Almost as soon as Britains started making figures of soldiers, they provided artillery pieces to field with them. Some of them are pretty impressive. In 1902 for example, they produced their first version of the 4.7” Naval Gun (mounted on a land carriage and used by the British during the 2nd Boer War), a model that measures some 20cm in length.
When the Deetail range was established, there were a number of artillery pieces already available that could be used with the figures. Nevertheless, Britains added a couple of new guns to complement the range. Let’s take a look at one now, the 25-pounder Field Gun.
25-pounder Field Gun
The 25-pounder gun howitzer was the standard British Army field gun during World War Two and into the 1960s. It was well-known, and a perennial favourite of post-war toymakers. For a fuller description of the actual weapon, take a look at my story about the model made by Dinky.
Britains’ 25-pounder Guns
Britains Deetail 9704 25-pounder Field Gun
Year first produced: 1976
L110 x W50 x H47, Metal 91g, Scale 1:32, Features: 2
The 1976 model is made from hard-wearing mazak (an alloy of zinc) and comprises three main pieces: the combined gun and trail, made in two longitudinal halves, and the gun shield. A separate muzzle piece binds the ends of the barrel together and completes the basic structure.
The model is much simplified when compared to the actual gun, especially around the breech, where no attempt has been made to represent the various sighting and control mechanisms. The circular firing platform used with the gun has also not been included (an omission that Dinky also made).
On the inside of the gun shield are the marks
“BRITAINS LTD” and “MADE IN ENGLAND
A single metal axle carries two plastic rotating wheels, fitted with rubber tyres that are also marked
“ENGLAND” and “BRITAINS LTD”
on one side and on the other
“ENGLAND” and “DUNLOP”
Dunlop was a leading rubber manufacturer well known for making tyres for full-size vehicles, so maybe they provided the tyres for the Britains model? A hole cast into the trail allows the gun to be moved by a vehicle equipped with a towing hook. Britains did, in fact, pair the gun with a military Land-Rover also from the Deetail range (incorrectly, since the Series III vehicle modelled wasn’t produced until the 1970s and in any case, was not used as an artillery tractor).
The model is finished in British military green. It’s a simple, robust representation.
Most annoyingly, Britains did not provide any crew figures to fire the gun. But fear not, we can fire the gun ourselves – see below.
Because the gun and trail were cast as one assembly (albeit in two halves), the gun does not elevate. It does, however, contain a simple firing mechanism. This consists of a bent pin held in place by a spring, which can be pulled back and twisted to one side to cock the gun. At this point, a projectile can be placed in the mouth of the barrel and lowered until it rests against the firing pin. Twisting the pin back releases it to return to its starting position, propelling the projectile out of the barrel.
At some point, this mechanism was changed. The firing pin was lengthened and bent round to re-enter the barrel. In this configuration, the gun cannot be left cocked – it must be withdrawn by grasping the turned pin, and released in one action.
Now, to complete our survey, it’s important to note that our model was not the first representation of the 25-pounder that Britains produced. In the 1950s they created an earlier model, numbered initially 2026 but soon renumbered 9705. Yes, it’s confusing but model 9705 predates model 9704. The main body of the gun is composed of only two parts – the trail, and the combined gun and shield. As a result of this simplification, the gun-shield is devoid of detail, so 9705 is an even more simple and robust model than its later cousin.
Like 9704, the gun cannot be elevated, but there is a spring-loaded mechanism for firing projectiles. Unlike 9704 however, there is an extra feature. Just behind the un-cocked position of the firing pin, is a transverse slot. This, according to Britains, was provided to hold an amorce cap, a posh term for a ubiquitous accessory during the post-war period usually known simply as caps. As I remember them, caps were sold in rolls, and each consisted of a small waxed paper container enclosing a tiny amount of explosive material that when struck would make an audible bang. So, this gun not only fires a shell, it also makes a bang!
Health & Safety
These three different firing mechanisms provide interesting evidence of how toy manufacturers had to adapt their products to conform with increasing safety concerns.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s it was perfectly acceptable to sell toy guns that could fire small projectiles at high velocities, and which could be fitted out with explosive caps. Still, unlike earlier artillery models produced by Britains, the box in which 9705 was supplied did carry the following text “WARNING. Do not point the gun at yourself or any other person during the operation of preparing, loading or firing.”. As we will see below, this is sound advice.
When model 9704 was released in 1976, the slot for the amorce cap had disappeared. Someone had obviously decided that allowing wide access to explosives, even in relatively benign form, was a bad idea. Obviously, a single cap is not dangerous, but maybe a dedicated collector might amass a substantial amount of the material…
In addition, the firing pin is less powerfully sprung, thus presumably reducing the velocity of the shells it might fire. Slower shells would be less likely to cause injury. Even so it must still have been considered potentially dangerous, because as mentioned above, the mechanism was subsequently changed, the main effect being to reduce the power of the strike still further.
Hmm, all this talk of firing has given me an idea. I think we need to do some tests, so let’s put on our tin helmets and go down to the firing range.
So, how do the firing performances of the three variants of 25-pounder compare? To evaluate this, I had to find a single projectile that could be fired from all 3 guns. Simple, I thought, as I had some shells to hand which had come with my model 9705. Uh-oh. While they nestled snugly in the barrel of 9705, they won’t fit into 9704. In the end, I resorted to a very traditional projectile, a used matchstick, slightly chamfered so as to fit cleanly down the gun barrels without catching at any point.
To keep the test simple, I measured the distance travelled from the gun-shield of the firing 25-pounder to the nearest point of the matchstick once it had come to rest. This includes distance travelled whilst on the ground. Misfires or shots that ricocheted off obstacles were discounted. I fired the matchstick from each gun six times, and recorded both an average and the maximum distance achieved.
|9704, early mechanism||280cm||308cm|
|9704, late mechanism||242cm||276cm||Prone to misfires|
Clearly, the older 9705 version, though a more Spartan representation, is a far more effective weapon than our model. You have been warned – use it with care.
And finally, before leaving the firing range, I decided I just had to answer another burning question. Can any of these guns knock down a Deetail figure, given the much-vaunted metal base that supposedly confers heft and stability?
A suitable victim was placed chest-on to the gun, and firing commenced. Much to my surprise, only the most powerful gun, 9705 could flatten the target and only then within a point-blank range of 20cm or closer. Those Deetail bases really do seem to work!
As part of their Deetail range, Britains also created the 9732 PAK 38 anti-tank gun, a German weapon that can do service with their German Infantry of World War Two. In addition, Deetail added the 7334 Recoilless Rifle to their range, a model based on the M20 which saw service in the closing stages of WW2. It’s a strange model because it can’t be lowered to anything like a realistic elevation, but at least – unlike most Britains artillery pieces – it came with two crewmen.
Guns already available when Deetail were introduced and which were contemporary with Deetail figures include the 9726 American Civil War Field Piece, and the truly magnificent 9745 United States 155mm Gun M1, the famous ‘Long Tom’ of the Second World War.