Thursday, June 30, 2011

World War rifles

The excellent bolt-action rifles produced at the close of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, such as the German Gewehr 98, British SMLE and American M1903, were used in World War I and, with some modifications, remained in service during World War II.

The Gewehr 1898 and Kar 98k
The 7.92mm Gewehr 98, introduced into service with the Imperial German Army on 5 April 1898, was designed by Paul Mauser and became the standard German infantry weapon in World War I. While the Mauser action is superb (there are about 102 million rifles with the Model 98 bolt action worldwide), the rifle suffered from having a five-round magazine.

In 1939 German infantry entered World War II armed with the bolt-action Karabiner 98 kurz (Kar 98k), or Short '98 Carbine, developed from the Gewehr 98. The Kar 98k, first produced in 1935, weighed 3.9kg/8.6lb, was 1.1 lm/1.21yd long, and in its ten-year production life it was manufactured in its thousands in Germany, by FN in Belgium and Brno in Czechoslovakia.

A trained soldier could fire 15 rounds per minute (rpm) from a Kar 98k. Like all the 7.92mm calibre rifles, the maximum effective range of the Kar 98k was 800m/874yd.
The German Gewehr 98 had an excellent bolt action, but its five-round magazine put a soldier at a disadvantage when he was up against a man armed with the SMLE and its ten-round box magazine.

In 1939 the British Army had a rifle with the official designation Short, Magazine-Loaded Lee-Enfield; this cumbersome name was more commonly shortened to SMLE. This weapon had been the standard infantry rifle in World War I and would remain so for much of World War II. A bolt-action weapon that fired a .303-calibre round, the SMLE weighed 3.9kg/8.6lb, was 1.13m/1.23yd long and had a ten-round magazine. Sights were set out to l,830m/2,000yd.

The sword bayonet fitted to the SMLE had a formidable 43cm/17in blade. In the Sinai and Palestine campaign in World War I, the SMLE bayonet was in fact wielded like a cavalry sabre by the mounted infantrymen of the Australian 4th Light Horse in the Battle of Beersheba on 31 October 1917. In what is often called the last successful cavalry charge, the fast-moving horsemen cleared the Turkish defences in front of the town by stabbing and slashing. At the close of the fighting, the 4th Light Horse Brigade had taken Beersheba and captured 738 Turkish soldiers as well as four field guns. In the two Australian regiments, only 31 men had been killed and 36 wounded as a result of this unique action.
British infantry in World War I in a secure area behind the front line clean their SMLEs. The rifle was easy to strip, and the mechanism could be operated to clear any dirt that might have fouled it in combat.

The M1903
After the Spanish-American War of 1898, Erskine Allin, the Superintendent of the Springfield Arsenal, developed the Ml903. It was a magazine-fed rifle that used a modified version of the Mauser Gewehr action and was 1.12m/1.23yd long and weighed 3.6kg/8lb. The Ml903 was used by the American Expeditionary Force in France in World War I and continued as the issue US Army rifle until 1936. It was also used in World War II, however, owing to production problems with the M1A1, its intended replacement. It was utilised by snipers as the M1903A4, although because the scope was positioned directly over the action, reloading the magazine with five-round stripper clips was impossible, so rounds had to be loaded singly. The M1903A4 remained in service in World War II and the Korean War.
US Infantry in dress blues, the full dress uniform worn in the early 20th century in a garrison base. The men are armed with the modern M1903 rifle, which was introduced following grim combat experience in the Spanish-American War.

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