Whenever I go to the rifle range, I take at least one M1 Garand.
I have several AR15s, think the FAL is great, enjoy playing with lever actions, and have fun trying to get the most accuracy from a bolt action.
But my favorite rifle has to be the M1 Garand.
However, contrary to what many of us would like to believe, the Garand was not an overnight success. John Garand did not climb down off Mount Sinai with the blueprints, hand them to the Ordnance Corps and with a nod of approval from General Patton, send it on to immediate and faultless general issue. It’s a more involved story than that.
Before I go on, the proper way to pronounce Garand is not “Guh-rand” like most people do. It should sound sorta like “parent” or “errand”.
That’s one of the first pieces of info in “Hatcher’s Book of the Garand” by Gen Julian S. Hatcher, and since Hatcher knew Garand well and worked with him in the Ordnance Dept, I’ll take his word for it.
John Cantius Garand was Canadian-born, and like many brilliant people…was a little eccentric. It is said he once owned a house in which he had built an indoor ice skating rink.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
John Garand has often been compared to John Browning, and while that is understandable, I don’t see they have a lot in common besides firearms. It looks to me like they went about things in very different ways. I’ve read that Browning would get an idea or order for a certain gun, work it out in his head, then go to the bench and make one. He seemed to go with his instincts and make something based on an idea that came to him. It might need a little fine tuning, but that was all he gave it. If it needed more than that, he often just tried a different way. It is said that once he had a gun ready, he was done with it and never looked at it again to think of improvements or changes. Once he was done…he was done.
Garand, on the other hand, seemed to be more methodical and would start on the drafting board, work out every little detail, and was constantly changing and improving. The M1 Garand rifle we now know took around 20 years to come into being. Browning would have designed 40 guns in half that time. But Garand was employed by the gov’t solely for the purpose of designing a semi-auto military rifle, so who knows how he would have worked if he had been freelancing.
One thing many people don’t realize is that along with the Garand rifle, the gov’t got an entire manufacturing process. John Garand not only designed the rifle, but the tooling and methods to produce it. He was a tooling designer with Brown & Sharp and the US Bureau of Standards before coming to Springfield Armory. A lot of thought went into how each part would be made in addition to how it would function. Many parts were made by the broaching process, which was rather new at the time. I’m no machinist, but as I understand it, a VERY simplified explanation of broaching is pressing or squeezing hot metal into shape by the use of great pressure. A lot of the M-1 receiver machining is done by broaching.
Garand designed the entire production process, in some cases right down to where machinery should be located on the factory floor.
Yet, after his design was officially adopted, some tried to squeeze him out. He was treated as an inventor who they had bought a patent from, and whose services would no longer be required. Thank you, run along, we’ll handle it now. Some people even suggested letting him go to save his $3,500 per year salary.
As a result, he was not consulted on some of the finer points when starting production. They ran into numerous problems with the early production guns that just didn’t happen on the original 80 toolroom assembled rifles whose construction John Garand supervised.
But again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
It’s easy now to miss what a huge deal the adoption of a semi-automatic service rifle was at the time. If you think about it, there were very few semi-auto rifles at all back then, let alone any that were one fit for military service. The only ones I can think of off the top of my head are some .22s, the Winchester M1905 and M1907s (firing cartridges that were hardly more than stout pistol rounds), Standard Arms’ oddball pump/semi-autos, and the Remington Model 8.
Interesting side note: Some Remington M8s were bought by the gov’t in 1921 and fitted with peep sights and military-type stocks for infantry evaluation of tactics using semi-automatic rifles at Ft Benning.
People had been trying for decades to make a successful semi-auto rifle for military use. Through the 1930’s, the military evaluated dozens of rifles that were either submitted to them or they had sought out, including designs from familiar places like Winchester and Thomspon, and some not so familiar like Bang and Liu. If they could get one to work at all, it was way too big and heavy. If it was small and light enough, it wouldn’t last.
Most of these were recoil operated, because the powder used in the gov’t .30-06 round burned differently from what we are used to now. It tended to have a peak in pressure over a short span, then drop off. If you tapped the gas off toward the muzzle like most did later, there would be insufficient (and very erratic) pressure. If you tapped it off close to the chamber, you got very high (and erratic) pressure.
Garand started out with a primer-operated rifle around 1920. In this rifle, the primer was allowed to partially back out of the case when fired, which pushed a rod back that operated the locking/unlocking system and allowing the bolt to cycle. It sounds odd, but evidently it worked pretty well.
Then around 1926-27 they changed the ammo on everyone by making two changes that affected semi-auto designers.
First, they went to crimped in primers, which pretty much killed Garand’s primer-actuated rifle.
And, they switched to IMR-type powder, which burned at a more steady or gradual rate. While those early blends peaked earlier than later types, they didn’t peak as rapidly or as high as the old powders and still had plenty of pressure at the muzzle. This made gas operation feasible and gave Garand another direction to go.
Another factor in here was the possibility of a complete caliber change away from the .30 US Gov’t Cartridge of 1906 (.30-06).
J.D. Pedersen, who designed several guns for Remington and the military’s “Pedersen Device” from WWI that was meant to convert the 1903 Springfield into a mini machinegun, had been working on a .276 caliber cartridge. It fired a 125 grain bullet at approximately 2,700 fps (originally 2,500 fps) and many in the military, and especially in the Ordnance Dept, were in favor of it’s use in the next service rifle whether it was a semi-auto or not. It was considered to be such a sure thing that many designers chose to design their rifles around that .276 rather than the then-standard .30-06.
Pedersen was working on a semiauto rifle for his .276 cartridge. Garand worked on a semi-auto rifle for the .276, but kept a .30-06 version simmering on the back burner.
By the late 1920s, the Ordnance Dept had decided they wanted either the Garand or the Pedersen rifles.
Both were in .276 caliber.
The Garand was gas operated, held 10 rounds in an expendable clip, and weighed about 8.5 lbs. The pictures I’ve seen look pretty slick. It looks about like an 80% scale M1 Garand. You have to wonder about the possibilities had we adopted that rifle. With a smaller, lighter rifle that held 10 slightly less powerful rounds- would there have been a Light Rifle Program after WWII that led to the M14?
The Pedersen was recoil operated, using a toggle locking bolt (think Luger), and weighed about the same as the Garand (although it ended up being heavier, or the Garand lighter, or both). Different types of magazine systems were tried, including a 20-rd detachable magazine and a Mannlicher-type 10-rd rotary, but it ended up with a 10-rd mag that used a clip sorta like that of the Garand… but not exactly.
After a lengthy comparison and trial period, the .276 cal Garand (T3E2) was recommended for adoption in Jan, 1932.
To give you an example of how advanced the Garand was in its day, consider two things:
1) These two rifles were far ahead of anything else at the time.
2) The rifle considered “second best”, the Pedersen, doesn’t sound very good.
The Pedersen lost out to the Garand because, among other things:
– It required lubricated cartridges. Yes, you read that right. It had pads in the receiver to hold lube so that as the cartridges fed through the magazine they got a swipe of lube.
-The toggle breech action caused the bolt to swing upwards when it unlocked. Besides getting in the line of sight, it would whack the shooter’s helmet or hat. “Sometimes makes holes in the hat” read one report.
-There was some question of how easily some parts could be interchanged between Pedersen rifles or as spare parts. I would like to know more detail here, but have not found it.
-When the rifle was empty and the bolt was open, the action was not only exposed but this actually caused the bolt to hang out of the action. And with the action open, the lubricating pads were exposed to attract anything and everything.
-Other lesser items include a poor trigger pull (long multi-part linkage), unimpressive sights, oh- and a pesky tendency to go into full auto if small debris entered the action and/or “fires upon closing of the bolt without touching the trigger”.
And this was the closest competitor to the Garand.
While it may appear that the Pedersen wasn’t that great of a rifle, I think it also shows how hard it was to make a good one.
Pedersen stood to gain a lot if his rifle had been accepted. Since he wasn’t a government employee like Garand, he could have negotiated a pretty lucrative contract. The royalties alone could have been worth a bundle. I’m sure he gave it his best shot.
On Jan 4, 1932, the Ordnance Board turned in it’s report recommending adoption of the .276 caliber Garand rifle T3E2.
It was considered a mere formality that it would go to the Ordnance Dept heads for approval, then on to the War Dept, and we would have a new rifle. It was a such a sure thing that people started preparing for it and began work on how to allocate funds (which in the early days of the Depression would have been quite a job).
But the report never even made it from the Ordnance Board to the head of the Ordnance Dept.
Some officer named General Douglas MacArthur, Army Chief of Staff, said “No”.
He sent a letter back to the Ordnance Board about the “commitment to the .276” caliber being “not…wise or desirable”. It’s usually said that he opposed it due to the amounts of .30 caliber already in Army stocks, and that is true, but he also had the feeling that adding another cartridge to the inventory would “introduce an element of chaos, confusion, and uncertainty, which, magnified under war conditions, would more than counteract the beneficial effect of any semiautomatic rifle”.
He then ordered those concerned to “Make no further obligations with reference to the development of the caliber .276 semiautomatic shoulder rifle.”
In the same letter, he also recommends intensifying development of the semiautomatic .30 caliber shoulder rifle and tells them how he wanted it done (get the .30 cal version tested, fix what is found, build approx 77 rifles for extended test).
The .276 semi-auto was dead.
The .30 semi-auto got kicked into high gear.
Things started happening fast now. Garand had a jump on this, since he had kept working on his .30 caliber semi-auto all along, but at a slower pace than the .276 that seemed so promising. The .30 cal Garand rifle was being tested four months earlier at Aberdeen and cracked a bolt lug, which caused some redesign for strengthening. It was back at Aberdeen in the middle of re-tests at the very time MacArthur’s letter was written. Those tests went well, but John Garand wanted to make a few small changes while he had the chance, and had it back at Aberdeen on March 21, where it must have worked fine because Springfield Armory put in for the money to build the 80 test rifles.
So within a month of MacArthur ordering work to go full speed ahead on a .30 cal rifle, Garand’s was ready for extended test.
Springfield Armory got $80,000 to make 80 .30 cal Garand T1E2 rifles on a “semi-production basis”.
They wanted them “semi-production” rather than hand-built so they could test the new manufacturing methods. These are what collectors now refer to as the 80 toolroom rifles. Over the next two years, John Garand designed, built, set-up, and tested most of the machinery and tooling to build the rifle. The 80 rifles were done in May, 1934. All things considered, 26 months from the time the money was requested until 80 rifles were built was pretty good considering a factory was equipped in the process and one man designed most of it.
Fifty of the test rifles were given to the Infantry, and 25 to the Cavalry for test. They didn’t just go to a bunch of guys in a lab, but were issued to working soldiers, ranging from new recruits through WWI veterans. Supposedly, they weren’t just used to beat the guns up to see if they could break them, but actually asked to offer suggestions. The rifles were dragged all over the field, spread across barracks floors, and shot on ranges.
Three months into it, the evaluation/tests were stopped. There were complaints and concerns about the strength of the operating rod, so the rifles were called back in August 1934 to be fitted with a stronger op rod. They were returned in May 1935 when tests resumed. Tests ended in October.
Both the Infantry and Cavalry approved the rifle and recommended it’s adoption.
The asst Secretary of War OK’d it’s procurement on Nov 7, 1935.
Standardization was approved by the Adjutant General on Jan 9, 1936. Most consider this to be the M1 Garand’s “birthday”.
Garand had been at Springfield Armory working on the rifle for 16 years at this point.
It took some time to get production set up, and make money available (Great Depression and peacetime), but it appears Springfield Armory more or less got regular production going in August 1937. Different books give different figures, but most say they hit a rate of 100 rifles per day on the day Germany invaded Poland- Sep 1, 1939. They reached 200 per day Jan 22, 1940. Of course, they were building thousands per month within five years.
As I said earlier, John Garand was kind of pushed aside once the gov’t got it’s rifle. While he designed most of the tooling and machinery, they didn’t bother to have him there to set much of it up.
Once production got underway, this bit them.
Probably the most infamous example was the “Seventh-Round Stoppage”.
This is a case where two events mixed to create a train wreck. There was a lot of apprehension over a semi-auto service rifle among the Army’s “old guard”. Along with fears of any semi-auto being a malfunction-prone contraption that would cause soldiers to waste ammunition when it did work, they were all convinced you “couldn’t hit nothing with it”…usually before ever firing a shot from one.
So someone at Springfield Armory decided to take a bunch of the fancy new rifles to the National Matches at Camp Perry and let the competitors shoot them and see for themselves. The military was loaded with competitive shooters in those days, and many of these had a lot of pull within the military establishment. Their opinion of the new rifle could make or break it. By letting these old salts see how well it worked, and well it shot, it would be the best public relations demonstration they could possibly put on.
Right about the time they were to head off to Camp Perry, they discovered that sometimes the seventh round in the clip would fail to feed. This never happened in any of the pre-production test guns. Now they had a mystery on their hands, almost literally on the eve of the most important demonstration they might ever do. If they had a lot of seventh round failures, word would spread, and the M1 would be doomed.
An M1 clip is reversible in a couple of ways. There is no “top” or “bottom”, so it can be loaded into the rifle with either end up as long as the bullets point forward. The other thing that doesn’t matter is how the cartridges are loaded into the clip- with the top round ending up on the left side of the stack or on the right side of the stack. However, it IS easier to load the clip into the rifle with the top round on the right, so that’s how they usually get loaded.
Some experimenting showed that when the top round was on the left, the seventh round failure never happened.
So SA went to work. They unloaded and reloaded every clip they were sending to Camp Perry with the demonstration rifles so the top round was on the left. They modified all the followers so they wouldn’t accept a clip loaded unless the top round was on the right. Then they held their breath.
Everything went fine as far as that went. Hundreds of people fired the new rifles and nobody reported any seventh round (or other) malfunctions.
They didn’t escape that demonstration without harm, although they didn’t know by how much at the time. People smelled a rat and would keep looking until they found one. I’ll get deeper into that in Part 2.
The 7th round problem was traced back to a deviation from John Garand’s design…or lack of consulting him when setting up production. They found that a rib inside the receiver that kept the clip from flexing had been milled away thanks to how a machining operation had been set up.
There were some other little things that were found and corrected along the way, but the seventh round stoppage malfunction was probably the major one, and potentially the most costly.
I find it both interesting and frustrating that even though this only affected the first hundred or so rifles, I still run into people today who swear up and down you absolutely positively cannot load an M1 clip with the top round on the left or you will die immediately.
This is the source of it, and it was corrected 5.5 million rifles ago.
I’m sure people have had seventh round stoppages, and I’m equally sure that loading the clips differently “fixed” it, but its only because there was something else wrong with the rifle.
Its now 1939 and WWII is about to begin in Europe so it’s a good time to end this part. The M1 Garand rifle had been in development for around 19 years.
It didn’t happen overnight.
And it’s not over yet.
Part 2 will cover some early problems, changes, and criticisms of the new rifle. Some of these criticisms are appropriate, and some were completely without basis.
I find it interesting that the rifle that many put on a pedestal today was attacked and ridiculed by so many at the time. Many people don’t know about that, but it’s proof that some things never change. It probably happened when the Brown Bess was replaced, and it will happen when the M16/M4 is replaced.