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Category: First World War

Smelly: The British SMLE and No.4 Bolt Action Rifles

Smelly: The SMLE

The SMLE (sometimes pronounced “smelly”), or “Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield”, to give its full designation, entered British army service in 1904. This replaced the MLE (Magazine Lee-Enfield, sometimes pronounced “Emily”), which had been produced in long (with a 30.2″ barrel) and carbine (21.2″ barrel) versions. The new rifle was designated “short” because its barrel length was 25.2″, mid-way between the long rifle and the carbine. The short length was controversial. Many people believed the new rifle’s short barrel would make it too inaccurate. In Canada, the Ross rifle was adopted for service instead of the SMLE, partly for this reason. A long bayonet (known as a “sword bayonet”) was issued with the rifle, to compensate for the shorter length when fighting in close combat.

SMS Deutschland, the Civilian U-Boat

The idea of merchant submarines, a variation on standard merchant ships, has been suggested on multiple occasions, but has only been put into practice once, during WWI. In 1916 a class of seven u-boats was built by a private shipping company. These new u-boats were large, displacing over 2,200 tons, and with a wide beam to facilitate loading. They had no torpedo tubes or other armament, being civilian vessels operated by a civilian company, the North German Lloyd Line.

Although they were large by u-boat standards, their cargo capacity of around 700 tons was relatively small by surface ship standards. Their ability to submerge to avoid detection, however, was a significant advantage for a country that was under an efficient naval blockade. The blockade, put in place by the Entente powers, was severely hampering German trade and making it difficult for German companies to acquire raw materials. Of the seven merchant submarines built, only two were used in their intended role, and of those two, SMS Bremen sank on her maiden voyage. SMS Deutschland made two successful round voyages to the United States.

Gavrilo Princip and the Mythical Sandwich

It is generally accepted that the First World War was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip. In recent years, however, an extra twist has been added: that the only reason Princip was in a position to fire at the Archduke was because he happened to be eating lunch when the Archduke’s car drove past. Millions of lives were lost during the war that followed. The Russian Revolution, the rise of Hitler and Nazism, the Second World War, and even the atomic bomb can arguably be attributed to the First World War, and thus, to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It’s sobering to think that all of those terrible things might never have happened if Princip hadn’t felt a little hungry and stopped off at Schiller’s delicatessen for a sandwich.

The sandwich theory, however, is deeply flawed. The Smithsonian blog published an excellent debunking of it back in 2011. It appears that the original source of the sandwich was a novel by a Brazilian TV host. The post is very interesting, and well worth a read.

Szent István: Hungary’s Battleship

As a land-locked country with no coastline, it may come as a surprise to learn that Hungary has ever needed or wanted a battleship. But, in the years before World War 1, Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The empire’s political system meant that, when Admiral Montecuccoli announced the building of a new generation of battleship in 1908, the Hungarian parliament could insist that one of the new class be built in Hungary, and be named Szent István, for Hungary’s patron saint.

Funding for this new class of ships was initially refused by the parliaments, on the grounds that the army needed the money to administer Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had recently been annexed into the empire. None the less, the first keel was laid down on 24th July 1910, but only after Montecuccoli had persuaded the Emperor to authorise construction on credit, and personally guaranteed a 32 million Kronen credit.

The Sinking of SMS Wien

On the 10th of December 1917, the Austro-Hungarian Monarch class battleship SMS Wien (Vienna) was attacked in port at Trieste. All three ships of the Monarch class had been relegated to harbour duties in 1914, since they were obsolete and due to be replaced by the new dreadnought battleships of the Improved Tegetthoff class. Although the first Improved Tegetthoff was scheduled to be laid down in 1914, the outbreak of war meant that no work was done on their construction, and so the operational life of the Monarch class was extended.

SMS Wien at anchor in Cattaro
SMS Wien at anchor in Cattaro