The Garand Rifle
By R.K. Campbell

General Douglas MacArthur remarked that while he was not a ballistician, he knew that an Army rifle had to shoot through something. General George S. Patton was more to the point when he described the M1 Garand rifle as the ‘Greatest battle implement ever devised.’ The Garand was the only successful self-loading full power rifle deployed in great numbers during World War Two and beyond any question gave our soldiers and Marines a significant advantage in combat. The Garand was deployed when the other armies of the world used bolt action rifles. This magnificent self loader with its eight-round en bloc magazine gave our fighting men a great advantage. This ten pound rifle with its 24 inch barrel was a hefty fighting rifle and one that even today would be formidable in many combat conditions. The rifle uses a piston that drives an operating rod to actuate the bolt. The rifle is gas operated, with some of the gas generated by firing the rifle bled off from a port in the barrel to actuate a gas piston that in turn operates an operating rod. The operating rod features a cam that contacts a lug in the bolt to force the bolt to the rear on firing. The rifle fires, gas is bled into the piston, the piston jolts the rod to the rear, the bolt unlocks and is moved to the rear, the spent case is extracted and ejected, and a fresh round is stripped from the magazine and the bolt crashes forward to load the next cartridge. This action occurs in the blink of an eye. The rifle is loaded with the bolt locked to the rear. An en bloc clip holding eight rounds is pressed into the magazine. This clip holds the cartridges in place in the fixed magazine. As the clip is pressed into the magazine, the clip locks in place. The back of the hand presses against the operating rod and then releases it, allowing the bolt to run forward and load the first round. The safety is then placed on. If you are not pretty quick and sure with this action there is a possibility you will find your thumb jammed into the chamber, hence the term M1 thumb. This is a malady to be avoided. The rifle is fired and the bolt holds open on the last shot. A distinctive “ping” is heard as the metal clip that held the magazine is ejected. A soldier skilled with the Garand can keep the piece running at a high rate of speed, challenging a soldier with the M14 and its fixed twenty-round magazine.

John C. Garand

The man responsible for the M1 rifle is John C. Garand. Garand was Canadian by birth. He came to work at Springfield Armory shortly after World War One and began work on a self loading rifle. The Garand rifle was ten years in the making, as various concepts were studied and eliminated by trail and error. The Pederson rifle was a notable competitor that did not pan out when faced against the Garand rifle. The Garand rifle was finally adopted by the U.S. Army as the standard service rifle to be and winner of a competition in early 1932. However, it was several years before the design was finalized. In early 1936, the rifle was standardized and the M1 Garand entered U.S. Army service in July 1936. Interestingly, along with our British allies, the U.S. Army had shown interest in a 7mm/.276 caliber cartridge. The .276 version of the Garand would have weighed eight pounds and held ten rounds of ammunition. General MacArthur personally put an end to the .276 round. There were many reasons for this including the superiority of the .30-06 Springfield cartridge in long range fire, penetration, and its use in heavy machine guns including aircraft guns in the Army Air Corps. It simply was not feasible for a cash strapped service in the middle of the depression to adopt a new cartridge and finance the logistical challenge of fielding both a .276 and a .30-06 cartridge. The stock piles of millions of rounds of .30-06 had much to do with MacArthur’s decision.

The rifle enjoyed relatively modest production prior to World War Two, although many of the Army’s units were training with the rifle as early as 1937. By early 1941 several hundred rifles a day were being produced. The first real bloodletting for the Garand came in North Africa and Guadalcanal. The rifle’s eight round capacity, the ability to quickly reload, an instant second shot, and its overall robustness and reliability were highly respected by the troops. The Garand also featured among the finest battle sights ever fielded. The aperture sight is the finest combat sight of its day. The eye tends to center the front sight in this ghost ring type sight. The battle sight is fully adjustable for windage and elevation and well protected against knocks in handling. The rifle proved to be reliable with reasonable maintenance in every environment from sub-zero temperatures in Europe to terrible humidity and heat in the Pacific. Today, however, many Garand rifles are well worn and tired. It is fairly simple to keep them running at full steam, however.

The rifle is often inaccurate and accurizing is a concern, but there are basic considerations that need to be covered with the Garand before we begin firing the rifle for accuracy. If the rifle isn’t functioning correctly then a precision loading program isn’t going to help. We will get the piece up and properly functioning before we do anything else. Most Garand rifles are over sixty years old, notwithstanding the new production Springfield M1 rifles that are basically identical to the original Garand. A hard use Springfield would show some of the same problems the original did. Some Garand rifles in circulation are made up from necessary new parts with older parts in ‘kits’ used to put the rifle together. As such performance may vary. It is generally agreed that the later model production, from the Korean War forward, is the most desirable and consistent as a shooter versus a collectible. Even the end run production rifles and the Beretta versions, both nice peacetime rifles, are getting pretty old. Some are tired and in need of replacement parts. There is always the possibility of a rifle put together with less than first quality parts. Even though the new production Springfield M1 is a fine rifle, high round count versions just may give the same problems as older Garands. There is nothing wrong with the Springfield, it is a fine rifle, but some of us like the idea of deploying steel and walnut with a little history. Whichever rifle you choose, the Garand rifles are firearms we all like to shoot and shoot a lot. Many shooters desire to own and shoot the Garand but they do not always know what to look for in used rifles and after picking up an example at the gun show they are disappointed. The rifle may malfunction through no fault of the rifle itself. The new owner may not know how to lubricate or even properly load the rifle.

It is hoped this report is a help in servicing a fine old rifle, as the information may have been lost save for the resurgence of popularity of the old warhorse. We will now go straight to the problem areas of the Garand. Learn how to detail strip the rifle but also learn how to handle shooting problems. As is common with many firearms there are several possible causes for each malfunction. It is common for a single rifle may have several faults. In wartime Garands there was more than one gas cylinder design during the course of production. They all work basically the same but the later versions are the more desirable from a shooting standpoint. The Chlorate priming compounds used in military ammunition current with the Garand and environmental issues often caused corrosion. The Pacific was particularly harsh as regards corrosion and so was the China-Burma-India theater of operations. When this corrosion attacked the gas cylinder the result was often short cycles as corrosion allowed gas to flow past an eroded gas piston. The result was less energy to operate the rifle. There were several stop gaps used during the war, which are more or less field expedients. A stop gap cure was to cut perhaps 3/8 inch at a time off the operating rod spring to allow more exuberant recoil and a greater likelihood of function with less gas pressure. Another fix often used in wartime, and I admit no experience with this one, was to clean up the corroded piston and weld up the front, then polish to .527 diameter. This was an expedient when spare parts were not available near the front line. If done properly there is no reason it would not work. With the availability of good quality parts from Amherst Depot and others, such work is no longer necessary. Just the same, it can be done and done rather quickly. As for the dimensions of the gas cylinder, they are exact. The gas piston should be .527 in diameter. The cylinder is .5320 in inside diameter. Occasionally an oversize gas cylinder will be encountered. This situation causes the same problem as a corroded piston. Gas runs around the oversize cylinder and gas pressure is lost. The only thing to be done is to change the gas piston. On the other hand the minimum tolerance between the gas piston and cylinder is .005. Do not attempt a tighter fit! There must be a certain amount of blow by or the action will cycle too vigorously.

Short cycles are far more common than battering but a too tight piston and cylinder could batter the rifle. A similar battering problem can come from over loaded or too hot handloads. A bent ammunition follower is another cause of malfunctions. A common cause of a bent follower is an attempt to jam the loaded en bloc clip into the magazine. The clip cannot be jammed into place it must be carefully lined up. The follower should be replaced if it is bent. However, there has been some success in carefully straightening the follower with a pair of needle nose pliers. A sure tip-off of a bent follower is ejecting the clip on the 7th round (the Garand en bloc clip holds eight cartridges) instead of the eighth round, leaving a single cartridge left in the ejected en bloc clip. The follower guide may sometimes stick causing malfunctions. A thorough cleaning and lubrication may help. If the cleaning and lubrication is not successful in restoring function the part may simply be replaced.

Other malfunctions may occur because of a dirty gas piston. Any cleaner or a wipe down doesn’t work with gas pistons. You cannot use gun oil to wipe down the piston. Gas pistons must be thoroughly cleaned with bore cleaner. The cylinder should also be thoroughly cleaned with bore cleaner. Both the piston and the cylinder should be completely cleaned and inspected. A step that is often over looked is to dry the gas piston after cleaning. Leaving the parts wet with lubricant may cause short cycles. In its proper place, lubrication of the Garand is essential. But the gas piston runs dry. As for the proper lubrication, while not an art, certain procedure must be followed. The following items must be lubricated or the rifle simply will not function: The locking lugs on the bolt, the rear of the bolt, and the cocking lug recess that lies in the operating handle. A light oil film will suffice to keep these parts moving properly. This is the baseline for function.

Another cause of malfunction is dirt, brass shavings and varnished lubricant entering and becoming encased in the locking recesses of the receiver. This foreign matter prevents the bolt’s proper action. Clearing and cleaning is the proper cure for this problem. The gas port may be cleaned after removing the gas cylinder. Now, there is an old Army method of cleaning the gas port that sounds a bit rough at first but after some thought it seems to work. Old timers swear by this technique. This procedure must be performed at the firing range and done while observing all safety rules. With hearing and eye protection in place, at this point triple check the rifle to be certain it is unloaded! Lock the bolt to the rear. With a fully assembled rifle, two to three drops of oil are poured in the muzzle and allowed to seep down over the rifling and past the gas port. At the firing range, the rifle is loaded and safely fired twice. The oil is forced through the gas port and cleans the port. Clear the rifle by depressing the clip release loaded on the left side of the receiver, unload the rifle, and lock the bolt to the rear after this procedure. Check the cylinder, swab the oil out and repeat if necessary. This was a field expedient method that worked and still seems to work well enough. However, the port may be cleaned without this firing expedient. Take care not to enlarge the gas port as you carefully use a small rod to clean the port. The normal dimension for the gas port is .0805. If the port were to be enlarged, the action of the rifle would be adversely affected. Remember, rearward action, the cocking stroke, is controlled by gas pressure. Accidentally enlarging the port would result in accelerated action and battering. You may even damage the rifling if you clean too aggressively. I mention this because power drills and all manner of improper tools have been used to clean the gas port. I am sure the idea seemed good at the time but damage results.

Moving to the bolt, the ejector must lay flush across the face of the bolt until the cartridge has been fired. An ejector that is too long or that is blocked by debris may cause feeding problems. A sure sign of a too long ejector is the point of the bullet nose contacting the area at the top of the chamber during cycling rather than cycling into the chamber properly. The first round must feed freely into the chamber. Check first for debris under the ejector, congealed powder and other sticky things that prevent proper function. Replace the ejector if needed.

Loading procedure

When firing a Garand it is imperative that the proper ammunition be used. Those of us that handload ammunition know that medium burning powder works fine and that attempting to hot-rod the Garand will result in a bent operating rod. Slow burning powder cannot be used in this action. At present the best type of ammunition for the Garand is the Hornady MATCH Z#81170, using the 168 grain A Max bullet, and clearly marked M1 Garand on the box. Using ammunition that is too lightly loaded will result in a short cycle while ammunition that is too hot will damage the rifle. It is critical to learn the proper procedure for the Garand with the eight-round en bloc clips. And these are true clips, although most folks persist in calling magazines clips as well. Since many Garand shooters are not ex military and ex military men in this day and age have probably not been exposed to the Garand, a primer is sometimes needed in order that they do not warp or bend parts. A skilled operator with a Garand rifle and a bandolier of ammunition can give a shooter with a detachable stick magazine rifle a run for his money. To load the Garand, begin with the bolt locked to the rear. The hand moves to the bolt with the eight-round en bloc clip held between the thumb and forefinger. As the hand lines the clip up with the slots in the receiver, the thumb presses down as the back of the hand nudges the bolt back. The clip locks in place just as the back of the hand nudges the bolt to the rear and the bolt releases, flying forward to load the rifle. Without this proper sequence internal parts related to the magazine may be damaged and the rifle will not function properly.

More gas piston problems: do not neglect gas piston alignment. If dropped, the piston may have been damaged. If out of alignment, proper gas seal is not possible even if all parts are in specification.

Clip Ejector

It is not unknown for a clip ejector to have a sharp point; sometimes from the arsenal and sometimes from honest wear. The ejector may not allow the clip to be fully depressed into the magazine if the ejector is too sharp. The tip of the ejector may be filed or ground if it is too sharp. More frequently debris in the magazine causes problems. A few words on function: the clip latch moves the operating rod out of engagement as the rifle is loaded. If the rifle doesn’t load properly something is wrong in the loading apparatus. The operating rod catch may be sticking. There are hooks on this catch and must be examined for breakage. A new part is the only answer.

As for ejection difficulties, there are several possible causes. A rough chamber is always a possibility. For several reasons the M1 chamber is more prone to corrosion than a bolt action rifle. Camming action in loading is not as strong with an automatic as with a bolt action rifle. A copper brush and a liberal dose of Shooter’s Choice bore cleaner may be used to clean the chamber. Another tip for proper function is to polish the bolt. The bolt may be polished on the rear with a polishing cloth. The forward bolt lugs may be stoned for function and ejection. Extractors should also be checked at this point. Extractors are usually trouble free in the M1 Garand - but things happen with the best of rifles.

Trigger Action

There are obvious problems with the Garand hammer. When the hammer will not stay cocked, the hammer hooks are probably broken. The only recourse is the replacement of the hammer. As for trigger action, there is a means of working the action to an extent. When the rifle is cocked the hammer hooks to be filed are those toward the front of the engagement. These forward hooks may be filed with a needle file until they are smooth. We are actually reducing engagement so take care. Do not change the angle but only make the hooks smoother for a lighter release.

The Garand is a rugged, reliable and worthwhile rifle. But like any machine it will wear with hard use. Whenever I bring this rifle to my shoulder I respect the history of the rifle and the men who used it. When I place one on the bench, it is with genuine affection I attempt to cure its ills. I feel that it is an honor to keep such an old warhorse healthy and running.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (May 2013)
and was posted online on March 29, 2013


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