WW1 Rifle Mud Covers: Lebel & Gewehr 98

Given the prevalence of muddy horrible trenches in World War 1, why didn’t anybody design dust covers to protect the actions of their combat rifles? Well, they actually did… and today we are looking at both French and German examples.

The French model was a very simple contoured sheet metal shield attached to the rifle by the bolt head screw. Introduced in mid 1915, versions were made for both the Lebel and Berthier rifles. In fact, the cover (called a couvre culasse in French) was originally incorporated as part of the M1916 upgrades to the Berthier, along with the 5-round magazine and upper handguard. However, it was dropped from use for some reason, leaving only the enlarged bolt head screw as evidence of its passing.

The German military took longer to develop a suitable dust cover, having started with a cloth model that was too good at retaining moisture and caused rusting on guns. The first metal version developed was judged inadequate by the testing commission (probably because it was clumsy to remove and had to be removed to actually cycle the bolt). An effective design finally appeared in 1917, but only small numbers appear to have made it to the front lines before the end of the war, in part because of endemic material shortages.

17 Comments

  1. In hindsight, it appears that the dust covers of the Arisaka rifles after the Russo-Japanese War were not so useless after all. And no, the dust covers weren’t thrown away because of noise. Who’s going to hear a rattling dust cover of ONE RIFLE from 100 meters away during a firefight against 50 riflemen!?

    • The Arisaka bolt cover only “rattled” if it was improperly installed, or if you shifted it from the rifle it was fitted to at the factory to another one and didn’t properly adjust it.

      Incidentally, the official documentation never calls it a “dust cover”. It is a “bolt cover” and is specifically intended to keep foreign matter like mud and snow out of the action. People outside of Japan tend to forget (or not know) that the Japanese have a long and not-always-loving acquaintance with snow, ice, and mud due to the island group’s climate.

      cheers

      eon

      • Well, the bolt cover still does the job well enough. There is a video of a Type 99 getting a mud test with the bolt cover in place. Even with the receiver heavily caked with mud on the outside, the rifle fired 20 out of 20 cartridges (that’s 4 clips worth), extracted (not always ejected, but you get the idea), and did not jam even once. The chamber was perfectly clean thanks to the bolt cover! Sadly, rifles alone cannot win firefights! And while Japan suffered 10 dead soldiers for every dead American Marine, that Marine likely died by machinegun, by grenade, or by artillery (including the possibility of getting disintegrated by 25mm auto-cannons).

        Did I mess up?

        • “Type 99”
          Not matter how good bolt-action is, in clash between bolt-action armed forces vs self-loading armed forces, first have disadvantage.
          Japanese forces tried to get self-loading rifle (see Type 4 rifle) but it was too late. It is true that not every other nation have self-loading rifles, but generally they have sub-machine guns, which might act as substitute self-loading rifles, though on limited distances.
          I found somewhat mind-boggling limited usage of sub-machine gun by Japanese forces, despite fighting in tropical environment, where short distance combat is likely. Is it possible that Japan small-arms development was influenced by lack of trench warfare in First World War?
          After experience of trench warfare lead to development of sub-machine guns, like MP.18 and self-loading rifles, like Fusil Automatique Modèle 1917.

          • Japanese attitude towards SMGs was not that different from European attitudes prior to the start of WW2. From the major participants of the war only Germany had SMGs in any kind of numbers. The UK had none, France was just introducing them and the Soviet Union had a few, but really just a few. Italians had SMGs for the carabinieri, but not for regular army units.

            Even the Germans considered the SMG useful primarily for applications like guard duty by military police rather than a real frontline combat weapon. While they had experience with SMG from WW1, it was thought to be applicable only to those spesific circumstances (that is, prolonged trench warfare), which they intended to avoid in any case. In other words,the short effective range of the SMG was thought to be too much of a shortcoming that arming large number of soldiers with them would be useful.

            So why didn’t the Japanese army adopt the SMG in significant numbers even later? Most of the early jungle fighting took place in 1942 and the Japanese did not have a good SMG design ready. They also had lower industrial capacity than other major powers except Italy. It seems to me that they simply could not prioritize SMG production. US bombing was also hurting their production efforts a lot in 1944, so it made sense to concentrate on producing tried and true weapons for the infantry.

            If we compare Japan to Italy, another country with a relatively weak industry, it took the Italian Royal Army almost 18 months to adopt the Beretta 38A after Mussolini’s ill-advised decision to join the war in July 1940 on the Axis side. The MAB 1938A was adopted in December 1941, although thanks to the already well-established design deliveries to the army could be started almost immediately.

          • “They also had lower industrial capacity than other major powers except Italy. It seems to me that they simply could not prioritize SMG production.”
            I am wondering about how Japanese doctrine envisioned usage of their Type 100 sub-machine gun?
            Usage of bi-pod is rather atypical for ~1940 sub-machine guns, though it was used in some earlier sub-machine guns, like STA Modèle 1924 or SUOMI. Bayonet lug is even bigger rarity.
            On the other hand it could only fire in full-auto, which might be consider good in that time, as it simplified construction.

          • Only the original Type 100 (sometimes called 100/40) had a bipod. It seems likely that it was supposed to be used as a kind of “ultra-light” machine gun, similar to some of the early European SMGs you mentioned. The main production version (100/44), which benefitted from combat experience, was simplified, cheaper and omitted the bipod.

          • It appears I was wrong about the Type 100 (simplified) being the main production version. According to sources I was able to found only about 7,000-8,000 of those were manufactured due to the increasing manufacturing difficulties in 1944 and 1945, whereas the original model, which was manufactured from late 1941 to early 1944, reached about 20,000 units.

          • “According to sources I was able to found only about 7,000-8,000 of those were manufactured due to the increasing manufacturing difficulties in 1944 and 1945, whereas the original model, which was manufactured from late 1941 to early 1944, reached about 20,000 units.”
            Query in Russian wikipedia (Type-100 (пистолет-пулемёт)) gives only total number of manufactured as 30 thousands.
            It also point another difference between initial vs simplified version – namely sights – initial has sights scaled up to 1500 m – incredibly optimistic for 8×22 sub-machine gun, when simplified has fixed sights (distance not stated).

  2. re. Noise. There is an interesting, although unrelated, mention of the problem of noise in firearms operation in a report about the Korean war linked here:

    http://thegca.org/use-of-infantry-weapons-and-equipment-in-korea/

    The problem that some soldiers had with the M1 Garand was not the “ping” of the clip, but instead the sound produced by releasing the safety. It says in the report that this was sometimes loud enough to “alert the enemy.” The need for silence and stealth is sometimes overlooked.

    • Ironically, the sound of an M4 Carbine’s safety catch didn’t allow a bunch of Taliban recruits to react in time before a platoon of Americans mowed them down in ambush over ten years ago. It must have been a shock for the terrorists to realize that their intended victims had found their training grounds and come for revenge.

    • “The need for silence and stealth is sometimes overlooked.”
      No-one can foresee all possible usages and scenarios. And even if it will be anticipated then someone might ignore it saying, that it was have meaning in 1 of 1000000 cases.

    • The winner (or loser) for noise was the 50-round “L” drum magazine of the Thompson SMG. Due to its internal rotor holding rounds in groups of ten in its “lobes”, the rounds tended to “swash” back and forth a bit when you moved.

      During the Phony War, British troops along the French frontier learned that that sound in the night tended to give away their position. The twenty and thirty-round “stick” magazines may not have had the drum’s capacity, but they were definitely a lot quieter.

      cheers

      eon

    • Obviously you have never fired a rifle with no hearing protection. One shot and you are practically deaf. M1 safety makes hardly any noise and the clip ejecting wouldn’t be very noticeable if your enemy was 25 yds away. And I own an M1 and shoot it in competition. Being quiet is all well and good but to hear a safety come off at any more than 5yds would be a good trick.

  3. Of course you know that (I think) Lee-Metfords had bolt covers standard.

    I’d like to see you mud test a Model 8.

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