Query re: 'American Committee for Defense of British Homes' 1940-41

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by ayrmale, Aug 10, 2011.

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  1. 'In the dark days following the British Expeditionary Force's evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940, Great Britain was a nation virtually disarmed. And not just by the need to abandon equipment on France's beaches to save British "Tommies" to fight another day, but by the policies of its own government. The days of devotion to civilian markmanship, "volunteer rifle clubs" and the idea that there should be "a rifle in every cottage," as proposed by the Prime Minister Marquis of Salisbury in 1900, had given way to restrictive gun control laws that required subjects to demonstrate "good reason" to merely obtain a handgun or rifle. So with Hitler's legions poised to cross the English Channel, the British people were defended by an ill-equipped and defeated army and a "Home Guard" armed with little more than sporting shotguns and pikes.

    Help for the beleaguered nation came from both the American government and from the American people, the latter through the "American Committee for Defense of British Homes." In late 1940, the committee sent an urgent appeal -- which, of course, appeared in American Rifleman -- for Americans to send "Pistols - Rifles - Revolvers - Shotguns - Binoculars" because "British civilians, faced with the threat of invasion, desperately need arms for the defense of their homes." Thousands of arms were collected and sent to England, one of which was a .30-'06 Model 1903 target rifle owned by Major John W. Hession. Hession was one of the pre-eminent highpower rifle target shooters of his day, and he used that rifle to win Olympic gold at Bisley Camp in England in 1908. The rifle, unlike the majority sent, was returned and can now be viewed int he national Firearms Museum.

    The U.S. Government responded to Britain's peril as well with passage of the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941. Almost immediately, quantities of "U.S. Rifle, Cal. .30, M1" were on their way across the Atlantic, and those guns are the subject of an article by noted M1 Garand historian Scott Duff starting on p. 42. The "British Garands" have an interesting history but the importance of arming the British at that time is made clear by the fact that the rapidly growing U.S. Army itself did not have sufficient numbers of the then-new M1 Garands. Winston Churchill wrote in Their Finest Hour: "When the ships from America approached our shores with their priceless arms, special trains were waiting in all ports to receive their cargoes. The Home Guard in every county, in every village, sat up through the night to receive them. ... By the end of July we were an armed nation ... ."'


    I am a regular on an American political forum, and several members are convinced that we simply destroyed all the civilian US weapons sent to us at the end of the war.

    Can anyone help me by shedding light on whether that is true or simply myth. I tend to believe the latter but i'd love some proof (facts, a link etc).

    Any help would be gratefully received.
     
  2. You will have your work cut out here, as the fate of US civilian donated weaponry is obscure - with the overwhelming likelihood that it was mostly simply smelted for scrap metal as part of the war effort. Almost no "donated" weapons have ever appeared with British service markings, less for some Colt & S&W handguns and - possibly - some .22" rifles.

    Unfortunately, most US discussion & historical forums remain blinded by the myths and legends of the time, and you may have to unpick these first:

    The main myth is that UK was "defenceless and unarmed after Dunkirk" in terms of small arms. The BEF is thought to have lost somewhere between 40,000 to 90,000 rifles (current estimates and my own deduction are that it was less than 60,000). While this is a large number, it is actually insignificant when you consider that, going into WW2, UK had about 2 million rifles in store. Although some of these 2 million were dispersed about the Empire and RN on station, this figure does not even include the large stocks in India and Australia, which both had manufacturing facilities for the service rifle (the No1 MkIII at that time). Whilst there were initial shortages of MGs, these had largely been replaced by the end of the "invasions scare" period in September 1940. The British Army and its immediate reserves were never short of service rifles; as evidence, UK had c.200,000 unused .303" P14 rifles in store left over from WW1. These P14s were never used by regular forces, other than in some basic training camps.

    Winston's appeal for arms arose from his idea to arm civilian households ahead of invasion, and it of course was extremely clever propaganda on his part, designed to tug at the heartstrings of neutral Americans. In reality, there was no prospect of receiving any such arms in time. It is very likely that, even during the "invasion scare" period of June to September 1940, UK authorities probably understood that the Germans had no realistic hope of a successful invasion attempt, and that the scare was used to complete the mobilisation of the nation.

    UK dusted off its WW1 economic war plan, which indicated that the armed forces would peak at about 5 million over 5-6 years - based on UK demographics and war production history. Hence a requirement was established to procure c. 5 million new rifles (in WW1 UK had 5 million men pass through the ranks, had built 4.2 million rifles, of which about 2.5 million survived the war. Half a million rifles were scrapped or stripped during the 1920s, leaving the 2 million in store). The immediate requirement in 1940 was not for the regular army - who had plenty of rifles - but for the (renamed) Home Guard. There were about 3 million WW1 veterans still alive in Uk in 1940, and it was thought that these would all be armed as Home Guard. Hence the appeal for US military rifles - the .30-06 M17s and M1903s.

    As things turned out, only about a million Home Guard were raised and armed with US weapons. UK fought 1940-43 with its No1 rifles, then re-equipped its armies in Europe with the No4 rifle, of which 4 million had been built. The No1 rifles were sent to bolster stocks in India and Australia (still making their own rifles), the Empire and as military aid to allies. The unplanned (in 1940) advent of the Sten and its c.4 million units helped create a vast surplus of rifles.

    The fate of the civilian donated arms to UK is extremely unclear. By the time they arrived, the invasion scare was over, and the idea of arming civilians had been cancelled. Few of the donated arms would have been of any use in the standardised military supply chains, because of multiplicity of calibres, models and condition. Pistols in useful calibres were used - including non-military calibres for special forces and other tasks. Quite a lot of Winchester .22" rifles ended up being used for training purposes, but its not clear whether these were "donated" or simply purchased new on contract. Given that the donated arms have never surfaced, its most likely that they went to the smelter in 1940/41.
     
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  3. seems more than likely the effort to hand out out rifles and ammo that nobody knew what caliber or how to work maintain and what state they were in.
    a nice propaganda idea and the quality steel could always be used to make useful weapons.
    large number of standard weapons with ammo yes please
    random contents of billy bobs arsenal looks good for propaganda and better than nothing but by the time they turned up better weapons were on issue.
     
  4. Blimey, 4(T), you know your onions!

    Most impressed.
     
  5. 4T and Hippy, many thanks for replies, esp 4T.