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Shooting in the XV Olympiad

By Frank Parsons, Jr.

Late on the night of July 18th, 1952, having just completed some important business in Oslo, Norway, nine Americans got off the plane in Helsinki and made their way to Kapyla or Olympic Village and straight to the quarters of the United States Olympic Shooting Team for a welcome night's sleep. Three of them were pistol shooters, Harry Reeves and Joe Benner who had won the right to compete in Free Pistol Event and Bill McMillan who with Joe Benner had won their places in the silhouette Event. Three were Rifle shooters, Art Jackson and Doc Swanson, the Small Bore Shooters, and Bob Sandager who, with Doc Swanson, had won the right to compete in the 300 Meter Free Rifle Event. The other three were the team officials, Frank Parsons, Jr., Captain, Col. Charles G. Rau, Executive Officer, and Major George E. Leppig, Adjutant.

It should be mentioned here that all but one of the shooters was an experienced International competitor and all of them had just finished two weeks of extremely rigorous shooting at Oslo where they had clearly demonstrated their sincerity in doing the finest job of representing the United States of which they were capable. Even though the total amount of practice time was very limited, the possibility of staleness was sufficiently great to justify giving the shooters the option of taking Sunday off and beginning their shooting on Monday July 21. They all elected to begin practice immediately and accordingly we went to the range on Sunday for our first practice in Helsinki.

The drawings for the firing points in each match had been announced. Since all matches with the exception of the silhouette event were to be fired in one relay, all our shooters were able to practice on the same firing point which they would use in the match. The Malmi shooting ranges were all laid out so that all firing was to the north. The 50 meter range used for both rifle and free pistol was located at the extreme right of the entire range layout and consisted of seventy enclosed firing points with the targets operated from pits. In an effort to provide protection against the prevailing winds, the range officials had erected a high wooden wall at firing point number 1 extending from firing line to pits with similar walls at firing points 22 and 44, while the extreme right-hand end of the range was protected by trees. It was our feeling that instead of accomplishing its objective, the walls provided little individual whirlpools within each - the first two sections especially.

The first match to be fired was the 50 meter Free Pistol event, consisting of sixty shots. While Joe Benner and Harry Reeves were practicing for this event, we had the opportunity to observe competitors from other countries, the equipment they used and the scores which they appeared to be capable of shooting. It was not difficult to see that there were ten to twelve shooters, any one of whom might win this event. Out of the forty-eight competitors, we saw no shooter who was not using a Swiss Free Pistol with set triggers. There was no more variation in the position of each of the top flight shooters than there is in a similar group of shooters in our own country.

The free pistol match itself was fired under excellent conditions, although with somewhat changing light. It was soon evident that our own Joe Benner was going to be very well up among the finishers, but it also became evident that there would be practically no chance of his winning the Olympic title with a tie score and outranking, due to the fact that one of his early shots was out in the white. Under the Olympic tie-breaking rule, a shooter who completes his score with no shot in the white automatically wins over a shooter who has one or more shots in the white. In the unofficial preliminary scoring, Joe Benner had a one-point lead over Leon of Spain in second place, and it was not until the Classing Committee (official scorers) had added two points to his score and marked it official that we were able to realize that it was really true and Joe Benner had won the Olympic Free Pistol event, the first time that an American had won this match since Karl Frederick won it in 1920. Unfortunately, Harry Reeves did not shoot up to the level of the fine scores he had turned in at Oslo.

A study of the individual strings fired by each of the first ten place winners will show how the lead changed progressively in the match. Incidentally, Joe Benner's first string of 88 contained a 6 and a 7. They were the first and last wide shots he fired, and the strong finish he made was just too much for anyone else to overcome.

There are many of the top pistol shooters in the United States today who agree that this is the world's greatest pistol match. It is one which given a chance could be popular in this country, except that in preliminary of regional matches it is believed that one-half the course of 30 shots would provide just as accurate a result. There is no question that this, like all other matches of the International type, requires such extreme accuracy that protected firing points are required for proper results.

The next match to be fired was the 300 meter event, consisting of 40 shots each in the standing, kneeling and prone positions. Our two entries in this match, Bob Sandager and Doc Swanson, had fired at Oslo the two highest scores ever fired by Americans in International competition. Both of them were shooting standard 6.5 caliber Danish Schultz-Larsen rifles. Both are free rifles of the thumb hole stock type with trigger pulls of approximately one-half pound. Sandager used a sight combination for prone and kneeling of aperture front and rear but a post front for standing, while Swanson used aperture front and rear sights for all three positions. It was interesting to note that the winner of this match used post front sight for all three positions. All of the other top place winners in this match shot 7.5 MM caliber in a short case. The Russian shooters used a heavy bold action rifle of their design which appeared to be excellent. The only thing unusual about their rifles was the fact that the sights were offset to the left approximately one-half inch. All of the other top shooters also used bolt action rifles, one of the Finns using a rifle with a Japanese bolt action for standing shooting due to the speed of the action. It was apparent from an examination of the firing line that there is no such thing as a standard free rifle in International competition. For the benefit of those Americans interested in big bore free rifle shooting, it is the consensus of the experienced International Shooters from this country that the ideal caliber is probably the 30 caliber in a short case with a bullet weight approaching 180 grains in a low velocity load. The rifle should be a sturdy bolt action with a trigger capable of holding to a uniform ½ to 1 pound or, of course, heavier if desired by the shooter. The stock must unquestionably be the free rifle type of stock with the necessary adjustments in butt plate and preferably length of stock according to the demands of the individual shooter. The 6.5 or 25 caliber is close behind as evidenced by the brilliant shooting of Bob Sandager in this match, but never seems to quite come up to the scores of the 7.5 or 30 caliber.

In the match itself, it soon became clearly evident that it was a two man affair. By coincidence, Bogdanov of Russian and Burchler of Switzerland had drawn firing points adjoining each other. Bogdanov, a 21-year-old Russian was the winner with a score of 1123, one point under the world's record, but with a new Olympic record, with Burchler three points behind. It will always be the belief of the writer that Burchler would have won this match if in his standing shooting he had moved back on the firing line so as to be even with Bogdanov and therefore not have suffered from the concussion which clearly pulled him off for two 6's and a 5 in what was otherwise beautiful standing shooting.

Our own Bob Sandager did a brilliant job in finishing in sixth place with a new American record of 1104. Included in his score, incidentally, was an unbelievable 93 in the standing position. Doc Swanson's score was not helped by the unfortunate occurrence of an accidental discharge in his first prone string which cost him a penalty of 10 points. Fine shooter that he is, Swanson had no excuses. He simply did not have one of his best days.

While the 300 meter match was being fired, the first half of the silhouette course was being fired on the adjoining range, with the second half of the course to be completed the next day. At the conclusion of the first half of the course, we had two pieces of news - one good and one bad. Bill McMillan shooting in his first Olympic match was in first place with a score of 290 for half course, while Joe Benner had missed one target which in that event practically amounted to a disqualification. This, of course, was due to the fact that anyone with 60 hits ranks high in placement than a shooter with less than 60 hits, no matter what the numerical score. This silhouette match in which the shooter fires one shot at each of 5 different silhouette targets 25 meters away in time limits of 8, 6 and 4 seconds for the 5 shots is the one remaining match of all the International type matches in which the American shooter has not adopted the European type arm. Yet, withal the facts outlined it is understandable that there should be considerable controversy over the proper equipment. All top flight shooters with the exception of the Americans now use an automatic shooting the .22 short cartridge with a compensator and a weighted barrel. All of the American shooters have continued to use the .22 long rifle automatic pistol and almost entirely without the compensator. At Oslo in the World Championships, the four-man American team not only won the World's Individual Championship and set new world's records in both team and individual, all with the long rifle cartridge and no compensator. Joe Benner used his old Colt Woodsman, while Bill McMillan used a new Hi-Standard, both without compensators. The best evidence seems to indicate that the compensator is thoroughly worthwhile, no matter which cartridge is used. There is some evidence of an advantage of the .22 long rifle in the 8-second stage and 6-second stage because of greater accuracy and bullet speed. There is, however, evidence of advantage of the .22 short in the 4-second stage because of the lesser recoil.

With Joe Benner out of the running because of his unfortunate miss during the first half course, all of our hopes rested on Bill McMillan during the second half of the match. On the second day, McMillan in firing his 8-second strings had fired a 99 out of 100. On his second 6-second run, in the extreme care he was using, there was considerable doubt whether the electrically operated targets had turned before the last shot had got on to the target. Unfortunately, instead of learning the result immediately, another shooter on the firing line had a disabled piece and therefore there was approximately a five minute delay before the runners went to the targets and it was known whether or not McMillan had secured a hit on his last shot. When the scoring was finally determined, it was found that he had a total of 97 out of 100 in the 6-second stage but the uncertainty as to whether or not it was a hit was to say the least, disturbing, and on his 4-second stage his score was an 89 which was appreciably below his normal average.

His total of 575 was, therefore, good for 7th place out of the 53 shooters in this event. The winner was Takacs of Hungary who repeated his victory in London in 1948 with a score of 579.

The penalty of a miss in this match was clearly demonstrated by the fact that Benner's score, but for the miss, would have ranked in 9th position instead of 34th.

The last event to be fired was the Small Bore Free Rifle. In this event the prone stage counted as a match in itself. The prone was also included with the kneeling and standing as a separate event. Art Jackson and Doc Swanson were our two entries with Jackson shooting his pet Winchester 52 with a German barrel and Doc Swanson shooting a Schultz-Larson Free Rifle. The prone stage was won by Sarbu of Rumania with 400 out of 400, outranking Andreev of Russian who was second with 400. Art Jackson had the top ranking of three 399's with Boa of Canada in 4th place and Sporer of Germany in 5th place, also with 399. Doc Swanson was in 21st place with 396. It would have been an education for the Small Bore Shooters of America to see the firing of this match. Art Jackson was one of the very few not shooting a free rifle in this event. All shooters, as required by International rules, were using a high prone position. This would seem to indicate clearly, that neither the prone type of rifle nor the prone position as we have used it in this country recently is necessary for winning small bore rifle matches.

In the three position small bore match in which the prone was included Kongshaug of Norway won the Olympic Gold Medal with a score of 1164, outranking Ylonen of Finland who was second with the same score. Andreev of Russia was third with 1163, while Huber of Switzerland was fourth with 1162. Art Jackson and Doc Swanson were in 11th and 12th places, both with the creditable score of 1155.

Thus ended the competition of the American shooter in the 1952 Olympic Games. In each of the matches in which they fired, they had done credit to themselves and to the American people whose financial assistance had made it possible for them to make the trip. They had intelligently applied the experience gained from previous Olympic Game and International Match competition.

American Rifleman, Vol. 100, No. 10, October 1952

Magazine Photo

U.S. Shooting Team

Rifle Members

Arthur C. Jackson, Robert K. Sandager and Emmet O. Swanson

Pistol Members

Huelet L. Benner, William W. McMillan, Jr. and Harry Reeves

Team Management & Support

Frank T. Parsons, Jr. (Team Captain), Charles G. Rau (Executive Officer)
and George E. Leppig (Team Adjutant)

Places Seventh

More Honors For Local Olympian

TURTLE CREEK - Staff Sergeant W. Willard McMillan, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Willard McMillan, Sr., of 1810 James Street, the number two man on the U.S. pistol team now competing in the Olympics in Finland, placed seventh in the silhouette shooting contest held on Monday.

The 23-year-old Marine has now won four trophies, including the ones at the International matches in Norway before the Olympics. In the Norway matches he took first place in the 22-caliber individual rapid-fire competition and helped break several records in the team matches.

The competition in Helsinki is not over yet and the local sharpshooter who learned to fire a pistol in training for sentry duty with the Marines may return with even more honors.

Unknown newspaper, July 1952

One-Handed Hungarian Wins Silhouette Shoot

HELSINKI, Finland, July 29 - Karoly Takacs, a Hungarian who taught himself to shoot himself to shoot with his left hand after losing his right one in an accident, today won the Olympic silhouette shooting championship for the second straight time.

Takacs finished the two-day shoot with sixty hits and a point total of 579, one ahead of Szilard Kun, also of Hungary. The next four places went to George Lichiardol, Rumania; Enrico Valiente, Argentina; Pentti Linnosvuo, 18-year-old Finnish schoolboy, and Rumania's Panait Nalcai.

Seventh place with to Staff Sgt. McMillan, Jr. of Turtle Creek, Pa., stationed in California with the U.S. Marines. Master Huelet Benner, a U.S. Army man stationed in Panama, finished thirty-fourth in a field of fifty-three shooters.

Benner winner of last week's Olympic free pistol event, virtually put himself out of the competition yesterday by missing a hit.

Unknown newspaper, July 29, 1952

Turtle Creek Shooter 7th

HELSINKI, July 28 (AP) - Karoly Takacs, a Hungarian who taught himself to shoot with his left hand after loosing his right one in an accident, today won the Olympic silhouette shooting championship for the second straight time.

Seventh place went to Staff Sergeant W. Willard McMillan, Jr. of Turtle Creek, Pa., stationed in California with the United States Marines.

Unknown newspaper, July 28, 1952

25 Meter Rapid-Fire Pistol
Rank Name Country 1st Stage 2nd Stage Total Points
1 Károly Takács Hungary 30/287 30/292 60/579
2 Szilárd Kun Hungary 30/284 30/294 60/578
3 Gheorghe Lichiardopol Romania 30/288 30/290 60/578
4 Enrique Diaz Saenz Valiente Argentina 30/287 30/290 60/577
5 Pentti Linnosvuo Finland 30/289 30/288 60/577
6 Panait Calcâl Romania 30/282 30/293 60/575
7 William McMillan U.S.A. 30/290 30/285 60/575
8 Vasilij Frolov U.S.S.R. 30/282 30/291 60/573
9 Giorgio Pennacchietti Italy 30/283 30/289 60/572
10 Oscar Cervo Argentina 30/287 30/284 60/571
11 Vasilij Novikov U.S.S.R. 30/279 30/290 60/569
12 Mario De Armas Fernandez Cuba 30/280 30/288 60/568
34 Huelet Benner U.S.A. 29/282 30/290 59/572

(Source: U.S. Olympic Committee Quadrennial Report)


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