Boys Anti Tank Rifle

As I have aged I began to notice that the books I have been reading about World War 2 had begun to bore me. Most that I was reading were about the massive operations that everyone knows about such as Barbarossa or Market Garden or the campaigns in the Pacific. A few notable exceptions were the Morison Set (that I think I may re-read this year) and works by Eric Bergerud such as Fire in the Sky and Touched with Fire. There were a few other highlights, but for the most part I was getting bored with the topic. Then I decided to take a deeper dive into smaller events, personalities, and items associated with WW2.

A few days ago while puttering around YouTube I found an amazing set of videos about the Boys Anti Tank Rifle. First a few words about this weapon in general.

An Anti Tank Rifle is a weapon that was used in close infantry battles with tanks. The idea, as you can see in the video, is not to blow up the tank, but to either disable it or wound the crew inside. The Boys shoots a 55 caliber armor piercing bullet.

The very idea of letting a tank get within 100 yards or so of you before you are firing is scary enough for me, but I suppose the resulting reply fire of the tank if you miss is a worse thought.

It was amazing in watching these videos how similar this weapon is to countless weapons I have seen and fired. The principle is the same to any bolt action rifle, only it is larger. I shouldn’t go on too much longer, as the videos do a wonderful job explaining how to fire the weapon, and also how to disassemble and clean it. These videos were made by the Canadian military during WW2. I like how they use cartoons in them as well. If you are interested in this sort of thing, these videos, totalling approximately 30 minutes will be well worth your time. I love how Hitler is made fun of in the beginning parts. Note that the production was done with Walt Disney studios. I assume they leaned on them for their animation talents at the time.

Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here and part four is here.

Cross posted at LITGM.

16 thoughts on “Boys Anti Tank Rifle”

  1. “… reading about World War 2 had begun to bore me”

    I have read so much about World War II that I find myself in a similar situation. I know how it comes out.

    I have found some things that interest me most in recent years (1) the recent scholarship in the Russian Front, (2) war memoirs, (3) more academic-type books, sometimes on niche issues.

    A book that falls into categories 1 and 3 is The Role of Intelligence in Soviet Military Strategy in World War II by David M. Glantz. By looking at these niche areas you get more insight into the whole thing than just looking at one more book with arrows running from Normandy to the Rhine, or the Volga to the Elbe. Once you have the main landscape down, you can want to start sketching in the details.

    War memoirs help to bring these vast events into more tangible form. Two I have read in recent years which were excellent were Defeat Into Victory by Field Marshall William Slim (for the army commander’s eye view), and So Few Got Through: Gordon Highlanders with the 51st Division From Normandy to the Baltic by Martin Lindsay (for the battalion commander’s view).

    An example of a category three book is Richard Overy’s The Air War: 1939-1945 covers a very big “niche”, but does provide a different perspective on the war. A more truly “niche” book is one that just came in the mail, Commando Country by Stuart Allen. It is about the British commandos in World War II, and their training camps in the Scottish highlands, and looks like it will be very good.

    I am realizing more and more that I need to read more about the war in China. It consumed more lives than even the Russian front, but I know very little about it. That is a real gap in my knowledge. I have the Barbara Tuchman book about Stillwell but I have not read it yet.

    On the specific point about the Boys rifle, I read somewhere that the initial anti-tank rifles were literally elephant-guns and other civilian arms for hunting very large game that the Germans commandeered in World War I to try to puncture the early British tanks. The Boys rifle and its Russian and German equivalents were knockoffs of these hunting weapons. Of course, the spiralling race between armor and penetrating power soon rendered these rifles obsolete. But, even with that, I recall seeing pictures of (I think) Red Army troops late in the war and one was carrying a bolt action anti-tank rifle. Why was he carrying this (heavy) obsolescent weapon? I speculate that he hung onto it to hit less heavily armored vehicles, or to penetrate bunker walls, even if it could not penetrate a tank’s armor.

  2. The very idea of letting a tank get within 100 yards or so of you before you are firing is scary enough for me, but I suppose the resulting reply fire of the tank if you miss is a worse thought.

    I’d worry more about the infantry that moves along with the tanks. While you’re potting away at the tanks they’re busy shooting at the guys carrying the bolt-action rifles.

    I did like the part of the video where they were pointing out that while the AT rifles are not going to penetrate the armor of medium tanks they will have some effect on the joins and other weak spots.

    In the 80s we got similar advice at infantry school about engaging Soviet tanks with rifles; “if you lack anti-tank weapons you’re going to get run over but before you do, aim for vision blocks, tracks and anyone sticking their head out of the hatch. By dealing out a small amount of damage you’ll make it easier for someone else to blow them up.”

  3. Lex, read the Tuchman. It’s a lot of fun. Effective portrayal of the Chinese as individually resourceful but collectively stuck on stupid, as we would say now. Some astonishing “subplots,” eg the Feng Yuxiang story.

  4. It’s funny. We see MacArthur’s failure to see the risk of Chinese intervention in late 1950 as inexcusable. But Chinese military incompetence was something that was taken totally for granted. The Europeans and Americans and Japanese had been beating the crap out of Chinese armies for a century — from the Opium Wars on down. When the Chinese had a big civil war, the Tai-Ping Rebellion, the Manchu ruler needed western mercenaries to train and lead the army to put the thing down. The Americans had a military presence in China since the Boxer Rebellion or earlier, and the senior officers were all familiar with China. And the American leadership had worked closely with the KMT and knew all about them, either directly or by reliable hearsay. The Chicoms need not have been terribly skillful to beat the KMT, so no one had a reason to think Mao’s guys would be fearsome foes. So, when the Chicoms turned out to be very tough customers, it was a shock to everybody. The Chinese attack on the UN forces in 1950 was the first time a Chinese army had kicked the snot out of a non-Chinese army in a long, long time. MacArthur was wrong, and he deserves the blame, but maybe a little less than he gets in hindsight.

  5. Lex Green: “By looking at these niche areas you get more insight into the whole thing than just looking at one more book with arrows running from Normandy to the Rhine, or the Volga to the Elbe.”

    I think this is right. These niche areas are where I have been spending my time on WW2 and plan to in the forseeable future. I think this is why I like the Bergerud books so much. I will look into the conflict in China – sounds interesting and is certainly a topic that I haven’t spent a lot of time on.

    These niche areas in history seem to fill in the blanks a lot of times.

    I will go off topic a bit too. The Russo-Japanese War is a niche event – there isn’t a lot of scholarly work done on it. I just read “The Tide at Sunrise” by Peggy Warner – I found the book at a garage sale for fifty cents. An interesting sidetrip from my WW2 readings. Not only that, it really helped me understand a lot of what went on before, during and after WW2.

    The Japanese carried battle flags from the Russo-Japanese war on their carriers before Pearl Harbor, for instance.

    Anyways, it looks like I have a lot of reading in these niche areas of WW2, and history in general, ahead of me.

  6. And to address another point, I think the ATR’s held a purpose later in the war, most usually to take out trucks and lightly armored vehicles such as open top troop carriers as the Germans used. I would imagine partisans would use these quite often to help disrupt supply vehicles or enemy vehicles in general.

    Obviously, later in the war with the up-armored tanks the Panzerfausts, panzerschreks and bazookas were the tools of the trade. And many times these wouldn’t affect the larger beasts of 1944-1945. Sigh – to be an infantryman in WW2 – not desirable.

  7. I found also that the more I read about World War II, the more I kept getting drawn back to World War I to understand what really happened. The earlier was was really the foundation for what happened later. Then you can get pushed back farther and farther and see both world was as the culmination of a longer process. I will add that book on the Russo-Japanese war to the my collection. One writer whom I very highly recommend is Robert Citino. He has two pairs of book, both of which deal with World War two as part of larger processes. The first pair is Quest for Decisive Victory: From Stalemate to Blitzkrieg in Europe, 1899-1940 and Blitzkrieg to Desert Storm: The Evolution of Operational Warfare. The second pair is The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich and Death of the Wehrmacht: The German Campaigns of 1942.

    These books are easy to read and are eye-openers. One thing that the first pair teaches is that the era before World War I was a time of intellectual ferment, with the officers of all armies trying to come to grips with the new technology. World War I turned out to be worse ahd more difficult than they expected. But they were not thoughtless “donkeys”. The second one teaches the remarkable continuity of German military thinking and practice over the centuries, which was often a lot less intellectual than it is now considered to be, and which contained the seeds of its own failure due. Citino merits a post from me, but events, dear boy, events … .

    Time is the constraint.

  8. I have read and re-read Rick Atkinson’s “An Army at Dawn” and am now digging into his second book, “The Day of Battle”. (For those not familiar with the books: The first covers the American North African campaign in WW II, and the second covers the Sicily and Italy campaigns. He plans one more.)

    As for Tuchman’s Stilwell book, I found it extraordinarily frustrating. Stilwell himself was a fascinating man, and a great general, but Tuchman can’t quite decide whether what he was trying to do in China was impossible. I stopped reading her after that book, although I loved her earlier books, “The Zimmerman Telegram, “The Proud Tower”, and “The Guns of August”. (I would still recommend all three, but with some reservations for the last two.)

  9. I too am getting a bit bored with WW2 and looking at WW1 as well as more personal stories. I also like the Russo-Japanese war as well, quite interesting all of the innovations made at the time and the combined arms element of warfare.

    I think that part of the reason that it is getting less interesting is because it is out of step with the times; now war isn’t between two well equipped and motivated armies but between civilians and militaries, and often para-military. It is hard to tell where war starts and where war stops, and now wars can be measured in centuries as borders change and populations move (look at Serbia).

    The big issue is how these wars are fought; look at Russia in Chechnya vs. US in Iraq. An interesting point would be to compare the 2 – we don’t indiscriminately torture civilians and use heavy artillery directed towards cities but it is (kind of) working for the Russians.

    But these are the exceptions… in the rest of the world from Columbia to Kenya war is more of a local strategy, combined with drugs, ethnic politics, and resources.

    Maybe studying the hundred years war would help me get a better grip…

  10. BTW, we may see a state vs. state war in South America, as several countries have mobilized there. A state vs. state war is something I thought I would never see in my lifetime, post Cold War.

  11. Let me recommend The Library of Congress World War II Companion. The book is encyclopedic, with all the pluses and minuses that entails, but it does a very good job in looking at other-than-the-main-fronts. Coverage of China is quite good, as it that of Latin America and the Middle East, going outside of the famed battles in Libya and Tunisia.

    It has some new-to-me things, too. Like the woman in Ohio who was contracted to raise and milk silk from black widow spiders for use in optical sights.

    I found it in my public library, but for $27, it’s not a bad buy from Amazon.

    I find John Keegan’s books to be excellent, as well as Norman Davies’ books on Poland and Central Europe. WWII is not Davies’ main theme in the books, but he can hardly leave it out. I notice that he has just written a new book, No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945 , but don’t know a thing about it other than I’ve just ordered it. Of particular note is Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw (2001). It’s my opinion, but I don’t know of anyone better writing on Poland before, during, and after WWII.

  12. Not a book, but this site, Lone Sentry, has a collection of “Photos, Articles, & Research on the European Theater in World War II”. These include US, British, and Russian field reports on arms, tactics, and counter-tactics. Often they include the first reports on the appearance of new weapons or tactics. It’s a limited site, but quite interesting for its period information.

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