This week we follow a British sonic deception unit on a doomed patrol through the Malayan jungle. Richard Todd, Laurence Harvey and Richard Harris clash as morale crumbles and questions arise over what to do with a captured Japanese prisoner. We’re joined by the brilliant historian Robert Lyman to discuss what the film gets right and wrong. Load up your mules, straighten your webbing, adjust your radio set and join us for a special look at 1961’s The Long and the Short and the Tall.
I’m pleased to say we’re introducing a new perk this week, Armourer’s Bench Patreon supporters will now be able to watch new videos early!
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been hard at work making videos which I’m looking forward to sharing with everyone. If you’d like to watch them early, ahead of their YouTube release, then head over to the TAB Patreon page and sign up for as little as $1. There are lots of other thank you perks too!
The first video, available now, is the conclusion to our weapons of the Rhineland Campaign series with a look at the use of the iconic Vickers Machine Gun!
In August I had the opportunity to visit the National Army Museum in London and take a look around some of their current exhibitions. One of these was one titled “West Indian Soldier” which ran from 19 May through to 31 October. The museum described it as a special exhibition to explore the role of West Indian Soldiers in the British Army over the past 300 or so years.
The exhibition was much smaller than I had expected, comprising of just one smallish room but nevertheless efforts had been made to combine items artefacts, art work and videos in an engaging way.
It covered the origins and creation of the various West India Regiments that have historically been a part of the British Army and looks at the West Indies contribution in conflicts ranging from the Napoleonic Wars through to the Great War and the Second World War as well as looking at the continuing service of personnel from the West Indies today with some video interviews with former and serving personnel rounding out the exhibition. The exhibition looked at the experiences of both black and white West Indians who served in both the West India regiments and the wider British army as a whole.
The exhibition explains that the West Indian Regiments were formally a part of the British Army and not a colonial unit or militia. It does not side step slavery’s role in the West Indian regiments‘ history with various letters from the 1760s through to the 1800s illustrating how slaves were bought to fill the regiment’s ranks. Some 13,000 newly enslaved men were bought over 50 years up until 1807 and the British abolition of slavery.
The West Indian Regiments took various forms over the years and the exhibition did a good job of explaining this and some of the key parts of their role and history. The exhibition has a number of highlights including a number of Victoria crosses including that of Lt. Frank de Pass. De Pass was of West Indian decent and was posthumously awarded the VC in late 1914. The colours of the 4th West India Regiment are also on display along with uniforms, correspondence and a striking portrait of a private from the 8th West India Regiment, painted in 1803.
Notably the exhibition also outlines how during both world wars the War Office did not make use of the West Indies regiments as combat troops in several theatres, instead often using them a labourers. Often as on the Western Front where they were tasked with dangerous work in ammunition dumps.
I would have preferred to have seen an exhibition with a slightly larger scope but despite its small size the exhibition outlined the regiments’ history and the important, interesting and often under-appreciated role the West Indian’s soldiers played in the history of the British Army. Perhaps this is something that can be revisited approaching the West India Regiments’ 230th anniversary in 2025.
‘West Indian Soldier Exhibition’, National Army Museum, (source)
West Indian Soldier Exhibition Virtual Tour, National Army Museum, (source)
‘West India regiments: the story of slavery in the Army’, Forces News, (source)
‘The West India Regiments’ , National Army Museum, (source)
‘The West Indian Soldier’, The West India Committee, (source)
‘The Story of the British West Indies Regiment in the First World War, Imperial War Museum, (source)
‘West Indian Soldier: Interactive Timeline’, National Army Museum, (source)
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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.
This is just a quick update on TAB’s status as we haven’t been able to post a video in several weeks. This is for a number of reasons, Vic is currently editing quite in-depth videos on both the AR-10 and the G11 – two important subjects we want to cover in detail – and they are taking a little time to complete. In the meantime I (Matt) had planned to upload several shorter videos (on coastal artillery and the M45 .50 cal Quadmount) I filmed on recent travels. Sadly, however, my computer is in for repair and I won’t be able to edit or finish them until next week at the earliest.
TAB is a labour of love and we don’t always have the time to devote to it that we would like with our day to day work often having to come first. What we would like to achieve going forward though is weekly videos. We have plenty of footage and now that I am also, when I get my computer back at least, able to edit we should be able to increase the number of videos we post. We have further collections in mind to visit in the near future, time and funds permitting, and we hope to have even more interesting content filmed soon.
As for the helpful feedback we’ve received in comments and in private we’re very receptive to this and as we stressed at the very beginning of the TAB project it’s a learning curve! We will be striving to improve our techniques and how we present during future filming trips. It’s still early days!
Thank you for your patience and your support so far. We’re really pleased with the reaction we have received with thousands of views and hundreds of subscribers over on YouTube. You can also stay up-to-date via the TAB Facebook page. We have lots planned and look forward to bringing it to you soon.