The Springfield M1903, formally the United States Rifle, Caliber .30, Model 1903, is an American magazine-fed, bolt-action rifle used primarily during the first half of the 20th century.
It was officially adopted as a United States military service 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 M1 Garand, starting in 1936. However, the M1903 Springfield remained in service as a standard issue infantry rifle during World War II, and a sniper rifle during the Korean War, and the early stages of the Vietnam War. It remains in use as a civilian firearm and as a military drill rifle.
The 1903 adoption of the Springfield bolt-action was preceded by nearly 30 years of struggle and politics, as well as lessons learned from the recently adopted U.S. Models 1892-98 Krag and contemporary German Mauser bolt-action rifles. The M1903 not only replaced the various versions of the Krag, but also the Lee Model 1895 and M1885 Remington-Lee used by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, as well as the remaining trap-door Springfields (Model 1873). While the Krag had been issued in both a long rifle and carbine, there would be only one Springfield type; this was a break from the existing trend.
The two main problems usually cited with the Krag were its slow-to-load magazine and its inability to handle higher chamber pressures for higher-velocity rounds. Which of these was more important is a matter of debate, as is the impact of the Mausers encountered in the 1898 Spanish American War. What is known is that the Mauser design that competed in the 1890s competition with a stripper clip magazine was defeated by the Krag (as well as many other designs) with its rotary magazine reloaded one cartridge at a time. Note that a special sort of stripper clip for reloading the Krag magazine all at once came later. Also, the Mauser model in the trial had about the same muzzle velocity as the Krag.
After the Krag's adoption, however, there was a trend to greater cartridge power, such as the Model 1893 Spanish Mauser, which generated a flatter trajectory, and a higher muzzle velocity (about 2300 ft/s) from the 7 x 57 mm Spanish Mauser cartridge.
The ballistics of the .30-40 Krag and the 7 x 57 mm Mauser rounds were actually not that much different. Both cartridges had round-nosed bullets; pointed, streamlined bullets (spitzers) were later introduced by France. The smokeless powder used by both was an advantage over the older black-powder rifles still used in the war (on both sides of the conflict), such as issued to volunteers and the local militia. U.S. troops were greatly impressed, however, with the volume of fire that the Spanish troops could produce with their faster-loading Mausers, compared to the U.S. Krags.
The U.S. Army attempted to introduce a higher-velocity cartridge in 1899 for the existing Krags, but its single locking lug on the bolt could not handle the extra chamber pressure. A stripper-clip arrangement was also worked out for loading the Krag. It was around the same time that work on a new rifle began.
The fact that the U.S. was adopting a new rifle after only a few years was not actually much of an oddity, as many nations were switching to new firearms in this general period.
Late 1800s: the lead up to adoption
The situation from which the 1903 resulted itself stems from a previous period going back nearly thirty years. Since the late 1870s, the Army had been looking for a replacement for the existing service rifle of the average soldier, the trap-door Springfield (i.e. the Model 1873). The Army was rather underfunded during the period so the regular soldiers were usually stuck with model 1873, though a variety of bolt-action rifles and carbines were also used to varying degrees, and more wealthy soldiers often bought commercial weapons. The Army budget in 1865 was over a million dollars, but this had rapidly tapered down with the end of the U.S. Civil War; the Army budget in 1892 was less than $50,000 a year. The need for a new rifle had become apparent, especially with a switch to a smokeless powder going on (started by the French in 1886). The bolt action Lee rifle in 1879, which had a newly invented detachable box magazine, was adopted in the 1880s in limited numbers by the Navy. A few hundred 1882 Lee Models (M1882 Remington-Lee) were given a trial by the Army during the 1880s, though it was not formally adopted. The Navy went on to field the 1885 model, and later, a rather different style Lee 1895 Model (a straight pull type). Both the 1895 and 1885 would see service in the Spanish American War along with the Army weapons. The detachable box magazine used on the Lee rifle was invented by James Paris Lee, and would be very influential on later designs. Other advancements like the aforementioned smokeless powder had made it clear that a replacement was needed. This led to the 1890s' competitions that resulted in selection of the Krag over 40 other types (including the Mauser design). The Krag types entered production in 1894 after a delay, but would be officially replaced about ten years later by the M1903. The Krag rifles were slowly replaced during the next decade as 1903 rifles became available.
There are various reasons given about why development started on a Mauser based design; the rifle is often said to have been developed due to observations of actions during the Spanish American War, in which Spanish troops were armed with Mauser Model 93 rifles. As mentioned, these were deemed superior to the U.S. Krag-Jørgensen rifles, either attributed to their magazine design or the ballistics of the round. The Mausers were fed from a stripper clip, which tends to allow for faster reloading. While the U.S had actually fielded some removable magazine fed weapons earlier in 19th century (such as the Spencer, or the various Lee models), the Krag was the existing Army service rifle and its 5 round magazine had to be reloaded one cartridge at time. The other issue was that while the Mauser trialled in the 1890s had a muzzle velocity of about 2000 ft/s (600 m/s) (about the same as the Krag), the latest designs being adopted by other countries had gone to higher velocities and the Krag could not handle the increased loads for higher velocity. The extent of the actual effect of the Mausers on the war is a matter of debate, for example only the Spanish regulars had the Mauser 93, while other troops had older single-shot weapons. Whatever the extent, the Army leveraged the events to garner support for a new rifle.
The basic time line is that work began on creating a rifle that could handle higher loads and adopted some of Mauser's features, began around the turn of the century by Springfield, with a prototype produced in 1900, and going into production in 1903, thus gaining its nomenclature. There was actually an interim rifle that almost entered production, the Model 1901. Springfield was sure enough that the Model 1901 would be accepted that they began making some parts, but it was not accepted and further changes were asked for. The design was further modified and accepted, type classified and entering production in 1903.
The War Department had exhaustively studied and dissected several examples of the Mauser Model 93 rifle captured during the Spanish-American War, and combined features of both the U.S. Krag Rifle Models 1894-1898, and the Mauser Model 93, to produce the new U.S. Springfield Rifle, Model 1903. Still, the 1903's used so many design features from the German Mauser that the U.S. government paid royalties to Mauserwerke.
By January 1905 over 80,000 of these rifles had been produced at the federally-owned Springfield Armory. However, President Theodore Roosevelt objected to the design of the bayonet used (a rod-type) as being too flimsy for combat. All the rifles to that point consequently had to be re-tooled for a knife-type bayonet, called the M1905. A new improved Model 1904 sight was also added.
The retooling was almost complete when it was decided another change would be made. It was to incorporate improvements discovered during experimentation in the interim, most notably the use of pointed ammunition, first adopted by the French in the 1890s and later other countries. The round itself was based on the .30-03, but rather than a 220-grain (14 g) round-tip bullet fired at 2,300 ft/s (700 m/s), it had a 150-grain (9.7 g) pointed bullet fired at 2,800 ft/s (810 m/s); the case neck was a fraction of an inch shorter as well. The new American cartridge was designated "Cartridge, Ball, Caliber .30, Model of 1906"; this M1906 cartridge is the famous .30-06 ammunition used in countless rifles and machine guns to the present day. The rifle's sights were again re-tooled to compensate for the speed and trajectory of the new cartridge. As further testing revealed that the M1906 cartridge was effective with a shorter, all-purpose barrel length of 24 inches (610 mm) in length, the decision was made to issue the Springfield with a 24" barrel length to both cavalry and infantry forces, an idea adopted by both the British and German armies.
As a whole, the new changes led to a much longer-ranged shoulder arm. Some dubbed it the "weapon of the silent death," since a person could be struck by its bullet before ever hearing the weapon's report.
World War I and Interwar Use
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 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 US Army never reported any fatalities. Evidence also seems to suggest that improperly forged brass shell casings could have exacerbated receiver failure.
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 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 7.92 mm 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 machinegun 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 M2 ammunition was issued to infantrymen with the Springfield rifle as well as to machinegun teams. However, during the late 1930s, it became apparent that, with the development of mortars, high-angle artillery, and the .50 caliber Browning M2 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 machineguns.
World War II
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 parts made by Remington, stamped or milled, were marked with an "R".
M1903 and M1903A1 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 early 1942, Smith-Corona Typewriter Company also began production of the M1903A3 at its plant in Rochester, 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, WW2 .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 US 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 US 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 beyond that date. The Springfield remained in service for snipers (using the M1903A4), grenadiers (using a spigot type rifle grenade launcher) and "scout snipers", a type of infantry scout.
The M1903A4 was the U.S. Army's first attempt at a standardized sniper weapon. M1903A3 actions were fitted with a different stock and a Weaver Model 330 or 330C 2.2x telescopic sight in Redfield Jr. mounts; the front and rear iron sights were removed. Barrel specifications were unchanged, and many M1903A4s were equipped with the two-groove 'war emergency' barrel. By all accounts, the M1903A4 was inadequate as a sniper rifle. The M1903A4 could only be singly loaded, one cartridge at a time, due to the mounting of the telescopic sight directly over the action (preventing charging the magazine with 5-round stripper clips). More important, the Weaver scopes (later standardized as the M73 and M73B1) were not only low-powered in magnification, they were not waterproofed, and frequently fogged over or became waterlogged during humidity changes. When this occurred, the M1904A4's lack of open front or rear sights rendered the weapon useless. Normally used with ordinary M2 ammunition with a 152-grain flat-base bullet, accuracy of the M1903A4 was generally disappointing; some Army snipers who came across Japanese or German sniper rifles quickly adopted the enemy weapons in place of the Springfield. The Marine Corps declined to issue the M1903A4, favoring instead a modified M1903A1 rifle fitted with a Unertl 8x target-type telescopic sight.
The U.S. Army Military Police (MP) and the U.S. Navy Shore Patrol also used M1903s and M1903A3s throughout the war. Various U.S. allies and friendly irregular forces were also equipped with the weapon. The 1st Brazilian Infantry Division, operating in the 5th Army in Italy was equipped with Springfield M1903 rifles. In August 1943, the Free French forces of General Charles de Gaulle were re-equipped by the United States primarily with Springfield M1903 and M1917 Enfield rifles. The M1903 became one of the primary rifles used by French forces until the end of the war, and was afterwards used by local militia and security forces in Indochina and French Algeria.
Springfield M1903 rifles captured by the Germans were designated Gewehr 249(a).
Post Korean War Service
After the Korean War, active service (as opposed to drill) use of the M1903 was rare. Still, some numbers of them remained in USMC sniper use as late as the Vietnam War. The U.S. Navy also continued to carry some stocks of M1903A3s on board ships, for use as anti mine rifles.
Due to its balance, it is still popular with various military drill teams and color guards, most notably the U.S. Army Drill Team. M1903 rifles (along with the M1 Garand) are also common at high school Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) units to teach weapons handling and military drill procedures to the cadets. JROTC units use M1903s for regular and inter-school competition drills, including elaborate exhibition spinning routines. Exhibition teams often use fiberglass stocks in place of wooden stocks, which are heavier and more prone to breakage when dropped. The M1903 is also the standard parade rifle of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, which has over six hundred M1903s, a very small percentage of which are still fireable.
For safety reasons, JROTC M1903s are made permanently unable to fire by having a metal rod welded into the barrel, or having it filled with lead, soldering the bolt and welding the magazine cutoff switch in the ON position.
In 1977, the Army located a rather large cache of un-issued M1903A3 rifles which were then issued to JROTC units as a replacement for their previously issued M1 Garand and M14 rifles, which were then returned to Army custody due to concerns about potential break-ins at high school JROTC armories. After the creation of the privatized Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) in 1996, the Army has located additional M1903 and M1903A3 rifles which have been made available for sale to eligible CMP customers. The CMP announced over Halloween weekend 2008, that they had a handful of M1903 and M1903A3's available for sale. The following Monday the CMP received over 700 pieces of mail, and most of the rifles have since sold out, per the 11-17-08 update from the CMP.