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.
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.
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.
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!
Footage Source: Universal Newsreel Volume 30, 1957, via US National Archives, (source) Anti-Tank Weapons, T. Gander, (2000)
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
The Battle of Palmdale is one of those historic events that could easily spawn clickbait titles: US Navy vs US Air Force, Drone vs Manned Fighter, Runaway WW2 fighter vs Rocket-armed Jet Interceptor. None of these would be a lie!
On 16th August, 1956 a US Navy Grumman F6F-5K Hellcat a target drone went rouge over California and the USAF scrambled a pair of Northrop F-89 Scorpions to shoot it down. The F-89s failed to down the Hellcat but did manage to start a serious wildfire.
The Northrop F-89 Scorpion is perhaps one of the lesser known American jet interceptors of the 1950s. To put the F-89 into some context its development began in 1948, intended to be an all-weather interceptor, its stable mates included the F-86 Sabre and the F-84 Thunderjet. The F-89 made its first flight in August 1948 and entered service two years later.
In August 1945 the US Army Air Force released a specification for a new jet-powered night fighter with a speed of up to 530 mph. Jack Northrop began work on a swept wing design which went on to be evaluated with entries from Bell Aircraft, Consolidated-Vultee, Douglas Aircraft, Goodyear and Curtiss-Wright. The US Army Air Force down-selected Northrop’s design – then known as the N-24 and the Curtiss-Wright XP-87 Blackhawk.
The Curtiss-Wright XP-87 was a slightly larger, slightly heavier aircraft with its two-man crew seated side-by-side. It was powered by two pairs of Westinghouse XJ34-WE-7 turbojet engines mounted on the wings. In comparison the Northrop design was slimmer, with sept wings and had its two Allison J35 turbojet engines buried low in its fuselage to reduce drag.
The N-24 was designated the XP-89 by the US Army Air Force and a full-scale model was ordered. Aerodynamic testing found that the swept wing was unstable in low speed and a straight, narrow profile was developed and the horizontal stabilizer and cockpit configuration was redesigned.
In 1948 the newly formed US Air Force re-designated fighters from P to F and the XP-89 became the XF-89 when prototypes were ordered. During subsequent flight evaluations the XF-89 was found to be faster than the XF-87 and the US Navy’s XF3D (Douglas F3D Skyknight). Evaluators disliked the Northrop and criticised its cockpit layout, however, the USAF moved forward with its development and scrapped the XF-87.
Testing with a second prototype continued and the engines were upgraded with a more powerful Allison J33-A-21 fitted with an afterburner, while concerns about ease of maintenance were answered by having the whole engine capable of lowering out of the fuselage. The XF-89 suffered a number of crashes during testing with a fatal crash on the 22nd February 1950, which killed flight test engineer Arthur Turton when flutter, or vibrations, in the elevator caused the tail of the aircraft to sheer off. The geometry of the rear fuselage and engine exhaust were found to be the cause and were redesigned.
Despite the fatal crash the aircraft’s flaws were addressed and production of the XF-89 was greenlit in January 1949, with a contract for 48 F-89s, worth just over $39 million, awarded in May 1949.
The F-89’s armament varied considerably during its service life. Originally it had been intended for the night fighter to have a turret with four forward-firing cannons and another 2 cannon turret firing aft. This was abandoned and the first F-89As had six forward-firing 20mm cannons and the ability to mount rocket pods carrying 16 5in rockets.
The F-89A was quickly superseded by the B which had the same armaments but improved avionics. The F-89D entered service in October 1954, the D abandoned the cannons and instead had two rocket pods mounting a total of 104 smaller 2.75in ‘Mighty Mouse’ Mk 4/Mk 40 Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets.
Entering service in 1956 the F-89H was equipped with large wingtip pods that could externally carry three GAR-1/2 Falcon missiles each with 21 Mighty Mouse rockets internally. Delays refining the Hughes E-9 fire-control system meant that by the time the H entered service it was outclassed by newer, faster supersonic fighters like the F-100 Super Sabre, F-101 Voodoo and interceptors like the F-102 Delta Dagger and the F-104 Starfighter.
The F-89J, introduced in 1957, refitted the F-89D with underwing hardpoints for two MB-1 Genie nuclear armed rockets and four Falcon missiles. The J could also carry either the standard F-89D rocket/fuel pod or pure fuel tanks. 350 Js were converted from F-89Ds.
An F-89J has the distinction of being the only aircraft to fire a live MB-1 Genie during Operation Plumbbob (nuclear weapons tests) in July 1957. 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 USAF began to retire the F-89H in 1959 as more supersonic interceptors entered service and the refitted Js also began to be replaced the same year but remained in Air National Guard service for another decade.
The F-89 is definitely a striking aircraft and a substantial number were built, 1,050 in total but they remain one of the lesser known early Cold War jet fighters. The F-89 featured in our video is an H and is on display at the Hill Aerospace Museum.
The need for a lightweight self-propelled anti-tank gun was identified in the late 1940s. The T101 development program took just over 5 years and $2.5 million dollars to develop what became the M56.
The M56 was intended to act as an airmobile support weapon for the US Army’s airborne forces that was capable of traversing muddy, marshy, sandy and snowy terrain. Airborne infantry have historically been lightly armed and sometimes struggled against enemy forces equipped with armour. Attempts to level the playing field with glider transported anti-tank guns or even super light tanks could only do so much. Airborne operations during world war two proved light tanks, like the M22 Locust, were out-gunned, under-armoured and largely useless. While light artillery proved effective it lacked mobility and while infantry anti-tank weapons like the Bazooka were extremely useful they were close quarter weapons.
In response the US Army decided to abandon one of the points of the classic ‘iron triangle’ of armoured vehicle design all together, sacrificing protection for firepower and mobility. The unarmoured 16,000 lb (7 tonne) vehicle could be dropped from a transport plane to support paratroops and later heliborne air cav units.
The M56 was developed and manufactured by the Cadillac Motor Car Division of General Motors, a pilot version was completed by 1955. The pilot model, designated the Full-Tracked Self-Proppelled Gun T101 is seen in this photograph from October 1955. When the vehicle finally entered production in 1957 it was largely identical to the T101 except for changes to the location of the radio, the design of the gun’s muzzle device, the hinged flaps on the gun shield were abandoned and the sand skirts were also abandoned. The Scorpion had no secondary armament and no armour. Protection for its 4-man crew amounted to nothing more than a gun shield, which also has a window for the driver.
The 90mm M54 high velocity gun was mounted on a pintle in the centre of the vehicle with the driver on the left and the vehicle commander, loader and gunner sat around the gun. The gun could be traversed 30-degrees left and right and had 10-degrees depression and up to 15-degrees elevation. At the rear of the vehicle was an ammunition store that held 29 90mm rounds. The main ammunition used with the M54 would have been the M318 armour piercing round but it could chamber any of the other 90mm ammunition then in US service. Sadly the ammunition store and breech of the gun aren’t present on this example.
The gun’s impressive recoil, even with a pair of recuperators, hit the Scorpion and the crew manning it hard, the footage shows just how powerful the recoil was. In this contemporary footage we can see that the front wheel almost bounces off the ground. Note also the semi-automatic action that opens the breech and ejects the spent shell casing after the gun is fired.
The vehicle was powered by an air-cooled petrol engine that produced 200hp. Capable of a maximum speed of just over 28mph.
Perhaps its most interesting feature is that it runs on four pneumatic road tyres, rather than metal road wheels, enclosed in a 20in wide track. The track was made up of two bands of rubber and steel cross pieces. There’s a sprocket at the front and an idler at the rear for tensioning the track. This configuration was chosen to reduce weight and it also minimised the ground pressure of the vehicle.
Production of the M56 ended in 1959, after around 325 had been produced. While most of these entered US service, 87 were purchased by Morocco in 1966 while a further 5 were used by the Spanish Marine Corps.
While the M56 was slightly more mobile across country, in reality it wasn’t much better than a standard jeep equipped with a M40 recoilless rifle. Despite the Scorpion’s shortcomings it remained in service into the early 1970s and saw action during the Vietnam War with the 173 Airborne Brigade, which had a company of 16 M56s. In Vietnam the more capable and better protected M551 Sheridan saw wider use and what action the Scorpions did see was largely acting in direct fire support.
Special thanks to Battlefield Vegas for allowing us to film and feature their M56.
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
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.