M14 Forum banner
1 - 20 of 26 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
420 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello All,

I don't happen to own such a rifle. I know that if I did, it would need to remain a wall hanger and never be shot because to do so would invite instant destruction.

The statement above is the conventional wisdom of regarding these rifles. What is reality? My understanding is that SOME of these rifles were manufactured incorrectly and were heat treated improperly. The result is a receiver that fails catastrophically and may seriously injure the shooter.

I find it very hard to believe that ALL rifles of this era were manufactured improperly and that the process was only revised because SOME rifles were faulty.

What are the safety issues of firing the early guns? There are many Mausers and Lee-Enfields and Mosin Nagants from this time that are still serviceable.

Another question is regarding the early bolts (straight handle). I have not heard of bolt failures, I have only heard of Receiver failures. Does that mean that the bolts did not have systemic problems?

Thanks.
- Ivan.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
8,705 Posts
It is an issue with the heat treatment. Some receivers were heated treated to an elevated temperature that caused the material to become brittle. This caused failures in integrity upon firing. The heat treatment process was performed and controlled by eye. The varying temperature in the manufacturing facility caused the coloration to be off and the operators erred in allowing the receivers to get too hot, making them brittle. Not enough detail in records were available to allow poor receivers to be identified. I would never shoot a receiver with too low a serial number to have been heat treated with proper quality controls. You only have one set of eyeballs and hands. There are recorded fatalities associated with low serial number rifles coming apart. Not many, but one is enough for me. Plenty of injuries as well. I believe some effort was made to double heat treat some, but others remained in inventory.

This is what I understand was the issues at hand.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
116 Posts
I had an early number RIA 1903. Before I knew what I had, I used to shoot it on a regular basis. Not only did it never give me any trouble, but it was a tack driver. However, once I heard about the potential problems, I stopped shooting it and eventually sold it. Some say that certain ammunition was just as much/more to blame than the receivers. I don't know. What I do know, is that I've never won the powerball lottery, but the odds are a lot better on winning the "kaboom" lottery, so I decided not to chance it.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
6,600 Posts
If you do your research... you will learn that it is a legitimate concern and a few soldiers lost eyes/were injured when the receivers shattered. Furthermore, some early bolts were improperly heat treated as well. Not worth the risk.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
79 Posts
I wasn't there so I only know what I read and here goes:

The cause of the "brittle" receivers was explained pretty well by hammonje. Also, the number of receivers so treated was probably relatively small, but there was no way to know which were good and which were bad. However, the receiver did not "shatter" upon firing--they shattered when a cartridge case failed and allowed hot, high-pressure gas to escape back into the receiver.

A properly treated receiver will allow some give or stretch if it exposed to an overpressure condition. If, however it is too hard it will shatter. What I am trying to say is that with proper ammunition, properly headspaced rifle, no bore obstructions, etc...that these early rifles will not shatter any quicker than the later rifles.

HOWEVER...cartridges do fail, primers do fail, barrels do get obstructed. In these high-pressure situations SOME early receivers are much more likely to let go than later ones. And when they let go it is probably not pretty.

The 03 design in general did not provide a lot of support for the cartridge head and also did not provide a lot of places for the hot gas to go in the event of a case failure. That pressure had to go somewhere. One nice feature of the Mauser design is that the pressure from a failed cartridge is vented through two large holes in the bolt down into the magazine. I once had a case let go in a Mauser 98 and it blew the magazine floor plate off, bulged the magazine and split the stock into. But, it worked as designed and vented the gas off as it should. The 03 does not vent this well, hence the "Hatcher hole".

Personally, I own an early 03 and I regularly shoot it with low-power cast handloads. I know the headspace is good, inspect my brass regularly and am willing to take this chance. However, I would not shoot regular loads in this rifle. That is what my later 03 is for!

daveboy
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,679 Posts
Sometimes people trying to sell a < 800,000 Springfield or a RIA below, IIRC, 280,000, will say it "went back through" heat treatment, therefore it's OK to shoot. That's gun show talk, urban legend. There was NO "back through." The weapons were supposed to have been withdrawn from service and the receivers scrapped. Obviously, some slipped by.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
24 Posts
There was even a 1903 noted to have shattered when dropped. These early rifles withthe type of steel and faulty heat treat are a timebomb and I would not be so sure to just say a ruptured case is the only way it can happen . An excerpt from a report of jul/aug 1928 by Lt.J.E.McInerny : "It has been found that the heat treatment which was given these low numbered receivers did not render them sufficiently strong and ductile to be satisfactory under abnormal pressure conditions." -----
" Under Normal conditionsthese receivers had been found satisfactory , but as soon as there was a departure from the normal it was found that they were too near the allowable safe limit".
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
420 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Hello All,

Perhaps I didn't really state my question properly. Other than the fatalities from receiver failures, I don't see anything here I have not read some place before. (I thought that all accidents were non-fatal.)

There is no question that the heat treatment of the low number receivers may not have been properly done for SOME rifles. A few of them failed. A few high number receivers failed as well though not necessarily in the same manner. My understanding is that the overly high heat would cause alloying elements to precipate.

My assumption here is that this method of heat treatment was designed to produce a serviceable receiver. If done properly, the resulting product should be good.

The real question is: Why do we condemn ALL of the receivers of this time period as being improperly manufactured?

As for handling of overpressure rounds, I know that the Cone Breech which in theory helps feeding leaves a lot of brass unsupported. If the brass case fails, there is generally a lot of damage even if the receiver holds.

Also, has there ever been a bolt failure? If so, what happens? I can see receivers fracturing under tension, but do bolts fail under compression?

- Ivan.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
51 Posts
All low numbers are "condemned" because it is impossible to tell which are good versus which are bad.

If you find a copy of "Hatcher's Notebooks" (there are free copies online), you'll find an exhaustive discussion on the subject by someone who was there (Julian Hatcher-ordnance officer) as well as a comprehensive list of all known failures. Fascinating reading, a great book and all your questions will be answered by the authority in the field.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
420 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
All low numbers are "condemned" because it is impossible to tell which are good versus which are bad.

If you find a copy of "Hatcher's Notebooks" (there are free copies online), you'll find an exhaustive discussion on the subject by someone who was there (Julian Hatcher-ordnance officer) as well as a comprehensive list of all known failures. Fascinating reading, a great book and all your questions will be answered by the authority in the field.
I have had a copy of Hatcher's Notebook on my shelf for almost two decades and have read most of it including the section about low number Springfields. The thing that makes me wonder is why we "condemn" these rifles when high number receivers have also blown up as have many other kinds of guns..... I have no stake in this. I don't even own one. This just does not make logical sense to me considering the number of blow-ups there have been.

- Ivan.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,994 Posts
They were all "condemned" because the army concluded there was no economical method to check each rifle with certainty to determine whether it was good or bad. This was during the 1920's and 1930's and the army had a huge stock of M1917 rifles in war reserve, development was well under way for a self-loading rifle to replace the M1903, and the army saw no reason to spend money checking M1903 rifles for the problem. They instead chose to pull from service those rifles remaing that were in the questionable serial number range. Keep in mind that there had been combat losses of these rifles during the Punitive Expedition and The Great War and every other skirmish, so they were not actually pulling 1,000,000 rifles from service, only what remained from the low serial number range.

Do keep in mind that the "Raggedy Assed" Marines, who even today never throw away anything, ran their own ordnance system and made their own decisions about the single heat treated rifles and a lot of them were kept in service. Many years ago I had a passing conversation with a then very old former Marine who had been in the Corps during the between-the-war years and had experience with the low number rifles. The Corps elected to develop just the type program you speak of to determine which of the rifles were faulty and which were not. They utilized the highest scientific testing available to them (keep in mind that Marines are very innovative!) and decided the best method was to remove the action from the stock, take out the bolt, and then with a heavy hammer strike the receiver two solid blows. If it was improperly heat treated it would be brittle and the hammer blows would cause the receiver to shatter. Those receivers that shattered were obviously "withdrawn from service" and those that passed the test continued in service. This is not a story, this is what he actually told me. To the best of my knowledge, low number M1903 rifles continued in service in the Corps right up until they were replaced by the M1 Rifle.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
420 Posts
Discussion Starter · #12 ·
From what I have read elsewhere, this isn't quite what happened. The rifles were NOT pulled from service. They just were not issued again if they came in for arsenal repair. They were kept as war reserve and were given to allies who needed rifles.

The above was for the Army. The Marines never pulled them at all until replaced by the M1 Garand.

As I see it, rifles blow up for various reasons. Generally it is by mistreatment of some kind. Even "known good" types blow up under some conditions. Why do we single out the Low Number Springfield for special treatment?

There is still the question of M1903 bolts. Are any considered unsafe and have any actually failed? If so, in what manner did they fail?

- Ivan.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,828 Posts
reading all of this AFTER i bought a 500.000 range 03, great. it needs a new stock, (the one on it is sporterized), re-blued, and the rear sight is gone. was looking for advise on going about getting it fixed up, not original but put together the way it was. now i'm having doubts if its even worth the trouble if i cant shoot it.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,945 Posts
Here is the realty with these things.

That last low number receiver failure was before WWII.

The Marines took the low numbers and beat the feck out of them in places like Guadalcanal.

If it's not blown up in 100 years of hard shooting, it's not going to blow up..

All the suspect receivers have been weeded out by now.

Keep in mind all the KRAGS were heat treated the same way, and no one worries about them.
 

·
Retired
Joined
·
4,824 Posts
I know of only one supposedly "high numbered" '03 that broke and it was serial #801,540, just after the 800,000 assumed safe range for the new double heat treatment. It could have been an older billet left over, or the dates were off by a day or two from the assumed changeover, as Springfield Armory was making over 1K receivers per day.

I have read there were a total of 6 injuries, no fatalities, with receivers blowing up. The cause was usually from bad brass that failed, greasing or putting lube on bullets causing very high pressures, or firing a 8mm Mauser forced into the chamber by mistake.

As for case hardened bolts failing, yes, they failed too. There was a report of an Airman in the early 1960's that put an old case hardened bolt in his "match rifle" to smoothen up the action. That bolt failed, and when it shattered, even the bolt handle broke off and the handle doesn't even bear on anything !!! That Airman lost an eye.

One would assume that time has weeded out the really faulty receivers, but the case hardening heat treatment, even if done correctly, did not leave a real big margine of safety compared to the improved double heat treatment. If I were to shoot these old low numbered rifles, I would be sure of good brass and shoot mild handloads and the best eye protection available. There are enough high numbered '03's around as well as many 03-A3's that to me the risk isn't worth taking. I recommend preserving these old war horses as the fine piece of history that they are, and not shoot them.
 
  • Like
Reactions: MrJitters

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,828 Posts
this is a old thread so i dont mind taking it over, hope nobody else does either.

i got it for 250 so i thought i was doing good, but i bought it to be a shooter, while i like wall hangers i dont collect them, so should i fix this thing up and shoot it or get my money back? i handload for my m1's so i have plenty of mild 30/06 (150gr. moving around 2550fps going by hornady load data)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,827 Posts
If the barrel is an original military barrel that has not been altered you could just find a high number receiver and build the rifle on that. I personally would not shoot a low numbered 03. GI3
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
946 Posts
BESIDES the FACT that there isn't a single documented LN "failure" since (well) BEFORE 1940...(*EDIT* using NORMAL GI, commercial ammo, or sane reload--shooting accidently loaded pistol powder reloads, bore blockages, etc. will blow up ANY rifle).

as well as the FACT that the USMC used LN rifles extensively in combat conditions (mostly on Guadalcanal), and that ...

many LN rifles have 1942, 43, 44 dated barrels on them...

So AFTER having the crap shot out of them for decades...

these same receivers were then RE-barreled and then fired TWO (2) proofing rounds (around 69Kpsi IIRC), therefore...

I will take my "chances" and continue to shoot my LN rifle (with 1944 HS barrel).
 
1 - 20 of 26 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.
Top