All posts by Russ Phillips

Merdjayoun Syria 16/17 June 1941 – Part of Operation Explorer, the Allied conquest of Vichy Syria

Following the capture of Merdjayoun on 10 June, the Australian 25th Brigade pushed on leaving detachments to hold the area. The Allied advance through Syria was over four separate routes, with little ability to shift troops quickly from one to another. The Vichy commander quickly realised he was facing far fewer troops than had been expected and, after a few days planning, took full advantage of the widely spread Allies to launch a series of sharp counter-attacks from 14-16 June 1941.

The Australian commander at Merdjayoun, Lieutenant-Colonel Monaghan, decided to launch a pre-emptive strike of his own. On the night of 14/15 June led his 2/33rd Battalion out of the town on a wide outflanking march to catch the French off guard. Unfortunately he inadvertently took his forces out of position and allowed the French to attack the town itself. As can be seen on the map below the Allied (mostly Australian) forces were set up along a line roughly parallel to Merdjayoun.

2/33rd Battalion moved to the east of the town to cover the two tracks/roads leading north (routes A and B on the map) but also Hasbaya and Fort Christofini – both of which were occupied by French troops. They were supported by elements of 6th Cavalry, Vickers machine guns from 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion, AT guns from 2/2nd Anti-tank Regimen, Bofors AA guns from 47th AA Battalion and 10th Field Battery of 2/5th Artillery (25pdrs) situated in Merdjayoun.

A company from the fresh 2/5th Infantry Battalion was moved up to occupy Merdjayoun itself with troops from the Royal Scots Greys and Staffordshire Yeomanry picketing the ridge above the town. Further west 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion dug-in along the banks of the River Litani to protect the left flank.

I decided to bathtub the Allied order of battle and created a straight forward attack/defence game, based around the French counter-attack on 16 June.

Allied Dispositions

Balate Ridge (north of the village)

One troop of eachRoyal Scots Greys and Staffordshire Yeomanry (dismounted acting as infantry)

Each comprising ten men including a Bren gun

Merdjayoun

One company of 2/5th Battalion Australian Infantry comprising

HQ (officer, NCO, RTO, two runners, Boys AT rifle team)

Three platoons each comprising ten men including a Bren gun

10th Field Battery

HQ – (officer, RTO, two runners)

Two 25pdrs and limbers, tows and crews

Junction of routes A and B (east of village)

HQ including a Forward Observation Officer of the 10th Field Battery (officer, NCO, RTO, two runners, Boys AT rifle team and FOO)

Three platoons 2/33rd Battalion Australian Infantry (each comprising ten men including a Bren gun)

Mixed battery 2/2nd Anti-tank Regiment (comprising 2pdr, crew and tow and 37mm Bofors portee and crew)

Vickers section 2/3rd MG Battalion (comprising Vickers MG and crew)

Ibels Saki (south of junction)

Elements 6th Australian Cavalry comprising

MkVI tank platoon (two Mark VI light tanks)

Carrier platoon (two carriers and eight men including a Bren gun)

Support

One Hurricane sortie

French dispositions

Balate Ridge

Elements III/24th Colonial Infantry Regiment

One Infantry Company

MMG platoon

Mortar section

Two groups Levant militia

Route A

Composite column of 6th RCA

Mixed tank platoon (R35 and Ft17)

One platoon M/c infantry

Two platoons 2/3rd 6th Legion Infantry (in lorries)

Montée 75mle1897 (2nd RA de Levant)

Two troops of Levant Spahis (mounted cavalry)

Route B

Composite Column 7th RCA

Mixed tank platoon (one R35, one Ft17 and one Ft17 75bis)

One platoon motorised infantry

Two troops 8th Algerian Spahis (mounted)

Two platoons Syrian Gendarmerie

Support

Battery B 86th RAA (two 75mle 1897s)

One sortie from a Dewoitine D20

Sources

Our Enemies the French by Greg Novak (scenario published in Command Post Quarterly issue 1, winter 1993) GDW

Les Chasseurs d`Afrique by Sicard & Vauvillier (Historie & Collections)

England’s Last War Against France: Fighting Vichy 1940-1942 by Colin Smith

Five Ventures by Christopher Buckley

Greece, Crete and Syria. Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army. Volume II by Gavin Long – Chapter 20 (The French Counter-Attack)

Operation au Proche-Orient de l`Irak a la Syrie 1941 by Yves Buffetaut (Armes Militaria Batailles Magazine No. 50)

Invasion of Syria 1941 by Henri de Wailly

After Action Report

For this game we expanded our table which is now ten feet long and varies in width from four feet at the French eastern side to six feet at the Merdjayoun side. We played the game over three hrs (20 game turns). I played the Vichy and my lads Alex (21) and Chris (18) played the Allies. As always we used my time served version of Charles Grant`s ‘Battle’” rules.

The game began slowly with the Vichy infantry climbing up towards Balate Ridge and their columns advancing down both routes towards the waiting Allies. The colonial infantry struggled over the terrain, climbing the Balate Ridge under Bren and two inch mortar fire from the well dug-in British cavalry. The Vichy Hotchkiss and 80mm mortars found few targets initially among the sangers and slit trenches. The two columns were bracketed by the 25pdrs and then the lead vehicles were targeted by the dug in Australian AT weapons. As a consequence the militia/Algerian cavalry were forced to dismount and take cover rather than ride into concentrated Bren and rifle fire.

By turn eight the colonial infantry had reached top of the ridge, but were totally exposed to fire from the Scots Greys and the 2/5th infantry, which had moved out of the town up onto the lower ridge. The 25pdrs also added their fire. The ridgeline became a kill zone, forcing half the Vichy down into the westernmost valley, the rest unable to move forward or backward without exposing themselves to devastating fire.

The mobile columns suffered from 25pdr fire losing most of their armour but the infantry elements, supported by 75mm fire, slowly enveloped the Australians. The 6th Cavalry arrived on turn ten but almost immediately came under concentrated 75mm fire and lost both MkIV tanks in quick succession. Both sides received air support, but the two planes spent a couple of turns over the table in an inconclusive dogfight before heading for home.

Turns 16-20 saw the Vichy finish off 2/33rd and the 6th Cavalry, but without armour they simply did not have enough weight to threaten Merdjayoun as the game ended.

The Vichy forces did not have enough strength. The colonial infantry could not come to grips with the ridge defenders quickly enough. Perhaps in a re-run we will give them a couple of turns of early movement before dawn, or some off table flanking moves.

Article by Richard Baber.

The Durham Light Infantry 1934-36: Part of the British Experimental 6th Infantry Brigade

Many of those interested in the British Army and the development of armoured warfare pre WWII have heard of British experiments in the 1920s and 30s with the Experimental Mechanised Force and the later Armoured Force. I suspect far fewer will have heard of the Experimental 6th Infantry Brigade which was formed in 1935 as an experiment in infantry reorganisation, being part of the 2nd Infantry Division. Some of the lessons learned certainly had an impact on British organisation and doctrine in 1940 and for some time thereafter.

The Brigade was based near Camberley, Surrey at Dettingen Barracks, Blackdown. At the time it was the Headquarters of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and is now better known as Princess Royal Barracks, Deepcut – the home of the Royal Logistic Corps.

Its commander was Brigadier H. M Wilson D.S.O. late of the Rifle Brigade. In WWII he was better known as ‘Jumbo’ Wilson, serving as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of British Troops in Egypt in 1939-41, GOC Middle East Command in February 1943 and Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean in the closing stages of the war, from January 1944. He retired as a Field Marshal.

The 2nd Division, the Brigade’s higher formation, was at the time commanded by the then Major General Archibald Wavell. It was regarded as an elite division to be used as a test bed for new ideas.

Composition of the Brigade

6th Brigade comprised Brigade Headquarters and Signal Section, three rifle battalions and a machine gun battalion.

The three rifle battalions were:

  • 2nd Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment
  • 2nd Battalion, the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
  • 1st Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment

The 1st battalion of the Durham Light Infantry formed the machine gun battalion. If it seems odd now to convert a light infantry battalion to the more static tasks of a machine gun battalion, this view was shared by the battalion itself at the time. However the Regimental Journal from January 1935 suggested that, having been selected, it was up to the battalion to ‘infuse MG tactics with the light Infantry spirit.’ There is some evidence that the 1st Battalion DLI was something of a showcase battalion, having already being chosen to trial the experimental 1932 infantry uniform (with ‘deerstalker’ hat), which, with modification, later evolved into the 1939 battledress.

The Rifle Battalions

Each was to comprise

  • Battalion Headquarters
  • Headquarters Company
  • Four Rifle Companies

The War Establishment of a rifle battalion was to be 26 officers and 705 other ranks: That of a company four officers and 118 other ranks. Sections were to fight at a strength of not more than one Corporal or Lance-Corporal and six men.

Each rifle company was to consist of four platoons, each of three sections. All the men of every section were to be armed as riflemen, with each section also having one light automatic weapon. This was to be the ZGB (original Czech precursor to the Bren gun) rather than the Lewis Gun. The ZG was a Czech manufactured weapon and ZGB was the designation for the version produced for trials with the British Army.

The Headquarters Company in the rifle battalion included a mortar platoon of four three inch mortars and an anti-aircraft platoon with four light automatics (ZGBs again ?) on AA tripod mountings.

The establishment for rifle companies included an MG (unspecified) on the OC’s armoured carrier and a Hotchkiss machine gun acting as a ‘token’ for an anti-tank rifle (the Boys Mk 1 ATR first entered service in 1937). This mention of ‘tokens’ illustrates the point that not all equipment specified in the establishment of the Brigade was, in practice, available to it and that proxies were used.

Certainly in the 1936 organisation for the 1st DLI MG Battalion, Austin cars stood in for scout cars, Carden-Loyd carriers for armoured carriers, Hotchkiss guns as anti-tank rifles and Vickers guns as proxy anti-tank guns. The DLI Journal for April 1936 states that ‘Unfortunately very little of the new material will be available for these experiments and there will be a good deal of improvision (sic) and use of ‘token’ transport and weapons.’

Mobility of the Brigade

The Brigade was not completely mechanised – i.e. not all personnel were carried in some sort of motor vehicle. The only completely mechanised sub-units were to be:

  • Brigade Headquarters
  • Brigade Signal Section
  • The anti-tank company of the M.G. Battalion.

Except for officers, who all had Austin cars to replace their horses, all the personnel of the MG and rifle companies would still walk.

It was necessary to lend lorries to the Brigade to carry its dismounted personnel, weapons and A and B echelon transport in order to enable it to increase its pace on the road from about 3 mph to 12 mph. This accepted that, tactically, any increase in its speed could still only be achieved by:

  • A higher standard of training
  • A higher speed in reconnaissance (for which the Austin cars might or might not prove suitable)
  • Reducing the load on the soldier (which the motor transport should facilitate)
  • A higher degree of physical fitness

Issues for Investigation

Special features of the new organisation (the Experimental Brigade) were to be:

  • The use of wireless in brigade communications
  • The mechanisation of all front line transport
  • The substitution of Austin cars for officers’ chargers (horses)
  • The concentration of all machine guns into one battalion – the Machine Gun Battalion
  • The inclusion of an anti-tank company in the Machine Gun Battalion
  • The introduction of a new type of light machine gun, the ZGB in rifle battalions
  • The arming of sections in rifle battalions so that they could function either as light machine gun sections or as rifle sections
  • In the Machine Gun Battalion, a machine gun company and an anti-tank platoon would each be self-contained, both tactically and administratively, so they could, when required, operate independently of their respective parent unit

The MG Battalion

My personal interest in the Brigade concerns the Durham Light Infantry, my local regiment. As briefly mentioned above this light infantry battalion was seleceted for conversion to become the Brigade’s MG Battalion. The remainder of this article will therefore concentrate on developments concerning that unit – in two phases as, in 1936 a new establishment was introduced for the MG Battalion, which was very different to the initial 1935 organisation.

Motor Transport of the MG Battalion

The vehicles shown on the War Establishment of the Machine Gun Battalion at the start of 1935 comprised:

  • One four seater car (Battalion HQ)
  • 33 two seater Austin cars (Austin 7 Tourers) – chiefly for officers
  • Motorcycles – signallers and AT coy
  • 49 tractors with trailers (guns, MGs and ammunition)
  • 16 lorries (cooks, greatcoats, petrol, fitters)
  • 4 12 cwt vans (one per anti-tank platoon for distribution of rations).

Of these, the tractors could move at walking pace without harm. The other vehicles could not. To drive and maintain these vehicles (and allow for a working reserve of trained drivers) required an establishment of 120 motor drivers in the unit. This quota of drivers were to be trained to drive and maintain the establishment of motor vehicles, which the battalion hoped to receive in June 1935. The types of vehicles with which the battalion was to be issued were not known and, in any case, were likely to be the subject of experiment.

On an exercise lasting ten hours in May 1935 the fully mechanised MG company covered no less than 160 miles.

The Machine Gun Battalion (1st Btn DLI)

Weapons Training

  • All ranks apart from the usual exemptions had to be trained in the use of the rifle
  • All ranks of the machine gun and anti-tank companies had to be trained in the use of the machine gun (whichmay suggest that the anti-tank company was, pro tem, equipped with MGs as proxies for their guns)
  • All ranks of the anti-tank company would have to be trained in the use of the machine gun, once approved and issued (see note above)
  • Many men of all ranks would have to be trained in the use of the revolver
  • No training would be carried out with the light machine gun in the machine gun battalion (the LMG was exclusively the province of the rifle battalions, in the same way as all Vickers Gun MMGs in the Brigade were concentrated in the MG battalion

Some points raised at the time for consideration

  • The machine gun battalion commander automatically became the Brigade Machine Gun Officer with powers of command over MG units. How would this affect his working with the Brigade Commander and rifle battalion commanders and what would his principal duties be?
  • How would the machine gun battalion be distributed for movement on roads? How and where would all the lorries and cars be moved which could not go at infantry marching pace?
  • Would the MG battalion depend on Brigade communications or its own? By wireless, line, visual, motor despatch riders or cyclists?
  • Would the Austin car satisfactorily replace the horse?
  • How, and under whose orders, would the anti-tank usually function? Would this be by a lorry, with the gun mounted on it, carrying the team or a number of small cars?
  • Would the mortars best be included in the machine gun battalion or, as present, in the rifle battalions?
  • Should the anti-tank company form part of the machine gun battalion? If not, where in the Brigade should the anti-tank guns be placed?
  • How would the new organisation affect Brigade tactics?

1936 reorganisation

Early in 1936 it was announced that the DLI had not been selected to become one of the fifteen permanent machine gun battalions and therefore it would revert to being a rifle battalion after the present(1936) training season. However this would see it carrying out further experiments as an MG unit prior to (re)conversion with a new establishment and with very different equipment and transport.

Types and manufacturers of vehicles

In 1936 it was expected that the Morris truck would be the vehicle in general use and some were expected to be in service by April, with at least as many as were needed to replace the utility tractors and Hillmans of A company. As Hillman did not make trucks in the 1930s these would have been cars – either the 16 or the 20. The Morris truck was almost certainly the new CS8 15 cwt platoon truck. The Noel Ayliffe-Jones article ‘Infantry Vehicles of the 1930s’ in Airfix Magazine of September 1979 includes a photograph of three Utility Tractors of B Company along with a Morris CS8 15 cwt platoon truck.

Scout Company 1936

The main organisational change in 1936 was the inclusion of a scout company in the battalion achieved through the conversion of C Company under Major J.E.S. Percy MC. It consisted of three platoons, each of three patrols. Each patrol had two scout cars, each carrying a Bren gun and a motorcycle for communication and control. This was a genuine light infantry role and so drew some friendly jealousy from the other companies in the battalion. It is interesting that the Bren is specifically mentioned here in April 1936, rather than the ZGB, since the Bren Mk 1 did not officially enter general service until 1937.

M.G. Companies 1936

B Company (Capt. C.R. Battiscombe) and S Company (Major E. Dryden MC) each had four platoons. Each platoon had two sections of two guns, each on an armoured carrier, with an additional Vickers gun on the platoon commander’s armoured carrier. Each company would therefore have twenty M.G.s – all on armoured carriers.

The armoured carriers may have been intended to be the Vickers Machine Gun Carriers, which were introduced in 1937. We know the battalion received some Carden Loyd Mk VIs as proxies for armoured carriers around April 1936. The Vickers Utility Tractors were a stop gap, proxies in the experimental brigade for the intended equipment of an operational brigade. These may not have been entirely replaced by the Carden Loyds in 1936.

As Ayliffe-Jones points out, the Government bought 149 Tractors Light GS Mark 1 from Vickers between 1933 and 1936. They were powered by a 52 hp Ford petrol engine and had a top speed of 20 mph on the road. The combination of a very short wheelbase and narrow width made them unstable and the cross country ride was uncomfortable. They were not armoured and provided no protection for the machine gun and crew, either from the elements or from hostile fire. However, they only cost the taxpayer £375 each with no research and development costs, as they had been designed as a commercial venture by Vickers.

The Machine Gun Carrier Mk 1 was derived from a Vickers commercial project VA D50, which was intended to be able to fulfil the roles of both machine gun carrier and tractor to tow a light field gun. It was a prototype vehicle with Horstmann-type suspension with a solid idler wheel and two return rollers on each side. There was an armoured box in the front which enclosed the driver and front machine-gunner and a bench seat with folding back on each side behind this compartment, to carry the rest of the MG unit or the field gun crew. These seats were either side of the Ford V-8 engine, which was positioned centrally.

The MG carrier version had stowage bins fitted on either side of the armoured box for the driver and machine gunner and the engine was protected by steel plates mounted on a frame. This then became the MG Carrier No.1 Mark 1, which abandoned the idea of carrying an independent machine gun crew. The crew of the vehicle was reduced to three, dispensing with the folding sides and adding a compartment for the third crew member on the left side of the superstructure. A small batch (13) of these vehicles was built in mild steel and these seem to be the vehicles which entered service with 1st DLI in 1936.

The MG Carrier was the immediate precursor to the early war Bren, Scout and Cavalry carriers and, with further development, the Universal Carrier later in the war. The first operational use of the carrier was therefore in the experimental MG Battalion in 1936.

Anti-Tank Company

The anti-tank company (A company, Captain R.J. Appleby MBE) was reduced to three platoons but with a more powerful gun envisaged (2 pdr?). This begs the question of how the company was already equipped. They might possibly have had either Oerlikon tracked 20mm guns or Vickers MGs as proxies or even a mixture of both. Platoons were intended to consist of two sections each of two guns under a sergeant, who would ride a motorcycle.

Durham County Records Office holds an extensive collection of photographs relating to the DLI and a search of this collection using the term Blackdown (which is how the Dettingen Barracks is referred to in the contemporary records) turned up a number of photos of 1st Battalion at the time. These included several of individual companies of the battalion drawn up with all their transport. These of the anti-tank company show no anti-tank guns of any sort which reinforces the suggestion that perhaps machine guns were used as proxies.

Airfix Magazine, September 1979

Transport and equipment

The DLI Journal of January 1935 stated that little of the new material would be available for the 1935 experiments and therefore there would be a good deal of improvisation and of token transport and weapons.

  • Austins (Austin 7s?) as token scout vehicles
  • Carden Loyds as token armoured carriers (MG carriers?)
  • Hotchkiss guns as token anti-tank rifles (one each in the scout and MG platoons)
  • Vickers guns as token anti-tank guns

Nevertheless it was expected that the transport to be issued would enable the whole battalion to be ‘off its feet’. The Morris Truck (Morris Commercial CS8?) would be the vehicle in general use.

Contemporary Press Coverage

The Experimental Infantry Brigade was covered in the contemporary press in the period 1934-1936.

  • The reorganisation of 1934, resulting in the establishment of the Experimental Infantry Brigade, was reported on 17 August 1934, in the Western Morning News and the Dundee Courier. These reports were very similar, suggesting perhaps that they relied heavily on press briefing by the War Office
  • The Belfast Telegraph reported on 14 February 1935 on the introduction of the ZBG light machine gun and the motorisation of the machine gun battalion
  • The Sunderland Echo reported on 23 December 1935 on a reorganisation which included the conversion of fifteen rifle battalions into machine gun battalions; converting the Cavalry Division and Tank Brigade into a mechanized Mobile Division and that all mechanised cavalry units would eventually divided into three types (cavalry armoured car regiments, motor cavalry regiments and cavalry light tank regiments)
  • The Army Manoeuvres of 1935 and 1936 were heavily reported, for example in the Scotsman, the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer and the Western News. The role of the Experimental Infantry Brigade and its MG Battalion were prominent. In 1936 Wavell’s 6th Division provided the Westland forces and the use of 70 Sussex green buses to represent the new RASC troop carrying companies was particular noted, including the mobility provided, but also the dangers of road congestion and the need to reconnoitre routes.

Emerging Themes

The Experimental Brigade paved the way, among other things, for the introduction of the Bren gun into rifle battalions, the conversion of new machine gun battalions from existing infantry units, the introduction of the forerunners of the BEF carriers (Bren, Cavalry, Scout) and increased mechanisation of the infantry.

In the same way as the experimental mechanised and armoured force, it was marked by the use of proxies for some equipment and materiel – e.g. the issue of Carden Loyds to stand in as light tanks and, sometimes even, trucks labelled ‘tank’ on exercises. This ddoes not appear to have interfered with experiments with organisation and tactics but would have limited the Brigade’s operational effectiveness if deployed in action.

This need for proxies was partly because the vehicles required by the tactics of the new formation were simply not yet developed but also by the all-consuming pressure on the defence budget of the time. It would also be a result of the experimental nature of the brigade, which would be intended to reveal new requirements.

The 1936 reorganisation of the MG Battalion establishment demonstrates that lessons were being learned and implemented, even within the limited (two year) lifetime of the experiment.

Possible future avenues for exploration and research

Research into the experience of the three rifle battalions in the Brigade in 1935 and 1936.

Organisation Tables

Sources

Durham Light Infantry Regimental Journal

January 1935

April 1936

October 1937

Durham County Records Office

Photographic records of 1st Battalion DLI.

Noel Ayliffe-Jones, Infantry Vehicles of the 1930s

Airfix Magazine, September 1979 – includes photos of B Company Tractors Light GS Mark I

Faithful: The Story of the Durham Light Infantry

S. G. P. Ward, Nelson 1962

Reprinted Naval and Military Press 2005

British Pathé

Tommy Tries It Out – Uniform Trial 1932

Army Exercise in Sussex 1936 -includes B Company 1st DLI and MGs on Tractors Light GS Mark 1

AFV 1919/40 British Armoured Fighting vehicles

Edited by Duncan Crow, Profile Publications 1970

Acknowledgements

With grateful thanks to:

  • Peter Nelson, Lead Volunteer at the DLI Collection
  • The staff of Durham County Records Office
  • Jim Hale

Images

A search for Blackdown (the name of the 1st DLI barracks at the time) at the Durham County Record Office catalogue brings up a lot of relevant images.

Article by Clive Smithers.

The Soviet BREM-1 Armoured Recovery Vehicle

In contrast to the German army during the Second World War, the Soviet army did not have specialised recovery vehicles or tactics for using them. They started to experiment with their use at the end of the war, initially using locally-modified versions of existing vehicles, often turretless T-34s. After the war, they began producing dedicated vehicles with specialised equipment. One of these was the BREM-1, based on the chassis of the T-72 main battle tank.

BREM-1

Introduced in 1984, the BREM-1 had a crew of three (driver, commander, and mechanic), all of whom were provided with day and night-vision equipment. It had a top road speed of 60km/hour, a road range of 700km, and an off-road range of 500km. Towing another tank significantly reduced the range, to just 220km on roads. Like the main battle tank on whose chassis it was based, it had long-range fuel drums at the rear of the vehicle, which could be jettisoned if needed. An unditching beam was mounted underneath the external fuel drums. A large-diameter snorkel was carried on the rear right of the vehicle, which could be used for deep wading at depths of up to 5m.

A crane was fitted on the left side of the vehicle. This had a lift capacity of 19 tonnes when extended up to 2m, or 3 tonnes at the maximum extension of 4.4m. The crane was powered hydraulically, normally using power from the vehicle’s main engine to run the pump. If the main engine was not running, the vehicle batteries could power the crane via an electrical pump. The crane was controlled from an elevated position, with a full set of controls. The crane turntable could be locked, and the vehicle could travel over level ground with a load suspended from the crane. When in transit, the crane was folded down along the side of the vehicle and secured in place with a clamp.

A full set of electric welding equipment, including a working position, was carried in a hermetically-sealed panel over the left track. Special tools were carried in portable containers on a load platform. This load platform was located at the centre of the roof, and was 1.7m long and 1.4m wide. It had removable side panels, and could carry a load of up to 1.5 tonnes.

The BREM-1 had two winches, a plough, a bulldozer blade, and towing equipment. The mechanical main winch had a 200m cable and a basic capacity of 25 tonnes. Snatch blocks could be used to increase this capacity to 100 tonnes. The winch was normally used at the front, with the bulldozer blade to anchor the vehicle, but it could also be used to the rear for self-recovery.

The bulldozer blade was 3.1m wide and hydraulically driven, using controls at the driver’s station. A BREM-1 could use this blade to create an MBT firing position in 12 to 20 minutes, depending on the state of the soil.

For towing, the vehicle had a pair of 1.68m towing rods, with internal shock absorbers, and a pair of 5.5m towlines. Loads of up to 50 tonnes could be towed for prolonged periods, at the cost of greatly increased fuel consumption.

Other equipment included a 30-tonne capacity hydraulic jack, R-123U radio, tank telephone system, navigation system, and NBC protection. Armour protection was the same as the T-72 MBT, although the only armament was a 12.7mm NSVT machine gun with 840 rounds of ammunition. Four smoke-grenade dischargers were sometimes fitted, and all vehicles could create a smokescreen by injecting diesel fuel into the exhaust manifold.

Specifications: BREM-1

Crew: 3
Weight: 41 tonnes
Length: 7.98m
Width: 3.46m
Height: 2.43m
Ground clearance: 0.46m
Maximum road speed: 60km/hour
Maximum road range: 700km
Gradient: 60%
Vertical obstacle: 0.85m
Armament: 1x 12.7mm NSVT MG (840 rounds)

Review by Russell Phillips.

Image credit: Vitaly V. Kuzmin (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Photograph of an M16A1

More bang for your buck!

A ‘might have been’ M-16 Rifle development

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.

Article by Grant Parkin.

This spice packs a punch!

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.

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.

The 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).

The 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.

Further research.

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.

Article by Grant Parkin.

Haig's Enemy book cover

Review: Haig’s Enemy by Jonathan Boff

ISBN 9780199670468
OUP
Hardback 373 pages

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.

Buy links

AmazonBarnes & NobleFoylesWaterstonesIndieBound

The Bear's Claws cover

Review: The Bear’s Claws by Andrew Knighton and Russell Phillips

Team Yankee/Red Army Redux and better than both.

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.

The paperback is available from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, DriveThruFiction, and Wargame Vault. The ebook is available from Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books, Nook, DriveThruFiction, and Wargame Vault.

Dewoitine D.520

Pierre Le Gloan: The Frenchman who was a double Ace!

Pierre 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.

Le 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.

Taking 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.

On 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.

Article by Richard Baber.

I’ve started… so I’ll Finnish

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.

Harness attached to the Model 1937 gun

During 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.

Horse and rider with Bofors M-38 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

In 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.

Horse and rider with the Model 1937 gun

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.