Thursday 30 September 2021


The PIAT in all its feral glory

During the early years of the Second World War, the most effective means to deal with an enemy tank was to shoot a heavy solid projectile at the little bugger, at high speed. There were a variety of known factors that influenced a projectile's lethality, which was basically the ability of the solid shot to travel through the total thickness of the armour. The physics involved is extremely simple. The amount of energy imparted to armour is directly correlated to the weight of the solid shot multiplied by the shot's velocity. Of course the final velocity of the projectile would be dependent upon the distance the shot had to travel before impact.  

When it came to an infantry portable 'one man' anti-tank weapon the only effective option at the beginning of the war, for the British Army, was the Boys anti-tank rifle. In essence, the weapon was an upscaled infantry rifle with a large calibre bullet. Although initially effective against German tanks it became less serviceable as the war progressed due to the inevitable increase in thickness of German armour. There is a limit to the size of projectile that can be used, in practice, for a portable one man anti-tank device and by 1941 anti-tank rifles were of no use against the majority of German tanks in service, although they remained useful against soft skinned vehicles.  

Enter the PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti Tank), stage left: With the inadequacy of hand held anti-tank rifles duly noted, it became an urgent priority to develop a replacement. Clearly, a new approach was required. The PIAT entered into active service in mid 1943 and made its debut during the Tunisian campaign, to great effect. In essence, the PIAT was a melding of two separate munitions, the spigot mortar and the shaped charge. The shaped charge relied on a principle first observed in the late 19th century. I wont go into detail concerning the development of the shaped charge. It is sufficient to note that the projectile was reliant on chemical, not kinetic energy. The 'bomb' contains a metal lined conical hollow backed with explosive (see diagram for more detail). Detonation causes the metal lining to collapse to form a jet of molten metal. The jet travels at hypersonic speed and when encountering armour cuts through the metal scattering debris and molten armour into the interior of the tank causing catastrophic devastation to man, ferret and material alike. Unlike kinetic energy rounds, shaped charges do not rely on their velocity to cause havoc as all the means of destruction is contained within.

In order for the shaped charge to become a practical weapon it required an instrument of projection. And so the bomb was married to a modified spigot mortar. Again, there is an interesting, nay intriguing story, concerning the development of the 'mortar'. If you are prone to insomnia, I recommend two tinctures of laudanum combined with a midnight read of the salient material. A sterling soporific, indeed.

Thus, the PIAT was an ungainly fusion of the shaped charge and spigot mortar. The composite device worked in the manner of a recoilless rifle. The mechanism of action was extremely simple. A central spigot operated on a spring which was compressed (cocked) by placing the PIAT on the floor. The soldier would grasp the two outer handles and apply force to cock the weapon. The bomb was placed in a open chute on the front of the weapon. When the trigger was pulled the spigot was released and the firing pin on the end of the spigot would engage a small propelling charge at the base of the bomb. The combination of the applied force of the spigot plus the detonation of the charge would propel the bomb toward the target. The recoil of the weapon was sufficient to drive the spigot back and therefore after the first shot the PIAT was automatically cocked, in theory at least. Once the bomb reached the target, the fuse would activate the shaped charge and release the jet of doom which would sear its way through the armour to the detriment of the crew and the tank.  

Although the PIAT was simple in conception and operation, and appeared ad hoc and crude it had several advantages over the contemporary American bazooka. The bomb carried a hefty punch (1.1kg/2.2lbs) of explosive and was capable of penetrating four inches of armour. This was enough to turn any German tank into a pile of rubble and leave the crew mangled beyond repair. The PIAT  was considerably more powerful than the bazooka and unlike the bazooka there was no back blast. Therefore, the PIAT could be fired in enclosed spaces without cooking the operator and anyone standing the vicinity. Also, the back blast of the bazooka gave away the weapon's position encouaraging quick retaliation. Because of the size of the charge the PIAT was also useful in clearing rooms and breaching blockhouses. The PIAT was credited with prodigious range and supposedly was effective as an anti-tank weapon at 150 yards and as an indirect fire weapon, 300 yards. In practice, and according to wartime trials, a skilled operator could hit a tank 60% of the time at 100 yards. In addition, the PIAT was easy to manufacture and relatively simple to use, however, the initial manual cocking was a cumbersome and a risky exercise during combat.

The PIAT was not without faults. It was a heavy weapon, at 39 pounds, and unwieldly rendering it  unpopular with those tasked to carry the weapon. Although simple to use it had a heavy kick back and the unwary soldier could be left with a badly bruised shoulder, or even worse. When first introduced the weapon suffered from ammunition reliability problems although this issue was solved as the war progressed. In addition, due to the bomb's heavy charge, there was a risk of serious injury to the operator due to metal fragments from the exploding bomb; fire from cover was recommended (no shit, Flaxen). As the war travelled to an inevitable climax (how was the war for you?) the German's, very unsporting of them, began to fit armoured side 'skirts' to their tanks. As a rule of thumb, the molten jet produced could penetrate armour three times the diameter of the cone. As the skirts on the tank detonated the bomb a distance away from the main armour, the piercing potential of the molten jet was drastically reduced rendering the weapon ineffective. However, the skirts only protected the tank's flanks, leaving the front and rear as vulnerable as before.

In conclusion: It could be remarked that the PIAT was a typical British wartime expedient. There is something rather amateurish and eccentric about this weapon. This was not the only weapon to be considered as such, though perhaps the PIAT was arguably the most successful. Its success belied its crude appearance and it remained in active service well into the 1950s. How it would have faired against Soviet tanks, if the behemoth state had decided to roll West in the 1950s is difficult to say. By this time however, NATO had better hand held anti-tank weapons in its arsenal such as the M20 super bazooka. 

Saturday 18 September 2021

Philosophy in a Nut Shell/Bag

Whilst imbibing Ale, according to strict recommended guidelines, (not a drop less, not a drop more) in my local Tavern, 'The Frolicking Mustelid', Tipton (where else?), I was accosted by the local inebriate and impresario, Pissed Pete, he of rubicund and florid countenance/demeanour. Pickled Pete spake thusly: “Flaxen, you are renowned hereabouts, in these environs and locally, as a savant without peer. Mayhap you are able to address a question of major import, a query that has engaged the best minds for over 2 millennium. Flaxen, are you up to the task"?  I replaced the foaming mug of Ale, 'Ole Scrote Blaster', upon the care worn table of a million drunken spills and squinted wistfully, as if in a reverie or lost in a dream of enchantment and regarded my interrogator, with a wistful eye (just the left one). Pete belched, and the wind of a thousand furies assailed my olfactory system with disdain. The 'Plastered One', regarded me with sanguineous, rheumy eyes and continued. “Flaxen, what is the best definition of 'Philosophy', and if you will, how does it differ from Science' and Theology”? I pursed my lips as if in deep contemplation and responded as follows:

'Philosophy', in ancient Greek can be interpreted as 'Love of Knowledge'. Mayhap this is not a definition that would satisfy the modern mind, as it lacks intellectual rigour, but it sufficed for those pesky Hellenes of yore. The ancients did not distinguish between 'philosophy' and 'science' as we do today. All knowledge, regardless of how it was obtained, was considered under the hefty mantel of philosophy. The Ancient Greeks were not great fans, with some exceptions, of the scientific method as we understand it today. Deep thought, on its own, was the premier method for unlocking nature's secrets. They paid scant attention to what we call Empirical Data and its acquisition.   

This post, is exclusively and unashamedly devoted to Western Philosophy. Eastern Philosophy, throughout the ages, although of academic interest, has/had a tendency toward the esoteric and mystical, often adding a hefty dose of mythical elements masquerading as true, enlightened wisdom. This not to say that the Western variety is exclusively rational. For instance, check out the writings of Plato and Kant to name but two. Rational Western philosophers, are not always rational and irrational philosophers are not always irrational; tis extremely difficult to be consistent, all the time. And indeed, Western savants have oft been happy to sprinkle, or sometimes drench their work with theology. Alfred North Whitehead and Schopenhauer acknowledged their debt to Hinduism. While, Aquinas' philosophical system is only comprehensible within a Christian context. Even the great founder of modern Western philosophical thought, Descartes, added theology to his works. That said, too much of a generalisation tends to over simplification and the risk of lapsing into unintelligibility and lack of clarity. Arse.

Western philosophy, at its best, makes a distinction between knowledge that can be accessed by the Scientific Method and knowledge that can obtained by thought alone. I wont delve into the distinction between these distinct modes of knowledge acquisition as I have covered this ground in previous posts- if you are a true seeker of wisdom, then all will be revealed. 

Philosophic discourse, is eminently suited to such conundrums as: what is courage (Laches?); how can we live a moral existence?; what is the mind, can it be separated from matter?; does life have a purpose or are we adrift in an insouciant Universe? This is just a meagre selection of topics amenable to the Philosophic method, whatever that might be..... The answer to these questions cannot be resolved in the lab. Even the most powerful electron microscope will shed no light, or electrons, on the topics under scrutiny. Most of these enquiries are open ended, and therefore there is no precise, definite answer. In contrast, logical analysis and the quest for knowledge (Epistemology) can provide definitive solutions that defy dispute and remain forever true. And it here that we discern an overlap with the domain we identify as Science.  

Imagine a Venn diagram consisting of the spheres of Philosophy and Science. This would reveal a degree of correspondence between these two domains. The overlap would not be great, but the relationship is clearly significant. There are those who would argue that there should be an additional sphere; the sphere of Theology. I find it difficult to imagine any degree of interaction with our neatly arrayed spheres of  Philosophy and Science. Theology, consists of  a series of dogmatic beliefs and doctrine. The answers to life's mysteries are already known with a certainty that revolts the modern mind and remains in stark contrast to the temper of rational thought. Faith, provides solace to those who believe, but faith does reveal true knowledge. On the basis of faith all is possible. Religious certainty provides comforting fairly tales for those seeking assurance in a chaotic world. Theology, as a topic, remains outside the acquisition of knowledge and is best confined to the realm of psychology and sociology. 

A simple definition defies analysis and belittles the enormity of the task. I favour a series of phrases that interact to build a coherent framework. Each phrase should interlock into this framework and each phrase should be internally consistent as well as exhibiting consistency with each other. This is deceptively difficult to achieve in theory and practice as we run the risk of becoming bogged down in a morass of detail. Conversely, the definition may appear too simplistic, rendering it devoid of real meaning and content.

And therefore, finally.     

Definition:  Philosophy is universally defined as the study of the wisdom or knowledge about the general problems, facts, and situations connected with human existence, values, reasons, and general reality.

My Personal Definition:  Speculations on humanity, the 'self', existence, matter and the universe. An understanding, recognition of what constitutes knowledge and how true knowledge is to be distinguished from irrational beliefs. And finally, an understanding of the limitations of knowledge acquisition.

NB: With reference to knowledge, I have taken care not to include, definite knowledge, as determined by empiricism, as this strictly remains with the domain of science, not philosophy. 

As an exercise, I challenge my readers to propose a definition of philosophy, that makes sense to them. Perhaps, if get enough people to participate it could form the basis of a mass-debate. 





Thursday 9 September 2021

Side Effect of Scant Consequence?

 I have to confess, to date, I've been free of significant side effects of my medication regimen. Even the classic problem of constipation, following opiate medication, troubles me, not at all.

Recently I was prescribed a new medication to add to the list: Amitriptyline. Amitriptyline belongs to a class of drug termed, tricyclic antidepressants and is prescribed for a variety of ailments. For instance, in low dosage it helps with sleep disturbance and promotes nocturnal rest. It is also used as a prophylactic in the prevention of severe migraines. At higher dosage it is prescribed as an antidepressant generally where other antidepressants have proved ineffective. In addition, it is used for the curtailment of nerve pain and has been shown to be effective as a treatment for children after significant head trauma, and as an adjunct in ADHD therapy. Thus, it seems Amitriptyline is a panacea for all that ails us; a drug for all seasons.

Like all medications, Amitriptyline has a number of known side effects. The majority of these  associated problems are relatively minor, such as: dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness, constipation, and weight gain. On rare occasions more serious issues have been reported, specifically blurred vision, tremor, heart palpitations (tachycardia), dizziness, etc.......

This brings me to my sad story, to relate: I had been taking the medication for about a week (75mg/day). Twas a gorgeous Spring day and I was pottering about in my 'Man Shed/Emporium' engaged in a little light woodwork. At about 2pm in the afternoon I espied a dog wandering about on the property. The dog seemed friendly so I approached and checked the collar for an identification tag. There was none so I attached a piece of string to the collar in preparation to hawk said pooch to my immediate neighbours in hope of finding the owner. As I was leading the dog off the property my daughter approached and asked what I was up to. I explained the situation and afterward she looked as if I had gone stark raving mad. It transpires that I had placed a leash on my daughter's dog, Rocco. For context: my daughter, and the hound, had been living with us for the past two years! Of course, my daughter found the whole situation absolutely hilarious. I found the situation mildly disturbing. In all other respects I felt completely normal. And no, I hadn't been drinking or partaking of non-prescription medication. Curiouser and curiouser (not a real word -go tell it to the Caroll).  

I have never experienced this type of 'dissociation/dislocation from reality' before and I'm on my guard for similar episodes. Naturally I have ascribed this 'strange phenomenon' to the Amitriptyline. Of course, I could be wrong. I did consider stop taking the drug, but I do feel I'm getting some benefit from the medication. I've decided to continue, unabated, but not without increased vigilance. I'll keep note of any similar episodes and my family will also monitor my behaviour for anything odd or outside the normal, for me at least. I'm scheduled for a consult with my G.P. in just over two weeks and I'll certainly raise the matter with the good Dr Mugumbo.

My question/quest: Do any of my readership take said drug, and if so, have they experienced any side effects similar to mine? I would be grateful for any input that might shine a little light on my, rather disturbing experience.        

Monday 6 September 2021

Flaxen Talking Bollocks

I'm sure that in the middle of the night you have contemplated the thorny problem of why the body's most sensitive organ, the testicles, are outside the protective carapace of the male chassis? Anyone who has received a football to the bollocks will testify to evolution's folly for not contemplating internal stowage. Only a mature male can experience the nagging, dragging, agonising pain that will inevitably transpire following contact with a hard unyielding object; transsexuals, take note. Upon impact there is the inevitable two second delay as the neural signal travels from the organ of contact/impact to the brain. The finale is a paroxysmal wave of agony experienced by the soma, (O deep joy). You might conclude that males would be better served by sequestering these sensitive glands deep inside the body cavity. The fact that this profoundly delicate male organ swings unfettered and free, awaiting the exquisite vicissitudes of life's slings and arrows, seems but a cruel joke of biology. Indeed, tis the most cogent argument for an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent deity being of the female persuasion. 

The testicles are enclosed in their own 'protective', yielding bag of skin. The rugeform and elastic scrotum encapsulates this valuable organic package and keeps it sequestered from the somatic mass of the main organism. It is has not gone without notice that the scrotal sac waxes and wains according to the ambient temperature. Its inherent properties of malleability, pliability, extensibility and thermal compliance are responsible for the propensity for extreme contraction and augmentation. 

The relationship between temperature and scrotal volume has been exhaustively researched, by myself, during a time when I eschewed medication. This involved placing said sac in water of varying thermal content. Fortuitously, the water itself also serves as a measure of volume due to the ancient principle of Archimedean water displacement. Overflow was conveniently collected in a strategically placed scientific grade measuring cylinder. The result confuted and confounded expectations, and belied simple analysis. And thus, it transpired that the correlation was not an equal, direct, correspondent, comparable, proportionate relationship. To my chagrin and vexation, my data revealed a binomial, sigmoidal relationship. This is counter to intuitive expectations. However, on reflection and further research, the result was found to be in perfect accord with the general properties of elastic materials as illustrated by Charles Law.  

Science Stuff

After the above preamble tis pertinent to address the fundamental question/quest as stated, cogently and with veritable aplomb, in the first paragraph of this esteemed post.   

Testicles have two main roles in the physiology of mammals. Firstly, they are responsible for the male hormone, testosterone, that defines masculinity, in all its manifold aspects. Formation and excretion of testosterone is not exclusive to the male gender and lesser amounts are secreted by the female of the species (don't ask). Secondly, the testes are the seat of sperm production. The development of male spermatozoa is a complex and interesting topic in itself. The average healthy male 'manufactures' 50-200 million spermatozoa per day and the average ejaculate contains, on average, 7 billion of the little, wriggling buggers.

In my professional capacity as a geneticist I have had the privilege to research and develop a diagnostic laboratory technique for sperm analysis. Specifically, the methodology was aimed at detecting genetically abnormal spermatozoa in the ejaculate of men carrying a known genetic anomaly. I posted a whimsical side swipe of the experience, here:  The Flaxen Saxon Chronicles: Search results for consummate professional

My interest in matters 'Scrotal' is not confined to my professional proclivities. Indeed, I'm an esteemed inventor of note and have used my talents, as an innovator, to combine my prodigious practical proficiency with my passion for the science of Bollockology, to engineer a mechanical device for the measurement of scrotal movement following a thermal insult. The Scrotometer (pat pending) and its practical deployment can be accessed using the following link:  The Flaxen Saxon Chronicles: Search results for scrotometer

For some reason, if you click on the links provided, the relevant posts will appear when you scroll down the page.  

Some say that I'm in line to receive the Nobel Prize for being a Smart Arse (Arse).