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

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Northover Projector (part 2)

Part one can be found here.

We left last weeks article talking about the glass projectile for the Northover Projector. As we are on the subject there were several developments in this field during the period. Around about June 1940 an American mining engineer named Chester Beatty approached the Prime Minister’s office with two types of weapon. The first was a very simple mortar in which a glass bottle could be fired from it using a 12-bore shotgun cartridge, out to a range of about 120 yards. According to the documents I have some 10,000 of these were ordered, and they were used in at least one trial. In this trial the target was a Vickers light tank that was actually being driven towards the mortar crew. Before hand the crew of the tank had been given the option to step out of the trial. However, after seeing the nature of the weapon to be used agaisnt them they happily agreed to man the vehicle. The first round missed, the second round hit the drivers vision port causing a spurt of flame to enter the tank, causing the driver a huge surprise so that he evacuated with some haste.
A young Chester Beatty

Another of Chester Beatty's ideas was a 1.25 pint glass bottle that could be fired from clay pigeon traps. Documents suggest that somehow Chester Beatty was tied into development of the Northover Projector, and one wonders how much influence Maj Northover and his knowledge of clay pigeon traps influenced Chester Beatty.
A typical Clay pigeon trap of the period. The large disk at the left rear is the Clay, which would have been replaced with the incendiary bottle. I just have this mental image of a country Gentleman armed with his shotgun bagging Fallschirmjagers as they fall out the sky, while his grounds keeper uses a trap to lob bottles at an approaching Panzer...

By October some 200 projectors had been completed, but production was coming on stream at Bisley Clay Target Co, and a rate of 1,000 per week was envisioned. The weapon was made entirely out of cast iron, and did not need proofing, a simple visual check and test of the hammer snap was all that was needed.
At the first demonstration Churchill had asked Maj Northover to design a rapid-fire version of the weapon. Offering no promises Northover said he'd try.

With production under way Maj Northover was asked take time out from his work, and to tour the country demonstrating this weapon to the Home Guard. In all he made 71 trips, each time he took an assistant from his Home Guard platoon along, whom he paid for out of his own pocket. These trips ranged from Torquay to Falkirk. The largest demonstration was at Lewis where he showed off his weapon to some 8,000 personnel. Northover was injured twice during these incidents, the first was when a No 76 grenade was dropped and hit a stone, this caused severe burns that left Northover in bed for three weeks (Note the No 76 grenade was filled with a fluid called 'Self Igniting Phosphorous' which also gave rather noxious fumes as well). On another occasion in order to prevent a serious accident, he slapped his hand over the beech of the gun as the trigger was pulled. The impact triggered the blasting cap and caused a serious cut to his hand.
Mk.I Projector

Mk.II Projector
By September 1941 a Mk.II had been designed. This was done by the Selection Manufacturing Company. The main difference was the base. The MK.I had four legs and the Mk.II had three legs. This was done to improve the robustness of the base, as several of the Mk.I versions had become fractured during transport and storage. While some of these could be welded up it was just a temporary fix, and they would likely break again. The Mk.II weapon itself was also different to the extent the parts could not be interchanged, although both weapons functioned identically. In total some 13,000 Mk.I's and 8,000 Mk.II's were built.

In service the projector could fire at a rate of about 15 rounds per minute, after which point the barrel would need swabbing. No equipment was issued for this, although there was advice on how to build a mop. The directions were to take a standard broom handle, cut it in half (thus providing two such mops one for a pair of projectors), and bind a cloth to one end. Then simply dunk in a bucket of water, open the breech and ram through.
What appears to be a double barrelled Northover Projector. It certainly uses No76 SIP grenades, as that is what the loader is holding. I suspect this is a local modification, which sort off demonstrates the ingenuity and sheer variety that Home Guard platoons applied to their defence duties. Indeed the crude nature of weapons such as the Northover Projector, which was essentially an antique cannon modernised, played into the strengths of the Home Guard.
By the 27th March 1942 Maj Northover was able to report back to Winston Churchill that he had perfected the prototype rapid fire Northover Projector. The rate of fire he had achieved with it was forty rounds per minute. It could be loaded with either No 76 SIP grenades, or the No 68 hollow charge anti-tank grenade. However, by this point the dire need for weapons for the Home Guard had abated and the rapid fire version was never taken up.

After the war, in 1948, Northover contacted the War Office, and enquired about royalties. After all he had patented both his projector and the means of firing glass bottles from it. At first there was some question if Northover should have approached the Royal Commission again, however, Northover pointed out he was now in his late 60's and had been told that he would only live for a few more years, so awaiting the Royal Commission's deliberations would mean he might die before they reached a verdict and an award. In the end the War Office agreed a payment of £4,800, which considted of covering his wartime expenses (£1,200), 21,000 projectors (£2,100) and around 1,500,000 cartridges (£1,500).
A home Guard unit poses with its weaponry, from Left to Right: a Lewis gun on a tripod, a M1917 browning machine gun, and a Mk.I Northover projector.
It seems that Northover did not stop work, as in 1950 he filed another patent, for an improved clay target trap, that would enable it to fire rabbits (note not the animal. A rabbit in clay target shooting is one that bounces along the ground). From there I haven’t found any other records from Harry Northover, and once again he disappears.

Image credits:
www.home-guard.org.uk, www.traphof.org and www.irishtimes.com