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

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

  1. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Italian artillery at the Captured Ordnance Depot

    The attached image shows the status board of captured Italian guns at the Captured Ordnance Depot in March, 1943. Not surprisingly, the two most common types listed are the 47/32 Bohler M35/39 anti-tank gun and the 20/65 Breda M35/39 light AA gun. Both of these were common Italian types which had been captured in quantity, both were well regarded by the British, and both filled recognizable tactical needs. Both are also commonly seen in British hands in wartime photographs. Some other weapons which also appear in numbers on the board are not seen so frequently in British service. The 100mm 100/17 M14 was an old Austro-Hungarian war booty weapon which was used in large numbers by Italian divisional artillery units. It was a decidedly better weapon than the 75mm 75/27 M906, also listed on the board. The latter was a Krupp pre-Great War piece which was still the most common Italian field piece in 1940. It was used by British forces but never well regarded by them. Also shown are fair numbers of the 65mm 65/17 M10. It is on the board as a howitzer, but actually it was a mountain gun which the Italians mostly used in the infantry gun role. The "77/28" is the 77mm 77/28 M905/908, an Austro-Hungarian field gun from the Skoda Werke; the Italians had 552 examples of it in service in 1940. The board refers to something called a "75/22 gun how." There was no 75/22 in the Italian inventory, so the board may be referring to the 75/18 M34/35, a 75mm howitzer which was one of the few really up to date Italian field artillery weapons. The 105mm 105/28 M13 was the French Mle 1913 Schneider medium field gun, a common standard weapon in both the French and Italian armies in 1940. This gun was still effective and highly regarded by the Royal Artillery, and I have seen a photo of it in use in Tobruk. The 13.2mm MG is a Breda-Safat gun, used I think in both tank and AA roles. The 75/46 is the 75mm 75/46 M34/M40, a fairly effective modern AA weapon. I don't know for certain what the 37mm "A.F.A.T. gun" is, but I think it might refer to the 37/54 M39 Breda 37mm AA gun.

    large_E_023147_1 gun works progress Italian guns.jpg
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2021
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  2. Alec1935

    Alec1935 Active Member

    German 88mm Guns used against them from the IWM Archive

    large_B_013289_1.jpg large_B_013289_2.jpg
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  3. Alec1935

    Alec1935 Active Member

    Are you sure about A.F.A.T.? There was a Breda-SAFAT standing for Società Anonima Fabbrica Armi Torino.
  4. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    No, I am not sure about my reading of AFAT, I was guessing. I know about SAFAT, who made heavy MGs (12.7mm and 13.2mm). Some SAFAT HMGs were refurbished by the COD, but if SAFAT ever made a 37mm gun of any type then I haven't found any information about it.
  5. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    The Reising Model 50 Submachine Gun

    The Reising is one of the more obscure SMGs of WWII, but it was made in fairly substantial numbers (over 100,000) and was the main SMG in service with the US Marine Corps in the first year of the Pacific War. Eugene Reising was an experienced and competent designer with many patents. He sold the design to the Harrington & Richardson Company of Worcester, Massachusetts, already mentioned here for the revolvers they sold to Britain. The Reising was designed not as a military weapon but as a competitor for the Thompson in the US police market. It was an interesting weapon, a closed-bolt gun with a delayed blowback action. The design was nearly in a straight line, and this combined with a relatively low rate of fire made for good control and accuracy even with the .45 ACP cartridge. The Reising was both lighter than the Thompson and much cheaper as well. The British took a look at the gun in 1940 and rejected it. The USMC, on the other hand, needed SMGs and couldn't get Thompsons, so they adopted the Reising as standard. There was also a special airborne version, the Model 55, which featured a folding wire stock, and this was issued to the Marine paratroops. Once in the field, though, problems quickly arose. It turned out that the Reising's parts were not fully interchangeable, for one thing. The action was rather complex and prone to failure when it came into contact with dust and mud, both common in the South Pacific. The SP was also rainy, and the Reising was not adequately protected against rust. H&R had always made good quality weapons but from the stories of the Reising and the Bobby revolver it does seem as if the factory had quality control problems early in WWII. Still, the Reising's weaknesses would probably not have been so evident if it had not been thrust into a major combat role, something it was not designed for. The USMC quickly lost faith in the gun and got rid of it as soon as Thompsons and M1 carbines became available. Still, some Marines continued to use it, because when it was properly cared for it did work well. From 1943 on the Reising was confined to secondary roles, notably with the US Coast Guard in the United States. Some went to the Dutch (KNIL), the Belgian Congo Force Publique, the Soviets, and other minor Allies. The British did obtain some in 1941 and a large number were sent to Canada, where they were issued to the home defense second battalions of the militia. Postwar the Reising had a highly successful career as a police weapon, remaining in American police arsenals for decades after the war. Indeed, the gun was in such demand by American cops that it was put back into production, an additional 5,000 being made in the 1950s. I believe some may have been used by local self-defense forces during the Malayan Emergency. Anyway, I saw a movie about that war where Jack Hawkins carries one (The Planter's Wife, AKA Outpost in Malaya--it also had Claudette Colbert with a Bren.)

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    Last edited: Sep 6, 2021
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  6. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    The United Defense M42 Submachine Gun

    Here is another non-standard American SMG which wound up in British hands, sort of. The United Defense Corporation was an arms procurement outfit whose board included two members of the British Purchasing Commission in the US. The relatively small and relatively new High Standard company was best known for the .22 automatic pistols which it sold to the US and Britain for training purposes, but Carl Swebillius of High Standard came up with a design for an SMG and sold it to United Defense. UD didn't have production facilities, but Marlin Firearms did and so that's where the M42 was made. The prototype was in .45 ACP but the production guns were in 9mm, which made the M42 well suited for use by British forces and European resistance movements. Only 15,000 were manufactured, but OSS and SOE distributed them freely in German-occupied Europe, especially in countries around the Mediterranean. The M42 was a pretty neat little gun. It had a high rate of fire, but I've seen a video of Gun Jesus shooting one and it hardly seems to move, at least in his experienced hands. The magazine held just 25 rounds, but two magazines were welded together to give a quick reload. The most famous use of the M42 came on Crete, where Patrick Leigh-Fermor's SOE-andartes group used them when they snatched General Kreipe (Ill Met by Goonlight).

    cretan_andartes_with_ud42s.jpg Polish Jedburgh Marlin UD M42.jpg

    Attached Files:

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  7. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    The 155mm Schneider Court Howitzer

    The French Army, like others, entered the First World War short of medium artillery and especially of medium field howitzers in the six-inch class, the classic trench-smashers in both world wars. In the early years of La Grande Guerre the French tried to get by with a miscellany of types--the 155mm Rimailho, 155mm Baquet, the M1915 St. Chamond--but these were unsatisfactory. The answer came from the Schneider company, which had produced a good, modern 152mm howitzer for the Russians. Schneider adapted the weapon to fire 155mm ammunition, and the result was adopted by the French Army as the Modele 1917, typically known as the "155mm Court" to distinguish it from the 155mm GPF heavy field gun. This was probably the best weapon in its class on the Allied side, with better range (c. 12,500 yards) than its British contemporary, the 6 Inch 26 cwt. The Mle 1917 was adopted by the US Army and remained in service with the French between the wars. It was one of the most widespread of interwar types, many serving with armies in central and eastern Europe. All these were still in service in 1940, and the Germans took over many captured examples. The US Army obtained many examples straight from Schneider during WWI and these were designated the M1917 in US service. The American-made version of the weapon, designated the M1918, differed in having a straight rather than a curved gunshield, and there were additional minor changes to the carriage and the breechblock. The US planned to replace both editions of the 155mm Court with the new 155mm M1 howitzer, so the older weapons were made available to Allied powers under Lend-Lease. Hyperwar and Nigel Evans' RA site differ slightly on the exact numbers, but about 200 howitzers were delivered to the British altogether. Nigel Evans refers to them as the M1918, but all of the few photos I have seen show curved gunshields, which would make them M1917s. Half of the howitzers went to the Middle East, where they first saw action with 64th Medium Regiment. The 2/13th Australian Medium Regiment also received some, and the regiment took them along when it went back to Australia. The British gave 50 howitzers to the Turks. Though no longer up to date and outranged by the 15 cm sFH 18, the 155mm Court could at least fire a heavy shell to a longer range than the 6 inch 26 cwt, and it helped hold the line until the 4.5 and 5.5 inch weapons appeared in numbers. The US Army also used the 155mm Court in its early campaigns in the Mediterranean and the South Pacific. The French Army of the Levant had some 155mm Mle 1917s on hand in 1941, and these were captured by British forces. Apparently the British at least contemplated using them, because the Gaullist government had to negotiate for some time before the weapons were returned to French hands. One of the attached images shows a captured 155mm Court in the hands of an Australian ordnance workshop.

    large_H_018114_1 155mm and 8 in How March 1942.jpg large_H_018113_1 155mm How Donnington Ord Depot March 1942.jpg

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    Last edited: Sep 15, 2021
  8. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    The 155mm GPF Gun

    This was another piece of French Great War ordnance, with a similar history to the 155mm Schneider Court. The French were no better off for heavy field guns in 1914 than they were for medium field howitzers. The old M1877 155mm DeBange gun did most of the work in the first two years of the war and had surprisingly good performance for a non-recoil weapon, but something newer and better was obviously needed. The something new was designed by a Colonel Filloux of the French Artillery. The Mle 1917 GPF (Grande Puissance Filloux) was one of the best weapons of its time. It featured a split trail, then uncommon, and while it was heavier than the contemporary British 6 Inch Mark XIX it had much better range (21,325 yards with a 95 pound shell). The GPF made its combat debut with the French 1st Army at the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) in August 1917 and was immediately successful. (As an aside, while the British remember 3rd Ypres as a bloody heartache, the French performed very well there and regarded their part of the battle as a success.) The US Army adopted the GPF as the M1917 when we entered the war. US factories made the GPF as the M1918 and the two GPFs remained the US Army's standard heavy field guns until the eve of WWII. The French of course kept the GPF in service and had some 450 on hand in 1940. The GPF still had good performance and so both we and the French upgraded it. The US M3 carriage had pneumatic tires for fast towing, and the gun was widely employed in ready-made coast defense "Panama Mounts" in the US and US overseas possessions. A French captain named Touzard developed a four-wheeled carriage for the GPF with pneumatic tires and some 60 of these GPF-Ts (Touzard) were on hand with the French artillery when the Battle of France began. The French guns passed to German control and were widely used by German forces in France, Russia, and North Africa, where a number of original GPFs and GPF-Ts were employed by Panzerarmee Afrika. According to the Hyperwar Lend-Lease figures, the US sent a total of 54 GPFs to the British. At Douglas MacArthur's request, sufficient GPF guns were sent to Australia in 1942-43 to equip 19 independent heavy mobile coastal batteries of the Royal Australian Artillery. It's not clear to me whether these Australian guns were the same weapons as the 54 mentioned above or not. Anyway, the so-called "letter batteries" of the RAA were deployed in key places around the coast of Australia and at Port Moresby, Milne Bay, and in the Pacific islands. When Jap threats to the coasts diminished, some of the letter batteries saw action in the heavy field role, particularly on the Huon Peninsula and on Bougainville. Some 155mm GPF-Ts were captured by 8th Army at Alamein and according to photographic evidence these were sent to the Captured Ordnance Depot at Alexandria, presumably for repair and re-use if possible. What happened to them after they got to the COD I do not know. In 1944, the 1st Canadian Army got hold of at least one ex-French ex-German GPF and used it against the defenders of Dunkirk.

    4121377 155mm guns at Torokina on Bougainville.JPG 155_mm_GPF_gun_in_travelling_position_Lytton_Qld_Nov_1943_AWM_060033.jpg

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    Last edited: Sep 18, 2021
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  9. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    The Germans had some of them at Pointe du Hoc.
  10. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Yes, or they were supposed to be there anyway. The GPF was still a very useful gun and US forces employed them in the early campaigns in the Pacific and North Africa.
  11. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books


    I presume the picture from the AWM has the caption that it is a captured gun, but I suspect it is more likely to be a US Lend Lease gun, due to the wheels being modernised for motorised towing. The Schneiders received by the Afrika-Korps had wooden wheels for horse-drawing and needed special carriages for transport on that account, while the US LL Schneiders (there's a famous picture from the New York Arsenal of them awaiting shipment) had rubber tyres.

    While it is theoretically possible that the 16 guns equipping 2/13 Medium Rgt R.A.A. in service in November 1941 were captured French Schneiders, I somehow doubt that. It's a bit too neat. It would be useful to have shipment information on the US LL guns to lay this to rest, or check the war diaries of 2/13 Medium to understand the provenance of the guns.

    8th Army Medium Artillery Stats 4 November 1941 (major update 19 June)

    The Schneiders have been discussed at length - the first reached the Tobruk siege lines just as CRUSADER got underway, and a number were quickly lost.

    French 155mm Schneider guns – revisited

    As for captured enemy guns, there is a useful overview of their utility in a 13 Corps CRA document from February 1942:

    Captured Guns in Use by 13 Corps, 17 February 1942

    There was of course also the famed Aussie 'bush' artillery, but in reality there was a more serious and probably more effective effort by the artillery commander of TobFort to utilise enemy guns, in particular the 149s, which filled a gap in the artillery OOB of the fortress.

    Artillery Order of Battle, Tobruk Fortress, 5 November 1941

    All the best

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  12. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Thank you very much for responding. I have read the material on your site and found it very useful. You didn't specify which post you were replying to, but I gather you are replying to the one about the 155mm Court (Schneider howitzer).

    To take your various points...I don't think 2/13 Australian Medium got any howitzers permanently via capture, no. As I wrote above, the French negotiated with the British and got the howitzers back. (Sorry, can't find that reference--am looking for it.) However, I don't think the howitzer in that AWM image is a US M1917 or M1918 model. Take a close look at the tires in that image and then compare them with the tires on the US howitzers in the IWM photos. They are of different patterns. I have checked 2/13 Medium Regiment's war diary and they received 16 howitzers on 10-16-41. These were specifically noted as US types. Careful inspection of photos in the AWM collection shows that the AWM photo of the howitzer is one of a series of images taken at 2/3 Australian Army Field Workshop in Syria in August 1941, two months before the US weapons were issued to 2/13 Medium. That is a French howitzer in the picture, not an American one. Some howitzers were captured by the British in Syria and 2/3 Field Workshop got them and maybe did some work on them, but they did not stay in British service and were eventually returned to the French. That is how I read it.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2021
  13. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Thanks, that should settle it!

    All the best

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  14. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    37mm Anti-Aircraft Gun M1A2

    As is well known (as the Soviets used to say) the British Army's standard LAA gun throughout the war was the excellent 40mm Bofors. The US Army came into the war with a similar LAA weapon of domestic design, the 37mm M1A2. This was available either as is or with two Browning .50 M2 MGs mounted on either side for lower-level work. The latter configuration was also used on the M15 half-track gun motor carriage. The M15 was a useful mobile AA weapon, but it quickly became evident that the M1A2 was inferior to the Bofors. The 37mm shell was lighter than the 40mm and vertical range was about 4,000 feet less. Accordingly the US Army adopted the Bofors and eventually standardized on it, the 37mm being gradually pushed aside. The M1A2 was nonetheless distributed to various Allied nations via Lend Lease, and Britain got 420 of them. I can only presume that this was because of a bottleneck in British Bofors production or something like that. The attached image shows a 37mm M1A2 in use by the Tonga Defence Force, which seems to have gotten a fair amount of US equipment. This example has the .50 Browning M2 water-cooled guns mounted on either side.
    US 37mm-.50 AA with Tonga DF.jpg
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  15. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    The Savage Automatic Pistols

    The Savage company, of Utica, New York, produced a long line of successful lever action rifles, and during WWII it furnished the British government with Thompson submachine guns and No. 4 Lee-Enfields. For about two decades Savage was also a significant competitor in the automatic pistol field. Around 1905 a Savage designer named Eberle produced a design which competed in trials for the US Army service handgun contract. The USA did not accept the Savage, but a scaled down version of the design in .32 ACP and .380 ACP was later offered on the civilian market as the Model 1907. Thanks in part to an aggressive and innovative advertising campaign the M1907 enjoyed some success, not only in the United States but in Britain as well. The Savage design, which employed a rotating barrel and a sort-of delayed blowback action, was in some ways superior to the competing Colt Pocket Hammerless. A number of Savage M1907s were used by British officers in WWI, and some of these are in the collections of the Army Museum, the IWM, and the Royal Armoury. Most of these pistols are in .32, and most seem to have lanyard rings. The French purchased a large quantity of M1907s in .32 during WWI, and smaller batches were obtained by the Portuguese and the Canadians. Savage followed up the M1907 with an improved model, the M1915, and some of these were purchased by the Portuguese in .32 and others in both calibers got to Britain for officer use. The M1915 was only made for about two years because Savage encountered financial problems and also devoted much of its manufacturing capacity to the Lewis gun. A still further improved model of auto pistol, the M1917, was designed but did not enter production until around 1920. The Savage hung around in France and Portuguese service for some time after 1918, but I don't know if any of the Canadian guns or British officer purchases were still around to see service in WWII. In the early 1940 days the American Committee for the Defense of British Homes would take almost anything, but as the committee got more specific about its needs the Savage auto pistols were named as one of the desirable types--but only in .32, not in the more effective .380. John Treloar, director of the AWM, had put together an exhibit of the Portuguese Army during WWI, an exhibit which included a Savage M1915 in .380--which was incorrect, because the Portygees only had the M1915 in .32. Anyway, when an employee of the AWM needed a personal defense weapon during WWII, Treloar loaned the .380 M1915 from the Portuguese exhibit to him. A picture of that weapon is attached, together with photos of a Canadian M1907 in .32 and an M1915 in .380 with British proof markings.

    AWM 3837819 Savage M1915 .380 issued to AWM employee.JPG Savage M1907 .380 1914 British proof.jpg Canadian Savage M1907.jpg
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  16. L. Allen

    L. Allen Member

    In Wings of the Wind by Peter Stainforth he mentions that the 1st Airborne division while fighting in Tunisia captured many of these weapons and used them extensively. I haven't managed to find a war diary for the unit from that period so I don't have any more official data than Peters account.
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