Monday, January 4, 2016

The M1903A3 Project part 1

I didn't used to be one of those guys who covet old military rifles. I'm not really sure why. It is not that I don't like them or the history that comes with them. For some reason they just didn't strike a chord with me. 

That doesn't mean that I don't own any old military guns.

Some of the lovers of "militariana" are veterans, some are history buffs others are attracted by the cheap prices that surplus military guns often sell for. 

Years ago I purchased two NOS Chinese SKS carbines (one 20" & one 16" "paratrooper"), which I enjoy immensely. Around the same time I bought a surplus Enfiled No.4 MkI* rifle (see my blog post on that gun here) for the paltry sum of $59. At the time I didn't even know anything about the Enfield...

Since buying the 1943 Enfield I purchased a 1943 M-1 Garand. Keep in mind I did not seek out any of these guns, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
More recently I purchased a sporterized, WWII vintage, Japanese Arisaka (see the story here).

Well, it happened again. A friend of my Father asked us if we would like to purchase (or sell on his behalf) some of his old rifles. 
This Remington M1903A3 was among them. The serial number 4103XXX puts its production in December of 1943, which makes it the 4th WWII vintage military rifle in my collection.

You can check your M1903A3s serial number history here


 Here is the barrel stamp with the RA for Remington Arms, the flaming bomb and the date of 9-43, the barrel was made a few months before the gun was assembled, which is not uncommon.
As you can see this gun has had the stock cut down and the upper hand guard removed. Other than that the gun is unmodified, which is good. I can buy a replacement stock along with the barrel bands, swivels and bayonet lug and it will look original again.

I now have the real version of my first gun

For the record this is how the gun would have looked when returning from service:

A bit of history.....
The M1903 Springfield was adopted by the U.S. Military in 1903, originally firing a .30-'03 cartridge. The design was largely copied from the German M1892 Mauser. The U.S. even paid Germany a fee for the license to make the M1903 rifle.....of course all of that ended when we declared war on Germany in 1917.

In 1906 the cartridge was modified to use the new Spitzer type bullet and became the .30-'06. Here are the two side by side, the .30-03 top and .30-06 bottom.

In the late 1930's the M1903 was replaced as the primary service weapon with the M1 Garand. This was not the end of the M1903's service though. The gun saw service with the U.S. Military and Allies in both theaters of WWII. 
The picture below shows a U.S. Army MP, somewhere in Europe, checking documents of refugees while armed with his M1903A3 rifle.
And this one shows an American Service man in the Pacific with his M1903A3

During the early part of WWII, the U.S. Military sought to continue production of the M1903, but also needed to cut costs and increase production. Every dollar saved, every minute saved, every ounce of steel saved meant that more guns and ammo could be sent to the battlefield.

Remington and the Smith-Corona typewriter company were contracted to build the rifles. Cost-cutting changes included some parts being made of stamped steel. This cut the production time in half and shaved 6.4lbs of weight. 

The Ordnance Dept. also replaced the rear, barrel mounted sight with a receiver mounted, peep sight. They designated the new model as the M1903A3.

After the wars thousands of M1903 & M1903A3 rifles were returned to the US and sold to American sportsmen through wholesalers and the Department of Civilian Marksmanship.
My neighbor told me about buying his M1903A3 in 1959 for $17.

Here is an ad for a reconditioned, surplus M1903A3 for $19.50, for an additional $3.50 you could score 100 rounds of military ball ammo. I don't know what date this ad is from, but I would guess sometime in the 1960's
Onto the rifle....

I checked the bore, it is shiny and the rifling looks crisp (this is a tough get on film), it was a little dirty, but showed no signs of rust or corrosion.

I also checked to see how much muzzle erosion had taken place, an M2 ball cartridge stuck in the barrel showed, roughly 3/16" was still showing, while this is an imperfect way of measuring, if it passes this test, you most likely have a good barrel. Failing this test does not necessarily mean you have a bad barrel or the rifle will not be accurate, but this is a good starting point.

One of the first things you want to check on these older guns is the chamber, make sure that it has not been re-chambered and that the head space is A-OK.

I happened to have a NO-GO gauge for a 30-06 on hand so I checked the chamber. If you can close the bolt on a NO-GO gauge, the chamber has too much head space and should not be fired. 
On this rifle the bolt would not close on the NO-GO gauge, so far-so good.

I did not have a "GO" gauge, so I improvised.......I tried some of these dummy training cartridges.

They fit just fine, so I double checked to make sure the firing pin was not stuck and I chambered some M2 ball ammo. They both fit and cycled properly.

Then I test fired the gun with some 30-06 reloads. I loaded these with 147gr FMJ-BT bullets and 47 grains of Varget powder which has a velocity of approx. 2720 FPS. This is close to the original M2 Ball cartridge which fired a 152gr bullet at 2805 FPS.

The gun functioned perfectly and even though I was shooting off hand, I could hit everything I aimed at....

This is what the spent cases look like. No irregular deformations, everything looks peachy. 

This one is a keeper! Now I will have to find the correct stock and metal parts for it. My plan is to return it to the way it was when it left service, battle worn and proud.

I will also search for an original or reproduction sling along with an original bayonet.

Some of the pictures above were found freely on the world wide web and are used under the guidelines of Fair Use, per Title 17 of the U.S. Code. Where possible the source has been credited.
If you own the copyright to any of these images and wish them to be credited or removed, please contact me immediately.