2nd Amendment to the Constitution of The United States of America

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

"I ask sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people except for a few politicians."
- George Mason (father of the Bill of Rights and The Virginia Declaration of Rights)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Springfield 1903....mine!

OK first off lets get this out of the way...this is mine now...a 1903 Springfield!
Finally a reason to use the term " doughboy" in a sentence with my name that doesn't refer to my waistline...

This story is kind of out of the annals of the "how the heck did this happen" chapter of the blog.  I told you last week that the Regent R100 had been sold to finance another project to write about.  After considering my choices I decided I wanted to get another 1911 and work my way up the cost ladder on them, with getting a C&R piece a secondary choice.  The pistol I landed my aim on was the new Ruger SR1911 for a number of reasons...cost, apparent quality and features to name a few.  I had to save up some more cash so I was content to wait for this purchase.  In the meantime I had decided for pure vanity reasons I might trade up the P3AT for a LCP (Again!) so I would have a Ruger lineup of the LCP, LC9 and then the SR1911 in the safe.  I mentioned this in passing to Kev that informed me that he had a co-worker in the market for a CCW pistol and he would buy it.  I kind of figured since its colder now I could pack the LC9 until I got some money together to get a smaller mousegun (LCP) when it got warmer.  Like the last .380 I sold I saw myself selling it almost in 3rd person one again, but it was done.    All of a sudden I had the cash to get the Ruger SR1911 though!  I started calling around Tuesday to find one locally and was totally let down!  All the shops in the Central Ohio area are sold out and nobody knows if Ruger will be able to get any out soon.  Bummer!

My daughter had spent the night at my parents while my wife and I went to the Jeff Dunham show on Monday so I picked her up Tuesday afternoon (took the day off from work).  On the way home I decided just to take a small side trip to The Powder Room gun store in Powell, Ohio just to "look around".  I thought maybe I might luck out and find a SR1911 in the case they just happened to get in that day.  What I found surprised me...matter of fact the damn thing just about jumped out of the rack into my arms and called my name.  In the shop they have several "merry go round" stands with various mostly used long guns for sale...Mosins, old hunting rifles, Chines and Yugo SKS' and the like.  One in the stand caught my eye...the sling looked familiar with its double hook clipped leather eyelets and the humped hand guard on top of the stock..a Springfield!  Well, since the SR1911 seemed to be a far off dream at this point and something else to save for and this was right in front of me...well...you know what comes next!  Cha-ching!!


The rifle is associated with the WWI Doughboy and co-starred with Gary Cooper in the WWI feel good war film Sergeant York.  Most people assume that the Springfield was the only rifle the US used in "The War to End All Wars"...not true.  In fact the US used as many, if not more Model 1917 Enfield rifles chambered in .30-06 than they did Springfields.  Also fact... Sergeant York used an Enfield to kill and capture all those Germans! And speaking of movies....

How I see myself with a 1903..
Gary Cooper in Sergeant York

...and how the rest of the world probably sees me with one!!

Lou Costello in Buck Privates

The Springfield 1903 was adopted by the US Army in response to the sub-par performance of the Krag-Jorgensen rifle versus the Spanish Army armed with Mauser rifles during the Spanish-American War in Cuba.  The US Army looked around to see what their best option was and basically came back with "lets rip off the Mauser, the Krag and anything else we like and make one ourselves".  And that they did...the design was so much like a Mauser in some respects that for a while the US was forced to pay royalties to Mauser...I believe that stopped sometime around WWI for obvious reasons.  Instead of being made with various configurations and barrel lengths, the Army decided on a 24" barrel as the only one to be used on the 1903 and so it replaced both the rifle and the carbine models in previous designs into one configuration with an overall length of 44" and weight around 9 pounds.  The rifle was originally issued with a spike bayonet, but President Teddy Roosevelt rejected this and saw that the rifle would eventually get the iconic 16" M1905 bayonet, and later the 17" M1917 bayonet.  Sadly (as I have written about before), most of these bayonets were chopped down to 10" during WWII and issued at the M1 bayonet to be used with the M1 rifle.  Being that they use the same lug and handle dimensions, any M1 bayonet can be used on a Springfield 1903.

At The Powder Room, my 1903 (left) next to a Yugo M48 Mauser, the similarities to the bolt and action, to include the tang mounted rotating safety are evident.

The rifle had a reputation to being accurate out to incredible ranges as many a German found out the hard way.  The Marines at Belleau Woods and soldier of the 3rd Infantry Division both left impressions on the Germans they faced, both captured Germans and documents recovered off of German bodies bore reporting of American marksmen that could pick off individual targets at 800 or more yards...and not just snipers either!  This was far in widespread excess of what the Germans had encountered to that  point and made them think twice about being anywhere "safe" when above the trench lines going forward.

#8 of the top 10 combat rifles of all time...not too shabby!

The rifle has many attributes of the classic Mauser action, dual locking lugs and an over sized extractor provided strong and reliable performance.   Along with this it also retains the unique 3 position safety mounted on the rear of the bolt.  When flipped to the left side it allows the rifle to be operated and fired normally. Flipped all the way to the right and the weapon is on safe and the bolt handle cannot by cycled. When placed in the center position the trigger cannot fire the weapon but the action can be cycled manually to empty rounds from the magazine.  Pretty neat and advanced for a design well over 110 years old now!

Three position safety and, unlike the Mauser, a knurled knob allows you to manually cock the action if required...the two light marks perpendicular on the stock is where is was repaired at some point to keep from splitting..

It did keep one feature of the Krag in that there is a magazine cut off switch on the left side of the receiver that when placed into the down (off) position would cut off the magazine feed and turn the rifle into a single shot weapon.  It actually blocks the retraction of the bolt beyond where it can engage and strip a round from the magazine, but not so far as not to allow the single insertion of rounds into the chamber.  This feature was probably to please the old brass that approved the rifle and harkened back to a time with single shot trapdoor rifles and the such were the norm.  At one point troops were actually ordered to keep this turned off and load rounds manually one at a time, keeping the rounds in the magazine as a reserve!  As a side note, as this is where the bolt retaining latch is on a regular Mauser action, placing the switch in the middle position so its 90 degrees from the rifle allows the bolt to be removed.

Magazine cut off in the "no fun" position.

My particular rifle has a receiver with a "high" serial number (above 800,000) from 1918 and was indeed made by the Springfield Armory.  This is important as rifles with "low' numbers are generally considered to be unsafe to shoot in general as some production issues with the method used to temper the steel may make them liable to shatter under high pressures.  The barrel is marked as a Springfield Barrel from June of 1942. The only other marking I can find on the rifle is a small "r" stamped on the bolt arm, indicating it was manufactured by Remington.  The stock is not a traditional straight stock (which was not really liked by the soldiers anyway) but instead is a "scant" stock.  During rearsenaling of the 1903 for service in WWII there were many rough blanks for the rifle stocks available, a simple change to the lathing process with the wood available enable a slight pistol grip (scant grip) to be included on the stock to help in handling the rifle in aiming and reducing recoil. All of this indicates to me that the rifle is either a arsenal rebuild from WWII, a CMP rifle assembled by the gunsmiths there or a very good custom build of the model.

The rifle was originally chambered to fire the .30-03 round, which was a heavy, round nose bullet traveling at 2,300 fps.  This resulted in a very loping trajectory that the Army found hard to train troops to use, so in 1906 the ammunition spec was changed to a 150gr Spitzer round traveling at 2,800 fps that shot much straighter and became the venerable .30-06 cartridge that American servicemen and sportsmen have been using for over a hundred years now.  The 1903 used a 5 round internal magazine that was fed using 5 round stripper clips.  This was pretty common place in those days. The use of the magazine cutoff actually allowed a soldier to load his magazine, engage the cutoff and then load another single round, turn the cutoff back to the "on" position and engage the safety....in fact giving him 6 ready rounds to have on hand!

Speaking of aiming, the 1903A3 added a rear peep sight right at the rear of the receiver...mine being an original receiver has a ladder type sliding sight with apparently four, count 'em four, separate aiming apertures!  Three are notch type apertures and one is a peep. Elevation is adjusted by loosening the wheel on the right of the sight and moving the aperture assembly to the required range.  Windage is adjusted by moving another wheel on the right side of the sight base.  Other than those two facts I have no idea how to use it yet, but I am researching it.  It does appear that this thing is calibrated out past 2500 meters..and loot at the notch on the top of the ladder!  Its like our troops were supposed to sit in Paris sipping congac and champagne, elevate their sights and their rifle and engage targets all the way in the Somme!!

4 sighting apertures on the ladder style sight!

The rifle designers must have known that the sights were going to be complex to use and included a single "battle sight" notch on the top of the ladder sight usable when it was folded down...."battle zero" for the 1903 is 500 yards by the way!!

To hit a target at 500 yards all you need is this!

Front sight duties are taken care of by a simple blade sight that is drift adjustable for windage during initial zeroing of the rifle.

There is a hood for this that is easily available, might pick one up...


Overall, my rifle seems to be in really good shape.  Both metal and wood on it are in excellent condition and the bolt operates very smoothly.  In addition it has a 1903 patterned hook sling that I have only seen used in videos marked 1918.  Original? I don't know but it certainly looks it...and it too is in good shape.  I understand the basic premise of using it as a loop sling after attending Appleseed shoots, but I will need to get some more info before I use it.

I love the way this rifle looks and feels.  Comparing it next to the M1 Garand in the safe was a very cool experience.  Here I was with two rifles that helped shape history...one that fought in WW1 and WW2 and one called the "the greatest single battle implement ever devised by man." by one of the greatest Generals that ever lived (that's Patton for those that don't know).  We often think of the foolish loss of life in WWI as GI's went "over the top" into machine gun fire armed only with a bolt action rifle.  After handling the 1903 I can see how a soldier carrying this would carry a sense of confidence that it could get him out of trouble faster than he got into it.  It was said in WWI that the Americans brought the best target rifle (the 1903), the Germans brought the best hunting rifle (Mauser) and the British brought the best battle rifle (the Enfield).  I have to say having looked at all three I think that's a wrong conclusion.  I am bias, yes, but the Springfield '03 is simply a rifleman's rifle...robust, accurate and reassuring. Yes, its not the most original of designs but it is what Americans sometimes do best...adapt and improvise what they have to make the best they can.  Where as the M1 was a technological evolution of the battle rifle for the US, the Springfield was the apex of the bolt action design and to me was the best battle rifle of WWI.
Two old gladiators that can still dish out some pain to folks a far ways away....

I still have to shoot this rifle to see how it handles, but based on my knowledge of this rifle so far I expect to love it!  More info after range time, whenever that is...Ohio in the Winter is not known for its rifle range abundance.

3 comments:

Hoosier Jeff said...

Wow, that is a really great piece of military history! How much did it cost? (wouldn't mind having one of those in the ol' gun-safe myself, but don't want to break the bank on it.)

Huey said...

This ran me $650, if you check out the auction sites that isn't a bad price...got lucky

Anonymous said...

M1903.com has an excellent artical about the low number reciever issue. I have a low# 03 that was rebarreled in 1942. Purchased in the late70s in late New Rome gun store. I restrict it to GI fmj ammo,no handloads, no steel case, no pumped up hipo rounds. One of my favorite rifles. Back in 77, 03s and 03a3sSpringfields were going for about 1/5th of what yours cost now. Enjoy!