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Thread: Viewpoint - British Army Contract for L96A1 Sniper Rifle (by Gil Boyd B.E.M)

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    Arrow Viewpoint - British Army Contract for L96A1 Sniper Rifle (by Gil Boyd B.E.M)

    The following article is published with the kind permission of member, Gil "gil9713" Boyd B.E.M (click here). On behalf of MILSURPS.COM members, we'd like to publicly thank him for his support of this forum, as well the broader collector community in general.

    WHY DID THE ACCURACY INTERNATIONAL L96A1 SNIPER RIFLE 7.62 X 51 NATO WIN THE BRITISH ARMY CONTRACT OPPOSED TO THE PARKER HALE M85 SNIPER RIFLE 7.62 X 51 NATO
    by Gil Boyd B.E.M



    This article is written from a personal viewpoint and perspective, but is also based on factual accounts from those that worked on the decision making process, and tries to answer the question as to why the L96A1 rifle won the British Army contract opposed to the Parker Hale M85.

    I am fortunate to be able to own the above rifle, which was produced on the 17th of January 1990 by Parker Hale Limited, and therefore make a measured comparison too many other sniper rifles I own and have fired over many years service in both the Army and the Police Service, but I aim, in this article to concentrate on why I believe it lost out to the Accuracy International L96A1 when the contract was awarded.

    Clearly to measure one sniper rifle against another which use different calibre rounds with a variation of both wood or fibre glass body furniture, would be futile and clearly would produce inconsistencies that would deliver pointless comparisons in my opinion. Therefore as both these rifles fire the same rounds I can only surmise on what was a partly historic and political decision made on why the M85 lost out to the Accuracy International rifle?

    Many riflemen believe, the best rifles were made during WW2, with total wood furniture, producing something like today’s weapons accuracy on target, but in reality they only accomplished killer hits within 400 metres of their target in normal operational wartime scenarios in north west Europe, however, this was greatly extended in the Italyicon campaigns during the winter stalemates as sniping was carried out at longer distances.

    The Lee Enfield No4T rifle I own, measures up as one of the best sniper rifles ever made. This also applies to the later derivatives, the L42A1 sniper, and although not a sniper rifle per se, the Police Enforcer, both in 7.62mm. Again rifles I own and treasure as the best ever made.

    Clearly the combination and comparisons of finely made scopes of today, produce far better results, when applied together with today’s other innovations, such as the floating barrel concept, however, a better scope will only produce better results because you are obtaining a better image. It won’t from experience improve a rifle at all.

    It was the ITDU with advice from the IPL, that S&B submitted telescopes with GLASS lenses instead of plasticized ones. It is also fact that one of the very best telescopes, on a par with the S & B was a £50 U.S made Bushnell telescope.

    It was eventually rejected for a few reasons to do with manufacture, but not reliability or actual faults. This is food for thought when you compare today the Schmitt & Benders prices!

    Scopes on all sides in the first four years of the Second World War had serious failings and deficiencies, with condensation, general waterproofing and of course times magnification, which is now a must for the sniper of the twentieth century, in many of the variations of temperature and hostile environments their rifles find themselves.

    However, the art of a true marksman trained to sniper level, is to be able to use a variety of weapons and rounds, and aspire to achieve and reach the same aim, which is, to tune the rifle to the man and produce highly accurate results using all his marksmanship principles and covert guile, resulting in true harmony and clearly displaying an ‘at one’ with the weapon to achieve the best results.

    So this comparative study is carried out in neutral historic observations between the Accuracy International L96A1 (MOD variant) using a 6 x 42 S & B scope, and the Parker Hale M85 7.62 x 51 rifle fitted with the same scope . To fully understand why the Parker Hale M85 came so close, to becoming the chosen NATO rifle, one has to look back at history surrounding this famous brand, albeit it could be deemed by many as “Mission Creep”.


    PARKER HALE HISTORY

    The Parker-Hale company began in modest surroundings manufacturing precision rifles for target shooting in 1880, as it was, the founder of the company, Alfred Gray Parker, who as an accomplished rifleman with the 1st Battalion The Royal Warwickshire Regiment he learned his skills, and felt he could rebuild many of the cumbersome rifle actions in existence at the time.

    He teamed up with another enthusiast, Alfred Thomas Corbyn Hale, his nephew, and became the brand name, Parker Hale, located in Birmingham, where many other major brands and foundries were located, as a central key gun producing capital for the UK.

    Between the World Wars, target shooting and the rise in youth organizations with Military affiliations progressed in the United Kingdomicon, under the support and backing of Field Marshall Lord Roberts.

    He wanted to see the level of marksmanship principles improved right across the board, having seen and been involved in many skirmishes, where the reloading and accuracy skills of the British foot soldier of the time, left a lot to be desired.

    It was the small bore associations that he then formed, that led directly to the rise of the interest of shooting clubs, especially amongst the young, where such minded individuals could hone their skills.

    Field Marshall Roberts saw action in Afghanistan, India and also the Boer War, so he had firsthand knowledge of the failings of his men's equipment but more importantly their lack of marksmanship training.

    The Boer War and latterly the first Afghanistan war prior to the First World War, highlighted serious concerns he had in the design of a purpose built rifle for use in hostile environments, and that such a weapon if manufactured, should perform in all conditions. I therefore believe, it was he, who had the drive to change the War Departments mindset in seeking out a “Best of British” rifle.

    After the Boer War, he was fundamental in setting up the National Small bore Rifle Association, as he felt that a new war was inevitably on the horizon, and that young men should be taught the fundamentals of the rifle, to defend the country in time of war. His timing could not have been better placed.

    WORLD WAR ONE

    In 1914, having left active Military service before the war, he was again called upon to rally the troops in Franceicon in his old uniform, at the commencement of hostilities, to the very men, who knew of his, and that of his families long military allegiance, as holders of two Victoria Crosses for outstanding bravery in previous wars. The Victoria Cross is the highest Military honour and bravery award that can be bestowed to a British or Commonwealth soldier.

    Lord Roberts Senior was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in the face of the enemy while serving as a Lieutenant in the Bengal Horse Artillery (Indian Army) during the Indian Mutiny.

    In 1899, his son, Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts, was also awarded the V.C. (posthumously) for his actions at the Battle of Colenso during the South African War.


    Sadly Lord Roberts Senior died on the 14th of November 1914 of pneumonia at St. Omer in France whilst visiting Indian and Commonwealth troops on the frontline, as their Colonel in Chief.

    He had a close affiliation with the Indian troops who he knew from his previous service in India earlier in his Army career.

    He knew, they took their rifles seriously, and viewed them merely as an extension of their own arms in battle, much like the handgun drills which are taught today.



    So it is to this man I strongly believe, with historical records to back it up, that we, the riflemen of today, on both sides of the pond, pickup the rifle, and enthuse in the art of marksmanship principles, and it was also his calling to all young men in all organizations, to make themselves fully accessible to weaponry, so they too could practice the skills needed to deliver a meaningful and accurate response to our enemies on the battlefields of the future.

    Arthur Hale was a Territorial Army reservist during this period, and was duly called up for active service leaving Parker to continue manufacturing converted service rifles to train young men in the art of target shooting at small bore level. It was in 1915 that Parker sadly died, and realizing the contribution to the war effort, Hale was released from operational war service to return and carry on the company’s important work back home.

    Between the wars the company saw success at Bisley winning the “Kings Hundred” competition bringing even more notoriety to the brand name of Parker Hale. In 1938 Hale himself died leaving a huge hole in the business, luckily his sons had already been brought up within the strict manufacturing processes the company flourished in.

    The workforce surpassed all calling from the War Department and developed innovative and compelling changes to the face of “gunsmithing” forever, especially on barrel developments.

    WORLD WAR TWO

    In 1940 at the outset of the war, the company remodeled its business acumen, and became the Parker-Hale Arms Company, where war contracts were awarded to the company, to quickly modify or prepare the Lee Enfield P14 .303 rifles for service, and the manufacturing of the .300 inch and .303 inch drill cartridges.

    At the end of the war the company downsized to smaller modest manufacturing premises, and where I believe their best work was done. Parker-Hale was transferred under the banner of the Birmingham Proof House, where they refined the reconditioning of .22 weapons for rifle organizations, so that once again young men could practice the art of marksmanship.

    POST WAR

    In March 1963 Parker-Hale moved to available space allocated to them on the the sports ground of the BSA factory at Sparkbrook. Their main headquarters was ironically, then built on the same site that the Birmingham Proof house had their range located, during the war years.

    The company then moved to Whitall Street, in the old gun quarter, before moving to their new factory at Golden Hillock Road. Here the team were led by Len Lees as the Factory Manager and Bob Pee as the Designer-Development Engineer who was responsible for manufacturing Vertical Barrel Hammering methods and advising on all the new equipment which was to follow.

    Parker Hale invested heavily in moving forward with the times and purchased the best machinery to produce the best barrels known, within the arms trade. They had horizontal forging machines and double spindle hole drilling presses which made them the best providers in the world at the time for producing the finest bore and barrel combinations.

    FALKLANDS WAR 1982

    Due primarily to the deficiencies of the L42A1 sniper rifle during the Falklands War in 1982, the Ministry of Defense sought another provider of a specialist sniper rifle, and started a course of action that Parker Hale would find hard to recover from, even if they didn’t realize it at the time.



    I can only pass on my personal experiences with the L42A1, and say at this point, that I found the rifle to produce exactly what it said on the box as a 7.62mm sniper rifle. It had its failings, like so many other breeds, on cold one shot use, but the Lee Enfield action, like the Mauser, have stood the test of time, and rarely let the experienced user down, and in many respects it is a real shame it never continued into service, with even more modifications to the barrel and overall furniture.

    PARKER HALE FACTORY

    Parker Hales Head Gunsmith Eddie Taff at this time, who was formerly an RAF Armourer, set about designing the M85 with his small workforce. Eddie spent many hours designing the action for the rifle under immense pressure, to replace the L42A1 for the Army on time, so that comparison trials could be held.

    I don’t wish to make it sound that the whole project was rushed, but the work that must have taken place in such a short time, was an outstanding achievement under Graham Green’s leadership as the Factory Foreman at the time. Bill Smallwood who worked for Parker Hale from 1980 until 2000 on the M85, recalls the remarkable work carried out by a few there, in bringing this new rifle ahead of schedule for the allotted trials date by the Ministry of Defence.

    Investment into modifications and production of the M85 sniper rifle action, were often wrongly aligned to the Mauser 98 action by many, but this Parker Hale variant was produced to a higher specification and resilience, especially to the bolt assembly with the Mauser bolt manufactured at Santa Barbra in Spain. However, the Mauser it has to be said, showed the way to many designers in history of firearms manufacture, and remains a world beater, and no wonder it continued to be used in this rifle. Changes were however made to the bolt in Spain which really confused many.

    Parker Hale had received the L81 Cadet Target Rifle from the MOD, with no one really understanding how they achieved such a feat. The rifle was quite unsuitable, and made on the cheap with many other flaws in its build. The MOD wanted to replace the target NO4’s and the ammunition they used at the time.

    The advisory team which had those on it, like Peter Laidlericon, told them that the L39 was all they required to achieve their aim, as it was readily available, some units were already using it, and it was already in the MOD “system”. Regardless of this expert advice they still went ahead and awarded the contract to Parker Hale against no other competition.

    COMPARISONS

    It was the M82 sniper model that had the classic untouched Mauser 98 bolt action and integral four round magazine fitted, with a self contained trigger, which was originally designated for the Canadian Military and called C3, and was in short the M82 target rifle with a few refinements to full bore. The butt lengths could be altered by adding or taking away butt spacers of various thicknesses as with the M85. The rifle was basically a standard target rifle using 7.62x51 NATO rounds and a fitted heavy barrel Mauser 98, with a wide beaver tail target walnut stock (with inset hand stop rail) and a Parker Hale trigger with its side safety mechanism.



    The M85 sniper rifle 7.62 x 51 NATO was also fitted with a two stage trigger which was actually designed specifically for the rifle by Eddie Taff along with the bipod. This bipod was originally designed for the Bren Gun but moved over to the M85 with internal persuasion, with its proven reliability. The body work encompassing the stock and butt assemblies were made of fiberglass by McMillan fibre glass stocks Inc., at their Phoenix, Arizona works in the United States.

    Several combinations in fibre glass were made in black/various camo derivatives/Arctic white and black and then the plain green, the latter being the MOD requirement for their trained snipers.

    The reason for this plain green requirement came from the Small Arms Corps at Warminster in Wiltshire, so that individually trained snipers could produce their own camouflage, using the usual tapes and hessian for concealment as part of their training in varying the rifles disguise, in the changing worldwide environments they found themselves operating. It was therefore felt that green was a good base colour to start this process.

    Cheek pieces on the butt, were only added to the M85 at this time for Police use, but never made it to the MOD variant or certainly not in my service with the British Army, as it was not an initial requirement, also there were issues regarding the removal of the bolt with a cheek piece fitted.



    The well balanced and tried and tested formula of a well manufactured bipod with extendable legs were then fitted at the stock ending onto a spigot, although the bipod weighed in at 1.5 Ibs it was an invaluable sturdy support at range. The underbelly of the stock had an adjustable rail for the sling swivel to utilize, as with many of its previous models produced by the family business, which then provided the finely tuned combination available to a sniper. The rifle was fitted with a heavy cold forged barrel at 700mm in length with 4 groove, right hand twist rifling and a pitch of 1 turn in 12”. Some exclusively ordered barrels were also fitted with an external thread to accept a flash eliminator; however, few were ever requested or used. A few stainless barrels were also made for the M85 but were never fitted. These are are now held by Norman Clark Gunsmiths.

    The well tested Parker Hale nylon target shooting slings were also fitted to the M85, providing everything a sniper would need in all weathers. The rifle weighed in at 12.57 Ibs with the scope and at a total length of 45.3 inches overall.

    While Parker Hale excelled at providing for target rifle shooting and shooters, a sniper is not, and never has been a target shooter, and nor more importantly has his rifle!!

    A Schmidt and Bender 6 x 42 scope with a (BDC) Bullet Drop Compensation from 200 to 900 metres was selected, and made this an exceptional sight for this match, and were added as a general MOD requirement to the weapon. These original sights still command large amounts on the open markets, and are more common in the UK, as the weapons were cut up after Police and Army use, with the sights remaining in circulation.

    MINISTRY OF DEFENCE TRIALS

    From those at the Land Warfare Centre at the time, they remember 22 SAS at Hereford for example finding the M85 a remarkable weapon in direct comparison to the AI/L96, and fully supported its advantages over the L96 and therefore Parker Hale assumed that they had won the day. Not so unfortunately.

    From those I have interviewed on the subject, they all say to a man, that the M85 was the best on test, but was described “mechanically” similar to the L42 which was difficult for any, but skilful armourers to set up.

    The Accuracy International rifle had the cachet of an Olympic Marksman behind it and it was somewhat innovative at the time, but importantly it was also offered at a lower price. Following verbal statements made by ITDU, that 7.62mm Green Spot was specialist ammunition and the best at the time, contenders should have been asked to manufacture a rifle around the ammunition and not the other way around, because we know that it is the AMMUNITION that is the weapon, and the rifle is merely the delivery system, which we hope will be an accurate one!.

    Today of course, we have the luxury of hindsight and the .338. Those with the knowledge of the technology and capabilities of weapons and ammunition are hardly ever listened to, and cost, all too often seems to rule above what is best for the trained Soldier.

    The MOD progressed through several rifle trials at this time for direct and fairer comparisons to be made, which included the H&K PSG1 which sadly, failed at the very start of the trials as it could not take the dust and small particles in the working parts. The SIG-SAUER SSG 2000, the Remington 700 and finally the Accuracy International PM were the other rifles evaluated.

    After fair and what were described as, scrupulous and lengthy trials, the M85 lost out marginally, it is best described, to the AI-PM which was duly adopted as the L96A1 at the end of 1982 with the intellectual property rights owned solely by the MOD, a decision solely made on a cost contract basis.

    If reports from ITDU were anything to go by, the M85 rifle was in fact more accurate than the A-I/L96 by a margin. The stumbling block was the maintenance regime which was said to be dire, with very little that the average unit Armourer could do on his own in the field. Whereas apart from a barrel change, the unit Armourer could do everything on the L96.

    Indeed even a barrel change could be undertaken at Field Command workshops with a simple body jig and split barrel clamp. Headspace was set and fixed by virtue of sized locking rings. These locking rings, a sort of bolt head change in reverse, made manufacture, simplicity itself and at a stroke, ended expensive wastage. The REME were quickly learning that the maintenance for the existing L81 wasn’t a whole barrel of fun, nor was the maintenance regimes for the M85 equivalents in both Canadaicon and Australiaicon.



    The resources and design effort that Parker Hale put into their weapon were outstanding, and even to this day some often query why the M85 never won the contract, which I will try to answer later, and an incentive for me to write this article, as it is one that has been avoided by many for many years.

    The two weapons comparable characteristics, with 10 round magazines on the trials rather than 20, both firing the NATO 7.62mm x 51 NATO round, must have been a difficult decision for those with the power to make it, but Accuracy International won the day weighing in at 14.3 pounds and a total length of 46.5” in length and reasons I mentioned earlier.

    RG ammunition was found to be the best all round used with the M85 rifle delivering 1” groups at 100 metres which were also common at the lead up to the 500 metre firing point and beyond, with a consistent result throughout. In short it was “hell of a weapon”!

    Much was talked about using the loads used in U.S ammunition such as the M118 match ammo, but this proved unlikely as NATO rounds were the test resource at the time in all the trials held, and this was deemed a sensible bench mark, given the availability of the NATO 7.62mm x 51 round which was easier and cheaper to acquire.

    A personal viewpoint, and from one, who has fired both weapons a lot, for me the M85 has the slight edge, not least for its portability issues, surrounding robustness/ ruggedness, effectiveness and consistency on target at distance, weight and overall length comparisons for an operational sniper environment. It never fails on the first round, like many of its adversaries who need a warm barrel to achieve anywhere near this rifles overall consistent performance on first shot. I am sure this one paragraph will lead many to comment!!
    Muzzle velocities are comparable, but with the M85 yielding 2,790 feet per second. So, other than a futuristic thumb hole in the butt, what does the L96, in whatever form have as a comparison?

    Both rifles initially started out using the proven Schmidt & Bender 6 x 42 Klassic scope, but the L96 progressed, marginally, producing various scope mounts to fit several favoured scopes, and giving flexibility by its users, but it has to be said that sniper trained troops got what they were given at the time of issue, there was never a choice given.

    Who will ever know, or at least we won’t, until the Ministry of Defence release papers on the operational reasons why contracts were awarded, and why the other brilliant rifles and not so brilliant rifles, some totally rubbish, that were assessed, fell by the wayside, in trying to supply the British Army with a replacement sniper rifle for the 21st Century!! An argument that goes on today. What rifle will see the next 50 years in service?

    THE END IN SIGHT

    In August 1985 the Chairman of Parker Hale, John Le Breton, retired from the board, with Roger Hale, the founding fathers grandson, taking over at the helm. Both made a considerable contribution to the brand name in their respective times.

    Sadly, In 1991 Gibbs Rifle Company in the USAicon, finally acquired the Parker Hale M85 manufacturing licence on a 10 year lease, but did not take up the mantel to continue to produce the rifle there.

    In 1997 Parker-Hale was sold to the Midlands Engineering Group, Modular Industries Limited stroke Bremmer Arms.

    This latter name was changed when few in the trade recognized Bremmer Arms and decided to continue using Parker Hale. This can be seen on PH logos with a blue dot below it, which signifies the company was sold to new buyers.

    A further sale of part of the company, was made in 2000 when the Parker Hale company was broken up, and bought by John Rothery wholesale Limited of Petersfield in Hampshire, who continues to sell these fine gun oils, lubricants and accessories today under licence.

    This too-ing and fro-wing continued across the Atlantic with Sabre Defence Industries here in the UK acquiring the tooling to start production, but again, nothing ever came to fruition.

    As a result, many parts now lay with Norman Clark Gunsmiths of Rugby, who managed to secure many other working parts from UK Police Forces as they changed weapons on misguided Home Office guidance, which can still be seen today, by the variations of sniper rifles held up and down the country.

    Clarks, are therefore today, the recognized suppliers of parts, and employ such quality armourers such as Bill Smallwood to keep the Parker Hale name alive in the West Midlands, the UK and the world.

    SUMMARY

    In terms of the Accuracy International being chosen over the Parker Hale M85, again in my personal opinion, I would say the decision was probably a simple one, and reflected the sterling and outstanding work that Malcolm Cooper achieved with two Gold Medals in the Olympics of 1984 in Los Angeles, and again at the 1988 Summer Olympics at 50 metres, using his revolutionary small bore rifle!! From that he then founded the Accuracy International Company, and remains the only person to hold two consecutive gold medals in the Olympic 50 metre rifle three positions event. Sadly he died on the 9th of June 2001.

    UK MASSACRES

    Some will say that following tragic massacres in the UK such as the Hungerford Massacre in 1987, where an AK47 semi-automatic rifle and assorted weaponry killed 16 people, and also following that the Dunblane massacre in Scotland in 1996, where 16 children and a teacher were killed in a school, where handguns were used, both produced the catalyst and the ultimate demise of many of the UK’s smaller gun makers.

    It certainly wouldn’t have helped an ailing business, but Parker Hale was a respected brand and a strong company at the time.

    However by the stroke of a Government pen, automatic weapons and most semi automatic hand guns were banned in the UK, and subsequently destroyed under a forfeiture order, where gun owners never received anything like the true value of the weapons taken from them.

    I personally witnessed some magnificent weapons guillotined into pieces at our Police Headquarters in seconds during this period, which would make grown men cry, but sadly this was the state of the times in the UK.

    These major firearms incidents indirectly, in my view, with others since, have had a profound impact on the weapons production in this country, responsible for closing many small family sized high quality businesses forever, such as Parker Hale.

    QUESTION

    I leave you with one thought……….. “which other rifle of the time, could produce a guaranteed cold barreled first round kill at up to 600 metres, and also produce an 85% first round deadly hit capability at between 600 to 900 metres from the target” ??????...................answer:


    The Parker Hale M85.

    Thanks to the following Officers and men for their valuable assistance and impartial views from both the Army and other organisations:

    Captain (Retd) Peter Laidler – REME/Small Arms School and his invaluable advice in the preparation of this article
    Lt Col (Retd) Commandant ITDU who wishes to remain anonymous
    Paul Whitehead formerly M85 Project at Parker Hale, now Land Warfare Centre
    Bill Smallwood formerly M85 Project at Parker Hale

    Together their views and comments have formed the basis of this article which was one, that has never been spoken of before and one that I have always intended writing about, to highlight the process of decision making, when a weapon is to be selected for such a major role in history for its users.

    PARKER HALE PARTS

    For those readers in the UK or indeed worldwide, that struggle for the acquisition of parts for Parker Hale rifles, should always try Norman Clark Gunsmiths Limited of Rugby in the UK who can be found at: Norman Clark Gunsmiths .

    They not only supply parts and rifles, but also hold immense knowledge on the rifles produced by this once proud family business as they continue to employ Bill Smallwood and others with direct knowledge to them.

    The brand name of Parker Hale has now been taken over by John Rothery Wholesale of Hampshire in England who produce the oils used in weaponry, but not the rifle parts.

    Note: The opinions expressed herein or statements made in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Military Surplus Collectors Forums, or the ownership and moderation group of this site. MILSURPS.COM accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein. Also, please note that neither the author nor MILSURPS.COM recommends that any member of these forums, or a reader of this article, try this type of experimentation without the proper knowledge, equipment and training.


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    Great piece of writing gil, just to let you know i owned that m85 before you.

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    It was well looked after and thanks for the response on the article. Amazing when you try and buy something in your past and can't, and a rifle you have always rated and it comes up for sale............. the M85 is now a rare rifle indeed.

    I think Dave Clift did mention it came from deepest south

    Just a general comment, if you get offered one, snap the guys hands off, the price is going up daily.
    Gil
    'Tonight my men and I have been through hell and back again, but the look on your faces when we let you out of the hall - we'd do it all again tomorrow.' Major Chris Keeble's words to Goose Green villagers on 29th May 1982 - 2 PARA

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    QUESTION

    I leave you with one thought……….. “which other rifle of the time, could produce a guaranteed cold barreled first round kill at up to 600 metres, and also produce an 85% first round deadly hit capability at between 600 to 900 metres from the target” ??????...................answer:


    ANSWER:

    L96A1

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    Steve,
    Don't want jealousy creeping in...............after all that writing I'll grant you the edge on this occasion
    'Tonight my men and I have been through hell and back again, but the look on your faces when we let you out of the hall - we'd do it all again tomorrow.' Major Chris Keeble's words to Goose Green villagers on 29th May 1982 - 2 PARA

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    There’s no doubt that Gils article is well researched and he’s certainly got a thing about the Parker Hale M-85 rifle. But it’s my view that, like the rose tinted view of the EM rifles that went before the L1A1 I’m sure that we ultimately made the right decision in accepting the well tried, well liked, reliable, easily maintained, rugged and tough L96A1 rifle. Albeit that it wasn’t without its troubled and dare I even mention it, fatal introduction. Does that seemingly glossy introduction need a bit of clarification………?

    Right. But first, I have got to say that I am not, nor have I ever been a sniper but on two occasions, at the very start of my service and for 10 years or so at the end I was closely associated with them. And it’s also correct to tell you that while I own a couple of L96’s I was not involved in the replacement L42 trial in any way, shape or form. But it IS correct to tell you that one of my work colleagues, Lt Col X Xxxxx at the Land Warfare Centre at Warminster actually headed that trial and Major X Xxxxxx, was his 2i/c was my boss during another series of trials. (He also headed the Cadet SA80 trial that soundly rejected another of PH’s offerings). So on that basis, I know a bit about how the trials are a) run, b), formulated, c), resulted and d), written up. And incidentally, he gave me some of the microfisched trials reports.

    There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that throughout the trials the PH rifle gave better accuracy. But given the deadly accuracy of the L96, the word ‘better’ must be subjective, as in ‘…how much more accurate need or can it be?’. What must be understood about the trials and is alluded to by Gil but missed by most is that a sniper isn’t a target shooter nor has he ever been. But more to the point, nor is a sniper rifle a target shooting rifle. They are chalk and cheese. Which target shooter do you know stalked and crawled his way across sometimes hostile terrain to get to and sit, holed up in a wet hide all night? Nope…….. there’s more to trials, even sniper rifle trials, than accuracy.

    The UKicon Military were not new to PH rifles. They’d already had their fingers slightly burned when for reasons best known to……… well….., nobody really seems to know, when 2000 variants of the PH target rifle – of sorts – were accepted as the replacement L81A1 target rifle for the old .303” No4 still in use by Cadet Forces AND don’t forget, those regular and TA units with a strong competition shooting ethos. When all they wanted was a replacement for the old No4. Are you thinking what I’m thinking……? The L39 was the ideal. WO1 Keith Xxxxxxxn REME was open mouthed at the decision. The L81 was a good example of…….. No, a CLASSIC example - of cheap and cheerful. I wouldn’t mind betting that ‘commercial-in-confidence parts of the trials reports made mention of the fact that maintenance and reliability of these rifles were not good. In fact, to quote Sgt Rxxxx Sxxxx the senior REME Inspector for the Southern Area told me on the telephone not 20 minutes ago that it was the worst rifle to ever pass across his bench. Do you know what…….. I could go on but it’d be going off into what we call mission creep. Suffice it to say you can read elsewhere on the forum of its failings.

    I wouldn’t mind betting also that during the trials a few telephone calls were made to Borden in Canadaicon and Singleton/Maryibiong in Australia about the state of play regarding the maintenance regime of the PH sniper rifles there. It wasn’t good. The Small Arms School has attached to it an Australianicon Infantry Warrant Officer. On a day with the introductory sniper course (a sort of wheat from chaff prelim…..) the recent one said to me ‘…..the reason we had what we had(the M-85) was because there wasn’t an L96!’

    With regards to maintenance, A-I were truly on the ball. They appreciated that (probably via Malcom Cooper, the Olympic shooter) that a sniper rifle, like his target rifle, was a one-man-dog and you don’t take it away from him and give him another as you could with, say the standard infantry rifle. No……, the WHOLE rifle was maintainable at unit Armourer level. And apart from a barrel change, it was. But even a barrel change could be done at a Field Workshop level! It gets better……… A-I promised that NO new gauges or equipment would be required to maintain the L96. The bore gauge was the old .297 as per the L42. So were the CHS gauges – initially…….! Following post acceptance events the LOW gauge was changed from 1.628 to 1.627! As for CHS changes. Well, it just doesn’t change! If you do need a change it is by changing an internal collar that incorporates the three bolt locking lugs. A sort of bolt head change in reverse! That means that the rifle body just doesn’t wear out! And another thing while we’re here……

    These three monsterous locking lugs on the bolt engage in the three equally monsterous locking lugs in the internal, separate, accurately positioned locking collar. The recoil forces are projected rearwards of course, but the imparted LOAD is taken through the collar, radially through 360 degrees into the body structure. Jeeeees, no wonder it’s tough and accurate!

    Sadly, some time after the acceptance of the L96 in favour of the P-H and several other – and some say hopeless – contenders, PH ceased trading. There were many reasons but one simple fact is that even an order for 1000 plus (number restricted) UK Military sniper rifles would not have been sufficient to save them. Indeed, it didn’t save A-I either as they sailed VERY close to the financial wall too and some commercially sensitive things must remain unsaid.

    But wars are good for the arms business. But when they end and your business is specialized…….. But did we make the right choice? Yep....., I fired probably more than anyone(?), know the maintenance routine as well as anyone and own as many as anyone. Am I biased? Probably, but I think we made the right choice

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  10. #7
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    Peter,

    Great piece and thanks for that, glad people can air their views openly on a subject which seemed to me to be buried and avoided like the plaque by the Army "generally" and the motivation to try and unearth the truth!!!!!!

    Politics and protocol of the "Officer Corps" from what I have learnt since my investigation, cannot be repeated in public, and I am sure the trials papers on ALL weapons will eventually be forthcoming when the official papers are released.
    This will no doubt be well after my death, so this article needed writing so it was documented for time and memorium, and added too as the facts surface!

    However, as you know my views Peter, we beg to differ on the final selection IMHO...........suffice it to say, both rifles were and still are, world beaters.

    Thats whats great about a forum of this calibre people can openly express their views and receive good knowledgeable soundbite in return.

    Gil
    'Tonight my men and I have been through hell and back again, but the look on your faces when we let you out of the hall - we'd do it all again tomorrow.' Major Chris Keeble's words to Goose Green villagers on 29th May 1982 - 2 PARA

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    It's not the 'officer corps' closing ranks Gil.......jeeeees, I am as down to earth as the rest of 'em. The trials teams get together and talk freely. I was part of the XXXXX XXX trial, not as an Armourer as such but as the engineer and believe me, the whole team spoken to each other openly and freely every lunch time while all munching our sandwiches during the live firing at Lavington Down. I'll give you an example. One of the barrels we had on the trial was described by the little Armourer to the big boss as '.......... it's xxxxxxg useless. It's as bald as a badgers arxx. I wouldn't use it to poke my fire.....'. We all had a chuckle but this phrase found its way into the final report. However, some of the commercial/confidential matters couldn't be repeated for obvious reasons.

    I seem to remember one small matter that did seem to raise some concern and that was a barrel change or full rebuild could only be undertaken at the PH factory. I carefully mentioned Borden. Maybe one of the knowledgeable Canadians could elaborate about their experience and this might go explain a little deeper my hint at communication with Canadaicon and their experience.

    Both good rifles but I never heard an Armourer or a sniper complain about the L96. Nope....... I'm wracking my brain but the only little niggle was the BRACKET, chassis, bipod left and right that would wear and let the bipod wiggle loose. Easily fixed and modified (C Class mod I recall) with later parts in 1997. The secondary iron sight was crap but it sort of worked! But nothing else.

    Skippy..... any other probs that you recall?

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    Peter brilliant.............present company accepted of course mon capitan.
    But if an ex RSM can't keep an eye on you lot, who can??? lol
    'Tonight my men and I have been through hell and back again, but the look on your faces when we let you out of the hall - we'd do it all again tomorrow.' Major Chris Keeble's words to Goose Green villagers on 29th May 1982 - 2 PARA

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    Excellent information written by peter & gil. It's good to hear both sides. I've owned & shot both the L96 & the PH M85, both great rifles.

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