A periscope rifle is a rifle that has been adapted to enable it to be sighted by the use of a periscope. This enables the shooter to remain concealed below cover. The device was independently invented by a number of individuals in response to the trench warfare conditions of the First World War, and while it is not clear which army was the first to use periscope rifles, the weapons were in use by the end of 1914. Similar devices were also built for use with machine guns.
The first periscope sighting rifle attachment was the Youlten hyposcope invented by W. Youlten. An early version of the attachment was tested in 1903, receiving its first patent in 1914. Its maximum range was 600 yards (550 m).
Beech's periscope rifle
A form of periscope rifle was invented in May 1915 during the Gallipoli campaign by English Lance Corporal William Beech, a builder's foreman in civilian life. Beech was at time serving in the 2nd Battalion, Australian Imperial Force (AIF). The device allowed a soldier to aim and fire a rifle from a trench, without being exposed to enemy fire. Beech modified a standard Lee-Enfield .303 rifle by cutting the stock in half. The two halves were re-connected with a board and mirror periscope, horizontally aligned to the sights of the rifle, as well as a string to pull the trigger, which allowed the rifle to be fired from beneath the line of fire. According to the testimony of John Adams, a private who served with Beech, the idea came to Beech after the dramatic experience of seeing the bodies of fellow soldiers shot through the head.
Beech's device was quickly copied by other members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). It saw extensive use in the intense trench warfare of Gallipoli, where some lines of trenches – such as at Quinn's Post – were within 50 metres (160 ft) of one another. According to a Gallipoli campaign participant, Sir D.G. Ferguson, the use of conventional rifles during daytime was abandoned in favour of periscope rifles. It was generally regarded as significantly less accurate than a conventional Lee-Enfield, and test conducted on the documentary series "The Boffin, The Builder, The Bombardier" suggested that the effective range was approximately 100 yards. Periscope rifles were later manufactured in crude production lines on the beach at Anzac Cove. Field Marshal Sir William Birdwood described the invention as one of considerable importance during the Gallipoli campaign. The War Office awarded Beech ₤100 for the invention.
Other World War I rifles
Two Lee-Enfield periscope adaptations were patented in the September of 1915. The first by J.E. Chandler was able to fire a full magazine before being dismounted. The second by G. Gerard was of a similar design. This was followed by E.C. Robert Marks's design in 1916, and the patents of M.E. Reginald and S.J. Young in 1918.
On the Western Front periscope rifles were used by the Belgian, British and French armies. A periscope version of the Mosin–Nagant rifle was used by the Imperial Russian Army on the Eastern Front. Another periscope rifle known as "Cameron-Yaggi rifle" was invented in 1914 in the U.S. The development of the model came to an end after the Armistice in November 1918. A Dutch version, known as the M.95 Loopgraafgeweer (Trench gun) was based on the Dutch Mannlicher service rifle. It saw service with the Royal Netherlands Army from 1916 until World War II.
- Similar weapons
- Saunders, Anthony (2000). Dominating the Enemy: War in the Trenches 1914–1918. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton. p. 101. ISBN 0-7509-2444-6.
- Saunders, Anthony (2000). p. 100.
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