View Full Version : Springfield rifle used until WWII

01-31-06, 11:58 AM
The Lore of the Corps: Springfield rifle used until WWII

By Charles A. Jones
Special to the Marine Corps Times

The M1903 Springfield, a bolt-action rifle that fired .30-06 cartridges, was used extensively by American troops during World War I.

Springfields replaced the underpowered Krag-Jorgensen rifles U.S. troops had used during the Spanish-American War. The Springfield was modeled after Germany's Mauser Model 98, one of the world's most successful bolt-action designs.

According to an Army manual published in 1945, "the U.S. rifle, caliber .30, model 1903 is commonly called the 'Springfield' because our army rifles were at one time made only at the arsenal at Springfield, Mass."

The manual celebrated the rifle's destructive capabilities, claiming that "it is an exceedingly powerful weapon, as you will realize the first time you fire it. With late type of ammunition, it has a range of more than three miles, though it is never actually used at such a range because a man cannot see anything so far away."

The manual stated "an enemy is not safe behind a tree, because at 200 yards this weapon will penetrate about three feet of solid oak."

Springfields were initially finely crafted rifles that required much machining. As demand increased, however, the rifle was modified to simplify production. Stamped components replaced machined ones, and a new sight, placed at the rear of the receiver, replaced the sight originally atop the barrel in front of the chamber. This simplified rifle was dubbed the M1903 A3.

The Springfield's disadvantages included a limited, five-round cartridge capacity and its feeding system, an interior magazine fed by individual rounds or stripper clips. Like all bolt-action rifles, it also had a slower rate of fire.

The Army used the weapon as its service rifle until it adopted the Garand rifle in 1936.

However, the Corps did not adopt the Garand until 1941. When Marines fought at Guadalcanal, most of them carried Springfield rifles. By early 1943, the Corps began replacing Springfields with Garands.

Even so, many Marines and soldiers used their Springfields until late in the war. Photographs show infantrymen with Springfields as late as 1944.

Army and Marine Corps snipers used the M1903 A4 Springfield as a sniper rifle. The Corps also used three other modified Springfields as sniper rifles, but the weapons' optics and accuracy were not enough to make them first-rate sniper weapons.

Outside of combat, Springfields performed a valuable service as training rifles, allowing more Garands to be shipped to troops on the front lines.

With the development of semiautomatic rifles and assault rifles, military bolt actions became obsolete in mobile, modern warfare. Also, the long range of the powerful .30-06 cartridge was unnecessary.

Smaller, automatic rifles eventually took on the role of service rifles for the Army and Marine Corps.

However, bolt-action rifles remain in service as sniping, target and hunting weapons, where accuracy counts the most.

The writer is a lawyer and Marine Corps Reserve colonel in Norfolk, Va.