In 1941, when the United States needed firearms for its own troops, it called upon Remington. The company responded dramatically with both rifles and ammunition, eventually increasing its workforce twenty-fold, and ultimately producing materiel with an aggregate value of over $1 billion.
However, the story actually began two years earlier in Ilion when Remington started to convert from production of commercial firearms for the sporting trade to production of military rifles. Concurrently, the Remington ammunition plant in Bridgeport was asked to make the same transition, from making sporting cartridges and shotshells to producing military ammunition. At the same time, Remington Arms Co. was selected to participate in an unprecedented effort to establish and operate five government-owned munitions plants that were nicknamed GO-CO (Government Owned, Company Operated).
On December 12, 1940, Great Britain, who was suffering from a lack of small arms, sent a letter of intent to Remington for the production of Model 1903 Springfield rifles chambered for the .303 British service cartridge. On June 30, 1941, a contract was signed that called for 500,000 rifles. However, because of pressing U.S. needs, this contract was canceled, and in its place came a cost-plus-fixed fee contract from the U.S. government on September 11, 1941, to produce 134,000 U.S. Rifles, Caliber .30, Model 1903, at a cost of $54.15 each.
It soon became clear that America was ill equipped for its impending entry into World War II, as we had insufficient firearms to equip the troops even during the critical months prior to Pearl Harbor. Therefore, the Ordnance Department asked Remington to tool up to produce as many Springfield bolt-action service rifles as possible, in as short a time as possible.
A second contract was sent to Remington on November 24th for an additional 74,000 rifles, and another on December 13th for 100,000 more. Rifle production commenced in October 1941, utilizing government-owned machinery, tools, jigs, and fixtures that had been used at the Rock Island Arsenal and Springfield Armory during World War I.
When the machines arrived in Ilion in April 1941, they were covered with preservative, and each carried its original tools for operation. Fortunately, a sample part made by each machine had been wired to the machine when it went into storage after World War I. Deliveries of the first Model 1903 rifles began in November 1941 and continued through May 1942. During that seven-month period, about 160,000 rifles were made in Ilion. The number of workers in Ilion had risen from 900 in 1939 to more than 9,000 during peak production in 1943.
Remington’s production of sporting rifles and shotguns declined in 1941, and by the beginning of 1942 the Ilion facility was totally committed to the war effort. In April 1942, approval was given by the Ordnance Department for Remington to simplify production of the 1903 rifle, including the substitution of stamped instead of machined parts. The resulting weapon was called U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, Model 1903 (Modified), and Remington produced about 188,000 between June and December 1942.
On May 21, 1942, the U.S. Ordnance Commission ordered standardization of the bolt-action service rifle, to be called U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, Model 1903A3.2 On June 8th Remington was authorized by the Ordnance Department to begin the production changeover to the new design, as soon as machinery and tooling were available. On July 20, 1942, an order was received to fabricate 720,000 of the new rifles. Deliveries commenced in January 1943 and continued for the next fifteen months. On December 7, 1943, Remington received a change-order from the Ordnance Department that called for cessation of production on February 29, 1944. A total of 707,629 Remington Model 1903A3 rifles had been delivered.
On January 18, 1943, Remington was issued a contract to “divert 20,000 1903 rifles from production and convert them to sniping rifles, as per specifications furnished.” These were to be designated U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, Model 1903A4 (Sniper’s). On June 20th an additional 8,365 sniper rifles were ordered. Production began on these weapons in February 1943 and continued through June 1944, when the order was canceled because of the adoption of the new M1C Garand Sniper rifle.
In all Remington had produced 28,365 Model 1903A4 rifles, making them the first mass-produced sniper rifle manufactured in the United States. Each had been fitted with a civilian Weaver Model 330C riflescope (later given the military designation of M73B1) with 2.5X optics fitted with a crosshair reticle.
During the war, Remington’s Ilion plant was also called upon to supply .22-caliber target rifles. These were used to teach marksmanship skills to servicemen, thus eliminating the expense of shooting service rifles with high-power ammunition. Contract records indicate that Remington sold the U.S. government 59,964 Model 513T bolt-action target rifles ($20.14 each), 172 Model 550 autoloading rifles ($15.88 each), and twenty-five Model 512 bolt-action rifles ($10.40 each).
Early in the war, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army realized that an effective and economical way to teach aerial gunners “wing shooting” was to train them to shoot skeet. Remington again came to the forefront by supplying 59,961 Model 11 autoloading shotguns, and 8,992 Model 31 pump-action shotguns, as well as 6,700 mechanical target throwers and more than 204,000,000 clay targets.
In recognition of their efforts, the employees at Remington’s Ilion Works were awarded the Army-Navy “E” Award for excellence in the production of war materials in a ceremony held on November 9, 1942.
Remington’s Ammunition Contributions During World War II
In 1937 the U.S. government requested that Remington collaborate on a peacetime plan for the potential expansion of military ammunition production in time of national need. The plan called for a number of new munitions plants to be constructed by the government and to be contractor operated. The plan dictated the creation of manufacturing units, each capable of producing 1,000,000 rounds of .30- and 650,000 rounds of .50-caliber ammo per working day.
When the plan was activated in the summer of 1940, the government asked Remington to recommend sites for the various plants. With the aid of DuPont, Remington conducted a study covering fifty-one potential sites. In September Remington established and began operating the first plant. James P. Chasmar, who had been appointed manager of Remington’s Bridgeport Ammunition Works in 1932, was charged with establishing the first GO-CO munitions plant in Lake City, Utah, in late 1940.
The Army Quartermaster Corps contracted with Remington to collaborate with the architects and engineers of Smith, Hinchman & Grills and with the munitions officials of Frankford Arsenal. Remington provided advice with respect to design engineering and construction, and procured equipment and tooling from Frankford Arsenal and from Bridgeport. Remington also became responsible for the training of personnel and for management of the plants. GO-CO small arms ammunition plants belonged to the government but were operated by Remington under fixed-fee contracts.
This was historic, as it was the first time that a military ammunition plant was designed and built from the ground up on very little notice.
The Lake City plant was established with two units—each producing 1,000,000 rounds of .30-caliber ammunition and 650,000 rounds of .50-caliber ammunition. At Denver five .30-caliber units were established, and at Salt Lake two units of .30 caliber and one unit of .50 caliber were constructed.
As Chasmar would later say: “It was a thrilling experience for us, and there was a sense of destiny in it. We felt that no sparing of one’s strength or comfort was warranted to accomplish this tremendous task so vital to our country.”4 Chasmar was later asked to establish and manage similar plants in Denver (with Lake City considered the first wave) and another plant outside of Salt Lake City (considered the second wave). Later, the old U.S. Cartridge Co. factory in Lowell, Massachusetts, was modernized and upgraded to produce military ammunition (considered the fourth wave.