One of the clumsiest singleshot arms since muzzleloading days

Friday, May 10th, 2019

“In my opinion,” General Patton once said, “the M1 rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised.” Roy Dunlap did not share the General’s opinion:

I do not like the M1 rifle and never have, but it proved a much better weapon than I thought it would.

Any gas-operated arm must be kept reasonably clean to reliably operate and the majority of malfunctions in the field proved due to either worn gas cylinders or worn (undersize) pistons on the end of the operating rods. The cylinders are rust-proof, but the pistons rusted if not cleaned daily, wearing undersize rapidly and allowing gas to leak so that the operating rod would not move far enough to the rear to correctly function the action. Barrels did not last long. Noncorrosive ammunition would have been a godsend in the Pacific War. I never saw an M1 barrel shot out but saw thousands rusted out.

The Garand has two faults, to my mind — it is too heavy and it must be loaded with the eight-round charger clip. The latter means you either load it with a full eight-round clip or you have one of the clumsiest singleshot arms since muzzleloading days. I admit that with the complete dropping of our bolt-action rifles using the fiveround Mauser clip and the issue of all U. S. rifle ammunition in the M1 clip this objection is practically nullified, but the fact remains that it is very difficult to keep the M1 rifle fully loaded when firing sporadically. If, say five cartridges of a clip are fired, three remain in the gun, and the five expended ones are well-nigh impossible to replace in the rifle. In action, soldiers simply released and ejected partially-emptied clips and reloaded with full ones in an attempt to keep full effectiveness as long as they could. In some outfits it was customary to empty the rifle — blazing away the remaining cartridges — after the sixth round was fired. It is of course easier and faster to empty the rifle by firing than by stopping to use two hands to hold the bolt back and press the clip release. Infantry fighting is not always correctly pictured, and a lot of people have very little understanding of some phases. Often it was almost man-to-man scale on a life and death basis game of hide-and-seek. In jungle warfare visibility usually was limited and sound played an important part. Japs on Guadalcanal learned that the “ping” of an ejecting M1 clip meant a momentarily-empty rifle and American infantrymen died because of it. Aberdeen was in a slight furor for awhile, trying to silence the noise, make plastic clips, etc.

Probably in Europe such ammunition and loading troubles were not so important, for conditions were different and supplies more plentiful and accessible. The boys could burn out a clip whenever they saw something move, and have another always handy. In the Pacific a lot of the island fighting was in patrol activity where combat conditions could be likened to nothing except big-game hunting — with the game liable to shoot first. Engagements were often short skirmishes or ambushes — exchanges of a few shots, where rifles were used to back up automatic weapons, reversing the usual roles of the weapons. Against a number of scattered, camouflaged targets the Thompsons and BARs were uneconomical, but they could drive the enemy to cover or make him reveal himself getting cover, to be eliminated by riflemen. Where automatic arms in numbers existed, it was of course possible to simply spray the landscape with bullets and relegate the rifle to mopping up on running Nips, or distant shots.

The weight of the blasted rifle got me down — 10 pounds is about two and a half too much for an army rifle if the soldier is to carry it under his own power. Gun writers are always harping on the subject of keeping hunting rifles light in weight, but nobody ever seems to worry about the infantry rifle avoirdupois. The average deer hunter lives a life of ease compared to a combat soldier, yet he wants seven-pound rifles and would be aghast at the thought of going out wearing heavy boots, a three-pound hat, a belt loaded with assorted pouches and 80 rounds of ammunition, and probably a 30-pound pack.


The Garand’s sights and stock are in my opinion better than those on any other standard military rifle in existence. One of its best points is that it is very easy to teach a man to shoot with; far easier than with the 1903 Springfield.


Garands did not like the desert, but no other arms did either.


In the Pacific islands it was naturally necessary to keep the sand out of M1’s around the beaches, but inshore in the jungles and mountains they did OK.


  1. TRX says:

    While I’m still skeptical that anyone is going to hear a “ping” from an ejecting clip in the middle of a gunfight, Mr. Dunlap pretty much sums up my own opinions of the Garand.

    Reading General Hatcher’s account, it’s pretty clear that John Garand somehow got the “in” at the arsenal, and they spent more than a decade tweaking and tuning the rifle to make it reliable enough to issue. Even then, it had one of the shortest service lives of any US rifle, though as the M14 it carried on into the mid-1960s, and ancient M14s were hauled out of National Guard arsenals when the Army suddenly realized they needed something with more oomph than the .223 for long range work in Iraq. Presumably those have all been replaced by Remington bolt action .308s and .50 Barretts now.

  2. Kirk says:

    I’ve always had my doubts about that “ping” issue, myself–You never heard WWII combat troops tell that story, and it’s only the guys like Dunlap who weren’t in the thick of things that repeat it.

    Frankly, without hearing protection? LOL… I doubt that after the first exchange of gunfire, that anyone in those firefights was hearing much of anything, Japanese or American. The odds that some Japanese guy was listening, could hear it, and then act? Minimal. Like as not, what incidents that there were where this happened were entirely mis-attributed by the guys reporting–They perceived that they were in the middle of a reload, the Japanese attacked, and they thought that the two were connected. Reality? The Japanese just chose that moment to attack, and the American connected the two events in his mind.

    That said, I have to defend Garand. You look at the development history, and it’s fairly obvious that they screwed him with the specifications and the inability to make a decision and stick to it. The original Garand was supposed to be in .276 Pedersen, with a ten-round clip. Douglas MacArthur chose to abandon the .276, which was a nice little cartridge fully in keeping with the theories of infantry combat coming out of WWI, and because of that, the Garand had to be completely redesigned around the old cartridge. If I remember my details right, the .276 was loaded with a corrosionless primer, a nice smokeless and flashless powder, and was all around a much better cartridge than the legacy .30-06.

    The other thing was that the idiots running the procurement show back then were fixated on a bunch of things that just weren’t so–No separate magazine, no protruding magazine, no gas tap drilled in the barrel, and on and and on. In practice? The original gas-trap (at the muzzle) M1 had to be redesigned for a gas port/piston arrangement, and the reality of the magazine situation was that the field feedback from WWII indicated that a magazine-fed Garand was what they really needed–Early modifications used the BAR magazine, and were very popular.

    As well, far from being embedded in the Arsenal, Garand was always an outsider, a guy they sought to push out of the way as much as possible. He was actually a production engineering genius, designing most of the tooling that produced the Garand, and without his fine-tuning throughout the process of mass-producing that rifle, it would likely have been the same sort of production success that the M14 later was. The assholes in the Arsenal and Ordnance system swore up and down that they could produce the M14 economically on old, worn-out M1 machinery, and in the event, could never quite pull it out. It wasn’t until TRW took over, and completely redesigned the production machinery that the M14 production “got well”, and that was just in time for everyone to figure out that the entire concept of the M14 was a blind alley in firearms development. Along with the 7.62mm NATO round itself. But, that’s another story.

    If you are ever asked to bet on the issue of American small arms, you can’t go much wrong in betting on them getting it wrong, and only managing to produce workable weapons by sheerest happenstance. Look into how the M4 Carbine became the standard infantry individual weapon, sometime, if you disbelieve. A greater tale of sheerest accidental stupidity is hard to find in the annals of small arms development.

  3. Space Nookie says:

    The M1 Garand Ping will, like, so totally get you killed, innit…

  4. Paul from Canada says:

    The thing to remember is that Dunlap was not a front-line infantryman. Lots of what he says can be divided into what he personally saw and experienced, buttressed by his personal expertise (ordinance/gunsmithing),vs. anecdotes he passes on second hand. The former can be relied upon, the latter, not so much.

    I remember hearing similar criticism of Israeli and South African Webbing of the 1980′s because it was closed with velcro. As if, after initiating an ambush, firing off 30 shots of over 100dbl, firing claymores etc., the sound of the velcro ripping, as you pill out a fresh magazine is going to give away your position!

  5. Kirk says:

    Yeah, I remember hearing that “velcro kills” thing, too.

    Having owned and worn both South African and Israeli gear, I have to conclude that the people making those objections were friggin’ idjits. Mostly. I’m not a huge fan of velcro, mostly due to how it clogs up and doesn’t work after enough exposure to the wrong sort of stuff, but the noise thing? Really? If you’re so close to the enemy that a.) that noise is going to alert him to your presence, and b.) you need to get at a magazine before dealing with them…? You’re a f**king moron for not having an already loaded weapon, yourself. Evolution should be allowed to take it’s course, and eliminate your stupidity from the gene pool.

    The whole thing is really quite academic; once you’ve opened fire and burned through a magazine, necessitating the changing of said magazine…? If the enemy suddenly notices your presence and locates where you’re firing from because of the noise of tearing velcro, well… That’s a really special situation, and one that I’m pretty sure never actually occurred to anyone in either the Israeli or South African military.

    That said, I have to point out the general superiority of the Israeli and South African web gear, at least until the later iterations of the US MOLLE systems. The crap we issued in Vietnam and up until the 2000s was primitive BS that never should have seen the light of day. But, as with so much, it did…

  6. Paul from Canada says:

    Try the Canadian ’64 pattern web gear. The pouches attached to the belt with loops closed by velcro, the shoulder straps were thin, and attached with velcro, and there were no magazine pouches at all. The combat jacket had pockets, especially designed to hold FN magazines. There was a grenade pouch, meant to hold two grenades, but it only really held one and a half.

    The doctrine was that since WW III was to be mechanized, you only needed water, your bayonet and NBC gear, everything else was to be carried in the APC. Needless to say, this did not work well, and the older pattern webbing continued in use for quite a while.

    The Israeli and South African ’82 webbing is very good, and given the arid environment where both fought, the velcro was not such a problem. In my experience, velrco is really only problematic in mud.

  7. Kirk says:

    Yeah, I’m familiar with it, all right. Only bit of gear from Canada that I liked from that era, aside from the old OD fatigues, was your shelter half. That was a decent bit of gear, compared to our Civil War-era version. The Pattern ’64 stuff was just… Embarrassing.

    The folks who got all that stuff “right” were rarely the big armies; the Swiss version of their Alpenflage with all the pockets built into the jacket is an example I think of where they got it absolutely correct; for an army that was meant to do the militia “come as you are” thing, that bit of gear was very well-designed.

    By comparison, the US gear of the period was just… Embarrassing. We usually ran two sets of gear–Inspection LBE, and then what we wore in the field, which usually only paid lip service to the idea of uniformity and SOP. The amount of sheer crap I had to carry as a squad leader… Sheesh. And, nowhere to put it all, if I followed the “plan”. One of my Command Sergeant Majors had the testicular fortitude to ding me because of my lack of adherence to the almighty “SOP”, and I lost my shit with him over it. That same SOP had me carrying crap that quite literally was physically impossible to carry on the cute little “standardized layout” envisioned by the SOP for the LBE (Load Bearing Equipment, or web gear…). I dragged out my “inspection kit”, and then dumped all the crap out of my “field kit”, which was all stuff I was required to carry, and demanded to have him fit it into his little idealized loadout. With the packing list for a squad leader in one hand, and the diagram for LBE setup, he spent about ten minutes trying to figure out how the hell to make it work, sputtering incoherently the whole time, and finally threw everything down on the ground and walked off.

    Never heard another word on the issue of uniformity in the field while I was in that unit, oddly enough.

    Also, never got promoted, but the warm feeling of being right sustained me all through that period of my life… ;)

  8. Paul from Canada says:

    Yeah, your experience sounds all too familiar. I agree that our shelter half was good kit, and for the high arctic, our winter gear was great. I also remember that our field jacket had rubber patches built into the elbows, which was great, and we always had really good weapons cleaning kits (Cleaning rods and brushes from Parker Hale), but as for the rest……

    If you read the recent memoirs of British or Canadian soldiers prior to late Afghanistan, they all mention the useless issue kit, and the amount of gear most bought themselves, often having to hide it from the Sergeant-Major because it wasn’t to SOP or authorized.

    Whole companies in the UK sprung up (Survival Aids, S.A.S.S., BCM), to serve this market.

    I remember hearing how troops went to surplus shops to buy a spare bayonet frog. The bayonet and frog was issued with the rifle from the armoury, but to put the frog on, you had to dismantle your webbing each time, so a spare frog could be left on, and the issued one left in barracks.

    I remember our rain gear being absolute crap, and how happy we were when the first goretex “stealth suits” for wear under your outer layer came out. No more hiding it from the Sargent-Major.

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