American Rifleman - April 2011 - 72

militAry model 70

The "Rifleman's Rifle,"
fitted with an 8X Unertl, was used
by the military in long-range competition,
then eventually by Marines in Vietnam.

Shortly after the government acquired these rifles,
Winchester reported that "all .30 Government 06
Rifles are now frozen under War Production Board
Limitation Orders." The company obviously wanted to
sell as many of the Model 70s remaining in its inventory as possible. To this end, Winchester sent a letter
to the U.S. Marine Corps Quartermaster on July 20,
1942, indicating it had 1,944 "Model 70 .30 Government 06 Rifles on hand, which we can offer you subject
to prior sale." Most of these rifles had 24" barrels, but
there were 105 with 20" barrels. The letter, signed by
Winchester's Edwin Pugsley, concluded: "It occurs
to us that the Marine Corps may be interested in an
additional quantity of [these] rifles at this time and
shall be glad to submit quotation if you will advise us
what styles and quantities you may be interested in."
About a week after this letter, the Marine Corps
firmly closed the door on the acquisition of any additional Model 70 rifles. A memo dated July 29, 1942,
stated in part: "Subject: Rifles, Winchester, Model 70,
.30 Government 06. The subject rifles are not considered suitable for general service use for the following reasons: (a) Not sufficiently sturdy;(b) Parts are
not interchangeable with M1903 and M1 parts; (c)
Replacement parts will be difficult to procure; (d) Not
fitted with sling swivels. These rifles are not considered suitable for use as sniper rifles. The 1047 rifles,
U.S., caliber .30, M1903, 'Snipers Equipment' on hand
at this Depot ... are believed to be superior to the subject rifle both in accuracy and durability ... ."
The Marine Corps clearly believed that the existing
Model 1903, "tuned" to match grade, was a superior
sniping rifle as compared to the Model 70. This is
debatable. Regardless, the fact that there were a number of Model 1903 Marine Corps match rifles, along
with spare parts, already on-hand resulted in the
idea of a standardized Model 70 sniping rifle being
doomed from the start.
Despite the Marine Corps' firm rejection of the Model
70, some of these rifles did, in fact, serve overseas in combat, albeit on an unofficial basis. Sniper historian Peter
R. Senich reported: "[A]ccording to firsthand accounts, a
fair number of unauthorized telescope-equipped 'personal and Marine Corps property' Model 70s brought

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the reality of war to Japanese combat personnel during
the early stages of World War II in the South Pacific." The
U.S. Army also procured a limited number of Model 70
rifles during World War II, but little is known about their
subsequent utilization, and it appears they saw virtually
no actual use.
The end of World War II essentially spelled the end
of the bolt-action as a front-line U.S. military service
rifle, but its inherent accuracy was too important an
attribute to totally abandon, and bolt guns enjoyed a
new lease on life as sniping rifles. The Korean War was
the last conflict in which the World War II-vintage boltaction M1903A1/Unertl sniper rifle was employed.
During the closing stages of the war, the M1903A1/
Unertl was replaced by the semi-automatic Garand
M1C sniper rifle, which was soon followed by the M1D.
These two Garand sniper rifles were the mainstay of
the U.S. military's sniper rifle inventory until the early
1960s when the United States became increasingly
involved in the conflict in Southeast Asia.
The Springfield M1903A1 rifle fitted with an 8X
Unertl scope was the only bolt-action sniping rifle to
see any substantive use in the hands of U.S. Marines
during the Korean War. The U.S. Army fielded some
World War II-vintage M1903A4 bolt-actions but relied
primarily on the semi-automatic M1C Garand. As
was the case during World War II, the Marine Corps
considered procuring some Winchester Model 70
rifles for sniping use in Korea, but these results were
the same as before. A 1951 U.S. Marine Corps report
on the subject categorically rejected the procurement of any new Model 70 sniper rifles: "There is
no Marine Corps requirement for a special rifle for
use by snipers in the Marine Corps. It is undesirable
to inject another rifle into the supply system, and
if another rifle is injected into the supply system, it
is necessary to inject non-standard ammunition for
this rifle into the supply system in order to exploit
fully any gain in accuracy. The U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30,
M1C is sufficiently accurate for use by snipers in the
Marine Corps."
Despite this rebuff, the Marine Corps report went
on to state that "[the] Model 70 Winchester is the most
accurate American made, Caliber .30 on the market."
Photo by James O.E. Norell. Maj. Edward J. Land, Jr., collection.


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American Rifleman - April 2011

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