The M16 rifle had been a mainstay of the US infantryman for the best part of three decades. Developed from the Armalite AR-15 – itself in turn a redevelopment of the Armalite AR-10. Whilst a good rifle for its day, the normal infantry squad was always looking for more firepower, but from a lighter weapon. With this in mind, the designer of the AR-10, Eugene Stoner, took the idea of giving his new rifle more firepower from a chute feed system.
The chute feed system was not a new concept. It had been used on the .50 calibre waist gunner positions of the B-17 Flying Fortress during WWII. It was primarily designed for heavy machine guns rather than lighter squad weapons like the .303 calibre Browning then in use. This weapon was a standard belt fed machine gun but Stoner thought if his new rifle could give more firepower from its lighter weight, he would be onto a winner. He therefore set about redeveloping his own design from a standard box feed rifle, into a chute feed squad weapon. An adaptor was designed to fit on to the side of the AR-10, along with a bi-pod for greater stability when in use. The bullets would be fed down the chute from a magazine box carried on the back of the soldier.
Extensive testing with various sizes of cartridge, ranging from .223 inch (5.56mm) to 7.62mm (0.3 inch) proved promising, but the US Army didn’t seem interested and the idea fizzled out. Undeterred by this lack of interest Stoner moved to firstly to Colt and then onto Cadillac Gage, where he designed a modular weapons system, designated the Stoner 63. This system was configured to be a standard automatic rifle but, with slight changes, could be transformed into a light machine gun, a medium machine gun, or a solenoid-fired fixed machine gun for use on vehicles.
Some ideas for wargamers and modellers
As I can find no data regarding rates of fire or wear and tear on the barrel from sustained use, I suggest you use data based upon the Browning .303, if you wish to incorporate this weapon into your armies. As for modelling this weapon in the usual 10, 20 and 25mm ‘scales’, it should be fairly easy to convert a standard M16 armed figure. As you can see from the photos a simple bi-pod made from a folded paperclip glued to the front of the rifle should suffice. The back-pack ammunition box could be made from a converted Browning .303 ammunition box, but the chute feed system might prove a bit more tricky. One suggestion is to use an elastic band, cut to length and sprayed either with a primer, or dipped in diluted white glue, to add some strength. Another suggestion would be to use a laminate of wine bottle type foil caps and bend until you get the desired curves for the chute. Whichever way you do it, I hope this article has given you a new idea for a squad based weapon for use in your M16 armed forces.
Note on images: We were able to find images of the 44M, but without copyright information, so we can’t include them in this article. For photos and other images, see this page.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention and this phrase is never truer than during wartime. As World War II progressed, armoured vehicles evolved to become more resilient to improving anti-tank weapons. Conversely, as tanks became better protected, newer ways had to be found to penetrate and destroy them. Anti-tank guns became larger in calibre and the shells heavier and more costly to produce. Many nations started to look at alternative ways to counter these more heavily armoured vehicles, whilst also controlling the cost of producing these counter measures. A range of hand-held or man portable weapons started to roll off the production lines of both the Allied and Axis nations. The Americans developed the Bazooka, the British the PIAT, (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) and the Germans came up with the Panzer Faust single use launcher. Whilst all these weapons could be effective against a large target vehicle in the right conditions, their short range would often be their downfall. One potential solution was the development of rocket propelled projectiles and one country which came up with an effective design was, perhaps surprisingly, Hungary.
was, however, no stranger to designing and developing its own range
of military hardware. It produced reasonably effective Armoured
Fighting Vehicles, such as the Toldi and Turan, and its motor
industry also had a range of sturdy vehicles e.g. the Raba 38M
Botond. Unfortunately the Hungarians were seen by some officers in
the German High Command as being an unwilling and sometimes
unreliable ally. This meant that weapons development and technology
wasn’t always shared – including rocketry.
arrival of the T-34 and KV-I on the Eastern Front battlefields came
as a shock, not only to the Hungarians, but also to their German
allies. Being denied access to newer designs of anti-tank guns, the
Hungarian military had to look inward and turned to home grown
designs. With little or no help from their ally in counteracting the
threat of Soviet armour dominance, the Hungarian Institute of
Military Science (HTI) began its own anti-tank rocket development
program in 1942. After two years of designing and testing, it
produced the 44M Buzoganyveto
(literal translation ‘Mace Thrower’ – as the rocket head
resembled a mace seed pod).
rocket projectile was similar in appearance, although much smaller,
to the later Stuka zu Fuss rockets. Its total length was 1100mm with
a tube diameter of 100mm. Its warhead diameter was 250mm with a
length of 410mm. Two
types of rocket were designed for infantry use. One was for use
against armoured vehicles, the other, against troops. The anti-tank
version of the rocket was called ‘Buzogány’ (mace) and the
anti-personnel, high explosive type was called ‘Zápor’ (rainfall
or shower). The first prototype of the Buzogány was tested in the
spring of 1944. The rocket was 215mm in diameter (I assume this to be
the internal diameter of the explosive warhead) and contained a 4 kg
shaped charge. Designed to be able to penetrate more than 300mm of
armour or concrete, this rocket was able to destroy any kind of known
heavy tank of that time at a distance of between 500 and 1200 meters.
I assume here that the anti-tank version was a direct fire weapon but
it is unclear whether the anti-personnel rocket was capable of use as
an air burst weapon or whether it would just explode upon contact
with the ground.
A three man crew operated the rocket launcher with a gunner/aimer lying or sitting to the left of a protective shield with two loaders to his right hand side. The launcher designed initially for the 44M Buzogányvető was to be a conventional tripod arrangement, but this proved hard to move in a fluid battlefield situation. The solution to this issue presented itself when the upper part of the launcher (the two rockets and the protective shield) was mated to a Soviet wheeled Maxim machine gun mount, plenty of which had been captured earlier in the war. This arrangement made the Buzogányvető easier to manoeuvre.
Main features of the 44M Buzogányvető rockets
Length without rockets – 970mm Launcher tube length – 523mm Launcher tube diameter – 100mm Rocket head diameter – 215mm Weight – 29.2kg Rocket head weight – 4.2kg Range – 500-1200m. Maximum – 2000m Penetration – approx. 300 mm Crew – 3
Operational use of the 44M Buzogányvető rockets
Records vary as to how many launchers were actually produced but sources claim somewhere around 600 to 700. Due to the rapid advance of the Soviet armies during 1944, the Buzogányvető system was never used against its intended target i.e. Soviet heavy armour. The launchers were manufactured in the WM Factory and none seem to have been sent to frontline troops. The factory was over-run in December 1944, when Soviet troops captured it, and nearly all the rocket launchers were deployed and used in the siege of the Hungarian capital, Budapest.
Had this rocket system been designed earlier, it was envisaged as either simply a ground launcher or mounted in vehicles like the Krupp Protze, Opel Blitz or Rába Botond flatbed trucks. At least one was trial mounted on a Toldi II light tank.
Modelling the 44M Buzogányvető launcher and its use in wargaming.
When I first started to research this article, I never thought you would be able to buy a 44M Buzogányvető launcher or the rockets for it but a Google search shows that there are 3D printed versions of the wheeled launcher in various scales. A number of the commercial 3D printing companies make them in 1/100th, 1/72nd and 1/56th scales and no doubt you would be able to order them in any scale you prefer to game in.
As for their usage…well this would have opened up a whole new dimension to Eastern Front games if they had actually been deployed in time. The basic data for the rockets is included in this article so if you like adding a bit of ‘what if’ to your games, then this weapon system might be useful to you.
I have used Google extensively for this article. I have no personal connection with Google at all, I just prefer it as my main search engine. If you would like to see more, type in something like;
44M Buzogányvető Hungarian 44M Buzogányvető Hungarian Mace Thrower etc.
and you’ll find some further reading.
I hope you like and enjoy this article and it’s something different to read.
This is a biography of Crown Prince Rupprecht, the principal German commander facing Haig for much of the war, and a discussion of Germany’s war on the Western Front in World War I. The book is divided into five parts: To War 1914, The Anvil 1915-16, Holding the Line 1916-17, Year of Defeats 1918, Conclusions. Each section has a series of chapters covering the main events during the period. The author has made extensive use of his subject’s diaries but has also sought to interleave this with material from other sources as well as paying some attention to what was happening in the Allied camp. During the war Rupprecht rose to ultimately command an army group.
The book is very instructive and a useful correction to the English language preoccupation with their own armies. French troops are consistently rated as better than British troops, who seldom seem to have impressed the Germans. Within each section is a review of the attack and defence developments in the period. In the German army this process was well done early in the war but as the war lengthened there developed a habit of ‘shooting messengers’ (= sacking) those carrying unwanted news and ideas so, somewhat like the Japanese in WWII, there developed something of a dissonance between Supreme Headquarters and the reality on the ground. The light touch German command system was not, in reality, so light after all and could vary greatly according to commander, unit or latest doctrine.
One is well used to the stories of increasing political and military interference during WWII but less aware of how intrusive it was in WWI. Ludendorff was seen at first as the most professional of the Chiefs of Staff appointments but in time he became increasingly preoccupied with issuing orders further and further down the hierarchy, much to the irritation of higher formations who began to wonder what they were there for. The Kaiser would interfere with appointments and it was not acceptable to promote the Crown Prince of Bavaria over the Crown Prince of Prussia, irrespective of merit. The complexities of having Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Baden and other German states are touched on but not plumbed in depth.
Undoubtedly hard working, Rupprecht was in the habit of starting each morning with a ride to get exercise before the noon briefing from the latest reports from the front. Chateau generalship was the inevitable norm on all sides due to the nature of communications and logistics. Many books have been written analyzing the development and performance of Allied armies, generalship, and political relationships between generals and politicians and between different nations. This is a very useful look at the other side of the hill to disprove any idea that the other side was so much more efficient and better; they were not and the failures, which the book highlights, are indicative of the causes of German defeat. Highly recommended.
The Bear’s Claws is clear and well written. Like Harold Coyle’s Team Yankee the reader is given a deliberately restricted view of events, no high politics, no grand overview beyond the snippets that filter through.
It’s akin to Ralph Peters’ Red Army, but with unusual emphasis on the home front as well as the front line material.
Recommended as a work of fiction, with attention to detail that doesn’t clog up the narrative.
Le Gloan was from Brittany, born in the Breton town of
Kergrist-Moelou on 1 June 1913. He joined the French Armée de l’Air
in 1931, as soon as he was old enough to enlist. Before his death in
1943, he achieved Ace status (five kills) in the French Air Force
twice — before and
after France’s surrender (under the collaborationist Vichy regime).
With 18 kills to his name, France’s fourth highest-scoring ace of
World War II remains the only pilot in history to become an Ace on
opposing sides of the same conflict.
When war came he was flying a Morane-Saulnier MS 406 and, on 23 November 1939, he claimed his first kill, a Dornier Do 17 reconnaissance aircraft. A second Do 17 fell to his guns on 2 March 1940.
Gloan’s squadron were then re-equipped with the newer and better
Dewoitine D 520. Le Gloan (in plane number 227) lost no time in
taking full advantage of the better fighter. During the Battle of
France in the summer of 1940 he had a hot streak. In June, he shot
down two German Heinkel He 111s and two Italian Fiat BR 2 bombers.
The highlight of Le Gloan’s career was to come on 15 June. His
squadron encountering a squadron of Italian CR 42 fighters, he
attacked with enthusiasm, shooting down no fewer than three of them.
On his return to base he came across another CR 42 and a BR 20. He
attacked and shot down both of them.
down five aircraft in one day has seldom been achieved by even the
highest-scoring fighter Ace and Le Gloan was justly rewarded. His
five-kill streak brought him up to 11 kills, well above the five
required for Ace status. He was also promoted to 2nd Lieutenant to
acknowledge his remarkable feat.
20 June his squadron was transferred to Algeria and, with the fall of
France and the installation of Marshal Petain’s Vichy government, the
French forces in North Africa were under Vichy command.
His squadron was transferred to Syria and in June and July of 1941 took to the air to defend the colony from the British Le Gloan shot down six of the RAF’s Hurricane fighters and a Gloster Gladiator bi-plane. In Syria his plane No. 277 was lost after a bad landing caused by combat damage. He had taken down 11 for France and had added another seven for Vichy. At the war’s end only Jean Demozay (21 kills), Marcel Albert (23 and two probables) and Pierre Clostermann (33 kills) ranked higher among French aces.
The Allies launched Operation Torch in November 1942, invading Vichy controlled Algeria and Morocco. After just a couple of days the French forces returned to the Allied side, including Le Gloan’s fighter squadron. The squadron was re-equipped in May 1943 with American Bell P-39 Airacobras, newly promoted Capitaine Le Gloan flying one of them. Unfortunately on 11 September, whilst on a training flight, Le Gloan’s aircraft developed engine trouble and he was forced to return to Algiers. Attempting to belly land his failing craft he forgot about the belly tank which Airacobras carried to extend their range. This tank should have been jettisoned before any attempt to land was made. This lapse led to the plane exploding upon impact killing le Gloan instantly. He was 30 years old.
The Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland began with the Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939. Thinking the Germans were his new friends (and weren’t going to attack him) Stalin turned his eyes towards Finland. Just three months after the outbreak of World War II, Soviet forces crossed the Finnish border hoping for a Blitzkrieg of their own. The Finns, however, had other ideas. The war raged for three and a half months but, following an initial setback, the Soviets’ overwhelming numbers (and change of tactics) won through in the end. The war ended with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940 by which the Soviets conceded Finland’s independence in return for some territorial concessions.
the relatively peaceful period thereafter the Finnish Armed forces
began to reorganise and to re-arm. When Nazi German forces invaded
the Soviet Union in June 1941, Finland saw an opportunity to strike
back to reclaim the territory lost earlier. The Finns were now
equipped with many captured Soviet vehicles and weapons, via their
German co-belligerents, along with others obtained from Sweden. They
did not, however, have sufficient vehicles to move them all – the
heavier artillery and anti-tank guns taking priority. So, it was back
to the drawing board in addressing the issue of tows and their
solution was quite a simple one – horsepower.
Having been supplied with some Bofors M-38 37mm AT guns from Sweden and quite a lot of captured Russian Model 1937 45mm AT guns, the Finns designed a simple harness arrangement to be adapted for each gun.
In total, the Finns received several hundred captured Model 1937 guns from the Germans, although not every gun was able to be brought back into service. In terms of standardising the means of transportation, and minimising its cost, the Finnish armed forces seem to have come up with a novel approach. All these pictures were taken in the ‘research and development’ department in the military citadel of Helsinki in February 1944. Whether these adaptations were ever used is not documented.
Some ideas for modelling
the popular scales of 10, 15, 20 and 25mm it should be possible to
make something similar, if not an exact replica, of the two harnesses
shown in the photographs. As can be seen from the Bofors M-38 photos,
the apparatus is simply two parallel bars with two attached cross
braces and a seat for the driver. This could easily be replicated
with plastic rod and card.
The harness for the Soviet Model 1937 seems to be an elongated ‘U’ shape. Again, this could be fabricated from plastic rod gently heated and bent to shape or from a piece of wire, shaped around a suitably sized tube. The seat poses more of a problem as it appears to be some kind of tractor seat. As for the riders/drivers, the one sitting ‘side saddle’ on the Bofors gun would be harder to re-create but the one on the Model 1937 gun could come from a horse rider with his saddle still attached. And if you really want to ‘mix it up’ why not replace the horse with a reindeer and the driver with a winter greatcoat and steel helmet.
I hope this article has given you some inspiration to add something different to your Finnish forces for your Winter War/Continuation War scenarios.
Article by Grant Parkin.
Image Credits & Editor’s Note
All the photographs in this article were downloaded from the Finnish Wartime Photograph Archive (SA-Kuva), with whom their copyright resides. You can visit it at http://sa-kuva.fi/webneologineng.html. It contains over 100,000 photos of the Finnish military between 1939 and 1945. It’s really quite interesting but, although the website is available in English, searches can be conducted only in Finnish. Finnish is a notoriously tricky little devil (what with being unrelated to all the European languages with which most of us will be even a little familiar) and this does lessen its ease of use. Worth a browse though.
Published by the author, June 2019. 107 A4 or American Letter-sized pages. Several colour photos of terrain, figures and table layouts. Two one page advertisements. No Appendices. ISBN 978-1075419058. Available as a paperback from Amazon or as a PDF from PayHip or Wargame Vault The paperback currently retails for $11.25 plus p&p. The PDF is $9.25 from the first location or $10.50 from Wargame Vault.
This is a pair of campaigns designed for Too Fat Lardies’ rules Chain of Command (CoC). Additionally there is a skeleton outline of a campaign for the same company’s What a Tanker! rules (WAT). The campaigns are set during the Second Battle for Kharkov during May 1942, when the Red Army attempted to jump off from salients over the Donets River with the aim of encircling the major city of Kharkov, captured during the autumn of the previous year (and around which Chris has written another similar campaign book). CoC is a set of rules for platoon-sized actions where models represent individual soldiers, weapons and vehicles. A copy of the rules is essential to gain full benefit from this supplement. Furthermore a copy of Too Fat Lardies’ At the Sharp End and Blitzkrieg 1940 supplements would be useful. The content of Chris’ book could be adapted relatively easily to other rulesets — most obviously Bolt Action but also any other sets at the same level of representation, including those written by wargamers themselves. To offer some context to the review, I have played several dozen Chain of Command games and enjoy the rules. I have not played any campaigns with the rules and have not seen any other campaign supplements.
structure of the book is straightforward, consisting of an
introduction to the historical campaign followed by the two campaigns
themselves. Necessarily, given the disjunct between the historical
campaign (one involving several corps/divisions on each side) and the
level of representation of the rules, the two campaigns are very much
snapshots of a very small part of the overall action, namely the
advance on 12 May of the Red Army’s 226th
Rifle Division and 36th
Tank Brigade and the counterattack by 3rd
Panzer Division against those Red Army units over 13-16 May.
historical introduction is a fairly brief outline of the situation
facing the German and Red Armies in the Kharkov area at the time.
There is a run down of the strength and equipment of the opposing
forces and their respective plans. This is high level material and
serves as background, informing the nature of the men and equipment
which will be available to the opposing players in the wargaming
campaigns. The introduction finishes with some very brief (but handy)
terrain notes and a bibliography.
The campaigns themselves are each structured as seven, platoon-sized actions across tables which are taken from contemporary maps and which represent the ground fought over, or something quite close to that. Each game may be played up to three times and campaign victory points awarded according to how quickly the attacker (Soviets in the first campaign, Germans in the second) can achieve a win – three points for achieving a victory in the first game, two for needing two bites at a scenario, one for three. So a campaign could provide material for up to 21 games if each scenario is played three times. The rules covering each scenario are largely unmodified from the standard CoC rules and each scenario is (generally) one of the types contained at the back of the rules themselves (Probe, Attack/Defence etc.) The campaign’s victor is determined by the number of campaign victory points accrued.
troops to be used in each scenario are drawn from a list provided for
each campaign. Those lists are fairly standard for the types of
platoon to be represented. Support lists are tailored to the likely
support available during the historical campaign, with its location
within the TO&E determining whether it is available. So, assets
from within the company are more likely to be available than those
only available within the regiment or brigade or division. Each
scenario has a colour map associated with it and a photograph of the
table, as created using the author’s terrain. Chris has done a fine
job of recreating the terrain from maps available online and provided
embedded links to those maps. There are also a few ‘eye-candy’
shots of figures and terrain.
In short there is sufficient information to play the games under the proposed rules immediately and under other rules with a little work. Few of the scenarios are very unusual or stray from the standard Chain of Command missions but the inclusion of some which use a Tank platoon, rather than an infantry platoon, as the base force is interesting. Furthermore, for the Soviets, those tanks will often be Lend-Lease Matildas or Valentines or Soviet T60s, which makes a nice change from the more usual T34s and KVs. As far as equipment goes it all appears to be fairly accurate although I did baulk at the proposed early model Panzer IVs armed with 50mm guns. BT2s making an appearance seemed a little odd too. Certainly there were a few around but their inclusion whilst the BT5 is absent (and the BT7 present) seemed to be the wrong way around.
did find it disappointing that the interplay between the scenarios
within each campaign was limited. For me the attraction of a campaign
centres on managing a limited force over a period longer than a
single battle and, particularly in the first campaign, that is little
in evidence here. For each game, even the second and third time
playing of the same scenario, it is frequently the case that each
side starts afresh with a new platoon. Furthermore it seems at least
possible that a poor early showing by one side will make the campaign
unwinnable before all the scenarios are completed (because of an
excessive number of victory points accrued).
I feel that this could have been addressed by allowing the attacker a
number of ‘games’ to achieve a victory in the last scenario
(otherwise he loses) rather than the earning of victory points. Once
the attacker has won a scenario he would move on to the next and
would be permitted ten or twelve games in total to reach (and win)
the seventh scenario. Furthermore, I feel this could be enhanced by
allowing the attacker a company
of troops (possibly a battalion for the Soviets in the first
campaign) from which he selects a single platoon to fight each
battle, rather than permitting the selection of another new platoon.
This would introduce a force management aspect to the campaign.
However, this is a personal opinion and it may be that the near
constant refresh of available troops is a feature of other published
Chain of Command campaigns.
I’ll comment only briefly on the WAT campaign as its presentation feels very much to be a bonus ‘add on’. As presented, it requires an umpire and is very much an outline of how a campaign might be run. It pits a German tank company against two Soviet ones with hidden movement moderated by the use of PowerPoint over one of the contemporary maps available online. It looks interesting enough but is nowhere near as detailed as the other campaigns in the book.
terms of presentation I feel the book is under par. The
transliteration of Cyrillic is inconsistent, there are several
spelling mistakes and typos and the writing is sometimes ‘clunky’
— in particular plural verbs follow their singular subjects. There
is no ‘house-style’ for numerals or unit designations and there
are one or two incorrect names (Kliest for Kleist, Glanz for Glantz).
The book is a little repetitive and, in particular, sections in the
introductions for the two campaigns are reproduced verbatim. There
appears to be a ‘fossil’ from Chris’ earlier Kharkov campaign
book in the description of the arsenal table as listing equipment
available during 1941 (the campaigns in this book taking place in
1942). None of this is critical or completely prevents understanding.
For me, however, it was distracting and did detract from my enjoyment
of the book.
I am not convinced there’s anything particularly innovative about
the game or campaign mechanisms and feel that the latter, in
particular, could be improved. A significant let down for me was the
book’s presentation (e.g. the centre of much of the action is a
town called Nepokrytaya – its spelling changes at least four times
over the course of the book) – such might not be others’
experience. Tighter editing, spell checking and a thorough
proofreading would have significantly improved the book’s impact.
However, this remains a sound product presenting two playable
campaigns (the second being more of a campaign to my eyes) for a
popular ruleset, with enough information to make it adaptable to
other sets of rules. The embedded links are useful and much work has
gone into associating the action with the relevant geography (a
tiresome task in my own experience) resulting in some very attractive
table layouts which are nicely reproduced here. Chris’ research is
evident, and welcome, in framing the matériel
available in the campaigns and I thank him for the opportunity to
review the book.
In the dark days of September 1940, Britain and the Commonwealth stood alone. The Nazis occupied most of Europe, the Japanese were on the offensive and had the upper hand in the Far East and even Egypt and the Middle East weren’t safe. Fear of invasion from Italian forces in North Africa had stretched the British Army to breaking point. The fiasco that was the rout at Dunkirk had had a positive spin put on it by politicians and was made to be seen as a victory. In reality, it was a defeat — most of the modern tanks, vehicles and heavy weapons that had gone to France with the BEF had been left behind. Prime Minister Winston Churchill called for action but what action could the country take when so thoroughly on the back foot? Then on the night 17/18 September 1940, Britain conducted a stealth raid into occupied Europe. A raid so stealthy, they didn’t know they had done it!
winds had broken loose a number of barrage balloons from their
moorings. These balloons drifted across the North Sea and (crash)
landed in Denmark and Sweden. The sturdy steel cables trailing from
the balloons caused damage to power lines, careered into railway
traffic and collided with the antenna of the Swedish International
radio station, causing it to go offline for a while. Five balloons
(but maybe more) were reported to have drifted as far as Finland.
many balloons had ‘escaped’ was never reported but upon hearing
the news of the damage and confusion they caused, Churchill was
jubilant. He reasoned that if such a low cost ‘weapon’ could do
this, then a further, more detailed study should be taken with a view
to doing something along the same lines…but deliberately.
In fact the matter had already been investigated a few years earlier. The British Air Ministry had begun producing barrage balloons as far back as 1936. Forward thinkers had seen the war clouds gathering so in 1937 the Air Ministry conducted a study to determine how much damage a balloon could cause if it broke free from its mooring and its steel cable was dragged across the countryside. The study showed that, if the steel cable were to short out power lines, electricity supplies would be out for at least six hours. This study had been undertaken as a Civil Defence measure — to determine how long people and industry would be without power in the event of an accidental balloon drift over Britain. The use of barrage balloons as an offensive weapon had not been considered — until Churchill became involved.
the Air Ministry opposed it on the grounds that the balloons would
interfere with flight operations. Friendly balloons floating about in
the darkened skies might become entangled with RAF aircraft. It also
argued the point that these balloons were unguided and uncontrollable
and any success would be more by chance than design. Retaliation in
kind by the Germans from the occupied coasts of Europe could not be
ruled out either.
In contrast, the Admiralty Board was more open to the idea, arguing that it was a ‘cheap and cheerful’ way to strike back at the enemy. Comparing the cost of a balloon to a front line bomber was persuasive and, as there was also an ample supply of hydrogen gas for the balloons, the program started in earnest. Meteorological studies had shown that more winds blew from Britain towards the continent than blew from the continent towards Britain. In an average year the prevailing wind was west to east 55% of the time and only east to west 38% of the time. This made the idea of German retaliation highly improbable and probably less effective if implemented. More importantly an engineering study had shown Germany’s power grid was considerably more vulnerable to damage by short-circuit than the British system. Coupling this with the fact that large pine forests (which were considered more vulnerable to incendiary attacks than British hard wood forests) covered many parts of the German heartland and continental Europe, the program was begun. However, as with all things involving two branches of the British military a long, bureaucratic struggle between the Air Ministry and the Admiralty began. The programme was held up until September 1941 when the go-ahead was finally given: Operation Outward would commence.
The Balloon Goes Up
first launch site was Landguard Fort south of Felixstowe situated in
a remote southern part of Suffolk. Originally built as one of a
string of Napoleonic Forts for home defence, it was situated at
the mouth of the River Orwell. Designed and built over a century
earlier, its purpose was to guard the entrance to the port of Harwich
(and the surrounding area) from the perceived Napoleonic invasion
threat. An old imposing structure with high, thick walls, it would
be able to store the balloons and their associated equipment, whilst
keeping prying eyes at bay.
Following detailed studies and tests of balloon designs, two types of balloon were to be used. The first type was a typical eight feet round weather balloon modified to carry three six pound incendiary ‘socks’. These socks were designed to set fire to pine forests and heathland. A second balloon tested was similar to, but not as large as, a standard barrage balloon. This smaller barrage balloon would trail a long steel cable which, it was hoped, would hit power lines and create a short circuit. Tests were conducted on the balloons regarding duration of flight and with a timed ‘burn fuse’ attached. This saw their ceiling height set at about 16,000 feet, give or take a few hundred feet for wind and other atmospheric conditions. Natural leakage of the hydrogen gas from the balloons, along with a timed deflation valve obviated the need for any ballast or pressure-control systems to control and maintain altitude. As the Spitfire fighter and Lancaster bomber could fly in excess of 20,000 feet, the balloons should not interfere with any normal RAF flight operations.
the balloons simple and easy to operate, no expert crew had to be
employed in their usage. Fighting men could be freed up and used
elsewhere so the role of balloon handlers fell mainly onto the
shoulders of the WRNS (Women’s Royal Navy Service) or WRENS (as
they were commonly called). These personnel were supervised by a few
(male) NCOs and technicians! A detailed plan for launching the
balloons was introduced so as not to conflict with either incoming or
outgoing RAF flight operations. Times were set for balloon launch
operations but these could be changed if RAF aircraft were grounded
due to bad weather. The balloons could fly even if the aircraft could
first launches took place on 20 March 1942 and, within a few days,
encouraging reports of forest fires near Berlin and in East Prussia
were received. Radio intercepts showed that the Luftwaffe was sending
up fighters to try to destroy the balloons. This was very encouraging
news to both Churchill and the combined RAF and Admiralty operation.
It would appear that the Germans were spending far more resources
trying to destroy the balloons than the British were by launching
them. Sending up fighters to try to destroy the balloons meant they
were using extra fuel, putting more strain onto airframes, increasing
aircrew fatigue etc. Whilst the Germans did their best to intercept
as many balloons a possible, they soon realised they were fighting a
Reports from French Resistance cells and other, neutral sources claimed that the balloons were causing a lot of disruption to rail, road and agriculture operations and services. These encouraging reports reached the ears of the French Government in exile in London, and they wanted more released to help tie down enemy forces.
The balloon operation had proven successful — for very little outlay a lot of disruption had been caused. These initial successes led to two other launch sites being set up in April and May 1942. One site chosen was on the coast at Oldstairs Bay between Dover and Deal in Kent, the other being Waxham in Norfolk. The latter site was an isolated coastal village north of Great Yarmouth. These sites brought anywhere from Northern France to Scandinavia within a balloon’s sphere of operation with a good wind blowing to the continent.
Success for the Balloons
the balloons proved to be an economical way to strike back at the
enemy in the short term, they were never intended to be a realistic
military weapon to cause mass damage or destruction. Their launch was
seen as being of a nuisance value. Although they did tie up a lot of
enemy manpower resources, in reality they caused very little military
damage. People in the higher chain of command began to doubt that
the effort put into this operation was worth it. However, the night
12 July 1942 began to change a some minds. A cable-trailing balloon
struck a 110,000 volt power line near Leipzig. The overload switch in
the nearby Bohlen power station did not trip quickly enough and this
resulted in a fire which spread and destroyed the entire complex. The
damage was estimated at £1,000,000 compared to the £220,000 spent
on Operation Outward.
August 1942 up to a thousand balloons per day were being released,
weather permitting. The Germans were now tied up fighting in the east
and the balloons seemed to have free rein over the skies of occupied
Europe. Some reports even state they reached as far as Hungary. The
German military were engaged in fighting in the Soviet Union leaving
it to the German civilian services to try to fight the ‘balloon
war’ on their own.
The balloon offensive had proven a success but this success did come at a price. On the night of 19/20 February 1944 a cable-trailing balloon shorted out a Swedish overhead rail lighting system. This short circuit of the system resulted in a collision between two trains. The number of people injured or fatally wounded was never revealed but a diplomatic protest was issued by the Swedish government. Other than to say sorry and perhaps compensate a neutral country for any material loss, there was little the British government could do. This unfortunate incident did prove without doubt the potential of the balloon campaign, raising the question of how much damage wasn’t being reported by the German authorities.
End of Operations
With the tide of the war turning in the Allies’ favour and having achieved virtual air superiority over occupied Europe, it was decided that the number of balloons being released should be cut back. From May 1944 a change of tactics was also implemented. Mass balloon launches were stopped and replaced with a trickle of balloons launched from the three sites at ten-minute intervals throughout daylight hours. Only 2% of these balloons were to be of the trailing wire type — a type which could have caused major damage to allied aircraft. The remaining 98% carried of incendiary bombs. Cutting back on balloon launches increased the availability of hydrogen gas for use elsewhere and freed up much-needed transport vehicles and compressed gas cylinders ready for the planned Normandy landings. With the success of the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944 and with the Allies making gains into Occupied Europe the last offensive balloons were launched on 4 September 1944.
Further Research and Reading
Thanks to something Alan Hamilton said on the SOTCW Forum I set off to research this unusual operation. Using Google as my first port of call most of what I have written here is gleaned from various sources online. There is still a lot of technical, detailed information about Operation Outward that I haven’t included. I haven’t set out to write a complete history of the Operation but just to give the reader a taste of something unusual that happened in the darkest days of WWII. It would be advisable to read this article in conjunction with online maps and images of the locations mentioned. That way (hopefully) you’ll be able to see how remote and secretive the chosen balloon release sites were. I hope you enjoy it.
Featured image: The National Archives UK [OGL v1.0]
The T-12 was developed as a replacement for the D-48 85mm anti-tank gun, and was the first smoothbore anti-tank gun to enter service, in 1961. The decision to adopt a smoothbore barrel led to improved HEAT performance, higher muzzle velocity, and longer barrel life than an equivalent rifled barrel. The kinetic energy penetrator was very long and thin, further improving penetration.
Production of an improved version, the MT-12 (also known to NATO as the T-12A), began in 1970. This had a new improved carriage, which was less prone to turning over whilst being towed. Both models had sights for indirect fire and direct fire, but indirect fire range was limited by the maximum elevation of only 20º. The T-12 was normally towed by a lorry, the MT-12 by an MT-LB.
The crew of six consisted of commander, towing vehicle driver, gunlayer, loader, and two ammunition numbers. The barrel had a perforated muzzle brake, and was clamped to the trails when in transit. The loader had to open the breech manually to load the first round, after which a semi-automatic loading system would open and close the breech, so that the loader only had to load shells. Image intensifier night sights were fitted. A shield gave the crew some protection from small arms fire and shell splinters.
The T-12 and MT-12 both fired APFSDS, HEAT, and HE ammunition. The APFSDS round had penetration of 230mm at 500m, 140mm at 3,000m. The HEAT round could penetrate 350mm. From 1981, the MT-12 was able to fire the new AT-10 Stabber laser beam-riding ATGM, which had a maximum range of 4,000m and penetration of 550mm. The laser designator was mounted on a tripod to one side of the gun.
The MT-12 was the last towed Soviet anti-tank gun to enter production. Development began of a 125mm towed gun, the 2A45 Sprut, but this never entered production.
The Quarterly Newsletter of ‘The Ordnance Society‘ has been carrying a series of short four or five page illustrated articles on Imperial Japanese weapons of WWII, at least the more unusual ones. In Numbers 116 and 117 the suicide ‘lunge-mine’ and the incredible 70mm anti-aircraft barrage mortar are featured (I made one of the latter following C.O. Ellis’ brilliant, instructive articles in Airfix Magazine over fifty years ago). The most recent issue deals with a weapon I had never heard of — Japanese cyanide grenades. The series, written by Peter McAllister, is excellent and is set to continue in future issues. As a wargamer I find the content intriguing and valuable – something to be aware of if you field an Imperial army of the period.
The 70mm Anti-Aircraft Barrage Mortar (7cm Uchlaqe Sosoku-Dan)
During the history of warfare many combatants, from all periods, came up with ideas that worked far better in theory than they did in actual reality. The Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) during WWII was no exception. One of the many ideas the weapon designers of Japan came up with was a rather clever type of anti-aircraft mortar. A surprising amount of thought went into this weapon, available in two calibres, 70mm and 8lmm. I will take a look at the far more common example, the 70mm design.
The IJA had a fairly sophisticated array of anti-aircraft weapons, aiming systems and detection devices. Why they thought, then, that they needed something as strange as an anti-aircraft mortar is, at first glance, a bit of a mystery. However, at closer inspection it can be seen that there was a strange current running through at least some of the IJA’s weapon design process. One only has to look at the hopper fed Type 11 light machine gun or the mass of (mostly unused) accessories that came along with some manufacturing runs of the Type 99 rifle. And let’s not even discuss the unneeded design of the Type 2 paratrooper rifle. Each of the above examples has something in common with the 70mm anti-aircraft mortar. In theory, they were good ideas but in practice were at least an irritant to the user – if not worse. In short, the IJA infantry’s having a light anti-aircraft weapon on hand in all terrain was a good idea but making that weapon a mortar? Not so much.
The 70mm version of the anti-aircraft barrage mortar was made (starting in 1942) at the Number 1 Army arsenal in Tokyo. As this arsenal already made 70mm mortar barrels for more conventional mortars, presumably the same facilities were used for the barrage mortar. The idea was that the mortar would discharge its projectile which, at its maximum ceiling would eject seven smaller projectiles. Connected to small parachutes these would detonate on enemy aircraft flying at low altitude. To be effective mass barrages would be needed but, despite the fairly widespread issue of the weapon, its use in its intended role was rather ad hoc. It seems that improvised platoons were its most common form of deployment. One such platoon in the Philippines had 31 men operating a mere five devices. What such an under-strength unit was supposed to achieve is anyone’s guess.
The mortar had a smoothbore barrel that was 48 inches long. The barrel was connected to a wooden block described in an American intelligence document of December 1943.
‘The base of the 70mm barrage mortar is a wooden block approximately 10 by 12 by 8 inches. Two bolts fasten a small base plate to the block. The wooden block absorbs the shock of firing and prevents the mortar from embedding itself in the ground’
A later American intelligence document, from March 1945 confirms much of what was written in the 1943 document,
‘The Japanese 70mm barrage mortar was first encountered on Attu. It consists of a smoothbore tube, 4 feet long, the steel plate of which is fastened by two bolts to a wooden block…’
The overall length is 75 inches. At the bottom of the wooden block is a long iron spike. The weapon is prepared and pointed toward the enemy aircraft by embedding this iron spike into the earth. Thus it can be seen that aiming was rather crudely done. The previously quoted document from 1943 simply says,
‘the 70mm or 81mm tube had no settings, controls or adjustments.’
This is a simple and, no doubt, cheaply made weapon. To fire the weapon the projectile was simply dropped down the barrel. If the round failed to fire the whole weapon would be slowly lifted up and gently tilted forwards to allow the round to slowly slide out. As for the projectile, it was as inventive as anything else devised during the war. It’s just a pity (at least for the IJA) that this inventiveness failed to find a better outlet. The same American intelligence document from December 1943 has a good description of the ammunition, presumably examples taken at Attu.
‘Ammunition for the 70mm barrage mortar is packed 10 to a box. The shell contains 7 parachute bombs 3 inches long by 11/16ths of an inch in diameter. A steel cylinder encases the whole assembly. The shell is painted black and is 11 9/16ths inches long and 2.34 inches in diameter. The nose is capped with a wooden disk. After the shell is projected from the mortar by the propelling charge in the base, a time train and fixed powder charge cause the projection of the seven smaller bombs borne by rice paper parachutes. At the same time a larger parachute is opened – tilting the main container and thus ensuring the scattering of the seven bombs.
These small bombs are loaded with three pellets of nitrostarch and are detonated in the air by a sensitive pull-igniter fuze with a phosphorus-coated string and delay element. They may also be used as an effective booby trap for any curious or unwary soldier.’
Again, the later American intelligence document from 1945 confirms much of the earlier intelligence document’s observations with one bonus – the 1945 document includes actual American test information.
‘Five rounds have been fired in a test, with the mortar malfunction of the delay train ignition (ed. – sadly, this is not elaborated on). The shells were quite noisy in flight and tumbled considerably, with the smoke of the black powder delay train clearly visible.
The releasing burst occurred in 7 to 8 seconds at altitudes of 1,520 to 1,660 feet and the shell cases hit the ground close to the firing position. All inert components of the round drifted to the ground within 30 seconds and the bombs drifted nearly half a mile, landing at intervals of about 30 yards.’
An example of a projectile for the barrage mortar that came up for sale some years ago (2007) was painted black with two white bands at the forward end and a red band at the other. The inside of the casing bottom still had some coiled fuse in place. The black painted projectile had a number of markings. On one side was a roughly applied area of white paint, almost a smudge, on which, in black, was the Kanji for ‘east’. The other side had a seven stage, top to bottom, series of Kanji symbols. While this is not an exact they, from top to bottom, translate as ‘seven, military measurement, together, launch, to block(?), to protect the fortress and bullet.’ As noted this may not be an exact translation. Other technical data differs from that already given. At least one modern claim says that the explosive component was RDX and the booster was lead azide. Of course, it’s very possible different types of explosive were used at different times.
It seems that the projectiles could also be fired more conventionally from the standard IJA model 11 70mm mortar. Though it is obscure as to what effect that tactic had on the battle field. Very oddly there is at least one eyewitness case of the barrage mortar being mounted in a Japanese bomber for defence against allied fighters.
The rice paper parachutes were around a foot in diameter, perhaps in some cases a bit larger. It is also clear that black powder could be used instead of the more usual ignition sources. As for maximum range, one American report gives the fairly unlikely number of 4,000 feet. Between 1,000 and 2,000 feet was far more realistic.
The blast radius, despite the small charge of the individual bomblets was around a 10 to 20 yards radius.
Stripping the 70mm barrage mortar was easy. First the barrel was unscrewed from the metal base plates, thus separating it from the wooden base block. The firing pin might then be removed from the fitting that holds it to the base plate. Finally the iron spike is removed from the wooden block.
On a last note, a May 1944 American intelligence report is fairly blunt about the weapon’s prospects in battle,
‘Although no instance has ever been reported of our aircraft being damaged with this weapon, it would appear that this weapon might be very effective against low flying aircraft if used in sufficient quantity.’
As previously noted however, these weapons tended to be used in penny packets. The fact that those issued with them sought to find other uses for the projectiles speaks for itself. In short the 70mm (and 81 mm) anti-aircraft barrage mortars must be considered interesting failures. Before those of British heritage become too smug however, a similar British project did catch the eye of Winston Churchill. Thankfully, cooler heads made sure it came to nothing.