General George S Patton called the M1 Garand, "The greatest battle implement ever devised." And with good reason: this hard-hitting 30.06 armed the 'Greatest Generation', as well as a few that came afterward.
Why the M1
(Mr Garand with one of his prototypes)
After World War 1, the US Army had literally millions of Springfield, Enfield, and Mosin rifles lying around. While these were all adequate for the Doughboys of the Western Front, the military knew that these bolt-action rifles were all essentially 19th Century technology. Through a series of trials and tests in the 1930s, the Army experimented with various semi-automatics that could deliver a much higher volume of fire. By 1936, a single design by Mr. John C Garand stood at the top of the pile and was adopted as the "US Rifle, Cal. .30, M1".
The M1, for its time, was very innovative. Every other army across the globe was armed with a bolt-action rifle, typically fed by a stripper clip, which could be fired 10-15 rounds per minute on average. The semi-automatic M1 with its rather large 8-round magazine (most Mausers, Mosins, and Steyr bolt actions had only 5-shot mags), could lay down up to 48 rounds per minute of hard- hitting 30.06.
The secret to its rapid reloads was the spring steel enbloc clip that would load the internal magazine of the rifle from zero to full in less than a second. This feature would prove decisive in ending Japanese banzai charges in WWII as well as Chicom human wave attacks in Korea.
Gas-operated with a rotating bolt and a piston, the design predated the popular 'piston' AR-15 designs of today by more than sixty years. It was durable and effective in the field. At 9.5 pounds overall with a full-length wooden stock and forearm, the Garand was 43.6-inches long overall.
The Army began slow rate production at Springfield Armory in 1936 and had a decent supply on hand for the peacetime military by 1941. Then the attack on Pearl Harbor came and the wheels fell off the planning. By 1942, the Marines were also ordering M1s of their own to replace WWI era Springfield 1903s. Winchester was contracted to join SA in the fight to produce as enough of the hearty rifles to equip the millions of fighting men headed to Europe and the Pacific. From the 120-degree heat and sand of North Africa, to the volcanic ash of Iwo Jima and the frozen battlefields of the Hurtgen Forest, the M1 kept ticking.
The weapon remained in front line service even after the war and accompanied a new generation of dogfaces to Korea in the 1950s. Officially replaced by the select-fire M14 in 1957, the Garand still saw limited service in the Vietnam conflict. As late as 1975 National Guard units, which would have been sent to West Germany as soon as possible, if WWIII started, still had the venerable M1 as their first line rifle.
(The M1 proved a popular sniper rifle in its M1C and M1D variants in Korea)
What happened to them all?
(In the 1960s many M1s were sold off and wound up as bargain guns. Heck this ad shows you could get TWO of them for $134.50!)
(This led to them being wide spread and affordable shooters in the 1960s and 70s, as seen here in Sheriff Brody defending his constituents from Jaws)
It is estimated that Springfield Armory, and the prime subcontractors Winchester Repeating Arms Company, International Harvester, and Harrington & Richardson Arms between July 21, 1937 and May 17, 1957 manufactured 5,468,772 M-1s.
(So many were given away to allies that they still see hard service around the world, such as with these Thai Police Green Berets)
During World War 2, quantities of the rifle were given to the Free French Forces under General De Gaul. Immediately after the war some 1,151,880 Garand's were transferred to US allies France, Denmark, Philippines, Italy, Greece, West Germany, Turkey and Norway to equip their reborn militaries. Italy liked the rifle so much they received Winchester's old tooling and began to make their own copies in the Beretta factory. Between 1952-58, 100,000 of the Italian Beretta Garands dubbed the Model 1952 were manufactured. Howa Machinery Company of Japan completed 47,000 M-1 copies during a similar period.
(With so many of these guns given away as aide, they show up in some interesting places, such as with these Syrian rebels)
Immediately after the introduction of the M-14 rifle in 1957, the disposal of the Garand stepped up. Third world US allies Argentina, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Paraguay, Laos, Jordan, Israel, Iran, South Vietnam and Pakistan received no less than 1,252,460 M1s from arsenal storage before 1975. NATO allies Greece and Denmark maintained significant quantities of the weapons on hand as late as the 1990s and only liquidated these after the Cold War.
Loan of M1 rifles to Civic Groups and Police Forces
(The military still uses the M1 for training and ceremonial duties, as witnessed by these cadets at the USCG Academy. These guns are likely older than the cadets carrying them by at least thirty years)
Quantities were transferred to State, county and municipal law enforcement agencies, Civil Defense groups, prison systems, the Civil Air Patrol, as well as ROTC and JROTC units. Some 250,000 rifles are loaned to over 31,000 civilian clubs under the Ceremonial Rifle Program to be used for veterans' honor guards. In this program veterans groups such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Korean War Veterans, Military Order of Purple Heart, as well as National Cemetery honor guards etc. were made long-term authorized custodians of United States Army owned M-1s.
The DCM and CMP Program's M1 rifles
Starting in 1968 the US Army's Office of the Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM) began to offer for sale surplus M1 rifles to qualified civilian shooters. These shooters had to meet requirements such as being an active member in state or local shooting clubs and participate in marksmanship competitions. In 1996 the program separated from the US Army and became the non-profit Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) administered by the government chartered Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice & Firearms Safety (CPRPFS).
By 2010, some 400,000 M1 Garands had been distributed by the DCM and later by the CMP. Many of these came directly from arsenal storage while others were former loaned rifles returned from Greece, Denmark and other allied countries. As of this writing, the CMP still has on hand some 125,000 M1 rifles in numerous grades from welded drill rifles to stripped bare receivers to complete collector grade weapons and everything in between.
Current US Military Inventory of M1 rifles
Freedom of Information Act requests show that as of March 15, 2010, "US Army records show 182 M1 Garand Rifles, NSN 1005-00-674-1425, are serviceable and in use by Army units; another 115 are serviceable held for possible issue, and 68,443 are considered unserviceable but frozen from disposal action by Congressional moratorium for total Army owned quantity of 68,740". Figures from the Department of the Air Force and Navy are unavailable.
Overall, it seems like the M1s days of service are still far from over.