Genesis of the Boys anti-tank rifle
The Boys was probably the most common allied anti-tank rifle of the war. Designated “Rifle, Anti-Tank, .55in, Boys” for the Ordnance and “elephant gun” for the troopers it has been conceived as a cheap, relatively handy and organic way for infantry to deal with most tanks of the 1930s. It should have been declared obsolete early on in 1941 due to the increase of armour of most tanks, but against all odds stayed in service until 1945 and beyond, despite the introduction of more potent weapons like the PIAT or the bazooka…
This weapon was designed by Captain H. C Boys (the Assistant Superintendent of Design) in the mid-1930s as a way to give infantry squads a way to deal with tanks (at that time, most common tanks were still relatively light, and tankettes quite common). In practice, firing from a hidden position in the rear part of a light tank was often sufficient to cause major damage. The rifle was ready and put into service in November 1937 and would have been named “Stanchion” but was renamed shortly after “Boys” to honour the memory of its designer, deceased a few weeks later. With the war erupting, production was stepped up and eventually three types would emerge, produced notably in Canada.
The Boys was basically a heavy bolt action rifle, fed from a large five-shot magazine. Cumbersome at 5 feet 2 inches (1.57 m) and heavy at 35 pounds (16 kgs) it was still considered a one-man job, whereas the average liquid-cooled machine gun had a crew of three. This was a crucial tactical advantage as it could be deployed in large numbers inside infantry regiments. The normal barrel length itself was 91 cm (a special airborne version was reduced to 76.2 cm), to provide the necessary muzzle velocity (from 747 to 884 m/s or 2,450.1 ft/s to 2,899.5 ft/s) to propel the 0.55 inch (13.9 mm) 47.6 gram round bullet, and caused it to be effective on light armour (23.2 mm thick) at 100 yards (91 m). However it was over-calibrated at 14.3 mm (0.56 in). Indeed the cartridge itself was an adaptation of the .50 BMG (belt-firing) bullet Kynoch & RG .55 Boys, converted to magazine 5-rounds housing.
The recoil was tremendous and the design was given several characteristics to reduce it: A shock absorber was fitted to the bipod, and sizeable muzzle brake fitted on the barrel. There were also small narrow-slotted screws of soft steel set very tight into the body of the weapon (which caused real problems for its repair). Also, for better accuracy, it was fired from a crouched position or behind protecting cover, kneel down, using a Bipod and a separate grip below the padded butt. On average, the rate for fire was ~10 round/min. It was most effective at short range, taking advantage of the covert position of the gunner, especially in ambushes. It was found capable of a 18.8 mm penetration at 500 yards (460 m) on a flat plate and was able to deal with most recce vehicles and in general all armoured cars of the time.
Production & variants
Because of its noise and recoil, the Boys was never fired as a free weapon, but always from a deliberate prearranged position. for this reasons its purpose was mostly defensive but it had found its way in most British light and medium armoured cars, or tankettes like the Universal Carrier. Indeed, in theory, it was given to recce units susceptible to only encounter similar vehicles, for what the Boys was judged adequate. Its noise and the blast associated however made its owner’s position quickly revealed
The production lasted from 1937 to 1940.
Two main variants were used during the Second World War:
-Mark 1 (60 g AP, 747 m/s) or early type (could penetrate 23.2 mm of armour at 100 yards)
The British BMC had a T-shaped monopod and circular muzzle brake, while the Canadian Jonathan Inglis version in Toronto (Mark 1*), had a squared muzzle brake and V-shaped bipod. The third airborne variant had a reduced barrel.
-Mark 2 (with 47.6 g AP projectile at 884 m/s). (And later Tungsten-core projectile at 945 m/s).
With around 62,000 being provided to all infantry regiments of the British Army and the Commonwealth forces, and later allied free forces (Polish, Czech, French…), the Boys was still around in 1945 and even later. It was efficient in May 1940 due to the relatively light armour of the Panzer I, II and Panzer 35(t), and was still largely used during the whole North African Campaign but was gradually replaced with the introduction of the PIAT from 1942.
Their most happy and profitable users were the Finns which used it during the winter campaign and beyond, finding it was efficient against the most current Soviet tanks of the time, the T-26 and the BT series. They eventually produced their own versions, the 14 mm pst kiv/37. Many were also captured in 1940 by German forces that have it integrated as the 13.9-mm Panzerabwehrbüchse 782(e). The Italians also used some captured during the early phases of the NA campaign. The ANZACS also found it useful until the end of the war, dealing with lightly armoured Japanese tanks in the Pacific and SE Asia. For the same reasons it was also popular with the Chinese nationalists during WW2 and in the civil war. Through lend-lease some 3,200 also found their way into the Soviet Army. The US Marine Corps in early 1942 also used some in defensive positions, and later Marine Raiders. Ex-Canadian Boys were also modified by USMC snipers with scopes in the Korean war, with double-charge 50 BMG ammo. These were found lethal at over 2000 yards and motivated the creation long after of heavy sniper rifles like the contemporary 0.5 in Barrett M82.
After the war, the Boys was used also by Malaya, Luxembourg, Congo, Greece, Ireland, and the Philippines.
A British made Boys AT Rifle, fitted with a a T-shaped monopod and round muzzle brake.
Manual of the Boys ATR RHS
Technical data :
- Weight & Dimensions : Weight unloaded 16 kg (35 ibs); Length 1.57 mm (5ft 2in)
- Performances : Muzzle Velocity : 747 m/s to later 884 and even 945 m/s, Penetration 23.2mm/91m; Rate of Fire : 5 rpm
- Ammo : Caliber 0.55; 5-rounds magazine.
Swedish volunteers in the Finnish Army carrying Boys AT rifles.