Last week friends and I travelled up to London primarily to listen to Ian Knight's presentation about the 140th anniversary of the Zulu War in 1879 at the National Army Museum (NAM).
Whilst there I decided that I would really like to reacquaint myself with the unique collection of military items held in the NAM whilst leaving time to pop over to the nearby Victoria and Albert Museum to take a look at the plaster casts made of Trajan's Column in Rome in the 1860's and showing the detail of the monument before the ravages of modern day pollution had taken effect.
With travel up from and back to Devon to build in to the day's plan, plus a stop for lunch, it was surprising how little time was left for much else, so our look at the museums was somewhat rushed and I intend to come back and take a more leisurely look in the future.
However one thing that struck me, particularly about the NAM was that it is obvious a great deal of expenditure has gone into the place since I last took a look back in the early nineties and the place is now much more fit for purpose in attracting a modern generation of visitors wanting more than the old dusty dark display cabinets that were a feature of the old museum.
That said I have to say that I was a little disappointed with one aspect of the new look NAM in that 'why oh why!' in this modern day of new materials and lighting can we not get away from reflective glass and bright glaring spotlights that shine back off them.
I well understand that lighting is a problem with very old objects in the balance between displaying the item and avoiding light damage to the delicate colours of the materials, but come on, modern lighting alternatives such as LED and the like should be the way to go and with glass cabinets that are not so reflective that any attempt at photography is damned by constant reflections of everything outside the cabinet instead of what it contains.
Come on NAM please sort this out and make the national collection more of a resource to all of us in the way it is displayed. It is not just academic historians that want to see these items and have the facilities to get pictures without the glass interference to populate their books; dare I say the more numerous populations of wargamers and historical reenactors also want better access to these items to help inform our hobbies and pastimes and surely we have an expectation that we should be able to do just that.
As you will guess I have found it rather tiresome having to try and get the best possible format for my pictures due to the poor display arrangements of the NAM and its collection.
That said, the NAM is a fantastic museum with a collection like no other and is a must see if you are in London, so on with my pick of the collection.
17th CenturyThese items show the equipment carried by the English Army that would emerge from the devastation of the English Civil War and the founding of Parliament's New Model Army, to the forming of the United Kingdom and the first regiments in the new British Army.
|Equipment including a steel gauntlet and buff leather arm guard worn by Captain Thomas Saunders at the Battle of Burton Bridge 1643 where he was captured by Royalists.|
|Colour of Gell's Regiment of Foot|
|Sir John Gell|
I posted about the Siege of Chester last year at which Gell's Foot would have served with the besieging Parliamentary forces.
The Siege of Chester
This was a period of major transition particularly for the infantryman, with the heavy cumbersome matchlock musket gradually replaced by the more handy, if still somewhat cumbersome, flintlock version and the introduction of the plug bayonet which would see the demise of the pikeman, previously necessary to protect the infantryman from cavalry attack.
|The plug bayonet of the type carried by British soldiers in the early 17th Century (see below)|
Museum of Somerset
|The early flintlock muskets carried by soldiers of this era as seen in the picture above carry locks that look like they were fashioned in a smithy rather than the later mass produced models of the later 18th century|
18th CenturyThe Age of Reason would herald the era of the 'Sport of Kings' where the Royal houses of Europe would field small professional armies to decide the fate of nations held as bargaining chips through marriage between their respective families and seeing military conflict as the primary way of deciding who ruled where.
The rise of the first republics and the revolutions in America and France would challenge the status-quo leading to the rise of Napoleon and the era of armies of mass conscription replacing the smaller armies of the Ancien Regime.
In Britain however, primarily a naval power, the army would remain relatively small and professional with its ranks filled with volunteers from across the social strata and commanded by gentlemens sons.
|21st Light Dragoon Officers coat worn by Colonel John Holroyde, 1st earl of Sheffield c1762|
The officers jacket seen above is of the 21st Light Dragoons who were raised in April 1760 by the Marquis of Granby and disbanded at Nottingham in 1763. The regiment would be raised on two more occasions in 1779 and 1794 as the Yorkshire Dragoons serving there throughout the Napoleonic wars until disbanded for the last time in 1819.
|Dragoon helmet worn by Captain Ainslie at the Battle of Emsdorf in 1760|
The helmet, above, of the 15th Light Dragoons and worn by Captain George Ainslie at the Battle of Emsdorf in 1760 and is made of metal as opposed to other examples constructed in leather.
|Captain Floyd of the 15th Light Dragoons pictured here in 1766|
The 15th Light Dragoons destroyed five battalions of infantry in a famous charge at Emsdorf, leading to King George III ordering them to add the title 'Emsdorf' to their helmets in recognition.
Battle of Emsdorf (1760)
|The charge of the 15th Hussars at Sahagun in 1808|
The 15th later retitled 'Hussars' continued their tradition of leading with the sabre in their dramatic charge at Sahagun in 1808 in the Peninsular War, routing twice their numbers of French dragoons and chasseurs.
Battle of Sahagun (1808)
Perhaps the success of the 15th LD was a 'double edged sword' for the British light cavalry arm in that other regiments seemed to concentrate on emulating them with their focus on the charge to the detriment of the main skill required of light cavalry namely reconnaissance and picket duties, skills that had to be relearned in the Peninsular War from allies such as the Hussars of the King's German Legion, who were just as skilled at both charging and picket work.
|Side view of Captain Ainslie's dragoon helmet c1760|
|Cavalry guidon c1790 of the 9th Dragoons, later converted to a regiment of light dragoons and then lancers|
The 9th Dragoons were ordered to become Light Dragoons in 1783 but owing to their deployment in Ireland were not completely uniformed and equipped as such until 1804.
The guidon was in possession of the family of Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Lefroy who commanded the 9th from June 1785 to July 1791 and was probably given to him when the regiment changed guidons.
|Other ranks Grenadier cap c1751 - 49th Foot|
49th (Princess Charlotte of Wales') (Hertfordshire) Regiment of Foot
|Grenadier of the 49th Foot seen left illustrating the colour fade on the mitre seen above.|
American War of Independence (AWI)
Perhaps one of the most famous weapons to emerge from the AWI was the Ferguson Rifle, designed by Major Patrick Ferguson, was a remarkable design for the period heralding the eventual adoption of breechloading weapons as standard military equipment in the later 19th century and beyond.
|Ferguson Breech loading rifle - c1770|
Having all the attributes of a rifle, being more accurate over longer ranges than the standard smoothbore musket together with the ease of loading, particularly in the prone position that breechloading offered, the rifle proved too costly and time consuming to produce and a fragile weapon in the field and was replaced by the British army in the 1800's by the muzzle loading Baker Rifle.
|That amazing breech with the gap between it and the stock seen just behind the lock|
|Detail of the breech mechanism from the British Army manual|
|The release mechanism for the breech seen under the lock of the Ferguson|
Napoleonic WarsThe wars of the French Revolution and the later Napoleonic conflict would see a dramatic growth in the size of the British Army as its commitments around the world required even more troops to fight in Europe and America, seeing the culmination of the greater struggle resolved in front of the ridge of Mont St Jean better known as Waterloo in 1815.
|Captain William Tyrwhitt-Drake in the uniform of the Royal Horse Guards, part of the Household Cavalry Brigade at Waterloo with his adapted 1796 Heavy Cavalry Sword that would have been issued with its single edged hatchet shaped blade|
|Royal Horse Guards Officer 1815 - Augustus Wymer|
The light dragoon officers full dress jacket was abolished in 1812 but can be seen in the cabinet below still being worn by Lieutenant William Polhill of the 16th 'Queens' Light Dragoons at the Battle of Waterloo three years later.
|Officer of the 16th Light Dragoons - R. Simkin|
Wearing the pre-1812 Light Dragoon uniform seen below.
The colour illustrated does not capture the dark blue of the original
|15th Hussar 1815|
"The Fifteenth Hussars was moved soon after to the ground on the right of the position, where I have marked a squadron as placed, and where the Enemy showed a strong body of Lancers, which we were preparing to attack. The Enemy made this diversion for the purpose of drawing off our force from the right centre of the position, which, in fact, was successful, for we were no sooner off that ground than the first attack made by the Curassiers took place upon the spot we had quitted. We at once returned to our former position, leaving one squadron to keep the French Lancers in check.
We were no sooner on our ground than we advanced in line, and charged the Grenadiers à Cheval, who fled from us. Our next attack (in line without reserve) was [on] a square of French Infantry, and our horses were within a few feet of the square.
We did not succeeding breaking it, and, of course, suffered most severely. In short, during the day we were constantly on the move, attacking and retreating to our lines, so that, at the close of the battle, the two squadrons were dreadfully cut up."
|Captain William Tyrwhitt-Drake's helmet as worn at Waterloo|
The French heavy cavalry sword when seen appears to be a formidable weapon but on further examination reveals a weapon too large and heavy with a hatchet type blade that makes neither useful for cutting or thrusting and very unwieldy once forced to cut and parry in the mix of melee which might explain the success reported by British cavalrymen of them mixing it with French cuirassiers at Waterloo.
|The 1806 pattern French Heavy Cavalry Sword used at Waterloo|
|French Dragoon helmet picked up on the battlefield at Waterloo|
|'Scotland Forever!' the 92nd Gordon Highlanders grabbed the stirrups of the Scots Greys as they both crashed into and wrecked the four divisions of D'Erlon's I French Infantry Corps at Waterloo|
A French officer caught up in the attack by the Scots Greys and the 92nd Foot, Second Lieutenant Jacques Martin described the confusion of the moment when the attack struck:
"We too in the mayhem of a confused and agitated crowd, shot many of our own people with shots aimed at the enemy. All bravery was useless… in vain our soldiers rose on their feet and stretched their arms out to try to stab with bayonets at the cavalry mounted on the tall vigorous horses. Useless courage, their hands and arms fell together to the ground and left them defenceless against a persistent enemy who sabred without pity even the children who served as drummers and fifers in the regiment, who asked in vain for mercy. It was there that I saw death closest. My best friends fell at my side, I could not believe that the same fate did not await me, but I had no more distinct thoughts. I fought like a machine, awaiting the fatal blow. I did not even notice the danger, or maybe it was providence that made the blows aimed at me fall aside, and until that moment I was without serious injury."
Lt. Martin was knocked down by a horse and lay still, feigning death letting the attack pass over him, later making his way back to the French line.
|Officers jacket, kilt and sporran as worn in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo by Lt. John Bramwell|
92nd Gordon Highland Foot
|Side drum carried by the 42nd Black Watch Royal Highland Foot c 1815. The 42nd Foot were in action at both Quatre Bras and Waterloo. The drum has a yellow painted panel to the rear and carries the Peninsular War battle honours|
|This drum was not carried at Waterloo as it carries the honour 'Waterloo' so must have been issued after the battle|
This summer I am taking a long planned three week driving holiday across Spain exploring the Peninsular War battlefields of the Duke of Wellington and Sir John Moore, and needless to say it was a privilege to see the items of Sir John on display in the Napoleonic section.
|Lieutenant General Sir John Moore (1761 - 1809), Painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence c1805|
Slightly eclipsed by his fellow British General Officer of the time, Sir John Moore comes across as a much more human and likable man than Wellington and in many respects his equal in terms of ability on the battlefield.
The founder of the School of Light Infantry at Shorncliffe Camp, that laid the foundations for the modern infantryman of today, in its thinking about instilling self discipline and accountability among the common soldiers in return for a more enlightened approach to the maintenance of army discipline; Sir John, in many ways, stands as a beacon of reform in a British army needing to move away from commission purchases and establish a meritocratic rather than aristocratic professional officer corps.
|A brass and mahogany telescope supplied by Jacob Abraham of Bath and carried by Sir John Moore in the Peninsula.|
Sir John Moore took command of the British forces in the Iberian peninsula following the recall of Sir Arthur Wellesley, who faced an inquiry over the Convention of Sintra (the repatriation of the French army following the Battle of Vimeiro).
When Napoleon arrived in Spain with 200,000 men, Moore drew the French northwards while retreating to his embarkation port at Corunna on the Bay of Biscay. There he fought a skillful rearguard battle on 16th January 1809 that kept the French from attacking his embarking army.
Moore was mortally wounded by cannon shot during the engagement, but lived long enough to learn that he had been victorious. His last words were 'I hope the people of England will be satisfied! I hope my country will do me justice!' He was buried in the ramparts of the town and his French counterpart, Marshal Soult, was so impressed by Moore that he ordered a monument erected to his fallen foe as a sign of respect.
|Sir John's gold pocket watch hallmarked 1805-06 and taken from his body at Corunna|
I shall no doubt be referring back to these pictures when I tour the Corunna and Retreat battlefields later in the year.
|To the right is a general officers sword carried by Sir John Moore c1809|
|Sir John Moore's blood stained sash thought to have been used to lower his body into his grave at Corunna|
Another battle site that I am really looking forward to visiting this year is Albuera, where the ordinary British soldier had to dig in and fight to overcome the inadequacies of the incompetent officer sent to command them.
The officer of whom I refer is General William Carr Beresford, a brilliant organiser and trainer of troops and responsible for the re-trained Portuguese force that made up half of Wellington's Peninsular Army.
Sadly as an independent commander he was well out of his depth and as usual the people that paid the price were the poor bloody infantry and none more so than the 3rd Buffs (East Kent) Foot who took the brunt of the attack by the Polish Vistula Lancers as they rode over Colborne's brigade during a rain storm.
|This depiction of an ensign of the 3rd Buffs in the Peninsular War by Gerry Embleton captures |
the likely appearance of Lt. Mathew Latham at Albuera.
During the attack several British colours were taken by the French cavalry and the ensigns of the Buffs were one of those colour parties.
The table centrepiece below commemorates Lieutenant Matthew Latham saving the King's Colours at the Battle of Albuera on 16th May 1811, during the Peninsular War.
Latham suffered terrible wounds from the French cavalrymen's swords, losing part of his left arm. He managed to hold on to the flag, stuffing it into the front of his jacket. It was later recovered by another British soldier who thought that Latham was dead. Miraculously Latham survived the battle and was treated in a local convent. He returned to England, where he received further restorative surgery with the financial support of the Prince Regent.
|The Latham Centrepiece c1880, 3rd East Kent Regiment of Foot, Lieutenant Matthew Latham |
saving the King's Colour at the Battle of Albuera 16th May 1811.
Colours and standards were very important symbols for the soldiers that carried them and their capture by the enemy was always a hard fought occasion during the battle for their possession.
For the Imperial French infantry under Emperor Napoleon it was the Eagle rather than the banner that hung below it that epitomised the pride of the unit that carried it into battle and few were taken in the course of the wars of that period.
Two were captured at Waterloo during the British cavalry charge against D'Erlon's 1st Corps when charged by the Union Brigade during the first major attack against Wellington's allied line.
|The capture of the eagle and banner of the 105th Ligne at Waterloo by the 1st (Royal) Dragoons by Jason Askew|
The now much faded banner of the 105th Ligne and its eagle are a major treasure of the NAM with originals very rare indeed.
|The French banner of the 105th Ligne captured at Waterloo by the Royal Dragoons|
The eagle was taken by Captain A.K. Clarke of the 1st (Royal) Dragoons now part of the modern day Blues and Royals, part of the Household Cavalry who still proudly display the eagle on their dress uniforms.
|The eagle of the 105th Ligne taken at Waterloo by Captain A.K. Clarke, 1st Royal Dragoons|
The bearskin seen below will need no introduction as being worn my a member of Napoleon's Old Guard Grenadiers, 'The Grumblers' so named because they would often be overheard grumbling about not being ordered into the attack.
Their reputation became so formidable that it seemed when the Emperor did, on the rare occasion, order them to attack, that was a sign to the enemy army to break contact and retreat as best they may, to try and save what remained of their army.
|Grenadier Bearskin, French Imperial Guard c1805|
First coming to public attention, when brought to trial and convicted of torturing a woman whilst governor of Trinidad (1797-1803), the conviction later overturned, the irascible Welshman proved to be a fine leader of soldiers and respected for his courage under fire, earning his 3rd Division the nickname of 'The Fighting Division' in the Peninsular War.
Wellington described him "a rough foul mouthed devil as ever lived" , but was keen to have his trusted subordinate from his Peninsular days, back to take command of the Allied 5th Division at Waterloo.
|Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton, commander of the 'Fighting' Third Division in the Peninsula and killed leading the 5th Division at Waterloo was more commonly attired in the field in civilian dress complete with top hat|
Picton led his division at the Battle of Quatre Bras where he was badly wounded in the hip but kept the fact from his soldiers, leading them from the front when his division counterattacked alongside the Union Cavalry Brigade at Waterloo a day later, during which he received a musket shot to the head and was killed instantly.
General Picton was not one to honour the general officers uniform dress regulations and would frequently lead his soldiers in dark blue civilian frock coat and top hat, and once turning out to lead his troops still wearing his night cap.
|Hat worn by General Picton whilst commanding the the Anglo-Portuguese 3rd Division at the Battle of Vitoria 1813 in the Peninsular War|
|General Picton's spurs worn at Waterloo together with the French musket ball that killed him, flattened on one side where it struck his skull.|
I first saw the jacket below in the Osprey book looking at the Napoleonic British Guards, a book I later found myself showing to a friend and business colleague who is the great, great, great grandson of the late Colonel Miller but was unaware that this jacket was in existence until I showed it to him a few years ago.
William Miller (1784-1815) was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Foot Guards on 3rd March 1814, having served with the latter during the Peninsular War (1808-1814). While in Spain and Portugal he had also served as a deputy assistant adjutant general during the Corunna campaign, and as a brigade major with the 1st Brigade. Miller also fought at Cadiz, Bidassoa, Nivelle, Nive, Adour and Bayonne.
|Short tailed coatee worn by Lt. Colonel William Miller 3rd/1st Foot Guards, mortally wounded at Quatre Bras 1815|
Colonel Miller was wounded at the Battle of Quatre Bras on 16th June 1815. He immediately sent for his friend, Colonel C. Thomas (himself killed two days later at Waterloo), and stated 'I feel I am mortally wounded, but I am pleased to think it is my fate rather than yours, whose life is involved in that of your young wife.' After a pause, he went on: 'I should like to see the colours of the Regiment before I quit them for ever.'
According to the plaque on his tomb at the Brussels cemetery at Evere, the Colours 'were brought and waved round his wounded body. His countenance brightened, he smiled, declared himself well satisfied, and was carried from the field.' Miller died of his wounds in Brussels the following day.
Napoleon's horse Marengo was an Arab horse with a light grey coat, standing just over 14 hands high. Purchased by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) after the Battle of Aboukir in 1799, he was named after the French victory at Marengo in 1800.
At first glance, it would seem that Marengo was a suitable size for Napoleon who is also supposed to have been small in stature. Yet Napoleon was actually a perfectly respectable five feet six and half inches in height, slightly taller than the average Frenchman of 1800!
|The skeleton of Napoleon's horse Marengo, a light grey Arab of fourteen hands and ridden by the Emperor at Waterloo, passed into British hands when Napoleon went into exile and died in 1831.|
|Mameluke style Shamshir sword and scabbard c1800, belonging to Napoleon|
|A lock of Napoleon's hair given to Capt. T.W. Poppleton who visited the former Emperor in exile in 1817|
Model of the field of Waterloo with troops positioned as at 19.45 hours, 18 June 1815
Made by Captain William Siborne (1797-1849).
In 1830 Captain William Siborne obtained official approval for his suggestion that a model be constructed of the Battle of Waterloo. He took leave from the Army and undertook an eight-month survey of the battlefield.
He then sent a circular letter to surviving British officers who had served at Waterloo. This asked them where their units had been at 'about 7 PM,' what enemy formations were to their front, what the crops were like in their vicinity, and inviting further comments about the parts played by their regiments.
|Chateau Hogoumont and the nearby wood and gardens|
About seven-hundred replies were received and these formed the basis for Siborne's work. However, it is clear that he was highly selective of the evidence he chose to use. He does not appear to have attempted to obtain French and Prussian accounts and letters from the German officers in Wellington's Army were ignored.
Much of the area occupied by the advancing Prussians is excluded and the model was clearly intended to be viewed from the British position. Nevertheless, it is a magnificent modelling achievement, and along with the archive of letters to Siborne which was its by-product, forms a unique piece of historical evidence.
|British squares and cavalry occupy the reverse slope|
The model was completed in Ireland in 1838 and shipped to England in thirty-nine sections. It was assembled for public display in the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. Although the model attracted an estimated 100,000 visitors, paying one shilling each, receipts did not cover Siborne's costs. He was left seriously in debt.
|The road leading up from Mont Saint Jean Farm to La Haye Sainte Farm|
|La Haye Sainte Farm with the sandpit occupied by the 95th Rifles on the opposite side of the road|
The model was returned to Ireland in 1841 and placed in storage. In 1851, a subscription was raised among the British regiments depicted and the model was purchased. It was brought back to London for display in the Banqueting Hall, Whitehall, as part of the Royal United Service Museum. When that museum was forced to close much of its collection, including the model, was presented to the National Army Museum.
|Looking to the British right flank and the British squares under attack with Hougoumont beyond|
Other 19th Century
|Tunic and Shako of the Crimean period, the shako being the 1855 pattern worn by Captain Henry E Bale possibly in the Crimea whilst serving with the 34th (The Cumberland) Regiment.|
|1883 Pattern tunic of the Royal Engineers together with 1882 pattern leather valise equipment typical of the tight fitting red tunics worn in 1879 during the Zulu campaign and in Egypt in 1882.|
|The highly successful charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava has been slightly overshadowed |
by the glorious but disastrous charge of the Light Brigade
|Afghan tribesmen wielding Jezails and with Khyber knives tucked into waistbands|
|A Khyber knife c1838 known locally as a pesh-kabz was designed to penetrate chain mail. This example was taken from a Ghilzai tribesman by British cavalry between Kabul and Jalalabad.|
|Full Dress Generals Coatee belonging to the Duke of Cambridge. |
The paired buttons and width of embroidery on the cuffs display the rank of Major General.
|Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava 1854 - Richard Catton Woodville|
|Captain Thomas Everard Hutton seen here in stable dress 4th (Queen's Own) Light Dragoons c1855|
Captain Thomas Hutton serving with the 4th (Queen's Own) Light Dragoons charged with the Light Brigade at Balaclava and his commanding officer, Lord George Paget, later wrote of him:
"He was shot through the right thigh during the advance, and halloaed to his squadron leader: 'Low I am wounded, what shall I do?' to which the latter replied: 'If you can sit on your horse you had better come with us; there's no use going back now, you'll only be killed.' He went on, and if report speaks truly, made good use of his powerful right arm in disabling some of the enemy. On his return he was shot through the other thigh, his horse being hit in eleven places."
|The saddle used by Thomas Hutton at Balaclava and is the model 1805 Hussar pattern saddle issued to all British light cavalry and in use until after the end of the Crimean War.|
The transition in dress for battle in the British Army in the first half of the twentieth century over the two World Wars is amply demonstrated in the next two shots of British battledress; so familiar in the pictures of British soldiers in the second half of WWII from 1943 onward to the more formal look of the Officers tunic and breeches with calf length leather boots donned in WWI.
I have family pictures dotted around my house of parents and grandparents donning such garb and the picture below reminded me of my great grandfather, an officer in the Royal Artillery, pictured with both his sons, one my maternal grandfather all kitted out at the start of WWI.
The picture below is of the 1918 Bergman submachinegun which introduced by the Germans at the end of WWI and issued to their newly formed Stormtroopers proved to be one of the first truly effective submachineguns and perfectly designed for close combat within trenches.
However my first memory of this gun was of reading James Holland's 'Jack Tanner' series of novels about a British WWII infantryman and his adventurous missions and his coming up against a dastardly SS officer armed with such a weapon in the 1940 battles across northern France.
|Bergman 9mm MP18 - 1 submachinegun 1918|
An equally formidable weapon, designed perfectly for the task required is the Lee Enfield sniper rifle, seen below; taking advantage of the renowned accuracy of the standard British rifle throughout the two world wars in various marks, combining it with a No.32 telescopic sight and the stealth of a highly trained marksman.
|British sniper in action in Caen 1944|
I experienced firing the Lee Enfield as a young air cadet on the ranges at Bisley and have fond memories of the thing kicking like the proverbial mule when fired, but I also remember this rifle in a modernised mark still being the preferred weapon of choice with Metropolitan Police marksman as late as the early eightees, showing what a fine weapon this was for precise marksmanship.
|No.4 Mk 1(T) .303 inch sniper rifle fitted with No.32 Mk 1 telescopic sight c1944|
|Special modification includes a cheek piece alongside nine kill notches|
The light mortar, seen below, on display in the weapons cabinet, is the Japanese Type 89 'Knee Mortar' so named by allied troops because of their mis-pronunciation of the Japanese name for the weapon that sounded like 'knee'.
This light calibre (50mm) grenade launcher was perfectly designed for the close encounters likely to occur in jungle warfare and was widely used throughout the Pacific and Far East theatre, but should definitely not be positioned anywhere near the knee when fired!
|Japanese Type 89 Knee Mortar|
Regular followers of the blog will know, along with friends, that I am currently involved in a Chain of Command campaign '29 Lets Go' commanding a US infantry platoon battling away along the coast from Omaha Beach.
One of the options in that campaign is to arm my squads with an extra BAR team as done by the actual men of the 29th Division during the Normandy campaign.
Not as effective as the British Bren Gun, in terms of ammunition load out, and, like the Bren, no where near the fire power of the German MG42 Light machinegun, having this weapon grouped in teams of two guns certainly has been a simple choice in our games; providing as they do extra boost to the firepower of my Garand armed infantry teams and immediately drew my attention to the weapon when I saw it on display.
Similar in design concept to the BAR seen above the Germans developed a selective fire automatic rifle to equip their Falschirmjager (Paratroop) Divisions which were used in small numbers to augment the firepower of the airborne troops, being a lightweight weapon, no heavier than the standard Kar 98K bolt action rifle, but combining the characteristics and firepower of a light machinegun.
The Falschirmjagergewehr 42 seen below is the early model and much of its design was copied when the US army developed the M60 machinegun.
|Early model FG 42 with a rate of fire of about 900 rounds a minute and fitted with a detachable box magazine holding 10 to 20 rounds|
WWII saw the rapid development of the tank and infantry weapons capable of allowing the foot soldier to defeat them at range avoiding the need to close with the vehicles.
The cabinet below tracks this progress from the British and German large calibre anti-tank rifles developed at the end of WWI and prominent at the start of WWII; which with the increased armour of later tanks gave way to the penetrative power of stand-off explosive shaped charges delivered by weapons such as the PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti-Tank) and spring loaded spigot mortar launcher.
The PIAT was a highly effective if cumbersome weapon to use and the development of rocket propelled systems soon proved a better solution and is carried on in the modern versions of the original WWII bazooka and panzerfaust.
|The PIAT next to the other way of stopping tanks, the Teller mine|
Late 20th Century to Modern Day
I am now of an age when the wars of my youth are now considered military history and I have personal friends who were part of that history and took part in campaigns such as the Falklands War in 1982.
I was working in Southampton at that time and well remember the assembling of the task force that sailed from that port city to the south Atlantic and the daily reports from the MOD over the news of events such as the sinkings of HMS Sheffield and the General Belgrano, the bombing attacks over Port Stanley and the later ground campaign after the troops were landed in San Carlos Bay.
The Argentinian 7.62mm FN MAG General Purpose Machinegun (GPMG) seen above and the mobile Rapier anti-aircraft missile launcher seen below brought back a lot of memories of those days and are a reminder of perhaps one of the most effective and successful military campaigns conducted by British forces in British military history.
In the face of transporting an invasion force over thousands of miles of open ocean, to land close to a hostile enemy shore and defeat a modern military, dug in and prepared, driving off its air and naval forces and retaking the islands in just under ten weeks, when both the US and Soviet military were predicting a British defeat must stand as a remarkable feat of arms in recent times and a credit to the members of the British armed forces that took part in the campaign.
|Lt. Colonel H. Jones VC 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment|
Just below the Argentine GPMG can be seen Lieutenant Colonel Herbert 'H' Jones' medals, including the posthumous VC awarded for his gallantry leading the 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment at the Battle of Goose Green on East Falkland, where his actions were described;
"Lieutenant-Colonel Jones, in order to reduce casualties, seized a submachine-gun and with total disregard for his own safety, charged the nearest enemy position. As he charged towards the enemy position he was seen to fall, however he picked himself up and charged the enemy trench firing his weapon. He was hit by fire only a few feet from the enemy he had assaulted."
The Rapier surface to air missile system was deployed by British forces in the Falklands to provide air defence to the landing area in San Carlos Bay and was operated by T Battery, 12th Regiment Royal Artillery, part of 3rd Commando Brigade.
The system suffered from siting issues that prevented it from operating at full effectiveness during the Argentine air attacks limiting the credits in confirmed shoot downs to just four aircraft with one Dagger A and three A4B Skyhawks confirmed as Rapier kills. Interference from RN radars and the decision not to fit proximity fuses did not help the missile operators in this early deployment of the system.
Recent deployment of the British army has seen the need to fight asymmetric warfare reemerge as the principle requirement, somewhat similar to some of the minor campaigns of the old Imperial colonial wars in centuries past.
The enemy in these modern conflicts are not inclined to engage in traditional battle fighting and are more disposed to use a mix of of older weapon systems and improvised booby-traps now known as IED's to kill and maim knowing that public opinion is a significant factor affecting their enemy's will to pursue a long conflict.
|The weapons of choice for most minor and guerrilla armed forces, the AK47 and RPG, these hailing from the recent conflicts in Iraq.|
I find myself wondering if the future of these 'low intensity' wars will see the foot soldier on the ground replaced by military drones in one form or another, limiting the ability of the enemy to conduct this form of attritional warfare but running a high risk to themselves of still taking unacceptable casualties.
|Improvised Explosive Devices (IED's) and the tools required to combat them. The weapons of asymmetric warfare.|
War, Children and Wargaming
One of the final galleries that grabbed my attention, on our somewhat truncated visit due to my wanting to get over to the V&A to take a look at the cast of Trajan's Column, was the social impacts of the army and warfare on the wider community.
This aspect affects all of us in terms of our views about war, be we sympathetic to the needs of a society to have armed forces to defend national interests or take a more pacifist view point.
I tend to lean more towards the former viewpoint, adhering to the Roman principle of 'prepare for war if you want to enjoy peace' however as a wargamer and parent of two sons I also have had to consider the impact that my interest in military history and the wider hobby could have on my boys, if at all.
I think as wagamers and as military historians we are perhaps better able than most in civil society to take an informed view about the impacts of warfare and what history has to teach about its effects.
The display touched on the dilemma for parents, particularly but not solely of young boys, of dealing with the human peculiarity of a fascination in the more destructive nature of the human condition and their seemingly unconquerable desire to play at war.
I say unconquerable because the experience of parents wishing to deny their children any exposure to war toys only sees that denial overcome by the kids improvising with other day to day items to overcome the lack of toy weapons, not to mention access gained to them from playing with other kids not so restricted.
I suppose I have always looked to impress upon my own boys the need to view my hobby and interest in the military as just another aspect of the human condition that as adults they will need to understand and be aware of in an informed way; meaning that there is nothing glamorous or desirable about war but occasionally it becomes a necessary bloody business that is best done quickly and hopefully with as fewer casualties as possible so that everyone involved can get back to being a civilian sooner rather than later.
In addition to the educational benefits of wargaming, I think we know as wargamers that the social, artistic and wider aspects of our hobby that encourages reading and travel to explore the parts of the world that fires our imaginations brings even wider benefits to I think producing well rounded members of society.
Not only that but we know how to have harmless fun and harness the Peter Pan in all of us so perfectly captured in the picture below.
The National Army Museum despite my quibbles expressed at the top of this post is a treasure house of British and world military history with only a fraction of its amazing collection on public display, but one well worth taking time to see if you are visiting the capital.
The museum holds items that you will just not see in any other collection and compliments perfectly the collections held around the UK by the regimental museums.
I'm back up to London this weekend at the invitation of the South London Warlords, as part of the PRESS representatives to bring you a JJ's Wargames report about Salute 2019.
I'm going to the show an hour before doors open so as to get around and see as much as possible of Salute, taking pictures and talking to traders and looking to give an overview of the show on the blog.
I haven't been to Salute since 2013 and I am really looking forward to seeing how this great show feels and looks six years on and to share those conclusions here on JJ's.