U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1917

As seems to be a recurring theme in history, when the United States jumped into Europe's bloody family feud in 1917 it did so with a critical shortage of war material - save, perhaps, manpower.  In fairly quick order the ranks of what was to become the Allied Expeditionary Force swelled with almost 3,000,000 fresh recruits.

The trouble then became the matter of arming and equipping said recruits; the United States Army and Marine Corps in particular having been comparatively small before the opening of hostilities, America very quickly found herself behind the supply curve.  Existing stocks of small arms were insufficient to outfit a force of any appreciable size; supplies of both Colt's 1911 and the Model of 1903 Springfield, primary weapons for the infantry, were dismally short.  The Winchester 1897 riot gun, in service since the turn of the century, was on the registers but not suitable for mass issue.  Despite two homegrown and more modern designs (the Maxim and the Lewis) the United States had not adopted a machine gun since the Spanish-American War.

The solution came in several stages.  Additional manufacturers entered the field to take up some of the slack - Remington Arms tooled up to produce rifles and pistols, Smith & Wesson and Colt introduced their respective 1917 revolvers, and production at Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal kicked into overdrive.  Meanwhile, John Browning got to work building what was to become a light, man-portable automatic rifle eventually known as the BAR. Still, the lag in the supply chain was formidable.

And, as has happened frequently through American history, fortune smiled.  Early in the war, in the days of American neutrality, the British government had found itself under similar circumstance.  Their native arms industry unable to meet demand, the Crown contracted with American companies to produce their Pattern 1914 Enfield, itself a supplement (and planned successor) to the Lee-Enfield series of rifles.   By 1917 the contracts were fulfilled and no further orders placed.  This left Remington, Winchester, and Eddystone (the latter at Remington operation established within the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Pennylvania) with the machinery and skilled labor on hand to produce an American version.  With a change in barrel and bolt assembly to chamber the .30-06 Springfield cartridge the U.S. Rifle, M1917 was born.

Given three factories turning out 1917s (to the two producing the 1903) the new rifle quickly became the predominant long arm of the U.S. Army - the Marines, by and large, held onto their Springfields - and by war's end as much as three quarters of the AEF was equipped with an American-made Enfield.  Despite the surge in numbers and widespread use, the 1917s never achieved the mythical status and admiration as their native cousin.  Whether because it was an inferior rifle (debatable) or mistrust of a foreign design (possible) or merely too new and different (likely) the signing of the Armistice saw the 1917s into storage or public hands, the U.S. military resuming its love affair with the 1903, and the Enfield quietly fading to near obscurity.  It emerged briefly in the next world war as a weapon for second-line troops unlikely to see combat only to disappear again with the cessation of hostilities in 1945.

Today, the 1917 Enfield is a fairly sought-after collectors' item.  By accounts they make good shooters once one becomes accustomed to a bolt-action that cocks on the forward movement and are every inch the match of an '03 in the right hands.  They are also markedly less common and tend to command a premium over Springfields in similar condition - an interesting turn for a former redheaded stepchild.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting holdover from the war to them all and one to which history has done a considerable disservice.   

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