National Army Museum Talk: The Vickers Gun & Indirect Fire

On the 16 July, I took part in a Spotlight Saturday event at the UK’s National Army Museum in London. Organised by the Vickers Machine Gun Collection & Research Association the event commemorated the 100th anniversary of the disbandment of the British Army’s Machine Gun Corps but also commemorated the legacy of the Vickers Machine Gun itself. In support of the event I gave a talk on how the Vickers was used in the indirect fire role. Find out more about the events commemorating the Machine Gun Corps here.


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A Look Inside A Heavily Damaged M3 Grant

I recently attended the We Have Ways of Making You Talk podcast’s history festival and one of the most striking things on display was a very rusty, heavily damaged M3 Grant! 

The tank, T24193, was one of the first M3 Grants to arrive in Britain in 1941. It was used for cross country and gunnery trials before later in the war it was used as a range target. The owner was kind enough to share some photographs of the tank before it was salvaged.

The tank was salvaged from Pirbright Ranges in Surrey in 2003 and restored mechanically but its external damage is going to be retained as a visual display of its history as a range target. According to the tank’s owner the M3 was used to test captured German Panzerfaust and Panzershreks and has approximately 100 10mm diameter holes from Panzershreks and nearly 400 12-13mm diameter wholes from Panzerfausts fired at the tank. There also appears to be larger holes, perhaps some HESH round damage and lots of small arms strikes or spalling marks.

Here are some photos of the tank:

I would love to read the report on that testing to see what they were trying to find out – a possible research project for the future. The Panzerfaust (capable of penetrating up to 200mm) and Panzershreks (capable of penetrating up to 160mm) definitely penetrated the M3 Grant’s 2 inch frontal and 1.5 inch side armour. 

With the tank on display I couldn’t resist getting some video of it, the surreal sight of light coming through both sides of the tank’s hull becomes sobering when you consider that Allied tanks faced the weapons which made the holes, in actual combat.


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Ukraine’s Molotov Cocktails

Almost as soon as the war began we started to see evidence of Molotov cocktail manufacture. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense was keen to highlight and encourage it to show civilian resolve in the face of the Russian invasion and there’s been numerous news reports and tv news segments on Molotov production. 

Footage of Molotov manufacture spread across social media and was quickly seized upon by the world’s media. Videos from across Ukraine showed children, students, the elderly and ordinary people working makeshift production lines. 

Kyiv civilians gather in a basement downtown to make Molotov Cocktails (Yan Boechat/VOA)

On the 26 February, two days after the Russian invasion women of Dnipro were featured on TV news making Molotov, shaving polystyrene for use as a thickening agent. In Lviv reports from 28 February suggested that 1,500 Molotovs were being made a day at just one makeshift factory. The Pravda brewery in Lviv also garnered attention with its employees and bottles turned over to Molotov production. The brewery manager said that they had produced 2,000 as of 18 March and shipped some to Kyiv. The former Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov even posed with Molotov Cocktail he’d made using a bottle of 1998 Château Mouton Rothschild. On 7 March the mayor of Lutsk, Ihor Polishchuk, estimated the city had a stockpile of as many as 7,000 Molotovs.

Ukrainian graphic showing where to throw Molotovs at a BTR-82A (Ukrainian MoD)

The morning after the invasion the Ukrainian National Guard posted a graphic showing how to make a Molotov and on the 28 February, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces share some graphics suggesting the best places to hit Russian vehicles with Molotovs. And there have also been billboards posted with instructions on how to make a Molotov and another with a simplified graphic showing good spots to throw them. 

We have also seen a number of interesting delivery systems developed ranging from a medieval-inspired catapults to a pneumatic mortar. On 28 February we got our first video of a Molotov being used. With a short video showing a Molotov drive-by, with a Ukrainian’s throwing a Molotov against the rear of a Russian vehicle before speeding away. Since then a handful of other videos have shown Ukrainian civilians or Territorial Defence Force members destroying abandoned Russian vehicles and equipment.

A Russian support vehicle struck by a Molotov Cocktail early in the conflict (via social media)

Historically speaking, petrol-based improvised incendiary bombs have been used since the 1930s. Perhaps the first prominent use came during the Spanish Civil War. The weapons gained their nickname during the Winter War after Soviet foreign minister Molotov. During the Second World War Molotov cocktails were one of the first weapons made by the fledgling British Home Guard, with them remaining in their arsenal well into the war. Both the British and US regular army’s trained with Molotovs during the early years of the war and they were certainly used by Soviet forces. Since then they have been used in countless riots, uprisings, revolutions, insurgencies and conflicts around the world.  

Soldier preparing to throw a Molotov cocktail at Ft. Belvoir, August, 1942 (US National Archives)

How widespread the use of Molotov cocktails has been is pretty much impossible to know at this point. Despite having a comparative wealth of footage and photos from the ground we still only have a tiny picture of what is going on. It does appear that some have been used by the Territorial Defence Force units to destroy abandoned Russian vehicles and some have even been thrown at Russian vehicles – either as part of individual acts of defiance or as part of more coordinated attacks on Russian forces.

While Molotovs may seem futile in the face of a 40+ tonne T-72, they remain a cheap and effective weapon and checkpoints across Ukraine have been seen to have ready supplies of them. For the urban fighting that was expected in cities across Ukraine they make perfect sense as a plentiful, simple weapon which can be used to pepper Russian vehicles. 


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Bibliography:

‘‘I haven’t told my granny’: Ukraine’s student molotov cocktail-makers’, The Guardian, (source)
‘Ukraine conflict: The women making Molotov cocktails to defend their city’, BBC, (source)
‘Ukrainians Prepare Molotov Cocktails in Kyiv’, NYT, (source)
‘Vulnerable areas of enemy machinery’, Ukraine General Staff, (source)
‘Stark photos show Ukrainians, and even a local brewery, making Molotov cocktails to defend their cities’, Insider, (source)
How To Make a Molotov, Ukrainian National Guard, (source)
‘Catapult for throwing “Molotov cocktails” created in Lutsk’, Rubryka (source)
‘Ukrainian brewery switches from beer to Molotov cocktails’, France24, (source)

Fighting On Film: The Enemy Below (1957)

This week we take a look at the Dick Powell-directed naval thriller The Enemy Below. Starring Robert Mitchum as the commander of a destroyer hunting Curt Jürgens’ U-Boat during a cat and mouse battle. Tension ramps as the captain pit their wits against one another. Based on a novel by based on the 1956 novel by Denys Rayner, a Royal Navy veteran of the Battle of the Atlantic, The Enemy Below is an engaging classic of the naval war film genre with some strong performances from its leading men and Oscar winning special effects.

The episode is also available on all other podcast platforms, you can find them here.

Here are some stills from the film:

If you enjoy the podcast then please check out our Patreon here. Be sure to follow Fighting On Film on Twitter @FightingOnFilm, on Facebook and don’t forget to check out www.fightingonfilm.com.

Thanks for listening!

Improvised Bazooka Mine

I recently came across an interesting segment in a January 1945 US Army Combat Bulletin newsreel. It showed men of B Company of the 238th Combat Engineers setting up improvised anti-tank mines in Belgium. The mines were fashioned from Bazooka rockets!

A still from Combat Bulletin #39 showing an engineer from the 238th Combat Engineer Battalion setting up an improvised off route rocket mine on a fence post (US Army)

This is a relatively little-known application for the Bazooka’s rockets but a really interesting field expediency. The footage shows engineers cutting the cardboard tubes the Bazooka’s rockets were carried in, down and attaching them to a fence post. Essentially setting up an off-route mine or IED. The engineers run a wire back to cover for remote detonation with some batteries. 

Diagram showing how the rocket could be buried (1944 US Army field manual)

While these seems quite ad hoc it was a secondary use for the Rocket Launcher’s ammunition which was laid down in the Bazooka’s 1944 basic field manual. It doesn’t appear in the 1943 technical manual for the M1A1 launcher at all but the 1944 manual explains that 

“In addition to its use as a projectile when fired from the launcher, the rocket may be prepared for firing electrically and used as an improvised anti-tank mine.”

Diagram showing the transport packing and transit cannister tube for the M6 Rocket, the tube could be used as a makeshift launch tube (US Army)

This improvised method of use was also demonstrated in a training film for the Rocket Launcher, a Bazooka team are seen digging a pit in a road and burying a rocket in its makeshift launcher just as laid down in the manual. The training film explains it best…

A still from the 1943 US Army training film for the Bazooka, demonstrating the setting up of an improvised rocket mine (US Army)

The 238th Combat Engineer battalion fought in the Battle of the Bulge and received a commendation from Major General Matthew B. Ridgeway, commander of XVIII Corps, for helping to establish a line of defence against the German offensive. The commendation read: 

“The work of the 238th Engineer Combat Battalion in the construction of the initial barrier in the vicinity of Manhay was outstanding and materially assisted the Corps in holding off the attack of the enemy in that area.”

Illustration from a 238th Combat Engineer Battalion Association book showing knocked out German tanks around Grandmenil (238th Combat Engineer Battalion Association)

Whether this technique of improvising a mine from the rockets was used during the battle is unclear but I found the footage of the engineers demonstrating the set up fascinating. Its always interesting to see suggestions from manuals and training films put into action in the field so I was excited to come across this footage. 


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Bibliography:

238th Combat Engineer Battalion Association (source)

The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, H.C. Cole, 1965, (source)

Footage:

The Anti-Tank Rocket M6” 1943 US Army Training Film; M1 & M1A1 Bazookas, War Department

Combat Bulletin No.39, War Department

Fighting On Film: Nine Men (1943)

This week we’re back in the baking desert of North Africa with a forgotten gem from Ealing Studios. 1943’s Nine Men follows a section of British infantry of the Eighth Army, commanded by Jack Lambert, as they’re besieged by attacking Italian infantry. Directed by Harry Watt Nine Men is a gripping and surprisingly visceral film which fans of The Way Ahead and Sahara will love.

The episode is also available on all other podcast platforms, you can find them here.

Here are some stills from the film:

If you enjoy the podcast then please check out our Patreon here. Be sure to follow Fighting On Film on Twitter @FightingOnFilm, on Facebook and don’t forget to check out www.fightingonfilm.com.

Thanks for listening!

Making Mills Bombs

The No.36 or Mills Bomb was one of the longest serving grenades, developed during the First World War it originated from a Belgian design by Albert Dewandre and Capitaine Léon Roland. It was improved by a British industrialist, William Mills, who owned several metal forging factories.

A No.36 Grenade (Matthew Moss)

It entered service in late 1915 as the No.5 Mk1 and continued to be improved during the war with several iterations before it finally became the No.36M Mk1. We’ll look at the Mills bombs development more closely in a future video/article – today, with the help of some 1940s newsreels from New Zealand we’re going to look at how they were manufactured. While the newsreel doesn’t state the factories featured they were made by a number of factories including Anderson Engineering in Christchurch (these were marked with an “A” below the filler plug), Booth Mcdonald, of Christchurch (marked BM), Scott Brothers, also of Christchurch (marked SB), and Mason & Porter, of Mt Wellington, in Ackland (marked MP).

William Mills’ 1916 Patent for the grenade.

In the first newsreel, courtesy of Archives New Zealand (Weekly Review No. 70 (1943)), we see No.36 grenades being cast – the newsreel takes a slightly humorous approach of describing the process as a recipe – making ‘pineapples’ – a slang name by which grenades were sometime’s known. The factory is using the sand casting method with a pattern pressed into the sand and then removed. The two halves of the grenade’s body are pressed into sand, a pressed sand core could then be placed inside which would allow the grenade’s body to be poured hollow to allow room for explosives and detonator. If we again pause here we can see a machinist is centring and counter-sinking the filling hole’s first thread for its plug.

Cast grenade bodies ready for filling (Archives New Zealand)

The footage includes a brief shot we see a woman factory worker drilling out the top of the grenade’s body and perhaps de-burring the side of the safety lever holder. In the next shot we see more machinists at work with one lady linishing the body of the grenade, removing imperfections from the casting on a grinder or polishing wheel and in the background some women a working on milling machines or drill presses. 

Women factory workers linishing the grenade body castings (Archives New Zealand)

At the very end of the film we can see the grenade bodies are stacked ready for the next phase of production. Sadly, we don’t see the threading of the filling hole or base in this film nor the painting or filling of the grenades.

In the second newsreel (Weekly Review No. 63 (1942)), however, which celebrates the production of 1 million grenades, we do seem more of the production process. In this short segment we see how the grenades are filled and how they work. We see the cast bodies of the grenades being transported on a conveyor after being shellacked to keep moisture out. If we pause here we can see this worker packing a case with “gascheck” discs and fuses.

Loading grenades, fuses and gas checks into a transit case (Archives New Zealand)

The gas check disc and a 7 second fuse was used when the grenade was being fired from a rifle’s cup discharger, while a 4 second fuse was favoured when throwing by hand. In this final clip we see the internals of a grenade – which was filled with just over 2oz of explosive through the round filling-hole (on the side opposite the safety lever) which was then screw plugged. The newsreel then concludes the grenade segment by showing the striker spring inside being compressed and a No.27 Detonator, with fuse, being inserted into the sectioned grenade.

We’ll examine more British grenades, including the No.36 in future videos and articles.


If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters – including custom stickers and early access to videos! Thank you for your support!


Bibliography:

Weekly Review No. 63 (1942)

Weekly Review No. 70 (1943)

W. Mills, ‘Grenade and Other Like Apparatus’, 4 Apr. 1916, US Patent #1178092, (source)

NZ Mills Grenades, Lexpev.nl, (source)

No.36 Mk1 Grenades, MillsGrenades, (source)

Vickers Gun In The Rhineland

In this final video of the Rhineland Campaign Weapons series we take a look at the little known role of the British and Commonwealth forces’ Vickers Guns. With the help of the Vickers MG Collection & Research Association we recreated a platoon line consisting of 4 Vickers Guns to recreate the Pepperpot tactics used during Operation Veritable – the western Allies’ invasion of Germany.

In this video we examine how Vickers Medium Machine Guns were used en masse to soften up enemy positions before Operation Veritable began and during the subsequent advance into the Rhineland. The Vickers was used alongside artillery, mortars and even anti-aircraft guns in what was known as a ‘pepperpot’ fire plan – where the focus was on weight of fire. The Vickers supported the advance through out the campaign and in this video we aimed to capture some of the feel of what those pepperpot bombardments might have been like – albeit on much, much smaller scale.

Using contemporary photographs and footage we recreated the gun pits, complete with overhead cover, pits dug to the original manuals and plenty of empty belts and belt boxes. Right down to the gun crews being badged up as Middlesex Regiment. Check out the comparison of our shoot and a contemporary photograph taken during the battle for Goch, 20 February 1945.

Below are some behind the scenes photos from the shoot taken by myself and Robbie McGuire:

A huge thank you to everyone who made the shoot possible, I’m very proud of what we were able to achieve with this shoot.


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Fighting On Film: 303 Squadron (2018)

This week we examine a Polish film 303 Squadron (Dywizjon 303) with Jennifer Grant, a postgraduate researcher focusing on the Polish Armed Forces in the West during the Second World War. With Jenny as our wingman we discussed the nuances and missed opportunities of this film which follows the exploits of the RAF’s first operation fighter squadron made up of Polish pilots. Immortalised first in 1969’s The Battle of Britain and also revisited in another 2018 film Hurricane, 303 Squadron has a fascinating history but we ask the question – does this film do them justice?

The episode is also available on all other podcast platforms, you can find them here.

Here are some stills from the film:

If you enjoy the podcast then please check out our Patreon here. Be sure to follow Fighting On Film on Twitter @FightingOnFilm, on Facebook and don’t forget to check out www.fightingonfilm.com.

Fighting On Film: The Forgotten Battle (2021)

We are zipping up our Denisons, checking our Rifle No.4s and climbing aboard our Horsa Glider for this week’s look at the brand new Dutch war film ‘The Forgotten Battle‘, directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. it boasts the second largest budget ever for for a Dutch film at around €14 million. With a cast of British and Dutch actors ‘The Forgotten Battle’ is sett during the the Battle of the Scheldt in 1944.

The film is an ambitious attempt to combine three storylines into a film just over 2 hours long. Competently made with some decent performances and a real eye for Mise-en-scène and atmosphere. The Forgotten Battle attempts to cram in too much and largely forgets the ‘Forgotten Battle‘ of the title. While the film brings us three engaging and potentially fascinating story lines that tackle the moral choices that faced soldiers and civilians alike during war, however, there is not enough time or space for them to all develop and ‘The Forgotten Battle’ may have been better adapted as a limited series. We explore all this in this week’s episode!

The episode is also available on all other podcast platforms, you can find them here.

Here are some stills from the film:

If you enjoy the podcast then please check out our Patreon here. Be sure to follow Fighting On Film on Twitter @FightingOnFilm, on Facebook and don’t forget to check out www.fightingonfilm.com.

Thanks for listening!