Symbols & Gear...

Weapon Systems 

 

A vast variety of weapons were used in the First World War. Volumes have been written on the subject and we won’t attempt to approach that level of detail. However, here you will find basic overview of weapons used by Newfoundland forces. Below is a video showing some of these weapon systems in use and written descriptions can also be found on this page.

 

 

Rifle: SMLE Mk III & Mk III* (aka Lee-Enfield)

 

The SMLE (Short Magazine Lee Enfield) and its simplified form for ease of product * (star) version were the primary rifles used by the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in combat. The iconic Lee-Enfield rifle, the SMLE Mk III, was introduced on 26 January 1907, along with a Pattern 1907 (P'07) Sword bayonet and featured a simplified rear sight arrangement and a fixed charger guide. It fired the then new Mk VII High Velocity spitzer .303 ammunition.

 

During the First World War, the standard SMLE Mk III was found to be too complicated to manufacture and demand was outstripping supply, so in late 1915 the Mk III* was introduced, which incorporated several changes, the most prominent of which were the deletion of the magazine cut-off and the long range volley sights. The windage adjustment of the rear sight was also dispensed with, and the cocking piece was changed from a round knob to a serrated slab. Rifles with some or all of these features present are found, as the changes were implemented at different times in different factories and as stocks of existing parts were used. The magazine cut-off was reinstated after the First World War ended and not entirely dispensed with until 1942.

 

The inability of the principal manufacturers (RSAF Enfield, The Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited and London Small Arms Co. Ltd) to meet military production demands, led to the development of the "peddled scheme", which contracted out the production of whole rifles and rifle components to several shell companies.

 

The SMLE Mk III* (renamed Rifle No.1 Mk III* in 1926) saw extensive service throughout the Second World War as well, especially in the North African, Italian, Pacific and Burmese theatres in the hands of British and Commonwealth forces.

 


 

Demonstration of the "Mad Minute" with a WWI era Short Magazine Lee Enfield Rife in .303 British. A Mad Minute is 15 aimed rounds at a distance of 300 yards within 60 seconds. The uniform is that of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment 1917.

 

 

Bayonet: 1907 Bayonet

 

The 1907 model bayonet has a single edge with a broad back edge that narrows to a thin cutting edge. The tip of the blade is curved from the cutting edge to the back edge. The blade also contains an oval depression that runs the length of the blade on both sides. The blade runs through the cross guard, where two wooden hand grips have been attached by way of two screws. The end of the bayonet is formed by a cast metal piece that contains a spring loaded locking mechanism that helps keep the bayonet attached to the rifle. The scabbard has been formed from a single piece of leather that has been folded and stitched down the back, to which a metal end cap and collar have been attached.

 

 

Grenade: Mills Bomb

The Mills Bomb (grenade) was quickly found to be ideally suited to the British and Empire troops with their background of over-arm bowling in cricket. It was a grooved cast iron "pineapple" with a central striker held by a hand lever that is secured with a safety pin. The casing was grooved to make it easier to grip rather than aid in the fragmentation process although some sources state the grooves aided fragmentation. Click Here for animation of a Mills Bomb exploding.

 

The No. 5 Mills Bomb was introduced in May 1915 and became the dominant British grenade for much of the war with 35,000,000 being produced. It weighed 1.69 lbs and was a defensive grenade (i.e. fragmentation grenade) because after use the thrower had to take cover immediately. The British training manuals of the period stipulated that the trained bomber was expected to send it at least 25 yards (average man was expected to do so at 40 yards) with reasonable control. The blast radius would be about 35 yards but some fragments could travel much further. Initially the grenade had a seven second fuse but this was too long giving the enemy a possible window where it could be picked up and tossed back. Later it was shortened to a four (perhaps 5) second delay. In 1917 (September perhaps earlier) a revised grenade, No. 36, was introduced to replace the No. 5. Among some minor difference was also a strengthened base plug that could be attached to a gas check (disk), for use on a rifle discharger (see below).

 

In training soldiers, would practice lobbing Mills Bombs from behind standing cover such as a trench or make use of a table turned up on its end. A circle of 10 feet would be marked on the ground with the center being 25 yards from the cover. A soldier would be expected to land three out of six grenades into the circle. As proficiency was gained the distance would be increased in 5 yards increments up to 50 yards. Some sources state a soldier should be able throw accurately up to about 40 yards. In any case, accuracy was of the utmost importance at any distance.

 

 

 

Grenade Launcher: SMLE with Grenade Launcher

 

There was also a No.23 Mills Bomb which was as basically a No. 5 with a special base plug that was threaded to accept a launching rod. It could be launched a greater distance than could be thrown by hand by making use of a rifle. With a rod attached to its base plate the rodded grenade could be inserted into a rifle’s barrel. A simple metal cradle was attached to the rifle using the bayonet lug. Mounting a bayonet was required to lock it into place. It held the lever in place once the safety pin was removed. A blank round would be used to launch it about 150 yards. Once it left the cradle the lever would fly off and the grenade would start counting down to detonation. This grenade has a longer 7 second fuse to allow for flight time to its target. Unfortunately, this would damage the rifle’s barrel rendering it unsuitable for any other purpose.

 

Later in 1917 a cup grenade launcher (No. 1 Discharger Cup) was developed that very easily clamped onto the nose cone of the standard SMLE rifle. It was designed to launch a revised Mills Bomb (No. 36) to about 200 yards much further than a person could throw it. Instead of rod a gas check (i.e. disc to seal in gases) was screwed to the bottom of the grenade and the whole thing was inserted into the can-shaped launcher. It had a valve allowing the user to adjust the gas pressure (full open = 80 yards & full closed = 200 yards with the rifle at 45 degrees). This would give you control regarding the range. Once placed inside the launcher the safety pin could then be removed from the grenade as the launching cup kept the safety lever in place. The operator would then insert the blank cartridge into the rifle before setting the stock on the ground. When the cartridge was fired, it pushed the grenade out of the cup releasing the lever. Lee Enfield rifles equipped with launchers were subjected to increased recoil as the mass of a grenade is considerably more than a bullet. The practice was to turn the rifle over so the trigger was facing toward the sky instead of the ground. The heel of the stock was more in line with the rifle’s bore making it a stronger position to fire from. The user would fire using their thumb.

 

There is evidence that both the rodded No. 23 and disk base No. 36 rifle launching systems were in service at the same time. The latter was the better system ultimately surpassing the rod launching system.

 

 

 

Handgun: Webley Revolver

 

The standard-issue Webley revolver at the outbreak of World War I was the Webley Mk V (adopted 9 December 1913), but there were considerably more Mk IV revolvers in service in 1914, as the initial order for 20,000 Mk V revolvers had not been completed when hostilities began. On 24 May 1915, the Webley Mk VI was adopted as the standard sidearm for British troops and remained so for the duration of World War I, being issued to officers, airmen, naval crews, boarding parties, trench raiders, machine-gun teams, and tank crews. The Mk VI proved to be a very reliable and hardy weapon, well suited to the mud and adverse conditions of trench warfare. That said there were numerous accounts of soldiers taking and using captured German Luger pistols (below).

 

 

 

Light Machine Gun: Lewis Gun

 

The air-cooled 1914 model Lewis Gun featured a 47 cartridge circular magazine firing .303 ammunition. By means of an adjustable clock-type recoil spring the gun's firing rate could be regulated, ranging from 500-600 rounds per minute, although shorter bursts were more usual. With its adjustable sights and bipod support the Lewis Gun proved effective to some 600 yards.

 

Nicknamed 'the Belgian rattlesnake' by German forces that came up against the weapon in 1914, the Lewis was formally adopted as the standard issue British Army machine gun from the close of 1915. As a light automatic machine gun it was considered the best and most reliable available at the time.

 

 

 

 

Heavy Machine Gun: Vickers Machine Gun

 

The water cooled Vickers machine gun uses the .303 British round and was manufactured by Vickers Limited. This machine gun has a rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute feed from 250 round belts. Typically, it required a six to eight-man team to operate: one fired, one fed the ammunition, the rest helped to carry the weapon, its ammunition and spare parts.

 

The Vickers had a reputation for great solidity and reliability. In August 1916 the British 100th Company of the Machine Gun Corps fired their ten Vickers guns continuously for twelve hours. Using 100 barrels, they fired a million rounds without a failure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mortar: 3" Stokes Mortar

 

The Stokes mortar was a British trench mortar invented by Sir Wilfred Stokes KBE that was issued to the British, Commonwealth and U.S. armies. The 3-inch trench mortar is a smooth-bore, muzzle-loading weapon for high angles of fire. Although it is called a 3-inch mortar, its bore is actually 3.2 inches or 81 mm. It was portable at 108lbs and could be broken down into three main parts: barrel, baseplate and bipod. It saw widespread use by 1916.

 

Maximum rate of fire approached 25 rpm (rounds per minute) but sustained fire was more like 6 or 7 rpm due to overheating issues. The mortar round had a basic propellant charge but users could add up to four propellant rings to increase range. Maximum effective range was approximately 750 yards provided the angle was set at 45 degrees. The angle could be adjusted from 45 to 75 degrees. The higher the angle the shorter the distance the projectile would travel. This weapon system was ideal for dropping bombs into enemy trenches from a steep angle, providing support fire and was used to blast the position of identified enemy snipers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Copyright © . All Rights Reserved.
Great War Living History Committee Website www.nfldww1.com by NKT