It’s Memorial Day Weekend – so today, I’m highlighting the “hot gear” most familiar to “the greatest generation”.
It’s the M1 Garand, America’s standard infantry rifle from the mid-thirties until the late fifties.
A rugged, solid, deceptively compact rifle in .30-06, with a simple gas action, it was the rifle the US military carried in World War II and Korea; indeed, the first men to use it in combat were the North Dakota National Guardsmen of the 164th Infantry Regiment on Guadalcanal about whom I wrote last year for Memorial Day; fighting at the Matanikau River and Bloody Nose Ridge in 1942 (the Marines, being far down the supply chain as they were, still carried World War I-vintage M1903 Springfields, of which more in a later installment).
I’ve shot a few Garands – indeed, I’ve come || <---this close to buying Garands a couple of times. They’re sweet, accurate rifles; the only problems are the peep sights, which I can’t stand, and the top-loading, eight-shot, “all-or-nothing” block clip magazine.
The rifle was such a solid, reliable concept that when the world started changing to high-capacity magazines in the late ’50s, the Army simply rechambered it for the shorter .308 Winchester round, tacked on a 20-round box magazine, made a few mechanical changes (including “selective fire”, the ability to fire in full automatic, like a machine gun), and called it the M14 – which still serves today, and is reportedly especially favored in the desert for its long range, accuracy and hitting power compared to the relatively lightweight M16/M4.
And since it’s Memorial Day, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight some more gear; the M1911A1 pistol…:
…which was designed almost 100 years ago during America’s last insurgency against a seemingly-intractable Moslem insurgency, in the Philippines. Designed to knock a charging, drug-crazed attacker down with no questions asked using a big, bulbous .45 round that was designed for relatively minimal efficiency (so as to leave its kinetic energy in the first thing it hit), it’s mechanically simple but metaphorically rich; “everyone speaks Colt”, it’s said, since the sound of that big metal slide racking a round is reportedly usually enough to scare burglars into the next zip code. It’s on my agenda for one of these next tax refunds – along with a nice jacket.
And no Hot Gear “Greatest Generation” edition would be complete without the red-headed stepchildred of the bunch – the Browning Automatic Rifle…:
…which was what they’d call a “squad automatic weapon” today – designed to put a hail of lead over your target so they’d keep their heads down so the guys with the Garands could close in and lob grenades at them. I’ve never shot a BAR, although I met a guy at a re-enactor show who owned one, and took it apart for me. It was big, heavy, and used a sliding-block bolt that wasn’t at all unfamiliar to me, shooting my Ljungman at the time. My overriding impression – having been on a brief jag of learning about machine-tooling metal at the time – was “this receiver is one big beautiful piece of metal”. Which was true, although in wartime not necessarily a good thing.
Quite the opposite of today’s final Hot Gear submission, the M3 Grease Gun:
Designed in the middle of World War II to be cheap, simple and easy to manufacture, it was almost entirely built of stampings; only the barrel and bolt were actually machined. So bone-simple was it that it didn’t even have a cocking handle; you stuck your finger in the ejection port into a hole in the bolt and hauled it directly back yourself. I’d read about this for years, of course; but when I actually got a chance to shoot an M3 back in 2000, it actually wasn’t as weird as I’d thought it would be. And – for the record – there are few things as cool as firing something on full-automatic; (I fired ten shots. In three bursts. Booyah).
So – thanks, veterans!