Posted: 27 November 2006 23:53
Today, I conducted a field experiment in a pillbox on the GHQ Line. I'll come back to this presently, as a bit of background is needed first.
In the blog of my visit along part of the GHQ Line, I made a reference to the internal design of the embrasures of the Type 24 pillboxes I was finding:
The weapon mounting in the embrasures particularly caught my eye; my theory is that they were designed for use with the Boys Anti-Tank rifle or the Bren gun.
The photograph at right is a general view of the embrasure position.
A Type 24 pillbox has six sides, but it is not hexagonal in shape; it's more like an octagon with three sides removed and replaced with a single, long side which is always at the rear of the pillbox.
This side has a doorway in the centre and is flanked on either side by a small embrasure. The other five sides are of the design seen here; these embrasures are of more complex design than those in the rear wall.
The first point of note is the presence of the two pillars against the wall; these are repeated in the same position by every main embrasure of every Type 24 I've seen along this section of the line.
My first thought was that these were supports for benches, but two things didn't ring true; the pillars are only 12cm deep (probably insufficient to support a bench plank), and at every embrasure I've seen, there has been no evidence of any fixings in the walls or the pillars themselves.
Assuming that the Royals Engineers knew what they were doing when they oversaw the construction, I didn't give the pillars another thought.
Moving on to the design of the embrasure itself (seen below) we see a rectangular pit in line with the centre of the loophole, and an intricate arrangement just behind it consisting of a cut-out shelf with wooden floor and a vertical semi-circular groove.
I have no idea quite what the need was for this arrangement, hence my querying whether it was for the Boys Anti-Tank Rifle; my theory being that the monopod was placed in the pit and the shaft would fit the groove. I've not inspected a Boys recently (and some had Bren-style bipods), so I'm still none the wiser on this.
I also toyed with the idea that the Bren bipod legs could be placed in the pit and perhaps clasped together by placing them in the groove, although I could see absolutely no advantage to doing this.
I forgot the whole issue until I was reading some documents from my recent archive visits, including the following order issued by 5th Battalion, The Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry:
Bren Gun platforms issued to all Coys 5 D.C.L.I. have in a great many cases not yet been properly affixed in Pill Boxes. All fixed lines and Bren Gun platforms will be affixed by 0900 hours on the 29th August 40.
The point of note is the reference to "Bren Gun platforms"; a gun mounting that could accommodate several different types of machine gun, known as the Turnbull Mounting, was not introduced until 1941, therefore, could this be a reference to the standard Bren tripod (right)?
The tripod also doubled up as a light anti-aircraft tripod, a role in which it had limited application. One tripod was originally issued for each Bren Gun, but this was later reduced to one tripod per three guns.
A small bell rang in the distance; was the arrangement in the Type 24's intended for the Bren tripod? I had measured the embrasure position in one of the Type 24's and so I got out my notebook, tape measure and best Bren tripod. (Really; I actually have two Bren tripods, one better than the other.)
Trying to calculate the possibility of the tripod fitting the embrasure arrangement, I reasoned that it might just work, but the rear legs would have have to hang over the edge of the platform.
I was suddenly deafened by the explosion caused by a very large penny dropping; did the brick pillars coincide with the position of the tripod legs?
The best way to find out would be to take the tripod to a Type 24 pillbox and try and set it up; I broadcast a message across the radio-telephone network to request that Divisional Headquarters arrange transport from the Bren Carrier Platoon to get me to the GHQ Line in order to test my theory.
Within an hour of my receiving my text message, mum turned up in her Vauxhall Corsa.
Cursing reality and the lack of a real Bren Carrier, I stuffed the Bren tripod in the boot and off we went to a Type 24 I knew was just 10 metres from the road.
I was glad of the close proximity of our parking place to the pillbox, as the Bren tripod is not the most comfortable object to have strapped across your back.
Nor is it easy to enter a pillbox with it on; I had to remove it and carry it in.
Once inside, I had to select the best embrasure in which to set the tripod up, and this proved problematic. When I originally measured the depth of the pit in several embrasures in several pillboxes, the maximum depth I recorded was about 12cm.
It transpires that these pits have all been filled in with a mixture of earth, stones and general rubbish, as my first attempt to set up found that the pit was nowhere deep enough for the front leg of the tripod.
I soon realised that I needed to excavate the pit as deep as possible to get the tripod set up correctly. I eventually started digging out the third pit I tried, as the first two were too full of debris tightly wedged in, and the remaining two embrasure pits were full of water.
Putting on some gloves, I began removing endless pebbles, bits of brick and handfuls of earth from the pit. I got so far and then found a piece of brick firmly wedged in place. I had meant to bring my trowel with me in anticipation of such an excavation, but the Royal Engineers had refused to issue tools from stores. (Ok, so I forgot to go to the garden shed and fish it out..)
I eventually found myself rummaging in the boot of the Bren Carrier err...Bren Corsa, until I found a suitable implement in the wheel-change toolkit.
Having excavated the pit to depth of 43cm (a foot deeper than I had anticipated) I finally managed to set up the tripod...and found it a perfect fit!
The photograph below shows how the tripod fits in; the gun (deactivated) has been superimposed onto the photograph; wandering around in public with anything resembling a weapon is simply stupid and irresponsible, and so the gun itself stayed at home under lock and key.
The tripod as seen from behind; again, the gun has been superimposed.
It was highly satisfying to see a hunch work out, but the reason for the cut-out shelf and vertical groove are still unexplained. I thought perhaps that the front leg of the tripod would rest in the groove, but if the tripod is set forward enough to achieve this, the rear legs cannot rest on the pillars.
It may be that the shelf allows the Bren to be rested (with bipod folded) in the absence of the tripod; I can't really test this without actually taking the Bren into a pillbox and testing the theory.
If anyone out there has a Type 24 pillbox situated on their (private) property, then I would love the opportunity to test out my theory...
A loophole or slit that permits observation and/or weapons to be fired through a wall or similar solid construction.
A series of arterial stop lines designed to prevent German forces advancing on London and the industrial Midlands.
Generic term for a hardened field defensive structure usually constructed from concrete and/or masonry. Pillboxes were built in numerous types and variants depending on location and role.
A steel framework that allowed a machine gun to be mounted in an embrasure of a pillbox or other defence work. The mounting could be used with a variety of weapons, such as the Vickers Gun and Bren Gun. Traverse and elevation gear allowed the weapon to be fired on fixed lines.
A six-sided (but not a regular hexagon) pillbox. The Type 24 is the most frequently seen pillbox in East Sussex, mostly along stop lines. It can be found in thin wall (30cm) or thick wall (1m) variants.
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Hibbs, Peter Pillbox weapons mountings (2017) Available at: http://pillbox.org.uk/blog/216515/ Accessed: 22 November 2017
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