Combat use of the M1903A3
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Thread: Combat use of the M1903A3

  1. #1
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    Default Combat use of the M1903A3

    Did any of them make it overseas and see action ?

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    10s of thousands did. D-Day pictures are plentiful.


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    Click image for larger version. 

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    Combat Engineer readying mines in the Anzio Beachhead, 03A3 across his back.

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    101st glider on maneuvers in England, 1944. Corporal at left has an 03A3.

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    Private Ernest A. Jenkins with an 03A3 as he receives his Silver Star.
    Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum.
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    I would say a couple of million were in both theaters of war, pacific and European, army, navy, marines

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    Quote Originally Posted by SfcRet View Post
    I would say a couple of million were in both theaters of war, pacific and European, army, navy, marines

    Include the Merchant Marine in that list. My uncle (a Merchie during the war) told me that the cargo ships would have a number of bolt rifles (most likely 03-03A3's) on board to hand out to crew members if they had to go ashore on islands that were still being contested.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SfcRet View Post
    I would say a couple of million were in both theaters of war, pacific and European, army, navy, marines
    That would be a neat trick as total made just barely snuck past one million.

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    CBI saw more than a few.
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    Many used by the FEB Brazilian forces in Italy, as well as other Allied contingents.
    Alle Kunst ist umsonst, Wenn ein Engel in das ZŁndloch prunst.

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    Quote Originally Posted by daveccarlson View Post
    Many used by the FEB Brazilian forces in Italy, as well as other Allied contingents.

    If you think about it, by the end of Feb 1944 when production ceased there 1 million made, more or less. M1 rifles totaled around 2.4 million the same date. The armed services were around 11 million then with the following distributions

    7,994,750 Army
    2,981,365 Navy
    475,604 Marines
    171,749 Coast Guard
    11,623,468 Total

    total need would be around 7~8 million rifles

    So in Feb 1944 you had:

    ~1 million M1903 rifles
    ~600,000 M1917 rifles
    ~1 million M1903 Modified and M1903A3 rifles
    ~2.3 million M1 rifles
    ~3.3 million M1 carbines (end of January 1944)

    Just about balanced, which is why production was cut.

    If you go back a 1/2 year the M1 production and M1 carbine is less than half, so it would seem the ideal period for these M1903 rifles to issued in the mid to late 1943 period.

    Certainly at least 2 divisions in Italy, 34th and 36th had a lot of M1903 rifles well into 1944.

    First Cav had M1903s until shortly before they went overseas.
    Last edited by Fritz; 08-05-2020 at 12:38 AM. Reason: correct carbine totals

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fritz View Post
    If you think about it, by the end of Feb 1944 when production ceased there 1 million made, more or less. M1 rifles totaled around 2.4 million the same date. The armed services were around 11 million then with the following distributions

    7,994,750 Army
    2,981,365 Navy
    475,604 Marines
    171,749 Coast Guard
    11,623,468 Total

    total need would be around 7~8 million rifles

    So in Feb 1944 you had:

    ~1 million M1903 rifles
    ~600,000 M1917 rifles
    ~1 million M1903 Modified and M1903A3 rifles
    ~2.3 million M1 rifles
    ~2.4 million M1 carbines

    Just about balanced, which is why production was cut.

    If you go back a 1/2 year the M1 production and M1 carbine is less than half, so it would seem the ideal period for these M1903 rifles to issued in the mid to late 1943 period.

    Certainly at least 2 divisions in Italy, 34th and 36th had a lot of M1903 rifles well into 1944.

    First Cav had M1903s until shortly before they went overseas.

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    Not a bad summary, Fritz, but the OP's question was about '03A3s. Putting aside anecdotal mentions as only disproving a contention that they were never used, the problem I have found is that at field army and theater level, the Army reported '03, '03A1, and '03A3 quantities on one line, thus losing the subcategory counts. The only exception I have seen is one or two Third US Army reports from Dec 44 that list '03A3s separately. Hopefully that doesn't put me too far down the anecdote rabbit hole.

    Of course production was cut in early 1944. Two primary reasons - 1) our military manpower was essentially fully mobilized by then (requiring a cutback to the 90 division gamble) and initial issue was approaching completion; 2) once your force gets its initial issue, supply turns to replacing lost and worn out gear. The latter is much less taxing (at least for the team that's winning), especially since production efficiencies have developed.

    This version of flattening the curve was fully anticipated by planners - though it was early '44 before they had a beancounting system in place to begin tracking current status (no email, no Excel, just paper scattered over the planet). You left out SMGs and M1917s entirely and are a million low on carbines, but overall you make a good point.

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    Fritz, Where did you get those production figures for the M1 and M1 carbine? Realizing you said in 1944 but the figure I see for WWII was 5.4 million M1 rifles, and 6.1 million M1 Carbines, which would mean if the figures I saw are correct that in what was left of 1944 and into Aug of 1945, they made 3.1 million more M1 Rifles and 3.7 million more M1 carbines? As far as the M1903A3 I mainly see photos of them being carried by units like Engineers, Artillery, MP's, units that were not front line combat units. Most infantry units had M1 Garands, and M1 carbines, but until the M1 Garand grenade launcher attachment (M7) came out, the squad grenadier had a M1903 Springfield with a M1 grenade launcher device. I have read that carrying the Springfield in a front line infantry unit was not popular, as it had a lack of firepower compared to the m1 Garand. John

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    Quote Originally Posted by John A. Larsen View Post
    Fritz, Where did you get those production figures for the M1 and M1 carbine? Realizing you said in 1944 but the figure I see for WWII was 5.4 million M1 rifles, and 6.1 million M1 Carbines, which would mean if the figures I saw are correct that in what was left of 1944 and into Aug of 1945, they made 3.1 million more M1 Rifles and 3.7 million more M1 carbines? As far as the M1903A3 I mainly see photos of them being carried by units like Engineers, Artillery, MP's, units that were not front line combat units. Most infantry units had M1 Garands, and M1 carbines, but until the M1 Garand grenade launcher attachment (M7) came out, the squad grenadier had a M1903 Springfield with a M1 grenade launcher device. I have read that carrying the Springfield in a front line infantry unit was not popular, as it had a lack of firepower compared to the m1 Garand. John
    John, to each category would take a bit of time, so here is the M1 alone:

    First only 4,040,802 were made by the end of 1946, the rest were made in the 1950s

    if you check Scott Duffs WWII grand book, he has two sets of production figures:

    First set:

    Springfield:

    1935: 80
    1938: 2,802
    1939: 9,841
    1940: 33,043
    1941: 152,032
    1942: 423,227
    1943: 852,256
    Jan/Fed 44: 210,000

    total to Jan 1:

    1,685,281

    Winchester:

    1941: 11,500
    1942: 64,470
    1943: 139,510
    Jan/Feb 44: 30,000

    total: 245,480

    Grand total

    1,930,000

    However in another part of the book, which ends up with the same end total (4,040,802), the production by month is listed and would come to a grand total of

    2,514,000 M1 rifles by the end of January 1944.

    Not sure why the wide disparity but the real figure of delivered arms lies between those figures. It might be the lower figure is actual fiscal year, but checking the figures against that does not match. (end of September is listed as 1,997,084 in second source. I have also read some place the US fiscal year was different back then, ending in either June, which would match a wee bit closer but then too low.

    Perhaps the difference is rifles made vs rifles accepted shipped to depots and formally in the Army system, not really sure.

    From the above you have to subtract the ~38,000 sold to the Brits in 1941/42, and the 8,000 or so given to the Canadians before 1944, plus the supposed 38,000 lend lease guns. No source seems to deal with the orders vs the lend lease, so most assume the ordered guns (to be paid for) describe the actual lend lease guns.

    But that raises a problem, as if you look at Interarmeco records, they bought a lot more M1 rifles out of the UK than 38,000, of which a large number were supplied to places beside the US. The US supposedly used 25,000 of the UK guns to arm the Austrians circa 1953~54, plus the 10,000 sold to Cube so 38,000 seems too low. So either there were separate 38,000 paid for guns plus 38,000 lend lease guns or it all becomes a head scratcher. So the figures could be 46,000 or 84,000 (to be subtracted from above)

    In any case 2.3 million is a reasonable figure, not lower than the real count by 120,000 and possible high by around 400,000. I was not going for an exact figure, just enough to show that yes the M1903A3 rifles were needed in the late 1942 to 1944 period when the total armed forces were really expanding, going from 1.8 million men at the end of 1941 to 9.2 millions in 1943 and 11.6 million in 1944.

    For example in 1942 the 93,750 M1917 rifles issued to the state guard units circa 1940 were mostly pulled back in March of 1942 because of the shortage, to be replaced by shotguns. The State guard units had an easier time getting Reisings and Thompsons in 1943, it was not until the end of the year to early 1944 they got the full complement of M1917 rifles they needed.

    My point was simply that rifles were short through the end of 1943, possibly into early 1944.

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    It's worth a mention but the Marines did not receive any 03A3's during WWII. I just see this stated a lot, but it's not correct. All the M1903's they received in WWII were off the Navy in 1942 and were used rifles from Navy training.

    There is one picture of a M1903 in combat I believe in Burma in 1944. On the stock is inscribed "HELL." If you haven't seen the pic I will post it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cplnorton View Post
    It's worth a mention but the Marines did not receive any 03A3's during WWII. I just see this stated a lot, but it's not correct. All the M1903's they received in WWII were off the Navy in 1942 and were used rifles from Navy training.

    There is one picture of a M1903 in combat I believe in Burma in 1944. On the stock is inscribed "HELL." If you haven't seen the pic I will post it.
    The uncropped version of the Burma photo, showing the men standing behind the shooters which is less commonly seen.

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    Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum.
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    It says Hell something.

    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails ZiEU9CBh.jpg  


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    Fritz, Got it, thanks! John

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    Down in the Military History Board, Vintage Photos, pg 133, #5963 is a good photo of a French Colonial soldier, a Goumier from Morocco , in Italy during WWII sharpening his M1903 bayonet, with the rifle slung across his back. France got a lot of M1903's and M1917's under the Lend Lease (?) act. John

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    Nice pix of the canvas M1 gunsling in use on that 03A3.
    "It is not the number of rounds you fire or the noise that you make, it is the hits that count." Lewis B. Puller Jr., USMC

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    If your question is not limited to the U.S. troops, the Chinese got some 03A3 through OSS and used them in CBI theater. Bin Shih's China's Small Arms of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) P.126-128 covers 03A3.

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    For awhile I was saving pictures from the internet showing U.S. troops in theater with 03A3s to refute those who state that the rifle was only used for training.

    I had pictures of Army (Signal, MPs, Artillery), Navy (shipboard and landing parties), Coast Guard), USAAF (guards) with the rifles in Europe and in the CBI theater. The rifles were in fact used. This is on top of the rifles that I couldn't make out if they were O3s or O3A3s in North Africa not being used as rifle grenade launchers.

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    We're no closer to answering the OP's question about combat usage of the '03A3. With a million made, pics of onesies and twosies are novelties. 12th Army Group in the ETO reported in its official history that it processed 10,000 photos per week for the 11 month campaign. If photos are to be the answer to anything other than a trivia question, where are the 03A3 pics?

    With the difficulties explained above about the Army's habit of combining '03, '03A1, and '03A3 quantities on one line, let's look at the entire category. If '03s as a group were all over the place in combat, then they should show up in loss reports, right? If they were right up front with the other small arms, then they would have been exposed to the same risks, right? Not a perfect proxy (and, alas, no pics!), but way better than that captured by the click of a shutter behind a 50mm lens.

    Let's look at how the '03 group (excluding '03A4s) fared in the First US Army in the ETO during the middle of the campaign, almost 7 months of the 11 month campaign (from FUSA's official history, published while still in Europe). Anyone want to polish up their 4th Grade arithmetic skills and compare '03 loss percentages to the other hand weapons? If that's not too taxing, maybe someone would like to try the same on the different grenade launchers. Aren't we frequently told what an essential piece of hardware the 03's GL was and how widespread was its use?

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    For those who may struggle a bit with logic: FUSA's '03A3 losses cannot be higher than the combined losses of all '03 types. Let's pretend for the sake of discussion that all of the losses in this report were '03A3s. Still impressed with its combat usage? Is there some factor that I am missing that can explain this disparity?

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