An unusual accessory known as the “Flanders Flap” or more commonly known as the “cat flap” that takes it’s name from the small opening, or door, designed to allow domesticated cats enter and leave a house without the owner constantly opening doors or windows (if you own a small dog or a cat you’ll understand how useful this can be). The word “Flanders” stuck due to the first use of this devise in that particular area. Obviously detailed information is quite hard to come by although a good summery can be found written by Skennerton as well as various discussions in Military Forum. A lot of the information found in publications and on the web are however quite hard to verify. Let’s see if we can get shed some light on this interesting accessory.
This fun little object, in which is officially known as the “Muzzle Protector No3. MkI” is nothing more than a muzzle protector. It’s sole purpose is to stop rain, water, much and dirt from getting into the barrel of the rifle.
It was first produced in 1915 by various manufacturers:
The Brandauer & Co charged 10 Shillings per 100 pieces (for an order of 100,000) and the M. Myers & Son LTD charged 8 Shillings per 100 pieces (for an order of 100,000). Every manufacturer marked the items with their own individual markings and once accepted the broad arrow was added.
260,000 were produced (number based on the orders but not what was delivered) and of course there may be other manufacturers not know. During the same period 1.700.000 rifles were produced (from 1915 to 1917 when it was declared obsolete (L.o.c 18303). This shows that not every rifle had this item fitted. Here’s some production facts:
- - A. Purdy, 2 and half pence for every 100 pieces (order of 100,000)
- - J.Purdy & Sons (still producing high quality hunting arms”, 6 pence per 100 pieces (order of 100,000)
J.Purdey & Son produced a simplified version (today very rare indeed). The only known image can be found in the book “James Purdey & Sons 200 Years of Excellence".
The official description is as follows: “Athol Purdy Muzzle Protector, to protect the muzzle and barrel from mud during trench warfare, produced in the thousands at factory n°84 situated in Mount Street in 1915”
A demonstration of it’s use can be seen in this photo taken in April 1917, where we can see a soldier marching in the North of France with this canvas flap on the rifle.
As these were not produced in large numbers explains the rarity of this accessory. Replicas can be found and ussualy sell for about £70. I avoided this until I found a reasonably priced replica that is almost identical to the original.
It is a very simple to use devise with 2 metals ‘flaps’ (some were produced in brass) fixed together on hinges with a spring that allowed the flap to open. The spring is always in tension and allows the flap to open or close even with the Bayonet fixed. When closed it does get in the way of the front sight, which means a soldier could not aim and fire with the flap closed. In case of emergency it can be fired with the flap closed resulting in the flap breaking or flying off the end of the rifle (I’m not going to test this theory). Some units at the front complained that if it was covered in mud it would no longer open. Once fired, the flap would have a hole but would still not allow the use of the front sight. Reports indicate that there have been many “finds” with holes in them.
How is it fixed to the rifle? I’m sure some SMLE owners have noted a large and rather ugly looging oversized screw on the front of the rifle and probably wondered “why thus ugly screw to ruin a great looking rifle”.. well here’s the reason!
At the end of the SMLE the screw normally is flat against the nose-cap. The enlarged screw allows the “Flanders Flap” to be fixed in place.
Here’s it’s fitted:
As we can see this is just a Replica but as I only paid €16 I can’t really complain.
For about €80 you can find reproductions such as this:
Or for a little more than €40 like this:
Usually the seller will declare that these are reproductions and state in the description that they are effective copied of the originals. They are however not perfect and small details and differences can be found. To see these differences we need to compare to an original.
This is the most original (apparently) we found on the web.
But we also found this that is probably original:
We believe original.
Now we can note the differences:
- Measurements are different (in the original the external parts are the same and the central part longer).
- As is the actual shape of the horizontal flap that bloke the front sight (The replica is not such good quality and is the same length along all sides although some of the better replicas are closer to the original).
- The spring is different (The replicas are often manually bent into shape).
- The finish (replicas are often not blued).
- The edges (the originals seem to have softer edges although this may be down to wear)
I do find this a fascinating and fun object that probably wasn’t a massive success and as explained earlier probably wasn’t that effective in the Mud of Flanders given the exposed spring that would have made the whole this useless if broken or stuck. In the end a simple piece of fabric proved just, or more, effective and from 1917 and for at least another year seemed to be the accepted version.
In this pic we can see a soldier cleaning his rifle with the Flanders Flap in place:
I’m not sure of the official date of either adoption or decommission. It’s not mentioned at all in the list of changes – of course the widespread use of the more economic and practical muzzle protector made of cloth materials leads me to believe that it’s use was limited during the first years of the war. However the following image from 1930 of a Soldier equipped with SMLE, serving in Afghanistan with the Seaforth Highlanders, shows that the use of the Flanders Flap was also useful for protecting the rifle from dessert conditions such as dust and sand.
Let’s finish here with something a little off topic but seeing as we have mentioned Flanders a lot I this article; here are the words of Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander McCrae regarding an episode of “Peanuts” (Charlie Brown)
Here’s the video CLICK HERE
In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
I think I’ve said as much as I can but if anyone want to add something please feel free.
Copyright© 2017 - Andrea Grazioli per CoEx
Traslation - Kevin Fisher
“The Lee Enfield Rifle” - Ian Skennerton - pag. 427
“List of Changes” - Ian Skenerton - Vol. 4 - pag.164 - L.o.C. 18303 “In Flanders Fields” - John Alexander McCrae