World War I: M1903 Springfield Rifle

USMC using M1903 Springfields
US Marines with M1903 Springfields, 1918. Public Domain

M1903 Springfield Rifle - Development & Design:

Following the Spanish-American War, the US Army began seeking a replacement for its standard Krag-Jørgensen rifles. Adopted in 1892, the Krag had shown several weaknesses during the Spanish-American War. Among these was a lower muzzle velocity than the Mausers employed by Spanish troops, as well as a difficult to load magazine which required the insertion of one round at time. In 1899, attempts were made to improve the Krag with the introduction of a high-velocity cartridge. These proved unsuccessful as the rifle's single locking lug on the bolt proved incapable of handling the increased chamber pressure.

Over the next year, engineers at the Springfield Armory began developing designs for a new rifle. Though the US Army had examined the Mauser in the early 1890s, prior to selecting the Krag, they returned to the German weapon for inspiration. Later Mauser rifles, including the Mauser 93 used by the Spanish, possessed a magazine fed by a stripper clip and a greater muzzle velocity than its predecessors. Combining elements from the Krag and the Mauser, Springfield produced its first operational prototype in 1901. Believing they had achieved their goal, Springfield began tooling its assembly line for the new model.

Much to their dismay, the prototype, designated M1901, was declined by the US Army. Over the next two years, the US Army laid out a variety of changes which were incorporated into the M1901's design. In 1903, Springfield presented the new M1903, which was accepted into service. Though the M1903 was a composite consisting of the best elements from several prior weapons, it remained similar enough to the Mauser that the US Government was forced to pay royalties to Mauserwerke.


1903 Springfield

  • Cartridge: .30-03 & .30-06 Springfield
  • Capacity: 5 round stripper clip
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2,800 ft./sec.
  • Effective Range: 2,500 yds.
  • Weight: approx. 8.7 lbs.
  • Length: 44.9 in.
  • Barrel Length: 24 in.
  • Sights: Leaf rear sight, barleycorn-type front sight
  • Action: Bolt-action

M1903 Springfield Rifle - Operational History:

Moving into production, Springfield built 80,000 of the M1903 by 1905, and the new rifle slowly began to replace the Krag. Minor changes were made in the early years, with a new sight added in 1904, and a new knife-style bayonet in 1905. As these alterations were implemented, two major changes were introduced. The first was a shift to pointed, "spitzer" ammunition in 1906. This led to the introduction of the .30-06 cartridge that would become standard for American rifles. The second change was a shortening of the barrel to 24 inches.

During testing, Springfield found that the M1903's design was equally effective with a shorter, "cavalry-style" barrel. As this weapon was lighter and more easily wielded, it was ordered for the infantry as well. By the time the US entered World War I in April 1917, 843,239 M1903s had been produced at Springfield and the Rock Island Arsenal. Equipping the American Expeditionary Force, the M1903 proved lethal and efficient against the Germans in France. During the war, the M1903 Mk. I was produced which allowed for the fitting of a Pedersen device.

Developed in an effort to increase the M1903's volume of fire during assaults, the Pedersen device allowed the rifle to fire .30 caliber pistol ammunition semi-automatically. After the war, the M1903 remained the standard American infantry rifle until the introduction of the M1 Garand in 1937. Much beloved by American soldiers, many were reluctant to switch to the new rifle. With the entry of the US into World War II in 1941, many units, both in the US Army and Marine Corps, had not completed their transition to the Garand.

As a result, several formations deployed for action still carrying the M1903. The rifle saw action in North Africa and Italy, as well as in the early fighting in the Pacific. The weapon was famously used by the US Marines during the Battle of Guadalcanal. Though the M1 replaced the M1903 in most units by 1943, the older rifle continued to be used in specialized roles. Variants of the M1903 saw extended service with the Rangers, Military Police, as well as with Free French forces. The M1903A4 saw extensive use as a sniper rifle during the conflict.

Though it was reduced to a secondary role, the M1903 continued to be produced during World War II by Remington Arms and Smith-Corona Typewriter. Many of these were designated M1903A3 as Remington requested several design changes to improve performance and simplify the manufacturing process. With the conclusion of World War II, most M1903s were retired from service, with only the M1903A4 sniper rifle being retained. Many of these were replaced during the Korean War, however the US Marine Corps continued to use some until the early days of the Vietnam War.

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