Caliber: .30-06 (7.62×63 mm)
Action: Gas operated, rotating bolt
Overall length: 1103 mm
Barrel length: 610 mm
Weight: 4.32 kg
Feeding: non-detachable, clip-fed only magazine, 8 rounds
The story of the M1 Garand Is that of the first semi-automatic rifle ever widely adopted as a standard military arm. It began soon after the start of the First World War, when inventor John C. Garand (a Canadian, then living in the USA) began to develop a semi-automatic (or self-loading) rifle. He worked at the US Government owned Springfield Armory during the 1920’s and early 1930’s developing a number of different models.
Garand’s early prototypes were built using the somewhat rare system of advanced primer ignition (API) blowback, but for various reasons this system was overly sensitive and therefore unsuitable for a military rifle. He switched to the more common gas-operated system. Garand filed a patent for his semiautomatic, gas operated, clip-fed rifle in 1930, and received a US patent for his design late in 1932.
This rifle was built around the then-experimental .276 caliber (7mm) Pedersen cartridge. At the same time, his rifle was tested by the US Military against its main competitor, the Pedersen rifle, and was eventually recommended for adoption by the US Army early in 1932. US general MacArthur however, made a statement that the US Military should stick to the old .30-06 cartridge. Foreseeing this turn of events, Garand already had a variation of his design chambered for this caliber. Finally, on the 6th January, 1936, Garands’ rifle was adopted by the US Army as “Rifle, .30 Caliber, M1”. Early issue rifles however, showed quite poor characteristics, jamming way too often for a decent military arm. A lot of noise was made that eventually reached the ears of the US Congress. In 1939, a major redesign was ordered. Garand quickly redesigned the gas port system, which greatly improved the reliability of the new weapon. Almost all M1 rifles of early issue were quickly rebuilt to adopt a new gas system, so very few “original” M1 Garand rifles survive to the present day – now extremely expensive collectors items.
When the USA entered World War 2, mass production of the M1 rifle began at the Springfield armory and at the Winchester plant. During the war, both companies produced between them approximately 4 million M1 rifles, so the M1 Garand is the most widely used semi-automatic rifle of World War 2 by far. During the war, the M1 Garand proved itself as a reliable and powerful weapon. The fact that the gun was semi-automatic and not ‘bolt operated’ allowed for much faster cycling and target acquisition, while the .30-06 round provided very effective stopping power. Having seen its performance, General George S. Patton said of the Garand “In my opinion, the M1 Rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised”.
There were some minor attempts to improve it further during the war, but these did not leave the experimental stages, except for two sniper modifications, M1C and M1D. Both were approved for service in 1945 and both featured a telescopic sight which was offset to the left due to the top-loading nature of the M1. At the end of WW2 production of the M1 in the USA stopped, and some rifles and also licenses to build it were sold to other countries, such as Italy and Denmark.
With the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950 the production of the M1 for US forces was resumed again early in 1952. This time M1 Garands were manufactured at the Springfield armory, also at Harrington & Richardson Company (H&R) and the International Harvester Company. Those companies manufactured them until 1955, and the Springfield Armory continued to produce them until 1956.
With the official adoption of the M14 rifle and respective new 7.62x51mm NATO ammunition for US service in 1957, the M1 rifle became obsolete. It still found use during later years, however, because of a lack of M14 and M16 rifles, and saw some service during the early period of the Vietnam war. Later, many M1’s were transferred to the US National Guard, used as training weapons by the US Army or sold to civilians as military surplus. A few M1’s are still used by all branches of the US Military as ceremonial weapons. Other than the USA, M1’s were used by the Italian military (where these rifles were redesigned and rebuilt into 7.62mm BM-59 rifles). Denmark, France and some other countries also utilised M1 Garands. There also were attempts to rebarrel the M1 for the 7.62mm cartridge in the USA and to adopt a detachable 20-round magazine from Browning BAR rifles, but these were less than successful and haven’t seen any significant service.
The M1 Garand is a gas operated, magazine fed, semiautomatic rifle. Original M1’s used the gas tapped from the muzzle by a special muzzle extension (Gas trap operation), but this was proven unreliable, and since 1939, M1 rifles were built with a gas system using a gas port, drilled in the barrel near the muzzle. The tapped gas was directed into the gas cylinder, located under the barrel, where it operated a long-stroke gas piston, integral with the operating rod. The long operating rod housed inside it a return spring, and ended with the extension that carried a bolt operating groove at the left and a charging handle at the right. The groove was connected with the rotating bolt, located inside the receiver. The bolt had two locking lugs that locked into the receiver walls. When the gun was fired, hot powder gases were led to the gas chamber and to the gas piston, that drove back the operating rod. The bolt operating groove interacting with the stud on the bolt, rotated the bolt to unlock it and then retracted it to commence the reloading cycle.
The M1 was fed from an integral box magazine, which was probably the weakest point of the whole design. The magazine was fed using only 8-round clips, which could not be easily “topped off”, staying inside the magazine until all 8 rounds were shot. As soon as the magazine (and clip) became empty, the bolt was stopped at its rearward position by the bolt catch, and the empty clip was automatically ejected from the magazine with a distinctive ‘Ping’ sound. The main drawback of the system was that the clips could not be easily reloaded during action, and enemies close by could hear when the rifle was empty. However, it was possible to refill the clip in the rifle, but this was not the fastest procedure.
M1 featured a wooden stock with separate handguards and a steel buttplate. The forwardmost part of the muzzle served as a bayonet mounting point. Sights of the M1 consisted of the front sight with dual protecting “wings”, dovetailed into the gas block at the muzzle, and the adjustable peephole rear sights, built into the rear part of the receiver. Sniper versions (M1C and M1D) also featured scope mounts on the receiver, offset to the left from the axis of the rifle, so it was possible to load it with clips and also to use its iron sights with scope installed (in the case of the scope damage, for example).
There were some attempts to make a handier and more compact version of the M1 by shortening the barrel by some 6 inches (152 mm), with standard wooden or skeleton metallic buttstocks, but these attempts never left the experimental stages. Some short barreled “tanker” M1 rifles, appearing in the post-war period, are not genuine designs, but merely ‘sawn-off’ variations of the standard ‘long’ rifles.