§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
My Lord, I rise to ask the Under-Secretary for War what have been the reports received as to the shooting of the new service rifle so far as issued to His Majesty's troops; and why have not greater opportunities for its use been afforded at the present Bisley meeting; whether experiments are now being conducted with (a) a new 9 pattern of barrel, and (b) with a new explosive; and what was the extent of the orders placed respectively at Enfield, at Birmingham, and with the London Small Arms Company for the manufacture of the new rifle, how far have those orders been completed, what deliveries have been made from each place, and what is the reason for the difference between the amount of the order and the amount of the delivery in each case; and to move for Papers.
To none of your Lordships is vain repetition more distasteful than to myself, and having had the opportunity about a month ago of making some remarks on the new service rifle I certainly do not intend to-day to go over that ground again. I will only say, with regard to my remarks on that occasion, that I do not think that either the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War or the noble and gallant Earl the late Commander-in-Chief at al] met my criticisms or disposed of them. I also think I am justified in saying, on my own behalf, that I really have been astonished at the number of letters I have received, since the day on which that short discussion took place in this House, from men of all sorts —from soldiers, gun-makers, and others, who state that they were very much in agreement with my criticisms and that on the whole they supported entirely the position I had taken up. I do not, of course, mean to say that they agreed with every detail, for this is a subject in connection with which there is much room for controversy.
In the Questions I have placed on the Paper to-night I ask for information, and I hold that Parliament and the country have a right to ask for full information with regard to the new small arm with which our troops have now commenced to be supplied. I may be met by the ordinary official answer, that it is not in the interest of the public service that the experiments with the new rifle or the results that have been obtained from it should be made public; that it would do harm, and would be supplying information to foreign nations. Well, my Lords, that is an argument that might, perhaps, fairly be used supposing the new weapon had not been adopted and had not been 10 issued. But the situation now is that it has been adopted, that cavalry regiments have been supplied with the weapon, and that it is in the hands of many people; and, let me assure the noble Earl the Under-Secretary that they probably know quite as much about the new rifle in France, and certainly in Germany, as is known here. I am certain that there is no concealment necessary in the interests of the country.
My contention is that we have a right to be anxious about the new rifle from what we know of it so far, and from our former experience of the War Office and War Office methods. I do not think the past history of the Small Arms Department is one that commands a very great deal of confidence. In that department there are able men, no doubt, but able men who have inventions of their own, and again and again have pressed the Department in every way they could to stick to the old plan, to hang on to the suggestions that they themselves had made, and, indeed in some cases, as we know very well, for which they had taken out patents. In the short discussion that took place last week on the debate raised by my noble friend Lord Ashburton with regard to the armament of mounted troops it was pointed out that the new rifle had been designed for one very particular purpose—namely, that of being convenient for mounted troops. That was not denied. It was not denied, either, that up to this moment no method for carrying it on horseback has been devised or decided upon. It certainly does seem to me that that was an extraordinary admission for the Government to make, and an extraordinary condition of things to find in existence.
The noble and gallant Earl, our most distinguished soldier, when he came to deal with the question, did not attempt to disguise the difficulty of it, and he suggested—what?—that one method of carrying this weapon should be used in time of peace, namely, the bucket, and another in time of war, when it should be carried across the back of the soldier. That did seem to me a most amazing suggestion to come from so high an authority. If a man is going to carry a rifle on horseback it must be somewhat 11 inconvenient, and it is desirable, therefore, that he should be trained in peace time in the way he is to carry it in war, so as to accustom himself to the strain which must be thrown upon him and to enable the authorities to see that all the attachments to the saddle are well-devised. It is not as if, even now, there was any method decided upon. Two clays ago I saw what is called the Patterson equipment, which has, I understand, been to sonic extent adopted by Lord Kitchener in India, and which certainly seems to me to have many advantages. I have tested it thoroughly. A soldier with this equipment fixed on to him mounted and dismounted on the right side and the wrong side, and then rolled off in order to show that there is no danger of the rifle hanging up on the saddle. I do not say that this equipment was perfect, but it is one that may very well be made a basis for an equipment. That is one deficiency which, I say, gives us a right to have some anxiety with regard to the new rifle.
But I have yet one more argument to bring forward. One of the great contentions in favour of this new rifle is that though it has bean shortened, and though various things have teen done to it, yet biter all there has been no great damage lone because the same muzzle velocity has been obtained in the shortened rifle as in the old long rifle adopted twelve or fourteen years ago. Is not that in itself an extraordinary admission to make? Here you are going to solemnly take on a new rifle which only has the muzzle velocity which was usual, and which was thought to be the best, twelve or fourteen years ago. Both in France and in Germany, so far from sticking to a muzzle velocity of 2,000 foot-seconds, they are obtaining a muzzle velocity of 2,800 foot-seconds. I cannot give your Lordships any absolute details as to what has been obtained in France, but I can give absolute details in regard to Germany. I have here a trajectory table showing the velocities obtained with British cordite ammunition. These were experiments carried on at the central place for technical and scientific examinations. At 1,200 yards, with British cordite ammunition, the highest point of the trajectory is forty-two feet; with the new ammunition—a new explosive and new 12 bullet—the highest point at 1,200 yards is about twenty-nine feet. Then, going to a much closer range, at 600 yards the result of the new ammunition is to give the highest point in trajectory two-and-a-half feet, as against a trajectory of nearly six feet with the present British cordite ammunition.
One hears a great deal about the results obtained by long-range shooting. I do not believe you are ever going to win battles by shots fired at 1,500 and 2,000 yards. What you want is to get the lowest possible trajectory for the shortest ranges; and with a two-and-a-half feet height of trajectory at 700 yards you will get an absolute danger zone the whole way; that is to say, if you were to fire at a man standing 700 yards away and aimed at his head, with this ammunition you would hit him somewhere in the lower part of the body without shifting your sight at all. I need hardly tell your Lordship's that that is a very important consideration and of enormous advantage. I will hand these tables—there is no secret about them—to the noble Earl the Under Secretary.
I will give the result of another experiment carried on in the presence of a friend of my own who is a prominent man in the English steel trade. I have here three pieces of steel plate 16.7 millimetres in thickness. This experiment was carried on, not at an official range, but at a private workshop—at the great German workshop of Mauser. Three different ammunitions were used, the British cordite, the German ammunition of 1888, which is about the same data as the British cordite ammunition, and a new explosive and new bullet of the present date which has been adopted or tried by Messrs. Mauser. The shots were fired at fifty yards, the experiment taking place on 20th May of this year. The British bullet penetrated the steel plate 2.6 millimetres; the German one of 1888 penetrated the steel plate 3.8 millimetres, while the new German bullet went right through the plate. I think that shows that there is a considerable possibility of an improvement in ammunition over what we have at present. I will put these experiments at the disposal of the noble Earl the Under-Secretary in order that he may have 13 them examined by his experts. So far as I am concerned I court all inquiry with regard to them.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
The Japanese rifle has, I think, a muzzle velocity of 2,400 foot-seconds. I do not pretend that I cover all possible ground in the Questions I have on the Paper. I have only suggested headings for information. I ask for as much and as complete information as possible. I want to know why greater opportunities for the use of the rifle have not been afforded at the present Bisley meeting. It does seem a pity that you should have gathered together at Bisley all the most competent shots, and it should not be arranged that this new rifle should have a good trial there against, and in competition with, other rifles. The great difficulty at Bisley is that in almost all the competitions anything in the shape of a movable backsight to be used as a wind gauge is forbidden. That cuts the new service rifle out of practically all the more important competitions. There are three or four competitions in which the new service rifle is admissible, but they are not competitions which can be claimed as very great tests; they are almost all of them, I think, at comparatively short range, and competitions in which you have to ride a distance, and then fire, or run a distance and then fire, and the range does not go to much more than 300 yards. They are not competitions in which a real test of accuracy can be arrived at. I hope His Majesty's Government will consent to give me the information that I ask for, and that they will give it in such a form that it will be quite clear and serviceable to those who are anxious to make further inquiries into the weapon when it gets into their hands.
§ Moved, "for Papers with regard to the new service rifle."—(Lord Tweedmouth.)
THE UNDER - SECRETARY of STATE FOR WAR (The Earl of DONOUGHMORE)
My Lords, the noble Lord made a remark at the commencement of his speech to which I naturally take some exception, not to the sense in which the noble Lord intended it to be made. But 14 rather to the construction that might he put upon it in other quarters. He suggested that members of the Small Arms Department—I presume he meant by that the Small Arms Committee—of the War Office are interested in inventions.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I beg the noble Earl's pardon. I was referring to the people in charge at Enfield, and to the time when the Lee-Enfield rifle was introduced.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
I imagine they would have nothing whatever to do with any decision as to what rifle we adopted for the Army. Therefore, I do not see how their position can in any way influence the adoption of any rifle that may be decided upon. I am sure the noble Lord did not mean to cast any slur on the officials at the War Office who deal with these matters. The noble Lord has made a number of detailed criticisms which I will deal with as best I can, but I honestly confess I have not been able to go into this subject as thoroughly as I should have liked, as I only got notice of the Question yesterday, and the official at the War Office who generally deals with this subject is away. Whether we shall be able to publish the reports that we have received from various parts of the world, I am not prepared at the present moment to say. Many of the reports concern the Admiralty as well as the War Office, and I should like to consult them before giving any d finite answer. We have had a large number of reports, and while I shall be prepared to tell the noble Lord the source from which a great many of them come, I am not prepared at present to lay them on the Table. Although it may be possible that foreign Powers are aware what our rifle is, I do not know that they are aware of the experiments that we conducted in order to arrive at that rifle, and I am not prepared now to say that it would not be detrimental to the public service to publish these experiments. I will, however, consult the Admiralty and my colleagues further upon that. I can certainly promise that we will publish as much as we can. As regards the criticism as to the method of carrying the rifle, that is not quite germane to the subject, because the people who would 15 decide how to carry the rifle would have nothing to do with the Small Arms Committee who invented the rifle. It is true that in the recent discussion the noble and gallant Earl (Lord Roberts) expressed some opinions on that point, but, if I remember rightly, no member of the Government spoke after the noble and gallant Earl.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
No, I cannot, but experiments are proceeding at Aldershot, I think. It was suggested the other night that the rifle should be carried on the man, and the sword on the horse, but I would remind the noble Lord that there are equally strong advocates for carrying the rifle on the horse and the sword on the man. I only mention this to show that there is a wide divergence of opinion on this subject, to which is attributable the fact that a decision has not been arrived at earlier. The noble Lord gave us some most interesting figures as to the trajectory of the German rifle and the English rifle—figures which, I understand, are included in this bundle of papers he has given me, and which I shall be glad to send to the proper authorities, so that they may be considered. The fact remains that in our experiments the figure of merit reached by the new rifle, as compared with the German rifle, was very satisfactory. I will not go fully into the figures; but at 500 yards, for instance, we find that our rifle has 1¼ inches better figure of merit. As regards the definite Question asked by my noble friend, I can assure him that we have received satisfactory reports from the School of Musketry at Hythe, from the first three Army Corps, and also from Somaliland. We have had a further report from Hythe, where repeated trials are going on with the new rifle, and that report is, if possible, more satisfactory than the previous ones. There have been exhaustive trials at two naval gunnery schools, and exhaustive experiments have been carried out by the Small Arms Committee themselves.
The Bisley meeting, as the noble Lord knows, has nothing whatever to do with the War Office. It is under the control 16 of the National Rifle Association, but I understand they have permitted any soldier in possession of the new rifle to use it in competitions in which the service rifle is used. As to whether we are experimenting with a new pattern of barrel and a new explosive, the answer is in the affirmative. The noble Lord next asked me the extent of the orders placed respectively at Enfield, at Birmingham, and with the London Small Arms Company. The answer is as follows:—117,000 rifles have been allocated to the Ordnance Factories, 70,000 to the Birmingham Small Arms Factory, and 35,000 to the London Small Arms Factory, making 222,000 rifles in all. These orders are to be delivered by the last day of March next year. We have already had 8,476 rifles from the Ordnance Factories, 2,720 from Birmingham, and 400 from the London Small Arms Company. That is not as many as we had anticipated, but there was a delay in the making of the gauges in the Ordnance Factories, and the firms are not in any way to blame. We anticipate that by the appointed day the whole of the orders will have been carried out.
§ THE EARL OF ERROLL
My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate, and I only rise to say a few words. The choice of the rifle was, I believe, entirely in the hands of the Small Arms Committee on which I myself had the honour to serve, and therefore I feel that I have some title to reply to one or two of the points mentioned by the noble Lord opposite. In the first instance, I was rather surprised to hear that he objected to the range of the new rifle. He read a letter the other day from a cavalry officer, who said he would like to go back to the old carbine, and—
§ THE EARL OF ERROLL
Then I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I thought he accepted it, and considered that the best thing to do would be to put new sights on the old carbine. I entirely differ from that view. In the first place, the reason why the carbine was given up in South Africa was, that the cavalry found they were enormously 17 outranged by the Boers. That was the genesis of the new rifle. I do not agree with the noble Lord that it cannot be made uncomfortable for troops at 1,500 yards. On frequent occasions in South Africa the Boers made extremely good shooting at over 1,700 yards, and the cavalry with their carbines were not able to reply to them. It is perfectly easy to hit, say, a convoy at 1,500 yards, and it is important that the cavalry should have this long-range rifle. With regard to the carrying of the rifle, I quite agree that it is time we had some way of carrying it. When this new rifle was suggested, the Inspector-General of Cavalry stated that a rifle four inches longer than the carbine could be carried in the bucket without touching the ground. Personally, I think that the best way to carry it is in the old carbine bucket, although it is rather heavy. I also agree, to a certain extent, with what was said the other day by the noble and gallant Earl the late Commander-in-Chief, as to carrying the rifle in peace time in the bucket and in war time on the man's back. But I go further. In all campaigns there is a great deal more marching than fighting, and I would suggest that the rifle might be carried not only in peace time in the bucket, but might be carried on service in the bucket when not actually in the presence of the enemy. When soldiers are near the enemy I think the rifle ought to be on their backs. Personally, I think the wind-gauge absolutely useless on service. I do not think soldiers would ever use it. I am not quite certain whether it is on this rifle.
§ THE EARL OF ERROLL
Then it has been added since I was on the Small Arms Committee. A wind-gauge is all very good for match shooting, but what we want for the Army is not a match weapon, but a weapon which will be handy and useful in war.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I understand that the noble Earl the Under-Secretary will give me what information he can, and will lay on the Table all the Papers that it may be convenient to publish?
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
In those circumstances it is not necessary for me to press the Motion. But I think I ought to say, in answer to the Earl of Erroll that I did not commit myself in any way to the opinion that the old carbine was a sufficiently good weapon for the cavalry in the future. In the letter from which I read an extract to your Lordships, my correspondent was simply referring to the convenience of carrying the weapon, and his point was that if it was to be carried comfortably in the bucket, the old carbine with new sights on it would be the best in the circumstances. As to the statement of the Under-Secretary, the only thing I have to say is that the figure of merit was not the particular point that I was raising. My great point was to get as low a trajectory as possible, and I think the noble Earl himself would prefer a very much reduced trajectory, even to a somewhat increased amount of absolute accuracy. A low trajectory I put before anything for a practical service weapon. I withdraw my Motion.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
My Lords, I do not rise to take part in this discussion further than to say this, that next Monday I have a Notice on the Paper which will raise this Question, and as my noble friend Lord Tweedmouth has shown to-day the effect of the German bullet on steel plate, I shall produce a photograph which will be of interest as to the manner of carrying the rifle.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.