The gear of the US infantryman during World War I was some of the best in the period, from the ammunition pouches, to the uniform, and the rifles. Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons has taken a reproduction uniform and an original M1917 rifle and M1911 handgun out to the Two-Gun Action Challenge Match, to put them to the test:
This video gives me an excellent excuse to talk about one of my favorite rifle families from that era, the P13/P14/M1917 Enfields. Our brief overview starts at the conclusion of the Second Boer War, where the British found that the round-nosed 215 grain .303 inch projectiles traveling below 2,000 ft/s that they were using at the time suffered a serious disadvantage in range against the Spanish Mausers firing 173 grain round nosed 7mm projectiles at 2,300 ft/s. In response, the British Army developed by 1912 a rifle system based around the Mauser action, which fired a round that they were sure would put the hurt on those 7mm Mausers: a 7mm caliber of their own, but firing a 165gr spitzer full-metal jacket bullet at a blistering 2,800 ft/s, from a squat 0.528″ (13.4mm) wide and 2.35″ (59.7mm) long case, very close to today’s 7mm Remington Magnum caliber. Today known as the “.276 Enfield”, the rifle that fired this “military magnum” was called “P13”; troop trials of both had begun by 1912. However, the outbreak of World War I resulted in the end of the project and the termination of the .276 Enfield caliber’s development. If you want to learn more about the P13, you can check out Forgotten Weapons video on it, below:
Facing a shortage of rifles, however, the British adapted the P13 rifle to fire the standard .303 inch caliber, resulting in the P14 rifle. Domestic production being over-taxed, the British government turned to American companies to manufacture it, who in turn were contracted by the United States government, to make the same rifle in the .30-06 caliber when the Americans joined the war. This rifle, adopted as the M1917, brought the concept full-circle: The American .30 caliber was also developed to out-match the 7mm Mausers used by the Spanish forces during the Spanish-American war! All told, the M1917 proved to be the best rifle of World War I, and something to the order of 2/3s of all American doughboys carried one of the over 1.2 million M1917s made into battle.
After the war, the excellent M1917 was mostly relegated to support roles, as there were more than enough of the standard M1903 rifles to arm the now hugely downsized US Army. Still, the M1917 stands head and shoulders above most other rifles of its time, for its incredibly strong and safe action, great ergonomics, and fantastic sights. Indeed, the M1917 proved to be a better rifle than the original P13, as the First World War proved that the day of riflemen outmatching each other with increasingly more powerful ammunition had come to a close. The “military magnum” arms race had ended, and the .30 caliber round would remain the dominant paradigm for the next 45 years.