The Winchester-Burton Machine Rifle

The Winchester-Burton Machine Rifle, also known as the Winchester Model 1917 was developed by Frank F. Burton. Little documentation on the rifle survives but it was believed to have been intended for use as an anti-balloon weapon. Observation balloons dominated the Western Front and were instrumental in directing artillery fire and spotting enemy troop movements. These hydrogen filled static balloons became a key target for airmen on both sides. As such they were often heavily defended by anti-aircraft guns and even fighter cover. They were initially attacked with conventional ammunition which proved ineffective. In 1916, a French officer Yves le Prieur designed an electrically triggered rocket system which could be mounted on a fighter plane’s wings. However, the limited range of the rockets meant a better solution was still needed. 

By 1917 tracer and incendiary ammunition was being developed, the first to be deployed was the British ‘Buckingham’ ammunition which used phosphorus. This was originally developed in response to the German zeppelins which bombed Britain during the early years of the war. Burton’s automatic rifle was chambered in the .345 Winchester Self-Loading Rifle cartridge a rimless, modified version of Winchester’s .351 WSL cartridge, which had an incendiary spitzer projectile.

.345 Winchester Self-Loading Rifle cartridge (source)

Burton’s machine rifle used a blowback action and fired from an open bolt. The gun weighed 10 lb (4.5 kg) and its overall length was 45.5 inches (116 cm), making it slightly shorter and significantly lighter than the later Browning Automatic Rifle. It was select fire with a cyclic rate on automatic of 800 rpm. It fed from two vertical 40-round (and possibly 25-round) magazines which fitted into the receiver at a 60° angle. This allows for a an uninterrupted sight picture along the barrel. Once the first (right-hand) magazine had been expended the other was apparently slid into position. Exactly how this was accomplished is unclear from the photographs.

The weapon had a number of interesting features, it was ambidextrous with a charging handle located beneath the receiver and spent cases ejecting downwards - much like a Browning SA-22. The weapon’s barrel was finned to aid cooling and the fore stock had a finger groove as well as a ring mount to attach it to the fuselage of an airplane. Burton’s machine rifle also had an in-line stock, a tubular receiver, its trigger group integrated with the pistol grip, raised sights (with the rear sights folding) and an interchangeable barrel to allow the weapon’s role to be switched from air to ground specialties. With a ‘ground’ barrel having an additional bayonet lug (see image #2). When considering these features and the weapon’s ammunition some have described Burton’s machine rifle as one of the first true assault rifles.

The impetus behind the design of a dedicated machine rifle for attacking observation balloons is unknown. One theory might be that it was to allow the aircraft’s main guns to be loaded with conventional ammunition for engaging enemy fighter aircraft while Burton’s machine rifle could be handily deployed by pilot or an observer against a balloon. During the First World War fighter pilots were prohibited from using incendiary ammunition against other planes and troops by the Saint Petersburg Declaration of 1868. This declaration outlawed the use of explosive projectiles weighing less than 400g against combatants. However, incendiary ammunition could be used against balloons and zeppelins. Perhaps it was envisioned that the dedicated balloon busting machine rifle would offer pilots flexibility and allow them to engage all likely targets. The Burton machine rifle’s proposed implementation as a ground weapon probably followed once its potential was realised. 

While the weapon was allegedly tested at the Springfield Armory, the records of the testing have been lost, it was not adopted and the project did not progress beyond the prototype state. The only known remaining example was part of Winchester’s collection, the Winchester-Burton Machine Rifle is a weapon in desperate need of research. 


Image One Source

Images Two & Three Source

America’s First Assault Rifle, Small Arms Review, (source)

Assault Rifles & Their Ammunition, A. Williams (source)

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Today on the set with a fan
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Imagine being so fed up with your office job. It was good pay and reasonable hours, but there was no excitement for you. It was just the same thing every day.

You sighed, walking out of your office, only to see two very attractive men sitting rather impatiently in the waiting area.

“Sam and Dean?” You call out. They look up and notice how beautiful you are. Dean waves, ready to flirt his way into your pants. “My office is this way.” You say, and turn to lead them back. They can’t help noticing how your ass looks perfect in your pencil skirt.

Once in your office, they start asking all these weird questions about the recent suicides in town.

“If you don’t mind me asking, why are you asking me this? It was suicide, all of them. I’m sorry, who did you say you were with?”

“News Weekly. It’s sort of, uh-.” Dean began.

“Memorial piece.” Sam finished. “We just like to have every corner checked before we print something.” You shook your head and shrugged.

“Alright,” You said, and told them everything you knew. You shook their hands on their way out. As you shook Dean’s, you felt something rumple against your skin. It was a piece of paper with a number scribbled on it and a note saying, “Call me sometime.” You looked up at him and he winked at you.

Once they thought you were out of earshot, Sam hit Dean’ s shoulder. “Can’t you be professional for, like, one second?”

“I am, shut up. So what do you think?” You were about to walk away until you heard something crazy come out of Dean’s mouth. “Ghost possession? Witch, maybe?” Um… What?

Sam shrugged and put his hands on his waist. “I don’t know. Maybe. Alright, I’m gonna hit the library. You go, uh, you go talk to the vic’s sister. Let’s see what we can see.”

“Yeah.” He replied, and they both left.

 Ghost possession? Witches? What kind of paper was this?

You were determined to find out who these guys really were. Maybe you’d give Dean a shout. That seemed like a good place to start.


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