In 1917, the McClellan cavalry saddle was still an obsolete design, that the Ordnance Department had no intention of reviving.  The 1912 Service Saddle had been developed at great cost, with a complete set of associated accoutrements and fittings.  The actual seat of the saddle had failed under hard field usage, and further production of that part of the ‘set’ had been suspended in 1915, in order to have a replacement designed, tested and put into production.  At least three contenders were considered, with one standing out and identified as the M1917 Enlisted Saddle.

World events unwittingly conspired to condemn the M1917 Enlisted saddle to a forgotten end, as the United States was drawn into the great war raging in Europe.  A massive planned mobilization took shape in late March and early April 1917, followed by the realization that there was ‘nothing in the cupboard’ to supply the huge forces being contemplated.  The M1912 Service saddle had been effectively condemned, and none made in nearly two years.  The McClellans in use were basically leftovers, and certainly not available in numbers to even begin to equip the Regular Army demands, much less the National Guard and National Army juggernaut.

The familiarity of the McClellan and it’s equipments was well known to many manufacturers around the country, with many of them having provided these items during the Spanish-American war, and in the twenty years following that.   To effect a rapid mobilization while minimizing potential production bottlenecks, the Ordnance Dept decided that the McClellan equipments would be the most rational choice, given the short turn-around times required.

To assist in this effort, updated schematics and drawings were prepared in April and May of 1917, to be used by these private firms to fulfill the flood of contracts that were being prepared.  The manufacturers, for their part, had been on a war-production footing since late 1914.  A vast amount of material had been produced for European nations since the beginning of the war in Europe, and their processes, equipment and labor was (for many) firmly established and ready to go.

The prepared drawings of April and May were similar to those that had been around for years, but show a distinctly different focus on absolute precision.  Comparison to drawings of even a few months before show greater specificity in angles, radii, measurements and small finish details.  Contractors were clearly informed that their product would be inspected and judged by the specification drawing that they were be provided with.

Another key detail that makes a War Contract easy to visually ID is the profile of the pommel – it was increased in bulk, and gave the saddle a much beefier and bulky profile compared to earlier saddles.

Image the 20 April 1917 Quartermaster drawings prepared for saddletree contractors, specifying materials reinforcement archs and stirrup loops
Image the 20 April 1917 Quartermaster drawings prepared for saddletree contractors, specifying materials reinforcement arches and stirrup loops

One of the stories of WW1 horse equipment production involves a scandal where a number of military acquisition officers conspired to contract for production quotas that were grossly over-estimated, to ensure that the most income and resources possible were routed to certain companies.  The major motivation for those officers was the fact that they were important leaders of leather trade associations before the war, and owners of leather goods companies themselves.  It’s an interesting story, and we’ll be diving into it at a later time.

Unlike the fiasco of shoddy wartime production during the civil war, most of the material produced during WW1 was extremely well made, meticulously inspected, and delivered by the boxcar load.  The sheer numbers of saddles manufactured is mind-boggling, with 1922 congressional investigation estimates well over 900,000.  I would suspect that people will be finding, restoring and riding old WW1 McClellans for hundreds of years, until the tough old wooden trees all rot from sheer age.