Untangling Our Military Triad From The Early 1900s
Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos: Yvonne Venturino
In the time span between 1892 and 1906 the US Army adopted three .30 caliber cartridges for their various infantry rifles. Two also became popular among we civilian shooters and the third just sort of faded away. Despite popularity there was — and remains — some confusion about the names these cartridges received.
Those rifles started with the .30 Army. The first was a Model 1892, then Models 1896 and 1898. This is regarding infantry rifles. A Model 1899 carbine was also developed. This new smokeless round used a rimmed, bottlenecked case of 2.314″ in length with 220-gr. roundnose bullets of 0.308″ diameter. The .30 Army case is an obvious copy of Great Britain’s .303, with one significant difference. For some reason our ordnance people decided on a true .30-caliber bore in the rifles, with rifling groove depth of 0.30″. Almost all the rest of the world’s militaries determined their “.30 caliber” rifles needed a 0.303″ bore with 0.311″ groove diameter, or thereabouts.
The evolution of early US military cartridges include (from left) the .30-40 Krag, .30-03 and the classic .30-06.
These samples show how headstamps changed minutely when ammunition manufacturers were
producing loads for both the .30-03 and the .30-06.
Today, in civilian sporting parlance, the .30 Army round is labeled as the .30-40 Krag and is how the headstamp reads. I don’t know exactly when this current headstamp became standard. My modest cartridge collection has a WRA (Winchester Repeating Arms) factory load labeled “.30 Army.” Also there’s a Remington/Union Metallic Cartridge headstamped round stamped “.30 USA” which I think means United States Army and not United States of America.
A mere 11 years after the first .30 caliber, the second American military .30 was introduced as the chambering for the brand new US Model 1903 “Springfield.” Now cartridge configuration was made rimless as pioneered by Germany 15 years previously but it retained the bottleneck and .308″ bullet diameter. Case length was 2.54″ and the standard bullet was 230-gr. roundnose. As best I can determine the military referred to this new round as “.30 Government Model of 1903.”
It lasted only three years and was replaced with the third .30 caliber American military cartridge, the “US Model of 1906.” The same case form was used except case necks were shortened so overall case length was now 2.494″. Bullet weight was 150 grains, spitzer in shape. In the 1920s bullet weight was increased to 172 grains but again was reduced to 150 grains prior to American involvement in World War II.
Here’s an interesting fact to ponder. With the first Model 1903 “Springfield” chambering velocity was in the 2,300 fps range with 230-gr. bullets. The new 1906 round with 150-gr. bullet clocked more than 2,700 fps. That looks like modern performance to me!
Even though new 1906 cartridges would chamber in rifles made for the .30-03, all the thousands of Model 1903 rifles already in circulation were recalled. At Springfield Armory their barrels were cut off slightly at the rear and then re-chambered for the new shorter cartridge.
Which early US military round was based on the British .303? Extra points if you know what the
differences were. An early Enfield with a Springfield. Sisters?
Today the civilian market calls the third .30 caliber version .30-06 Springfield. But in its early days what was it headstamped? What were early rifles chambered for it and its .30-03 predecessor labeled? Winchester’s Model 1895 lever gun was chambered for all three rounds. A perusal of The Winchester Book by George Madis says first came the .30 Army (.30-40 Krag) and last came the .30 US (.30-06). But the book is vague about the .30-03. Sometimes it mentions a .30 Government, which I take to mean .30-03, but so few were made I’ve never actually seen a Winchester Model 1895 .30-03.
Winchester Repeating Arms ammunition is stamped “.30 G-1903.” Remington-UMC is marked “.30-1903” with no G for government. Then with the advent of what we call .30-06, Winchester Repeating Arms simply changed their headstamp to read “.30 G-1906.” Now it’s uniformly .30-06 SPRG.
And that’s the basic story on the first three American military .30 caliber cartridges. If in doubt what ammo you’re about to stick in a rifle whose caliber marking you are unsure of, then do some research before shooting. Or you just might get a surprise!