Garand collectors have long known about these, as stored and recorded by Springfield Armory, but as far as we know, nobody’s found one yet. In 1959, Armory officials told the local newspaper that a few cans recently arrived (of which, more later) were the last survivors of the cans the Armory filled in 1947 and 1948 — apart from a few in the collection of the Armory’s museum.
Right after World War II, the Armed Forces went from something like 12 million men, mostly armed with M1 Garands, to a tiny fraction of the size. Logistical problem: trainloads of surplus Garands.
For the first time in a long time, Springfield produced no service rifles in the years immediately after World War II. (Production would resume in a few years, when Korea kicked off). But even when issuing those wartime M1s out as needed, the United States Army had too many rifles to handle. (This problem was just about universal after the war: the victorious nations demobilized most of their forces, and the vanquished no longer had any armies to arm).
Some M1s and other GI weapons went to friendly foreign nations, especially formerly occupied nations rebuilding defense forces from zero. And some small arms came in from the field too beat up to save (they were parted out, or set aside to be parted out). But some new guns and some repaired and inspected guns were not going anywhere. The supply exceeded the demand, and the problem became, how to store them?
It didn’t seem prudent to just throw them away or scrap them. After all, the M1 was a front-line combat rifle, still technologically ahead of most of the world. And they could be nice trinkets in international diplomacy. But a rifle left alone tends to rust. So the Armory developed a method of preservation that would thrill the heart of any survivalist: they sealed racks of rifles into special-purpose steel drums. Developing the methods, equipment and materials took almost two years, and then the excess guns were canned in 1947 and 1948. No one seems to know how many were so treated.
A process for packaging small arms for long periods of indoor storage, known as ‘canning,’ was developed at Springfield Armory to preserve new or reconditioned small-arms weapons.
Weapons preserved in this manner will be serviceable, free of rust and fungi and ready for immediate use for an estimated period of fifty years.
Rifles, pistols, carbines, sub-machine guns and machine guns have been secured within hermetically sealed metal containers in which the atmosphere is controlled. In so far as possible the weapons are secured in such a manner as to produce a uniformly balanced pack.
The atmosphere in each container is maintained at a low relative humidity to prevent rusting and growth of fungi and is in equilibrium with the wood components. To control this atmosphere, several pounds of moisture-absorbing material are placed in each container,hen seam welded and embossed with a varying number of rolling hoops depending on the length.
The pressed steel covers have a one inch flange and an embossed centering ring which serves to hold the gun rack on the axis of the container. One cover is pressed into the shell and then rotary seam welded and tested for leaks by internal air pressure of ten rounds per square inch. A rectangular identification plate is seam welded to the opposite cover. The plate contains information as to stock number, contents, modification work order, volume, weight, serial number of the container and the date packed.
Seamless aluminum tubes of one-eight inch wall thickness are used for individual packing of Caliber .50 Aircraft Basic and Heavy Barrel Flexible machine guns. Aluminum covers with one inch flange are pressed from sheet alloy. One cover is assembled with a rear bracket support. This support is a spot-welded assembly, channel shaped to secure the rear end of the weapon. A cup is used to protect the muzzle of the gun. The gun is also supported forward of the receiver with a formed disc.
Rifles, carbines and sub-machine guns are assembled to a gun rack. The rack is made up of a center post, (standard steel pipe) with spacing units welded in place to locate the weapons. Formed discs or end plates with muzzle and butt-plate indents are welded on each end of the center post to prevent endwise movement of the guns. The formed edge of the end plate fits over the centering ring which is embossed in the cover. Padding material is placed between the weapons and rack to cushion shock and to prevent marring of weapons.
Pistols are packed in trays which are pressed from low carbon steel and shaped to fit the silhouette of two pistols with extra magazines. In assembly the pistols with magazines are placed in position on one tray. Another inverted tray is placed on top to form a single unit.
Matching ears and slots on each tray allow them to be locked together. Ten units, or twenty pistols with extra magazines, are stacked in each container.
Weapons are cleaned prior to canning by immersion in a tank of selected volatile solvent which removes acid forming greases and other foreign compositions that might produce corrosion. They are then immersed in a tank of Soft Film Rust Preventive AXS-1759, Grade #2j.
This compound has moisture displacing properties and a minimum tendency to become gummy or varnish over a long period of time.
After evaporation of volatiles from this compound, the film resulting is about .0005 inch thick. This allows unpacking and firing the gun without cleaning, thus avoiding the difficult removal of heavy compounds from weapons as preserved in the past.
Following this coating of preservative, the weapons are assembled to the gun rack along with accessories, which consist of magazines, slings, oilers for rifles, spade gips and charging handles for machine guns. These are secured in specially designed holders. Slings and bags of desiccant such as Silica Gel, are tucked in between the weapons and center post of the rack.
Cotton webbing pads and half-inch box-strapping bands are placed around the weapons assembled to the gun racks, drawn up tightly and secured with strapping seals.
The assembled packs are put into the containers, properly centered and the top cover with name plate assembly pressedThe hermetically sealed containers are tested by immersion in clean water heater to 180 degrees F. The internal air pressure rises to about three pounds per square inch in two minutes. All surfaces and seams are carefully examined while the container is under water. Defects are repaired by oxy-acetylene welding and the container retested.
Accepted steel containers are prepared for painting by vapor degreasing, bodnerizing and drying. The containers are spray painted with two coats of olive drab enamel (U.S. Army Specification 3-181, Type V). Each coat is baked for five minutes by infra-red lamps, allowing ten minutes between coats for cooling. This cooling period prevents the internal temperature from exceeding 200 degrees F, above which a breakdown of phosphate coatings and the preservative compound may occur. During an overrun of fifteen minutes on the paint line conveyor after the final coat, the paint air dries to ‘Full Hardness.’ Painting of the aluminum containers is omitted as the material was selected for its non-corrosive properties. Instructions for opening are stenciled on each shell.
A specially designed portable ‘can opener’ was developed to facilitate opening the containers of various models and weighs about thirty pounds. This tool may be considered a giant version of the ordinary kitchen utensil. It can be used as a single unit or it may be used in conjunction with a platform base for opening on a production basis.
The portable opener consists of a gear reduction unit that operates two serrated drive rolls which are designed to provide the force necessary to cause a set of cutting discs to cut through the shell thickness of the containers. The two cutting discs are located on a pivoted arm. A vise clamp arrangement allows the discs to be set to the desired depth of cut. In operation, the serrated drive wheels are placed on the inside of the container flange and the pivoted arm is tightened, with the cutting discs located below the seam weld on the flange.
The opener may be operated manually with a hand crank, or if electrical power is available, it can be driven with a one-half inch portable drill.
When used in conjunction with the platform base, the portable unit is inverted and properly located in the base. The platform base is equipped with a one-third horsepower motor. The power is transmitted by means of a worm gear arrangement to the portable unit’s drive stud. Containers are placed upright on this composite unit and opened in the same maner as described with the portable unit.
Containers were subjected to various rough handling conditions in laboratory tests prior to acceptance. These tests included four-foot falls with the containers landing at various angles along with vibration tests to simulate most phases of transportation handling. Containers were then tested for hermetic seal and opened for examination and contents. Results indicated that although the containers were badly dented, they retained their hermetic seal and the weapons were not damaged in any way.
An additional test was conducted to simulate air transportation of containers. In this test the loaded containers withstood fifteen pounds per square inch of internal air pressure without any indication of distortion or leakage.
The canning method of packaging weapons for long periods of storage has proved to be superior, in certain respects, to previous methods used, in that (1) reduces breakages due to handling, (2)
Alas, whatever (2) was is not reported at the museum site, but we suspect it had to do with corrosion and/or mildew resistance.
For those of you thinking about caching weapons, note the extreme effort this took. Two years of development by professional engineers to work out the system. Then, each can had to be subjected to some tough tests, including immersion in water and heating to 180ºF. (Read the excerpt carefully to see which tests were done simply to validate this means of storage, and which were done to every can to ensure it was sealed).
Don’t forget, these packages were not meant to survive immersion in the sea, burial in the earth, or even outdoor storage: they were meant to be kept indoors in warehouses. Our experience with cache recovery indicates that entropy is always doing its best to have its way with your cached weapons and equipment. As the extremes to which Springfield Armory went to safely store weapons demonstrate, if you want to protect your stuff from the ravages of time, life, and oxidation, you need to get pretty extreme.
So why haven’t these Garand Cans turned up? Our best guess is that they took the can opener to them during the Korean War, especially when US and ROK forces lost tens of thousands of rifles in the defeats of the early war years. (And yes, along with the special cans, there was indeed a special can opener). Indeed, in 1959 when a few “cans” of M1s came back to the Armory from a depot in Schenectady for conversion to National Match rifles, the newspaper reported:
M-1 Garand rifles made at the Springfield Armory and ‘canned’ in special hermetically-sealed cannisters were returned from the Schenectady, (N.Y.) depot for conversion to National Match weapons.
The rifles, removed from their sealed chambers, were found to be in perfect working order.
The ‘canning’ of weapons at the Armory, following World War II was a major gunplant project. Methods of packaging and preserving small arms weapons for a long period of storage posed quite a problem when hundreds of thousands of M-1 rifles were returned to depots for field servicing.
Solution of the problem was assigned to the Armory in July 145. Final design and development of an acceptable storage container was accomplished in 1946 and 1947 by the Armory’s research and development division.
The process eventually developed at the local Army Ordnance installation assured serviceable weapons free of rust and fungi, ready for immediate use upon removal from the storage containers.
Production of these containers was completed by June 1948. Besides the M-1 rifle, the carbine, Browning automatic rifle, M-3 machine gun and caliber .45 pistol were also canned for storage.
The specially developed cans shipped back to the Armory are believed to be about the last in existence. However, several of these special containers with weapons sealed in have been on display at the Benton Small Arms Museum at the gunplant for the past several years.
CMP has never seen guns in these cans, and the supposition in the collector community is that no more exist, unless M1s were shipped overseas in these cans and never unpacked at their destinations, which seems unlikely. About 300,000 M1s and unknown quantities of other firearms were canned in this manner. There are internet legends and rumors of canisters being holed and thrown in the sea, but that seems improbable as the canisters were always a Zone of the Interior (what we’d now call CONUS) depot project. The cans might have to be holed to sink given the volume of air trapped inside with the 170 lbs of guns and can, so that detail is plausible anyway.
If anyone does find one, it will be clearly labeled:
BOO1-004196/RIFLE, U.S., CAL..30 M1/W/SLING/COND. CODE NO. 23/M.W.O. THRU W2/DRY AIR – NO PRESSURE/7.5 CU. FT. 170 LBS/CONTAINER NO. SA 013xxxx/ORD. DEPT. U.S. ARMY/month-year (i.e. “3/47″/