"I must say I think the rod bayonet about as poor an invention as I ever saw. "
President Theodore Roosevelt to the Secretary of War, January 4, 1905.
When adopted June 19, 1903, Springfield Armory's rifle had a rod bayonet, and fired a new rimless .30 caliber cartridge also designated Model 1903.
On January 11, 1905, one week after Teddy Roosevelt's letter to the Secretary of War, production on the "Rod Bayonet" Model 1903 Springfield was halted. Only 74,000 rifles had been made at Springfield at that point, and while 1600 sets of parts had been completed at Rock Island Arsenal but probably no rifles assembled.
On May 5, 1905 a new knife bayonet was adopted, similar to that previously used on the Krags. The new bayonet had a 16 inch blade, slightly less than six inches longer than the Krag bayonet. The Model 1903 rifle was about six inches shorter than the Krag rifle, so both had roughly equivalent "reach" for bayonet fighting.
In July or August 1905, new sights were adopted and work began to convert rifles to the newly approved configuration.
Accuracy problems at long range resulted in replacement of the 220 grain round nosed bullet with a 150 grain pointed bullet. This needed a shorter case neck, and the resulting "jump" before engaging the rifling caused accuracy problems. It was decided to alter M1903 Springfield barrels to better fit the new cartridge, designated "Cartridge, Caliber .30 Model of 1906." But known to shooters today simply as the .30-06.
The massive alteration program begun a few months earlier had to start anew, and it was not until about 1908 that production of the Model 1903 rifle with alterations of 1905 for knife bayonet, and chambered for the .30-06 cartridge became routine. By 1910 nearly all of the "rod bayonet' and 1905 conversions had been retrieved and updated. Those that escaped are very valuable collectors items, and many rifles have been restored to the "Rod bayonet" configuration to meet demand from collectors.
Here is a detailed examination of a restored rifle pointing out details of interest to collectors contemplating the purchase of one.
The Rod bayonet is most obvious
part. The barrel, front sight, front band, the base for the bayonet and the bayonet itself
are completely different from the later versions of the Model 1903 rifle. Less obvious is
the fact that the stock and handguard are also different.
Looking at the action area, the
rear sight is a direct descendent of the Model 1902 sight used on the Krag, but instead of
being screwed to the barrel, is attached to a sleeve that fits around the barrel. In
addition, the cylindrical body of the bolt is left polished bright, while the handle is
Those are the obvious difference, but there are many very important minor differences. Lets examine the rifle in detail.
The buttplate on the M1903
rifle was derived from that on the Krag, but with about ¼" removed from the bottom
("toe") end. Some very early rifles used altered Krag buttplates, but later
buttplates had the trapdoor enlarged for easier access to the oiler (or later a spare
parts container) stored in the butt. This has the larger trap, but it is not obvious
unless checked carefully.
At the muzzle, the front sight
has two holes, and the sheet metal front sight cover has a dimple which engages in the
holes. The sight is just barely set back from the muzzle, unlike the later versions that
exposed enough barrel to engage the muzzle ring of the bayonet. The front band is a
smaller version of the familiar lower band, split at the bottom. The stacking swivel has a
flat on one side.
The catch mechanism for the bayonet is fairly complex looking but the function is pretty simple. It consists of a large base, a plunger or catch, and a flat spring.
These catch parts are probably reproductions on most restored rifles, and few people would recognize the originals if they were found loose.
The catch assembly fits into
neatly machined inletting in the tip of the stock, with the hole for the bayonet very
obvious. The later rifles had the band fitting around the entire front section of the
stock for about two inches.
The inletting of the forend of the stock is distinctive (a) at the muzzle for the bayonet catch (b) at the breech where the sight base inletting only removes enough wood for two straps, not a complete solid base (c) near the lower band area where there is a bearing surface for the barrel. Note that the bayonet when in place extends all the way back to the front guard screw inletting.
Covering the top of the barrel
is a walnut handguard. The shape of this one is exactly right, but lacks the spring clip
riveted in the middle of the front section. These would be very difficult to
The rear sight leaf has 25 yard
increment markings on the face. The lock screw for the elevation slide is located on the
right side. The lock screw shown here is incorrect, as it should have a "V"
shaped depression on both sides of a screw slot. This was intended to allow tightening of
the adjustment using the cartridge rim. A minor error that can be easily corrected..
The barrel markings on this rifle are visible between the straps of the rear sight base. The use of a date on the barrel near the muzzle indicates the barrel was made in 1905. Based on the serial number, the rifle was produced in 1904, but barrels were not dated prior to 1905. A sign that this rifle is a restoration rather than an unaltered original.
The lower band on this rifle is
the familiar type. However, during the rod bayonet period the band was not split at the
bottom, but solid. The part of the swivel that fits into the band is solid, as seen on
most of the M1903s except those made from about 1906-1917.
The stock contours in the receiver area have two significant features. First, there are no reinforcing bolts. The first (rear) was added about 1910, and the second (front) added during WW1. These were installed on many early rifles during overhaul. Note also the way the top edge of the stock continues nearly straight back from the rear sight area, while it dipped down significantly on later rifles. On the right side, there is s sharp step up in the wood at the receiver ring, compared to a shallow slope on later rifles.
The blued bolt handle and extractor stand out against the polished bolt body in the photos. The safety and bolt sleeve on this example are the familiar type adopted some time in 1904. The very earliest rifles had a single ridge on the back of the bolt sleeve and the safety itself was much more like that on a 98 Mauser- dished on both sides, and shaped differently in the front. Since the exact date of the change is not clear, this may or may not be the right type for this restoration.
We hope you have found this detailed examination of the rare "rod bayonet" Model 1903 Springfield helpful. If you come across one of these rifles, please contact us. We would also be interested in buying any parts for these in any condition.
With a special "Thanks!" to Fred W. for allowing us the opportunity to share this rifle with you!