He invented the world’s deadliest rifle

The title of this post was the title of this article in the December, 1940 Popular Science magazine. “He” was John C. Garand, and the “world’s deadliest rifle” was, of course, what would turn out to be the best semi-auto of the Second World War, the U.S. Rifle .30 Caliber M1.

The article opens by backpedaling, a little, on its headline claim: “The United States government is laying a $15,000,000 bet that the new girlfriend so my automatic rifle is the deadliest firearm ever invented.” They mention the breakneck production and plant expansion underway (the US began rearming and instituted the draft in 1940), but the point of the article is not the Garand but the man, Garand: “Who is this Garand, and what is he like?”

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 5.22.17 PM It turns out that John C., who emigrated with his family to the USA at age 8, was not just a builder of rifles, but an avid user:

As soon as he began making money, Garand started saving toward a rifle. With one of his brothers, he used to spend evening after evening poring over the gun pages of a mail-order catalogue, debating the merits of the different firearms. Finally, the boys pooled their resources and sent off a money order for a Winchester .32-20.

…As a sideline, he and his brother ran a shooting gallery at Norwich, Connecticut. That was a lot like a boy with a sweet tooth managing a candy shop. Their enthusiasm for target practice ate up most of the profits.

…Garand came to New York. Sundays invariably found him alighting from the subway at Coney Island with a target shooters like in his eye. He was the star patron of all the galleries along the boardwalk. …[H]e shot to his heart’s content.

Like many a gun-happy yout’ before and after, Garand began to test the limits of his ability. What could he do?

Firing a rifle from the hip so accurately that he could hit a swinging target seven times on a single swing, he always attracted a crowd that overflowed onto the sidewalk and kept the cash register ringing.

Garand took a 50% wage cut to leave a micrometer manufacturer and go to work for the Naval Board (not the Bureau of Standards; it was the Navy that set him up in the Bureau’s building), where he worked on his first design, a machine gun. When he finished in 1919 there was no demand for the gun, with thousands of war surplus MGs in stock; in 1920, the Army asked him to come to Springfield Armory to work on a semi-auto rifle.

The M1 rifle took a great deal of work and went down many cul-de-sacs and blind alleys during the next two decades, but by 1936 it was accepted, and at the time the article was written, Springfield was producing 500 a day. (Garand not only designed the gun, but much of the tooling and the industrial processes that manufactured it). Garand’s major concern was weight reduction; his mantra was simple enough, strong enough, and light enough.

There were many times when the rent was positive the weight requirements set by the Army could never be reached. Eventually, by saving an ounce here and announce there, without sacrificing strength, he attained the goal. Most of the weight elimination was accomplished by reducing the number of parts. For example, one spring in the hammer mechanism now does the work that originally required five springs. That mechanical shortcut, alone, clipped a whole pound from the weight of the gun.

… [M]odel after model was designed and worked out with infinite care, only to be rejected after grueling tests. Nearly a dozen kinds of gun steel were tried, and the rear sight alone was redesigned 50 times. The present Garand gun combines the best features of half a dozen discarded designs.

At one time or another, along with Garand’s own design, the Army considered at least 50 other designers’ weapons, including Garand’s Springfield colleague, Pedersen’s. The article is obviously based on a rare interview with Garand, and also includes a great deal of information about rifle production at the time, and some Springfield photos. Unfortunately it’s not easily downloaded from Google Books thanks, perhaps, to Google having lost rather thoroughly on the terms of a lawsuit settlement some years ago. But it can be read at the link, and you owe it to yourself to Read The Whole Thing™. (It jumps to several pages… the internal links work fine).

3 thoughts on “He invented the world’s deadliest rifle

  1. neutrino_cannon

    My favorite Garand anecdote is that he loved ice skating so much that he flooded the first story of his house and let the water freeze so he could skate in the convenience of his own home.

  2. Pingback: He invented the world’s deadliest rifle | The Gun Feed

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