This week we tackle a true classic, Richard Attenborough’s ‘A Bridge Too Far‘, with some help from renowned comedian and history buff Al Murray. Al joined us to talk about one of his (and our) favourite war films. With a truly stellar cast the film takes on the epic story of Operation Market Garden. Join us as we leap from a Dakota and push on to the bridge!
It’s the 1980s and the British Army Of the Rhine is still stationed in West Germany facing down the USSR’s forces. The Cold War has gotten hot and the 3rd Shock Army is approaching your dugout but how do you differentiate a BTR from a BMP? This handy British Army THREAT Recognition Guide booklet gives you everything you need to know about the Soviet armour, infantry and aircraft you’re facing!
Continuing on from our earlier look at a British Army threat Recognition Guide to Iraqi Ground Forces issued during the Gulf War, we dig into the TAB reference collection again and take a look at this Threat Recognition Guide looking at Soviet air and ground forces facing the British Army of the Rhine in the 1980s.
The Group of Soviet Forces in Germany (GSFG) in East Germany throughout the Cold War were an ever present threat to West Germany and NATO. This recognition guide covers all of the USSR’s main battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and infantry fighting vehicles, as well as artillery systems and some of the close support aircraft which would have accompanied the attacking Soviet forces.
The pages of the recognition guide include photographs, diagrams, basic specs and recognisable features of the various enemy vehicles. It was put together by the Intelligence Directorate of BAOR’s 1 Corps.
Vic joins Matt and Robbie to bring Fighting On Film’s Merc Month to a close looking at a classic of the genre, ‘The Dogs of War’ staring Christopher Walken & Tom Berenger. Directed by John Irvin and with cinematography from the legendary Jack Cardiff it adapts Frederick Forsyths book about a mercenary led coup in a fictional African republic of Zangaro!
Zip up your combat jackets & load up your ammo belts! Today we dive into 1985’s Commando starring none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger! The cult classic is chock full of action and macho bravado. It still entertains over 30 years later!
The MB-1/AIR-2 ‘Genie’ was the world’s first nuclear-armed air-to-air weapon and remains the most powerful missile ever deployed aboard U.S. Air Force interceptors. Developed as the Cold War began to heat up it would be carried aboard a succession of aircraft including the F-89, F-101B Voodoo, and the F-106 Delta Dart.
The MB-1 (later the AIR-2) was an air to air rocket with a 6 mile range and a 1.5 kiloton W25 nuclear warhead. It was ostensibly a tactical nuclear weapon designed to take on Soviet strategic bomber formations. The early 1950s saw the Soviet Union’s strategic bomber capability expand from the Tu-4, B-29 Superfortress copy, to include the Tupolev Tu-16 and Tu-95 and the Myasishchev M-4. These new long-range, nuclear capable bombers posed a serious threat to the continental United States. It was decided that only nuclear anti-aircraft weapons could counter the new high-flying Soviet bombers. Development began in 1954 with the project code-named “Genie” by the Air Research and Development Command.
We’ve previously looked at the Boeing BOMARC, the world’s first long-range surface to air missile, whose role was similar to the air-launched MB-1 – to engage incoming Soviet bombers. During the early 1950s, before the emergence of ICBMs, the USAF expected the main nuclear threat to the United States to come via massive attacks by Soviet long-range bombers carrying atomic bombs.
The USAF hoped that weapons like the BOMARC and the MB-1 would be able to engage and neutralise large soviet formations before they reached their targets. This would be achieved by USAF interceptors scrambled to meet the incoming Soviet aircraft, the interceptors would move into engagement range and launch their MB-1 missiles, turning away to avoid the blast. The Genie would detonate inside or near the Soviet formations breaking up their attack. For this role, attacking massed enemy aircraft, the Genie certainly appears to be an efficient weapon concept. However, like the BOMARC it quickly became obsolete as the Soviets moved away from strategic bomber aircraft and embraced long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Development of the MB-1 was carried out by the Douglas Aircraft Company. Physically, the plump-looking air-to-air nuclear rocket was 9ft 2in long and 17.5in in diameter, weighing in at just over 820lbs (372kg). The weapon had four fins, which spanned over 3 feet, these deployed once launched and helped to stabilise the Genie’s flight.
The Genie carried a 1.5-kiloton W-25 nuclear warhead and was powered by a solid-fuel rocket engine developed by Thiokol. It could reach speeds up to Mach 3.3 and travel just over 6 miles before detonating. It’s effective blast radius was estimated to be just short of 1,000 feet (300m), the Genie relied upon this area effect as guidance systems small enough to be fitted to a missile were in their infancy, as a result the Genie was essentially an unguided rocket with no onboard guidance.
An Northrop F-89J has the distinction of being the only aircraft to fire a live MB-1 Genie during the Operation Plumbbob tests on 19th July, 1957. The F-89 was flown by Captain Eric W. Hutchison, with Captain Alfred C. Barbee acting as Radar Intercept Officer. They launched the Genie at around 18,500 feet, the nuclear-tipped Genie accelerated to Mach 3 and travelled 2.6 miles in less than 5 seconds. While operationally the weapon would have detonated by a time-delay fuse the Plumbbob detonation was triggered by a signal from the ground.
Test shot John was a form of controlled human testing, with not only those on the ground, beneath the blast tested for radiation dose sizes but also the crews of the aircraft that launched the rocket. This contemporary film about the test notes that “neutron and gamma doses for the three crews did not exceed 5 Reps and 3 Roentgens respectively.
A later report noted:
“Neutron and gamma radiation dosages received by the crew members were less than had been predicted. To some extent this may he attributed to the effect of aircraft shielding. which was not utilized in the theoretical predictions. No crew member received more than 5 Reps neutron and 3r gamma during his participation. The experiment proved that the MB-1 air-to-air rocket can be successfully launched by the F-89 aircraft at 19,000 feet MSL with a radiation dose to the delivery crew within acceptable limits.”
The yield of the explosion was estimated to have been 1.7 kilotons. 18,500 feet below, at ground zero, five USAF officers and a photographer volunteered to stand under the blast to prove that the weapon was safe for use over populated areas. The radiation doses received by the F-89 crew and the men on the ground were reportedly small.
The MB-1 became the primary air to air weapon of the F-106 Delta Dart, this footage includes and illustration showing how the MB-1 was deployed from the F-106 as well as some of the live missile tests with inert missiles during the development of the Delta Dart’s launch system for the Genie.
Douglas built more than 1,000 Genie rockets before terminating production in 1962. In June 1963, the MB-1 Genie rockets were re-designated in the AIR-2 and later the ATR-2A. The USAF’s operational deployment of the Genie ended in late 1980s with the retirement of the last F-106 Delta Darts. The Genie’s other operator, the Royal Canadian Air Force, continued to operate the Genie aboard until 1984.
OPERATION PLUMBBOB, Technical Summary of MiIitary Effects, 1962, Defense Atomic Support Agency, (source)
‘MB-1 Documentary’, Douglas Aircraft Company via US National Archives, (source)
‘Five Men at Atomic Ground Zero’ Operation Plumbbob Test Shot John footage, Atomic Central, (source)
‘The F102A – F106A Annual Review 1957’, technical review of the Delta Dagger, USAF via San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives, (source)
’19 JULY 1957 – FIVE AT GROUND ZERO’, CTBTO, (source)
Merc Month continues with SAS: Red Notice as brand new film about mercenaries who highjack the ‘Eurostream’ train. Based on a book by SAS veteran Andy McNab it stars Sam Heughan, Ruby Rose and Andy Serkis. We watched it so you don’t have to, be warned there is some exasperated swearing. This was a bit of an unplanned added bonus for Merc Month.
So you may have seen our earlier video looking at the portrayal of PIATs in the 1978 classic A Bridge Too Far! If not check it out.
When I think of Richard Attenborough’s all-star war epic telling the story of Operation Market Garden, I immediately think of the iconic ‘BRING UP THE PIAT’ scene where Anthony Hopkins playing Colonel John Frost commanding 2 PARA calls for the Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank to take out a marauding ‘Panther’.
But this isn’t the only scene from the film depicting the PIAT! In this video we’ll look at a couple of the other scenes showing the PIAT in action.
We first see the PIAT during the scene when the Guards Armoured Division’s spearhead meets heavy german resistance. Michael Caine’s Sherman’s get a pasting from some Pak 40s. The British infantry deploys and we see a cornucopia of kit ranging from Brens to Vickers to an M2 Browning. But blink and you’ll miss them a pair of PIAT teams also ‘bring up the PIAT’. A two man team can be seen moving forward, the No.1 carrying the PIAT and the No.2 carrying a 3 round bomb carrier, sadly killed by enemy fire.
The second scene in which we see the PIAT finally get to work on some German armoured fighting vehicles is during Gräbner’s attack over the bridge. As the PARAs at the Bridge prepare for the attack we see 2 or 3 PIAT positions get ready – loading bombs into their bomb support trays. One PIAT No.1 can be seen slotting the rear of a PIAT bomb into the projectile guide plates to hold the bomb in place – very authentic.
As the column crosses the Bridge Frost orders his men to open fire, Brens, Stens, Rifle No.4s and PIATs open up and the column is stopped in its tracks. During the scene we see a number of PIAT’s fire and knock out SS vehicles. One PIAT No.2 is hit by enemy fire. The first PIAT round fired hits a lead German vehicle causing it to halt, the second flips a Kubelwagen. We then see a No.2 two load a fresh bomb into the bomb support tray – with a tap to make sure its properly in place. We get a great show of the PIAT firing from the front. It’s worth noting that the PIAT doesn’t recock and the spigot is still seen in the bomb tray just before the camera cuts away. Meaning that that PIAT No.1 will have to recock his weapon before he can fire again!
It’s worth remembering without the ‘Bring Up The PIAT’ scene making a point of naming the weapon, most people would never have known what this unusual weapon that dealt so much damage in the earlier scene was! Of course the attack wasn’t stopped by PIATs alone, there were also airborne anti-tank guns, which the film doesn’t show.
Another little titbit of information I learnt since the first ‘Bring Up The PIAT’ video, thanks to my friend Robbie of RM Military History [check out his channel], is that the PIAT was fired in most of these scenes by one of the film’s armourer Bill Aylmore. The information comes from After the Battle – The Battle of Arnhem – War Film: A Bridge Too Far which describes him as formerly a sergeant with the 50th Regt. – which might be a reference to the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment. The book goes on to say that “Aylmore excelled himself during the filming of the battle on the bridge by being the ace shot with the PIAT. During all the various takes he was able to put the bomb exactly where the director wanted it and where it coincided with the special effects explosions.” – Good shooting indeed!
We continue Mercenary Month with a classic, ‘Dark of the Sun’. Jack Cardiff’s 1968 action movie that follows a band of Congolese commandos attempting to retrieve a huge diamond haul before the Simbas arrive. An artistic but visceral film staring Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Brown, Peter Carsten and Kenneth More. Skilfully shot, lots of impressive action and some good performances combine to create a compelling film.
By the mid-19th century many major militaries were beginning the hunt for a reliable and robust breechloading system. France was no exception with a number of systems trialled during the 1850s, following the Prussian adoption of the Dreyse rifle. Today we’re lucky enough to be examining one of France’s early breechloaders , with some interesting features – the Arcelin.
Perhaps properly described as le Mousqueton Arcelin 1856, the carbine has the distinction of being the first French breechloader to have a distinct bolt handle. Designed by Charles Arcelin, a graduate of the École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr and veteran of the Napoleonic Wars. In the 1820s Arcelin began his ordnance career working in arms factories in Mutzig, Saxony and Starsbourg. In 1839 he became deputy director of the Tulle arsenal and developed a system for the conversion of flintlock muskets to the percussion system in 1842. He subsequently became Director of the Châtellerault arsenal between December 1841 to September 1842 and again from December 1849 to August 1852. It was during this period that Arcelin developed his breechloader.
Following his work on developing a percussion conversion Arcelin set about developing a breechloading system, in June 1853 a prototype cavalry carbine was tested at Vincennes. The prototype fired 130 rounds before its action fouled and seized up – despite this observers were impressed, including Emperor Napoleon III.
A letter from the Cabinet of the Emperor, dated August 4, 1856 states:
“The Emperor wants General Arcelin to be responsible for having the Manufacture de Châtellerault make 300 carabiners with a movable breech of the model which has been tested at Vincennes and which gave satisfactory results and in addition 100 reserve cavalry sabers, 100 line cavalry sabers and 100 light cavalry sabers which will be attached at the end of the carabiners. The sabers as well as the carabiners of a new model which was established on the personal indications of the Emperor. These weapons are intended to be tested in three regiments of the Imperial Guard.”
At the beginning of October, the Emperor ordered that production be reduced to 100 rifles. On the 7th October, it was proposed that Châtellerault would provide 108 carbines and sabers. A manufacturing report dating from 5th April 1857, signed by Arcelin, specified that 111 carbines and sabers had been produced. Despite this sources suggest that by June 1857, carbines was reduced again by the French war ministry, to 96 – a total of 32 per regiment. The carbine we are examining is marked with ‘108’ in a number of places, this would support the total of 108 and would also make it the last of the trials prototypes manufactured.
While some sources refer to the sabres as sabre-lances, this was not their designation or purpose nor were the weapons ever issued to Napoleon’s Squadron des Cent-Gardes as some sources suggest. Instead they were issued to three regiments of cavalry:
The reserve cavalry’s 1st Carabinier Regiment (Cavalerie de Réserve, 1er Régiment de Carabiniers), the line cavalry’s Empress’ Dragoons (Cavalerie de ligne, Dragons de l’Impératrice) and the 1st Hussar Regiment of the light cavalry, (Cavalerie légère, 1er Regiment de Hussards).
Once the contract for 108 trials carbines had been confirmed Arcelin set about refining and producing the guns at Châtellerault. He recruited a promising young gunsmith, Antoine Chassepot, who had been working at the arsenal since 1851, to work on the project. What Chassepot’s input on the project was is largely unknown although his work with Arcelin clearly influenced his own later designs.
The Arcelin carbine used a paper cartridge with a 21g (or 324 grain), 12mm projectile propelled by 3g (or 46gr) of black powder. It was still ignited by a percussion cap and had a back action lock. The breech locked by a pair of opposing threaded screws and by a lug in the base of the action. The carbine weighs 3.2kg (just over 7lbs) and was 1.18m (46.4in) in length, with a 76.5cm (30in) barrel.
To operate the carbine first the action is opened, rotating the bolt handle up 90-degrees. A cartridge would then be slide into the breech and the action pushed forward and closed. The percussion lock would then be brought to half-cock, a cap placed on the nipple and then the lock would be brought to full cock and the weapon fired. As the carbine fired a paper cartridge there was no need for extraction of a spent case.
The trial of the carbine was carried out alongside another new breechloader, a pinfire, falling block action developed by Antoine Treuille de Beaulieu, chambered in a 9mm round. General Treuille de Beaulieu is perhaps best known for his rifling system for artillery.
The carbines and sabres were issued and ready to begin trials at the beginning of April 1857. By the Autumn of 1857, following testing by the various units the Arcelin was rejected. The Artillery Commission found that the lack of obturation at the breech lead not only to gas escaping the action and being unpleasant and somewhat dangerous for the user but also the fouling of the interrupted thread which locked the action led to jamming and in a number of cases the folding bolt handles were broken when troopers attempted to force the actions open.
Now for the rather impressive bayonet. We have examined carbines with significant bayonets, like the Durs Egg-made Crespi breechloader. The French had a penchant for sabre bayonets dating back to 1840s and would continue to use them into the 1870s. The sabre seen with this carbine is not the exact pattern which would have been paired with the Arcelin. The 1856 pattern Arcelin sabre which would have mounted on the carbines have a hilt style which is slightly different and the lug under the barrel doesn’t quite interface with the catch on the sabre.
The sabre itself is based on the Mle 1854 sabre, a double fullered, 1m long, straight sword manufactured, like the carbines, at Châtellerault. The sword with this carbine is marked at ‘Dragon Mle 1854’ suggesting it was issued to a dragoon regiment, who only began receiving the Mle 1854 in the mid-1860s, the blade’s markings support this as it is also marked June 1865.
From the final report on the trials of the Arcelin we gain some insight into how the sabre-bayonet was to be used. In their final report, in October 1857, the Hussars noted that when used as a bayonet the sabre could only practically be used on foot describing use on horseback as impossible. They felt that firing the carbine could only accurately be done at short range as the fixed sabre made the carbine ungainly, heavy and unbalanced.
The units did, however, appreciate the defence the sabre-bayonet offered to a dismounted trooper. A passage from the translated report reads:
“the use of the saber as a bayonet gives man a means of defense which he did not have with the old weapons. This straight saber is light, perfectly in hand and excellent for pointing (…) The firing of the new weapon, saber at the end of the barrel, was carried out with the hussars and did not give place to any important observation. As expected, the shot becomes less fair because the weapon is too heavy and less well maintained by the rider (…) The saber used as a bayonet makes it a powerful weapon.”
It appears that 60 of the sabre-bayonets were later adapted to be mounted on the Saint Etienne-built 1858 Chassepot breechloading carbines which were subsequently trialled. These carbines still used percussion caps but had a fixed bolt handle, a rubber obturating round near the bolt head and the actions was rear-locking. This system would eventually evolve into the Fusil Modèle 1866 – the Chassepot.
Gas obturation was a key issue for many of the early breechloaders and would be for some time. General Arcelin’s carbine can be seen as an important footnote in the development of the Chassepot rifle which would follow it. The general died in 1868, aged 73.
‘Le Sabre du Mousqueton Arcelin’, Gazette des Armes, #156, Aug. 1986, P. Renoux ‘Le Mousqueton Arcelin 1856-1858’, Gazette des Armes, #77, Dec. 1979, P. Lorain ‘Le Sabres-lances Arcelin Mle 1856 Trois Modeles Particuliers Pt.1’, Gazette des Armes, #397, Apr. 2008, B. Aubry & C. Bera ‘Le Sabres-lances Arcelin Mle 1856 Trois Modeles Particuliers Pt.2’, Gazette des Armes, #398, May. 2008, B. Aubry & C. Bera ‘Le Premier Chassepot – Le System de 1858’, Gazette des Armes, #78, Jan. 1980, P. Lorain L’Arme a Feu Portative Francaise M. Cottaz (1971)
Join us as we kick off Mercenary Month with ‘Code Name: Wild Geese’. A 1984 action movie directed by Antonio Margheriti following a group of mercs in tasked with destroying opium farms in the Golden Triangle. The film stars Lewis Collins, Lee Van Cleef, Klaus Kinski and Ernest Borgnine.