Springfield Rifles: What’s the Difference?


I will be killing to  stones with one bird today with this repost from weaponsman.com.   Today is a post Kevin wrote about sprinfield M1903s.  I decided to share this  today as the 03  has been an ongoing topic over the last month, I have no idea how we got stuck on it lately but we have.   

Today we have the weekly re-share of a weaponsman.com post. We share these posts to honor our friend Kevin O’Brien who died early last year. Kevin was known as “Hognose” by his many friends and admirers and  post his work here in an effort to save his work and honor him in our own way.

Springfield Rifles: What’s the Difference?

The US model 1903 Springfield rifle was made in five major versions. New entrents to collecting American martial arms sometimes struggle to tell these very similar rifles apart, but actually it’s pretty easy. Here’s a Springfield cheat sheet to take with you to the fun show:

From GlobalSecurity.org. Note that the stock on the A3 is more commonly like the one shown on the A1.

From GlobalSecurity.org. Note that the stock on the A3 is more commonly like the one shown on the A1.


  • The US Rifle Model 1903 was originally made for the M1 Cal. .30-03 cartridge, and service rifles were rechambered to the improved .30-06. There were metallurgical problems with early serial number receivers and bolts, and firearms under number 800,000 from Springfield Armory and 286,596 from Rock Island Arsenal should not be fired, because those are the numbers beyond which improved heat treating methods are known to have resolved this problem. (The bolts aren’t numbered, but any bolt that has a handle “swept back” rather than bent at 90º to the bolt axis is good to go).
    This is the business end of an early (pre-1905) rod bayonet Springfield.

    This is the business end of an early (pre-1905) rod bayonet Springfield.

    A few very early models had rod bayonets, and these were mostly converted to Model 1905 16″ knife bayonets after 1905 (at the insistence, we’ve noted, of Theodore Roosevelt) so they’re extremely rare. The rear sight was a ladder sight that went through several iterations, mounted forward of the front receiver ring. It could be used as an open tangent sight or raised and elevated for volley fire to ranges of almost 3,000 yards. A variant of the 03 called the US Rifle M1903 Mark I was adapted for use with the Pedersen device. Most of these were made in 1918-1919 and they wound up issued as ordinary 1903s. They are not especially rare, but make good conversation pieces. Another rare variant (illustrated) used the Warner & Swasey telescope commonly fitted to the Benet-Mercié “automatic rifle” — it had a terrible time holding zero, but that’s what American snipers had Over There.

The rifle lasted decades more, but the sight didn't.

The rifle lasted decades more, but the sight didn’t.

  • US Rifle Model 1903A1 is identical to the 1903, except for the stock, which has a pistol grip.
  • US Rifle Model 1903A2 is another extreme rarity: a Springfield altered to be a subcaliber device for conducting direct-fire training on various artillery weapons on small arms ranges. The stock, handguards, sights were removed and the gun could be fitted into a 37 mm sleeve for use in a 37mm gun, or the 37mm adapter could in turn be fitted in a larger-caliber adapter for 75mm, 105mm or 8 inch (203mm) artillery. They were generally made from 1903s and will have the “A2″ notation hand stamped after the 1903 on the receiver ring. A brass bushing on the muzzle, just under an inch (0.994”) in diameter, adapted the bare barreled action to the adapter. A few have the A2 electro-penciled in place, it would take a Springfield expert to tell you if that’s authentic (the example Brophy shows is stamped). Most of the A2s were converted back into ordinary rifles, surplused, or scrapped at the end of the war as the Army had abandoned subcaliber artillery training.


  • US Rifle Model 1903A3 is a wartime, cost-reduced version of the 1903A1. Remington had been tooling up to make the 1903, not for the US, but in .303 for the British. WIth American reentry into the war, Remington converted back to making a simplified 1903. The A3 reverts to the straight (no pistol grip) stock, uses a stamped trigger guard, and has a ramp-mounted peep sight like the one on the M1 Carbine. This sight is simpler than the Rube Goldberg arrangement on the 1903, and actually has greater accuracy potential thanks to around 7″ greater sight radius. It is the version most commonly found on the market, and was carried by soldiers in the first months of the Pacific War, and by Marines for longer. Until a working grenade launcher was developed for the M1 and issued in late 1943, an Army rifle squad armed with M1s still had one or two grenadiers armed with M1903A3s and grenade launchers. By D-Day, most combat units had the M1 launchers. Remington (and Smith-Corona) produced 1903A3s from 1941 to February, 1944.

M1903A3 sight

  • US Rifle Model 1903A4 is a 1903A3 fitted with a Weaver 330C or Lyman Alaskan 2 ½ Power optical sight. The Weaver sight is 11 inches long and adds a half-pound to the weight of the rifle, bringing it to a still very manageable 9.7 pounds. The Lyman is a tenth of an inch shorter and a 0.2 pounds heavier (the Lyman was very rare in service compared to the Weaver). Both have an eye relief of about 3 to 5 inches. Very late in the war, the M1C came into service, but the 1903A4 was the Army’s primary sniper rifle throughout the war. Note that several vendors have made replicas of the M1903A4, some of which (like Gibbs Rifle Company’s) are clearly marked. All 1903A4s were made by Remington.

There you have it — the main variants of the Springfield Rifle in a short and digestible format


About WeaponsMan

WeaponsMan is a blog about weapons. Primarily ground combat weapons, primarily small arms and man-portable crew-served weapons. The site owner is a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S), and you can expect any guest columnists to be similarly qualified.


  1. I remember that one.

    Fire up the memory sticks folks,tomm.Cody and the folks at Defense Distributed open their library of build plans to the dismay of many state AG’s,wonder why as that info out a bit on net but nice to have a one stop shopping on build plans.I would say get em even if you have no interest in being a bubba builder but for future generations info. is valuable.There were some great bubba moments and good build info articles and feedback with Kevin,like to see the trend continue on other sites and future generations,bubba moments included!

  2. One of the other large cost (& time) reductions in the 1903A3 vs. the 03/A1/A2 rifles is that the 03A3 rifles had a two-groove barrel. The 03 has a four-groove barrel.

    Many people believed that the two-groove barrel could not/would not be as accurate (precise) as the four groove barrels. In fact, the two groove barrels are a tad more precise than the four groove barrels. We’re talking about 1/16th of an inch at 100 yard groups, but still, it is there.

    The 03A3 also predominately had the pistol grip stock, not the straight stock.

    Other changes: the 03A3 bolts are swept back, not a 90-degree bolt, the bottom metal is stamped, etc.

    My favorite way to put together a Springfield rifle is 03 trigger guard/bottom metal, 03A3 sights, 03A3 action & barrel, with a pistol-grip stock. For a service rifle, they’re usually quite accurate.

    • /Who was it that made the barrels on the 03s made into “sniper ” 1903s around 05ish? Remember the ones brought out by Gibbs I think it was, and they had reproduction 1903A4 sniper scopes and used original receivers and bolts but new barrels etc. The rack grade barrel on the 03A3 are very good if think about it and take into account the rear sight and the ranges it is set for. Certainly up to combat requirements within the realm of what the A3 was intended to do when it was produced

      • I don’t know. I doubt that they were special barrels. The 03A4 sniper rifles were the same barrels as the 03A3, only without the front sight mounted on it before parkerizing.

        Back in those days, getting a rifle to print (eg) a 1″ group in a five-shot group, with reliability would have caused most riflemen to fight like rabid dogs should someone try to take that rifle from them. These rifles/barrels that would print under 1″ at 100 were known to be exceptional in their day.

        The 03A3 was responsive to the ammo, and faster wasn’t usually better. Ammo that would have a muzzle velocity down in the 2700 fps range would often print better than ammo in the 2800+ fps range.

        • the reproductions of the 03A4 certainly wasnt special barrels I know that. They were new production, not original war production barrel.s but as “sniper” 03s I wondered if they at least paid lip service to match barrels and used something decent from green mountain or lothar or some such . I dont recall ever reading any specs on those repros. other than the actions and triggers were original 03 surplus parts

    • The swept back bolt was introduced in 1918 a bit after the switch to double heat treating. The most noticeable difference of A3 bolts is the simplified machining giving the stepped appearance in front of the safety lug.

    • Also, all A3s shipped from the factory with the straight S stock. Scant and C stocks were only added during rebuild. The A4s were made with scant and C stocks.

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