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Is the AR15/M16/M4 a Bigger Game Changer than the M1 Garand During Their Respective Issued Times?

I saw this topic on B-arfcom over the weekend and have thought about it ever since. It would seem an easy answer at first but the more I thought about it, the more interesting the question became. I am still organizing my thoughts on this but wanted to get some comments from readers about their opinion on the question.


It’s not fair to compare them directly, but rather within their own time periods.

Was the M1 Garand more of an unfair advantage during WW2 or is the Stoner design more impactful from the 60s to today?

While respecting the awesomeness of the Garand, I’d argue the Stoner rifle is the more impactful weapon. The intermediate cartridge is plenty, much larger capacity, INFINITELY more modular, more easily accurized, and furthermore has served our country much longer.

Furthermore, I’d argue the plethora of AR rifles on the market have made us a much better armed citizenry.

Finally, I believe servicing the rifle is easier for both citizen and soldier alike.

That’s my opening statement, and this thread is officially up for debate.

Below are some of the comments to the OP’s question in the thread.

Not for the US.

Bolt action to gas operated is one helluva jump in capability.

The AR was superior to the M14 in just about every way, but it was more a matter of quantity (weight, ammo capacity, etc) than a qualitative difference like the 1901 to the M1, and “modularity” wasn’t meaningful until the late 80s/early 90s when rail mount optics/lights/forends really came on the scene.

No. In its time the M1 was the first general issue autoloader. It opened a lot of doors for both sides. By the time we adopted the AR platform “everybody” had an autoloader of some type, many being select fire. The AR Was ” just another rifle” at that point. Aluminum and plastic instead of steel and wood but that’s it.

Ease of manufacturing is the biggest technological jump from the M1 to the AR. Otherwise, the M1 was more advanced than anything else for many years.

The AR/AK represents a fundamental shift away from old world style of production of master machinists, huge machinery, quality control and hand fitting.
It was extremely difficult to duplicate the production process for the M1. Now, almost anyone can build an AR/AK in their garage.
That’s a huge technological leap.

The M1 Garand and the M1 Carbine together were revolutionary in a way that the M16 never was. Almost all 1st Gen assault rifles were influenced by the M1 Carbine, (StG 44, AK 47, etc), and the M16 hammer/trigger group was developed from the M1 Garand. Also, the low-cost modular designs inherent in the Armalite were based on the methods developed to build sub-machine guns during WWII. The revolutionary nature of the AR was the adaption of aircraft-grade metal alloys and techniques to rifle construction, which changed small-arms production forever.

50 thoughts on “Is the AR15/M16/M4 a Bigger Game Changer than the M1 Garand During Their Respective Issued Times?”

  1. The Garand was a major increase in GI firepower, but it was ultimately a transitional design. It’s probably fair to compare it to the Spencer carbines of the Civil War, which in and of themselves were not long-lasting designs, but thoroughly proved the concept of metallic-cartridge repeaters on the battlefield, even as loath as the US Army was to learn the lesson. (Custer is unavailable for comment.)

    I’d say a good comparison is Spencer:Mauser::Garand:M16.

    One is a proof that a dramatic change in technology has arrived, and the other is a refinement of that technology into operational excellence to the point of extreme technological stability until the next disruption comes.

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  2. My humble opinion the Garand was the wholesale introduction of an autoloader to an Army and the bigger game changer. That’s a big leap ahead compared to contemporary armies.

    The M16 is nothing more than the continuation of that branch of evolution. Yes, it brings things to the table the Garand toting soldiers of yesteryear could only dream of but it’s because we went down that road with the Garand. For certain had it not been the Garand it’d been something else but that’s the history.

    Reply
      • I’d say that depends on who’s work you read and the era they lived. As a kid I read about how great the M1 was from historians who probably carried one.
        I still stand by saying that bringing the auto loader into pure fleet issue was the biggest impact. The M16 takes that baton of wood and steel and updates it to more modern manufacturing processes and materials.
        If you argue from service length and types then the M16 wins. Heck it entered service when some units were still carrying Garands! In which case there’s a point to be made there also I will concede.
        Kirk brings up great points below and the sum total being we could out produce and innovate an enemy who, in the case of Germany started behind the 8-ball of finite resources and manpower and Japan who put a lot of faith Bushido would carry the day.

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        • I think the unexamined lesson to be taken from the Germans in WWII isn’t so much the point that they were defeated–Which I’d argue was an inescapable function of the fact they were taking on opponents well out of their realistic weight class–But that they got as far as they did.

          The Fall of France is a perfect example; pre-1940, nobody would have expected the Germans to win that battle as conclusively as they did. Yet, between better tactics, operational art, and vast handouts of methamphetamines, they did. The French held every advantage, save their “software” and imaginations. They could not conceive of an enemy army that could manage to move through the Ardennes the way the Germans did, but with the aid of solid staff work, and several tons of meth, the Germans pulled it off. Absent the meth, I’m thinking that the Germans might not have done so well, but that’s an untestable thesis.

          The Germans got further than they had any right to; they damn near won. Had they played their cards a little more intelligently, they might have actually pulled off founding that “Thousand-Year Riech” they boasted of. Thankfully, while they were tactical and operational geniuses, they remained strategic idiots. That they did as well as they did is an overall indictment of Allied cupidity and fecklessness. The Nazi threat should have been crushed in its cradle about the time Hitler re-militarized the Rheinland, but nobody had the wit or wisdom to see the need–Even though he told them exactly what he was going to do.

          Reply
          • “That they did as well as they did is an overall indictment of Allied cupidity and fecklessness.“

            This is quite the pointed lesson to be taken from everything that led up to and through the opening moves of WWII.

            I’ve remarked at how we always train to fight last year’s war and only innovate when it’s necessity is forced upon us.

          • @DSM,

            I think the “train for the last war” isn’t really the real issue; the French certainly thought they were learning the lessons of WWI–It was just that they learned the wrong ones.

            Overall, the Germans had the better handle on being a “learning organization”, and adapting to reality. The French were certain they’d planned adequately, and prepared themselves for what was to come. The Germans, however, paid somewhat better attention to things, and turned out to have learned lessons that left the French and the UK in the dust.

            One thing that’s very interesting is how much takeaway the Germans had from Poland; we don’t give the Poles enough credit for fighting hard, mostly because the only real story we heard in the history books concentrated on German successes. The reality is that Poland showed some real German weaknesses, which they wasted no time in implementing fixes for. The Allies, on the other hand, dismissed what they got from the Poles who made it out of that charnel house, and failed to grasp what the Germans had achieved. The French, in particular, thought that the reported operations tempo the Poles described was so much excuse-making. Nobody paid attention to the mass-issue of amphetamines by the Germans, and when that same drug-fueled fury was unleashed on the French, they were as taken aback as the Poles had been.

            The root of things is that the Germans were simply much better than we were at that level of war; it got them France, but in the end, their lack of strategic sense and depth of material lost them the war.

            Then, as now, the majority of the problem was political, for the Germans; you look long and hard for them making really effective use of the resources they took over in Europe, and you only find real success in Austria and Czechoslovakia. Much of French industry was under-utilized, and instead of using it in place, they chose to loot it, and move it to Germany for slave-labor to operate. Not optimal choices, those… Plus, all the food issues they created in the occupied countries; you want effective use of the local industries, you can’t be starving the workers. The Germans, however, chose the delusional route of doing what they did, and that’s why they inevitably fell, despite having the initial advantages they did. The Nazis tried to conquer the world as a vanity project, and like all such things, the planning was unrealistic and failure-prone. Hitler et al were planning their victory monuments before they won the victories, which is similar to how every big company that builds itself a custom headquarters building is usually filing for bankruptcy inside a few years…

          • A lot of Germany’s success in France and Belgium had to with capturing the same type of fortifications pretty much without conflict in the Czechoslovakia — French engineers designed much of the Czech’s fortifications. The capture of the Czechs arms and materiel also doubled Germans’ military might including tanks, mechanized, etc, numbers.

            The British’s reluctance for war, and France not wanting to go it alone against Germany (France’s Little Entente alliance with Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia is relatively unknown vs the Anglo-Polish alliance… Had Germany gone to war with military-peer Czechoslovakia, it’s quite unlikely that they would have prevailed had France alone entered the fray, and even if France had not, it would have taken considerable time for Germany to rebuild their forces in order to invade Poland — and again, that additional time might have allowed Britain time to prepare for war and then brought them into the fray.

            On Czech vs German Forces:
            “Dr. Carroll Quigley
            Department of History, School of Foreign Service

            My dear Dr. Quigley:

            My name is Jay Burke and I am a student at Georgetown University. I am writing in regard to a discussion I have had with a student of yours, James Dowling. It is his assertion that prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1939, at the time Germany took over Czechoslovakia, Germany had only 36 incomplete divisions while Czechoslovakia had 35 complete and well trained divisions. In Dowling’s own words, “The Czech troops were ordered out of the trenches,” shortly before the treacherous invasion of the Germans.

            Obviously the Czech army was more potent than the German army. If this is so, why was Germany able to conquer Czechoslovakia so easily, and why didn’t the Czechs resist?

            It is my contention that Germany had more than 36 incomplete divisions to conquer a country of 35 complete divisions. Mr. Dowling contends that Germany had but 36 divisions plus their reserves.

            Would you please give us the truth of the matter?

            Respectfully yours,

            Jay Burke

            Mr. Jay Burke
            Box 113, Georgetown University
            Washington 7, D.C.

            My dear Mr. Burke,

            Mr. Dowling’s statement, regarding the size of the German Army at the time of the Munich crisis of September 1938, is quite accurate. In the third week of September Czechoslovakia had a million men and thirty-four first-rate divisions under arms. The Germans, in the course of September, increased their mobilization to thirty-one and ultimately to thirty-six divisions; but this probably represented a smaller force than the Czechs, as many of the nineteen first-line divisions were at two-thirds strength, the other third having been withdrawn to form the nucleus for the reserve divisions. Of the nineteen first-line divisions, three were armored and four were motorized. Only five divisions were left on the French frontier, in order to defeat Czechoslovakia as quickly as possible. France, which did not mobilize completely, had the Maginot Line completely manned on a war basis plus more than twenty infantry divisions. Moreover, France had available ten motorized divisions. Finally, Russia had ninety-seven divisions and, according to a letter from President Benes to Professor L. B. Namier on 20 April, 1944, Russia insisted on a policy of resistance to Germany’s demands in September, 1938. (See L.B. Namier, Europe in Decay, London, 1950. p. 284.)

            In air power, the Germans had a slight edge in average quality, but in number of planes it was far inferior. Moreover, Britain was just beginning to obtain delivery planes of quality far superior to those of Germany. In September, 1938, Germany had about 1,500 planes, while Czechoslovakia had less than 1,000; France and England together had over 1,000; Russia was reported to have 5,000, mostly of poor quality, but some of high quality. During the crisis, Russia gave thirty-six of its best planes to Czechoslovakia, flying them across Rumania.

            In tanks, Germany was far inferior in quality in September, 1938. At that time, Germany’s tanks were all below ten tons (Mark II) and were armed with machine guns, except for a handful of eighteen ton tanks (Mark III) armed with a 37 mm. gun. The Czechs had hundreds of thirty- eight ton tanks armed with 75 mm. cannon. When Germany overran Czechoslovakia in March, 1939, it captured 469 of these superior tanks along with 1,500 planes, 43,500 machine guns, over one million rifles, and a magnificent system of fortifications. From every point of view, this was little less than Germany had at Munich, and, at Munich, if the British government had desired it, Germany (with the possible assistance of Poland and Hungary) would have been opposed by Czechoslovakia supported by France, Britain, and Russia.”
            http://www.carrollquigley.net/misc/quigley_explains_how_germany_conquered_czechoslovakia.htm

          • RSR, given that the Germans didn’t do much in the way of frontal attacks on the Maginot line fortifications, I don’t think they benefited much from having access to the Czech fortification lines or plans.

            Now, I’ll grant you that the fact that the Belgians chose German contractors for things like Eben Emael…? Yeah; that helped. But, what attacks were made on the Maginot fortresses mostly were made from the rear, after those fortresses had been obviated by attacking through the Ardennes.

            French prepared to fight WWI over again; the Germans prepared to win WWII, based on the lessons they’d learned in WWI. The results speak for themselves.

            Irony is, the guy who essentially invented modern small unit tactics? French; the Germans captured his work that’d been privately published, translated it, and put it into effect. The genesis of “Stormtroop Tactics” is actually French. Trouble is, the French military, being in love with le Grandes Ecoles mentality, didn’t pay attention to the lowly captain who outlined what the Germans glommed on to.

            The mentality that leads to the top-down sort of hierarchy is one that we’ve adopted to our disadvantage; the US Army resembles the dysfunctional French more than the pragmatic German approach to things. It’s interesting to note the social side-effects, as well–In Germany, a retired senior NCO would slide right into the bureaucracy, taking a small-town postmaster job or something. In France, and the United States? LOL… That rat bastard low-life scum would be regarded as a parasite for even asking for a pension. We have this stereotype of the Germans as being this rigid hierarchical nightmare, but the fact is, they were far more open to the talents and had far greater flexibility than anyone they fought. They were also better at acknowledging realities than we ever were, particularly the French. All you had to do was note how the Germans recognized that the trench was a fact of life, and how they did their best to make them work. Compared to the French, whose fortifications were a nightmare of poor construction, lousy sanitation, and rigidly ignored needs? It is nuts–The French actually resisted putting in permanent concrete deep dugouts, because they felt that to build them would “demoralize” the troops, and make them less likely to get out of their trenches and fight!

            Meanwhile, the Germans were digging in deep, with shelters that were well beneath what Allied bombardment could damage, riding out the bombardments, and casually whistling as they moved their machine guns back up to the revetments to massacre the next wave of assaulting Allied troops. The whole thing was a ridiculous illustration of “expert authority” failing the troops, and led directly to the French late-war mutinies.

          • Speaking of trench and earth works. A lot of people don’t know R.E. Lee was also skilled in earth works on the defense. Having his troops dig in and throw up more and more complex trenches and earth works and having them improved the longer they stayed put. With fall back trenches dug and prepared in case units had to fall back from yankee assaults. Until the very end there was almost 0 penetration of overrunning of a trenched in area by the Army of N. VA. His entrenchments around Richmond earned him the nickname “The King Of Spades” before he was able to bring his talents to the field . I am not even a casual student of WW1 history but I wonder how much lesson was taken from the use of trench and earth works of the CSA during the civil war and used in WW1. We see the beginning of modern trench warfare in the civil war, trenches, barbed wire, trains to move troops. etc.

          • Yes, the attacks the Germans made against Dutch and Belgians fortified lines are where the knowledge from the Czech fortifications primarily came into play. The quick fall of Dutch and Belgium border fortifications is what drew France’s best forces north, clearing the way for an attack through the Ardennes.
            But don’t forget, the Czech fortifications also allowed the Luftwaffe to create bombing strategies to defeat these fortifications as well, which punched a hole through the Meuse Line at the Battle of Sedan and allowed the Germans to penetrate miles behind the line on the first day of the attack.

            I don’t think this assessment is correct: “French prepared to fight WWI over again; the Germans prepared to win WWII, based on the lessons they’d learned in WWI. The results speak for themselves.”

            The purpose of these fortifications was not to repeat the static trench lines of WW1, but rather to delay the Germans’ attacks long enough for reserve troops to maneuver and attack. And take a further look at the Czech’s fortifications — they were specifically located to provide the greatest defense against tanks and delay/deny tanks to access to plains, etc, where they’d have ample room for maneuver/potentially achieve an advantage, as well as channel any attacks through optimal defensive zones… For instance, the Czechs even had more and stronger tanks than the Germans at the time of the invasion… But they had lost their border fortifications and a defensible line prior to the German invasion. France, Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union had the largest tank forces at the time of the French invasion, and Germany had to resort to using Flak 88 artillery to defeat many of the French tanks’ armor b/c it was too strong to for their tank’s guns to penetrate, etc. It’s generally accepted the greater quantity of French tanks were also of higher quality, albeit less maneuverable — though they were designed primarily for defense.

            Also, French forces attacked out of the Maginot Line in the Phoney War that coincided with invasion of Poland, though that attack was more of a feignt, hence the “Phoney” name. Nevertheless, it shows that the Maginot line wasn’t just a static defensive position…

            Point being, I think there was an understanding of the evolution of German tactics, and the plans were prepared to meet them, not re-fight WW1.

            I don’t know re: small unit tactics, but one thing that isn’t in dispute is that French units lacked sufficient operational radios to properly coordinate a defense against the German’s fast-moving attack and were also hampered by Germany’s air-superiority. Germany’s wireless radios allowed infantry and tanks to communicate with artillery and air for a much more robust combined arms operations…

          • Shawn — yes, the Civil War trenches and fortifications were really quite something. Unfortunately most were constructed of earth and timber and no longer around today.

            Another interesting case study of fortifications are the blockhouses and wire emplacements of the Boer Wars (not a lot of trenches though). Earth and sheet metal rice houses to more sophisticated stone emplacements… The Boer War fortifications seem to inspire the French legion blockhouses and the later Special Forces A Camps of the Vietnam War…

          • *Also Shawn, if you any idea whoever it was that was doing the for fort tours for the Weaponsman blog. I’d be interested to see similar content here.

          • No I don’t know. We could maybe find out through our access to the weaponsman website but I think that was a friend of Kevin’s who wanted to remain private. I have rarely used the weaponsman data to contact people. Kirk being a rare example of us using the info stored in it to get email addresses

    • Look forward to the Boer write-up. Just a suggestion on the forts — thinking fortifications are a different angle on firearms use and deployment, and one I find quite interesting… Thanks again for all you do here.

      Reply
  3. TLDR, I think the Garand was a more significant development for military arms, but the AR was more significant for civilian arms.

    The introduction of semi auto fire to every man is a game changer, and the tactics and use at the time were way more rifle centered. By the time the M-16 comes around, the individual rifleman is less important, and the changes it introduces are relatively minor. A Garand way outclasses all its competitors until the STG-44 comes out. The M-16 is marginally better than its peers, AR/AK is a debate, but no one would feel completely outmatched fighting against one with an M-14, FAL, Galil, HK, or any other military rifle from 1960 forward.

    The AR is a huge game changer in the civilian world. Think about what home defense and hunting guns looked like in the 80’s vs today. Pump shotguns, bolt action rifles, pistols have all been supplanted by one very adaptable platform. With limited tools and an internet connection, you can make a 10 in barreled home defense gun, or a 24 in barreled precision rifle, all assembled in one evening after you come home from work for 500 bucks. And you get the exact gun you want. One manual of arms, one set of spares and tools, and the same firearm that you spend all your time learning how to use to hunt or target shoot gives you parity with anyone who tries to attack you.

    As to whether being the gun that was instrumental to winning WWII or being the gun that made a well armed populace possible is more historically significant, I think we are going to need to get through a couple more decades of history to find that out.

    Reply
    • over all the M1 had little to do with winning WW2. Very low on the list of things that made that possible. landing craft, radar, proximity fuse, russian willingness to throw bodies at machine guns, bomber planes. etc etc, that stuff won the war.

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          • I just looked it up and that Davy Crockett thing was pretty close to shoulder-fired, but not quite there.

            I’ll take “Crap MOSes for $1000, please, Alex.”

          • Nobody tell John about the ADM munitions, and the title for the poor bastards tasked with emplacing them: Disposable Fire Teams.

          • Gets really fun when you’re the kid who enlisted for 12E, and find out that you’re expected to maintain direct eye contact with the munition right up until the point of detonation…

            That MOS was probably the closest the US Army ever came to having one for suicide bombers, TBH. First chance I got, I opted the hell out and became a 12B. It turns out that there were at least three videos you were supposed to sit though at MEPS, explaining the whole thing, before you signed on the dotted line for that job. I never saw any of them until I was in Basic, and they were discovering that they’d enlisted too many guys for 12E. They checked the paperwork we had, saw that there were things missing from my packet, and, well… Yeah. I was like “Uhm… If it’s all the same to you guys, I’d rather do something they don’t describe as “Disposable”…”.

      • I think the point that needs to be remembered is that the small arms suite you pick to take to war has some effect on things, but the biggest influence it has is on the survivability of your line infantry formations. Poor small arms=high casualties. You may win overall, because you’ve got more and better support arms, but where the shan hits the fit, you’re going to lose more men than you necessarily needed to.

        Eastern Front casualty stats tell the tale. The MG34/42 racked up more dead than just about any other small arm in history, and I’d be willing to entertain bids making it the deadliest small arm in the history of ever. So far, at least… Even with the decades of service for the AK pattern weapons, I think the primary killing years of WWII would leave the MG34/42 ahead of everything.

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  4. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Garand was far less important a weapon than we would like to think. Sure, it was an improvement on the individual weapon, but… Was it a big enough one to be significant in combat?

    I would submit that it emphatically was not.

    The WWII era, which I will widen to encompass both the late ’40s and early ’30s, held a lot of significance in terms of the development of combat tactics. The only people who really took a long, hard look at the lessons of WWI, and then extrapolated forward to understand the actual nature of combat were the Germans. This is why they emphasized the things they did, namely full-auto firepower. Germany plumped its limited resources down on an improved, more portable GPMG, and then built their squads around that idea. They also mass-issued the submachinegun, another vote for firepower. The US, on the other hand, went down the false path of the “individual rifleman”, which had a number of flaws to it.

    The casualty stats tell us who got it more “right”. German infantry wrought havoc with their MG systems and mortars, proving that the telling feature in close combat was not individual marksmanship, but squad overall firepower. This lesson can be seen in the increased numbers of machineguns you found in the actual WWII American rifle squads, who’d scrounge up and use whatever they could. I’ve seen and heard accounts from American WWII half-track mounted infantry which describe there being more machineguns than men on their vehicles, begged, borrowed, or stolen. Some formations turned in double or triple the number of guns they were authorized on MTOE when they demobilized in Europe, and were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to take them to the Pacific theater if they were going. Others flatly lied their asses off about what they’d had, and hid them.

    Basically, the reality is that firepower dominated. Machineguns were the basis of winning your firefights, and if you wanted to win, you needed to dominate the opening phases. This is why the StG44 was so popular with the Germans who could get them–It allowed them more firepower than the Kar98k/MG34/42 combination had. And, if you look at the way they actually organized, vice the MTOE diagrams so beloved of planners, the late-war German squads usually had a permanently attached gun team with them from the platoon, especially on the attack. Even with the StG44, they thought they needed the belt-fed. And, so it proved. Similarly, the American rifle squad came to contain as much firepower as they could get their thieving hands on, and you’d see more MG assets in the actual units than they were authorized–Especially if they were mounted. The late war American squads that were actually doing the fighting did not resemble the pretty pictures in the manuals in any way, shape, or form; it was all about maximizing the firepower.

    This lesson did not make it back to the people writing doctrine in the US; post-war American thought was based on the idea that what was in the manual was how it was done. That disconnect led to the creation of the 7.62mm NATO round, and the M14. Both of which were bastard creations neither fish nor fowl; the combination was too heavy for a really modern individual, and too light to serve as a support weapon. It took the abject failure of the system in Vietnam for reality to intrude, and lead to the creation of the first real SCHV weapon system, the M16. Even this was flawed, to be honest–The litany of error and sheer incompetence surrounding the fielding of that weapon is hard to believe when you look at it, but there it is.

    The M1 Garand is really the weapon we should have fielded for WWI; the M16 is the result of recognizing the nature and necessities of modern infantry combat, and as such, it is by far the more influential weapon. When you look at it coldly, the M1 Garand was a waste of time, effort, and money: The US would have been much better off had it emphasized development of the squad’s primary firepower asset, the light and medium machinegun, and left the individual weapon as a side-project. This is what the Germans chose to do, and as I said before, the tale of the casualty stats tells who got it right.

    The Garand is a great weapon, and a triumph of manufacture. The problem is, the damn thing was designed for an era that was over twenty years before it was type-standardized, and it fought in the wrong damn war. The entire concept of full-caliber individual rifles was obsolete before the end of WWI, but it took us until the 1960s to actually recognize that fact and procure accordingly.

    As such, the answer to this question is unequivocally “the M16”.

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    • By your analysis/reasoning the M16 is even less significant today than the M1 Garand was then… The M16 was equally foolish relative to how wars are fought today (it was better aligned for combat in Vietnam however than the M14) — in state warfare today, where its more appropriate evolution of the M4 shines is in urban combat where you can’t deploy mortars, tanks, artillery, air bombing, belt fed machine guns, grenade launchers, etc., which are the primary anti-personnel weapons of America’s forces. The long M16 is less suited to this urban combat niche where greater firepower cannot be brought than is the more compact M4.

      I think the M1 Garand proved that semi-automatic+ small arms to every, or nearly so, member of an infantry force was a force multiplier, and the logistics ammo waste concerns were drastically overstated. I also think the M1 Garand/the greater firepower offered by widely-used semi-auto firearms also helped to finally relegate bayonet charges and tactics to the dust bin of history, except in extreme scenarios. So that paradigm shift is where I see the value as well as the primary use of just one type of small arm for unit-wide issue. The StG44 also helped to prove these concepts, but I don’t think the America’s military leadership would have been quite so sold on the idea of an intermediate-caliber semi to full auto rifle as general issue. I’d forsee something like a Sten SMG (or M1 Carbine if that was developed but not the Garand) combined w/ machine guns as being the route we would have gone, or possibly keeping an assortment of bolt actions, SMGs, and machine guns for every unit…

      Also, I don’t see the utility of a full-caliber/full-power gun of any type for the type of combat faced in WW1. Spanish-American War, yeah. But not WW1 where in trench warfare more compact weapons were preferred. Also important, is that the type of combat faced in WW2 was also not wave attacks where troops faced mass slaughter — in WW1, many troops died before they ever had a chance to use that weapon against the enemy, so why arm troops with more expensive semi-automatic+ firearms?

      Reply
      • I’m not saying that the M1 would have been the ideal weapon for WWI; what I mean to convey is that it’s the ideal weapon they’d have wanted, at that point in the development of small arms and tactics. At the time, everybody was delusional about what the nature of war was, and what they really needed to conduct it.

        No matter how you parse it, the full-power cartridge of the late 19th Century was freakin’ overkill, unless your worries included cavalry horses. Which, we often forget, they did–At the time. The fact that the machine gun and barbed wire had pretty much put paid to the cavalry charge hadn’t quite percolated down to the masses, as of yet. Going purely after humans, the weapons of that era were grotesquely over-powered, but that wasn’t their only intended target. Once you eliminate the need to kill the horsies, well… You can move on to more realistic weapons that are controllable on full-auto.

        Frankly, what the average WWI combatant probably really needed in the way of small arms would have been more along the lines of a STEN and a good portable radio, plus a bag of grenades. Nobody recognized that fact, and it’s kind of sad that they didn’t.

        Of course, the guys in WWII needed the Claymore mine in the Pacific, just like the Korean War guys did, but nobody bothered to build them a factory-made, portable fougasse until well after both wars were over…

        I kind of enjoy the idea of thinking what a Claymore would have done to your typical Banzai! charge, not to mention a succession of them in front of your positions. It would have almost been funny to watch. But, then, I’m a sick bastard of a Combat Engineer who loves him some ‘splosive goodness to play with…

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        • Full-caliber/full-power rifles, something a lot of folks forget is that the spitzer bullet wasn’t in widespread use until the early 20th century/1900s; it and smokeless powder arrived around the same time. Probably not fully realizing the increased ballistics and penetration advantages vs what preceded them.

          Also, before the widespread adoption of the machine gun, volley fire was a much more widely used tactic especially at extreme ranges, and heavy bullets were required to do sufficient damage at extreme ranges often in excess of 1,500 yards when bullets were moving at quite slow velocities…

          Thanks for clarifying “wanted” — makes a lot more sense, and I agree. I think we’re on the same page w/ the rest.

          And really not equivalent — but I like the idea of duckbill shotguns as a civilian-legal claymore alternative… YMMV. IIRC, WW1 Germans wanted American Model 97 trenchguns/shotguns banned for being inhumane, and when the Hague rejected their protest an execution order was given for any American captured with a shotgun… But yes, I think I’d personally prefer a reliable subgun over a shotgun.

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          • Funny thing about that, M97 thing, though… Just about zero actually made it to the trenches, and they saw little use. It was like the Dum-Dum bullet–Propaganda fodder. I forget where I read it, but there was a breakdown of just how many shotguns were actually issued in the trenches, and it was miniscule.

            Freakin’ Germans and their lawfare. I’m really dubious about the benefit of all that “Don’t use expanding bullets–It’s inhumane!!!” crap–Really, Heinz? It’s more humane to poke lots of little holes in people, contaminate the holes with dirt and mud and filth, and then have the guys you shot die agonizingly over a period of weeks from gas gangrene and peritonitis?

            Given the state of medical knowledge that was current about the time of the various Geneva and Hague conventions going through, I have to think that the rat bastards negotiating those deals were a bunch of ‘effing sadists, cruel beyond measure. I’d have rather bled out quickly with a great gaping hole in my chest than die over a period of weeks, rotting in a hospital ward. That’s just me, though–Some of y’all may get off on the suffering.

          • I was looking at a modern duckbill attachment for the shotgun.
            Did something like an 8 foot wide spread. I forget the distance, but that is too wide for my purposes. I’d worry about having too few pellets strike a target.

          • Kirk — Interesting re: shotguns in WW1 — totally unaware. Myth not meeting reality, but nevertheless would be interested in source(s).

            Howard — yeah, the duckbills are very much a niche use, and I would say for “offensive” use but only in the sense of an unrestrained defense, like w/ a claymore/a free fire zone, which doesn’t really exist for civilian needs.

            Claymores have 700 ball bearings @ 7/32″ (0.22″) vs #4 buck running .24 inches and 41 pellets in a 3″ shell… So you’d need to fire a duckbill shotgun ~17 times to be equivalent to a single claymore insofar as lead down range. Now I’d propose — especially if some degree of aiming — that firing 17 rounds over an extended period of time would be more effective than a single claymore. But the superior firepower of a claymore is nevertheless indisputable. Paradigm Research advertises theirs @ 6 ft spread at 12 yards/36 ft. Somewhere they did a video showing 90* rotation of the shotgun and clearing doorways, etc, as well…

            Point being, the duckbill is absolutely a niche use, but one that’s nevertheless the closest civilian-legal alternative to a claymore. Perimeter defense, entry defense, marine defense (deck clearing), etc, are all uses where I see it excelling — particularly in a combined arms environment (i.e., others having semi-auto carbines or rifles, not relying solely on one person w/ the duckbill).

            My “philosophy of use” — borrowing terminology from nutnfancy who is annoying but nevertheless usually on point — for the duckbill is that if fills the gap that could be otherwise covered by a squad with 2 round burst 5.56 weapons (2 round burst being one feature I’d like to see in 5.56 weapons and one I was sad to see removed from the CZ 806 Bren but was present on the milspec select-fire version of the 805 Bren). 2 round burst has minimal impact on POA/POI relative to 3 round burst and shot dispersion does provide a mathematical advantage while also helping to remedy many of the complaints about “inadequate” 5.56 in famished enemies…

  5. A minor caveat, by the end of WW1 the french had armed 80,000 soldiers with semi automatic rifles and were well on their way to fully replacing Bolt action rifles, at least for their fighting troops.
    The RSC17/18, you can find more about them at “Forgotten Weapons”.

    I’ll go with the AR system as being more influential than the Garand, the concerted efforts of our overlords to outlaw them reinforces the point.

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  6. After some thinking and perusal of the comments here (thanks, Kirk!), I have another take.

    Let’s consider what was innovative about each firearm and whether it was influential or not.

    The gas systems of both rifles were innovative, but where the Stoner DI system has become common, the Garand really only led to the M14, which was a dud. Advantage: Stoner.

    The cartridge for the Stoner gun was new, if derivative. The cartridge for the Garand was a product-improved version of the round adopted for the ‘03 Springfield. Advantage: Stoner.

    Caveat: the original Stoner design was for 7.62 NATO, which was arguably still just a product-improved version of .30’03, and the original Garand design was for .276 Pedersen, which IMHO is a better cartridge for the purpose, but wasn’t really influential. Caveat advantage: Tie.

    Feeding system: The Garand was built for en bloc clips, which were fine for their time, but had apparently no influence on anything. Detachable magazines were hardly innovative in the Stoner design, but despite that, AR mags have become standards. Advantage: Stoner.

    Ergonomics: the Garand was pretty unremarkable ergonomics-wise. The Stoner design was very innovative, with its low bore axis, pistol grip and conveniently-located safety. Again, the Garand influenced M14 ergs, but nothing else. Stoner ergs are standard for rifles as diverse as the S&W M&P15-22 and the Ruger Precision Rifle. Advantage: Stoner.

    Manufacturing: The Garand was a well-made, mass-produced semiauto. That’s not nothing for the time period. But Stoner used plastic and aluminum to reduce weight, which remain the standard today. Advantage: Stoner.

    Really, the Garand was almost an accident of history. The US had already fielded something similar in the BAR, and while none of the other powers started WWII with semiauto battle rifles, but by the end of the war, Germany was ready to bypass the semiauto battle rifle and move straight to the assault rifle, which was a much more direct ancestor of the Stoner design. So even if the Garand had never existed, the FAL (based on the BAR), the AK-47 and the M16 all likely would have.

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    • Y’know… The question of “influence” is a tricky one. You have to pick out what things from each weapon went forward into future designs, and some of those things are Big Deals, while others… Aren’t.

      With the Garand, there were only two weapons subsequent to it that really carried on its fundamental theme: Full-stocked traditionally manufactured weapons. One was the M14, and the other was the BM-59 series. So, from that aspect, it was a dead end, influence-wise.

      On the other hand, we have the meta-concept of “semi-auto, mass-issue individual weapon”, and as the lead example of that, well… Yeah. Everyone since has at least paid lip service to the idea. Nobody is mass-issuing a bolt-action rifle outside the Canadian Rangers, who stick with the bolt for other reasons…

      Then, there’s the question of the M16: Users of the Stoner gas system…? Uhmmm… Korean K-1? Yeah. Other than direct derivatives of the M16 that are licensed manufacture, nobody has adopted that gas system for a weapon ever since Stoner did it. Patents have run out, and what everyone is copying is the AR-18 short-stroke piston. So… M16? Not so influential on that level.

      However, as far as SCHV? Yikes… Everybody’s doing it, even the Soviets/Russians. So, in that regard, the M16 has had an awful lot of influence.

      I think it’s all down to which way you look at it through the prism of history. In some regards, the M16 hasn’t been influential at all, and it’s an example of the US playing catch-up to the idea of the intermediate cartridge and the assault rifle. In others, it’s highly innovative and cutting-edge. Same things can be said for the Garand, which was, after all, the first successfully mass-produced semi-auto for a major military. In that regard, it was highly innovative–It’s just that it was eclipsed as a tactical influencer by innovations in other weapons at that tactical level. If they’d have issued the Garand as an individual weapon in WWI, it would have been a lot more effective than it was. Had they had the wit and wisdom to recognize the nature of infantry combat for the 1940s, they’d have said “Yeah, the semi-auto full-power cartridge rifle is kinda neat, but what we really need is a decent LMG and a light mortar down in the squads and platoons…”, we would have been a lot better off. There’s no damn excuse for the BAR going into WWII in the A2 configuration; had they have slapped a pistol grip on it, flipped it for a belt-feed, and then added changeable barrels, we’d have had a much better firepower solution for our squads. Not to mention, a decent bipod…

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      • “semi-auto, mass-issue individual weapon”

        My point is that mass-issue semi-auto (or select-fire) rifles would have happened with or without the Garand. It wasn’t the only semi-auto rifle design rattling around, and the popular rifle of the second half of the XX century that most resembles it (FAL) was based on the BAR, which pre-dated the Garand anyway.

        When I think of truly groundbreaking designs, I think of things like Browning’s slide, Browning’s gas ports, Maxim’s machine gun or the StG44.

        You do have a point that the AR-15’s DI system isn’t as widely copied as the AR-18’s.

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        • See, the thing that is important is that it was the first mass-issue semi-auto. Before that, the semi-auto was a specialist’s weapon, suitable only for issue to the Right Guys, like the Soviet Naval Infantry. Part of it was down to simple numbers; nobody else managed Garand’s genius at production machinery, which he was constantly tinkering with to improve. To be honest, I think he was a better production engineer than he was a weapons designer, and has really been credited with a bit too much because of the basic design of the Garand–Which was, as you note, derivative of several French designs.

          After the Garand, nobody but the poor schlubs at Madsen thought that there was a future in the bolt-action rifle, and even they knew better than to market the things to major powers.

          So, in that regard, the Garand was influential–Everybody wanted to keep up with the Americans. Without the Garand and WWII experience, it might have been years more before people recognized the necessity for self-loading.

          Or, not. Trying to argue “might-have-beens” is pretty much a fool’s game, absent the ability to actually examine counterfactual histories.

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          • “Or, not. Trying to argue “might-have-beens” is pretty much a fool’s game, absent the ability to actually examine counterfactual histories.”

            I agree. Lots of fun to talk about, though.

            It’s good to see you hanging around here. I’m perusing Hognose’s archives in chronological order (thanks, Shawn and Howard!) and I recently found some of your early ones there. Good stuff.

        • I’ve often wondered to what extent the FAL’s hinged upper/lower receiver impacted the AR’s design. The FAL’s gas system continues to inspire new designs to the present-day, but but not a lot else in that gun, unless I’m mistaken. I do prefer the FAL to any other .308 battle rifle, including the AR10 — AR10 would be a close competitor if parts were standardized however.

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          • Before the hinged upper/lower thing came into the AR-10, the design had a separate upper that slid back onto the lower via a dovetail arrangement. It was what Fairchild Aviation termed the AR-10B that had the push-pin shotgun arrangement that we’re all familiar with.

            Now, here’s something I only vaguely remember, and that’s the fact that the FAL wasn’t the first weapon design to feature that sort of arrangement. Somewhere back there in history is another antecedent, and I’ll be damned if I can remember where or when I saw that. I need to dig out my FN FAL books and look that up, to see if that’s where I got it from.

    • I’m pretty much stuck w/:
      – the M1 Garand proved a concept and moved us into the current age regarding semi-auto+ weapons and tactics that made use of the increased firepower, a paradigm shift

      – the AR15 weight, ergonomics, and materials used in the AR15 are currently the basis for weapons that are intended to replace it

      Since I don’t think that we would have ended up with the AR15 w/o the M1 Garand, I’m calling it more significant.

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      • I’m a little conflicted, to be honest.

        The Garand was kinda like the BAR; it was a very well-implemented answer to a poorly understood problem, that of modern combat. The paradigm of the full-power individual rifleman dominating and winning the firefight at the lowest level never really prevailed in combat. As such, the poorly-conceived expression of that idea isn’t really a very influential weapon, in terms of tactics.

        The M16 family, which we have to remember is actually derivative of the AR-10, another full-power rifle that wasn’t controllable on full-auto, actually represents the final acknowledgement by the knuckleheads who were running the show for the US that they’d fundamentally gotten it wrong since about 1918, which I think is the latest date you can really have an excuse for thinking that something like the .30-06/7.62mm NATO is a viable individual weapon cartridge for general issue. At some point in the inter-war years, someone should have been able to look at the actual engagement records, and said “Y’know… We’re just not using all that much of this cartridge’s ballistics, in the individual weapon… Maybe it would make more sense to look at what we’re actually shooting at, and go from there…?”. The US did not do that–Even the .276 Pedersen was more a “range toy” than a combat caliber. It’s unfortunate that the guys running the Camp Perry matches didn’t pay closer attention to what was actually going on, out there on the battlefield, and then changed the game they were playing to mimic reality a bit closer. Given how much influence the gravel-bellies had on things, that might have prevented us going down a fifty-year rat hole of wasted development.

        In some ways, the Garand and the M16 both represent abject failures to recognize and adapt to reality. The fact that the Garand was adopted in the 1930s, when we had ample evidence that the .30-06 was grossly overpowered for an individual weapon? Failure. That the M16 was the first time we tried fielding a really controllable and effective intermediate-caliber weapon, and we did it in the 1960s, well after the freakin’ primitive-ass Soviets had fielded theirs? Again, an emphatic failure.

        I think a lot of the problem was that the US political and military establishment bought into the bullshit about “…the war to end all wars…”, and the A-bomb rendering conventional war irrelevant. Both mentalities led to people playing games with the small arms, and not emphasizing them or the needs of actual combat at low levels. The Army and Marine Corps both lost themselves in the dream-world of Camp Perry, where the paper targets didn’t hid, didn’t shoot back, and were all out there well past actual combat ranges. This represents a failure of duty for the armed services, whose responsibilities include ensuring that we’re ready to make war, and lose the fewest citizens doing it.

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        • The BAR, without a quick detach barrel, is fairly limited as light machine gun and quite heavy — over 15 lbs I think, 50%+ heavier than the M1 Garand. Being open-bolt, it’s also not as accurate as an M1 Garand.

          Point being, I don’t think their equivalent and believe the M1 Garand to be more influential in main battle rifle/assault rifle development than was the BAR in light machine gun development, if that makes sense.

          A separate tangent, but I do think there’s something to intermediate barriers in the jungle, including branches, etc, deflecting the 5.56N 55gr bullets used at the time out of 1-12″ twist barrels. And 5.56N definitely wasn’t as effective as 7.62×39 in turning cover into concealment… So despite its advantages, it still had many practical disadvantages above and beyond the well-known reliability concerns. For 7.62×39 — should also note that most Vietnam-era 7.62×39 was steel core, which typically tumbles much later and causes much less trama than the later hollow-nosed and lead-core FMJ.

          Best as I can recall WW2, was the only time in recent history when it was common-place for military bureaucracy to take second place to efficacy. By that I’m talking more about promotion through the ranks than weapons with the point being that the US military has long had leadership failures — ones that continue to be rampant to the present day… For example, see all the careerism discussions on Hognose’s old blog in its final months.

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          • The MAG58/M240 is basically a BAR turned upside-down and fitted with the fire control and feed bits from the MG42. We could have done the same thing in the 1930s, done it up like the SS-77 and had one version with a BREN-like magazine in a reduced-power .276 Pedersen to match the individual weapon, and another in .30-06 or a little bigger for the Medium MG role with a belt feed. Take the Garand, put a realistic intermediate cartridge in it with an in-line stock and a box magazine, and call it good.

            That combination with better small-unit tactics, which I’d have centered around the Marine 13-man three-team squad? It would have drastically reduced our combat-arms casualties, I think.

  7. The 1917/18 and CSRG are far more influential then either. The French figured out the firepower part in WWI and by the end of the war were much further down that path then any other nation. The failure to modernize the rifle to a semi auto was due to a lack of money, the massive stock of existing arms,having to develop everything from almost a blank slate, and a desire to not repeat the mistake of rushing a gun like they did with the Lebel.

    The M1 was nearly the first truly successful fruit from that tree.

    The Stg had a very different devlopment history. The M1 and M1 carbines probably accelerated the push to develop it, but not directly. My understanding was that it was ment to give subMG guys more effectiveness and less about individual riflemen.

    The AR is the logical end from the Mp40/PPSH–>Stg–>AK line more than the 1903–>M1–>M14/FAL/etc. line. The AR is an amalgam of everything before it just, if not more so, then the M1

    The Stg, is the winner over either.

    The AR because if what it represents to many Americans.

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  8. The picatinny rail flattop upper receivers were the biggest game changer for the AR15 IMO/distinguishing the system from its peers. Optics provide such a tremendous advantage, and the ease in which they can be installed on the modern railed uppers is what gives the M4/M16/AR15 platform such advantage, at least IMO. Though that rail wasn’t available until M16A3 or M4 3rd Gen+ AFAIK, so relatively recently. Quality and reliable mags also weren’t readily available until relatively recently.

    Looking back to the time of its development until about the start of the GWOT, I’d personally classify the VZ58 as the biggest game changer in the world of military small arms. While it does have a steel receiver vs AR15’s aluminum, otherwise it’s use of aluminum, polymers, and other modern materials rivals that of the AR15, and had a reliability advantage up to start of the GWOT in no small part due to its reliable and continuous curve aluminum mags. Barrel is pressed and drilled and pinned too… But there were a few changes around 1961 to refine for mass production and lighten the weapon where possible. Vz58s are also 1.5 lbs lighter than the AK. And the fact that the Soviets allowed the Czechs to make them speaks volumes.
    Good read on VZ58’s legacy: https://czfirearms.us/index.php?topic=72651.0

    So yes, M1 Garand for the win.

    I’m torn on M1 Carbine. For its intermediate niche, it did precede the StG 44, but there were many pistol-caliber subguns that preceded it and that filled similar roles; however, the M1 Carbine is lighter than most of those and obviously has a more powerful cartridge with further range…
    But I think the StG 44 was more influential to the small arms that followed than was the M1 Carbine.

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  9. Ah, a Vektor reference — big fan of the Galil and R4+ series of rifles. The South Africans, Israelis, Scandavians, and the Swiss have quite a few interesting and often contrarian firearm technological developments…
    But yes, effectively creating an RPK (or similar) w/ a quick-change barrel would have been revolutionary.

    The 13-14-15-16 man squad is basically what Max Velocity is preaching to the present day IIRC. Again, IIRC: 13= three 4 man squads plus squad leader, 14 = add squad leader medic. 15 = add designated marksman/sniper to SL team, 16 = SL & medic as a team and the +2 being a precision or SAW team for suppressive/supporting fires on the flank, freeing all 3 four man teams for the assault cycle…

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    • Squad structure is about to undergo another one of those periods of massive change.

      The cause is going to be from two things: ELINT and drones. Right now, you have to haul around all these counter-IED tools, and if you don’t have ’em…? Yeah; live with being blown up a lot. Same-same with the drones–We’re going to have to come up with dedicated operators, and I can see the squad becoming so damn big and unwieldy that we wind up putting an officer in charge of it and calling it a platoon.

      It is almost certain that we’re going to have so many assets and so many sorts of firepower/support tools down to the squad level that it’s going to be well past the management level at which we’re comfortable with having a mere NCO do it, but… Where the hell is the manpower going to come from, to have a 2LT at the squad level? Either we upgrade NCO capacity or we resign ourselves to having a ton more junior officers than we do currently.

      The squad has always had to have the ability to shoot, move, and communicate. Coming up as requirements are things like being able to run ELINT equivalent to what we were putting in aircraft not that long ago, and we’re going to have to have the squads running their very own UAV intel-gathering assets. The resulting squad/platoon structure that’s going to come along with this crap is going to be a nightmare of unwieldy and epic proportion. What are we going to do, give the PL his very own UAV control element, like his RTO? How about the ELINT guys?

      The complexity level of things is about to go up, exponentially. As a squad leader, you’re going to have to take into account things that would have blown the mind of a WWII company commander, and which we would have never given the authority over to an enlisted man.

      To be brutally honest, I see the entire paradigm of rank structure going out the damn window, over the long haul. You’re going to have such complex and rigorous requirements for running even something as “simple” as a rifle squad that you’re going to have to accede to giving those leaders similar authority and power as a commissioned officer, along with the prestige and pay. You’re not just going to send these guys off to a shake-and-bake NCO course, and expect them to function. Training is going to have to get a lot more rigorous and planned-out over the course of someone’s career–The current hit-or-miss nature of how we select and prepare NCO leadership is going to have to start turning out guys who’re as capable as a company commander of the 1990s or early 2000s.

      You look at it, and it’s a trend that’s going up like a rocket–A modern platoon leader, in terms of the firepower and support assets he has on tap, and which he’s expected to control? Dear God, I’m pretty sure that the guys in Afghanistan today are probably managing at least as much destructive firepower potential as a WWII or Korean War battalion commander. This is only going to keep going up and up, until we reach a point where a platoon leader is damn near a strategic asset. If you were to tell a PL from back in WWII that his job would include what it does today, the poor bastard would likely sh*t bricks. The guy’s battalion commander? LOL… He’d probably have an aneurysm just thinking about a mere LT having that kind of firepower.

      I’m not sure how much longer our current paradigm of selecting, training, and managing these guys can keep up with the technology. The missions we were routinely handing off to line infantry outfits in the late 2000s were ones that they’d have only trusted to the Rangers or SOCOM back in the 1980s, along with the tech to do them. Now? We’re handing a kid who joined the Army a few short months ago stuff that was only handed to senior SF sergeants back in the day–Personal night vision, personal radios, COMSEC gear? Good grief…

      I really don’t think people appreciate just how much this crap has changed, just over the course of my lifetime. I joined the Army in ’82; the most complex thing in the squad was the PRC-77 radio, which did not have COMSEC, and the AN/PVS-2 Starlight Scope for the M60. That was it–Now? Oh, dear God… You have no idea. Just the damn ANCD for doing radio fills for the now built-in COMSEC? The rest of the crap we’re forced to carry? It’s like looking at an F-35 and comparing it to the Wright Flyer, and that’s just over the course of around 30 years. The next thirty years? Oi, vay…

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