22 November, 2023
The Royal New Zealand Navy is reviving the annual intership shooting competition, which was last held in 1994. This month personnel from HMNZ Ships Canterbury, Matataua, Taupo and Te Kaha went head-to-head with the MARS-L rifle on ranges at Waiouru, in series of up to 300 metres.
Matataua took the title of top unit and two of its personnel, Able Seaman Combat Specialists (SCS) Alex Pere and Blair Thomas won best female and best male respectively.
The event was essentially a test-run for the competition’s revival, with next year’s event including the chance to earn the Queen’s Medal for Champion Shots of the New Zealand Naval Forces, last awarded in 1989.
Warrant Officer Seaman Combat Specialist Ricky Derksen, Head of School for the SCS trade, says the week-long event proved challenging with most competitors having never shot to 300 metres before. The standard distance for the Navy’s Annual Weapons Qualification is 25 metres.
“Chief of Navy wanted to bring back the skill of arms for personnel,” says WOSCS Derksen. “He asked the Maritime Component Commander (MCC) to champion it and MCC got hold of me. We started planning this in January.”
The shoot was made possible with the support of the Land Component Commander (LCC) and contacts through one of WOSCS Derksen’s staff, Staff Sergeant Albie Moore. “His knowledge of the way Army works went a long way towards getting this set up. And because MCC and LCC had a good a chat, it all came together.”
The competition involves four matches with timed serials ranging from 25 metres to 300 metres, covering all aspects of weapon handling and marksmanship, against stationary and kinetic targets. The top 10 firers only compete in the fourth match, and the winner of the medal would be the competitor with the highest aggregate score of the tournament. The top five shooters would go on to represent Navy in an inter-service competition.
The Navy has ranges at Whangaparāoa but the 300-metre range overlooks the sea. If a boat appears, it can’t be used.
There are still a lot of details to fine-tune, says WOSCS Derksen. As in the past, the competition should also include pistol marksmanship, which would be the Glock-17. “And that’s something we can do at Whangaparaoa, then come to Waiouru to shoot the MARS-L.
“Back in the day, you had to shoot 100 percent to get the medal. Do we still do that, or make it 90 percent? Do we bring back the marksman badge, which was for people who shot over 80 percent over three intership shoots?”
Even as a test run, the 17 firers and 15 staff had a good week. “Everyone shot well and had a great time. Not many people shoot at 300 metres, but the two SCS had done it before. The MARS-L is a very accurate weapon and can shoot to 400-500 metres, but when you get to 300 metres, it’s the person that gets the points, not the rifle.”
He is very grateful for the support of the Army’s Small Arms Training Team, who put the competition together and the four Reserve Units who supplied the butt parties for the competition.
Former Chief Petty Officer Radio Electrical Artificer David Tonkin was the last person to win the Queen’s Medal. It was his third time, receiving a second clasp.
He says it’s great to hear the competition is being revived.
“I started shooting when I went to HMNZS Irirangi, the Navy communication station near Waiouru. All the guys I worked with were shooters. Irirangi had a whole culture of shooting in our spare time, and usually did well at the competition.”
Back then the competition involved the 7.62mm L1A1 self-loading rifle (SLR), a sub-machine gun and the Browning Hi-Power pistol.
“The accuracy of the L1A1 was awesome. It was powerful, very accurate. We shot at 300 metres down to 100 metres, and 25 metres down to 10 metres with the pistol. I think the SMG might have been 25 to 50 metres.”
Back then it wasn’t just gunners. “It was all across the board, all trades. It was a big deal and pretty fiercely contested, pretty intense and quite prestigious.”
He believes it stopped due to cost-cutting. “I was devastated when they stopped it and I’m definitely pleased to hear it’s back.”