WWI Pistol Periscope
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World War I saw a great number of “firsts” in combat that needed to be addressed because conventional warfare had never dealt with such things before. Namely, this includes poison gas, tanks, airplanes, etc.

Trench warfare was not new, but it certainly came of age during the “War to End All Wars.” Periscopes served a vital role in allowing soldiers to see above their trench out into “No Man’s Land” without sticking their head up and making them vulnerable to sniper fire.

This worked to see the field of battle, but it didn’t provide a way to fire at the enemy from the safe confines of the trench and actually be able to see where you were shooting.

That’s where Charles John Cooke comes on the scene. Cooke was a British subject residing in Hong Kong during the war and he invented a contraption that remedied the problem of being able to see and being able to shoot, but not being able to do both.

WWI Pistol Periscope
Click to enlarge photo


In the spring of 1916, he patented a device that acted as a monopod, anchoring a pistol to the floor of the trench. Attached horizontally was another brace that stuck into the wall of the trench on one side and was braced against the shooter’s shoulder on the other side. Rising from the monopod was an exceptionally long extended magazine inserted into a pistol that would rise just above the top of the trench.

Attached to the magazine was a traditional periscope that rose up behind the pistol and allowed the shooter to look down the sights on the slide of the gun. A pulley attached to the trigger with a ring extending down to the shooter allowed the soldier to fire the pistol while still concealed in the trench.

I’ve never seen one of these devices or even heard of one being used in the trenches, but it’s certainly an interesting design that proves necessity to be the mother of invention.

Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.

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  1. I’m pretty sure I read about a rif le version of that.

    Sticking your head up over the edge of the trench was not wise.

    • Most of the countries involved in the war came about with some variety of periscope contraption for their rifles, but this is the first time i have seen one for a pistol

  2. I absolutely love the history of WW1. If anyone has the chance to go to the National WW1 museum in Kansas City, you won’t be disappointed. And please listen to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, Blueprint for Armageddon.

    • Thanks for the tip. I’ve always had an interest in the Great War, mostly since there’s so much interesting history that you have to dig for (as opposed to finding a documentary on say, Hitler). I live 3 hours away from KC, now there’s 2 museums there I want to see. The other’s the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

    • I’ll second the KC WW I museum. WW I is not my cup of tea, but the museum was much better than I had expected (this was about 5 years ago). The density of good exhibits is better than your average “dump everything and say nothing” museum. Well-organized, well-lit, well-described.

  3. That’s kinda cool.

    I’d love to see a modern version of that, call it a ‘Patriot Insurgent Tool’, for use in foxholes, make it a mega-stick Glock magazine of 300 rounds or so.

    Could come in handy for ‘last stand’ scenarios, useful in shooting around corners, etc…

  4. The Spanish military have a pretty good war museum in Sevilla. Among other things they have a Mauser rifle rigged up to a periscope with a remote firing mechanism. Pretty neat. They also have a gas mask made for a horse. That one kind of caught me off guard as I didn’t think such a thing existed.

    • That’s curious. While I haven’t seen the Mauser device, the gas mask for horses is rather ubiquitous in US WWI history text books (at least the ones I had in the 70s/80s). It’s one of the first things I think of when I envision trench warfare from that era.

      In fact, one of my grandfather’s WWI pics featured an unfortunate horse in one of them.

      I always find it fascinating what some people have never seen, and others are bored to death with. It generates all sorts of interesting conversational questions.

      • “…the gas mask for horses is rather ubiquitous in US WWI history text books…”

        Thanks for reminding me where I’ve seen that before. Interestingly enough, while doing an image search, I’ve discovered numerous versions of them indicating it was a very common item for many militaries.

        I imagine the horse’s fur made sealing them against noxious gasses problematic, so the pic of a dead one isn’t surprising to me.

        And there’s apparently an entire WW I trench warfare ‘My Little Pony’ meme, and the image showed the Pony with a tiny snout gas mask, but the Pony’s big beautiful anime eyes fully exposed to the blistering agents…

  5. Australian soldiers at Gallipoli made periscope sights using shaving mirrors and scrape timber and no doubt the Turks did the same. Distance between trenches was only 20 yards in some places.

    Later on in France both sides had factory made versions.

  6. I think the concept is still valuable today.
    Go Pro and weapon on a selfie stick?
    Trigger actuated by bluetooth?

  7. Interesting, but in the long run, probably futile. A rifle would have been more useful. The problem is the inherent inaccuracy of handguns, as opposed to rifles, when the enemy is charging. Until the enemy were close, the pistol would be useless, due to its lack of accuracy, and the enemy would likely be making their best time possible as they approached the trench in which the user of this invention was situated. Think of Tueller Drill distances, and why they are relevant. When the enemy is close enough that a handgun could be effective, the soldiers should probably all have their rifles over the edge of the trench, shooting for all that they are worth. Otherwise, the trenches are essentially death traps, with the enemy having the high ground.

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