Which Rifle Served Longer? Krag–Jørgensen vs. M14, Part I: The Krag

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What was the standard issue U.S. Army infantry rifle with the shortest service life? The most common answer is probably the Springfield Krag–Jørgensen rifle, which was quickly replaced after its lackluster performance in the Spanish-American War versus faster-firing, longer-ranged Spanish Mausers. Another good candidate is the M14, which was quickly replaced in Vietnam by the troubled M16 after the former rifle was wracked by scandal. These, then, are our two candidates, but the question remains: Which one had the longer service life? It would be easiest to simply look up the Wikipedia pages for both weapons, look for the date of introduction, find the date of introduction of their respective successors, and then subtract, but this would not give us an accurate answer. For one thing, rifles continue to serve long after their nominal replacement date, so the date of introduction of a new weapon does not actually tell us when the previous weapon stopped being used. For another, the dates of introduction are often misleading for many U.S. Army weapons, sometimes preceding their actual deployment by years. So, to accurately answer this question, we’ll need to hit the books.

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Two of the books we’ll be using as reference: Brophy’s The Krag Rifle for part I, and Stevens’ U.S. Rifle M14: from John Garand to the M21, for part II.

 

First, we will tackle the Springfield Krag–Jørgensen, Model of 1892. Its name would suggest a date of introduction of 1892, but the designation actually refers to the date the rifle was recommended for adoption by the board of officers that had evaluated it. In fact, the first U.S. Krags had not even rolled off the line until early 1894, according to the 1894 Annual Report of the Chief of Ordnance, reproduced in Lt. Col. William S. Brophy’s The Krag Rifle on page 20:

The first of these arms was completed at the Springfield Armory about the 1st of January last. By June 1, the output had been increased to the rate of 40 rifles per day. At this date, 60 rifles per day are being produced and in a few months it is expected to advance to the rate of 80 rifles per day. Up to September 28, 2950 of the new magazine rifles had been manufactured. Early issues of single rifles were made to the military headquarters, the governors of States, and to the military service schools, besides a special issue of 40 rifles to Fort Sheridan, Ill., and issues will now be made to the regiments in the regular service.

Brophy also quotes the FY 1895 report:

The first regiment to be supplied with the United States rifle, caliber .30, model 1892, was the Fourth Infantry, to which the arms were shipped from this Armory October 6th, 1894. At this date the rifle has been supplied to all regiments of infantry and artillery and to the companies of engineer troops.

October 6th, 1894, therefore seems like a fine date to mark the official introduction of the Krag rifle into the Army itself. Aside from largely ceremonial issuance to state governors and Army officers, the rifle had been issued in small numbers to Fort Sheridan, and mass issuance to regular Army units was soon to follow.

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An early serial number Model 1892 Krag rifle, above, and a Springfield Armory Inc M1A with an original M14 stock and selector switch, below. Image courtesy of Alex C.

At what point did the Krag leave regular service, though? This is actually two questions within one, as the Krag was first replaced by the Mauser-derived Model of 1903 in the regular Army, and then much later finally replaced in U.S. Navy service. According to Brophy, 62, the Krag continued being produced at Springfield Armory until November of 1904, giving it a production lifespan of about 10 and a half years. To pin down the end of the Krag’s service life with the U.S. Army, we need to first track the initial issuance of its replacement, the Model of 1903 Springfield. I consulted Clark Campbell’s book ’03 Springfield Era: When Smokeless Powder Revolutionized U.S. Riflery for the following information, beginning on page 12. West Point cadets were the first to be issued early 1903s in March of 1904, however, general issue of the new rifle wasn’t to officially begin until January of 1905. Because the Model of 1903 used different .30 caliber ammunition than the Krag, the Army planned to issue the 1903s en masse, once a significant stockpile of .30 Government (.30-03) ammunition had been produced. Unfortunately for the 1903, there was a major snag: President Theodore Roosevelt had been one of the first to receive the new Springfield rifle, and took it upon himself to test the new rifle’s combined cleaning rod/bayonet, of which he was highly skeptical. Apocryphally, the President had engaged in drill with another individual, he using the tried-and-true Krag and its Model 1892 bayonet, and his opponent armed with the new Model of 1903 rifle and its ramrod bayonet. In a letter dated January 4, 1905, Roosevelt lambastes the bayonet as being useless:

I must say that I think that ramrod bayonet about as poor an invention as I ever saw. As you observed, it broke short off as soon as hit with even moderate violence. It would have no moral effect and mighty little physical effect. I think the suggestion of a short triangular bayonet a great improvement. After you have gone over this subject of the bayonet and the sword, do take it up with me.

It’s worth noting that Campbell believes that no ramrod-bayonet 1903s were actually issued to the general Army. It was back to the drawing board for the Model of 1903; meanwhile the Krag soldiered on. The 1903’s troubles would not end there, however. In 1905, the German government adopted a new version of their 7.9mm rifle cartridge, called the S Patrone, which featured a pointed jacketed bullet with a high muzzle velocity and superior drag characteristics versus the older, heavier round-nosed type bullets. This was the first time the spitzer bullet had caught the public eye (the French had adopted a spitzer bullet seven years earlier in 1898, but it was kept secret), and nations around the world scrambled to catch up to the Germans. This caused yet another delay in the introduction of the Model of 1903, as the new American 150gr spitzer bullets exhibited poor accuracy with the existing throat designed for the original 220gr round-nosed bullets. As a result, production was again halted in November of 1906, with mass issuance of the rifles finally re-commencing in the latter half of 1907. Correspondingly, Frankford Arsenal continued to produce .30-40 M1898 Ball .30-40 ammunition until September of 1907 (Hackley, Woodin, Scranton, page 75), indicating that around this time the Krag–Jørgensen’s service life with the regular Army came to an end… For a little less than a decade. With U.S. entry into the Great War in 1917, all available Springfield rifles were sent to Europe, and U.S. troops at home and some secondary troops in Europe were armed instead with surplus Krag–Jørgensens. To fill the need for ammunition, the Army let a contract for .30-40 Krag ammunition to commercial ammunition manufacturers, who produced 25 million rounds in the caliber before the war’s end.

Although this article discusses U.S. Army rifles, both saw service with the Navy and Marines, as well, so it’s worth covering that here. In 1900, the U.S. Navy adopted the Krag–Jørgensen to replace their M1895 Lee rifles, which had suffered from a number of severe problems, chief among them the deterioration of a large percentage of the ammunition in the Navy’s stockpiles. Although the service would in turn adopt the Model of 1903 Springfield to replace the Krag in 1911, the Krag would soldier on in Navy service until 1919, at least, due to the aforementioned shortage of rifles with which to replace them. The Navy Bureau of Ordnance only declared the M1898 cartridge obsolete in 1931, though by that point it was only used in subcaliber training devices.

In the final analysis, there’s no easy answer for how long the Springfield Krag–Jørgensen served. The rifle was produced for about ten and a half years, and stayed in regular Army service for almost exactly 13 years, but was brought back out of retirement in early-mid 1917 to serve as a home guard rifle during the First World War, giving it another 1-1.5 years of service life for the Army. The Navy, on the other hand, used the gun from 1900-1919 at least. Therefore, from date of first issuance to date of final retirement, the Krag–Jørgensen served for almost a quarter century, with a cumulative total of 14.5 years of service in the general Army, and 19 years of service with the Navy.

How will the M14 compare? Find out, in Part II.

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Stay tuned for part II, on the service life of the M14! Image courtesy of Alex C.

 

Many thanks to Daniel for his help making this article as accurate as possible!



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.


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  • KestrelBike

    Oh neat, a functional select fire M14?? If so, the recoil must be a beast! I talked with a retired vet (USMC) who had been in Vietnam in ’66 and was equipped with the M-14. He said they’d patrol with the rifle set to full-auto, and switch to semi after initial contact. He described memories of firefights where 8″ diameter trees would just be cut down real quick after taking bursts from these rifles.

    source: I had a piece of militaria that had the guy’s name on it, and I contacted the veterans association for the particular unit and asked if they’d give me his email address (I was 16 or so at the time) which they gave to me after I explained that I was curious about his time and wanted to ask him some questions. It was awesome being able to chat with him!

    • The switch is cosmetic, sadly. It’s just an M1A. However, if you want to see real select-fire M14s in action, I have a few videos for you:

      • KestrelBike

        Hah I actually looked up such videos after posting and enjoyed the second vid with people getting tossed around and shaking their heads

    • nadnerbus

      There are lots of surplus M14 stocks out there that can be purchased and used with the civilian M1A, however they still have the selector cutout in the wood, leaving a gap exposing the trigger group. They can be left open, filled in, or covered with a dummy selector. I think Fulton Armory still sells them. They just screw into the stock.

    • Major Tom

      A former coworker of mine (now retired) was in country in Vietnam with the M14 as well. (He was a company clerk in the Central Highlands.) He described the training and use for it as “you gotta really hang on and dig it into your shoulder” because the recoil was a complete beast.

      He did express confidence in its accuracy and knock down power however.

    • valorius

      You need a special selector key to switch an M-14 from semi to full.

      Sounds like the “former marine vietnam vet” is one of the literally MILLIONS of fake vets floating around out there.

      • No, you don’t.

        • KestrelBike

          Is he talking about the selector switch being removable? I’ve read where a lot of troops had theirs removed during training to keep the rifle in semi auto.

          Regarding his “fake vet” claim, I doubt it, because I knew the guy’s full name and directly contacted the force recon association (this was back when AOL instant messager was king) for his contact info and they gave me his email (i think maybe after asking him if he was ok with it, or maybe they gave him my email address, etc.. This was back in ’99 or so)

          • That’s what he means, but what he wrote makes it sound like to switch from semi to full you need to put in a key. The selector switch on the M14 was replaceable on the armory level, and most M14s had their switches replaced with non-functional buttons that converted them to semi only.

            If you had one with the selector installed, you could switch between semi and full at your liesure.

        • valorius

          I think you might want to research that a bit bro.

        • valorius

          Google M-14 selector key.

  • Lance

    M-14 may been short lived as a grunt rifle 1957-1970 for basic trainees and Solders in Europe. But as a DMR (Army and USMC) And for security men (Navy) it still serves makes it one of longest in military use and one of shortest (basic Issue).

    • Esh325

      I would say the reason the M14 went on so long was because it was easier and cheaper to upgrade an existing rifle for marksman than obtain a more suitable rifle like the SCAR-H,HK417, or some AR10 type rifle.

      • ostiariusalpha

        In the most technical sense, the DMR rifles that Lance-a-lot is alluding to are the Mk 14 EBR and M39 EMR; while they are based on (and use much of the guts from) the original M14 rifles, they are considered altered enough to be separate models from the old M14 battle rifles (much like the M4A1 is to the M16A2). The sniper versions are the M21 and M25. They have been used somewhat as a stopgap measure that have been gradually replaced by the AR style M110.

    • FWIW: The first unit issue of the M14 did not occur until 1960.

    • nadnerbus

      My stepdad was army in the mid ’70s, and he claims to have been issued the M14. It may have been just in basic though, I’d have to ask him. He was not front line infantry though. I want to say he was deployed to Germany, then stateside with a Nike battery.

  • G0rdon_Fr33man

    One of the less-thought out features of the Springfield Krag was the use of the rimmed .30.30… The Norwegian version in 6,5 does not only have superior cartridge, but there are no rims to cause you trouble when reloading.

    • John Shore

      A minor correction to your probable misplaced finger: the US Krag was chambered in .30-40 or .30 US Army, not in .30-30 or .30WCF. Both cartridges are rimmed, as you point out, and neither work reliably in box magazines unless care is taken during loading. However, the British successfully used their rimmed .303 British cartridge in box magazines for rifles and light machine guns for around a hundred years–they used chargers while loading that took care of staggering the case rims to prevent rim lock.

      • To be fair, speedloading a Lee-Enfield sucks a lot.

      • Major Tom

        Simple curve in the magazine also handles rim lock. It’s how a Mosin-Nagant doesn’t jam on cycling or loading. The internal magazine has just enough curve that the rounds don’t suffer rim lock when properly seated and fed.

  • Miguel Raton

    So clearly, the answer is “The Lee Navy had the shortest service life.” Thanks for relieving the suspense! 😉

    • Great catch, there should be an “Army” in the introductory sentence. I talk about service with the Navy and Marines too, but you’ll see it makes little difference in the end. 🙂

  • valorius

    The M-14 is still in service innit?

    • Miguel Raton

      With the Navy, yes. And with the Army as modified M-21? 24? rifles that are M-14s at heart, but w/ different stocks, optical suites, etc. that fundamentally change them from standard issue to specialist weapon types. So the answer is “Yes, kind of…” 😉

      • valorius

        M14 is still in widespread use as a D&C weapon, no?

  • Will P.

    Well seeing as the modified M14 platform is still being used by our armed forces in a semi-auto sharpshooter role I would have to say the Krag definitely wins as shorter service life.

    • That’s true in one sense. I’ll go into more detail in Part II, as the real answer is a lot more complicated.

  • Jamie Clemons

    Longest service life of all time would go to the Mosin.

  • RocketScientist

    FWIW, the M-14 was still issued to Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy as of the early 2000’s when I attended. They had the firing pins removed and bolt faces welded over (the rumor at the time was there had been a cadet suicide years previous after which they had been made non functional) though from what I remember they were otherwise intact.