Category Archives: Weapons

Wartime Parachute Illuminating Flare

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Lanchester Sub Machine Gun

You are a big hairy matelot boarding a ship, you want a weapon you can stab the enemy with, club him with and if you are really desperate shoot him with…you want a Lanchester!

At the start of World War 2 Britain was the only major power with neither a sub machine gun in its inventory, nor a weapon in development. It soon became clear that one was desperately needed and the easiest option seemed to be to reverse engineer an existing design and put that into manufacture. The British had two examples of German MP28s they had acquired from Ethiopia of all places and they used these as a basis for an almost exact copy that was to become known as the Lanchester. Initially the gun was to be produced for the RAF for airfield defence and for the Royal Navy for boarding parties. In the end the gun was not adopted by the RAF as Stens were coming into service and it was almost exclusively used by the Royal Navy, 79,790 being produced.

The gun is the complete opposite of the Sten gun, it is beautifully made with a wooden stock, brass magazine housing and extensive machining:A number of familiar elements were added to the German design, the butt stock is modelled on that of the Lee Enfield rifle:And includes a brass butt plate:A boss and bayonet lug are fitted:This allows a SMLE sword bayonet to be fitted:

Original Lanchesters were select fire, this example is a Mk1* meaning it can only fire in full automatic. A straight cocking lever is fitted on the right side of the receiver:Note the large brass magazine housing. This is the location of the weapon’s markings:From this we can see that this example was made in 1943 by Greener. The two facing /|\ marks indicate it was sold out of service and the Arabic script just visible on the curved part suggest it saw service in Egypt post war. The Lanchester uses large 50 round magazines firing 9mm ammunition. These magazines are identical to Sten magazines, just longer:Originally these guns were fitted with tangent sights, but by the time my gun was produced these had been simplified to a flip sight with a ‘U’ shaped notch:The front sight is a simple post inside a pair of protective wings:The gun’s safety is a locking cut at the back of the receiver that the cocking handle can be hooked into:To strip the gun down a large disassembly knob is provided at the back of the receiver:Turning this allows the main receiver to be pivoted out of the wooden handguard:This then allows the rear knob to be unscrewed and the internal parts of the gun removed:This Lanchester is of course deactivated so the main breach block has had a large part machined away. The Lanchester remained in service with the Royal Navy into the 1970s and can be seen in many period photographs. Here we see it being carried by a member of the Royal Canadian Navy during wartime:And here it is being carried on parade by an Australian sailor:Opinion on the Lanchester is divided, as explained by the ‘WWII after WWII’ blog:

Both sides agree on two things: the Lanchester was rugged and well-built, but, it had a dangerous flaw in that a cocked gun would discharge if the butt was jarred or dropped.

Sailors who liked the Lanchester said that it was reliable, and (in the early semi-auto Mk.I version) surprisingly accurate with single shots. In full auto, it’s balance kept the muzzle on target even when firing a full burst. The weight made felt recoil almost nothing, and cleaning and care was very easy.

Those who disliked it said that in addition to the danger of dropping a live weapon, the extractor could fail during full-auto fire (a field modification was later developed for the Mk.I* to address that issue). There were many complaints that the gun pulled to the right side when firing in full auto. The magazine was frustrating to load and the quick-loading tool became almost a must. After repeated use, the magazine’s lips would spread apart preventing insertion (Sten magazines had the same problem). During it’s post-WWII years, spare Lanchester parts (especially replacement firing pins) became scarce but this was more to do with the Lanchester’s strange background and short production run than any issue with the design.

Bren Magazine in Stores Wrapper

In the 1950s the British Army re-chambered their .303 Bren guns into 7.62mm NATO cartridges. The .303 Bren was slowly withdrawn as the new LMG, titles the L4, was rolled out. The old .303 remained in use however with TA units and cadet forces for many years after the main British Army had dropped it and that might explain tonight’s object. This Bren magazine is one of the curved .303 examples and is still in the sealed stores packaging that is was put in to ensure it did not deteriorate whilst in inventory:This package is made of a heavy duty waterproofed fabric of some sort. What is interesting however is the markings on the outside:Not only is there an NSN number for the magazine, but a packaged date of October 1983- long after the .303 Bren had been obsolete in the British Army. I have seen some reports that the NSN code refers to magazines refurbished by the Australians, but I have no further evidence to support this theory.

One end of the outer wrapping has been ripped open and here we can see both the material used to make the outer wrapper, and the inner protective layer of greased paper in a different shade of green:I expect the magazine inside the wrapper is wartime dates, but I am not about to pull it out as I doubt I would ever get it back in the packet again and this is an interesting object in its own right!

Mill’s Bomb Igniter’s Tin

As mentioned a few weeks back when we looked at a drill ignite for a Mill’s bomb here, the igniter is a sensitive piece of explosive that can be set off by rough handling. It was therefore common practice not to fit the igniter into a Mill’s bomb until it was actually needed and to transport the two components separately. These igniters were carried in special metal tins that held them securely and offered them some protection from the elements and being knocked about. Large examples existed that could hold twelve igniters, but tonight we are looking at a smaller tin that held just three:These tins seem to be universally painted red, here with a stencilled filling date of 1958. This tin was sold out of army service in 1970 and so has a large label pasted on it confirming it is free from explosive:Inside the tin a set of holes are provided to hold the long tubular detonator securely:These are part of an internal removable cradle that can be taken out of the tin if required:Each detonator fits into one of the holes, with the cap resting in the top part, the two outer examples facing one way, and the centre cap facing the other:This tin dates from 1952 and has the date impressed in the metal on the base:As with so much ammunition packaging these tins were, to a degree, disposable so they are not all that common today. Having said that they are out there with a bit of hunting and are a great addition to my little grenades collection. Here we see a Canadian Company Sergeant Major taking advantage of a quiet period in Ambelie France on 7th August 1944 to fit the igniters into No 36 Mills bombs:

9mm H52 Ammunition Carton

At the start of last year I looked at a wooden H51 ammunition box here. These boxes are fairly common, what is far rarer is the sealed metal container that went inside each of these boxes, the H52 box. I was lucky enough to pick up one of these, opened, last week and the condition of this tin is fantastic:The container is made of pressed tin, soldered together and painted black. The main markings on the front indicate that it was used to hold 9mm ammunition and held 1250 cartridges in Mk 2z cartons:Beneath this is stencilled ‘RG’ for the Radway Green arsenal and the packaging date of 17th September 1959. The large white marking is a standard Government Explosives classification marking used to ensure that the ammunition is handled correctly and stored in suitable conditions to prevent deterioration or danger. The container itself is stamped on one end:These stamps indicate the box type, H52 Mk 2, and a manufacture date for the tin (as opposed to the filling date on the front) of 1957:The can was soldered shut with a pull tab lid to open, which has been pulled off and discarded from this can:These cans were fitted into the wooden H51 box, with spacers made from wood and sorbo-rubber that helped keep it tight and prevented it from moving around. Two of these H51 boxes then fitted into a metal H50 box. A quick trawl of the net suggests this carton is rather rare- presumably most were just thrown away as they are not easily reusable in the way other ammunition boxes are. Either way it is a great addition to the collection.

2″ Mortar Sight

When first introduced the 2” mortar was issued with a separate collimating sight to enable it to be aimed and laid onto targets. This sight was made of metal and was fully adjustable:Twin spirit levels are fitted to ensure it is at the correct angle:Whilst the sight itself consists of a large rear notch and triangular front post:An adjustable dial on the side allows it to be moved in an arc for range:The sight has a circular collar that allows it to be slipped over the barrel of the mortar:This is knurled on the inside to allow it to grip the metal, a large twist screw being used to tighten it:The outside of the collar is marked up indicating it is for the 2” mortar:The sight is very well made and clearly well thought out, it was however quickly dropped when it was discovered that a white painted line on the barrel of the mortar worked just as well and was one less piece of equipment for the user to carry. Ironically troops found it quicker and more accurate to use the line than the sight and the army were pleasantly surprised to find the rate of fire could be far higher than they had originally envisaged.

Originally the 2” mortar sight has a specialised case to carry it in, however I have been unable to find any examples or photographs of the case- if anyone has any information please let me know and I will update the post accordingly.

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.