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Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Mad Minute Myth

The Mad Minute Myth

These notes are the result of of my research into the Mad Minute; this was prompted by statements, on internet forums and in various Youtube videos, that the claimed record, of 38 rounds fired in one minute by a Sergeant Snoxall is a myth, in that the accuracy claimed is incompatible with the rate of fire.

  Although one would expect an increase in the rate of fire to cause a corresponding reduction in the accuracy achieved, the question is whether the 37 or 38 hits claimed as the record in the Mad Minute practice is plausible, whether it is within human abilities, or whether it is an impossible fabrication, as some have claimed.  


Mad Minute was a slang term, originally used in the pre-WW1 British Army, to describe shooting practices that were intended to exercise shooters in accurate, rapid firing and reloading during one minute, using the standard Short, Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) bolt-action service rifle.

The ‘Mad Minute’ description was used for Practice number 22, Rapid Fire, detailed on page 252  of ‘The Musketry Regulations, Part I, 1909 (reprinted with amendments 1912)’. This gives the details as 15 rounds rapid fire, aimed at a “2nd Class Figure” target at 300 yards. The practice is described as ; “Lying. Rifle to be loaded and 4 rounds in the magazine before the target appears. Loading to be from the pouch or bandolier by 5 rounds afterwards. One minute allowed”.

In the 1914 reprint, this practice was changed to “Lying. Rifle unloaded and magazine empty until the target appears. Loading from the pouch or bandolier by 5 rounds afterwards. One minute allowed.”

  The Musketry Regulations were a 312 page handbook on the service rifle, marksmanship principles and training.   You can download a copy of the booklet here; some of the scanned text is difficult to read.

  There is no contemporary source that states that Practice number 22 was colloquially known as the ‘Mad Minute’, but the essential elements (15 rounds, one minute) are present. It is unlikely that  the instructors at the School of Musketry would have demonstrated a practice that was not amongst the many listed in the manual.

The dimensions of the Second Class Figure Target are given on Plate 36 of ‘The Musketry Regulations, Part  II, Rifle Ranges and Musketry Appliances, 1910”. The target was 4 feet square, with 24” and 36” circles.  The aiming mark was a 12” x 12” silhouette representation of the head of a firer aiming a rifle from a trench.

There was no 12" bullseye.

The 15 rounds in one minute was the standard required for a rifleman to qualify for additional pay as a first class shot. An experienced rifleman could fire many more rounds in a minute. 

Rounds hitting within the 36” diameter circle at 300 yards range would be fired to an accuracy of 11.46 minutes of angle (MOA). 

  Getting all the rounds within the 24” inner circle, as credited to Sgt Snoxall, would be an accuracy of 7.64 MOA.

There is an MOA calculator here.


 The only known reference to the record of 38 rounds fired by Sgt Instructor Snoxall is contained in a footnote to page 57 of "Superiority of Fire" by Major C. H. B. Pridham, published by Hutchinson's Scientific and Technical Publications, London (1945). 

"Sergt.-Major Wallingford's original Hythe record of 36 rounds in 60 seconds with the S.M.L.E. rifle stood until about 1914; when Sergt.-Instructor Snoxall fired 38 rounds in one minute, at 300 yards, with all his shots in the inner ring. This probably stands as a world's record for a hand loaded rifle. In each case, the target used was a 4 ft figure target, with a 12 inch figure 5. Lower half of the target was coloured green or brown, upper half grey or green. The bull's eye figure was coloured brown. Since 1925, C.S.M.-Instructor C. Mapp, on numerous occasions, has fired 35 and 36 rounds in one minute, with all his shots in the inner ring at 300 yards range."

'Superiority of Fire' by Major C.H.B. Pridham
Page 57, showing the footnote that mentions Sgt. Snoxall

Pridham had been an instructor at Hythe before WW1. The 'inner ring' mentioned was 24 inches in diameter; the "12 inch figure 5" was the 12 inch x 12 inch silhouette aiming mark.

 A 12 inch bulls-eye is often mentioned in connection with the Mad Minute practise. It seems that the claim that all of Snoxall's 38 rounds had hit a 12" bulls-eye was an error in Ian Hogg's book  ‘The Encyclopedia of Weaponry’. This version has since become a firmly-established internet myth, changing Sgt. Snoxall's impressive achievement into a super-human, Terminator-like feat of  speed and accuracy. For some reason, the forename 'Alfred' has also been frequently attached to mention of Sgt.-Instructor Snoxall, which has only served to cause further confusion to the many people who have attempted to find his WW1 service records.

 It is sometimes suggested that the 38 rounds per minute was  WW1-era British propaganda. This seems unlikely, given that the only reference to Sergeant Snoxall's record was published in 1945, after both WW1 and WW2 had ended and near the end of the service life of the Lee-Enfield rifles with the British armed forces. It seems to me more likely that Pridham had probably known Snoxall, Mapp and Wallingford. 


It will be apparent that, when he fired the alleged record, Sgt. Snoxall had not been firing Practice No 22 from the Musketry Regulations, which only allowed the firer to use 15 rounds. It is unlikely that the Army would have permitted shooting contests that used 30 or more rounds in a minute, due to the cost of the ammunition and the accelerated wear of the rifles' barrels. 

  In order to show what Sgt. Snoxall had been doing, it is necessary to quote the relevant pages (54 to 58) from Chapter VI of 'Superiority of Fire' in their entirety.


It was left to a few enthusiasts, at the School of Musketry, Hythe, to agitate -- against strong opposition at the War Office--  for an increase in machine-guns to meet the fast approaching German menace.*  The blame for the refusal to comply with this urgent request must rest between the Army Council and permanent officials at the Treasury of those days. The former were not interested; and the latter refused to recommend the extra expenditure, so comparatively small, for the purpose.
Of these enthusiasts, Major (local Lieut.-Colonel) N. R. McMahon, D.S.O. †  Royal Fusiliers -- Chief Instructor at Hythe, from 1905 to 1909 -- was the most prominent. While German opinion was still doubtful as to the correct application of machine-gun tactics, a lecture of far-reaching consequences was given before the Aldershot Military Society, on December 18th, 1907, by Lieut.-Colonel McMahon. His lecture,” Fire Fighting “, laid down the tactical principles in accordance with which machine-guns should be used.‡  His ideas, later on, were embodied in our Field Service Regulations and Training Manuals.

  So anxious was the German General Staff to obtain further information on the subject, that, while the Regulations were still in draft form, they were communicated to the German Military Attaché in London, in exchange for “other official information.”  Thus they reached the German General Staff, who embodied them into their own Field Service Regulations.

  One result of the South African War of 1899 to 1902 had been that the Boers had taught us the value of straight shooting with the rifle. Influenced by this experience, Colonel C. Munro -- Commandant at Hythe, from 1903 to 1907-- had started a musketry revival. His policy was to improve generally the musketry of the Army. All officers of infantry and cavalry regiments of the Regular Army were required to attend a course of instruction at the School of Musketry. To each class in 1908, the Chief Instructor gave a memorable lecture. He explained how his continued agitation to arouse the Army Council to supply the Army with machine-guns in adequate numbers had met with no response.
In view of the increasing German menace, the situation for Britain — as McMahon saw it— was becoming desperate. Each battalion of infantry had only two Maxim guns, of a heavy and out-of-date pattern. With these it would be impossible to obtain superiority of fire. “What can we do?” he asked. “We must look to our past military history, and fall back on traditions now six centuries old. We must aim at producing the same superiority of fire with our rifles, as we had obtained with the long-bow in the 14th century. Our traditions of rapid and accurate fire,” he reminded his audience, “ date back nearly 600 years.” He was referring to the Battle of Crecy.“There is only one alternative left to us,” McMahon maintained. “We must train every soldier in our Army to become a ‘human machine-gun.’ Every man must receive intensive training with his rifle, until he can fire—with reasonable accuracy—fifteen rounds a minute.” This proposed rate of fire was more than double that of our own, or of any other army.

 McMahon was a man of rare vision. He foresaw, in effect, six years ahead to the fighting at Mons, in August, 1914. The small British Regular Army, when compared with the huge conscript armies of Europe, was wholly inadequate. McMahon visualised the divisions of a British expeditionary force as outnumbered by ten to one. Machine-guns, each of them with a fire-power equivalent to that of fifty men — a great economy in man-power — could have gone far to solve the problem. Yet the Treasury—like Li Hung Chang, of China, but with infinitely less excuse—regarded the extra expenditure for providing additional machine-guns as unnecessary, and refused to grant the money. The Chief Instructor painted a picture of what would happen to the few British divisions in France, when confronted with vast hordes of German infantry armed with the latest pattern Maxim gun in enormous numbers. Following his lecture, he staged a demonstration on the Hythe ranges, which opened the eyes of everyone who witnessed it.


  Sergt.-Major Wallingford, an expert marksman, proceeded to show what the S.M.L.E. rifle was capable of in the way of rapid fire, at 300 yards. Not 15 rounds only, but as many as 36, were fired off in 60 seconds, timed by a stopwatch. **  Of these, a large proportion of hits on the target were found to have hit the bull’s eye, with the remainder in the inner ring and a few outers, but no misses.
Here was startling proof of the possibilities, hitherto undreamt of, of rapid rifle-fire. The number of rounds fired in one minute depended on the skill, and speed, of the individual firer in loading and reloading chargers of five rounds each into a magazine holding ten. By its easy manipulation of the bolt, the S.M.L.E. rifle was well adapted for such extremely rapid firing. By contrast, the bolt of the German Mauser rifle worked very stiffly, so that it was not capable of rapid firing. But the Germans, with ample supplies of Maxims, had no need to train their men up to a high standard of musketry. McMahon’s new Musketry Course, which included also snap- shooting at targets exposed for a few seconds only, was introduced into the Army in January, 1909. A compromise somewhat typical of our nation, it was calculated to cost considerably less than an ample supply of machine-guns would have done. This new musketry, at first, met with much disapproval and distrust  but, as time went on, the Army gradually grew accustomed to this much higher standard of efficiency.


 By about 1910, any soldier who could not fire his fifteen rounds a minute was put hack for extra musketry drills, muscle exercises, and range practises. By 1912, men who were graded as third-class shots were liable to be discharged from the army for inefficiency. By 1914, many men in each regiment could exceed even twenty rounds in the “ mad minute,” and very high scores were made in firing the fifteen rounds practice of the annual course. H.P.S. (Highest possible score)  was 60, and scores of 50 and over became almost commonplace. By now, every trained soldier in the Regular Army could fire his fifteen rounds per minute, many of them with astonishing accuracy.
  Thus McMahon’s highest hopes were realised. So insistent was he of the importance of intensive training in “rapid and accurate fire” ***  during those few critical years prior to the ouitbreak of war in 1914, that he was irreverently referred to as “The Musketry Maniac”!

*  “ In 1909, the School of Musketry, Hythe, urged that each battalion should have six machine-guns, instead of two. The suggestion was declined for financial reasons, and subsequent reductions of the Army Estimates and Vote made any such addition impossible.” (Official History of the Great War, France and Belgium, 1914.)

†Fourth son of General Sir T. Westropp McMahon, who served in the Crimean War. Born 1866, joined the Royal Fusiliers in 1885. Awarded the D.S.O. for his services in the South African War.

‡ During his lecture on “Fire Fighting,” Lieut.-Colonel McMahon stated “Machine-guns will be used in the near future in very large numbers. There need be no fear of overstating the value of these weapons. All tendencies in modern tactics . . . bring their good qualities more and more into relief.”

**"Sergt-Major Wallingford's original Hythe record of 36 rounds in 60 seconds with the SMLE rifle stood until about 1914; when Sergt-Instructor Snoxall fired 38 rounds in one minute, at 300 yards with all his shots in the inner ring. This probably stands as a world's record for a hand loaded rifle. In each case the target used was a 4 ft figure target with a 12 inch figure 5. Lower half of the target was coloured green or brown, upper half grey or green. The bull's eye figure was coloured brown. Since 1925 CSM Instructor C Mapp on numerous occasions has fired 35 and 36 rounds in one minute with all his shots in the inner ring at 300 yards range".

 ***  “There can really be only one rate of fire – the best rate for every man for combining rapidity with accuracy.”

On the occasion that Sgt Snoxall achieved his record, he had been demonstrating the speed and accuracy with which the standard SMLE rifle could be fired to a group of army officers. It was not a shooting contest. The ordinary soldiers of the British Regular Army were not expected or trained  to fire at such speeds. 


The video that was used to try to bust the Mad Minute 'Myth' is a Norwegian National Rifle Association field shooting contest known as Stangskyting (Stang shooting).

 Stangskyting was introduced by a Colonel Georg Stang in 1912. The contest is partially funded by the Norwegian defence ministry and is screened on Norwegian national television. The contest is fired using historic and current service rifles (Mausers, Krag-Jorgensens, H&K G3) and also the Sauer 200 STR (Scandinavian Target Rifle).

  There are many similarities between Stangskyting and the Mad Minute practice, probably because both were intended to develop the skills of accurate and rapid firing that would be required to counter the same threat, advancing German infantry formations. Videos of modern-day Stangskyting are the best means available to assess the plausibility of the Mad Minute claims, since they are a rapid-fire contest  using bolt-action rifles which mostly date from the pre-WW1 era.

  In Stangskyting there are two separate sequences in which the shooters fire at a target for 25 seconds. The first target (called a 1/4)  is a diagrammatic representation of a prone figure, the second (called a småen) is a representation of a human head.

  The 1/4 target is 33 cm high by 49 cm wide and is used at a range of 200 to 250 metres.

 The småen target is 30 cm high by 25 cm wide and is used at a range of 130 to 170 metres.

 USMarineRifleman0311 states that the småen target is “approx 20in by 30in”  (76.2cm high by 50.8cm wide); he has got that wrong as well.


The comparison below (between Mad Minute scores of 36-38 rounds and modern Stangskyting shooting) was intended to assess whether the rates of fire and accuracy achieved in the Mad Minute scores were realistic.

This comparison was rendered redundant by a Mad Minute Challenge, held at a shooting club at Sokendal in Norway on 30th May 2015. The winner, Thomas Heøgåsseter, scored 36 hits on a 40 cm diameter target at 200 metres (6.9 MOA/ 2 mils). The average score of 11 shooters was 29.

 Mr Heøgåsseter's achievement has proved definitively that the Mad Minute scores attributed to Snoxall,  Wallingford or Mapp are entirely plausible. I have left the comparison text below as a matter of interest. 


In this video, Krag vs Mauser vs Sauer vs (a)g3, between 2:50 and 3:20 and Mr Mauser fired 14 rounds in 25 seconds (average 33.6 rpm). However, if you deduct the 6 seconds that it took him to clear the stoppage, then he fired 14 rounds in 19 seconds, an average rate of fire of 44.2 rounds per minute.

My best estimate is that he took 2 seconds to load each 5 round charger, firing 14 rounds in the 15 seconds of actual shooting time or about 0.933 seconds per round.

IF he could sustain this RoF for 60 seconds, THEN he would fire the initial 5 rounds in 4.66 seconds, and each of the 8 subsequent 5 round clips in 6.66 seconds, total 58 seconds.  45 rounds fired.

In the same video, between and 4:25, Mr Sauer fires 16 rounds in 25 seconds (he started with a round in the chamber and 5 in the magazine), roughly equivalent to 38 rounds per minute. The rate of fire of the Mauser shooter is more relevant since his rifle is of the correct era and uses faster charger reloading.

The precise rate of fire is unimportant; the only relevant point is that Mr Mauser could plausibly achieve a rate of fire in the region of 40 rpm. The 38 rpm (Snoxall) or 37 rpm (Wallingford) claimed in respect of the Mad Minute by School of Musketry instructors is entirely plausible. The bolt-action of the Short, Magazine, Lee Enfield (SMLE) British service rifle was generally acknowledged to be faster than any of the other bolt-action rifles in service with European armed forces.  


The Mad Minute  rate of fire seems possible, but the question remains as to whether the firer could maintain sufficient accuracy at this speed.

I estimated Mr Mauser’s group size (by scaling the measurements from a screen print) was 43.6 cm wide. If you assume the range to be 150m, then that group was fired within 10 minutes of angle. The group excludes 2 shots that missed the target. Mr Sauer’s group size of 33.2 cm is relevant, an impressive accuracy of 7.61 MOA, again assuming a range of 150 metres.

 Again, both the 11.46 MOA accuracy (Wallingford) or 7.64 MOA (Snoxall) claimed for the Mad Minute seem plausible.

  The standards for both accuracy AND the rate of fire attributed to pre-WW1 School of Musketry staff are comparable with the standards that are achieved by the top competitors in Stangskyting events. This does not prove that the 38 or 37 rpm records are genuine; it does suggest that these scores are within human abilities and therefore plausible.

  You can interpret the above information in any way you please.

 The points supporting Snoxall’s, or Wallingford's, records are that;
·           The SMLE action was faster than any contemporary bolt-action rifle.
 ·          Snoxall, Wallingford and the other School of Musketry instructors were not merely good marksmen, such as those that compete in the Stangskyting events. They were professional shooting instructors, responsible for training the unit instructors, they trained with free-issue ammunition and they were selected from an army of trained marksmen.
·      There were no formal records of the Mad Minute scores maintained, since it was not a formal shooting contest. It was merely an exercise that was intended to develop shooting that was both rapid and accurate. It was an informal contest,  carried on at  company and battalion level and did not involve competitors travelling to national events at Bisley or similar ranges.
·     Wallingford and other members of the Hythe School of Musketry staff did compete in Bisley contests and were regular winners of the Gold, Silver and Bronze Jewel competitions.  

  Sergeant Snoxall seems to have vanished from the records, leaving no other trace of his existence. This is not surprising since many of the personnel records for the WW1 armed forces were destroyed by Luftwaffe bombing during the blitz of WW2. Anyone that has tried to trace the service records of a relative who had served during WW1 will know that the records are incomplete.

    Jesse Wallingford, unlike the good Sergeant Snoxall, left many records of his existence. He competed in rifle and pistol events in the 1908 Olympic Games and won the Gold Jewel (Best Shot in the Army) at Bisley on 5 occasions. Jesse Wallingford, and his remarkable achievements, was most certainly real.

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