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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If you’re familiar with the film Siege of Jadotville you will remember a scene in which the Irish company’s sniper takes on a long range shot… with a Bren. The sniper exchanges his Rifle No.4(T) for a Bren (MkII – in reality, according to contemporary photographs of Irish troops in the Congo, it would have been a MkIII) and single loads a round with the magazine removed.
Following discussion of how plausible this scene is during an episode of the Fighting on Film podcast we teamed up with Richard Fisher, of the Vickers MG Collection and Research Association, to test out the plausibility of the scene. In the film the sniper is seen to be highly proficient with his Rifle No.4(T), barely missing a shot. When tasked with shooting a target which appears to be approximately 400 yards away he sets down his No.4(T), with its No.32 3.5X telescopic sight, and takes a Bren, sets the sights, loads a single cartridge into the breech and takes the shot. The shot strikes and kills the target, a man in a white suit who was directing an attack on the Irish/UN positions.
This scene raises a number of questions:
Why does the sniper do this?
Is the Bren more accurate than a Rifle No.4(T)?
Can you easily single-load a Bren?
The video above explains our methodology for trying to answer some of these questions. We gathered a group of shooters to fire both a Rifle No.4(T) and a Bren MkIII (in our case a MkI Bren fitted with the shorter barrel of a MkIII). The shooters come from a range of experiences ranging from successful competition shooters to myself (who hasn’t shot a long range competition in 18 months) and Rich (who hasn’t fired a rifle at significant ranges in over a decade). We fired at two ranges 100 yards and 400 yards, with the latter representing the scene from the film, at representatively sized targets. We used 174gr PPU .303 ammunition in all weapons except the 7.62x51mm L4 (which does not directly factor into the results of this experiment).
Can You Easily Single-Load A Bren
In the morning before the shoot the group of shooters carried out familiarisation of the handling and Normal Safety Precautions (NSPs) for the Bren. It was then that we discussed the part of the scene where the sniper single-loads a round into the chamber. It was decided to test this question using a L54A1 Drill Purpose Bren held by the Vickers MG Collection and Research Association’s collection.
In the video you will see that this was possible but it was easily fumbled. It was possible to accidentally nose the round into the gas piston or to drop it though the action, out of the ejection port. It is imaginable that in the stress of combat it might prove difficult – but it is certainly possible to single-load the Bren in this way.
Is the Bren More Accurate Than a Rifle No.4(T)?
In short, no. We found that the average figure of merit value showed that the No.4(T) was more accurate at both 100 and 400 yards than the Bren. The caveat to this is that our data set for 400 yards was incomplete with some misses and off paper hits meaning only partial groups were recorded.
In terms of measuring the accuracy of the weapons we worked out individual shooter and group average Figure of Merit values. We explain how this was done in the video (with reference to this video from Rob of BritishMuzzleLoaders). The raw data can be seen below:
First we have the the raw data for the Rifle No.4(T) at 400 yards for all shooters combined input into the Figure of Merit (FoM) spreadsheet which calculated the FoM and group size and generated a grouping diagram:
Below is the raw data for the Bren Mk3 at 400 yards for all shooters combined input into the Figure of Merit (FoM) spreadsheet which calculated the FoM and group size and generated a grouping diagram:
Below is a summary of the FoM and group data for each shooter with the various weapons as well as an averaged value:
Tom’s group for the No.4(T) at 400 yards was off paper and not recorded, the data for Kev, Matt and Rich on the MkIII was partial due to misses and shots off paper – this is perhaps somewhat indicative of the advantage the No.4(T)’s scope gave over the Bren’s iron sights at 400 yards.
What would we do differently if we have the chance to repeat the experiment?
It would be useful to replicate the firing of the No.4(T) and Bren again to rectify the partial data we recorded at 400 yards. It would also be useful to fire the Bren mounted on a tripod rather than off the bipod. This would provide a useful control comparison with human factors effecting the weapon minimised. We had hoped to do this on the day but did not have the time. It may also be beneficial to enable each shooter to have 5-10 rounds to get on target and compensate for wind etc. and then shoot their representative five round group.
Why Does the Sniper Do This?
So why does the sniper do this in the film? Firing from the bipod would theoretically provide a more stable shooting platform than an unsupported rifle. There was, however, plenty of sandbags for him to take a supported shot with the No.4(T). There has been some suggestion that it was believed that the Bren was a more accurate weapon but data from service trials and our experiment show that it was not superior to a scoped, accurised rifle. The scene was probably a result of cinematic license, the sniper had previously been shown to be able to hit anything he had thus far aimed at so having him swap to “the Bren on single shot” gives an added weight to the scene and the action of single-loading rather than firing from the magazine adds to the technical theatricality of the scene depicting the sniper as a capable expert.