It was officially adopted as a service rifle on June 19th 1903, and was officially replaced as a service rifle by the faster-firing, semi-automatic M1 Garand, starting in 1936. The M1903 saw notable use in World War I and World War II, and some cases in Vietnam. It was also used as a sniper rifle in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Furthermore, it remains in use as a civilian firearm and among some drill teams into the 21st century.
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 1870). 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 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 (701 m/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 Germany. 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 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 under-funded 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 end of the U.S. Civil War; the Army budget in 1892 was less than 50,000 dollars 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 American rounds with this feature to be used in the Springfield were designated "Cartridge, Ball, Caliber .30, Model of 1906"; this is the famous .30-06 ammunition used in countless small arms to the present day. The rifle's sights were again redone to compensate for the speed and trajectory of the new cartridges. The round itself was based on the .30-03, but rather than a 220-grain (14 g) bullet fired a 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 inch shorter as well.
Additionally, tests revealed that the design was effective with a short, "cavalry-style" barrel of 24 inches (610 mm) in length, so the decision was made to issue shorter rifles to the infantry as well, an innovation during a time when long rifles for infantry were the norm.
As a whole, these changes led to a vastly efficient and deadly 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
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. The demands of the war, however, spurred the production of an additional 265,620, still not nearly enough to train and arm American troops. This prompted production of 2.5 million of the U.S. Model of 1917 (M1917 Enfield), also in .30-06 caliber, but from British (Enfield) P13 and later P14 rifle designs. Most US soldiers were in fact armed with M1917 rifles during the conflict. 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.
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 of 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". The M1903 became the M1903/A3. The most noticeable visual difference in the M1903/A3 was the replacement of the barrel-mounted rear sight with a smaller, simpler "peep" rear sight mounted on the rear of the receiver. All stock furniture was stamped metal. In mid-1943, starting with Serial #3608000, Smith/Corona Typewriter Company also began production of the M1903/A3 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). Original production rifles at Remington and Smith/Corona had a dark gray/black finish similar to the Parkerizing of late WW1. 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 WW1 or early WW2 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 the Second World War 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. 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 commando missions. By mid-war, however, US combat troops had been re-equipped with the M1 Garand. However, some front-line infantry units in both the US Army and the US Marine Corps still used the M1903 and the M1903A3 despite large quantities of M1 Garands being made available to front-line troops during the later years of World War 2.
It remained in service for snipers (using the M1903A4),grenadiers (using a spigot type rifle grenade launcher) and "scout snipers", a type of infantry scout. Military Police also continued to use M1903s and M1903A3s throughout the war. The M1903A4 sniper variant's magazine could only be loaded one cartridge at a time, due to the scope position directly over the action, which prevented charging the magazine with 5 round stripper clips.
Following August 1943, the Free French were re-equipped by the United States primarily with Springfield M1903 and M1917 Enfield rifles, making the Springfield M1903 rifle one of the primary rifles of French forces until the end of the war.
Springfield M1903 rifles captured by the Germans were designated Gewehr 249(a).
The 1st Brazilian Infantry Division, operating in the 5th Army in Italy was equipped with Springfield M1903 rifles.
The M1903A4 was slowly phased out during the Korean war by the Army, but saw extensive use in the Marine Corps in the form of the M1941 Sniper rifle. This new rifle was simply equipped with a very long and powerful Unertl 7.8x (as compared to the M73B1 2.5X telescopic sights issued with the army's M1903A4) variant type scope. It was used in situations when the range to the target simply exceeded that of the Marines' M1C and M1D sniper rifles, which were effective to about 500 yd (457 m). In some rare cases, kills from up to 1,000 yd (914 m) were reported by Marines using the M1941 sniper rifles. Marine Corps armorers continued to rebuild some M1903 sniper rifles as late as the early stages of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Perhaps somewhat eccentrically, General Ridgeway, one of the various U.S. Army generals to have overall command in Korea at one point during the war, carried a M1903A3 along with him during the war. During World War II he had carried a M1903.
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 are also common in high schools for 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 similar to a majorette spinning a baton. Exhibition teams often use fiberglass stocks in place of wooden stocks, which are heavier and more prone to breakage when dropped.
For safety reasons, JROTC M1903s are made permanently unable to fire by having a metal rod welded into the barrel and soldering the firing pin hole on the bolt.
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. Currently, the CMP does not sell M1903s, but they are planning a sale in January 2009.
The US rifle, Model of 1903 was 44 7/8 in (1.098 m) long and weighed 8 lb 11 oz (3.95 kg). A bayonet could be attached; the M1905 bayonet blade was 16 in(406 mm) long and weighed 1 lb (0.45 kg). After the 1906 re-fit, the rifle fired the .30-06 Springfield cartridge. There were four standard types of cartridge:
- Ball— consisted of a brass case or shell, primer, a charge of smokeless powder, and the bullet. The bullet had a sharp point called a spitzer bullet, and was composed of a lead core and a jacket of cupro nickel, and weighed 150 gr (9.7 g). The bullet of this cartridge, when fired from the rifle, had an initial velocity of 2,700 ft/s (820 m/s).
- Blank; contained a paper cup instead of a bullet. It is dangerous up to 33 yd (30 m).
- Guard; had a smaller charge of powder than the ball cartridge, and five cannelures encircle the body of the shell at about the middle to distinguish it from ball cartridges. It was intended for use on guard or in riot duty, and it gave good results up to 200 yd (180 m). The range of 100 yd (90 m) required a sight elevation of 450 yd (410 m), and the range of 200 yd (180 m) required an elevation of 645 yd (590 m).
- Dummy; this was tin-plated and the shell was provided with six longitudinal corrugations and three circular holes. The primer contains no percussion composition. It was intended for drill purposes to accustom the soldier to the operation of loading the rifle.
The rifle was sighted for 2,500 yd (2,300 m) and had a point-blank range of 500 yd(457 m). The maximum range of the ball cartridge, when elevated at an angle of 45°, was 4,890 yd (4.47 km).
The rifle was a magazine-fed clip-loader and could fire at a rate of 20 shots per minute. Each stripper clip contained 5 cartridges, and standard issue consisted of 12 clips carried in a cloth bandolier. When full the bandolier weighed about 3 lb 14 oz (1.76 kg). Bandoliers were packed 20 in a box, for a total of 1,200 rounds. The full box weighed 100 lb (45 kg).
The bore of the rifle is 0.30 inches (7.62 mm) in diameter. It was then rifled 0.004 in (0.1 mm) deep, making the diameter from the bottom of one groove to the bottom of the opposite groove 0.30787 in (7.82 mm) of the barrel.
The 1903 rifle included a rear sight leaf that could be used to adjust for elevation. When the leaf was flat, the battle sight appeared on top. This sight was set for 546 yd (499 m), and was not adjustable. When the leaf was raised it could be adjusted to a maximum extreme range of 2,875 yd (2629 m). The rear sight could also be adjusted for windage.
The 1903A3 rear sight was an aperture sight adjustable both for elevation and windage.
There were four main variants given official nomenclature, though there are a number of important sub-variants:
- M1903 (1903)— developed for the .30-03' Springfield (also known as the .30-45) cartridge. Used original Type S stock.
- M1903 (1905)— changed from a rod type bayonet to the knife type Model 1905 bayonet and to the improved Model 1905 sight.
- M1903 (1906)— modified again to specifically fire the new M1906 .30-06 cartridge ("Ball Cartridge, caliber 30, Model of 1906").
- M1903 Mark I (~1918)— modified for specific use with the Pedersen device.
- M1903A1 (1930-1939)— changed to a straight stock with different pistol stock grip (Type C stock).
M1903A1 also manufactured by Remington Arms under contract in anticipation of WWII, with Remington producing an estimated 350,000 of these rifles in 1941
- M1903A2 (1930s–40s)— basically a stripped A1 or A3 used as a subcaliber rifle with artillery pieces.
- M1903A3 (1942)— modified for easier production with stamped metal parts and somewhat different grip and stock (late model Type S stock; no finger grooves).
- M1903A4 (1942)— a M1903A3 modified to be a sniper rifle using a M73 or M73B1 2.2X telescopic sight and different stock.
- M1903 Bushmaster carbine (1940s)— the barrel and stock were cut down 18 in (45.7 cm) for easier use in Panama; 4,725 such rifles were made. It was a training rifle and saw no action. After WWII most were dumped into the ocean and surviving pieces are rare.
There are two main other types, various training types, and competition versions such as the National Match types. Aside from these there are some other civilian versions, experimental versions, and other miscellaneous types. Due to the duration of its service, there is also a range of smaller differences among ones from different periods and manufacturers. In regard to its military use, it is important to note that during WWI it was actually outnumbered by the M1917 Enfield for much of the war. Also, during WW2 many remained in use early on, especially in the Pacific (generally replaced as M1 Garands became available), in addition to service (along with other weapons) as a sniper rifle and to launch rifle grenades.
The Springfield is the rifle that Francis Macomber uses in Ernest Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber". It is also used by the young Rudy Waltz in Kurt Vonnegut's Deadeye Dick. It figures prominently in From Here to Eternity by James Jones as soldiers drill and train with it, and fire it at Japanese aircraft on December 7, 1941.
- Engineer Field Manual, War Department, Document No. 355, 1909.
- Manual for Noncommissioned Officers and Privates of Infantry of The Army of the United States, War Department, Document No. 574, 1917.
- United States Rifles and Machine Guns, Fred H. Colvin and Ethan Viall, Associate Editors American Machinist, Members Society American Mechanical Engineers, Members Franklin Institute, 1917.
- U.S. Infantry Weapons of World War II. Bruce N. Canfield, Andrew Mowbray Publishers, 1994.
- "Bushmaster '03 Carbine," American Rifle magazine, April 2005, p. 40.
- SniperCountry.com article on the M1903
- Springfield M1903 at Modern Firearms
- FM 23-10 Basic Field Manual: U.S. Rifle Caliber .30, M1903, 20 September 1943
- 90th Infantry Division Preservation Group - Reference manual page including several M1903 manuals