This year, 2017, is the centennial of the United States joining World War One. But while the U.S. government did not join the war until April 1917, companies like Winchester had gotten involved from the start.
By 1917 American gun makers were wartime veterans. They had been building munitions for the Entente for two and a half years. By war’s end Winchester, Remington, Marlin, Savage, Colt, Smith & Wesson, and New England Westinghouse had all built arms for the Allied cause.
War broke out in the summer of 1914 following the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Many of the combatants found that they needed more weapons. One of the places they searched was the United States. Eventually, Britain, France, and Russia all purchased arms and ammunition from Winchester.
Britain had been working on a design to replace the Short Magazine Lee Enfield prior to World War One. The British called the new design the Pattern 13, but the onset of war prevented Britain from producing the new rifle. They took the design to Winchester and changed the caliber from .276 Enfield to .303 British. The new rifle with the old caliber became known as the Pattern 14.
For Russia, Winchester altered its existing Model 1895 Lever Action. Winchester already had developed a military version of the 1895 and the only thing to change was the caliber. Ultimately Winchester built 235,000 rifles for Britain and 300,00 for Russia and produced several hundred million cartridges for the two countries.
When America joined the war, the government decided against retooling civilian factories and instead adopted a 30’06 version of the Pattern 14. The U.S. Army issued the M1917 alongside the standard Springfield 1903.
Winchester also received contracts for the Browning Automatic Rifle, and even the Colt 1911. The war ended before serious production of the 1911 could begin, but Winchester built almost 50,000 BARs. In addition to regular production, Winchester also experimented with other designs and sold other existing designs to the Allied powers.
In all, Winchester built over 1 million rifles and over 1 billion cartridges for the war effort. They even made artillery fuses and cases as well. As we approach the centennial of America’s entry it’s worth examining the American manufacturers that helped to keep the Allies fighting before American soldiers landed in France.