American Rifleman - August 2017 - 52
GUNS OF THE DEVIL DOGS
The next day, June 6, 1918, long lines of Marines
charged into the fire from spitting muzzles of German
Maxim machine guns, as the Battle of Belleau Wood began.
More Marines lost their lives on that day than had died
in combat during the preceding 120 years of the Marine
Corps' existence. The battle raged for weeks, and many
more Marines died, until Belleau Wood was finally declared
secure-but this was only the first of a series of five major
battles that Marines fought on the Western Front in France
during the following six months. The Marines fought these
battles mostly with the same small arms and crew-served
arms that were also being employed by the U.S. Army, but
with a few exceptions.
Foremost in the Marine Corps' arsenal was the
.30-'06-chambered Model of 1903 Springfield rifle.
Although Marines would not again have the opportunity
to engage the enemy at such ranges as they had at Les
Mares farm, they used their Springfield rifles to great
effect until the Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. Marines had
begun trading in their .30 Army (.30-40) Krag-Jorgensens
for this new rifle as early as 1908, which coincided with
the year that saw the Corps' interest increase in competitive marksmanship. Within a short period of time, Marines
were winning interservice matches with the rifle, and
they began to form almost a cult reverence for the '03
Springfield, as it began to be called. Based on a boltaction Mauser design, the gun was shorter than the Krag,
and, like the British Short, Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE),
it was one of the world's first "universal-issue" shoulder
arms issued to infantry, cavalry and support troops, rather
than being provided a carbine for mounted troopers and
artillerymen, and a long rifle for infantry.
The '03 rifle fired five rounds of .30 U.S. ball ammunition from its internal box magazine. It could be sighted for
up to 2,700 yds., with a sliding, graduated rear sight that
had both an open notch and a round aperture, as well as a
flat "battle sight" set at 547 yds. The rear sight also had a
dial that was set for increments of 4.4" for every 100 yds.
of distance, in order to compensate laterally for windage.
The combination of this rear sight and the thin-bladed
front sight was a competitive shooter's dream. The .30-'06
cartridge, now with a 150-gr. pointed (spitzer) jacketed
bullet, had replaced the earlier .30-'03 version, with its
round-nosed 220-gr. bullet, and it now generated a velocity
of 2,800 feet per second (f.p.s.).
While many U.S. Army units (mainly "draftee divisions") were issued the stopgap .30-cal. Model of 1917 U.S.
"Enfield" rifle, the Marine Corps, aside from using a few
Enfield rifles for training at the Marine Corps' new base
at Quantico, Va., and at various posts in the Caribbean,
almost exclusively used Springfield rifles. Common knowledge since World War I among Marines has been that the
4th Brigade carried only Springfields, but in recent years,
documentary evidence has been found to the contrary. In a
response to an inquiry after the war, the commanding officer of the 5th Marines' Supply Company, and later brigade
quartermaster, Bennett Puryear, Jr., asserted that Marines
of both the 5th and 6th Regiments were issued both
Springfields and Enfields. However, the lack of Enfields
in any extant photographs of Marines in Europe, or any
Unlike some later Marine rifles, there are no distinguishing
characteristics of M1903 Springfields that were issued to
Marines during World War I. The serial number of the rifle
that Lee found falls halfway between the serial number
of Pruitt's rifle and the rifle (serial number 606483) that
was issued to another recipient of the Medal of Honor,
Ernest A. Janson, a.k.a. "Charles F. Hoffman" (another
interesting tale from the Corps!). Further research, in
archival files and records, is needed to determine which
rifles actually saw service with the Devil Dogs.
Photos by Forrest MacCormack;
Glenn E. Hyatt collection