General Patton once called the M1 Garand, “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” And in fact, the M1 is a legendary American rifle. John Garand, a Canadian born weapon designer, created the M1 Garand. Soon, it became a staple of the American military. It was one of the most widely used rifles, outside of a properly equipped AR-15.
The M1 Garand became a favorite of the troops that wielded it. At the time, it was the premier battle rifle in World War II, and far better than the rifles the Axis powers carried. The M1 allowed the United States to adopt a maneuver-based warfare system utilizing fire and maneuvers to conquer the German and Japanese forces.
The M1 Garand is still used by many firearms enthusiasts today, and you can still find working versions being used by hunters and recreational shooters across the United States.
The Designer of the M1 Garand
John Garand worked in a shooting gallery where he first learned about firearms. From there, his interest in firearms and rifles grew rapidly. He became a hobbyist and started building rifles, which eventually led him to employment with Springfield Armory. The Springfield Armory of today has nothing in common with the Springfield Armory of the early 20th century.
At the time of John Garand, the Springfield Armory was a United States government armory that designed and built firearms for the United States military.
John Garand got the position by entering a design for his own light machine gun. The military chose his gun and appointed him to the Bureau of Standards. Although they never adopted his light machine gun, the Armory retained him after the end of World War I.
John Garand was tasked with designing and building a semi-automatic infantry rifle. The system had to be gas-operated and self-loading. Over the next 15 years, John Garand worked to build the design to U.S. Army specs.
A History of an American Legend
When Garand was designing a rifle for the Army, the bolt action repeater was still the preferred weapon of armies around the world. The idea of a semi-automatic full-powered rifle wasn’t even a blip on the radar of most militaries. So, John Garand was largely starting from nothing to design and build his rifle. He produced several models and prototypes of the M1, but each seemed to fail over time.
They put the Garand rifle against the currently issued M1903 bolt action rifle that Pederson and Thompson designed. The Garand rifles were constantly competing with the Pederson, Bang and Thompson rifles. They had not fully defined the caliber at the time, so there were obscure rounds like the 276 Pedersen, the 256 Bang, and the 30 Thompson.
The Army did more testing on rifles from Thompson, Colt, Browning, Pedersen, dropping the 30 caliber for the 276. After this second round of trials, they decided that work on the 30 caliber Garand would resume.
This wasn’t the end of the Army going back and forth on caliber selection. However, they would eventually choose the 30 caliber as the round for the M1 Garand. In 1932, after decades of different calibers and rifles, Adjutant General John Shuman ordered work of the 276 caliber to end and to pursue the 30 caliber M1.
The U.S. Army’s requirements and constantly changing demands limited John Garand. He persevered with patience, eventually succeeding. In 1932, he patented the semi-automatic, 30 caliber M1 Rifle. In 1936, the Army approved the M1. The United States Army put the M1 Garand into mass production in 1940.
With the upcoming entry into World War II, the M1 was a relatively untested rifle. There weren’t any small conflicts between its design and World War II where they could identify and solve any issues. In the late 1930s, there were several issues with the gas system in the early Garand rifles. They had to remove and these rifles three years into production.
So the fear of a rifle that had never been in battle while going into the biggest war the world had ever seen was a natural emotion to have. This put expectations for the M1 Garand quite high. If it failed, the United States Army infantry would be stuck with a bad rifle. If the M1 had issues, many soldiers would lose their lives. The stakes were high because the M1 Garand replaced the M1903 bolt action rifle.
The M1903 Vs. the M1 Garand
The M1903 was a proven rifle but it was outdated compared to the M1. This is because the M1903 was a bolt action rifle. This means after firing a round, the user had to manually operate the bolt. The M1903 utilized the 30-06 round like the M1 from a five-round internal magazine. However, the internal magazine of the M1 Garand utilized stripper clips to rapidly reload the internal magazine.
The M1903 served the country well through numerous wars, including World War I, as well as several small skirmishes around the world. They still used the M1903 in World War II in support roles as a sniper rifle and grenadier weapon. The United States Marines, also being the poorest service, carried the 1903 as their main infantry rifle at the beginning of the war.
The M1 was a 30-06 rifle that was semi-automatic. A semi-automatic rifle means the weapon fires, ejects and reloads with a squeeze of the trigger. The M1 Garand had an internal eight-round magazine that was fixed to the rifle. Also, it utilized eight-round En Bloc clips and reloaded extremely fast.
The M1 was much easier to reload than the M1903. The En Bloc clips are also stronger than typical stripper clips. The M1 Garand has an effective rate of fire of 40 rounds per minute. The M1 was suited as both a highly accurate marksman’s rifle and as a squad support rifle because of its higher fire rate.
It’s important to note that although the M1 was an Army issued rifle, the size of WWII meant that they were still using the M1903 in the early parts of the war. There was a famous story of the Marines seeing the M1 and being furious they were still fighting with the M1903.
Into the Beach: The M1’s First Battle
Beside the M1903, the M1 Garand made its premiere in Operation Torch, an invasion of North Africa by the Allied forces. The M1 proved to be a reliable, capable weapon even in the harsh African environments. Operation Torch was a success because the allies opened up a way for the invasion of Sicily. The M1 Garand was truly tested in the D-Day invasion. The beaches of Normandy would be a nightmare for any weapon’s reliability.
Beaches have two things that can stop any rifle, even the most modern rifles. Sand and saltwater. Wet sand sticks to everything and gets everywhere. Wet sand and saltwater could stop a lesser weapon, but the Normandy invasion was a success. Part of this success was due to the M1 Garand and its ability to put a massive amount of fire on targets.
The M1 was massively successful in the European theatre. It changed the way they fought wars because it made battles and wars move faster. This meant they didn’t need miles of trenches like the Army did in World War I. The M1 Garand caused militaries around the world to reevaluate their small arms.
Both the Germans and Russians produced semi-automatic rifles in the middle of the war. Therefore, the bolt action was dead, and the self-loading rifle became the future of warfare.
The Marines and the M1 Garand
Many people believe the Marines as being the smallest and the worst-equipped branch of the U.S. military. They also cling hard to tradition. This produces a culture that sticks to the past and slowly accepts the future. So, the Marines initially preferred the M1903 Springfield because they already used them with 30 years of success.
The M1903 Springfield was the main battle rifle when the Pacific campaign started. The M1903 served well, but the M1 would have given the Marines a serious advantage at the beginning of the campaign. They formally adopted the M1 Garand in 1941, but the Marines didn’t have enough of them to equip all the troops. It wasn’t until after the Guadalcanal campaign that the Marines received the M1 in large numbers.
In 1943, the Marines were finally issuing the M1 as the standard infantry rifle. In the Battle of Tarawa, the Marines faced one of the biggest oppositions of the Pacific campaign. The M1 Garand offered the Marines a substantial advantage over the Japanese Arisaka rifles. After numerous bloody skirmishes around the island of Tarawa, the Marines were victorious.
The Marines came to love the M1 for its power, reliability and rapid rate of fire. In the Pacific campaign, close-quarters battle was common, and ambushes were a daily occurrence. The M1 Garand’s fire rate helped the Marines break ambushes and succeed in taking island after island.
The M1 is immortalized by the picture of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. The rifle is the only weapon easily visible in the picture of the flag-raising. And that simple picture has been turned into a memorial and monument at Parris Island, with the M1 Garand immortally present.
The M1 After WWII
After World War II ended, the M1 remained the American service rifle. It served occupational forces in post-war Japan and Europe. Military forces around the world adopted, cloned and copied the rifle.
The Greeks, Japanese, Danish, Norwegians, Turkish and dozens of other countries received M1’s from the United States. They built some of them in foreign factories. The rest of the world quickly adopted semi-automatic and fully automatic rifles.
The M1 Serves in Korea
They called the M1 back into war in the early 1950s. The Korean conflict was growing rapidly and the American forces needed a reliable weapon. And the M1 Garand proved to be successful once more against their bolt action rifles. The M1 served in the frozen Chosin and in amphibious landings. It worked well in snow, sleet, and mud, too.
The M1 proved the semi-automatic firearm was the best option in modern warfare. After Korea, the military wanted to create a more modern rifle. They held contests once more between different rifles and in different calibers. Eventually, they chose a new caliber as well as a new rifle.
This new rifle is quite familiar. In fact, the M14 was quite similar to the M1. In fact, the M14 is essentially a hybrid of the M1 Garand and M1 Carbine. Several parts of the M1 Garand made their way to the M14, so the rifle lived on.
The M14 in Service & M1 Variants
The U.S. Army officially adopted the M14 as their service rifle in 1959. However, they were still using the M1 Garand in limited numbers well into the Vietnam war.
The M1 was a common sight on Navy ships who didn’t receive the more modern M14. The friendly ARVN troops in Vietnam also got the M1 Garand. By the end of the war, they would replace the M1 and M14 entirely with the M16 rifle. Even the ARVN troops received the M16 rifle by the end of the war.
The standard M1 Garand was the most popular model of the M1 rifle. It was the general issue battle rifle for two wars, which they produced in the millions. However, there were a few variants that bear mentioning. The M1C and M1D rifle were sniper variants of the M1 rifle.
The M1 was an inherently accurate rifle and well-suited for a sniper role. The biggest difference between the M1C and M1D is the scope mount. The differences between the standard M1 and sniper models are many. The sniper variants had optics on them.
They also outfitted these rifles with a conical flash suppressor to keep the shooter hidden. They also designed a carbine model they called the T26 or the tanker model. Although they produced at least one model, they never fielded the tanker models. However, numerous commercial variants of tanker models exist.
Where the M1 Garand Sits Now
While the M1 doesn’t currently serve in the U.S. military, the M14 still sees limited use. However, the M1 Garand serves as a ceremonial rifle and on shooting teams throughout the military. But the M1 still shows up in conflict zones around the world, including Afghanistan and Iraq.
The M1 changed the world in terms of small arms. Many U.S. civilians use the M1 Garand. It remains a popular rifle and an essential part of American history.