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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Automatic SMLE


Len Trim
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Hi,

did not know such things existed.

IMG_2011.jpg

Len

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There were a number of attempts to create these. One of them was made in New Zealand early in the Second World War. It was odd because the gas cylinder had to be offset to allow it to rotate the bolt. It was something of a Holy Grail with designers because there were so many SMLEs around.

Greg

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The rifle in the photo was invented by a South African, Henry Reider, but is slightly out of time at Delville Wood since they were made in 1940-41. Only about eighteen rifles were converted and three were sent to the UK for trials. There was little official interest and the project was abandoned.

The New Zealand rifle Greg mentions was the Charlton which again was a WW2 design. It was configured more as a light machine gun than an automatic rifle and used a converted Bren gun magazine. Several hundred were converted but most were destroyed in a warehouse fire. There was also an Australian version of the Charlton that was built as an automatic rifle with the action protected by a sheet metal dust cover.

The only WWI conversion was the Howell which looked very similar to the Reider and was designed in the UK. The action was similar with gas tapped near the muzzle operating a long rod which cammed the bolt open and closed. Howell also tried to interest the government in the conversion for the Home Guard in WW2.

I have actually fired an original Howell rifle and it works quite well, once one has got used to the SMLE bolt slamming backwards and forwards literally in front of one's nose!

Regards

TonyE

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A bolt action rifle is only a manual system because it has to be operated by hand. If you automate the method of moving the bolt, ie unlocking and rotating it, withdrawing it and then returning and relocking it , in this case by using gas tapped from the barrel, and presumablya return spring, it becomes selfloading and if you alter the trigger sear to allow the action to continue firing and reloading until you release the trigger you have an automatic weapon.

Greg

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Greg has explained the principle, and the Howell and Reider differed only in detail.

In both weapons a separate tube is attached to one side of the rifle containing a piston and return spring, and gas is bled from the barrel near the muzzle and acts upon the piston, driving it rearwards, just like most automatic weapons. In the Reider there is an internal cam that turns the operating rod attached to the bolt (an extension of the piston), lifting the bolt handle and opening the bolt. The return spring provides the power to close the bolt and lock it.

The Howell differs only in that the operating rod has a curved slot at the rear end in which the bolt handle sits, and this lifts and opens the bolt as it travels to the rear, closing it on the return stroke.

Regards

TonyE

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Looking at the Reider the connection between the operating rod and the bolt appears to be before the bolt handle in front of the lugs over the rear of the action, presumably mounted on the locking lug. I am also not quite sure that I can visualise how the weapon relocked- the spring would have pulled it forward in a straight line by pushing the operating rod and then presumably the cam operated in reverse to allow the locking lug to engage.On top of that the bolt has to compress the firing spring in the final stages of closing! Must have been quite a spring to push the bolt forward and then towards the end of its travel twist the bolt down to lock it again. Always wished I had the kind of mind that would have made me an engineer I can see the principle but can't quite visualise the gubbins!

Greg

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Sorry Mik- must have posted about the same time! I guess that its a question of perspective. On the one hand you are automating a weapon designed to do be manipulated by hand- the other side would be to argue that the changes to the mechanism alter it sufficiently to argue that it is now an 'automatic' system. I would tend to the latter argument myself .I think that the fact that it uses a rotating bolt with a handle just makes it a rather inefficient automated system since it requries an offset gas piston and a rather Heath Robinish set of linkages or a change to offset or much higher sights if you were to mount the piston over the barrel as in the old SLR!

Greg

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Thanks for the reply Greg, I am very familiar with bolt action rifles and automatic weapons, but cannot see how this thing ever evolved, especially as automatic weapons were available in WW1.

Even in WW2 this must have been a step backwards.

Mick D

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Mick D

I think the difference is that this conversion was to make a self-loading rifle rather than a fully automatic weapon.

It was not an attempt to creat a machinegun out of a bolt-action rifle. As such not a step backwards but rather a development at a similar period to the American Garrand, and of course the British Army eventually adopted an SLR in the late 1950's. Lee Enfield produced a fully automatic rifle (end or just after WW2) but it was rejected.

I am only guessing, but I assume this conversion would require the trigger being pulled for each shot?

Ian

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Fascinating attempt. Tony, you have fired one. How did it handle? Did bleeding the gas off have any effect on range or accuracy? Did it use the same magazine?

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Interesting find... but no matter how many times I go through my mind about how this thing works... I keep ending up thinking of it as semi-automatic... what happens when you keep the trigger pulled? Does it keep firing on it's own until the magazine runs out? I haven't ever fired SMLE, but I have fired other bolt-action rifles, if the trigger is pressed and the bolt is pulled backward, doesn't it come off? Like I said, I don't know much about SMLE anatomy.

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Thanks for the reply Greg, I am very familiar with bolt action rifles and automatic weapons, but cannot see how this thing ever evolved, especially as automatic weapons were available in WW1.

Even in WW2 this must have been a step backwards.

Mick D

Mick

Surely the point was an attempt designed to cheaply upgrade the millions of existing SMLE's in store with the minimum amount of tooling.

namely an expedient.

Guy

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There are several points to answer here.

First, the Howell and the Reider were semi-automatic self loaders, i.e. one pull of the trigger fired one shot and reloaded ready for the next pull of the trigger. The Charlton had the original trigger group of the SMLE modified and was a true automatic rifle with a change lever offering semi auto, full auto and safe. It also could take a modified Bren mag for larger capacity.

Pulling the trigger and opening the bolt on an SMLE does not release the bolt, so that is not a problem. (Moisin Nagants and some other rifles do that).

Secondly, Greg is correct that on the Reider the connection between the operating rod and the bolt is to the rear bolt lug. As the operating rod rotates it turns the hinged knuckle which lifts the lug and unlocks it. I have attached a series of photos (courtesy of the REME Museum) that I took when I examined their Reider in detail a couple of years ago. These show the bolt unlocked and hopefully make things clearer. Their Reider is a slightly later type (1941) and unfortunately like most of the REME Museum weapons is in rather poor condition.

A to why they were made, it was as Smithmaps says, expediency. In the case of WWI and the Howell, there were not really any successful SLRs mid war, those that did exist (Mondragon, Mauser Model 1916) were complex and extremely expensive to manufacture. Later in the war other self loaders like the French St.Etienne M1917 and M1918 and BAR came into service, but the Howell was designed as a (relatively) cheap alternative based on the large number of existing SMLEs. It was rejected and had the war progressed to 1919 Britain would have adopted the Farquahar-Hill SLR as the Pattern 1918 rifle.

In World War 2 it must be remembered that in 1940/41 British and Commonwealth troops were desperately short of LMGs. The Lewis had largely been retired from land service and I believe something like 80% of all Brens built before 1940 were lost at Dunkirk. Both the Reider and the Charlton were inventions born of a perceived necessity and an attempt by their designers to offer a cheaper alternative based on existing rifles. This urgency was particularly true in the case of the Charlton as Australia and perhaps New Zealand were expecting a Japanese invasion at any day.

Regards

TonyE

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Fascinating attempt. Tony, you have fired one. How did it handle? Did bleeding the gas off have any effect on range or accuracy? Did it use the same magazine?

Sorry, I did not answer this in my previous post.

It seemed to work fine. I was only firing it at about 100 metres and accuracy seemed the same as any other SMLE with iron sights. There is no reason to think range would be affected, so little gas is tapped off and after all a Bren is gas operated and does not suffer range problems.

It actually cycles very slowly, probably due to the inefficiencies in the mechanical linkages, and the main impression is bang, clang, ching as the parts recoil and the springs come into operation to return the bolt. As I said previously, the bolt going backwards and forwards in front of one's nose is a little disconcerting, but not too bad. One of the minor modifications of the later Reider was a sheet metal stop to prevent one putting one's face too close to the bolt (see photo).

Somewhere I have a photo of it being fired and I wil try to dig it out.

Regards

Tony

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Speaking to a colleague today about this ( he hasn't seen the photographs, so i may have badly described it) and he thinks that there is an example at the Royal Armouries at Leeds. Although sadly it is not on public display.

Mick

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Speaking to a colleague today about this ( he hasn't seen the photographs, so i may have badly described it) and he thinks that there is an example at the Royal Armouries at Leeds. Although sadly it is not on public display.

Mick

There was certainly one (a Howell, I believe) on display in late 1994, it's an odd looking piece of kit.

Regards.

Tom t W

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  • 5 years later...

QUOTE (Mick D @ Oct 10 2007, 08:38 PM)

Speaking to a colleague today about this ( he hasn't seen the photographs, so i may have badly described it) and he thinks that there is an example at the Royal Armouries at Leeds. Although sadly it is not on public display.

Mick

There was certainly one (a Howell, I believe) on display in late 1994, it's an odd looking piece of kit.

Regards.

Tom t W

Yes, I saw this today in the Royal Armouries - I'd heard of the Charlton before, but not the Howell.

There appears to be a grotesque modification to the sights - the earlier 'Heath Robinson' description doesn't really cover it. I can't figure out how on earth it works at anything less than extreme over-optimistic volley-fire range, and the bizarre guard or whatever it is next to the bolt-lifting camtrack seems to prevent access to the trigger. Can anyone enlighten me? I'll post pics once I've figured out how...

Ah, found this on the Wikipedia page - it isn't quite as good as mine but will do for now:-

http://www.cybershooters.org/Royal%20Armoury/Howell.JPG

Regards,

MikB

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i have only ever fired five rounds from a Lee Enfield Bolt Action Rifle and that was a WW2 type not a SMLE, from this limited experience and the ability of the 1914 regular to fire at least 15 aimed rounds a minute ( some 20 or more) I can not see the advantage of making a very good bolt action rifle into a slr. I suspect that it would at best be marginaly quicker but the loss oif handling balance would reduce accuracy.

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