The first of its kind, the famous M1 Garand remains a valued collector’s item, as well as a favorite rifle to shoot among many avid gun owners.
Its service life spanned two decades and three major conflicts. Variations of the firearm properly known as the M1 were still in use as late as the Vietnam War. Yet, changes in the battlefield brought needs and challenges that required lighter, more compact rifles.
It is almost sacrosanct in discussing the M1 Garand — properly known as the M1 rifle — to include the words of Gen. George Patton who is claimed to have said, “In my opinion, the M1 rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised.”
When the M1 Garand entered service on the eve of WWII, no other rifle even compared.
The M1 Garand Was a First of its Kind
The gas-operated, .30-caliber M1 Garand was the first semi-automatic rifle to be adopted for military service. Beginning in 1938, it replaced the M1903 Springfield, a bolt-action rifle of the same caliber. The M1903 had served through WWI as the primary infantry rifle for the U.S.
The prototype rifle that would become the M1 Garand — which can be seen on the National Parks Service’s Springfield Armory website — was manufactured in July 1931. Yet, the first M1 to pass a function-firing test came almost six years to the day in July 1937.
Conceived by Canadian-American inventor John Garand (pronounced like “errand”), the M1 rifle was his second attempt at a semi-automatic rifle. In 1918, Garand had provided a promising design in response to the search by U.S. Ordinance for a semi-automatic rifle, according to the Garand Collectors Association. That design was for a blowback rather than a gas-operated rifle, but Garand ultimately abandoned the idea.
Though adopted by the U.S. Army as a standard infantry rifle in 1936, the first M1 rifles didn’t enter service until 1938. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps adopted the rifle in 1940.
The timing for the development of the M1 rifle worked out well. The Springfield Armory and U.S. military were able to both increase production and work out some of the early problems the firearm experienced prior to WWII, according to the National Park Service. At the height of production, the Springfield Armory produced M1 rifles 164 rifles each hour, around the clock.
Honor guards within and associated with the military still use M1s for ceremonies due to their appearance and venerated status. Many shooting competitions, both civilian and military, also still feature the M1.
The M1 Garand Caliber and Changes That Followed
Chambered in .30-06, the M1 Garand has a built-in magazine that is loaded from the top. The user can load either a clip of eight rounds or one round at a time.
Original and refurbished or rebuilt M1 rifles are still available to the public through the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), but the age of the rifles dictates some care in what is fired from them. The CMP warns against any load over 50,000 CUP (Copper Unit of Pressure) or a bullet larger than 172-174 grains.
More Than One Kind of 7.62
The .30-06 is 7.62×63 mm, which is still larger than the NATO 7.62×51 mm rounds fired by the later M14 rifle. Even the M1 carbine, which was developed in 1938, fired a smaller 7.62×33mm round.
Yet, the cartridge wasn’t the only difference between the M1 rifle and M1 carbine. The M1 rifle has an official effective range of 500 yards, a 24-inch barrel, and weighs 9.5 pounds. The M1 carbine has an 18-inch barrel, an official effective range of 300 yards, and weighs 5.2 pounds.
The carbine ended up having a significantly longer service life than the original M1, though. The M1 rifle saw its service life for U.S. forces end in 1958. Yet, M1 carbines were still being issued to U.S. servicemembers during the Vietnam War. Those carbines remained in service until they were replaced by M16s.
Not Just for Shooting Bullets
Like modern service rifles, the M1 rifle had an attachment for firing grenades, yet not the underslung seen nowadays. Instead, the M7 grenade launcher is fixed to the end of the M1 rifle barrel rather than under it.
In the Youtube video below, you can see the proper way to attach the M7 to the end of the M1 Garand.
The M7 could even launch grenades designed to be thrown by hand. Yet, there were some drawbacks to this approach. For instance, the servicemember had to pull the grenade’s pin before lining up the shot and firing. The rifle also had to be emptied before trying to launch a grenade. A special blank cartridge loaded with extra powder was used to propel the grenade. So, any rounds still in the rifle had to be ejected and replaced with the blanks.
Legends of the M1 Garand and Tipping off the Enemy
If It Ain’t Got That ‘Ping’
Perhaps the most famous myth of the M1 Garand involves the “ping” of the clip ejecting after the last round is fired. Some WWII veterans claimed that the noise alerted enemy combatants of when they were reloading.
Some WWII veterans have even said they would drop an empty clip on the ground to get the enemy to expose themselves to fire.
Yet, Robert Bell, an M1 rifle armorer with the CMP at Camp Perry, Ohio, claimed to have spoken to German soldiers who said that combat was too noisy for the sound of the clip being ejected to even stand out.
The question of how loud the “ping” would be in an actual combat environment is even addressed in this video by Bloke on the Range. (Trigger warning for those offended by bad German accents.)
Additionally, it is unlikely a servicemember would be alone while firing the M1 Garand. Knowing that one enemy soldier is reloading isn’t much of an advantage if he has friends.
Bloke on the Range also demonstrated what is true of any semi-automatic firearm even to this day: it just isn’t that difficult to reload fast enough to avoid being particularly vulnerable. Having the clip fly out of the rifle even serves as a reminder to reload.
But Wait, There’s More
Still, there may have actually been a real noise concern with the M1 rifle, according to Jonathan Ferguson at Armament Research Services. A 1952 Technical Memorandum (ORO-T-18 (FEC)), titled “Use of Infantry Weapons and Equipment in Korea” indicated that the sound of the safety being disengaged could give away a servicemember’s position when attempting to sneak up on an enemy position.
In fact, half of the men interviewed said they were worried about the noise from the safety. Only one-quarter were concerned about the noise of the clip ejecting.
Are There Still M1 Garands for Sale?
One thing that isn’t a myth is the high demand for the venerable M1 rifle. The CMP permits an individual to up to eight M1 rifles each calendar year through the program. The COVID-19 pandemic also extended the wait for an M1 Garand due to the CMP shutting down for seven weeks.
Some may not think that eight rifles is a significant limit per calendar year. Yet, collectors may have to return to the CMP multiple times before acquiring a rifle that meets their expectations. The CMP inspects and repairs every rifle shipped. However, the CMP makes no guarantees regarding the specific condition of each rifle.
The CMP states that a purchaser is unlikely to receive a rifle with all original parts. Most will have the wear and tear of years of actual service. As a result, collectors are always on the lookout for an M1 rifle in original condition.
Of course, those who don’t want to trust luck alone, or who don’t have the space to store extra M1 Garands — and are unwilling to make the obvious sacrifice of evicting family members to make such space — can try to find a rifle that meets their expectations at gun shows or online. However, they may pay up to 10 times as much for that rifle as through the CMP.
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