US M1917s in British Home Guard Service

The transfer of rifles began in the autumn of 1940, with the training pamphlet ‘The Home Guard .300 Rifle P.17 (American Manufacture)’ published in September by the government. Which began “it now appears that all ‘Home Guards’ will ultimately be equipped with this rifle…”

In May 1941, the Home Guard’s .303 rifles began to be withdrawn and reissued to Regular Army units. These rifles were steadily replaced by American M1917s arriving from US stockpiles. This particular rifle was built by Remington in August 1918.

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M1917, right side (Matthew Moss)

By the spring of 1942, 80,000 M1917s had arrived, the first of 500,000 that were to be transferred. These would go some way to arming the over 1 million Home Guard members who needed weapons.

The Home Guard were stood up in May 1940, initially known as the Local Defence Volunteers, they were a sort of armed citizen militia made up of men ineligible for regular military service. They were formed into local platoons and companies and were initially poorly armed and equipped. But in time became a well-equipped home defence force.

The M1917 has a somewhat complicated origin. The story began with the British Army’s pre-World War One attempts to replace the SMLE. The Pattern 1913 was developed, based on a modified Mauser action and chambered in a new .276 round. Before the P13 could be fully evaluated and adopted – war were declared – and the British government placed contracts with US manufacturers to produce the Pattern 1914, the P13 adapted to chamber the standard .303 round. Due to a lack of parts interchangeability between the P14s which reached Britain it did not see front line service. In 1917 the US entered the war and found themselves in need of rifles quickly. With the production lines for the P14 already in place at Winchester, Remington and Eddystone the decision was made to produce the P14 chambered in .30-06. This was adopted at the Model 1917.

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.303 Pattern 1914 Rifle (Royal Armouries)

The per unit manufacturing cost of the US M1917 rifle in 1917-18 was only $26.00, they almost certainly cost Britain much more to purchase in 1940. Despite the M1917s being more plentiful in 1918, than the M1903 the US Army opted to retain the M1903 as their primary service rifle. As such the rifles sold to Britain had been in storage, often in cosmoline, for two decades and were in good shape.

As the M1917 was chambered in .30-06, or as the British referred to it .300, the rifles were painted with a red band around the wooden forend furniture to prevent the wrong calibre being used. The same measure was taken with the various Browning M1917 medium machine guns and M1918 Automatic Rifles also chambered in the American round. Some rifles also had a .300 stencilled on the butt.

Home Guard riflemen were to be each issued with fifty rounds of .300 ammunition, but in the early stages of the war ammunition was extremely limited. While this hindered familiarisation with the rifle somewhat, it didn’t hinder rifle training completely as many Home Guard units would have practiced with .22 rifles on miniature ranges and with rifles and ammunition provided at Regular Army Ranges. In this clip from some footage of Warwickshire Home Guard men, we see a corporal happily posing with a .22 Martini rifle.

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Home Guard on parade with M1917s (Imperial War Museum)

The M1917 is an excellent rifle and the Home Guard were lucky to have them. While those lucky enough to have received an SMLE may have been disappointed when they were given an American rifle in its place many appreciated the rifle. It was certainly better than the smattering of shotguns, civilian rifles, older service rifles and Canadian Ross rifles some units found themselves armed with during the Home Guard’s early days.

One Home Guard Unit In Denbighshire, Wales was initially issued 100 Canadian Ross rifles between 500 men until, in the spring of 1941, they received M1917s. One rifle for every two men.

Clifford Shore, a member of the Home Guard who later became an officer with RAF Regiment, recalled in his post-war memoir that the M1917s:

“were really splendid weapons; I never came across a bad one. In certain quarters they were not popular, but that can be primarily and summarily dismissed with the one word ‘ignorance’. …The higher velocity .300 cartridge gave slightly improved ballistics than the .303 cartridge in the P14, and I should say that the M17 was probably the most accurate rifle I have ever used.”

The Warwickshire Home Guard In Action

The video features footage of a Warwickshire Home Guard unit. In it we get a rare glimpse at the men at the range with their M1917s. They’re paired up with spotters and instructors and we also get to see the men in the butts running the targets for the shooters. 

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Home Guard at the range (Imperial War Museum)

In another piece of footage of the same Home Guard platoon we see them drilling with their rifles. they’re carrying out muscle exercises. The manual for the ‘.300 Rifle P.17’ lays these out.

The 1st practice trained men how to lift the butt of the rifle into their shoulders and how to level the rifle quickly for aiming. The second was to strength the grip of the hands and the 3rd laid down in the manual trained the soldier to hold the rifle steady while aiming building strength to increase stability.

Examining The M1917

The rifle weighs 9.2lbs (or just under 4.2kg) unloaded, it was 46.25in (117cm) long and had a fixed, internal double stack magazine, which because of the lack of a rim on the .30-06, could hold 6 rounds.

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M1917, left side view, action open (Matthew Moss)

The rifle has a Mauser-style bolt release on the right, pull back on that and slide the bolt out. The rifle has an aperture rear sight, zero’d for 200 yards, with a peep also mounted on a ladder giving graduations out to 1,600 yards.

The bolt of course has the dog-leg handle which was carried over from the P14, which in turn emulated the SMLE’s bolt handle position – falling nicely under the hand.

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Close up of the M1917’s receiver (Matthew Moss)

Unlike the earlier P14, the 1917 dispensed with the volley sights seen on the British rifles. The action is cock on close and the bolt itself is based on the Mauser 1898’s.

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M1917, right side view, action open (Matthew Moss)

This rifle was manufactured by Remington in August 1918. By the end of production Remington along had produced 545,541 rifles. At peak output almost 10,000 rifles were being produced per day, with the final number built standing at 1,727,449.


Specifications:

Overall Length: 46.25in (117cm)
Barrel Length: 26in (66cm)
Weight: 9.2lbs (4.2kg)
Action: Bolt-action
Capacity: 6-round internal box magazines
Calibre: .30-06


If you enjoyed the video and this 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.


Bibliography:

Britain’s Final Defence: Arming the Home Guard, 1940-1944, D. Clarke (2016)

With British Snipers to the Reich, C. Shore (1948)

Bureaucrats in Battledress, H. Smith (1945)

The U.S. Enfield, I. Skennerton (1983)

My New Book on the PIAT is Out Now!

I’m very excited to say that my second book has been published! It looks at the much maligned and much misunderstood PIAT – Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank.

The book is available from retailers from the 20th August in the UK/Europe and the 22nd September in the US – but you can order a copy from me now regardless of location. I filmed a short video to show you the book and talk a bit about the process of writing it, check that out above.

The PIAT was the British infantry’s primary anti-tank weapon of the second half of the Second World War. Unlike the better known US Bazooka the PIAT wasn’t a rocket launcher – it was a spigot mortar. Throwing a 2.5lb bomb, containing a shaped charge capable of penetrating up to 4 inches of armour. Thrown from the spigot by a propellant charge in the base of the bomb, it used a powerful spring to soak up the weapon’s heavy recoil and power its action.

With a limited range the PIAT’s users had to be incredibly brave. This becomes immediately obvious when we see just how many Victoria Crosses, Military Medals and Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded to men who used the PIAT in action. 

The book includes numerous accounts of how the PIAT was used and how explores just how effective it was. I have spent the past 18 months researching and writing the book and it is great to finally see a copy in person and know it’s now available.

The book includes brand new information dug up from in-depth archival research, never before seen photographs of the PIAT in development and in-service history and it also includes some gorgeous illustrations by Adam Hook and an informative cutaway graphic by Alan Gilliland.

If you order a book directly from me I’ll also include this custom illustrated postcard with a design featuring a PIAT and the famous line from A Bridge Too Far.

It’s immensely exciting to know the book is out in the world for all too enjoy. If you’d like a copy of my new book looking at the PIAT’s design, development and operational history you can order one directly from me here!

Me, bringing up the PIAT…

Thanks for your support and if you pick up a copy of the book I really hope you enjoy it! 

– Matt

SOE Sabotage – The Limpet Mine

During the Second World War Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) developed a whole series of sabotage devices for use behind enemy lines. Using unique archival footage this series of short videos examines some of the weapons developed for use by SOE agents in occupied Europe. In this episode we look at one of the numerous version of the magnetic Limpet Mine developed by SOE and other clandestine organisations.

In this very rare footage we see a Free French Air Force officer, possibly training as a member of the SOE, place a limpet mine on a substantial piece of metal plate.

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Free French officer attaching a Limpet to a steel plate (IWM)

The mine seen in the footage is clearly much smaller than the Limpets used against ships. The Limpet mine was developed by Military Intelligence (Research) in late 1939-40. Stuart Macrae and Cecil Vandepeer Clarke developed a mine with enough magnetic strength to attach an explosive charge to the hull of a ship. The initial design seen here was quite large but the design was refined as the war went on with various types and marks. Here’s a Type II limpet, a MkIII and here is a Type 6 MkII.

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Limpet MkIII (U.S.N.B.D.)

The idea was that divers or saboteurs in small boats could quietly attach the mines to enemy shipping while at anchor. However, the usefulness of magnetic charges was clear and it appears that smaller versions, like that we see in the footage here, were developed for use against armoured vehicles and other substantial armoured targets.

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A demonstration of the Limpet mines and mine carrier (UK National Archives)

It’s unclear from the film what the explosive charge was, how big it was or how it was laid out inside the mine but from the damaged plate displayed at the end of the footage it may have been a ring of plastic explosive held in place by the four magnets. This would blow the characteristic round hold in the plates.

Interestingly, the limpet mine seen in the film is very similar to a Japanese design, the Type 99 anti-tank mine, however, it has a different fuse design and the four magnets are blocky rather than rounded. Whether the Japanese magnetic mine influenced this design developed by SOE is unknown.

Type 99 Magnetic Mine
Japanese Type 99 anti-tank mine (IWM)

I’ve been unable to find out these mine’s designation, it may not have been given one but it does appear to be fairly well developed. In this photograph we can see that a metal plate carrier has been developed to allow a soldier to carry 4 mines on his back. Perhaps these mines were developed for a specific mission. The magnetic Clam charge, which we have covered in an earlier video, would have done a similar job for smaller task


If you enjoyed the video and this 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.


Bibliography:

World War II Allied Sabotage Devices and Booby Traps, G.L. Rottman (2006)

SOE’s Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies, (1944)

SOE’s Secret Weapons Centre: Station 12, D. Turner (2007)

SOE: The Scientific Secrets, F. Boyce & D. Everett (2009)

British Land Mines and Firing Devices, U.S.N.B.D. (1945)

The footage is part of the Imperial War Museum’s collection © IWM MGH 4324 and is used under the Non-commercial Use agreement.

SOE Sabotage – Rail Charge

During the Second World War Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) developed a whole series of sabotage devices for use behind enemy lines. Using unique archival footage this series of short videos examines some of the weapons developed for use by SOE agents in occupied Europe. In this episode we look at how rail track could be destroyed by plastic explosive.

Destroying railway infrastructure was a key mission for the Resistance groups and SOE agents active in occupied Europe. Numerous methods of damaging or destroying railways were developed, including Exploding Coal, which we have covered earlier in this series. In this 16mm colour footage, believed to have been filmed in 1940, we get an early look at the methods the SOE were developing to destroy track. The ultimate aim was to derail the locomotive and wreck the train with minimal effort and explosive.

In the footage we see two charges have been placed on the piece of track, with detcord attached to both. A soldier, with what appears to be a lever-action Winchester 94, is then seen taking aim. It seems he’s aiming at a striker board attached to ignite the detcord. He fires, we see a puff of smoke and a second later the charges detonate.

The footage then cuts to several men collecting the debris of the shattered piece of track. The track appears to have two large chunks blown out and the top edge, between the two charges, completely blown off.

An early SOE demonstration with the charges set on the rail (IWM)

Later in the war more testing was done and more refined techniques were developed. In their book SOE: The Scientific Secrets Boyce & Everett note that trials of devices and techniques for destroying railway lines carried out at Longmoor where the British Army had extensive sections of track and samples of rails used in different European countries. Trials to find the right quantity and positioning of explosive charges were carried out in late December 1943, these tests would inform later operations.

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Fog Signal Igniter (SOE’s Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies)

The SOE’s Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies includes a pair of illustrations demonstrating two methods of laying and detonating these charges. A so-called ‘French’ method with a pair of what the catalogue terms ‘Igniters, Fuze, Fog Signal, MkIA’ ahead of the charges in the direction the train was expected from. The train would crush these Fog Signals firing them and igniting a length of detcord linked to a pair of 3/4lb explosive charges fixed to the track as we see in this film.

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Polish Rail Charge layout (SOE’s Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies)

The alternative ‘Polish’ method had the same sized and located explosive charges but placed a Fog Signal either side of the charges to ensure that no matter which direction the train came from the charges would be detonated. This method was used on single track stretches of railway. Both of these methods were rated to ‘remove about one metre of rail.’

In this photo we see a member of the French Resistance setting an explosive charge on a railway line. While likely a posed photo we do see the pair of Fog Signals which will stet the charge off. These photographs show a pair of trains reportedly derailed by explosive charges.

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A derailed French train c.1942 (AIRAN)

Boyce & Everett in their book SOE: The Scientific Secrets suggest that as many as 48,000 ‘Railway charges’, presumable a kit, were produced by the SOE. From the footage we can certainly see this method of destroying rails was effective.


If you enjoyed the video and this 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.


Bibliography:

World War II Allied Sabotage Devices and Booby Traps, G.L. Rottman (2006)

SOE’s Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies, (1944)

SOE’s Secret Weapons Centre: Station 12, D. Turner (2007)

SOE: The Scientific Secrets, F. Boyce & D. Everett (2009)

Arthur John G. Langley’s Unpublished Memoir (1974)

Footage use is part of the Imperial War Museum’s collection © IWM MGH 4324 & 4325 and is used under the Non-commercial Use agreement.

Winchester 1866 Prototype Musket

Today, were taking a look at a Winchester prototype developed in the mid-1860s, a period when Winchester was seeking to build on the success of the 1860 Henry Rifle and place the company on a firm financial footing. Oliver Winchester had taken control of the New Haven Arms company before the Civil War and while for a time it had been known as the Henry Repeating Arms Company he eventually sought to put his stamp on the company, renaming it Winchester Arms Company in 1866. At the same time he decided to focus the company’s energies on winning military contracts around the world.

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Left & right profiles of King’s prototype musket (Matthew Moss)

This developmental prototype is in the ‘musket’ configuration: with a longer barrel, a bayonet lug and a wooden forend. The prototype represents one of the many developmental steps towards what would become the Model 1866. It has a number of interesting features – a steel, rather than brass, receiver and a hinged loading port developed by Nelson King, Winchester’s superintendent between 1866 and 1875.

The rifle itself was built by Luke Wheelock, Winchester’s model room mechanic and a designer in his own right who would go onto develop his own rifle designs for Winchester.

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King’s 1866 patent (US Patent Office)

The rifle is 54.5 inches long, with a 33.75 inch barrel. Believed to have been built in 1866, it is chambered for a .45 calibre rimfire round. King patented his loading port in May 1866. He described how the port worked:

“Through one of the plates S (preferring that one upon the right-hand side) I form an opening, 0, as denoted by broken lines, Fig. 1, and also seen in section, Fig. 7. This opening is formed so as to communicate through the frame directly to the chamber E in the carrier block, as seen in Fig. 3. Through this opening, and while the carrier-block is down and all parts of the arm in a state of rest, insert the cartridges, point first, through the said opening in the plate S into the chamber E the second cartridge pressing the first into the magazine, and so on with each successive cartridge until the magazine is filled, or until the requisite number has been inserted therein, the follower G being pressed up before the entering cartridges. In the rear of the chamber E2 the frame forms a shoulder to prevent the cartridges from being forced out through the opening in the plate S3 is a cover for closing the opening in the plate S3 and is hinged thereto, as seen in Figs. 1 and 7, the hinge being provided with a spring,a1, the tendency of which is to open the cover C. A spring-catch, d, (see Fig. 1,) secures the cover when closed, so that by pressing upon the said catch the cover will fly open. After the requisite number of cartridges have been placed within the magazine, close the cover, as seen in Figs. 1 and 2.”

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A close up of the hinged loading gate (Matthew Moss)

To paraphrase: ammunition can be loaded through the opening in one of the receiver side plate when the carrier block is down, insert the cartridges through the opening, pressing the first into the magazine and so on until the magazine is filled… a cover for closing the opening is hinged to the receiver side plate. A spring catch secures the cover when closed.

According to Herbert Houze, King developed the covered loading port design in early January 1866, with a design drawing dating to the 14th January, confirming this.

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Nelson’s loading gate cover prototype c.1866 (Cody Firearms Museum)

King altered the design of the rifle’s cartridge carrier so that a cartridge could pass through its lower section straight into the magazine when the action was closed. In theory the aperture could be placed on either side of the receiver, in practice is was placed on the right. Prior to this Winchester had experimented with systems where the tube could slide forward (G.W. Briggs US #58937), a port in the base of the receiver (J.D. Smith US #52934) or a sliding forearm covering a loading port at the rear of the magazine tube (O.F. Winchester UK #3284 [19/12/1865]).

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A look inside the hinged loading gate (Matthew Moss)

King’s system had the benefit of allowing the rifle to be quickly loaded or topped off without rendering the rifle unusable while loading. Positioning the port in the receiver allowed the magazine tube to be enclosed by a wooden forend.

A cartridge guide was fitted inside the receiver which guided rounds through the cartridge carrier and into the tube magazine. The rounds were prevented from popping out of the magazine, when the carrier was aligned and the cover open, by a shallow shoulder which projected in line with the carrier’s channel to hold cartridges in the tube by their rim.

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The musket with its action open, bolt to the rear and loading gate open (Matthew Moss)

The hinged cover is held shut by a spring catch mounted on the rear of the cover. When the knurled section on its front is pressed rearwards the cover pops open. The spring catch is actuated when it tensions against the cover’s hinge as it is closed. On the back of the cover there is also a cartridge stop for when the cover is closed.

Another small but interesting feature of the prototype is the catch at the rear of the lever loop, this differs from the manually turned catch seen on the Henry and production 1866. This design appears to be a much better safety feature, simply requiring the user’s hand to depress the catch to unlock it from the stock. It also appears to be a much simpler mechanism than that seen in later models like the Model 1895. The trigger also had an extension protruding from its rear which appears to prevent the trigger from being pulled when the lever isn’t full closed. Neither of these features appear in King’s May 1866 patent.

It appears that the idea of the port with a hinged cover was superseded by what we now recognise as the classic Winchester loading gate in the summer of 1866. King’s new system replaced the hinged cover with a piece of stamped spring steel attached to the inside of the receiver side plate by a screw. The spring steel gate could be pushed in, with the nose of a cartridge, to allow rapid loading. The front face of the gate formed a cartridge guide removing the need for the separate machined guide used in King’s earlier iteration of the system.

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(Rock Island Auction Company)

King’s revised loading port system required just five, rather than twelve, components: King’s altered cartridge carrier, receiver side plate, spring metal loading gate plate and retaining screws. This simple but elegant design continued to be used for decades on various models of rifle. The company were so pleased with the refinement of the rifle that, according to R.L. Wilson, King was awarded a payment of a $5,000 reward by the company’s board of directors.

Winchester introduced the rifle in 1866, with the first deliveries being made early in 1867, the new rifle was offered in various barrel lengths and patterns including carbine, rifle and ‘musket’. Winchester found some success selling 1866 rifles to the militaries of France and the Ottoman Empire, while many other countries purchased rifles for testing including Britain and Switzerland (whom came close to adopting the Winchester.) The rifles also found success on the civilian market with around 4,500 sold in the first five months.

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Right side profile of the rifle showing the hinged loading gate (Matthew Moss)

The Scientific American described the new rifles as “elegant in appearance, compact, strong, and of excellent workmanship. On examination we find its working parts very simple, and not apparently liable to derangement.”

King incrementally developed his loading system before radically simplifying it and this prototype rifle represents an important developmental step in the design of what would become the Model 1866 – one of Winchester’s most important rifles.


Special thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum for allowing us to take a look at this fascinating prototype rifle.


If you enjoyed this article and video 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.


Bibliography:

Winchester Repeating Arms Company, H. Houze (1994)

Winchester: An American Legend, R. L. Wilson (1991)

Patents:

https://patents.google.com/patent/US57808

https://patents.google.com/patent/US57636

https://patents.google.com/patent/US58937

https://patents.google.com/patent/US52934

SOE Sabotage – Plastic Explosive

During the Second World War Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) developed a whole series of sabotage devices for use behind enemy lines. Using unique archival footage this series of short videos examines some of the weapons developed for use by SOE agents in occupied Europe. In this episode we look at the component which made so many of them possible – Plastic Explosive. This video contains demonstrations of various uses for the malleable explosive.

The footage, believed to have been filmed in 1940, is part of the Imperial War Museum’s collection, it shows plastic explosive being demonstrated in a number of different applications. It was filmed by Cecil Vandepeer Clarke, a British engineer and sabotage expert who was a member of the Special Operations Executive and worked at a number of weapon research and development centres during the war.

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Plastic explosive and its effect (IWM)

The clip features a number of men preparing and shaping plastic explosive charges, adding fuses and detonators.  The explosive is then seen being applied to a steel plate in a ring shape, before being detonated. The resulting explosion punches a round hole through the plate. The film also includes demonstrations of what plastic explosive pressed against a tree trunk can do. Once detonated the roughly 1 foot thick trunk is splintered in two. Metal girders are also shown being prepared with a substantial block of explosive being pressed into its seams.

The SOE’s 1944 Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies lists the ‘Standard Charges’ of 1.5lbs or 3lbs of plastic explosive with an integrated central primer available in rectangular blocks inside a rubberised fabric. Of course SOE agents were taught to use as much or as little explosive as was needed for the task and they were taught to be able to improvise in any given situation.

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A standard 3lb charge, (SOE’s 1944 Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies)

Given the date of the footage the explosive being used is likely and early form of plastic explosive produced at Woolwich arsenal, possibly PETN or Cyclonite better known as RDX, which would have been mixed with a plasticiser to make the explosive malleable. 


If you enjoyed the video and this 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.


Bibliography:

World War II Allied Sabotage Devices and Booby Traps, G.L. Rottman

SOE’s Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies, c.1944

SOE’s Secret Weapons Centre: Station 12, D. Turner

SOE: The Scientific Secrets, F. Boyce & D. Everett

Arthur John G. Langley’s Unpublished Memoir (1974)

The footage is part of the Imperial War Museum’s collection © IWM MGH 4523, 4524 & 4325 and is used under the Non-commercial Use agreement.

SOE Sabotage – Magnetic Petrol Tank Bomb

During the Second World War Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) developed a whole series of sabotage devices for use behind enemy lines. Using unique archival footage this series of short videos examines some of the weapons developed for use by SOE agents in occupied Europe. In this episode we look at an explosive magnet bomb, designed to be attached to any magnetic surface and detonate to destroy machinery or vehicles. It later evolved into the small pocket-sized ‘Clam mine’.

Today, we’re lucky enough to have some colour footage showing the of testing of a magnetic bomb which could be attached to the petrol tank of vehicles. The footage comes courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

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A still from the footage showing the charge placed on the body of the car (Imperial War Museum)

From the film we can see that the bomb consisted of a small block of plastic explosive, a pair of strip magnets (or possible a horseshoe-shaped magnet) and a Switch No.10 time pencil delay detonator. The explosive block itself looks to be slightly smaller than the SOE’s standard 1.5lb charge.

In the film we see the bomb placed on the boot (or trunk) of a saloon car before various civilians and a corporal experiment with various ways of covertly attaching the bomb to the underside of the car. At one point the corporal allows himself to be dragged along behind the vehicle before making his escape.

Luckily the 16mm footage, filmed by Major Cecil Clarke, also shows us the effect of the explosive charge mounted on a petrol tank full of fuel. According to the details listed for the film by the Imperial War Museum the footage was filmed in 1940, at SOE Station XVII, located at Brickendonbury House in Hertfordshire.

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A still from the footage showing the bomb’s magnets (Imperial War Museum)

This configuration of the bomb doesn’t appear in the Special Operations Executive’s Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies published in 1944. However, Colonel Leslie Wood, Station XII’s commanding officer, described the demonstration put on during a visit by Brigadier Robert Laycock of the Commandos and William Donovan, the head of the American OSS in June 1942. One of the scheduled demonstrations was the “Effect of small ‘magnet’ charge of explosive on petrol tank of car.”

It appears that this ad hoc magnet charge evolved into ‘the Clam’, which was a smaller, version of the magnetic Limpet mine. The Clam evolved through a number of marks with the MkI having a stamped sheet metal casing and the later MkIII using a bakelite, plastic casing.  Both were made up of a plastic explosive charge inside a rectangular, rounded case with a pair of magnets at either end. They were detonated by either a Time Pencil or an L Delay fuse attached to a No.27 detonator. The MkIII had 8oz (226g) of high explosive filler, such as TNT/Tetryl 55/45.

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MkIII Clam (Imperial War Museum)

While unlike the larger Limpet they weren’t developed for under water use but the Clam could be mount onto any vaguely flat magnetic surface including engine blocks, fuel tanks, crank cases, cylinder blocks, rail tracks and steel plate.

At just 5.75” x 2.75” x 1.5” they were easily concealable, could be carried in a pocket and were non-descript enough not to draw attention. An estimated 68,000 Clams were made under supervision at Aston House according to Des Turner’s book on Station XII.


If you enjoyed the video and this 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.


Thanks David Sampson of www.millsgrenades.co.uk for the use of his photo of the cutaway Clam.

Bibliography:

World War II Allied Sabotage Devices and Booby Traps, G.L. Rottman

Technology and the Civil War, S. Mountjoy & T. McNeese

SOE’s Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies, c.1944

SOE’s Secret Weapons Centre: Station 12, D. Turner

SOE: The Scientific Secrets, F. Boyce & D. Everett

The footage is part of the Imperial War Museum‘s collection © IWM MGH 4325 and is used under the Non-commercial Use agreement.

Madsen M50 – Live Fire

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.

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Madsen M50 (Matthew Moss)

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. 

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Right side of the Madsen M50 with stock folded (Matthew Moss)

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.

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Left side of the Madsen M50 with stock deployed and magazine removed, not the improved magazine release (Matthew Moss)

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.


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Specifications:

Overall Length: 31in w/stock deployed
Weight: ~7 lbs
Action: Blowback, open bolt
Capacity: 32-round box magazines
Calibre: 9×19mm

SOE Sabotage – The Incendiary Case

Following on from our last video & article looking at Explosive Coal, we continue our series looking at some of the sabotage weapons developed by Britain’s SOE during the Second World War.

We’re lucky enough to have some unique colour footage showing the of testing of some of these explosive devices and in this article we will examine an incendiary-filed case.
In this piece of 16mm colour footage, filmed in 1940 by Captain Cecil V. Clarke, we see what appears to be an attaché case containing three medium-sized bottles, which likely contains a mix of petrol and paraffin or some white phosphorus, prepared for testing at the bomb range at Brickendonbury in Hertfordshire, a Special Operations Executive training and research centre codenamed Station XVII. It’s believed that these films may have been produced as teaching aids for the agents trained at Station XVII and this film may have been shown during a lecture.

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A still from the footage showing the case being set up at the test range (IWM)

While incendiary briefcases, attaché cases and even suitcases are listed in the 1944 SOE Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies they were quite different from this case. They were primarily designed for the quick destruction of documents and items carried inside them. They used sheets of potassium nitrate to burn the case’s contents.
The incendiary case seen in this footage on the other hand appears to be designed to be clandestinely placed and detonated with a delay fuse, to set nearby flammable objects on fire. What was described as a ‘Delayed Action Incendiary’.

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The Incendiary Suitcase entry from the SOE’s Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies

In this footage of another separate test we get an idea of the destructive capability of just one of the bottles.

It’s possible that this incendiary case was a proof of concept test for the later cases or perhaps a demonstration of a concealed incendiary device Station XVII were working on. SOE developed a large number of bespoke explosive devices for various missions, so while this device may not have become ‘standard issue’, it may have been developed for a specific purpose.


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Bibliography:

SOE’s Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies, c.1944

SOE’s Secret Weapons Centre: Station 12, D. Turner

SOE: The Scientific Secrets, F. Boyce & D. Everett

The footage is part of the Imperial War Museum‘s collection © IWM MGH 4325 and is used under the Non-commercial Use agreement.

SOE Sabotage – Explosive Coal

During the Second World War Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) developed a whole series of sabotage devices for use behind enemy lines. Using unique archival footage this series of short videos examines some of the weapons developed for use by SOE agents in occupied Europe. We begin the series with a look at the history and development of Explosive Coal. Explosive coal was designed to explode inside fireboxes, furnaces and coal stores hampering enemy infrastructure.

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A still from the film showing a close up of the Explosive Coal (IWM)

I came across this footage while doing some research in the Imperial War Museum’s online catalogue. This piece of 16mm film was filmed by Cecil Vandepeer Clarke, a British engineer and sabotage expert who was a member of the Special Operations Executive and worked at a number of weapon research and development centres including MD1 at Whitchurch and SOE Station XII at Aston.

SOE or Special Operations Executive were a clandestine force tasked with conducting irregular warfare behind enemy lines including sabotage, assassination, intelligence gathering an small scale raiding. One of the sabotage methods developed was introducing an explosive charge into the boiler firebox of a ship or a locomotive or a power station or factory’s furnace. This achieved by disguising the explosive as either a piece of fuel like coal or wood or even as a dead rat – which might be tossed into a firebox or furnace to be disposed of.

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What is believed to be one of Courtenay’s ‘Coal Torpedos’

The idea of ‘Explosive Coal’ wasn’t new. The idea originated from the US Civil War, when Confederate Captain Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay designed a piece of cast iron, with a cavity which could be packed with gun powder, that looked like a lump of coal. The Courtenay described them as ‘Coal Torpedoes’, their aim was to damage a steam ship’s boiler enough to cause a catastrophic secondary explosion. While several vessels may have been damaged or sunk by these Coal Torpedoes, the claims are difficult to confirm.

It seems the idea of a coal bomb was resurrected in 1940 and initially a ‘Coal Borer’ was developed and available for use in theatre by mid-1940. The borer could be used by agents to make holes in lumps of coal which could be filled by plastic explosive and a detonator. This was soon superseded by an Explosive Coal Kit which included moulded fake coal and paints to allow agents to match the colour of local coal. The kit included instructions on how to prepare and use the coal bomb.

Arthur Christie, a lab assistant at Station XII, is quoted at length in Des Turner’s book on Station XII. Christie remembered being asked to drill large holes in some coal:

“Another task was collecting the biggest lumps of coal that I could find in the storeroom and taking them to the lab. I had no idea what they wanted them for; it was seldom explained to me and, when it was, it was often as clear as mud. My instructions were to try to drill a large hole in each piece of coal without shattering it. I tried with a brace and a six-inch long tube that had a serrated end. I found that, if too much pressure was applied, the coal would disintegrate. I thought, I wonder what the hell they want this for? Don’t ask, just do it, and I did manage to drill three lumps of coal. I placed the drilled coal on the table of the MI room and set off for the officers’ dining room to inform the CO that I had been successful. I was told to insert about a quarter of a pound of PE and a detonator into the hole and glue the coal dust back over it. The mud in my brain now began to clear. The lump of coal could be placed in the coal tender of a locomotive and find its way into the firebox, or perhaps into the furnace of a factory. Later the PE was dyed black, which was better than using coal dust and glue. This idea led to plastic explosive being moulded into a multitude of objects and colours to fool the enemy.”

Frederic Boyce & David Everett, in their book SOE: The Scientific Secrets, credit Station XV with the development of a moulded clam-shell design using dyed Herculite plaster and coated with real coal dust. A photograph of this can be seen in the SOE’s Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies, along with ‘Explosive Wood’, or as it was officially known ‘Wooden Logs, Explosive’.

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Entries for Explosive Coal and Explosive Wood from a reprint of the SOE’s Descriptive Catalogue

Eventually this was replaced by a bomb based around a charge in a metal casing that allowed liquid plaster to be poured around it, simplifying production and removing any sign of a seam. The coal bombs were detonated by a No.27 Detonator to which either a match headed safety fuse or a time delay fuse was attached.

Once the danger of coal bombs was discovered by the enemy it was also believed that they would have considerable a psychological impact and also cause the enemy to expend considerable resources on protecting and checking coal supplies.

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Explosive Coal  inert cutaway (courtesy of http://www.millsgrenades.co.uk)

The ‘Explosive Coal’ we see in the footage appears to actually be an incendiary bomb, producing a large amount of flame and heat. This would have been ineffective in a boiler but with a time delay or other sort of fuse it may have been very effective in causing a coal bunker fire aboard a ship, in a factory store, at a coal depot or in a locomotive’s coal tender. Coal fires are extremely difficult to contain and put out.

How effective Explosive Coal was is unclear but it is believed that coal bombs were used by both the SOE and their American counterparts the OSS. Boyce & Everett estimate that about 3.5 tons of explosive coal was made between 1941 and 1945. I’m unsure how many of these were explosive and how many were incendiary, like that seen in the footage here,  but it’s a fascinating asymmetric method of targeting enemy infrastructure at the most basic level.


If you enjoyed the video and this 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.


Thanks to WW2Talk on twitter for their help getting me some scans from the SOE’s Descriptive Catalogue

Bibliography:

World War II Allied Sabotage Devices and Booby Traps, G.L. Rottman

Technology and the Civil War, S. Mountjoy & T. McNeese

SOE’s Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies, c.1944

SOE’s Secret Weapons Centre: Station 12, D. Turner

SOE: The Scientific Secrets, F. Boyce & D. Everett

The footage is part of the Imperial War Museum‘s collection © IWM MGH 4324 and is used under the Non-commercial Use agreement.