A New Rifle, a Reliability Problem

question mark(Apologies to all for the premature launch of this post at 0600 this morning. It was originally supposed to go there, then it was moved to the 1100 spot but the night shift botched the job. Those responsible have been sacked. Your comments and poll elections should be preserved.-Ed.)

The rifle had been praised wildly on the occasion of its adoption. Years of testing had proven its superiority, and it offered a revolution in rifleman’s firepower. Some of the claims made for the new rifle were:

  • Greater accuracy in combat conditions;
  • a greater volume of fire, firepower equal to five of the old rifles;
  • more effective against modern threats;
  • less demanding of training time;
  • lower recoil, and negligible fatigue from firing;
  • average size of production rifle groups, 1.75″ extreme spread at 100.
  • accuracy “better than the average service rifle, compares favorably with [a customized target] rifle”; and,
  • “every organization so far equipped has submitted enthusiastic reports of their performance under all conditions…”

Despite that glowing report from the men responsible for the decision, reports began to trickle in of unusual, crippling, and intermittent stoppages, and this reinforced many servicemen in their reluctance to give up their Ol’ Betsy for this new piece of technology.

What Rifle are we Talking About Here?

 
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Answer after the jump!

The answer was the beloved “greatest battle implement ever invented,” the US Rifle Cal. .30, M1, the great Garand.

M1 Springfield NM - RIA

All the praise came from an article written by Major G..H. Drewry for The American Rifleman in August 1938. Drewry, an ordnance officer, recorded 30 years of efforts by that department, beginning during the Great War, which had wanted a self-loading firearm to meet eight “simple”  requirements. By 1924 every single rifle tested had fallen short. The requirements were:

  1. Must be self-loading, and work with the service .30 cartridge;
  2. Must not exceed nine pounds;
  3. Well-balanced for shoulder-firing;
  4. Simple, strong, compact, easy to manufacture (yeah, this was one requirement according to Drewry);
  5. Magazine must be able to feed from clips or chargers;
  6. Must be entirely self-loading (yeah, they said that already);
  7. Must “preclude the possibility of premture unlocking.” Preferably a fully-locked-on-firing firearm;
  8. Must not require special oil, grease, or lubricated cartridges.

This laundry list sounds like a catalog of pain Ordnance had had with earlier semi-auto experiments, and in 1924 they decided to give the designers a little broader scope to work with caliber. In other words, “make a good enough gun and we’ll change the round, despite our vast ammo stocks, to suit.”

Not surprisingly, Springfield Armory found that the best contestants were the two submitted by two engineers then at Springfield, John D. Pedersen and John C. Garand. Historically, Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur gets the credit for the decision to adopt Garand’s rifle in the .30 service caliber, but Drewry adds this explanation of how that came to pass, crediting Garand’s initiative.

In the meantime. Mr. Garand, who has been in the employ of the Ordnance Department at the Springfield Armory for the past eighteen years as a designer of automatic weapons. completed a test model o f a semi-automatic rifle designed to function with either the caliber .30. Model 1906, or the caliber .30. MI, servicecartridge. This rifle appeared so promising in its preliminary tests that the decision to adopt the caliber .276 was held in abeyance. The results of continued tests of the caliber .30 weapon were so excellent that the caliber .276 project was abandoned altogether and the caliber .30 weapon as developed by Mr. Garand was adopted as the standard shoulder weapon of our Army. This action was taken in January. 1936.

The largest delay, per Drewry, was due to the need for thorough troop testing in all seasons.

We did mention a jamming problem, and even though Great Uncle Dan never mentioned it, the M1 definitely had one. Here’s Drewry’s explanation of the feed, from mid-1938:

The rifle functions equally satisfactorily with the Caliber .30, MI Ammunition, and the Caliber .30, M1906 Ammunition. Ammunition may be loaded into clips either at the factory or in the field, using a special loading machine, or in an emergency. may be loaded into the clip by hand. There are two staggered rows of four rounds in each clip, and it is immaterial whether the topmost round in the clip is on the right or left. The clip can be inserted into the rille either side up.

The precision of his explanation can be understood by pointing out that he was introducing this rifle for the first time to most of his readers.

But soon, soldiers were experiencing malfunctions with their M1s. Each of these problems has a lot of old wives’ tales attached to it, but they all have simple solutions. Here are some common M1 problems and what to do about them:

First Round In a Clip Frequently Misfires

This is caused, usually, by riding the operating rod handle forward, leaving the barrel this much out of battery. An M1 cannot fire out of battery (and well it shouldn’t). Let the op rod fly, or if you must ride it forward for tactical reasons (not that anyone shoots an M1 for tactical reasons 80 years after its adoption), make sure it goes fully home.

Seventh Round Jam

The problem usually struck on the second-to-last round in a clip, and it became known as the 7th Round Jam. This caused a bunch of rumors and legends, and sometimes an old M1 hand will tell you that what Drewry said above, about the orientation of the cartridges in the clip, isn’t true. What’s funny is that one guy will tell clips should be loaded top-round-left, and another guy will tell you top-round-right. Actually, except for one small stitch in time, Major Drewry, may he rest in peace, is right: either way works, except in a few thousand M1s made in approximately 1938-40.

It turned out that a running change on the production line had altered the internal machining of the receiver and reduced support for the clip when it was down to two rounds — and the clip had been loaded top-round-right. (So the 7th round was on the right, too). When hit by the bolt, the 7th round then popped rather than slid out of the en-bloc clip, and hit the breech face of the barrel or receiver, rather than going into the chamber.

The solution? Change the procedure at Springfield Armory back so that the clip retained its support, and in the meantime, sit down a bunch of privates in front of the ammo stockpile, and have them inspect all en-bloc clips, and load any that are top-round-right so that they were top-round-left.

Within a couple of years, the flow of wartime M1s had drowned the few thousand prewar guns, and ammo makers were given the green light to load clips any-which-way. You can do the same, unless you’re shooting some 1939 collectors’ piece.

31 thoughts on “A New Rifle, a Reliability Problem

  1. Tierlieb

    I was wondering whether the answer was “all of the above”. Closed testing simply does not work as well as public testing, and thousand grunts beat five engineering grads any day of the week in finding failure points. Or breaking things in general.

  2. Boat Guy

    I’ll confess to both cynicism and generational prejudice; I voted for the -16.
    Gotta say though Nose, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that one might find oneself shooting an “… M1 for tactical reasons 80 years after its adoption.” one could do worse.
    I once knew a Korean War Marine who kept an M1 with 16″ bayonet fixed and a bandolier of black-tipped .30 in clips above the mantle in his cabin. I’d NOT have wanted to try that guy…

  3. looserounds.com

    Knew it was the M1 without even thinking about it

    seems no one any more knows its history during the early days

    I guess its more fashionable to bring up what “everyone knows” about how the m16 had so many problems and the m1 was always perfect cause its made of wood and steel! snort

  4. Kirk

    The ironic thing is that the M1 was actually the perfect rifle for WWI’s opening phase, when it was still maneuver. Afterwards? Not so much. The weapons that should have been in service for WWII weren’t procured until after the war, and even then, we got it wrong.

    One has to wonder what the small arms world would have looked like, had the conflict we call WWI started a few years later, after the French got the issues in their semi-auto program wrung out. Long-term influence of that would have been… Interesting.

    Say that the war didn’t start until the 1920-25 time frame. Semi-auto individual weapons in the French infantry, portable radios that worked, more trucks with better engines, better aircraft engines and airframes… What happens then? Does the trench war even get started, or is the conflict over with so quickly that it can’t? Or, is it actually worse, in terms of deaths caused?

    Ten years delay, at that point in the game, would have been huge in terms of effect. I’m really not entirely sure that WWI would have played out the way it did, ten years earlier or ten years later. Could have been 1870 redux, or WWI cubed.

    Either way, had the folks in charge of procurement been on their games, the weapons we fought WWII with would have reflected the actual lessons of WWI, and we’d have had some sort of intermediate quasi-assault rifle in about the SKS class to do the fighting with.

    1. Sommerbiwak

      I’d say the Garand rifle in .276 Pedersen is pretty close to a SKS actually.

      But I am a total sucker for the original vz.52 in 7,62*45 mm. alThough I only ever shot one in 7,62 * 39 mm, I always wanted an original one.

      1. Hognose Post author

        Funny, we have lots of recent import 7.62 x 45 Vz.52s here but the x 39 52/57 is comparatively rare in the USA.

        1. Jim

          I have a Vz. 52 in mint condition, in the original 7.62×45..I’ve only fired it a handful of times due to the difficulty of finding and the expense of ammo for it. I need to research the possibility of forming brass from another cartridge as I hate to have what seems to be a pretty damn good weapon become just a collectors item..especially a Czech made rifle at that. The thing is built like a tank and I’m sure I could probably never shoot it enough to wear it out.

    2. Keith

      I really don’t think radio’s and aircraft would have developed that much without the pressure of war. Some yes but not as far as everything was by 1924.

      1. Kirk

        It wouldn’t have taken all that much. I’m not talking Motorola “Walkie-Talkie” stuff, I’m simply suggesting that the presence of even basic portable radios that didn’t require a train-car load of equipment would have made a hell of a difference.

        The other thing is, what are the likely effects of having even a few trucks in each German infantry company for hauling supplies and gear, during the opening campaign? Or, a couple of truck companies per division? How much faster and with how much more firepower do the Germans manage to weight the attack? Hell, do they even go through Belgium, with trucks available?

        WWI starting as it did in 1914 made the conflict what it was. Ten years earlier, no Haber-Bosch process, and the Germans run out of munitions and fertilizer after about four months of combat. Take away all the South American guano and other phosphates they captured on the docks at Antwerp, even, and they don’t have much of a cushion to get the whole Haber-Bosch process off the ground. Ten years later, the war plan has to contend with the early stages of mechanization and the effects of portable radios, and when I say that, I mean portable as in something a company could transport in a wagon or truck. That technology would have made a huge difference, as well as the increasingly powerful aviation engines…

        It’s sheer random chance that the course of WWI was what it was. It started at the precise moment necessary to turn it into the nightmare we know. Had it started even a mere decade either way, the whole thing would have had a massively different course than it did.

        1. Hognose Post author

          But aviation only advanced like it did because of the war. The a/c and engines of 1914 were scarcely better than Glen Curtiss’s 1911 rig. Which had the barest superiority to the Wright Model B Flyer.

          1. Haxo Angmark

            trucks? During WWII 90% of German military supply was still horses and wagons. See W. Victor Madej, GERMAN WAR ECONOMY – THE MOTORIZATION MYTH (Allentown, 1984). No point even building trucks when you can’t fuel them

          2. Hognose Post author

            There was an American general (a motor transport guru IIRC) who said something like, “When Hitler put his war on wheels, he sent it right down our alley.” But of course, the Deutsche Wehrmacht was dependent on rail and equine transport, unlike the Allies. (Only the Soviets and Poles used lots of horses, and the Sovs were more motorized than the Jerries).

          3. Kirk

            Development might have been slower, but it still would have occurred. Those were years of technological ferment that we only vaguely comprehend–Remember how quickly we went from MS-DOS to Windows? In 1990, I was using an Epson laptop with a text-based interface, and thinking myself the cutting edge. By ’95, it was a full-blown graphical solution, and we were doing things with the computer that were only vaguely imagined, beforehand. That’s what was going on in the automotive and aeronautics realm, back then. As well as, I must point out, radio. Yeah, WWI sped things up, but a lot of those developments were happening anyway.

            I can’t remember where the hell I found it, but years ago I read a book about German farming. Per what this author researched and wrote, he made an excellent case for WWI really having screwed a bunch of things up, particularly in regards to the mechanization of German agriculture. Per what he said in the paper, the Germans were very likely to have had an extensive agricultural machinery and truck industry going by the mid-1920s, focused mostly on the rail-poor areas of eastern Germany and now-Poland. WWI shot that in the head, due to the stripping away of those areas, and the lack of investment capital.

            It’s an unknowable thing, but imagine where Wilhelmine Germany might have been, industrially, with ten-fifteen years more development time.

        2. Cap'n Mike

          Better equipment would have made a big difference, but time and experience was needed to figure out how to take full advantage of the emerging technology. I wonder if an extra decade would have allowed a Heinz Guderian or Erwin Rommel to emerge. A good comparison of the difference in THINKING can be found in France and the Low Countries in 1940. The Germans took advantage of two decades worth of progress, while the French and British were prepared for the last war.

    3. McThag

      Things in Poland might have gone differently too if they’d had the ten extra years to finish transitioning their small arms to a rational instead of ad hoc plan.

  5. Jim Scrummy

    I thought it was the “Phased Pulse Rifle”…? This is the 21st Century, you know, and I want my “Phased Pulse Rifle”, NOW! Along with my flying car…

  6. Brad

    Lower recoil? 5x the firepower?

    No wonder I guessed wrong. I guess hype never goes out of style.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Actually, Drewry claims that the actual recoil of the M1 is only ~20% lower (IIRC, I don’t have it handy) but the perceived recoil is much lower because the mechanism tends to divert some of that impulse and spread it over some time. That’s in line with my perceptions from M1 and 1903(A3 which is what I have).

      1. H

        The M1903/M1903A3 is also somewhat lighter in weight than the M1, which would have more than a little to do with it as well.

        1. Brad

          Yep, and maybe quite a bit more than somewhat lighter. Real world weights don’t seem to track very well with claimed weights.

          My M1 rifle (empty, no cleaning kit in butt-trap, with web sling) weighs 10 pounds 8 ounces as measured by my digital kitchen scale.

          1. Hognose Post author

            M1 weights vary widely because stock weights vary widely. The barreled action is a lot closer to the same in every one. Even more modern firearms vary if they are in wood stocks, and there was a lot of variation in the weight of early M16/A1 stocks. The very earliest ones (Costa Mesa/Hollywood guns, Colt 601s) were hand poured in a mold.

            Someone (I think Nathaniel F) has been running a series on TFB of firearms weights.

            I don’t know whether the numbers in books and manuals come from single items or from, say, an average of 10 random individual firearms. If you had weights of a very large number of, say, M1s, you could draw some statistical inferences. The variation (and standard deviation) would be as interesting as any of the measures of central tendency.

  7. Greg

    Based on the language, and the assumption (yeah, I know) that this was an extract from service literature, I guessed the L85. We all have our biases – mine is British infantry equipment.

    1. TRX

      I voted Lee-Metford as well, mainly due to it’s craaaazy 10-round magazine when the rest of the world felt that 5 rounds was entirely sufficient for a battle rifle.

      The British military kept the Lee’s successors in service up into the 1980s. They’re still in service in police and Territorial Guard units in parts of the Commonwealth.

  8. 10x25mm

    U.S. semiautomatic rifle development was opened up to .276 Pederson cartridge in 1924 because the U.S. Army had just finished dumping their massive surplus inventory of WW I produced .30-06 cartridges into the ocean. The WW I cartridge cases were failing from ‘season cracking’, a form of stress corrosion cracking which may have been the real reason that ‘low number’ Springfield rifles began exploding after 12 years of unremarkable service. Not having a large inventory of ammunition left to consume reduced the incentive to design a new rifle for the .30-06.

    The .276 Pederson cartridge was opposed by MacArthur because its accuracy was decidedly inferior to to the .30 M1 cartridge at 600 yards. MacArthur’s major concern was the long range performance of infantry machineguns, which he felt should be in the same cartridge as the infantry rifle to minimize logistical issues. The .276 Pederson accuracy deficiency was eventually determined to be caused by insufficient bullet bearing length, but too late to rescue the cartridge’s reputation.

    Seventh round jam in the Garand was mostly due to a pulsing longitudinal wave developing in the main operating spring as the magazine emptied. Problem was identified by the first American use of high speed cinematography on firearms functioning. The main operating spring in the Garand also lifts cartridges in the clip through a lever linkage. Several extra coils were added to the operating spring and the jamming disappeared. However this cure increased operating rod stresses and created premature failures thereof, so Springfield engineers then developed the stress relief ‘cut’ op rod. Germans experienced a similar longitudinal wave issue in the MG.42 recoil spring, but solved it by forming their springs from twisted wire ‘rope’.

    1. Nathaniel F

      Hi 10x25mm,

      Most secondary sources agree that MacArthur’s rejection of the .276 caliber round was more or less a formality, finalizing what the Board had already decided.

      By the early 1930s, the advantages of the .276 caliber were obvious and there were only a few holdouts. However, the whole .276 caliber initiative was founded on the persistent idea that one could NOT design a rifle in the standard .30 caliber that came under the Army’s weight limit. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, however, two designs appeared that proved this notion was false, those were the Czech ZH-29 and the T1 .30 cal Garand.

      So, by the early 1932s, and fueled by Pedersen’s hubris in thinking his rifle was pretty much already adopted (resulting in him leaving the country for England during the rifle’s most critical hour – remember, the .276 cal was also Pedersen’s baby), the Board had basically abandoned the .276 caliber for logistical reasons. In retrospect, and as cool as the .276 Pedersen was, I think this was the right choice.

      You can read more about this in an article I wrote about the ZH-29, here: http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2015/04/18/the-zh-29-selfloading-rifle-a-forgotten-turning-point/

  9. Keith

    I voted M1 because I have a hand built one from my father from the 1950’s with a Camp Perry six groove barrel. It shoots great. I also have a Tula 1951 made SKS and it shoots great too.

  10. DSM

    I think it fair to say every new military small arm had its share of teething problems. Look at the chronology. Prototype testing done on controlled, square range conditions onto the limited, smaller scale trials of hand-assembled weapons where the engineers often live in the hip pockets of the testing troops and immediately correct the offending soldier all the way out to the full scale, mass issue where parts are subcontracted out or manufacturing is simplified and the final production weapons are thrown at draftees who don’t care. So that the M1 had issues too is not surprising at all.

    Case in point, one of the last time compliance tech orders I remember having to do before I hung up my uniform was to make sure our M4s had the right color extractor spring installed. Well before that was the M9 slides and hammer pins. Go beyond that and our test pilots still discover new failure modes on our fighters that are decades old.

    The M1 is quirky by today’s standards but it did the job!

  11. Nathaniel F

    Dammit, Hognose, I didn’t pick the M1 because I thought “that would be too obvious”.

    I now realize that I am literally the only person who would ever think that. ;)

    Great article, as always.

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