Leigh Neville's Articles

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Leigh Neville's Articles

In weekly articles, Leigh offers some information on small arms, equipment and armour.


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Australian RAR in Vietnam

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.

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Wittmann's First Tiger

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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.

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Panther Ausf. G

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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”

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StuG III

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This week, Osprey author Leigh Neville, in his new series on WW2 German armoured fighting vehicles, looks at the iconic Sturmgeschütz 40 Ausf F/8, better known as the StuG III.

Based on the Panzer III tank, the StuG was the German Army’s preeminent assault gun. Perhaps surprisingly, the StuG initially equipped especially raised artillery batteries rather than the armoured or infantry corps. Designed not to tangle with tanks but to provide high explosive support for infantry units as they assaulted towns, villages and bunker complexes, the StuG went through a number of variants during the war.

During the Blitzkrieg and the early part of Barbarossa into Russia, the short barrel, low velocity 75mm L/24 was the most common. After encountering Red Army T-34/76s and KV-1s and coming off second-best, the StuG was retrofitted with longer barrel L/43 and L/48 guns, the same armament mounted on the Panzer IV.

Its first real use as an anti-tank platform came with the Finns in 1943 who employed a small number against the Red Army to great effect. Increasingly the harried German Army also employed the StuG against enemy tanks, necessitating the development of an infantry support version, the Sturmhaubitze 42 or StuH 42, mounting a 105mm howitzer.

Infamously, the StuG was used by German forces in the Battle of the Bulge disguised as American armour. Five Panther Vs and five StuGs, along with a number of 251 Hanomag half-tracks, were operated by a special unit under Otto Skorzeny for Operation Greif, an ambitious but ultimately flawed plan to infiltrate American lines and cause havoc in the rear areas.

More than 11,000 StuGs of all variants were produced during the war. Incredibly the StuG soldiered on in a number of Middle Eastern conflicts in the 1950s with a number deployed by the Syrian Army during the Six Day War as static bunkers. It also remained in Finnish service right up into the 1960s.

King & Country offer a distinctive winter finish StuG with Zimmerit paste to counter magnetic mines, spare road wheels, and tank commander, designed for the Bulge but eminently useful for the Eastern Front or European winter battles in 1944 and 1945.

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Jagdpanzer IV

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Built between January and November 1944, a total of 769 vehicles were produced in both L/48 and L/70 variants. The Jagdpanzer followed the design principles of the iconic Sturmgeschütz or StuG assault gun with its main gun mounted in a fixed casemate on the hull rather than in the more usual turret. This limited its traverse (the whole vehicle having to turn to lay its sights on a flanking enemy) but allowed a compact, low profile shape that suited its role well.

The Jagdpanzer was never intended to slug it out in open combat with enemy tanks but to operate more like an anti-tank gun on tracks, firing from prepared, camouflaged hides before rapidly withdrawing to its next hiding place. Its reduced profile, speed and firepower was perfect for its intended role. As the war progressed however, the Jagdpanzer was sometimes pressed into service as an infantry support gun in much the same way as the StuG.

The first version of the Jagdpanzer IV was equipped with the 75mm L48, only later was it equipped with the longer barrel L/70 to aid in dispatching heavy Soviet armour although even this potent mix could not scratch the heaviest of Soviet tanks like the Josef Stalin IS-2. The L/70 increased both range and velocity at the expense of a longer profile. Intriguingly, the vehicle was equipped with a muzzle brake but this was sometimes removed in the field as it betrayed the vehicle’s position upon firing as it kicked up large amounts of dust.

Jagdpanzers first served in Hungary and Italy and later on the Eastern Front, particularly in the battles in the German heartland. A relatively small number served in Normandy and the battle for France with both Panzer and Waffen SS units, including the infamous Hitlerjugend, however these acquainted themselves well, proving quiet the match for Allied Shermans.

King & Country offer a beautiful winter finish Jagdpanzer IV L/48, complete with Zimmerit paste to counter magnetic mines, stowage and tank commander www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCBBG119

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SLR

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Osprey author Leigh Neville this week examines the iconic Belgian designed L1A1 Self Loading Rifle, better known simply as the SLR by ANZAC forces in Vietnam as featured in King & Country’s Vietnam ANZACs range.

The SLR replaced the equally iconic “303” or Lee Enfield SMLE No.1 MkIII chambered for the .303 cartridge also used in the Bren LMG and the Vickers MMG. The SLR came into Australian service after the Korean War in 1959, the SLR being for all intents and purposes (including its eventual designation) a copy of the British L1A1. Both rifles were semi-automatic variants of the Belgian Fabrique Nationale designed FAL which offered selective fire.

Interestingly both the Brits and Aussies saw a full auto setting on a large calibre (7.62x51mm) battle rifle as being rather a waste of ammunition and barrels as accuracy was quickly lost due to the meaty recoil of the weapon. Full automatic fire was supposed to be provided by an automatic rifle variant, the L2A1, although in reality this role was fulfilled by the American M60 MMG with Australian forces in Vietnam.

One Australian unit, the Special Air Service Regiment or SASR, did use the L2A1 along with modified L1A1s, chopping barrels down and converting the L1A1s to full auto for use by their patrol scouts. The thinking was that, operating in small five man teams, the SASR patrols did not want to get into a firefight with a larger sized enemy force and thus wanted to break contact as quickly as possible. The full auto L1A1s and A2s provided an impressive amount of noise, often fooling the opposition into thinking they had run into a much larger Australian force and allowing the SASR patrols to safely break contact and escape.

The rifle was generally liked by Diggers who appreciated its reliability and penetrative capabilities although perhaps not its weight (almost 4.5 kilograms unloaded). The SLR served right up into the 1990s, although as noted in an earlier article, it had been supplemented by the 5.56x45mm M16A1 in the infantry section. The L1A1 was eventually retired from 1988 as the 5.56x45mm F88 Steyr was brought into service. Heated arguments still rage in corners of the internet on the pros and cons of the 7.62x51mm versus the 5.56x45mm although the latter has become a very reliable and lethal round in its own right.

The L1A1 is carried by a number of miniatures within King & Country’s ANZACs range including;

https://www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCVN031

https://www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCVN067

slr_2

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Browning GP35

 

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Osprey author Leigh Neville this week examines the use of the Belgian designed L9A1 pistol, better known as the Browning GP35 or Hi Power by Australian forces in Vietnam as featured in King & Country’s Vietnam ANZACs range.

The 9x19mm Self Loading Pistol, L9A1, was the sidearm issued to Australian officers, armoured crew, and aircrew as a personal self defense weapon during the Vietnam War. The issue of pistols was designed to equip the individual with a handy compact weapon for those whom a rifle was too unwieldy. Many officers and signallers preferred however to carry a rifle as a visible pistol holster was a sure sign for an enemy sniper.

The L9A1 was appreciated for two main factors- its reliability and its 13 round magazine. Magazine capacities at the time were typically seven or eight rounds meaning the Browning almost doubled the firepower on hand in a similar sized design to its contemporaries- then the Walther P38 and Colt M1911. Units such as the British SAS and Australian SASR used the Browning as their standard sidearm right up until the late 1980s and into the 1990s (where it was replaced respectively by the SIG-Sauer P226 and the Heckler and Koch USP)

The pistol shared its L9A1 designation with the British Army who retired their Brownings in 2013 for the more modern Glock 17. The L9A1 continues to serve as the general issue sidearm of the Australian Army right up to today, despite production ceasing at FN Herstal in 2017. Most in-service Australian Army examples date from the 1980s although many have been rebuilt and re-barrelled.

Replacement of the Australian L9A1 has been discussed many times over the years but remains a low priority. Under the Army’s current Lethality programme, a new defensive pistol is slated for adoption within the decade- likely the 9x19mm SIG-Sauer M320 as adopted by the US military or a variant of the tried and tested Glock 17.

Intriguingly, in trials carried out by the Special Air Service Regiment several years ago, a stock L9A1 Browning was tested against a number of more modern designs including a Glock equipped with a mini red dot sight. The L9A1 didn’t come out on top but placed a respectable second showing that the core design by John Browning, first produced in 1935, could still hold its own.

The L9A1 is carried by two Australian armoured vehicle crew in King & Country’s ANZACs range;

https://www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCVN063

https://www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCVN066

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M60 Medium Machine Gun

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Osprey author Leigh Neville this week examines the use of the American M60 medium machine gun amongst Australian forces in Vietnam as featured in King & Country’s Vietnam ANZACs range.

The 7.62x51mm M60 is another iconic small arm forever associated with the Vietnam War, largely thanks to Hollywood depictions of its use in such films as Full Metal Jacket and Platoon. It was widely employed by both US and Australian forces in both vehicle mounted (including by doorgunners in the equally iconic Huey helicopter) and infantry roles.

The M60 is a belt-fed, gas-operated open bolt design capable of a cyclic rate of 550 rounds per minute (the cyclic rate calculated by the number of rounds the weapon could conceivably fire if fed a continuous belt of ammunition).

Whilst heavy at over 10 kilograms (not including its bulky bipod), the weapon was generally well-liked due to its casualty producing capability.

The big 7.62x51mm rounds increased the chance of suppressing an enemy and any hit generally resulted in the target becoming hors de combat. It also offered ammunition compatibility with the standard infantry rifle, the L1A1 SLR.

Australian infantry, who were issued one M60 per section, typically innovated in finding ways to reduce the challenges of using the weapon in the dense jungle environment.

The key cause of potential stoppages was the ammunition belt becoming fouled with dirt so the Diggers manufactured ad-hoc belt covers, reportedly from rubber tires, to keep the belts protected from the environment.

They also adopted a practice, now commonly employed by most armies, of only loading the weapon with a short belt of 25 rounds which reduced the chance of the belt snagging or becoming fouled whilst patrolling.

As soon as a contact with the enemy was initiated, the gunner would fire off the 25 rounds in the initial attempt to gain fire superiority before his assistant gunner would load a regular 50 or 100 round belt of disintegrating link.

The M60 served with the Australian Army right up until the 1980s when it was replaced by the superior Belgian Fabrique Nationale design, the MAG58, again chambered for 7.62x51mm.

The MAG58 was moved from the infantry section into direct fire support weapons platoons held at company level whilst the section machine gun role was met by another Belgian design, the 5.56x45mm Minimi, known as the F89 in Australian service.

The M60 is featured in a number of King & Country releases available from Peter Nathan Toy Soldiers;

KCVN030 Australian Patrol
http://www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCVN030

KCVN071 The Battle of Long Tan Set #1
http://www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCVN070

KCVN007 USMC Machine Gunner
http://www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCVN007

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M16 Assault Rifle

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Osprey author Leigh Neville this week examines the use of the American M16 assault rifle among Australian forces in Vietnam as featured in King & Country’s Vietnam ANZACs range.

The 5.56x45mm M16, and the later M16A1, is arguably one of the most contentious firearms in recent military history. Its direct impingement gas system resulted in a large number of stoppages when the weapon was first issued to US forces in Vietnam and a resulting undeserved reputation for poor reliability that exists to a degree to this day.

Direct impingement gas systems require regular maintenance, just like any firearm, to minimise fouling from a build-up of unburnt propellant. The M16 also required a particular type of powder that minimised this build-up. The US military, in their infinite wisdom, decided to initially issue ammunition using another type of powder altogether which actually increased build-ups and consequently stoppages (‘jams’) in the M16.

They also failed to issue proper cleaning kits and lauded the weapon as self-cleaning. Soldiers and Marines took them at their word and experienced sometimes catastrophic stoppages which saw the action seize up and the unfortunate soldier or Marine left without an operable weapon. Thankfully a new powder was adopted, the barrel was chromed to reduce wear, and cleaning kits were issued along with a comic book style maintenance manual.

The Australian Army adopted the M16A1 in 1967 for issue to scouts and section leaders, replacing the 9x19mm Owen and F1 sub-machine guns. In a period infantry section, typically three M16A1s would be issued to a ten-man section (the others equipped with the Lithgow produced 7.62x51mm L1A1 self-loading rifle or SLR, one 7.62x51mm M60 medium machine gun and one 40mm M79 grenade launcher).

The M16A1 continued in Australian service into the 1980s typically relegated to the recon/sniper platoons of the infantry battalions who favoured its lighter weight whilst most infantrymen carried the SLR until the adoption of the 5.56x45mm F88 based on the Austrian Steyr AUG bullpup in the later part of the decade.

The M16A1 is featured in a number of King & Country releases available from Peter Nathan Toy Soldiers:
KCVN051 Australian Scouting Party https://www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCVN051
KCVN071 The Battle of Long Tan Set #1 https://www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCVN071

For more information on ANZACs in Vietnam, we recommend to have a look at the Osprey Elite 103 book:
https://ospreypublishing.com/vietnam-anzacs-pb

m16a1

 

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M79 Wombat Gun

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This week, Osprey author Leigh Neville looks at the M79 "Wombat Gun’ featured in King & Country’s Vietnam ANZACs and USMC ranges.

The 40mm M79 is a single shot, break-open grenade launcher capable of engaging targets to around 375 meters. It fires a range of projectiles including high explosive (HE), high explosive dual purpose (HEDP- capable of penetrating light armour), chemical smoke and illumination rounds. In Vietnam, the M576 buckshot round, which effectively turned the M79 into a giant shotgun, proved popular in the dense jungle.

Australian infantry sections were issued the ‘Launcher Grenade, 40mm, M79’ from around 1965-66 with one per infantry section. The M79 provided an organic indirect fire capability to the infantry section and was much prized, covering the range between a hand thrown grenade and the minimum danger close range of battalion 81mm mortars. Its disadvantages included its weight (around 8 kilograms) and the fact that it hampered the grenadier from carrying a rifle although most Australians assigned the M79 also carried an SLR or M16A1.

These factors led to its eventual replacement for US forces by the M203 series of launchers which were mounted under the barrel of the M16 family of assault rifles. The M79 however soldiered on with Australian Army for many years and served in Rwanda, Somalia and East Timor before finally being
phased out in favour of an M203 attachment for the F88 Steyr.

Intriguingly the M79 has been favoured by some units, including the US Navy’s SEAL Teams, up until relatively recently as users found it far more accurate than under-barrel systems.

More commonly referred to as the ‘Thumper’ or ‘Blooper’ by US units, a number of Australian infantry units in Vietnam christened the 40mm M79 instead the ‘Wombat Gun’, apparently as the 40mm bore looked like a Wombat hole! Others have speculated that the name may have arisen with reference to the much larger 120mm L6 Wombat recoilless rifle also in Australian service.

The ‘Wombat Gun’ is featured in two King & Country releases available from Peter Nathan Toy Soldiers;
KCVN030 Australian Patrol in Vietnam
https://www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCVN032

and KCVN010 USMC Blooper.
http://www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCVN010

For more information on ANZACs in Vietnam, we recommend to have a look at the Osprey Elite 103 book:
https://ospreypublishing.com/vietnam-anzacs-pb

M79

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