With the new-fangled Springfield M1903 rifle being issued to replace the mechanically interesting but wanting Krag rifle, late of the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Army was interested in looking at a host of accessories for the rifles including suppressors, lights, cutting edge bayonets and, as seen here, recoil reducers.
The design of Mr. Samuel N. McClean’s device, which looked something like a vase, was for a steel brake that screwed onto the threaded muzzle of a M1903 and, through a series of six rows of perforations, reduce felt recoil by channeling the gas of the muzzle blast outward. According to McLean:
“These grooves are inclined to planes through the axis of the bore, and in such a direction that the pressure of the gases due to this inclination is opposed to the tendency to rotate caused by the rifling. The recoil is controlled by the pressure of the gases against the forward face of the spiral groove and by the reaction of the gases upon the air in their escape to the rear through the vents. The effect of the device is also to gradually lessen and very much reduce the blast of the gun, as well as the report of the discharge”
Several were acquired from the by the McLean Arms Co.by the Army for testing.
Why wasn’t it accepted?
Here’s an excerpt of the 1904 report from W.C. Brown, Capt. 1st Cavalry, Commanding Camp, San Antonio Arsenal (Fort Clark)
The ear splitting report with the device on, is particularly noticeable and dangerous to the hearing, not only to men in the vicinity of the marksmen firing, but to that marksmen as well. The recoil device formerly tested was objectionable enough – this is worse. The puff or blast of escaping gases striking the face of the marksmen is particularly annoying.
The heavy recoil of the U.S. Magazine rifle is only a minor objection, and able bodied men can readily be taught to hold the piece so that it can be fired without discomfort or inconvenience. No amount of training, however, can accustom the soldier to the sharp report with accompanies the use of this recoil device. Its use in ranks would be practically impossible, as men with sensitive cars simply could not endure the shock.
Its use would be simply to remove a minor objection (recoil) by introducing a defect so grave as to condemn the arm.
Tell us how you really feel, Cap!
What worth was the good captain’s report? Well in 1903 the spry 50-year old had 26 years service already! Contrast this against the more typical 6-8 years for today’s Army O-3.
William Carey Brown (USMA 1877), he was an interesting individual who served a dozen hard years in the Plains Wars in which he helped chase down the Apache Kid and served in the last tragic campaign against the Sioux in 1890.
5th U.S. Cavalry, the Black HIlls, 1877, photo by 2Lt. WC Brown. Yes, THAT WC Brown!
He wrote the Manual for the instruction of men of the Hospital Corps and Company Bearers in the 1880s that remained in service for a couple decades, served as the Adjutant of the U. S. Military Academy (1885-90), worked in the fledgling Bureau of Military Intelligence tasked with inspecting armaments in Europe, was on the board that designed the first Emergency Ration adopted by the U. S., invented a pipe shield for tent stoves, devised a method of folding tents to minimize wear that was adopted service-wide and helped the Army adopt the Barr & Stroud self-contained base range finder.
Then was back in the saddle, Commanding Troop E, 1st Cavalry, at battle of San Juan, July 1, 2 and 3, and participated in siege and surrender of Santiago de Cuba in the late war with Spain. Not content to sit aside, he turned in his horse in 1899 and sailed as commander (Bvt. Major) of the 1st Bn. and Cos. E and F, 42d Infantry (Volunteers) arriving Manila Bay, December 31, 1899. While in the PI he fought a number of what are termed “smart” engagements with rebels.
After the Philippines, he traveled more as an inspector for the Army (where he crossed paths with McLean’s brake) and continued his work with MI, being so well-versed in Latin American, Pacific and European jaunts that he wrote extensive tourist guides for Cook’s Travelers’ Gazette.
Once more into the breech, he was promoted to Colonel in 1914 and commanded the 10th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers) at the Siege of Naco. Then he rode into Mexico in 1916 with Pershing on the chase for Villa, leading an independent column of horse soldiers.
With WWI on the horizon and the tired Colonel turned down for promotion to general due to his age, he asked to go to France in his current rank when war erupted.
“Colonel Brown then made request to the Chief of Staff that if he could not be appointed a Brigadier General in the National Army, that he be permitted to go to France with the 42d Division in any capacity, announcing that if this were done he would ‘make good,'” reads his file.
And he did, serving in the Inspector Quartermaster Corps attached to the division he traveled 64,000 miles in 1917-18 and was everywhere behind the lines making sure the AEF was taken care of. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his WWI service in 1922.
Forced out at mandatory retirement age of 64 on 19 Dec. 1918, he was recommended for promotion the day before he processed out for brigadier general but was not named one on the retired list until 1927.
He died in 1939, no doubt chomping at the bit to go to Europe to fight once more as the specter of a Second World War loomed.
The parade field on Fort Huachuca’s Old Post is named for him.
His photographic collection is preserved in the Army’s archives. Further, his papers at the University of Colorado Library are invaluable to researchers.
He’d probably like that more than he liked the McLean Muzzle brake.