American Rifleman - November 2019 - 60

WWII SNIPER

the excess Unertl USMC Sniper scopes were sold as surplus
after the war, and there are a number of standard M1903A1
rifles seen today that have been fitted with the scopes by
civilian owners to create fake sniper rifles. If the work was
properly done, it can be difficult to differentiate a genuine example from a well-done forgery-an example found
today without convincing documentation should be worth
no more than the sum value of its parts.

M1903A1/Unertl Combat Use

While the Unertl telescope was great for Camp Perry,
it was not designed for rough wartime use, and there
were criticisms leveled regarding its robustness. That said,
according to Senich, "By any measure, it was a superb
sight, with the only genuine question being its durability for sustained use in a combat environment." Despite
any deficiencies, either real or imaged, noted riflescope
authority and outdoorsman Bob Bell perhaps said it best;
"It was, theoretically, too long, too fragile, too whatever. But
infantrymen and Marines-and even Navy sharpshooters at
times-went on aiming with it and squeezing them off, and
enemy soldiers kept dropping. It's hard to argue with results
like that."
A Marine scout-sniper combat veteran of the Pacific,
who saw action on Tarawa, Saipan and Tinian with the 2nd
Marine Division, succinctly stated the following regarding his M1903A1/Unertl sniper rifle: "We found it quite
adequate. We found no faults with the scope."
Despite these positive comments, the M1903A1s with
Unertl scopes were not popular with many of the initial
users. Documents indicate the 1st Marine Division at
Cape Gloucester was unable to make effective use of its
M1903A1/Unertl sniper rifles due to the climate and terrain. Also, the after action report of a Raider battalion that
used the rifles on New Georgia Island between July and
August 1943 stated that the rifles "... had no value." It is
possible, however, that this memo was actually referring to
M1903s with the Lyman/Winchester scopes.
Regardless, this and other negative reports were given
a lot of credence by the Marine Corps hierarchy, and the
M1903A1/Unertl sniper rifle soon fell out of favor. Plans
were made to adopt the Army's M1903A4 sniper rifle
instead. A Feb. 16, 1944, memo from the commandant to
the quartermaster stated: "The Unertl, 8X, sniper telescope
has not proved effective in combat. Accordingly, you are
requested to cancel existing contracts for this item. Upon
exhaustion of depot stocks of Unertl telescopes, please take
steps to substitute the rifle U.S. cal. .30, M1903A4 (Sniper's)
equipped with Sight, Telescopic Assembly (Weaver 330C)."
Despite the desire to replace the M1903A1/Unertl rifles
with the Army's M1903A4s, the former sniper rifles remained
in active use throughout the war. It seems a bit odd that
the Marines' rather abrupt reversal of policy regarding the
Unertl sniper telescope changed after just a single after
action report by the Raider battalion on New Georgia. The
Chronological History Of The Sniper Rifle proffered the following rationale: "As so often happens, it appears that the

60

NOVEMBER 2019

experiences of one unit in one operation: this is, [the]
Raider Battalion at New Georgia, have been sufficient to
effectively damn a piece of equipment. The Unertl 8X scope
evidently procured early in the war because it appeared, at
that time, to answer the requirements. Because the Unertl
scope was not satisfactory does not mean all scope-fitted
rifles are useless for Marine Corps operations. The 1st
Division at Cape Gloucester was unable to use scope-fitted
rifles because of climate and terrain. The 2nd Division at
Saipan used scope-fitted rifles very effectively."
The success of the M1903A1/Unertl sniper rifle in
the later campaigns, such as Saipan and Peleliu, occurring almost a year after the unsatisfactory experiences
on New Georgia, mitigated the Marine Corps' insistence
on changing to the Army's M1903A4 as soon possible. A
Marine captain reported the following: "Success with the
'03A1/Unertl on Saipan and Peleliu during 1944 helped
change official opinion. The more open terrain had favored
employment of snipers with a long-range capability and the
feedback to HQMC by early 1945 was considerably better
than it had been. Another factor was the Army's successful
development of a telescope mounting system for the M1,
the M1C, which gave snipers a semi-automatic capability.
This eliminated the tell-tale movement required for operating the bolt on the '03 to chamber a second round should
another shot be necessary. The USMC was testing the M1C
against the '03A4 as the war ended. Meanwhile, snipers
using the '03A1/Unertls ... were being employed with great
success on Okinawa. These developments apparently led to
the official reinstatement of snipers and their equipment in
the Marine Corps organizations late in the war."
The later success of the M1903A1/Unertl sniper rifle
and the unavailability of M1903A4 or M1C rifles resulted
in the former being the primary USMC sniper rifle through
the end of World War II. An archival Marine Corps document
reads: "In April, 1945, the QM General recommended that all
M1903A1 sniper rifles, scopes, and associated equipment be
disposed of as excess property. He stated that 1,750 scopes
and 2,565 carrying cases had been delivered by Unertl,
and that approximately 975 scopes remained on hand in
depot stocks. There were also approximately 800 M1903A1
rifles in depot stocks that had been or were scheduled to
be equipped with scope blocks. He further stated that 100
of these rifles were being delivered to the Navy for use in
minesweeping operations. The chief of Plans and Policies Div.
concurred in these recommendations."
Some of these M1903A1/Unertl sniper rifles were
employed by U.S. Navy sharpshooters onboard ships to
explode floating mines. While the Marines did acquire some
M1C rifles after World War II and used a number in the
Korean War, a surprising number of M1903A1/Unertl sniper
rifles also saw service in Korea in the 1950-1953 period.
While not used in large numbers as compared to other
U.S. small arms of World War II-such as the M1 rifle, M1
carbine or BAR-the Marine M1903A1/Unertl sniper rifle
is an impressive arm and was arguably the best American
sniping rifle of the war.
AMERICAN RIFLEMAN



American Rifleman - November 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Rifleman - November 2019

Contents
American Rifleman - November 2019 - Cover1
American Rifleman - November 2019 - Cover2
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 1
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 2
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 3
American Rifleman - November 2019 - Contents
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 5
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 6
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 7
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 8
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 9
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 10
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 11
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 12
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 13
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 14
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 15
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 16
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 17
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 18
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 19
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 20
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 21
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 22
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 23
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 24
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 25
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 26
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 27
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 28
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 29
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 30
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 31
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 32
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 33
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 34
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 35
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 36
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 37
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 38
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 39
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 40
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 41
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 42
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 43
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 44
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 45
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 46
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 47
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 48
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 49
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 50
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 51
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 52
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 53
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 54
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 55
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 56
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 57
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 58
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 59
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 60
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 61
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 62
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 63
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 64
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 65
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 66
American Rifleman - November 2019 - 67
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American Rifleman - November 2019 - Cover3
American Rifleman - November 2019 - Cover4
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