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Rifle Serial Number Lists?


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This has probably been brought up several times, and since I see no pinned topics, I'm assuming the answer is "no"...but are there any lists of weapon serial numbers or ranges that places them to a particular era, or branch of service?

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Doctorofwar

There are serial number lists contained in books by Northcape Publications about specific firearms and most of Bruce Canfield’s books include some serial number data.  Usually these lists are to date the manufacture of the gun, but sometimes serials (or more commonly serial ranges) associated with certain units are given if known.  

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Less than 10% of US rifle serial numbers have been associated with issue to a unit or organization.  The Springfield Research Service (SRS) published several books of known serial numbers, and other researchers have published some serial numbers in their books, but most of these don't directly associate a serial number with a unit.  And also, a particular weapon may have been issued to multiple units over time.

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Charlie Flick

Hello Brig:

 

The short answer is "It depends." 

 

I agree with Thorin6's comment on the SRS.  That for-profit company, founded and run by the late Frank Mallory, compiled many thousands of serial numbers of U.S. small arms that were discovered in documents located at the National Archives and other document depositories.  3 or 4 books containing these numbers were published.  The typical entry would be a serial number for a M1903 rifle that was mentioned as in the possession of an Army unit somewhere, perhaps a report of unserviceability or a lost weapon. 

 

While there are many thousands of such numbers recorded by the SRS, they comprise only a tiny fraction of the total USGI weapons in service over the past 150 years or so.  Thus, finding the serial number for a weapon you possess is akin to holding a winning lotto ticket.  It does not happen very often.  When it does, you can contact SRS and pay them their fee for retrieving a copy of the document that mentioned your serial number.  That document can range from the mundane to the magnificent.  In 4 decades of collecting USGI small arms I have found exactly one hit in the SRS archives and it was, to me, highly significant.

 

There are other sources.  For example, the M1911 .45 pistols that were part of the armory aboard the battleship USS North Carolina have been identified by serial number from a ship's inventory document.   

 

On your inquiry as to "branch of service", the answer is somewhat easier.  Examples:  Smith & Wesson factory records exist that show which of their .38 Special Victory Model revolvers were shipped to the Navy in WW2.  On M1911 pistols shipped in WW1 there published records which are pretty detailed on when and where those pistols were shipped.  On M1911A1 pistols manufactured in WW2 by Ithaca factory records (although somewhat incomplete) exist that show groups of pistols identified by serial number that shipped to USAAF destinations.  Colt factory records are available and can provide the original shipping destination which often turn out to be places like Raritan Arsenal or Letterkenney Arsenal.  Many similar examples of other sources exist which are too numerous to list here.

 

Finally, for post-WW2 small arms it is possible, in certain limited circumstances, to obtain information from the military via a FOIA request.  I have done so with mixed results.

 

So, as I said above "it depends".  Is there a particular weapon's serial number that you are interested in?

 

Regards,

Charlie

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