One of the U.S. military's most enduring soldiers has been the bolt-action M1903 Springfield in .30-06, a rifle that saw front line use in both world wars and continues to serve today.

First prototyped in 1900, the Mauser-style bolt-action Springfield service rifle was intended to replace the only recently adopted .30-40 caliber Krag-Jorgensen series of rifles, which were found to have been less than perfect in service when fighting the Spanish in Cuba in 1898.
 

M1903 Springfield
The original M1903 had a built-in rod bayonet, a feature removed on the insistence of Teddy Roosevelt. (Photo: Springfield Armory National Historic Site)
M1903 cutaway
The M1903 was simple, using just 36 mechanical parts. (Photo: Description and Rules for the Management of the U.S. Rifle Caliber .30 Model of 1903, 1914 version)
M1903 magazine cut off
To keep the five-shot magazine "in reserve," the rifle used a magazine cut-off switch on the left side of the bolt that allowed users to handload single rounds. They could be charged with a five-round clip through the top. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
M1903 bolt safety lock
A "cock on close" design, the bolt had a rear safety lock switch. The knob on the end can be recocked in the event of a light primer strike. The cock-on-close design is also seen on many military bolt guns of the era such as Enfields, early Mausers (88s, 93s, Swedes), and Arisakas. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)


Type classified and adopted in 1903, the rifles initially had a series of teething problems in their early life — including the personal intervention by President Theodore Roosevelt into the design of the rifle’s bayonet — but were soon equipping both the Army and Navy.

Heck, even Teddy himself ordered one direct from Springfield Armory. 
 

US Troops in Mexico 1916
One of the first overseas deployments of the M1903 was with the Punitive Expedition chasing Pancho Villa into Mexico in 1916. (Photo: Library of Congress)


There had been over 800,000 M1903s produced by the time the U.S. entered World War I in 1917.
 

Soldier with the 30th Infantry Division sniping from a trench in Belgium July 9, 1918, during the Great War. (Photo: National Archives)


Serving in France during the Great War in 1917-18, the M1903 was augmented in service by Remington, Winchester, and Eddystone Arsenal-produced M1917 Enfields, also chambered in .30-06. However, the Springfield was still considered the primary rifle of the U.S. Army until the semi-automatic M1 Garand was adopted in 1937.

When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, although the M1 was officially the standard for use in the Army, the Marines still carried their M1903s throughout the early campaigns in the Pacific including the defense of Wake Island and Guadalcanal. Meanwhile, Army troops in the Philippines met the Japanese in Bataan with a mix of both new "gas trap" Garands as well as the legacy bolt guns. 

Even after millions of Garands had been produced, and despite the production of further millions of M1 Carbines and assorted Thompson and M3 submachine guns, the M1903 continued to see use even late into WWII with engineers, signals units, and the like. 
 

D-Day landing craft
Original Caption: June 6, 1944 "American assault troops land on a beachhead on the Northern Coast of France. Half-tracks and a beached "DUKW" indicate successful landing by the initial waves of men. Smoke in the background is from naval gunfire supporting the attack. A long line of troops moves onto the continent from the beachhead. Omaha Beach." Note that of the three rifle barrels seen in the front of the landing craft, two are M1903s. 

 

Americans fighting Germans in France, 26 years apart almost to the day. The uniforms change but the rifle remains the same: 

 

166th Infantry picking off Germans Villers sur Fre, France M1903 July 30, 1918 111-SC-018672_28-0818M
"American snipers of the 166th Infantry (formerly 4th Infantry, Ohio National Guard), in nest picking off Germans on the outer edge of town. Villers sur Fre, France., July 30, 1918." Note the M1903s. (Signal Corps Photo 111-SC-18672 via the National Archives)
Omaha Beachhead, near Vierville-sur-Mer, France, 6.10.1944 M19003 111-SC-190120
"A Platoon Surrounds a Farm House in a Town in France, as They Prepare to Eliminate a German Sniper Holding up an Advance, Omaha Beachhead, near Vierville-sur-Mer, France, June 10, 1944." Note the M1903s. (Signal Corps Photo 111-SC-190120 via the National Archives)

 

A modified version of the rifle, the M1903A3, was produced by Remington Arms and Smith-Corona during WWII for issue to support units and as military aid to allies. In all, more than 3 million 1903s came off the assembly lines by 1945, ending the rifle’s 42-year production run. 
 

M1903A3 sights
While the early M1903s had a 1,400-yard battle sight, the WWII-era M1903A3s had more simplified rear sights. Some 28-29,000 M1903A3s were later converted for use as sniper rifles. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
Specially equipped M1903A4 versions, complete with Weaver optics, were issued to snipers and remained in limited service until as late as the 1960s, with some seeing service in Korea. (Photos: Springfield Armory National Historic Site)
Going past the 1960s, the M1903 is still used by the military today for use as a line-throwing gun with the Coast Guard as well as in ceremonial duties. 
m1903 springfield U.S. Army Graphic by Sgt. Cody W. Torkelson)
The "Old Guard" of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment also features the rifle in living history and heritage displays, after all, two world wars and all... (U.S. Army Graphic by Sgt. Cody W. Torkelson)

Banner image: "Bayonet instruction with Sergeant Bardwells, Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia." (Photo: NH 114710 via the Naval History and Heritage Command)

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