10 June 19

Full Circle:

Self-loading military rifles had been in development in Western Civilization since before WWI!

In fact, their war-winning potential had been clearly envisioned by those in the know since the invention of “smokeless” propellant by the French in the 1880s.

When WWI broke-out in 1914, immediate demand by the world’s armies for anything that would shoot was so intense, it actually retarded development of new and improved autoloading rifle systems. As they always do, nations stuck with what they had and were familiar with, even though much of it was obsolete.

Between Wars, arms designers like Garand, Pederson, and Johnson were busily at work, because many knew and understood that the dubious “Armistice” of 1918 virtually guaranteed an early start for the next all-consuming world conflagration.

As it turns out, the world would not have long to wait. Twenty-one years to be exact, and WWII had well and truly started!

In the field of autoloading military rifles, the USA lead the way, with Garand’s design winning the War Department’s approval in 1936.

Pederson’s candidate, along with Garand’s, were both chambered for the new “intermediate cartridge,” the 276 Pederson (equivalent ballistically to today’s 6.8mm SPC). It was a 300m round with acceptable penetration.

Rifles chambered for it, Garand’s and Pederson’s, were short, light, fast, and handy!

But, MacArthur would have nothing to do with this new cartridge!

He insisted that, whatever form this new autoloading rifle assumed, it would fire the existing 30-06 round (7.62×63) that had been in the US inventory since the first decade of the Century. No further conversation about the 276 Pederson cartridge would be entertained, nor tolerated!

Garand got the word early and promptly redesigned his rifle to accommodate the 30-06 cartridge, which pleased MacArthur, but made the “M1 Rifle” (by which term it would be known forevermore) heavy, long, awkward, and anything but “handy!”

30-06 ammunition was heavy and bulky.

Pederson, in the UK trying to sell his rifle to the British, got the word late and was unable to catch-up. His rifle thereafter faded into the dustbin of history!

Melvin Johnson’s rifle, properly chambered for the conventional 30-06 cartridge and which many considered significantly superior to the Garand, came along too late. With world events rapidly accelerating toward global war in the late 1930s, US war planners decided Garand’s rifle was too far along in the acceptance and mass-production process to make changing directions practical.

That decision was eminently sound. The USA was far more “behind schedule” than anyone realized!

So, Garand won the contest and to his credit, his rifle, millions of which were ultimately produced and pressed into service during WWII and later Korea, acquired a well-earned reputation for effectiveness and reliability.

Yet, by the late 1950s, the Pentagon’s military planners, and those from most other Western nations, all decided the next generation of military rifles needed to be shorter, lighter, and handier.

In the West at least, that goal would have to wait!

While the Soviets at the end of WWII went immediately to their version of an “intermediate cartridge,” the 7.62×39 in their new light, short, handy Kalashnikov Rifles, the West was caught-up in a classic “cultural lag!”

With the USA insistently leading the way, all of NATO was compelled to adopt the 7.62×51 (308) cartridge.

Most went with the FAL. In the USA, we stuck with the new version of the Garand, the M14.

Both rifles ran fine, but neither was very short, light, nor handy!

Ammunition was still heavy and bulky!

The Pentagon, in an effort to justify itself, falsely touted the 7.62×51 round as being the “ballistic equivalent” of the 30-06. This trumped-up mantra was a combination of wishful thinking and delusive propaganda! While still a legitimate 500m round, the 308 was nowhere near as powerful, nor as penetrative, as the 30-06, and everyone knew it!

With mechanized/mobile warfare rapidly becoming the trend, and troopers now being jammed into cramped armored vehicles and helicopters, heavy, long, clunky rifles (along with heavy, bulky ammunition) were quickly falling out of fashion!

By the 1960s, and right in the middle of the Vietnam War, the USA suddenly changed its mind once more, and again insisted that all of NATO go along!

Our new (too weak as it turns-out) “intermediate cartridge” was the 5.56×45 (223), a 150m cartridge, with poor penetration!

But Eugene Stoner’s AR Rifle that fired it was (finally!), light, short, and handy, and 5.56×45 ammunition was light and far less bulky, which meant troopers could carry much more of it than they ever could 7.62×51.

Today, the Pentagon has, at long last, decided that the 5.56×45 cartridge is not powerful enough for military purposes (and never was, despite a failed series of attempted “wonder bullet” improvements), and has made the decision that our next “intermediate” military cartridge is going to be the more powerful 6.8mm SPC.

What rifle will be selected to shoot it is currently anyone’s guess!

So, that all places us right back to Pederson, and the early 1930s!

Over the past eighty years, here in the West we’ve come the (probably unnecessary) “full circle!”

Had we, like the Soviets, gone immediately to a legitimate “intermediate cartridge,” back in the 1930s, or even at the end of WWII, the entire series of ill-fated 7.62×51, 5.56×45, M14, FAL “mis-adventures” could have all been all avoided!

Yes, I know. Hindsight is always easy!

And like most, I dearly love my M14s (M1A), FALs, M1s, et al.

Still, I marvel at the way a single personality can set into motion tactical thinking that significantly alters history,
for better or worse, for the next several generations!

In a single lifetime, I’ve seen this all happen, right in front of me, and (through no fault of my own) lived through it!