Lancaster Oval Bore

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In 1863 the “Army (Rifles)” report was published, being a ‘Report of the Committee on Small Bore Rifles and the various Systems of Rifling as tried last year.’ The report runs to 139 pages. Large-bore and small bore rifles were tested.

Of the large bore the service Enfield and four other variants of the Enfield (different rifling pitch, number of grooves and weight of barrel) plus Lancaster oval bores were tested. Small-bore rifles were a .451 Enfield, plus Whitworth, Lancaster and Westley-Richards. The latter was a breech-loader, all others were muzzle loaders.

While the superior precision of the small-bores was acknowledged “the Committee do not at present feel warranted in recommending the introduction of a rifle of so small a bore as 0.451 inch for the entire army.” Specialist application was noted as being “attended with advantage”.

The primary objection to the small-bore was that the “wear that takes place in the percussioning is so considerable, that the rifle in a very short time is rendered unserviceable”. Gas escape at the nipples caused broken hammers and threads in the nipple lump had been blown. Anyone who shoots small-bore match rifles will be aware of the rapid erosion of the nipple hole and that to maintain long life platinum inserts are used in match rifles. There were also objections to the ammunition, the cartidges of necessity being of increased length and liable to break.

The Lancaster faired OK in the trials but lost out to the Whitworth in precision. It was noted there was a tendency for the Lancaster to throw occasional wild shots.

In the large-bore trials it was however a different story. The tendency to occassional wild shots was not found in the Lancaster. If it was decided to retain the present (.577) Enfield calibre, “the Committee are of the opinion that the adoption of the Lancaster system of rifling will be attended with considerable advantage to the service.”

In the year following this report a further War Office report on Army (Breech Loaders) favoured “arming the Infantry wholly with breech-loading arms”, which ultimately led to the adoption of the Snider-Enfield, a breech loading conversion of the muzzle-loading Enfield.