Two Model 1903 Rifles
For all the reasons the United States won the Spanish-American War, its primary
rifle, the Krag-Jorgensen, was certainly not one of them. Compared to the Spanish
Army’s rifle, the German-designed Mauser, the Norwegian-designed Krag-Jorgensen
came up short in two incredibly significant areas. First, the Krag was notably
weaker than the Mauser. The parts of the Mauser could withstand greater pressures
from within, which enabled more propellant to be used behind a bullet, and thus
increased its force and distance.
Second, one could fire faster with the Mauser;
not because of any major addition to the rifle, but because of the ingenious
and incredibly simple idea of grouping bullets into sets of five beforehand.
The Mauser, through its design, simply facilitated the use of these groups, commonly
called “clips,” after the thin strip of metal which held the group
together. While the first problem of the Krag (weak parts) was easily solved
while maintaining the initial design, the second (use of clips) could not be
solved while still being able to call the resulting changes in design a Krag.
Pratt & Whitney Lincoln Mill Machine, 1905
What the Mauser exposed was the fact that all the Krag really did, compared to
its predecessor (the old Trapdoor,) was to reorganize the loading and firing
motions, as they both loaded one bullet at a time. Instead of the load-fire-load-fire-load-fire
of the Trapdoor, the Krag’s magazine allowed the soldier to load-load-load-load-load
and then fire-fire-fire-fire-fire. There was little-to-no net gain in average
time between bullets. Now, compare this to the Mauser’s method which
condensed the motion of loading five bullets into the previous motion of loading
just one – as in: load, fire-fire-fire-fire-fire, load, fire-fire-fire-fire-fire.
Remember, as evidenced simply by the official adoption of the Krag-Jorgensen,
this was not deemed important by the Ordnance Department.
But after Theodore
Roosevelt, along with most other soldiers on the field during the Spanish-American
War, noticed that the sheer amount of Mauser bullets overhead made the air hum “like
telephone wires”1 (significant
alone because of the psychological effect, never mind the physical effect on
the projectiles’ target) the Ordnance Department was forced to realize
that it was time for another completely new rifle. It is likely that it was also
because of this personal observation that Teddy Roosevelt, first as Vice-President
(from January to September 1901), and then, following William McKinley’s
assassination, as President (1901-1909), had a personal hand in the Ordnance
Department’s attitude adjustment, as well as a personal stake in the actual
design development of the US Army’s next major weapon, the Model 1903.
Theodore Roosevelt's memo requesting new rifles and bayonets.
Roosevelt, Theodore, The
Rough Riders, Chapter 3, General Young's Fight at Las Guasimas,
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,1899.