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.

    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.