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Volume 8

Issue 86

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Rifles oI the

The introduction ofthe magazine-Ioading rtfle gavethe

infantryman more firepowet than ever befote, but the

appeafttnce of quick-frre artillery and machine-gtns

combined to produce a bloody stalemate.

The years from 1914 to 1918 were very much a perlod of purgatory for the

ordinary foot soldrer, He was confined to a miserable life of trench

warfare rnterspersed by periods when attacks were made through

barbed wire rn the face of massed machine-gun fire. The artillery ruled his existence and his military skllls were few.

But every one of the unfortunates who led this odd lile had one thing in

common, He was equipped with a standard service rifle which was

supposed to be his main weapon, In the event the indivlduals rarely got the chance to use these weapons, apart from the frantrc and frenzied periods when an infantry attack actually reached the enemy's trenches, There the rifle's bayonet could be more useful than its bullet, and if all

else farled the nfle became a very effective club, This close-quarter

warfare was far from what the rrfle designers had envisaged, namely accurate fire at long ranqes, What the soldiers wanted was something that worked when required, very often at close ranges, and it was this

fact thal differentiated the true service rifle of World War I from the

target rJfles their designers thought they wanted, Under trench condi-

tions the rlfles that were able to wlthstand the rough-and{umble of

service life were much more favoured than the designers' dreams, Thus rifles such as the German Gewehr 98 and the British No, I Mk III fared much better than refined products such as the Canadian Ross or the Brltish,/American No, 3 Mk I

The Western Front was not the only battleground of World War L

Elsewhere the Austro-Hungarians and ltalians fought it out with Mann-

modello 189ls, The Rus-

licher modello 1895s and Mannlicher-Carcano

The disparity between the length of the Lebel mle 1886/93 in the foreground and the No. 1 Mark III held by the British soldier can be readily appreciated

here. The Lebel was typical of most World War

I rifle lengths, while the much

sfi orf eriVo. I M ar k I I I w as far eas ier to carry and u s e in ac tion.

Serbjan so/djers are seen inApril 19J,6, with

the man laden with trophjes rn tlre

foregr-ound carrying his 7-mm (0.275-in) rifle carefully wrapped against the

mud. Partof

his booty is aMannlicher-Carcanocarbine.

ElAborate decoration

of rifles was a Balkan tradition dating back to the I 6th century.

sians carried what Mosin-Nagant Model 1891s they could prod::=

through the long series of campaigns against

Hungarlans, while the French had a varrety of weapons, some oi ie:- with colonial-warfare origins. Nearly all of these rifles used some fcri:- :-

magazrne in which extra rounds could be carried ready to flre, and ^-' ::

them carried long and wlcked bayonets that reduced the rifle :c more than a long-range prke as carried in warfare for hundreds of i.e-s Nearly all the major types of rrfle used by both sides in World ,',-=r -

=

the Germans and Aus::-

are mentioned rn this study, The men that carried them have nov,'ne-_; all passed away, all of them remembering every last detarl and feei :- ::

weapons that they very often carried to their deaths, They are nc;.a:. of history, but a surprising number of these rifles survive, not all c: -:-=::

in museums, for many are now collected by enthusiasts who treas-l:

their desrgn and robust construction, Ifthey can fire them the enthusr;s- are often agreeably surprised by the hrgh degree of accuracy manr,. ar:

still capable of producing,

GERN,,lANY

Mauser Gewehr 1898

The first Mauser rifle approved for

German army service was the Mauser Modell 1888, This used a Mauser bolt

action that has remained virtually un-

altered to thrs day, but with it a rather

dated B-mm (0.315-in) cartndge. Trials

led to the adoption of a new 7,92-mm

(0.312-in) cartndge, and a new rifle to

fire it became known as the Gewehr

1898 or Gew 98 (Rifle Model lB9B). This

new rifle was destined to be one of the

most widely used and successfui weapons of its type, and it was pro- duced in large numbers. Many later

rifles could trace their origins back to

the Gewehr 1898. It was the classic

Mauser rifle, handsome and rather

long, but well-balanced and with ev-

erything excellently desrgned

and in

general

nicely made. The term 1n

general' is used advisedly, for once

World

War I was into its stride the

standards of manufacture had to be

relaxed and some comparatively

rough specimens were rssued to the

most were very well-made

with good qualrty wooden furniture

troops. But

that was emphasized by the use of a

pistol-type grip behind the trigger to

assist holding and aiming. The oriQdnal rear-sigtht was a very elaborate affair wrth slidrng ramps and olher nlceties

that needed experience for effective use, but some larger vetsions were

simpler.

usual

The bolt action retained the

Mauser front-lug lockinq sys-

tems, with the addition of an extra lug

to make the number up to three for

added safety

with the new and more.

powerful

cartridge, The bolt tsed a ,

strgight-pull

action whtch was and still

1s rather awkward to use quickly and.

smoothly but in servrce generated few

problems, The integral box magaztne

held five rounds loaded from a charger

clip,

While the Gewehr 1B9B was pro-

duced primarily for the German

armed forces, it was also the starting

polnt for a multitude of rifle desigms

that spread all over the world. Spatn

user of the basic Mauser

was an early

action and versions produced there drffered little from the Gewehr 1898.

The output of Mauser models from

Germany and Spain were soon en-

countered all over the world in nations

as far apart as China and Costa Rica.

The Mauser action accrued an envi-

able reputation for reliabiltty, strength and accuracy, and the arguments rage

even today as to whether or not the Gewehr 1B9B and its various cousins were the finest service rifles of their

time. Many still state that they were but there are many other contenders to the

title. What is certain is that during the

years 1914 to 1918 the Gewehr

served the German army

1B9B

well, The

fronlline soldrers had to take care of

them but usually this extended no

further than keeping the bolt area co-

vered with a cloth at all times when the

rifle was not in use. Some versions such

as sniper

rifles appeared with special

sights, including varior:s forms of optic-

m ffis' Rines

The first Ross rifle appeared during 1896 and was produced, Iike the later

models, at Sir Charles Ross's own arms

factory in Quebec, Canada. Ross was a

keen marksman of the old 'BisleY

School', and lonqed for what he consi- dered to be the ideal service rifle: one

that would consistentlY Provlde

accuracy,

In pursuit of this ideal he

concentrated on items such as barrels and srghting systems as opposed to the more mundane aspects of design that

are essential to the true service rifle.

Thus although

perb tarqtet

themselves

his products were su- weapons, they revealed

to be less than ideal under

the rough-and-tumble

oi service con-

ditions.

The number of types of Ross'rifle

runs to well over a dozen,

types

Many of the

produced were often mlnor

modifications of the preceding model and to list them all would be unhelpful, The main service model was known to the Canadran army as the Rifle, Ross,

Mk 3 and may be taken as typical. i1

)742,

Above: Not all the time spent out of

the trenches waspassedin resf. Here

three 'Frontschwein' are engaged in

rifle practice with their Gewehr 1898s.

Lef t : Ye ars of trench warf are radicaily altered the appearance of

the German soldier. Carrying the Gewehr 1898K, hewears the distinctive 'coal scuttle' helmet. Note

thewirecutters tucked into the belt.

al sight, and the weapon still has the

claim to fame that it was one of the very

flrst, if not the first, anti-tank weapon

This came about by the chance discov-

ery that the armour of the fust Britrsh

tanks could be penetr^ted by the sim-

ple expedient of reversing the bullets used in the Gewehr 1B9B before they were flred: the blunt end simply pu:r-

ched a hole throuQth the armour before

the bullet could warp,

was a long-barrelled rifle to provide

accurate long-rifle fire, and used an

unusual straight-pull bolt system allied to a box maqazine holding five rounds, In common with other Commonwealth armies of the day the Canadian army

adopted the British 0,303-in (7,7-mm) cartridge, and this led to the British army taking numbers of Ross rifles in

19 14-5,

The Canadian army adopted the Ross after about i905, and the first

Canadian troops to travel to France in

The standing figurewatches

the

target and shouts out the score to be

marked down by the seated soldier

on the right. The date is May

I

I

I 7.

Specification

MauserGewehr 1898 Calibre: 7,92 mm (0.312 in)

Length: overall L25 m(49,2 in); barrel

0.74 m (29.1 in)

Weight:4.2 kq (9,26 lb) Muzzle velocity: 640 m (2, 100 ft) per second Magazine: 5-round integral box

The German army's Gewehr I 89 I

was one of the more important

Mauser rifles, as itwas the standard German service rifle of World War I.

I t was very well made with a strong bolt action, and fired a7.92-mm (0.312-in) round using a tive-round

magazine.lt served as the modelfor

many later rifles.

1914 were equipped with them, It was

not long before the Ross rifles were

found wanting once they encountered

the mud of the Western Front tren- ches, for therr bolt actions clogqed

with remarkable ease once even small amount of debris had entered the sys-

tem, In his search for accuracy

Ross

had overlooked that service rifles

need to be tolerant of rough condi-

tions, and the Ross rifle required dedr

cated maintenance and care in hand-

Iinq, The bolt action frequently jam-

Ross Rifles (continued)

med and the resultant clearing re-

vealed another nasty drawback to the design: the bolt had to be put together rn a very precse manner, and if it was

re-assembled

in the wrong way after

cleaning or reparr it could still fire the

rifle even though the locking lugs that

held its bolt in place were not en-

gaged, As the Ross used a straightpull

bolt the part could fly back and hit the

firer in the face. Thus the Ross soon fell

from qrace and was replaced by the

British No. I Mk IIL Quite apart from

the bolt problems, the length of the

Ross rifle was too greal for ease of use

1n the trenches.

The Ross was not completely with- drawn from sewice use. Fitted with a telescopic sight it was used very suc-

cessfully as a snipingr rrfle, a role in

which its accuracy was most pnzed.

Trarned snipers could also provide the

weapon with the extra care it required.

To this

day the Ross rs still a much-

prized target rifle. Many were used

during World War II by varrous British

secondline units, including the Home Guard but the Ross never overcame

the

reputation for problems that it

during its introduction to the

gatned

trenches during 1914 and 1915,

Canadian armourers maintain their

r?oss rifles on 5a lisbury Plain in

S eptember I 9 1 4. The armourers had

the job of maintainingbicycles

as

well as guns. Whenwell maintained,

the Ross was a formidably

rifle and remained a prized sniper's

weapon,

accurate

Rifle No. 3 Mk I

Desprte their eventual success, when

first introduced the No. I Mk III rifles were deemed to lack the features re-

quired by some military pundits. In

case the new SMLE did not meet re-

quirements a 'back-up'

design was put

forward, one chambered for a new 7-

mm (0.276-in) cartrrdge and em-

ploying a Mauser bolt action. Being

only a back-up

did

design at first, this rifle

1913 under the

not appear until

general title P.I3, At the time the de-

sign was taken no further and work on

the new 7-mm

cartridge ceased, Thus

things

began in 1914, and by then the

P, 13 had become the P.14.

In 1915 the overall shortage ofrifles

for the expanding Brrttsh and Com- monwealth armies was such that at one

war

were in

abeyance

just

as the

point rifles were berng ordered from

places as far away as Japan, It was

accordingly decided that the P,14

be ordered from the United

could

States, but chambered for the standard

7.7-mm (0.303-in) cartridge. Several

flrms, includinq Winchester and Re-

mington, became involved in produc-

tion of the P, 14, which was known to the

British army

as the Rifle No. 3 Mk I, and

the results were shipped eastwards

were hur-

across the Atlantic.

When they arrived they

riedly issued and rushecl into combat,

They did not fare very well, for the No.

of what became

3 rifle was a product

known as the

thought, To the

Bisley School of rifle

Bisley School long-

range accuracy was the touchstone of

all combat rifle worth. Soldiers were expected to hit man-sized targets at

ranges of over 914 m (1,000 yards), and

if

a rifle could not attain these stan-

dards it was reviled, It was exactlv this

factor that drew so much criticism to the SMLE when it was fust issued in

1907, for the SMLE was never a perfect

targret rifle. With the No. 3 the Bisley

School had been given full rein and the result was not unlike the ill-fated Cana-

dian Ross rifles. The No. 3 was quire simply not a good service rifle: it was

long and awkward to use under com- bat conditions, encumbered by a long

bayonet rt was rll balanced and even

less handy, and the bolt action took

considerable maintenance lt was

withdrawn from servtce when enough

Specification

Rifle, Ross, Mk 3

Calibre: 7,7 mm (0.303 in)

Length: overall 1.285 m (50,6 in); barrel

0,765 m (30. i5 rn)

Weiqht: 4,48 kq (9 875 lb)

Muzzlevelocity:

seconci

Magazine: S-round box

792 m (2,600 ft) per

After the Ross riflewas withdrawn,

some were usedfor training and

some werer'ssued toBritish armed

trawler ctews toprovide themwith

No I Mk llls were to hano.

The No. 3 Mk I dld have one saving grace; it was as accurate as the Bisley

Schooi had intended, Thus the No, 3

was used marnly for rhe snLprng role in

which it was very successful.

The No, 3 Mk I had one more task to

perform in World War I and that came when the Americans entered the war

in 19 17, They were even more

desper-

ate for service rifles than the British and as the productron lines were still

producing No. 3s for

were chanqed to manufacture the same rifles chambered for the Amer-

ican 7.62-mm (0,3-in) cartridge. Thus the No, 3 became the MI9I7, known to

most Americans to this dav as the

'Enfield', In American hands tiie M1917

(or P.I7 to some) fared no better than it

had with the British, and in 1919 the

entire output was placed rnto slore,

the British they

The Canadian Ross ritTe (lfiis is a

Mk 2) was an excellent target rille.

buf Jesssuccessful in service, asmud

and dirt tended to clog the straight-

pull bolt action. Although used in

France, the Canadians later

exchangeditfor theNo. I Mklll, and

the Ross rifles were used Ior taininq.

some form of defence against

German aircraft or even U -bats

operating in the North Sea: the-r n"ere

better than nothing.

only to be dragged

and sold lo the

out aga,:-:-

-:

Unued Kr:;5::

the new Home Guard.

_:i_

:::-

Specification

Rifle No. 3 Mk I

Calibre: 7.7 mm (0,303 Ln)

Length: overall 1,175 m (46 25 -:'

barrel 0.66 m (26 in) Weight:4.35 ks (9,6 lb) Muzzle velocity: 762 m second

Magazine: S-round box

TheP.l4was aMauserilfle

produced in case lieiVo. I Mk III

failed to comeup to specification. A

0.303-in (7.7 -mm) ver s ion w as

orderedfrom theUSA, and thrs was

(2.500 i) :e:

later adopted by theUS Army as the

Model I917. It was an excellent and

accurateweapon.

t' l

i'

llons-the

c legend

lYlaking of

Germans swunq huge armies in a wide arc

along the traditional

military routes through the

Countries, in an endeavour to ouiflank

their main enemy and eventually entrap the

hostile armies

fences.

However uncertain von Moltke's grasp

might eventually prove to be, during those

against their own frontier de-

Low

opening weeks of the war all movements were

strrctly controlled by the firm precepts laid

down years before by hls predecessor in

office, the omnipotent Graf von Schlieffen,

Those precepts dtctated not only the overall pattern ol movement, but also the distribution

of forces necessary to carry

dying words had been

strongl'

it out; Schlteffen's

'Make the right wing

and so, despite von Moltke's doubts,

the German Ist Army (under the coldly

efficrent General von

hke a gigantic hammerhead through Belgtum

and northern France, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th

Armies to lts left acttng as the shaft, the whole weapon pivoting on the French fortress of Ver-

dun, So during those long, hot August days of 19 14

of an astonished world

it appeared to the eyes

Kluck) smashed forward

that the battle was

indeed progressrng in

accordance with the plans ofthe deceased von Schiieffen, The huge iortress of Lldge fell with- in the first few days, its supposedly impenet-

Before thewar, the tiny size of the British

Armywas asource of amusementtoour

enemies

and anxiety to our allies. But

when the G erman armies swept through

Belgium in 1914, it fell to the British

Expeditionary Force to stem the flood.

Every man a volunteer, the BEF dug itself

in around thelittletownof Mons and

awaited the G erman on slaugh t.

At the outbreak of World War I, two qtgantic

mrlitary plans were put into actiont Plan 17 by the French armies under command of General

and the Schhelfen Plan by the Germans

Joffre,

under the sliqhtly hesrtant command of the

younger General von Moltke,

Plan 17 collapsed almost immediateiy, the

61an and 'spirit

troops upon

based

of the Offensive' of the French

which it was to such a great extent

proving ineffective tn the face of the

realities of rifle and machine-gun flre, plus the refusal of the German commanders to act in

strateglc accordance with French pre-con-

Instead of driving forward into the

ceptions.

trap set by the French in the Trou6e

grgantic

des Charmes, between Nancy and Belfort, the

by the plunging

fire of huge siege weapons, the largest and

garri-

heaviest guns so far used in warfare, the

rable steel cupolas shattered

sons dazed and drsonented by shock and

deafened by explosion, To the south the battles

of the irontrer were being iought and won by armies under Crown Prince Wilhelm and the

Duke of Wurtemberg, and once Lidge had fal- len General von Buiow's Znd and General von

Hausen's 3rd Armies drove on down the

Huy, Namur and Dtnant, press-

Meuse, taking

ing back the French armies along the whole

length

attempt oithe French Sth Army under General

of the assault, drsrupttng the desperate

Lanrezac to drive northwards and block or at

least cut off von Kluck's implacable advance,

For rt was the German Ist Army which was

making the most spectacular and impressive

sains, To this army had fallen first Louvain and

by the end of 18 days'

then Brussels ltseli and

campaiqning the 200 000 men and 40,000

horses had advanced 160 km (99 miles), drag- ging their thousand-odd pieces of artillery and

other military impedimenta wrth them, They

marched all the way, fiqhtinq

qurte a lot of it

peopled sometimes by

actively hostile troops, mostly by sullenly hos- trle crvilians and on occasion by groups of insi-

through countryside

dious treacherous francs tireurs, despite the

immediate and severe punishment meted out

The superbly

trained to fite I5 aimed rounds per minute, and

when the Germans attacked, their close

formations were swept away in a hail of hullets.

Many Germans were convinced that they were

facing a line of machine-guns.

disciplined troops of the BEF were

on the spot to them and their associates when

caught.

But success and the sense of victory were enough to sweep away all doubt and fear, to

revivrfy tired muscles and aching bones; the lst

Army consisted, after all, of young soldiers,

well-trarned and hardened in wilhng sewlce to the Fatherland, and on the morning of 23 Au-

gnrst they were further heartened by the repeti-

tronof an

columns, There had been rumours for the last 24 hours that there were Britlsh troops (possl-

ble the whole British army) in front of them, and

von Kluck was said to have repeated Bis-

marck's remark made so many years before:

the German soldiers need not concern them- selves with the English, for he was sending the police to arrest theml

The Britrsh army was, oi course, a joke. Ger-

man comic papers had long portrayed rts sol-

diers as figures of fun in their short scarlet

old joke which made its way along the

tunics with small caps set at an angle on thelr heads or with bearskins with the chin-straps

under their lip, and the first sight of them on that

fateful drorning did little to dispel the impress-

ron, Hauptmann Walter Bloem,

fusilier company of the l2th Brandenburger Grenadiers, was approaching a group of farm

buildings on the outskirts

the canal which runs from Cond6 sur l'Escaut eastwards to the small town of Mons, when he h:rned a corner and saw in front of him a group

of fine-looking horses, all saddled up,

He had hardly given orders for their capture

of Tertre, just north of

commandng a

when 'a man appeared not five paces away from behind the horses - a man rn a grey-

brown uniform, no, in a grey-brown golfrng-suit

with a flat-topped cloth cap, Could this be a

soldier?'

Surely notl

But it was, It was an officer from A Squadron,

I9th Hussars, the cavalry regiment attached to

the Sth Drvisron of the British

Force (BEF), and behlnd thls reconnaissance

Expeditronary

patrol on the far side of the 20-m (66-ft) wrde

canal, waited the infantry of one of the Sth Divl-

Rifles of the Great War

The Londoners, Scots, Irish and

Welsh, riie

men from Surrey, Suffolk, Lincolnshire, W-1.:-

shire, Kent, Cornwall and South Staffordshte

the Guardsmen, the Fusiliers, the privates a_-,d

troopers, the NCOs and officers were nov; ::

and relaxed, settled into their allocated ms--

tions, some dug in along the flank or around --:re

Mons salient, most of them lying easily beh:.:-:

the,bank of the canal or hidden in the barns ard

sion's brigades, the l4th, Other bngades

ed this on either side: on the west to just past

flank- outhouses close to the 16

brrdges that crossed

it, their Lee-Enfield rifles, their Vickers

machine-guns (two per battalion) and the:

Webley revolvers all cleaned, checked anci:c

hand,

And they waited for what 23 Augnrst rn-c:;-:

bring,

It brought at first ln the early momlng -:e

sights of ordrnary small{own and vlltage

continuing unconcernedly among the narr:-r,

-:e

streets and'lanes,

between the numberiess

slag heaps and

pit heads of this small cc--

mining community, Church bells raag. sc:-,

bre-coated villagers responded to theu sr=--

mons, a small train filled wlth hohday-makers

chuffed away towards the coast, the scen: ::

newly-ground coffee was everywhere: a-ci sudden explosion of a shell rn the outskrs

==

::

Mons itsell among the Royal Fusrliers. r,ras sl

unexpectgd that the whole worid seerned ::

hold lts breath in astonishment.

If the AIIied armies were to extricate fhemselves from theGerman tfap, theBEF had tohold otr

von Kluck's First Army for at least 24 hours. The

Germans along

the British front were soon pinned

down by withering rifle fire, but it was not fong

before theybegan towork

flanks of the B EF's pos ition.

theirway around the

Conde sur l'Escaut, and on the east to the Mons

salient, where they linked with the left-hand

brigade of the 3rd Division, these two divisrons

comprising the British II

mand of General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien,

The divisions of I Corps under General Slr

Douglas Haig then continued the Iine east-

Corps under com-

wards towards the left flank of Lanrezac's army,

The British advance

The Britrsh Expedrtionary Force of two infan-

try corps and a cavalry drvision under Major-

Allenby had begun

General Sir Edmund

embarkation from Dubhn and

Southampton on

12 August, crossed the Channel that nlght,

spent a few