I’m very excited to say that my second book has been published! It looks at the much maligned and much misunderstood PIAT – Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank.
The book is available from retailers from the 20th August in the UK/Europe and the 22nd September in the US – but you can order a copy from me now regardless of location. I filmed a short video to show you the book and talk a bit about the process of writing it, check that out above.
The PIAT was the British infantry’s primary anti-tank weapon of the second half of the Second World War. Unlike the better known US Bazooka the PIAT wasn’t a rocket launcher – it was a spigot mortar. Throwing a 2.5lb bomb, containing a shaped charge capable of penetrating up to 4 inches of armour. Thrown from the spigot by a propellant charge in the base of the bomb, it used a powerful spring to soak up the weapon’s heavy recoil and power its action.
With a limited range the PIAT’s users had to be incredibly brave. This becomes immediately obvious when we see just how many Victoria Crosses, Military Medals and Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded to men who used the PIAT in action.
The book includes numerous accounts of how the PIAT was used and how explores just how effective it was. I have spent the past 18 months researching and writing the book and it is great to finally see a copy in person and know it’s now available.
The book includes brand new information dug up from in-depth archival research, never before seen photographs of the PIAT in development and in-service history and it also includes some gorgeous illustrations by Adam Hook and an informative cutaway graphic by Alan Gilliland.
It’s immensely exciting to know the book is out in the world for all too enjoy. If you’d like a copy of my new book looking at the PIAT’s design, development and operational history you can order one directly from me here!
Thanks for your support and if you pick up a copy of the book I really hope you enjoy it!
In this very rare footage we see a Free French Air Force officer, possibly training as a member of the SOE, place a limpet mine on a substantial piece of metal plate.
The mine seen in the footage is clearly much smaller than the Limpets used against ships. The Limpet mine was developed by Military Intelligence (Research) in late 1939-40. Stuart Macrae and Cecil Vandepeer Clarke developed a mine with enough magnetic strength to attach an explosive charge to the hull of a ship. The initial design seen here was quite large but the design was refined as the war went on with various types and marks. Here’s a Type II limpet, a MkIII and here is a Type 6 MkII.
The idea was that divers or saboteurs in small boats could quietly attach the mines to enemy shipping while at anchor. However, the usefulness of magnetic charges was clear and it appears that smaller versions, like that we see in the footage here, were developed for use against armoured vehicles and other substantial armoured targets.
It’s unclear from the film what the explosive charge was, how big it was or how it was laid out inside the mine but from the damaged plate displayed at the end of the footage it may have been a ring of plastic explosive held in place by the four magnets. This would blow the characteristic round hold in the plates.
Interestingly, the limpet mine seen in the film is very similar to a Japanese design, the Type 99 anti-tank mine, however, it has a different fuse design and the four magnets are blocky rather than rounded. Whether the Japanese magnetic mine influenced this design developed by SOE is unknown.
I’ve been unable to find out these mine’s designation, it may not have been given one but it does appear to be fairly well developed. In this photograph we can see that a metal plate carrier has been developed to allow a soldier to carry 4 mines on his back. Perhaps these mines were developed for a specific mission. The magnetic Clam charge, which we have covered in an earlier video, would have done a similar job for smaller task
Sometimes all is not as it seems. That was the case when we examined this Steyr AUG. From the barrel and bipod it appeared to be an AUG in an HBAR or Heavy Barrel configuration but on closer inspection we found that it was in fact a rifle receiver, bolt and bolt assembly and chassis that had been paired with an HBAR barrel assembly.
Ordinarily, the HBAR could be modified to fire from an open, rather than closed, bolt. This example has the standard AUG progressive trigger for semi and full-auto. It does not have the modified bolt carrier, striker or trigger mechanism.
The HBAR has a 4x optic, rather than the rifle’s 1x, while the HBAR-T can be fitted with an optic like a Kahles ZF69 6×42.
Adoption of the AUG HBAR does not appear to have been widespread and Steyr don’t currently list it as an option amongst their upgraded AUGs. For more Steyr we have previously examined a Steyr AUG SMG conversion and a Steyr MPi 81. We’ll take an in depth look at the AUG and AUG HBAR in the future.
Overall Length: 35.5in (90cm)
Barrel Length: 24.4in (62cm)
Weight: 8.6lb (3.9kg)
Action: Gas operated, rotating bolt – the HBAR typically fires from an open bolt, but this rifle-based example fires from a closed bolt.
Capacity: 30 or 42-round box magazines
Destroying railway infrastructure was a key mission for the Resistance groups and SOE agents active in occupied Europe. Numerous methods of damaging or destroying railways were developed, including Exploding Coal, which we have covered earlier in this series. In this 16mm colour footage, believed to have been filmed in 1940, we get an early look at the methods the SOE were developing to destroy track. The ultimate aim was to derail the locomotive and wreck the train with minimal effort and explosive.
In the footage we see two charges have been placed on the piece of track, with detcord attached to both. A soldier, with what appears to be a lever-action Winchester 94, is then seen taking aim. It seems he’s aiming at a striker board attached to ignite the detcord. He fires, we see a puff of smoke and a second later the charges detonate.
The footage then cuts to several men collecting the debris of the shattered piece of track. The track appears to have two large chunks blown out and the top edge, between the two charges, completely blown off.
Later in the war more testing was done and more refined techniques were developed. In their book SOE: The Scientific Secrets Boyce & Everett note that trials of devices and techniques for destroying railway lines carried out at Longmoor where the British Army had extensive sections of track and samples of rails used in different European countries. Trials to find the right quantity and positioning of explosive charges were carried out in late December 1943, these tests would inform later operations.
The SOE’s Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies includes a pair of illustrations demonstrating two methods of laying and detonating these charges. A so-called ‘French’ method with a pair of what the catalogue terms ‘Igniters, Fuze, Fog Signal, MkIA’ ahead of the charges in the direction the train was expected from. The train would crush these Fog Signals firing them and igniting a length of detcord linked to a pair of 3/4lb explosive charges fixed to the track as we see in this film.
The alternative ‘Polish’ method had the same sized and located explosive charges but placed a Fog Signal either side of the charges to ensure that no matter which direction the train came from the charges would be detonated. This method was used on single track stretches of railway. Both of these methods were rated to ‘remove about one metre of rail.’
In this photo we see a member of the French Resistance setting an explosive charge on a railway line. While likely a posed photo we do see the pair of Fog Signals which will stet the charge off. These photographs show a pair of trains reportedly derailed by explosive charges.
Boyce & Everett in their book SOE: The Scientific Secrets suggest that as many as 48,000 ‘Railway charges’, presumable a kit, were produced by the SOE. From the footage we can certainly see this method of destroying rails was effective.
Today, were taking a look at a Winchester prototype developed in the mid-1860s, a period when Winchester was seeking to build on the success of the 1860 Henry Rifle and place the company on a firm financial footing. Oliver Winchester had taken control of the New Haven Arms company before the Civil War and while for a time it had been known as the Henry Repeating Arms Company he eventually sought to put his stamp on the company, renaming it Winchester Arms Company in 1866. At the same time he decided to focus the company’s energies on winning military contracts around the world.
This developmental prototype is in the ‘musket’ configuration: with a longer barrel, a bayonet lug and a wooden forend. The prototype represents one of the many developmental steps towards what would become the Model 1866. It has a number of interesting features – a steel, rather than brass, receiver and a hinged loading port developed by Nelson King, Winchester’s superintendent between 1866 and 1875.
The rifle itself was built by Luke Wheelock, Winchester’s model room mechanic and a designer in his own right who would go onto develop his own rifle designs for Winchester.
The rifle is 54.5 inches long, with a 33.75 inch barrel. Believed to have been built in 1866, it is chambered for a .45 calibre rimfire round. King patented his loading port in May 1866. He described how the port worked:
“Through one of the plates S (preferring that one upon the right-hand side) I form an opening, 0, as denoted by broken lines, Fig. 1, and also seen in section, Fig. 7. This opening is formed so as to communicate through the frame directly to the chamber E in the carrier block, as seen in Fig. 3. Through this opening, and while the carrier-block is down and all parts of the arm in a state of rest, insert the cartridges, point first, through the said opening in the plate S into the chamber E the second cartridge pressing the first into the magazine, and so on with each successive cartridge until the magazine is filled, or until the requisite number has been inserted therein, the follower G being pressed up before the entering cartridges. In the rear of the chamber E2 the frame forms a shoulder to prevent the cartridges from being forced out through the opening in the plate S3 is a cover for closing the opening in the plate S3 and is hinged thereto, as seen in Figs. 1 and 7, the hinge being provided with a spring,a1, the tendency of which is to open the cover C. A spring-catch, d, (see Fig. 1,) secures the cover when closed, so that by pressing upon the said catch the cover will fly open. After the requisite number of cartridges have been placed within the magazine, close the cover, as seen in Figs. 1 and 2.”
To paraphrase: ammunition can be loaded through the opening in one of the receiver side plate when the carrier block is down, insert the cartridges through the opening, pressing the first into the magazine and so on until the magazine is filled… a cover for closing the opening is hinged to the receiver side plate. A spring catch secures the cover when closed.
According to Herbert Houze, King developed the covered loading port design in early January 1866, with a design drawing dating to the 14th January, confirming this.
King altered the design of the rifle’s cartridge carrier so that a cartridge could pass through its lower section straight into the magazine when the action was closed. In theory the aperture could be placed on either side of the receiver, in practice is was placed on the right. Prior to this Winchester had experimented with systems where the tube could slide forward (G.W. Briggs US #58937), a port in the base of the receiver (J.D. Smith US #52934) or a sliding forearm covering a loading port at the rear of the magazine tube (O.F. Winchester UK #3284 [19/12/1865]).
King’s system had the benefit of allowing the rifle to be quickly loaded or topped off without rendering the rifle unusable while loading. Positioning the port in the receiver allowed the magazine tube to be enclosed by a wooden forend.
A cartridge guide was fitted inside the receiver which guided rounds through the cartridge carrier and into the tube magazine. The rounds were prevented from popping out of the magazine, when the carrier was aligned and the cover open, by a shallow shoulder which projected in line with the carrier’s channel to hold cartridges in the tube by their rim.
The hinged cover is held shut by a spring catch mounted on the rear of the cover. When the knurled section on its front is pressed rearwards the cover pops open. The spring catch is actuated when it tensions against the cover’s hinge as it is closed. On the back of the cover there is also a cartridge stop for when the cover is closed.
Another small but interesting feature of the prototype is the catch at the rear of the lever loop, this differs from the manually turned catch seen on the Henry and production 1866. This design appears to be a much better safety feature, simply requiring the user’s hand to depress the catch to unlock it from the stock. It also appears to be a much simpler mechanism than that seen in later models like the Model 1895. The trigger also had an extension protruding from its rear which appears to prevent the trigger from being pulled when the lever isn’t full closed. Neither of these features appear in King’s May 1866 patent.
It appears that the idea of the port with a hinged cover was superseded by what we now recognise as the classic Winchester loading gate in the summer of 1866. King’s new system replaced the hinged cover with a piece of stamped spring steel attached to the inside of the receiver side plate by a screw. The spring steel gate could be pushed in, with the nose of a cartridge, to allow rapid loading. The front face of the gate formed a cartridge guide removing the need for the separate machined guide used in King’s earlier iteration of the system.
King’s revised loading port system required just five, rather than twelve, components: King’s altered cartridge carrier, receiver side plate, spring metal loading gate plate and retaining screws. This simple but elegant design continued to be used for decades on various models of rifle. The company were so pleased with the refinement of the rifle that, according to R.L. Wilson, King was awarded a payment of a $5,000 reward by the company’s board of directors.
Winchester introduced the rifle in 1866, with the first deliveries being made early in 1867, the new rifle was offered in various barrel lengths and patterns including carbine, rifle and ‘musket’. Winchester found some success selling 1866 rifles to the militaries of France and the Ottoman Empire, while many other countries purchased rifles for testing including Britain and Switzerland (whom came close to adopting the Winchester.) The rifles also found success on the civilian market with around 4,500 sold in the first five months.
The Scientific American described the new rifles as “elegant in appearance, compact, strong, and of excellent workmanship. On examination we find its working parts very simple, and not apparently liable to derangement.”
King incrementally developed his loading system before radically simplifying it and this prototype rifle represents an important developmental step in the design of what would become the Model 1866 – one of Winchester’s most important rifles.
Special thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum for allowing us to take a look at this fascinating prototype rifle.
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Winchester Repeating Arms Company, H. Houze (1994)
Winchester: An American Legend, R. L. Wilson (1991)
The footage, believed to have been filmed in 1940, is part of the Imperial War Museum’s collection, it shows plastic explosive being demonstrated in a number of different applications. It was filmed by Cecil Vandepeer Clarke, a British engineer and sabotage expert who was a member of the Special Operations Executive and worked at a number of weapon research and development centres during the war.
The clip features a number of men preparing and shaping plastic explosive charges, adding fuses and detonators. The explosive is then seen being applied to a steel plate in a ring shape, before being detonated. The resulting explosion punches a round hole through the plate. The film also includes demonstrations of what plastic explosive pressed against a tree trunk can do. Once detonated the roughly 1 foot thick trunk is splintered in two. Metal girders are also shown being prepared with a substantial block of explosive being pressed into its seams.
The SOE’s 1944 Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies lists the ‘Standard Charges’ of 1.5lbs or 3lbs of plastic explosive with an integrated central primer available in rectangular blocks inside a rubberised fabric. Of course SOE agents were taught to use as much or as little explosive as was needed for the task and they were taught to be able to improvise in any given situation.
Given the date of the footage the explosive being used is likely and early form of plastic explosive produced at Woolwich arsenal, possibly PETN or Cyclonite better known as RDX, which would have been mixed with a plasticiser to make the explosive malleable.
Today, we’re lucky enough to have some colour footage showing the of testing of a magnetic bomb which could be attached to the petrol tank of vehicles. The footage comes courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.
From the film we can see that the bomb consisted of a small block of plastic explosive, a pair of strip magnets (or possible a horseshoe-shaped magnet) and a Switch No.10 time pencil delay detonator. The explosive block itself looks to be slightly smaller than the SOE’s standard 1.5lb charge.
In the film we see the bomb placed on the boot (or trunk) of a saloon car before various civilians and a corporal experiment with various ways of covertly attaching the bomb to the underside of the car. At one point the corporal allows himself to be dragged along behind the vehicle before making his escape.
Luckily the 16mm footage, filmed by Major Cecil Clarke, also shows us the effect of the explosive charge mounted on a petrol tank full of fuel. According to the details listed for the film by the Imperial War Museum the footage was filmed in 1940, at SOE Station XVII, located at Brickendonbury House in Hertfordshire.
This configuration of the bomb doesn’t appear in the Special Operations Executive’s Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies published in 1944. However, Colonel Leslie Wood, Station XII’s commanding officer, described the demonstration put on during a visit by Brigadier Robert Laycock of the Commandos and William Donovan, the head of the American OSS in June 1942. One of the scheduled demonstrations was the “Effect of small ‘magnet’ charge of explosive on petrol tank of car.”
It appears that this ad hoc magnet charge evolved into ‘the Clam’, which was a smaller, version of the magnetic Limpet mine. The Clam evolved through a number of marks with the MkI having a stamped sheet metal casing and the later MkIII using a bakelite, plastic casing. Both were made up of a plastic explosive charge inside a rectangular, rounded case with a pair of magnets at either end. They were detonated by either a Time Pencil or an L Delay fuse attached to a No.27 detonator. The MkIII had 8oz (226g) of high explosive filler, such as TNT/Tetryl 55/45.
While unlike the larger Limpet they weren’t developed for under water use but the Clam could be mount onto any vaguely flat magnetic surface including engine blocks, fuel tanks, crank cases, cylinder blocks, rail tracks and steel plate.
At just 5.75” x 2.75” x 1.5” they were easily concealable, could be carried in a pocket and were non-descript enough not to draw attention. An estimated 68,000 Clams were made under supervision at Aston House according to Des Turner’s book on Station XII.
The M50 is one of the quintessential early Cold War submachine guns. Cheap, simple and utilitarian. It evolved from the earlier M46 and was developed by Dansk Industri Syndikat in Denmark. The M50 has a simple blowback action, is chambered in 9×19mm and feeds from 32-round double stack single feed magazines.
The weapon’s has a clam-shell like receiver that hinges at the rear and allows the barrel, bolt and recoil spring to be removed. The M50’s folding stock has a leather cover and while the length of pull is a little short it provides a decent cheek weld.
The M50 has a relatively slow rate of fire of around 500 rounds per minute which makes it very easy to make single shots while in full-auto. The sights are extremely simple with a single rear peep sight.
It has manual safety switch on the left side of the receiver which locks the sear in place and a spring-loaded grip safety just behind the magazine well. The amount of pressure needed to disengage it is minimal and a firm firing grip of the magazine is all that is needed.
The Madsen went through a number of changes with various models having different magazine release types, selectors and manual safety positions. The M53 introduced in 1953, fed from a curved magazine and had an improved magazine release. Some models had an additional fire-selector and the safety moved back above the trigger. Some models retained the forward grip safety while others moved it to behind the pistol grip. Some patterns of M53 also had a barrel shroud for mounting a bayonet as well as added wooden panels on the pistol grip.
We’ll have a more in-depth look at the Madsen M50 in the future looking at the various models in some more detail.
Special thanks to my friend Chuck at Gunlab for letting me take a look at his M50.
We’re lucky enough to have some unique colour footage showing the of testing of some of these explosive devices and in this article we will examine an incendiary-filed case.
In this piece of 16mm colour footage, filmed in 1940 by Captain Cecil V. Clarke, we see what appears to be an attaché case containing three medium-sized bottles, which likely contains a mix of petrol and paraffin or some white phosphorus, prepared for testing at the bomb range at Brickendonbury in Hertfordshire, a Special Operations Executive training and research centre codenamed Station XVII. It’s believed that these films may have been produced as teaching aids for the agents trained at Station XVII and this film may have been shown during a lecture.
While incendiary briefcases, attaché cases and even suitcases are listed in the 1944 SOE Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies they were quite different from this case. They were primarily designed for the quick destruction of documents and items carried inside them. They used sheets of potassium nitrate to burn the case’s contents.
The incendiary case seen in this footage on the other hand appears to be designed to be clandestinely placed and detonated with a delay fuse, to set nearby flammable objects on fire. What was described as a ‘Delayed Action Incendiary’.
In this footage of another separate test we get an idea of the destructive capability of just one of the bottles.
It’s possible that this incendiary case was a proof of concept test for the later cases or perhaps a demonstration of a concealed incendiary device Station XVII were working on. SOE developed a large number of bespoke explosive devices for various missions, so while this device may not have become ‘standard issue’, it may have been developed for a specific purpose.