The 1903 Springfield


 During the Spanish and American War of 1898 (duration 3½ month) the US found their Krag rifles outclassed by the Spanish M1893 Mauser rifle, both in cartridge performance and loading speed. Britain experienced similar problems with the Lee Enfield rifle during the 2nd Boer War, again outclassed by the Mauser rifle.

Post war experiments proved the Krag could be converted to take a charger clip, but this still left a shortfall in cartridge performance. The 30.40 Krag cartridge gave approx. 2000 fps with a 220 grain round nose bullet. Again very similar to the Mark 6 .303 of the time; 1970 fps and 215 grain round nose bullet. The 7 x 57 Mauser round of that period also used a round nose projectile of 174 grains, but at 2300 fps and gave a much flatter trajectory. The Americans decided that to keep up with the current developments they needed to increase their velocity by at least 300 fps and still retain the 220 grain ball. We must however consider the mind set of this era.Heavy bullets = stopping power, etc. The Krag’s single locking bolt could not cope with the increased pressure that would be required and so new rifle had to be considered.


The prototype rifle of 1900

In 1900 a new prototype rifle was developed around the Mauser action. It still used a Krag type .30 cal barrel and the cartridge was almost identical to the old rimmed Krag. It had a 220 grain round nose bullet and an increased velocity of 2300 fps. To accommodate the rimmed round it used a Mannlicher type magazine. The bolt had two forward locking lugs, almost identical to the Mauser and a third safety lug forward of the bolt handle. The receiver bridge was slotted to clear the 3rd lug. It also used a magazine cut off similar to the British Enfields. The stock was again similar to that of the Krag with a straight grip.

The new rifle was put forward on 25th August 1900 to the War Department and was submitted for testing to a board of ordnance officers at Springfield on the 2nd October 1900.

In December 1900 the board recommended that the magazine to be staggered as per the Mauser, the rounds were continually jamming, and that rimless rounds should be considered. This would also improve the efficiency of the stripper clips. The magazine cut off was also found to be problematic.

As a result of the recommendations the rifle was modified. It still had a 30” barrel and a new cut off and a butt plate similar to the M1889 Springfield. Both the rod type bayonet and the Krag style knife bayonet were still in consideration. The action also had a split receiver bridge.

This rifle was then recommended for adoption.

The M1901

The 1901 was approved for trials. It was decided not to split the receiver bridge due to problems in heat treatment. Instead they raised the receiver bridge and reduced the height of the lug to clear.

In November General Adelbert Buffington was succeeded by General William Crozier. On taking office Crozier decided that all US rifles needed a more robust battle sight and a modified M1898 sight was adopted for both the Krags currently in production and the new prototype. For some obscure reason the sling swivel ring was also moved back 3½”.

This was approved by the Secretary of War and 5000 trial muskets were to be produced.

However General Crozier later realised that with the old Krag still in production to tool up and make 5000 new trial rifles as well as the existing commitments he would not have the new rifle in good time so it was decided to make 100 rifles in the tool shops. This gave the board the time to evaluate the rifle, clips, etc.

It was proposed to produce the new rifle at Springfield and also set up for production at Rock Island.

All the prototypes up to this point had 30” barrels. It was decided to furnish a number of the tool shop made rifles with different lengths of barrel: 22”, 24”, 26”, and 30”.

Due to experiments by Dr W.F. Cole a 1 in 8 twist barrel was also adopted as it was found to give better accuracy with the 220 grain bullet.

The armies of the day were still using long rifles for infantry and carbines for cavalry, engineers and artillery. And of course Britain was about to adopt the SMLE, one standard rifle for all the troops.

The M1901 evaluation

A board of infantry and cavalry officers and a team of NCOs, all expert riflemen, set about evaluating the new arm. The rifle was then taken on tour to be demonstrated to the troops around the US. All were then asked to submit their comments. The new rifle was well received. The 24” barrel was preferred and could be made to deliver the required 2300 fsp at the muzzle. The cavalry did not complain at having a barrel 2” longer and the infantry were most content with a barrel 6” shorter.

A number of minor changes were made to the prototype. The rear sight was moved further back and the sling swivel was restored to its original position. The rod bayonet was increased in diameter and knurling omitted from below the point and shortened to 10” in length from the muzzle.

The 3rd locking lug was lengthened and the height of the receiver bridge increased to clear it. This did not interfere with the line of sight as moving the rear sight back increased its height in relation to the bore. These are the most noteworthy of the modifications.

After yet more testing the board was unanimously in favour of the new rifle; 223 officers and 4669 men on ten posts that the rifle was demonstrated also found in favour of the M1901.

Two rifles were prepared and sent to the infantry board at Ft. Leavenworth and the cavalry board at Ft Riley. Both unanimously approved the adoption of the 24” rifle for all services.

On the 19th June 1903 the new rifle was approved by the Secretary of War and designated ‘United States Magazine Rifle Caliber .30 Model of 1903’.

The day after approval the commanding officer of Springfield Armoury was ordered to commence preparation for the production of 225 rifles per day. Simultaneously preparations were made at the newly established Rock Island as well for the production of 125 rifles per day with the preparations moving forward extensively. Firing tests revealed a problem with the 1 in 8 barrels eroding at an unacceptable rate.

The initial improvement in accuracy of the 1 in 8 barrels soon diminished with more tests established that the slowest twist rate need to stabilise the 220 grain bullet would be 1 in 10½. It was then decided to revert to the original 1 in 10 twist rate. Despite this and other small problems Springfield Armoury went into production in November of 1903 with over 30,000 produced early in 1904. It must be noted a large number of Krags were also produced at the same time.

The new Rock Island Arsenal started production on 4th May 1904 and were producing 125 rifles per day by January 1905.

Small changes were made during early production to the safety catch, magazine follower and back sight.

It was decided to issue these early rifles to troops in the Philippines and Alaska, mainly because the new ammunition was not interchangeable with the Krag which was still in general service.

The bayonet debate

It is said that American observers in 1904 Russia-Japan War noted that in night attacks, involving close quarter combat, the bayonet was the main weapon and if the new M1903 was put to such a task the flimsy ramrod bayonet would be woefully inadequate. To add to this Theodore Roosevelt, the then President and a veteran of the Spanish-American War, waded into the debate with a letter to the Minister of War.

January 4th 1905

Quote: ‘I must say I think the rod bayonet about as poor an invention as I ever saw.’

Soon after the production was halted and a new bayonet was considered. This pause also prompted a re-think regarding the back sight.

It was finally decided to adopt a knife bayonet similar to the old Krag bayonet, but with a blade 6” longer to compensate for the shorter barrel which made the blade 16”.

This became the M1905 bayonet and again the sight was changed to a modified version of the 1901 sight. This was named rear sight M1905.

The new rifle replaced the Krag in general service in early 1906.

During 1898 the French developed the Balle D., a streamlined bullet with a boat tail to help improve the Lebel rifles performance.

The Germans naturally took an interest and started work on this new innovation. (Most of this was credited to Arthur Gleinich) They worked on the new bullet as the century turned and it entered production in 1904 and was called the Spitzgeschoss.(pointed bullet) Although very similar to the French bullet the Germans patented their bullet type and shape which went on to become the S patrone.

In 1906 the US purchased a licence to produce the Spitzgeschoss which resulted in a 150 grain flat base Spitzer bullet. This was used with a slightly modified case and re-designated the 30.06.

The 30.06 replaced the 30.03, which had a 220 grain round nose bullet.

Although similar, the 30.03 case had to be modified, as it was found that the new Spitzer bullet of 150 grains needed to be seated further back to allow it to fit and feed from the magazine. The new bullet thus seated would set the start of the ogive below the case mouth.

This required modification of both the case and chamber. Rather than scrapping the 200,000 barrels already installed it was decided to re-machine the barrels at the chamber end and shorten the chamber for the new round. Stocks of the new 30.06 were built up and newly manufactured rifles chambered for the new round were held back until old stocks of ammunition were used up then the old rifles were re-called and replaced with the new rifled chamber for the 30.06 round. This work was done early in 1909 and included a modification to the rear sight graduations to allow for the bullets new flatter trajectory.

The Navy and Marine Corps adopted the new M1903, 30.06 in 1911.

We have now the 03 Springfield we all know and as we only have an hour or so we must concentrate on a few highlights in the rifles long service life. If we had a day or so we could cover the problems with over hard receivers, excessive bore wear, sniper variants, bush carbines, aircraft rifles, etc., etc.

As we know by 1911 the 03 was in service with the army and navy. It had a modified round and was the equal to any service rifle of the day. By 1913 stocks of the 03 were deemed sufficient and on the 17th Nov production was halted at Rock Island. They had enough 03 for peace time requirements. Springfield continued production.

However in April 1917, entry into the Great War changed the situation and America needed more rifles quickly. Production at RIA was resumed on 25th Feb 1917.

But the Springfield and Rock Island arsenals could not produce the volume of necessary rifles needed in the time. Remington and Winchester were approached with a view to tooling up to make the 03. Remington and Winchester were at that time winding down the production of the British Pattern 14. The Mauser based Enfield design rifle could easily be modified to the 30.06 round and could be manufactured in greater numbers in the wake of the P14.

This rifle became the model 1917 or M17. It is estimated that two thirds of the US battle rifles in France were indeed M17s.

We all know Sergeant Alvin York exploits were achieved with the P17 aka M17. Even Americans referred to it as the P17. Of course Hollywood re-edited history and cast Gary Cooper as Sgt York with his trusty Springfield 03 in the film.

On entry into the war in April 1917 Americans ignored the lessons hard learned by Britain and France and sent waves of troops over the top into German machine guns, resulting not surprisingly in horrendous casualties. As early as 1916 Mr. D.S. Pedersen, an engineer working for Remington, conceived an idea to convert a battle rifle into a fast firing semi-automatic arm. This he thought might break the deadlock of trench war fare that was taking place in Europe. By late 1917, he had a fully working prototype and demonstrated it to General Crozier and his staff. They were so impressed by the device they had one sent to General Pershing in France. Pershing had it tested and recommended that it be adopted immediately.

On 11th Dec 1917 100,000 devices were ordered along with 100,000 rifles adapted for their use.

The Pedersen device was a .30 cal semi-automatic pistol that was able to be installed into a suitably modified rifle in place of the bolt. The Pederson device was easy installed and once removed and the rifle bolt re-installed its function as a rifle would be unaffected. It fired a small pistol round with a bullet weight of 129 grains. A magazine was employed that would hold 40 rounds. It was to be named the ‘US Automatic pistol cal 30, Model of 1918 Mark 1’. Pedersen was asked to adapt his device to suit the M17. This was to be named ‘US Automatic Pistol cal 30 Model of 1918 Mark 2’.

General Pershing was informed that a total of 500,000 Pedersen equipped rifles would be available for the planned Spring offensive of 1919.

With Armistice on 11th Nov 1918 the Pedersen devices were no longer needed. The order for the Mk 2 was cancelled and production of the Mk 1 ended on 1st March 1919 with 65,000 produced. Springfield arsenal continued to manufacture the 03 Mk 1 rifle until 1920. The total production was 133,450. The rifles and the Pedersen devices were then put in storage as war reserve. All but a handful of the Pedersen device were destroyed in 1931.

The Mk 1 rifles in storage were reworked in 1937 and 1938 and restored to a standard 03 configuration. The ejector port was left in place as the receiver was considered strong enough. These rifles still turn up and of course the port is a sure sign of their origins. Post WW1 production of the Springfield was reduced. With the last rifle being produced at RIA in 1920, Springfield carried on manufacture until 1936. Production was then switched to the M1 Garand which officially entered service in the same year. Springfield continued to refurbish the 03 and manufacture parts. A limited number of rifles were also assembled for service matches. Although officially replaced by the M1 Garand the 03 remained in service alongside the new rifle, notably with the US Marine corps.

The British 03


In June 1940 after Dunkirk Britain was in desperate need of arms. Several US manufacturers were approached with orders for rifles and Savage arms were contacted to produce the No4 rifle. Remington was also approached with a request to manufacture the Enfield. After much deliberation and possibly input from the US government Remington gave the time of 2 ½ years to tool up and manufacture the rifle. This was naturally unacceptable. However, Remington proposed the possibility of leasing the tooling from R.I.A (Rock Island Arsenal) and producing the M1903 to take the .303 round and if on inspection the tooling R.I.A was in reasonable condition, having been laid up for 19 years, production could start within a year.

On the 4th march 1941 armed with a letter of intent from Britain, Remington leased the RIA tooling and shipped it to Illinois NY. There they began servicing the machines and training workers to make the British rifle. On the 23rd April 1941 Britain committed $700,000 to help fund the project. Four to ten prototypes were made to British specifications and chambered in .303. The exact number is unknown.

Lend-Lease Act – 11th March 1941

It permitted the President to “sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of, to any such government [whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States] any defense article.” In April, this policy was extended to China and in October to the Soviet Union. Roosevelt approved US $1 billion in Lend-Lease aid to Britain at the end of October 1941. On 30th June 1941 Britain signed a contract with Remington to supply 500,000 03 rifles to British specifications in .303. Production was to be 1000 units per day. On 10th July 1941 the British government pledged $500,000 by letter of intent.

All appeared to be going well. Wing Commander A.J. Richardson in his inspector’s report of 13th September stated

‘This rifle has been delivered by Messrs. Remingtons and as far as can be ascertained by preliminary trials, has proved very successful. Four rifles have been made and dispatched to various centres for extended trials. …… If the reports are favourable and a decision is made to change over to its production, ……………’

Without getting into too much detail in August 1941 the US started a re-armament program and the US Army Ordnance takes control. The US ordnance decreed that Remington production will start at no 3,000,000. British hopes of getting its rifles in .303 begin to fade. We know US shipped 500,00 surplus M1917 to Britain and it is recorded that 22,000 new Remington 03 Springfields were shipped to New Zealand and 43,000 rifles to Britain as part of the contract, all in 30.06 cal. Some of these rifles turn up in New Zealand. It is said that most of the rifles sent to the UK were never used and rumored to have been shipped back to the US in the 1950’s. All these rifles are in the 3,000,000 number series. I think we can safely assume that from the beginning the US Government steered the British Remington contract towards a favourable position for themselves and finally hijacked it.

In early production Remington encountered problems with the old machines and tolerances. The US ordnance looked at ways of simplifying the manufacturing process. This led to an introduction of pressed parts in place of forged and machined components. And this led to what might be called a transitional rifle. Early Remington rifles have simplified machined parts and are still the 03, but modified. The last 03 modified rifles were shipped from Remington in March 1943.


To increase production it was decided to use as many pressings as possible to replace forged and machined parts and a rear peep sight was to be fitted to the back of the receiver. The new rifles are thought to have been started around October 1942.

With the increasing in demand for rifles High Standard Manufacturing Co. was approached to produce 100, 000 03 rifles. High standard at that time had a heavy burden and asked if it could sub contract out parts to Smith & Corona Typewriter Co, as they were located close to Remington.

It was decided that Smith & Corona and Remington should work closely and that Smith & Corona would produce all but the barrels. So Smith & Corona became the prime sub-contractors and an order for 100,000 rifles was placed on 25th February 1942, to be completed by late September. Further orders were placed and Smith & Corona and they made a total of 380,000 M1903A3 rifles. With the need for faster production methods attention was turned to the 2 groove barrel being produced for the No4 Enfield by Savage.  The British tests proved that 2 grooves had no detrimental effect on accuracy. This threw the US testing establishment into a SPIN and extensive testing began and eventually confirmed the British claims. On 22nd October 1942 two groove barrels were approved for all rifle barrels.

After more research into tolerances drawing revisions were approved in February 1943 for the 03 and March 1943 for the 03A3.


On the 18th January 1943 the War Department ordered 20,000 rifles to be diverted from production and be converted to Sniper rifles. The specifications were as follows-as per the current 03A3, but with a 2 ½ x telescope sight fitted, iron sights to be omitted, a full pistol grip stock and the bolt handle to be reworked to clear the sight. The first batch of about 7,000 had 4 groove barrel, thereafter production reverted to the standard 2 groove.

The first scopes fitted were commercial Weaver Model 330 2 ½x magnification with later scopes by Weaver designated and marked sight telescope M73B1. The rifle production outstripped that of the scope which caused hold ups. Frankford Arsenal tooled up to manufacture additional scopes to relieve the situation, but only a few hundred were produced.


  • The Model 1903 Springfield Rife by Joe Poyer, 4th Edition 2013, North Cape Publications Inc
  • The ’03 Springfield Rifles’ era by Clark S. Cambell, 4th Edition 2003, Campbell Books
  •  The other ’03 Springfield by Phillip Schreier, Guns and Ammo
  • Ordance maintenance – US rifles Cal .30 M1903, M1903A1, M1903A3 and M1903A4

Many thanks to Jonathon Ferguson, curator of firearms, and the staff at the Royal Armouries for their assistance for supplying some rare and interesting items for this lecture.