Vintage Saturday: Combined Arms

US troops in the Pacific Theater with 1903 Springfields and a 1919A4 machine gun
US troops in the Pacific Theater with 1903 Springfields and a 1919A4 machine gun

I have seen this image described as being from both Burma and Okinawa – not sure myself which (if either) is correct. The array of armament present is interesting, though – a 1903A3, a 1903A4 sniper, a couple rifle grenades, and a 1919A4 machine gun. Note the presence of the bolt hold-open latch on the 1919A4 – this allowed the bolt to be locked open to improve cooling of the gun, and was removed from production in May 1943.

Edit: One commenter mentioned they had an original Signal Corps copy of this photo, with this caption on the back:



  1. I see the best usage of a bolt-action here. The machine gun serves as the primary killer while the rifles pick off any survivors who get close enough to toss grenades.

  2. Wouldn’t Okinawa be a little late for the standard M1903A3, unless they are Marines? I am not that well-versed with US WW2 uniforms.

  3. For a guess, I would say Okinawa. My father was a rifleman with the 1st Division there, and said there were a lot of evergreens. The terrain matches, also. Springfields were commonly used to launch rifle grenades. My dad carried an M-1, and was given a tinny grenade launcher. Somebody told him it was dangerous, so he threw it over the side of the landing craft on the way to the beach. The Marine Corps wanted it back when it was time to go home. They were signing them in the front door, and tossing them out the back window. He picked one up out of the pile, oiled it up and turned it in. They threw it out the window again.

  4. I would say Burma would be correct and those men are most likely from Merrills Marauders. I’m inclined to say so due to the shirts some of the guys are wearing. I’ve seen many photos of men with that unit wearing them. The shirt looks like a light weight sweat shirt.

    • my dad accidentally ran into the merrill’s marauders reunion at a hotel about 20 years back. they found out he was a Seabee and he couldn’t buy himself a drink. good group of guys.

      there was a story I read a few years ago. not sure if it was true..but some kid showed up at a retirement home, flashed a pistol, and tried to rob the guys out on the front porch. turned out to be the merrill’s marauders retirement home, and all those “grandpas” got up and gave him a good thrashing. the cops finally showed, and they refused to press charges on the kid..because it was the most fun they’d had in years.

      • Thanks for sharing the story. If it is true, then I say “great job” to the the retirees, and I’m really glad for all of you. As for the young idiot who tried to pull off this caper, just thank your lucky stars that all you got was a thoroughly good hiding, and that you are actually still alive to serve your time in jail.

    • Eric — the Mars Task Force was what the very few surviving and healthy (or recovery-capable) Marauders were merged into, so you’re basically right. However, the combined Mars force did not have a deep penetration mission.

      Here’s an official history.

      For all the glory of the Chindits and the Marauders, this historian believes — and I agree — that the economy of force operations of OSS Det 101 were more effective.

      I do part company with him on Allied versus Japanese medical and non-combat injury/illness numbers. While the Japanese did far worse on that than the main Allied line units (who all evaporated after Mandalay was taken), the penetration units in general and the Marauders in particular did worse in terms of health preservation than the Japanese. And that’s really saying something.

      Anyway, people forget that Springfields were kept around by US Doctrine for most of WWII in order to launch grenades. It took a long time for the grenade launchers for the new firearms to catch up with the front.

    • Since it was a photographer who took the picture do you suppose it was staged? Common sense would tell you, fire from the prone position, more accurate than offhand and safer. If you can see them they can see you! The guy shooting with iron sights (first in line) is firing off hand. Very unsteady and he is very exposed and they are all bunched up. Looks staged for the folks back home.

  5. Notice also many spent cartridge case in bottom part of photo.
    Man with scoped rifle has also knife attached to belt. Can you say which model of knife it is?

  6. Apart from the hold open lever, what sort of safeties, if any, did the M1919 machine gun have? I have always thought that its trigger looks rather exposed without any sort of trigger guard.

    • “safeties” states that Browning Model 1917 has:
      (…)This cut [see drawing] is for the trigger latch which slid from left to right and had a protruding finger that extended over the trigger preventing it from being raised and firing the weapon.
      The trigger equipped Browning machine guns with trigger latch installed fire by sliding the trigger latch to the left and raising the trigger upward not pulling it like a conventional trigger.
      The Army didn’t call the trigger latch a safety because it was not considered one, likely because it did not lock any of the firing parts such as the sear or firing pin.
      This feature was never popular with the troops and since it was easily removed when the back plate was dismounted it was usually thrown away.
      When these weapons missing the latch were discovered the latches were replaced only to be discarded again.(…)

      I am not sure about M1919 Browning? Does some of them has this feature?

      • Thanks Daewo.

        If I understand it rightly, without the bolt hold open latch, M1919A4s and A6s had no form of safety catch. Is that right? Given that the trigger did not even have a trigger guard, does anyone know if there was an above average rate of accidental discharges from these guns? Given that the M1919A6 was meant to be a sort of LMG, it would be carried by infantrymen festooned with belts and equipment, and I would have thought the chances of an AD were rather high.

  7. That knife looks like the non- K-Bar fighting knife, M-3, I think. It was almost the same as the M1 carbine bayonet and fit into the same fiberglass sheath. If I remember right the K-Bar was too big for that hard sheath, so it had its own leather one.

    The uniform item that I’m curious about is the shirts. They look like long underwear shirts. So far as I know nobody (US branches) issued a long sleeve tee shirt. Why one would have a long underwear shirt in the Pacific I don’t understand. Korea makes the most sense here. Why troops would wear their underwear on the outside I don’t get either.

    • Somehow the hairstyles and absence of helmets strike me as wrong for Okinawa, but possibly appropriate for Korea. Your shirt observation seems reasonable for that as well. I’m also not sure I’ve seen that Marine cap in WWII action shots before, but it would fit for Korea as well.

  8. I am almost positive that picture was used in John Georges autobiography of his time in Burma with the Marauders. If anyone has a copy of Shots Fired in Anger..they can confirm.

  9. Second line troops perhaps? Or was the Springfield preferred in jungle conditions due to the M1 Garand’s reliability issues with mud and grit?

  10. The M1919A4 in the photograph is using the old-style woven cotton continuous ammunition belt, rather than the later standard disintegrating metal link belt.

  11. I am not sure myself, but if it is either it was most likely Burma as by the time we reached Okinawa, all our troops had access to Garands and BARs with only the snipers using bolt action rifles. An expert on tropical plant life might give you a better idea as to exactly where though

  12. Okay, how about we pit a machine gun crew given a few Springfield rifles and an M1919a6 against another crew given K98s and a water-cooled version of the drum-fed MG-15 (not the MG 08/15) OR an MG-42. What would happen?

  13. My guess would be Burma, looks more like mainland Japan, China or Korea. Okinawa is slightly tropical more like Hawaii. The Japanese often refer Okinawa as Japan’s Hawaii. Also there is a lot of foliage on the surrounding hills. Most photos of Okinawa show most of the foliage blasted away by bombs and artillery. The guys have the look of unconventional forces to them. They are definitely delivering harassing fire on a small group of I.J.A soldiers. Their exposure suggests the enemy has no mortar or artillery. I guess the Springfield has Hell Raiser scratched in the stock.

  14. Web sling on the 03A3 and “1945” date on the photo description indicate late-war. The bolt guns 1903 and 03A3 were used extensively for rifle grenade launching throughout the war. Just because the M1 Garand rifle was eventually adapted to rifle grenade launching does not mean that the launchers miraculously appeared everywhere over night. I’d be very surprised if the actual location was different from the photo description.

    • I have heard that the M1 used a special plug in the end of the gas tube, a plunger to vent gas. The launcher has protruding pin that held the spring loaded plunger open when launching the grenade. Heavy grenade caused excessive pressure damaging gas system of the M1. Also 03A3 Springfields were manufactured all through the war so probably issued to troops just about every where.

  15. This pic is in “Shots Fired in Anger” George 1947 published and gives the location as Burma. The 1903A3 with the rifle grenades handy is correct since it took a while to develop a grenade launcher for the M1.

  16. When I see this photo, the first thing I think when I see all those spent 30.06 casings is: MY EARS, MY EARS! No hearing protection, OUCH.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.