Commemorating the First World War Centennial in Kansas

World War 1 Rifles and the Mad Minute

Much has been said about how the military strategists of 1914 failed to appreciate the effect of the profound developments in weapons technology that came about starting in the 1880’s. Machine guns are most often mentioned, with quick-firing artillery next on the list, but often overlooked are the lowly rifles, a new generation of which were accurate to 1,000 yards and capable of sustained fire in excess of ten rounds per minute, with box magazines and stripper clips for fast loading.

All of the major combatants produced their own modern infantry rifle, but some were better than others. In chronological order by date of introduction, the top three were the Russian Mosin Nagant, the British Lee Enfield and the German Mauser. Each rifle was named after its designer(s).

Mosin Nagant 1891

The Mosin Nagant came out in 1891. Over the long life of this rifle, the variants were minor, just different lengths and calibers. Before WW1 500,000 of these rifles were produced in France under Russian contract, and during the war nearly 750,000 were made in the U.S. under a contract that was dishonored by the Russian revolutionary government. The U.S. Army ended up buying 280,000 Mosin-Nagants to stave off bankruptcies, which were designated M-1916, and were used for marksmanship training. The rifle remained in Soviet service until 1947 and millions have been used in China, Korea, Vietnam and many other countries. The total production is estimated at 37 million.

The Lee Enfield was introduced in 1895, went through numerous models and variants, although retaining the same caliber (.303 inch) until the Indian Army switched it over to 7.62 mm in 1970.

Lee Enfield Mk III P1907

In British service, the Lee Enfield was the standard rifle until 1957 and the long-range rifle until 1993, and it is still in use with para-military forces, including some in Bangladesh and even in Canada. Ironically, after the South African wars it was nearly replaced by a Mauser variant, but an improved cartridge saved the design. With its forestock that extends all the way to the end of the barrel, the Lee Enfield can always be recognized, even at a considerable distance. Approximately 17 million have been manufactured.

The Mauser was the latecomer of these three, dating from 1898.

Mauser K98

Many other countries produced Mauser-type rifles under license; all of these were similar except for calibers, until a significant German redesign in 1935. Although discontinued in German service after 1945, Mausers remained the standard rifle in many foreign services up until the 1980’s, and is still used for ceremonial duties. Unlike both the Mosin-Nagant and the Lee Enfield, the Mauser is still in production, at a factory in Serbia set up by the Germans in 1942.  German production is reported to be 14.6 million.

The standard U.S. rifle was the M-1903 Springfield, a Mauser variant, but by 1917 American factories were already tooled up and turning out the Lee Enfield P1914 under British contracts, so it was re-badged as the M-1917 Enfield and most Doughboys ending up carrying one of these, including the American hero Sgt. Alvin C. York.

The ‘Mad Minute’ was British army slang for the exercise officially known as the Practice number 22, Rapid Fire, ‘The Musketry Regulations, Part I.

Prior to WW1 all regular British infantrymen were required to take this test annually, in which they were to fire from a prone supported position as many aimed rounds as they could get off in one minute, and in order to pass the test at least 15 of these shots had to hit a target at a distance of 300 yards.

With only five rounds allowed in the rifle at the start, although it had a ten round magazine, this meant that the rifle had to be re-loaded at least twice. The officially recorded record of 36 hits was posted in 1908, although there is good evidence that another soldier posted 38 hits in 1914.

The reason that 300 yards was picked as the distance was that beyond that point the rifleman had to start taking into account wind drift and the trajectory effect.

The Lee Enfield was better suited for this exercise than its contemporaries because it had a short throw bolt, which enabled the shooter to palm it rather than grip it. Also, the Lee Enfield cocked on the up stroke rather than the down stroke.

More British soldiers 1914

This level of competency was an important factor at several times in the early months of the war, as British regulars could deliver devastating firepower even without machine guns. Two noteworthy examples of battalions that stopped attacking brigades with rifle fire include the 2nd Suffolks on August 26th, 1914 at Le Cateau, and the 2nd Oxs & Bucks L.I. at Nonne Bosschen on November 11th, 1914.



James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official from Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he did work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and is affiliated with the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Salonika Campaign Society and the Gallipoli Association.


  1. Mark Tercsak

    If memory serves you leave out details on the British Service Rifle the Lee.
    James Paris Lee , imvented the Box Magazine action slash rifle. His first examples were chambered in .45-70 gov.
    And manufactured by Remington Arms Company they had a five Round magazine capicity, the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps bought some ; being post civil war and the debt just could not afford a new rifle, the U.S. Army tested them not sure if they bought any. The first examples were producded in the 1870’s. I believe there was a rifle and a carbine. Remington produced sporting versions of this rifle.

    The British were looking for a repeating bolt action rifle , since France had adopted one.

    The British looked at the lee action and I believe they may have made some design changes to the action to suit their needs,
    The barrel on the original lee used the metford rifling system due to the
    .303 cartridges powder being used it was known as the Lee~Metford and i believe it was adopted for service in 1888 there waa the Rifle with 30 inch barrel and a carbine with 20 inch barrel.
    The British then redesigned the .303 cartridge which used improved powders,
    Thus newly manufactured and also rebarreled Lee rifles adopted the new Enfield rifing system.
    Thus Lee Enfield these were the 30 inch barrel Rifles and around 20 inch carbines
    Both the metford and enfield models had volley sights mounted to the left side of the arm.
    The carbines had 5 round single stack magazines.
    James Paris Lee did not give up on obtaining a U.S. Govt Contract, in a way he did a number of States Militias would adopt i believe it was his Model 1892 rifle this Rifle was chambered in .30 U.S. or .30-40 U.S. Krag , i think it had a ten round magazine barrel was 30 inches and was in inventory lists until the early 1940’s.
    Back to the Brits, the experiences of the Boar War and other Conflicts , they had machine guns and gattling guns etc and tactics were evolving proved to them that the Lee-Metford of 1888 and The Lee-Enfield Rifles were to much gun on the modern battlefield , note the bayonet used on these pieces were of knife spear point type.
    Also the actions had a magazine cut-off , it was a steel plate that swung in or out on the right side of the receiver.
    The Smle “Short Magaxine Lee Enfield” , was a general purpose weapon that could be used by both infantry , mounted infantry and calvary , the Barrel length was just over 25 inches they continued with the enfield rifling, the Stock was full length almost to the muzzle, the originals continued with the magazine cut off, and also the voley Sights, as the great war continued the magazine Cut off and volley sights were either not mounted or eliminated from the Design.
    Austrilia and India continued to use this design well in to the 1950’s or 60’s for the latter.

  2. Mark Tercsak

    The Model of 1903 Springfield
    The Original was Chambered in Caliber
    .30 U.S. of 1903 aka .30-03 this cartridge and the .30 U.S. of 1906 aka .30-06 Springfield appear when you first look at them to be similar, but upon closer inspection they are not.
    The 30-03 was designed with a .308 caliber projectile of round nose configuration of around 220 grains in weight.
    Now to the Springfield Model of 1903 aka Rod bayonet model , the receiver is prettry much the same as any 1903 Springfield receiver, however the rear sight is a roller coaster type that can be adjusted for windage as well as elevation the combat sight is a “u” notch then there is a peep sight they say the hole is so small its all but useless. The front sight is similar but different to the standard issue front sights of later 1903 Springfield s.
    The stock appears similar but at the same time different esp towards the muzzle.
    Near the muzzle under the barrel is a steel box with a push button located on the underside the muzzle side of box is a rod that has a pointed end with grooves, that is the business end of the Cleaning Rod Bayonet. The user when wanting to use the bayonet pushed the button in and drew out the bayonett until he heard the click and it locked in place.
    If he wanted to use it as a cleaning rod he kept the button pushed in a fully withdrew the rod.
    We all know Theodore Roosevelt’s thoughts on the this rifle.
    Springfield Armory went back to the drawing board and in the United States, our government continued to experiment with cartridges and powders.
    Meanwhile it appears at least on a trail basis that some of these original Springfield Model of 1903’s did see some action .
    The government felt there was enough of a ballastics improvement that they started designing a new cartridge the .30 of 1906 or .30-06 Springfield.
    They redesigned the 1903 Springfield rifle
    They replaced the earlier rollercoaster rear sight with the famous ladder sight. And redesigned the front sight.
    Alot of folks argue this should have called the model 1905 Springfield or 1906, and I agree.
    The stock had grasping groves and a conventional bayonet lug was added plus the stacking hook, the butt plate was of steel with a compartment for oiler and tools.
    The rear ladder sight contains a bar of steel that is rounded to the left side and has a screw the right side has two sight slots located near the ladder and the right side of bar is formed into a box close to the shooter is a pin and on the right side of the box is located the elevation wheel , when the ladder sight is folded down is a slight bar of steel afixed to the elevation bar it contains the “U”, battle sight which is said to graduated to 547 yards which equals 400 meters. With the ladder sight raised it contains three additional sights a micro mini peep sight at the bottom of the elevation bar. Just above that sight is a (A) like hole and at the bottom dead center of the (A) is a “U”, notch at the top of the Elevation bar is a very Large (U) semi cut piece of steel and located within that super (U) at the top of the bar dead center is a micro “u” notch sight. The graduations on the ladder start from 300 yards out to 2700 yards .
    What is intresting the U.S. Government went from the Krag Knife Bayonet for the 1892, 1896, 1898, 1901 Krags which had the locking mechanism in the pummel of the knife bayonet , to the 16 inch model of 1905 Bayonet in which the locking mechanism was located near the blade.
    And went from a knife bayonet to a short sword bayonet.
    The 1905 bayonet was not the only bayonet from the period to be used on the Springfield Model of 1903 , you also had the Bolo Bayonets 1909 exp. 1910 and i think 1915 these wound up in the phillipines and were reported to be be quite popular with the troops.
    When the Great War broke out a man named John Pedersen developed a device called the pedersen device it turns the 1903 Springfield into a semi automatic rifle , you simply remove the bolt incert the pedersen device , which had to be used on a Springfield Mark -I , a ejection slot was cut into the left side of the receiver and a redesigned trigger group was aldo used and a stock with not grasping groves was used.

  3. JB

    The pic of the Lee Enfield No.1 Mk.3 is incorrect. That’s a .308 Win. converted rifle. The square magazine is the giveaway. A .303 Brit mag has a very slanted base giving it a triangular shape when seated in the mag well.

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