Boys anti-tank rifle

Boys Anti-tank Rifle

Boys anti-tank rifle Mk I
Type Anti-tank rifle
Place of origin United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1937–1943
Used by See Users
Wars World War II
Production history
Designed 1937
Manufacturer Royal Small Arms Factory
Produced 1937–1940
Number built ~62,000
Variants Mk I, Mk II
Weight 35 lb (16 kg) unloaded
Length 5 ft 2 in (1.575 m)
Barrel length 36 in. (910 mm); Airborne: 30 in. (762 mm)

Cartridge Kynoch & RG .55 Boys
Calibre (bullet diameter).5625 in. (14.3 mm) (9/16 in.) In[1]
Action Bolt
Rate of fire ~10 round/min
Muzzle velocity

Mk I: 747 m/s (2,450.1 ft/s)

Mk II: 884 m/s (2,899.5 ft/s)
Effective firing range

23.2mm penetration at 90° 100 yards (91 m)[2]

18.8mm penetration at 90° 500 yards (460 m)[2]
Feed system 5-round detachable box magazine
Swedish volunteers in the Winter War carrying Boys
American World War II poster featuring an English soldier carrying a Boys Rifle.

The Rifle, Anti-Tank, .55in, Boys commonly known as the "Boys Anti-tank Rifle" (or incorrectly "Boyes"), was a British anti-tank rifle in use during the Second World War. It was often nicknamed the "elephant gun" by its users due to its size and large bore.[3]

There were three main versions of the Boys, an early model (Mark I) which had a circular muzzle brake and T-shaped monopod, built primarily at BSA in England, a later model (Mk I*) built primarily at the John Inglis and Company in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, that had a square muzzle brake and a V shaped bipod, and a third model made for airborne forces with a 30-inch (762 mm) barrel and no muzzle brake. There were also different cartridges, with a later version offering better penetration.

Although adequate against light tanks and tankettes in the early part of the war, the Boys was ineffective against heavier armour and was phased out in favour of the PIAT mid-war.

Design and development

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.[4] 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.[5]

The cartridge was an adaptation of the .50 BMG, with a belt added firing a 47.6 gram bullet. At its introduction, the weapon was effective on light armour (23.2 mm thick) at 100 yards (91 m).[2]

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 23.2 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 Boys' effective range against unarmoured targets (for example, infantry), was much greater.

Despite its recoil slide and rubber-cushioned buttpad, the recoil of the weapon (along with noise and muzzle blast) was said to be painful, frequently causing neck strains and bruised shoulders. Consequently, the Boys was almost never fired as a free weapon (that is not affixed to a support) except in emergencies.[5]

Operational use

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 early German and Italian tanks in France and North Africa, as well as in the Norwegian campaign, such as the Panzer I, Panzer II and early models of Panzer III, 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 caused by the shortened barrel.[6] Another limitation was that the Boys rifle was relatively heavy and unwieldy to carry and set up.

The Boys reputation after the Battle of France was such that the Canadian government, through the Directorate of Military Training, The Department of National Defence and National Film Board of Canada (NFB) commissioned a training film, Stop That Tank! (1942), from Walt Disney Studios to counter the rifle's "jinx" reputation.[7][Note 1]

Nonetheless, in the European theatre it was soon replaced by the PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) in 1943, which first saw service during the Allied invasion of Sicily. In other roles the Boys saw some use against bunkers, machine gun nests and light-skinned vehicles but was rapidly replaced in British and Commonwealth service, as quantities of the latter weapon became available, by the U.S. .50 BMG calibre M2 Browning machine gun.

Using armour-piercing (AP), armour-piercing incendiary (API), and armour-piercing incendiary tracer (APIT) ammunition, the .50 Browning was just as capable in armour penetration[Note 2] and more devastating when igniting thin-skinned vehicles using incendiary rounds than the Boys, and could also serve as an effective anti-aircraft weapon. The heavier Browning, however, was not "man-portable" at 38 kg (84 lb) without tripod, 58 kg (128 lb) with tripod. Even the British Special Air Service, which made much use of captured or cast-off weapons for their jeeps and reconnaissance vehicles, quickly got rid of their Boys rifles in favour of .50 M2 Brownings or the Italian 20mm Breda cannon.

The weapon was standard issue to British and Commonwealth forces which attempted to stem the Japanese onslaught through the Pacific theatre. At Milne Bay, the weapon proved completely ineffective. It also failed to stop Japanese tanks in Malaya. Some accounts claim that the 1/14th Punjabi Regiment knocked out two light Japanese tanks at a roadblock.[6] During the Battle of Singapore the 1st Bn Cambridgeshire Regiment claims the Boys was very useful in knocking holes through walls during street fighting.

The U.S. Marine Corps purchased Canadian Boys rifles prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. They saw limited use by the Marine Raider Battalions against enemy bunkers and aided in shooting down a seaplane off Makin Island.[9] The U.S. Army's 1st Ranger Battalion was also equipped with Boys, but they were not used in combat. The other five Ranger battalions were authorized Boys, but were not equipped with them.

The Boys rifles were also used by the Chinese Nationalist Army during the late Second Sino-Japanese War in both China and Burma.

In September 1965, members of the IRA hit the British fast-attack patrol boat HMS Brave Borderer with a Boys rifle, crippling one of her turbines while she was paying a visit to Waterford, Republic of Ireland.[10]


Vehicle mounting

The Boys Rifle was sometimes mounted on vehicles such as the Universal Carrier ("Bren Gun Carrier"), Humber Light Reconnaissance Car and the Standard Beaverette armoured car.[11]



  1. In the National Film Board of Canada production, Letter from Camp Borden (1941), a Canadian sergeant is shown trying to explain the "virtues" of the Boys Mk.1 to a group of doubting recruits.[7]
  2. Quote: "A review of World War II U.S. .50 caliber AP, API, and APIT ammunition specifications reveals that all armour-piercing varieties of the U.S. .50 BMG cartridge were required to completely perforate 7/8" (22.23 mm) of hardened steel plate armour at 100 yards (91 m).[8]


  1. Huon 1988, pp. 339–340.
  2. 1 2 3 , Boys Anti-Tank Rifle Mk.I, 1942, Small Arms Training, Volume I, Pamphlet No.5
  3. Henderson 1958, p. 18.
  4. Smith 2006, p. 541.
  5. 1 2 Dunlap 1948, p. 144.
  6. 1 2 Weeks 1979, p. 91.
  7. 1 2 "Walt Disney Goes to War." Life, 31 August 1942, p. 61. Retrieved: 30 November 2011.
  8. Barnes 2012, p. 432.
  9. Rottman 1995, p. 18.
  10. White 2006, p. 130.
  11. 1 2 Bishop 2002, p. 212.
  12. 1 2 Bishop 2002, p. 213.
  13. Battistelli 2013, p. 32.
  14. Zaloga and Ness 1998, p. 197.
  15. Pegler 2010, p. 55. Archived January 11, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.


  • Barnes, Frank C. Cartridges of the World: A Complete Illustrated Reference for More Than 1,500 Cartridges. Northfield, Illinois: DBI Books, 2012, First edition 1975. ISBN 978-1-4402-3059-2.
  • Battistelli, Pier Paolo. Italian Soldier in North Africa, 1941-43. London: Osprey, 2013. ISBN 978-1-7809-6855-1.
  • Bishop, Chris, The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, illustrated edition. New York: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2002, ISBN 1-58663-762-2.
  • Rottman, Gordon. US Marine Corps 1941–45. London: Osprey Publishing, 1995. ISBN 978-1-8553-2497-8.
  • Dunlap, Roy F. Ordnance Went Up Front: Some Observations and Experiences of a Sergeant of Ordnance, Who Served Throughout World War II with the United States Army in Egypt, the Philippines and Japan, Including Way Stations. With Comment and Opinions on the Many Different Small-arms in use by the Forces Engaged. Los Angeles: Samworth Press, for R & R Books 1996, First edition 1948. ISBN 1-88484-909-1.
  • Henderson, Jim. 22 Battalion War History Branch. Washington, D.C.: Department of Internal Affairs, 1958.
  • Huon, Jean. Military Rifle & Machine Gun Cartridges. Riverside, Maryland: Ironside International, Inc., 1988. ISBN 0-935554-05-X.
  • Pegler, Martin. Sniper Rifles: From the 19th to the 21st Century, Illustrated edition. London: Osprey Publishing, 2010, ISBN 1-84908-398-3.
  • Smith, Colin. Singapore Burning. London: Penguin, 2006. ISBN 978-0-14-101036-6.
  • Weeks, John. Small Arms of World War II, New York: Galahad Press, 1979. ISBN 978-0-88365-403-3.
  • White, Robert Williams. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh: The Life and Politics of an Irish Revolutionary. Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-253-34708-4.
  • Zaloga, Steven J. and Ness, Leland S. Red Army Handbook 1939–1945. London: Sutton, 1998. ISBN 0-7509-1740-7.
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