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Old 02-27-2014, 07:34 PM
tinydata tinydata is offline
Join Date: Jul 2012
Location: Corpus Christi, TX
Posts: 355
Default Marine marksmanship in WWI?

Does anyone have sources documenting Marine combat marksmanship in WWI?

Specifically, these two events:

1) Marines hit Germans at 800 yards with M1903 fire at Belleau Wood
2) A marksman was awarded the DSC for 1400 yard shots with a M1903 with an A5 scope

I've seen these claims on forums (and the first in some books)

One of my friends doesn't quite believe that M1903s could have been used for accurate, aimed fire at 800 yards. I pointed that George Farr fired 70 shots into a 36 inch bullseye in 1921, which is enough to make me believe that the rifles were plenty capable of the claims that I've heard.

I couldn't find anything online (other than forums) regarding this. While I don't doubt the truth behind the first one, I'd like some period sources to show my friend.
"As the troops used to say, 'If the country is good enough to live in, itís good enough to fight for.' With privilege goes responsibility."

-Eugene B. Sledge

Last edited by tinydata; 02-27-2014 at 10:07 PM. Reason: Long day...named the wrong battle!
Old 02-27-2014, 08:11 PM
dowell1865 dowell1865 is offline
Join Date: Feb 2013
Location: ky
Posts: 1,055

It was very easy front sight. Rear sight. Target. Squeeze trigger. Hit target/enemy.
Old 02-27-2014, 10:02 PM
stripper clip stripper clip is offline
Join Date: Nov 2010
Location: Illinois
Posts: 601

I believe the 800 yard marksmanship by the Marines notably took place at Belleau Wood rather than at Chateau Thierry. I have read a few accounts of this in various books, one of which is contained in The Two World Wars by Susanne Everett and Brigadier Peter Young. In this book, the authors cite that the Marines in a wheat field were killing Germans at 750 yards thee times out of five. Some accounts of the yardage vary; 500 yards, 750 yards, 800 yards. I suppose it varies from the physical vantage point of those who gave their accounts, as well as their individual ability to estimate distance. Whatever it was, I have read more than one account that estimates the yardage in the 700 to 800 yard range. For that matter, even a 500 yard kill shot in the heat of battle with an open sighted M1903 is no small feat. I can't provide you with other documented sources because I have read them from books found in the library, and I can not recall either title or author.

As you point out, George Farr did in fact use the M1903 Springfield at the National Matches in 1921. He was shooting with open sights at a target 1000 yards away.

Last edited by stripper clip; 02-27-2014 at 10:13 PM.
Old 02-27-2014, 10:07 PM
tinydata tinydata is offline
Join Date: Jul 2012
Location: Corpus Christi, TX
Posts: 355

Originally Posted by stripper clip View Post
I believe the 800 yard marksmanship by the Marines notably took place at Belleau Wood rather than at Chateau Thierry.
Thanks, long day name slip

I figure I'll dig out a book the next time I am near my bookshelf and that will have to suffice for him
"As the troops used to say, 'If the country is good enough to live in, itís good enough to fight for.' With privilege goes responsibility."

-Eugene B. Sledge
Old 02-28-2014, 04:40 AM
RVN 69-70 RVN 69-70 is offline
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 1,789
Default Quantico

FYI - anyone with basic knowledge and skills can utilize a 1903 and hit a man size target at 600 yards with iron sights....it is done routinely at Quantico matches by ole folks like me. Starts getting 'tuff' above that but.....I'm sure the WWI Marines had better eyes and practice then me.....and glass which I don't. JMHO
8th Field Hospital - Nha Trang
Old 02-28-2014, 08:24 AM
Emri Emri is offline
Join Date: Feb 2012
Location: Alabama
Posts: 444

Go to the Culvers Shooters Page, M1903 forums and look up Marine A5 Sniper. His specialty in research is WWI Marines. If documented evidence is to be had, he probably would have it or know where to get it.


Old 02-28-2014, 12:19 PM
Col. Colt Col. Colt is offline
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 316

During that time period the US Military had a device called a "Musketry Rule" - kind of a slide rule looking device that you held a measured distance from the eye and sighted through, that estimated range accurately. So a non-com or Officer could tell the entire firing line, with good accuracy, "Set for 800 yards!". The Marines were very practiced and proficient. Those sights were graduated with long ranges for a reason. Just because "modern" soldiers can't do it, doesn't mean it has not been done. CC
Old 02-28-2014, 03:35 PM
mustang7 mustang7 is offline
Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: Oneida County, New York
Posts: 406

Yes , from what I read the Germans could not believe they were being hit at the distance they had between them and the Marines. (800 yards)
Old 03-01-2014, 08:42 AM
DaveInGA DaveInGA is offline
Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: Jefferson, GA
Posts: 54

My Father, a WWII Marine who joined the Marines in 1939, trained with the 1903 Springfield rifle. Having grown up in Oklahoma Territory (Not the state, it didn't yet exist), he was a natural woodsman/hunter/shot. He described his training to me in great detail many times. I'll relay it here:

1. Significant work and practice with a bolt action .22 rimfire rifle that "looked just like a 1903 and was probably a 1903 converted into .22 by the armories." My guess is it was an M1922 rifle.
2. Signifcant amounts of work with sight boxes, etc. to improve the shooter's hold, sight picture, trigger squeeze and all other basics of rifle marksmanship.
3. NonCommissioned Officer's highly skilled in the "Art of the Rifle" did all of the training and were very demanding. Anything but perfection was not acceptable. (As a side note, my Father stated repeatedly and often the Marines at this time did NOT accept recruits that needed glasses. Perfect eye sight was a requirement to join and lack of it put the recruit into the reject column before he could join the Marine Corps.)
4. Actual range firing including firing at known distances out to ONE THOUSAND YARDS with the 1903 rifle. The target at this range was 36 inches, though my memory is not clear on whether that was the bulls eye or the entire target.
5. Proper use of the sling and slinged firing positions in the sitting, kneeling, standing and prone positions were taught. The sling was the M1907 and my Father described several versions, with brass and steel hooks.

So could the Marines have hit at 800 yards? From what my Father described of his training - absolutely. In fact, based on what he told me, this would be no great shakes for them to do with 1903 Springfields. The rifle, caliber and sights are certainly capable. All it would take would be a properly trained Marine with good eyesight. And based on who the men were that established the rifle marksmanship training my Father went through, I would say the Marines at Belleau Wood were not really challenged at that distance.

Could our current military men accomplish the same thing if their AR's were .308? Absolutely, with the right training. But the .223/5.56MM round doesn't have the power to reach out that far, so it's doubtful any but the snipers are trained to do so. Hence the current belief one needs a scope to hit something at that distance. It's sadly, simply ignorance of the "Art of the Rifleman."
Old 03-01-2014, 09:03 AM
ZvenoMan ZvenoMan is offline
Join Date: May 2011
Location: AL
Posts: 3,657

DaveinGA, great post, but consider this (regarding your last paragraph)
Sure the .30 is more effective past 600 than the .556, but wasn't part of the switch because WWII and Korea data showed the majority of engagements were less at those ranges and more in the 60-300 yard range? So, a smaller, lighter platform allows more ammo and is best optimized for that range?
I bet most soldiers in a jungle or CQB environment would pick an M4 over an M14 most days, but in the desert clearly it's another story. So why limit to one, when 2 (proven systems) are soooooooo much better.

Not wanting to open the .556 vs .30 debate, but now we train for the engagements we expect, and equip for them. We can re-equip for longer ranges (.30 platforms like the M14, etc.).
We don;t train for 600-1000 yards, but the skills remain in the inventory.
Sure, our current desert adventures have shown the value of retaining the capability for 600-1000+.
But my opinion is that the history shows the adoption of the .556 to have been a good decision. Had we retained the .30 platforms through SEA, Panama, etc. there would be some debate as well.
As long as we study the history, data, and technology and continue to adapt and have capabilities for different environments we will prevail, when we let politics, ego and $$$ decide, ouch......
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