Personal Guns

For American soldiers and marines, the M1 Garand semiautomatic rifle was the standard issue weapon for most of the war. It was developed in 1930 and came into common use among army infantrymen six years later. The marines began issuing the M1 in 1942.

The M1 was, at 9.6 pounds loaded, a relatively light .30-caliber gas-operated rifle that used an eight-round clip. It had an effective range of 550 yards and a maximum range of 3,000 yards. American servicemen liked the M1 because it was reliable and accurate under even the worst conditions. Similar types of semiautomatic rifles were used by German, Japanese, and Italian forces.

Servicemen also sometimes carried sidearms for close-range fighting, though the rifle was the preferred weapon. The principal sidearm among U.S. servicemen was the M1911 .45-caliber pistol.

Figure 10-1 PT marksman off the coast of New Guinea.

Photo courtesy of the National Archives (80-G-53871)

Though powerful, the gun was not particularly accurate, and it packed quite a kick.

Among German infantry and naval personnel, the 9-mm Luger was standard issue from 1904 until 1938, though it was still commonly used throughout World War II.

Particularly effective in close-and medium-range fighting were the many types of machine guns and submachine guns, which were used to great effect by both sides. American tank crewmen and others who could not carry a carbine or M1 rifle were keen on the M3 grease gun, a .45-caliber submachine gun similar in design to the British Sten submachine gun. The M3 was a fully automatic weapon, though experienced marksmen could fire off a single round when necessary. It weighed 10¼ pounds and was fed from a thirty-round magazine that served as the forward handle. The M3 had a maximum range of about 100 yards and could fire more than 350 rounds per minute.

The British Sten submachine gun, introduced in 1941, was unique because of the simplicity of its design; it was made with a minimum of machined parts and thus was less prone to jamming and other mechanical problems. It was a favorite among British paratroopers and guerrilla fighters throughout Europe.

Before the introduction of the Sten gun, the Thompson was the military's most widely used submachine gun. It was popularized by gangsters and FBI agents in the 1920s and 1930s, and the effectiveness of the Thompson was first proved by U.S. Marines in Nicaragua in 1926. The Thompson weighed a little over twelve pounds, fired .45-caliber bullets, and could be used with a twenty-, thirty-, or fifty-round magazine. It had a range of about 600 yards and could fire up to 100 rounds a minute. The Thompson was particularly popular among airborne troops and commandos.

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