The Former Was Steeped In The Past And The Latter Was A Step Into The Future And Both See Wide-Spread Use To The Day.
Reading about American military rifle development in the 1950s is fascinating. One cannot help but feel that the US Army’s ordnance officers were stuck in time. As so often happened with military thinkers, Americans were planning for the wars just fought—World War II and the Korean War.
Over a decade previously the Germans had pioneered select-fire infantry rifles with their famous “Sturmgewehr” (aka MP43, MP44 and Stg44). Realizing infantry combat mostly occurred at ranges less than 400 meters; German ordnance officers decided a full-size cartridge like their 7.92x57mm was a waste of strategic materials. So they came up with the 7.92x33mm. Instead of a 198-grain bullet traveling in excess of 2,500 fps, they settled on a 125-grain one at about 2,300 fps.
The Soviet Union’s ordnance officers quickly saw the benefits of Germany’s enlightenment and followed suit with the AK-47 and its 7.62x39mm, which is perhaps today’s most used military rifle and cartridge worldwide.
But in the 1950s, American ordnance officers were still focused on full-power cartridges. In the early years of that decade, they had developed what became known as the 7.62mm NATO round. What they had actually done was compact the famed .30-06’s ballistics into a smaller package, made possible by advances in propellants. Winchester introduced its .308 Winchester in 1952 as a civilian version.
After controversial testing against Belgium’s Fabrique Nationale’s (FN) FAL, the government-owned Springfield Armory M14 was picked to replace the M1 Garand as the new American infantry rifle. In truth, the M14 was only a remodeling of the Garand by giving it a 20-round detachable box magazine, flash suppressor, and manufacturing its frame so that all could be given select-fire capability. In the book The Gun, author C.J. Chivers wrote that it seemed as if 1950s American ordnance officers were more concerned with developing a better rifle for target competition than for combat infantrymen.
Deliveries of M14s to US Army bases didn’t begin until about 1958, and by that time some private companies had begun to think outside the military’s box. We all know the story of how ArmaLite’s developed into the M16 and began replacing the M14 by about 1965.
However, I personally didn’t know that ArmaLite’s first efforts at military rifle making centered on the 7.62mm NATO round in a model named AR-10. GUNS Magazine even reported on the company’s efforts as early as the March 1957 issue. Editor Jeff John e-mailed me an article titled “Is This The New GI Rifle?” by Eugene Jaderquist. Reading it was humorous and revealing. Humorous in that George Sullivan, boss at ArmaLite, envisioned American soldiers running into combat spraying bullets from AR-10s, belt fed from dual 250-round packs carried on their backs. Actually, in the just-ended Korean Conflict Chi-Com, soldiers did just that with their PPsh41 submachine guns, but they were carrying a supply of tiny 7.62x25mm pistol cartridges and were feeding them from 71-round drum magazines.
Author Jaderquist also wrote that because of the AR-10’s straight stock design it could be fired full-auto accurately despite its 6-3/4-pound weight. That’s silly. I have an original German MP44. It weighs 11 pounds, fires a much milder cartridge than 7.62mm NATO and is still very difficult to shoot with precision in full-auto mode.
Editor Jeff John also e-mailed me a copy of another early GUNS Magazine article by Herbert J. Erfruth, titled “Shooting The New Army Rifle.” It was undated but had to be from the late ’50s. Much of its theme was the benefit of the M14 being capable of full-auto fire. Again, I think that’s silly, having personally fired a full-auto M14 and seeing its bullets climb mightily after the first shot.
Anyway, all of this was preparation for the purposes of this article. That was to shoot two 7.62mm NATO/.308 Winchester semi-auto rifles side by side. I was already very familiar with one: Springfield Armory’s M1A, having owned a couple and done extensive shooting with several more. The other one JJ asked me to give a try was new to me—I didn’t even know it existed. That was the AR-10 as made by the ArmaLite Company of Geneseo, Ill., incidentally the same town where Springfield Armory is based. (Specific version was AR-10A2.)
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino
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