Bomarc Missile – The First Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile

The Boeing Bomarc was the world’s first long-range surface to air missile and despite its shortcomings remain in service for a decade. It was an extremely ambitious project and is a Cold War weapon that few today are familiar with.

In the late 1940s, Boeing began work on a surface to air missile – then described as a ‘pilotless interceptor’. The project was code-named MX-1599 and the Michigan Aerospace Research Center (MARC) joined Boeing to work on the programme.

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Boeing BOMARC at Hill Aerospace Museum (Matthew Moss)

The MX-1599 was to be a long-range supersonic nuclear-tipped surface to air missile (or SAM), detonated by a proximity fuse. The missile went through a number of official designations as it was developed during the 1950s – finally becoming known as the Bomarc – an acronym of Boeing and Michigan Aerospace Research Center.

The Bomarc was launched vertically using rocket boosters, before its main ramjet engines took over, enabling it to cruise at Mach 2.5 (approx. 1,920 mph). The initial Bomarc A had a range of 200 miles with an operational ceiling of 60,000 feet.

It was ground controlled using NORAD’s Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system until it neared its target, when an onboard radar, a Westinghouse AN/DPN-34 radar, took over.

The Bomarc could be tipped with either a 1,000 lb conventional high explosive or low yield W40 nuclear warhead. These were detonated by a radar proximity fuse. The W40 had a yield of up to 10 kilotons, able to destroy entire formations of aircraft.

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BOMARC Site No. 1 at McGuire Air Force Base (USAF)

The missile had a wingspan of just over 18 feet or 5.5metres, it was 45 feet or 13.7 metres in length and weighed approximately 16,000 lbs (7257 kg) on launch. The Bomarc’s first flight took place on 24th February, 1955.

The USAF intended to use the missile to engage incoming Soviet bomber formations and ICBMs. Originally planning for over 50 Bomarc launch sites, but only one was operational by 1959 and only eight were operational by the early 1960s. The upgraded Bomarc B was developed in the early 1960s, with an improved radar, a Westinghouse AN/DPN-53, and a greater maximum range of 430 miles, as well as a higher operational ceiling of 100,000 feet.

The Bomarc was stored horizontally in specially built semi-hardened bunkers and kept fuelled and ready to launch at a moment’s notice. When targets were detected the missile would be raised and launched vertically.

One of the dangers of keeping the missiles fuelled became clear in June 1960, when a nuclear-armed Bomarc A caught fire exploding the onboard tank and contaminated part of McGuire Air Force Base with melted plutonium. Despite this the missiles remained operational for over a decade with the first sites being deactivated in 1969 with the last stood down in 1972.

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BOMARC launching (USAF)

While the Bomarc missiles were the world’s first operational long-range anti-aircraft missile they were too slow to achieve operational readiness to keep pace with the rapidly changing nuclear threat – as both superpowers transitioned from bomber to ICBM-focused strategies. They were expensive to manufacture and difficult to maintain at readiness. In the late 1950s the Bomarc also embroiled in a war of words with the US Army arguing their short range Nike Hercules (SAM-A-25/MIM-14) missile was more effective. The Hercules remained in service through to the 1980s, albeit as a air defence missile – rather than targeting soviet ICBMs or bomber aircraft.

The Bomarc was an ambitious project when it began in the late 40s, but with technology and cold war nuclear strategy rapidly evolving the Bomarc was almost obsolete before it became operational. A total of 570 Bomarc missiles were built between 1957 and 1964 with the US and Canada (which led to considerable political controversy) being the only countries to deploy them.

I hope you guys enjoyed this look at the Bomarc, we’ll have a few more videos on missiles in the future.

If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great new perks available for Patreon Supporters.


Specifications:

Wingspan: 18 feet 2 inches
Diameter: 35 inches
Length: 45 feet
Approx. takeoff weight: 16,000 pounds
Top speed: Mach 2.5
Range: 400 miles (IM-99B)
Ceiling: 100,000 feet
Power: 50,000-pound-thrust solid-fuel rocket (takeoff); two 12,000-pound-thrust Marquardt ramjet engines (cruise)
Armament: 1,000 lb conventional or 10 kiloton W40 nuclear warhead

Bibliography

IM-99A/B BOMARC Missile, Boeing, (source)
Nuclear Weapons of the United States: An Illustrated History, J.N. Gibson, (1996)
Nike Historical Society (source)
Supersonic Guardian, Boeing film, c.1960 (source)

The Bomarc featured in the video is part of the Hill Aerospace Museum’s collection.

Surplus Zone: SUSAT Scopes

Vic continues his Surplus Zone series with a look at the British SUSAT sight, principle by Britain on the SA80 and by Spain with the CETME Model LV and AMELI. In this episode Vic shows us how to refit a SUSAT with new elements.

The Sight Unit Small Arms, Trilux was developed in the late 1970s by the Royal Armaments Research Development Establishment. It is a 4x optic which uses a radioactive tritium light source, for use in low light conditions, which due to radioactive decay has to be replaced every 8-10 years.

The SUSAT is still in use with the British Army.

Enter the Surplus Zone

Vic has been busy travelling around Europe with his day job and has had the opportunity to visit some surplus dealers. He’s back with a new series of videos, ‘the Surplus Zone’, he’s going to show us some of the interesting, and in some cases extremely rare, things that are sometimes available on the European surplus market.

The series will included AR-10 parts, SUSAT scopes, Italian Garand receivers and much more!

Browning Prototypes – Detachable Box Magazine Lever Action Rifle

The rifle we’re examining is one of dozens of designs sold by the Brownings to the Winchesters Repeating Arms Company during their long relationship. This design dates from the early 1890s and represents one of Browning’s numerous attempts to move away from the tube magazine-fed designs favoured by Winchester.

The prototype is based around the lever-actuated vertically sliding locking block patented by Browning in May 1884 and first used by Winchester in the Model 1886. The rifle itself is in the ‘military musket’ configuration with full-length handguards, military sights, a cleaning rod and able to mount a bayonet.

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Right side of the rifle (Matthew Moss)

The rifle is chambered in a .45 calibre cartridge, likely .45-70, and weighs just over 9lbs. Browning patented the design of the rifle and magazine in August 1891, with the patent being granted in December (US #465339). It is attributed to John Moses Browning and his younger brother Matthew S. Browning.

The most interesting feature of the rifle is its detachable box magazine. The magazine is held in place by a spring-loaded catch at the front of the magazine which locks against a tab in the magazine’s wall.

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A close up of the magazine well, note the added metal lip of the front of the well, not a part of the receiver (Matthew Moss)

It differs from the box magazines previously developed by James Paris Lee, which Lee begun developing in the mid-1870s (see examples listed below). It’s a simple design with a follower powered by a coil spring. The prototype mag itself is made from pressed metal and is held together with some rough welds. Unlike the magazines we’re familiar with today, the top of the Browning’s magazine is almost entirely enclosed with only a small opening at the rear. The rounds would be loaded nose-first with their rims sliding into the channel at the rear of the magazine.

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Close up of the magazine removed from the rifle – right side (Matthew Moss)
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A view of the top of the magazine with the small opening and notch for the cartridge rime visible (Matthew Moss)

The single-stack magazine appears to hold around five rounds, with Browning’s patent supporting this. The position of the magazine, in front of the action – not below it, is a hint at how it worked. An almost fully enclosed magazine does have its advantages – it would have prevented dirt from entering the mag and it also overcame the need for feed lips which were susceptible to damage, one of the elements which took Lee some time to perfect.

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A close up of the front wall of the magazine, note the locking notch (Matthew Moss)

So How Did The Magazine Work?

There is a shoulder on the underside of the bolt which caught the rim of the cartridge which was protruding from the magazine. The bolt pulled the cartridge backwards, out of the magazine and onto a cartridge lifter. As the lever reached its full forward travel the lifter then elevated the round up into line with the breech. When the lever was cycled back again the round was pushed off the lifter and chambered, just as in a normal tube-fed Winchester. As the lever reached the end of its return travel the locking block rose to locked the action.

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The Browning’s 1891 patent for the magazine, note ‘h‘ is the shoulder which pulled rounds out of the magazine (US Patent Office)

The prototype has a sliding safety bar that locks the lever and blocks the trigger. The trigger differs from the Model 1886 as it is integrated with the lever. In the photograph below we can see the locking block descended, with the lever forward, and the breech block to the rear with the action open. We can also see the striker assembly at the rear of the bolt. The striker cocks on closing when the lever is returned rearward.

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The rifle with its action open, bolt o the rear and lever forward. Note the striker assembly at the rear of the bolt (Matthew Moss)

It’s quite an exposed action, with the entire top of the action open. With the action closed in the photograph below we can see the extractor running along the right side of the bolt.

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A close up of the rifle’s receiver which is still ‘in the white’ (Matthew Moss)

It’s clear from the design of the magazine that Browning didn’t intend the rifle to be reloaded with stripper clips, although single loading of the rifle itself (not the magazine) would have been possible. When compared to other contemporary system this would have been somewhat of a disadvantage compared to Lee’s magazine’s later loading with chargers and stripper clips. However, from examination of Browning’s 1891 patent his intention becomes clear, the patent explains that he intended for the magazine itself to be replaced:

“One magazine may be readily removed from the gun and another introduced in its place, so that the person, using the arm may have at hand several magazines to be interchanged as the cartridges from one magazine are exhausted.”

This is a concept that wouldn’t be accepted by militaries for decades. Winchester purchased the rights to the design but this was one of many designs Browning sold the company which never saw production. The design and prototype are fascinating and represent one of Browning’s lesser-known concepts.

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Left side profile of the rifle (Matthew Moss)

This rifle is a unique prototype and it was a true honour to examine it. It’s now on display at the newly refurbished Cody Firearms Museum, at the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West. The new museum is phenomenal and well worth a visit. Our thanks to the museum for allowing us to film items, like this one, from the museum’s collection.

If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great new perks available for Patreon Supporters.


Bibliography:

‘Magazine Gun’ J.M. & M.S. Browning, US Patent #465339, 15 Dec. 1891 (source)

John M Browning: American Gunmaker, J. Browning & C. Gentry (1964)

Some of James Paris Lee’s magazine patents, for comparison:

‘Improvement in Magazine Fire-arms’, J.P. Lee, US Patent #221328, 4 Nov. 1879 (source)

‘Magazine For Fire Arms’, J.P. Lee & L.P. Diss, US Patent #295563, 25 Mar. 1884 (source)

‘Magazine Fire Arm’, J.P. Lee, US Patent #383363, 22 May, 1888 (source)

‘Gun Magazine’, J.P. Lee, US Patent #627824, 27 Jun. 1899 (source)

Matt on Forgotten Weapons!

Last month while Matt was visiting the Cody Firearms Museum for their Arsenals of History Symposium he had the pleasure of meeting lots of great people from the historic firearms world. One person he met was none other than Ian of Forgotten Weapons.

Ian was kind enough to suggest doing an interview to share and highlight our work here at TAB with his subscribers. Matt discussed the idea behind TAB and some of the things that we cover.

We very much appreciate Ian’s support of our project and opportunity to chat on camera abiht our work. Thanks Ian!

Vickers Gun Disassembly

The Vickers Gun is an iconic weapon, developed from the Maxim and adopted by the British in 1912. It served for over 50 years in conflicts all around the world. In this video, we’re lucky enough to have Richard Fisher of the Vickers Machine Gun Collection and Research Association shows us how to disassemble a the gun and talk us through its internals.

Big thank you to Rich for taking the time to help with this video and provide the voice over explaining the process! We’ll have more videos on the Vickers Gun in the future! Check out Richard’s work over on the Vickers Machine Gun Collection and Research Association’s site here.

I’ll let Rich explain the disassembly process in real time in the video but here are a couple of photographs of the gun disassembled:

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The Vickers gun field stripped (Matthew Moss)

This is the gun in its fully field stripped condition, with lock still assembled, but with its fusee spring and cover off and its barrel and action removed. Just below the barrel is the feed block.

Here’s the Vickers Gun’s lock disassembled into its 14 component parts:

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The gun’s disassembled lock (Matthew Moss)

This photo gives us a good look inside the receiver with the barrel, action and side plates removed, The spade grip assembly simply folds down to allow the action and barrel to be slide out of the gun.

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Once the action and barrel is removed you can look straight through the receiver and down through the water jacket (Matthew Moss)

Finally, here’s the gun reassembled and ready for action.

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The gun fully reassembled (Matthew Moss)

Thanks again to Richard for his help with this video, it was great to collaborate and hopefully we’ll have more videos with Rich in the future.  Please check out the Vickers Machine Gun Collection & Research Association’s site to find out more about what they do. They have some wonderful resources, including a comprehensive collection of manuals, for not just the Vickers but also the wider British Army from the past 100 years. You can also order copies of the brilliant instructional posters which were featured in the video over on the the associations website too!

If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great new perks available for Patreon Supporters.

 

Cut-Down SMLE – A Tunneller’s Gun?

What’s interesting about the concept of an Obrez or cut-down SMLE is the myth that has grown up around them. They’re often described as being used by men during trench raids or by tunnellers digging beneath No-Man’s Land. But it’s very difficult to confirm the use of cut-down rifles by tunnellers or trench raiding parties.

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Right-side view of the rifle (Matthew Moss)

British tunnelling operations began in 1915, as an attempt to break the stalemate on the Western Front, with the formation of the tunnelling companies of the Royal Engineers. Tunnelling had historically been a feature of siege warfare since the medieval period and the Western Front proved no different. Occasionally, opposing tunnels may meet or a counter tunnel might break through often resulting in a short, sharp fight followed inevitably by one side blowing the other’s tunnel up. The final aim of the tunnelling was to lay massive explosive charges beneath enemy strong-points, no fewer than 19 were detonated on the 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

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The mine under German front line positions at Hawthorn Redoubt is fired 10 minutes before the assault at Beaumont Hamel, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. 45,000 pounds of ammonal exploded and the mine caused a crater 130 feet across by 58 feet deep (IWM)

Of course cutting down serviceable rifles was strictly prohibited and patrols were mostly issued with revolvers, grenades and knives or clubs. For tunnellers who encountered the enemy deep underground they were also normally armed with revolvers, knives and their mining tools.

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Left-side view of the rifle, note that the rear volley sight remains (Matthew Moss)

The only contemporary reference of using cut-down SMLEs, that I was able to find, comes from a sketch drawn by a tunnelling officer, Major R.S.G. Stokes, who sketched a cut-down SMLE supposedly used by Canadian tunnellers near Ypres. The rifle Stokes drew had a completely exposed barrel and an added front sight post.

The rifle we’re examining differs from the truly Obrez SMLE’s we might normally imagine. The provenance and origins of this rifle are unknown but with its stock still intact it differs from others and actually, in my opinion at least, makes the rifle more user friendly. With the extra point of contact from the butt you can work the bolt faster and don’t have to lower the rifle to work the action. While the SMLE was already one of WW1’s shortest service rifles. This cut-down SMLE is about 64cm or 25 inches long, with a 4 inch barrel.

From descriptions of these subterranean fights they were short, vicious affairs which began with both sides blazing away at one another with pistols before fighting hand to hand.

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Top view of the cut-down rifle (Matthew Moss)

Most accounts describe revolvers and pistols being the primary weapon used. Captain Basil Sawers, of the 177th Tunnelling Company, described using “little automatics which were meant to shoot where your finger pointed.” Captain Matthew Roach of the 255th Tunnelling Company personally carried two revolvers. Another account from Captain William Grant Grieve describes British tunnellers breaking into a German tunnel, “they encountered a party of Germans and immediately opened fire on them with pistols.”

From the contemporary accounts we have available it appears that immediate volume of fire was key in tunnel fights. For this double-action revolvers and small pistols like those described by Captain Sawers would have been ideal. A cut-down rifle would have been deafening and the muzzle flash would have been blinding in the confines of the tunnel.

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Close up of the cut-down rifle’s wrist socket markings (Matthew Moss)

This rifle has no sights, which while not a problem for short distances in the confines of a trench or a tunnel, anything over 25 yards is going to be challenging. Interestingly, however, who ever cut the rifle down left the long range volley peep sight in place. The rifle itself is a SMLE MkI, originally built in 1906, and as such does not have a charger bridge, which was introduced later with the MkIII, instead it has a pair of charger guides.

Despite cut-down rifles not being officially sanctioned, it is very likely that at least a small number were made – perhaps from damaged rifles which had been salvaged. How many were adapted we will probably never know.

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British 2in Trench Mortar, with SMLE ignitor (Matthew Moss)

There were of course a number of occasions when cutting down a rifle was permissible such as the use of cut-down SMLE’s as ignitors for various trench mortars like the 2in Trench mortar that we have covered previously. These ignitors are sometimes confused with unofficial cut-down rifles but the metal grip plates and threaded muzzles are the easiest way to spot them. Some SMLEs were also later adapted as smoke dischargers, one was famously used as a prop in Star Wars: A New Hope, appearing as a Jawa blaster.

If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great new perks available for Patreon Supporters.

 


Bibliography

Beneath Flanders Fields: The Tunnellers’ War 1914-1918 by P. Barton & J. Vandewalle

Tunnellers. The Story of the Tunnelling Companies, Royal Engineers, during the World War by W. Grant Grieve & B. Newman

The Underground War: Vimy Ridge to Arras by N. Cave & P. Robinson

Our special thanks go to the collection that holds this rifle, and allowed us to take a look at it.