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. 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.
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):
“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:
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….
WACA 9519; Studying Pre-64 Model 70 Winchesters
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
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”…
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:
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…
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…
WACA 9519; Studying Pre-64 Model 70 Winchesters
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..
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.
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…
WACA 9519; Studying Pre-64 Model 70 Winchesters