Arguably the best all round field gun in use by the British Army in the Second World War was the 25 pounder. The 25-pounder fired “separate”or two-part ammunition—the projectile and the propelling charge in its (usually brass) cartridge case with its integral primer were loaded separately. The following description of the case comes from the 1940 handbook for the gun:
The Mark II case is of solid-drawn brass slightly tapered from the base to within 1.1 inch of the mouth, where it is cylindrical. The base is recessed, bored centrally and screw-threaded to receive the percussion primer; it projects circumferentially to form a rim by means of which the extractor of the breach mechanism automatically ejects the case when the breech is opened after firing.
I have just one of these cases in my collection:There were two types of cartridge. The “normal” cartridge contained three cloth charge bags (coloured red, white and blue). White or blue bags would be removed from the cartridge to give “charge one” or “charge two”, leaving all three bags in the cartridge case gave “charge three”. The cartridge case was closed at the top with a leatherboard cup. The second type of cartridge was “super”, which provided one charge only. The cup could not be removed from the cartridge case. In 1943, an incremental charge of 5.5 oz (160 g) of cordite (“super-plus”) was introduced to raise the muzzle velocity when firing armor-piercing shot with charge super; this required a muzzle brake to be fitted. Adoption of “upper-register” (high-angle) fire needed more charges to improve the range overlap. This led to the development of the “intermediate increment” of 4oz cordite, which was introduced in 1944. The bags were striped red and white to indicate that they should only be used with charges one and two. When one bag was used with charge 1 it provided charge 1/2. When one was added to charge 2 it provided charge 2 1/3, and two bags, charge 2 2/3. This allowed a range of seven different charges instead of four.Like all British shell cases, mine has a wealth of headstamps on the base:From these we can see that the shell casing was manufactured in 1942 and includes the lot number so a faulty batch of ammunition and casings could be tracked down later by the markings. In this photograph of an Australian 25 pounder at El-Alamein in 1942, a large pile of discarded shell casings can be seen in the foreground:
Tonight we have a pair of small brass shell casings:These casings are both from a naval 2 pounder ‘pom pom’ gun, the cases identity being easily determined by the head stamps on the bottom:From this we can see that they were manufactured in 1944 and are 2 Pounder No1 round. The manufacturer is ‘S&S’ which is believed to be Sidney Silversmiths of Sheffield.
The Royal Navy had identified the need for a rapid-firing, multi-barrelled close-range anti-aircraft weapon at an early stage. Design work for such a weapon began in 1923 based on the earlier Mark II, undoubtedly to utilise the enormous stocks of 2-pounder ammunition left over from the First World War. Lack of funding led to a convoluted and drawn-out design and trials history, and it was not until 1930 that these weapons began to enter service. Known as the QF 2-pounder Mark VIII, it is usually referred to as the multiple pom-pom. The initial mounting was the 11.8 to 17.35 ton, eight-barrelled mounting Mark V (later Mark VI), suitable for ships of cruiser and aircraft carrier size upward. From 1935, the quadruple mounting Mark VII, essentially half a Mark V or VI, entered service for ships of destroyer and cruiser size.These multiple gun mounts required four different guns and were nicknamed the “Chicago Piano”. The mount had two rows each of two or four guns. Guns were produced in both right- and left-hand and “inner” and “outer” so that the feed and ejector mechanisms matched. Single-barrelled mounts, the Mark VIII (manual) and Mark XVI (power operated), were also widely used, mainly in small escorts (such as the Flower-class corvettes) and coastal craft (especially early Fairmile ‘D’ motor gunboats). An interesting feature was the very large magazine, from 140 rounds per gun for the eight-barrelled mount, to 56 rounds for the single mounts. This large ammunition capacity gave the eight-barrelled mount the ability to fire continuously for 73 seconds without reloading. A high velocity (HV), 1.8 lb. (820 g), round was developed for the pom-pom, just prior to World War II, which raised the new gun muzzle velocity from 2,040 ft/s (622 m/s) to 2400 ft/s (732 m/s). Many older mountings were modified with conversions kits to fire HV ammunition, while most newly manufactured mounts were factory built to fire HV ammunition. A mount modified or designed for HV ammunition was given a ‘*’ designation; for example a Mk V mount modified for HV ammunition would be designated Mk V*.
The following photograph shows the complete rounds, notice how short the brass case is compared to the rest of the round.The flaring visible on the ends of each casing seems to be a bi-product of the firing process as most examples seem to exhibit this feature.
Tonight’s item is a shell casing from a Nordenfelt 6 pounder, dating to 1901. The Nodrdenfelt Quick Firing 6 pounder was a 57mm short single barrelled gun used on board ships and for coastal defence by many different countries. Britain introduced the gun as the ‘Ordnance QF 6 Pounder Nordenfelt’ in 1885. They were used as a light gun for protection against fast moving, lightly armoured torpedo boats that were becoming popular with navies of the era. Below we can see examples on HMS Camperdown in the late 1880s:
Multiple Nordenfelt guns were mounted around the ship with clear arcs of fire to put down a large volume of shells to try and blow torpedo boats out of the water before they got into range to launch their weapons at the capital ship. The guns were light and handy to manoeuvre, easily operated and quickly reloaded by a small crew, making them ideal for close, quick firing protection. The gun had a range of approximately 4000 yards and could fire around 12 aimed shots a minute. The innovation which allowed this high rate of fire was combining the casing, propellant and shell into a single, easily handled unit. Up to this point most naval guns had used separate elements that slowed the rate of fire down. My case is approximately 12 inches high, with fairly straight sides and has traces of chroming on the outside:As can be seen the case has been modified at some point by having the top turned over, however the base of the case still has a multitude of markings:
From these we can see that the case was originally manufactured in 1901, was loaded with a Cordite Full Charge and refilled with the same charge at a later date (CFF Stamp). When it was reloaded the case was annealed (A in the circle). The gun was shortlived with the Royal Navy as the very similar Hotchkiss 6 pounder became widely adopted instead. The Nordenfelt was a simple gun to use an maintain, consisting of only 10 working parts for its breach and firing mechanism and was to be used by many navies across the world in the run up to WW1. The example below is in the Manege Military Museum, Helsinki, Finland:
Drill rounds have been in use since the dawn of the cartridge rifle as a safe means to train with the operation of a weapon with no risk of a cartridge going off and injuring someone. The term ‘Drill Round’ refers to a dummy rifle cartridge that is the same length and design as a service cartridge, but with no propellant or percussion cap. Normally these cartridges have some sort of distinguishing feature that allows their identity to be confirmed even in the dark- holes and grooves being the most common methods. As might be expected, with such a long service life there are many variations of drill round for the various .303 Lee Enfield rifles. I have a selection of these rounds in my collection and hopefully these will give a flavour of the evolution of the round.
Dummy Drill MkIV
This type of drill round was approved in 1910 and consists of a reject brass case with a wooden Mk VII spitzer type head and four small holes drilled in the body of the case:This example uses a MkVI ball case dated 1909, with a circular strikethrough to indicate its drill status:
Clip of 5 Drill Rounds
This clip of 5 drill rounds dates from around the First World War and consists of five brass cases, with large holes drilled through to indicate drill status. The heads are made of wood and are of the earlier MkIII drill round type. The pointed spitzer bullets were found to be to fragile so a return to round heads was made. The cases themselves are sub standard reject 1911 dated brass cases, with a circle struck through the markings to indicate their use as drill rounds. The holes drilled through the cases are some of the largest seen on drill rounds, clearly allowing them to be identified by touch alone in the dark. The clip holding the five rounds is of the earlier WW1 pattern:
Dummy Drill MkVI
These drill rounds were the first to be made of white metal and feature deep grooves in the case to allow easy identification. The cases are made of cupro-nickel and the MkVI was introduced in the dying days of WW1:The headstamp shows these are MkVI rounds made by Royal Laboratory, Woolwhich:
Drill Round MkVIII
These rounds were introduced as an expedient in WW2 and like their WW1 counterparts consisted of reject brass cases with wooden heads. In this instance their drill status is indicated by long flutes down the case. Again the wooden heads were found to be too delicate for regular use:
Drill D Mark 10
Post war rounds are very similar to the MkVI rounds but chrome plated rather than being made of white metal:These examples are dated to the 1950s and the RG headstamp indicates they were made by the Royal Ordnance Factory, Radway Green, Cheshire:
This small selection barely scratches the surface of British drill rounds, however I hope it gives some pointers for identifying rounds you might find. For further reading, the best resource on British small arms ammunition I have found on the web is https://sites.google.com/site/britmilammo/home
Well its back to the second hand market today, after too long an absence. Whilst it was a bit quiet, I did pick up some nice bits including yet another ammunition box! My wife is very tolerant of these, but they do start to take up a bit of room after a while…
This ammunition box is made of wood and covered in stencil markings. It is worth remembering that ammunition boxes came as often in wood as they did in metal. Metal was a strategic resource, so if a box could be made of wood and be as safe as a metal one then this was the preferred policy. Wood was the traditional material for munitions boxes as it was cheap, durable and most importantly couldn’t cause sparks like metal boxes could.
This box is dated 1943 on the base:
However it has been repainted and re-stencilled for reuse in 1953. I haven’t tracked down which type of box this is yet, so if anyone knows the model number, then please let me know so I can carry on my research.
One of the best and longest lived anti aircraft guns in service is the Bofors 40mm. This was introduced into the British Army in 1937 and became the standard light anti aircraft gun in service throughout the Second World War. It was used as a standard towed artillery piece and on a variety of vehicles to become self propelled:
This casing is dated 1942 and has a profusion of ordnance stamps on the base:Trench Whistle
Following on from last week’s pickup of a Metropolitan type Trench whistle, this week I was lucky enough to pick up the ‘Snail’ type to go with it. Its marked ‘J Hudson & Co, Birmingham, 1916’:RAF Observer Photograph
This rather elegant portrait photograph is of an Observer from the RAF in the Second World War. Sadly the chap isn’t identified, but his insignia is clearly visible:British India Passport
Finally we have this passport. Its not strictly military, but as it was issued in April 1944 I hope you will forgive its inclusion here. British subjects born and domiciled in India needed passports just like anyone else, and the government of India issued them with these:This example was issued to a Miss Jayne St: Pierre Bunbury:This particular example is stamped as having been issued in the North West Frontier Province and is overstamped as ‘cancelled’ presumably following Indian Independence.: