HL Deb 10 August 1885 vol 300 cc1525-8

asked the Under Secretary of State for War the following Questions:—Whether the muzzle velocity of the 40-pounder gun is 1,108 feet per second, equal to an extreme useful range of 4,000 yards; whether at the time when these guns were made, about 25 years ago, the muzzle velocity of the 12-pounder field piece was 1,170 feet per second, with an extreme useful range of about 3,000 yards; and, whether the muzzle velocity of the 9-pounder field piece was 1,057, equal to an extreme useful range of about 2,500 yards; whether the extreme useful range of the best German, French, and Russian field pieces is not now about 5,000 yards; whether the range of the new British field pieces is not also about 5,000 yards; whether it is not the fact that in the late Afghan War the 40-pounder gun proved of little service for battering purposes owing to its slow velocity; whether, seeing that the range of the 40-pounder gun is inferior to that of the new Foreign and British field pieces, he will consider the practicability of increasing its power and range; whether any steps are being taken to give an improved bayonet, and to attach a repeating arrangement to the Martini-Henry rifle? The noble Earl said that the advance in scientific artillery had been such that the 12-pounder and 16-pounder were now more efficient field guns than the weightier 40-pounder. He thought that if the suggestions contained in the Questions were right, it was time to bring home the responsibility for our armaments to the proper quarter, and rouse those entrusted with these matters to a proper sense of their duty. If it could be possible to restore to the 40-pounder, by some change in its construction, greater relative power as compared with the lighter pieces, the safety of our shores would pro tanto be increased. With reference to his Question about bayonets, he wished to explain that, in order to compensate for the shortness of the Martini-Henry, the regulation weapon was now three inches longer than, it was formerly. On several occasions in the Soudan, notably in the attack on General M'Neill's zereba, the bayonets bent and twisted. A Question had been asked in "another place" on the subject, and a very strange answer was given—namely, that the bayonet when used for stabbing must either twist or break. That was a very sad state of things, for bayonets were made for the purpose of stabbing men in warfare. Why have such a bayonet? He would remind their Lordships that some years ago a Committee recommended a sword bayonet of a totally different form, which was an admirable cutting weapon, and one which also made a first-rate bayonet for stabbing purposes. There was also the American trowel bayonet, which might be tried. With reference to the desirability of attaching a repeating arrangement to the Martini-Henry rifle, it was sufficient to say that one of the chief improvements in the art of martial destruction was the invention of the repeating arm, which contained in the stock or elsewhere a certain number of cartridges. The Swiss weapon, he believed, contained 11 cartridges. When the whole magazine was expended, it then became a simple breech-loading rifle. If money was to be spent in providing superior firearms for our Army, it would be bettor to do so in attaching this arrangement to the existing arms than in the construction of any new arm.


(who replied) said, he regretted that the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for War (Viscount Bury), who, unavoidably, from a domestic cause, the death of a near relative, was not in his place, not only on account of the cause, but because he would have given the noble Earl information which it was not in his (the Earl of Dunraven's) own power to give. He would, however, give the noble Earl the best answer he could; but it was not in his power to go into very full details. The noble Earl seemed to attribute most importance to his seventh Question, as to attaching a repeating arrangement to the Martini-Henry rifle. He saw the force of the noble Earl's observations; but, up to the present, all the repeating arrangements were liable to the defect of getting more quickly out of order than other arms. But the whole matter, both as to adopting a repeating arrangement to the small arms as well as that of the best form of bayonet, had at present been referred to the Small Arms Committee, and was occupying their attention at present. As to the first Question, the noble Earl was substantially correct. The muzzle velo- city of the 40-pounder was 1.180 feet per second, and its range at 10 degrees elevation was 3,650 yards. As to the second Question, the muzzle velocity of the 12-pounder rifled breech-loading field-piece was 1,239 feet per second, and its range at 10 degrees elevation was 3,350 yards. The muzzle velocity of the 9-pounder rifled breech-loading field-piece was 1,055 feet per second, and its range at 10 degrees elevation was 3,100 yards. As to the third Question, the ranges of the present foreign field-guns at 10 degrees varied somewhat; but they averaged a little over 4,000 yards. As to the fourth Question, the range of the new 12-pounder at 10 degrees was about 4,380 yards; 9-pounder, 3,250; 13-pounder, 4,280; and 16-pounder, about 3,650. Fifthly, he thought the noble Earl was mistaken in what he had said upon this point; for the 40-pounder used in the late Afghan War was the muzzle-loading gun, and the Report stated that so far as it was tried, its power and accuracy were satisfactory. Sixthly, the modern guns, no doubt, showed a great improvement on those of 25 years ago; but, at the same time, the 40-pounder rifled breech-loading gun introduced in 1859, so far from being obsolete, was still a very useful and accurate weapon. Since that date far more powerful guns had been brought into the Service, and it was considered more satisfactory to use such guns where necessary than to increase the power of the old guns, which could only be done at a comparatively large cost.