yeovil at waR

Boys Anti-Tank Rifle

Weapons of the Home Guard


The Rifle, Anti-Tank, .55in Boys (commonly known as the Boys Anti-Tank Rifle) was designed by Captain H C Boys, a designer of the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) at Enfield Lock, where some 62,000 were made. The Mark I (recognised from other Marks by its round muzzle brake on the end of the barrel and the T-shaped bipod) was in service from 1937 until 1943. It was a bolt-action rifle with a box magazine holding five rounds of 0.55" belted ammunition but was very heavy at 36 lb (~16 kg) and cumbersome at 5' 3¾" (1.59m) long. The Boys AT Rifle was effective on light armour, penetrating about ¾" (18mm) steel plate at 100 yards (~91m). Its extreme range was 7,000 yards.

Reports from the British Expeditionary Force returning after the Battle of France denigrated the penetrating power of the Boys AT Rifle when used against German armour. Nevertheless, the weapon's manual stated "... it was never intended to stop modern tanks. This weapon was designed to afford a means of protection against light armoured fighting vehicles, i.e., the type of vehicle which the Home Guard are likely to have to deal with, certainly in the early stages of either an air-borne or sea-borne landing on our coasts." (War Office, 1944).

The main drawback to the weapon however, especially for those who had to use it, was its fearsome recoil. My dad worked at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock during the war and was heavily involved in the gun's production. He was also a Lieutenant in the factory Home Guard platoon (56th Essex) and trained with the Boys AT rifle. He told me that firing five rounds would result in a bruising to the shoulder that would last a week. He also frequently recalled a (probably apocryphal) story of how he knew someone who had braced his legs against a wall while firing the Boys and the recoil caused both of his legs to be fractured!.


Adapted from my e-book "A Photographic Guide to the Taunton Stop Line"





Courtesy of Rob Baker

This photograph of the Yeovil Home Guard is undated, but judging by the array of weapons, is probably late 1943 or early 1944.  It shows a Boys Anti-Tank Rifle in the right foreground.