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In the Calm Before Blitzkrieg, Two British Soldiers Clean Their Weapons

Not much else to do during the ‘Phony War’


In this photo from Feb. 29, 1940, two men from the 1st battalion of the British Army’s Border Regiment clean their weapons, a Boys anti-tank rifle and a Bren light machine gun.

The photograph was taken at Rumegies, France.

The Bren was a license version of the vz.26 light machine gun made by the Czech company Zbrojovka Brno. British production began in 1938 with some design changes to the original Czech gun.

Feeding from a 30-round box magazine, the Bren — which weighed roughly 22 pounds depending on the model — remained in British service until the early 1990s. Along the way, the British rechambered the weapon from .303 to 7.62-by-51 millimeter.

Introduced in 1937, the Boys was widely issued to British and Commonwealth forces during the first two years of the war. The Boys fired a .55-caliber round that was slightly larger than the classic .50-caliber round. It featured a top-mounted, five-round magazine.

In the late 1930s, the Boys might have been an effective tank-killer. The .55-caliber round could penetrate most light and medium tank armor out to 300 yards. But as Axis armor improved, the Boys grew obsolete.

Production ended in 1942, but Allied armies continued to use the Boys for tasks other than killing main battle tanks. Shooting up light tanks or other vehicles, for instance.

The photograph above was taken during the so-called “Phony War,” a period of inactivity by both the Axis and Allies in the months after the combatants formally declared war in September 1939.

The British Expeditionary Force deployed to northern France in September 1939 but didn’t fire a shot until the German invasion of France in May 1940 — eight months after the mutual declaration of war.

The 1st battalion of the Border Regiment was part of the part of the BEF’s 125th Infantry Brigade, which saw action during the subsequent Battle of France and eventually evacuated via Dunkirk.

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