Monday, 6 December 2010

The WOMBAT 120mm Recoilless Rifle

The principal anti-tank weapon issued to British infantry units in 1979 was the L6 WOMBAT 120mm recoilless anti-tank rifle. It was slowly replaced starting in 1979 by the MILAN anti-tank guided missile. The L6 WOMBAT, (Weapon Of Magnesium, Battalion, Anti-Tank) was itself a replacement for the heavier L1/L2 BAT and L4 MoBAT weapons of the 50's and 60's.


Why a recoilless rifle? Principally because it gave greater bang for the buck. It was designed to meet the threat of the then Soviet heavy tanks such as the JS3 Josef Stalin. A 120mm L44 HESH round with almost 30lb of HE would seriously ruin a Soviet tankers day. A recoilless rifle was also more maneouverable than a traditional anti-tank gun, required a smaller gun pit and had a very low silouette. But it did have three main disadvantages. A high trajectory, a huge back blast and a very big bang when it was fired (160db).

 BW Models, BW16: 120mm MoBAT

The WOMBAT was recognisably different from the MoBAT in having a lightweight 'trolley' carriage with a narrow axle and smaller wheels for transport in the back of a 3/4Ton Land Rover. The L4 MoBAT had a wider axle and trailer size tyred wheels to allow it to be pulled by an Austin Champ (withdrwn from service in 1967) or Land Rover. The WOMBAT also had a .50 cal ranging rifle in place of a spotting Bren light machine-gun on the MoBAT.

BW Models, BW336: 120mm WOMBAT

I believe the portee Land Rovers had a manually operated winch assembly to aid pulling the weapon back onboard if it had been dismounted for action. It could also be fired whilst mounted from a stationary Land Rover, which had a rack of 6 ready rounds (4 rounds on the Lighteweigh Land Rover?). Mounted on a portee, 2 men normally fired the weapon, though the standard crew would be 3 men.

BW Models, BW337: WOMBAT Portee

Mechanised Battalions mounted the WOMBAT in a modified FV432/40 which carried 14 120mm rounds. The WOMBAT could be fired through the top hatch (with 270 degree traverse) or used dismounted and pushed up ramps back into the AFV when required.

The two main rounds for the weapon were the HESH with a range of 1,000m and a staggeringly effective canister round which had chopped steel bar next to the skin of the canister and steel balls inside. The steel balls held a tight cone and the bar angled outwards giving a very wide beaten zone.

BW Models have the L1 BAT, L4 MoBAT and L6 WOMBAT plus a Land Rover portee with WOMBAT, pictured above. Britannia Miniatures have VEH23: British 432 APC with 120mm wombat and crew, £6.50. Skytrex (code FF68) have a WOMBAT and 3 crew for £5.00. East Riding Miniatures also has a L6 WOMBAT and 3 crew for £2.50.

Platoon 20, P-B15: L6 WOMBAT
and 3 steel helmet crew

The support company of most British infantry battalion had 6-8 of these weapons. Normally deployed in sections of 2 guns. There would have been stocks of L4 MoBATs, the interim L7 ConBAT (Converted BAT) in depots if not actually still serving. Some of the older weapons may have been released into private ownership - no less than 15 were privately owned in 2007 and one had been given up in an earlier firearms amnesty!

Whilst not as sexy as a MILAN ATGW, the WOMBAT poses several interesting tactical challenges on the tabletop. The Land Rover portee - whether official MOD model or a farm workshop 'technical' provides your forces with mobile firepower and anti-armour capabilities.

Cheers
Mark

5 comments:

  1. Nice post. I remember seeing a Landrover 109 with a Wombat at a small Army display in Monifieth in the early 1970s. I believe they were noisy buggers - it was reportedly the sound of Wombats being fired at Barry Buddon which broke local residents' windows.
    Tim

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  2. Must get my hands on one of those WOMBATS.

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  3. 120mm WOMBAT was the loudest weapon ever! They used to say that only a Saturn 5 Rocket...or Krakatoa was louder. Entirely possible about the windows in Barry, although I don't recall a 120mm range. Used to happen quite a lot at Netheravon when the blast would "bounce" off the clouds.
    Spent 8 years in the Anti Tank Platoon with WOMBAT

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  4. Used both Conbat (Converted Battalion Anti-Tank) and Wombat in 2 Para. We won the A/tk Concentration in Hohne in the mid 70`s using Conbat as opposed to the other units all using Wombat. 2,000lbs v 650 lbs yet we still got ours into/out of action quicker than the other units. 28lbs of explosive in the round if my memory is correct. Even a near miss would have ruined a Soviet Tankers day. Could actually reach out to 2,000 mtrs if the fall of shot could be observed as the tracer in the round burnt out between 1100-1400 mtrs. last of the Blunderbuss`s.

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  5. One final post on this I think - if you want to know how LOUD a WOMBAT is then take a look at the following link

    http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/919903.pdf

    This is a report on hearing protection for the army. It lists a number of weapon systems from the 60's to 80's. The 120mm BAT produces a SPL of ~184dB for the firer.

    WOMBAT 120mm mounted in a FV432 produced an SPL of 187dB for the firer. Ground mounted WOMBAT wasn't directly measured for the firer but they did measure 180dB at 20 feet. That in theory equated to ~ 195dB at 1 meter!!!!

    Spent several years in WOMBAT platoon with 10 Para before we got MILAN.

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