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Subject: Lever actions in the trenches?
Aussiegunneragain    6/8/2009 7:43:16 AM
Would there have been a case for the US army in WW1 to revert from using the Springfield Rifle to an old style lever action, like the Winchester 1873? I'm thinking this because there was a lot of close combat in the trenches and in the absense of self-loading weapons the higher rate of fire from the lever action might have been more important than the long range accuracy of a bolt action. Thoughts?
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WarNerd    doubtful   6/8/2009 10:35:07 AM
The Winchester 1873 is a carbine, not a rifle, and fires a blackpowder pistol cartridge (44-40).  While the Winchester 1873 has a higher rate of fire than the bolt action Springfield rifle it is much slower to reload, which must be done one round at a time versus a 5 round stripper clip for the standard Springfield rifle, which negated most of the rate of fire advantage.  The gun was considered to delicate for military use when it was introduced so it could not mount a bayonet (a real negative in trench warfare).
Better choices were available, notably the M1897/M1917 Winchester 12 ga. pump action riotgun (the M1917 adds a bayonet), which the troops referred to as "the trench broom".
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Herald12345    Not an expert.   6/8/2009 11:21:07 AM
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smitty237    Lever actions in WWI   6/8/2009 12:52:40 PM
In 1915 the Imperial Russian Governement ordered 300,000 Winchester designed and made (but Browning marketed) M-1915 leve action rifles, which were based upon the M-1895 rifle.  These rifles were lever action muskets that were designed to compete with Mauser, Krag Jorgensen, and others on the international arms market.  There were designed to fire smokeless ammunition, were fed from five round stripper clips, and mount a bayonet.  The use of stripper clips would make them as fast to load as a Mauser, Springfield, or Enfield, but by only having a five round magazine it eliminates the large round carrying capacities of previous lever action models, such as the Model 1873, which carried a dozen or more rounds.  It was a trade off, and apparently most militaries felt that it was more important to have a low capacity magazine rifle that they could load quickly than one that carried a lot rounds but was terribly slow to load once empty (I would be inclined to agree).  From what I have read the M-1895 was more robust than the Model 73 or 94, which were hunting and ranch rifles, but I would have to believe that they were more susceptible to mud and dirt that conventional bolt action rifles. 
By the end of WWI most of the armies seemed to be oriented toward smaller, hand held automatic weapons.  The Americans were working on the BAR and Thompson, while the Germans and Italians were developing submachine guns.  The mention of the Winchester M-97 shotgun is a good point though.  The Germans were reported so distressed by its use by American doughboys that they officially protested its use due to the horrible wounds it caused.  I guess poison gas and indiscriminate artillery fire was ok, but shotguns were considered inhumane!
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Aussiegunneragain       6/11/2009 9:46:25 AM
Thanks Gent's, thats all very useful ... especially the bit about the Russian Winchesters. I had considered the likelyhood of issues with mud and dirt but I hadn't thought of the reloading problem. I wonder why they didn't just design a Winchester to fit a larger clip, say 8 to 10 rounds, to fit into the Winchester? It would seem a pretty do-able adaptation to me.
Anyway, I'm no scholar of the Eastern Front War but from what I gather the larger front meant it was more like "conventional" warfare in the period, with more manouver by infantry and cavalry and less trench warfare. Maybe in that context the more delicate Winchester was more acceptable than in the trenches on the Western Front?
I still think there was scope for something quicker firing earlier than the first SMG's came on line in the West though. I far prefer the idea of charging into an enemy's trench with a weapon that I could fire several rounds quickly from before I got into bayonet distance, as opposed to a bolt action where I only effectively had one up the spout. The pump action shotty sounds like a good bet and I agree that banning them was ridiculous in the context of what other weapons did to men. From what I heard the Brits used to use champion clay target shooters to hit grenades early in their flight, but when they started shooting German's rather than grenades the German's didn't think that was cricket.

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BasinBictory       6/27/2009 5:58:28 AM
I think the main limitation on usage of a lever-action versus a bolt action would be the lack of commonality of ammunition. The Winchester 1873 and similar models up until the 1894, which used the smokeless 30-30 cartridge, all used black-powder cartridges of mostly pistol-type caliber.
The only lever actions I can think of which used a magazine system that enabled use of spitzer cartridges are the Winchester 1895 and the Savage Model 99. IMO, neither of those would be preferable to a Springfield bolt-action. I don't think a higher rate of fire would really be achieved with a lever-action chambered for 30-06 compared to a bolt-action chambered for 30-06. Any increased rate of fire that a lever-action might have over a bolt-action would stem from the milder-recoiling cartridges typically used in lever actions, not from the action type itself.
Besides - for true close-up combat in an era before submachineguns, the simple pump-action shotgun, semi-automatic pistol, and revolver were the weapons of choice. (Not to mention grenades)
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