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Old Warhorses – Classic US Service Rifles
There is something about old military rifles that has always caught my eye. Especially American service rifles from the world wars. Many other nations for sure had serviceable arms, the British with their remarkable Lee-Enfield, and the Germans have their Mauser. I’ve always hated French guns, they are surely the ugliest rifles known to mankind. I would, however, gladly use a Lebel or a Berthier for a boat anchor.
In my eyes, and I’m sure the eyes of many other, America has never really used ugly service rifles. In the first half of the 20th Century, that meant the M1903, M1917, and the venerable M1 Garand.
The M1903, known as the Springfield entered American service in, you guessed it, in 1903. Originally chambered in the .30-03 cartridge and fitted for a peculiar rod bayonet, the M1903 went through two major design changes. The first being the adoption of a new bayonet, and an arsenal rework of all existing rifles. This rework included a new bayonet lug and front sight. All rifles built from then onwards also included these changes. The new bayonet, the M1905 Sword bayonet employed a 16-inch blade was in line with what other nations used during the time.
The next major design change was a new cartridge, the US caliber .30, the year of 1906. Today we know it as the .30-06. The rifles had just been switched to the new bayonet when they were all sent back to the arsenals again for rechambering.
1903 saw extensive service in World War 1, and World War 2. Known for it’s accuracy and reliability, it was often employed as a sniper rifle. Several variants were used. All together over 2 million M1903s were made from 1903 until 1944.
M1917 American Enfield
When the USA entered World War 1, only 843,000 M1903s had been manufactured by that point. The US desperately needed arms. At the time Winchester and Remington had been producing a Mauser based British design, the P-14 for the British Army to supplement their Lee Enfield rifles. The P-14 was quickly rechambered for the .30-06 and had a few minor design changes. It used the M1917 bayonet, a 16.5-inch long blade based on a British design. The result was the M1917, of which over 2,100,000 were built by Winchester and Remington. In fact, the M1917 outnumbered the M1903 by 2 to 1 in the Great War and was still used through World War II. Today, many call the M1903, the American Enfield.
John Garand was a Canadian by birth, but his greatest design did not go on to service the British Empire, but rather the United States of America. He labored for over a decade and a half to design what George S Patton called, “the greatest battle implement ever devised”.
Garand submitted his rifle design, the semi-automatic T1, for Army testing and went head to head against large gun manufacturers and legendary firearms designers such as John Pederson. For half a decade, and with several redesigns, the T1E2 eventually beat out the competition. The rifle entered Service as the U.S. rifle, caliber .30, M1.
Several more small redesigns on the gas system occurred, but by early 1940, the M1 was in full production. It went on to be the standard US rifle of World War II, Korea and did not leave service until the late 1970s. The M1 gave our troops a distinct advantage in the Second World War whereas the enemy used mostly bolt action rifles, we had a rifle that fired 8 rounds in fast, semi-automatic fire.
Over 6 million M1s were built.