With the invasion of Poland, Britain and France declared war on Germany in 1939. However, the situation turned sour when the Allied response ultimately proved feeble against the well-trained, well-equipped forces of the German Army - executing their fabled "blitzkrieg" doctrine to perfection. Within time, the Allies became pockets of a divided fighting force, having retreated either south towards Paris or north towards the coastline at the English Channel. There, at the port city of Dunkirk, the famous extraction of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops was undertaken as the German forces began their concentration to the south against forces along the approach to Paris and left the now-contained survivors at Dunkirk to fall under the might of the Luftwaffe. While many war-weary souls were shuttled across the Channel to England, tons of Allied military equipment lay strewn about the European battlefields or left abandoned at Dunkirk itself. After the fall of Paris on June 22nd, 1940, the Germans could now focus on the complete destruction of nearby England.
In many ways, the British were left to fend for themselves for their allies in France and Belgium were subdued and the United States still maintained a position of neutrality. British fighting forces also lacked many of the weapons of war required to fight a prolonged campaign as hundreds of infantry weapons and support guns were lost in the commotion of Dunkirk. With the impending German invasion of the English mainland in their near-future, several notable weapons were born of this desperation period including the oft-forgotten "Northover Projector".
The Northover Projector was designed and developed by one Major Robert Harry Northover of the Home Guard defense force charged with the ultimate protection of English soil from invasion. He personally contacted Prime Minister Winston Churchill urging him to attend a demonstration of his new weapon - a weapon intended as an anti-tank measure but with qualities more akin to an infantry support weapon such as a grenade launcher (its actual anti-tank value was quite questionable).
The Northover Projector was designed from the outset to be as simple and cheap to produce on a large scale as possible even requiring little training in its operation. The system relied on a basic tubular barrel fitted to a cast iron, four-legged support assembly which offered swiveling and elevation. Sighting was through a basic iron device which trained out to 100 yards with some accuracy and out to 300 yards with luck. There was a simple breech fitted to the rear of the barrel and the weapon was actuated via an operating handle containing a trigger bar. Since no complex and costly recoil mechanism was instituted, the Northover Projector was intended to rely on its four hollowed legs to absorb the punch of exiting projectiles. As it stood, the weapon was a crude, albeit operational, weapon system. Projectiles (approximately 64mm in caliber) consisted of standard British Army fragmentation hand grenades and associated rifle grenades. However, its true ammunition became the "No.76 Special Incendiary Grenade" which was nothing more than a glass bottle filled with a phosphorus-based concoction. Ignition of all projectiles was accomplished by way of black powder with percussion cap (similar to the musket technology of old). The weapon required a standard operating crew of two to manage with a possible third brought into the fold for direction and command. Overall weight of the completed system was 27.2kg (60lbs).
Churchill was convinced of the value in the Northover Projector during its demonstration and ordered it into serial production sometime in October of 1940. Primary issue would be to the weapons-strapped Home Guard. To that end, some 8,000 units were issued by August of the following year and, with production continuing, 18,919 examples were inventoried by early 1943.
In practice, the Northover Projector was not an entirely successful or well-received weapon. Its light grenade payload could do very little against any type of armor being fielded by the Germans and its overall range was limited. The glass bottled-projectiles were prone to breaking within the breech, exploding into a fantastic flame and presenting an immediate danger to the crew. The use of phosphorous also meant that a great deal of white smoke was encountered with each launch, easily identifying the position of both weapon and crew to the enemy. At 60lbs, each unit was decidedly heavy when relocating or transporting and take-down of the system was not an option.
Of the various grenades cleared to fire, the phosphorous-based bottle grenade held the most promise against German tanks as the flames and smoke generated from a direct hit could cause the crew to abandon their vehicle. However, this would require a rather lucky hit at that.
To remedy some of the weight issues, the "Northover Projector Mk 2" was developed as early as 1941 in a lightened form. However, very few of this mark were actually produced and even fewer actually issued. Within time, the weapon receded under the arrival of more capable anti-tank solutions passed from the British Army to the Home Guard - leaving the Northover Projector to the pages of history. If the design succeeded on any level, it was in its low procurement costs (10 pounds Sterling in 1940's money) and ease of manufacture but little else. Custom efforts by Home Guard units attempted to ease transport of their heavy Northover Projectors by setting them atop pulled or towed wheeled carriages or on vehicles such as trucks and motorcycles with sidecars. One particular propaganda image of the period also showcased a Northover Projector crew aiming their short-ranged grenade launcher skyward as if to defend England from enemy aircraft - a role that the system was wholeheartedly unsuited for to say the least.
The Northover Projector was never used in anger during all of World War 2 - this perhaps for the better. The type did serve in an active capacity from 1940 to 1945, the latter marking the official end of the war. To a lesser extent, Northover Projectors are said to have served with the British Army proper during World War 2.
The Northover Projector was known under the nicknames of "Bottle Mortar" and "Pipe Gun" for obvious reasons.
Manufacturing State Arsenals - UK
- Anti-Tank / Anti-Material / Breaching
- Area Effect
900 mm (35.43 in)
900 mm (35.43 in)
59.97 lb (27.20 kg)
300 ft (91 m; 100 yd)
Northover Projector Mk I - Original production form.
Northover Projector Mk II - Lightened form of 1941; limited production and issue numbers.
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