AIF, Aperture Sights, Australia, Bathurst, Charles Bean, Cowper Wharf, Dardenelles, England, Gallipoli, Great War, Guns, Hunting, John Mues, Lee Enfield, Military, Rifle Clubs, Tangent Sights, Target Shooting, Trenches, Turkey, Turks, War, Wooloomooloo, World War 1
THE GALLIPOLI SIGHT
Many people would have by now seen the film Gallipoli or at least know something of the Australian involvement in the Dardenelles campaign of 1915. For some years I had heard tales of Charles Bean’s references to Australian soldiers using ‘aperture sights‘ at Gallipoli. C.E.W Bean was a War Correspondent during this campaign and was born in Bathurst, not 40 minutes from Lithgow where the Small Arms Factory is situated and the Australian SMLE No1 MkIII rifle was manufactured. His family later moved to England where Bean was educated in the county of Essex. In 1914, Bean was voted to become the official war correspondant for the A.I.F forces – (beating out Keith Murdoch) – and was literally embedded with the Aussie troops, giving highly detailed accounts of day-to-day life and death.
In 1908, only a few short years before the outbreak of the Great War, an inventor from Melbourne Victoria patented a tangent styled aperture sight bearing his surname … ‘The Mues’. John Mues set about a small bespoke manufacturing operation producing his new patented target sight that would attach to rifles already well known to Australian shooters. It readily attached to the Lee Metford, Long Tom and SMLE by way of side plates, or by direct fitting beneath the dumb bell safety. A common theme in most reports of exceptional marksmanship during the Gallipoli campaign is that the best shooters were nearly always hunters back home. Men used to the tough conditions of the bush, and the discipline required to take a Kangaroo with a single well placed shot in order to limit damage to the skins, found themselves natural snipers in uniform.
There were another group of top shots however, who were just as meticulous about their work, they were the many target shooters from the Rifle Clubs of Australia. Many of the young men who joined up in 1915 already had experience in winning competitions using the sights of John Mues and these same men also kept them in their pockets when it came time to embark for England, and what they thought would be the Western Front. In 1915 my Great Grandfather was one of those men, he embarked at Cowper Wharf Wooloomooloo in Sydney with the 1st F.A.B, 1st Div A.I.F (1st Field Artillery Brigade, 1st Battery, Australian Imperial Force) – assuming he was on his way to England, and deployment in France. Little did any of these young men know that half-way across the ocean to England their transports Captains were secretly ordered to change course and land in Egypt. This would be the start of the AIF deployment to the Dardenelles.
Once the young target shooters got themselves dug into the cliffs at Gallipoli, Charles Bean wrote that he began to notice some of them attaching aperture sights to their rifles. This was entirely against regulations and in spite of efforts to locate photographic evidence of Aussie soldiers using them at Gallipoli, these images have alluded me. I now suspect that even if images did exist, the censor may well have blotted them out for reasons of official regulation. In any case, Bean is explicit in his book, The Official History of Australia, in the mention of Australians using these aperture sights. The NCOs (Non Commissioned Officers) who had close contact with their men turned a blind eye to the practice, but having seen the good they did in knocking off ‘Johnny Turk’, they allowed the use without intervention or sanction.
To think that these sights are over 100 years old in their invention and simplicity is sobering enough, but when you consider the environment the Mues sights initially saw use -(rifle clubs)- and then later wrought destruction -(Gallipoli)-, the contrast between the two hemispheres couldn’t have been farther removed. The common denominator between both was of course their great success in practical use and application. The sights afforded both windage and elevation on a vernier scale system most are still familiar with today. They could be folded down alongside the rifles receiver wall, or left in place if probity required it. A variety of apertures (peeps) could be fitted to suit the optical requirements of the shooter and there are stories of soldiers writing home requesting that their families send them aperture sights in the next round of comfort goods.
These sights still see use to this very day and are accurate out to 1000 yards. The authors example below is the No1 improved model Mues made circa 1912-1913 which was an upgrade of the original ‘Nose Knocker’ model from 1910. The ‘Nose Knocker’ model featured a dog leg shape in the sight and unlike the No1 improved model, did not come with a click adjustable vernier on the top windage arm. Below, what has often been referred to as the Gallipoli sight, mentioned by C.E.W Bean.
The author’s rifle below shows the exact type that target shooters would have employed in Australia before the outbreak of WW1. The Lee Speed was a commercial pattern BSA & M Co product circa 1895, identical to its military counterpart. It has had the rear bed sight and volley sights removed for the express purpose of target shooting with a Mues aperture sight. This rifle was also drafted as an Australian Military Reserve arm during the great war and bears the Reserve markings on the butt plate tang and Government broad arrow on other parts. Somebody cared enough about it to continue using it as a target rifle after WW1, as it was rebarreled in 1926 with a commercial Lithgow barrel, which the S.A.F ( Lithgow Small Arms Factory) were making at that time.
My Great Grandfather was at the first landing of Anzac Cove in Gallipoli with the 1st F.A.B. They sent the 18 pounders ashore on pontoons/lighters under fire from the Turks who had the high ground but on finding the landing area unsuitable for artillery, and still under shelling, they were ordered to put horses and guns back on the pontoons and returned to the ship. On arriving back at the ship the order was countermanded and once again the 1st F.A.B were sent back to the beach. Upon arrival for the second time it was decided yet again that the majority of the 18 pounders should return to the ship, while only one gun should stay. That single gun was that of the 1st battery of the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, my Great Grandfather’s. His battery, who having found a small hill to roll the gun up onto, silenced the Turkish position by the end of the first day. An excerpt from his Unit War Diary follows …
“At 0300 1 gun and two wagons of the 1st Battery were taken ashore and moved up into action at the top of SHELL GREEN. Major Sweetland and Lieut Irwin and detachment of 1st Battery accompanied the gun. At 1230 one section of 3rd Battery was disembarked and towed to the shores, but under instructions per C.D.A were returned to the ship and reloaded again at 2230. 2nd Battery (Less one section), Col Christian, Col Lloyd and detail of B.H.Q were sent to shore but were returned to the ship in a similar manner. 1st Battery remained in action the whole day firing upwards of 500 rounds at a range of about 400x. The gun was withdrawn at night and re-embarked on the Atlantian. Lieut Irwin and 6 (six) men remained ashore to assist in ammunition carrying.”
My Grandfather survived 4 months on Gallipoli before succumbing like thousands of others to dysentry. He was moved to the Field Ambulance aid station, then placed on a hospital ship, sent to Mudros and then on to England by way of Malta for recovery before being taken on strength in France where he fought until wars end in 1918. Like others who served and were veterans of Gallipoli in France, he wore the A badge in the middle of his Divisional shoulder patch. I have often wondered if he carried a Mues in his pocket as well.
© The TARTAN TROUVERE 2013