Second World War Anglo-American Ammunition Contract

Recently a very interesting document surfaced in an online auction, while it eventually sold for more than I could afford, I thought it was worth sharing some of the interesting images of the document that were shared in the auction.

Front page of a draft contract for ammunition, drawn up between the British Purchasing Commission and the Western Cartridge Co. (via War-Office)

The document is a draft of a contract to order .303 ammunition from the Western Cartridge Company, part of the Olin Corporation. Before the US passed the Lend-Lease Act, in March 1941, which cleared the was for greater material assistance from the US to Britain the British Purchasing Commission was tasked with procuring arms, ammunition and materials from US companies.

First page of the contract (via War-Office)

The document, originally drawn up in December 1940 called for a mind-blowing 75 million cartridge per month. To do this the Western Cartridge Company needed to expand its production capacity. The contract deals with the intricacies of expanding the company’s manufacturing base and how this expansion would be paid for.

A still from a British newsreel c.1942, showing a British ammunition factory.

The contract states that the .303 ammunition would be for aircraft, for use in weapons like the belt-fed .303 Browning machine guns used in the RAF’s bombers and fighters. The contract mentions that a total of 750 million rounds are required. 20% of these could be requested, at a month’s notice, to be tracer rounds.

It is fascinating to see not only the typed and stapled amendments but also the handwritten notes in the contract’s margins which change quantities, dates and other details. The ammunition is described in ‘Exhibit F’ of the contract as being ‘MkVII .303’. The contract also mentions that the Western Cartridge Company could use its own smokeless powder for the first 100 million rounds and subsequently either their own or powder from Du Pont or the Hercules Powder Company. This means that the ammunition was probably MkVIIIz, as the cartridges did not use Cordite. It is unclear whether the projectiles to be used in the Western Cartridge Co. cartridges used the MkVIIIz boat tail .303 projectile.

A still from a British newsreel c.1942, showing .303 ammunition being tested at a British ammunition factory. The ammunition is being tested in a Vickers Gun, a Bren LMG, a Vickers K and a .303 aircraft Browning

The Western Cartridge Company was not the only US ammunition manufacturer to produce .303. Winchester, another Olin Corporation manufacturer, and the Peter’s Cartridge Company also produced .303 MkVIIIZ.

Sadly we don’t have the rest of the document to examine but these pages offer a really interesting insight into how Britain was procuring ammunition for various weapons during the early part of the war when the situation looked increasingly desperate.

Pages from the March 1941 contract (via War-Office)

A subsequent auction listing for ‘Contract No. A-1562. Requisition No. U.S.233. Dated March, 1941’ also calls for a substantial amount of ammunition, some 400,000,000 rounds. The 42 page contract refers to the ammunition as MkVII and notes the use of Hercules Hivel 300 powder and describes it as ‘S.A. Ball .303 with American modifications dated 7 November, 1940’. The March 1941 contract also states that depending on testing it could be used for ground or air use.

If you found this interesting check out our article/video on a unique Remington M1903 Prototype chambered in .303 built for Britain around the same time!


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Bibliography:

The .303 British Service Cartridge, R. Tebbutt, (source)
Original WW2 British Contract for Manufacture of .303 Ammunition by Winchester, Dec. 1940 eBay/War-Office (source)
Original WW2 British Contract for Manufacture of .303 Ammunition by Winchester, Mar. 1941 eBay/War-Office (source)

British Military Small Arms Ammo, (source)

The Browning Machine Gun – Rifle Calibre Browning Abroad, D. Goldsmith, (2006)
British 303 Cartridge Case Identification, S. Taylor, (source)

Footage:

Manufacture and testing of 0.303″ Ammunition in 1942 (source)

Talking PIATs with Military History Visualised

Had the absolute pleasure of chatting about PIATs with Military History Visualized.

Ever since I wrote my book about the PIAT I have been passionate about explaining why it was actually a pretty decent bit of kit, just much maligned.

Always great to Bring Up The PIAT! Do check it out below:

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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MECo.’s Malayan Emergency Display at Soviet Threat

A week or two ago (April 2022) we had the chance to catch up with friends from the MECo. group at the Soviet Threat event at the Hack Green Secret Bunker in Cheshire. Allen and Simon had an excellent display of weapons, uniform and personal kit from the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) period and kindly talked us through it!

The weapons and personal kit featured in MECo’s Malayan Emergency display (Matthew Moss)

Thank you to Simon and Allen for giving us a detailed rundown of the display and kit. I find personal kit absolutely fascinating and MECo. are extremely knowledgeable and always put on an interesting display. In terms of weapons the display included a Bren Mk3, a Rifle No.5 and a very nice example of an Owen Gun. Below is another photograph of the Owen Gun and its magazine pouches, Allen had both a wooden and metal buttstock on display with the weapon.

Owen Gun & Owen magazine pouch (MECo.)

Check out MECo.’s facebook page here and Simon’s channel, Rifleman Moore, here.


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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. 


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:

‘‘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!

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.