Category Archives: Weapons

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.

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:

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:

2″ Mortar and Accessories Kit Layout

Just before World War Two the British Army introduced a 2 inch mortar for use by the infantry. This was a simple metal tube with a firing device and could launch bombs of smoke, explosives or illuminating flares out to a range of 500 yards. We will be looking at the 2” mortar and its accessories in much greater detail over the coming weeks, but tonight we start with a general overview of the weapon, its cleaning kit, sights and a variety of bombs ( I know you all like a good kit layout!):

The following advice on the use of the 2 inch mortar comes from the 1939 copy of ‘Section Leading’:

  1. The 2-inch mortar fires a 2-lb bomb, either smoke of high explosive. It is chiefly used as a smoke producing weapon for offensive action. It is small and easy to conceal.
  2. Carriage– Two men are required to carry it and its ammunition; they can change over loads when required.
  3. General– The 2-inch mortar forms a reserve of fire power in the hands of the platoon commander. In attack it will be kept well forward, prepared to come into action at a moment’s notice, to assist in maintaining the momentum of the attack, by neutralising the fire of hostile posts which are holding up the advance of the leading sections. It is of little use at night.

All items are deactivated or inert to comply with UK law. My thanks got to Andy Dixon and Darren Pyper for their help with this post.

Bren Gun and Accessories

Over the last few years we have looked at various Bren gun accessories, however I felt it might be useful to have an overview of the Bren Gun with its various accessories, as there are a lot! I find kit layouts interesting and useful so you have two of them this time.

The Bren gun was the British Empire’s light machine gun throughout the Second World War and remained in service, re-chambered for 7.62 Nato, until after the Gulf War. The Bren used top mounted 30 round box magazines and had a quick change barrel allowing relatively high rates of fire to maintained. It did need large numbers of magazines and a lot of the accessories are centred around carrying these and the quick change barrel.bren-gun-1The spare barrel bag and spare parts wallet allow the gun to be maintained in the field:bren-gun-2

Note the three separate oil bottles, these held standard gun oil, graphite grease and a special oil for use in low temperatures. The following cleaning instruction were offered in the manual:

  1. When not in use the gun should be well oiled.
  2. Before firing, if possible, all gas parts should be dry.
  3. During intervals of firing keep the working parts lubricated. Allow the barrel to cool as opportunity offers. It will be found that during firing the gun will become stiff in the bipod sleeve. To correct this, rotate the gun in the bipod sleeve at intervals.
  4. After firing, completely clean the gun.
  5. After gas – as for rifle.
  6. In cases of extreme cold, oil, low, cold, test should be used. In hot and dusty climates, lubricants should be cut to a minimum.

Mills Bomb Drill Igniter

Although inert Mill’s bombs are pretty easy to find, the igniter sets that goes inside them to actually fire the grenade are much harder to find. Live examples are of course illegal, but inert drill igniters are legal to own, however they can be rather scarce. My thanks therefore go to Andy Dixon for his help in adding this one to my collection:imageThe igniter is used to explode the grenade and on a live version is consists of a .22inch cap in a chamber, a short length of safety fuse bent to shape and a detonator, as illustrated in this diagram from the 1951 army pamphlet of grenades:skm_c45817030108040My example is clearly stamped drill on the cap chamber:imageThe detonator also has large holes drilled through it to show it is for training purposes and not live:imageThere are tiny date numbers on the back of the cap chamber, and I believe these are for 1943 or 1944 (they really are miniscule!):imageLive igniters are obviously very dangerous, and this safety warning comes from the pamphlet:

The set must be handles carefully, holding by the fuze and cap chamber; it must never be struck or crushed and it must be kept away from heat and not allowed to become damp. No attempt will be made to strip down any part of the igniter set.

The manual also instructs users on how to insert the igniter into the grenade:

…to prime the grenade the base plug is removed; the detonator sleeve must then be inspected to ensure that it is free from any obstruction and has no rough edges. Holding the igniter set by the cap and fuze between finger and thumb, squeeze them very gently together to ensure that they will go into the grenade easily. The detonator is then inserted carefully into its sleeve and the cap chamber pushed in as far as it will go. If for any reason the ignite set cannot be inserted easily into the grenade, both should be rejected. The base plug is replaced and screwed up with the base plug key.skm_c45817030108040-copy

X2E1 Trials Magazine

At first glance you might be forgiven for thinking that we had already covered tonight’s object when we looked at the SLR magazine here last year. What we actually have tonight is a far scarcer X2E1 magazine that was used with the trials X8E1 and X8E2 rifles:imageThe British ordered 4000 trials rifles from FN FAL to see what they thought of them, they were used alongside the standard No4 rifles and were subjected to field trials in Kenya against the MauMau rebels. The magazines are similar, but quite distinct to those used in the later SLR, being much closer to the original FN FAL design as you would expect. As only 4,000 rifles were produced, calculating based on five magazines per rifle, we can estimate that only around 20,000 magazines were produced so this is much rarer than a standard SLR magazine.

We can tell this is a trials magazine rather than a foreign FN FAL magazine due to the X2E1 stamp on the magazine:imageThe most obvious visual difference between this magazine and a standard SLR magazine is that the front magazine retaining lug is much smaller and shallower:imageimageThe magazine is also narrower and has a different base plate (X8E1 on the left, SLR on the right):imageThe magazine feed lips have a different profile:imageAnd the rear of the magazine is slightly different:imageThe magazine breaks down into four parts:image

The original pamphlet on the trials’ rifle gives information about when and how to strip the magazine:captureFor those interested, the full pamphlet can be read here. Clearly the new rifle was a success as the British adopted it, with modifications as the L1A1 self loading rifle, with various newsreels issued at the time highlighting how superior the X8E1 was over a Lee Enfield, these stills come from a Pathé News feature and show the prototype rifle nicely:imageimageAfter the introduction of the production rifle, the trials guns were withdrawn and many sectioned to become teaching aids for the new rifle, the different magazine well meant they could not accept an SLR magazine. The X2E1 magazines could be used in the SLR though so I suspect they went into a common pool and were an oddity that was slowly used up over the succeeding years. Certainly they are not common now and I was very lucky to find this example, completely by chance, on Huddersfield Market a few weeks ago.