This is the last in this mini series of blogs, but the best has been saved until last! So far, many of the weapon parts I’ve covered have been bits of this and that, with some pieces not being immediately recognisable. However, every now and again I find some incredible relics that shout the name of the weapon at you as they appear from the mud.
The British army dump permission produces some amazing finds. Quite apart from the size of the dump itself, the variety of finds made from it is quite astonishing. It isn’t only Allied weapons that can found at this dump, and not just from WW2. There are many WW1 weapons dumped there, as well as from much earlier conflicts. Indeed, there are even Italian and German weapons dumped at this site.
70+ years in the ground isn’t the best environment to keep such parts, so they are, quite understandably, in need of a bit of TLC when they come out of the ground. With the right treatment though, the corrosion can be stopped and the relics preserved.
First up, Browning MG parts.
The Besa machine gun was a British version of the Czechoslovak ZB-53 air-cooled, belt-fed machine gun. It was used extensively by the armed forces of United Kingdom during the Second World War, as a mounted machine gun for tanks and other armoured vehicles, to replace the heavier, water-cooled Vickers machine gun. Although it required a rather large opening in the tank’s armour, it was dependable and reliable. The name came from the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA), who signed an agreement with Československá zbrojovka to manufacture the gun in the UK.
The Besa used the 7.92x57mm rimless cartridge, the same as the German Mauser cartridge.
The Lewis gun (or Lewis automatic machine gun or Lewis automatic rifle) is a First World War-era light machine gun of US design that was perfected and mass-produced in the United Kingdom, and widely used by British and British Empire troops during the war. With its distinctive barrel cooling shroud and top-mounted pan magazine, the Lewis served to the end of the Korean War.
It was also widely used as an aircraft machine gun, almost always with the cooling shroud removed, during both world wars.
Some of the weapon parts recovered from the site are not immediately identifiable…..
The oddest thing about this site is that it has weapons from not just the Allied forces, but also the Axis forces. Admittedly not many, but they are in there and you have to keep a sharp eye out to spot them!
The German weapon relic parts could easily be classed as ‘What the heck!!??’
But these take that crown quite easily.
The M1870 Vetterli was the Italian service rifle from 1870-1887, when it was gradually replaced with the M1870/87 Italian Vetterli-Vitali variant. The M1870 was a single-shot bolt action rifle chambered for the 10.4mm Vetterli centrefire cartridge, at first loaded with black powder and later with smokeless powder.
In 1887 (until 1896), the Italian Army began converting the M1870 to a four-shot repeating rifle, based on the system designed by Italian artillery captain, G. Vitali. This conversion added a box magazine fed from a Swiss-style fabricated steel and wood stripper clip holding four cartridges, in the same calibre (10.4x47R mm) as before.
As more of the population mobilized for the first total war in European history, the supply of modern small arms fell short before the end of 1915 and a large number of obsolete Modello 1870/87 Vetterli-Vital were issued to newly formed regiments that were not expected to be in combat. However, troops carried these antiquated rifles into battle on several occasions.
As well, in 1916, Italy sent a large number of Vetterli-Vitali rifles to Russia; ammunition and components were contracted for by Britain to the Remington Armoury. These “tsarist” rifles eventually ended up in Republican hands in the Spanish Civil War, as the Soviet Union emptied its depots of all the old black powder and early smokeless rifles it had inherited after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
So, somehow, the base had acquired a stock of rear sights from this obsolete weapon. Precisely why, and if the British army ever used them in battle, we’ll never know! All we do know is that they were found, over 100 years after being declared obsolete, in a British army dump in the UK.