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Weapons of D-day

75 years since the Normandy landings and D-day we take a look at the weapons carried by soldiers on both sides.

British infantry section on Gold, Juno and Sword beach, 6 June 1944

These are the weapons which would have been carried by a British infantry section which landed on Gold, Juno and Sword beaches on D-day. Allied armies including the Canadians and Polish also used British equipment.

A section was the smallest unit of the army: 8-10 men who fought together and worked as a team. Their main firepower was the highly accurate Bren light machine gun. Each section had one Bren gun and everybody helped carry ammunition to keep it in action.

The section leader, a corporal, carried a Sten submachine gun and everybody else used the Enfield No. 4 rifle. Even some training manuals implied that the rifle was for personal protection, but it was an accurate and reliable weapon of war.

To give the section increased firepower against tanks or fortified positions, they could carry the platoon PIAT anti-tank launcher. This could also be fired against infantry – with devastating effect. Everybody was trained to use the Bren and PIAT, as keeping these weapons in the fight was vital to British tactics.

Sten Mk. III – PR.7575
Bren Mk. I – PR.6948
Enfield No. 4 Mk. I rifle – PR.5899 (this is a nice sectioned rifle, sectioning being used for instructional purposes to show soldiers what the inside of their weapons looked like)
PIAT Mk. I – PR.1551

German infantry gruppe defending the Atlantic Wall, 6 June 1944

These are the weapons which would have been used by a German infantry gruppe defending the Atlantic Wall on D-day.

The gruppe was the German infantry section. Comprised of 10 men, this was the smallest unit of military organisation. Its members lived, trained and fought together. Most of their firepower came from the MG 42 – a versatile weapon which could be fitted to a variety of bipods, tripods and anti-aircraft mountings to engage different targets. One man fired the machine gun but was assisted by two men who helped carry and load the ammunition. These men carried pistols, either Lugers or Walther P38s, for their own defence.

The section leader carried the iconic MP 40 submachine gun. Both these weapons were popular with Allied troops who sometimes made use of German weapons they found on the battlefields.

The rest of the gruppe were riflemen. By the time of D-day, they would have been equipped with a combination of the Kar98K bolt action rifle, the Gewehr 43 self-loading rifle and possibly the Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle.

British intelligence reported that every German gruppe had one sniper rifle, but it is difficult to be certain if this was true.

MP 40 – PR.13314
MG 42 – PR.79
Walther P38 – PR.10741
Kar98K – PR.6438
Gewehr 43 (with telescopic sight) – PR.6661
Sturmgewehr 44 – PR.5364

British Airborne section behind enemy lines, 5-6 June 1944

The night before D-day, British and American airborne soldiers dropped by parachute or landed by glider behind enemy lines. Their mission was to secure strategic objectives, such as bridges, to prevent the Germans from reinforcing the beaches.

The Airborne section consisted of 8-10 fighting men, just like its infantry equivalent. However, they were frequently much better armed. They carried at least one Sten submachine gun and one Bren light machine gun, possibly drawing more from company stocks prior to entering combat.

They used the same Enfield No. 4 rifle as the infantry, but it was commonplace for Airborne forces to give one sniper rifle to each section. In the regular infantry, telescopic rifles were reserved for well-trained specialist snipers who operated with more independence.

Airborne forces also carried a variety of pistols. One of the most common and popular was the American Colt 1911.

A special lightweight version of Britain’s 2 inch mortar was designed for Airborne soldiers. This could fire high explosive bombs, but was often used to create a smokescreen to cover the section’s assault.

Sten Mk. V – PR.7342
Bren Mk. I – PR.6948
.45 Colt 1911 – XII.3661
Enfield No. 4 Mk. I rifle – PR.5899
Enfield No. 4(T) – PR.5947
2 inch mortar Mk. VII* – PR.172

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