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:

WW1 Regimentally Marked Spoon

Possibly the most important piece of equipment for a soldier is his spoon! World War one era military issue spoons are quite distinctive and tonight we are looking at a wonderfully marked example that has seen at least three users. My thanks go to Taff Gillingham for his help in filling in some of the blanks with this object. This spoon is particularly large, equivalent to a modern tablespoon, and has what is known as a ‘fiddle back’:This pattern of spoon was introduced in 1894 under pattern 3910/1894 and is made of cupronickel. It was to remain in service throughout the Great War, although it was supplemented by a new pattern in 1917 that more closely resembles the ‘teardrop’ handle of today. It is common to find one edge of the spoon sharpened and ground down, as in this example:This made it easier to get the spoon into every part of a D-Shaped mess tin and acted as a simple knife for cutting up food with. Soldiers tended to discard knives and forks and just carry a spoon, often to be seen tucked into their puttees:Veterans recalled that in the trenches the preferred method of cleaning a spoon after use was to push it into the ground two or three times until it was clean! Having said that if the mud was particularly thick then the spoon was often carried in the breast pocket for ease of access. This example belonged to various members of the 4th West Yorkshire Regiment as witnessed by the service numbers stamped into the front of the fiddle back:Further numbers are to be seen on the back, these are different and its seems this spoon went through the hands of at least three different men:Whilst this is unusual, it was not unheard of as kit tended to get recycled and reused. This spoon was a lucky find on eBay for 99p and is definitely a favourite of mine. It will be going into my wash roll with my WW1 kit and may well see service again!

Canadian 82 Pattern C1 SMG Pouch

The British Army never had an official pouch for Sterling SMG magazines, soldiers just placed them in the standard 58 pattern. The Canadians did things rather differently and issued a dedicated pouch that could take three magazines for their version of the gun, the C1. Tonight we are looking at one of these pouches, designed to work with the 82 pattern webbing set. The pouch is designed to hold three magazines and is made from a dark green nylon fabric:The top flap is secured with a plastic quick release buckle and webbing tab:The back of the flap has two plastic fasteners to attach it to the 82 belt, with Velcro to help secure them:Each individual pocket has a loop of nylon webbing inside that helps draw out the magazine:You pull these upwards and they draw the base of the magazines vertically up so they can be gripped and pulled out:As is usual with these sort of pouches, drainage holes are fitted at the base of the pouch:The C1 SMG used different magazines to the British Sterling, so British magazines do not fit into these pouches. There were a number of differences between British guns and Canadian examples:

  • C1 had a one piece bolt, the UK one had a two piece
  • different recoil springs
  • Canadian magazines had a basic follower (10 and 30 round capacity), UK ones a roller which was far more reliable.
  • trigger groups and shape of the trigger gurards are different
  • rear butts are slightly different (the UK one is lighter with more holes in the strut)
  • mag releases are different
  • front and rear sights are different (C1 SMG used the same front sight as the FN C1 and C2 family of small arms, and the front sight adjusting screw was the same as the arctic trigger guard retaining screw on the C1 and C2.
  • different bayonets are used (FNC1 on Canadain guns and the No5 jungle carbine bayonet on the UK ones)
  • end caps are different
  • on some UK versions the protective surfaces were painted, while the C1 SMG was phosphated

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:

Supermarine Attacker Postcard

The birth of the jet era saw a large number of different designs of aircraft developed, with many lasting only a few years in service before being made obsolete as technology advanced rapidly. The Supermarine Attacker was one of these short lived designed, but has its place in history as being the first jet adopted by the Royal Navy. Tonight we have a fine period postcard showing the aircraft in flight:The Attacker developed from a Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter jet project, under Air Ministry Specification E.10 of 1944 (the E for experimental). The design of the Attacker used the laminar flow straight-wings of the Supermarine Spiteful.The project was intended to provide an interim fighter for the RAF while another aircraft, the Gloster E.1/44 also using the Nene engine, was developed. The Nene engine had intakes either side of the fuselage in front of the wings:And exhausted through a single jet at the rear of the aircraft:An order for three prototypes was placed on 30 August 1944, the second and third of which were to be navalised. An order for a further 24 pre-production aircraft, six for the RAF and the remaining 18 for the Fleet Air Arm was placed on 7 July 1945.

Handling problems with the Spiteful prototype delayed progress on the jet-powered version, leading to the pre-production order of 24 being stopped, although work on the three prototypes continued. The Fleet Air Arm instead bought 18 de Havilland Vampire Mk. 20s to gain experience with jet aircraft. The RAF rejected both designs since they offered no perceptible performance advantage over the contemporary Gloster Meteor and the de Havilland Vampire, the RAF’s first two operational jet aircraft. Supermarine offered a navalised version of the project to the Admiralty. The prototype Type 392 serial number TS409 land version was first flown on 27 July 1946, by test pilot Jeffrey Quill. This aircraft’s ownership can clearly be seen from the large ‘Royal Navy’ painted on the fuselage near the tail:The Attacker suffered from deficiencies which led to it quickly being superseded; one being that the aircraft retained the Spiteful’s tail-wheel undercarriage (due to the extent of the re-tooling that would have been required to alter the Spiteful’s wing), rather than a nose-wheel undercarriage, thus making the Attacker more difficult to land on aircraft carriers. This same tail-down attitude meant that when operating from grass airfields the jet exhaust would create a long furrow in the ground that “three men could lie down in”. Also the new wing was apparently aerodynamically inferior to the original Spitfire elliptic one, with lower critical Mach number, leading to someone quipping that “they rather should have left the Spitfire wing on the thing”.

The first navalised prototype, Type 398 TS413 flew on 17 June 1947 flown by test pilot Mike Lithgow, three years after the Meteor had made its first flight. Production orders for the FAA were placed in November 1949. The first production aircraft to take to the skies was the F.1 variant in 1950, entering service with the FAA in August 1951 with the first squadron being 800 Naval Air Squadron. The aircraft had its cockpit high on top of the fuselage, giving the pilot good visibility:The F.1’s armament consisted of four 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano Mk. V cannons, with 125 rounds of ammunition per gun. It was powered by a single Rolls-Royce Nene Mk. 101 turbojet engine.

The Attacker had a brief career with the Fleet Air Arm, not seeing any action during its time with the FAA and being taken out of first-line service in 1954. It remained in service with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) for a little while longer, being taken out of service in early 1957. The Attacker was replaced in the front line squadrons by the later and more capable Hawker Sea Hawk and de Havilland Sea Venom.

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)