FIRST WORLD WAR 1914 - 1918 ........................................................... SECOND WORLD WAR 1939 - 1945
The first two rifles shown on this page are in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, London, and the images were taken by courtesy of the Museum Trustees.
Below: The Winchester "Winder" Musket military style training/target rifle in .22 rimfire calibre.
The rifle was so named after its development had been actively promoted by Col. C.B. Winder of Ohio, an officer who recommended the use of a near service-rifle weight miniature calibre arm for economical training. The term "Winder" was never officially recognised by Winchester, but became a household name nonetheless. The term is only attributable to the .22RF calibre rifle, and specifically only those of military configuration.
Below: the "Sharps" style falling block action operated by the under-lever, and a closer view of the fully-aft mounted rear-sight. Earlier models had the rear-sights mounted further forward on their barrels. but it was decided that greater aiming accuracy was provided by moving the sight back.
Above: The rear-sight is a traditional ladder type shown in the long range vertical position. This later configuration used the US Krag-Jorgensen rifle's rear-sight, rather than the Hotchkiss unit fitted to the early First Model two band Winder Muskets.
The above example is in .22 Long calibre and is a "High-Wall" and "Thin Wall" version, referring to the height of the side walls of the action alongside the falling block and the hammer, and the reduction in width of the whole action from about a quarter-inch behind the front of the action. On the "Low-Wall" rifle, the action sides are cut lower in a concave radius; the hammer is thereby more exposed and the chamber easier to load with the small .22 rimfire cartridge. Rifles were also available chambered for the .22 Short cartridge.
The Winder musket was, in its time, produced in three types, the first two of which were of High Wall and the latter of mainly Low Wall configuration.
Originally a Browning design, the action's patent and rights to manufacture were bought by Winchester in 1883. Browning's 1979 Patent for the falling-block action is shown below. The following link will take you to the Patent Application.
Or you can scroll through the Patent in the window below.
The first .22 rimfire rifle on this action was the Model 1885 and the latter, the Model 1887. These rifles were used for target and training purposes well into the early Twentieth Century. Between 1918 and 1919, a little under 11,500 rifles were purchased by the United States Ordnance and many were issued to American N.R.A. affiliated rifle clubs. superseded by the 1922 Model bolt-action training rifle, the Winder muskets were sold off. By mid-Century these sturdy stalwarts were becoming almost cast-off, as more modern and efficient designs came into being Post WWII.
With the advent of the 21st. Century, the Winder Musket has become a sought-after collector's piece.
The most unusual aspect of the little 1903 Winchester semi-automatic in .22 rimfire calibre shown below
is not so much the rifle as where it has been, and the use to which it was put.
Whilst of .22 calibre, the rifle was chambered for the rimfire Winchester Auto cartridge rather than the .22 Long or Long Rifle cartridge more regularly seen in the U.K. at that time. The 1903 was the first semi-automatic "miniature calibre" rifle manufactured by Winchester and, since the British .22 rimfire ammunition was loaded with fouling and corrosive black powder, the smokeless-powder loaded Winchester round was deemed more suitable for a semi-automatic action.
Above: a comparison of the .22 Winchester Rimfire calibre rimfire cartridge (left) with the .22 Long Rifle cartridge (centre), and the Winchester Auto (right) as used in the 1903 rifle.
The latter cartridge's images are courtesy of A.O. (Tony) Edwards
Here shown at approximately 150% of actual size, the Winchester cartridge cases are approximately 20 "thou" greater in diameter than the .225" of the Long Rifle cartridge and have a tapered crimp at the neck of the case, as opposed to the flush 'heeled' bullet of the Long Rifle cartridge.
Below: the "business" side of the 1903 model
Shown below is the top of the action marked as U.S. property and carrying the military "Flaming Bomb" stamping.
The top LHS of the action body also carries the well-known British acceptance mark of the "Broad Arrow", along with the inspector's mark.
This rifle was introduced into British service in two small batches - each of 300 units - in 1916 and 1917 respectively - specifically for assistance in training Royal Flying Corps and, latterly, Royal Air Force aircrew in gunnery; (the Air Force Bill received Royal Assent in November 1917, the Air Ministry was formed on 2nd. January 1918, and the Royal Air Force officially came into being on 1st. of April of that year). It has, however, been reported elsewhere that only 500 of the 600 contract came to Europe as late as 1918.
Full-bore Winchester under-lever rifles were known to have been used by Royal Flying Corps pilots and observers during the early stages of the First World War (1914 -1918) in addition to their side-arms. The side-arms most commonly in use were .455 calibre revolvers and, later, when the British Government bought in small batches specifically for R.F.C. aircrew use, .455 calibre Colt 1911 Automatic pistols. Such small-arms were really more used in the air to dissuade enemy reconnaissance aircraft from loitering over one's own lines than with specific intent to shoot down enemy aircraft. The infliction of damage or wounding in this way was not completely unknown, but comparatively rare. Pistols were carried rather as personal protection in the event of a forced landing on the "wrong side of the lines" than as weapons of attack.
For many years, aircrew have been encouraged to shoot small-arms of all kinds to "sharpen" their reflexes and practice gunnery. Clay pigeon shooting with shotguns has been a particularly popular and useful 'training' discipline - of great assistance in teaching the "leading" of fast moving TARGETS . Indeed, at about the same time that these .22 rifles were brought to the U.K. by the British Government, a batch of 12 bore shotguns was also procured from Winchester via the U.S. Government.
The rifle is shown below partly disassembled
In his very recently published book "British Secondary Small Arms 1914-1919 - Part II, R.F.C. and R.N.A.S." the late Tony ( A.O.) Edwards stated that over half-a-million rounds of .22 Winchester Auto rimfire ammunition was bought in with the first batch of 1903 rifles, with a further contract for 300,000 rounds per month. This would indicate that, by the time all 600 rifles were in service, each one was firing an average of 1,000 rounds every month.
The illustrated example of this wartime purchase is the only one presently known to the Imperial War Museum, which leaves 599 to be accounted for! Do you perhaps own, or know of the whereabouts of, another? The screw-threaded muzzle on the IWM rifle, for the fitment of a sound moderator, would suggest that it moved into private hands as a sporting rifle after the Great War; this could, most likely, have been the fate of many of the worthy 600.
That many of the rifles were not returned to the U.S., after the War, (those stamped 'US Property' would have been part of a wartime lend-lease arrangement), is evidenced by the fact that, in the early 1920s, A.G. Parker of Birmingham were advertising them for sale. They marketed them alongside their other imports, the Winchesters '90 and 1906, Savage Model 1914, and Remington No.12A U.M.C. pump/slide-action repeating rifles, as well as the ubiquitous Browning semi-automatic .22 rifle. The pump action repeaters sold, at that time, for between five and six pounds, whilst the Browning semi-auto was marketed at just under three pounds, putting the Winchester 1903 semi-autos at a significant premium.
We replicate the advertisement below.
Since A.G. Parker & Co. were then still offering 'large quantities' of .22 Winchester Auto ammunition, evidently far from all of the contracted ammunition was consumed before the end of the First World War.
Interestingly, by 1941, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company's own catalogue advertised a "Model63", which item is replicated below.
This rifle appears to be outwardly almost identical to the 1903 model in most respects, other than the modification of the butt-stock to a pistol-grip design with reduced curvature of the butt-plate and a slightly higher comb, no doubt commensurate wih the fashion and thinking of the day. The rifle was available in the .22 calibre, but intended for the Long Rifle Super-Speed and Super-X cartridges by then in use in North America .
We have been passed the following additional information by a reader and researcher Alan David, now in Australia, who has Royal Air Force documentation of the:
"Establishment of Gunnery and Armament Stores and Equipment" - D9362.
"With regard to the Winchester Model 1903 being used in British Service, this is recorded in the Aircraft Armament Handbook CB1161 dated 1917.
There are a few different versions of this, but in the training aid section there is a nice drawing of an '03 Winchester conjoined to a Lewis gun.
I would imagine that this was the main use for the rifle certainly in the latter part of the War."
This document gives details of that unusual use of the Winchester .22 Semi-Auto rifle "in the field" as a sub-calibre training attachment for the Lewis machine gun, which was one of the most common aircraft armament fitments. By dint of brass straps and wood packing blocks - as illustrated below - the Winchester was attached to the Lewis gun and a trigger linking bar fixed across both weapons. The whole was then to be fitted into a surplus aircraft nacelle mounted on a platform approximately 7 feet x 10 feet, with a handrail, raised onto a tapered wooden tower nearly twenty-three feet high and all constructed out of 4" x 4" and 4" x 2" pine bolted together. Butts were to be constructed with earth and railway sleepers at a range of 90 feet. A moving target system had to be made up using rope and pulleys.
Alan David, to whom we pass a note of thanks, additionally advises us that:
" There are the two known orders to the London Armory Company, the UK Winchester agents, for 300 rifles each, totaling 600 rifles. However I have seen a memorandum at the PRO ( Public Records Office - Kew ) making reference to previous small orders to the LAC including one for 37 rifles. In addition, in the book Winchester Repeating Arms Company by Herbert G. Houze, there is a reference, on page 191, to 550 '03 Winchesters being ordered by Great Britain in 1918, which is well after the two LAC orders which were placed, the first in 1916 and the second in 1917. So it would appear that over 1,000 rifles were purchased in total. Interestingly a number of these rifles have shown up in New Zealand, many with RAF stamped on the receiver, I have one in my collection, complete with a vestige of red paint on the safety button. Some of these rifles have Enfield inspection marks, others do not.
The second source of reference is a hitherto unknown document which I came across at the RAF Museum Library at Hendon – “Gunnery Memoranda”, July – December 1916. This mentions the Winchester .22 rifle, noting that they have plenty on hand for training. Also mentioned are .351 Winchester S/L’s along with .401 Winchesters S/L’s, ( which is, thus far, the only known official reference to these Model 1910 .401 self loaders being used, although this has always been suspected). The reference to them is for training and I suspect the quantity involved was small, probably less than the 120 1907 .351 Winchesters. These .401’s may have been borrowed from France, which nation had a reasonable quantity of them; on the other hand they could have been ordered from the LAC, or a mixture of both!
Interestingly the Gunnery Memoranda goes on to mention the Farquhar Hill rifle also being used as part of the training syllabus. There is no mention of Winchester 1911 shotguns which were definitely purchased, instead Browning S/L shotguns are mentioned, again in the training role. These probably would have been purchased from Le Personne, the UK agents for Browning, as Belgium was over run at the beginning of the Great War."
WINCHESTER SMALL-BORE RIFLES in the SECOND WORLD WAR (1939-1945)
Other Winchester small-bore rifles were supplied to Britain in the Second World War under the American "Lend Lease" programme, in which arms and other military equipment were provided by the U.S.A. on what was effectively a 'Sale or Return' basis. Arms not retained post-war were to be returned, and those kept were to be paid for over a period of time. It is understood that repayment, in whatever 'quid pro quo' form finally agreed, has only very recently been completed, sixty years after the end of the War.
Of particular note, amongst those .22 RF rifles imported, were Winchester 74 semi-automatics. It has been suggested that, amongst a variety of other American manufactured telescopic sights as sold with these rifles by Parker-Hale pre-war, a number of these rifles were fitted with the No.42 straight-sighting telescope, which 'scope was more usually utilised for artillery work, and the rifles moderated with a silencer manufactured, in a batch of 660, by Parker-Hale in March 1942, (see "British Small Arms of WWII" - I.Skennerton). The same reference book indicates that sufficient rifles were possibly not available until acquired via Parker-Hale in mid August of that year, all previous Winchester imports being only in batches of a few tens of numbers. Thus, rifles so configured seem unlikely to have seen the light of day until later in 1942.
Above is an artistic representation of a Winchester 74 similarly
These rifles were supposedly intended for use, by specially trained Home Guard underground units, in the event of an invasion of the U.K. by the German forces; their work was expected to be akin to that undertaken by any disruptive guerrilla force, harrying the enemy and assassinating senior officers or important administrators should the opportunity arise. (see also the Lee-Enfield Rifle No.4T). Veterans of this secretive organisation confirm the use of these rifles in various configurations, and mention the the more likely anticipated usages to include the elimination of guard dogs and sentries, as well as the necessary and practical task of supplying fresh meat to members concealed in their secret "OB" hideouts (Operational Bases).
The official designation for such components of this force were the "Auxiliary Units" of the British Resistance Organisation. This Organisation was the brain-child of Brigadier Colin Gubbins M.C. (Maj. Gen. at close of hostilities) who was one of the formative number in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in 1940, and later became its Executive Officer (CD).
A Junior Officer of the Dorsetshire Regiment latterly described the purpose of these Auxiliary Units as follows:
" The gist of it was that each county along the coast of the U.K. would have its private army of approximately 500 men who would live in underground hideouts , which would be stored with food, ammunition etc., - wait for the invasion to pass over them, then emerge from their Operational Bases causing havoc to the enemy's lines of communication". *
We are fortunate to be able to illustrate the appropriate page from a manual for the S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive) showing the modified Winchester 74 with covering notes. The text is somewhat small, so we copy it alongside the image.
"DESCRIPTION: The Sniper's Rifle is a specially configured .22 calibre Winchester, Model 74 Rifle. The weapon is fitted with a silencer and powerful telescopic sight.
PURPOSE: The Sniper's Rifle is intended to provide special forces personnel with a weapon capable of inflicting a lethal wound at a range of up to 100 yards.
Length without silencer ........ 44"
Length with silencer ........ 52"
Ammunition ....................... .22LR
Magazine capacity ........ 14 rounds
The sketches are of a "Sniper shown in a concealed firing position" and of " The target as seen through the telescopic sight"
"A Weapon that eliminates muzzle flash and muzzle noise offers several advantages to special forces personnel.
(1) The source
of the fire is masked.
(2) The location of the weapon is difficult for the enemy to pinpoint.
(3) The enemy can not identify the numbers or type(s) of weapons firing, or their range.
(4) The weapon has less recoil and is more accurate to fire.
(5) The enemy is harassed and confused.
(6) The sniper has a psychological advantage over the enemy."
Later in the War, once the threat of invasion had receded, many of those trained for the Auxiliary Units volunteered for transfer to the Special Air Service and Special Boat Service (SAS and SBS), subsequently rendering " Stirling" service to the Nation in not dissimilar clandestine duties to those for which they had originally prepared.
Below is the advertisement for the Winchester 74 rifle taken from the company's catalogue of 1941
A more mundane wartime Winchester import was the Model 67, a single-shot bolt-action rifle intended for use as a training rifle. Should you know more of the service of either of these two rifles with the British military or Home Guard during WWII, or even perhaps own an example, then we would be delighted to hear from you.
Below is the advertisement for the Winchester 67 rifle taken from the same catalogue of 1941
* "Stirlings' Men" - by Gavin Mortimer - Cassell 2004
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See also the Winchester Model 1903........Winchester Winder Musket.......Winchester Model_52_rifles
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