Eight Reasons Selfloading Rifles Had To Wait For John Garand


With the introduction of the successful metallic cartridge in the 1840s, an explosion of innovation directed towards rapid-firing infantry weapons rocked the world. The culmination of this would be the mass-produced self-loading rifle, realized with the adoption of the Garand in 1933, its standardization in 1936, and eventually its mass production after 1939. However, the Garand was far from the first self-loader ever devised; many know of the Mexican-Swiss Mondragon rifle, but even earlier than that were the Cei-Rigotti of 1898, the STA series of rifles from France beginning in 1896, and the Madsen-Rasmussen of 1888, to name a few. Many of these early rifles worked fairly well, even; the Madsen-Rasmussen, Mondragon, RSC 1917, Mauser Selbstlader, and several other weapons were successful enough to be adopted in some capacity by military forces. Why, then, did the world have to wait until the late 1930s to finally realize the standard-issue selfloading rifle?


I. Ammunition Technology

Ever since the introduction of the centerfire rifle cartridge in 1866, military rifle ammunition has looked essentially the same. A copper-alloy or steel case enclosing the loose propellant is mated to one of a huge variety of bullet styles, with a Boxer or Berdan primer at the base. However, despite this external similarity, the ammunition available by the early 1930s was very, very different than that of the 1870s, or even 1900s. Transformative changes were made to each component of the military rifle round during this period, until the ammunition finally became suitable for use in selfloading weapons:

1. Metallurgy

While it may not seem significant today, the metallurgy of both the case and projectile were a major stumbling block to reliable repeating, automatic, and selfloading weapons until the 1930s and ’40s. Problems were encountered even with something so simple as producing durable jackets for (then) high velocity smokeless powder rifle rounds, including jackets stripping off bullets in the barrel when fired. There were even major technological gaps between countries: The United States tried and failed to copy the alloy used in the German S Patrone projectile’s jacket, and early experiments with indigenous alloys resulted in failure.

Case metallurgy, too, was a significant problem; today there exist exacting standards for the metallurgical properties of military rifle ammunition (in fact, a lack of stringent enough regulations for the early .223 rifle cartridge led to significant problems in the initial fielding of the AR-15 to Southeast Asia), to ensure their reliable functioning in automatic weapons. The pioneers of high pressure metallic rifle cartridges had to contend with brass that was too hard or too soft, brass that created excess friction in the chamber, and on top of all this how to produce the millions of rounds that would be needed in a major war.

2. Powder Chemistry

In 1886, the first smokeless powder rifle cartridge, the 8mm Lebel “Balle M” was introduced. While this was a major leap in chemistry over miserably dirty black powder rifle cartridges – and though it led directly to feasible self-actuated machine guns, the early smokeless propellants were very primitive compared to the state-of-the-art propellants of the 1930s. Most smokeless powder ammunition before World War I (and even much into the 1940s) was loaded with single-base propellant, which has a much higher flame temperature, resulting in much more barrel wear and reduced sustained fire capability. These early single-base propellants were also highly unstable, resulting in wild pressure excursions into both the high and low regimes, and miserable storage lifespans by modern standards. One of the contributing factors to the eventual replacement of the 1895 Winchester-Lee rifle by the U.S. Navy was the ruin of large stocks of its 6mm ammunition due to propellant decay.

To compensate for the shortcomings of the ammunition of the time, the majority of military repeating rifles featured extensive and redundant safety mechanisms as contingencies for a catastrophic ammunition failure. The Mauser 98 rifle, in particular, is replete with multiple redundant features making it very difficult to destroy, and resistant to failing in such a way that would harm the shooter. Early selfloading rifles had to provide not only the sure integrity of the military bolt-action rifle, but also reliable and consistent functioning with what was often inconsistent and potentially dangerous ammunition, and they had to do so at much higher rates of fire.

3. Primer Chemistry

Corrosive salts in primers are notorious for their ability to corrode and ruin firearms, however, even before the introduction of non-corrosive powders, major advances in primer reliability and ignition properties were made steadily during this period. As an example, Winchester’s primers at the outbreak of World War I were the best in the world, enjoying a significant advantage in reliability and consistency when compared to their competitors’ primers. Winchester would then very generously (some would say foolishly) give away this primer formulation to its competitors in support of the war effort.

4. Powerful Ammunition

Selfloading pistols, in contrast to their rifle counterparts, took off in the late 1890s and became common in the early 20th Century. Many thinkers both then (Mauser and Luger, as examples) and now have taken this as evidence that the selfloading rifle could have been successfully fielded much earlier, as after all pistols are much smaller and lighter than rifles; if selfloading technology could be pioneered there, why couldn’t a suitable service rifle be developed?

However, these early thinkers found the problem much, much harder to solve than they expected. Rifle rounds, in contrast to those of pistols, run nearly double the pressure, and may have much wider case heads, resulting in tremendous technical challenges for the selfloading rifle designer. The high bolt thrust of rounds with high peak pressure and wide case heads was one component of this, meaning selfloading rifle locking mechanisms had to be robust enough to handle the force on the bolt (and precluding the use of the simple blowback mechanism), but also highly relevant was the much greater friction between the case and chamber relative to pistol calibers, a problem compounded by the poor powder chemistry, case metallurgy, and less precise tolerances of ammunition of the day. The early selfloading rifles, then, had to be designed in such a way that they unlocked after the pressure had receded enough to allow reliable extraction, but not before the loss of pressure to unlock the action. Today, rifles enjoy finely-toleranced ammunition with excellent propellants that are highly stable, and noncorrosive primers, and thus can extract earlier and cycle more reliably.

For many years, it was believed that a satisfactory selfloading rifle in a major rifle caliber with weight under 10 pounds simply could not be developed. So serious was this problem that the US Army pursued the development of the .276 Pedersen rifle cartridge, explicitly under the assumption that the use of the standard .30 M1 cartridge would simply prohibit the development of a suitable rifle. Garand’s highly advanced T1 .30 caliber rifle would prove this assumption false, and with that, support for Pedersen’s .276 rifle cartridge evaporated.


II. Weapons Technology

A selfloading rifle is on the face of it more sophisticated than its predecessors, but less visible to the eye are the improvements made in the materials, details of the design, and other fine aspects. The time it took to perfect these design elements meant that the effective, battle-ready selfloader was out of reach until just before World War II:

5. Gun Metallurgy

Steel comes in a dizzying number of alloys, everything from pot iron to chrome-vanadium tool grade steel. What may be surprising is that the vast majority of the high grade steels are 20th Century innovations, meaning rifle-makers of the 1870s did not have access to the nickel steels, chrome-moly steels, stainless steels, and very high-carbon steels that the later manufacturers would. Advances in metallurgy were critical to the development of the selfloading rifle; stainless steels would allow gas blocks to be manufactured that held their dimensions even when firing hundreds of rounds of corrosive ammunition, the mass production of high carbon, low impurity steels would give the Garand an operating rod that would not bend under the pressure of firing, and chrome-moly steels would give the Garand a strong, light barrel.

6. Heat Management

Early automatic weapons required the use of extremely heavy barrels, water cooling, or both to remain effective at the high rates of fire expected of them. As the development of self-loading rifles progressed, it became clear that the existing architecture of repeating rifles would not be sufficient to manage the heat produced by the new rapid-fire weapons, and as a result, many early automatic and selfloading rifles utilized large radiators or other cooling apparatus to allow the weapon to sustain a rate of fire above that of repeating rifles. Such devices, however, were heavy and added to the weight and complexity of those designs, precluding for decades the production of an effective, rapid-fire selfloading rifle for general issue. It was only in the late 1920s that selfloading rifles would catch a break, as the introduction of new steels and better powder chemistry (especially the IMR line of propellants) gave the selfloading rifle a chance to shine.

7. Exposure Resistance

A weapon that is fouled by exposure to the environment will suffer significant penalties to its operation. Corroded gas tubes, stuck breechblocks, and wood-warping due to humidity could slow or stop a self-loading rifle in ways that simpler and less sophisticated repeating rifles might soldier through. In part due to this, early self-loaders were often required to be able to be used as repeating rifles in the event that adverse conditions prevented the gun from operating correctly, a requirement that added weight, bulk, complexity, and cost. As metallurgy and propellant chemistry improved, selfloading rifles proved more and more resistant to the elements, resulting in highly effective rapid-fire rifles that could be used in any conditions.


III. Production Technology

8. Tooling and Precision

It is no coincidence that John Garand is the man responsible for the development of the first successful general-issue selfloading rifle; Garand was a genius toolmaker. Having previously worked for Brown & Sharpe as a machine tool designer, Garand not only had the technical genius to design a rifle that worked, he also had the knowledge to create the tools that would put an M1 Garand into the hands of every U.S. Army rifleman in World War II. An overlooked aspect of the production concerns of selfloading rifles is the precision of the tooling and measuring devices available. So important was this, in fact, that it was Springfield Armory who blazed the trial of ever more precise machine tools and measuring devices.

Garand’s rifle was considered by many to be un-mass-produceable. Indeed, without Garand it would never have been mass produced; he was one of the few highly skilled toolmakers left in the gutted 1930s Springfield Armory. Once the M1 had been adopted, Garand set to work designing and making both the machines that would make the rifle, and the machines that would make the machines to make the rifle, plus all the jigs, fixtures, and other production hardware needed to produce it. No other small arms designer I know of had such tremendous knowledge and skill at realizing the production of their own weapons. Thanks to the tireless work of John Cantius Garand, the infantry selfloading rifle finally was born.


For further reading on the subject, I recommend the following books:

Proud Promise: French Autoloading Rifles, 1898-1979, by Jean Huon

A History of U.S. Military Small Arms Ammuniton, Volume I 1880-1939, by F. W. Hackley, W. H. Woodin, and E. L. Scranton

The M1 Garand Rifle, by Bruce N. Canfield

The FN49: The Rifle That Ran Out of Time, by R. Blake Stevens

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • On a more fun note, here is a picture of Garand ice-skating in his parlor, which he converted into a small ice-skating rink because he liked ice-skating so much:


    Garand doesn’t quite upset David Marshall Williams as my favorite firearms designer (Williams had a life story like a Hollywood movie – and Hollywood thought so, too), but his humble diligence and incredible genius have made me rethink that a number of times.

    • Anonymoose

      A Canadian, through and through!

  • Darren Hruska

    Great read! I will never discredit the moderate success of the early Mondragon and the like, but the M1 Garand left a much larger cultural impact. Although, I will say that the M1 Garand wasn’t the first semi-automatic rifle to be tested at the Springfield Armory (if this is relevant). It was actually preceded by the rifle for Chinese General Liu, a general that predicted the next major war would be fought with semi-automatic rifles. I actually have to wonder if John Garand actually took even the slightest inspiration from that design.

    • The Liu wasn’t alone. Springfield Armory tested tens of selfloading rifle designs before the Garand.

    • marathag

      look at this page on the relationship between the M1 and RSC Mle.1917


      A whole lot of John Browning in that, from the Remington Model 8

      • Besides sharing the same basic trigger design as the Remington Model 8 rifle, early Browning Auto 5 shotguns also had a fore-aft sliding safety located at the front of the triggerguard. Perhaps this influenced Garand as well.

      • Garand began working at Springfield in 1919, and the St. Etienne was tested in 1916. His claim that Garand worked on the St. Etienne rifle is unsupported so far as I know.

        • marathag

          Not so much worked on it, vs had knowledge of it, is what I am thinking

          • Yes, but the connection’s a lot more tenuous without Garand having worked directly on the St. Etienne rifle.

  • M.M.D.C.

    Great read, thanks!

    “…Garand was a genius toolmaker.” That is very interesting. So he may have been thinking ahead about manufacturing innovations while he was designing the rifle.

    • marathag

      As important as the design

      • M.M.D.C.

        Yes. It’s interesting to note that many of the details of 19th century architecture were outgrowths of steam-driven tools. Earlier, of course, tools to shape wood were moved in a straight line by hand and designs reflected that. With steam, the movement changed from the straight line to rotation and so the look of buildings and furniture changed.

        All this is to say that I think it’s interesting to think of Garand forming the tools and the rifles simultaneously in his mind so neither one is clearly an outgrowth of the other.

    • I don’t have the exact quote in front of me, but Garand said once that creating the tooling, fixtures, jigs, and machines to produce the Garand was “like having to design a whole new rifle!”

      Frankly, I think that’s terribly modest of him.

      • One of the themes that runs through “The Great Rifle Controversy” is the constant tug of war between two of Ordnance’s three branches: R&D and Industrial. (I suspect that the Field Service branch may have had an opinion, but it isn’t as well documented.) The Industrial Service tended to be conservative because they would be tasked with mass producing any weapon that the R&D boffins designed. By designing the production tooling for the M1, Garand undercut the Industrial Service’s fall back excuse that a design was not viable for economic mass production.

  • Excellent article that will unfortunately be glossed over by many in favor of the stupid ATF sig brace thing. If it were up to me I would sticky this!

  • marathag

    Look at how close the Savage 300 of 1920 matched with the 30-40 Krag in performance, and then how the 300 Sav became 7.62 Nato

    But the 25 Rem could almost be classed as an Intermediate Cartridge from its power(or lack of it)

    Sadly, the Army still wanted a round that could shoot thru a pine tree at 1000 yards.

    • Dean Seaman

      The .300 Savage isn’t the NATO cartridge. The .308 Winchester is.

      • marathag

        I think most people already knew that the 300Sav was the basis for the 7.62Nato.

        I do think you missed the point of my post, the performance of the ‘woefully underpowered’ Krag of over a hundred years ago, is just what some want today for the Infantryman

  • It was the ammunition commonality that mattered to them, not the caliber.

    The Army tested Remington Model 8s in .25 Remington to develop unit tactics with selfloaders. The success of these experiments helped support the decision to fund .276 ammunition development.

  • Ian McCollum

    Nice article!

  • Proud Promise was part of the quartet of books that majorly influenced the writing of this post. It was my intention from the beginning to throw up a suggested reading list at the end, but I had forgotten to until now. Thanks for reminding me!

  • I think the SVT was a viable design, but it came several years after Garand’s successful rifles.

  • If you want to learn more about the M16 rifle’s early history, I highly recommend reading the Collector Grade Publications book The Black Rifle.

    En-bloc clips were seen as easier for mounted troops to reload than strippers, and detachable magazines were not proven to be cost-effective until World War II.

    The Johnson rifle used stripper clips for loading.

  • Raven Lee

    Lever actions were replaced by bolt action rifles because you could fire bolt action rifles while in the prone position.

    Bolt Action rifles were replaced by Semi-Auto rifles, Automatic rifles, semi-auto carbines, select fire assault rifles, etc. due to the volume of fire and speed of reloading.

    • Lever action were never standard issue with any military I know of, except arguably the Imperial Russians.

      • Phil Hsueh

        As I recall, the US Army never adopted lever actions widely during the Civil War and after because it was felt that the rapid fire capability would result in a waste of ammo as troops would just fire as fast as they can without aiming (much). Interestingly enough, Custer’s 7th Cavalry had been issued repeaters during the Civll War but sometime after and before the Battle of the Little Big Horn had went back to the single shot breach loading carbine.

        • Tom

          I wonder what part reliability played in that decision. As I recall the early lever rifles were mostly rimfire (and a complete pain to load once the magazine was exhausted). Was the thinking that with Trapdoors the troopers wouldn’t waste ammo, or that with Trapdoor the troopers had better range and “knock down power”?

  • Tom

    An interesting read but I think you have tried a little too hard to make eight points and the essay struggles as a result. I think there are 2 parts here. First off the actual technological advances that made a semi auto military rifle viable and secondly why it was the US (a relatively minor military power at the time) rather than any other nation who were able to field one first (in large numbers). The French had been looking at semi autos for ages and even come close a few times. The British has flirted with the idea but never seemed to take it that seriously. The Germans seemed to be restricted by a fear of gas ports and the Russians never had the infrastructure to produce them in sufficient numbers to be anything more than a curiosity. I would suggest;

    The technology.
    1) Metallurgy. Stronger lighter metals reduced the weight/size of the weapon making it manageable whilst being able to handle rapid fire and produced strong enough cases to cope with automatic ejection.
    2) Chemistry. Better chemistry produced cleaner and more consistent powders and primers. I would however take exception to the notion that the non corrosive primer was “required” as plenty of weapons use ammo with corrosive primers just fine. Whilst no doubt a massive improvement I do not see that the absence of non corrosive primers would have prevented development of automatic infantry weapons.

    Why America.
    3) Economics. Tooling was far more advanced and consistent allowing for more complex designs to be made without prohibitive costs. America had been pretty much at the cutting edge of industrial design and development for a long time. There was a culture of accepting advancements rather than treating them with suspicion or disdain. This put America in a great position to be able to invest in a semi auto. Another reason why it was America rather than a European nation which fielded the first semi auto on a large scale? The US military of the time was relatively small (by European standards) and so the cost of introducing a new rifle was not as massive as say for Great Britain or France. Plus the variety of small arms in the US inventory required standardisation.
    4) Attitude. Throughout the world senior officers and planners had resisted faster firing weapons due to fear they would result in wasted ammunition. The US had been early pioneers of repeating weapons and understood better than most that he who can put the most lead downrange often wins. The Germans of course came to much the same conclusion in the 1930s but where as American doctrine called for the firepower to be spread across the section the Germans concentrated it in the form of the MG34 perhaps as a result of their own failures in semi automatic rifle design.

    • I appreciate your criticism, however:

      -I had no “quota” of bullet points to make. I simply made a list of the technological developments I thought were relevant.

      -There’s really a lot more to be said about the metallurgy and chemistry than that. Further, I did not say non-corrosive primers were necessary (the Garand went through all of World War II without them), I did however say that major advances in primer technology were made between 1870 and 1930.

      -Actually, the US government was broke when it came time to adopt the Garand. Several times the program almost went belly up. We very well could have gone into World War II with the Springfield, if it hadn’t been for the dedication of some folks at Springfield Armory.

      -Again, not true. French and American officers both were hot on the idea of selfloaders, and the same was true elsewhere. I think that’s one of the big myths I’m trying to break, that there was some mental block in place that prevented people from adopting selfloaders. I’m sure some officers somewhere were fudder dudders and didn’t like them (mostly because the early ones didn’t work at all, probably), but by and large selfloaders were seen as the next logical step, and a major advantage.

      • Tom

        I have reread what you wrote about primers and now am not sure what I saw when I made my comment as there is nothing you wrote which would suggest semi autos required non corrosive primers. So my bad on that one.

        On the economic issue my understanding was that the US was out of the depression by the early 1930s, but doing some more research I am now seeing that that is not quite true (I am going to blame my British bias for this as we came out of depression earlier than the US). However the US was still due to its smaller military in a better position to field new weapons than other nations which I think is an important consideration in why it was America that came to the table first with a reliable semi auto in large numbers.

        Whilst the French did seem very keen on semi autos they never seemed to bite the bullet, the Mle 1918 RSC seemed to be a highly regarded rifle yet the French never went on to adopt it. Yes they continued working on semi autos but adopted a new bolt action in the mean time (regardless of if they went bolt or semi auto the Label was not a good rifle for modern warfare and was badly in need of replacement). There must have been something going on? Perhaps this was similar to what we have with the US now and the variety of rifle/carbine competitions where the prevailing sentiment seems to be one of “we know we can get better, but we will wait a bit because the next thing is going to be superb.”

        • The French bit the bullet too hard, I would argue. It was their search for ultimate perfection in selfloaders that resulted in them not having any at the outbreak of World War II. If the invasion had happened five years later, the French probably would have been armed with selfloaders, at least in part.

          …I know I sound like a broken record when I say this, but from the military’s perspective there is nothing wholly better than the M4. That the industry’s perspective is different isn’t really convincing to me. So I don’t see the situations as analogous.

          The Lebel was designed in three months, and it went from the most advanced rifle in the world to obsolete in three years. The French never really shook that monkey off their back until after the war. I think that had a lot to do with the perfectionism in the French selfloading rifle program.

          • Tom

            I think my analogy whilst a little clumsy was based on the fact that we seem to have competition after competition with the same results – namely that no rifle could outperform the M16/M4 by a sufficient margin (if at all) to make a replacement worth while. Of course this is a whole new subject and one giant can of worms perhaps saved for another discussion (I am sure that ether the military themselves or congress will initiate a new competition shortly :)). With the French I see a military that was keen on the idea of adopting a self loading rifle but was ultimately could not find a self loader that outperformed a bolt gun by enough to make the change. That the French did adopt a new bolt gun rather than a semi auto seems strange to me as they had what was by all accounts a perfectly functional semi auto by 1919.

          • IIRC, the French first tested a selfloader that surpassed bolt-actions in reliability in 1936 (or maybe it was ’38? I don’t have Proud Promise handy). That rifle went on to become the MAS 38, and then the MAS 40. The German invasion began before the MAS 40 could be mass produced, but the MAS 40 led directly to the MAS 44, MAS 49, and MAS 49/56.

          • Tom

            I was under the impression that the 1919 RSC performed well enough in the Rift war of the early 1920s. But then again this is from Wiki so not sure its entirely accurate. I thing there is now nothing for it you are going to have to follow up your peace on “Before the Sturmgewehr” with a “Before the Garand”.

          • “Before the Garand” would be impossible to write, as there are far too many selfloading weapons that predate the M1.

        • Phil Hsueh

          While it’s true that the US had a much smaller military going into WW II we didn’t go into WW II fielding the Garand, we were still using the Springfield ’03. I’m not sure when the US Army adopted and actually started issuing Garands but I’m sure that by that time the Army had to grown to much larger than its pre-war size. I’d argue that it was our industrial base, not our military size, that allowed us to adopt and field the Garand in the numbers that we did, the very same industrial base that allowed us to out produce both the Japanese and the Germans and helped the Allies win the war.

          • The Garand was adopted in 1933 (yes really), standardized in 1936, and was being produced at full rate by 1940 (though production would continue to pick up, reaching a high point in 1944).

      • Phil Hsueh

        In regards to fuddy duddys, I remember reading that there were some in the US Army (and probably other militaries around the world) who were opposed to the Garand on the grounds that semi-auto fire was not needed and would just result in a waste of ammo. I believe that the argument was that the slower ROF of a bolt gun would force the soldier to take more time and care in aiming rather than simply sending as many rounds down range as they possibly could. This argue was brought up again when the Marine Corps developed the M16A2 and opted for a 3 round burst in lieu of full auto as was on the A1s.

        • Tom

          This is what I have also read but is what Nathaniel is arguing against, more that previous opposition to semi autos was because they did not work well and once we had one the did the opposition melted away. Not sure if I buy it 100% but the argument does make a lot of sense.

          • Phil Hsueh

            Assuming that what I said in reply to another comment about the Army during the Civil War being opposed to wide spread adoption of lever action rifles due to the potential for wasted ammo then it would make sense for the Army brass to be opposed the semi-auto Garand for the same reason centuries later. But that’s not to say that reliability wasn’t a concern although this is the first time I heard about the reliability of semi-autos being a concern. Like I said previously, the issue of wasted ammunition was brought up again when the Marine Corps came up with the specs for the M16A2. Their concern, based on experiences in Vietnam, that full auto resulted in a lot ammo spent with few results to show for it, apparently testing/studies showed that full auto fire wasn’t very accurate beyond the first few rounds which is why they chose to go with a 3 round burst option.

        • Ironically, the opposite is true, and most US officers understood it as such: The selfloader does not divert you concentration away from killing the enemy.

          I am sure there were poor saps who believed nonsense contrary to this, but I don’t think they had any real influence on the selection process.

          • Phil Hsueh

            I’d imagine the majority, or at least the most vocal, of the nay sayers were ordnance and/or supply and logistics officers who, with little to no combat experience, looked at things from a bean counter’s perspective. I’m sure that they looked at it from the perspective of faster rate of fire means more ammunition being expended, more ammunition expended means more ammo that needs to be procured and supplied to the troops in the field thus making life more difficult for them. It sort of goes with the joke of how supply personnel are stingy with supplies and are loathe to issue out anything extra, needed or not, as if it were there own personal property.

          • Yellow Devil

            As the old saying goes, “Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics”.

          • Ordnance was actually very enthusiastic about selfloading rifles.

      • The reason the M1 Garand tolerated corrosive primers was in part due to its stainless steel gas cylinder. However, you’ll note that .30 Carbine ammunition was assembled with non-corrosive primers in deference to the closed gas system of the M1 Carbine.

  • Tom

    It should also be remembered that at the time the military mindset was that a rifle should be effective (at least in volley fire) up to 2 000 yards. No lever gun of the late 19th or early 20th century (except perhaps the 1895 Winchester) could handle that sort of ammo. In fact despite the evidence of the WWI and II the US would not abandon the concept of the full power rifle until their experience in Vietnam.

    • By the end of World War I, this requirement had been dropped by all major militiaries. You’ll notice that almost no rifles come out of the factory after that point with volley sights installed.

      • Tom

        Whilst volley sights themselves disappeared the idea that a rifle needed to utilise a full power cartridge did not gain widespread traction until WWII.

        • That’s not quite true, either. Everyone knew that smaller lighter rounds were better from World War I on (note all the big anti-materiel-esque infantry rifle rounds designed for murdering Boers or whomever ceased development during WWI and never came back), but concers of ammunition commonality with machine guns (which were still expected to shoot at over 1,000 meters) killed most of these projects.

          Many countries, like France adopted a “one and a half” caliber system, with two rounds that shared the same case and were inter-compatible, but where one was a long, heavy boattailed slug designed for MG use, and the other was a smaller, flat-based round for rifles.

          World War II didn’t kill the idea that rifles had to be shooting at over 1,000 meters all the time; that idea had died with World War I. WWII killed the idea of the medium machine gun.

          • Tom

            Whilst I conceded that infantry were no longer require (or expected) to engage at such ranges the rifles they were issued with were still expected to be able to take a full power cartridge (even if lesser powered ones were intended to be issued this is a good logistic insurance policy, unless you want to go down the Japanese route of utilising cartridges that whilst basically the same are produced in rimmed and rimless variants). This prohibited the use of lever actions which could not take the pressure of full power cartridges along with there other short comings.

            Not sure I would say that WWII killed the medium machine gun but rather it evolved into the GMPG which could preform the same role much better.

          • The 1895 Winchester took full-power ammunition just fine.

            Lever guns are not suited to prone shooting, and thus the military doctrine of the time. Further, lever guns are not that much faster than bolt-action rifles, and do not solve the fundamental problem of the manually operated gun: Operating the weapon removes your concentration from the target.

    • Yellow Devil

      I think there was an article on this blog that talked about the move away from full power cartridges after WWI, but one major factor that contributed to that is that combined arms was finally developed and used to full effect during the first World War. As such the influence of individual marksmanship making the difference in most (but not all) encounters was beginning to wane considerable. There would be occasional calls from time to time, to equip soldiers with rifles to fire more “powerful” cartridges due to limitations in current theaters.

  • marathag

    Much of what the SVT was owed to what the French and FN had been doing.

    If you want to thank somebody who isn’t Garand, tip the hat to JMB and Dieudonne Saive

    • I don’t think Browning had anything to do with the FN-49.

  • Purely to satiate my own curiosity: Did you read the article?

    • Exactly, it was clear to me that Nathaniel is talking about a general issue infantry rifle. The examples given that were chambered for a standard service rifle cartridge were simply too heavy for general issue. The other examples given that were close to standard weight were also chambered for less powerful cartridges. (Seriously, what army would have issued its infantry the Winchester M1903 in .22 WRF?) The Thompson SMG didn’t have the desired range. As for the Remington Model 8, you’ll note that they never chambered it in .30-06. The closest they got was the Model 81 variant chambered for .300 Savage, but that didn’t hit the market until 1940.

  • If I remember correctly, the picture is a composite assembled for a display.

  • Ken

    Long rifles were desired for forming square to fend off cavalry charges. The US and the British adopted short rifles, but kept long bayonets to still have some reach.

    Early lever actions like the Henry and the Winchester 1873 could not handle full power cartridges. They simply had not yet engineered an action strong enough to do so.

  • aweds1

    This is a great piece!

  • MichaelZWilliamson

    So, Garand invented all those things, which is why the self-loading rifle had to wait for him?

    As far as I understand, the only holdups on the Mondragon and the French RSC was lack of production capability. And the Remington Model 8 was perfectly viable.

    Garand was a brilliant designer, so let’s neither misplace credit due him, or overemphasize him.

    • I would highly recommend reading Proud Promise for more information on the RSC 1917. The Mondragon was more expensive, though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was also more reliable, mostly thanks to using straighter rimless ammunition.

      The US Army extensively tested the Remington Model 8 and did not find it suitable for adoption. It made a fine hunting rifle, but left a lot to be desired as a military weapon.

      Further, I and my proofreaders felt that the implication that Garand wasn’t directly responsible for all of the bullet points, but that all came to fruition around the time Garand was working (and some of them did so in large part because of his hard work) was readily inferrable, however I’ve seen a lot of commenters confused on this. I will work harder to be clear next time.

  • petru sova

    I would strongly suggest the Author of this hyped up article trying to deify John Garand do a little more research as to the history and development of gas operated weapons. Belgium had a gas operated machine gun in WWI that was light enough for one man to carry. So did the French, English and there was the American BAR gun. Any one of these Nations could have used this new technology to create an infantry rifle if they had wanted to back in WWI but the Neanderthals who ran the Worlds militaries would not have accepted it. The steel in WWI was more than strong enough to make such a weapon as many of those weapons are today being used with modern high pressure magnum cartridges such as the ancient M98 Mauser rifle proving that although modern steels may sometimes be cleaner they are no stronger than what they had back then. Considering the fact that today most weapons no longer use high quality forgings but cheap junk castings and even garbage plastic receivers like the new failure the Belgium Scar one wonders if we have not regressed in small arms weapons development.
    The WWII Garand proved inferior to the German and Belgium semi-auto and full auto rifles of that war. The Belgium gun (FNABL) although invented before the war was not produced until after the war do to Belgium being overrun by the Germans who were quick to steal its technology for their own rifle development.

    • Incorrect; I only deify David Marshall Williams, God of Chaos.

  • Dean Seaman

    Not that I don’t like the Garand. It’s a great platform, but my issue is that it was an unnecessary exercise. We already had the BAR. It just needed to be modified, so it fit the needs as the foot soldier’s main battle rifle, instead of a squad support weapon. If the Army had recognized that you don’t need to be accurate over a distance of 3 counties, in the 30’s, I don’t the Garand would’ve existed at all. JMHO.

    • If Colt or FN could have made a BAR that weighed under 10 pounds, why didn’t they?

      • Dean Seaman

        After The Great War, we laxed on our military. It wasn’t called “The war to end all wars” for nothing. Everyone figured it would be peace from here on out (well, almost everyone 😉 ). No need to further develop something that is likely not going to be used for its intended purpose anyway.
        After all, the gun wasn’t designed to be a battle rifle, it was designed to be a squad support weapon, so no one really ever gave it much thought.
        When it was decided that the military needed bolstering and updating, again, no one thought to modify the BAR, as it was already serving another role. So, new designs were eventually fielded and chosen. Too bad, to, but it was a better idea than the Pederson Rifle or that automatic “attachment” for the ’03 Springfield.

        • There was plenty of development activity at Colt and FN between the two wars. Colt certainly thought that there was a market for a lighter/shorter version of the BAR, otherwise they wouldn’t have introduced the Monitor.

          • Dean Seaman

            That wasn’t Colt’s idea. It was a request by the FBI for a more powerful shoulder arm. Munitions companies were always thinking and devising updates, but I was talking about the military and governments. They were of the opinion that a large scale war like they’d just gone through would not happen again (at least not for a very long time), so the idea of funneling money to the military, to keep it as updated as possible kinda took a back seat. I once heard a figure that was something like 100,000, sometime around the late 20’s. That was total number of people in military service, all branches combined. That alone should tell you military’s importance in the hierarchy of government, not to mention public perception of the importance of a strong military, at that time. But what really needed to happen, to get the BAR modified into a main battle rifle, is a change in the cartridge. Something slightly less “rangey” but just as accurate. The days just before the second world war were the waning days of the “Military Marksman”, where every soldier was believed to be a dead shot at distances approaching a mile. It was actually WWII that finally showed the army that you can barely see an opponent a mile away, much less have any chance of hitting him, so why create a weapons system for the foot soldier that is capable of that. The realization of that helped create the points to which the M1 Carbine was designed to. Ever since then, the soldier’s main battle rifle’s effective range has been in the vicinity of 200 yards. So if you modify the BAR to fire a less powerful cartridge, you can build it lighter without sacrificing reliability. Had the military realized that sooner, the Garand may not have ever existed.

          • 1: The R80 Monitor was introduced in 1931, but wasn’t adopted by the Bureau until 1933. Before the Monitor, Colt had developed three other commercial BAR variants, the M1919, M1924, and M1925 (R75).

            2: Capt. S.G. Green suggested a lightweight, semi-auto BAR as early as 1919. (Years later, Green redesigned the .50 BMG to the modular M2 configuration that still serves today.)

            3: While the US Army Ordnance Department was short on funding between the wars, they still had enough money to develop the M1918A1, M1918A2, and M1922 variants. They also played with multiple rate reducer schemes and even belt-fed conversions. Furthermore, the lack of funding didn’t stop them from testing a variety of other self-loading rifle designs.

            4: The sales market for the BAR was not just limited to the US. The British and French each tested it for several years after the end of WW1 before adopting the designs they took into WW2. Sweden (1921), Poland (1928), and Belgium (1930) adopted the BAR, and later came up with their own domestically produced versions, including features like quick-detach barrels. All three even played with belt-fed conversions.

          • Dean Seaman

            …and yet none of it was ever accepted into service (exception to the Monitor into FBI service), thus there must’ve been problems with those variants that were never overcome.
            So in the end, you prove that there needed to be a redesign to the cartridge, as well as the gun, in order to make it a real contender for the foot soldier’s new battle rifle.

          • Other than the Monitor, none of Colt’s commercial models offered a weight reduction over the basic M1918. However, the M1924 and R75 served as the basis for the Polish and Belgian service models.

          • Dean Seaman

            Beautiful, but what does any of this have to do with my original comment?
            Don’t sway the conversation just to be a troll.

          • It was a clarification of my previous comment. I didn’t want you to think that the other Colt commercial models I listed were attempts at lightweight models like the Monitor.

            The overall point is that there was a fair amount of development effort expended despite the constricted budgets. Many of the weight increases were due in part to the belief that the basic M1918 BAR couldn’t handle the heat generated by sustained fire. Folks like Capt. S.G. Green pushed the semi-auto only trigger group so the BAR could be made lighter. I suspect that the heat management issue also influenced the development of rate reducers.

          • Dean Seaman

            Ok, so there seems to be a little misunderstanding here and I feel I’m (at least partly) to blame for it.
            When I mentioned there was a lack of development in the years between the wars, I was speaking from the view of how the US military was keeping updated. I mean, war games with paper “tanks”? Really?
            Anyway, I didn’t mean that the manufacturers themselves weren’t working on keeping their wares updated.
            Apologies if that’s how you took that.

          • From what I remember from “The Ordnance Department: Planning Munitions for War,” the R&D budget for armored vehicles was so constricted that they only had enough money to fund one prototype a year. This was on top of tight limits for tank size mandated by the US Congress.


  • It was always an automatic rifle, according to the US Army.

  • fmike15

    John Moses Browning, look him up!

  • petru sova

    No one mentioned the 1909 Standard Rifle Model “G” made in the U.S. by Standard Arms. It was chambered for quite a few center fire cartridges and had a gas system very much like the later M1 Garand. As you can see Garand did not invent his rifle but it was a modification of what came before. In Garand’s defense it did work unlike the Stoner M16 that still is a turd of a gas system to this very day and Stoner stole this system from European gas impingement systems that came way before his rifle. As one can see the technology, the metallurgy, the cartridge development and powder development were all in place as early as 1909. The only thing that stood in the way was the Neanderthals that ran the Militaries.
    Remington at this time also had its model 8 although it was recoil operated but could have been made into a military configuration and would have been a great asset in WWI. Low recoil and reliable recoil operation and a high capacity magazine and it actually came out in 1906. There was such a high capacity civilian model. It just goes to show you how outdated Military thinking always has been. Remember the Civil War when the idiot Military men did not want the repeating lever action rifle because they were so cheap ass they said it would waste too much ammo. It was cheaper to kill of thousands of U.S. soldiers than spend a few cents on ammo. What a bunch of idiots.