Matt recently visited Berlin and took the opportunity to visit the German-Russian Museum in Karlshorst, the site of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender. The museum’s centrepiece is the hall in which the surrender documents were signed, restored to how it appeared at that historic moment.
The hall itself is inside what used to be the officers’ mess of the Wehrmacht’s pioneer corps training school No.1 (Pionierschule 1) which was established in 1936 in Karlshorst, an eastern suburb of Berlin. The officers’ mess building was built in the late 1930s. Later, in 1942 the school was renamed the Fortress Pioneer School (or Festungspionierschule).
During the Battle for Berlin and the Soviet push into the centre of the German capital, the school was occupied by a Soviet battalion on 23rd April. The Soviet military maintained a presence at the former pioneer school for the next 40 years, with parts used by the KGB.
After the war the building housed the Soviet Military Administration in Germany until 1949, when the German Democratic Republic was formed. Today, much of the school has been reclaimed for housing and the mess the building is home to the awkwardly named, German-Russian Museum which tells the story of WWII from the Russian perspective.
The surrender was signed by three representatives of the German high command, Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, Admiral Von Friedeburg and Colonel General Stumpff early on the 9th May, 1945 – in the presence of Soviet commander in chief Marshal Georgy Zhukov and Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder – Deputy Supreme Commander at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force.
The initial instrument of surrender had been signed in Riems, in France, the day before but the documents were officially ratified in Berlin at 00:16, on 9th May. The Soviets believed it was more fitting that the surrender be signed in the German capital – highlighting the Soviet role in victory. The surrender ended both the last of the fighting around Berlin as well as the war in Europe.
In 1967 the Soviet Armed Forces in Berlin established the museum, then called the ‘Museum of Unconditional Surrender of Fascist Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945’, the hall was restored to look as it did on the night of the surrender.
It was a surreal experience being in a room which was witness to one of history’s most defining moment and you could certainly feel the history of the room.
Whilst looking through the piles of surplus ‘kit’ in my friends warehouse in Germany I came across an interesting find, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) training kit that has several examples of WWII and after ordnance that might be found on training grounds and former battlefields throughout Europe.
One of the elements from that training kit was a PIAT or Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank, round. Many of these have been found across northwest Europe since the end of WWII and it was important for EOD teams to be able to identify them and understand how they work in order to safely dispose of them.
This example is likely an ‘instructional’ round that may have been produced from a previously live round and not subsequently marked as inert. In the video, which was filmed on location from memory, I mentioned that the charge was inside the front cone. Instead the charge was actually just behind the steel cone, which acted as a forcing cone, and has seen been replaced by some sawdust. We can see this in the diagram below, which shows an earlier Mk round but the configuration remains the same:
This time we examine an example of the Mk3 PIAT Bomb. When I filmed the video I wasn’t sure of the markings but this chart below more clearly explains them:
There were 7 marks of PIAT bomb:
MkI yellow/green/yellow band 808 stamped on green band, red x’s around nose cone
Mk2 as above
Mk3 yellow/blue/yellow band TNT stamped on blue band, red circle around nose cone
Mk4 as above
Inert bomb black with yellow band INERT in white
Drill bomb black with DRILL in white x 2
Practice bomb – to fit the practice insert tray, painted white and it looks nothing at all like a PIAT bomb!
Our inert bomb isn’t painted black, instead it is painted up as a Mk3 to emulate what a live blind found in the field would look like.
Here’s an extract from the PIAT’s manual explaining how the fuze was fitted to a live round:
From the PIAT manual: The fuze. – Until required for use the fuze is kept in a container attached to the drum tail by a spring clip….
ii. To fuze. – Remove the fuze container from the drum tail and take out the fuze. Remove the thimble from the bomb nose by pressing it downwards and turning it clockwise. Remove the transit plug from the fuze chamber and insert the fuze flat end first. Replace the thimble. The transit plug should be placed in the fuze container and the latter put in the carrier, in case the bomb should later have to be unfuzed.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the National Army Museum in London and check out their current exhibition, The Art of Persuasion, a look at the wartime work of graphic designer Abram Games. While you may not recognise the name you will probably recognise some of his impressive and striking posters.
Games’ work is instantly arresting with an eye-catching starkness which underlines the messages he sought to convey. In the video above I aim to give a feel for the exhibition and, if you are unfamiliar with him, a feel for Games’ work.
He joined the army in 1940 and began designing posters for both military and civilian audiences in 1941. Over the next 5 years he designed over 100 posters, some of which have become iconic.
Describing himself as a ‘graphic thinker’ Games used silhouettes and contrasting colour and vivid subjects. Largely self-taught Games was extremely passionate about his work and by November 1942 had been made ‘Official War Poster Artist’.
The exhibition not only displays his work but also explains how Games created his posters, often working from models or taking photographs of soldiers training. Some posters have his original sketches displayed next to them to show how the concepts evolved.
His posters encouraged young women to join the ATS, soldiers to volunteer for the Commandos and civilians to support the war effort. In addition to posters for the War Office, some of his most recognisable work, including the ‘Your Britain, Fight For It Now’ posters were designed for the Army Bureau of Current Affairs in an effort to raise morale and promote the idea of post war reform and progress. He also designed a series of powerful, striking posters for appeals to aid Europe’s Jews, a cause he was deeply connected to as a Jew. Games was demobilised in 1945 and enjoyed a long, successful civilian career, he died in 1996.
The National Army Museum’s exhibition works hard to give a feel for not just the work but also the man and his motivations. Games’ wartime posters are extremely, unsurprising when most were covered or torn down after a few months, so it was a rare treat to see them in person, up close you get a sense of what it would have been like to see one on a barrack wall or a billboard 75 years ago. The exhibition also had some interesting interactive elements with a touch screen allowing visitors to create their own Games-style posters and also another screen with video interviews with Games’ daughter and people who knew him talking about his work.
Games’ work are not just pieces of art but also important historical objects that can help us understand what the war was like and what motivated people to fight.
Find out more about the exhibition on the National Army Museum’s website, here.
The Vickers Gun is an iconic weapon, developed from the Maxim and adopted by the British in 1912. It served for over 50 years in conflicts all around the world. In this video, we’re lucky enough to have Richard Fisher of the Vickers Machine Gun Collection and Research Association shows us how to disassemble a the gun and talk us through its internals.
Big thank you to Rich for taking the time to help with this video and provide the voice over explaining the process! We’ll have more videos on the Vickers Gun in the future! Check out Richard’s work over on the Vickers Machine Gun Collection and Research Association’s site here.
I’ll let Rich explain the disassembly process in real time in the video but here are a couple of photographs of the gun disassembled:
This is the gun in its fully field stripped condition, with lock still assembled, but with its fusee spring and cover off and its barrel and action removed. Just below the barrel is the feed block.
Here’s the Vickers Gun’s lock disassembled into its 14 component parts:
This photo gives us a good look inside the receiver with the barrel, action and side plates removed, The spade grip assembly simply folds down to allow the action and barrel to be slide out of the gun.
Finally, here’s the gun reassembled and ready for action.
Thanks again to Richard for his help with this video, it was great to collaborate and hopefully we’ll have more videos with Rich in the future. Please check out the Vickers Machine Gun Collection & Research Association’s site to find out more about what they do. They have some wonderful resources, including a comprehensive collection of manuals, for not just the Vickers but also the wider British Army from the past 100 years. You can also order copies of the brilliant instructional posters which were featured in the video over on the the associations website too!
We’ve looked at a few cutaways in the past, today we’re going to take a look at a Lee-Enfield Rifle No.4 cutaway.
One of the main drawbacks of the venerable SMLE was that it was expensive and time consuming to manufacture. The No.4 was an attempt to address this. It evolved from the experimental No.1 MkV and MkVI which were trialled in the early 1920s. The key mechanical change was that the barrel was free-floated and had a heavier profile to deal with expansion of the stock. The No.4 also had a new rear aperture sight mounted further back on the receiver giving a better sight picture and a longer sight radius.
With this cutaway we get a look inside the butt trap, which has a pull-through and oil bottle inside, then as we move to the action we get a look at the rifle’s trigger, sear, sear spring and magazine catch. If we look closely we can see the bolt head catch. The magazine has also been cutaway, with the magazine follower spring just visible.
This cutaway rifle has had all of the wood around its receiver removed, so we can see the magazine housing floor plate and the point where the retaining screw attaches to the trunnion. As we move along we get a look inside the chamber where the outline of the cartridge neck is easy to see and we can also see the barrel’s rifling too.
Down near the muzzle the rifle’s upper retaining band and the hand guard have been cutaway to show the barrel inside. The No.4 was adopted for service officially in November 1939 and just over 4 million were made during WW2. We’ll have a full, more in-depth video on the No.4 in the future.
A month ago I posted a short video from a range trip shooting the Remington M1917 at about 100m, getting a feel for the rifle and checking zero. I said in that video that I was planning on stretching the M1917s legs in the near future and last week I got the chance. I had the opportunity to shoot the rifle out to 700 yards (640m) which was a lot of fun.
With some 147gr S&B I managed a half decent score only missing twice out of 20 rounds. I’ve never shot out to 700 yards especially not with iron sights so it was a fun challenge, amazingly my last round was a bull, which was a real bonus!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.