Anti Aircaft Gun
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- Last updated: 26/01/2022
When the Swedish navy bought a quantity of 2-pounder ‘Pom Pom’ guns, as used by the Royal Navy, from the British armaments company of Vickers, Navy planners approached the Swedish firm of Bofors with a request that the design be improved. That was in 1922 and now, 100 years later, versions of the weapon that emerged from that request are still in military service in some parts of the world. The first prototype of the new design was not ready for firing trials until 1931 and after adjustments, the weapon was put through its paces by firing 40mm calibre shells at the rate of 130 rounds per minute. Some final modifications satisfied the Swedish military, which led to the start of service production in October 1933.
Known at the time as the ‘40mm akan M/32’, the military called it the ‘Bofors 40mm L/60’ but it became widely known simply as the ‘Bofors Gun’. After all the versions and variants, it is by this name that the gun is universally known.
From the moment it appeared, the gun attracted attention from the military around the world. Built under licence in several countries, the Bofors gun design has been copied directly and influenced the development of many similar weapons. Since the 1930s, many thousands have been produced, some 60,000 of the L/60 version alone, and has been used by nearly 100 countries.
From the very beginning, the Bofors gun proved to be a very versatile weapon and, indeed, remains so with those countries still using it today. On its trailer, it can be towed to sites around airfields to provide point defence. It has also been ‘navalised’ for use on warships, and the L/43 version, with a shortened barrel, was developed specifically for use by submarines. It has also been fitted to aircraft such as the C-130 ‘Spectre’ gunship and mounted on Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) as the main armament - self-propelled versions for mobility and static defence against low flying aircraft. Weapons do not come more ‘all-purpose’ than that.
If weapons could be awarded ‘battle honours’ for their service rendered in wars, then the Bofors gun would have some very impressive awards to its credit. Firstly, all the way through WWII, the Korean War, conflicts in the Middle East, the Falklands War of 1982 and hundreds of other conflicts, it has been used to engage targets on the ground, at sea and in the air. Don’t forget its role against the V-1 from 1944 onwards when the shooting down of ‘Flying Bombs’ undoubtedly saved many lives.
With such a history, it is easy to see why it has such a wide appeal. It is possible to own an example of the weapon which has been fully deactivated to current legal standards, and a number of re-enactment groups have access to an example. The Bofors gun can be used to create a display in any theatre of war from WWII to Korea, plus the Falklands, and even a ‘mixed’ anti-aircraft gun battery with ATS girls operating the targeting equipment. When emplaced behind a screen of sandbags with some ammunition containers, the effect is to produce a great display.
The basic L/60 version, operated by a crew of up to six, weighed almost two tons in action and the trailer added another half-ton to this when being transported. Overall, the gun measured 21ft-4 in length with a barrel length of 7ft-4. Manually operated handles could elevate the barrel between -5º and +90º, to allow ground targets to be engaged, plus aircraft could be tracked by the gun traversing through a full 360º. The operators had to be quick to keep the target in the gun sights and the loaders keeping the gun firing.
Firing the standard 40 X 311mm HE shell, weighing 2lbs with a muzzle velocity of 2,890 FPS, the Bofors had a ceiling height of over 23,000 ft. It was also used to engage ground targets out to more than 4,150 yards. All types of ammunition were supplied, with four shells fitted to a clip and fed into the gun from above.
Such a piece of equipment requires somewhere large and secure to store it when not in use, but collectors always seem to have enough space for just about everything. Collectors acquire different ammunition types for the Bofors guns, such as HE and Armour-Piercing Fin- Stabilised Discarding-Sabot rounds as used on the L/70 version.
When used against the V1 Flying Bombs, almost 80% of targets engaged were destroyed, because the shells were fitted with VT (variable time) or proximity fuses, which detonated the shells when close to the target. Training manuals and instructional posters are sometimes to be found at militaria fairs, making nice additions to any collection.
Examples can be seen in many war museums and those with less space sometimes have one exhibited outside. The Bofors gun is one of those weapons which people find fascinating and for modellers, it is a magnet for photographs. There are discussion forums and associations to be found on the internet where people can ask questions. Because it was a towed weapon, vehicle owners sometimes include a Bofors to display with their vehicle.
The number of armies worldwide using the Bofors is a testimony to the weapon’s reliability and designers have managed to keep it technologically up-to-date in this modern age of missiles. During WWII it was deployed from North Africa to Italy and the Far East as well as across Europe after D-Day. Air defence of the Mulberry Harbours was supplied by Light Anti- Aircraft (LAA) unit gunners of the Royal Artillery operating Bofors. When deployed ashore, they were used to protect airfields and to engage ground targets in support of the infantry, making it one of the best all-round weapons of the war. This versatility has continued through to the modern day and been used in good stead during the many wars in which it has seen service. During the 1950s and 60s, LAA units of the Territorial Army were equipped with Bofors guns, making it possible for re-enactors to create a National Service display.
The number of vehiclemounted anti-aircraft systems that have been designed to incorporate the Bofors gun is truly remarkable and demonstrates its versatility to integrate with modern technology. The current L/70 version fires a new type of ammunition and the slightly larger 40 x 365mm rounds have a muzzle velocity of 3,350 FPS.
Examples have been fitted to armoured vehicles such as the Swedish army’s CV90, proving that there is still plenty of life left in the Bofors gun. A new Italian-designed version, known as the ‘Fast Forty’, is a twinbarrel naval weapon fitted with a 736-round magazine and capable of firing 450rpm.
The Bofors gun has come a long way since it was first developed and is one of those rare weapons about which it can be said that it needs no introduction. It is a design that makes it instantly recognisable to military enthusiasts, collectors, war gamers and modellers alike. Even film ‘buffs’ can pick it out in any of the many war films in which it is featured. In fact, it is safe to say, it will still be around for some time to come, and is still forming a part of history.