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Remembered Today:

SMLE estimating the service life of 'selected' rifles


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This may seem like a rather odd question but it stems from my understanding that the infantry rifle was accepted for service on the basis that it met all the conditions of the acceptance trials. Then with the vagaries of production some were a bit more accurate than others. It's just the way things work out , but some of the more accurate ones were identified out of a batch & selected for use or even re worked to get a bit more accuracy/ consistency out of them for marksman or snipers. These rifles were then used & practiced with selected batches of ammunition to achieve maximum practical accuracy. The rifles would be sighted in by their user & taken to the front, brought back with them when out of the line & used on the practice ranges & the cycle repeated.

The question is can anyone tell me the probable number of shots that a selected rifle could fire before its barrel or throat was worn to such an extent that it was no longer fit for use by the batallion marksman/ snipers?

many thanks

Rod

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This may seem like a rather odd question but it stems from my understanding that the infantry rifle was accepted for service on the basis that it met all the conditions of the acceptance trials. Then with the vagaries of production some were a bit more accurate than others. It's just the way things work out , but some of the more accurate ones were identified out of a batch & selected for use or even re worked to get a bit more accuracy/ consistency out of them for marksman or snipers. These rifles were then used & practiced with selected batches of ammunition to achieve maximum practical accuracy. The rifles would be sighted in by their user & taken to the front, brought back with them when out of the line & used on the practice ranges & the cycle repeated.

The question is can anyone tell me the probable number of shots that a selected rifle could fire before its barrel or throat was worn to such an extent that it was no longer fit for use by the batallion marksman/ snipers?

many thanks

Rod

Hesketh Prichard in 'Sniping in France' says this:-

"With a new barrel a good shot can nearly always get a 3-inch group, but after 600 or 1000 shots have been fired through the barrel the group becomes more scattered."

I'd think H-P would have every reason to know what he was on about - but this would be thought of as a poor life for a modern barrel; 6000 rounds or so would be typical nowadays. Some of the rapid deterioration might be down to the high flame temperature of Cordite MDT 5-2 propellant.

Regards,

MikB

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Thanks Mike, interesting. I wonder what their setting up & practice expenditure was, what would you reckon, 10-20 rounds at a practice session?

Although the cordite burns at a high temperature do you think the early barrel metallurgy gave a predisposition to erosion?

Regards

Rod

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I am not an expert in the physics/chemistry/metallurgy of this but I have handled quite a lot of surplus SMLEs and other types. On that basis I can only offer that serious throat erosion does not seem to me to be a frequent problem, even with surplus rifles 100 years later so I suspect while it would have been an issue for H-P and the men under his command, I don't think it was generally a concern. 600 rounds through a rifle would seem a low figure but like MikB I would suspect H-P knows what he is talking about. I have an MkIII* which I have put several thousands of round through (much of it surplus cordite/berdan) with no impact I can notice on accuracy (but this may say more about me!) Where relatively rapid corrosion can occur is if rifles are not cleaned properly after shooting berdan primed/cordite loaded rounds. Cleaning is simple (lots of boiling water)and a good wipe down but if neglected the corrosive salts can crud up a barrel quickly.

Chris

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Thanks Mike, interesting. I wonder what their setting up & practice expenditure was, what would you reckon, 10-20 rounds at a practice session?

Although the cordite burns at a high temperature do you think the early barrel metallurgy gave a predisposition to erosion?

Regards

Rod

Minimalistic live shooting with rifles allocated to sniping duties, by the look of it. H-P again:-

(begins)

4. Training in shooting should be carried

out with an Open and not a Telescopic sighted

rifle, which should be kept for :

(a.)Snapping Practice.

(b.)Shooting in order to Zero.

(c.)Killing the enemy.

It is important that the barrels of these rifles

should not be worn out in practice shooting.

(ends)

It's quite instructive to compare the standards H-P was referring to, to today's fullbore shooting. H-P talks of a 3-inch group - presumably, though not explicitly in the earlier extract, at 100 yards. This is better than the 'Marksman' standard I had to shoot to as a cadet in the 1960s, which called for a 4-inch group at 100 yards for maximum points. But 3 inches is about equivalent to 3 minutes of angle, and many modern rifle shots expect to hold not much more than 1 MoA - less if shooting off a bipod or sandbag. It may be that such a standard of accuracy could have been obtained with WW1-vintage rifles, but probably only with examples individually made, inspected and set up. Modern engineering tools and techniques routinely achieve tolerances only obtained with great effort and expense then.

Regards,

MikB

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On a good day.. I will get a Four inch group at 200yrd's with my Smle.

Bore not worn,as it is a new unissueded Rifle, out of the wax stuff so to speak.

Later than 1914/18, but just posted as a comparision.

Love it to bits.

Cheers all.

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I suppose if they were going after loopholes & other small apertures around 3" or so then that was the standard of shooting required. I know some of the trenches were pretty close to one another in some sectors certainly less than a hundred yards & thus would be practical to engage when the opportunity arose. I understand some took up firing positions behind the frontline trenches firing over them. The maximum range being determined by their ability to get 3" groups when engaging these targets or alternatively a range at which larger targets could be engaged with a high probability of achieving a hit.

Certainly high standards...........

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High standards indeed. The other diffrence between todays match shooting rifle and a sniper rifle of the Great war is the conditions kept in. My target rifle was in a case and only left when shooting. Always cleaned and this is the diffrent point, never smacked on anything!

I have used the SA80 on exercise and no matter how careful you are, it will have a kicking. So very few rounds down a rifle does make sense. Will check what the current standad useage is.

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I suppose if they were going after loopholes & other small apertures around 3" or so then that was the standard of shooting required. I know some of the trenches were pretty close to one another in some sectors certainly less than a hundred yards & thus would be practical to engage when the opportunity arose. I understand some took up firing positions behind the frontline trenches firing over them. The maximum range being determined by their ability to get 3" groups when engaging these targets or alternatively a range at which larger targets could be engaged with a high probability of achieving a hit.

Certainly high standards...........

H-P's declared standards don't map onto specific, consistent group sizes very easily. For example, this passage:-

"The use of snipers in attack is another point. If you have a man who can hit a model of a human head once in every 2 shots at 400 yards, and I will undertake to get most men up to this standard who can shoot decently, we shall kill some machine gunners in our next advance. Also when a German is shooting at our troops coming down a road through an aperture made by the removal of a brick from a wall, as they have often done, how useful to have a fellow who can put a bullet through the aperture."

He seems to be considering 50% of rounds into roughly 1 1/2 MoA here.

I don't really think it's fair to compare SMLEs and SA80s - the sniping function is now recognised as meriting an entirely different rifle to the infantry standard weapon, whereas in those days the functions had not diverged so clearly.

Regards,

MikB

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My point was bashing the rifle not firing it. The SA80 is bullpup and short yet can get clanged easy enough. Carrying a SMLE lenth rifle about in a war zone, you will bash it at some point. Moden day rifles have the barrel "float" in the reciver/Stock hit that out of line and no matter what the sights zeroed on, you won't hit where you shot.

2 in 400, today it belive it to be higher than that, head shot at 600?

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Thanks for the replies on this.

Mike, I must have a read at HP in some detail, got Peglers book, & found it an interesting read. Ref. the section quoted from HP about being fired on from a brick wall with a brick removed I can only begin to imagine the difficulty in locating the source of fire. Sticking your neck out to try & locate it would seem to be about the least popular task going. I think in some instances they drew fire with a couple of bits of packing crates knocked up into a box shape about 6-8" square with a hat on it to simulate a head sized target. If it was shot at & hit the in & out holes gave a rough direction to concentrate their attention on. Must have been other methods they adopted too.

Regarding knocks & bumps, any ideas as to the ratio of rifles used with open sights as opposed to optical sights by marksman snipers, particularly later on in the war. In the early year or two the British did not have many rifles with optical sights, using a mix of private purchased items, donated hunting equipment & just about anything they could get their hands on that gave them a chance to reply on an equal footing.

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Rod 1, you'll find answers to a lot of that in 'Sniping In France'. H-P is obviously not a particularly experienced manual-writer and the style is highly (and sometimes engagingly!) anecdotal, frequently rambling and occasionally a bit chaotic. Nevertheless there is method in it, especially in the appendices - and it opens up the mind of a man of his time in a way few other pieces do. It was this book that started me on collecting old telescopes :D .

Regards,

MikB

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MikB, HP it is then hopefully it will enlighten me a bit.

Don't know much about telescopes either come to that but then there is lots I don'tknow much about!

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A couple of points to add to this discussion. The impact of throat erosion can be mitigated by adjusting the bullet seating depth to compensate for the longer bullet jump to the throat. This requires hand loading and is not typical of factory ammunition. Muzzle wear has more of an impact on accuracy than throat erosion. This is typically caused by the improper use of a cleaning rod (instead of a pull through).

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I am lead to believe even the cord of a pull through will eventually cause damage to the muzzle if it is repeatedly pulled off centre with the bore. The effect being more pronounced if the cord is consistantly rubbed against the same area time after time when the rifle is cleaned. Damage to the crown & the last inch or so seem to have the greater adverse effects.

Rod

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I am lead to believe even the cord of a pull through will eventually cause damage to the muzzle if it is repeatedly pulled off centre with the bore. The effect being more pronounced if the cord is consistantly rubbed against the same area time after time when the rifle is cleaned. Damage to the crown & the last inch or so seem to have the greater adverse effects.

Rod

That is true, especially when the cord is dirty. A gunsmith can fix this accuracy by counterboring the end of the barrel. But that is a bad option on a collectable rifle. I collect military surplus rifles and also shoot long range precision rifles. The latter shoot 1/4 to 1/2 MOA - a 3 MOA rifle barrel would be repurposed as a tomato stake. Much has been learned about accuracy issues in rifles and ammunition.

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There is actually an armourer's mark to indicate "Cord worn" on a British rifle.

If I recall correctly it is an asterisk over a W. This is also found inside a circle which indicates the mark originates at a different level (one is inspection dept the other AOD but I don't remember which way around I am pretty sure it is specified in Skennerton)

A "script" (italicized) "R" on the barrel knox form indicates an armourer has found rust.

and asterisk * on the barrel indicates corrosion in the barrel near the location, on the knox-form the same mark indicates slight rust or damage in the barrel.

two asterisks ** on the knox-form indicates slight pitting / throat erosion, three *** indicates severe/heavy throat erosion.

The existence of these latter marks implies this was common enough to deserve its own stamp, but I should also say, having handled hundreds surplus of ShTLEs I don't recall actually ever seeing these latter marks

I am making these comments from memory - but I am fairly sure all of these indications are also detailed in the back of Skennerton's "The Lee Enfield"

Chris

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I am lead to believe even the cord of a pull through will eventually cause damage to the muzzle if it is repeatedly pulled off centre with the bore. The effect being more pronounced if the cord is consistantly rubbed against the same area time after time when the rifle is cleaned. Damage to the crown & the last inch or so seem to have the greater adverse effects.

Rod

H-P bears that out, too.

(begins)

CORDWEAR :

Is caused by misuse of the pull-through, and

usually occurs at the muzzle, but in cases of

extreme negligence it may be found in the chamber.

When it occurs at the muzzle, gases escape

through the cord groove as the bullet is leaving,

thus forcing it in the opposite direction. If

in the chamber, it is a source of weakness, and a

burst chamber may be the result.

(ends)

I can happily support the idea of seating out bullets in reloaded rounds by peacetime target shots to compensate for throat erosion - I did it for years - but I really don't think it could ever have been a practical proposition to issue your top WW1 trenchline riflemen with reloading kit, components and a training manual instead of assembled ammunition. They said the C-in-C of the Grand Fleet was the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon, but I think any WW1 command trying this idea would have run a close second :D.

Regards,

MikB

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Thank you for the HP quote. If II have red it correctly I am surprised that it could result in a burst chamber I can perhaps see in an extreme case but I would of thought that case bulging / sticking on extraction or head / rim separation might occur beforehand. I assume the violent rapid case expansion allowed by the groove must be sufficient to raise the pressure to such an extent that the stress concentration at the "shoulder" of the groove overcomes the inerrant strength of the chamber. There again some things appear fine until they are subjected to load.. A glass bottle may have a scratch or even a chip on it & still work fine until you drop it, poor analogy.........

Rod

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Sorry to hijak this thread but I have been trying to PM Chris (4th Gordons) in connection to osmanli/arabic marking on the knoxform of No1 Mk3* & keep getting message that he cant accept any more messages at the moment.

Is your message box full Chris?

Once again my apologies for interupting this thread,

Aleck

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Thank you for the HP quote. If II have red it correctly I am surprised that it could result in a burst chamber I can perhaps see in an extreme case but I would of thought that case bulging / sticking on extraction or head / rim separation might occur beforehand. I assume the violent rapid case expansion allowed by the groove must be sufficient to raise the pressure to such an extent that the stress concentration at the "shoulder" of the groove overcomes the inerrant strength of the chamber. There again some things appear fine until they are subjected to load.. A glass bottle may have a scratch or even a chip on it & still work fine until you drop it, poor analogy.........

Rod

I too have to admit to thinking that cordwear at the chamber sufficient to burst it would have to be so grossly extreme as to produce case ruptures much earlier. These probably wouldn't hurt the shooter, but it would be hard for him not know about it!

Regards,

MikB

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