This blog post is the second of three about my favorite World War I U.S small arms. America declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. It took many months for US troops to reach Europe and to enter combat. The primary period of time for Americans in combat in World War I was in 1918, therefore weapons manufactured in 1918 have been the focus of my collecting.
From adoption in 1903 through early 1917, Springfield Armory was the only continuous maker of the M1903. Rock Island Arsenal had also manufactured M1903 rifles, but only from 1904 through 1913. Production at Springfield Army was at only a moderate rate. By the time that the United States entered into World War I, approximately 843,239 standard service Model 1903 rifles had been manufactured. This was insufficient to arm U.S, troops for an undertaking of the magnitude of World War I. Rock Island Arsenal resumed production for the war effort on February 25, 1917, and produced 47,251 rifles during the war. By contrast, Springfield Armory produced 265,627 M1903 rifles during the same period.
Wartime production M1903s are very difficult to find in original condition as they were used hard in combat and rebuilt after the end of the war. At one time I had a rather large collection of M1903 rifles made by both SA and RIA, including what collectors call a Rod Bayonet ’03. Retirement caused me to sell off all but one from my collection. That one “keeper” was of course made by Springfield Armory in 1918.
After many years of searching, I found this rifle in August 1998 at a NRA gun show in the Pittsburgh area. It is 100% original, is in good condition and it has an SA barrel dated 1-18 and J.F.C. cartouche. I added a 1918 dated sling, 1918 dated bayonet with appropriate scabbard, front sight cover and period correct cleaning kit. It is a nice looking example of World War I Springfield Armory M1903 that is representative of what U.S. soldiers and marines carried into combat in Europe during World War I.
Surprising to some, the M1903 rifle was not the predominant rifle carried by U.S. troops in World War I. That rifle actually was the United States Rifle Model of 1917, often erroneously referred to as the M1917 Enfield or P-17. To learn more about the M1917 rifle check out my next Blog post.
BY SCOTT DUFF
More information on the Rock Island variation of the M1903 rifle may be found in our book “Rock Island Rifle Model of 1903 by C.S. Ferris that is available from our website.