M1941 Johnson Field Strip

The M1941 Johnson Rifle is a strange footnote in US firearms history. Melvin Johnson was a lawyer by trade who decided to break into firearms design by founding the Johnson Automatics company. While his rifle would never see the success enjoyed by the M1 Garand, several M1941s did make their way into the hands of US fighting men in the Pacific during World War II.

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The full transcript …

– [Voiceover] Hey guys, it’s Alex C. with TFBTV.

Today’s field strip is gonna be of an M1941 Johnson rifle.

Johnson rifle’s kind of a strange rifle in American history, they told the guy who designed it, Melvin Johnson, that U.S. would never actually accept his rifle.

But it did end up serving alongside the Garand, most notably in the Pacific theater of World War 2.

The Johnson is a recoil operated firearm.

You can see here, I can’t simply pull the bolt to the rear, you have to lift it up and then pull back, and that’s because what unlocks it is actually the rearward movement of the barrel when the bolt and the barrel are locked together.

So once the barrel moves back to a set point, it does allow the bolt to freely fly towards the back of the receiver, so pretty cool.

A little unusual, but very cool, nonetheless.

One of the things the Johnson was criticized for was its inability to mount a heavy bayonet, that’s because the entire barrel does have to reciprocate.

For example, right here, I show a Springfield 1903 bayonet next to the what’s called the tent stake bayonet, and you can see how the U.S. high command might’ve thought the tent stake was a little inadequate.

Some positives are that you can top this rifle off a little easier than you can an M1.

You can insert a Springfield 1903 clip, and strip off five rounds, however it does have a ten round capacity, which is nice, two more than the Garand.

You can also click in individual rounds, which is a nice feature, realistically.

Whereas a Garand, you can top it off, but it’s kind of a pain.

So without further ado, let’s get to field stripping it.

Field stripping it starts with this little lever located under the barrel in the fore-end.

That’s gonna be the main focus of taking this gun down.

You’re going to get a bullet tip, or something else pointy, and insert it into this hole on the right side of the fore-end.

And once you have that pressed, push the barrel in a little bit and that lever flies out and allows you to remove the barrel fully from the receiver.

Just make sure your bolt is unlocked, and you can do that pretty quick.

And I gotta admit guys, I kinda pulled one over on you all, because that’s actually all you have to do to field strip an M1941 Johnson.

You can disassemble them further, but this is all they recommended for cleaning, because since the recoil operated, gas doesn’t get all in the receiver and whatnot.

You can also see that the multi-lug rotating bolt makes the chamber look like an AR15 barrel, so that’s cool, ’cause Melvin Johnson actually did work with Eugene Stoner, and his bolt design was carried on to the AR10, which is kinda cool.

So, all-in-all, the M1941 is a very simple gun to take apart, making it excellent for paratroopers and whatnot.

Look forward to our upcoming Run and Gun with this, and hopefully we’ll see how it performs.

Anyways, I’m Alex C. with TFBTV.

Thanks for watching.

Also, I’d like to give a special shout-out to our sponsors, Grizzly Targets and Ventura Munitions.

Great companies and this program wouldn’t be here without those guys.

Thanks everybody.



Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.


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  • Darkpr0

    Johnsons are cool. I heard some tall, tall tales about it vis-a-vis the Garand from the Pacific theatre. They’re surprisingly handy things, probably for lack of a more typical gas system. I got to shoot a few rounds out of one, and frankly I like the internal magazine not just because of the capacity and top-off, but I find it gives the gun a funny between-the-hands balance point whereas other semi-autos of the war felt more front heavy with the long pistons. I would love to get one, but that’s for down the line when I have more money than smart.

  • BattleshipGrey

    I’ve always found these interesting. So far I’ve only gotten to fondle one at a gun show though.

    About the bayonet issue, was there cause for concern about bending the barrel or breaking internals when thrusting into a combatant, or were they just mocking the length and shape of the bayonet?

    My guess is that no one volunteered to take a stab from the “puny” tent stake anyway.

    • Rob

      The extra mass of a large bayonet probably would cause the rifle to jam, since the barrel has to reciprocate. I would guess that using any bayonet as intended would create a healthy push on the barrel and cause the action to open, unless it has some type of locking mechanism like the fore-end on a pump shotgun.

  • The_Champ

    Very cool old rifle.

    What is the cost of one of these in the US? How many are out there?

  • Joe

    Cool video and a nifty gun, I will say though that in my experience alot of my older guns are just safe queens. I find that something will eventually break and its going to be a huge pain the the dingus to fix. That and they never shoot that great. My hats off to you for owning that older stuff.

    • The_Champ

      “They never shoot that great”? Define ‘great’ please because this does not compute.

      Ever shoot an M1(carbine or Garand), Lee Enfield, K31, FN49, any Mauser? And the list goes on and on…… all ‘great’ shooters by most definitions.

      • Joe

        Well let me explain it for you so it does “compute” they don’t hold up to modern standards. Im not saying this is a short coming of the firearm, simply not my go to choice. And I own more than half of the guns you listed so yes I’ve “shot” them many many times. They are alot like old cars, great to look at and fun to cruse around it but never a good choice for a daily driver.

        • IMO, most old workhorses work plenty fine. My 1901 production Mauser 98 is just as good as whatever Remington is churning out these days (if not better) and parts are everywhere. Maintaining old cars or firearms isnt too hard.

          • Tassiebush

            I love my seagull outboard. You feed it on 10-1 ratio 2stroke, refill the gearbox with oil every few trips and change the spark plugs once in a blue moon for trouble free service for multiple human lifespans..

      • iksnilol

        Simple, take a milsurp Mosin or Mauser and compare it to a Savage or a Weatherby.

        Not ragging on the old guns, but progress marches on.

  • Joseph Smith

    Love these vids! Keep them coming!

  • Esh325

    You got a nice Johnson Alex.

    • Please be a woman.

      • Wolfgar

        ROTFLMAO. I almost wet my self laughing with that reply 🙂

        • Wolfgar

          Oh yea, great video. I’m still laughing.

      • MrEllis

        At my age I take any compliment I can get. Oh the hubris of youth.

      • Tassiebush

        It takes a lot of confidence to make a video of your Johnson and post it on the internet with your name to it! Respect!

    • Tassiebush

      Dang it you got there 1st!

    • mosinman

      that was a good one!

  • MPWS

    I appreciate a note about 1941 Johnson, one of my favored rifles. It works as it should, but it does not take advantage of managing the recoil little better. Therefor the question is – what’s the point, part of mentioned ‘clean’ running. Unfortunately we cannot ask the designer any more.
    Just a thought: should it be worth of second look with some improvements? I believe yes.

  • UnrepentantLib

    It seems to me that a combination of the Johnson Rifle and the Johnson LMG would have been ideal for arming the WWII paratroops, with the easily removable barrels making it easier to pack for a drop. Plus ammunition supply would have been simplified since they both used 5 round stripper clips. I suppose, given the inter-service rivalries of the time, there was no way the Army was going to use a weapon designed by a Marine. I think the Paramarines actually did use some of both the rifle and LMG.

  • Bal256

    I like that a lot of early American firearms history comes from a bunch of people that jump into the trade from a non-related career field. Lawyer decides to design a gun that ends up serving in WWII. Guy who owns sewing machine company decided to buy out a firearms company and start producing guns. Some other guy is unable to enforce patent infringement on his other inventions so he turns to helping produce gun parts for government contracts.

    I’m also pretty sure I read somewhere that Sccy Industries was started up pretty much by accident.

  • who cares?

    Strange, yes, but I sure want one.

  • Tassiebush

    This really is an awesome rifle. Watching that barrel and bolt travel and unlock is really novel. I really like the fact it can be topped up. I am really looking forward to seeing the run and gun with it. I wonder how much more reliable one could be if the bolt mass ratio was changed?

  • roguetechie

    Alex,
    I have to correct you on a mistake that’s pretty egregious here. You flippantly state that Melvin Johnson worked with Eugene Stoner at armalite… There would be no AR 10 AR 15 or a Gene Stoner without Melvin Johnson!
    I absolutely detest the way Melvin Johnson never gets his due credit, especially because it is a prime demonstration of how if you’re ONE step ahead of the pack you’re lauded as a genius… But if you’re half a century ahead like Melvin Johnson was you’re maligned ignored and forgotten while others get the credit for your work!
    Now this isn’t to say Stoner Sullivan Roy et al aren’t absolutely TITANS of the firearm world, but what else could they have been when they had access to the man who knew exactly where things would be today in the small arms world by the late 30’s?
    At least one of the early rifles that got Stoner noticed and hired into the industry was a modified Johnson rifle… Not even getting into the fact that Johnson had the modular universal multi caliber multirole weapon nearly perfected by 1946 and he managed to do all this despite very active attempts to kill his project at every turn…
    it should always be remembered that the SECOND head to head competition with the garand… The one mandated by Congress and still nowhere close to fair to the Johnson rifles still ended in a draw with the garand being kept more due to institutional inertia and embarrassingly narrow advantages in system maturity!
    put aside that the Johnson was much cheaper to make, and would have been ideal for distributed manufacturing had the war turned… Especially since we could have ditched the BAR at the same time, and could have went into Korea with the equivalent of an hk21e in place of both BAR and 1919a4’s…
    I mean that just doesn’t count…
    I really tend to wonder how much the sting of the Johnson weapons system influenced and perpetuated the bloody minded insistence on turning the garand into a universal platform in it’s upgraded M14 form.