Major Culver's USMC Rebuilding of the M1903 Springfield monograph
I can no longer find this article on line but since there is so much emphasis on this subject I have decided to reproduce it here with the suggestion that the Sys Ad clean it up and post it as a "sticky" on the M1903 page.
This is all of it except for a postscript on the M1903A3 and A4s in the Marine Corps which I will add later. I just want to get this part saved to the site.
USMC Rebuilding of the M1903 Springfield
By Dick Culver
This is a subject that could cover volumes if all the small details were listed but here's a few things to look for and some to watch out for...
However, to allay any illusions, there are a couple of facts that should be made clear:
As per one old gentleman who claims to have carried a Mark I '03 with the Marines in the Bannana Wars there is a slight glitch in history to overcome. The Mark Is, while the were manufactured in 1918-21, remained in storage even after the Pedersen Devices were destroyed. They (the Mark Is) were finally refurbished (the tripper sear was replaced along with replacement of the standard bolt) in the 1937-1938 era. Since the Marines pulled out of Nicaragua in 1933 this would preclude his having carried the Mk I during this time period. Probably no deliberate falsification here, may be a case of CRS-heck I can't remember what I had for breakfast unless I make notes! Hee, hee, hee...
Marine Corps Sights:
Exactly why did the Marines want a different set of sights for the M1903? The story is a bit disjointed, but both the Marines and the Army were dissatisfied with the issue sights of the Springfield following WWI. Conversely, the sights of the Pattern 17 Enfield (used in greater proliferation during the war than the M1903 by the Army) were held in high regard. The only fly in the ointment was that there was no "quick" way to compensate fo wind using the " "17" other than "holding off" while aiming. Major adjustments could be made by "drifting" the front sight using a punch and a hammer but this obviously was not a job for an infantryman in a fire fight. Serious arguments on the other side of the coin however....the M1917 was built on the British Pattern (essentially copying the Pattern 14 Enfield) and utilized the "cock on closing" concept of bolt operation much favored by the Brits. The British argument was that in the trenches, with the extremely muddy conditions, the bolt would (theoretically) be easier to operate if you split the unlocking, ejection, extraction, feeding and cocking sequence into two seperate operations:
1) Unlocking the bolt on the upstroke, thus using the upstroke to break the possibly fouled (and almost certainly dirty) cartridge case away fromthe chamber wall, but avoiding the additional effort of having to cock the rifle wilth the same throw of the bolt.
2) The forward stroke of the bolt would strip the new cartridge from the magazine, and the closing of the bolt would then act to cock the rifle.
Anyone who has ever used a Model 1917 after becoming used to the butter smooth M1903 will appreciate that "real riflemen" were not exactly enthused about swapping guns. We were up to our posteriors in M1917s (more than twice as many as the M1903.) Undeniably the M1917 was rugged, acccurate (if your sights happened to be "dead on" without having to beat the front sight to one side or the other) and extremely rugged (the action is actually stronger than the M1903,) but the M1903 was the product of our "own" National Armory - and the hometown boys usually get the nod. Plus the M1903 was a sleeker and more "user friendly" rifle if you don't count the issue sights. A board was convened in 1919 to decide the fate of the M1903. For the reasons above it was decided to retain the M1903 pending the rapid development of a suitable receiver mounted rear sight for the '03 while the wheels of progress ground toward the development of a semi-auto service rifle.
Springfield Armory worked on various rear sight configurations for the '03 (including a very nifty version by Julian Hatcher's brother, but for whatever reason(due perhaps to the lack of operationa pressure on Springfield,) no real progress was made or money appropriated to make a switch.
There were two operational problems with the "Ladder" rear sight:
1) The standard issue sights were exceedingly fine, and difficult to pick up in reduced light or when the barbarians were coming over the wall. They were fine for the firing line where the most vicious thing you might encounter would be an untoward puff of wind or a switch in drift of mirage but up close and down dirty, they took a bit longer to "acquire" a proper sight alignment than was good for the health. Each little marking on the rear sight base was said to be a"point of wind" which in modern parlance translates to 4 clicks...when you put on a "quarter-point" of wind, you had to have a "calibrated eyeball."
2) The slide that carried the aperture up and down on the "extended ladder sight" had a notch that was visible when the ladder was in the "flat" position. This notch was to be the "Battle Sight" and when use with the issue front sight (using the initial .30-03 cartridge) gave point of impact dead center at 441 yards as originally designed. Undoubtedly, when the original .30-03 was modified to take the (then) new 30-'06 cartridge instead of the original .30-'03, they changed the ladder to accomodate the new trajectory, but neglected to modify the notch in the slide or the height of the front sight to account for th flatter trajectory fo the much faster bullet. The battle sight had suddenly become 547 yards! Those of you who have been in combat wil realize that 547 yards ins't exactly an "ideal" battle sight range!
A quick explanation of the "Battle Sight" follows so that you can appreciate the problems encountered. Your battle sight (in a "quick and dirty") is that sight setting that will allow you to hold approximately belt buckle high on your target, and get a killing or disabling hit on the enemy from "point blank" (- up close!) all the way out to the maximum (listed) effective range of the rifle. In the Marine Corps we usually figure(d) that the maximum effective range of a rifle was approximatel 500 yards for the M1 Garand, the M14 (and incidentally the M16A2-dream on....hee, hee, hee.) The battle sight for the M1 has always been considered to be your 300 yard dope. This means if you crank on your 300 yard dope, and you aim at the enem's belt buckle, you will get a fatal or disabling hit on the target (meaning somewhere between the chest and the knees) all the way from "up close and down dirty" out to 500 yards. If your 547 yard dope (the standard battle sight with the .30-'06 with the '03) the flatness of the trajectory will not give the desired results....actual combat has shown, (especially in heavily forested or jungle environemnts) that a 200 yeard zero may well be a more practical approach.
An often overlooked aspect to the military's hate and discontent about the M1903's battle sight, was that, at least through WWI, the courses of fire (both qualification and match courses) required that the rapid fire stages of fire be fired using the battle sight which of course had no way of changing the elevation. You were stuck with the natural "battle setting's" elevation. Since during both requalification or match shooting, you were requird to fire rapid fire at 200, 300 and 500 yards, you had to hold low ( a distance that would probably be slightly different for each rifle) on all rapid fire stages. The exact amount of necessary "hold off" for elevation would be noted in your "score book" (they didn't call 'em "data books" until the 1960's.) Your rapid fire scores would depend on just how well you could "eyeball 'em in"...the only saving grace was that all rapid fire (BOTH requalification and match shooting) prior to WWI was fired on the "Dog Target" (a sort of silhouette target simulating an opponet in the prone positon) The black of the Dog Target was much larger than the 8" and later 10" circular bullseye used at 200-300 yards and the 20" bullseye nromally used at 500-600 yards. The Marine Corps still uses a version of the Dog (now called Delta of course) for rapid fire on the requalification course. Because of the unrealistic battlesight zero there are numerous references to Marines in combat in WWI being cautioned "Ok, you birds, battle sight, aim low!" the Marine Corps sight was designed to make the battle sight more realistic and do away with the requirement to hold off both on the range and in combat.
While the Army was designing elaborate rear sights with click adjustable windage and elevation, the Marine Corps (always being practical - and broke...) utilized a different approach. Any of you who have had to engage targets (be it practical pistol targets, or even bullseye targets) will probably agree that a big fat front sight is much easier to pick up in a hurry.....In the latter days of my competitive shooting, most of the USMC match rifle shooters had gone away from the narrow HNM front sight to the issue "fat" front sights and were using a center hold (the center of the target dosen't move, and dosen't require a "fine bead" as they used to say!
The USMC Sights ( or more correctly the USMC modification to the '03 sights) sights were a contrivance of Major J.R. Dooley (USMCR) and a Col. Douglas C. McDougal (designer of the rear sight slide, or rear "peep") In 1919 these sights were designed to change the "battle sight" from approximately 547 yards (a screw up that resulted from the rechambering of the '03 from 30-03 to 30'06 back in 1906) to approximately 200 yards by increasing the front sight height by .075". The wider front sight (widened to .10") was designed to make the sights easier to pick up in poor light. The undercut profile was designed to cast a shadow on the front sight, and give it a "blacker" appearance in the field (essentially cut down on the shine-many modern pistol sights have the same profile.) The vertical ladder portion of the standard '03 sight was changed to accomodate the new spitzer (pointed) bullet in 1906 but someone neglected to modify the battle sight. A verticle slide was produced with a large aperture to accomodate the wider front sight blade. The Marin Corps sight accomplished its purpose admirably, but it lacked the precision the Marines were used to on the rifle range.
While many Marine Corps Guns WERE fitted out with the so-called USMC sights, not ALL of them were. By the middle 30's the Marine Corps Competition Shooters were recommending the reversion to the "Number 6" rear sigh aperture, and narrowing the higher front sight to match (.06".) While the Commandant (who just happened to be a Distinguished Marksman, and an old Marine Corps Match Shooter) ordered it to "be made so" the smart money says that the .10" front and rear sights remained field issue until they were replaced by the M1. However, conversely, it is also almost a sure bet that the USMC match rifles were refitted with the old faithful original front sight and the #6 rear aperture.
If I recall, the front sight ws initially produced by the Lyman Gunsight Company (one of the Lyman boys was a Marine Corps Match Shooter,) and later produced by the Marine Coprs Ordnance folks in Philadelphia. The larger rear aperture was produced by Springfield Armory. Eventually both the front and rear sights were produced by the Marines, including a much higher frond sight cover to accomodate the higher frond sight.
A note of caution here - not all of the "USMC pattern" sights being used in the days of the Springfield were .10" wide, nor are they truly Marine Corps Sights if of a different width.) A civilian sight maker produced the same design (profile of front sight in both .125" and .087" widths, with matching rear sight apertures of .087" amd .075"...If you wanna' make sure that your sights are truly the Marine Corps sights, you might well be advised to put a "micrometer" or calper on the width of the front blade and check our the diameter of the rear sight aperture!
I am reasonably sure the M1941 Marine Corps Sniper depicted in Brophy's book with the USMC sights served as a platform for Brophy to display a rifle with the Marine Corps Sight configuration....It is POSSIBLE (but not terribly likely)that the rifle originally came with the Marine Corps sights, but since this rifle was of the National Match Pattern (I've seen the rifle,) it's much more likely that it would have been originally fitted with the standard (and apparently preferred by USMC match competitors) #6 sights....Displaying it witht he so called #10 sights is not patently dishonest, and in fact represents a more or less legitimate way to display a set of the Marine Coprs sights on a rifle he KNEW to be of USMC origin....and of course who's to say for sure that they aren't/weren't original
The Hatcher Hole:
Once it was determined that the early numbered '03s tended to have brittle receivers (not all of the did, but the incidence was enough to call for a change in the heat treating process in 1918.) The so-called double heat treated (and thus safe receivers are considered to be 800,001 for Springfield Armory and 285,507 for Rock Island Arsenal (who also interspersed their double heat treated receiver material with a nickel steel version with no clear division by serial number.) Much discussion was generated about what to do with the so called "low numbered recievers"...Springfield tried several methods of re-heat treating the older receivers, but no satisfactory solution ever emerged. In short, they were stuck with what they had on hand. A board was convened to come up with a suitable solution. Eventuall, they decided to withdraw all the low numbered rifles from service as they were turned in and replace them with the double heat treated variety.
Julian S. Hatcher also recommended the addition of another gas escape hole on the left hand side of the M1903 receiver a bit larger than the small hole on the right hand side. Such a hole would more efficiently allow the escape of gas inthe event of some sort of catastrophic failure of the case or blown primers. This suggestion/recommendation modification to the '03 was well known within the ordnance community, but lay fallow with the Army until October 1936 when all subsequent M1903 receivers would be manufactured with the additional hole. The M1903A3 and A4s were manufactured without the gas relief hole on the right side of the receiver using only the Hatcher Hole version on the left side of the receiver.
Cessation of the manufacture of Service Grade (issue) M1903's ended in 1927, thus the new gas relief (Hatcher) hole had little effect on the final production of the Service Springfield. All rifles produced from 1928 through the end of production were either rifles offered for sale throught the DCM or firles manufactured for the National Matches. The Marines had taken note of Hatcher's modification however. The shops in Philidelphia drilled the additional "Hatcher Hole" on virtually all of the rifles that came through (or back through) their shops. In fact, the Marine Corps never made an attempt to withdraw any of the "low numbered" '03s from service (unless they were unserviceable for other reasons.) When a low numbered gun came throught he shops, they totally inspected the rifle, insrtalled a new barrel if necessary, replaced the stock if needed (no new cartouches of course,) replaced the bolt with a double heat treated or nickel steel variety, and drilled the "Hatcher Hole" in the reciever. The rifle was then issued with the proviso that it not be utilized to fire rifle grenades.
While it may be that the Army made similar alterations to their '03s I cannot pin such a conversion down. I have seen many Marine Corps guns sporting the "Hatcher Hole" and replacement barrels. In a Navy ROTC Unit at Tulane University that I used to inspect, virtually every rifle had the "hatcher Hole" in the receiver and the Marine Instruictor(s) told me that they had received the rifles from the Marine Corps...Absolute proof? Of course not, but it lends credence to the theory for sure.
As a further aside, the Navy ROTC Rifles at Tulane also had their bolts numbered to the receiver with what appeared to be an electro-pencil (or similar.) Were all bolts on Marine Corps Rifles serial mumbered? Answer - some were some weren't. It jusd depended onthe era and what production mode the ordnance folks at Philidelphia were in. Conversely, I have never seen any of the Army Rifle Bolts numbered to the gun, with the exception of the National Match Rifles form Springfield. Even some fo the NM Rifles had their serial numbers polished off the bolt fo aesthetics by their proud owners. Does that mean that none of the Army guns were serieal numbered? Of course not, but a service grade rifle with a numbered bolt surely would smell suspiciouslyl like a Marine Corps Rifle - absolute? Certainly not, but it's somethin for the experienced collector to look for.
Replacement barrels were of a variety of manufacturers, but Springfield is the most common. The Sedgely barrels came in two flavors, the USMC marked barrels, and the standard garden variety Sedgelys. Apparently Sedgely also supplioed barrels to the Army as well as the Marines, albeit without the USMC marking.
The Marines had contracted with Sedgely of Philadelphia (located not too far from the USMC ordnance folks) to produce replacement barrels for the Corps in 1941, as the Marines had decided to go with the M1903 vice the M1. Since Sedgely was famous for their match modification( to the M1903s in the '20s and '30s they seemed to ideally suited to produce such barrels. Anticipating a shortage of M1903 parts, the Marines had the barrels made up sensing that Springfield would run out of standard barrels.
The fracas on Guadalcanal changed the Marine's minds about the gas operated M1 and as a result, many of the Sedgely barrels went unused. The left over barrels were sold as surplus sometime in the 1950s. Numrich and several other gun parts houses usually had them for sale for about $5.00 each in the wrapper in the early 1960s.
While the Marines did use some of the Sedgelys as replacement barrels, about the latest "Sedgely USMC" replacemnt barrel I have seen used (that I am sure is correct) was dated 1942...That's not to say there weren't any of a later date used, but most of the surplus barrels sold in the 1960s were dated 1943 or 1944. I'd be VERY suspicious if I found a "genuine USMC Springfield" offered with a sedgely replacement barrel dated 1944...
Replacement stocks, (when necessary) were taken fromthe bins of available stocks (some of which had been removed from unserviceable rifles, thus having cartouches from an earlier era.) Prior to cessation of manufacture of the M1903, new issue type stocks were readily available. The Army no doubt sent out "Type S" straight grip with finger grooves,) until the straight stocks were exhausted. Subsequent stocks would have been of the "Type C" (pistol grip) and would have been readily available in the late 1930s. If a new stock was fitted to the M1903 it was a job for a skilled armorer. Almost certainly any new stocks fitted to a rebuilt rifle would have been "sans cartouche(s)" as the Marines didn't use cartouches in the rebuild process.
That having been said, the Marines wasted virtually nothing and if an unservicable rifle would have been taken out of the stock and a rebuilt '03 might well have been installed into the usable stock, assuming the fit was within specifications. It is highly doubtful that any pre WWII USMC rebuilds would hav stocks on them that had the WWII or post WWII rebuild cartouches on them.
The M1941 Marine Corps Sniper Rifles were built according to the specification on a National Match Rifle or one that was built according to the NM Rifle specifications. Needless to say this didn't last very long, as the Marine Corps was a very small organization in the pre-WWII days (something like a total of 17,000 officers and men.) Certainly the relatively few NM M1903s on hand were built into the M1941 Sniper configuration, but you may also be assured that production didn't stop at Philadelphia just because the called for rifle parts had had dried up. Serviceable M1903 receivers were fitted with "good" barrels (ones that fitted the desired specifications of a star guaged barrel,) an new Type C stock was hand bedded to the rifle. The appropriate scope blocks were added to the receiver and the barrel and the upper handguard appropriately "dished" to accept the scope blocks. All efforts were expended in the acquisition fo star gauged barrels with the magic "sunburst" on the muzzle, but in the absence of the magic sunburst on the muzzle, if the barrels were of decent quality and passed the shop gauges they were screwed onto the receivers, fitted a scope and targeted. Thus, regardless of Brophy's contention that any non star guaged barrels indicate a forged (or phoney) USMC Sniper Rifle, my personal experience with USMC Ordnance Shops tells me that if the were told to build sniper rifles on the M1941 pattern, the BUILT sniper rifles of the appropriate pattern using avaiable parts and equipment. S/Sgt. Galkowski (who later worked for me as a retired Marine) was one of the armorers assigned to build the M1903 sniper rifles at Philadelphia. Ski assured me that they ran out of NM guns fairly early inthe war, and continued to build rifles using the parts (even if not star gauged) to get sniper guns into the hands of the troops.
You must remember that the Marine Corps didn't do things exactly by the book as the Army tended to do. Our Armorers were indeed artisans as opposed to individuals who did everyting exactly by the book. The RTE Armorers (Rifle Team Equipment) folks underwent (and still do last time I checked) an extended period of training under the eye of an old timer and the new guy on the block didn't become a certified armorer until his "Training NCO" said he ws fit to build rifles. It wasn't so much of a school as an apprenticeship, thus accounting for the many variations often found in the USMC rifles. Records of individual rifles were not normally kept by serial number except at the unit armory. For instance, when we would get 50 rifles shipped from Albany or Barstow, we would receive them by quantity, not serial number. Normally, the first recording of the serial number was at the receiving unit. We would simply get in (for instance,) 50 Rifles Caliber .30 M1, and we would record the serial numbers in our books when we logged them in.
As a result, it is very difficult to get verified serial numbers on Marine Corps rifles or pistols unless some individual purchased the weaponfrom the Marines. At that timehe would have been issued a slip of paper withthe serial number of the rifle on it, and stating that he had been sold "U.S. Rifle, caliber .30 Mi1903 serialnumber 1234567" or similar. The (now) surplus M1903 rifles (in various guises) were sold to officers and NCOs at Quantico in the early to mid 1950s through Marine Corps Ordnance School. I have seen (and own one of) the M1903 sniper rifles sold duringthis time frame that was certified by Galkoski as a legitimate Marine Coprs Sniper rifle as build tin Philadelphia. My Dad bought an M1903A3 from the table at the time for the princely sum of $25.00.
My Dad bought his M1911 from the Corps in 1926 (NCOs and Offices were allowed to purchase a rifle or pistol in those far off days,) but I never saw the first sign of any identifying sales slip! Unfortunately, most individuals simply threw away the little flimsy hand-receipt or it got lost in the pile of paperwork in the shop. This is waht makes it so hard to specifically document a specific rifle as being a genuine USMC piece of ordnance. Needless to say, the rifles that were kept together with their paperwork command amuchhigher price than those with a story that "yep, my pappy brought that home form the Corps after the great War, or some such. Don't forget, for many years, the going price for a decent M1903 (or variations) was somewhere between $14.50 and $25.00 (The M1903A3s actually sold for $57.00 and change when they were first released in the early 1950s) The question would have to be, who in the heck would have worried about any of them becoming priceless heirlooms? Sigh.....
Last edited by Art; 09-30-2010 at 06:30.
The site will not let me add the monograph on post world war two USMC use of the M1903, M1903A3 and M1903A4s as well as information on M1cs and the use of the Unertl telescopic sights up to and including the Korean War (over the 2,500 character limit.) If this is posted by the site managers as a Sticky I will try to add that later if desired. I think the parts most of you will be interested in are in the original post anyhow. I've gotten my typos fixed to the point it's at least legible.
Please sticky this! Great info!
VERY Interesting Art! Thanks!!!