By Logan Metesh at the NRA blog writes [via ammoland.com]:

In the aftermath of World War II, it was widely recognized that the American .30-06 M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle gave U.S. forces a decisive edge in combat. While faster than the bolt-actions used by other countries, the semi-automatic Garand was still limited by its eight-round en-bloc clip by which rounds were loaded into the firearm.

Following the war, armies sought the benefits of a semi-auto rifle chambered for rounds similar to the .30-06 and 8mm Mauser that had been used in the recent conflict. This resulted in the development and adoption of main battle rifles – full power, select-fire rifles with 20-round detachable box magazines. Overseas, these included Germany’s Heckler & Koch G3 and Belgium’s FN FAL. Here in the U.S. the M14 emerged.

The M14 was designed to replace the Garand, as well as the M1 and M2 carbines and the M3 and M3A1 submachine guns. These new rifles – the M14 included – were most often chambered for the 7.62x51mm NATO round, similar to the commercial .308 Winchester, and were widely used by NATO forces through the Cold War. One of the benefits of this cartridge was that it was approximately 10 percent lighter than the .30-06 cartridge. This meant 10 percent more ammo could be carried by a soldier or transported by air. When in combat, that extra 10 percent could mean the difference between taking the field or being overrun.

Four different manufacturers ended up securing the contracts to make M14s. The first went to Springfield Armory. Next up was Harrington & Richardson, followed by Winchester. Finally, Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge earned the last contract. All told, more than 1.5 million M14s were produced.

Extensive post-WWII studies had found the single best predictor of enemy casualties was the number of rounds fired in an engagement. They also found that actual combat most often occurred at close range, seldom beyond 200 to 300 yards, and nearly never at the 500-yard range that required the full power ammunition of main battle rifles. The full power rounds also proved nearly impossible to control in full-auto firing.

This led firearms designers to seek a new type of primary rifle for military applications, but would retain the advantages of a detachable box magazine. As such, the M14 existed in a period of transition that would greatly influence its official history. Despite being adopted by the U.S. military as a standard issue weapon in 1957, it holds the distinction of being one of the shortest-lived standard issue firearms in American history. The last contract for the M14 was in 1964. That same year, the M16 was ordered as its direct replacement. By 1968, the M14 had been completely phased out, after only an 11-year run.

New firearm designs based on the post-WWII studies eventually rendered the M14 unnecessary. The desired features of these new firearms included effective full-auto fire capability by using less powerful, more controllable ammunition, such as the .223 Remington cartridge used in the M16.

The lighter ammunition in these new guns retained a benefit from the M14, which allowed the individual soldier to carry more rounds and encourage better marksmanship by reducing the heavy recoil of the more powerful rounds.

Main battle rifles were eventually replaced by modern lighter rifles designed to meet those criteria. However, the full-power main battle rifle still lingers in service in niche roles, sometimes as a designated marksman rifle and even as a ceremonial weapon carried by color guards. Despite its short tenure of service, the M14 left an indelible mark on the face of U.S. military arms and paved the way for the future.

For more history on the M14, read Cut Down In Its Youth by NRA National Firearms Museum Senior Curator Philip Schreier, then come see the U.S. Springfield Model T44 E4 Selective Fire Rifle, the rifle that went on to become the M14, at the museum in Fairfax, Virginia.

31 Responses to A Brief History of the M14

  1. Great write up. I love my M1a NM it’s by far my favorite rifle. I took my girlfriend shooting for the first time last week. Her first shot ever with a rifle was straight in the bull with the M1a iron sights. When we left the gun range she said we should buy a little ammo every week so we can go shoot more often. Needless to say I will be ring shopping in the next few months.

        • With a woman who can shoot like that the rule is don’t piss her off. Back in the day I taught my fiancée how to shoot skeet with my Mossie 500 and she proved to be a better wing shot than me. We celebrated our 40th anniversary last June;. Marge doesn’t hunt but she definitely can take care of herself and I know that if I ever got out of line she’d put 5 .38 specials in me center of mass and would probably walk. Not that I need to be kept in line – I’ve been a lucky man because she puts up with my shite.

    • Wow! Good on her for handling the recoil. Most novice shooters don’t like firing something that kicks too much, and I’ve even known people who were turned off from shooting entirely when some moron “taught” them with a 12 gauge or a 7mm.

      • She was a little nervous at first. It’s amazing what a little coaching and patience can do. I have found that most females I teach to shoot are better students than the males.

    • The Dep’t of War and Army worried about magazines being a) lost on the battlefield, and b) “waste of ammunition.”

      The idea of a DBM was absolutely considered.

      Get a copy of Hatcher’s “Book of the Garand,” perhaps the single best book to get an insight into how small arms used to be qualified by the US before we switched from “The Department of War” to “The Department of Defense,” and we started losing one war after another.

      • Worth noting that this was pretty common thinking at the time. Soviets went for a detachable mag for SVT, but then backtracked after the war with SKS, for example.

        Also, many early bolt rifles had detachable box magazines (e.g. the original Swiss Schmidt-Rubin 1889), which were really only meant to be removed for cleaning, and not for reload. If I remember correctly, Brits went as far as chaining them to the rifles on Lee-Enfields.

  2. A couple of bits of information about the M14:

    – John Garand himself warned the DOD that trying to turn the Garand M1 into a full-auto rifle with a nearly .30-06 powered cartridge would result in a very difficult to control weapon for most infantrymen.

    – The Brits had already designed a medium-powered 7mm-ish cartridge, which, if we’d used it, would have made the G3/FAL/M14 much more easy to handle, feed and supply. The DOD lambasted this idea, calling the idea of sub-.30 bullets silly. American men shot full-power cartridges, of at least .30 caliber. The old men in the Ordnance Dep’t were still butthurt by the idea of going to a 150-grain-ish bullet, when they were still in love with the 405 grain pill for the .45-70.

    – If you’re shopping for M14/M1A surplus parts, don’t piss around with anything but a TRW receiver & bolt. No one else really got the heat treatment correct on the M14 receiver and bolt other than TRW.

    Many of the M14’s had the giggle switch removed from them in Vietnam. Lacking a burst sear or other round-limited option on the full auto setting, Garand’s prediction of lack of control proved true. If you really want to control a .308 to .30-06 level of power in a long arm, you need it to weigh between 16 and 25 pounds. The BAR is an example of a full-auto, .30-06 rifle – and it comes in between 16 and 22 lbs, depending on configuration. It was controllable by one man, shooting from the shoulder or the hip.

    The M14 was a misguided attempt to achieve BAR-like rates of fire at infantry-arms weights, and Isaac Newton’s pet theories doomed this to failure. It’s a great rifle in semi-automatic mode, and it ruled the roost at national matches for a couple decades, but the M-16 with 80+ grain pills and new triggers took it out of contention for the best marksmanship rifle too.

    • Amusingly the BAR was generally issued to the smallest guy in the squad too.

      It wasn’t completely intentional but it was kinda obvious too. Your position in a squad was designated by your size, the last guy was the smallest. As it worked out the last guy was also your BAR man. So, your smallest guy was generally the guy with the BAR.

  3. As dyspeptic said British and other European countries wanted to go to 6.8 or 7mm round so they could use full auto in the FN FAL. When scaled up to 7.62 and used on full auto most shots went high.

    One of the reasons given for the lack of British casualties in the Falklands war is that the argentines conscripts using full auto were firing high after the second round.

    Australian Army used a full auto FAL with heavy barrel that was 17 pounds as second line machine gun when M60 not needed in rear areas. But way out of balance to carry

    • “One of the reasons given for the lack of British casualties in the Falklands war is that the argentines conscripts using full auto were firing high after the second round.”

      The Argentine soldiers were by-and-large poorly trained and led. The British forces were anything but. The US Navy considered the reconquest of the Falklands by Britain to be impossible. The Brits did not agree.

      Once the Argentines threw down their full-auto weapons, the Brits had no difficulty picking them up and using them against their enemy. Tommies much preferred full-auto, as do soldiers everywhere.

  4. The M-14, steel and wood for the last time. The AR/M-16/-4 series the cutting edge for 50 + years, at least till the Plasma Rifle in the 40 watt range comes on line.

    • How hare would it be to take an M-14 and put a two position selector switch on it? For the record, I’d like one too!

  5. Well, actually someone managed to put a detachable magazine and a full auto function on a Garand, and making it a good weapon, that lasted in service until the nineties.

    It was Beretta with the BM59.

    • I have a kit, Beretta receiver and new barrel to build a BM59. I have it mocked up and it is a neat rifle. I look forward to shooting it.

  6. The history of Springfield Armory and how service rifles are designed, tested, and delivered to the combat arms has been a colossal joke.
    Trapdoor Springfield, Krag, 1903 Springfield? All were inferior weapons. The Garand was the exception to an otherwise miserable list of failures. The M-14 was a disaster as an infantry man’s rifle and the M-16 was developed completely outside a department hopelessly mired in the past.

    • With the Trapdoor, you have an argument for inferiority, without doubt. It is a weak design, but a design to allow more rapid loading than what was available in other single shot designs of the day at a cheaper production cost.

      The Krag had advantages and disadvantages, mostly in the weight and form of the bullet. The ability to “top up” the Krag’s magazine without opening the bolt was an advantage. The biggest issue for the Krag was that nitrocellulose powder was not well understood yet, and the action was weaker than needed for handling pressures over 40K PSI. There was almost no chance that any rifle we adopted in the Krag’s timeframe was going to be a success. Smokeless powder was new, and would not be well understood for a couple of decades to come. Plenty of failures abounded in weapons design during this transition between black and smokeless powders. The Krag could have been a much better rifle with the simple adoption of Spitzer bullets of about 160 grains weight.

      With the Springfield 1903, the US achieved full parity with any other nation’s infantry arm for the first time in 100 years. With the rapid recall and re-chambering of the 1903 from .30-03 to .30-06, we now had a world-class rifle launching a world-class cartridge. The 1903 was, on average, more accurate than any of the other major powers’ rifles, of higher quality than many of them, and a bit easier to produce. With the revision of the 03A3 in WWII, we had a very accurate bolt action rifle we could produce rather cheaply compared to other nation’s infantry rifles. The sights on the 03 were better than many other rifles’ sights, and with the 03A3, our rifles had clearly superior sights and sighting radius.

      The Garand was a beneficiary of fate and coincidences. Pedersen’s rifle design (the competing semi-auto rifle design) suffered some setbacks, and left the Garand standing as the victor in the acceptance tests. The Garand might not have been the better rifle, John Garand was just better at foreseeing problems and issues in the acceptance of his design and getting out ahead of them. Another coincidence and wrinkle of history left the Garand chambered in .30-06 instead of .276 Pedersen. John Garand could see the forced choice of .30-06 coming down the road ahead of him, and he was ready with prototype Garand rifles chambered in .30-06, so when the Army asked “can you make your design in .30-06 instead of .276?,” Garand could say “We already have them ready for testing.” That sounds really good when you’re astute enough to see clouds of war on the horizons, even as the Army is strapped for cash due to the Great Depression.

      The M14 was a poorly thought out project, that is true. As I mentioned above, John Garand himself told the DOD/Ordnance Dep’t that a “full-auto Garand” in a full power .30 cal cartridge wasn’t going to succeed for most soldiers. The incompetence was not at the level of the weapons designer or the testing organization. There’s nothing wrong with the design, per se, it was the choice of ammo. Had the M14 been chambered in something more like a .243 or 6.5×47, it would have been a success. The Ordnance department’s senior officers had an obsession with Americans having the benefit of a “full power” cartridge was what doomed the rifle, not the design of the rifle itself. The Brits had been working on their own intermediate power cartridge, the .280 British, which was along the lines of an intermediate power cartridge I’ve suggested would have worked on many threads here at TTAG. The optimum cartridge would have launched something about 6.2 to 6.5mm, at about 120 grains of bullet weight at about 2800 fps.

      Due to the internal politics of weapons design and selection in the post-WWII era, the power of “NIH” was very strong inside the DOD at this time. USA Ordnance senior officers had no regard for European designs, or anything less than “full power” cartridges. We had won WWII, and we had done more in terms of material and weapons production than any other nation to win WWII. Further, we won a full-out war on two fronts – something that almost no other nation has ever done in human history. To say that the US military was feeling a bit of hubris would be an epic understatement. We had no regard for European opinions on small arms development whatsoever, yet the US Army Ordnance was being told, as a result of the NATO treaty, that we had to co-operate with our new allies, and come up with a common infantry cartridge.

      As a result of these political battles, we covered up test results showing the superiority of rounds like the .280 Brit (and others in the same sort of 6 to 7mm, 100 to 145 grain bullet range), fixed the testing and crammed the 7.62×51 down the Europeans’ throats. As a quid pro quo, we grudgingly accepted that the FN/FAL would be a fairly “standard” NATO battle rifle. We could have adopted the FAL, but we went ahead with the M14 anyway, because the internal politics of Ordnance at the time made it impossible for any non-American design to be considered. It should be NB’d that Armalite was working on their own new battle rifle design in this timeframe, the AR-10, which also used the 7.62 NATO cartridge. It wasn’t far enough along in testing to make it through the process.

      The M-16’s introduction and adoption, however, was highly dependent upon one man: Curtis LeMay, a General of the new USAF, and head of Strategic Air Command. LeMay was a man not hidebound by such reasons as “that’s always the way we’ve done it.” LeMay wasn’t content to bring in just new weapons ideas as the AR-15/M-16, he was also responsible for bringing in new private-sector technology into the USAF like single sideband radio comm systems. Amateur radio operators (aka “hams”) had been experimenting and proving the efficacy of SSB modulation on HF since the end of WWII. The prevailing thought in HF communications in the military at that time was for AM modulation, yet LeMay wasn’t going to be hide-bound. SSB was brought into SAC, and LeMay drove that decision over the objections of the Signal Corps. LeMay was not hidebound by the idea of everyone in the USAF who was pulling guard duty packing a full-powered cartridge in a Garand; LeMay was a gun nut as well as a radio ham, and he was very interested in the new ballistic developments of high velocity, low mass bullet designs.

      LeMay got a few hundred AR’s into the USAF, and things started to snowball from there.

      When the M16 was adopted and the 5.56×45 cartridge with it, our NATO allies (esp. the Brits and Germans) let loose with furious anger at the US Army Ordnance Dep’t and the DOD. These allies had been telling us (quite rightly) that the 7.62 was too much cartridge, had developed two intermediate cartridges we could have used quite successfully on their own time & dime, and yet acquiesced when we, the new superpower in the world, crammed the wrong cartridge for the job down their throats. Then to add insult to injury, we reversed our position very soon after they had spent a pile of cash shoehorning the 7.62×51 into their weapons designs, and we adopted a varmint cartridge for the M16 instead of picking up the AR-10 design and saying “Hey, remember that .280 cartridge you were designing? Could we see that again?”

      Army Ordnance ended up pissing off everyone and left three successive generations of soldiers and Marines with a cartridge that’s arguably too low in power, and now we need two ammo supply chains for a platoon: 5.45 for the rifleman grunt, and 7.62 for the squad gunners, instead of having one cartridge that would work for both (as we had in WWII). All of this political nonsense, tho, was the result of only a few senior officers (eg, Col. Rene Studler, USA), and not of the Springfield Armory organization as a whole, which, after all, had done the development and testing on the Garand, etc.

      • It’s all doubly amusing when you consider that Soviets did get intermediate cartridges early on, but 7.62×39 was really too much of a compromise, and pretty lackluster on many counts – the desire to have it in full .30 bore (which was understandable, given that tooling for 7.62 barrels was already there for Mosins etc) meant a short fat slow round with pathetic trajectory. When US did its thing, it could learn from those mistakes, take its time, and make a really perfect intermediate round somewhere in 6.5mm land. Instead, it adopted 5.56, which was still better, but not by anywhere near as much as it could have been.

    • Northern Va works for me. Added about 45 minutes to the work commute but you get ccw and better neighbors in the trade.

  7. Vinny,
    Moved the family out of Maryland three years ago and never looked back. Painful but worth it. Still don’t have a M1A but perhaps someday!

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