The Ross rifle was a straight-pull bolt-action rifle invented by Charles Ross, a Scotsman, and produced in Canada from 1903 until the middle of the First World War.

Although the Ross was a superior marksman's rifle, it had many faults in the adverse environment imposed by trench warfare, and after numerous complaints, the replacement of all Ross rifles in the three Canadian Divisions by the Lee-Enfield was ordered.

A sporting version using a new .280 calibre "magnum" round was produced for some time, and both the Ross rifle and the .280 Ross cartridge acquired a very considerable international reputation among target shooters, deer-stalkers and safari hunters.


During the Second Boer War, a minor diplomatic fight broke out between Canada and the United Kingdom, after the latter refused to sell or license the Lee Enfield SMLE design for production in Canada. Sir Charles Ross, Bart., a Scottish nobleman, soldier, inventor and entrepreneurial businessman, offered his newly designed straight-pull rifle as a replacement. Ross was well connected in Canadian society and eventually landed his first contract in 1903 for 12,000 Mark I Ross rifles.

In this design, the bolt locking lugs are mounted on a screw, and when the operating handle is pulled or pushed, the screw automatically turns to rotate the locking lugs into place in the action receiver. The design is generally similar to that used on most artillery pieces. Unlike the more common bolt actions found in the Mauser and Lee Enfield, the Ross action did not need to have the handle rotated a quarter turn before the bolt was pulled back, and this feature theoretically offered a higher rate of fire. In addition to this alleged advantage over the Lee Enfield, the Ross was also a pound lighter and could be disassembled more quickly without special tools.[1]


The first 1,000 rifles were given to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for testing. Routine inspection before operational testing found 113 defects bad enough to warrant rejection. One of these was a poorly designed bolt lock that enabled the bolt to fall right out of the rifle. Another was poorly tempered component springs that were described as being as "soft as copper". In 1906, the RCMP reverted to their Model 1894 Winchesters and Lee-Metfords.

The Ross rifle was modified to correct these faults and became the Mark II Ross (Model 05 (1905)). In 1907, the Mk II was modified to handle the higher pressure of newly designed .280 Ross, this variant was called Mk II**. The Model 10 (1910) was a completely new design, made to correct the shortcomings of the 1905. None of the major parts are interchangeable between the 1905 and the 1910 Models. The Model 10 was the standard infantry weapon of the First Canadian Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force when it first arrived in France in February 1915.

The shortcomings of the rifle were made apparent during the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915. The rifle showed poor tolerance of dirt when used in field conditions, particularly the screw threads operating the bolt lugs, jamming the weapon open or closed. Another part of the jamming problem came from the bolt's outer face hitting the bolt stop, then deforming the thread shape. The bolt could also be disassembled for routine cleaning and inadvertently reassembled with the bolt head rotated one hundred and eighty degrees from the proper position: in this state the bolt could close but would not lock. If fired in this state the bolt would shoot backwards violently, at best causing a complete case head separation and shearing off one of the locking lugs. If the bolt stop failed to retain the bolt, the results could be fatal. "Thankfully such incidents were minor."[2] A safety rivet was later added in an attempt to prevent misassembly, though this also made disassembly much harder and thus made the cleaning problems worse.

Another well-known deficiency was the tendency for the bayonet to fall off the rifle when the weapon was fired.[3] Many Canadians of the First Contingent (now renamed the First Canadian Division) at Ypres retrieved Lee Enfields from British casualties to replace their Ross rifles.[4] Lieutenant Chris Scriven of the Tenth Battalion commented that it sometimes took five men just to keep one rifle firing.[5]

Complaints rapidly reached the rifle's chief sponsor, the Canadian Minister of Militia and Defence Sam Hughes. He nevertheless continued to believe in its strengths, following professional advice from Sir Edwin Alderson. In particular, the Ross had more stopping power, and was more accurate at long range than the SMLE, and this potentially overcame the serious problem British and Canadian troops had faced during the Boer War, with the accurate long-range fire from the 7mm Mauser.

In all, approximately 420,000 Ross service rifles were produced, 342,040 of which were purchased by the British.[6] Surplus Ross Rifles were pulled from storage and re-issued to second-line units such as the British Home Guard and Metropolitan Police during the Second World War.


Canadians retained the Ross even as additional contingents arrived in France. By the time of the Somme battles of July 1916, Sir Douglas Haig, the new Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, had ordered the replacement of all Ross rifles in the three Canadian Divisions by the Lee-Enfield, which was finally available in quantity. Hughes refused to accept that there were problems with the Ross, and it took the intervention of many influential people to persuade him otherwise. In November 1916, Hughes resigned after Sir Robert Borden's decision to appoint a Minister of Overseas Forces. Ross rifles were then used in training roles, both in Canada and the UK, to free up more Lee-Enfields for the front. More were also shipped to the U.S. in 1917 for the same reasons, freeing up supplies of the M1903 Springfield rifle. Hughes' reputation was inevitably tarnished, but Sir Charles Ross had already made a considerable fortune from his rifle design and manufacturing contracts.

At around same time, the Dominion Rifle Factory (Quebec City) converted a number of Rosses into the Huot automatic rifle, under the guidance of a designer named Huot. It was an ugly but effective design, feeding from a drum magazine, and cheaper than a Lewis Gun. Unfortunately, despite the Canadian Corps' facing a severe shortage of light machine guns, protracted trials led to its being rejected for reasons of flimsiness of construction.


Ross Rifle Sniper.

Because of its long range accuracy, the Ross rifle continued in use among Allied snipers after it was withdrawn from normal front-line use in Europe. British snipers found the rifle accurate out to 600 yards and more, with only one inherent disadvantage: the Ross accepted only perfectly clean ammunition, totally free of mud and grit, or else it invariably jammed.[7][8]

Other usersEdit

Ross rifles were used once again in the Second World War. The Mark 3 Ross rifle was supplied to the Royal Canadian Navy, the Veteran's Guard of Canada, coastal defense units, training depots, the British Home Guard and the Soviets. Coast guard units in Ireland were armed with Ross rifles during 1920 to 1921.[6]

Sporting variantEdit

Ross settled a gun factory in Hartford, Connecticut, with machinist J. A. Bennett, to produce a sporting rifle called Model 1897 Magazine Sporting Rifle a hinged hammer type rifle. By the same time, he made commercial agreement with famous gunmaker firm Charles Lancaster, inventor of the oval bore, to be his exclusive UK agent.[9][10]

Early 1900, he brought out the Model 1900 Sporter, still made in Bennett's factory. This action used a coil spring to activate the firing pin, instead of the hinged-hammer of the M1897. Very few of these sporting rifles are known to exist. The militarized Pattern 1900 was also the first to be offered for trial to Canada.[9][10]

Following was Model 1903 Sporter some of these rifles were made in Hartford, Connecticut, but most (200 units, made from spare parts) were assembled at the brand new fabricating plant in Quebec City. Some of the Pattern 1903 Sporting Rifles were made in the .370 Express calibre, while some prototype chambered for .450/.500 Nitro is known to exist.[9][10]

  • Calibers; .303 Brit. (common), .256 Mannlicher (rare) and .370 Express (rare)[9][10]

Some sporterized M1905 (Mk II) military rifles were made available to general public in 1906. This model was called Model M. In 1907, Ross brought out the Model E, his first entirely Canadian-made rifle, based on the 1905 military action, chambered for .303 British and .35 WCF. Following was Model R, which was a plain looking rifle, no checkering, in caliber .303 British only. In November 1906, Ross while in the process of developing a new and very powerful .280 caliber sporting cartridge, made some experimental testings with a necked-down version of the new 30-06 Springfield case which he called the .28-1906 (one rifle is known to exist). This led to the design of the .280 Ross. The new high-pressure round required some strengthening of the bolt and action receiver, but the rifle was otherwise only slightly different from the .303 Mark II. This design, called MK II**, was a transitional step between Mk II and Mk III actions.[9]

  • Calibers;

Model M (1905 Mk II action); .303 Brit[9][10]

Model R (1905 Mk II action); .303 Brit.[9][10]

Model E (1907 Mk II** action heavy barrel); .303 Brit., 35 WCF[9][10]

Model 1907 'Scotch Deer Stalking Pattern'; .280 Ross [9][10]

Model 1910 (Mk III) was made with a totally different bolt head; instead of having the solid bolt lugs travel in a vertical position and lock in a horizontal position, like for the Mk II and Mk II** (see illustration), Ross turned it 90 degrees so it travels in an horizontal position and locks vertically. Then, he used screw threads on the lugs outside which are locking into the matching threaded receiver. Some very scarce Mk II** with the same threaded lugs and receiver are known to exist. He also used the same shape of heavy barrel as used on the Mk II**. The M-10, in .280 Ross, is considered by many as being the finest rifle ever made by the Ross Rifle Co.[9][10]

  • Calibers

Model R-10; .303 Brit.[9][10]

Model E-10; .303 Brit and .35 WCF[9][10]

Model M-10; .280 Ross[9][10]

1912 saw the introduction of the .22 rimfire sporting rifle. While using a simpler mechanism, it was still a straight-pull action. This model was very popular in Canada.[9][10]

  • Calibers; .22 Short, Long and Long Rifle.[9]

Model 1912 Cadet Commercial.[9][10]

Model 1912 Cadet "Leftover" (no serial numbers or any other markings)[10]

The problems with the Ross in combat were that it was really a sporting design of rifle asked to do the work of a military rifle under trench warfare conditions, so it is not surprising that in the sporting role the Ross became quite popular after the war. The new .280 Ross cartridge gained it a fine reputation for medium-sized game, and for a time after 1918 it was a fairly common rifle on safari. It also proved itself as being an outstanding Match Rifle, building a strong reputation for accuracy.

Match Rifles

Ross Mark II** Commercial Target Model in caliber, 303 British, with a 30 1/2inches (775mm) heavy barrel, was a real success in the Match Ranges from 1908 to 1913. This rifle was looking like the military Mk II**, using the same bolt, except having the sight bridge mounted on the receiver. A scarce Presentation Target Rifle was also available. Unlike its military counterpart, it had the serial number stamped on the barrel.[10]

Model 1907 and 1905/1910 Match Target Rifle These very important single-shot rifles (two rifles are known to exist) are bearing special feature that would make the M1910 so different; the threaded locking lugs and receiver.[9][10]

Military Match Target Rifle unlike the military Mk III this rifle was using a box type magazine with flat floorplate. It was using the Ross Mk III military sight modified to fit the .280 Ross ammunitions. Barrel was 26inches long.[9][10]

Huot Automatic RifleEdit

Main article: Huot automatic rifle

Huot Automatic Rifle.

After the rejection of the Ross as a battlefield rifle, the Dominion Rifle Factory adapted the action to a light machine gun, the Huot, using surplus rifles. These were cheaper than the Lewis guns then in use. They were put to extensive trials; the war ended before they entered service.[11][12]

References Edit

  1. Rawlings, Bill. Trench Warfare: Technology and the Canadian Corps 1914-1918. (University of Toronto Press, 1992). p.12
  2. Rawlings, Ibid. p.17
  3. Rawlings, Ibid. p.17
  4. Dancocks, Daniel G. Welcome to Flanders Fields
  5. Dancocks, Daniel G. Gallant Canadians: The Story of the Tenth Canadian Infantry Battalion, 1914-1919 (Calgary Highlanders Regimental Funds Foundation, 1990)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Ross Rifle. The Canadian Encyclopedia, Online. Historica Foundation of Canada, 2007 [1]
  7. Winter, Denis. Death's Men (London, 1978) p.81
  8. Without Warning: Canadian Sniper Equipment (Service Publications, 2005).
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 9.11 9.12 9.13 9.14 9.15 9.16 9.17 9.18 9.19 Phillips, R., Knap, J. Jerome, "Sir Charles Ross And His Rifle" (ISBN 0919316115)
  10. 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03 10.04 10.05 10.06 10.07 10.08 10.09 10.10 10.11 10.12 10.13 10.14 10.15 10.16 10.17 10.18 10.19 Blue Book Of Gun Values - F.P. Fjestad - ISBN 1-886768-67-6, ISBN 978-1-886768-67-3
  11. Fitzsimons, Bernard, ed. Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare. (London: Phoebus, 1978), Volume 13, p.138, "Huot".
  12. Phillips, Dupuis & Chadwick. The Ross Rifle Story.

Further ReadingEdit

  • Phillips, Roger F., François J. Dupuis and John A. Chadwick, The Ross Rifle Story (ISBN 0973241608)
  • "Huot", in Bernard Fitzsimons (general editor), The Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Weapons and Warfare (Phoebus/BBC, 1978), Volume 13, page 1385.
  • Duguid, A. Fortescue A Question of Confidence (Service Publications, 2002)
  • Phillips, R., Knap, J. Jerome, "Sir Charles Ross And His Rifle" (ISBN 0919316115)
  • "Handbook For The Canadian Service Rifle, Ross Mk III, 1913 Pt I and II" HQ 70-55-41 - 37765-11-1
  • "The Ross Rifle Sporting Catalogue 1909" Cornell Publications
  • "The Ross Rifle Catalogue 1912" Cornell Publications
  • Huot-Ross automatic rifle
  • Huot-Ross automatic rifle and Lewis gun comparison
  • Huot-Ross automatic rifle and Lewis gun top view comparison
  • Fitzsimons, Bernard, ed. Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare, Volume 13, p.1385, "Huot". London: Phoebus Publishing, 1978.
  • Phillips, Roger F. The Ross Rifle Story. Sydney, NS: James A. Chadwick, 1984.

External links Edit

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