WEAPONS OF THE WORLD WAR II GYRENE
The U. S. Rifle, cal. .30, M1903A3
The horrors of the Western Front in World War I tested the Marines who fought there in ways unimaginable to those who weren't exposed to the reality of life in the trenches. The passage above refers to the first day of Marine combat in the hotly contested Belleau Wood in France. On that day in June 1918, the Fourth Marine Brigade suffered more casualties than in the entire history of the Marine Corps up to then. But the steadfast leathernecks of the Fifth and Sixth Marine Regiments gave as good as they got. In large measure, their effectiveness was due to practical marksmanship training, leadership and a rifle that matched the steel of the men who used it on that hot day in France, and on many other battlefields around the world. That rifle was the M1903, nicknamed "the Springfield," or simply, "the 03."
Since its earliest history, the Marine Corps has lived by the phrase, "every Marine a rifleman." Marksmanship and its tactical applications have been drilled into every Marine who has worn the uniform of the Corps. This core combat skill was epitomized by the thin line of Devil Dogs at Belleau Wood who smashed the best the German army had to offer. But the Springfield rifle was not only used in the First World War, but also in expeditions across the face of the globe, and through the early battles in World War II. Versions of the Springfield modified as a sniper rifle soldiered on through the Korean War, and some even saw service in this role in Vietnam.
After the Spanish-American was of 1898 the U. S. Army Ordnance Department searched for a service rifle that was reliable, hard-hitting and easy to operate. The answer came in the form of the M1903 rifle, which used a licensed derivative of the famed Mauser action. In 1906, the Ordnance Department adopted the .30 caliber cartridge for the Springfield. Designed in response to German ammunition developments, the "30.06 round" would go on to serve in many wars of the 20th century. Able to penetrate 1/4 inch of steel plate at 600 yards, the 30.06 round was powerful enough for any battlefield application.
Marksmanship was almost a cult in the Marine Corps. The yearly ritual of qualification—especially in the interwar years—took a full week and the stakes were very high, not only for the individual Marine, but for his unit as well. Marines practiced snapping in, a repetitive exercise with unloaded rifles where they lined up their sights on an object and then squeezed the trigger. Performing this drill hundreds of times in various shooting positions, the riflemen refreshed and honed their skills before the all important live firing.
Then it was off to the known distance, or "KD," range. Here the shooters reinforced and demonstrated their skills with live ammunition. The firing detail was broken down into relays. One of the relays trudged downrange to the butts, a trenched and reinforced area where they pulled and marked targets for the other relays.
Finally came qualification day, better known as "qual day." Shooting at ranges of between 300 to 600 yards, the riflemen shot strings of slow and rapid fire in the offhand, sitting, kneeling and prone positions. Record fire consisted of 70 rounds for a maximum score of 350 points. Called " a possible," this level of perfection was seldom achieved. To qualify as an expert riflemen, the Marine had to shoot a score of 306 or better. 290 or better qualified the Marine as a rifle sharpshooter. The minimum qualifying score of 240 earned the Marine a marksman badge. Below that and the Marine was unqualified, called an "unq."
Before World War II, each battalion-size unit was required by Marine Corps regulations to ensure that at least 95% of assigned troops attained a yearly qualification of marksman or higher. For the individual Marine, an expert rating meant an extra $5 per month, and sharpshooters received an extra $3 per month.
Between its introduction in 1903 and the end of World War I about 1,200,000 Springfield rifles were produced by the U. S. arsenal of the same name and at the Rock Island Arsenal. Springfield Armory transferred the production machinery to Remington in 1941 and production of the World War II era M1903A3 began in September of that year. In addition to Remington, Smith-Corona, better known as a typewriter manufacturer, built these rifles during the war. During the war, these two companies built 1,415,593 Springfield rifles.
To replace the Springfield rifle, the U. S, Army adopted the M1 service rifle in 1936 and the Marine Corps followed suit in November 1941. Nevertheless, the trusted Springfield remained in service throughout the war. It was the standard service rifle of the Gyrenes who fought on Wake Island, in the Philippines, and with the First Marine Division during the epic struggle for Guadalcanal.
The M1903A3 rifle was declared as substitute standard with the adoption of the M1 and as limited standard in November 1944. But large numbers of Springfield rifles remained in service throughout the FMF during the war, especially to equip grenadiers. The D-series Marine division was authorized 456 M1903 rifles and an identical number of M1 rifle grenade launchers. The faithful Springfield was subsequently declared as obsolete on 24 July 1947.
Another important role for the Springfield was as a sniping weapon. Several variants of this this rifle were used by Marines during the war. First was the World War I era M1903/Winchester A5, which saw combat in the early campaigns of the war. The Marine-designed M1903A1, equipped with a Unertl 8-power scope proved to be one of the finest sniping weapons in the world. Finally, the Corps used limited quantities of the Army issue 1903A4 rifle.
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