World War I, it should have been the “War to end all Wars”. It had the brutal combination of trench warfare, weapons of mass destruction, and the widespread use of machineguns and bayonets. In the soggy cold ground of central Europe, it was hell on earth.
The environment brutally tested men and equipment. Early tanks were either broken down or stuck in the mud and soft earth. Artillery rained down on a daily basis. Out of this misery came a miracle of design and production that remains largely unrecognized today. This was the U.S. Model 1917 Rifle.
It’s a familiar World War I story, war is declared, and there aren’t enough rifles, period. The Allies, Britain, France, and Russia, turned to America to remedy this problem. U.S. industry was turning out French Berthier rifles and Russian Mosin-Nagant rifles quickly, supplying those countries. For Great Britain, two companies, Winchester and Remington, were producing an advanced design rifle known as the “Pattern 1914” or P-14, three facilities produced these rifles in 1916 to 1917. Winchester, in New Haven Connecticut, Remington in New York and Eddystone Pennsylvania were the factories involved. The British were less than enthused about the P-14’s performance in combat. The P-14 had been designed for a small caliber rimless cartridge, however at British instance, it was chambered for the standard .303 cartridge. Thus it really didn’t have any advantage in the trenches over the SMLE Enfield .303 which the P-14 was to replace. It’s most outstanding attribute was accuracy, as a consequence the P-14 was used as a sniper rifle.
As it became apparent after the declaration of war in 1917, that the United States did not have, and could not produce enough Model 1903 Springfield rifles, other options were examined. The French Berthier and Russian Mosin-Nagant rifles were distinctly inferior, as was the Model 1895 Winchester also being supplied to the Russians. Fortunately, the British designed P-14 was easily redesigned to fire the American 30-06 service cartridge. Thus was born the U.S. Model 1917 rifle. It eventually equipped 75% of the American Expeditionary Force in France. It was THE U.S. rifle of the first world war.