The Northover Projector was a 2 ½ inch smooth bore gun of a breach loading pattern. The weapon was designed to fire the self-igniting phosphorous No. 76 grenade in an anti-tank role, but could also fire the No. 36 Mills grenade (anti-personnel role) and No.68 Anti-tank rifle grenade. The Mk I was produced and issued from late 1940 onwards.
The Projector was aimed with an aperture back sight, having six holes: the ranges being 50 to 200 yards in steps of 25 yards and the bottom hole being for the smallest range. These ranges were for the No. 76 grenade – for the No. 36 and No. 68 grenade 50 yards would be added to the ranges. The weapon was most effective (for all three grenades) at 100 yards.
A simple type breach mechanism was fitted and consisted of a spring locking lever fitted on the left hand side while the breech block itself was hinged on the right side. The primer nipple was fitted in the centre of the breech block. A primer cap was placed on the nipple and a firing charge, fitted in the nipple was automatically pierced when the breach block was closed allowing the flash from the primer to ignite it. The firing hammer was automatically cocked when the breach block was open (but it could also be cocked by hand).
Above: Northover Mk 2 - essentially the same as the Mk 1 but lighter and easier to transport.
No. 76 grenade: this consisted of a half pint bottle filled with a mixture of benzene, latex and phosphorus. The bottle was closed with an air tight metal green cap. The contents would ignite when they came into contact with air (i.e. when the glass bottle broke). When these grenades were fired from the projector, they were placed in a paper container to prevent breakages when firing. For use against Armoured Fighting Vehicles, Lorries etc.
No. 36 grenade: this was fired with a four or seven second fuse. The grenade was placed into the breech (base plug end in first) and when in far enough the safety pin removed and the grenade pushed in home. For use against troops.
Mis-fire: these were cleared by fitting a new percussion cap and re-firing the weapon. If a No.76 burst in the barrel another round was simply fired which would clear out the previous burst round.
Cleaning: Essential to clean the barrel after firing with water and a ramrod with a wad fitted. Paraffin was recommended if many rounds had been fired.
Tactical handling: Primarily an ambush anti-tank weapon to be sited to fire enfilade on likely tank approaches. Firing the No. 68 grenade it could destroy light tanks and damage heavy ones with a direct hit on its tracks. Firing the No.76 grenade could then complete the destrction. The No.76 grenade could also be used in street fighting - fired into a house it would could set it alight. As the No.76 grenade produced a lot of smoke when ignited it could also be used to produce a smoke screen. The No.36 grenade could be fired at a range to ensure a low air burst against enemy under cover from view. Reasonably easy to transport by two men. The weapon could also be used without its mount, resting on some support, which would increase its mobility
The weapon was actually quite heavy to move and a lighter version, the Mk II, was developed although few apparently manufactured.
The Northover Projector remained a key Home Guard anti-tank weapon although it was replaced if better weapons became available (e.g. the 2 pounder anti-tank gun).
A.E Patrick (Bungay Home Guard) has some interesting observations on this weapon: “ This [i.e.Northover Projector] fired small glass bottles ….. when the glass bottle hit the target it immediately burst into flames and the contents sprayed in all directions. It was dangerous to walk near as you picked up ‘chemical’ on your boots, which, if transferred to another dry place, immediately set that alight by the friction caused by walking. On July 25th 1943 I was one of a squad of men detailed to fire the Northover. The imitation tank………was used as a target. The weather was hot and the bushes dry. Some good shooting was witnessed and the spray set fire to a clump of furze [i.e. gorse]. It did not end here. The bailiff came down and told us to stop but Lt. Minns had his orders to use a certain amount of bottles and it had to be done. Owing to the quantity of ‘chemical’ lying on the ground it was dangerous to walk in the target area for fear of spreading the fire. Unfortunately a day or two after, boys carried on their boots some ‘chemical’ which set fire to a large part of the common. As prevention the Beccles N.F.S was summoned. This adventure was the means of finishing all practice. It was possible to get ‘prematures’ with this weapon and often smoke and flames came from the gun, or else an explosion occurred a short distance from the muzzle.”
Above: left - demonstration of firing the Northover. Note the amount of smoke produced when firing, which many Home Guard Commanders feared would give away its position. Right - ammuntion box for the No. 76 grenade.
Manual of Small Arms and Special Weapons, Bernards (Pulishers) Ltd, London
After Twenty-four Years – A Story of Bungay’s Home Guard, A.E Patrick, 1944 (SRO)