Unpacking 60 Years of Military History

Today we have a bit of an interesting unpacking/unwrapping video. I’ve saved up a few parcels with some new additions to the TAB reference collection and I thought I’d bring you along for the ride. The manuals we’ll be taking a look at span about 60 years of British Army doctrine and weapons. The materials range from a Hotchkiss machine gun manual from 1917 to an AFV identification handbook from the late 60s. There’s some quite interesting and rare stuff here including a 1951 provisional manual for the 3.5in rocket launcher.

These manuals and this sort of primary material is really important because we can learn how the weapons were actually intended to be used. It’s support from our Patreon supporters that enables us to pick up items like these to share in videos. So if you’d like to support our work, check out the TAB Patreon page here.

A Hill In Korea & the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of The Imjin River

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Imjin River, the Korean War battle perhaps most closely associated with the UK’s involvement in the conflict. Sadly, Korea remains a largely forgotten war and only one film has ever been made about the British Army’s experience 1956’s ‘A Hill In Korea‘. In this video we’ll discuss the battle, the super bazooka and the classic war film!

The film follows a fighting patrol which is cut off behind enemy lines and forced to fight a desperate last stand. The film borrows elements from the battle of Imjin River and the war as a whole. Today it is best known for its strong cast including Stanley Baker, Robert Shaw, Harry Andrews and George Baker and for being Michael Caine’s first film credit. Interestingly, Caine was a veteran of the war, having served with the Royal Fusiliers during his National Service. 

We recently covered the film in an episode of our Fighting On Film podcast and a scene featuring a 3.5in Rocket Launcher stood out. The patrol uses the rocket launcher against a Chinese tank, which appears to be a captured British Cromwell. The film shows the bazooka being assembled and its team moving closer, stating that to be sure of a hit they want to be just 80 yards away. This is comparatively close for a 3.5in rocket launcher, which had an effective range of 300 yards.

The Bazooka team take on the Chinese Cromwell

The 3.5in was a brand new weapon in 1951. It had been developed in the US before the start of the war and facing communist T34/85s it was rolled out to most of the UN ground forces in the theatre (alongside recoilless rifles and smaller M9A1 rocket launchers). Better known as the M20 Super Bazooka in US service urgent operational requirements saw the 3.5in R.L. replace the PIAT as the British infantry’s platoon anti-tank weapon. In the TAB reference collection we are lucky enough to have an original copy of the provisional manual for the 3.5in R.L. which was compiled during the war in 1951.

The anti-tank team who operate the 3.5in R.L. in the film

The film shows the weapon being fired twice, successfully knocking out the tank. It’s perhaps the only depiction of British troops using the 3.5in rocket launcher and certainly one of the better depictions of it in film. We don’t get to see the rocket being loaded but we do see the No.2 attaching the contact wires at the rear of the tube. The first round hits the tank’s hull while the second strikes the track and the tank rolls backwards and explodes! Once the rocket launcher team get back to the main defensive position we even see the No.1 breaking the weapon down into its too parts.

During the battle of Imjin River itself, the bazooka was put to good use by a number of units including the Gloucestershire Regiment, the Royal Ulster Rifles and the Belgian battalion. Using the weapons to knock out Chinese machine gun positions and break up the human wave assaults. During an attack on Gloster positions in the early hours of the 22nd April, Lance-Corporal Joe Farrell recalled how the Glosters blasted Chinese troops using some boulders as cover. After three days desperate fighting the 29th Infantry Brigade had lost almost a quarter of its strength, suffering over 1,000 casualties. The rest managed to fight their way out.

 Royal Northumberland Fusiliers advancing to positions on the Imjin River, April 1951, (IWM)

I felt it was important to discuss the battle on its 70th anniversary as it sadly continues to be largely forgotten. The Glosters and the men of 29th British Independent Infantry Brigade Group fought a very hard battle against massively overwhelming odds, I would definitely urge you to read more about the battle and the war itself. I would also recommend seeking out A Hill In Korea, it is a fascinating film.


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Fighting On Film: The Diary of an Unknown Soldier (1959) & The Forgotten Faces (1960)

This week we look at two of acclaimed British director Peter Watkins’ formative amateur films: The Diary of an Unknown Soldier (1959) & The Forgotten Faces (1960). Perhaps best known for his later 1964 film Culloden and 1965’s ground-breaking nuclear war film The War Game. These two early films are especially fascinating as you can see Watkin’s distinct style develop through them.

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

Here’s some stills from the films:

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @FightingOnFilm

Thanks for listening!

Cold War British Army Threat Recognition Guide

It’s the 1980s and the British Army Of the Rhine is still stationed in West Germany facing down the USSR’s forces. The Cold War has gotten hot and the 3rd Shock Army is approaching your dugout but how do you differentiate a BTR from a BMP? This handy British Army THREAT Recognition Guide booklet gives you everything you need to know about the Soviet armour, infantry and aircraft you’re facing!

Continuing on from our earlier look at a British Army threat Recognition Guide to Iraqi Ground Forces issued during the Gulf War, we dig into the TAB reference collection again and take a look at this Threat Recognition Guide looking at Soviet air and ground forces facing the British Army of the Rhine in the 1980s.

The Group of Soviet Forces in Germany (GSFG) in East Germany throughout the Cold War were an ever present threat to West Germany and NATO. This recognition guide covers all of the USSR’s main battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and infantry fighting vehicles, as well as artillery systems and some of the close support aircraft which would have accompanied the attacking Soviet forces.

The pages of the recognition guide include photographs, diagrams, basic specs and recognisable features of the various enemy vehicles. It was put together by the Intelligence Directorate of BAOR’s 1 Corps.


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The MB-1 ‘Genie’ – The USAF’s Unguided Air-To-Air Nuke

The MB-1/AIR-2 ‘Genie’ was the world’s first nuclear-armed air-to-air weapon and remains the most powerful missile ever deployed aboard U.S. Air Force interceptors. Developed as the Cold War began to heat up it would be carried aboard a succession of aircraft including the F-89, F-101B Voodoo, and the F-106 Delta Dart.

The MB-1 (later the AIR-2) was an air to air rocket with a 6 mile range and a 1.5 kiloton W25 nuclear warhead. It was ostensibly a tactical nuclear weapon designed to take on Soviet strategic bomber formations. The early 1950s saw the Soviet Union’s strategic bomber capability expand from the Tu-4, B-29 Superfortress copy, to include the Tupolev Tu-16 and Tu-95 and the Myasishchev M-4. These new long-range, nuclear capable bombers posed a serious threat to the continental United States. It was decided that only nuclear anti-aircraft weapons could counter the new high-flying Soviet bombers. Development began in 1954 with the project code-named “Genie” by the Air Research and Development Command.

We’ve previously looked at the Boeing BOMARC, the world’s first long-range surface to air missile, whose role was similar to the air-launched MB-1 – to engage incoming Soviet bombers. During the early 1950s, before the emergence of ICBMs, the USAF expected the main nuclear threat to the United States to come via massive attacks by Soviet long-range bombers carrying atomic bombs.

The USAF hoped that weapons like the BOMARC and the MB-1 would be able to engage and neutralise large soviet formations before they reached their targets. This would be achieved by USAF interceptors scrambled to meet the incoming Soviet aircraft, the interceptors would move into engagement range and launch their MB-1 missiles, turning away to avoid the blast. The Genie would detonate inside or near the Soviet formations breaking up their attack. For this role, attacking massed enemy aircraft, the Genie certainly appears to be an efficient weapon concept. However, like the BOMARC it quickly became obsolete as the Soviets moved away from strategic bomber aircraft and embraced long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles.

BOMARC Site No. 1 at McGuire Air Force Base (USAF)

Development of the MB-1 was carried out by the Douglas Aircraft Company. Physically, the plump-looking air-to-air nuclear rocket was 9ft 2in long and 17.5in in diameter, weighing in at just over 820lbs (372kg). The weapon had four fins, which spanned over 3 feet, these deployed once launched and helped to stabilise the Genie’s flight.

The Genie carried a 1.5-kiloton W-25 nuclear warhead and was powered by a solid-fuel rocket engine developed by Thiokol. It could reach speeds up to Mach 3.3 and travel just over 6 miles before detonating. It’s effective blast radius was estimated to be just short of 1,000 feet (300m), the Genie relied upon this area effect as guidance systems small enough to be fitted to a missile were in their infancy, as a result the Genie was essentially an unguided rocket with no onboard guidance. 

An Northrop F-89J has the distinction of being the only aircraft to fire a live MB-1 Genie during the Operation Plumbbob tests on 19th July, 1957. The F-89 was flown by Captain Eric W. Hutchison, with Captain Alfred C. Barbee acting as Radar Intercept Officer. They launched the Genie at around 18,500 feet, the nuclear-tipped Genie accelerated to Mach 3 and travelled 2.6 miles in less than 5 seconds. While operationally the weapon would have detonated by a time-delay fuse the Plumbbob detonation was triggered by a signal from the ground.

The F-89, flown by Captain Eric W. Hutchison, firing a live MB-1 during Operation Plumbbob’s Test Shot John, 1957 (National Nuclear Security Administration)

Test shot John was a form of controlled human testing, with not only those on the ground, beneath the blast tested for radiation dose sizes but also the crews of the aircraft that launched the rocket. This contemporary film about the test notes that “neutron and gamma doses for the three crews did not exceed 5 Reps and 3 Roentgens respectively.

A later report noted:

“Neutron and gamma radiation dosages received by the crew members were less than had been predicted. To some extent this may he attributed to the effect of aircraft shielding. which was not utilized in the theoretical predictions. No crew member received more than 5 Reps neutron and 3r gamma during his participation. The experiment proved that the MB-1 air-to-air rocket can be successfully launched by the F-89 aircraft at 19,000 feet MSL with a radiation dose to the delivery crew within acceptable limits.”

The yield of the explosion was estimated to have been 1.7 kilotons. 18,500 feet below, at ground zero, five USAF officers and a photographer volunteered to stand under the blast to prove that the weapon was safe for use over populated areas. The radiation doses received by the F-89 crew and the men on the ground were reportedly small.

An F-106 Delta Dart aircraft after firing an ATR-2A missile over a range. The aircraft is assigned to the 194th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, California Air National Guard (USAF)

The MB-1 became the primary air to air weapon of the F-106 Delta Dart, this footage includes and illustration showing how the MB-1 was deployed from the F-106 as well as some of the live missile tests with inert missiles during the development of the Delta Dart’s launch system for the Genie.

Douglas built more than 1,000 Genie rockets before terminating production in 1962. In June 1963, the MB-1 Genie rockets were re-designated in the AIR-2 and later the ATR-2A. The USAF’s operational deployment of the Genie ended in late 1980s with the retirement of the last F-106 Delta Darts. The Genie’s other operator, the Royal Canadian Air Force, continued to operate the Genie aboard until 1984.

Bibliography:

OPERATION PLUMBBOB, Technical Summary of MiIitary Effects, 1962, Defense Atomic Support Agency, (source)

‘MB-1 Documentary’, Douglas Aircraft Company via US National Archives, (source)

‘Five Men at Atomic Ground Zero’ Operation Plumbbob Test Shot John footage, Atomic Central, (source)

‘The F102A – F106A Annual Review 1957’, technical review of the Delta Dagger, USAF via San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives, (source)

’19 JULY 1957 – FIVE AT GROUND ZERO’, CTBTO, (source)


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Fighting On Film: The Siege of Firebase Gloria (1989)

Join us, on the 53rd anniversary of the week the Tet Offensive began, as we take a look at 1989’s ‘The Siege of Firebase Gloria’ starring R. Lee Ermey, Wings Hauser & Albert Popwell. Directed Brian Trenchard-Smith its a Vietnam last stand movie that riffs on its predecessors.

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

Here’s some stills from the film:

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @FightingOnFilm

British Cold War Missiles – Malkara & Thunderbird

While doing some archival digging I found some interested newsreel footage of early Cold War British missiles. The footage features the Malkara anti-tank missile and the Thunderbird surface-to-air missile.

The Malkara was developed in the early 1950s. It was a wire-guided anti-tank weapon with a 57lb HESH warhead. It had a range of up to 2.5 miles. In the footage we see it guided through a hole in a target net.

FV1620 Humber Hornet launching a Malkara (ParaData)

The Malkara was mounted on a number of platforms and vehicles and remained in service into the mid-1960s. It’s bulk and weight saw it eventually replaced by the smaller Vickers Vigilant and the Swingfire.

Thunderbird, c.1960 (Adrian Pingstone)

The second missile featured in the newsreel is the English Electric Thunderbird, a British Army SAM with a 75km range and a speed of Mach 2.7. The Thunderbird was replaced by the Rapier in the 70s, which is still in service today.

Hope you enjoyed seeing some of these British cold war missiles in action, it’s amazing what you find in archives when you aren’t looking for it!

Bibliography:

Footage Source: Universal Newsreel Volume 30, 1957, via US National Archives, (source)
Anti-Tank Weapons, T. Gander, (2000)


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Cold War British Vehicles – Anglesey Transport Museum

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.

Alvis Saracen

Alvis Saracen (Matthew Moss)

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.

Humber Pig

Humber Pig (Matthew Moss)

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

Daimler Ferret (Matthew Moss)

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

QF 40mm Mk1 (Matthew Moss)

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.

Find out more about the museum here.


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Fighting On Film Christmas Special: The Wild Geese (1978)

In this special episode of the Fighting On Film war movie podcast we are joined by Paul Woodadge of  @WW2TV  to discuss the cult-classic ‘The Wild Geese’. A film which follows a group of double-crossed mercenaries trying to escape after their mission is compromised. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, it has a stellar cast including Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Hardy Kruger, Roger Moore and Stewart Granger. As well as Jack Watson, Winston Ntshona, Kenneth Griffith and John Kani.

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

Here’s some stills from the film:

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @FightingOnFilm

XF-87 Blackhawk

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.

Curtiss-Wright XF-87 (US Air Force)

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.

The Curtis XP-87 (Curtiss-Wright, courtesy of Mark Lane)

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.

Walter Tydon’s patent for the Blackhawk’s landing gear (US Patent Office)

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 ‘F-87’ Blackhawk on the cover of Aviation Week (courtesy of Mark Lane)

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.”

The XF-87 Blackhawk taking off (courtesy of Mark Lane)

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.


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Bibliography:

Saga of the P-40 and Curtiss Airplane Division: Its Rise and Demise, W. Tydon

Newest Fighter In the Skies, Aviation Week, 2 Aug. 1948

Ad featured in Army & Navy Journal, Vol. 85, No. 40, 7 Aug. 1948 (source)

Ad featured in Air Force, Vo.31, No.9, Sept. 1948 (source)

‘Investigation of the B-36 Bomber Program’, US Congressional Hearing, Aug.-Oct. 1949, (source)

Curtiss Aircraft, 1907-1947, P.M. Bowers (1987)

American Attack Aircraft Since 1926, E.R. Johnson (2008)

The Big Book of X-Bombers & X-Fighters: USAF Jet-Powered Experimental Aircraft and Their Propulsive Systems, S. Pace (2016)

Curtiss-Wright Aeroplane Factory, Missouri, National Register of Historic Places, US National Park Service (2016) (source)