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Springfield '03 Rifle

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Springfield '03 Rifle

Jack Ernest with Springfield Rifle


Marine Sgt. Jack Ernest of Wintersville, OH, Memorial Day speaker at the ADBC Museum, checks the ‘03 Springfield rifle similar to those supplied in the Philippines. The rifle was donated by Tony Bilek of Rantoul, IL, and supplied by Collectors Firearms of Houston, TX. The owner of the firm provided the rifle at cost when informed it was for the ADBC Museum.


The 1903 Springfield rifle was developed soon after the Spanish American War (1898). The military realized the Mauser Rifle the Spanish were using was superior to the Krag-Jorgensen rifles issued to the U.S. soldiers.  The US Army Ordnance Department made test models with their envisioned changes.  This rifle would reach legendary status, in service for close to a century.

 The Rock Island Arsenal (US Armory) in Springfield, Massachusetts manufactured the first new rifle, the Model 1903 “Springfield Rifle” or ’03 as it was commonly called.  Initially, it was chambered for the “Model 1903” cartridge, known as the “.30-03.” It was also fitted with a flimsy “rod bayonet.”  This model proved problematic later when it was found it led to bore erosion.   The first issue of guns was for 74,000 units.

 Many of the guns from this order did not go out into the field, but were recalled to have the modifications made that the newer models contained.

The rifle was redesigned in 1905 to accept a knife-type bayonet allowing both the infantry and the cavalry to use the weapon. It eliminated the need for separate rifles and carbines.  President Theodore Roosevelt was pleased with the newer bayonet over the old ramrod bayonet. “I must say that I think the ramrod bayonet is about as poor an invention as I ever saw.”

 After finding the original round nosed bullet to prove inferior to the German “spitzer” bullet (which was sharp-pointed), the manufacturers went into another redesign and was called the “Cartridge, Ball, Caliber .30, Model of 1906,” now widely known as the “.30 06.” With the new innovations from 1905 and 1906, the M1903 would be produced for the next 40 years.  This gun was also used in Olympic matches. 

By World War I, it was the standard military rifle. It reigned supreme until the semi-automatic MI Garand Rifle came into play, and the “03” production halted.

 However, by Pearl Harbor, not many M1s were available, so the Springfield “03” was the main weapon issued to the men.  Early World War II battles were fought with the bolt-action Springfield.  

 Contracts to make new models of the 03 rifles were awarded to the Remington Arms Company in the latter part of 1941.  They changed the gun by eliminating non-essential features and made a simpler peep sight.  This new model was called the “M1903A3.” 

The Smith Corona Typewriter Company also made the guns.  The weapons differed between the Remington Arms Company and The Smith Corona Typewriter Company by the number of barrels and the letter on the bolts, “R” for Remington and “X” for Smith Corona.  Another manufacturer helping the Smith Corona Company was High Standard Manufacturing Company.

 The Remington put another model in production called the “M1903A4” that served as a sniper rifle.  The U.S. Army utilized this gun throughout the globe and the Marine Scout/ Snipers adopted this gun and favored its use in the Pacific.  The Marine Corps added a specialized telescope for sniper action and this model was called the M1903A4/Unertl.

 M1903s also launched various types of grenades, including fragmentation, smoke, pyrotechnic and antitank.  They were used for this purpose throughout World War II.

 In the Korean War, the guns went through yet another change with updated telescopes.  The Marines put their M1903A4/Unertl rifles to work once again.  The guns also saw combat duty as late in Vietnam.  Sometimes, drill teams and color guards still carry the rifles, making them one of the most respected weapons of the US military.

          The Springfield and the Marines 

 The following is from the Marines World War II Commemorative Series entitled Opening Moves:  Marines Gear Up for War by Henry Shaw, Jr.

Springfield '03

Marine with Springfield Rifle


This rifle was the standard issue to all Marines from the early days of the 20th century into the first year of World War II. As a result of intensive marksmanship training, an inseparable bond formed between the individual Marine and this rifle which paid dividends on the target range and, later, in combat.

The Model 1903 "Springfield" rifle traces its development from the experiences of the U.S. Army in combat against he Spanish Army during the Spanish-American War. The clip-fed Spanish 7mm Mauser rifle, Model 1893, had a flatter trajectory and a higher sustained rate of fire than the .30-.40 caliber Krag-Jorgensen rifles used by the U.S. Army.  Beginning in 1900, the U.S. Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts, started work on a new service rifle to replace the Krag.

The new rifle, officially adopted on 19 June 1903, was based on the M1898 German Mauser and originally had a ramrod bayonet. The rifle was redesigned to accept a knife-type bayonet in 1905. This change was at least partially due to the concern of President The9dore Roosevelt who commented to the Secretary of War that: "I must say that I think the ramrod bayonet is about as poor an invention as I ever saw:'

The Model 1903 "Springfield" rifle was first issued Marines in 1908 and saw its first combat during the Nicaraguan Campaign of 1912. The obsolescent Krags were almost entirely supplanted by the new '03 Springfields before the Vera Cruz campaign of 1914. After service in Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, the '03 Springfield was exclusively used by Marines serving in France with the American Expeditionary Force during World War I. Following the war, an improved version was used by Marines in China and in the jungles of the Caribbean Islands and Central America.

The accuracy of the '03 Springfield was without peer, and the Marine Corps based its developing marksmanship program on this rifle. The Marine Corps designed an improved set of front and rear sights and soon led the other services in prowess with the rifle. Indeed, by the outbreak of World War II, the Marine Corps had formed a cult around the rifle. - Kenneth L. Smith-Christmas


Original Page on Springfield Rifle