The Armoury with Doug Chapman
As our resident armourer and, I suppose, weapons expert I thought it might be of interest to introduce readers to some of the kit – both original and replica – that we have used in our living history displays, re-enactments or lectures. Most of which will have come from either John’s or my collections. A lot of the guns including antiques will have been shot by me with full, blank or reduced charges.
One of my main interests is in researching the background and seeing how weapons and armour really performed. Questions and comments like “is it true that you couldn’t hit a barn door at 40 paces with a musket” or “you be better of using your sword as a club rather than a cutting implement” or even “what is the fog of war” all exercise my mind. I maybe need to find something more meaningful to do in life, however this will have to do until that day dawns.
Much of what we do concerns not only armour but the dress of the times. In more turbulent times this may well be the same thing but mainly we see an ever changing parade of uniforms and haberdashery which is the main reason for many of us doing what we do. We will try and feed in some articles on dress – sources and even patterns for the talented out there. Here honesty requires me to say that the main input for this will come not from me but from the very talented and knowledgeable cadre that is Time Bandits.
Hopefully The Armoury will prove to be informative and helpful; however we would never profess to be correct in all things and will welcome any feedback from those more knowledgeable.
Brass Barrelled Blunderbuss by Blyth
One of our favorite guns from my collection is this brass barreled blunderbuss which has appeared in a few sketches and a couple of John’s lectures. It is signed by Blyth and sports a heavy brass barrel.
The term "blunderbuss" is of Dutch origin, from the Dutch word donderbus, which is a combination of donder, meaning "thunder", and buss, meaning "Pipe".
The blunderbuss is an early shotgun, and served a similar role. Many ancient accounts list the blunderbuss as being loaded with various scrap iron or rocks however this would most likely result in damage to the bore of the gun so it was typically loaded with a number of lead balls that were appreciably smaller than the bore diameter. Barrels were made of brass or steel.
The muzzle and sometimes the bore were flared to increase the spread of the shot and also to funnel powder and shot into the weapon which made it easier to reload whilst bouncing around on a moving horse or carriage. It seems that that the flaring of the muzzle doesn’t really have any effect on shot spread. Blunderbusses tended to have short barrels often less than 24 inches long.
Looking at the history of our gun and searching those records I have, show there to be 3 Blyth’s who gun or pistol makers were at appropriate dates –
Henry Blyth of Tower Street, London circa 1760
John Feekin Blyth of South End, Alford, Lincolnshire 1848 – 1868
Richard Blyth of Court, 6 Livery Street, Birmingham 1832 -1839
However the London marks show it to be Henry Blyth as the maker.
The gun carries 3 marks one above another – at the top is a crown above cp which was the English black powder proof for London since 1637
The one in the middle is normally the gun maker’s mark
The bottom mark is a crown over a V which was the English inspection mark for London since 1637
Marked along the top next to the proof marks are the letters T-Y 6257
Initially it was thought that this was an Irish gun with the T-Y standing for County Tyrone however further research tells me it is a Sea Service Blunderbuss with the markings most likely being a ships number.
Another of my favourites that we often use in displays is our Chassepot Rifle.
The Chassepot or to give it the official name - Fusil modèle 1866, was a bolt action military breechloader which replaced an eclectic mix of Minie muzzle loaders and the breech loading conversions of these muzzle loaders - Tabatière rifles It was a massive improvement on its predecessors and heralded the era of modern bolt action, breech-loading, military rifles achieving fame as the arm of the French in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.
As well as being manufactured by the various French state-owned manufacturing companies such as MAS (Manufacture d'armes de Saint-Étienne many were also manufactured under contract in England – the "Potts et Hunts" Chassepots for the French Navy - as well as Belgium (Liege) and Italy. By 1870 there were around a million Chassepot rifles available to the French Army and they continued in production for another four years up to February 1875.
The Chassepot used a combustible paper cartridge holding an 11mm round-headed cylindrical lead bullet that was wax paper patched. An inverted standard percussion cap was at the rear of the paper cartridge and hidden inside. It was fired by the Chassepot's needle which was simply a sharply pointed firing pin. The Chassepot's ballistic performance and firing rates were excellent for the time however the residues left by the burnt paper and the black powder caused high levels of fouling in the chamber and bolt mechanism after sustained firing. Additionally the bolt's shielded rubber ring eroded in action, although it could easily be replaced in the field.
The earlier Dreyse needle gun and its cartridge had been made to minimize these sorts of problems however it had none of the ballistic properties of the Chassepot which had nearly double the range and a third higher muzzle velocity. The 1200 yard range of the Chassepot ensured that the Chassepot was responsible for most of the enemy casualties of the Franco-Prussian War.
By 1874 the need was for metallic cartridges to correct the fouling problems and the rifle was easily converted to fire the 11mm Gras metallic cartridge ammunition a change impossible to achieve with the Dreyse.
About 150,000 Chassepot rifles had been captured by the German coalition after the French defeat in 1871 and many were converted to 11 mm Mauser metallic cartridge and shortened to carbine size for the German cavalry and artillery lasting then through to the early 1880s. Others were disposed of unaltered as surplus finding their way to many corners of the world.
This where our example comes in, I bought it back in the late 60’s from a sergeant of the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards who had ‘liberated’ it from an insurgent during the Aden conflict. It was one of the conversions to metallic cartridge which had been decorated to the Arab style and was still finding its way into conflict a hundred years after production, a strong testament to its durability and efficiency.
The Lee Enfield
To a collector there are a few firearms that have become icons of their times - The Brown Bess, the Colt, the Winchester and the bolt action Lee Enfield in its various guises.
The Lee-Enfield was a bolt-action, magazine-fed, repeating rifle and was the British Army's standard rifle from its official adoption in 1895 until 1957 seeing use by the British Army and other Commonwealth nations through both World Wars. It is still found in use over a hundred years later in far flung corners of the world (The Canadian Forces' Rangers Arctic reserve unit still use Enfield 4 rifles) a testament to its endurance and accuracy. This makes it the longest serving military bolt action rifle still in service with a total production of over 17 million rifles.
It has a ten-round box magazine which was manually loaded with the .303 British cartridge from the top, either one round at a time or by means of five-round chargers. The speed of the Lee bolt-action plus the large magazine capacity allowed a well-trained rifleman to perform what was known as the "mad minute" firing off 20 to 30 aimed rounds in 60 seconds. This made the Lee-Enfield the fastest military bolt-action rifle of its time.
Of all of the Enfield’s probably the best known is the SMLE or Short Magazine Lee Enfield or to the soldier the ‘Smelly’. The example we have is a 1916 version of the standard SMLE Mk III* which replaced the Mk III which had been found to be too complicated and expensive to manufacture, at the time a SMLE Mk III rifle cost the Government the monumental sum of £3/15/- or £3.75 in new money. The SMLE took a pattern 1907 sword bayonet making it an impressive looking and highly effective weapon.
The SMLE Mk III* which was later re-designated as Rifle No.1 Mk III* in 1926 saw extensive service throughout the Second World War as well, especially in North Africa, Italy, as well as the Pacific and Burmese theatres. The rifle actually remained in Australian military service through the Korean War, only being replaced by the L1A1 SLR in the late 1950s. As I said earlier, an icon of our troubled times.
By the late 1930s the need for new rifles grew, and the Rifle, No. 4 Mk I was first issued in 1939 and officially adopted in 1941. The No. 4 action was similar but lighter, stronger, and most importantly, easier to mass-produce. Unlike the SMLE, the No 4’s barrel protruded from the end of the fore stock and it was considerably heavier than its predecessor because of its heavier barrel. It carried a new style of bayonet that was cheap and easy to produce – a spike bayonet – which is basically a steel rod with a sharp point, affectionately known as a "pig sticker" by our troops. Our example will have seen action throughout most of WWII.
Several later variants and offshoots were produced along the way including the much lighter stripped down MK 5 or Jungle Carbine and several sniper versions.