An homage to armour marks a Gavin Gardiner triple play as Michael E. Haskew reports.
The first tanks appeared in the battlefield in World War I, massive tracked monsters belching machine-gun and artillery fire.
As they slewed and heaved forward across No-Man’s Land during the Somme Offensive of 1916, fear struck the hearts of their enemies. The British Army had amassed 49 of its brand new Mark I models and ordered them to attack German positions near the twin villages of Fler and Courcelette in war-torn France.
Although the tank was untried and only 36 of the original number reached the jumping-off point due to breakdowns, falling into shellholes, or other mishaps, the sight was fearsome. Another 14 were lost as the armoured behemoths crept onward, German rifle and machine gun bullets bouncing off their armoured hides.
A reporter for the London Daily Chronicle observed the action of one tank at Flers-Courcelette and wrote, “Over our own trenches in the twilight of the dawn those motor-monsters had lurched up, and now it came crawling forward to the rescue, cheered by the assaulting troops, who called out words of encouragement to it and laughed, so that some men were laughing even when bullets caught them in the throat. ‘Crème de Menthe’ was the name given to this particular creature, and it waddled forward right over the old German trenches.”
The first news of British armoured success came through the wireless of an airman lying above, which transmitted: “A tank is walking up the high street of Flers with the British army cheering behind.”
True enough, the Germans were astonished at this new and horrifying weapon of war. For a moment, they stared in disbelief—and then most broke and ran—at least for a while. The attack slowly snuffed itself out as mechanical losses mounted and German resistance stiffened behind trenches that could not be breached and a heavy volume of defensive artillery fire.
Although they had been scared witless in the beginning, the Germans adapted defensive measures against British tanks and soon developed armoured fighting vehicles of their own. To combat the British, they employed wide and deep trenches later referred to as “tank traps,” plunging artillery fire, and the world’s first anti-tank rifle, adapted from—you guessed it—an elephant rifle!
During its 21 April live online auction from Pulborough, West Sussex headquarters, Gavin Gardiner Limited brought those stark, harrowing days of trench combat to the fore, while executing a stunning triple play with three lots back-to-back-to-back (Lots 40-42) selling swiftly under the hammer for more than £4,000 per. Two of these were scarce examples of the Mauser 13mm Tankgewehr Model 1918 anti-tank rifle, while the third was a fine Cogswell & Harrison howdah pistol numbered 6933. More on the howdah pistol in a moment…
Following the initial shock of early British armoured assaults, the legendary German arms manufacturer Mauser recognised the futility of attempting to penetrate a tank’s steel plating with its standard 7.92mm armour piercing K bullet. Mauser rapidly adapted its high-velocity, heavy caliber elephant gun, used across the continent of Africa in the hunt for big game, to the hunt for British tanks.
The standard round was upgraded to 13.2mm, while the T-gewehr, as it became popularly known, entered production in the spring of 1918. Eventually, 15,800 of the heavy, 35-pound weapon, were completed. It required a two-man crew to load and fire, was supported by a forward bipod, and intended to operate from a stationary position such as a trench.
No provision was made to lessen the mammoth recoil of the T-gewehr, and firing the gun was dangerous in itself, sometimes leaving the soldier whose charge it was debilitated and perhaps with a fractured shoulder.
The round itself weighed a hefty 51.5 grams (795 grains), and the gun’s muzzle velocity was 785 meters or 2,580 feet per second. No doubt, it packed a heavy punch and, when operated efficiently, was capable of disabling an oncoming tank.
Twin tank destroyers
The two examples of the Mauser T-gewehr bolt action anti-tank rifle offered in Lots 41 and 42 at the April event are almost identical. Although barrel lengths are listed as 40 and 41 inches respectively, the guns are each fitted with the massive Mauser receiver necessary to accommodate the 13mm round, which by the way dwarfs the .303-calibre round common to the standard issue British SMLE infantry rifle.
Each receiver is emblazoned with the Mauser banner and trademark dated 1918, and the weapons feature bolt with flag safety, recoil stud, half-length two-piece stock with separate pistol grip, and 14½-inch pull. Both are German nitro-proof and exhibit light rust overall.
Lot 41 sold for £4,500, and Lot 42 followed for £4,200. While museum pieces are found around the world, it is quite rare for two of these big guns to surface at public auction, much less in the same event. Gavin Gardiner has done it again, allowing its clients to own a piece of history that transcends the exquisite firearm itself.
The Mauser T-gewehr excitement came on the heels of the howdah pistol sale. For reference, a howdah pistol was of large calibre and developed early in the 19th century for defence against marauding animals such as lions and tigers, while its owner traveled through areas of India and Africa during the height of the British Empire.
The howdah includes at least two barrels, sometimes four, and breechloading types were favoured over revolvers due to higher muzzle velocity, stopping power, and ease of reloading.
The Gavin Gardiner example, which sold for £4,500, was manufactured by Cogswell & Harrison.
A 12-bore, pinfire double barrel example numbered 6933, it features 7½-inch barrels of Damascus steel with two-inch chambers, short flat rib with fore sight and folding leaf sights, rounded frame, non-rebounding back locks, hammers and rotary underlever with scroll engraving.
The chequered walnut grip with steel butt cap provides pleasant accent, and traces of the original hardening colour are present throughout. The pistol is black powder proof and weighs three pounds, 14 ounces.
The howdah proved versatile during its heyday. Although intended for use against large animals, officers of the British Army sometimes carried it into combat or for personal protection, placing a premium on its power and multiple shot capability.
The firm of Cogswell & Harrison, which was established in May 1770, is London’s oldest operating gunmaker. Along with the howdah, it has been well known for the production of fine sporting shotguns and rifles. Today, the company is owned by the Brennan family, which heads the Ardee Sports concern. Its Windsor and Certus guns are complemented by the production of bespoke over-under and side-by-side shotguns.
Cogswell & Harrison was founded by Benjamin Cogswell and originally located at 4 Bengal Place, New Kent Road, London. During the half century that followed, Hector Essex, a noted gunsmith and jeweler was associated with the firm, as was Hector’s brother, Robert Essex, a silversmith and firearms dealer. In 1834, silversmith and firearms dealer Edward Benton took over the company, located at 224 Strand.
According to records, Benjamin Cogswell reemerged in 1842 at 224 Strand, promoting the enterprise as a “gun and pistol warehouse.” By 1857, the moniker was redesignated forthrightly as Benjamin Cogswell gunmaker. Six years later, Edward Harrison joined the company, which was renamed Cogswell & Harrison. By the 19th century, the company was under the direction of Edgar Harrison, Edward Harrison’s son, who joined the company in 1874 as it established a name for technological innovations.
Jack of all
A 1929 advertisement touted the company as “Manufacturers of Guns, Rifles, Gun Barrels, and Sports Goods Generally; “Dint” Patent Golf Clubs; Bullseye Racket. Guns include: “Victor” Gun, “Markor” Utility Gun, Magazine and Double Barrel Big Game Rifles, 375-470 Calibre.” General production firearms included side-by-side, over-under, and single-barrel shotguns; double rifles; falling-block rifles; bolt action magazine rifles; and rook and rabbit rifles.
Edgar Harrison died in 1938, and his nephew, Major Cordova, became chairman of the Cogswell & Harrison board, selling the majority ownership to Sam Cummings, president of International Armaments Corporation nearly 20 years later. By 1958, Cummings had also acquired stellar London gunmakers Churchill and Boswell, forming InterArm Co. When Cogswell & Harrison celebrated 200 years of gunmaking in 1970, it had been sold to a group of InterArm directors.
Emerging from voluntary liquidation, the name of Cogswell & Harrison was acquired by Farlow’s of Pall Mall in 1983. A year later Farlow’s granted a gunmaking license, lasting five years, to J. Roberts & Son. The Cooley family purchased the company in 1993, and in 2008 the Brennan family became owners, inheriting the history of Cogswell & Harrison.
The 2012 completion of the company’s 3rd Millennium Bespoke Side by Side 12-gauge shotgun marked the first Cogswell & Harrison gun manufactured in the 21st century, certifying the grand old firm as a gunmaker across four centuries.