Book Review: Service Publications "Canada: Weapons of War" series: The Land Mattress in Canadian Service by Doug Knight; Service Publications, Ottawa, Canada 2003, 24 pp: price CDN$9.95; ISBN 1-894581-18-0
Advantages: Very interesting little book on a relatively unknown (outside Canada) weapons system; very good explanation of rocket weapons
Disadvantages: No plans included
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: For all Commonwealth and US built halftrack fans
This is another of the excellent Weapons of War series ; as I have noted before they are dedicated Canadian views of weapons systems and present an operational view of the vehicle or weapon covered.
For some odd reason, probably the novelty of them during the Second World War, it appears none of the major powers wanted to call "multiple rocket launchers" by that name. The Soviets called them "Katyusha" (Little Katie) and their formations "Guards Mortar units." The US Army referred to the launchers as "Calliope" (which described the appearance of the Sherman tank mounted versions) and the Navy called their anti-submarine ones "Hedgehogs." The Germans called theirs "Nebelwerfer" (fog caster). And apparently the Royal Navy referred to their shore bombardment rocket system as "Mattress." The terms were not effective very long, and essentially wound up as the service nicknames of the weapons.
After a firefight in North Africa was only solved by the use of an antiaircraft rocket launcher battery interceding on behalf of some British troops, the surviving officer, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Wardell, tried to convince the British Army to adopt land based multiple rocket launchers. As with most instances of bright ideas that work, the School of Artillery turned him down flat as it did not deem it worthy, and their assessment was it would take two years to get prototypes built and tested for evaluation. (Translation: "NIH" ? not invented here.)
But a Canadian observer, Lieutenant Colonel Eric Harris, immediately grasped the significance of the weapon and after finding no success with British officers turned to the Canadian Army. With Harris providing the incentive, CMHQ proceeded to have two prototype 40-round launchers built for test and evaluation.
The rocket launchers were made up from stray bits and pieces, but the result was actually quite good. A crude trailer with 40 tubes was built, providing only a single fixed elevation for launch. The rockets were cobbled together from a 29-lb Naval bombardment warhead, an RAF 3 inch rocket motor, and an Army artillery fuse.
One item many people are not aware of is the fact that rockets come with only one charge for firing - a single motor that cannot be adjusted for time of burn. As a result, rockets are fired using an elevation setting and a special braking ring or spoiler on the nose of the rocket warhead to slow it down. (The Russian BM-21 "Grad" with its 122mm rockets still uses that method today, so it is old and reliable.) The first version of what was dubbed the "Land Mattress" (land for Army, Mattress from its Naval cover term) was tested in June and July1944. After successful testing, a 10-launcher battery using 32-round launchers was fielded along with 10,000 rockets, all made up from available parts and in spite of protests by the British artillery authorities. Using men from a light AA battery, the force set sail for Europe in October 1944.
The battery received its baptism of fire on 31 October when some three salvoes ? about 960 rockets ? were fired on German AA gun positions. The battery wound up in action fairly often, and on 10 November the equipment was turned over to a new cadre of artillerymen. They were replaced on 16 December, and another battery took over on 24 January 1945. Finally, "production" rocket launchers were issued in March 1945 with a new 30-round launcher being the "standard" model. By that time the original 32-round ones were pretty much worn out.
The 30-round model , dubbed the "Projector, Rocket, Three Inch, Number 8 Mark1" or Tillings-Stephens Projector after its makers. It could fire its rockets over a moderately broad series of ranges in three bands (large ring, small ring, no ring) with a maximum range of up to 8,250 yards. Time for a complete salvo was just under 8 seconds.
As with all rocket weapons, the Land Mattress suffered from its voracious appetite for ammunition ? a single battery salvo of 10 launchers consumed 320 rockets, and if three salvoes were fired, the consumption could reach nearly a thousand rounds a mission. But one salvo could blanket an area roughly 800 x800 yards, which is excellent for an area fire weapon such as this.
The weapon achieved a high degree of effectiveness when used, and only one launcher was destroyed in action ? and that by a Spitfire!
One launcher ? or projector ? survives today with the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
Doug Knight is listed as a retired Canadian Army officer and is obviously very skilled as a "gonner" in his clear and easily understandable explanation of how the weapon works and what it could do in action. This is a handy little book, profusely illustrated but alas having no plans of the "beastie" permitting it to be easily modeled. Still, if you are a "Redleg" (US artillery term) or fan of interesting weapons, this is a nice read and worth your effort. Thanks to Clive Law of Service Publications for the review copy.Cookie Sewell AMPS