Winchester’s Tank-Killing Rifle Barely Missed World War I
This gun was a monster
by MATTHEW MOSS
In early December 1918, Winchester engineer Edwin Pugsley filed a patent for a bolt-action, .50-caliber anti-tank rifle with a rotary locking bolt.
The Winchester anti-tank rifle — chambered for the company’s .50 BMG cartridge — could, in theory, perforate 22 millimeters of face-hardened armor steel plate at 91 meters, and 19 millimeters at 500 meters. Enough to punch through most contemporary tanks.
The gun was way ahead of its time. And also too late to serve in World War I.
Pugsley’s patent explained that, despite the size of the cartridge, the .50-caliber rifle’s bolt had limited longitudinal and rotary movement. The bolt appears to have had a 90-degree counterclockwise throw.
The idea was to help the shooter cycle the weapon between shots without losing his grasp of the grip and trigger, thus increasing the rate of aimed fire.
The rifle had a gravity-assisted, top-loading magazine, aligned slightly off-center. The prototype featured an unusual butt-stock profile resembling that of a Schuetzen target rifle.
The Winchester tank-killer had a tubular receiver that was reminiscent of that on the Winchester-Burton Machine Rifle. Pugsley’s rifle made use of a M1911-style pistol grip complete with grip panels, which also acted as the weapon’s bolt.
It had the same, standard M1917 Enfield flip-up rear sight that also appeared on the Winchester-Burton Machine Rifle prototype. One photograph, reproduced above, depicts the weapon with what appears to be a recoil-mitigating test mount and a long, high-mounted optic — the latter suggesting Pugsley intended the rifle for longer-range sniping or perhaps an anti-materiel role.
The rifle boasted an extremely large coil spring surrounding the barrel near the trunion. The example pictured at top, currently held by the Cody Firearms Museum, has a cracked receiver — which may have been the result of testing.
Pugsley’s design was certainly more ambitious than was the German T-Gewehr. The .50 BMG round would later debut along with the John Browning-designed M1921, which later evolved into the legendary Browning M2 heavy machine gun.
Arguably, the Winchester anti-tank rifle was well ahead of time. But it seems the war ended before Pugsley could complete development.
Pugsley, who had joined Winchester in 1911 as an apprentice engineer, ultimately became the director and vice president of research at Olin Industries before retiring in 1950. He died in November 1975 at the age of 90.
Originally published at Historical Firearms.