Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Pom pom Power!

When Hiram Maxim invented the machine gun in the mid 1880's it was revolutionary. Hoping success would strike twice the gun was scaled up to 37mm. This new weapon fired a one pound shell. Oddly it didn't fit in with the thinking of the period, having a terrible range and shell weight compared to a conventional gun, and a slow rate of fire and was much heavier than a machine gun, so no one could see what to do with it. Also, it was rather expensive. However, several were brought by the Boers just in time for the Boer War. There the Boers used them as light support weapons, ideally they'd smuggle one in range of the enemy, fire off a short burst then withdraw. Meanwhile the British on the receiving end had a series of small explosive shells raining down all about them and were thoroughly suppressed. The British armed forces might be averse at spending money, but when in a war and there's something the enemy have that they don't that they need, they'll pay for it. Soon the British Army had these guns in service. Troops had named them from the distinctive sound they made, the pom pom gun. The pom pom gun, like its smaller cousin, soldiered on for a number of years, and was in service until the end of the Second World War. 
Boer Pompom
 As well as an infantry gun it was fielded on naval vessels where it was to provide close in defence against steam launches mounting torpedoes. As warfare became three dimensional the pom pom gun took on its main foe; the aircraft. In British service at least this started in 1913 on the Isle of Wight. At the Needles Battery a pom pom was mounted on the drill square and fired at a kite towed by a Royal Navy destroyer out in the Solent, and just in time as well, as the First World War was right around the corner. On the 23rd of September 1914 a pom pom under command of Lt O. Hogg opened fire at an enemy aircraft. After firing 75 rounds the plane was shot down. The pom pom served on both sides of the war, primarily as an AA weapon. However, a new job was beckoning, the tank. Little Willie, the famous ancestor of all tanks was originally designed to be fitted with a turret, and in that turret the main gun was to be a pom pom gun. Another round of scaling up took place during the war, and the pom pom gun reached its final, and most common form. It was now 40mm calibre and fired a two pound shell. 
1Pdr Pompom mounted on a vessel. For most of WWII these were used as self defence guns on small ships such as coastal trawlers and the like.
 From 1923 until 1930 the 2pdr pom pom was developed by the Royal Navy to be mounted on ships to provide them with close in protection. These were most famously mounted on in quad or even octuple mounts. The idea was to put a constant wall of explosives up in the face of an incoming aircraft and hopefully drive it off, or if it barrels through the flak to kill it. On the larger mounts the guns could be fired for 73 seconds continuously before needing re-loading. In one engagement HMS Illustrious is considered to have fired some 30,000 shells, without a single gun fault.  
"At least we shot that Focker down"
 Today there is some question about the lethality of the weapon, with most of the detractors pointing towards the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, and the report into it. Which contains words to the effect that a single Bofors 40mm would have been better than the 2pdr pom poms fitted. 
However this isn't entirely true, the report is talking about the effect of warding off the attackers by causing them to flinch, the pom poms had one flaw, no tracer in their shells. So for warding planes off it was largely ineffective. Equally during the same battle the pom pom's were using ammo damaged by the heat of the tropics, and the ships fire control radar was offline, again due to the heat. One of the leading gunners who survived the attack recounts how he spent the entire time racing from one gun station to the next to unjam the thing and keep the barrels going due to the faulty ammunition. Yet despite these negatives the pom poms accounted for two of the four attackers that were shot down in the incident.  
The Bofors 40mm was also heavier and required more space to operate, and for a time when ship designers spent a lot of time worrying about weight limitations these were not small concerns. 
Just to give you an idea of how big the 2Pdr shells were. Imagine sixteen of those a second coming at you.
 In between the wars the 2pdr pom pom also was mounted on a tank, and was utterly unique at the time. A small number of Vickers E type 6 ton tanks were modified with an open fighting compartment and had a single 2pdr pom pom fitted. For many years the exact story of these tanks has been missing but recent work has brought it to light. I've been wanting to write about these for some time, however someone beat me to it. I'm not going to steal someone else's work, so for the full story go here. 
In summary the Siamese Type 76 AA guns were used to help defeat a coup led by lower members of the royalty against the government ministers during the Boworadet rebellion. 

As well as the Type 76 SPAA the 2pdr pom pom served out the war arming many Royal Navy vessels, and quite a few trawlers and other small craft around the British Isles. After that the gun was replaced by the ubiquitous Bofors 40mm. 
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