16 July 23
“Empires aren’t built in a day, but they can disappear in one!”
Jesse Page
Weapons and Empires!
America was technically “neutral” during most of WWI, as President Woodrow Wilson’s personal aversion to armed conflict overrode the pressing need to stop German/Austrian aggression on the European Continent.
For all intents and purposes, America entered the Great War in 1915, with Germany’s U-Boat sinking of the RMS Lusitania, which witnessed Wilson performing an abrupt about-face! He was narrowly re-elected in 1916 with the slogan “He kept us out of war”.
However, Wilson didn’t keep his promise for long! America “officially” entered the War in April of 1917, but America’s aging “Army” at the time was small, insufficiently equipped, and what little equipment there was on-hand was mostly obsolete. Once again, America’s military might had been allowed to badly atrophy, because Wilson (who, like most Democrats, never served) never cared for, nor appreciated, our military services, nor their mission!
In fact, Wilson dubbed WWI “The War to end all Wars,” in order to rationalize his hypocrisy. All wars were bad, but this coming one was “okay,” because it would be the last one we would ever see, or so went the naive narrative.
Thus with even a hurried domestic build-up, first contingents of American troops did not arrive in France until the summer of 1918. The Great War ended in November of the same year.
American General Perishing insisted American troops not be used simply as “replacements” within devastated Allied (British and French) formations. American units would stay together and fight together, and so they did, but only for the last few months of a War that had been going-on since 1914!
In the somber aftermath of WWI, Wilson put-forth his famous “Fourteen Points for World Peace.” Among the sarcastic at the time were a few who pointed-out the God himself only needed Ten! In any event, Wilson’s Fourteen Points were the foundation for his ill-fated (and short-lived) “League of Nations.”
Wilson himself suffered a debilitating stroke in 1919, and Republican Warren Harding subsequently defeated him with a lop-sided victory in the 1920 presidential election. Wilson never recovered and died in 1924.
Most military planners at the time assumed the War would go on at least through the end of 1919, but the arrival of so many American troops made it obvious to now-isolated German leaders that the War would not be concluded on favorable terms if it went on that long, so they threw-in the towel before most expected.
Interestingly, the vast majority of American troopers who fought in Europe that year were issued the “1917 American Enfield Rifle,” not the 1903 Springfield Rifle!
Right up until America’s official entry in the War, Remington’s and Winchester’s entire production capacity had been consumed producing and shipping to the UK copies of the “1914 British Enfield” bolt-gun (303 Brit), as the British could not produce them domestically fast enough. In fact, many ended-up on the bottom of the Atlantic with the sinking of the Lusitania!
Remington also produced Mosin bolt-guns for the Russians (7.62x54R).
With America’s entry into the War, instead of retooling American factories to make 1903 Springfields, the decision was made to just keep producing the British rifle, albeit now chambered for 30-06, rather than 303 British, and re-designated it the “1917 American Enfield.”
The 1917 American Enfield was slightly heavier than the 1903 Springfield, but was well-liked by troopers, and it featured a very popular aperture rear sight, rather than the rear notch on the 1903 Springfield (Springfield Rifles would eventually be fitted with aperture rear sights too).
After the War, the 1903 Springfield regained its title as the “Official US Rifle.” The War Department preferred the 1903 Springfield to the 1917 American Enfield, because it was manufactured at a US Arsenal, while 1917
American Enfields had all been manufactured by a private contractor.
The 1903 Springfield held its title until 1936, when it was superceded by the Garand, although many 1903 Springfields (and Enfields) continued in active service throughout WWII. Some even saw service during the Korean War!
An extended (non-detachable) magazine version of the 1903 Springfield was made for a short time. It held twenty-five rounds and was designed for use on aircraft. Of course, it had no bayonet lug. It came along vary late in the War. Some ended-up with American ground forces in Europe, but it is unlikely any were ever used in actual fighting. Only a few copies are known to exist today.
In the very early 1900s, even before WWI, the US Government started selling 1903 Springfield Rifles to private domestic inventors in the hope they would come-up with viable autoloading conversions.
US military’s interest in autoloading rifles was obviously keen, even back then!
Many inventors got-in on the offer and produced a number of interesting/comical candidates, none of which ever saw the light of day. For the world’s militaries, “converting” existing old technology into “new technology,” as a cost-saving measure, is usually a wasted effort. It surely was in this case!
The 1903 Springfield Rifle, 1917 American Enfield Rifle, as well as the autoloading Garand Rifle, BAR, and various Browning machineguns were all chambered for 30-06 (7.62×63).
Curiously, it was not until 1939, that the term “WWI” was coined. Time Magazine was the first to use the term in its 12 June 1939 issue. Prior to that, what we call “WWI” was known only as “The Great War.” Until then, no one wanted to face the likelihood that “WWII,” brewing since way back in 1919, was about to see the light of day!
WWI marked the end of the Hapsburg Dynasty in Europe, and the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, both of which had wielded power since the 11th Century!
The era of “The Great Powers” was entering a new phase!
“Earth is littered with ruins of empires, who once believed they were eternal.”
Percy Shelley