British Battle Tanks; World War I to 1939, by David Fletcher. ISBN 978-1-4728-1755-6 RRP £25.00
When Great Britain declared war upon Imperial Germany in August 1914, the cry of ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be over by Christmas’, was soon forgotten, as a stalemate restricted movement of both infantry and cavalry. Massed artillery bombardments had turned the fields of Northern France and Belgium into a quagmire of mud and both sides soon settled down into a long drawn out game of siege warfare ensconced in a series of trenches and bunkers. Trench warfare wasn’t unknown to the British. They had observed its use in North American during the American Civil War and had used it themselves during the Boer Wars in South Africa. What was new to the British High Command was fighting a major European power for the first time since the days of Napoleon. This ‘industrial’ war of intense artillery barrages, rapid fire machine guns and barbed wire was a something of a shock to many. The days of massed cavalry charges and lines of men facing off against each had gone for good. Britannia might still be ruling the waves but she wasn’t ruling the land. What was needed was a vehicle capable of moving as freely as a ship, well enough armed to attack the enemy and armoured to withstand counter-attacks: In essence, a land battleship.
The British Army had used mechanical vehicles before in the shape of traction engines for towing heavy artillery and a design for a rudimentary ‘offensive’ vehicle had been drawn up as far back as the Crimean War. The downside for these vehicles was that they used steam power. The internal combustion engine was a relatively new invention but recent advances in the aero industry had shown these types of engine to be economical. A small ‘Land Battleship’, propelled by just such an engine, might be a realistic proposition. Winston Churchill set up the Admiralty Landships Committee and a group of designers, engineers and industrialists set to work to design this new and revolutionary war winner.
The book opens briefly with a two page chapter that details the tank concept. Iron chariots have been described in the Bible and Leonardo da Vinci had made a drawing of a wheeled vehicle, carrying cannon in an enclosed structure, as far back as 1482. The science fiction writer H.G. Wells had written about The Land Ironclads as far back as 1903, in a short story for the Strand Magazine. What the author does (briefly) mention in this chapter, is that the French army were also engaged in designing a similar offensive vehicle at about the same time.
Chapter Two really starts the book, dealing mainly with the Marks I, II and III tanks. It describes the trials and tribulations of the various (early) designs. The development of tracks suitable for traversing the bogged down fields was be a major concern. This design requirement, coupled with a trench crossing capability, inspired a radical reappraisal of the ‘Little Willie’ concept (with its tracks low to the ground) and led to the rhomboid ‘wrap around’ track design with which we are now so familiar. This chapter also gives the details of the trials and subsequent modifications made for the final production of the Mark I vehicle. Crew training, vehicle stowage and the first use of this new weapon in action are all covered here. The chapter ends with a brief look at one of the most radical designs ever proposed…The Flying Elephant.
Chapters Three and Four are dedicated to the Marks IV and V respectively illustrating the evolutionary steps of the rhomboid design. Improvements in engines, gearbox and armament and the tanks’ use in battle are well documented in an easy to read format that every layman can follow. Additionally the Marks V* and V** are described,
Chapter Five deals with a wholly new design altogether. Known officially as the Medium Mark A Whippet (or just the Whippet) and the Tritton Chaser to others. Designed by Sir William Tritton as a ‘fast’ tank, armed with just machine guns, it was to be used as a ‘break through’ tank penetrating the enemy rear and causing havoc and confusion. The speed was to be a hair raising 8mph. The chapter then continues with a look at the replacement(s) for the Whippet; the Mediums B, C, D and D*. Alsoworth a brief mention is the Studebaker tank, a one-off design from America which quickly disappeared.
Chapter Six moves on to illustrating some of the later WWI designs which were built either in mock-up form, as prototypes or designed but cancelled as the war ended. The tanks covered are the Marks VI, VII, Heavy Mark VIII and the Mark IX. The Mark VII and the Heavy Mark VIII could be classed (in layman’s terms) as larger versions of the Mark V, whilst the Mark IX wasn’t a tank at all but rather either a troop carrier or supply vehicle. It could even be classed as the world’s first Armoured Personnel Carrier.
Chapter Seven takes the reader into the end of the war, the cancelled orders and the scaling back of tank design and, more importantly, purchase. Times were hard, money was scarce, industry had to change back to peacetime production and there was no stomach for further conflict. Nevertheless some still carried on the work of trying to advance tank design. Winston Churchill managed to secure some funding from the British treasury and some new prototypes were built and tested. The genie was out of the bottle. A few tanks were built and procured for testing with the Vickers company rapidly becoming prominent. The 1921 designed Vickers No.1 tank resembled a shortened version of a late war Medium B but with a turret.
Chapter Eight is basically the Vickers story. Vickers hadn’t been a tank builder during the First World War but its amalgamation with Armstrong-Whitworth brought a whole new design section into Vickers portfolio…a tank design branch. Starting off with the Vickers No.1 tank they went on to develop other vehicles throughout the 1920s and 30s.
Chapter Nine guides the reader through the 1930s examining the various proposals and versions of the British A series of Cruiser tanks. The story of the early British Cruiser tanks could be a book in its own right and the author chooses to leave the reader with more to discover whilst providing sufficient information for a general study. The chapter also delves into some of the Vickers-Armstrong commercial designs which were developed for foreign markets.
Chapter Ten is the highlight of the book for me. The story of the Light Tanks Marks I-VI, from 1927 until 1945 could, again, be a book in itself. It is one of those quintessentially British designs which soldiered on well past its prime, but still performed an essential service in the dark days of WWII. Starting from the earliest of designs, various weapons combinations in a variety of turrets were coupled with these vehicles. Though they were mainly armed with either twin Vickers or Besa machine guns, some were trialled with 15mm or 2pdr guns and some captured examples were modified by the Germans to carry a 105mm howitzer. Pre-war use in India, along with wartime use of these vehicles in other theatres, is also documented in this chapter.
Whilst this book is not an in-depth study of all the early British tanks up to 1939, it is a good starting point for those who like armour or have an interest in armoured warfare. In my opinion it is well written by an author who knows his subject but who doesn’t want to baffle with excessive facts and figures. This book is published by Osprey Publishing and is, therefore, well illustrated with photographs (some rare and interesting ones) and colour artworks of the vehicles depicted. It is a worthy title to add to your library.
British Light Tanks 1927–1945 Marks I–VI by David Fletcher, illustrated by Henry Morshead.
This is number 217 in Osprey’s New Vanguard series. As is typical for Osprey, it includes some excellent colour drawings.
The text is interesting and written in a way that makes it easy to read. It tells the story of the Vickers light tank series from the Mark I to the Mark VIC.
I’ve long found inter-war and early WWII armour interesting. In terms of sheer numbers at least, the Vickers light tanks were an important part of the British Army during the early years of the war.
Between the wars, they served a useful purpose in colonial policing roles. Facing an enemy with armour and anti-tank weapons, however, they were hopelessly outclassed. The .50″ Vickers machine gun was considered an anti-tank gun when it was introduced on the Mark V, but by 1939 it was useless against enemy armour. If nothing else, this illustrates the rapid advances in armour development between the two world wars.
The book covers some variants that I was unaware of, such as AA tanks and a proposed airborne tank, armed with a single machine gun in a very small turret. It even discusses some individual vehicles that were used to evaluate concepts and ideas. One intriguing example is a Mark VI fitted with a two-pounder anti-tank gun in an open-topped turret.
Overall, it’s an interesting read. My only complaint is that it’s not always obvious when the various marks entered service. This is a minor complaint, though, and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in inter-war or early war armour.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Balate Ridge (north of the village)
troop of eachRoyal
Scots Greys and Staffordshire Yeomanry (dismounted acting as
comprising ten men including a Bren gun
company of 2/5th
Battalion Australian Infantry comprising
(officer, NCO, RTO, two runners, Boys AT rifle team)
platoons each comprising ten men including a Bren gun
– (officer, RTO, two runners)
25pdrs and limbers, tows and crews
Junction of routes A and B (east of village)
including a Forward Observation Officer of the 10th
Field Battery (officer, NCO, RTO, two runners, Boys AT rifle team and
Battalion Australian Infantry (each comprising ten men including a
Anti-tank Regiment (comprising 2pdr, crew and tow and 37mm Bofors
portee and crew)
MG Battalion (comprising Vickers MG and crew)
Ibels Saki (south of junction)
6th Australian Cavalry comprising
tank platoon (two Mark VI light tanks)
platoon (two carriers and eight men including
a Bren gun)
Colonial Infantry Regiment
groups Levant militia
column of 6th
tank platoon (R35 and Ft17)
platoon M/c infantry
Legion Infantry (in lorries)
RA de Levant)
troops of Levant Spahis (mounted cavalry)
tank platoon (one R35, one Ft17 and one Ft17 75bis)
platoon motorised infantry
Algerian Spahis (mounted)
platoons Syrian Gendarmerie
Battery B 86th RAA (two 75mle 1897s)
One sortie from a Dewoitine D20
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.
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
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
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.
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.
of the Brigade
Brigade comprised Brigade Headquarters and Signal Section, three
rifle battalions and a machine gun battalion.
three rifle battalions were:
Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment
Battalion, the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment
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.
was to comprise
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.
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
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.
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.’
of the Brigade
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:
anti-tank company of the M.G. Battalion.
for officers, who all had Austin cars to replace their horses, all
the personnel of the MG and rifle companies would still walk.
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:
higher standard of training
higher speed in reconnaissance (for which the Austin cars might or
might not prove suitable)
the load on the soldier (which the motor transport should
higher degree of physical fitness
features of the new organisation (the Experimental Brigade) were to
use of wireless in brigade communications
mechanisation of all front line transport
substitution of Austin cars for officers’ chargers (horses)
concentration of all machine guns into one battalion – the Machine
inclusion of an anti-tank company in the Machine Gun Battalion
introduction of a new type of light machine gun, the ZGB in rifle
arming of sections in rifle battalions so that they could function
either as light machine gun sections or as rifle sections
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
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.
Transport of the MG Battalion
vehicles shown on the War Establishment of the Machine Gun Battalion
at the start of 1935 comprised:
four seater car (Battalion HQ)
two seater Austin cars (Austin 7 Tourers) – chiefly for officers
– signallers and AT coy
tractors with trailers (guns, MGs and ammunition)
lorries (cooks, greatcoats, petrol, fitters)
12 cwt vans (one per anti-tank platoon for distribution of rations).
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.
an exercise lasting ten hours in May 1935 the fully mechanised MG
company covered no less than 160 miles.
Machine Gun Battalion (1st
ranks apart from the usual exemptions had to be trained in the use
of the rifle
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
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)
men of all ranks would have to be trained in the use of the revolver
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
points raised at the time for consideration
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?
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?
the MG battalion depend on Brigade communications or its own? By
wireless, line, visual, motor despatch riders or cyclists?
the Austin car satisfactorily replace the horse?
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?
the mortars best be included in the machine gun battalion or, as
present, in the rifle battalions?
the anti-tank company form part of the machine gun battalion? If
not, where in the Brigade should the anti-tank guns be placed?
would the new organisation affect Brigade tactics?
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.
and manufacturers of vehicles
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
(Austin 7s?) as token scout vehicles
Loyds as token armoured carriers (MG carriers?)
guns as token anti-tank rifles (one each in the scout and MG
guns as token anti-tank guns
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
Experimental Infantry Brigade was covered in the contemporary press
in the period 1934-1936.
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
Belfast Telegraph reported on 14 February 1935 on the introduction
of the ZBG light machine gun and the motorisation of the machine gun
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
future avenues for exploration and research
into the experience of the three rifle battalions in the Brigade in
1935 and 1936.
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.
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
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.
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.