As we noted yesterday, we've quit daily "on this day in 1917" entries, although we have one here, unusually, for the second day in a row. The reason for that is that we are trying to track a few things of interest or relevance to the overall theme of our blog, and changes in material items is one of them. We have done quite a few of those over time.
While we posted a lot of items from March 2016 up until March 2017 that were on a daily basis, a few of the posts we did were on material changes, mostly in connection with the Punitive Expedition. We had intended to try to address the story of firearms that were used as part of that event, but we never really got around to it (and never had time to research it, frankly, particularly in regards to Mexican combatants, which would have been quite a project), other than to include a reference to it in a post that covered a lot of other items. Now, of course, we've moved into World War One. There's no earthly way that we're going to be able to cover every firearm used in the Great War, and indeed the outfit that the film below is from is doing that anyhow. But we're making an exception today specifically because we covered this, a little, in the Punitive Expedition thread. the reason is that here we find things really beginning to materially change in regards to the U.S. Army as it found itself just out of the "Border War" and into a World War. Logic would hold that the Army should have at least had a good handle on small arms supplies going into the war. Not so.
On this day, in 1917, it started to address that: (See: The Story of Eddystone, page 22)
Take a look, of course, at the story of the Pattern 14 and the Pattern 13, which are just in front of this.
It's tempting to categorize the M1917 as a "forgotten" rifle, although that might be going to far. It's fair to say, however, that its story isn't accurately remembered by most. The rifle equipped half of all U.S soldiers during World War One and was the rifle by far the most likely to be carried by a conscripted soldier. While there was mass production of the M1903 Springfield, a great rifle in its own right, the fact of the matter was that the two government arsenals that were producing that rifle simply could not manufacture sufficient numbers in which to equip the massive Army the United States determined to raise during the Great War. Existing stocks of M1903s had already been assigned out to the Regular Army and the National Guard at the time the war commenced and ongoing production was really only sufficient to supply the needs of the Regular Army, the Federalized National Guard (which of course became part of the regular establishment during the war), the Navy and the Marine Corps (both of which had adopted the M1903 to replace the Navy Lee following the Spanish American War). Therefore the large conscript Army raised by the US during the war relied, in large part, upon the M1917.
Indeed, the M1917 is likely to be the rifle carried by Sgt. Alvin York at the time of his famous deeds, as that was the rifle that equipped the 82nd Division, which he was in.
Sometimes oddly condemned by folks not terribly familiar with it, the rifle (watch the video) was an excellent rifle and had features that were somewhat more advanced than those on the slightly older M1903. The sights in particular were very good and probably the very best on any rifle used by any army during the Great War. Heat treatment problems made the actions brittle on some rifles made by Eddystone, a Remington facility, but this is also true of very early M1903 actions made by government arsenals.
The rifle was sufficiently good that it nearly went on to replace the M1903 following World War One, but it obviously did not. It was retained in a more significant role than sometimes imagined, however, and not simply stored, as some will claim. For some odd reason, it became the rifle that equipped chemical mortar units in the Army all the way into World War Two. It also was issued to field artillerymen early in World War Two, who carried them at least as late as Operation Torch. Stocks of the rifle were issued as well to Free French troops who used them in North Africa and on into Europe, and they saw action in Chinese hands during the war as well. Finally, M1917s equipped various State Guard unis throughout World War Two, likely putting the rifle back in the hands of many men who had carried them twenty years prior. In the category of men who had not carried them previously, they also equipped JrROTC units during these years.
An entirely civilian production item, not too surprisingly the rifle went on to have a sporting expression. Thousands were converted by sportsmen and gunsmiths into sporting rifles. Beyond that, Remington kept the rifle in production as the Model 30, starting off at first using actions it was left with when the government abruptly cancelled orders following World War One. Remington even took a run at making a sniper variant for the government but production ceased with the onset of World War Two and terminated forever following the war.
This wasn't, we should note, the only rifle that supplemented supplies of M1903s during World War One. Obsolete models of rifles were brought back out and issued, and Mosin Nagants rejected by Imperial Russian inspectors would see use in the Polar Bear expedition.