Fighting On Film: Cold War British Army Training Films – Soviet Encounter & Fighting In Woods

Grab your SLR and LAW 80 and jump in the back of the FV432, the Soviet 3rd Shock Army is on the advance! This week we dive into a pair of British Army training films Fighting In Woods (1982) and Soviet Encounter (1983) with Dr. Kenton White – an expert on the Cold War British Army. These well-made films show a potential (and somewhat optimistic) scenario of how the British Army would have fought the Warsaw Pact if the Cold War had ever gone hot! 

The episode is also available on all other podcast platforms, you can find them here.

Here are some stills from the film:

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1966 Soviet Weapons Recognition Guide

During the Cold War the British Army on the Rhine was deployed in West German. In anticipation of a conflict with the Soviet Union detailed recognition guides were written for British troops to identify and familiarise themselves with enemy weapons and equipment. A substantial series of these were written covering everything from small arms to artillery to vehicles and aircraft.

In this video and article we will examine ‘Recognition Handbook Foreign Weapons and Equipment (USSR) Group III Infantry Weapons’ originally published in August 1966. It covers pistols, carbines, rifles, light, medium and heavy machine guns, grenades and some infantry anti-tank weapons like the RPG-2.

RPD (Matthew Moss)

The Recognition Handbook is about 100 pages long while the wider series encompasses 12 booklets at approximately 1,200 pages. Each entry in the handbook includes general description of the weapon, its characteristics and recognition features to help identify it. The Handbooks are more detailed version of the smaller Threat Recognition Guide booklets which we have looked at previously.

The video includes clips from a 1979 British Army training film made by the School of Infantry.

RPG-2 (Matthew Moss)

Below is the two page entry covering the ‘7.62mm Assault Rifle Kalashnikov (AK-47)’ with a general description, characteristic and some recognition features.

AK-pattern rifle (Matthew Moss)

Sources:

‘Recognition Handbook Foreign Weapons and Equipment (USSR) Group III Infantry Weapons’, British Army, 1966
Warsaw Pact Small Arms’, British Army, 1986, (source)


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The No.4 Rifle in the Rhineland

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of filming some segments on small arms for the new documentary on the Rhineland Campaign – ‘Rhineland 45‘. Not all of the segments I filmed discussing weapons could be included in the finished documentary – I filmed quite a few – so I’m pleased to share a couple here. This short video examines the Rifle No.4 (Lee-Enfield) used by British and Canadian troops during Operations Veritable and Varsity. This video was filmed at the Vickers MG Collection and Research Association.

Rifle No.4 (Robbie McGuire)

Check out the first video of this series on the use of the PIAT here and our video on the Panzerfaust & Panzerschreck in the Rhineland here and our video on the STENs used in the Rhineland.


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The STEN in the Rhineland

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of filming some segments on small arms for the new documentary on the Rhineland Campaign – ‘Rhineland 45‘. Not all of the segments I filmed discussing weapons could be included in the finished documentary – I filmed quite a few – so I’m pleased to share a couple here. This video examines the various marks of STEN gun used during Operations Veritable and Varsity. This video was filmed at the Vickers MG Collection and Research Association.

The Sten MkIV (Robbie McGuire)

Check out the first video of this series on the use of the PIAT here and our video on the Panzerfaust & Panzerschreck in the Rhineland here.


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A PIAT from Arnhem

Last weekend at the We Have Ways podcast’s history festival the Airborne Assault Museum brought along a very interesting piece of history – a PIAT with Arnhem provenance. The PIAT had allegedly been dropped during Operation Market Garden but not used. At some point after the battle it was discovered by locals and handed into the Doorwerth Castle Museum, the original airborne museum before it moved to the Hartenstein, and was subsequently gifted the the UK’s Airborne Assault Museum in the 1950s.

Discussing the PIAT with Ramsay of the Airborne Assault Museum (Matthew Moss)

The museum believes the PIAT has much of its original paint and in general the weapon is in excellent shape. It has the earlier rear sight with two apertures for 70 and 100 yards, the later design had three – with a maximum range of 110 yards. This PIAT’s monopod could still be raised and lowered, to elevate the weapon upto 40-degrees for indirect firing.

A close up of the PIAT (Mattthew Moss)

The indirect fire quadrant sight is in good condition – complete with its spirit level. The weapon also appears to have its original white indirect fire aiming line along the top of its body and almost pristine webbing – though the butt cover is frayed which isn’t uncommon. Sadly the weapon has been deactivated so we couldn’t open up the action or cock the weapon. It seems to have been welded at the front and rear of the body.

The PIAT is in great shape, albeit deactivated, and it was a pleasure to take a look at a weapon which could be traced back to the battle. Thank you to Ramsay, Ben and Allen of the Airborne Assault Museum for allowing me to examine and film the PIAT, check out the museum’s website here.

Click here for more articles and videos on the PIAT.


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B.A.T. Gun – The Battalion Anti-Tank Gun

In this video we dive into another item from the TAB Reference Collection. An article taken from a 1955 edition of the Illustrated London News which looks at the British Army’s newest anti-tank weapon – The B.A.T Gun! The L2 B.A.T Gun was a recoilless rifle developed to replace the heavier 17pdr Anti-Tank guns then in service. The B.A.T and its successors remained in service throughout the Cold War.

Today we would consider the illustration an ‘infographic’, it was drawn up with the Ministry of Defence’s assistance by Illustrated London News‘ special artist George Horace Davis who had illustrated hundreds of similar articles including one for the PIAT.

The article, titled ‘Britain’s Latest and Most Powerful Anti-Tank Weapon’, explains not juse the operation of the new gun but also provides some data on weight and comparisons of the new 120mm HESH ammunition with that of previous conventional anti-tank weapons. Check out our video on the 2pdr anti-tank gun and the 6pdr anti-tank gun.

We have many more videos on important and interesting primary source materials in the works. If you enjoy our work please consider supporting us via Patreon for just a $1. Find out more here.

Check out videos on items from our reference collection here.

L21A1 .50 Calibre Machine Gun – 1960s Illustrated Spares List

We’re back with another video looking at an item from the TAB reference collection – an illustrated spare parts list for the L21A1. L21A1 is the British designation for the American Browning M2 .50 cal (12.7×99mm) machine gun. A past owner has written ‘Ranging’ on the cover, perhaps suggesting this booklet specifically covered the guns used by the UK’s Royal Armoured Corps in its Centurion and Chieftain tanks.

We have many more videos on important and interesting primary source materials in the works. If you enjoy our work please consider supporting us via Patreon for just a $1. Find out more here.

Check out videos on items from our reference collection here.

British Home Guard Browning M1917 Booklet

During the Second World War the British Home Guard were extensively issued American .30 calibre Browning M1917 machine guns. These water-cool medium machine guns contributed significant firepower to the Home Guard fighting units. They began to enter service in late 1940 and by November 1942 there were some 6,330 in service.

A pair of Hounslow Home Guard man an American .30 calibre Browning M1917 (London’s Screen Archives via BFI)

With so many guns in service there needed to be a way of describing, categorising and identifying the weapon’s parts so an identification list booklet was drawn up giving the American and British nomenclature for the gun’s individual parts.

Front cover of the Parts Identification List for the Browning M1917 (Matthew Moss)

The booklet draws on the US Army Ordnance Corps’ Standard Nomenclature List A5 for the American parts names. The purpose of the booklet was basically to allow soldiers familiar only with British designations to know the necessary American nomenclature for the various parts. This would have been useful for when requisitioning replacement parts.

Page showing the gun itself from Parts Identification List for the Browning M1917 (Matthew Moss)

I plan on digitising much of what is in the TAB reference collection when I have the time and funds to do so, in the meantime a PDF of the pages from this booklet is now available here. Acquisition of this parts identification list booklet was made possible by our Patreon supporters – if you’d like to join us and help us share pieces of history like this one please check out the Patreon page here.

Check out videos on items from our reference collection here.

PIAT During the Rhineland Campaign

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of travelling to the Tank Museum to film some segments for the new documentary on the Rhineland Campaign – ‘Rhineland 45‘. We looked at various small arms used during the campaign ranging from Panzerfausts and Bazookas to MG-42s and M1A1 carbines.

Not all of the segments we filmed discussing the weapons could be included in the finished documentary, so I’m pleased to share a couple here. This one Brings Up The PIAT!

The Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank was used extensively during Operations Veritable and Varsity in March 1945. British and Canadian troops put them to use against enemy armoured vehicles and defensive positions within the forests, towns and villages of the Rhineland.

If you’d like a copy of my book on the PIAT you can pick one up here.

Thanks again to Real Time History for inviting me to contribute, check out the documentary here.


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The Covenanter Bridgelayer

In this video/article we will examine some rare footage of the Covenanter Bridgelayer in action. The footage is available to watch on the BFIs website and originally comes from the Wessex Film and Sound Archive. The 16mm film was filmed at some time in August 1942 but little else is said about locations in the BFI archive entry for the footage.

The Covenanter Bridgelayer being demonstrated (IWM MH 3674)

The tank’s hull number is visible as T.18434 which I think would make it one of the earliest English Electric-built Covenanters. The covenanter was developed in the late 30s as a cheaper cruiser tank. It entered service in 1940, but saw limited active service – instead being largely used in training roles. The bridge element of the vehicle was a Scissors Bridge 30ft, No. 1. – it was deployed and recovered by a clutch and 2 to 1 reduction gear, it was powered directly from the tank’s engine.

Cruiser Mk V Covenanter III (A13 Mk III) (IWM KID 778)

A US report on the Covenanter Bridgelayer explains how it worked:

“The opening of the bridge begins after the launching mechanism has begun to pivot on the rollers of the launching frame. Since the cables are of fixed length, they act to open the bridge as it is pivoted about the rollers.
Having been laid across the obstacle, the bridge is disengaged from the prime-mover [the tank itself]. The bridge is then ready for the passage of other vehicles.
To retrieve the bridge, the prime-mover crosses the bridge to the far side of the obstacle, hooks up to the bridge, pulls it back to the traveling position, and is then ready to proceed to the next obstacle.”

The bridge had a span of 34 feet and vehicles up to 30 tons could cross it. It could be deployed in under 3 minutes and in total the bridge and the system which launched it was 3.5 tons. The vehicle had a two man crew, with a driver and a commander.

Above is a British Pathe newsreel that gives us a closer look at some of the Bridgelayer’s mechanism at work.

The US report also noted that “In one case 1,200 successful launchings and recoveries were made by one vehicle without undue maintenance.” The system was only mounted on a small number of Covenanters. One source suggests 20 Covenanter I and 60 Covenanter IV tanks were converted into Bridgelayers. Far more Valentines were equipped with them and subsequently the Churchill AVRE became the British Army’s primary bridging tank.

A later Valentine Bridgelayer in action in Burma, 1945 (IWM)

No location is given for the footage but the presence of a number of barrage balloons to the rear is intriguing! It may have been filmed at the Royal Engineers Establishment at Christchurch or at another demonstration elsewhere. Scissor Bridges, with similar basic designs remain in service with numerous militaries around the world today.


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Bibliography:

‘Covenanter: Reservist Tank’, Tank Archives, (source)

‘A Home Guard parade and an inspection by the Duke of Kent’, BFI, (source)

Tactical and Technical Trends, No.15, Dec. 1942, Military Intelligence Service, War Department, (source)