Several people seemed to find my recent post on the Pattern 1914 rifle interesting, so I figured that I'd expand on it a bit and highlight the American version, the US Rifle, Model of 1917, and it's partner in WW1 warfare, the venerable 1903 Springfield.
Come World War One, the British found themselves in a bit of a fix. They were off to war against that whacky Kaiser Wilhelm but they were sorely lacking in infantry rifles. They were then using the Enfield #1 Mk3, "SMLE" (Short Magazine, Lee Enfield", or "Smelly" to the troops) but they didn't have nearly enough of them.
So the Brits turned to the US Arms Manufacturers Winchester and Remington and gave them a design for a rifle that had showed promise in trials but not gone into production for lack of available manufacturers. This rifle was the Pattern 14, a rifle that was considered more accurate and robust than the SMLE but which was also heavier and limited by it's five-round magazine against the SMLE's 10-round capacity.
Pattern 14 rifle in .303
Winchester made these at their plant in New Haven, Connecticut and Remington cranked these rifles out at two plants, it's main plant in Ilion, New York, and a second plant that it set up in the Baldwin Locomotive Plant works in Eddystone, Pennsylvania just to make these rifles. They made them up until 1917, at which time the Brits figured that they had enough SMLE rifles and cancelled the contracts. But then the US, feeling left out, got into the war. Not surprisingly, we needed more rifles than we had, too. Our own government arsenals at Springfield, Mass. and Rock Island, Ill. were turning out 1903 Springfield rifles as fast as they could but it wasn't enough to arm the new troops that we were drafting.
Fortunately, the Winchester and Remington plants were still set up to produce Pattern 14 rifles, so the design was changed a bit to chamber the rifles in .30-06, the US cartridge that the '03 Springfield was already using, and they were put into production, this time as the US Rifle, Model 1917.
So our troops went to Europe with not one rifle, but two. The 1903 Springfield is the one often remembered at the predominant World War 1 rifle by many, but in actual fact, more US soldiers were armed with the Model 1917s. Even Hollywood got it wrong when they made a movie about World War One Medal of Honor recipient Alvin York. His heroics were portrayed in the 1941 movie Sergeant York, which featured Gary Cooper in the title role, shown here shooting his newly-issued 1903 Springfield rifle.
In reality, York carried a Model 1917.
Given a choice, our troops tended to prefer the 1903 Springfield. It was shorter, lighter, and had much better sights that were fully adjustable for windage and elevation. A shooter who knew how to use them could put hits on targets at remarkable distances.
By contrast, the Model 1917 and Pattern 14 were only adjustable for elevation, and while the SMLE had a windage adjustment, it was still pretty crude.
It was with those 1903 rifles and their long-range marksmanship skills that the US Marines established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in their engagement with the Germans at Belleau Wood. The Germans could not believe that riflemen could pick their machine gunners off at 800-1000 yards as the Marines regularly did with their Springfields.
Post-WW1, the Pattern 14 and Model 1917 were declared obsolete and sold off or stored. They'd be back by necessity in World War Two when the British, desperate for rifles again, re-issued their Pattern 14's to Reserve and Home Guard troops right alongside Model 1917s that the US sent under provisions of the Lend-Lease act. Owing to the difference in cartridges that the two fired, the 1917s had to have big red bands painted on the stocks to clearly identify them as .30 rifles, not .303. The 1903 Springfields soldiered on, remaining a front-line rifle with the Marine Corps. and even some Army units well into the Second World War. An updated version of the 1903, the 1903A3 Springfield, saw that war to a conclusion and even served into the Korean War as a sniper rifle.
Mine have some noteworthy markings that tell a bit about where they've been and what they've seen. My Model 1917 was made at the Eddystone plant in Pennsylvania.
My Pattern 14 was also made at the Eddystone plant, but it's receiver marking is a bit plainer.
On it's receiver rail, it has the British acceptance mark--a crown and the letters G.R. for Georgius Rex--King George. Just ahead of that is a broad arrow stamp, indicating British government ownership.
My 1903 Springfield is a later model, manufactured in 1933 per it's serial number and barrel date.
It also has some faint stock markings that didn't photograph well. The main one of interest is an SAA stamp, which indicates that at some time, this rifle went through an overhaul program at the San Antonio Arsenal.
The SMLE has lots of markings.
The stock bears marks as well. The small "639" indicates that this rifle received a new stock in June of 1939, probably when it was being pulled from post WW1 storage and being reconditioned. The stock also has both the rifle's original serial number and the Australian Dept. of Defense stamping.
I regularly shoot all of these rifles and find them all to be perfectly sound and accurate after all of these years. All will put rounds nicely on a 200 yard target if I do my part, and I suspect that 1903 in particular will reach out considerably farther. When I get a chance, I'm going to work it in on the 400 yard range and see if I can't ring the steel gong with it a few times.
The 1903 is special to me. I actually saved this one from destruction by buying it sight unseen from a kid who'd inherited it from his grandfather and who was going to cut it into a deer rifle. When I met him, it was bouncing around in the trunk of his car, uncased, with the jack and tire iron and a tool box banging into it. I gave him a hundred fifty dollars for it on the spot, gambling that it wasn't some shot-out piece of junk or National Ordnance boat anchor. As it turned out, I did ok.
All of these rifles have history. Each undoubtedly saw service in at least one world war and perhaps a few other smaller conflicts on the side. Each could probably tell some great tales. Each has known many previous owners before me, and I have no doubt that each will survive me in fine shape and pass on to other owners, probably still in 100% serviceable condition. But for now, I'm proud to have them and appreciate the chance to research them and shoot them.