|Classic Test: M1 Garand
This semi-auto 8-shooter was the best infantry rifle of World War II.
By Garry James
Given the context of the statement, it's pretty hard to disagree with General George Patton's evaluation of the M1 Garand, as "the greatest battle implement ever devised." While it perhaps achieved its greatest glory in World War II and Korea, the Garand in standard, sniper and match guises continues to be a favored arm with the military and sporting shooters around the globe.
The M1 Garand was unquestionably the best infantry rifle of World War II. It was reliable, had adequate firepower and was quite accurate. Rifle and accessories are from the author's collection.
When the rest of the world's armies were fielding bolt actions that were little changed from their counterparts in the Great War, the United States gave its infantrymen a rugged, reliable, accurate semi-auto. One can understand the envy for the American GI’s battle rifle shown by both foes and allies.
The "U.S. Rifle Caliber .30 MI," as the Garand was officially called, was adopted into the service in 1936 after a rather tortuous birthing process. Its designer, John C. Garand, labored at the task for the Army Ordnance Department for almost 20 years before he came up with a design that was strong enough to handle the formidable U.S. .30-06 round—a cartridge that develops 50,000 psi of chamber pressure.
Though the gun went through several incarnations following its debut in the early 1930s, what finally appeared was a rifle that was deemed appropriate for the rough usage it could expect in the hands of a combat infantryman.
While today the system seems pretty obvious, when it first appeared Garand's design was hailed as something of a marvel. Using an eight-round, stamped sheet-steel en bloc clip as part of the feeding system, the rifle functioned as follows: The bolt handle was pulled to the rear, where the action was held open by the follower. A clip of ammo was pressed down into the magazine and the bolt allowed to move forward, where it stripped off and chambered a round.
When the trigger was pulled and the round discharged, gases were tapped off through a gas port in the forward bottom part of the bore. These gasses forced the operating rod backward, compressing the operating rod spring and opening the bolt. As the bolt opened, it extracted and ejected the spent cartridge and cocked the hammer. Relaxation of the operating-rod spring now forced the bolt to move forward, where it stripped off and chambered the next round.
When all eight shots had been expended, the clip was forcibly ejected from the action and the bolt remained open ready to receive another loaded clip.
Part of the magic resided in its sturdy, responsive rotating bolt—a
concept that had paralleled somewhat, the pre-World War I experiments of
French, Italian and Swiss ordnance bureaus. The system, as devised by Garand,
proved to be so effective that it was used again in the selective-fire,
removable-box-magazine 7.62mm M14 rifle—the gun that officially replaced
the M1 in 1957.
The M1 was not only reliable, it was extremely accurate—so accurate in fact, that it was easily adapted to the sniping role. It rapidly gained favor with competition shooters, and starting in the early 1950s, special National Match models were made up by Springfield Armory. Depending upon when they were put together, these guns will have such niceties as glass-bedded stocks and specially fitted National Match parts (often marked, "NM".)
Some 6 million Garands were produced by several sources between 1935 and 1957, including Springfield, International Harvester, Harrington and Richardson, and Winchester. If you buy a World War II collector-grade Garand, it is wise to check if all parts match. (It is acceptable, however, for a Korean War rework to have mismatched parts.) Those guns produced by Springfield will have major components stamped "SA." International Harvester rifles use the initials "IHC" (though barrels can be marked "LMR".) Winchester M1s are marked "WRA," and H&R Garands have an "HRA" coding.
The M1's safety is a sturdy pierced piece of sheet metal located at the front of the triggerguard. Pushed to the rear, the gun is on "safe." When the lever is flicked forward with the back of the trigger finger, the gun is ready to fire. For a battle rifle, the M1's rear sight setup is pretty sophisticated, with a double-knurled-knob arrangement that corrects the peep for windage and elevation. The front sight is a sturdy blade, flanked by a pair of stout "wings."
The butt has a compartment for an oiler and combination tool secreted behind the metal buttplate. It is accessible via a hinged, spring-latched trapdoor (early guns did not have this feature, though).
While not exactly a lightweight at 9 1/2 pounds, the Garand balances extremely well. Using either the old-style M-1907 military leather sling or the later web strap, the gun can be carried for extended periods with relative comfort. It shoulders nicely, and recoil, even with standard 150-grain ball ammo, is not prohibitive. My wife, who is only slightly over 5 feet 2 inches tall, shot my National Match Garand for the better part of an afternoon with no complaints, whatsoever. In fact, it was her favorite rifle out of a selection that included much lighter M1 Carbine and SKS semi-autos.
For our evaluation gun, we acquired a stock World War II Garand,
manufactured by Springfield in 1944. This rifle, along with a stock of
PMC 150-grain ball ammo, and 150-grain Samson SP. Testing was conducted
at the Petersen Ranch in Lake Elizabeth, CA. Targets were set up at 50
and 100 yards, though the winds were blowing at around 15 to 20 miles an
hour, so I didn't really hold out too much hope for great accuracy at the
Functioning of the gun was excellent. It was shot offhand, rapid-fire and deliberately from a rest. Despite much tearing and blowing of targets, our 100 yarders weren’t all that bad, with spreads coming in at an average of around three inches, with the best spread measuring 2 5/8 inches. My stepson, Jon Cuthbertson, at 50 yards fired top group of the day. From a bench his three-shot group ran 1/2-inch. Not too bad for a stock GI gun.
Functioning was perfect, and all who fired the piece proclaimed it a lot of fun. There are still lots of Garands out there in just about any grade, model and condition you may desire. Shooters are still reasonable, running in the $400 to $500 range, though some of the more exotic versions can cost upwards of several thousand dollars.
No matter what you pay, though, the M1 Garand is a solid bit of history
and a heck of a lot of fun, and should be part of the basic battery of
any military firearms enthusiast.