Royal Navy Beachhead Commando Reenactors

A few weeks ago at the We Have Ways podcast’s history festival (WarFest) I had a chance to chat with the chaps from the Royal Navy Beachhead Commando Reenactors, a group portraying a unique Second World War British Commando unit. And I got to have a paddle in a Mk1** canoe!

The Royal Navy Commandos were tasked with reconiotring the beaches before landings and once the landing began they were first onto the beach. The Royal Navy Commando beachhead parties and beachmasters would then direct the landing of troops and materials.

Below are a few photos from the groups camp and of the Mk1** Commando canoes used by the SBS and Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPP):

Find out more about the group at www.rnbcr.co.uk


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

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

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

This scene raises a number of questions:

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

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

Can You Easily Single-Load A Bren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rifle No.4(T) at 400 yards

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

Bren MkIII at 400 yards

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

Summary of the data showing individual shooters and averages

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

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

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

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

Why Does the Sniper Do This?

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


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


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A PIAT from Arnhem

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

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

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

A close up of the PIAT (Mattthew Moss)

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

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

Click here for more articles and videos on the PIAT.


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

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

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

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

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

Check out videos on items from our reference collection here.

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

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

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Check out videos on items from our reference collection here.

The Panzerfaust & Panzerschreck In The Rhineland

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of travelling to The Tank Museum in Bovington to film some segments for the new documentary on the Rhineland Campaign – ‘Rhineland 45‘. Not all of the segments I filmed discussing weapons could be included in the finished documentary – I filmed quite a few – so I’m pleased to share a couple here. This one looks at German infantry anti-tank weapons: the Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck. Thanks again to  Realtime History for inviting me to take part, check out the documentary here.

Check out the first video of this series on the use of the PIAT during the Rhineland campaign here.


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British Home Guard Browning M1917 Booklet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out videos on items from our reference collection here.

PIAT During the Rhineland Campaign

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

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

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

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

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


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Northern Ireland Sterling Clone

From the late 1960s into the 1990s, Northern Ireland suffered a long period of sectarian violence, commonly known as The Troubles. Without going into too much detail about the conflict, other sources do a much better job than I can today, the violence saw Irish Republican paramilitary groups, Ulster Loyalist paramilitary groups and British security forces involved in a protracted low-level conflict with a Republican insurgency fighting not just British forces but Loyalist paramilitaries like the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). This article/video has no intention to comment on the conflict itself, merely examine a weapon produced during the period.

This copy or clone of a Sterling Mk4 / L2A3 submachine gun is believed to have been assembled by Loyalist paramilitaries although which group and its origins are unclear. Loyalist groups during the 60s and 70s tended to be less well armed and relied more heavily on improvised small arms and weapons stolen from military and police armouries and personnel than Republican groups. When tensions rose in the late 1960s, the Loyalists were largely equipped with obsolete and outdated weapons.

Right side view of the Sterling clone (Matthew Moss)

Sammy Duddy, a member of an early Loyalist group, the Westland Defence Association, and later a press officer for the Ulster Defence Association, recalled the dire state of their arsenal at that time:

“[…] we had no guns. The IRA had automatics [machine-guns], high-velocity sniper rifles, powerful pistols, the lot, but we had fuck all. There were virtually no guns on the Loyalist side. The only weapons we had were baseball bats and I just thought to myself, ‘what the fuck are we going to do when they [the IRA] come in with their machine-guns? Throw bats at them?’”

The Ulster Volunteer Force (or UVF) took to stealing what weapons and spare parts they could from the British military and Royal Ulster Constabulary. Weapons assembled from damaged captured Sterlings and Sterling spare parts kits became common. In this case, this weapon has a number of cannibalised original Sterling parts which have been paired with a craft-made receiver tube. From examination we can see that the weapon’s end cap has a Sterling part number stamp ‘CR110’ inside. Similarly the weapon has a factory-made plastic grip. Other factory made parts include the helically grooved bolt, the two recoil springs and the charging handle. There is also seemingly a factory-made trigger group and magazine release button. The magazine is well sized and utilises various parts from a Sterling’s magazine release including the button, an set screw and catch piece.

The weapon uses a Sterling’s factory-made pistol grip and trigger mechanism – a remarkably sophisticated craft-made weapon (Matthew Moss)

The trigger assembly housing is welded and ground smooth where it joins with the tube receiver. On factory-made guns there is a visible seam. The poorer quality tube steel of the receiver also appears to have drooped or bent a little around the middle of the weapon. The holes in the barrel shroud are of uniform size but they are roughly drilled and not equally spaced. At the front of the receiver we can see they have retained the barrel with a pair of large bolts, suggesting that the barrel may have been factory made too. There is now end cap catch at the rear nor provision for a folding stock either. While whoever made the receiver tube went to the trouble of added hand stops found on the actual Sterling they are clearly only lightly welded on.

Close up of the weapon’s magazine housing, with salvaged Sterling magazine release button (Matthew Moss)

Another difference is the absence of a bayonet lug on the left side of the barrel shroud, and a much cruder fixed sight sat within a U-shaped piece of metal welded to the tube receiver – to act as a front sight protector. The factory-made Sterling’s front sight is adjustable and the sight protectors are folded forward and aligned across the tube receiver. The rear sight and its protectors appears to have sheared off at some point. The only marking on the weapon, ‘29992’, is crudely electro pencilled on the top of the magazine housing, where you’d normally see markings saying ‘Sterling Mk4’ or ‘L2A3’. When that crude serial number was added is unclear. The black paint on the receiver is wearing thin and we can clearly see some file marks in places.

Hundreds of craft-made submachine guns were built to feed from Sterling and Sten magazines and there are numerous surviving examples of guns made from box tubing – often parts were clandestinely made in Northern Ireland’s factories and at shipyards like Harland & Wolf in Belfast – giving rise to the name ‘shipyard special’. Other nicknames included ‘rattlers’ and table leg guns.

Left side view of the Sterling clone (Matthew Moss)

The origins and story behind this particular weapon remain unknown, it is today part of a UK Ministry of Defence collection and said to have been found in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Regardless it’s a very interesting piece of clandestine engineering which shows considerable skill in its assembly. Which is unsurprising as there are numerous accounts of skilled machinists working on illegal firearms parts during the period.

If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters. You can also support us via one-time donations here. Thank you for your support!


Bibliography:

The Northern Irish troubles | This Week | 1972, Thames TV, (source)

Terminal Effects: The Guns of the Loyalist Paramilitaries, Balaclava Street, (source)

Improvised Weapons of the Irish Underground (Ulster), D. Shea, Small Arms Review, (source)

Beyond State Control: Improvised and Craft-produced Small Arms and Light Weapons, G. Hays and N.R. Jenzen-Jones, Small Arms Survey, (source)

Old Gun Ads: How Did Colt Advertise Its Guns?

In this video we’re taking a look at something very rare, a pre-1911 catalogue produced by Colt. But it isn’t a catalogue to order guns from. Instead, it’s a catalogue to order gun advertisements from! Old firearms ad from this period are fascinating and give us an insight into who markets company’s were aiming their products at.

The catalogue includes illustrations of pistols and entire print ads which could be printed locally. It covers most of the commercial Colt line ranging from Colt Model 1908 Vest Pocket pistols, to Colt Police Positive revolvers and Colt’s military automatic pistols.

New fangled Colt automatics (Matthew Moss)

The catalogue’s introduction explains Colt’s advertising strategy, saying:

“we advertise in the big national mediums to CREATE A DEMAND ON YOU for our arms; these advertisements are read by thousands of perspective customers IN YOUR LOCALITY, therefore YOU can obtain the benefit of SALE by local advertising.” It’s a sound enough strategy.

My favourite ad, featuring Browning’s Colt M1895 machine gun (Matthew Moss)

Only one ad includes a Colt product that isn’t a pistol. The ad above features an illustration which includes John Browning’s first machine gun, the Colt-produced Model 1895. It’s an evocative advert including revolvers, a semi-automatic pistol and the 1895.

Colt Model 1907 Military pistols, the predecessor of the 1911 (Matthew Moss)

One of my favourite parts of the catalogue covers Colt’s burgeoning automatic pistol line. This section actually helps us date the catalogue as there are no 1911s. It includes the Colt 1907 Military, the Colt 1902 Military, the Colt 1903 Pocket Hammer and the Colt 1903/1908 Pocket Hammerless automatic pistols.

Some of the illustrations of Colt’s revolvers available for printing (Matthew Moss)

The catalogue includes printable illustrations of the Colt ‘New Service’, the Colt ‘Army Special’, the Officers Model Target, the Police Positive Special, Police Positive and Police Positive Target. As well as some classics, with a full page of Colt Single Action Army revolvers.

Some cutaway diagrams of the Colt Pocket Hammerless (Matthew Moss)

The Colt advertisement catalogue is now part of our reference collection and we were able to bring this video/article thanks to the support of our Patrons. We have many more videos on important and interesting primary source materials in the works. If you enjoy our work please consider supporting us via Patreon for just a $1. Find out more here.

Check out videos on items from our reference collection here.