M1917 Run ‘N Gun – American Expeditionary Force Style

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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.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Roy

    I watched this last night. Ian is surprisingly fast and on target with the rifle. I wonder how much faster he would be with either a left hand rifle or by shooting right handed. The crossover bolt cycling was hard to watch. I’m left handed as well but thankfully shoot right handed.

  • ostiariusalpha

    The Enfield cartridge in a 66cm barrel runs about 55m/s (180fps) behind what the Rem Mag does from a 61cm barrel, which is not really that close at all. In fact, the .30-06 does about the same velocity at the muzzle with a 165gr bullet as the .276 Enfield.

    • The_Champ

      I tend to agree. The comparison with the 7mm Mag isn’t quite apt. I would say the .276 is to the 7mm Mag what the 30-06 is to the .300 Win Mag.

      • It’s about 200 ft/s faster than most .270 loads with that bullet, though.

    • Ostiarius, actually they’re very very similar in performance using comparable propellants:

      http://i.imgur.com/MezZvJN.png

      Look at the IMR 4350 at the bottom. Even so, that’s a more modern powder than what the British were using for the .276 Enfield. Yes, the 7mm Remington Magnum today is capable of more, but that’s because we have better propellants now.

      Also, the .276 Enfield did not have fixed performance, as there were many loads tried. The 165gr bullet at 2,800 ft/s was just the one used for field trials in 1912-1914. There were hotter versions of it.

      • ostiariusalpha

        There were larger case sizes, but of the RL18000 series of cartridges, the RL18000C used at the troop trials was by far the hottest. And it was probably getting a lot of its performance ability from spiking the pressure to unsafe levels; unsafe enough that it constantly swelled cases in the chamber, and actually blew up one of the rifles. Even if the British ordnance department had access to the much safer and more reliable IMR 4350, they wouldn’t have been able to get back to that kind of performance with the case capacity of the RL18000 cartridges.

        • It had some issues; most developmental rounds do, but the case capacity was about the same if not greater than 7mm Mag.

          Keep in mind that the propellants of the time were truly awful, by the time of troop trials in 1912, the DuPont DNT-coated IMR line hadn’t even been invented yet!

          • ostiariusalpha

            What?! No. No, no, and no. The .276 Enfield’s tapered case had a cubic volume of ~4.1cc and the fat 7mm Rem Mag has a volume of ~5.4cc; that’s almost a third more cubic volume. Powder for powder the Enfield stands no chance of catching up to the Rem Mag.

            Cordite was indeed awful stuff, it reminds of of the trials and tribulations that the U.S. Navy went through trying to get Rifleite to work in the 6mm Lee Navy.

          • So, I’ve seen that volume figure thrown around for the .276 Enfield, and I’m pretty sure that’s usable case capacity, not net capacity. And I am in the process of proving it right now, since I’m modeling the .276 case in SolidWorks and will have true case capacity figures for you, shortly.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Usable case capacity is even worse for the Enfield, since it has a comparatively long case neck. The Rem Mag, like the Win Mag, has an absurdly stubby neck that makes bullet seating a pain.

          • Do you have a period source for this confirming that is net capacity, or are you just repeating what you’ve read in secondary sources?

            I am modeling the cartridge off of the factory drawing for the Mark I, which has internal dimensions as well. It should be extremely accurate.

            The reason I am skeptical, is that the .276 Enfield is huge. Yes, it has a long neck and substantial taper, but it also has a nearly 60mm long case and a HUGE 13.4mm base. It should have oodles of capacity.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Ha ha ha, whoops! I’m using Labbett & Mead, but it wasn’t their fault, I just got the volume calculation for the cylinder of the neck vastly wrong. They just have the capacities behind the bullet for all the cartridges, and I didn’t have my phone on me, so I paper-napkined it out (which is not something you should do while riding shotgun out to a jobsite). That was on me.

            As for the Enfield’s YUUGE capacity, it’s more like decent. A nice big base, but a 2.5° taper on the body, and a much shorter powder column. 4.61cc is still 18% less than the Rem Mag, though it’s a bit better than a .280 Remington, at least.

          • So it’s a forgiveable comparison, hahah?

          • ostiariusalpha

            Well, that .280 Remington is 18% greater in volume than the 6.5×55. As long as you are comfortable saying the difference between those two is negligible, then sure, the Enfield is “very close” to the 7mm Rem Mag.

          • You’re splitting hairs at this point, especially since what I wrote was:

            “…from a squat 0.528″ (13.4mm) wide and 2.35″ (59.7mm) long case, very close to today’s 7mm Remington Magnum caliber.”

            The 7mm Rem Mag case is, off the top of my head, about 13.5mm (belted, actually 13mm) by 65mm. So yeah, close.

            Also, 18% isn’t nothing to sneeze at, but take for example the .300 Blackout, with 26 grains case capacity, versus the 7.62×39 with 35 grains capacity. That’s like a 35% increase in capacity, yet just about everyone considers them “ballistically identical”! Not a perfect analogy, but something to think about.

          • ostiariusalpha

            I will indeed think it over. Thanks!

          • BTW, the drawing I’m looking at is listing usable capacity as 3.92ccs, which is awfully close to what others have listed as the capacity for the .276.

          • Yup, looks like I was right and that 4.1ccs figure is most likely usable case capacity, not net:

            http://i.imgur.com/Tfqpgdj.png

            Here’s the drawing it’s based on:

            http://i.imgur.com/QAjJQHp.jpg

            So that’s over 4.61 ccs of capacity (I didn’t model the primer flash holes), still less than the 7mm Rem Mag, sure, but considerably more than the 4.1 ccs figure.

            If we plug that into Powley, it estimates the .276 Enfield needs only 53,000 PSI to get 2,800 ft/s from a 26″ barrel with IMR 4350:

            http://i.imgur.com/ZNiwcev.png

            So maybe with the crappy powders they had at the time, they had a lot of pressure excursions and stuff, but that was most likely a thermal stability problem rather than the cartridge being too hot. The propellants during that period were notoriously unstable, which is why maximum pressure standards tended to be lower then than they are now.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Your Powley display also shows 63.8gr of net usable capacity for the Enfield, which is over 1/20th more than the 60.4gr that the cartridge diagram claims. You have a little space around the base of the bullet, but not 1/20th more. Are you sure that all the dimensions on your SolidWorks model is correct? What dimensions did you use on the conic section of the shoulder?

          • The dimensions are all correct. I used the dimensions they gave me to create the shoulder.

            There is, of course, always some potential for error, but remember that drawing gives a range of possible dimensions, where I simply used median dimensions to construct the model. That likely accounts for the difference.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Well, I couldn’t shake that nagging doubt, so I tried to duplicate your results. I just can’t get the same cubic volume that you seem to have gotten though.

            The neck is a simple cylinder, so that was relatively easy:
            With a diameter of 7.1882mm (.283″) and a height of 10.2108mm (.402″), I get a volume of 414.37157mm^3.

            The sections under that are pretty straightforward, symmetrical conical frustums.

            The dimensions seem a little trickier on the shoulder though, but with the knowledge that the shoulder is a 20° angle it becomes solvable. So, the top plane has a diameter of 7.1882mm; the bottom 10.8966mm (.429″); and the height is 5.08mm (.2″). This gives a volume of 330.80026mm^3.

            I divided the body into three separate conic segments as you did. The top segment has a top plane diameter of 10.8966mm; bottom plane diameter 11.1252mm (.438″); height of 14.097mm (.555″). This gives a volume of 1342.38725mm^3.
            The middle segment has a top plane diameter of 11.1252mm; bottom plane diameter of 11.3792mm (.448″); height of 12.5mm (.5″). This gives a volume of 1243.06323mm^3.
            The bottom body segment has a top plane diameter of 11.3792mm; bottom plane diameter of 10.541mm (.415″); height of 10.16mm (.4″). This gives a volume of 959.01245mm^3.

            The last part with the case webbing is actually easier than the frustums to calculate. Just by looking at it, I recognize a half segment of what is affectionately known in geometry as a “pancake.” Getting the height of the pancake was a little more interesting; I knew from the diagram that the top of the webbing was 7.62mm (heh!)(.3″) from the bottom of the case, and that the flash hole was 3.556mm (.14″) from the case bottom. Thankfully I had Labbett to tell me that the flash hole was 1.524mm (.06″) long, so now I knew that the half pancake was 2.54mm (.1″) in height. Thus, a geometric pancake with an outer diameter of 10.541mm and a height of 5.08mm has an volume of 361.49242mm^3. Half of that is, of course, a volume of 180.74621mm^3.

            But when I add all that together, I only get a total cubic volume of 4,470.38097mm^3. That’s almost identical to the volume of a 30-06. It does solve the overflow problem from the diagram’s stated usable capacity rather nicely, but I wonder where we diverged from each other.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Basically you end up with something more like this.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Basically you end up with something more like this. The .280 Remington is on top, the 7mm Remington Magnum is in the center, and the .276 Enfield is on the bottom. The Enfield gets the same velocity with less pressure, but not by an amazing amount.

          • It’s cool that you went and really chewed on it, so I’m happy.

  • Great video, only missing a Bayonet and Trench Knife stage.

  • Beomoose

    What, no Chauchat stage?

  • marathag

    Yeah, get that Sgt. York feel going on

  • Blake

    This whole series has been awesome. Even my mom thought it was pretty cool.

    Bonus points if you run-n-gun a Chauchat 🙂

  • Matt W.

    My father owns one of these fine rifles, manufactured by Remington. My grandfather (who was a gun dealer) found it for him for about $75-$100 35 years ago or so. However, even though he took deer with it on occasion, he never liked it much because of the recoil and weight. He always warned my brother and me about how awful the recoil was.
    However, I love shooting it, and find the perceived recoil much more tolerable than the BYF Mauser K98K my brother and I restored a couple of years ago. The first time we ever shot it as adults, we were like, “that’s it?”
    I also appreciate its accuracy, and really don’t mind the weight all that much. You have to remember that as a weapon more likely to be fired from a trench, most would never run while shooting it anyway, and if they did during an assault, odds are they wouldn’t last long enough to care about weight or the awkwardness of it’s length. Personally, I love it for target shooting, but probably wouldn’t want to lug it around during a long day in the field either.
    Funny enough, my father also owns a Chinese Type 53 Mosin Carbine, and has no problem with the howitzer like recoil and muzzle flash, and loves the POS; me, I’m afraid of the damned thing..go figure.

    • Matt W.

      I forgot to add, that personally, I LOVE that old M1917, and it’s possibly one of my favorite bolt action rifles that I’ve used over the years.

  • Warren Ellis

    Is there a downside to the M1917’s action? It’s some sort of Mauser/Lee-Enfield hybrid or something it appears (or at least appears to be like a Mauser that could shoot as fast as a Lee-Enfield). I’m asking this because I’m wondering if later military bolt-actions are similar to the M1917 in that sense, being able to fire as quickly and all that.