21. The Introduction of the Iconic Cold War Rifle of American Forces
American soldiers in World War II had the world’s best rifle, the M1 Garand – a highly reliable .30 caliber semi-automatic firearm, at a time when the rest of the world’s armies relied on bolt action rifles. The M1 performed with distinction, and General George S. Patton called it “the greatest battle implement ever devised“. By war’s end, military establishments around the world had begun the process of furnishing their forces with semiautomatic and automatic small arms. Progress was so rapid that within five years, the once revolutionary M1 had become oudated. The Korean War demonstrated that the Garand, cutting edge just a few years earlier, was now obsolescent. Its chief drawbacks were excessive weight, limited ammunition capacity, and lack of automatic fire.
It was replaced with the M14 rifle – a souped up M1 upgrade, with a 20 round magazine and automatic fire capability. While a vast improvement over the Garand, another Cold War conflict in Asia, this one in Vietnam, revealed that the M14 had some serious drawbacks. So it was replaced with a new, cutting edge rifle, the M16. The M16 would eventually become one of the world’s greatest standard issue military rifles, and its progeny are still standard issue for American troops more than half a century later. However, as seen below, the new rifle had some serious teething problems that gave it a poor reputation and made it highly unpopular, until its kinks were finally worked out.