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Ross MkI: Canada’s First Battle Rifle


Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another
video on ForgottenWeapons.com. I’m Ian McCollum, and today we are going to look at the Ross. Specifically we’re going to look at the very beginnings of the Ross rifle story. The Ross rifle is of course the
unique and interesting straight-pull that was developed and produced in Canada, and was
used as the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s primary combat rifle at the very beginning of World War One,
until it was ultimately replaced by the Lee-Enfield. Over the course of several videos here we’ll get into
exactly what happened, and what led to its replacement. But the story begins with Sir Charles Ross,
born in Scotland in Ross-shire, of course, in 1872. And he was born into an extremely wealthy family. They
were in fact the second-largest land holders in Great Britain. And at the time of his birth fairly cash-rich as well,
although less so by the time he reached adulthood. Ross was an interesting character. He was
large, physically large, physically strong, athletic. He was charming, but also had quite the temper to him. Not probably the sort of guy you would
really want to become a business partner with. Definitely not the sort of guy you
wanted to get into a big argument with. He was sued at one point for nearly choking
a guy to death … over some stupid argument. He was at the same time, in many ways, an
inventive genius and developed this rifle on his own. … I mean there are not many people who can develop a rifle, have it be
a commercial sporting success and also adopted by a major military. So, it’s an interesting rifle of contradictions
in that … Ross was a brilliant engineer, and yet this was also one of the least successful,
ultimately, combat rifles in modern history. So, the story begins in approximately 1900. Ross had gone off to fight in the Boer War because
it seemed like the fun and interesting thing to do. He had a somewhat short attention span and
kind of easily bored by things, and the idea of, “Hey, well, we’ll go and fight in the Boer War and it’ll be
a grand adventure.” That was exactly his sort of thing. Commanded an artillery unit there, and came
back with a great appreciation and interest in the Steyr-Mannlicher straight-pull system,
which the Boers had used in some small numbers. And he put together his own, not a copy of the
Steyr, but a rifle largely inspired by the Steyr. In fact, the very first ones had Steyr-Mannlicher style
magazines, although that would change fairly quickly. This rifle began as a sporting rifle. And what we
have here is actually one of the very early ones. This is a 1902 to 1903 transitional sporting Ross rifle. So we’re gonna take a look at this, and then how it
transitioned into the very first Mark I military patterns. So, let’s dig right into this one. So this sporting rifle is pretty cool. It is in its original
actual transit case here. Belonged to Lieutenant-Colonel Gerald James Cuthbert of the Scots Guards, and he took it
all over the world. There’s a stamp on here somewhere for Egypt. But if we go ahead and take a closer look at the rifle. These early sporting rifles predate
the existence of a Ross rifle factory, and so Ross actually had the guns
manufactured by subcontractors. The receivers here were
manufactured in Hartford, Connecticut. And barrels were supplied by Charles
Lancaster, specifically his oval bore barrels, which you may be familiar with from
… the Lancaster multi-barrel oval bore pistols. Lancaster supplied both complete guns
and gun parts to a lot of different people, so this was a well known and
well regarded name at the time. What we have is something that is clearly
recognisable as a Ross straight-pull action, but has a lot of subtle differences from the late
pattern military rifles that are much more common. So Ross had actually started patenting rifles
as early as 1893, well before the Boer War. It was after he came back that he patented this style,
much in the pattern, or in the model of the Steyr-Mannlicher. We have a 2 lug, straight-pull bolt action here, and the way
this works is that there is a series of basically gear teeth inside the bolt body here. So when you pull the bolt body
back, it forces the bolt head to rotate, which will either lock, right here, lock like that. Or unlock on opening. It is interesting to note that these very early
rifles are actually cock on closed designs, where all of the subsequent
patterns would be cock on open. Now inside here, the very first sporters that Ross
made actually had a Mannlicher-style magazine. But he changed that to this Harris pattern,
or dump magazine as it’s often called. It’s a 5 round, double stack internal
magazine. You can see the follower. And there’s no stripper clip guide to it. Of course this
was a sporting design, it didn’t need stripper clips. Instead it has this lever up … in front of the action. When you push that down it manually depresses
the follower, and then you simply drop cartridges in. This seems to me to have a substantial potential for rim
lock, but speaking to those who have actually used these, at least with a little bit of practice, that’s
not actually a problem in practice, so. The idea was it allows very quick reloading. You
can load it with 1 round, 2 rounds, all the way up to 5. You don’t actually have to depress this, you can leave spring
tension on the follower, put a round in and just pop it into place. Or to do it more quickly, you can
take the spring tension off yourself. Now a couple of the features that are on this early
sporting model that we will see depart fairly quickly. There is a dust cover on it over the top of the bolt. One of the most interesting
bits to me is that the rear sight (there is an aperture rear sight as well as express
sights on the barrel, which we’ll look at in a moment), but the aperture sight is actually located on the striker. So, sits right back out there. This doesn’t seem
to be the most stable position for this sort of thing, but this striker doesn’t move, it’s pretty solid in there.
So, especially for a sporting rifle, that was perfectly sufficient. There is also a safety here on the back of the bolt, you just push that laterally over
and it locks the system in place. As a sporting rifle this sort of thing could be had in a huge
variety of configurations, basically anything you wanted. Colonel Cuthbert here decided that he wanted to have
a series of express sights all the way out to 500 yards. So you have a variety of flip-up express sights. Sling swivel attachment on the bottom of the
barrel, as well as one on the side of the barrel. And this style of early, hooded front sight. So it’s against this backdrop of Ross starting to
have a decent market for high quality, straight-pull sporting rifles that the Canadian government
comes into play, and the Canadian military. The Canadians had originally back in the 1890s
purchased tens of thousands of Lee rifles, Long Lees, for their military from the British. That was kind of the standard practice,
there wasn’t a major rifle factory in Canada. Well, after the Boer War they need to
replenish those supplies of military rifles, and the Canadians go to the British and basically say,
“Hey, we want to buy some more rifles.” And the British reply that they can’t,
there aren’t any available. So, no. This didn’t go over well. Canada needed something, and
so they came back and started to look at their options. And private industry like BSA, Birmingham Small Arms,
was not interested in setting up its own factory in Canada, which would have been a good solution. Instead it looked like the Canadian government was
going to have to set up its own manufacturing plant. They did consider buying rifles from other countries,
from the United States as well as from Europe, and decided that that just wasn’t a good strategic move. They
should be either supplied by the British empire or from within Canada. And at this point Charles Ross, entrepreneur, inventor,
engineer, comes along and sees a great opportunity and he says, “Well, I’ll tell you what. I will build a plant.
I’ll … build the rifle plant with my own money.” (Because he is tremendously wealthy, he’s able
to draw on extensive land holdings in Scotland as credit to pay for the construction of a rifle factory.) “I’ll do all of that. It’ll use Canadian labour, it’ll be Canadian
industry, and we’ll make all the rifles here in Canada.” And this sounds like a fantastic option to the
Canadians, in particular to Minister of War, Sam Hughes. (Who will be in power, by the way,
through the beginning of World War One.) And Ross has a rifle already, he’s got his sporting rifle. So he adapts it to military pattern, runs it
through some tests with the Canadian military. And it has a few issues, but they seem like
issues that can be fairly easily worked out. And by 1903 he has contracts to start delivering rifles. He goes ahead and builds this plant near the Saint
Lawrence River in Quebec, and we get the Mark I Ross. In contrast to the sporting rifles, the Mark I Ross military rifle
has of course a military pattern of buttstock. No checkering. Very nice and easy to open, a little bit stiffer to close.
Has the same Harris dump style of magazine in it. It is of course now chambered for the .303 British cartridge. This
was one of the major considerations for the Canadian military. And … the way that they overcame
the objections of the British government, who of course wanted the Canadians to use
Lee-Enfields, just didn’t want to sell them right now. The British were very concerned about non-standard
rifles and Ross’s response to this was, “Well look, it uses the same cartridge as the British Lee,
and, hey, the British are using something like 7 different variations of rifle already. They have Long Lees,
they have Lee-Metfords, they have Lee-Enfields, they have carbines, they have long rifles. Obviously exact
standardisation isn’t an issue. It’s the cartridge that’s the issue.” And the Canadian government was highly
sympathetic to Ross’s plan from the beginning, because they really liked the idea of a
domestically produced, domestically designed rifle. And they went ahead with these arguments and said,
“Yeah, it’s in the right calibre and that’s what really matters”, so. We have a magazine cut off located in the
side of the stock, just above the trigger guard. The rear sight is kind of indicative of what would
… clearly become the problems with the early Ross. … This sight by the way goes out to 2,800 yards. It
is a really tall leaf sight there, and it’s thin, it’s fragile, it’s spindly. You can pretty clearly see that here. This was very quickly reduced in length, but
still this wasn’t the only part of the Mark I Ross that would be a little too
fragile for field use. So. Handguard. Rear sight. We have a hooded barleycorn style front sight there that is
dovetailed onto the barrel. That would become a bit of an issue. And then a front band and bayonet lug. There originally
would have been a stacking swivel back here as well. So the markings on the receiver here are (let’s bring a
highlight in there), Ross Rifle Company, Quebec, Canada. Patent 1903. So this is a Mark I, which is also
sometimes referred to as a 1903 pattern of Ross. The serial number is stamped into the stock here, along
with a Quebec roundel indicating government property. The configuration of the numbers on these was a letter
prefix followed by a serial number that went from 1 to 999. So each letter is 1,000 rifles. The very first 500 of these were actually issued
out to the Department of Oceans and Fisheries, … by kind of coincidence they were the first people
that really needed them. They got the first batch. And these were actually not delivered until about 1905.
There were … the inevitable delays in getting the factory set up, followed by some issues with rear sights. So this pretty quickly led to the
development of a Mark I star. So of course in British colonial Commonwealth parlance
you have Marks which are your major changes, and then minor changes are
designated by an asterisk, a star. So what we have here is a Mark I star. There were a
total of 10,000 Mark I Rosses that were actually delivered. The first 500 … went to the Oceans and Fisheries
department, it wasn’t very … long after that they revised this design to the Mark I star. The most significant change was a different rear sight. This
thing, even after being shortened, was still way too flimsy. And so they actually came up with a sight that is very much
like the Gewehr 98 Lange Visier, which is kind of cool. They changed the handguard to match at the same time. So this guy has a single continuous handguard
that comes all the way out to the barrel band. Where this new pattern of rear sight
goes all the way down to the stock. And so it has a rear handguard, and a
little short front handguard up here. Range markings are noted here on the
top of the sight. It goes out to 2,200 yards. It is also windage adjustable with this dial.
This one’s taken a bit of an impact at one point. But that allows you to adjust your windage. The front sight was also considerably
enlarged and strengthened. So there’s your Mark I star compared to the original early, much
smaller, and kind of on this little fragile dovetail mount, Mark I. With the adoption of the Mark I star there would
also be a bit of a change to the buttstock markings. And at this point these markings tell you a
lot about the history of each individual rifle. So we still have the Quebec roundel here, a little
harder to see. It is now marked with its Mark designation, so I and then a little asterisk.
The serial number on this guy is G 176. And then we have the date of actual
production, or military acceptance (to be honest I’m not sure exactly which,
they generally are the same anyway), 1905 there is when this one was actually delivered. And
this has also been marked “D.P.”, that means drill purpose. Which means the rifle was basically taken out of
service to be used as a training rifle by the military. As these rifles started to be issued out and actually started to be
used, a number of fairly serious problems came to light with them. Which frankly isn’t all that surprising, these
rifles never went through a major field trial, kind of because the Canadian government was eager
to get them into service and excited about the project. So in many ways the Mark I Ross was
kind of the beta test model of the system. And so, specifically, one of the really
significant problems was the bolt stop here, (… you push this button down
to remove the bolt from the rifle), this was not strong enough. And there were significant
numbers of issues of, in particular in parade dress drill one of the parts of drill is to
bring the rifle down by your side and smartly smack the the bottom of the
buttstock on the ground, and if you did that occasionally the bolt would simply fall out of
the rifle and clatter embarassingly to the ground. That was perhaps not the most
significant combat style of problem, but it was the most visible and
publicly embarrassing issue with the rifle. In addition, there was no primary
extraction built into the bolt system. There were only two cam grooves
or sets of cams inside the bolt body. This made the action typically fairly stiff to open. … Well, some of those problems were resolved by having the
bolts kind of reworked at the factory to make them a bit smoother, but that was something that would have to be
addressed mechanically in later revisions of the rifle. In addition, the nose cap was
relatively small, relatively weak. Especially the nice square corner here
was a perfect propagation site for cracking, and these nose caps had a
tendency to break during bayonet drill. So, all of these problems put together came out really pretty
quickly as soon as the rifles started hitting troops hands. And, well, they would cause some problems. So ultimately the legacy of the Mark I Ross was that of, kind of,
what should have been a rifle that went into further field trials. There were significant problems,
and they were recognised pretty quickly. And they very quickly led to
the development of the Mark II. … In fact Mark II production began almost… … well, it began before a lot of the
Mark I rifles were actually delivered. By late 1905 the Mark II had been developed, had
been approved, and was already going into production while Mark Is were still coming off the production line. So we will … dig into all of the different iterations of the
Mark II in the next video. Hopefully you guys enjoyed this. Thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “Ross MkI: Canada’s First Battle Rifle

  1. herr Hauptman, I know who is in the trenches on the other side, It´s the Canadians. I can hear curse words in english and french.

  2. With Trudeau vowing to ban all semi-automatic rifles from law abiding citizens (with help from the NDP to form a coalition) I might have to sell my Type 81 and pick up a Ross.

  3. You need to get in touch with Rob at British Muzzleloaders, he has recently acquired a MkIII Ross and is producing his usual awesome videos about same.

  4. THANK YOU…for using the CORRECT Canadian flag for war-time use!

    Nothing pisses me off more than to see the idiot communist maple leaf flag used to depict our World War activities!

  5. Hey Ian, i was rifling through some of your older videos and wondered what happened with your hotchkiss universal SMG? Did you get rid of the barrel extension?

  6. Seems like the "dump" magazine design would work quite well if the rifle were using rimless cartridges, it's almost like a hybrid of the Krag and Mauser styles.

  7. Anyone know where the Ross Riffle Company was in Québec? There are a lot towns of bordering the St-Laurent. I tried Google but it seems like my Google-fu is weak. It's just to satisfy my curiosity.
    Edit: The next video in this series answered my question: Plaines d'Abraham in Québec city.

  8. The "Myth and Reality" episode about the Ross Rifle from 6 years ago was the first video from Forgotten Weapons that I saw. I've been a fan of the channel ever since.

    Keep up the great work Ian!

  9. Not being trivial, but why do you use the colloquial term 'nose cap', instead of the more technical 'upper band'? This is serious question. A suggestion for a future video (as if you need one) would be various terms for the same item/part.

  10. I know windage and elevation is an important factor but are you suppose to be firing a rifle or an artillery piece with that rear sights?

    I really like your Winter accommodations, Ian. They looks o formally cozy. Just need a polar bear in the background. Eh.

  11. I would love to see a firearm designed by Ian “Gun Jesus” McCollum. It’d Probably be the best gun on earth!

  12. Pretty rifle. Though I don't understand why Canada didn't just buy Springfields or setup an Lee-Enfield Factory instead.

  13. Nice video! Is there a reason why finding a Ross Mk1 is so difficult? the Mk2 and Mk3 are easy to find online but I have never seen a Mk1 for sale.

  14. My grandfather had a Ross rifle and a Lee rifle. But sadly my grandmother house was robbed in the early 90s. But I did shoot them when I was about 11 or 12 and they we're awesome to shoot. As a Canadian always good to learn about Canadian history

  15. Very Cool an beefy rifle. I would love to have one in my collection. Thanks for showing it Gun Jesus !!!!!!!!!!

  16. 45k views, 3.3k Likes… and only 14 Dislikes. On Youtube.
    On a historical video about a Canadian military firearm.
    If that isn't absolute proof that Ian is in fact the one true Gun Jesus, I don't know what is.
    A fascinating video as always, Praise Him, Amen.

  17. What caliber is the sporting rifle? How much did Ross' ammo inspire/contribute to the development of the cartridge for the P-13? Great video per usual.
    Thank you

  18. The straight pulls are at great disadvantage compared to turn bolt designs but these straight pulls represent would have seen an obvious developmental path to gas or recoil operated semi automatic actions.

    If Ross had pursued a semi auto rifle his Ross MK I & II could have been a good place to begin.

  19. The video of my forgotten weapon is now live on my channel. Please have a look at it. We need answers or more questions. But more answers would be better. Thanks.

  20. Doesn't battle rifle mean automatic(semi or otherwise) rifle chambered in a full size cartridge with a detachable magazine? This is a bolt action rifle… Surely it doesn't qualify no?

  21. Too bad the Canadian government forgot about the lessons of adopting a rifle originally designed for civilian use in its military when they adopted the C14.

  22. My grade 9 history project keeps finding ways to haunt my ass.
    I looked up 1 video 5 years ago, and I'm still getting recommendations about the Ross Rifle to this day.
    Youtube can't recommend stuff i watch every day but it can sure as hell recommend something related to what I watched once five years ago.

  23. Harry Secombe the entertainer use to tell the story if how early after Dunkirk he and others in his unit were issued Ross rifles on guard duty one night the Officer did an inspection Harry came smartly to attention slamming his rifle butt on the concrete at which point, according to him "it went bang" he claimed the bullet just missed his ear on its way through the guard post roof. He then claimed he was put on a charge for discharging his weapon without permission and destruction of military property to whit one guard post roof. Old wives tale or comedic overkill?

  24. I though the loose bolt issue extended to firing the rifle. I've heard stories of troops firing it and having the assembly fly out and hit them in the face.

  25. Ah yes, Sam Hughes, the guy who figured the MacAdam Shovel was a suitable idea. Who wouldn't want a hole in their shovel? What, may I ask, is the purpose of an entrenching tool you CAN'T shoot through?

  26. so, uh…what's the deal with the big knurled ring in front of the sight on the 1*? It appears kinda sight related (looks to have some very rough graduations on it), but I can't really work it out and you glossed right over it.

  27. Wasn’t one of the two big reason for the rifles adoption a want to be differing from Britain to have our own identity and a bit of parliamentary corruption

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