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America’s WW1 Trench Rifle: The Cameron-Yaggi 1903

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Ian presents the trench rifle that the United States used in World War I. Almost all the countries involved in the war had a periscope trench rifle of some sort, and America was no exception – although it was not formally adopted. In this case, the weapon of choice was the rather unique-looking Cameron-Yaggi 1903 Springfield. The purpose of its design was to allow it to fire over a trench, with the shooter ensconced below and behind. The contraption was most probably first used by the Australians in 1915, Ian notes.

The model on display for auction is one of the more elaborate and better-constructed trench rifles. The Cameron-Yaggi conversion was developed by James Cameron and Lawrence Yaggi of Cleveland Ohio, and submitted to the US Ordnance Department in late 1917. There were about 12 prototypes made, all slightly different from each other – and none were actually adopted before the war ended. The Cameron-Yaggi conversion is notable for its rigidity and smooth operation, allowing sighting, firing, and bolt cycling from a concealed position. It left the rifle as is, without making any changes to it, which was important.

Most trench rifles are rather rickety devices, but not this one — it’s very stable. Both 1x and 4x magnified periscope sights were experimented with, and a 25-round extended magazine was fitted in order to maximize the utility of being able to operate the bolt from the firing position. The device added about 6 pounds to the weight of the rifle, which certainly helped reduce recoil – and it did not require and significant modification to the host rifle!

However, the Cameron-Yaggi didn’t see mass production, as its design was not considered as important towards the latter years of the war. By 1918, things like trench raiding tactics and more modern infantry attacks had been developed, which proved to be better ways to win the war than making these rifle contraptions. They went into storage after the war, and were supposed to be destroyed, but this one survived.

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