Remington's versatile manufacturing: the Berthier and Rolling Block WWI 8mm Lebels span the designs of 19th and 20th centuries.
The story of the M1 carbine comes to mind. From mid-1941 to mid-1945, 10 contractors, only one of which (Winchester) had made firearms previously, produced 6,221,200 carbines in 4 years from scratch. Just as fascinating is another story, which took place in WWI when the house of Remington became arms maker to the world, quite by accident.
I was sanding a stock in my shop not long ago. My mind was wandering as it often does when I'm doing a bit of repetitious work, and I caught myself staring at two rifles standing across the room. One was a French Berthier, converted into a handy sporter, and the other was a Remington rolling block mounted with a long staff, tang sight by a previous owner. I had never associated the two rifles before that moment in time. Staring at them, it dawned on me that both were chambered for the 8x50R Lebel, the world's first smokeless cartridge, that both were made by Remington under separate contracts with the French government and that both were being made during virtually the same WWI time period at two different Remington facilities.
As I thought about it, what was even more intriguing was that one was a simple, robust, single-shot design dating back to the Civil War and the other was a modern, bolt-action, repeating rifle.
When Germany declared war on France in 1914, the French were caught flat-footed with insufficient stores of small arms and ammunition for their newly raised army. Adolphe Berthier, Chief of Office for the Algerian railroad, had designed the Berthier in 1899. With the advent of WWI, the Berthier was put into full-scale production as the Model 1907-15 and produced at the government arsenals of Saint-Etienne, Chatellerault and Tulle as well as under contract with the French firms of Establishments Contin-Souza of Paris and Society Francaise Delaunay of Bellville. The pace of French production proved insufficient so France contracted with Remington to produce 200,000 Model 1907-15 Berthiers and 100,261 Model 1914 rolling block military rifles chambered for the 8ram Lebel Balle-D cartridge.
From 1912 to 1914, Marcellus Hartley Dodge was the president of the Remington Arms Co. He was a visionary, and as the world descended into war, Dodge ordered the immediate construction of new arms making facilities at Ilion and Bridgeport as well as improvements to Remington's ammunition plants at Bridgeport, Conn.; Swanton, Vt.; and Hoboken; N.J.
At Ilion in 1914, the manufacturing floor space was increased from 353,855 square feet to 1,016,000 square feet and the work staff from 1,521 in 1914 to 7,361 by 1918.
In 1915 at Bridgeport, Remington constructed 13 interconnected, 5-story production buildings with a combined floor area of 1,104,200 square feet plus five forging shops, a kiln and power plant. By 1918, the Bridgeport facility employed 15,000 workers.
Further wartime production capacity was obtained by leasing factory floor space from the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, Penn.
The Model 1907-15 Berthier was produced at Bridgeport while the Model 1914 rolling block and matching Model 1914 sword bayonets were produced at Ilion. As pointed out in Roy Marcot's definitive and lavishly illustrated, official history of the Remington Arms Co., entitled REMINGTON America's Oldest Gunmaker, possibly only a 100,000 or so Remington Berthiers were produced and many of that lot were bought by the US government and issued to the 369th through 372nd US Negro Infantry Regiments, who fought alongside the French Colonial troops in WWI.
Details about the disposition of the rolling blocks are clearer. Most did reach the French Republic and were issued to rear echelon troops and later ended up in the French colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Indo-China. After WWI, existing French rolling blocks, like the one pictured here, were rethroated for the Balle-N cartridge, featuring a 232-grain spitzer with a muzzle velocity of 2,480 fps. When modified, the rifles were stamped with an "N" over the front receiver ring.
And now, for the rest of the amazing story at Remington during WWI. The French contracts were a drop in the bucket.
Between 1914 and 1915, Great Britain contracted with Remington to produce 1,000,000, Enfield Pattern 1914 bolt-action rifles. By war's end, Ilion would produce 403,193 and Eddystone, 604,941 Pattern 14 rifles.
With a deficit of 1903 Springfields on hand to arm the American Expeditionary Force, the US turned to powerhouse Remington for a ready solution. With Pattern 14 tooling on hand at Ilion and Eddystone, Remington responded by modifying the Pattern 14 into the familiar Model 1917, chambered for the .3006 cartridge. Between 1917 and 1918, Ilion would produce 646,444 and Eddystone, 1,181,908 M1917 rifles!
That's a lot of rifles, but Czarist Russia gave Remington its single biggest military WWI contract. In 1916, Russia ordered 1,000,000 Mosin-Nagants with matching bayonets. Production was undertaken at the new and expansive Bridgeport facility. By 1917, 4,000 to 4,200 Mosin-Nagants were being produced daily at Bridgeport as well as 10,000 Russian and British bayonets per day. Total production by Remington was 750,000 Mosin-Nagants with 469,951 being delivered to Russia before the Czar was overthrown. Much to the relief of Remington, the remainders were purchased by the US.
Additional US military arms produced in WWI by Remington include the Colt Model 1911 pistol, the Model 1917 Browning, water-cooled machine gun, the Model 10 trench shotgun and the Pedersen Device together with Pedersen modified Springfield rifles.
WWI Ammunition production at Remington was equally astounding. Some of the highlights include 2,750,000,000 rounds of .30-06, 234,249,000 rounds of 8ram Lebel, 144,081,000 rounds of .45 ACP and 12,336,000 rounds of 7.62 Russian.
WWI production of firearms and ammunition by Remington-UMC is a remarkable story. The production figures in the multiple millions are staggering, and I still shake my head every time I think of the incredible incongruity between an 8mm Lebel rolling block and a bolt-action Berthier rolling off the Remington production lines during the same time period. Desperate times demand desperate measures. If there's one lesson to be learned, it is that production capacity wins wars.
ALLIED RIFLE CONTRACTS IN AMERICA BY LUKE MERCALDO, HARDCOVER, 224 PAGES @2011, $49.99, WET DOG PUBLICATIONS, 5603-B WEST FRIENDLY AVE., STE.166, GREENSBORO, NO 27410, (336) 394-4138, WWW.FN-BROWNING.COM.
REMINGTON--AMERICA'S OLDEST GUNMAKER--THE OFFICIAL HISTORY BY ROY MARGOT, HARDCOVER, @2008, 324 PAGES, 11"X8.5" LANDSCAPE FORMAT, REMINGTON COUNTRY, USA, ICO/REMINGTON ARMS COMPANY, LLC, P.O. BOX 700, MADISON, NC 27025, 877-387-6691, WWW.SHOPREMINGTONCOUNTRY.COM
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|Title Annotation:||SURPLUS LOCKER[TM]|
|Date:||Oct 17, 2012|
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