Non-standard, substitute standard, and captured weapons in British and Commonwealth service

Discussion in 'Weapons, Technology & Equipment' started by TTH, Mar 16, 2012.

  1. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    From the book Commando Men by Brian Samain:



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  2. AlanDavid

    AlanDavid Junior Member

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  3. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I've got some slack time to fill, so let's see what's been accumulating in the vault. All right, how about the Long Lee Enfield?

    The LLE was not quite the first version of the Lee-Enfield series to see service, that honor going to the Lee-Metford of c. 1889. The LLE, which featured improved rifling, was I think standard by the time of the Second Boer War, but it was superseded a few years after 1902 by the then new SMLE. Plenty of Long Lees remained, though, and most of these were converted to accept the SMLE's five-round charger. Most of the TF and some regular and Indian units had these converted LLEs in 1914, and they saw much service. Large numbers still remained in 1918, and in New Zealand and Australia many were sold off to rifle clubs. Come the emergencies of 1940-42 and the old LLE was hauled off the shelf and handed out to home defense outfits. The Home Guard had some, but the Australian Veteran Guard had more and the NZ Home Guard the most of all, the Long Lee being particularly common and popular there among the rifle clubs. Even some old Lee Enfield carbines, which had preceded the SMLE in cavalry service, were pressed into Kiwi HG service. Indeed, I doubt that the Long Lee is entirely dead even yet; I've seen a photo of one which was picked up in Afghanistan a few years back, still popping away at the Ferenghees after all these years. Here are a few snaps of the LLE in a) British b) Australian and c) New Zealand WWII service, as well as a photo of a Mk I* Lee-Enfield carbine which was issued to the NZ HG.

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  4. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA Patron

    In one of the photos above they are cleaning their rifles with hot soapy water to remove corrosive salts used in a lot of WWI and WWII primers. I don't think I've ever seen a picture of this before. Nice.

  5. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Australia is also a very dry country, lots of dust, which would have made these guys even more careful about keeping their weapons clean. Originally I think the Veteran Guard was exactly that, ex-WWI servicemen, so they would have known how to treat their rifles properly.
  6. AlanDavid

    AlanDavid Junior Member

    Excellent photos TTH, thanks for posting.

    In the photo, notice the old boy in the centre front has a bull barrel Steven single shot rifle, not an LLE.

    In some of the photos you can see the LLE's have been converted to charger loading. Also, notice how the guys in civvies are nearly all wearing hats, that's just how it was in the 1940's. All good stuff!


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  7. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Glad you like it, David. And I'm STILL waiting for that book!
  8. Richelieu

    Richelieu Well-Known Member

    Finally laid my hands on a copy Alan - the year is a typo and should be 1941, and Beda Fomm is in Libya. I could not see anything to suggest service with the BEF.
  9. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    MG 15 Tobruk.jpg a128978-v6.jpg Para w MG 15 Athens 1.jpg Paras w MG 15 Athens 2.jpg MG 15 AA.jpg The MG 15 was one of the most common German machineguns of WWII. It originated from the same Solothurn design as the MG 34, but ended up as a very different sort of gun. A long, recoil-operated air cooled weapon, the MG 15 was the German equivalent of the British Vickers K, the standard flexible aircraft gun for much of the war. Practically every German multi-engine aircraft carried the MG 15 at one time or another, but by the middle of the war the limitations of rifle-caliber MGs in aircraft armament were apparent and the Germans began to use heavier weapons. They also needed more ground guns, so they modified the MG 15 for that role. The modification consisted of a tubular buttstock, some revision of the sights, and an additional barrel jacket fitted with a bipod. The original gun weighed about 18 lbs unloaded and 27 with a loaded 75 round saddle drum magazine so a loaded ground version must have weighed over 30 lbs, hardly what you'd call light. British forces scavenged MG 15s from shot-down aircraft during the Battle of Britain and in North Africa, often pressing them into service as light AA weapons. (Spike Milligan has a picture of himself manning one in the first volume of his autobiography.) Some authorities say the ground version of the MG 15 didn't see much service, but it was common enough for British forces to use captured examples on occasion. Attached are 1) a photo of an MG 15 in the AA role in Tobruk, still stuck in the canopy of the aircraft it was shot down with 2) men of the Canadian-American 1st Special Service Force at Anzio with a mixed lot of Axis automatic weapons, including a couple of MG 15s, a Beretta M38, an MP 40, and what looks like an Italian Breda M30 3) and 4) two film frames of an MG 15 in use by 2nd Para Brigade against ELAS in Athens in 1944 5) MG 15 on an AA mount somewhere or other.

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    Last edited: Apr 26, 2020
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  10. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA Patron

  11. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    4.7" Gun Mk IV/VI (B)

    I seem to learn something new and surprising about this subject every day. By 1940, the British Army was working on its third generation of modern mobile medium field guns, the 4.5" and 5.5" which served out the war. These were in the process of replacing the 60 Pdr Mk II, which had in turn replaced the 60 Pdr Mk I which was used during the Great War. Some 60 Pdr Mk I's were still around, some being used for coast defense in the UK and New Zealand. We'll get to that later. Astonishingly, at least one example of the first generation of the army's medium guns was still in use in World War II. This was the 4.7" Gun, originally a naval piece (Mk I-IV). Caught short during the Boer War, the British pressed some of these naval weapons into field service, mounting them on heavy steel carriages hastily designed by Captain Percy Scott of the RN. The adaptation was successful enough for the army to ask for their own purpose-built official version of the weapon. The result was the 4.7" Mk IV/VI (B), the same old gun mounted on a carriage from Woolwich Arsenal and modified to take a shorter case. Some 30 batteries or so of these weapons were available in 1914. The army was glad to have some kind of heavier weapon it could take into the field, but in truth the 4.7" was not a terribly good weapon. The carriage was quite heavy and too short, and the recoil system did not prevent the gun from leaping a good deal. Quoted maximum range was 12,000 yards, but from what I've glimpsed in a charge and range table I found online I suspect this was highly optimistic. Finally, the shell weighed only 45 pounds. The army viewed the 4.7" as no more than a stop gap until the much better 60 Pdr appeared. Nonetheless, the 4.7" was there and it saw a great deal of action in the Great War. The BEF was still using it as late as 1916, when 32 pieces were employed on the Somme. The 4.7" was then shifted to secondary theaters (Macedonia, etc.) and was still in British service as late as 1922. The naval version was widely used on ships and for coastal defense and some of these survived in Australian coastal batteries during WWII (I'll get to those later also). The online authorities don't say so, but some of the 4.7" field guns apparently went to Russia during the Great War or perhaps the Russian Civil War. As part of their effort to dump all the junk in their arsenals on the Spanish Republicans, the Soviets shipped some surviving 4.7" s to Spain during the Spanish Civil War. (They disposed of some old British 5" and 6" 30 cwt hows at the same time and in the same way.) The Nationalists captured some of the 4.7"s and used them in turn, and one beautifully preserved example is at Valadollid. Another 4.7" field gun is in Canada, and thereby hangs a tale. The British gave some to the Canadians before WWI, and it was apparently the first really big field weapon that the RCA had ever handled. At least one of these was still around in 1939, and the RCA used it for training throughout the war; in fact, the weapon was not stricken from service until 1947! It then went to the RCA Museum at Shilo, and it's still there.
    4-7-inch-BL-gun--CANADIAN-ARTILLERY--1915.jpg WNBR_47-40_mk1_Spain_pic.jpg 4.7 Inch Gun RCA Shilo.jpg

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    Last edited: Mar 27, 2020
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  12. Expat Yeoman

    Expat Yeoman Member

    My lot (104th (Essex Yeomanry) Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery) and the Australian forces made use of captured Italian field and AA guns in North Africa.

    1. A quote from the memoir of Sergeant Len Tutt of 104th:

    "Both our Batteries showed a lot of initiative in the use of some of the abandoned Italian artillery which was littered about the place. Our firing as a Field Regiment was very restricted because of the shortage of ammunition. 339 Battery salvaged two Italian 149mm howitzers which they sited close to the wire on the north side of the Bardia road. Howitzers have a very high trajectory so they were able to lob shells into the deep wadis which the enemy were entrenched in on the eastern sector. Our Battery manned two 3-inch AA guns which were used because they had such a high range. The guns were taken right up to and occasionally outside the wire and were able to bring fire down on the El Adem airfield and the bypass road along the top of the escarpment which the enemy had built, confident that the traffic along it would be out of reach of our Field Artillery. It was nice to prove them wrong."

    2. A picture of one of those 149mm field guns in use by men from the 2/28th Bn and 104th (AWM 020648, | The Australian War Memorial)


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  13. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA Patron

    Great pictures. Do you know what those black lines underneath the green one are? Looks like one might go out to each side up towards the front. One is visible in the gray one too. Hydraulics? Electrical? Maybe retrofitted air brakes?
  14. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    The Strange Case of the M1914 Hotchkiss

    The Model 1914 Hotchkiss gun is a familiar weapon. It was the standard French MMG in World War I and remained in French service right through WWII and on into the French Indochina War. Many other nations used it, including the U.S., Belgium, China, Norway, Poland, and Rumania. The Japs developed a whole series of MMGs derived from it. Despite this long record, the M1914 never seems to have gotten a lot of respect. It was a very French gun, for one thing, and French small arms have never seemed to get their due from critics. The Hotchkiss was also funny-looking, with those big trombone-like cooling fins and heavy, art-deco lines. To cap it all, it had an odd feed system. The British did adopt a Hotchkiss design officially, the light portative model, but they had the Vickers and were naturally not interested in the M1914. Yet it seems that they did use it unofficially from time to time. According to John Walter, author of the Osprey series book on the Hotchkiss guns, the M1914 was sometimes used by British forces on the Western Front, particularly in those areas where the French and British operated side by side. (See one of the attached photos, which shows British and French troops around a Hotchkiss in May 1918 after the German breakthrough on the Aisne.) Dale Clarke, author of the standard work on Home Guard armament, says that the vast majority of Hotchkiss guns with the HG were the familiar portative (Hotchkiss MkI/I* in .303) but that it is possible that a few Hotchkiss M1914s were also present. Where could they have come from? We know that some French rifles were used by the HG in the early days and that these were left by French and possibly Polish troops coming from France and Norway, so it isn't impossible that some M1914s were acquired by the British in the same way. Some may have come via another route. Clarke, a former film armorer, found an old Hotchkiss M1914 tripod in the warehouse of the Bapty company, a British film armament outfit which had placed its resources at the disposal of the government and the HG during the war. It wasn't just any tripod, either, but one of several thousand tripods made in the US during WWI by the Standard Products Company of Cleveland. These "Cleveland Tripods" were instantly distinguishable from French made tripods because of the circuit ring fitted for use when firing against aircraft. Clarke thought this tripod might have gotten to the UK as part of a canceled French order, but it may have been more complicated than that. The Cleveland Tripods never got overseas during the Great War, but they were used for training over here. The US Army disposed of its old Hotchkiss guns after 1918 very quickly, along with the Cleveland Tripods for them. Many of these were purchased by veterans organizations and municipalities as memorials. The guns were "de-watted" by cutting through the barrel. By the 1930s, however, with conflicts starting up again in various corners of the world, a number of companies began to buy up these old Hotchkiss guns and tripods to re-militarize them and sell them to needy combatants. Around 1940-41 the Van Karner company of New York bought up at least 500 M1914s, re-welded the barrels, and offered them for sale. Many (or all?) of the Van Karner M1914s were re-chambered for the Russian rimmed 7.62mm round, apparently because large lots of this ammo were available either as Imperial Russian surplus from WWI or as stuff the Finns had ordered for the Winter War and then didn't need after they lost it. Iver Johnson made about 2500 M1914 barrels for the 7.62 round. However that may be, the desperate Dutch bought at least 200 Van Karner M1914s in 1941. About half of these made it to the KNIL in time to serve briefly against the Japs, while the others went to the West Indies. (One of the pictures shows a Van Karner M1914 with a Dutch crew in Surinam.) The US Government eventually moved in on Van Karner, seized much of their remaining stock, and cut it up for scrap (including some or all of the remaining M1914s?) I think it possible that the Cleveland Tripod Dale Clarke found at Bapty may have been either for an M1914 in an unrecorded Van Karner M1914 sale to the UK or for an M1914 donated by some US organization or municipality as part of the Guns-For-Britain drive. In the former case the gun might have been in 7.62mm Russian, in the latter most likely in the original 8mm Lebel. It is certain, too, that the M1914 was used by British forces in the Middle East. The Australian Army official history volume Greece, Crete, and Syria records at least three instances in which M1914s were captured from the Vichy French and used by Australian and British troops. (See an attached photo of Australians with a captured M1914.) When the Polish Carpathian Brigade came over to the British in 1940, they brought their French equipment along with them, including M1934 Hotchkiss anti-tank guns, M1906 Schneider-Ducrest mountain guns, and M1914 Hotchkiss MMGs. At least one M1914 was captured in Madagascar and adopted by an RN vessel, HMS Active (though whether Active actually used it is unclear). The M1914 was also used in NWE, too. There is a famous photo of troops of 1st KOSB using a captured M1914 in Caen in 1944. Some think the photo is staged, but it is one of a 3-picture series and there is nothing improbable about the KOSB using the gun. (One photo shows the Borderers examining one of the uncommon 249-round Hotchkiss articulated strip-belts, generally reserved for fortress use and firing on fixed lines.) I have also seen several photos of the Nijmegen Bridge shortly after its capture showing an M1914 still prominently in position next to a 17-pounder antitank gun near the south bank--doubtless taken from the Germans and retained by the antitank crew for local defense.

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    Last edited: Mar 12, 2020
  15. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    The time was late 1946.
    My current position was that of Tech Corporal for A Squadron, 4th Queen’s Own Hussars. As such, I was responsible for all the ‘Technical’ stores in the Squadron which included, Tanks, Armoured Cars, Motor Vehicles of all description and the spares included thereof.
    I knew that I was shortly due to be released from the Army under the current Python scheme that enabled men who had served more than 3 years 9 months abroad to be sent home and released from the forces. Understandably, I was concerned that nothing should hinder my release and ‘nothing’ included any shortfalls in the equipment that I had previously signed for.
    For some time now I had been training a young Lance Corporal to take over my place and I’d given him the task of checking the quantities of all the spares held on our Store Truck against the inventory for the same holdings.
    One day he reported to me that we were one verey light pistol short of the six that we were supposed to be holding according to the manifest. The verey light pistols were held as part of a tank’s small arms store and were used, in emergencies, to either send a pre-arranged message or identify the tank’s position to other squadron members. I had even used one myself in front line action some months earlier.
    The short story is that I was one pistol short and I had to do something about it.
    Amongst my ‘un-official’ spares was a German very light pistol, very much the same size as it’s British counterpart but un-mistakeably different to the eye. Some hard and quick thinking was called for.
    I solved the problem by covering all the pistols in axle grease then wrapping them up with strips of oilskin so that only the registration number was visible. The German pistol soon had it’s own number erased and replaced by the ‘correct’ British number and the six pistols were left hanging up on adjacent hooks.
    Not long after this event we had an un-scheduled inspection by a top-brass Brigadier who inspected all of the Regimental stores, including my own stores truck.
    He clambered up the wooden stairs of the truck and with his aide-de-camp sniffed around the stores that were on display. His eyes caught the very light pistols and he demanded to know what these mystery parcels were.
    I explained that experience had taught me that the pistols were soon affected by corrosion and so I had covered them in heavy grease but left the numbers visible for quick inspection.
    “Bloody good idea Corporal !” he said and telling his sidekick to ”make a note of that will you” he soon, to my great relief, clambered back down the stairs.
    Almost sixty years after the event I still wonder whatever happened when the pistols were eventually un-wrapped and the cuckoo in the nest was revealed !
    I also wonder if the rest of the units in the Division ever had to wrap all their Verey light pistols in grease !!

    If I can trust my memory, you had to "break" the gun to drop the cartridge in, then cock the hammer, point the pistol skyward and squeeze the trigger to fire it. The hammer would then ignite the cartridge and "whoosh" it would fly !!!!!!!

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  16. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I did a little research on this and according to a handbook on the weapon those wires were attached to a recoil spade which was attached to a hydraulic cylinder. This was carried folded under the axle while traveling and unfolded when the gun was readied for action. Quote: "The spade attachment consists of a spade-toothed blade,suspended under the axle by a telescopic spring cylinder, which is hinged to the front transom.The blade is also attached by two steel wire ropes to a rear spring case passed diagonally between the sides of the trail and secured to a bracket fixed to the lower part of the trail.When the gun is fired and the carriage recoils,the toothed blade catches in the ground, the carriage moving over the spade, the wire-ropes drawing out the spring in the trail, and the shaft of the spade compressing the upright spring;after recoil the springs return the gun to the firing position." The attached line drawing from the handbook shows the spade and the wires pretty clearly. The 4.7" was a naval weapon adapted to land service, and while its recoil cylinders may have functioned OK when the gun was bolted to the deck of a ship, they needed all the help they could get when the gun was mounted on a land service carriage. Even with the help of the recoil spade the 4.7" jumped quite a bit when fired, as some surviving film shows. This did not help accuracy.

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    Last edited: Mar 28, 2020
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  17. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Czech 100mm Skoda M14/19 Howitzer

    Well, I might as well get back to this, seeing as I have no excuse now. I have been doing lazy keyword searches in the IWM photo collections and these have brought up some surprises, of which this is the most surprising so far. As you all doubtless know, the Fridolins occupied the Channel Islands from 1940 up to the end of the European war. They fortified Jersey and Guernsey with their usual thoroughness and garrisoned the islands with a heavily reinforced infantry division, the 319th, which grew to be the largest infantry division in the German Army. The islands bristled with guns. The heavier stuff (105mm-220mm) was a mixture of German, French, and Czech, while the mobile fieldpieces were all Czech, as was standard for that 'wave' of German divisions. The most numerous fieldpiece was the 100mm Skoda M14/19 howitzer, which was the Austro-Hungarian M14 of WWI vintage with a longer barrel and increased range. Two full battalions of these howitzers were emplaced on Guernsey, 24 pieces altogether. The islands surrendered on May 9th 1945, and a little less than a month later the king and queen arrived for a royal visit. I don't know if Force 135 had any proper guns of its own, but the Germans had left plenty around intact and when the royal couple landed on Guernsey they got a salute from the 100mm Czech howitzers. Ceremonial to be sure, but since the war with Japan was still going on then I think the 100mm M14/19 can qualify for this thread.
    RA mans German guns for Royal salute 7 June 45 Guernsey.jpg
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2020
  18. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Thanks, I plan to do some posts on the various Italian pieces. The 149s you mention were ex-Austro-Hungarian 150mm howitzers (not guns) which the Italians had gotten as reparations post WWI. The Tobruk garrison was dreadfully short of medium artillery and the 149s fired a heavy and effective shell, but there was something wrong either with the ammunition on the weapons and they were hazardous to use. The gunners took to firing them from under cover with a long lanyard.

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