A Better Rifle at Halloween

Indeed so but 15 aimed rounds in one minute with two reloads is very rapid work and very creditable but not the classic ‘how many rounds can you get off and hit the (variously specified) target in one minute ‘mad minute’ meme’.

FWIW my grandfather qualified on the Practice Number 22 and used his skills in 1914 onwards. I have failed miserably to equal this but fumble every charger reload. Now standing with my Martini Henry at 100 metres I could do 12 aimed rounds. Rather shows my my limits and the old boy would have gone a funny colour and shouted rude things at me very loudly had I the misfortune to be one of his soldiers. But then he learned his skills the hard way in South Africa.
The modern mad minute meme is basically folklore drift from the 15 aimed rounds of Practice 22. People just want to see how " well" they can do. I have seen some quite large numbers of rounds fired in a minute from a no4 or smle, but they are not practicable on anything other than the most perfect conditions- and usually not to the 1909 standards of accuracy. The Bloke on the Range managed 29 with an SMLE, but that was at 25 yds with quite a few fliers. Interestingly, he suggests that the difficulty of picking up target with open as opposed to aperture sights was a limiting factor.
Interestingly, in a 300 M standing mad minute last year I got my best ever score by taking my time and firing relatively few shots- they almost all went through the middle rather than plastering the frame like I usually do; the limiting factor, as Mike suggests, being acquiring the target after each shot. At a densely packed mass of troops, frng from a trench, far less of a problem.
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Smith-Dorrien responds
20th September 1914 Mons.

General Smith-Dorrien was reviewing the reports he had received from General Byng and General Sir Ian Hamilton, regarding the battles that had been fought at Ath and Sottegem, he had also received a report from General Foch on the success of General Humbert at Leuze-en-Hainaut. Sir Ian Hamilton had accepted command of VI Corps, despite it requiring him to serve under General Plumer to whom he was nominally senior. Hamilton with his experience of the Russo-Japanese war was aware of the defensive powers of modern weapons and had used them and his men deftly.

All in all, Smith-Dorrien was pleased, the German First army was substantially weaker after the bloody repulse of all three attacks. The BEF had been preparing for the next phase of the battle for the gap over the last several days, the plans had been predicated on two possibilities. The First Army would run for the gap and the devil take the hindmost or as had occurred the Germans would conduct deliberate attacks against the jaws of the trap to defeat the BEF before conducting further operations. With the failure of the second option the BEF’s preferred plan was going to go into action.

When planning for the upcoming actions Smith-Dorrien was trying to control three risks, firstly his own men facing heavy casualties, if they attempted to counter-attack into the teeth of the German troops, who had hit them this morning. Secondly the Germans still had a lot of men bottled up in the Salient and they were capable, if suitably bloody-minded orders were issued of attacking again and again. The third risk was that given the heavy casualties already experienced von Kluck simply ordered his men to retire out of the Salient and regroup, they would lose men and equipment doing this but the defeat whilst stinging would still leave most of First Army un-captured and given time they could be reorganised and re-equipped.

Smith-Dorrien needed another solution, one that was more cunning than merely standing his troops up and having them slog forward into the machine guns.

The fighting around Namur was proving to be part of the solution, the French were tying down most of the strength of the German 2nd Army before Namur. The German X Corps which had partially reoriented to face the British I and II corps was now stretched very thin. It had been hit hard in the initial attacks on Jurbise and had pivoted northwest to try and maintain its flank, it was unable to maintain anything like a continuous line at this stage and instead was tied to a series of platoon and company positions, mostly within supporting range of each other.

The Antwerp Garrison was still demonstrating before Brussels, thereby tying up IXr Corps, they could not release any forces to move west from Brussels to hold open the gap or block his manoeuvres. The German army was in a bind and Smith Dorien was doing everything he could to make it worse.

He called for his military secretary and his chief of staff, pre-planned orders would need to be issued quickly, with the opportunity before him, his men would have to move fast to clap a stopper in the bottle and trap von Kluck and his force. The Cavalry would be the cork, and his regular infantry corps the strong arm to thrust it home.

IV Corps would be ordered to commence shelling the German X Corps positions at 2pm as if readying for an attack, they had recently been resupplied and were well provisioned for shells. II Corps would commence an attack an hour before dusk from Soignies towards Braine-le-Comte. Once that attack was underway the Cavalry Corps with 4 newly arrived armoured cars would advance towards Enghien and securing that with one division would continue towards Grammont capturing it and severing the last railway link available to von Klucks First Army. Once the Cavalry were holding Gramont they would keep one division there as a garrison whilst the third division moved west into the gap between Lessines and Brakel, the broken ground there would prove well suited to the mounted infantry tactics in which British cavalry specialised. The role of this division would be to prevent any formed units from escaping from the trap.

Whilst the cavalry closed the trap, they would need reinforcement, this would be provided by I Corps, it would march north adding its weight to the Cavalry and ensuring that there was no escape for the German First Army.

The forces holding Ath and Sottiegem were ordered to conduct artillery barrages timed to coincide with IV Corps, with aggressive patrols to be conducted by all British forces. 6th Divison was also ordered to conduct deep patrols to establish the locations of any German forces, if the Germans had started to withdraw towards Brussels they were to maintain contact with them.
The Ottomans ponder
21st September 1914, Istanbul.

Otto Liman von Sanders was surprised by how well his last meeting with Enver Pasha had gone, he had been expected to be hauled over the coals by the Ottoman official. The alliance so recently and secretly signed between the Ottomans and the Germans was still holding, despite the resounding lack of good news from any of the fighting fronts. Enver Pasha had been disappointed by the problems besetting both the German and Austrian Empires but to his mind the threat posed by a rapidly growing Russia and the resurgent powers of the Balkans required the alliance.

Enver Pasha had informed von Sanders of the attempts by the British to propagandise their successes, Vice Admiral Arthur Limpus had been expected to leave Istanbul with the apparent failure of the Naval Mission, precipitated firstly by the decision to seize the two Ottoman dreadnaughts under construction in Britain for the Royal Navy and secondarily by the arrival of SMS Breslau and SMS Goeben, which had successfully evaded the Royal Navy in the eastern Mediterranean. The Germans had promptly handed both ships over to the Ottoman Navy, where they were renamed but retained their German crews. With the arrival of the German ships he had taken immediate leave from his role as commander of the Ottoman Navy.

The victory of the Royal Navy in the battle of Thornton Bank had caused Admiral Limpus to reconsider the decision to leave Istanbul, he had already ceased his role as commander of the Ottoman Navy but he had remained in Instanbul, initially completely ignored by the Ottomans. He had attempted to make contact with the Navy Minister but had been repeatedly rebuffed, this had changed as the siege of Liege had captivated the Ottomans, with the bloody defence of the town being likened to the defence of Acre by Sidney Smith during the Napleonic wars.

He had been invited along with the British Ambassador to the Sublime Porte to discussions with the Ottoman Prime Minister, the Ambassador and Limpus had both conveyed assurances that the seized dreadnaughts would be returned or replaced at the end of the war, along with a substantial payment for wear and tear on the vessels. They had also discussed the progress of the war itself, with the Prime Minister expressing his hopes for remaining neutral.

As the fighting wore on and the Entente seemed to be holding the back the Germans in the West whilst the Russians continued to advance in the East there were two increasingly divergent opinions one held by Pasha and his clique that if Russia defeated Austria they would strike for control of the Dardenelles next. The other was that if they remained Neutral British desire to hem in the great powers of Europe would guarantee their independence.

The problems for Enver Pasha and von Sanders were simply that the British and their allies were pushing hard to retain Ottoman neutrality and as the German and Austrian position worsened it became increasingly attractive.
Fantastic to see this story return. One of the best TL's on this site. I don't mind waiting for a story this well researched and written.

OK to be honest I don't mind waiting for any TL a writer is willing to share with us lucky history buffs. But this is one of my favourites, thanks Diesal.
Fantastic to see this story return. One of the best TL's on this site. I don't mind waiting for a story this well researched and written.

OK to be honest I don't mind waiting for any TL a writer is willing to share with us lucky history buffs. But this is one of my favourites, thanks Diesal.
I tend to write in fits and starts when I am away from hearth and home. When at home my children have a higher demand on my time.
The Closing of the Gap
21st September 1914, Brakel.

The advance on Brakel had been slightly delayed several times, small units of German troops had repeatedly tried to hold up the attack by the 3rd brigade, 2nd Cavalry Division. The cavalry had pushed forward fast, riding hard through the night. It was only 5 miles from Gramont to Brakel and the Brigade consisting the 4th (Queen’s Own) Hussars, the 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers and the 16th (The Queen’s) Lancers along with one battery from the Royal Horse Artillery were under orders to be in position to capture the village before dawn.

One of the armoured cars which had joined the advance by the Cavalry Corps was leading the advance, four armoured cars had led the initial advance by the Cavalry, and three were still serviceable, one had broken down outside of Gramont when the motor overheated and seized but the others had proven to be invaluable. Their armour shrugging of rifle and machine gun fire and their own maxim guns proving highly effective in support.

The road between Gramont and Brakel was no major highway it climbed up and down a series of small hills, open farmland on either side with small villages and woods to complicate the advance. The combination of professional cavalry who had trained as mounted infantry for years coupled with the fighting they had seen along the line from Condee towards Saint Amand les Eaux before the great counterattack gave the British troops a significant advantage over the scattered and unsupported German defenders.

The Cavalry used their superior mobility to outflank any defensive positions and with greater number overwhelm the small outposts, when a position was very strongly held the armoured car or a half battery of 13 pounders proved very effective at dislodging the defence.

The Germans had not managed to establish anything like a continuous line to hold back the Entente advance, most of First Army was still attempting to get out of the salient. The requirement for a strong rear-guard and the losses from the heavy fighting seen the day before, had resulted in very few infantry units being available to defend what was the narrowing neck of the salient. Apart from the scattered infantry no German supporting arms had been encountered, the First Amies artillery was still before Ath and Sottegem The Second Army was likewise stretched both by the fighting around Namur and the Belgian breakout from Antwerp which was continuing to advance, threatening even more German units with envelopment.

The capture of Gramont had been uneventful, the Landwehr their morale battered by recent events put up a desultory resistance. With Gramont in British hands no more supplies would make it through to the First Army. Whilst the British did not have anything like a continuous line between Ath and Sottegem they held a line from Ath to Brakel, whilst the gap between Brakel and Sottegem was a mere 5 miles wide.

It was through this narrow remaining path that the remnant of First Army would have to pass to escape the trap. And whilst the Cavalry Corps dug in along its new front line, I Corps was marching north to renew the attack. Their attack would be oriented the line from Gramont towards Brakel capturing the low ground before hinging at Lierde and pushing north up the ridge to close up on Sottegem completing the envelopment of the German First Army.
The Lancers in Action
21st September 1914, Near Ghoy.

C Squadron the 12th (Royal) Lancers had just secured the village of Ghoy, without a shot being fired, it was just before dawn the sky slowly brightening but with pockets of mist and fog making visibility difficult and deadening sound.

One young trooper thought he heard a horse whinny, not very far in the distance, he gave word back to his corporal of what he had heard, soon the Squadron Commander was by his side and he gave a nervous but clear explanation. They waited side by side the trooper and the Major, the sun rose a little higher and the wind picked up, not more than 400 yards away was a squadron of German Cavalry, dismounted their horses unsaddled and the men gathering by the cook fires for their breakfast completely unaware of their hazzard.

The major goggled, this was an opportunity to write himself into the history of the regiment, one he had served for 20 years like his father and grandfather before him, back in fact to a young cornet who had served alongside Arthur Wellesley.

He gave his orders rapidly, the squadron was as well drilled with the SMLE as with the Lance but they were cavalry not grubbing infantry and a charge against an unsuspecting and dismounted foe was the perfect thing for a Lancer.

The squadron assembled, the bugler sounded the form line and the lancers shook out into a line three horses deep then came the field call advance trot. At the sound of the first bugle call the German cavalry appeared to panic, some men freezing in place others running for their horses, officers shouted orders.

Once the distance had narrowed to a few hundred yards the Squadron Commander gave the order and the Bugler sounded the charge. Lances were couched and the cavalry lunged forward at a gallop, the German Cavalry receiving the charge were completely disordered, unprepared to receive a charge some were attempting mount their horses, others had drawn their carbines and were shooting back, a few men had drawn swords and were about to do something that they knew would not work, hold of a man equipped with a 9 ft long lance with a 3 ft long sword, none however ran.

The collision when it came was brutal, the lance was a difficult weapon, it had never been in widespread service in the British Army but the men of the 12th were experts. Nine feet of steel shod ash driven by the 1200 pounds of horse and rider at thirty miles an hour is unstoppable, many men were simply spitted, lances torn from the riders hand by the shock of the collision. The German unit shattered, what little cohesion it had before the charge disintegrated under the impact. The Lancers rode through the Germans, the orders continuing to flow from the bugle, they wheeled around and charge back through the German position. Many of the dismounted men had begun to flee, this simply made them an irresistible target as the lancers almost competed to see who could skewer the most men.

The tide of death radiated outwards from the bivouac, a knot of men remained in the centre, they were the few who had not panicked when the British cavalry over ran them, they fought now most equipped with carbines a few officers with pistols, but they were sadly outnumbered and the British cavalry disdained a second charge against their numbers, instead they withdrew to cover and shot them down with the superior SMLE.

No prisoners were taken, that being contrary to the nature of a cavalry charge and the squadron reformed, to continue their advance.
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Whiskey and a revolver
21 September 1914, Tournai.

General von Kluck was in the depths of despair, he had just received word that his son Egon had been killed in action against the French the day before. His army was surrounded and their attempts to break out the day before had resulted in the futile deaths of thousands, including he thought bleakly his son.

The reports he had received indicated that the British had closed the gap between Ath and Sottegem, their regulars both cavalry and infantry forcing the ring closed. The damned British armoured cars were also causing chaos, virtually unstoppable without artillery, they had caused havoc amongst the supply columns.

His options had narrowed to one unpalatable reality, but another could take that ignominy on his head. He bent over his desk writing his final orders, when he was finished, he stood up and walked over to small room he used to sleep in.

As his aide went over to the desk to look at the orders, a single gunshot cracked out.


This is one of my favourite TLs here. I was going to make a joke about keeping writing instead of sleeping, eating or working. But have decided that as I would prefer you to keep being in this world (and so being able to write here) shall refrain to do so. Thanks a lot for your work
Wow, I'm feeling rather spoiled.

I really felt that this would end up like the Falaise Gap 1944 where the Germans got couldroned but managed to get a lot of troups out, albeit without much equipment.

I also felt that Von Kluck would be more likely to head for the front to go out fighting with his men or in an attempt to escape to be honest (it's basicly a reverse Tannenburg after all and it would be fitting if Von Kluck went out the same as Alexander Samsonov OTL would have been rather fitting). But of course its how Diesal feels it works for him that matters. And of course Von Kluck's death was very well written!
This is one of my favourite TLs here. I was going to make a joke about keeping writing instead of sleeping, eating or working. But have decided that as I would prefer you to keep being in this world (and so being able to write here) shall refrain to do so. Thanks a lot for your work
Wow, I'm feeling rather spoiled.

I really felt that this would end up like the Falaise Gap 1944 where the Germans got couldroned but managed to get a lot of troups out, albeit without much equipment.

I also felt that Von Kluck would be more likely to head for the front to go out fighting with his men or in an attempt to escape to be honest (it's basicly a reverse Tannenburg after all and it would be fitting if Von Kluck went out the same as Alexander Samsonov OTL would have been rather fitting). But of course its how Diesal feels it works for him that matters. And of course Von Kluck's death was very well written!
Thank you both for your kind words. It was a challenge to work out what to do with von Kluck, it was only when I found out that he lost a son in 1915 that I changed my plan.
The loss of lances in the initial shock of the charge does leave the trooper briefly unarmed until he can have recourse to his sword mounted on his saddle. Hence many preferred that troopers should just use the sword, which reaches nearly as far as lance with the trooper and sword extend forwards, and the heavy squidgy thing slides off the sword more easily. Especially if there is little room to swing the lance about. Here the charge is against a disorganised unmounted enemy so it makes little difference. Not to mention that poor old Dobbin is carrying more than enough weight with trooper, saddlery, kit, rifle and sword so leaving out a lance is a little help. Nice to see the touch whereby the survivors, once gathered into a defensive group under command (if only by the command of training) are left disengaged to be dealt with at a distance by rifle fire. Fire from an organised group of even bolt action magazine rifles would be deadly to mounted cavalry close at hand. Well done the donkey wallopers. IIRC my Yeomanry forebears in action at the time had lances for drill guards but left them behind for operations. Mind you, the Regular cavalry’s Pattern 1908 sword were, in essence, one handed steel lances. For the Yeomanry their Pattern 1890 (or indeed the 1864) swords will see them through a melee better should the need arise.

However, the title is about a ‘Better Rifle’ not better swords so best not to pursue the ancient lance v sword cavalry issue any further here.
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However, the title is about a ‘Better Rifle’ not better swords so best not to pursue the ancient lance v sword cavalry issue any further here.
I am a fan of the lance over the sword, especially against infantry. I did a bit of tent pegging in my youth and it is vastly more difficult than people appreciate and I learnt to ride as a 3 year old.
Potato Farls
22nd September 1914, Dublin.

Samuel Heron had never visited Dublin before, he had hated the steam packet journey across the Irish Sea, he had been sick the whole way across. His hotel was cramped with the toilets and bath at the end of a long draughty corridor, its only redeeming feature the excellent breakfast complete with potato farls, a thing unheard of in England but which had set him up splendidly for the day.

That said he was looking forward to spending some time with Percy Ludgate, a veritable genius, he had never heard of him until he had been introduced a week prior by the man from the ministry. They had spent several fruitful hours discussing the way the Analytical Machine worked and how it could be used. Heron was already interested in how it could be used to model thermal transfer in aero engines, solving the overheating issue would enable the development of lighter and more powerful air-cooled engines, thereby improving the range and bombload of the RFC and RNAS aircraft.

Today was a general meet and greet day for the 19 men and one woman who had been selected to use the first generation of the Ludgate machines. They chatted amiably, their intended applications ranged from ballistics, to materials analysis, to thermal modelling, additionally there was a second set of students who Heron had encountered briefly, they consisted of a disparate group escorted by a number of naval officers but they were cloistered away from the rest. Heron did not speculate of what their application was but merely that it was even more secretive than his own.
I was assuming some kind of \LaTeX{} implementation. Complete with \Grauniadation{}. Because robots have demarcation disputes too.
Ocean Island
22nd September 1914, Ocean Island.

The South Seas Squadron had finished coaling at the Pacific Phosphate facility on Ocean Island part of the Gilbert Islands. Vice Admiral Yamaya Tanin had been issued orders to pursue the German East Asia Squadron, Tanin had left Yokohama a week prior with 3 armoured cruisers, pushing his ships at their full cruising speed he had made the 2800 nautical mile journey in slightly over 8 days, but at the cost of more than half his range. Coaling had been completed quickly, his men and the various labourers working quickly to refill the emptied bunkers.

Tanin had arrived at this desolate spot because he thought the Germans would try to return home, lingering in the Pacific could only result in their eventual detection and capture. A return to Germany via the Indian ocean was impossible the Royal Navy with its bases in Singapore and Australia blocked that route. That left only the Pacific, the Panama Canal was not an option the Bahamas squadron would be on top of the Germans as soon as they entered the Caribbean. The only way was south via the Horn, the added bonus was that that route would put them in amongst the ships carrying beef to Britain from Argentina and Uruguay. Tanin shuddered when he thought of a tin of Fray Bentos corned beef, that he had been convinced to eat whilst in Britain on a ship visit, the horror of that gelatinous mass of gristle and fat was ever present, perhaps allowing the Germans to sink the transports was a species of mercy.

Tanin was interrupted in his increasingly ridiculous thoughts by his communications officer, the young man had served with distinction in the Russo Japanese war, but he was unusual, Tanin always thought of the British term Boffin when he thought of the man. Atypically for a Japanese officer he delighted in the technical work of his role, unafraid to get his hands dirty, he had joined a number of his men in working his way down the mast of the Kurama checking the grounding of the main antenna.

The lieutenant commander was holding a message strip, bowing to his admiral he said, “Sir, we have just received word from Papeete that the Germans are attacking the facilities there. The French have only a single gun boat in the harbour but she is going into the attack”

Tanin responded swiftly his decision to head south east vindicated, he called for his officers and squadrons captains, the chase was on in earnest now.