On the 14th May 1940, the British Government announced the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers. By the summer of 1940 nearly 1.5 million men had volunteered to serve. The force was later renamed the Home Guard in July 1940 but remained under-equipped throughout the summer of 1940. Many of the newly raised militia units had just ‘LDV’ arm bands, some civilian firearms and improvised weapons, as uniforms and service weapons were in short supply.
I recently came across a really interesting piece of footage showing a Hampshire Home Guard unit training with an ‘incendiary weapon’. With few heavy weapons available during 1940, some Home Guard units improvised. This remarkable original colour footage appears to show a reasonably effective incendiary weapon of some sort. But beyond what we can see we know very little about the weapon.
The footage shows a battery of five launchers, each seemingly with a 3 man crew. One man aiming, another loading and another firing. The footage is undated but from their arm bands we can see that the men are Home Guard so definitely post July 1940. The men also appear to be quite well equipped with caps, denim trousers and blouses and belts. No webbing is seen but we can potentially date the footage to between late 1940 and mid-1941.
The incendiary weapon itself is extremely intriguing! I haven’t seen a similar weapon before and I couldn’t find any direct reference to it in the available original documents, newspapers or photos. The footage comes from the Wessex Film and Sound Archive, it is described as showing Home Guard men from Swanmore, a rural village in Hampshire, demonstrating the weapons. Before the incendiary weapon is demonstrated we see a company sized force of Home Guard parading, without rifles or other equipment, and then a single Home Guard member demonstrates loading an SMLE. From the footage we can get an idea of how the weapon would have worked.
The men run to the launchers, which appear to be made of wooden boards. Beneath them are rifle stock shaped pieces which the man at the rear seems to shoulder – probably to aim the weapon. The other two crew members kneel either side of the launcher. The footage then cuts away to another angle from the other side and shows one of the kneeling men hitting the rear of the projectile with a hammer. Then with a flash and puff of smoke the projectile launches forward. The man who aimed the weapon appears to have moved away, out of shot. Frustratingly the footage is a bit underexposed and quite dark so we can see too much more detail but we can see that the chap with the hammer is definitely hitting the rear of what looks like a length cylinder. The cylinder shoots to the rear while a projectile fires forward and the launcher’s crew look downrange.
We then get footage showing what seem to be a series of impacts, likely from the projectile’s fired by the launchers. Then we get another clip of the men running to man the launchers and some more shots of the incendiary weapons exploding. From the available footage its pretty difficult to theorise how the launchers work. They appear to be using an almost proto-recoilless rifle-like principle with the launch cylinder shooting backwards and the projectile leaving the cylinder and firing towards the target. The crew member with a hammer may be hitting a percussion cap to detonate some black powder which projects the incendiary bomb. This system may have been developed to remove the need for a fixed, pressure bearing barrel. Making the weapon much simpler to manufacture.
The footage doesn’t give us too much indication of the range of the weapon but it’s distant enough that the men firing the weapon don’t appear to recoil when the projectile hits the target. The incendiary effect downrange is actually quite impressive and a battery of five of the launchers would have been an impressive sight and perhaps quite useful as a road ambush weapon which was something the Home Guard focused heavily on at the time. It wasn’t until later in 1941 that sub-artillery like the Smith Gun, Northover Projector and the Blacker Bombard began to enter service with the Home Guard. Until then some of the units took it upon themselves to create their own weapons, improvising contraptions like the one featured in this video.
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)
In this video we’ll be launching a brand new series where we’ll look at period small arms and light weapons manuals and other ephemera like infantry tactics handbooks and recognition guides.
This month marks the 30th anniversary of what the British Army called Operation Granby, better known as Desert Storm or the Gulf War. So I thought taking a look at a Recognition Guide to Iraqi Ground Forces issued during Granby would be a good place to start!
Britain deployed more than 53,000 personnel during the operation, which began in August 1990, just after the invasion of Kuwait, with the arrival of 2 squadrons of Tornados in theatre. The first ground forces, elements from 7 Armoured Brigade began arriving in October. With no ready reaction force a division strength force was cobbled together from units deployed in Germany and the UK. Huge logistical constraints were overcome to provide a full armoured division, consisting of two brigades, for the liberation of Kuwait.
During the ground phase of the operation (Operation Desert Sabre), which began on 24th February 1991, British armoured and mechanised forces, part of VII Corps, provided the left-hook of the allied assault. The division’s two armoured brigades leapfrogging one another quickly taking successive objectives and sweeping west through occupied Kuwait, towards the Gulf Sea, neutralising Iraqi positions with relative ease. During less than 100 hours of ground combat British forces travelled 180 miles and destroyed approximately 300 Iraqi vehicles while allied forces as a whole captured an estimated 80,000 Iraqi troops. A total of 47 British troops were killed during Granby. A ceasefire was declared on 28 February with Iraqi forces collapsed and Kuwait liberated.
The guide was compiled by the Recognition Materials Cell at the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (or JARIC). Formed in 1953, from the Central Interpretation Unit and based at RAF Brampton from 1957 to 2013, JARIC was the UK’s strategic imagery intelligence provider – providing analysis of aerial and later satellite photography or enemy assets.
With war with Iraq looking imminent and substantial British forces deployed from the UK and Germany, JARIC were tasked with putting together a recognition guide covering Iraqi and Kuwaiti ground assets captured by Iraq during the invasion of Kuwait.
This included everything from main battle tanks, reconnaissance vehicles and armoured personnel carriers to self-propelled artillery, mortars, artillery and multi-barrelled rocket launchers. It also included anti-tank missiles, surface to air missile systems and anti-aircraft assets as well as engineering equipment. All of which might be encountered during upcoming operations to liberate Kuwait. Let’s take a look.
The guide sadly doesn’t have a scale of issue list so it’s difficult to know how many were printed or which units received them. But the first page does give us some indication of the material’s sources – noting they are from unclassified and restricted sources – giving the book a restricted classification overall.
Late last summer we visited the Anglesey Transport Museum in North Wales. They had a great collection of classic and vintage cars and bikes and most interestingly they had a little collection of British military vehicles.
They had a number of trucks and special purpose vehicles from the Royal Engineers, REME and RLC and even a Green Goddess Fire Engine. They also had a couple of pretty cool Cold War British Army armoured personnel carriers.
The Saracen was a six-wheeled armoured personnel carrier (APC) built by Alvis. It entered service in 1952 and was used extensively in Malaya and Northern Ireland. The Saracen could carry an 8 man section along with its 2 man crew. It had a 160HP Rolls Royce engine and depending on when during its service life its turret could be mounted with a .30 calibre M1919A4 or an L37 vehicle-mounted general purpose machine gun.
Another APC which was in service alongside the Saracen, the ‘Truck, Armoured, 1 Ton, 4×4’, better known as the Humber Pig. Based on a truck chassis, it had a 120HP 6 cylinder engine and room for 6 men on the benches in the back. It could be mounted with an L4 Bren gun. It saw extensive use in Northern Ireland during operation Banner and was in service from 1956 through to the early 90s.
Daimler Ferret Mk1 Scout Car
Next to the Pig in the collection was a Mk1 Daimler Ferret scout car. Fitted out with an M1919A4 and six forward-firing grenade launchers – for smoke grenades. The later Mk2 had a turret but the Mk1 made use of its low profile. This one has its canvas cover over the fighting compartment. The 4×4 Ferret was powered by a 130HP Rolls Royce B60 straight six. Perfect little run-around to do the shopping in.
On the top of the hull is the pintle mounted Browning M1919A4 machine gun. This would have been operated by the Ferret’s commander. We can see the mount allows it to be aimed and fired from somewhat inside the hull. The Ferret entered service in the early 1950s and remained in use into the late 1980s/early 1990s. Just short of 4,500 Ferrets were manufactured.
Bofors QF 40mm Mk1
At the centre of the military vehicle collection was a QF 40mm Mk1, better known as a Bofors. Both land and naval versions of the Bofors were used during the Second World War and after. Capable of firing 120 40mm shells per minute, it was normally manned by a four man crew. It filled the British army’s light Anti-Aircraft gun role and remained in service well into the 1980s.
We can see the gun’s huge recoil spring and to the rear of the gun is a case deflector which connected with a trough which channels the spent cases down below the gun. The gun still has most of its controls and traverse and elevation crank handles in place. On top of the gun are the huge guides for the four-round clips of 40mm shells.
By 1895 Winchester had been considering a slide-action rifle for some time, in 1882 William Mason had begun work on one (US Patent #278987) to counter Colt’s slide-action Lightning only to drop it. Finally in 1890, Winchester introduced a slide-action .22 calibre rifle developed by John Browning. The Model 1890 became extremely popular.
Between 1887 and 1895 Browning patented four slide-action rifle designs. The first of these, US patent #367336, was granted in July 1887, this was followed in 1888 by US patent #385238. In September 1890, the Browning brothers were granted US patent #436965, which along with the previous 1888 patent protected what became the Model 1890. Three years later Winchester introduced the Model 1893 pump action shotgun, that would eventually evolve into the famous Winchester Model 1897.
Finally, April 1895, Browning filed a patent for a design for a .30 calibre rifle which was granted in September 1895 (US patent #545672) This patent covers the rifle we’re examining here. The rifle itself is a slide or pump action in long barrelled configuration which Winchester described as a ‘Musket’.
The September 1895 slide-action design was purchased by Winchester but like so many other Browning designs, it never entered production and Winchester purchased the design purely to secure it and prevent other rival manufacturers picking it up. Winchester instead went with a lever-action design, patented in November 1895 (US #549345), which became the famous Winchester Model 1895.
The September 1895 slide or pump-action rifle design had a laterally camming locking breechblock. As we can see, externally Browning’s toolroom prototype looks somewhat similar to the contemporary Winchester Model 1895, with a single-stack integrated box magazine but with a pump sleeve rather than a lever.
An action-bar connects the slide/pump to the front of the breechblock/bolt carrieron the right-hand side of the rifle. The slide handle itself is made of a U-shaped piece of metal which wraps around the rifle’s forend. The slide has been roughly cross hatched to improve grip. There is a channel cut into the furniture for the action arm’s attachment point to travel. The slide is attached to the arm by a pair of screws.
However, Browning developed this prototype to allow loading of the magazine from below rather than through the top of the receiver. He added a hinged floor plate, with a spring loaded follower, that allowed loose rounds to be dropped into the magazine and then closed.
As we open the magazine, hinging the cover plate down, we see the carrier flip down against the plate to allow loading. The rifle was designed to be loaded from below with the bolt forward.
In the patent description Browning explained that his aim was to improve breech-loading box-magazine firearms by designing:
“…a simple, compact, strong, highly effective, and safe gun, containing comparatively few parts and constructed with particular reference to provision for charging the box-magazine with cartridges from the bottom of the frame of the arm while the breech-bolt is in its closed position, so that the arm may be charged without operating its action mechanism or disturbing the cartridge in the gun-barrel, if one is there.”
From the original patent drawings we can see the flat spring which acted on the carrier running below the barrel, ahead of the magazine. Inside the magazine are a pair of what Browning refers to as ‘spring fingers’ these act on the cartridges inside the magazine and keep them properly aligned, seen here in Fig.7 of the patent. In Fig.8 we can see what Browning calls a ‘box-like guideway’ which guide the rims of the cartridges, “preventing the cartridges from being displaced while being fed upwards.”
The rifle’s breechblock locked into a recess in the left side of the receiver, tilting at an angle with the rear of the breechblock canting to the left. When the pump handle was pulled rearwards the breechblock cammed laterally to unlock the action, extracted and ejected any spent casing and when the slide/pump was returned forward a new cartridge was picked up from the magazine, chambered the breechblock locked again ready to fire. The rifle’s hammer was cocked by the rearward movement of the breechblock.
Externally, the slide-action’s receiver looks similar to that of the production Model 1895 but internally they are very different. The action is certainly less open than the Model 1895’s but the lateral locking mechanism is less robust. Additionally, with no lever, as in the Model 1895, the slide-action rifle lacks the safety mechanism which prevents the action from opening accidentally.
The model is in the white and while externally the machining and tool work is very neat, inside the action we can see where the cuts in the receiver wall have been more crudely made. In terms of design, the slide-action prototype was certainly simpler and had fewer working parts than the Model 1895 lever-action.
Winchester purchased the .30 calibre slide-action design but never produced it, it is believed that only Browning’s prototype was built to prove the concept. The prototype was part of Winchester’s collection and may now be found at the Cody Firearms Museum.
In this video and article we’ll examine a somewhat mysterious screw breech percussion rifle – if you, like me ever wondered what a Ferguson with a percussion lock might look like then you’ll find this one fascinating. If you haven’t seen our earlier video on Patrick Ferguson’s 18th century breechloading rifle, check that out!
This rifle likely dates to the mid-1860s and from some research is believed to be based on a design patented by Lewis Wells Broadwell, an American inventor. Broadwell was granted his first patent in 1861, protecting a sliding breech design for artillery. During the 1860s & 70s Broadwell was employed as the European Sales Agent for the Gatling Gun Company. He held a number of firearms and ordnance related patents, granted between 1861 and 1876. With several relating to artillery carriages, ammunition and magazine systems. His screw breech (US #33876) and a gas check (US #167981) designs for artillery were used by Krupp in some of their guns including the popular 68mm breechloading Mountain Gun.
Like the earlier Ferguson rifle, which drew heavily on earlier screw breech designs, this rifle has a rotating trigger guard which acts as a lever to unscrew the breech. Rotating the trigger guard drops a rectangular breechblock and opens the action. Unlike the Ferguson the threaded piece does not act as the breech plug itself, instead the separate breech block takes the brunt of the cartridge ignition.
Broadwell filed the patent believed to correspond to this rifle first in Britain, in May 1863, and subsequently in the US in August 1865 (US #49583). The patent protected the breech action and depicts what Broadwell described as a ‘screwed nut’ below a rectangular vertically sliding breech block. This idea of a sliding breech-block builds on his earlier patent for a sliding cannon breech.
In Britain, Broadwell used Richard Brooman, of Robertson, Brooman and Company, as a patent agent. At the time Brooman’s company offered a service by which he acted as the inventor’s deputy and was listed as the patent holder, while the inventor was listed as the ‘communicator’. The service cost the not insignificant sum of £45 (at the time a labourer could earn just 3 shillings 9 pence per week – or 15% of £1 – that’s just under a year’s average wages). This initial sum covered the patent for three years. It is likely Broadwell employed an agent because at the time he was living in St Petersburg in Russia, undertaking negotiations with the Russian Government to establish Gatling Gun production. Brooman was also the editor of The Mechanics’ Magazine, a Victorian science and industry journal.
The breech plug has a screw thread with a very wide pitch with flat crests. Broadwell’s US patent describes the breech plug as having a ‘three to six threaded screw’. The breech blog falls enough to allow loading after turning the lever around 200-degrees – ensuring a rapid action. Interestingly the British patent shows the lever not attached to the base of the screw plug but instead shows it at the mid-point of the screw. This may be an error in the drawing. It seems that if the rifle we are examining is a Broadwell prototype it was decided to simplify the action by attaching the lever at the base of the plug.
This rifle itself, has no markings whatsoever, not even range markings on the rear sight. Typically rifles of this period would at least have a marker’s or patent holder’s mark on the barrel or lock plate. This suggests that the rifle is either unfinished or more likely a prototype which did not require extensive markings.
The breechblock is not blued and is possibly case hardened. Much like the Ferguson, and other earlier screw-breech rifles the trigger guard also acts as the breech lever. Which with a rotation of approximately 200 degrees, descends enough to open the breech and allow access to the chamber. The threaded screw is around 0.5 in (1.2cm) thick and acts on a rectangular breechblock which sits above it. This basic layout matches Broadwell’s 1863 UK patent.
The rectangular shape of the breechblock ensures a strong action as it butts up against a pair of narrow shoulders (about 1mm in width) at the rear of the receiver. The rifle has a two band stock and a cleaning/ramrod which indicates a military-style rifle but interestingly, there is no obvious provision for fixing a bayonet.
The rifle is believed to be chambered in a cartridge using a .451 Westley Richards projectile. There is no method for extraction so we can safely assume the rifle used a combustible cartridge, ignited by a percussion cap rather than a self-contained metallic cartridge. Interestingly, the UK patent also suggests the use of a “tubular magazine… formed in the hammer, containing self-acting feeding apparatus for supplying ignition wafers or patches to the nipple.” This is not mentioned in the later US patent and the rifle we’re examining has a conventional capped percussion lock.
The US patent describes a ‘mechanism to prevent the gun from being fired when the breech is open’, this is formed by a lever which disengages with the trigger when the breech lever is rotated. There is a small leather flange in the base of the stock where the screw ascends and descends, this prevents the ingress of dirt and also acts to keep the screw clean.
Compared to Patrick Ferguson’s action Broadwell’s design simplifies the breech plug using a simpler to manufacture rectangular breechblock and a thinner screw plug. The use of a self-contained cartridge would have sped up loading but the need to cap the rifle’s nipple was still a limiting factor. The screw breech concept became increasingly obsolete with the introduction of self-contained metallic cartridges with integral primers as well as the introduction of faster actions including bolt actions, falling block actions and toggle-locked lever actions.
Lewis Broadwell was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on 18th July 1820. He is perhaps best known for his drum magazine design for the Gatling Gun. The Broadwell Drum consisted of a series of single stack, gravity assisted magazine columns arrayed around a central pivot point. These columns held between 15 and 20 rounds depending on calibre and typically there were 16 columns of ammunition. Broadwell patented the drum’s design in December 1870. It was used extensively during the 1870s by a number of militaries around the world, including by the British Army. Broadwell was granted his last patent in 1876 and died, aged 86, in May 1906.
Special thanks to the Hayes collection for letting us take a look at this very interesting rifle. Thanks to David over at the Research Press for help finding the patent and to John Walter for his help finding information on Broadwell himself.
In late 1944, a platoon of Canadian sappers built an intriguing in-field adaptation to a Universal Carrier (sometimes known as Bren Gun Carrier) – they developed a PIAT Carrier.
The 16th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers were attached to the 3rd Canadian Division during operations in northwest Europe. Each Canadian division had a Divisional Royal Canadian Engineers Group attached to it, made up of several field companies. In November 1944, the 16th Field Company, RCE was located near Nijmegen.
The experiments which led to the PIAT Carrier were embarked on after the division’s commander, Major General Daniel Spry, put out a directive for ‘harassing weapons’ to be developed. The interesting adaptation was somewhat reminiscent of a miniature Soviet Katyusha or Commonwealth Land Mattress. While similar in concept to these multiple rocket launchers, it is important to remember that the PIAT isn’t a rocket launcher – but a spigot mortar.
The Canadian engineers mounted the PIATs in two rows at an obtuse angle at the rear of the Universal Carrier, presumably for use in a limited bombardment role. The idea behind the outfitting of the Carrier appears to have been to utilise the PIAT in its secondary, indirect role as a mortar, perhaps for fire against buildings or to harass enemy positions. From photographs taken in the field we can see that the engineers of 16th Field Company fixed the PIATs into a wooden frame at the rear of the Carrier, they appear to have had their monopods removed, but some still appear to have their slings fitted.
Developing the PIAT Carrier
From further research and some digging through the 16th Field Company’s War Diaries, I found reports on the adapted carrier and even some diagrams showing how the bombs landed. The diaries also reveal that the Universal Carrier was not the first vehicle the PIATs were mounted on – the first tests were carried out on a truck.
In the war diary we get the first mention of the PIAT battery in the entry for the 15th November 1944. It reads:
“The GOC directed that each arm of the service should be prepared to devise some means of harrassing the enemy during the holding role of the Div present area and to act as a counter-measure to the Moaning Minnies [Nebelwerfer] employed by the Germans. The ORE decided that the Sprs could make use of the 24 PIAT’s held by the C in Div Engre. The tentative Idea being that these be mounted on a veh, or two vehs, that they be fired mechanically and possibly simultaneously with a multiple mortar effect. Lieut. Cameron and No. 1 Plattoon [sic] were given the task, experiments to be carried out tomorrow for this purpose all PlATs and ammunition were called into this Company from Div Engrs.”
The next day on the 16th November the diary recorded:
“Lieut. Cameron made a number of tests with his PIAT platoon In conjunction with the N.S.R. and found that the maximum range that could be attained was 300 yds. Maj Main will discuss this matter with CRE tomorrow.”
Then several days later on the 19th November:
“Lieut. Cameron gave a demonstration of the capabilities of the PIATs used to fire with a mortar effect, 18 PIATs were mounted in racks on one vehicle at an angle of 45 degrees and fired simultaneously. There was no jar to the vehicle, Max range obtained was 300 yds against the wind and 400 Yds with the wind, detonation of salvo was all within one second of time and covered an area 25ft in length by 15ft width.”
This short report concluded by explaining why the PIAT Carrier may not be field practical, noting that “The plan is not practicable at present as areas of firing are not available that would permit the vehicle moving up to 300 yds from target before firing.”
The first major test is described in a report dated 21st November. A total of 22 PIATs were available to Lieut. Cameron’s platoon. They mounted 18 PIATs in racks on the bed of a Ford Canada 60 cwt (60 hundredweight – 3 ton) truck, with the remaining 4 as spares.
The report explains that steel wasn’t available so wood was used for the racks. Which they also believed would have a “cushioning effect serving to shield the truck to some extent from the shock of recoil.”
The 18 PIATs were arranged in three rows of six PIATs with PIATs spaced 1 foot apart next to one another, with four feet between each row. The PIATs were angled at 45-degrees by a wooden plank attached to the side of the truck bed with the butt of the weapon bolted down under wooden struts.
To fire the weapons rods were run along the rows aligned with the weapons’ triggers with bars of 1/2in steel running back between each one and back towards the font of the truck where the operator was stationed. The report describes this set up as ‘satisfactory’.
In the first test all three rows of PIATs were fired at the same time. The report’s findings note that in the first test all but one of the weapons fired, the bombs were in the air for an estimated 4 to 5 seconds and the time between the first and last bombs striking the ground was approximately ½ to 1 second.
The blast radius of the individual bombs is noted as 5 feet with 6 to 9 inches of penetration through gorse and sandy loam soil. The range was found to be 310 yards against the win and 400 yards with it. The wind was noted to be travelling as 20-25mph. From the diagrams accompanying the report we can see that the beaten zone had a maximum diameter of approximately 54 to 60 feet. With a mean point of impact around 15 to 18 feet wide.
The second test saw the sappers fire two full salvos to test how quickly the rig could be reloaded. The reload time between salvos was recorded as 1min 20seconds. The second salvo saw 6 of the PIATs fail to fire due to a mechanical failure when one of the trigger rods broke. The extreme range achieved during this second firing was 420 yards with the wind.
During this first field test of the truck mounted system, a total of 65 bombs were fired and only one failed to explode down range. The racks were strengthened and the trigger rod repaired, it was also concluded that the racks could be spaced closer together without “effecting the pattern of the beaten zone” down range.
There is no further mention of the testing in the war diary during November but progress definitely appears to have been made, an entry on the 16th December notes:
“The use of PIATs mounted on a vehicle has had further experimental trials, 15 PIATs have been mounted on a Bren Carrier by this unit and a trial shoot was held today, Against a slight wind a range of 310 yards was attained with the area of burst covering 25 ft deep and 50 ft wide, no recoil was felt in the carrier.”
The last mention of the PIAT Carrier comes on 30th December:
“The carrier mounted with 15 PIATs was on trial during the afternoon before an audience consisting of the GOC and Officers of the Div. All visitors were impressed by the display. A range of 350 yds was attained and the accuracy on target was good.”
There are no further mentions of the PIAT carrier in the diary. It seems that development of the idea didn’t progress into 1945, by early February, the 16th FC RCE were involved in Operation Veritable. It appears that the operational requirement no longer existed.
Lets take a closer look at how the adaptation was done. From the available photos, which were probably taken in mid-December 1944, we can see the trigger bar that was passed through the trigger guards of each of the PIATs, with the bar resting at the base of the trigger, it is unclear from the available photographs but this may have allowed the weapons to be fired either by row or all together.
The sappers have built a wooden platform onto the back of the carrier with welded metal brackets holding the pieces together. The PIAT’s are held between two wooden cross pieces that have been bolted together. There’s a strip of metal running around the edged of the wooden frame that has been twisted 90-degrees and then welded to the carrier. It is also worth noting that all of the PIAT’s have had their butt pad covers removed and the feet of the PIATs’ rear end caps have been secured with a pair of brackets either side.
In the photograph above we see all of the PIAT’s held in their racks with their sights folded down, slings still attached, and we get a good view of the white indirect fire aiming lines. At the bottom of the photo we can see a trigger bar which when pulled appears to pull the triggers of the whole row at once. As an aside, note that the carrier has a ‘crooked’ Commonwealth allied star – to differentiate it from the US allied stars which were aligned with their top point at 12 o’clock
It appears that the battery of PIATs was aimed by reversing the Carrier towards its target, that would certainly have been challenging and a fairly dangerous task given the relatively short range of the PIAT even when used as a light mortar.
From this photograph below, of a Canadian sapper loading the PIATs, we can see all of the spigot tube stoppers dangling on their chains. The sapper is loading the bomb from the front of the bomb support tray and has angled the tail up to slide the projectile loading clip into the projectile clip guides on the face of the PIAT.
It also appears that sandbags are being used as a counterweight at the front of the carrier. The combined weight of the PIATs and their bombs (about 555 lbs) as well as the weight of the frame would have been considerable.
In the final photograph below we see the sappers preparing the battery to fire with a sapper in the foreground removing bombs from three bomb carriers. While in the background on the right we can see another sapper carrying bombs forward from another set of bomb carriers. I would guess that it was perhaps decided to mount 15, rather than an even number, PIATs as the bomb carriers held three round each – with 5 bomb carriers needed to reload the battery of PIATs.
While sadly we don’t have any footage of the test we’re very lucky to have this selection of brilliant photographs courtesy of the Library and Archives Canada. It would seem that the limited range of the PIATs made the concept of a PIAT Carrier too impractical to field – but a maximum range of 400 yards may have offered some interesting tactical options for dealing with defended buildings or field works. Perhaps need for a response to the enemy Nebelwerfers was answered by the introduction of the longer ranged, harder hitting Land Mattress. Despite this the ‘PIAT Carrier’ is a fascinating piece of resourceful engineering – an innovative, field-expedient adaptation that brought together two classic bits of British and Commonwealth kit – the PIAT and the Universal Carrier.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Tate Liverpool’s Don McCullin exhibition. McCullin is one of my favourite photographers not just for his incredible combat and conflict photography but also for his street photography which focuses on the hardships and lives of people.
McCullin, now 85, is probably best known for his photographs of conflict, including iconic photographs taken during the Battle of Hue, and his coverage of fighting in Northern Ireland, Crete, Cambodia, Lebanon and throughout Africa. His work covering famine in Ethiopia and the war and refugee crisis in Bangladesh evoke an immense amount of pathos.
The Tate’s exhibition is a well deserved retrospective that charts McCullin’s career from its beginnings through to the present – with him most recently travelling to Syria in 2016.
This short video includes some photographs of the exhibition which covered an entire floor of the gallery with each of the conflicts McCullin has photographed covered in chronological sections.
The exhibition is interspersed with collections of magazines which shows how some of his work was originally published by a wide range of magazines and publications. Perhaps the most interesting artefacts on display were a number of McCullin’s personal items including a US Army helmet, a light meter, a watch, passports, a compass and a 35mm Nikon F camera which apparently was struck by a 7.62x39mm round while in Cambodia in 1970.
One thing I did find disappointing as a photographer myself was that the information with each photograph didn’t include what medium – film (35mm or 120) or DSLR, he took the photograph in. McCullin is an immensely skilled photographer with an amazing grasp of composition and technique while being able to capture highly emotive images. As he’s not only a photographer but also an expert photo developer, it would have been nice to have some of this more technical information next to each photograph. Regardless it was an immensely enjoyable exhibition which put into perspective the sheer breadth of McCullin’s work.
Without doubt McCullin’s life’s work has affected him, seeing so much through the lens of your camera and being largely helpless to help people suffering is something McCullin mentions in a number of interviews and it is a thread in the narrative of the exhibition. McCullin’s most recent work – a series of strikingly moody foggy landscapes is described as being solace from his work documenting conflict and a way of dealing with his experiences.
Find out more about the exhibition here. It runs until the 9th May, 2021.
You can find some of McCullin’s best photographs here.
Development of the XF-87 began at Curtiss-Wright in 1946, it would eventually be intended to be an all-weather interceptor. The Blackhawk was developed from an earlier ground attack, tactical bomber design, the XA-43. The Blackhawk was a response to the initial specification for a jet-powered night fighter, capable of speeds up to 530 mph, issued by the US Army Air Force in August 1945.
A number of companies responded including Bell Aircraft, Consolidated-Vultee, Douglas Aircraft, Northrop, Goodyear and Curtiss-Wright. The US Army Air Force down-selected Northrop’s design – then known as the N-24 and the Curtiss-Wright design- known as the Model 29A.
The XP-87 had a two-man crew seated side-by-side and was powered by two pairs of Westinghouse XJ34-WE-7 turbojet engines mounted on the wings. In comparison to the sleeker Northrop design, the Blackhawk was a slightly larger, bulkier and heavier aircraft with a straight wing profile. The XJ34-WE-7 turbojets only provided 12,000 lbf and Curtiss-Wright’s test pilot B. Lee Miller described performance in initial tests as sluggish. The Blackhawk’s armament was to consist of four 20mm cannons mounted in a nose turret.
The US Army Air Force designated the Curtiss-Wright jet the XP-87, while Northrop’s N-24 became the XP-89 and full-scale models of both were ordered.
In June 1948 the newly formed US Air Force re-designated fighters from P to F and the XP-87 became the XF-87 when prototypes were ordered. The XF-87 made its first flight in March 1948. During subsequent flight evaluations in October 1948, the Northrop XF-89 was found to be faster than the XF-87 and the US Navy’s XF3D (Douglas F3D Skyknight). While the Blackhawk was a capable and generally satisfactory aircraft it was deemed to be underpowered. It also reportedly suffered from buffeting at relatively slow speeds.
Evaluators disliked the Northrop and reportedly favoured the XF-87, however, one evaluating pilot likened its handling to a medium Bomber. An improved faster and more powerful Blackhawk was planned with J47 engines from General Electric. The fate of a second prototype is unclear and sources conflict. Most sources state that the XF-87 never had its armament fitted, however, photographic evidence clearly shows an aircraft, not with a turret, but with four nose mounted guns. This aircraft may be one of the airworthy prototypes or it could be a full-scale mock up built to show the USAAF during the selection process.
Despite the trials favouring the XF-89, the USAF initially ordered 57 F-87A fighters and 30 RF-87A reconnaissance aircraft from Curtiss-Wright in June 1948. Curtis-Wright and the USAF began a publicity campaign to unveil the new fighter, even appearing on the cover of an August edition of Aviation Week and in numerous other aviation publications, but the orders were abruptly cancelled in October 1948 and the USAF moved forward the development of the Northrop XF-89 instead. Check out our video on the F-89 Scorpion linked above.
The reason for this reversal of the decision is unclear. Only minor faults had been identified during testing and the more powerful J47 engines would have greatly increased the Blackhawk’s speed. The official reason for the cancellation was reportedly a disagreement on the price of a redesigned wing profile. According to his memoir, Walter Tydon, Curtiss-Wright’s chief engineer at the time, believed that some bad blood between Curtiss-Wright’s management and the then-President Harry S. Truman may have led the F-87 contract to be cancelled. Truman was Senator for Missouri from 1935 to 1945 and during that time Tydon believed he had come into conflict with the Curtiss-Wright’s management, perhaps regarding the company’s factory in St. Louis. Without substantial archival research it is difficult to verify either the official reason or Tydon’s theory.
Another potential reason for the cancellation was raised during the Congressional Hearings regarding the B-36 Program, Congressman Charles B. Deane noted that both Curtiss-Wright and Northrop had been informed that “unless they agreed to merge with Consolidated Vultee, business would be bad for them.” The testimony before the hearing notes that Curtiss-Wright were unenthusiastic about a potential merger and this might have been why the F-87 contract was cancelled. The Secretary of the Air Force denied this, however, stating that the cancellation was the result of “operating difficulties with the experimental model of the F-87, plus increasingly satisfactory operating data on competitive all-weather fighters.”
Sadly, the prototype XF-87 Blackhawk’s was reportedly scrapped and photographs and footage of the initial flight testing of the Blackhawk is all we have left. The loss of the interceptor contract to Northrop led to the end of Curtiss-Wright’s aircraft production, with the Blackhawk being their last fighter design.
Special thanks to Mark Lane, the grandson of Walter Tydon, Curtiss-Wright’s chief engineer, for taking the time to discuss the Blackhawk and his grandfather’s role in its design.
In May 1946, George Patchett patented a new curved magazine which would become one of the Sterling’s most recognisable features. It addressed some of the serious shortcomings of the STEN’s magazine.
George Patchett’s machine carbine, Which later that came to be known as the Sterling, had been initially designed to use the standard STEN magazine. This makes complete sense as not only was the STEN’s magazine readily available but it stood to reason that the British Army would prefer to retain the large number of magazines it already had in stores.
The STEN’s magazine is, however, the gun’s weakest link. Its a double-stack, single feed 32-round magazine was difficult to load and could feed unreliably when not looked after. The Patchett prototype performed well during initial testing in 1943, but later sand, mud and arctic testing of the Patchett against various other submachine guns highlighted the limitations of the STEN magazine – regardless of the weapon using it.
At some point in 1945, Patchett developed a series of new magazines, a 20-round ‘Patrol’ magazine, a 40-round ‘Standard’ magazine and a 60-round ‘Assault’ magazine. By late 1946, these had been superseded by a 35-round magazine designed to fit into the basic pouch of the British Army’s 1944 Pattern web equipment.
Patchett addressed the STEN magazine’s shortcomings by designing his magazine with a curve which allowed the slightly tapered 9×19mm rounds to feed more reliably. He also replaced the traditional magazine follower with a pair of rollers which minimised friction and allowed dust, grit and dirt to be rolled out of the way improving reliability. Patchett’s magazine was designed so it could be economically stamped from sheet metal and folded and spot welded into shape. It was also simple to disassemble for cleaning and requires no tools for disassembly.
By 1951 the magazine had been largely perfected but a trials report suggested that the magazine’s feed lips needed to be reinforced. Despite this the Sterling was said to be “better than all other weapons tested.” Following further development and testing the L2A1 Sterling submachine gun was eventually adopted in the summer of 1954. We will cover the development, adoption and service of the Sterling at a later date.
In 1952, Patchett added a pair of strengthening ribs to the inside of the magazine which also further reduced friction on the rollers. He also replaced the oval follower spring with a more efficient circular one with the ribs acting to hold it in place. The final production magazines held 34 rounds and were substantially easier to load than the earlier STEN’s.
The L2A1/MkII, introduced in 1954, was the first Patchett to incorporate an angled magazine housing which improved feeding reliability from the Patchett’s patented curved, double stack, double feed magazine. The Sterling’s magazine housing was angled forward slightly at 82-degrees.
The magazines used by the British military differed from Patchett’s design. The British government, perhaps unwilling to purchase the rights to manufacture Patchett’s design, developed the ‘Magazine, L1A2’. Nearly two million of these were built at Mettoy, Rolls Razor, ROF Fazakerley and the Woolwich Royal Laboratories. The L1A2 magazine was slightly simpler to manufacture but retained Patchett’s roller follower while the magazine’s body was made from two, rather than four, pieces of stamped steel and electrically welded together. The government-designed magazine is 5cm (2 inches) longer than Sterling’s magazines.
The example magazine seen above and in the accompanying video is Sterling-made and is marked with the company name and patent numbers. We can see the folded sheet metal construction and the overlaps at the rear of the magazine body.
When Canada adopted the C1, a modified version of the Sterling, they dispensed with Patchett’s roller system and designed their own magazine which held 30, rather than 34 rounds, but could be used in all Sterling-pattern guns.
On the front of the magazine is an over-insertion stop built into the edge of the magazine body, at the rear is another magazine stop with a flat spring which limits rattle and helps properly align the magazine in the breech for optimal feeding.