A Brief History of the M-1 Garand

By James Martineau,

Heralded by General George S. Patton as the “greatest battle implement ever devised,” the M-1 Garand was the world’s first successfully fielded semi-automatic rifle. The ability to fire semi automatically from an eight round fixed magazine loaded by an en bloc clip put the United States at an advantage compared to other nations whose primary rifles were bolt action firing from five to ten round fixed magazines. Among the most successful of U.S. military primary firearms, the Garand enjoyed 22 years of service as the official standard rifle of the United States Armed Forces.

Springfield, Massachusetts. John C. Garand, inventor of the Garand rifle, pointing out some of the features of the rifle to Major General Charles M. Wesson during the general’s visit to the Springfield arsenal. At right is Brigadier General Gilbert H. Stewart, commanding officer of the arsenal.

The M-1 Garand began it’s life in the early 1920s as John Garand, working for Springfield Armory, began developing a gas operated rifle to be eventually used in the semi-automatic rifle trials of the 1920s. The competition for these trials included rifles from Berthier, Hatcher-Bang, Thompson and Pederson. The rifle had a rough and somewhat unpromising start changing from .30 to .276 Garand then back to .30 caliber by request of the Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur. The rifle was also thought to be inaccurate and unreliable. By 1934, sufficient refinements were made that enabled the rifle to enter field trials with infantry and cavalry units. After a few more refinements including the redesign of the barrel, gas cylinder and front sight assembly, the first production model entered service in 1937. By the end of 1941, the Army was fully equipped with Garands.

During the Second World War, the rifle was lauded by the soldiers using it. In addition to its praise by General Patton, General Eisenhower claimed that it was the weapon that won the war. The firepower advantages of the Garand made the American soldiers more lethal man for man than any other participant in the war. A soldier claimed to have killed eight Japanese soldiers in a bayonet charge without having to reload. This would have been well nigh impossible with a bolt action rifle used by other belligerents of the war. Such was the reputation of the Garand that despite other nations developing rifles with detachable magazines in the 1940s and 1950s, the Garand continued production of the rifle until 1957. Although production ceased, the Garand was still in service with Reserve and National Guard units until the 1970s.

The rifle saw continued service in the Korean War. The rifle still was superior in terms of firepower compared with the other belligerent nations as most participants used firearm technology from the Second World War. The increase in need for new firearms to fight the war led to the contracting of International Harvester to produce 500,000 rifles from 1953-1956. Besides Springfield Armory and the aforementioned International Harvester, other companies contracted to produce the Garand were Winchester and Harrington & Richardson. Despite the adoption of the M-14 as the primary service rifle in 1959, the Garand served in the Vietnam War until 1965 when it was completely phased out.

There were a few variants of the Garand that entered limited service. The M1C was designated as the sniper variant and entered service as the standard sniper rifle of the Army in June 1944. Unfortunately this variant had issues as drilling the receiver for the scope reduced the accuracy of the firearm as it warped the barrel. This was rectified by the adoption of the M1D which used a mount attached to the barrel rather than the receiver. Ultimately, the M-1 Garand was replaced by bolt action rifles by the time of the Vietnam War for sniper use. Another of the variants was a “Tanker” variant which was basically a carbine variant. It never entered service though as it was discovered that .30-06 fired out of the weapon produced excessive muzzle flash.

The Garand was also used extensively by other nations. Beretta famously made a number of modifications on their rifles dubbed the BM59. These Garands were built using the tooling acquired from Winchester and were modified to accept removable 20 round magazines and were rechambered to the NATO standard 7.62x51mm. Other nations received hundreds of thousands of Garands from the US from the 1950s to the 1970s. In all, more than 5 million were produced during its lifecycle. Many are still used in ceremonial duties in nations such as the United States, Norway, Belgium and Japan.

The efficiency in the M-1 Garand in combat hastened the development of semi-automatic firearms as the primary infantry rifle throughout the world. The popularity of the rifle as well as its success on the battlefield have made these rifles highly coveted for firearms collections. Any collectors wishing to obtain an M-1 Garand can check D4Guns.com where there are often up for sale from multiple manufacturers.