In weekly articles, Leigh offers some information on small arms, equipment and armour.
Osprey author Leigh Neville concludes his series examining the small arms used by US forces in the Second World War. This final week he looks at the Thompson sub-machine gun, an iconic SMG that proved as popular with Hollywood and Prohibition era gangsters as it did with the US military.
The Thompson was originally envisioned as a “trench-broom” for use in clearing enemy positions during the First World War. Developed too late t...o see service, the Thompson, then known as the Annihilator, was a conventional blowback fully automatic platform chambered for the .45ACP round then in use with the issue M1911 automatic pistol. Fed from either 20 or later 30 round magazines or 50 or 100 round drums, the Thompson was soon purchased by a number of US federal agencies and the United States Marine Corps.
In 1938, on the cusp of the Second World War, the Thompson was officially adopted across all services as the M1928A1, instantly recognisable by its distinctive Cutts compensator and top mounted cocking handle. Along with US forces, the M1928A1 was issued to many Allied nations including Australian infantry and commando units (many were replaced with the lighter and more reliable 9x19mm Owen when it became available).
The weapon was popular for its firepower, particularly in urban operations, but lacked the range, penetration and kinetic effect of the M1 Garand and similar full power service rifles. It was also criticised for its weight (its wooden ‘furniture’ saw it weigh in at 5 kilograms) and price (in particular in comparison to the stamped metal Sten or M3 ‘Grease Gun’). Again, like the M1 Carbine, many of its detractors failed to appreciate that the Thompson was designed expressly as a, albeit overly heavy, short range personal defence weapon and was competent in this role.
The M1928A1 was supplemented and eventually largely replaced by the M1 and M1A1 variants which simplified the design placing the cocking handle on the right side of the weapon, dispensing with the Cutts compensator, and reducing the weapon’s weight by half a kilogram. The M1 and M1A1 became popular with US forces in Europe and although the M3 and M3A1 ‘Grease Gun’ was procured to replace the Thompson, the M1 and M1A1 soldiered on until war’s end.
Osprey author Leigh continues his new series examining the small arms used by US forces in the Second World War. This week he looks at the M1 Carbine, the semi-automatic carbine that served both the US Army and Marine Corps between 1942 and 1945.
The M1 Carbine was designed as a handy personal defense weapon for officers, radio operators, vehicle crew, glider pilots and others whose primary role was not infantry fighting. A sid...e folding stock version, the M1A1, also saw issue with US paratroopers where it was valued for its compact size and light weight. A 15 round detachable magazine was the most commonly encountered although limited numbers of a 30 round version debuted late in the war with the introduction of the selective fire variant, the M2 Carbine in 1944.
The carbine’s rimless .30 Carbine (7.62×33mm) round was designed to minimise recoil and was only effective to around 250 meters at best. Interestingly post-war studies had difficulty identifying engagements where the .30 Carbine was used beyond 50 meters- a validation of its intended role. The round itself has attracted criticism over the years as being too lightweight but there is little evidence that the caliber was insufficient when used within its limits.
A rarer variant is the M3, noteworthy for its integration of an infra-red sighting system which debuted during the Marine landings on Okinawa in 1945. The sight was bulky and reduced the range of the weapon to a mere 60 meters but proved surprisingly effective in its niche role of detecting and engaging Japanese infiltrators attempting to sneak up on US positions.
Along with the US Army and USMC, the M1 and later M2 were favourites of a range of British special operations units fighting in the Mediterranean and Western Europe. The weapon was also seen in the hands of Ord Wingate’s famous Chindits in Burma.
Osprey author Leigh begins a new series examining the small arms used by US forces in the Second World War. This week he looks at the iconic M1 Garand, the semi-automatic rifle that served the US military throughout the war and was the principal infantry weapon of the US Army and Marine Corps.
The Garand was a gas-operated, semi-automatic rifle chambered for the heavy .30-06 Springfield round (7.62x63mm) capable of theoretical accuracy out to ...more than 1000 yards. The weapon was fed from eight round clips allowing the shooter to quickly reload and fire eight rounds as quickly as he could pull the trigger. General George S Patton famously remarked that the Garand was “… the greatest battle implement ever devised.”
Semi-automatic rifles were still in their infancy as general issue infantry weapons during the Second World War with limited numbers of the German G41 and G43 seeing service along with the Russian SVT-40. The semi-automatic Garand meant that the average US infantry squad could deploy an impressive amount of firepower although whether it proved particularly battle-winning was open to question. The squad firepower, whilst enhanced by the Garand, was reduced by the squad automatic weapon- the Browning Automatic Rifle or BAR which fed not from a belt, but from a 20 round magazine.
The Marine Corps carried the older M1903 Springfield until stocks of the Garand became available mid-war. Surprisingly, some Marine veterans preferred the M1903 due to its perceived greater accuracy. A myth that developed during the war was that the distinctive ‘ping’ of the spent metal clip ejecting from the Garand had led to the death of service members as it alerted nearby enemy, a claim which does not seem to be backed up by any evidence (Aberdeen Proving Ground did however begin development of a plastic alternative).
Osprey author Leigh Neville completes his series examining the small arms used by the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) during the Vietnam War. This week he looks at the Russian DP or Degtyarev light machine gun (LMG).
The DP (commonly known as the DP27 in Russian service and type-classified as the DP28 in the West) was a 7.62x54mm magazine fed light machine gun that served as the Red Army’s standard LMG during the Second World War. ...In a similar fashion to the iconic British Lewis and Vickers-K machine guns, the DP featured a top mounted drum magazine, in the DP’s case holding 47 rounds.
Variants of the DP equipped both VC and NVA units as their standard section or squad support weapon for much of the early years of the war in Vietnam. Chinese copies of the slightly modernised DPM were supplied as were DP variants from a number of Warsaw Pact nations. The NVA and VC also used the RP-46, a belt fed version facilitated by the provision of a new heavier barrel and the more modern 7.62x39mm RPD, the precursor to the RPK, variants of which (chiefly the 5.45x39mm RPK-74) remain in service with today’s Russian Army.
Along with the DP, RP-46 and RPD, the NVA and VC also received stocks of the SGM and SG-43 Goryunov, a belt fed medium machine gun also chambered for the 7.62x54mm. The SGM was famously employed in the Battle of Long Tan with at least one recovered, complete with its wheeled mount, by Australian forces after the battle.
Osprey author Leigh Neville continues his series examining the small arms used by the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) during the Vietnam War. This week he looks at the world famous Kalashnikov or AK47 assault rifle.
The AK47 was pioneering for two reasons. It was the first mass produced assault rifle- that being a selective fire weapon chambered for a rifle calibre- and it was the first to widely employ a so-called ‘intermediate’ c...alibre round- the 7.62x39mm. Although far from a copy, Mikhail Kalashnikov, the rifle’s designer, was certainly aware of German experiments during the Second World War with assault rifles firing intermediate calibres.
The Russians had come to the same conclusions as the Germans and several Allied armies- operational research was showing that the majority of infantry firefights were occurring at ranges of 300 metres or less. Full power rifle calibres simply weren’t required. Intermediate calibres were both less punishing in terms of recoil and were lighter than their full-power cousins.
The AK47 was an instant success. Reliable, if not particularly accurate, it could continue to operate with almost zero maintenance in the most rugged environments. It was also simple to operate like its predecessor the SKS, meaning it was ideal for Soviet conscripts and guerrillas and insurgents the world over.
Large numbers of AK47s and Chinese copies- the Type 56- were supplied to North Vietnam and it proved popular amongst both Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese Army regulars. By the late 1960s, it had all but replaced the SKS and a myriad of elderly French and US sub-machine guns and rifles eve in the hands of Local Force cadres.
Osprey author Leigh Neville continues his series examining the small arms used by the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) during the Vietnam War. This week he discusses that most iconic of weapons, the venerable RPG.
Although most think the acronym stands for ‘rocket propelled grenade’, it actually relates to the Russian name of the weapon system which means "handheld anti-tank grenade launcher" (note the use of the RPG-43 grenade in the Second World War or ruchna...ya protivotankovaya granata-43). A myth has also developed that the Russians trialled an early variant of the RPG launcher in the closing days of the war. In fact it was a post-war development, incorporating the learnings from both the American Bazooka and the German Panzerschreck and Panzerfaust families.
The first RPG was the RPG-2 and, for much of the duration of war, this was the most common type encountered in the hands of the VC and NVA. Simple to operate, the RPG-2 lacked the booster of the RPG-7, curtailing its range to around 200 metres. The weapon proved popular however as few engagements were beyond this range and the RPG-2 could easily penetrate an M113 armoured personnel carrier with relative ease. Along with Chinese copies, the North Vietnamese even made their own domestic version, the B40.
By 1966, numbers of the improved RPG-7 were being delivered to North Vietnam by Russia and Warsaw Pact client states. The RPG-7 offered much greater range (thanks to the boosters used by the rockets) and armour penetration (an RPG-7 at close range is still a significant threat to lightly armoured armoured vehicles today) thanks to its 85mm PG-7 HEAT (high explosive anti-tank) warhead.
A number of Australian Centurions were disabled by RPG-7s during the latter part of the war, most famously during the Battle of Binh Ba in June 1969 where two Centurions were knocked out (compare to earlier encounters with the RPG-2 such as the May 1968 battles at Fire Base Coral where Centurions were repeatedly struck by RPG-2s, all of which failed to penetrate their armour).
Osprey author Leigh Neville starts a new series this week examining the small arms used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) during the Vietnam War. His first instalment looks at the semi-automatic 7.62x39mm SKS carbine, the predecessor to the iconic AK47.
The Simonov SKS was developed by the Soviet Union during the Second World War and began replacing the Mosin Nagant M1944 bolt action carbine in 7.62x54mm. The Soviets had examined data from their long experienc...e in infantry combat and realised that most engagements were conducted at ranges below 300 meters. The otherwise excellent full power 7.62x54mm (still used today in Russian PKM/PKP medium machine guns and the SVD family of marksman rifles) was recoil intensive and difficult to fire accurately, particularly by poorly trained conscripts who often had no firearms experience.
Instead the so-called ‘intermediate’ 7.62x39mm M43 or 7.62mm ‘short’ was developed. Effective to around 400 meters, the round was much less punishing on the shoulder and could even be fired somewhat accurately on full automatic as long as the user kept his fire to short bursts. The SKS however was semi-automatic only but was rugged and simple to operate, perfect for Soviet forces.
It featured a hinged magazine of ten rounds and a permanently affixed folding spike bayonet, a holdover from the Mosin Nagant. The Chinese and most Warsaw Pact nations produced copies of the SKS as their post-war general issue rifle although the Russians replaced the SKS with the AK47 in the early 1950s. During the Vietnam War, both Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army units were equipped with both Russian and Chinese SKS carbines although in the later stages of the war, the NVA began to replace it with the AK47 and the Chinese Type 56 copy of the Kalashnikov.
Osprey author Leigh Neville this week takes a look at another of the magnificent Naked Army cold cast 1:6 scale bronze figurines; the ‘RAR Soldier in Vietnam’, representative of the Diggers featured in the recent Australian film ‘Danger Close’ detailing the famous Battle of Long Tan. View the trailer here; https://youtu.be/AyUqZLwOo2Y
This sculpt depicts a patrolling Australian Army Digger from the early stages of the Vietnam War. He wears a mixture of US issue M56 and Australian Pattern 1908 and Pattern 1937 webbing and the famous ‘Jungle Green’ uniform with ‘Giggle’ hat (officially the ‘Hat Utility, Jungle Green’ but known as the ‘Giggle Hat’- and other more derogatory terms- as it was considered faintly ridiculous in appearance by the Diggers).
He carries the 7.62x51mm L1A1 produced at Lithgow under licence from Belgian firm Fabrique Nationale. The L1A1, or SLR (Self-Loading Rifle) as it was better known, was the standard issue rifle until it was replacing the F88 Steyr in the late 1980s. He also carries a 200 round belt of ‘link’ for the section machine gun, the M60. With typical innovation, he carries the ‘link’ in a homemade rubber sleeve to keep it clear of dirt and debris whilst patrolling.
Almost 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam from 1962 to 1973. 428 Australian soldiers were killed during the conflict with greater than 3000 wounded. Australia’s initial contribution was the famous Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) of military advisers to the South Vietnamese but the AATTV was soon followed by soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) in 1965.
The 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) was established the following year bringing together a range of units including armour around two to three rotational infantry battalions until the eventual drawdown of the majority of the Australian Army commitment in 1971.
Osprey author Leigh Neville takes a look at the most iconic of the German Panzers in this final instalment of his series on WW2 German armoured fighting vehicles, the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausf. H1.
The Tiger Ausf. H1 debuted on the Eastern Front in mid-1942 and fought in all theatres right up until the final battles for Germany. Until the introduction of the ill-fated Tiger II late in the war, the 56-ton Tiger was the heaviest tank deployed by German forces. Its armour was impressive, capable of withstanding direct hits to the frontal arc from even Russian 85mm guns. Russian T-34s and Allied Shermans were forced to attempt to flank the Tiger and engage its (slightly) weaker side and rear armour.
Only during the latter war period did the Russians employ the ‘beast killer’, the ISU-152 which could penetrate the frontal plate of a Tiger out to 1000 meters. The Western allies relied upon the 17 pounder anti-tank gun which was also mounted in the Firefly, a worthy opponent to the Tiger in armament at least.
The Tiger’s L/56 88mm main gun could destroy any and all opponents, and from impressive range. With such heavy armour and gun, the Tiger was slower than the Panther and less maneuverable than the far more common Panzer IV. It required significant maintenance and was notorious for having to be moved to the front by rail as long road marches usually ended in breakdowns (and Allied air attacks!).
Its reputation however far outshone the relatively modest 1347 produced. To Allied tankers and infantrymen in Europe, every German Panzer became a ‘Tiger’. Whilst the alleged phenomenon of ‘Tiger Fear’ has been greatly exaggerated over the years, it seems true that Allied soldiers were more fearful of the Tiger and its “88” than of any other Panzer.
For a look at a real Tiger in (simulated) action, watch the Hollywood film ‘Fury’ which features Tiger 131, the last fully operational Tiger in existence and kindly loaned to the filmmakers by the Bovington Tank Museum in the UK.
King & Country’s Tiger, www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCWS352, represents none other than the infamous Michael Wittmann, then a Untersturmfuhrer (Second Lieutenant) on the Eastern Front. This Tiger, 1331, served during the Battle of Kursk with Wittmann and his crew eventually credited with 30 T-34/76 and KV-1 kills and 28 ZIS anti-tank guns.
This week, Osprey author Leigh Neville, in his series on WW2 German armoured fighting vehicles, examines one of the most well-known of the German Panzers, the Panzerkampfwagen V or Panther.
The Panther was the product of hard-won experience on the Eastern Front against the Russian T-34/76 which was faster, more maneuverable and featured angled frontal armour that, with a little luck, could withstand hits from the common 75mm L/48 of the Panzer IV. The Panther itself featured angled frontal plate and the excellent high velocity 75mm L/70. In fact, the arrival of the Panther also directly influenced the Red Army’s development of the T-34/85, up-gunning the standard 76mm gun to an 85mm.
One of the Panther’s first combat deployments was at the Battle of Kursk where it fought well although hampered by mechanical breakdowns (it has been reported only 40 of the 196 Panthers committed to the battle actually saw combat due to the number of breakdowns). For most of its operational life, the Panther suffered reliability problems with the primary culprit being the drivetrain. Better quality steel solved the problem to a degree but the drivetrain’s relatively short life expectancy still proved a challenge.
Three core variants were produced, the Ausf. D, the Ausf. A, and the Ausf. G. The most common variant which faced Allied forces after the Normandy landings was the Ausf. A with the final design, the G, first seeing significant action during the Ardennes offensive. The Panther proved lethal to Allied tanks like the Sherman and Cromwell but many fell prey to the excellent British 17 pounder anti-tank gun which became both feared and respected by Panther crews.
Many historians view the Panther as one of the best tanks of the war with a near ideal mix of armour, firepower and mobility although, as noted, its reliability left something to be desired. In fact it was better armoured and faster than the iconic Tiger. Importantly the Panther also offered the best situational awareness of any German tank with excellent optics, rangefinder and vision ports. In tank engagements, the Panther crew could often spot opposing T-34s or Shermans and engage at extended range before their enemy knew what was happening.
King & Country offer a beautiful Panther Ausf. G resplendent in “Hinterhalt-Tarnung” or “Ambush” pattern camouflage, designed after Normandy to better conceal the Panther from the air. It represents a Panther Ausf. G of the 2nd SS Panzer Regiment of the infamous 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich”