A Better Rifle at Halloween

Smith-Dorien to the Fore
2:00 pm 4th August 1914 London

The meeting between Sir John French and Winston Churchill having gone on for far longer than either man would have liked they had decided to head out for lunch, they had chosen to go to Rules as they both enjoyed eating there. They were seated in a private room owing to the confidential nature of the discussion. Sir Charles Douglas had joined them with Prince Louis of Battenburg, as they sought to discuss who should take command of the British Expeditionary force. In the event that it was required by the German refusal to accede to the British Ultimatum.

The Generals under consideration were Smith-Dorien, Haig, Grierson and Plumer. All of them had much to commend them, Sir John French was pushing that General Haig be appointed as Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Forces. Churchill was in favour of Smith-Dorien who he recalled had spoken out about the likely duration of the coming war and who had been careful with the lives of his men in South Africa. Unable to come to a decision they had called on Sir Charles to mediate on the decision, he suggested Grierson but Churchill ruled him out, brutally suggesting that an officer as fat as him had no place in modern war. Smith-Dorien was finally selected much to Churchills satisfaction. With that and with the meal continuing as they discussed the gathering storm the next subject to be broached was were to land the BEF, Antwerp was raised and when Churchill said the Royal Navy could not guarantee the supply lines Prince Louis bristled and said “it takes 2 years to build a ship, a two hundred a tradition, we will ensure your lines of supply”. They agreed that Antwerp should be defended and at least 2 divisions should be landed in Ostend to ensure the port was secure and to reinforce the Belgian Army. The remainder of the BEF would be landed in France and assemble in Amiens. All the Regular divisions would proceed to France with the Territorial Army providing reinforcement and another 4 divisions as soon as they had been assembled.
Churchill was adamant that the Army prepare for a long war saying "Gentlemen, we face a trial such as will shake the foundations of our empire, we must exert ourselves to the utmost. This war will end with the Germans either on their knees or at our throats, they will use all the inventiveness for which they are known. We must fight this war on the sea, on the land, in the fields and in the factories. We must be clever, inventive and cunning, the old ways will not do. We do not know how this war will end but with God's grace and the united power of this Kingdom and its Empire we will prevail"
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5th August 1914.
From the London Gazette
His Majesty's Government informed the German Government on August 4th, 1914, that, unless a satisfactory reply to the request of His Majesty's Government for an assurance that Germany would respect the neutrality of Belgium was received by midnight of that day, His Majesty's Government would feel bound to take all steps in their power to uphold that neutrality and the observance of a treaty to which Germany was as much a party as Great Britain.
The result of this communication having been that His Majesty's Ambassador at Berlin had to ask for his passports, His Majesty's Government have accordingly formally notified the German Government that a state of war exists between the two countries, as from 11 p.m. to-day.
Foreign Office,
August 4th, 1914.
Wow. The empire just lost WWI to workers uprising.

[overly early convoys -> greater trade losses than historical sinkings -> potato winter]

I doubt either ministry can adequately inform their minister regarding this if they’re dumb enough to instantly convoy due to long war horizons.
I always enjoy a WW1 TL.

Some musings.

OTL the BEF at the onset was 4 Infantry Divisions and 1 Cavalry Division. If 2 Divisions are being sent to Ostend and the British want to go all out defending Antwerp I don't think there will be any remaining forces to reinforce the French. I'm not sure the 2 Divisions moving out of Ostend would be able to distract the right flank of the German advance to make up for the the loss of the the full BEF at the Battle of the Marne.

Personally if given the choice between the possible commanders of the BEF (with a sprinkling of hindsight) I'd go Plummer. He's better suited to fighting a systematic defensive battle in the early war period and excelled at fighting limited offensives in the later war period. Smith-Dorian was in my opinion to aggressive (Although a better battle manager than Haig).

The RN could keep the port of Antwerp open and supplies flowing but at a price. The RN would most likely convey the supplies and troups to the port as they did the BEF to France OTL. These convoys would act as a magnet to German submarines and light forces forcing them to fight a battle the RN has a chance of surviving/winning unlike the OTL commerce raiding that came close to losing the war for the British OTL. It might also speed up the implementation of the convoy system
Port Righ
11:00 am 5th of August, Portree

The Drill hall of H Company the 4th Battalion Queens Own Cameron Highlanders was organised, the men of the company had been awaiting the call to arms and they had swiftly mustered. Others had also been seen at the drill hall that morning, men of the district who wished to join up. They names were taken down, several men who had recently left the battalion were also re-enrolled undertaking the Imperial Service Commitment at the same time.
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2:00 pm 5th of August, London

Men had been streaming into the Battalion Headquarters of the London Scottish since the start of the day, they had been notified by post and telegram, but many had arrived on seeing the news. The regular cadre under the instruction of Colonel Malcolm had had them preparing since the return to London. Each man underwent a brief medical and was issued his arms and ammunition, then they were sent home again. Alongside the men of the battalion came men from the reserves and also hundreds of potential recruits, the adjacent Caxton Hall was requisitioned as an annexe to aid in processing these men.
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A place to train
7:00 pm 5th of August, London

Colonel Malcolm was again in the lounge at his club, he was speaking to another member who had a large estate near Chipping Barnet. “My good fellow, your men can march catch the tube up to Highgate station, then from there they can march up to the estate. There is room on the grounds for a range, although only out to 500 yards, you will need to dig butts as well.” Colonel Malcolm was slightly stunned, he had known the man who made the offer and who was an elderly veteran of the London Scottish only slightly but his offer stunned, his estate would be disrupted by the presence of hundreds of soldiers but a range would give his men a chance to try the new ammunition, the digging and marching would harden them as well. “Sir, I thank you for your kind offer, my adjutant will arrange transport and shall telegram with my plan as soon as possible”
The sub-committee for the prosecution of the war forms
11:00 am 6th August 1914, London.

The sub-committee for the prosecution of the war, was a subset of the Asquith Cabinet, chaired by Winston Churchill with David Lloyd-George, Asquith would only attend as an occasional observer and remain aloof. He would chair the full war cabinet but its role was to scrutinise and approve the decisions of the sub-committee, which had a much more changeable makeup with people being appointed or attending at the whim of the two principles. Sir John French was attending joined by Smith-Dorien, Henry Wilson the Director of Military Operations and the man responsible for Intelligence and Planning, Hadden and Von Donop from the Ordinance Board. The Royal Navy had sent Prince Louis, Admiral Fisher and Rear Admiral Oliver the Director of Naval Intelligence.

Prince Louis was being attacked in the press for his german connections and it was felt that his resignation may be necessary, with his role to be taken over by Admiral Fisher. Admiral Jellicoe was not present being with the fleet at Scapa Flow.

Other than Churchill and Lloyd-George, the cabinet was represented by Walter Runciman who was President of the Board of Trade, the Home Secretary Reginald McKenna and Charles Masterman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Almost immediately the meeting devolved into acrimony, with Runciman, McKenna and Masterman against the policy of total war which had rapidly become the position of Churchill and Lloyd-George. The Officers present represented a range of positions, all of them bellicose however some such as French thought the war would be over quickly whilst Smith Dorien and Wilson though it likely to be long.

Churchill’s plan to deploy 2 regular divisions to Belgium whilst the remainder went to France was discussed in detail. The defence of the Belgian coastline was raised, all present, were dismissive of the fighting power of Belgium, with reports that German Siege guns had already started to attack Liege and sweep into Belgium. Runciman pointed out that if the Germans held the coast of Belgium the port of Ghent could be used to attach British Trade in the North Sea.

Runciman went on to give a brief summary of a number of critical points regarding Germanies position, noting that thanks to the Haber process Germany could make its own Nitrates, likewise with a steel industry twice that of Britain, they could not rely on industrial might alone to win the war. A blockade was discussed and the

Implementation approved with the intention of preventing any war related materials reaching Germany or Austro-Hungary.

The meeting continued, for many long hours as the magnitude of the undertaking was identified, both Wilson and Oliver described the military situation of the major powers, with Oliver noting the growth of Germanies submarine forces which would threaten both the Royal Navy and the Merchant Marine. In response to this threat Churchill issued his first Action this Day memo demanding that the technical capacity of the Royal Navy be strengthened in response to the threats posed by Submarines, Zeppelins and Torpedo Boats.
The Sub-Committee meets again
2:00 pm 7th August, London

The sub-committee for the conduct of the war was meeting again, the news thus far had not been good. The German’s had started to attack the Belgian forts at Leige. The commander Leman had been concussed by a nearby shell explosion and now he, the fortresses and the 3rd Infantry Division and 15th Infantry Brigade were surrounded with no way out. Radio reports indicated that the Infantry were digging in between the forts and readying to fight in the city itself. An attempt to evacuate the civilian population had been rebuffed, and already some heavy fire artillery fire had hit civilian targets along with the first raid by Zeppelin bombers.

The French had commenced an attack into the Alsace Lorraine as part of Plan XVII and the limited report indicated heavy casualties there.

The enthusiastic reports of men volunteering for the forces was not being greeted with complete enthusiasm, already businesses had reported the loss of skilled personnel and it was feared that as the nation was gripped with war fever the numbers would worsen.

Lloyd George was proposing that critical workers in ship building, mining and other critical industries should be prevented from joining up. Lloyd George also called for conscription, he pointed out that the American Civil war was a better analogue for the coming struggle than either the Boer War or the Franco Prussian war. That war took 4 years and cost nearly a million dead, and winning it required total national commitment. We must be prepared for the same thing, this war will only end when the will to fight of one side or the other is smashed and their means of making war are destroyed.

To that end it was agreed that a scheme of purchasing commissioners would be investigated, their powers and the legislative tools required would be identified. In order to bring as much of the power of empire under central direction and to focus their efforts on the war.

Likewise, a number of committees would be formed, one would be aimed at economic warfare against the central powers. It would direct its efforts and undermining the attempts of German and Austria to gain access to world markets and to keep the sub-committee informed as to the progress of the blockade and other strategies.

The other two would focus on technology and would seek to find new ways to bring the war to a victorious conclusion.

The final committee would be directed towards public opinion both within Britain but also without at the wider empire and the world beyond, their task would be to raise morale at home whilst sapping it the enemy’s camp.
4:00 pm 7th August, London

Hill was again sitting with Farquhar, they were examining a sample of the rifle, looking at it and trying to work out how to make a simpler and cheaper version which they were sure would be needed in the coming clash. The current rifle cost almost twice as much to make as a SMLE and whilst it was a better rifle, millions would be required if the army was to grow to match that of Germany or France. Simplification would be the order of the day, the work they had done to get it ready for the Siam order had already improved the rifle significantly, but the rifle was still perfect, nor was it intended for the kind of rapid production that would be needed. At best working with 2 shifts the factory would be able to manufacture 50-60 rifles per day, hardly sufficient to arm the empire.

We need a Scientific Management Specialist thought Farquhar, remembering the Birmingham meeting where he had encountered the American guru. They had already implemented some of his principles in the design and organisation of the factory, but the size of the original order had not called for its full implementation. This would have to change, and a time and motion expert would be recruited, Farquhar would manage the finances and business, Hill the design work but a new man was needed to run the factory.
Firstly, i'm realy enjoying this TL. I think it both well written and has a lot potential.

I wonder if a big order from the Army (which looks on the cards) will encourage and give the necessary funds to Hill to start to develop the rifle into the light machine gun it became in the 20's, much earlier. Could it rival or even replace th Lewis Gun? If it does, with continued development would it therefore butterfly away the WW2 Bren Gun?

While waiting for a mass producible rifle, the RNAS are about to deploy with some rather Heath Robinson armoured cars. OTL they caused quite a stir in the press and there were subsequently plans drawn up for 1000's armoured cars by the autum if 1914 with recruiting for the right type of chap starting shortly afterwards (much to the benefit of the future Tank Corps). Perhaps F&H could get the Navy boys to take along some of their rifles. The armoured cars briefly had some real boys own adventures and if the rifle does well in combat it would make selling it to the Army much easier and also bring it to the attention of the Admiralty and therefore Winston Churchill, who showed he wasn't afraid to back a good or for that matter bad idea
7:00 am 8th August, Chipping Barnet.

“Sir, I could not fire a qualifying score” “What?” Colonel Malcolm was shocked. He had motored up to the range ahead of the first company to shoot with his RSM and a number of others from Battalion HQ and they were trying out the range they would be using. The Regimental Sergeant Major was a regular soldier seconded from the Gordon Highlanders and a soldier who had fought at the Dargai Heights and the relief of Ladysmith. He normally shot the mad minute to demonstrate to the men how it should be done, his best effort was 28 hits on a Second Class Figure target, he was the captain of the Battalions rifle team. He was not a man who would ever fail to put 15 rounds into the target in the prescribed minute. “Are you all right Sergeant Major” “Sir, I am Sir” he replied, “I do not understand why but my rifle kept jamming” I cleared 5 jams in the minute. “Try with another rifle” “Sah”

With that he departed back, to try again as his Colonel had commanded, he took a rifle from the rack and loaded with 2 stripper clips carrying 5 of the new Mk VII spitzer ammunition. They loaded ok.

Shortly there after he returned with the rifle in his hand and a dejected look on his face, with him was his batman, he simply looked shocked and confused.

“Sir, Macleod and I both attempted the course of fire, neither of us could shoot it.” The RSM continued “Macleod had 3 jams, I had 4. There is something wrong with this ammunition.”

“Try another crate and get me a rifle” With that the Colonel, the RSM and a shocked private soldier returned to the range.
A promising contact
8:00 pm 8th August, London.

Farquhar was sitting in his club in London, speaking to a fellow scot, the man was describing the dismal scene which he had seen just that morning. “I was with the London Scottish before the war, I went to South Africa as part of the City of London Imperial Volunteers.” “I stayed on till Haldane and I know how to shoot a rifle and what I saw this morning was a shambles” “Oh” said Farquhar his curiosity piqued. “Yes, the rifles kept jamming,” said the other man. “Colonel Malcolm was in a rage, he made them shoot every rifle and most of 3 crates of ammunition and it was the same result jam after jam, the Rifles were misfeeding” continuing he said “He came up to the house to call off the training he was planning and then he called brigade, then division, then someone in the War Office, that chap got a hard time of it, especially when he denied it was a problem and was likely down to the poor training of the territorials”

Farquhar could see an opportunity at this point and he spoke to the other man with careful consideration. “As you know, I have developed a new rifle”, “Yes that self loading one, thought you had sold it to the Japanese” the other man responded, “The Kingdom of Siam cancelled the order, fortunately I took a hefty deposit so I won’t be out of pocket, but the fact remains that I have 2500 of these rifles and more ammunition than you can poke a stick at.” With that the first man sat up and said “You need to meet Malcolm, he’s the Battalion Commander and a good one, one thing about the London Scottish is they have their own budget, the men subscribe to the Regiment, this year it was £10 a man. They purchased their own machine guns last year, the new Vickers Maxim’s because they were not going to be issued them.”

This sounds too good to be true thought Farquhar, he managed to calm his racing hopes and said levelly “Can you organise a meeting, I can show him the rifle and perhaps we can demonstrate it to him at your estate” “Yes I can, I shall call on him at the Headquarters tomorrow, give me your card and I will call you with the details.”
7:00 am 8th August, Chipping Barnet.

8:00 pm 8th August, London.
That's the way for the day. A more ends oriented society would organise slightly differently, but this is how the English society in London, (I am making a remark on identification within Imperial centres), organised to achieve ends. And this is the way an end is achieved. What is surprising is that the systems of regulation weren't of greater efficacy historically. Unless you take Brecht's Threepenny opinion on for what end it is organised.
A naval appreciation.
2:00 pm 9th August 1914, London.

Winston Churchill was holding forth on Heligoland, saying “We can use it as a base for our Submarines and Destroyers, our aircraft can watch the Bight.” The Sub-Committee had just finished hearing a naval appreciation, which had listed the strength of the Imperial German Navy, which had 22 Pre-Dreadnoughts, 14 Dreadnoughts, 4 Battlecruisers and 25 cruisers. In addition, they had 132 large torpedo boats or destroyers, and 40 submarines, 10 diesel and 30 petrol. The German Navy was seen as a significant threat, with the potential to raid the British coast, attack shipping in the North Sea and more widely attack shipping at any point they had the range to reach.

A minefield was planned to block off the channel to protect the shipping lanes from Dover to Calais. This minefield would be extended to cover critical points on the Belgian Coast to ensure that shipping to Ostend and Zeebrugge could be protected.
No Army would send a single unit to the front with a rifle that used unique ammunition, except to use it as a raiding unit that's in and out quickly only needing the ammunition the men can carry with them. As the unit in question is a Territorial unit they'd be used as headquarters guards until they could be issued with standard Lee Enfields.

It was the Germans that issued the Mondragon to observers.

SiG had built over 1500 of the Mondragon SLR before Mexicos finances collapsed. The German use as air craft weapon was brief. Then the entire stock was issued to a Jager regiment which used them for much of the war.
I always enjoy a WW1 TL.

Some musings.

OTL the BEF at the onset was 4 Infantry Divisions and 1 Cavalry Division. If 2 Divisions are being sent to Ostend and the British want to go all out defending Antwerp I don't think there will be any remaining forces to reinforce the French. I'm not sure the 2 Divisions moving out of Ostend would be able to distract the right flank of the German advance to make up for the the loss of the the full BEF at the Battle of the Marne.

Don't have the details at hand unfortunately, but there were more formations available. Internal politics, poor decisions & a invasion scare slowed the availability of ready formations for reinforcing the BEF.