Mr. Garand's Rifles

The M1 & M14
; .

The Springfield Armory M1A with a 10-round magazine
sits at top, while its “father,” the WWII M1Garand, is below.

To the casual observer, the M1 Garand and the M14 share similarities yet are very different rifles. However, both came from the fertile mind of one man.

The story starts almost 100 years ago. In the 1920s, a Canadian-born fellow named John C. Garand signed on with the government’s Springfield Armory. With the combat of World War I fresh in the minds of United States Army Ordnance Department officers, a program was started to develop a viable semi-auto rifle for American infantry troops. Mr. Garand was assigned the project.


This photo shows the obvious similarities of the actions between
the M1 Garand ( top rifle) and Springfield Armory M1A
(bottom rifle).

Start And Stop

In what seems like glacial slowness to our modern minds, the new rifle was ready for initial testing in 1934. Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army at that time was Douglas MacArthur and he stopped the new rifle dead in its tracks. Why? Because it was designed and chambered for a .276 experimental cartridge. Adopting a rifle chambered for this round would have negated the value of the billions of rounds of .30-06 ammunition stocked for the then-current American infantry rifle — the Model 1903 Springfield. Furthermore, all American .30-06 machine guns and BARs (Browning Automatic Rifles) would have become nigh-on useless. General MacArthur made lots of mistakes in his long career but this wasn’t one of them.

So, Garand and his team had to return to their drawing boards — literally — and re-dimension the new rifle for the larger .30-06 cartridge. It was adopted officially in 1936 but as late as 1940, only about 40,000 had been made.

However, by the end of World War II five years later, over 4 million M1 Garands had been produced not only by the government’s Springfield Armory but also by Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

With the advent of the Korean War, the U.S. Government also contracted with the companies of Harrington & Richardson and International Harvester to join Springfield Armory in making a couple million more Garands while Winchester made no more after 1945. The M1 Garands served for 20 years.

Over the years, I’ve owned several M1 Garands made by both Springfield Armory and Winchester. My experiences with them have convinced me an off-the-shelf M1 will also generally group in the 2″–3″ range. There is one caveat about the M1 — it should not be fired with loads containing extra-heavy bullets or very slow burning powders. Such ammunition can lead to bent operating rods.

The M1 .30-06 Garand was an outstanding military rifle in both wars but it was not “perfect.” Times were changing for military formations. Every major power was adopting select fire rifles. Garand en-bloc loaders held eight rounds and were inserted into the rifle from above. Other nations’ rifles were coming along with detachable box magazines holding 20 to even 30 rounds, a necessity for full-auto firing.

Springfield Armory was put to work designing a new American battle rifle. However, someone in the ordnance department had their minds wrapped around steel and wood full-size rifles.


The M14 and the Springfield Armory M1A had a buttplate with a
trapdoor for storage of cleaning supplies. It was covered with a
steel flip-up flap for protection.

A Whole New Rifle

The result was the U.S. M14, which began to arrive in troops’ hands by 1957. Both the M1 and M14 operate by bleeding off gas from fired cartridges through a port at the bottom of the barrel to cycle the weapon’s action. Both have walnut stocks, virtually the same finely and fully adjustable rear sight and the very convenient safety in front of the trigger guard.

Major differences between M1s and M14s were a 24″ barrel on the former and 22″ on the latter. The new rifle had a 20-round detachable box magazine. And, instead of .30-06, the new rifle was chambered for 7.62mmx51 NATO, a cartridge essentially made by shortening the .30-06 case length from 63mm to 51mm. Power-wise, the two rounds were nearly identical. The M14 also had a flash hider at the muzzle and, like the M1, a trapdoor in the buttplate to store cleaning accessories. Most distinct was the fact the M14 had full-auto capability.

I’ve had the opportunity to fire a select-fire M14 and like many other people, found it very difficult to control in full-auto.
Besides Springfield Armory, M14s were also made by Winchester Repeating Arms, Harrington & Richardson and a company named Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge (TRW), Inc. The M14 saw considerable combat in the early years of the Vietnam War but according to general consensus, it was poorly suited for jungle fighting primarily because of the weight of the gun and its ammunition. Nominally, an unloaded M14 weighed 8 ⅓ lbs. but the addition of one fully loaded 20-round magazine increased it to over 11 lbs.


To properly insert a magazine in an M1A, it must be rocked in from the front.

The End Is Near

With the advent of AR15/M16 rifles, manufacture of the M14 ceased in 1963 making its length of service one of the shortest of all cartridge-firing American infantry rifles. Ironically, the M14 was recalled for duty again in both Iraq and Afghanistan where combat ranges were longer than usually encountered in Southeast Asian jungles.

There was one other problem with the M14 — we civilians could not own them! All were classified as machine guns. An unwritten rule has been whatever rifles and handguns were adopted by the United States Army and Marine Corps, they also became popular among American civilians. Another unwritten rule is if there is a demand, someone will produce something to fill it. This is where Texan Elmer Balance entered the picture.


John C. Garand’s original M1 rifle was chambered for an experimental
.276 cartridge. Douglas MacArthur nixed the .276 in favor of the standard
.30-06 (right) to use existing ammo stockpiles.

This is an average group from an un-accurized World War II
vintage (Winchester) M1 Garand.

Spring Forward

Balance began the original Springfield Armory Inc. in 1971 by having M14 receivers cast without the ability for full-auto fire. The ATF had a problem with him using the moniker M14 so his were designated M1A. They also were chambered in .308 Winchester, a cartridge very similar but not identical to the 7.62×51 NATO (the .308 uses different headspacing and has higher allowable chamber pressure). In the beginning, only receivers were newly made; other parts were surplus left over from when the three commercial M14 manufacturers were directed to cease production in 1963. It’s a safe bet those companies were glad to turn parts into cash.

Springfield Armory’s M1A was a hit with gun buyers. By 1974 the NRA ruled the M1A could be used in sanctioned High Power matches, which in turn caused creation of the National Match M1A.

With success came further changes. Surplus parts ran out, so eventually all M1A parts were made new and the company moved to Illinois. A large number of different models and types were eventually created though too many to detail here. Among them, the Springfield 6.5 Creedmoor versions certainly look interesting.

My first experience with an M1A was a standard model belonging to a friend who was a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran. My last experience with one was a SOCOM version. It belonged to a USMC veteran of Iraq who returned for several terms as a private contractor.

In between shooting those two M1As, I’ve owned several myself including one which I had scoped. It gave very fine precision, nearly one MOA groups. Mostly, however, I’ve been satisfied with the ordinary wood and steel M1A, which gives groups in the 2″ to 3″ range at 100 yards. Some of my best M1A shooting has come with Black Hills 150-grain Nosler target ammunition, but good results have also come with Winchester’s USA labeled as both .308 Winchester and 7.62mm.

The M14 never gained the iconic status as the M1 Garand but they were actually the right rifle in the wrong war. Usually, my interest in American military arms development stops at 1945 but I make the M1A a special exception.

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