Wednesday, December 28, 2005

One From the Vault

M1 Garand
Every gunnie, at least those who like wood stocks and blued metal, should own an M1 Garand. George S. Patton called the M1 Garand, “The greatest battle implement ever devised.” And, he wasn’t far off the mark. Patton was, of course, a World War II general and M1 Garands helped America win that war.

The United States was the only WWII combatant nation that armed most of its soldiers with a semi-automatic rifle. A semi-automatic is no more powerful than its bolt action cousin--an M1 uses the same cartridge, .30-06, as America’s M1903 bolt-action rifle. But, a semi-automatic has certain advantages over a bolt action. A shooter can shoot faster with one, it’s easier to be accurate because you focus on your point of aim while the action cycles, and it’s more rapidly reloaded than a bolt action.

Not only did M1s serve the nation throughout WWII they also saw use in Korea and a handful in Vietnam. Its close cousin, the M14 (basically a select-fire M1 with a box magazine) is still being used for certain military purposes today. M1s deserve all the accolades they’ve earned.
My M1 Garand with two en-bloc clips

The M1’s inventor was John Cantius Garand. He was born near Quebec, Canada, but came to the United States with his family when he was about 11 years old. He became an American citizen and worked in textile mills in New England. He showed an early aptitude for machines and a love of shooting. He combined both talents into designing guns. In 1919, his skills led to a position at the Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was particularly interested in creating a semi-automatic infantry rifle.

Garand was a little eccentric. He once flooded his living room in winter and allowed the water to freeze giving him his own indoor skating rink. While always a pragmatic engineer, he was also stubborn. An example of Garand’s stubbornness was his insistence on using an en bloc clip—the M1’s only weakness as a battle rifle.

An M1’s magazine is internal unlike magazines for M14s, AR-15s, or AK-47s. A shooter feeds the magazine with a clip that holds eight cartridges (some are made to hold fewer cartridges for purposes like hunting or target shooting) into the top of the receiver and presses down. When the clip reaches the magazine’s bottom it stops and causes the bolt to slam closed. If the shooter doesn’t get his or her thumb out of the way fast enough, he or she acquires a case of “M1 thumb.”

Besides the risk of M1 thumb, en bloc clips lead to other problems in a battle situation. You can’t easily top off an M1 during a fight. If the fighting stops after you’ve fired four shots you can’t add four more rounds to the magazine in preparation for more fighting. Instead, you must open the bolt thus ejecting the chambered round, and pull out the three remaining rounds and the clip. Another drawback is the fact that it only holds eight rounds. Today’s battle rifles usually have 20 to 40 round magazines.

Still, the en bloc clip makes the M1 fun to shoot today. When you’ve shot your last round, the magazine follower kicks out the clip with a merry little chime and lets you know you’re ready to load another clip. I have read another criticism of the clip—that the distinctive ring could tell the enemy that you’re reloading. I doubt that any soldiers were killed because of the clip’s distinctive sound. For one thing, battle noise would drown out the sound, you’d probably have other troops near by who aren’t reloading, and there’s no real evidence that such a situation ever occurred.

My M1 was made in June 1944, the same month as D-Day, in the Springfield Armory. I don’t know if it served our nation in Europe, the Pacific, Korean or elsewhere. It’s possible it was sold to a foreign government and then came back here. I don’t know because the Armory didn’t keep those kinds of records.

There’s nothing special about my M1. It doesn’t have a milestone serial number like 2,000,000, it doesn’t have an inspector’s cartouche in the stock, and not all of its parts are original. After World War II, arsenals acquired the rifles, took them apart, replaced worn or superseded parts, and put them together again without any attempt to keep original parts together. An M1 with all original parts and a proper cartouche, is worth a fair amount of money to collectors.

Yet, I’ve shot my M1 at 100 yards and achieved a group of eight rounds that could be covered with a silver dollar—my best achievement in a rifle. I’ve taken it completely apart and cleaned every trace of dirt and grease from it. I’ve taken layers of old crud off its stocks and found gorgeous wood underneath.

There nothing’s special about my M1 Garand, except that it’s mine. I guess it’s special after all.

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