Yes, Virginia, there was a 1903 line thrower, and it still gets some use

081020-N-9134V-024 PERSIAN GULF (Oct. 20, 2008) Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Jonathan Smith fires a line to the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Laramie (T-AO 203) from the amphibious dock landing ship USS Carter Hall (LSD 50). Carter Hall is deployed as part of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group supporting maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Flordeliz Valerio/Released)

Naval and merchant ships have used line-throwing rifles (and shotguns, as well as small cannon) for centuries to heave lines from ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore to greater distances than what could be done with a deck division guy and a slungshot. Currently, the Navy uses M14s and M16s with blank-firing adapters for this task, but this post is about the USCG and their slightly more elegant 1903s.

The old Revenue Cutter Service/Revenue Marine used Coston Shoulder Guns– a converted U.S. Springfield Trapdoor Model 1884 rifle in .45-70 (and the similar Winchester Model 1886 Line Throwing Guns, in a 14-5 inch smoothbore of the same caliber)– from the late 19th Century through, in some cases, WWII (and by some accounts, remained in armories for a couple generations longer).Don’t get me wrong, the .45-70 line thrower was always a good gun for its purpose, even if dated. Today the Bridger Shoulder Line Gun uses a single-shot H&R Handi Rifle for the same concept and it is very popular.

However, around the 1930s these began to be supplemented by a series of line throwing 1903s. These 30.06-caliber rifles were converted by having the barrel rifling and sights removed to produce a 24-inch smoothbore with the handguard wood shortened to match. Two-pounds of lead was placed in the butt under a modified padded butt plate. The line bucket is mounted under the abbreviated forend and, as noted by Brophy, these were used with three different projectile rods in light (13 ounces) heavy (15 ounces) and illuminated buoyant types.

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The above:

“Line throwing rifle, Springfield model 1903 manufactured by the W. H. Reisner MFG. Co., Inc., Hagerstown, MD consisting of cast and carved rifle with attached canister, case, and accessories; rifle and canister (2), carrying case (1), 13 oz light projectiles (5), 15 oz heavy projectiles painted red (3), 15 oz heavy projectile unpainted (1), 1 complete buoyant projectile (1), 2 buoyant projectiles in pieces (4), unused nylon line (4), wooden mallet (1), cleaning rod (1), bag of muslin patches for cleaning (1), bag of cleaning supplies (22), bottle of weapons oil (1), and pair of goggles (1). All items in original wooden case with metal latches and painted labels and warnings with 2 metal latches on the front and handle for carrying. Rifle is marked “U.S. Springfield Armory Model 1903 1316819” and case has plastic plaque “W. H. Reisner MFG., Co., Inc. Hagerstown, MD Contract No. 735CG-1512-B”. USCG Heritage Asset Collection, 2014.003.001 Photo By: H. Farley”

They show up at auction from time to time, being replaced by M16s and shotguns years ago, and are very curious.

However, at least some USCG armories still have these old “bucket guns” in the back, and they do still see service.

Seaman Ronald Benke, aboard Coast Guard Cutter SPAR, shoots an M1903 line throwing gun, used to send a messenger line during a towing exercise with the Coast Guard Cutter Naushon, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in the Gulf of Alaska. The SPAR is a 225-foot buoy tender stationed in Kodiak, Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Justin Hergert

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Brandon Kittrell inspects the bolt action and slide catch of an M1903 U.S. Springfield Rifle at the Coast Guard Armory in Port Clinton, Ohio, Feb. 18, 2015. The rifle has been modified to shoot rope to a vessel in distress during an emergency where out boats are unable to get alongside them. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Laughlin)

The serial number on the above Port Clinton gun, #1211224, makes it a Springfield Armory-manufactured receiver made in 1920 (the first one shown #1316819 dates to 1929), so the gun has very likely been in the Coast Guard’s stocks since Prohibition when a number of brand new BARs, 1911s and 1903s were transferred to help arm the cutters patrolling Rum Row against often well-armed bootleggers. As the service used the .45-70 single shot line thrower through WWII, this Springer was probably converted post-1945 using the old rope bucket from retired black powder guns.

And the last Coasties to use them probably haven’t been born yet.


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