Top 5 WWII Rifles

The nations engaged in World War II all fielded one or more main infantry rifle, and in this episode of TFBTV, we take a look at five that we believe to be the best. Remember this is a list of rifles, so submachineguns, machine guns, assault rifles, and so on are not included.

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Transcript …

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

Today we’re going to discuss what we believe to be the best five infantry rifles of World War II.

To qualify, the rifle has to have been used by a nation engaged in the war, so this disqualifies firearms from nations like Sweden or Switzerland.

Also, this is a list of rifles firing full-power cartridges, so submachine guns like the MP40, machine guns and assault rifles are not eligible.

Sorry Stermgewehr fans.

Things taken into consideration for this list are reliability, innovation, legacy, total production, and user friendliness.

First up is the French MAS-36.

If I had to choose a bolt-action rifle to take to war, this one would be it.

Brave French soldiers equipped with MAS-36 rifles alongside brothers with Hotchkiss guns and Chatelleraults held the Wehrmacht at bay during the blitzkrieg and allowed over 300,000 soldiers from the French Military and the British Expeditionary Force to escape to Britain to fight another day during the battle of Dunkirk.

Many brave French soldiers lost their lives, and Churchill spoke of these men saying that these Frenchmen, for four critical days, contained no less than seven German divisions.

This was a splendid contribution to the escape of their more fortunate comrades.

Britain could not have continued the war without them.

The future of France seemed dim, but the free French forces eventually struck back with many wielding the MAS-36.

It’s short, light, handy as hell, accurate, rugged, and simple.

The rear-locking bolt provides excellent mud and sand resistance, and the rear aperture sight is precise and provides a long sight radius.

The 7.5 French cartridge is also short, making the action shorter and easier to cycle compared to rifles like the Springfield 1903, or M1917.

The MAS-36 is easy to load with stripper clips, and I’ve never had a hangup with them when loading with haste, which I’ve actually done quite a lot.

The bolt handle is optimally placed, and the action is fast, which makes follow-up shots very easy to line up.

Aside from this, the MAS-36 is probably the easiest rifle to maintain on the list, and taking the bolter out requires one motion of the hand.

The MAS takes the number five spot on this list because of its utilitarian nature and overall practicality.

While it is not as well known as other World War II guns, it certainly deserves more credit than it gets.

Next up is the Arisaka Type 99.

The Arisaka rifles were tested by US ordinance after the war, and the men conducting the experiments were astounded by how strong the actions were.

The carbon steel used was incredibly strong, and P.O. Ackley said this receiver was not only carefully, but even elaborately heat treated.

To make such heat treatment and results possible, the materials must be good.

Bear in mind that this quote came from a man who was famous for taking existing cartridges and hotrodding the hell out of them, so this is high praise.

The Arisaka rifles are a modified Mauser action.

The ranks of the imperial Japanese military were largely filled with members of the peasantry, and higher ups would often joke that a new soldier cost only one yen, five rin, which was the cost of mailing a draft notice.

Imperial troops, starting in 1939, were beginning to be issued with the Type 99.

Every Type 99 or 38 rifle was engraved with their chrysanthemum, the seal of the Japanese emperor.

It was considered a great honor to serve under the highly-revered divine Hirohito, and in the Imperial Rescript to soldiers, it stated that duty is heavier than a mountain, death is lighter than a feather.

The Type 99 is strong, light, handy, and the 7.7 Japanese cartridge is stout.

The riflers also are equipped with a number of features that make it stand out among its peers.

The rear sight is of a ring design, and has small wings that in theory allow for more precise volley fire at airplanes.

The monopod allows for stable shooting when prone.

The dust cover, while noisy, also keeps debris out of the action.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the type 99 is its chrome lined bore.

This was the first infantry rifle to make use of this, and it provided troops with an excellent and much-needed corrosion resistance in the humid environments of the Pacific.

The Type 99 is essentially a modified Mauser action that is light, handy, and ridden with features to enhance its overall effectiveness, earning it a well-deserved place on the list.

Next we have a crowd favorite, Lee-Enfield No. 4.

The No. 4 is an improvement over the old SMLEs as it has an excellent rear aperture sight, is lighter, has a stronger action, and is one of the smoothest rifles you’ll ever find.

The 10-round capacity of the No. 4 gave it a slight edge over its competitors, which usually held five, but the use of rimmed ammunition makes loading it with chargers a bit tricky.

Lee-Enfield rifles are extremely quick to cycle, and using the thumb and forefinger on the bolt technique, even an average marksman can expend all 10 shots in the magazine in no time.

The action of the No. 4 is a variation of the old Lee-Metfords, which was introduced in 1888.

The resourceful British continued to tinker with the action for decades, and the No. 4 was truly a world-class combat rifle.

British soldiers armed largely with No. 4 rifles punched their way through the beaches of Normandy through the low countries to the Rhine, and didn’t stop until men proudly displaying the Union Jack paraded through Berlin.

The No. 4 was not officially replaced until the late 1950s, when a variation of the FN FAL was adopted as a replacement, but it served in the corners of the empire for much longer.

In fact, a rare variation developed for snipers, the L42A1 was not officially retired and deemed obsolete until the 1990s.

The No. 4 is regarded by many as the pinnacle of what a bolt-action combat rifle can be.

A well-trained man can turn this bolt action into a semi-automatic.

Next up is the Karabiner 98 kurz, usually referred to as the K98k.

The K98k is a carbine version of the venerable Mauser 98.

According to Mauser, over 100 million Mausers have been made, and they are still making rifles with that action today.

Nearly every bolt action in production is a derivative, including guns like the Remington 700 and Ruger M77.

The K98k was the backbone of the Wehrmacht, but the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe used them as well.

In total, nearly 15 million K98ks were made by a total of seven factories, including Mauser, Berlin-Lubecker, and even Steyr.

The Germans used the Mauser rifles to devastating effect.

Accuracy is second to none.

An 8×57 is a very stout round.

The Wehrmacht armed with Mausers and employing tactics the world had not seen before conquered the nations of Europe one by one.

Men in stahlhelms marched through Warsaw, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Brussels, Oslo, and Paris.

The German war machine relied on the Mauser, and it took the combined might of the allies to strike back.

The Mauser is the quintessential bolt-action military rifle, and anyone with five minutes of instruction can learn to effectively use one.

The K98k’s turned down bolt handle allows for quick cycling and ease of carry.

The three-position safety is wonderful, and the action is brutally strong but also safe, incorporating a safety lug at the rear of the bolt.

The gun’s massive claw extractor allows for controlled feed and incredibly smooth primary extracting and cycling.

The rifle also cocks on opening, accomplishing primary extraction and cocking in the same motion.

The Germans did field self-loading rifles, but the G41s, both Walther and Mauser variants, as well as the G43s all suffered from reliability problems, weight, and complexity.

Thus, the K98k was produced in at least some form until the end of the war.

More soldiers have entered into battle with a Mauser than any other shoulder-arm in history, and the iconic K98k variant definitely deserves a spot on this list.

Lastly, we have a rifle that you may have already guessed, the M1 Garand.

This is not me being patriotic or biased in favor of American small arms.

It would be foolish not to put the M1 on the list, as it was the harbinger of the general issue semi-automatic infantry rifle.

There were self-loading rifles before the M1, like the French RSC1917, but the Garand was the rifle that truly proved to the world that the era of semi-automatic rifles had arrived.

John Garand, a Canadian-American toolmaker, revolutionized rifle production while working at the Springfield Armory, and his genius allowed for cost-effective production of semi-automatic rifles.

The M1 beat out the Pedersen rifle, which was the first self-loader approved for adoption by a U.S. infantry board, and became the symbol of a generation of American fighting men.

Officially adopted in 1936, over six million were produced and used to great effect in North Africa, mainland Europe, and the Pacific, where my own grandfather in his words gave Tojo hell at Zig Zag Pass with the 38th.

The M1 is a gas-operated rifle with a long stroke piston and a rotating bolt.

It is loaded via eight-round en bloc clips, which are fast as hell to throw in and get to business.

Accuracy for a rifle that was designed in the 1920s is excellent, and even today, M1s can be seen shooting at competitions everywhere.

The rifle is famous for the harmonious ping it makes after firing its last round and ejecting the clip.

Many people over the years have said this has gotten many GIs killed, but in my research, I have not come across a confirmed account, mostly because you can reload an M1 in two or three seconds.

Combat doesn’t usually happen at 10 meters, and your squad-mate next to you had an M1, the guy next to him had a Thompson, and the guy next to him was doing his thing with a BAR.

The M1 did not completely exit US military service until the mid-1960s.

They were surplussed or given to friendly nations.

In World War II, the M1 was king.

It offered quick loading, incredible accuracy, excellent sights, and reliable semi-automatic fire power.

Thank you for watching this episode of TFBTV.

In World War II, which infantry rifle would you have wanted? Put your answer in the comments below, and we’d love to hear your answer.

A special thank you to Ventura Munitions for supplying the ammo for our shooting videos, and a special thank you to you all for watching.

We hope to see you next time.

Alex C.

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


  • Don Ward

    Honestly? Given the build quality, the lack of ammo and magazine production and the realities faced by a nation state fighting a global, industrial World War, I’m not sure if the overrated Sturmgewehr would make the Top Five list even if it were taken into consideration.

  • Mr. FN

    FG42. I know since it’s full auto, and that ya’ll don’t have an example it wasn’t on the list, but man I would take one in a heartbeat.

    • HKmaster

      its a highly innovative design, thats for sure. Probably the first modern rendition of the “battle rifle” as we know it today.

    • MPWS

      FG has been controversial to some degree and is used as proof how incompetent was Luftwaffe when comes o small arms. Too powerful round did not bode well with its intended purpose.

    • Hoplopfheil

      Based on Medal of Honor I’d agree with you, but based on what I’ve read about the real-world FG 42 it was kind of a wreck.

  • You should not have excluded the bolt rifle weapons from Sweden since Finland used them, either via Swedish volunteers or as lent arms, from your consideration. I’m not sure if they would have made your list. Of course as soon as you include the 98 Mauser in any list you pretty much have picked up almost 3/4 of the world’s nations bolt rifles from that era.

    • 6.5x55Swedish

      Yupp. We sent thousands of Swedish mausers to Finland so they were used in WW2 and in combat.

  • gunsandrockets

    Doesn’t qualify for this list, but there’s something to be said for the M1 carbine as tops. They certainly were numerous. And good enough to be the favorite weapon of a killer like Audie Murphy.

    Another interesting aspects of the M1 carbine is the ammunition used ball powder and non-corrosive priming, which was technically advanced for WWII military ammunition.

    Though not ideal, when compared to the other individual small arms of WWII the M1 carbine gets closer to the sweet spot of portability, accuracy, firepower, and lethality.

    • John

      The M1 carbine was terrific for the Pacific theater where the range was very close and you needed to put a lot of lead downrange to break enemy contact.

  • Major Tom

    I already have one of the weapons I would’ve wanted in WW2. The Mosin-Nagant. It did far more in that war than the MAS-36 could have ever dreamed. Britain only exists today because Hitler and the Wehrmacht decided to go play with the Bear instead of finishing off the crippled Empire and forcing them to the peace table.

    • Kjk

      The Mosin did far more in the war or the endless sea of soviets behind those rifles? You could have given them any rifle and the result would have been the same (coming from a Mosin owner)

      • Major Tom

        The classic “endless sea of Soviets” argument doesn’t hold up to history. The Russians did use strength in numbers but they had methods to what they did. Ivan didn’t (usually) resort to just throwing men and tanks into battle and hoping that somehow they would win. They planned things out, equipped forces accordingly, and then made things happen. You should really look into how they did things at an operational level. It makes the Wehrmacht look like a bunch of infighting rank amateurs.

        if the Mosin was genuinely unsatisfactory according to battlefield
        results, it would’ve been replaced right from the get go. It wasn’t
        unlike the SVT-40’s limited production and effectiveness. It also continued to be the Soviets’ main choice for a sniper rifle in the early days of the AK-47 and AKM. (Until the SVD came along.)

        • MPWS

          Tactics used by Soviets are of dubious record to say at least. One thing is what you read but I recall hearing from witnesses that they had used people like firewood. And to top it up Hitler himself was at rage that Stalin “did not disclose vast cannon-fodder” he had to his disposal. Sometimes they went on to battle with bare hands waiting to take rifle over from dead companion.

        • Kjk

          Idk, I’ve read quite a few of books and they pretty much say opposite of what you just wrote. If their “tactics” were so great why did they take so many casualties against a numerically inferior enemy?

          • n0truscotsman

            Complicated answer.

            The best summation I can come up with was that the Soviet Army suffered immensely in terms of readiness and training by the name Operation Barbarossa commenced. In addition to lacking proper equipment, they possessed massive numbers of tanks on paper, but those tanks lacked fuel, spare parts, and ammunition necessary to orchestrate a coordinated counter-attack against the invading Axis.

            For the rest of the painful following years, they faced the brunt of the Wehrmacht, destroying over 75% of its total war fighting strength. The casualties are really cause and effect.

            Honestly, if the United States would have faced the same predicament as the Soviet Union, with the same level of readiness (or lack thereof) we had before 1942, I doubt the outcome would have been drastically different on the ground.

            For those accusing commanders of using the red army as “a sledgehammer” what other facking choice did they have!? it was a manner of life and death. Survival not only as a nation, but also a race. Circumstances very few americans could even grasp.

          • MPWS

            Going back to you ‘notruscotsaman’, I appreciate breadth of your knowledgeable view. You state correctly that IF the U.S. were facing same situation as USSR did, that the outcome would be different. A scary thought. But this is the point of advantage America had. In any future conflict with worthy opponent(s), this advantage will not exist and Americans will find out what it is to be at real war. The war, they like so much to think about and to plan. It will turn them into ‘peaceniks’ in short order.

            The U.S. and rest of the West won on quantity of industrial production – concretely bomber planes and later trucks and other vehicles. Russians had not have this kind of plentiful source although they relocated, just in time, their industrial base past Leningrad-Moscow-Stalingrad line. I think, that even if German forces were to take Moscow, there would be ongoing resistance on Soviet side. They were planning for it. Germans, rather foolishly believed, that they would gain support from ‘liberated’ Russian population – total falsehood. Russians chose new battle cry: “for motherland”; communism was shoved out od the door. So, political work behind the lines was of crucial importance.

          • n0truscotsman

            The production thing is a whole other ball of wax. I learned a great deal going over the Lend-Lease export numbers during the war, which I found fascinating when studying about US and UK AFVs being used by the Soviet Union.

            Regardless of what people would like to believe, the Soviet Union had *a lot* of disadvantages when it came to the production of goods and the refining of absolutely invaluable resources like gasoline and diesel. The United States had excellent production capacity and lend-lease is something frequently downplayed by pro-Soviet bias (kind of like pro-west bias tends to overplay the western theater and ignore the east).

            I think you are correct though in US industrial production, namely, *modernization* and the inevitable allocation of technologies because of the competitive, cut throat nature of capitalist automotive and industrial entities. *there were* advantages to that after all… 😉

          • mosinman

            The purges and the modernization of the military didn’t help the USSR at the start of the war, fighting an offensive war against veteran armies later in the war isn’t good for your “KDR” either. It’s interesting how many people laud “German tactical superiority ” but then assume that the Russians just lined up in ranks and charged MG42s till they ran out of ammo.

          • Rock or Something

            Hey, I saw it in a movie once, so it must be true!

        • Just Sayin’

          Historians (e.g. Max Hastings) would disagree. Gen. Zhukov in particular was described as treating his forces as a big dumb sledgehammer against the Wehrmacht. Not much for tactics.

          • MPWS

            At the same time and interestingly, gen. Patton considered Soviet infantry as most effective from all arms of USSR. He in particular did not see effective use of all military components coordination on Soviet side. You can say one man’s view, who knows how he would operate to find himself in marshal Zhukov’s boots.

          • Phil Hsueh

            I’d argue that having lots and lots of troops at your disposal allows for certain tactics and strategies that you would otherwise not be able to employ. It means you can hold for much longer when smaller forces would be forced to fall back or be overrun, likewise on the offensive it means you can push much harder and for longer than smaller forces. It basically means that you can employ far blunter tactics than your opponents can since you can absorb the losses that your opponent can’t. It doesn’t make on a tactical genius but at the same time it doesn’t make you incompetent either.

    • Aubrey

      I am a Mosin fan, but it is simply competent, and plentiful

      • Major Tom

        Which is far better than what the MAS-36 can claim to be.

        • ostiariusalpha

          The MAS-36 is better than competent, and you pay accordingly.

          • UnrepentantLib

            It all depends on what you mean by “Top rifles.” The Mosin was technically obsolescent before the war started, but was available in huge numbers, so it played a major role. The MAS-36 was technically much superior to the Mosin and arguably to the Kar98. It’s an accident of history, and belated French rearmament, that the MAS-36 didn’t play a greater role in the war. I suspect many Russian infantrymen, given the choice, would have ditched their Mosins for the MAS-36.

    • TonysTake ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ ᵀʳᵘᵐᵖ

      You stole my thunder! Mosin fan here too. I wouldn’t really want something used by the losing side, except to keep it as a collectable. I sure can’t argue with the
      M-1 making the list or the No. 4, but to not include the Mosin makes me wonder about some of the other picks.

      • Major Tom

        The MAS-36 is really the only questionable and dubious one. The Arisaka series of rifles (Type 38 or Type 99) was a genuinely outstanding platform. At least those made prior to 1945 were. All the rest are proper inclusions.

        • n0truscotsman

          I’ve seen many Arisakas worth drooling over. One particular fella wouldn’t part from one when I made him a couple offers on it, much to my sadness.

          I like the 6.5 Arisaka cartridge. There is something to be said for its usefulness in an era where everbody gravitated towards “.30 and up”.

          I would take one 3 to one over a MAS-36.

    • Evan

      Hitler had already given up on plans for invading Britain by the time he invaded the USSR, so that isn’t true. The gun that kept Britain free was the .303 Browning machine guns in the wings of the Hurricanes and Spitfires of the RAF.

      • iksnilol

        An American gun in .303 just feels wrong.

        • Evan

          I imagine they were made under license in Britain

          • iksnilol

            Doesn’t make it better.

            I mean, would you like a German made Garand in 8mm Mauser?

            Thinking about it kinda makese me want one, but still.

          • Evan

            Yes. Yes I would take one.

          • iksnilol

            Me too.

            Actually I am searching for one now. Seemingly you just need to rebarrel and set the headspace. The clips and bolt are already compatible.

            Not that I need or particularily desire one, would just be neat.

      • Major Tom

        Not necessarily. He had the materiel power that if he caused England to be holed up to the Isles and kept them bottled up, they would have been forced to the peace table. Barbarossa foolishly squandered a LOT of materiel and men away from what could have been more useful elsewhere. Operation Sealion wasn’t the be-all, end-all for how Germany could have handled Britain prior to US entry.

        • Evan

          Forced to a stalemate, very likely. But he simply didn’t have the power to successfully invade. Also, Churchill wasn’t one to be brought to the peace table without a fight. Also, Hitler declared war on the US after Pearl Harbor, forcing American intervention in Europe. With American troops, aircraft, and supplies, German victory over Britain became an impossibility.

          Operation Barbarossa was one of the biggest strategic blunders in history, I’m not saying it wasn’t, but to discount the Allied victory in the ETO just because of the Soviet involvement in the East is narrow minded and not particularly realistic.

          • n0truscotsman

            I think the entire war, from Germany’s perspective, was an idiotic blunder executed by fanatical politicians trying to draw attention away from the fact that Germany’s rapid re-armament would inevitably suicide its economy in the short term.

            Crazy dictatorships after all, become unable to compete with modern, western democracies and their white hot economies.

            Alternative history is interesting to ponder, although Germany’s position was ultimately pretty futile in hindsight…which is a good thing IMO.

      • n0truscotsman

        Yes and It has been discussed frequently, but Seelowe would have been a unparalleled disaster. Nevermind the fact that it was utterly infeasible because the Wehrmacht lacked the equipment for such an amphibious assault of magnitude.

        • Evan

          The RAF made Seelöwe impossible before it started. That was a good thing.

    • MPWS

      You are right, the Three-liner should have been included.

    • MPWS

      Battle of Britain ended in October 1940 while Barbarossa started in June 1941. There is lot of political background to this, far out of scope of this debate. One of it is the recently found facts that Stalin planned offensive into Europe in Fall of that year.

      • n0truscotsman

        I’d be very wary of citing that ‘fact’. It is of dubious quality to say the least, not substantiated by credible evidence other than anecdotes from Suvorov.

        • MPWS

          The problem with this notion is an ideological leaning with 21 century amateur historian. But if you overview facts, such as huge close-to-front soviet military depots filled with thousands of tanks, artillery pieces and aircraft, you can trace the trend behind.
          This being said must be viewed in a connection to ideology of internationalist communism; nothing or very little to do with current Russia.

    • BearSlayer338

      Mosins look nice but that is about the only thing to like about them other than the price,I don’t miss the one I had. I replaced it with two Superior WWII rifles the Enfield SMLE MKIII and the Swiss K31.

  • Paul Faiella

    Garand for me Alex

  • Bob

    I suspect I would want the Garand, but I’ve never shot one. I think if I had to pull one out of my safe and go back in time to the 1940s, I would probably go with my Lee Enfield No 4. It has more issues with the rimmed ammo than my Mosin Nagant, but it is rather better in other ways, such as accuracy, just to name a somewhat important factor to firefights…

    • Evan

      If we’re just going by what’s in our safes, all I got on this list is the Kar98K (I have a Lee-Enfield No.III too, so that may technically count). I have shot a Garand though, and as much as I love my Mauser, I’d take the Garand hands down. Awesome rifle.

  • schizuki

    I’d love to argue with these choices, but I can’t.

    Oh, yes, I can. Move the Enfield to #2 and the Kar98K to #3. The Enfield is faster to fire and has twice the ammo capacity. The Mauser is the superior hunting rifle. The Enfield is the superior combat rifle.

  • Lance

    My list

    1. M-1 Garand: of course first mass issue semi auto rifle, Mostly had great combat record. It served US National Guard units till the mid 1970s even so served longer than Alex listed.

    2. K-98K Mauser just like Alex said. Also served Germany after WW2 East German VOPO (People’s Police) used K-98Ks till the 1960s when replaced by East German made SKS-45s and AK-47s.

    3. M-91/30 Mosin Nagant. We know Alex hates Mosins with a passion. But the M-91/30 was a smoth action more accurate than a Mauser in long range accuracy ( like to see Alex debate Vasily Zaytsev on this.) Still in use all over the world over a half century since it was replaced along its M-44 carbine version to the AK series of rifles. Some have been seen even in pro-Ukrainian militias today fighting.
    4. Lee Enfeild Mk-3 and Mk-5. The older SMLEs saw combat in both world wars. Though on paper the Mk-3 was replaced by the No. 4 it never did during the war years reserve and commonwealth forces used Mk-3s till the end of the war. It was the most feared rifle in Afghans in the 1980s Afghan war and Afghan sharp shooter with them made the Soviets pay with many officers.
    5. Finnish M-39. Yes it uses the Mosin Nagant action but in many was is still a very different rifle than the Soviet M-91/30. Considered on of the most accurate rifles made for military action the M-39s helped Finland defeat the Russians in the Wintar war and helped save Finland later made Finland the only Axis nation to survive WW2. many made by world renown rifle maker SAKO M-39 are still a hot item for many military bolt rifle collectors in the US.
    PS the Type 38 Arisaka saw service in all the Pacific in WW2 the Type 99 did not see service till 1942 and despite being strong action many consider the Type 99 and Arisaka inferior to its counter parts since they where very long for most Japanese solders and heavy as well. If you get rifles made after summer 1944 you get very bad quality and 1945 Type 99 are labeled Substitute 99 by GIs due to there poor quality, heck that’s what you get when even boys are drafted and you let uneducated school girls make rifles.
    If Alex had no full power cartridge requirement id add the M-1/M-2 carbine and STG-44 for being the first real assault rifles to see use.

    • Tritro29

      You know that Finland lost the Winter War AND the Continuation War? It’s something Americans like to say. Finns defeated the Soviet Union. They really didn’t. They gave us a bloody nose and pretty much sent part of the top brass in the KGB slaughter house, but they didn’t won anything.

      • n0truscotsman

        Not being a Soviet satellite state, unlike other neighboring nations, *was a pretty big damned win* I would say.

        It beats the fast train to *Warsaw Pact-ville”

        • Tritro29

          I hope you understand the paradoxal nature of you post. A winning nation doesn’t “sue for peace”. And a Losing nation doesn’t get the terms it wants. It’s simple logic. We got what we wanted out of Finland. Despite the dismal performance of the Stavka and major flaws in both logistics and planning, and despite the courage and cheek of the Finns, we still steamrolled them into peace. I’d say that Suomi being Finlandized was a far greater deal for the USSR, than it was for both Finland and the organization that wants it to join up to this day…If you really want to talk about satellite states, South America is great place to watch the definition of it.

          • n0truscotsman

            Nothing paradoxical about it, considering the rock and hard place Finland was stuck between in that era. This, of course, contradicts the common misconception (often by Americans ill add) that “wins” require absolute overwhelming victory such as what occurred against Nazi Germany, 100% of the time.

            Finland wasn’t afforded such a luxury given the circumstances of its situation. That is war.

          • Tritro29

            Again, this is like loosing a football match on penalties or a basketball game in overtime and saying we won…it doesn’t make sense. Finland LOST both its wars against the Soviet Union. There’s not ifs or buts. It is as simple. And there wasn’t another way about it. Finland was allowed to save face as much as the Stavka lost its own.

            There’s no misconception about it, Finnish forces by the End of the Winter War were broken, the losses we had put on them were by far less sustainable than our own. About a quarter of the actual Finnish armed forces were casualties (KIA, WIA, POW, Missing), while We had about a quarter of our committed forces being casualties, committed forces that were about a fifth of the pre-Purge Red Army. The magnitude of this logistical issue is that Finland by January 1940, knew it was about to lose the war in a definitive sense.

            In my opinion and just to make a case here, the Fins would have been better off being fully invaded in the 1940’s so as not to become an Axis Co-Belligerent in December 1941. Which basically sealed its fate during the Cold War. Finland would have simply ended up like Austria post WW2, instead it ended up in a far worse position. Being essentially emasculated and forced to maintain a huge army at a huge expense for nothing.

          • n0truscotsman

            I agree that Finland’s losses were significant and the Soviet Union was in a far better position to absorb losses. That is indisputable. The differences between industrial production, manpower, and economic output were definitely in the Soviets’ favor, and IMO, there was no feasible scenario in which the Finns could have managed to secure “ultimate victory”.

            “Finland would have simply ended up like Austria post WW2, instead it
            ended up in a far worse position. Being essentially emasculated and
            forced to maintain a huge army at a huge expense for nothing.”

            I would *love* to believe that, probably because I have worked hard most of my life trying to refute the common western misconceptions about “the evil empire!”, although, given what occurred in the Baltic and East European nations following the end of world war II, I just cannot buy it.

          • Tritro29

            The issue with Finland is simple. We needed a buffer. And Finland was perfect. The whole idea about invading Suomi was to have Leningrad cleared of possible adventures (which is exactly what happened in the Continuation War) from a German/Finnish Axis. Fact is that the Baltics were unfortunate to have no land neighbours westwards. Which made them a too important from a military standpoint.

            Regarding the Eastern European countries. That’s a completely different deal. Unlike Finland, most of them had a belligerent policy towards the USSR (for good reason). After WW2, they would turn against the next threat in order of magnitude. Germany out, the next threat was …us.

            Operationally, Finland’s losses were abysmal. It was basically more rifles than men around Vipurii. Unlike most the decisions from the Soviet POV were terribly rational. Off course it still was a terrible decision making process. But basically it was, as hard and offensive as it might sound, the right POV.

    • Mosin is a smooth action? Good joke.

      • schizuki

        There’s something wrong with yours.

        Mine are like butter.

    • Just Sayin’

      My M-39 is one of my favorite, most accurate rifles, but they weren’t used in the Winter War. Production was still getting spun up during the Continuation War. Most never saw combat (at least as an M-39 anyway, the bolt and receiver could have seen action as a 91-30 or other incarnation).

  • Georgiaboy61

    Nothing to add, Alex – except thanks for an exceptionally well-done episode.

  • Dr. Longfellow Buchenrad

    While Ive never shot the M1 Garand, My M1A is a delightful rifle and I can imagine the M1 Garand is no different. Give me a M1 Garand and a 1911 and maybe a Thompson and I would feel very well equipped for WW2.

    • schizuki

      I’d feel very well equipped for Iraq and Afghanistan as well.

  • Gorramjayne

    If I didn’t have to worry about the logistics of ammo supply, I’d probably take the WWI-era Fedorov Avtomat (still saw limited Soviet service in WWII) — Full-auto capable, 25 rounds of low-recoil 6.5mm Arisaka, and a vertical forward grip? Too bad they couldn’t figure out how to manufacture them in worthwhile numbers.

    Unfortunately using ammo found in 0.1% of the supply chain is a real limitation. Would probably have to take the M1 Garand, maybe SVT-40.

    • clampdown

      SVT and G43 look the part, and I would love to own one of each, but I think I’d rather bet my life on a Garand, and I’m an admitted Russophile. Lol

      • clampdown

        The gun Russia needed in WWII wasn’t accepted until 1945, the SKS. It’s a shame that they couldn’t have developed it faster, as it would have been groundbreaking in the earlier years of the war…but similarly outmoded post-war.

  • politicsbyothermeans

    Chesty was a big fan too.

    • schizuki

      Well, he was wrong about the tanks.

      • mosinman

        Nah. In the big picture, there isn’t a better WW2 tank than the M4. Of course I’m sure you’ll disagree and tell me something about how unstoppable a Panther or Tiger 1 is

        • schizuki

          T-34. Better armor, better mobility, better gun, just as mass-producible.

          • mosinman

            1.Nope.2. Not really.3. Kinda a toss up. The M4 was much more flexible and adaptable while providing excellent survivability for the crew and ample space, not to mention the M4’s armor was thicker and of higher quality. It also had better and more numerous vision devices and had the advantages of a 3 man turret from the beginning. The T-34 was a good tank regardless, but the M4 was more refined

          • Rock or Something

            I would say the T-34 had an advantage the M4 never had: it could be driven right out the factory doors and into the battlefield if need be (if you can call it an advantage). M4s needed to be shipped across large expansions of oceans to reach their destinations in the African, European and Pacific theaters. Right or wrong, these logistics considerations required the M4s to be designed accordingly, which limited general armor and firepower capabilities.

            Given their baptism by fire, T-34s were obviously much more influential and better for the type of tactics the Soviets needed to fight the invading Axis forces.

            In the Korean War, when North Korean T34’s did get to face off against the latest M4s, the M4’s fared pretty well all things considered.

        • Phil Hsueh

          The M4 was a decent tank but it suffered from having a low velocity 75mm gun for most of its variants, and this put it at a disadvantage against most German tank, including later models of the PzKpw IV. If more Shermans were armed with the 76mm or the British 17 pounder it would have been a much better tank and would have been on more even footing than the IVs and would stood more of a chance against Panthers and Tigers.

          • mosinman

            Except the M3 75mm wasn’t a low velocity gun. The M4 was a superior tank to the panzer 4 in just about every way, the 75mm mounted on the panzer was slightly higher velocity but the M3 75mm gun could knock out the panzer 4 at more than 1.5 km. As it was 75mm armed Shermans stood up well against even the Tiger in combat. Even the US 76mm could handle the tiger at any combat range and could punch through the panther’s gun mantlet and turret front. The 17lbr was an excellent gun, but the way it was mounted in the British M4s was suboptimal, which is why the US ordinance board rejected it for the M4 when they were considering it as a tank gun. They were more likely to use the 90mm M3 gun but the war was basically over so they only mounted the M3 90mm on the M36 tank destroyer

          • gunsandrockets

            Wasn’t low velocity? By June 1944, 2,000 fps mv is pretty damned low for anti-tank purposes.

          • mosinman

            Pretty sure it was higher than 2000 fps at the muzzle

          • gunsandrockets

            I checked. They apparently never made a high-velocity tungsten AP round for the 75mm, and for good reason considering how obsolete it was. The M61 AP round for the 75mm only had a mv of approx. 2,020 fps.

            US Army WWII tank doctrine was poisoned in part by the tank-destroyer fallacy, which is why on D-Day the U.S. Shermans which rolled into France were no better armed than the tanks which came off the factory floor two years earlier.

          • mosinman

            They actually made prototype 75mm HVAP. It was shelved because of the M1 76mm provided superior performance without using tungsten. The whole tank destroyer theory setback was proven demonstrably false. As there were numerous factors that delayed the wider spread adoption of the M1 76mm gun or the M3 90mm and neither had to do with tank destroyers.

        • gunsandrockets

          The American Shermans in North Africa were okay tanks for their time. The Shermans the US Army invaded France with two years later were badly obsolescent for their time. An obsolescence which adversely affected casualties and operations.

          Read the book, “Death Traps: the survival of an American Armored Division in World War II” by Belton Cooper.

          • mosinman

            Pah “Death traps” isn’t even fit for asswiping. If you want a real book on the M4 look up Steven Zolaga.

    • SP mclaughlin

      >Chesty Puller

      • politicsbyothermeans

        Not sure what your comment means. I can’t find any primary sources on Chesty’s approval of the Garand but Patton’s was easy.

        • Evan

          Above the letter from Patton, you wrote “Chesty was a big fan too”.

          • politicsbyothermeans

            Right. I don’t have a source on it but Chesty allegedly said something along the lines of “You can’t kill what you can’t hit” and encouraged his boys to ditch the M1 carbines and get Garands as soon as they could.

          • Evan

            Didn’t know that.

    • KestrelBike

      What else are soldiers good for but to find ginormous additional armies to fight them with?

      (this is a comment on Patton’s seeming thirst to engage with the Russians)

  • MPWS

    This was an excellent review on subject which will never wear out. Also, historical references are of value and reveal narrator’s background.

  • W Rusty

    The M1 Garand. I have a 1943 model made in May of that year. It is by far the best rifle I own and love to reload and shoot. I think it out-classed all other rifles of WWII.

  • john4637

    US Rifle .30 cal. M-1

  • Wolfgar

    I have known and worked with many WW2 vets in my time but sadly most have now past. Every one of them to the man loved the M-1 Garand. Our late book keeper fought in the Pacific on the Island hoping campaigns and stated: The M-1 Garand was reliable, hit what I aimed at and killed what I hit. He loved the M-1 Garand. I would with out hesitation pick the M-1 Garand. This is a no brain-er.

  • Mikial

    Great list and I have no issues with any of the choices. The Mauser is one of the most revered rifle action designs of all time and there are still Enfields in daily service with police and security forces in places like India and Pakistan.

    But for me, IMHO the M1 Garand was the single most significant infantry rifle of WWII. My father ditched his carbine in Italy and found himself a Garand. I am glad that i own a 1943 production Garand that still provides the typical Garand standard of reliability and accuracy.

    • Bob

      I love me my Enfield and won’t deny it is in use around the world today, but I’m not sure India and Pakistan police using them is such a good example. I was under the impression they use them more for show than anything else and often have very little ammo or training on them. If true, that’s not exactly a good testimony for their value in a modern world. Any old gun can be carried around and shown off, regardless of how useful they’d be in a firefight.

      • Mikial

        Never said it was the optimal choice, simply that they are reliable enough to still be in use. When the Indian security forces responded to the Mumbai attacks, many responded with an Enfield in their hands. Granted, it would have been better if they’d been armed with more modern weapons, but the failure was less the weapons they were carrying than the training they hadn’t received.

        • clampdown

          Don’t forget that Canadian Arctic Rangers or whatever are just now retiring their MK4s.

  • Just Sayin’

    I still think the K-31 belongs on the list. It worried ze Germans so badly they didn’t dare invade. The weapon that is so formidable as to never have to fired in anger is, of course, the best weapon.

    (Along a similar thought I would have put Finish Mosins on the list too. I mean, that’s the gun that helped the Finns hand the Big Bad Russisns their butt.)

    • The_Champ

      I meant to mention the K31 as well, just because it is such a finely tuned shooter and existed in that era.

      That said, I hope you are using hyperbole when you say it’s mere existence is what stopped the Germans from invading….. that is nothing but myth making.

      • Just sayin’

        Yes, for the most part.

  • Mark Horning

    If you told me to pick a bolt action to go to war with I’d probably pick a Springfield 1903-A3.

    Smoother action than any of the above. Good trigger. Aperture sights. Since it’s a modified/refined Mauser design that isn’t surprising.

    I certainly agree with putting the M1 at #1 though.

  • gusto

    As a lefthander all the boltactions would not have been fun for me ): so the garand I guess

    how tall was the general american soldier back in the day? I mean what is averge height nowadays? 5’10? must be an inch or two shorter back in those days? the garand seems as nimble as a 2 by 4.

    I am a big dude so would probably got stuck with a MG or BAR

  • guest

    oh gee what a surprise: Garand comes out on top. This is the same kind of bull**** as Spitfire being proclaimed as the very reason Battle of Britain was won, despite that it did not do near enough as the Hurricane.
    And of course Mosin is not on the list – despite it being in more hands in the war than any other rifle.

    No surprise though, as AK is apparently not an assault rifle as per the obscure pulled-out-of-the-rear-end definitions of the blog.

    • The_Champ

      I believe it is clearly stated that these top 5 are the ones they consider to be the “best” of WWII. Not “most influential”, or “most numerous”, or “most important”.

      While there is always am certain amount of opinion involved, I would agree with Alex that all of his picks are superior rifles to the Mosin. Just like I’d argue that the Spitfire was a better fighter than the Hurricane, despite what the latter may have contributed to the Battle of Britain.

      • guest


        “Today we’re going to discuss what we believe to be the best five infantry rifles of World War II.”

        “Things taken into consideration for this list are reliability, innovation, legacy, total production, and user friendliness.”

        According to these criteria, Corral! So total production is suddenly not on the list, even though he said so?

        This is another biased TFB bull**** video, and you are one of many apologists.
        However this does not come as a surprise, and the “opinion camps” in the States are mostly two: either germanophiles who are half-way closet nazis who drool over every german piece or hardware, or hardcore americ**ts who believe they alone were (like the Spitfire) responsible for winning WW2, completely irregardless of the facts where most axis soldiers were killed, who liberated more territory etc. The Garand-o-philia falls into this category quite nicely, even though it is sub-par to other similar S/A rifles, was overpriced and technically retarded with an underbarrel low-pressure gas piston and what is essentially an “adapted for semiauto fire” bolt. Yet why of course… since it’s american it must be incredibly good!

        • Rock or Something

          Cripes get over yourself. It’s an opinion piece, not the ten (well five) commandments etched in stone. M1 Garand wasn’t the perfect rifle by a long shot, but given the time, various circumstances and a bit of luck, it just happened to be the only issued semi-automatic rifle available in large quantities during WWII. Since the reputation of the U.S. military was to not adapt anything innovative within a reasonable amount of time and the fact the Garand was actually available for U.S. troops before entering the conflict, is actually a feat on to itself. That SVT, MAS-40, Gewehr 43 or whatever semi-automatic rifle may have been better in your mind, but there’s no point in being better if they aren’t available for general issue.

          I have a garbage-rod (aka Mosin), and its a good rifle. But no way I would choose a general issued Mosin over any of the other rifles on the list, especially the Garand, all things considered.

          And hell yeah go, America.

        • The_Champ

          My bad, missed that ‘total production’ thing.
          So please tell what attributes of the Mosin make it superior to the rifles on the list. I can certainly agree with you that Russia’s exceptionally large army issued an exceptionally large number of them.
          By the way, it sounds like you really dislike TFB, why are you here?

    • schizuki

      You’re in a foxhole facing a Waffen-SS attack. You’d choose a Mosin over a Garand? Or any of the other rifles on the list?


  • tim

    How about the M/S Y 1903/14. 6.5X54 Greek?

  • forrest1985

    Great choices alex, i agree the Mas36 is a very underrated rifle. My personal fave has to be the Enfield no.4 so glad to see this included.

  • Phil Hsueh

    Minor nitpick/correction here, Whermacht was not the name for the German army of the time, that was heer, Whermacht is the name of the overall German armed forces of the time which included the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine along with the Heer. What was not a part of the Whermacht but also used the K98k was the (Waffen) SS which had its own command structure completely separate from the Whermacht but had units that were, at times, subordinated to Whermacht or Heer commands.

  • clampdown

    Even if you think you don’t like gun-based video games, I challenge anyone who enjoys this topic not to enjoy the Sniper Elite series. v2 follows a very vague story about an OSS scout-sniper (or something absurd) and rocket technology during the Battle of Berlin.

    Stupid story, but you get to scoot around Berlin and shoot Nazis with your choice of WWII sniper rifles (1903, Mosin, K98k, G43, SVT, M-1D, Type 99, mk4 Enfield, and even a little M-1 Carbine with a low-power scope)–you also get to choose a sub-gun (StG 44 is an option) and pistol (always a Welrod for me). Every rifle has different characteristics in terms of bullet-drop/velocity, rate of fire, recoil, reload speed, capacity, and zoom power. Every rifle requires a different technique and hold-over.

    However, to balance the guns, liberties are taken. For instance, the G43 sports the highest rate of fire, but they hampered it with a 7 round magazine. But this forces you to consider the finer, more important details of velocity, capacity, reload speed, etc when choosing between the G43, SVT, and M-1D.

    Sniper Elite v2 is ridiculously cheap (download for PC) and ridiculously fun. Definitely the most satisfying gun-nerd video game experience this side of Arma with the ACE mod. If you think your a serious tactical operator, go play with those boys for a day…

  • 6.5x55Swedish

    You should do the same thing but with rifles from nations not involved in combat in WW2

  • 6.5x55Swedish

    Swedish mausers were sent by the thousands to Finland during WW2, so they could be on this list if you wanted to.