Category Archives: Weapons

Indian Made Lee Enfield Breech Cover

With the possible exception of the AK47, most firearms do not function well when they are covered in dirt and grit. Unfortunately the internal parts of a gun need to be oiled for them to function properly, and this oil in turn attracts dust and seizes up the action. This problem becomes more acute in arid conditions such as the North West Frontier or the deserts of Northern Africa. Whilst there is no substitute for regular cleaning of weapons by soldiers, physical covers over the working parts of a weapon can help reduce the level of dirt significantly and therefore breech covers were produced for the Lee Enfield rifles. Most of these covers were produced in the UK or Canada and use press studs to secure them, as described in this list of changes from 1915:

“The Breech cover is fully described in LoC 17368, 24 June 1915.

“the Cover is made of Double texture waterproof drill, and is fitted with 3 press studs on the left side of the rifle. Two eyelets are fitted in the cover for a lace which is knotted on the inside to retain it in position:

The cover is attached to rifle by means of the lace as follows-

Rifles Short MLE– To the guard sling swivel, or through the swivel screw hole in the lugs on the trigger guard.”

Tonight however we have an Indian produced example that uses a staples and a cloth strip to secure it:imageMy thanks go to Andrew Dearlove for helping me add this one to the collection. As can be seen the cover fits tightly over the bolt and action of the rifle, the opposite side to the fastener has a double thickness area around the bolt handle to prevent this area from wearing too quickly:imageThe cover is wrapped around the action, the staples are pushed through holes in the breech cover on the opposite side, and the whole assembly secured with the long cotton tab:imageThis allows the cover to be easily removed by quickly pulling on the tab and this allows the assembly to fall away. A pair of leather ties are fitted:imageThese secure to a ring in front of the magazine on the rifle to prevent loss of the cover:imageThe cover is made of the same rough cotton drill as Indian made gas mask bags, inside are a couple of stamps: one has a date of 1943 and a number ‘2’:imageThe second stamp is a faint purple marking with the letters ‘F.S.A’:imageQuite what this stands for is unknown now. We end with a nice illustration of a breech cover being used in the trenches of World War One to keep mud out of the action of a ‘jock’s’ SMLE:post-49107-0-30265100-1366488791

58 Pattern Holster

When the 1958 pattern webbing set was introduced originally there was no provision for a holster. The British Army were in the process of replacing their revolvers with Browning Hi-Power automatics and as a stop gap Canadian 51 pattern holsters were issued to troops (see here). This was clearly far from being an ideal solution so by 1965 a new holster had been developed for the 58 pattern set. This was closely based on the wartime Canadian Browning holster and had a pair of overlapping flaps to protect the pistol:These flaps were secured with a quick release tab:And when opened allowed easy access to the Browning:Inside the holster a small pocket was provided for a spare magazine:That was secured with another quick release tab:A small channel was provided for a cleaning rod:Sadly I do not have a Browning Hi-Power in my collection, but this Model 1922, although smaller, illustrates how a pistol was carried:Stamped onto the underside of the top flap was the manufacturer’s details, date and NSN number:This example was made in 1978 by MECo. Turning the holster over we can see a number of attachment methods were offered:These were a single channel for a belt loop and ‘C’ hooks to allow it to be fastened to the belt of the 58 pattern set:The fitting instructions gave alternatives for the carriage of the holster:

The holster may either be clipped to the belt by two ‘C’ hooks, or it may be attached to a leg strap by means of a webbing loop sewn between the ‘C’ hooks. A link similar to that on the ammunition pouches provides anchorages for the front yoke straps. A ‘D’ ring at the bottom enables the holster to be anchored, if required, to the cape carrier or to the main pack, to prevent the holster from swinging and chafing the legs. MECo were not the only manufacturer of 58 pattern webbing, and this illustration comes from the webbing catalogue of M Wright & Co:Not only was the holster produced in the standard green seen here, but white examples for military police and blue grey RAF examples were produced, albeit in much smaller quantities.

Canadian 2″ Mortar Cleaning Wallet

At the end of last year I published a post on the 2” mortar cleaning kit wallet here. The example we looked at then was a British made example and tonight we have a contrasting example made in Canada. My thanks go to Darren Pyper for his help in getting this one for my collection. Canada produced a large quantity of webbing throughout the war and there are a number of subtle differences between the items produced in north America and those produced elsewhere in the Empire. The function and contents of the cleaning kit are identical to the earlier post, so tonight we will be looking at the differences. Here we have the two sets side by side, the Canadian on the left and the British made example on the right:The first thing to note is that the British example has been dyed a dark green colour, the Canadian example is in plain undyed webbing. The Canadian example has replaced the brass chapes at the end of the straps with phenolated resin, which seems to be a uniquely Canadian manufacturing technique:Not only are the securing straps treated in this way, but also the end of the adjustable shoulder strap:Markings are nice and clear on this example, with an easily readable stamp indicating that this is a Wallet 2 Inch Mortar Mk 1:A second stamp indicates that is was produced by the Zephyr Looms and Textiles Ltd in 1945, note also the Canadian acceptance stamp on the left:Zephyr Looms and Textiles Ltd had four factories within walking distance of each other in Guleph, Ontario. The company opened in 1936, and was at that time owned by the US conglomerate, its main business at that point was government contracts for webbing equipment. During the war, the company had 4 factories:

1) The Office, Warping and Weaving, Located on Crawford St.

2) Sewing, Located at 72 Farquhar St. (now home to JP Hammill and Sons Ltd)

3) Weaving, Located on Huskisson St. (Huskisson St. has subsequently be renamed Wyndham St in 1956, after William Huskisson, the Colonial Secretary) (the building is now an apartment building)

4) Sewing, Located at 135 Oxford St. (now a retirement home and apartments)

Contracts were plentiful throughout 1940 and 1941, with the government placing many orders in excess of $50,000. However, it seems that by 1943 the web equipment contracts were slowing down. Indeed, in October of 1943 the ZL&T Newsletter states that the 50 Millionth piece of military web equipment was produced (a small pack) at plant 4. The Globe and Mail states on November 19th, 1943 that due to fulfillment of government contracts and also lack of materials, all production was suspended at one plant and greatly curtailed at the remaining 3. The article continues, stating that during October of 1943 nearly 200 people (mostly women) were laid off, and that the largest number had been laid off in the ten days before the publication of the article. At its peak the company employed nearly 2000 employees, but by November of 1943 had less than 500. After WWII that company was bought by local businessmen and produced woven fabrics as well as having a franchise to make “Tom Boy” and “American Golfer” clothing. In 1957 the company became “Textile Industries”, and introduced the Wyndham fashion line. Textile Industries closed in 1980 after several layoffs.

Returning to the inside of the cleaning kit wallet we can see further differences, mostly in the design of the pockets for the folding handle for the mortar brush. The Canadian design has a full pocket, the British design has a couple of loops at top and bottom rather than a full pocket:In service troops would have been issued either design interchangeably and probably paid it no attention whatsoever; however to the collector it is always nice to have variants and different manufacturing techniques to track down.

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, titled 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 subject. 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 are 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 dated, 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 igniter 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: