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The San Francisco call. [volume] (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, December 01, 1912, Image 6

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1912-12-01/ed-1/seq-6/

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THE connection between our na
tional defense and the self s
Ing target perfected at Mare is
land by Lieutenant Commander
Mark St. C. Ellis, U. 8. N.. is by no
means as far fetched as it sounds. On
the contrary, as will be shown, the , new
target may revolutionize the present
Inadequate scheme of defense. Or, if
it fails in that, it will at least cause
Important reforms.
National defense is the most serious
problem the country has to face. It is
the most serious, because the people
do not view it seriously, they did
they might take prompt means to fore
stall peril. But as things stand now,
while politicians with social and leg
islative panaceas get a ready hearing,
the patriot who tries to stir the coun
try to a realization of its military
helplessness is branded a crank or a
jingo. The great public sits compla
cently while congress cuts down the
naval program and pea>*e advocates
strive to cripple the efficiency of the
army and militia.
This Indifference is due to optimism.
Americans are so hopeful by temper
ament that they look to the future to
eolve its own problems If one points
out the active part >*v playe-l by
Uncle Sam in the dan > oos game of
world politics and shows how absolute
ly unprepared we are to back up our
claims by force, they reply: •'Oh, well,
nobody wants to fight us, for if they
do, we'll shoulder our muskets and
wipe them off creation."-
Optimism thus hits a double blow
at military effectiveness. It applauds
the cutting down of defense appropria
tions as "economy," while giving free
reign to anarchists and sentimentalists
seeking to cripple the ser\ ice in other
All that is left to back Uncle Sam's
pretensions is diplomatic luck and a
navy that will soon b« more efficient In
It* personnel than in its equipment, un
less congress wakes up. The army is
scattered from Alaska to the canal zone
and from the Philippines to Porto Rico.
Thus, the first line of defense, in event
of trouble, would be a volunteer army
composed of raw and partly trained
men, subject to all the abuses and
scandals of the small war of '98.
A» our people seem averse to build-
Ing a national reserve army to over
come the weaknesses of the present
national guard system, and as a larger
regular army seems impossible of at
tainment, what then is to be done?
Commander Ellis comes In with hi-
self scoring target—a device whi< ;.,
according to the military Investigating
board, revolutionizes rifle practice.
The Ellis plan of national defense is.
in sUort, nothing less than the literal
application of the schpolma'am's adage
about "teaching the young idea how to
shoot." innite a nation or hummen,
says Ellis, and peevish rival powers
will think twice before starting:
trouble —Just a3 it is the bumptious
little man and not the self-constrained
athlete wflo always gets into hot
It is curious how the old Idea that
we are natural marksmen still per
sists. Once every American carried
his musket across his shoulder on the
lookout for Indians, bears, squirrels or
whatever might come along. Men bred
to the gun, peppering the foe at short
range with crude and inaccurate
weapons, won our early wars. But
America is no longer a frontier coun
try. People no longer shoot either for
a living or in self-protection. Com
merce has reformed the genius of the
nation. The Spanish war showed that
a decidedly small percentage of volun
power weapons.
To a statement of Ellis**polnts:
Hitting:—not mere ■hooting— -4s what
counts in war.
In proportion as our use of firearms
has declined, so has the modern" rifle
developed in rangrt and accuracy.
Since the new v capon £as attained
perfection in accuracy with immense
range, the chance now of a green
marksman overcom'ng , a trained one i 3
small compared w'.th the chance in the
days of the short range and inaccurate
In a clear field, ~ one crack. shot
should be able to rout an entire com
pany of green men advancing from a
pdint 2,000 yards away.
On the purely educational side, tai -
g«t practice has no superior In the
training: of eye, nerve and coolness of
With the eelf-scorlng target. ra.ng-f>
firing is freed from its old drudgery
and disadvantages and becomes a
■port of unrivaled fascination.
Furthermore, the correct use of the
gun would put an end to the pitiable
accidents now so frequent among , reck
less hunters.
In effect, Ellis' plan is to prepare not
a nation of soldiers, but a nation of
first class trained material, which
would inspire a wholesome respect
among foreign countries and thus act
as a guarantee of peace. And this effi
ciency is to be attained through a tar
get device that represents as great an
advance over the old fashioned targets
as the new military Springfield marks
over the musket of General Jackson's
day. By its Instant and accurate mark
ings, an untrained team after a short
practice on the Mare island range was
able recently to surpass all records in
the marine corps match at Bremerton.
Like most useful Inventions, Ellis'
target arose out of necessity. It was
a foolhardy bluejacket who caused him
to take up the idea of a dozen years
ago. At that time Ellis was practicing
on an ordinary target at a station in
Florida. He had Just pulled the trigger
when the bluejacket marking the
scores poked his head above the pit. By ,
a miracle, the bullet missed. But it
took away the officer's appetite for
shooting for some days.
For years Ellis worked on his idea.
a modtl that worked
well with a target r*f»e, but was im
praoticable with high power guns for
two reasons. One reason lay in the
heavy armor plate of that day, th«
other in the delicacy of the electrical
Instruments required to mark the con
When the new armor plate, combining
lightness with toughness, was discov
ered, one handicap was disposed of.
Then by fastening- a rod with a loose
spring asrainst the back of each target
plate, which plunges In turn Into the
copper pieces making the circuit, not
only Is the danger of all accidents in
marking , because of jars to the other
pieces done away will, but a rough
end ready machine is turned out, ca
pable of standing the hardest kind of
On the Mare island range one may
see the first target made by the invent
or. A crude and clumsy machine it Is,'
compared with his perfected model
which stands near by.
For nearly two years the perfected
machine has stood exposed to the salt
air and spray, subjected to over 400,000
Fhottj, yet remaining in as good condi
tion as the day it was set up. The ele
phant title has been used on it, to try
its endurance.' The other week, a skep
tical squad of bluejackets tried to put
it out of business with a machine gun.
It stood the test.
The target is simple in principle. It
is composed of concentric rings agree
ing with the regulation paper target
that stands right in front of it, pasted
on a canvas screen. These rings are in
turn divided into sections which give
the "o'clock." When a section Is htt,
i..c reeult Is flashed over the wires to
the large indicator which stands at the
side of the firer, whose shot is marked
by a white disk loosed by the electric
drop. As the indicator is drawn to the
original target on a smaller scale, the
firer knows just what corrections to
make to hit the bull's eye. As the bul
lets comingf near the edge of one plate
rebound to make a second marking on
the adjoining plate, a fine definition is
To appreciate the advantages of the
Ellis target, one ought first to try out
the state rifle range at Manzanita. Well
does the state range serve to indicate
the weakness of the old plan.
When shooting at the ordinary rifle
range the marksman has to strain his
eyes until his shot is marked. Some
times the shot is not marked because
the youths in the pits were not looking
for it, A piece of carelessness in re
cording may ruin a fine score. Every
few «hots, the flrer has to ring up the
markers and ask them to haul down the
target and report on the last shot. The
result is that these petty annoyances
tako the edge off the sport.
At Mare island the shot is recorded
before the firer can throw the empty
shell out of the magazine. Hβ then
makes his corrections of sight and
gauge. There are no stupid markers
to quarrel with, no mistakes to ruin
one's "string."
At Mare island the upkeep of the tar
gret Is about fifty cents a month In pa
per and dry batteries.
In the old way firing by military com
panies proceeds slowly; at Mare island
the one target can handle ac many as
400 men in a day.
The old fashioned rifle pits require
great extent of land; the Ellis targ-et
can be placed on a marsh or towed
out on the water, allowing , practice
with high power rifles in the waste
spaces of a city.
A match was held recently at the
Bremerton navy yard in which crack
teams from the marine corps took
part. One team came from Honolulu,
confident of capturing the prize. The
team that did win. composed of men
stationed at Mare Island under the
command of Lieutenant Waller, was
not supposed to have had a show. But
this team, after a few weeks' training on
tha Mare island target, not only over
came the best competing team by 171
points, but smashed the national
marine corps record of 2,725 points by
a score of 2,743.
This was the first absolutely con
vincing: test of the target's efficiency,
and consequently brought congratula
tions to the inventor from all
of tho country.
The army school of musketry has
given enthusiastic indorsement to the
Ellis target, which has already been
placed on the range at Monterey and
approved by the United States army.
The investigating army officers re
ported among other thir.gs that with
a test made by. 64 men, firing 10 shots
each, the one Ellis target did the work
in one hour and 40 minutes that four
ordinary targets combined could ac
complish only in 20 minutes less time.
On the Ellis target the average score
was raised from 35.81 to 38.194.
Never has the value of marksman
ship been so keenly realized by mili
tary students as now. In the revolu
tion, men reserved their fire until they
could see the whites of the eyes of
the enemy. At such close quarters the
good shot would not have a very great
advantage over a bad shot. Yet even
in those days practice in arms enabled
the patriots to handicap the redcoats.
Later it made easy work for the Amer
icana in the Mexican war, and it is a
matter of record that the superior hit
ting ability of the southerners, who
hunted either for,a livelihood or for
sport, while the northerners followed
the plow, gave the confederacy decid
edly the better of it in the earlier
half of the civil war.
Meantime weapons have so improved
in rangq and accuracy that, wnile the
elevation of a fraction of an Inch of
the muzzle might still catch a foeman
In the head at a short distance, the
bullet would fly hundreds of feet over
his head at full range.
It was the Spanish-American war
that woke up foreign nations to the
need of target practice. The navy had
then spent more powder in practice
than any other power. Yet the sinking
of Cervera's fleet was done by a bare
two per cent of hits; and even this two
per cent score amazed the world four
teen yeare ago. Now, such v score
would be considered a fearful disgrace.
A revision in the system of target
practice proposed by Captain Si-ns, U.
S. N., then a lieutenant, is the rea
son why the navy now makes records so
close to perfect. Formerly, officers on
the deck estimated the theoretical ''.its
according to the closeness to a .small
mark. By the reformed plan, the score
is taken by the number of holes actual
ly made in a canvas screen. Moreover,
the gun crew follows the shell, which
may be easily seen in its flight when
viewed directly from the rear, and
notes the hitting point so that errors
in aiming may be corrected.
But to return to infantry—for land
and not the sea is the oourt of final
Jurisdiction in every great armed dis
pute—Americans capable of bearing
The San Francisco Sunday Call
arms now seldom handle a rifle. In
the Philippine war, the number] of hits
must have been a minute fraction of
one per cent. But even at that, our
shooting was vaetly superior to that
of the Filipinos, for the old army adage
eaya "It takes a ton of lead to kill a
man." The Filipinos did not then sight
their rifles at all but held them out
of the tranches over their heads or fired
with the *jutt nesting against the crotch
of the elbow. When some American
renegades taught the ladrones'the cor
r-ct way of firing, there was another
tale to tell. For it took more work
to clean out thoso few bands of scat
tered sharpshooting ladrones, and a
greater cost of life, than all of the
large early operations against Aguinal
Drilling, as the term goes, is cal
esthenics rather than soldiering. For
school boys to march in fours and go
through the manual of arms is physical
exercise. A conspicuous illustration of
the difference between perfection in
drill and in fighting ability Is shown in
the late Boer war. The Boers knew
nothing of drilling, but they did know
how to shoot, for shooting was a part
of their life. No army Is more perfect
ly drilled than the Britieh, yet the lack
of target practice put the British regu
lars at a material disadvantage. Not
until practice in the field, at an enor-J
mous cost of life, taught the invaders
how to hit, did the tide of battle turn.
Under the old system, however,
training in arms has been both diffi
cult and expensive in this country. The
best the state could do for its new
range was to lease a valley in the
Marin hills, an hour's trip and an
hour's march from San Francisco, and
considerably worse for Oaklanders.
Jn a few years this land will be wanted
for suburban homes. So the tendency
will be to push the range farther and
farther away from the center of pop
ulation. The Ellis target. On the con
trary, may be placed on the uninhab
itable marshes, towed out in the bay
or, with a protecting hood around the
firers to catch any accidental shots, it
might even be placed right in the
city, providing it had a backing of
hill and the firing were done from
some point a safe distance above the
Intervening space. Its portability
should make it as great a boon to the
army as to the navy, for ita weight Is
only about 1,500 pounds, while the
striking energy of a Springfield bullet
is over 1,600 fcot pounds at a range of
2uO yards. It stanas ready to t>6 shot
at, by mere pressing of a button, at
any time of day and in any kind of
weather, and it may even be lighted at
night for practice work. The main
tenance of the machine i 3 practically
Thus has the genius of Lieutenant
Ellis made it possible to correct the
condition found by Assistant Secretary
of War Olliver, who recently reported
that "rifle shooting as a pastime i« })# +
country is rapidly dying our."
This business of perfecting the sell,
scoring targ«t after years of toll and
dis courageraent hws been the life ob
ject of Ellis. At the Mare Island ar
senal, from which the Pacific fleet seta
Its ammunition, one reaUaee
splendid patriotism back of the idea
On taking char K « of the magazines
two years ago. this officer began to
institute improvements that now save
the government $30,000 a year Where
old shells were once cleaned by hand
Ell s invented a chemical bath. Noting
the labor wasted in punching out prim
ers from the shells, he built a ma"
chine that does the work in a second
Thus his whole life has been <£vJSS
to the cause of efficiency. And h*
cause of this, he is entitled to a J!"
spectful hearing from the nation in the
matter or his scheme for
peace through ability to shoot

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