The Story Behind the M-1 Garand Rifle and the story of John C. Garand – from The American Legion Magazine, 1939


From The American Legion Magazine, 1939


“THE sharp crack of a rifle rang out, and another enemy bit the dust.”

It was, if you remember your dime novels, none other than Dead-shot Dick, the intrepid frontiersman. Surrounded and assailed on all sides by savages, renegades, and assorted varmints, he stood at bay. Again and again, he fired until the bodies of his enemies were heaped high about him.Then he strode off, lovingly patting the still warm barrel of his trusty long rifle which, though a flintlock, had performed like a machine gun.

Now I’ll tell one, and this one is truth and stranger than fiction.

The sharp crack of a rifle rings out and keeps on ringing until it has rung out thirty times in one minute. This, mind you, is a rifle, a shoulder arm, not a machine gun. It is being fired by an average rifleman; an expert can fire as high as 80 rounds a minute. These are aimed shots, too, and no indiscriminate stream of lead. Each round is fired by a squeeze of the trigger. The gun’s gas-operated mechanism ejects, reload, and cocks. No longer must a hand leave stock and trigger to pull back the bolt. The rifleman pauses only to slip an eight-round clip into the magazine, open in readiness after the firing of the last shot.

That, ex-soldiers (of the Legion) is our Army’s new semi-automatic rifle, officially designated U.S. Rifle  Calibre .30, M-1; called the Garand rifle after its inventor, and indicated by severe field tests to be a combat weapon par excellence.

The new rifle, manufactured at Springfield Armory, already has been issued to certain units. Eventually, it will replace the 1903 Model Springfield which was our stand-by in the World War. Provision for mass production of the semi-automatic, in the event of an emergency, is being made. Under the Educational Orders Program of the Industrial Mobilization Plan, approved by Congress, the Ordnance Department may arrange with civilian manufactures to make the tools, dies, jigs, and fixtures which, along with regular plant equipment, will permit the production of military supplies; small quantities may be turned these plants as training for the filling of war orders. Assistant Secretary of War Louis A. Johnson, National Commander of the Legion in 1932-33, has placed the new rifle first on the list of items to be manufactured on the program. Production of the rifle continues under a regular schedule at Springfield Armory.

What a gun it is! Its nine-pound weight swings easily through the manual of arms. The eight-round clip- three more shots than we used to have in the locker-slips easily and the breech clicks closed. The old range scale slide has vanished; range and windage adjustments are made simply by turning two knobs. The rear sight of the aperture type and the front sight (blade) are superior to the old Springfield’s. You draw a bead on the target, and eight shots crash into it with a rapidity limited only by your remembrance that you had a better squeeze that trigger, not pull it, or hear plenty from the sergeant. You cease firing with a feeling of utter amazement. You are still on the target. The upward jerk of the muzzle was small. And where was the mule kick of the old Springfield? Recoil checked by the action of gasses of the mechanism, your shoulder isn’t even faintly sore. The barrel can be cleaned without disassembling the gun. When the rifle is disassembled for cleaning moving parts, it is a simple job in which no tools are required. Only a small screwdriver is necessary when the rifle is completely taken down.

The new semi-automatic means, among the other things, that the fire power of troops armed with it has been increased at least two and a half times over the old Springfield. For the low-flying aviator, bound for a grand strafe, it is a keep-off-the-grass sign with heavy penalties attached. Now if a plane swoops toward infantry on the road, troops are trained to scatter and kneel on the right leg with the left extending straight out of the front. No set-up machine gun could swing onto the target as quickly as these riflemen do. They do not aim directly at the plane but “lead” it as a hunter does a duck. Then they fire a clip from their semi-automatics as fast as they can pull the trigger. A plane which passes through such a sheaf of converging fire without being pretty badly riddled will be lucky.

It marks a new epoch for the rifleman, does this remarkable gun. The man behind it knows the same sense of superior power over a soldier with a bolt-action rifle as percussion-fire displayed over the flintlock, as the breech-loader demonstrated over the muzzled-loader, as the single-shooter yielded to the repeating rifle.

For thirty years the Ordnance Department had been striving to obtain a satisfactory semi-automatic rifle. Specifications demanded that it must fire the .30 service cartridge, be self-loading, weigh not over 91/2 pounds, be well-balanced and adapted to shoulder firing; that its magazine be fed from a clip; that it be impossible to fire more than one shot with each squeeze of the trigger; that it be simple, strong, compact and easy to manufacture; that it be able to meet such combat conditions as being dragged along while a doughboy squirmed on his belly through the mud. Outside of those trifling requirements, the Ordnance asked practically nothing.

Various models, domestic and foreign, were submitted, tested and found wanting in one important essential or another. Keen-minded designers vainly tackled this tough problem. Rejection followed on rejection. The Ordnance had an efficient, accurate rifle in the 1903 Springfield and was sticking to it until convinced that something better could be made.

The brain which would find the answer to this long-unsolvable problem belongs to a former French Canadian who in 1900 when he was twelve years old, crossed the border into the U.S.A. and got work as a doffer in a cotton mill. John C. Garand, being an ambitious lad, obtained permission to work in the machine shop during his rest periods. There he invented an improvement of the toolmaker’s jack and an automatic painting machine for bobbins. He moved on to welding and machine tool shops, tinkering with mechanisms whenever he got the chance, seeking always embody in them human intelligence and dexterity and not infrequently succeeding.

Came the World War, and it struck John Garand that machine guns were playing a large part in the hostilities. At which point he designed one. The Navy Board thought well enough of it to turn him over to the Bureau of Standards which gave him facilities for making a model. Then the Ordnance Department asked for him, not to go on with machine gun development but to complete evolution of that weapon into a shoulder arm.

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