Straight-Pull Bolt-Action Service Rifle
The Canadian Ross Rifle was plagued with issues throughout its service life that included World War 1.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
An indigenous bolt-action service rifle of World War 1 to emerge from Canada - the "Ross Rifle" - was actually designed by Scotsman Charles Ross. Ross began furthered his new bolt-action rifle in 1896, a design largely influenced by the straight-pull Austro-Hungarian Mannlicher series of the day, and a patent followed in 1897. Extensive testing was conducted in Britain for possible adoption into its Army from the period of 1900 to 1912 though ultimately rejected. With Ross' influence, the gun went on to see formal adoption by Canadian forces in 1902 through the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. This endeavor was driven by the want to evolve local Canadian military industry apart from the reliance held on British war industry as well as to shore up stocks of useful service rifles required by Canadian troops heading to fight in South Africa. Serial production of the Ross Rifle began in 1903 with issuance following in 1905 through the initial Model 1905 (Ross Rifle Mk I). Production was from the Ross Rifle Company of Quebec.
The Ross Rifle was a conventional long gun firearm piece, its metal working components inlaid into a single piece wooden body. The body constituted the shoulder stock, grip handle, receiver, and forend. A single band joined the wood body to the metal barrel which extended a short distance ahead of the forend. An oblong trigger ring was fitted near the grip handle in the usual way. The bolt-action handle, hung over the right side of the gun, was of a straight-pull design similar to the Mannlicher series of Europe. Iron sights were provided that included a folding leaf arrangement at the midway point of the gun and a front sight just aft of the muzzle. Sling loops at the shoulder stock, pistol grip, and forend cap allowed for a strap to be fitted for traveling. Also under the muzzle was mounting hardware for a bayonet.
The weapon was chambered for the ubiquitous 7.7x56mm rimmed (0.303 British) cartridge of which five were held in an internal, integral box magazine. Cartridges were inserted individually as loose rounds as opposed to stripper clips being used in competing designs seen elsewhere. The manual bolt-action system allowed for single-shot, repeat-fire until all cartridges in the integral magazine were spent. Muzzle velocity was 2,000 feet per second.
When introduced, local industry showed something of its inexperience by releasing a military-bound rifle that was problematic from the beginning: bolt locking failures held the propensity to launch the bolt assembly rearwards into the firer's cheek causing injury and - in some cases - death. The unique loose cartridge magazine case proved temperamental and extraction of spent cases was sometimes not an expectedly clean function. There were common component breakages which only served to play poorly on the series' reliability image as a whole. Overall construction quality was deemed poor at a time when there were many excellent foreign alternatives available - the British Lee-Enfield, German Mauser, and American Springfield M1903. Nevertheless, the Ross Rifle was taken on as the standard Canadian service rifle for the near future.
Such failings, however, eventually forced an excessively long line of Ross Rifle marks to emerge throughout its service life. As sporting rifles, they excelled while, as military rifles, they were a cursed design. Crippled with shortcomings, the Ross Rifle eventually made it to the obscene Ross Rifle Mk II***** designation - each asterisk marking a new (official) rifle form. To hide this fact, the designations were rewritten in short order.
Original production guns became the "Rifle, Ross, Mark 1" which used the Harris-patented platform magazine system for containing the five loose cartridges. The flip-up rear sight was constantly addressed even within this early mark itself. A carbine form was made as the "Carbine, Ross, Mark 1" and this lacked the bayonet mounting feature of the long-form gun while also including a full-length forestock that ran up to the muzzle.
The "Rifle, Ross, Mark 2" followed next and this was a mark brought about out of sheer necessity to help improve the Mark 1 rifle line as a whole. The bolt system was revised and the firing chamber was modified for better acceptance of the 0.303 British cartridge. The altered "Rifle, Short, Ross, Mark 1" designation was used from April 1912 onwards to help cover the number of iterations seen in the gun series to date - the nomenclature identifying the "Rifle, Ross, Mark 2" guns. A change in sighting hardware and serial production practices revealed the "Rifle, Ross, Mark 2*" designation (note asterisk). Then followed the "Rifle, Ross, Mark 2**" with Sutherland rear sight. The "Rifle, Ross, Mark 2***" and "Rifle, Ross, Mark 2 ****" included subtle changes to continually attempt to improve the type as well as use of a 28" barrel. The Mark 2 line finally culminated in the aforementioned "Rifle, Ross, Mark 2*****" which included an embarrassing amount of asterisks showcasing the official number of iterations the rifle had witnessed to date. To help hide this fact, the designation "Rifle, Short, Ross, Mark 2" was adopted in 1912 instead. To add to the confusion, the "Rifle, Ross, Mark 2" designation was reused to cover the earlier "Rifle, Ross, Mark 2**" iteration.
In 1911, the Canadian Army began replacing their Mark 2 stocks with the "improved" Ross Rifle Mark 3 model of 1910 (M1910). Changes to these guns were enough that they were largely considered all-new rifle designs. One primary difference lay in a switch to a triple-thread interrupted screw arrangement over the original solid locking lugs used in the action. The Model 1910 Ross also featured a stronger rear sighting arrangement and longer barrel for accuracy. The internal magazine was now revised to a projecting magazine case seen just ahead of the trigger loop. The case now accepted the standard British 303 charger like its British Lee-Enfield counterpart. Outwardly, the rifle was noticeably cleaned up and exhibited much finer lines than its predecessor - a single piece stock with single band showcasing a shallower grip handle and multi-point sling loop arrangement. The weapon remained a straight-pull bolt-action rifle at its core and retained the 7.7x56mm chambering from the original. The adoption of the Mark 3 came just prior to the Canadian entry into World War 1 (1914-1918).
In practice, these new guns fared better but were not perfected Ross Rifle forms. Their internals were rather robust compared to contemporaries but problems remained when the Ross was pressed under actual combat circumstances. It was prone to collecting battlefield debris of all kinds that would consistently lead to stoppages in action. The ejecting bolt issue of the earlier marks was solved to an extent - though if the new bolt stop system failed, the bolt still posed a danger to the operator. On the whole, the weapon did not prove a serviceable rifle design under the stresses of the battlefield and Canadian soldiers were quick to adopt any Lee-Enfields when possible.
Perhaps the most successful form of the Ross Rifle came in the "Rifle, Ross, Mark 3 (Sniper's)" iteration which modified the basic Mark 3 product to a precision long-range sniping system. As these guns were typically well-cared for and not exposed to the obscene abuses of the World War 1 battlefield frontlines, they fared well on the whole. Modifications included a longer 30.5" barrel assembly for range and the mounting of an American Warner and Swasey (Cleveland) 5.2x telescopic sight. Shooters praised the type's accuracy.
Beyond Canadian Army use in the war, relatively large stocks of the rifle were taken on by the British Army under the "Rifle, Magazine, Ross, .303in, Mark 3B" designation from October 1915 onwards. A Lee-Enfield cut-off was installed which allowed use of single cartridges along with a full magazine case. The version also had revised sighting devices among other subtle changes to suit British Army needs. Shortages of all small arms forced many of the world powers of World War 1 to seek stocks of guns anywhere and elsewhere and, to the British cause, any rifle - including the troublesome Canadian Ross - was a good enough rifle to carry in action. The Royal Navy also used the gun until the line ultimately fell to disuse by the British by the end of 1921.
Additional stocks of Ross Rifles were shipped off to the Russian Empire for use in the East and, with the rise of the Soviet Union, continued service to an extent under this new banner. Numbers were further strengthened in the Soviet Union during World War 2 through Lend-Lease. During World War 1, some French factories modified a certain amount of Ross Rifles to help improve their battlefield reliability but the change was not enough to save the line from being largely replaced by growing numbers of British Lee-Enfield SMLE (Short Magazine, Lee-Enfield) bolt-action service rifles. Ross rifles still in circulation were then passed on to second-line units for security or training purposes or simply scrapped.
Production of Ross Rifles reached a rather impressive 419,310 units from the period spanning 1903 to 1915. Of these, about 67,100 were in use by the British Army into the early 1920s. The guns found further service during the lead-up to World War 2 where they were reissued to British Home Guard units. Soviet models were eventually rechambered for the local 7.62x54R Russian cartridge from 1940 onwards to make for more logistically-friendly weapons to the Soviet cause against German and the Axis.
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