Tag Archives: m1903

Seabees, still ready to Build & Fight After 80 Years

​Arising from a need to rapidly build bases on remote islands for the push across the Pacific during World War II, today’s Seabee force turns 80 this month.

Tracing their unofficial origins to 300 skilled artisans who built an advance base in 1813 for Captain David Porter’s squadron operating against the British along South America’s west coast, the Navy officially formed and christened its first Naval Construction Battalions in March 1942.

Recruited from tradesmen in 60 skilled trades– both “vertical” such as in building construction and “horizontal” such as in the construction of roads and airfields– the new “Seabees” were also trained to defend their positions as the islands and beaches they would land on would often still be very much in an active combat zone. Fitting the job, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell set their motto as “Construimus, Batuimus” roughly meaning “We Build, We Fight.”

Early members received only three weeks of training and were sent overseas. They carried at one time or another just about every rifle and pistol in the Navy’s inventory and pioneered such exotic arms as the Sedgley Glove Gun/Haight Fist Gun.

WWII Seabee posters
Seabee recruiting posters of the time, aimed at pulling often-draft-exempt skilled construction workers into the service, also emphasized the carpenters and heavy equipment operators would be expected to fight if needed, ready to leave the controls of their crane or grader, grab a carbine or Tommy gun, and get to work. 

Seabees marching WWII

“The Navy Seabees build a naval base in the South Pacific. These Navy Seabees march to work with rifles and bandoliers of ammunition. Seabees are trained to fight and work.” On numerous occasions, Seabees fought beside Marines in hand-to-hand combat against the Japanese troops, particularly on contested Henderson Field in Guadalcanal, then returned to their work once the attack was over. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Seabees drill at a U.S. Navy base in Alaska.1943

“Seabees drill at a U.S. Navy base in Alaska. These sailors are training with guns and tools for construction duty under combat conditions, April 13, 1943.” Note the M1903 Springfield bolt-action rifles. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.)

Seabee Water Tender Second Class operating pump for water and manning an M1917 Browning machine gun in the Solomon Islands, 1944. 

Seabee Water Tender Second Class operating pump for water and manning an M1917 Browning machine gun in the Solomon Islands, 1944. 

Seabees unload pontoons and LSTs on Angaur in the Palau Islands,1944

“Seabees unload pontoons and LSTs on Angaur in the Palau Islands, converting the island into a formidable base. Also seen are bulldozers and cranes, photograph received 27 December 1944.” (U.S. Navy Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

“US Navy Seabees, who landed with the first wave of Marines, stand guard over a Japanese naval floatplane at Sasebo, Japan. Photographed by Private First Class C.O. Jones, September 1945.” Note the M1 Carbine. (Photo: National Museum of the U.S. Navy)

Seabees repair airstrip on Tarawa with heavy grading equipment and trucks. November 22, 1943

“Operation Galvanic, Invasion of Tarawa, November 1943. Seabees repair airstrip on Tarawa with heavy grading equipment and trucks. November 22, 1943.” (Photo: U.S. National Archives)

“Battle of Peleliu (Operation Stalemate), September-November 1944. Group of African-American Seabees acting as stretcher-bearers for the 7th Marines.” (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.)
Seabee sign Bougainville Island 1944
“This sign, near the Torokina fighter strip on Bougainville Island testifies to the U.S Marine Corps admiration for the Navy’s construction battalions.” (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Three U.S. B-29 Superfortresses roar over a Navy Seabee working on an unfinished section of the new U.S. base at Tinian

Three U.S. B-29 Superfortresses roar over a Navy Seabee working on an unfinished section of the new U.S. base at Tinian in the Marianas Islands. With their lumbering bulldozers and other heavy equipment, Seabees have enlarged and constructed airfields on Saipan, Guam, and Tinian, from which those huge planes are conducting large-scale attacks on industrial areas in Japan. (U.S. Navy Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

During World War II, some 350,000 men served in the Seabees, organized into no less than 315 regular and special construction battalions. They would construct over 400 advanced bases spanning from Iceland to New Guinea and Sicily to the Aleutian Islands, operating in all theaters. 

In the Pacific alone, they would build no less than 111 airstrips while suffering over 200 combat deaths. A further 500 Seabees were killed during their highly dangerous construction work under adverse field conditions. In addition to 33 Silver Stars and 5 Navy Crosses, ‘Bees also earned more than 2,000 Purple Hearts in WWII, the hard way. 

Korea and Vietnam

Drawn down to a force of just 3,300 by 1949, the Seabees remained a “Can Do” part of the Navy and Marines’ shore establishment and would rapidly expand to serve in the Korean War and Vietnam. During the latter conflict in Southeast Asia, the Seabees expanded to over 26,000 men in no less than 23 assorted Naval Mobile and Amphibious Construction Battalions by 1969.

In most cases, the bases in which Marines fought from during those conflicts were constructed and improved by Seabees, often, as in WWII, under threat from the enemy. 

The Cold War, Desert Storm, and Beyond

Besides service in Korea and Vietnam, the “Fighting Seabees” engaged in new frontiers around the world during the Cold War, constructing bases everywhere the Navy went including in remote Diego Garcia, Greece, Spain, Antarctica, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. They served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Restore Hope, in Bosnia, in Panama, in Iraq, and Afghanistan. 

Seabees Desert Storm
“Capt. Mel Hamm, left, commander, Fleet Hospital Operations and Training Command, and Lt. Vic Modeer of Reserve Naval Construction Battalion Hospital Unit 22 discuss the construction of Fleet Hospital Six during Operation Desert Shield.”

NavSeabee Det Sarajevo in blown up church. Feb 1996 Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina

“NavSeabee Det Sarajevo in blown up church. Feb 1996 Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina” (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

“Deh Dadi TWO, Afghanistan (Feb. 28, 2011) Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 40 begin their journey back to homeport in Port Hueneme, Calif.” (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Michael B. Watkins/Released)

Seabees laying concrete in Djibouti 2011

“Djibouti (Jan. 20, 2011) Builder Constructionmen Diana Aceves, right, and Daniel Fuentes, both assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 74, Detail Horn of Africa, pour concrete during a construction project at Ecole 5 Primary School.” Note that Seabee construction rates have been open to women since 1973. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Lindsey/Released)

The Seabees today still train to “build with rifles on their back.” 

Seabees with M240 machine gun Hunter Liggett, 2016
“Camp Hunter Liggett, Calif. (April 27, 2016) A Seabee assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5 yells out enemy locations to his teammates during a simulated attack during a field training exercise. The exercise prepares and tests the battalion’s ability to enter hostile locations, build assigned construction projects and defend against enemy attacks using realistic scenarios while being evaluated.” (U.S. Navy photo by Utilitiesman 3rd Class Stephen Sisler/Released) 

Seabees Camp Shelby 2018 in a trench

“Camp Shelby, Miss. (Aug. 20, 2018) Seabees stand inside their fighting position during Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133’s field training exercise (FTX) at Camp Shelby. FTX provides a robust training environment where Seabee forces plan and execute multiple mission essential tasks including convoy security, force protection, and camp buildup before deployment.” (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class George M. Bell/Released) 

Seabee jungle training Okinawa

“Okinawa, Japan (Jan. 12, 2016) Ensign Frank S. Sysko assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 holds his breath while he exits a mud-filled trench during a jungle warfare training evolution hosted by Marines with the Jungle Warfare Training Center (JWTC).”  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Gomez/Released) 

The unique Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist insignia, issued to qualified Naval Construction Force members since 1993, tells a bit of the unit’s history. 

Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist insignia
It incorporates the old-school WWII Seabee “We build, we fight” motto of the sailor bee with a Tommy gun as well as an M1903 Springfield (one of the few times the Springer makes it to patches or insignia) and a cutlass. Interestingly, Seabees often carried all three weapons in WWII, using M1928 and M1 Thompsons, the 1903A3, and, on occasion, ship’s cutlasses (the latter as machetes).

 

Stockings and Springfields

80 Years Ago: In December 1941, Pvts. Kotula and Queen hang their stockings on an M1920, Rock Island Arsenal-made arms rack in the middle of their squad room at Camp Lee, VA, Quartermaster Replacement Center.

They said, “Santa will have to stumble into this, so he can’t miss our socks.”

Signal Corps Photo: SC 126784. More Christmas in the Field photos from the Army, here. 

Note the interwar M1903A1 Springfield .30-06 rifles, stored bolts open, on the rack. While adopted in 1937 to replace the bolt gun, researched production data points to just 401,529 the newer semi-automatic M1 Garands had been assembled for Uncle Sam by the end of November 1941.

While in the “Victory Program” devised in the fall of 1941, the War Department projected an Army with a peak strength of 213 divisions, only 91 would ever take the field during World War II. Compared to that plan, only 29 infantry, one cavalry, and five armored divisions existed in December 1941, with many of those still forming– and 15 of those being recently federalized National Guard divisions who were a long way from being combat-ready.

The TO&E for a 1941 triangular infantry division allowed for 7,327 M1 Garands, meaning the M1903 was never able to be fully replaced during WWII, and indeed, some GIs, such as in Quartermaster units like the good privates above, always used the bolt gun.

On 21 May 1942, the M1903 was put back into regular production in a simplified “U.S. Rifle, Cal. .30, Model of 1903A3” format, contracted out to Smith-Corona who made 234,580, and Remington who delivered 707,629, ensuring almost a million GIs and Allied troopers would be hanging their stockings on new ’03s for at least four more Christmases.

The Rifles of Pearl Harbor

On that sleepy Sunday morning 80 years ago, which was interrupted by incoming waves of Japanese warplanes, a lot of the response came from individuals fighting with nothing more than rifles.

The crew abandoning the damaged battleship USS California (BB-44) as burning oil drifts down on the ship, at about 1000 hrs on the morning of 7 December 1941, shortly after the end of the Japanese raid. The capsized hull of the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37) is visible at the right. Note the Sailors to the left with rifles. Official U.S. Navy Photograph NH 97399

The most important American base in the Central Pacific, Pearl Harbor was home to the bulk of the Pacific Fleet along with significant Army units. Although a war warning had been sent to the base after intelligence pointing to a looming attack following months of deteriorating relations with the Empire of Japan, it would not be read until hours after the attack had ended.
 
Thus, the fleet and bases were more concerned with threats of sabotage and in capturing spies, rather than warding off 360 incoming Japanese planes armed with bombs and torpedoes. Ships and heavy guns were offline, their crews relaxing on a quiet peacetime morning. This left those on duty able to resist at first with just the arms at hand.

Most common was the M1903 Springfield, a bolt-action .30-06 with an internal 5-shot magazine. The Springfield was used by the Marines and held in the Navy’s small arms lockers and armories. Even lighthouse keepers and NPS park rangers, in the months before the attack, were issued M1903s “on loan from the Army” and .45s for use in patrol work along the coastline.

Lesser encountered was the M1 Garand. A new rifle adopted by the Army in 1937 to replace the M1903, it too was chambered in .30-06 but loaded from an eight-shot en-bloc clip. Not all soldiers in Hawaii in 1941 had the new rifle, and many still relied on the M1903.

Two three-brigade “triangular” infantry divisions were in Hawaii at the time, the newly formed 25th Infantry Division (from the 27th and 35th Infantry Regiments of the old “square” Hawaiian Division and the 298th Infantry Regiment of the recently federalized Hawaii National Guard) and the 24th Infantry Division (made up of the 19th and the 21st Infantry Regiment from the old Hawaiian Division and the 299th Infantry Regiment from the Hawaii Guard). The TO&E for a 1941 triangular infantry division allowed for 7,327 M1 Garands, meaning there should have been at least 15,000 or so of the new guns in the territory.

Other .30-caliber firearms on hand that day included M1918 BARs, M1917 watercooled heavy and aircooled M1919 light machine guns, along with Lewis guns, the latter a light automatic rifle that fired from a 47-round magazine and was still in use by the Navy.

Gordon Prange, in his book on the attack, “At Dawn We Slept,” detailed that General Walter Short, head of the Army’s forces in Hawaii, was so fixated on countering sabotage from perceived local threats that his ordnance department refused to issue ammunition in practice, believing that as long as it was safely locked up and safely guarded it could not be tampered with.

Clips vs. Clips!

Part of the problem resulting from the ongoing switchover from the M1903, which used five-round stripper clips to charge the bolt-action rifle, to the new semi-auto M1 Garand, which used eight-shot en bloc clips, was that .30-06 ammo on hand was often prepacked in bandoliers for the older rifle.

As detailed in a 2002 American Hangunner article by Massad Ayoob, Marine Pvt. Le Fan recalled they had been handed M1 Garands that morning but the only ammo that could be had was clipped for the M1903.
 
“I opened the receiver of my Garand and put one round into the chamber and closed it,” said Fan. “I recall one Japanese pilot coming over, and he waved at us as he did. He was very low – less than 100 feet high – because he was going to Battleship Row. They would wave at us, and we were throwing .30 caliber rounds at them as fast as we could, from single shots because we could not fire semi-automatic. I fired 60 rounds because I recall this particular bandolier that I got had 60 rounds in it.”

The Army Clocks in

Some 43,000 soldiers were on active duty in Hawaii in December 1941. At Fort Kamehameha, named for Hawaii’s national hero, attacking Japanese Zeroes were seen to come in as low as 50 feet off the ground. By 0813, soldiers had set up machine guns on the base’s tennis courts.
 
Now 103 years old, Joe Eskenazi was a 23-year-old Army private at Schofield Barracks who woke up that Sunday morning with a start. “I look up, and I see a Zero (aircraft) flying over my head. He was flying so low that I think I could see his goggles,” Eskenazi recalled in a recent interview. “I said, ‘Oh my God. That’s a Zero fighter going by us,’ and then I saw bombs drop.” His next move was to grab his M1 Garand rifle and some ammo and jump in a truck with other soldiers. Using his rifle on a low flying Zero, just moments later, “I started to see the dirt kicking up only three feet away from the door.”

USAAF Personnel with a “WE WILL KEEP EM FLYING” sign at the entrance to the damaged base engineering shop at Wheeler Army Airfield on Oahu Hawaii – December 1941. Note the early M1 Garand. At this point in the rifle’s production, Springfield Armory, has just cranked out 429,811 guns. LIFE Magazine Archives – Bob Landry Photographer

Prange retells the account of Lt. Stephen Saltzman at Schofield Barracks who, with Sgt. Lowell Klatt, grabbed two BARs and “too mad to be scared” engaged a low-flying Japanese plane whose own machine guns were winking at the men on the ground. The plane pulled up to avoid high-tension wires, then crashed on the other side of the building. When Saltzman and Klatt approached the wreck, they found the two aviators inside to be dead. The author notes that “of the four aircraft which fell to Army guns” during the Japanese first wave, “all succumbed to machinegun or BAR fire when they screamed down to strafe within range of these relatively limited weapons.”

The Navy fights back

“Gunners on board seaplane tender USS Avocet look for more Japanese planes, at about the time the air raid ended. Photographed from atop a building at Naval Air Station Ford Island, looking toward the Navy Yard. USS Nevada is at right, with her bow afire. Beyond her is the burning USS Shaw. Smoke at left comes from the destroyers Cassin and Downes, ablaze in Drydock Number One.” Note the Lewis gun on top of Avocet’s wheelhouse. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-32445

Tied up at the Navy Yard was the cruiser USS New Orleans, which sounded General Quarters at 0757 immediately after seeing enemy planes dive-bombing Ford Island. While men scrambled to bring the ship’s 1.1-inch “Chicago Piano” battery online,” the Japanese were fired at with rifles and pistols from the fantail.” By 0810, the quantity of fire coming from the cruiser was credited with causing Japanese aviators to turn away or to drop their bombs erratically, causing the bombs to fall into the water between the ships
 
During the raid on Pearl Harbor, the destroyer USS Dewey was moored at berth Xray-2, under overhaul. Nonetheless, her crew, after observing Japanese torpedoes hit the old battleship USS Utah nearby at 0755, sounded General Quarters and by 0802 was firing .50 caliber machine guns at enemy planes while the ship’s gunners’ mates moved to install the firing locks in the destroyer’s larger guns. Meanwhile, “The bridge force fired [Browning] Automatic Rifles and rifles.”
 
The gunboat USS Sacramento, moored port side to berth B-6 at the Navy Yard, was not able to get her 4-inch guns into the fight but instead gave the men of the battery “rifles, Browning Automatic Rifles, and Thompson submachine guns” and got to work. At one point during the attack, an aircraft some 300 yards from the ship was seen to burst into flames.
 
Sacramento’s crew alone fired:

  • 1,950 rounds .50 cal. tracer
  • 4,000 rounds .50 cal. armor-piercing.
  • 2,000 rounds .45 cal. Thompson sub-machine guns.
  • 5,473 rounds .30 cal. armor-piercing.
  • 2,887 rounds .30 cal. tracer.
  • 3,000 rounds .30 cal. ball.

 
Submarines, with few topside weapons, even got into the act. The crew of the USS Dolphin, as early as 0800, used rifles and machine guns against Japanese planes. Meanwhile, ashore at the Submarine Base, sailors manned “250 rifles, 15 [Browning] Automatic Rifles and 15 machine guns, maintaining a continuous fire,” that accounted for “two low flying torpedo planes.”
 
Even ships not normally considered in the front lines of the battle fleet lent their lead. The minesweeper USS Rail, nested at the Coal Docks next to four other sweepers on that Sunday morning “Opened fire with .30 Cal. machine guns and Rifles and Pistols 20 minutes after attack on Pearl Harbor.”
 
The minelayer USS Pruitt, moored at berth 18 at the Navy Yard undergoing a routine overhaul, had all her armament and machinery disabled and most of the ship’s crew in barracks. Even with all those strikes against it going into a real-life shooting war, Pruitt’s crew shook it off and made ready.

From Pruitt’s report on the attack:

“The initial surprise of the attack passed quickly, and all personnel began arming themselves with all available small arms in the ready locker. The only arms immediately available were .30 caliber machine guns, Browning automatic rifles, service rifles, and service pistols. Within an incredibly brief time, men were equipped and firing at low-flying attacking planes…Three low flying Japanese fighter planes were shot down in the immediate vicinity of this vessel apparently by small caliber weapons.”

 
The battered old tugboat, USS Ontario was moored in the Repair Basin with no fuel onboard and all machinery disabled as she was in overhaul. The vessel had “no offensive or defensive power at the beginning of the attack except for some 30 caliber ammunition in the Abandon Ship Locker.” The “aught six” was soon being fed into a dozen Springfield M1903s as “Members of the deck force were given all rifles and opened fire on all low flying enemy planes.” Lacking any helmets, “Those who manned the small arms and remained exposed, firing upon low flying aircraft, exhibited willing personal bravery.”
 
The destroyer tender USS Thornton was moored port side to dock at the Submarine Base’s berth S-1 and sounded General Quarters at 0756. Using the ship’s landing force weapons – four .50 caliber machine guns, three .30 caliber Lewis guns, three BARs, and 12 Springfield M1903s – her crew commenced firing at 0758. It was noted that an enemy torpedo plane was shot down, with Thornton’s report saying “This plane burst into flames and fell into the water. The torpedo fell clear, but was not launched.”
 
Aboard the repair ship USS Medusa, whose crew were by 0805 firing at enemy planes crossing “not over 100 feet” above and a periscope spotted just 1,000 yards away, some 21 Springfield rifles were used to arm a patrol of men ashore who were eagerly looking for downed Japanese aviators and survivors of midget submarines sunk in the harbor.
 
The survey ship USS Sumner, a vessel normally tasked to make charts, armed members of her crew “with rifles and B.A.R.s” then stationed them in the ship’s two masts to “act as snipers.”
 
At the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay, home to giant PBY Catalina flying boats, “Three rifles were manned immediately” as others retrieved machine guns from planes, eventually setting up two nests in semi-protected spots near the hangar. “Under continuous attacks by the enemy, machine gun and rifle crews manned their guns and all other personnel worked to disperse planes and to save material,” reads the report from one of the base’s squadrons.

A photographer seems to have caught at least some of that, leaving some of the most iconic images from the day. 

“Rescue operations after the first attack and before bombing at Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay. Pulling a partially burning PBY aircraft from the center of fire area.” Note the Sailor on the left with an M1903. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-32837

“Planes and a hangar burning at the Ford Island Naval Air Station’s seaplane base, during or immediately after the Japanese air raid. The ruined wings of a PBY Catalina patrol plane are at the left and in the center. Note men with rifles standing in the lower left.” Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-19944

“Sandbagged .30 caliber machine gun emplacement with gun crew on alert, at the seaplane base near Ford Island’s southern tip, soon after the Japanese attack.” The gun is a superfast-firing ANM2, pulled from an aircraft. Note the beached battleship, USS Nevada, in the distance. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-32492

“Sailors at Naval Air Station Ford Island reloading ammunition clips and belts, probably around the time of the attack’s second wave.” Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-32497

Tell it to the Marines

Marines, both in shipboard detachments and ashore, were in the fight from the beginning. There were approximately 4,500 Marines stationed at Pearl Harbor and its vicinity on that fateful morning, and official report recalled, “practically to the last man, every Marine at the base met the attack with whatever weapon there was at hand, or that he could commandeer, or even improvise with the limited means of his command. They displayed great courage and determination against insurmountable odds.”

“At their barracks, near the foundation of a swimming pool under construction, three Marines gingerly seek out good vantage points from which to fire, while two peer skyward, keeping their eyes peeled for attacking Japanese planes. Headgear varies from Hawley helmet to garrison cap to none, but the weapon is the same for all — the Springfield 1903 rifle.” Lord Collection, USMC via the NPS.

“View at the Pearl Harbor Marine Barracks, taken from the Parade Ground between 0930 and 1130 hrs. on 7 December 1941 looking toward Battleship Row. Smoke in the distance is from the burning USS Arizona (BB-39). Navy Yard water towers are in the left-center, with flags flying from a signal station atop the middle one. In the center of the view, Marines are deploying a three-inch anti-aircraft gun. Other Marines, armed with rifles, stand at the left.” U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 50928


The admiral in command of the mine force at Pearl Harbor, in his report, noted that one Japanese plane was observed “shot down by Marines with rifles at Main Gate,” confirmed by the crew of the minelayer USS Sicard.

As noted by the National Park Service of the Marine air group at Ewa Field, fighting off an attacking wave of Zeroes led by future Japanese air ace Yoshio Shiga from the decks of the aircraft carrier Kaga:


Firing only small arms and rifles in the opening stages, the Marines fought back against Kaga’s fighters as best they could, with almost reckless heroism. Lieutenant Shiga remembered one particular Leatherneck who, oblivious to the machine gun fire striking the ground around him and kicking up dirt, stood transfixed, emptying his sidearm at Shiga’s Zero as it roared past. Years later, Shiga would describe that lone, defiant, and unknown Marine as the bravest American he had ever met.


Marines reportedly manned stations with rifles and .30-caliber machine guns taken from damaged aircraft and the squadron ordnance rooms. Specifically, the fighting at Ewa saw Marine Pfc. Mann, “who by that point had managed to obtain some ammunition for his rifle, dropped down with the rest of the Marines at the garage and fired at the attacking fighters as they streaked by.”

Effectiveness

To be sure, the act of firing at planes – even low-flying ones made of canvas without self-sealing fuel tanks – with rifles and pistols was not ideal, but, with larger armament offline due to the surprise nature of the attack, it was a tangible way for the crews to fight back, even as the fleet’s mighty battleships were being sent to the bottom.
 
Aboard the minelayer USS Breese, the ship’s post-battle report admitted as much about the crew’s use of rifles against the attacking planes saying, “although its effectiveness is doubtful it served a means of satisfying the offensive spirit of the crew.”
 
Just after the destroyer USS Blue got underway during the attack, two Japanese planes swooped in at mast-height and one of the attackers was seen to flame out under heavy fire from the ship’s guns, crashing near the Pan Am landings in Pearl City. During the pass, a young officer on the bridge was so excited he threw his binoculars at the passing plane, saying later he was “just kind of mad.”
 
While only 29 Japanese planes failed to return to the Japanese carriers after the attack on Pearl Harbor, 74 including 41 bombers were damaged, some extensively. You can bet a lot of that damage consisted of holes roughly .30 caliber in diameter.
 
Finally, the rifles would be put to use the following day, in a more somber task.

“A Marine rifle squad fires a volley over the bodies of fifteen officers and men killed at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay during the Pearl Harbor raid. These burial ceremonies took place on 8 December 1941, the day after the attack.” Navy Catalog #: 80-G-32854

Among the 2,403 Americans killed, 2,008 were sailors, 218 were soldiers, 109 were Marines and 68 were civilians, according to a National World War II Museum Pearl Harbor fact sheet. Total casualties were almost 3,600.

High Flyer

Original caption: “An alert Coast Guardsman leaps into action as he covers his patrol. On the anti-saboteur patrolmen of the Coast Guard also protect vital cargoes on the piers awaiting shipment to the far-flung battle lines.”

Note the shore duty leggings, M1903 Springfield, and its attached 20-inch M1905 bayonet. USCG photo 26-G-89-049, via the National Archives.

Formed from scratch in 1942, the Coast Guard Beach Patrol employed about 24,000 men, aged 17 to 73, protecting 3,700 miles of coastline from potential enemy invasion during World War II. More on the subject in this excellent 124-page period chronicle.

TR’s SAA Goes for a Cool $1.3M

Via RIAC

The above Colt Single Action Army revolver was ordered as a gift for President Theodore Roosevelt’s 54th birthday. Factory engraved and silver-plated, it was shipped four days before his birthday, just over a week prior to the election of 1912 where he ran on the Bull Moose ticket, and 10 days prior to his famous assassination attempt in Milwaukee. It was lost to history for years. 

Complete with Colt factory engraving by master Cuno Helfricht, this M1873 “Peacemaker” now ranks (at time of the auction) as the third-highest firearm ever offered by Rock Island Auction Company– and last week picked up $1.3 million smackers before the gavel ended a wild bidding war.

Sadly, I am sure it will disappear for a few years into a private collection, then resurface only to be sold for a higher bid, and this will be the closest that the public will ever get to it.

Gratefully, though, lots of TR’s hardware is well-preserved in various museum systems. For instance, I worked with Sagamore Hill National Historic Site and Springfield Armory last year to detail his specially-ordered M1903 (SN#0009), which is in their collection.

Guns of the U.S. Army, 1775-2020

While you may know of today’s standard U.S. Army infantry rifles, and those of the 20th Century, how about those present at Lexington and Concord or the line of Springfield muskets from 1795 through 1865? What came after?

For all this and more, check out the easy 2,000-word primer I did for this last weekend at Guns.com.

Happy Birthday, Teddy

This week is the 161st birthday of the iconic sportsman, former assistant NAVSEC, short-term colonel and occasional statesman, Teddy Roosevelt. In honor of this event, I spent the past several months researching one of his guns, a custom M1903 Springfield that had been sporterized.

Roosevelt’s modified M1903, courtesy of the Sagamore Hill collection

However, it wasn’t some aftermarket bubba hack job on the rifle. This custom work was done at Springfield Armory during the M1903’s first year of production, under the close attention of the arsenal’s commanding colonel– with BG William Crozier acting as the go-between.

And TR took the rifle on several hunting trips ranging from Colorado to Africa.

“On the great bear hunt President Roosevelt after leaving Newcastle [Colorado] for the mountains 1905” — note the sporterized M1903, with its distinctive single barrel band and cut-down pistol grip stock.

More on the story of this interesting, and historical M1903, SN0009, in my column at Guns.com.

Men of action in coffee-stained crackerjacks, 104 years ago today

These are not the kind of guys you want to pick a fight with.

NHHC NH 100612

Ensign Schuyler F. Heim and other members of the landing party from the South Carolina-class battleship USS Michigan (BB-27) preparing to disembark, 22 April 1914, at Vera Cruz, Mexico.

Their white uniforms have been crudely dyed for camouflage purposes. Heim is wearing an M1912 pistol belt and magazine pocket, with a very newly issued M1911 automatic .45cal pistol in a swivel holster. The immense First Class Boatswain’s Mate beside him wears the M1910 dismounted cartridge belt for the Springfield M1903 rifle. Note additional ’03s in chests on deck.

BB-23’s career was cut short by the Washington Naval Treaty in 1922 and she was decommissioned in February 1923 and broken up for scrap the following year.

Heim went on to become a commodore and was in command of the Naval Air Station on Terminal Island in 1942, resulting in a bridge named in his honor crossing the Cerritos Channel at the Port of LA that remained in service until 2015.

No word on what became of the Hulk BM1.

Putting in guard time at Great Lakes

Here we see Seaman David J. Lohr, USN. Serving with the Seaman Guard at Great Lakes, Illinois, after Boot Camp, 1917. Note the M1905 bayonet and scabbard with M1903 Springfield rifle to go along with his flat cap and Cracker Jacks.

Copied from the collection of David J. Lohr, by Courtesy of RM1 Pamela J. Boyer, USN, 1986. NH 100998

Next, we have a crisp new Blue Jacket at Great Lakes in the 1960s guarding a stack of M1s and the platoon guidon, likely during chow. Even while the fleet, by and large, was using M14s at the time, M1s (along with M1917s and 1903s) remained in use as training rifles not only there but at Orlando and San Diego for some time.

Stack, Arms. RTC San Diego 1970s. note the SA03s

And M1903A3 drill rifles with M1 bayonets still clocking in to one degree or another in 2002 in the below image. I’ve seen lots of images since then of Great Lakes trainees with M1s but they have all been chromed rubber ducks I believe.

020208-N-5576W-005 Great Lakes, IL (Feb. 8, 2002) — The Honorable Gordon England, Secretary of the Navy, inspects the recruit rifle team during the Recruit Pass in Review Ceremony held at Recruit Training Command Great Lakes, IL. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Michael Worner. (RELEASED)

I heard you like really nice 1903s…

Rock Island Auction’s upcoming December Premiere Firearms event, which is this upcoming weekend, has a bunch of really nice goodies– especally if you are a M1903 rares collector.

Among the nicest I’ve seen is this great Griffin & Howe “exhibition quality” National Match Springfield. From hand-stippling on receiver ring to rich engraving on the barrel bands, floor plate, trigger guard, and rear sight base, this rifle is a showcase piece before you mention the jeweling on the bolt and hand-checkered English walnut stock.

Even the companion 1911-dated M1905 bayonet has gotten attention.

Then there is this late WWI model (1918-marked barrel) Springfield Armory Model 1903 rifle comes complete with a very hard to find Cameron-Yaggi device, one of several “trench periscope” setups tested for use in that horrible “War to end all wars.”

This particular rifle comes from Bruce Canfield’s own collection (he literally wrote most of the noteworthy books on U.S. military small arms currently in circulation) and was featured in a number of books itself. Every time I talk to Mr. Canfield I come away enlightened.

More on the exhibition gun in my column at Guns.com here and the Yaggi here.

Also, if you have about two hours to kill, check out Mae and Othais from C&Rsenal on a 1903 deep dive in the below video. They cover everything from the .30-03 and early rod-type bayonets to oddball WWI spin-offs like the Air Service Model, the periscope-equipped trench guns like the Guiberson, the Pedersen semi-auto and Warner-Swasey sniper variants.

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