Five years before WW2 kicked off , Winchester started production of their masterpiece the Model 70 rifle. The M70 was known as the rifleman’s rifle and was known as the highest quality factory produced sporting rifle of its time. Little really needs to be said about the quality of the rifle even to this day. It does not take very long to find some one talking about the “pre 64 model70.”
The start of the model 70 finding its way into sniper use starts Nov 12 1942 when Van Orden and Lloyd wrote a study on “equipment for the american sniper.” The testing of the model 70 showed it to be superior to the rifles then in use by the military. Of course the military decided it was unsuitable for combat use because they worried the rifle was not sturdy enough for use by the average infantryman in war. This, however, set the stage for the Model 70 to be remembered when something else was needed in tough times and US military sniping was still in its early days.
The model tested by the equipment board was a .30-06 caliber with heavy barrel of 24 inches and sporter stock. The optic was the commercially produced Unertl 8x scope with target blocks and the provision for target iron sights.
In these early days Winchester delivered 373 rifles with unertl optics to the USMC for testing. After deciding not to use the M70 or the 1903, the Corps decided to go with the 1903a4 rifle for sniping use. Though the M70 was not officially adopted for sniping use, it was reported by 1st-hand accounts that a few did see service against the Japanese in the early days of the US fighting in the pacific.
After the war, the rifles remained in the hands of the USMC for target use or to be loaned out for hunting while on leave and even given away as prizes for winning shooting matches.
After the war Winchester continued to refine and upgrade the M70 for highpower shooters. The model 70 was offered in three versions: the national match, the target grade and the heavy weight “bull gun”. The difference of these models was in the stocks, barrel weight and length.
During the Korean war the model 70 was called up again to be considered for sniper use. One Ord. officer tried very hard to get the military to look closer at the model 70 by showing men in the field what a trained marksman with the M70/Unertl combo could do. Several 1000-yard kills of chi-com troops were confirmed by Captain Brophy. The USMC took another look at the Winchester but judged it the same as before, saying it was not durable enough for standard sniping use.
At this point the USMC had around 1000 Model 70s that are currently known of. Around 1956-1963 the USMC had the existing in-stock Model 70s rebuilt into target rifles . The serial numbers ran from 41,000 to 50,000. These are the rifles that would later go on to see use in the Vietnam war where the model 70 showed what it could do and went on to help make legendary status in the hands of Carlos Hathcock.
The M70s in stock after rebuild by the corps the have receivers slotted at the top. The sporter lightweight barrels were removed and either heavy Winchester target barrels were installed or douglas custom barrels were used all in 30/06 caliber. Existing sporter stocks in good shape were used but relieved to take the heavier target barrels. If the sporter stock was in too rough of shape, the winchester marksman stock was used. The action and barrel was then glass bedded into the stock and 1 1/4 sling swivels were used along with metal buttplates.
At the end of this period, sadly, Winchester stopped making the version of the model 70 that would go on to be so desired. In 1964 the arms maker went on to change the rifle in many ways to make it cheaper and easier and faster to make. I will not list all the changes here, but it was enough to damage the company’s reputation for many years and was something many fans never forgave. It also ended any chance the M70 had of becoming sniper standard in the years to come.
In 1965 the war in Vietnam started to really heat up. The need for snipers and sniper rifles was remembered after casualties from enemy snipers reminded the US military how effective the sniper can be. Very early in the war it become apparent the M14 rifle was in no way useful as a true sniper rifle in current form. In fact the army spent a lot of time and money trying to make the m14 into a sniper system and finally gave up in the 80s before going to a bolt action system.
In the early days of rifles being pressed into service as sniper rifles, the model 70 was the un-official USMC sniper rifle. The first rifles sent to Asia to be used were from the third marine division rifle team. These were the rifles rebuilt for use for highpower competition at Camp Perry. One of the rifles was used by S/SGT Don L Smith to win the 1953 championship.
The rifles were used to great effect by many snipers during the time. One of these was of course Carlos Hathcock to make most of his 93 confirmed kills in his first tour in Vietnam. Hits were recorded out to 1000 plus yards with most kills falling into the 500-700 yard range for the more average sniper.
All Ammo used for the Model 70 snipers was the Lake City, NM ammo. This was a 173-grain boat tailed FMJ match bullet at around 2600 FPS in the 30-06 caliber, the same ammo used at Camp Perry.
Most optics were the original WW2 contract Unertl scopes built for the USMC by John Unertl in 8x. The power was actually closer to 7.8 but was marked as 8x. Other powers were used but 8x was the most common. Other brands were used, such as those made by the Lyman sight company and some other optics companies which are now long defunct. The optics, though of the highest quality for target and sporting use at the time, came up short in the humid jungles of Vietnam. The scopes sometimes fogged in wet weather and had a small field of view. The Unertl scope of the time period is still very sturdy and if you can find one today there is no need to worry about it not working. The elevation and windage adjustment were external and the scope body is one piece steel making it tough.
The scope was a real weak point as far as the USMC was concerned and did not provide enough light-gathering ability and had a small FOV. These are very important things for combat sniping.
As the need for more snipers and rifles became more urgent, the USMC needed more rifles. Parts for the “pre-64 model 70 began to dry up since Winchester had stopped making the older, better rifle in 1963. Because this version was no longer made and the new Model 70 was of decidedly less quality, another rifle was sought. The corps ended up with the Remington M40x, a more refined target version of the M700, with a few changes they speced out themselves and type classified the M40. Also the Unertl was replaced by the Redfield 3x-9x optic with a range finder. Both had their own problems in early use but went on to later become the M40A1. the M40A1 went on to use a more modern Unertl that replaced the problematic Redfield scope and is still in use on some rifles. the M40 is now the M40A5.
The M70 / Unertl was issued again right before the M40 was delivered. Fifty more model 70s with Unertls were ordered and converted to sniper use and sent immediately to vietnam by HQMC.
The model 70 Winchester was never officially issued for sniper use by the USMC or the Army but it saw a lot of service anyway. The gun has since become legemdary. The Army even tried the rifle suppressed for special operations use in Vietnam and fired a version of the .458 magnum round. Many well known snipers during the Vietnam war used the M70 with Hathcock being the most famous by far. When asked about the rifle he used during the war he stated he loved it. It is no wonder. If you have one of these truly fine rifles or get the chance to try one you will see why it was so highly regarded in its time. Even before WW2 it was the most expensive sporting rifle made in the USA and you can see and feel the quality that made it so. For years after ’63 it was a shadow of its former glory until Winchester brought the original action back with a few upgrades to it to make it safer. The M70 is still made with the Winchester name today by FN and the action is used by FN for their sniping rifles.
Link to short M40 history
more vietnam USMC equipment