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Volley-fire Sights

 Because I just know you were curious.

This is the M1886 Mannlicher rifle we recently acquired. Like many rifles of it's era, it has very optimistic sights. In this case, using two different sights, it is set up for target engagements out to 2300 "schritt" which is an Austrian pace measurement, equal to 29.5 inches.

The rear sight has a sekrit...



As I said, there are two sights. Here's the second rear sight slid out. The regular sight (on the left side) reads out to 1500, the second sight (on the right) reads out to 2300.



The secondary, or volley-fire/long range sight uses a post set into the mid-barrel band - which is how the requisite elevation was achieved. Doctrinally, they weren't really expecting the soldier to use iron sights at a target of that distance. What was intended was for *all* the soldiers to set their rifles for that range, aim as well as they could, and fire by volleys, creating a "beaten zone" downrange the enemy would have to advance through.



Here is a another example of this approach - this time a Dutch Danish M1874 Remington Rolling Block rifle. On this rifle, the volley-fire sight is on the left, and again uses a front-sight integral to the mid-barrel band. But this sight is simpler, without the fancy slide-out of the Austrian rifle.



The Brits took a different approach. They put a pivoting lever for the front sight. You moved the sight until the pointer (on the bottom) lined up with the range you wanted on the plate.



You then flipped up a peep sight back on the receiver, such as you see on this Charger-Loading Lee-Enfiield.



And you aimed conventionally. This approach is actually easier to use for the soldier, as the sights align much more like the regular sights. The Brits also incorporated magazine cut-offs - the soldier would load the magazine, engage the shut off, and load and fire single rounds on command, adjusting range by command as the enemy approached. If you had time to prepare your battlefield, you put out aiming reference points so that soldiers could track the range individually, as battlefields have a tendency to be noisy.



Then, when the enemy had closed, you would open the magazine and engage rapid-fire. The shift from single shot to rapid fire was felt to probably cause a demoralizing shock to the enemy, causing them to break.

In the event, it was all too complicated and expensive for the mass armies raised by the draft needed for World War One, so the Brits discontinued those sights early in the war, and post-war arms development made such changes on the battlefield that the concept just faded away...

12 Comments

 Can you,do you shoot it? I love this stuff. My Dad had a 45/70 Spingfield that was a joy to shoot. Amazing accuracy @100 yds.
 
 I don't have any ammo for the M1886.  I have shot both the others, however.
 
Thanks.  I was not aware of the M1886 Mannlicher volley sights.

Sure the Rolling block is Dutch? THe long rear sight leaf is usually Danish, but I really dont pay much attention to all the non-U.S. issue rolling blocks.

Again, John has noted an interesting area for potential specialization- military rifles with volley sights, or complicated rear sights for long ranges.  I think one of the Prussian Needle rifles had a complicated dual rear sight which sort of slid up telescope style for long range. 

Even the .45-70 trapdoor, when equipped with the M1884 Buffington rear sight had the option of using the sight holes in the sliding leaf for shorter ranges, and the open notch at the top for long range.
 
 Nope - you're right.  Danish. It was early, it started with D...  One of the ones built in Denmark, at the Tollhuis in Copenhagen.
 
The reasoning behind volley sights has always intrigued me, given that the early resistance to repeaters by The Brass was that soldiers would waste their ammo... "Tiny little dots at 2000 metres! Fire!"
I do love the old-world craftsmanship involved. Modern rifles- far superior though they may be- are dreck compared to the quality of military arms 1870-1930 (or so)
 
I have to disagree that newer mi;itary arms are drek, tome all that so called "oldworld craftsmanship" is a prime example of non precision manufacturing.  All that filing and hand fitting was necessary because the couldn't make parts with repeatable tolerances and dimensions, that is to say nothing of the highly questionable heat treating and metalurgy of the era.  I will take a modern weapom amy day of the week, it wil made of better materials, to tighter tolerances and at much lower costwith better accuracy and durability than the old stuff as much as I love it I know that it has been undeniably passed by in terms of technology and quality.
 

RT, I work in a small machine shop that does some of the milling work on the injection molded parts for a number of different firearms.  There is still a lot of filing by hand, sanding by hand, and even some judicious tweaking by squeezing in a vice to close something up a bit, or forcing a bar into a too narrow gap. 

There is one particular part that varies widely in hardness - we have gotten them in ranging from a Rockwell Hardness 8 to 59 (yeah, we tested  a couple of thouand of them one at a time after we couldn't figure out why the drill bits were only good for about 10 parts, taps were breaking at the rate of about 1 every 2 parts, and even the spot drills were having the points chipped off after only a few runs), when they should be around a 12.  

Had to have one of our machinists make a new fixture to hold some sear housings that the maker had over-coined (coined - fancy word for smashing the snot out of something to make it straight), so we had to run a 0.0312 end mill in to widen the gap to allow a spring to pass through it.  

Tell us again about "non-precision manufacturing" of days gone by.

 

 
I am not saying that there are no issues in modern manufacturing, far from it injection molding is not what I would call precision manufacturing, I have worked with injection molding, and it is a real blunt process for making things so wide swings in part size in relation to tolerances is not real surprising.  But when it comes to perccision I mean things like CNC milling, modern barel making the ability to make the same part, to the same dimensions again and again is something that most late 19th or early 20th century gunmakers could only dream of.  Just look at the mania the various european armies had for stamping a guns serial number on any part big enough to allow it.  As far as getting parts that vary that wildly in hardness that is a massive fail by whoever is supplying them and around here would likely result in the supplier being told to do it again and to do it right.  Your own comment about having to millovercoined sears is a great example, I doubt that a manufacturer in 1890 would have been thinking of measurements down to the tenth or even finer as is routinely done today.
 
 I think the truth lies in between, and we're all generalizing to all get-out...


 
I believe the original U.S. Army 1903s were sighted out to 1000 yards on the flip-up sight.  If you have the range right, and set  sights  right, you can do some execution at that distance. 

I recall looking at some drawings of results of long-range shooting with the United States .45-70 cartridge, with the heavy 500-grain bullet. It was a low-velocity cartridge, but the heavy bullet held its velocity well.  At extreme range, the drawings showed the bullets plunging down into trenches at quite a steep angle. Yeah, you had to set yer sights _exactly_, and hold the piece very still while touching it off.
 
P.s. I remember, in that movie "The Sand Pebbles", Steve McQueen adjusting the sight on his Springfield very carefully when he has to kill a man he likes. Steve was an actual Marine; he knew how to work a rifle.
 
this might be of interest to some:  http://the_montanan.tripod.com/Sharps.html

" One of the scientist had written an article in their newsletter stating that Billy Dixon could not possibly have knocked an Indian warrior off his horse at 1538 yards. According to this scientist’s calculations, a Sharps .50-90 (the rifle and caliber that Billy Dixon supposedly used) couldn’t heave a bullet that far."