Awww geeze, not another blog!

Welcome to A Fine Blade!

This blog will focus one of my lifelong passions and one of man's most basic tools - the knife!

As time and events permit we'll tiptoe into other territory where we can use the knife as a metaphor in discussions about current events and have a little politically incorrect fun.

Because you see, knives rank just below guns as the most politically incorrect subject on the web today.

Guns & Knives = Bad. Gay Marriage & Recreational Drug Use = Good

We'll see if we can't have some fun with that.

So stay tuned, and welcome aboard!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Camp Perry

I grew up near the shores of Port Clinton, Ohio and spent much of each summer girl watching at the Cedar Point amusement park. I was vaguely aware that just west of the roller coasters, log flume and giant piles of french fries (a Cedar Point specialty) was a place called Camp Perry where each year hundreds of shooters from the military and civilian world convened to compete for some of the most exclusive titles in the shooting sports.

A few years later I was enrolled in the ROTC program at Bowling Green State University. Camp Perry was the closest military installation and we would spend time there working on our military skills, using the Leader Reaction Course and other military related activities we couldn't do while on the school campus. One of my strongest memories was staying in what were refereed to as the 'huts' or 'hutments'; small 4-man cabins built during WWII to house German and Italian POWs. While not luxurious by any means, the huts were a damned site better than what our American POWs were housed in while guests of the Third Reich or the Empire of Japan.

Camp Perry was opened in 1906 as an Ohio National Guard training facility. The Ohio State Adjutant General at the time, Ammon Critchfield, had the camp laid out with extensive rifle and pistol range facilities, including one of the longest military rifle ranges at the time - 600 yards. The goal was to build ranges that could support marksmanship training with the newly adopted M1903 Springfield rifle and it's powerful .30-03 cartridge (soon updated to the even more accurate .30-06). In 1907 Critchfield convinced the newly formed National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice (now known as the Civilian Marksmanship Program, or CMP) to move the National Matches from Sea Girt, New Jersey to Camp Perry. For almost 110 years, interrupted only by two world wars and the Korean conflict, Camp Perry has been the home of the National Matches. In the minds of many shooters Camp Perry and the National Matches are inseparable.

I've had the opportunity to go to Camp Perry twice in the 1990s while the National Matches were being held. I didn't go to compete, just to drop by and see what was going on. Unless you are a participating shooter it can be pretty boring walking up and down behind the ready line, listening to the tower commands and the sound of gunfire. Perhaps more than any other sport, precision rifle and pistol shooting is a lonely individual endeavor - man against paper target. No cheering crowds, no waving foam fingers, no fans painted up in their favorite team colors. From that perspective the matches can be pretty dull. But behind the ready line things can be interesting. All the service marksmanship units have their trailers set up and they are more than happy to talk shop and give tours. Commercial Row, where the vendors set up, is always a fun place to wander through. You can buy just about anything shooting related except, of course, a gun. The installation itself is quite picturesque and it can be relaxing just sitting by the lake and watching the boats go by.

But for me it is the history of the place that beckons. Since 1907 all of America's greatest marksmen (and women) and gun writers have passed through Camp Perry. As you walk around the huts and tent areas you can almost hear old timers like Elmer Keith, Charles Askins, Townsend Whelen and others of their generation sitting under the trees swapping lies, griping about their scores and discussing the newest developments in firearms and cartridges,

That's why Camp Perry is considered hallowed ground by thousands of American shooters.

This Camp Perry post card collection is an offshoot of my collection of cards highlighting life in the pre-WWII Army. As I searched for cards I inevitably stumbled on a few specific to Camp Perry and the National Matches. They paint an interesting picture of activities at the camp before WWII. Let's have a look!

Main entrance to Camp Perry. This is likely a 1950s vintage photo  that shows the iconic 'lighhouse' towers that guard the entrance

A very early elevated view of the pistol and rifle ranges. The large building in the background is the camp's mess hall, built in 1909 .The photo was taken from atop the camp's water tower

The same perspective as the picture above. This is an example of a 'linen' postcard produced from a colorized photograph. Based on what we see in the photo - the cars, larger trees, more permanent structures and the target pits. I'm guessing this is a 1930's vintage shot.

One of the earliest buildings at Camp Perry, and it's most iconic structure, was the Club House. It sat right on the water's edge and served as a recreational facility, restaurant and meeting center for the camp. Sadly it was badly damaged by a tornado in the early 1990's and destroyed in a controlled fire soon after. A new conference center sits on the site

The Club House was fronted by a bathing beach that was apparently quite popular with the family members of competitors at the National Matches

Another view of the Mess Hall. It was built in 1909 using the revolutionary (for the time) process of pre-cast concrete construction.

The Mess Hall (again) with a company of soldiers lined up waiting for the facility to open. Whoever colorized this photo did a particularly good job capturing the features of the individual soldiers

One of the earliest detailed photos (1908) I've been able to find of Camp Perry match participants. I first spotted this image on the website where it was captioned as showing members of the California National Guard rifle team. The soldiers in the photo are wearing a eclectic mix of Spanish-American War uniform items - dark blue shirts, crushed felt campaign hats, leather puttees and wide cartridge belts originally designed for the Krag-Jorgensen rifle. The soldiers are all holding the new M1903 Springfield rifle and based on the age of the photo it is likely they were all chambered for the early 30-03 cartridge 

While this postcard doesn't provide a date or unit identifier we can still glean some useful information from what we see. The uniforms indicate this photo was taken prior to WWI. The headgear and uniform color is the give away.  And of course they are shooting the newly adopted M1903 Springfield

Fast forward a few decades and we have the Texas National Guard rifle team, considerably better equipped than their California brothers (above) but still shooting the venerable M1903 Springfield!

In the early days, back before anti-gun political correctness and scare mongering set in you could actually shop for and buy firearms at the National Matches. Yes sir, guns and 'military equipments', whatever those were

Even Winchester got in on the act. And everybody was welcome!

By the 1930's commercial activity at the National Matches had gotten so big that they decided to put up a building to house all the retailers that showed up. Called Commercial Row, it became another iconic building at Camp Perry. By the 1990's most of the space in this building had been turned over to the Ohio National Guard for use as offices and a drill hall and Commercial Row was moved yet again to a permanent space on another part of Camp Perry

Let's take a look at some shootin! This post-WWI post card shows some interesting items. First, note the civilians on the firing line. The National Matches were always intended to be a mix of military and civilian participants. Some of the finest shooters ever to compete at Camp Perry never wore a uniform. And get a load of that monster spotting scope!

Here we see what is likely unit marksmanship training or qualification taking place on the 300 yard range. This is a WWI - era photo so it's not connected with the National Matches. During both world wars Camp Perry was dedicated fully to military training

Based on the uniforms and equipment I'm guessing this is a post-WWI shot of a military only match. Perhaps the Ohio National Guard match, which was (and still is) a qualifier for the National Matches

The pistol competition is a big part of the National Matches. Here it looks like a small-bore competition - the gal in the foreground looks like she's shooting a Colt Woodsman , I'm not sure about the guy standing next to her holding an M1911 style pistol. He may have the 22 caliber conversion kit installed. Or he's lost and shooting on the wrong range

This postcard is fun for several reasons. First, the colorization is very well done and it shows little of the cartoonish overpainting found on most other cards. The stances of the shooters reflects a good bit of their personalities (particularly the bandy-legged little civilian on the left). But the real fun character is the fellow sitting in the left foreground. He's holding his M1911 pistol with the slide back, either having just finished shooting his round or waiting to go up to the firing line. He wears his holster in an interesting fashion - through the belt loops so it rides high vs. using the traditional brass wire hanger to suspend it from his pistol belt. And last, he's smoking (a pipe)! No way in hell would you be allowed near a firing line today with a cigarette or pipe in your mouth. It's a clear fire hazard and, more importantly, it's just so damned politically incorrect to be seen using tobacco

We can't forget that Camp Perry is a military installation. From it's opening in 1907 it was used primarily for training Ohio National Guard units. Here we see an example of a 'company street' with the orderly room tent in the foreground. The flag is the unit guidon (likely an infantry unit based on the color) and we can see the unit bulletin board and mail drop box (both in white). If I had to guess I'd say this picture was taken while the unit was at Camp Perry for it's two week Annual Training perioud

Let's wrap this up with an aerial view of Camp Perry taken prior to the 1930s (the Commercial Row building have not yet been constructed). We can see the beach side Club House, the Mess Hall in the distance, the red and white checkered water tower and the range areas just beyond the water tower. The tents to the left of the Club House were traditionally used for family camping during the National Matches. This was before Disney World and cheap Caribbean cruises, when many competitors brought their families along for the week. Mother and the kids would enjoy the beach while Dad was shooting. That area was nicknamed the 'squaw camp'

Here's another view of the Club House and the 'squaw camp' area. I'm sure, except for the sound of gunfire, it was a nice place to spend a week with the family


All's well that ends well

And so fair reader we bid you good night. Remember to keep the home fires burning, make sure the guard is set and maybe a tune or two from the Camp Songbook would be appropriate before the bugler blows taps.

Stay sharp!

- Brian

1 comment:

  1. When I was in the Marine Corps in the early 60's, I had some buddies that were competitive shooters and would qualify for Camp Perry competition. Heard all about it but never went. Interesting info, thanks Brian.