Category Archives: WW2

40mm Bofors Shell Casing

The 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun is one of the most successful designs of all time. It was first produced in 1932 and a heavily modernised version is still being manufactured today. Used by many nations, the British first started testing examples in 1937 and it quickly became the army’s standard light AA weapon and by 1942 5,025 were being produced a year. The weapon also saw extensive service with the Royal Navy on board ships as an effective defence against aircraft and light craft. The bofors used a clip of four rounds of fixed ammunition that was fed manually into the top of the gun:40-60_Bofors_Gun_HMS_IntrepidTonight we are looking at the casing from one of these rounds. This a tall and slender case, made of drawn brass:image-108.jpegA large groove at the base engages with the loading clips and is used as part of the feed mechanism of the gun:imageThe base of the casing is heavily marked with various marks, dates and proofs:FullSizeRenderThese all have their own meanings:CaptureCyril Perkins commanded a bofors gun detachment on the coast of England:

Those aircraft recognition charts crowded into my mind as the silhouettes of ME 109’s momentarily filled my binocular lenses. ‘Engage’ I screamed and back came the response ‘On’ and again ‘On’ as the two aircraft now with swastikas clearly visible came within range but no order to ‘Fire’ came from Bob and I looked across to determine Why ?
The Bofors Gun was depressed below zero degrees and could not be fired until the elevation moved above zero plus five and we waited as precious seconds ticked by.
Some four hundred yards from shore the two planes separated and zoomed upwards to make a circular attack on Sandown and in that instant the elevation moved above zero plus five and Bob yelled ‘Fire’. But it was too late as our tracers screamed skywards our target banked and swung away out of range. We watched and waited helplessly as the two planes swooped on Sandown and dropped the bombs they carried under each wing. Then they were over us again and our tracers joined with others as we concentrated on the plane seawards of us.
I heard the chatter of our quadruple Lewis Guns as Tommy and Toddy blazed away at the second plane as it crossed our dead arc and then it happened. Tracers and aeroplane merged into a huge crimson flame and our target literally disintegrated before our eyes. As we stopped firing bits of aircraft floated seawards dropping into the sea below causing hardly a ripple on the water then disappearing as the ever hungry waves devoured them. I scanned for another target but the one that got away was already a fading dot above the ocean a survivor perhaps to placate a German mother who would mourn the loss of a son that day.

Badges on Battledress Book review

It is said that every author has a ‘Magnus opus’ in them; that one masterpiece that eclipses all their other work and stands as the crowning achievement of their career. Badges on Battledress is that book for Jon Mills, an author we have reviewed several times before on the blog.imageBadges on Battledress is a two volume book covering the cloth insignia worn on Battledress uniforms from the start of World War II until the uniform was dropped on the 1960s. These badges were both officially sanctioned and privately purchased and were worn on the sleeves by numerous different units of both British and Empire forces. Between the two volumes this topic stretches to fill over 1200 pages and these books are likely to remain the definitive work on the subject for decades to come. Over 6000 images fill the volumes, a mixture of modern photographs of the badges themselves and period photographs showing troops wearing some of them. The quality of the images is excellent throughout as you would expect from a book of this sort.imageAccompanying the images is a well written text that provides background on the units wearing the badges, if possible details of when and where badges were introduced as well as a wider information on the official machinations surrounding military insignia, the manufacturers of the badges and other anecdotes as they apply to military insignia. This makes for an enjoyable read, with individual badges signposted in the text by the use of numbers that point the reader directly to the specific badge. If there is any shortcoming with the book it is this as sometimes a number refers to an example hundreds of pages away from the text or indeed in the other volume. I am unsure if there is actually any way round this, and when doing specific research it is not a problem, however if you are just browsing the text it can be a little distracting. There are also occasionally slight problems with the numb reign itself where the text is a digit or two out from the images referenced- again this is very forgive able given the size and scope of the book and it is easy to work around as it is pretty obvious the text is referring to the next badge along.imageThe book also covers the post war period, with insignia worn by the army, WAC and TA throughout the 1950s and 1960s. This is the first work to cover this subject since Cole’s short book published over sixty years ago. The books do not cover the Home Guard (which Mills has already covered in his book on the Home Guard) or the cadet forces, but the books are already massively long without these units so this is an entirely sensible choice and perhaps we will be lucky enough to get an accompanying volume on cadet insignia in a few years time.imageIt is fair to say that these volumes will be the definitive text on this subject for many years to come. They are not cheap, costing £150 plus postage for the two volumes, but their size and scope make them exceptional value for money and if you are a badge collector, researcher of just find the subject of military heraldry interesting I would urge you to pick up a copy. I suspect that these will not be reprinted and once the original print run has sold out I would suspect the secondary prices will climb to ridiculous levels so buy while you can. Copies can be purchased direct from the author by emailing bob19391967@yahoo.co.ukimage

Civilian Duty Respirator

It was quickly recognised in the 1930s that a level of respirator was required that fell between the cheap but limited civilian respirator and the far more effective, but expensive, general service respirator. The government therefore introduced the Civilian Duty Respirator, the “Air Raid Precautions Handbook No1” described it as:

The Civilian Duty respirator has been designed for members of civil air raid precautions services and others who might be called upon to carry out their normal duties in the presence of gas, but who are not likely to be continuously exposed to the highest concentrations.

The civil duty respirator was issued with a canvas haversack, an anti-dimming set and an instruction leaflet:imageWe will take a closer look at the haversack next week, tonight we are concentrating on the respirator itself:imageReturning to the ARP Handbook No1, the following description was provided for the mask:

The facepiece is of stouter construction the in the case of the civilian respirator, to withstand harder wear. It is made of rubber, moulded to fit closely to the face. It is fitted with an outlet valve, imageand has a protuberance on the left cheek to which a microphone can be attached for those regularly employed of telephone work.imageThe facepiece is held in position on the face by elastic bands passing round the back of the head. These can be adjusted for fit and comfort by means of buckles.imageThe rubber of the facepiece fits tightly round the end of the container and is secured by means of a metal band, or, in earlier examples, by cord.

The eyepieces are made of strong plain glass discs fitted into metal rims, and are removable by unscrewing for decontamination purposes. imageThere were three different patterns of canister on these masks, the MK I was made of waterproofed cardboard with metal ends. The MK II was identical but made entirely from metal. The third pattern is the one one this mask:imageC.D. Mark III: an improved and slightly larger container, which is in fact identical with the container of the civilian respirator except that the charcoal in it has a higher degree of activation. The main effect of this difference is that the container can absorb more gas before becoming saturated- i.e. That it’s effective life in use is longer. In this container the inlet valve is at the inner end, and can itself be disinfected, so that no absorbent pad is required as in the case of the Mark I and II patterns.imageThe Mark III container is distinguished from the civilian respirator container by having a red band round the black lacquered body.

This example of the civilian duty respirator is stamped with a date of manufacture, here December 1941:imageThis design of respirator continued in service with the Civil Defence into the post war period and was used throughout the 1950s and into the 60s. Of the three main designs of early war respirator (Civilian, Civilian Duty and Service), it is probably the least recognised, but served for decades, thankfully never for real.

Shell Dressing Haversack

The shell dressing haversack was a small webbing satchel issued to troops to carry shell dressings in in the field to allow stretcher bearers to perform first aid on casualties before they were passed back down the line to the Royal Army Medical Corps. These bags had originated in the First World War, where the edges had been bound in leather and the securing straps made of leather with brass buckles. By the Second World War this design had been updated to a completely web based design:imageThe satchel is a simple design, with a pair of weather flaps and a box type top flap to protect the shell dressings from the elements:imageThe lid itself is secured with two web straps and a pair of brass Twigg buckles:imageAlthough the main body of the bag is made of woven cotton webbing, the carry strap is of a lighter weave, sewn to the rear of the haversack:imageA brass buckle allows the length of the strap to be adjusted, in the same manner as the respirator haversacks of the period:imageThe front of the haversack has a large red Geneva cross on a white circle to indicate that the contents are for medical use:imageThe designation “Shell Dressings” is stencilled on the front, together with the number ‘2’:imageThe markings inside indicate that this haversack was made by M&Co in 1942:imageThe haversack would hold a dozen of the standard shell dressings and can be seen being carried in the field by medical personnel:imageThese packs lasted in service for decades and even today they lurk in various reservist units as a haversack for general first aid supplies during exercises.

I do not currently have enough shell dressings to fill this pack, however it does serve as a useful place to keep all my other medical related equipment.

Insecticide Sprayer Box

Tonight’s item is in desperate need of restoration and is in very poor condition, however it is a very interesting object so I am including it now, before I replace the rusted metal and repaint the exterior which will of course obliterate the remains of the original marking. At first glance this wooden box looks like an ammunition box:imageIt has the same wooden and metal construction as the H51 case we looked at here. It is however longer and was originally used for carrying individual insecticide sprayers. The box is made of thin plywood, with metal reinforcing strips around all the edges. The lid is a separate piece and is secured with a pair of wire spring clips at each end:imageA folding metal handle is included for carrying the case:imageThe markings on the front of the box are very worn:imageAn example in better condition shows how it should read:imageFrom this we can see it held 234 individual insecticide sprayers in packs of three. Volume 2 of the Official History of Special Weapons and Types of Warfare gives a description of what these sprayers consisted of:

The individual “sparklet” was a small aerosol sprayer similar to a soda water sparklet bulb. The content consisted of ‘anti-mosquito spray’ with carbon dioxide to provide the pressure; it was sufficient to deal with 1000 cu.ft. Of confined space such as weapons pits or tents. It was operated by a metal break off top, in appearance somewhat like an empty .22 cartridge case. The content was ejected in the form of a fine mist which diffused quickly, with an immediately lethal but local effect. The majority of “sparklets” were manufactured in the United Kingdom, but a few firms in the U.S.A. made some on our behalf, although they were not an item of U.S.A. equipment. (In 1944/45 some 32 million were produced in the United Kingdom, the majority in 1945, and some 8 million provided from the USA)

The lid of the box gives instructions on how to store the sprayers correctly:imageThe RASC were warned to keep the box cool and away from direct sunlight.

The base of the box indicates who manufactured the sprayers:imageThis appears to read ‘Luralda Ltd, 1945’.

This box is obviously very badly damaged and so needs repairs and a complete repaint, once this has been done it will be a nice addition to my jungle collection.

White Metal Kit Bag D-Ring

Lurking in junk boxes and old tool chests, the brass kitbag D Ring is a very common piece of militaria and having a number of them I have pretty much stopped picking them up. Much harder to find however are examples in white metal and so I was very pleased to add this example to my collection a few weeks back:imageBrass was a strategic resource in the Second World War and its use was prioritised for key items such as shell casings. Other less strategic brass items such as cap badges and kitbag locks were made from alternative materials. In the case of cap badges plastic was used and for kitbag D-Rings a white metal was substituted.

This piece is made from the alternative metal, probably steel, but in design is similar to the older pieces. The swinging arm is hinged using a pin:imageWhilst at the opposite end a hole is cut to allow a padlock to be used to secure the kitbag:imageThis particular kit bag D Ring is very square in shape, presumably to act as a more comfortable handle when on the kitbag. There was actually a large variety in the shape of these d-rings as seen here when seen alongside a couple of brass examples:imageIn this image of a returning soldier, the kitbag d-ring can just be made out at the neck of his kitbag:FullSizeRender

Identity Cards Book Review

Over the last few years I have reviewed three of the four books published in the series ‘Within the Island Fortress’ by Jon Mills. Recently I have acquired the missing volume in the set and so tonight I am looking at Volume 2 “Identity Cards, Permits and Passes”.SKM_C30819032807520The British government issued a myriad of different identity documents to British civilians, military personnel and civil defence workers. Further documents were provided for those from allied countries and exiled military personnel. Many of these documents have survived to the present day and this book provides a comprehensive guide to them. The book covers both the common and mundane as well as the more obscure pieces that are highly unlikely to come into a collector’s hands. As well as covering the documents themselves, the author explains much of the internal administrative process of recording the details of an entire nation and simple information such as what the letter codes on civilian identity cards mean is covered- something highly interesting and not to be found in many other publications.SKM_C30819032807531Unlike the other books in this series, this volume is mainly illustrated with copies of the identity documents themselves. These are reproduced in clear colour images and are all easily readable, this is part of the strength of the volume as it allows the reader to closely examine documents that are usually at best a blurry part of a larger photograph. Many of these documents were very short lived and it is remarkable how many examples have been brought together to illustrate this book. Many have the word ‘sample’ stamped across them, so I suspect they came from official archives and might be the only examples of these documents known to exist today.SKM_C30819032807532It is fair to say that identity cards and permits are a niche collecting area, however even if you are not a collector of these documents I do not hesitate to recommend this volume. For those with an interest in the home front this books provides a unique insight into a crucial but often overlooked aspect of the government’s increasing encroachment into people’s lives during the war and for the living historian this book is invaluable in ensuring you have the correct paperwork for your impression. SKM_C30819032807530Copies of the book are still available directly from the author and it is well worth picking up one for your reference library.