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JMB1943

Rifles of the Great War

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JMB1943

I am trying to understand the characteristics of different rifles.

Comparisons of weight, length, muzzle velocity, sight radius, rate of fire etc are just that.

I have seen the opinion expressed that "The Germans took a hunting rifle to the GW and the Americans took a target rifle, but the British took a battle rifle."

 

Question 1: When and where was this first recorded?

Question 2: Is there any merit to this sentiment?

 

If the answer to Q2 is in the affirmative, then each of the three rifles could be considered to stand separately at a vertex of an equilateral triangle.

 

Question 3: Where then would the rifles of France (1886 Lebel), Russia (3-line Nagant), Austro-Hungary (1895 Mannlicher), Italy (Modello 1891, Mannlicher-Carcano) and Japan (Type 38 Arisaka) fall on this triangle? Please restrict this discussion to the named rifles, intended only for front-line infantry service.

 

As an example, my understanding of the Canadian Ross rifle is that it performed beautifully at the range, but because of trench-warfare conditions and the inconsistencies of war-time ammunition it was a dreadful battle rifle. It would therefore stand on the line that connects the British and American rifles, probably on a dotted line that extends past the American rifle.

 

Regards,

JMB

 

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JMB1943
8 hours ago, trajan said:

Have you seen the discussion here? https://historum.com/threads/rifles-of-the-great-war.87052/ 

 

Julian

 

I had not, but I have now....many thanks.

 

Regards,

JMB

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4thGordons
Posted (edited)

There is an obvious observation/comment that the Sht LE and the 1903 Springfield were both (simultaneously and independently) adopted as "all arms rifles" and therefore were of intermediate overall length. The previous (late 19th Century early 20th) practice had been to issue a full length "Infantry" rifle and then a carbine/short rifle version for other arms (cavalry/artillery/etc). This was the practice continued with almost all the other rifles you list Gew98/Kar98, Lebel/Berthier M1892, etc. The exception being the Nagant where the carbine versions were introduced later.

 

Personally I do not set much store by the observation (q2)with which you started the discussion, it's a generalization/aphorism which I am not sure is very meaningful beyond that.

Chris

 

Just because I have them handy! (not quite to scale)

Aris30.jpg.b10265ae6996d0c9ff42573c8f2efc7c.jpg

Ariscarb.jpg.c754b85c6e4687f0a712b8708baab62d.jpg

carc.jpg.db8d844a948ad5cfb098b8660a052428.jpg

carccav.jpg.39759aaac039db33a5481b31c3b89fbd.jpg

gew88.jpg.ac3a2c77adbdf63c695d2504295720c2.jpg

kar88.jpg.ef73982b77f75147f8fbb6597f66e510.jpg

GEW98.jpg.d9cde379fe493c650895a09f7e1de395.jpg

kar98.jpg.70a1cd7846ff02680968137fa9f53ffb.jpg

lebel.jpg.5b07a7365975bbc196217f5b6c1928dd.jpgm1916carb.jpg.ceab46e82488ffaacd6e9b141b7822b2.jpg

stey95.jpg.b036c3165091d6c7b27a6046e24a96c2.jpg

steyr95car.jpg.df16504be455c6d1f4dc2a8031ad9f16.jpg

 

Nagant.jpg.22e3355838e95d290b94cae29721e4e9.jpg

1903.jpg.7fff8a34b2d72b58ba1c785dcd32539d.jpg

smle.jpg.73288a1df6581f0b32d5317541b61f2e.jpg

 

 

Edited by 4thGordons

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MikB
15 hours ago, JMB1943 said:

...

I have seen the opinion expressed that "The Germans took a hunting rifle to the GW and the Americans took a target rifle, but the British took a battle rifle."

 

Question 1: When and where was this first recorded?

Question 2: Is there any merit to this sentiment?

 

...

Regards,

JMB

 

 

I think I'm pretty much with 4thG on this. There's some contingent truth in what's essentially a smart-aleck comment, but some of that truth derives from the post WW1 uses of the rifles. All the designers were trying for a fighting rifle, but nobody knew what the fighting would really be like - in some of the early stages the LE happened to represent best fit, but it's not certain that it retained that pre-eminence in the later battles. And it also probably hunted more game across the breadth of the Empire than either of the others. I certainly wouldn't try to use the saying as a benchmark for any classification of other rifles.

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trajan
Posted (edited)

On a somewhat similar note re: length, one of my students sent me this but without saying where he got it from. Not entirely accurate re: German rifles: a 98/05 could be an was mounted on a Kar.98 AZ, but was more usually found on a Gew. 98, whereas the 84/98 shown with that Gew,98 was normally found on the Kar.98AZ

 

 

rifles and bayonets.jpg

Edited by trajan

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4thGordons

I have actually been thinking a bit more about this and I think my most obvious objection to the aphorism is I am not sure what it means!

The key problem I have is definitional - it is not clear to me what is meant by (ie what the distinguishing feature of each was)  - "hunting rifle", "target rifle" and "battle rifle"

I assume it is intended  to be something like:

-  consistent accuracy and fine adjustments but under "laboratory" conditions (target rifle)

- rugged reliability and handiness (battle rifle)

but the one I have trouble with is "hunting rifle" - as it rather depends what you are hunting doesn't it? A squirrel rifle will be quite different from a large game rifle. Most of the differences are going to be in terms of calibre (ie the round you are using - being matched to the quarry) and sighting system (is it snap shooting in brush or are you stalking/shooting from longer range?)

 

Beyond calibre where there is not much practical difference between the 7.92mm Mauser, .303" and .30-06 (yes I know they have different ballistics but not significant at 100-400yds) in the rifles concerned. It seems to me the sighting system used is the key factor. For example the  Enfield action has been fitted with "express" rifle sights for hunting, the standard military "battle sights" and of course later telescopic sights for sniper/target variants.

 

Examining the sighting systems provided on all of the rifles above is, in my view, a more interesting exercise and in this respect the receiver mounted "battle sight" fitted to the Pattern 1914 / M1917 is perhaps the stand-out as the most modern innovation (versions of which were later put on the 1903-A3 Springfield and No4 Enfield rifle of WWII vintage) and most subsequent battle rifle designs.

 

Chris

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JMB1943
Posted (edited)
On 10/05/2019 at 23:25, JMB1943 said:

I am trying to understand the characteristics of different rifles.

2 hours ago, 4thGordons said:

I have actually been thinking a bit more about this and I think my most obvious objection to the aphorism is I am not sure what it means!

The key problem I have is definitional - it is not clear to me what is meant by (ie what the distinguishing feature of each was)  - "hunting rifle", "target rifle" and "battle rifle"

 

Chris

Regards,

JMB

 

 

Chris,

This is exactly what I am trying to get a comparative understanding of.

Of the three, the design of the target rifle (chamber/barrel design, sights/sight radius, perfect cleanliness & cartridges, all the time in the world to aim etc) where point of impact = point of aim is probably the easiest for me to understand.

When I read first read the hunting / target / battle rifle quote I thought of “ hunting” with a German context (boar, deer, wolves?) that probably required snap-shooting.

You used the terms “ruggedness/ handiness “ for a battle rifle, and we all have a feel for what those might mean. But in practice what makes one rifle more “handy” than another? Is it relative length or weight or weight-to-length ratio or position of center of gravity?

 

Of the 

 

 

 

Edited by JMB1943
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JMB1943
Posted (edited)

9 rifles being considered, I have fired none and handled only one; hence my original question.

I value your further comments.

Regards,

JMB

[edit: Am I being too ambitious in trying to assign any given rifle in terms of 3-points of selectivity?]

 

Edited by JMB1943
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MikB

Hesketh-Prichard in 'Sniping In France' makes two comments that I remember that link to the Germans' alleged 'Hunting' rifle, but they're to some extent contradictory.

 

He comments that in the years immediately before the war, large numbers of German hunting rifles had been built in the military calibre - I'm not sure whether that was compelled in some way - and that therefore, at least from some regions, quantities of rifles suitable for sniping could be obtained.

 

But he also stated that German hunting (again, maybe just in some regions) was largely at short range in woods - which was why, in his opinion, they were deficient in long-distance observation by telescope. Of course, that sort of hunting tends to favour short, light rifles - makes you wonder why rifles like the American lever-action 30-30s didn't sweep the boards there in preference to the long Mausers.

 

Most of the American troops in WW1 had the M1917 with its aperture rearsight by the end of it. That and its solid action probably gave rise to the 'Target rifle' idea.

 

I've used Lee-Enfields quite a bit and can't help feeling affection for the easy handling, high capacity and the speed-of-thought reload - I can only wonder if the semi-recent experience of the Boer War had refined British rifle development - and corresponding training - in ways the other belligerents hadn't experienced.

 

But the salient characteristics of these countries' rifles just represent something somebody noticed and put together as a trite comment with maybe a grain of truth in it. I can't see how it could be applied with much sense to other rifles, nor how much use it would be if you could. The tactical impact that rifle fire could exert declined throughout WW1 in any case - many people describe it as an artillery war. Smallarms efforts have tended to concentrate on light automatic weapons with less emphasis on range and accuracy, and that continues to this day.

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N White

Mik-

 

I have always understood the "target rifle" label in this to have been directed at the 1903.  While the 1917 is an aperture, (and really, just superior in every way) the 1903 sight is ridiculously adjustible for windage, and has very small notches and an aperture on the ladder, which is of course barrel mounted.  Useless essentially, in poor light or bad contrast targets, anything that isn't a square range.

 

 

 

 

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MikB
40 minutes ago, N White said:

Mik-

 

I have always understood the "target rifle" label in this to have been directed at the 1903.  

...

 

Thanks - I think my assumption that it referred to the 1917 comes from the fact that its doppelganger, the P14 (originally in .303 but now usually in 7,62) had a considerable presence on the British target rifle scene until fairly recently - with full target sights, heavy barrel and furniture. Rereading my 1943 army issue Smallarms Manual entry on the 1903 makes it clear that its sighting arrangements were more involved than I'd thought from normal illustrations.

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4thGordons
3 hours ago, MikB said:

 

Thanks - I think my assumption that it referred to the 1917 comes from the fact that its doppelganger, the P14 (originally in .303 but now usually in 7,62) had a considerable presence on the British target rifle scene until fairly recently - with full target sights, heavy barrel and furniture. Rereading my 1943 army issue Smallarms Manual entry on the 1903 makes it clear that its sighting arrangements were more involved than I'd thought from normal illustrations.

As noted in post 7, one of the modifications (post WWI) to the 1903 was to fit a simplified and more practical receiver mounted rear sight (the model becoming the 1903 a3) of the "peep" variety, in place of the fragile and intricate barrel mounted sight on the WWI version.

The original sight is indeed complex and very easy to damage and also, because it is adjustable in a number of ways easy to mis-adjust, even on the range.

 

One of the big differences for me is that on the ShtLE action it is fairly easy to maniplulate the bolt without breaking the sight picture, (ie between shots), I find this very hard to do with any of the Mauser derivatives (although I understand it is possible with the 1903) but this is impossible with the lebel/berthier/nagant rifles as the bolt handle itself gets in the way.

 

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MikB
8 hours ago, 4thGordons said:

...

One of the big differences for me is that on the ShtLE action it is fairly easy to maniplulate the bolt without breaking the sight picture, (ie between shots), I find this very hard to do with any of the Mauser derivatives (although I understand it is possible with the 1903) but this is impossible with the lebel/berthier/nagant rifles as the bolt handle itself gets in the way.

 

 

I think it's at least very difficult to retain a useful sight picture during the recoil movement itself. I can remember trying to watch for this when firing the 15 lb 7,62 target rifle I used to have, and finding that the foresight jumped to a position above the target without noticeably being in-between. Follow-through largely means letting the rifle settle back to the aim by gravity and reading from the foresight position which way you might've pulled the shot if it was off.

 

Because of the easy accessibility of the LE bolt handle to the root of the right index-finger and the sloping transition from rotating to reciprocating motion, it's easy to start the bolt operation as soon as you're aware the shot's left, so as to employ much of the otherwise lost recoil time in reloading. Of course you'll lose the opportunity to read the follow-though, and it's difficult to measure if your return to the aim is as fast as if you didn't work the bolt, but subjectively it's always seemed to me that little or no time is lost.

 

On the LE action, the rear locking lugs not only allow a less-abrupt bolt rotation, but also shorten the reciprocating stroke because the cartridge and bolt head don't have to cross the locking recesses in both directions.

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4thGordons

MikB - yes I agree. I didn't really mean the perfect "sight picture" as the recoil does disturb that (as it does with Semi-auto rifles like the M1 also where there is no bolt to manipulate), particularly if shooting off-hand rather than from a rest - what I was really meaning was because of the geometry of the bolt and the short throw, one can manipulate the bolt without taking the rifle down from the shoulder which allows reacquisition of the target much more rapidly than if the rifle has to be taken down from the shoulder (as I have to with most Mausers and Nagants/Berthiers/Lebels/Arisakas etc)

Chris

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MikB
Posted (edited)

Of course it's also worth remembering that it's to some extent a historical accident that Britain brought that excellent 'battle rifle' into WW1. Some of the top brass must've considered it borderline obsolescent. You have to wonder whether the outcome of the 1914 battles would've been the same had the BEF been equipped with the intended .276" replacement.

Edited by MikB

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593jones

Indeed, the Mad Minute would have been somewhat different with a rifle with a slower bolt action and a five-round magazine.

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dman

Most of the American troops in WW1 had the M1917 with its aperture rearsight by the end of it. That and its solid action probably gave rise to the 'Target rifle' idea.

 

One quirk of the Model 1917 Enfield was that since originally designed for the rimmed 303 round, in the rimless American 30-06 it was possible to chamber a single round with a full magazine giving it 6 rounds

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Richard2

I would agree that the American rifles, both the 1903 Springfield and the 1917 Enfield, are the best target rifles of any mentioned in the original post.  This is because of the sights on both rifles.

 

It is harder for me to judge the best combat rifle of WWI, but at least by what modern ideas of what make a combat rifle, the SMLE would appear to be the best.  This is primarily because of its ability to fire more rounds in a given time than the other rifles.  The short handy length, compared to all except the M1903, and the easily cleaned rear locking recesses are also advantages.

 

I enjoy hunting, so I know what I would want in a hunting rifle.  It would be a choice between the M1903 and the SMLE.  The other rifles; the 1898 Mauser, Lebel, Mosin Nagant, 1895 Mannlicher, 1891 Carcano, and 38 Arisaka, could not  compete with the 1903 or SMLE.  The 1903 and SMLE are both relatively short and quick-pointing compared to the others.  In hunting, getting off an accurate shot quickly, sometimes at a moving target, is important.  Sometimes a second shot is also important, but rarely are more needed before you have an opportunity to reload.  Therefore, the ten-shot magazine of the SMLE would be no advantage on a hunting rifle, and may be a minor annoyance, depending on how you carry the rifle.  The SMLE has a better safety for a hunting rifle; quicker to take off safe and quieter.  The fact that the Springfield is easier to take apart for detailed cleaning and minor repairs, without need of a special tool to disassemble the bolt and a very long screwdriver to remove the butt stock is an advantage for an individual hunter.  For a soldier who gives his rifle to the unit armorer for anything more than field stripping, this would not matter.  The 30-06 will shoot a little flatter than the 303, but this would only matter at ranges beyond my ability to shoot game with the sights on the rifles.  If I had to choose one of the rifles in the original military configuration as a hunting rifle, I would choose the SMLE.  If I were to choose between butchered (sporterized) rifles with the handguards removed, forestock cut down, and a scope sight installed, I might choose the 1903 Springfield.

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