Calibre/Item: Featured article
Make: 1903 Springfield
Licence Number: Informative article only
Comment: The M1903 Springfield, formally the United States Rifle, Caliber .30-06, Model 1903, is an American clip-loaded, 5-round magazine fed, bolt-action service rifle used primarily during the first half of the 20th century.
It was officially adopted as a United States military bolt-action rifle on June 19, 1903, and saw service in World War I. It was officially replaced as the standard infantry rifle by the faster-firing semi-automatic 8 round M1 Garand starting in 1937. However, the M1903 Springfield remained in service as a standard issue infantry rifle during World War II, since the U.S. entered the war without sufficient M1 rifles to arm all troops. It also remained in service as a sniper rifle during World War II, the Korean War, and even in the early stages of the Vietnam War. It remains popular as a civilian firearm, historical collector`s piece, and as a military drill rifle.
The 1903 adoption of the Springfield Bolt Action was preceded by nearly 30 years of struggle and politics, using lessons learned from the recently adopted U.S. versions of the Krag-Jørgensen rifle and contemporary German Mauser G98 bolt-action rifles. The M1903 not only replaced the various versions of the U.S. Army`s Krag, but also the Lee Model 1895 and M1885 Remington-Lee used by the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps, as well as all remaining single shot trap-door Springfield Model 1873`s. While the Krag had been issued in both a long rifle and carbine, the Springfield was issued only as a short 24 in. barrel rifle in keeping with current trends in Switzerland and Great Britain to eliminate the need for both long rifles and carbines.
The two main problems usually cited with the Krag were its slow-to-load magazine and its inability to handle higher chamber pressures for high-velocity rounds. The United States Army attempted to introduce a higher-velocity cartridge in 1899 for the existing Krags, but its single locking lug on the bolt could not withstand the extra chamber pressure. Though a stripper-clip or charger loading modification to the Krag was designed, it was clear to Army authorities that a new rifle was required. After the U.S. military`s experience with the Mauser rifle in the 1898 Spanish–American War, authorities decided to adopt a stronger Mauser-derived design equipped with a charger- or stripper clip-loaded box magazine.
In 1882, the bolt action .45 Remington Lee rifle design of 1879, with its newly invented detachable box magazine, was purchased in limited numbers by the U.S. Navy. Several hundred 1882 Lee Navy Models (M1882 Remington-Lee) were also subjected to trials by the U.S. Army during the 1880s, though the rifle was not formally adopted. The Navy adopted the Model 1885, and later different style Lee Model 1895 (a 6mm straight pull bolt), which saw service in the Boxer Rebellion. In Army service, both the 1885 and 1895 6mm Lee were used in the Spanish–American War, along with the .30 Krag and the .45-70 Model 1873 Springfield. The Lee rifle`s detachable box magazine was invented by James Paris Lee, and would be very influential on later rifle designs. Other advancements had made it clear that the Army needed a replacement. In 1892, the U.S. military held a series of rifle trials, resulting in the adoption of the .30 Krag-Jørgensen rifle. The Krag officially entered U.S. service in 1894, only to be replaced nine years later by the Springfield M1903.
By the time of U.S. entry into World War I, 843,239 of these rifles had been produced at Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal. Pre-war production utilized questionable metallurgy. Some receivers constructed of single-heat-treated case-hardened steel were improperly subjected to excessive temperatures during the forging process. The carbon could be "burnt" out of the steel producing a brittle receiver. Despite documented evidence indicating some early rifles were improperly forged, actual cases of failure were very rare. Although several cases of serious injury from receiver failure were documented, the U.S. Army never reported any fatalities. Many failures were attributed to use of incorrect cartridges, such as the 7.92×57mm Mauser. Evidence also seems to suggest that improperly forged brass shell casings could have exacerbated receiver failure.
Pyrometers were installed in December 1917 to accurately measure temperatures during the forging process. The change was made at approximately serial number 800,000 for rifles made at Springfield Armory and at serial number 285,507 at Rock Island Arsenal. Lower serial numbers are known as "low-number" M1903 rifles. Higher serial numbers are said to be double-heat-treated. Towards the end of the war, Springfield turned out the Model 1903 Mark I. The Mark I has a cut on the left hand side of the receiver meant to act as an ejection port for the Pedersen device, a modified sear and cutoff to operate the Pedersen device; a specialized insert that replaced the bolt and allowed the user to fire .30 caliber pistol cartridges semi-automatically from a detachable magazine. The stock was also slightly cut down on the left side to clear the ejection port. In all other respects, the Mark I is identical to the 1903. Temperature control during forging was improved prior to Mark I production. The receiver alloy was toughened by addition of nickel after Mark I production.
In 1926, after experiencing the effect of long-range German 7.92x57mm Mauser and machine gun fire during the war, the U.S. Army adopted the heavy 174-grain boat-tail bullet for its .30-06 cartridge, standardized as `Cartridge, Ball, caliber 30, M1`. M1 ammunition, intended primarily for long-range machine gun use, soon became known by Army rifle competition teams and expert riflemen for its considerably greater accuracy over that of the M1906 round; the new M1 ammunition was issued to infantrymen with the Springfield rifle as well as to machine gun teams. However, during the late 1930s, it became apparent that, with the development of mortars, high-angle artillery, and the .50 caliber M2 Browning machine gun, the need for extreme long-range, rifle-caliber machine-gun fire was decreasing. In 1938, the U.S. army reverted to a .30-06 cartridge with a 152-grain flat-base bullet, now termed M2 Ball, for all rifles and machine guns.
In service, the Springfield was generally prized for its reliability and accuracy, though some problems remained. The precision rear aperture sight was located too far from the eye for efficient use, and the narrow, unprotected front sight was both difficult to see in poor light and easily damaged. The U.S. Marine Corps issued the Springfield with a sight hood to protect the front sight, along with a thicker front blade. The two-piece firing pin/striker also proved to be no improvement over the original one-piece Mauser design, and was a cause of numerous Ordnance repairs, along with occasional reports of jammed magazine followers.
World War II saw new production of the Springfield at private manufacturers Remington Arms and Smith-Corona Typewriter. Remington began production of the M1903 in September 1941, at serial number 3,000,000, using old tooling from the Rock Island Arsenal which had been in storage since 1919. The very early rifles are almost indistinguishable from 1919-made Rock Island rifles. As the already worn tooling began to wear beyond use Remington began seeking Army approval for a continuously increasing number of changes and simplifications to both speed up manufacture and improve performance. The milled parts on the Remington M1903 were gradually replaced with stamped parts until, at about serial number 3,330,000, the Army and Remington recognized that a new model name was appropriate. Other features of the M1903, such as high-grade walnut stocks with finger grooves, were replaced with less expensive but serviceable substitutes. Most milled parts made by Remington were marked with an "R".
M1903 production was discontinued in favor of the M1903A3. The most noticeable visual difference in the M1903A3 was the replacement of the barrel-mounted rear sight with a smaller, simpler aperture rear sight mounted on the rear of the receiver; it was primarily adopted in order to speed familiarization by soldiers already trained on the M1 Garand, which had a similar sighting system. However, the leaf spring providing tension to the elevation adjustment on the new aperture sight tended to weaken with continued use over time, causing the rifle to lose its preset range elevation setting. Other modifications included a new stamped cartridge follower; ironically, the rounded edges of the new design largely alleviated the `fourth-round jam` complaints of the earlier machined part. All stock furniture was also redesigned in stamped metal.
In late 1942, Smith-Corona Typewriter Company also began production of the M1903A3 at its plant in Syracuse, NY. Smith/Corona parts are usually identified by the absence of markings (Smith/Corona bolts are sometimes marked with an "X" on top of the bolt handle root). To speed production output, two-groove rifled barrels were adopted, and steel alloy specifications were relaxed under `War Emergency Steel` criteria for both rifle actions and barrels. M1903A3 rifles with two-groove `war emergency` barrels were shipped with a printed notation stating that the reduction in rifling grooves did not affect accuracy. As the war progressed, various machining and finishing operations were eliminated on the M1903A3 in order to increase production levels.
Original production rifles at Remington and Smith-Corona had a dark gray/black finish similar to the Parkerizing of late World War I. Beginning in late 1943 a lighter gray/green Parkerizing finish was used. This later finish was also used on arsenal repaired weapons. It is somewhat unusual to find a World War I or early World War II M1903 with its original dated barrel. Much, if not all, World War II .30-06 ammunition used a corrosive primer which left corrosive salts in the barrel. If not removed by frequent and proper barrel cleaning these residues could cause pitting and excessive wear. In the jungle fighting on various Pacific islands cleaning was sometimes lax and the excessive moisture compounded the corrosive action of the residue.
The M1903 and the M1903A3 rifle were used in combat alongside the M1 Garand by the U.S. military during World War II and saw extensive use and action in the hands of U.S. troops in Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific. The U.S. Marines were initially armed with M1903 rifles in early battles in the Pacific, such as the Battle of Guadalcanal, but the jungle battle environment generally favored self-loading rifles; later Army units arriving to the island were armed with the M1 Garand. The U.S. Army Rangers were also a major user of the M1903 and the M1903A3 during World War II with the Springfield being preferred over the M1 Garand for certain commando missions.
According to Bruce Canfield`s encyclopedic U.S. Infantry Weapons of WW II, final variants of the M1903 (the A3 and A4) were delivered in February 1944. By then, most American combat troops had been re-equipped with the M1 Garand. However, some front-line infantry units in both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps retained M1903s as infantry rifles beyond that date and continued to use them alongside the M1 Garand until the end of the Second World War in 1945. The Springfield remained in service for snipers (using the M1903A4), grenadiers (using a spigot type rifle 22 mm grenade launcher) and Marine Scout Sniper units.