The Qualities of the Lee Navy Rifle, Model 1895

based on it use by the

U.S. Marines

Contributed by Al Sumrall

GENERAL:

This article appeared in the New York Sun in June, 1898 and addressed the qualities of the Lee rifle used by the naval forces (navy and marines) in the Spanish American War. The reader should note that the author refers to problems with the gun's ejector. In fact, he is referring to the extractor.

BACKGROUND:

THE NEW NAVY RIFLE

Its Efficiency as Demonstrated by the Guantanamo Fights

Camp McCalla, June 22.  The active service on the field which the marine corps has seen during the past ten days has put the new navy rifle to a test severe enough to bring out its bad and good points and to give the officers and men an opportunity to judge its effectiveness and practibility for use in the field.  Its range and accuracy were long ago determined, and the only question to be decided was whether it was so constructed as to withstand thetreatment it must be subjected to when handled in the field in the heat of battle. The question is yet debated. The officers say it is a good arm, and that all is required is to familiarize the men with it. The mechanics who are called upon to keep the pieces in order say that it is too complicated an arm for field use and that it cannot be satisfactory until it has been simplified. Since the marines have been here many arms have been in the hands of the gunsmiths for repairs, and their records show that the main weakness in the arm is in the ejecting mechanism and in the bolt stop.

The  bolt stop is intended to prevent the breech block from slipping from the slot in which it works. It is operated by the thumb, and when in position its head is elevated slightly above the top of the block.  To release the block the stop is pushed down, and then the block may be pulled back and freed from the rifle.  It has been the experience of the gunsmiths that working their way through the brush this stop is knocked down, and when the block is opened it falls out, letting the ejector fall to the ground. This has been the main complaint, and by far the greatest number of repairs have made have been in the replacing of ejectors.

The loss of the ejectors disables the pieces. In some cases the Cubans, who have never seen the rifle before, lost the blocks entirely and then threw the arms away, disgusted with them. It was noticible that the Cubans reported a much larger percentage of disabled pieces than the marines. This bears out the contention of the officers that the arm is all right, and that familiarity with it will lessen the number of accidents.

The officers point out that the marines occupied and held their present position, went through three days of continual fighting, and engaged in a pitch battle, all with a rifle with which they were practically unfamiliar.  They say that the battalion had had but little peace experience and no war experience with the arm and that it is admittedly in an experimental stage as yet.

Nothing could be more eloquent in testimony to the success of the arm as a rapid-fire gun than the letter written to Gen. Pareja's Adjutant by Leiut. Francisco Baptiste, who was captured by the marines at the battle of Cuzco. Baptiste wrote a letter to Pareja asking  that his family be cared for.  In answering him Pareja refused to care for his family and accused him of cowardice. Baptiste replied that he was not a coward and explained his capture. He said that he was cut off with two men and hid in the bushes, where he was found. He continued in his letter that in addition to the infantry the Americans had a large number of machine guns on their line.  He judged this from the rapidity of the fire.  The fact was that there were no machine guns of any kind on the American line, the entire fire being from the rifles in the hands of the marines.

The officers are pleased with the arm.  In spite of the defects in the block mechanism, they say it is more effective then any other arm that has been placed in their hands. They expect that its effectiveness will develop as the men become accustomed to it and learn to handle it properly. In the field they were frequently appealed to by the men who said their pieces were out of order. They found that many of the complaints were groundless, the men, who in the heat of action, having neglected to take the proper measures to work the arm.

As to the effects of the bullet from the gun, it is too early to make any definite report. Nothing of its effect on the soft tissues of the body at long range is known.  Two skulls recovered from the battlefield at Cuzco show that the wound of entry in the skull is about the size of the bullet, while the wound of exit is very much larger. In one skull the bullet entered the skull in the back of the head, below the crown, and pierced the brain, leaving the skull through the eye.  The wound of exit was an inch and a half in diameter. This was due to the enormus velocity of the projectile, which caused an explosive effect.  The surgeons hope for a better opportunity to observe the effects of the bullet.


Bibliography:

New York Sun, June 1898.


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