WEAPONS OF THE WORLD WAR II GYRENE

The U. S. Rifle, cal. .30, M1903A3

 

CHARACTERISTICS

The U. S. Rifle, cal. .30, M1903A3 was an air cooled, clip-fed, bolt action, shoulder weapon.

Weight—8.69 pounds
Length—45 inches
Ammunition—cal. 30.06
Method of loading—5 round clips
Effective range—600 yards
Muzzle velocity

An infantryman of the 1st Marine Division on patrol with his Springfield during the campaign for Guadalcanal in 1942. He carries spare ammunition in his cartridge belt and in bandoleers slung on his shoulders. USMC Photo

 

Belleau Wood by
Frank E. Schoonover
US Army Art Collection

The Marines opened up with machine-gun fire and with rifle fire—extraordinarily accurate rifle fire, thanks to U. S. Marine Corps training that emphasized accuracy of fire over speed. "The French told us," [Col Albertus] Catlin recalled, "that they had never seen such marksmanship practiced in the heat of battle."

Miracle at Belleau Wood by Alex Axelrod

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."

A sentry stands his post armed with his Springfield rifle. Attached to the muzzle of his rifle is the M1905 bayonet. This weapon had a blade length of 16 inches. USMC Photo

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.

Guadalcanal Marine by Maj Donald Dickson, USMC. USMC Art Collection

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.

Camp Mathews, Calif. Marines from MCB, San Diego, practice in the kneeling position at one of the camp's many ranges. Photo courtesy of Les Groshong

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.

Pearl Harbor—7 December 1941. Armed with their Springfield rifles, Leathernecks of Marine Barracks, Pearl Harbor, scan the skies during the Japanese attack. US Navy Photo

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.

Recruits at MCB, Parris Island, marching with their Springfield rifles in 1942. Library of Congress

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.

"Gather round on the deck. The smoking lamp is lit." The squat sergeant stood in the semicircle of sweating recruits. "Today is the most important day of your lives. You people are going to draw rifles. You've got yourselves a new girl now. Forget that broad back home! This girl is the most faithful, truest woman in the world if you give her a fair shake. She won't sleep with no swab jockies the minute your back is turned. Keep her clean and she'll save your life."

They laughed politely at Beller's recitation. Smiling content, he continued. "You can take tanks, artillery, planes and any other goofball invention and jam it. The rifle is going to win this war like it's been winning them since we whipped you goddamyankees at Antietam. The Marines are the best goddam riflemen in the world."

Battle Cry by Leon Uris

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