaded 50-round machine-gun drum, one Thompson sub-machine gun and one .45 automatic pistol and one high-powered rifle (nice people).

‒ SAC Hugh Clegg, memo to Director J. Edgar Hoover (04-APR-1934)


The gang of bank robbers loosely comprised of John Dillinger and a varying number of associates including “Baby Face Nelson” (Lester Gillis) operated in the Midwestern USA between 1933 and 1934. It was pursued relentlessly by the Bureau of Investigation. Several members were eventually arrested but most were killed. John Dillinger, Public Enemy No.1  from 22-JUN-1934, was shot by agents in Chicago, Illinois, on 22-JUL-1934. “Baby Face Nelson,” Public Enemy No.1 from 23-OCT-1934, was killed in Barrington, Illinois, on 27-NOV-1934.

I have previously attempted to describe the inventory in the Cthulhu ‒ Waffenhandbuch (2008) (p. 281). Here is a new approach, using a display assembled in 1966 at the FBI Headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, as a visual guide. Obviously this is only a partial list of their complete arsenal.

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Tactical Shooting: Collateral

Yo, Homie!

– Vincent in Collateral (2004)

Michael Mann’s Collateral (2004) is an excellent film, even though the premise of the story is a bit forced: A professional hit man, Vincent, is hired by a Colombian drug cartel to kill a whole bunch of witnesses on one night-long cab ride in Los Angeles. Despite the plot holes, the film features excellent photography, music, and of course the acting performance by the two leads, Tom Cruise as Vincent and Jamie Foxx as the cabbie Max Durocher.

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