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The British SWIFT Training Rifle
and its Commonwealth contemporary - The Canadian Long Branch Training Rifle
An image of the most common "B" Series rifle
This training rifle was not a firearm. It was intended simply to provide a tool to allow an instructor to teach holding and aiming. To that end, the rifle was provided with a bolt which actioned realistically, including a safety, sights equivalent to those on the service arm for which it was a reproduction, and a representative trigger pull.
Image left of the Pattern Room Collection's Swift A series pattern rifle and, to the right, the target frame. Both by courtesy of the Enfield Pattern Room
The action side plates of the A-series are forward tapering. The B-series rifles were modified to give the appearance of the side elevation of the Pattern 14 ( Enfield Rifle No.3). The joinered protecting hood is shown slid back onto the rifle fore-end, inverted for use ( see below)
The rifle was fitted with a spring operated pointed wire probe inside a protective fore-tunnel. This cocked with the action of the bolt, and on trigger release, shot forward out of the tunnel and punched a mark in a target fixed to a wooden frame in front of the recruit. The rifle and calibration board packed into a typical transit box to allow easy transport to any proposed site for use. The whole system included the deck-chair-like folding target frame. No range was needed, and small hall or room could provide a suitable venue. The rifle's main advantage was that it presented a means of familiarising recruits with the Service rifle without expenditure of ammunition, or occupation of valuable range facilities needed for more advanced training. Although most of the Swift rifles used in the U.K. were issued to the Royal Air Force, (the Army seemingly treating the idea with a degree of contempt), attempts were made to sell them in other quarters. Even rifle clubs were encouraged to use the system to train volunteers.
A further noteworthy fitment to the rifle was a spring-loaded butt plate- evident in the picture above. The purpose of this was two-fold. Partly it prevented the accidental discharge of a sharp implement into any bystanders, but primarily it assisted the instructor in his task of ensuring that the trainee pulled the rifle firmly into his shoulder. If the spring was not fully compressed, and the butt plate against the butt-stock, an internal safety mechanism prevented the "weapon" from being "fired".
The particular example here shown is representative of the P14 (Enfield Rifle No.3), as illustrated by the familiar tall receiver side plates and the internal magazine. It carries the model no. 9B/1588 and Series no. B 8440. Another model representing the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield or No.4 Rifle was built using the same basic mechanics and metal parts, but was fitted with a wooden dummy magazine in front of the trigger guard, woodwork simulating that fitted to the No.4 Service rifle, and the safety catch was appropriately moved to the left hand side at the rear of the receiver body. These British-made trainers had a direct equivalent of slightly different design, which was manufactured at Long Branch in Canada from 1943. The Long Branch training rifle was reputed to cost but a fifth of the price for the manufacture of a Swift rifle. This is less surprising when the fine joinery and quality timber of the early Swift is taken into account, but is less likely to be true of the later marks.
An advertisement for the system, in the Handbook for the Society of Miniature Rifle Clubs, shows how the system is set up, with the rifle held at the correct distance from the target frame by a steel rod bridle which locates in the pressed steel hook attached under the fore-end.
The Swift Rifle Company manufactured these training rifles. The company base was at 67-68, St Aldate's, Oxford; but they also had London offices and a demonstration room at 29, Palace Gate, W2. The rifles were produced in four known marks, in two series - "A" and "B". The SWIFTRAIN organisation also offered to the market the "S.T.A.W. Machine gun trainer" and the "Swiftrain grenade". The former was an electrically operated device modelled on the various Service machine guns; the latter a device which " Inspires confidence in the handling of explosives - accustoms men to the noise of burst - when exploded does not damage the outer casing of the grenade". The originators of this lateral thinking, and directors of the various companies in the group, were Frederick J. Minns and Z. de L. Bakanowski, P.M.C., K.S.R. They purported to be able to create " a marksman in six hours" and produced a short film to illustrate their point. Nothing has been unearthed, by us, of the latter two devices, but the Swift Rifle certainly acquired a following in some quarters, and could be deemed to have been at least a minor success. From 1942 these rifles were both issued to some Royal Air Force units and rotated around Home Guard units. During the War period, the rifle was even reported as being available for use by the general public at "Wings for Victory" or equivalent Army displays - a recruiting device no less! Post-War, it is known that some rifles were on the inventories of Air Training Squadrons for cadet use and that these rifles mostly lay idle in their armouries until well into the 1950s - largely only being aired as curiosities. One was reputed to still have been on strength with a Gloucester A.T.C. unit as late as 1997.
The Swift Rifle Series A
The first mark of Swift training rifle was most evidently designed around the Pattern'14 ( Enfield No.3) Rifle. Although some would say rather loosely.
The fore-end arrangement carried a weighty and cumbersome hood - although strangely elegant in its own way - to protect the mechanism and "sharp bits". The hood had an open rear end and an aperture cut in the front to permit sighting through the woodwork. It was probably most often removed when in use.
The paired pin and blade were sent forward almost instantaneously, when the trigger was pulled, by a long and strong spring tensioned when the bolt was operated. The accuracy of the path of the pin was calibrated by the instructor, before each session, to give a point of impact at the centre of the point of aim when the rifle was correctly held and aimed. The diamond-shaped flattened blade, to the right of the centre pin, cut a small horizontal slit in the paper, to the right of the point of impact of the main central pin. This allowed assessment, by the instructor, of any cant (lateral tilting) of the rifle by the student. Even a small degree of cant on a full-bore rifle, particularly when shooting at long range, could result in a miss several feet to one side - and low - of the point of aim.
The system can be seen more clearly here with the pins forward and the hood removed.
Below is a Swift Mark I in its transit box - image courtesy of the late Herb Woodend at the M.O.D. Pattern Room
The "U" shaped plywood calibration frame can be seen resting in the box lid on the label. This frame screws onto the front of the rifle and would have a piece of plain paper taped to it to facilitate adjustment of relationship between the point of impact and the sight-line. The path of the needle-pin that punched the hole in the target could be adjusted by virtue of several screws bearing on the needle channel. These screws are located in the side of, and under, the fore-end below the hood. The rear sight could only be adjusted for windage. The foresight was fixed to the mid "barrel band" giving a significantly shorter sight radius than the service rifle - although this was not necessarily to be considered a shortcoming for the purpose to which the device was being put..
View the above rifle's operating manual - the Manufacturer's Notes for the Swift_Training_Rifle_Series A
The Swift Rifle Series B
Below is the Mark III rifle in its transit case. The wooden hood was replaced with a fixed sheet metal alternative on the Mks. II and III rifles. An improved arrangement, but still cumbersome and obstructive to the "firer". The side plates of the "action" body have been reduced in height and reshaped, compared with the Mark I, to more represent the No.4 rifle. The basic design, however, was still that of the early Series A rifle, being an emulation of the No.3 (P14) service arm.
View the above rifle's operating manual - the Manufacturer's Notes for the Swift_Training_Rifle_Series B
Below is the final Mk.IV version, in its transit case, with the flushed fore section hood, which made the rifle considerably more akin to the No.4 service rifle that it was intended to reproduce. This brought the design more into line with that of the contemporary Canadian Long Branch Training Rifle.
Being a Royal Air Force issue training device, it was obviously necessary for the use and merits of the Swift equipment to be discussed and publicised within the Service. This was achieved, with the customary R.A.F. sense of humour, via the monthly issued periodical - Training Memoranda - more simply known and published as the "Tee Emm". This publication provided a means of disseminating safety and operational information with a degree of informality and humour. This manner of circularising such information was continued after the War with an equivalent Safety Matters publication regularly issued to R.A.F. Stations and particularly aircrew crew rooms with regard to flight safety. Within both periodicals, a fictional aircrew member both offered advice and, on occasion, became the butt of some operationally associated joke which also carried an inherent safety message. The stooge in the original magazine was none other than the celebrated "Pilot Officer Prune"
An article regarding the Swift Training rifle was entered into the February 1942 issue of the Tee-Emm journal with a light-hearted accompanying cartoon. The text and cartoon are copied beneath.
"SOME psychologist or other called, we think, de Grote
(P.O. Prune says No, that's a violinist) had a" Theory of Play." He
said that the reason that young animals played was that they were really practising
for the more serious business of life, getting food, fighting, and so on. The
kitten chases a reel of cotton by way of working up into the mouse class, or
pads at a blind-cord as practice for the future swatting of a rival in the fields
of love. ...
All this doesn't seem to have much to do with the Swift Training Rifle, does it ? Frankly, we don't think so either. Still, if you look upon the Swift Training Rifle as a plaything to help you in the more serious business of life-at the moment killing Huns-you won't be far wrong. And when we add that it is a rifle which instead of firing bullets when you press the trigger, momentarily projects two sharp pins out of the nozzle, and that if by any chance someone you don't like is in front of you, and happens to be bending down-well, what we mean is you can see it can be a very amusing plaything indeed. . .
But perhaps we'd better get on with telling you about it, as it is now being universally supplied to Stations for the instruction of both officers and men in correct rifle aiming.
As the idea of the Swift Training Rifle is to teach you to use a service rifle, it is naturally as much like the latter as possible. It has the same weight and balance, the bolt is handled in the same way and - except for the fore-end-it is the same shape ; there are the same two trigger pressures, and the sights give the same view. All that, so to speak, is the Swift Rifle's " straight role "; now for the " character part "-designed to note and check the various faults in shooting.
The complete apparatus consists of the rifle and a frame, holding paper TARGETS of different types, the rifle muzzle being kept an exact short distance from the target by means of a parallel metal bar to which the rifle is loosely attached bv a hook under the rifle stock. The ends of this bar are bent round and fixed to either side of the target frame, but not rigidly fixed, so that any wobbling of the rifle is at once communicated to the target. Thus, to begin with, you learn to keep the rifle steady while aiming. Next, there is a spring butt-plate protruding an inch or so out of the butt which, unless completely pressed in, locks all trigger action. If, therefore, you are not holding the rifle correctly and firmly to your shoulder, it won't fire.
The actual shot is recorded by a pin which, at the moment of firing, shoots forward, pierces the paper and immediately recoils. As it is centred exactly along the sighting line, the centre of the little round hole made shows whether you have taken correct aim or not. Parallel to this central pin about a half-inch away on the right, and working with it, is another which has a flat spear-headed point, the flat side horizontal to the horizontal axis of the rifle. This pierces the paper at exactly the same time but naturally it makes a tiny longitudinal slit. This, if the rifle is correctly held, is dead horizontal ; if, however, it has been tilted while aiming, the slit will be inclined up or down. By this yet another error in sighting can be detected.
And finally, the pins themselves stay embedded in the paper for the fraction of a second, so that if you haven't held your breath while firing, the round hole will be elongated ; if you move, or jerk, or pull rather than squeeze the trigger, the edgés of the hole will be torn. In other words, it shows whether you keep properly motionless at the moment of trigger release and just after.
Probably this is the best method yet devised of recording and deducing nearly every possible fault that can be made with a rifle-short, of course, of cleaning someone else's by mistake ! All the above and more-appears in the official instruction for using the Swift Training Rifle. And don't forget that if there is anyone you don't like, and he does happen to be bending down, and you have a Swift Training Rifle handy. ... But we mustn't put ideas into your head."
THE CANADIAN LONG BRANCH TRAINING RIFLE
An equivalent training rifle was manufactured at Long Branch in Canada
This related more closely to the MK.IV Swift rifle and was reputed to have been produced at about a fifth of the cost
The basic principle on which this rifle operated was identical to that of the Swift
The rifle carried a hook beneath the fore-end. This hook engaged with a steel rod bridle attached to the target frame. The bridle kept the rifle "muzzle" at a constant distance from the target. The sighting arrangement was significantly more realistic than that of the Swift. The Long Branch was also prevented from "firing", unless firmly in the shoulder of the student, by a spring loaded butt-plate safety system.
The "sharp end" was similar to, but far less complicated and fragile than, that of the Swift rifle. There were still two pins, but these were arranged vertically - one to indicate the point of impact, and the other to show any canting of the rifle by the recruit.
Click here to view a representation of the Operator's Manual for the Long Branch Training rifle with its cut-away diagram.
A most worthwhile reference book for those interested in these unusual "weapons" would be:
"The Swift and Long Branch Non-firing Training Rifles of Great Britain and Canada"
an inexpensive, but comprehensive, spirol bound book written by Malcolm MacPherson, who did much groundwork with the assistance of the late Herb Woodend - keeper of the Enfield Pattern Room collection at both Enfield and, latterly, Nottingham - before its removal to storage preparatory to re-housing in new premises being constructed for the Royal Armouries at Leeds. It is hoped this facility will be completed late in 2005 and a significant part of the collection become available to researching visitors by 2006, after the "reopening"
The rifle shown below is to be found in the Pattern Room Collection. It is one of only two examples of this particular design of BSA trials rifles whose whereabouts are known; unless you have seen another elsewhere? Do you think you know what it is?
CLICK IMAGE FOR DETAILS
Click here to access a Chronology of Enfield genre Training Rifles, Adapters & Cartridges