U.S. M1 Rifle
The M1 “Garand” Rifle. The M1 Garand rifle was the best semi auto rifle of World War II. It completely outclassed the rifles of the Axis. The magnificent performance of the M1 rifle on the battlefield must have pleasingly surprised the rifle’s enthusiastic supporters. It fulfilled every expectation of the Army and Marine Corps. Powerful, accurate, robust, durable, and was available in vast quantities. The M1 would soldier on through Korea and into the early phases of Vietnam. In the hands of the National Guard, The M1 served until the early 1970s. A few M1D sniper rifles even deployed to Desert Storm in 1991. As a match rifle, the M1 ruled the ranges until the middle 1990s.
The positive attributes which made the M1 successful, hindered the U.S. Military’s understanding of the assault rifle. The U.S. Military thought the answer in future rifle development would follow the path of the successful M1, which would lead to an improved M1 style rifle with a new more efficient 30 caliber cartridge, familiar ergonomics, and with the addition of a 20 round magazine and an improved gas system.
German STG 44
The first assault rifles. The U.S. Army faced a true assault rifle in battle during 1944-45 in Europe. The German STG 44 was a truly revolutionary weapon. It fired the first true intermediate cartridge the 7.92 x 33 and used 30 round magazines, which could be quickly changed. The Army did not fully grasp the impact of this weapon for a number of reasons. First, the M1 rifle performed so well in combat it had the complete confidence of Army leaders. Second, the STG 44 was seen as a carbine, something in the class of the Army’s M1 Carbine, and not a universal or standard rifle. Third, the STG 44 was not encountered in large numbers, where its advantages would be seen and understood. Thus the STG 44 was dismissed as a major advancement in small arms until it was almost too late.
The Soviet Army experienced the effectiveness of the STG 44 where it was used against them in large numbers. They quickly started developing their own version of this rifle and its intermediate cartridge. Many believe the Soviets were on a parallel development course with the Germans, other opinions are the design of the STG44 and the 7.92x33 cartridge were essentially copied by the Soviets.
The U.S. M14 Rifle
The M14. The U.S. Army knew of the STG 44 and captured numerous examples. This weapon was largely ignored by the Army and Marine Corps. Instead the next rifle for the U.S. Military would be an improved magazine fed M1 Garand type of weapon, chambered for a new cartridge, shorter than the 30-06 but comparable in performance. After 0ver a decade of development, the M14 emerged. I may be the finest battle rifle ever produced, powerful, accurate, robust, and reliable. Unfortunately it is not an assault rifle, or even close. The M14 did have a provision for fully automatic fire, which was impossible for the average soldier to control. The heavy barrel squad automatic M14, known as an M15, was an abject failure. Heavy recoil and overheating were problems which could not be solved. In addition, the M14 was supposed to replace the M3 Grease gun, and M1 Carbine, the M14 was not able to do so, as it could not perform in these roles as well as the weapons it was supposed to replace.
The M14 was the embodiment of the virtues the U.S. Military wanted in a rifle. It graced the National Matches at Camp Perry and was lauded by military target shooters. The U.S. Marines, with a long tradition of marksmanship excellence enthusiastically embraced the new rifle, unlike the M1 20 years earlier. One consequence of the development and adoption of the M14, was the T65 cartridge, later known as the 7.62x51 NATO. As the designation infers, the cartridge was adopted by NATO, at the insistence of the United States. This caused the western Europeans to redesign or abandon their post war weapons designs. The power of the 7.62x51 NATO prevented the Belgian FN FAL, or the German G-3 from attaining assault rifle performance in fully automatic fire. Those rifles were as uncontrollable as the M14 for the individual soldier. In a quick turn of fate, even the Europeans who created the original assault rifle, would not have one for over three decades.
German G-3 Rifle
The M14 remains an excellent weapon and many uses today as sniper weapons in U.S. service in the War on terror.