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Myth and Reality of the Ross MkIII Rifle

Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to a special
production from Forgotten Weapons. Today we’re going to take a look at the Canadian Ross
Mark III rifle. There’s a lot of mythology surrounding this gun, and I wanted to take a look and see
what the actual truth of the matter is. So a little bit of background.
Around the time of the Boer War the Canadian military tried to get a licence to produce
Lee-Enfield rifles and they were turned down by the British. Well Ross had this nice sporter rifle that he had developed, a
straight-pull. And he put together a good successful publicity campaign, and convinced the Canadian military to buy his
guns instead of continuing to try to get Lee-Enfields. And it worked, the Canadians bought
a bunch of Rosses and tested them. They found some problems, they
revised them into Ross Mark II rifles. Tested those and found a bunch more problems,
and revised them a third time into the Ross Mark III. Now, the Ross Mark III went into significant
mass production, and at the time of World War One the Canadian Expeditionary Force that left for France was
armed with Ross Mark III straight-pull bolt action rifles. Now the urban legend behind these
things is that they would blow up. Whether or not that’s true we’ll get to in a minute,
but the other issue with the Ross is that it was renowned to be a particularly poor
rifle for trench warfare, and that is true. The Ross was developed as a sporting and
target rifle, and it did those things extremely well. Unfortunately it was a bit finicky,
it … had close tolerances, it didn’t take a whole lot of dirt
or grime to really bind the thing up. And of course in the trenches of
Ypres they were not a successful rifle. So eventually the Canadian military switched them
out for Lee-Enfields and Rosses continued to serve as sporting rifles with civilians and as training rifles
with the military and a number of other things. However, the biggest part of the legend, and what we’re going to
take a look at today, is whether or not the rifles would actually blow up. There is a legend that (of course being a straight-pull,
in theory, if the rifle doesn’t work correctly there’s nothing to stop the bolt from coming straight out
the back of the receiver and hitting the shooter in the face), and according to legend that’s what would happen. What isn’t really clear is why that would happen, or what
would cause it to happen, or how often it would happen? So that’s what we’re going to take a look at. Now we’re doing this partly out of just
historical curiosity, and partly so that owners of Ross Mark III rifles can have a little more confidence
in their rifles, and know whether or not it’s safe to shoot them. So we’re going to start by
taking a look at a Ross Mark II, which is the other common version of the
Ross that’s around that you can find for sale, and show you first of all how to
distinguish between a Mark II and a Mark III. This is an early Mark II Model 1905 Ross rifle.
It is a straight-pull, as with the later versions. This had a whole bunch of
relatively minor imperfections to it, but when you added them all up it
made for a definitely a flawed rifle. So Ross redesigned the rifle, made a whole
bunch of changes, and came out with the Mark III. Now we should say the 1905 here, the Mark II, is
totally safe, there is no issue with the bolt in this rifle. It’s a fairly conventional two lug rotating bolt. And they’re great guns. Now the
Mark III is the one that we have issues with. Alright, so I’ve kind of decorated this one up a bit with
some red tape here so that people don’t fire it by accident. This is a Mark III, or M-1910 Ross rifle, and this
is the one that has potential dangerous issues. Now there are a couple ways to easily
differentiate it from the earlier safe version. (For one I should point out this has been
sporterised, so typically if you find one of these it may look like this or it may have a
full-length stock and a slightly longer barrel.) The most obvious distinctive feature of the 1910
is this magazine that’s exposed below the stock. … In fact that’s really the only thing you really need to look
for to differentiate this from the other versions of the Ross. If you see the magazine it’s a 1910,
and it potentially has this issue. So let’s take a look at how, if you know you have
a 1910, what you need to look at to see if it’s safe. [Inspecting the bolt] Alright, so let’s start by taking a look at how you can tell
if your Ross rifle is safe to fire in its current configuration. When you know what to look for
this is actually exceedingly easy. What we have here is our bolt and our bolt sleeve. And as long as, when the bolt is in the rifle, you can see about
an inch here of exposed sleeve basically your rifle is safe. When this is mis-assembled what you’ll have is
the bolt in this configuration with the lugs horizontal, but with quite a bit less distance here,
having the bolt head snug up against the sleeve. So as we can see it, this is perfectly safe.
Something else you can look for is this rivet right here. This was a modification made after the fact by the Canadians, and putting that rivet in prevents the
bolt from being reassembled incorrectly. So again, if your rifle has this rivet you can
also be very sure that this is a safe rifle. (I drilled out the safety rivet on this rifle
after filming this segment.) Now finally, there’s one other way to take
a look and this is absolutely definitive, you can tell that the rifle is locking correctly. So if you watch right here, we can
watch the back of the locking lug. And as I push the bolt in, we can
actually see that rotate up and lock. When I pull the bolt back we can
watch it rotate down and unlock. Now if you can see the bolt lug doing that, (and on most rifles you’ll be able to
because most of these rifles are just fine), if you can see the bolt lug rotating like that you know absolutely with no doubt
whatsoever that the rifle is safe to shoot. Because in it’s unsafe condition the bolt does not rotate. Alright guys, so what I don’t want to do is scare
people about the Ross to an irrational level. So I want to show you that this is in fact a perfectly
safe rifle to shoot as long as you’ve assembled it correctly. Now looking at the bolt here, we can see that we have a nice large space of bolt shank visible. That tells me it’s assembled correctly. When I close
the bolt I can watch it lock, so I know this is safe. Alright, so we’re going to
load it up and fire a few rounds. It’s a really fast rifle. It’s a really nice shooting rifle. It’s a great gun. These were very popular sporter guns. During World War One, even though they had some issues
in the trenches with mud and being overly sensitive to dirt, after they’d replaced them with the
Lee-Enfield as the standard Canadian issue rifle, snipers still had a significant preference
for the Ross as a precision weapon. They had long barrels, they’re extremely high quality rifles. [So … is the danger just a myth?] Alright, before we go further, let’s take
a look at the internals of the Ross bolt. By understanding these we can see
how … this misassembly is possible. Now what we have is a series of spiral gear
teeth cut on the outside of the bolt shank here. Those line up with a series of cut
… teeth on the inside of this shaft. (It’s hard to get a camera view in there.) When we assemble these two parts together
the teeth here on the bolt are interfacing with the matching teeth on the inside of the bolt sleeve. Takes a little bit of fiddling here and there we go. This is incorrect, but if I put the teeth just slightly
differently, now I have a correctly assembled bolt. … When it’s all the way back the locking lugs
are supposed to be vertical to lock the gun. If I take this out, and I just over rotate it slightly, now it
will go back into its full length with the the lugs horizontal. What this causes is this allows the bolt to go fully forward without the lugs actually engaging
in the barrel extension and locking. Once the bolt’s fully forward, the firing mechanism
doesn’t realise that the gun is out of battery. And if I pull the trigger in this configuration, it
will drop the firing pin and detonate the cartridge. What I’ve discovered while playing around
with this is that it’s actually, to my surprise, a bit easier to misassemble the bolt than to do it
right, if you’ve got the whole thing stripped down. [Task #1:
Misassembling the bolt when fully stripped.] Alright, so let’s suppose that
I’m a Canadian infantryman, and I have disassembled the bolt here, which I’m probably
not supposed to do but let’s say I’ve done it anyway. I know this has to go back in here, I’m gonna
fiddle with that until it goes all the way in. And let’s say I’ve done it correctly, the proper procedure,
there we go. The lugs are vertical when it’s closed. I now have to put my extractor in. It runs
in this groove on the side of the bolt. (A little fiddly, get in there.) Comes back to here, and now I have to lift it
up and place it in its groove in the bolt head. Now the bolt is correct, we’re in good shape. However, let’s go back a step. Let’s say I
assemble this bolt incorrectly, like this. I still have to put the extractor in. And
some people would consider that this is now a problem. I have the lugs in the way. Well it turns
out all I have to do is pull the bolt forward a bit, I can slide the extractor in (Again, it’s still a little fiddly right there.) and I still have to do basically the
same procedure to put the extractor in. So having the extractor in place really doesn’t
hinder the potential of mis-assembling the bolt. [Task #2:
Making the bolt unsafe without disassembly.] Now let’s consider the question of whether the bolt can
be set up unsafely without actually disassembling it. As we know from our previous
experiments all we have to do to get it wrong is to rotate this clockwise until
it snaps into the wrong position. Now if I try to do that here the extractor blocks it. However in order to make it work, all I have
to do is pry up on the extractor just a little bit, and the bolt will rotate as far clockwise
as it needs to to be incorrectly assembled. So is the average soldier going to be
messing around with the bolt head like this? Well, they’re not supposed to, but I don’t
think anyone’s going to argue that they couldn’t. And you can see it’s not that
difficult to to set this up incorrectly. [Task #3:
Inserting a misassembled bolt into the receiver.] So if we’re tracking down the problems
with the Ross, the next question that arises is once we’ve misassembled the bolt like this,
are we going to be able to put it into the rifle? And if we can is it going to require,
say, an extraordinary amount of force? Something that would clue us in, no matter how jug-headed
of a recruit we might be, that something was wrong. Well, the answer is a little bit ambiguous. When we misassemble the bolt the locking lugs
come to rest not quite horizontal, but a little beyond. So I have to pull the bolt forward and rotate it just a little bit to
get the lugs nice and horizontal. And they have to be horizontal to sit on the
rails of the receiver and thus slide smoothly. So when I put the the bolt into the rifle, I have to pry the bolt forward just a hair to put it in. And then it will go in and lock with only
a little bit more force than normal. You can tell that it’s stiffer when it’s assembled wrong.
But if you had just disassembled the rifle, if the rifle was dirty, it might not be particularly
smooth when it’s put together the correct way. This isn’t enough to be able to definitively tell, just based
on the feel of the bolt, whether it’s put together right or not. [Task #4:
Firing the rifle with a misassembled bolt.] Alright, so I know this is the moment
you guys have really been waiting for. We’re going to go ahead and fire the Ross
with the bolt unlocked, set up incorrectly. Now I do want to point out before we go
further that we are doing this on a closed range. We know what we’re doing,
we are experts you might say. And that you should definitely not try this at home,
especially if you value your face. So without further ado, let’s go ahead and see what happens
when we touch off a round with the bolt assembled wrong. OK, ready, fire. – Well, it didn’t actually blow out.
– Wow. [The case head separated, and you can see it flying out.] Alright, so we fully expected that when we touched this
thing off, the bolt was going to go flying out the back. We had the ballistic soap ready and everything. However, the action is stronger than
a lot of people would give it credit for. The bolt stop appears to have actually
prevented the bolt from flying out. If we look in up close here, you can see that the
rearmost locking lug has been sheared off from contact really with the bolt stop. That’s
the only thing that’s in there that could stop it. And we have some nice scuff damage
on the the right side rear locking lug. In fact I can see a piece of the lug sitting back there, see if I can pull that out. So there’s our locking lug. Alright, so we attempted to set this up for a second run
to see how much more damage the bolt could sustain. And the first time we did it we
were unable to get a firing pin strike. The trigger pulled, it went click, but nothing happened. So we reset for a second time, and our second one we
made sure we had the bolt as far in as we could get it. And that time we got a real light strike
on the primer, it didn’t detonate the cartridge. So at this point I think we’re
pretty much done trying that out. I’m really interested that this actually didn’t go
flying out the back of the gun like we had anticipated. It does make one kind of question the veracity of the stories out
there about Canadian soldiers being maimed or killed by these things. On the other hand, the bolt doesn’t necessarily
have to actually leave the gun to do that. If you had your face right up on the stock, obviously you’re not expecting the
bolt to go anywhere until you move it, so if you’ve got a nice sight
picture, nice cheek weld up here, and it does this, the bolt’s going to come
back and it’s not going to be a good day. That in fact could account for most of these stories, so. Also I want to point out, the bolt stop here that actually … prevented this bolt from flying
out is a pretty small piece of material. It’s just this little shelf, that’s
the only thing that held the bolt in. It looks like the bolt lugs were
probably hardened, which makes sense, and when the hardened, brittle bolt
lug hit the non-hardened bolt stop, the lug sheared off from the shock, and the
bolt stop was left intact. Which is pretty cool. Alright guys, thanks for watching. I hope you enjoyed learning
something about the Ross and hope you enjoyed the cool high speed video. And hopefully now if you do have a Ross you’ll understand
exactly what you need to check to make sure it’s safe, and you can go out and enjoy
what is really a very good rifle.

100 thoughts on “Myth and Reality of the Ross MkIII Rifle

  1. At 07:43 the spiral grooves in the bolt look worn-down. Did the grooves wear down with heavy use, and would that have been a safety issue as well?

  2. After watching this video with my Ross in hand, I found out that my particular rifle has no Safety Rivet! I successfully misassembled my bolt and it fits in the rifle! Holy Shit! I'm never going to shoot this without checking my lugs!

  3. I was hoping you would assemble the bolt correctly at the end of video and so if it would go into battery and fire the right way :/ still sweet vid thanks for the heads up on these firearms.

  4. Keep in mind though that the Ross Rifle continued to serve with CEF snipers until the end of the war. I've seen sources where the snipers were still carrying personalized sniper rifles in victory parades in Canada in 1919.

  5. Telling us would have been enough, you shouldn't have destroyed a working gun (unless you were sure it would fall appart soon anyway – otherwise you just destroyed a nice gun for nothing 🙁 )

  6. Great video. Combine the rifle’s tendency to jam with the ease of misassembling the bolt, and you could see how those accidents could happen. You can easily picture a soldier taking his rifle apart to clean and oil it after a jam and putting it back together incorrectly.

  7. If there is a such thing as reincarnation, I was one of the idiots who blasted a hole into his own face in WWI.

  8. I've been looking around for a ross rifle for quite some time. I found one for sale but it was sporterized so I didn't want it. anyone know where you could buy these? an actual ross preferably 1917 model

  9. I expect that the nature of the Ross being finicky probably did not help this. If you have to be constantly cleaning it, and it never seems to be clean enough you might think to try dissembling the bolt to clean it as well, even if you were warned not to.

  10. Way, WAY late to this: But in the failure, I wonder if the bolt COULD come out if it did that if the rifle had been out during winter? A very cold, brittle bolt stop under high pressure from the bolt blowing back?

  11. Love it when a video comes out of a Canadian made rifle, nonetheless, a malfunctioning Canadian rifle, people are so quick to make fun of us.

  12. You've damaged a historical piece of equipment by firing it assembled wrong :/ just showing how easy it is to assembly it incorrectly was enough to prove it was a potentialy dangerous weapon, we all expect shit to happen if you fire a gun assembled wrong. Great video anyway.

  13. I think you missed one key piece of this situation, but got very close to it.

    As you say the Ross was extremely sensitive to the trench environment. The soldiers who carried these rifles were very accustomed to having to clean them regularly–hence why a private in the trenches might have all the innards of his gun out in the first place, despite doctrine supposedly teaching him not to do so. It was either that or run up against the Kaiser's machine guns with nothing but a jammed action and a bayonet! In that kind of situation, in the horribly dingy and low-light conditions of his mud-billet it was probably fifty-fifty if he got the bolt back in the correct orientation, even if he knew how to do so properly. To me this is not so much an absolute failure of design–although obviously it was not a good one–but rather only a single nightmarish facet among so many others of the 1914-1918 trenches themselves.

  14. JUST found this video! THANK you, Ian! You have explained exceptionally well how the Ross works, and what to avoid to make this firearm safe. Now, as a Canadian, I should no longer hesitate to add this to my WWl collection/accumulation. Besides, I really LIKE straight – pulls!

  15. As a Canadian I have learned these things. The Ross rifle was an extremely accurate gun, more so than the leeenfield. It had a been designed for hunting, not warfare. That is where the lee enfield was better. If you got the Ross even the tiniest bit dirty, it wouldn’t function. The bayonet mounts worked, until you fired it, in which case it would fly off. It is a fantastic gun being used the wrong way. We wanted our own gun, aside from the lee enfield, and thusly the Ross rifle was born.

  16. McBride in "A Rifleman Went to War" says he never heard of the Ross having this problem….sounds like a training issue.

  17. Gun-Jesus saved us from getting harmed by the devil hiding in the mechanismachine of the MkIII Ross riffle
    Praised be Gun-Jesus!
    Seriously man, you did an excellent job here (kind of the natural thing for you, as we all know)! But, by God, that is a criminally misconstrued piece of crap that never should have made it into the soldiers hands, except from a German that picks it up from the battlefield… The responsible people in the ordinance department that okayed it, should have all been put before a court-martial and severely punished. They tried and shot Mata Hari for much less!
    This seriously dangerous flaw is a pity in a gun that has a whole lot going in its favor.

  18. Was Andy okay with the rifle being damaged? Did you at least try duct-taping it back? Oh, wait, that was 5 years ago…

  19. I'm curious if the rifle could still "safely" fire if the bolt were reassembled properly, or if the loss of one of the locking lugs / deformed metal would prevent this. Say, if the jarhead who misassembled the rifle didn't have a good cheek weld and wasn't missing his face, and was more concerned with the need to start shooting at the Germans again or else his CO would tear him a new one.

  20. My observation after watching the video is : no.1 the importance of properly maintaining and understanding a firearm. no.2 Remembering the reason we need firearms is to occasionally take the people out of power that get us into conflicts like WW I and II in the first place. The people who start and profit from these wars rarely are the people fighting and dying in them.

  21. Nice video, I just purchased a Ross at a garage sale for 30 dollars, and have been hesitant to shoot it. Thanks for tips on what to check. I will Definitely bench test this rifle soon.

  22. wow, all it needed was a bit of a bolt design modification so soldiers cold only make the extractor fit in the right configuration or a basic training guide and the Ross wouldn't have had this happen to it. I mean you would have to fire that thing hundreds of times before that bolt actually leaves the gun and comes back at your face which you'd never get a chance to do. You may actually be at more risk for this to happen with the Howell Automatic rifle than the Ross MkIII when reasembled properly.

  23. Have a 1905 mark 2 that's been sporterized ( unfortunately ) in .280 ross but is missing its bolt assembly (grandfather didn't want it functional). Where can one find parts?!?!

  24. The problem with more complex rifles is recruits and city dwellers who didnt grow up hunting and shooting like rural people do…most hunted with dad and had bb guns and .22s as kids…i recall at a city carnival hitting nearly every target at a shooting gallery booth much to the amazement of all around me, i was 11.

  25. I've been trying to find this video for YEARS. I've seen the shooting scene in the old intro and I've been hunting it ever since.

  26. I am an engineer by training and a mechanic by inclination, I understand the big spiral grooves on the bolt but not the little gear teeth. Why are they necessary? And what function do they perform?

  27. I visited "Fort Ross" and it is in Sonoma County, CA. Why not just copy the 98 Mauser like Springfield's 03 ? Great reality check.

  28. That really is a fast and beautiful reload, just as satisfying as in bf1 which is why I main the ross marksman

  29. If you lengthened the stock so it coming back doesn’t hurt you, modified the locking lugs, and then put a spring assembly to push the bolt forward, you could possibly have a semi-auto rifle.

  30. That was very interesting! I knew they were unreliable vis a vis dirt etc, but did not know the whole story about the incorrectly assembled bolt blowback. Thanks for the really detailed video! What a fast rifle though. It could have been a real winner, had it been more robust and, ah, safe.

  31. The first time I even hear about a Ross was in a Gun Digest annual book. I think it was 2004 or 2005ish. It was a Ross in a museum with a note from a well known hunter that said his guide had it in Canada and when he fired it ripped part of his cheek off. Wish I could remember more detail.

  32. If kept clean and using quality ammo the Ross is a superior shooter ,one of the things often ignored in its history is it used to shoot the hell out of those matches at camp Perry ,putting the mauser/ 1903 crowd into a tizzy so much so that they rewrote the rules to prevent it from competing! The Soviets received some as lend lease they rebuilt their actions into target rifles and actually competed in international competitions for years!

  33. Good thing that bolt came in its own bubble wrap, otherwise it might have been damaged in shipping from Canada to England to France to Germany to Canada to USA…

  34. My grandfather liked his Ross Mk3. He was in the British Home Guard during WW2 and frankly would have been happy with anything when threatened with invasion, but he liked the straight pull, compared to his old Lee Enfield carbine (ex Royal Horse Artillery, when horses were used).

  35. It appears that the bolt stop swings out and stays open rather than springing itself shut. If that's the case, the bolt could leave the gun when fired unlocked.

  36. What was the piece of metal that we see flying out of the gun and forward starting around 13:43 in? It doesn't look like a case.

  37. I can understand why military rifles were sporterised in the past, but it kills me inside when people do it to old military guns these days, especially ww1 and earlier guns. I met a guy with a sporterised 1886 lebel rifle, which he had also rechambered for .308 win.The fact he sporterised it around 2005, kinda kills me inside. Especially the pic rail he had on it for mounting a scope & a real tree camo stock.

  38. I live few meters away from where those were produced. This is a very infamous weapon, but not many people here still know about it despite living so close to where the factory was.

  39. a shit ton of xenophobic comments from sammies who never heard of a Ross rifle before this piece. sammies know everything there is to know about non us service rifles.

  40. The Ross was strongly supported by Sir Sam Hughes Minister of Milita in 1914, and he believed in the rifle inspite of complaints. And yes Canadian snipers liked this rifle, but they tended to, and still do keep their weapon in good state.

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