Friday, January 22, 2010

Grandad's Tank

When I was about 10 I was staying at my grandparents place in Sans Souci while mum was in hospital having a major operation , I was in an alien world away from my mates and my town , there was no beach nor block of bush to go play in nearby.
The only solace was when grandad came home from work , he was an Ambulance driver for St John's , while not saving lives he liked to tinker in his sheds and make wooden toys for kids , many hours were spent in those sheds gazing at the variety of tools and gadgets , one day while going through some boxes of junk ( treasure to me ) he handed me this object.
" What is it grandpa " I asked
" It came out of a French tank in World War 1 , keep it and don't ever lose it ok ? "
It was a spent shell casing about 16 cm long and I did manage to hold onto it all these years , nearly lost it at school once and had the Bomb Squad called by an over cautious teacher until I explained how real ammo doesn't have the bullet part in it once its been fired.

Recently I have been collecting the Combat Tanks Collection via my newsagent , a fortnightly magazine that comes with a 1/72 scale model die cast tank each issue , I decided to have another look at the shell casing and see if I could use the internet to verify grandads story.
Firstly I took some pics of it and posted them on a couple of online forums , there are a variety of markings on the base of the shell which should be enough to ID it :



Markings as follows from top: K 10 JUNE 1918 ( maybe 13 ) Sp 255 119A and on the firing pin 6 or G Kp

Starting with the date June 1918 , I looked up what French tanks were on the battlefield at that time in WW1 , the FT-17 had just come into service that year and fielded a 37 mm Puteaux cannon as main armament , the shell casing is 37mm

The first replies to my forum enquiries were coming in , one guy had Googled the specs and gave me a link to this page

Here we have a re-assembled shell for the famous 'Quick-Firing' 37 mm MAXIM GUN. Known as the POM-POM.
The dates on the bottom of the ...(Fired) case tell us the story......They read......K 19 AUG 1918 Sp 255 119A.
"Quartermaster's Comment" The Maxim was a 'Dual Purpose' Quick Firing Gun......Often used on ships against Aircraft. This Shell is some 16 cms long and weighs in at around 550 grams. The Shell Head would appear to have been taken from a shell that had not been fired......(and is in very good condition)......but the base of the shell shows that the pin has struck the cap.
All Round a Nice Item.

Not the result I wanted but it got me closer to what I was looking for , surely grandpa wasn't telling me a porky pie.

Another reply pointed out that this type of ammo was commonly used by most armies and in a variety of guns over 2 wars and led me to this site

The first pair in this PHOTO: 37mm Hotchkiss/Maxim (37x94R), Vickers 1 Pdr Mk III (37x69R).
The Hotchkiss round is the daddy of them all in terms of automatic cannon development. Following the Declaration of St Petersburg of 1868, which banned explosive shells weighing less than 400g, it was calculated that 37mm was about the right caliber for a weapon firing shells at least this big. Hotchkiss first developed a 40mm six-barrel rotary gun (based on the Gatling but using a refined mechanism), but rapidly switched to a five-barrel 37mm and achieved huge commercial success. It was the first fast-firing shell gun in the world. Larger weapons in 47mm and 53mm followed, but they never matched the 37mm in popularity. So it was natural for Maxim, when he decided to scale up his machine gun to make a shell-firing "pom-pom", to choose the same 37x94R ammo. It was also used in a variety of small manually-loaded guns, including the ones fitted to the French FT light tanks. It was STILL used in some small French tanks in 1940, albeit with a better loading with a hard-core projectile with a much higher velocity.

Here were pics of 37mm Hotchkis type ammo used by the German and French armies ,this ammo was also used in the FT-17 Renault tanks and then the story took another twist ...

The markings on the base explained :

K means it was made in the German city of Karlsruhe and Sp255 means it was inspected in Spandau , the Kp on the detonator plug means it was made by Krupp another German manufacturer

So what do I have ?
It looks like I have a shell from a French FT-17 tank circa 1918 using captured German 37mm rounds , a scenario not entirely unfeasible as this kind of thing happened during the fog of war.
German had used captured Allied tanks in the battle on the Western Front on a few occasions .
The FT-17 was the first tank with a revolving turret and they proved effective in battle , I can imagine a young soldier wanting to souvenir a piece of this wondrous new weapon back in 1918.

Which led me to another question, where did grandpa get it from ? , he worked as a carpenter in the Peace Corps in WW1 and never left the country.
A late night phone call to mum answered the question , grandpa's brother was stationed in France during WW1 near Passchendaele , scene of some of the most desperate and bloody battles against the German forces.

This battle is remembered by the New Zealand Division in particular as a slaughter. Wire remained uncut before stoutly defended German positions and the New Zealanders were killed and wounded in hundreds. The mud of a small river valley below Passchendaele bogged most of the Third Australian Division and German machine-gun fire delayed the centre of the attack. A trench manned by 35 Germans and four machine-guns was charged by Captain Clarence Jeffries and a dozen men of the 34th Battalion (New South Wales) which allowed the advance to continue for a while. Captain Jeffries led several more attacks on machine gun emplacements until he was killed. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Between the beginning of August and the end of November 1917 the five Australian divisions suffered 38,000 casualties out of a total for all British forces of 475,000. More than 11,200 Australians were killed in action or died of wounds, 6,405 of them in October alone. Indeed, October 1917, with its more than 26,000 Australian battle casualties was the worst single month of the war for Australia. The struggle for Passchendaele, because of the awful conditions in which it was fought, became notorious and the entire ‘Flanders Offensive’ is more popularly called ‘Passchendaele’. In the spring of 1918, the Germans attacked at Ypres and all the ground gained in late 1917 was given up.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

From John McCrae, ‘In Flanders Fields

I can imagine my uncle grabbing this off the battlefield for his brother who loved his gadgets , a small souvenir from a place far far away , I shall keep it forever and pass it down to my nephew when the time is right

Lest we forget.


  1. That is an amazing story. We are still living those wars really. I inherited an amputation knife, from my Grand dad!
    I do like the idea of allied soldiers ripping off some German ammo for their own guns though ... Probably happened a lot as you said.

    And the improvised crab pot buoy alarms. Is there a company who supplies such a thing yet? Went out last night with binocs, after seeing lights on the harbour and came across a couple of drunk guys wading around for cobbler.

  2. I wont ask what you do with an amputation knife lol ( good oyster opener ? )

    Had a quick google about for a suitable alarm , no luck there , back to the shotgun !

  3. I have a shell almost identical to yours, given to me by my grand mother. It reads "K 20 AUG 1918 Sp255 119A". This shell along with two others sat in my grand fathers dresser drawer for decades. I'm not sure exactly how they came into his possession, but I know he had relatives who served in the U.S Army during WW1. Thank you for sharing the story and your research. Best of luck to you.
    Oh, as for the other two shells. They still had detonators on them and ended up at the bottom of a lake in Arkansas.

  4. Glad I could be of some help Mike , that's a great story , thanks for dropping by mate

  5. Good day,

    I have a misfired round it still have the round and casing together. Send me your Email address and I'll send you a picture.


  6. Good day
    I have a misfired round it still is fully intact. I can send you a picture if you send me your email.



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