Among the statements which should be emphatically denied at the start, and which unfortunately have received wide publicity, is that Springfield ammunition with a chamber pressure varying from 50,000 to 52,000 pounds per square inch will be supplied for use in the Enfield which was designed to resist a pressure of only 42,000 pounds, and that the bolt of the Enfield is weaker than that of the Springfield.
The truth of the matter is that Springfield ammunition will be used in the Enfield, and that the Enfield ammunition exerts only 42,000 pounds per square inch as against the 50,000 or more pounds which the service shell produces. This, however, does not mean that the limit of safety in the Enfield is 42,000 pounds, or that to issue rechambered Enfields to the men who are destined to carry the flag of this Government on French soil will be to place them under the added handicap of a poor, untrustworthy weapon, likely to do as much damage from the breech as from the muzzle.
Unfortunately, authentic information concerning the British Enfield of 1914 is hard to obtain. There was never a manual for this arm. It was a product of the early necessities of the Great War, and men have been too busy using it on the field of battle to stop and write about it.
Concerning the United States Enfield, even less can be told with final authority. It is still in the formative period, and when these rifles are issued they may—or may not—conform exactly to the specifications as planned at present.
There are a few facts which can and should be stated at this time positively and with authority. They are:
That whatever form the United States Enfield may take, its fundamentals will be right. That the Enfield will not supersede the Springfield as the United States service rifle. But that when it is placed in the hands of United States soldiers it will be a thoroughly trustworthy weapon, safe to operate and ballastically accurate.
As yet the Government is not ready to make any official statements concerning the United States Enfield. This is chiefly because many alterations and modifications were necessary, in the opinion of ordnance experts, to make the weapon a satisfactory substitute for the Springfield in case of a shortage of service rifles.
It can, however, be stated on high authority that the United States Enfield will be chambered to take Springfield ammunition; that its ballistics will be relatively the same as those of the Springfield, with the likelihood of a slightly increased muzzle velocity; and that the sights will be the same as those on the British model, retabled to compensate for the difference in ammunition.
To understand just what has been done and what is likely to be done in the development of the United States Enfield, it is well to consider what was accomplished in bringing out the British Enfield of 1914, and the reasons for adopting a modified, rechambered form of this arm as the emergency weapon of the United States.
When the Springfield rifle superseded the Krag, the death-knell of so-called “rim cartridges” was sounded, as far as the United States War Department ordnance experts were concerned.
Not so, however, in England, for the British small-arms designers still held to the rim cartridge at the time the latest models of the Lee-Enfield were produced.
A few years thereafter, however, the British began experimenting upon the rifle which is now known as the Enfield 1914. These experiments had, at the time the European war broke out, reached the point where the protruding magazine of the Lee-Enfield had been discarded, the barrel—shortened in the so-called “Short Enfield”—restored to its present length, and where a .276 rimless cartridge, carrying a cordite charge, had been designed.
This rifle, it is said, produced wonderful results with a 165-grain bullet. The approximate muzzle velocity gained with this charge, it is said, was 3,000 foot-seconds and the muzzle energy 3,300 foot-pounds. Upon such a showing, Great Britain determined to equip both her army and her navy with this new rifle.
But the declaration of war cut short these plans. All of England’s factories at home were equipped to manufacture the old Lee-Enfield. To have changed them would have meant untold delay. Therefore it was determined to manufacture the Lee-Enfield exclusively in Great Britain and to let contracts for the manufacture of the Enfield of 1914 in the United States.
Accordingly, some of the .276 models were sent to this country and their manufacture—rechambered to take the .303 cartridge—begun.
Within a surprisingly short time plants capable in the aggregate of producing more than 10,000 rifles a day had been perfected. In these plants there were more than 17,000 gauges, an equipment which it has been estimated would require the services of thousands of toolmakers many months to produce.
When faced with the necessity of providing an immense reserve of rifles, without an adequate supply of Springfield gauges and jigs, the War Department experts immediately looked over the commercial plants which were already equipped to manufacture military small arms.
The fact that many of these plants could undertake Government contracts immediately, thus insuring quick deliveries, and that to supply all rifles and cartridges this Government will need will not exhaust all the facilities of these factories, were the prime arguments in favor of adopting modified Enfields, although the Ordnance Department does not now and never had regarded the British rifle as superior to the Springfield. Yet they realized that the Enfield is a high-class weapon and that it can be produced in great quantities.