Last year, I posted a video by Lickmuffin, showing his recently acquired Ross Mark III, a “sporterized” version of the model that equipped the First Canadian Division when it took the field in France in 1915. Yesterday, David Pugliese revisited the Ross controversy in the Ottawa Citizen:
When soldiers in the throes of battle discard their rifles and pluck a different weapon from the hands of dead allies, there’s clearly a serious problem, writes John Ward of the Canadian Press news service.
So it was with the Ross rifle, the weapon that Canadian soldiers took with them to the start of the First World War a century ago.
More from Ward’s article:
It was the brainchild of Sir Charles Ross, a wealthy Scottish-born engineer and inventor who offered it to the Canadian government as a military firearm well before the war began.
To Sir Sam Hughes, Canada’s minister of militia — defence minister in modern parlance — at the time, the Canadian-built Ross was highly accurate and the perfect tool for his soldiers, whom he saw as frontier marksmen.
But troops, some of whom sneered at the rifle as “the Canadian club,” soon discovered the Ross was not suited to dirty, rough-and-tumble trench warfare. They preferred the robust Lee-Enfield carried by their British comrades, picking them up from the battlefield when they could.
The .303-calibre, straight-pull Ross was longer than the Lee-Enfield, a problem in the cramped confines of the trenches. It was heavier, too, and in a day when infantrymen were over-burdened, any extra weight was unwelcome. When fired with its bayonet attached, it tended to shed the bayonet.
The Ross was also susceptible to jamming from dust and dirt and was very finicky about the quality of ammunition. The carefully machined cartridges made by the Dominion Arsenal worked fine, but not so the mass-produced British ammunition, which could vary in size beyond the Ross’s fine tolerances.
Further, it was easy to reassemble the Ross bolt incorrectly. Even when misassembled, the bolt would fit in the rifle and even chamber and fire a cartridge, only to slam back into the rifleman’s face — unheard of for most bolt-action rifles.
David Pugliese also linked to this Forgotten Weapons video, which investigates the best known failing of the Ross in combat:
Published on 16 Jun 2013
There is a long-standing urban legend about the Canadian Ross rifle, a straight-pull bolt action that was used in lieu of the SMLE by Canadian troops early in World War One. The story is that the Ross would sometimes malfunction and blow the bolt back into its shooter’s face, with pretty horrible results. Well, I wanted to learn “the rest of the story” – could this actually happen? What caused it? How could it be prevented? In short, what would a Ross shooter need to know to remain safe? And if I could get some cool footage of a bolt blowing out of a Ross in the process, all the better.
Well, reader Andy very generously provided a sporterized Ross for the experiments, and I started reading into what the issue really was. Turns out that the legend was quite true – you can put a Ross MkIII bolt together the wrong way, and it will allow you to fire without the locking lugs engaged, thus throwing the bolt back out of the gun at high velocity. However, the issue was recognized fairly quickly, and the vast majority of Ross rifles were modified with a safety rivet to prevent this from happening. It is also quite easy to determine if a Ross is assembled correctly, once you know what to look for.