Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Muzzle Brake

Tiger tank sporting muzzle brake

When I was a kid growing up in the quaint and delightful town of Tipton I used to while away the solitary hours constructing 'Airfix' models. I was particularly enamoured with tanks from the Second World War. Each was lovingly crafted, constructed and painted in authentic colours and camouflage. I was particularly fond of the Churchill tank. To be honest it was not a great tank in comparison to German and Russian varieties, although it was a versatile vehicle and appeared in many sterling and gallant variants throughout the war. I suppose I was drawn to this particular British tank because its silhouette resembled my vivid birthmark which sat adjacent to my third nipple. In fact my third nipple looks very much like a 'star shell burst' fired from the barrel of a tank. I digress.  

I confess I was intrigued by a projection which appeared on some, but not all, of the tank's guns. I asked my father, as he was an ex-soldier, about the purpose of the 'nobbly bit' on the end of the barrel. To his credit he professed ignorance and didn't try to impress his son with a manufactured, on the spot, explanation. 

Years rolled by and the mystery of the 'tank appendage' stayed close to my heart and I wished fervently for a resolution. At some stage my interest in girls intervened so the tank thingy went to the back of my mind to be rekindled once the hormone surge had settled down a little. And so the years passed....Then the internet phenomenon burst upon the world like an additional nipple fired from a tank gun. All knowledge was within my sticky and often moist grasp. I quickly learned that the barrel extension was called a muzzle brake. I also learned that the primary function of the muzzle brake was to reduce the recoil of the tank's gun. The 'brakr' was so designed that when the blast gasses escaped from the gun the fins within the break would channel the force sideways therefore counteracting the recoil of a large calibre weapon. Less recoil meant that the turret didn't have too protrude too much at the back. Also it helped with crew comfort as they didn't have to deal with the severe jolt caused by excessive recoil in a constrained turret environment.  

The dispersion of the muzzle gases laterally also helped with visibility after a shot. Without a muzzle brake, the propellant gases would linger in front of the tank obscuring visibility for crucial moments. The muzzle brake dispersed the gases sideways therefore clearing the frontal visual field. But the more I researched the more it became apparent that muzzle brakes were not universally utilised. Many large gunned tanks didn't seem to have a muzzle brake at all. Guessing that omission was there for a good reason (oxymoron) I suspected that muzzle brakes may have confered certain disadvantages. My misgivings were not unfounded. 

Like most things in life muzzle brakes are a mixed blessing, just like extra nipples. A third nipple might be great as a conversational 'ice breaker' at the Christmas party, but they can chafe something awful against a chiffon running vest. After a 10 mile run the friction and pain can become quite exquisite Once again I've regressed. Anyway, the lateral blast from the gun is fine as long as you don't have your own troops in attendance. The side blast is substantial and can kill or disable troops within the blast area. Also the addition of the muzzle brake adds extra length to the gun barrel. In open country this is not much of a problem. However, in city fighting long barrels are an impediment. In the Normandy fighting, Tiger tanks had to demolish buildings in French towns in order to turn corners. Furthermore, redirected blast can stir up dust and dirt thus revealing the tank's position to the enemy. 

Most, if not all, modern battle tanks are bereft of muzzle brakes. Muzzle brakes interfere with modern ammunition rounds. This is especially the case with sabot rounds. Penetrating rod rounds are encased with a self discarding sheath. The presence of a muzzle brake interferes with the sabot breakaway process. Thus tanks fitted with muzzle brakes are unable to use this highly effective anti-tank round. 

So there it is. My boyhood curiosity has now been assuaged and I'm free to ponder fresh conundrums anew. Actually, come to think of it my birthmark is more evocative of an amphibious landing craft, mark IV, E series rather than an unmodified Churchill tank. Mayhap, over the years, it has grown with the telling.



  1. Great minds and all that...

    1. Indeed Sir, Lindybeige has a series of great videos- a true English eccentric.

  2. that's not a tiger tank.

    1. Aye, I think you are right- the wheels give it away. Looks like a late MkIV variant.