Monthly Archives: January 2019

Mannlicher 1886 Rifle

In 1886 the Austro-Hungarian Army introduced a new five shot repeating rifle firing a large black powder 11.15mmx58mm rimmed round. This rifle, designed by Mannlicher, was cutting edge technology when it was purchased and used an innovative en-bloc loading system that allowed five rounds to be loaded at once, rather than individually. This dominance was to last just a year as the French introduced smokeless powder with their new Lebel rifle that made the old large bore Austrian design obsolete overnight. Today this large 11.15mm cartridge has been designated as an obsolete calibre in the UK which means that the rifles that fire it are legal to own as complete firearms with none of the butchery that deactivation normally requires.

I recently picked up one of these M1886 rifles in what was described as Grade 3 condition. I was expecting the worst but was pleasantly surprised to find that although a little rough around the edges, the rifle I received was actually in remarkably good condition for a 133 year old firearm:imageimageThis rifle is a straight pull design which means the bolt does not need to be rotated in order to charge the rifle. The bolt is just pulled straight back and then pushed forward again to chamber a fresh cartdridge, the bolt running in a milled channel at the rear of the receiver:imageNote the safety catch that blocks the bolt and prevents the rifle from firing. As the bolt is not rotated, it does not have conventional locking lugs of more modern designs, instead there is a single locking wedge on the underside of the bolt:imageThis was perfectly adequate on slow moving black power but would be a weak point when some of the rifles were converted to small bore smokeless powder cartridges. The bolt itself has a spring extractor and a central firing pin, still extant here due to its obsolete calibre status:imageCartridges were supplied in sprung metal en-bloc clips that, unlike later chargers, were held inside the rifle during firing, the clips providing the feed lips for the cartridges. The clip was inserted into the top and a sprung arm inside the rifle pushed the cartridges up from below:imageOnce the last cartridge had been chambered, the now empty clip was free to fall away out a slot in the base of the large magazine under the rifle:imageA large sight is fitted at the rear of the barrel with the sights graduated in schritt- an obsolete Austrian measure of distance equivalent to a pace. The normal ranges are marked on the left side of the sight:imageThe right side is for use with the volley sight. This was the fashionable rifle feature of late Victorian era rifles and on this case a small V-Notch sight can be pulled out the right hand side of the rear sight:imageThis is lined up with this forward pointer on the right hand side of the barrel band:imageNote also the front sling swivel, a rear swivel is fitted to the butt of the rifle:imageThe front end of the rifle incorporates a front sight blade, a bayonet lug and a stacking rod to make a rifle tee-pee with:imageThe 1886 pattern rifle was sold to a number of other countries, including Chile and I believe that this is an export pattern rifle rather than one produced for the Austro-Hungarians as it lacks the Austrian proof marks and hasn’t been upgraded to an 8x50R smokeless round which was pretty much universal for those in the service of the Habsburg empire.

Is there any link then between this rifle and the blogs usual British Empire content? Yes, although I confess it is a very tenuous link. Anecdotally,  it seems that the British volunteers to the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War were issued Mannlicher 1886 rifles to practice with before being handed more modern arms to fight the fascists with.

Whether the story s true or not I don’t know, this is however a fascinating historic rifle with a mechanically very interesting action that happily is legal to own in live condition in the UK. World Wide Arms seem to have imported a large quantity of these recently and it is from them that I obtained this rifle for what I felt was a very reasonable sum.

Non Magnetic Mine Prodder

Even today, with all the modern electronic devices at troops disposal, the old fashioned mine probe has a place in clearing land mines. Unlike more high-tech devices, the mine probe does not risk setting off mines that are designed to detonate through electro-magnetic fields and remains an essential tool in helping to clear buried explosive devices. The army issues non-magnetic mine probes to those involved in hunting out mines and IEDs, these are made of plastic and aluminium and come in a webbing case that can be attached to the belt:imageThe webbing case encloses the probe and has a plastic fastex buckle to secure the probe into the case:image-24.jpegA plastic slider buckle is fitted to the rear to allow it to be attached to other pieces of webbing:image-25.jpegInside the probe consists of a long non-magnetic metal shaft with a plastic handle:image-26.jpegThe end of the metal shaft unscrews to reveal the probe itself:image-29.jpegThis is a non-magnetic metal spike firmly attached into a threaded plastic collar:imageThis can be flipped around and screwed into the end of the rod to allow the ground to be prodded for buried ordnance. The main shaft of the probe can be removed and the tip screwed into the plastic handle to make a shorter prodder that allows the operative to work on his stomach when under fire:captureThe plastic handle has the /|\ acceptance mark moulded into the plastic and a label with the manufacturing date of April 2009 on it:imageThe reverse has a second label with NSN number and the items details:imageThese prodders are produced by a company called ABP and in their literature they describe it as:

The Non-Magnetic Mine Prodder has been developed to locate mines buried at depths up to 250mm. Primarily intended for situations where a magnetic device could activate also be used where magnetic fields are not considered important.


The prodder is lightweight, man portable and is stored until use in a carrier web attached to personnel in service webbing equipment.

For the detection of landmines, mine prodders are still often used instead of metal detectors. With this prodder, the minesweeper penetrates the soil a few centimetres. If they detect any resistance, the found object must be carefully laid open. The advantage of searching for mines by means of a prodder are a detection rate of almost 100% and it is possible to clear even very difficult ground. However, this procedure is extremely time consuming and due to the high rate of false alarms, some 1000 other objects are found per mine in the mine field, a minesweeper can only search a few square meters per day, depending on the ground situation.

39 Pattern Cartridge Carriers

Of all the patterns of accoutrements used by the British Army over decades, in many ways the 39 pattern is one of the most extraordinary. Apparently the whole pattern was devised over the course of a weekend in 1939 in response to a desperate need to supplement the army’s limited supply of cotton 37 pattern equipment. The new design was a very close copy of the 37 pattern design, but manufactured in leather to allow an alternative industry to be used to capacity and to quickly equip troops. The 37 pattern continued to be the pattern used in combat by the British Army, but the 39  pattern set saw service on home soil and was issued to other nations the British were re-equipping.

The individual components combined the general layout of the 37 pattern pieces with construction and techniques that had already been proven on earlier leather patterns and this is especially apparent with the cartridge carriers:imageThe twin pouches set next to each other and each holding 10 rounds are identical in concept to those produced in webbing in the 37 pattern set, but the construction mirrors that used for the 03 pattern bandolier’s pockets:imageUnder each top flap is a separate retaining tab, secured using the same stud as the main flap:imageThe 37 pattern design has been modified to better suit leather, most obviously on the rear:imageThe metal ‘C’ hooks used on the webbing were clearly unsuitable for leather and these are replaced with a simple pair of leather loops a belt can be passed through:imageThe top of each pouch has a brace attachment to attach the shoulder braces through and a double buckle to allow the small pack’s L straps to be attached to:image-10.jpegIt is on the rear of these straps that the pouches’ maker’s mark can be found, here dating one of the pouches to 1941:imagePictures of these pouches in service are rare, but in this image of the King inspecting an honour guard in Belfast in 1942 each man is clearly wearing a pair of 39 pattern cartridge carriers:SKM_C30819010309230

British Army Fibre Suitcase

The British army fibre suitcase was a particularly long lasting item of military equipment, being manufactured from before the Second World War right through until the 1980s. Examples with dates indicate manufacture at least as early as 1938 and as late as 1985. The suitcase was issued to officers and men alike and seems to have been used by the army, air force and navy. This example is undated, but I suspect it dates to the 1950s:imageThe case is made of canvas covered fibre and although a mucky cream colour now, was originally made in a pale green:imageFew of these cases seem to retain their original colour and it seems the dyes used in their manufacture are particularly susceptible to fading. The corners of the case and the edges are reinforced with leather and the case is secured with two lockable spring clasps:imageThe handle is again made from leather:imageThe inside of the case is lined in white canvas and the lid hinges back to allow access to the cases contents:imageThis case has been used by a soldier of the Royal Corps of Transport, a Driver Johns, who has written his name and posting onto the outside of the case in ball point pen:imageDavid Fowler was a National Serviceman in the Royal Navy and was issued a suitcase as part of his kit, travelling with it presented some difficulties:

The actual journey was a nightmare. This was not due to the inadequacies of the then British Rail but to the great expectations of the Royal Navy. My luggage included a large suitcase, a heavy toolbox and a bulky hammock, which I was never to use. The Navy acknowledged there was a problem by providing me with transport to Portsmouth station, but after asking how I was supposed to transport all these items across London, I was told, “That’s your problem.” It was and I had to resort to a taxi, with no hope of any reimbursement from the Navy

French Postcard Sent Back from the Western Front

This week’s postcard is a bit unusual as, whilst interesting, the image on the front rather falls outside the purview of this blog: it depicts a pair of French soldiers, an infantryman and a cavalryman:SKM_C284e18121008500 - CopyObviously French military history is not what this blog is interested in, so why is it included? The answer lies on the back where we can see that it was sent by a British soldier home to his wife in England:SKM_C284e18121008501He has written in pencil ‘On Active Service’ at the top:SKM_C284e18121008501 - Copy (2)And it has the stamps indicating that it has been checked by a censor for anything incriminating and that it has been handled by a field post office, the post mark dates it to 4th September 1915:SKM_C284e18121008501 - CopyLieutenant Harry Bundle explains the process of censoring soldiers’ mail:

Censoring is interesting at first but it rapidly becomes boring; no letter is allowed to leave without it having been read by an officer and franked by him on the envelope; fortunately my platoon do not write very long letters though they write very often. A typical letter starts like this. ‘My Dear Father and Mother, Ellen and Mary, I take pleasure in writing these few lines hoping that you are in the pink as it leaves me at present.’ Many of the men talk awful drivel about cannon balls flying around them, but as a general rule they are short and rather formal letters… The men always write very extravagantly after a spell in the front line – ‘All the ravines were full of dead Germans and Bulgars’, ‘It was absolute Hell!’, ‘I said more prayers then than at all of the Church parades I’ve attended’.”

The message itself is relatively banal, but the author does write to his other half with the best opener ‘Dear Wife’!SKM_C284e18121008501 - Copy (3)The message reads:

Dear Wife

Just a line. Hope you are well, give my love to all at home. Will write shortly. Hope you received the cheque okay.

Best Love Frank xxxx

The letter was sent to Mrs F Gregory of Sheffield:SKM_C284e18121008501 - Copy (4)Sadly, although following up on a few leads, I have been unable to determine who exactly this Frank Gregory was, hopefully he survived the war and was able to be reunited with his wife.

Air Ministry Marked Feeler Gauge

Feeler gauges are used to check the clearances of fittings within precision machines such as engines. A set of feeler gauges consist of a set of different metal fingers, each of a different width. Each finger is marked with its thickness, and by trying each in turn, or a combination of different ones, the correct clearance can be set. These have been in service for many decades and tonight we have an Air Ministry marked set dating back to 1939. Folded up the feeler gauge is just a small metal bar:imageA cut-out is provided on one side that allows the gauges to be pushed out from their housing:imageFanned out it can be seen that a wide range of thicknesses are housed in the tool:imageEach gauge has its thickness in thousandths of an inch etched into its surface:imageThese gauges go from 3/1000″ up to 15/1000″ and the gauges are flexible enough that multiples can be held together to make up different thicknesses.

The gauge itself has a crown and AM stamp along with a date of 1939 indicating it was produced for the RAF:imageThis tool was manufactured by Moore and Wright of Sheffield. The company is now part of the Bowers group, and their website gives some history:

Founded in 1906 by innovative young engineer Frank Moore, Moore & Wright has been designing, manufacturing and supplying precision measuring equipment to global industry for over 100 years. With roots fixed firmly in Sheffield, England, the company began by manufacturing a range of callipers, screwdrivers, punches and other engineer’s tools.

The uses for feeler gauges included setting the tappet valves in engines, as explained in a 1953 army handbook on basic mechanical principles for tracked and wheeled vehicles:

Clearance between the valve stem and tappet is tested with a feeler gauge. If the appropriate feeler just pushes through the gap with little force the setting is correct. To make certain try the next size up, this should not go.

MTP Ammunition Bag

The Desert camouflage version of the grab bag was a popular piece of ancillary load bearing equipment and we looked at an example here. As with many items of equipment, when the new MTP camouflage was introduced an updated version of the grab bag was issued in the new pattern:imageThis bag is identical to the DDPM version and features the same external pouches. We have one large single pouch for a smoke grenade:imageTwo smaller pouches for fragmentation grenades:imageAnd three pouches across the front for rifle magazines:imageEach of these opens up to allow access to the interior, a piece of elastic helps hold the magazines in place until ready to be withdrawn:imageThe lid of the pouch features a velcroed easy access flap, the opening being surrounded by elastic to ensure it is easy to access the contents of the bag but there is no danger of anything falling out:imageThis particular bag has been issued and the original owner has written his name and number on the underside of this elastic portion:imageThe shoulder strap has a seperate MTP slider on it:imageThis has a rough fabric finish on the inside to prevent the bag from slipping as easily from the wearer’s shoulder:imageA standard label is sewn into the inside, with a different NSN number compared to the DPM version:imageOne user of the grab bag says:

I think the idea behind it being a grab bag is that you grab it an scarper.
It hold 9 mags which with the 6 or so you carry on your osprey, that’s your OP ammo sorted. Not many people wear vests over Osprey, just a few pouches for bullets on the front. A daysack with the grab bag under the lid = pouches to keep the ammo in one place. If you’re down 6/7 mags, you’re in the poopoo anyway. And maps, water, GPS, Leatherman NVG can all be stashed in there no dramas.