A couple of weeks back I came across a large calibre round on Huddersfield Market that I did not immediately recognise. As it was only £3 I bought it speculatively and took it home with me. Comparing it with my Boys AT round (middle) and a .50 cal drill round (lower) it was clearly slightly ‘chunkier’:Some help from other collectors has now helped me to identify the round as being a 15mm Besa round:The 15mm Besa machine gun was an enlarged version of the Czechoslovakian ZB53 machine gun and was introduced to replace the obsolescent .5 Vickers machine gun. The 15mm Besa was a long and heavy gun, weighing over 125lbs and being more than 6 feet long:It was therefore used mostly to arm wheeled armoured scout cars, such as the Humber:The round has a 1160 grain bullet fired from a 15x104mm cartridge:I believe that this is a ball round, and it has a boattailed shape, the round being filled with a lead/antimony mixture. The rounds were fired from 25 round metal belts, that reduced the rate of fire. However the machine gun was normally fired in single shots which were far more accurate than automatic fire. The round has a rimless case, with markings on the base, sadly I cannot read any markings in this case:This round was very short lived, being introduced in October 1939 as the “Cartridge S.A. Ball 15mm Mk 1z” and being declared obsolete in August 1941. The round was used primarily for training. The 15mm Besa itself would not last much longer, being declared obsolete in 1949, over 3,200 machine guns having been produced by that point. I have never come across one of these rounds before, I really like these large calibre rounds so it’s a great addition to my small but growing selection of ordnance.
At the end of last year we looked at a 1960s parachute illuminating mortar bomb here. Tonight we are looking at a second example of the parachute flare mortar bomb, this time however it is a wartime example and is far more complete than the previous one:Unlike later bombs, this example is painted black, with yellow lettering stencilled on the outside:The thin metal cap that covers the end is still extant on this bomb, and is stamped with a date of 1940:The end cap is also wartime dated, here it is 1942:The FD stands for Fry’s Die Castings Ltd, of London, who manufactured the component. The distinctive holes for a parachute illuminating bomb can be seen directly above the tail of the mortar bomb:These had closing discs over them originally which burnt away when the bomb was fired. Inside the bomb originally would have been a parachute, flare canister and small bursting charge:Unusually this bomb still has the parachute:And the burnt out remains of the flare:The 1959 mortar manual describes its operation:
The flash from the cartridge, when fired, penetrates the closing discs and ignites a delay charge; this in turn ignites a bursting charge of gunpowder which ignites and ejects the flare; a small parachute, packed in the nose of the bomb, is attached to the flare and is ejected at the same time, opening at once and suspending the flare below it.
The pamphlet also gives some guidance on the use of these bombs:
- These bombs contain a flare attached to a parachute. When the bomb is fired at an angle of 80 degrees the parachute is ejected at a height of about 600 feet. At this height the flare gives its best performance. It will burn for about 30 seconds, descending slowly and drifting with the wind as it does so.
- In still air or light winds the mortar should be fired at an angle of 80 degrees. This will allow the flare to be ejected at a distance of about 100 to 150 yards from the mortar position. If light is required at a greater distance the angle must be lessened as when firing smoke bombs. At its reduced height the flare will not light up so big an area.
- Whenever possible place the flare behind the enemy, as this will silhouette him against the light. To avoid our own troops being silhouetted against the light, care must be taken, especially in head winds, to ensure that flares do not drift behind our forward positions. Do not, if it can be avoided, place the flare between the enemy and our own troops as its effect will be to dazzle the defenders thus placing them at a disadvantage.
- When the wind is strong the firer will have to judge its effect and alter the angle of the mortar according to where the light is required. The principle is to fire the bomb up wind, allowing the flare to drift over the area where light is required.
- Although the flare is efficient and will light up the battlefield a good distance in front of the platoon position, its uncontrolled use may also show up the activities of our own troops. Orders will be given when flares at platoon level are not to be fired.
It is now thirty five years since the Falklands War and the islands are still littered with thousands of anti-personnel mines. In recent years great progress has been made on clearing these minefields and areas are being made safe on a regular basis. The old signs from these minefields are stacked up in a shed and it has become popular for service personnel stationed down on the islands to go and ask for a few signs to bring home as a souvenir. I have recently added one of these signs from the Falklands to my collection, with this example being a rectangular sign, with a ‘Danger Mines’ and skull and cross bones printed on it:The sign was originally held in place by two fasteners at the top and two at the bottom, but these appear to have been cut through with a gas axe:On the back is an electro pencilled serial number:This matches the number on this chitty from the Explosive Ordnance Disposal office indicating that the signs had been acquired legitimately:As it is likely the original recipient is still serving I have blanked out his details. This photograph shows one of this type of sign in situ on the islands:Some 20,000 mines were laid on the island and in 2010 the BBC reported on their clearance. Luckily no-one has been injured in recent years by these mines, thanks in part to the signs such as this one:
Following the Falklands conflict, there were initial attempts to clear mines, but many injuries resulted. The British decided it was too dangerous and instead fenced off the minefields. Warnings were posted and stiff penalties imposed on anyone who jumped the fences for, say, an unusual photo opportunity.
And it seems to have worked because no-one has been hurt in years.
As a result (and because the Falklands has relatively few mines compared to the millions laid in countries such as Angola and Cambodia) the Falklands government says it would prefer to see money spent on clearance projects in places where people are still being injured or killed.
Under an international treaty – the Ottawa Convention – the British government was required to have cleared the Falklands of all mines by March 2009, but it asked for a 10-year extension.
By 2016 good progress had been made:
Despite the overall small number of mines in the Falklands – compared with somewhere like Kuwait, which is only one-and-a-half times larger in size, but has an estimated five million mines – there has been an extensive demining operation in progress since 2009 to remove the estimated 20,000 anti-personnel and 5,000 anti-vehicle mines leftover since the 1982 conflict. Funded through the UK Foreign Office, and in response to the obligation to remove mines in their territories under the terms of the Ottawa Treaty, the clearance of mines in the Falklands is now about to finish its fourth phase and see the total number of minefields reduced to 82. There were 146 immediately after the end of war in 1982.
The 6 pounder anti-tank gun was the main towed British anti-tank gun of the middle years of the second world war, replacing the puny 2 pounder in 1942 and freeing up the 25 pounder field gun to return to its main role as an artillery piece. Development of the new weapon had started as early as 1938 and the calibre was well established as the Royal Navy had been using it since the late nineteenth century. Despite this, due to the rearming of the British Army after Dunkirk, it would be May 1942 before it entered service:The following description of the Anti Tank gun comes from the US Army’s handbook on the British military:
The 6 pounder anti-tank gun, with a muzzle velocity of 2,700 feet per second, has been designed by the British for use against enemy armoured vehicles that are not vulnerable to the 2-pounder at distances over 200 or 300 yards. A 57-mm gun, the 6-pounder will be able to engage tanks at much greater ranges than the 2-pounder, although the latter will still be important to the anti-tank defence of individual formations and units. The 6-pounder is usually mounted on a low 90-degree split-trail wheeled carriage, but it is also being installed in certain tanks. In order to facilitate the quick adoption of the proper gun for the circumstances, the wheeled carriage of the 6 pounder is designed that the 2-pounder may be mounted alternatively. It is intended that the 6-punder be standard in corps and army anti-tank organization.
Tonight we are looking at a shell casing from the 6 pounder anti-tank gun, this example being a blank cartridge:It is made of brass and is impressively large, as with all British shell casings there is a profusion of markings on the base:I have interpreted these as well as I can:These shells are always impressive things, and the markings make them fun to interpret. Sadly they do not come up at a price I am willing to pay too often, so when they do I always snap them up.
Now can I persuade my wife it’s a flower vase…
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 is 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.
The 2” mortar was to remain in British Army service from 1937 until it was replaced by the 51mm mortar in 1981, it was a very simple but effective weapon and as time went on a large range of specialist rounds were developed for the mortar including drill, smoke, high explosive and the subject of tonight’s post, the parachute illuminating mortar round. As might be expected from the title, these rounds were fired into the air where an illuminating flare was deployed attached to a miniature parachute that let it gently drift down over the battlefield providing bright illumination at night. The round itself is similar to other 2” mortar bombs, with a thin metal tube attached to a tail unit:The tail has a ballistite cartridge in it that when fired provides the force needed to launch the bomb out of the tube, a small screw on cap was provided to prevent accidental detonation:Metal fins on the tail of the bomb help stabilise it in flight allowing the bomb to be dropped accurately on the target:The walls of the bomb are made of thin steel, in this case pained white with a red band and black markings:These indicate that it is a 2 inch Mortar Illuminating Round. A filling date stencilled on the body shows this example dates from 1963:This bomb has been fired and the contents are therefore missing from the bomb case, however originally the parachute illuminating round had the following internal components:During the Second World War these bombs were delivered in cardboard tubes, by the 1960s these were replaced with metal tins which offered better resistance to moisture:As can be seen the contents are stencilled onto the outside of the storage tube, inside a plastic liner helps prevent the bomb from rattling around:The date ‘1965’ is stamped into the base of the storage tube:This is my first mortar round and I think I have started off with a particularly nice example.
By 1940 it was obvious that the Boys Anti Tank Rifle was completely obsolete. It would take time to develop a new anti-tank weapon (what would eventually become the PIAT) and what was needed was something in the interim that was cheap to produce, effective against armour and could be got out to troops rapidly. The design that was eventually produced used the SMLE cup discharger (normally used for throwing Mills bombs) to fire a grenade holding a shaped charge at short range. Although often forgotten today, the No68 Grenade as this new weapon was called, was a major technological leap forward when it was introduced, even if two years later it had been superseded by technology. The manual instructed troops:
The No 68 A.Tk Grenade has been introduced with the object of damaging hostile AFVs. It is fired from the discharger fitted to the service rifle, a 30-grain ballistite cartridge being used.
The grenade itself consists of a small die cast cylinder, with four stabilising finsAnd a circular iron plate on the end to allow it to work with the cup discharger:As can be seen this example is painted white, indicating it is a drill grenade. This is also indicated by the large holes bored into the head of the weapon to show it is free from explosives:This example is solid inside to allow troops to practice firing it safely, the live examples used a shaped HEAT projectile, as illustrated in this contemporary diagram:The round had to hit the target at an angle of +/- 15 degrees and had a range of about 50 yards so the user had to be exceptionally brave to use it! The manual instructs:
It must be realised that the ballistite cartridge used in conjunction with the grenade gives a considerable recoil; and, owing to the flat angle at which the rifle must be held it is essential to place the butt of the rifle against a sand bag or similar object…
Considerable initiative must be displayed in preparing positions from which to fire the grenade. These may be from behind low cover, from trenches or from the loopholes of pill-boxes. Returning to my example, it can be seen that there is a split pin and pull ring on the grenade fin:This again mirrors the live example where these were used as a safety pin to prevent premature detonation. The fins themselves have the grenade type cast into them:And the date of manufacture, 1942:Although it is hard to make out there is a small cast ‘PDC’ on the base of the fins:This stands for ‘Patent Diecasting Co’ who were one of the companies who manufactured the grenade bodies. The grenade eventually reached a Mk VI version and was removed form service by 1945, although by that point it was really only the Home Guard who made use of them. About 8 million of these grenades were made in various types, the training ones are uncommon but still around as they were used by the Home Guard and not always returned to stores!