Lee United States Navy Rifle, Model 1895

By Patrick McSherry



This image shows the Model 1895 Lee Rifle, with its ammunition belt and bayonet with scabbard
(photo courtesy of the Doug Howser Collection)

Click here for an article concerning the qualities of the Lee Rifle from the period of the war
Click here for a website with info. on one of the 1895 Lee Rifles recovered from the wreck of the Battleship MAINE
Click here for another a website with info. on one of the 1895 Lee Rifles recovered from the wreck of the Battleship MAINE

GENERAL:

This rifle was designed by James Paris Lee, "one of the foremost arms inventors of the century". It was a standard U.S. Navy weapon in the Spanish-American War era.

BACKGROUND:

The Lee rifle was accepted by the Navy in 1895 and manufactured by Winchester beginning in 1896, with an initial order of ten thousand units. Eventually close to twenty thousand were produced. A large number of these weapons were aboard the USS MAINE when it sunk in Havana Harbor. Fifty of these were later recovered and sold. The Lee was considered to be ahead of its time, and was not well-liked outside of the U.S. Navy. Production stopped in 1902.

The Lee has what is frequently referred to as a straight-pull action. In fact, the action is more properly a camming action in which pulling the bolt caused a the bolt to rock, freeing a stud from the receiver and unlocking the bolt. The cartridge used by the weapon was the smallest cartridge adopted by the U.S. military up to that time.
 

Lee Rifle

Acut-away view of the mechanism

ADVANTAGES/DISADVANTAGES:

The weapon, unlike the Krag-Jorgensen Rifle of the time period, was not designed for the ammunition in the magazine to be held in reserve for emergencies while the weapon itself was basically used as a single shot rifle. The magazine could be reloaded very quickly, allowing the "ammunition reserve" to be unnecessary.

The ammunition used for the Lee utilized smokeless powder, offering a definite advantage over the "trapdoor" rifle. Shell casings were automatically extracted from the weapon. The extractor, however, had a tendency to fall out in battle, and if not carefully replaced, would render the rifle non-functional.

One disadvantage of the weapon was that, when the magazine still had ammunition in it, the gun could not be used for firing single shots. A second problem was severe erosion of the bore because of the powder used in the weapon's cartridges.
 

Lee 6mm cartridge with five round charger

TECHNOTES:

Action: Straight pull bolt action rapid-fire breech-loader 
Total length: 47.75 inches
Length of barrel: 28 inches
Rifling: 6 grooves, making one turn in 6.5 inches.
Weight: 8.32 pounds
Ammunition: 6mm rimless, in five round clips
Charge: 33 grains of smokeless powder 
Weight of cartridge: 332 grains
Weight of projectile: 135 grains
Muzzle Velocity: 2,460 feet per second at 60 feet from the muzzle. This gave the
weapon the ability to penetrate 3/8 inch steel boiler plate at 100 feet.
Bayonet: Knife-type, 8.25" long

Bibliography:

Alger, Prof. P. R. USN, and Ensign N. C. Twining, USN, The United States Navy Rifle, U.S. Bureau of Ordnance.

Gluckman, Arcadi, United States Muskets, Rifles and Carbines. Buffalo: Otto Ulbrich Co., Inc., 1948.

Howser, Doug (Image of rifle with belt and bayonet, and image of ammuniton).

Kirkland, K. D., America's Premier Gunmakers: Winchester, New York: Exeter Books, 1989.

New York Sun, June 1898.

Schreier, Philip, "The Guns of the Spanish American War," Military Classics Illustrated (Los Angeles: Emap USA, 2001).


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