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The M1 Garand was the first semi-automatic rifle to be issued to an entire army. Developed in the 1920s and 1930s, the M1 was designed by John Garand. Firing a .30-06 round, the M1 Garand was the main infantry weapon employed by US forces during World War II and the Korean War.
The US Army first began its interest in semi-automatic rifles in 1901. This was furthered in 1911, when testing was held using the Bang and Murphy-Manning. Experiments continued during World War I and trials were held in 1916-1918. Development of a semi-automatic rifle began in earnest in 1919, when the US Army concluded that the cartridge for its current service rifle, the Springfield M1903, was far more powerful than needed for typical combat ranges. That same year, the gifted designer John C. Garand was hired at the Springfield Armory. Serving as the chief civilian engineer, Garand began work on a new rifle.
His first design, the M1922, was ready for testing in 1924. This possessed a caliber of .30-06 and featured a primer-operated breech. After inconclusive testing against other semi-automatic rifles, Garand improved the design, producing the M1924. Further trials in 1927 produced an indifferent outcome, though Garand did design a .276 caliber, gas-operated model based on the results. In the spring of 1928, the Infantry and Cavalry boards ran trials which resulted in the .30-06 M1924 Garand being dropped in favor of the .276 model.
One of two finalists, Garand's rifle competed with the T1 Pedersen in the spring of 1931. In addition, a single .30-06 Garand was tested but was withdrawn when its bolt cracked. Easily defeating the Pedersen, the .276 Garand was recommended for production on January 4, 1932. Shortly thereafter, Garand successfully retested the .30-06 model. Upon hearing the results, the Secretary of War and Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur, who did not favor reducing calibers, ordered work to stop on the .276 and that all resources be directed to improving the .30-06 model.
On August 3, 1933, Garand's rifle was re-designated Semi-Automatic Rifle, Caliber 30, M1. In May of the following year, 75 of the new rifles were issued for testing. Though numerous problems were reported with the new weapon, Garand was able to correct them and the rifle was able to be standardized on January 9, 1936, with the first production model cleared on July 21, 1937.
- Cartridge: .30-06 Springfield (7.62 x 63mm), 7.62 x 51mm NATO
- Capacity: 8-round en bloc clip inserted into an internal magazine
- Muzzle Velocity: 2750-2800 ft./sec.
- Effective Range: 500 yds.
- Rate of Fire: 16-24 rounds/minute
- Weight: 9.5 lbs.
- Length: 43.6 in.
- Barrel Length: 24 in.
- Sights: Aperture rear sight, barleycorn-type front sight
- Action: Gas-operated w/ rotating bolt
- Number Built: approx. 5.4 million
- Accessories: M1905 or M1942 bayonet, grenade launcher
Magazine & Action
While Garand was designing the M1, Army Ordnance demanded that the new rifle possess a fixed, non-protruding magazine. It was their fear that a detachable magazine would be quickly lost by US soldiers in the field and would make the weapon more susceptible to jamming due to dirt and debris. With this requirement in mind, John Pedersen created an "en bloc" clip system that permitted the ammunition to be loaded into the rifle's fixed magazine. Originally the magazine was meant to hold ten .276 rounds, however, when the change was made to .30-06, the capacity was reduced to eight.
The M1 utilized a gas-operated action that used expanding gases from a fired cartridge to chamber the next round. When the rifle was fired, the gases acted upon a piston which, in turn, pushed the operating rod. The rod engaged a rotating bolt which turned and moved the next round into place. When the magazine was emptied, the clip would be expelled with a distinctive "ping" sound and the bolt locked open, ready to receive the next clip. Contrary to popular belief, the M1 could be reloaded before a clip was fully expended. It was also possible to load single cartridges into a partially loaded clip.
When first introduced, the M1 was plagued by production problems which delayed initial deliveries until September 1937. Though Springfield was able to build 100 per day two years later, production was slow due to changes in the rifle's barrel and gas cylinder. By January 1941, many of the problems were resolved and production increased to 600 per day. This increase led to the US Army being fully equipped with the M1 by the end of the year. The weapon was also adopted by the US Marine Corps, but with some initial reservations. It was not until midway through World War II that USMC was completely changed over.
In the field, the M1 gave American infantry a tremendous firepower advantage over Axis troops who still carried bolt-action rifles such as the Karabiner 98k. With its semi-automatic operation, the M1 allowed US forces to maintain substantially higher rates of fire. In addition, the M1's heavy .30-06 cartridge offered superior penetrating power. The rifle proved so effective that leaders, such as General George S. Patton, praised it as "the greatest implement of battle ever devised." Following the war, M1s in the US arsenal were refurbished and later saw action in the Korean War.
The M1 Garand remained the principal service rifle of the US Army until the introduction of the M-14 in 1957. Despite this, it was not until 1965, that the changeover from the M1 was completed. Outside of the US Army, the M1 remained in service with reserve forces into the 1970s. Overseas, surplus M1s were given to nations such as Germany, Italy, and Japan to aid in rebuilding their militaries after World War II. Though retired from combat use, the M1 is still popular with drill teams and civilian collectors.