The Smith Corona 1903A3

By R.K. Campbell

One of the best bolt action battle rifles ever fielded was a result of a program undertaken just before World War Two. The Smith Corona is a link between World War One production and World War Two, and is a prime example of the expedients taken with proven designs in order to decrease labor time and expedite production. Like the Smith and Wesson 1917 revolver and the 1917 Enfield rifle of the previous war, the Smith Corona rifle was a war time expedient but a very good one. With the handwriting on the wall and the war just over the horizon, America could not produce enough M1 Garand rifles to arm our own soldiers and Marines and the allies as well. Remember, America foresaw aiding not only Britain but China and the Philippines and other allies as well. Despite a program to refurbish 1903 and 1917 rifles, it was a foregone conclusion that more rifles would be needed. The Army looked at some of the parts in stock and decided that it would be a relatively simple matter to bring the Springfield 1903 back into production. Some of the features of the 1903 were rated non essential. These non essential features included the bright blue finish and careful polishing of the previous rifles. As war time production demands mounted, numerous detail changes were made. These changes included eliminating the bolt stop and using stamped steel rather than milled parts. While in-stock wooden furniture was used in some rifles, new production stocks did not include grasping grooves.

An important change in the 1903 rifle was the elimination of the original forward mounted sight. This sight demanded several steps in machining. A parallel development in England resulted in changing the Lee Enfield rifle to a peep or aperture rear sight and a similar program was instigated with the 1903 rifle. The new rear sight was a better combat sight by all accounts. The new aperture sight was far more similar to the M1 Garand, and much simpler to manufacture compared to the original Springfield sight. Most of the preliminary work with the new rifle was undertaken by Remington. The new rifle was standardized as the U.S. Rifle .30 Model of 1903A3 in May 1942. Remington was already knee deep in the war effort. As a result of war time demand the Ordnance Department shopped for a new vendor. In February 1942 Smith Corona, a company primarily known as a typewriter manufacturer, was contracted to produce the 1903A3 rifle. The original contract was for some 100,000 rifles. The Army’s confidence in the ability of the 1903 rifle was inherent in the following contract as the number specified was for some 380,000 rifles. However, creating the machinery and setting up production meant that the first rifles were not produced until late 1942. Finally, in December 1942, the first five thousand rifles were turned out. Smith Corona rose from nothing to making five thousand rifles a month, an important contribution to the war effort.

The Smith Corona rifle is very similar to the Remington produced rifles of the same period. The 1903A3 rifle is noted for its nickel steel receiver and excellent combat sight making it the preferred combat rifle of all the Springfield rifles. Older and rarer rifles bring more money and are more desirable to collectors but there are no Springfield 1903 pattern rifles that are better combat rifles than the Smith Corona rifle. The Smith Corona rifles were Parkerized but the bolts were blued. A Parkerized bolt indicates that the rifle has been arsenal refinished. The company won a well deserved reputation for quality and accuracy in their rifles. There are quite a few reports of the rifles being treasured for their reliability on the front lines.

The Smith Corona rifles made extensive use of sheet metal stamped parts. The barrel band and springs and the floor plate assembly were of stamped steel. There are detail differences between the Remington produced rifle and the Smith Corona, however, since the rifles are plainly marked as to the respective maker there is no chance of mistaking either rifle. The butt plates, as an example, featured more squares to the inch with the Remington and the trigger guards differed but the rifles were for all intents and purposes the same. Production of the M1 Garand rifle began to meet the demand of the armed services in 1943 and in early 1944 the contract for the Smith Corona 1903A3 was canceled. Smith Corona had produced some 234,580 rifles. (Research sometimes shows conflicting numbers, which may be a result of transference of numbers, such as 850 for 580, etc, but this seems the most reliable figure. In any case, the differences encountered in research do not affect the relative production – it was in the 230,000 range.) On the other hand, 707,629 rifles of the same type were manufactured by Remington during the same period.

Combat Use

The Smith Corona rifle was used in all war zones. Combat photography plainly shows many Springfield pattern rifles in the hands of front line troops. There were some soldiers (and quite a few Marines by reputation) that preferred the 1903 rifle to the Garand and the 1903A3 was even better. These men knew how to handle a bolt action rifle quickly with stellar accuracy. Many rifles were used in training and the 1903A3 was a common rifle issued to guards and troops that were less likely to be engaged in front line operations. Today the Smith Corona is becoming increasingly rare, particularly in the case of examples in original condition. But they are among the most affordable war time rifles and well worth the search. As an example, the rifle illustrated was found at a local gun shop for just under seven hundred dollars, which seems to be the running price for the average Smith Corona. They are well worth the search. The Smith Corona is a classic rifle that is a fine example of the 1903 and the 1903A3 combat rifle.

Firing the 1903A3

The Springfield 1903 rifle is often referred to as a Mauser turn bolt type. This is true on the face of it as the Springfield owes much to the 1898 Mauser rifle. By the same token the Springfield was widely recognized as a high point of bolt action rifle design and manufacture. The design features controlled feed action. The bolt is worked to the rear and the first cartridge in the magazine feeds under the extractor. The case rim is solidly gripped in the extractor as the bolt rams the cartridge case forward. The bolt handle is turned down to lock the action. The rifle is fired. The bolt is worked to move to the rear and extract the cartridge case. The claw type extractor maintains control of the cartridge case rim and brings the cartridge case to the rear with maximum leverage. This type of action feeds at any angle and also offers positive feed and extraction. The action is very smooth, perhaps the smoothest of any bolt action rifle of the period between the years of 1891 and 1945. Fast follow-up shots are not difficult and feedway stoppages are unheard of.

To get an impression of the capability of the Smith Corona as a battle rifle, most of the rounds were fired off hand. The rifle gave excellent hit probability in fast snap shooting to fifty yards. Fast shots at 100 yards were not particularly difficult on man sized targets. The ammunition used was a handload more or less duplicating the original service load, but using the Sierra 175 grain Math King bullet over Varget powder in Federal cases. Naturally, we were curious as to the accuracy of the rifle over longer distances. Using the Hornady 155 grain SST hunting load we settled down to fire a few 100 yard groups. This loading has given good results in the past. Groups ran from 1.5 to 2.0 MOA, plenty of accuracy for a service rifle. The Smith Corona 1903A3 is a great recreational rifle with much to recommend. This is a piece of history that should be appreciated.

Smith Corona M1903A3
Serial number ranges 3,608,000 to 3,707,999 and 4,708,000 to 4,992,000.
Overall length: 43.2 inches
Barrel length: 24 inches
Overall height: 4 1/4 inches
Length of pull: 12 5/8 inches
Capacity: 5 rounds
Action finish: Blue
Action type: Bolt action
Barrel finish: Blue
Magazine type: 5-round box magazine
Stock: Wood
Trigger pull weight: 2.45 lbs

This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on December 20, 2013


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