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Weapons and Munitions

Rifle, Enfield

The No.4, Mk1 rifle, a continuation of the series of Lee-Enfield (and earlier Lee-Metford) pattern rifles dating back to 1888, was adopted by Great Britain in 1939, and by Canada shortly thereafter.  It was the primary service rifle for British and Canadian forces in Northwest Europe, and represents a simplified, lightened, and modernized evolution of the SMLE (Short Magazine, Lee-Enfield) No. 1, Mk III that the British Empire had fought through World War One with (and continued to produce in the UK until 1943). 

The No.4, Mk1* began production in Canada at the Long Branch Arsenal in Ontario from 1942, as well as contracted US production from Savage.  The No.4, Mk1* was a simplified (but full equal) variation of the No.4, Mk1, and involved only minor changes, such as changing the bolt removal procedure.

The No.4, Mk1 and No.4, Mk1* can be considered fully equivalent, and both were issued without much regard to standardization within a unit.  Nor was any attempt made to standardize nationality of production – while 1CanPara arrived in the UK in 1943 with all Long Branch production rifles, resupply was made from any stocks available within UK supply channels.  Approximately two million No.4 rifles (Mk1, Mk1*, and a sniper variant called the No.4(T)) were made in North America alone, and over one million more in the UK.

The No.4, Mk1 shared the basic mechanical system and performance of the earlier No. 1, Mk III, even though very few parts were actually interchangeable.  These rifles, due to their design and ammunition capacity, were capable of extremely high effective rates of fire, and were equipped with sights that were phenomenally precise by European military standards (even those No.4, Mk1 and Mk1* rifles equipped with simplified “L” two position rear sights in lieu of the more complex and adjustable sights found on many of these rifles).  This exceptional accuracy, combined with the fastest turn bolt action of any military rifle (the design reduced the turning angle and reduced the effort needed to unlock the bolt, both speeding up fie significantly), and the ten round magazine (twice that of almost all other military bolt action rifles), did occasionally result in enemy units overestimating the size of the force they faced, because the rate of effective fire they faced falsely indicated a larger element or one equipped with more machineguns than they actually faced.

The No.4, Mk1 family of rifles have ten round detachable magazines (although they were normally loaded via five round “chargers” – i.e., “stripper clips”, in American terminology).  Twenty chargers would be packed into a cloth bandolier, two chargers per pocket, and the basic ammunition load for each rifleman was two bandoliers.  The magazines were normally only dismounted for cleaning. The normal method of carrying spare ammunition was to sling the bandoliers. 

Caliber                                        .303 British Service, Mk7z service ball

Projectile and Performance    174 grain FMJ spritzer at 2440 fps

Length                                         44.5”

Barrel                                          25.2”

Empty Weight                            8.8 lbs

Magazine                                    Detachable box, 10 rounds

Action                                          Rear locking manual turn bolt

In contrast to earlier British rifles (and general world practice at the time), the No.4 does not use a “knife” or a “sword” pattern bayonet.  It uses a simple, short, spike.  It was felt this was sufficient, given World War One battle experiences, and the entrenching tool handle introduced between the wars incorporated a fitting that could accept this bayonet for use as a mine probe – because of this secondary usage, even personnel like junior officers and machine gunners who would not have a rifle were issued the bayonet.

Rifle, Cartridge

The Mk.7z .303 British service rifle round was, on paper, equivalent to other nation’s “full power” (7mm – 8mm) service cartridges, but had a few interesting features: 

First, dating back to 1888 (the original rounds were loaded with black powder, in anticipation of switching to the new smokeless powders (it was the change in fouling characteristics and velocity from the new smokeless powders that drove the adoption of the new rifling pattern that changed the original Lee-Metford rifles into the new pattern of rifling that gave the family it’s ubiquitous name of Lee-Enfield) the cartridge case predates the development of rimless cartridges, and the rim created no end of headaches in designing magazines that could reliably feed it.  However, designers did manage to develop appropriate magazines, and the soldiers fighting with this round rarely had any problems with “rimlock” (where the rim of a round is hooked by the rim of the next round down, jamming it in place).

Secondly, the British military understood that, with a bullet of this small size, the maximum wounding effect without using expanding ammunition banned by the Hague Conventions would be to cause rapid and dramatic yawing (“tumbling”, to use the common, but inaccurate, terminology) on impact with a liquid target media – and flesh is a liquid media to ballisticians.  The easiest way to do this

in a fully jacketed, and Hague-compliant, round is to balance the bullet so the center of gravity (CG) is as far aft as possible.  This was achieved in the Mk.7z round by having a two part bullet core under the jacket material, with the forward portion made of lower density (such as aluminum) than the lead core at the base.

Thirdly, while .303 rounds were loaded with both ball and flake powder (two of the most common forms of smokeless powder even today), the normal British and Canadian loading was Cordite (developed in 1889 to replace the original black powder .303 loadings) – which, contrary to movies and literature, is not merely another word for gunpowder, or even smokeless powder.  Cordite is a specific form of propellant, produced by extruding a paste made of primarily nitroglycerine and nitrocellulose (“guncotton”) into amber sticks that look much like dried spaghetti.

Sub-Machine Gun, Sten Mk. V

Shortly before World War Two began, the British government suddenly decided it needed submachine guns (or as they called them, “machine carbines” – that being their conception of their use), after years of delay.  Luckily for them, they weren’t terribly restrained by caliber selection, as the standard British service pistol cartridges were rimmed (for revolvers) and thus ill-suited for use in a submachine gun (see “rimlock”, in the discussion of the .303 round of the No. 4 rifle, above).  They adopted the Thompson M1928, a finely crafted, reliable, and powerful (in the US .45 ACP cartridge, which the British had experience with in limited numbers).  Unfortunately, these guns also cost the Crown $100 (US) apiece, even at Lend-Lease

However, the British government did have a store of almost 1,000,000 rounds of captured enemy 9x19mm Parabellum ammunition, and no guns to fire it.  Additionally, they had multiple examples of captured enemy submachine guns to copy.  The gun they settled on was the German MP28, a direct descendant of the first practical submachine gun used in combat.  The resulting Lanchester was an almost direct copy of the MP28 internally (including limited parts interchangeability), but with a few variations, such as a brass magazine well (for the RN, to minimize corrosion) and the use of British SMLE stocks and bayonets.

The Army quickly realized that this was cheaper than the Thompson (which they could not buy enough of nor fast enough to meet their overall needs for submachine guns), but still too expensive for the mass numbers the Army needed.  So, a small team at the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield, set out to simplify it – the Sten, named after the initials for Major Sherperd and Mr. Turpin (the primary designers) and “EN”, for Enfield.

The Sten gun is an unlocked blowback (meaning the only thing holding the breech closed long enough for pressures to drop to a safe level is the inertia of the relatively heavy bolt), selective fire (it can fire single shots or fully automatically, based on the selector – or “rate change” – setting), air cooled (which means, truly, not cooled at all), submachine gun firing from the open bolt (the bolt is locked in the rear position, leaving the chamber empty and allowing air to blow through until the trigger is pulled, releasing it to slam forward, chamber a round, and fire as it closes).  The Sten was simplified further into the Mk. II, and then to the Mk. III (which was perhaps, too simple and fragile, for all that it cost the government less than $10 US to make).  Soldiers disliked the Sten (particularly the Mk. III), despite it actually being a rather nice submachine gun – it looked “junky”, lacking the fine sights, machining, and wood that soldiers associated with fine weapons like their beloved Lee-Enfield pattern rifles and Bren machine guns.

Thus, the Mk. V Sten was born.  A Mk. II, slightly modified to look better, with a wooden stock, an added pistol grip, and the front sight assembly from a No. 4 rifle mounted to the barrel (previous Stens mounted the front sight on the receiver).  It also had its barrel machined so it could accept the No. 4 rifle’s spike bayonet.  However, it was mechanically, just a very slightly modified Mk. II (other than minor changes to keep the barrel from rotating so the sights stayed straight, and sliding the trigger group 1.2” forward to accommodate the pistol grip, they are identical).  Almost by happenstance, the addition of the wooden stock and pistol grip improved the balance and handling of the weapon.  The Mk. V Sten was ready for issue by D-Day, at least for airborne units such as 1CanPara, and it was the standard submachine gun issued throughout the Battalion during its combat history.

Caliber                                           9x19mm Parabellum, Mk2z service ball

Projectile and Performance       115 grain FMJ at 1440 fps

Length                                           30”

Barrel                                             7.7”

Empty Weight                               8.5 lbs

Magazine                                      Detachable box, 32 rounds

Action                                            Unlocked blowback, open bolt, selective fire

Cyclic Rate of Fire                        Approximately 550 rpm

The Sten gun did have some weaknesses.  Primarily, the quality control on the magazines.  While German MP28 magazines still fit (and worked perfectly), British produced magazines often had feeding issues, almost entirely due to improper heat treatment of the feed lips by inexperienced manufacturers, leading to bent feed lips and feeding failures – a Sten gun with bad feed lips was merely dead weight and an inadequate club, but a Sten with a good magazine was a flawless as any submachine gun it may face in battle.  Additionally, the MP28 magazine pattern was an older style, with a “one position” feeding system (amusingly enough, the Thompson, which had an even older magazine, had the far superior two position feed system).  What this meant was that in order to load more than about ten rounds into a Sten magazine, a loading tool was essential, not merely desirable.  The magazine issues also led many soldiers to load only 28 – 30 rounds into what was nominally a 32 round magazine. 

Junior officers, senior NCOs, and the Section Commander of rifle sections, were normally issued Sten guns in 1CanPara, officially.  However, the British Parachute Rifle Battalion War Establishment included enough “unassigned” Sten guns to replace up to half the rifles within the Battalion with Sten guns, if the commander so desired, so they were quite commonly found being carried by privates as well (which is why the Parachute Rifle Section also included a No. 4(T) sniper rifle, to offset the loss of long range rifle fire.)  The Sten is also associated with one of the very few pieces of gear that truly was “Airborne issue only” – the seven magazine bandolier.  Whilst non-airborne soldiers had to cram their magazines into their Universal (AKA “Basic”) pouches on their webbing, the airborne soldiers generally had his pouches full of ammunition for the heavy weapons.  Thus, the Sten bandolier was created, specifically for the Airborne.

Second pattern Sten bandolier for seven magazines, one of the few pieces of kit that truly was “Airborne issue only”.  Non-airborne soldiers issued Stens had to make do with jamming magazines into their Universal (“Basic”) pouches on their belts. (Image from

PIstol, Inglis Browning

When the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was formed, it was decided to issue each NCO and officer in the Battalion a sidearm.  At the time the standard Canadian sidearm was an American Smith & Wesson revolver chambered in the British .380/200 service pistol cartridge.  However, Canada had issued the American M1911 during World War One, and many of these pistols were still in stores.  As paratroopers were “elite”, and originally they would have had a high percentage of Thompson submachineguns in the same .45 ACP cartridge, issuing the paratroopers M1911s from the limited stocks made sense.  By the time 1CanPara got to England, they had exchanged their Thompsons for 9mm Stens long ago.  Additionally, they were fighting as part of the British 6th Airborne Division, which still issued the Enfield revolvers in .380/200.  So now, there were four small arms calibers for supply to contend with at the battalion level - .303 and 9mm Parabellum in every unit, .380/200 (in all but 1CanPara), and .45 ACP (only in 1CanPara).

In 1940, as Belgium was being overrun, Britain traced a copy of the plans for the FN GP35 (AKA Browning HiPower), and these plas plus a selection of prewar pistols to be reverse engineered were evacuated to the Inglis plant in Canada, who continued to make them for Allied governments.  The initial Inglis version was the No.1, Mk.1*, which had an elaborate tangent sight and a slot cut in the grip to accommodate a detachable buttstock.  This was the standard configuration for the Republic of China, but some were issued to Allied forces as well.  Later, a version designated as the No.2, Mk.1, with a simplified rear sight (however, the same front sight was retained, necessitating the “hump” under the rear sight, a key identification feature distinguishing the No.2, Mk.1 from FN produced pistols) and no stock slot was produced.  In late 1944, the No.2, Mk.1 was adopted as standard by the Canadian military and select units of the British Army (such as airborne units) – changeover from the previous issue of M1911s within the British 6th Airborne Division began during the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944 and early 1945.  By the time 1CanPara jumped across the Rhine in Operation VARSITY in March 1945, the changeover

Inglis No.2, Mk.1 (Image from

within the Battalion was complete.  This simplified the ammunition situation, as there were now only two calibers of small arms ammunition within the Rifle Battalions – 9mm and .303.

Caliber                                      9x19mm Parabellum, Mk2z service ball

Projectile and Performance  115 grain FMJ at 1300 fps

Length                                      7.34”

Barrel                                        6.64”

Empty Weight                          2 lbs

Magazine                                 Detachable box, 13 rounds

Action                                       Recoil operated, single action semiauto

Machine Gun, Bren

In 1930, the British Army decided to upgrade from their World War One vintage Lewis LMGs to a more modern design, and they began a testing and evaluation of several of the most modern light machineguns available.  The various competitors were run through an iterative and grueling evaluation program that finished in 1934, and the design they settled on was the Czech Zb26, provided the Czechs could properly modify it from its standard 7.92x57mm Mauser cartridge to the British .303 and make a few other alterations.  The new LMG was titled the Bren, from Brno (the Czech city the Zb26 was designed in) and Enfield (for the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield), where initial production occurred.  Brens were also produced in Canada.

The Mk.1 is the first version, with an elaborate dial type sight, telescope mount, a monopod grip under the butt, and other refinements.  The Mk.2 is a simplified version that drops these frills to speed up production, without sacrificing the characteristics that made the Bren the finest full power LMG ever built.  A later Mk.3 version was a lightened Mk.2 with a slightly shorter barrel.

The Bren is a gas operated, selective fire, quick change barrel, magazine fed, air cooled machinegun that was issued one per ten man rifle section in the infantry.  Most of the section carried spare ammunition for the Bren, but half the total ammunition load of 25 magazines (700 rounds – gunners normally only loaded 28 rounds for reliability) was carried by the three man Gun Group (led by the section second in command). 

Bren Mk.1, with sling (Image from

Doctrine called for the seven man (including the section commander) Rifle Group and the Bren Group to alternate supporting each with fire until the Bren Group could get into a position where they could support the Rifle Group all the way to the objective.  The Bren could be mounted on a tripod for fixed position defense, to allow accurate extreme long range fire as if it were a medium machinegun like a Vickers or MG34, provided ammunition held out and the gun didn’t overheat (air cooling being somewhat more of an wishful intention than a reality, even when alternating between two barrels). 

On single shot (“Repetitive”, in British parlance), the Bren was actually so accurate that the Mk.1 had a telescope mount, and the No.32 telescope that was later adopted for snipers was actually designed for the Bren.  In fact, even in bursts, the Bren is actually too accurate to work well as a machinegun, if the gunner holds the gun as tightly as he can, as is required with most LMGs to keep them from “walking” – the proper hold is actually a little loose, to allow the gun to shake a little more and spread the rounds out into a proper sized beaten zone.

Caliber                                       .303 British Service, Mk7z service ball

Projectile and Performance   174 grain FMJ spritzer at 2440 fps

Length                                        45.5” (Mk.1), 45.6” (Mk.2)

Barrel                                          25”

Empty Weight                            22.12 lbs (Mk.1), 23.18 (MK. 2)                  Magazine                                   Detachable box, 30 rounds

                                                     (normally loaded with 28)

Action                                          Gas operated, open bolt, selective fire

Cyclic Rate of Fire                      500 rpm (Mk.1), 540 rpm (Mk.2)

A sharp gun team could maintain the Bren’s fire without noticeable pause, changing magazines and (when necessary, barrels) in the normal lulls between bursts, so that enemy troops couldn’t tell when a gun was being reloaded or changing barrels by longer pauses. Additionally, doctrine called for the Bren to normally fire at the standard rate of fire for the bolt action rifles delivering aimed fire – one single round every five seconds.  Only when a group target exposed itself would the gunner move the selector to automatic and start firing bursts.  This kept the enemy from localizing the Bren location by sound until it was too late. 

Anti Tank Projector,  PIAT

The British Army did not adopt a rocket launcher like the American Bazooka or the German Panzerschreck when they realized their Boys Antitank Rifles were ineffective against modern armor – they adopted a spigot mortar as the “Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank” (PIAT).  A spigot mortar is a reversal of the usual order of things in ordnance.  Instead of shooting a projectile out of a hollow barrel, a hollow barrel sits on a solid steel post (the spigot) and the “barrel” is blown off the spigot.  When the trigger of a PIAT is pulled, a heavy (approximately 120 lbs) spring slams a 7/8” diameter steel rod (with a firing pin tip machined into the end) forward, into the hollow tailboom of the bomb, firing a modified 10 gauge shotgun shell containing nothing but powder.  The expanding gasses from this “blank” shotgun shell throw the bomb up to 370 yards away, while the recoil simultaneously recocks (hopefully) the spring.  (Note -- If the gunner is not properly braced, most of the recoil force will hammer him, rather than recocking the spring.  Even when properly braced, the recoil is legendarily fierce.)

While the PIAT was heavy, awkward to carry, difficult to cock, and had a recoil best described as “vicious”, it was actually a very fine antitank weapon, especially in comparison to its competitors.  The range against armor (50-75 yards if maneuvering, 100 yards or so if relatively stationary) was comparable to rocket launchers such as the Bazooka and Panzerschreck, and the weight penalty was more than offset by the benefits. 

For one, the shaped charge warhead.  A shaped charge has a hollow conical space in the front of the main charge, usually lined with metal such as copper.  This focusses the charge’s force into a narrow, extremely fast, and very powerful stream of the liner material.  A charge the size of the PIAT’s warhead would focus itself into an impact area of about the

size of a dime, punching through much more armor than an identical amount of explosives without the focus.  While the shaped charge principle was in common use on both sides in World War Two, the PIAT warhead design was the finest because it had an extension off the nose to ensure that the charge detonated at the optimum distance from the armor.  The Bazooka, Panzerschreck, and Panzerfaust all lacked this feature, reducing their efficiency.  The PIAT warhead was also significantly larger than the Bazooka, and on par with the Panzerscheck.  Combined with the standoff probe in the nose, this meant that tanks that a Bazooka would have to hope to knock a track off for a mobility “kill”, a PIAT could destroy. 

Next, the lack of a rocket motor meant that the PIAT, unlike the Panzerschreck and Bazooka, could be fired from an enclosed space (like out a window) without killing the gunner from reflected backblast.  The lack of rocket motor also meant there was no smoke trail leading back to the firing position.  The spigot mortar firing system also meant the sound of firing was mostly contained within the tailboom, reducing what would have been a sharp “CRACK!” in other launching methods to a fairly dull “Thoomp” that was quieter than the sound of a tank’s own engines.

That meant there was no chance of a tank crew who was’t hit by the first PIAT shot being able to locate the PIAT launch site by eye or ear – in fact, the crew might think the explosion that missed was a random mortar round, rather than a tank hunter team.  This could let a PIAT team get off a second shot, or sneak away after a successful kill.

Last, the spigot mortar firing system meant the PIAT could be used as, well, a mortar.  In addition to the simple, flip-up rifle type sights used to engage tanks with direct fire, there was a sophisticated “High Angle” sight on the left side, behind the rear sight.  Rotate the shoulder piece 90°, set the range desired, lean the weapon back until the bubble level built into the HA sight was centered, line the white line painted along the top of the tube with the target, and fire at a stationary area target (like a house) up to 370 yards away.  Even though shaped charges aren’t as good against unarmored targets as regular high explosive, the large warhead of the PIAT meant it was a credible light mortar in terms of effect on the target.

Projectile                       3.5” Shaped Charge warhead @ 250 fps

Effective Range            100 yards (stationary tank), 370 yards (area target)

Penetration                   4” steel @ 90°

Length, Empty              39”

               Bomb              15.75”

Weight, Empty              35 lbs

               Bomb              2.5 lbs

Action                            Spigot mortar


The British Army had a variety of grenades they issued.  The ones listed here are some of the more common ones 1CanPara was issued.

No.36M, Mills Bomb           Fragmentation          27 oz          4 sec         Defensive

No.69                                    Blast                            13 oz          Impact      Offensive

No.82 Gammon Bomb      Blast                            >2 lbs         Impact      Offensive, Demolitions

No.75 Hawkins Mine         Mine                             2.25 lbs     Pressure   Antitank mine

No.77 White Phosphorus  WP                              13.5 oz       Impact       Screening, incendiary

No.80 White Phosphorus  WP                              19.5            2.5 – 4 sec Screening, incendiary

No.83 Smoke                      Smoke                         16 oz          Instant       Signal

The No.36M Mills Bomb was the latest version of the original Mills Bomb hand grenade of World War One, with a final updating to accommodate service in hot climates (the “M” after the 36 stands for Mesopotamia).  It was a fairly standard defensive fragmentation grenade, using a cast iron body with large checkering (more for grip than to try and direct fragmentation).  The fuze was similar in operation to the “mousetrap” style fuzes in the American Mk2 “Pineapple” grenade – instead of a rotating hammer, the Mills used a straight moving striker.  But to the soldier, the principle was identical – hold lever firmly down, pull pin, and throw – as the grenade leaves the hand, the lever flies off and the fuze begins burning.  At the beginning of the war, the fuzes had ten second delays to accommodate use from rifle mounted grenade projectors, but experience in France in 1940 indicated that was too long, so the delays were changed to four seconds.  A “defensive” grenade like the No.36 is one where the user is expected to throw and immediately seek cover, because it is still dangerous farther than it can be thrown – making it ideal for dug in defenders to use, as they can throw and duck.

The No.69 is a “blast” (what we would now call a “concussion”) grenade and is an “offensive” grenade – it has a body made of plastic to almost completely eliminate dangerous fragments (however, since the fuse has metal parts, such as a heavy ball bearing, there are some “fragments”), and it does its damage through blast overpressure.  That means a soldier can throw it, and not duck; this makes it ideal for use while assaulting a position.  The fuze is an impact type – unscrew the black plastic cap, and as it is thrown, a weighted cloth strip will unwind and allow the impact fuze to arm.

No.69 Grenade, with safety cap removed (Image from

The No.82 Gammon Bomb is best described as the impact fuze of a No.69 tacked to a cloth bag with an elasticized opening at the bottom.  The soldier adds as much plastic explosives as he thinks the job (whether as a thrown demolitions charge or a very large offensive grenade), up to almost two pounds of explosives.

No. 82 Gammon bomb, with safety cap screwed on (Image from

The No.75 Hawkins Mine is simply a small antitank mine, intended to sever tank tracks for a mobility “kill” (stationary tanks are fairly easy for infantry to kill).  It looks like it is made from a can of furniture polish, because it is made from metal bottles intended for such products, using the existing tooling in a civilian factory, rather than designing brand new stamping tools and jigs.  It is listed here because the British Army classified it as a grenade, despite it being a mine that would be laid, not a grenade to be thrown.

No. 77 White Phosphorus grenade, with safety cap screwed on (Image from

The No.77 is a White Phosphorus grenade, used for incendiary purposes, screening (it throws out an almost instant cloud of opaque white smoke and sometimes, antipersonnel work.  White Phosphorus is a metal that spontaneously bursts into flame on exposure to the air.  The No.77 uses a version of the same impact fuze as the No.69.  Unlike some WP grenades (such as older US designs), your average soldier could throw the No.77 significantly farther than its own blast radius.

The No.80 is a slightly larger WP grenade, used for much the same purposes as the No.77, but equipped with a “mousetrap” style fuze (like the US Mk2 “Pineapple fragmentation grenade) that has a 2.5 – 4 second delay.  Almost 50% heavier than a No.77 WP grenade, it has a larger blast radius as well.

No. 80 White Phosphorus grenade (Image from

The No.83 are a family of various color smoke grenades (the colors are yellow, blue, red and green), used primarily for signaling, but with a secondary screening role.  The fuze is another “mousetrap” fuze, but one without a perceptible delay.  The grenades will burn for 25 – 45 seconds.

No. 83 Signal Smoke grenade (Image from

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