Up to the early 1890's, there had only been two cartridges designed (and deployed) by the United States Army. This first was the .50-70 Government (1868), the second was the .45-70 Government (1873). Both were black powder rounds -- the .50-70 mainly seeing use in Trapdoor Springfields and the .45-70, in addition to the Trapdoors of its day, seeing use in single shot black powder rifles, such as the (Browning designed) Winchester "High Wall" and Remington "Rolling Blocks".
And then there was smokeless powder. Advances had been made in chemistry such that we no longer needed to use the rather dirty burning and corrosive black powder anymore. When there is such an advance in the propellants used for cartridges, it is time to make a new cartridge. No army wants to be left using yesterday's toys. Even so, there were some cartridges that could cross the gap and become smokeless cartridges (such as the .45-70 and the .30-40 Krag, for instance), but the majority fell by the wayside. The working pressures of smokeless v. black powder is such that even if you can still use the same dimension case as previously with black powder, you will most often need a new gun to fire it; else, the pressure is too great and will force an explosion from the weaker steel which was appropriate for black powder.
The first smokeless powder round designed for the Army was the .30-40 Krag (1892). And it was fairly successful, but something still better was needed. That something better was the .30-06. This is the cartridge that would one day kill Martin Luther King Jr.
Development was put underway by the military to come up with a new round for its armed forces. The Springfield Armory was given the task of coming up with a new round that used the new smokeless powder in a .30 caliber (really .308") that would kill quickly and with a minimum amount of recoil. One of the weaknesses of the Krag was that the velocity was not significant enough, and not enough velocity means not as many sure kills. So that was the one thing to work on. Initially, it seems, the cartridge was designed to emulate some of the German Mauser cartridges- notably the 7mm version, seen by the Americans during the Spanish American War. The American version differed from its German brother in that it had a rimless case (meaning the case head, or where the firing pin strikes the primer in the case to make it go "boom" was no larger than the body of the case) and an extracting ring was cut into the grove of the base of the cartridge body to facilitate the quick removal and reliable feeding in the firearm. This first attempt was dubbed the "1903" and in fact, many rifles were chambered for it. It worked well, though it was loaded with too heavy a bullet which in turn generated too much pressure. More testing was needed. The bullet weight was reduced from 220 grains to 150 grains and the case was augmented slightly. The speed increased to 2,700 fps (up from 2,200) as a result of these changes. Recoil was minimized. These finishing touches were completed in 1906. Hence the name: .30 caliber, model 1906. Or, as we know it today, the .30-06 Springfield. In the vernacular, it is simply called the "aught six".
Having stood the test of time nearing a century of usage, two World Wars, a host of other military actions and a strong fan base in the civilian target and hunting market, it is quite possible that it is the .30-06 which can account for the most death and destruction of any cartridge produced. A strong title for something so small.
- Overall Case Length: 2.494".
- Bullet Size Accommodated: anywhere from 150-200 grain bullets can be used.
- Standard Load: A 165 grain bullet can travel up to 2,800 fps.
- Known uses: hunting medium to large game, long range ("fullbore") target matches, machine gun ammunition. Was once standard rifle ammunition for the US Army.
Reloading Manual #10, For Rifle and Pistol. Speer. 1979.