Winchester Select-Fire Garand Prototype

 

The Cody Firearms Museum, at the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West, holds a number of interesting select-fire M1 Garand rifles, adapted by Winchester during the 1940s. In this article we’re going to examine one of the prototypes, the rifle is believed to date to the late 1940s, and appears to be chambered in one of the earlier iterations of the T65 .30 Light Rifle round, which would eventually be adopted as 7.62x51mm.

Very little information is available about the rifle and little has been written about it previously. It is believed to have been developed by Winchester engineer Harry H. Sefried II with former Cody Firearms Museum curator Herbert Houze crediting Sefried with the rifle, which he described as adaptation of the M1 into a ‘squad automatic rifle’. After some archival research and combing Winchester’s patents from the period we can now attempt to shed light on a little more of the rifle’s history.

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Winchester M1 Select-Fire prototype (Danny Michael/Cody Firearms Museum)

Externally, the rifle has a number of instantly recognisable distinctions from the standard M1 Garand. It has a reshaped stock with an added pistol grip, a proprietary box magazine and a combined bipod and conical flash hider. If we look closer we’ll notice that the stock has a swell just ahead of the breech, flaring out in an almost triangular bulge. These changes to the stock also distinguish this rifle from Winchester’s other select-fire M1 adaptations, which retain the standard Garand stock profile.

From the patents available combined with an examination of the rifle we can learn a lot. We cannot rely on patents to tell the whole story of the rifle, however, as many of the elements that make up the weapon appear to have gone unpatented. The substantial external and internal changes made to the rifle suggest that this was not an attempt to adapt the M1 with a minimal number of component parts changes but rather an effort to generally improve the rifle, making it conducive to fully automatic fire.

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Detail photo showing the rifle’s pistol grip, altered stock and magazine (Matthew Moss)

In summer 1944, Winchester’s CEO Edwin Pugsley directed Sefried to begin work on a select-fire conversion for the M1, to rival those being developed at Springfield Armory and Remington. Winchester’s select-fire Garand went though a number of iterations which resulted in two patents from Sefried. The first, filed in August 1944 (US #2479419), incorporated an elongated sear actuating lever and a selector on the lower, right side of the receiver. Winchester’s first attempts at a select-fire M1 conversion resulted in rifles with extremely high, uncontrollable rates of fire of over 900 rounds per minute. Sefried filed a second patent later in January 1948 (US #2464418) which used a catch to hook the sear. The rifle we are examining appears to have yet another select-fire system, one for which I have so far been unable to find a corresponding patent for. Winchester’s work on the select-fire adaptation came to a halt with the end of the war. It appears, however, that Winchester again began to work on adapting the M1 in the late 1940s, with Sefried again working on the project, filing his second select-fire mechanism patent in 1948 (US #2464418).

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Sefried’s 1949 patent for another select-fire M1 conversion (US Patent Office)

The rifle’s receiver was originally a standard Winchester-made .30-06 M1 with a serial number of 1,627,456. This means its wartime production gun, dating from May 1945. It would appear that rather than the rifle being lifted from the rack finished, it seems that it was earmarked for prototype development because the receiver forging lacks the cuts/forgings needed for the en bloc clip release lever. This makes sense if it was known that the receiver was destined for use in a prototype which fed from a box magazine. However, the timeline of the rifle gets more complex when we consider that it was a late-war production rifle. There are a number of possibilities. The rifle may have been simply set aside for internal prototype work in May 1945 and not used until a T65 chambered rifle was developed later. Alternatively, it is possible that the rifle was converted during the initial attempts to create a select-fire M1 but was later rechambered from .30-06 to the new developmental T65 round.

This prototype’s trigger guard assembly, which also comprises the magazine well floorplate, is a self-contained assembly and does not interact with the weapon’s trigger mechanism or action. While Sefried had a patent for his own magazine system (US #2386722) this rifle uses a slightly different magazine release and floorplate, which is similar to one seen in Stefan Janson’s 1956 patent for a stripper clip-loading box magazine for the M1 (US #2894350). The magazine used in this prototype, however, is not the same as Janson’s. It has fixed feed-lips and a projection at its rear which appears to house an anti-tilt tab for the follower.

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The rifle’s magazine (Matthew Moss)

The rifle does not to appear to use the full-automatic system seen in either of Sefried’s patents.  Similarly, the safety selector is located on the left side of the receiver, forward, in line with the breech. It has two positions with an arc of about 90 degrees. This position does not match Sefried’s patents for select-fire conversion, however, it does match the position patented by David Marshall Williams but not Williams’ selector’s orientation of travel. I have been unable to find a patent which matches this rifle’s selector or method fully-automatic conversion.

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Left-side view of the rifle’s receiver showing the fire-selector (Matthew Moss)

The pistol grip is an interesting addition as neither of the other Winchester select-fire prototypes nor the original select-fire Springfield prototypes incorporated one. Visually it is very similar to that seen on the later Italian Beretta BM 59 Mark II.  In an effort to lighten the rifle the prototype also has an aluminium buttplate. One of ingenious internal changes is the milling of the bottom of the barrel flat, this not only has the effect of lightening the rifle but also allows a new, straight operating rod to travel rearwards under the barrel. How this impacted on the barrel’s harmonics is unclear. The rifle certainly feels lighter and handier (when unloaded) than you would expect, weight is estimated to be around 7 or 8 lbs.

 

The bipod, patented by Sefried in April 1945, (US #2420267) comprises a pair of tube steel legs, which have a set height, and a conical aluminium flash hider. The legs are spring-loaded and the entire assembly attaches via a latch which seats over the rifle’s bayonet lug. The bipod is the only element of this rifle that can be attributed to Sefried directly. And by the bipod’s very nature of attachment may simply have been attached later.

Sefried's April 1945 bipod and flash hider patent (US Patent Office)
Sefried’s 1947 patent for the bipod-flash hider (US Patent Office)

The best documentary source available for the prototype is the entry in the Winchester Factory Museum’s collection inventory offers some tantalising clues but no definitive answers:

#1504    U.S. Model M-1 rifle (Garand)
Cal. 30-06; experimental semi or full auto.
3rd type 20 shot box mag.
Special butt plate for shoulder rest
Bipod and aluminum flash hider attached
From H. Sefried 10-26-45

The suggestion that the rifle is chambered in .30-06 is seemingly an error given the internal changes made to the rifle. ‘3rd type’ suggests an iterative development of the rifle’s magazine while “special butt plate for shoulder rest” may allude to the aluminium butt plate but the prototype’s plate has nothing resembling a ‘shoulder rest’, instead it is a simple chequered aluminium plate about 5mm thick. While ‘From H. Sefried 10-26-45’ may refer to the whole rifle, I believe it more likely refers simply to his bipod.

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A close up of Sefried’s bipod-flash hider (Matthew Moss)

The prototype appears to be chambered in an iteration of the .30 Light Rifle round, which later became known as the T65. The rechambering was achieved by installing a metal block which shortened the magazine well. Unlike earlier Winchester select-fire conversions this rifle feeds from a proprietary magazine designed to feed the T65 round. This magazine does not appear to closely follow the pattern used by Winchester on several other designs during the period. The projection from the rear of the magazine slides along a channel cut in the metal magazine well block. It has font and rear locking shelves, with the front shelf acted on by the magazine release lever.

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A look at the rifle’s receiver and serial number markings from above (Matthew Moss)
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With the action open. Note the magazine insert at the rear of the magazine well (Matthew Moss)

Development of the .30 Light Rifle round, which would eventually become 7.62x51mm, began in 1944, with the round first being referred to as the T65 in 1946. It appears that the rifle is chambered in a version of the T65 cartridge, but which iteration exactly is unknown. However, its chambering does support the theory that the prototype may date from 1947-48. The T65 didn’t take on the now standard 7.62x51mm dimensions until 1949 in the form of the T65E3 round but without a chamber casting it is impossible to know the rifle’s exact chambering.

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A photo representing the evolution of the .30 light rifle round (Courtesy of DrakeGmbH)

While Winchester continued to work on adapting the M1 Garand into a select-fire rifle none of their rifles were seriously considered by US Ordnance. At the same time John Garand was working on his own series of select-fire, magazine-fed prototypes (the T20 series) at Springfield while Remington had also been awarded a contract to develop a similar rifle, tested under the designation T22. These projects subsequently gave way to a number of other designs, all chambered in the T65 round, including the T25/47, T44 and T48. These were all tested before the Garand-influenced T44 was eventually selected in 1957, becoming the M14.

Addendum:

Harry Sefried II served in the US Army Air Corps during World War Two before joining Winchester as a firearms designer in 1944. In the 1950s he left Winchester to become Ruger’s chief engineer until he retired in 1979. He died in 2005, aged 84.


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Bibliography:

Patents:

‘Semiautomatic Firearm Convertible to Full Automatic’, H.H, Sefried, US Patent #2479419, 25/08/1944, (source)

‘Box Magazine Latch Mechanism for Repeating Firearms’, H.H, Sefried, US Patent #2386722, 29/09/1944, (source)

‘Support for Rifles and Other Shoulder Firearms’, H.H. Sefried, US Patent #2420267, 19/04/1945, (source)

‘Fire Control Mechanism for Automatic and Semiautomatic Firearms’, H.H, Sefried, US Patent #2464418, 02/01/1948, (source)

‘Strip Clip for Loading Box Magazines’, S.K. Janson, US Patent #2894350, 11/04/1956, (source)

Secondary Sources:

‘The Select-Fire M1 Garand’, F. Iannamico, Small Arms Review, (source)

Harry H. Sefried II Obituary, Hartford Courant, June 2005, (source)

‘Light Rifle, Part IV: The M1 Garand Learns To Rock And Roll’, TFB, Nathaniel F., (source)

Cartridge History for the Day – .30 Light Rifle, (source)

‘Winchester Proto-M14 Rifle’, Forgotten Weapons, (source)

John Browning’s 1892 En Bloc Lever-Action Prototype

The 1890s were one of John Browning’s most prolific periods, during which he developed a host of firearms which would never actually see production. Here, we’re lucky enough to be able to examine one of those prototypes that were never produced. Dating from 1892, this rifle departs from Browning’s earlier lever-action rifle designs in a number of interesting ways. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the design is its use of en bloc clips, instead of the tube magazine traditionally used by Winchester’s repeating rifles. John Browning, and his brother Matthew, filed the patent covering the design in June 1892.

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Right side of the rifle, note its ‘musket’ configuration (Matthew Moss)

The rifle is in what is typically referred to at the time as a ‘Musket’ configuration, signifying that it is a military long-arm. It has a long 32.5 inch barrel, which is held in place by two barrel bands. Overall the rifle is around 50 inches in length and weighs just over 9lbs. The rifle is chambered in a .30 calibre cartridge, likely the then new .30-40 Krag round given its proposed market. It has a ladder-style rear sight with range graduations from 100 to 1,000 yards.

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Browning’s patent drawing showing the rifle’s action (US Patent Office)

Okay, let’s take a closer look at the prototype. During the 1890s Browning experimented with a series of magazine systems including an en-bloc clip system. This rifle uses a 5-round magazine which is fed from an en-bloc clip. The idea of an en-bloc clip was relatively new with Ferdinand Mannlicher patenting the idea in the 1880s and using it in his Model 1886 and 1888 rifles. It is unclear if Browning was familiar with Mannlicher’s system but the two are very similar. If you’re unfamiliar with en bloc clips it means that the cartridges are loaded into the weapon in the clip rather than stripped from the clip.

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A look at the ejection port for the en-bloc clip (Matthew Moss)

Browning’s prototype holds five rounds in its clip, which from patent drawings we can see was not reversible. Sadly, we don’t have an example of Browning’s clip to examine but his 1892 patent (see above) gives us a good idea of what it would have looked like. It clearly has a cut at the top of the clip which appears to have been used to help guide the round up into the chamber.

Rounds were pushed up into the action by a follower arm which was actuated by a v-spring located at the front of the magazine housing. The bottom of the fixed magazine housing has a cut-out corresponding to the clip to allow it to fall or be pushed clear by a new clip once it was empty.

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The rifle’s lever fully-forward with its action open and striker cocked (Matthew Moss)

The rifle also departs from the traditional hammer system and uses a striker-fired action. From the patent drawings we can see how the rifle’s striker worked, with a coil spring extending into the stock and a sear holding the striker to the rear. The striker is made up of two pieces with the striker hitting a long firing pin inside the bolt.
The striker has, what the patent refers to as, a ‘thumb piece’ to enable re-cocking and to indicate if its cocked or not. The striker was cocked by the cycling of the lever and held in place by the trigger sear.

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A view inside the action with the bolt partially retracted before it moves down and back into the rifle’s wrist (Matthew Moss)

The lever was held in the close position, preventing out of battery discharges, by what Browning’s patent calls a downward-projecting dog, which projected through a small hole in the trigger assembly link and locked into a catch in the front of the lever loop.
The use of a striker, rather than an exposed hammer, allows the rifle bolt’s travel to be enclosed rather than have the bolt project out of the rear of the receiver, as in previous Winchester lever-actions, we can see that this rifle’s bolt slides back at an angle partially down into the wrist of the stock. This is arguably more ergonomic and potentially helps to prevent ingress of dirt.

The first half of the lever’s travel pulls the bolt to the rear, while the second part cocks the striker. An arm extending from the lever pushed the bolt rearward until the trigger sear was engaged. In order to give the lever enough throw to open the action far enough to allow a round to be loaded the trigger mechanism has to be pivoted out of the action, much like the earlier Winchester 1886.
The bolt has a pair of trunnions which project from the sides of the bolt, these run inside longitudinal grooves either side of the receiver, while the rear of the bolt is free to angle up and down as it cycles. The action is locked by the rear of the bolt secured against the rear of the receiver, rather than with a rising locking bolt.

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Left side of the rifle (Matthew Moss)

During the period Browning was also working on other lever action and, even more unusual, so-called pull-apart actions as well as various magazine types including a revolving magazine, stripper-clip box magazines and of course as we’ve already seen a detachable box magazine-fed rifle. The 1890s were a truly prolific period for Browning.

The design was purchased by Winchester and the Brownings’ patent was granted in November 1892. The gun, like many of Browning’s other designs of the period, never saw production. Making this rifle a rare one-of-a-kind prototype. It’s an elegant design and the action is smooth. When Winchester did finally seek to produce a military lever-action they chose another of Browning’s designs which retained his traditional rear-locking bolt, which became the Model 1895.

This rifle is a unique prototype and it was an honour to examine it. It’s now on display at the newly refurbished Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West. Our thanks to the museum for allowing us to film items, like this one, from the museum’s collection.


If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great new perks available for Patreon Supporters.


Bibliography:

‘Breech-loading Firearm’, J. & M. Browning, US Patent #486272, 15/11/1892 (source)

John M Browning: American Gunmaker, J. Browning & C. Gentry (1964)

Early Johnson Rifle with Handguard & Bayonet Lug

 

The Johnson is already one of the 20th century’s most interesting military rifles, in terms of both design and history, and this rifle, serial number R-14, is perhaps even more interesting. Johnson’s military rifles were initially designated the Type R – for rotary magazine, it was the ‘R’ serialised rifles which were used during US military testing in 1938-40. We are most familiar with the classic handguard-less appearance of what became known as the Johnson M1941. Few examples of a Johnson with a handguard survive.

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Right-side view of the R-14 with original optional extra handguard (Matthew Moss)

The rifle was developed by Melvin Johnson, a USMC Reserve Captain, in the mid-1930s, Johnson began work on the rifle just as the M1 Garand was adopted. Johnson was granted his first patent protecting his rifle in September 1937. His rifle was tested in 1938-39 by US Army Ordnance but advanced no further than testing. Johnson lobbied politicians leading to a bill being introduced in an effort to have Johnson’s rifle adopted. On May 29th, 1940 the US Senate’s Military Affairs Committee met with Johnson and military representatives to discuss the rifle and the Bill which had been proposed, S.3983, to ‘Provide for the Adoption of the Johnson Semiautomatic Rifle as a Standard Arm of the Military’. The bill, however, led nowhere and the M1 Garand’s introduction continued.

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A Johnson M1941 (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company)

The handguard fitted to R-14 was actually an optional extra offered by Johnson Automatics. It appears to have been an attempt to address one of the main concerns raised by the US military –  the Johnson’s unsuitability for bayonet fighting. As the rifle uses a short-recoil operated action the barrel recoils about ½ inch on firing, this means that the weapon’s barrel isn’t actually fixed in place meaning when the bayonet was used the barrel moves backwards ½ inch when it contacted something or someone with enough force.

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A Johnson R-Type Rifle fitted with hanguard & M1905 bayonet (Johnson Automatics Brochure)

From the Senate Committee hearing we know that there were real concerns about the rifle’s bayonet fighting characteristics. With US Army Ordnance noting that “this rifle is very poorly suited to bayonet fighting.” Noting that the exposed barrel was too narrow to grasp properly and was also un-insulated if the barrel was hot from firing. The non-fixed, recoiling barrel was also highlighted as another ‘deficiency’. Major Grant Schlieker, the Infantry Liaison Officer at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, shared similar concerns. In addition to concerns about the lack of handguard to grasp when bayonet fighting he noted in his statement that during their testing the Johnson has struggled to cycle properly when fired at a depressed angle with a bayonet fixed and that striking something with the bayonet hard enough lead the rifle to extract and eject a chambered round.

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A closer look at the handguard (Matthew Moss)

Johnson refuted these concerns by stating that the barrel was exposed with good reason so that it could cool rapidly, suggesting that enclosed barrels like the Garand’s became too hot to grasp after sustained firing thus also making bayonet fighting difficult. Johnson also noted that a ‘Johnson Sword Bayonet’, which extended forward under the barrel from the Johnson’s normal forend had been developed to address the problem but the ergonomics and usefulness of this terrifyingly long bayonet are unclear.

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An R-type rifle fitted with the extremely long Johnson Sword Bayonet, note the large lug beneat the barrel, extending from the rifle’s handguard (Johnson’s Guns – Canfield)

You would imagine that a fixed, full-length stock with the barrel recoiling inside would have been a more elegant solution allowing the bayonet to be fixed to a nosecap rather than the barrel. But it would seem that Johnson was passionate about having the exposed barrel to allow cooling.

It is worth noting that the bayonet issued with the M1941 was the lightweight spike-type, developed in order to elevate potential issues with cycling while the bayonet was fixed.

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A close up of R-14’s markings (Matthew Moss)

A proponent of the rifle, USMC Captain, George Van Orden (who commanded the Rifle Range at the Marine Corps Barracks at Quantico) went so far as to claim that the recoiling barrel had a positive impact on bayonet fighting “a recoiling barrel can provide extra thrust in bayonet fighting, as in the case of a boxer who in striking a blow, at the moment of contact… straightens his elbow smartly.” The Johnson Automatics manual for the rifle even claimed that testing against pine board showed that “the short recoil of the barrel actually tends to increase the penetration of the bayonet.”

From the May 1940 Senate hearing records we know that the R-14 wasn’t always fitted with the barrel with the enclosed handguard. It was one of several rifles used by Captain Van Orden to test the rifle’s accuracy and there is not mention in his account of the rifle’s barrel being shrouded with a handguard. This isn’t too surprising as the Johnson’s barrel can be removed easily and readily swapped out.

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Close up of the guide collar at the rear end of the handguard (Matthew Moss)

The bayonet lug appears to be designed to mount a US Army M1905 bayonet, the sword bayonet issued with the M1903 Springfield. The assembly also has a sling swivel. R-14’s barrel is 23.75 inches long – this is a little longer than the standard 22 inch barrel, but 24 inch barrels were an option offered by Johnson Automatics. The round wooden grips panels are held in place by three pairs of slips and the nosecap and the guide collar.

Other than the forend this rifle also has a slightly different style of rear sight compared to the M1941 production rifles. The receiver markings are also simpler with calibre, patents and a plain maker’s mark, with serial number at the bottom.

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A closer look at the handguard’s nosecap and bayonet lug (Matthew Moss)

The addition of the handguard certainly does allow a greater area for the forward hand to grip the rifle. But what is less clear is the effect the added mass of the handguard, nosecap and bayonet (when mounted) had on the cycling of the gun. Logic would suggest that any weight added to the barrel would slow the its travel and potentially cause reliability issues. The handguard and bayonet would have added at least 2lbs. Sadly, I’ve been unable to find any documentary evidence to tell us how the rifle functioned with the forend. No mention of the handguard is made during the Senate committee hearing but a ‘fixed-type’ bayonet is mentioned which is described as “not in any way interfering with the recoil of the barrel.” This was presumably referring to the long Johnson Sword Bayonet. Despite them being offered as an official option it is fair to presume that the rifle would have struggled to operate properly when fitted with the handguard.

When the Johnson finally entered production it was with an exposed barrel as he intended and R-14 remains one of the few examples to have the Johnson’s optional handguard.

Many thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum for allowing us to examine and film the rifle and take a look at a rare example of the Johnson Automatics optional extra handguard.

 

If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great new perks available for Patreon Supporters.


Bibliography:

Military Handbook of the Johnson Semi-Automatic Rifle (1939)

The Johnson Semiautomatic Rifle: Hearing Before the Committee on Military Affairs, United States Senate, Seventy-sixth Congress, Third Session, on S. 3983, a Bill to Provide for the Adoption of the Johnson Semiautomatic Rifle as a Standard Arm of the Military and Naval Forces, May 29, 1940 (source)

Johnson Rifles and Machine Guns: The Story of Melvin M. Johnson, Jr. and His Guns, B. Canfield (2002)

The Model of 1941 Johnson Rifle in Marine Service, B. Canfield, American Rifleman, (source)

Johnson R-14, Cody Firearms Museum, (source)


 

Winchester Model 1905 .45ACP Conversion

During my recent visit to the Cody Firearms Museum I was lucky enough to examine a number of interesting firearms (more videos soon). In this video we take a look at a Winchester Model 1905 chambered in .45 ACP.

The Model 1905 was originally designed by Thomas Crossley Johnson, as a commercial rifle chambered in either .32 or .35 Winchester Self Loading. It was the second of a series of blowback operated rifles Johnson designed between 1903 and 1910.

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Right-side profile of the converted Model 1905 (Matthew Moss)

The origins of this gun, however, are less clear. It is part of the Cody Firearms Museum’s impressive collection and is believed to be a Winchester-made prototype. Dating the rifle is more difficult. It was originally believed to have been developed during the First World War but the Winchester Arms Collection’s records date the rifle to 1919. It has also been suggested that the conversion may have been developed by Winchester as an auxiliary arm for the US Army, as a replacement for the 1911 pistol for some troops – much along the lines of the later .30 carbine. There are no records, however, to suggest the .45 ACP Model 1905 was ever officially tested.

Herbert Houze, former curator of the Cody Firearms Museum, believed the conversion was actually developed after World War Two. No patents or Winchester documents are known to refer to it but Houze believed that one of Winchester’s engineers, Harry H. Sefried, developed the conversion as a side project with a potential aim to interest law enforcement agencies in a carbine chambered in the readily available .45 ACP round.

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The carbine with the 1911 magazine removed and the bolt back (Matthew Moss)

Taking a stock rifle a number of changes were made, the rifle was re-barrelled and rechambered for the .451-inch .45 ACP round and the bolt face was modified slightly. The 1905 originally fed from straight 5 or 10-round box magazines. In order to feed from a Colt 1911 magazine a new magazine housing was added. The curved front of the trigger guard has been machined back and is now flush with the rear of the conversion housing which appears to be integral to the lower receiver’s frame. On close inspection we can clearly see that parts have been brass brazed together around the original magazine release and inside the magazine well.

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With the 1905’s upper receiver removed we can see how the 1911 magazine aligns with the bolt and breech (Matthew Moss)

The rounded magazine housing has a new magazine release positioned at the front of the magazine, as in the 1911 and allows the magazine to be inserted at an angle. The ejection port has also been altered with an additional cut-out being made at the top to aid ejection.

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With the rifle stripped down and the magazine removed we can see the conversion magazine housing, note what appears to be brass brazing (Matthew Moss)

Take down remains the same, with the upper and lower separating once the take down screw at the rear of the receiver is loosened. The conversion appears to be well thought out and the finish and care taken would indicate this was rifle wasn’t a rough proof of concept prototype. Sadly, there is no information on how the conversion performed.

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A close up of the rifle’s receiver and Colt 1911 magazine (Matthew Moss)

Regardless of the origins of the conversion Winchester never offered the chambering commercially and this prototype is the only example known to exist. Today, it is held by the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West in Wyoming. The museum has just undergone a major renovation and is well worth visiting. Our special thanks to the CFM for letting us examine this rare rifle.

Herbert Houze, the former Curator of the Cody Firearms Museum who is mentioned in this article and video, recently passed away – this video is dedicated to his memory.


If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great new perks available for Patreon Supporters.


Bibliography:

‘Winchester Center Fire Automatic Rifles’ ARMAX, The Journal of the Cody Firearms Museum (Vol. III, No. 1, 1990), K.F. Schreier Jr.

My thanks to Danny Michael, the CFM’s assistant curator, for additional information from Herb Houze

 

Browning Prototypes – Detachable Box Magazine Lever Action Rifle

The rifle we’re examining is one of dozens of designs sold by the Brownings to the Winchesters Repeating Arms Company during their long relationship. This design dates from the early 1890s and represents one of Browning’s numerous attempts to move away from the tube magazine-fed designs favoured by Winchester.

The prototype is based around the lever-actuated vertically sliding locking block patented by Browning in May 1884 and first used by Winchester in the Model 1886. The rifle itself is in the ‘military musket’ configuration with full-length handguards, military sights, a cleaning rod and able to mount a bayonet.

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Right side of the rifle (Matthew Moss)

The rifle is chambered in a .45 calibre cartridge, likely .45-70, and weighs just over 9lbs. Browning patented the design of the rifle and magazine in August 1891, with the patent being granted in December (US #465339). It is attributed to John Moses Browning and his younger brother Matthew S. Browning.

The most interesting feature of the rifle is its detachable box magazine. The magazine is held in place by a spring-loaded catch at the front of the magazine which locks against a tab in the magazine’s wall.

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A close up of the magazine well, note the added metal lip of the front of the well, not a part of the receiver (Matthew Moss)

It differs from the box magazines previously developed by James Paris Lee, which Lee begun developing in the mid-1870s (see examples listed below). It’s a simple design with a follower powered by a coil spring. The prototype mag itself is made from pressed metal and is held together with some rough welds. Unlike the magazines we’re familiar with today, the top of the Browning’s magazine is almost entirely enclosed with only a small opening at the rear. The rounds would be loaded nose-first with their rims sliding into the channel at the rear of the magazine.

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Close up of the magazine removed from the rifle – right side (Matthew Moss)
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A view of the top of the magazine with the small opening and notch for the cartridge rime visible (Matthew Moss)

The single-stack magazine appears to hold around five rounds, with Browning’s patent supporting this. The position of the magazine, in front of the action – not below it, is a hint at how it worked. An almost fully enclosed magazine does have its advantages – it would have prevented dirt from entering the mag and it also overcame the need for feed lips which were susceptible to damage, one of the elements which took Lee some time to perfect.

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A close up of the front wall of the magazine, note the locking notch (Matthew Moss)

So How Did The Magazine Work?

There is a shoulder on the underside of the bolt which caught the rim of the cartridge which was protruding from the magazine. The bolt pulled the cartridge backwards, out of the magazine and onto a cartridge lifter. As the lever reached its full forward travel the lifter then elevated the round up into line with the breech. When the lever was cycled back again the round was pushed off the lifter and chambered, just as in a normal tube-fed Winchester. As the lever reached the end of its return travel the locking block rose to locked the action.

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The Browning’s 1891 patent for the magazine, note ‘h‘ is the shoulder which pulled rounds out of the magazine (US Patent Office)

The prototype has a sliding safety bar that locks the lever and blocks the trigger. The trigger differs from the Model 1886 as it is integrated with the lever. In the photograph below we can see the locking block descended, with the lever forward, and the breech block to the rear with the action open. We can also see the striker assembly at the rear of the bolt. The striker cocks on closing when the lever is returned rearward.

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The rifle with its action open, bolt o the rear and lever forward. Note the striker assembly at the rear of the bolt (Matthew Moss)

It’s quite an exposed action, with the entire top of the action open. With the action closed in the photograph below we can see the extractor running along the right side of the bolt.

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A close up of the rifle’s receiver which is still ‘in the white’ (Matthew Moss)

It’s clear from the design of the magazine that Browning didn’t intend the rifle to be reloaded with stripper clips, although single loading of the rifle itself (not the magazine) would have been possible. When compared to other contemporary system this would have been somewhat of a disadvantage compared to Lee’s magazine’s later loading with chargers and stripper clips. However, from examination of Browning’s 1891 patent his intention becomes clear, the patent explains that he intended for the magazine itself to be replaced:

“One magazine may be readily removed from the gun and another introduced in its place, so that the person, using the arm may have at hand several magazines to be interchanged as the cartridges from one magazine are exhausted.”

This is a concept that wouldn’t be accepted by militaries for decades. Winchester purchased the rights to the design but this was one of many designs Browning sold the company which never saw production. The design and prototype are fascinating and represent one of Browning’s lesser-known concepts.

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Left side profile of the rifle (Matthew Moss)

This rifle is a unique prototype and it was a true honour to examine it. It’s now on display at the newly refurbished Cody Firearms Museum, at the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West. The new museum is phenomenal and well worth a visit. Our thanks to the museum for allowing us to film items, like this one, from the museum’s collection.

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Bibliography:

‘Magazine Gun’ J.M. & M.S. Browning, US Patent #465339, 15 Dec. 1891 (source)

John M Browning: American Gunmaker, J. Browning & C. Gentry (1964)

Some of James Paris Lee’s magazine patents, for comparison:

‘Improvement in Magazine Fire-arms’, J.P. Lee, US Patent #221328, 4 Nov. 1879 (source)

‘Magazine For Fire Arms’, J.P. Lee & L.P. Diss, US Patent #295563, 25 Mar. 1884 (source)

‘Magazine Fire Arm’, J.P. Lee, US Patent #383363, 22 May, 1888 (source)

‘Gun Magazine’, J.P. Lee, US Patent #627824, 27 Jun. 1899 (source)