Springfield Rifle

Springfield Rifle

The first Springfield musket, the M1795, was produced for the United States military in 1795. Following the Spanish-American War in 1898, Erskine Allin, the Superintendent of the Springfield Arsenal, developed the M1903. The bolt-action magazine rifle, an adaptation of the Mauser Gewehr, was used by the United States Army during the First World War. The M1903 rifle remained the US standard rifle until 1936. However, because of production problems with the M1A1, it was also used during the Second World War. Snipers also preferred using the rifle all the way through the Korean War.

Weaponry: The Springfield Trapdoor rifle

Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt found himself in a tight spot on the outskirts of Santiago, Cuba, on July 1, 1898. He had just led his Rough Riders in an attack up a winding muddy road from the beach. At a curve in the road he found his way blocked at the foot of Kettle Hill by the 71st New York Volunteers. They were taking heavy rifle fire from the heights before Santiago. The 71st troops were armed only with single-shot black powder 1873 Springfield rifles and might as well have been carrying a banner reading, “Aim right here!” Each time a New Yorker fired, his position was immediately given away by a billow of black powder smoke—“about the size of a cow,” as one trooper put it. From their well-dug-in positions up on the Santiago heights, Spanish troops were armed with Mauser Model 1893 repeaters that used smokeless powder and high velocity bullets to deadly advantage. All a Spanish soldier had to do was center his sights on that cloud and pull the trigger. Odds were good he’d hit somebody.

Realizing they could not stand that kind of punishment for very long, Roosevelt demanded that the New Yorkers rush the Spanish position, but they would not advance without proper orders. Roosevelt did not hesitate. He waved a revolver salvaged from the wreck of the battleship Maine and bellowed: “You need orders, then I will give them! Come with me or stand aside and let my men through!” The charge that followed swept the Spaniards from the heights, pushed Roosevelt into the headlines and eventually carried him to the presidency of the United States.

That black powder rifle that performed so miserably before Kettle Hill had also failed 22 years previously at the Greasy Grass—the Little Bighorn. In addition, parallels between the commanding officers at both battles are astounding. Theodore Roosevelt and George Armstrong Custer were both young and brash lieutenant colonels. Both had once held positions of greater responsibility—Custer as a major general in the American Civil War, Roosevelt as U.S. undersecretary of the Navy. Both men found themselves mired in poorly planned assaults upon superior forces. Both were driven by presidential ambitions.

The 1873 Springfield carried by Custer’s 7th Cavalry was a carbine, a foot shorter than the model carried by the New York volunteers in Cuba. Out on the windswept prairie, the smoke from black powder was no problem—but the fouling it left behind was. After the battle, many troopers were found tomahawked to death, their guns useless with cartridges seized in the chambers.

The Model 1873 Springfield—both carbine and rifle—has a long and checkered history, one that stretches back to the darkest days of the Civil War. Its predecessor, the Model 1865, was ostensibly the brainchild of one Erskine Allin, master armorer at the government’s arsenal at Springfield, Mass. Federal troops were stalled before Petersburg and Atlanta the American public was souring on what seemed to be an endless war. Democrats were suggesting peace overtures to the Confederacy, and the White House was rightfully nervous about Abraham Lincoln’s reelection chances.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton instructed Chief of Ordnance A.B. Dyer to break the stalemate with increased firepower. Dyer ordered Allin to “use whatever means seem practical” to produce a breechloading rifle. Allin, in turn, called for prototypes from inventors. Then Allin submitted a plan of his own, which he patented, calling for installing a hinged breechblock on the rear of existing .58 caliber muzzleloading muskets that would allow a rimfire copper cartridge to be inserted in the breech. Southern resistance collapsed before the rifle could be produced in quantity, but some 5,000 were shipped to garrisons on the Western plains where hard-bitten veterans took one look at the clumsy apparatus and dubbed it “the Trapdoor rifle,” a name it has retained to this day.

Besides being awkward, those first Trapdoors were inaccurate and unreliable. The bullet—traveling at about 1,100 feet per second—was so slow, troopers claimed, an Indian had time to duck after he saw the smoke. Simple mathematics indicate this may not have been typical frontier hyperbole. Springfield worked on improvements, sleeving the barrels down to .50 caliber, and designing a new “central fire” (centerfire) reloadable brass cartridge case that held 70 grains of black powder. In 1873, the caliber was shrunk again, down to .45, in an attempt to improve downrange performance. The resulting .45-70 cartridge went on to fame in Winchesters and Remingtons, and—loaded with smokeless powder—remains a popular “dangerous game” hunting cartridge today. But in the Trapdoor Springfield, the .45-70 was a miserable failure.

But no matter. The War Department apparently liked the Trapdoor because it looked like a proper rifle. The fact that it was woefully user-unfriendly did not seem to matter at all. A soldier working a Trapdoor Springfield had to manage all the moves of a drum major: hammer to half cock, muzzle down as the breech was opened so the block wouldn’t flop closed again on the fingers, cartridge inserted, breech closed and hammer hauled back to full cock. Once the trigger was pulled, and the soldier fully recovered from the rather stout recoil, the process would begin again, this time with the muzzle elevated so the expended case, if it did not seize in the chamber, could clear the action. A man on the ground had his hands full. Pitching and rolling in the saddle, using this Springfield was an utter impossibility, and called for a change in cavalry tactics. Cavalry troopers could charge with pistol and saber, but when engaged in sustained action, they were told to dismount and fight from the ground in groups of four. Three men fired, while the fourth held the rearing and plunging horses.

There was initial success on August 2, 1867. In a hot exchange near besieged Fort Phil Kearny, Wyoming Territory, a detachment of 32 wood cutters armed with Civil War–era muzzleloaders converted to breechloaders with the Allin System made a stand against vast numbers of Red Cloud’s Sioux and Northern Cheyenne. The Sioux—accustomed to going up against muzzleloaders—rushed the detachment hiding behind its overturned wagons, expecting to weather the first volley, then to overwhelm the soldiers while they tried to reload. But the sustained fire from the defenders threw back one Indian charge after another with heavy losses. Finally, a lone medicine man rode out, intending to render the bullets inaccurate by signs and incantations. A trooper got him in his sights, squeezed the trigger. The bullet fell far short. Sioux jubilation lasted as long as it took for the trooper to run the sight up another notch. A great wail went up from the Sioux, as the medicine man tumbled from his horse. They withdrew, after sustaining about 60 dead and 120 wounded. The defenders lost only three dead and two wounded. While white historians call it the “Wagon Box Fight,” Sioux folklore refers to their first encounter with breechloaders as the “Bad Medicine Fight.”

But there was bad medicine for the white man, as well. Extensive newspaper coverage of the Wagon Box Fight prompted several inventors to file suits, claiming Allin had stolen ideas they had submitted to Springfield back in 1864. The Army ended up paying out $125,000 to settle these claims, an astounding amount in the days when new rifles cost about $7 each. Those payments were later used to justify continuing to use the Trapdoor Springfield long after it had been superseded by superior designs.

Officers wanting a better rifle got their chance in 1870, when Chief of the Army William T. Sherman convened a board to study the matter. Fifty designs were dumped in mud, in sand, were driven over by wagons, soaked in brine and fired for days without cleaning. The decision was unanimous. A Remington design known as the “rolling block” should be the Army’s new rifle. The Remington was everything the Trapdoor Springfield wasn’t: It was simple to manufacture, easy to operate, and strong enough to make the eventual transition to smokeless powder. Naval officers observing the proceedings ordered 20,000 Remingtons, which were later carried ashore by sailors and Marines in Asia, where they gave superlative performance in the little-known First Korean War. The Danes, Dutch, Chinese, Russians, Turks and even the pope’s bodyguards ordered them too.

But not the U.S. Army, which—remembering patent infringement claims paid a decade earlier—was hesitant to give up on the Trapdoor Springfield. General Alexander B. Dyer countermanded the board’s findings, ordering a “new and improved” Trapdoor rifle for the infantry. The cavalry got a Trapdoor carbine to replace its seven-shot lever-action Spencers West Point cadets, a midsized rifle for drill and a few officers sported a half-stocked model with brass ornamentation and a special long-range sight. In all, about 750,000 were produced.

The 1873 model first saw combat on June 17, 1876—one week before the Custer debacle, when Brig. Gen. George Crook and 1,300 men stumbled onto Crazy Horse’s band in the headwaters of Rosebud Creek in what is now northern Wyoming. The battle raged for a day and saw some of the poorest shooting in the history of the U.S. Army. Crook lost nine men dead and 23 wounded while expending an astounding 10,000 rounds of ammunition. When the smoke cleared, only 36 Sioux and Cheyenne lay dead upon the field. Nearly out of ammunition, Crook withdrew, leaving the Indians to annihilate Custer the following week. Though no explanation of the woeful marksmanship was ever given, historians blame the Trapdoor Springfield.

The Trapdoor Springfield outlived Custer. It bore the bayonet thrust through Crazy Horse, and fired the bullet that killed Sitting Bull. It put down labor unrest in Chicago, battled the Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina. And long after the rest of the world’s armies had made the switch to smokeless powder, the Trapdoor Springfield went to Cuba with the volunteers, and to the Philippines to defeat the fanatical Moros. In the uncertain days preceding American entry into World War I, militia units along the U.S. East Coast still carried Trapdoors.

In the late 1930s, Army disposal teams scuttled thousands of Trapdoors in the North Atlantic while military surplus tycoon Francis Bannerman offered them to an uninterested public for $3 apiece. In an effort to move his huge stock of rifles, Bannerman cut many down to carbine length for hunting, even removed rifling from some to accommodate .410 shot shells. But the market improved with the coming of the Little Bighorn Centennial. Today the collector demand for Trapdoor Springfields far exceeds the supply of remaining unaltered originals. Several European gun makers are currently offering reproductions to fill this unlikely market niche.

The Trapdoor Springfield remains an enigma, a stone on which historians stumble. Hastily conceived to assist Lincoln’s reelection, it was obsolete the day it was produced. And despite its obvious flaws, it remained in service longer than any other U.S. rifle.

Originally published in the March 2007 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.

The ’61 Springfield Rifle Musket

Federal infantrymen were armed mainly with the Springfield rifle musket, Model 1861, or variants of this model, i.e., the Model 1863 or 1864 rifle musket. If you have a “Civil War musket” in your collection, it very probably is a “Springfield” of this model if not, you probably have the Enfield musket, produced in England.

The Model 1861 Springfield rifle musket was the principal weapon of the Civil War. By the end of 1863, most Federal infantrymen were armed with this weapon. The Springfield was a percussion rifle 58½ inches long, muzzle-loading, caliber .58. The rifle barrel was 40 inches long the pitch in the rifling was one turn in 6 feet there were three grooves each three-tenths of an inch wide, .005 of an inch deep at the muzzle, increasing regularly in depth to .15 at the breech. This rifle, with its 18-inch socket bayonet, weighed 9.75 pounds. The ammunition used was a hollow-based cylindro-conical bullet of 500 grains muzzle velocity was 950 foot seconds. This compares with 2,300 foot seconds for the famous 1903 Springfield, which would see so much use during World War I and later.

Including the bayonet, ramrod and other appendages, there were 84 pieces in the Model 1861 Springfield, which in 1861 cost $14.93 to manufacture. All the parts were interchangeable. From 1861 to 1865, the Springfield Armory produced 793,434 and private contractors produced 882,561 of these arms. In the 1863 and 1864 variations of the 1861 model slight improvements were made, but the Model 1861 rifle musket remained, practically unchanged, the basic infantry weapon of the war. One of the interesting changes was the abolition of band springs in 1863 and their reappearance in 1864. Men in the field found that the bands tended to “jump” loose without the band springs whenever their guns were fired.

It is interesting to note that, in addition to the American contractors, Model 1861 muskets were made by Manton in England and by firms in Germany. Several of the contract arms are extremely rare today, since certain contractors made only a few muskets.

While the Civil War musket as produced at Springfield or in the many contractors’ factories seems very old and quaintly ineffectual compared to such weapons as the Garand of today, the Boys in Blue and their adversaries were quite impressed by its appearance and performance. On November 23, 1862, a corporal in the 52nd Massachusetts Volunteers wrote: “Our guns were issued to us the other day, beautiful pieces of the most improved pattern—the Springfield rifled musket….Mine is behind me now, dark black—walnut stock, well oiled, so that the beauty of the wood is brought out, hollowed at the base, and smoothly fitted with steel, to correspond exactly to the curve of the shoulder, against which I shall have to press it many and many a time. The spring of the lock, just stiff and just limber enough the eagle and stamp of the Government pressed into the steel [lock] plate barrel, long and glistening—bound into its bed by gleaming rings—long and straight and so bright that when I present arms, and bring it before my face, I can see the nose and spectacles and the heavy beard on lip and chin, which already the camp is beginning to develop. Then the bayonet, straight and tapering, dazzling under a sunray, grooved delicately—as if it were meant to illustrate problems in conic sections—smooth to the finger as a surface of glass, and coming to a point sharp as a needle.”

The farmer boy from Iowa and the Irish immigrant from Boston were equally proud of their Model 1861 Springfields, which by regulations were kept in excellent condition even after all other issue items had either been thrown away or had suffered from neglect. Veteran regiments were characterized by shot-rent colors and shining muskets, which were kept in excellent condition. This was also true of the equipment that was worn by the men. But all the nonessentials had been discarded shortly after a regiment entered combat.

Although the rifle musket was the main shoulder weapon of the war, many men realized its inherent inferiority to the repeating weapons. The rifle musket could be fired two or three times a minute, but breechloaders could be fired about 10 times a minute. To partially offset the slowness of fire of the muzzle-loader, two bullets were occasionally used at a time. With the ordinary service power charge these bullets would separate about 4 feet from each other at a range of 200 yards.

Moreover, in the excitement of battle, many men armed with the muzzle-loader forgot to put a fresh percussion cap on the nipple for each firing of their weapon. An examination of the 27,574 muskets picked up after Gettysburg showed that 24,000 were still loaded. Of these, 12,000 contained two loads each and 6,000 (over 20 percent) were charged with from three to 10 loads each. One musket had in it 23 loads, each charge being put down in regular order! In many muskets the ball had been inserted first and the powder afterward!

Despite its beautiful appearance, the Springfield was a menace to many men because it invariably was kept brightly polished, thus destroying all attempts of its owner to conceal his position. This was not true of many Enfields and even some breechloaders, which were either blued or browned. A Federal soldier after the war reported that “many ex-Rebel officers now bear witness to the fact that the movements of our Federal forces were often made known to them by the sheen from our burnished gun barrels.” The soldier cited specifically Fredericksburg, where the moon reflected on Federal muskets as Ambrose Burnside’s men moved into position Second Bull Run, where the muskets glittered through the dust and Petersburg, where the Confederates “were often made aware of our movements to the left by the light that played above the moving columns, when they could not see the troops at all.”

Even when blued or browned Enfield muskets were issued, regulation-conscious regimental commanders had their men use emery cloth until the barrels were “good and shiny.” As that Federal soldier put it: What better mark could possibly be desired than blue uniforms and burnished gun barrels?”

Originally published in the April 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.

Springfield Armory PRODUCTS

Springfield is also responsible for one of the finest long range rifles you’ll ever come across

As a huge fan of CCWs, it’s hard for me to not love Springfield’s collection of handguns. With a multitude of styles, sizes, and calibers, you are sure to find the right one for you. However, in the odd chance that you don’t, or if you’re looking for something more personal, the Springfield Custom Shop can create the perfect weapon that’ll exceed even your most wild expectations. In addition to their remarkable handguns, Springfield is also responsible for one of the finest long range rifles you’ll ever come across. Their M1A tactical rifle is sleek, sexy, and can handle just about any mission out there. Let’s take a closer look at these exceptional weapons to see how sensational they really are.

Origins…What Role Did the Springfield Trapdoor Play in History?

After the Civil War, the War Department wanted a breech-loading rifle. To be specific, it wanted a breech-loading rifle that would chamber a self-primed, metallic cartridge. This led to the formation of an Army Board who, in 1865, would host trials for different rifles by makers both foreign and domestic. The idea of the Master Armorer at the U.S. Armory at Springfield, Mr. Erskine S. Allin, was to take the existing Civil War muzzle-loaders, of which there were thousands, and convert them by adding the now well-known “trap door” to the receiver.

This appealed to the Board for a number of reasons:

  1. It used existing materials, thereby saving money and manufacturing time. (Money was an important factor given the War Department’s newly slashed budget.)
  2. Single shots were viewed as more reliable and rugged than repeaters or magazine rifles.
  3. It looked similar to proven guns of the past, especially with its pronounced hammer.
  4. The Board’s priority of long-range accuracy over rate of fire.
  5. Single-shot rifles were thought to force a more efficient use of ammunition.

The Board adopted the National Armory’s (a.k.a. the U.S. Armory at Springfield, later just “Springfield”) design, now referred to as the “First Allin.” However, this “adoption” was more of a test drive than a final acceptance. As reports came in from the field in subsequent years, the rifle would be adapted, redesigned and replaced in the field in small numbers. This went on for about five years from National Armory’s Model 1865 to its Model 1870. Then, on September 3, 1872, the Board of Army Officers held another trial.

This trial was designed to find a rifle more in line with their preference toward range and power than the Model 1870 being “test driven” by soldiers in the field. The Board, now known as the “Terry Board,” headed by Brigadier General A.H. Terry, requested roughly 100 different breech-loading rifles from various makers to put through trials. They again received both foreign and domestic submissions from some of the most prominent firearms manufacturers of the day such as: Winchester, Remington, Springfield, Sharps, Spencer, Whitney and others. They rejected all but 21 almost immediately, and only two of those were modifications of the current .50 caliber trap door.

At this point, the Terry Board held a “sidebar” study. It was a separate, yet related, study to determine which combination of caliber, powder charge and bullet weight would provide the best performance. They tested .40, .42, and .45 caliber bullets, powder amounts from 65 to 80 grains, several rifling variations and bullet weights from 350 to 450 grains. Each variation had its own barrel and fired 20 test shots at six targets from a distance of 500 yards.

The winner would be barrel #16 with the #58 ammunition, which would be the 45-70-405 cartridge. We know it better as the .45-70 Government. The round deemed so effective, Colt began making Gatling guns to utilize the same round later that year. It is surprising that both government and private manufacturers took so long to realize that by increasing powder and lessening bullet weight, it could produce rifles with much greater range. The development of this round and its subsequent rifle—literally made for each other—would mark the American shift from muskets to longer range rifles.

By the time they decided upon the .45-70, the Terry Board had further narrowed the field of long arms to six possible candidates. Each one altered to use this new cartridge and tested further. In the end, their bias to an older style of warfare and rifle won out and they selected trap door action. The preference for a powerful rifle, accurate at long distances, also implies interesting things about the state of American conflict at that time. The Civil War had ended a short seven years earlier and the thought was to again select a weapon that would perform nobly in a similar type of conflict. The thought of fast-moving battles against Native Americans may have been a secondary priority at the time hence the lack of urgency to adopt repeating and magazine-based rifles.

Extremely Rare Original Late 1892 .30 Caliber Experiential Trapdoor Rifle Full profile of the Springfield Model 1892 .30 Cal.

It is known that trapdoor rifles were not developed until after the Civil War and through Springfield’s manufacturing records we find the first 1,940 Model 1873 carbines and two rifles were not made until the final months of 1873. An additional 6,521 weapons were ready by March 31, 1874. The Model 1873 was the fifth improvement of the Allin design.

The Spanish-American War would not start for another 24 years. Until that time, the Allin System long arms would be used in the American plains for two purposes: killing buffalo and fighting American Indians. As a buffalo killer, the weapon was apt. Its muzzle velocity of 1,350 feet/second would allow it to penetrate 17 inches of white pine at 100 yards, certainly enough to kill a buffalo.

This power, when combined with its long-range accuracy, also made it an excellent hunting rifle for other large game of the prairie and for coyotes. The classic cowboy song “Home On the Range,” was first published in 1873, with its now well-known lyrics of buffalo roaming while deer and antelope play. Little could author Brewster M. Higley have known how much the Springfield— developed that same year—would affect those animals.

Desirable Custer Era U.S. Springfield Model 1873 Trapdoor Carbine with Indian Markings

The Allin System’s performance in the Indian Wars is much debated. Often cited was the “large number” of empty cartridges found at the Battle of Little Big Horn, which exhibited signs of malfunction. Although such examples were found, they are a small percentage (2.7 to 3.4% by some counts) of the thousands of rounds fired in that conflict. The concern over jamming weapons in the Indian Wars is not a modern one.

Even at the time, it was a known concern among soldiers. This was due in large part to the use of a copper alloy (“Bloomfield Gilding Metal”) in the manufacture of the ammunition’s case. Copper was prone to expanding in the breech upon firing and could also prevent the extractor from properly functioning. This often required the user to pry the cartridge from the breech or to push it out by using the ramrod. Such a remedy was not an option on the carbine version, which did not include that valuable tool. This brought about the use of brass cases to reduce expansion a material still in use to this day.

The Springfield Model 1873 carbine was the standard issue long arm of all U.S. Cavalry units from 1874 to 1896, but the rifle would be switched out in 1886 for the improved Springfield Model 1884. The Allin system would be not be replaced as the standard U.S. rifle until the adoption of the Krag-Jørgensen (a.k.a. Springfield Model 1892-99), also produced by the Springfield Armory from 1894 to 1904. For those paying close attention to dates, this means the Krag, using its smokeless ammunition, was the primary rifle used in both the Spanish-American War as well as the Philippine-American War, though the sheer number of available trap doors inevitably meant that the outdated black powder guns were still used.

Excellent U.S. Springfield Model 1884 Trapdoor Rifle Breech view of the Springfield Model 1884 .

The 1903 SPRINGFIELD Rifle

The “Springfield ’03,” probably the weapon most identified with Springfield Armory, is known around the world for its accuracy, reliability, and ruggedness. Between 1903, when production began, and 1936, Springfield Armory turned out more than one million M1903 rifles with many modifications. An additional one-third million rifles were produced at the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois.

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

This case displays a disassembled Model 1903 Rifle.

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

Lessons of War War is the ultimate testing ground for weapons, and in the Spanish-American War of 1898-1899 the United States found that the Krag-Jorgensen rifle did not perform as well as the rifle issued to the Spanish soldiers. During the war the Springfield Armory began developing a new primary arm for the United States Army. The new rifle, based on the German Mauser action, became one of the most famous weapons ever produced by a national armory and remained in production for more than a third of a century.

M1900 SPAR6133 The M1900 was an experimental model designed to match the performance of European weapons employed in the Spanish-American War of 1898. In the proof of war it was found that the Krag round did not have the velocity or range of the Spanish Mauser rifles and that the Krag's loading system was deficient.

M1901 SPAR6134 Problems encountered in the M1900 were answered in a new model that incorporated an action very similar to the Mauser and used a rimless cartridge. [See the October 30, 1901 newspaper article describing this rifle.]

M1902 SPAR6150 Only minor changes were made in the M1901 to produce the version that was approved for production.

M1902 Carbine SPAR6140 Prototype carbine version of the M1902 rifle.

M1903 SPAR6168 Experiments with the M1902 determined that, with some modifications, a 24 inch barrel on the rifle was as effective as the 30 inch barrel. The shorter barrel would allow the same weapon to be used by both infantry and cavalry, removing the necessity of producing two versions of the same weapon. The Model 1903 incorporated this change.

Forging and Machining

Rifle receivers were forged and then machined at Springfield Armory.

The first step is to "sink a die", or to mill a die from hard tool steel.

A receiver die being milled at Springfield Armory.

A three-head mill cutting three dies at once. Dies have to be replaced frequently as the forging process quickly wears them down.

Here you see the die itself. The die is the lower face of the forge into which a hot steel bar is hammered.

The series of pictures below shows the forging operation. A hot steel bar is placed into the forge, on the die and below the hammer. Repeated hammer blows then drive the hot steel into the die.

The hot steel bar is being placed into the forge.

The hot steel bar is being placed onto the die, below the hammer.

Repeated blows of the hammer drive the hot steel into the die.

Brown & Sharpe milling machine cutting guide slots in M1 receivers with two cutting wheels.

There is a discussion of the steel used to make some of the M1 Garand receivers in Hatcher's Notebook, Julian S Hatcher, Major General, U.S. Army, retired, The Telegraph Press, 1947. The specifications changed over time with experiences gained from armory testing and field use.

Early receiver production used WD Steel No. 3115:
Carbon 0.10% to 0.20%
Manganese 0.30% to 0.60%
Nickel 1.00% to 1.50%
Chromium 0.45% to 0.75%
Sulphur not over 0.05%
Phophorus not over 0.04%
Intermediate production runs used WD Steel No. 3120:
Carbon 0.15% to 0.25%
Manganese 0.50% to 0.80%
Nickel 1.00% to 1.50%
Chromium 0.45% to 0.75%
Sulphur not over 0.05%
Phophorus not over 0.05%

After July, 1942, receivers used WD Steel No. 8620 Modified, the same as for the bolt.

The receivers were then heat treated. They were carburized 0.012" to 0.018" at 1600ଏ followed by an oil quench temper for one hour at 480°. The resulting hardness was Rockwell D 59 to D 67.

Once a forging had been hardened and passed testing, it would undergo initial machining. The first picture below shows a forging. The second shows a forging that has been through initial milling.

Once a design process had been developed in a testing shop, it had to be industrialized for high output.

The en-bloc clips were stamped from spring steel.

Multi-head milling machines were used to produce multiple parts simultaneously.

A 4-head gang milling machine simultaneously working on four receivers.

A stamping machine producing en-bloc clips.

A Model 1884 Springfield Rifle

The Buffington sight. A second adjustment screw (not visible) swiveled the entire sight left or right.

During the summer months, visitors to Fort Mackinac are able to see a real piece of history in action every single day. Historical interpreters representing soldiers from the 23 rd Regiment of Infantry perform rifle firing and drill demonstrations throughout the day. The weapons they carry, the .45-70 Springfield rifle, are all 19 th century originals, making them at least 130 years old. Let’s take a closer look at one of these fascinating weapons.

Introduced in 1873, the .45-70 remained the standard issue arm of the American army for 20 years. A single-shot weapon, the rifle derived its name from the cartridge it fired: a .45 caliber bullet propelled by 70 grains of black powder. Over the course of its service life, the army refined the rifle several times, making almost yearly changes to the design to reflect the realities of daily use and at the suggestion of officers and enlisted men. Only rarely did these design changes cumulatively result in the designation of a new model, but in 1884 the army approved a “new” design incorporating improved features.

The improved cleaning rod, with tapered button tip.

Note the knurling on the trigger and on the hammer.

This Model 1884 displays many of these design elements. The two most prominent “new” features are the sight and the cleaning rod. The sight, designed by Lt. Col. A.R. Buffington of the Ordnance Department, includes a leaf that can be flipped up and adjusted to sight the weapon at ranges up to 1,400 yards. It also includes an adjustment screw to compensate for windage- by turning it, the entire vertical leaf swivels right or left. The cleaning rod, meanwhile, incorporates the flared button head adopted in 1879 and put into widespread production in 1882. The breechblock is stamped U.S. MODEL 1884, although in reality these stamps were not added to new rifles until 1886, and weapons marked this way did not enter widespread service until 1887. The rest of the rifle incorporates several other design improvements adopted over the years, such as knurling on the trigger and hammer, which was intended to improve a soldier’s fingertip grip on these critical pieces.

The star symbol stamped next to the serial number (it looks like a flower) indicates that this rifle was probably rebuilt at an arsenal at some point.

The rifle’s breech in the open position. When opened after firing, the weapon automatically ejected the spent cartridge, allowing a soldier to quickly reload.

This particular rifle has a serial number in the 141000 range, indicating that it was probably originally produced in 1879 or 1880. How, then, can it incorporate features only authorized in 1884, and not actually put into service for a few more years? The small five-pointed star or flower next to the serial number most likely indicates that this weapon is an arsenal rebuilt. In 1879 the Springfield Armory began collecting older .45-70 rifles and using some of the parts to build new weapons, which were held in reserve or eventually issued to various state units (the forerunners to the National Guard). Furthermore, since the rifles were built using entirely interchangeable parts, after the weapons left frontline military service and entered the civilian market (which many did- they are still relatively easy for collectors to obtain) it was simple for gun brokers and owners to cobble together “new” weapons with a mixture of parts from different model years.

In any case, this rifle, and the others in daily use at Fort Mackinac, are truly history that you can see, smell, hear, and touch. Our interpreters carry rifles of both the 1873 and 1884 models, with many of the small variations added each year. We even have a few rifles equipped with ramrod bayonets, an experimental design attempted on three different occasions in the 1880s. These weapons had a small, sharpened metal dowel mounted under the barrel in lieu of a cleaning rod in an effort to eliminate the need for soldiers to carry a separate bayonet and scabbard. Historically, one of the two companies of the 23 rd Infantry stationed at Fort Mackinac from 1884 to 1890 were issued the experimental ramrod bayonet rifles for evaluation. When you visit us at Fort Mackinac, be sure to ask the interpreters about their rifles- they’re a fascinating link to the past!

M1903 Springfield Rifle History

During the Spanish-American War of 1898, it was recognized that the Spanish Mauser, Model of 1893, exhibited characteristics superior to the "trapdoor" Springfield and Krag rifles carried by the United States troops. The Mauser was superior from the standpoint of rapidity of loading and the ammunition it fired.

U.S. Rifle, Cal. .30, M1903 (top) and M1903A3.

On August 15, 1900, Springfield Armory completed an experimental magazine rifle which they believed to be an improvement over the Krag. They fashioned a clip loading magazine rifle in which the cartridges were contained within the stock, preventing damage to an otherwise exposed magazine. The M1903 Springfield was the first US Army rifle to use stripper clips, which held five rounds together for easy loading. The full story on the .30-06 cartridge, developed for the Springfield but which became the Army's standard round for many firearms, is on the linked Olive-Drab.com page.

Rifle production was suspended in January 1905, after the Secretary of War received a letter from President Theodore Roosevelt criticizing the rod bayonet as being too delicate for combat. Subsequently the rod bayonet was abandoned in favor of the "Model 1905 Knife Bayonet."

Firing U.S. Rifle, Cal. .30, M1903 in sitting position, from 1932 US Army Training Film, Ft. Dupont, DE, provided courtesy of Phil Nohl.

By the time the United States entered World War I, approximately 843,239 standard service Model 1903 rifles had been manufactured. However this was insufficient to arm U.S.troops for an undertaking of the magnitude of World War I. During WW I, Springfield Armory produced over 265,620 Model 1903 rifles but the primary rifle of that war was the M1917 Enfield. During World War II, Remington Arms and Smith-Corona produced M1903 rifles. Production improvements for the war were recognized by a change in the rifle designation to M1903A3. Many milled parts were replaced by stampings and a less expensive stock was substituted. The rear sight was moved from the barrel to the receiver and changed to a peep sight (see photo above).

1903 Springfield Family Of Rifles – Part 2

Bangor, Maine – -(Ammoland.com)- The 1903 Springfield family of rifles is one of the most popular military arms today.

In a Part 1 of my Springfield Rifle Series we looked at the rifle’s early history through the end of World War One.

In this article of the Springfield Rifle Series we will look at the rifle’s production after World War One, and production through World War Two including the 1903A3. We will also look at sniper variations, .22 caliber variations, and other types of 1903 rifles including target and sporter models.

Post WW1 Production

Production of the 1903 rifle continued after the end of World War One. Rock Island produced the weapon until 1919, and they had manufactured a total of 346,000 rifles. A small number of Rock Island 1903 receivers were completed at Springfield Armory in 1928 with Springfield barrels. Springfield Armory’s production of the 1903 continued much longer than Rock Island, as they produced rifles until 1939, with about 1,340,000 being produced.

In 1929 a new stock was introduced for the 1903 rifles, called the “C” stock or pistol gripped stock. Rifles fitted with this pistol grip were designated the M1903A1, and they were produced from 1929 until the end of Springfield’s production in 1939. The semi automatic M1 Garand had been officially adopted by the US Army in 1936, but the rifle required some time to get early production problems fixed, and the 1903 Springfield still saw widespread service.

.22 Caliber Springfields

A few variations of the 1903 Springfield were chambered in .22 LR for training purposes.

Two Ordnance officers Jay Hoffer and John Thompson (Designer of the Thompson submachine gun) invented a 1903 .22 rifle that had the same weight and feel of the regular 1903 service rifle. This rifle used steel adapters that duplicated .30-06 ammunition, and housed the .22 caliber rounds. These adapters also could be put in stripper clips to duplicate proper loading procedure.

Production of the Hoffer-Thompson .22 rifle started in 1907 and ended in 1919, with 15,525 rifles being produced. Today these rifles are scarce, as many were destroyed or converted to regular 1903 .30-06 rifles.

Problems with earlier .22 1903 rifles accuracy led to the development of the Model 1922 practice rifle. The Model 1922 looked more like a sporting rifle than a military rifle. It lacked a hand guard and had a pistol gripped stock. It also had a Lyman 48B peep rear sight instead of the M1905 open rear sight.

A total of 2,020 M1922 rifles were made between 1922 and 1924. The M1922 was modified with a slightly different stock and magazine floorplate, and this rifle was called the M1922M1. 20,010 M1922M1s were produced between 1925 and 1933. Another variation of the M1922 called the M1922M2 was produced between 1933 and 1942 with 11,171 being produced. The M1922M2 featured an improved bolt design, and a different stock. These M1922 variations were available for sale to the general public through the NRA via mail order.

National Match and Sporter Rifles

The 1903 Springfield’s role as a combat rifle was only part of the rifle’s story. In the 1920’s civilians were able to purchase special target, and sporting versions of the 1903 through the Director of Civilian Marksmanship or DCM. One variant of these DCM rifles was called the NRA Sporter, which had a pistol gripped stock, Lyman No. 48 Sight, and star gauged barrel. The 1903 was used quite a bit as a National Match rifle with 28,907 being made between 1921 until 1940. These rifles were famous for their use and accuracy at the Camp Perry matches in Ohio.

World War Two and the 1903A3

The outbreak of World War Two saw production start again of the 1903 rifle, despite it being officially replaced by the semi automatic M1 Garand. Remington rather than Springfield Armory, produced the rifle. Prior to Pearl Harbor, Remington had entered into a contract to produce 500,000 1903s in .303 British for the British government. Remington did not completely go through with the contract, and as a result the rifles were produced but in .30-06 rather than .303 British. Some rifles did go to Britain but not nearly the full 500,000 that was in the early contract.

Remington produced 1903 rifles for the US government as well in larger numbers. Remington had received older manufacturing equipment and tooling from Rock Island Arsenal to build these rifles.

Unlike earlier rifles, the Remington 1903’s had many shortcuts in manufacturing to save time and money. Some Remington 1903s stocks lacked the grasping grooves of earlier rifles. About 348,000 Remington 1903 rifles were produced. Further changes were made to Remington’s 1903, including the complete elimination of grasping grooves on the rifles stock, and most importantly a rear peep sight instead of the older open M1905 sight.

These changes mentioned above resulted in the 1903A3 rifle, which was produced by Remington and the Smith Corona type writer company. Production of the 1903A3 began in late 1942 and ended in February of 1944. Remington produced over 707,000 rifles compared to 234,000 by Smith Corona. Despite the manufacturing shortcuts, the 1903A3 had was a strong and safe weapon due to the fact that the receiver was made out of nickel steel. The rifles saw use during World War Two in all theaters of war. Military police used the weapon, and the rifle also served as a grenade launching platform. 1903A3s were supplied to other Allied nations during World War Two, such as the Nationalist Chinese.

Older 1903 rifles were refurbished and rebarreled for use during World War Two. World War Two era barrels were made by Springfield Armory, High Standard, and R.F. Sedgely (R.F. Sedgley military barrels were marked USMC for Marine Corps use). 1903 rifles were pressed into service and used throughout the war. Because the Marine Corps was slow to adopt the M1 Garand in number, many Marines in the early part of World War Two were equipped with 1903 rifles, most famously during the Battle of Guadalcanal.

Sniper Rifles

The 1903 Springfield was used as a sniper rifle with a few different variants. The sniper versions used in World War had scopes made by Warner and Swasey. There were two models the 1908, and 1913 “Musket” sight scopes used on World War 1903 sniper rifles. These scopes were mounted on left side of the rifle via a mounting bracket. At least 5,000 of the Model 1913 scopes were used during the World War One.

Prior to World War Two the Marine Corps had developed a new model of 1903 sniper rifle. This was the Model 1903A1 sniper rifle and it had an 8x power Unertl scope. The 1903A1 Sniper rifles also had Star Gauged barrels to ensure the best accuracy. The Marine Corps used these rifles in both World War Two and during the Korean War to great effect.

Perhaps the most famous sniper variant of the 1903 rifle was the 1903A4 . It was the sniper rifle carried by Barry Pepper in the movie Saving Private Ryan, and it was based on the 1903A3 rifle. Remington began production of this sniper rifle in 1943 and unlike the regular 1903A3 it lacked both a front and rear sight. Also the gun was still marked “03-A3” but these markings were offset so they could be seen with the scope on. The 1903A4 was fitted with either a Lyman Alaskan 2.5x power scope or Weaver 330C 2.2x power scope. Some 1903A4s were fitted with M84 scopes after World War Two. Production of the 1903A4 ceased after June, 1944 with a total of 23,365 rifles being produced. The 1903A4 was used by the Army and saw use in World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam.

After World War Two many 1903 and 1903A3 rifles were sold off for surplus through the DCM and the NRA for cheap via mail order. Many of these rifles were modified or sporterized by hunters and shooters. Today unmodified and un-messed with 1903 rifles are in high demand and bring good money. Prices start in the 600-700 dollar range for a standard rifle and go up depending on condition, variation, and other factors.

  • * Images: Rock Island Auction Company ( www.rockislandauction.com )
  • ** Image: Springfield Armory National Historic Site ( http://ww2.rediscov.com/spring/spring.htm )

1903 Springfield Rifle Resources:

  • The Springfield 1903 Rifles – The Book : http://goo.gl/oY3TIz
  • Springfield 1903 Rifle Parts & Ammo : http://goo.gl/M7vn0T
  • More Springfield Info & History at NRA Firearms Museum : http://tiny.cc/meuv1x

About Marc Cammack
Marc Cammack has been collecting firearms since he was 14 years old.

His interests are primarily military surplus firearms of the late 19th into the 1950’s. He has studied these in depth, and currently volunteers at two local museums providing them with accurate information about their firearms.

He is a graduate of the University of Maine with a bachelor’s degree in history. He has studied modern European and American history since the age of 9, and has been shooting since the age of 11. He currently resides just outside of Bangor, Maine.

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