Siege of Jadotville & The Sniper Bren – Is The Bren More Accurate?

If you’re familiar with the film Siege of Jadotville you will remember a scene in which the Irish company’s sniper takes on a long range shot… with a Bren. The sniper exchanges his Rifle No.4(T) for a Bren (MkII – in reality, according to contemporary photographs of Irish troops in the Congo, it would have been a MkIII) and single loads a round with the magazine removed.

Following discussion of how plausible this scene is during an episode of the Fighting on Film podcast we teamed up with Richard Fisher, of the Vickers MG Collection and Research Association, to test out the plausibility of the scene. In the film the sniper is seen to be highly proficient with his Rifle No.4(T), barely missing a shot. When tasked with shooting a target which appears to be approximately 400 yards away he sets down his No.4(T), with its No.32 3.5X telescopic sight, and takes a Bren, sets the sights, loads a single cartridge into the breech and takes the shot. The shot strikes and kills the target, a man in a white suit who was directing an attack on the Irish/UN positions.

This scene raises a number of questions:

  • Why does the sniper do this?
  • Is the Bren more accurate than a Rifle No.4(T)?
  • Can you easily single-load a Bren?
At the range, behind a Bren MkI with a MkIII barrel (Rich Fisher)

The video above explains our methodology for trying to answer some of these questions. We gathered a group of shooters to fire both a Rifle No.4(T) and a Bren MkIII (in our case a MkI Bren fitted with the shorter barrel of a MkIII). The shooters come from a range of experiences ranging from successful competition shooters to myself (who hasn’t shot a long range competition in 18 months) and Rich (who hasn’t fired a rifle at significant ranges in over a decade). We fired at two ranges 100 yards and 400 yards, with the latter representing the scene from the film, at representatively sized targets. We used 174gr PPU .303 ammunition in all weapons except the 7.62x51mm L4 (which does not directly factor into the results of this experiment).

Can You Easily Single-Load A Bren

In the morning before the shoot the group of shooters carried out familiarisation of the handling and Normal Safety Precautions (NSPs) for the Bren. It was then that we discussed the part of the scene where the sniper single-loads a round into the chamber. It was decided to test this question using a L54A1 Drill Purpose Bren held by the Vickers MG Collection and Research Association’s collection.

Rich demonstrates single-loading a cartridge into the Bren’s breech with an L54A1 Drill Purpose Bren

In the video you will see that this was possible but it was easily fumbled. It was possible to accidentally nose the round into the gas piston or to drop it though the action, out of the ejection port. It is imaginable that in the stress of combat it might prove difficult – but it is certainly possible to single-load the Bren in this way.

Measuring up: working out the Figure of Merit (Rich Fisher)

Is the Bren More Accurate Than a Rifle No.4(T)?

In short, no. We found that the average figure of merit value showed that the No.4(T) was more accurate at both 100 and 400 yards than the Bren. The caveat to this is that our data set for 400 yards was incomplete with some misses and off paper hits meaning only partial groups were recorded.

In terms of measuring the accuracy of the weapons we worked out individual shooter and group average Figure of Merit values. We explain how this was done in the video (with reference to this video from Rob of BritishMuzzleLoaders). The raw data can be seen below:

First we have the the raw data for the Rifle No.4(T) at 400 yards for all shooters combined input into the Figure of Merit (FoM) spreadsheet which calculated the FoM and group size and generated a grouping diagram:

Rifle No.4(T) at 400 yards

Below is the raw data for the Bren Mk3 at 400 yards for all shooters combined input into the Figure of Merit (FoM) spreadsheet which calculated the FoM and group size and generated a grouping diagram:

Bren MkIII at 400 yards

Below is a summary of the FoM and group data for each shooter with the various weapons as well as an averaged value:

Summary of the data showing individual shooters and averages

Tom’s group for the No.4(T) at 400 yards was off paper and not recorded, the data for Kev, Matt and Rich on the MkIII was partial due to misses and shots off paper – this is perhaps somewhat indicative of the advantage the No.4(T)’s scope gave over the Bren’s iron sights at 400 yards.

What would we do differently if we have the chance to repeat the experiment?

It would be useful to replicate the firing of the No.4(T) and Bren again to rectify the partial data we recorded at 400 yards. It would also be useful to fire the Bren mounted on a tripod rather than off the bipod. This would provide a useful control comparison with human factors effecting the weapon minimised. We had hoped to do this on the day but did not have the time. It may also be beneficial to enable each shooter to have 5-10 rounds to get on target and compensate for wind etc. and then shoot their representative five round group.

Sniper Bren: the sniper takes aim with ‘the Bren on single shot’

Why Does the Sniper Do This?

So why does the sniper do this in the film? Firing from the bipod would theoretically provide a more stable shooting platform than an unsupported rifle. There was, however, plenty of sandbags for him to take a supported shot with the No.4(T). There has been some suggestion that it was believed that the Bren was a more accurate weapon but data from service trials and our experiment show that it was not superior to a scoped, accurised rifle. The scene was probably a result of cinematic license, the sniper had previously been shown to be able to hit anything he had thus far aimed at so having him swap to “the Bren on single shot” gives an added weight to the scene and the action of single-loading rather than firing from the magazine adds to the technical theatricality of the scene depicting the sniper as a capable expert.


We hope you found the video interesting, special thanks to all who helped make the video happen, it was a big and sometimes chaotic effort! Do check out Vickers MG Collection & Research Association’s channel. For more videos and articles on the Bren Gun click here.


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Live Fire: Bren Mk1 (Modified)

Introduce in British service in 1938, the Bren remained in use into the 1990s. Based upon the Czechoslovakian series of ZB light machine guns, its name comes from an amalgamation of its origins: BR for Brno, the factory in Czechoslovakia, and EN for RSAF Enfield where it had been adapted for British service and was to be produced.

The Bren is chambered in .303, is gas operated and fires from an open bolt. It feeds from a top-mounted 30 round box magazine, as such the sights are offset to the left meaning the Bren can only be fired from the right shoulder – which as a lefty, I quickly realised.

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Bren Mk1(Modified) (Matthew Moss)

This example does not have the scope mounting dovetail machined into the left side of its receiver, or the folding grip and the hinged shoulder rest indicating that it is a Mk1 (Modified) ‘Pattern A’ gun, which was introduced after the evacuation of Dunkirk, the British Expeditionary Force lost most of the 30,000 Brens that had been taken to France. Only around 2,000 remained in inventory in the summer of 1940, so increasing production was essential, this model and the even more simplified MkII were introduced. While at the same time the BESAL light machine gun was developed as an emergency alternative by BSA – check out our earlier video on the BESAL here.

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The BSA-developed BESAL light machine gun (Matthew Moss)

As a Mk1, the gun has the original profile buttstock, with the fitting for a rear folding grip and tripod attachment point as well as a buttcap. It also has the drum rear sight rather than the later ladder sight of the Mk2 & 3. It also had a folding cocking handle and this Mk1(M) gun also has the earlier pattern height adjustable, rather than fixed, bipod legs. This gun is marked ‘MK1, with an E within a D, 1942’ indicating it was made at RSAF Enfield.

 

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Bren Mk1(Modified) with magazine off and dust cover closed, note the drum sight but lack of receiver cut for optic (Matthew Moss)

The Bren’s relatively slow rate of fire (of around 500 rounds per minute) makes it controllable and very easy to fire single shots while in full auto. The Bren does, however, have a selector on the left side of the gun, just above the trigger guard, which can be set to safe, semi or fully automatic. The Bren has a rocking recoil impulse as its heavy bolt moves back and forth, easily manageable if held tightly into the shoulder with the off-hand holding onto the wrist of the stock. The top-mounted magazine when fully loaded does have a tendency to want to fall to the side but once you’re used to this it’s not really an issue. The legend surrounding the accuracy of the Bren is certainly somewhat valid, at the time it was recognised as an accurate weapon and I found it accurate from my short time behind the trigger.  I found the Mk1’s rear sight aperture and drum adjustment easy to use.

Spent cases eject out of the bottom of the receiver, the weapon had a sliding dust cover for when the magazine was removed and the charging handle is non reciprocating and folds forward.

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Bren Mk1(Modified) with magazine off, dust cover closed and barrel removed (Matthew Moss)

The Bren has a quick change barrel system. To remove the barrel the release catch in front of the magazine was rotated upwards to unlock and then the barrel was rotated 90 degrees clockwise by bringing the carrying handle up to the 12 o’clock position and then sliding it forward.

We’ll have a more in-depth look at the Bren and its Czech predecessors in the future. My thanks to my friend Chuck over at Gunlab for letting me put some rounds through his Bren, I got a real kick out of it!


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