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Springfield M1903A3

Once discarded as obsolete, the M1903 Springfield was resurrected to fill a void in the military's small-arms arsenal.

By Rick Hacker (RSS)
February 8, 2012

Hindsight is a fascinating thing, especially when it comes to classic firearms. It enables us to take note of how many times the United States Army has given famous battlefield weapons an honorable discharge, only to recall them later. The Colt Single Action Army is a good case in point, as are the Model 1917 Enfield and both the Colt and Smith & Wesson Model 1917 revolvers. In more recent years, the M14 has been resurrected.

One of the most notable examples of this governmental rethink—or “why demilling ‘obsolete’ weapons is not a good idea”—is United States Rifle, Caliber .30-06, Model 1903A3. Unlike the aforementioned Colts, Smith & Wesson and Enfield, the M1903A3 was not a reconditioned version of a pre-existing model, but was in fact newly manufactured, although it did take practically all of its inspiration from that hero of World War I, the M1903 Springfield. Actually, the M1903A3 started out fighting the Germans and Japanese in World War II as the vintage M1903.

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Although our primary World War II battle rifle was the M1 Garand, the bombing of Pearl Harbor plunged the U.S. into the war and caught our armed forces entirely off guard. There were simply not enough Garands to go around, even with the Springfield Armory and Winchester working full-time to turn them out. Although Rock Island Armory (RIA) halted production of the M1903 after World War I, the Springfield Armory continued turning them out until 1927. Thus, these military bolt actions, which— fortunately for logistics—used the same .30-’06 Sprg. cartridge as the M1 Garand, were immediately pressed into service.

But with war raging, demand for individual shoulder weapons grew beyond the available supply. Rifles were also needed for military duty on the home front as well. Thus, in September 1941, the facilities of Remington Arms were conscripted to manufacture the M1903 Springfield, using mothballed tooling from RIA. The serial numbers for these rifles, which were stamped with an “R,” began at 3,000,000.

However, as the old RIA tooling began to wear out, a number of changes were gradually made to the basic M1903 configuration being produced on new machinery. Early in the war, the Springfield Armory switched from the original milled-steel parts of the 1903 to stamped parts in the interests of economy and speed of manufacture. Remington adopted this change as its new machinery was brought online. And instead of having blued-steel, a feature of the World War I M1903s, the rifles used in World War II had a more-durable Parkerized finish. In addition, the rear sight of the M1903 was changed to a peep-aperture—adjustable for both windage and elevation—and was relocated to the rear of the receiver, placing it closer to the shooter’s eye, thereby increasing sight radius to provide greater accuracy potential. Finally, around serial number 3,330,000, the military decided enough changes had been made to warrant a new official designation: United States Rifle, Caliber .30-06, Model 1903A3.

Interestingly, the rifle still kept the M1903’s somewhat controversial magazine cutoff lever, a steel tab located on the left side of the receiver. When placed in the middle position, it permitted the bolt to be withdrawn from the receiver, but when in its “off” or downward position, where the tab is nestled into an inlet in the stock, it disengaged the magazine follower. Thus, cartridges would not feed into the chamber from the fixed magazine when the bolt went forward. This effectively transformed the rifle from a bolt-action repeater with a cycling rate of 15 to 20 shots per minute into a single-shot.

During basic training, recruits were instructed to employ the magazine cutoff lever and load each round manually, keeping the cartridges in the internal magazine as a reserve. Needless to say, these instructions were immediately ignored as soon as a G.I. got into his first firefight. The official thinking behind the cutoff lever was to curtail wanton waste of ammunition in the excitement of combat. I find it interesting to compare this battlefield tactic to Vietnam, where our troops were encouraged to fire their M16s in fully automatic mode.

Although the M1903A3 kept the stripper-clip guide milled into the rear of the receiver, the stock was slightly redesigned. This resulted in doing away with the elongated finger grooves on both sides of the forearm. In addition, the M1903A3A1—which first appeared in 1929 as a match rifle—featured a Type-C stock with a semi-pistol grip in an attempt to reduce recoil, a sore point with many G.I.s who were issued the straight-gripped rifle. Unfortunately for them, the majority of M1903A3 stocks retained the straight-gripped design.

By the end of 1942, the Smith Corona Typewriter Company joined Remington in manufacturing the M1903A3. Smith Corona rifles were manufactured at its Syracuse, NY, factory and are usually unmarked as to maker.

By this time, Springfield M1903A3 barrels began to feature their now-famous two-groove rifling to speed up production and reduce cost. Though, accuracy was not affected by this change, M1903A3s with the reduced-rifling barrels were issued with notices to concerned G.I.s assuring them accuracy would not be compromised.

Army snipers had a different story to tell: Using a M1903A3 variant—the M1903A4 with a Unertl 7.8X scope—they made kills as far out as 1,000 yards. The Marines used these same rifles in sniping operations during the Korean War, and in Vietnam the Navy took advantage of the M1903A3 to detonate floating mines.

Indeed, in spite of the fact that the M1 Garand began to appear in greater numbers on the battlefield, many Army Rangers and some Marine units preferred the Springfield M1903A3. For one thing, it did not have the M1’s annoying habit of broadcasting a loud ping as the last round was fired and the clip ejected, informing the enemy the soldier had to reload.

From World War I through Vietnam and beyond, the M1903A3 has served our country for more than a century—not a bad record for a service rifle that mirrored a firearm originally issued to troops the same year the Wright Brothers took their first flight at Kitty Hawk, NC.

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Comments

9 Responses to Springfield M1903A3

  1. Pingback: Rifle Squad Can Keep its 1903 Springfields | Shooting Illustrated

  2. bj says:

    Can I ask please, offhand, if there might be any Collectors anywhere that you might have just crossed paths with that would have mentioned being interested in trying to locate one of these M1903-A3? What are they worth, just a guestimate of course, I can find all kinds of history on them, interesting to say the least, & when I think I’ve found the right site, no prices ever mentioned, even when I have tried to find like the “blue book”, I think it was called! lol, Thanks, would appreciate the info, unless it’s illegal or somethin, then don’t worry bout it and I’ll keep surfin! Have a Great Humpday! hmm just read my email won’t be published, lol, maybe I try the “contact us” link, or look for a #…

  3. thisismyname says:

    jamesriverarmory.com has them both with and without ‘C’ stocks for a reasonable price. $750 at my last check

  4. Darryle says:

    I have little to no knowledge of genade launchers but could the “single shot” feature be to load the blanks for that purpose?

  5. Chuck Spence says:

    I enjoyed reading this article, I found it to be historically correct as well as informitive. I am fortunate enough to own 3 of these wonderful rifles. One is a Remington with a scant style stock, one is a Smith Corona with a straight stock and the other is a Smith Corona as well but it has been sporterized y someone into a hunting rifle. All three shoot extremely well, the Remington has a two groove barrel yet she still shoots accurately out to 800 yards, the Smith Corona with the straight stock has a 4 groove barrel and although I have not shot it beyond 300 meters at 100 she groups right at 1 inch groups. The other sporterized SC is scoped, it has the original barrel that was cut down slightlyb but with my reloads she shoots less than a minute of angle.

  6. Surculus says:

    Getting a little tired of the urban myth about the M1 “ping” being audible to anyone but the shooter & the nearby members of his fire team in the heat of battle. Utterly ludicrous nonsense that just keeps getting repeated w/o any scrutiny. Other than, nice article.

  7. Neil says:

    Having used the M1 in battle I also cry B. S. to the “ping” myth IN COMBAT. I’m sure the noise is actually made when the clip falls in a hard surface, but we seldom fired them in an urban setting where there was absolutely no noise from gunfire echoing off the walls, etc.

    Just my opinion but I was there.

  8. Matt VanCamp says:

    Funny, my Grandpa said the same thing about the Garand. He was issued a Reising SMG and hated it. Later, he was using the 1903A3 made at Springfield, because he was a Marine and he loved it. Later he picked up an M1 Garand and he actually mentioned the ejection of the spent Enbloc magazine, which he loved… it made a quiet ‘ping’ as it leapt from the gun, letting him know he must reload. He never mentioned a noise other than that, and liked the notification that he must reload. I wish I’d have understood more and asked more questions, but alas, I was young and dumb, as he would remind me, often. Now, my memory is getting thin, but he is the reason I joined the armed forces fresh out’ve high school.

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