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Weapons of the Dragoons


     When Poland reformed her armies on English soil, the troops had to become acquainted with yet another series of both British and U.S produced weapons. Below are pictures and brief descriptions of the more common varieties of pieces that the average Dragoon would have been familiar with.


rifles.jpg

     The three rifles pictured above all come from different manufacturers. When the Poles first arrived, England was still reeling from the mass material losses at Dunkirk. She therefore was having a difficult time arming not only her regular army but also had to contend with the Commonwealth troops and foreign forces training on English soil. The uppermost rifle is a left-over model from World War One. During the early years of the war, England couldn't produce enough arms for herself. An Enfield design team contracted American arms makers such as Eddystone and Remington to produce the model P-14 in .303 calibre. Later on during the war the U.S. found herself in the same position as England and the production of the vaunted 1903 Springfield couldn't meet demand. The U.S. therefore took the model P14, rechambered it to .30-06 calibre and sent many a doughboy to France with the newly designated P-17. Consequently, when the Poles first reformed their ranks on English soil in 1941, the P14 and P17 awaited them. Needless to say, the ammunition difference created a supply problem. The use of these rifles was considered a stop gap measure. There are many photos, however, of Polish troops using this rifle into 1942. 


     The middle rifle is the more common WWII No4 Mk. I. This weapon went into production in 1942. It stayed in production with various refinements in both England and Canada until well after the war. By 1944 when Polish troops entered the Normandy peninsula, this was the rifle that most of them were carrying.


     The bottom piece is also a hold-over from World War One. This was the reliable No I Mk III *. also in .303 calibre. Many Polish soldiers in the UK were using this rifle until just before the Normandy invasion. Some countries, like Australia, continued to produce this weapon throughout the war instead of switching over to the No 4 Mk I as in England.


 


 


sub machine guns.jpg

      The two machine guns pictured above were very common for the average Polish soldier. The uppermost is the 9 mm Sten MkIII. This weapon was incredibly cheap and easy to produce. The parts were mainly stamped and welded. By using parts that were common and easy to assemble, production of this weapon could be farmed out to cottage type industries away from the main industrial targets of England. The MkIII could generally not be repaired when broken. The cheap cost of the weapon generally made it more economical to throw away when malfunctioning, rather than attempt to repair it. The inexpensive nature of this weapon, however, did precipitate a number of problems in functionality and reliability.

      The second weapon is the venerable Thompson Sub Machine Gun borne of World War One trench warfare. These guns were made of mostly machine milled parts which required great skill and time for production. Both added to the comparatively great cost. I have heard estimates that the average Thompson cost approximately $500.00 to produce at the time, compared to the $12 of the Sten Mk III. The Thompson was well liked by its Polish owners. Before Normandy there was a push to turn in the tried and true Thompsons and replace them with the Sten whose 9mm ammo would be widely available when they reached the continent. Various veteran accounts, however, detail the great lengths the troops went through to retain their beloved Thompsons and the subsequent stopping power that the .45 ACP round exhibited.


pistols.jpg

     The Dragoons had a rather wide variety of handguns available to them during the war. Two of the most common are pictured here. The Webley of pre-World War One fame was still in widespread use during the Second World War. The .455 bullet had good stopping power, but the weapon was generally heavy. This had its good and bad points. The weight helped absorb recoil but was somewhat unwieldy to aim.

    The far right weapon in the picture is the Enfield "tanker model" pistol. This .38 calibre pistol was designed with vehicle crews in mind. Notice the complete lack of a thumb actuated hammer on the pistol. It was thought prudent to delete the hammer so that it would have less chance of interfering with egress from an enclosed vehicle. The drawback was that a single pull of the trigger actuated the revolution of the cylinder but also the firing pin, as well. This required a large amount of pull pressure and many soldiers found it difficult to keep the iron sights on target during this evolution.

     For my editorial on the live firing of these weapons, please see our main WW2 Polish Living History Group  Main Page and click on "event pictures." I have information regarding my experience firing both of these pistols on the range.  


Copy of 2 inch mortar.jpg

     The two-inch mortar was developed shortly after World War One. Its objective was to replace the rifle-launched grenade and provide the platoon with more mobile fire power. The 2" mortar saw three main revisions during the war. The first had a 21" barrel as pictured here, but also had a much larger and heavier base plate. This early model had a carrying handle similar to that of the Bren gun for ease of transport. As the war progressed, however, field use showed that this heavy base was more cumbersome than its value and so a smaller spade base, as pictured above, was developed. The third model was made for airborne troops. It retained the spade base but the barrel length was greatly reduced.

     A typical platoon mortar team consisted of two members. One man carried the mortar, his own rifle and one set of tubes holding six bombs. The second man carried two packs of tubes, the cleaning kit and his personal rifle. The bombs generally came in three colour-coded varieties: high explosive, parachute flare and smoke. The mortar had an iron sight affixed to the side, which also incorporated a bubble level to assist in setting the rage. Gradients were set for high or low angle-aiming at a distance of 500 yards, maximum. The firing of the mortar was unique, in that the firing pin was actuated by a lever at the base of the weapon. Most mortars of the time period had fixed firing pins which fired the bomb as soon as it hit the bottom of the tube. The manually actuated firing pin allowed the mortar man to double check his range and point of aim before discharging the weapon.

     An anecdote related to me by Lt Col. Karcz during a personal interview, goes as follows: While training with this weapon in Scotland, the troops were familiarizing themselves with the various characteristics of the smoke, luminary and HE bombs. While on the range, an unfortunate family of rabbits bore the full brunt of an unexpected HE attack. The troops recovered the rabbits and were delighted to be cooking fresh meat for dinner that evening. While the men were eating their food, they commented on how much they liked the mortar until one astute observer stopped the festivities to question how it was that after a direct hit from an HE round there could be enough of a rabbit left to eat? At that shocking observation lumps formed in the throats of many a Dragoon and the fresh meat no longer tasted as sweet. From that point on the troops placed more value in the smoke laying characteristics of the weapon rather than the apparently non-destructive power of the HE bomb.




The Bren MkII



Arguably one of the best weapons of the 20th century. The original pattern was developed by the Czechs. The British knew a good design when they saw it and so purchased the patent rights to produce it in their Enfield plant in England. The gun had many innovative design features for it's day. The barrel could be swapped in a matter of seconds thanks to a quick release handle and ingenious threading mechanism. The top feed design while somewhat cumbersome during aiming allowed the gunner to lay closer to mother earth in combat. Thus keeping his all important head lower. Like all gas fed weapons carbon tends to build up along the return line thus slowing if not completely stopping the cocking lever for the next shot. The designers therefore allowed for four selectable gas return apertures so that as carbon built up, the assistant gunner could switch to a larger aperture thereby keeping the weapon in action. The ammunition was the same calibre as the standard infantry rifle and so each man in the rifle section carried fully loaded magazines to help support the Bren team. In the eight man Dragoon section two men would be assigned to man the Bren gun to facilitate the movement of the rest of the section.


The PIAT

 

Projector Infantry Anti Tank
(PIAT)



Speak to any veteran familiar with this weapon and you'll most likely find a love - hate relationship.
The Dragoons generally followed the standard establishment in that each platoon was provided
with a two man PIAT team. The reconnaissance platoon assigned to each squadron was issued at
a rate of one per patrol. This means in a patrol of three universal carriers, one would mount a PIAT.

The weapon weighs 32 lbs alone and is very awkward to carry. The "bomb" which is thrown from the
spigot weighs in at 3 lbs and travels at a rate of approximately 350 feet per second. The effective range
to hit a slow moving target such as an enemy tank, was approximately 100 - 125 yards. This means
exposure of the team within close proximity of the enemy. The good news however is that the bomb was
proven to penetrate a Tiger and Panther from a side shot. Due to the shaped charge of the bomb it
was rated to burn through about 2.95 inches of armour. This was greater than the comparable American
bazooka. It was also effective against fixed targets such as buildings at greater range.
Initially cocking the weapon was a daunting task. The main spring mechanism required an enormous amount
of tension and so the hapless No. 1 man would sit down, weapon vertical against his chest. Placing his feet at
the rear shoulder rest he would extend his legs until the spigot was retracted and ready for firing. Luckily,
in theory he only had to do this once as the firing of the bomb would set off an internal charge within
thereby re-cocking the PIAT for the next shot. If however your shoulder was not tight against the pad,
you could easily injure yourself and you would not provide a firm foundation for the re-cock and so
repeat the initial steps thereby exposing yourself further to the enemy.
The red ring painted atop the bomb indicates it is a live round, the blue and yellow bands indicate
the type of explosive therein.
The bombs were generally carried into battle using cardboard tubes banded together in stacks of three.
The appearance was almost identical to the 3-inch mortar carriers.

Pictured here is a re-purposed 3-inched mortar bomb carrier. Due to close sizing of the PIAT and mortar
round, metal boxes originally designed for transport of mortars were often swapped for PIAT bombs.
The stenciling pictured here is a repaint based on surviving original examples.   


The Vickers .303 MG

 

Pictures and history of the Vickers coming soon.
For now, click on the link below to see our interpretation
of the original drill manual for deploying and firing the gun live.