Built And Rebuilt, The M1 Has Had Some
Subtle Changes In Its Long Career As Our
Nation’s Main Battle Rifle.
In American minds, one rifle stands head and shoulders above all others used in World War II. That is the US Rifle, Caliber .30 M1, most commonly referred to as the Garand, after its primary designer John C. Garand.
I’ve been of that mind too since about age 13. What I didn’t know until I bought a few Garands, and, perhaps more importantly, a few books about them, is that most of the US rifle, Caliber .30, M1s available today are not as they were issued to GIs and Marines in WWII.
Here are a couple of examples. Only the government owned Springfield Armory and Winchester Repeating Arms manufactured Garands in the WWII years. Those made by Harrington & Richardson and International Harvester were products of the 1950s. Springfield Armory also returned to Garand production in the 1950s.
Almost all M1 Garands that saw combat in WWII wore a sight which collectors now call the “locking bar” type. It came into use late in 1942. Prior to that sight’s adoption, M1s carried rear sights adjusted by means of a spanner wrench. Towards the end of WWII an improved rear sight designated T105E1 was developed but according to Bruce N. Canfield’s book Complete Guide To The M1 Garand And M1 Carbine, it is unlikely if any Garands issued during WWII wore them. However, after the war, M1s turned in for refurbishing were retro-fitted with T105E1 sights. Of course all three of those rear sights were aperture types.
You might be excused for logically thinking all WWII Garands by Springfield Armory and Winchester would be identical. They were not, albeit all their parts were interchangeable. The government manufacturer began M1 production with forged triggerguards but by early 1944 began making stamped ones. Throughout production, Winchester forged triggerguards for their M1s.
Even details as small as the protective ears of the front sight differed between WWII manufacturers. Winchester’s sight ears are much more flared than those made by Springfield Armory. Also worthy of mention is Winchester barrels are not dated but do have a “WP” stamped on them (for “Winchester Proof”). Springfield Armory barrels are stamped with the month and year of production.
When M1 Garands were returned to one or another of the many government arsenals located around the country, no effort was made to preserve them in their original state for future collectors. Good parts were retained and faulty or obsolete parts were junked. So rebuilt M1s can be found with Springfield Armory receivers and Winchester barrels and vice-versa. The same is true of virtually all their parts, including those made in the 1950s.
Duke’s two WWII Garands include a Winchester (left) with sling and
a Springfield Armory one so new he hasn’t put a sling on it yet.
The M1 Garand did not spring into troops’ hands as a fully thought-out battle rifle. In fact, it took years of hard work on the part of John C. Garand to bring the M1 into fruition. More than once Mr. Garand thought he had the design of his new semi-auto military rifle perfected when he was told to go back to the drawing boards and change it significantly. For instance, his rifle was initially built for the then-serving American .30-caliber cartridge. (We all know it as .30-06.) Then Garand had to remodel it to take a smaller experimental .276 round. When that was done he was next instructed by no less a personage than the US Army’s Chief of Staff, Douglas MacArthur, to again make it suitable for the .30-06 round.
According to Canfield’s book, John C. Garand started employment on a temporary basis at the government-owned Springfield Armory in 1919 and was made a permanent employee in 1921. The M1 Garand rifle was not adopted by the US Army until 1936. Mr. Garand wasn’t a slow worker; the bureaucrats were just wishy-washy.
Even then the M1 was not the same rifle folks today are familiar with. Between 1936 and 1940, Garands were a version called by collectors today as “the gas trap model.” Barrel length was 22 inches and attached to the front was a part that trapped gas from the cartridge’s firing. That gas was then funneled back for pushing the operating rod. In March 1940, the design was changed so that a port drilled into the bottom of the barrel siphoned gas for operation. At this time barrel length was made 24 inches.
By the time the gas port method of function arrived, only about 50,000 M1s had been produced. Instead of a total recall of those rifles for modernization, they were only converted to the new system upon showing up at government arsenals for other work. Regardless, gas-trap Garands are extremely rare, mostly seen only in museums.
Once M1s all became the gas-port type, their physical characteristics remained the same until the end of production, circa 1957. That is they had 24-inch barrels, were of 8-round capacity, metal finish was always one shade or another of Parkerization and sights were post front with rear fully adjustable for both windage and elevation. Stocks were mostly walnut, although some were made of other hardwoods later. Weight with sling was realistically about 10 pounds.
Famously, General George Patton is often quoted as saying “The M1 is the best battle implement ever devised.” In conversations with an aged veteran of WWII, I heard this said, “Yeah, he might have said that but what are the chances he ever packed one around day in and day out for months? They were heavy!”
The M1 Garand (top) was adopted in 1936 with the idea of replacing the
bolt-action Model 1903 (bottom). However all American GI and Marine
combat infantry riflemen did not receive M1s until about mid-1943.
The 8-round en-bloc loader, commonly called a clip, also took some criticism during WWII (and the Korean War) because the M1’s magazine can’t be topped off after a few rounds have been fired. To get an M1 fully loaded in that case, the en-bloc loader with remaining rounds must be popped out and a full one put in. A fellow who had done much metal detecting in European WWII battlegrounds told me en-bloc loaders along with .30 caliber cartridges often litter the bottoms of old foxholes. Hindsight tells us that John C. Garand’s famous M1 rifle could possibly have been better if designed to take say a 10-round detachable box magazine. (The M14, which is an improved M1, was built to take 20-round box magazines.) Regardless, the M1 was there in production when desperately needed by American troops for WWII.
It should also be mentioned that the US Marine Corps adopted the M1 rifle in 1941 but most of their early ground combat in the South Pacific was still fought with US Model 1903 Springfields. In fact, when US Army troops arrived on Guadalcanal in October 1942 to help the Marines hold the island from the Japanese, many Marine infantrymen were outraged the soldiers were carrying new M1 rifles while they had been fighting for 2 months with older bolt actions. It was mid-1943 before the Marine Corps was fully equipped with Garands.
When peace was finally declared in September 1945 ending WWII, the production feats of the United States were legion. One of them was M1 manufacture by both Springfield Armory and Winchester Repeating Arms. The two outfits together produced over 4,000,000 Garands with the government facility making about seven rifles to every one built by Winchester. Springfield Armory’s production peaked in January 1944 when the facility turned out 122,001 rifles in 31 days.
Now, I’d like to interject my own personal opinions and experiences in regards to WWII Garands. At the start of building my collection of WWII firearms about the turn of the last century, I knew little of the above details. To me a Garand was a Garand was a Garand.
Upon a bit of education, I despaired of ever owning an M1 still in WWII as-issued dress. The few seen advertised were priced in the thousands, and in truth I am more of a shooter than a died-in-the-wool collector.
But as so often happens, luck was with me. A few years back a chance conversation with another WWII firearms shooter revealed that he had gone to the trouble of completely restoring a Winchester Garand receiver with all Winchester parts so that it stood as shipped in 1944. That’s not the same as saying he put it into like-new condition. It showed minor wear on metal finish and its stock had a modicum of dings and dents. It also shot suitably with a variety of dedicated M1 Garand factory loads and my handloads. The luck part was that I happened to own a rifle he was searching for, so we came to a trade.
Then just last month luck happened again; a friend called saying he was in a Montana gun store looking at a Springfield Armory M1 Garand. It was in fine condition but he was wondering about it because its barrel date was 1-43 (January 1943) and according to various references its serial number indicated receiver manufacture in March 1944. He decided not to buy it so I hot-footed after it. According to Canfield’s often-quoted book, a barrel date that far previous to receiver date probably meant the rifle had been rebarreled at some point. Obviously it had been arsenal refinished. I cared not because bore condition was excellent.
As an aside, it should be mentioned that Garand parts were not dated. However, their more significant parts carry drawing numbers along with lot numbers. Rough dating can be done with them by using Scott Duff’s book The M1 Garand: World War II. In it the various serial, drawing and lot numbers of known original Garands are listed so readers can compare their rifles’ numbers. I took my new Garand to my gunsmith friend Tom Sargis who has Duff’s book. All the major components of my new Garand fit the proper era.
After adopting the M1 Garand, the US Army revised its infantry tactics
to combine the fire power of the semi-auto rifles with full-auto,
air-cooled machine guns like this Model 1919A4.
That is except for two things: Its rear sight and its stock. The former item was the T105E1 version. And its stock carried the stamp of SA over a D in a box. That indicates a replacement from the early 1950s. Conversely, on the bottom of the pistol grip is a stamp of crossed cannons, which according to Canfield means it was manufactured at Springfield Armory during WWII. Replacing the T105E1 sight with a locking bar type was easy, albeit expensive. There were several for auction on eBay and friend Tom put the proper one on in about five minutes. The stock I can easily live with. Likely along the way I will discover more post-WWII parts. That can be remedied bit by bit. If anything, this rifle groups even better than the Winchester Garand.
So with little effort I’ve ended up with two fine M1 Garands that in form and function are as they might have been carried by American GIs or Marines in the 1944/1945 period. And they still shoot very accurately. How’s that for luck?
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino
P.O. Box 414, Export, PA 15632
54 East School St., Woonsocket, RI 02895
Bozeman Trail Arms Mfg.
(Tom Sargis Jr.)
28 Lake Dr., Livingston, MT 59047
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