Following on from last week’s episode on massive US Railway Guns, I thought we’d stay with the railroad/railway theme but stepping away from our figurative Armourer’s Bench for a moment to appreciate some really incredible contemporary footage.
While I was doing research for our earlier video on the M1918 Ford Light Tank, I came across this amazing footage filmed by the Ford Motor Company in 1919. It shows what appears to be a Ford Model T Touring car being hit by a train. The result, as expected, is carnage.
The footage, which is clearly staged, was filmed for a traffic safety film by Ford in 1919. While the scenario might be staged, the results certainly are not.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
This week’s episode is a short video of my first trip to the range with the Remington M1917. I basically wanted to get an overall feel for the rifle and see how the zero was. It was a beautiful day, and shooting the M1917 was a lot of fun.
I did take along my proper video camera but in a profoundly rookie move, I forgot to check it had a memory card in it. So had to improvise and use my phone, the results aren’t too bad!
The only range available that afternoon for zeroing was a 100 yard range. The first increment on the M1917’s ladder sight is 200 yards, so I set my aperture a little lower and put 8 rounds of 123gr SAKO .30-06 through the rifle, just to see where point impact was.
The results were better than I expected. With a six-oclock hold on the 7 ring I got a spread of about 7 inches. This was entirely due to me get used to the rifle and forgetting to bring along a rest. I was just pleased to see rounds on paper. My groups tightened up as the afternoon went on and I’m definitely looking forward to getting to the range with the M1917 again – hopefully with a memory card!
We’ll take an in-depth look at this rifle in the future, and we’ll hopefully have videos on its British predecessors too. In the meantime, bonus video here.
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?
….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!
When the US entered World War One in April 1917, the US Army had no experience with tanks. American observers in France had reported on the early Allied uses of tanks at the Somme and American enthusiasm for the new machines was lacking in many of the Army’s upper echelons.
This began to change after the arrival of General Pershing and his staff in France, ahead of the American Expeditionary Force. Pershing directed that a Tank Corps be raised and detailed a number of officers, including the enterprising young officer, Captain George S. Patton, to establish a training ground and report on how best to deploy tanks.
Patton was instrumental in shaping the US Army’s early tank doctrine, he wrote a highly detailed report on how to deploy tanks to maximum effect. Patton, a cavalry officer by training, admired the French Renault FT’s speed, mobility and manoeuvrability but felt the two doctrines of French light and British Heavy tanks could be combined. In December 1917, Colonel Samuel Rockenbach was placed in command of the new, but still tank-less, US Tank Corps.
Britain and France shared their tank designs with the US but in early 1918, the American automobile giant, Ford, began work on an American light tank. The result was a light and mobile tank weighing in at 3 US tons (or 2.7 metric tons). Sometimes referred to as the Ford 3-Ton Tank or the Ford Model 1918. Ford hoped to produce the new tank using as many off the shelf components, from their automobile and truck production, as they could. So the new tank was powered by two 4-cylinder Ford Model T engines, in theory developing around 40 horsepower, with a maximum speed of 8 mph and an operational range of just over 30 miles. Taking cues from the French FT, the M1918’s engines, fuel tank and transmission were mounted in a compartment at the rear of the tank. Some sources note that the tank was developed with the assistance of the Van Dorn Iron Works, in Cleveland, Ohio, presumably assisting in the manufacture of bullet-proof steel plates making up the tank’s armour.
Contemporary photographs show the prototype during assembly in one of Ford’s Detroit workshops. We’re extremely lucky to have these photos showing the development process, they show that the initial shape and layout changed very little but some important changes were made as the tank was tested. The photographs date to April 1918, suggesting that by late spring the first prototype was assembled.
Like the French FT, the M1918 had a two-man crew but was significantly lighter weighing 4 tons less. The Ford could reach speeds of up to 8 mph while the slower FT could achieve around 5 mph. The Ford M1918 was 14 feet (or 4.3m) long, making it slightly shorter than the FT. The Ford’s armour was much thinner than its French counterpart, while this helped with weight, it would have left the crew vulnerable. It had just 7 to 13mm of armour compared to the FT’s 8 to 22mm. The tank’s tracks were also extremely narrow, and while the tank was light, this could have conceivably led to issues with getting bogged down in thick mud. Some of the contemporary footage of the prototype shows it with wider, more practical looking, tracks but the later pre-production models seem to have reverted to the narrower tracks.
The earlier prototype Ford tank did not have a gun fitted and the front doors for both driver and gunner were hinged at the sides, rather than at the top. Some of the contemporary footage shows the gun-less prototype becoming trapped nose-up, at an almost 90-degree angle, after trying to cross a relatively narrow trench. To prevent this we see that the later tanks were subsequently fitted with a ‘trench tail’.
In terms of armament, the Ford was also limited with a single .30 calibre machine gun, mounted on the right side of the hull in an armoured casement. The casement doesn’t appear to have a prominent sight aperture or vision slit for the driver so how the gun was aimed is unclear. The gun also appears to have a very limited firing arc compared to the FT’s turret mounted gun, which could rotate a full 360 degrees. It is unclear exactly what sort of gun was going to be mounted in the tank although an Hotchkiss M1909 Benét–Mercié (also used in British tanks) may have been an option. Another more likely option would have been the specially-developed M1919 air-cooled Browning Machine Gun, which had been specially developed for tank mounting. Judging from the size of the armoured housing for the gun, however, it may have been intended to mount the M1918 Marlin Tank Machine Gun, which had large aluminium cooling fins.
The Ford had a two-man crew with the driver on the left and a gunner on the right. The driver also had a cupola, with vision slits, on the roof of the tank which allowed him to drive when the hatch was closed. But this must have been difficult to see out of unless the driver changed his driving position.
The tank had an exposed front axle connecting its large front track idlers, this would have been susceptible to damage from enemy fire and from hitting obstacles. At the rear is the drive sprocket and along the body of the tank are two sets of three suspension wheels with two track support rollers above. Note that the support rollers are mounted on a truck leaf spring, another example of off-the-shelf parts being utilised. This represents a change from the single support roller seen in the earlier prototype
The later footage shows as many as half a dozen pre-production tanks on the move during a demonstration at Ford’s plant in Detroit. We get a good feel for how fast and manoeuvrable the Ford tanks were. But they also struggle to navigate some of the more difficult terrain and don’t appear to have the power or traction to tackle some of the steeper hills or ditches. The tanks much have been difficult to steer, likely using a pair of clutch levers to control the tracks on either side. Two tanks even collide with each other and there’s a couple of other near misses as the Ford’s navigate around the test area. One tank becomes stuck requiring two others to pull it clear of the bank.
The War Department was eager to get tanks into production ordering 15,000 M1918s from Ford, with 500 to be delivered in January 1919 with production continuing at 100 per day after that. An initial batch of 15 were ordered for testing. At least one of these was sent to France for evaluation before the end of the war. The French were unimpressed finding it inferior to the FT, they did consider it as an artillery tractor for the French 75. The US also considered the Ford for this role and some photograph captions from early 1919, of Battery A, 140th Field Artillery, describes it as a ‘3-ton tractor’ for pulling “the new American 75mm split trail gun”, the M1916. These photographs also prove that more than one M1918 reached France.
The Ford tanks were not well regarded by those with practical experience, with the men of the US Tank Corps in France not consulted about the tank before it was ordered by the Ordnance Department. The war ended before large scale production of the M1918 could begin, With just 15 M1918s built we’re lucky to have this much film of it in action. Today only two of the Ford light tanks survive in US Army collections.
In reality the M1918 was more a Machine Gun Carrier than a tank. How effective it might have been is a matter of speculation. It’s difficult to say, while the French may not have felt it was an improvement over the FT, it certainly showed enough merit for the War Department to make a large order. Its narrow tracks, lack of protection and minimal armament may have proved to be problems. The M1918’s real legacy is that it while the US had built other tanks during the war, including the M1917, a copy of the FT, and the MKVIII heavy tank, in collaboration with the British, the M1918 Ford was the first truly American designed and built tank.
The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Military Vehicles, I.V. Hogg & J. Weeks (1980) The Complete Guide to Tanks & Armoured Fighting Vehicles, G. Forty & J. Livesey, (2012) Camp Colt to Desert Storm: The History of U.S. Armored Forces, G.F. Hofmann & D.A. Starry (1999) The Machine Gun: History, Evolution, and Development of Manual, Automatic, and Airborne Repeating Weapons, G.M Chinn (1951)
The British Army entered the First World War with very few mortars, and certainly none at the battalion level. As the stalemate of trench warfare set in and the effectiveness of enemy mortars became clear it was decided that trench mortars of various sizes would be needed.
Nicknamed ‘plum pudding’ or ‘toffee apple’ mortars after their projectile’s characteristic shape, the 2 inch Medium Mortar or 2 inch Trench Howitzer, was one of Britain’s first effective light trench mortars to be introduced.
Trench mortars were the army’s most forward artillery, right up on the front line. These short range weapons were able to throw large, high explosive projectiles, short distances across No Man’s Land at the enemy trench system opposite. The 2 inch mortar was considered accurate out to 350 yards with a maximum effective range out to just under 600 yards.
Introduced in 1915, the 2 inch mortar was originally crewed by men taken from the battalion it was stationed with, along with some specialists from the Royal Artillery. However, with the introduction of the 3 inch Stokes mortar which was operated by the infantry themselves the 2 inch mortars became the sole responsibility of the Royal Field Artillery.
Mortar positions were often in secondary trenches just behind the infantry’s frontline. This was to help protect the infantry from potential counter-battery fire. The trench mortars were often deployed to sectors to provide counter battery fire against German minenwerfers or in the run up to an offensive or local action. A British Army report on artillery use, drawn up in February 1917, noted that “Owing to their liability to be destroyed by hostile artillery fire it may often be advisable to defer opening fire with these mortars till the last day of bombardment.” The mortars were also tasked with keeping gaps made in the wire clear and with supporting any feint attacks made by infantry during gaps in the bombardment running up to a larger offensive.
Llewelyn Wyn Griffith, a captain with the 15th Royal Welch Fusiliers and later a novelist, recalled in his war memoir:
“At night a trench mortar officer set his guns in a derelict trench about twenty yards behind the line and carried up his ammunition, heavy globes of iron with a little cylindrical projection like a broken handle. In the morning I moved the men from the bays between the trench mortars and their target, to lighten the risk of loss from retaliatory fire.”
Sometimes the width of No Man’s Land required saps to be cut extending out from the frontline so the mortar rounds didn’t fall short. The 50 lb lollipop-like projectile had a maximum effective range of 570 yards (depending on the size of cordite charge used), and could create a crater 5 feet deep and 14 feet wide. The ideal mortar position was a 6 feet wide by 9 feet deep sandbagged pit with the weapon’s heavy wooden bed at the bottom and room for the crew to load the mortar.
Crews could manage to fire approximately once every two minutes. Much slower than the lighter 3 inch Stokes Mortar and but faster than the heavy 9.45 inch Heavy Mortar. The mortar comprising of just its tube, bed, stand and ignition system weighed 320 lbs (145kg), not including the accompanying tools and the Temple silencer system which could be fitted (which weighed 47 lbs or 21 kg alone).
Typically manned by a 5 man mortar crew comprising of an NCO, gunners, and ammunition bearers. To operate the 2 inch mortar a cordite charge was first placed down the tube, the projectile’s shaft was then inserted on top of the charge, the projectile’s fuse was set and checked and a new blank cartridge chambered in the ignition system. The crew then got clear of the weapon and pulled the lanyard to fire the mortar. To reload the crew ran a clearing stick down the tube and then repeated the loading process.
Interestingly, the 2 inch Medium Mortar, like the larger 9.45 inch Heavy Mortar used a cut-down rifle, which screwed into the ‘breech’ end of the mortar tube. This particular mortar has an 1894-dated cut down Lee-Enfield MkI as its ignition system, the cutdown rifle has a wooden insert in its magazine well but it still has its rear volley sight attached. This reusable system replaced the T-tube Friction ignitor, which was in high demand by Britain’s bigger guns. The Lee-Enfield-based system enabled the cordite propellant charges to be ignited by a blank .303 round instead. The rifle’s trigger was pulled with a lanyard from nearby cover. These cutdown ignitor rifle are sometimes confused for Obrez-style Lee-Enfields.
The weight of the cordite charge used dictated the range while a variety of different fuses were used with the projectiles, these screwed into the nose of the bomb. The sphere was about 9.3 inches in diameter with a 2 inch thread for the fuse at its head and a cup for the 22 inch long, 2 inch thick solid cast iron stick or spigot at its base. The sphere was filled with high explosive (Amatol or Ammonal). The high explosive bombs were painted white with a green or pink stripe around their middle.
They were often deployed in batteries of four with three Royal Field Artillery medium mortar batteries attached to each division. The mortars were predominantly tasked with cutting enemy barbed wire and destroying enemy trenches and forward positions, such a machine gun nests.
Captain Griffith described a battery of 2 inch mortars opening fire on enemy lines:
“A pop, and then a black ball went soaring up, spinning round as it went through the air slowly; more pops and more queer birds against the sky. A stutter of terrific detonations seems to shake the air and the ground, sandbags and bits of timber sailed up slowly and then fell in a calm deliberate way. In the silence that followed the explosions, an angry voice called out in English across No Man’s Land, ‘YOU BLOODY WELSH MURDERERS.’
The 2 inch medium mortar entered service in spring 1915 and remained in use into 1917 with British and Empire troops. It was used on the Western Front and in Mesopotamia. Over 800 were ordered initially with 675,000 bombs, many of the mortars were made in railway and agricultural machinery workshops, allowing larger factories to focus on more complex weapons. The 2 inch mortar was superseded by the larger bore Newton 6 inch mortar later in the war. Some of the remaining 2 inch projectiles were re-purposed as makeshift anti-tank mines, buried in no man’s land in anticipation of possible German tank attacks.
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