51 Comments

  1. Those magazines look like they could easily be made removable and reloadable.
    Instead of sewing all those cartridge loops, how about mag pouches in a vest; or was that before their time…

    • They were removable but this wasn’t the doctrine at the time, each rifle was issued with a single magazine. Speed reloads were irrelevant when rifles still had magazine cutoffs to load and fire one rifle at a time. Doctrine changed slowly and it wasn’t until WWII that it began to change and become the norm for men armed with magazine-feeding rifles to change the magazine rather than top off with clips.

      • Even then, the British and German procedure was charger-loading with the No.4 and K43. Replacing the magazine was reserved for a situation where all-out speed of reloading was paramount, mainly in a close-quarters fight.

        This was another reason for the popularity of SMGs, and the U.S. M1 Carbine, on all sides, to say nothing of the German 7.9 x 33 “maschinenkarabiners”. While they didn’t have anything like the range and power of full-on rifle rounds, they were more than sufficient for close-in work (out to 100m or so), and they held a lot more rounds on one “fill-up”.

        cheers

        eon

        • I suppose that logistics and material budget limits delayed the idea of interchangeable detachable magazines for quite some time. Remember that manufacturing constraints also play a part. If the parts don’t fit, the rifle is useless for shooting and therefore only good for bayoneting and clubbing!

  2. Not Marines. Marines are seagoing soldiers, and dress like soldiers. These are sailors forming a landing party.

    PS.
    There is no ‘The’ before HMS in the ship’s name.

  3. If the mag only holds, say, ten rounds, swapping for a fresh one, with attendant fumbling, dropping, groping, muddying, and cursing may not be any quicker than shoving in two 5-rd strips. Come to that, I’m told that troops armed with Krags got pretty good at grabbing five hulls from a pouch and then pouring them into the open gate. Did I get that deft with my old Krag? Well, no, but I had to buy my own ammo and I was too thrifty to practice much.

    • One reason the Krag was chosen by the U.S. Army as its first bolt-action .30 caliber rifle was the way it was reloaded, through the side loading gate. Unlike “top-loading” bolts actions like the Lee or Mauser, the Krag could be reloaded or “topped off” as needed, with a round in the chamber, much like a Winchester lever-action repeater.

      Which meant that when some “savage” such as a Moro gone juramentado>/em> came running up on you when you were busy reloading, you could shoot him and go back to what you were doing with no problems.

      The U.S. Army at that time had more “institutional memory” of what the British would call “colonial warfare” that just about anyone else but the British. And it shows.

      cheers

      eon

  4. There’s a brief account of some action, possibly involving these marines, here, in case it is of interest. Could it be lieutenant Charrington in the background, perhaps?

  5. Pity the way everyone is holding their rifles prevents a good look at the belts. Quick check of the site Karkee Web, although only going back as far a 1901 Naval Pattern suggests these Tars may have belt pouches. Nothing in the 1901 description suggests belt pouches are a new feature, indeed a photo from March 1900 showing the current state of development shows 2 pouches at the bows and one at the stern – with a cross chest cartridge bandoleer. It’s possible there is the edge of a belt pouch showing on the leftmost background figure just visible under the elbow of the leftmost foreground figure.

  6. And of course, you had US Marines at the Legation and the relief force with Lee 1895’s. Lee was really on top of the heap in the 1890’s. And the Navy also had Remington-Lees.

  7. I can’t get the illustration to enlarge, so I may be missing something here, but those chest belts seem to be quite empty. This looks to me like some type of company formation (Guard mount?) with the pictures being an afterthought. “I say, Number Two Platoon, fix bayonets and look manly for the camera. Number Three Platoon quit whining, we’ll get to you too.” Or some such.

    • It’s hard to tell, but the background could be a studio backdrop set up outdoors. It’s quite possible that they are simply being lined up for group photos to take home with them or for the regimental museum, in which case there may be no ammunition present at all in that photo. It’s definitely a carefully posed shot, not an impromptu picture.

      • In any case, just don’t mess with Royal Marines unless you want to go home as “perforated and/or skewered idiot in a tin.”

    • I thought the same but then I saw a print, an illustration of the uniform, and it showed a Royal Marine in that very uniform.

  8. Are you sure those are LMs? They lack clearing rods and don’t appear to have finger grooves in the fore-ends. I would say they’re MLE Mk.I* (introduced 1899).

  9. Only the MkI &I* LM had finger grooves. These arms are fitted with safety catches so are LM II* or LE I or I*. The cleaning rods are covered by the bayonets.

    • Argh, sorry; I misread the image there & thought some rifles didn’t have bayonets fitted. On the balance of probability, given the date they probably are LM Mk.II*, but could be LEs. Less likely LE if they are sailors.

  10. Agree on these blokes not being RMA or RMLI (as they were at the time) but more likely RN sailors. The officer is certainly not RM either.

    Shipboard RM at the time were still in red tunics in a very similar dress to the army.

  11. The Brits issued two magazines: the spare one was stored in the rucksack, the other in the rifle (and usually serialled to that rifle). The magazine was not intended to be swapped out, you were supposed to use the charger clips. If you ever remove a magazine, you’ll notice that one side is bowed out a little to keep it in place. A little attention from a MkI rubber mallet will fix that and then the mags drop free easily.

  12. Well, sorry to disappoint you all, but Lee was already in China in the early 1880s, and Remington several years before That.
    Remington set up an Arsenal at Tientsin (Tianjin) to make .56/52 RF M1867 Rolling Blocks, and later, through a “Hong” in Shanghai (Trading Company), supplied Tientsin with Remington-Lee Rifles, M1884 Chinese Model ( .45/70 and .43 Remington) They also set up the Ammunition Factory at Tientsin as well, to make “Modern” Rimfire and CF Brass cased ammo.

    I have SEEN a .45/70 Chinese Rem-Lee ( sadly sportered) and Possess both an M67 Tientsin-made .56/52RF RRB, and a M1884 Chinese Rem-Lee (.43 Rem)
    Both “liberated” from the Taku Forts/Tientsin Armoury in 1900/1901, by the Victorian Volunteer Naval Detachment ( Bearded Boyos in Blue, who landed after the RMs had taken the Forts, etc. and then Proceeded to Loot the armouries (the Rifles were returned to Australia and enlisted (“shanghaied”) as Drill Rifles for the VND and so marked. Both my rifles have VND and “AC” ( Australian Commonwealth) stock Markings…the Blue Boys went over as Colonials (1900) and came Home as Federals (Commonwealth) by 1902.

    The Tientsin facility lasted through WW II ( under Varying Management–Imperial China, Warlords, ROC, and finally Red Army/PLA.)I don’t know if it still exists as such…maybe relocated to Jinan (provincial Capital of Shandong Province, Just south-west to Tianjin), where I know there is an SA manufacturing Plant.

    Doc AV

    • Likely it’s a male dog and one happy dog.

      I’d bet he was well protected, well fed and his masters seen to it that he was introduced, without competition, to a fair number of female dogs every week that desired his service.

  13. Gentlemen, “Naval Landing Party” NOT “Marines”…The British had sufficient Rifles in the Arms Lockers of ships to equip a good Part of the Crew who were “Sailors”; actually, the Royal Navy Term is “Seaman”. And in the Photo, they were commanded by a Naval Officer. (off to one side.).

    The Royal Marines, long the Gunners and Maintop Snipers, and Disciplinary Guard on RN ships, wore a different Uniform (Redcoats during the time of Sail, White then Khaki in days of Steam.) Some ships had only a section or two of RMs, larger ships had up to a Company. Hence the “Gunnery” training. And the Term “Gunnery Sgt.”in the USMC. The RM were also organised as the “Mailed Fist” of the RN on shore, being carried to the Land Battles by Boat (crewed by “seamen” and then deployed as would be Infantry…often with Naval Artillery (6 Pounders) on Land Wheeled Mounts, as ” fire support”. Often the RMs were accompanied by Blue-Jackets as “Landing Parties” to secure the Landing ground and the Boats.

    Britain’s 19th Century “Gun-Boat Diplomacy” made large use of both “Naval LPs”, and RMs.

    The Best example (fictionalised) of the Use of both Marines and Blue-Jackets combined is in the Film “The Wind and the Lion” when TR sent in the USN/USMC to convince the Sheikh of Tangiers to accede to America’s Wishes in the Pedecaris affair. (a John Milius Film, he is known for Military accuracy.)

    In WW I, the “Raid on the Mole at Zeebrugge” 1918 ( at the Mouth of the Belgian Canal system, held by the Germans) was an example of Royal Naval amphibious assault by Royal Marines and Blue-Jackets…as was the Battle of the Taku Forts ( Mouth of the Yellow River, 1900 Boxer rebellion)…combined Battleship Bombardment followed by amphibious Landing.)

    Doc AV

    • Oops, sorry. In any case, messing with the Royal Navy seems to be a bad idea unless you like getting shelled into oblivion…

      • Admiral Fisher (1841-1920):
        “The essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility. Hit first, hit hard, hit anywhere.”

  14. “… and would have been reloading one round at a time.”

    Which makes it amusingly ironic that the ship they’re from was HMS Alacrity. šŸ™‚

  15. Sounds strange to us now to issue a detachable magazine fed rifle, but then not issue any spare magazines, surely that defeats the point of it ?

    • Well, you know how the British military leadership viewed their soldiers, right? It doesn’t do to issue them all sorts of extravagances like extra magazines. They’ll just lose the bloody things.

      • Or trade them for women or drink.
        I will mention again that the term ‘Brown Bess’ was described a “wanton prostitute” and such matters were never far from a Tommy’s mind.
        Weren’t the detachable boxes more for ease in replacing the rather complex magazine platform spring as needed in the field? That type of spring was prone to weakening, was it not? Mauser C96 holsters had a special pouch for said extra springs in their holsters and it was also easy to detach the forplate. For five rounds not a big issue but wasn’t it more so for a larger number of rounds?

        • Nice to see someone actually getting the origin of ‘Brown Bess’ correct for once. I’m due to write a short article to set that one straight, hopefully soon. It’s not new information, but many in the arms and armour/firearms history fields don’t seem to be aware of it.

          • Jonathan: I “discovered” this on my own about a year or so when I decided I was unsatisfied with the explanations for the colloquialism(?) “Brown Bess” and decided to dig and came up with any reference to the term outside of gun circles. Took all of about 15 minutes to research on the net! :=) I updated the WIKI article on the Brown Bess, not sure if the edit survived. So far you are the only person to acknowledge this theory. A scholarly article by you would be great (I’m not scholarly, just not smart enough). I guess it maybe that most collectors and scholars are a bit to parochial to want to acknowledge the “seedy” (but fun and I think most likely correct) origin of the term.

          • That’s the thing; I haven’t discovered anything either, this has been known for a long time (although it looks like the meaning was lost for a while in ‘scholarly’ circles outside our field – I suspect for the very reason you give of ‘seediness’!). Strangely enough I think I realised about a year ago as well; I’ve never been satisfied with all the other explanations, and this one is about as definitive as you can get (alongside ‘lock stock and barrel’ and ‘go off half-cocked’).

            It will only be a short note, maybe even a letter, but I’ll throw in as much as I can. Worth doing I think. Sometimes we get a bit narrow in our focus and miss the wood for the trees!

          • I put “any reference” when I should have put “a reference” in the third line of my first response. Don’t know if that created any confusion. I put the cite annotation in the wiki article which could be followed up. I wonder if there might be some actual reference to a Brown Bess plying her trade in an old English literary work.

          • I just found another old soldiers poem about “Brown Bess” the musket dated 1792 the Flights of Fancy anthology, No. 16.

            In 1858 there is another ode to “Brown Bess”, this time a double barreled fowlingB piece I presume.
            Brently’s Miscellany, page 310

            Here is a reference to a prostitute as “a brown bess” in 1769….”Poems and Translations by the Author of Process and Physic Page 58 “A Receipt to Make a Pretty-Fellow”:

            “…Thus inform’d and grown up, you muft fix him in town,
            Where, to greateft advantage, fuch talents are fhewn;
            Ne’er balk his amours, let him kifs all he meets,
            From FANNY the fair, to brown BESS in the streets….

            As to why f’s are often used for s and then ignored in the same context, I have never learned. The all caps are in the text of the poem, not my emphasis.

        • I can’t quite make out whether these have them or not, but the Metford was designed with a chain holding the primary mag in place. The original concept was for the spare mag to be kept filled, and used as a true detachable magazine in an emergency. By the time the rifle was issued however, this idea had been dropped. The issue of a spare mag is possibly in part an artefact of this before-its-time idea (though the main reason is likely fears over the sheet metal mag getting damaged).

  16. “55 Days at Peking” in on tomorrow morning at 2:30am EST. As I recall Long Lees stand in for pretty much everybody’s rifles in the movie.

    There’s no Skoda gun for the Austrians either! šŸ™‚

  17. HMS Alacrity was a Surprise class cruiser serving with the RN from 1885-1919. She was involved in the 1900 Boxer rebellion and had both her Royal Marine detachment and a Naval,landing party that aided in the relief column that liberated the legations.
    As to the issue of spare magazines, my dad served in the RSC in Egypt from 1950-52. He was armed with a SMLE No.4. He said they were issue with a second magazine but we’re trained to use stripper clips to refill the mag in the rifle unless the enemy got within 200 yds. Then they were supposed to switch Mars and fire until it was time to fix bayonets.

  18. As late as 1945, Stalin nixed the idea of detachable box magazines for the SKS as wasteful. Considering the cost of stripper clips plus one fixed magazine and integral spring per rifle, versus millions of detachable boxes each equipped with spring steel (in a ravaged post-war economy!), this might have been reasonable. Cost considerations have inhibited the adoption of many potentially useful weapons or parts of weapons, eg. Spencer, box magazine for the Garand, etc. etc.

    From “Goodbye to all That” by Robert Graves:
    “James Burford, collier and fitter, was the oldest soldier of all. When I first spoke to him in the trenches, he said: ‘Excuse me, Sir, will you explain what this here arrangement is on the side of my rifle?’ ‘That’s the safety-catch. Didn’t you do a musketry course at the Depot?’ ‘No, Sir, I was a re-enlisted man, and I only spent a fortnight there. The old Lee-Metford didn’t have no safety-catch.’ I asked him when he had last fired a rifle. ‘In Egypt,in 1882,’ he said. ‘Weren’t you in the South African war?’ ‘I tried to re-enlist, but they told me I was too old, Sir. I had been an old soldier in Egypt. My real age is sixty-three.’ ” Graves was recounting his Western Front experience of late 1915.

    Did the Lee-Metford acquire a safety in later models?

    • The Mk.I had a safety; it was deleted from the Mk.I* & the Mk.II, but then a new type safety appeared on the 1895 MLM Mk.II* & MLE, & all future British Lees. So the chap wasn’t quite correct, though no doubt he had indeed been issued an unmodified rifle made between 1891 & 1895 when he re-enlisted (& hadn’t seen one of the other variants until the Front).

  19. The Captain of the Alacrity was later Adm. Christopher F M Cradock, commanded the Ill-fated Britsh Squadron which was outgunned and defeated with the loss of Cradock and the armored cruisers Monmouth and Good Hope by the German squadron of Adm. Graf Spee at the Battle of Coronel off Chile in 1914.
    Graf Spee also saw action during the Boxer rebellion but at a different location. Could be these two gentlemen might have met socially prior to or just after the Boxer Rebellion?
    Graf Spee would only outlive Cradock by a month as his squadron was caught by a heavier armed British Squadron at the Battle of the Falkand Islands. Interesting enough Graf Spee and his two largest cruisers names would live on to be well known in WWII. The two armored cruisers sunk with Graf Spee were the sisters Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, once again sisters in WWII.

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