The M1 Garand Rifle

"The greatest battle implement ever devised."

-- General George S. Patton, Jr.

Extracts from ROTCM 145-30
Individual Weapons and Marksmanship
Headquarters, Department of the Army
September 1966

The Evolution of Military Rifles

Military rifles were not always as excellent as they are today. In the early days, black powder and lead balls were used by every nation. Black powder was smoky, dirty, and inefficient compared with modern propellants. When one of these early rifles was fired, a cloud of white smoke disclosed the rifleman's position, and a thick residue, like carbon and soot, was deposited in the bore of the rifle. Black powder has a lower energy content per cubic centimeter compared with modern rifle powders which have high velocities.

When the lead ball was fired from the rifle, it began to lose speed quickly. A sphere is poorly shaped for fast travel. Lead balls from some of our early military rifles fired at a muzzle speed (velocity) as high as 2,000 feet per second. But at a distance of 100 meters they would slow to about 1,500 feet per second; whereas a bullet from the M1 or M14 rifle today, at an initial velocity of 2,800 feet per second, loses only about 300 feet per second the first 100 meters. The lead balls of these early military rifles were often "patched," that is, greased linen, flannel, or thin soft leather was wrapped (and sometimes tied) over the ball. When this greased patch was used, it served as a lubricant to ease loading, reduce escaping gas, and keep the ball from losing lead onto the bore as it traveled through it. But sometimes the lead ball was used bare, in which case the bore frequently picked up a lead coating which grew progressively thicker, decreasing the accuracy with each shot fired until the lead deposit was removed. The same problem arose from the rough residue left by the burning of black powder. Unless the bores of those early rifles were washed after each shot, the residue became progressively thicker, making the diameter of the bore smaller. Since most early rifles were muzzle-loaders, it became increasingly difficult to load, and accuracy diminished, due to constantly reduced bore diameter.

The effort required just to ram a lead ball, patched or not, down 32 or more inches of barrel became first exhausting and then all but impossible. The inefficiency of black powder and early projectiles led early rifle makers to build their weapons with longer barrels and in larger caliber bores than the rifles of today. This combination gave as high a velocity as could be obtained without making rifles completely awkward to handle, and gave the desired killing effect needed for fighting infantry and cavalry. When you cannot propel a missile at high velocity, you must increase the weight in order to get adequate effect. Any increase in weight with a ball projectile results from an increase in diameter.

In time the round projectile gave way to the elongated one. It had been discovered as early as the late 1700's that elongated missiles were more efficient in flight and traveled to greater maximum ranges. Massed squad and platoon fire with elongated-bullet rifles could be effective at 1,000 meters or more. Several years prior to the war of 1861-65, the elongated-bullet rifle was adopted almost worldwide because it permitted faster loading. Successful methods of making metal cartridge cases had not yet been found, so most of the first bullet rifles were muzzle-loaders too. The early Sharps rifle was one of the exceptions. It was a breechloader taking a linen cartridge. Because there was no metal cartridge case, such as is used in modern rifles, a portion of the gas generated by the powder flashed out at the juncture of breechlock and receiver of this rifle.


By 1870 nearly all armies had adopted breechloading infantry rifles (usually single shot) which usually fired fixed, metallic, black powder, lead bullet cartridges in calibers ranging from .40 to .45. These improved firearms could be fired by a trained soldier 15 or more times a minute. Lever action repeating rifles had been developed to a level of real usability by 1861, but had to be held to lesser powder levels (for design reasons) than was desirable for infantry use. The Spencer and Henry lever-action rifles were used in the war of 1861-65 by many cavalry units. The Spencer carried seven cartridges and the Henry carried 16 cartridges.

Both weapons had a range of about 225 meters, and the rate of fire was five shots to one, compared with the standard muzzle-loader. The year 1886 was an historic one in infantry rifle design. France adopted a manually operated bolt-action rifle of caliber .32 (8-mm) jacketed bullet design (to prevent melting and failure to spin in the rifling grooves) for use with nitrocellulose (smokeless) powder. The ancient bondage to black powder had been dissolved. Soldiers using these newer rifles found that very little smoke was given off in firing to disclose their positions.

By 1888 Britain and Germany used similar new designs. And in 1892 the United States followed suit. By 1898 no modern army was without a smaller caliber repeating rifle of the new type. The new arms were 5- to 10-shot capacity, ranging in caliber from .26 to .32 as compared to the older .40 to .45 caliber sizes. Nitrocellulose propellants and advances in metallurgy had permitted a reduction in bullet diameter, a retention of adequate shocking power, an increase in average accuracy and penetration, and a flattening of trajectory (extension of the limit of grazing fire) by as much as 50 percent or more. Logistically, the weight of individual rifle cartridges had dropped by as much as 40 percent.

The M1 Garand Rifle

The Springfield 1903 rifle reflected the era of high development in rifles operated manually which ended in 1936 with the introduction into the United States service of the Garand design, designated M1. This first of the successfulul gas-operated rifles of full infantry power outgunned enemy rifles in Europe and the Pacific in the ratio of 3 to 1. It was rugged, sure functioning, powerful, and accurate. The tiring bolt manipulation, so painfully learned by former generations of American soldiers, was no longer necessary. The M1 rifle ushered in an era that saw foreign nations scrambling for semiautomatic designs in individual infantry weapons. Britain and France discarded their old, time proven bolt actions and took up the Belgian FN design. Soviet Russia developed as her now standard infantry weapon, a rifle-powered submachinegun of 30 shot capacity (the AK).

Relationship of Individual Weapon Design to Combat Use

To fully understand rifle marksmanship and rifle marksmanship training, it is necessary to know something of rifles, their characteristics and combat usefulness. The rifle is the primary individual weapon for all armies because it is the most versatile and effective weapon which can be carried and used by a soldier in combat. The rifle can fire ordinary bullets to kill enemy soldiers; it can fire armor-piercing bullets to wreck truck engines; it can fire tracer bullets to point out targets; and it can fire incendiary bullets to start fires in flammable materials. Add to this the fact that the rifle can also shoot signal flares and powerful grenades and you can see that the rifle is one of the most important weapons in the army. But why the rifle? Isn't a hand weapon such as a pistol, revolver, or a hand grenade more convenient in combat? A hand weapon is far more convenient but it cannot do the wide and far-reaching job of a shoulder weapon. The rifle is a weapon that can kill, or destroy at a considerable distance so that the enemy can be prevented from getting too close. If individual weapons can reach out a considerable distance it is easier to keep the enemy where larger, more powerful supporting weapons can smash him. The rifleman's weapon must be so constructed that it can be held with steadiness while he directs accurate fire, and powerful enough to kill enemy soldiers as far away as marksmanship skill and the precision of the weapon will allow.

Battlefield Requirements

The complex package called a "rifle" is what soldiers live by on the battlefield. If the design is well done, the rifle will fit the average man very well and will deliver accurate and deadly fire on targets. Seven essential. qualities of a modern combat rifle are:

It must be accurate.

Its trajectory must be flat.

Its recoil must be moderate.

It must be powerful.

It must be easy to master.

Its mechanism must be unfailing.

It and its ammunition (in quantity) must be light enough to carry under combat conditions.

Accuracy and Power

Accurate rifle fire is a key to success. A soldier who merely "sprays" shots in the vicinity of the enemy produces little effect. Against an unseasoned enemy such fire may be temporarily effective, but the result is not lasting. The mission of the rifleman is to kill the enemy. Against seasoned troops, spraying shots has little effect. Someone once gave what is perhaps the best definition of firepower when he said that, "firepower is bullets hitting people!" Trajectory-wise, the M1 rifle is "flat-shooting." That is, its bullets travel very fast, so they can't fall very much below the line of sight over their usable range. And because the bullets don't "drop" much below the extended line of the bore over combat ranges, it is relatively easy to make hits with them. Moderate recoil means that the muzzle climb in firing is moderate, which makes for fast recovery between shots. This is very important in rapid fire in combat against numbers of enemy. The U.S. military rifle must be powerful. That means it must be able to kill an enemy soldier as far away as the rifleman can surely hit him. It must penetrate enemy helmets and body armor easily up to the same range. It should have enough punch to tear through the side of enemy trucks to kill personnel riding within or to destroy the truck engine. The bullets of the caliber .30 rifle are relatively small and light--fine for high speed; yet they are heavy enough and large enough in diameter to deliver a killing blow when they get where they are going.


U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1


The U. S. Rifle, caliber .30 M1 (fig 1) is a clip-fed, gas-operated, air-cooled, semiautomatic shoulder weapon. This means that the rifle is loaded by inserting a metal, clip (containing a maximum of eight rounds) into the receiver; that the power needed to cock the rifle and chamber each round comes from the expanding gas of the previous round; that the air cools the barrel; and that the rifle fires one round each time the trigger is pressed.

The rifle has a fixed front front sight and an adjustable rear sight. The rear sight aperture can be raised or lowered by means of the elevation knob on the left of the receiver, and moved right or left to adjust for the force of the wind by means of the windage knob on the right of the receiver.

General Data

Weight: Rifle loaded, with sling and cleaning equipment; 11-1/4 pounds approximate.

Length: 43 inches.

Sights: Front Fixed. Rear Adjustable.

Trigger pull in pounds: Minimum 5-1/2. Maximum 7-1/2.

Muzzle velocity: 2,800 fps (853 MPS approximate).

Range in meters: Maximum 3,200. Maximum effective 2,460.

The M1 Garand

Chuck Taylor
(S.W.A.T Magazine)
(November 1982)

The characteristics of the Garand are nothing new to me. My father is a retired U.S. Army Colonel, who fought through World War II and the Korean War. I was raised in an Army house and knew the manual of arms for the Garand by the time I was nine years old. I shot my first one when I was seven. Yeah, you could say I know about Garands.

It has been a long time since a design engineer at the then--U.S. government operated Springfield Armory named John C. Garand invented the first self-loading service rifle ever to see issue to American military forces. It has also been a long time since the controversy between Melvin Johnson's rifle versus the Garand. World War II, Korea, and even Vietnam, not to mention Lebanon, Nicaragua, and hundreds of other "police actions" in which the Garand played so vital a part, have all begun to fade from this generations memories.

Yes, it's true. 1936, the year that signaled the coming of the Garand, was indeed a long time ago, and the axiom of "how soon we forget" does apply. In our "modern age" of nuclear weapons, chemical/biological/radiological warfare, and other highly sophisticated armament, we truly have forgotten . . . forgotten what accomplishes missions, what "takes the high ground," what WINS!

The infantryman, whether he be a dogfaced Army "GI" or a Marine is the man who has been forgotten and it is he who has been and will always be called upon to spread his blood on the soil in individual combat. In the end it will always be he who "winkles the other guy out of his foxhole with a bayonet and decides the outcome."

Technology is vast; all-consuming, it seems. It engulfs us and sweeps us away into galaxies "far, far, away," with the promised of increased efficiency in battle. Some of it--a small portion in relation to the overall quantities forced upon us--actually works, and an even smaller percentage of it works well enough to bother with, provided we can, as nations or individuals, financially afford it. For the last fifty years, we have been traveling this road and it has been only in the last decade that the realization of all that we have forgotten when "technology" seduced us have materialized.

Thank God. For had these realizations not become increasingly evident, our road could have only been to defeat in the wars that must in the near future be fought.

The "old timers" who fought with Pershing and Marshall in World War I, opposed the "reduced accuracy" of the Garand rifle as compared to the revered--and sometimes even coveted--M1903 Springfield rifle. Also loudly voiced were fears that the new self-loader would cause horrendous expenditures of ammunition without commensurate enemy troops neutralized. Strange . . . the same thing was said when the 20-round box magazine appeared on battle rifles in the 1950's--25 years later.

There was, however, a difference. The Garand rifle, in spite of its supposed shortcomings, in spite of fears by its critics of disproportionate ammunition expenditures, performed brilliantly throughout its entire military career, compiling a service record as yet unsurpassed by any successor.

From 1936 to, officially, 1957, the Garand was seen in the heat of battle worldwide. Unofficially, it can today be encountered although considered to be "obsolete" by all but the most knowing experts--the ones who haven't forgotten what wins.

Douglas MacArthur applauded the M1. George S. Patton, Jr. proclaimed it, "the greatest single battle implement ever devised by man." Even the normally passive Dwight D. Eisenhower publicly praised it. Renowned small-arms expert S.L.A. Marshall, in his highly detailed and critical evaluation of the performance of U.S. Infantry weapons during the Korean War, noted the phenomenal love of the American infantryman for the weapon, who, without reservation, candidly stated to him on over a hundred occasions that he could not think of replacing it with anything else.

How could this have happened if the concept of the self-loading infantry rifle was invalid, or if the M1 was "inaccurate," or if it failed to generally get the job done? The answer is simple: it couldn't. The legend of the Garand was--and is--based upon the unassailable fact that the weapon, in spite of its theoretical weaknesses, WORKS--in the mud, in the rain, in the snow, and in the dust. History has irrevocably proven this beyond any possible doubt and it is important evidence that theory, however enticing it may appear to be, must be proven in the cold light of dawn. Those who forced the adoption of the 5.56mm and the M16 forgot this critical fact. And, in that cold light of dawn--this time in the steaming jungles of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos--the concept of saturation fire and general abandonment of the principles of individual marksmanship and weapon performance FAILED.

They failed because they were accepted as being the universal solution to all military problems and this attitude was transmitted during training to the troops. Tactics and weapons have been generated around this theses for the last twenty years and have come back to haunt us. I know. I was there. I was one of those who wrote the letters to the families of those who had fallen in battle, one of the most difficult tasks of a commander. Many of those men died because of the failure of theoretically sound, but realistically invalid, policies. I saw it myself. Too many died because the 5.56 and M16 failed.

There must be a balance between accuracy and firepower in the general application. On one end of the spectrum we have the traditional bolt-action rifle such as the M 1903 Springfield. On the other end we have the M16. The Springfield was rugged, highly accurate and powerful, but, in the acid test of modern warfare, proved to be more complex to operate than necessary and unable to produce sufficient volumes of fire to be adequately effective. On the other hand, the M16 is fragile, lacks power and range, is only moderately accurate, and designed with the idea that the trooper is to substitute a high volume of automatic fire with an inadequately powered cartridge for marksmanship. Neither one of these concepts is satisfactory, for as with most questions, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

John Garand understood this, for even though the M16 did not yet exist, the principles on which it was to be based did. The rifle he designed and developed was the solidification of his thinking. It is capable of what has proven over the years to be superb accuracy, far more than one can actually utilize in the field. It functions itself, allowing the operator to spend more time on the basic fundamentals of marksmanship. It is powerful and rugged, capable of sustaining incredible abuse and yet still knock down an enemy at 500 meters.

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It is a rifleman's rifle--in the purest form--yet it does not encourage wild, inaccurate fire, nor does it break in half when used in close combat. It instills confidence, not disgust. It is the almost ideal compromise between firepower and accuracy, between the old and the "new."

Even outside the military application, there can be no finer rifle for a serious survivalist or adventurer in the field, for most of the same criteria still apply. The box magazine is the result of a need to mass suppressive fire, so important to the successful consummation of squad tactics. It has no value whatsoever to an individual, only the members of a larger group. It is fragile, must be kept separate from its loaded counterparts, catches on things incessantly in the field, and is uncomfortable to carry and manipulate.

The 8-round en bloc staggered clip of the Garand is small, light, simple in principle and application, and disposable. Once it fulfills its function, it is automatically ejected from the weapon.

Criticisms of the fact that one cannot "top off" a partially loaded clip while in the weapon appear to more theoretical than practical, for if one has time to realize the need to reload, he can simply insert a fresh clip and at leisure reload any partially expended one via single rounds of ammunition carried on his person. This is no secret to the seasoned infantryman, no matter what his generation.

No box magazine-equipped rifle compares to the superior balance and "feel" of the M1. It shoulders quickly, positively, and possesses the best human engineering in the world. In the overall context, it is the easiest battle rifle to shoot well.

A Final Note
Even the GI-Joe Action Figures appreciate the M1 Garand.
This is a small plastic replica of the rifle that accompanied one of the figures.

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