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British Home Guard and donated American arms

Discussion in 'WWII General' started by Riter, Nov 5, 2021.

  1. Riter

    Riter Active Member

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    After Dunkirk, an appeal went out to Americans to donate their rifles, handguns and optics (scopes & binoculars) for use in the defense of England. There was a shortage of long arms for the Home Guard and when they were equipped, it was with an assortment of rifles including Mk III Enfields, P-14 (American made Enfields in .303) and even Ross rifles left over from WW I.

    I know that America shipped over M1903 Springfields as well as surplus P-17 (P-14 in 30-06 or what the British called. 300 caliber). But what of the odd ball guns like a 32-30 Winchester lever action, 300 Savage Model 99 Savage lever action, single shot falling block 45-90s or 6mm Lee rifles or any other assortment of long arms of assorted calibers? That would have presented a logistical nightmare that would be as confusing as the arms used in the American Civil War. If they weren't .303 or .300 caliber (30-06), were they just consigned to storage and disposed of post-war?

    I know the 1911s, 38 revolvers and 45 ACP revolvers were welcomed but say a SAA in 45 Long Colt or some non 9mm cartridge gun?
     
  2. harolds

    harolds Member

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    If it wasn't a standard caliber, for which they could get large quantities of ammo, they probably weren't issued. At least I've never seen a pix of the home guard using American sporting rifles. These may have been reserved for the eventuality of a German invasion and the subsequent guerrilla warfare. Then, any firearm, with even a handful of ammo, would have been welcome. After the BoB, they would have been put in deep storage. I suspect that at some point they were destroyed since I doubt there was any effort made to record which American donated what rifle.
     
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  3. R Leonard

    R Leonard Member

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    Seems to me to be some question as to what was actually delivered and their purpose. As early as May 1940, the US War Department declared some 500,000 Enfield rifles as surplus. But, other sources, present 250,000 of these Enfields as being agreed to be sent to the British in September 1940.

    The 500,000 -

    In the UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II - CHIEF OF STAFF: PREWAR PLANS AND PREPARATIONS by Mark Skinner Watson (1950) we can find discussion including mention of 500,000 rifles and ammunition:

    Chapter X, starting on page 299, covers Aid to Britain versus Rearming America. See Chapter X: Aid to Britain versus Rearming of America and starting on page 309

    “. . . On 22 May <1940>, the day when General Marshall resisted the Treasury's airplane proposal, the Chief of Ordnance provided the Chief of Staff with a list of ordnance items that might be released without imperiling the national defense. It was strikingly close to an Anglo-French request of the day before, and included 500,000 Enfield rifles, 100,000,000 rounds of .30-caliber ammunition, 500 75-mm. guns, 35,000 unmodified machine guns and automatic rifles, and 500 3-inch mortars with 50,000 rounds of ammunition. It is noticeable that the list, submitted in answer to a request from the Chief of Staff and resubmitted that day to the President, was made up of items far larger than ever before mentioned as surplus. General Marshall based it on Ordnance and G-4 estimates of what would be surplus to the needs of a 1,800,000-man army, reckoning on new equipment to be produced before the 1,800,000 total was attained. Accepting both the reasoning and the estimate, the President asked General Marshall to consider legal means of transferring to the British the declared surplus, and accordingly the Chief of Staff took up this matter with Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles. They agreed that the goods could not legally be sold direct to the Allies, and parted for separate consideration of that dilemma. To his Staff advisers General Marshall mentioned his further remarks on that occasion:
    “’. . . I explained to Mr. Welles the situation regarding aircraft, that we could not jeopardize the completion of our augmentation of operating units by releasing planes under process of manufacture for delivery to the Army; that the situation with regard to pilots would become an impossible one in a very few months if we did not receive deliveries of planes. He agreed with this. I told him that in the smaller matters of accommodating them regarding engines and things of that sort we would do practically all of this as desired by the Allies.’


    “A report on legal methods of accomplishing the President's wish was made by General Moore, of G-4, who explained that an exchange of old for new ammunition could legally be effected only in the case of deteriorated or unserviceable ammunition; other items could be declared surplus by the Secretary of War and then sold to a domestic corporation which could resell abroad. He warned that it could not be done without public knowledge, but that formal public advertisement was not compulsory. The method subsequently outlined by General Marshall met the approval of the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, but the Secretary of War complied with Mr. Roosevelt's wishes only under order. He dutifully signed the transfer to the U. S. Steel Export Co. on 11 June - when the ordnance had already been assembled for shipment to Britain but this was after he had asked for legislation to designate the Secretary's future responsibilities in such a situation. It was not long afterward that Mr. Woodring was replaced in office - not by Mr. Johnson, who had expected the higher post, but by Henry L. Stimson.”

    Now, the 250,000 -

    On the other hand, in Loewenheim, Francis, et al., eds., Roosevelt and Churchill – Their Secret Wartime Correspondence, (1975), (afraid I can’t help with an on line version, I using as first edition hard back for these citations) in the introduction to Part I, on page 80:

    “Toward the end of July <1940>, however, various American organizations – including the so-called Century Group of prominent and influential interventionists and William Allen White’s Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies – began publicly advocating greater aid to Britain, and Churchill resumed his campaign for American destroyers. The Prime Minister’s anxieties were greatly increased by the onset of the blitz – the devastating bombing attacks on Great Britain designed to destroy British air strength by blasting airfields and key industries. The raids were widely regarded as a prelude to invasion. “While British pressure increased, the American response was slowed by the presidential election campaign. Partisan feeling in the United States was running high, making concerted effort difficult. Moreover, problems soon developed when the Americans insisted on formal contractual arrangements. The British were reluctant both to make unlimited territorial concessions and to give more than private assurances regarding the disposition of the British fleet in case of defeat. Despite this, the two powers reached broad agreement by September, though final details were not settled for another 6 months, on the ‘deal’ which brought Britain no only fifty over-age American destroyers, but also five B-17 bombers, 250,000 Enfield rifles, and 5 million rounds of .30-caliber ammunition. All this material was given in exchange for long-term leases to construct American bases in various British possessions in the Western Hemisphere. In large measure, the whole arrangement was made possible only because of the degree of trust and understanding that had already developed between Roosevelt and Churchill.”

    Fast forwarding to a couple of messages cited in this work . . .

    On page 109, responding to a message from Roosevelt on 13 August 1940 outlining the potential disposition of the Royal Navy in the event of defeat and the establishing of various locations for naval bases for the United States, Churchill wrote back, in part, on 15 August:

    “I need not tell you how cheered I am by your message or how grateful I feel for your untiring efforts to give us all possible help. You will, I am sure, send us everything you can, for you know well that the worth of every destroyer that you can spare us is measured in rubies. But we also need the torpedo boats which you mentioned and as many flying boats and rifles as you can let us have. We have a million men waiting for rifles.”
    . . .

    Then Roosevelt to Churchill, in full, on 23 September 1940 (page 114):

    “As soon as your message was received from Lord Lothian arrangements were undertaken for the release of the 250,000 Enfield rifles to the Purchasing Commission. I am informed that the rifles are already under way to New York for shipment.”

    I wonder as to the significance of “. . . release of the 250,000 . . . “ as opposed to saying simply “release of 250,000 . . . ” Sounds pretty specific to me.

    So, perhaps, it was not so much that the rifles, be they the 500,000 identified as surplus or the 250,000 Roosevelt messaged as being released, were not so much needed for defense of the British Isles from German invasion (especially by the end of September 1940 German invasion was becoming less and less likely), but rather to start the process of carrying the war back to the Germans. Truly, the US Enfield rifles had to be clearly marked as they could only use the US .30-06 round, not the British .303. It was probably never envisioned to use the US Enfield’s in combat operations (not a good idea operationally or logistically to mix rifles/rifle rounds so similar in appearance in places of serious employment, leads to unpleasant surprises), but to use them in training until British production could reach equipping the forces as necessary.

    I really wonder about your mentioned odd types and calibers mentioned. Seems to me that collecting what really could not have been much, American be reluctant to part with their personal arms, and the shipping it them to whomever might be more trouble than the worth. Which US agency would be responsible for same as a private shipment would have been patently illegal. And what British agency would have collected same for shipment, the British Purchasing Commission? Seems they had enough to do dealing with 250,000 Enfield without gathering disparate weapons, cataloging same, and shipping them out in some order, even with US government blessing or blind eye.

    An interesting subject. Have you some numbers and details on these odds and end weapons.
     
  4. Riter

    Riter Active Member

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    A 2" red band was painted on the stock & handguard of the P17 Enfields to indicate that they were .300 calibre (30-06)
     
  5. redcoat

    redcoat Ace

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    The appeal was not a official British government request merely an American based group of British supporters, which might have been a undercover PR campaign by British intelligence to increase support for the UK in America.
    However the weapons that the Home Guard was issued with was the war surplus stock sold to Britain by the American government, there appears to be no evidence that the weapons donated by the American public were ever issued to units of the Home Guard
     
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2021
  6. redcoat

    redcoat Ace

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    The British regular army had enough rifles in June 1940, the American rifles went to the over 1 million volunteers in the Home Guard
     
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  7. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    A short list of things we shipped out under the Lend-Lease Program. (Meaning a short set of tables with ~7,000 cells.) 500,000,000 buttons, and eight sets of salt and pepper shakers, among other things.
     
  8. the_diego

    the_diego Active Member

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    didn't the British have a HUMUNGUS supply of .303 ammo left over from the WW1? And didn't they have a policy that that supply should be used before any new cartridges are acquired? So their problem was rifles chambered for .303
     
  9. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    In the movie Stalingrad they got by air iron crosses, and I recall reading there were also condoms in the canisters. Just everything they needed....
     

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