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Author Topic: The perception of safety of Ross rifles  (Read 10317 times)
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« on: November 15, 2009, 10:17:36 AM »

As I know some of those coming to this site have little experience with Ross rifles, one of the most common questions has to do with the perceived safety of firing a Ross rifle.  Many have heard that the rifles are unsafe and will blow up.  Unfortunately, this perception is often applied to all variations of Ross rifles.  First let me say that there were reports of problems with a small number of military rifles that were used overseas during WWI.  The specific rifle involves were the last variation of the Ross rifle known as the MkIII which was the same action that the final group of sporting rifles were based on (i.e. the M-10, R-10 and E-10).  Paradoxically, the MkIII and it's commercial variants were Ross' ultimate refinement (in many ways) and were not only the strongest of all Ross actions but the strongest bolt action of the time.  The multiple locking lug action is very similar to the Weatherby Mark V action.  During warfare their reports from the field that some shooters experienced the bolt blowing back in the shooters face, sometimes with disasterous consequences.  Reportedly, when the bolt was withdrawn from the rifle, the bolt head could be turned in the wrong direction and the bolt could be re-inserted in the action.  Because the bolt head was in the wrong direction it could not be slid fulling into the front receiver ring (i.e. it would be about one inch short of fully closing and none of the bolt locking lugs were engaged with their counterparts in the front receiver ring).  The rifle would still fire and as there was nothing locking the bolt and the combustion would blow it straight back.  Over the years some people who have owned a MkIII or M-10 have asked me how they can know if their bolt is assembled correctly and will fully close.  First of all, reportedly it takes much force to move a mis-assembled bolt forward into the action.  So, this should be the first sign of potential trouble.  For me, the greatest certainty comes with simply watching closely when closing the action.  If you look in the front receiver ring and the locking lug part of the bolt you can actually see the bolt head turn into the locking lugs during the last inch of bolt travel.  Please do not take the preceding information as endorsement of the safety and shootability of any Ross firearm.  Unless you feel you are at an expert level of experience I routinely recommend that all antique and vintage firearms be checked by a certified gunsmith prior to firing.  I will be interested to hear of other's experience and thoughts on the matter.
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cantom
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« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2009, 01:41:38 PM »

Unfortunately, on a Mk III Ross rifle, it's not hard to rotate the bolt head to the next track and make it not close up properly. That is why the Canadian army came up with the rivited bolt sleeve fix, which eliminated the problem.

I was fiddling with one a while ago and a little turn and voila! Together wrong.

The risk exists.

This is not applicable to earlier Mk II Rosses on the 1905 action.
« Last Edit: November 16, 2009, 02:05:02 PM by cantom » Logged
old hound
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« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2009, 06:58:45 PM »

This has been well documented, but I can't seem to be able to do it. Considerable force is required to install the bolt wrong. However it must have been a problem.
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« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2009, 08:16:18 PM »

In fairness to Ross rifles I want to state that I have fired some of my Ross rifles and have never had a bolt blow out.  I have never known anyone who had a bolt blow out. The extent that it was an actual problem during military use appears to have been extremely minimal.  The reasons the Ross sometimes performed poorly in military application seems to have mostly to do with the rifle jamming for which the primary causes included poor quality controlled ammunition, sand and dirt getting into the action, and the bolt stop issue which resulted in the action being very difficult if not impossible to close.  Returning to the safety and bolt blow out issue, it seems all we have to go on is what is in print.  We all know that just because something is stated in print, that doesn't necessarily mean it is the gospel truth.  But to me, it usually means it is worthy of review and analysis. 

On the front page, I mentioned Stent's article titled, "The Ross Rifle Ruckus" found in Volume II of the Gun Collector's Digest.  Stent devotes a fair amount of attention to the bolt blow back issue and traces it back to the military application.  According to Stent, probably the biggest detractor of the Ross rifle was a Canadian armorer, a sergeant named Lindsay Elliott who became an, "anti-Ross crusader."  Stent writes that Elliott reportedly, "saw a comrade dead in the trenches with the firing spring, main spring, and cocking piece of his Ross imbedded in his face; another dead with bolt out of his rifle and the lugs badly torn. He saw a group of buddies set a 'trench mousetrap' with a Ross; the cocked and loaded rifle aimed at a piece of cheese, with a string from cheese to trigger; and the bolt blew out of the rifle when the 'trap' went off.  He showed everyone who would listen to him just how easy it was to flick the Ross bolt the wrong way when it was out of the rifle.  When the colonel called him on the carpet for it, he did his trick with the bolt and issued his quiet challenge: 'Would you fire the rifle now, sir?'  'Of course I'd fire the rifle; why the devil shouldn't I?'  'Because it would blow your face off, sir,' and the sergeant with grim satisfaction and, laying the rifle over sandbags, he pulled the trigger with string and the bolt blew out with a bang."

Stent goes on:

"It may or may not have had any connection with the withdrawal of the Ross from army use.  But after the war, that same Lindsay Elliott startled many a proud Ross owner as much as he had astonished his colonel.  He could take a Ross, remove the bolt, flick it wrong, and replace the action unlocked in a matter of seconds.  Ross fans, and there were thousands of them, have often claimed that their rifle would not accept a wrongly-assembled bolt action without the use of considerable force.  But Elliott, who got about Canada a lot in his work as a salesman for an ammunition company, had numerous chances to try out various Rosses, and he told me he had never found a Ross MkIII or Model 1910 which would not accept its bolt readily when wrongly assembled." 

I can say that I am intrigued by this and I intend to give it a try on my rifles.  I will report back.  As I mentioned, I don't know Stent's background or qualifications to write his article but I do note that he indicates that the information obtained from Sergeant Lindsay Elliott came from direct conversation with Elliott. 
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cantom
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« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2009, 09:14:54 AM »

Interesting...I hadn't heard about that story. I believe it btw, it is very easy to pull the bolt out, give it a little jink and reinstall it in the rifle wrongly. Bad design IMHO.
The rivit fix cured it but too late.
Sadly, they weren't a good military rifle, personally I like them because they're a piece of Canadiana, but won't argue with anyone to claim they were a fine military rifle in the trenches.

John Sukey posted this the other day btw.

________________________________________________________________________

"Roaming in the Gloamin" Canadian version

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Roaming in the trenches, Ross rifle by my side
Roaming in the trenches, couldn't fire if I tried
It's worse than all the rest,the Lee-Enfield I like best
I'd like to lose it roaming in the trenches
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old hound
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« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2009, 03:14:40 PM »

The only thing that bothers me is why someone didn't discover that this could be done before they were ever issued. I suspect if you know how to do it, it could be easily done. I have not discovered how yet.
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Barryj
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« Reply #6 on: November 18, 2009, 09:10:50 AM »

Let's try to inject a level of reality in this discussion of "safety" as related to the Ross MkIII/1910 rifles.
1. We are all aware that, with an almost total lack of mechanical sense, the bolt head CAN in fact be reversed in the MkIII rifles, albeit with some difficulty.
2. Having also played with and seriously collected the 1911 Colt autos for many years, I was made aware that, again with no common sense or knowledge, the interruptor/sear assembly could be manipulated to a position that, if the pistol were reassembled, then loaded with a magazine, pulling the slide back to load the chamber would result in a full-auto discharge of the entire magazine. Now: is this fault to be laid at either John M. Browning's or Colt's feet? I think not.....
3. In the automotive field, that brilliant Automotive Engineer Ralph Nader, following exhaustive research and calculations, informed us that, if a Jeep were driven around a bend in any road at the same speed as a Corvette, the Jeep would surely turn turtle....was this the Jeep's fault? Studies are likely still being carried out as to the end result of a Corvette following a Jeep up a rocky stream-bed, but I suspect that most of us can guess the outcome.
4. I also believe (but am not prepared to experiment) that, were I to begin with almost any auto-loading rifle, with modifications to either the firing pin, the sear, or the ammo itself, full-auto fire could easily be the end result . A visit from BATFE's JBST's would soon follow....
5.The point I'm trying to make is that we all need to accept the fact that as there are surely fools amongst us, and any attempt to "foolproof" anything will eventually only result in Mother Nature breeding a better fool. Left to her own devices, Mother Nature would most likely have weeded out the majority of these types before breeding age were reached, but with our current society, this action would be frowned upon.
Getting back to the Ross; if the bolt needs to be dismantled, excellent info with colored pictures is available in a Book from Man at Arms Magazine by Stuart Mowbray. Otherwise; leave it alone! If it is suspected that it was tampered with earlier by a fool, a simple visual check that the gas escape hole in the bolt-head is visible with the bolt rearward will confirm all is well, and no "inspection by a competent gunsmith" will be necessary. 
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old hound
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« Reply #7 on: November 18, 2009, 02:52:28 PM »

Well that was well said and true. Have got that book and it is a good one, but have yet to take a bolt apart.
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« Reply #8 on: November 18, 2009, 06:12:05 PM »

I agree, very well-stated synposis by Barry with some good examples to keep it in perspective. 
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280_Ross
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« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2010, 02:14:44 PM »

In "The Ross Rifle Story" chapter 13 is devoted to "Ross Rifle Accidents and Causes", pps. 403 to 423.

A number of incidents are discussed, primarily involving M10 .280 rifles blowing back, in most cases with serious injury or death resulting to the firer.

In most of these cases, the bolt was found to be wrongly assembled.  Due to the passage of time and the lack of knowledge on the part of investigators (if any) etc., it is impossible to say now if the bolts were wrongly assembled in all cases.

There is some discussion in that book (which I'll refer to here as "TRRS") whether a "self-opening" could occur in some situations.

There is too much information in that chapter to precis it here, perhaps it could be reproduced in the Articles section?

Personally I would be willing to fire a MkIII or M10 rifle if I was satisfied that the bolt was correctly assembled and the bolt sleeve lugs and pawl were in good condition and operating correctly.

Of all the millions of rounds that have been fired out of Ross rifles in the last 100 odd years, the accident rate is probably no higher than with any other rifle, and in fact the strength of the action has probably saved quite a few people from injury, such as a man who fired a .303 cartridge in a .280!  The barrel bulged, but that is all reportedly!
« Last Edit: January 07, 2010, 07:46:01 PM by 280_Ross » Logged

"In my opinion there is no such thing as a 'foolproof' firearm and therefore fools should leave them alone." C.C. Meredith referring to the Ross rifle.
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« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2010, 06:54:18 PM »

As Jim Foral points out in his excellent Gun Digest article about the M-10, "The Best Rifle in the World" one can actually watch the bolt lugs turn and lock in place during the final bolt travel.  I have done this myself and it does enhance my sense that the bolt is clearly locked.  As far as reprinting sections of TRRS, it is not in the public domain yet and would require permission.  There are quite a few things I would like to scan in and post in the articles section but they simply aren't old enough yet.
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280_Ross
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« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2010, 10:42:29 PM »

There is one issue that interests me around the issue of safety, I'm not sure if I should raise it, as it might be liable to misinterpretation, but here goes!

That is the functions of the bolt sleeve lugs and pawl.  I was just looking at these on my well-worn SDS.  I have to say that it looks like the bolt sleeve lugs have pushed back against the pawl many times to cause the wear and deformation that is present on both.

I've noticed this one some MkII and MkIII bolt sleeves as well.  

Unless the bolt sleeve lugs are pushing back against the pawl on firing, I really don't see what could cause that wear and deformation, except someone pulling back the bolt handle while holding the trigger to the rear, many many times.

Comments?
« Last Edit: January 09, 2010, 01:33:30 AM by 280_Ross » Logged

"In my opinion there is no such thing as a 'foolproof' firearm and therefore fools should leave them alone." C.C. Meredith referring to the Ross rifle.
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« Reply #12 on: January 09, 2010, 01:31:25 AM »

And the MkII bolt sleeve lugs.  I have seen worse wear than this by the way.

Now it's been a couple of minutes since I posted these photos (which I just took) and looking at those marks in the MkII bolt sleeve and lugs below, it does look as though the relatively sharp edge of the pawl is digging into the bottom of the bolt sleeve and occasionally into the rear face of the lugs.  The metal has been removed from the lugs with what looks like a shearing action, rather than just displaced by the bolt sleeve lugs striking the pawl. 

I'm not sure whether the same is true for the SDS in the previous post.  The steel of the bolt sleeve may be harder as there is less damage to the lugs, and more to the pawl.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2010, 01:39:05 AM by 280_Ross » Logged

"In my opinion there is no such thing as a 'foolproof' firearm and therefore fools should leave them alone." C.C. Meredith referring to the Ross rifle.
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« Reply #13 on: February 17, 2010, 08:37:05 PM »

I put this on the front page, but given we already had a thread on this, I thought I should copy it here as well.  Plus, this affords an opportunity for others to comment.

I know this topic has been hashed over a good bit but it is on my mind tonight. I have recently read an article by George Nonte titled, "Sir Charles Ross And His Rifles" which can be found in March-April, 1971 edition of The Rifle Magazine.  Referring to the M-10 series, Nonte references the historical "considerable furor about Ross rifles 'blowing up,'" and the common reference to bolts inadvertently assembled incorrectly (we've all familar with this concept and it has been discussed on one of our forums).  I was quite interested to read Nonte's comment:  " - yet I once owned 13 Ross rifles and none could be so assembled, or, if they could, the bolts would not then enter the receiver unless driven in with a mallet."  First of all, I am quite impressed that Nonte once owned 13 Ross rifles - it appears we had quite a Ross fan.  But Nonte goes on to reference the discussion which attributes bolt blow-outs to hangfires vs. wrong bolt assembly.  He points out how much more common hangfires were during the period in question.  My own input regarding the bolt blow-out phenomenon during military application is that one of the major issues the Ross rifle was plagued with was poor quality controlled ammunition.  That this ammunition would be also prone to hangfires seem very plausible to me.  As shooters we know that when a possible hangfire occurs, we count to at least 60 seconds before we open the bolt.  During military use, it is easy to imagine how many shooters might have a strong felt need to count to a number far lower than 60 before pulling on that bolt.  And of course, once you pull that bolt back enough for the lugs to disengage, a hangfire could blast that bolt back with great force.  Nonte suggests that because even the most severely injured shooters did not show hand injuries, this strongly points to impossibility that the shooters hand was wrapped around the wrist (directly behind the bolt) when the rifle was fired.  Rather, it strongly suggests that the shooters hand was not present on the stock wrist when the rifle was fired, hence the bolt did not blast backwards at the moment the trigger was pulled.  Nonte himself leans toward this explanation.  I do as well.  I've certainly had hangfires happen to me and I know if I was shooting 100 years ago, I'd be much more familar with them.  And, were I in the trenches of France during the period, using poor quality ammunition, not feeling I had a spare 60 seconds if the rifle didn't fire......
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280_Ross
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« Reply #14 on: February 20, 2010, 12:43:40 AM »

AFAIK there are very few reputable sources for blowbacks by MkIII rifles in the trenches.  I'm not sure about M10 blowbacks, but there are eight incidents mentioned in TRRS if I remember correctly?  Hand injuries were reported in at least one of these cases I believe.

Of course, because hand injuries were not reported, I don't think we can assume that there were none.  When someone has lost an eye, or part of their face, injuries to the hand don't seem so important and may not be mentioned, not being life-threatening.
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"In my opinion there is no such thing as a 'foolproof' firearm and therefore fools should leave them alone." C.C. Meredith referring to the Ross rifle.
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