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Historical Rifles Semi Auto

M1 Garand: The Best Small Arm of D-Day

by Garry James   |  June 6th, 2014 8

m1_garand_wwii_d-day_FThe American GI had a great advantage in World War II: He went into the fight carrying the best battle rifle on either side. When the rest of the world’s armies were using bolt actions that had not changed since the First World War, Yanks were fielding a semiautomatic repeater that gave its user superior firepower, rugged reliability and great confidence. General George C. Patton called this “the greatest battle implement ever devised,” and he was far from wrong. john_cantius_garand

The .30-caliber M1 Garand was adopted by the United States in 1936 to replace the 1903 Springfield. It was designed by John Cantius Garand (pronounced, according to his friend Julian Hatcher, “Gerrend”), an eccentric French-Canadian firearms genius who was known to flood the living room of his house in the winter so he could go ice skating. Leaving school at the age of 12, he began his industrial experience working in a textile mill, where he eventually became a machinist.

He moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where he was hired by a tool factory. Always interested in guns and shooting, Garand started to lean more in the direction of firearms design, and during World War I he submitted the plans for a light machine gun. Though not adopted, the invention brought him to the attention of the government, and he was given a job as consulting engineer at Springfield Armory. It was here that he was tasked with coming up with a practical semiautomatic battle rifle. Garand labored for the U.S. Army Ordnance Department for some 15 years before he devised an action that was strong enough to handle the formidable .30-’06 round—a cartridge that develops more than 50,000 psi of chamber pressure.

Though the gun went through several incarnations and had to beat out a few rivals, what finally emerged was a rifle that was deemed rugged enough and reliable enough to deal with the rough treatment it could expect in the hands of a combat infantryman.

Today the system seems almost elementary, but when it first appeared, Garand’s design was considered something of a marvel. Using a sheetmetal en-bloc clip as part of the feeding system, the rifle functioned as follows: The bolt handle was pulled to the rear, where the action was held open by the follower. A clip of ammo was pressed down into the magazine and the bolt allowed to move forward, where it stripped off and chambered a round. m1_garand_wwii_d-day_9

When the trigger was pulled and the round discharged, gases were tapped off through a gas port in the forward bottom part of the bore. These gases forced the operating rod backward, compressing the operating-rod spring and opening the bolt. As the bolt opened, it extracted and ejected the spent cartridge and cocked the hammer. Relaxation of the operating-rod spring now forced the bolt forward, where it stripped off and chambered the next round. When all eight shots had been expended, the clip was forcibly ejected from the action and the bolt remained open, ready for insertion of the next clip. It is said that Japanese and German soldiers would listen for the telltale ping of the clip being ejected, realizing they had the advantage of a second or two when the Yank would be loading his piece and unable to return fire. m1_garand_wwii_d-day_10

Part of the magic of the rifle resided in its sturdy, responsive rotating bolt—a concept that had been inspired by pre-World War I experiments by the French, Italian and Swiss ordnance bureaus. The system, as devised by Garand, proved to be so effective that it was used again in the selective-fire M14 rifle that officially replaced the M1 in 1957.

If it was reasonably well maintained, it worked almost flawlessly in the adverse conditions of both the European and Pacific theaters and later in the equally challenging cold climate of the Korean War. You could shoot a Garand in inclement weather, and it was easy to clean and strip if it got muddy or dirty.

An American Airborne trooper holds a German prisoner under guard using his Garand fitted with an M1 bayonet. He is festooned with a variety of U.S. and German equipment.

An American Airborne trooper holds a German prisoner under guard using his Garand fitted with an M1 bayonet. He is festooned with a variety of U.S. and German equipment.

The M1 was not only functional, it was deadly accurate—so accurate it was easily adapted to the sniper role in a couple of different configurations: the M1 Carbine, which came out during World War II, and the M1D, which, while adopted in September 1944, was not used until after the war. Early on, the M1 proved to be a favorite with match shooters. Starting in the early 1950s, special National Match models were made up for military target shooters by Springfield Armory. Depending upon when they were made, these guns will have such niceties as glass-bedded stocks and specially fitted National Match parts, often marled with the initials “NM.”

The manufacturer’s designation and the gun’s serial number were stamped on the rear of the receiver. It is possible to tell if a Garand is a rework or put-together by matching up serial numbers, component codes and barrel dates.

The manufacturer’s designation and the gun’s serial number were stamped on the rear of the receiver. It is possible to tell if a Garand is a rework or put-together by matching up serial numbers, component codes and barrel dates.

All in all, some 6 million M1s were turned out between 1936 and 1957 by Springfield Armory, Winchester, Rock Island Arsenal, International Harvester and Harrington & Richardson. If you buy a World War II collector-grade Garand, it is wise to check if all parts match. It is acceptable, however, for a Korean War rework to have mismatched parts. Those guns produced by Springfield will have major components stamped “SA.” International Harvester rifles use the initials “IHC” (though barrels can be marked “LMR”). Winchester M1s are marked “WRA,” and H&R Garands have an “HRA” coding. As well, internal components will have different manufacturing codes, and stock markings can provide the enthusiast with a dizzying variety of mysterious runes to sort out. To help in these areas I highly recommend “The M1 Garand 1936–1947,” by Joe Poyer and Craig Reisch, North Cape Publications Inc. (800-745-9714, northcapepubs.com) and “M1 Garand Serial Numbers and Data Sheets” and “The M1 Garand: Owner’s Guide,” both by Scott A. Duff (724-327-8246, sdufforder@windstream.net).

During their lifetimes, many Garands were reworked at government facilities. These are inspector cartouches of such guns. Courtesy of North Cape Publications

During their lifetimes, many Garands were reworked at government facilities. These are inspector cartouches of such guns. Courtesy of North Cape Publications

Even though they were officially replaced by the M14, Garands continued to be issued to National Guard units well into the Cold War era and were popular lend/lease items to many friendly European, South American, Asian and Middle-Eastern countries. Unfortunately, during the Clinton administration many fine M1s in U.S. armories were officially destroyed, making those that still exist even more precious. Fortunately, Garands are still available from the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) for reasonable prices. For details on how to make one your very own, contact the CMP at Civilian Marksmanship Program, 419-635-2141, estore.odcmp.com. The M1 safety is a sturdy, pierced piece of sheet steel located at the front of the triggerguard. Pushed to the rear, the gun is on Safe. When the lever is flicked forward by the back of the trigger finger, the gun is ready to fire.

Most Garands made during World War II have locking bars on their rear sight windage knobs. This feature was eliminated in the post-war period

Most Garands made during World War II have locking bars on their rear sight windage knobs. This feature was eliminated in the post-war period

For a battle rifle, the rifle’s rear sight setup is pretty sophisticated, with a double-knurled-knob arrangement that corrects the peep for elevation and windage. Sights went through various configurations and markings, the most noticeable difference being on the windage knob. Early models had flush nut attachments, later ones locking bars and post-war models no locking bar. The front sight was a sturdy blade, flanked by a pair of stout bolsters. The buttplate has a compartment for oil, grease and pull-through containers and one of a couple types of combination tools secreted behind the metal buttplate. It is accessible via a hinged, spring-latched, fingernail-busting trapdoor (early guns did not have this feature).

During its lifetime, the M1 was fitted with a number of styles of bayonets. Three of the more common are (from top) the Model 1905 Type 2, the 1905E1 (shortened M1905) and the M1. All are World War II vintage.

During its lifetime, the M1 was fitted with a number of styles of bayonets. Three of the more common are (from top) the Model 1905 Type 2, the 1905E1 (shortened M1905) and the M1. All are World War II vintage.

Of course, like any self-respecting military rifle, the M1 was set up to be fitted with a bayonet. While the gun could accommodate the standard U.S. Model 1905 blade, in fact more up-to-date versions of the blade were offered, beginning with a Model 1905 Type 2 that had similar dimensions to the original (16-inch blade) but was Parkerized and sported ribbed plastic grips rather than walnut panels. These first appeared in late 1941. There were also wartime variants of the 1905 Type 2 with shortened and shorter 10-inch blades and finally the M5/M5A1, which came out after World War II.

While not exactly a lightweight (9½ pounds unloaded), the Garand does balance extremely well, and using either the old-style Model 1907 leather sling or the later web strap, it can be carried for extended periods with relative comfort. It shoulders nicely, and recoil, even with standard 150-grain M2 ball, is not prohibitive. My wife, who is slightly over five feet, two inches tall, shot my National Match Garand for the better part of an afternoon with no complaints whatsoever. In fact, it was her favorite rifle out of a selection that included the much lighter M1 Carbine and SKS semiautos.

Today, original M1 Garands are very popular with collectors and shooters, with some of the rarer, early variations and sniper rifles realizing prices into the thousands of dollars. A healthy industry has grown up around the M1, offering such things as accurizing jobs, refurbishing, caliber conversions and aftermarket accessories. In fact, demand for the M1 has reached such a point that one company, Springfield Armory (800-680-6866, sales@springfield-armory.com), offers new-manufacture versions chambered for .30-’06 or .308 Win.

If you are a World War II buff, collector, reenactor, firearms historian or just someone who wants to take a fine rifle out for a day’s shooting, the M1 Garand certainly fits the bill.

It’s one heck of a rifle and one that can afford the firearms enthusiast lots of enjoyment on many different levels.

  • 101nomad

    18, fresh out of high school in ’62′. Joined Army for 3 year enlistment. The M1 was my first ‘real’ rifle. First love dies hard. I was 5’4, 120# at the time, weight, recoil, never occurred to me as a problem. Later, it was the M14, then the M16. Early on in 1965, in another place and another time, we really wanted our M14s back.

  • Tec Sg Beatty

    C’mon, guys, you can do better than that! The M-1 Carbine was most certainly NOT a “different configuration” of the M-1 Garand! It is a TOTALLY different rifle. The only common part is a rear stock screw! And it (the M-1 carbine) was certainly not a “sniper” rifle.

    • ZENPATRIOT

      The M1 Carbine, fitted with an early Starlight scope, was used as a sniper rifle in the early years in Vietnam.

      • Tec Sg Beatty

        Actually, no. It was used as the First Generation night vision small arm start during the Korean War. It was NOT used as a “sniper” rifle, as much as a “force multiplier” capable of engaging the enemy a close range at night. The M3 was commonly used for this, as it was select-fire.

        • ZENPATRIOT

          Mere semantics. A scoped rifle used from a position of concealment (darkness) to deliver accurate fire is the very definition of a sniper rifle, even though it may never have been given that designation. Carlos Hathcock mounted a scope on an .50 M2 and used it for sniping, thus leading to the development of today’s modern .50 cal. sniping rifles. And it may have begun during the Korean war, but the pictures I have seen all date from the Vietnam era.

          • Tec Sg Beatty

            You call it “mere semantics”; I call it accuracy. As to the article, it has many inaccuracies, and the reference to the M-1 Carbine being a variation of the M-1 Garand totally destroyed the credibility of the author in the eyes of anyone with knowledge of firearms history.
            As I stated earlier, the M-1 carbines equipped with night vision were mostly M-3 variants, capable of full auto fire. They were by no measure “sniper rifles”. They were more accurately “force multipliers” and/or “area suppression weapons”.

  • DetroitMan

    General George C. Patton? Who was that? Also, the M1 Carbine was not a sniper variant of the M1 Garand, it was a separate weapons system. Lastly, Springfield Armory Inc. has not produced a reproduction M1 for several years now.

  • sadntrue

    AH….amateur hour at the writing desk!
    Try….just once to research to gain clarity and accuracy!

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