If there is one iconic firearm of the 20th century that has come from an American arsenal, it is the M1 Garand.
The rifle that GIs and Marines lugged across Europe, slung through dense jungle and fought with on Korea’s frozen mountains. It saw action in Vietnam, and was given out liberally to many of America’s allies during the Cold War years. During the Vietnam protests, the M1 Garand was again used, this time by the National Guard to quell the riots.
The M1 was designed in the 1920s, perfected in the 1930s, and issued starting in 1937. John Garand, a Canadian by birth, took the better part of two decades to perfect his design and beat out the competition. The rifle, in its final design, incorporated a gas piston-operated semi-automatic action. The M1 was fed from an en-bloc clip (yes a clip, not a magazine in this case) that held eight rounds of .30-06 ammunition. The rifle was both accurate and fast firing, and in fact there was nothing like it in the world that could compete with it at the time.
The M1 gave troops a distinct advantage in WWII, when most of the enemies’ soldiers were still armed with WWI-era bolt-action rifles. The Garand could both lay down fire faster and be reloaded and brought back into battery quicker. Attempts by other nations to field a standard issue semi-automatic rifle failed. Only the German MP-44 Sturmgewehr, the world’s first successful assault rifle, was a better rifle than the American long arm. However, the Germans only produced about a half million MP-44s whereas the US produced over 6 million Garands.
After WWII and the Korean war, the M1 Garand was replaced with the M-14, which was just an updated M1 that fed from a detachable 20-round magazine instead of the 8-round clip. The M-14 also has a selector switch for full automatic fire. The M-14 was a failure as a standard issue rifle. For one, the cartridge it fired, the 7.62x51mm/.308, was simply a downsized .30-06 and was too powerful for full automatic firing from a shoulder-fired small arm. The remaining M1 Garands in stock were rechambered for .308/7.62 and passed to the National Guard, given to allies or sold as surplus to US civilians.
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Today, the M1 has found a home with competition rifle shooters at national matches. It is also a rifle that is passed down from generation to generation and is owned by millions of Americans. Whether chambered in the modern .308 or the more popular .30-06, the M1 is a powerful and somewhat heavy rifle by today’s standards.
While technically not what one would consider a “battle rifle” by modern standards, it is still able to hold its own. The long stroke gas piston action is very reliable. The rifle’s iron sights are very good, easy to use and accurate. The effective range of the Garand, especially shooting .30-06, is out to about 900 yards – although some shooters have hit targets at 1,000-plus yards. Try shooting that far with your AR-15.
Often the question comes up: Is the M1 Garand still a viable option for survival or home defense? Yes, it is, but it does have its disadvantages. Although I would contend that the M1 Garand is vastly superior to the very popular SKS (of which at least 10 million are owned by Americans), it is not superior to the AR-15 or the AKM platforms in a disaster scenario. First, the M1 cannot shoot most commercial .30-06 ammunition unless you use a different gas plug. Using modern hunting ammunition generates more pressure than the Garand was designed for — and it can blow up your rifle.
Surplus ammo can still be found but it is not cheap – around $1 a round. Steel cased and foreign brass cased ammunition loaded to mil-spec is available but not as cheap as the more readily available 5.56x45mm or 7.62x39mm rounds.
The rifle’s 8-round capacity also can be a handicap, as well as the distinctive “ping!” sound the rifle makes when it is empty and ejects the spent en bloc clip. However, the sheer power of a .30-06 round or .308 can be enough to win a gun fight, or end a threat.
So yes, the Garand is still a viable option, albeit a little outdated. It is also expensive. You can buy an AR-15 or AKM for around $500-700 today, while a M1 in good shape will not sell for less than $1,000.
Have you ever used an M1 Garand? Share your thoughts on it in the section below: