Seems to me to be some question as to what was actually delivered and their purpose. As early as May 1940, the US War Department declared some 500,000 Enfield rifles as surplus. But, other sources, present 250,000 of these Enfields as being agreed to be sent to the British in September 1940.
The 500,000 -
In the UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II - CHIEF OF STAFF: PREWAR PLANS AND
PREPARATIONS by Mark Skinner Watson (1950) we can find discussion including mention of 500,000 rifles and ammunition:
Chapter X, starting on page 299, covers Aid to Britain versus Rearming America. See
https://history.army.mil/books/wwii/csppp/ch10.htm and starting on page 309
*“. . . On 22 May <1940>, the day when General Marshall resisted the Treasury's airplane proposal, the Chief of Ordnance provided the Chief of Staff with a list of ordnance items that might be released without imperiling the national defense. It was strikingly close to an Anglo-French request of the day before, and included 500,000 Enfield rifles, 100,000,000 rounds of .30-caliber ammunition, 500 75-mm. guns, 35,000 unmodified machine guns and automatic rifles, and 500 3-inch mortars with 50,000 rounds of ammunition. It is noticeable that the list, submitted in answer to a request from the Chief of Staff and resubmitted that day to the President, was made up of items far larger than ever before mentioned as surplus. General Marshall based it on Ordnance and G-4 estimates of what would be surplus to the needs of a 1,800,000-man army, reckoning on new equipment to be produced before the 1,800,000 total was attained. Accepting both the reasoning and the estimate, the President asked General Marshall to consider legal means of transferring to the British the declared surplus, and accordingly the Chief of Staff took up this matter with Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles. They agreed that the goods could not legally be sold direct to the Allies, and parted for separate consideration of that dilemma. To his Staff advisers General Marshall mentioned his further remarks on that occasion
“’. . . I explained to Mr. Welles the situation regarding aircraft, that we could not jeopardize the completion of our augmentation of operating units by releasing planes under process of manufacture for delivery to the Army; that the situation with regard to pilots would become an impossible one in a very few months if we did not receive deliveries of planes. He agreed with this. I told him that in the smaller matters of accommodating them regarding engines and things of that sort we would do practically all of this as desired by the Allies.’
“A report on legal methods of accomplishing the President's wish was made by General Moore, of G-4, who explained that an exchange of old for new ammunition could legally be effected only in the case of deteriorated or unserviceable ammunition; other items could be declared surplus by the Secretary of War and then sold to a domestic corporation which could resell abroad. He warned that it could not be done without public knowledge, but that formal public advertisement was not compulsory. The method subsequently outlined by General Marshall met the approval of the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, but the Secretary of War complied with Mr. Roosevelt's wishes only under order. He dutifully signed the transfer to the U. S. Steel Export Co. on 11 June - when the ordnance had already been assembled for shipment to Britain but this was after he had asked for legislation to designate the Secretary's future responsibilities in such a situation. It was not long afterward that Mr. Woodring was replaced in office - not by Mr. Johnson, who had expected the higher post, but by Henry L. Stimson.”*
. . . And jumping to page 312
*“The Critical Shortage in Small-Arms Ammunition
“Another item in these 1940 "surplus" lists calls for examination; this is the small-arms ammunition, of which 100,000,000 rounds were declared by General Wesson on 22 May to be releasable. Arrangements were made on 4 June to make the shipment, but in the next two days further exchanges of information, of which General Marshall was told, led to the conclusion that the Protective Mobilization Plan requirements were still exceeded by 30,000,000 rounds and these were added accordingly to the previously declared surplus. Further, the Chief of Staff then promised another 58,000,000 rounds to be delivered before December, to be replaced by 50,000,000 rounds on order, but only 8,000,000 rounds of that total were in fact delivered.
“Two circumstances intervened to prevent full delivery. One was an amendment to House Resolution 9822, the amendment prohibiting transfer of any more munitions except after certification by either the Chief of Naval Operations or the Chief of Staff that the munitions in question were not essential to defense of the United States. The other circumstance was the recognition in late July that there was present need for much more .30-caliber ammunition than had been previously estimated for training, for Philippines support, and for emergency supply. On 9 August Lt. Col. Orlando Ward, then Secretary of the General Staff, in a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of Staff noted a current proposal to release the remaining 50,000,000 rounds for shipment abroad, and predicted that "G. C. M. [General Marshall] will not certify it as surplus." He was right, for a 16 August memorandum from the Chief of Staff stated that no more .30-caliber ammunition should go to Britain from Army stocks, because there now was a shortage of 1,077,000,000 rounds.
“This startling admission, two months after the June tender, can be attributed to belated recognition of a fact, or else to a considerably altered situation. The Congress had passed the new appropriation bills for an Army much larger than the PMP force for which previous ammunition calculations had been made, and the National Guard and Selective Service calls were both in prospect. This appreciably changed the situation which had prevailed in June. Even so, General Marshall relented slightly four days later when, after discussions with G-4 and Ordnance officers, he agreed to release for shipment 5,000,000 rounds of the July-December allotments previously promised the British. The entire 50,000,000 allotment "I now consider too essential to our defense to permit the transfer." A directive he had issued on 14 August shows how thriftily he was dividing equipment at this time among the Army units, so that the demands of first-line troops would not absorb the supply to the total exclusion of second priority units. The directive ordered a general distribution up to one-fifth of organizational allowances but only after full priority had been given to the Alaskan defense, to the Armored Force (so far as tanks were concerned), and to the antiaircraft units.”*
Now, the 250,000 -
On the other hand, in Loewenheim, Francis, et al., eds., Roosevelt and Churchill – Their Secret Wartime Correspondence, (1975), (afraid I can’t help with an on line version, I using as first edition hard back for these citations) in the introduction to Part I, on page 80:
“Toward the end of July <1940>, however, various American organizations – including the so-called Century Group of prominent and influential interventionists and William Allen White’s Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies – began publicly advocating greater aid to Britain, and Churchill resumed his campaign for American destroyers. The Prime Minister’s anxieties were greatly increased by the onset of the blitz – the devastating bombing attacks on Great Britain designed to destroy British air strength by blasting airfields and key industries. The raids were widely regarded as a prelude to invasion.
“While British pressure increased, the American response was slowed by the presidential election campaign. Partisan feeling in the United States was running high, making concerted effort difficult. Moreover, problems soon developed when the Americans insisted on formal contractual arrangements. The British were reluctant both to make unlimited territorial concessions and to give more than private assurances regarding the disposition of the British fleet in case of defeat. Despite this, the two powers reached broad agreement by September, though final details were not settled for another 6 months, on the ‘deal’ which brought Britain no only fifty over-age American destroyers, but also five B-17 bombers, 250,000 Enfield rifles, and 5 million rounds of .30-caliber ammunition. All this material was given in exchange for long-term leases to construct American bases in various British possessions in the Western Hemisphere. In large measure, the whole arrangement was made possible only because of the degree of trust and understanding that had already developed between Roosevelt and Churchill.”
Fast forwarding to a couple of messages cited in this work . . .
On page 109, responding to a message from Roosevelt on 13 August 1940 outlining the potential disposition of the Royal Navy in the event of defeat and the establishing of various locations for naval bases for the United States, Churchill wrote back, in part, on 15 August:
“I need not tell you how cheered I am by your message or how grateful I feel for your untiring efforts to give us all possible help. You will, I am sure, send us everything you can, for you know well that the worth of every destroyer that you can spare us is measured in rubies. But we also need the torpedo boats which you mentioned and as many flying boats and rifles as you can let us have. We have a million men waiting for rifles.”
. . .
Then Roosevelt to Churchill, in full, on 23 September 1940 (page 114):
“As soon as your message was received from Lord Lothian arrangements were undertaken for the release of the 250,000 Enfield rifles to the Purchasing Commission. I am informed that the rifles are already under way to New York for shipment.”
I wonder as to the significance of “. . . release of the 250,000 . . . “ as opposed to saying simply “release of 250,000 . . . ” Sounds pretty specific to me.
And in a long missive from Churchill to Roosevelt on 7 December 1940, we can find buried in the text on page 124:
“. . . You may have also received information about the needs or our armies. In the munitions sphere, in spite of enemy bombing we are making steady progress. Without you continued assistance in the supply of machine tools and the further release from stock of certain articles we could bot hope to equip 50 divisions in 1941. I am grateful for the arrangements already practically completed for your aid in the equipment of the army which we have already planned and for the provision of American-type weapons for an additional 10 divisions in time for the campaign of 1942. . . .”
So, perhaps, it was not so much that the rifles, be they the 500,000 identified as surplus or the 250,000 Roosevelt messaged as being released, were not so much needed for defense of the British Isles from German invasion (especially by the end of September 1940 German invasion was becoming less and less likely), but rather to start the process of carrying the war back to the Germans. Truly, the US Enfield rifles had to be clearly marked as they could only use the US .30-06 round, not the British .303. It was probably never envisioned to use the US Enfield’s in combat operations (not a good idea operationally or logistically to mix rifles/rifle rounds so similar in appearance in places of serious employment, leads to unpleasant surprises), but to use them in training until British production could reach equipping the forces as necessary.