Rifles > Historical

The Model 1917 U.S. Enfield

With millions of “Doughboys” heading for France during World War I, the United States needed rifles. Thankfully the Enfield was ready for mass production.

4/19/2012

When the United States entered the woefully misnamed “War to End All Wars” on April 6, 1917, the nation was immediately faced with a serious shortage of service rifles. The government had approximately 600,000 Model 1903 Springfields on hand along with some 160,000 obsolescent Krags, numbers totally insufficient to meet the projected demand. Production of the standardized Model 1903 rifle was ordered to be increased at both Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal. The U.S. Ordnance Dept. consulted with Springfield and Rock Island engineers for ways to reduce production time and cost for ’03 manufacture but, without a substantial redesign, changes would only be cosmetic. It was apparent that the combined output of these two national arsenals could not meet demand, and large numbers of additional service rifles would soon be needed.

The Ordnance Dept. had two options for procuring additional rifles: Seek additional manufacturing sources for the Model 1903 or adopt a second service rifle to augment the ’03. The former was explored at length, but the lag time required to find suitable firms capable and willing to manufacture the ’03 rifle, negotiate contracts, procure the necessary materials and machinery, then train workforces would be too great to alleviate the potential crippling shortage of rifles within a reasonable period of time. Thus, almost by default, the Ordnance Dept. was left with looking at another rifle as the only viable alternative.

Sometimes, timing is everything, and it was fortuitous that at the time the United States declared war, three American plants were completing production of large numbers of the “Pattern 1914” rifles under contract for Great Britain. The .303 British Pattern 1914 rifle was a slight modification of the “Enfield .276-inch Magazine Rifle,” also known as the “Pattern 1913,” which was a modified Mauser design chambered for an advanced .276-cal. cartridge. The workforces and production machinery used to manufacture the Pattern 1914 were still in place, thus the firms could almost immediately go into production for the U.S. government. The manufacturers were: Winchester Repeating Arms Co., New Haven, Conn.; Remington Arms Company, Ilion, N.Y.; and Eddystone Rifle Plant, operated by Midvale Steel & Ordnance Co., an affiliate of Remington located in Eddystone, Pa.

Assistant Secretary of War Benedict Crowell later said that three large plants with trained workers and tooling intact at the right time to manufacture critically needed rifles was “…well nigh providential.” While it was unquestionably fortunate to have these production facilities on hand, the Ordnance Dept. was faced with yet another dilemma. If the three plants converted from Pattern 1914 to M1903 production, troops would be issued the familiar ’03, but it would require an inordinate—and unacceptable—length of time to get a totally new rifle into production at three different factories.

The Ordnance Dept. also looked at adopting the Pattern 1914 in the .303 British chambering, permitting the maximum number of rifles to be manufactured in the least amount of time. But this would introduce a non-standard cartridge—one generally viewed as inferior to .30-’06 Sprg.—and add likely troublesome supply problems. Finally, the Pattern 1914 could be modified to accept the .30-’06 Sprg., which would reduce supply issues, but would cause some delay in getting the modified rifle into production.

After studying the options, American ordnance engineers were put to work modifying the British rifle to accept the U.S. service cartridge, and the result was adopted as “United States Rifle, Caliber .30, Model of 1917.” The American government was criticized by some for delaying the acquisition of additional rifles but, in retrospect, this was clearly the most logical choice. In 1919, a report issued by Assistant Secretary of War Crowell stated: “The decision to modify the Enfield was one of the great decisions of the executive prosecution of the war—all honor to the men who made it.”

In addition to the production delays, there was some resistance to the new rifle itself, as well as some misconceptions regarding its suitably for the American armed forces. An article in the widely-read "New York Sun" about the newly adopted rifle was entitled “Why our forces in France must use an inferior rifle,” and it cited a number of “facts” that were either misleading or outright falsehoods. Interestingly, this article appeared before any M1917 rifles had even been issued to American troops. A subsequent July 28, 1917, article in American Rifleman’s predecessor, Arms & the Man, soundly refuted the previous newspaper piece and gave logical reasons for the adoption of the M1917 as a supplement to the Model 1903 Springfield. You can read the article at www.americanrifleman.org.

From a technical standpoint, converting the Pattern 1914 rifle to chamber .30-’06 Sprg. was not particularly difficult. The M1917 possessed a strong, nickel-steel action that could handle the pressures of .30-’06 Sprg. with no problems. The fact that the Pattern 1914’s predecessor, the Pattern 1913 rifle, was originally designed for use with a rimless cartridge (the .276) actually made the M1917 more suited to the rimless .30-’06 Sprg. than the rimmed .303 British round.

On May 10, 1917, each of the three manufacturers sent Springfield Armory a sample M1917 for evaluation and testing. Most of the parts were hand-fitted, resulting in a lack of interchangeability among many of the components. This presented the Ordnance Dept. with yet another dilemma. Obviously, total interchangeability of parts was desirable, but to totally rectify the situation would require a significant delay in getting the critically needed guns into mass production. Despite the pressing demand, it was decided to postpone so engineers at the three factories, assisted by the Ordnance Dept., could reduce or eliminate the interchangeability issue. On July 12, 1917, each contractor submitted a second sample that reflected some improvement, but component interchangeability was still judged to be less than satisfactory. The Ordnance Dept. gave each maker the option of immediately proceeding with mass production and working on the interchangeability problems during the course of manufacture, or waiting until completion of standardized manufacturing drawings. Remington and Eddystone delayed production until the drawings could be obtained, but Winchester proceeded with M1917 manufacture. Assistant Secretary of War Crowell later commented, “It would have been well if the same course (waiting for final specifications) had been followed at the Winchester plant, for word came later from Europe not to send over any rifles of Winchester manufacture during that period.”


Eventually standardized manufacturing specifications and drawings were finalized, and large numbers of Model 1917s began to flow from all three plants. While the interchangeability problem was never totally eliminated, a 95 percent interchangeability rate was established, which was acceptable to the Ordnance Dept. Eventually the interchangeability problems with early production Winchesters were eliminated, and later rifles were equal in all aspects to the Remingtons and Eddystones.

The U.S. M1917 was 46.3" in overall length with a 26-inch barrel. It weighed 8 pounds, 3 ounces, and had a magazine capacity of six rounds. The same type of five-round charger (i.e. “stripper clip”) used with the ’03 rifle was also used with the M1917. This resulted in five rounds being routinely carried in the magazine, although a sixth cartridge could easily be manually inserted. The rear sight had a folding leaf adjustable for elevation, but not windage. The sight was mounted on the rear of the receiver which made it a better battle sight than the ’03’s barrel-mounted Model 1905 rear sight. The front sight blade was protected by two sturdy “ears,” one on either side. The stock and two-piece handguard were made of oil-finished black walnut with grasping grooves milled into both sides of the fore-end. Most of the external metal parts were blued, except for late production Eddystones, which were factory Parkerized beginning around October or November 1918. After the war, the vast majority of Model 1917 rifles were overhauled, which typically resulted in the formerly blued rifles being Parkerized as part of the rebuild procedure.

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17 Responses to The Model 1917 U.S. Enfield

Steve Andersen wrote:
September 07, 2014

A neighbor has an Eddystone US Model of 1917 bolt action rifle in good condition What value should he put on this rifle?

Jeffrey Orr wrote:
September 07, 2014

To John Buteau I would be interested in one of your M1917 Boxes jeffreynorr@yahoo.com

Dave Bernard wrote:
May 02, 2014

I think that the traditional, historical complaints about the M1917 are somewhat overstated, IME. Both my '03 Springfield and M1917 shoot 2 MOA with actual surplus LC69 M2 ball. The real gripe with the M1917's is handling, not cycling or accuracy. It isn't as compact or handy as a 24' bbl Springfield. We should have had 03A3 style receiver peep sights on the Springfield from the very begining. I honestly hate the all too prevalent 3 and 400 yard 'default' battle sights, which throw your hunting ammo a foot high at 100 yards. Arms designers need to take careful note of the needs of hunters in future decades, with proper peep sights graduated from 200 yards, on up. :)

John Buteau wrote:
January 12, 2014

If anybody is interested, I have several M1917 Armorers' Boxes for over $300. Not bad pieces of history. Very solid.

tom price wrote:
November 18, 2013

I have a 1917 Enfield which came from the U.S. Marine corp arsnal. It has a star stamped on the receiver. Was this rifle a setaside for snipers or target shooing?

Harvey wrote:
August 18, 2013

I have a Model 1917 that I inherited from my grandfather. I believe that he bought it surplus after WWI. Unfortunately, it was 'sporterized' at some point. In any case, the identity of the manufacturer was obliterated when a scope mount was added. The serial number is still visible. Is there a way to track the original manufacturer from that?

chuck wrote:
July 07, 2013

need a stock set with every thing. have all of the metal.

Dan wrote:
April 15, 2013

I am wondering if anyone has any info about an Eddystone marked "rifle" with full stock and fittings, but no barrel. There is a pin mechanism that shoots out about an inch when the trigger is pulled. The story I heard was that it was a training rifle that used a scaled down target set at the end of the stock. Simulated a 100 yard target. Punched a hole in the paper where you "aimed" it.

Rick Watts wrote:
April 03, 2013

I have one of these American Enfields that is missing the bolt. Please contact me at RICKWATTS@JUNO.COM if you have a spare bolt you would part with. Thanks for you attention.

Garth Dial wrote:
April 03, 2013

I am not aware of any battle rifle of WWI that had windage adjustment other than the 1903 Springfield. And, oh, what a complicated monstrosity that sight was! A mediocre target sight at best, as it had too many bells and whistles for the average doughboy to comprehend and was too far from the eye. The main reason the 1903 was preferred by the grunts and leathernecks was a slightly lighter weight. The short sight radius did not contribute to accuracy as the longer sight radius of the Model 1917 could. Once a 1917 is sighted in by choosing the correct height of front sight and drifting it to the correct windage, those hell-for-stout sights will remain dead-on to 600 yards or so, which was about as far as direct fire was conducted in WWI. Looking at the rear sight on my Model 1917 in the raised position, I can also detect an ever-do-slight lean to the left, indicating a built-in drift compensation. The Enfield #4 of WWII copied this arrangement and was a total success for the Brits. The Remington/Smith Corona 1903A3 with windage adjustment would also have been successful if not overshadowed by the M1 Garand. 'The Germans made a great hunting rifle. The Americans made a great target rifle. The British made a great battle rifle. The Japanese, Russians, French and Italians made great canoe paddles!'

Jeff Aguilar wrote:
May 11, 2012

Bruce, did the early US Enfields suffer the same heat treating problems in the receivers that the early Springfields had? If they did, what were the serial number ranges for the three manufactures of US Enfields?

Mike Holifield wrote:
May 06, 2012

In the late 1970's and early '80s I participated in NRA sanctioned service rifle matches using a 1917. I had no problems with rate of fire during rapid fire stages or with accuracy. Any low scores can be attributed to the shooter and not to the rifle. I have long wondered about the lack of respect given the 1917.

Rod wrote:
April 28, 2012

I have had one for years and didn't know it. Because of the way the scope was mounted I could not see any markings. Not that I know I have begun tracking down all the military parts to return it to it's former glory!

Bob Kluckhohn wrote:
April 24, 2012

This article is too dismissive of the M1917's WWII deployment. It was the basic arm of the 161st Infantry Rgt., Guadalcanal, Dec. 1942 to conclusion of that campaign. My father went into Guadalcanal as weapons platoon leader and was I Company Commander before being medevacced. Dad was leading a patrol along the beach. They were fording a stream. Guadalcanal has salt-water crocs. One of the soldiers thought he saw a croc, swung around and fired from the hip, under water. If there was a croc, it left. Dad said he was mighty surprised on inspecting the weapon to find it undamaged, a finding NRA later replicated and published in AR (decades ago.) He also commented that the weight and limited sustained rate of fire of both the M1917 and the BAR led the 161st to liberating all the Nambu LMGs they could and putting them to use.

Alf wrote:
April 24, 2012

My scant knowledge of details be forgiven but I understand the first 'contact' the Americans had with the german forces was at a place in France called 'Bellieu Wood'. The records will most likely show the accompanying troops as 'British" well we were all British in tjhose days but to be exact those allies were Australians. These WWI diggers were the guys who were partners in that battle. and today is ANZAC day our national day of memoriem for our war dead.

William wrote:
April 22, 2012

Throughout my career in the US Army I heard the "Old Guys" remark at what a waste of taxpayers money the 1917 was. Now I associated with "Marksmen" who refused the use of inferior weapons. Who were the "Leaders" of our Nation that pushed such a rifle into service in the time of war? (And again in 1963 with the ArmaLite) NO WINDAGE ADJUSTMENT? Is it coincidence that Hollywood portayed WWI soldiers with the 1903? American Soldiers have always made the best with the worst. I have purchased one as a historical comparison. Now I have a Mosin Nagant made by Remington for our Expeditionary Force to support the Czar. Beautiful marble stock. I always suspected the munitions folks for keeping the "06" on top. For those of you who aren't that familiar with that time in America's history I recommend the study. We were trully "Global". God Bless America.

Garrett Henderson wrote:
April 20, 2012

I just got one for my birthday