Last year I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Cody Firearms Museum’s Arsenals of History Symposium. I’ve been working with my friend Jonathan Ferguson of the Royal Armouries on a research paper looking at British use of the AR-15 platform. My focus for the project has been the user experience, I’ve spoken to over 25 veterans from across the British military who have experience using the AR-15/M16 platform on operations. Chronologically their experiences span nearly 60 years and this somewhat informal presentation gives a brief overview of some of the operations where the rifles have been used from the Indonesian Confrontation right through to the present day.
If you’re a member or former member of the British armed forces with experience with the AR-15/M16 platform I would love to hear from you, please reach out via firstname.lastname@example.org. Your help and insights would be invaluable.
Once the project is completed I’ll put together a more in-depth video discussing the history of the UK’s use of AR-15/M16-pattern rifles.
Very much looking forward to attending the 2022 Arsenal of History Symposium and co-presenting with Jonathan Ferguson (of the Royal Armouries). Our paper is on the British Army’s use of the AR-15 from the early 1960s to the present day!
As part of the project I am also looking to speak to UK armed forces veterans who have experience using the AR-15/M16 platform from 1964 to the present. If you or someone you know would like to share their experiences and impressions of the rifle please drop me an email at email@example.com!
There are lots of other great speakers during the Symposium, check out full details here.
This month sees the relaunch of the ARMAX: The Journal of Contemporary Arms, the academic journal of the Cody Firearms Museum. The first edition of the new ARMAX covers everything from Dutch Uzis to the EM2 in Malaya, from East German AK-74s to a CIA assassination pistol.
I’m especially excited about the new journal as it contains one of my first published journal articles, it’s titled ‘The Winchester Repeating Arms Company’s Exports to Foreign Powers During the First World War’. The article leverages the research I undertook while a research fellow at the Cody Firearms Museum a couple of years ago. It examines the work of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company during the First World War. Specifically this article explore the breadth and variety of the work done for the Entente powers. I cover everything from the Russian contract Model 1895 lever-action rifles to the air-service self-loading rifles and of course the British Pattern 1914 rifle.
My advanced copy arrived just a day or two ago and I’m so pleased to see my research in print alongside some fantastically interesting work from friends and colleagues. Below are some photos of the journal and above is a first look video.
If you’re interested in up-to-the-minute small arms research then I highly recommend checking out the relaunched ARMAX journal, I’m very excited to see the next edition. Find out more about the journal and read the abstract for my article here.
By 1895 Winchester had been considering a slide-action rifle for some time, in 1882 William Mason had begun work on one (US Patent #278987) to counter Colt’s slide-action Lightning only to drop it. Finally in 1890, Winchester introduced a slide-action .22 calibre rifle developed by John Browning. The Model 1890 became extremely popular.
Between 1887 and 1895 Browning patented four slide-action rifle designs. The first of these, US patent #367336, was granted in July 1887, this was followed in 1888 by US patent #385238. In September 1890, the Browning brothers were granted US patent #436965, which along with the previous 1888 patent protected what became the Model 1890. Three years later Winchester introduced the Model 1893 pump action shotgun, that would eventually evolve into the famous Winchester Model 1897.
Finally, April 1895, Browning filed a patent for a design for a .30 calibre rifle which was granted in September 1895 (US patent #545672) This patent covers the rifle we’re examining here. The rifle itself is a slide or pump action in long barrelled configuration which Winchester described as a ‘Musket’.
The September 1895 slide-action design was purchased by Winchester but like so many other Browning designs, it never entered production and Winchester purchased the design purely to secure it and prevent other rival manufacturers picking it up. Winchester instead went with a lever-action design, patented in November 1895 (US #549345), which became the famous Winchester Model 1895.
The September 1895 slide or pump-action rifle design had a laterally camming locking breechblock. As we can see, externally Browning’s toolroom prototype looks somewhat similar to the contemporary Winchester Model 1895, with a single-stack integrated box magazine but with a pump sleeve rather than a lever.
An action-bar connects the slide/pump to the front of the breechblock/bolt carrieron the right-hand side of the rifle. The slide handle itself is made of a U-shaped piece of metal which wraps around the rifle’s forend. The slide has been roughly cross hatched to improve grip. There is a channel cut into the furniture for the action arm’s attachment point to travel. The slide is attached to the arm by a pair of screws.
However, Browning developed this prototype to allow loading of the magazine from below rather than through the top of the receiver. He added a hinged floor plate, with a spring loaded follower, that allowed loose rounds to be dropped into the magazine and then closed.
As we open the magazine, hinging the cover plate down, we see the carrier flip down against the plate to allow loading. The rifle was designed to be loaded from below with the bolt forward.
In the patent description Browning explained that his aim was to improve breech-loading box-magazine firearms by designing:
“…a simple, compact, strong, highly effective, and safe gun, containing comparatively few parts and constructed with particular reference to provision for charging the box-magazine with cartridges from the bottom of the frame of the arm while the breech-bolt is in its closed position, so that the arm may be charged without operating its action mechanism or disturbing the cartridge in the gun-barrel, if one is there.”
From the original patent drawings we can see the flat spring which acted on the carrier running below the barrel, ahead of the magazine. Inside the magazine are a pair of what Browning refers to as ‘spring fingers’ these act on the cartridges inside the magazine and keep them properly aligned, seen here in Fig.7 of the patent. In Fig.8 we can see what Browning calls a ‘box-like guideway’ which guide the rims of the cartridges, “preventing the cartridges from being displaced while being fed upwards.”
The rifle’s breechblock locked into a recess in the left side of the receiver, tilting at an angle with the rear of the breechblock canting to the left. When the pump handle was pulled rearwards the breechblock cammed laterally to unlock the action, extracted and ejected any spent casing and when the slide/pump was returned forward a new cartridge was picked up from the magazine, chambered the breechblock locked again ready to fire. The rifle’s hammer was cocked by the rearward movement of the breechblock.
Externally, the slide-action’s receiver looks similar to that of the production Model 1895 but internally they are very different. The action is certainly less open than the Model 1895’s but the lateral locking mechanism is less robust. Additionally, with no lever, as in the Model 1895, the slide-action rifle lacks the safety mechanism which prevents the action from opening accidentally.
The model is in the white and while externally the machining and tool work is very neat, inside the action we can see where the cuts in the receiver wall have been more crudely made. In terms of design, the slide-action prototype was certainly simpler and had fewer working parts than the Model 1895 lever-action.
Winchester purchased the .30 calibre slide-action design but never produced it, it is believed that only Browning’s prototype was built to prove the concept. The prototype was part of Winchester’s collection and may now be found at the Cody Firearms Museum.
Today, were taking a look at a Winchester prototype developed in the mid-1860s, a period when Winchester was seeking to build on the success of the 1860 Henry Rifle and place the company on a firm financial footing. Oliver Winchester had taken control of the New Haven Arms company before the Civil War and while for a time it had been known as the Henry Repeating Arms Company he eventually sought to put his stamp on the company, renaming it Winchester Arms Company in 1866. At the same time he decided to focus the company’s energies on winning military contracts around the world.
This developmental prototype is in the ‘musket’ configuration: with a longer barrel, a bayonet lug and a wooden forend. The prototype represents one of the many developmental steps towards what would become the Model 1866. It has a number of interesting features – a steel, rather than brass, receiver and a hinged loading port developed by Nelson King, Winchester’s superintendent between 1866 and 1875.
The rifle itself was built by Luke Wheelock, Winchester’s model room mechanic and a designer in his own right who would go onto develop his own rifle designs for Winchester.
The rifle is 54.5 inches long, with a 33.75 inch barrel. Believed to have been built in 1866, it is chambered for a .45 calibre rimfire round. King patented his loading port in May 1866. He described how the port worked:
“Through one of the plates S (preferring that one upon the right-hand side) I form an opening, 0, as denoted by broken lines, Fig. 1, and also seen in section, Fig. 7. This opening is formed so as to communicate through the frame directly to the chamber E in the carrier block, as seen in Fig. 3. Through this opening, and while the carrier-block is down and all parts of the arm in a state of rest, insert the cartridges, point first, through the said opening in the plate S into the chamber E the second cartridge pressing the first into the magazine, and so on with each successive cartridge until the magazine is filled, or until the requisite number has been inserted therein, the follower G being pressed up before the entering cartridges. In the rear of the chamber E2 the frame forms a shoulder to prevent the cartridges from being forced out through the opening in the plate S3 is a cover for closing the opening in the plate S3 and is hinged thereto, as seen in Figs. 1 and 7, the hinge being provided with a spring,a1, the tendency of which is to open the cover C. A spring-catch, d, (see Fig. 1,) secures the cover when closed, so that by pressing upon the said catch the cover will fly open. After the requisite number of cartridges have been placed within the magazine, close the cover, as seen in Figs. 1 and 2.”
To paraphrase: ammunition can be loaded through the opening in one of the receiver side plate when the carrier block is down, insert the cartridges through the opening, pressing the first into the magazine and so on until the magazine is filled… a cover for closing the opening is hinged to the receiver side plate. A spring catch secures the cover when closed.
According to Herbert Houze, King developed the covered loading port design in early January 1866, with a design drawing dating to the 14th January, confirming this.
King altered the design of the rifle’s cartridge carrier so that a cartridge could pass through its lower section straight into the magazine when the action was closed. In theory the aperture could be placed on either side of the receiver, in practice is was placed on the right. Prior to this Winchester had experimented with systems where the tube could slide forward (G.W. Briggs US #58937), a port in the base of the receiver (J.D. Smith US #52934) or a sliding forearm covering a loading port at the rear of the magazine tube (O.F. Winchester UK #3284 [19/12/1865]).
King’s system had the benefit of allowing the rifle to be quickly loaded or topped off without rendering the rifle unusable while loading. Positioning the port in the receiver allowed the magazine tube to be enclosed by a wooden forend.
A cartridge guide was fitted inside the receiver which guided rounds through the cartridge carrier and into the tube magazine. The rounds were prevented from popping out of the magazine, when the carrier was aligned and the cover open, by a shallow shoulder which projected in line with the carrier’s channel to hold cartridges in the tube by their rim.
The hinged cover is held shut by a spring catch mounted on the rear of the cover. When the knurled section on its front is pressed rearwards the cover pops open. The spring catch is actuated when it tensions against the cover’s hinge as it is closed. On the back of the cover there is also a cartridge stop for when the cover is closed.
Another small but interesting feature of the prototype is the catch at the rear of the lever loop, this differs from the manually turned catch seen on the Henry and production 1866. This design appears to be a much better safety feature, simply requiring the user’s hand to depress the catch to unlock it from the stock. It also appears to be a much simpler mechanism than that seen in later models like the Model 1895. The trigger also had an extension protruding from its rear which appears to prevent the trigger from being pulled when the lever isn’t full closed. Neither of these features appear in King’s May 1866 patent.
It appears that the idea of the port with a hinged cover was superseded by what we now recognise as the classic Winchester loading gate in the summer of 1866. King’s new system replaced the hinged cover with a piece of stamped spring steel attached to the inside of the receiver side plate by a screw. The spring steel gate could be pushed in, with the nose of a cartridge, to allow rapid loading. The front face of the gate formed a cartridge guide removing the need for the separate machined guide used in King’s earlier iteration of the system.
King’s revised loading port system required just five, rather than twelve, components: King’s altered cartridge carrier, receiver side plate, spring metal loading gate plate and retaining screws. This simple but elegant design continued to be used for decades on various models of rifle. The company were so pleased with the refinement of the rifle that, according to R.L. Wilson, King was awarded a payment of a $5,000 reward by the company’s board of directors.
Winchester introduced the rifle in 1866, with the first deliveries being made early in 1867, the new rifle was offered in various barrel lengths and patterns including carbine, rifle and ‘musket’. Winchester found some success selling 1866 rifles to the militaries of France and the Ottoman Empire, while many other countries purchased rifles for testing including Britain and Switzerland (whom came close to adopting the Winchester.) The rifles also found success on the civilian market with around 4,500 sold in the first five months.
The Scientific American described the new rifles as “elegant in appearance, compact, strong, and of excellent workmanship. On examination we find its working parts very simple, and not apparently liable to derangement.”
King incrementally developed his loading system before radically simplifying it and this prototype rifle represents an important developmental step in the design of what would become the Model 1866 – one of Winchester’s most important rifles.
Special thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum for allowing us to take a look at this fascinating prototype rifle.
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Winchester Repeating Arms Company, H. Houze (1994)
Winchester: An American Legend, R. L. Wilson (1991)
In 1940, following the evacuation from Dunkirk the British Army was in desperate need of small arms, with over 100,000 rifles left behind in France. In dire need of rifles Britain turned to the US and its huge industrial base and approached a number of companies about tooling up to produce Lee-Enfield Rifle No.4s. Savage Arms took on one contract and projected production of 1,000 per day but establishing production of a rifle US companies didn’t have the tooling and gauges for would take time.
Remington was also approached by the British Purchasing Commission and asked if they could manufacture up to 400,000 rifles. Remington estimated it would take up to 30 months to tool up for No.4 production. However, Remington believed that if they could lease the old tooling previously used at the Rock Island Arsenal to produce M1903s, from the US Government, they could tool up to produce the M1903 in just 12 months. It was suggested that the tooling be adapted to produce rifles chambered in the British .303 cartridge. Some ergonomic changes could also be made so the rifles mimicked the British No.4.
On 12th December 1940, the British government issued a Letter of Intent to Remington for the manufacture of 500,000 rifles in .303 British. Some sources suggest the British agreed to an advanced payment of $4,000,000. Much of this covered the lease, transport and refurbishment of the M1903 tooling. The rest went on the purchase of raw materials and the necessary accessories for half a million rifles.
The tooling lease was agreed in March 1941, and the US Government also supplied 600,000 stock blanks which had been in storage in exchange for ammunition produced by Remington. With the passage of the Lend-Lease act, on 11th March, the Remington contract came under the control of the US Government, rather than a private order. Remington received the last tooling shipments from Rock Island Arsenal on 22nd April, and by the end of May had the production line up and running.
A contract to produce the hybrid rifles at a cost of $5 per rifle was agreed in late June. Remington’s engineers began setting up the equipment and working out an ad hoc production layout that would allow 1,000+ rifles per day to be built. At least four pilot models were built, with some of these guns being sent to Britain. The rifles were reportedly received in September 1941, and following preliminary examination were described as “very successful”. Four of the rifles were distributed for further testing but by the end of 1941 the project had been abandoned.
Remington made a number of external and internal changes to approximate the British No.4. They fitted a front sight post with sight protectors which was moved further back from the muzzle to enable the rifle to mount a Rifle No.4 spike bayonet. As such the upper barrel band does not have a bayonet lug.
Many of these parts are still in-the-white, unfinished, including the barrel, barrel bands, floor plate, front sight assembly, rear sight assembly and the bolt itself. The bolt does, however, have a parkerized cocking piece.
The hybrid also moves the rear sight back onto the receiver, which necessitates a longer piece of wooden furniture covering where the M1903’s ladder sight would normally be. The style of rear sight was also changed to a two-position flip sight with apertures for 300 and 600 yards mimicking those seen on the No.4 Mk2.
They also redesigned the charger guide to support the Lee-Enfield-type chargers rather than the M1903 stripper clips. The bolt was adapted to work with Britain’s rimmed .303 round, with the extractor modified for the British cartridges wider, thicker rim.
The rifle did not have the Lee-Enfield’s detatchable box-magazine, instead retaining the M1903’s 5-round internal magazine. The magazine follower does not appear to have been altered either. Markings on the rifle are minimal and include a ‘7’ on the front sight post, a ‘B2’ on the bolt handle and a ‘2’ stamped on the magazine follower. No roll marks or serial numbers appear to be present.
The rifle’s stock has also been adapted, so instead of a straight wristed-stock a piece of wood has been spliced in to create a Lee-Enfield style contour, forming a semi-pistol grip. The stock is marked with the inspector marks ‘WJS’, which indicate the stock was originally inspected by W.J. Strong and accepted between 1918 and 1921, as well as a pair of later Springfield Armory inspection cartouches: ‘SPG’ – the initials of Stanley P. Gibbs, who was an inspector at Springfield Armory between 1936-1942 and ‘GHS’ – the initials of Brigadier General Gilbert H. Stewart (GHS), Springfield’s commander in the late 1930s- early 1940s. This would suggest that the stock was refurbished at Springfield Armory before being transferred to Remington where it was subsequently adapted.
In August 1941, the US began its re-armament programme and in September the British contract with Remington was cancelled. At the same time production in Canada and at Savage’s J. Stevens Arms division in the US had gotten underway and it was decided that the adapted hybrid .303 M1903s developed at Remington was no longer needed. The hybrid contract was formally cancelled in December 1941, and additional .30-06 M1903s and M1917s were taken under the Lend-Lease Agreement to fulfil the needs of the Home Guard. Savage believed that they could significantly increase the number of rifles they could build per day, they managed to enter full production by the end of 1941 and by 1944 had produced well over 1 million No.4s.
Remington went on to produce M1903s for the US military, overcoming issues with the original engineering drawings and the tooling dimensions to eventual produce 365,000 M1903s by mid-1943, before switching to production of the M1903A3 pattern and producing 707,629 rifles. In total Remington produced 1,084,079 M1903-pattern rifles during World War Two.
The Remington .303 M1903 hybrids are perhaps the rarest M1903 variant, with only a handful built. They would likely have been perfectly serviceable rifles and helped plug the desperate gap in Britain’s arsenal. Rapidly moving events ensured that these rifles became a footnote in both the Lee-Enfield and Springfield 1903’s histories.
Special thanks to both Remington and the Cody Firearms Museum for allowing us to take a look at this extremely rare rifle.
Last summer I had the chance to visit the newly renovated Cody Firearms Museum. With the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic I thought now was a good time to finish my walk-around video taking a look at the new museum.
The $12 million renovation has also allowed the museum to become much more interactive too with working models, touch screens and shooting simulators.
A new intuitive layout lets you explore firearm history either by chronology or by theme. In the photo above we can see some of the displays in the chronological gallery that shows the evolution of civilian and military firearms from their invention to the present.
One of the features I really liked was that many of the cases can be viewed on both sides allowing you to see all around the firearms.
Around the exhibits are touch screens where you can call up more information, first hand war stories and even animations of how various firearms work.
There is also a gallery of ornately decorated firearms which includes some incredible pieces.
Unsurprisingly, the military gallery was one of my favourite parts of the museum with dozens of guns organised by conflict and period.
One of the best features of the original museum has also been retained, a recreation of a gun factory’s drafting room and machine shop.
One of the most interesting little sections is a recreation of a general store showing off some of the items that companies like Winchester made alongside their well known firearms.
Downstairs is a space dedicated to experimental prototypes and a rolling wall of cases that include examples of hundreds of types of firearms and ammunition.
The newly refurbished museum puts the collection front and centre in a way that will enthral the average museum-goer and satisfy any avid gun enthusiast.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)