M1941 Johnson Run and Gun

The M1941 Johnson Rifle is certainly uncommon and underappreciated, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good piece of hardware. These unique short-recoil operated long guns served the United States well in World War II and were surplussed after the war, selling for less than surplus M1 Garands. In this run and gun episode, we try and see how the M1941 stacks up against others we have put to the test!

M1941 Field Strip:

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Transcript …

– [Voiceover] Hey guys, it’s Alex C. with TFB TV, and for today’s run and gun we’re going to be using an M1941 Johnson rifle.

The Johnson rifles are pretty dang weird looking, they have a very distinctive pot belly magazine that holds 10 rounds, and yeah, they’re short recoil operated.

To charge them, you actually have to lift the handle up a little bit and then pull back.

So kind of hard to get used to realistically if you’re an M1 shooter or something like that, but the barrel also recoils rearwards to unlock the bolt.

They’re loaded via stripper clips through the side into the pot belly magazine, which is kinda neat.

You can also single-load rounds, unlike the M1 rifle.

Now of course you can pop the barrel right out of there, you just insert a bullet tip into that hole on the front, push the barrel in a little bit, make sure that the locking latch is all the way out, the bolt is to the rear, and it pops right out of there.

So to a Paramarine or something, this was actually quite valuable as they stowed easily.

But anyways, we do have a field strip video on this if you’d like to check that out, I’ll link in the description.

As for the run and gun, we’re going to fire a total of 30 shots with two separate 10-round reloads at about 75 yards advancing, so let’s see how that goes.

Alright guys, so here we go with the M1941 Johnson.

I gotta admit, I’m pretty excited about this one, this isn’t a gun that I’ve shot a whole lot.

I shot it a little bit one time when Miles Vining was in town a while back.

(gun cocks) But mostly off of a bench and never with haste or anything like that.

(gun cocks) Let’s see how it goes.

(gun fires) (gun fires) (loads gun) Ah, come on.

(gun cocks) (gun fires) (gun fires) (gun fires) (trigger clicks) Oh, shit.

(loads gun) (gun cocks) (gun fires) (gun fires) (gun fires) Alright, let’s go talk about it.

Okay, so that run actually went a lot better than I would have thought, I’ve had kind of baddish luck with these in the past, but I did discover that loading it when the bolt is closed is a hell of a lot easier than loading it when you have it open, I don’t know why.

It was very difficult as you saw in the last go, I just kind of (gun cocks) crammed rounds in there.

The loading is the trickiest part, I think I could get it down, but the M1’s loading system is just a superior system with the 8-round en bloc clips.

So I’m gonna put the total hits versus misses here.

I would rather have an M1 if I was in combat, or well realistically in most scenarios, but the Johnson isn’t a bad gun at all.

I actually felt pretty good shooting it.

It’s got about the strangest recoil impulse I could ever describe though, it’s kind of like a, it’s like you’re being hit twice since it’s a short recoil operated rifle, but let’s finish this one back up in the room.

So 28 out of 30 is not bad at all considering that I’ve done much worse with modern rifles.

The Johnson actually shoots very well.

The trigger is pretty good, the controls take a little bit of getting used to.

I don’t like that you kind of have to lift the charging upwards and then pull back to charge it.

It almost feels like you’re running a little miniature bolt action rifle.

The recoil impulse is strange, it feels like it hits you in the shoulder twice, but I suppose with training all these things could be overcome, and it’s not that the recoil impulse is bad, it’s just not what I’m used to.

The M1 is a gun that I’d rather have in pretty much any scenario, I stick by that statement, but the Johnson is still a very good rifle.

Of course, I’d like to shoot it a whole lot more, but parts are scarce and they are kinda hard to find.

These rifles are a little bit expensive.

We hope you enjoyed this video.

Big thanks to Ventura Munitions, and we hope to see you guys next time.



Alex C.

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


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  • Machinegunnertim

    The wrong video is displayed on the TFB main page.

  • I think the loading issue you were having when the bolt is locked back, is that the magazine tries pushing the rounds from the first stripper up into the feed lips farther than if the bolt were closed. This causes it to bind up on the second stripper. Leaving the bolt closed did not cause the issue the next time you reloaded it.

    • LG

      Exactly, Alex used the wrong handling drill. He operated the weapon as an M1 and not as optimal for a M 1941. Shoot 5 and top it off. That way the weapon ALWAYS has a round in the chamber ready to go in an emergency and at least 5-10 rounds are ALWAYS on tap. One can NOT do that with an M1. So, is the en-block system really superior? I am always worried about denting the rotary magazine, however a friend of mine who used one in combat said that he never had one go down that way. The weak point is the wrist of the stock. Those did break in combat. The Johnson Light Machine Gun was light years ahead of the BAR.

  • bull

    snygg tröja!

    • randomswede

      Den är med i hans “rotation” av T-shirts. Vill minnas att han är svensk ättling.

  • hikerguy

    It’s a rare bird for sure. Kind of a1940s futuristic sci fi space gun. I believe that the Marines received them after an order for the Dutch was cancelled due to the Japanese taking their colonies.

    • LG

      Also Melvin Johnson was a Marine and had direct contacts that obviated a lot of bureaucracy. The weapons were there and Johnson carted them directly to the Marines, I believe, before he had official approval or payment. Many a Marine was disheartened when he was forced to strip and destroy his M1941 after the Bouganville campaign. The barrels were buried in the sand and the receivers dumped into the ocean. Officialdom is so stupid.

      • hikerguy

        Thanks. I learn something new everyday. 🙂

  • Rnasser Rnasser

    What happens when you bump the recoiling barrel on something, say you have a bayonet mounted and you hit something hard?

    • randomswede

      It’s the achilles heel of that system. Just the added weight of a mounted bayonet is said to have caused issues. I haven’t seen anyone test that claim so it could be overstated.

      That said, I’m thinking running the charging handle once would solve any cycling problem caused by bayoneting someone.

    • LG

      The accuracy severely degrades with the bayonet attached since it changes barrel harmonics. But then the bayonet should only be attached when long range shots are out and everything is up close and personal. the bayonet drill is a little different since the bayonet for the M1941 is primarily to give point with no cutting/slashing characteristics, unlike the 1905 etc, knife styles.

  • Tritro29

    “You can also single-load rounds, unlike the M1 rifle.” Is this fer real?

    • randomswede

      He does so during the first reload, the last clip won’t go and Alex ends up with a single round that goes in only after charging.

      • John

        I think he’s expressing angst at the statement that a M1 can’t be topped off. Yes it can be but it’s not meant to be

        • randomswede

          AH!
          I was in M1941 mode not M1941 vs M1 mode.

        • LG

          However, the M1 can NOT be topped off with a live round in the chamber ready to fire as can the M1941. If one tops off an M1 the action is open without a round in the chamber and thus can not fire until the reload is completed.

        • Tritro29

          It’s not angst it’s a kind of humoured disbelief. Nothing serious…

    • While you can top off an M1 by opening the action, ejecting a round, and painstakingly pushing in individual cartriges it is by no means practical.
      With the Johnson you can just toss them on in, even with a chambered round and the bolt closed. I should have chosen my words a bit better.

      • Tritro29

        While I personally believe that indeed that was not much of a “faux pas” on your behalf (please make more videos), don’t mind my outrage, it’s no big deal. However, I had posted a reply with a loading process (including the single bullet, no Garand bite) and it doesn’t show. Also it was part of the GI manual to load single rounds in SHTF type situations. Again, it’s not against you, it’s just that we had like at least two threads last month about “Garand tall tales” and I found it curious that someone had missed them.

        • LG

          True, but try to load just 2 ,3, or 4 rounds left into the M1. The M1941 does it nicely, ready to fire with or without a clip.

          • Tritro29

            Lock bolt, set en bloc, funnel rounds, hold bolt, push en bloc down, let the bolt gently in round chambered, two, three or four in en bloc…takes little practice and more time, sure… but nothing actually ground breaking. As a Russian I feel a little dirty. Going to polish my SVT now, trying not to cry.

          • LG

            First find the enblock clip in the surf, mud, sand, leaves, snow etc. The M1941 does it while ready to fire without clips!

  • Devil_Doc

    I’ve always been intrigued by these.. Cool video.

  • Tassiebush

    I have found these particularly interesting for years. This is one of those designs that could have worked in the black powder era as I understand it. A alternative history what if.

  • Uniform223

    Captain America The First Avenger… Bucky Barnes

    http://www.imfdb.org/images/thumb/0/04/CapA_15.jpg/400px-CapA_15.jpg

    • Rock or Something

      Also used in the Chinese Civil War movie, “Assembly”.

  • AD

    I love the 1941, it’s one of my very favorite historic military rifles. I love that it can be topped up without opening the bolt, meaning you’re not leaving yourself vulnerable while doing so.

    Watching the quick barrel swap makes me wonder if it would be possible to manufacture barrels in different lengths and calibers to increase the versatility of the system? You would probably have issues with barrel weights I’m guessing.

    Personally I’d love to see that magazine system resurrected in a modern rifle; just for novelty’s sake rather than any practical reason I suppose.

    • LG

      When sold after WW2 by Johnson Automatics, they could be bought with interchangeable .270 Winchester and .30-’06 barrels. One could also pick up surplus 7mm Mauser barrels, as supplies to the Dutch, and fire that round also.

  • LG

    The recoil impulse is the same as all recoil operated rifles. Shoot a Remington Model 18 and feel the impulse. Even shoot an original Browning designed Auto 5 shotgun and feel the same impulse. If one shoots the M1941 enough, or knew men who used them in combat, it is best practices to keep the magazine topped up at all times. After 5 rounds, if able, put in another stripper clip. One has 10 to 11, if originally topped off with one extra at initial loading, on demand. The more one shoots it, the more one likes the M1941.

    • Indeed. The rifle definitely feels foreign in my hands relative to most others of the period.

      • LG

        Fight as you train and train as you fight. The M1941 feels foreign because you have not drilled with the weapon enough. If one does not drill sufficiently with an M1 it’s loading could seem quite foreign and less intuitive than the M1941. With equal practice and determination the M1941 can have more rounds down range over time than the M1 once the equivalent of more than one magazine has been utilized. The question is how many hours have you drilled with the M1 as opposed to the M1941. Maybe that is the answer.

        • Dont plan on doing much fighting with an M1941.

  • randomswede

    Certainly, no offence intended.