US Military Railway Guns In Action

While doing some research in the US National Archives’ online catalogue I came across a very interesting video composed of footage from a couple of US Army Ordnance demonstrations so I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about some very big guns.
Railway guns emerged during the late 19th century as a way of moving massive, large calibre guns which had a reach far beyond that of field artillery. Before aircraft were able to effectively attack behind enemy lines railways allowed armies to bring huge guns within range and harass their enemies lines of communication and supply.
This footage comes from Ordnance demonstrations at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in the early 1920s.

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16in Coastal Gun (US National Archives)

First up we have a US-built copy of the French 305mm Canon de 305 modèle 1893/96 à glissement, which according the original footage notes, was a 10in sliding mount for a gun firing a 150lb projectile. I also found some contemporary images of the gun being built at the US Watertown Arsenal, in Massachusetts, which describes it as the Model 1919. It may be the only example built by the US, Schneider built 8 of these guns for France during the war.  When the gun fires we can see the whole gun and carriage recoil back a meter or so. Guns on sliding mounts cant be traversed and have to be aimed with specially laid track.

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M1895 12in Coastal Gun in a ‘disappearing#’ mount (US National Archives)

Next we have a 12 inch M1895 gun, mounted on a M1918 railway carriage which was based on the French Batignolles mount, with 360-degree traverse. Originally designed as a coastal defence gun, here’s a photograph taken in 1918 of the gun firing from a disappearing mount.
The M1895 had long been used as a coastal defence gun, and with US entry into the war surplus or unnecessary coastal guns were remounted as railway guns. The railway mounted M1895s had a large recuperator to mitigate the gun’s recoil. 12 were mounted, however, none reached France before the end of the war. We also get a nice shot of the shell hitting its target in the distance.

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A 14in Railway Gun in Bassens, France c.1919 (US National Archives)

The 14 inch railway guns were the only big US guns to see action during WW1. Taking spare US Navy 14in naval guns, the 14″/50 caliber Mk 4 gun, which had been mounted in the New Mexico and Tennessee-class battleships, and mounting them in a carriage built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. Once in position the guns had to have a recoil pit dug out beneath the carriage to allow space for the gun to recoil when it was at high elevation. They had a range of up to 25 miles.
Five Mk1 guns made it to France operating as single gun batteries manned by US Navy Sailors. The guns fired a total of 782 shells during the war, with Battery 4 firing its last shell at 10:57:30 a.m. on 11 November 1918.

Unlike the MkI guns that made it to France in this footage we see the gun without an armoured gun house, with the gunners working the gun in the open.

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An M1919 16in Coastal Gun in a Barbette mount (US National Archives)

Finally, we have the truly massive 16 inch M1919 coastal gun . Designed for the Army Coast Artillery Corps to defend the US’ major coastal ports the 16-inch gun could throw a 2,340 lb shell up to 28 miles. In this footage we can see the gun mounted on an M1919 barbette carriage which could be elevated up to 65-degrees.
This second piece of footage dates from between 1929 and 1931, with dozens of West Point cadets gathered eagerly to see the gun in action.

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Bibliography:

Demonstration of Ordnance Materiel at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, 1920-1926 (source)

Railway Artillery: A Report on the Characteristics, Scope of Utility, Etc., of Railway Artillery, Vo.1, H.W. Miller & US Ordnance Dept. (1921) (source)

Railway Artillery: A Report on the Characteristics, Scope of Utility, Etc., of Railway Artillery Vol.2, H.W. Miller & US Ordnance Dept. (1922) (source)

The United States Naval Railway Batteries in France, E. Breck (1922) (source)


 

Rheinmetall G3

We’re all familiar with the Heckler & Koch G3 and its roller-delayed blowback action. What is less well-known is that H&K were one of two companies originally contracted by the West German government to produce the Bundeswehr’s new service rifle. The other company was Rheinmetall and today we’re lucky enough to be taking a look at an example of an early production Rheinmetall G3.

Left side (courtesy of the Cody Firearms Museum)

The rifle which became the G3 was of course originally developed by German and Spanish engineers working at the Centro de Estudios Tecnicos de Materiales Especiales (CETME) and was intended to equip the Spanish armed forces. Initially, the West German Bundesgrenzschutz (border guards) were interested in purchasing a substantial number of the new CETME rifles, with an initial order for 5,000 agreed, however, in September 1955 the order was cancelled due to delays in production and the Bundesgrenzschutz subsequently ordered the FN FAL instead.

In November 1955, the Bundeswehr (West German military) was formed and began to search for a suitable new 7.62x51mm service rifle. Having observed the Bundesgrenzschutz’ testing the fledgling Bundeswehr took an interest in the CETEME rifle. 400 ‘STG CETME’ rifles were ordered for troop trials and these were assembled in Germany by Heckler & Koch. The rifles were delivered in late 1956, and comparative trials against the FAL began the following year.

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CETME Model A (Courtesy of P. Hokana)

The trials found the ‘STG CETME’ to be satisfactory in terms of features and design but lacking in durability. A number of small changes were requested including a flash hider suitable for launching rifle grenades, either a flip-up or dioptre rear sight instead of a traditional tangent style, a case deflector, a simpler more ergonomic pistol grip, a longer more ergonomic cocking handle, changes to the recoil spring guide and tweaks to the shape of the buttstock. Additional improvements such as a stronger bipod, lighter magazine, a last round hold open mechanism, overall lightening of the rifle, a lighter 20-round magazine and a proper handguard were also requested.

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Left-side of the G3’s receiver, note the partial reinforcing rib on the magazine housing (Matthew Moss)

FN were unwilling to grant Germany a manufacturing license and the $110 per rifle price for the FAL proved substantially higher than CETME’s production estimates (The ArmaLite AR-10, J. Putnam Evans (2016), p.204). With adoption looking likely, legal wrangling over patent ownership began between Mauser, Rheinmetall and Heckler & Koch. All claimed the ownership of the roller-delayed blowback principle used by the CETME rifle. Eventually, however, the West German government awarded Rheinmetall and H&K future production contracts for the new rifle with the government supporting H&K’s claims but the legal battles continued for almost a decade.

In the meantime, with production of the CETME rifle not yet initiated and in light of some durability/reliability issues suffered during the STG CETME’s troop trials, 100,000 ‘Series C’ FN FALs were ordered for the Bundeswehr in late 1956. In 1957 the Swiss SIG 510 (designated the G2) and the American ArmaLite AR-10 (designated the G4) were also evaluated. Once the modifications requested after the troops trials were completed by H&K, a run of twenty rifles was produced and tested again.

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A view inside the ejection port of the G3 with the charging handle locked back (Matthew Moss)

 

In 1959, the West German government finally adopted the CETME rifle, designating it the G3. The German federal government decided that they wished to purchase the worldwide manufacturing rights to the G3, which naturally the Spanish government was reluctant to agree to. An agreement was finally reached in January 1958 and the contract giving West Germany worldwide rights to the G3 was finalised on February 4th, 1959.

One issue was that in June 1957, CETME had agreed a licensing deal for manufacture and sale of the rifle with a with a Dutch company Nederlandsche Wapen en Munitiefabriek (NWM). In order to gain the manufacturing rights sold to NWM the German government awarded the Dutch company a lucrative contract producing 20mm ammunition (Full Circle, p.234).

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A close up of the trigger mechanism housing, note ‘Germany’ faintly scratched into the surface (Matthew Moss)

Interestingly, as the German government owned the manufacturing rights, H&K initially had to pay the government 4 Deutsche Marks per rifle, despite having been awarded the contract by the German government. In late January 1959, H&K were awarded the first substantial production contract, amounting to 150,000 rifles. Rheinmetall were subsequently awarded a similar contract (Full Circle, p.235).

According to R. Blake Stevens’ book on the roller-delayed blowback action, Full Circle, Rheinmetall produced 500,000 G3s during the 1960s, delivering 8,000 rifles per month (Full Circle, p.287). As H&K had been designated as the technical lead on the G3 project, Rheinmetall’s engineers made no attempts to develop modifications or improvements and even when H&K had switched to plastic furniture the Rheinmetall guns continued to use wood. Rheinmetall’s only other G3-related project was the RH4, a 7.62x39mm chambered, roller-locked but gas-operated rifle designed for export (Historical Firearms).

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W. German Army Armoured Reconnaissance car, with MG3 team with No.2 armed with G3, c.1960 (US Army)

In addition to the G3, Rheinmetall were the sole manufacturer of the MG3, the 7.62x51mm MG42. Blake Stevens explains that in 1969, when a new tender for G3 production was due, that H&K moved to undercut Rheinmetall who had until now held the monopoly on MG3 production (Full Circle, p.292). As a result an agreement was reached where Rheinmetall retained their monopoly on MG3 production and H&K became sole manufacturer of the G3 for the West German military.

Examining An Early Production Rheinmetall G3

The G3 went through a large number of changes both before and after it went into service. The rifle we’re examining today is a good example of an early production rifle, as adopted in 1959. This rifle is lightly marked with ‘G3 [Rheinmetall’s ‘star-in-a-circle’ logo] followed by a serial number of 745 and below that it is date marked with the ‘3/60’, for March 1960.

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A close up of the G3’s front sight and sling attachment point (Matthew Moss)

Working our way from the muzzle back; the rifle has the early style of flash-hider/grenade launcher support which was introduced in 1957 and altered in early 1961, an enclosed front sight and a detachable bipod (which was not Bundeswehr general issue). It has a stamped metal handguard which was replaced by one with a wooden insert in 1961, before H&K introduced plastic furniture in 1964.

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The G3 field stripped (Matthew Moss)

The folding carrying handle seen on the troop trials rifles has been removed, the receiver is stepped for the attachment of a scope base and the magazine housing has a single strengthening rib, rather than the later ‘full-frame’ continuous rib. It has an S-E-F selector (S – Sicher/safe, E – Einzelfeuer/semi, F – Feuerstoß/auto) and black plastic pistol grip. Internally, the rifle has a captive mainspring. Unlike later G3’s the rifle has a 2-position folding L-shape rear aperture sight with apertures for 200 & 300 metres rather than the later dioptre sight adopted officially in mid-1960. The rifle has a wooden stock held with a stamped metal sling attachment and a plastic buttplate.

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Specifications:

Overall Length: 40 in /1.2m
Barrel Length: 17.7in / 45cm
Weight: 8.6lbs / 3.6kg
Action: Roller-delayed blowback
Capacity: 20-round box magazine
Calibre: 7.62x51mm


Bibliography:

HK G3 Operator’s Manual – early 1970s (source)

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

The ArmaLite AR-10, J. Putnam Evans (2016)

The CETME Assault Rifle, Small Arms Review, J. Huon, (source)

Our special thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum, at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, for their kind permission to film items from their collection and their assistance in filming and research.

How Many Men Does it Take to Flip a Tank?

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Ford employees attempt to flip over an M1918 Light Tank

While I was doing some research in the US National Archives’ catalogue, for footage of the Ford M1918 Light Tank, I came across this snippet of film. As we saw in our earlier video on the M1918 the tank struggled to deal with some terrain. In this video we see that at one point the prototype 3-ton tank managed to flip over completely! Which begs the question, how many men does it take to flip a tank?

Any guesses?

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A still of the front of the upside down tank

….The answer appears to be around 20! The tank was relatively light, weighing in at 3 tons, but I still don’t think think I would have been one of them men pulling the tank’s track towards them!

If you’d like to know more about the Ford M1918 Light Tank you can find our full video and article on its history here.


Sources:

Original footage found here: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7419865

Music: New York Blues – Pietro Frosini (1917) https://www.loc.gov/item/varsrs.e50454/


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The 6pdr QF Anti-Tank Gun

Previously we have discussed Britain’s first anti-tank gun, the QF 2pdr. Today we’re going to examine its successor, Britain’s second anti-tank gun – the 6pdr.

Development of the gun actually began before the war in 1938, but the QF 6pdr MkII Anti-Tank gun didn’t enter full production until 1942. After the evacuation from Dunkirk in the summer of 1940, and the loss of nearly 600 AT guns, it was decided to focus on the 2pdr which was then already in production. The 6pdr saw action for the first time in the Western Desert against the Afrika Korps, serving alongside its predecessor the 2pdr.

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QF 6pdr AT Gun (Matthew Moss)

The 6pdr was a 57mm gun, firing a 57x441mmR shell effective out to 1,700 yards or 1,500m – with a rated maximum range of 5,000 yd. Unlike its predecessor the 6pdr could fire both armour piercing and high explosive rounds. The gun weighed in at 2,520 lb or just under 1,150 kg. Manned by a six man crew the gun had a vertically sliding breechblock and could fire up to 15 rounds per minute.

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Breech View of the QF 6pdr (Matthew Moss)

The 6pdr had a Hydro-pneumatic recuperator which mitigated some of the gun’s recoil. The barrel recoiled around 30 inches along its cradle immediately after firing. It was mounted on a variety of carriages with the most common being a split trail carriage with 45-degrees of traverse left and right. The 6pdr could be fired with its split trail deployed or closed. The gun could be elevated 15-degrees and depressed 5-degrees – less than its predecessor, although elevation was not a key requirement for a direct fire weapon like an anti-tank gun.

Five Marks of 6pdr were produced, the MkI development model was declared obsolete and didn’t enter production. Production of the MkII began in late 1941, it had a shorter barrel and was later replaced by the longer barrelled MkIV, which also had a single-baffle muzzle brake, one of the first British guns to have one. The MkIII and V variants had special lugs to enable them to be mounted in tanks. The first guns produced were MkIIIs, while these could be carriage mounted they were earmarked for tanks.

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Airborne troops with a 6-pdr anti-tank gun in Hamminkeln, March 1945 (IWM)

The MkIII Airborne carriage was designed to be lighter so it could be transported aboard gliders and aircraft. Its trail legs were jointed in order to save room and the carriage was narrower which restricted the traverse to 37-degrees left or right. The shield was also redesigned with an even smaller profile. Identifiable by its straight, rather than wavy, top edge.

The gun was aimed using a No.22C 2 or 3-power sighting telescope, located on the left side of the gun, which projected through a sight box in the shield. The gunner also had an elevation wheel to his right and, unlike the 2pdr, the 6pdr used a free traverse rather than a geared wheel system. This was controlled by the gunner pushing or pulling the gun. The gun was fired by a firing lever on the left side of the breech. On the right side of the gun, an ammunition box with space for three rounds could be attached to the shield for emergency use. The gun shield consisted of two/four sections, made of bulletproof steel plate, which had a lower profile than the earlier 2pdr.

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A New Zealand 6-pdr anti-tank gun in action against enemy positions at Cassino, March 1944 (IWM)

Unlike the 2pdr, the 6pdr had an array of ammunition that continued to evolve during the war. The initial armour piercing round could penetrate 70mm or 2.8in of armour at 1,600 yards / 1,500m while the Armour-Piercing Capped Ballistic Cap (APCBC) introduced in early 1943 increased this to 3.1in, while the Armour-Piercing, Discarding Sabot (APDS) shot introduced in Spring 1944, enabled it to effectively engage Tiger I and Panther frontal armour, penetrating 4.8 inches of armour at 1,500m. It is worth noting that figures on penetration vary somewhat from source to source. A high explosive shell that allowed the guns to engage non-armoured targets more effectively was introduced in 1943.

Initially used solely by the Royal Artillery’s anti-tank regiments comprising of four batteries, each with 12 guns. By 1944 an infantry division would be equipped with as many as 78 6pdrs and more than 30 heavier 17pdrs while an armoured divisions was equipped with 30 6pdrs.

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British 6pdr anti-tank gun in action in the desert, 3 September 1942 (IWM)

The 6pdrs first saw action in North Africa proving to be highly effective against both Italian and German armour. During the Second Battle of El Alamein, 19 6pdrs were instrumental in the defence of Outpost Snipe. The 2nd Rifle Brigade and their supporting 6pdrs managed to knock out more than 55 Axis armoured vehicles including Panzer IIIs, Semovente 75/18 self-propelled guns and a number of Panzer IVs. The gunners used enfilading fire to target weaker side armour and interlocked fields of fire caught advancing tanks in killing grounds.

During Operation Market Garden, the airborne 6pdrs of the Airlanding Anti-Tank Batteries proved critical in beating back German armoured counter attacks around Oosterbeek and at the bridge in Arnhem itself. They were instrumental in repulsing the SS reconnaissance battalion which attempted to cross the bridge on the second day of the battle.

One desperate action involving a section of two 6pdrs saw three StuG-III self-propelled guns knocked out before the crews of both guns were killed. The last survivor, Lance-Sergeant Baskeyfield managed to man on of the guns alone and destroy a fourth StuG-III before he was killed. For his actions he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

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Churchill MkIII tanks armed with QF 6pdrs, North Africa, 1942 (IWM)

Like its predecessor the 6pdr was also used as a vehicle gun, mounted in the Churchill Mks III & IV, Valentine Mk IX and the Crusader Mk III tanks as well as the Canadian MkII Ram and the MkII AEC Armoured Car. These vehicles had previously been designed to mount the 2pdr, but were adapted to fit the new 6pdr, in some cases having to remove a crew member from the turret to make enough room to fit the new gun. The Cavalier, Cromwell and Centaur tanks were designed to mount the new larger gun from scratch.

The first tank, equipped with a 6pdr, to go into action was the Mk III Churchill, which took part in the disastrous Dieppe Raid in August 1942. The new tanks, assigned to the 14th Army Tank Regiment (The Calgary Regiment (Tank)), were all abandoned or destroyed during the raid.

In North Africa, like the 2pdr, the heavier guns were mounted on trucks as Portees. Additionally AEC produced the Mk1 Gun Carrier or Deacon self-propelled gun – a 6pdr mounted in an armoured turret on the back of an AEC Matador truck chassis. These performed well in the desert but more enclosed country made them vulnerable and they were removed from service after the North African campaign.

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A truck mounted 6-pdr anti-tank gun (Portee) in the Western Desert, 31 May 1942 (IWM)

It was not only tanks the 6pdr found itself mounted in. Coupled with the Molins automatic loading system it was also mounted in the RAF’s De Havilland Mosquito Mark XVIII ‘Tstetse’ and the Royal Navy’s motor torpedo boats. The Navy’s Molins auto-loader allowed the gun to fire a 6-round burst at a rate of 1 round per second. Nearly 600 naval versions of the gun, the QF 6pdr MkIIA, were produced. The RAF’s use was more short-lived with only 17 6pdr Tstetses built before 3in rockets were standardised. Despite this two Tsetse of 248 Squadron sank the German submarine U-976 in March 1944.

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QF 6pdr Molins Gun aboard HMS Mantis, 1944 (IWM)

The US also adopted the 6pdr to replace their 37mm M3 anti-tank gun. It had initially been planned to produce the 6pdr in the US under the lend-lease agreement (4,242 guns were eventually delivered for British use) but in May 1941 the US approved the production of the 6pdr as the 57mm M1 Gun. The US M1 guns had a longer barrel than their British counterparts and many smaller differences in manufacture. The US, like Britain, mounted the gun on vehicles such as the M3 half-track – the T48 Gun Motor Carriage. By the end of the war the US has produced over 15,600 M1 anti-tank guns.

Ordnance QF 75mm was developed from the 6pdr, the 75mm guns were manufacture by boring out the 6pdr’s barrel to enable it to fire the US 75mm M46 HE round. The QF 75mm was fitted to a number of British armoured vehicles from 1943 onwards.

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RAF De Havilland Mosquito Mark XVIII ‘Tstetse’ with Molins QF 6pdr (IWM)

The 6pdr was a simpler gun to manufacture than its predecessor but despite being effective throughout the war it too was surpassed by a heavier gun, the QF 17pdr AT gun, which was developed in the early 1940s, the 17pdr was accepted for service in May 1942 but the 6pdr remained in service alongside the heavier guns.

After the end of the war the 6pdr continued to see use with a number of countries including Israel during the 1950s, the Irish Army and South Korea during the Korean War. The 6pdr remained in British service until 1951, before being replaced entirely by the 17pdr.

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Gallery:


Specifications:

Overall Length: 185in / 4.7m
Weight: 2,520 lb / 1,13 kg
Action: Semi-automatic, hydrospring recoil buffer
Calibre: 6pdr or 57x441mmR
Elevation: -5 / +15 degrees
Traverse: 9 degrees
Rate of fire: 15 rounds per minute


Bibliography:

Guns for Australia, AWM, (source)

Desert victory, AWM, (source)

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

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

Tsetse – the DH Mosquito Mk XVIII, R. Knapman (source)

World War II Ballistics: Armor and Gunnery, L. Bird & R. Lingston, (2001)

‘The 6 Pounder Anti-Tank Gun’, WWII Equipment.com, D. Boyd, (source)

Our special tanks to the collection the gun belongs to for their permission to film the gun.

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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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.

Heckler & Koch G41

In 1981, Heckler & Koch introduced what would be their last infantry rifle that used their tried and tested roller-delayed blowback action, the HK G41. In October 1980, following NATO’s smalls arms and ammunition testing during the late 1970s, a meeting of NATO Armament Directors, agreed to standardise to the 5.56x45mm round favoured by the United States since the mid-1960s. Standardisation Agreement (STANAG) 4172 saw NATO standardise on the Belgian/FN SS109 ball round. At the same time Draft STANAG 4179 proposed adopting US 30-round M16 magazines as the standard 5.56 magazine pattern, while this proposal wasn’t ratified the M16’s magazine became the de facto standard.

At this time Heckler & Koch were engaged in a major engineering project to develop the G11 caseless ammunition-firing individual weapon. Their main offering for the 5.56x45mm rifle market at the time was the HK33, a rechambered version of the 7.62x51mm G3 developed by Tilo Moller, which was introduced in 1965. The HK33, however, used a proprietary HK magazine and was not compatible with the M16’s magazines. In 1977, as the NATO trials began and it became clear that 5.56x45mm would be adopted, HK began to develop what would become the G41. In 1979 with initial development completed HK submitted 18 G41s for testing with the West German Army. It wasn’t until 1981 that HK introduced the G41 onto the market.

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Left and right profile views of the G41 (Matthew Moss)

While continuing to use the same roller delayed blowback operating system as the G3, HK33 and MP5, the G41 embodied a number of improvements. While still using a stamped metal receiver it utilised 1mm thick high tensile steel rather than the 1.2mm thick steel used by the HK33. This helped to lighten the receiver. The new rifle also used a lighter bolt assembly, paired with a new recoil spring which comprised of five wound strands around a central coil, rather than a single coil, which had a longer stroke. This acted to lower the felt recoil. The G41, however, had a higher rate of fire at around 850 rounds per minute compared to the 750 rounds per minute of the HK33.  Some of the G41’s bolt geometries were reworked and a new extractor was added.

The G41’s lower receiver was redesigned to allow the rifle to feed from STANAG magazines rather than HK’s earlier proprietary magazines. The cocking lever and forward assist were taken from the HK21A1 (XM262) general purpose machine gun, developed for the US SAW trials.

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HK G41 (top) and HK33 (bottom) field stripped (Matthew Moss)

It also had a new more triangular polymer foregrip and added a plastic dust cover to the ejection port, a NATO pattern optics mount (meeting STANAG 2324) replaced HK’s claw-mount system, and a spring-loaded folding carrying handle near the centre of balance was added. Importantly it also added a last round hold open device and a bolt release catch, on the left side of the lower receiver.

The usual thumb serrations on the side of the bolt, for pushing the bolt home, were replaced by a prominent forward assist, similar to that found on the M16A1 and other HK weapons such as the HK21 light machine gun and the PSG-1 sniper rifle. HK sales literature described it as a ‘low noise’ forward assist and the manual describes the “quiet cocking of the weapon” – essentially riding the cocking handle back into battery and then pushing the forward assist to lock the action, the system is not as ‘low noise’ as advertised.

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Right side of the G41, note the addition of a forward assist and dust cover (Matthew Moss)

Another important feature of the rifle was the inclusion of a three-round burst setting alongside semi and fully automatic. The G41 could mount a standard G3 bayonet, fit an M16 bipod and had a flash hider designed to enable it to fire NATO standard rifle grenades. The 40mm HK79 under barrel grenade launcher could also be mounted to all variants of the G41, simply swapping it out for the polymer forend. HK referred to this set up as the G41-TGS or ‘Tactical Group Support system’.

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Spread from a 1985 HK promotional product brochure showing the various G41 configurations (HK)

The G41 came in a number of variants with designations A1 to A3. The base rifle had a fixed buttstock and its rifling had 1 turn in 7 inches with a right-hand twist, in a 18.9 inch barrel. The A1 had a 1 in 12” twist barrel and fixed buttstock. The A2 had a collapsing, single position stock and 1 in 7” inch twist rifling, while the A3 had 1 in 12” inch twist rifling. The 1 in 7” rifling was optimised for the new SS109, while the 1 in 12” optimised for the US M193 round. There was also a shortened G41K model which had a collapsing stock and a 15 inch barrel available with both rifling types.

One of the main issues with the G41 was its weight. Despite efforts to lighten the sheet metal receiver, it weighed more than its predecessor the HK33. According to measurement data compiled by researcher Nathaniel F, unloaded the G41 weighs in at 4.31kgs or 9.5 lbs, this is a full pound heavier than the HK33. A contemporary M16A2 weighed 3.39kg or 7.5 lbs while the Spanish CETME L, a similar stamped receiver rifle chambered in 5.56×45, weighed 3.72kg or 8.2 lbs. The rifle eventually adopted by the Bundeswehr, the HK G36, weighed 3.13kg or 7.3 lbs.  The G41K with its collapsing steel stock wasn’t much lighter, weighing 4.3kg or 9.5 lbs, according to HK sales literature. Another potential issue may have been reliability with the move to the STANAG magazine rather than the optimised proprietary HK magazines may have introduced some issues.

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The bolts of the HK G41 (top) and HK33 (bottom), note the redesigned extractor, forward assist serrations on the bolt carrier and the G41’s thicker but shorter recoil spring (Matthew Moss)

Following NATO’s decision the early 1980s saw a large number of countries looking to replace their ageing 7.62x51mm battle rifles. Sweden began to look for a 5.56x45mm rifle to replace its licensed version of the G3, the Ak4, in the late 1970s. HK could initially only offer the HK33 but the G41, tested later, was also rejected by the Swedes in favour of FN’s FNC. Italy sought to replace the BM59 with a more modern rifle and HK entered into an agreement with Luigi Franchi which saw them offer both the original HK configuration and the develop their own, slightly modified version, the Franchi mod. 641, but the Beretta AR70/90 was selected. Similarly, in 1984 Spain decided to adopt the indigenously developed CETME L. In 1986 the HK G41 was also submitted to the Irish Army’s trials to replace the FN FAL, it was beaten by the Steyr AUG. Initially West Germany had hoped to procure up to 20,000 HK G11 rifles per year, with a total of 224,000 in service by 2003.

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HK’s G11 and G41 (Matthew Moss)

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent reunification of Germany saw Federal budgets stretched and the G11 programme was subsequently abandoned entirely. The Bundeswehr still needed a suitable rifle to replace the G3 and in the 1990s sought a lighter weight rifle. HK felt their HK50 project, in development since the mid-1970s was a better bet than the heavier G41, and following Bundeswehr trials the G36 was subsequently adopted in 1997. Sadly, I have not been able to get a hold of any of the trials reports from the nations that tested the G41, so can not say with certainty why the countries mentioned above rejected HK’s rifle.

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Graphic from HK’s manual for the G41 (HK)

From photographs of members of the Turkish Gendarmerie special operations group training at the Foça Commando School, dating from the early 2010s, it appears that Turkey either purchased a number of G41s or Turkey’s state-owned defence manufacturer, MKEK, produced an unknown number under license.At some point in the 1980s the British Army also tested a small number G41s with serial numbers #11131, #11832 and #11833 remaining in UK collections.

Denmark’s elite Jaegerkorpset and Froemandskorpset used the G41 for a time and Argentina’s special forces, including the Grupo de Operaciones Especiales, have also been photographed with both HK G41s and G41A2(collapsing stock) fitted with the TGS package comprising of the HK79 under barrel grenade launcher.

Argentine commandos with HK G41
Argentina’s Grupo de Operaciones Especiales on parade with G41s and the G41-TGS, grenade launcher package (source)

The G41 represents the last evolution of HK’s infantry rifles using the roller delayed blowback action. It comes from a period when HK were developing what they hoped would be the next generation of small arms technology and with the collapse of the G11 programme and the lack of interest in the G41 the company faced financial uncertainty throughout the early 1990s. HK’s move away from the roller delayed blowback action to a more conventional gas operated rotating bolt system, combined with lightweight polymers, in the G36 proved to be more successful than the ill-fated G41.

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Specifications (standard G41 rifle model):

Length: 39in (99cm)
Weight (unloaded): 4.31kgs or 9.5 lbs
Barrel Length (not including flash hider): 17.7in (45cm)
Action: Roller-delayed blowback
Calibre: 5.56x45mm
Feed: 30 round STANAG magazines
Cyclic Rate: ~850rpm


Bibliography:

The World’s Assault Rifles, G.P. Johnston & T.B. Nelson, (2016)

Die G11 Story, W. Story, (1993)

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

The 5.56 Timeline, D. Watters, (source)

1985 HK Brochure on the G41 Series (via SAR Archive)

HK G41 Owner’s Manual (via SAR Archive)


Our thanks to the collection that holds this rifle for their kind permission to examine and film it. Please do not reproduce photographs taken by Matthew Moss without permission or credit. ©The Armourer’s Bench, 2019.