The family of Winchester Self-Loading (semi-automatic) rifles, of which the Winchester Model 1907 rifle is the most popular, was one of the earliest attempts to create a semi-automatic hunting rifle for the American sportsmen. Rifles of this system remained in production for about half of the century, and seen some significant use not only for hunting, but also for law enforcement, violent crime, and war.
Winchester self-loading rifles were based on the several inventions, patented by the Thomas C Jonson, a talented and prolific firearm designer working at the Winchester Repeating Arms co. His first semi-automatic rifle was the Winchester model 1903, a small-bore rifle firing the .22 caliber rimfire ammunition. This handy rifle used simple blowback action and had a tubular magazine, located in its stock. Following the success of this rifle, Winchester decided to produce a more powerful center-fire hunting rifle, and also developed several dedicated new cartridges in the process.
The first centerfire rifle of this family was the Winchester model 1905 self-loading rifle. It fired proprietary .32WSL (8х33SR) or .35WSL (8.9x29SR) cartridges of a moderate power. This rifle retained the simple blowback action of its predecessor, and added a detachable box magazine. Due to a relatively low power of its ammunition, it was not a big success, although the .32WSL cartridge served as a starting point for the development of the .30 M1 Carbine ammunition some 35 years later.
The Winchester model 1907 self-loading rifle became the most successful of all its siblings. Its production lasted until 1957, with more than 50 thousand guns produced during the five decades. It fired a noticeably more powerful .351WSL (8.9x35SR) ammunition than its predecessor. Standard load was a jacketed round-nose bullet weighting 12 grams and leaving the muzzle at about 570 meters per second, which made it an adequate medium-game number with an effective range of about 100 to 200 meters. The Winchester model 1907 was visually very similar to its Model 1905 predecessor, but it was noticeably heavier due to the increased power of the cartridge used.
Originally designed as a hunting weapon, the Winchester 1907 rifle saw some military action during the World War One. At first it was ordered by France, Russia and UK as an aerial weapon to arm crew members of observation balloons and early military aircrafts. It happened before the advent of the much more efficient, but also much heavier aircraft machine guns. The French military purchased about three thousands of Winchester 1907 rifles in around 1915-16, Russians bought about 500 and British RAF got about 300 of those rifles, plus necessary ammunition. Around 1917 the French military also ordered the additional .351WSL ammunition and spare 10-round magazines from its domestic manufacturers.
Besides the aerial use, Winchester 1907 rifles also saw some ground combat in the trenches of the Great War. It is believed that the French army issued those on a semi-official basis to certain troops at the front. Serbian army also issued Winchester 1907 rifles to its assault units. There are unconfirmed reports about some of French-issue Winchesters being converted to full automatic, but so far there is no firm documented evidence to support that claim.
During the roaring twenties and turbulent thirties in USA the Winchester 1907 rifles saw considerable use by both outlaws (such as the Dillinger gang) and law enforcement, including the FBI, state troopers and certain prison guard services. During the late 1930s the Winchester briefly produced a dedicated Winchester 1907 “Police special” rifle, which differed from the basic sporting model primarily by the simplified fixed rear sight and a slightly heavier and sturdier stock with sling swivels. An optional bayonet mount was available as a special order item. Being of solid construction and offering a good combination of maneuverability and firepower, some Winchester model 1907 rifles survived in American law enforcement service until ninety seventies or eighties.
The Winchester model 1910 was the heaviest and the most powerful weapon in the family, firing the potent .401WSL (10.3х38SR) ammunition. Typical load was the 13- or 16-gram bullet, leaving the muzzle at about 650 or 570 meters per second, making it good for most American large game at short distances. The Winchester model 1910 also saw a limited use during the WW1 as an aerial weapon, but its smaller magazine capacity of only four rounds and the heavier weight made it less suitable for military use than the Model 1907. This version was produced until 1936, with about twenty thousand rifles made in total.
The Winchester model 1907 and its siblings all use similar simple blowback action. Due to the relatively high power of the ammunition used, such action required a very massive bolt. For example, the complete bolt for a Model 1907 weights about 1100 gram, or roughly 2,4 lbs. Most of its weights is located inside the forend, below the barrel, being linked to the actual breechblock by the two integral sideplates that run around the magazine well. Overall, the bolt shape, as seen from the side, is similar to the “L” letter with a very long bottom line. The return spring is also located below the barrel, making for a relatively short receiver. The charging system is somewhat unusual as it uses a plunger that protrudes from the front of the forend below the barrel. To cycle the bolt, shooter has to press this plunger to the rear, compressing a rather powerful return spring. Early guns had this plunger with a simple round knob, while some military and police variants had the enlarged C-shaped cocking plate. Another feature of the gun is its simple and quick disassembly into two major units, the upper receiver with the barrel and bolt group, and the lower receiver with the trigger unit, magazine housing and the shoulder stock. This takedown is facilitated by a single screw, placed at the rear end of the upper receiver. Further disassembly is quite complicated because removal of the bolt requires, quite literally, four hands to handle the powerful pre-compressed spring.
The manual safety is a simple cross button, located at the front of the trigger guard. Ammunition is fed from the detachable box magazines. Standard magazine capacity for Winchester 1907 was either five or ten rounds in a single stack. Larger capacity magazines that held 15 or 20 rounds were available only as aftermarket items.
The Winchester model 1907, basic specifications
Special thanks to Bert van der Molen for images and information