In this match we’re reenacting a bit of history, so let’s take a moment to savor the background of the British Army’s famous “mad minute.”

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Some form of rapid-fire drill was already in use by the 1880s, but the true “mad minute” was an offshoot of a rigorous training program developed by Maj. Norman Reginald McMahon in the early 1900s. He was then head of instruction for the British Army School of Musketry at Hythe in the county of Kent.


The facility at Hythe trained marksmanship instructors and was later renamed the Small Arms School. The program developed there became part of British musketry regulations. The rapid-fire drill was officially titled “Serial 22, Table B of the classification course of fire.” It was formally added to the training routine in 1909, and was one part of a comprehensive set of drills. The rifles used were Small Magazine Lee-Enfields (SMLEs).

McMahon, who later became a Brigadier, was an early advocate of machine gun tactics. The story, perhaps apocryphal, is that when the British Army balked at providing more machine guns, McMahon set out to create a comparable rate of fire In any case, he developed a series of demanding marksmanship drills at various distances. The program ranged from slow fire to 600-yard precision shooting. The rapid-fire drill required a score of 15 hits on a foot-high target at 300 yards in 60 seconds. It was usually shot from a prone position. Informal matches, called “mad minutes,” quickly evolved from the one-minute drill. The soldiers who shot in those friendly matches soon upped the ante by adding a challenge to fire many more than 15 accurate rounds in 60 seconds.


Training at the Hythe Small Arms School — Firing at Reduced Targets

The confirmed record for the most hits on target during a mad minute was set by Sgt-Maj Jesse Wallingford in 1908. His score was 36 hits at 300 yards in one. That record was supposedly beaten in 1914 by Sgt.-Instructor Alfred Snoxall, also of the musketry school. During a mad minute contest, he is said to have achieved 38 hits in a 24-inch inner target ring. However, there is little documentation of that achievement, and some historians doubt it occurred. They believe the story may have been a clever bit of wartime propaganda touting British marksmanship. Others claim that informal notations and anecdotal material The instructors who trained at Hythe were spread throughout the army and produced riflemen then considered the finest in the world. Tragically, many of those men were among the 17 million soldiers and civilians killed in the horrific slaughter of WWI. (McMahon was killed in action at Ypres in 1914.) But the challenge of the “mad minute” lived on. Over the years, it has been adopted for competition by shooters in many countries.

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