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M1 903 and M1 rifles

The .30 calibre M1903 Springfield was the Army's commonly available rifle in 1941. This five-shot rifle was based on the German Mauser bolt action system, and was known for its accuracy and reliability. The rifle was issued in a grey/green parkerised gunmetal finish. It weighed 81bs (3.6kg), and was called a 'Springfield' or '03' by the GIs. 'For firepower or close range we'd use the M1 rifle or carbine, but for long range accuracy you couldn't beat the 1903 Springfield', remembered an ETC) veteran of the 83rd Division.

The general opinion of reconstituted 'luncheon meat' is reflected in a cartoon from Yank magazine. The caption reads, 'My man are appoint me to offer surrendering - only under one condition - that we are not required to eat admirable American delicacy named spam.'

A limited number of M1917 'Enfield/Eddystone' rifles were also used early in the war, especially in the Philippines. In 1942 the manufacture of the Springfield M1903A3 began. The most obvious difference was the movement of the modified rear sight from the front of the action to the back. Both the 03 and 03A3 remained in production by Remington and Smith-Corona until 1944, and the 03 was retained for launching grenades throughout most of the war.

The most commonly used sling for the 03 and the later M1 Garand was the M1907, made of russet brown leather with brass/steel claw adjusters. A simple khaki canvas web sling first appeared in 1943 and steadily became more common. Also to be seen in limited numbers were the khaki canvas M1917/ 1923 Kerr slings.

The 03 and M1 Garand also initially shared the 16in (40.6cm) parkerised blade M1905/1942 bayonet; the 10in (25.4cm) M1 bayonet began manufacture in 1943 and quickly became the norm. Many M1942 bayonets were arsenal-recut to 10ins (M1905E1). The M7 green plastic scabbard was worn on the side of the pack or on the belt.

The M1 Garand was the replacement for the 03 Springfield and is now recognised as the finest military rifle available at the time - Gen George S.Patton called it 'the greatest battle implement ever devised'. Approved for purchase in 1938, significant numbers were not to be seen until 1942, though a handful of Mis were used in the defence of Bataan. The Garand, produced by Springfield and Winchester, took the same bayonet and cartridge as the 03 but fired semi-automatically - eight rounds, as fast as the shooter could pull the trigger. It was 36ins (91.4cm) long and weighed l0lbs (4.5kg). The eight-round en bloc clip was loaded into the action from the top - rounds and clip together (and, if you were careless, your thumb too - 'M1 thumb' was a common malady). When the last round was fired the empty cartridge case and the steel clip were ejected together, the clip making a distinctive 'pling'.

Philippines, 1944: an 81mm mortarman from the 31st Division gets a compass bearing as his tube is prepared for firing; like most machine gun and mortar crews he has a holstered pistol for self defence. Jungle packs and a machete are also evident. Broken down for carrying, this mortar's three components weigh about 441b (20kg) apiece.

The Marines had examined the M1, but decided in favour of retaining the 03; they also experimented with the Johnson semi-automatic rifle - a satisfactory design, but too fragile. As US industry was pouring out the M1, the Corps changed its mind and went with the Army's choice. On Guadalcanal many 03-armed Marines 'picked up' the prized M1 from reinforcing Army troops. By 1945 over five million Garands had been produced, and the weapon remained in limited production until 1957.

Snipers used the M1903A4 (Remington) with a Weaver 330C/M73B1 2.5 x scope and pistol grip stock. Surprisingly, this 03 was not specially accurised for sniper use, and the scope was found to be somewhat fragile for the battlefield. A sniper version of the Garand (MIC), including a laced-on leather cheekpiece and a scope, only became available late in the Pacific war.

The issued .30cal ammunition was the M2 ball cartridge; commonly referred to as '30-06', this had a copper-jacketed, sharp-pointed 'spitzer' bullet of 150 grains. This powerful, flat-shooting cartridge was issued in ball, armour-piercing and tracer variants. The propellant produced an unfortunately large muzzle flash and smoke signature when compared to Japanese and German ammunition.

M1911A1 pistol

A slightly improved version of the Colt M1911 of World War I, this stalwart semi-automatic weapon was carried in action by officers, senior NCOs and machine gunners, among others. Made of parkerised steel, and holding seven man-stopping .45cal rounds, the much-loved '45' was in US service for more than 80 years. This pistol was carried in a 'US'-stamped brown leather flap holster (M1916) on the right hip; a two-magazine web pouch was mounted on the front of the pistol belt. A shoulder holster (M3/M7) was sometimes used by tank crews, officers and others. A drab lanyard was available but rarely used. (General officers were issued a special Colt pocket automatic in .32 or .380 automatic calibre.)


The .38cal Military & Police (M&P) Model 10 revolver was produced by Smith & Wesson; a similar pistol made by Colt was called the Victory model. Revolvers were issued to aviators and, in limited numbers, to MPs and others (it is a tradition to this day that aviators carry revolvers and not automatics). Front line troops rarely used this weapon. Some old M1917 .45cal revolvers were also issued in small numbers. Revolvers were carried in a brown /leather M1909/17 or M2/M4 half-flap holster.

Guadalcanal, 1943: this Garand-armed rifleman is commonly identified as a Marine, but his shirt with pleated pockets is first pattern Army HBT, and his ID tags are of the oblong Army shape rather than the much rounder USMC pattern. M1 Garands were also standard issue to the Army but not to the Marines at this date. Note also the thick, pale brim of his early issue helmet liner.

M1 carbine

Becoming available in 1943, this handy weapon was issued as a supplement or replacement for the .45 pistol, intended for officers and second line troops such as drivers, artillerymen, MPs, etc. The M1 carbine - sometimes called the 'baby Garand' - was made by ten different manufacturers, including IBM and Underwood Typewriters. It had a 15-round detachable magazine, and its weight loaded was a light 61bs (2.7kg). Compared to the Garand's 30-06 round, the carbine used an anaemic .30cal cartridge that was little more than a souped-up pistol round; it was nicknamed 'the peashooter', and its lack of stopping power was always of concern. GIs liked the carbine for its light weight and its 15-round capacity, which gave it significant firepower; it rapidly became a common front line infantry weapon, being carried by many soldiers instead of the Garand. Riflemen were about evenly divided as to whether they preferred the Garand or the carbine; their opinions presumably depended on whether or not they had personally found themselves endangered by its lack of range and punch.

M3 trench knives were usually issued to GIs who carried carbines; in late 1944 the M4 bayonet, based on the M3 knife, became available. This had a leather grip, and was carried in the M8 plastic scabbard. The carbine was not modified with an add-on bayonet lug (T4) until after the war. The folding-stock M1A1 became available in 1943 and was used primarily by paratroops. A two-magazine pouch designed to be worn on a pistol belt was also unofficially mounted on the buttstock of the carbine. The fully automatic M2 version of the carbine slowly became available in 1945, with a 30-round 'banana' magazine. The experimental T3 version, mounting an infra-red scope, was used at night in the last weeks before VJ-Day.

Sub-machine guns

Produced in 1919 as a 'trench sweeper', the blow-back operated Thompson sub-machine gun remained unwanted by the US Army until 1939. The fin-barrelled M1928 version of the .45cal 'Tommy-gun' was a complex and powerful machine pistol. Its identifying features were a top- mounted cocking handle, a 50-round drum magazine, and a slotted Cutts compensator on the muzzle to help control its tendency to climb during firing. The austere wartime M1/M1A1 versions had a side- mounted cocking handle, no barrel cooling fins, no compensator, and a simplified bolt. All variants took 20- or 30-round box magazines, but only the M1928 could use the 50- or 100-round drums. The Thompson's (M3) khaki canvas sling was a modified Kerr rifle sling.

Bougainville, 1943: two GIs operating a jeep evacuation service for casualties. The 'hood ornament', wearing cut-off camouflage shorts and a billed soft cap, is armed with the M1 carbine; the driver wears a helmet liner. The jeep has been modified to take stretcher cases and, as was common in the jungle, has tyre chains fitted for traction.

The Thompson was well liked not only by GIs but by the British and Australians to whom it was also supplied in large quantities. It was commonly carried by squad leaders and junior officers. Its drawbacks were the high cost of manufacture; its short accurate range - about 50 yards; and a taxing loaded weight of about 141bs (6.3kg). It fired between 600 and 700 rounds per minute, but feeding problems developed if it was not kept scrupulously clean. Its rate of fire and short-range stopping power were both appreciated; but in the jungle its report sounded dangerously like that of a Japanese light machine gun.

The 1943 M3 sub-machine gun or 'greasegun' was a simplified weapon made from easily stamped metal parts, and cost Uncle Sam $20 apiece. The M3 featured a handleless bolt that was charged by means of a thumbhole. It took the same .45 cartridge as the Thompson, but a different 30-round box magazine. It was commonly issued to AFV crews and was sometimes carried by infantrymen. It fired slower (400rpm) and, with its more crudely industrial appearance, was perceived - unjustly - as less reliable than a Thompson. The slightly improved M3A1 came out in 1945. Ugly, but light (81bs - 3.6kg) and reliable, it was not universally admired but it had its faithful adherents.

Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR)

The M1918 BAR reached the trenches in 1918; it weighed 161bs (7.25kg) and could be fired semi- or fully automatic, using the standard US 30-06 rifle cartridge. It was designed to be fired from the hip while moving rapidly forward in direct support of attacking riflemen. By World War II the modified BAR could be fired fully automatic only, at a slow 400 rpm or a fast 600 rpm setting. With a bipod, hinged buttplate and carrying handle (M1918A2) it weighed over 201bs; in the field it was commonly stripped down to its basic 16 pounds. As the rifle squad's main support weapon it tended to be used both as an automatic rifle and a light machine gun. In the former role it was an excellent and popular weapon; its shortcomings in the latter were that its barrel could not be field-changed when it overheated, and the 20-round magazine was a limitation on its firepower. A slightly shorter and lighter M1922 'Cavalry' BAR was also used in limited numbers.

M97/M1912 shotgun

Rarely available, these military 12 gauge pump-action 'riot' shotguns had their uses; they had limited range, but excelled in close combat, and were also used by MPs guarding prisoners of war. Limited numbers were definitely used in Pacific combat - Gen Patch was seen to carry one on Guadalcanal - although Gen MacArthur attempted to restrict their use. Ultimately, six different models of shotguns were accepted by the Army. The more common Winchester M97 and M1912 had a 20in (50.8cm) barrel, weighed about 81bs (3.6kg) and carried six 00 buckshot shells in the tubular magazine under the barrel. The cardboard shells sometimes swelled in the damp climate; full brass casings had solved the same feeding problem in France in 1918, and these were once again tardily made available in 1945.

Saipan, 1944: GIs from an engineering outfit search a dead Japanese. The M1 'tommy-gunner' with the 30-round magazine wears first pattern HBTs; the other two still have one-piece HBT suits. The kneeling man has his 'dogtags' taped together to keep them quiet; and a rarely seen 'CIO' brassard (Counter Intelligence Officer?).


Old knuckle-guard trench knives from World War I, USMC K-bars, individually ground-down bayonets and civilian hunting knives were all seen in use throughout the war. Issue of the newly designed M3 fighting knife began in late 1942. The M3 trench knife had a 7in (17.8cm) parkerised blade; its most distinctive feature was its bent thumb rest on the guard. A well-liked general purpose knife, it was issued in a metal- reinforced leather (M6) or later plastic composite (M8) scabbard. The similar M1 carbine bayonet (M4) was produced in 1944 and replaced the MS (In Europe the 1st Special Service Force also had their own custom- made V42 combat knives.)

The M1939 machete had a 22in (55.9cm) blade made by Collins and came in a leather sheath; the M1942 had an 18in blade and a canvas or plastic sheath. The short, broad-bladed, pointed M1910/1917 and USMC Bolos were also used in limited numbers.


Makin Island, November 1943: a 27th Division BAR man awaits the enemy behind a fallen palm trunk. Note the front-to-back depth of the M1928 pack; and the large six-pocket BAR belt - each magazine held 20 rounds and each pouch two magazines, giving a basic load of 240 rounds.

The MkIIAl fragmentation grenade or 'pineapple' was based on the classic British No.l8/No.36 series ('Mills bombs') used in both World Wars, though with a different design of igniter set and fly-off safety 'spoon'; it weighed 21oz (595g) and had a four-second fuse. Early-manufacture fuses emitted a loud 'pop' accompanied by smoke and sparks, and in the humid Pacific there were frequent 'duds' due to ignition problems; later improved fuses were more reliable For the first year of the war the grenade came with the body painted entirely yellow (blue for training grenades). Later, just a yellow stripe around the top, or lettering, were the usual indicators of a filled grenade. Unlike the adequate German or weak Japanese types, US frag grenades were both powerful and deadly.

The 14oz (396g) MkIIIAl model was a smooth- skinned HE/concussion grenade; GIs felt it to be dangerous to the user and less effective than the 'pineapple'. (Most armies of the day differentiated between high-fragmentation 'defensive' grenades, to be thrown at an attacking enemy from behind cover; and low-fragmentation 'offensive' grenades, to be thrown ahead of the advancing troops for concussion effect without endangering the thrower. The distinction proved to be more theoretical than practical.)

Smoke was commonly used to provide cover or to signal. The M16 cylindrical smoke grenades (1943) were available in green, violet, orange, black, yellow, and red colours; the more effective M18 smoke came out in 1944. M8 (white) and M2 (red) smoke were also issued in limited numbers. These 'smoke cans' were painted blue-grey with a waist band and lettering in yellow and the tops painted in the relevant smoke colour.

Bougainville, 1944: a 37th Division GI winds up for the pitch, throwing his grenade baseball style - though most soldiers found the text book straight-armed lob to be the best method for throwing. Under magnification this GI can be seen to have his ID tags fixed together with a dark rubber rim.

The M15 white phosporous (WP) grenade was excellent for smoke starting fires marking targets, and suppressing enemy bunkers. The heavy 31oz (878g) WP or 'Willy-Peter' was cylindrical, but had a semi- rounded bottom so as to be distinguishable from smoke cans by feel It had a four-second delay fuse and a bursting radius almost wider than it could be thrown. The can was painted blue-grey and marked with a waist band and 'SMOKE WP' in yellow.

The M14 thermite grenade was used for signalling and for destroying machinery. This 32oz (907g) grenade had a two-second fuse; the blue-grey can was marked with a waist band and 'TH INCENDIARY' in purple.

Chemical (gas) grenades were rarely used in World War II, though M6 and M7 CN/DM teargas grenades were sometimes used to root out the occupants of bunkers and caves. Gas grenades were blue-grey cylindrical cans, marked with a waist band and 'GAS IRRITANT' in red.

Rifle grenades

Rifle grenades available to the GI came in anti-tank, smoke and parachute flare variants; they had a range of under 200 yards. A special unbulleted blank round was used to propel them, and a small M7 'vitamin pill' could be inserted to boost the range by 40-50 yards. The 03/M1917, M1 rifle and M1 carbine all used similar clamp-on muzzle devices The M1/M1A1 grenade adapter was a solid, finned tube with a three- or four-pronged clamp which would hold a 'pineapple' (or even a 60mm mortar bomb). The 03 used the M1 launcher, which allowed the rifle to fire ball rounds while it was in place. The M1917 took the M2 launcher. The M7 grenade launcher for the M1 Garand began issue in mid-1944 but was unpopular since it did not allow ball rounds to be fired; the M7A2 did, but only became available after VJ-Day. In early 1944 the M8 grenade launcher attachment was added to the M1 carbine.

Most rifle grenades were fired at a high angle with the butt braced against the ground and turned sideways; M9/M9A1 anti-tank (shaped charge) grenades used contact fuses and were commonly fired from the shoulder at AFVs and bunkers. Both the 03 and M1 could use a rarely- seen rubber boot which covered the butt and absorbed much of the recoil. The wooden rifle stock could sometimes be damaged when firing grenades, the M1 carbine being particularly prone to a cracked stock; the use of the folding stock carbine as a platform was not recommended. Both the soft ground and the corrosive climate of the Pacific made rifle grenades somewhat less popular there; they were also dangerous to use in thickly wooded terrain, with the risk of striking a treetrunk and bouncing back at the user.

New Georgia, 1943: a rifle grenadier from the 27th Division helps a comrade down the muddy trail. The tommy-gunner (note 50-round drum) wears the one-piece camouflage suit; the taller GI has a rubber shock- absorbing boot on the butt of his M1903 Springfield. Strangely, the tommy-gunner wears a rifleman's cartridge belt and the other GI carries a large gasmask bag.

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