View Full Version : Safe firing of a Rock Island Springfield 1903

April 24, 2012, 05:10 PM
While I am aware there were barrel temper problems with serial numbers lesss than 286,506 for the Rock Island 1903's. I'm looking at one that has a serial number of 227,105, BUT, it also has Barrel Marked SA Over a Flaming Bomb 2 - 42. Does this mean in your opinion that it was rebarreleld and is safe to shoot?

April 24, 2012, 08:30 PM
It was rebarreled in 1942 with a good barrel, but barrel tempering was NOT the problem with "low-numbered Springfield's" - it was the willy-nilly, seat-of-the-pants heat treating of the RECEIVERS prior to the demarcation line/SN.


April 24, 2012, 08:45 PM
as to how some were reissued.

Look at the small ledge under the SN, is there a "prick punch"mark, and is there a punch mark on the underside of the bolt handle?

Those mean that it passed proof.

Does the left side have a 1/4 -5/16" diameter hole, into the chamber??

It's still best not to fire it.

Hey, would you give full licqour to your Great Grand dad??

April 24, 2012, 09:31 PM
Thanks for the heads up guys. I'm not sure why I thought it was just the barrel.
My understanding is that the Springfield's #800,000 and up were safe and the Rock Island # 286,506 were safe. Can you confirm this?

April 24, 2012, 09:50 PM
The "official" or "accepted" cutoff numbers for Low Numbered Springfields are 800,000 for Springfield and 286, 506 for Rock Island. I recall from my readings of Hatcher's Notebook that he found there were certain bad "vintages"
of L/N M1903s, IIRC 1906 or so and again in 1911.

April 24, 2012, 11:26 PM
the problem with low serial springfield and rock island 1903s was due to the heat treatment process. it revolved around the worker's ability to tell the receiver's temperature based on the color however on a sunny day or certain time of day where the sun was hitting the metal through a window it would become difficult to tell how hot the metal actually was based on appearance. if you read about the trial process and the number of failures though, rifles only failed when subjected to rounds loaded with 150-200% of normal charge. using standard velocity rounds or even light reloads is a good way to fire without risking much harm.

also, you are looking at a rifle that was manufactured in 1913 and therefore was almost certainly issued in both world wars so if it survived THAT much use under those circumstances then I would say your rifle was proven safe long ago. I have a 1912 springfield 1903 that is supposedly unsafe and yet I have fired a number of rounds through it without issue. your odds of a bad gun surviving to this day are slim to none and way too many people make way to big a deal out of it.

if you really feel unsafe firing it, rig it up to a shooting vice, load up a round, tie a string to the trigger and fire the gun from 100 feet back, if it survives then good luck but if there's one thing I've learned,

the internet is not always right.

EDIT: another factor that was deemed to be central to the issues during the initial investigation was that the cartridge casings were very poorly constructed and in many of the cases of reciever failure, the casings also failed.

Jim Watson
April 24, 2012, 11:56 PM
Few of the known demolished low number 1903s just let go when firing a normal round. Something happened to release gas inside the receiver, which fragmented under the pressure applied other places than the locking lugs.
Wartime ammunition with brass of even lower quality than the gun's carbon steel was one cause. Ammunition greased to prevent nickel fouling, causing "Clark Neck Pinch" and high bolt thrust was another. But the worst case of Neck Pinch was by the idiot who crammed an 8mm round into a .30-06 chamber. The .323" bullet in a .308" barrel wasn't the real problem, it was the .350" case neck force fitted into a .340" chamber neck so the bullet wouldn't release that was the bad actor.

Then after they went to double heat treatment of carbon steel, then nickel steel, bad barrels started showing up. Like the ammo, the problematical barrels were wartime production with unsuspected seams in the metal. They increased the proof load to bust those under controlled conditions instead of when overloaded or abused in the field.

Poster Slamfire1 has a lot to say on the subject, none of it good.

April 25, 2012, 06:20 AM
There are a number of threads on the internet regarding the low number Springfields. One must remember that the Marine Corps never took their low numbered rifles out of service and in fact they were used until they were replaced by the M1 Garand.

Even when the possibility of a problem became apparent, the army didn't recall the rifles already in use. What they did, after WW1, was to start a program of refurbishing the low number guns and putting them in war reserve. This is the reason that there are so many low number rifles with much later barrels.

There was a post on another forum (I can't remember which one), where the poster did a statistical analysis of the probability of a low number rifle blowing up. Out of the roughly one million rifles that fall into the serial number range there were something like 63 documented cases of receiver failure.

Statistically, you stand a much better chance of getting hurt if you drive a car 1500 miles a year. Most of us can put that many miles on a vehicle in a month, yet we don't fill page after page of angst over whether we will get hurt doing it.

As was stated, when the failures were investigated by Julian Hatcher, he found that there was a correlation between the accidents and the lot(s) of ammo that was being used. Also there was said to be a couple of instances of possible bore obstructions.

What this all boils down to is whether you feel safe shooting your rifle. Many people shoot their low number rifles using reduced power handloads and cast bullets with no problems.

I shoot my '03 (receiver made in 1906) occasionally.

April 25, 2012, 11:22 AM
Great information guys. Much appreciated.Now I'm not sure exactly what I want to do. I'm looking at one on the internet from the Rock Island Arsenal.

April 25, 2012, 04:36 PM
When dealing with firearms I have always been taught "Safety comes first". The bottom line here is that an investigation was completed, an issue was found, and new guns that had already been made were never issued because of those findings. Is that a rifle that you feel is safe and responsable to shoot?

April 25, 2012, 06:41 PM
When dealing with firearms I have always been taught "Safety comes first". The bottom line here is that an investigation was completed, an issue was found, and new guns that had already been made were never issued because of those findings. Is that a rifle that you feel is safe and responsable to shoot?

actually you got that backwards. an investigation was completely, a number of issues were found that by themselves mean nothing but together created a problem and rifles and ammo already been made were already issued and no recall was ever made, receivers were stress tested during arsenal reconditioning.

April 26, 2012, 09:13 AM
I stand corrected, I said issue and should have said issues but according to what I have found on the subject the board of officers who conducted the investigation recommended the destruction of all low serial numbered actions. That was not done but just the fact that it was suggested should be enough to warn anyone from trusting one of these rifles in my opinion.

April 26, 2012, 10:58 AM
here's a little something to put the risks of shooting a low serial 1903 into perspective. pulled from a summary of the m1903 investigations on m1903.com

The risk of serious injury from the failure of a low numbered Springfield receiver would be about 0.7 serious injuries per 100,000 rifles manufactured.

It's hard for people to personalize risk to their own situation. The following are some risks of dying with common place activities that are of similar magnitude to serious injury from the failure of a Springfield receiver.

Risk of One Death per 100,000 population in a Single Year Caused By:

Riding a bicycle 100 miles

Smoking 14 cigarettes

Living 20 months with a smoker

Traveling 1500 miles by automobile

Traveling 10,000 miles by jet aircraft

let's see, I normally do travel about 6,000-10,000 miles by air every year and I have put over 1000 miles on my truck since I bought it 3 weeks ago....I'm going to go out on a limb and say I feel safer shooting my 504xxx springfield 1903 than I do driving my 04 dodge dakota.

April 26, 2012, 11:17 AM
according to what I have found on the subject the board of officers who conducted the investigation recommended the destruction of all low serial numbered actions

sorry, that's not really true either, you show me a military that recommends the destruction of over 1,000,000 guns and I'll show you a country that's ripe for conquest.

On December 2, 1927 a board was convened by the U.S. Army to look into the problem, and determine how to identify the brittle receivers and determine if they could be strengthen by re-heat treatment. The board made the determination of where the problem had occurred in receivers, and its from their deliberations that we use the 800,000 serial number for Springfields, and 286,506 for Rock Island receivers. They also concluded it was not feasible to re-heat the "low numbered receivers", and that they should be withdrawn from service.

To discard approximately 1,000, 000 receivers would create a political problem of major proportions for the U.S. Military, especially at time when military was funded at an extremely low level. The decision also has be questioned from a numeric standpoint. There had been 58 reported receiver failures when the board made its decision. To suggest that 1,000,000 other receivers were defective because of the failure of 58 is extrapolating well beyond the available data. On February 7, 1928 after considering all the factors the Chief of Field Service, U.S. Army,, General Samuel Hof, made the following policy for the United States Army:

"Our ammunition is getting worse and accidents may be somewhat more frequent. On the other hand, some of these early rifles have been in use for many years and undoubtedly some of them have worn out several barrels. I do not think the occasion merits the withdrawal of the rifles of low numbers in the hands of troops until the rifle is otherwise unserviceable. On the other hand, I do not think we are justified in issuing such rifle from our establishments. I recommend that we instruct our Ordnance establishments to no longer issue rifles with these questionable receivers, that such rifles be set aside and considered as a war reserve and the question of the ultimate replacement of the receivers be deferred. When rifles are turned in from the troops for repair the receivers having these low numbers should be scrapped."

Hof’s decision meant that low numbered receivers would not be issued, but that those already issued would remain in service. The Army was small enough that new troops could easily be issued high numbered rifles, but low numbered rifles already issued would remain in service.

The U.S. Marine Corp, because of an even more limited budget than the Army, did not follow this recommendation and never retired any of its low numbered receivers until they were replaced with the M1 rifle about 1942. The desperate need for rifles caused by World War II, saw many of the low number receiver rifles taken from war reserves and issued to U.S. and foreign troops. In 1942-44 the United States also equipped the Free French Army of Charles DeGaulle with low numbered Springfields.

so pretty much the 1,000,000 receivers already delivered were to be replaced with high serial rifles as supply dictated and low serial rifles were to be placed in reserve warehouses, I did not see the word destruction anywhere in that writeup. feel free to read the whole article here (http://m1903.com/03rcvrfail/)
the references are all pretty solid as well.

April 26, 2012, 12:49 PM
The article you reference and provide a link to is one of the best I read last year when I was researching this issue but it is very obvious we are not getting the same message from it. You fly and drive a lot, that's great, but would you board that plane if you knew there was a defect and it could explode? Would you drive your truck if you knew the same?

My decision to put my 1903 away and never shoot it again was for my safety and the safety of those around me if god forbid a catastrophic failure were to happen, not just from that article but also from reputable gunsmith's.

April 29, 2012, 12:42 PM
You asked this same question at http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=656181 and you are going to get the same answer from me.

Federal Ordnance brought in thousands of receivers from the Philippines. They also had WWII replacement barrels. I saw low number receivers and low number rebuilds on their racks.

You might have one of those.

For all the reasons given above, I don’t recommend shooting low number Springfields. The basic problem is you cannot visually tell the quality of the steel or if it is burnt.

The bogus risk analysis comes from Daffy Doc at


Daffy Doc’s statistics are based on Hatcher’s Notebook which is not an all inclusive list of all 03 failures. Hatcher’s list starts 1917 and ends 1929. There are known failures after. Likely there were failures before, but they just were not reported or in the documentation which Hatcher had access.

I also disagree with Daffy Doc’s risk percentages. His percentages are based on the total number of rifles built, not the rifles in use. There were about one million of these rifles built, but post WW1, there were never one million at service at any time. By the time you get to 1922 Congress authorized only 136,000 Officer’s and enlisted in the Regular Army. I could guess how many rifles were in service with an Army that small, and it sure would not be one million. Lets say, as a ridiculous example, that their were four rifles in use and the remaining one million in storage. Let also say that one of the four blew up. Daffy Doc’s analysis would give you the risk as one in a million. But for those rifles in use, it would be 25%.

Daffy Doc’s analysis also does not take into account the destruction of single heat treat receivers. As rifle came into depot, the Army scrapped these receivers. The population of these things liable to hurt someone just got smaller and smaller over time. Any risk calculation based on the total production is misleading because that is not the actual risk to the user. The user’s risk of harm is much higher. By what amount, I don’t know.
I am certain there are no databases extent which would allow the calculation of risk based on active duty rifles, but the Army had seen enough accidents and decided to take a course of action which would remove single heat treat receivers from the inventory.

Daffy Doc also says:

No receiver failures were reported in the training period before the battles, and during the four major battles that occurred in the seven month period in 1942-43. While it's not possible to estimate the exact number of rifles involved, up to 7,000 would have been in use by the three rifle regiments of the 1st Marine Division, Based on the failure rates of 1917-1918 between one and two rifle receivers would have been expected to fail.

Daffy Doc could not find any failure reports and is making the conclusion that absence proves no receivers failed. I disagree with this. The absence of records indicate the absence of records. That does not mean that there were never were records; there could have been. There are buildings full of records that the US Army and Marine Corp have right now which Daffy Doc will never see. These records will be disposed of by the lowest cost method which will guarantee the least embarrassment later. Might as well ask Daffy Doc how long he maintains paper records of his patients. I will bet it won’t be decades. All organizations have to undergo reoccurring data dumps, or there will not be space for the workers. The lack of records might also be due to there was a shooting war going on. Even the military prioritizes efforts as the culture changes from peacetime bureaucracy to a life and death struggle. How high a priority would there be to create rifle failure reports in a war time expansion? I think the correct answer is zero. If a rifle broke, someone threw it in a scrap bin and got busy filling out paper work for the real important things. Like the Guadalcanal invasion.

Daffy Doc is just another fan boy justifying his risky behavior. His analysis is flawed but it will stay out there forever.

When these old guns go, they fragment. There are some nice frag pictures, including a National Ordnance receiver, in this thread:


Anyone is free to shoot and load these old receivers. You may have a "good" one, but good only in the context of a early 1900's receiver. These old receivers were made from inferior steels and are inferior in all aspects to a contemporary Mauser 98. Aspects such as shooter protection, parts breakage, safety, strength.

PO Ackley's handbook did blowup tests and if anyone noticed, the high number 03 blew its cocking piece out the back and would have gone through someone's skull, had there been a shooter.

I am confident that were any 03 put to the same destructive test as the Swedes put these actions through, there would be action parts flying around.

They stuck a bullet in the barrel and fired a cartridge with bullet.


April 29, 2012, 02:26 PM
SLAMFIRE... Thanks, but I EXPECT to get the same answer. When I have questions concerning firearms I generally ask it on more than one forum. I like to get as much info as I can so I can make a reasonable decision based on the information I have obtained.
Thanks for your input. It was indeed most valuable.

April 29, 2012, 03:58 PM
There is no such thing as zero risk. We get on airplanes that the pilots don't know how to fly in an emergency thinking nothing of it (almost all recent crashes were due to pilots foul up except the Sully landing, and he VIOLATED the instructions for a landing with engines out (he had the gall to turn on the APU so he had full power and ALL aircract systems available to maximize his chances of being successfull when he put it into the drink! All that know it all background in the miltary).

Ok, rant aside, the gun (receiver) survived long enoguht to shoot a barrel out and have it replaced. Hmmm.

So, sans other indicators, this would be safe.

Or, all guns are equaly unsafe (more so) as they have not been
1. Proff fired
2. Magnetic particle inspected (proof fire means it did not blow up, MPI means you check to see if its started to go

April 29, 2012, 10:17 PM
I had a low-numbered '03 Springfield when I was a kid and just beginning to understand hitting stuff at distance. I shot the devil out of it with any and all 30-06 ammo I could lay my hands on. I suffered no ill effects but my mother prayed for me a lot.

I've turned down several low-numbered Springfields in the intervening 40 years... I tempted fate once and got away with it.

May 1, 2012, 11:02 PM
My point was a that the risk has been mitigated by a shot out barrel.

Call it something around 5k to shoot out a 1903 barrel (that's low, fairly hot loads, easily an go 7-10K).

As this gun has a new barrel, its been proofed.

If its stood up to that there is no more risk than any other receiver.

I would not shoot real hot loads in it. other than that....

I believe the Marines just took them and shot them as well. Would have to query my brother but he mentioned that.

May 3, 2012, 04:33 PM
my sentiments exactly. I have a low numbered Springfield receiver manufactured in 1912, therefore by the common understanding it is considered unsafe to fire. however, it has a barrel from 1919 so it was shot so much during WWI that Springfield had to replace the barrel. if it can withstand that many rounds then I'm fairly confident that it is one of the better crafted of the low numbered rifles.

Willie Sutton
May 3, 2012, 04:43 PM
" however, it has a barrel from 1919 so it was shot so much during WWI that Springfield had to replace the barrel."

To play devils advocate, there are a dozen other reasons for a BBL to be replaced during rework, especially on rifles that were fielded using corrosive ammo. You cannot draw any receiver strength conclusions from this.



Bart B.
May 4, 2012, 11:18 AM
In the 1960's, a US Navy small arms unit took a low numbered 1903 and started loading LC M72 match .30-06 primed cases with IMR4895 under 172-gr. machine gun bullets in 2 grain increments until no more powder could be put in the case under the bullet. After these were all fired in that '03, it's locking lugs still held headspace within limits.

They shifted to IMR4198 powder and did the same thing. Soon the bolt lugs got set forward a bit but a case full of it didn't blow the receiver. The bolt had to be beat open with a mallet for the last few rounds.

Only after using Bullseye pistol powder and about half a case full did that receiver finally let go.

May 4, 2012, 08:52 PM
Last night I watched a PBS show I taped, "Why Ships Sink". The primary emphasis was safety on cruise ships. Since this is the 100th year of the sinking of the Titanic, of course that was brought in, for the entertainment value I guess.

However they had a segment on rivets and steel. They conducted a Charpie impact test of 100 year old steel and modern steel. I can only assume the old steel was plain carbon steel, they never specified the composition of the modern steel. Could be an alloy steel. Anyway the modern steel was seven times as strong, or rather absorbed seven times the energy before failure, than the 100 year old steel. They claimed that old steel had a lot of sulfur, made the comment that the old steel was not as strong as today’s steel because temperatures were not controlled during smelting. Wish they had spent more time on this topic as I would have liked to know more specifics.

Anyway, old steel was never that great and being seven times weaker than modern ought to give someone something to think about when considering the strength of these old actions.

These are some low number receivers that did not survive a blow up test.







May 5, 2012, 11:16 AM
Funny though, that old steel was used in millions of guns that worked.

I think its situation specific as to what risk you want to assume.

We are getting whigged out over this when probably everyone reading this drives a car regularly and thinks nothing of it.

Missing a point in that a shot out barrel is a shot out barrel and a lot of rounds went through it. Corrosive or not its had an (pun intended) and acid test.

By the logic going here, none of these should be shot.

Modern guns do not do proof tests either. You are probably at higher risk that a bad sample slipped through with one of those than a 1903 that's had enough rounds through it to require a barrel change.

People shoot MNs all the time and you want to think about Russian quality control?

If it was mine I would shot it, and I am damn risk adverse (I think about it all the time and do my best to mitigate it or avoid it)

May 5, 2012, 02:06 PM
We are getting whigged out over this when probably everyone reading this drives a car regularly and thinks nothing of it.
I have a vintage Chevy Truck. Ride it regularly. No air bags, has a thin pad over its hard metal dash, I did install a lap/seat belt. The rear end will break loose and it is very scary to be rotating around in the middle of a street. Had that happen twice. I am always worried about having to brake hard on slick surfaces. If I roll over I am certain the cab will crush me, and if I hit something head on, the steering wheel will crush my chest.

Older stuff has its own risks. You can get away with all fingers, toes, eyes doing something stupid with modern stuff, that older stuff, it will take a finger, toe, or an eye.

You can blow up any action if you try hard enough, but not to let anyone think that Mosin Nagants are indestructible, here is a picture.

Notice the fine gas handling capabilities of a MN, you would only lose the right side of your face, the left side looks nicely protected.