USMC ’03 Springfields

Posted by Bruce Canfield

U.S. martial arms collectors have long had an affinity for weapons associated with the U.S. Marine Corps. The Marines were “customers” of the U.S. Army Ordnance Department and procured the vast majority of the weapons from that source. Therefore, in many cases, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to positively identify a particular U.S. military weapon has having a Marine Corps provenance in the absence of compelling documentation. Such documentation can include discovery of a USMC equipment small arms inventory serial number roster or a citation in the Springfield Research Service (SRS) database. Unfortunately, such documentation is usually unavailable. This can be frustrating to a collector or researcher wishing to establish a semblance of provenance for a weapon he believes (or has been told) has Marine Corps origins. With few exceptions, the Marines did not typically mark their small arms to denote USMC ownership. However, many types of U.S. military arms may be found for sale today with added “USMC” or similar markings, usually accompanied by premium price tags. In virtually all cases, such markings are bogus and many otherwise desirable collectibles have been ruined by such wanton and nefarious actions.

The M1903 rifle has been a very popular U.S. martial arms collectible theme for several decades. Given the fact that the Marine Corps and the Springfield rifle were inexorably linked from the early days of the 20th Century through the end of the Second World War (and beyond) makes an ’03 with USMC provenance a very desirable acquisition. A fairly new phenomenon has arisen and there now seems to be some who are convinced that there are specific modifications to a standard M1903 rifle that somehow “proves” that a particular weapon was a former Marine Corps rifle. These features purportedly include:

  • An added (or enlarged) gas escape hole on the left side of the receiver, typically referred to by collectors today as a “Hatcher Hole.”
  • The serial number of the rifle etched on top of the bolt body.
  • Stippling (a series of rather crudely-applied punch marks) added to a standard plain (non-checkered) buttplate.
  • A 1941 or early 1942 dated Sedgley replacement barrel marked “USMC.”
  • An unusual yellowish tint to the Parkerizing.

While some documented U.S. Marine Corps rifles have been observed with one or more (perhaps even all) of these attributes, with the exception of the “Hatcher Hole,” the majority of confirmed former USMC rifles have none. There are many Sedgley USMC-marked ’03 barrels seen today with 1943 or later dates and these can be almost dismissed out of hand as ever being used by the Marines. The overwhelming majority of these Sedgley barrels were never used and many were “out of spec” and later demilled by bending and sold as scrap. However, some of these barrels have been straightened (with varying degrees of skill) and added to an ’03 receiver and foisted off on naïve or ill-informed collectors as “genuine Marine Corps” rifles. 

It should be readily apparent that any of the above purported USMC attributes can easily be done today by even a marginally skilled machinist or gunsmith. It really isn’t difficult. While these features might be suggestive of a former USMC ’03 rifle, by any stretch of the imagination, they aren’t absolutely definitive. They are simply too easy to fake. Some “internet experts” claim they can absolutely confirm USMC origins of an ’03 by simply looking at photos. To be charitable, such gentlemen have an inflated opinion of their expertise. It certainly would not be fair to dismiss each and every rifle with such features as fake but it would be just as wrong to automatically assume these features somehow prove a Marine Corps provenance. “Could be” and “are” are entirely two different things.

If someone offers you a genuine USMC ’03 rifle for sale but doesn’t have adequate documentation, you would be well-advised not to pay a penny more than you would for an identical rifle without these “attributes.” There is no substitute for convincing documentation.

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