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Everyone knows from reading the books that all low number M1903's aren't safe, and all high numbers are. But when you read the actual Marine and Army documents there is another side to this story. I'm not telling anyone to go fire their low number, or their high number for that matter. I'm just trying to provide the actual evidence that I saw in the documents.

The Marine Corps policy on low numbers did change over the years. The Marines usually would follow Army Ordnance policy on most regulations and did research the low number controversy many times over the years, wondering if they should retire them from service for safety reasons. But each time the evidence just didn't back up the claims, and they decided against removing them from service.

1926 The Main policy was to not fire rifle grenades from them. This is the first and only real restriction that is ever placed on low numbers by the Marines.

16 March 1927 Very few receivers are un-serviceable.

27 May 1927 No reports of low numbers failing.

Feb 4 1931 The Marines even say this might be a political reason that the Army Arsenals were in need of work during the Great Depression.

29 April 1931 A company commander requested all high number M1903's stating he wanted them all to be high number, so all could be used to fire rifle grenades. This was the response.

Fall 1938: A Marine representative is sent to Springfield Armory to learn to drill the Hatcher hole and enlarge the gas escape hole in the bolt as a safety precaution. All fixtures and tooling is purchased from SA. At this time the Marines start to drill the Hatcher hole in all receivers of rifles going in for rebuild, as they have had some failures of high number receivers with Marines being hurt. The only actual Marine that I can detail who was hurt by a grenading receiver was hurt by a high number.

1938 With the failures of some high number receivers, it is decided to rockwell hardness test all receivers coming in for rebuild. What they learned is many of both high and low numbers were failing the rockwell hardness test.

20 Sept 1939 One re-occuring theme in the Marine docs is the average low number receiver tested would not fail till around a 100,000 PSI. This is the math that is discussed often when they talk of these receivers being safe. They also at this time decide as long as they can survive a proof firing all restrictions will be lifted on low number receivers. This includes the limitations on firing rifle grenades from low numbers. They also discontinue Rockwell hardness testing in 1939 because they say it isn't necessary as the proof firing is a safer test of reliability. And the Hatcher hole and enlarged gas hole in the bolt have been an added measure of safety on all receivers going in for rebuild.

Also in the same report it details that few if ANY receivers have been wrecked by VB rifle grenades.

There is never a mention of the low number controversy past 1939 by the Marines, and in total I can only document a handful of receivers actually failing. Which several of them were high number receivers.

Another view of this was commented on by Winchester. It is not well known, but other than US Armories, WRA was on the verge of producing M1903's in 1917. They were trying to win the Government contact to produce the rifle that was first offered in 1916 to commercial makers. If the war had been postponed probably even 6 months, you would have most likely seen Winchester M1903's and not the WRA M1917's. WRA's opinion on this should be very highly respected as no one in the commercial market knew the M1903 more than WRA. This is what WRA thought of the issues of the receivers failing in France.

Finally after the Army policy in the 1930's to scrap all low number receivers that came in for rebuild. You see a shift in policy. These 2 documents are courtesy of Andrew Stolinksi of Archival Research Group. You can join Andrew's website and research thousands of documents yourself and come to your own conclusion on this topic and many more. There are a lot of new and very interesting discoveries in those docs. I would highly recommend it.

A link to Andrew's webpage.

1943- A letter written by Hatcher Himself.

1944, Army Ordnance declares all low numbers safe for normal ammo.

I am going through a lot of my Marine documents right now and if I find more docs I will post them as I find them.

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Excellent research and summary. Thanks for posting!
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