This video has been a long time coming. I've hesitated to make this video because I feared that some of you would find it
so flipping obvious that they wondered why I thought this would be of any interest to anyone. Does anyone really not know this stuff?
Or others would find it so tremendously obscure that again they would be quite critical of the choice of subject matter.
But in this video, which is sponsored by my friends at the Great Courses Plus (more of that later),
I'm going to talk to you about muzzle brakes. [Particularly those on tanks.]
Now I started making little plastic models of armoured fighting vehicles from World War Two when I was pretty tiny.
I couldn't say for certain when I made my first kit, I'm pretty sure it was an Airfix kit.
But I do remember making this kit when I was 8 years old.
So this kit is of a Puma armored car. Now can you see that on the end of the barrel there, there is a thing.
It's got holes in the side of it, so that you can see ... all the way through it.
And it's a big bold thing on the end of the barrel and I didn't know what it was.
I had no idea what it was and my eight-year-old self had that level of curiosity that
made me think: I wonder what it is? How come some barrels have that on the end?
But on the other hand I just sort of accepted it. ... That's the shape of the end of a barrel.
But as the years went by and I made more and more kits,
I saw that some had these funny things on the end of the barrels for which I had at the time no name, and others didn't.
And I tried to spot a pattern, tried to understand what it was.
So, is it that the small guns don't have them and big guns do? Well, here is a very small gun.
This is a 37 mm anti-tank gun, which is going to come into focus eventually, there we go.
And you can see that it's got no barrel [muzzle] brake. It's just got a tube with a hole in the end of it.
And take this Jagdtiger for instance, or if you don't, well take this one.
I think I made these when I was about 10 or 11.
Anyway, this is an enormous German tank destroyer, with an enormous gun at the front,
and as you can see there's no barrel [muzzle] brake.
It's just, again if it comes into focus which it might if I put it in front of my face
(this camera I think senses my face and ... focuses on faces if it can),
so yeah, OK. See it's just got no barrel [muzzle] brake. It's just a big long tube.
So how come some things like, for example, this Panther tank do have a barrel [muzzle] brake on the front and others don't?
It's a mystery. Well, it was a mystery to me.
And then, quite recently, I was talking to a tank commander on the Newcastle town moor where they were doing a military demonstration,
and he was a Challenger tank commander, and I was talking to him and his ... crew (smashing bunch of lads)
and I brought up the topic of muzzle brakes and he said something very interesting.
He said, 'What's a muzzle brake?', and I thought right, OK, I'm making this video
because if a tank commander doesn't know what a muzzle brake is
then presumably there are quite a few people out there who don't know what the muzzle brake is or what they're for.
And and then, you know, they might find this video interesting. Because I did eventually
find out what a muzzle brake was. And how did I do this? Well something wonderful came along, and it was called the internet.
I remember I was at university, it was the first time I had access to the internet
and I thought, right I can ask this anything.
And so I thought, what what's the sort of question I can ask the internet which I wouldn't be able to find out some other way?
Got it. Is that guy smoking loads of cigarettes in the film Brazil, is that Terry Gilliam? And I found out yes, it is.
So there you go. That was ... the biggest thing had been bothering me for years, and I'd finally ... put that one to rest.
Yes, the guy in the film Brazil (which is excellent by the way you really should see it)
smoking all the cigarettes on the stairs, that's Terry Gilliam the film's director. But then, shortly after that ... this was before Google
oh yes, oh yes, I can remember a time before Google, I'm that old ...
when I was able to eventually (using the power of the internet) to find out what these things are called and what they're for.
It was difficult to search for something that you don't know the name of, but eventually I managed it.
And I sort of solved the mystery. And just ... to point out some more of the depths of this mystery,
think of ... the Sherman tank here for instance.
This is a Sherman, it's an American tank.
And it has a 75 mm multipurpose gun with no barrel [muzzle] brake. You see, no barrel [muzzle] brake, just a smooth tube.
And that fired both high explosive and armour-piercing and they had a very good
high explosive shell, so they thought well let's put a similar gun in the Churchill. So they did, and here is the British equivalent.
It is a Churchill it's got a very similar gun that fired the same ammunition, and it does have a barrel [muzzle] brake with the holes in the side.
So sometimes even the same gun firing the same ammunition can ... have one. But wait a minute, this
doesn't go by tank either because this is another Churchill. This one is a Churchill with a six pounder gun in the turret. [No muzzle brake!]
They carried on, the British carried on, putting six pounders in about one in five
Churchills right the way to the end of the war because the six pounder had an enormously superior
armour-piercing capability over the American 75. So it was worth having some
Churchills about the place with that gun. But wait a minute, this is a Churchill [mark] eight and
this has a short stubby 90 mm [95?] howitzer in the turret.This is for firing smoke and high-explosive principally,
and that's not a barrel [muzzle] brake. No, it may look a bit like a barrel [muzzle] brake,
there's a bulge on the end of the barrel, but that's actually just a counterweight to counterweight the
weight of the breech to balance the gun out a bit. It doesn't have holes in the side, that's not a barrel [muzzle] brake.
So there you can see, I was mystified. Some guns do, some guns don't, what's it all about?
So. What are the functions of a barrel [muzzle] brake?
Muzzle brake, a muzzle brake is a better, more accurate term for them.
So the muzzle is ... the front bit of the gun.
So, a barrel [muzzle] brake has two main functions.
One of them is to do with smoke management. You see when you fire a gun all that smoke,
all the impurities of the propellant that actually shoves the shell out the front of the barrel,
all that then follows the shell and goes out in front of you if you just fire down a straight tube.
So, you see your target, you're ah, there he is, brilliant,
OK put the crosshairs on it and bang, and it disappears, because ... you've just put loads of smoke in front of yourself.
You can't see so well, so you're looking through the sight and checking with the binoculars.
And where's it gone? Where's it gone? And, yeah,
most of the time the smoke wasn't so bad and in tanks you normally could get off a useful second shot.
But sometime it was a problem, and shooting out loads of smoke in front of a gun obscures the target.
Whereas, the barrel [muzzle] brake channels the smoke sideways, giving you a much clearer view ahead of you.
So that's one major advantage of the barrel [muzzle] brake (muzzle brake, keep saying barrel brake)
And if you've got artillery that point their guns straight into the sky, then you might want to manage your smoke
so it goes sideways so you don't give away your position to the enemy spotters,
who may be a very, very long way away,
who just see where little puffs of smoke way over there
against that dark forest or something and they can pick it out. ... So perhaps you might give your position away
if you've not got a barrel [muzzle] brake. So smoke management is one of the reasons.
The other reason is recoil.
You see, if you've got a tube then everything that goes that way up the tube (the shell and all the blast of the gas)
creates an equal and opposite reaction (Newtonian physics) and you get recoil.
So as you fire the gun it goes "kaboom" back into the turret of ... whatever the vehicle is that you're in.
So if you've got quite a small turret, and you've got quite a powerful gun
that's got a heck of a kick in it,
then what will happen is that the breech (if you don't have a ... muzzle brake)
it'll shoot backwards and smack into the back of the turret.
Obviously ... before they built the turret they worked out how long the recoil was and then built the turret accordingly.
But imagine you've got a tank of a certain ... size turret, and you can't make the turret any bigger,
if the recoil is too great you won't be able to fit that gun in the turret.
But, if you put a muzzle brake on the end, then that'll lower the recoil,
the breech won't shoot backwards quite so far, and maybe you can fit that gun into the turret of that vehicle.
So, that's another reason. You lower recoil and lowering recoil is good for other reasons.
It's good for the crew comfort for instance. The whole vehicle doesn't rock back onto its ...
suspension quite so violently.
And perhaps your second shot is a little bit more accurate
because you haven't shaken up the whole vehicle and thrown out the alignment of the sights quite so much, so you don't have to
compensate and re-lay the gun. So it's good for accuracy and possibly, very slightly, good for for rate of fire.
It's good for vision of the target.
So it makes the gun better.
And here's how it works. The furious riot of expanding gas and smoke that causes the shell to hurtle up the barrel is
set free just as the back of the shell leaves the end of the barrel,
but is still within the muzzle brake. Then the gas which is set free
which is shooting forward at tremendous speed hits the sides of the muzzle brake and
pushes against them and is channelled outwards and
transfers huge amount of forwards force on the end of the barrel, counteracting the recoil of the gun.
So, whereas if you have no muzzle brake everything just flies out the front,
with this everything is channelled sideways. The smoke goes sideways and a lot of the force
pushes forwards on the end of the barrel causing lower recoil.
Well, the amount of recoil is the same, but it's counteracting that recoil.
So that means that the gun doesn't fly backwards so violently and you can fit a bigger gun into a smaller turret.
And you don't get the violent crash that all the crew has to feel and so that's better then.
Or is it? Right well, I'll talk about whether it's better or not in a moment.
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Anyway back to muzzle brakes. Now, you may think: 'Oh well, muzzle brakes are great. They manage the smoke better, and they lower the recoil.
That's just good, good so all guns clearly will have muzzle brakes.'
Well, no, there are several reasons not to have a muzzle brake. If you look at modern Main Battle Tanks, as
they're sometimes called, the Challengers, the Leopards and the Abrams and so forth, none of them has a muzzle brake.
The reason for this is that they use kinds of ammunition that muzzle brakes interfere with.
Now, this is actually is a problem that the British had during World War Two with the Firefly. Now, the Firefly was stupendously powerful
(I've mentioned this before), it had an excellent 17 pounder gun.
But the British developed something called discarding sabot ammunition which was
amazingly powerful, and will put a hole right the way through a Tiger.
But the way it worked is it had an outer jacket and an inner core of some ... very, very hard material like tungsten.
And because the outer jacket made the whole shell bigger to fit into the barrel,
then you got loads of gas pushing against that large
cross-sectional area on the back of the shell giving a huge push down the barrel.
And then when it was set free at the end, the jacket on the outside would break away,
lowering the air resistance, and the
the tiny thin shell that was in there would be flying at stupendous speed off
into and perhaps through its target. Great, except that the muzzle brake
could sometimes interfere, so as the discarding sabot started to break up immediately it left the end of the barrel,
it would sometimes collide with bits of the muzzle brake, which might just knock the the inner
core slightly interfering with its accuracy. At short ranges it wasn't a problem, but at very long ranges sometimes with the discarding sabot
they had only a 50% chance of hitting, which isn't terribly good by the standards of the day. ...
(They would normally expect something like a 98% shot hit chance, so, yeah, 50% is really bad.)
But modern tanks use loads of discarding sabot rounds, they also use folding fin.
So you imagine it, you've got the fins which fold into the shell as it's travelling up the barrel,
and then when it's set free at the end, the the fins ... fly out and just like a
playing dart when you're playing darts in the pub, guide the shell onto its target.
And again ... those fins and the modern discarding sabot the ... muzzle brake gets in the way.
So that's one reason you don't want it.
Another one is it makes the gun longer and heavier and more expensive, and they're all bad.
Now why would you want a barrel to be even longer? You see, length of barrel is a problem. Let's go back to the Panther.
The Panthers barrel as you can see sticks out in front of the tank quite a way.
And if you turn it sideways it sticks out an awfully long way.
So if you want to camouflage your ... Panther by sticking it in a wood well, that's great.
But then when you try to turn your turret in the wood, you're almost certain to hit a tree and so you can't actually point
the gun the way you want to point it. This was a big problem if you're a Panther.
But if you're a Churchill, not a problem because the Churchill barrel
didn't actually stick out over the front of the tank. So you could just come ... into the wood,
push over a tree and turn your turret wherever you flipping well want it ... and shoot that way.
Great tanks Churchills, I think I might make a video about just how great they were.
Possibly the best tank of the war, and that's not just because they're my favourite.
Now another reason you might ... not want a barrel to be long is that if you're in something like this,
which can't even turn its turret at all because it has no turret,
you need to get to the battlefield. And the battlefield was in 1944, let's say, in rural France and
you need to get across a river which meant that you have to go over the bridge, and the only
load-bearing bridge in the area would be not in the middle of the country, it would be in a town or in a village.
So if you go into a rural ... village in 1944 France, a village that was laid out
with roads that were wide enough for a cart (because that's what they were using when they laid the village out),
well when you get to a corner and you try to turn that corner ...
you'll probably find that there's a telegraph pole, a lamppost or indeed a building
that prevents you from turning the corner because this is a very long
vehicle with a very long barrel sticking out the front of it.
So you then have to halt and maybe demolish a building before you can get round the corner, delays,
and that's very inconvenient.
So anything that makes your barrel even longer is not good.
Now you'll notice that this has a very long ... very high velocity
anti-tank gun on the front of it [Panzerjager IV L/70],
and yet it has no barrel [muzzle] brake.
The main reason they didn't have a barrel [muzzle] brake (in fact the early versions of this did have a ...
muzzle brake, but they then removed it) because this is a very low
vehicle and when it's gun is pointing straight forwards, which it is not at the moment because I've modelled it
with it in transit mode, you can see the little thing ... holding the barrel there.
It was a part in the kit, and I wanted to use it. I was young.
But anyway, the barrel is only about three feet off the ground which means that when you fire it,
it was so close to the ground that it tended to throw up a huge amount of dust which blinded the crew actually worse than
having no barrel [muzzle] brake. So they got rid of the barrel [muzzle] brake on that because the gun was so low.
Now this side blast. This side blast could be really quite substantial.
And to give an example, I'm going to read you a bit from a book.
Now, just before I do that, you have to understand something. This is an ordinary Sherman.
Now the narrator of the book that I'm about to read from, Ken Tout, it's called Tank!,
he was in one of these and his tank was called Stoney Stratford. This is an ordinary Sherman, no barrel [muzzle] brake, 75 mm gun.
But he called for Charlie tank. Charlie tank was their code name for the Firefly. The Firefly, enormously powerful gun with a
barrel [muzzle] brake. So, with that in mind, let's see how things went.
"The invisible 88s are probably SPs firing hull down from behind the Robertmesnil [Robert Mesnil] ridge.
Only inches of their flat steel turrets need to protrude above the ridge a thousand yards or more away, and
behind the hedges their shapes merge
so that only the flashes of their guns will betray them. I fire again and again at remembered flash points. Other guns alongside and
behind me are sending tracer arrows into that same area of confused hedgerows.
Keith [on intercom]: 'Gunner, cease fire.'
He switches to the A set.
'Hello Roger three Baker, can our Charlie move over and lend some weight, scare the nasties if they're still there. Three baker over.'
'Hello, three Baker. Good idea - over to you.'
'Hello Roger three Charlie, you heard, take your line from Baker, three Charlie over'
'Charlie, understood, on my way, off'
Keith: 'Gunner use coax and brass up those hedges to give Charlie his target.'
I fire short bursts into the skyline. A shock blast sends Stoney Stratford keeling over to the left. A breath of torrid air,
a deafening detonation, icy fingers of death claw at my veins.
I start my escape leap.
Then I realized that we've not been hit, except for the killer blast from our own Charlie's 17-pounder muzzle.
He's fetched up too near to us and is almost as much of a danger to us as are the Germans.
With the sensations of his first shot still rocking and terrorizing us, his AP shot smashes into the hedgerow,
or something behind it, and opens up a great ragged hole of fire.
He goes on firing as quickly as his loader can load. Half a dozen shots spaced along the offending skyline.
Nothing fires back.
'Roger three Charlie, cease fire. Resume your normal position, three Charlie, over.'
'Three Charlie, over, okay, off.'"
So, the side blast from a big gun can be horrendous. Now if ... the muzzle of a gun were here,
pointing that way and had a muzzle brake on it and the gun fired,
it would it would just take my head clean off. It would blow my head clean off my shoulders.
I was talking [e-mailing] to a Canadian tanker in the modern army
and he said that he was on an exercise when a largish tank gun that did have a barrel [muzzle] brake fired.
He wasn't standing right next to the tank.
He was standing behind the tank and quite some distance away from it, but he said that even there,
he felt as though a giant had taken a massive pillow and hit him
really, really hard backwards. The blast from big guns is very substantial,
and if you've got a muzzle brake then that blast, rather than being directed at your enemies,
is directed sideways where a lot of your friends might be. And if you're in the enclosed turret of a tank you can't be completely certain
where all your friends are. I remember reading an account on the Russian front of
a German SP that was just about to be overrun by Russians,
they were running at it from the front, and for some reason they couldn't get a
machine gun to bear on them and so they did the only thing which was left open to them,
they just fired the main armament. They knew they wouldn't hit anyone.
The shell swooshed past all the Russians, hitting none of them.
But the blast did the job. They were able to get away because, in the words of the military report written at the time,
'the enemy were in no condition to proceed'. The blast just knocked them all out.
So the side blast from a ... substantial thing like this is not something to take lightly.
And that's one reason that you don't necessarily put a barrel [muzzle] brake on a gun if you can get away with not doing so.
So, of course the smoke going sideways can of course blind all the guys next to you as well. [The noise as heard by the firer is a lot louder too with a muzzle brake.]
So it's a bit of a mixed bag, a bit of a mixed blessing perhaps the smoke going sideways.
So, ... muzzle brakes are not necessarily...
(muzzle brakes, it sounds like a Jewish congratulation: "Ah! Muzzle brakes!"), anyway, ...
they're not necessarily good. And it seems that if people could get away without putting one on, they did.