Design and DevelopmentEdit
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.
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.The first production Boys anti-tank rifles used a forward-mounted monopod combined with a handgrip under the butt plate. After Dunkirk various modifications were made to speed production, and among the measures taken was replacement of the forward
monopod by a Bren Gun bipod and of the circular muzzle brake attachment by a new Solothurn muzzle brake with holes drilled along the sides; this latter was easier to produce than the original. In this form the Boys saw out its short service life, as by late 1940 it was regarded as being of only limited use as an anti-armour weapon.
Eventually it was replaced by the PIAT, but before it finally departed it had a brief flurry of popularity during the Entrean and Cyrenaica campaigns of 1940 and 1941. It was found to be a very effective anti-personnel weapon during these campaigns as it could be fired at rocks over or near a concealed enemy, the resultant rock splinters acting as effective anti-personnel fragments, The Boys also found its way into US Marine Corps hands during the Philippines campaign of early 1942, when some were used very sparingly against dugin Japanese infantry positions. How these Boys rifles got to the Far East is not recorded. Some captured Boys anti-tank rifles were also used by the Germans for a short while after Dunkirk, but only in limited numbers; the type was known as the 13.9-mm Panzerabwehrbüchse 782(e).
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.
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. 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 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. 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.