American M1917 Enfield Rifle (.30-’06)

M1917 Enfield Rifle (.30-'06)

By the time that the United States entered World War I, approximately 843,239 standard service M-1903 Springfield rifles had been manufactured. However this was insufficient to arm U.S.troops for an undertaking of the magnitude of World War I. During the war Springfield Armory produced over 265,620 additional Model 1903 rifles, and the War Department contracted for production of the M-1917 Enfield Rifle to help aid American troops.

Originally developed at the Royal Small Arms Factory located at Enfield Lock, in Middlesex on the outskirts of London, the so-called P-14 used the .303 British cartridge. In 1914, prior to the entry of the U.S. into WW I, the British government contracted with American commercial arms manufacturers Winchester, Remington, and Eddystone (a division of Remington) to produce the P14 rifle in caliber in .303 for the British Army. When the Ordnance department looked for additional production capacity, they decided to modify the Enfield for the U.S. standard .30-06 cartridge as a way to quickly get more rifle production using the same factories that were producing the British version. The Model 1917 Rivle (often called the M-1917 Enfield or U.S. Enfield) was the result.

Although the M1903 Springfield remained the standard U.S. Rifle, the U.S. .30 cal. modified Enfield Rifle, with Model 1917 Bayonet, was used to equip more American infantrymen than were armed with the well-proven U.S. Model 1903. Sergeant Alvin York used a weapon like this one in the action which resulted in his being awarded the Medal of Honor.  (latest news I got – intervieuw with his son – indicates that it was a 1903)  The breech loading, bolt-action rifle used a 5-round clip. Some 2,200,000 of these a very sturdy, highly accurate, and very heavy rifles were produced for the U.S. government at a cost of less than $30.00 each.

As it entered World War I, the UK had an urgent need for rifles and contracts for the new rifle were placed with arms companies in the United States. They decided to ask these companies to produce the new rifle design in the old .303 caliber for logistic commonality. The new rifle was termed the “Pattern 14.”  In the case of the P14 rifle, Winchester and Remington were selected. A third plant, a subsidiary of Remington, was tooled up at the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, PA. Thus three variations of the P14 and M1917 exist, labeled “Winchester,” “Remington” and “Eddystone.”

M1917 Enfield Rear Sight

When the U.S. entered the war, it had a similar extreme need for rifles. Rather than re-tool the factories to produce the standard US rifle, the M1903 Springfield, it was realised that it would be much quicker to adapt the British design for the US .30-06 cartridge, for which it was well-suited. Accordingly the factories, under the close supervision of the US Army Ordnance Department, altered the design for caliber .30-06. Winchester produced the rifle at their New haven, Connecticut plant and Remington at their main facility at Ilion, New York and at another plant in Eddystone, Pennsylvania. The M1917 Bayonet was also produced and used on several other small arms. Winchester produced 545,511 rifles; Remington about 545,541 and Eddystone 1,181,908.

Design changes were few; the magazine, bolt face, chamber and rifling dimensions were altered to suit the .30-06 cartridge, and the volley fire sights on the left side of the weapon were deleted. The markings were changed to reflect the model and calibre change.

The new rifle was used alongside the M1903 Springfield rifle and quickly surpassed the Springfield design in numbers produced and units issued. By November 11, 1918 about 60% of the AEF were armed with M1917s. After the armistice, M1917 rifles were disposed of as surplus or placed in storage for the most part, although Chemical Mortar units continued to be issued the M1917. Some American soldiers disliked the greater weight of the M1917, and favored the 1903 Springfield.

M1917 rifles are noted for several design features. The rifle was designed with a rear receiver aperture sight, protected by sturdy “ears,” a design that proved to be faster and more accurate than the typical mid-barrel sight offered by Mauser, Enfield or the Buffington battle sight of the 1903 Springfield. Future American rifles, such as the 1903-A3 Springfield, M1 and M1 Carbine would all use such receiver sights. The M1917 sight was situated on an elongated receiver bridge, which added weight to the action, as well as lengthening the bolt. The M1917 action weighs 58 oz(1,644 g) versus 45 oz (1,276 g) for the 1903 Springfield.

The rifle maintains the British cock-on-closing feature, in which the bolt’s mainspring is loaded and the rifle cocked as part of the return stroke of the bolt, which aided rapid fire, especially as the action heated up. Most bolt action designs after the Mauser 98 cocked as part of the opening stroke. The rifle has a characteristic “belly” due to a deeper magazine, allowing the rifle to hold six rounds of the US .30-06 cartridge. In a manufacturing change from the Mauser 98 and the derivative Springfield, the bolt is not equipped with a third ‘safety’ lug. Instead, as on the earlier Model 1895 (Chilean) Mauser, the bolt handle recesses into a notch in the receiver, which serves as a emergency locking lug in the event of failure of the frontal locking lugs. This change saved machine time needed on the rifle bolt, cutting costs and improving production rates, and this alteration has since been adopted by many commercial bolt action rifle designs for the same reasons. The location of the safety on the right rear of the receiver has also been copied by most sporting bolt action rifles since, as it falls easily under the firer’s thumb. One notable design flaw was the leaf spring that powered the ejector, which could break off and render the ejector inoperable. A combat expedient repair method was to slip a bit of rubber under the bolt stop spring.  A redesigned ejector, incorporating a small coil spring in place of the fragile leaf spring, was developed and can be fitted to the M1917 to remedy this issue.

The M1917 was well-suited to the powerful, rimless .30-06 round which was closer in overall length and ballistics to the original high-velocity round for which the rifle had been designed than the rimmed, less powerful .303 round of the P14. The M1917’s barrel retained the 5-groove left hand twist Enfield-type rifling of the P14, in contrast to the 4-groove right hand twist rifling of the M1903 Springfield and other US designed arms.The M1917 had a long 26-inch heavyweight barrel compared to the lighter 24-inch barrel of the M1903 Springfield. With the longer sighting plane, the M1917 proved generally more accurate at long distances than the M1903, at the expense of greater weight. The M1917 weighed 9 lb. 3 oz. (4.17 kg) empty, and a rifle with sling, oiler, and fixed bayonet weighed over 11 pounds. The M1917’s long barrel and issued 16.5-inch blade bayonet proved too lengthy and cumbersome for trench fighting, while its weight and overall length made the rifle difficult to use for some smaller-statured soldiers.

Many M1917 rifles were refurbished during World War II with newly manufactured High Standard and Johnson Automatics barrels which had 6-groove and 2-groove rifling respectively.