Did you know that the British were responsible for some of the most advanced weapons of World War 2? From pistols and rifles to fighter planes and tanks, the Brits were at the forefront of weapon technology. In this blog post, we take a closer look at some of these amazing British World War 2 weapons and explore how they changed the course of the war.
British World War 2 Weapons: Small Firearms
The Lee-Enfield Rifle
The Lee-Enfield is a repeating rifle that was the primary firearm used by the British Empire and Commonwealth Armed Forces during the first half of the 20th century. Later versions are mentioned below, but in the UK, the Lee-Enfield rifle was the standard weapon for rifle companies in the British Army and other Commonwealth countries (to which Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, and South Africa belonged) during World War I and World War II.
Lee’s quick action and 10-round magazine capacity allow trained shooters to take a “crazy minute”, firing 20 to 30 precise shots in 60 seconds, making early 20th-century British rifles the fastest bolt-action rifles style military rifle. Lee Enfield has a 10-round magazine and a “cock-to-bolt” action system, which allows a trained shooter to make 15 to 30 aimed shots in less than 1 minute. As a standard infantry rifle, the Lee Enfield Rifle is still in service with the armed forces of some Commonwealth countries, notably the Bangladesh police, making it the second longest-serving military bolt-action rifle still in service.
One criticism of the Lee-Enfield design is it struggles to achieve top-notch accuracy. It was considered a battle rifle rather than a shooter’s weapon, so the Lee-Enfield is now overshadowed by its derivatives.
De Lisle Carbine
The De Lisle Commando Carbine or De Lisle Carbine is a British firearm used during WW II with a built-in silencer. British Special Forces and commandos used the Carbide during the final stages of the Second World War, although they were also used to some extent by Special Operations Executives. Later on, De Lisle Carbines were used in Southeast Asia, Korea, and even Malaysia.
De Lisle adapted the first .45 ACP carbine from a Thompson submachine gun barrel and a Lee-Enfield’s action. The De Lisle carbine was based on a Lee-Enfield rifle that was converted to .45 ACP using M1911 pistol magazines. Because the odd De Lisle carbine used the barrel of a Thompson submachine gun, it naturally chambered .45 ACP. The rifle was also modified to accept M1911 magazines as well as M1911 derivative magazines with a capacity of over 11 rounds.
The most important feature of the De Lisle Carbine is its large built-in silencer, which, combined with subsonic cartridges, makes it extremely quiet in action, arguably one of the quietest firearms ever built.
The Jungle Carbine, also known as Rifle No. 5, is the offspring of the Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk I. This rifle was created when British military officials realized that mobility was important, and it was necessary to reduce the weight of equipment carried by each soldier. The experience of fighting in the jungle in 1943 gave the British officials the urge to move into a more agile and innovative war weapon.
This rifle was the weapon distributed to the British air forces while they were stationed in Norway near the end of the Second World War before they led an invasion of Japan.
A common criticism of the Jungle Carbine from soldiers was that it had something they called a “wandering zero”. The rifle was unable to be sighted in and shoot at the same point twice in two different circumstances. They called this accuracy issue, the failure to zero.
British World War 2 Weapons: Machine Gun
Vickers Machine Gun
The Vickers machine gun was Britain’s main machine gun from 1912. It was used in the First World War and was used again during World War II. The Vickers Machine Gun was produced mainly for the British Army.
The Vickers machine gun was usually handled by a minimum of a six-man squad and a maximum of eight men. This was not a light machine gun. Each man would have to contribute for this unit to function smoothly: one man shot the ammunition, one reloaded it, and the others shared the duties of carrying the weapon, its ammunition, and spare parts just in case it was damaged.
The weapon gained popularity for its resilience and dependability. Ten Vickers Machine Guns were used in World War I to fire twelve hours’ worth of ammunition. They ended up using over 100 barrels and over a million rounds without the instrument collapsing.
British World War 2 Weapons: Vehicles
Tank, Cruiser, Mk II (A10)
This British infantry tank was developed in 1938 due to the need to fit a new type of fast tank that could also interact with infantry units. The Cruiser Mk II was an armored adaptation of the tank developed around the same time. In practice, the tank was deemed unsuitable as an infantry tank and classified as a heavy cruiser. Then someone thought that, for complete accuracy, it should be called the A10 Cruiser Mk II tank.
Although its military service in World War Two was short-lived, a total of 175 Cruiser Mk II tanks were built. Of these, 120 were built by the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company. Metropolitan-Cammell built 45, and Vickers built 10. The A10 Cruiser Mark II tank was also sent to North Africa to fight the Italians in the Libyan Desert. It was said to be resilient in desert conditions but still classified as poor in cross-country performance. The tank speed was 10 miles per hour, which was deemed acceptable. The tank was two tons heavier than the A9 but used the same 150-horsepower engine.
The tank had a crew of five: commander, gunner, loader, pilot, and gunner. This concept called for a relatively light, fast, well-armed tank, perhaps with a good range of communications.
A disadvantage of this tank, and every other British 2-ton tank, was the lack of rounds fired at the tankers, leaving them vulnerable to anti-tank gun attacks, which accounted for most of the British tank losses in the North African countryside. You can see this British A10 Mark II Cruiser tank at the Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset, England.
British World War 2 Weapons: Fighter Jet
The Gloster Meteor
The Gloster Meteor was the first British fighter jet and the only Allied jet to see action during World War II. The Meteor remained in service after World War II, with a total of 3,875 built, far more than any other British jet at the time. The first flight of the Gloster Meteor was on the 5th of March 1943. The development of the Gloster Meteor relied heavily on its revolutionary turbojet engines. It would go on to break many world aviation records, flying at the speed of 606 miles per hour.
As German bombers were considered a major threat at the time, the Air Ministry approached Gloster Aircraft to develop a single-seat jet interceptor. Gloster Aircraft initially proposed a night fighter design to replace the previous Mosquito, which was based on a two-seat Meteor training variant with a pilot in the front seat and a navigator in the rear seat, according to Air Force specifications.
Gloster Aircraft has embarked on a major modernization program to produce a new version of the Meteor with significantly improved performance, new equipment, and technology to help the new aircraft meet the increasingly stern operational requirements of the Royal Air Force (RAF).
The British artillery in World War II was some of the most powerful and versatile weapons on the battlefield. Using tanks, fighter jets, machine guns, firearms, and many more, they proved to be resilient in the face of enemy fire and helped to turn the tide of many battles in the Great War.