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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This follows on from the 1926 Lithgow discussion, but probably better served by having its own thread if anyone has any ideas.

The gist is this: Were Lithgow barrels dated on manufacture, or on fitting up to the receiver?

For most production during WW1 and WW2, the barrel date would fit both requirements, as manufacture, fitting up and finished view would occur within a few days.

However, during the 1920s and 1930s when production was very slow and sporadic, a barrel may have sat in store a long time before fitting up. Hence using the barrel date as the basis of production chronology could end up confusing if you make the wrong pick between dating being applied at manufacture, or at fitting up.

I previously assumed that the barrel date was applied on fitting up, and was the best indicator of when the rifle was completed. That was somewhat based on the fact that the New-old-stock heavy barrels that used to be commonly available were all undated, hence no fit-up, no date. Some of the club rifles I have seen used in the 1950s and 1960 are a mixed bag. Some have barrel dates and some don't, but they almost never have the rifle serial number. Then there is the matter of the new MLE and SMLE heavy barrels being supplied into the gun trade from 1926 to 1939. Were these commercially supplied barrels dated when they left the factory?

Other factors that muddy the waters are the stories that:
1. service issue heavy barrel rifles were built up, but were sold to rifle clubs in the 1930s, only to be requisitioned at start of WW2 (we know that is true).
2. barrels were sold to the trade so that civilian club armourers and members of the trade could fit them to rifles as part of their trade. If so, did they bother serial numbering the barrel to the receiver?
3. barrels sold commercially into the trade were then requisitioned back to Lithgow at the start of WW2. These are marked MOTTY, TAYLOR, SPECIAL STEEL (any others?)
3a. Question: Did Lithgow stamp the MOTTY, TAYLOR etc onto the barrels they supplied, of did the trade apply the stamps themselves?
4. Lithgow did commercial work for the gun trade by fitting barrels to privately owned club SMLEs. You would think that what came back would have been dated and serial numbered.


The only examples of 1930s commercial barrels I have noted are:
1. Lithgow 1915 No.28389 with a defaced sold out of service /I\ S /I\ mark on receiver ring. Rifle came out of war stock in 1982. Barrel is dated 7 '36, no serial number and marked SPECIAL STEEL on the knox form. That sort of tells the story that the rifle was disposed of to a rifle club post WW1 (official sale mark), was fitted with a heavy barrel by the trade circa 1936 without numbering the barrel, and was then requisitioned back into service circa 1939 and had its sale mark obliterated. That sort of indicates that the barrel was dated on manufacture, but what if point 4 is true?

I have been a bit remiss in not paying too much attention to the club rifles, so have not been gathering much info.

Are there also any New-Old Stock light barrels out there? No serial number is a given, but are they dated or not??

Any info appreciated.

regards,

D.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
For what it's worth, here is my 6/17 built Lithgow 1917 SHT.LE Mk.III S/N 62967. It has an "H" barrel installed by Lithgow SAF in September 1958 shortly before it was sold out of service in early 1959. A serial number has not been stamped on the phosphated barrel. The second number 45134 on the receiver is the 3MD inventory/rack number. The 3MD stamp on the receiver has been over stamped with ->S<- .
Interesting! It looks like one of the NOS barrels, but with a date. This has the same sold out of service as my 28389, but it was presumably sold before it was re-barrelled in 1936. Are there markings to indicate disposal in early 1959? The South Australians were keen on marking all of their disposals with a large /I\ S /I\ on the butt with the month and year.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I have seen H barrels that appeared new (no rearsights or evidence of any being fitted) that have been dated, around '55 from memory.
Doogal, makes me think that maybe the barrels were dated on manufacture in general, but the large batch of undated NOS was maybe an anomoly. Smiths in Sydney had hundreds of them as part of a clean out of Lithgow after they went out of the 303 line of business. The fitting of rearsights is an interesting point. All of the 1930s dated H barrels I have seen (with one exception) had the rearsight bed fitted. Without exception, these beds have been marked with the 'T' on the left side near the cross pin. Obviously to indicate the bed had been bored out, but all look like they have been done in the same place with the same T stamp.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Hey Damien. This is a very interesting subject indeed. This one may muddy the waters a little bit more. It's about the barrel date on an original all matching Lithgow rifle, action dated 1923, barrel dated 12 '24, with a coachwood butt dated 1925. a nice example of how Lithgow experimented with coachwood in the 1920's. You will see on this one the month is stamped in a different size font to the year, suggesting the year and month were stamped at different times.
Wow! That is pretty extraordinary seeing the old marking style on a coachwood butt. As per previous posts on the 1926 discussion, the barrel date is consistent with what appears to be finished view in 1925. A very nice piece - now I'm on the hunt for one like it!
I have only ever seen mixed woodwork (new ex-factory)on some of the early 1916 rifles that mixed walnut and Queensland maple. D.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 · (Edited)
Damien, you worry me.
With the research you used to do it seems strange that you bring these points up now.
There has been a lot of information sourced over the last 10 years or so, boxes of Archived files accessed at great cost, not always productive.

A search of the data base here and on Milsurps would be helpful.
Just a few points,
1. Barrels were not dated on manufacture, but dated when fitted to action and proofed.
No commercially supplied barrel was dated, but was dated on fitment.

2. Barrels sold to trade were stamped as per directions for travelling armourers, no serial number was transferred, only done at SAF.

3. Heaps, do a search of the archives.
3a. No, done by trade.

References: Specification to Govern Manufacture and Inspection.
India Department Regulations to Guide the Inspection Department.
Minute Paper from Major A.H. Sandford on Inspections to be carried out by Inspection Branch.
Instructions for Factory Viewers, Inspection Staff and Travelling Armourers. 1922

As for H barrels, each different batch supplied from 1934 to 1962, had a one or two letter code on the barrel in front of the knox, a single letter from C in 1932 to P in 1950, then a 2 letter code from AB in 1951 to AO in 1960, there are several cleanskin barrels still in wrap marked AO.
7.62 heavy barrels made by Lithgow are marked AXX

In 1932 9,570 H barrels were made.
1936 3,762, then another batch of 3,987 barrels
1937 1,912
1938 2,871
1939 1,608
1940 3,438....from 1947 to 1960 the Rifle Association placed a standing order of 1,000 barrels( not always supplied)

The National Archives and Trove are your friends.

Muffet, I can worry me sometimes too. So many thanks for the very relevant info conveyed so succinctly. Timing was related to me digging out info for the 1926 discussion, where III(H) 28389 cast doubt.
After a collecting life believing that the barrel date was stamped on fitting up, there were a couple of anomalies that made me question this, as I did. Cutting to the chase, the bit of info I was missing in all these years was the Directions for travelling armourers. This makes perfect sense of III(H) no. 28389, which embodied all that concerned me.

I have to say that NAA is a bit of a drag unless you find something already digitised, and I agree that you can spend lots and get nothing but a couple of sentences and endless file pages and cover sheets. My last foray on SAF matters was a long time ago when assisting Tony Griffiths. But thanks for pointing out the resources now available else where.

I guess I have rested on some of that documentation obtained almost 15 years ago, as it was pretty definitive in its own way. Amongst other documents, two interesting ones were the SAF Annual Report (to the MSB) for Year Ended 30 Jun 1937, and a History of the Munitions Effort by SAF's Draughtman -in-Charge Mr C. Thorley drafted in 1945. The former document is more accurate, but latter covers a greater range with production numbers, albeit with a few bugs.

These reports give good insights into the heavy barrel production.

Starting with the year ending June 1937 report as an example, it states:
Barrels, Heavy, Short, MkI* for use of rifle club members and for conversion of rifles. Qty 1,912
Barrels (H), Mark III Qty 3,987
Barrels, No.1, Service, Light. Qty 795.
Conversion of rifles No.1 Mark III / III*, LV to HV Qty 3,100

Thorley's report goes "Short, Heavy, rifle barrels for rifle clubs 5,674... for the past two years. Conversion of 3,100 No.1 rifles for the services. Is that No.1 Mk III to III(H)? No, according to the original EOFY 1937 report, but without a strict format, Thorley's report becomes ambiguous, a bit scrappy and has a few gaps. As but one example, Short heavy barrels of both types for EOFY 1937 comes to 5,899, exceeding Thorley's 35 to 37 two year total of 5,674. Ooops.

That aside, I note the distinction between the Short Heavy MkI* and III(H) barrels. I can only read that the Short MkI* barrels are for the old MLE rifle club rifles (Shortened Range Pattern), and the III(H) refers to the heavy barrel we all know with the step-down muzzle produced for the SMLE III from 1932. So the figure of 1,912 quoted is for the Short MkI* heavy barrel, which is just a Long MkI* barrel produced by Lithgow from FY 20/21, but shortened by 5 inches. I can recall seeing a H barrel production drawing somewhere that may provide additional clarity, but cannot recall its nomenclature in terms of local pattern mark number, etc.

Another anomaly is the extra 3,987 barrels you quote for 1936 production turn up in 1937 figures. The only reference to barrel production in this report (part of the background narrative) is "Short Mk.I* Rifle Barrels" No quantity.

What a tangled web. Unfortunately I will not be able to do any homework of my own on that for a little while, but any quick thoughts?

cheers,

D.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Muffet, your comments re using Tony’s book as the up to date reference got me looking at Tony’s references just now. I am pretty sure we looked at the same document “History of the Munitions Effort” by Thorley in 1945, and this is his “Ref2” identified on p.422 of his book. He has based all his figures on this 1945 summary, rather than the yearly factory reports. However, in his Sources section page xiv, the third paragraph says it all, and explains why he decided to go with “Ref 2”.
He mentions the annual managers reports as primary sources, but does not actually reference them, as they were contradictory, inconsistent, gappy, etc. That said, it is pretty clear that the 1945 report was just a paraphrasing of the previous yearly reports with associated transcription mistakes – examples in my previous post. Hence, I would caution against using the 1945 document as gospel.
I would go back to the managers yearly reports - 1937’s for example, distinguishes between the Heavy barrels for the SMLEs vs, heavy barrels for the shortened range pattern MLEs as they are listed separately. The 1945 report conflates them.
Regarding the MkI* long barrels, the 1937 report’s background entry for 1920/21 was “The production of Barrels, Rifle, long Mk.I*, for use by rifle clubs was commenced this year.” The last entry for the long barrels was in Fy 1931/32. No quantities given. FY 1932/33 states that “New work introduced was the making of Short Mk.I* Heavy Barrels for use of the rifle club members and for the conversion of Rifle. The quantity manufactured was 9,570.” This continues up to 1935/36 as being Short Mk.I* heavy barrels, but in 1937 they differentiate between Mk.I* and III(H) barrels. We all know that heaps of standard H barrels for SMLE had been produced from 1932, so obviously some liberties taken with the nomenclature in the reports. Getting hold of all of the yearly reports would at least allow this to be checked. D
 

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Discussion Starter · #22 ·
Thanks Matty. The underlying question of this thread was whether barrels were dated on manufacture, or on fitting to a rifle. Your rifle still could be an example of both I guess. Muffet pointed out something I was unaware of re instructions to travelling armourers, where armourers would apply the date when fitting the barrel to the receiver.

Muffett specifically points out that a barrel is only dated when fitted to a receiver and proofed.

The confusion in my mind, without having read the source documents, was that there are many examples of un-numbered spare barrels which are dated. The SMLE Mk.I spare barrels made by BSA in 1911 and 1912 that were fitted to Australian issued rifles in the 1920s, and stamped with the fitting date, are cases in point. There are also quite a few MLE spare barrels that are dated 1912 that have serial numbers of the contemporary V series SMLE production.

So I assume here that these barrels were made as spares but were dated when fitted to a receiver for proof, and then dismantled and put to store when proofed successfully. Given the practice of numbering the barrels and giving the receiver the barrel number pre 1920s, the spare MLE barrels make sense. So why were the SMLE Mk.I barrels dated '11 but not serial numbered on manufacture? (these barrels usually have the fitting date in large stamps in M/YY format on the right side of the knox form, with the rack number instead of the receiver serial number).

The other point of confusion was the Australian made heavy barrels where the NOS ones sold by Mick Smith were undated. Muffett draws our attention to the material that says they were, but using a letter code in front of the knox form rather than the familiar M 'YY format date on the left side of the knox form. These were only M 'YY dated by the armourer (factory or travelling) when fitted to a receiver. I have to say that I have not seen an example that could pick holes in any of that.

One of my little projects that I never got around to was recording the letter date codes on my heavy barrels and comparing them with the fitting dates. Unfortunately that will have to wait as my stuff is in storage with a dealer.
 

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Discussion Starter · #32 ·
This is probably going to give a slight headache Damien. No serial number on the barrel!

View attachment 3908522
Matty, not sure what the letter code is on this H barrel as per Muffett's post, but that may assist if you can find it. It has the look and feel of a 1950s club rifle, being parkerised as pointed out before. Is there a rearsight bed, and if so, how professionally has it been fitted?. The bruise on the edge of the knox form indicates a barrel that has not been fitted up in a proper vice, so again lends weight to it being installed by what passed for the club armourer. Many of the club armourer fitted barrels did not have serial numbers.

As an aside, the rearsight bed can be very telling - if the barrel has been made as a rifle club spare, it will probably be parkerised under the rearsight bed, the rearsight bed will have a different finish to the barrel, or there will be a longitudinal hacksaw cut along the bottom of the rearsight bed's band so it can open out and fit the larger diameter H barrel. My understanding is that original WW2 production H barrels were assembled with the rearsight bed "in the white" and then parkerised is a unit, if not as the whole barreled action. But again, someone more knowledgeable may educate me on that point.

I have a theory that the barrel may have been a spare left over from the sniper program judging by the date, as I cannot see the MA VII stamp that goes on both barrel and receiver ring on barrel fit up. So the barrel is a spare made and proofed in 9 '44 as a spare pending fitting to a Mk.3H(T). Club armourers would have not put the MA VII stamp on, as they were not factory inspectors. When I can drag out my own Mk.3H(T), I will compare the date and inspection stamps to test my theory. I am struggling to recall whether my sniper had a numbered barrel, but the date was consistent with the butt marking and the list in Skinny's books.

The coincidence between the barrel date and the butt FTR might be just that. Rifle 54021 should be a 1916 Lithgow made in Nov - Dec 1916 and issued to 5MD in 3/17. Does the butt have the same 5MD rack number, or is it a completely different butt from the FTR mix & match? I am not sure why Lithgow would be rebuilding this rifle as a Mk.3H in Sept 1944 when they were in the earlier stages of the sniper program. One possibility that crossed my mind is that it was fitted with the H barrel as part of the sniper program, but was not completed.

Sorry, you have really got me on a tangent now. The problem with that is the lack of MA VII stamp and the thought that they would have finished completing it into a Mk.3H(T) being relatively early in the program makes me think the barrel was not installed at Lithgow. The whole assembly sequence does not seem to gel with my understanding of it (but I could be wrong). I have never yet seen a Mk.3H(T) that had its original 1930s H barrel - only with new 1944 barrels so far. This suggests to me that the Mk.3H rifles used as the basis for the snipers were selected for reasons I am not clear on. Was it that if they were proven target rifles, then they must be OK for accuracy? We know that many (most?) of these rifles were largely broken down to receiver only before being rebuilt with new parts, so why bother?? That said, I have seen a few original snipers that use woodwork that appears to be original to the unconverted 3H rifle.

Anyhow, a good 5MD issue mark. Not too often seen....
 

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Discussion Starter · #35 ·
Anthony, that is what my theory suggests. The MA VII is stamped on both barrel and receiver ring on the left side pretty much next to each other, suggesting that it was related to inspecting the breeching up of the barrel in the receiver. Looking at the pre 1926 rifles, the A-star VII mark is used.
 

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Discussion Starter · #42 ·
Here is my HT medium mount has a 38 dated barrel, maybe a replacement as it has been a target rifle after leaving the military, but has been factory drilled for a sight bed And also has the “p” for paint which is still evident on the action.
In my opinion too much of a coincidence to have had a replacement barrel after service as the target shooters wouldn’t know what the P designates.
More likely is that it is an original H rifle converted to a HT as Doogal suggested.
Also has original Queensland maple furniture With volleys View attachment 3908671
View attachment 3908672
View attachment 3908673
Looks like a factory fitted barrel due to MA VII stamps on barrel and receiver ring, but is there a serial number on the barrel, and does it match the receiver? If it is a factory fitted barrel in 1938, odds on it will have a serial number. The receiver looks parkerised, but hard to tell from the photos whether the barrel is parkerised or blued, but it looks different. If the barrel was with the receiver in the sniper conversion, both would be parkerised. I'm just trying to eliminate the possibility that it is a stripped down sniper (as some rifle club members did remove blocks from their rifles) that has had a 1944/45 barrel shot out and changed for a better condition 1938 H bbl out of another rifle.

I agree that the butt looks like it is coachwood, as it is not original 1915/16 without the marking disc. I assume that the receiver serial number appears in Skinny's list, and that the sent to store date is in March 1945?

Having pre 1917 furniture with provision for volley sights is seen on a few original snipers, so that's good. If the volley sights are still fitted, then that's not quite right....

An interesting rifle, especially if it is a Mk.3H(T) sniper with an original 1938 barrel fitted.
 

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Discussion Starter · #47 ·
I don't think there is any doubt that Mk.3H(T)s came in a range of furniture. My first and second were both completely new components on a 1916 BSA III* receiver, and a Lithgow 1917 III receiver. My mate up the road had a nice medium mount ex rifle club disposal in the 1970s that was on Skinny's list, and it had walnut butt and fore end with volley sight plate, with coachwood top hand guards. I was not the tidiest looking rifle looking a bit piebald, but it was 100% as it left army stores. So there was definitely a bit of recycling going on.

What put the cat amongst the pigeons with repro snipers was when AOC went into liquidation in the late 1970s(?) and a well known theatrical armourer bought up all of the excess scopes and blocks. Some were medium mount scopes in the pre 1250 production number range. We theorize that these may have been defective and were not delivered to Army. The rest were low mount scopes with blocks in the 1700+ production number range. The earlier numbered scopes were complete and probably about to be delivered to Lithgow before the contract was cancelled. The later numbered scopes were incomplete and without the glass, but still sold with their matching blocks. These were a feature of his stall at the Sydney gun shows in the early 1980s.

A give-away for many snipers built up out of these parts is that the blocks are blued, not parkerised, and the block & scope production numbers are too high. Nowdays, we have the benefit of being able to check the rifle serial numbers on Skinny's list.
 

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Discussion Starter · #59 ·
Looks like a 1917 barrel recycled at some stage into the 1923 receiver. Although it will have the 1917 production date, it may also have the refitting date in a M/YY format on the right side of the knox form.
 

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Discussion Starter · #62 ·
The original number is from December 1917 production, but the new number could be matched to a wide range of dates and makers. I would say that this barrel is on at least its third rifle and may have been better than the 1923 barrel it replaced. It has not been matched to its present rifle and there is no fitting date that I can see. Still, I have seen similar direct from war stock. D.
 
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