World War II combat around the Pacific Rim from the…

World War II combat around the Pacific Rim from the South Pacific to Western Alaska saw the use of weapons not issued, or very sparingly issued, in the North African and European theaters. The Pacific theater was not a backwater war, but it was at the end of a longer and weaker supply line, and it was regarded as future business to be concluded after the fall of the European Axis powers. Simply put, the European theater got first crack at the better and newer weapons, and during the first part of the war American forces and their Allies in the Pacific took what they could get. The best thing that could be said about some of the ordnance sent to the Pacific was that it was available, and it was replaced as soon as better, or more universal, weapons could be provided. For this reason, there were some weapons issued there not seen elsewhere in the war. In addition, after the rape of Nanking, Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March and our captured pilots being butchered so the enemy could eat their livers, there was greater tolerance for using any weapon that would get the job done, such as shotguns and flame throwers, and ultimately the atomic bomb.

In this review of WWII American small arms used in the Pacific Theater, we will make note of some that are available today as arsenal-refinished or newly manufactured reproductions of the originals, of interest to historians, collectors and shooters.

The Pacific Theater covered a wider geographic area of American involvement over a longer period of combat than the war in Europe and Africa, and saw some of the greatest sea and air battles in history. It was also the stage for some of the most grueling land campaigns of the war, where a motivated, well-armed and capable enemy had to be rooted out one suicidal fighter at a time from superbly prepared defensive positions on island after island. Studying some of the inadequate tools our Leathernecks and GIs were issued brings to point the truism that ultimately it is the warrior and not the weapon that determines the outcome of extended infantry combat.

The war in the Pacific was against an enemy who believed that their death in battle would be immensely rewarded in the hereafter and who would therefore fanatically fight to the death, to the last man, with no quarter expected or given. This meant that infantry engagements would not be over merely because the enemy suffered catastrophic 20 percent casualties. Enemy personnel were motivated to die in battle rather than surrender, as a way to honor their Emperor who was also their god. Does this sound familiar?

Based on the M1898 Mauser bolt-action rifle, the U.S. M1903 Springfield rifle was first issued in caliber .30-03. Starting in 1906, Springfield barrels were set back and rechambered to the .30-06 cartridge that served the U.S. well through two major wars. In World War I the Springfield was supplemented by M1917 Enfield, because it was available. The M1903 Springfield served through WW II, even though superseded by the M1 Garand.

The basic M1903 went through various modifications and adaptations. They included the Mk I, an adaptation for the Pedersen semi-auto device that fired a unique pistol-type cartridge from a large box magazine; 20-round magazines in .30-06 that were intended to give it greater firepower for firing from WW I aircraft, and its WW II-era iteration as the M1903A3. The M1903A3 was further fitted with a bent bolt and scope to become the M1904A4 sniper rifle. (The M1903A1 was short-lived version ’03 with a Type C stock, the M1903A2 was a modified rifle for use as a tank spotting rifle.) While the M1903 had its sights on the barrel—arguably the finest sights ever put on a battle rifle—the rear sight of the ’03A3 was a peep sight mounted on the rear of the receiver. Most had 2-groove barrels. Although not the battle rifle the auto-loading Garand was, the Springfield was a superb rifle, better in caliber, quality and accuracy than the Japanese weapons it faced in the Pacific. During World War II 1.4 million M1903 variants were produced, mostly in the M1903A3 configuration with the receiver-mounted sight.

The M1903 weighed 8.6 pounds, was 43.9 inches long and had a 24-inch barrel. The fixed Mauser-type magazine held five rounds, and could be fed single rounds or via a 5-round stripper clip. The Springfield in both models was used throughout the Pacific, even after the Garand became available.

James River Armory, 3601 Commerce Drive Suite 110, Halethorpe, MD 21227 manufactures museum-quality arsenal-refinished Springfield 1903, 1903A1 and 1903A4 rifles: phone 410-242-6991 or email .

Trench warfare in World War I illustrated the need for massive short-range firepower, and the submachine gun was yet to be deployed, so existing M1897 12-gauge shotguns were cut back to a cylinder bore and fitted with a heat shield/bayonet mount that would accept the M1917 Enfield bayonet. The John Browning design served well in this role, and although they were superseded by the Model 1912, they continued to serve the U.S. military through the middle of the 20th Century, including WW II in the Pacific by Army and Marine forces, where it supplemented stocks of the more common M12.



The Model 12 was designed by Winchester engineer Thomas Johnson, and was based in part on the M1893/97 design by John Browning. Used in trench gun configuration in World War I, more than 80,000 Model 12s were purchased during WW II by the Marines, Army and Navy, most going to the Pacific. Riot gun versions, without the heat shield and bayonet mount, were purchased by the Army for use in defending bases and in protecting aircraft against saboteurs; the Navy similarly purchased and used the riot gun version for protecting ships and personnel when in foreign ports. Marines used the trench gun version of the Model 12 with considerable success in taking the Pacific’s Japanese-held islands. The primary difference between the WW I and WW II Model 12 trench guns is that the heat sheild in WW I had six rows of ventilating holes, those made in WW II, four. Nearly 2 million Model 12s were made during its years of production, including those made for military use.

Patented in 1900, the Browning Auto-5 was the first mass-produced semiautomatic shotgun, and it was made for nearly a hundred years by various makers, during which time it became the second-best-selling auto-loading shotgun in U.S. history, after the Remington 1100. Although not acquired or issued in the numbers of the Model 12, the Browning Auto 5 was procurred for GI issue—at least some of which were taken from civilian production as Army Ordnance manuals illustrated models with scroll engraving. More sensitive to jungle conditions, especially paper shotgun shells that had swelled due to the humidity, the Auto 5 did not receive the distribution in the Pacific Theater of shotguns such as the Model 12.

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