Monday, August 18, 2014

The Ross Rifle, and a historical debate

The Ross rifle was a dud in the eyes of Canada's Great War soldiers. Here's what I wrote about it back in February 2012:

Minister of Militia and Colonel, Sam Hughes was the driving force behind Canada's mobilization in August 1914. He was what we would call a Type-A personality, but he made a lot of mistakes.
One of Hughes' more glaring ones was his insistence that the Canadian army carry the Ross rifle. The Ross was made in Canada, and Hughes was its natural champion. Superbly accurate, the Ross was used to win international shooting competitions, but it proved to be unreliable under battle conditions. That didn't deter Hughes, however, who had so much of his own personality invested in the Ross that it was impossible for him to back down, and he continued to champion it at all costs. Early photos of Canadian troopers show them sporting the Ross during training.
In spite of that, the Canadian Mounted Brigade, made up of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians), and the 2nd King Edward Horse, crossed the Channel in early 1915 and went into battle--carrying the British-made Lee Enfield Short Rifle. It was not the only time the cavalrymen broke away from Hughes' guidance.

In an emailed post of Ausgust 17th, David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen had this to say, in summary:

"The salvaged Ross rifles were shipped home. Some were sold to hunters. Others were sent to Britain at the start of the Second World War, when any rifle was prized.
Some are still around, hanging on mantles, sitting in collections, or taken out every now and then when hunting season opens.
As for the Lee-Enfield, Canadian soldiers carried it through two more wars."

And, as a post-script, there are no doubt many Lee Enfields still hanging on hunting cabin walls.


Bob White said...


With regard to the Ross Rifle have you read "The Madman and the Butcher" by Tim Cook. It is an interesting study of Sam Hughes and Arthur Currie.

Robert Mackay said...

Bob, thanks for the suggestion. I read Tim Cook's book some time ago, and found it highly readable and informative. My only caveat is the use of the term "Butcher" for General Currie, but of course that was the allegation by Hughes.

Bob White said...

I agree regarding General Currie. He was very careful not to waste the lives of his troops. He got a lot of bad press after the war and it dogged him to his grave. All things considered this was most unjust.

Bob White said...

Madman may also be a little unfair for Sam Hughes. In the early stages of the war he undertook a massive organizational effort with considerable success. It eventually ran through his fingers and he lost his grip on the big plan but things might have gone quite differently had he not been at the helm in 1914 and 1915.

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