12 Dec 12

As the Nineteenth Century came to a close, the Ordnance Department was anxious to replace existing Trap-Door Springfield Rifles with something that fired faster and kept its reserve of ammunition in the rifle itself, rather than having it sit in a cartridge belt.

The candidate that emerged the winner was the Norwegian-designed Krag-Jorgensen. First finding its way into the hands of US Troopers in the 1890s, the Krag was a sleek bolt-action rifle. Beautifully designed and beautifully made, but hopelessly outdated the very day the first copies left the factory!

At about the same time, the Mauser brothers in Germany had designed and marketed a bolt-action rifle that made all previous designs, including the Krag, instantly obsolete. The box-magazine on the Mauser Rifle could be instantly (re)charged via a five-round “stripper clip.” Conversely, the Krag’s magazine had to be charged manually, one round at a time. There was no comparison!

That unhappy fact was to become conspicuously apparent when American Troopers faced Mauser-armed Spanish troops in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, and also when hapless British troopers faced Mauser-armed Dutch farmer/frontiersmen in South Africa during the simultaneous Anglo-Boer War.

Both the Americans and the British learned quickly. We must have been mightily impressed with Mauser’s design!

With the Winds of War stirring during the first decade of the Twentieth Century, the American Ordnance Department replaced the Krag with a shameless copy of the Mauser, the 1903 Springfield. In fact, it was called by many at the time, “The American Mauser.” The British duplicated the effort and came up with their own version, the Lee-Enfield.

Meanwhile, the Mauser Brothers, as it turns out, were less than amused with what they considered unblushing plagiarism! They sued the American Government for patent infringement. The courts ultimately agreed with the Mausers, and the Mausers subsequently collected royalties and damages from the Americans, right up until shortly before hostilities broke out in Europe. Curiously, there was scant bickering, as all sides generally acknowledged the validity of Mauser’s infringement claim.

So, shortly before American troopers bravely battled German solders in France, the American Ordnance department was apologizing financially to the Mausers, who were currently making rifles for those same German soldiers!

In 1942, typewriter-manufacturer, Smith-Corona, was recruited by the Ordnance Department to manufacturer 1903 rifles, even though the newer (but more difficult and slower to manufacture) M1 Garand was simultaneously in production. The Germans tried to re-enforce their judgement from earlier in the Century, this time against Smith-Corona, and others. But, WWII was in full-swing, and that litigation fell on deaf ears and went nowhere.

The 1903 Springfield Rifle was to continue in active service well past WWII, superceded eventually, as noted above, by the M1 Garand.

Today, GI 1903 Springfields are rare and expensive! I’ve had students bring them to Urban Rifle Courses and do very well! There is a learning-curve associated with running the bolt and reloading, but, once the shooter has that down, they can run the 1903 like an autoloader!

“Yesterday’s ‘advanced-weapons-platform’ is today’s museum exhibit!”