Celebrating a game-changing rifle

General George Patton called it, “The greatest battle implement ever devised.” Recalling his Army basic training at the end of World War II, my father, Steve A. Corbo, said, “It weighed 9-1/2 pounds the first mile and 109-1/2 pounds every mile after that.” Both were referring to the .30 caliber M1 Garand, the standard battle rifle of the United States from World War II through the late 1950s.

Designed by John Garand and adopted by the U.S. military in the late 1930s, it was truly revolutionary. The first standard-issue semi-automatic rifle to be used by any nation’s military forces, it was loaded via an eight-round clip. Once loaded, it would fire eight shots as fast as the trigger could be pulled. After the final shot, the empty clip would automatically eject and the weapon could immediately be reloaded.

By comparison, the M1903 Springfield rifle, which was replaced by the M1, required the operator to manually pull back the bolt, load a five-round stripper clip, push the bolt forward to chamber a round, fire the weapon, manually pull the bolt back to eject the empty shell, and again push the bolt forward to chamber another round. In the hands of a trained soldier, this would result in a rate of fire of 20 to 30 rounds per minute.

The M1 rifle increased that rate of fire to 40 to 50 rounds per minute. This gave U.S. soldiers a tremendous advantage against German, Japanese, and Italian soldiers, who were still widely using bolt action rifles similar to the M1903.

A well-made and robust weapon, the M1 was simple to use and field strip for maintenance. It functioned extremely well in combat under all kinds of adverse conditions, from the tropics of the South Pacific to the freezing cold of Korea.

As warfare evolved, the need arose for a rifle that could deliver both semi- and fully-automatic fire along with increased round capacity. Enter the M14, which replaced the M1 in 1958, although many still remained in the arsenals of Reserve and National Guard components long after 1958. When the Illinois National Guard hit the streets of Chicago during the civil disturbances of 1968, they were armed with the M1. With bayonet affixed, even unloaded, the M1 proved very effective at crowd control.

More people served in the U.S. military during World War II than any other period in our history. In 1945 alone, more than 12 million Americans were serving with several million more serving during the Korean War. To some extent, almost every one of them had a familiarity with the M1 rifle. More than 60 years after being phased out of active duty, this durable combat weapon still holds a place of honor and distinction.

The M1 Garand pictured here belonged to Marine Sergeant John Berley, a Purple Heart recipient who served under the legendary Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller at the “Frozen Chosin” reservoir in November and December 1950 during the Korean War. The bayonet is the standard M1 issue, which has been modified by chrome plating and a special grip for use by ceremonial and drill teams only.

The following is a link to a 2016 video of the United States Marine Corps silent drill platoon sunset parade. You’ll note the Marines are using World War II vintage .30 caliber M1 Garand rifles with bayonet affixed. This venerable weapon is still seeing service today!

To view the video, click here.

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Steve Corbo

A founding member and corporate secretary of the Italian American Veterans Museum, Steve Corbo is the museum’s curator and a military consultant for Fra Noi. He has served for 25 years as president of S.A. Corbo & Associates Inc., providing professional liability insurance to health care providers. The son and nephew of World War II veterans and a passionate military historian for over 50 years, he has written and published articles on a variety of topics, including military history, and serves as the military consultant for Fra Noi, the Chicago-area Italian-American magazine.

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