HL Deb 23 February 1905 vol 141 cc1019-39

who had given notice to call attention to the new service rifle and to move to resolve, "That in the opinion of this House whatever convenience a shortened rifle may afford to mounted troops it is inexpedient that the whole of His Majesty's Forces should be armed with the recently approved short rifle," said: My Lords, I feel that I am making a great demand upon your tolerance in referring to the subject of the new rifle now, I think, for the third time in the last ten months; but I asure your Lordships I do so because I am honestly convinced that a grave and costly blunder is about to be perpetrated, and I am really anxious that you should help me in, at any rate, causing the War Office to hold their hand before they finally adopt this weapon. Gutta cavat lapidem, and I do trust that the drip of my persistence may have some effect in wearing away the stony prejudice and rocky non possumus attitude that the War Office have adopted towards all the propositions that have been put forward by those, either soldiers or sportsmen, who have really some practical knowledge of what a rifle should be.

The question of the rifles divides itself naturally and easily into three parts. First, there is the question of improvements that have been made in the rifle, improvements which are admitted by all, and which were not to be found in the long rifle as it was used in the South African War. Then there are a series of, as I think, defects, which are common to the two rifles. But, after all, I wish to impress upon you that it is not proposed to introduce a new rifle. To all intents and purposes you are simply going to continue the old rifle with a shortened barrel. Lastly, there are the series of considerations that arise from the adoption of the shortened barrel, and the arguments to be brought forward for and against that change.

Now, taking the improvements first, I can deal with them in but a sentence or two. You have, in the first place, the new backsight. The new backsight is a very good backsight, and one that I think His Majesty's forces are very fortunate to have acquired. Some of my military friends say that it is too good a backsight, and that it is useless giving the soldier a wind-gauge on a good backsight because he will not know how to use it, and would, therefore, be much better without one. My answer to my military friends on that point is that the sooner they teach the soldiers to use the new backsight the better, and if they use the facilities given them for improving their shooting by this backsight we shall be very much benefited in any future war. Then there is the improvement introduced of loading the magazine from a charger, by which, at a single motion, five cartridges are introduced into the magazine. We who have criticised the magazine rifle from its introduction have always maintained that a magazine rifle should be loaded by a charger in that way, so, at any rate, that is one thing we have got after this fourteen years struggle. Lastly, there is what I think ought also to be regarded as an improvement, and which is really involved by the use of the charger, namely, the abandonment of what is known as the dust-cover, which was quite a superfluity and was no good for the purpose for which it was intended. These, I think, everybody admits to be improvements, but they do not involve any great expense. I imagine that these improvements could be applied to any one of the existing long rifles now used by His Majesty's forces for about, I should think, 7s.—3s. or 4s. for the backsight, and 3s. or 4s. for the alteration necessary to make the charger; at any rate, the cost of substituting the new backsight for the present one, and enabling the magazine to be loaded by a charger, would not be great, and would not involve any large amount of new manufacturing plant.

Now, my Lords, I come to what I hold to be defects which have existed in the action and stock of the rifle from the very beginning, and which now, though you are by way of introducing a new weapon, you have deliberately determined to continue in that new weapon. In the first place, there is the weakness involved by the stock being in two parts. There is no other military rifle in the world which has this arrangement except the French Lebel rifle. I think most of you who are accustomed to using sporting rifles and guns would think it a very extraordinary thing to use a rifle the stock of which was in two parts fastened together with a screw going through the weakest part of the stock. The next thing I come to is the complicated bolt, with its very weak fastening. We have admittedly the most complicated bolt that is in use in military weapons, and the one that has the weakest fastenings. Go to any gunmaker you like and he will tell you it would not be safe to increase the strain thrown on the bolt of the British rifle, whereas the bolts of foreign rifles would certainly bear 25 per cent, more strain than that which could be borne by the British bolt. What is the reason for that? It is because the fastening of the British bolt is made at the end of the bolt, whereas in the foreign forms of bolt the main fastening is made at its head in the breech of the rifle itself. Two lugs fit in and lock the bolt tight at the place where the strain is greatest, namely, at the breech end of the barrel. Your great rifle-makers here in England are all now manufacturing magazine rifles of .360 or .375 bore, which take a heavier bullet and also a larger charge of explosive than is used in the .303. Ask any one of them whether they would use the British rifle-action for such a weapon and they will tell you no. They will tell you that they will go to the Mannlicher or the Mauser for the pattern of the weapon. Then a small change has been made in the safety catch; but I invite any one of your Lordships to look at the new rifle with its present safety catch and tell me whether it is a comfortable one to use. I think the answer will be that it is a thumb-injuring and nail-breaking sort of article. I would ask you also to compare it with the safety catch to be found on the Mannlicher or Mauser rifle, which has a flap lying at the back of the bolt; it is moved from right to left easily, and certainly, however cold your fingers may be, it is evident at a glance whether it is on or off. Then, my Lords. I say we make another mistake in clinging to our clumsy, cumbrous, flimsy magazine. I think the British magazine is an excrescence and an eyesore on any rifle. I can quite understand, before you adopted the charger method of loading, that a big magazine was a good thing. The rifle was used with a cut off as a single firer, and the magazine was to be reserved for emergency. With the charger we have dropped that theory altogether. The rifle is fired straight from the magazine. You cannot load a magazine with ten cartridges from a single charger, and I say the size of the magazine ought to be measured by the number of cartridges you can put into it at a single motion. As it is now, if you want to fill your magazine with ten cartridges, you have to take, first, one little packet of five cartridges in the one charger, and press that into the magazine. You have to move the charger with your hand. You then have to take another little packet of cartridges in another charger and press that into your rifle, and then your magazine is full. I maintain that it is possible to keep up quite as rapid a fire if you have a magazine that holds only five cartridges. I am quite confident that there would be no loss in rapidity of firing by adopting that system, and then you could have your magazine safely stowed away in the forehand of the rifle, the same as in the Mauser, liable to no injury and offering no impediment to its handling.

I think that, perhaps, the strongest argument against the perfection of the British type of rifle is the fact that no other nation has adopted it. All over the world nations are choosing rifles. The bigger nations have special patterns of their own. The less civilised and the smaller nations have to, and do, adopt the inventions of other countries. They naturally give great pains to the choice. They carry out many experiments before they adopt a particular weapon. You will find that of all these nations not one has adopted the British rifle. You may say, "Oh, well, after all, foreign nations do not know much about it." Then I say, go to the British gunmaker, the British marksman, and the British sportsman. A great deal of the sporting shooting is now done from these very magazine rifles; and I am sure you will find that for one sporting rifle that is made on the British pattern, twenty or twenty-five are made on the Mannlicher or Mauser pattern. In the same way, if you go to the great target marksmen, though I admit that some of the Lee-Enfield pattern are used for target work, I think you will find that the majority of the great British marksmen do use rifles made on the Mauser or Mannlicher patterns in preference to the British one. I think these are strong arguments in favour of my theory that even the action of the British rifle is not all that it might be and could be improved.

Up to the present moment I have, of course, been dealing with matters which appertain to the notice I have put on the Paper, though they do not appertain to the Motion. My point is this, that you have decided to adopt a new weapon only to this extent, that you have taken your old weapon with a shortened barrel. All the faults, if there be faults, in the old system of magazine and in the old system of bolt are retained, and I do say if you are going to spend this large sum of money in re-arming the Army, you ought to have considered thy question whether you could not improve the rifle, not only in the barrel, but also in the stock and action. I leave that part, and come now to the question of the short barrel. What was the genesis of this short barrel? It had its origin in the place which has been the origin of many troubles to us in the past, and I am afraid may be also the cause of troubles in the future—South Africa. In South Africa it was found that the British mounted soldier armed with a carbine was absolutely unable to cope with a mounted Boer armed with a long Mauser rifle. That was not wonderful. A carbine, so far as it goes, is no doubt a very pretty little weapon, and up to 600 yards may be very good; but, of course, it could not compete with the long rifle in South Africa. So our cavalry adopted the long rifle and used it, and a way of carrying it on horseback was extemporised. It was carried rather after the fashion of a lance—the stock dropped into a small shoe, and the top part of the barrel fastened by a strap to the arm of the soldier. That, I believe, was successful, and I understand that the cavalry soldiers in South Africa were very well satisfied with their long rifle and with the way that it was carried. But, my Lords, it was decided that it was absolutely necessary, in order that the rifle should be carried comfortably by the cavalry, that it should be a short rifle. It was supposed that a convenient way of carrying the rifle could not be discovered unless it was a short one. I can quite understand that it is easier to carry a short rifle on horseback than a long one, but here is an extraordinary thing. This rifle has now been introduced for two years; it has been in the hands of a considerable body of troops for certainly eight or ten months, and yet at the present moment the method of carrying the rifle on horseback has not been discovered.


Yes, it has.


The noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War says it has. Well, is it to be carried in the new long bucket?


I do not know whether we are thinking of the same bucket; but it is to be carried in a bucket which is different from the old one.


The new long bucket, which is a big and clumsy contrivance, necessary on account of the length of the rifle, once more involves the rifle being attached to the saddle of the horse instead of to the man. Now, I do not care who disputes it, however great the authority, but for service purposes the rifle of the cavalry soldier should be attached to himself. When a man is thrown from his horse it is well that he should have some weapon with him—a sword is no use to a man on foot. If it is decided to carry the new rifle in a bucket attached to the saddle you will be very much injuring the effectiveness of the soldier to whom you give that rifle. We had some little discussion on this point in your Lordships' House last session. I think the noble and gallant Field-Marshal, Earl Roberts, whom I now see on the Cross Benches, told us, while, I think, expressing concurrence with our view that the rifle should be attached to the soldier, that his idea would be that the rifle should be carried one way in peace time, namely, in a bucket attached to the horse, and in another way in war time, namely, attached to the man. I know it is very audacious and impertinent of me to set any opinion of mine against that of the noble and gallant Earl, but I do appeal to you as impartial men to say whether it is not wise that soldiers should be accustomed to their accoutrements in peace time, whether the whole of the training of a soldier in peace time should not be to make him ready for war?

I have carried many different rifles, in many parts of the world, on horseback, and you cannot make it a very comfortable or pleasant thing to carry a rifle a horse. It must mean a certain amount of discomfort and difficulty. That being admitted, surely it is desirable in ordinary training during peace time that you should accustom your cavalry soldier to that amount of discomfort which is to be inflicted on him in war. Therefore, I say that if once you admit that you have to carry your rifle in time of peace in a bucket for convenience or beauty's sake, whereas in war time you must carry it attached to the soldier, then I say you have condemned the bucket system altogether, and ought not to have considered it. As a matter of fact, by shortening the rifle you have made it impossible to carry it in the way in which it was carried in the South African War. The lance attachment method, as it was called, cannot be used with the short rifle because the rifle is too short, but there are methods of carrying it. I have seen one myself. I have no interest in this particular method, and I do not say it is perfect; but it seems to me there is a great deal to be said in favour of it, or in favour of an improvement by the adaptation of it. It is an attachment which has been invented by Colonel Patterson. With that attachment the rifle is carried in a sling at the left side of the man. Just below the cantel of the saddle a metal clip is placed. The rifle hangs on the soldier's left side, and when he mounts the horse he presses the small part of the stock into this clip. The whole weight of the rifle is thrown on to the clip. On the right side the sword is fixed to the saddle, so that the weight of the sword, on the one side is balanced by the weight of the rifle on the other. I have seen that equipment tried. I had a corporal of a cavalry regiment, in my own garden, and tried the equipment in every way that I could. He got off on the right side and also on the left side; he fell off on one side and then on the other; and he fell over his horse's tail. Noble Lords laugh. I would point out that he did it on purpose. So far as I could see, however the soldier might fall, the rifle always came away from the attachment on the saddle and left him perfectly free, the rifle itself remaining attached to the man. I know that attachment has been tried at various military centres in England, and I believe that, on the whole, the decision has been against it. It has been said to be weak in places and to damage the small part of the stock of the rifle round which the clip is fastened. Well, I should like to ask the noble Lord the Under-Secretary if he could give me the report which Lord Kitchener has made upon this equipment.


I have not got it here.


Well, I may tell the noble Earl that this attachment has been already largely adopted in India, and that no less than 26,000 Patterson equipments have gone to India arid are in use there. I think that is a strong argument, I am not saying in favour of the Patterson equipment, but in favour of the view that it is possible to discover a method by which the rifle can be carried comfortably, or fairly comfortably, on a horse by the soldier, and yet when he is thrown from his saddle the rifle shall remain attached to the man. That, it seems to me, is what we have to aim at if we wish to get the best possible weapon attached in the best possible way to a cavalry soldier. And I may say that with this particular form of attachment it does not in the least matter whether the rifle is a long or a short one.

The next point put forward in favour of this rifle is that it is, on account of its shortness, much lighter than the existing one. The short rifle is one pound four ounces lighter than the old rifle, and really to hear the advocates of the new rifle speak you would imagine that this extra lightness had been obtained by the shortening of the rifle. I am going to give your Lordships the exact figures, as to the amount of lightness that has been obtained in that way. The thirty-inch Lee-Enfield barrel, ready for mounting, weighs two pounds twelve ounces. Five inches is taken off this barrel; that is to say, one-sixth. Well, one-sixth of forty-four ounces is just over seven ounces. Therefore, if you take a sixth off the barrel you save seven ounces in weight; but the part of the barrel that you are taking this off is the part near the muzzle, which is the lightest part; so that, as a matter of fact, the amount saved in weight by shortening the barrel is just six ounces, or three-eighths of the total lightening, which, apparently, is all set down to the shortened barrel. As a matter of fact, the greater I portion of the lightening of the rifle has been attained in a totally different way. The stock has been lightened by boring away the wood, the dust-cover has been done away with, and, as I understand, the rifle barrel itself has been pared down. Whether that is a very wise tiling to do I do not quite know. My point is that you have no right to claim that the lightening of the rifle is due to shortening the barrel, because that only accounts for six ounces out of one and a quarter pounds which the rifle has been lightened.

Then it is said that this rifle makes an extraordinarily good weapon for snap-shooting, because it is short. In the first place, I would point out that when you come to snap-shooting for military purposes it means that you are shooting at, say, between 200 and 800 yards, and then you would find nobody standing up and shooting from their shoulder. They would all be taking the best cover they could possibly get, and in that way obtaining a rest for their weapon. I think you will all agree with me that the handiness of a weapon for snap-shooting does not depend on its length. It depends on its balance, and, whether it is a gun or a rifle, the handiness of it for snap-shooting does not depend primarily on the length, but on the general way in which it comes up and the general balance of it. I think any of you who will take up this rifle will say that it is not exactly what you would call a very well-balanced rifle. I think you will find, as those gentlemen who took it down on the 11th of this month to Bisley found, that there is considerably too much weight forward to make it in any sense a particularly well-balanced, handy weapon. The mere fact of shortness certainly does not make it better for snap-shooting, especially when you consider the form of the foresight, which is about as little adapted for the purposes of snap-shooting as the sight of any weapon could be.

This brings me to the question of the sights. I have said that the backsight is a very good sight, but, my Lords, I look upon the foresight as being an extraordinarily bad sight. In the first place, you have arrived at a sort of crescent-shaped excrescence, which is there no doubt for the purpose of protecting the foresight. It certainly protects it from injury from outside, but also most successfully protects the foresight from the light falling upon it, and I defy any man in a bad or failing light to make good shooting with it; and when you come to the question of hurried shooting you would find a man apt enough to take one of these horns and use that as the foresight instead of the real foresight, which lies between the two. Again, you cannot get over the unanswerable criticism that by the reduction of the length of your barrel you bring your foresight and your backsight so close together that you infinitely increase the difficulty of shooting. You cannot bring back the backsight nearer the eye, because you would then get a blurred backsight. It is well known that the longer the radius you can get between the backsight and the foresight the more you reduce the variation of error caused by the unsteadiness of the man or the fault of his aim. For these reasons I cannot see that there is much to be said for the short rifle from the point of view of the man who has to aim with it.

Again, there have been certain changes made in the rifling of the rifle in order to maintain the old velocity. There are two small changes. In the first place, the lead from the chamber into the grooving has been shortened. The result of that is naturally to cause the bullet to go with less ease into the grooves and so set up a greater expansion of gas behind it. I am certain that the result will be a greater amount of erosion in the first part of the barrel, and you will have more and quicker damage done to the rifling at the breech end of the rifle than you have at present. In the last fourteen inches of the barrel the rifling has been deepened from .005 inch to .0065 inch. I do not want to go into the question of what effect that may have on the ballistic qualities of the rifle. I think it will make it much more difficult to clean the rifle. Already it is difficult enough to clean one of these small bore rifles in which the new explosives are fired, and I think by deepening the groove towards the muzzle you will experience great difficulty in thoroughly cleaning the groove. A rifle should be always cleaned from the breech, and therefore whatever you push through the early part of the rifle from the breech will be very apt not to reach the bottom of the groove towards the muzzle, and you will find that that will have its effect also.

Now I come to the ballistic qualities of this new barrel. There is no necessity for me to argue about it or to bring forward any proofs, because I have all the proof I want from what is said by those who are responsible for the rifle. All that is claimed for the rifle is that it has ballistic qualities equal to those of the rifle which it is replacing; that is to say, while the muzzle velocity in the Lee-Enfield barrel amounted to 2,000 foot-seconds, that same muzzle velocity is retained in this new rifle. It seems to me that that alone is sufficient condemnation for the adoption of the new rifle for the whole of the Army. Why should we stick to results which were attained fourteen years ago? Rifles in other countries are attaining velocities up to 2,800 foot-seconds. The last German result was 2,845 foot-seconds with a bullet of 156 grains. It is well known both in Germany and France that these great velocities have experimentally been obtained, and I say that before we adopt a new rifle for the whole of our Army we ought to go into full experiments to see whether we, too, cannot get these high velocities.

I put the ballistic qualities of a perfect rifle for military purposes under four heads—(1) a low trajectory; (2) a long range; (3) force of impact; and (4) accuracy; and the reason why I put accuracy last is that any well-made rifle barrel will give you quite sufficient accuracy, and indeed more accuracy than any but very expert shots can get the benefit of. With regard to trajectory, every hundred yards that you can bring within the fixed sight distance increases the effective power of your troops, and makes it easier for your soldiers to shoot properly and straight. I gave the noble Earl last year some trajectory tables which bear out that now, certainly up to 600 yards, you do not get above the, level of the head of a man with the last new weapon, the last new explosive, and the last new bullet. That is a tremendous advance. That is the sort of thing we should aim at. Then I say extreme range is of the greatest importance. I know that at extreme range you cannot hope for accurate shooting. There is no question of firing at individual men or even at individual bodies of men. An army armed with a rifle that carries 300 or 400 yards further than that of its opponents would have a tremendous advantage. I will tell you why. It would have an advantage because it would be able to plant an enormous number of bullets into a particular area, the result being that it would by that means force the enemy to deploy very much sooner than he otherwise would. I think it is perfectly evident that the sooner you can force your enemy to deploy, the better it is for defence.

I know it is said that in this; country it does not matter so much about our having these long-range weapons, because if we are attacked here we shall be attacked in a country which is full of small enclosures and in which, hedges abound. I believe it is just as important for us to have the long-range weapons as it is for anyone, because, after all, supposing that we are attacked we shall have to take up prepared defensive positions; all the obstacles will have to be cleared away in front of those prepared defensive positions, and therefore exactly the same conditions will obtain as in a more open country. It is evident from our experience in all our distant small wars that the longer range we can get the better it will be. I want to know something about these trials of which we have heard so much. Lately a report was put in from Hythe which gave the figure of merit obtained by the new rifle in competition with French, German, and Italian rifles and with the old long rifle. I want to know more details about how those trials were conducted. I want to know whether they were conducted with rifles fired from fixed rests; what sights the rifles were provided with; whether the new British sights were fixed to all the rifles, so that they were all fired under similar conditions, or whether each had the sight belonging to its own pattern; and, lastly, whether any trial was made with what I may call an improved long rifle, because that, I think, is also very important.

If the trials were made from fixed rests I think they lose very much of their value, because in the case of rifles fired in that way the effect of the short distance between the backsight and foresight is greatly diminished. Again, for a practical military weapon you should have the trial from the shoulders of the man firing it. What you want is to see how the rifle is going to behave in the hands of an expert man. Rifles are very strange instruments, and they have little idiosyncrasies of their own, and those of us who have shot with a rifle well know how much one's shooting varies according to the rifle one is using. Therefore, I say that a trial from a fixed rest is not a sufficient trial. What you want is to try a rifle from the shoulders of the man, and under conditions such as would prevail in the field. That brings me to the trial which was reported in The Times newspaper on Monday. It seems to me to have been an extremely satisfactorily conducted trial by seven men, who would be admitted to be capable and expert shots. They used three of the new short rifles, they each used their own long rifles, and they used three of the old long rifles fitted with the Peddie wind-gauge sight. The result of these trials was that the long barrel fitted with the wind-gauge sight came out first; the long barrel as used without the above came out second, and the new short rifle came out third, and that was at ranges of 200, 600, and 800 yards. I should like to read your Lordships the heads of the conclusions arrived at by these gentlemen after the trial. They were as follows—

  1. 1. "That the new rifle is badly balanced, the-weight being too much at the muzzle end.
  2. 2. That far from being likely to prove a better snap-shooting arm, it would be easier to fire quickly with the long rifle at any given object because the sights of the short rifle are not adapted to quick-firing, the front sight being too small and greatly interfered with by the enormous protecting flanges on each side
  3. 3. "That the recoil was considerably heavier than in the long-barrelled rifle, and would greatly add to the difficulties in teaching recruits on the range and render it more tiring.
  4. 4. "That the accuracy of the rifle as a weapon of precision is appreciably diminished, for all experienced the same difficulty in keeping the series of shots within the small limits of angle obtainable with both the long-barrelled rifles employed.
  5. 5. "The trials lasted nearly all day, and as evening approached (but before sundown) all noticed the great flash of flame from the short barrel, whereas with the long rifle no flash could be seen."
I do not know whether that last conclusion was justified or not, and I am not going to found any very strong argument upon it. What I hold is, if it is true, that the fact of the flash in a bad light is certainly not advantageous to the man firing the rifle. It shows where he is. But there is this stronger point, that if there is a flash of that sort it shows there is a large amount of unconsumed gas being wasted, and, therefore, you are not getting the full benefit of the charge you are using, which seems to me a very strong argument against this particular rifle allow these conclusions to speak for themselves.

Then there comes this further point that by cutting your rifle short you deteriorate your weapon when the bayonet is fixed. You lose five inches in length for the short rifle with the bayonet fixed to it is five or six inches shorter than that of any other rifle used by a military Power. I know it will be said that that is very easily got over. All you have to do is to lengthen the bayonet. I hope that is not a plan that will be adopted for dealing with this particular difficulty. In the first place, you will probably find yourselves again brought face to face with twisting and doubled up bayonets, and next you will find a great deal of deterioration in the shooting power of your weapons, because you cannot get over this fact, that directly you fix a bayonet on a rifle pro tanto a change is made in its shooting power and the conditions are altered, and the longer the bayonet the greater the variation.

Now I come to the question of cost. This is going to be a most expensive amusement for our country. We have been told that these new rifles are to cost in Government factories £3 10s. and in private factories £4 10s. These are high prices for rifles, and surely they are high prices for a rifle which is not a new rifle, but an old one with a new barrel attached to it. We were told last year that the reason of this high price was that the manufacture of a new rifle involved a quantity of new machinery and apparatus. So far as the barrel is concerned, no doubt a certain amount of new apparatus is required, but with regard to the main part of the rifle, to three-fourths of the rifle, there is no new machinery required, because it is exactly the same weapon, manufactured under exactly the same conditions and to exactly the same pattern. It is said that it costs £2 5s. to convert a rifle, and that the total cost of re-arming His Majesty's Forces with this new weapon will be something like £3000,000. For this, as I say, you are not going to get new weapon; you are not going to get a weapon that is even going to fulfil the objects for which it is adopted, because I do not believe it will be any more convenient for the cavalry to carry than the old one. If you are to arm the cavalry with this new short rifle instead of with the carbine, I, for my own part, do not, raise any objection; but, because you are going to give the cavalry a better weapon, that is no reason why you should force the rest of His Majesty's Forces to have a weapon which I do not think is quite so good as, and which, at any rate, is not better than, the one they have got. I do hope your Lordships will support me in the Motion I have made. All I want you to do is to express an opinion which will check the issue of these rifles to our infantry and our Navy. A great many of them have been made. I admit that the position of the cavalry with this, rifle will be much better than with the old carbine. Let them have it. But it is unnecessary and inexpedient to throw a heavy charge on the nation to rearm His Majesty's Forces with a weapon which at the best, is no better than the one they now have. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.

Moved, That, in the opinion of this House, whatever convenience a shortened rifle may afford to mounted troops, it is inexpedient that the whole of His Majesty's Forces should be armed with the recently-approved short rifle.—(Lord Tweedmouth.)


My Lords, I was under the impression when I came to this House that the question at, issue was whether the long or the short rifle was the most suitable for our Army. I did not know that the question was to be raised as to how that rifle was to be carried. As the noble Lord has mentioned that matter and has referred to me, I can on that point satisfy him that I am absolutely with him as to the necessity of the rifle being carried on the man's back, or, at any rate, attached to the man in some way or another. When I spoke last year I had tried in vain to get some arrangement by which the rifle could be attached to the man. Experiments had been tried over and over again at Aldershot, and one after another had condemned what I think the noble Lord calls the Patterson equipment. That, I believe, was due to some fault of the clip. But so anxious am I still that some arrangement should be found by which the rifle may be carried attached to the man in some way or another that I have been in communication with Lord Kitchener on the subject; and he tells me that, although the attachment is not absolutely satisfactory, he is convinced that it is the right way in which the rifle should be carried.

I did at that time relate to your Lordships why I first became convinced that the man must have his rifle attached to him. It was in Afghanistan, where I found that when a horse was killed or fell and the man was therefore dismounted he was separated from the only weapon he could use on foot. I myself directed that a sling should be attached by which the carbine—which he had in those days;—should be carried at a man"s back. I am certain we must have some attachment by which the rifle can be carried, not in a bucket on the horse, but by the man. When the man is on horseback he uses his sword and when dismounted he uses his rifle, and it is essential he should have that rifle with him, or he will be without means of defence. I will give a short account of how and why the shortened rifle came into existence. The origin was not, as the noble Lord thinks, in South Africa. Poor South Africa answers for many shortcomings, but the short rifle was thought of many years before the war was contemplated.

I am sure that all soldiers, and everyone interested in the efficiency of our Army, must be grateful to the noble Lord for bringing prominently to notice a matter on which that efficiency so materially depends. No one, if I may say so, has a better right than the noble Lord to initiate a discussion on this important subject, for not only is he himself an expert rifle shot, but he has on more than one occasion shown considerable knowledge of rifle manufacture. It was as Mr. Marjoribanks in the House of Commons that the noble Lord in 1890 brought forward a Motion criticising the proposed change from the Martini-Henry to the Lee-Enfield rifle. The noble Lord then based his objection to the new rifle on its cost, the smallness of its bore, its system of rifling for the peculiar kind of ammunition it had been decided should be used for it, its system of breech action, and its complexity and method of working. As a matter of fact, my Lords, the rifle in which the noble Lord found so many faults proved in practice to be a most admirable weapon, and when writing from South Africa in 1900 to the Marquess of Lansdowne, then Secretary of State for War, I expressed the following opinions with regard to its utility— There is no need, 1 think, to be anxious as to the Lee-Metford rifle; our men arc quite satisfied with it, and the Boers show their appreciation of it by using it instead of their own Mauser whenever they get the chance. It can. however, I believe, be improved upon without in any way impairing its shooting power, by shortening, lightening, and adding a clip. The Lee-Metford has stood the test of war in a marvellous manner. It has been in the hands of Irregular troops who, in many instances, have not taken proper care of it, and yet, in no instance that I have heard of, has there been any complaint as to jamming, miss-fire, or inaccurate shooting. Nothing, my Lord", could, I think, be more gratifying or more encouraging to the members of the Small Arms Committee than to find that their labours had not been in vain, and that the rifle, on the construction of which they had devoted so much time and care, had proved eminently satisfactory on service.

I trust that the noble Lord will excuse me if I express a hope that the objections he now raises to the shortened rifle may prove as groundless as those he pronounced against the introduction of the Lee - Metford rifle fifteen years ago. That rifle, indeed, underwent the same troubled course as the shortened rifle is now going through, and it was several years before any decision was arrived at as to whether the Martini-Henry rifle should be superseded. Several more years were then spent in perfecting the rifle. It underwent trial after trial to make certain that it was in all respects suitable for military purposes. Shortcomings were discovered and remedied, but finally an Army Order was issued doing away with the Martini-Henry rifle and adopting the Lee-Metford in its place. Then, my Lords, came the attack in another place to which I have just alluded.

If I shall not be trespassing too long on your Lordships" patience I will explain to you as shortly as I am able how and why the shortened rifle has come into existence. The Lee-Metlord rifle was introduced in 1889. Six years afterwards the Chief Inspector of the Small Arms Factory proposed that a new pattern carbine with bayonet should be prepared to supersede the long rifle, on the grounds that, as the carbine then in the service fired the same ammunition as the rifle, was equal in accuracy, superior in handiness and portability, it would be a better arm than the rifle. The Army Board considered the proposal and refused it on the ground that the length of the barrel was insufficient to ensure the entire combustion of the charge.

In 1898 the question was revived" and the then Commander-in-Chief (Lord Wolseley) stated that he was not prepared to entertain any proposition for shortening the rifle, although he would like to see it lightened. It was decided to try if this could be done, and the following arms were prepared: (a) Service long rifle reduced in weight from 9 lbs., viz., to 8 lbs. 5½ ozs.; (b) ditto reduced in weight to 8 lbs. 6 ozs.; (c) a short rifle, reduced in weight to 7 Ibs. 12½ ozs. and with the barrel shortened by 6¼ inches; (d) a short rifle the same length as the carbine, weight 8 Ibs. 7 ozs. These four rifles were submitted to a Committee, constituted as follows—viz.: President, Colonel Ian Hamilton; members, Col. The Hon. F. Stopford, and Col. W. N. Lockyer; Secretary, Captain Lloyd. This Committee was formed to consider and report upon the question as to the best practicable method of modifying the design of the present service magazine rifle so as to produce a lighter weapon.

Of these four anus the Committee chose (c), namely, a short rifle reduced in weight to 71bs. 12ozs. and with the barrel shortened by 6¼ inches, and asked for another similar to this one, but still further lightened, for trial. Twelve of each pattern were ordered, but the outbreak of the South African War prevented the matter being further investigated, and nothing was done until the receipt of the following telegram from me, dated Pretoria, October 10th, 1900, to the Secretary of State for War— As a large number of rifles will have to be made, I would suggest that they should be of the pattern recommended by the Committee of which Colonel Ian Hamilton was president, as I understand this pattern rifle is about to be adopted for the Native Army in India. The new rifle must certainly be loaded on the clip system, and the only question is whether the calibre might not be advantageously still further reduced. A new Small Arms Committee had, in the meantime, been formed, and had taken up the question of improving the long service rifle. In their Report, dated July, 1900, they raised the question, amongst others, whether in preparing a new pattern of rifle it should have a shorter barrel and longer bayonet in order to be suitable for all services. A decision on this Report was postponed for my return from South Africa, and the Committee continued experiments with a lighter form of long rifle with charger equipment and new sights.

This rifle, together with one five inches shorter, was submitted by the Committee to the Director - General of Ordnance, who, in forwarding it on to the Adjutant-General on January 8th. 1901, minuted as follows— Experiments at Hythe with the barrel shortened six inches have shown that the shortened rifle shoots equally well up to 1,000 yards. Lord Roberts telegraphed from South Africa that future rifles should be with shortened barrels. At the same time there was a general feeling among the cavalry in South Africa that they were handicapped by having the carbine, which has a barrel nine inches shorter than the service rifle, and the Inspector-General of Cavalry asked for a longer carbine. It is hoped that the rifle now submitted will meet the requirements of both cavalry and infantry, and thus enable them both in future to be armed with the same weapon. Longer and shorter bayonets were also submitted. The Adjutant-General chose the short rifle and short bayonet, and I concurred in the choice on January 10th. 1901. One thousand of the shortened rifles, as well as long and short bayonets, were then ordered for trial.

This, my Lords, is the story of the shortened rifle up to the time it came to be selected as the one likely to prove most suitable for universal use in the Army, provided that its efficiency in all respects passed the proof of exhaustive trials. These trials were carried out during 1901, under the following instructions— All trials are to be carried out in comparison with service rifles. Volley firing will not be used. Every firer will be allotted a service rifle and a shortened rifle. Every practice will be executed first with the shortened rifle and at once afterwards with the service rifle (or vice versa), in order to secure similar conditions of light, wind, and atmosphere. Firers should not be changed during the trials unless unavoidable. The sub-heads of report are to be adhered to and numerical order kept. All firing trials will be reported on in such detail as may be necessary, but deductions from these trials should be embodied under the various sub-heads which apply to them. The sub-heads should be carefully studied, in order that all points to be reported on may be observed during each trial. Although the magazine of the shortened rifle will hold ten cartridges, only five will be loaded into it at one time, except as directed in trial No. 8 (c). Firers must be trained in charger loading with dummy cartridges before carrying out trials in rapid fire. The shortened rifle will be loaded by charger in all trials. Rapid practice will not be carried out until all deliberate trials have been completed. Reports to be on foolscap, typewritten if possible, and on one side of the paper only. As many sighting shots as are needed should be allowed in trials where they may be required.