Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The P14 Enfield

This is the P14. Originally conceived to use an experimental .276 cartridge and replace the #1 MkIII Enfield as the British battle rifle. In many ways it’s a Mauser: two opposed locking lugs up front, bolt release and ejector combined on the left, five round internal magazine. It also had the one real upgrade(other than the cartridge if that’d worked out) over the #1 that was needed*: an aperture rear sight and a front blade protected by ears.

Short history: WWI came along and the Brits didn’t have time to work out the bugs in the cartridge, and needed a LOT more rifles than they could make, so contracts wound up being let with three American companies(Winchester, Remington and Eddystone) to make them in .303. Then we got into the war, and Springfield Arsenal could not turn out enough 1903 rifles to arm the troops. Someone took a look at the P14 and figured they could bore the barrel for .30-06 instead of .303 and modify the bolt face for the rimless cartridge and we could use it. It worked, and a lot of troops carried this(as the US Rifle Model 1917) into battle. The Brits wound up mostly using the #1 MkIII, although some P14s were set up as sniper rifles. After the war the P14 went into storage, and many(in .30-06**) were used by the Home Guard when WWII came up(renamed the #3 MKI, MKI*, etc.). The Brits had modified the #1 MkIII design into the #4 MkI by that time, so the P14(except for sniper use until the #4 MkI(t) came out) saw little use in the second go-round; of course, they couldn't turn out enough #4 rifles either, so lots and lots of #1 rifles saw service, both older ones and new-manufactured(lots more to be found here, and I got the picture from this site).

The thing isn’t as slim and pretty as the 1903, but it makes up for that with the sights and an ungodly strong receiver; a lot of these, after the war, were rebarreled and modified for sporting rifles, many in the heaviest big-game cartridges of the day due to their strength. And I think the sights are a very big step forward over the overly-complicated rear on the Springfield and that thin, tall front blade***. And the Brits specifically noted the P14 sights were better for battlefield use than those on the #1 MkIII. Which is why the #4 MkI had them.

So, down to the noisy part: how’s it shoot?

Pretty well. The trigger on this one had a bit of creep in the second stage, breaking at a nice, light weight. The action worked smoothly, lockup was solid. It suffers from the standard 300-yard battlesight, which meant that, with the ammo used, shots at 100 yards hit six or seven inches above point of aim. The action was not as slick as the Enfields I’ve fired, probably partly because I think it saw little use. Best groups I got were about 2.5” at 100, which was partly due to ammo; some of this was older surplus that had several noticeable hangfires, so it didn’t have the best consistency. With better ammo, I think it would have done better overall. This is the same rifle I used to try the .303 cast bullet loads noted here; I'm hoping to have more chances to shoot it.

The sights are good: rear aperture for general use, and when you flip up the ladder you have a smaller aperture adjustable to way out there. Instead of a screw like the #4 it uses a spring-catch on the right to adjust the slide up and down. Running it all the way to the bottom put it just about dead-on at 100.

The weight and stock design did a fine job of making the .303 comfortable to shoot, much more comfortable than the 1903 with ball. Overall, a fine rifle. The one I fired was marked Eddystone for the manufacturer, and the bore looked virtually new; that, and the tight action mentioned, make me think it saw very little actual use. But for full GFW-politician effect the owner needs to find a bayonet.

*The #1 had one big advantage over Mauser and Springfield: that ten-shot magazine. And why the design people wanted to get rid of that, I do not know. Being too lazy to dig into it further right now, I’m guessing they decided a Mauser-style receiver would be better for the new cartridge, to explain the receiver design, and the new sight design was a fine idea; but why a smaller-capacity mag? Bean-counters worrying about the troops using too much ammo? No idea.

**Friend showed me an old movie a short time ago titled ‘Whiskey Galore’. It’s set in Britain during the war, and part of the story is centered around the local Guard commander trying to ship several cases of .303 ammo back to the mainland because he can’t get the .30-06 ammo he needs for the P14s they have until he sends the .303 back.

***I’ll repeat the saying: In WWI the Americans had the best target rifle, the Germans the best hunting rifle and the Brits the best battle rifle.


Anonymous said...

Nice find. I have a US M1917 that I like a lot.

Best regards,

Anonymous said...

I ended up with two of the '14's. The first one I got was a drill rifle with a drilled/pinned barrel. I started looking for a replacement barrel.
After looking for the better part of two years, I realized that I wasn't going to find one. So I bought a "real" one the next time I saw one. They definitely handle better then the MkI.

Anonymous said...

Actual bore of .311. for the record

Kevin said...

I found a beautifully sporterized 1917 in a gun shop for $200 a few years ago. It's a helluva shooter. I've been looking for a P14 for quite a while myself. I love the .303 British cartridge (I've got several #4 Mk. III's (only one shootable) and two #5 Mk. I's (one shootable)) but I've always wanted a P14 because it's one rifle you can shoot the .303 cartridge in without worrying about case-head separation.

One of my former cow-orkers has a P14 that was sporterized and rebarreled in .300 Magnum. He's taken a couple of elk with it.

Firehand said...

This was the first 14 I'd ever had the chance to handle, let alone shoot; I have seen several 1917s before.

PA, .311 is indeed the nominal bore, this one- and the #4- were a bit tighter. With wartime variations, I've read of some #4- and #1's with replacement barrels- that were tight enough to shoot quite well with .308 bullets.