88 AIRGUN COLLECTION
Webley Mark 3 Target Rifle
John Milewski continues the Webley theme with a close look at the Mk 3
Sadly, John Atkins is still recovering from illness, but the good news is that he is hoping to have the second part of his Webley Mark 1 air pistol study ready in time for next month’s issue. In the meantime, I am continuing the Webley theme that John started, by examining early aperture-sighted Webley Mark 3 air rifles. This is a bit of a prequel to last month’s Supertarget study and demonstrates that Webley offered matchquality sights for the Mark 3 way before the Supertarget was introduced in 1963/64.
Very similar rifles, with the exception of the Supertarget’s heavier barrel, had already seen club use for over 10 years. Initially, there was no mention of aperture sights in 1946 and 1947, but a September 1949 Webley price list makes a brief reference to an aperture sight, which could be fitted at extra cost. There is no illustration of the sight in this, or the September 1950 catalogue, but by June 1951, Webley had added an image of the Parker Hale 16M sight to page 6 of their ‘Unrivalled Accuracy’ catalogue. Webley suggested that the sight was best ordered with a new rifle because it was necessary to drill and tap the rifle’s trigger block to accept the sight, but could also supply it separately upon request.
The PH16M Aperture Sight
The Parker Hale 16 series of Sportarget aperture sights were intended to fit a wide variety of firearms, and the Webley Mark 3 air rifle. A letter code was added to the end of the designation and marked on the sight to identify the type of rifle a particular sight was intended to fit. For example, a PH16B was intended for bolt-action rifles with a high sight line, whilst the PH16M was made for the Webley Mark 3. Obtaining the incorrectly coded sight for your rifle is likely to result in an item that does not fit, as I realised when I placed a variant against the body of a Mark 3 and saw there was never going to be enough lateral adjustment when fitted.
The PH16M was included in Parker Hale’s own catalogues as well as Webley’s and came with a single-hole eyepiece as standard. The single-hole eyepiece was available in a choice of aperture sizes and its slim profile was handy in the field during the days when scopes were not a standard option for air rifles. Using a large, single-hole aperture allowed more light to enter the eye and provided greater peripheral vision in use. A more versatile six-hole eyepiece was offered as an optional extra. This eyepiece allowed the rifle’s owner to select the most appropriate size of aperture for the prevailing conditions without having to carry and potentially lose a selection of single-hole eyepieces.
Several types of six-hole eyepiece were available from Parker Hale, the ‘midget’ type being the most commonly encountered on
the Mark 3. It was a simple matter to unscrew the single-hole eyepiece and replace it with a six-hole version because they all used the same thread. A six-hole eyepiece allowed a shooter to select the most suitable aperture size for the conditions without loss of zero. A small hole was recommended in bright conditions, whilst larger holes allowed more light to enter the eye through the aperture in darker situations, such as a gloomy range.
The PH16M allowed half-minute click adjustments both vertically and laterally by using the sight’s positive knurled wheels. Parker Hale claimed the sight was equally suitable for sporting and target use, which it most certainly was. By looking through, rather than at an aperture, it focuses the eye rather like a camera, in that the image is much clearer than when using open sights. It is also easier to line up the foresight with the target when using the aperture like a window. Good light is essential, though, and when the light was too poor for the aperture, the PH16 series were capable of being moved 90 degrees to the rear and left, in order for the rifle’s standard open sight to be used. The PH16 clicked into place solidly and could be moved back without loss of zero in an instant.
Choice of foresight
As well as aperture sights, Parker Hale offered a range of interchangeable element foresights and these too have been encountered on early Webley Mark 3 air rifles from the 1950s. FS prefixed sights were made for a variety of rifles and coded like aperture sights. Webley eventually settled on the FS22A for the Supertarget because it was a perfect match for the PH17B, but FS21 and FS22B sights have also been encountered on earlier Mark 3 air rifles. The FS21 was intended for BSA Martini target rifles fitted with foresight blocks, and the FS22B was made for Government Issue No8 training rifles.
The PH17B Aperture Sight
The March 1953 Parker Hale General catalogue did not include the PH17, but a line drawing was included in the second 1954 edition, which described the sight as The PH17 Sporting Aperture sight for .22 calibre sporting and light target rifles. The Mark 3 was not mentioned by name, but the sight was described as suitable for precision air rifles used for competition shooting. By June 1958, Parker Hale were describing the PH17B as coming with a tang angled to
suit the Mark 3 air rifle, and when the Supertarget was made from 1963/64, the PH17B was the standard sight chosen for the rifle.
Parker Hale pointed out the acclaim that the sight had received when used on the
Mark 3 and other rifles. This
encouraged them to increase the range of rifles to which the PH17 could be fitted. They anticipated that this specially adapted version would be available by November/December 1962, which neatly confirms the sight being used on the Mark 3 prior to this date. A PH17 has been seen on a BSA Airsporter Mk 2 dating from the early 1960s, whilst a PH17B has been encountered on a Webley Mark 3 from C.1952, although it was probably retrofitted to the latter at a previous owner’s request. This was a service that Webley offered because although sights could be fitted by skilled owners, the factory ensured the job was done neatly, sometimes cutting into the stock wood in a professional manner.
Rather than the half-minute clicks of the PH16 series, the PH17 provided quarterminute clicks. This terminology means the sight allowed four clicks for each minute of angle and Webley explained in their instruction handbooks that this related to a change in the pellet’s impact of one tenth of an inch at 20 yards. Audible clicks, which could also be felt, were popular with small-bore shooters as they did not require the shooter to look at their sights whilst adjusting them – as long as they knew how many clicks to move the sight. Field target shooters used a similar principle on their scopes until large turrets allowed for distances to be marked on their bodies. A quick-release mechanism enabled the sight’s slide to be instantly removed or replaced and a threaded eyepiece holder held a ‘midget’ six-hole eyepiece as standard. The Vernier scale on the slide allowed very precise adjustments to be made and a record kept, but I found it easier to retain a record of the number of clicks between adjustments.
One particular ‘3rd Series’ Webley Mark 3 from around 1952, once owned by a match shooter, was fitted with a PH17B and FS22B combination. The rearsight had been removed
FIGURE 4 FIGURE 3 Figure 1: An early Mark 3 (SN 15836) fitted with the more common PH16M aperture sight, enabling both field and target use Figure 2: Some match shooters, particularly from the Channel Islands favoured the use of a sling as evidenced by...
FIGURE 5 FIGURE 6 Figure 5: PH16M swung to the side to allow use of the open sights. Note PH60 ‘ tubular’ six-hole eyepiece Figure 6: The PH17B came with a ‘midget’ eyepiece, which offered a choice of six aperture sizes