Category Archives: Weapons

L4 Magazine Box

The L4 light machine gun was an update of the old Bren Gun, re-chambered for 7.62mm NATO standard ammunition and with a chrome lined barrel for longer life. The accessories provided for the LMG were very similar to those used on the Bren with some important differences and we will be looking at some of these over the coming months. Like the Bren, the L4 had a metal transit case holding twelve magazines:imageThe box is made of pressed steel, with a single carry handle at one end:imageThe front of the box has the contents stencilled on it along with an NSN number:imageWhilst the lid is secured with a spring clip:imageOpening the box there are rows of lips to allow each of the magazines to fit into the box neatly:imageThese are simple metal tabs set at the correct width for each magazine:imageEach magazine slots in, front first:imageThe underside of the lid has a rubber pad that presses down onto the magazines and prevents them from rattling around:imageTwo different boxes were used with L4 magazines, ones such as this that were custom made for the magazines, and others were converted from older .303 Bren boxes with strips of metal or wood added to change the internal dimensions of the box to better fit the different magazines, whilst an early expedient, recommended to armourers was just to pack the space in a Bren box with cotton waste to allow the L4 mags to fit and not move around.

A full box of twelve magazines was very heavy and one L4 gunner commented he, “always felt for the N02 carrying the Ammo box full of magazines…”

GPMG Ammunition Belts

For many decades the General Purpose Machine Gun, or GPMG, has been the main infantry support weapon for the British Army. This machine gun fires 7.62mm NATO standard ammunition from metal linked belts. We have previously looked at the manufacture of the 7.62 ball round itself here and the corresponding blank rounds here. Tonight however we have two sets of belted ammunition to look at, firstly a fifty round ball belt (inert rounds):imageAnd a belt of blank ammunition:imageAmmunition for both belts is held together with small stamped metal spring clips:imageThese interlock with each other:imageThe casings of the rounds themselves hold each together with its neighbour:imageThe action of the GPMG draws each round out in turn to fire and as each is pulled out a link falls free, disintegrating the belt into its constituent parts.

The GPMG manual describes the issuing of links as:

Ammunition is supplied in belts of 200, the belts are of metal disintegrating links and can be readily broken or joined to give belts of any length. Belts may be issued as follows, four ball and one tracer (4B/1T), this is the standard issue, one tracer to one ball (1B/1T), normally used in the turret mounted role, and finally belts of all ball ammunition for use when tracer is forbidden, i.e., on the 30 metre range.

 To Separate a Belt. Hold the rounds on each side of the point at which it is desired to separate the belt, twist them in opposite directions. The links at that point will become disengaged. 

To Join Two Belts. Fit the projection of the end link of one belt into the gap of the end link of the other, making sure that the links are the same way up. If there is a round in position, press the projection so that it snaps into place over the cartridge case. If no round is in position, insert one as described later in this paragraph.

 The links are only to be re-used with drill and inspection rounds (used by REME). The only exception to this rule is in battle and then only in an emergency.

 The pamphlet advises that if drill belts need to be assembled the following method should be observed:

To Make Up a Belt. Take two links, both the same way up, and place them so that the projection of one fits into the gap of the other (see Fig 10 a). Then (in the manner shown in Fig 10 b), interlock them by inserting the nose of a round through both links and press the round for- ward till the projecting detent of the clip clicks into place in the groove at the base of the round. Connect further links and rounds in the same way.image

‘1871 Pattern’ Rifle Sling

1871 saw a new pattern of buff leather rifle sling introduced alongside the new 1971 Pattern Valise Equipment and this pattern and minor variations of it were to remain in service until the 1960s. Originally used for combat, by the twentieth century it had been relegated to ceremonial use and in this form was to remain in use until the demise of the No4 rifle. The 1871 pattern rifle sling is made from buff leather and measured 42 inches in length:imageThe sling has been pipeclayed White, the remaining pipe clay now rather fragile and liable to come off as dust in your hands if you manipulate the sling too much. Two pairs of holes are punched through the leather at one end to allow the sling to be secured around the rear sling swivel of a rifle:imageSadly the leather thong that was used to secure this is missing on my sling and so I have substituted a piece of string until I can find some leather strapping of the correct type:imageAt the opposite end of the sling are a pair of leather beckets:imageThe end loop is sewn to the sling, whilst the other is loose and free to slide up and down:imageThe end of the sling is passed through the front sling swivel of the rifle, doubled back on itself and passed through the two loops:imageThe free end is now passed back along the rifle and secured with the leather thong (or sting in this case) as illustrated above. The sling can then be adjusted to take up the slack to present a smart parade ground finish:imageMy apologies for the Gahendra but I do not own a Martini Henry and this is the closest equivalent in my collection, it does however show the concept nicely.

The buff sling was retained long after the webbing rifle sling was introduced and was used for ceremonial parades such as the guards around Buckingham Palace right through until the SLR rifle was introduced when a white nylon sling was issued instead. Here a guardsman in the early 1950s can be seen to be using the buff sling with his No4 rifle in London:imageI don’t believe my sling is an original 1871 example as it is missing a third pair of holes for the leather securing thong, instead it was probably made up as part of a small batch for ceremonial duties in the twentieth century to broadly the 1871 pattern.

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.

Browning Hi Power

Observant readers may have noticed that in some of the posts on holsters over the last few years I have been using a Browning Hi-Power to illustrate how they work. I try not to do weapons posts too often as I don’t have an unlimited supply of different deactivated guns and I want to spread them out a bit, that being said it is a long time since we last looked at a firearm on this blog and it seemed about time we looked at the Hi Power.

The Hi Power was developed in the interwar period by FN of Belgium to meet a French Army requirement. John Moses Browning started work on the pistol’s development but died before it reached its final iteration. The design was however developed and was ultimately ready for service by 1935. The French chose a different model, but it was adopted by the Belgians and was one of the most modern hand guns in service at the start of World War Two.

When Germany invaded Belgium in 1940, the designers at FN fled to England with the designs of the hi Power and after much tortuous negotiation it was agreed that a production facility would be set up in Canada by the Inglis company. Manufacture was started in 1944 and the Canadian produced for themselves, the British and received large contracts for Nationalist Chinese Forces. It is one of these Chinese contract guns we are looking at tonight:imageimageThe Hi Power is a 9mm automatic that can hold 13 rounds in its double stack magazine. The magazine is released by a button on the grip, a spring pushing the magazine down and out ready for reloading:imageThis pistol was designed as a military handgun from the start and so features a prominent lanyard loop:imageAs a Chinese contract Hi Power there are a number of distinctive features to this weapon. Firstly the rear sight is an adjustable tangent sight out to 500 yards (!):imageQuite how it was expected to hit anything at this range with a 9mm round is beyond me, but a slot was fitted to the rear to allow a shoulder stock to be fitted:imageThis was a popular feature for the Chinese who had first started using shoulder stocked pistols during the Warlord era when broom-handled Mausers were imported into the country in huge quantities with shoulder stocks to circumvent international embargos on long arms. By the Second World War most other nations had decided shoulder stocks and long range adjustable sights on a pistol were a waste of time, however they remained the preferred choice of the Chinese.

The pistol is marked along the sides of the slide, with the name of the manufacturer and Chinese characters indicating that it is the property of the Chinese Nationalist Army:imageThe opposite side of the pistol has the serial number on both the slide and the barrel:imageThe CH indicates that this pistol was produced for China and it was manufactured in August 1945. Having acquired this pistol several years ago, this example still strips down into its component parts, although the deactivation process is very obvious with the large hole cut in the breach!imageDespite being made for a Chinese contract, I doubt this pistol ever made it to China. The contract was cancelled before it was delivered (mainly because the Chinese nationalists seemed to be more interested in killing Chinese communists rather than the Japanese) and the stock of pistols was absorbed into the Canadian Army’s inventory. This example has never been upgraded or modified post war and so today is a rare piece.

SA80 Polymer Magazine

In 2011 the British Army started to upgrade the magazines soldiers were issued with for use with the SA80 rifle. Until this point the H&K steel magazine had been in service and was generally well regarded (see here). The only problem with the magazine was the materials used in its construction. Steel is heavy and new polymers were available that allowed a robust magazine to be produced with a lighter weight:imageThe government at the time sent out a press release explaining the benefits of the new magazine:

The 30-round Magpul EMAG magazine is around half the weight of a standard metal magazine and helps reduce the weight that soldiers have to carry in their kit.

Made from a polymer, the EMAG weighs 130g compared to its metal equivalent of 249g. Troops carry up to 12 magazines, so this change means each carries around one kilogramme less weight in total than before. imageAlthough it is lighter than others, the EMAG is robust; it’s durability is enhanced by an easily detachable cover to help protect against dust and sand while being carried – meaning fewer need replacing. imageA clear window in the magazine allows troops to easily monitor how much ammunition they have left, helping them ensure they have sufficient levels at critical points in battle. imageThese magazines were produced in the US for the British Army and are brand named ‘EMAG’, which is molded into the body of the magazine:imageDetails of the rounds to be used in the magazine and the manufacturers details are also included:imageThe rounds of 5.56 are fed into the top, where two feed lips ensure they are presented into the breach of the rifle correctly:imageThe plastic dustcover snaps over this to keep out dirt and debris:imageThe base plate of the magazine is removable allowing the spring and follower to be removed for cleaning:imageThe response from troops was positive:

The new magazines are a great bit of kit. The little window lets me see how many rounds I have left at a glance and it’s a lighter and more robust design. The dust cap is a useful addition in the dusty Afghan conditions as it helps keep ammo clean.image

SLR Speed Loader

Loading individual rounds into a magazine can be a long and laborious process as each round has to be taken out of a box and pressed into the box magazine one at a time. To speed this process up many militaries adopted a principle dating back to the days of the bolt action rifle, the charger. These metal strips came pre-prepared with rounds ready to be fed as a block into a magazine, rapidly speeding up the loading process. Some early automatic rifles came with charger guides built into the receivers over the magazine well, but in reality it was most likely that magazines would be loaded off of the weapon so separate charger guides needed to be developed that could be fitted to a magazine to serve the same purpose of allowing swift reloading from chargers.

The British Self Loading Rifle was no exception and a simple pressed steel guide was issued that could be slotted over the mouth of the magazine:imageThis is an unissued example and has a stores label attached, sadly any writing on this has decayed to the point of being illegible. The charger is open at the top to allow the rounds to pass through and into the body of the magazine:imageThe only markings on the charger are a stores code, manufacturer’s initials and a date:imageAs mentioned above this is an unissued example, so comes in its original waxed cardboard stores box:imageIt is cushioned inside the box from rattling around by a simple piece of corrugated card:imageMy thanks go to Major Ian Ward who very kindly let me have this one for my collection and at some point I will get out some inert rounds and a magazine and see how effective it actually is…