The M1 Garand
The characteristics of the Garand are nothing new to me. My father is a retired U.S. Army Colonel, who fought through World War II and the Korean War. I was raised in an Army house and knew the manual of arms for the Garand by the time I was nine years old. I shot my first one when I was seven. Yeah, you could say I know about Garands.
It has been a long time since a design engineer at the then--U.S. government operated Springfield Armory named John C. Garand invented the first self-loading service rifle ever to see issue to American military forces. It has also been a long time since the controversy between Melvin Johnson's rifle versus the Garand. World War II, Korea, and even Vietnam, not to mention Lebanon, Nicaragua, and hundreds of other "police actions" in which the Garand played so vital a part, have all begun to fade from this generations memories.
Yes, it's true. 1936, the year that signaled the coming of the Garand, was indeed a long time ago, and the axiom of "how soon we forget" does apply. In our "modern age" of nuclear weapons, chemical/biological/radiological warfare, and other highly sophisticated armament, we truly have forgotten . . . forgotten what accomplishes missions, what "takes the high ground," what WINS!
The infantryman, whether he be a dogfaced Army "GI" or a Marine is the man who has been forgotten and it is he who has been and will always be called upon to spread his blood on the soil in individual combat. In the end it will always be he who "winkles the other guy out of his foxhole with a bayonet and decides the outcome."
Technology is vast; all-consuming, it seems. It engulfs us and sweeps us away into galaxies "far, far, away," with the promised of increased efficiency in battle. Some of it--a small portion in relation to the overall quantities forced upon us--actually works, and an even smaller percentage of it works well enough to bother with, provided we can, as nations or individuals, financially afford it. For the last fifty years, we have been traveling this road and it has been only in the last decade that the realization of all that we have forgotten when "technology" seduced us have materialized.
Thank God. For had these realizations not become increasingly evident, our road could have only been to defeat in the wars that must in the near future be fought.
The "old timers" who fought with Pershing and Marshall in World War I, opposed the "reduced accuracy" of the Garand rifle as compared to the revered--and sometimes even coveted--M1903 Springfield rifle. Also loudly voiced were fears that the new self-loader would cause horrendous expenditures of ammunition without commensurate enemy troops neutralized. Strange . . . the same thing was said when the 20-round box magazine appeared on battle rifles in the 1950's--25 years later.
There was, however, a difference. The Garand rifle, in spite of its supposed shortcomings, in spite of fears by its critics of disproportionate ammunition expenditures, performed brilliantly throughout its entire military career, compiling a service record as yet unsurpassed by any successor.
From 1936 to, officially, 1957, the Garand was seen in the heat of battle worldwide. Unofficially, it can today be encountered although considered to be "obsolete" by all but the most knowing experts--the ones who haven't forgotten what wins.
Douglas MacArthur applauded the M1. George S. Patton, Jr. proclaimed it, "the greatest single battle implement ever devised by man." Even the normally passive Dwight D. Eisenhower publicly praised it. Renowned small-arms expert S.L.A. Marshall, in his highly detailed and critical evaluation of the performance of U.S. Infantry weapons during the Korean War, noted the phenomenal love of the American infantryman for the weapon, who, without reservation, candidly stated to him on over a hundred occasions that he could not think of replacing it with anything else.
How could this have happened if the concept of the self-loading infantry rifle was invalid, or if the M1 was "inaccurate," or if it failed to generally get the job done? The answer is simple: it couldn't. The legend of the Garand was--and is--based upon the unassailable fact that the weapon, in spite of its theoretical weaknesses, WORKS--in the mud, in the rain, in the snow, and in the dust. History has irrevocably proven this beyond any possible doubt and it is important evidence that theory, however enticing it may appear to be, must be proven in the cold light of dawn. Those who forced the adoption of the 5.56mm and the M16 forgot this critical fact. And, in that cold light of dawn--this time in the steaming jungles of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos--the concept of saturation fire and general abandonment of the principles of individual marksmanship and weapon performance FAILED.
They failed because they were accepted as being the universal solution to all military problems and this attitude was transmitted during training to the troops. Tactics and weapons have been generated around this theses for the last twenty years and have come back to haunt us. I know. I was there. I was one of those who wrote the letters to the families of those who had fallen in battle, one of the most difficult tasks of a commander. Many of those men died because of the failure of theoretically sound, but realistically invalid, policies. I saw it myself. Too many died because the 5.56 and M16 failed.
There must be a balance between accuracy and firepower in the general application. On one end of the spectrum we have the traditional bolt-action rifle such as the M 1903 Springfield. On the other end we have the M16. The Springfield was rugged, highly accurate and powerful, but, in the acid test of modern warfare, proved to be more complex to operate than necessary and unable to produce sufficient volumes of fire to be adequately effective. On the other hand, the M16 is fragile, lacks power and range, is only moderately accurate, and designed with the idea that the trooper is to substitute a high volume of automatic fire with an inadequately powered cartridge for marksmanship. Neither one of these concepts is satisfactory, for as with most questions, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
John Garand understood this, for even though the M16 did not yet exist, the principles on which it was to be based did. The rifle he designed and developed was the solidification of his thinking. It is capable of what has proven over the years to be superb accuracy, far more than one can actually utilize in the field. It functions itself, allowing the operator to spend more time on the basic fundamentals of marksmanship. It is powerful and rugged, capable of sustaining incredible abuse and yet still knock down an enemy at 500 meters.
It is a rifleman's rifle--in the purest form--yet it does not encourage wild, inaccurate fire, nor does it break in half when used in close combat. It instills confidence, not disgust. It is the almost ideal compromise between firepower and accuracy, between the old and the "new."
Even outside the military application, there can be no finer rifle for a serious survivalist or adventurer in the field, for most of the same criteria still apply. The box magazine is the result of a need to mass suppressive fire, so important to the successful consummation of squad tactics. It has no value whatsoever to an individual, only the members of a larger group. It is fragile, must be kept separate from its loaded counterparts, catches on things incessantly in the field, and is uncomfortable to carry and manipulate.
The 8-round en bloc staggered clip of the Garand is small, light, simple in principle and application, and disposable. Once it fulfills its function, it is automatically ejected from the weapon.
Criticisms of the fact that one cannot "top off" a partially loaded clip while in the weapon appear to more theoretical than practical, for if one has time to realize the need to reload, he can simply insert a fresh clip and at leisure reload any partially expended one via single rounds of ammunition carried on his person. This is no secret to the seasoned infantryman, no matter what his generation.
No box magazine-equipped rifle compares to the superior balance and "feel" of the M1. It shoulders quickly, positively, and possesses the best human engineering in the world. In the overall context, it is the easiest battle rifle to shoot well.