Enfield P14 and M1917 Rifles

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This family of manually-operated, Mauser-style bolt action rifles originated with the Pattern 1913 Enfield (or P13) that was an experimental rifle developed due to the combat experience of the British Army during the Second Boer War (1899 – 1902). During this conflict, the British had been faced with very good Boer marksmen armed with the Mauser Model 1895 in 7x57mm calibre, a weapon that they used to outshoot the British, armed as they were with the Lee Metford and Lee Enfield rifles then in service. This was mainly due it must be said, to the Boers having to hunt, stalk and shoot game in the open terrain of the South African Veldt, which gives very little cover to an approaching threat, to poor sighting in, patchy training, and the unusual phenomenon of our rifles firing with a left-hand twist to their rifling, rather than a right-hand one. Rifles with a left-hand twist seem to be slightly more accurate in the Northern Hemisphere, while rifles with a right-hand twist (i.e. the Mausers) are slightly more accurate in the Southern Hemisphere. To cure the latter problem, an offset to the left of 0.02" was introduced. Just after the new Short Magazine Lee Enfield No. 1 Mk. III had come into service, doubts about its long range accuracy caused the War Office to develop a potential replacement, a high-powered, rimless .276 cartridge (known as the .276 Enfield). In August 1910, the Small Arms Committee asked the Director of Artillery to produce a new specification for a service rifle, the main requirements being a Mauser-style action and a one-piece stock (cheaper, easier to service). In response, the Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) Factory produced a design chambered for a new rimless cartridge, while in 1911, the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) Enfield, produced a modified Mauser-design, chambered for a similar, .276 cartridge, which was presented to the Small Arms Committee by Assistant Superintendant Carnegie and Chief Designer Reavill on 3 April 1911.

Initially, RSAF Enfield designed the rifle around two calibres, .256 and .276. The .256 was eventually rejected (although the calibre, 6.5mm in metric terms, was being used by both the Japanese and the Swedes, for example) and the .276 taken forward for further testing. The cartridge was powerful and had ballistics to match – being close to the present day 7mm Remington Magnum cartridge. After a number of design changes to both the cartridge and the rifle, it was put into limited production for troop trials as the 'Rifle, Magazine, Enfield, .276-inch, Pattern 1913', the trials taking place in the UK, Ireland, South Africa and Egypt. These revealed that there were still problems with excessive recoil, muzzle flash, barrel wear and overheating. Design changes recommended by the Chief Inspector of Small Arms resulted in six improved Pattern 1913 rifles being made but the outbreak of the First World War put paid to any further attempts to introduce a smaller calibre rimless cartridge into British Army service until after the Second World War. Indeed, it could be argued that the three attempts to do this during the 20th Century - this attempt, the attempt to adopt the .280/30 cartridge, fired by the EM-2 bullpup assault rifle just after the Second World War as well as the 4.85mm Enfield Individual Weapon in the late 1970s – were victims of politics, either domestic or international.

As a result, the SMLE remained the standard British Army service rifle during the First World War firing an improved Mk. VII .303 cartridge and in fact, served right through the Second World War as well, into the mid-1950s when the 7.62x51mm L1A1 SLR was introduced, based on the Belgian FN FAL design. It was still being used into the early 1970s to fire the No. 36 Mills Bomb using a Cup Discharger. However, the massive expansion of the British Army during the early stages of The Great War outstripped industrial expansion and in 1915, the UK found itself chronically short of small arms. On top of purchasing rifles from abroad, including 130,000 Arisake 6.5x50SR rifles from Japan, the British Government sought to place contracts with US arms manufacturers, in this case, Winchester (at their plant in New Haven, Connecticut), Remington (at their plant in Ilion, New York) and Eddystone (a subsidiary of Remington, located at the Baldwin Locomotive Works, Eddystone, PA), as the US was still neutral. The American arms manufacturers had great difficulty in producing the SMLE and so the Pattern 1913 Enfield was therefore adapted to take the .303 cartridge, becoming the 'Rifle, Magazine, Enfield, .303 Pattern 1914'. It was also known as the 'Rifle, No. 3, Mk. 1' or the 'Pattern 1914 Enfield' in the USA. However, each factory produced its own parts and there were some inter-changability issues, Winchester being the main culprit in this regard and for months refused to change over to the new Mk. 1* standard. The rifles from each manufacturer therefore were stamped with a letter – 'W' for Winchester, 'R' for Remington and 'E' for Eddystone – to indicate their origin.

Enfield Pattern 1914 in .303in
Enfield Pattern 1914 in .303in

Broadly, the design featured a Mauser-style bolt but with Lee features, optimised for rapid fire, such as having a 'cock-on-closing' (same as the SMLE) action rather than the 'cock-on-opening' action of traditional Mauser designs such as the Gewehr 1898 and M903 Springfield. 'Cock-on-opening' designs become harder to operate as they heat up through rapid firing, with a progressively greater effort required to open the bolt and overcome the striker spring to cock the action and extract the fired case from the chamber. With its sight protection ears, a dog-leg bolt handle and a 'pot belly' magazine it had a distinctive appearance and featured an advanced aperture rear sight adjustable to 1,600 yards with a 300-yard battle setting and volley-fire sights, similar to those on the SMLE fitted to the left-side of the weapon (although generally removed during refurbishment). The bolt featured a Mauser-style claw extractor and two forward lugs as well as a rear safety lug formed by the base of the bolt handle sitting in a recess in the receiver. It proved to have a faster and smoother action than the Gewehr 1898 with the bolt being well-supported throughout its travel, with the camming action on both opening and closing adding to the speed of operation. The dog-leg bolt handle had a low-profile and was close to the firer's hand, again helping with the speed of operation. The strength and stiffness of the action, as well as the heavy barrel, meant that it was a very accurate rifle.

U-Boat crew taken prisoner in the Mediterranean
Enfield P1914 Rifle
at Warminster

However, being superbly accurate does not necessarily make a weapon a great service rifle. The Pattern 1914 Enfield was a product of what has become known as the 'Bisley School' of rifle design. To this school of thought, the most important characteristic of a rifle was the ability to shoot accurately at long-range – soldiers at that time were expected to be able to hit man-sized targets at 1,000 yards (914m) and if a rifle could not attain this standard then it was worthless. This is why there were so many criticisms of the SMLE No. 1 Mk. III when it came into service on 23rd December 1907 – it was not designed to be a true target rifle, it was designed to be a service rifle (that's not to say individual SMLEs are not capable of shooting accurately up to 1,000 yards – the author has hit the bull at 1,000 yards at Bisley with his No. 1 Mk. 3). The P14 however was awkward to handle in close combat conditions, was ill-balanced and the bolt / action took considerable maintenance (although it was not as fiddly as the Canadian Ross rifle). While it filled a need, as larger numbers of SMLEs became available, it was gradually withdrawn from service into reserve. Some were however kept in service as sniper rifles, due to its formidable accuracy and later fitted with the Pattern 1918 Telescopic sight, becoming the Rifle No. 3 Mk. 1* (T).

Enfield M1917 Rifle at Warminster
Enfield M1917 Rifle
at Warminster

Now this might have been the end of the story, but the Pattern 1914 Enfield was to be reprieved twice. The first time was when the USA entered the First World War in April 1917. Just as the British had found, the massive expansion of the Army completely outstripped the available stocks of weapons and the available manufacturing capacity.  Rather than retool the factories to produce the standard US service rifle, the M1903 Springfield, the USA realised it would be far quicker and cheaper to merely adapt the Pattern 1914 Enfield design to the .30-06 rifle cartridge, a round for which it was well-suited. This was designated the 'United States Rifle, Calibre .30, Model of 1917' but is also known as the 'M1917 Enfield', or incorrectly as the 'Pattern 1917 Enfield', 'P1917' or 'P17'. The three factories turned out over 2,270,000 units (Winchester – 545,511; Remington – 545,541; Eddystone – 1,181,908). The rifle, which didn't feature the long-range dial and aperture sight, nor the forend grasping grooves of the P14, fought alongside the M1903 Springfield and over time, outnumbered it in units produced and issued. By 11 November 1918, some 60% of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was armed with the M1917. Many soldiers appreciated the accuracy and robustness of the rifle but some disliked the exceptional weight. As a side note, there is a continuing controversy over which rifle was used by Sgt. Alvin York during his famous action on 8 October 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne offensive. While York's son has made mention of his father using an M1903 Springfield and the film with Garry Cooper has him carrying a Springfield, the weapon issued to him was an M1917.

Enfield M1917 in .30-06
Enfield M1917 in .30-06

The second reprieve was in the run up to and early stages of, the Second World War. After the armistice, both the United States and the UK put large numbers of their respective Pattern 1914 Enfield and M1917 Enfield rifles in storage. However, with the outbreak of war, while the USA issued small numbers to rear-echelon and combat support troops (mortars, artillery etc) it took the majority of weapons and refurbished them as reserve, training and Lend-Lease stock, these being identifiable as having refinished metal and replacement wooden parts. Many of these were sent to the UK and, alongside the quickly-retrieved-from-storage .303 Pattern 1914 Enfield rifles (which themselves had been refurbished to the 'Weedon Repair Standard'), were issued for home defence purposes, especially to rear-echelon units and the Home Guard with some undoubtedly finding their way into the inventory of the Auxiliary Units. Some Pattern 1914 Enfield rifles were again used as sniper rifles, this time being designated the Rifle No. 3 Mk. 1* (T) A, being equipped with the low-mounted Great War vintage Aldis telescopes, previously fitted to SMLE sniper rifles.

The contracts placed for the Pattern 1914 Enfield rifles are as follows:

Date

Item

Maker

Quantity

Other Details

24 June 1939

Conversion of No. 3 Mk. 1* rifles to WRS

Enfield

160,000

 

 

 

Enfield

130,000

Following contract

 

 

J. Purdey

34,847

 

 

 

Skimin & Wood

41,331

 

 

 

Westley Richards

36,196

 

 

 

W W Greener

39,418

 

 

 

Holland & Holland

42,408

 

 

 

Holland & Holland

136,760

 

 

 

Cogswell & Harrison

14,323

 

 

 

Boss & Co.

20,344

 

 

 

Parker Hale

21,264

 

 

 

J. Purdey

433

 

 

TOTAL

 

677,324

 

28 August 1942

Conversion of M'17 strikers to P'14 (No. 3 rifle)

A T Ralphs

72,300

 

06 November 1942

Repairs to No. 3 Mk. 1*

Holland & Holland

500

£1 / 10 / - each

17 June 1943

Rifles No. 3 & M'17 broken down for spare parts

Cogswell & Harrison

3,813

 

Specifications (Pattern 1914) –
Calibre: .303 (7.7x56mm)
Length: 1,175mm (46.25in)
Length of Barrel: 660mm (24in)
Muzzle Velocity: 725.6mps (2,380fps)
Rate of Fire: Manual
Feed: 5-round integral magazine

Specifications (M1917) –
Calibre: .30-06 (7.62x63mm)
Length: 1,175mm (46.25in)
Length of Barrel: 660mm (24in)
Muzzle Velocity: 823mps (2,700fps)
Rate of Fire: Manual
Feed: 6-round integral magazine

Bibliography and Further Reading

Ashley, Richard. Comments via an email dated 18 May 2010.

Bishop, Chris & Drury, Ian. Combat Guns: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th Century Firearms, Temple Press, London, 1987.

Hogg, Ian V and Weeks, John. Military Small Arms of the 20th Century, KP Books, Iola, WI, 2000.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P17_rifle

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattern­_14_Rifle

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattern_1913_Enfield

http://world.guns.ru/rifle/rfl19-e.htm

http://www.quarry.nildram.co.uk/256brit.htm

Mackenzie, S P. The Home Guard: A Military and Political History, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995 (reprinted in 2006).

Philip, Craig. The World's Great Small Arms, Amber Books Ltd, London, 2000.

Skennerton, Ian. British Small Arms of World War 2, Greenhill Books, London, 1988.
How to cite this article: Antill, P. (31 May 2010), Enfield P14 and M1917 Rifles , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_enfield_p14_m1917.html

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