Today I decided to do another post about things I have run across or crosses my mind. Like the first time I did this it will be images I found interesting or noteworthy.
First off is a first. Serial number 1 Colt model of 1911. It doesn’t get any more historic than that.
On that note, here is a colt recently shown by RIA. A great example of the gunmaker and engravers art.
This is an interesting picture I ran across on a facebook page about the Vietnam war. A soldier that is a radio operator who seems to not have liked to the idea of not carrying anything. But the part that sticks out is the “sniper rifle”. I don’t think it is a Model 70 based on the shape of the stock and rear sight. It may be a M700. An optic has been mounted to the gun by some one. In this case the optic appears to be the m84 optic originally put on the sniper variants of the M1 Garand. Some did end up being used on M14s during the war when sniper rifles were urgently needed.
More on sniper stuff is this SOF cover of a kinda well known image. Taken during the invasion of Iraq, it’s a USMC sniper team. I have always liked this picture. It really gives us a look back on how much has changed since then. Changes in guns and gear has been rapid since things started in 2001.
Seems the russians have a interesting way of training prospective snipers.
Jerry “Mad Dog” Shriver, MIA in during the Vietnam war while on a cross border top secret operation. I think everyone who would come to a site like this has heard of him. A few months ago on one of the militaria collectors forum shared something he was able to secure from Green Beret Shriver’s mother.
The dress uniform may or may not have been worn by the legend. It was used at the funeral service for Shriver. An empty casket as real life action hero’s body has never been recovered to date.
Above is the picture of 1 carbine owned by another legend. The gun was owned my Audie Murphy and given to a friend. the mags are still taped up the way Murphy had them with the same ammo it came with when gifted to his friend.
Last is a bit of humor I ran across that gave me a good laugh.
The .30-06 Government , or US Caliber .30 is a a classic round everyone knows. I think it has probably been used for everything you can use a rifle for at one time or another. It was the US service round for a million years before being phased out. It had several different martial loadings over those years one of them being M2 Armor Piercing. Unlike the M2 ball which was a FMJ bullet of about 150 grains, the A.P. load was a 165 to 168 ish grain bullet constructed to defeat light armor. The M2 ball round was not very accurate and because of the lack of accuracy even in match rifles, military personnel during war times developed a tendency to just us AP ammo for everything.
The odd part of this is that during WW1, the AEF in France was unhappy with effective range of their machine guns and ammo. The lighter bullet of the then service round did not give them the same range as the heavier German service round. So the Army developed the heavier 174gr M1 ball round. This gave the machine guns a longer effective range and same with the service rifle. The M1 load was also very accurate. It was so accurate at longer ranges that the Army griped about the new round causing safety issues on firing ranges. So the decision was made to make up ammo that was for use on the ranges set up for the older M1906 original load for use on the various ranges. Shooters liked the lessened recoil of the lighter ammo made up for the restricted range distances, soldiers could carry more for the same weight etc etc. So a suggestion was made and implemented that the new round be substituted for the M1 service round and after some tinkering it was finalized as the M2 ball round at 152 grains. By that time all of the experienced machine gunners and rifleman who had been in WW1 and witnessed how poor the lighter load performed were gone from the service. Once again when WW2 started the M2 load showed its limits and the tendency to just use M2 A.P. for everything became widespread.
So how accurate was the M2 AP service round? Having a large amount of US M2AP on hand and realizing most shooters do not have a place or range that would allow use of AP ammo, I decided to do some testing. I fired the ammo mostly in the M1 Garand which is the rifle most associate with the round and fired it the most. I also used a M1903A3 and to try to really get to brass tacks I pulled some off the bullets and reloaded them into federal gold medal 3006 brass and 308 brass and shot it for group.
First I fired 16 rounds through an M1 Garand at 100 yards from a bench with bags. Very good group considering the accuracy requirements of the ammo and the “experience” this M1 has. The heavier load did produce slightly more recoil compared to the M2 ball 152gr load but not much. I have always thought the M1 Garand was comfortable and pleasant to shoot anyway.
Next at 100 yards I shot the M1903A3 using the AP bullets I pulled and carefully loaded into Federal Gold Medal brass. I used all the same care and procedure I would use had I been loading match ammo. I fired 8 rounds instead of 10 for no reason other than I pulled 8 bullets from M1 clip and I did not have much match ’06 brass anyway.
Lastly at 100 yards I fired 10 rounds of 308 I handloaded using the M2 AP bullet loaded into Federal gold metal match. I didn’t even play with the powder or do more than pull the bullets of the M2AP, then pulled the federal 168 grain GMM and then re seated the AP rounds into the gold metal brass using the factory powder and primer and virgin brass. I guess you could call it a reverse “Mexican Match” round. And hey! it did pretty good! Some times being lazy pays off! I was glad this worked because I had loaded 100 rounds of my reverse Mexican match already.
Now I debated a long time at what longer ranges to try the M2AP at. I finally decided to restrict it to 200 and 300 yards. At least for the time being and how popular this post is. The reasons being that the M1 garand used for this does not have a new or nearly new barrel, I can’t see tiny aiming points much beyond a few hundred yards well enough to shoot the iron sights on the M1 because of my eyes and the size of the rear peep and I had no idea how accurate it may be. I also used a man shaped qualification target since the gun an ammo were made to shoot men, who are conveniently enough, the same size and shape of man sized qual targets. The results pleased me and if it is asked for by readers I will repeat the test at 500 and maybe 600.
So there are the groups at 200 and 300 yards. You did not count wrong, one round at 300 yards did not hit the target. I found that the M1 Garand is like some other semi autos and sometimes the first round chambered by hand does not always shoot to the same point of as the rest of the group cycled by the guns action during recoil etc. Not too bad I think for an old Garand with a well used barrel and military ammo from the 40s.
As the Korea war rages in 1952 and A captain in IX Corps Ordnance and veteran of infantry combat during WW2 in the Pacific , William S. Brophy recognized a total lack of US Army sniping equipment and marksmanship compared to its current and future needs. In an effort to reverse some of this and educated units in the field he visited several units to discus with and educate the on sniping equipment and tactics.
At this time the Army had the scoped m1 rifle as their standard sniping rifle. This system limited the sniper to a range not much greater than 600 yards. To demonstrate what a skilled marksman with proper equipment could do and to hopefully get the Army to pay serious attention, Captain Brophy bought at his own cost a Winchester Model 70 “Bull gun” in ,30-06 and Unertl 10X target optic. The Winchester rifle listed as the “bull gun” was a target gun with heavy target stock and 28 inch heavy barrel.
Brophy using his rifle and skill developed during a career in competitive shooting was able to register several Chinese communist kills. The reaction to his ability was quick and people began to take note. However it was still the usual position of the Army that the weapon was not durable enough for combat use. Brophy and the selected men who used the rifle to demonstrate what it could do and endure did finally get the Army to seriously consider the Model 70 as a sniping arm.
Ultimately it was decided that it was not desirable to inject a special rifle into the supply system with a requirement for match ammo for it. Oddly enough over the coming years in Vietnam match ammo which was earlier labeled too hard to supply to troops in the field was readily available to snipers so much so that not one ever said that concern for having enough match ammo never crossed their minds.
The Model 70 was not the only effort then Captain Brophy put forth to improve US Army sniper ability. While out sniping with the Model 70, targets appeared beyond the range of even the match .30cal sniper rifle . To remedy this Brophy had the barrel of a Browning .50cal aircraft model machine gun mounted to a Soviet PTRD 14.5mm antitank rifle. A butt pad and bipod were also added as well as a 20x Unertl optic.
With this set up, Brophy and his team was able to make several Communists into good communists. Hits with the 50 were recorded at ranges from 1,000 yards to 2,000.
This rifle went on to inspire several other of its types with different barrel and scope combinations. This attempt at a longer range sniping arm no doubt was one of the predecessors to today’s Barrett M82. Below Brophy demonstrates one of the 50 cal rifles in Korea to higher officers.
The concept of the 50 caliber sniping rifle was further developed by the AMTU and Col. F.B Conway. Later attempts used optics such as the ART scope system and even a Boys Antitank rifle.
And of course one of the more more famous early 50 cal sniping systems.
In these early attempts , accuracy of the ammo was the main problem holding back the weapons. Standard service ammo was the only thing available for use at the time.
Colonel Brophy passed away in 1991 and left behind an amazing record of accomplishment as a shooter, an Army officer who served in WW2, Korea and Vietnam and writer of many definitive books on US small arms.
Will the Vietnam war ever stop being fascinating? Not to me it won’t. One of the many things from that period that is fascinating to me is what the fellows carried and used while in the war. Not just the Special Forces, but the regular guy. The equipment started out much like the gear of the past generations. Made of cotton and canvas and metal. Then , towards then end, we started to see the first widespread use of the nylon and plastic that would be the materials of the ALICE system used all through the 1980s and most of the 90s. Today we will take a look at two set ups used in the war and a few other things.
First we have up a near mint set of the webgear that would have been carried by an infantryman in the US Army. It is the M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment (LCE), also known as the Individual Load-Carrying Equipment (ILCE). This is the system that replaced the the combat pack of WW2 and Korea and the multitude of cartridge belts used to support the older US family of weapons. The M56 gear was developed and came out during the time the military was going to the M14 and then on to the M16. Because it was a time when a lot of the older legacy weapons were still being used, the equipment was very general purpose. Especially the M56 ammo pouches.
The M56 ammo pouch would carry a 6-pocket M1 cotton bandoleer of M1 Garand enbloc clips (8-rounds each; total of 48 rounds), 8 x M1 Garand enbloc clips (8 rounds each; total of 64 rounds), 2 x BAR magazines (20-rounds), 4 x M1 or M2 carbine magazines (30-round), 3 x 40mm M79 grenades, or 2 x M26 hand grenades plus 2 x hand grenades fastened on the sides of the case. Then with the newer rifles it would hold 2x M14 magazines and 3x M16 magazines. Or so it is said it will hold only 3 mags for the M16 but it will hold 4x M16 magazines though tightly.
The belt is is a slightly different design than the WW2 era belt but in function it is nearly identical. With the adoption of the M56 pouches, this combo did away with the the M-1936 individual equipment belt, the M-1923 cartridge belt for the Garand , and the M-1937 cartridge belt for the BAR. The M56, like the older belt, also has the holes for using equipment that attaches via the 1910 wire hangers.
The new H harness suspenders are cotton canvas with two webstraps for hanging various items from like the flashlight shown above and the general purpose first Aid/Compass pouch on the other. The H -harness is very wide and flat and comfortable. Out of all the older military webbing I have tried over the decades, the M56 H suspenders is the most comfortable.
The M56 canteen covers are heavy canvas with heavy wool lining. They aren’t that different from the older covers but use the “slide keepers of all M56 gear. The slide keeper is now known as “ALICE clips”. Covers held one 2 quart canteen and cup. Though they were used by special operations forces to hold rifle magazines and various grenades in other units like MACVSOG. Those units needed to carry considerably more ammo and munitions that the average infantryman and the M56 ammo pouches were not enough. The canteen covers could be worn on the belt or on the field pack ( AKA butt pack) by attaching it to wide webbing straps on each side of it. Or, they could be attached to webbing straps on the various rucksacks used in the war. The cover was meant to be soaked in water to help cool the water in the canteen. This soaking and drying faded the color and it is common to see surplus covers nearly khaki in color from fading.
The field pack, also known as the butt pack, is the samll backpack looking bag at the center rear This pack is the M1961 pack and is and upgrade from the original M56 pack The M61 pack has a rubberized collar inside to protect the contents as well as eyelets along the outside flap to attach more equipment. The field pack was meant to carry the items the soldiers needed, one day’s ration, toilet paper, socks and such. It didn’t take long to find out that the “butt pack ” did not hold enough.
In addition to the M56 gear you can see the M16 bayonet with scabbard and light weight rip stop poncho attached to the bottom of the M61 field pack. A M56 entrenching tool cover was also issued. The shovel cover held the folding shovel and had two grommets and strap for attaching the rifle bayonet to it to make room on the belt. Also, a convoluted sytem of webbing straps exists with the purpose of carrying the bed roll. I have a set but did not picture it since putting it together is a nightmare.
Next up is a belt worn in the early days of the war in some units whose automatic rifleman used the M14. It was issued to indig forces who used the older US family of weapons from Korea nad WW2 and it was a popular choice by US Army Special forces.
Of course we are talking about the M-1937 cartridge belt for the BAR. This one is an unissued example made during the Korean war era. This is why it is a dark shade of green instead of the OD3 mostly used during WW2. The BAR was popular because it would hold would hold more M16 magazines than the M56 pouches that was standard issue. The belt also was lined on the bottom of the magazine pouches with holes for the older 1910 wire hangers and the webbing on the back had room for M56 canteen covers. The top holes on the belt would also fit the M56 H-harness.
Each cell of the BAR belt would fit x M16 20 round magazines. I have read many times that it is possible to get 5 mags in each pouch but I have never been able to get 5 in all of them. It does require stretching to get it to hold 5 magazines. It would also hold a variety of other items if desired. One of the practices of SOG recon teams was to hang a older WW2 type canteen covers off of the lower grommets for additional canteens or to use as munitions pouches. Using this they could carry grenades or the larger 30 round M16 magazines. In various books about SOG, it is noted that the canteen cover was hung on the left side for reload magazines and the right side for hand grenades.
The 1910 attachment holes also allowed for attaching more pouches like extra first aid kits from WW2, the jungle survival kit, handgun holsters or pouches for radio antenna. You can see int he image below the way a Special Forces SOG recon man has set up his BAR belt. Often later int he war the SOG troopers replaced the H harnes and M56 web belt with the STABO harness. The BAR belt was added to the STABO rig. The STABO harness allowed a man to snap into a rope from a chopper quickly to be lifted away.
Above you can see how the older 1910 wire hangers allowed the user to attach the older equipment like this WW2 era type first aid pouch and the jungle first aid kit.
I have also recreated the common practice of tapping water purification tablets to the plastic USGI canteens. The M56 covers did not have the side pouch for the tablets. Perhaps extra tablets would have been taped to the canteens anyway so as to always have extra in a convenient spot. The covers have been painted over for camo sake. Which was another common thing seen done by the SOG recon units, along with uniforms and guns. Being the BAR belt is mint I demurred from painting it.
Another iconic piece of equipment common;y seen during the war was the now rare lightweight rucksack. The pack was originally designed for arctic use to replace the mountain rucksack. It was the first all nylon piece of equipment to be adopted by the US Army
The pack will hold more items that you can carry and most equipment the soldier did not need to immediately fight with was store on or in the rucksack. Things like LAWS rockets, rations, shovel, machetes, extra canteens and clothing could be places inside its main compartment of the three smaller ones outside or hung from the webbing and cargo straps on the frame. The pack could be worn low on the frame, in the middle or high up depending.
Of all the things my Dad spoke about using during the war, the light weight ruck, the M16 and the poncho liner was like the holy trinity to him. For years I hear about how comfortable the curving tubular pack frame was. Finally after 30 years I was able to track down two of these packs for him and bought both of them. He was right, the pack frame is very comfortable when wearing it. Below you can see how the frame curved for the body.
The suspension system of straps on the frame also kept the pack off of the back and allowed air to move through to help stop over heating. The original waist belt band is missing on this example and some one had replaced it with the ALICE pack style kidney pad at some point post war. IF you look at the shoulder straps you can see the quick release feature. The vertical straps are cargo straps for holding items added above the pack.
From the side you can see the webbing straps to hold addition canteens. Both the left and right side have webbing straps for the older 1910 wire attachment or the M56 covers with ALICE clips. A web strap with buckle goes around the canteen to secure it and to keep it from flopping around. This pack was replaces later in the war with the tropical rucksack that is the basis for the later ALICE pack.
A pack that did serve as inspiration for the tropical ruck was the ARVN ruck or also known as the indigenous ruck sack. The pack was made in the US for ARV troops. It became popular with US troops who could get it as it was a better option than the M1961 butt pack. This pack is the one seen in the movie Platoon.
The ARVN ruck used the same X frame that was later used int he US tropical ruck . The ARVN rucksack is a handy pack about the size of modern assault packs.
The ARVN ruck is hard to find now a days as it was made and issued only for the military of the Republic of South Vietnam. It was never issued to US forces for US military use. It was a handy little pack though and you can still see the influence it had in later years on other packs.
There are some US military fire arms that enjoy the love and adoration of millions of people. These guns earned a reputation from major battles and wars. Guns that entire generations used to fight off the enemies of America large and small. The M1 Garand, the M1911, the M1 Carbine. The M14… ahem.. One of those seems to have a lure and romance about it equal to or maybe beyond even the M1 Garand. That being the United States Rifle, Caliber .30-06, Model 1903. Also known as the “’03” or “Springfield”.
The story of the M1903 being adopted as the US service rifle is pretty well known to anyone who knows anything about it. The US was not happy with the very finely made and smooth action-ed side loading Krag rifle and its .30-40 service round after being shot to pieces by Spanish Mausers in the Spanish American War. Something about being under effective long range rifle fire from the other guy while you can not return same really drives a demand for change.
The Army got together all the experts, took a look at the captured Spanish Mausers and decided the US Army needed to be using comparable. In fact it was so comparable that a law suit was brought about over just how comparable the 03 was to the Mauser.
After a being adopted the M1903 had its share of problems. A number of Pre WW1 rifles had brittle metal and and the receivers would come apart in various uncomfortable ways while shooting. The problem was figured out and fixed eventually but it is not advised to risk shooting any “low number” M1903.
After getting this squared away the rifle then went on to glory and ever lasting fame in the hands of Doughboys like Sgt York ( maybe.. maybe not reports vary) and the USMC and its marksmanship skill. Official accounts of Marines mowing down Germans from long range with their rifles tell of great marksmanship with great rifles and images are every where os snipers using the 03 for the dawn of modern sniping. Though it was the standard service rifle it was not the most widely issued and used rifle by the troops. That was actually the M1917. But even though the 03 was still the rifle most coveted by the US troops. As said by Cpl. Mike Shelton: “What we really wanted were Springfields. They were the best rifles in the war”.
But were they?
The 1903 is a fine, fine rifle with beautiful lines. It handles like a dream compared to most of its peers and was accurate enough to be used to the US team int he Olympics. This makes for a beautiful military bolt action rifle.
It has a very finely adjustable precision rear sight and blade front sight. When folded down the rear sight is the open V notch and very small. When extended the rear sight has a tiny peep sight that is adjustable for windage and elevation. The adjustment was so fine it was capable of very precise adjustments. When using a sling while prone on a nice sunny day at Camp Perry a rifleman could show what the 1903 could achieve. The story of the Farr cup trophy and why it has that name is a great example of just what can be done with the sights of the standard M1903.
Those things are all that great , but not for the combat of WW1.
The rear sight in on the front of the receiver. Too far away for best most efficient use. Trying to look through the tiny rear aperture was useless in low light. And the light didn’t have to be all that low to make it impossible to use. The rain and mud of the trenches and battlefield could find its way into that peep. The front sight blade was too small and easily damaged. Low light also renders it difficult to see. The front sight was so easily damaged that a thicker blade was used by the USMC and a protective hood was used. This did protect the front sight but it also allows a little less light in. It also capture mud into the hood and front sight assembly. That being a common thing with all hooded front sights.
The rear sight’s fine precision adjustments are just that. Finely made with micrometer like precision. And slow. Very slow to use. The marksmanship of some units like the USMC was at a high enough standard that the rifleman could adjust their rear sight for outstanding long range precision fire on enemy infantry and machine gun positions. But this was not as often done as many make it seem. Adjusting the rear sight for precise long range fire on moving targets at undetermined distance while under rain and with mud covered hands as artillery fell around them made using the long range sights a daydream for most. The rear sight does have an open notch for faster firing and and closer range but it is small and not easy for anyone with less than perfect vision. This sight was set for 547 yd (500 m), and was not adjustable. Not very useful for ranges most likely encountered when time is critical . It also had the problem of not being well protected. Something the sights on a battle rifle need to be in such an unforgiving environment. Later on the M1903A3 rifle had a more simple peep sight on the rear of the action closer to the eye. The peep sight was better for most infantry engagements and was an improvement over the original.
The M1903 had a typical for it’s day safety lever. It would be easy to complain about how slow it is to use if you need to fire quickly it was common. Other Bolt action combat rifles of the day had similar systems and a few had a fast and some what more natural feeling system .
One thing the military thought it needed was a magazine cut off. This little bit of brilliance was a lever that when activated would not allow the action to feed from the magazine. This would require you to load a single round by hand or flip it to allow magazine feed. The idea was you would fire and load one round at a time while keeping the internal magazine in reserve for when you really needed it and had no time to single feed by hand. This supposedly would save ammo. Either way it is always a dumb idea. It was dumb when it was on the Krag and it was dumb on the 1903. Especially since it could be unknowingly engaged.
None of of the things certainly deal killers or mentioned are deal killers or make the rifle useless by any means. The M1903 is a beautifully made gun and wonderfully accurate.
There is a reason for that old chestnut about service rifles from WW1. “The Germans brought a hunting rifle, the British brought a combat rifle and the US brought a target rifle.”
Now looking at the other option carried by US rifleman in WW1. The rifle at the time not as well admire but more widely issued and used. The M1917.
The M1917 was a rifle being made in the US for British troops in .303. When the US entered the war it did not have enough 1903s and there was no way to make enough in time. The decision was made to tweak the .303 rifle into using the .30.06 service round. This went off easily and the gun became the M1917 and was issued.
While it is heavier, it is built like a tank.
The magazine held one more round than the M1903. The safety was a lever on the right hand side. Much easier to quickly disengage.
The rear sight is positioned much closer to the eye and has a nice peep with a fold up sight for more precise longer range shooting. A great feature is the huge “ears” on each side that protects the rear sights from damage,
Another part of the M1917 that aids in fast action for combat is the action. Unlike the M1903 the M1917 cocks on closing. This may not seem like much of a difference but it is. In rapid fire it is much easier to work the bolt and cock it while rotating the bolt down with the speed and momentum of forcing the bolt forward then turning down opposed to cocking while lifting the bolt handle. The dog legged angled bolt handle is also very usable despite it’s oddball look. This allows for a very fast operation. It is also a feature of other British bolt action designs like the Lee Enfields. The MK 3 and MK 4s are very fast and smooth. British troops famously practiced rapid long range volley fire using their rifles and a technique of working the bolt and depressing the trigger with their bottom two fingers of the firing hand as soon as the bolt closed. A company of British troops firing in this manner could wreak a larger unit a long range and was an effective way to compensate for lack of machine gun support.
The M1917 has recently started to get the respect it deserves, it still does not have the admiration or mythical status of the M1903.
Luckily most of the things that make the M1903 less than idea for comabat were addressed in later models. AS I mentioned the M1903A3 corrected the rear sight issues with a peep sight that was simple to use and more suited for ranges most firefights really occur. It wasn’t made with the same aesthetic care and old world craftsmanship as the M1903 but it worked is really the better gun if you had to take one to war.
The M1903 served several roles in its career and is much respected. In some of those roles it was everything you could ask and more In others not so much. As a sniper rifle its target rifle accuracy , handling and trim lines really made it shine.
It served as a sniper rifle into WW2, Korea and even some in Vietnam. The Army opted for using a 4x weaver with the M1903A4 while the USMC adopted and used the Unertl 8x optic. A deadly combination that produced many Japanese widows. As seen below a team of USMC sniper on Okinawa.
Today the Springfield still enjoys a status as a real classic. A real icon of US military Arms. It’s accuracy being the stuff of legend and its full powered 30 caliber round will always be unquestioned in it’s ability. But, its original classic M1903 incarnation never saw nearly the amount of combat as many believe and it was certainly not the best bolt action of the war. It wasn’t even the best Mauser action combat rifle of the war.
Just like the M14, the original issued M1903 was. not much for fighting.