Very interesting series of articles in Shotgun News British Home Guard


ol' scratch
March 26, 2012, 07:51 AM
There is the first part of a series of articles in Shotgun News I found interesting. It describes the firearms used by the British Home Guard during WWII. The article is called, "The Guns of Dad's Army" and was written by Paul Scarlata. It describes how the British, fearing a very real threat of a land invasion from the Germans started arming British citizens. There was a firearms shortage, so they looked to US citizens to donate firearms so the British could defend their country. They ran ads in American Rifleman. Thousands of firearms were sent to Great Britain. After the war in 1946, the British government took back the firearms. All deemed impractical for military use were thrown into the North Sea. They didn't learn a thing. Great article and lots of information concerning old milsurps too.

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March 26, 2012, 09:33 AM
Reminds me of the stories of the anti gun families that would buy a gun during a riot like the Rodney King riots and then promptly sell them when the riots were over.

March 26, 2012, 09:45 AM
How's that old adage go, "The society that is armed shall be called citizens and the society that has been disarmed shall be called subjects"! I doubt if our English Cousins will ever learn the difference. Remember, history has a tendency to repeat itself.

Fred Fuller
March 26, 2012, 04:06 PM
so they looked to US citizens to donate firearms so the British could defend their country. They ran ads in American Rifleman

I posted a link to some of that material in the thread our British cousin started a while back - you can see one of the posters at .

An occasional cache of military material still turns up here and there in England that was put in place in preparation for the German invasion that never materialized. Most if not all of those caches were intended for the lesser known GHQ Auxiliary Units rather than the Home Guard. The Auxiliary Units were organized under Colonel Colin Gubbins early in the war. Gubbins had already had experience in guerrilla warfare in Ireland and in the Russian civil war, and the secret Auxiliary Units were intended to be the core of the British resistance movement in the event the Germans actually invaded.

Some fascinating history there...


March 26, 2012, 04:23 PM
After the war in 1946, the British government took back the firearms. All deemed impractical for military use were thrown into the North Sea.
For some strange reason immediately after the war ended the British people chucked out Churchill and put in place a Socialist government.

Need I say more?

Vern Humphrey
March 26, 2012, 04:28 PM
You know they pledged to return those donated guns after the war was over.

I wonder how much those guns would be worth today?

Jim K
March 26, 2012, 08:54 PM
The article has one rather glaring error. Mr. Scarlata states, as he did in an earlier article on the same subject, that England received some 120,000 M1917's that went to the Home Guard. The facts are somewhat different. Here is a letter I wrote to Mr. Scarlata after publication of his earlier article; he never replied. You might find it of interest.
Dear Mr. Scarlata,

I enjoyed your ST article on the Model 1917 rifle, but perhaps you will permit me a few comments.

You state that, through the Lend-Lease program, 119,000 Model 1917 rifles were transferred to Britain. Perhaps you have dropped a digit, as several writers put the number actually sent at about 1,100,000, roughly ten times your figure.
The Roosevelt administration, playing its double game of pretending neutrality while actually supporting the British, approved the release of 500,000 Model 1917 rifles to the British Purchasing Commission on June 3, 1940, along with 80,000 machineguns and other weapons, including artillery. (In historical prospective, that was at the same time as the fall of France and the evacuation from Dunkirk.)

Those rifles were received in July. They were not part of the so called "destroyer agreement" or of Lend-Lease. Churchill pleaded for more rifles, and the U.S. sent two more shipments of Model 1917's in September and October of 1940, as Britain awaited the Nazi invasion and the RAF fought the Luftwaffe in the skies over England.

One shipment was 300,000 rifles, the other may have been 250,000, though I cannot find an exact figure. It is clear from Churchill's remarks that those were Model 1917's, in .30-‘06 caliber (which he calls .300) and that there was little ammunition. Churchill admitted to having prayed that the shipments would arrive safely, and his prayers were answered.

On 22 Sept. 1940, Churchill states that "the Home Guard has 800,000 American rifles, enabling that number of .303 weapons to be transferred to the regular Army". The third shipment had apparently not yet arrived. Ammunition was scarce; Churchill says that in one shipment, there were only 50 rounds per rifle, and that they planned to issue only ten, as "the factories were not yet set in motion [to produce .30-'06]." Note that all those shipments were made BEFORE the Lend-Lease Act was signed in March 1941. Some were ostensibly paid for through the British Purchasing Commission, but there is some evidence that the Roosevelt administration forgot to send a bill. If so, in the long term, victory over Hitler was well worth the value of those obsolescent rifles.

So the number of Model 1917 rifles shipped to England was at least 1,050,000, a substantial part of the U.S. war reserve. This had ramifications; the U.S. Army Ordnance Department was in near panic mode. Production startup of the M1 rifle had been disappointing, with less than 25,000 completed by the end of 1939, and now the war reserve was reduced by more than half. Even at the projected full mobilization of only 1,800,000 men (not realistic, but what a penurious Congress would support), arms would be very tight.

The British had contracted with Remington to produce for them a modified M1903 Springfield in .303 caliber, and to that end Remington had obtained the old Rock Island Arsenal machinery. But the U.S. was now desperate and wanted Remington to use the machinery to make M1903 rifles for the U.S. So the Army pointed the British away from Remington and toward Savage, who contracted to produce the rifle the British actually preferred, their own Rifle No. 4. The U.S. then entered into a contract with Remington which led to production of first, the Model 1903, then to changes that resulted in the M1903A3 and M1903A4. Later, Smith-Corona also made M1903A3 rifles.

Meantime, M1 production took off and by the time the M1903A3 contracts were coming close to completion, there were enough M1 rifles to fill requirements. So the last M1903A3 rifles went from the factories directly into depot storage, kept against a possible German resurgence and the future invasion of Japan.

But Germany was well and truly beaten, and there was no invasion of Japan. Later, those rifles were supplied to allied nations, or sold to NRA members through the DCM program. Many NRA members were delighted to find that their "unserviceable" (actually "ungraded") rifles were brand new, never issued. But they were proved before sale anyway, and so marked, leading many collectors today to think they had been rebuilt when in fact they had never even been outside a depot.

4v50 Gary
March 27, 2012, 06:03 AM
One rifle, a match gun used in a championship shoot and had a brass plaque attached to the stock, was returned to this side of the pond.

April 5, 2012, 11:30 AM

I do not check in here very often. I am afraid I do not recall ever receiving your letter. Was it mailed to me c/o the Shotgun News?

I have made note of what you said about the number of M1917s. Can you supply sources for the information? I will then look into it and make corrections to my ariticle as necessary.

Many thanks,

April 6, 2012, 08:32 AM
I asked my good friend, and expert on US military arms, Bruce Canfield about this. While he does not have any definite figures he believes that 800,000 sounds way too high considering that only about one million were retained by the US Army after WWI and many thousands were used as training rifles during WWII by the US in addition to the tens of thousands we supplied to China, Canada, the Free French, New Zealand, etc.

Vern Humphrey
April 6, 2012, 09:52 AM
M1917s were certainly widespread -- I saw at least one captured in Viet Nam, presumably given to the Nationalist Chinese, captured by the Communist Chinese, and given by them to the Viet Mihn in the 1950s.

While that's only one, it indicates to me that the bulk of M1917s were not given to the British.

April 6, 2012, 03:30 PM
Not all got thrown into the sea. Step mom has two family guns that were loaned and returned. One is a lever action winchester that the Brits painted black (does that make it an evil black gun?! ) and a pistol. The pistol has the box it was shipped back in and all the paperwork.

April 6, 2012, 04:35 PM
wonder if it has something to do with the saxon mentality or the angle mentality or the briton mentality or the norman mentality? These groups have all been part of the English heredity.

Connecticut Yankee
April 7, 2012, 08:27 PM
I believe that it was a million rifles that were shipped.

In Churchill’s six volume history of the Second World War I disctinctly remember reading that he was eagerly anticipating a million rifles, which had to be these M1917 Enfields. Unfortunately I don’t have ready access to my copies but I believe it has to be in the second volume “Their Finest Hour” since this was all in 1940. Either in that book or another I recall reading that he had ordered special trains to be ready when the ships were unloaded to distribute the rifles quickly. I also recall in another source that I have just looked for just now but could not find that all these Enfields were supposed to have a broad red stripe on the stock, either one or two inches thick, so it would be clear that they were not .303.

In a google search I found two sources that didn’t seem to have any support for their claim which is that 500,000 rifles were delivered. I also found the following discussion board where the figure is 750,000; based on the details given it has the air of veracity: This poster notes that it is apparently data that he gathered ‘over the years’ from the board postings.

As to a source for the numbers manufactured a google search turned up this article by Dick Culver which if I am reading the table correctly has a total production circa WW I of about two million:

This websource notes a production of over two million. To my reading the numbers by manufacturer appear to have been sourced from either the Culver article or both this source and the Culver article used another common source which is not named. This is an unsigned article:

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