Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Northover Projector (part 1)

 I'm going to two part this one, as it got a bit long, and I'm really busy this week. If you check my Facebook on Wednesday you'll see why

Born on 31st December 1882 Harry Robert Northover is a curious figure. He passes through history with very little wake, but at certain moments he leaves his fingerprints as he goes. What little we do know of him seems to suggest that before the First World War he was a gun maker, and expert in all things mechanical, that is at lest written on his wartime service record notes. During the First World War he was part of the British Army and rose to the rank of Sergeant. Then he transferred to the Canadian Army in January 1916 at the rank of lieutenant, ending up as part of the 90th Royal Winnipeg Rifles. Here he served as a Quartermaster Sergeant in their machine gun platoon, by 1918 it seems he might have been promoted to Captain. Northover also won the Military Cross at some point after January 1916, but there appears to be no record what for.

A picture of Harry Northover at the 1938 Bisley clay championship
During this time, he made several patented designs relating to machine guns. These included a flash absorber, that has at least one eye witness account of its use. These were fitted to Colt machine guns (likely the  M1895/14) and made the weapon hard to detect when firing. Equally as it increased the barrel pressure the attachment improved the performance of the guns rate of fire. It looks like a large tube mounted on the muzzle like a modern-day sound moderator but with the barrel offset to the top of the tube.

Northover also invented feed belt boxes for machine guns and a new improved Lewis Gun magazine filling machine. The Royal Commission for Inventions awarded Northover £200 for the flash absorber, £1500 for the feed boxes and £500 for the Lewis Gun filling machine. In 1919 the now Major Northover competed at Bisley where he won a silver cross. Then, once again, Northover slips into obscurity.

He re-appears on 21st of October 1938 winning a major clay target competition at Bisley. It is likely that in the inter-war years that Northover settled at Bisley, as he was the director of the Bisley Clay Target Company (and suddenly his 1938 win becomes slightly clearer), and later records have him living at Bisley House, Kensworth, Dunstable. In the inter-war years, he was also awarded a MBE.

Then the Second World War broke out. Now in his late 50's Northover continued with his life, until May 1940. At that time France was in the process of collapsing to the German assault, and Britain was preparing to carry on alone. On the 14th of May Antony Eden broadcast his call to arms for volunteers to the Local Defence Volunteers. Unsurprisingly as a crack shot, and a Major from the previous war, Northover joined up.
A very early parade for the LDV.
What happened next is remarkable simply for its speed. Keep in mind the Germans invaded France on the 10th of May. The LDV were formed on the 14th, and Dunkirk was on the 26th. Before the end of May Maj Northover had designed and built the prototype of a weapon that would become known as the Northover Projector. This weapon was exhibited to Winston Churchill at No 10 Downing Street. It had cost Northover around £330 to build, which likely included his time, as the final production version of the weapon would cost but £6. After viewing the weapon Winston Churchill ordered a demonstration on Hangmoor ranges, which he viewed personally. After the demonstration he immediately ordered 10,000 weapons.
 The weapon was designed to fire a Molotov Cocktail out to 200 yards. The charge was some five grains of black-powder in a cellophane cup. Over this cup are some wadding in the form of fibre boards and rubber padding. This would provide obturation and a cushioning effect on for the glass bottle. The bottle would be loaded first, followed by the charge. As the breech closes nipples on the breech face would finish ramming home the round and pierce the cellophane cup. When the hammer is released a blasting cap placed on the hammer would ignite the black-powder sending the Molotov Cocktail on its way. Opening the breech would automatically re-cock the hammer. At which point a new blasting cap is placed on the hammer, and new bottle and charge loaded.

During one test, in very poor conditions with a thick mist, the target consisted of two 60 gallon oil drums stacked on top of each other, Range for the trials was 60-200 yards. It was judged that around 70% of rounds would have hit a tank or truck sized target.

An improvised mobile mount (see the bottom of the page for more info)
The ammunition for the weapon also went through several versions. The first designs considered projecting a simple Molotov Cocktail, however in July 1940 Albright & Wilson demonstrated an incendiary grenade using white phosphorus. These were developed into the No 76 self-igniting phosphorus grenade. They were a ½ pint bottle which came in two versions, denoted by the colour of the bottle cap. Red was hand throwable, and green had a thicker wall that meant it could be fired by the Northover Projector. Even these thicker ones would sometimes burst and ignite in the breech or barrel of the gun. This was not seen as an issue as every time it happened the entire mass was thrown clear of the gun by the black-powder charge. The hand thrown ones were considered unreliable and needed a lot of force to be broken and could be safely dropped. If it was dropped on a stone, then it was considered dangerous.

Part two can be found here.

The improvised mobile mount:
That mobile mount is interesting because not so long ago I found the following two pictures in an archive:
There's a number of pictures of similar hand carts in use with the Home Guard, such as this one, which shows a Northover Projector broken down and loaded on a hand cart wheel base.
Image credits:
www.scienceandsociety.co.uk, www.staffshomeguard.co.uk and www.nevingtonwarmuseum.com