Ford M1918 Light Tank- America’s First Tank

When the US entered World War One in April 1917, the US Army had no experience with tanks. American observers in France had reported on the early Allied uses of tanks at the Somme and American enthusiasm for the new machines was lacking in many of the Army’s upper echelons.

This began to change after the arrival of General Pershing and his staff in France, ahead of the American Expeditionary Force. Pershing directed that a Tank Corps be raised and detailed a number of officers, including the enterprising young officer, Captain George S. Patton, to establish a training ground and report on how best to deploy tanks.
Patton was instrumental in shaping the US Army’s early tank doctrine, he wrote a highly detailed report on how to deploy tanks to maximum effect. Patton, a cavalry officer by training, admired the French Renault FT’s speed, mobility and manoeuvrability but felt the two doctrines of French light and British Heavy tanks could be combined. In December 1917, Colonel Samuel Rockenbach was placed in command of the new, but still tank-less, US Tank Corps.

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A Ford Model 1918 Light Tank, weighing 3 tons it was armed with a single .30 calibre machine gun (US National Archive)

Britain and France shared their tank designs with the US but in early 1918, the American automobile giant, Ford, began work on an American light tank. The result was a light and mobile tank weighing in at 3 US tons (or 2.7 metric tons). Sometimes referred to as the Ford 3-Ton Tank or the Ford Model 1918. Ford hoped to produce the new tank using as many off the shelf components, from their automobile and truck production, as they could. So the new tank was powered by two 4-cylinder Ford Model T engines, in theory developing around 40 horsepower, with a maximum speed of 8 mph and an operational range of just over 30 miles. Taking cues from the French FT, the M1918’s engines, fuel tank and transmission were mounted in a compartment at the rear of the tank.

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An early version of the 3-Ton Ford being assembled in one of Ford’s Detroit workshops (US National Archive)

Contemporary photographs show the prototype during assembly in one of Ford’s Detroit workshops. We’re extremely lucky to have these photos showing the development process, they show that the initial shape and layout changed very little but some important changes were made as the tank was tested. The photographs date to April 1918, suggesting that by late spring the first prototype was assembled.

Like the French FT, the M1918 had a two-man crew but was significantly lighter weighing 4 tons less. The Ford could reach speeds of up to 8 mph while the slower FT could achieve around 5 mph. The Ford M1918 was 14 feet (or 4.3m) long, making it slightly shorter than the FT. The Ford’s armour was much thinner than its French counterpart, while this helped with weight, it would have left the crew vulnerable. It had just 7 to 13mm of armour compared to the FT’s 8 to 22mm. The tank’s tracks were also extremely narrow, and while the tank was light, this could have conceivably led to issues with getting bogged down in thick mud. Some of the contemporary footage of the prototype shows it with wider, more practical looking, tracks but the later pre-production models seem to have reverted to the narrower tracks.

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The M1918 was powered by a pair of 4-cylinder Model T engines (US National Archive)

The earlier prototype Ford tank did not have a gun fitted and the front doors for both driver and gunner were hinged at the sides, rather than at the top. Some of the contemporary footage shows the gun-less prototype becoming trapped nose-up, at an almost 90-degree angle, after trying to cross a relatively narrow trench. To prevent this we see that the later tanks were subsequently fitted with a ‘trench tail’.

In terms of armament, the Ford was also limited with a single .30 calibre machine gun, mounted on the right side of the hull in an armoured casement. The casement doesn’t appear to have a prominent sight aperture or vision slit for the driver so how the gun was aimed is unclear. The gun also appears to have a very limited firing arc compared to the FT’s turret mounted gun, which could rotate a full 360 degrees. It is unclear exactly what sort of gun was going to be mounted in the tank although an Hotchkiss M1909 Benét–Mercié (also used in British tanks) may have been an option. Another more likely option would have been the specially-developed M1919 air-cooled Browning Machine Gun, which had been specially developed for tank mounting. Judging from the size of the armoured housing for the gun, however, it may have been intended to mount the M1918 Marlin Tank Machine Gun, which had large aluminium cooling fins.

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If we look closely we can see that the gunners hatch appears to be hinged, suggesting it can be opened too. Just to the right of the gun there is a round hole in the armour with what appears to be a starting handle sticking out of it (US National Archive)

The Ford had a two-man crew with the driver on the left and a gunner on the right. The driver also had a cupola, with vision slits, on the roof of the tank which allowed him to drive when the hatch was closed. But this must have been difficult to see out of unless the driver changed his driving position.

The tank had an exposed front axle connecting its large front track idlers, this would have been susceptible to damage from enemy fire and from hitting obstacles. At the rear is the drive sprocket and along the body of the tank are two sets of three suspension wheels with two track support rollers above. Note that the support rollers are mounted on a truck leaf spring, another example of off-the-shelf parts being utilised. This represents a change from the single support roller seen in the earlier prototype

The later footage shows as many as half a dozen pre-production tanks on the move during a demonstration at Ford’s plant in Detroit. We get a good feel for how fast and manoeuvrable the Ford tanks were. But they also struggle to navigate some of the more difficult terrain and don’t appear to have the power or traction to tackle some of the steeper hills or ditches. The tanks much have been difficult to steer, likely using a pair of clutch levers to control the tracks on either side. Two tanks even collide with each other and there’s a couple of other near misses as the Ford’s navigate around the test area. One tank becomes stuck requiring two others to pull it clear of the bank.

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Six pre-production Ford M1918s lined up before a demonstration (US National Archive)

The War Department was eager to get tanks into production ordering 15,000 M1918s from Ford, with 500 to be delivered in January 1919 with production continuing at 100 per day after that. An initial batch of 15 were ordered for testing. At least one of these was sent to France for evaluation. The French were unimpressed finding it inferior to the FT, they did consider it as an artillery tractor for the French 75. The US also considered the Ford for this role and some photograph captions from early 1919, of Battery A, 140th Field Artillery, describes it as a ‘3-ton tractor’ for pulling “the new American 75mm split trail gun”, the M1916. These photographs also prove that more than one M1918 reached France.

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Ford M1918s in use as a ‘3-ton tractor’ for pulling the M1916 75mm gun, taken at the Artillery Training School in Le Valdahon, in 1919 (US National Archives)

The war ended before large scale production of the M1918 could begin, With just 15 M1918s built we’re lucky to have this much film of it in action. Today only two of the Ford light tanks survive in US Army collections.

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A post-war development of the Ford, note the slightly different gun mount, now in a ball mount with a prominent aiming aperture, this photograph was tank in early 1919 – gun type unknown (US National Archives)

In reality the M1918 was more a Machine Gun Carrier than a tank. How effective it might have been is a matter of speculation. It’s difficult to say, while the French may not have felt it was an improvement over the FT, it certainly showed enough merit for the War Department to make a large order. Its narrow tracks, lack of protection and minimal armament may have proved to be problems. The M1918’s real legacy is that it while the US had built other tanks during the war, including the M1917, a copy of the FT, and the MKVIII heavy tank, in collaboration with the British, the M1918 Ford was the first truly American designed and built tank.


Specifications:

Length: 14 feet / 4.3 metres
Height: 5.9 feet / 1.8 metres
Width: 5.9 feet /1.8 metres
Weight: 3 US tons / 2.7 metric tons
Powerplant: 2 Ford Model T 4-cylinder engines producing ~40HP
Speed: 8mph
Armour: 7 – 13mm
Armament: .30 calibre machine gun, likely M1918 Marlin Tank Machine Gun or M1919 Browning Tank Machine Gun


Bibliography:

Primary Sources: 

All photographs and footage was sourced from the US National Archives.

Contemporary Footage:

https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7419799
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7419811
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7419095
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7419804
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7419628
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7419174
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/89506
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/24823
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/24615

Contemporary Photographs:

https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45506351
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508549
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508547
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508551
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508430
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508545
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508428
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508446
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508462
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508450
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508448
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45508444

Secondary Sources:

The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Military Vehicles, I.V. Hogg & J. Weeks (1980)
The Complete Guide to Tanks & Armoured Fighting Vehicles, G. Forty & J. Livesey, (2012)
The Machine Gun: History, Evolution, and Development of Manual, Automatic, and
Airborne Repeating Weapons, G.M Chinn (1951)

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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Heckler & Koch HK33

Heckler & Koch’s first 5.56×45 rifle, the HK33, was introduced in the late 1960s as a response to the emergence of the new 5.56x45mm round and the introduction of the FN CAL. The HK33 is little more than a scaled down version of HK’s successful 7.62×51 G3. Developed by Tilo Möller, the HK33 used the same roller delayed blowback action and shares most of the G3’s features.

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Left & right views of the HK33 (Matthew Moss)

It has a stamped receiver and uses the same plastic furniture and pistol grip/trigger mechanism housing as the G3. The rifle is 39 inches or 92cm long and is by no means a light weapon, weighing around 4kg or 8.7 lbs. The HK33 feeds from 25, 30 or 40 round proprietary HK magazines.

The rifle came in main two main variants a full length version with a fixed stock, which could be fitted with a collapsing stock, and a shortened K-variant with a shorter barrel. The weapon came with either a safe, semi and full auto or safe, semi, 3-round burst fire control mechanism.

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HK factory brochure showing the variants of the HK33 (Heckler & Koch)

The HK33 was not adopted by the West German Army, however, it did see extensive use with Germany’s federal state and police forces and the Bundeswehr special forces. While it wasn’t adopted at home it was a successful export weapon with dozens of countries purchasing and adopting the rifle. France tested the improved HK33F in the Army 1970s and although it performed well the FAMAS was adopted instead. A production license was sold to Thailand who adopted the HK33, purchasing 40,000 rifles and the license to manufacture 30,000 more. Thailand also developed their own unique bull pup version of the rifle, the Type 11.

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HK33 field stripped (Matthew Moss)

Malaysia also purchased 55,000 HK33s and the Spanish Guardia Civil used them for a time. The manufacturing rights for the HK33 were also sold to Portugal for production at Fabrica Militar de Prata and to Turkey where it remains in production at MKEK.

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A comparison of the HK33’s bolt with the later HK G41 (Matthew Moss)

HK produced the HK33 from 1968 through to the late 1980s. It also provided the basis for the HK53 5.56 ‘submachine gun’ which we have covered previously. It was also the basis of the less successful G41, which we’ve also covered in a full length episode, you can find this here. The similarities with the HK33 are easy to see but the G41 has a number of subtle changes.

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Specifications (from 1985 factory brochure):

Overall Length (with fixed stock): 36in /92cm
Barrel Length: 15.7in / 40cm
Weight: 8.7lbs / 4kg
Action: Roller-delayed blowback
Capacity: 25, 30 or 40-round box magazine
Calibre: 5.56x45mm


Bibliography:

Full Circle: A Treatise on Roller Locking, R. Blake Stevens (2006)

HK33 Factory Brochure, c.1966 (source)

HK33E Factory Brochure, c.1985 (source)

TAB Update & New Patreon Perks!


Hi guys

I’m very pleased to announce that we now have some ‘Thank You’ perks for everyone that supports TAB on Patreon!

All Patrons will continue to get access to our regular sneak peek and behind the scenes blogs about what we’re working on and what’s coming up and in addition:
$1 Patrons will get a thank you postcard featuring some very cool, specially commissioned art – an illustration of the inner working of the Heckler & Koch G11!

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$5 & up Patrons will receive the G11 postcard AND a 2×6″ (5cm x 15cm) The Armourer’s Bench logo sticker!
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We’re really excited to be able to offer tangible perks to say thank you for your support. In order to cover postage costs we’ll send off the perks once you’ve been a supporter for a month – this is purely to cover the postage costs (for instance it’s just over £1.20/$1.60 to post a postcard to the US from the UK) to where ever you are around the world!

If you’d like to become a Patron and support TAB, check out our Patreon page for full details here.

TAB is an entirely viewer supported project so we can’t tell you how excited we are to finally have a way to thank you for going that extra step and supporting our efforts with your own hard earned money. Thank you to all our existing Patrons (who will of course be able to get their hands on the new Perks right away) and thank you for reading this and considering becoming a TAB Patron.

Thanks,
Matt & Vic

WW1 2-Inch Trench Mortar

The British Army entered the First World War with very few mortars, and certainly none at the battalion level. As the stalemate of trench warfare set in and the effectiveness of enemy mortars became clear it was decided that trench mortars of various sizes would be needed.

Nicknamed ‘plum pudding’ or ‘toffee apple’ mortars after their projectile’s characteristic shape, the 2 inch Medium Mortar or 2 inch Trench Howitzer, was one of Britain’s first effective light trench mortars to be introduced.

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Right-side view of the 2in Trench Mortar (Matthew Moss)

Trench mortars were the army’s most forward artillery, right up on the front line. These short range weapons were able to throw large, high explosive projectiles, short distances across No Man’s Land at the enemy trench system opposite. The 2 inch mortar was considered accurate out to 350 yards with a maximum effective range out to just under 600 yards.

Introduced in 1915, the 2 inch mortar was originally crewed by men taken from the battalion it was stationed with, along with some specialists from the Royal Artillery. However, with the introduction of the 3 inch Stokes mortar which was operated by the infantry themselves the 2 inch mortars became the sole responsibility of the Royal Field Artillery.

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A young gunner loads a 2in spigot mortar bomb into his mortar (Imperial War Museum)

Mortar positions were often in secondary trenches just behind the infantry’s frontline. This was to help protect the infantry from potential counter-battery fire. The trench mortars were often deployed to sectors to provide counter battery fire against German minenwerfers or in the run up to an offensive or local action. A British Army report on artillery use, drawn up in February 1917, noted that “Owing to their liability to be destroyed by hostile artillery fire it may often be advisable to defer opening fire with these mortars till the last day of bombardment.” The mortars were also tasked with keeping gaps made in the wire clear and with supporting any feint attacks made by infantry during gaps in the bombardment running up to a larger offensive.

Llewelyn Wyn Griffith, a captain with the 15th Royal Welch Fusiliers and later a novelist, recalled in his war memoir:

“At night a trench mortar officer set his guns in a derelict trench about twenty yards behind the line and carried up his ammunition, heavy globes of iron with a little cylindrical projection like a broken handle. In the morning I moved the men from the bays between the trench mortars and their target, to lighten the risk of loss from retaliatory fire.”

Sometimes the width of No Man’s Land required saps to be cut extending out from the frontline so the mortar rounds didn’t fall short. The 50 lb lollipop-like projectile had a maximum effective range of 570 yards (depending on the size of cordite charge used), and could create a crater 5 feet deep and 14 feet wide. The ideal mortar position was a 6 feet wide by 9 feet deep sandbagged pit with the weapon’s heavy wooden bed at the bottom and room for the crew to load the mortar.

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A British 2in Mortar position in Mesopotamia, note the ignitor’s breech is open (Imperial War Museum)

Crews could manage to fire approximately once every two minutes. Much slower than the lighter 3 inch Stokes Mortar and but faster than the heavy 9.45 inch Heavy Mortar. The mortar comprising of just its tube, bed, stand and ignition system weighed 320 lbs (145kg), not including the accompanying tools and the Temple silencer system which could be fitted (which weighed 47 lbs or 21 kg alone).

Typically manned by a 5 man mortar crew comprising of an NCO, gunners, and ammunition bearers. To operate the 2 inch mortar a cordite charge was first placed down the tube, the projectile’s shaft was then inserted on top of the charge, the projectile’s fuse was set and checked and a new blank cartridge chambered in the ignition system. The crew then got clear of the weapon and pulled the lanyard to fire the mortar. To reload the crew ran a clearing stick down the tube and then repeated the loading process.

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The business end, a view down the length of the mortar (Matthew Moss)

Interestingly, the 2 inch Medium Mortar, like the larger 9.45 inch Heavy Mortar used a cut-down rifle, which screwed into the ‘breech’ end of the mortar tube. This particular mortar has an 1894-dated cut down Lee-Enfield MkI as its ignition system, the cutdown rifle has a wooden insert in its magazine well but it still has its rear volley sight attached. This reusable system replaced the T-tube Friction ignitor, which was in high demand by Britain’s bigger guns. The Lee-Enfield-based system enabled the cordite propellant charges to be ignited by a blank .303 round instead. The rifle’s trigger was pulled with a lanyard from nearby cover. These cutdown ignitor rifle are sometimes confused for Obrez-style Lee-Enfields.

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A close up look at the 2in Mortar’s SMLE ignitor (Matthew Moss)

The weight of the cordite charge used dictated the range while a variety of different fuses were used with the projectiles, these screwed into the nose of the bomb. The sphere was about 9.3 inches in diameter with a 2 inch thread for the fuse at its head and a cup for the 22 inch long, 2 inch thick solid cast iron stick or spigot at its base. The sphere was filled with high explosive (Amatol or Ammonal). The high explosive bombs were painted white with a green or pink stripe around their middle.

They were often deployed in batteries of four with three Royal Field Artillery medium mortar batteries attached to each division. The mortars were predominantly tasked with cutting enemy barbed wire and destroying enemy trenches and forward positions, such a machine gun nests.

Royal Army Ordnance Corps playing cards 1916
Men of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps playing cards on a dump of trench mortar ammunition during Battle of the Somme (Imperial War Museum)

Captain Griffith described a battery of 2 inch mortars opening fire on enemy lines:

“A pop, and then a black ball went soaring up, spinning round as it went through the air slowly; more pops and more queer birds against the sky. A stutter of terrific detonations seems to shake the air and the ground, sandbags and bits of timber sailed up slowly and then fell in a calm deliberate way. In the silence that followed the explosions, an angry voice called out in English across No Man’s Land, ‘YOU BLOODY WELSH MURDERERS.’

The 2 inch medium mortar entered service in spring 1915 and remained in use into 1917 with British and Empire troops. It was used on the Western Front and in Mesopotamia. Over 800 were ordered initially with 675,000 bombs, many of the mortars were made in railway and agricultural machinery workshops, allowing larger factories to focus on more complex weapons. The 2 inch mortar was superseded by the larger bore Newton 6 inch mortar later in the war. Some of the remaining 2 inch projectiles were re-purposed as makeshift anti-tank mines, buried in no man’s land in anticipation of possible German tank attacks.

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Specifications:

Barrel Length: 3 feet (90cm)
Overall Weight: ~340lbs (154kg)
Projectile Types: High explosive & smoke
Projectile Weight: 51lbs (23kg)
Effective Range: 100-570 yards (90-520m)


Bibliography:

Primary Sources:

Field Artillery Notes No.7, US Army War College, (1917) (source)

‘Artillery in Offensive Operations’ GHQ Artillery Notes No. 4 January/February 1917 (source)

‘History of the Ministry of Munitions’, Volume XI, Part I Trench Warfare Supplies (1922)

Up to Mametz, L.W. Griffith,  (1931)

Newsreels:

The Battle of the Somme, 1916, Imperial War Museum (source)

With the Forces in Mesopotamia, 1917, Imperial War Museum (source)

Secondary Sources:

British Artillery 1914-1919. Field Army Artillery, D. Clarke, (2004)

Tommy, R. Holmes, (2004)

The 2 Pounder Anti-Tank Gun

The interwar period saw many countries under invest in their militaries, Britain was no exception. One area of equipment that went lacking for many years was adequate anti-tank weaponry. This was finally addressed in the mid-1930s with the Superintendent of Design at Woolwich arsenal developing the 2pdr anti-tank gun, which adopted in 1936.

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Prime Minister Winston Churchill watches a demonstration of a 2pdr AT gun (Imperial War Museum)

Officially designated the ‘Ordnance QF 2-pounder Mark IX’, the 2pdr was an attempt to provide a light and mobile high velocity anti-tank gun which was relatively cheap to produce and effective against contemporary tank armour. It was also intended that the gun would itself be mounted in armoured vehicles and tanks.

In 1934 development contracts were awarded to Woolwich and the Vickers-Armstrong company for the design of carriages for the new gun, the Vickers Mark I and the Mark II from Woolwich. The Mark I had a slightly different armour shield and leg design.

These two carriages were tested against one another with trials taking place from November 1935 through to the summer of 1936. The Vickers design initially won out and the first order for 44 guns was placed in 1936. A subsequent re-evaluation of an improved version of the Woolwich carriage found it superior and the Mark II carriage was adopted.

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The business end, note the 2pdr’s tall armour shield to protect the crew (Matthew Moss)

The 2pdr fired a 40×304mmR armour piercing round which weighed 2lbs 6oz or 900g and was effective out to 1,000 yards against up to 1.5 inches of armour. It had a four man crew and was capable of firing up to 20 rounds per minute. It had an all steel barrel with a removeable breech ring and a vertically sliding breech block. The gun had an innovative and very stable three-legged collapsible platform, rather than a split-trail carriage, that also allowed the gun to be rotate through 360 degrees when its road wheels were removed. The 2pdr had a semi-automatic action with a hydraulic/hydrospring recoil system which used hydraulic fluid to absorb the gun’s recoil. This allowed the gun to be rapidly aimed and fired despite recoiling approximately 20 inches (or ~50cm).

A number of variants of the gun were developed during the war, with the original Mark IX, a simplified production model the Mark IXA, the Mark X which had a barrel made of higher-yield steel which was not autofrettaged – making it easier to manufacture and the Mark XA which was produced to lower tolerances and able to use the Littlejohn adapter.

Here’s a Royal Army Ordnance Corps training film on the 2pdr (courtesy of the AWM) in full:

Weighing around 1,800lbs or 816kg (or 4/5 of an Imperial Ton) the 2pdr was deemed to be too heavy for the infantry it had been designed for and in 1938 it was transferred to the Royal Artillery. Typically the guns were grouped together in anti-tank battalions each with three batteries made up of four troops which operated four guns each. That’s 16 guns per battery and 48 guns per battalion. Typically a battalion would be assigned to support a division. They were designed to be towed by a variety of vehicles with trucks, jeeps and Universal Carriers often being used.

The 2pdr was typically equipped with a No.24B 2x sighting telescope, located on the left side of the gun. It also had an iron sight but the armoured shield had to be lowered to use it. On the right side of the breech an ammunition box, holding 16 rounds was be stored for easy access, another two boxes holding 8 rounds each could be strapped to the carriage behind the ammunition box (described as the emergency ammunition box). The rest of the ammunition in twelve more 8-round containers, giving a total of 96 rounds assigned to each gun, was carried on the truck which towed the gun.

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A view of the gun from behind its shield, on the left the gunners sear, the aiming scope, traverse and elevation controls and on the right the space for the ammunition boxes (Matthew Moss)

The gunlayer sat in a small seat mounted to the carriage and the loader knelt to the right of the breech. The gun was turned by a small traversing wheel operated by the gunlayer. In low gear one rotation of the wheel would turn the gun 3 degrees, in the higher gear (activated by the right foot pedal) one rotation traversed the gun 20 degrees. This meant the gun could be traversed the full 360 degrees with 18 rotations of the wheel. The right hand wheel controlled elevation of the barrel. The gun was fired by the gunlayer using the left foot pedal or two emergency firing levers if the pedal became inoperable. While the breech would typically open automatically ejecting the spent shell casing after firing a breech handle was also located on the right side of the breech.

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The 2pdr’s foot pedals: traverse gear on the right, fire pedal on the left (Matthew Moss)

The gun could be brought in and out of action in under a minute, including removing or replacing the road wheels. The 2pdr could, however, be fired from its road wheels, this was described as ‘emergency action’. The wheels limited the traversing arc of the gun and turns greater than 14 degrees right or 10 degrees left had to be done by lifting the gun’s trail and turning it manually. While less stable and accurate the gun could be brought into action from being towed in less than 20 seconds.

In 1939, the British Expeditionary Force to France embarked with 509 2pdrs. During the 1940 Battle for France the 2pdr was found to be an adequate anti-tank gun. One problem identified with the 2pdr was that its armour shield, designed to protect the crew, gave it a quite high profile making it easier to spot and more difficult to conceal.

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A view of the breech and down the barrel of a 2pdr (Matthew Moss)

During the retreat to Dunkirk and subsequent evacuation all of the guns brought to France were lost. 60% of Britain’s 2pdr Anti-Tank guns were left behind in France, just 333 guns which hadn’t accompanied the BEF remained. Many of the guns captured after the Dunkirk evacuations entered German service under the designation 4.0cm Pak 192(e).

As the thickness of enemy armour increased the 2pdr began to struggle. The German Panzer II had 1.2 inch thick frontal armour while the Panzer III more than doubled this to 2.8 inches. On paper at least the 2pdr, firing a APHV round, could penetrate up to 2.2 inches of armour at 500 yards (460m). But in reality the Panzer III was the last German tank the 2pdr could expect to engage with a decent chance of success. With the emergence of the later mark Panzer IV, with their 50mm or 2 inch thick frontal armour, they became much less effective. If not adequately concealed gun crews could expect to be engaged by AP and high explosive rounds from the Panzers at ranges outside their effective engagement range.

Despite this, however, the 2pdr proved to be a more than a match for Japanese tanks such as the Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks, which had armour less than an inch thick. At the Battle of Muar in Malaya, in January 1942, Australian 2pdrs, of the 13th Battery, 4th Anti-Tank Regiment, knocked out six, of possibly eight or nine, Japanese tanks as they attacked up a road near Bakri. Sgt. Charles Parsons, commander of one of the guns was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). Interestingly. the Australians referred to the QF 2pdr AT Gun as the “Tank Attack 2pdr” apparently a designation common to Australian anti-tank weapons as they also called the PIAT the Projector, Infantry, Tank Attack.

The 2pdr remained capable of destroying heavier Japanese tanks too, the Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tank had at 1 inch thick front armour which the 2pdr could easily penetrate at ranges of over 1,500 yards.

Knocked-out Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go tanks at a roadblock across the Muar - Parit Sulong road jan 42 - iwm

Photograph of knocked out Japanese Type 95 tanks during the Battle of Muar (Imperial War Museum)

Lieutenant Ben Hackney of the Australian 2/29th Battalion described the engagement during the Battle of Muar:

“A couple [of tanks] attempted to turn and make a get-away but still those boys with the anti-tank guns were sending a stream of shells into them. At last they could not move forward any further and became as pill-boxes surrounded, sending fire in all directions; until one by one they were smashed, set on fire, and rendered useless and uninhabitable. There came then from the tanks sounds which resembled an Empire Day celebration as the ammunition within them burnt, and cracked with sharp bursts, and hissed, with every now and again a louder explosion as larger ammunition ignited.”

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Loading a Valentine tank’s 2pdr (Imperial War Museum)

In addition to being used as a towed anti-tank gun the QF 2pdr was used in a wide range of light and cruiser tanks, it provided the main armament for the Matilda II, the MKVII Tetrach light tank, the first six Marks of the Valentine infantry tank, the MKI & MKII Crusaders, the Cruiser Marks I to IV, the Covenanter tanks and it was also used in the Australian cruiser tank, the AC1 Sentinel.

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MKI AEC Armoured Car equipped with a 2pdr (Imperial War Museum)

It was also widely used to arm armoured cars including the Daimler, the MKI AEC, the MKI Coventry and the Marmon-Herrington Armoured Car. In the desert it was also mounted and operated simply on the back of adapted trucks – known as Portees. Trucks built by Chevrolet, Ford or Morris were all pressed into service to create Portees. The 2pdr was deployed on its tripod on the truck bed with its wheels removed. In this setup the guns became highly mobile with the crew able to operate the gun from the truck moving in and out of action rapidly. They were widely used in North Africa with a number of medals including a Victoria Cross being awarded to men who manned them.

Second Lieutenant George Ward Gunn, J Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his actions in November 1941 during Operation Crusader. Gunn commanded a troop of four Portee 2pdrs which engaged a German counter attach, with all but one of his guns knocked out and the remaining gun’s crew killed and the truck on fire, Lieutenant Gunn manned the gun himself, engaging the enemy at 800 yards, he managed to destroy two Panzers before he was killed.

Lorry-mounted 2-pdr anti-tank guns on a practice shoot in the Western Desert, 3 May 1942 - iwm E 11223

Battery of 2pdr Portees training in North Africa (Imperial War Museum)

The example we are examining began its life as a Mark IX but was subsequently upgraded into a Mk XA, capable of using a Littlejohn adaptor. The Littlejohn adapter used the squeezebore principle, the device was about a footlong with a smooth tapered bore. With the adaptor fitted to the muzzle of the 2pdr the round would be compressed by the taper going from 40mm to 30mm in diameter. This had the effect of increasing muzzle velocity giving the round a flatter trajectory and more energy. An armour-piercing, composite non-rigid round with a tungsten core was used, designated the APSV (from ‘armour-piercing super velocity’). It had the effect of almost doubling the muzzle velocity of the APSV round when compared to the original 2pdr AP shell. The adaptor was invented by Czech designer, František Janeček, the founder of the JAWA motorcycle company. The Mk I Littlejohn device entered production in January 1943 and the Mk II was approved in May 1944.

Mk VII Tetrarch Mk I with Little John adaptor IWM

Tetrarch Mk I light tank with Littlejohn adaptor (Imperial War Museum)

While design of the 6pdr anti-tank gun, the 2pdr’s replacement, had been completed by 1938, production of the gun did not begin until 1942. Following the huge losses at Dunkirk and with invasion believed to be imminent the decision was taken to focus on the 2pdr gun as its production line was already established. They remained in service throughout the war equipping anti-tank batteries and armoured vehicles. Over 34,000 2pdr anti-tank guns were produced between 1936 and 1944, over 11,000 of these were deployed as anti-tank guns on carriages while the rest were used in various vehicles.

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Specifications:

Overall Length: 135.5in or 343cm

Weight: 1,800lbs or 816kg

Action: Semi-automatic, hydrospring recoil buffer

Calibre: 2pdr or 40×304mmR

Elevation: -13 / +15 degrees

Traverse: 360 degrees

Rate of fire: 20 rounds per minute


Bibliography:

Anti-Tank Weapons, T. Gander, (2000)

British Anti-Tank Artillery 1939-45, C. Henry (2004)

‘British equipment Losses at Dunkirk and the Post-Dunkirk Situation’, WWII Equipment.com, D. Boyd, (source)

2 Pounder Anti-Tank, Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) training film, via AWM, (source)

‘Singapore and Burning Tanks’, via AWM, (source)

Australian Army Second World War Official Histories, via AWM, (source)

Victoria Cross Citation 2nd Lt. G.W. Gunn, The London Gazette, Sup. 354530, 17/04/1942, (source)

Our thanks to the collection at which this video was filmed, we thank them for access to the collection.

Colt CGL-4 (XM148) 40mm Grenade Launcher

Here’s Vic’s video on the XM148, check out Matt’s article below:

There have been attempts to fire grenades from the infantryman’s weapon since the 17th century. Up until the 1960s these almost entirely involved muzzle attachments or grenades which could be fired off the end of a rifle’s barrel. In May 1963, the US military called for a new ‘underslung’ grenade launcher to complement the AR-15/M16, then in early testing. The grenade launcher program had its roots in the ultimately unsuccessful Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW) program which had begun in 1952.

While a series of designs were developed by various manufacturers and designers, May 1964 saw Colt unveil the CGL-4. The Colt was tested against designs from Springfield Armory and Ford, a design from AAI was promising but it was not able to chamber the 40x46mm rounds used by the M79 and was rejected. The US military sought munitions commonality between the M79, already in service, and the new rifle-mounted grenade launcher.

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Left side view of the XM148’s bulky tangent sight (Vic Tuff)

In March 1965, the CGL-4 was chosen for further testing and a contract for 30 launchers was signed. The CGL-4 was reportedly developed by Karl Lewis and Robert E. Roy in just 48 days. However, the design was complex. To load the barrel housing slid forward allowing a grenade to be placed in the breech, the weapon was then cocked and a long trigger, which projected back towards the rifle’s trigger guard, could be pulled to fire the weapon.

CGL4 Patent
Karl Lewis & Robert E. Roy’s patent for the Colt CGL-4 (US Patent Office)

Despite some problems with barrel housings cracking an order for 10,500 of the new launchers, now designated the XM148, was placed in January 1966. Production capacity issues and problems with the launcher’s sight lead to production delays and it wasn’t until December 1966, that the first shipment of 1,764 launchers arrived in Vietnam for field testing.

DCC CGL-4 NO SOUND_Moment6
Right side view of the XM148’s trigger, cocking mechanism and pistol grip (Vic Tuff)

Initial reports from the field were promising with troops praising the “tactical advantage of both the point fire and area fire system” concept. The XM148 was well received by the SEALs and the Australian SAS. The armourers of the Australian SAS, deployed to Vietnam with the 1st Australian Task Force, were also hard at work attaching XM148s to L1A1 rifles. Removing the L1A1′s handguard and attaching the XM148 to the rifle’s barrel.

Field testing was carried out by 12 units from six different divisions which were operating in various parts of Vietnam. This gave a wide variety of terrains and yielded some interesting results. In general it was found that the XM148 decreased rate and quantity of the grenadier’s fire, it slowed his reaction times when firing at a target, it hampered his movement in dense vegetation and also meant the grenadier had to spend longer caring for his weapon.

DCC CGL-4 NO SOUND_Moment4
XM148 with breech open (Vic Tuff)

It was noted that the sight mount which was overly complex and prone to snagging on brush and kit, it was also felt that too much force was needed to cock the XM148 (around 30 lbs) and the trigger mechanism was felt to be overly complex and difficult to repair and disassemble. One safety concern was the XM148′s long trigger bar, which could snag and launch a round – not ideal for special forces patrols infiltrating through thick bush. Problems with the launcher’s quadrant sights also continued causing deflection errors out at longer ranges. The bulkiness of the sights exasperated these problems as when they were knocked the XM148′s zero could be effected. The XM148 also precluded the use of a bayonet as when fired it would blow the bayonet off the muzzle. Overall, troops felt the XM148 was too fragile and complex for use in the field.

XM148 in vietnam
SP4 Willey firing an M16A1 mounted with a Colt XM148 c. 1967 (US National Archives)

At least one unit found use for the launchers, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)’s Operational Report for Quarterly Period Ending 31 October 1967, noted that the XM148

“proved unsatisfactory in infantry units due to its lack of durability; consequently, USARV directed that they be turned in. However, 1/9 Cav has devised a method of mounting the launcher coaxially on the M60C machine gun used by scout observers on OH-13 scout helicopters. Durability in this environment is
not a problem since the weapon deos not receive the rough handling it did in the hands of ground troops. Firepower on scout helicopters is significantly increased. Fifty-two XM148s have been retained for use by 1/9 CAV.”

Finally, despite Colt’s efforts to rectify the growing list of problems the Army Concept Team In Vietnam deemed the XM148 unsatisfactory for deployment in Vietnam and recommended they be removed from service and a new improved launcher be developed. This was a massive blow to Colt who had already manufactured 27,400 XM148s. Many of these were already in Vietnam.

The US Army launched the Grenade Launcher Attachment Development (GLAD) program in the summer of 1967. A large number of manufacturers submitted designs including Colt, who offered the improved Henry Into-designed CGL-5. The Army turned down Colt’s offer of 20 free improved launchers and rejected the CGL-5 outright. The GLAD program saw the resurgence of the earlier AAI design, designated the XM203, this simple design, now chambering the 40x46mm shell, was eventually selected in August 1968. Ironically, as AAI was predominantly a research and development company and after an initial run of 10,000 made by AAI, Colt was subsequently awarded the contract to manufacture the M203 from 1971 onwards.

CGL-5
Harold Into’s patent for the product improved CGL-5 (US Patent Office)

While the XM148 proved to be a failure it played an important role in proving the operational viability of the rifle mounted grenade launcher system. The muzzle-launched rifle grenade is all but obsolete, superseded by the under-slung grenade launcher.

If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here.


Specifications:

Length: 16.5 inches
Weight: ~3lbs
Calibre: 40x46mm
Action: single shot, striker-fired single action
Capacity: 1
Rate of Fire: ~4 rpm


Bibliography

Images: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Black Rifle, E.C. Ezell & R. Blake Stevens, (1987)

Colt Industries Newsletter, Vol.2 no.3, May 1967, (source)

‘Grenade launcher having a rotatable forwardly sliding barrel and removable firing mechanism’, US Patent #3507067, H.A. Into, 14/12/67 (source)

Operational Report for Quarterly Period Ending 31 October 1967, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), (source)

‘Grenade launcher’, US Patent #3279114, K. Lewis & R. Roy, 25/09/64 (source)

Springfield Armory Database entries: 1 2 3

40mm Shoulder-Fired Grenade Launchers & the SEALS, Small Arms Review, K. Dockery, (source)

The XM148: Birth of the Mounted 40mm Grenade Launcher, Small Arms Review, J. Wong, (source)

My thanks to Daniel Watters for information on AAI & Colt M203 production contracts.