Friday, February 3, 2012

The American Enfield

US Service Rifle, Cal. 30, Model 1917
Here's an interesting fact about WWI some people don't know.  The M1903 Springfield wasn't the most common rifle used in Europe by American Doughboys during the Great War.  That honor goes to the "United States Rifle, Caliber 30, Model 1917", or the M1917 as it's affectionately called.  Sometimes the rifle is inaccurately referred to as the P17.

When hostilities broke out between Germany and Great Britain, the Brits found themselves in a bit of a predicament.  They were in the process of adopting the SMLE rifle but were facing some difficulties with production and the new .276 Enfield cartridge. As a contingency the Brits had been working on a back-up rifle design in case they couldn't get their SMLE project off the ground.  That back-up rifle design was the Pattern 14 Enfield.

The P14 was based on the famous Mauser rifle design and chambered for the aging .303 Brit cartridge.  When hostilities broke out, the Brits found themselves short on rifles.  They couldn't produce rifles quickly enough, and their SMLE rifle wasn't ready for production.  They were forced to reach out to the United States for assistance.

Remington markings
The United States quickly tooled up three factories to produce P14 rifles for the British government.  Remington, Winchester and Eddystone (a subsidiary of Remington) began producing the P14 in massive quantities.

When the United States enter the war, we found that we also had a shortage of rifles.  At the time of the outbreak of hostilities for the U.S. the official rifle of the U.S. Military was the Model 1903 Springfield.  The U.S. Army Ordnance Department decided that to meet the demand for service rifles they would need to make modifications to the P14 design and push the rifle into service.  Remington Arms set about to redesign the P14 by re-chambering it for the 30-06 cartridge and making a few other minor alterations to the basic design.  The result was the U.S. Service Rifle, Caliber .30, Model 1917.

Remington, Winchester and Eddystone produced millions of rifles during the years of 1917 and 1918.  It's estimated that around 75% of the rifles in use by American forces were M1917's by the end of the war.

Sgt. Alvin York used a M1917 Enfield during the action that earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Hollywood took creative liberty, as they often do, in their 1940 movie classic "Sergeant York" and armed Gary Cooper with a M1903 Springfield instead of the M1917 which Sgt. York actually used.

The M1917 wasn't particularly well suited for the trench warfare of WWI given it's 3'10" length and 9.3lbs weight.  The rifle with it's 16.5" bayonet affixed was often times taller than the soldier that carried it!

Rear sight
While soldiers often complained about the weight and length of the rifle, few complained about the accuracy.  With an increased sight radius over the standard Mauser design on which the M1917 was based,  it was found to be a very accurate weapon.  The M1917 not only had a lengthy 26" barrel but it also sported a rear sight located at the rear of the receiver giving it a sight radius advantage over the German Mauser it faced on the battlefield.

After hostilities ended in November of 1918, production of the M1917 rifle ceased.  A large number of rifles were released for civilian use through the NRA after the war.  Many of these rifles were sporterized for hunting and target shooting.  The sporterization of many M1917's put a big dent in the number of unmolested military configuration rifles on the surplus market.

The M1917 was once again called into service in limited numbers when WWII broke out.   After WWII ended, the M1917 ceased being used as a front line rifle but did serve as a sniper rifle during the Korean War.

Stay tuned for a video review of the M1917 rifle on the Military Arms Channel.

1 comment:

  1. I have a beautiful one that I picked up from the North Store/CMP at Camp Perry. Great looking rifle (even with the potbelly), fast to cock, ergonomic but mine has a barrel that looks like a sewer pipe. Groups look like shotgun patterns. One of these days, I'll rebarrel it and bring the old girl back to life.