The .30-03 was a short-lived cartridge developed by the United States in 1903, to replace the .30-40 Krag in the new Springfield 1903 rifle. The .30-03 was also called the .30-45, since it used a 45 grain (2.9 g) powder charge; the name was changed to .30-03 to indicate the year of adoption. It used a 220 grain (14 g) rounded bullet. It was replaced after only three years of service by the .30-06, firing a pointed Spitzer bullet that gave better ballistic performance.
The .30-03 was developed to replace the .30-40 Krag cartridge used in the Krag-Jørgensen rifle, which was the first bolt action rifle adopted by the US military, and the first that used smokeless powder. The Krag-Jørgensen rifle had some serious limitations compared to the new Mauser rifles being used by European armies; it was loaded one round at a time, rather than using a stripper clip, and the Krag-Jorgensen's single locking lug on the bolt made the action much weaker than the strong, two lug Mauser bolt, limiting the power of the round. A new rifle was designed, using the Mauser as a guide, and a new cartridge was designed for it. The new cartridge was more powerful, using a 45 grain (2.9 g) charge of smokeless powder, 5 grains (0.3 g) more than the .30-40. The bullet was the same, a .30 caliber, 220 grain (14 g) round nosed jacketed bullet, at a higher velocity of 2300 feet per second (700 m/s), compared to the 2000 feet per second (610 m/s) of the .30-40 Krag. The new rifle was also the first in a trend of shorter infantry rifles; the 24 in (610 mm) barrel was halfway between the standard rifle and the carbine used by the cavalry, and thus there was no carbine variant of the 1903 rifle. The .30-03 cartridge was also a rimless design, which allowed better feeding through the box magazine than the old .30-40 Krag case.
The 1903 rifle and the .30-03 cartridges suffered from a number of problems from the start. First, president Theodore Roosevelt disapproved of the model 1903 rifle's rod bayonet, calling it "... about as poor an invention as I ever saw." The sights were also an area of concern. The rod bayonet was switched to a knife type bayonet, and the sights were improved in the "Model of 1905" rifle, which was never produced in any quantity.
The .30-03 cartridge also caused severe erosion of the bore of the rifle, due to the high pressures and temperatures needed to push the heavy bullet to the desired velocity. The heavy bullet was also an issue; the 220 grain (14 g) bullet was aerodynamically inefficient and had a very curved trajectory (see external ballistics) so it was not well suited for long range shots. It was also unfashionable, since most countries were switching to a 7 or 8 mm cartridge firing a lighter, around 150 grains (9.7 g), spitzer pointed bullet at a higher velocity. This gave better energy retention and a flatter trajectory. The .30-03 was shortened slightly to 0.07 inches (1.8 mm) in the neck, the powder was reformulated to burn cooler, and the bullet was changed to a 150 grain (9.7 g) spitzer bullet, creating the .30-06 cartridge.
Since the new .30-06 was shorter than the .30-03, it could fire in 1903 rifle, but with poor accuracy. The 1903 rifles were all recalled, fitted with the Model of 1905 sights and bayonet, and rechambered for the new .30-06 cartridge. This last procedure was done by unscrewing the barrels, milling off the end of each chamber, re-threading the barrels, rechambering them and screwing them back on the same actions. This ended the short life of the .30-03; out of nearly 75,000 made, no more than a handful of original 1903 rifles escaped the conversion to .30-06 (estimates range from 50 to 100 rifles), becoming rare collectors items. Even the .30-03 cartridge is a rarity, found only in collections of rare cartridges.
1. ^ a b Cartridges of
the World 11th Edition, Book by Frank C. Barnes, Edited by Stan Skinner,
Gun Digest Books, 2006, ISBN 0-89689-297-2 pp.130,164
* Pictures and information
on the development of the .30-06 from the .30-03 at the Cartridge Collectors