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.


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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.


If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters. Thank you for your support!

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.

The No.4 Rifle in the Rhineland

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of filming some segments on small arms for the new documentary on the Rhineland Campaign – ‘Rhineland 45‘. Not all of the segments I filmed discussing weapons could be included in the finished documentary – I filmed quite a few – so I’m pleased to share a couple here. This short video examines the Rifle No.4 (Lee-Enfield) used by British and Canadian troops during Operations Veritable and Varsity. This video was filmed at the Vickers MG Collection and Research Association.

Rifle No.4 (Robbie McGuire)

Check out the first video of this series on the use of the PIAT here and our video on the Panzerfaust & Panzerschreck in the Rhineland here and our video on the STENs used in the Rhineland.


If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters. Thank you for your support!

The STEN in the Rhineland

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of filming some segments on small arms for the new documentary on the Rhineland Campaign – ‘Rhineland 45‘. Not all of the segments I filmed discussing weapons could be included in the finished documentary – I filmed quite a few – so I’m pleased to share a couple here. This video examines the various marks of STEN gun used during Operations Veritable and Varsity. This video was filmed at the Vickers MG Collection and Research Association.

The Sten MkIV (Robbie McGuire)

Check out the first video of this series on the use of the PIAT here and our video on the Panzerfaust & Panzerschreck in the Rhineland here.


If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters. Thank you for your support!

Royal Navy Beachhead Commando Reenactors

A few weeks ago at the We Have Ways podcast’s history festival (WarFest) I had a chance to chat with the chaps from the Royal Navy Beachhead Commando Reenactors, a group portraying a unique Second World War British Commando unit. And I got to have a paddle in a Mk1** canoe!

The Royal Navy Commandos were tasked with reconiotring the beaches before landings and once the landing began they were first onto the beach. The Royal Navy Commando beachhead parties and beachmasters would then direct the landing of troops and materials.

Below are a few photos from the groups camp and of the Mk1** Commando canoes used by the SBS and Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPP):

Find out more about the group at www.rnbcr.co.uk


If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters. You can pick up a ‘Bring Up The PIAT’ shirt here. Thank you for your support!

Fighting On Film: Cockleshell Heroes (1955) ft. Saul David

Prime your limpet mines, pull on your windproofs and climb into your canoes and join us as we paddle furiously into enemy territory to discuss 1955’s Cockleshell Heroes with none other than historian Saul David.

Saul has a new history of the Special Boat Service out so what better film to tackle than Cockleshell Heroes. Starring Trevor Howard, Jose Ferrer, Victor Maddern, Christopher Lee and Percy Herbert as the Royal Marine Commandos tasked with sinking enemy ships deep in enemy territory on Operation Frankton!

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!

A PIAT from Arnhem

Last weekend at the We Have Ways podcast’s history festival the Airborne Assault Museum brought along a very interesting piece of history – a PIAT with Arnhem provenance. The PIAT had allegedly been dropped during Operation Market Garden but not used. At some point after the battle it was discovered by locals and handed into the Doorwerth Castle Museum, the original airborne museum before it moved to the Hartenstein, and was subsequently gifted the the UK’s Airborne Assault Museum in the 1950s.

Discussing the PIAT with Ramsay of the Airborne Assault Museum (Matthew Moss)

The museum believes the PIAT has much of its original paint and in general the weapon is in excellent shape. It has the earlier rear sight with two apertures for 70 and 100 yards, the later design had three – with a maximum range of 110 yards. This PIAT’s monopod could still be raised and lowered, to elevate the weapon upto 40-degrees for indirect firing.

A close up of the PIAT (Mattthew Moss)

The indirect fire quadrant sight is in good condition – complete with its spirit level. The weapon also appears to have its original white indirect fire aiming line along the top of its body and almost pristine webbing – though the butt cover is frayed which isn’t uncommon. Sadly the weapon has been deactivated so we couldn’t open up the action or cock the weapon. It seems to have been welded at the front and rear of the body.

The PIAT is in great shape, albeit deactivated, and it was a pleasure to take a look at a weapon which could be traced back to the battle. Thank you to Ramsay, Ben and Allen of the Airborne Assault Museum for allowing me to examine and film the PIAT, check out the museum’s website here.

Click here for more articles and videos on the PIAT.


If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters. You can pick up a ‘Bring Up The PIAT’ shirt here. Thank you for your support!

Fighting On Film: Baskeyfield VC

In the last of this month’s Market Garden specials we bring you a very special look at an amateur feature from the 1960s.

Baskeyfield VC‘ tells the incredible story of the actions of John Baskeyfield who was the only Stoke-born recipient of the Victoria Cross during the Second World War. Produced, written and directed by Bill Townley over 3 years, this film is a hidden gem within the war movie genre.

From showing the exploits of Lonsdale force dug in around Oosterbeek Church to Baskeyfield’s VC action itself. The film is a feat of what a driven and passionate film maker can achieve on a micro-budget!

The film was lovingly restored by Ray Johnson of the Staffordshire Film Archive, we talk to Ray about this process during the episode. The film is available to buy 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!