Category Archives: WW2

Air Ministry Spanner

I keep an eye out for military spanners and I have a number of wartime /|\ marked examples now. This week however I picked up my first RAF spanner:Despite the extensive use made of tools by the RAF throughout the war, marked examples do seem scarcer than their army equivalents. This spanner is marked ‘AM’ with a crown for the Air Ministry and dated 1940:The spanner is marked on the opposite side for the thread sizes it works with. One end is for 3/8 British Standard Whitworth (BSW) and 7/16 British Standard Fine (BSF), whilst the opposite end is marked up for 5/16 BSW and 3/8 BSF:BSW was the first standard screw thread size, developed by Joseph Whitworth in 1841 and was used across the Empire. The British Standard Fine (BSF) standard has the same thread angle as the BSW, but has a finer thread pitch and smaller thread depth. This is more like the modern “mechanical” screw and was used for fine machinery and for steel bolts.

Whitworth (spanner) markings refer to the bolt diameter rather than the distance across the flats of the hexagon (A/F) as in other standards. Confusion also arises because BSF hexagon sizes can be one size smaller than the corresponding Whitworth hexagon. This leads to instances where a spanner (wrench) marked 7/16BSF is the same size as one marked 3/8W as in this case. In both cases the spanner jaw width of 0.710 in, the width across the hexagon flat, is the same. However, in World War II the size of the Whitworth hexagon was reduced to the same size as the equivalent BSF hexagon purely to save metal during the war and they never went back to the old sizes afterwards. Despite being long superseded by metric threads and bolts, these imperial threads and bolt heads are still in widespread use throughout the world, a legacy from the nineteenth century that shows no sign of disappearing anytime soon.

1 Reichsmark Allied Military Occupation Currency

We have looked at French ‘invasion currency’ notes on this blog before, but tonight we are turning to one of the notes issued by the occupying authorities in Germany following its invasion in 1945. This note is of a similar size and style to those issued in France, but in German and for Deutschmarks rather than Francs. Here we have a note for 1 Mark:Other notes covered denominations of ½, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 1000 Marks. The rear of the notes has a large ‘M’ in a complicated pattern to deter forgeries:These notes were printed in both the US from September 1944 to June 1948 and the USSR during approximately the same period. The US notes have a hidden ‘F’ mark to indicate the country of printing. 532,000,000 German notes were printed by The Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Company in the US in the various denominations. The first digits of the notes serial numbers indicate which occupation zone they were intended for (‘1’ for the US, ‘0’ for British, ‘00’ for the French) although of course these notes got all muddled up with use, along with those manufactured in the Soviet Union. Whilst the Western Allies kept a tight lid on the number of notes they issued, the Soviets were more indiscriminate with the inevitable result that the influx of currency fuelled inflation.

A directive to allied troops in 1945 read “US forces and other Allied forces will use Allied Military marks and Reichsmark currency or coins in their possession. AM marks and Reichsmak currency and coin now in circulation will be legal tender without distinction and be interchangeable at the rate of one AM mark for one Reichsmark. German military currency and Reichkreditkassenscheine will not be legal tender in Germany.”

For a fascinating account of the difficulties faced in Germany in the immediate post war era due to currency please take a look at this article here.

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.

Royal Navy Shell Dressing

A ship is a self-contained unit, with limited resources and so every member of a ship’s crew has to have some basic knowledge of what to do in an emergency as there is usually no outside support. Most ships carry only limited medical staff, so the Royal Navy has long seen emergency first aid as being an essential skill for its officers and ratings as it is impossible to say when or where an accident might occur and who might be the first on the scene. This becomes ever more imperative in wartime, and ships during World War Two had first aid kits distributed throughout them to enable immediate assistance to be rendered to the injured. These first aid kits contained of a number of shell dressings and tonight we are looking at an Admiralty issued example:The shell dressing itself is identical to the army example we looked at here and the ARP example here. The difference between those examples and this one is that here the shell dressing is clearly marked ‘Admiralty’. The instructions on the packet remain the same however, and this example dates to August 1944:Going into action, distribution stations were set up around a ship with medical supplies that could be taken straight to an incident, these stations could also act as satellite sick bays if needed. First field dressings and shell dressings were given directly to men at more isolate locations. The following advice was given to medical officers on board ship during the war in regards to dealing with wounds:

Dressing of Wounds. Casualties during and immediately after the action will reach the Medical Officer in two ways: (a) less severely wounded cases will find their own way, and may arrive with no dressings at all on wounds that are still bleeding; and (b) cases of graver injury will be assisted or carried to the dressing station; these cases are likely to have had some First Aid dressing already applied at the place in the ship that were wounded.

To the first case he will apply the patient’s own First Aid dressing, after ligaturing any spurting artery or twisting it with a pair of artery forceps, relying upon the pressure of the dressing to stop less severe bleeding. For these initial dressings gauze taken straight from the packet and moistened with flavine 1 in 1,000 can be used, or the wound lightly dusted with sulphanilamide powder (not more than a heaped teaspoon used in toto)