Category Archives: British Army

2″ High Explosive Mortar Bomb

Continuing our in depth look into the 2” mortar, tonight we are considering the 2” High Explosive Bomb. The 1959 manual gives the following description:

The HE bomb has a buff painted body with red and green bands around it and a white metal unpainted tail. The head of the bomb is covered by a screw-on safety cap, underneath being a safety pin. The name, mark, lot number and date of manufacture are painted, in black, on the body. There is a cartridge in the tail which when fired propels the bomb.As can be seen, my example does not have any black markings on and the fuze is prominently marked ‘DUMMY’:As in the description a white metal alloy cap is provided, with raised lettering instructing the operator as to which way to turn the cap:The fuze is threaded with the opposite type of screw thread so turning it the wrong way removes the whole fuze from the bomb body. On a live bomb a No 161 percussion fuze is fitted, as illustrated in the 1959 manual:Despite the manual saying that the tail was to be left in unpainted metal, one side of the vanes are painted red:Interestingly this is specifically referenced in a diagram from the same 1959 manual:The tail unit contained a single cartridge to propel the bomb, with a screw on cap to protect the cartridge once fitted. Makers marks were stamped onto the vanes, but have proved very hard to photograph (trust me they are there):The 1939 army pamphlet noted:

The number of bombs which can be carried is strictly limited owing to their weight. They should be used sparingly and only as part of a definitive plan…Rates of fire depend on wind and circumstances. The maximum rate with accuracy is from three to four bombs a minute. The distance which the HE bomb is practically certain to be effective against personnel in the open is about eight yards in all directions form the point of burst. Large fragments may, however, have sufficient velocity to inflict wounds up to 150 yards or more, particularly if the burst is on stony ground.

WW1 Postcard of a Soldier on Horseback

This week’s postcard came from Huddersfield Secondhand Market on Tuesday for £1. It is getting harder to find postcards from WW1 for such small sums of money- even fairly typical portrait postcards are starting to fetch £3 or £4 now so it is always nice to find a more affordable card for the collection. Incidentally I store my WW1 postcards in a period postcard album and after nearly ten years it is almost full so I will need to keep my eyes open for another one…Back to this postcard however, this fine image depicts a soldier on horseback:I would date this image to around the time of the Great War. The subject is wearing a service dress cap, sadly it is no possible to get a clear enlargement of his cap badge to determine the regiment:He is wearing standard service dress, complete with puttees:And spurs:Note the hobnails of his boots, clearly visible. In his hand he holds a riding crop:There is no obvious signs of rank, so my guess is he is a private but sadly there is not a lot in this image to work with! The photograph seems to have been taken on the drive of a house, with the main road in the background. Unfortunately this image highlights many of the problems faced with interpreting these photographs. Without a message on the front or back of the image to place it and with the camera too far away to pick up the detail of the cap badge we are left with a lovely photograph we can say very little about! Whilst this is frustrating, it is a point worth making sometimes that further research is not always possible and we are left to enjoy the image for its own sake.

Extreme Cold Weather Over-Mittens

The British Army’s Extreme Cold Weather clothing system works on a layering principle, with gloves being no exception. Two layers are generally issued, an inner warm mitten and an outer layer that is thin but waterproof. This traps a layer of air between the two mittens and helps keep the wearer’s hands warm, Tonight it is this outer mitten we are looking at in detail. This over-mitten is made of a thin impermeable DPM camouflage goretex fabric and is a large, but simple mitten shape:The palm of the over mitten has a series of raised bumps over it to aid grip:In order to keep the inner air layer in the mitten, the back of the wrist has a tightening strap and buckle to help seal the glove from cold air:A drawstring at the cuff also helps seal the mitten form the cold:The inside of the cuff of the over-mittens have a label indicating size, NSN number and care instructions:Here we can see the overmittens being worn by members of 3 Commando brigade training in the Arctic in 2010:The Daily Mail reported on this training exercise at the time:

Hundreds of Royal Marines have endured freezing temperatures of almost -30c in the Arctic as they prepare for combat in Afghanistan.

Soldiers with 3 Commando Brigade are training in northern Norway where they are being taught extreme cold weather survival skills in up to six feet of snow.

Marines have been learning to ski, make shelters and use weapons on the 10-week programme headed by 45 Commando based in Arbroath, Angus.

The course is designed to provide key team-building and extreme environment experience ahead of the unit’s next tour of Afghanistan, expected next year.

Major Tony Lancashire, who as commander of Zulu Company leads around 100 men, said: ‘If you can survive here, you can fight anywhere in the world.

‘Most of our lads have been to Afghanistan and we’ll go again. If they can look after themselves here, then that will carry forward to Afghanistan as well.’

The temperature in Innset dropped to -20c last week, with the added windchill taking it down even further to a low of -28c.

Commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Lee described it as ‘the toughest soldiering there is’.

He said: ‘The biggest challenge for them is undoubtedly coping with the very demanding environmental conditions. You pay hard for a mistake here.

‘You need to learn the basics, you need to understand how effectively to soldier in these conditions, and these men are rising to that challenge supremely well.’

Lt Col Lee, who took up the post in September, added: ‘For me, this is a magnificent training opportunity, both for the toughest soldiering there is, but also for breeding that teamwork and that camaraderie on which a commando unit is based.’

The Commandos have swapped their familiar green berets for fleece-lined hats while operating in the Arctic.

White sheets over their combat gear acts as camouflage and masks are worn to protect their faces from frost bite.

The Marines have been sleeping in four-man tents and eating calorie-packed freeze-dried meals made with snow melted down on their stoves.

Some are veterans who are simply refreshing their skills, but for many it is their first time in Norway and their first experience on skis.

Their skills will be tested at the end of the programme when they take part in a major international exercise called Cold Response in March.

The operation, which takes place in Norway’s Bogen area, involves 5,000 troops including 200 from the U.S. Marine Corps and will include a launch from the water to test the unit’s amphibious capabilities.

DPM Patrol Pack

Tonight’s object goes by a number of different names, ‘day sack’, ‘Northern Ireland patrol pack’ or just ‘patrol pack’. The official designation is ‘Patrol Pack, 30 Litre, DPM IRR’. Whatever designation you use, this is a handy 30 litre backpack used for carrying a lot of the items needed in the field for a soldier:The pack consists of a main compartment for carrying equipment, covered at the top by a drawstring waterproof cover:And a top pocket that passes over the whole main section of the rucksack. This has a small flat pocket ideal for paperwork and a second larger pocket to carry anything you need to get to in a hurry:Plastic Fastex buckles attach it to the main body of the pack and the space unbder this ‘flap’ gives somewhere suitable to slot larger items and pin them down to expand the carrying capacity:Two large pockets are attached to either side of the main pack, again each is secured with a Fastex buckle:Finally fabric loops are attached around the outside of the pack to allow MOLLE pouches to be fastened and further equipment to be tied on:The pack does not have an internal metal frame, being instead entirely soft. Two large padded shoulder straps are fitted:And a supporting waist belt, again using a large black plastic Fastex buckle to secure it:A green panel is fitted to the back, hidden when worn, that gives space for the soldier to write his name and number on. This was originally grren, but has been blacked out with marker to allow it to be remarked by a new owner, sadly this is badly worn and difficult to make out anymore:A label inside the bag indicates that this particular pack was manufactured in 2009:The pack is designed to give troops the ability to carry mission specific equipment for short periods of time in a more compact pack than a full size rucksack.  A number of different loads have been suggested for users, this packing list comes from the combined Commando Course:

24hr Rations, 1 Water Bottle Flask, (optional) Warm Jacket, Poncho & Pegs (1 between 2), Bivvi Bag (1 between 2), Socks, Helmet, CBA

Whilst an alternative load out used on exercise was recalled by one user:

Bivvi Bag, 1 per fire team basha (stretcher), warm kit, gore tex, emergency rations, pair of socks, bit of hexy and metal mug/mess tin, torch, HMNVS or CWS, spare batteries, a good deal of room (they were saying 50% but…) for any spare ammo radios or section kit you may get dumped with.

2″ Mortar

As promised last week, tonight we are going to look in a bit more detail at the 2” mortar itself. The mortar is a steel tube, with a barrel length of 21”:It could fire a 2lb 4oz bomb up to 500 yards and with such a short barrel it had a trigger mechanism in the base. The trigger is activated by a metal paddle at the base of the tube:The 1959 pamphlet helpfully labels all the parts of the mortar:The mortar was originally designed with a complex sight (which we will look at in detail later), but this was dropped as being unnecessary, a simple white painted line being perfectly adequate:The user lined up the mark with the target and pivoted the mortar around the spade base to alter the range. The base is a small steel ribbed plate that is rested firmly against the ground:As it was so small the operator held onto the barrel instead of using a bipod. To help protect the user’s hands during sustained firing, a canvas barrel shroud could be issued (this example is a modern reproduction as originals are virtually unobtainable):The base of the tube is marked up with the mortar’s size, model number – a Mk VII- and a serial number:To help protect the barrel from rain and other contaminants a webbing muzzle cover was issued, again this is a reproduction as originals are very scarce:This mortar is deactivated so the barrel has been welded to the trigger mechanism, however originally the barrel unscrewed to allow maintenance and cleaning to be performed:There was a definite art to firing a 2” mortar accurately and the pamphlet gives a detailed explanation of how this is done correctly; which we will look at in greater detail at a future date. Here we see the mortar in use during the Second World War:

WW1 Regimentally Marked Spoon

Possibly the most important piece of equipment for a soldier is his spoon! World War one era military issue spoons are quite distinctive and tonight we are looking at a wonderfully marked example that has seen at least three users. My thanks go to Taff Gillingham for his help in filling in some of the blanks with this object. This spoon is particularly large, equivalent to a modern tablespoon, and has what is known as a ‘fiddle back’:This pattern of spoon was introduced in 1894 under pattern 3910/1894 and is made of cupronickel. It was to remain in service throughout the Great War, although it was supplemented by a new pattern in 1917 that more closely resembles the ‘teardrop’ handle of today. It is common to find one edge of the spoon sharpened and ground down, as in this example:This made it easier to get the spoon into every part of a D-Shaped mess tin and acted as a simple knife for cutting up food with. Soldiers tended to discard knives and forks and just carry a spoon, often to be seen tucked into their puttees:Veterans recalled that in the trenches the preferred method of cleaning a spoon after use was to push it into the ground two or three times until it was clean! Having said that if the mud was particularly thick then the spoon was often carried in the breast pocket for ease of access. This example belonged to various members of the 4th West Yorkshire Regiment as witnessed by the service numbers stamped into the front of the fiddle back:Further numbers are to be seen on the back, these are different and its seems this spoon went through the hands of at least three different men:Whilst this is unusual, it was not unheard of as kit tended to get recycled and reused. This spoon was a lucky find on eBay for 99p and is definitely a favourite of mine. It will be going into my wash roll with my WW1 kit and may well see service again!

Bren Cylinder Cleaning Rod

In the back of the spare barrel bag for the Bren gun is a small loop that is designed to hold the wooden part of the machine guns cylinder cleaning rod. This cleaning rod was used to help keep the gas parts, barrel and chamber of the machine gun clean and ready for use. The cleaning rod consists of a long wooden rod and a selection of heads that can be swapped around and attached to it:Three different heads were provided, left to right we have a gas bore mop, magazine brush and gas bore brush:These each have a pair of springy wire prongs on the end that fit into a channel and hole on the cleaning rod:And a metal collar pushes over to keep them in place:The manual gives the following instructions for cleaning the cylinder of the Bren with this cleaning rod:

To remove fouling from the cylinder such as after firing, the wire brush may be found necessary. This should be oiled, and inserted handle first, from the breech end. Free working is facilitated by turning the rod clockwise. With the nose of a bullet, remove any dirt or fouling that may be in the large holes at the end of the cylinder. Then dry and oil. This can be done by attaching the mop to the cleaning rod. The mop should be covered with a dry piece of flannelette, 4 inches by 4 inches. To oil the cylinder, an oily piece of flannelette, 4 inches by 4 inches, should be attached to the pull through.

Remaining parts should be cleaned and wiped with an oil rag.

The cylinder should, if possible, be completely dry before firing.

Here we see Private M Bulyea of the Calgary Highlanders cleaning his Bren gun at Fort de Schooten in Belgium in October 1944, he will almost certainly have one of these sets of cleaning rods amongst the kit on the packing case in front of him: