Meet the M1903: Up until the point when the M1 Garand officially took the place of the American armed forces’ standard-issue rifle as the M1903 Springfield, it didn’t mean that the bolt-action rifle had come to an end of its military career. Last year, I wrote an article titled “Top 5 American Military Rifles of All Time” for the .45fortyfive website. Among those five rifles, I included two from the 20th century, the M1 Garand – which was America’s first standard-issue autoloading rifle – and the M1903 Springfield, which preceded it as a bolt-action rifle.
Springfield might not have been given the title of the “largest combat instrument ever prepared” by General Patton like the Garand, but, for its value, the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) clearly states, “U.S. M1903 and M1903A3 ‘Springfield’ rifles are the greatest of all bolt action rifles issued to any and all military forces.” Keeping that in mind, it’s time to shine the spotlight on this rifle.
Early History and Features of the M1903
Officially known as the United States Rifle, Caliber .30-06, Model 1903 in government documents, it was adopted as the standard-issue rifle on June 19, 1903 – replacing the .30-40 Krag-Jørgensen rifle – as a result of the M1900 prototypes developed initially. However, it was World War I that propelled it to fame, where the rifle was truly “bloodied” in the mud and gore of combat during the Philippine-American War. It was a bolt-action rifle loaded with a 5-round internal magazine and chambered for .30-06 cartridges, the same caliber that the Garand would eventually establish.
The Springfield’s specifications include a 24-inch barrel length, an overall length of 43.2 inches, and a weight of 8.7 pounds. It had a muzzle velocity of 2,800 feet per second, an effective firing range of 300 yards (sniper usage not included), and a maximum range of 5,500 yards.
Crossing the Trenches of World War I:
As described in Leroy Thompson’s 2013 book “The M1903 Springfield Rifle” (a very straightforward title, indeed):
“During World War I, American soldiers developed an enviable reputation for marksmanship using the M1903 Springfield’s accuracy, a pattern that was extensively employed in conjunction with the 1917 Enfield during that conflict. The beginning of the M1903A3 took place in World War I, changing the back sight so that it would be close to that of the M1 Garand, making it easier to train soldiers who could eventually be issued a rifle. The M1903A4 sniper version was used during World War I and afterward.”
Through Beyond World War I
Up until the M1 Garand officially took the place of the American armed forces’ standard-issue rifle as the M1903, it didn’t mean that the bolt-action rifle had come to an end of its military career. Ultimately, when America first entered the Second World War, there wasn’t an adequate supply of M1 rifles to arm all the soldiers, hence the existing stocks of the M1903 were tapped to fill the gap. (This is somewhat analogous to how the M1911 semi-automatic .45 ACP pistol was used to address the shortage of M1911A1 pistols for front-line use in World War I.) Even when Garands became more widely available for infantrymen, the bolt-action Springfield still fought in that war, albeit in the role of a sniper rifle, as depicted dramatically by the character Pvt. Jackson’s use of it in the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”
Springfield continued to prove its worth in the Korean War, and even through the Vietnam War, maintaining its role in a sniping capacity, until finally around 1975, officially relinquishing that role. Afterward, rifles found a new lease on life as ceremonial rifles for organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legion (AL), and Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
What Do You Want?
Finding a genuine vintage M1903 is becoming increasingly difficult, and the CMP has made it quite clear on its website in bold font that “we do not expect to receive any more substantial quantities of these models. Currently, the M1903 and M1903A3 models are not available, and CMP is not accepting orders.”
In May 1918, the M1903 Springfield sniper rifle with Warner and Swasey telescopic sights and a cheek pad.
Christian D. O. has 33 years of shooting experience, starting from the age of 14. His marksmanship achievements include: Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/One Device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); United States Border Patrol and Border Patrol SRT (CBP), ICE and Seized Evidence (HSI), and Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP) pistol specialist ratings; several medals and trophies through Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and Nevada Police and Fire Games (NPAFG). Chris is an NRA-certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.