American WWII Sniper Rifles: The Springfield Vs the M1 Garand

 
U.S. Army infantryman in 1942 with M1, Fort Knox, Kentucky
U.S. Army infantryman in 1942 with M1, Fort Knox, Kentucky
 
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Fed by a five-round magazine, the 8.7-pound bolt-action repeating rifle was met by the M1 Garand, which came as its official replacement.

The M1903 Springfield and the M1 Garand are undoubtedly well-respected for the roles they played during WWII. Over the past decades, a debate has raged among historians and gun lovers over which of these two highly decisive WWII sniper rifles is better.

This debate seems to have become a bloodless battle with no end in sight. However, in the video below, Paul Shull, the host of the Smithsonian Channel’s The Weapon Hunter show, takes a look at the two historic weapons with an exacting yet exciting shooting challenge before drawing his own personal verdict.

Before that though, a little background information on what the two weapons stand for, and what really made them stand out.

The M1903 Springfield, officially known as the United States Rifle, Caliber .30-06, Model 1903, served as the primary rifle of the United States military for the first several decades of the 20th century, seeing action in both World War I and II.

US Marines with M1903 rifles and bayonets in France (1918).
US Marines with M1903 rifles and bayonets in France (1918).

It was adopted as the US military’s official bolt-action rifle on June 19, 1930, but this rifle was basically a spin-off from the Spanish Mauser Model 1893. Due to the many similarities the Springfield had to the Mauser, the United States was forced to pay a hefty amount in royalties to the Mauser manufacturers.

Diagram of the .30 Springfield Rifle
Diagram of the .30 Springfield Rifle

Fed by a five-round magazine, the 8.7-pound bolt-action repeating rifle was met by the M1 Garand, which came as its official replacement. However, the Springfield remained the standard issue rifle for the doughboys owing to insufficient supply of M1 Garand rifles.

M1903 Springfield with loading clips. Photo: Curiosandrelics CC BY-SA 3.0
M1903 Springfield with loading clips. Photo: Curiosandrelics CC BY-SA 3.0

The Springfield rifle was also extensively used by American snipers during WWII, and its usage continued past the Korean War into the early stages of the Vietnam War.

Camouflaged M1903 Springfield sniper’s rifle with Warner & Swasey telescopic sight, in France, May 1918.
Camouflaged M1903 Springfield sniper’s rifle with Warner & Swasey telescopic sight, in France, May 1918.

The M1903 Springfield is revered among all for its exceptional level of accuracy. It is, in fact, often voted the most accurate sniper rifle of WWII.

An Elder-type periscope stock fitted to an M1903 (1918). Designed for trench warfare, this enabled the shooter to fire over the parapet of a trench while remaining undercover and protected. The rifle is also fitted with a 25-round magazine.
An Elder-type periscope stock fitted to an M1903 (1918). Designed for trench warfare, this enabled the shooter to fire over the parapet of a trench while remaining undercover and protected. The rifle is also fitted with a 25-round magazine.

It remains popular today among civilians, historical collectors, competitive shooters, and military drill teams.

M1903A1 made by Springfield Armory in 1930. Photo: Drake00 CC BY-SA 3.0
M1903A1 made by Springfield Armory in 1930. Photo: Drake00 CC BY-SA 3.0

On the other hand, the M1 Garand, named after its designer, John Garand, is a .30-06 caliber semi-automatic rifle. With over five million units built between 1934 and 1957, the M1 Garand was used in WWII, the Korean War, and also the Vietnam War where it found limited use.

The M1 Garand performed amazingly during its years of service, earning the praise of General George S. Patton who termed it “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”

John Garand points out features of the M1 to army generals.
John Garand points out features of the M1 to army generals.

Officially known by the US military as “U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1,” the rifle made its entrance into the war during the 1930s as a substitute for the M1903 Springfield.

Weighing 9.5 pounds, the legendary rifle served American troops in the battlefields of Northern France, taking them through the coasts of Okinawa, the scorching heat of North Africa, and the cruel humidity of the Philippines.

The M1 Garand with important parts labeled
The M1 Garand with important parts labeled

Owing to its impressive muzzle velocity, the M1 Garand handed a significant advantage to the Allied forces. In several ways, this 43.5-inch fast-firing war machine was extremely instrumental in bringing victory home to the Allies, as the bloodiest conflict in human history came to a close.

An M1 Garand en bloc clip loaded with eight .30-06 Springfield rounds. Photo: Gavin.C CC BY 1.0
An M1 Garand en bloc clip loaded with eight .30-06 Springfield rounds. Photo: Gavin.C CC BY 1.0

The M1 Garand saw a number of copies and derivatives, such as the Japanese Type 4 Rifle, the Italian Beretta Models, the US M14 Rifle, and the Ruger Mini-14.

A U.S. soldier with an M14 watches as supplies are dropped in 1967 during the Vietnam War.
A U.S. soldier with an M14 watches as supplies are dropped in 1967 during the Vietnam War.

Just like the Springfield, the M1 Garand is still in use today by civilians for target shooting, hunting, and as military collectibles. It is also still employed by military drill teams and guards of honor.

Evzones of the Presidential Guard in front of the Greek Parliament holding M1 Garands. Photo: Yair Haklai CC BY-SA 3.0
Evzones of the Presidential Guard in front of the Greek Parliament holding M1 Garands. Photo: Yair Haklai CC BY-SA 3.0

Whether the Springfield was better than the Garand or the other way round, no definite answer has yet been found. It all remains a matter of opinion.

One group says the Springfield is better owing to its phenomenal accuracy and reliability, while another group says it is the faster-firing M1 Garand which boasts of a high degree of accuracy and reliability as well.

Unloading an M1 “en bloc” clip.
Unloading an M1 “en bloc” clip.

While the Springfield may have higher accuracy, its 10-15 rounds per minute firing rate is considerably trumped by the M1 Garand’s 40-50 rounds per minute.

During the First World War, the Springfield was the standard rifle for the infantry, going through phases of modifications while the war raged on. In World War II, while it was used in the jungles of Guadalcanal, a self-loading rifle was more desirable, but the Springfield was not that rifle.

Lance Corporal Cecilia M. Giaise, the first woman qualified as a rifle marksman (with a score of 206×250) and authorized to operate the M1 rifle. July 1961. Photo: Bobafett1129 CC BY-SA 4.0
Lance Corporal Cecilia M. Giaise, the first woman qualified as a rifle marksman (with a score of 206×250) and authorized to operate the M1 rifle. July 1961. Photo: Bobafett1129 CC BY-SA 4.0

The M1 Garand and the M1903 Springfield served side by side in World War II, and the Springfield was a favorite of the US Army Rangers who chose it over the M1 Garand for certain commando missions. It was also the US Army’s sniper rifle of choice.

U.S. Marine preparing to fire M31 HEAT antitank rifle grenade from M1 rifle in the indirect mode with butt on the ground.1950s
U.S. Marine preparing to fire M31 HEAT antitank rifle grenade from M1 rifle in the indirect mode with butt on the ground.1950s

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The M1 Garand is actually the first standard-issue semi-automatic rifle of the US military. With an effective firing range of 500 yards, this weapon was heavier than the Springfield but was well loved among its users.

Feast your eyes on this three-minute video, enjoy the drill, and decide whether you agree with Shull’s verdict.

 
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