Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons has recently published a series of videos on the sniper rifles used by the US Army and US Marine Corps in World Wars One and Two. One of the more interesting observations was that the Army had to start from scratch in WWII while the Marine Corps, who supposedly never throws anything away, pulled stuff out of storage.
From his WWI description:
The United States had two primary types of sniper rifles during World War One, although both were based on the M1903 Springfield rifle.
The most common optic used was the Warner & Swasey “Telescopic Musket Sight”, a rather clumsy prismatic optic mounted on the left side of the rifle, on a detachable rail. The model 1908 W&S offered 6 power magnification, which was reduced to 5.2x in the 1913 model in an effort to increase field of view. These optics were also used on the M1909 Benet-Mercie light machine gun.
The second type is the Winchester A5 scope, an excellent commercial scope available at the time. Although usually associated with the US Marine Corps, several hundred of these were also issued by the Army. The A5 was a much more tradition type of optic, mounted centrally above the bore and preferred by competitive marksmen.
The third rifle we are looking at in this video is a very interesting example of a competitive rifle from the pre-WWI period. It is a 1903 Springfield fitted with a commercial A5 scope and Mann bases. This is the sort of rifle that would have been used by the career military shooters for competition, and would likely have accompanied many such men overseas in the American Expeditionary Force. Woe to the German who found himself in the sights of such a man with a rifle like this!
From the bolt-action sniper rifles of WWII:
The primary sniper rifle used by the United States in World War II was the M1903A4 Springfield, a version of the exisiting 1903A3 with the iron sights removed and replaced with a Weaver 330C scope (adopted by the military as the M73B1). This was a low-power optic, but was centrally mounted on the rifle to avoid and of the windage issues caused by prismatic scopes.
The 1903A4 was the US’ first truly mass-produced sniper rifle, with more than 28,000 being manufactured during just two years of the war (1943-44). The rifle was taken out of production when the M1C sniper adaptation of the Garand was formally adopted, although production of the M1C would be delayed until the end of the war. The 1903A4 would remain in service after WWII, with later scopes being approved as replacements for the M73B1 (in this video, we will take a look at one equipped with an M84, the optic adopted for the later M1D).
The US Marine Corps, of course, had to be a bit different, and adopted their own sniper rifle variant in 1941, a 1903A1 fitted with an 8 power Unertl scope. These scopes were a tradeoff, being significantly more fragile than the M73B1, but also being much better for long range precision shooting. The USMC, taking much pride in their culture of marksmanship, was happy to make that trade, and the rifles served well throughout the war.
While the Army did adopt the M1C Garand semi-automatic rifle for sniping in 1944, according to Ian it never saw action during the war. It would make its debut in action during the Korean War.
Thanks to Ian for doing these histories of US sniping rifles as used during the world wars. If you want to help support the work he does, he has set up a Patreon account which can be found here.