The U.S. Rifle, caliber .30, M1

 



CHARACTERISTICS AND GROUPS OF THE M1 RIFLE

 

The M1 was a gas-operated, clip-fed, air-cooled, semi-automatic shoulder weapon.

Weight: 9.5 pounds
Length: 43.6 inches
Barrel length: 24 inches
Average rate of aimed fire per minute: 30 rounds
Maximum effective range: 500 yards
Method of feeding: Eight-round clip
Ammo types: Ball, armor-piercing, tracer, and blank

 

The phrase "every Marine a rifleman" is more than just empty words and Marines have always taken pride in their proficiency with the service rifle. The striking power of the Fleet Marine Force derived from the expertise of the individual rifleman and his rifle. The M1 gave the Marine rifleman superior firepower against his Japanese opponent. It was dependable and easy to maintain in the field. An M1-equipped Marine rifle platoon could sustain the same volume of fire as a company armed with bolt-action rifles.

A recruit platoon undergoes close order drill at MCRD, Parris Island, in mid-World War II. Marines learned the M1 rifle inside and out and they became as adept with it as a surgeon wielding his scalpel.

Before they ever fired a live round, recruits learned every inch of their rifle, the name of every part, how to handle it safely and how to care for it. These were all critical skills for Marines. There were no shortcuts to expertise with the service rifle. Photo courtesy of the MacMillan Company

The M1 rifle's chief creator was John Garand, a firearms designer at the US Army Springfield Arsenal. Garand worked on the development of a semi-automatic service rifle through the 1920s and 30s and the M1's basic design was adopted on 9 January 1936. Springfield began low-rate production thereafter, and the Marine Corps placed its first order for the new rifle a few weeks later. In the late-1930s the Corps bought a small number of these weapons for field-testing and troop trials.

In November 1940 the Marine Corps conducted a competitive trial of the M1, M1903A3, the Johnson and Winchester rifles. This test was carried out at Marine Corps Base, San Diego by forty experienced Marines who had recently qualified as expert riflemen or sharpshooters. LtCol "Red Mike" Edson, among the best shooters in the Corps, was one of the senior officers assigned to the test board. The testing procedures were designed to replicate actual service conditions to the greatest possible extent.

The M1 rifle in its element. A Marine rifleman somewhere in the Pacific engages the enemy. He has assumed a good kneeling position, the result from hour after hour of snapping in and from the exacting feedback of veteran coaches at the rifle range back stateside. Still image from USMC combat camera film

In the tests Marines fired more than 12,000 rounds during four weeks of shooting. At various phases, the test rifles were submerged in salt water, packed with mud, sprayed with fresh water to simulate rain, sprinkled with sand and exposed to heavy dust, all followed by extensive test-firing. Testers also evaluated the rifles for ease of maintenance, infantry drill, and firing with fixed bayonets. The test board concluded with the following evaluation:

"It became increasingly evident as the tests progressed that the M1 rifle was superior to the other semi-automatic rifles. Although it failed on some of the abuse tests, it was in general much more reliable in mechanical operation, in ruggedness, and in freedom from repairs than either the Johnson or Winchester rifles… The Marine Corps feels that its tests conclusively proved that the M1 rifle is the most satisfactory semi-automatic rifle available."

In November 1941, the Marine Corps classified the M1 as its standard service rifle although it would take almost two years to get enough of these weapons to the Fleet Marine Force. Throughout World War II the Army Ordnance Department was responsible for acquiring small arms for both the Army and Marine Corps. As the armed forces expanded rapidly in the first year of the war, demand for small arms of every type far outstripped the capacity of America's firearms industry. With countless Army and Marine units deploying overseas, it was impossible to build enough new rifles.

To meet the demand, Springfield Armory built M1s on a round-the-clock production line and the respected firm Winchester Repeating Arms Company also produced M1s. By early 1943, rifle production had ramped up enough to equip the all of Corps' infantry regiments units with these modern weapons. But many support units continued to field the venerable '03 throughout the war. By war's end, Springfield and Winchester had produced more than 4,000,000 M1 rifles, an astonishing number by any measure.

A First Marine Division rifleman keeps a sharp eye peeled for enemy movement during the rugged campaign for Peleliu – 1944. Note that even though he is in combat, this Marine has his safety engaged just like he had been taught in recruit training. Still image from USMC combat camera film


Some Marines resisted the new rifle at first. The Corps had been using the '03 Springfield for almost 30 years and it was held in high regard because of its long range accuracy and reliable functioning under the harshest battlefield conditions. However once they got the chance to fire the M1, Marines quickly learned to trust and respect it. Easy to shoot and extremely accurate, the M1 had a fully adjustable rear sight. The rear aperture was graduated for ranges of 100, 300, 500, 700 and 1,100 yards. Both range and windage knobs had clicks that represented one minute of elevation or windage at 100 yards.

The rifle's gas-operating system absorbed a significant amount of energy during the cycle-of-fire, decreasing felt recoil in comparison with bolt-action rifles. This made the M1 a very forgiving rifle to shoot, even for smaller-statured Marines. the only real problem experienced with this rifle was 'M1 thumb.' Mostly an issue with new shooters, M1 thumb occurred when the rifleman failed to quickly remove his thumb off the clip as he was loading. When the bolt unlocked, it could smash his thumb against the front of the ejection port. This only happened once for most new shooters.

Operation, field-stripping and cleaning of the M1 was simple. A Marine could quickly disassemble his rifle without the need for tools, an important consideration in combat. Routine maintenance was quick and simple. The rifleman loaded ammunition loaded via an eight-round clip into the top of the receiver. When he fired his last round, the bolt locked to the rear and the empty clip ejected with a distinctive ping sound. To reload, the rifleman simply pushed a loaded clip into the top of the receiver. Once the clip was fully inserted, it would unlock the bolt, which stripped off the first round to load in the chamber.

Countless Marine riflemen performed acts of heroism under intense danger during the war. Their mission placed these men in the breach again and again in every campaign from start to finish. One of these gallant Leathernecks was Pfc Donald J. Ruhl of Columbus, Mont., a 21-year old rifleman in 3rd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, Fifth Marine Division, during the assault and capture of Iwo Jima in February 1945. Already a combat veteran of the 3rd Parachute Battalion on Bougainville, his performance on that hellish island reached the heights of courage. As described in The Lions of Iwo Jima by MajGen Fred Haynes, Pfc Ruhl faced the fire from the very start on D-Day:

"...Pfc Donald Ruhl...investigated some brush to the front of the mound, the concrete door on its right flank opened, and a large fieldpiece fired shells along the 2nd Battalion's perimeter. Quickly, a squad began a coordinated assault on the mound, and [1stLt Keith] Wells and Ruhl joined in. A thermite grenade was tossed in the aperture. Smoke poured out of the emplacement, and three Japanese soldiers staggered out, running for their lives. Wells let go an entire clip from his Thompson submachine gun, and Ruhl emptied his eight-shot Garand rifle. All three Japanese fell. One tried to rise and flee. Don Ruhl rushed forward and killed him with his bayonet."

But Pfc Ruhl wasn't finished. The next day, he spotted a wounded Marine and rushed through heavy fire to rescue him. Ruhl carried his wounded comrade 300 yards back to dressing station. Then he manned a captured emplacement 75 yards ahead of friendly lines through the night to ensure that the enemy did not reoccupy it. On D+2 Ruhl and his platoon began to assault and clear a large Japanese defensive area at the base of Mount Suribachi. An incoming grenade suddenly came flying out of a nearby enemy trench. Ruhl shouted to warn another Marine and then unhesitatingly dove onto the grenade, taking the full blast of the explosion. In sacrificing his own life, Pfc Ruhl saved his buddy from certain death. For his heroism above and beyond the call of duty, Pfc Donald J. Ruhl was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor. And he was just one Marine rifleman.

The empty enbloc clip ejects from the receiver of an M1 rifle. At the same moment, the bolt locks back, enabling the Marine to quickly reload. Still image from a USMC combat camera film

At the time of its development and production, the M1 ranked as the first truly successful semi-automatic service rifle in the world. Other combatant nations fielded semi-automatic rifles in World War II, notably the Soviet Union and Germany, no othes matched the M1 in terms of reliability, firepower and ease of operation. Although the M1 had some minor deficiencies, it was without question the finest service rifle of World War II. Marines who carried it in combat swore by its reliability, simplicty and hard-hitting firepower. It went on the serve the Marine Corps in the Korean War, and through many years of the Cold War until it was retired from service in the early 1960s.

Reconstruction of a mid-World War II Marine rifleman. Attached to his M1 is an M1905 bayonet. When not in use, the bayonet was stored in its scabbard on the M1941 haversack, which this Marine wears on his back. The cartridge belt has pockets for ten eight-round clips of rifle ammunition.

Over his shoulder, the Marine has an ammunition bandoleer hung. The bandoleer was a simple cotton carrier that stored six eight-round clips.

This rifle has an M1907 leather sling attached. Although web slings were issued late in the war, leather was the prodominant material used for rifle slings.

Weapon, uniform and equipment from the WW2 Gyrene collection


WARTIME QUALIFICATION WITH
THE M1 SERVICE RIFLE

M1 SERVICE RIFLE IMAGE GALLERY

FM 23-5, the US Army field manual on the M1 rifle. This publication included detailed information on maintenance, combat- and range-firing, qualification, and many other topics.

Click HERE or on the image at left to download the 1951 version of FM 23-5 from ibiblio.org. Photo from the WW2 Gyrene collection.



THE MARINE RIFLEMAN'S CREED

This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.

My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will...

My rifle and myself know that what counts in this war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit...

My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will ever guard it against the ravages of weather and damage as I will ever guard my legs, my arms, my eyes and my heart against damage. I will keep my rifle clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will...

Before God, I swear this creed. My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.

So be it, until victory is America's and there is no enemy, but peace!

MajGen William Rupertus



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