By Lewis Stephen
It was the shortest-lived
combat rifle in the history of the United States Army. In fact, it has
proven far more popular with civilian match shooters than with the
soldiers who trained with and carried it for such a short time. Today,
it survives in military service in the form of a sniper rifle (reserve)
and line-launcher for the U.S. Navy. The M14 was a rifle whose time had
come ten years before and passed. even as it was adopted. It was a good
combat rifle, but not a great rifle. It was too heavy and cumbersome for
the task for which it was designed. Its ammunition was too bulky and far
too powerful for the modem battlefield and its breakage rate was far too
high. Even so, a hardcore of combat infantrymen and marines loved the
M14 and protested loudly at its passing.
In the summer of 1945. Ordnance Engineers at
the Springfield National Armory had completed development of a new test
rifle designated the T20E2 (the T stood for test). It looked like a G.I.
Ml Garand except for a funny looking attachment on the muzzle called a
recoil check, and a 20-round magazine. And a small switch above the
trigger. The T20E2 was a selective fire version of the M1 Garand, the
rifle that General George Patton called "the greatest battle
implement ever developed." For several years, development engineers
at Springfield, under the direction of Colonel Rene R. Studier. Chief of
Small Arms Research Development, had been working on improvements to the
Ml Garand, and on a selective fire version of the rifle. By the late
summer of 1945, tests showed that the new rifle was ready for service.
The T20E2 was not as reliable as the Ml Garand in the pails breakage
department and the recoil of the powerful .30-06 cartridge fired on full
automatic was exhausting. But if the rifle had been introduced in the
last months of World War Two. it would have been received by combat
troops with glee. Only the end of the war in August prevented the T20E2
from being placed in production.
Colonel Studler also headed another project at
Springfield, the development of a smaller .30 caliber cartridge that
while reducing recoil, would maintain the same ballistics as the
venerable .30-06. It sounded like an impossible task but Colonel StudIer
was convinced it could be done. improvements in smokeless gunpowders
realized earlier in the war coupled with information from German
development of the medium caliber "sturmgeweher" cartridge,
plus a large helping of engineering skill from Winchester resulted in
the .308 cartridge a third smaller and lighter than the .30-06 but with
virtually the same ballistics. The new cartridge was designed the T65.
Later, it would be adopted by the U.S. Army. and by NATO as the 7.62
x 51 mm NATO.
In the meantime, work had gone ahead on a
number of fronts. Several new light weight rifle designs were developed
and tested using the T65 cartridge. At the same tune, John C. Garand,
the inventor and developer of both the Ml Garand and the T20E2,
continued to develop the selective fire T20 concept. By 1950. it had
evolved into a heavy barreled rifle with a new recoil reducer. In tests
against the Model 1919 Browning Automatic Rifle, the T20E2 was
pronounced superior in many respects, but not all. Soldiers assigned to
shoot the rifle noted that under automatic fire the stock had a tendency
to hammer the cheek and the buttplate slipped from the shoulder.
By August 22. 1952 and the start of a new
series of trials, the situation had become truly complicated. Two
American rifle designs, the T44 (using a modification of the Garand gas
system) and the T47 (using a falling bolt mechanism). were being tested
against the Belgian Fusil Leger Automatique (FAL) and the British
EM-2 design. When the tests were completed on December 29, 1952, the FAL
had proved to be the best of the designs. The British EM-2 and the
American T47 were dropped from consideration. Orders were given to push
the development of both the FAL. under the designation T48, and the T44
The T44 was pushed hard by the Ordnance Corps.
Its advantages, as summarized in a report made by the AFF No. 3 Trials
Board on April 20, 1952, found the rifle to be as accurate, effective
safe and easy to use as the M Garand. The T44 was less accurate in
automatic fire than the Ml Garand in semiautomatic fire — which was
expected. But the T44 was found to be more durable and reliable and it
weighed 1.52 pounds less.
The final series of tests were scheduled for
1956 and were to include a series of shoot-outs between the T44 and the
T48. Glitches and delays reduced the scope of the tests but when the
smoke cleared and the reports were all written, the T44 had become the
clear choice. On May 1, 1957. Secretary of the Army. Wilbur H. Bruckner
announced that the T44 had officially been designated as the M 14 and
adopted as the standard rifle of the U.S. Army.
competition shooters are also collectors of fine military
firearms. They prefer to own and shoot the real thing. rather than
a commercial copy. At the same time, many other shooters have
insisted that since the M14 receiver was machined from a billet of
steel, the investment cast receivers offered by the commercial
manufacturers are not "authentic." Until recently, this
has meant that if you wanted a "real" M14 that you won
one in a shooting match supervised by the DCM — and also lived
in state that permitted you to own automatic weapons — or you
bought a "demilled" receiver, had it welded back
together again and assembled surplus parts to it.
Entreprise Arms 16021 E. Arrow Highway, Unit B, Irwindale, CA
91706, announced that they were developing a new forged receiver
for the M 14. Using the latest in computer controlled and operated
metal working equipment, they expect to turn out exact duplicates
of the M14 receiver, minus the select-fire fittings. Howard,
Entreprise's president, has promised a receiver built exactly the
way John C. Garand designed it, fully machined to military
specification and properly heat treated.
And Entreprise's credentials for such a
task? They designed and produced the excel lent forged L1A1 upper
receiver for the inch-pattern FAL which was reviewed in the first
issue of Banned Guns.
And rumor has it that sometime
this summer. M14 parts kits will be available once again from a
variety of sources!
The M14, although a fine battle rifle, was
the shortest-lived general issued military rifle ever issued to
The M14 replaced the M1
Garand only slowly in the first two years. In fact, the M1 Garand was
still in service with many National Guard units when the M14 was
withdrawn in 1966 and replaced by the M16.
The M14 was manufactured at four factories: 1)
The Springfield National Armory, 2) Harrington & Richardson Arms, 3)
Winchester (New Haven) and 4) by Thompson Ramo Woodridge (TRW). Each
manufacturer has its partisans but after each company's teething
troubles were solved, there was very little differences, other than the
four receiver markings. in terms of reliability' and safety.
To the end of its days, the Ml Garand had
experienced mild problems. The M14's design seemed to have cured most of
these. The basic action — expanded gas tapped from the barrel and bled
through a port to strike a piston/operating rod which caused it to move
backward, drawing the bolt with it remained the same. But the Ml's bulky
gas cylinder hanging on the end of the barrel was reduced in size and
moved back eight inches from the muzzle. The adjustable gas valve
allowed the Ml 4 to provide better accuracy as the motion of the shorter
operating rod and bolt was not so abrupt.
The John C. Garand also modified the way the
gas was used to operate the aioctn. In the M14, when a cartridge was
fired, some of the hot expanding gases that drove the bullet up the
barrel were bled away through a port in the barrel, as in the Ml. But in
the M14, the gases expanded into a hollow gas piston rather than
impacting against the front of a solid piston. When the piston was
filled, it began to move to the rear, pulling the gas vent out of
alignment with the gas port and shutting of the further flow of gas. The
piston traveled 1.5 inches to the rear where it uncovered another vent
which released the gases trapped in the hollow piston. The milder action
all but eliminated most parts breakage problems.
As in the Ml, the gas flow could be shut off in
the M14 for launching grenades. The adjustable gas valve was turned to
the off position and a special cartridge was inserted in the breech. If
the soldier did not intend to launch more grenades, they turned the gas
valve on and the rifle resumed its semiautomatic or automatic function.
In the M14, the Ml's eight-round en block clip
gave way to a twenty-round magazine. This mean that the soldier could
"top up his magazine" at any time whereas he could not do so
with the en block clip. And when the ammunition was exhausted, there was
no clip to bounce out of the breech with a distinctive pinging noise
that alerted the enemy to the fact that your weapon was empty.
The M14 was a selective fire weapon; that is,
it could be fired in the semiautomatic mode one round per trigger
squeeze — or on full automatic — multiple rounds per trigger
squeeze. However, it was quickly discovered under field conditions that
the full automatic mode in the M14 was next to useless for anything but
burning up ammunition. The 7.62 x 51 mm NATO cartridge produced more
recoil than most soldiers could handle and still fire accurately.
Accordingly, the full automatic mode on most Ml4s was disabled.
But the M14 in full automatic still had a role to
play. In every rifle squad, at least two Ml4s were usually equipped with
a bipod and retained their full auto capability. These rifles served as
squad automatics, fulfilling the role once played by the M1919 Browning
Automatic Rifle and soon to be superseded by the M60 7.62 x 51 mm NATO
FULL AUTO FIRE
The fire selector switch was
located on the right side of the receiver, near the rear. The switch
engaged the connector, a rectangular lever with an eccentric cam that
moved the sear release back ward into contact with the sear and pulled
the connector assembly back into contact with the operating rod.
Based on the Ml Garand of World War Two
fame, the M14 improved on that design. Simplicity was its key.
As the bolt drove the hammer to rear, a lip on
the sear was in position to engage the hooks on the hammer and hold it
in the cocked position. As the bolt moved forward again and locked shut,
a projection on the operating rod engaged the hook on the connector and
pulled it forward again. That caused the sear release to rotate, pushing
the sear rearward and releasing the hammer to be driven forward by its
spring and fire the cartridge. Unless the trigger was released, the
cycle occurred again.
REARMING WITH THE M14
The M1A is the civilian, semiautomatic
counterpart of the selective fire M14 military rifle. One commercial
company named Springfield Armory manufacturers the M1A. It should not
be confused with the Springfield "National" Armory.
Commercial receivers show the designation "M1A" and the
Even though the M14 was
standardized in early 1957, not a single production rifle was produced
until July 1959. Congress had dictated that commercial firearms
manufacturers were to be involved in the production of the M14, as they
had been, so successfully in the production of the Ml Garand.
The problems encountered in first getting Congress to
appropriate sufficient funds and then bringing three additional
manufacturers on line successfully were not completely solved until
VIETNAM AND POWER POLITICS
During the War in Vietnam, the M21
Sniper rifle version of the M14 was developed and used by the
U.S. Army of the Republic Vietnam soldiers.
The M14 received its baptism
of fire in Vietnam as early as 1961. U.S. Army advisers to the Republic
of Vietnam Forces used the M14 extensively in combat with units of the
Viet Cong. The rifle was too large and heavy for the slightly built
Vietnamese soldiers to use effectively and so its distribution was
largely limited to Americans. But combat showed up new problems. In
spite of changes in the gas system to reduce impacts, parts breakage
hovered around the unacceptable point.
At the same time, questions arose regarding the
rifle's inherent accuracy. All sorts of rumors began to float about,
some dealing with the various manufacturer's ability to build accurate
rifles, others with the ammunition. As it turned out, a combination of
factors were involved with all rifles, all solved fairly easily.
During this period, the Army was also
investigating the development of the AR15 rifle developed by Eugene
Stoner. But the Byzantine power politics of the Army were stalling its
development. Proponents of the M14, having taken years to get the rifle
accepted, were now so firmly entrenched that they were actually
preventing further development of the AR15 concept.
Then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara
finally demanded a full investigation not only of the M14 versus the Ml6
tests but of the rifle's performance in combat. The Army's Inspector
General did indeed find that several test had been rigged to show the
AR15 in a poor light. In fact, the AR15 — soon to be the M16 — had
outperformed the M14 in almost every category. That and the problems of
parts breakage made up collective minds at the Pentagon.
Secretary McNamara announced on January 23,
1963 that when that year's production contracts for the M14 were filled,
all further procurement of the rifle would be terminated. At the same
time, he announced what was expected to be a one-time buy of 85,000 AR15
rifles for the Army and 19,000 for the Air Force.
A total of 1,380,346 M14s had been manufactured
in something over four years. Harrington & Richardson had built
537,582; Springfield 167,100, Winchester 356,501 and TRW 319,163. The
M14 would remain the "Standard A" rifle until January 1, 1968,
but the M16 now approved and accepted was fast displacing the M14 in
Southeast Asia. When the M14 procurement was canceled, the Fleet Marine
Force had only been equipped with the M14 for three months but the Army
had not even been completely reequipped
THE M14 SOLDIERS ON
The military-style bipod mounts on
the rifle's gas cylinder assembly where it will not affect the
ZEROING THE M14
To zero the M14 or M1A, fo11ow these six steps:
1) Raise aperture from lowest position to eight clicks
2) Align windage center index line on sight base with center
index line on receiver.
3) Fire three warm-up rounds. Then fire four additional rounds,
adjusting sights after each round to move point of impact to
center of target. Then fire five consecutive rounds semi automatically.
The impact of the 5-round shot group should be within a 6.1-inch
4) Adjust sights to bring point of impact of round to center of
target by correcting with one click of elevation or windage for
each 28 millimeters (approx. 1-1/8 in.) of movement required.
5) Maximum adjustments permitted are: six clicks elevation or
depression and/or three clicks windage in either direction.
6) After the rifle has been zeroed, loosen the locking screw on
the pinion assembly which secures the elevation knob. Turn the
elevation knob until the 100-meter mark (between 2 and 12) is
aligned with mark on the side of receiver. Tighten screw to lock
The ART IV telescopic sight has a range
finder built in. The shooter adjusts range markers to the size of
his target which automatically adjusts the reticule for the proper
Interestingly enough, the
M14 was characterized as an inherently inaccurate rifle by virtually
every unbiased review board which had tested it. It was pointed out by
experienced military armorers that it was impossible to develop an
accurate rifle unless: 1) the receiver was solidly bedded in the stock,
2) the barrel was free-floated — did not touch any other part of the
rifle at any time, 3) the barrel was specifically tuned for accurate
The U.S. service rifle is used in the National
Matches which are Department of Defense-sponsored shooting contests that
blend military and civilian participants. Historically, the matches,
which have been held since the first decade of the 20th Century, have
contributed a great deal to the development not only of expert marksmen
for military service, but also excellent weapons as well.
The program to develop a National Match M14
rifle began in 1959 and the first rifles were produced in 1962. In the
first two years, National Match rifles were manufactured at Springfield
— 7,200 of them. For the 1964 matches 4,874 were made by TRW and the
final 2,094 for the 1965 matches were rebuilt from service rifles at
Springfield as production had ceased.
National match rifles differed from the
standard issue service rifle in the following particulars:
The bore was held to half the tolerance as the
service rifle and was not chrome plated.
The receiver was fiberglass-bedded in the stock.
Certain of the rifle's parts were hand-fitted and
An improved rear sight allowed elevation and
windage adjustments in 1/2 minute of angle.
The selector shaft, sear release, selector lock
and receiver sear were welded so that the rifle would fire in the
semiautomatic mode only.
illustrations provide a complete description of the National Match
Rifle. It is fair to say that the M14 National Match rifle provided
shooters with a magnitude of improvement similar to that which the Ml
Garand National Match rifle provided over the M1903 National Match
Rifle, and it provided over the first National Match rifle, the Model
THE M21 — SNIPERS IN VIETNAM
During both World Wars and
the Korean War, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps had fielded snipers to
harass enemy troops. For the most part, their training was sketchy —
they were selected for their shooting skills as identified by match
competition and were given only rudimentary training in woodcraft.
Likewise, their weapons were only marginal performers. During World War
One, the Model 1903 rifle was fitted with a cumbersome telescopic sight
made by the Warner-Swazey Company and used in France. The sight was
delicate and its high mount was hard to sight through.
Between the World Wars, both the Army and the Marines
experimented with various commercial telescopic sights but not until
World War Two broke out was a sniper rifle standardized. This was the
Model 1903A4 rifle manufactured by Remington. It used a slightly
militarized version of the commercial Weaver 330 telescopic sight
designated the M73B1. At the very end of the war, the M1 Garand fitted
with mounts manufactured by Griffin & Howe and the militarized Lyman
Alaskan commercial sight (the M81 and M82) were standardized as the M1C,
but neither saw action before Japan surrendered in August 1945.
During the Korean War, the M1C served both the
Army and Marines as the main sniper rifle, backed up by the Model
1903A4. At the end of the Korean War, an improved M1C was developed, the
M1D with a better version of the Alaskan sight, designated M84, but it
saw little or no action in Korea. In 1954, the Marines also standardized
the sniper rifle M52, which was the M1C fitted with a new telescopic
sight manufactured by Stith Kolmorgan.
Before the War in Vietnam, snipers received
little if any training. Usually. the best marksman in a platoon were
designated as sniper, providing equipment was available. All that
changed during the War in Vietnam. The Viet Cong and the North
Vietnamese regulars, using Russian-made Mosin Nagant and Dragunov SVD
sniper rifles, proved how effective well- trained snipers could be. Both
the Army and the Marines Corps established sniper training schools and
worked hard to develop suitable rifles. The Winchester Model 70 with a
variety of telescopic sights was fitted as were Remington Model 700
BDLs. But the Army discovered that the National Match Ml4 fitted with a
range-finding telescopic sight served admirably as a sniper weapon.
After long experimentation and field testing it was finally standardized
as the M21.
COMMERCIAL COPIES OF THE M14
Civilian counterparts of the M14 equipped
with a bipod and an ART IV telescopic sight, the civilian version of
the military sight, are capable of one minute of angle or less when
properly set up.
The M14 was designed and
built as a selective fire weapon. Under federal law, any receiver so
designed remains a "machine gun" forever. So the M14 was never
made available to the shooting public except through Director of
Civilian Marksmanship shooting programs and then only to DCM-affiliated
shooting clubs under severe restrictions. This put much of the shooting
public at a great disadvantage when it came to competing in the National
In the early 1970s. Smith Enterprises developed
a semiautomatic version of the M14 receiver and using surplus parts
built a large number of "look alike" M14s which were accepted
for competition use under the designation, M1A. The rights were later
sold to Springfield Armory, a private company which has manufactured the
M1A for nearly twenty years.
In the early 1990s, the Chinese combine of
companies known as Polytech, began to market their semiautomatic version
of the M14. These rifles were wholly made in China and there have been
conflicting reports regarding their suitability for shooting. The
Challenge staff suggests that if you are intending to buy a
Polytech-made M14 and are worried about its suitability for shooting,
you should have it examined by a certified gunsmith. One note of
caution: if the gunsmith looks at the rifle and immediately proclaims
that it is no good, take it to another gunsmith, preferably one who
knows his business.
Over the years, the commercial versions of the
M14 have served the shooting public well. For the most part, they are no
more prone to problems than the military versions were. And most
manufacturer's of the look-alike M14s will immediately repair or replace
any part — or even entire rifles — that are not providing the
service you expect.