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A Safe Look Over the Parapet: U.S. Trench Periscope Rifles

By Michael Heidler

In the trenches along the frontlines of World War I, any look over the parapet could be the last one. On both sides snipers were waiting for their next victim. But how should one observe a target without exposing himself to this danger? The supposed solution came in the form of periscopes.

Thanks to these devices it was possible for the soldier to aim with the standard rifle sight, but without raising his head above the safe cover of the trench. Probably every participating nation tried to develop such devices, and some of the better designs were then manufactured industrially in (small) series.

When the United States of America entered the war, two inventors were just about to market such a device: James L. Cameron and Lawrence E. Yaggi, both from Cleveland in the northeast of Ohio, were well informed about the circumstances and dangers at the European theatre of war. Their idea consisted of a metal frame, resting on the shooter’s shoulder and raising the rifle over his head. Bolt and trigger could be manually operated by means of a lever mechanism. A simple periscope was attached to the rear of the device to aim over rear and fore sights of the rifle.

Cameron and Yaggi were able to complete a working prototype before America’s entry into the war. They travelled to Europe and visited British and French troops at the front. Although both nations experimented with such devices themselves, the American device left a very good impression. Yaggi reported that the German soldiers were searching for sunlight reflections from enemy trench periscopes and then waited for a careless soldier to expose his head. The “Cameron-Yaggi,” as the device was called in the absence of a model designation, would help to remedy this situation.

With many suggestions for improvements and their heads filled with ideas, both gentlemen returned to America. They immediately began to rework their invention. But shortly after their arrival at home, the United States entered the war in April 1917. Cameron and Yaggi realized that the U.S. Army would...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N9 (November 2017)
and was posted online on September 22, 2017

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