The lever action rifle has never been a popular choice as a military arm — even though the first successful lever action, the Henry rifle, was purchased in small quantities for cavalry use by the Union army during the Civil War. While its capacity and rapid fire capability were praised by those soldiers who were lucky enough to be issued one, the rank and file infantry were denied this modern arm.
Reasons abounded, but commonly heard were that the lever action was prone to parts failure and stoppage from dirt, it was difficult to operate when shooting from the prone position, and that it was more expensive than the issued alternatives. I suspect that the Generals in charge of procurement also believed that the lever-action’s rapid fire capabilities would “waste ammunition”, a complaint we hear throughout military history when an easier-to-operate rifle comes to be issued to the troops.
The lever action may not have captured the hearts of our military, but the American Indians understood its advantages and clamored to acquire them in their fight against the federal government’s appropriation of their lands. The destruction of the Seventh Cavalry at Little Big Horn, in fact, can be credited in part to the Indian’s use of the fast-shooting Henry rifle.
As I mentioned at the start, the Russian army issued the Winchester Model 1895 in small numbers to their soldiers and those rifles floated around the world after the Russians stopped using them. As late as 1936, the Model 1895 Russian could be found being used in the Spanish Civil war.
This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive recap of all the small issuances of lever-action rifles, but the fact that they’ve always been given to soldiers in very limited numbers shows that the “leever” (as Doc Wesson calls it) is not a common battlefield weapon.
Still, an interesting article came out recently that details yet another small number of lever-actions being purchased by a military power. During World War II the Canadians issued Winchester Model 94 rifles (in .30-30, no less!) to their Pacific Coast Militia Rangers, which was essentially a reserve unit whose task was to monitor the Yukon and British Columbia for any incursion by the Japanese.
Head over to The Firearm Blog to read about these now-rare rifles and the story behind them.
-=[ Grant ]=-