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Boys Anti-tank Rifle
Boys Mk I AT Rifle.jpg
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)
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 747 (later 884) m/s (2,450.1 ft/s) (2,899.5 ft/s)
Effective 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 World War II. 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 Jonathan Inglis in Toronto 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 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 cushioned buttpad, the recoil of the weapon (along with noise and muzzle blast) was said to be terrific, 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]


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.[citation needed]

Although useful against early German and Italian tanks in France and North Africa, 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] The Boys was so unpopular that the Canadian government commissioned a Disney training film, Stop That Tank, to oppose the rifle's "jinx" reputation.[7] 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 by the U.S. .50 BMG calibre M2 Browning machine gun[8] as quantities of the latter weapon became available.

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 and more devastating when igniting thin-skinned vehicles using incendiary rounds than the Boys, but the Browning could also serve as an effective anti-aircraft weapon.[9] 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 favor of .50 M2 Brownings or the Italian 20mm Breda cannon.[citation needed]

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 Punjabis knocked out two light Japanese tanks at a roadblock.[6] This claim, however, has never been substantiated from the Japanese side. During the Battle of Singapore the 1st Cambridgeshire Regiment claims the Boys was very useful in knocking holes through walls during street fighting. Again, however, Japanese sources do not substantiate the claim.

The US Marine Corps purchased Boys rifles prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. They were used in the Philippines and by the Marine Raider Battalions against enemy bunkers.[10]

The Boys rifles was used by the local Filipino soldiers under the Philippine Army and Philippine Constabulary during World War II under the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines from 1942 to 1945 and Post-War era from 1945 to 1960s including Hukbalahap Rebellion (1946–1954) and the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (PEFTOK) during Korean War (1950–1955).

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.[11]


  •  United Kingdom
  •  Australia
  •  Canada
  •  Republic of China
  •  Democratic Republic of Congo – a few used by Congolese rebels in 1964–65, possibly supplied by China.
  •  Finland – as 14 mm pst kiv/37, during the Winter War and the Continuation War.
  •  France - received a large shipment in exchange for 25mm anti-tank guns.[12]
  •  Nazi Germany - rifles captured after the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Forces in Norway and France were designated 13.9-mm Panzerabwehrbüchse 782(e) in German service.[13]
  •  Ireland
  •  Luxembourg
  •  New Zealand
  •  Philippines – used by the Philippine Army and Philippine Constabulary during the Second World War under Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945, The post-war era from 1945 to 1960s, the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (PEFTOK) during the Korean War from 1950 to 1955 and the Hukbalahap Rebellion from 1946 to 1954.
  •  Soviet Union - received 3,200 Boys rifles via Lend-Lease.[14]
  • United States – used by the US Marine Corps in early 1942 on the Philippines against dug in infantry positions.[13] During the Korean War, The Marine Corps borrowed some Boys rifles from Canadian troops, strengthened the action and mounted them with scopes. They were used as long-range sniper rifles on an experimental basis, firing double charged .50 BMG ammunition. These rifles had a range of over 2000 yards.[15]

Vehicle mounting

The Boys Rifle was sometimes mounted on vehicles such as the Universal Carrier ("Bren Gun Carrier"), Humber LRC and the Standard Beaverette armoured car.[12]


  1. Huon, Jean (1988). Military Rifle & Machine Gun Cartridges. Ironside International, Inc.. pp. 339–340. ISBN 0-935554-05-X. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 , Boys Anti-Tank Rifle Mk.I, 1942, Small Arms Training, Volume I, Pamphlet No.5
  3. p.18 Henderson, Jim 22 Battalion War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, 1958
  4. Smith, Colin (2006). Singapore Burning. Penguin. pp. 541. ISBN 978-0-14-101036-6. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Dunlap, Roy F., Ordnance Went Up Front, Samworth Press (1948), p. 144
  6. 6.0 6.1 Weeks, John, Small Arms of World War II, New York: Galahad Press 1979), p. 91
  7. "Walt Disney Goes to War". Life. 1942-08-31. pp. 61. Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  8. though not "man-portable" at 38 kg without tripod
  9. Barnes, Frank C., Cartridges of the World, DBI Books, 1975, 1989, p.432: "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" (22.23mm) of hardened steel plate armour at 100 yards (91 m).
  10. p.18 Rottman, Gordon US Marine Corps 1941–45 Osprey Publishing, 15/05/1995
  11. White, Robert Williams (2006). Ruairí Ó Brádaigh: the life and politics of an Irish revolutionary. Indiana University Press, p. 130. ISBN 0-253-34708-4
  12. 12.0 12.1 Bishop, Chris, The encyclopedia of weapons of World War II, illustrated edition, Publisher: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.,Year: 2002, ISBN 1-58663-762-2, [1], p. 212
  13. 13.0 13.1 Bishop, Chris, The encyclopedia of weapons of World War II, illustrated edition, Publisher: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.,Year: 2002, ISBN 1-58663-762-2, [2], p. 213
  14. Zaloga & Leland Red Army Handbook 1939–1945 Sutton 1998 p197 ISBN 0-7509-1740-7
  15. Pegler, Martin, Sniper Rifles: From the 19th to the 21st Century, illustrated edition, Osprey Publishing, 2010, ISBN 1-84908-398-3, [3], p.55


  • 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, Samworth Press (1948), LC Control No.: 48007125 (ISBN 1884849091 for R & R Books 1996)

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