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Boys Anti-tank Rifle
Boys Mk I AT Rifle.jpg
Boys anti-tank rifle Mk I
Type Anti-tank rifle
Place of origin  United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1937 - 1943
Used by See Users
Wars World War II
Production history
Designed 1937
Manufacturer Royal Small Arms Factory
Produced 1937 -
Number built ~62,000
Variants Mk I, Mk II
Weight 35 lb (16 kg)
Length 5 ft 2 in (1.575 m)
Barrel length 36 in. (910 mm); Airborne: 30 in. (762 mm)

Cartridge Kynoch & RG .55 Boys (13.9x99mmB)
Calibre .551 in (13.9 mm)
Action Bolt
Rate of fire ~10 round/min
Muzzle velocity 747 (later 884) m/s (2,450.1 ft/s) (2,899.5 ft/s)
Effective range 16-19 mm penetration at 90° 100 yards (91 m)
Feed system 5 round detachable box magazine
Swedish volunteers in the Winter War carrying Boys
American World War II poster featuring an English soldier carrying a Boys Rifle.

The Rifle, Anti-Tank, .55in, Boys commonly known as the "Boys Anti-tank Rifle" was a British anti-tank rifle. The Boys is often and incorrectly spelled "Boyes". There were three main versions of the Boys, an early model (Mark I) which had a circular muzzle brake and T shaped bipod, a later model (Mk II) that had a square muzzle brake and a V shaped bipod, and a third model made for airborne forces with a 30-inch (762 mm) barrel and no muzzle brake. There were also different cartridges, with a later version offering better penetration.


Design and development

The eponymous creator of this firearm was Captain H C Boys (the Assistant Superintendent of Design) who was a member of the British Small Arms Committee and a designer at the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield. It was initially called Stanchion but was renamed after Captain Boys as a mark of respect when he died a few days before the rifle was approved for service in November 1937.

A bolt action rifle fed from a five-shot magazine, the weapon was large and heavy with a bipod at the front and a separate grip below the padded butt. In order to combat the recoil caused by the large 0.55 inch (13.9 mm) round, the barrel was mounted on a slide, and a shock absorber was fitted to the bipod along with a muzzle brake on the barrel. The Boys had been designed with numerous small narrow-slotted screws of soft steel set very tight into the body of the weapon, and its repair and maintenance proved a nightmare for British ordnance repair crews.[1]

The cartridge was an adaptation of the Browning 0.5 inch, with a belt added firing a 47.6 gram bullet.

At its introduction, the weapon was effective on light armour (16 mm thick) at 100 yards (91 m). There were two main service loads used during the Second World War, the W Mark 1 (60 g AP at 747 m/s) and the W Mark 2 ammunition (47.6 g AP projectile at 884 m/s). The W Mark 1 could penetrate approximately 16 mm of armour at 100 yards, about the thickness used on the frontal armour of a half-track or armoured car, or the side or rear armour of a light tank. Later in the conflict, a more effective round was developed, the W Mark 2, which fired a tungsten-cored projectile at 945 m/s. The W Mark 2 was able to penetrate up to 3/4 inch (19 mm) of armour at 100 yards (~91 m), with the plate inclined at 70° from the horizontal (i.e. 20 degrees from the direct line angle of fire), the effective thickness being ~21.5 mm at 0°. Its effective range against unarmoured targets (e.g. infantry), was much further. Despite its recoil slide and cushioned buttpad, the felt recoil of the weapon (along with noise and muzzle blast) was terrific, frequently causing neck strains and bruised shoulders. Consequently, the Boys was almost never fired as a free weapon (i.e. not affixed to a support) except in emergencies.[1]


The Boys rifle was used in the early stages of World War II against lightly armoured German tanks and combat vehicles. Britain also supplied a large number of Boys anti-tank rifles to Finland in 1939 and 1940 during the Winter War with the Soviet Union. The weapon was popular with the Finns, because it could deal with Soviet T-26 tanks which the Finnish Army encountered in many engagements.[citation needed]

Although useful against some early German, Italian, and Soviet tanks in France, North Africa, and Finland, increases in vehicle armour during the Second World War left the Boys largely ineffectual as an anti-tank weapon. A shortened version was issued in 1942 for issue to airborne forces and saw use in Tunisia, where it proved completely ineffective because of the reduced velocity due to the shortened barrel.[2] In the European theatre it was soon replaced by the PIAT in 1943, the PIAT first seeing service during the Allied invasion of Sicily. In other roles it saw some use against bunkers, machine gun nests, and light-skinned vehicles, but was rapidly replaced in British and Commonwealth service by the U.S. .50 BMG calibre M2 Browning machine gun[3] as quantities of the latter weapon became available. Using armour-piercing (AP), armour-piercing incendiary (API), and armour-piercing incendiary tracer (APIT) ammunition, the .50 Browning was equally as capable in armour penetration and more devastating when igniting thin-skinned vehicles, while it could also serve as an effective anti-aircraft weapon.[4] Even the British Special Air Service, which made much use of captured or cast-off weapons from aircraft and other sources for their jeeps and reconnaissance vehicles, quickly got rid of their Boys rifles in favor of .50 M2 Brownings or the Italian 20mm Breda cannon.[citation needed]

However, in the Pacific theatre the Boys was used against lightly-armoured Japanese tanks in Malaya as late as 1942, when the 1/14th Punjabis knocked out two light Japanese tanks at a roadblock.[2] As British and Commonwealth forces lacked a longer-range rocket-propelled anti-tank weapon such as the bazooka or panzerschreck, the Boys remained in inventory for use in that theatre.[citation needed]


Vehicle mounting

The Boys Rifle was sometimes mounted on vehicles such as the Universal Carrier ("Bren Gun Carrier") and the Standard Beaverette armoured car.


  1. ^ a b Dunlap, Roy F., Ordnance Went Up Front, Samworth Press (1948), p. 144
  2. ^ a b Weeks, John, Small Arms of World War II, New York: Galahad Press 1979), p. 91
  3. ^ though not "man-portable" at 38 kg without tripod
  4. ^ Barnes, Frank C., Cartridges of the World, DBI Books, 1975, 1989, p.432: "A review of World War II U.S. .50 caliber AP, API, and APIT ammunition specifications reveals that all armour-piercing varieties of the U.S. .50 BMG cartridge were required to completely perforate 7/8" (22.23mm) of hardened steel plate armour at 100 yards (91 m).
  5. ^ Zaloga & Leland Red Army Handbook 1939-1945 Sutton 1998 p197 ISBN0750917407


  • Dunlap, Roy F., Ordnance Went Up Front: some observations and experiences of a sergeant of Ordnance, who served throughout World War II with the United States Army in Egypt, the Philippines and Japan, including way stations. With comment and opinions on the many different small-arms in use by the forces engaged, Samworth Press (1948), LC Control No.: 48007125 (ISBN 1884849091 for R & R Books 1996)

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