Weapons

The infantrymen who defended Walberswick were armed with a variety of weapons. During 1940 the 2nd/4th South Lancashires recevied a steady supply of weapons intended to bring them up to full compliment. The principal weapons are described below.


The Lee-Enfield Rifle

 

  • The Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifle was the basic weapon of the infantry. In 1940 the men of the 2nd/4th South Lancashires were probably armed with the Short Magazine, Lee-Enfield, No.1 Mark III, or SMLE for short. The basic model had been used throughout the First World War and carries the reputation of one of the finest rifles ever made. 
  • It fired a .303-inch calibre bullet and had an effective range of 600 yards and a maximum range of 2000 yards. The magazine held ten rounds and the normal rate of fire was 5 rounds per minute, rising to 15 rounds per minute during rapid fire. 
  • The rifle could be fitted with a Cup Discharger for firing high explosive grenades and the rifle could also be fitted with a long sword bayonet of approximately 18 inches in length.

 

Lee-Enfield

British Troops defending the south coast, 1940. These men are armed with the Lee-Enfield Rifle (Imperial War Museum).

 

The Bren Light Machine Gun

 

  • The Bren Gun was a modified version of a Czechoslovak-designed light machine gun. It was first produced in 1938 and was simple, accurate and easy to fire; hence it became a popular weapon and was the mainstay of the British infantry section during the Second World War. 
  • The Bren used the same .303 calibre ammunition as the Lee-Enfield rifle and was fitted with a 30 round magazine. It had an effective range of 1000 yards and a maximum range of 2000 yards and was fired in single shots or short bursts. 
  • A two-man crew normally operated the Bren, one man to fire and the other to reload and change the gun barrel, the latter being prone to overheating when in sustained use. One Bren gun was allocated to each section and all men in the section shared the task of carrying its ammunition.

 

Bren Gun

The Bren Gun in operation (Imperial War Museum)


Bren Gun

The combination of rifle and Bren gun can be seen clearly, as can the rather ad hoc trenches and fire positions. These photos are very much staged but they still give a good visual impression of the British 'Tommy' charged with defending the coast.  (Imperial War Museum)
 

 The Boys Anti-Tank Rifle

 

  • This cumbersome weapon with a fearful kick was the standard British infantry anti-tank weapon at the beginning of the Second World War. It fired a .55 inch calibre armour piercing bullet which was capable of penetrating 21mm of armour at 300 yards.
  • Such was the rate of change in tank and vehicle design during the war that the Boys rifle rapidly became obsolete and it was replaced in 1942 by the PIAT gun.
  • In 1940 the Boys rifle would have been used against enemy vehicles and one rifle was generally issued to one platoon. At Walberswick, however, it seems that the battalion's three anti-tank rifles had all been positioned to defend the entrance to the River Blyth and the adjacent beach. 
  • The battalion war diary reports that when troops were given the opportunity to fire this weapon, it was not as fearful as they first anticipated.

 

Boys

Pre-War Training with the Boys anti-tank rife (Imperial War Museum)

 

The Lewis Gun

 

  • The Lewis gun was a light machine gun developed in 1911 by the United States. During the First World War it was manufactured in Britain in large numbers as an infantry weapon. It was loaded with a circular magazine containing 47 rounds and was capable of firing up to 600 rounds per minute, although it was normally fired in five round bursts.
  • In the late 1930s the Bren gun replaced the Lewis gun as the principal machine gun for platoon use. Following the abandonment of equipment in France in May 1940 Lewis guns were hurriedly removed from store and large numbers were purchased from the United States. 
  • Its main role was as an anti-aircraft weapon and it was widely used defending airfields, garrisons, gun batteries and radar stations. Some idea of how widely it was deployed is indicated by the fact that in June 1940 of the 271 major sites for which Anti-Aircraft Command were responsible and which were defended by 3500 light anti-aircraft guns, Lewis guns made up some 86% of the total. 
  • The Lewis gun was gradually phased out over the next two years, but was widely used thereafter by the Home Guard.

 

Lewis

The Lewis gun in anti-aircraft role. (Imperial War Museum)

 

Thompson Sub-Machine Gun (Tommy Gun)

 

  • The 'Tommy' Gun was first produced in the United States 1918 and is best known as the gangster's weapon of choice during the 1920s prohibition era. In 1939 and 1940 large numbers were purchased by the British army as a weapon for NCOs and patrol leaders.
  • The gun had pistol grips for both hands and was fitted with a wooden stock. It could have either a drum magazine containing 50 rounds or a 20 or 30 round box magazine.
  • The latter were preferred for military use as the drum magazine was found to be too heavy and bulky for use on patrol. It fired a .45 calibre low velocity bullet and could fire 600 rounds per minute at an effective range of 50 yards. 
  • The Tommy gun was reliable and was of some value in close combat but was expensive and suffered from a heavy weight at 10lb 9oz (4.83kg) and from 1941 it was gradually overtaken by the cheaper, lighter and home produced Sten gun.
  • The 2/4th South Lancashires received Tommy guns in August 1940 and the acquisition was significant enough to warrant note in the battalion war diary.

 

Tommy

Known as the 'Chicago Piano', the Thompson sub-machine gun became an infantry weapon for the British army early in the Second World War (Imperial War Museum)

 

Two-Inch Mortar

  • The Mk II Two-Inch Mortar was developed in 1938 for use with infantry platoons. It was a smooth-bore, muzzle loading, high angle weapon operated by a lanyard trigger. It fired a high explosive cylindrical bomb fitted with fins up to a distance of 500 yards. The bombs weighed 2.35lbs (1.02kg) and one man could carry the weapon, which weighed just under 19lbs.
  • In action two men were required; one held the mortar while the other loaded and fired the round. Rate of fire was between 5 and 8 rounds per minute. In addition to high explosive bombs, smoke and illumination ammunition could also be fired. It was found to be an excellent infantry weapon and its portable and simple operation ensured that it remained in use by the British army until the late 1970s.

 

Two Inch

A 2-inch mortar in operation (Imperial War Museum)

 

The Universal Carrier (Bren Gun Carrier)

 

  • The Universal Carrier popularly referred to as a Bren Gun Carrier was a lightly armoured tracked vehicle, produced between 1934 and 1960 and was the most widely used AFV (Armoured Fighting Vehicle) employed by Allied Forces during the Second World War.
  •  Its original purpose was envisaged as a means of carrying infantry across ground denied to them by small arms fire for which it was armed with the Bren gun and a Boys anti-tank rifle In this role it could also offer fire support for advancing infantry units.
  • The Headquarters Company of an Infantry Battalion included a Carrier Platoon, which in 1940 would have only had a limited number of vehicles depending on availability at the time.
  •  In addition to the tasks above Carriers would also be involved in other roles including the transportation of the Mortar Platoon, with their Three-Inch Mortars to the areas needed, to supply ammunition to units held down by enemy fire and to destroy small groups of enemy parachutists before they has time to re-group.
  • The Bren gun carrier normally carried a crew of three with the driver and commander- gunner at the front. On either side of the engine was space to carry the third crewmember and/or stores or passengers. 
  • It was propelled by an 85hp Ford V-8 petrol engine with an operational range of 150 miles and a maximum speed of 30mph. The vehicle was 12ft (3.66m) in length, with armour varying between 10-70mm and weighed 3.75 tons.

 

British Troops

A spirited photo showing British troops exiting a Bren Gun Carrier (Imperial War Museum)