Category Archives: Weapons

Sterling SMG Magazines

Last year we looked at the Sterling sub machine gun here. At the time the excellent magazines issued with the gun were mentioned, but the post did not go into more details. Tonight however we are taking a closer look at two different Sterling magazines and the story they reveal.

The Sterling sub machine gun was manufactured, obviously enough, by the Sterling company. However in the mid 1950s the government owned Royal Ordnance Factory Fazakerly started secretly making its own version of the gun for the army. Naturally the Sterling company were not too happy about this arrangement and took the government to court. In the end it was agreed that ROF could finish the rest of the MoD’s contract, whilst Sterling got exclusive rights to market, manufacture and sell the weapons overseas. Both companies produced spare parts and accessories for the weapons and after the ROF stopped manufacture in 1960 all the British Army’s maintenance spares were produced by Sterling. There were subtle differences between the two manufacturers and tonight we are looking at a pair of magazines that illustrate this point:imageHere the upper magazine is an ROF example, and the lower the Sterling manufactured example. The first obvious difference is in the finish- the Sterling example is in a matt black, the ROF version is glossier. The shape of the magazines is also different, with the ROF version having a stepped shoulder where the magazine would be inserted into the SMG’s magazine housing. Turning to the back of the magazines again we can see major manufacturing differences:imageThe ROF example is made of two halves electrically seam welded along the back, the Sterling example is  made of four pieces with a distinctive scalloping shape along the back, each piece being spot welded together.

The front edge shows a further difference with the ROF version having an extra supporting lug:imageAlthough manufacture and details differ, the feed lips on both are identical- this being an essential feature to ensure that the magazines work consistently and reliably, regardless of manufacture.imageMarkings for the Sterling made examples are stamped across the back and read “MAGAZINE STERLING 9MM 34RDS”:imageThe ROF version is stamped on the top of the magazine “MAGAZINE 9MM L1A2”:imageBoth magazines are superbly well made and the differences do not affect their use- however the story of why they are different is an interesting one.


Lee Enfield Chargers

Following on from our recent post on the MK VII .303 round, tonight we are looking at the chargers used with these rounds to load the Lee Enfield, P14 and Ross rifles. Firstly on the matter of nomenclature: these are not clips and especially not stripper clips! All the period literature refers to these as chargers, they are fed into a rifle using a charger bridge and indeed the conversion of the early long Lee rifles to use this method of loading was referred to as the ‘Charger Loading Lee Enfield’.

Chargers are small sprung metal holders for five rounds of .303 ammunition and altogether there were four different marks of charger. Tonight we are looking at the MK II and the MK IV:imageThe MK II is on the left and the MK IV on the right. The official List of Changes for the chargers lists the following models:

Mark I, LoC 11753, 16th January 1903

Mark II, LoC 13465, 24th April 1906, strengthened by the addition of three ribs on the base.

Mark III, LoC 18973, 15th February 1916, “having circular pips and lightening holes and no ribs across the bottom”

Mark IV, LoC 19786, 20th October 1916, “Differs…in having four holes in the sides instead of five, which leaves more room for the spring in the lug end, and makes it less stiff.”

This last mark would remain in use with the SMLE and No4 rifles for the rest of their extensive service lives.

Here we see the MK II above, with its distinctive rectangular cut outs to the base and reinforcing ribs. The MK IV is below with four holes cut in the base of the charger to lighten it:imageOn both chargers however each end is slightly sprung to help keep the rounds in:imageWhen loading chargers, .303 is fitted with the rims down-up-down-up-down (DUDUD). This is often described as a way to avoid rim-lock, but is as much to do with allowing the chargers to be used either way up in the dark and to help them pack together neatly.

Returning to our chargers, looking at the sides we can see that the MK II has lightening holes that are both circular and oval, on the MK IV only the left hand hole is oval, the rest being circular:imageThe MK IV chargers are exceptionally common and are easily picked up for around £1-£2 each. The MK II chargers are considerable scarcer and can sell for up to £10 each. I have been lucky enough to come across four of the MK IIs, including two chargers with original pre-WW1 drill rounds.

Vickers Machine Gun Feedblock

A Vickers Machine Gun was issued with a spare parts box and amongst the (many) components in that box were two spare feedblock mechanisms. The feedblock is the part of the gun that pulls the belt of cartridges through the weapon and offers the rounds up in the correct position to be extracted and moved into the chamber ready for firing. The feed mechanism on the Vickers is built around a heavy brass casting that slots into the front of the receiver immediately above the chamber:imageThe most obvious feature here is the large ‘mouth’ and it is into this the belt and cartridges are fed:imageA pawl on the inside of the feed mechanism grabs the cartridges and mechanically advances them one at a time. You can see the two arms poking down here:imageThe cartridges are presented, rim first, at the back of the feed mechanism ready to be extracted from the belt and passed down into the breach of the gun:imageThe whole feed block is actuated by a rotating arm on the base that connects up to the rest of the mechanism inside the Vickers, which can be seen on the right of this view of the underside of the feedblock:imageThis feedblock is a later example- originally they were made of steel but this was found to corrode too easily so it was switched to brass. This block is an insanely difficult piece of machining and must have taken many operations to mill out of a solid piece of brass. When you consider each weapon needed at least three of them to cover the one on the gun and two spares it is easy to see why Vickers guns were so expensive!

Mk VII .303 Rounds

It seems odd that after so long writing this blog it is only now that we are looking at the standard MK VII .303 ball ammunition. This was the most common round of .303 in use by the British Empire for over fifty years and was used in Lee Enfield rifles and in Vickers, Bren and Lewis machine guns.

The MK VII round was first introduced in 1910 as a stop-gap until a new round was introduced (which did not in the end happen) and it was designed to take advantage of the new ‘spitzer’ shape of bullet introduced on the continent. The new round used the standard brass case of the existing .303 round and paired it with a long pointed bullet:imageThe round retains the taper and prominent rim of earlier .303. The bullet itself was held into the case by three crimps on the neck:imageHappily I have an example of this round with a loose head so I can pull it out to show you:imageYou can clearly see the cannelure where the crimps in the case engage. The hole in the base of the head hints at the lead and antimony core at the bottom of the bullet. Although a full metal jacketed round (and thus legal under The Hague Convention), the MK VII had a light-weight aluminium tip and a much denser lead base. Therefore although the round travelled through the air as normal, on contact with a human being the distribution of weight caused it to tumble making far more grievous wounds.

This diagram shows the internal components of a live MK VII round:imageThe following excellent description is from the British Military Small Arms Ammo site and explains the round in far more detail than I could:

The new “Cartridge S.A. Ball .303 inch Mark VII” was approved to design RL17146 in November 1910 and shown in LoC Paragraph 15629 dated October 1911. The bullet was to design RL 17069B and both these designs were later replaced by DD/L/14006. Although use of the word “Cordite” in titles had lapsed in 1907, it was sometimes reintroduced to the Mark VII during World War I to distinguish it from the nitrocellulose loaded version. “Cartridge S.A. Ball .303 inch NC Mark VIIz” was approved in May 1916, loaded with DuPont No.16 powder.

The redesigned bullet weighed 174 grains and as introduced had a cannelure near the base into which the case neck was slit crimped. When neck coning replaced the slit crimps for bullet securement in 1944 the cannelure was moved to a new higher position. The bullet was flat based with an 8CRH ogive and a composite core, the forward part usually being aluminium and the rear part a 98/2% lead/antimony alloy. During wartime the aluminium tip was replaced by compressed paper, fibre or ceramic.

From 1911 until about 1943 the bullet envelope was cupro-nickel but from that date gilding metal clad steel became increasingly used. Post WW2 the envelope was generally gilding metal.

The propellant charge was about 37 grains of Cordite MDT 5-2 or 41 grains of nitrocellulose to give a muzzle velocity of 2,440 feet per second at a pressure of 19.5 tsi. A glazeboard or strawboard wad was placed above the propellant.

The headstamp included the numeral “VII” or “VIIZ (“7” or “7Z” after 1944) and a purple primer annulus was approved in June 1918.

The revised Mark VII served through two World Wars, the Korean War and countless other smaller confrontations. It was manufactured in all the major Commonwealth countries and vast quantities were manufactured in America on contract. This resulted in a number of variations, particularly in those manufactured in the United States where the bullets were made with all lead cores without the lighter tip filler. To maintain the weight at 174 grains, these bullets were slightly shorter than the normal Mark VII. Also, ammunition manufactured in the United States and some in Canada utilised a smaller Boxer cap than the normal Berdan one.

A huge variety of manufacturers produced .303 over the years, as witnessed by the head stamps:imageThese two examples were made by Radway Green in 1942 and Royal Laboratory, Woolwich in 1932. For far more details about these rounds please look here.

Portuguese Mauser 1904/39

This blog is predominantly focused on the equipment, uniforms and weapons of Great Britain and countries that were formerly part of her Empire. Every now and then we go off on a tangent and look at something completely random, usually a new weapon I have added to my collection. Tonight we are looking at a Portuguese Mauser rifle and although at first glance this appears to be totally unrelated to our usual themes, there is in fact a (very) tenuous link back to our normal content.

In 1904 Portugal needed to update their service rifle and a Portuguese officer, Vergueiro, designed a new rifle combining features of both Mauser and Manlicher rifles. The new rifle fired a 6.5mm round and was produced for Portugal by Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM). This was a fairly standard bolt action rifle of its day, a high quality weapon from a famous German manufacturer. During World War One Portugal sold South Africa 25,000 of these rifles to fill a hole in the colony’s arms supplies (hence the tenuous connection mentions above).

My example however is a 1904/39:tsr_044_1tsr_045_1This was a modification to the rifles that occurred in 1939 to bring them closer in line with the new Kar98k rifles Portugal had just purchased. The rifles were shortened from their original configuration and more importantly the chamber was bored out to allow them to use 8mm ammunition. There are a number of small visible changes, a small hole has been drilled in the side of the receiver to vent excess pressure, partly obscuring the original markings:tsr_047_1Note also the stock reinforcement bolt below that was also added as part of the refurbishment. A curved cut out has also been added to the rear of the front receiver ring to accommodate the longer cartridges:tsr_048_1The engraved crest of King Carlos I, who was ruling Portugal at the time the rifles were originally purchased can be seen in front. A rear adjustable tangent sight is fitted:tsr_046_1The front sight is a post with two large protective wings, added when the rifle was modified in 1939:tsr_049_1Underneath is a half cleaning rod which doubles as a stacking post:imageTwo of these rods would be combined to make one long enough to go down the barrel. At the rear the safety is a traditional Mauser flag type safety on the back of the bolt:imageIt is worth mentioning that the bolt has a straight handle and when closed sits in front of the charger bridge, acting as an additional locking lug.

A button on the front of the trigger guard allows the magazine floor plate to be released and this then drops down under the pressure of the magazine spring:imageThis is a beautifully made rifle, deactivated now of course, but as a man used to Enfields I will admit I find the bolt a little unnatural to operate and it would certainly have a slower rate of fire than an SMLE. It is however a very interesting rifle and a great addition to my little collection of deactivated firearms.

Book Review- The Last Enfield

The story of the SA80 rifle is not a happy one. Whilst the current version of the weapon, the A2, is a perfectly serviceable weapon, its predecessor the A1 version was beset with problems and never gained the trust of those who were forced to defend their lives with it. Despite, or perhaps because of, its troubled history the story of the weapon’s design and adoption is a fascinating one that is told in Steve Raw’s excellent book “The Last Enfield, SA80 The Reluctant Rifle”. imageThis book, published by Collectors Grade Publications, covers the history of the rifle from the earliest proof of concept rifles, through prototypes, troop trials guns and finally the production rifles. The author was an armourer himself for many years and clearly had access to many people involved in the design of the weapon- some interesting components that should have been thrown in the bin were rescued and help tell the tale of the numerous changes made to the rifle.imageThe author is commendably thorough in telling all the ins and outs of the story, and pulls no punches in highlighting the bureaucratic and political interference that caused the project to come in over budget, late and with so many problems to the weapons system that even at its official unveiling the bipod of the light support weapon was held together with electrical tape!imageThe book is profusely illustrated throughout with black and white photographs of not just the weapons themselves, but troops using them on trials, publicity material from the factory and illustrations from the various manuals produced to accompany the weapon. The author also briefly covers the accessories provided with the weapon, and the updates needed to these to replace defective components and poorly designed features that broke with alarming regularity. imagePerhaps what is the most interesting, if disturbing, part of the book is the story of how officials repeatedly redefined the parameters of tests for the rifle when it repeatedly failed to meet them! The problems with the weapon system were officially denied for over fifteen years, with numerous modifications failing to fix them. The Germans of H&K managed to identify and solve most of them in a few months!imageThis book was published back in 2003 so does not cover the developments with the rifle over the last fourteen years and indeed the author quotes official documents predicting a new weapons system would replace the SA80 by 2015- it didn’t and hasn’t yet! Despite being published so long ago, the book is readily available and can be obtained for £40 here. For anyone with an interest in the modern British armed forces it is an essential, if sobering, addition to the bookshelf.

Leather Oil Can Case

Following on from the post of the half pint oil can we looked at earlier this week, tonight we are looking at a leather carrier for oil cans:imageThis leather case is commonly associated with the Vickers machine gun and the weapons manual from the 1930s indicates two of these cases were carried on the gun’s carrying limber:oil can cases in limberThe case is made from high quality brown leather with a large box lid secured with a pair of blackened metal buckles:imageLoops are provided on each end for a carrying strap to be secured through:imageMost examples found today are missing this carrying strap and I do wonder if was normally issued or not!

The back of the case has a set of four rivets set in a line across it:imageThese are used to hold the internal fittings of the case. On the left is a permanently fixed leather shelf:imageA simple movable flap is fitted to the opposite side. The width of the case is exactly right to carry the half pint oil can:imageThe only markings on the case are impressed onto the lid of the case:imageIt seems that there were a variety of different packing configurations for this case with differing types and sizes of oil cans carried. As with so much of this equipment information about its use and contents are limited today- if you know more please get in contact.