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The British Army's GS Telescope - description


MikB
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Classic Glass - The Tel. Sig. (Mk.III) Also GS

TelSigMkIIIRoss1915WelcombeHills-2.jpg

 

This scope dates from the First World War, but the history of the Telescope, Signalling series goes back to before the Boer Wars.

Telegraphs were fine to run along your railway lines, but armies moving in the vast, sparsely-populated, wild but generally sunny spaces of the Empire found a useful signalling system in the compact and portable heliograph. With a suitable powerful telescope as a receiving instrument, the heliographs could be spaced out over considerable distances - Kipling talks of "...our 'elios winkin' like fun ...three sides of a ninety-mile square" in South Africa.

Other branches of the army soon recognised the value of such an instrument, so the General Service suffix 'also G.S.' started to appear in the Mk.II and was universal in the Mk.III onward. The Mk.III appears to have run from 1903 - at least that's the earliest I've seen, but I know from an Army maintenance booklet that the Mk.IV was introduced in February 1915. How long production switchover took I'll never know, but I’ve not seen a 1916 Mk.III. The Mk.III was declared 'Obsolete for future manufacture' in 1923.

There was also a failed Mk.V - another story there - and a Mk.VI introduced in 1926, superseded by the Scout Regiment in 1939 but still in service in WW2.

Apart from Mk.V, differences between the Marks are obscure - the only obvious ones being that a greyish filter ( a 'moderating glass') was added at Mk.VI, and existing Mk.IVs brought up to the same standard were designated Mk.IV**.

TelSigMkIIIRoss1915WelcombeHills-1.jpg

 

This example is by Ross, who were a maker of leading-edge excellence for the time. Hesketh-Prichard, the First World War sniping and countersniping specialist, considered Ross the best telescope maker he knew of, and he'd made it his business to obtain for the troops all the telescope supplies he could lay his hands on. His view of binoculars was not enthusiastic - he thought the Germans favoured them because most of their hunting was done in forests at short range. Real experts in distant observation - HP particularly praised the Lovatt Scouts and other Scots deerstalkers - used the telescope.

TelSigMkIIIRoss1915WelcombeHills-6.jpg

 

There's no more chance of tracking the individual history of this piece than there is of a specific rifle - any records of serial numbers issued are now so dispersed - and probably incomplete - as to defy any realistic attempt to collate them. But, looking at this one, it seems in much too good condition to have seen serious action, so it may never have been as far as France or Flanders.

Some of the higher-class civilian stalking telescopes of the time had 'pancratic' or 'differential' eyepieces – a short extra drawtube that varied the distance between the erector and eye cell lens doublets and with it the magnification. Typical ranges were 25 - 40x, and 30 - 60x was available in the largest big-game telescopes

Modern binocular enthusiasts tend to scoff at even the lower end of such magnification ranges, and it's true that use of any 20 - 25x binoculars would present real difficulties without a stand. But remember that the length of a multidraw telescope changes the geometry - and the Sig is more than a yard long with the rayshade drawn. Each involuntary hand movement is now distributed across a support base of a couple of feet or more rather than just the width of a hand, hugely reducing the angular arc it subtends. You can use a much larger magnification in a long telescope than you can in binoculars, for the same reason that you can hit a smaller target, further away, with a rifle than you can with a pistol.

But the Sig doesn’t use a pancratic eyepiece - perhaps the brasshats thought it too complicated for Tommy, or more likely too fragile. Instead it has 2 separate ones, 'Low' power at 15x, and 'High' at 30x. Whichever one was not in use sat in the additional miniature case attached to the sling strap.

Constructionally, it centred on a spun-brass tapered barrel, with a threaded brass ring at each end. The objective cell, carrying a 2" achromatic doublet and sliding rayshade screwed into the larger end, and the bush and flange for the largest drawtube into the other. There were three sturdy drawn-brass drawtubes, and the 2-lens inverter cell was screwed into the field end of the smallest, with one of the eyecups screwed onto the eye end. The Mk.III eyepieces had plain brass shutters, but this example has acquired Mk.IV** or Mk.VI eyepieces at some point in its life. This is found so often as to suggest the Army stored and issued eyepieces separately from the main telescope itself, without regard for the Mark.

So, how is it to carry and use such a telescope?

TelSigMkIIIRoss1915WelcombeHills310.jpg

 

The first thing you notice, as soon as you pick it up, is the weight. The complete set in its full leather bondage weighs 4 lb 11 5/8 oz. That's 2.14 Kg in Napoleonic. Perhaps when you're young and fit you can tote that weight around without feeling it, but it's twice the weight of many telescopes in the class. Pity poor Tommy with that to add to his SMLE, bayonet, 120 rounds S.A.A., three days’ rations plus whatever else Sarge saw fit to burden him with.

The next problem is extending it. You have to unlatch the linking strap between the endcaps, which you can then withdraw so long as you’ve given yourself some slack on the sling strap through the loops. Make sure the hanging tangle of straps an' caps doesn't get caught in the undergrowth if you're pushing it through a hedge, or Fritz'll spot you for sure. Only way out of that is unbuckle the sling strap and take it right off - but then you'll have to thread it back on again when it's time to go. Dilemma, with no nice solution.

I think you'll get the picture that it's irksome to carry and fiddly to deploy and use.

If you're hand-holding it, you'd better get it in focus quick, before your left arm begins to ache. Which it will.

Tommy was often issued with a Stand, Instrument, Mk.V to go with his Tel Sig - so he might not always have had to hold it. Sniping teams, who also used this scope, weren't always so lucky, unless there was suitable cover to rest it on.

Once you get your eye to it, you can't help noticing how small the field of view is. With the Low power eyepiece it seems especially so, as the scope's field doesn't seem to fill much of your own eye's field. It is indeed small, at 1o 25' on Low 15x, and 55' on High 30x. Its successor, the Scout Regiment, had a bigger field at 1o 33' and 20 or 22x, depending on which military manual you have in front of you, and you certainly don't get the same 'tunnel vision' effect with that.

However, before you get too depressed, remember that this is a Ross, and the image quality can be very rewarding. Colour contrast is often superb - I can remember a breathtaking sight of a cock pheasant I once had with it. The photos - Wellesbourne airfield with the Vulcan's tailfin seen from Welcombe Hill obelisk - don't really do it justice; a lot of mirage running that day.

TelSigMkIIIRoss1915WelcombeHills-4.jpg

 

 

TelSigMkIIIRoss1915WelcombeHills-5.jpg

I wouldn't normally take this one out on the hill, but I'm proud to own it and give it occasional airings - so long as I don't have to schlepp it too far.

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  • 2 weeks later...
The next problem is extending it. You have to unlatch the linking strap between the endcaps, which you can then withdraw so long as you've given yourself some slack on the sling strap through the loops. Make sure the hanging tangle of straps an' caps doesn't get caught in the undergrowth if you're pushing it through a hedge, or Fritz'll spot you for sure. Only way out of that is unbuckle the sling strap and take it right off - but then you'll have to thread it back on again when it's time to go. Dilemma, with no nice solution.

I think you'll get the picture that it's irksome to carry and fiddly to deploy and use.

If you're hand-holding it, you'd better get it in focus quick, before your left arm begins to ache. Which it will.

A very interesting post - a nice historical round-up of info' about the tel sigs.

I enjoyed refurbishing my b&c civi' tel sig type 'scope so much I became very interested in this type of telescope. I had an opportunity to inspect a proper military tel sig 'scope which made an interesting comparison. I thought mine was heavy enough - but this thing - what a burden to have to lug around for the unfortunates who had a rifle and pack as well.

When I slung my civi' 'scope on the shoulder it was fine if carried shoulder bag style, but if it was slung rifle style around the back then the eyepiece end cap quickly worked loose and came right off the 'scope. This telescope has no linking strap for the end caps. I guess this is the reason for the end cap linking strap on the tel sigs. - to allow it to be carried rifle style round the back (as I believe the Irish Guards officer was doing in the photo with the short 'tripod' on the same strap - ref' previous strand)

With regard to this tel sig, the wear on the linking strap between the endcaps showed interesting detail with regard to deployment. Two of the strap holes showed considerable wear. One is the hole used for 'stowing' with the end caps tightly fitted and the strap buckled up 'tight'. Out of interest I rigged the 'scope using the other worn hole and as I suspected it was the first hole along that allowed the end caps to be slipped off without unbuckling the connecting strap. This was obviously the 'quick deployment' setting for use in action. This setting was still tight enough to hold the endcaps onto the 'scope when carried.Using this set up I could slip off the caps and bring the telescope up to eye in just a few seconds. I've not tried, but I guess this will be even quicker deployment than opening up a scout reg' type buckled case and fishing out the telescope.

I am making these observations to suggest that there might have been a little method to the madness of the complicated 'bondage gear' cap and strapwork on the tel sig.

With regard to the left arm aching in using these heavy 'scopes, I guess that most military men will automatically use the telescope like a rifle, taking the weight on the left arm. There is no need to do this - the right hand doesn't have to pull a trigger - the telescope can easily be used with the right arm taking the weight - it is just a habit thing. Learn to use the right arm and switch back and forth! (apologies to lefties ref' this)

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I've not tried, but I guess this will be even quicker deployment than opening up a scout reg' type buckled case and fishing out the telescope.

- the telescope can easily be used with the right arm taking the weight - it is just a habit thing.

Good comments, thanks.

I think I'd still far rather carry a Scout Reg. It weighs much less, and once out of its case is far less cumbersome than a Sig with its dangling bits. Plus you don't mess about deciding which eyepiece to use - that was one of the best design decisions, to split the difference and remove the user's internal debate! :D

I think with any right-shoulder shooter, the left arm extended position will be instinctive. It's more than mere habit, it calls up muscle memory that may have decades of practice in holding steady.

Regards,

MikB

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Hi MikB

Very informative read, thanks for posting this, it is a lovely example you own.

I finished this illustration not long ago taken from a real photograph 1918.

the correct regulation sized tripod, I still have not come across a photograph or any documentation of a short tripod ever being issued.

Just a close up of part of my drawing

t1.jpg

Regards Jonathan

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Just a close up of part of my drawing

Nice illustration. Notice that he's got the sling strap fed through only one loop. Is that just laziness, or is there a reason for it?

Regards,

MikB

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Hi MikB

I kept the drawing as true to the photograph as possible.

Glad you spotted that, It must have been laziness. also the the Large protective cap is missing.

At a guess, with the protective caps being removable must have been lost quite often if the strap was undone.

in trench conditions.

Regards Jonathan

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  • 6 years later...

I had this picture posted in another section of the forum and was advised to repost here. I would like to know if anyone can tell me if this telescope might have seen service in ww1 thanks

post-57771-0-47919600-1451326594_thumb.j

post-57771-0-70602100-1451326607_thumb.j

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I had this picture posted in another section of the forum and was advised to repost here. I would like to know if anyone can tell me if this telescope might have seen service in ww1 thanks.

No way to be certain - but it's highly likely, given the chronic shortages of optical instruments that were only resolved towards the end of the war. Negretti & Zambra was a top-flight maker - all their telescopes I've seen have been excellent. I have two of their civilian deerstalking models, one of which was accepted for WW1 military service as a 'Special'.

It's difficult to come to a fair assessment of the condition of yours from the pics, but it seems reasonable to think that the better the condition, the less likely it is to have seen frontline service - for example in a sniping team - where damage and severe use must have been common. Examples in good condition were more probably used elsewhere than the heat of battle, but might of course still have done valuable service.

In 1916 the prime contract for Tel Sig. Mk.IVs seems to have been held by Taylor, Taylor and Hobson, but I think they lost it to N&Z in 1917. I don't know whether the apparent debacle TT&H produced in the design of the Mk.V precipitated that.

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Thanks very much for that information. I only had a closer look at the telescope today. I can take some more images tomorrow if you want some. Thanks again. Larry

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  • 4 weeks later...

I routinely take my 1903 dated Troughton & Simms MkII mounted on a 1950's Parker Hale tripod to the range as a spotting scope. Even with the low power eyepiece, at 100 yards .30 holes are easy to identify, even in the black. The scope often draws as much interest as the SMLE, Ross or Martini I'm shooting.

Mik, thanks for the date info on the MkIII. Looks like my T&S must have been at the end of production.

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I routinely take my 1903 dated Troughton & Simms MkII mounted on a 1950's Parker Hale tripod to the range as a spotting scope. Even with the low power eyepiece, at 100 yards .30 holes are easy to identify, even in the black. The scope often draws as much interest as the SMLE, Ross or Martini I'm shooting.

Mik, thanks for the date info on the MkIII. Looks like my T&S must have been at the end of production.

You've added to my knowledge too - I had a much older T&S (probably 1840s) that was a pretty good general purpose telescope, but didn't know they'd also produced Tel Sigs.

I've also had an undoubtedly genuine Mk.II dated as late as 1909 - and by Clarkson, who'd been absorbed into Broadhurst Clarkson the year before. I'm forced to the conclusion that, despite the detailed Mk. nomenclature and LoC statements, actual production control and use of pre-manufactured components was really quite casual by modern standards.

Regards,

MikB

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I've seen a fair number of civilian scopes that were pretty clearly made up from leftover parts post war as well. In terms of dates the LOCs seem to be a bit of a notional concept. Looks like lots of stuff either gets out before the LOC gets published or is slow to be distributed and arrives in the field ages after the LOC.

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  • 1 year later...

Hi Guys, I've got one of these

1916

No.11711 mark IV

the time has come to sell, needs must. Where is the right place and price to ask please?

Thanks

Alan

 

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I'd try the auction sites.

 

It depends on condition, completeness and very much on who's looking and how much they want one.

 

If it's complete with caps, straps and alternative eyepiece, and in tidy condition they often go between £200 - 300, but there are plenty of outliers in both directions.

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Cheers MikB, appreciate your reply.

Missing strap and stand if anyone has those for sale?

I don't seem to find a lot of 1916 issue, is that due to the contract loss or any other reason?

Also highly likely this was issued but the army arrow isn't present, this a likelihood?

1494697106359171422080.jpg

1494697333855561722878.jpg

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1494697588777-1608834060.jpg

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So far as I can see yours does look pretty good with the stitching still sound. I'd work over the leather with some neutral wax polish, but that's personal preference.

 

I'd think it would go to the upper end of the price range - more so if you can make any sense of the markings stamped into the leather, which don't mean anything to me except to support your belief that it was used in military service. The absence of a Broad Arrow is a puzzle, though.

 

I've found straps hard to get - they're the most frequent missing component and few are available. I once had a saddler make a few up for me, but all are used up now. I've even buckled together 2 trimmed-down leather rifle slings bought off the Bay as a kind of 'in-spirit' replacement... :D

 

I think 1916 might've been the peak year for TT&H production of the Mk.IV. They were working on a Mk.V that - probably mercifully - never seems to've got past prototype stage. What they were trying to do was replace the 2 separate eyepieces with 4 single lenses that could be snapped into the last drawtube. This gave 16 theoretical configurations, only 2 of which were correct. You can imagine what Tommy, up to his neck in muck an' bullets, might've thought of that. Especially since on at least one test session, WD inspectors found the magnifications to be incorrect, suggesting that even TT&H's own engineers may have put them together wrong. Some bonehead even discovered that the Mk.V prototype was some ounces lighter than the Mk.IV, and proposed thickening up the brass to return it to 'service weight'!

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MikB, great reply thankyou, I'll keep you posted on this one. I'm beginning to like it more and more. Its a toss up between selling this, inert shells ww1 and a gas mask!

Great tales on the mk V :):)

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  • 5 years later...

Just inherited one from my parents my Dad obviously 'acquired' it when he was in the military. Mine thought is the MkVI not a Mk V so may not WW1 vintage, but somebody may know for sure. Leatherwork has dried out a bit, is bit scuffed and tanning is crumbling; any idea what to use to renovate it? The small container pouch has nothing in it; so I am missing a second eyepiece lens set (shame). Optics are not brilliant and it may need an overhaul. Markings are as follows: TEL. SIG. MK.VI. ; then a cartouche that contains B.C & CO LTD. Other numbers are 4110 O.S. 717. G.A and a War Dept arrow underneath. Thinking about popping it on E-Bay though to find it a good home as I cannot see me using it.

Tel Sig Mk VI 01.jpg

Tel Sig Mk VI 02.jpg

Edited by Sakr al Amn
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Broadhurst Clarkson & Co., Telescope House, 63 Farringdon Road, EC1, London ... lens making facility in London supported by a telescope factory in Watford.

“In 1750 Benjamin Martin established an instrument business with his son Joshua joining him in 1778. Joshua went on to patent a method for manufacturing brass tubing in 1782, the same year the firm was sold to Charles Tulley. The Tulley family ran the business through to 1844 when it was sold to Robert Mills who, in turn, sold on to Alexander Clarkson in 1873.”

“Broadhurst became a partner in the business in 1892 but had a falling out with Clarkson resulting in the partnership splitting in 1908. Broadhurst promptly moved to 63 Farringdon Road and named the building Telescope House.”

“In a shrewd move, Broadhurst realised the value of the good Clarkson name and began trading as Broadhurst Clarkson & Co. In house, the firm were able to produce both the lenses and the brass tubes (using Joshua Martin's patented machine). They also operated a showroom and shop on site.”

“With the advent of the First World War in 1914, the business expanded to support the war effort, opening a second lens making facility in London supported by a telescope factory in Watford.”

“After the war the business went from strength to strength for a few decades before a steady decline through the '50s and '60s when, by the end of the decade, the business had receded back into Telescope House, closing all other factories.”

“A gentleman named Dudley Fuller acquired the firm in 1973 renaming it Broadhurst Clarkson and Fuller who have gone on to represent Meade Instruments and supply an extensive dealership network in the U.K.”

E1FEBED7-66E1-44E2-9076-AF8663A57773.jpeg

0CAB8C23-C4CB-4986-9D1C-A3F1E8E12920.jpeg

Edited by FROGSMILE
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Super feedback Frogsmile, many thanks.

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Mk.VI was adopted in 1926 and appears to have been effectively a new build of the Mk.IV** which had 'moderating' (dimming) plain glass discs inserted in the eyepiece shutter. There'd normally be a 'H'igh (30x) and 'L'ow (15x) eyepiece in the set. Various, mixed and missing eyepieces are so often found with these that I suspect the army stored them and issued them separately.

Mk.VIs were still in use in WW2 but were progressively being replaced by the more practical Scout Regiment Mk.IIs, which came without attached straps and caps in a full case, and had only a single 20x - 22x eyepiece. Broadhurst Clarkson were prominent makers of both, and their scopes are usually pretty good. 

Leather can sometimes be restored using good neutral shoe polish and some of the commercial restorer compounds, though I've sometimes found it too far gone to get much improvement from these. 

Edited by MikB
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Cheers MikB sound advice and info.

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Not a subject I've really given much time to, but I find it very interesting.

Does someone have a timeline of the different Marks of telescopes?

Going off what's been written above -

Mk I - 

Mk II - 

MK III - 1903ish

Mk IV - Feb 1915

Mk V - 

Mk VI - 1926

Mk IV** - c.1926

Was there a IV*, also were there any other telescopes designated with the asterisk (*) markings?

Finally, were there also a multiple series of telescope stands? I can see there's a Mk V in the photos above, so assume there are possibly at least four other Marks. If so, is it know their year (or date) of introduction?

Dan

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