by Richard Davis
This rifle arrived just in time for widespread use in World War II, and played a large role winning victory after victory on the battlefield. The Garand rifle remained in service with US forces until about 1957, and remained in the hearts of GI’s and others eternally.
The Garand rifle is one of the few vestiges of a great victorious crusade against pure evil, and by touching or holding these relics, we make a valuable, personal and physical connection with a past so easily forgotten.
The US M-1 rifle, 30 cal also known as the “Garand rifle” is one of the icons that personifies the US itself. The Garand rifle is named after its inventor and designer, a Canadian named John Cantius Garand (1884 – 1974). John Garand immigrated to the US, and was naturalized as a US citizen in 1920. A toolmaker by trade, he answered the call for a better self-loading rifle in the years following World War I.
After several prototypes, one of Garand’s designs had promise and was initially accepted. It was also chambered in .276 caliber, and performed very well. Near the end of the trials, General Douglas MacArthur demanded it rechambered to .30-06 to make it compatible with existing stockpiles of ammunition leftover from W.W.I. After acceptance in 1936, the US Army designated it rifle, US M1. The US military never referred to it as the “Garand rifle”, this is a civilian moniker. Other than his civil service salary, this is the only award Mr. Garand ever received for his rifle design. John Garand retired in 1953.
The M1 wasn’t fully deployed by the beginning of US involvement in W.W.II, the Springfield M1903 rifle was still in widespread use in all branches of the US military. The Springfield M1903 was an excellent rifle even by today’s standards, but was already obsolete at the beginning of W.W.II. A bolt-action repeater, the Springfield M1903 was a difficult rifle to make especially in the time it was intended to fight in. It required very advanced machining and heat treating techniques, often beyond the abilities of the workers making them. The initial batch of Springfield M1903 receivers had inconsistent heat treating, and after reports of field failures, were collectively condemned en masse below approximately serial number 800,000. By 1942, the Springfield was revised to modern manufacturing technology and reflected this in the appended designation M1903A3, however the basic performance was unchanged from the first M1903 Springfield. So, between approximately 1937 and 1943 the US military used both the M1 and M1903 rifles sometimes side-by-side. By late 1943, the M1903 Springfield was a battlefield rarity.
Women occupied as much as 70% of Springfield’s labor force, and most wartime M1 rifles were made by women ordinance workers. They often exceeded wartime quality and production quotas. The M1 continued as the backbone infantry rifle during W.W.II, and remained in service through the Korean War (1950-53). During World War II, M1 rifles were made by Springfield and Winchester. Following W.W.II, International Harvester and Harrington Richardson joined the M1 production. HR-made M1s are considered the best made, but lack collector interest since they are post war manufacture.
After W.W.II, the US Military investigated some of the alarming reports coming back from the field. The more common complaints were weight (an M1 weighs nine pounds, heavy by today’s standards) the inability to “top off” the 8 round magazine, the tendency to smash thumbs during loading (the ubiquitous “M1 thumb”) the 8th round ping from an ejected clip, and occasional clip ejection from hip-firing and mysterious reports of 7th-round stoppages while firing in heavy rain. These reports were turned over to the Aberdeen proving ground and Springfield, along with the desire for a more modern infantry rifle. Of all these reports, only the 7th round stoppage was considered an unintentional consequence, as the other reports were the direct results of design features. The 7th round stoppage was traced to opening friction between the bolt lug and the cam track. A field fix was treating the cam track with lubricant, although it wasn’t military doctrine at the time.
Many times M1 shooters pondered why the M1 was never offered with the ability to accept the BAR 20-round magazine. The BAR and M1 magazine interchangeability feature was an obvious asset even then, and serious work was put into making the M1 able to accept and use BAR magazines. The effort failed partly due to the high bolt force required to strip off rounds from the BAR magazine, and also because it would have required a complete redesign of the M1 rifle receiver. Time and finances simply didn’t permit yet another major M1 redesign, so the BAR magazine project was cancelled.
There were variants: The M1 was produced in two sniper variants, the M1C and the M1D. Both used offset scopes to allow clip-loading. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Japanese paid tribute to the M1 as well. The Japanese produced a copy of the M1, but chambered in the 7.7mm Japanese service cartridge. It never reached full production before W.W.II ended. Germans also appreciated the reliable M1 (German designation- 7.62 mm – Selbstladegewehr 251(a)), and more than a few were found with captured M1s. The Italian firm Beretta made a high quality M1 copy known as “Beretta Garands”. Made on former US M1 rifle tooling, they are really a continuance of US wartime Winchester M1 rifles. Beretta continued the evolution of the Garand rifle, their initial improved rifle was the BM-59, followed by a flurry of sub-variants.
By the time the M1 was finally replaced by the M14 rifle in 1957, 5.4 million M1 rifles were manufactured by Springfield and other contractors. The M1 was handed to reserve and National Guard units, and finally all were retired and stored. These M1s were subsequently transferred to friendly nations during the Cold War to help hedge the growth of unfriendly governments, and bolster rapport with friendly governments. The last M1 was made sometime in 1957, and official production stopped. Springfield Armory closed in 1968, and Robert Reese purchased the Springfield Armory brand name in 1974, and formed a new company in Illinois to manufacture semi-automatic versions of the M14 rifle. Soon afterwards, Reese and company made M1 rifles. The similarity of names has led to a great deal of confusion in the gun-buying public regarding provenance of a former military arm, or a newly-made copy in the civil sector.
The M1 was now legendary and a strong interest followed among civil shooters. Initially some M1s were transferred to civilians under the old DCM program, but this was halted briefly in the 1970s when the US government began a short program mandating the destruction of M1 rifles. After a hue and cry from collectors and others interested in this fine rifle, the destruction ended. During this time, market value for an original M1 easily fetched $800 and up.
Gun and import laws prohibited exported M1s from ever returning to the US, so the number of M1 rifles were beginning to dwindle. Very little production, if any, made a significant impact on the M1 market. The surplus market was nearly awash in spares, but receivers were extremely rare and the tools and gauges rarer yet. The end effect was the market for M1 rifles was essentially a closed market. As a lad, my friends and I pined for an M1, but I don’t recall anyone in my town who actually owned one. The author recalls seeing them at gun shows for $700 and up, and if we adjust for three decades into today’s economy the M1 rifle would be about $1500-$2500.
The 1980s saw much change with both gun laws and manufacturing technology. Investment casting processes made steel castings made so close to the finished dimensions that only minor fitting was necessary for assembly. During this time, several manufacturers attempted to make M1 rifle receivers to take advantage of the existing parts stores on the surplus market. Unfortunately, few of these ventures succeeded since the M1 receiver requires a specific material, forging and machining processes that apparently are beyond the means of many companies even to this day.
Re-importation of surplus military arms resumed in the mid-1980s, and M1 rifles briefly flooded the US market. Imported M1s caused the market to bottom briefly in 1991-1992 at around $375 for a well-used but functioning M1. These were snapped up quickly, and prices continued back to the earlier levels. Scattered reports of quality issues with Blue Sky surfaced, mostly around heavily worn parts and reports of deformed barrels from heavy import stamps.
With the widespread deployment of the internet, the interest in M1 rifles coalesced and with the DCM online, more awareness led to greater DCM participation. This led to more proliferation of M1 rifles in civil use. The CMP (nee DCM program) funding was topped, and became a privatized organization. Fortunately they can sell M1 rifles, so $400-$500 quality M1 rifles have reappeared.
The M1 was the last US issue battle rifle made of the classic materials-steel, walnut and leather. With even moderate care, many outlived several generations of owners. The only serious issue with the M1 rifle in civil use is the tendency to accidentally discharge when the bolt is slammed shut on a live round. This can also manifest as “doubling”, or two discharges with a single trigger pull. This has been traced to using ammunition with “soft” primers, ammunition that can be detonated by little more than the force of the bouncing firing pin inside the bolt channel. CCI and Winchester are considered “hard” while Federal are “soft”. CCI now makes a military specification primer which should be suitable for the M1.By keeping the M1 unloaded when not in use and safe handling practices, the numbers of discharge injuries are low.
M1 Garand Pages
- US Rifle Caliber .30 M1 Garand
- The Garand Guy
- M1 Garand Nomenclature, Accessories, and Maintenance
- National Parks Service: Springfield Armory
- The M1 Garand
- National Match M1 Garand