Pattern 1914 & M1917 Enfield
In 1913, the British Army began experimental trials of a new rifle to replace the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield, the latest in the Lee-Enfield series of rifles which had been adopted in 1907.
The experimental Pattern 1913 rifle, officially designated the ‘Rifle, Magazine, Enfield, .276-inch' was the last in a series of experimental rifles used to test the ability and accuracy of new high velocity ammunition. It was chambered in an advanced .276 (7mm) rimless high velocity round and used an improved Mauser action. The aim was to provide a rifle with accuracy which matched that of the Mauser rifles used by the Boers but also a rifle capable of rapid fire. One of the main advantages of the Lee-Enfield was its ability to be fired very rapidly because of its cock-on-closing action. As such the modified Mauser action of the Pattern 1913 was designed to cock-on-closing. However, one of the drawbacks of the Pattern 1913 was that its internal magazine held five rather than the SMLE’s ten rounds. It was also much heavier weighing 8 lbs 11 oz (4 kg) compared to the SMLE’s 8 lbs 2 oz.
Rifle, Magazine, Enfield, .276-inch or ‘Pattern 1913’ trials rifle, chambered in a high velocity .276 cartridge (source)
By 1913, several thousand Pattern 1913 rifles had been made and field trials throughout the British Empire began, taking place in South Africa, Egypt and at the School of Musketry in Hythe. The trials with the rifle found that while the rifle and round were accurate it also produced a heavy recoil and prominent muzzle flash when compared to the SMLE and its .303 ammunition. It was also found that the new .276 cartridge fouled and corroded the barrel due to the heat of high velocity cartridge and the velocity of the bullet travelling down the barrel. As a result the trials were halted and further development of the .276 ammunition was called for.
Before further work on the ammunition could begin World War One began in August 1914, and the need for rifles became pressing. The Pattern 1913 had been designed with speed and efficiency of manufacture in mind with a single piece stock which was cheaper and easier to produce. It was decided that the Pattern 1913 would be rechambered to fire the standard .303 round and an order was made for Vickers to produce the rifle. However, with Vickers concentrated on the production of the much needed Vickers MKI machine gun they were unable to fulfil the order. With the shortage or rifles fast becoming a crisis orders were made with American arms companies including Winchester, Remington Arms and Eddystone Arsenal. By 1917 over a million rifles had been made.
The Pattern 1914 was the culmination of a number of developments, it had an excellent flip-up rear aperture sight which was graduated out to 1,600 yards. The rear sights position above the receiver increased the sight radius and improved upon the SMLE’s leaf sight placed ahead of the receiver. The bolt handle was contoured to fall close to the rifleman’s hand and the stock was simplified for manufacture. The Pattern 1914 also benefitted from having the Mauser claw-extractor and a third bolt safety lug.
Compared to other Mauser-type actions the Pattern 1914s was extremely smooth, a trait of the Lee-Enfield’s that the British Army was keen to retain. It was issued from 1915 onwards however, once sufficient numbers of SMLEs became available the Pattern 1914 was gradually withdrawn. In April 1918, a number were reissued as sniper rifles due to their inherent accuracy. They were fitted with a raised cheek piece and an 3x power Aldis sniping telescope. During World War Two they were removed from store and issued to rear echelon forces and the Home Guard.
When the US entered that war in 1917, the US Army faced a similar shortage of rifles to the one Britain had suffered. With only 840,000 Springfield 1903s produced up to 1917, more rifles were needed to arm the rapidly expanding US military. Winchester, Remington and Eddystone had all recently completed their British Pattern 1914 contracts and rather than retool their plants to produced M1903s it was decided that it would be more efficient to use the tools used to manufacture the Pattern 1914s and re-chamber the rifle to fire the US .30-06 round. The resulting rifle was adopted as the ‘United States Rifle, cal .30, Model of 1917' and by 1918, some 2,200,000 had been manufactured. It is estimated that up to 75% of the American Expeditionary Force in France was armed not with the M1903 but the M1917. The rifle was produced at a relatively low cost of $30 and its production far outpaced that of the more complex M1903.
Two US Infantrymen armed with M1917s (source)
The M1917 had several advantages over the Springfield 1903, it had the Pattern 1914’s flip up rear aperture sight and its cock-on-close bolt. It also had an increased magazine capacity. Its internal magazine, originally designed to chamber the rimmed .303 cartridge, could hold six rimless .30-06 rounds. It also used the British rifle’s five-groove left hand twist rifling which offered better accuracy than the M1903s four-groove right hand twist. Following the end of the war most M1917s were placed in storage as the lighter, handier and preferred M1903 remained the US military’s standard service rifle. On the outbreak of World War Two the M1917 was issued to artillery and rear echelon units up until 1943. Many were issued to the Philippine Army and over 700,000 were bought by the British Purchasing Commission during 1940, to arm the fledgeling Home Guard. The .30-06 M1917s were painted with a 2 inch wide red stripe to differentiate it from the .303 Pattern 1914s also in service with the Home Guard.
The Pattern 1914 and M1917 Enfield are two fascinating rifles both born out of necessity and sharing an ambitious lineage. It is even more interesting that following the end of the First World War that both the US and Britain decided to retain their pre-war service rifles.
Rifle, Magazine, .303in Pattern 1914, Mk1 (Image Source)
United States Rifle, cal .30, Model of 1917 (Image Source)
'.256 inch and .276 inch Enfield Experimental Ammunition' (source)
Military Small Arms of the 20th Century, (1985), I.V Hogg & J. Weeks
The Lee-Enfield Rifle, M Pegler (2012)