My thanks go to Karl Mason today for kindly letting me photograph his Swift rifle for inclusion in the blog.
The training of recruits in the basics of rifle handling and marksmanship has always been taken very seriously by the British military and a number of training aids produced to help men acquire the skills they need. As well as sub-calibre rifles and training ranges, in the Second World War the Swift Training rifle was available to teach the required sight picture and the correct hold of the rifle as well as the correct operation of the action, the finesse of trigger pull, and the importance of prevention of cant of the rifle. The system was not popular with the Army, but the Royal Air Force used it quite extensively and two variations of the rifle were produced that were analogous to the different service rifles available at the time. Both came packaged in a sturdy wooden box that held the rifle and the paper targets used with it:
The rifle itself was wooden stocked with a fake magazine such as seen on the Lee Enfield rifles, although the bolt and receiver were more like the Pattern 14 rifle:
The rifle operated in the same way as a real rifle, by lifting the bolt and cocking the action and depressing the trigger to fire the rifle:
Unlike a real rifle however, this training rifle would then fire a long needle out of the front that hit a paper target and showed where the user was aiming, allowing the instructor to correct the aim accordingly:
The rifle had sights fitted to allow the user to aim it as normal, although the front sight is mounted on the barrel band, giving a very short sight radius:
One feature of the Swift was the sprung butt plate. This prevented the rifle from firing unless it was depressed hard into the shoulder and this helped teach pupils about the importance of pulling the rifle into their shoulder when firing:
Each rifle was serialised, with a small etched plate on the side of the rifle:
The rifle was held in a wooden frame, hanging from the large metal hook under the rifle. The frame held the target and can be seen in this period advertisement:
There were a number of different targets that could be placed in the frame:
The manual that accompanied the rifle explained their use:
There are four designs of paper TARGETS , the Bulls eye or Classification (target I), the Advanced (target 2), the Invasion (target 3) and the Landscape (target 4).
Target I represents a standard 4 ft. application target suitably reduced.
The drawings on target 2 (Advanced) represent sections of ‘ No Man’s Land ‘ as seen during a fight.
Target No. 3 represents a landing on an aerodrome with representative figures from 20 yards to 300 yards.
Target No. 4 (Landscape) is drawn in such a way as to enable the following lessons to be taught: I, military vocabulary ; 2, examination of ground ; 3, indication and recognition of TARGETS ; 4, fire control orders of various types.
The TARGETS are so reduced as to be seen by the marksman in exactly the size that they would be seen on open-air shooting ranges. The numbers on the drawing represent the distance from the marksman in yards.
The backsight on the training rifle being in exactly the same place as on the Service Rifle, the marksman’s eye is compelled to adapt itself to the same degree. The position of the foresight, being nearer to the butt than on the Service Rifle, is so calculated that any error in the accuracy of the aim makes the impact point (i.e. the centre of the round hole made by the pin) deviate to the same extent and in the same direction as it would on an open-air range. For instance, if the marksman aims incorrectly, with too much foresight, the head peeping out of a trench will be hit on the top of the helmet or the shot will even pass over it, according to the extent of the error.
As the size of the hole made by the round pin is disproportionate to the greatly reduced size of the figures on the target, there is a clearly marked dotted line round each of the figures ; if the hole is entirely within this dotted line, then the target can be considered as hit. If however, even the smallest part of the hole’s edge is outside the dotted line, then the target has been missed. As bullets hitting the top and sides of a helmet are deflected, the upper part of the dotted line is accordingly narrowed.
The paper TARGETS must always be stretched taut, otherwise the recording of hits and evidence of errors will not be as distinct as required.
If you wish to find out more about this fascinating rifle, please take a look at Rifleman.org’s fascinating page on the Swift here.
Used a similar method with a Browning pistol, you simply put a pencil down the barrel, eraser end in, with a ‘target’ just in front of the muzzle and let the firing pin propel it forward a little bit to leave a mark and indicate grouping.
Crude, to be sure, but it was in the training manual and actually quite effective in showing grossly bad drills such as not taking the same sight picture or hold each time, ‘jerking’ the trigger, pulling to one side when squeezing the trigger, etc.
Ian at forgotten weapons has done a really rather good breakdown of how this system worked though he is somewhat less positive.