Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Long Firearm of the Law

In the Seventies the average British Bobby in true Dixon of Dock Green and Z-Cars fashion was armed with no more than his whistle, Hyatt cuffs and 15 & a half inch truncheon. There was no centralised authority controlling firearms issued to the country's Police forces. Each Chief Constable, subject to the approval of his police authority, could decide how many and what types of weapons were necessary for his force.

By way of example, in 1972 all the police forces under Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland held the following weapons:

Rifles 185
Pistols 165
Revolvers 243
Shotguns 27

Police Officers assigned to protection duties were routinely armed, but for the majority, the policy was that firearms were carried only "when there is reason to suppose that a police officer may have to face an armed man and used only if human life is endangered".

The Metroplitan Police recieved their first dedicated firearms unit, D6 (later D11,PT17, SO19, now CO19) in 1966. The first "Instant Response Cars" with armed police officers were introduced by West Yorkshire Police in 1976 - these are now common place and known as Armed Response Vehicles (ARVs).

67% of rifles in Police use throughout the UK were .303 SMLE MkIV No.2. Following a working party on Police firearms in 1970, the Enfield L39A1 was chosen as a replacement. Small adjustments to the weapon were recommended by the Police Scientific Development Branch to create the 7.62mm Enfield Enforcer.

The most common hand gun was the Smith & Wesson M&P/M10 revolver. In addition to the weapons held by each Police force there were several secret arms stores in the UK stocked with SMLEs and Stirling Sub-machine guns for arming the police wholesale in event of a war or national crisis where extremes measures may be required to control the population.

Under plans for Nuclear War with the Soviet Union - there would be 'flying columns' of police - 100 or more strong that would be stationed at strategic locations throughout the UK.

Baton rounds and tear gas were available in 14 Police Forces in 1979.

 Oct 7, 1985 - Seven people were arrested. At the height of the riotings, mobs of black and white youths used shotguns, gasoline bombs and other weapons in running battles with police.

LONDON (Reuters) - Vowing to meet force with force, London's police chief today authorized use of tear gas and plastic bullets after a policeman was hacked to death with a machete in the worst rioting ever seen in England.

[Kenneth Newman] said he had reluctantly authorized the use of tear gas and plastic bullets to quell future riots, and [Richard Wells] said the time had come for Britons "to prepare themselves for tougher options."

Police have used tear gas on mainland Britain only once - in 1981 against rioters in the Toxteth district of Liverpool. They have never used plastic bullets, though British troops have employed them in Northern Ireland.



  1. Between this and the previous blogs on the armed forces and civilians under arms, I am very happy to see this level of information. With me living the center of the USA, I don't have much access to this type of information on the UK. While I am working on doing a fictional version of 'The Troubles', where instead of slipping into the more horrid bombing campaign, the IRA goes towards a 1920's 'Flying Wing' style campaign. But I am also thinking of using my figures for a 2nd ECW game, an UK 'Red Dawn' campaign, and probably a 'Dawn of the Dead' campaign. So this information will be very useful for figuring out what the kind of weapons that the 'irregulars' or 'militias' might have available.

    If you have not read the following book, you might find bits of it interesting: "London's Armed Police" by Robert Gould and Michael Waldren (1986). Both served on D.11 Firearms Wing, with also Gould having served 33 years in the police force by the time the book was written. It is history of arms, training, and how arms were issued out to the London's police from the Bow Street days of 1829 to 1986. I read it mostly for the Victorian era information, but found it every interesting throughout the book.


  2. I'm with you there Joe - Mark's done some very useful research. What struck me is that allowing for the various firearms amnesty of the years, just how much stuff there was out there in a country where your average citizen is see as having no need for a firearm. Obviously lots of blokes bought back a luger or three from the war and a few were a bit more ambitious. Then again - I knew a kid in school who had a deactivated sten.

  3. Love this series of articles. I thought I was pretty clued up on British Nuclear War policy during the cold war -at least, as clued up as someone who hadn't specificaly sat down to research it could be. The news of arms depots for police flying columns was news to me. Can you point me in the direction of some resources so I can do some research of my own? You've intrigued me.