The story of the United States Marine Corps and the M1 Garand begins during the rough Great Depression years of the mid 1930s, and the ambitious autoloading rifle design of John C. Garand. An innovative and forward thinking concept, the new weapon would become the baby of Springfield Armory, undergoing further research and development under the watchful eye of the army’s expert officers of the Ordnance Department. The potential for the American serviceman to be armed with a semiautomatic rifle that also had a larger capacity duly had the War Department’s support as the advantages in combat would be remarkable. As per usual, the Marines displayed a healthy skepticism towards the new rifle, though they monitored the testing closely and were eager to get their hands on the new M1 for testing of their own.
Pictured is John C Garand, the inventor of the US Rifle, Cal .30, M1, and the first order of the rifle sent to the Marines for testing (photos & docs: NARA).
The first batch to be received by the Marines were 400 M1s to come fresh off the line at Springfield Armory early in the first production run. With the majority in the 2,000 through 4,000 serial number range, the new “gas trap” Garands (called such due to their method of “trapping” the discharge of gas to cycle the action) would be put through rigorous field testing. The Marines were quick to pick up on several key flaws of the earliest version of the Garand, most notably a design deficiency that impeded the functioning of the 7th round loaded into each en bloc clip to be chambered, as well as issues with the gas trap system itself. The first test showed promise but the Corps brass would somewhat cool on the rifle until improvements could be made. The venerable bolt action M1903 Springfield rifle was the darling of the Corps, much beloved for its accuracy and durability. The seemingly complex design and belief an autoloading rifle would have difficulties operating on sandy beaches heavily weighed upon the Marine brass. The first 400 Garands would be split up for issue, the majority going to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, another portion to 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and the rest to the Marine infantry and officer schools. It was hoped that under routine usage more knowledge on the new rifle could be attained.
The Marines weren’t the only branch of service involved in an armament decision that reached the highest levels of government, as the competition between Marine Captain Melvin Johnson’s M1941 semiautomatic rifle and the M1 Garand was a major political issue in the late 1930’s (docs: NARA).
Ultimately the Marines decided to do a head to head comparison of four leading rifles to determine which would best suit the needs of the Corps in the 1940s. Springfield Armory supplied the newest version of the Garand, which had an improved gas cylinder design and a host of other modifications. Winchester would provide their semi-automatic G30 rifle, and Marine officer Captain Melvin Johnson provided his unique M1941 semi-automatic rifle. The story (and controversy that accompanies it) of the early competition between the M1941 Johnson and M1 Garand is much more in depth than covered here, especially in regards to Marine Corps adaptation. The controversy would reach the highest levels of government, where the testing of the two rifles would be closely monitored by congress, and even the president. The base for the test would be the Corps’ current service rifle, the M1903 Springfield. Under the watchful eye of leading Marine infantry, marksmanship, and ordnance officers, all four rifles would be employed practically and put through specific scenarios that involved function after exposure to different elements. The results of the test found that the Garand was much better than the other two autoloading designs, but that the always reliable M1903 was, at least in the eyes of the Corps, a better option for the Marine Divisions with their compliment of infantry regiments. A compromise would be struck: as of February, 1941 the M1 Garand would be adopted as the official battle rifle of the Marine Corps, but the Marine Divisions would keep with the M1903 until the Garand was further improved with continued updates in it’s production.
Documents detailing the adoption and implementation of the M1 Garand by the Marine Corps. The M1 was officially adopted by the Corps in February of 1941, and the first units to be armed would be stateside guard units. (docs: NARA).
Marine with an early M1 Garand, as evident by the flush-nut rear sights (photo: NARA).
Marines with M1 Garands early in the early WWII era (photos: Life Magazine).
The Marine command decided on a strict schedule of implementation for the M1 Garand that would in effect work towards the ‘front line from the rear’ in order to arm those most likely to fire a shot in anger with the most refined versions. Beginning in April of 1941 an allocation of 3,000 Garands per month would start to outfit units that were assigned guard duties inside the continental United States. The clean environment and added benefit of a semiautomatic weapon to a sentry made the men guarding high priority installations excellent candidates for the new rifles in the eyes of the Corps, as the likelihood of a malfunction would be exceedingly low. Until late in WWII, Marines were issued a rifle as personal gear on their 782 form in their service record book (SRB), and barring the need for overhaul the rifle issued to a Marine at boot camp would continue with said Marine throughout their career. Men bound to the Marine Divisions would be issued M1903s, while those heading to all other units would be issued M1 Garands. Photos of Marine platoons in mid 1941 through mid 1942 show the mix of rifles amongst recruits, allowing us a glimpse into the somewhat complicated weapons armament situation during the early years of WWII.
Early Springfield Armory M1 Garand
A photo from November of 1941 showing a platoon of Marine recruits with a mixed compliment of M1 Garands and M1903 Springfields. The men with the M1903s would be heading to the Marine Corps’ Fleet Marine Force divisions, while the men armed with M1s were bound to all other units (photo: USMC).
The first shipment of 2,930 M1s arrived in San Diego on April 29th, and from there shipments to guard units and Marine barracks across the country would continue until early November. At this point, the focus would switch to the Marine detachments aboard naval warships with one noteworthy exception: the entire compliment of M1s bound for all Marine units and ship’s detachments in Hawaii were delayed, and waiting to leave port at the first opportunity. This small hangup in logistics would mean that the Marines at Pearl Harbor were not armed with Garands on December 7th, 1941. While the addition of the rifles would not have made a difference in the battle, it was a very small consolation that many of the new rifles were not destroyed in the ships and barracks that fateful day. Following Pearl Harbor, the Marines completed outfitting ship’s detachments, and switched to supplying Garands to the Marine defense battalions. Due to the shattered logistical situation at the time, the 1st Defense Battalion at Wake Island was not able to be equipped and instead would undertake their heroic stand with their trusty M1903s. The men of the 6th Defense Battalion would be amongst the first Marines to employ the Garand in combat, as they would engage Japanese aircraft from their defensive positions during the bombardment of Midway Island on June 4th, 1942. Not long after this pivotal battle, on June 26th, 1942 the Marine Corps wold officially adopt the M1 Garand as their standard service rifle for all units. By this time the majority of the Corps’ vanguard regiments were well on their way to battlefields in the South Pacific.
Order from the Commandant of the Marine Corps officially adopting the M1 Garand as the standard service rifle for all units on June 26, 1942 (doc: NARA).
Marines of the London Detachment with their new M1 Garands in 1941, and being inspected by King George in 1942 (photos: NARA & Rick Slater).
Left: A mix of rifles onboard a Marine ship detachment very early in WWII. Right: Marines of the 6th Defense Battalion were equipped with the M1 Garand prior to the Battle of Midway. Here, they are being inspected by their commanding officer (photo: Life Magazine). In John Ford’s video of the attack, the Marine defenders can be seen employing their M1s in combat for the first time (photos: USMC & Life Magazine).
Left: The Marines of the 3rd Defense Battalion land on August 7th, 1942 on Guadalcanal. These men would be the first Marines to be substantially equipped with the new rifle in a ground combat environment. Right: The artillerymen of the 11th Marine Regiment came ashore with a small compliment of M1 Garands as well (photos: USMC).
When the 1st Marine Division invaded the beaches of Guadalcanal on August 7th, 1942, contrary to common myth there were Marines bearing Garands from the moment their boots hit the sand. The 3rd Defense Battalion would carry ashore 250 M1s, the artillerymen of the 11th Marine Regiment as well as the 1st Marine Raider Battalion and 2nd Marine Regiment reported having a small amount. While photographic evidence shows us the 11th Marines did employ their Garands, it is still undetermined if the 1st Raiders and 2nd Marines issued theirs, or they were kept in the rear as a reserve. The battalion commander of the 1st Raiders, Lt Col Merritt Edson was none too keen on the new weapon, and preferred the M1903 to be in the hands of his men. One angle that has helped perpetuate the belief that the Marines did not have Garands on Guadalcanal is that the 1st, 5th, and 7th Marine Regiments (the three infantry regiments of the 1st Marine Division) did not have any Garands issued to them prior to the invasion. Its easy to understand how the majority of Marines on the line, especially in the early days of the campaign never saw an M1, instead only operating with their M1903s or unit issued weapons. The memoirs, biographies, and photos of these Marines reflect this, and the M1 is duly absent in these accounts. As mentioned before, this was by design and a part of a policy that was a year and half old. The M1 Garand being officially adopted for the all units towards the end of June was far too late to have an effect on the men of the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions which were already halfway around the world. Hindsight being what it is, its very safe to say any potential issues the Garand was thought to have in amphibious operations or the rigors of jungle warfare were greatly overestimated during the Marine run testing of 1940 & 1941. The Marines indeed had the ability and M1s available to have equipped the infantrymen of the 1st Marine Division fully had they so chosen, and the added fire power would have been quite welcome against the Japanese banzai charge. Of note to that regard are photos of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment during the day after the Battle of Edson’s Ridge, an M1 Garand resting outside of a fighting hole. 3/1 was never issued M1 Garands, leaving the likely source for this rifle to have been M1s redistributed and doled out from the 3rd Defense Battalion to the line companies by a division directive. While stories of Garands being “acquired” from the army’s 164th Infantry Regiment have long been sung, this particular unit was yet to land on Guadalcanal, leaving the source of the unlikely Garand (which also is fitted with a unique USMC depot made M1907 sling) solely amongst Marine Corps origins. It is a practical certainty though that Marines did get resourceful in adding the new rifle on their own accord from army supplies or battle positions later in the campaign when the chances arose.
Top left: A fighting hole of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines Regiment during the Battle of Edson’s Ridge, with M1 Garand outside despite 3/1 never being officially armed with the rifle. Bottom left: Marines of the 1st Marine Division keep guard with their bayonet fixed M1 Garands during the fighting for Henderson Field. Right: A Marine sentry on Guadalcanal with his M1 (photos: USMC & NARA).
Weapons counts from Guadalcanal, showing the distribution of M1 Garands amongst differing units. The last document details the total amount of Garands in USMC possession by the end of fiscal year 1942 being 62,886. The ordnance department would allocate the Marines 22,000 M1s per month for the first three months of 1943, with a disproportionate amount falling in the Springfield Armory 1.14 million serial number range (docs: NARA).
USMC 1.14 million range Springfield Armory M1 Garand, with the Marine’s “dope” tag on the inside of the trigger housing stating the rifle’s battle sight zero (BZO). The Marines practiced including a dope tag with every rifle and a variety of types have been seen, most commonly in the butt trap or the trigger housing.
The story of the 2nd Marine Division is a touch more complicated in regards to Guadalcanal, as well as weaponry. One of the 2nd MarDiv’s infantry regiments, the 2nd Marines, had been attached to the 1st Marine Division since the onset of combat to help make up for the late-to-the-show 7th Marines, who were in Samoa. The 2nd Marines brought with them a small accoutrement of M1s, though weapons counts appear to show these rifles having been left with the rear element. The 8th Marines would land with the bulk of the 2nd Marine Division on the fourth of November, 1942. With them came a healthy minority of Garands, with the grunts in that regiment having around 250 M1s to compliment their large supply of M1903s. The 8th Marines appear to have received their Garands out of turn in regards to the implementation plan of higher USMC HQ due to necessity. In January of 1942, a survey found roughly 200 of their M1903s needing overhaul, and the unit was slated to deploy within the next few weeks. The crush of new recruits needing rifles immediately after Pearl Harbor left the Corps desperately short of M1903s, and the 8th Marines were told that obtaining more of the old Springfield rifles would be a tall order. However, it was noted that the Marine Recruit Depot in San Diego would soon be receiving a hefty shipment of the new M1 Garand to arm Marine recruits. While no documentation has yet been discovered finalizing this as a solution, the fact that they list having 250 Garands on their November 1942 equipment list and photographs of them in combat with the 8th on Guadalcanal suggest this to have been a one-off situation, as the 8th Marines had left the states for jungle training in Samoa long before the M1 Garand was adopted for infantry use.
The earliest version of the M1 Garand rear sight, known as the “flush nut” sight, was notoriously poor in combat usage. Often rubbing on an infantryman’s web gear while the rifle was slung over the shoulder, it would come loose and fall off. The solution to this was the implementation of the “lock bar” rear sight system, which firmly locked the rear sights in place.
Despite the atypical situation of the 8th Marines, the 2nd Raider Battalion which also landed on November 4th had M1s by design. 2nd Raiders commander Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson was fond of the Garand, and his Raiders had employed them successfully during the Makin raid in mid August. The 2nd Raiders would use a mixture of M1s and M1903s during the “Long Patrol” on Guadalcanal, with reports from both units bearing witness to the efficacy of the new rifle in all conditions. In January the 2nd Marine Division would reach full strength with the arrival of the 6th Marine Regiment. The 6th Marines had only a small percentage of M1s and as it was with the 2nd Marines, it is unclear if they were issued to the men in the line companies. The Guadalcanal Campaign was much different by this point in time, the 1st Marine Division had left in entirety to refit in Australia, and most operations by the 2nd Marine Divison consisted of mopping up after the remnants of the shattered Japanese army still left ashore. The fighting would not decrease in brutality though, and would rage on until the 6th Marines anded a lethal blow on the last vestiges of enemy resistance in early 1943.
At left & middle: The 8th Marine Regiment with a mix of M1 Garands and M1903s, as well as a mix of old M1917A1 Kelly Helmets and the new M1 design. By the time they 8th Marines landed on Guadalcanal in November, they were a crack unit with 10 months of jungle training in Samoa under their belt. At right: the 2nd Raiders on patrol, M1 Garand noticeably draped across the shoulders of the infantryman to left (photos: NARA & USMC).
The infantrymen of the 6th and 8th Marine Regiments fought hard until the end of the Marine Corps’ involvement in the Guadalcanal Campaign (photos: NARA & USMC).
The 3rd Marine Division would be the first Marine division to be quipped with the M1 Garand (docs: NARA).
The first benefactors of the June 26th, 1942 order to arm all units with the M1 Garand would be the fledgling 3rd Marine Division. The newly stood up division began receiving Garands in the fall of 1942 while it was training stateside, and would be fully equipped before the end of the year. Switching to the new rifle would not be quite as easy for the divisions already deployed, and the situation with the 1st Marine Division after Guadalcanal would be unique. The division began arriving piecemeal in Australia in December of 1942 and the following January, at a time when Marine Corps supply lines rendered expeditious refitting impossible. To take care of this, the army would fully equip the men of the “Old Breed” in every regard, weapons, clothing, and all other gear. As such, identifying the serial number groupings of early 1st Marine Division M1s has so far been difficult compared to other units. The next campaign up for the 1st Marine Division would be Cape Gloucester, and the evidence of their army refit is fully on display in the many photos that show them wearing army uniforms and carrying a variety of weapons more commonly seen in the hands of soldiers, such as the M1 Thompson submachine gun and the M3 fighting knife.
Left: Storming the beachheads at Tarawa, the 2nd Marine Division put the M1 Garand through its most vigorous amphibious assault at that time. Right: The M1 Garand was used in tandem with the M1941 Johnson as a main battle rifle by the elite Marines of the 1st Parachute Regiment during the fighting on New Georgia.
The Marine Corps would kick off campaigns all over the South Pacific in the fall of 1943 as part of the allied high command’s “island hopping” strategy. On top of the 1st Marine Division on Cape Gloucester, the 2nd Marine Division would assault the Tarawa Atoll for an epic three day battle, and the 3rd Marine Division would slug it out in the jungles of Bougainville. The men that would undertake these campaigns would be fully armed with the M1 Garand, as the venerable M1903 Springfield had been officially relegated to secondary roles in all units. January through April of 1943 saw the Marine Corps being given an allotment of 22,000 M1s per month, and a vast majority of these would make up the 1.14 through 1.15 million Springfield Armory serial number range, which is the first of several significant groups of M1’s that have thus for been identified. Later shipments often included Springfield Armory Garands from the 1.56 and 1.86 ranges, particularly amongst the 3rd and 5th Marine Divisions. The Garand had come of age as the main battle rifle of the Second World War, and many a grunt would learn to love his M1 as a best friend through its excellent performance under fire in the vicious fighting they experienced together, with many tough days still on the horizon.
Top: The Marine Raiders on New Georgia, the modification referred to is either the cutting or a V shaped notch into the rear sight aperture, or enlarging it. Bottom: The Battle of Tarawa was a marquee engagement at the heart of the Marine Corps’ amphibious mission, and the reports of the M1 Garand’s performance in a gritty, salty environment showed it was more than up to the task (docs: NARA).
The Marine brass was paying close attention when the men of the 2nd Marine Division stormed the beaches of Tarawa on November 20th, 1943. A premier amphibious battle that the Japanese admiral in charge of defenses claimed “would take one million men one hundred years” to conquer, the Marine Corps accomplished in three bloody days. The Marines that came ashore looked very different than the men of the Guadalcanal campaign. New camouflage uniforms and new weaponry were both very effective, as the M1 Garand and M1 Carbine were now the primary arms of the Corps. Both had already proved up to the task in the jungles of Bougainville and New Georgia, and the salty, sandy environment of Tarawa proved no different- especially in regards to the M1 Garand. The rifle performed very well in the harsh conditions, and on the occasion that sand would clog up the action the remedial steps to clear the jam were almost always effective. In short, the Garand had proved it was every bit the weapon for the job of amphibious warfare.
Marines in combat with their M1 Garands, 1943 (photos: USMC & NARA).
The M1 Garand proved very much up to job during the three days of vicious fighting at Tarawa (photos: USMC & NARA).
Following Tarawa, the Garand would receive outstanding ratings in 1944 with the 3rd Marine Divison on Guam, the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions during operations on Tinian and Saipan, the 1st Marine Division’s Battle for Peleliu. Relatively little modifications were done at this time, mostly relegated to general field maintenance and parts swapping when older parts were worn and and needed replaced. The M1 was a sturdy, reliable rifle and the need for major updates were nonexistent. With the creation of a different type of gas plug for the gas cylinder system the Garand would become more adept at firing of rifle grenades, which would especially pay dividends in the rocky crags of Peleliu. Many pictures exist of the men of the 1st Marine Division with grenade launching devices fixed to their rifles during the battle, as often it was necessary to fire rifle grenades into cliffs swarming with entrenched Japanese defenders.
The 1st Marine Division frequently employed the M1 Garand in its secondary role as a rifle grenade launcher in the Umurbrogol Mountains of Peleliu (photos: USMC & NARA).
Top Left: Kit of the Marine Rifleman, late 1944 – 1945. Top Right & Bottom: Marines fighting in the jagged crags of the mountains on Peleliu, places with name like Suicide Ridge and Bloody Nose Ridge (photos: NARA).
The M1 Garand would be heavily employed with great effect by two new Marine Divisions in 1945. The 5th Marine Division, formed with a strong nucleus of combat veterans, many from the 1 Marine Parachute Regiment and other veterans of conflicts in the South Pacific would storm ashore with the 3rd and 4th Marine Divisions on the shores of Iwo Jima on February 19th, 1945. The M1 would be given high marks by all three divisions during the monthlong battle, particularly for its ability to engage targets accurately and at range.
Arguably the most iconic photograph of the war, the M1 Garand can be seen prominently slung over the shoulder of PFC Harold Schultz, the final Marine to be properly identified in the photograph (photo: NARA).
M1 Garands in the hands of Marine riflemen during the Battle of Iwo Jima. The piles of weapons stacked high would be thoroughly cleaned and handed back out to the men on the front lines during the battle (photos: NARA).
A first rate bring back, P-51 Mustang ace and commanding officer of the 45th Fighter Group, Major Robert Moore pieced together this M1 Garand during the Battle for Iwo Jima. After landing on the fledgling runway, Major Moore came across SA M1 Garand 2020049 in a state of disrepair, with the wood on it missing or broken. Scrounging together a hasty replacement, Major Moore wedged the rifle into the cockpit of his Mustang and kept it for many years. This rifle is featured in the Fall 2013 edition of the Garand Collector’s Association journal.
Another excellent example of Marine implementation of DOPE tags in their weapons, this piece of paper with zeroing information was recently discovered in Major Moore’s M1 Garand’s stock. Wedged into the trap hollowed out for cleaning gear, it reads “There is no other dope as dumb as the dope who forgets the DOPE on his rifle,” and on the bottom “keep your rifle sighted in for shooting Japs,” as well as the zero and M1’s serial number.
After action reports from the 5th Marine Division following the Battle of Iwo Jima (docs: NARA).
Being a sturdy, well received weapon, the M1 Garand would receive very few comments related to needed changes from the battlefield. Most would revolve around its attachments, namely the bayonet and grenade launcher adapters. The realities of how the bayonet was used led to a continuous shortening, with the 16 inch M1905 bayonet being shortened to 10 inches, and later to 7. While both 16 and 10 inch bayonets are observed on Iwo Jima, the 10 inch version is a bit more prevalent in the photographs that exist of the battle. The M7 grenade launcher was well received, and most comments in regards to it were there not being enough to go around, as small unit leaders believed it would be best for there to be one per squad. The early M7 grenade launcher was a stand-alone design that required the shooter to use “Kentucky windage,” thus guessing the appropriate arc when firing the grenade to its intended impact zone. Late in the war the M15 sight was developed, which implemented a level and peep sight similar to that of the Garand, but the majority of these sights were made too late to make it to the fight in time.
Marines fight on during the Battle of Okinawa, the final major campaign for the US Marines in WWII (photos: NARA).
The exhaustive fight on Okinawa would mark the final campaign for the Marines in WWII, with the veteran 1st Marine Division and newly formed 6th Marine Division slugging it out in the rain and mud through fanatical Japanese resistance. The 6th Marine Division had a substantial number of veterans, as the recently disbanded Marine Raider Battalions were used to reconstitute the 4th Marine Regiment. A disproportionate number of 6th Marine Division M1 serial numbers have been found in recent years, with a noteworthy cluster being Fall 1944 production Springfield Armory Garands, mostly in the 3.2 million range, while others are six digit Springfield Armory Garands likely carried over from the Raiders, who received their M1s early. The Garand once again proved itself a fantastic battle rifle, and the success of the Marine Rifleman in WWII was in part directly attributed to its world class performance.
Weapons pilled at repair depots waiting to be serviced and brought back to working order (photos: NARA).