Julian S. Hatcher, for the National Rifle Association of America, 1953
The Spanish-American War brought to light many shortcomings of the .30-40 Krag rifle with which our regular forces were armed. The Spanish soldier was equipped with a Mauser capable of being loaded from a clip while with our Krag it was necessary to load cartridges into the magazine singly. This fact, coupled with the desire of our Ordnance Department to increase the muzzle velocity to 2300 feet per second from the Krag’s 2000 feet per second, which necessitated a stronger breech action, led to the development work which started in 1900 with a view to designing a new service rifle. Several pilot models were made, resulting in the adoption in 1903 of a rifle based on the Mauser system. That would have been the logical time to introduce also a new form of bullet, but economy demanded that the stock of Krag bullets be used. Accordingly, the .30-03 cartridge was adopted for use with the 220 grain round-nosed, metal jacketed bullet.
In February of 1904 the Germans adopted a 154 grain pointed bullet for their 1898 Mausers. France, too, had adopted a pointed bullet. These pointed forms had much flatter trajectories, greater muzzle velocities and greater remaining velocities at all ranges up to 2000 yards. The improved efficiency was so marked that it became a military necessity for us to overlook the stock of round-nosed Krag bullets and adopt something of comparable grade if we were to maintain our position in the constant race for armed equality.
Comprehensive tests were conducted in 1904, ’05 and ’06 which brought about our adoption of the M1906 bullet. This very closely resembled the German bullet of 1904, being 150 grains in weight, flat-based, pointed and having a cupronickel jacket over a lead core. When this new bullet was first tried in the Model 1903 rifle it posed a very interesting chambering problem. Since the ogive of the pointed bullet placed the full diameter 0.2-inch farther back than the old round-nosed type, the new projectile had a jump of this distance to touch the rifling. This factor permitted gas leakage around the point during this interval and caused erratic positioning in the bore, with the result that accuracy was poor. Correcting the difficulty by seating the bullet farther out in the case left a seating depth of only a sixteenth of an inch – far too little for field service. This also made the cartridge length exceed the permissible limits for use in the magazine. The solution to this problem was attained by cutting 0.2 inch off the rear end of the barrel and rechambering it with a reamer having a shorter leade. This in effect moved the rifling leade to the rear so that a bullet with adequate seating depth was properly aligned with the bore in close proximity to the rifling. With the increased seating depth, the long neck of the 1903 case overhung the bullet ogive, so 0.07 inch of the neck was trimmed, resulting in a revised case 2.49 inches in length and having a capacity of 4.35 cc. This combination gave good accuracy, and all 1903 rifles then in service were recalled and altered to the new specifications, although the rifle’s designation of “Model 1903” was retained. The official designation of the new ammunition as noted on contemporary box labels was “Ball Cartridge, Model of 1906, For U.S. Magazine Rifle, Model of 1903”.
The ball cartridge, Model of 1906, remained the standard of the armed services until 1925, although its shortcomings became more apparent during World War I and after. Our troops in France, equipped with the French Hotchkiss machine gun using the 198 grain “Balle D”, found the extreme range of these weapons at least 50 percent greater than our own Brownings with the 1906 bullet. The Germans had also adopted a 198 grain boattail bullet for machine gun use which surpassed the efficiency of our equipment. Experimental firings conducted in 1918 and later proved that the range tables then in existence quoted theoretical accuracy and ranges which could not be attained in practice. Tests at Borden Rock Reservoir near Springfield Armory, and later at Miami and Daytona Beach, Florida, with a great number of different rifles and machine guns using a multitude of bullet designs, definitely proved the superior efficiency at long ranges of a heavier boattail bullet over the existing Model of 1906, 150 grain, flat-based ball bullet. The result was the adoption in 1925, for all arms, of the 172 grain M1 bullet with a 9-degree boattail and a gilding-metal jacket. This round had an extreme range of 5900 yards, a gain of 2500 yards over its predecessor. As originally issued, the M1 had a muzzle velocity of 2700 feet per second, but this was later reduced to 2640 feet per second due to the difficulty of maintaining acceptable pressures at the higher level. The maximum range in the revised loading dropped to 5500 yards.
Large stocks of the 1906 cartridge were still on hand in 1925, left over from World War I. As an economy measure, these were issued to all branches of the service for practice firing. The stock lasted until about 1936 when “Ball, M1” began to be issued for this purpose. While this day had long been looked forward to by the various branches, its arrival proved a disappointment, because the increased range of the M1 cartridge exceeded the safety limits of most of the target ranges then in use. This resulted in the National Guard Bureau making a request to the War Department for a supply of M1906 cartridges for target practice. The request was approved and ammunition having a bullet very similar to the 1906 type was manufactured. The bullet jackets were made of gilding metal instead of the old cupronickel but were stained with stannic acid which gave them a silvery appearance so that they might be distinguished from the M1 type. These new rounds were given the old designation “Ball, M1906.” Although this ammunition was intended only as a special purpose round for use on target ranges, it started the ball rolling backwards. The long years of peace had softened the complaints of the World War I machine gunners, and the riflemen of the time favored the lighter bullet for its reduced recoil. In 1940 the 150 grain flat-based bullet was again adopted for all arms, under the designation of “Cartridge, Ball, Caliber .30 M2”.