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Van Orden History
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July 22, 2023 - 3:44 pm
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In light of the recent post regarding a putative prototype “Van Orden Sniper” Model 70 from 1939, I thought I’d contribute some general comments and documentation about Van Orden and US Military Model 70s.  Some of this is redundant, for which I apologize. Embarassed I am placing it in a separate thread so as not to pollute the other one.

First, as most people know, USMC then-Captain George Owen Van Orden and Chief Gunner Calvin Lloyd, members of the USMC equipment board, co-authored a report, posted November 12, 1942, on “Equipment for the American Sniper” in which they recommended the Model 70 Winchester with 8X Unertl scope.  For various reasons, some apparently related to supply chain concerns (spare parts) when deploying a new combat weapon and questions about the Model 70s durability, the Corps ultimately opted for the Springfield M1903A3 with Unertl scope as their combat sniper weapon.

Possibly (probably) unrelated, Wartime demand for small arms for Stateside use led the USMC to purchase 373 Model 70s in 30 GOV’T’06 caliber from existing Winchester inventory.  All were Standard rifles, (260) with the 22G sporting rear sight (G7004C) and (113) with the Lyman 48WJS receiver sight (G7014C).  The serial numbers of the known rifles in this group are in the 41XXX to 51XXX range.  Below is the line from the Winchester 1942 “Quotations and Orders” ledger for this sale.  Below that is a July 1942 letter from Edwin Pugsley to the UMSC soliciting further orders, but none were forthcoming.

1942-USMC-Quotation-Order.pngImage EnlargerPugsley-1942-Letter.jpegImage Enlarger

According to Chandler’s “Death From Afar – Volume 1”, the surviving UMSC Model 70s from this order were recalled and rebuilt into heavy barreled “Sniper Rifles” between roughly 1956 and 1963.  The incomplete list of about (250) USMC Model 70 serial numbers in Chandler was derived from this recall.  These pre-war Model 70s were rebuilt with then-current production medium heavy target rifle barrels obtained either from Winchester or Douglas.  If serviceable, the original checkered standard stock was retained.  If not, the rifles were fit with Marksman style stocks from Winchester.  This group of rifles was made famous by USMC Snipers, like Carlos Hathcock, in Viet Nam.  But they didn’t have much of anything to do with George Van Orden beyond the fact that he remained a proponent of the Model 70 as a combat sniper rifle.

The Evaluators Limited “Van Orden Sniper” story originates in the early 1950s.  Brigadier General Van Orden retired following the Korean conflict and he and his wife Flora opened a gun shop located in Triangle, VA near the Quantico Marine Corps base (and FBI training headquarters located there).  The shop specialized in selling firearms and equipment to military and law enforcement personnel.  Their offerings included modified Winchester Model 70 30-06 Target Rifles for match competition.  These rifles were special ordered from Winchester, and reportedly “tuned” by Evaluators Limited.  These rifles were produced in small batches between 1952 and 1957, spanning the 159XXX to 413XXX serial number range.  From the shop records reproduced in Chandler (there are no known Winchester records on this topic) there were some (300) of these “Van Orden Sniper” rifles sold by Evaluators Ltd, of which about one-third were sold to individuals and the other two-thirds to various US Military branches for marksmanship team use.  Interestingly, Colonel Walter Walsh won the 1952 National Rifles Matches at Camp Perry with a Van Orden Sniper.

The Van Order Model 70s were offered in two versions; the “Special Target” which featured a Marksman stock with special dimensions, and a “Sniper” version that was equipped with an uncheckered, oil-finished, “standard” rifle stock with dimensions that approximated the Springfield M1903A1 National Match rifle.  The dimensions of the “Sniper” butt stock (less drop, more pitch, consequently slightly shorter LOP) provide one way of telling a genuine “Van Orden Sniper” from a standard rifle with the checkering sanded off…  Below are photos of each “flavor” of Van Orden Sniper along with the description that was printed on the cover of the envelope containing the paperwork that came with the rifle.

“Van Orden Sniper” Specifications (S/N 351439 was sold to Victor Dawson of Silver Spring MD in March 1956):

SN-351439.jpegImage EnlargerVO-Sniper-Specs.pngImage Enlarger

“Special Target” Specifications (S/N 220619 was sold to Robert Gates of Hershey PA in July 1952).  I borrowed this image from Justin Hale as I do not own a VO Special Target:

SN-220619.pngImage EnlargerVO-Special-Target-Specs.pngImage Enlarger

It has been claimed (and is probably true) that some of the military-owned 1950s Van Orden rifles did find their way to Viet Nam along with the pre-war “sniper” rebuilds, but the M70 was not formally adopted by any branch of the military as a combat weapon. 

A final point of clarification…  It is evident from the M70 survey that the military purchased many Model 70 Target Rifles (G7044C) directly from Winchester, not from Evaluators Ltd.  The serial numbers of these rifles, usually marked “US Property” in electropencil, are interspersed with the Van Orden rifles, often consecutive or nearly so.  This makes sense, because the post-war (oval tang) Model 70 Target Rifles in 30-06 used a specialized receiver that retained the clip loading slot.  Since the receivers were made in batches and only used on 30-06 Target Rifles (National Match, Target Model and Bull Gun), it’s not surprising that the rifles obtained from Evaluators Limited versus direct from Winchester are numbered in the same series.  As far as I am aware, the Van Orden serial number list in Chandler is the only record of which of these rifles are “real” Van Orden Snipers.

I believe the information above to be accurate…. Wink

Lou

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July 22, 2023 - 6:21 pm
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Thank  you  Lou. My  Model 70  is a 1939  reciever- and a 1950  barrel date, My assumption  is  it was produced by Winchester  in 1950 ,in  preperations  for  the Korean Conflict.?             June 1950  marked as “the beginning”  , anytime after  that is War production rules.   In one  sense   they’re all Van Orden  Snipers,  as  he  was  the  proponant  of  the Marine Snipers  beginning WW2,  My guess  is  he  was  the liason between  the  Pentagon and Winchester, veeing  for a Sniper Rifle contract  that  went  to Remington, in 1950. The 40X  has a  smooth stick.           Military weapon evaluators probably   don’t  like  checkered stocks,   as they hold  dirt , ice ,  in snow & freezing weather ,   hard  to clean,  where a plain stock ,wipes  clean  easily..    Sniper  rifles  , Target  rifles   use a medium  heavy  barrels, where Winchester National Match  rifles  in 1950  used a No1, standard barrel  for  the  weight.  the Front  ramp was modified lowered, to accomodate a dovetail block  that fit  the Lyman globe , was  removeable   where  set in  the  sight dovetail isn’t  removeable without a drift  pin..as mine is, a lightly stippled  ramp  ,  forged on  the barrel type.      It  doesn’t  say  whether Van Orden  ordered  the Special Sniper  stocks,  plain  uncheckered ,oil finish , from Winchester , in  the  50’s, as  they  were not a standard  Winchester production.without checkering.of had  them  made. as  how  his orders  were filled by Winchester  -did  he  send barreled actions  for  him to stock? i think  not  but  they filled  his orders  as  they would  fill military orders..providing  the  plain stocks  on  the rifles. I’ll check  the LOP drop against  another pre war 70.. Interesting  the rifle  for sale  with  this,  was a Model 54  that  the stock was scrubbed  down  to match  this. both had Bushnell scopes  from  tho 70’s?     the 54 was in rough shape, turned down handle and  homemade   scope safety.     On mine  the front half the  barrel blue  was  verkacht, buttplate and  floorplate  wirewheeled ,to  remove brown fuzz.swivels  were never  blued blacked , plain steel…..i  didn’t  notice  it wasn’t  checkered , until later  that night , after  i got  home, unpacked  from  the show.  it  was  a  right Winchester stock,from  the minute  i looked at  it..never  thought about  it.  why  i started  researching military  sticks  as no checkering…  I’m leaning  toward National Match  as  the No1 barrel would  be correct with a Type  1 reciever… RF

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July 22, 2023 - 9:49 pm
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Hi Ralph-

Given that Brigadier General Van Orden is called “The Father of USMC Snipers” because of his involvement in setting up the USMC Sniper Training Program during WWII, I suppose you’re right that you could call ALL the rifles AND the soldiers “Van Orden Snipers” or at least “Van Orden’s Snipers”… Wink

FWIW (if you want to measure)… The M70 butt stock dimensions for the Standard NRA style stock and the Marksman stock used on the National Match, Target Model and Bull Gun are given in the clips below from the 1941 Winchester Arms and Accessories catalog:

1941-Arms-and-Accessories-Catalog-Standard-Rifle-copy.jpgImage Enlarger1941-Catalog-Nat-Match-copy.jpgImage Enlarger

Apart from the much heavier cross section of the Marksman stock, the dimensions of the VO Sniper butt stock (based on the ’03 Springfield National Match stock) pretty much match the Winchester Marksman stock.  If you just set a VO Sniper in a gun rack next to a regular NRA stocked M70 it’ll look about 1/4″ short (due to the greater pitch). This freaked me out the first time I noticed it (thinking my stock had been shortened), but if you set it next to a M70 Target rifle they’re the same.

As far as I know, the VO Sniper stocks were made by Winchester to Evaluators Ltd specifications.  The VO butt stock cross section and butt plate are the same as the standard NRA style stock.  I’ll attach a composite pic of my VO Sniper stock for comparison.  The inletting (including the pointless inclusion of a hole for a non-functional barrel bedding screw) is Winchester.  I do believe this stock has been very lightly “free floated” and there’s a dab of something like Bisonite on the receiver bedding flat that I suspect was not done at the factory.  Maybe part of Evaluator’s Ltds “tuning” of these rifles or maybe done by Victor Dawson (the guy who bought this one)???  I don’t know… Confused

M70-Van-Orden-Sniper-composite-D.jpgImage Enlarger

Of course these are the stocks used on the 1950s VO Snipers made for Evaluators Ltd (all type III oval tang receivers), so this may not be relevant in your case…  I completely agree that the Armed Forces (certainly General Van Orden) were not big fans of either checkering or sprayed on lacquer finish, so the VO Snipers have neither… But apparently the USMC Armorers were also pragmatists, since many/most of the pre-war M70s that were Arsenal rebuilt into heavy barrel sniper rifles used the original checkered NRA style stock with the barrel channel opened up.  I don’t know what role Van Orden himself may have played in the rebuild program, since he retired in 1951-ish and (if the dates in Chandler are correct) the rebuild program started in 1956.  I’m sure he still had connections within USMC and in any event he was on-record as favoring the M70 in a combat sniper role, but I’m not aware of any documentation that supports his direct involvement post-retirement.

Thanks for the interesting post… Laugh

Lou

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July 23, 2023 - 8:13 pm
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 The  LOP is  13 1/2″ .. Stock  drop   from a straight  edge   on  the  reciever knurling– 1 1/4″ at  the comb — 2″  at  the heel..            -somewhere  in  the last week   i read  the  sniper stock– NM dimensions  were changed  to match  the Springfield Match rifles.drop. ? for NM shooting  regulations….    the half stocked,  Open sight class , Service rifle class, has a weight limit  that  excludes  heavy  barrels  .1950 rules..                 ( A Standard  stock  is 1 5/8th” at comb. 2 3/8th” at  the heel.–)– The  split  may  be  in  the felling of  th tree  ,too- they get  “drop shakes”  inside,   that split open  when recoil  “hammered”  it.split  to  the  front of  the inlet  forearm..   Never was  shot  much.after  that– Barrel was ful of lead,  still scrubbing, looked like rounded rifling..but  the color was  perfect , extractor blue,,  barely worn,nice ” new ” rust  blue  reciever..looked like beat  . otherwise..   Walking around Sunday morning..    sitting  there all weekend..  The Van Orden  snipers by  the numbers  would al be  Type 3 recievers. modified  for stripper clips. That began in 1950  on target  rifles . My  stock  wasn’t oiled  in 50-60 years,  it was  for a cloverleaf reciever.too-.as  all  the previous  snipers.were. Is  study  of  the  41K to 50K– WW2  types and  stocks  produced?   There ‘s a full stocked military Model 70  in  Cody , i understand..

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July 23, 2023 - 10:51 pm
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Hi Ralph-

That’s interesting…  As you know, you cannot make (as in FAKE) a “standard style” M70 stock with marksman butt dimensions from either a regular standard stock (by sanding off the checkering) or by whittling on a Marksman stock.  In the former case there’s simply no wood where the higher comb should be and in the latter you cannot get rid of the inletting for the hand stop adjustment rail.  So a M70 “standard” stock with ’03 Springfield butt stock dimensions has to have been made that way (by somebody)…

While I do not know the details, it’s my understanding that you’re right about service rifle class weight restrictions in the 1950’s, such that you either had to go with a M70 “National Match” (lighter standard contour barrel in a heavy Marksman stock) or a “VO Sniper” style rifle (heavier target barrel in lighter standard stock).  Of course I could be all wet here… Maybe seewin can correct me!!!

Winchester apparently did make some pretty weird M70 stock patterns on order…  English shotgun style “straight grip” stocks, stocks inlet for standard contour barrels that omitted the barrel boss, the VO Sniper pattern (standard fore end with Springfield NM dimension butt), etc.  Realistically, if you have a gun factory with a stock duplicator (pantograph) you can make almost anything over and over from a single form model… 

Here’s a somewhat related oddball M70 stock pattern that I’ve only ever seen twice (the top rifle in the photo, the one below it is a genuine VO Sniper). I only bring this up b/c you never know what Winchester might do…  Pre64win.com found this (top) stock (just the stock) and I got it from them.  I stuck a 1955 M70 270 WCF target rifle in it for display.  Inspection of the inletting on this one (by more than one person) is pretty convincing that it’s a factory stock that was never used to assemble a complete rifle. 

Hybrid-Stock-12-copy-1.jpgImage Enlarger

The VO Sniper stock (bottom) is uncheckered, oil finished, and has the Marksman butt stock dimensions (matching the ’03 Springfield NM stock), but the cross section is the same as the standard M70 stock and it uses the standard M70 butt plate.  This oddball “hybrid” stock has a standard rounded fore end and regular standard rifle checkering, but the butt stock is full sized Marksman both in terms of drop/pitch/LOP AND cross section (such that it takes an uncut Marksman butt plate).

This is NOT the same as the 22 HORNET ramped target rifle with Marksman butt plate that’s pictured in Roger Rule’s book, as that rifle has the standard stock cross section and a cut down checkered steel butt plate. As I said, I’ve only seen one other (apparently also factory) M70 stock in the same pattern as this oddball hybrid and it was on a pre-war (cloverleaf tang) rifle, while this stock is inlet for the type III oval tang…

This kind of stuff makes looking at these guns fun…  I can’t “prove” these oddballs are “real”, but as long as I’m not trying to sell them (which I’m not), it doesn’t matter to anyone but me…

Lou

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