Winchester Model 1895 Lee (Navy Lee)
Straight-Pull, Cam-Action Rifle
Its unique cam-action, coupled with reliability problems, ensured just 15,000 of the expected 100,000 Winchester Model 1895 Lee rifles were ever produced.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
The Winchester Lee Model 1895 rifle (Model 1895) was based on the works of James Paris Lee (1831-1904), a Scottish-born inventor/gunsmith who eventually took up American citizenship during the course of his life. His greatest claims to fame would become the Lee-Metford and Lee-Enfield service rifles which both managed long storied careers. His work on the integral box magazine approach, coupled to a straight-pull, "cam-action" design, allowed his guns to be sold without patent infringement from traditional bolt-actions manufacturers. In 1895, the United States Navy accepted Lee's Model of 1895 (M1895) and adopted it in the rather limited 6mm caliber. Serial manufacture of the gun then fell to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The United States Navy commissioned for 100,000 of the rifles and the Model 1895 marked the first American-originated rifle to support a clip-loaded magazine.
The rifle became known under various names throughout its service but remained of a conventional layout utilizing a solid, single-piece of wood that integrated the shoulder stock and grip handle. A single band joined the barrel to the stock for rigidity near the rifle's midway point. The action was contained at the bulk of the stock with the integral magazine set just ahead of the trigger unit. Sights were added to the receiver as well behind the muzzle in traditional fashion. Sling loops were present under the stock and under the forend. The rifle carried an overall length of the weapon was 48 inches with the barrel assembly measuring 28 inches long. Overall weight was 8.3lbs. The weapon utilized 6mm Lee Navy or 6mm USN cartridges through a wedge/cam locking action and five cartridges could be loaded into the fixed box magazine.
Performance-wise, the Model 1895 featured a muzzle velocity of 2,560 feet per second with an effective range out to 600 yards and as far out (maximum range) as 2,000 yards. Sighting was through a bladed front with a U-notch rear and adjustable for windage and elevation.
The major difference between the Model 1895 and its bolt-action contemporaries was the Model 1895's use of the "cam-action" system. Unlike the bolt-action types, the Model 1895 had a bolt that did not rotate in the action and was, instead, locked to the receiver through the cam-action and managed via a cam handle sitting over the right side of the gun. In appearance, this mimicked a true bolt-action to a high degree, though no so much in general operation. In practice, while expected to become a quicker action for rifleman in the heat-of-battle, it ended up being an awkward stroke for many.
Actual military service eventually proved the shortcomings of the Winchester Lee design despite the rifle being of solid construction and functionality. The more traditional - and widely available - turn-bolt action style rifles grew in the marketplace and quickly overshadowed alternative approaches like the Winchester Lee to the point that little were actually ever put into circulation. A commercial sporting version even failed to net required sales for continuation of the line. As such, the United States Navy revaluated their service rifle and decided against procuring the rest of their initial 100,000 unit request.
As its name suggests, production of the rifle began in 1895 though total manufacture became just 15,000 units by the end of the story. These did, however, go on to see some military service (with the US Navy and Marines) during the period of 1895 into 1907 through several notable conflicts including the Spanish-American War (1898), the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) and the Moro Rebellion (1899-1913).
The rifle's formal name was "Lee Rifle, Model of 1895, Caliber 6mm".