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Model 1917 - History of the Irish LDF Rifles of 1941 
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Post Model 1917 - History of the Irish LDF Rifles of 1941
During the emergency, 20,000 Springfield 1903 rifles were purchased and sent to Ireland for units of the LDF reserve with 5 million rounds of .30-06.
It however may have transpired, official records in error, listed the supplied rifles as the Model 1903 Springfield. ... emergency/

Colonel (later major general) M.J. Costello and a principal officer of the department of finance were then sent to the United States but to Costello’s frustration all that resulted was the purchase of 20,000 Springfield rifles. When war broke in September 1939 the weapons picture was decidedly bleak.

Discovery article by Fritz - Gun boards forum. ... MLEs/page2

From descriptions of arms received by the Irish LDF, the official records, pictures and the post war disposal, the Irish received the rifles still in the US Army wooden crates. The Irish arm records record 19,971 rifles received, the English record say 20,000 were shipped over. Likely the difference was due to some small number of rifles being unserviceable, a lost crate or the like. None of the rifles received by the Irish had the red bands applied like in the UK Home guard practice. The Irish do not seem to have applied such bands on any of the rifles the received. Irish record also record the receipt of 5 million 30-06 cartridges for the rifles.

An interesting note is that in Irish record these rifles as M1903 rifles. This is clearly not the case as at the time the official British records regarding the purchase of M1903 Springfield rifles does not provide for any quantity of that size. The American sales record, the British records, and the post war disposal record regarding these rifles refer to them as Model 1917 rifles. All pictures showing LDF Irish forces with American rifles show Model 1917 rifles, no pictures of Model 1903 rifles exist. This is one case where the official Irish records reference to M1903 rifles is clearly in error

The rifles were not used by the regular Irish Army but the LDF. By early October 1940 6,800 rifles had been issued, by March of 1941 around 19,000 had been issued. The numbers peaked at 19,962 in March of 1943, well past the time when any German invasion was possible. From this it can be seen almost every rifle was issued, none or less then 10 of them sat out the war in their crates.

The rifles did not see much shooting though. With only 250 rounds per rifle, actual shooting practice was very rare. The LDF for the most part trained with 22 rifles and firing more than 10 or 15 30-06 cartridges in a range session was far outside of the norm. There is not record of Ireland receiving any more cartridges of 30-06 caliber during the war.

At the end of hostilities in May of 1945 the LDF was disbanded, as invasion by the Germans (or UK) was no longer a possibility. The rifles were cleaned and returned to their cases. . When the LDF was reconstituted in 1946 the force was re-equipped with SMLE MKIII rifles. The M1917 rifles sat in their wooden crates from May of 1945 until 1961 when they were sold with a large shipment of 44,000 rifles to Interarmco. US law had been changed to prohibit the import of any lend-lease arms after 1958, the Irish rifles having been purchased and paid for were not held to be under this import restriction.

In February of 1962 they were actually imported into Alexandria Virginia. The import quantity listed 19,692 or 279 of the rifles had been lost, discarded or otherwise destroyed during the 5 years of LDF service. They were sold with a certificate of Irish providence from May of 1962 until the late fall of that same year. The sale of these rifles was not brisk by any means, most of the interest in Irish sales certificates seems to have been with the other rifles, the SMLE MK I*** and SMLE MKIII rifles.

After the fall of 1962, another Interarmco import of American rifles set up a problem for the Interarms warehouse chaps. There were multiple piles of M1917 rifles (making for inventory and sales issue), folks wanting them did not seem to have any interest in the Irish connection, so the certificate program of the M1917 rifles was halted, or so I was told by a retired Interarmco employee. The numbers sent out with a certificate is unknown. According to this employee, there was no distinguishing mark on any of the Irish rifles, the only thing that would establish a rifle as having been an Irish issue M1917 would be the certificate on those rifles sent out with one. I have never seen such a certificate on a model 1917 rifle, I very much doubt many still exist 50 years on. I have seen (thanks to John Sukey once again) copies for SMLE rifles. They would be identical, except the rifle type and serial number would be for a model 1917 rifle.

An inquiry to the BATF under the freedom of Information act on the serial numbers of these rifles was declined (or they did not have the records, the records may exist under old state department import forms).

That is a short version of the history, as the facts as presently understood, tell the story. The information on the debate over supplying the 20,000 to Ireland came from a book on the US defense policy sales and Lend lease, with other back up from accounts read from members of Churchill’s cabinet, in an attempt to track down the supplies of SMLE rifles sent to Ireland post 1940 by England. It was Barbarossa who started me off in that profitable research direction. The Interarms employee was found through the kind services of Robin Page (deceased), Brian Dick and John Bush, the last two chaps really know the surplus world and provided many contacts. John Sukey provided much information on the sales certificates, which allowed me to ask the right questions when I actually go a hold of someone who had some knowledge.

Hope folks enjoy the above, especially Cruisedub.


14 May 2014 12:22
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Post Re: Model 1917 - History of the Irish LDF Rifles of 1941

09 Mar 2015 19:43
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