The M1903 Springfield: The First Standardized U.S. Sniper Rifle

M1903 Springfield Photo Album

During World War II, many U.S. snipers used the M1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle, so it’s no surprise that their portrayals in modern media (like Pvt. Daniel Jackson in the scene above) are armed with the weapon, which was the first sniper rifle standardized by the U.S. government.

But was it really that good? And was it really a purebred U.S. weapon?

As its name indicates, the Springfield was officially adopted by the U.S. military in 1903, replacing the Army‘s Krag-Jørgensen rifle and the Navy‘s Lee Model 1895. Following the 1898 Spanish-American War, the War Department studied captured M1893 Mauser rifles, which had achieved success against the U.S. military during the three-month conflict. This research led to the M1903 rifle, which became known as the “Springfield” because it was produced at the federally-owned Springfield Armory.

A real M1903A1 Springfield rifle.

A real M1903A1 Springfield rifle.

According to notes in the Springfield Armory Museum‘s collection record, the rifle was originally designed to fire a blunt-nosed bullet, but was changed to use the pointed “spitzer” bullet in 1906, resulting in the famous .30-06 cartridge used by many well-known 20th-century weapons.

As stated in the book Misfire, by William H. Hallahan, “when the Springfield ’03 rifle was rechambered to accommodate the new cartridge, the result was considered a masterpiece.”

“Yet, with universal praise ringing in its ears, the Ordnance Department was about to be publicly embarrassed,” Hallahan continues.

Despite of the armory’s changes to the Mauser design, the finished product was still so similar to the original that it was believed the German gun-makers could sue for patent infringement and would probably win.

In March 1904, the office of Brigadier Gen. William H. Crozier, the Chief of Ordnance, sent a letter to Mauser, asking if there had been any patent infringements, and, if so, what agreements could be made. A few months later, the German company responded.

Lt. Mike Powell kills a German soldier inside the Kriegsmarine base in Trondheim, Norway.

Lt. Mike Powell kills a German soldier inside the Kriegsmarine base in Trondheim, Norway.

Crozier was told that there were seven infringements involving the Springfield, and that the company required $1 in royalties for every rifle made, and $1 for every 1,000 cartridge clips produced ($1 in 1904 was approximately equal to $27 in 2014).

Furthermore, the German lawyers had looked at the Krag-Jørgensen, which was first issued in 1892, and determined that its design had also infringed on German patents.

Hallahan says that around Christmastime that year, government lawyers acknowledged that Mauser had the Ordnance Department “over a barrel” and that “the general now had no choice but to walk up to the negotiating table with his hands up and his wallet open.”

In spring 1905, the parties reached an agreement, which stated that the U.S. would pay Mauser 75 cents for each Springfield made and 50 cents per 1,000 clips. Payments would cease once they reached $200,000 (between $4 million and $5 million in 2014). Over the next four years, the U.S. made nine payments to Mauser for a total of $200,000, Hallahan says.

The rifle was the standard infantry weapon during World War I and was reliable and accurate, but some users found its sights to be insufficient for certain situations. When the U.S. entered WWII, the Springfield had been officially replaced by the semiautomatic M1 Garand, but there weren’t enough to go around, so many soldiers went into battle with the Springfield.

In 1942, the original design was discontinued and production on the M1903A3 began. A year later, the sniper version, the M1903A4, was standardized, and nearly 27,000 were produced, making it the first mass-produced U.S. sniper rifle.

A real M1903A4 Springfield sniper rifle as found on Collector's Firearms' website.

A real M1903A4 Springfield sniper rifle as found on Collector’s Firearms’ website.

The sniper version, which was typically equipped with scopes weaker than 3x magnification, began reaching troops in mid-1943, though it wasn’t an exceptional sniper weapon.

According to Lt. Col. John B. George’s 1947 book Shots Fired In Anger, little was being done to either develop a good sniper weapon or train snipers. He called the A4 a poor substitute, with problems including an easily-jostled scope, rounds that had to be loaded one at a time due to the position of the scope, the lack of iron sights, the low magnification of the 2.2x scope, and the average accuracy of the rifle.

George said issuing the rifle “placed a delicate and optically inadequate weapon of only moderate accuracy in the hands of troops untrained in its use – and even that at a very late date.”

Unlike the Army, the U.S. Marines had used an M1903A1 Springfield with a 5x scope since the start of the war. They later used an 8x scope and turned the weapon into an effective sniper rifle.

The Springfield used in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault appears to be an A4 with a low-power scope that has approximately 3x magnification. Each of the five cartridges must be loaded one at a time, and the rifle is capable of firing at 30 rounds per minute, or about two to three times faster than a real Springfield. Including the reload animation, I was able to fire 20 rounds in one minute.

The M1903A4 Springfield sniper rifle used in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.

The M1903A4 Springfield sniper rifle used in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.

It’s high-powered, capable of killing all enemies with one shot to the head, and most with a shot to the chest or back, though some German snipers take a shot to the chest and keep fighting. It’s first used during the Trondheim mission in February 1943, slightly before it was widely distributed to Allied troops.

However, it could be argued that Lt. Mike Powell, an intelligence agent, would’ve been equipped with the newest equipment and may have been given one right after production started.

In the game, the weapon can be resupplied by picking up rounds from any other rifle or from small tan boxes marked “PATRONENKASTEN,” German for “cartridge case.”  Obviously, Axis and Allied weapons would not work with the same bullets, but it simplifies the gameplay.

The weapon is later found in a crater on Omaha Beach, making eliminating the MG42 gunners much easier, and Powell uses it to great effect during the bocage and Brittany missions as he duels German snipers and defends a bridge near Brest.


~ by John on October 20, 2014.

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