Of course, you can’t have it if you’re in Libya, North Korea, New York, New Jersey or Massachusetts because it’s a big assault Johnson, but what it is, is a rare Johnson LMG kit, restored onto a semi Johnson M1941 rifle receiver, producing a legal semi-auto Johnson LMG. And you can have it — if you win the auction.
Manufactured on the original Johnson 1941 semi auto receiver , using original US GI LMG parts , semi auto only . Excellent condition , park. military finish ,mint original barrel , beautiful wood furniture. Test fired only. The gun fires , extracts and reloads 100% , very accurate. The gun comes with bipod and 3 magazines. Shipping to an FFL or C&R holder. The gun will be shipped from FFL in PA.
There are a number of these around. By “a number,” though, we’re probably talking about a single digit number. The parts kits are rare, and the rifles are valuable enough to collectors that it’s hard to make the case for sacrificing one.
Johnson guns get their collector cachet from their rarity1 and their use in training and combat by elite elements including the Paramarines, the Marine Raiders, the Canadian-American First Special Service Force (all ephemeral, hostilities-only WWII units), the OSS, and Brigada 2506, the Bay of Pigs invaders. The Marines and Cubanos only used the rifles; the FSSF, only the machine guns. Any surviving Johnson has some part of this history.
Because the Johnsons were not standard arms with standard doctrinal spare parts and maintenance support, they were withdrawn and replaced with US standard rifles and auto rifles/LMGs. Carefully packed away, all of them except for probable OSS/CIA stocks were surplused after the war.
We don’t know what it will go for. The current bid in the $8k neighborhood has not met the reserve (the rifles sell for $4k and up). Some comments, and the rest of the photos, after the jump.
- 30,000 Johnson M1941 rifles were made, a large percentage of which survive, but only about 3,000 were machine guns according to ATF Form 2s filed by Johnson Automatics. The Johnson M1944 machine gun appears to have been produced only in prototype quantities.
The Johnson in More Depth
One of the more remarkable things about the Johnson LMG is the superficial similarity it has to the German FG.42. Internally, they’re radically different, with the American gun using the short-recoil principle, and its German counterpart relying on gas operation. Both had a turning bolt, but while the FG.42 had a conventional dual-lug design, derived from its ancestor, the Lewis gun, the Johnson had a revolutionary, patented multi-lug bolt that is the forerunner of the AR bolt design.
FG-42 features that are duplicated on the Johnson include the bipod, the high sight line and folding rear sight (although the FG has folding sights at both ends), the pistol grip and straight-line stock, and the left-mounted magazine and right-ejection layout. Both were chambered for full-power combat cartridges. These similarities result directly from the design requirement for a light, highly portable automatic weapon for airborne and light infantry forces.
Places where the designs diverge include the magazine: the FG-42 had what is now a conventional twin-row 20-round detachable box magazine, and the Johnson used an evolutionary dead end, a single-row 30-round magazine. It is a rare example of a WWII combat weapon that used a single-row magazine.
Both guns were originally built with a forged steel receiver, but with extensive cost- and machine-time-saving measures taken in the design. The Johnson could be built more rapidly and economically than the Garand, despite the Garand’s 15-year head start on production design.
Tests in 1940 and 1941 sometimes found the Johnson rifle slightly superior, sometimes the Garand. Since the Garand was in full production, the Johnson would have had to be enormously superior to warrant a change on the brink of war. It is possible, though, that General Holcomb, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, used the threat of adopting the Johnson to “encourage” General Wesson of Army Ordnance to prioritize equipping USMC formations more highly than an Army officer might otherwise do. (Read between the lines of this letter and tell us what you think).
The Johnson LMG would have been a natural purchase for a Johnson Rifle-equipped service. But even as a stand-alone product, the Johnson LMG had real advantages over the standard US equivalent, the Browning Automatic Rifle M1918A2. It was handier and had a larger magazine and a straight-line recoil layout. But it never was purchased. Instead, the leftover Dutch East Indies machine guns showed up all over the US’s supported special operations theaters.
Some lucky bidder may take home this remarkable history lesson on two legs. As with the rifle, the barrel of the MG is readily removable. This was not done to facilitate barrel changing in the field, as no spare barrels were issued. But any paratroops that had to jump a machine gun appreciated the chance to break it down but still quickly get it into action on landing.
Johnsons are fun to shoot, but then, so is a Garand or BAR. The Johnson guns are a little eccentric and out of the mainstream. On the range, you either get, “Wow! A Johnson!” or, “What the hell is that?”
When the Army replaced the BAR, they didn’t go with the light, capable Johnson but instead pushed the enormous M1919 Browning machine gun down to squad level, with a grafted-on shoulder stock and a bipod that was designed by someone who must never have been a grunt. One reason Johnson’s rifle and machine gun were a technical, if not commercial, success is that Mel Johnson was a Marine officer, and even though he was an ordnance officer he never lost touch with what the rifleman needed.
And hardly ever, the ventral aspect of the same rifle:
The barrel catch is forward of the bipod attachment. It’s actuated by pressing it with the tip of a round of ammunition.
Now, even if you already have one Johnson, don’t you want a bigger one?
The auction has concluded. It was a No Sale — reserve not met at a high bid of $8,250. It’s listed again, now with a starting bid of $7,500 and an unknown (but almost certainly > $8,250) reserve.