About five years ago I attended a presentation on the James Caldwell Navy Rifle Range (JCNRR) given by our FHS Friend and Colleague Beverly Crifasi. My biggest takeaway was the enormity of the JCNRR vs. my deeply formed impression of the current North Jersey Clay Target Club. As the son of an avid large game hunter, I should have known that .30-06 rifles require miles of combined range and after target ‘surface danger zone’. Thus, the JCNRR was fully one mile wide along Horseneck Road and three miles deep into the Great Piece Meadow. That’s 29% of Fairfield’s total square mileage and as large as the entire Borough of North Caldwell! So try to imagine a 1918 military base that fronted from Big Piece Road all the way to the Passaic River, then three miles north.
There is no question that the JCNRR was WW1’s top Rifle Range in 1918. It featured many large permanent structures, Ranges of 200, 500, and 1,000 yards, and had the Navy/USMC’s top Instructors when it opened in October of 1918. At this point, we had already suffered 50,000 American fatalities, and only five weeks later, the Armistice was signed ending the hostilities.
But the ‘state-of-the-art’ JCNRR remained open and became the site of the National Matches of 1919. This was virtually the National Fair of military and civilian marksmanship. Thousands of people from across the Country converged on Caldwell Township ( Fairfield ) to participate in the competition, learn disciplined marksmanship at government expense, or just watch the activities and displays. Ample provisions were made for spectators, and visitors were welcome.
In addition to the various rifle ranges, the campus also featured trap shooting, pistol ranges, and .22 caliber ( small bore ) ranges. This is where Winchester Designers first demonstrated their prototype for the Model 52 - .22 target, youth, and small game rifle eventually called the "King of the .22's”. There was also a ‘Commercial Row’ where many other such dealers , manufacturers, and inventors sold their guns, ammunition, and accessories.
Tanks, aircraft, and artillery pieces were on display. There was also a “Inventions, Novelties, and Relics Building as well as a U.S. Ordnance Exhibit.
The USMC M 1903 was the standard rifle used at the JCNRR. German Manufacturer Mauser sued for patent infringement and eventually received royalties for every U.S. produced rifle !
The American version of the French 75mm Field Gun was on display at the JCNRR. It could be reloaded in one third of the time of an equivalent German Field Gun. It’s 11,000 meter ( 6.8 mile ) range could hit targets from the Caldwell Township JCNRR all the way to the White Castle in Verona :- ) :- )
The Red Cross, Knights of Columbus, and YMCA all had a substantial presence at the JCNRR
There’s much more to the story of this tremendous Campus and “Shooting University”, but we’ll have to wait for our ‘Subject Expert Sharpshooter’ Beverly Crifasi to publish the complete history in the near future.
Two articles edited below detail more of the JCNRR activities. One published before the National Matches ( June 14, 1919 ), and the second after the Matches in September. The latter extolling many good reasons for keeping the JCNRR active, even during peacetime. At the time, few imagined another ‘Great War’ only two decades in the future.
“National Rifle Matches of 1919”
(Adapted from) The Cambridge Sentinel, Volume XVI, Number 21, June 14, 1919
Thousands of expert marksmen will be guests of the United States Navy during August on the largest of the chain of rifle ranges constructed by the bluejackets during our war with Germany. Invited to be present were teams of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps as well as two delegations from every State and Territory—one representing the National Guard unit and one the civilian riflemen. Transportation and subsistence expenses of the service teams and the teams designated to represent the States have always been paid by the United States Government. Any other teams may attend by defraying their own expenses.
The Intent of the government this year is to welcome to Caldwell Township representatives of all branches of American marksmanship. Trick shooting, however, will not be allowed. As the association puts It, "the marksmanship to be featured is the deadly deliberate shooting of the kind which left Belleau Wood and the Chateau Thierry wheat field covered with Hun dead.” The gathering of riflemen will be known as the National Matches of 1919. and is the latest of a long series of marksmanship competitions Instituted in 1903 and held annually whenever possible for the purpose of stimulating rifle practice as a national sport; developing riflemen having the attainments required of instructors in rifle shooting during the war, and of restoring the United States to her rightful and traditional place as the premier nation of marksmen.
The big matches will be held at Caldwell Township, N. J, ‘45 minutes from Broadway.’
According to details now being arranged by Lt. Colonel William "Bo" Harllee USMC who Is executive officer of the matches, rifles will begin to ‘crack’ in competition as early as July 1, and the final ‘cease firing’ will not sound much before September.
During the first part of this period practice matches and minor competitions will be scheduled. These will be followed up by a period of Instruction In marksmanship for the civilian teams who will participate in the national matches. After the school of Instruction, a series of marksmanship competitions, which include some of the oldest and most historic of rifle contests, will be held by the National Rifle Association of America. These events will lead up to those American marksmanship classics which are called the National Matches.
The National Matches, therefore, will probably be held toward the middle or end of August. They consist of three competitions. The most Important is the National Team Match. In this event teams of 12 shooting members are pitted against one another. Each team, using the United States military rifle, fires 20 shots rapid fire at a target 200 yards away, 20 shots slow fire at a target 600 yards away and 20 shots slow fire at a target 1,000 yards away. To the victors in this competition are awarded four trophies which are highly prized among marksmen: One a prize to the service teams; a second to the National Guardsmen; a third to the civilian clubs, and a fourth to schools and colleges. The first trophy Is known as the National trophy. It is a bronze plaque showing Mars holding in leash the “dogs of war.” The second trophy is known as the Hilton trophy. It is also a bronze bas-relief, hung about with “scalps” upon which are recorded the names of the teams that have won it since it was placed in competition in 1878.
The third is known as the Soldier of Marathon; it is a bronze statuette and is the oldest of the three.
The Soldier of Marathon Trophy has been in shooting competitions since 1875. The NRA presented it to the United States Government for competitions in the National Trophy Rifle Team Match in 1903. This oldest NBPRP trophy is a bronze figure of the runner, Pheidippides, who though exhausted and fallen to a reclining position, still holds high the torch he is carrying to announce the Greek victory at Marathon. ( This “statuette” is deceptively large at approximately 36 inches tall ).
The second of the National Match competitions is known as the National Individual Match wherein individuals instead of teams participate, following the same course of fire prescribed in the team competition.
The third competition is known as the National Pistol Match and the honor of being victorious in this event is as highly prized among hand-gun enthusiasts as is the victory in the National Individual Match among riflemen.
Program is Attractive.
The program of the National Rifle Association matches is no less attractive to marksmen. There is “The Wimbledon.” a match shot at targets 1,000 yards away, the winner of which holds for one year the Wimbledon cup, presented to American riflemen by the Princess Louise of England in 1878, and assumes the title of “long range champion." There is the Leech Cup Match for the oldest trophy in competition at the present time —a massive silver tankard, a gift to the N. R. A, in 1874 by the captain of the Irish rifle team which that year visited this country to take part in the first international marksmanship contest. There is the President’s Match, to the winner of which goes an autographed letter of congratulation from the chief executive and the title “military champion." and there Is the Marine Corps Cup Match open to everybody, the winning of which is also an individual honor. The trophy in this competition was the gift of the commissioned officers of the Marine Corps. Until 1916 there participated In the National Matches only the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps and the National Guard. That year, however, congress authorized the participation of teams composed of members of civilian rifle clubs which are organized under the ‘National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice’ in the war department ( NBPRP ).
At the outbreak of ( the Great War ) with Germany ( 1914 ) there were In the United States more than 2,000 of these clubs with an aggregate Individual membership of about 100,000. During the war the membership of many of these clubs was decimated by volunteer enlistments and the draft, but since the armistice and the demobilization of the troops most of the clubs have become more active than ever before. The opening of the National Matches to civilian and riflemen has proved a wonderful impetus to rifle practice as a sport, and the effect of this policy, together with that of the government in fostering the organization of rifle clubs, were apparent in the records of American marksmanship made on the fields of France.
Two Teams From Each State.
Under the laws controlling the government competitions, a National Guard team and a civilian team from each state are authorized to attend the matches. These teams are named by the Governor of the state, who may select the personnel of the teams through competition, according to geographical distribution, or arbitrarily. In addition to the two teams authorized, as many additional teams as desired may enter the competitions at their own expense.
The National Matches, since their inception and until 1918, have been held either upon a United States Army or a State rifle range. This year, however, the championships will be decided upon a United States Navy range. For the past ten years the navy has made every effort to develop its Bluejackets into good riflemen, on the theory that proficiency with small arms contributes In a large degree to proficiency in handling huge naval rifles, developing among the men physical control and coordination of mind and body— a principle which found enthusiastic supporters in Secretary (of the U.S. Navy ) Daniels and Assistant Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt. Therefore, when war was declared against Germany, the office of Gunnery Exercise of the Navy Department lost no time in enlarging the scope of its courses in marksmanship.
The development of this activity took the form of establishing a chain of rifle ranges— the principal stations being at Caldwell Township, N. J., the largest of the chain; Wakefield. Mass, Cape May. N. J., Peeksklll N. Y.,Great Lakes, near Chicago; Glenn Burnie, Md.,Virginia Beach, Va., Mount Pleasant. S. C., and San Diego, Cal. On these ranges corps of trained Instructors not only saw to it that the seamen from the battleship fleets were trained In handling of arms, but took on the work of Instructing any Army recruits that were sent to them. In addition to this, and in connection with the range chain, Secretary Daniels threw open the facilities of the Navy shooting camps to citizens, urging all civilians to visit the ranges and learn to shoot. Recognizing the service which the Navy has performed in the cause of rifle practice toward bringing the United States again to its traditional place in the forefront of nations as marksmen.
The ‘National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice’ recommended that the Secretary of War accept an offer made by the Secretary of the Navy of one of the big Navy ranges for use during the National Matches In 1919. Approving this recommendation, the Secretary of War tendered the invitation to the Navy to conduct the competitions. When Secretary Daniels accepted for his department, he placed the conduct of the matches under the Director of Gunnery Exercises, U. S. Navy, and named Lt. Col. William C. Harllee, U. S. M. C., as executive officer. Colonel Harllee has long been identified with rifle practice in the Navy and among the Marines. He conceived the Idea of a great chain of Navy rifle ranges and at the beginning of the war undertook the work of constructing the greatest single range system ever established, and had it in full operation soon after war was declared.
Scope of Program.
In undertaking to conduct the National Matches of 1919 at the invitation of the Secretary of War, the Navy planned to overlook nothing "toward making these competitions the greatest of their long line and toward gathering at Caldwell Township representatives of all the branches of American Marksmanship. The United States Army rifle of the same type which was used by the American Army and Marine Corps division in France will predominate in most of the events, but the high-power service weapon, capable of carrying a steel-jacketed bullet to an extreme range of more than three “miles will not be featured to the exclusion of other firearms except in the strictly government competitions.
To provide a program attractive to all Shooters at the National Matches it Is planned to stage at Caldwell Township events in which the small-bore rifle will be fired at short ranges, as well as a few events to interest any of the Trap-shooting Fraternity who may drop In as transients or as visitors. The Caldwell Township range Is within 20 miles of New York City and within accessible distance of a population of 10,000,000 ( 10% of the entire U.S. population in 1919 ). It was built entirely by the force of Bluejackets which operated it.
It is a model range in every respect. It was the last range built by the Navy and all the best features developed in the construction of other ranges were utilized there. It has unlimited capacity for targets. It can accommodate 100 teams for each stage of the match--twice as many 'as any other range, and has the largest and best equipment of buildings of any range In America’. It has electric lights and all modern conveniences, with splendid facilities not only for shooting but also for the accommodation and entertainment of the regular teams, transient participants and visitors.
Caldwell Township is reached at a cost of twenty-seven cents by the Hudson Tube from New York to Newark, and thence twelve miles by trolley to Caldwell. Rifles will be furnished at the firing points or visitors may bring their own rifles. An instructor (coach) will be provided at each firing point and when separate parties visit the range special Instructors will be assigned to them to give preliminary instruction.
The range is now open for all comers and groups or teams visiting the range for practice preliminary to participating in the matches will receive special instruction. Beginning about July first daily re-entry will be conducted under the auspices of the National Rifle Association and each day there will be awarded medals to the winning competitors and qualification medals to all who qualify in the National Rifle Association, Marksman, Sharpshooter and Expert Rifleman courses.
At no time, either before or during the matches, will there be any expense for range practice. Sleeping accommodations will be provided without charge (but sojourners must bring their own blankets), and meals will be furnished at the cost price of the navy ration (now 60 cents per day). A "Team” In the National Team Match consists of twelve (12) principals or firers, two or more alternates, one coach, and a team captain who may be, or may not be also a principal or firer. The rules of the match will provide for teams from Universities, Colleges and Schools, and it is earnestly hoped that a large number of Universities, Colleges, Military Schools and High Schools will be represented by Teams. A separate pistol range will be operated so that pistol shooters may be accommodated at any time. When the more important pistol matches are held, it will be necessary to have them on the larger rifle ranges in order to provide a sufficient number of targets.
(End of Pre-1919 Matches Article ).
‘Old Caldwell Township’ resident Art Hathaway could not pose for this portrait without his favorite shotgun by his side. A trap shooting range was also part of the JCNRR Complex named for Revolutionary War Hero - Parson James Caldwell.
“The Lesson of the Caldwell ( Township ) Range” ( Adapted from ) R.G. Skerrett - Scientific American September 27, 1919
The monster shoot recently concluded at the Caldwell Township Rifle Range may properly be termed the climax of a phase of the work of our fighting fleet of which the general public knows but little. A work, however, that should be continued for the national good.
And of these ranges the biggest and most spectacular is that at Caldwell Township located within easy reach of 10,000,000 people. The National Defense Act of June 3, 1916 empowered the Secretary of War to establish and to maintain rifle ranges and Congress expressly declared that these establishments should be available not only to the Army, the National Guard, and the Navy, but likewise to all able bodied citizens capable of bearing arms.
The purpose of course was to teach the shooting of small arms, which in the last analysis, constitutes the fundamental strength of any fighting organization.
The Secretary of War made no responsive move to carry out that particular provision of the National Defense Act and the marksmanship of our men at the front might have proved deficient in many cases in the hours of greatest trial but for the initiative Lieutenant Colonel William C Harllee of the States Marine Corps. It was he who induced Josephus Daniels to take advantage of the chance offered the Navy and to utilize the funds granted creating a chain of rifle ranges at strategic points with instruction open to the military and to civilians as well.
In this wider field of activity Lieutenant Colonel Harllee called to his aid the experience gained in promoting rifle practice among the Marines. Over a period of nearly a decade he had zealously striven to make our sea soldiers a distinctive organization because of their marksmanship, and how well he succeeded was demonstrated at Chateau Thierry and elsewhere on the western battlefront. ( Harllee became known as 'the Father of Rifle Practice' in the Marine Corps ).
It was the ability of those web feet to stand unalarmed in the face of superior numbers and to deliberately pick off their foes at ranges up to 800 and 1,000 yards that dismayed the Teutons and won the unstinted admiration of their less expert European allies. It was the training previously given those men on the rifle range that made their splendid performances possible. They were not born with that skill, they acquired it by patient painstaking and intensive preparation. It is not the purpose of this article to tell how the Naval Reservists under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Harllee built the various rifle ranges. Their climacteric efforts were centered in making the range at Caldwell Township the master one of the group and for the recent matches they rounded out the range so that it could boast its present magnificent array of 220 rifle targets and 50 pistol targets.
“Their climacteric efforts were centered in making the range at Caldwell Township the master one of the group”
The recent “shoot” has once more emphasized the aptitude of Americans in handling skillfully and effectively the prime weapon of the infantryman, and the world now knows that in the end, it is the foot soldier who decides the fate of battles. During the various contests that have been held at Caldwell Township in the late period of activities covering an interval of six or eight weeks the thousands of participants have not used up more than a few million of cartridges. We have a heritage from the World War of something like 5,000,000,000 rounds of this sort of ammunition and this stock will deteriorate and be useless if not expended in the course of a decade. It will be quite impossible to put these cartridges to good use in time of peace unless they be utilized lavishly in operating every rifle range today available and stimulating a desire in every able bodied citizen to learn how to shoot rapidly and surely.
There is a disposition which has already had expression on the part of the authorities in Washington to abandon many of the wartime rifle ranges quite forgetting that it is far easier to maintain a system once established than it is to call it into being again suddenly when urgency demands it. Lieutenant Colonel Harllee by his years of work and gradual upbringing perfected a course of instruction of peculiar value and there is more need now than ever to expand its application. Our national security in the years to come will be infinitely better and more cheaply safeguarded if every potential fighter be taught to feel at home in handling the soldier's paramount shooting iron. The truth is the marksmanship of our men has stirred military circles abroad and it is authoritatively reported that the Germans are henceforth going in for target practice as they have not done in the past.
Over 30 feet of bullet drop at 1000 yards. Good Luck with that in 1919 !
Plainly it is all the more necessary that we should keep up our own good work and make it virtually a form of national sport such as has prevailed for years among the Swiss with substantially five billion rounds of ammunition to draw upon. It will be practicable not only to operate all of our existing ranges but to build others so that no section of the country will be without its convenient means for turning out marksmen, sharpshooters and expert riflemen. At the fifteen ranges operating during our participation in the war there was instructed monthly an average of more than 30.000 men and each week there were fired quite 2,000,000 cartridges. Every round was expended under the direction of trained and competent instructors and the purpose of every student marksman was to acquire that proficiency which should make it possible for him to see to it that well nigh every bullet found a billet should he face the enemy on the battlefield.
After seven days of rain, Morristown’s Lake Pocahontas Dam gave way ( top center ) and inundated the JCNRR just before the National Matches ( July 23, 1919). If floods were not enough, the hordes of mosquitoes could unsteady your aim.
Because of the painstaking system employed there was not a single participant injured during the firing of more than 40,000,000 rounds of ammunition on the several ranges. More rounds, so it is said, than the Navy has ever fired in times of peace and war in all of its previous history. Men that never before had held a loaded rifle in their hands qualified as marksmen in an astonishingly short while so skillfully were they taught and coached. The point to be driven home upon the nation now is the need of keeping up this schooling and of fostering in every possible way a countrywide interest in rifle shooting whether this be primarily a sporting movement or not, the ultimate gain will be the strengthening of our military preparedness against the always possible questioning of our rights by some hostile power .
Further, a nation of marksmen is far less likely to invite attack or to be menaced by threats of war than one less qualified to take care of itself and to make its bullets score. In the days long gone, our people shot well because the gun was a continual provider of food or a safeguard against the treachery of the Indians and it was this skill that turned the tide in our favor during the years of the Revolution. But as has been said by one of the closest students of the art of the rifleman, proficiency is not a birthright but the product of painstaking efforts plus self control in which the mind the nerves and the muscles are wonderfully coordinated.
The consequence is a moral strengthening, greater capacity to meet promptly a difficult situation and the power of thinking quickly. In short, the trained rifleman is apt to be a better and a more valuable citizen all because of his schooling on the range.
It is the purpose of the National Rifle Association of America to revive the widest possible interest in marksmanship among all of our citizenry. To this end the intention is to keep active, if possible, every one of the ranges established during the last two and a half years. Similarly the Association is anxious to see used to their utmost the other ranges existing throughout the various States.
The master range located near Caldwell New Jersey should be the keystone of this whole system and this can only be done by making the Governments tenure of that wonderfully located tract a permanent one
Our ordnance engineers and American inventors have given us weapons of high power, long range and notable accuracy. But these material gifts would be of comparatively little avail as instruments of defense if they were not placed in the hands of those able through practice to handle them effectively. As Theodore Roosevelt said :’ Only the shots that hit count.’.
( End of post 1919 Matches article ).
Paul Pollio November 11, 2019
Dedicated to accomplished local Historian and future JCNRR Author : Dr. Beverly Crifasi
FURTHER READING @ FAIRFIELD PUBLIC LIBRARY
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