The Besa Machine Gun

Discussion in 'Weapons, Technology & Equipment' started by Uncle Target, Aug 30, 2019.

  1. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Taking a break not sure when I will be back

    The BSA Factory in Redditch made the Besa Machine Gun. Under the Tool Room were ranges where firing could be carried out day and night in all weather.
    The Besa was made exclusively for the Armoured Corps as it used a German calibre round in the anticipation that they could replenish stocks from the enemy. Did this ever happen.
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2019
  2. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

    Did this ever happen ? Might have done, possibly an account to be found in this file at Kew:

    "Investigation into the causes of stretch in 7.92mm case when fired in Besa machine gun

    DEFE 15/1711
    Investigation into the causes of stretch in 7.92mm case when fired in Besa machine gun
    Held by:
    The National Archives, Kew
    Former reference in its original department:
    Legal status:
    Public Record(s)
    Closure status:
    Open Document, Open Description"
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  3. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    It didn't really use 7.92 "in the anticipation that they could replenish stocks from the enemy."
    It used it because that was what the gun was available in as a ready to go, licensable & 'off the shelf' air-cooled design. Was likely never re-chambered in wartime due to feed issues with rimmed .303 & the time it would take to adapt, test, etc.
    Supplying one more calibre of ammunition is not such a hardship as sometimes stated. Tanks in resupply are getting all sorts of dedicated ammunitions anyway. One more type not such a big thing.
    Even the later Brownings fitted to British tanks used 30-06. Not a local 'standard' either.

    Little document from the Canadians showing captured stuff was perfectly officially acceptable 'In an emergency' (Though Czech belt links, not German).
    Tank Archives: German Ammunition

    7.92x57 'Mauser' is 7.92x57 'Mauser'.
    It would be all over any captured German area, having fed K98 & others.

    Sorry. Digression...
    On the actual question of specific examples; that's rather trickier to find evidence of.
    I've a suspicion that the practice might have been so common that it's rarely thought worthy of mention, or that tanks carried plenty of secondary armament ammunition anyway (hundreds of millions of rounds from local & other suppliers mentioned here: 7.92mm BESA Ball - British Military Small Arms Ammo & the UK seems to have eventually sold a lot of surplus & captured 7.92 to Turkey), though hopefully someone will have something to hand.
  4. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Taking a break not sure when I will be back

    I have seen photos of German troops using the Czech version in either Crete or Greece so they were also using the weapon.
    When I first heard about it I thought they were making the Bren but later found a BSA website with photos of the Besa gun.
    I will take a look to see if I can find it.
  5. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Taking a break not sure when I will be back

    I had the pleasure of visiting IMI Kynoch in Birmingham about forty years ago. Their display of the munitions that they made over the years was mind boggling.
  6. ceolredmonger

    ceolredmonger Member

    The ZB53m37/Besa had several design features which made it an ideal AFV weapon - notably that gas operation, rather than recoil, vents less gas into the vehicle. When adopted it was realised that it did not lend itself to conversion to a rimmed round (Britain was sympathetic as the techies knew a rimless round was more flexible - we were due to adopt a rimless round around 1914 however that didn't happen, then, millions of war surplus .303in rimmed..). There were a number of factories with tooling and experience of making commercial 7.92mm x 57 Mauser rounds including Kynoch so there was never a problem.

    I don't know where the 'replenish stocks from the Enemy' came from. It is quoted in a number of secondary sources. Sounds like a bullish 'inspirational' quote to me. WHB Smith says in a more conservative way (7th ed) "Captured ammunition could be used". I'll look out some wartime stuff when I have a moment...
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  7. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    The Besa is a rather funny case. It was a first line weapon used throughout the war, yet you hear much less about it than other types. I believe it had a reputation as an accurate weapon.

    This may not be generally known, but the Besa could fit or be made to fit on the standard Vickers tripod. I've seen two photographs of it so mounted for training purposes and I presume this could be done in action. British tanks generally carried a Bren for local dismounted defense as well as AA work, but I think if I'd been a tank commander I would have also stowed a tripod to mount the Besa in the ground role as well. I have also read of infantry (9th Australian Div) stripping Besas from derelict tanks and employing them as ground guns. The British Army had no ground MG intermediate in weight and firepower between the Bren and the Vickers, but at over 50 lbs the Besa unfortunately was not a possible solution to this problem. British_tank_gunners_examine_Besa_heavy_machine-gun.jpg
  8. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Taking a break not sure when I will be back

    It never ceases to amaze me how folk on this site place so much emphasis on words. 'replenish stocks from the Enemy' probably emanated from my head as I tend to use my own descriptions rather than quotes from others. The concept came from a website that portrayed the history of the BSA which I can no longer locate.
    There was a similar attribute to the use of 9mm in the Sten I believe. Perhaps to make it more attractive for Commando Raids or Resistance forces where replenishment could prove difficult.
    They were Dark Times in days of War. The Brits appreciated manufacture and logistical supply difficulties so sought to overcome them just in case. Such phrases often accompanied weapon training talks. The ability to take ammo of the enemy appealed to a class of recruits. It certainly stuck in my mind.
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2019
  9. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I'd be hard pressed to back this up with specifics right now, but I have a thread going about captured and non-standard weaponry and it was pretty common for both sides to press captured stuff into use. The British had large stocks of ex-Italian and ex-German ammo on hand from North Africa and they offered much of this to SOE and European resistance movements. This made sense, as resisters were likely to have some Axis weapons anyway. British troops sometimes used weapons like the MP40, Luger, Walther, MG 34, etc., and naturally used the enemy ammo they captured with the guns. Of course, there is 7.92mm and 7.92mm you know, and not all loadings in the same caliber are made equal. Different countries load their ammo to different specifications, and stuff set up for a machine gun might not be ideal for use in a rifle. I have read of a French unit in the Indochina war which got some excellent MP40s, but the only 9mm ammo they had for them was British stuff which did not function at all well in the German weapon. If I was a tank commander who got hold of a German 7.92mm cache, I'd want to test fire some of the stuff first to be sure that it was OK in the Besa.
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  10. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA Patron

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  11. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Taking a break not sure when I will be back

    Going a bit off piste here but talking of using captured weapons and ammunition. Tunisia Lt Noel Beadle C Troop 266 Bty 67th Field Regt Djeida May 1943 written 30th June 1943. (attached)

    Attached Files:

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  12. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    The Germans in both World Wars were major users of captured weapons. In WW1 they set up production lines to convert captured Russian and Belgian Maxims and Vickers machine guns to take German ammo as well as producing field conversion kits for Lewis Guns. In WW2 they changed tack and had some production of Allied ammo
  13. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member


    Can anyone interpret the above regarding Besa stoppages for someone who knows next to nothing about guns 'n' ammo? What is an IA? I'm guessing they got some seriously faulty ammunition, or was there a problem with the reliability of the Besa?

    This was regarding an action by a detachment of 8 Valentines from 'C' Squadron, 146 Tank Regiment, at the FDL Chaung near Donbaik, Arakan Province, on 1st Feb 1943. The whole operation was a disaster, but one thing that stands out is that four Besas jammed solidly - half the guns, and that's with three tanks lost almost immediately and having little chance to fire. Others had clearable stoppages.

    Full description from the CO is attached below, but he reports that in the initial attack:
    • Sgt Pratt... Besa jammed, breech block failing to eject round... when trying to extract cannular ring came away on extractor leaving round in breech
    • Self... Besa jammed hard.
    The Squadron pulled back to regroup, three tanks lost and two damaged. The jammed Besas were removed and replaced with serviceable guns stripped from the damaged tanks. Three tanks then went back into action and the fresh guns jammed too:
    • Own Besa jammed hard, could not get breech block back. It failed to fire and jammed with round in.
    • Sgt. Pratt's Besa jammed, his tank hit with H.E. mudguard smashed down on tracks.
    Full report on the action from war diary appendix:

    Image00001.jpg Image00002.jpg Image00003.jpg Image00004.jpg Image00005.jpg
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  14. redtop

    redtop Well-Known Member

    Ist IA
    Immediate action.
    The first drill to be carried out when gun stops firing .
    Soldiers were constantly drilled in training on carrying out the IA's of all weapons to get them back in to action in the shortest time possible..
    They could be carried out in seconds ,seconds that could save lives in a fire fight.
  15. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    A quick scan around the ever-trustworthy net using 'stoppage' and 'jam' as keywords does not suggest that the Besa had a reputation for breaking down like that. Four out of

    "Spaces in the belt." Could this indicate a bad batch of ammo?
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  16. JDKR

    JDKR Member Patron

    Bit of a diversion from the Besa but I experienced using another nation’s ammunition in a British Army weapon in the early 1980s when we were provided with Indian 9mm ammo, presumably because it was cheaper or someone had forgotten to put it on the Army’s shopping list. It was awful and caused endless stoppages in the SMG. Fortunately 3 Shock Army did not take advantage of the situation! I would imagine that in wartime you would only use another nation’s ammo as a last resort.
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  17. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Taking a break not sure when I will be back

    I was flabbergasted by the term Cannular Ring so checked on line. Now I know what they meant, the bullet came off the cartridge and stuck in the barrel when the extractor pulled the cartridge out.
    In laymans terms it stuck in the start of the barrell (Breech). On a Bren you would change barrel (2nd IA) It seems they didn't carry spare barrels as they weren't so easy to change.
    I think this is what they meant:
    Cannelure - Wikipedia
    Looks like they has a problem with the Ammo not the guns.
  18. JDKR

    JDKR Member Patron

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  19. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Taking a break not sure when I will be back

    Moving from the flank: I became aware over the years that Ammo became less reliable as the war progressed, 1944 seems to have been one of the bad years. SA ammo became more liable to jam and artillery (particularly 25 pdr) had the occasional explosion due to the percussion shell becoming armed during transport or handling and being bonked on the breech of the gun when loaded.
    This resulted in the death of numerous gun crews a few of which were in the 67th Field Regt.
    In the 1960's the instructors in 267 FR who had been in WW2 67th were very sensitive to this.
  20. redtop

    redtop Well-Known Member

    A hard extraction happens when the round fires but the case remains jammed in breech and the extractor tears the base of the case off at the cannular ring leaving the remains of case jammed in the breech the bullet will have left the barrel..
    I know the later GPMG had a hard extraction remover tool the Besa may have had the same

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