Top 5 Rifles That Changed The World

Alex C.
by Alex C.

Some firearms have had such a great impact on global events that their very silhouette is synonymous with global events. This is a list of 5 truly revolutionary firearms that have helped shape the world as we know it today.

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Firearms featured:
1886 Lebel
Gewehr 98 “Mauser”
M1 Garand
AK47
M16

Full transcript …

Hey guys it’s Alex C. with TFBTV.

Small arms have long been a very tangible symbol of not only an individual soldier’s might, but also have often symbolized the strength of an entire nation. Thus, the great nations and empires of the world have constantly tried to improve the humble infantry rifle, and it is easy to point to a few instances when a small arm has truly changed the world. It was quite hard to choose only five, but lets have a look.

First up is the French model 1886 “Lebel” rifle. While not much to look at, this gun literally overnight made every other rifle in the world obsolete for one reason: the new cartridges relied on an invention that doubles effective range and greatly increased velocity… smokeless powder. This shift is so radical that it plunged the world into an arms race to catch up to the French who now had the greatest rifle the world had ever seen.

The lebel’s cartridge was rimmed and used an 8mm spritzer projectile. The rounds were held in a channel under the barrel, and you may think that storing pointy bullets in line with one another would lead to problems, but he crafty French found a solution; the area around the primer pocket had a recess that allowed the bullet tip of the trailing round to rest perfectly without impacting the primer.

Loading the lebel is similar to a modern shotgun. Rounds are individually clicked in and retained by a small tab. This is a somewhat tedious process and I can imagine under stress it would be extremely difficult. To chamber a round you do need to pull the bolt back with some force to trip the cartridge elevator up.

The shock factor in 1886 would be akin to a rival nation today releasing a viable laser blaster. Thus, the Lebel earned a spot on this list for its incredibly innovative cartridge that sent the world into a frenzy trying to catch up.

Next up is a rifle that is often regarded as perfect. The significance of this rifle almost cannot be overstated, and I often have a hard time trying to convey its importance: This is the Mauser 98, which is possibly the most important rifle the world has ever seen. More soldiers have entered into battle with a Mauser than any other shoulder arm ever invented.

To quote Ian Hogg , “The Mauser 98) was Mauser’s masterpiece. Every little improvement that Mauser could ever think of, all sorts of little tiny details were added together and they formed what you may call the ultimate bolt action system, and even today companies are still making rifles with that bolt action.”

It is possible that over 100 million were made, and if you count derivatives that number is much, much higher.

The 98 was safe, stout, reliable, powerful, and universal.

Its use of stripper clips, Paul Mauser’s invention dating back to the 1880s allows for rapid reloading. The action also facilitates quick and smooth operation.

There are many variants of the 98, and perhaps the most famous is the Karabiner 98 kurz (or K98k) employed by Nazi Germany. The k98k is simply a Mauser 98 carbine with a few minor differences. It is worth noting hower that not all Mausers are K98s (I say this because anytime I allude to a Mauser people always say K98 for some reason, even if the rifle is not a carbine).

The Mauser 98s legacy is easy to spot. Nearly every bolt action rifle in production today uses the 98 system in some way or another (and of course Mauser is still making 98s in safari calibers). This Kimber 8400 is essentially a 98, with the claw extractor and three position safety.

I could talk about the Mauser and its influence for a very long time, and I wish I could because it seems that my generation has never understood that it was the most important long arm in the world for 50 years, but I think this brief aside may suffice.

Next up is a true American classic that proved entire armies could be armed effectively with semi-automatic firepower: The M1 “Garand” rifle.

The Garand was not even close to being the first semi-automatic rifle employed in military service, but it does have the distinction of being the first to serve as a nations main battle rifle. Before the Garand, semi autos filled specialty roles or were too costly to produce: the Garand not only broke high-cost barrier, but showed that an individual soldier could make effective use of semi-automatic firepower.

It functions with a relatively simple rotating bolt actuated by a cam track on the rifles operating rod. The sights are excellent, and loading is achieved by tossing in a clip containing 8 rounds of ammunition. This rifle is of course famous for the harmonious ping of the ejecting clip.

“music playing”

Alright, that’s enough of that, but check out our “Musical Garands” video to see more.

So the M1 earned a spot on this list for ushering in the era of the military repeating rifle and even forcing other nations to play catch up. The M1 also became the symbol of a generation of Americans who soldiered on in World War II and into Korea, and that earns it a spot on the list.

Next up is a rifle that has to be included: The Avtomat Kalashnikova model of 1947… or the AK47.

The rifle you are looking at is more akin to an AKM, but that’s all semantics. The venerable AK, like the Mauser before it has become has arguably become universal and synonymous with fighting men the world over.

The AK is held in very high regard by many people, but its simplicity is what makes it so amazing.

The AK borrows heavily from other firearms: browning designs such as the model 8, Garand’s rotating bolt, and some say heavily from the STG44. I personally do not believe it to be coincidence that the designer of the Sturmgewehr was scooped up by the Russians and forced to work for them after the war, and that the final product is so similar in form to it. Regardless, the AK has earned in incredible place in history.

It is easy to maintain, easy to produce, cheap, well-sealed, and offers a lot of firepower in a compact package.

If you grew up in the latter half of the 20th century, odds are you saw an AK every time you turned on the news… and you still do. The longevity of the design makes it deserving of a place on this list, and right alongside it is its little brother, the AK74.

The 74s main difference is that it fires a smaller cartridge, the 5.45×39 that produces much less recoil and is very easy to control on full auto.

Proliferation and the aforementioned factors earn the AK a very significant and well-deserved place on this list.

Lastly we have a rifle that just doesn’t seem to age: The American M16. The M16 is an outgrowth of the ar10 and employs a number of borrowed features from other rifles that come together very well, just like Kalashnikov’s AK, most notably the bolt from the M1941 Johnson rifle and the in-line stock and raised sights of the German FG42.

Armalite, as a division of an aerospace company had access to very advanced materials not available to other designers like Kalashnikov. As a result, liberal uses of aluminum and polymers resulted in an impressively light design that became a symbol for American soldiers, like the Garand before it.

The greatest legacy of the M16 is one that perhaps Stoner, the designer himself did not realize: the incredibly modularity that ensures the design just will not go away.

Like the Chevy small block, little tweaks and changes just keep ensuring that the rifle stays relevant and a serious competitor to more modern platforms. In fact, small arms designers are struggling to create a rifle as light as an M16 derived gun, and continuously fail to do so.

As a result, nations once bound to other platforms are switching over to some form of M16 rifle.

On the civilian side, the AR15 is unquestionably the best selling rifle in the United States, and it will almost certainly stay this way until a giant technological leap is made to match its modularity, affordability, and universality. I personally do not see this happening for a long time.

Thank you very much for watching this episode of TFBTV. Is there a gun you think should have been included? If so state it in the comments and I would love to hear your suggestions!

Big thanks to Grizzly Target and Ventura Munitions for making this program possible. Also, if you like what you saw hit that subscribe button, it really does help us out. Thanks guys!

Alex C.
Alex C.

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

More by Alex C.

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  • St4 St4 on Nov 04, 2015

    C'mon, no Barrett?! Bill Paxton vaporized dudes through walls using one with a thermal scope and Robocop blew up the ED-209 with his!

  • Secundius Secundius on Nov 07, 2015

    We can't forget the the Krag-Jorgensen/Springfield Model 1982 .30-40 contribution to the World. If it wasn't for "Lack-Luster" Performance of the Rifle in the Spanish-American War of 1898. The Mauser 7.92x57 Rifle might have "Stalled" and the Introduction of the Springfield M1093 or M1 Garand, may NEVER OF HAPPENED...

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