The beginning of World War II found the United States short of many weapons, not the least of which was an inventory of sniper rifles. Armorers in France converted sniper rifles from both M1903 and M1917 rifles during World War I, but between the wars sniping was one of many things that was neglected. In fact, even after American entry into World War II in December 1941, sniping continued to be neglected and it wasn’t until January 1943 that the Army issued a directive to Remington Arms to set aside 20,000 M1903A3 receivers for conversion to sniper rifles.
There were no formal accuracy requirements for the M1903A4; at least we couldn’t find any standards in any of the four reference books we consulted in preparing this article. According to Bruce Canfield, there was no special care taken in manufacturing the M1903A4 rifles and their accuracy was no better than standard service rifles.
The trigger on our test rifle, for example, was the same as our standard Remington M1903A3, hardly sniper-grade, with two-stage 5.5-pound break and significant overtravel. There were other shortcomings, as well. Since no sights were fitted and the commercial Weaver telescopic sights were easily damaged, a damaged scope left the sniper with a very expensive club!
Moreover, the scope wasn’t moisture resistant – a real problem in the South Pacific Campaigns. The Redfield “Junior” mount was nothing more than a commercial unit and the retaining screws reportedly loosened and fell out regularly, and replacements were difficult to obtain through the supply system. To ensure that the screws of our personal M1903A4 stayed put, we removed them and put Loctite on them. Moreover, the gross elevation of the Redfield mount was adjusted by inserting or removing shims.
We had to shim the mount on our M1903A4 in order to properly boresight and zero it, since it had never been fired when we purchased it. Initial windage was set by adjusting the large screws visible at the rear of the scope mount. Whatever shortcomings it might have had, the M1903A4 was the only version of the M1903 to have been manufactured at the factory as a sniper rifle. All others were field conversions. The M1903A4 was intended as a stopgap until the M1 Garand could be redesigned as a sniper rifle, but in the end only a very few M1C sniper rifles saw action in World War II, while the M1903A4 was used in every theater of operation throughout the war.
Because there was no way of predicting whether or not a M1903A3 being manufactured as an M1903A4 would deliver acceptable accuracy, all M1903A4s were marked, “US Remington Model 03A3,” but the markings were different from standard M1903A3s in that they were offset to the left so they would not be covered by the Redfield scope mount. The idea was that if the rifle wasn’t sufficiently accurate, open sights would be installed and the rifle issued as a standard M1903A3. Thus, there are no M1903A4s marked as such as far as we have been able to determine. We should also note that every M1903A4 was made by Remington. Smith Corona, the other M1903A3 manufacturer, didn’t make any M1903A4s.
Like all M1903A3s, the M1903A4 may be found with any number of variations. Most had four-groove barrels, but some two-groove barrels were fitted as is the case with our rifle. According to Major General Julian Hatcher, probably the foremost authority on early- to mid-20th Century military small arms, the two-groove barrel had little, if any, negative effect on accuracy.
In the case of our M1903A4, we have to agree, since it has a two-groove barrel and delivers very good accuracy. M1903A4 stocks were generally the Type C full pistol grip, but many, like ours, were fitted with the semi-pistol grip “scant grip.” About the only constants were the lack of open sights, the unusual markings, the bolt handle that was forged with a concave shape to clear the telescopic sight and the stock notched to accommodate the non-standard bolt handle.